Interview with Harry Gough


Interview with Harry Gough


Harry Gough was born in Dewsbury, he finished school in 1939 aged fourteen, joined the Air Training Corps in 1941 and volunteered for the Air Force in 1943. He recounts his training as an air gunner and flying over the North Pole. After flying operations he was posted to Austria as an air traffic controller. He was demobbed and after the war he worked for the Gas Board and Water Authority.




Temporal Coverage




00:30:08 audio recording


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AM: Ok so it’s Tuesday 22nd September 2015 and we are in Tingly near Wakefield and this is Annie Moody for the International Bomber Command Centre and I’m talking today to
HG: Harry Gough.
AM: Harry Gough. So if you would Harry would you just tell me a little bit about your childhood, and where you were born and what your parents did.
HG: I was born in Dewsbury, er Dewsbury Moor actually. My father at that time was er worked in the steel industry at Click Heaton up to me being probably six or seven and then he er decided to leave that and er go into the licensing trade being er, what is it, er steward at a working men’s club that would be when I was six or seven er.
AM: What was it like being a child working in a, er living near a working men’s club then, where you living there in it?
HG: No no we lived away from it
AM: Oh, Oh
HG: But er at that time, funnily enough we were only on about this a few days ago er the way families were brought up, I think it was when Victor was up er, I was the youngest of seven and the house we had a small terraced house (pause) you couldn’t say it was a one up and one down but that’s basically what it was one large bedroom and a small one at the top of the landing so that was the earliest I remember being there er.
AM: What about the bathroom and toilet, where were they?
HG: Oh no bathroom (laughs) there there were sink in the corner
AM: And a tin bath
HG: Tin bath yeah and a toilet way up the yard and er you prayed every day that it didn’t you didn’t have heavy rain (laughs) er but we moved into a council house at that time when I was seven and er there again seven of us and it was a three bedroomed council house you know people just wouldn’t have that today would they and er from there er went to the local school, broke my leg playing football er recovered from that and we moved into a public house then in Dewsbury the Great (unclear) Hotel in Dewsbury and we were there for two years transferred our interest to Leeds another pub, another two years, or less than two years, back to Morley (unclear) Morley and that another pub eventually er and that when my schooling finished that would be 1939
AM: So how old were you then?
HG: Fourteen
AM: Fourteen
HG: My eldest my second eldest brother he worked in the textiles and he had to work at Putsey and he had to go by bike from Morley to Putsey on the night shift his wage was twenty six bob a week so he’d had enough of that and he volunteered for the army me being the stupid lad, oh no I’m not stupid, er if he was having action I wanted it as well so I wanted to go in the boys army along with him er, my father agreed to it but er mother said no you’re not and that was the end of that up to er 41 and er I joined the air training corps local squadron at Morley and er in there until volunteering for the air force in 43 and er eventually accepted and I did the er air crew assessment at Doncaster and er they were full up with pilots and full up with navigators
AM: Everybody wanted to be a pilot
HG: (Laughs) that’s right (laughs) right well if you got to be a gunnery course that’s it well I wanted to fly anyway so it was August 43 when I eventually went and er signed on down at Lords cricket ground, lad at 18 years old and going to London you know, never been out of his home town I don’t think, occasional holiday but not many of those I kind of remember going on holiday with my parents more than once
AM: How did you get to London then did you go on the train?
HG: Train yeah yeah, I suppose you get on the train and follow the crowd (laughs) er when we were there our initial signing and initial whatever it is medicals and er up to er for a fortnight to three weeks and then back up into Yorkshire to Bridlington
AM: So in that three weeks what were you doing?
HG: er getting kitted out
AM: What sort of things?
HG: Medicals er several injections whatever they call them er but er my sister was stationed in London at the time she was in the WAFS and er we met up a few times at er I think it was just routine things er drills whatever marching to the London zoo for meals and er yeah and I met up with a gunner we met on the first day we were there
AM: What was he called?
HG: Bill Field from Chester we were about the same age and er we were together right the way through to finishing flying
AM: Really
HG: We did a gunnery course did our basic training in Bridlington over to Belfast or near Belfast for gunnery school
AM: What was the gunnery school like what sort of things were you doing there did you have to strip em and put em back together and all that sort of stuff
