Interview with Allan Ernest Edwards


Interview with Allan Ernest Edwards


Allan joined the Royal Air Force in December 1942 as a flight engineer, having been a member of the Air Training Corps before the war. From Blackpool, he went to RAF St Athan for flight engineer training. His first squadron was at RAF Waterbeach, where he went on operations to Brunswick, Magdeburg, Berlin, Augsburg and Stuttgart. Allan then went to RAF Little Staughton to fly as a Pathfinder in Lancasters. He describes a tricky mission to Versailles in France. RAF Milfield followed in early 1945 where Alan was a drogue operator in Martinets. He then flew in Vengeances at RAF Llandbedr, subsequently becoming an airfield controller until he was demobbed.







00:30:01 audio recording


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IP: This is Ian Price and I’m interviewing Allan Edwards today, the twenty-fourth of October 2016, for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive.
AE: 2016.
IP: Correct, yes, that’s this year.
AE: Er –
IP: We are, we are at Allan’s home in East Boldon, Tyne and Wear. Thank you, Allan for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present is Judith Higerty, Allan’s daughter. It is ten past eleven.
AE: Mhm.
IP: Allan, as I say, thank you for allowing me to come and talk to you. Just to start off, could you tell me what you recall about your life growing up and where you grew up, and what you did before the war really?
AE: As far as I can remember, I was born in Southwick in Sunderland, and then I worked at chartered accountants, Davidson and Gurrey for a while, and then worked at Vaux’s in nineteen, before I went into the Air Force. And then I went in the Air Force in [pause] December 1942, and er, I went to Blackpool to do eight weeks physical training, and then round about February or March 1943, went to Davidson and Gurrey, just for a while, and then went to Vaux’s April 1940, first of April 1940, as a clerk, and then in December or November, Decem, November, December 1942 went in the Air Force.
IP: Okay, so where did you go to school then, before, this is before you joined the Air Force obviously. I guess it would be the 1930s, something like that. Where were you at school?
AE: [Laughs]
IP: Do you recall?
AE: Erm [pause], I think it was at the local school which is in Sea Road –
IP: Local to here, or to – local to here, okay.
AE: Sea Road [unclear]. I went in there and then I went to [pause] the mid-school in Southwick, in Southwick. But I can’t remember much about it, I can’t, it’s way back.
IP: Okay, no that’s fine, and can you tell me a little about your parents? What, do you remember what your parents, or what your father did for work? Was he, was he in the First World War, do you remember as well?
AE: He was in the First World War, yeah, yeah, and I think he was an ironmonger, an ironmonger and he used to have a shop in [unclear] Avenue. That’s as far as I can remember.
IP: Okay, so what caused you then to join the Royal Air Force? What, why did join the Royal Air Force and what made you go into Bomber Command?
AE: Well, before I went in the Air Force, I was in the ATC, ATC, and I always used to fly model aeroplanes, so it was just a case of being able to fly in Air Force aircraft, and that’s why I went in the ATC, and then from there I went in the Air Force, in December 1942.
IP: And what made you go into Bomber Command, ‘cause the bomber boys were volunteers as I understand it, is that correct?
AE: I’ve no idea [laughs].
IP: Oh okay.
AE: I don’t know, I don’t, I can’t remember now. But, as a matter of fact, I just went as a flight engineer in Bomber Command, but why I went into it, I’ve no idea.
IP: Okay.
AE: Can’t remember now.
IP: Alright, not to worry. So, you talked a little bit about your training, the physical training at Blackpool. Can you tell me anymore about the training that you got before you became operational?
AE: Erm [pause], I can’t bloody remember about it now, but I know I was in Blackpool for a few months, and did physical training, and, but I can’t remember much about it.
IP: Okay.
AE: I cannot, no, no.
IP: And then after Blackpool, where did you go from there?
AE: Erm, I’m trying to think [long pause]. I can’t bloody remember [laughs].
