Interview with Robert Forsyth


Interview with Robert Forsyth


Robert was in the Air Training Corps (Sea Cadets). From the Operational Training Unit at RAF Warboys where he did pathfinder navigational training, Robert joined 156 Squadron at RAF Upwood. They did around 13 pathfinding operations, usually over Germany, including Gelsenkirchen and Potsdam. Robert participated in Operation Manna, Operation Exodus, Cook’s Tours, and Operation Goodwill.
His whole unit was sent to 35 Squadron to do formation flying in the Lancasters in preparation for a fly-past on VE Day. They were subsequently invited to America.
Robert demobilised in November 1946.




Temporal Coverage




00:15:17 audio recording


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JF: It was just at the beginning of the war, the war started and I did this three-month course, and he said if I go down every Saturday morning to Drem airport, and he’ll fly [unclear] and they had down there a Tiger Moth so I went down there on a Saturday afternoon. Drem was just a grass strip field, it wasn’t a major airfield.
I: No. Were you in the Sea Cadets?
RF: I was in the ATC Sea Cadets and I spoke to the pilot and he said, ‘Sure, up you come’. I climbed into this Tiger Moth, it was a two-seater thing you know, a bi-plane.
I: Yes.
RF: And we went off and flew around North Berwick, and I wasn’t interested in flying, we just flew it along, we run onto some cumulous. I can remember going to Harrogate anyway. Then we set off to er ‒, it won’t be in my file because ‒, how did I come to 156 Squadron?
I: You must have gone via an OTU.
JF: Yes.
I: Operational Training Unit?
JF: Yes. OTU at Warboys, I think it was called.
I: Warboys.
JF: And we did Pathfinder navigational training there and then I was sent to 156 Squadron at Upwood, which was an operational squadron doing pathfinding with the squadron over Germany usually, and that was of course an exciting time.
Q: How many ops did you do with 156 Squadron?
JF: I only did about thirteen I think, if I remember right. I marked them in this thing, and then the war came to an end.
I: That would have been late ’44, early ’45?
JF: Yes.
I: So, you did thirteen ops with 156 and then the war finished?
JF: Yes, from various places in Germany.
I: But then you might have been involved in flying back prisoners of war and all this sort of thing?
JF: I had written down the places that were marked. These were the operations; Gelsenkirchen and Potsdam and places like that, which was a long flight Potsdam. Then the war finished, it came to an end, and oh, just before it ended, we were used to fly food to Holland.
I: Operation Manna, yeah.
JF: Manna, that was it, and we had a BBC man with us and I did a report to the BBC for this Manna thing, which was very interesting because it was ‒, the war was ‒, it was the day before the war finished and we were flying at very low level and dropping this food and the people were all out on their roofs waving.
I: Waving, what a wonderful thing that was for the Dutch.
JF: Yes, I remember we got a sweet ration, when you were for so long, I made it into a kind of parachute with my hanky and dropped it out the plane, hoping some boy would get it in Holland [unclear], how nice that was. How much they enjoyed getting it. They were starving of course, the people, so that was that. Then there was an interim when we was in no man’s land.
I: Op Exodus.
JF: Exodus, yeah, and we did that for a wee while and so did flights with the crew to show them what ‒
I: That’s right, ground crews went on these Cook’s Tours.
JF: Cook’s Tours, that was it, these are in this book. We went round, just short flights, to let them see the ‒.
I: Then there was the Goodwood, wasn’t there? There was the raid on Caen?
JF: What?
I: There was the Operation Goodwood. The raid on Caen. You went on that as well, didn’t you?
JF: Yes, we went to quite a few places and then the war was coming to an end and they decided to reduce squadrons to a hundred, ‘cause we were in 156 and this started a very exciting time for me. We were sent to 35 Squadron, the whole unit was sent to 35 Squadron, which is that photograph there, Wing Commander Craig I remember, and we were fiddled about for a while. They got us doing formation flying, which was very difficult with Lancasters.
I: Especially when you were used to flying at night, not formatting or anything.
JF: This was through the day and we went down each day over Harris’s offices and we had to be there at a certain time and had to be in formation, and other squadrons were doing that of course, and all this was to do with a fly past on VE Day in London. And it was rather nerve-racking for a navigator in a big squadron, and you will see photographs of that flight over London. As a result of that success, and apparently, we seemed to be the best at it ‒
I: Oh, that’s a big fly past, isn’t it?
JF: Flying over London. That was on the way to Buckingham Palace on VE Day, I would be about here you see? Rather nerve-racking for the navigator. Although we had to get there at the right time and so on.
I: Right, of course.
JF: So we did that and I’m sure it was as a result of that the RAF got an invitation from America, American Air Force, to celebrate their 39th anniversary of the formation of the American Air Force, which American Army Air Force, which later became the Air Force and that’s ‒, I have a big book there and that was an amazing experience because we ‒, and the whole squadron went and we went all round America, stopped at various ‒.
I: Goodwill tour and showing off the Lancasters.
JF: That’s right, we stopped for a week at various places, we laid the aircraft open for inspection and a great deal of hospitality, and taken round until we got to Los Angeles, where the final ceremony was, and they took us about there and of course, we’d stayed a week at each place which was very interesting.
I: For a young man, it was a tremendous opportunity.
