Interview with Lesley Joseph Loosemoore


Interview with Lesley Joseph Loosemoore


Les Loosemore describes his upbringing and employment history in Swansea before joining the war in 1945. He describes the Blitz in Swansea before training to be a mid upper gunner for 61 Squadron. He describes his rather intensive training, including his time at the Lancaster Finishing School, the crewing up process, the importance of maintaining equipment and the various aircraft he flew, including Ansons, Wellingtons and Lancasters. He articulates the atmosphere onboard an aircraft during an operation, recalling the silence as everyone concentrated on their own duties and the fear he felt on his first few operations. He recalls watching the aircraft next to him dropping a Tallboy (or Grand Slam) bomb, before likening the noise of a operation to that of heavy thunder. He flew operations for three months before the war ended, at which point the mid upper gunners were no longer needed. He retrained as a driver although missed saying goodbye to his crew.




Temporal Coverage




01:41:32 audio recording


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AS: My name is Adam Sutch and –
LL: Ah [emphasis], that’s a good idea.
AS: This is an interview with Mr. Les Loosemore, formally mid upper gunner in 61 Squadron, Bomber Command during the Second World War. My name is Adam Sutch, interviewer for the Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive, and the interview is being carried out at xxx Broughton Gifford on the 16th of November 2016. Les, thanks ever [emphasis] so much for agreeing for this interview.
LL: That’s alright.
AS: I’d like to set the scene by asking you to describe your life before joining the Air Force. Where you come from, your brothers and sisters, that sort of thing.
LL: Erm, well [emphasis]. I was born in Swansea, South Wales. Now, I can remember the address some. Left school, first job, first job I had was on a – well a scrap merchant, not [unclear]. This is all ship work [emphasis]. When the ships come in they’re bringing in shells and bombs and stuff, but they’d got to be packed in such a way that every one is above the other, and jammed on the side to stop them from swaying. And it was our job then to [unclear] all those ships and collect all that timber, then we used to store it in the dry [?] so the next ship that comes in, and takes its stuff over to [unclear] or over to Europe [?], you had all the stuff ready and you just put them all back [emphasis] in the same place. But you had to make sure that they stayed upright, so everything was right, a row of bombs, planks, but they had to touch the sides of the ships to stop them from going otherwise they’re all sinked [?] on the bottom. But by doing that, putting a layer of timber in between you kept them in the middle of the ship, yeah [coughs].
AS: How old were you when you started that job?
LL: [Coughs] that was the first job I had I think, yeah. I was only about fourteen, yeah, and – oh and I ended up in the, with the – oh hell, Old Barn Easton [?] was the old scrap yard. I got into somewhere, but I can’t remember where, but [coughs].
AS: Not to worry. But you left –
LL: Erm – I must have been fourteen when I left [inhales loudly]. I got a job [emphasis], sausage skin factory they called it. And you get all [emphasis] the sheep’s guts and get all the – it’s all frozen and it’s all dry and you got to rip all the fat off so you left with a skin which is used for sausages.
AS: Good lord.
LL: Yeah –
AS: That’s your first job.
LL: That’s the, the proper first job I ever had.
AS: Yeah. Were you living at home at that, at that time?
LL: Erm, I was, I was living at [emphasis] home then, yeah. And, where was that? Oh, that was at a place in Swansea, and, well, Treboeth they called it. It’s just on the edge [emphasis] of Swansea. And there was only about ten or fifteen minutes walk, so that want too bad there, yeah. That was an aunt, because I walked out of home, because too many arguments and all this and that. Conditions were better when I went and lived with an aunt.
AS: Oh okay.
LL: So, I haven’t had any, like a brother [?]. I did have that as my official address for many years, even when I was in the RAF, so you can say that was my second home really, yeah.
AS: Mm. Did you have, do you have many brothers and sisters?
LL: I got some, but they are too far away. I’ve only got some brothers. Oh [emphasis] sorry [coughs], I got a sister, she born 1936, that was about a, wrong again [?]. It must have been thirty-seven, mother died in 1937, how do I remember that? I used to play with two tins of World War One medals.
AS: Mm?
LL: Now, I usually, two tins laid right across the table. I never realised it until somebody mentioned it. ‘Why did you have two tins?’ One was is [?] some relative. I don’t think he had any brothers, he had sisters according to my sister. I lost my train of thought –
AS: The World War One medals.
LL: Yeah. I used to put all these medals across and – there were two tins. We discovered he had two tins. Why he had two I was asked by a certain person, and I said ‘I’ll find out.’ And it appears that he’d, he had a relative of some description, he didn’t have any brothers, but he [pause]. Yeah, he said that, well he asked if I had a brother who won a Victoria Cross, and ‘well sir I don’t know,’ and I said ‘next time I go down Swansea’ I said ‘I’ll ask about it.’ And apparently he had a relative as well that was staying with them. One tin was the old man’s and the other was the sister [?]. But he didn’t come back because I think he got wounded during the First World War and he passed away.
AS: Mm.
LL: So he left the old man with the two tins. In there was the square Victoria Cross.
AS: My gosh.
LL: I used to play with that all on the table, two tins of them.
AS: Good lord.
LL: ‘Cause when I asked the old man I said ‘what’s all this then,’ he said ‘well they were all different parts of World War One.’ He didn’t say what they actually were, but it was only later on that I discovered through somebody else that it was a Victoria Cross.
AS: Goodness.
LL: And that was a bloke Loosemore in the First World War.
AS: Good lord. When you were in Swansea during the war – when, what, what, what year were you born in? What year –
LL: 1925.
AS: 1925.
LL: 5th of the 8th 1925.
AS: So, so when the war started you were fourteen [emphasis].
LL: When the war started, erm – I’d left school. Oh [emphasis], that’s when I was working over with the scarp merchant, the one unloading the timber off the ships. That’s the first job I had –
AS: Do you –
LL: And I ended up – actually, oh, a yellow metal mill. It’s a bit like a steel works with all the rollers and a great big wheel and all that material used to come off all bent and we had a machine beside it that would flatten it dead straight. That would then go to the girls, what they called the stamping machine, and they’d stamp out bits of brass the size about, just a bit bigger than say a fifty p. piece. They turned that m, m, into money [emphasis].
AS: Wow, okay.
LL: It was an interesting job [coughs]. Peoples, peoples good, that’s the main thing.
AS: As the war started –
LL: Yeah.
AS: Did you see much of the war in Swansea? Was it –
LL: Did I –
AS: Was it bombed at all, Swansea? Did you see much of the war in Swansea?
LL: Well I joined the RAF in – it’s the book, 1940, 1940, February [emphasis] 1943.
AS: Mhm.
LL: That’s when I signed up with them. I had volunteered – you had to register I think a year before hand so that you could join the ATC and learn something about whatever service you going to go into, Territorials if you’re going in the army. And with the, for the RAF you had the ATC.
AS: Did, is that what you did?
LL: Yeah, and so, I didn’t require all that much because my old man being in the Home Guard, he had a rifle, a three-o-three, and that’s all we wanted to know when we got in the RAF. Who could handle a 303 rifle? But, I’ll tell you one thing, an incident there, I was lucky. I was sitting besides a table, just like that, hand was on [?] there, and I’d been up to the place where there these – oh they had an exercise on, the Home Guard, I had to go up to the barracks and get the rifle. I put it on the bloody table, and the old man started stripping it down to get a good clean overall. He put the blooming [emphasis] rifle down there [emphasis], with the end of it, and the bloody thing went off. It missed my ear by about an inch, yeah, pshh. And it cut a groove in the end of the table, and the old man, when he did go back up on duty, he give them a great big bollocking, ‘cause [coughs] I could have lost an arm easy enough.
