Interview with Frank Page


Interview with Frank Page


Frank Page grew up near Teddington Locks and was working for an engineering firm when the war started. His house was bombed and he remembers recovering bodies from the ruins and says he joined the RAF to get his revenge on the Germans. His pilot training at Newquay Initial Training Wings was interrupted because of an eye infection and he then swapped to air gunner/bomb aimer and attended several training establishments in the UK and South Africa before crewing up at RAF Sywel. He was offered a commission but failed the examination. His crew trained on Wellingtons before attending the Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Sandtoft on Lancasters. They were then posted to 170 Squadron at RAF Hemswell.
Frank's first operation was to Kiel where, he tells us, he successfully bombed the Admiral Sheer. He relates several experiences during operations to Germany, including a near miss with falling bombs from another aircraft. Towards the war's end he took part in Operations Manna and Dodge and recalls the VE day celebrations. After the war he remustered as a driving instructor.
In 2012 he went to the unveiling of the Green Park memorial, recalling that the taxi driver would not accept any payment, saying that 'you boys have done enough'.




Temporal Coverage




01:21:17 audio recording


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FP: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Rod Pickles. The interviewee is Frank Page. The interview is taking place at Mr Page’s home in Christchurch, Dorset on the 19th of July 2016. Good afternoon Frank. Thank you for allowing me into your home to carry out this interview. Also present in the room is Frank’s wife, Audrey. Frank, this interview is all about you so could you tell me a little about your early life please? Date, place of birth and any memories you have of your childhood.
RP: I was working in the tool room as a tool maker and we were making parts for Wellingtons. Part. Bomber clamps. And actually made, as well as tools, we, we did parts for parts of aircraft that were short during that time. Anyway, my house, our house was in the same road as Teddington Locks where the, where the tide ends and I believe that the Germans were after it to bomb. They dropped the bomb. We had, we were, I was on the end of a terrace and it dropped a thousand pounder and took out four of the houses. And the end — our house was on one end and it had quite a slope on it so it was only held up at that time by a pear tree which grew up the side of it. So I I was all night digging bodies out from the crater and I went to work the next day and — funnily enough I didn’t go to work the next day. I was, I was paid for not going in because I’d been —
FP: How old were you at that time?
RP: About nineteen. Twentyish. Something like that.
FP: So was Teddington the area you were born in? Were you born in — ?
RP: Teddington.
FP: Yeah.
RP: That was at Teddington.
FP: Yeah.
RP: It was right near Teddington Locks.
FP: Yeah.
RP: And anyway because of that and my mother was a bag of nerves and my brother was down in the Anderson shelter and I was thrown out of bed and my mother landed up in the fireplace. Because of that I thought I’d give them their own back and so I joined up and I went to the RAF as a pilot and pilot/navigator/bomb aimer. That was the rota and I ended up as a bomb aimer because I was — I had, at the time when I was supposed to go solo in a Tiger Moth I had, I’d done eight hours and I was supposed to do fifteen and then I was supposed to do fifteen hours in a Tiger Moth and then go solo but after eight hours I had a boil on my eye and I had to go in, go in hospital. And they gave me M&B 693 to get rid of the poison but the orderly, medical orderly, gave me, instead of giving me four every eight hours he gave me eight every four hours.
FP: Oh dear.
RP: So I was pretty ill. And at the time I got back to finish, finish my hours and do solo I wasn’t fit to. Well I didn’t feel like going on and I ended up being a bomb aimer. So that was the choice I had. [pause] We went to, the first [pause] we had already been by that time, we’d already been to ITW — Initial Training Wing — at Newquay. And —
FP: That’s Newquay in Cornwall. Yes.
RP: Pardon?
FP: Is that Newquay in Cornwall?
RP: Newquay in Cornwall. Yes. Our hotel was right on the edge and right next to the station and we had our own access to the beach. Straight down. And we, they taught us, we did our — [pause]
RP: So from Newquay where did they send you out? From Newquay?
FP: What?
RP: Where did they send you from Newquay then? What station?
FP: From Newquay. From Newquay we went [pause] we went. That was where, from Newquay we went on to grading for, to Sywell, Northampton. To the Tiger Moths where I finally got to be a bomb aimer. So —
RP: So you have, so then you had to go to bomb aimer training I assume then. Yeah.
FP: Yeah.
RP: So where did they send you for that?
FP: Yeah.
FP: Yeah. I went to there and then I went to Credenhill, Hereford. And the actual, we were studying bomb sites and releases and learning all about bombs and Browning machine guns etcetera and the lecture rooms were on one side of the road and the bed, where we used to have our beds [tents?] or whatever they were, I can’t remember but the accommodation that we lived in was on the other side of the road. And I walked down this slope of road to get to the lecture rooms. While I was walking down one day there was a brow of a hill quite nearby and it was a hump back sort of thing and an army despatch rider came up behind me and he didn’t see me. He hit me up the backside and bumped me off and hit me again and I fell. I was in the ditch and I was picked up from the ditch and taken to hospital. Yes. And I had x-rays to make sure that my [sleep?] wasn’t broken and they found that I’d bruised my, the stuff that holds it together. That was all bruised but I hadn’t broken it. So anyway it was a fortnight in hospital and three weeks convalescence.
