Interview with Edward Harry Matthews


Interview with Edward Harry Matthews


With an interest in flying after experiencing Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus, Ted volunteered for aircrew. He went to the Air Crew Reception Centre at St John’s Wood, followed by Newquay on the Initial Training Wing. Ted proceeded to RAF Locking for an introduction to aircraft engineering. He did a more concentrated course at RAF St Athan and flew Oxfords and Tiger Moths. Ted went to the Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Riccall. He replaced a flight engineer in another crew and joined 77 Squadron at RAF Full Sutton, flying Halifaxes.
Ted carried out 15 operations. The first two were daylight ones to Mainz and Cologne. The third was a night operation to Kamen on the Ruhr and they encountered an intruder JU188 aircraft when landing, as part of the German Operation Gisela. Other operations included Helmstedt with anti-aircraft fire; Dortmund; Wuppertal; Witten where they were hit on the starboard engine; Recklinghausen where bombs dropped on a munitions train instead of their target; in Osnabrück they were hit in the bomb bay by shrapnel; Heligoland and Wangerooge saw two Halifaxes collide mid-air. Ted describes the spectacle of lines of fuel on fire in an oil plant.
Ted discusses in detail his role as a flight engineer.
Ted stopped flying in September 1945. He dropped old ammunition and bombs in the North Sea and did a safety course at RAF St Athan. He was sent to a maintenance unit in Faßberg, near Belsen, and was demobilised. He became a government Senior Scientific Officer.




Temporal Coverage




01:19:57 audio recording


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CB: Today we’re in Haddenham and speaking with Edward Harry Matthews ‘Ted’ about his experiences as a flight engineer with 77 Squadron. My name is Chris Brockbank and I’m accompanied by Mr Edward Andrews as a witness. Ted, where did you — where were you born? How did life run for you in your early days and then right through to your retirement?
EM: I was born in Worthing. My father was a manager of a gent’s outfitter. We were fairly well off in those days but coming up to the war we — dad was made redundant and we had to move to South Norwood. When I was there the school I went to was Stanley Technical College which I went to until I was fourteen. From there I got a job with the Croydon Technical College as a lab assistant. But again, dad had to move his job and we came to Esher where I went to work for the Admiralty research as a lab assistant in the ASDIC and fire control of ships. It was from there I joined the air force. I was about coming up to eighteen so I would have had to have joined by conscription. I volunteered for aircrew and after the interview in — I think it was Euston Road they said, ‘Ok. You can be a flight engineer.’ I returned to my job for a few months and I was sent then, when I joined the air force, to St John’s Wood. The aircrew reception for the square bashing, more tests and kitting out. Three weeks there and I went to Newquay on ITW for six weeks. From there I went to Locking for introduction to aircraft engineering. It was Locking near Weston Super Mare. Having completed that course I was then sent to St Athans for the major course. I passed out there fairly well and I was, had a few weeks [pause] well flying training in Oxfords and even in Tiger Moths. From there I was sent to the Heavy Conversion Unit at Riccall. I met with my skipper at a rather different way from the usual. His flight engineer was taken sick and during a flight with him he had engine trouble and I managed to sort it out. And after that he decided I was going to be his flight engineer. Well, just after Christmas we were sent to 77 Squadron. The first raid being to mines, a daylight. A fairly busy sort of raid. Not too hectic. Nothing much. From there the next one –
CB: Just looking in your logbook.
EM: The next one was Cologne. Another daylight. That was interesting because we were told not to hit the cathedral there. We were there to aim at the bridges over the Rhine. Our bomb aimer, as we were coming up said, ‘Oh I think I can hit those bridges. I can put my bombs straight through between the two spires,’ [laughs] but I don’t think we did hit the bridges. We missed them [laughs] but we shook them up I believe. After that we had a night raid to the Ruhr to Kamen which was an oil dump. Now, this one really got exciting. This was the one where we came back and when we were approaching landing — on the radio we were told there were intruders around. So, the skipper told the gunners to stay in place. It’s just as well he did because as we were approaching the circuit there was a JU188 coming the other way. And following that we had a dogfight from over Full Sutton all the way up to Croft where we’d been diverted. At Croft he disappeared for a while so we managed to land which was just as well because we were so low in fuel another — almost minutes, we’d have run out. We landed. I went back and locked the controls and while I was in locking the controls the others had got out and were sort of having five minutes. But while I was in there I heard this terrific noise. Bang and aircraft engines. I looked out and there they were running down the peritrack being chased by this JU188. They found a sort of dug out at the side of the runway and jumped into it and they were up to their knees in mud and water. Very unpleasant. Anyway, we were, we were lucky. We got away with it. This was the part of what the Germans called Operation Gisela. There was the three operations they did. About nine hundred aircraft flew in with us in the bomber stream. It was their last sort of major and during this time on that raid we’d lost seven aircraft but with these intruders they shot down another twenty eight. And they sent similar raids the following two nights but nowhere near as successful. They only got one or two but they never did it again. That’s one of the hair-raising ones.
