Interview with Dick Maywood


Interview with Dick Maywood


Dick was born in Peterborough and volunteered for the Royal Air Force in 1941. He was called up to Lord’s Cricket Ground in 1942. Dick went to No. 6 Initial Training Wing at Aberystwyth. He then went to RAF Desford, flying Tiger Moths and was selected for further pilot training. After Heaton Park, Dick volunteered for the flying boat course and flew on Stearman N254s at Grosse Isle in the United States. He returned to Canada, initially to Windsor where he was re-selected as a navigator air bomber. He was sent to Goderich and then Mountain View to the bombing and gunnery school on Mark 2 Ansons and the Bolingbroke. He gained his brevet at Navigation School in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island.
Dick underwent intensive map training on his return and went to the Advanced Flying Unit in Wigtown on Ansons. He proceeded to the Operational Training Unit at RAF Upper Heyford on Oxfords, where he was introduced to Loran. He had just started a tour as a Mosquito Pathfinder navigator before VE Day. He describes the aircraft, Oboe, and the pattern of their operations. Dick participated in Cook’s Tours to the Ruhr Valley. He was in 608 Squadron but it was disbanded and so he was posted to 692 Squadron, another Group 8 unit, at RAF Gransden Lodge. This was also disbanded, and Dick was sent to RAF Blyton for a re-selection board where he was sent on a flight mechanic engines course at RAF Credenhill. He was posted to the 254 torpedo Beaufighter Squadron at Langham until he was demobilised.




Temporal Coverage




02:21:54 audio recording


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CB: This was the, this was the interview with Mr Richard ‘Dick’ Maywood at xxxx and he was a Mosquito Pathfinder navigator.
[Recording resumes]
RM: Above the main bomber stream. Twenty eight thousand. We carried one cookie.
CB: Four thousand pounder.
RM: Four thousand pounder.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And we had the Mosquitoes with the bulged belly. Now a lot of those — that was the B16. A lot of those appeared in the film, “633 Squadron.” Now, that film was the biggest load of bullshit you ever came across. It was so ridiculous that a lot of people would believe it. The bombs which they showed being loaded up on these, for the operation, were cookies. The four thousand pounder bombs that we carried with the peculiar tail fin added and they were supposed to drop these bombs so that they hit the base of the rock and bring it down. Now, with the four thousand pounder we were told safety height above one of those is five thousand feet or more. They wouldn’t have been more than five hundred feet away from that rock. So, the best part of that film as I was concerned was the theme song. The theme music.
CB: Yes. Exciting.
RM: Which I intend to have played at the end of my funeral service.
CB: Oh right.
RM: Because I’m gone.
CB: Yeah.
RM: The other Mosquito film they made. “Mosquito Squadron.” Again. That was largely, sort of, bull but there was one interesting point there which is true and that is the point where they had Mosquitoes practicing dropping bombs or lobbing bombs in to tunnels and that actually did occur. And one of the Polish squadrons. I think it was 305 was involved in that but other than that away we go. The Amiens raid which was a true one.
CB: Pickard. Yeah.
RM: That formed the basis of Mosquito squadrons attack. So, in actual fact “Mosquito Squadron” in spite of the American CO and all that sort of nonsense did contain certain aspects which were very true. Curiously enough, as I say, most of the light night striking force operations were either nuisance raids to divert fighter aircraft from the main bomber stream and were raids in their own right or they were on the same targets but about a mile higher than the main stream. So, some of them, the runs, were particularly with Berlin. They used to call that the Milk Run.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Yeah.
CB: So how did that work?
RM: In exactly the same way as an ordinary raid would be set out. You’d be given the route. You’d plot the route. And you’d be given the Met winds which the weather people had found and were vital because A — you needed it for navigation in the days of steam navigation. And you also needed it as the only setting to be put on the Mark 14 bomb sight. And that was the gyroscopically controlled one. I can tell you a story about that too. I shared a bombing range with a B17 on one occasion at Boxmoor near Oxford. We’re at twenty five thousand feet. We had six practice bombs. It was a NFT. And I was sharing a range with a B17 and he could not have been more than fifteen thousand feet. With the bomb and the pickle barrel from thirty thousand feet. Norden bomb sight. His bombing error was twice mine. I was knocking up around about sixty, seventy yards and he was around about the, probably a hundred and twenty, hundred and fifty yards and as I say he was probably ten thousand feet below me. Two miles below me. So much for the American bomb sight. And that Bomb sight the bombardier had to take it out of the aircraft every time he flew and put it back in to safe keeping and then draw it out because they didn’t want the Germans to get it. But what they’d overlooked was the fact that the Germans had hacked down quite a lot of B17s and knew everything about the bombsight. But there we go. I’m afraid that you are probably going to think that I am very biased against the Americans. I’m very biased against the American navy. And I’m not particularly, sort of enthusiastic about their air force either. Any air force which bombed in daylight, in formation. Well, at a steady height. Steady speed. Nearest approach to suicide you could get. The B17 crews, I must admit, were very very brave people. Very brave people. But in those days as I say we hadn’t got much reference for them because most of the big B17 stations were around here. in this area. Northamptonshire.
CB: Near Peterborough.
RM: Peterborough and that area.
CB: Yeah.
CB: And all that area. And George, my pilot, if we were coming off a night flying test he’d look around for one of these and he’d formate on a B17 and sort of drop his undercarriage and put the flaps down and sort of follow on its wingtips and then when he’d had enough of that he’d go clean. Both engines. And then he’d fly in a circle around them as they went along because I mean we could do a hundred and ninety knots quite comfortably on one engine. But to give you some idea. On one occasion, on an authorised low flying exercise an American B, a P47, the Mustang — formated on us. “Air Police” written along it’s side and he was going like this. More or less telling us to get up. I gave him the washout sign. I said to George my pilot, I said, ‘We’ve got a visitor.’ ‘What’s that?’ He looked, ‘Oh him,’ he said. He said, ‘Let’s teach him a lesson.’ And he just took both engines through the gate and we left.
CB: Left him standing.
RM: Within a minute he was a dot. He could have beaten us at low level because of course our B16s that we were flying at that time, although it’s low level, really didn’t get into their own until we were at twenty one thousand feet or over. But going through the gate gave us that little bit extra. And that was it. Because we used to — from Downham Market we exited down between the old and new Bedford Levels right down to Royston. That was our route out. Incidentally, after VE day they said, ‘You’re coming off high level bombing. You’re going low level daylight in the far east and map reading.’ Now, that is the equivalent of going off an HGV on to formula one practically. Now, a lot of people don’t believe this but I can assure you, hand on heart, that it’s true. We were told, ‘Now, when you go to low level that is fifteen to twenty five feet.’ And we did it. Fortunately, my pilot, when he was an instructor in Canada at Estevan on Oxfords had four instances of collecting rubbish from the undercarriage of his Oxfords. Low level. Unauthorised. But he was very very good at it [laughs] and we had quite an amusing incident to do with that but if we go back to the light night striking force. As I say that was part of 8 Group which was given the permission to put eight, in brackets, PFF force. Group rather. Pathfinder force. Because each station in 8 Group had one Mosquito which was mainly light night striking force and one squadron of Lancs which were again associated with the Pathfinder force and they were equipped with H2S which gave you the map. And of course H2S was the result of quite a lot of Lancs being shot down because the night fighters, German night fighters could tune in. Home in on them and bang. And then again, the Germans had a very nasty idea called Schrage Musik which you’ve probably heard of. The upward firing guns. So, they’d home in underneath an unsuspecting Lanc and bang. That was it. But once they got wind of this then they put the Mosquito night fighters in with the bombers and that did reduce the losses a little because it upset the Germans. Now, is there any aspect that I could fill you in on? Because I don’t exactly know what you’re after you see.
CB: That’s alright. So, what I’d like to suggest is that we start with your earliest recollections of your life. What you did at school? Where you were born? And then after school what did you do?
RM: Yeah.
CB: And how did you come to join the RAF?
RM: Yeah.
CB: I’m just going to stop for a mo.
RM: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: Hang on. Let me just get it started again. So now we’re restarting with the early days, Dick.
RM: Yeah.
CB: So, where you were you born and —
RM: I was born —
CB: Just up the road.
RM: Just around the corner.
CB: In Peterborough.