IP: Okay, but you mentioned to me about, something about St Athan. Were you at St Athan at some stage?
AE: Oh, St Athan. That’s right, in Blackpool, I went down to St Athan, ah yeah. I must have gone there at the beginning of 1943, and I was there for about eight months altogether, and doing the training on the flight engineer’s training, and physical training as well until about October 1943, and then I went to, I think Davidson and Gurrey, no I beg your pardon, no, no, no, no. In October 1943 must have gone to [pause], I just cannot remember.
IP: Did you go to a conversion unit to learn to fly the Lancaster, was that, was that what happened next? Or to fly in the Lancaster I should say.
AE: Possibly. It’ll be in my 1943, 1944 diaries.
IP: Okay.
AE: But otherwise, I just can’t bloody remember.
IP: Okay. Can you remember arriving on your first squadron?
AE: On my first squadron?
IP: Yes, the first squadron you were posted to, to fly operations. Can you remember that?
AE: In Waterbeach.
IP: Can you tell me much about that?
AE: That was in January 1944. I can’t remember much about it, but I know that, the first trip I did was Brunswick, Brunswick, but I can’t remember much about it. I was the flight engineer then, but I honestly cannot remember then. Brunswick and then next week I did Magdeburg, Berlin, Augsburg, Stuttgart, all at Waterbeach, Waterbeach, and then I went to [pause], then I went to, is it Pathfinder, to Little Staughton.
IP: Mm.
AE: Round about March nineteen, April 1944, yeah, yeah. And then from then when I did all my flying, as a Pathfinder, in the Lancasters, until I finished the tour in September 1944, way back.
IP: What happened in September 1944 then, where did you go after that?
AE: I think in September ‘44 I had shingles, shingles, and I went into hospital for a, three weeks, then I had a fortnight’s leave, then I came back and did a bit more, did a bit more time at Waterbeach, no Little Staughton, Little Staughton, Little Staughton, and eventually I went on to Milfield in Wooler, or near Wooler, at the beginning of 1945, beginning of 1945. That right?
JH: Yes, that’s right.
AE: You’ve got a bloody good memory, have I told you before?
JH: A little bit yeah.
AE: Ey?
JH: A little bit, yes.
AE: [Laughs.]
IP: So, can you tell me what happened at Milfield then? What was going on there? What were you doing at Milfield?
AE: I think I went there as [pause] some sort of, erm – I know, I know for three weeks I worked in the ordering department, and then I got fed up, and I went as a drone operator in the Martinets and I flew in the Martinets from [pause] March 1945, until end of 1945, as a drone operator [laughs].
IP: And then what did you do after that? What was the next job, can you remember?
AE: And then I went up to Llanbedr in, that’s in North Wales, and I flew in, what do they call them, Vengeances, Vengeances, and then I got brassed off, I think I was married then, and I just became an airfield controller, until the end of 1946, then I was demobbed, and –
IP: Okay.
AE: And started work again at Vaux’s in 1947.
IP: Okay, so going back to your time on the squadrons, can you sort of describe a typical mission to me? What, what went on in the preparation and the mission itself? Can you remember that sort of thing?
AE: Not much, I can’t remember much [pause]. No, that’s all, on a mission to the, to Germany?
IP: Yes, yes.
AE: Haven’t got a clue.
IP: Okay.
AE: I can’t remember now [laughs].
IP: You’d be told, as I understand it, you would be told in the morning where you were, where the mission was going to be –
AE: Erm –
IP: Towards, so if it was Stuttgart for example, or Brunswick or something like that?
AE: In the morning we were told that, we were told to attend a meeting in the afternoon, and where, and we were told then where the target was, and who would do the bombing, and then in the evening, we would takeoff and do the actual flying, but you’re bringing back a few memories.
IP: Good memories or bad memories?
AE: Oh, oh good memories [laughs].
IP: Okay, would you like to tell me about some of them?
AE: Haven’t got a clue.
IP: Okay.
AE: No, no. No, I can’t remember much about them.
