Interview with Alfred Huberman


Interview with Alfred Huberman


Alfred Huberman volunteered for the RAF when he was eighteen and trained as an air gunner. He describes the training and emphasises how physically hard it was. He flew 31 operations from RAF Elsham Wolds in Lancasters. These included operations over the Ruhr and the bombing of the V-3 weapon site at Mimoyecques. After he completed his tour he was stationed at a radar station but missed the camaraderie of his crew so volunteered for further active operational duties and served with the Pathfinder force at RAF Wyton. He completed a further 7 flights for Operations Manna and Exodus. After the war he was very active in forming the Air Gunner's Association and also served on the committee of the Bomber Command Association.




Temporal Coverage




01:10:46 audio recording


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AS: Ok. So I think we’re ready to start. If I could put the recording machine there and that on there. So this is Andrew Sadler interviewing Alfred Huberman at his home in Hampstead in London on the 29th of March 2016 for the Bomber Command Digital Archive. Thank you, Alfred, for allowing me to come to your home to interview you.
AH: It’s a pleasure.
AS: Can I start by asking you how you came to be in the Royal Air Force?
AH: Well, my father was in the army in the First World War and he didn’t want me to go in the army and we had friends who felt the same way. They, they could only think of the war as trench warfare and bayonet fighting and he thought, he didn’t mind me at all going in the RAF actually. He was quite pleased ‘cause they could only think of the army you know as trench warfare and bayonets you know. That’s how the old timers used to talk. So I volunteered to go in the air force.
AS: And how were you selected?
AH: We went before a committee. People who, you know, examined you and why you wanted to go in and explain your reasons why you wanted to volunteer for Bomber Command.
AS: Before this time can you tell me about your background? Where did you live?
AH: Lived in Forest Gate. You know that’s not far from Mile End, you know. A bit further down near Upton Park and Forest Gate and I wanted to get in the war and get into action and I thought [unclear] because my mum and dad said I won’t go in the army. I wanted to go in the air force anyway and I volunteered in the air force when I was eighteen.
AS: So you started when you were eighteen.
AH: I went in. Yes.
AS: Can you tell me about your training?
AH: Yes. I first started training as a wireless operator air gunner. Started off in Blackpool and towards the end of ‘41 and I really, coming towards the end of it I really didn’t like being a wireless operator and I thought I’m not going to go through this, I don’t like this. I deliberately failed and re-mustered to go straight AG which they did, you know. The sent me for training as an air gunner.
AH: Training was really tough. All kinds of things. You had to go on route marches. They made the training deliberately tough because it was tough being an air gunner and you’ve got to be tough mentally and physically to take it. That’s what the trainers all thought and the air force knew that and the quick, it quickly got sorted out, the good and the bad. You know, you could tell the guys who couldn’t make it. You know you felt a great deal of pride in being able to pass through ‘cause it was tough, physically and mentally, the training.
AS: Were there many who didn’t pass?
AH: Yeah. Yes.
AS: Where did you do the -?
AH: I’ll tell you this one thing that does seem funny. We thought it was funny at the time but quite a few rejected were those chaps who came from the Highlands of Scotland. No one could understand what they were talking, the way they spoke. So they couldn’t be correct, you know to serve on a plane. You couldn’t hear what they were talking about and there was quite a number of them who got knocked out for that but the course was so tough the weak ones were soon sorted out who weren’t, weren’t the right type for it.
AS: Where did you do your gunner training?
AH: In Bridgnorth. But you know being keen on being an air gunner I enjoyed it. The training was tough but it was, it was good.
AS: What did you do as part of your training?
AH: Well it does seem strange. We did quite a few fifteen mile, fifteen mile route marches which sorts out the weak from the strong and the weak ones did drop out and couldn’t take the fifteen miles. It got sorted out because it was a tough procedure to get through it because the corporals in charge were real tough guys and made you go, took you through the hard parts of the woods on the training.