FP: I was posted to Blackpool. And then after Blackpool we were put on to a, we went to, had to go to Liverpool and we got on the SS Taranto convoy enroute to Durban, South Africa for training. And we came back after a year. Stationed at Harrogate and then Whitley Bay on commando course complete with giant fire crackers thrown by instructors as we climbed fences and nets. After that, as we were, went to Newton Stewart in Scotland. Wigtown. Flying in Ansons training in navigation, map reading, star charts, astro sextants, sextant, familiarisation bombing etcetera. And [pause] we went to Enstone which was attached to Moreton in Marsh and we had parachute drills and dinghy drills, Wellington study. We crewed up with McArdle. A pilot who came from Sydney, Australia.
RP: Oh he was an Australian. Ok.
FP: Yeah. Australian. McArdle.
RP: So was this your first crew?
FP: Yeah. First crew. And we flew nine and a half hours dual in Wellingtons. McArdle failed on circuits and bumps after going six weeks with him and we had to, I had to go back to holding unit at Sturgate near Gainsborough to wait for another pilot and and [DR Nav? DR Nav?]. After that we went to Enstone. We crewed up with Ihlen. I H L E N, from Melbourne.
RP: Another Australian.
FP: Australian. Yeah. He, gunners and Watts. Anyway, we got together. Ihlen failed on circuits and bumps so had to go back to Sturgate to wait for another pilot.
RP: So that’s twice you had to go back.
FP: That’s right. Another six weeks.
RP: What year would this be?
FP: I don’t know.
RP: No. Because it’s quite a lot of training. I just wondered at what point did they give you the badge then? The wing. What point in your training do you get awarded that?
FP: Ah I got that in South Africa. I got that. I got my brevet.
RP: Brevet. That’s the word I was looking for.
FP: I got my brevet in South Africa in, I went to East London and I was on the boxing team in East London against another, another training.
RP: Yeah. Did you win? Did you win all of your bouts?
FP: Huh?
RP: Did you win all of your bouts [laughs]
FP: Not all of them. No. [laughs] I lost one and won one.
RP: And what were you flying in South Africa then? What aircraft were you on?
FP: We were [pause] I can’t [pause] Oxfords I think. I —
RP: That’s a very similar aircraft to the Anson. Yes?
FP: Yeah.
RP: Similar. Sort of.
FP: Something like that.
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
FP: But not so open as the Anson.
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
FP: And Ansons had a turret. A little turret.
RP: Yes. Yeah.
FP: And things for shooting stars out of.
RP: Yeah.
FP: You know.
RP: Yeah.
FP: Astrodome. Yeah.
RP: Yes.
FP: That’s what we used to call it. Astrodome. Anyway, we had, during that time I was called, together with another man, a student that was on to be, to go for, to be an officer. You know. What do they call them?
RP: Commission.
FP: That’s right. and maybe, I don’t know, possibly didn’t say, ‘Sir,’ enough and I don’t know whether I — what I should have done was ask for another officer who was quite friendly before I went there. I should have asked him what to talk about. What to say.
RP: You have to say the right thing.
FP: In my, I just didn’t ask enough. I didn’t, didn’t get enough advice before I went and sat down for this. So, anyway, I didn’t get a commission. I got my brevet after going through training. We had training in bombing. We had the special bomb simulators. Simulator bombers and things like that and practice guns. Firing guns. And we fired at, we fired from an Anson at a drogue which was towed by a Fairey Battle.
RP: Right.
FP: Right. So this, and when we got down we had to count. All our bullets had colours. Were coloured.
RP: Oh right.
FP: So we had yellow, green.
RP: Yeah.
FP: And in the end we counted how many, how many holes, yellow holes were in it or blue holes or whatever.
RP: So you had to assess your shooting ability.
FP: Find out how often we hit the drogue.
RP: Which means you’ve hit the target of course.
FP: What?
RP: Which means you’ve hit the target which was the key to it.
FP: Which means you’ve hit the target.
RP: Yeah.
FP: And anyway eventually we got, we went on parade and I used to do a lot of boxing down there and against other air schools you know and I had to train. And I remember a port. We went to Port Alfred. And that, I think Port Alfred where we got the brevets eventually but I had a pal who I used to box with and we used to go swimming with him and all sorts and he was a real, he was a Yarpie, which means he was in a South African.
RP: Oh right.
FP: You know, he was South African army/air force. And he wasn’t, but he did train with us and anyway. And I can’t remember his name now at the moment but I was really, we were mates, you know. And during that time I put it in my diary. I’ve got a diary there of who, how, what we did and during that time. I always kept that diary of the things that I, that I did and I went with, we went in the Drakensberg Mountains and we flew often up there. Unfortunately, one of the, I’m sorry to say it again but it’s the only way I know, a Yarpie instructor from the South African Air Force. He, he was pilot. He was the pilot that took us up there and the certain name that is in the diary, I can’t remember it now, but he took us up there once and it was only a week or so afterwards that he crashed and got killed in the Drakensbergs together with the student, the learner. The bomb aimer pupil died as well. So it was quite a blow to to — for me to write down his name as having been, you know, killed.
