Interview with Doug Packman

Title

Interview with Doug Packman

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-11-30

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:38:48 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

APackmanDE161130

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

CJ: This is Chris Johnson and I’m interviewing Doug Packman today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s digital archive. We’re at Doug’s home in Tankerton in Kent, and it is Wednesday the 30th of November 2016. Thank you Doug for agreeing to talk to me today, and also present in the house is Barbara Mast is a friend of Doug’s. So Doug, perhaps you could tell me first of all please your date and place of birth and your family background?
DP: Yes Chris. My date of birth was January the 10th 1925. My parents Lucy and Ernest Packman had their one and only child, that of course was me. If my parents could have shown me the beautiful night sky due south at nine fifty-five pm, we would have observed the most wonderful sight. I refer to the Orion [emphasis] nebula. The first star to pass by this, in this constellation was regal [?]. Standing at approximately thirty degrees, twenty-five minutes due south, approximately one-eight-eight magnetic. I of course just newly born knew nothing [emphasis] of this. My only interest would have been in the warm arms of my loving mother. We, that is mum, dad and I, lived with my grandparents at Coxett Farm, Handslick [?] Lane, near Ospringe, Faversham. I will give you its actual [laughs] location [emphasis]. North fifty-one degrees, eighteen minutes [CJ laughs], east zero-zero-zero degrees, fifty-one point one-one-six minutes. I very often pass by this lovely old farmhouse on my way to church at Stalisfield. I look on this as my place of birth and where my life and adventures began. When a few months old, my parents decided I must be christened. One fine Saturday, Sunday [emphasis] afternoon, my mother, grandmother and an aunt were all prepared for the short journey to the church of St Peter and St Paul at Ospringe. They looked around for my dad and found him clearing, cleaning his motorcycle [emphasis]. ‘Come on Ernest’ said my mother, ‘have you not yet thought of another name to give our lad besides Ernest?’ ‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘call him Douglas.’ ‘Why Douglas?’ asked mum and grandma. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘this is the best motorcycle I have ever had’ [CJ laughs] ‘so why not?’ I was so grateful in later years to my old dad, but I am very glad he did not own a Raj BSA [?] or Matchless [?] at that time [CJ laughing]. My parents and I very often laughed about this. We moved some two years after my birth in nineteen, in 1927, we moved to St Mary’s in the Isle of Grain. I always remembered it as remote and desolate but I suppose it did have a certain beauty. And I must say during my childhood, my father taught me to ride horses at an early age, for I have loved horses all my life. He also taught me how to handle guns and shoot in a responsible manner. When I was ten [emphasis] I could drive a car around the farm, also help repair stationary engines. I have a photo of me driving a standard Fulton tractor at the age of thirteen [CJ laughs]. World War Two? As we all know, World War Two started in 1939. When I was fourteen I worked as a boy messenger for the GPO, both at Ashworth and Chatham. And by the time I was fifteen my parents had both decided that I should work at home on the farm. I was just over fifteen when I decided to join the LDV, or home guard. I will be honest, this was not, certainly [emphasis] for patriotic reasons. I wanted a stout pair of boots for farm work [CJ laughs] so what better than British Army boots? On my sixteenth birthday, I was, I was given my first driving license. I, it covered all groups, so now I could drive a five tonne Bedford lorry, and just about everything else. I might add I have never passed a driving test [CJ laughs], it was not needed in wartime. I led a busy life. I studied for two evenings a week under the guidance of Oscar George, our rector. He was a brilliant man, he had patience with me and I soaked up all [emphasis] that he gave me to do, maths, science, history et cetera. I owe him a great deal, for without his guidance I would never have passed my aircrew exams. Long distance running was also taken up, along with boxing and unarmed [?] combat. Being in the home guard meant guard duty at times. Looking back, I suppose I was very lucky for as you might know, there was a complete blackout at that time. The sky could be observed without the distraction of street lights et cetera. I think it might have got me interested in the beauty of the night sky, and it’s always been there for me. Those times, times can never come back. When I reached my seventeenth birthday, I went into the recruiting office above Burtons buildings at Chatham and asked to join RAF aircrew. A few weeks later I went to Cardingham and passed my medical A1 and two or three days of examinations. I knew I might have difficulties because I was a farm boy and in a reserved occupation, however after almost a year I finally wore them down. I suppose they got fed up with me. And at eighteen walked into Lords cricket ground and so started what was for me the great adventure of my life. Watching the stars again. I suppose it was around August 1944 that we visited some part of Northern Germany. I remember we delivered our presents and there being rather a lot of flak. Alec told me to put on climbing power [?]