AS: Did you join the RAF straight from school or did you work in between?
AH: I wasn’t, yeah I worked in between. I went to art school for a while in the fashion industry and I was also training at St Martin’s Art School. That’s why all these paintings that you see around are all mine.
AS: Yeah.
AH: And how can I follow on that one? I was keen to get in, to go on operations. The war was on and I wanted to get in the action.
AS: Presumably you were in East London and the bombing had started of East London.
AH: Yeah. I was in there during the bombing. We got bombed out. That’s what made me, oh that’s, I’m glad you reminded me. That’s, that’s what made me really keen to get at the Germans. We got bombed out in 1940. We went up, I had to go out and live with relatives in Leeds quite a number of months as well.
AS: How long did your training last?
AH: Well total training as air gunner? [pause] You don’t include being at OTU with that. Just solely training as air gunner. Oh God I think it was, I can’t think correctly but I think it was about six months.
AS: And then where were you posted?
AH: We passed out at the number 1 Air Gunnery Training School was at Bridgend. I passed out from there. You know, we had to do flying training there, you know, as an air gunner, you had, we trained on Ansons at gunnery school. Flying at Bridgend and it was, the training was really tough but it was nevertheless enjoyable. The comradeship was great. It all started from there. Air crew comradeship. Flying in Ansons. Shooting at drogues. We had to do, there was plenty of physical training as well. They made sure you were fit. A lot of physical training. Tough physical training every day. They kept us at it in air gunnery training. Training, you know. ‘Cause you really had to be fit. Their attitude was absolutely correct. One hundred percent correct. You had to be fit because you know, they knew you were going on trips from six to ten, eleven hours and at the time it was strenuous and you had to be really strong and fit especially sitting in the back where it was cold.
AS: What about after you’d finished your training?
AH: We then went to Operational Training Unit and to get sorted out into crews and you mixed and you talked with pilots, navigators and everything and in the mess all mixing together and you got sorted out. The first crew we got sorted out with we didn’t get on with one another. Broken up and then got sorted, got re-sorted again with another, six other chaps who found one another, talking together and we crewed up and they were a great crew, my crew were, every one of them. Super guy, the pilot especially. He was, he was a marvellous pilot and all the rest of my crew were. Each one of us. We were like brothers and he kept, the pilot, Ron Ireland he really kept his eye on us that we didn’t drink too much and one outstanding thing when we went to our first operational station, we went into the mess and of course you meet other guys that you knew during training and they came up to you and the first words they said to you, ‘Alf, whatever you do I’ll give you one bit of advice. Don’t worry or look about losses. Dismiss it from your mind because if you start worrying about losses,’ he said, ‘You can’t do a good job.’ And that was outstanding that. How they all told, told the newcomers at that point. I think it’s worth mentioning that.
AS: Where were you stationed to start with?
AH: What, operationally? Elsham Wold. Near Scunthorpe. And it was a great station. The comradeship was fantastic. The CO.
AH: I’ll show you this.
AH: It was Wing Commander Gareth Clayton. Later Air Marshall Sir Gareth Clayton and he unveiled a painting I gave to the, presented to the, and accepted by the Royal Air Force Museum. This is after the war.
AS: Oh gosh.
AH: The CO was a marvellous chap. He was very authoritative.
AS: And how many sorties did you do from there?
AH: Thirty one.
AS: Can you tell me, tell me about, about how you were organised and how the, each mission happened?
AH: The tour, you had to do thirty operations and then you were stood down for at least six months. After you’d done thirty operations you were automatically stood down. And the comradeship between the rest of the crew was really great. It had to be. The pilot was a strict disciplinarian. He’d make sure that we all behaved. Didn’t get drunk at nights, kept fit, which we did. And we all kept together and we became close, close friends. You know, every one of us knew each one’s life depended on the other one. Every one played their part. The pilot, the navigator, the bomb aimer, the flight engineer and the two air gunners, and the WOp/AG.