IP: Can you tell me how you found it yourself when you were flying over the cities? Because obviously, there were searchlights and flak and all that sort of stuff, and how, how did that, how did you deal with that as a person, how did you cope?
AE: I think at the time, I was quite frightened, and I certainly couldn’t do it now, because when you’re older, you’re terrified all the bloody time. But any, flying over Germany and what have you, through the flak and what, and the searchlights, you just accept it, accept it, and fly onwards, and do your job as good, as much as possible.
IP: Were the people that went on to Pathfinders hand, were they picked particularly? ‘Cause in my mind, that was, the Pathfinder Force was a particular responsibility, so I don’t know if they take – were they, did they take the best crews from the main force to go onto the Pathfinders, or was it just a normal posting?
AE: I think it was a normal posting, I think so.
IP: Hmm –
AE: [Laughs].
IP: Okay.
AE: I don’t think we were very, very good at, when we were at, it’s Waterbeach, just normal.
IP: Okay.
AE: So, we were sent to Little Staughton as Pathfinders, just because we were, we did five trips. That’s it, we were experienced.
IP: So had you only done five trips at Waterbeach then, before you went to –
AE: Five trips at Waterbeach
IP: Yeah, yeah.
AE: Uh-huh.
IP: Oh goodness.
AE: Er, and then [laughs] went to Little Staughton and did the rest of my tour.
IP: What sort of training did you have to be on the Pathfinders then? Was there additional training?
AE: There was additional training [pause], I think we just used to fly in the Lancasters, and do additional training on target indicating, Pathfinders, just to indicate the target as far as I can remember, but you’re going back a few years, and I just cannot bloody remember [laughs].
IP: That’s right. Is there, is there any particular mission that stands out in your mind? I mean, I know you went to Berlin which would be a, something you wouldn’t forget perhaps, but is there a particular mission that stands out in your mind because something particular happened that might be of interest?
AE: I think the [pause], the mission on, it was in July 1944 when we went to Verrières, Verrières, which I think is just east of Paris, and I think we got clobbered on the way there, and the plane was holed and I think the engines were running roughly, but we went onto the target, dropped the bombs and came back, and that was Verrières in July 1944, and that was the worst aerial bombardment, aerial which we’d had.
IP: So, because you flew towards the end of the war, the bomber force was also flying daylight missions as opposed to night missions. Did you fly daylight missions, and how did you, how different did you find that, to flying at night?
AE: We used to fly daylight missions just to France. That was when the flying bombs were coming over from France to South England, and we used to fly the bomb, we used to attack the bomb, the flying bombsites [laughs]. That was in 1944, and as I say, I used to fly 1944 until September 1944, used to do the daylight missions just on the flying, on the coast of France, and then as far as, I think we went to Paris, Verrières, aye, but didn’t do many night flights [pause] later in the, aye. Although I think I went to Szczecin, Szczecin –
IP: Oh yeah?
AE: Took about nine hours, but that was in August 1944, wasn’t it?
JH: Was that your longest flight?
AE: Szczecin, yeah.
JH: Was that your longest flight?
AE: I think so, took about nine hours. Nine hours and a bit [laughs].
IP: Did you find it stressful?
AE: In those days yes. I wouldn’t be able to do it now, be terrified now [laughs], but I did find it stressful, yes, that’s why I got the shingles at the end of my tour in September and October 1944.
IP: And how did you cope with the stress then, how, as a crew, did you socialise together and that sort of thing or, just to let your hair down a bit as we’d say?
AE: Used to accept it, accept it, yeah. I think most of the crews were quite frightened when they were flying, but they used to, no, act normally afterwards, mhm, yeah.
IP: So, before we move on, I was just wondering, I don’t want to go away from the war too early, you might want to I don’t know but, is there anything, anything else that you can remember about your wartime experience that you think is worth telling us about?
AE: I cannot honestly remember [laughs].
IP: You mentioned – did you get married during the war? You mentioned that you thought you were married –
AE: Oh, God –
IP: Some stage. Where did you meet your wife?
