Interview with Ronald Gard

Title

Interview with Ronald Gard

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Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-06-01

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:52:13 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AGardR160601

Transcription

DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell. The interviewee is Ron Gard. The interview is taking place at Mr Gard’s home in Liphook, Hampshire on the 1st of June 2016. Ok, well if we start off perhaps you could tell me a little bit about your childhood and growing up and how you came to join the RAF.
RG: Well, I was, I was born in Petersfield and in 1940 I joined the Air Training Corps in Petersfield and when I was seventeen I thought, well I’ll take my chance and go down to Portsmouth to see if I could join the RAF and they sent me home because I was too young but eventually they did send for me and I went to Portsmouth. I passed the medicals down there and then as I was going for air crew they said I would have to spend two days at Oxford through for the air crew at a station base. So I went there and I passed all the exams and the medical and they said that I would be suitable to be an air gunner so when I was eighteen and a half I was sent for and I reported to Lords Cricket Ground which was the reception place there and after a couple of weeks I went to Bridlington which was the place they sent you to for teaching you the Morse code and all that sort of thing and then I posted then to 7 AGS which was the gunnery school at Stormy Down in South Wales where I passed out as a sergeant air gunner. From there I went to Silverstone where I crewed up with four Australians and myself and another RAF gunner. Unfortunately, on one of the trips one night the Wellington I was in crash landed and the pilot was blamed for the crash and he was sent back to Australia and then we waited a couple of weeks and we were told to report to the flight office and there was a flying officer, RAF type, pilot who came down to sort of interview us to see if we were suitable to go with him. Actually we finished up we were very lucky because he was a pilot, a pre-war pilot. So anyway he was the flying officer then and he was our, from then on he was our pilot. From there we went to Syerston which was, no, we went to Winthorpe sorry which was on Stirlings to change over from Wellingtons to four engine bombers and we trained on Stirlings and then we went from there to Syerston where we had a few hours on a Lancaster and from there on the next move was to Waddington where we were very lucky to get to Waddington because it was a peacetime ‘drome and still going now and we, there we joined 463 squadron. We had three Australians in our squadron, in our crew. The navigator, the bomb aimer and the wireless operator, they were Australians and the rest of us were English. RAF. And there we’d done our operations. Unfortunately my skipper was deputy flight commander so we, we didn’t, we had, our tour was stretched out a bit because he wasn’t allowed to fly when he was doing flight commanding. Anyway, on our seventeenth trip we were going to Rositz which was the night after the Dresden raid and Rositz was just up the road from Dresden. We got over Leipzig and we got caught in searchlights and we got shot down by flak. I baled out of the rear turret. Then I landed in a field there and I walked all night on my own. There was nobody else about and the next morning I travelled, walked out of some woods where I’d slept during the night to see where I was and I walked straight into the arms of two farmers and one of them had a shotgun. The one with the shotgun knocked me to the ground and I think he was going to, thought he was going to shoot me but the other chap with him pushed the gun out of the way and then they took him, took me to the farmhouse to, and then there were some German, well soldiers I presume they were, they came along and they handcuffed me and took me to this barracks and I stayed there overnight and the next morning an officer, it’s funny really ‘cause an officer and his girlfriend came along, picked me up and took me to Leipzig station and we got in a carriage there and we went to wherever we went to and they took me along to this other camp there and that’s where I met my navigator and my mid upper gunner. From there we got on a train to Frankfurt on Main which was the interrogation place. I spent seven days in there in solitary confinement and then we, then they took us by train again. We were in box wagons and while we were going to Nuremberg we got shot up by American fighters [laughs]. So anyway we, when we got to Nuremberg were put in this compound there and of course I was with my navigator and mid upper gunner there and there was a crowd more and a couple of weeks went by and who should come in to the next compound was my pilot and the wireless operator. They’d escaped for about a fortnight but I think they, in the end they had to give themselves up because they had no food or nothing. Anyway, we were in Nuremberg for about six weeks or more and then we were on a forced march from there down to a place called Moosburg which was down near Munich which was, it took sixteen days to get there by just walking all the time and then we was in, when we were in Moosburg we were there for a couple of weeks and we were liberated by the Americans. The, which was under General Patton. Of course there was all manners of people there. There was Russians and all the, it was just a holding camp you know. Anyway, you’ve got to give the Americans their due they, they, after about a week we got into little sections of about twelve and we were taken then by transport to another aerodrome, small aerodrome. From there we sat there for about a week until our turn because Dakotas was coming in picking up people and taking them, I was taken then to Rheims in France. We got to, once we got to Rheims we were put in to, Lancasters were there and we got in and sat in the fuselages of Lancasters, this Lancaster and we were flown to Thorney Island on the Sussex coast and that was on my 20th birthday. From there we, we were given refreshments and that and then we were put on a, taken into Chichester and put on a train and taken to Cosford where we had all medicals and kitted out and whatever have you and from there we was allowed to send a telegram home to say where we were. That was the first indication that my parents had that I was alive. They didn’t, they knew nothing until then and after about a few days we passed the medicals and got kitted out we were sent home and I was home then for about two months.