CB: Why was it that they were less successful on the second raid? Were — were the gunners more alert? Or what was it? Why were they more —why were there less casualties on the second and third raids?
EM: Well, I think mainly because one — they did it for some Americans and they did it again but I think our people were a bit understanding and guessed it might happen again and we were warned. They did get one or two.
CB: Right.
EM: But it’s quite a bit of history that one.
CB: Yeah.
EM: Because one or two of theirs were shot down and one crashed into a farm near York killing the farmer and his family.
CB: What other excitements did you have?
EM: The next raid I did was to Helmstedt which was fairly hectic in the way of anti-aircraft fire but we got away with that one. Another nasty one was when I went to Dortmund and Wuppertal. Or was it? Yeah. The other night raid where it was dodgy was to a place called Witten where we got a direct hit into one of the outboard engines. The starboard engine. We were just coming into the target and it blew the engine to pieces with bits flying everywhere. As we had a full bomb load on it we were just about keeping height but we managed to attack the target and get home, nursing it a bit. We did find on the way back that the starboard inner engine had been damaged as well. So, we came back on two and a half engines if you like. But by nursing it we got back ok.
CB: When the engines were hit what was your job? Ted.
EM: Another one. We went to Recklinghausen. That was in, that was a daylight but I can tell an interesting story about this one. We couldn’t, we didn’t drop any bombs on it because we just couldn’t see a thing. But on the way back the bomb aimer was in the nose and in a space in the woods he saw some railway lines up near the Dutch border. So, thinks. We go around and have a look. So, the skipper says, ‘Oh let’s put one down there and see what happens.’ We did. We thought the earth had fallen in. Well, we didn’t know what it was. No one knew what it was. But when I was working at Westcott I had to go to Germany and I was looking at some of their rockets. I had to go to this ammunition dump near the Dutch border where they were still digging out bits and pieces then. And I was talking to one of the sergeants there. I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘We had one single aircraft come over and drop one bomb and it hit a munitions train that was due to go to the Russian front.’ And he said, ‘There’s still bodies in there.’ It was enormous.
CB: Fascinating.
EM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
EM: I — my next interesting one is Osnabruck which was to hit the rail line there. Evidently it was extremely accurate but it was a daylight and we got hit in the bomb bay with a load of shrapnel which cut our hydraulic line and we couldn’t open, couldn’t shut the bomb bay. But I saw where it was and with some of the bits of rubbish I’d picked up — namely a piece of rubber tubing and some wire. I managed to slip it over the cut and we managed to shut the bomb bay doors. When we got back I managed to get the undercarriage down but the flaps wouldn’t come down. So, we were diverted to Croft and made that ok so —
CB: What was the significance of Croft?
EM: Pardon?
CB: What was the significance of Croft?
EM: Oh Croft. Sorry. Carnaby.
CB: Carnaby. Ok.
EM: Yeah.
CB: So, what was the —
EM: The big runways and that. As a matter of fact, on one of our night trips we were diverted there because of fog. It was very thick fog. We couldn’t see a thing but they had FIDO and I can tell you landing on FIDO, it’s like, well, you came across the flames and the plane rose and you had to put the nose down. You had to dive through it. Anyway, it was quite hair raising. I think the skipper was saying a few words. There’s one [pause] and then we come to Heligoland and Wangerooge. Just about the last ones. Heligoland was a daylight. It was quite a doddle that one. But we went to Wangerooge which was on the islands. Now, that — they were really, it was a beautiful clear day and they were really letting us have it with anti-aircraft guns. And in front of us there were two Halifaxes probably about a hundred yards apart and suddenly one of these got a burst of anti-aircraft gun under one wing which floated it over right into the other one and they collided. Two got out. There’s one trip that I did which was a most spectacular I’ve seen. And that was to an oil plant. Now, this oil plant was enormous. It had a series of huge spheres all containing fuel of some description and they were all in huge lines. One after the other. And we were loaded up with a mixture of explosive and incendiaries and we went in lower than usual to make sure we got them in line and we went down each line. Dropping, you know, a skein of bombs, you know. Anyway, the spectacular. We were low enough that we saw these spheres collapse and then they opened just like a tulip and at the centre was a huge flame coming up. It was quite, you know, if it wasn’t such a destructive thing it was almost a thing of beauty. But when we came back all the paint was scorched underneath [laughs] yeah. That’s, I think most of my operation.