AE: I think she was a WAAF. Is that so?
JH: I don’t know.
AE: Erm, but that was the first time I was married, oh god. I think I met her in 1945, at the end of 1945 when I was at Milfield, and that only lasted about four years [laughs]. Be quiet.
IP: Okay.
AE: Shut up [laughs].
IP: So, you were demobbed in 1946. What, just tell us how your life has gone in general terms since then. You went back to work at Vaux Brewery I understand in –
AE: Vaux Brewery, yes.
IP: In 1947.
AE: Uh-huh.
IP: And then what have you done since then?
AE: Er, at Vaux, I worked Vaux Brewery until, oh [pause] can’t remember, then I went to the British Oxygen Company in Chester-Le-Street for a while, and I started working at Cycle, Cycle.
IP: What do they do?
AE: Erm, they used to supply, Cycle. I can’t remember now. Used to supply lots and lots of goods to local shops, and I think I worked there for about twenty-five years, and that was my last occupation, Cycle.
IP: When –
AE: And I became a clerk and I studied, did a bit of studying and became a chartered secretary as well. Mhm. That was, oh [sigh], way back, 1955, ‘56. Chartered secretary [laughs]. I honestly can’t remember much about it now.
IP: That’s alright, don’t worry about it.
AE: [Laughs].
IP: Now, when the war ended, one of the things that happened was Bomber Command was, people were – I think the best way of describing it was embarrassed by what had happened with the bomber offensive. How did you, how do you find people treated you if they knew you’d been in Bomber Command? Was, did you find, did you have any difficulties?
AE: In Bomber Command – at the end of the war I was at Milfield, and I think at the end of the war everyone was granted about a week’s leave, and I came home and that’s it.
IP: But how were you treated by – when you left the Air Force, how were you treated by people, how did you find people back home? How did they, how did they –
AE: No –
IP: Treat you?
AE: Just the same as when I first went there. Just the same.
IP: What did you think to the way Bomber Command was treated after the war? Do you have a view on that at all?
AE: Way Bomber Command was treated after the war? Just accept it, accept it, but otherwise [sighs], I don’t know.
IP: Okay.
AE: [Laughs].
IP: Okay. Erm, right, so what, were Martinets training aircraft then?
AE: The Martinets were two seaters, they were a development of the Masters, the Miles Master, but the Martinets were designed to tow targets, tow targets, Martinets.
IP: So, what were you towing targets for, was it –
AE: For the benefit of –
IP: Air-to-air firing or –
AE: For the benefit of [pause], of trainee pilots in Typhoons and Tempests, and used to fly over the Holy Island and the Farne Islands, and they used to fire at the, the drogues which were flying, I forget, twelve-hundred feet away from the Martinets, and they used to fly at the drogue, the drogue [laughs].
IP: Did that get at all exciting? Were they good shots or was it a bit dicey at times?
AE: I think they used to attack the drogues all the time, all the time. Mind you, they used to miss them, but when the drogues were dropped at Milfield, the number of holes were counted, and also there were different colours as well. One was blue and red, and then there was naughtered down, and that’s it.
IP: Okay, when you – one thing I was thinking about, when you left the Air Force, how easy did it, you find it to adjust? I mean it’s quite, being in Bomber Command particularly, it’s quite an intensive way to live your life, and then to go back to pretty much your old job –
AE: Vaux’s.
IP: At Vaux’s Brewery, how, how was that adjustment, can you remember?
AE: Quite easy [laughs]. Quite easy, that’s way back in 1940.
IP: So, you just took your uniform off one day and put your suit on another day and carried on?
AE: I think I’ve still got the uniform here.
IP: Wow.
AE: I’ve still got the medals as well, aye, yeah. Although, have you got the uniform?
JH: I think Michael’s got it.
AE: Michael’s got it, ah yeah. But I’ve still got the medals in the box there. Ah [sighs] way back.


Ian Price, “Interview with Allan Ernest Edwards,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 28, 2024,

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