. I adjusted my engines to twenty-eight thousand, two-thousand eight-hundred and fifty RPM and boost pressure to plus nine perhaps [?] a square inch. We entered dense cloud and about ten minutes later, emerged from this dense cloud at about ten thousand feet. The effect was truly amazing for the night sky was just brilliant [emphasis]. It was a moon and just about every star at its best. I can only describe it as like entering from a complete darkness into a brilliant theatre full of light. It has forever stuck in my mind. I will remember Claude, our navigator, coming out of his small office behind me and pointing at the plough and pole star. I have, if I’d had my planet’s viewer [?] with me at that time I could have told the time by the star due before the plough, pointing at the star. It was all so [emphasis] exciting. It was the wrong time of the year to see Orion in the northern hemisphere, but many years later, after Pegs and I got married, I purchased a four and a half inch utonium reflector telescope, so that we could both enjoy many evenings of watching that beautiful night sky. But of course, one could not enjoy the full beauty, for there are so many lights from our towns and cities throughout the world and it does [emphasis] effect the viewing. But I will ask the reader not to be put off. Sometimes maybe around January the 10th next year, if you are fed up of watching the box, and some silly parlour game, get up [emphasis], go to your south aspect door and just look up [emphasis] and with a bit of luck you will be rewarded with the Orion nebula. You can always [emphasis] make the excuse that you are putting the empty milk bottles or the cat out [CJ laughs]. God bless you all.
CJ: Well thank you Doug, that was f – great. Could you perhaps tell me now – you said you’d been to the recruiting office and that you joined up and went through the medical, so perhaps you could tell us about your time during training and going up to joining in an operational squadron?
DP: Yes. I, I was very anxious to join up, simply because we just wanted to give Hitler a bloody nose [emphasis] [CJ laughs]. And, er, I, I arrived at Lords Cricket Ground on the, sometime in March 1943. And there I met up with a wonderful fellow who I would like to tell you about. His name is John Manion. And John was one of those who did not [emphasis] come back. So I would like to say, to tell you about his now. Is it there? [Pause whilst shuffling paper.] I first met John at Lords Cricket Ground one sunny morning in March 1943. ‘Good morning, my name’s John Manion, what’s yours?’ ‘Doug,’ I replied, and we shook hands heartily. We attended lectures and training sessions at St John’s Wood, Torquay and St. Athan’s engineering school in Wales, until the Christmas of that year when we passed our final examination and emerged at sergeant flight engineers to fly in the mighty Lancaster. John was posted to Number One Group. I was sent to Number Five Group Bomber Command. We would sometimes meet up in Lincoln, go to dances, chase the girls, for we were young [emphasis] and the world was our oyster. No two young men enjoyed life more. Full of enthusiasm, we went to war in order to give, as I say, Hitler a bloody nose. By June 27th 1944, I had completed about eight operations when I had one of my letters to John returned to me. John had been killed on the 25th of June 1944 somewhere over Europe whilst flying a Lancaster with 576 Squadron. John was never to reach his twentieth birthday. Mr first wife, Alice Ider and I went to RAF Bomber Command War Memorial at Runnymede to see his name carved in stone. It all seems like a dream now, but I shall always remember the great adventures we had in that short time together. I shed a tear. Who knows, John and I might meet up again when I depart this life, then we can resume our chatter and thoughts. Rest in peace John.
CJ: Aw that’s lovely.
DP: That is my dedication to all of those, and John, who died and never made it back.
CJ: Mhm. Thank you. So could you tell me please, what was your first squadron and how many operations you did, and the sort of operations you were doing?