CB: Could you feel the heat? Could you feel the heat from that?
EM: Pardon?
CB: Could you actually feel the heat in the aeroplane?
EM: Hmmn?
CB: Could you feel the heat of the oil plant explosion?
EM: Sorry I —
CB: The heat burnt the paint. Could you feel it?
EM: Oh, I wasn’t exactly scared. I was kept too busy. Well, for instance, when I went on to the squadron. At that time I wanted to get myself a degree when I left. So therefore, I got a correspondence course and when I was in the early part, when I was flying on ops the, say up to the coast and that I used to do my homework. You know. English. Maths. You know the typical matric as it was then. It, it did me fairly well. But —
CB: So, what about the other members of the crew? What were they like? Starting with the skipper. Who was he?
EM: The wireless operator. He was a lad from Glasgow. The Gorbals actually. A bit of a rum sort and I won’t —
CB: Who was he? What was his name?
EM: Oh dear. Tom.
CB: Never mind. We’ll come back to that.
EM: No. I can’t. The skipper’s name was Bingham.
CB: Right. A picture of the crew we’re looking at. Ok.
EM: Yeah.
CB: Ok.
EM: They — I can’t remember all their names. Our rear gunner, at that stage, was a Canadian. An ex-cowboy. How he got into that rear turret I shall never ever know. If I can put it bluntly he was built like a brick outhouse. You know.
CB: Yeah.
EM: But there’s a funny story about that if you want funny stories.
CB: Go on. Go on. Go on.
EM: On one of the raids. I can’t really put a finger to it. There was a sudden shout, ‘I’ve been hit. I’ve been hit.’ From the rear turret. So, I went down and there he was [groaning]. And the seat is a thick piece of aluminium with wood underneath. And there sticking up through it, about like that, was a piece of shrapnel. Gone right up between the cheeks. Well, anyway the funny part is the doctor gave him some ointment to rub in. Well he couldn’t reach it. So, we got the job of every night rubbing it [laughs]
CB: Amazing.
EM: Yeah. Is it stories you want?
CB: Yeah. Keep it going.
EM: Yeah. The bomb aimer. He came from Hersham. His wife was a hairdresser. I found he was — I didn’t get on well with him. The navigator. He was a Canadian. The mid-upper gunner was a bloke about my age. An ex-miner from Wakefield. We did lose one gunner. It was, he hadn’t even been on a raid. He went on a spare crew. My skipper was Flight Lieutenant Bingham. John Bingham. He’d been a training instructor out in America for a while before he came back and took over this job as, on Bomber Command. He could be a bit of a pompous so and so. You know. A real strict disciplinarian. But on the other hand, that made him a good pilot. He was a good pilot whatever anyone says. What else?
CB: So, the mid-upper gunner.
EM: Mid upper gunner. That was the lad from Wakefield.
CB: What was his name?
EM: His name was Mounty so we used to call him Lofty. And he wasn’t a big bloke [laughs] [pause] Somewhere or other — I don’t know if I’ve got their names.
CB: Well let’s come back to those later. Could you just go back a bit now? No. Sorry. How many operations did you complete in the end?
EM: I did — what was it? I did fifteen.
CB: Ok. And what stopped operations? Was it the end of the war?
EM: Pardon?
CB: What stopped you going on operations? Was it the end of the war? Or what was it?
EM: Well the reason I didn’t go for a commission — I was recommended. I went for an interview but I made a silly mistake. I told them, when they asked me what I was going to do after the war I said, ‘I want to go to university. Get a degree.’ That was it.
CB: They didn’t like that.
EM: Yeah.
CB: Right. So, you stopped flying when? When did you stop flying?