AS: Mm.
LL: Yeah.
AS: What –
LL: You got to be, you got to be very careful [coughs]. I wish this cough would go away.
AS: Mhm.
LL: Yeah, yeah carry on.
AS: The – before you joined the Air Force, did you see much of the war in Swansea? Was there bombing, or anything like that?
LL: Well, they had a Blitz in there, I know that. Where were we living then? Most of the time I think we were in, what did they call it? District Road [?] Swansea, Plasmarl, it’s slightly north of the main town centre, and we had our own air raid shelter and that, and [coughs] a good – it was nice and warm [emphasis], it wasn’t cold like a lot of people you see shivering like mad in the middle. Ours was built against another big building, and you used that as one blanket [?], filled it up with earth and built all around it. And that was quite warm in there, yeah.
AS: Mhm.
LL: So we weren’t too bad really [coughs]. Oh bloody hell, I wish – they can’t find anything to get rid of this phlegm I got on my chest, they’re worried if I sit like this ain’t too bad, but I could be dead upright and I got to do it on that bloody bed there. But if I lay down flat it’s worse, but if I can sit upright, dead upright, then phlegm sinks to the bottom –
AS: Yeah.
LL: And then I’m clear for a while, yeah. Anyway carry on.
AS: When you were in Swansea under the bombing, what was it like? Was it night after night or?
LL: Well, we didn’t live there all the time, we were on the outskirts they call it, yeah. Yeah, we moved to an area called Plasmarl and that’s – I’d finished school I think, yeah. Because when I left home I was living with an aunt and I had to walk about two miles [unclear] but [unclear] the mills [emphasis]. Yellow metal mills.
AS: Mhm.
LL: You used to use them as the material brass to make bullet shells, and all that sort of thing. A good job, good pay, so I was alright like that.
AS: Mm. What made you decide to join the Air Force?
LL: Well I had erm, I had two brothers and a sister. The sister was in the WAFs. I think the eldest, no the eldest one was in the army [emphasis] but the second eldest was in the – I would say, erm, what do they call them now? [Pause] oh what do they call them, they were, they were classified as –
AS: Were they sort of soldier, or?
LL: Volunteers, yeah. I forget – they had a special name for them [coughs]. When did he [?] join the services anyway?
AS: Okay.
LL: So that was, one’s in the WAFs and one in the RAF, so I thought ‘I might as well make it a third.’ So I joined the Air Force. But I didn’t realise it when I – I went up to Penarth [emphasis] for an interview and they passed me as a fit for air crew duty. Well flying [emphasis], first of all, then I had to go somewhere else. Oh, we had to do some, go to a place, stay overnight I think, done some exercises to see if you’re fit [emphasis].
AS: Mhm.
LL: ‘Cause you had to be fit to be in the aircrew, if you’re going to fly anyway. And I passed alright. So from then on life carried on like normal, yeah.
AS: So you went up to Penarth, did they give you –
LL: Well, what they do there, they give you a lot of information, like about ranks and things like that, and all the usual ground, what I call the ground work for anybody any service, I mean Navy or Air Force. They still got to recognise you as a cornel or a captain or a corporal, and all the general information about the service you were joining. And that’s what the ground work was, but the flying [emphasis], you start going up for gunners, we went up to somewhere round [?] Scotland, Castle Kennedy, and that’s – we were flying on Anson aircraft then, the Avro Anson. And that only had a turret, a mid upper turret, but it was an Anson towing on the windbags, and you’d have about, what was it? About half a dozen chappies in there. Everybody had a different coloured bullet, so when that bullet went through the bag, the windbag, it would leave some paint. You could tell, tell how many hits you had. So, so when you got back –
AS: Were you any good at it?
LL: When you got back they counted how many little holes and the colour [coughs]. They got your score then, yeah.
AS: Were you any good?
LL: Yeah [emphasis] I thought I was very good. What did I do? Something special up there one day. We changed instructors, who was it? It was laughable really [pause]. It made me laugh at the time, it made me laugh. I was very good with the side-by-side shotgun.
AS: Mhm.
LL: I discovered I think, thanks to listening to the old man talking about in the Home Guard when he was on exercise, what they normally do. You get the gun side to you other [?] and you pass it through, and there’s a time when it stops [emphasis] and then it starts to fall. You fire when it’s on the top, on the apex and then you waited every time. But [coughs] I done this four times out of five, and the [unclear] said ‘oh, we’ll change instructor, instructors,’ and we had a good one in the first place. But, what was it this bloke said something? [Pause] ooh heck, it made me bloody laugh at the time I know that [AS laughs]. Oh Christ – I used to hit for some reason or another, you’d have five [emphasis] bullets to fire through this gun, the turbo [?].
AS: Mhm.
LL: And I hit the fourth one, and he said ‘I bet you a pound you can’t hit this one.’ I says ‘put the gun up [unclear].’ I turned round and it says ‘offices and NCOs should not gamble’ and [laughs] he said ‘you’re a bloody poacher mate’ [AS and LL laugh]. I never [coughs], I never handled a gun before.
AS: Wow.
LL: And yet I was able to do that, you know. Four times out of five, and he looked at him and he says ‘you’re a bloody poacher aren’t you?’ I said ‘I never handled a gun before in all my life.’ But I was watching the old man when he was in the Home Guard and listening to him talking, when they were on exercise and you learn quite a bit that way, yeah.
AS: Mm.
LL: Anyway, what else have you got to go onto? Checked – 20:43
AS: Let’s go back [emphasis] a little bit, before you went to air gunner training –
LL: Well, problem was, six months ground work, what I call ground work, that’s learning all the ranks and all the rules and regulations going into any service. And then six months there ground work, six months flying training. Start off with the Anson, then you went onto the Wellington, Avro Wellington, then up to Winthorpe, Stirlings [emphasis], then you go onto the, what they call the LFS, the Lanc Flying School. That’s where, the first time you sit in a Lancaster. You’re up at RAF Syerston, and you there for – well you’re supposed to be there for a given time, but somebody was, somebody took ill [emphasis] and then they remembered that one of them was the engineer. You didn’t fly – well, you’re not supposed to fly unless you had a full crew, but I, I can’t remember why we – oh, they didn’t need anybody on the Wellingtons, not a flight engineer, he came when we went onto the Stirlings, and then onto the Lancasters [coughs]. And we went into Syserston for that, from there onto the squadron.
AS: Okay.
LL: ‘Cause it was just up the road from Newham [?].
AS: Okay. How did you choose, how did you choose to be an air gunner? Did you do tests?
LL: Do what?
AS: Did you do – did they give you tests to decide if you would be an air gunner or a pilot or?
LL: Erm, no. I think what it was, it started, it started off where they decide [emphasis] you’re in brilliance, you’re intelligent, you’re general [emphasis] knowledge and stuff like that. And oh, you got to be fit. You had to be one hundred percent fit, and I suited everything and they, they said ‘well you qualify for flying duties.’ So that’s what I did. I said ‘oh,’ I didn’t know what aircraft you got to fly in, could have been a tiger moth or, I don’t know. But anyway, we were told we were going to fly Lancasters eventually, on a squadron.
AS: Okay.
LL: Yeah [coughs].
AS: So you were on forty-two course at Castle Kennedy.
LL: Pardon? Yeah [emphasis].
AS: To learn to be a gunner.