RP: So if we could, we can jump forward again now. Thank you for that. You were at the stage where you’d lost your second pilot and you had to go back to Sturgate. So what happened?
FP: Oh well that was later on.
RP: Yeah. That was later on. So what happened after that if your second pilot failed? How long did you have to wait for the third one?
FP: Another six weeks. Yeah. At Gainsborough. Yeah. And eventually got together with Bob Bresland and Bob Bresland was, I can’t say enough about Bob. He was a bloody good pilot. He really was. In all respects.
RP: So from that moment on he was your pilot for the rest of the war. Yeah?
FP: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: Ok. So take us back to Bob Bresland. The training. Where did you go together from the training?
FP: Well we went to, straight away more or less, as soon as we got Bob, we went on about six weeks training up in the Hebrides more or less, you know. We used to. We used go up there and across to the other, the other side as well, of Scotland. And [pause] we, when we got, we went to Sandoft. Heavy Con Unit. We changed over from Wellingtons and we had to go to Sandtoft and lucky as we were Sandtoft had only just changed over from Halifaxes to Lancs and we, we fell just in the right, in the right time. We went on Lancs and we couldn’t have been more pleased.
RP: What, what was the advantage of the Wellington? Or why was it better than the Wellington?
FP: Well the Wellington we had. We went to Sandtoft and changed over onto a heavy. It was either Halifax or Lanc so whatever happened we’d finished with Wellingtons and —
RP: Because that’s known as a lighter weight aircraft. Yeah.
FP: We went over to a heavier aircraft.
RP: Right.
FP: And we went to changeover on to Lancs and it wasn’t long before we went to, we were sent to Hemswell to be on the squadron.
RP: So you joined 170 Squadron at RAF Hemswell. Yeah.
FP: On the Lanc.
RP: On the Lanc.
FP: Yes.
RP: So you’re at Hemswell then. When was your first op? Can you remember that?
FP: Here we are. Our first op was on the 9th of April 1945.
RP: Oh right.
FP: It was to Kiel.
RP: Was this the big, the big raid on the Admiral von Scheer.
FP: That’s right.
RP: That was your first op.
FP: Yes.
RP: Right. Something to remember.
FP: And when we were demobbed, the demobbing was, well, very primitive to how I thought. Thinking. What did you feel like? Well, how can we, how can we compare it with anything else? I mean we hadn’t been before.
RP: No.
FP: So, what a silly question you know. It was [pause] we were going over there and we had, first of all we had an engineer who panicked and he was saying, ‘Shut the bomb doors. Shut the bomb doors. Come on [why do you have?] the bomb doors open for all this time?’ And so there was, I was on the RT saying, you know, I was, ‘Ok. Ok Bob. Left. Left. Right. Steady. Steady.’ ‘Hello aircraft,’ so and so. ‘Overshoot. This is Master Bomber speaking.’ I’ve forgotten now the, it was a code. A code letter for our aircraft and he said, ‘Overshoot the green TIs. Master bomber. Overshoot the green TIs,’ and there was the engineer was shouting at the top of his voice, ‘Shut the bomb doors. [Close them?].’ And I was saying —
RP: Why were the bombs doors — had the bombs gone?
FP: Eh? No.
RP: Had the bombs gone?
FP: No.
RP: So why would you shut the bomb doors?
FP: And I was one the bombing run.
RP: Yeah. So why was the engineer saying, ‘Shut the bomb doors’ —?
FP: Because he wanted them shut. He was panicking. And Bob, Bob Bresland was saying, ‘Keep an eye open for fighters Bob [Skeet?]. That was the rear gunner.
RP: Yeah. That was the rear gunner. Yeah.
FP: ‘Keep an eye open. Keep a good eye open for fighters,’ and we were being, we were being shot at all the time. We were coned, you know. The whole sky was lit up and I was saying, ‘Right. Left. Left. Left. Left.’ I put all my settings on the, on the [pause] the thing, the bombing thing and I was looking. Looking through. Do you know the bomb doors, the Mark 14?
RP: Yeah.
FP: You know the Mark 14.
RP: Yeah. I know. I know what a —
FP: You know how it works. There are ten electric motors in there and doing their work I’d already set it. And it was all set up. Anyhow, I was following up, ‘Left. Left. Steady. Steady,’ and I got this instruction to overshoot the green TIs. Course I had to leave the bomb doors open even longer. Go further.
RP: So what are the green TIs then? What does that mean? The green Tis.
FP: Ah. The master bomber goes over in a Mosquito. He drops TIs — Target Indicators — of the different colours. Now he drops them where he can, dodging in and out at one thousand feet and we were up at eighteen thousand. Or eighteen thousand, nineteen thousand or whatever. I’ve forgotten now.
RP: High enough anyway.
FP: Eh?
RP: High enough.
FP: High enough.
RP: Yeah.
FP: Well yeah. And if the master bomber says overshoot the green TIs then what you do is go just to the far edge of the green TIs. To my way of thinking, what would you say? I go over the green TIs and then just as they finish you drop your bombs. Ok. That’s what I did. And that’s fair enough, I mean that’s all I had to think about. I didn’t think about anything else. I just wanted to do it properly. We go all that blooming way and get shot at and then not. Well, you’ve got to do it properly.