EM: Oh, it was around about September ‘45. Until then I was, we were engaged in taking all the old ammunition, bombs and that from the various airfields around and dumping them in the North Sea.
CB: Right. Where did you do that? Where? Where?
EM: Well we were stationed still at Full Sutton but we did places like Snaith and all the surrounding airfields that had got bombs. We used to, for instance, they used to put the bombs in the bomb bays of course but where it was machine gun ammunition they just piled it in the, by the back door and I used to go and kick it out. You know, open the door and out. But that was — we did quite a few of those.
CB: Ok. Now after you finished flying then on operations you dropped the bombs in the North Sea. Then what did you do?
EM: There was all sorts of jobs while I was waiting to take another course. Another business. But eventually I went back to St Athans and took a safety course. Mainly packing parachutes, safety equipment. That sort of thing. When I’d finished that I was sent to Germany. To Fassburg. Which was just outside Belsen. Which was unpleasant. It was there I managed to take the two exams I’d been working on. I got all sorts of jobs there. It was on a Maintenance Unit where we used to go around to various stations and re-pack their chutes or look at their — as well as advise them on safety equipment. And from there I was demobbed and came back to England. From there I was on leave for a while when I applied to go to a university but they said, ‘Oh you’re too late. The regulations have run out.’ So, what happens? I go back to evening class and get a job with Bayer Products as a lab assistant. At the same time, I managed to pick up on the government job I was working with and I got [pause] they took me on as a scientific assistant making chemical warfare agents.
CB: Where was that?
EM: This was up in Lancashire where I met my wife. At Sutton Oak. And then I was transferred. They moved the whole lot of us down in to Cornwall where I was in the research labs making nerve gas and such. When that closed down I came up to Westcott and became a rocket engineer on solid propellants. Working mainly, quite often, on air to air missiles like Red Top for Lightning, Sky Flash for the Tornado and working on materials for high temperatures. And that’s when I sort of became me and became retired afterwards.
CB: So how long did you work at Westcott for?
EM: Thirty five years. In fact, you might see my footprints somewhere around.
CB: Sounds interesting.
EM: Yeah. It was in solid propellant division.
CB: Right. So, did you work your way up there or what happened?
EM: Well, I ended up there as a senior scientific officer.
CB: Right.
EM: I did — I did some flight tests on a missile in a Lightning. I got taken up in a Lightning to do some tests from a valley.
CB: Oh, did you? Right.
EM: Oh, this would be — I can’t give you a date. It’s [pause] oh no, I can’t. I’d be [pause] I think I’d be almost be pulling your leg if I gave you a date.
CB: So, was this as a jolly or a practical observation you were doing? Was it an enjoyment flight or were you doing it as an observation?
EM: Oh no. it was busy. It was, they wanted, they wanted me to — they were doing some of the tests and I had to observe. Something strange was happening and they wanted me to have a look. See if I could sort it out.
CB: This is the rocket motors was it?
EM: It was the sort of thing — you see when you launch a rocket you get such a spread of strange mixture of gasses.
CB: Yeah.
EM: That as it goes out in front they go in to the air intake of the plane and they often cause a hiccup and we wanted to find out whether that was doing it. So apart from having instruments they needed someone to actually observe the instruments and see what was happening visually.
CB: Right.
EM: Yeah. It was rather funny. The pilots had a bet. Thinking I was a dumb scientist. They didn’t know I’d been on ops and they had a bet to find out whether they could make me airsick [laughs]
CB: So, you put them right in the end, did you?
EM: Oh yeah. Yeah. I was bought beer all night [laughs]
CB: How interesting. Can we go back now? Can we go back to your early training?
EM: Yeah.
CB: So, what happened when you were being trained to begin with? What did they do about training in St Athan?
EM: Oh.
CB: What was involved?
EM: Well basically you went through — for the first few weeks you were put through quite a concentrated course on aircraft engineering. Getting very close to what you were going to do. After that you took the exam. You were then selected for an aircraft. I don’t know how they did it but I’d done some time on Lancs and Halifaxes and most went on Lancasters. I was selected for Halifaxes. As you know.
CB: Yeah.
EM: I did fly once or twice in Lancasters. That was more I think by luck, by judgement. They just wanted a flight engineer, you know. To get experience. They also, the idea, I think was that if after we’d done our ops we might go on to Lancs or something. But I’m just trying — but it was really a concentrated course. In fact, I wrote it all up here.