RM: In Peterborough yes. I went to the local school which is about a hundred and fifty yards around the corner from here as an infant. From five to seven. They had the junior section then from seven to eleven and when I was eleven I got a scholarship to the local grammar school which was called Deacon’s School. Peterborough had two grammar schools. Deacon’s and King’s, of which, of course, there was very considerable a rivalry between the two [laughs] as you can imagine. Now, with King’s School it didn’t matter so much about passing the school cert exam. Eleven plus equal. With King’s School you had to be able to sing because that was the Cathedral School. And curiously enough at the service yesterday at the Peterborough Cathedral I remarked on the fact that we must be getting old because the choirboys looked smaller and smaller. I was actually in school to hear war declared. I’d reached the sixth form. And we were actually called in during the holiday to the sixth form to deal with the evacuees from London. Now they, that started on a Friday. The evacuees came into the school and we were there to separate these various children and give them to the groups to which they’d been allocated so that they could be taken to their future homes. And about half past ten, quarter to eleven on the Sunday morning the headmaster came around and said, ‘Forget about the evacuees. All of you assemble in the music room because Neville Chamberlain is going to speak to the nation at 11 o’clock.’ So, we went in there and we heard the war declared and that was that. Now, I came to the conclusion then that instead of staying on to go, say to do my A levels and go to university if that would be interrupted by war service. Now, I’d always been, from the age of about nine when I’d got a book called the Boy’s Book of Aircraft for a Christmas present I’d always been interested in the flying aspect. Biggles and all that sort of thing. And I developed quite an interest in flying from the reading point of view and from the model aircraft point of view. And I thought well why not volunteer for the air force. So as soon as I was eighteen, that was in 1941, I nipped up to Cambridge because at eighteen if I volunteered for the air force I wouldn’t be called up for the army or the navy. And so, I volunteered. I was accepted for further investigation. That was in 1941 and then in December ‘41 was called to Cardington where I had my aircrew medicals and aptitude tests and was accepted as future aircrew. And much to my annoyance, that was December ’41, I was actually called up to Lord’s Cricket Ground August bank holiday Monday 1942. I hopped off one foot on to the other. I thought that was a dirty trick [laughs] Anyway, we were assailed with needles and vaccinations and boots to be cleaned and uniforms. Paraded up and down Earl’s Court and so on and went to the zoo for meals. From there I eventually went to Number 6 ITW at Aberystwyth. I’d only been there about six weeks on a ten weeks course when I had to report sick on the Tuesday. I’d got a swollen throat and what not. Sore throat. Went to the sick quarters and the MO there sort of looked, ‘Ah, Mist Expect three times a day for three days. Come again on Friday.’ Well, this Mist Expect was a brown lotion. Yuck. Which was very evil tasting. Anyway, by the Friday morning I more or less managed to crawl up to the sick quarters and they said, ‘Strange. We’ll have you upstairs under observation.’ And that was on the Friday. On the Sunday morning I developed the classic male symptoms of mumps. Now, as soon as they realised this they whipped me off to the local isolation hospital called Tanybwlch where I was the only patient and I distinctly remember it. There were five Nurse Williams’ and one Nurse Prodigan there. I lived like a lord but the interesting thing was that I was there for a week and at the end of the week they said, ‘Right. You’ll be going home Monday. Fourteen days sick leave.’ Now, before the Monday, on the Friday, about twelve of the people who were in my flight at ITW reported in to Tanybwlch with mumps. And what they were going to do to me was nobody’s business until I mentioned fourteen days sick leave. I was the flavour of the month after that. Anyway, from there, after a week, a few weeks due to bad weather I finished up as Desford Leicester, grading school where I did my twelve hours on Tigers. Selected for further pilot training. The interesting thing was there the instructor that I had was a Sergeant Collinson. He was an ex-bank manager and three weeks after I’d finished and gone to Heaton Park word filtered through that he’d had a pupil who’d frozen on the controls and killed them both. And a nicer bloke you couldn’t have wished for. He was the exact opposite to the American instructor which I had at Grosse Ile. Anyway, as I say, we did this grading school and then from there we went to Heaton Park which of course was the centre from which all aircrew to Canada, America — the USA, South Africa were sent simply because there was no room in the sky to have UT pilots barging about and getting in the way even though the Tigers were painted yellow. But, and as I say from there I volunteered for the Flying Boat course which was rather ill fated. I did get about thirty — thirty five hours solo on Stearman N2S4s which I thought was a beautiful aircraft. It really handled superbly. The sort of one that the wing walkers are using now. Much nicer aircraft to fly then the Tiger. Had twice as much power and on Tiger if you came on the approach five miles an hour too fast you nearly floated across the airfield. You didn’t get down. With the Stearman N2S4 you came in and as soon as you got the right attitude closed the throttle, stick back and it would go down on a three pointer and stick. Much nicer. Also, had brakes which helped you to stop and manoeuvre because with the tiger they had to come out and take your wing tip.
CB: Now where was this? In the states. Where?
RM: This. Grosse Ile, Detroit.
CB: Grosse Ile.
RM: Yes. And the French Grosse Ile. And that was American navy. The only British officers that we had there were one RAF and one Royal Navy officer acting as liaison because of course not only did the RAF send pilots there but of course Fleet Air Arm. And it was the Fleet Air Arm course really. With carrier work and then Flying Boats because they had to be versatile with both but I could never understand why we were subjected to the first part of the course but it was a good thing in actual fact. But I couldn’t see it at the time. Because I couldn’t understand anybody would try landing a Catalina on a Flying Boat. It’s a ridiculous state of affairs to be. Anyway, from there, as I say, I was sent back to Canada. To Windsor, Ontario and had a re-selection board. Was re-selected as a navigator air bomber. The navigators could either be pure navigators, NavBs, NavWs nav wireless or Nav radio and in each case, it depended on the type of aircraft that they would be going on to for their training and radio mostly on fighters for instance. The day and night fighters. The —
CB: Can I just go — can I interrupt? Go back a bit? Why was it that you gave up the flying? The pilot training with the US navy.
RM: Why? I was washed off. Yes. I was washed off the course. They had a field. The main fields. Grosse Ile had several satellite airfields. Much more. And one of these was a square field on the edge of Lake Michigan and in the middle of the field was a hundred foot diameter circle. Now, it gets rather technical here because to explain it I’ve got to be technical. Imagine that there’s a line through the circle with the wind. Wind line. And this wind line when on the afternoon that I was taking my tests was at right angles to the shore of the lake. Now, this field was probably no more than four hundred yards long and the circle would be probably about eight or ninety yards in because you had to, sort of, do a touch down and off again. The afternoon, it was in August, the ambient air temperature was eighty five Fahrenheit. Now, you came down wind parallel to the wind line like a normal left hand circuit. Eight hundred feet. When your wings were opposite the circle you cut the engine and the rest was a glide. Now, you had to glide down across the wind line at between ninety and forty five degrees. Continue the left hand turn and make a right hand turn onto the wind line and in and drop. Because, of course with a lot of aircraft you’ve got no forward, fighter aircraft particularly, no forward vision. So they had to adopt this and they still do I believe. I’m not sure. Now, as soon as on the right hand turn, as soon as I crossed the shoreline I gained about fifty feet. Thermals. I’ve never done any gliding or known anything about it and I didn’t know what a thermal was. So I overshot. The next time. The second run. I came a little bit lower. I still overshot. And we had to get three out of six in the circle. The third shot. I came around and I still touched down just beyond the circle. So I knew that I’d failed but I opened up and ignored the instructor who was sitting by the side of the circle watching. Ignored his signals [laughs] I thought I will bloody well put one in and the fourth one in I actually undershot. But in order to do that my right hand wingtip on the right turn was almost in the water. It was that low. And as I say as soon as I muffed that third one I knew that I’d failed so it didn’t bother me much. Now, one difference between the RAF training aircraft and the American training aircraft was that with the Tiger Moth you had a two way Gosport system so you could talk to the pilot. With the Stearman N2S4s, both army and navy, they had one way Gosport. The pilot could talk to you but you couldn’t talk back. The other fact is that all of the instructors, army and navy instructors on pilot training in the States were usually first generation nationalised Americans. Now, they were not allowed to go to the actual warzones just in case they were spies and nasty types. So, you can imagine that these instructors had quite a bone to pick. You know. They were very bitter about being singled out for this and they took it out on us. Now, on one occasion I’d already upset my instructor. You know, before these circles landing. And if you had a high level emergency which usually occurred at two thousand feet you were supposed to glide round, selecting a field and then make this sort of approach. And we were stooging along on one exercise just before these circles and he suddenly cut the motor and said, ‘Right. High level emergency.’ And one of the satellite fields was just down there so, I gave it full left stick, full right rudder, organised a side slip and brought it right down in one go in to this field. Settled and did a three pointer. And I sat there and I thought bloody marvellous Maywood. The remarks that came over the Gosport were not printable. Definitely not printable. I had disobeyed every rule in their book. Disobeyed them. I was worthless. I was useless. He didn’t speak to me for a couple of days afterwards. He just took me up. But on the way back after the side slip he cut the visit short because we flew for an hour and a half at a time. We’d been flying for about a half an hour. He said, ‘Right. We’re going back to base.’ And he did flick rolls left right left right and obviously to try and upset me. And they had a mirror up in the centre section where they could see us and as he did these, the more he did it, you know, sort of thumbs-up which made him even worse. As I say for two days he would just take me out to the aircraft. We’d do what we had to do until this circle business and not a word was said. Now, after washing off this course, as I say, we had a re-selection board in Windsor, Ontario. It’s just across the water from Detroit and I was selected as a NavB. I had to do six months general duties work. Three months in Toronto manning depot. That was quite an interesting, mostly sweeping the floor but on one occasion. Two occasions. Two successive days. We had to, you know, two of us, another washed off pilot and myself chummed up and we were picked for guard duty in the detention barracks there. When we reported to the flight sergeant MP first thing in the morning we were handed side arms. 45 revolvers. And the SP said, ‘Now, the only thing I’m going to tell you,’ he said, ‘Is never ever let one of the prisoners get within shovel distance of you.’ Shovel distance. What’s that? He said, ‘Remember that.’ He said. ‘If they look like getting there,’ he said, ‘Shoot them because it might be the last thing you do.’ He said, ‘We won’t ask questions.’ Anyway, we went into this detention barracks and we were ushered in to a building which was about thirty feet wide. Probably ninety feet long and normal height of a shed. Say perhaps ten, twelve feet. Across the centre of the room there was a black line. Two inch black line that ran down the walls, across the floor and up the other wall. Now, you can imagine. You walk in there and you see this. At one end there was probably about fifty, sixty tonnes of small coal. The other end absolutely pristine walls and floor. Whitewashed. The prisoners had wheelbarrows and shovels and it was their job to shift this coal from one end to the other and then when they’d done that they scrubbed the floor and the walls. Whitewashed them. And then did the job again. Now, they were doing this probably for two or three months and they were, it was described as being stir happy. And this was the reason. They’d had one or two of the guards had been attacked with these shovels and had been seriously injured or killed and that was the reason why we were told. Now, we only had that for two days fortunately because we more or less stood back to back [laughs] watching each other’s backs and then back to the old sweeping routine. And that was for three months. Then from there I was sent out to a place called Goderich which is right on the borders. Western border of Ontario. That was a training station for twin-engined aircraft for Royal Canadian Air Force cadets. Spent three months there and then onto a place called Mountain View in Ontario to do the bombing and gunnery school. The flying was done on Mark 2 Ansons. You’ve probably seen pictures of those. And the gunnery was done with the Bollingbroke which was the Canadian version of the Blenheim 4. The turret. Have you ever seen the Blenheim gun turret?