LL: Yeah –
AS: And –
LL: And they had – you do your training facing the side of this hangar and on there, there was, you had to chase the path [?] and you had to train the sites of the guns on that path without making the bell ring, because as soon as you hit the line – they had like a roadway, a pathway. These rung the bell as a fault [?] but if you go through straight through it, the two lines, without touching the lines, you got a clear run. I had many clear runs, because you kept on practicing all the time, yeah. But great big, behind the hangars, great big building started at one end, all the bloody way along there, yeah. Shake it mad hoping you didn’t touch the bloody line [AS laughs]. [Coughs] yeah, and that was up at the, now where was that? Oh that was up in Castle Kennedy, Scotland I think, yeah. Somewhere up there.
AS: Okay. And then you, you actually sat in an aeroplane for the first time in your life I guess.
LL: Yeah [emphasis], that was the first aircraft was an Anson, yeah. And that’s the first time I sat in the turret. Although they did have a turret during the training, the groundwork, so you could get used to where the bits and pieces are, how, which way the guns were going to be going, how you line them up and all that sort of thing. That sort of ground work consists of, learning all the basics, I think you could call them, yeah.
AS: And you have to strip the gun and clear stoppages and things?
LL: Oh yeah, you – and, and the thing was this. In case you were, had a failure at high altitude, you had all these flying clothes on, thick gloves like gauntlets [emphasis] and how had to fiddle about wearing them, and if you had a middle of winter now you’d have gloves on. And you just imagine trying to strip that thing down, it was a small parts inside the gun, the 303 [coughs] and you had to strip them down and put them back together again, wearing your gloves.
AS: Where do you put all the pieces when you’re in a turret [LL coughs] at twenty thousand feet?
LL: Oh, this is when you’re in the classroom.
AS: Oh.
LL: You do it all when you’re in the classroom. But [emphasis] you got to shout all the way around you in the turret so you’ve got bugs [?] everywhere. It’s like, it’s like drying, riding a motorbike. You don’t, don’t move your arms like that, you just run handle like that, up and down, that’s all, that’s all there is. It’s all under control, so you just, you don’t move [emphasis], you just move your hands like that. Course looking around all the time.
AS: Is the turret electric or hydraulic?
LL: I think oil [emphasis]. I think oil was the driving force behind it, yeah. It must have been, because they were very worried about any oil leaks when, if you’d been attacked, anything like that. Because you can easily slide on it and injure yourself, ‘cause it is a bit rough inside the aircraft because of all the ribs [?].
AS: Mhm.
LL: And you can easily break an arm, break a leg or something when you steady [?] yourself.
AS: Mm. Did you actually like [emphasis] the flying?
LL: Mm?
AS: When you got into the Anson did you actually like they flying and think ‘this is for me?’
LL: I liked the flying a lot, I really enjoyed that, and especially in the Lanc up there, it’s very comfortable, the seat itself was a strap of fabric, no wider than that but a bit longer, connected from one side to there. And you sat on that thing for anything, eight to nine hours.
AS: Good lord.
LL: Now you’d think, well your backside must have been sore but that strap forms the shape of your backside [unclear] end, and we used to be sitting there for eight or nine hours, longer. I forget what the – I supposed it’s somewhere in there, the longest one, eight and a half hours I think, over Germany, that’s the longest flight we had I think. But you don’t’ feel tired [emphasis] and it’s a lovely feeling, sitting in a lot of bloody clouds, yeah. ‘Cause you don’t know what’s coming the other bloody way.
AS: ‘Cause you faced nearly always the tail?
LL: Yeah.
AS: Yeah, mhm, yeah. When you’d finished on Ansons, was that when you –
LL: Oh –
AS: When you’d finished on Ansons, is that when you, when you were qualified and you got your wings?
LL: Oh, wait a minute [?]. No [coughs] you got your wings when you finished your ground training. The last lesson you get, I forget what it’s all about, but then the old chap says ‘right, you’re now classified as sergeants. You’re, you’ve jumped all those ranks just because you going into aircrew, and also your pay goes up as well.’ So it makes a vast difference when you – that’s going from Bridgnorth in Shropshire which is the last of the ground [emphasis] training. You then go up to Castle Kennedy in Scotland for the, to start your, no, to start your flying, proper gun training then, yeah [coughs].
AS: Mm. When you got your wings and your promotion –
LL: Yeah.
AS: Was there a big parade? Did any – did your relatives come or?
LL: Erm [pause] and where was it? We were in Bridgnorth, I know that [papers shuffle]. Oh, no I think we were in the classroom in Bridgnorth, that was RAF Bridgnorth, yeah. And when the, when the ground course finished, the instructor, he then informed you that you were then made sergeant, you jumped all the ranks and you were made a sergeant and your pay went up as well. [Papers shuffling] so that was a good thing, yeah.
AS: Yeah, [laughs] absolutely. So you went then I suppose on leave for a while, did you?
LL: Erm, I think we might have had a, a long weekend or something like that. Ah yeah [coughs] ‘cause I went home that weekend when we passed out. Now who did I meet? I met somebody – unimportant anyway.
AS: Mm.
LL: Walking through town, a pal a long time ago, a school kid, yeah. I’d gone – I had a bit of a long, a long weekend [emphasis] I think they called it when I went home. And then from there we went from, I went from Swansea all the way up by train to Scotland.
AS: To Castle Kennedy, yeah. Okay, and when you finished Castle Kennedy –
LL: Yeah.
AS: It was round about the time of D-Day. When –
LL: Well, I was never going to teach [?] [coughs] but if it’s in there, mm.
AS: Shall we have a pause for a minute?
[Tape paused and restarted.]
AS: Right Les, we pick up again. I’d like to talk about the OTU and the Wellingtons and –
LL: Yeah.
AS: And crewing up. When you got to the OTU how did you form a crew? How did the crew all [LL laughs] get together?
LL: It was brilliant [emphasis]. You never, you never seen such a process – you couldn’t invent such a thing. I [unclear] gunner, Bill Jenkinson. I suppose – oh, I was behind the door, that’s my favourite bit, behind the door. And Bill was on that side. I said to him, I said to Bill, I said ‘oh, have you got anybody else with you? Why not grab a wireless operator or something like that?’ ‘No,’ I said ‘let’s go and have a look, see what we can see,’ and walked into all these chaps of pilots and navigators, and when [unclear] barracks, and when they were in this long line I saw a pair of feet sticking right out. I said ‘let’s have a look and see what that is, he looks a big bloke.’ [AS laughs] and that was the skipper, a New Zealander.
AS: What’s his name?
LL: And we walked up to him and said ‘you got any crew members yet.’ ‘No.’ I said ‘well you got two gunners,’ ‘oh that’s a good start’ [AS laughs]. We picked up like that [emphasis]. It was long [?], if somebody fancied you, it was – if you didn’t like them then you just passed on. But ‘oh, he looks a friendly’ – ‘I know him, I had a couple of pints with him,’ like that. That’s how you picked up a crew.
AS: So when –
LL: You wouldn’t believe – it was so lackadaisical the way everybody come together as a crew, and yet it worked beautifully.
AS: So you chose your skipper because of the size of his feet?
LL: Yeah [AS laughs]. It’s rather strange how seven people like that, complete strangers, can come together and form a crew. And all more or less you work and play in, with one aircraft, it’s brilliant. And yet you just knitted together and formed a complete crew, yeah.
AS: And when you’d done this dating [?], did you go out and socialise to get to know each other?
LL: Oh, oh yeah. Oh, I’ll tell you a funny thing happened, it’ll make you laugh. When the course – now what was that called? Ah [pause] –
AS: At the OTU?
LL: Upper Heyford.
AS: At the OTU, yeah.
LL: Erm, OTU.
AS: Mhm.
