Interview with Phillip Winter


Interview with Phillip Winter


Philip Winter worked in the civil service before he volunteered for the Air Force. He trained as a pilot and flew three operations with 102 Squadron before he was wounded in the ankle. After recuperating he flew towing targets for air gunnery practice and transport for RAF Tempsford. After the war he worked for the Victoria and Albert Museum.




Temporal Coverage




00:20:01 audio recording


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AS: That’s that one. Ok, we are ready to start. This is Andrew Sadler, uhm, interviewing Phillip Winter at his home in Bromley on the 18th of April 2016 on behalf of the International Bomber Command Digital Archive. Thank you for letting me come, Phillip. Uhm, can you, can I start with some general questions about your background?
PW: Yes, sure.
AS: Where, you told me that you’re ninety-nine years of age and we are here with your wife who is ninety-five. Where were you born and when?
PW: I was born in Herne Hill in 1917. My mother was in [unclear], uhm, well that’s it, yes. [laughs] My mother was in [unclear] Herne Hill, I never fathomed why. My father was in the trenches and her father was in a pub in Tunbridge Wells and my first memories are of the pub in Tunbridge Wells, uhm. Why all this happened I don’t know, but my mother went to stay with her father and mother and my father came over the war, uhm, a bit of a broken man.
AS: But he survived?
PW: He survived, yes, he had a minor wound to his hand, but he survived, but uhm, mother told me that if they were out and a car backfired, he’d lie on the pavement straight away,
AS: So he was very badly affected by it.
PW: Shell shocked, yes, yes.
AS: And so you, when you left school, what did you do when you left school?
PW: I was a civil servant. I took the competitive exam at the clerical class and that year they took seven hundred and I came five hundred and twenty fifth, so I was in. And when they asked me what I wanted, I said: ‘Air ministry’ and it came back, board of education. So, I was in the board of education, teachers’ pensions department, which couldn’t have been duller and uhm, by the end of 1938 I was fed up and my brother had taken a short service commission in the RAF, and I thought: ‘Well, I’ll take a short service commission, but first I want to know if I can fly’. And I joined the RAFVR, stayed in my office and joined the RAFVR and went down to Gravesend and then in July ’39 I did my first solo in a Tiger Moth and uhm.
AS: What was your reason for joining the RAF rather than going into any of the other forces?
PW: Because I liked flying, I liked the idea of flying. Ehm, when I was a little boy of twelve and my brother was ten, nine, nine or ten and we were living with my grandfather in the pub in Tunbridge Wells and one of the post First World War flying circuses came to Tunbridge Wells and over the dinner table one day my grandpa put out a ten [unclear] and said: ‘Go and have a fly’. So, the barmaid took us down to the field in the afternoon while this, where this flying circus was, and I had my first flight ever. And after that I just wanted to fly. It was wonderful, looking around, seeing the world from a different angle.
AS: Did your father’s experience of the First World War have any part in your decision?
PW: No, not at all. No.
AS: No. And so, when you joined the RAF, how was it that you came to become into Bomber Command?
PW: How? Well, I joined the RAFVR and of course at the beginning of the war we were, VRs were caught up straight in fact on the first of September and trained, went to Cambridge, inhabited the colleges, did, uhm, I did, initial training wing, uhm, and from there. Where are we, what was the question?
AS: It was, it was, uhm, why you were in Bomber Command.
PW: Ah, that’s it. Well, when I finished my training, uhm, I was asked what I wanted to fly, and I said: ‘Bombers’, because in those days there was a Fairey Battle, single-engine bomber and I was trained on single-engine aircraft, so I thought that would be alright. While I was on leave, uhm, my posting to a Fairey Battle OTU was cancelled and I was sent to Abingdon. And, much to my surprise, Abingdon was twin-engine Whitleys OTU, so I had to convert from single-engine biplanes to twin-engine monoplanes with retractable undercarriages and flaps, uhm, was quite a trial but I managed to, I managed it. Uhm, I had a night flying crash which set me back a bit, but eventually I passed out and was posted to 102 Squadron in Yorkshire, at Topcliffe they were. Uhm, from then on, ah, [sighs] it was extraordinary, I did three trips as a second pilot. Obviously, you had to do several trips as a second pilot, and on my third trip the, uhm, I was back in the navigator’s seat, while he was in the bomb aimers position in the front and uhm, we were coned in searchlights and everything in the district opened up on us and I got a, a lump of shrapnel, straight through my left ankle. Uhm, anyway, we got through, we got back and uhm, I was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where they tried to make my foot better, but there was a hole straight through the ankle and out the other side. Uhm, from there I went to RAF hospital at Ely and uhm, they managed to fix it and sent me to a rehabilitation unit at Hoylake, in Cheshire, but it wouldn’t work, I had so much pain. They said: ‘You will have to go back to hospital and we will fix it, so that it doesn’t move’. So, since the age of twenty-four my left foot has been glued to my left leg [laughs] uhm, and I’ve been lame. Well.