Other: No.
RM: Most peculiar arrangement. Vertical column. And a beam pivoted on this vertical column. At one end of the beam is a seat. At the other end are two Browning pop guns. 303s. And handlebars. So when you — to operate the turret to elevate the guns or depress them you turn the handlebars like twist grips. And to turn the turret you steer it like a pushbike. So, if you were firing at aircraft up there your bottom was right down here and you’re looking up there. You’re not sitting in the chair and looking all over like did with the Fraser Nash and the other turrets. The locking ones. Anyway, we were quite interested because the first exercise that we did it was really a chastener. We had two hundred rounds each to fire. Now, what they did with the two Brownings — they put three hundred pounds in each with a dummy round of two hundred in each gun. So, the first person in to the turret, you flew in threes, first used the left hand gun. Two hundred rounds. Left it. The next person going in two hundred rounds from the right hand gun. And then the third one cleared both guns and a hundred from each. Now, the actual bullets — the tips were dipped in paint. So that when they went through the drogue, which was the target, you could see from the colour as to who hit and how many. The drogue was roughly in size a bit bigger say than the fuselage of a Hurricane or a Spit so you can see it was quite large. The first exercise was what was known as a beam target where the towing aircraft had towed the drogue on your beam two hundred yards distance. Steady. In other words you were firing at a static object. No lead necessary either way. And of course we just blazed away with these in short bursts and when we got down after the first exercise. This exercise. They gave us the number of hits. Now, believe it or believe it not at two hundred yards, steady target, no more than probably being on the gun boats — an extraordinarily good result was five percent hits. The average? Three percent. Which is amazing isn’t it? The reason? Vibration. The rigidity of the gun mountings of course allowed the guns to spray and this is one of the things where modern films and pre-modern films of aircraft fights where you see a nice line of holes being stitched across the fuselage — absolute bullshit. You were lucky if you get it off, peppered them. That was the gunnery and then we did sort of quarter cross overs and all that sort of thing. Mostly then with cameras attached to the guns. They took Cinefilms. They wouldn’t let us use live ammunition against [laughs] their aircraft. The bombing was done with Mark 2 Ansons. A very slow aircraft. And using the old fashioned Mark 9 bomb sight which was quite a Heath Robinson contraption really but it worked after a fashion. But it was designed to operate when aircraft were sort of doing their bombing runs at probably a hundred and twenty, a hundred and fifty miles an hour with very little relationship to the forthcoming four-engined aircraft. And for that reason they devised the Mark 14 bomb sight which was gyroscope labourised and it was a beautiful piece of work. But going back to what I was saying about the weather, aircraft and wind finding. With the Mark 14 bomb sight you had to put the wind velocity in. Feed it in manually. And the only other manual thing you did was fit the bomb type. Select the bomb type and it worked out the trajectory and everything. Not only that but with the plate glass, sight glass, you had the red cross with the sword and that was stabilised horizontally. So that it would, in actual fact, give you accurate bombing up to about ten degrees of bank. Whereas with a Mark 9 you couldn’t. You had to be absolutely spot on and running the thing accurately.
CB: Straight and level.
RM: Straight and level. Yes. So that was an advantage with it. And that was bombing and gunnery school. Then nav school, as I say, was at Charlottetown, PEI. Prince Edward Island. And it was there I had my first really narrow squeak. In training of all things. Now, the nav school at that time lasted for twenty weeks. At the end of ten weeks you got a seventy two hour pass. From the Friday night to the Sunday which you couldn’t do much about because by the time you got from Charlottetown on to the mainland it was time to come back again. Right out in the sticks there. You were in the boon docks. Anyway, because we had bad night flying weather in the first eight weeks of our course they decided that instead of us flying on the tenth week we would fly on our twelfth week and the next course — 97. Behind us. Two weeks behind us would fly in our place. Now, you can appreciate this obviously. We were, a group of us, were going into the local cinema and it was just getting dark. Nice bright moon. No wind. Not worth talking about. Beautiful night. When we came out of the cinema three hours later there was a forty five knot gale blowing. Now, I can visualise what I understood and if I was in the same position I might have made the same mistake. In fact, almost certainly would but the Met forecast for the whole of their four hours was light and variable winds. Now, a sprog navigator. They’d only done ten weeks. They were only half way through the course. You still, over there, only had radio bearings. Visual sightings. More or less. And astro compass. The old bubble sextant which I could never get on with to navigate with. And the first leg out probably — of course you see navigation in those, steam navigation the vital part was wind finding, direction of the wind because that meant that you would get to where you wanted to go to. Probably find wind— sort of ten knots. Well, that falls within the flight plan. Get on the next leg and then you suddenly find wind fifteen, twenty knots. Must be something wrong so you backtrack. Check all your doings and in the meantime still maintaining the same course. And eventually you think well the only thing to do is to go back to ten knots. So, you re-plot for ten knots. Come to the next turning point as you thought, make your turn and say ,with four legs ultimately, you’ll probably be getting, or getting readings of thirty knots, thirty five knots. Can’t be right. Must go back to flight plan. And at the end of the flight when you should have been back at Charlottetown if you’d sort of ignored the truth you were probably fifty, sixty nautical miles northeast of Charlottetown. Right over the main Gulf of St Lawrence. Well as I say when we came out of the cinema there was this forty five knot wind blowing. When we got back to the camp they said, ‘Course 96 report to briefing room first light.’ And they made sure that we were there at first light because they sent people around to get us up. And we were given a very quick course on how to conduct line square searches. And every available aircraft and staff pilot who were available flew us so that we did these searches over the Gulf looking for missing aircraft. Never did see any. I believe that just after we’d finished the course. Twenty weeks. And being on our way back that they found one empty dinghy out there. And I believe that in actual fact they found the wreckage of one on the coast of Labrador which is just across the other side. How many went missing we were never told. But I did find out from the archives of the Empire Air Training Scheme in Brandon near Winnipeg — that I think three crews were absolutely lost. But anyway, we measured that and as I say we came back to this country. We did, before they would turn us lose on anything, they said, ‘Right you’ve got your navigation brevets in Canada. From Charlottetown. Over the Maritimes. Where one road or one railway is a land mark. Now, you may find flying over Britain and the continent a bit different. So, before you do anything we’re going to give you three weeks intensive training on map reading.’ And we were actually posted to a lovely little station just outside Carlisle. I think it was called Longton, where we were piled in the back seats of Tiger Moths. They only had about eight of these Tigers with staff pilots there. So, as I say it was quite a small grass field and we did quite a lot of map reading and target spotting over the Midlands and the Lake District. And that was good fun actually. On one occasion we, I actually flew with a pilot. One of the staff pilots who was a little more daring than others and it was a very windy day and he said, ‘I fancy doing a trip. Do you want to come?’ So I said, ‘Yes.’ So, we took off and we were plotting our way around and the biggest rift that I calculated on that was fifty four degrees. And when we came over the airfield boundary at three hundred feet we actually landed ten feet inside the fence because the wind speed was virtually the approach speed of the Tiger. Yeah. That was quite interesting that was. Anyway, from there we went to AFU, Advanced Flying Unit and that was at Wigtown in Scotland. Halfway between Dumfries and Stranraer and that was on Ansons. Again, that was just generally getting used to flying over Britain. And then from AFU of course, straight on to OTU at Upper Heyford where we flew in Oxfords and we, more or less, we were [pause] our technique with Gee was a Gee fix every three minutes. DR after six. Six minutes. New course and again every three minutes. Every three minutes. And this was anything up to four hours. Which of course is the sort of navigation that we would be doing with the Mossies at night. And we also, we weren’t introduced to Loran until OTU and the snag there you see was the Gee would only be useful up to the Continent’s coast line. After that there was so much interference by the Germans. So much, what we called grass, that you couldn’t pick out the signal so we had to use LORAN which, curiously enough, they never did jam. It worked quite well and it worked out well over the Atlantic. Coastal command used it quite considerably. And as I say the last OTU trip we demolished a Mossie by going through the hedge and into trees on the way back with a single engine landing. Then, as I say, I’d only just started a tour before VE Day came. Just after VE Day the first thing we did were Cook’s Tours. We had two Mosquitos from each of the stations. 