AS: Can you tell me about a typical mission? What it was like?
AH: Well you did have some kind of fear of certain operations because some operations were more dangerous than, than others and you had this fear and trepidation. Particularly of the Ruhr or Happy Valley as we used to call it and which was really tough because it was so heavily defended, the Ruhr. You couldn’t help flying over other targets, other cities which was heavily defended. Every, every one in the Ruhr, every city in the Ruhr was heavily heavily defended and they were all close to one another and when you went to bomb you passed over other cities and you were fired upon from beginning to end. I remember one operation dramatically we were going to bomb Gelsenkirchen which is just outside Stettin, next door, and very very heavily defended and I looked out the turret and I saw another aircraft was gliding slowly towards us and I said to the pilot, ‘Quick, dive. There’s another plane gliding towards us to crash. Dive quickly,’ and he dived and the aircraft passed over us and the pilot said, ‘Alf,’ he said, ‘You’ve saved the lives of all the crew.’ He said, ‘If there’d have been a hole in the hatch and I put, and I could have put my arm through,’ he said, ‘I would have touched the other plane that we just missed.’ Because a lot of aircraft were lost through crashes at night you know. Not always, not easy to see. Very dark and cloudy. Many losses were caused by other planes, our planes crashing into our, into our own planes.
AS: What, what was it like being a gunner? I understood it was one of the most dangerous positions.
AH: Well it was a dangerous position but one felt really proud of being a gunner and wherever you went in England you were admired as you walked along the street. If you went into a pub, I don’t think I ever bought a pint of beer for myself. I walked into a pub, someone came running up to me and said, ‘Hey, let me buy you a drink,’ and this was like that with all air gunners. Treated like this when they went, even walking down the road. Being nodded at and smiled at. Admired. Yeah, you felt very proud to be an air gunner. We did have the toughest job because it was cold. I mean one of my worst experiences, I was going to tell you at the beginning was we were at OTU and they started worrying now about German fighters coming over England and shooting down planes at night who were in training. So this particular night they gave us a plan to go up past, straight past the Orkneys and up towards Iceland to keep away from German night fighters and what happened this particular day they said, ‘It’s going to be very very cold there and we have to take out, for the first time, the back panel of glass on the rear turret to give the air gunner clearer vision,’ on the Wellingtons and the Lancasters that were coming along but the electronic suit had just been invented which was God’s gift to air gunners. It was a fantastic thing. You had an electric suit. Wires right into the gloves on your hand and it really kept you warm but at this moment there wasn’t enough electric suits to go around. They gave it to the operational ones first. They didn’t have enough to go in Training Command yet. They took out the panel of the rear turret and they told us that night, ‘Double your socks, pullovers, get yourself really warm because it’s going to be cold.’ So I did that and as we were going over past the Orkneys it’s now getting really cold and I’m starting to freeze and one thing we were taught as air gunners if you get too cold and you start freezing you must tell the pilot and I was becoming so cold the water on my eyes was turning to ice. I said, ‘Skipper,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry to report this,’ I said, ‘But I must tell you I’m freezing to death.’ I said, ‘The water on my eyes, I’m losing my sight, it’s turning to ice and I’m just freezing.’ So the pilot said, ‘Oh my God,’ he said, ‘It’s a hundred and six degrees below zero.’ And then the navigator pipes up, he said, ‘Oh my God,’ he said, ‘I’ve made a mistake. We’ve gone fifty miles north. We’re over Iceland.’ And just to try a sidetrack at that moment I saw the aurora borealis. We all did. The pilot said, ‘Right,’ he said, ‘I’m going to turn round, go back and dive.’ He turned the aircraft out, around and dived thirteen thousand feet and the force of inertia went right through my body. It brought me round and in no time I would have been frozen to death. And when we got back to base we all reported in. Three other crews had gone on the same trip as us and three air gunners had had their big toe operated, amputated. It was so cold that night. So they didn’t send anyone up that north again. So far up. That was one of my worst experiences. I was going to tell you beforehand, you know, on operations. Before I went on operation I nearly lost my life.