AS: Can you tell?
PW: So, my operational career was very limited, three trips, but uhm, I got back to flying eighteen months later at Driffield for towing targets for 4 Group Bomber Command [unclear] out over the North Sea, which was good, I enjoyed it. Then, an aircraft called the Martinet, there’s a photograph.
AS: So, uhm, how long were you actually, how long was it before you actually had to give up operations?
PW: Well.
AS: It’s in your logbook.
PW: [shuffling] Whitley, Whitley, Whitley, Whitley. June, June the 12th ’41 was the night I got wounded and then I was back on flying a Tiger Moth. [shuffling] December '42, so June ’41 to December ’42, I was eighteen months in hospital and rehabilitation unit, uhm, and then went back to towing targets, that’s the, some of our lot.
AS: And you were the pilot obviously.
PW: Yes.
AS: And, uhm, and did you do that then for the remainder of the war?
PW: No, I didn’t. Uhm, when Europe was invaded, we didn’t have to, we were moved about, and I was sent to Tempsford to fly Oxfords, which were used for training resistance workers who had been dropped over the other side. Uhm, secret R/T operators, I was just the pilot, uhm, involved a bit of night flying and after that.
AS: Was this part of the Special Operations Executive?
PW: Yes, yes.
AS: So, you, you didn’t know who you were carrying presumably and?
PW: I didn’t know their names or anything about them. I was carrying the instructors and the people, the resistance workers who were being taught to use certain, very secret R/T operators [unclear] ground to air communications. So, I didn’t really know anything about it, I was just the pilot and coupled with that I was also, did long cross countries, training bomb aimers to map read not to a town or a village but to the corner of a field, uhm, that was, I enjoyed that, yes. And then for the last months of the war, I was posted to Lyneham, Transport Command, operations room, I then held the rank of flying officer but to begin with I was a volunteer as a sergeant pilot. That’s a very brief history [laughs].
AS: Yes. When you, uhm, so, what happened when the war ended, what did, how, were you demobilised then?
PW: Yes, I was, uhm, demobilised, here we are, [shuffling] 20th of December 1945.
AS: And I mean the crew that you,
PW: And then, I was very glad to get back into the civil service. You see, I told you I’d think forth of resigning from the civil service and taking the short service commission, but that I wanted to see if I could fly first, and discovering that I could, but I’d no sooner discovered that I could then the war was on and I was in my uniform having to do as I was told [laughs].
AS: Uhm, when.
PW: When I came out, I was very glad that I hadn’t left the civil service. I was in what was then the board of education, which was a non-cabinet post, was ruled over by a president. And uhm, at that time, I was lucky because the 1944 Education Act had been passed, uhm, secondary education for all and of course the education department just blew up like a balloon. And I was lucky, I worked hard and went up with it, had my first, well after, when I was demobbed I went straight back to my old department, which was teachers’ pensions. Uhm, and I worked hard and got promoted and then I was moved to the main office and got a post as a higher executive officer in schools’ branch, which dealt with local authorities and schools. And then, I was posted to establishments branch which I hated and then a curious thing, uhm, a man at the V&A Museum had retired and they wanted somebody to fill his shoes. So, I applied for that, I thought this would be very interesting. So, I applied, and I succeeded in the competition and became deputy and museum superintendent. Uhm, after about a year, the superintendent moved on and there was a competition for his job, but of course I was sitting pretty. So, I became the museum superintendent of the V&A with a flat in the museum and I brought up my family there.
AS: Oh, marvellous.
PW: [laughs] And, well about 19 [pauses] ‘48, ‘45, yes, about 1945, the, uhm, Education Department took over responsibility for the staff in all the national museums and they wanted somebody who knew about staff in museums, which I did after thirteen years, uhm, to take charge of it, so I finished up as a senior principal, uhm, and retired at fifty-eight.
AS: What age did you leave school and join the civil service?
PW: Uhm, [pauses] sixteen, seventeen.
AS: When you, uhm, went out on your three missions, uhm, and you were injured, were any of the other crew injured or?
PW: No, no. But I met the man who was skipper that night, a chap called Oscar Rees, he’d done two Bomber Command tours, a tour on Pathfinders and he got a DSO for bringing back an aircraft with everybody dead or wounded except him and he got a DFC as well and a Pathfinder badge. I met him in the ops room at Lyneham, wonderful chap called Oscar Rees and I haven’t been able to get in touch with him. Amazing.
AS: Excellent. Let me just.



Andrew Sadler, “Interview with Phillip Winter,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 19, 2024,

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