HG: No no you had to do theory work on the guns but er mainly it was er rifle shooting for the clay pigeon shooting er then up in the Avro Ansons for air to air gunnery
AM: So when you say air to air what were you shooting at
HG: A draw yeah there’d be another Emerson dragging a draw if you were lucky he ate it (laughs)
AM: Did you
HG: Well I got a percentage of it whether that’s true or not I don’t know I think they just put this percentage out to get you through and make sure you had a rear gunner or something.
AM: Mmm
HG: But er that was I finished there New Year’s Eve we left New Year’s Eve in 43 that was it so from August I’d done all the basic training air gunnery training and passed out as a Sergeant air gunner before I was nineteen
AM: Blimey
HG: When you think about that you know think about that lady how stupid can it be but er it wasn’t just me everybody was on it er and after a short period at home then oh we finished up in Scotland on New Year’s Eve at Stranraer bit frightening (laughs) as an eighteen year old a bit frightening
AM: Laughs
HG: But er nevertheless we caught the train early morning and er early morning made our way home. After a few days at home up to er Kinross forest in Kinross in Scotland
AM: Scotland again
HG: That was for er crewing up and er operational training
AM: So how did the crewing up go cos’ you’d already got your mate with you
HG: Yes we stuck together all the time did Bill and I and er I don’t remember er well
AM: Who chose who?
HG: (Pause) I think the pilot chose us (laughs) why he did I don’t know er
AM: Maybe he could see there were two mates together and he wanted…
HG: Yes I think that had a lot to do with it we’d been together as pals and Harry Harrison the pilot er then he’d already met the er navigator Johnny Hall from Bradford from there we all got together Scottish wireless operator Cockney lad for a flight engineer and er I don’t remember where he come from South Midlands somewhere… Leicester and er how long did that last probably January late February early March
AM: So that’s where you flew together as a crew then
HG: Crew yes flying Whitley’s doing all the basic things turning dinghy’s over in the bath (laughs) when you can’t swim it’s er a bit of a nightmare but we got through it er
AM: Why turning dinghy’s over in the bath, in case you got shot down
HG: Yeah in case you got shot down
AM: Or crash landed in the sea
HG: Yeah yeah and er flying Whitley’s er the flying coffin some of the cross countries that we did six hours in the rear turret of a Whitley not very nice but it was enjoyable because that’s what I wanted to do er from there we went to er Marston Moor er heavy conversion unit flying the Halifax Mk 2.
AM: Right
HG: Which you don’t get to know until later that was the worst period of your service flying in a Halifax Mk 2 you were safer flying in the Mk 3 and 4 going on operations
AM: Why was that?
HG: They were very unreliable er basically because of the engine I think er and the tail unit the tail unit of the Halifax changed a great deal and they put revised engines in then and they were a much sounder aircraft
AM: Right
HG: But er we didn’t get none (unclear) you were in a death trap really (laughs) but er we got through that and we floated about then in Yorkshire for some reason (unclear) and Maltby, Driffield just for nightly stays and things like until we got posted to a squadron which was Melbourne ten squadron
AM: And there was ten squadron
HG: Mmm from there well
AM: What was your first operation like then
HG: What was it like
AM: Well can you just, I can’t imagine how it must of felt
HG: (Pause)
AM: I bet you can’t remember (laughs)
HG: No I can’t remember, no I can’t remember (pause)
AM: Bacon and eggs
HG: (Laughs) oh aye coming back to bacon and eggs that’s what that’s what you looked forward to but never when they all went out on operations did I ever think that I wouldn’t get back never never entered my head that I would never get back
AM: Did you have any close shaves
HG: (Pause) I suppose there were one or two where er the fighters were about but er in the main there were I think the biggest (unclear) were the night operations which you know they were a bit backwards at coming forwards at coming up in the dark they’d wait till the Yanks went over in the day light and have a go at them
AM: Have a go at them
HG: But er anti-aircraft fire unnerving but even then never entered my head that er I wouldn’t get back
AM: And you were right
HG: Mmm
AM: What was it like ‘cos you were the rear gunner so as you’re coming away bombs have been dropped?
HG: That’s right
AM: And you can see
HG: Yeah
AM: What’s, what’s happened
HG: Oh the in most cases the place was ablaze down below and er I suppose you think at the time oh great we’ve done a good job
AM: Yeah
HG: It isn’t until later days you know was it all that good you know what damage did we do I mean innocent people were killed but this is years later you think about this
AM: I was gonna say that because at the time you were doing it