DP: Yes Chris, I did thirty-four operations in total, and that was on 630 Squadron at East Kirkby in Lincolnshire. There was another squadron there, 57 Squadron was out sister squadron. Erm, we took, I suppose, about five to six months to complete that tour of operations and then we were rested and went to, I went to the Lancaster finishing school at Syerston as an instructor. I served at Syerston and flew many operations training people and then my pilot and I, the late flight lieutenant John Chatterton DFC we returned to 630 Squadron again as squadron engineers. Squadron instructors [emphasis] rather. And the war ended in Europe and we were all destined to go to Japan, or fight the Japanese, but the bombing of Hiroshima settled all of that and our squadron was disbanded [emphasis] and then John and I were transferred to 57 again as squadron instructors, and we took the place of Mike Beetham and Ernest Scott who was his fight engineer. Incidentally, Mike Beetham became marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Michael Beetham and he died two years ago. But then we moved from East Kirkby to Mildenhall in Suffolk where we joined John’s old squadron, 44 Squadron. And from there we flew operations out to Italy bringing back prisoners of war, so that was, that was it.
CJ: So when did you actually leave the RAF?
DP: Er, I left the RAF in around about March 1946 and then I was told to go to the agitant [?] and said ‘go home and if you can get a job and I will secure your release under Class B.’ I didn’t know much about what Class B was but I was looking forward to going home and getting married, but under Class B I was restricted to farm work until 1953, fifty-four, which wasn’t a very good move [laughs].
CJ: And looking back at your operational missions, are there any that you remember for the right or wrong reasons? When you, you thought you’d done a particularly good job or you’d had any close shaves?
DP: Well there was one close shave I had, and I think this piece of the aeroplane peller, propeller – [paper shuffling] I’ll show you – it might be of interest. It was at Revinay [?] and it was on the 18th or 19th of July I think. I’m not sure I’ll have to check about that. Anyway, that night we went to Revinay [?] and it had been bombed [emphasis] four times previously and I think [emphasis] we all thought it was an easy run for we went in, there was very little flak, we dropped our bombs and then there was setting course for home when all hell broke loose. Er, the mid upper gunner screamed out that the plane was alight [emphasis]. There was holes that appeared all over the plane and I’ve rushed back to see if I could be of any assistance but he was enveloped, or rather that part of the aircraft was enveloped in fire, sizzed my eyebrows a bit and I reported to Alec, our pilot, that she was well [emphasis] alight. He then gave us instructions to bail out, and by the time I got back the navigator and bomb aimer had taken the escape hatch out of the bomb aimers compartment and so we had a routine of getting out. I went, was going to be getting out first, the bomb aimer, navigator, pilot, wireless operator would follow, the other two if they were lucky would get out the back, the two gunners. I, I’d dropped through the hatch as I thought, but the aircraft was in a spin and was promptly, promptly dumped back [emphasis] in it again [laughs]. And there was no escape, all three of us were penned in that small area. I obviously was not on the intercom but the navigator or bomb aimer was still in contact, and Alec said ‘get him back up here to help me pull her, see if we can save her.’ I got up those two steps with their assistance – it was like climbing a mountain [CJ laughs]. So I got hold of the control column with Alec and we tugged and tugged [emphasis], and eventually she came up, but I remember seeing the top of Alec’s head, because I was laying on top of the canopy looking down onto him, or up at him, whichever the case may have been, and the next moment I was on the floor by his side. Alec got the aircraft under control but he said afterwards that he looked at the speedometer and we must have touched four-hundred miles an hour at dive, and it was pretty horrendous [emphasis]. Anyway, we got back , how we got back we never knew, but we got back and we were only ten minutes behind time, so it was – we were very [emphasis] lucky. But as we got out of the aircraft at East Kirkby I picked up a bit of the propeller which had hit my right leg and that’s it right there. I’ve kept it ever since. I must say, as we got out the aircraft there was really no need to go to the door, we could all walk out the side of it. It was just shattered [emphasis]. No tail planes, very little of the fuselage and yet we all [emphasis] got out of there, we were all [emphasis] extremely quiet, and there was not much laughter. But we went on operations the following night. But the aircraft I thought at the time was a write-off, but afterwards I found out that it had been patched [emphasis] up and it had been lost I think on Stuttgart a few months later. But that was quite a hairy situation.
CJ: So that piece of propeller that you showed me – that was from your own aircraft?
DP: Yes, it came from starboard inner propeller. I feathered the engine, I had to stop the engine afterwards but we came back on three and, the Lancaster being the brilliant aircraft that it was came back no trouble whatsoever. So that was it.
CJ: Wow. And did you have any other missions that were memorable for good –
DP: Well –
CJ: Or not so good reasons?