8 Group stations. Took off at one hour intervals during the day so that there was a route which went across northern Germany, the Ruhr valley then out more or less through the Danish border and back to home. And this was ostensibly to give us a picture of the damage which Bomber Command had done but if you bear in mind that these flights were every hour through daylight I reckon that the idea was a standing patrol just to tell the Germans we were still about. Now, at the risk of boring you here we were told that these Cook’s Tours would be a thousand feet. That’s a thousand feet above ground level obviously but George sort of took it upon himself to fly at a thousand feet. Now, the Ruhr valley is above sea level. About three hundred feet if I remember rightly. So, we were probably about seven hundred feet. Now, as I say the place was absolute rubble with steel structures. Just odd bits sticking up. Odd bits of concrete. Just like Hiroshima. And the Germans had bulldozed roads through this rubble so that they could get their troops. We were stooging along one of these roads. Sort of just ambling along at about a hundred and ninety knots. And we could see in the distance a chap ambling along with his stick and he heard us and he turned around. He recognised what we were and shook his stick at us. So, George said, ‘I’ll teach him a lesson.’ So, he sort of pulled up into a stalled turn and as he did he opened the bomb doors. Now on the B16 the bomb doors are big. Four thousand pound bomb size and from the front you can’t miss them. And this chappy, you could see, he sort of looked. Up went the stick and he was legging it down the road like mad, much to our amusement. Yeah. When it comes to low level flying though as I say our height was fifteen, twenty five feet. Clipping the grass almost. And on one occasion we were going across Wales, went down the valley and then up the other side. Big wide valley. Half way up this valley was a farmhouse and we were climbing up the slope and there was a woman pegging washing out. She obviously heard us and we could see her looking. Saw we were there and then she decided to look down and she could see us coming up and she legged it through this farmhouse. We could see her. And she ran out the other side as went over the top. Again, in those days our sense of humour was different to what it is now and as you probably [unclear] it was quite interesting. But fortunately for us — just after this 608 Squadron, the one we were on, was disbanded and we were posted to another 8 Group unit. 692 Squadron at Gransden Lodge which is just to the west of Cambridge and we, in actual fact, did one or two trips there and 692 was disbanded which meant that we were redundant aircrew. So we were sent first of all up to Blyton in Lincolnshire for re-selection board and I eventually finished up, although I’d opted for something different, on a flight mechanic engines course at Hereford. Credenhill. But there I learned all of the intricacies of the Merlin and the Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp engine. And having finished that course I was posted to 254 torpedo Beaufighter Squadron at Langham in Norfolk. Langham, now, I believe is famous for its glass factory there which I think is on the old airfield where I became the flight tractor driver. And that’s what I stayed until I was demobbed. Now, they [pause] I could have opted to sign on with the air force. Not necessarily guaranteeing that I would fly as a navigator again but there was a pretty good chance. But in those days you had to do twenty one years for a pension which would have taken me from the age of nineteen when I joined up to forty. But you were too old to fly at thirty two. Now, as you probably appreciate after being grounded you don’t know what sort of job you’re going to get. General dogsbody usually. And the thought of eight years as dogsbody to get a pension didn’t appeal to me so I came out and I eventually finished up at teacher training college where I spent five years with a secondary mod trying to teach maths and science. And at the end of five years — because in the period between school and joining the air force I’d become an electrical trainee at the local power station so I’d got quite a good working knowledge of turbines, pumps and all that. Generators and so on. A good mechanical background. I managed to get a job as a lecturer in mechanical engineering at the local technical college on a one term temporary contract in 1954 and I was like old Bill in World War One. Unless you can find a better hole there’s no point in moving. And I eventually spent twenty eight years there and retired. Well, took voluntary redundancy in ‘82. And I’ve been a pensioner ever since. I think the Ministry of Education are busy making little plasticine models of me and sticking pins in because I’m quite expensive. Yeah. But that is that sad story of my life.
CB: Fascinating. Thank you very much. I suggest we have a break now.
RM: Yes.
CB: So, I’ll turn off.
[recording paused]
CB: So. Ken. We’ve just talked about Ken O’Dell being at Edith Weston near North Luffenham because he was also trained in America.
RM: Yeah. Now, if he was trained in America he wouldn’t necessarily be going to Grosse Ile because –
CB: He didn’t. No.
RM: He went under what was known as the Arnold Scheme and that would be usually around about Texas or somewhere like that. To one of the flying schools there with the American army and he would become an army pilot. Now, of course there would be some relevance there because the first part of their course would be for fighter aircraft. Fighter training. Single seat fighters. And this is probably where he went.
CB: Yes.
RM: Under the Arnold Scheme.
CB: His instructors were civilians.
RM: Yes. Yeah. And that did apply but not with the navy. The navy were all genuine navy types. For example, the chief petty officer who took charge of all the morning parades and what not — he had been in the American navy for eighteen years and he’d never seen the sea. Mind you, the Great Lakes, when it does get rough you do get thirty foot waves on it so it’s as good as the sea. And we can prove that because a group of us Fleet Air Arm and RAF types we hired one of these paddle steamers one Saturday night to go out on the lakes. You know, for an outing. This chief petty officer came with us. Now, admittedly it was a bit choppy but he spent all evening draped over the rail. Much to our delight. Much to our delight. Yes. Yes, he was not popular. The Americans for instance. The American navy have a very queer discipline which didn’t go with us. Very rigid. Whereas with the RAF you get a certain amount of latitude and humour. But not the Americans and for any minor misdemeanour the sort of punishment you got you went before the mast, you see and you were awarded this punishment. And that was known as square eating. Have you ever come across it?
Other: No.
RM: Ever heard of it?
Other: No.
CB: Never.
RM: Right. Now, at mealtimes because you were condemned to this you had to do a square eating. In other words [pause] that. That was square eating.
CB: So, lifting it up vertically and then pulling it, eating it horizontally.
RM: Yes. Horizontally. To eat.
CB: Into your mouth. With both knife and fork.
RM: Yes. Oh no. Usually with the fork because the Americans of course chop up their stuff.
CB: Of course. Yes.
RM: With a fork even. But if you did use the knife.
CB: Yeah.
RM: It had to be like. Now can you imagine anything more stupid? And that was the sort of typical sort of thing that you got. But the Americans, bless them, they weathered it so — good luck.
CB: Tell us about the accommodation. What did that they have?
RM: Oh, the accommodation was superb. These twin, these blocks that you see in the films. Two story blocks. Everything beautifully polished. Wood floors. The interesting thing is they had showers there and toilets. You had a single bed which was made up every morning. You know. Bullshit. And the interesting thing was the actual loos. Now, the loos were just like ordinary loos except there were no partitions [laughs] yeah. And we thought that strange. But they say you can get used to anything and it is so. Yeah.
CB: How many people? Were they, were you in dormitories?
RM: It was a dormitory. Yes. It would be about twenty — probably twenty four people. Twenty four cadets. Two sides. Twelves. Just like the dormitories you see on the films. The wartime films of the Americans. The American army of course were a bit more spartan than the navy. But everything was nice. The food though was good. Rather like the curate’s egg though. Good in parts. And you had very strange things like plum jelly with chopped celery in it and that would be a vegetable. Things like that. It was ingenious. Let’s put it that way. As I say, the discipline was very very good. If you heard the trumpet sound for the flag being lowered at the end of the day wherever you were and whatever you were doing you had to stand to attention, face the flag and salute whilst the trumpet blew. We did, in fact, there was one big navy battle that was conducted whilst I was there and I can’t for the life of me think what it was. I think it was Leyte Gulf but I’m not sure. On this particular occasion all flying stopped on this day. We were all assembled in one of the big hangars. All RAF. And five hundred of us all together. Fleet Air Arm types. All the officers there. The band. And the flags and banners and what not and we were given a very very stirring speech by the commanding officer on how good the American navy was and how brave they were and what a victory this had been. All this, that and the other. If you’d listened carefully at the back particularly with Royal Navy types, Fleet Air Arm types a series of raspberries. Yeah. Then having gone through all this marshall music we were all marched out again and continued. I remember that quite clearly.