CB: Oh good. Ok. We’ll come to that in a minute. Can we just go now — so you get to the HCU? So, in the HCU what are you doing there?
EM: Well, we still kept, how can I put it, an interest in all the engineering and kept up to date. You know. With anything new that comes on. We flew with all sorts of varying skippers and crews to get the hang of it. And then of course at the same time the skippers were looking for flight engineers and as I say that was the way it happened for me.
CB: Because normally crews had crewed up at the OTU and then added a flight engineer. But in your case, you went with several different crews.
EM: Yeah. Yeah. The lad I took over from. I don’t know whether he was glad to get away from the crew or not but he was terribly airsick. You know, it wasn’t a case of not liking it or not wanting it. He was so bad that after one flight they [hoist?] the ambulance out to him. He was actually, you know, really–
CB: What had happened to him then?
EM: Well he was so sick. You know. Terribly airsick you know. You know, he was absolutely useless once he got going and that was after, you know, just two or three flights. It steadily got worse.
CB: Did it? Yeah. So, when he was flying what did he do?
EM: Well he vomited a lot. He was very giddy and that sort of thing. As I say, this time he really collapsed. So, well they couldn’t have him. I don’t know what happened to him. Whether they had him lack of moral fibre but he just disappeared.
CB: Well, what do you think about the LMF matter?
EM: It was most unfair.
CB: Go on.
EM: It was. I mean of course you were blooming scared. It [pause] it made you work that bit harder and made you do the things properly and harder but looking back I’m sure that they were being very cruel in many cases.
CB: You say many cases. So how many people did you know about who were dealt with under LMF.
EM: I only came across really one. But he’d already done half a dozen ops and some nasty ones and had a bit of a rough time. I think that was a case that was a bit cruel because after all he had done some ops. He’d proved himself. They didn’t seem to realise this sort of thing.
CB: In what way had he proved himself on those operations would you say?
EM: Well, he, as I say he’d done a half a dozen ops. He’d done exactly what was asked of him.
CB: By whom?
EM: And it was only just [pause] well, the only other thing. He’d been married recently. Whether that? Yeah. Yeah. That might well have been the case but honestly, I wouldn’t like to judge anyone.
CB: What was the reaction of the crew to what he was doing?
EM: Well one or two of them were down on him but I can’t really be certain on that one but some, again some were with him. But it’s understandable if you had a bad time and you’ve got responsibilities at home. And there was — the thing is there was one case. On one of the night raids I was on I must admit it gave me the shivers. We were going into the target and the master bomber said, ‘Christ I’ve been hit.’ And up ahead, not far ahead, there was a little flash of flame and he’d left his mic on and he screamed all the way into the ground.
CB: Good lord.
EM: And I think that might have frightened a lot of folk too. I know it sent cold shivers up my back because you heard him screaming all the way down and suddenly there was a flash and it went quiet.
CB: But no sound from any other members of his crew.
EM: But that —I think there was always a little feeling that if you were going to go you prayed to God let it be quick.
CB: Yeah.
EM: I know that was always my feeling. It —
CB: What height were you operating? What height? How high up were you operating then?
EM: Well, often at twenty thousand. Occasionally we, like several of the raids we came down to ten. And I think the other thing that made you a bit creepy was when you were going into the target and the master bomber says, ‘Oh don’t bomb. Come down to twenty. Angels ten. Angels ten.’ And you’d have to circle right down.
CB: To get down.
EM: Going down through the bomber stream and then being in the target area for so long — that was a bit uncomfortable.
CB: Sounds a strange thing to do if everybody else is high. Why would he do that?
EM: Well quite often the target was obliterated for various reasons. And –
CB: By what?
EM: By perhaps smoke or something and the further down of course you could often see more. Or there was the other times you’d be told to circle over the target while they re-laid the markers. And you’d be over the target for two or three minutes at least.
CB: Really. Yeah.
EM: Again, something very nasty.
CB: Now, going back to in the aeroplane. What was your role? What did you do from when you got in the aeroplane to when it landed again? What were doing as the engineer?