DP: Well [unclear] that submarine pens saying [unclear] springs to mind. The pathfinders had gone in and marked the target. It was brilliant [emphasis]. The sky – I was able to write [emphasis] my log and my engineers log without any assistance, just from the reflection of the, of the search lights, it was enough. And as we were going in, we could see that they’d – that Alec our pilot said ‘there’ll be fighters, so when we get straight level over the target that will be the danger point.’ He instructed me to get in the front turret, so I stood in the front turret with Walter, the bomb aimer with his head between my feet, sighting up the target, and Alec gave the two gunners and myself instructions – ‘do not [emphasis] shoot unless you know that they’re coming for us.’ I think that was good, but all of a sudden I saw a dot [emphasis] in, on the horizon, and it quickly got – as it got closer I could see that it was a Focke-Wulf 190, and it was coming straight [emphasis] at us, point blank. And at the last moment it veered off over our port wing. It was so close that with the lights from the search lights, I could see the shape of the pilot and also the oil streaks under its belly showed up. And I never want to see a Focke-Wulf or any other aeroplane quite that close again. It was a narrow, narrow day. And just recently, I’ve read in the “Daily Telegraph” obituary column of a German colonel, a friend of Hermann Goering, who ran the Wild Boar Squadron, so called, and he gave instructions to his men that if they ran out of ammunition and they couldn’t bring them down, just ram [emphasis] them. All I can say, I think that man was very kind. He either lost his nerve and we lived another day, so that was it. But that was very, very hairy that one. But apart from that we had the usual. Sometimes it was not easy, but we always [emphasis] lived to see another day, yes. But there we are. I think we were very, very lucky and out of thirty-four operations, there was no-one [emphasis] suffered at all. We weren’t hit, so God was with us [laughs] and, you know, it was marvellous. I would like to add this, that when we used to, down to take off from East Kirkby, each night or sometimes in the day, we would stand at the end of the runway ready for the green light and I would open up the engines, taking over from Alec, to give it full power and when I’d get full power I’d always say, or murmur to myself a silent prayer. And that was to, to ask God to look after my parents and Jean my girlfriend and above all, would he let me see the sun rise in the east in the morning. And I used to say that every day, and I must say that it was good because my parents lived to a ripe old age and Jean, and I, now almost ninety-two years of age. So thank you God [both laugh].
CJ: Hmm. And did you go onto marry Jean later?
DP: Er, no. I married Alice Ider, partner [?] and, in 1946, and so we had eleven years of marriage and then one Christmas she was, she went to hospital and she was diagnosed with leukaemia and they told me she’d got eleven, no, eight months to live, and she did indeed die on 8th of August 1958. So that was indeed hard, and, it was hard in many ways because I lived in a very nice council house, an agriculture council house, but she died on the Saturday and on the Monday the rent collector informed me that having no children, I would be required to vacate the house in a fortnight. So I lost my wife [emphasis], my house and my job all in that fortnight, which wasn’t good.
CJ: And what did you go onto do after that? Did you carry on farming?
DP: Well I, I stopped on the farm, and I started keeping a few sheep and pigs myself, and I did that for a little while but I, I became ill and I was told to go on sea cruise and I did something that I never thought I’d do. I signed on the P&O liner Himalaya, and she was about to do a world cruise. And so I went away for six months, and in that time I saw Australia, New Zealand, the States, Canada, er Japan, New Zealand, and we did forty-four thousand miles, and I came back and Peggy, Patricia Penfold, who I’d known for many years, and although she was twelve years older than me we were in love and we married when I came back. And we had forty-one [emphasis] years of lovely marriage. She died Christmas 2000. And that was it.
CJ: And you said that you were lucky that you and your crew survived the war. Were you able to keep in touch with them and attend reunions?
DP: Well yes [emphasis], I was able to keep in touch with my last pilot John Chatterton, he was a farmer in Lincolnshire, and also my pilot Alec Wayne, he was a big industrialist in Manchester, and we kept in contact right up until Alec died [emphasis] and I was able to meet also the bomb aimer and the wireless operator, and Walter is still alive now and he lives in Kettering, and he’s indeed full, full, no he’s one year older than me, so he’s ninety-three. But it’s, so he’s the only one left now, yes.
CJ: And how, how do you feel that Bomber Command were treated after the war?