AS: What planes did you fly in?
AH: That was a Wellington. Trained in a Wellington initially and then we changed over to Lancasters and then I did all my operations on Lancasters then.
AS: You didn’t do any operations in Wellingtons.
AH: No. They were being phased out. You know, the Halifax and the, the Halifax and the Lancaster took over.
AS: Did you fly in any Halifaxes?
HB: Just once. I can’t remember where or when but just once but much preferred the Lancaster. The Lancaster was definitely a more superior plane.
AS: In what way?
AH: Technically it was faster, it was more manoeuvrable than the Halifax. I did go in a Halifax, did a trip, did training on it and didn’t like it that much. Felt much more comfortable in a Lancaster. Everyone on the crew did. Well, it was proved anyway you know. The Lancaster was the [emphasis] bomber. Successful.
AS: So you did, did you do all of your missions from Scunthorpe?
AH: On my first tour yes.
AS: Oh.
AH: Yes. We got our our toughest mission was Mimoyecques. Have you heard of that? Well this was the site on the English, on the French coast and the English Channel. The CA, we weren’t given technically what the, they said it’s a very very important German base in France. They got, they wouldn’t describe exactly what it was there. He said ‘but it’s very secretive’. He spoke in words going around the operation. Being indiscreet about it and we had to go in at ten thousand feet which is pretty low you know. We’d never gone in before at that height to bomb. He said ‘because the bombing’, he said, ‘must be very very accurate’ and as it turned out it was one of the most successful, important raids of the whole war. It was the site of, it was going to be the secret site of the V3 which was never used because we destroyed it and forty five were lost on that night and Leonard Cheshire was the master bomber on that raid and it was going to be the V3. It was sixty, it was going to fire sixty rounds. Each one was. Hitler apparently had ordered this to be built and be done. It would fire in one go sixty missiles to London, that would land in London in one go. They would fire sixty missiles from the base at Mimoyecques and we had to go in at ten thousand feet because the bombing had to be very accurate for it, apparently and forty five were lost on that raid which was horrendous and because we had to go in at ten thousand feet we were an easy target. We were hit badly by flak and one of the engines caught fire. The pilot doused the fire and flying back once, he said, the flight engineer said all the brakes had gone. The pilot, the turret wouldn’t turn and we had no brakes so the pilot asked each one of us in turn should we land on the sea just on the, by the coast and get out of the plane that way and we all said, each one said, ‘No. Let’s try and get back to base.’ Well we got back to the base but we had no brakes on landing so what happened, the pilot landed the plane, he couldn’t brake, he now cut the other engine in the starboard port engine, the starboard engine had been shot, he cut the engine on the same side, on the starboard side and the, we spun round and round and round and came to a stop and just hit a tree and we all got out but the aircraft could never be used again. We were all lucky to get out. The pilot had done a miraculous job to land a plane with no, to get us all out with no brakes. Yeah, you couldn’t do an operation without something going wrong and tough.
AS: So you did thirty one trips.
HB: Yes.
AS: For your tour.