DM: What, what made you join the RAF as opposed to going in to the army or the navy?
RG: Well because -
DM: I mean obviously you were in the air cadets but why, why -
RG: Because I was in the Air Training Corps.
DM: Yeah.
RG: I thought that was the next move on you see.
DM: Why did you join the Air Training Corps? Was it - ?
RG: Well, it was, it was the thing that all my friends were joining. They’d just started up in Petersfield and so I decided I would join the Air Training Corps and there was a crowd of us you know.
DM: Yeah. And did you have brothers and sisters?
RG: Yes. Well I got, I had brothers then.
DM: Older? Younger?
RG: No. I was the eldest in my family.
DM: So did your brothers join up then during the war?
RG: Well I had one brother, my twin brother joined the RAF. He was a transport driver. My twin brother that was and then I had three other brothers that got called up for National Service. Two went into the RAF and they were twins as well. And another one went in the army. I don’t know why he went in the army but he did but anyway that was it. There was five of us. I suppose it was called up after but the other three were after the war, you know.
DM: So what did the twins, the other twins do in the RAF after the war?
RG: One was a dog handler and one was just an ordinary AC I think. You know, just general duties.
DM: They didn’t stay on after -
RG: No. No.
DM: The National Service.
RG: No. And anyway, after I, afterwards I was called, I had to go up to Catterick, I think it was, to be assessed. What air crew was there you know and I was trained as, in stores and then I went from stores, I got posted down to Barnham in Suffolk and I was on a bomb dump place there. I was in the office there on stores and then just after that I was promoted to warrant officer and unfortunately they decided that all air crew with rank of warrant officers and flight sergeant would be reduced to the rank of sergeant so I was reduced then to the rank of sergeant and from there I was posted to RAF delegation in Brussels so I went out to Brussels for about three or four months and then I swapped postings with somebody. I went to Farnborough and when I was Farnborough I was there for about four months and then I got demobbed and I come out there and I joined the civil service and I worked for the Ministry of Defence, the army, for forty two years and then I retired at sixty three and I got the Imperial Service Medal for that.
DM: Go back to when you joined the RAF and you were training to be a gunner. How did the crewing up process work for you? How did you all come together?
RG: Well that was when we got to Silverstone. We got to Silverstone and of course when we, when I arrived at Silverstone there was all these bods there and of course there was lots of chaps in dark blue uniforms and I thought, who the heck are they, you know and of course I found out they were Australians and then we all, on the second day we all got in to this big hangar there and then the pilots went around and picked people out to crew up with you see. And this Australian flight sergeant came up to me. He said, ‘How would you like to be one of my gunners?’ So I said, ‘Yeah. Suits me.’ And that was it and of course when I, when we sort of got together there was a pilot and a navigator and a bomb aimer and we didn’t have a, we didn’t a flight engineer then. We didn’t pick the flight engineer up until a lot lot later you know so there was only six of us really in the crew to start with.
DM: Did you, I assume, did you not pick the flight engineer up until after you changed pilots?
RG: Yes, that’s right.
DM: Yeah.
RG: Yes.
DM: When you’d gone on from the Wellingtons.
RG: Yes. Yes, we went on, I think it was, I think it was when we got onto Stirlings I think. We didn’t, he didn’t come, we didn’t pick the flight engineer up until then.
DM: So the exception of the pilot when you were on Stirlings and afterwards he was obviously an officer.
RG: Yeah.
DM: Were you sergeants, the rest of you?
RG: Yes. I was sergeant. Till I got on the squadron I was a sergeant and then you automatically got promoted after twelve months but I was lucky ‘cause I got promoted after nine months. But so I was flight sergeant then and then a year on from there I got promoted to warrant officer but as I say I think they did the dirty on us a bit because why they did it I don’t know because we still got the same pay as a warrant officer but, but they, it was, I mean I couldn’t believe it because I was a warrant officer, it looked ridiculous because I was a warrant officer and then all of a sudden I was a sergeant. Back down to sergeant again.