DP: Well I, I think it was a bit rough. We got criticised and I think it was quite unnecessary because at that [emphasis] time I think we were the only – I think the only defence we’d got was the Air Force flying, but we got shouted at and abused for Dresden and all that sort of thing. But I always thought that, you know, the Germans were bombing Coventry and the docks of London and all [emphasis] these other places, so I thought it was a bit unjustified. But yes, I suppose we didn’t get a medal, a campaign medal, but I’ve never been , I’ve never been, never been very interested in medals anyway so it doesn’t make much difference to me. I met, I never had any brothers or sisters, but being in an RAF aircrew, in a Lancaster, member of a Lancaster crew I had six wonderful brothers, and that [emphasis] to me was worth every, every operation I did. They were lovely men, marvellous people.
CJ: And have you been inside a Lancaster since you left the RAF?
DP: Yes [emphasis]. I was lucky enough to – when I was seventy years of age, John Chatterton my pilot had a son, Mike Chatterton, and he was flying the Lancaster at Coningsby and they were doing a flight from Coningsby to Wittering and he said that I could join them, and so we, we all assembled at Conningsby, John Chatterton, Dennis Ringum our gunner, Bill Draycot the bomb aimer and myself [emphasis], we all took off with an escort of two fighters for Wittering [emphasis]. But the big surprise that Mike spread, sprung on us was that at briefing he said to the two pilots of the fighters, ‘when we leave Wittering, I will be handing over the controls to Doug Packman, and so give him a bit of airspace please.’ I was dumbfounded [emphasis], I thought he must have been speaking of somebody else but no, it was me, and it was [emphasis], I was so [emphasis] – I was over [emphasis] the moon. Anyway, true to his word, when we left Wittering, he allowed me to take over controls because it was dual control in that Lancaster, and I must have had a smile like the cat’s got the cream [emphasis], [CJ laughs], ‘cause as we flew on I thought of all the operations, I thought of my other crews and the boys, I was really [emphasis] very happy, and after a few minutes Mike took over to do a beautiful landing back at East Kirkby. And a few years, a couple or three years later he allowed me to start up at the J-Jane at, which is at East Kirkby, it belongs to the Hatton [?] brothers, and I was able to start that up and, without any instructions, so indeed, I had my lessons learnt during the RAF had not left me, and that was it. So I’ve been very happy.
CJ: Well thank you very much for talking to us today Doug, that was excellent –
DP: Well it’s –
CJ: Thank you very much indeed.
DP: Okay Chris, thank you [emphasis] very much.
[Tape paused and restarted.]
CJ: Doug, could you just explain please how you came to have this bit of propeller with you?
DP: Yes. The, as the, this explosion, this terrific [emphasis] explosion came, I found out later it was from the [unclear] from possibly a JU88 had fired straight up, and they used to aim at the mid section, which was the petrol tanks, and this case what they did explode was the ammunition drums, and everything. That’s what caused the, the fire. But the propeller I – the starboard engine which I had to feather because it was running rough, had made a hole the size I would imagine from memory, much [emphasis] larger than that, it was about, ooh it was about a six inch square hole, this small piece had made, and it had been – it hit my leg as it came in but my well cushioned flying boot and thick socks, it didn’t hurt me at all I just felt [emphasis] it, and there it was, laying beside this hole. And looking at it, one can tell that it is [emphasis] propeller, or bits of a propeller because there was holes literally everywhere [emphasis]. Not large holes, the one, this one I’ve described was probably the biggest, but that’s it. And I’ve shown it to many people and they all say, you know, that’s it, the starboard propeller.
CJ: And the JU88 that attacked you, that was, that had special armament?
DP: Yes, they had upward facing guns which they could – that was one of the weak parts of a Lancaster, they didn’t have a downward firing gun or no way of observing, and they could come up underneath [emphasis] you, slightly come up underneath you, and then the pilot of the JU88, he could focus his guns right underneath you and it’s well known and documented that they used to aim for the mid section, i.e. to get the fuel tanks really. And of course the ammunition. And this is just what it did, but very [emphasis] lucky for us, it was just the ammunition drums that exploded and I suppose the incendiary bullets on that would have caused, you know, caused all this fire. And in fact, that area it was just devastated [emphasis]. We didn’t stop to look at it, we just wanted to get out of it when we landed. But it was just naked framework, if you understand.
CJ: Okay, thank you for clarifying that Doug.
DP: Yes.

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Citation

Chris Johnson, “Interview with Doug Packman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8886.

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