LL: We’d finished the course and everybody passed and we had a party in the sergeants mess, and the – we had lots of drinking going on and all that. And old Bill the rear gunner, he said ‘that bird from the sergeants mess, the cook, she’s caught my eye. I’m going to chat her up’ he said ‘when we finish.’ Well, it was sometime later on I did catch a glimpse of him. Of course he had to see her the following night or something, so I said to him, I said ‘oh, how did you get on last night?’ He just lay on the bed fully clothed looking miserable as sin. I said ‘what did you do?’ I said ‘what did you get?’ [AS laughs]. And he fell silent for a while. I said ‘you must have had some – you must have done something’ or another, similar comment like that. I said ‘what did you get?’ ‘That’s it on the table’ he said, chunk of bread and a chunk of cheese [AS and LL laugh]. I said ‘all that fuss for nothing,’ he said ‘a chunk of cheese and’ – right in the middle of the table. We enjoyed it anyway, we had, I think we had a bottle of beer hidden away somewhere, but it was enjoyable, yeah.
AS: Mhm. Was the flying at the OTU, was it very intensive? Did you do a lot of flying?
LL: Operation – yeah [emphasis]. There is – you do all sorts of trips, daytime and at night time. Short ones, ops, what do you call them? Bumping and something or another –
AS: Circuits and bumps.
LL: Ah yeah that’s it, good, circuits and bumps. You do a lot of that, day and night so that the pilot can get used to flying the aircraft. That’s more than anything else, because there’s nothing you can do from the gunner’s point of view at night time, you can’t see nothing. Not a thing, it’s completely black. You can look down, you can see one light or anything. And the only lights you see is the runway lights, and you can see them quite a distance away. But that’s the only thing to guide [emphasis] you, and it’s up to the navigator to know exactly where you are, so you learn from them, and I should imagine they got some beacons [emphasis] dotted all over the country so, and each one is tuned differently, so you tune, the navigator tunes into them. That’s how they guide you down a narrow alleyway because you’ve got flying, aircraft flying in all directions during the war. You could have a collision anytime [emphasis], you never know it, but that’s it, that’s what it’s all about.
AS: Mm. When you were at the OTU you were – were you straight away confident straight away that you’d chosen a good pilot?
LL: Erm, I think we did. We had a couple of rough landings, bumps, but like everybody else the more you do your job, the more efficient you become. Like you learn – I kept on missing [emphasis] when I was flying over the target, and fair enough the pilot of the, I think it was the Anson, he was very patient because they tell you off in a, a personal way, not giving you a good bollocking but advising [emphasis] you is a proper phrase, what you’ve got to do so everything goes along smoothly like that, yeah. Good enjoyable, I enjoyed it, sitting in there.
AS: Mm, okay. When you moved onto the OTU as a crew, where there many accidents among the other crews at OTU?
LL: [Coughs] Well [pause]. We were at – nearly every [emphasis] station, RAF station we went, we went with an aircraft went missing. Up at [unclear] Castle Kennedy, an Anson went missing over the, not the North Sea, the West Coast.
AS: The Irish Sea?
LL: Yeah, ah that’s, Irish Sea, yeah.
AS: Mm.
LL: He went missing up there. Next station – oh, then we, there was a Wellington. Oh, the Wellington went and crashed somewhere in mid Wales and it must have gone somewhere into a bog [emphasis] because it, it sunk out of sight, nobody could find it. So wherever it is it’s down there rotting. And then we got to – nothing happened up at Newark, Winthorpe. Oh, the Lanc finishing school, that’s the first time you’re in a Lancaster. Joining the circuit I spotted a black shadow on the ground of an aircraft, and you could practically recognise it as a Lancaster. But the strange thing about it was, as if some yob [emphasis] had been there with a spray gun, blood red, and gone all the way around it, framed it just like that. This black shadow on the ground, in line with the perimeter track. And just a line of red all the way round it. They reckon that the black was a plane, the red was the remains of a crew, yeah, when it exploded. There’s nothing, there’s nothing left to show, it was a crew there, it’s just that red mark.
AS: Good lord. We’ll pause for a second.
[Tape paused and restarted.]
AS: Lesley, you were talking about lights, or not having any lights at night –
LL: Yeah.
AS: Could you see the exhausts from your own aircraft, from the Wellington or the Lancaster when you were flying?
LL: I don’t think – I wasn’t aware of it –
AS: Mhm.
LL: But I don’t think, I don’t think we, no I don’t think we did bother with it. We never saw anything because [coughs] I think that the flame from the engine would pass through the back end of it and disappear.
AS: Mhm.
LL: So you did – I don’t think, I can never remember seeing any light or flame or, coming from the engines.
AS: Okay.
LL: And I think they had an extended exhaust pipe [coughs] and it goes under the wing rather than over the top. So it’s out of sight [?] anyway, yeah [coughs].
AS: Yeah. There were two of you as gunners, there was you and Bill Jenkinson.
LL: Yeah.
AS: How did you decide who was gonna be the rear gunner and who was gonna be –
LL: Oh, well, well we were in a bedroom like this, a long hut. A peace [emphasis] time building, brickwork. Bill was on that side of the door, I was behind it.
AS: Mhm.
LL: And I had a look around and Bill was the nearest and I said ‘you got anybody to go up with you Bill?’
AS: Mm, mm.
LL: ‘No not yet’ he said, ‘but I want to be a rear gunner.’ ‘Oh that’s alright,’ I said, ‘I’ll take mid upper gunner position then’ –
AS: Oh so you decided between you?
LL: Yeah.
AS: Yeah, okay.
LL: He said ‘alright, that’s [coughs] that’s what I want to be, rear gunner.’ So that’s how we decided.
AS: Mm, okay. So you did a fair bit of flying at the OTU on Wellingtons.
LL: Yeah.
AS: Were they good, were they good aircraft, or were they pretty ropey at that time?
LL: No, oh [emphasis]. They must have been reliable because I think [emphasis] now you come to mention it, a lot of them were [coughs] exit [?] squadron.
AS: Mhm.
LL: And that had to be kept in a good condition, especially going on operations. The good maintenance on that aircraft was carried on I think through the training sessions. So you did have reliable aircraft – I can’t ever remember us having, if we ever – well you have a stimulated three engine landing for practice with a pilot [coughs], see how it handles landing and taking off.
AS: okay. So you were on forty-four course at –
LL: Sixty, sixty one.
AS: Okay. The, the course you were on at 16 OTU that was forty-four course. Did you, did you pass out from there, did you have a passing out parade when you finished at OTU?
LL: Erm [pause] Upper Heywood.
AS: Mm.
LL: OTU, operational training – no [emphasis] apart from having this, this party at the end of the course when Bill and all this cook from the sergeants mess catching his eye [AS laughs]. That’s the only incident I can remember [emphasis] in there.
AS: Okay.
LL: It was a very quiet sort of a station, yeah.
AS: Okay. And then you went on leave [emphasis], did you?
LL: I think we must have because I remember – I went on, possibly a long weekend because I went home to Swansea and I had to get on, what do you call the, they call the Coastal Train down there. It goes all the way round the outside of Wales until you get up into Scotland. You didn’t go across the midlands, I think they were kept clear for munitions [?] and all so you go on this track [coughs], going through small village all the way up to go up to Scotland.
AS: That must have taken forever [emphasis].
LL: Yeah, it does. But it’s surprising how quickly time goes when you’re moving, you know. And you tend to remember [emphasis] places like that. You, you seen it in your school days on a map where certain places are, so like ‘oh this is so and so,’ ‘that’s so and so.’ You go, time soon goes, yeah. Oh take my tea away, too much, too much of that.
AS: Mhm. Then after the OTU you went onto Stirlings at the Heavy Conversion Unit at Winthorpe.
LL: Er, yeah, Winthorpe, that’s where we were Stirlings.