HB: Yes. You were supposed to do two. You’re supposed to do thirty and then you’re stood down, then whilst I was there on the station earlier on when we were a rookie crew you had to stand by. You didn’t go on the operations. If any personnel on one of the planes couldn’t go that night you’d take his, you’d take his place and after we’d done about six operations we stood by that night and then the pilot said, we had, he said, ‘ Alf,’ he said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this,’ he said, ‘But you’ll have to go. The air gunner’s been taken ill. He can’t go. You’ll have to take his place.’ So ok I went in his place. It was a French target. The longest one, French target I’d ever been on, it was down almost on the, to the coast and as we got over the coast the fog was something terrible. There was fog from over twenty thousand feet high to the ground and we got nearer so we were all tuned in, could hear what the master bomber was saying and he said, ‘Well chaps,’ he said, ‘We’ll get, try and get to the target, see, maybe the fog will clear.’ Well when we nearly got there the fog hadn’t cleared and the Pathfinders were going around and around, down to three thousand feet and it hadn’t cleared and he said we’d have to cancel the raid and return home. ‘Go back. Make your way back. Drop your bombs in the sea,’ because you can’t land with bombs in your aircraft, which we did. It was a nightmare of an operation. And when I got back all my crew were all waiting for me on the briefing. I said, ‘What are you all doing there? Why are you here?’ They said, ‘We couldn’t go to sleep in our beds while you were out there. We had to wait for you to see you come back,’ and they all patted me on the shoulders you know, shook hands and what a night that was. Never saw anything of the ground. Nightmare flying through the bloody fog. Fog nearly choked us. And then the pilot come to do the thirtieth operation and the pilot said to me, ‘Alf,’ he said, ‘You don’t have to come on this, this one ‘cause it’s your thirty operations. The CO’s told me that if you don’t want to come you can stand down.’ I said, ‘Oh no. All for one, one for all.’ I said, ‘I’ve been through all the lot together I’m still going to go with you with this one, so this will be my thirty first. So the pilot said, ‘Ok. Fine.’ We went and the target was one of the worst in Germany. It’s called Braunschweig, better known to us as Brunswick. Thirty miles just south of Berlin and when we got there, as we nearly got there, I saw an unidentified aircraft. I reported to the pilot an unidentified aircraft. We’d just bombed the target. An unidentified aircraft on the port side. I said, ‘I’m not sure what it is. Whether it’s enemy or ours.’ I said, ‘Well take no chances then. Prepare to corkscrew port.’ So I said, ‘I’m not sure about it. Let’s corkscrew port,’ and he did and we did a dive, went into a dive thirteen thousand feet or more. Just past the target and we flew back over Germany at five thousand feet all the way back to England. We got through. So it was quite a last night. Horrendous target.
AS: So when you, once you’d done your thirty one, what would, what did you do when you stood down for six months?
HB: They sent me to, you could have, they gave you a load of choices and I thought well I’d like to go, maybe go on a radar station on the coast and they did. They sent me to a radar station and they said you know you’ll see action in the planes there. Just sit and you know, just take it easy there. Have a, have a good rest. Myself and the flight engineer both volunteered to go and do the same thing so we both went together to the station and we were treated like lords on this radar station on the south coast. And then I missed, I certainly missed the operational, I certainly missed not being with air crew and I wanted, war was still on and it was, it was ok but we wanted to get back in to the action. We sadly missed all the air crew and the life on the squadron so I volunteered to go back which I did in February 1945 and I volunteered to go in the Pathfinder force. On 83 squadron at Wyton. And although I was operational again I was glad to be with all the air crew again and the operations weren’t as tough. Just did seven but what was really nasty the last couple were on the operation called Manna which was dropping food supplies to the Dutch. The Dutch were starving. I don’t know if you knew about that. They really hadn’t got enough food. We started dropping food at three thousand feet to the Dutch people who were starving who were tremendously, we found after how grateful they were and the German bastards even though the war had just finished but by a few days were still firing at us and shooting us down at three thousand feet dropping food to the Dutch. And a few days after the German gunners you know were still firing and shooting down our bombers. The bastards.
AS: Can you tell, tell me a bit about being in the Pathfinders?
HB: Yeah it was, you know you went in first but it was towards the end of the war. It wasn’t as bad as the early part like my first tour but I was proud to be with them because they did do a tough job and after the war I knew Bennett, knew Bennett very well. They were wonderful people. He was the commander in chief of the Pathfinder force and he was a super chap and a few years after the war I started up, I was instrumental with some others in forming the Air Gunner’s Association. It started about seven sort of years after the war because no association had been formed. We started out and we became very very active and I and others were instrumental in bringing Bomber Harris out of the cold. I had, and went to meet him and he was a most wonderful chap and he really loved his air gunners. He was at the reunions and he was always the chief guest of honour. And I’ll recall for you the story I never tire of telling. This story after the war had finished I’ll recall for you a name that by and large is forgotten now but his name was Albert Speer. Does that name mean anything to you?