EM: Well, basically when I first got in I’d have a check around over it. I’d start up the engines with the pilot. Then when we’d take off I’d set the, once we’d taken off I’d set the, reset the fuel tanks to — so that each engine — well let me put it this way. On take-off you had a tank for each engine. After you would take off and you were at level flight you just put one tank to two engines. The tank with the most in it. And then when you got towards the target you would then put one tank per engine. And then when you came out and you were coming back home steady you’d perhaps re-change the fuel arrangements. Perhaps fill up tanks one from another. Again put one tank per two engines. And then all that period you’d be logging what you were doing. You know. Where the fuel was going. How much fuel. Calculating it. Also, I’d be, I’d go around and inspect at regular intervals looking for things. And then the, as we were perhaps coming in towards the target we’d be dropping Window and it was my job to go and heave that out. Then the other thing of course was to go around checking regularly. I mean there was one case in the early part of a flight I went around and checked the [pause] what was happening and I found — you know the floodlight bomb.
CB: The flash.
EM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. After the bomb, after the bombs had gone you sent the flash down.
EM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. For the picture.
EM: The little propeller on the end was turning.
CB: Yeah.
EM: And, well, if it had gone on much further we would too. So, I got chewing gum on it and stopped it from going down. It worked out alright later but that’s the sort of thing. So much depended on you seeing it and noticing it. Flaws. Something I also did before we took off was to — when I knew we were going I used to go out to the dispersal and perhaps have a look. Go over the plane. Talk to the chiefy. Talk to the lads who were doing the repairs so that I had —well it was part of a good will mission and part of being certain that you knew that they knew the plane. That was the way it went.
[recording paused]
CB: Ok. Now, on take-off what was your role?
EM: I used to, some, on occasion I used to sit by the pilot but our bomb aimer, we took it in turns. But otherwise I just sat there and checked that the engines were operating correctly. And looking for trouble.
CB: When you came into land did you have a role there or were you in your safety seat?
EM: No. I used to just sit in my position and be there if I was wanted. There was not much I could do then except the odd time we had the — I was pumping like hell on the flaps and hydraulics trying to get them down but that’s about the only thing.
CB: Ok. And when you landed, when you eventually landed did you have to do some kind of check on the aircraft?
EM: Well, if I landed at my own airfield we’d just — the skipper and I would just chat with the chiefy. Tell him, you know, what we’d found. What had happened. But if it was to — we were sent to another airfield. Diverted. I’d speak to the ground crew. You know, give them the details and then if there was no, unless there was no one around I’d lock the controls and shut it up and then go and report to the engineering officer.
CB: So, could you describe why is it, why was it that you would lock the controls?
EM: Well.
CB: Once it was on the ground.
EM: Basically, I mean, if they weren’t locked if there was a breeze or a wind they’d flap and they’d damage. Otherwise you could be in trouble with them.
CB: As far as the ground crew were concerned what relationships did you have with them?
EM: Well with our own we had a very good one. We used to — I was in B Flight at 77 Squadron and we used to get together once a month or whenever we were free and take them for a beer and, you know, something to eat. It was fairly good relations. In fact, I can’t think of a better one.
CB: Good. And as far as debriefing was concerned. So, the aircraft is parked. You are all taken back to the intelligence officer for debriefing.
EM: Debriefing.
CB: What was your job to do there?
EM: What? Sorry?
CB: On debriefing.
EM: Yeah.
CB: What did you do?
EM: Well we just sit around with a mug of coffee. Smoking like hell. They’d just — everyone would have a little say of what we noticed or what we didn’t see. Anything strange. What had happened to us. What we’d seen on the — over the target. Anything new. Different. It was just standard report on what you’d done.
CB: How many times were you hit by enemy fire?
EM: Well, it was very rare that we didn’t come back with a hole somewhere. I believe, in ‘44 that people said, ‘Oh well you didn’t have night fighters.’ Well we did. But the flak was, I found on many occasions, was very heavy and what’s more it was pretty accurate. I’ve seen all sorts of reports but I’ve still got the feeling that on some of the more important targets it really was heavy and I can’t remember one where we didn’t come back with some hole or something there. You know, in fact there was one occasion there was a twang close to my ear and a piece of shrapnel had hit the hydraulics. The undercarriage lever. And the result was I got sprayed with hydraulic fluid before I could close it off. But that’s one problem. I must admit I stunk like heaven for weeks.
CB: Because?
EM: From the oils. Horrible smelling stuff.
CB: Yeah. Did you get attacked by fighters at any stage?
EM: Well, we, I did see some of, some of their jet fighters. There was one daylight where we saw one of their jet fighters. It came straight up through the stream. It wasn’t doing anything but it gave our gunners a wonderful bit of target practice. And it just went up and disappeared.