HG: We were doing what we would been trained to do and er got satisfaction out of doing it as well but er pub visits at the night when you weren’t on operation a little bit naughty at times but er
AM: I’m gonna have to ask you, in what way naughty
HG: Well I don’t know it er probably drink more than what you should really
AM: You’re still only twenty by this time nineteen
HG: Nineteen yes I finished flying before I was twenty so I were only well at that time you were what you called kids at eighteen you weren’t adults at all you were classed as kiddies really
AM: Did you fly with the same crew all the way through
HG: Yes yes stuck together all the way through thirty three operations
AM: Thirty three, blimey, I can see we’ve got your log book is there anything
HG: Laughs
GR: Well your first operation was a daylight
HG: Yeah it was
GR: According to this yeah Macer Owen
HG: Taverni was it
GR: Yeah Macer Owen…and your last op was Christmas Eve (Laughs)
HG: Yeah yeah fly from the 23rd (unclear) the 24th
AM: And you said to me before about the fact that it was Christmas Eve and that was your last one
HG: Yeah
AM: About your mum and dad
HG: Yeah at the time it never struck me at all that it was any different to any other operation or you know you feel a sense of relief that the operations are over but it was only oh much later that I thought about these things. I don’t know what my parents were really thought about me being in the Air Force and what I was doing what it meant to them but what a Christmas box it must have been if that’s the way they thought about that I wasn’t in danger of being shot down or losing my life or whatever er after that particular time I never mentioned it to them in fact it was after they’d both passed I think my dad thought about it but er
AM: Yeah so what did you do after you finished your operations
HG: Oh dear I got kicked about and er
AM: (Laughs) did you do any training or TU stuff
HG: No I went into air traffic control actually
AM: Ahh
HG: Er when they finally got me settled down at Shawbury which was the number one flying training school was it, that’s where the (unclear) flew from when we went over the North Pole wing commander Mcclurough I think it was er I did a few months there I was there up to er VE day which was in May wasn’t it
AM: Mmm
HG: 45 and on VE day I travelled to Valley on the Isle of Anglesey and I was there until after VJ Day, (pause) VJ day what a night
AM: (Laughs)
HG: There was a black and tan drink then wasn’t there Guinness and beer black and tan
GR: That’s right yeah
AM: Mmm
HG: Still only twenty and I’m drinking black and tans I didn’t eat anything for four days (laughs)
AM: Laughs
GR: Laughs
HG: That’s when I learnt how to drive er air traffic control there was a (unclear) out there are you alright, yes I’m alright, never driven a van in my life (laughs) and there was some…how do I start this thing, (laughs) and away I went, but er bit precarious but er
AM: On a road or
HG: No no on the air field on the air field
AM: Just as well
HG: Yeah (laughs) well from the mess to the er traffic control and whatever to the end of the runway and back and things like that but er and from there not long after VJ Day I went back to Shawbury again well just how long I was there I can’t remember can’t remember and by this time I’d er already got my Flight Sergeant that was late 44 I got my Officer late 45 when I was still at Shawbury and then went to various places then just two or three days stopping at one near Warrington I can’t remember I can’t remember what place it was
AM: I wonder why, why were they moving you about like that?
HG: To find getting a posting you just couldn’t get (unclear) to come out I did want to come out anyway because I had the chance to come out on was it class B release or something because I worked in the textiles before I went in and there was no way that I’m going back into textiles after being in the air force and the excitement that I’d had or the life that I’d had and they kick you about a bit until er they get you a posting and I finally got a posting to er Austria just outside Vienna (Schwechat) but in the meantime for some reason that I don’t know why and I always thought it was a bit unfair you had to re-muster and you lost your seniority rank you were taken down from Warrant Officer back down to sergeant in rank but not in pay you still got your Warrant officers pay and it always hit me that er you know you’ve done this, you’ve volunteered for this, you’ve done your flying you’ve done your duty and everything that’s been asked of you and you’ve been fortunate enough to get through and then they demote you which didn’t seem fair to me at all, er but as I say the money was still there you were a Sergeant with a Warrant Officer’s pay and er went to Vienna (pause) mid July 46 July 46 that’s right er (pause) yeah and I enjoyed that er in air traffic control again er the surrounding area you were in the Russian border so you had to be very careful what you were doing but you were allowed out of camp and there was woodlands and through the woodlands you got to the er river what is it in Vienna come on Clarice what river is it in Vienna