RP: So who presses the bomb release button? You or the pilot?
FP: Me
RP: You.
FP: Oh yeah.
RP: So once you’ve pressed it what do you tell the pilot?
FP: Bombs gone.
RP: It is bombs gone. ‘Cause you see that in all the movies. You do actually say, you say, ‘Bombs gone.’
FP: I say, ‘bombs gone,’ and he doesn’t need any more. He doesn’t, he doesn’t need me to tell to shut the bomb doors.
RP: No. And the engineer’s happy.
FP: Eh?
RP: And the engineer’s happy.
FP: Happy. Yeah.
RP: So where, at that point what does the Lancaster do? Zoom away?
FP: Yeah. What he does. Get out from being shot at straight away. I mean if there’s one way to look at it you’re looking at where the flaks coming from and go the other way and that’s what you do. That’s all I know. And when we got down from there the wireless operator said, ‘Were you frightened then? Were you frightened?’ I said, ‘Of course I was bloody frightened. I had to [adapt?] the bomb doors didn’t I?’
RP: So how long was the flight to Kiel and back then? How many hours were you in the air?
FP: Six hours thirty. Yeah. That’s down there. And the Admiral von Scheer was upside down.
RP: So did anyone get credit for sinking the Scheer or could they not tell which Lancaster?
FP: I sank it.
RP: You sank it.
FP: [It was mine?]
RP: So Frank Page sank the Admiral von Scheer.
FP: That’s right.
RP: I’m not going to argue.
FP: No. Thank you.
RP: Were you carrying Tallboys on your Lancaster?
FP: Eh?
RP: Were you carrying Tallboy bombs on your Lancaster?
FP: Tallboys.
RP: Yeah.
FP: I’ll show you a Tallboy [pause] I’ll show you one. [pause]
[recording paused]
RP: So we need to know after the 9th of April what your next op was.
FP: The next op was on the 10th of, 10th of April.
RP: You didn’t get much rest then.
FP: Huh?
RP: You didn’t get much rest [laughs]
FP: No. But there was an intermittent. We went on. After the, after the raid we went out over the North Sea on signals. It was an exercise and we, we were going over. I don’t know about ten thousand feet and we saw a Lanc going the other way back home on three engines and when we got back it had, it had crashed. It tried to do a three, three engine overshoot and they forget the rudder bias and so what happened was that they revved up terrifically with no, no rudder bias and they —
RP: [unclear]
FP: Yeah and the tip, the tip of the port wing hit the top of the hangar and it cartwheeled in. The crew had been on the same road as us. They didn’t, they didn’t turn the ship upside down but, I mean this is, I’m just saying this [pause] anyway.
RP: Was this crash at Hemswell?
FP: At Hemswell.
RP: At Hemswell.
FP: Hit the top of the hangar and demolished the parachute cloakroom and the pigeon keeper’s hut but the girls, the parachute cloakroom, they were at lunch so they got away with it but the pigeon, the pigeon keeper got the chop. But anyway that was during the, during the, between the 9th [pause]. Did I say the 9th of April? Or the 10th?
RP: The 10th. You said that one was on the 10th. Yeah. So after the 10th where were you going then?
FP: That must have been afterwards. Must have been afterwards then. No. Plauen was the next op anyway.
RP: Where was that?
FP: Plauen. Leipzig. You know Leipzig? About a hundred miles south of Leipzig. In Saxon country, you know. East Germany. And it was, I’ve got some other notes about [pause] what they were. I can’t do it now. I had some notes on what —
RP: We can come back to that later. Don’t worry.
FP: Yeah.
RP: We can come find those —
FP: Ok. Anyway, at Plauen. We were going to Plauen. It wasn’t very good. We lost the starboard outer engine. It was on fire. And we, we put the anti-fire thing, you know and had a bit of a battle with it and Bob Bresland says, told the engineer to feather, his orders are exactly feather the, feather the, feather the engine. And the engineer was panicking again I’m afraid and he feathered the starboard inner. So we had — and then he feathered, he put it right and then he feathered the starboard outer so we had two engines and this, we were over a fair way to going to, had a word with Bob Bresland, with the pilot, he reckoned we’d been hit by flak and that had made it, put it on fire. No. No. Couldn’t think of any other reason why it should be on fire and so anyway when you when you feather the engines you lose power. We still had a full bomb load. Fourteen thousand pound which was our usual. Our usual load. One. One four thousand pounder and ten one thousand pounders and that’s what we usually carried and dropped them together. Anyway, what happened was we gradually, we were still going towards Plauen and losing height and Bob said, ‘Oh blast. We’ll try and put that out. He put the fire out ‘cause it was feathered and that helped. Not having, you know, not blasting the fire. And that’s why he wanted it feathered anyway. So he had two engines stopped and it was a matter of getting them started again and I’d never been in a Lanc that had, that started its engines in mid-air. And it nearly shook them. One at a time. He got them both going again. To cut a long story short he got them on again and we lost the height and when we tried to get back up the height before we got to Plauen and it was really very bad vibration getting one, getting the engine, the inner one started and then the outer one started. And eventually we got to a reasonable height and dropped the bombs.