AS: Mhm.
LL: Very, very quiet, not much happened on that station to my, to my knowledge anyway.
AS: Mhm.
LL: No I can’t think of any [coughs] –
AS: But at –
LL: Winthorpe –
AS: Mm.
LL: Stirlings, no I don’t think much happened on there. Very quiet station.
AS: Okay, mhm.
LL: At Winthorpe, yeah. Near Newark, yeah.
AS: Mhm.
LL: That’s it.
AS: But then, then did you start doing exercises with fighter aircraft in the sky, on the Stirlings?
LL: Erm –
AS: The fighter affiliation [?] –
LL: We didn’t do it on the Wellingtons because it’s got no mid upper turret, so the Stirling would have been the first aircraft. No hang on. The Wellington would have been a job for the rear gunner, there’s no mid upper gunner turret, so I used to stand at the astrodome and looking out possibly [unclear] one of the navigator might want it or somebody want some information. You can see everything but there’s nothing to see, it’s all black. So what they expect you to see in the darkness like that I don’t know. But I had a sometimes it was a longish journey and other times it was just bumps, bumps and whatever, yeah [coughs].
AS: Mhm. So that’s just over a month on Stirlings from mid October to mid November 1944. I suppose pulling you together as a crew still.
LL: Yeah, well you go from Wellingtons which has only got one active turret, you go onto a Stirling then which has got the two.
AS: Mm.
LL: It’s got three turrets actually – one in the doors, mid upper turret and a tail gunner, yeah.
AS: Mhm.
LL: But there’s only two gunners there anyway.
AS: And so does the bomb aimer use the front turret?
LL: Yeah, Well sometimes if necessary he can [emphasis] get up there if you got time [coughs].
AS: And then you went on, for a short time to the Lancaster Finishing School.
LL: Yeah.
AS: Right.
LL: Yeah, yeah we passed away [?] – yeah the Lanc Finishing School is the last time, oh the first time you sit in [emphasis] a Lancaster, ‘cause then that prepares you for your next station which for us was just up the road in Lincoln. That’s the only place, the first place you sit in a turret of a Lancaster, so the Lancaster Finishing School. That’s the whole idea of it, introduce you to the aircraft you’re going to fly, yeah, which is a good thing really, yeah.
AS: And how did that feel? Did that feel –
LL: I rather liked it myself, yeah, quite pleasant. It was a nice steady aircraft when you were flying, you know, it was rather stable, and often you see them bumping about but that one, it seems to hold itself dead level the whole time. It’s pretty well set up. I think that applies to a lot of them during the war.
AS: And that was a really modern aeroplane then.
LL: Yeah, yeah. And according to the book, it was a mark three I believe that we ended up with up on the squadron, ‘cause you had all the latest radar equipment and all that stuff in it.
AS: Mhm. But nothing special happened at Lanc Finishing School that you recall?
LL: Erm, apart from seeing that shadow with the red painted on, that was a very quiet station, yeah. You do, you do day and night flying in it. But you can’t see a blooming thing at night, anyway.
AS: Even though you’ve got the best view at the top of the aeroplane?
LL: Yeah you can’t see – well, people don’t realise what a blackout is. A blackout is every [emphasis] light [emphasis] is out [emphasis].
AS: Mhm.
LL: It’s complete darkness, and if you happen to show a light it’s so quiet that you can hear somebody shout out ‘put that bloody light out,’ or so ‘shut that doors, shut that window,’ something like that.
AS: Mhm.
LL: Because it’s so black [emphasis] that you spotted straight away – you go ‘well what the hell’s that then?’ Or ‘some buggar’s opened the window’ or something like that.
AS: But when you’re airborne with the stars and the moon, could you see horizontally or above you? [LL coughs] Could you see other aircraft in the sky, for instance?
LL: [Pause] You could see the horizon, the dark earth and if it’s a moonlit light you could see the curve of the earth and the difference – the horizon [emphasis], you could see the difference. Now, an interesting thing happened there. Talking about UFOs, now this is true this. There was a starlit night; you could see the horizon and the end of the darkness and all of the stars. And I thought ‘that’s funny, that star’s moving faster than the others.’ I kept on coming around to it [coughs]. That one star, that I believe could have been one of these foreign things, a UFO I believe. I tell you why, [talking in the background]. Yeah, it’s rather strange, nobody speaks [emphasis] when you’re in an aircraft, everybody’s concentrating on the job. You’re a navigator you’re concentrating, engineer, and all that you concentrate on – and I was looking and I thought ‘he’s moving.’ And I followed that. As it got overhead, I heard – nobody speaks [emphasis] when you’re flying, and this voice, I heard this voice as clear as you were talking. ‘We’re of no danger to you.’ So where did that voice come from? Nobody spoke, you never speak unless you’re telling the navigator tells the pilot ‘oh we’ve got to turn right here, and our starboard’ or something like that, or somebody passing a message, that’s the only time you speak. And you see somebody spoke just [emphasis] as clear as if it was in the aircraft with you. ‘We’re of no danger to you,’ so where did the voice come from?
AS: Wow. Did you discuss this with your crew later?
LL: No, well the thing is, you never mentioned – and this is strange. You never mentioned anything inusual [emphasis] because you then put everybody on nerves end –
AS: Mm.
LL: Thinking ‘now what’s he on about?’
AS: Yeah.
LL: But then the next thing you know, ‘what the hell’s he bloody on about, silly, he bloody drunk again,’ something like that. But, so you kept everything to yourself, and this is why it’s so quiet in the aircraft, the only time you’d speak if you’re passing instructions to anybody.
AS: It sounds like you were a very disciplined [emphasis] crew. Did your skipper keep tight discipline and make –
LL: Erm, well it seemed that we were completely at ease. I can’t remember the pilot or anybody for that sort of losing their temper. It’s rather strange, as if you’re entering another world. It’s very calm [emphasis] in there, when you’re flying, whether it’s the quietness, the only sound you can hear is the engines, but then you got your helmet on and you got your earphones, so you blocked out all the sound, the external sounds. So the only thing you can hear is when anybody speaks inside [emphasis] the aircraft. Otherwise it was dead quiet. It’s like this place now, yeah.
AS: Can you hear your own breathing?
LL: Hmm?
AS: Can you hear your own breathing on your mask? Checked – 59:41
LL: Ah now you come to mention, you did sometimes if you got excited, yeah. You’re bound to, yeah, and oh, another time was if your oxygen tube, pipe got disconnected, then you can hear all sorts of things then. Bad connection [?] from you to the turret, it’s complete, you can’t hear nothing else ‘cause it’s all coming through there, and what goes there comes from the person who’s either flying it or the crew, other members of the crew, yeah.
AS: So did you have this then, did your oxygen come disconnected?
LL: Yeah, it did. Now what happened there then? [Pause] oxygen lack at high altitude is very dangerous. A lot of things can go wrong, you’re maybe doing things that you would not normally do [coughs]. But, so you do take care of all your equipment at all times, to make sure everything is working right, and every switch is in the right position sort of thing.
AS: Mm.
LL: You got to be very careful when you’re flying.
AS: Did you check on each other to make sure you were all –
LL: Oh, oh, I’ll tell you what, I used to regular but you do it in a manner that you’re not scaring them, not upsetting them. ‘You alright down there Bill? You warm enough?’ Some remark like that.
AS: Yeah.
LL: You didn’t agitate any problem or anything like that, you kept quiet. Because anybody under tension could miss things. But when it’s all quiet like that and you’re concentrating you were quite safe I think, yeah.
AS: Mm. When you were on the ground as a crew, did you practice your drills? Your dingy drills, your evacuation drills?