CB: What was that? Was that a twin engine was it? A 262. Was that a twin engine fighter? A 262.
EM: Yes. You didn’t get a good view of it that you could identify it but you could see the outline well enough and it sort of went through the stream more at an angle.
CB: And was it firing as it did it?
EM: Oh, it had fired. It didn’t hit anything.
CB: Was this in the daylight or at night? In the daylight.
EM: Daylight.
CB: Right. Ok.
EM: You know it was a clear day. You could see it easily.
CB: Yeah. Now –
[phone ringing]
CB: Ah. Changing the subject slightly. What about, hang on. What about Scarecrows? Did you get any of those and what did you know about them?
EM: Well, there were several discussions about that. I thought I saw one and I mentioned it. And they said, ‘No. Can’t.’
CB: Who did you mention that to? The debriefing or to the pilot?
EM: Well, I mentioned it to the pilot and I checked up at debriefing. And again, they said, ‘Oh. No.’
CB: What did you understand a Scarecrow was?
EM: Well, the way it was put to me and it’s why I thought it was one that it looked like a dummy aeroplane going down. But still today when I try to remember I’m not sure myself.
CB: So how did you identify what you thought was a Scarecrow? What did you see?
EM: Well, virtually it looked like a splash of flame and bits coming down from it, you know. It looked —
CB: So —
EM: But having seen planes in daylight being hit and going down. I mean, for instance there was one occasion where we were flying along and there was again a plane — say a hundred yards, two hundred yards away and it was surrounded by a massive shrapnel burst. Flak bursts. And the next minute he seemed to fold up and go down. Now, thinking back, I can’t be sure that that Scarecrow would look anything like.
CB: Right. So that was effectively because they bracketed.
EM: Yeah.
CB: So, what did you understand the term Scarecrow meant?
EM: Well I always got the feeling that the name itself described it. In other words, it was something they put up to make us think there were more being shot down then there was.
CB: Right. Did you ever find out what it really was? Ok. So –
EM: I’m curious if anyone knows.
CB: Right. So, the night fighters. A number of the night fighters were fitted with upward firing cannon. So, they would trace, they would follow the bomber having identified the one they wanted to track underneath from behind and then fire thirty millimetre or twenty millimetre cannon into the fuel tanks.
EM: Yeah, the musik.
CB: Schrage music.
EM: Yeah. Well there was an interesting thing about that too. On our squadron they cut the H2S blister in half. They removed the back half and inside the other shell they put a plank of wood and various other attachments and put a .5 Browning in. The gunner was held in by something like a climbing harness and a huge bungee that went to the back. I know this well because I was sat there and in fact on one raid I sat in it most of the way when I wasn’t pilot or flight engineering. And it was most cold and unpleasant.
CB: And the idea of that was to counter the night fighter.
EM: Yeah. But it didn’t last for long. They were — when, they certainly didn’t have them on the Mark 6 and the aircraft that did have them were [pause] well — put out to graze. They were [pause] they disappeared off the site. You know. I think that occasion was the last I saw of them.
CB: Right. Because it didn’t work? Or why?
EM: Oh, it worked because I believe there were a couple of blokes earlier in ‘45 ‘44 had used them and they did work. They — but I must admit I felt uncovered, uncomfortable when I was told I might have to sit there.
CB: ‘Cause the other gunners were busy as well.
EM: Pardon?
CB: The other gunners were busy.
EM: Oh yeah.
CB: So, they couldn’t sit there.
EM: Oh yes. Yes. We did, on — oh it was used again once but this time they put a proper gunner in there. Thank God. Talking of — there weren’t many fighter attacks in ’45 but I think there were the odd ones because I did remember seeing in the dark, way up there, one or two sights. It looked like fighters attacking but it was only once or twice at the most I saw that.
CB: What about corkscrews? Did you do many corkscrews? Did you do many corkscrews?
EM: Oh yeah. Yeah. When we would do – met the, well, the intruders we were corkscrewing all the way across Yorkshire.
CB: At low level.
EM: Yeah. Yeah. I was stood there. That was quite, yeah. Not long ago I was up in Yorkshire and I met the, I was introduced to the Lord Mayor of the County and I told him about this and I said, ‘Well they haven’t sent me the bill yet.’ He said, ‘Oh they will do.’ [laughs]
CB: Just changing to the crew really now because we’ve covered a lot of things. Thank you. What was the relationship with the crew? How did the crew get on together?