AS: Oh yes. I’ve read his, I read his, his book, “Inside the Third Reich.”
HB: Yeah.
AS: And, and several books about him.
HB: Oh that’s interesting. Well he was the only German Nazi, leading Nazi who repented and he was the only one who wasn’t executed and after the war was over he got in touch with Bomber Harris and they told stories to one another about, you know the war efforts and became very friendly. During one of our reunions when Harris was there I had to stand up I’ll stand up, ‘I’d like to recall for you chaps Albert Speer as you all know, who you knew was the head of ammunitions, factories and armaments from the beginning of the war to the end’ and I had to say in front of Bomber Harris here that you will recall, I told all the audience that when Albert Speer spoke to him, Albert Speer said to Harris, ‘if it hadn’t have been for Bomber Command Germany would have won the war.’ And Harris stood up and said, ‘Ha.’ he said, ‘Right,’ he says, ‘Who knew better than him? He was our best customer.’ He’s right.
HB: Where would you like me to continue?
AS: Please. When you were in the Pathfinders where were you stationed then?
HB: Wyton. RAF Wyton.
AS: What planes were you going up in at that point?
HB: Lancasters.
AS: Still in Lancasters.
HB: Yeah. No, I wasn’t a fighter pilot.
AS: No. And you were still working as a gunner.
HB: Oh yeah. Once a gunner always a gunner. Yes. And I’m proud to say that I also was instrumental with others, particularly Sir Michael Beetham, Marshall of the Royal Air Force in founding the air gunners, also going to get the Bomber Command Association started. I’ve been on the committee of the Bomber Command Association since day one and been vice chairman for a while.
AS: When, when the end of the war came, can you tell me about that? How did you greet the news that the war had come to an end?
HB: We were delighted, you know, we were happy to be victorious. The war, we all cheered it in the mess and clapped hands, you know, when it was announced and –
HB: There was one incident, one nasty incident that I will recall. Just before Christmas 1945, after the end of the war, six months after the war, they thought it was a good idea instead of bringing such a long dragging trip flying the troops home from, it would be better to fly the, quicker to fly the troops home from Germany than, sort of quicker to fly the troops home that were coming back from Singapore or in Italy flying the troops home from Italy quicker than sending them back by boat. So that Christmas week they said you’ll go to, fly to Naples, fill it up with air crew from Italy and fly them back to England. It will save all that drag. So we did, we started, we flew from London to Naples which was a long trip. An eleven hour trip. When we got there, went into the mess, I meet the best friend I ever knew training as an air gunner. He, when I’d gone to Bomber Command, when I was posted he was posted to the Italian campaign and we were so pleased to see one other I can’t tell you. We clutched one another fantastically and he said, ‘Alf,’ he said, ‘And your crew. I’ll tell you what you must do while you’re here in Naples. The thing you mustn’t miss’ He said, ‘You must you must go and see the ruins of Pompeii.’ He says, ‘It’s easy to get there. It’s only five miles away and all day long there’s RAF transport and vans passing from the base here past the entrance to the ruins of Pompeii and,’ I told that, he said, ‘You must get all your crew to go there with you. Yeah. Just get a guard, pay one of the guards of the, who will take you all around Pompeii. Give him a good price and he’ll show you everything that’s there.’ And the rest of the crew said oh that would be marvellous. Pulled, stick on an RAF plane, on an RAF van. We all got in it. He dropped us at Pompeii and we got out and one of the guides, not a guard, a guide I meant and we paid the guy to take us around and we followed him and he pointed out, he spoke perfect English, all the interesting things in Pompeii and then we go downstairs in to the basement and there’s an artist working with his easel there copying all the paintings, the masterpieces on the wall and naturally being artistic I started talking to him and he spoke perfect English and he was explaining everything, what this meant and what he was doing and when I got out and went upstairs I couldn’t see any of the crew, I couldn’t see a person. So I started walking around and now I’m a bit lost and it’s a big place the ruins, in the ruins. I can’t see one person and I started walking along looking and suddenly two little boys about between fourteen and sixteen came up to me and said, ‘Hey Joe, you gotta the money.’ I said, ‘Get away.’ And they said, ‘Hey Joe you gotta the money. Give us the money.’ I said, ‘No. Get away.’ And I can’t find the crew and suddenly from out of nowhere another fifteen, twenty kids started all coming up to me and started tugging at me, pulling at me, ‘Hey Joe you gotta the money.’ I said, ‘No. Get away,’ and I started running to try and get away from them and they started running after me and still there was no one around. And I’m now getting worried. They started tugging me. Pulling me. Then suddenly they started screaming out [parapachi?]. That’s like the Italian word for police and suddenly they all left and ran away into the woods there and suddenly two men with, fully armed with machine guns across their shoulders come up to me and said, ‘ah’, they spoke English, they told me, ‘We’ve saved you,’ he said, ‘They would have killed you for the money. They would have taken every bit of your clothing off.’ Because they were short of money, you know in Naples and all bloody gangsters and God knows, and the mafia there. He said, ‘They would have killed you for the money and have taken a knife to you.’ Although they were only kids, he said ‘they’re really tough ones. ‘We’ll get you back to your crew, the rest of your men, you’ll be safe. Don’t worry anymore.’ And I was, I was nearly assassinated there.
AS: Gosh.
HB: After the war.
AS: When were you demobbed?
HB: 1946. Early ’46.
AS: What did you do in the RAF between the end of the war and when you were demobbed? Obviously fetching troops back was one of them.
HB: Yeah. One of them. They had all kinds of jobs for us. I mean one of the first things we did was to fly the POWs home from Belgium and that was quite a, quite something to talk to the chaps who were POWs and we were all naturally asking them how they were treated and they all said, terribly. And they were all asking me about what it was like for us afterwards and explained to them and one was a squadron leader. I’ll never forget. He had a DFC. When we landed in England he got out. He was the first one to get out, oh and he wanted to sit in the turret during the flight back because he, he said he was shot down in 1940. You know he wasn’t used to, he didn’t know what a Lancaster was. So I let him sit in the Lancaster all, sit in the turret all the way back to England. He got out, started kissing the ground and they all kissed the ground. They all followed him. The, all the prisoners thanking, you know that they were back in England. I wonder what it was for them. It was quite an experience watching them do that, you know. It’s so emotional.
AS: After you were demobbed what did you do then? How did you settle back in to civilian life?
HB: Well the first few months were very very difficult. Incidentally, I do say this. I never told my mum and dad that I was on operations. I told them I was in training all the time and I told all the family, you know I was operations, brothers and sisters, not to mention a word to them because you know they were reading every night, every day forty, fifty, thirty, sixty lost and my father said to me, he says, ‘You must be the lousiest air gunner in the air force,’ he says, ‘You’re always in training.’ So I said, ‘Well it takes a long time,’ and then of course when I finished and I told them and you know he shook his head at me, ‘Oh yeah,’ see, ‘You weren’t a lousy air gunner.’ No. I thought, save them. Why let them go through the agony of reading about the losses every night and knowing it could have been me, me on it and you know parents did have a tough time with their children on ops.
AS: So what did you do when you came home?
HB: I went to St Martin’s Art School to study art and fashion and then [pause] after about five years, six years I got married and then formed my own fashion company designing women’s clothes, coats.
AS: You said you found it difficult when you came home. In what way?
HB: The first six months. It was very difficult to reconcile. You missed the comradeship of your friends and you know rationing was still going on and things were still tough after the war being a civilian. The government I must say was helpful. They did support me in training in the six months I studied at St Martins.