LL: Well, Bridgnorth was some of the ground staff. Oh we did some dingy [emphasis] drill up at [unclear] at Castle Kennedy in Scotland. You cling onto an imitation, well a platform which represented the wing of the aircraft, and you want to jump [emphasis]. You’re in a pond, and then you had to get to the raft. Now, with all the flying clothes on, everything, you’re heavy, and you’ve got to get there as quickly as you can, otherwise – well it’s not all that deep anyway just sufficient to wet yourself or so, all your clothes. And you just go in and sort of change and put dry clothes on.
AS: Mhm, when you finished, or any time really, did you really think about ‘well, I’ll be going bombing soon?’ Did you think that you were about to go to war?
LL: No, not to my knowledge. I never – flying was just flying to me, and you look forward [emphasis] to it, it’s getting you off the ground. You join the Air Force to flying an air, to flying in aircraft, not to keep marching on the bloody square all the time.
AS: So even on operations you were keen to go flying?
LL: Oh, oh yeah. Never where you are – you wanted to get away from the, from the monotony of class, in the classes, because quite often you get different instructors but the subject is always the same. They drilling [emphasis] it into you, they, and they’ve got to succeed in getting that knowledge into you because it could save your life, and not only you but the aircraft and the rest of the crew.
AS: So going on operations was almost a relief [emphasis] to stop –
LL: It was in a way [pause]. There was a – I forget what happened, but we were on a very heavy raid. Loads of bloody shells everywhere, exploding all around you. I found that – now this is stupid [emphasis]. I was in an aircraft with five or six tonnes of high explosive bombs. I was trying to stand up in the mid upper turret, shaking like a leaf on a tree, shivering, frightened like hell, and it, well. It’s like the noise is like flying in a thunderstorm, a very heavy thunderstorm. And then the bumping [emphasis] about of bumps from the shells [?] is like when they go on these rapid waterfalls, you’re bumping all over the place – what was the other thing? Very calm sort of thing. I suddenly – I was shaking like mad, and then as quickly as it appeared, the condition disappeared completely. Instead of being frightened or scared stiff and god knows what, I just sat down there in amongst all this noise and what have you, I just sat and relaxed. And as if somebody had said ‘welcome to the club, you’re a survivor. You lost the fear of death.’ And there it was, in exactly the same conditions, shaking like mad and all that, I just sat down like we are now, and as if I was on a training flight. And all this going on outside, just outside the door [emphasis], and I just sat down there as if nothing was wrong. How your brain bloody works I don’t know, but I just sat down there, still the same conditions, but I wasn’t worried.
AS: Mm.
LL: It’s funny really, yeah, ‘cause – just normal training flight and I must be bloody mad or something [AS laughs].
AS: And you were fine from then on?
LL: Yeah.
AS: Yeah.
LL: We were going on a raid, I forget where it was, somewhere, somewhere heavy [emphasis] I know that. And I know one thing that – in the, oh, we got a 50, 61 Squadron newsletter that comes out once every three months I think. Somebody wrote an article about what happened over at Hamburg on this – it’s on there, the raid during the 61 Squadron I think [papers shuffling]. Oh, some bloke describing all the anti-aircraft shells everywhere. And these German [papers continue to shuffle] jets in amongst the aircraft. What did he – and someone else wrote it, that’s what drew my attention to it. It was completely wrong [emphasis]. He made it up, because the day in question, the 9th of the 4th, not one anti-aircraft shell was fired, and the only aircraft we saw was a German jet, the 262, and that flew head on, straight through the middle, plonk. Right through this group, turned round and knocked down three aircraft. We didn’t see the fourth go down but you’re in a group of six sevens, forty-two, six across and six behind them below, and that fighter knocked down three on one, on our side. You got the, I think the bombing leader on that end comes up to us and it’s a tail end Charlie sort of thing [coughs]. You there [?] to form the six in the front. That thing went down, but that thing [?] got shot on the following day with the Yanks. They damaged this aircraft, they had to find a place to land, and when they was looking and doing something with the controls of the aircraft, he didn’t see the crater in the middle of the runway. Straight in and up he went. That was the following day.
AS: That was the German pilot?
LL: Yeah.
AS: So, so with your six sevens of forty-two aircraft, that was both squadrons flying together, 50 and 61?
LL: Well, it was the son of the late rear gunner, he [pause] – did he phone or ring, write a letter? [Pause] I forget now.
AS: Okay, we’ll, we’ll come back to that later.
LL: [Unclear] no we’ll come back to it.
AS: Mm. So you were forty-two, in daylight, flying in formation.
LL: Yeah.
AS: Okay, so that must have been the two squadrons together.
LL: Ah, ah I know, I know. In that logbook, that’s all the operations and all the flying we did as a crew.
AS: Mhm.
LL: No other squadron is mentioned, but the son of the rear gunner, he must have something, telly or something, internet. He found that the Dambusters are not mentioned in there, but the Dambusters and us were on the same raids.
AS: Okay.
LL: And how I know that, we were on the one raid and I pointed out to the – it was Bill started it first. He said ‘look at that light down there’ he said ‘down on the port side.’ And he said something about ‘possibly turn back soon because it looks like the engines were not coping with the load.’ And we followed this progress, you didn’t focus on it you just casually glanced – it kept on coming nearer and nearer. But when that thing came near enough, we thought it was an extra fuel tank you know, to set fire to buildings, but that was the latest bomb that the RAF aircraft would, could carry. What was it, twenty-two thousand pounds?
AS: Is it the, the Tall Boy was it?
LL: Yeah.
AS: Yes.
LL: And that’s what they called it. But we followed that and gradually, so it came level with us, and you know when people bail out of an aircraft they travel at the same speed as the aircraft, and same applies to your bomb load, because when that plane gradually comes up dead level with us, wing tip to wing tip, the release of such a weight, that plane disappeared. I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t bend my head back to see if they were overhead, but it just disappeared. And I was left with a view of this great big bomb flying level with our [AS laughs] wingtip. If we had a camera, nobody would have believed it was a fake picture, but it was the – I’d heard of [?] the people travel the same speed as the aircraft when they bail out, so that bomb load does and gradually [emphasis] it sinks. But for what seemed like an eternity it just stood there level with the wing and then it dropped. The size of that thing there, my gosh [emphasis], long as this bloody room nearly.
AS: Well I think [emphasis] the biggest one was twenty-two thousand pounds was it?
LL: Yeah that’s it, that was, that was this Dambusters aircraft [coughs] because a raid is made up of possibly a dozen or more squadrons all different ones, all with different purposes and all with different buildings to go to, stores or oil depots or things like that.
AS: Yeah, could you remember, could you talk me through a typical raid, from getting up in the morning to going to briefing, what was it like? [LL coughs] say a daytime raid.
LL: Well you get up in the morning – well more often than not your day, your own [emphasis] day starts about dinner time, because you’d been out, say, the night before, so you’ve had your kip and you go down to the sergeants mess for lunch. And then you got your briefing [emphasis] in the afternoon, and then similar, if it’s a late takeoff it’s normally about tea time or something like that.
AS: What was the briefing like?
LL: Erm, well they give you all the details, the name of the target – well it’s more for navigation than anything else. Bu you’re also advised that there are certain airfields about with various fighters in there. And at that point of the war [?] it was mainly German jets, the 262. And that’s the only time we ever – I’ve actually been that close it’s practically this distance away from here to the other side of the passage. And I should imagine that pilot, he would have knocked down the three outside ours, and that was I think two 61 Squadron aircraft went down and a 50, and I could imagine now [emphasis], I didn’t think of it then, I could imagine the bloke swinging his aircraft around and lining it up, and he weren’t that far away, he couldn’t have bloody missed us, and I should imagine that as he was able to press the button, I told him, the pilot, to take aversive action, and the pilot caught up and eighty-one [?] straight through, yeah. Carried on, he knocked down that three besides us and that was it, yeah.
