Interview with Peter Latham


Interview with Peter Latham








00:17:10 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and I’m at Aynho , near Banbury, in Oxfordshire talking to Air Vice Marshall Peter Latham and his wife Barbara, and we’re going to talk about his experiences in the war and afterwards. So Peter, if we start with your earliest recollections and move on from there what, what do you remember first?

PL: Right, well. My father was a plumber and we, as it were, lived over the shop, very much in the middle of Birmingham, an area with hardly any domestic people, people living there and [long pause] family —

BL: The business, the business was all at the back of your house wasn’t it?

PL: Yes.

BL: The yard at the back?

PL: Yeah, and I was an only child, the — we lived very much in a built up part of Birmingham, where we kept all the ladders and all the things that we used in the, in the business. The school that, the school, St Anne’s which is a Catholic school in Bradford Street it — [pause] just remind me of something.

BL: The corner of Warner Street and Bradford Street.

PL: That’s right yes, yes [pause] find something.

CB: So that was a grammar school?

BL: No, junior.

CB: Junior school, right.

PL: A junior school, yes.

CB: Right Ok.

PL: And I got a place at the, the Catholic Grammar school but I mean the [pause]

BL: St Phillips.

PL: Yes St Phillips Grammar School. We were, we had quite a bit of bombing round there and the bombing going on [laughs] the usual place down in the cellar and the local Policeman came down and said, could we come out because a bomb had landed in the, in the church roof and it was a three storeys, the height of the church roof and we were actually working on it, you know just doing some domestic work and the policeman came and dug us out of our cellar and said could we come along because a bomb had landed on the roof. Almost exactly where our ladder had led up , so we went down. They had been [laughs] trying to put it out with the [pause]

BL: Stewart pump.

PL: Stewart pump. You know it required a little bit of scientific knowledge to know there’s no way you can raise water three storeys with a Stewart pump but anyway — so we went down to see what we could do and obviously it was a question of carrying buckets of water up but we got down there with the policeman and the local vicar, the church vicar, I can’t remember [laughs] but he was really gone and he was pacing up and down using very, very -un-priest like language and the policeman, who wasn’t a catholic, the policeman said “Father remember your cloth”. He said “fuck my bloody cloth this is more than a bleeding joke” [laughs]. So funny. Anyway after that I joined the Air Force, didn’t take any part in the, in the business.

BL: Don’t miss out your grammar school days ‘cause that’s when you went into the ATC.

PL: Oh that’s right, yes.

BL: I think you did it through the school didn’t you? And you were a corporal when you actually finished at St Phillips and going off to Cambridge.

PL: Yes. That’s right. RAF joined, why not the Army or Navy? Always been interested in flying and that was a reasonable choice. Also the school had got a sort of like a flight or squadron so just you know took part in that. The RAF career.

CB: What age did you leave school?

PL: Um.

BL: Eighteen darling.

PL: Eighteen.

BL: 1943 and got, you got — and because of your exam results you got a place at Cambridge and you, because the war was on you went into the RAF as a recruit, Cambridge recruit while you did half time work, university work and half time RAF work that’s what you told me about.

PL: Oh right.

BL: Only six months.

PL: Yes.

BL: That’s all. With the understanding that when the war was over you go could back.

CB: Return, return to college?

BL: And take up your degree again. Which Peter didn’t.

CB: Why, why did they let you go to university when the war was on and not full time train you for flying?

PL: Um [long pause] there must be an answer to that.

BL: No idea.

PL: Um [pause]

CB: Anyway you were in the University air squadron?

PL: Yeah.

CB: And how often did you fly on that? Were there days of the week or any day?

PL: It’s awful isn’t it?

CB: Never mind we can cover it, cover it later. So after six months you then went to full time training did you?

BL: As I understand it you had a short while where you were — they didn’t want any more flyers you told me.

PL: Oh that’s right, yes.

BL: And for a short while you went to, was it Catfoss [?], where I don’t know. It’s in, I think it’s written in your book. You went somewhere where you became a duty driver. You drove motor bikes for a dispatch rider.

PL: [laughs] That’s right I was a driver.

BL: Um, I think it was at the very back. There’s something about that very short interim.