AS: So you, so you studied for six months and then, and then did you start your fashion business then or did you -?
HB: Oh no. No. I went to work.
AS: You went to work.
HB: Someone else had [unclear] it didn’t take me long to be successful. It was strange, the first six months, it really was. To settle down with mum and dad again and my two brothers.
HB: Is there anything else you’d like?
AS: Yes.
HB: Question?
AS: When you were, when you were on the base and you were doing operations, how long was it between the different operations? Was there a long time or were they in quick succession?
HB: Sometimes you’d go two nights running which I reckoned, off the record, that that was Harris’ big, one big mistake he made. We should never have been allowed to do, to go on two consecutive, two night’s trips, come back because you, when you came back three or 4 o’clock in the morning you didn’t get a good night’s sleep. They’d wake you up the next day at 8 o’clock to tell you you’d be on operations that night. And you weren’t exactly fit. You were a bit tired. It was a struggle to force yourself but you had to do it. You know, it was an order. You had to go and I think that’s the biggest mistake that Harris made. It’s never been mentioned, that. Going two nights’ consecutive trips was a real struggle. The second one.
AS: When you were, when you were between operations how did you, what did you do? Did you have any social life?
HB: What? Do you mean when I wasn’t on operations? What? Do you mean being on leave?
AS: Well or at the station but waiting for the next one.
HB: Yeah there was the comradeship was very, very strong between the crews and the other crews. You, it was, you know you made it part of your life and there was a pleasant side of it, pleasant side of it in sitting together and chatting with one another.
AS: Did you go out at all?
HB: Yeah. We used to go into the pub at Scunthorpe. Never allowed, he warned us not to drink more than a pint maximum. He was right. You shouldn’t get your head and drink too much.
AS: This was your pilot.
HB: Yes. Or even in the mess when you weren’t on ops not to drink. He was very strict. He made sure we didn’t.
AS: And were they all like that?
HB: Yes. Well he was very strongly. My pilot.
AS: What was your accommodation like in the mess?
HB: Very communal. We always all used to chat about the operations. What they were like and coming back, how tough. Did you see this and that? Talk about the target. And the comradeship was really strong. Really strong. That’s what I missed when I went to the rest for six months you know and that was cushy. I missed the, I missed the life. It got into your blood. The comradeship of your friends. You’d be with them.
AS: You were telling me, you told me earlier about going to the Saracen’s Head in Lincoln.
HB: Yeah.
AS: Can you tell me about, about that?
HB: It was, it was a pleasure to go in to the Saracen’s Head because you met comrades you’d been in training with, now they were on different stations to you now. You met old friends and the comradeship. It was all full of air crew, the Saracen’s Head. Every, so many air crew in there, in there, all chatting and talking to one another. It was, the atmosphere was fantastic. Never before and after was there a place to go into like that. The atmosphere was Bomber Command, you know. Have you heard from so and so and seen so and so. Talk about the different raids.
AS: Did you go there very often?
HB: Did we go there?
AS: Very often?
HB: When we had a stand by, a stand down. Where? At the Saracen’s Head? You always went in there a lot. Up in Scunthorpe it wasn’t, we went in the Saracen’s Head but I look back with a great deal of pride I served in Bomber Command. I mean it was really tough at times, you know, the losses were fifty five thousand killed out of a hundred thousand. We took the biggest loss pro rata of any other force during the war and we still have that. All my best friends are ex bomber chaps. We all stuck to one another closely. You can’t find it with other people like you can with a, with a comrade. Mind you, in the army you know they had the same thing. My dad, he used to stand on street corners with others from the First World War all talking and chatting to one another in groups of three or four.
AS: Well thank you very much. It’s been, it’s been fascinating listening to your story.
HB: I hope you have. Oh what about a cup of tea?
AS: I’d love a cup of tea. Thank you very much.



Andrew Sadler, “Interview with Alfred Huberman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 22, 2024,

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