CB: What time did you get up in the morning?
RM: Usually around about half six.
CB: And breakfast?
RM: Breakfast. Yes. You wandered over to the mess. That was one thing you didn’t parade for. You only paraded after breakfast. You know.
CB: Yeah. And what time did you go to breakfast?
RM: Usually around about half seven.
CB: And then you went for your parade. What time?
RM: About quarter past eight or so. From there disbursed to the actual flying field which — now this was quite interesting in actual fact. The main airfield at Grosse Ile didn’t have runways but it did have a huge circular patch of concrete about six hundred yards diameter so that you could land in any direction and you could land two or three aircraft side by side. Now, that was clear. All you had was hangars in the distance. And then beyond the hangars there was one vertical radio mast which was clearly visible. Now, that radio mast subtended a fraction of one degree from the field. So, you think nobody’s going to hit it. Wrong. Just before we got there some character flying solo. Chop. And the mast came down and hit the, fortunately the American seamen’s mess not the British mess and did grievous bodily damage to several of them. But nobody shed a tear from the British contingent for that. As you can gather I’m not terribly impressed with the Americans.
CB: Were the Americans training their people in similar numbers to yours or what was the situation?
RM: I don’t know what the navy situation was because this was the American navy base. And it was only RAF and Royal Navy.
CB: Oh was it? Training.
RM: Training.
CB: Right.
RM: Yeah. So, they must have had other bases. Probably in California and on the coast and so on. But we didn’t know anything about those and didn’t want to know anything about those.
CB: No. Tell us a bit more about these people who were first generation Americans. What sort of people were they and what was their attitude to the war?
RM: The one. My instructor and I only came across him really was a chappy who was a naturalised Dutchman with the rather curious name of Nieswander. Not spelt exactly as we’d pronounce it. N I E S W A N D E R. Now, he was, as a say, a naturalised Dutchman. First generation. And about six feet two, physique rather like a beanpole and of course like all of these other characters he had a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to be a fighter pilot. He was going to be a fighter pilot. Bugger this job sort of business. And he was, I suppose, fairly interested in teaching people to fly but you could sense and even it was expressed sort of rather obliquely to you by him that he wanted to go into the war zone but he was not allowed to.
CB: No.
RM: All of the pilots and this, of course, I think this also applied to the army pilots that they were not allowed to go into the warzone so they could either go on to training but curiously enough — transport. Cargo and all that sort of thing. And some of these cargo flights actually took them into the war zone. But they weren’t equipped with guns and what not so they couldn’t fight. Yeah.
CB: And what ranks were these people who were your instructors?
RM: Oh, practically all lieutenants. Junior grade.
CB: Right.
RM: Which would be equivalent to our POs. Pilot officers. Now, the interesting thing was there that in the RAF of course with commissioned and non-commissioned ranks you got upgrading in rank at given periods of time with aircrew and what not. Not so with the Americans. And I daresay that I was there, what, 1943. I daresay that in 1945 when the war finished he would still be a lieutenant. General. GJ. Lieutenant junior grade.
CB: And what rank were you at that time? An LAC were you?
RM: An LAC yes. Got, oh — Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where I got y brevet. The Wings Parade there. Now that was in July. And we were all drawn up. We’d finished our training satisfactorily and I was assigned the rank of sergeant. We did get about three or four commissions straight away but mostly sergeant rank. And we were drawn up 2.30 in the afternoon on the parade ground there at Charlottetown and we were addressed by the Governor General of Prince Edward Island after we’d been given our brevets. And this gentleman to us, at that time, we estimated his age at eighty. He was old anyway. He was quite short and apparently, he was deaf. His aide de camp was an army type, lieutenant, who stood about six feet two and this Governor General was making a speech which lasted in total about fifteen minutes. And in the speech, he congratulated us on being — becoming pilots with the Royal Air Force. Went on in this vein and his aide de camp, his aid, was nudging him. Almost to tell him. You know, we could see it happening but he ploughed on and at the end of it the aide de camp had a real chat with him. Now we were standing to attention. Blazing sun.
CB: July. Yes.
RM: And by this time our tunics were turning black with perspiration. And what does the silly old bugger do? Once he’d been told that we were navigators he went through exactly the same speech and substituted the word navigators.
CB: Yes.
RM: Now, if any of us had had a gun we’d have shot him. Without any doubt. He was definitely not the flavour of the month. I had, I have never ever been so hot because of course the Canadians had the lightweight summer gear. Khaki. Like the Americans. What did we have? Blue serge. We never had any and those blue serge uniforms were quite warm. Yeah. We could have shot him quite cheerfully.
CB: Yeah.
RM: But –
CB: Now the Canadians. Excuse me. I’m going to stop a mo.
[Recording paused]
CB: So, let’s just talk about the Canadians.
RM: The Canadians except for the French Canadians in Quebec were charming people. Now, as far as the Americans are concerned — individually very charming. We had individual hospitality through their USOs where you go and have a weekend with a family and so on. Superb hospitality. But when you get them in a group you’re on a different planet. Terry Thomas had the best description of a group of Americans. Remember his –?
Other: No. I remember him but not –
RM: Described an absolute shower. Yeah. And we found that afterwards actually when my first wife and I went across to the Continent in the early 60s. On the ferry we bumped into a bunch of Americans. Loud mouthed. Uncouth. But if you separated them they were quite charming to talk to. Now, the Canadians — much more reserved but just as genuine and I made quite a few friends there except at Charlottetown. Which — there’s a joke about Charlottetown actually which was very true at that time and the joke goes like — that in summer they raise potatoes and in winter children. Now, they still had prohibition there when we were there. That would be in late ’43, early ‘44. And apparently, prohibition stopped only perhaps twenty years ago so consequently the local inhabitants made their own alcoholic drinks by filtering off brasso and stuff like that or using rubbing alcohol. And the weekend before we got there. Two of the erks off the station because there were RAF aircrew there had purloined from the stores a quart of glycol, mixed it with orange juice and two of the local popsies and these two had a beano at the weekend. On the Monday morning the two popsies were dead, one of the erks was in sick quarters blind and the other one was rather non compos mentis. And both of them by the time we got there at the next weekend were on the boat home to Britain. That’s the sort of thing they got up to. As far as I can remember with Charlottetown you had large numbers of children who did the same sort of thing as a lot of the children you see where troops are concerned, and where the Americans are concerned. You know. Chocolates. They wanted chocolates and sweets or whatever and I was not impressed. Nothing would tempt me to go back there again even though it has changed apparently. The Maritimes, the western provinces, New Brunswick and so on — very sparsely populated and very uninterested. The only thing with them is trees, more trees and even more trees with roads, odd roads going through. Nah.
CB: Now when you were flying in Canada —
RM: Yeah.
CB: Were the instructors all Canadians? Were they British? What were they?
RM: A lot of them were RAF seconded over there. What happened, say take twin engine aircraft. You get the RAF sent over there — say to Estevan. He would do his course. The few people at the top of the course, the really high flyers would be retained.
CB: The creamies.