DM: Strange. When you were on the squadron, you did seventeen operations I think I’m right in saying.
RG: I was shot down on my seventeenth yeah.
DM: Yeah but as you say it took longer because your pilot was a flight commander so -
RG: Yeah. That’s right. He was a deputy flight commander so -
DM: Yeah. What were your feelings sort of when you went on operations? Were you sort of nervous or frightened or -
RG: Well I wouldn’t say I was frightened you know because you had so much going on you know that you didn’t intend to be, I was never frightened. I don’t think I was ever frightened but because you were always sort of busy you know. Busy doing nothing as you might say you know because you were always searching around you know looking for, and then course when you, when you got over the target you was always thinking let’s get out of here quick you know sort of business you know.
DM: Did you get to fire your guns in anger?
RG: No. Never once. No. No I never fired, no I never fired my guns at all. I suppose when you come to think of it it’s the people, the lucky ones that got away. You know you get all these people who, who I mean I was only just, well I might interrupt and say I’ve just read a book on Group Captain Cheshire. He did a hundred operations. Well he must have been a very lucky man to do that number of operations.
DM: Particularly some of the operations he did.
RG: Well that’s right.
DM: Yes.
RG: Because I mean a lot of the chaps of course obviously they finished their tour, you know and as you went on you sort of felt a bit more safer you know, you know and when you I say I was on my seventeenth and that was it.
DM: Did you have any dicey moments before that?
RG: Yes. We got hit a couple of times by flak but as far as fighters was concerned we didn’t see, I didn’t get involved in any of them but no we were hit once or twice you know at different targets and we got over. Not enough to fetch us down but this one really caught us you know. It hit two of the engines out for a start you know and of course I was very lucky because the rear gunner had what they called a dead man’s handle so you could wind the turret around but otherwise I was very lucky because at that time they were issuing rear gunners with pilots type chutes so I was sitting on the chute but before that they were, they were stacked outside the turret. Well if mine had been outside the turret I wouldn’t be alive today because the flames was right up to my turret so I had to wind the turret around, open the doors and go out the back. That’s the only way I could get out but my bomb aimer and flight engineer were both killed and they’re buried in Berlin.
DM: Do you know if they baled out or were they still –?
RG: Well from what I gathered afterwards I think they were caught up with the machine. I think they probably baled out too quick and their parachutes got caught. One, I think one of them must have had a terrible death because his parachute was caught up in the plane and when the plane was, I think our wireless operator, he was, he contacted with the Germans that live around that way somewhere along the line because he wrote a book about it and he said that one of them was attached to the plane. His parachute was still intermingled with the, with the propellers.
DM: And you, did you, were you still in contact with the pilot when you baled out? Were you given the order to bail out or did you just decide it was the time to go.
RG: Well I couldn’t hear anything. I mean they said the pilot said bail out, you know but of course the intercom was all gone and being as I was at the back I saw the mid upper gunner come down and he went out the side door and I just rotated the turret with the dead man’s handle, opened the doors and went out the back that way. That was the only way I could get out.
DM: Do you remember much about the journey down?
RG: No. Not at all. No. No.
DM: They say most people don’t remember pulling the rip cord. I don’t know if -
RG: No. No. You don’t.
DM: I don’t know why.
RG: No you just go out I mean it’s the thing that I felt that I was always saying what happens if I have to bail out anytime, you know and you think oh you sort of dreaded that but when the time comes it’s a case of survival isn’t it?
DM: The lesser of two evils I suppose.
RG: Yeah that’ right
DM: If the plane’s on fire.
RG: Yeah.
DM: Yeah.
RG: And I suppose at night you see when it’s dark you can’t see anything.
DM: No.
RG: And all of a sudden you’re down, you know.
DM: Did you have a reasonably good landing? You didn’t injure yourself.
RG: Yeah. I didn’t get hurt or anything. No.
DM: And you still had both your boots.
RG: Yeah [laughs] Yes. Yes. Yes, I kept them for a long time. It’s funny really because the boots that we had you know and the soles were, were the rubber soles and they were stamped inside Petersfield, Hants and that’s where I came from and there was a factory in Petersfield who made all these rubber soles and things like that and the bottom of my boot was stamped inside Petersfield, Hants. Down the bottom.
DM: So you were shot down. The two farmers -
RG: Yeah.
DM: Captured you basically -
RG: Yeah. They did. Yeah.
DM: The army came and got you and took you off. Eventually you went to the interrogation centre.
RG: Yeah.
DM: What happened at the interrogation centre?