RP: Can you remember the target? What were you bombing in Plauen?
FP: That’s what — I had a piece of paper with it on.
RP: Oh right.
FP: Is there another bit out there?
RP: We can always, we can always have a look at it later on. Don’t worry.
FP: Yeah.
AP: There’s a piece on the floor.
FP: Oh, anyway.
RP: Worry not. We can move on to — [where we should?]
FP: It’s, it’s somewhere around.
RP: We’ll come back to it if you like. Don’t worry.
FP: Yeah. But anyway —
RP: Carry on with —
FP: It was for armaments.
RP: Yeah.
FP: You know.
RP: Ok.
FP: The usual thing.
RP: So after that one what was your next stop then?
FP: After that. Where this — it’s in between [pause]. Oh when we got back from the first bomb, when we got back from Kiel, I went to have a look at the Lanc and I was approached. I didn’t, I didn’t go and ask him anything. I was approached by a sergeant armourer and he said, ‘Are you the bomb aimer?’ So I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a bit of flak here,’ and it was about the size of a child’s hand. Not, not as big as that.
RP: No.
FP: A child’s hand. Big enough. ‘You can have the flak.’ And it hit one of the bullets in the, in the tank, in the front turret and hit the annulus and it didn’t go off. He said, ‘It’s a bit of a miracle but if it had gone off it would have blown the front of the kite off.’ And that’s what he said to me. And I didn’t approach him or anything.
RP: No.
FP: He asked me and that’s what he said. I mean I think you ought to say but anyway that’s one, one of the bits of flak that hit us.
RP: Yeah. You were very lucky there. God was on your side obviously.
FP: Yeah. So anyway, Plauen. We didn’t get, we didn’t get fired at there. The one after that, after Plauen was do a cross country. Oh Berlin. We did Potsdam which is part of Berlin and we bombed the [laughs] it’s the headquarters of what we were fighting against, you know. The officers. What do you call it?
RP: The Nazi party.
FP: Yeah.
RP: The SS.
FP: Yeah. Their headquarters. That’s what we bombed at Potsdam. And —
FP: Oh after that we did fighter affiliation with Spitfires and Hurricanes, you know and that’s where the Lanc shows it manoeuvrability, you know. Had us flying like that [laughs]
RP: That’s an easy flight compared to the bomb runs then.
FP: Yeah. I mean, yeah. [pause] But you lose all your way, you know.
RP: Don’t worry. Oh yeah. We’ve looked at all of them but you also mention you were involved with Operation Manna.
FP: Oh the —
RP: How many runs did you do to Holland?
FP: We went to Heligoland and we had, we went over there and a lot of Halifaxes were, they were escorts. Lightning, B52s and there were Mustangs and Lightnings fighting the, the next. Heligoland was two islands. It was the U-boat pens and the other island, Dune was a Fokker Wulf 190 ‘drome. Fighter. German fighter. And a lot of those fighters had already gone up and they were, the Halifaxes were escorted by the Lightnings and the Mustangs so by the time we got over there there was a lot of kites going down in flames. Mostly, mostly Halifaxes and there was a lot of these Fokker Wulf 190s fighting against the Mustangs and Lightnings so it was quite a heck of a — you know. And anyway, we go over bombing these U-boat pens. The following week in the “Illustrated London News” there’s a article with pictures about before and after we’d been over and it was just like craters. There were so many craters there weren’t any that didn’t have craters, you know.
RP: Gosh.
FP: Do you know the history of Heligoland? ‘Cause it used to British and we gave it to the Germans. Did you know that?
RP: I think I have heard of that now that you’ve said it. Yes.
FP: Yeah. Yeah
RP: Not a good move.
FP: Anyway, the Germans used it as U-boat pens.
RP: So after Heligoland you went. You still continued to Holland on the food run.
FP: Anyway, and we were going over I was saying, ‘Left. Left. Steady. Right. Steady,’ and all of a sudden Bob goes up right over like that and pulls away and I said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘We’re on a bombing run.’ ‘He said, ‘You look up there.’ And there was another Lanc up there with the bomb doors open. Yeah. Have you seen a Lanc which has had bombs go through it? A picture of it?
RP: I’ve see a photo. Yes.
FP: Yeah. A photo. Yeah. I’ve seen a picture of it too. Yeah.
RP: You survived.
FP: Yeah. Anyway, we, we bombed eventually and that’s it.
RP: So what was your last bombing run then? Was that Heligoland? Your last bombing run?
FP: No. The last bombing run was Bremen.
RP: Was that the shipyards?
FP: Huh?
RP: Was that shipping or just the docks or —?
FP: It was the last bombing run was Bremen and we had our instructions to [pause] if the target was obscured we were to follow the instruction which was ‘Marmalade.’ Which was abandon mission because the, on one side of the river was Montgomery with his army and on the other side of the river was this factory which made Fokker Wulf 190s and so if we could bomb the aircraft factory, you know, we had to, had to be clear. In the clear. Not obscured. So as we went over it clouded over so we had to bring the bombs back and we, actually there were, in the North Sea, there were areas where you were allowed to drop bombs. Get rid of them. Dispose of them. But we had instructions, Bob, so Bob says, to bring the bombs back. Land with them. And that’s what we had to do.