RM: As instructors and would do a full tour. Now, this has a bearing actually on George, my pilot and 8 Group. Now, all 8 Group Mossie pilots had to have at least a thousand hours on twin engines and the twin engines were mostly of course Oxfords which handled apparently rather like a Mossie. Either that or they were tour expired Lancasters. But you didn’t get anybody who just got his wings becoming a Mosquito pilot. Now that was just 8 Group. I don’t know what happened with 5 Group or 2 Group which were the other two groups that I remember being a part of Bomber Command. And it worked. It worked quite well. There were Canadian instructors obviously. RCAF. That is, if they hadn’t been posted to Britain which they were. I mean, they were coming over. When it comes to going over to Canada and the States I travelled on the Queen Elizabeth and it was like a mill pond and of course the Lizzie and the Mary were run by the Americans. They were handed over to the Americans and based at New York. And typically from New York they would come across to Glasgow — Greenock, with a division of American troops. Eighteen to twenty thousand troops on. They would unload them. They would then load returning Americans or returning Canadians and all RAF aircrew that were going for training. Royal Navy and so on. Roughly about five thousand at a time. And they would go to Halifax. At Halifax they would discharge and pick up a Canadian division. Bring those back and then you’d have aircrew that were going to the United States on the Arnold Scheme and people like that. Returning Americans going back to New York. And that’s how they did it. Now, going over there the actual mess deck had tables for twelve diners. Twelve people. And the cooks cooked in batches of twelve and you had, each day, one person went from the table to the mess. The cooks collected a tray say, of twelve steaks. Twelve chops. Now, when I say steaks — American steaks. Not British steaks which were postage stamp sized. But these were genuine. Genuine pork chops. Sausages. Those twelve helpings came to the table. Now, we got on to the QE in Greenock at midnight. The engines were running. There was a bit of vibration there. We sailed on the first tide which was about 6 o’clock in the morning. Just breaking day. We had to go to breakfast around about 7.30 again. And of course, we collected this tray. There were only four of us on the table. The other, sorry, six of us on the table. The other six were in their bunks seasick and we hadn’t even hit the Atlantic. Anyway, we got out onto the Atlantic and it was like a mill pond. There were six the first day, six missing the second day, four missing the third day. And we ate like lords. You know, God, we thought, you know, this is marvellous. We really ate. And these steaks and that were beautiful. Couldn’t grumble at that. And on the last morning they did manage to come down for breakfast before we disembarked. But one interesting thing. Each of us was given a job. The job that I was given was to go from the main stores with one of the American seamen to actually re-store or re-stock the canteens. Chocolate and so on. Which was quite a — not a very onerous job. Over and done with in an hour and that was it. But this American seaman I was with he said, ‘Have you got any currency you want changing?’ So I said, ‘Well, you’re not allowed to bring any currency out. Only ten pounds.’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Supposing you got a bit more than that?’ He said, ‘Would you like it changed?’ He said. So I said, ‘Changed to what?’ He said, ‘Dollars. American.’ Now in 1939 the pound was worth four dollars American and four forty dollars.
CB: Canadian.
RM: To the Canadian. So you had this ten percent difference. So, I said, ‘Well, what’s your exchange rate?’ He said, ‘Well. For you it’ll be four dollars to the pound.’ So I said, ‘Well, it so happens,’ I said, ‘I’ve been a bit naughty. I’ve brought an extra tenner out. Twenty. I got twenty pounds changed into American dollars which, interestingly of course if you spent them in Canada which they were spendable — for ten dollars you’d pay the American ten dollars and get a dollar change. So, it worked out quite well. But the — I was talking to this seaman and I said, ‘We seem to be going at a fair old lick.’ I said, ‘What’s it doing?’ He said, ‘Well, I shouldn’t tell you.’ He said, ‘It’s more than my job’s worth.’ So, I said, ‘Go on. Nobody’s listening.’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘We’re cruising at twenty nine knots.’ But one night I woke up. It was only about 2 o’clock in the morning and the boat, you could tell from the vibration that they’d definitely sort of upped the steam but when we went to breakfast we were back to the twenty nine knots. So, I said to this chap, I said, ‘What happened last night?’ ‘Nothing very much,’ he said. So I said, ‘Go on,’ ‘You’re pulling my leg,’ I said, ‘You were going a lot faster.’ I said, ‘What speed were you doing?’ He said, ‘Thirty four knots,’ he said, ‘There was a sub scare.’ Now, of course the two Queens were unescorted but imagine this. A six inch gun fore and aft on the bow and the stern. On the main deck — Bofors and three inch guns. On the deck above you had Oerlikon cannons.
CB: Twenty millimetre.
RM: Yeah. Twenty millimetre. And on the roof you actually had two rocket launchers. So, as far as aircraft were concerned which of course would be the main thing they would have given them a very rough time. And on the second day they tried the guns out, you know, just to make sure they were working. And they did them one side and then the other. A big rocket flare went up, parachute flare, and they all opened up on this and it was quite deafening. Except the big six inch guns. They didn’t. But everything else —
CB: How many days did it take to get over?
RM: Four days and eight hours. As I say we lived like lords. Coming back. We came back on one of the old Empress boats. It was the Empress of Japan but it had been re-named the Empress of Scotland for obviously patriotic reasons. That took six days and a half. And on that they only had two meals a day. Not three. Now, you can believe this or believe it not. Going out the canteen had run dry so there was nothing on the way back. The first morning, I forget exactly which way around it was but this was the sort of thing. We had smoked haddock for breakfast. The evening meal — wiener sausages. Then for a change wiener sausages for breakfast. Smoked haddock. And we had that for six days. There was no sweets. No fruit available. And we were not in a happy mood. And then when we got into Liverpool Bay the boat had to anchor there for twelve hours before we could dock. And we could see the shoreline. People moving about. There would be restaurants there. And there we were. Stuck. We were not a happy crew. Funnily enough when we came back we had a full customs inspection. And you were allowed two hundred cigarettes, a bottle of Scotch say, or a spirit and a bottle of wine. The chappy in front of me, customs bloke ‘cause we were all queuing up, customs said to the chap. ‘Any cigarettes?’ Expecting two hundreds. The chappy in front said, ‘Six hundred.’ The customs officer looked at him and he said, ‘Surely you mean two hundred?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’ve got six hundred.’ ‘Oh. Well, that’ll bloody well cost you then.’ [laughs] I mean how thick can you get? Dear. Oh, it was. I must say that in spite of our, got one, two or three near squeaks I can look back on my war service and it’s quite interesting. Very varied. And I met some jolly nice people.
CB: How many of those did you keep in contact with after the war?
RM: I kept in contact with my pilot up to a time and then I lost contact with him. The chappy that I was at the Toronto manning depot with we split up but I traced him afterwards. After we’d become civilians. And found out that he’d actually joined the Toronto Metropolitan Police. Been with them for ten years and then he’d left there and joined the Pinkertons.
CB: Right. In America.
RM: Now, I always thought that the Pinkertons was a mythical organisation and I was put severely in my place when Gordon — eventually I went over there in ‘86 and stayed with him and his wife. When I said that I thought it was mythical he said, ‘We’re international,’ he said, ‘We’re interested, more or less in industrial espionage and things like that,’ he said. ‘We’re not interested in police work.’ So, I was really put in my place there. Yeah. And my pilot. He died. Had a heart attack around about 1982 if I remember rightly going on a fishing trip from Vancouver to Nanaimo. Vancouver Island. And he died on the ferry. Had a heart attack.
CB: Was he a Canadian?
RM: No. He was a Londoner. But he had gone across to the States — to Canada. Done his pilot training, become an instructor at Estevan and while he was there he met his wife who was the daughter of a newspaper owner in Langley which is just outside Vancouver. And of course as soon as he was demobbed he shot off to Canada because he got free passage there. Free ticket back home. Yeah.
CB: I’ll stop there for a bit. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: Right. We’re now re-starting after a short break and we’re with Dick Maywood and talking now about LMF.
RM: LMF. Lack of moral fibre which was a euphemistic way of referring to cowardice. It was not unknown with, particularly Bomber Command crews that some of them lost their nerve. In fact it’s a wonder that they didn’t all lost their nerves on heavies. Anyway, if they were accused and if they did succumb to lack of moral fibre they more or less had a courts martial and were almost certainly stripped of all rank.
CB: Physically.
RM: Yes. And –
CB: In front of — sorry go on –
RM: They were also treated to so many months in the Glasshouse which was at Sheffield. And everybody knew. All their crew knew of Sheffield and what it entailed. And fortunately, from my point of view I mean flying in the Mossie was safe. I mean not like the heavies. Because the chop rate even in 1944/45 on heavies was still quite considerable. But on Mossies I think it worked out, on 8 Group Mossies something like about half a percent. But one thing that did strike me with that ‘casue in the Mossie, being wood, low thermal conductivity. Radiators between the engines and the fuselage on both sides with air bleeds. Sealed cockpits. We flew in battle dress. No gloves. But we did have the escape boots just in case we had to escape. That was it. And we had our own sidearms. In my case a .38 revolver and it was only about three years ago it that it suddenly dawned on me. Twenty five thousand feet. If we had been hit and had had to bale out we would have been dead. Lack of oxygen and cold because, I mean, the outside air temperature was around about minus sixty. Minus seventy. And apparently about thirty six seconds of that and its good night nurse. It was a good job we didn’t think about that otherwise we might have gone LMF. But no, I have the utmost sympathy because one or two of my friends I know have had a very sticky patch. One I was with yesterday he is ex-Bomber Command Lanc and he was telling a friend that on one occasion they had a twenty millimetre shell, or, no, it couldn’t have been twenty millimetre. It must have been bigger than that. Go in to the Lanc and lodge in the ironmongery and not explode. And Dennis said that they sort of fished this thing out and dropped it out. And the chap who was talking to him and said, yeah, ‘Didn’t it explode then?’ And Dennis said words to the effect, ‘You’re rather stupid. If it had exploded I wouldn’t be here.’ How silly can people get? It’s, but it’s surprising really. When it comes to the old Mossie they talk about the wooden wonder. They’ve heard of the wooded wonder vaguely. No idea what it did really. Couldn’t be very interesting because it’s made of wood. And when you consider it was the first RAF multi role combat aircraft. You had your weather versions. You had the oboe versions. You had the PR Unit versions. Night fighter units. You had the Coastal Command Banff Wing which for a time had those Tsetse Mosquitoes with the 57 millimetre gun and I know one or two of the 247 Squadron even now who flew in those. And one in particular and he said that every time one of those guns went off you lost twenty knots airspeed with the recoil. But they didn’t last long because they found that a battery of eight rockets, sixty pound rockets was a better bet than the Tsetse gun. That was known as the Banff wing. There was 235 and 247 Squadrons in the Banff Wing. Anti-shipping. You had second TAF who flew fighter bombers. That’s guns, cannons and two bombs in each and that would probably be either on interdiction, road transport, railways and what not. You had the night intruders. Now, had the war had gone on longer it would have satisfied my sense of humour to get on night intruders. Because I loved the idea of sort of just dropping an odd bomb on the runway as they were about to land or shooting the buggers down. Pardon my broken English. Shooting them down. It would have appealed to my sense of humour but no. No. But there we are.
