Interview with Thomas James Page

Title

Interview with Thomas James Page

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Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-07-02

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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

01:07:38 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

APageTJ160702

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

CB: So hang on –,
TP: Why the hell didn’t I bring those things? In the drawer, in the ‒
CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 2ndof July 2016. I’m in Hythe with Thomas Page DFM who’s going to tell us his story of his twenty-eight years in the Royal Air Force. So, what are your earliest recollections Thomas? Of life ‒
TP: Oh, of life? Not just the RAF?
CB: No, and then into the RAF.
TP: [Sigh]. My earliest recollections are of living with my mother and my grandparents just outside of Coulswood (?) beside Manston Airfield in the 1920s to the 19 ‒, which date? Which date did we move to ‒, I was ‒, I was nine years old, I was born in ’22, at nine years old we moved from St Peters at Broadstairs where I started school. My father then went to work for his uncle on a farm at Chislet. When I left school at ‒, oh at the age of thirteen I went to a village school, a church school, at Chilset. At the age of thirteen went to a new central school called Sturry Central School um, not very far, at Sturry, which is west of Canterbury, not very far from Canterbury, and I became the first school captain, boys captain of the school, and equally so a girl from Chislet School became the first girls school captain. Anyway, that was at thirteen, but by fourteen I had to leave like we did in those days and then I just went to work on a farm with my father and his uncle. That was up until the age of ‒, oh dear, in 1936. The farm had to be sold because uncle got too old and auntie got too old and we went to work on a farm at Westwell, which is about five miles from Ashford on the west side. And as time went on 1940 came my ambition rose to the fore and one day I got fed up with what I was doing, I just got on my bicycle and cycled to Canterbury to the recruiting office. That would be in April, April 1940, and then I had to wait until 19th of July when I had to report to RAF Uxbridge. I can remember having to travel from Chislet from Marshside, which is the area, on my own, through London to RAF Uxbridge. I’d never been into London, never been on a tube train. Anyway, I remember going through the barbed wire gate entrance saying, ‘Reporting for duty,’ and soon I was joined by the others that were reporting for duty on that day. That was on the Monday and the first words the CO said was, ’You do not walk across that square. It’s hallowed ground.’ Fair enough. We were kitted up and attested on the Tuesday and on the Wednesday the whole intake of airmen, having been kitted out, went by tube train to Morecambe in Lancashire to be trained as flight mechanics A. The course finished at the end of 1940 and I was passed out as an AC2 and I went to ‒, I was posted to number 257 Hurricane Fighter Squadron, whose CO was Squadron Leader Stanford Tuck of the Battle of Britain, and there I was on the airfield with the aircraft, turning them round, filling them up, doing repairs, doing the daily inspections, but that only lasted three months ‘cause off I went to Gloucester for another course to become a fitter. Er ‒, 1942, and then I was on 71 MU based at Slough, close to the Hawker factory, and there I was involved with mostly moving and collecting of aircraft between units and stations and picking up crashes, both German and our own, for salvage and, as I say, 1942 came and then there was this notice on orders, fitters required to volunteer to help fly the four-engine jobs and, having seen that Stirling on the ground at Manston where I was repairing an aircraft, I volunteered. I just wanted to fly. That was April 1943. A little bit before that we went to RAF Swinderby, not Swinderby, that was further up, just outside Newark in Nottinghamshire, Winthorpe [emphasis], Winthorpe where we were crewed up. The new um ‒. They wanted an air gunner and a flight engineer to join a Wellington Squadron, a Wellington crew that had just finished OTU training, and they pushed us all in a big room and said, ‘Sort out who you want to fly with,’ which we did and then we started off with flying Manchesters, training in Manchesters, four wall [?] things and then onto Lancasters until it was time we were considered proficient to go to a bomber squadron in, as you saw in that photograph, in 1943. I finished at 49 Squadron in April ’44. Er ‒, I was sent, I was commissioned and I went to RAF St Athan in South Wales to train flight engineers on the ground side. Yeah, I was commissioned at the end of my tour, that would be beginning of ’44, that’s right, I was commissioned and went down to St Athan and then it wasn’t until 1947 that I went to 44 Squadron Lincolns for a two-year peace time flying tour.