RP: That’s not a good moment is it? Landing with a full bomb load.
FP: No. So we all sat, we all got together and we sat with our backs to the main spar so that we would be blown up as well. It’s fun. We had our instructions. We were told to go and sit with our backs to the main spar.
RP: You’d have been better off getting on your knees and praying I think. So he obviously had to make a very light landing but you did say Bob Bresland was a good pilot. So —
FP: He was a bloody good pilot he was.
RP: So he landed you safely.
FP: Well I’ll tell you another thing he did about the starting the engines in mid-air, you know. That was nasty. It really felt, you felt the aircraft was going to fall apart but the other thing he did was we were going back. I can’t remember. There was a big cloud. What do you call the thunder cloud?
RP: Cumulus Nimbus.
FP: Eh?
RP: Cumulus Nimbus.
FP: Cunim. Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
FP: The Cunim. And we didn’t want to go through it did we? And we tried to go over it and we couldn’t. We couldn’t seem to get the height. Well the Lanc doesn’t climb much more than twenty four feet, twenty four thousand. Anyway we gave up and went right down on the deck rather than go through it, you know. We went under it and we were almost on the waves as we got through. But we spent quite a lot of time doing that. Trying to get, you know, past this Cunim. Yeah.
RP: So from Bremen what what flying did you have left on the squadron? What were your last sort of flights on the squadron then?
FP: Flights on the squadron.
RP: I think you still went over Holland didn’t you? On the, when you —
FP: Yeah. Well we had five. Manna. Yeah. We went The Hague [pause] Yeah. The Hague and Rotterdam. I think The Hague was three and Rotterdam was two. Something like that.
RP: And was it true that there was an agreement with the Germans that there would be no firing at you? You had an air corridor. Was that correct?
FP: Yeah. We used to go over quite low. A thousand feet. Fifteen hundred feet. Something like that. And you could see the guns still following us as we crossed the coast you know. And I did ask Bob whether anybody had got hurt, been fired at, and he said yes they had.
RP: That could be one lone gunner thinking —
FP: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: Thinking he could get his own back. How did it feel dropping food instead of bombs?
FP: Well, how did I feel? It was the Dutch. How did they feel? They, yeah they were, they were eating tulip bulbs you know and we were dropping cigarettes and chocolate and all sorts. Yeah.
RP: So you had five Manna. And I think you mentioned before that you did a run to recover soldiers from Italy or somewhere. That you were recovering, bringing soldiers back to this country.
FP: Well Dodge trips.
RP: Yeah. How many of those did you do?
FP: Well I think at least three but I can’t remember whether it was three or four.
RP: Where were you flying to?
FP: Huh?
RP: Where were you flying to to get them?
FP: Pomigliano. Do you know Pomigliano?
RP: I’m guessing it’s in Italy [laughs] but I don’t know.
FP: Well, you know, you know Vesuvius?
RP: Yes.
FP: Well if you’re going to Pomigliano you do, you don’t do a round circuit. You do a kidney shaped circuit, you know because you’ve got to go around Vesuvius. You see. Get me? Yeah. What you’ve got —
RP: So you’ve finished the Dodge trips then and the war, the war ends. So at the end when the hostilities are over then what happens to 170 Squadron then. What were you going then? Once the war had finished?
FP: Once the war’s finished. VE day. VE day.
RP: Where were you on VE day then?
FP: Where was I? I was there. And I was in the billet.
RP: This was at Hemswell.
FP: Huh.
RP: This was still at Hemswell.
FP: At Hemswell. Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
FP: Hemswell. Parquet floors. Nice billets. Parquet floors. We got a barrel of beer from the sergeant’s mess. I don’t know who got it. I don’t know. I’m not, I’m not saying.
RP: And you’re not really bothered [laughs]
FP: I’m not saying. And we didn’t have a, we didn’t have a tap on it so we just knocked it out and stuffed it and it was a bit of a mess. We got, got the load of beer. The CO came in at that moment and we were in the billet drinking and he looked about. Looked at the barrel and looked at the floor. Flooded. And he said, ‘Who’s been firing cartridges on the square?’ You know. Not cartridges. ‘Who’s been firing’ — signals. What’s the signals?
RP: Flares.
FP: Flares.
RP: Flares.
FP: ‘Who’s been firing flares on the square?’ He said. ‘It’s dangerous,’ he said. He didn’t take any notice of anything else. He just, he wanted to know or put a stop to it, you know. That’s all he said. I’ll always remember that.
RP: So from the end of the war how long before you were discharged then? When were you demobbed?
FP: I was re-mustered. I had a choice of British School of Motoring or instrument making. I didn’t want to make instruments and I went with British School of Motoring so I was taught how to drive a car.
RP: Right.
FP: And then after that I was taught how to drive a lorry.
RP: Right.
FP: And after that I was taught, taught how to drive a Foden diesel or whatever. Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
FP: And we used to go on trips around the country. Chippenham and, whatever, you know.
RP: So when did you actually become a civilian then? When were you finally in civvies?