PL: Yeah.

BL: I don’t — I’m, I’m sure you told me it was — was Catfoss [?]the one at Blackpool?

PL: Yes. Catfoss [?]

BL: I’m sure you told me it was Catfoss [?].

CB: So you went to Blackpool for your initial training did you?

PL: Err.

BL: I don’t think you were actually training then. I don’t think you —

CB: This would be ground training.

BL: Yeah. This was sort of half way between finishing the permitted short course and going into the Air Force. So this was going into the Air Force but then for some reason you actually got called up, called for, to join the first group of young men who’d been to one of the universities on the same type of course as you to start course one at Cranwell. This is all that I remember Peter telling me in the past.

CB: Yes.

BL: And so he was on one, one course the very first.

CB: Post war?

BL: They wanted to get Cranwell going again and so they chose from the young men that who’d been at university.

CB: Right. So one of your early experiences was in the middle of 1944?

PL: Yeah.

CB: When you went to Brough.

PL: Oh yes, yes.

CB: And you were doing initial training on a Tiger Moth?

PL: Yes. Brough is near Lincoln I think.

CB: It’s near Hull.

PL: Hull, yes.

CB: Yes. Yeah. Right. So you learned on the Tiger Moth?

PL: Yes.

CB: So did I [laughs]

PL: [laughs]

CB: And this was your initial flying training really was it?

PL: ~Yes. Yes.

CB: And how long did that go on for?

PL: It’ll be in there.

CB: Yes, OK. I’m getting it now, yeah. So now we’re in 1945.

PL: Right

CB: And so the war is still on.

PL: Yeah.

CB: And you’re doing your initial training there. And that goes into March. So the war is still on now, 1945 and in April.

BL: I know Peter went onto twenty-six squadron.

CB: Right.

BL: That’s all I remember of the beginning.

CB: OK. So this is — the interesting thing here is that there are a lot of hours and by the — when you started in February 1945 here.

PL: Yeah.

CB: You already had fourteen hours and thirty-fives minutes.

PL: Yes. What does that say? Solo?

CB: That was, this was total hours.

PL: Total hours, yes.

CB: Yes and — but a lot of that looks as though a lot of that was your own stuff solo.

PL: Yeah.

CB: And by the time we get to March / April in total you’ve done fifty-four hours, fifty-nine hours, sixty-six hours we’re at. It looks as though on the Tiger Moth you did eighty-three hours. So you did quite a lot of stuff on that and of that thirty-one was solo.

PL: Um.

CB: Then you went on to the Harvard. Do you remember the Harvard?

PL: Yes I do, yes.

CB: What do you remember most about the Harvard?

PL: Um.

CB: This is at Cranwell.

PL: It was a very noisy aeroplane.

CB: I was just going to say that, yes.

PL: (laughs}. God I’m useless.

CB: It’s OK, we can, we can just go through this as a prompt.

PL: Yeah.

CB: Because, it’s clear from this that you started in May forty-five, so straight on from the Tiger Moth.

PL: Yeah.

CB: Onto the Harvard and the amount of flying you did there. So from [flicking through papers] wait a minute. So on the Tiger Moth you’ve done eighty-three, well altogether. Then you went onto the Harvard and by the time you’d finished with the Harvard you’d done a hundred and fifty-eight hours.

PL: Yeah.

CB: So that was pretty good. And then you went on to the Anson so we’re on twin engine now. What do you remember about that?

PL: Um, only very, very little, the Anson twin engine aircraft [long pause] I’m sorry.

CB: Why do you think you went from the Harvard onto twin engine? Was it that you were destined to go to bombers?

PL: [long pause] I’m sorry about this I haven’t the faintest idea.

CB: We’ll have a break for a mo. This conversation has been with Mr Peter Latham and his wife Barbara on Wednesday the 3rd of February 2016. Peter is suffering from Dementia so his wife has interjected on a number of times, occasions. We probably will be able to have a second stab at this but in the meantime we are assembling more information. The curiosity partly is that he went to university in Cambridge in 1943 which was the middle of the war which is quite unusual and he was trained in the University Air Squadron. The other items will be filled in a bit later.




Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Peter Latham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 16, 2022,

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