AM: I can’t think I should know and I can’t it’s not erm
HG: I’ll be dammed
AM: No it’s gone I can’t remember
GR: Could be the Rhine
HG: No
GR: The Rhone
HG: No
AM: I can’t remember either
HG: Crazy isn’t it, crazy
AM: I’ll find it after, the river in Vienna anyway
HG: Yeah er out of camp and through this woodland I actually walked on the river it was that cold it was frozen over it was really really cold but er the camp that’s about itas much as I can remember about it other than we often visited Vienna itself not nightly but certainly two or three nights a week and really enjoyable and er the diesel in the truck that took us down would often freeze up so you were stuck there in the middle of the night (laughs) trying to keep warm
AM: Laughs
HG: But er I suppose the most that I remember about that there were three of us myself a Geordie lad ex air crew and a Scotch lad ex air crew and we got to like our drinks a little bit I always remember one afternoon we were drinking in the bar and we drunk that bar absolutely dry
AM: There’s a there’s a thread running through this story isn’t there (laughs)
HG: (Laughs) we drank that bar absolutely dry we finished up drinking port of all things and we sat in this bar and an electric light, (pause) can’t be a fire can’t that and it was and er the electrics in upstairs room had caught fire and er everybody had to bail out of course and this Scots lad he went absolutely berserk and we were just across from the er guard room and er the three of us were taken into the guard room and this guy was given morphine to quieten him down he was really really bad so that was almost the end of my service in Vienna we got kitted out and put in with the airmen for the rest of our stay there but er came back to er Blackpool and we were de-mobbed
AM: You were de-mobbed so you did leave in the end
HG: Yes
AM: What did you do afterwards, not textiles?
HG: Oh dear er I did for a very short period my brother worked in the textiles then my elder brother er and I batted it out (unclear) while the money lasted you know (laughs) er eventually I had to get a job so I went there and er oh I think three or four week I’m not sticking this (laughs) and er what did I do from there oh cigarette people Ardath cigarette people they had er they were based in Leeds and I met Gladys then well we’d known each other years but we got together then and er I was there for quite a while months not years months and then we got married February 48 wasn’t it
GH: Mmm
HG: And er these people kind as they are you know oh yes you can have a week off it’s your summer holiday that’s fine as long as I can have a week off we got married had the week off and went down to Kent on our honeymoon and came back and gave my notice in (laughs) they can’t do that to Harry and er from there I went into engineering in Bradford not a very happy time because I was working with people who’d been er what do they call when they weren’t called up
AM: Erm not (unclear) to subject as if they’d been in a reserved occupation
HG: Like a reserved occupation and you’re working with these guys and (unclear) so that didn’t last very long either (laughs) er and from then I went to the Gas Board
AM: Right
HG: In 49 and er that’s been my life I suppose ever since
AM: You stayed there ever since
HG: The Gas Board er finished and had a period with the water authority and I had one spell in between the Gas Board and the water what was that er what do they call it fibre glass moulds making moulds out of fibre glass and it was the summer of 49 I don’t know if you remember it and it was absolutely scorching I think it was 49 48 48 49
GH: There weren’t many in 48
AM: Late forties must’ve been 48
HG: Yeah around 48 49 really scorching and a perspex roof and you could see all this fibre glass
AM: I was gonna say dust I would imagine it’s
HG: Floating about I though oooh Harry (laughs) get out
AM: You don’t want that on your lungs
HG: That was enough of that so from there I went to an outside job with the water authority and thankfully was able to stay there
AM: Stay there ever since
HG: Until I retired
AM: and you know you said just just going back to the bombing bit for a minute you said that at the time what everybody’s said to me we had to do it that’s what we were there for you did it
HG: That’s right
AM: But later on you did start to think about
HG: Yes you did yes you did
AM: The women and children and what have you
HG: And I think what brought that to my mind more than anything was er Munich ‘cos they really did we never went to Munich but er they really did flatten Munich and there must’ve been thousands of innocent people that died because of that and er (pause) were we doing the right thing that’s the way I thought of it later but er but at the time yes that’s what you joined up for that’s what you volunteered for they want you to do it get it done
AM: And that was to bring the war to an end
HG: That’s right yeah
AM: Excellent, I’m going to switch off now.



Annie Moody, “Interview with Harry Gough,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 13, 2024,

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