FP: After that I was sent to Fighter Command Headquarters. I was a driver. I drove the ambulance. I had a WAAF with me tending the patients. Somebody had dived from the top board into, into the Edgeware Baths and had hit their head and something like that. And —
RP: Was this at Bentley Priory?
FP: Huh?
RP: Was this at Bentley Priory you were at?
FP: Bentley Priory. Yes.
RP: Yes.
FP: Bentley Priory.
RP: Yeah.
FP: And there was somebody in charge there was [pause] I’ve forgotten the names. Her father was in charge of the Windmill Theatre up in town. Right. What was her name?
RP: I know what you mean and I’ve seen the film but I can’t think of the name. Yeah. I know who you mean.
FP: He was in charge.
RP: Yeah.
FP: And she was driving. She was in charge of the WAAFs. She won the, she won the Irish sweepstake.
RP: Oh right.
FP: At the same time.
RP: Very nice.
FP: Because money makes money doesn’t it? Anyway, I drove the ration wagon. I had a German prisoner of war doing the work while I drove. He was unloading and loading and all that sort of thing
RP: So that was an easier life than sitting in, lying in the nose of the Lancaster then wasn’t it?
FP: Absolutely. Absolutement. [laughs] That, more or less [pause] I wish I had asked somebody. This is the trouble. I never seemed to want to ask people, what should I do?
RP: So what rank were you at this time when you —?
FP: Warrant officer.
RP: You were a warrant officer.
FP: Oh yeah.
RP: So you were a warrant officer driving the ration wagon.
FP: All the time I was on ops I was a warrant officer but while I was, while I was marching, making time, marching waiting for people to do something you know. To get crewed up and all that sort of thing. You were a sergeant and then if you did something wrong like getting up late and not getting on for —
RP: Yeah.
FP: And you turned up to be for punishment. #Oh can’t do anything with you at the moment. Anyway, your whatsits come through, your [crown?] you know, so you’re a flight sergeant now. So congratulations. Bye bye.’
RP: Yeah.
FP: And then the next time it was warrant officer you know, you put, you’ve taken [unclear] on and funnily enough I went to the [pause] Memorial. I went to the Memorial with my son and we parked beforehand and we couldn’t get any further in our, in our car so we parked and then we got a taxi which we had to do. A London taxi. We got to the Memorial. We had places. I got two places in the Memorial. My wife and I. And three places in the next one with the screens.
RP: This was for the ceremony in London. Yeah.
FP: Yeah.
RP: At Green Park. Yeah.
FP: That’s right.
RP: That’s a lovely memorial.
FP: Green. We got two places. A place each for the wife and I and three places for, no, there was two wasn’t there.
AP: Yeah.
FP: Two places. Two other places in the, where the screen was. Carol Vorderman did the commentary. And anyway [pause] taxi drivers. We went to pay them, ‘No. No. No. You’ve done enough.’ My son was really. He couldn’t believe that.
RP: Well they — yes. Recognition.
FP: They wouldn’t take anything. No. Yeah. All the, all the taxi drivers did the same thing,
RP: That’s very good.
FP: They were.
RP: So just to go back to the end of the war then and you’ve done you’re driving but you’ve become a civilian at some point. What happens then?
FP: I wish, I wish now, I’ve wished for a long time that I’d rejoined the RAF.
RP: You stayed in.
FP: Yeah.
RP: Oh you didn’t. What made you decide not to then?
FP: I think because I always did the hardest one. I always used to think if I did the hardest one than I can’t do any worse. And I did. I used to so. I was sort of, I was stupid really in a way. If I’d asked them if, after all the training I’d had, I had a lot of training. Hell of a lot. And I went to Wigtown. I didn’t get around to telling you about that. I was in an Anson by myself being driven in the Anson. Taking star shots. Solo. Me. Being taught how to take star shots and when I, when I went back to go home it was, it had closed down. We couldn’t get back down. Bad visibility. That’s what it was. And we had to, we had to land on the Isle of Man. ‘Hello. Hello mother’s arms. Hello [unclear] ‘Hello [unclear] come in to mother’s arms.’
RP: That was the call sign obviously was it?
FP: Something like that. Something like that. And you had, you went down there and you had cream cakes. Everything that you couldn’t get on ration. Everything that you. You never dreamed to have.
RP: The war was over.
FP: You got there.
RP: Ok. So, yeah, just to finish off then could you just tell us little bit about your life since you left the RAF then. Just —
FP: [unclear]
RP: What you work was. I think you mentioned something. You, you were at the Vickers. Yeah.
FP: Yeah. I’ve always, it’s been stamped on me that fifty five thousand five hundred and seventy three. And I live with it and I dream of it and I never forget it and I feel ashamed in a way, you know.
RP: Oh I don’t think you need to. I think we need to remember them though.
FP: Yeah.
RP: I think we, that’s what this project is about is to make sure.
FP: Oh we need to remember.
RP: I think people like you can tell people like me and others to come exactly what it was like so.
FP: Also, also I went to church and I was asked by one or two people, ‘Why do you go to church?’ I thought, [I’m too bloody wicked] to stay away. And part of it it I had a [breakdown?] once [unclear] November [the 11th you know] there, and [I’ve only had the one?]