CB: I’m just going back a bit. When you volunteered for air crew where did they send you to be trained for being a flight engineer?
TP: [Sigh]
CB: Did they send you to St Athan then?
TP: Yes, I went to St Athan to learn all about the Lancaster inside and out and then of course from there to join the Wimpy crew at um ‒.
CB: So they’d done their OTU?
TP: They did their OUT somewhere down in the south, yeah.
CB: Yeah, so you crewed up and that was at the Heavy Conversion Unit?
TP: We crewed up and the first aircraft we flew as a crew, or trained as a crew first of all, was a Manchester because they were keeping the Lancs for bombing ops and the Manchester hadn’t been ‒, wasn’t good enough.
CB: No.
TP: Kept having certain engine failure ‘cause they were trying out a different type of H-type engine. Anyway, we finished flying training in April and that’s when we went to 49 Squadron.
CB: So how many ops did you do?
TP: Thirty.
CB: Right, OK and what were the most memorable of those ops?
TP: The first one [laugh].
CB? Oh, right, what was that?
TP: Well, we set off to go to Italy. The target was Spetzia, the docks at Spetzia in the north-west of Italy [laugh]. When the time for the target came up, normally you could see a raid from see from miles away especially at altitude but there was no sign of a raid anywhere. We suddenly realised we were lost, we found ourselves still over the sea, over the sea, and then they realised we were over the Mediterranean, we’d ‒, and I said to the skipper, I said, ‘If we don’t turn for base now, we return to base, we won’t get back there ‘cause I haven’t got enough fuel.’ So we turned to come back and after a series of changes in course we eventually came back out over the French coast, all alone, we flew alone across Europe on our own. Anyway, we were short of fuel when coming back. On the south coast and we just plonked down on the first airfield we saw because when we landed we could see the bottom of the tanks. What had happened on subsequent inspection was the main compass was thirty degrees out so every time the navigator made a course it kept going off to the right so instead of going towards the north of Italy we were going down into the Med. I think I saw, as we turned, I think I saw Sardinia and Corsica. Anyway, as I said I told the skipper, ‘If we go back the same way we’ll never get there. If we don’t turn now.’ So we dropped the cookie in the sea and after a series of various courses I think we went up around Paris at one stage before we managed to get to the coast, back to the coast. And, as I say, coming across the Channel they couldn’t be sure where they were and I was saying, ‘We’re short of fuel.’ But we did find the south coast of England. Misty it was when we called up Darkie for our positions and permission to land. There was no sign at all, nothing, they’d all shut down, so we took a chance, found the first airfield we could see and went straight in, when er ‒
CB: Where was that?
TP: At Dunsfold and when we looked in the petrol tanks we could see the bottom of the petrol tanks. All we had was what was in the back of the tanks when the tail was down. Well that was a salutary effect. Obviously the compass hadn’t been swung properly. Anyway, where’s the log book?
CB: It’s in the back of the car.
TP: The printed one or my log book?
CB: The printed one. You’ve got the other one here, have you?
TP: I think I saw it.
CB: I’ll stop this just for a moment. So that was your first op. What other memorable ops were there?
TP: I don’t know how many ops we did but very shortly, very early on we did a mining trip to the Frisian Islands. Er ‒, we lost twenty-two aircraft that night off the Frisian Islands. We were down at five hundred feet in cloud, couldn’t see a thing, but as with mines you have to record their position, where they’re dropped, so we had to drop them in the sea and come back to base. Yeah, then well, of course, the rest you will see, one after the other, mostly in the Ruhr, Essen, Dusseldorf, Nuremburg, Hamburg. Oh we set Hamburg alight. I was on the two big ones.
CB: You were on the two big ones then, were you?
TP: Yeah we really set Hamburg alight.
CB: That was the first night we used window.
TP: Oh right. So you were you unopposed?
TP: And we could hear the German people saying the aircraft are multiplying themselves [laugh]. Well, then as you’ll see from the log book there was a series was mostly into the Ruhr. I did two more, two more trips. One, two, two more trips to Italy.
CB: Now, going to Italy, normally it meant going through the Alps. How did you get on with that?