RG: Well again you got interrogated by these Germans. I was quite surprised and I think that anybody who was a prisoner would probably tell you exactly the same that when they got to this place at Frankfurt on Main I was, we were in little cells on our own and one day, about the second day I was there they took me into this office with this German officer was there to interrogate me and on this, 463 RAAF Waddington. ‘I expect you know group captain…’ so and so, ‘Don’t you?’ And, ‘He’s got a nickname hasn’t he?’ And this was it. ‘I’m sorry about the two of your crew that was killed.’ I mean he knew more about the squadron than I did after being on the squadron for about five months you know. They had it all there you know. I mean the Geneva Convention says you just tell them your number, rank and name, that’s all you know and that was it. He was telling me more than I knew you know, there was so much on the squadron and group captain so and so was in charge at Waddington. And he just, I was, you know I stood there I could see all this 463 squadron, Waddington. He opened it up, telling me all about all these, commanding officer and all that you know.
DM: Did you ever feel threatened?
RG: No. No. Never felt threatened at all. No. No. I don’t know whether it was because well the war was almost coming to an end. I can never understand really why, why they moved all these people out of these, out of the camps like they did, you know. I mean they just told us we were going and that was it. Why they did it I just don’t know because they could just all left us there and let the incoming troops take us over you know but they, they as I say we was, I mean they did this all over Germany apparently. I mean this place at Moosburg was full of different people you know. There was Americans and there was Russians and there was English people there and goodness knows what. All nationalities so they all, and of course it happened all up the north as well you know all these chaps was in different camps.
DM: When you were moving about sort of like from the farm to the police station and so on and then eventually to the prison camp did you ever encounter any civilians and was there any hostility?
RG: No. Well, we, we, well I say no because when we first got taken to the place where I met my navigator and the mid upper gunner there was another three other chaps there. I think one was Canadian, two were RAF and the six of us then and we had three guards. Three old chaps there. And we got on this train and we got to a place called Erfurt which was halfway between Leipzig and there and of course the RAF had just bombed the place as we, and of course we had to get out the train. The funny part about it was we got out the train we was holding the rifles and helping these chaps out you see. Course they were our safeguard really. We went to the station and they got us up into a corner and of course all these civilians were there and they thought we’d just, we’d just been captured and bombed and after bombing the place and of course they tried to attack us but the guards were there and kept them away and they marched us out of there and we went and stopped at the school about two miles up the road for the night to get us away from the people there. But as I say we were, we were, then we got on the train to go from Frankfurt to Nuremberg we were strafed by the Americans and we were in these box wagons and fortunately, I mean we were sort of, the thickness of the wood was alright because you could hear the bullets rattling across the roof of course they shot up the train. The engine as well. That didn’t do us a lot of good.
DM: What was the camp like at Nuremberg when you got there because being towards the end of the war, was it -
RG: Yeah
DM: Was it -
RG: It was pretty quiet you know. There was no animosity at all amongst us then. I mean we had nothing to do really. Just sit about all day long, you know.
DM: What was the food situation?
RG: Pretty sparse. If we hadn’t had the Red Cross parcels which we did have you know I think we would have been in pretty bad straights then because we got Red Cross parcels through from, and they came through and I think we had one loaf of bread during the day which was divided between seven of us and then we had Red Cross parcels which was probably one between two or three you know. Very difficult sometimes to share it out but otherwise it was pretty sparse you know.
DM: Now when you were marched from the camp how many days were you on the road?
RG: Sixteen days.
DM: And this was winter.
RG: Well, no well it was -
DM: April.
RG: April time yeah. Yeah.
DM: So not too bad weatherwise.
RG: No it wasn’t too bad. No. But I mean we just slept where we could, you see, I mean. If you got into a barn you were lucky you know. Sleep the night, then off again the next morning off you went again. Course it was stretched out for a hell of a long, I mean I lost, lost the, my navigator and that, and my bomb aimer, sorry my mid-upper gunner. We, they sort of went, you know, and you just fell in anywhere you could and just sort of walked along you know. We were glad when we got to Moosburg but then that was, we were in old tents and that there until we got liberated by the Americans. Of course then the Americans went mad because General Patton came in [laughs]. He was like a tin god to them but I mean I must say that with the Americans they got themselves organised because they had their bakeries and all that came along and baking bread and all that sort of thing and when we, when we came out of the camp there there was American lorries as far as you could see. The whole field was full of American lorries and we got, as we say we were in groups and so we was put in these individual lorries and taken off. Some went one way and some went another and then we had the Dakotas come along to take us to Rheims as I said before.