CB: So, you talked about flying at very low level.
RM: Yes.
CB: Tell to us a little more about that. I mean we’re talking about being low indeed.
RM: Yeah.
CB: However you look at it. And what about the excitement and the danger? Or the other way around.
RM: Well excitement. Yes. Particularly when we were doing low level bombing because I’d be prone in the bomb bay looking out the window. The Mark 14 bomb sight was useless because it was a high level job. And they hadn’t got a low level bombsight so it was all done with Mark 1 eyeballs. Now we had a bombing range out at Whittlesea. Well, just the other side of Whittlesea. And flying PPL I often had a scout around there to find out where the field was and I couldn’t find it but this was a big square field with the target in the centre. Now, literally to go we were flying over trees and down again. That was, we were sort of doing. The reason for it was quite simple. We were told the lower — you were going out to the Far East. A lot of jungle. Clearings. The lower you fly the less time you’ll be a target for ground gunners. So, the closer you can get to the treetops and the ground the safer you’ll be. And as I say, fortunately George was extremely good at low flying. Quite interesting actually. If we were bombing on east west run we’d come in low level and then at the end of the run we’d do a slow climb up to about fifteen hundred feet and then do a turn, reciprocal, back down to height again and bomb in the reverse direction and when we were on that run. On the east west run. Our turn to go reciprocal was always over Peterborough Town Bridge. It was super you know. Sort of down there. Yes. Home.
CB: Now, what about navigating when you’re — because your vista is very restricted when you’re flying low. So how did you deal with the navigation in that context?
RM: That was extremely difficult because as you say your range of vision is restricted so you have to absolutely do the correct thing. You look out and you see on the map where you are. The common mistake with map reading is to look at the map and say, ‘Oh that must be it,’ Because as you are probably well aware it is in actual fact, it’s very easy to do that. To convince yourself but I’ve been ferried over the last two or three years on what was known as Project Propeller. And I have, I’ve had a variety of pilots and I’ve flown as passenger with them and quite interestingly I am deadly against wind — so called wind turbines. And I cannot convince the BBC or the papers just what a waste of money they are. But these wind farms shown on air maps are extremely accurate.
CB: Are they?
RM: And they make bloody good landmarks because they actually show the arrangement of them.
CB: Oh right.
RM: So, you can see an arrangement and you can look at the map. Well we must be there. But of course in those days we didn’t. And again, you see, over the jungle as far as I can make out fortunately we were three weeks from going out to the east with the B35s.
CB: Oh.
RM: Which was the later version of the B16. We were within three weeks and VJ day came. Now I cannot stand hot humid weather. Whether it’s a throwback to the Wings Parade with the Governor General or not I do not know but I just cannot stand it and the thought of going out there. I would have been a grease spot.
CB: Yeah.
RM: A grease spot. Yeah.
CB: Just picking up on the navigation.
RM: But it would be with maps.
CB: Yes but —
RM: And dead reckoning.
CB: Yes. Well, I was going to say you use IPs. identification points. Would you put more of those in?
RM: Oh yes. You’d put them on the map because you’d probably, you’d be looking for them on the course. And as I say you take the ground on to the map not the map to the ground. Yeah.
CB: Now, going back to what you were talking about before we started taping you talked about the three mishaps that you had. So, what were they?
RM: Right. The first one was at Navigation School at Charlottetown and that was the fact that due to bad weather we missed the bad weather which was not forecast for the people who flew in our place. So, they got lost and I’m pretty sure that if we had flown on that night and we’d been given that Met forecast — winds light and variable which would take as zero for navigation purposes. It might have been a case of there but by the God go.
CB: Yes. You might also have vanished.
RM: Yes. Yes.
CB: Yeah. In the Great Lake.
RM: No. The Gulf of St Lawrence.
CB: Oh, in the Gulf of St Lawrence sorry. Ok. Next one.
RM: That was the first one.
CB: Ok.
RM: Then at OTU on the return trip from France where we had to land on one engine. They put us on the shortest runway with no wind and of course we vanished through the hedge with rather dire consequences to the Mossie. But — and then the third narrow squeak we had was of course the first time we took off with a four thousand pound live bomb and we got off ten knots slower than we should have done.
CB: Now, the Mossie could take four thousand pounds.
RM: Yes.
CB: But it was just in this particular case. What happened?
RM: Well, we, we — it took us longer to maintain, to achieve height than it should have done. Let’s put it that way. There was considerable chance that if the engines had even stuttered under those conditions on take-off we would have wiped out half of Downham Market.
CB: Was it because of the wind? You took off with the wind? Or what was it that caused it?
RM: Oh, we always took off in to wind.
CB: I know but in this particular case why was it?
RM: George didn’t say very much but I think the engines were not producing as much as he expected or the flaps were not right or something like that but I was too busy then actually during take-off. Getting all the charts ready and getting ready to —
CB: Where were you going that day?
RM: We were going to a place called Eggbeck which was one of the satellite airfields for Kiel. The Kiel Canal in Denmark. And it must have been the name of an airfield because I’ve looked and I’ve actually been in that area. Motored in that area for quite some distance and never found a place called Eggbeck. But it must have been one of the fields which was known as that. Yeah. And that was the one and only.
CB: Right.
RM: I’m afraid. Much to my annoyance. I was really savage when VE day came along, you know.
CB: Yeah. I imagine.
RM: I wanted to get my teeth into the Germans. But these things happen. But as I say afterwards we did the Cook’s Tour. We did quite a few what were known as Bullseyes. Have you come across those?
CB: Yes. Would you like to describe that?
RM: Yeah. Bullseyes were exactly the same conditions you would fly an actual operation. The only difference was at the target area e didn’t drop a bomb. We took a photograph to prove that we were there and we got there on time. Now, to give you an idea of the difference because as I say we had the Lancaster squadron. 635 Squadron at Downham Market and on bullseyes we both did the same route. Now, the Lancaster chaps would go in for their evening meal, would go to briefing and would be taking off as we were getting ready to go to the mess for our evening meal. Our evening meal, briefing, take off. Fly the same route. Be on target at the same time. On the way back we would land, be debriefed and would be having our breakfast when the Lancs were coming in. So two hour difference. Solely due to speed. But here I can give you something which is even more interesting. The American B17, the Flying Fortress. Nine crew. Fourteen guns. Four engines. Bomb load to Berlin four thousand pounds exactly. Out and return nine hours. Now, our Mossies on 608 Squadron, 692 and the other ones on the, what we called the Milk Run. The Berlin run. Out and return time four and a half hours. Now, admittedly with the American the B17s there was time taken up getting into formation and breaking formation on the way back but a lot of people don’t realise with the Americans in daylight, they couldn’t fly at night. They couldn’t navigate. They didn’t know how. They flew in daylight. Formation. Now, they carried a master navigator and a master bomber and I think usually two deputies just in case. They’re in formation. When the lead aircraft dropped his bombs they all dropped theirs. So, what they were doing in actual fact was carpet bombing. Admittedly they’d blanket the target. They would hit the target but that would be covering an area. Now, of course Bomber Command was specific on target markers. You bombed a target and all of the aircraft bombed that target. Not just one or two. So, as I say the American B17 crews were very brave. Much braver than I’d be, I think, under those circumstances to fly in daylight, level thirty thousand feet. Fighter fodder. No doubt. Yeah. Whereas the old Mossie. You couldn’t describe [pause] they did, the Germans did do us an honour. I think it was the Henschel 219 but I’m not sure where it was designed as a two engine night fighter specifically to counter Mosquitoes.
CB: Was it really?
RM: And that was the biggest compliment they could pay us. Then of course the jets came along and that was a different matter. They could sort of commit mayhem. But the interesting thing was that on the raid that we were doing on Eggbeck we were going out and near the target one of the aircraft called out, ‘Snappers,’ and that was the code name for the fact that 262s were about.
CB: Right.