JF: Yes, the hospitality was very good I must say, in fact, I wrote a bit about that and also to an American. I’m a member of the Forsyth clan and it’s quite strong in America, and ‒
I: So, you got involved in all of that.
JF: And amongst the one who writes in their newsletter asked if I’d write something about this tour of America.
I: Oh right.
JF: Along the lines of all the good hospitality we had, so I did that and you’ll find that in there too. That was our squadron. That was the formation flying.
I: So, there you were at the end of the war, when were you actually demobilized and sent back to civvy life?
JF: It was in November of, is that ’46?
I: ’46. November ’46.
JF: ‘Because I remember coming up in a plane to Glasgow and going in that night to the university to see the professor, to see if I could start on the architect’s course.
I: And they said, OK?
JF: Although you had to have so many attendances by Christmas,’ If you do it, well, we’ll take you on all right’, and so I saved a year on others.
I: Oh excellent.
JF: At night and evening classes. The very day I came home, I was in the university.
I: Excellent.
JF: And got started and finally qualified or course as an architect.
I: Right, and that was your career?
JF: That was my RAF career finished. Now after that came the ‒, a Scottish air show, and I went down there to see that and I joined their club.
I: Is that the one at Prestwick?
JF: Yeah, they took part at Prestwick and they had aircraft there, and I’ve got a photograph of one of them too. After that, I joined the official club.
I: Right.
JF: You see? And there.
I: So, you’ve kept up an active interest.
JF: The official RAF Memorial Club and I joined that. That was just my crew.
I: So that was you, so you kept the interest in aviation and developed your career as an architect?
JF: That’s right, I did that ‘til I retired and as an architect ‒, I put it in here, one of the things I was proud of, the school I attended in Glasgow, that happened to be a circular school, a secondary school, a very large secondary school.
I: Smithycroft Secondary School 1968.
JF: Yes, I was very proud of that.
I: It’s a lovely building, very aesthetically pleasing. Is it still extant today?
JF: No. They knocked it down.
I: They knocked it down? Vandals.
JF: No, no [slight laugh].
I: It was getting a bit aged.
JF: Yes.
I: Still, it was pretty avant garde for its time, wasn’t it?
JF: It was, yes, it was well thought of at that time.
I: Excellent. You got an architectural award for that I hope.
JF: I enjoyed doing that and I was in my own profession I became President of the Glasgow Institute of Architects. That was our crew.
I: Yeah, tell me about your crew. At the OTU, at Warboys, sorry where you crewed up, when my uncle crewed up at the 11 OTU at Kinloss, sorry 1902 at Kinloss, they put them all in a big hangar, wireless operators, you know, gunners, pilots, navigators, bomb aimers and they just found people they liked, and they liked the look of them and did well on their course and they formed a crew from there.
JF: Well, that wasn’t what happened at ‒.
I: You were actually posted to Pathfinders?
JF: Posted to 156 Squadron and there was always one or two planes failed to return, it was rather sad really and ‒, or they had a need to piece together crews, which they did, they introduced us to various people and would you like to join the crew of this chap? And I did this.
I: OK, so it was more that you were selected to join certain crews.
JF: We got on well together.
I: It was a similar thing but more concentrated in your case.
JF: And we formed a crew and we stayed as a crew.
I: And were you all an officer crew?
JF: No, the pilot was, of course, I wasn’t at that time, I was a flight sergeant. The engineer was a flight sergeant, actually.
I: And there’s an officer there.
JF: That’s him, and there’s the mid upper gunner and the wireless operator, they were flight sergeants.
I: And you had a dog. Was that the mascot?
JF: That was the pilot’s dog. It was just a dog he had.
I: And they had a lot of dogs, didn’t they? Following Guy Gibson’s example.
JF: [Slight laugh] Yes that’s right so we stayed together as a crew and we did very well, and then we had this dramatic change to go to America and that formed another crew. I had a different pilot then.
I: So, when you came back in November ’46, you were demobbed.
JF: Yes, but the thing about America was, we had to fly to America.
I: Yes, of course, via Gander and all over that route. It would have been the old ferry route, wouldn’t it? It would have been the old air bridge ferry? Prestwick, Gander.
JF: Being navigator, we had to stop at the Azores on the way because of the petrol, and I had to find the Azores, which is a very small island.
I: Gosh.
JF: In the middle of the Atlantic. The Azores has a very high mountain in the middle.
I: Volcanic mountain.
JF: Called Pico and my pilot was getting very nervous about finding this.
I: There’s a lot of distance done and there’s a lot of sea down there and we haven’t found the Azores yet, come on nav.
JF: [Slight laugh] that’s right, didn’t like the look of it, but we got there all right, then to Gander in Newfoundland.
I: Was there, in those days there was no real navigational aids of any sort, a beacon and dead reckoning I suppose
JF: Yes, and using the compass.
I: The sextant.
JF: The sextant.
I: The astrodome a lot.
JF: I’ve got that among these papers, I’ve got the log that I used, filled it in as I used it, you know.
I: That’s fascinating.
JF: If you want to take that away with you.
I: Well, I’ll have a look now.
JF: You know what it is now, I’ve told you.
I: Well, I think that more or less finishes this, so we’ll stop that now.
JF: Right.
I: And I’ll play it back just to make sure it’s taken.



Bruce Blanche, “Interview with Robert Forsyth,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024,

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