DM: So, on the march was it hard?
RG: Well it was in comparison, it was comparison that we never had much food you know. We sort of struggled along and they did give us a bit to eat you know like a soup kitchen or something like that there or a slice of bread but as I say it was, it was pretty hard going.
DM: I suppose it was probably –
RG: Course being, I was comparatively young so I didn’t, you know like -
DM: More resilient. Yes.
RG: I could keep going you know.
DM: Yeah. So you came back. As you said you came back to Britain. And what did you, when you were attached in Brussels what was that? What did you have to do there?
RG: Well to tell you truth I don’t really know what I was doing there [laughs] I mean it was funny really because I was, I was there at Barnham there and they said, I was there and they said there’s a signal come through and I was, I was a warrant officer at the time. I was doing and I went to the signals, and they said this airman must go on immediate leave. Posting to follow. So I went across to the officers’ mess. There was only about three officers there and I saw the OC and I said, ‘There’s an urgent signal.’ ‘Who’s it for?’ I said, ‘Me.’ He said, ‘Oh don’t worry about that,’ he said, ‘I’ll get that cancelled,’ but anyway he couldn’t so they sent me on leave for a month and when I came back my posting was cancelled so I’d been home for a month and then the posting was cancelled and eventually when I got made, brought down to sergeant the posting came up again and I was at the RAF, it was a posh name the RAF Delegation Brussels but actually it was RAF chaps there handing over to the Belgian Air Force and just getting them started up again you know but I was just there doing stores and that there. As a matter of fact the last job, the job I did have there was with an old warrant officer and he was fitting out some married quarters for the officers there. All the stuff that was going in so I was giving him a hand with that and then he came up to me in the mess one night and said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘You live near Farnborough don’t you?’ So I said, ‘What Farnborough the [RAE?],’ so he said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘There was a chap posted there and he doesn’t want to go.’ Well I said, ‘Well give it to me then and I’ll take it.’ So I came, they got me a posting there fitted up so I went down, they sent transport for me, took me down to the Gare du Nord in Brussels. I got on this train and what I didn’t realise, it was, it was an officer’s train and the chap came along, he said, ‘Breakfast is served, sir’ you know and there was me with three stripes sat there and there were all these officers there so I, and I got down I got down to, where did get to? Calais, on the train and of course I was all on my own so I just got off with my kit and that and I said to one of the policemen there and I said, ‘How do I get to Dover?’ He said, ‘Well there’s a boat there.’ So I walked on to the boat and that was it and it was, I’ll always remember it was a Friday. I thought well I’m not going to Farnborough today. I’ll wait till the weekend. I’ll go Monday morning so I caught the train, I came down to Petersfield where I lived and stayed the weekend there and on the Monday morning I caught the train back up to Guildford, I think it was and then I went from there to Farnborough and reported in there and the chap said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘You should have been here on Friday.’ So I said to him, ‘Have you ever tried getting across from Calais to Dover on a Friday?’ I said, ‘I didn’t get there till last night and come straight here.’ Of course he didn’t know any different so that was it. But again I just stayed there until I got demobbed and that was in the July I think. That was about, well it was the winter of ’47 which was a terrible winter then and that you know but that’s when I got demobbed.
DM: You didn’t think of staying in?
RG: Well I say again with aircrew you sort of had two trades. I mean as an air gunner I was finished flying so then they gave you, sent on a course for stores and I was AC, or something, stores so if I’d have stopped in I would have had to lose my aircrew rank and start again.
DM: So you ended up in the Ministry of Defence.
RG: Yeah. I worked for the Ministry of Defence in Liphook here because there was a big army depot here.
DM: Right.
RG: And that’s where I went to work. In there.
DM: But as a civilian obviously.
RG: Yeah. Oh yeah.
DM: So, when did you marry?
RG: 1948.
DM: Children?
RG: No. We got no children. No. No. But I, my wife worked for the, for the Ministry of Defence as well and so when my wife she took early retirement. So at fifty eight and I was sixty two, sixty three so I thought I’d take early retirement as well so I took it just afterwards. So I’ve been retired since I was sixty three.
DM: When you were at Waddington what was the social, sort of life like? You, as obviously, as a crew I imagine you were associated with each other.
RG: Yeah.
DM: Did the pilot associate with you as well off duty?
RG: Oh yes. Oh yes, most well I don’t say most nights but if we weren’t on flying he had a car and we used to go down the local pub. Everybody mixed in you know. I mean even sometimes you’d go down the pub and there was your ground crew was there as well you know. There was always drinks on us sort of business you know. But you know, the, everybody, always spoke well of their ground crew you know ‘cause after all you relied on them. I mean I was reading an article there once where the chap was writing in the paper and said, ‘Oh it was always them and us.’ Well it was never them and us you know.