AS: Mm. The luck of the draw.
LL: Sometimes it gets exciting but otherwise it’s boring [emphasis].
AS: Mhm.
LL: You’re just sitting there doing nothing. Nothing you can do about it, no.
AS: When you were flying on daylights –
LL: Yeah.
AS: Did you have fighter escort?
LL: No, never saw any.
AS: Okay.
LL: They might have been out of range, some distance away not to distract your attention, but I could, could never ever, 1943, forty-four, no forty-five –
AS: Forty-five.
LL: February forty-five was the first raid we’d done. Never had I seen anything there to protect us, you had to protect yourselves.
AS: So you weren’t, you weren’t told at briefing that there’d be –
LL: Yeah.
AS: You weren’t told at the briefing that there would be fighter cover or anything?
LL: Yeah, that’s all you, that’s all you relied on, whatever the squadron leader tells you during your briefing.
AS: Mm.
LL: Nothing else, target and all this and that, and they tell you the airfields with various aircraft, but at that time of the war, it ended a couple of days later anyway [emphasis], and [coughs] I’ll tell you what, in the areas [?] sort of thing, give you some advice, but you never took too much notice of it, because you know in about two, three days the war’s gonna end.
AS: So when you, so when you went on ops you knew this was just about the finish did you?
LL: Yeah, for us it was a limited period of time from the beginning of February I think it was until what was it, May?
AS: May, yeah.
LL: Yeah, that’s my wartime experience, that, the last three months, yeah.
AS: So –
LL: It was bad enough then –
AS: Yeah.
LL: When you consider fifty-six, fifty-eight youngsters lost, thousand [emphasis] lost like that.
AS: Mhm.
LL: Great number of men, and all youngsters, yeah.
AS: And still being killed at the very end.
LL: Yeah, yeah.
AS: Like your three aircraft.
LL: Yeah.
AS: Yeah.
LL: Yeah, practically the last, last day but one, down they went. I did see one of those Lancs splitting off. Either the pilot, mid upper gunner was sound asleep or something, or the bomb aimer above wasn’t with it because that aircraft broke right in half [emphasis], with [unclear] where the mid upper turret, mid upper turret gunner must have been killed instantly because the aircraft broke in half and the tail end gone down there swinging like a pendulum.
AS: Mm.
LL: And the whole front of it just went straight down. I don’t think any of them, anybody got out of it alive, I think they lost. Another aircraft was shot down further down and out of that, what was that, twenty, twenty, only a few survived, all the rest gone. There aren’t any survivors – once they start going down you can’t get out of them, yeah. That’s a big problem.
AS: Hmm. So still really dangerous with the flak and the fighters.
LL: Yeah you, well you did worry about it I think internally, but I think it soon passes over once you get used to it I think. You get accustomed to all this noise and bumping that goes on, and you accept it as part of the job, simple as that, yeah.
AS: Okay. We were talking about a typical mission. After the briefing you’d have your meal and then what would happen?
LL: Well erm [pause] first thing out to the aircraft. What you do there from then on, you were double checking all what everybody else had done. You check all your equipment, navigator and wireless operator, everything, everyone checks everything is okay. And then you just hang about, have a chat with the ground crew, discuss something like that. You just spending time until a tank [?] would takeoff. Comes on usually has after a meal or sometime in the afternoon, yeah [zipping noise].
AS: How did you get out to the aircraft?
LL: Oh, well we had transport [zipping noise]. We had one of these little round Land Rover things, you never walked because moving about on foot you’re sweating, and that’s the last thing you want to get into an aircraft and you gonna fly high and you’re sweating, because then you really get cold [emphasis]. It’s like when you have a bath in the winter, it’s not so comfortable as having a bath in the summer. It’s still having a bath [coughs] and you’re still flying but if you’re sweating you’re much colder. [Coughs] it’s a bloody nuisance this is.
AS: Did your flying kit generally keep you warm?
LL: Yeah, yeah. It was electrically operated, like yeah – oh it was like a pair of overalls [emphasis] you put on completely. Under your – oh, it was outside your trousers but I think you had your jacket – oh you had all your flying clothes on, thick, thick like sheep’s wool uniform –
AS: Mhm.
LL: All over you to keep you warm. And you wore mittens or gloves, gauntlets, they were plugged in as well. It was like an electric seat and that kept you warm when you were flying.
AS: Okay.
LL: So it wasn’t too bad.
AS: And some of your trips were quite long weren’t they?
LL: Oh yeah. I done eight and a half hours I think, or was it nine? But they’re not as long as some of these people have done, they’ve gone further and flying for ten or twelve hours.
AS: Mhm. And Nuremburg, that’s a long one.
LL: Yeah. I think eight and a half or nine and a half was the longest I think we done. It’s recorded in there anyway, somewhere.
AS: Mm. A really basic question is how did you use the loo, or did you, in the aeroplane?
LL: How did you?
AS: Use the toilet in the aeroplane? With all this suit [emphasis] on.
LL: Ah, now that’s a big problem. I never can remember, I never did do anything. Because the last thing you do, usually after a meal, you dive into the toilet and you get rid of all your problems down there [AS laughs]. And then – you got to be relaxed before you get in the aircraft. Remember you don’t want any distractions of any description.
AS: Mhm.
LL: That’s the only way I can put that, yeah.
AS: Changing tack a little bit, your skipper was commissioned.
LL: Yeah.
AS: Did that make a difference to the way the crew operated?
LL: No, he was still a skipper to us.
AS: Mhm.
LL: Mm, number – I think – well no, don’t forget you’re flying together, you’re practically living together, you don’t necessarily use the same sergeants mess because you’re not supposed to fly, what was it? A four engine aircraft, say a Stirling, a pilot must have – I don’t think the pilot was allowed to fly one of them unless he was a pilot or flying officer [coughs]. And when you got onto the Lancasters as if there was an unwritten law. You can’t fly in these aircraft unless you’re a flight lieutenant.
AS: Really?
LL: Yeah. And straight away, you move from one station to another and you gain all those ranks, and it’s the same as when we passed out at a training centre. You go from the lowest rank in the RAF to a sergeant, with an increase in pay which is a good thing, yeah.
AS: Did you, did you – what did you feel about bombing at the time? Was it just a job or did you feel sympathy for the people underneath, or?
LL: Erm, bear in mind that at that time I was living in Swansea and we were going through a Blitz over there.
AS: Mm.
LL: And they say that you dump [?] the bomb that’s going to kill you, you don’t hear that coming down. But you can’t get any nearer than about a hundred yards and you can still hear it, because I think it was at, what I remember, this chap must have been a doctor, and his wife and a son, and they were in a bungalow and that disappeared, and that was only a hundred yards away. But you heard this noise like a whistling sound, and that was it on its way down, the bomb on its way down. There was nothing left, there was a great big hole there and that’s all that was left of that little bungalow.
AS: In Swansea?
LL: Yeah, and that was during the Blitz, yeah. A bit of a noisy place down there. And we weren’t even in the centre of the town, we were on the edge of it, only about a well, a mile, maybe a mile and half from the centre of the town. Otherwise it was just a distant banging that goes on [coughs].
AS: Mm. And then at the end of May, operations, well, operations stopped. You finished operational flying in May 1954.
LL: Yeah.
AS: What happened to you after that?