RP: But do you feel better for having spoken this afternoon? Does that? What sort of memories does it bring back for you of your crew?
FP: Well the crew.
RP: Your own crew. Do you have happy memories of being with them?
FP: Of being with them? Yeah. I mean, as far, as far as a rear gunner’s concerned yeah he always reckoned he kept a good lookout but we never saw any fighters. But what we did find. We got shot at quite a lot, you know.
RP: What was that? From the ground?
FP: Eh.
RP: Was that being shot at from the ground you mean? Not from fighters but from the ground.
FP: Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
FP: Yeah.
RP: Ok. Well I think I’ve probably [pause] I think we. I do have one question. Yeah. One question just to take you back to the beginning. What were you doing the day war broke out? You would have been what? Eighteen.
FP: When it broke out. Nineteen.
RP: When it broke out.
FP: September ’39.
RP: You were about seventeen at a guess. Seventeen. Eighteen.
FP: I was a, I was a tool maker, you know.
RP: You were working at that time as toolmaking already. Yeah.
FP: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: Yeah. So it was when your family suffered the bombing that you decided to join the RAF.
FP: Yeah I was in a tool room.
RP: So having dropped bombs. Having dropped bombs on Germany did you feel you’d got your own back for what happened to your friend? ‘Cause that was your —
FP: I didn’t think about it after that.
RP: ‘Cause you said, ‘I’ll get my own back,’ when you joined the RAF but you never thought about it after that then. It was just a job. Yeah. It was something you had to do.
FP: I learned German. I got a B in German. I should have got an A but I chose the wrong, for the essay I chose the wrong subject and I could have, I feel that I know I could have got an A because if I’d have chosen the alternative I could have easily done it because I’d already done it you know. The subject.
RP: So you were taught German in case you were captured. Was that why?
FP: In case we lost.
RP: Ok. Did you ever feel you were going to lose?
FP: Well at times when they were talking about crossing the Channel and all that sort of thing you know
RP: But you were, obviously you started with the squadron after D-day so you must have felt fairly confident.
FP: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: At that point that the tide was turning.
FP: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: It was just a question of when I suppose.
FP: Yeah.
RP: Are there any questions you need to ask me? Anything you want to know? I think we’ve covered most. Anything you’d like to know. I think we’ve covered most of anything you would like to tell me. I think we’ve covered a very wide area haven’t we? And Audrey’s been very patient. Please.
AP: There’s one thing that struck me and it’s something you talk about quite a lot or describe and that is that when you were in the air you saw another Lanc up above and you said, ‘Dive. Dive port. Dive port. Dive port’ and after that you had —
FP: Yeah.
AP: A white streak come in to your hair. Your black hair.
FP: I missed that. Yeah.
RP: Goodness me.
AP: Yes. And that is something.
RP: And this was from the shock.
FP: Huh?
RP: This was from the shock.
AP: Yes.
RP: Because of what could have happened.
AP: Yeah. But he often retells that particular incident and I noticed that it was missing and I thought how strange he’s come out with this one particular thing quite frequently and yet he didn’t say that in his talk.
RP: Well no that’s fine. We’ve got it now. I think it was from the shock. Anyway it’s been fascinating to listen Frank. Thank you. I feel privileged.
FP: I’ll tell you about we were over the Donna Nook.
RP: Right.
FP: Do you know Donna Nook?
RP: Yeah. I’ve heard.
FP: South of the Humber.
RP: Off, yeah, off the Lincolnshire coast isn’t it?
FP: Eh?
RP: It’s off the Lincolnshire coast. Yeah.
FP: Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
FP: And we were bombing. You know it’s a bombing range? And we were a bit silly really. We went up and it was about a two thousand ceiling underneath the cloud. Right. Two thousand feet. And there were, there was Cirrocue, you know.
RP: The cloud.
FP: Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
FP: And anyway we got to Donna Nook going to drop flash bombs. No. Smoke bombs because it was daylight and we started the run and as we started the run, out of the corner of my eye there was another Lanc coming in the opposite direction. Coming straight for us. And I said, ‘Oh look.’ That’s all I could say is, ‘Dive port. Dive port. Dive port. Dive port. Dive port. Dive.’ I don’t know how many times. A dozen times to Bob.
RP: And Bob did as he was told.
FP: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: Thank goodness for that.
AP: He often says that.
RP: The rear gunner, the rear gunner.
FP: Did he see the bombs fall?
RP: He saw about a couple of inches between the tail plane. When I got home —
FP: I think my hair would go white.
RP: When I got home, when I got back I went in the ablutions. I looked in the mirror. And there were white hairs. How many. I was about, just over twenty.
FP: Goodness me.
RP: White hairs.
FP: Well better to have white hairs than no hair at all I guess.
AP: He was one of the lucky ones.
FP: That’s what my lovely wife was talking about.
RP: Well, thank you for that. I think that’s it. That’s a good story to end with Frank. I feel privileged to have been here to listen. Thank you very much indeed. It was amazing listening to your memories. And I hope you weren’t too troubled by them. So thank you very much. Thank you.



Rod Pickles, “Interview with Frank Page,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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