DM: Were the ground crew a mixture of British and Australian or were they all British?
RG: No they were a mixture, you know. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. There were Australian engineers and that there. Fitters. Whatever have you.
DM: What did you think of the Australians?
RG: I got on all right with them, you know. As a matter of fact in 1982 my wife and I went to Australia for six weeks and stayed there with my wireless operator and he died just last year. But they invited us over there ‘cause they, it was funny really ‘cause I was here one Saturday afternoon, we’d been out in in the garden there, just sitting there and having a snack, you know and the front door bell went and I went the front door, the front door and this chap was stood there and I thought well I know his face but I just couldn’t place who he was and he said, ‘Hello Ron. I’ve come twelve thousand miles to see you.’ I said, ‘Oh Dudley Hanniford.’ He said, ‘Yes.’ That was my wireless operator and him and his wife they had come over for a big reunion. It was about, I suppose it was about fifty Australians or more came over to Waddington and stayed up there for a week in Lincoln and of course I knew nothing about it then but afterwards I think that was in, well it was the thirtieth anniversary or something in 1975 so they decided they would all get together and fly over to Waddington and they stayed all around the area and the next time would have been about 1990 I think it was. 1995. And I was then a member of the Association which I didn’t know anything about and my wife and I we went up to Lincoln and stayed there for a week at Waddington doing all manner of things around you know in the station and we went out around. We had, we had an invitation to the Lord Mayor’s do up in Lincoln. He invited all these people there to Lincoln, to a party up there and we had a couple of invitations to the officer’s mess. They weren’t very happy about the Australians coming over [laughs] I think they were a bit of a gung-ho lot you know. I mean I remember once I had because at the end of every month you had to take your log book in to the squadron leader, the OC, to sign it to verify it, sign it, you know. And I went there one day and the squadron leader was sitting at his desk you know, and I went in and saluted, you know and he said, ‘God don’t frighten me to death,’ he said. He said, he said because they never, they never used to salute anybody then. I mean they might do it once in a day but they never, didn’t salute every time you met an officer there ‘cause they were all crewed in together, you know but they was a good crowd.
DM: And you’re still a member of the Association.
RG: Yes. I’m still member of the Association. Yeah. But I haven’t been up to Waddington for the last couple of years you know but I get a newsletter every, about twice a year from the Association. What goes on.
DM: And are you the sole surviving member of your crew now?
RG: I must be yeah.
DM: Yeah.
RG: Yes, because my pilot and rear gunner and mid upper gunner I know have passed away and last year, two of the crew were killed so that only left five of us and the wireless operator which I used to share a room with in Waddington in the sergeants mess and he passed away last year. His son in law rung me up and told me about it you know but we spent six weeks out there with them.
DM: How do you feel about the way Bomber Command was, I won’t say treated but perhaps perceived and dealt with after the war? Do you have any feelings about that?
RG: Terrible.
DM: Yeah.
RG: I mean –
DM: Did you think that at the time?
RG: Yes because they sort of, I mean today you read about all these chaps coming out the army and the services and they think the world owes them a living but nobody thought that about us. You know, I mean as I say I was a warrant officer one day and then I was reduced to the rank of sergeant. Of course when I come home people thought, ‘I wonder what he’s done,’ you know. And it was so stupid because they still paid us, I still got paid as a warrant officer. The funny part about it was I had a, I had a warrant officer’s uniform and an overcoat and when I was posted to Brussels I was walking around there with a warrant officer’s overcoat with three stripes on and I was in Brussels one Saturday afternoon and one of the military, the RAF police came up to me and said, ‘Excuse me sergeant,’ he said, ‘But do you realise you are walking around with a warrant officer’s overcoat on?’ I said, ‘Yes, that’s right.’ So he said, ‘Why is that?’ So I told him. Thought no more about it. ‘Ok’, he said, ‘Can I have your number, rank and name.’ ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Where are you stationed?’ I said, ‘I’m at the RAF delegation.’ ‘Alright. Fair enough.’ Well fortunately it had come out on orders that although you were reduced down to sergeant you could still wear the overcoat but you had to put three stripes on it. So fair enough. So this, this friend of mine, he was in charge of the orderly room so I said to him, ‘Can you dig out that DCI that come out about wearing the overcoat,’ you see. He said, ‘Why?’ So I told him. He said, ‘Alright. I’ll look it up Monday morning.’ So anyway, funnily enough first thing on Monday morning I was sent for by the commanding officer out there and he said, ‘I believe you were pulled up sergeant,’ he said, ‘Well Saturday afternoon in Brussels for wearing a warrant officer’s overcoat.’ I said, ‘Yes. That’s right sir.’ I said, ‘I’m quite entitled to it,’ I said because they didn’t say we could hand that in and get a new overcoat so he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Can you prove that?’ So we sent for the sergeant in the orderly room and of course he didn’t know that I’d already spoken to him and he came out with this, showed it to him. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Oh you’re entitled to wear it then.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ So he said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Get rid of that bloody overcoat,’ he said, ‘And go and draw a new one from the stores.’ So I went and I said, ‘Have you got a spare overcoat?’ He had an overcoat that fit me so I had two overcoats then. Of course when I come home I had two overcoats. I still kept the other one but, and I think as for this Bomber Command clasp they’ve given us I think it’s a disgrace. You’ve seen it have you? You know I, when they said they were give the Bomber Command a medal and then I received this little bit of tin with Bomber Command on it I thought, useless.