LL: Interesting. The squadron got rid of its Lancasters. It changed over to the Lincolns. Now you might know, the Lancaster had a mid upper turret, the Lincoln hadn’t. So all the mid upper gunners had to remuster, and you had a discussion ‘where you going to go to?’ Sometimes the officers required certain people at certain stations, but more often than not they remuster to go to Marsham [?] to learn to drive [coughs]. Because don’t forget we were only kids at the time, only eighteen, so the more you learnt the better, and this is how I come to end up in Marsham [?] learning to drive.
AS: Okay.
LL: And that was a – what was I then? I left the flying when I was well, eighteen, I was still eighteen then, yeah. Yeah that’s when I went over to Marsham [?] and I’ve been in the air ever since, yeah.
AS: When you remustered, you kept your rank –
LL: Yeah, yeah you kept your rank and your pay.
AS: And your badge?
LL: Yeah, and the badge [coughs]. I never know, never knew where my wing went, my air gunner’s wing, and the length of ribbons like I got on the photograph.
AS: Mhm.
LL: Somebody must have thrown them out, I don’t know where. I used to keep a lot of the stuff altogether like we did with this.
AS: Mhm.
LL: But where they’ve gone to – they’ve disappeared now, anyway.
AS: Mhm. So you remustered as a driver in the Air Force.
LL: Yeah.
AS: And then where did you get posted to after that?
LL: Ah, where, Marsham [?]. I remember being interviewed with a friendly officer. He said ‘right, now’ he said, ‘we got to get posted now. What about going down to St Athan’s? That’s in Wales.’ I said ‘no good going down there, pubs are closed on Sundays’ [AS laughs]. That’s all I could answer, then he looked through some books around. ‘Bristol’ he said.’ ‘Ooh that’s alright’ I said, ‘I got a niece or a relative still down there in Bristol,’ I said ‘we could go down there.’ ‘Pucklechurch’ he said, that was a transport maintenance station and we used to do a lot of this, taking the vehicle, RAF vehicles from Pucklechurch and I think it’s up to Quedgeley [emphasis], place near Gloucester?
AS: Mm.
LL: I used to do that run quite often, and this is funny. Now then, what was required by the mechanics, whatever was on that list, you had to bring that vehicle in. You take the vehicle out that had been repaired and restored, and you bring another back, so you didn’t have an idle journey. And I came back, all sorts of private cars, officers cars, and all. And you know what those Queen Mary’s are?
AS: Yes, mhm.
LL: The long aircraft carriers. I had to bring one of them back [coughs]. You had a building – on the station, Pucklechurch, you had a building, car park was this side, had this, I had this car, this Queen Mary, and I must have remembered what the driving instructor had said. ‘Pause briefly, have a look what sort of route you’re going to take, if you’re getting the vehicle out [emphasis] of the car park. And you’d get so far and close round [?] to the bend, and then you start turning,’ so you were lined up ready to go on. And I thought ‘well briefly I did that’ but in reverse, and I paused very slowly and I thought ‘I’ve gotta go there, there, there, there.’ I levelled [?] then lined myself up – I didn’t move the vehicle, just looked. ‘Right go on then, right God, I’ve worked the route out how to go out backwards with this Queen Mary,’ I went all the way around and went all the way in. Never touched the side [AS laughs] and all of a sudden I heard this voice. ‘Loosemore you’re a liar,’ well I thought ‘how’s that?’ I looked round, couldn’t see anybody, and I heard this voice again. And there was this, I think it was the transport officer and he said ‘you’re a bloody liar, you tell anybody who’s just done that they’ll call you a bloody liar mate.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d never driven a Queen Mary before, and I just didn’t want to shut him down [?], go so far and backed up and that was dead [emphasis] in line. I could see the pillars of the windscreen, between the windscreen and it was all in, dead in line. And that’s what that transport officer was shouting.
AS: Mm.
LL: ‘You tell anybody you just done that,’ and I was dead [emphasis] in line. And he wouldn’t believe me, wouldn’t believe me.
AS: Brilliant.
LL: I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d never driven one before [AS laughs], mm.
AS: When, just as you left the squadron –
LL: Yeah.
AS: What was it like leaving your crew? Did they go on without you?
LL: Ah, no. That was rather strange that. I don’t think, no. It was proper procedure, because you were guided towards an office and all this rubbish, what I call rubbish piled on the floor. The officer then said ‘dump all you want to get rid of, take what you want,’ just like that. And there was all sorts of stuff, but your uniform, you didn’t want that, a lot of stuff straight on the pile. But if there was anything you wanted you just grabbed. I grabbed a couple of towels, that’s about all I wanted. Nice brand new towels, and I forget [?] what I didn’t want, but I could have had anything off that pile, he just said ‘take all you want.’ But I couldn’t for the life of me, well there was nothing I wanted really.
AS: Mm.
LL: Everything. But I did grab a couple of towels.
AS: Mhm.
LL: And all the other, the wrong number on it but you could always cross that number off and put your own number next to it, and name, yeah.
AS: What about leaving your crew, what did that feel like?
LL: Well as I said, I didn’t know they’d gone [emphasis].
AS: Oh okay.
LL: No, because I was sent straight to the dumping ground, the office.
AS: Mhm.
LL: When they went, I hadn’t seen then since [coughs] ‘cause they went possibly to another, to get ready to go to another station.
AS: Mm.
LL: Because I think they left, they left Skellingthorpe and they might have gone somewhere onto another squadron [coughs].
AS: Okay, so you didn’t manage to keep in touch?
LL: Oh, the only – oh I did with, oh I make [pause], did I see him? I might have had a letter or a phone call to say that the rear gunner who travelled from Ormskirk in Lancashire [coughs].
AS: Mm.
LL: He was with a fellow officer. I think we were all warrant officers by then. Oh they were at Crewe Station, and he said, he had to answer a call of nature [coughs]. And he was with this other bloke, I think a warrant officer, with his two kitbags [coughs]. When he came out his mate was missing and his kitbag. All his kit was in there. His family didn’t know what he had done during the war. The bloke disappeared, so did his kitbag with all his stuff like that in there.
AS: All his logbook and –
LL: I thought, he was telling me about it [coughs]. And when I was – I had a letter from his son telling me, telling me what happened, I thought ‘well, it’s not fair really.’ He’d got all this – it wasn’t too long back. His family didn’t know anything about his service life, not a thing. So been in contact with him, I thought ‘well, it’s only fair.’ You can change my name to any member of the crew, it’s exactly the same. All the flying you do is as a crew [emphasis], and all, no stranger amongst them. So if I take my name off and put yours instead, nobody could be any wiser because you all fly together as a crew and not as an individual with somebody else. So the recording on there is exactly the same, right the way through.
AS: Mm.
LL: All seven of us got exactly the same written on there.
AS: So you made a copy and gave it to –
LL: Yeah –
AS: The son.
LL: I did, I copied it I think.
AS: Yeah.
LL: You can have that if you want it.
AS: Thank you.
LL: It’s entirely up to you.
AS: Thank you.
LL: I think – oh, when I did the copying for Bill I done an extra one, in case I came across somebody else who wanted one, so I’ve always had – it’s been spare so I’m alright that way [?].
AS: Thank you. That’s been absolutely [emphasis] – we’ve been talking for two hours. Shall we stop now, I think?
LL: What do you want to do now, anything?
AS: I think we’ve pretty well covered most [emphasis] of what I was going to say, maybe we could pause now.
LL: Well what we could do, we could open that door there and when – you can unlock it and have a bit of air come through, it’s getting a bit stale in here, yeah.
AS: That’s what we’ll do. Thank you very much.
LL: Yeah.
AS: Cheers.


Adam Sutch, “Interview with Lesley Joseph Loosemoore,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 5, 2024,

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