RM: But nobody got lost that night. So –
CB: Messerschmitt 262 jets.
RM: Yeah.
CB: Yes.
RM: I mean they were serious opponents those. The 30 millimetre cannon for a start. I mean you don’t argue with those. Yeah.
CB: What was your operating speed?
RM: Our normal cruising airspeed out was around about two hundred and thirty knots. But that was indicated air speed. I mean at twenty five thousand feet the true airspeed would probably be somewhere in the region of three hundred knots which was covering the ground fairly well. If we went flat out the highest ground speed that I ever recorded was four hundred and ten miles an hours. And that was without trying.
CB: Now, what was the pattern of your operation? Because you were much faster than the Lancasters so you took off late but you had to be there first so how did you do that?
RM: Well the oboe aircraft had to be first. And then the Mosquitoes that carried additional marker bombs would be on target more or less at the same time and they would be listening to the oboe.
CB: Which was the master bomber.
RM: Or the ground. Master bomber. Advising them where to drop their new flares.
CB: Right.
RM: Whether they’d drop them short, long, east or west and so on to correct the error. And then of course by this time the main force Lancs and Mossies would be coming up on the scene but in a lot of cases with 8 Group the light night striking force actually operated on different targets. These targets were designed to be diversionary to lure night fighters away so that they didn’t know whether to go for the Lancs or us and in that case you’d probably get about anything from forty to fifty Mossies attacking quite a valuable target. Yeah.
CB: Now, you talked about twenty five thousand feet. Was that your normal operating height?
RM: Yes. That was normal.
CB: Or did it vary much?
RM: It didn’t vary much. Anything from twenty five — twenty eight thousand. The oboe Mossies, of course, they went up to thirty seven thousand feet.
CB: Oh did they. Right.
RM: Because of course the radio waves were line of sight and at that height they could just get the Ruhr. And of course, the Ruhr was the main complex of the German war industry and after, in ’43 onwards it was systematically demolished with oboe and and with precision bombing. Yeah. As I say the whole area was completely derelict. There was nothing there.
CB: What was your most abiding memory of your experience in the war?
RM: Well, it may sound silly to you but the thing which stuck in my throat more than anything was catching mumps. I mean it was so demeaning. Orchitis. Which, of course is the classic symptoms of that. It’s not pretty and it’s painful and to catch that at nineteen years of age. It was a chance complaint and that, that really stuck with me more than anything. Yes. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
CB: Yes.
RM: I suppose in a way what with that and the fact that I got washed off pilots case and the fact we hit bad weather at Nav School. With the time I lost. If it hadn’t been for that I might not be here.
CB: But you might have done all sorts of other things. Operationally.
RM: I might have finished up on heavies with a much heavier chop rate. Yeah.
CB: Just going back to the American training experience. In essence it was to train for flying boats so that –
RM: Yes.
CB: What aircraft did they have in that area working on the lake?
RM: They didn’t. The Grosse Ile was the aircraft carrier part of the navy.
CB: Ah right.
RM: And once they’d completed that you then went down to Pensacola.
CB: Right.
RM: And the Gulf of Florida and converted on to Catalinas.
CB: Right.
RM: Now the interesting thing is that for many years RAF — the RAF Museum at Cosford encapsulated my wartime flying experience very very neatly. They had Canso, which was a Canadian built Catalina because it had a retractable undercarriage whereas the Catalina didn’t. And alongside it was a Mossie B35 which, to all intents and purposes, apart from an astro dome was the same, exactly the same as our B16s. And these were side by side. Now, nobody knew about me there so it was purely chance but I gather now that last year that they actually split them up into two different hangars. Which is a shame.
CB: Changing the subject a bit —
RM: Yes.
CB: A Mosquito is very cramped inside. Or is it? For the navigator? And how did you operate?
RM: Well, I was a lot slimmer than I am now. The amount of room we had. My seat was about that wide. In front of me we had a dashboard with a dropdown table for the maps and what not on. We were actually sitting on the main spar and the pilot’s seat was just in front of the main spar. Now, just here —
CB: In front of you.
RM: In front of me and to the left hand side would be the console with the undercarriage and flaps.
CB: Throttles.
RM: And throttles. For the pilot. Right handed. In front of me, underneath the dashboard would be the opening which I would go through to get into the bomb bay.
CB: Go in legs first.
RM: No. Head first.
CB: Right.
RM: Yeah. Because you had to be facing the front. Yeah. You could only go in head first. There was no room to do a hundred and eighty.
CB: Yeah.
RM: It’s very cosy. The pilot –he had roughly the same amount of room and all the gubbins in front of him and to his left. We were both slimmer and we could both get in. Now, the B, the bomber versions — you went in underneath. It had a floor entry. Like the prototype in South Mimms Museum. The fighter bomber versions had a side exit or entry and that was just aft of the propellers. About nine to twelve inches behind the propellers and in the event of getting out you had to go in. Go out head first facing the rear to make sure you didn’t get mixed up and come out as mincemeat. Yeah. They had a ladder which stowed in the aircraft that you climbed up. You went in facing backwards and then turned around. The pilot went in first, of course to get into his seat. Now, he would have a seat type parachute. We had just the harness and we had the parachute stowed down by the right hand side so that if we had to get out we could just pick it up, clip it on and out.
CB: So, if you had to get out are you going to go out through the canopy or through the floor?
RM: Oh you didn’t go out through the canopy except as we did when we crash landed at [unclear] when it was stationary. If you went out through the canopy you had a jolly good chance of being chopped in half with the rudder. So, you always went out the escape hatch at the bottom. Yes. It would be a very foolhardy thing to go out the top. Yeah. That was quite interesting now you’ve come to mention it. When we were at Gransden Lodge we were doing, going up on an air test actually and we got up to about ten thousand feet and all of a sudden there was a hell of a bang and a lot of rubbish and what not flying about and George said, ‘Get ready to jump.’ So, I sort of put the parachute on and he said, ‘Oh.’ he said, ‘The aircraft seems to be flying all right,’ he said, ‘I thought the front had gone in.’ You know, the nose, with all the rubbish and what not. We were looking around. Couldn’t see anything wrong. And then we looked up and we found that the top hatch had blown off. And of course the vacuum, the sort of [unclear] effect too place all the rubbish in the bomb bay had come out and he said just said, just tried it and he said, ‘The chances are it’s probably altered the stalling speed a bit.’ So instead of carrying on with the climb he played about and found out exactly how the aircraft handled at a hundred and twenty knots which was the normal approach speed and he found it was probably about a hundred and thirty knots with the extra drag. And so, we aborted and came back and landed. There was quite a hullabaloo, you know. ‘How come you lost that hatch?’ Well, one of those things. Yeah. They didn’t charge us for it [laughs] 664B. I take it you know what 664B was.
CB: No. Tell us. Tell us for the tape.
RM: 664B action was to re-claim from your wages.
CB: Yeah.
RM: The money for whatever it was that you’d lost, stolen or strayed. Yeah. A lot of people for instance lost their wristwatches and went on 664B because you could get a Rolex for around about six pounds ten shillings. The Longines. I had actually had a Longines wristwatch. We were issued with watches. I don’t know whether you realise this or not but we had, were equipped with aircrew watches and we had to rate them and adjust them so that they lost no more or gained no more than two seconds a day. Now, that stems from the vital necessity of having exact time to the second when you’re doing astro shots. Because one second in time can mean about a quarter of a mile in position. And for instance Coastal Command types. The Catalinas and the old Flying Boats.
CB: The Sunderlands.
RM: The Sunderland. If they were returning and they had very poor radio signals. Very few Astra shots. And could not be absolutely certain of their landfall because of the astro shots and wrong time. A few seconds. I mean a quarter of a mile could mean the difference between getting into a fjord or a bay or hitting the land at the side of it. So it was vitally important that you got the time down to a second. It wouldn’t have mattered now because course cards. So accurate. But of course with the spring you actually had to adjust them. Now, the first watch I had we were equipped with these at navigation school at Charlottetown. The first one I had was a Waltham. An American which was quite well thought of. But I just could not get it closer than about five seconds no matter how I tried. And after two weeks they said, ‘Right. That’s no use.’ So, I took it back and got a Longines and within a week I’d got that sorted out and it worked quite well. And kept that right the way through and stupidly I handed that in when I was demobbed. Because as I said 664B I could have had it for six pounds fifty. Six pounds.
CB: Even in those days.
RM: Another thing. Another thing too which I bitterly resent or regret handing in was my sunglasses. Now, they were Ray-Ban. Green. They were superb for sun. want a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses now. Ninety quid. Ridiculous isn’t it? They would have cost about three pounds.
Other: Yeah.
RM: On 664B.
CB: You talked about astro shots. You talked about astro shots so where would you put the sextant. Could you hang it on the —?
RM: Yes, you hung it in the astro dome.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Now, you can turn this off because I’m going to be in trouble.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Dick Maywood,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 13, 2024,

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