DM: Yeah, obviously now there’s the memorial and there’s the new Bomber Command Centre but I think a lot of people think it’s too late in a way. It’s better that, you know it’s good that it’s happening now but it should have happened thirty years ago.
RG: Oh yeah.
DM: Or even longer.
RG: Yeah. Even now you see it’s, it’s all done by charity really. You know. Donations to keep it going and that and to build it in the first place. I mean they had these people who had plenty of money and built it. I mean, it’s a wonderful memorial. It’s a lovely place but again it’s just too late.
DM: Another veteran said to me, I don’t know if you think this is true that there is only one thing wrong with the memorial. When you look at it they’re too old.
RG: They’re too old.
DM: The people in the statues are too old.
RG: Yes.
DM: They look like thirty five.
RG: Yeah.
DM: Forty year olds.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
DM: You know and you were all very young men.
RG: Well the average age was about twenty two. Something like that. I mean as I said you had chaps flying Lancasters who couldn’t even drive a car, you know. I mean most of them, I mean, as I said the wing commander, our Wing Commander Forbes. I think he was only twenty six and he was a wing commander and he got, he got killed on his second, last trip of his second tour.
DM: Do you remember how old your pilot was? How old was he?
RG: My pilot was thirty two.
DM: Right.
RG: My mid-upper gunner -
DM: An old man then really.
RG: He was yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DM: And the mid upper gunner you were going to say.
RG: He was thirty two as well. Yeah. I was the youngest one in the crew but I mean most of these Australians they were say twenty, twenty two something like that because they’d come over like and done all their training and that so they were getting on, I’m not saying getting on a bit but the average age was only about twenty two, twenty three something like that. If you took it right through you know.
[machine paused]
DM: Catch up sort of thing.
RG: Up, up till 1943 before D-Day rather up to D-Day the aircrew blokes got the Aircrew Europe star you see. After D-Day we got the France and Germany which everybody got. You know, all the troops. Anybody who’d spent twenty four hours in France got the France and Germany medal and that’s all they gave us. So, but what they should have done really in my opinion they should have extended the Aircrew Europe right through the war. If they’d have given us the Aircrew Europe, after all, we went, I know, I know we were probably going over France, bits of France which had already taken you know and we were not likely to get shot down there but I mean we went to, I mean I went to, some trips took ten hours.
DM: And you did get shot down.
RG: Yeah. Got shot down.
DM: At the end of the day.
RG: You see.
DM: Yeah.
RG: I mean Leipzig is a fair old way across there you know and that but I mean they should have extended the Aircrew Europe and given it to everybody who was on operations but they didn’t. They gave, all they got was a France and Germany. I didn’t even get the defence medal. I mean a lot of these air crew blokes got the defence medal. I don’t know why but they did but I didn’t qualify for it but I mean, I think with the Aircrew Europe they should have ext, the Bomber Command Association should have put their foot down and said, ‘Well look, we want that extended.’ I mean when they brought the ’39/ ’45 medal out that was only ’39/ ’43 to start with and they extended that to 1945 so why couldn’t they have done that with the Aircrew Europe instead of giving us a little bit of tin with the Bomber Command. When I went to Coningsby to the, when the Canadian came over we had we had a chance there for the, if you wanted it for the commanding officer at Coningsby to present you with your clasp and a lot of the chaps did it. They just came up and said, they gave a bit of a spiel what they did and goodness knows what and the commanding officer handed, I suppose what they had to do was to send their clasp in their box up to there and then you didn’t probably get the same one back anyway but the commanding officer you know they gave a spiel out about what you did and then the commanding officer handed it over but I wouldn’t do that because I didn’t agree with the clasp and I think that Churchill let us down badly ‘cause he wouldn’t admit that he had anything to do with the Dresden raid and that was the top and bottom of it all I think.