EM: A bit mixed. The Canadians got on well together. The one bloke I felt was a bit of a sore thumb was the bomb aimer. I think he thought he was a bit something different. I didn’t define. We got on. We did the job together. We did what we could together and we worked together. But the blokes I rather liked were the Canadians, the mid upper gunner and the wireless operator. In fact, the wireless operator — I visited him at his home on one occasion. But it was a very, it was friendly but occasionally remote. It wasn’t the sort of crew you would have, that people would always go on about on the radio. We tended to be a bit separate.
CB: Was it a mixture of commissioned and NCOs or all NCOs?
EM: Well the bomb aimer got a commission but the rest of us —oh the Canadian navigator —he was a flying officer. The skipper was a flight lieutenant. Later becoming a squadron leader. The bomb aimer became a pilot officer and he let us know. He was that sort of bloke, you know. But we all got on well as I say doing the job. Doing the job we was there.
CB: But not socially. Socially was different.
EM: Yeah. Outside we used to have an occasional drink together and, in the mess, we used to be quite friendly. And we were in the same nissen hut. So, it was good will. There was no bad.
CB: Right.
EM: Particularly when we had to deal with the rear gunner’s rear end.
CB: Right.
EM: But oh no it was [pause] you couldn’t have wished to have been worse. They weren’t, there was nothing wrong with them. It was just that I don’t think we gelled, you know, together that well. We were good friends but after that no.
CB: It wasn’t really a family.
EM: No.
CB: Which so many crews were.
EM: Pardon?
CB: Many crews were families. They were families of people weren’t they?
EM: No. There was no sort of family feeling.
CB: No.
EM: It was just friends.
CB: And did you –
EM: It was a team doing a job.
CB: Yeah. Did you socialise at all with the ground crew? Did you socialise at all with the ground crew?
EM: Well, nothing serious. I think the wireless operator was the only one. We went out with young ladies together. And he’d pinch mine more often. But he was alright. As I say I met his family and I got, had a very good weekend with them. I think he was the closest I got.
CB: So, was it a difficult situation to leave the RAF or did it not matter?
EM: Well —
CB: Or did you look forward to it?
EM: I didn’t really want to join the RAF. I had my own ambitions as to what I wanted to do after the war which was to go into research science. And I think that was the main thing.
CB: Why did you join the RAF in the first place rather than the navy or the army?
EM: Well, my dad had been in the First World War. Started out as — in the artillery. From there he graduated to observer in balloons. From there he graduated as an observer in RE8s. And towards the end of the war they selected him as a pilot and he ended, he ended up on the last day of the war sitting in the cockpit of an SE5.
CB: Oh. Did he?
EM: But having said that I’ve always been interested in flying. Whether it was model aeroplanes. And in fact, behind our house in Worthing there was a big field and Alan Cobham used to have his Flying Circus there. And occasionally I’d nip over there and join them and run errands for them. For the, for the treat they used to give me a flight in an Avro Tutor or something. Or one of their old planes. Occasionally they let me tighten up a nut and bolt [laughs] [unclear]. So, what else could I do? I mean it had to be. Apart from that I didn’t fancy marching all over the place. If I was going to do it I was going to do it in luxury. If you call it that.
CB: When [pause] when you were on operations how did you feel about what you were doing?
EM: Well, something else. When we were in South Norwood it was in the Blitz and we got bombed more times than enough because we, where we were living there was Norwood Junction right behind and there was anti-aircraft guns going up. There were loads of bombs going down. And the result I saw all the blitz so when it came my turn I wasn’t too [pause] but on the other hand the thing that I wasn’t happy about killing folk and things like that. I felt there was a bit of a conscience there but it was — but that all changed when the things I went and saw in Germany afterwards. Like Belsen. And I thought, I think basically my feeling was — ok it’s a job that’s got to be done and if we don’t do it they’ll have us in a most unpleasant way.
CB: Ok.
EM: But —
CB: The same for all of the crew or did they feel differently? What did the rest of the crew feel?
EM: I think they were much of a muchness. It was a job that had to be done. Not a very nice job. I mean like putting down a pet dog that’s got rabies. I mean you might like the dog but it’s got to go.
CB: That’s been really interesting and really helpful. It’s Tuesday the 13th of October. And thank you very much Ted.
EM: Oh well I hope it’s been interesting.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Edward Harry Matthews,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024,

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