DM: Dropped it like a hot potato didn’t he?
RG: I mean these people turn around and say oh what a terrible thing this was and what a terrible thing that was. As far as I was concerned we were just doing a job, you know. You didn’t think about all the people that were getting killed down below. Never thought about that at all. You were just thinking about yourself really but I mean when it came to, when you say, ‘Well yeah but what about Coventry? What about Plymouth? What about Southampton and what about London?’ All these people who say these things now I mean it’s like the president going to Hiroshima now and saying you know he didn’t say sorry, but he shouldn’t have to say sorry. What these people didn’t realise that unless you were there or were about at that time the fact was that we would have lost thousands of troops if we had tried to invade Japan. I mean they had the opportunity to give in but they didn’t. It was typical of the Japanese but they, I mean the way I look at it is this if they hadn’t dropped the atom bomb over there we should have lost thousands of people trying to invade there. And they say oh you killed thousands of people and all this sort of business. Well that’s wartime I’m afraid isn’t it?
DM: It is.
RG: Last year, about this time a chap rang me up ‘cause I had a bit of write up in the local paper because it was my ninetieth birthday and that you know and somebody got to hear about it and this chap rang me up and he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘You were in Bomber Command.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘How would you like to go up to Cosford for the day for a reunion?’ You see. I said, ‘Cosford.’ I said, ‘Well how do I get to Cosford then?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about how you’re going to get there.’ He said, ‘Just say if you can go or not.’ I said, ‘Oh yes, I’ll go.’ ‘Well I’ll give you, let you know what happens.’ So about a few days went by and he rang up and he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘We’ve laid on some transport to take you to Blackbushe Aerodrome and from there there will be a plane to fly you up to Cosford.’ So I went up in a Cessna. So anyway there was quite a crowd of us there and the funny part about it was well there’s only about four people sit in a Cessna. There was only the pilot and three others. So I went with three other chaps and the pilot came out and said, ‘We’re ready to go now,’ So there was quite a crowd there and all these Cessnas out there. They were all privately owned. So we go around there and we get in the plane and he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Can’t start at the moment.’ He said, ‘We’ve got a job to start it. It won’t start.’ So anyway, it was quite funny because there’s the pilot, and another chap came out, apparently he’s the chief instructor at Blackbushe whatever he was there. He said, ‘I can’t understand it,’ he said, ‘Because I’ve been flying this plane all the week,’ he said, ‘and nothing, it’s been going alright.’ He said, ‘Perhaps the battery’s flat.’ You couldn’t, you’d never believe this. They couldn’t find the bloody battery. They didn’t know where the battery was. So me and these other two blokes were sitting there. I thought ‘cause it was quite a struggle to get up into a blooming Cessna so he said, ‘Oh well.’ So they took the bonnet off the front. No it ain’t under there. I thought oh a good job this isn’t wartime. So they put the bonnet back on. They found out it was in the back. ‘Oh we’ll have, we’ll have to charge it up. So will you get out again and go and sit back in the old canteen there,’ he said, ‘And we’ll give you a call.’ And so of course all these other planes were taking off to Cosford and we were just sitting there. So eventually the pilot came through after about an hour and he said, ‘Oh we can go now.’ I said, ‘Alright,’ so everybody climbs back and gets back in to the Cessna again. Chap comes along with a battery, looked like a twelve bolt car battery. I thought they’d already put it in the plane, you know. Oh no he come along with it. Anyway, he got the plane started up and off we took and flew to Cosford. I think we were about the last ones to arrive there you know ‘cause all packed out there. So anyway and of course then when it was time to come home the pilot said, ‘I think we’d better..’ and of course when we got to Cosford you had to wait until there was a van to take you out to the planes, you see. They wouldn’t let you walk out but they were only just up the road, they wouldn’t let you walk, they took you so were one of the last ones to take off. I think it was about two Cessnas left. Anyway so that was their day at Cosford. And this other bloke said, ‘We’ll see in 2016 but I think this year they said there’s something about it was at Scampton but I’ve heard nothing this year. Perhaps it’s too far down for me to go up there.

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David Meanwell, “Interview with Ronald Gard,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 21, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8842.

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