TP: The first time was very clear and we got over ‘cause we were at twenty thousand feet or more but the second time we ran into cloud and storms over the Alps and we were down to about seventeen hundred ‒, seventeen thousand feet and it was a bit dicey to say the least. Er ‒, we got iced up, ice on the wings, St Elmo’s fire on the windscreen [laugh] but other than that it was fairly straightforward.
CB: And what was the target then?
TP: Target then was ‒, what was those two big towns?
CB: Well, Turin and Milan.
TP: Turin was one of them.
CB: Was Milan the other?
TP: Pardon?
CB: Milan? Milan?
TP: Yes.
CB: And then the port La Spezia?
TP: Yeah, up on the north-east corner of Italy.
CB: North-west, yeah.
TP: The others went off very well indeed. There was no trouble there although some aircraft were lost and some aircraft landed in North Africa.
CB: Did the Italians put up night fighters?
TP: We never saw any ‘cause we never got there. Oh, you mean the two that we did get to there?
CB: Yes.
TP: We never saw any.
CB: No, and what about their flak? Was there a lot of flak?
TP: I can’t remember much flak at all, no.
CB: And on your raids against Germany, your ops against Germany?
TP: Pardon?
CB: On the ops against Germany what about the flak and fighters there?
TP: Well, the first time we went to the Ruhr, I think it was Essen, you’ll see it in the log book. I remember miles away you could see the target all lit up, ring of search lights full of flak, search lights. And I said, I gasped on the intercom, I said, ‘How the hell do we get through there?’ No one answered, each had his own thoughts. But anyway, we were soon amongst the ‒, in the target area, you would see aircraft catching fire, being shot down, you pressed on, smelling the cordite of the bursting shells around you, um ‒, we never saw much in the way of fighters that the gunners could shoot at, once or twice I think they did. Um ‒, in fact we were very lucky, the worst flak was the one up to the target ‘cause you had to fly straight and level and you waited for the bomb aimer to say, ‘Bomb’s gone,’ and I knew they’d gone because I could feel the flex, the floor of the cock pit would flex when they realised the bombs. We always had a cookie, a four thousand pounder, and about four or five or six five hundred pounders.
CB: Yeah, and how much flak did you collect on the way?
TP: We didn’t, the only time we collected flak was from the British Navy just off the coast of Cromer on the way home when we were about three thousand feet with the navigation lights on. That was awful. The wireless operator got filled with shrapnel and he was ill, invalided out. Um ‒, when it happened I was standing in the flight engineer’s position ‘cause I had to move about quite a bit and I saw flak going past me [unclear] going past me and the skipper called for reports and the navigator came up and said, ‘Ralph’s been hit.’ So I went back past the navigator, looked at Ralph, got the First Aid. He ‒, the wireless operator had his hand on his desk (you know the position of the wireless operator in the Lanc), he’d got a hole through his hand which was the worst one, and he got flak up his backside, up his back, and he was ‒. I put a tourniquet on his wrist to stop it and every so often I said to the navigator, ‘Keep an eye on him,’ ‘cause I had to go back to what I was doing. Every now and again I’d go back and release the tourniquet. And when we got back at ‒, this time we were flying from Dunelm Lodge ‘cause Fiskerton runway at one point was being resurfaced and it was pouring with rain and on the downward leg I tried to put the undercarriage down and it didn’t come down [laugh]. Fortunately, the emergency system, the air system did work and we landed. But Ralph got out of his seat and walked to the ambulance. God knows, we went to see him in Maudsley Hospital but never saw him again. The rear gunner disappeared of course ‘cause he got shot up, shaken up, on a flight where we returned early. We were over the North Sea, and I’d lost an engine, the starboard inner engine, lost the flame covers and exhaust stubs off the starboard inner and flame was working its way over the leading edge of the wing. Not only was it dangerous, it was also a beacon to night fighters and we were over the North Sea. Shut the engine down so then returned to base. We dropped the cookie in the North Sea and when we got back to base ‒. I don’t know if you’ve been to the airfield at Fiskerton?
CB: I haven’t no.
TP: They put us down on the short runway to save the long runway for all the other returning aircraft to save them from being diverted. Anyway, I got the undercarriage down, made the approach and there was a cross-wind and we floated [emphasis] and so it was a little while before we touched down and after a while the pilot said, ‘Brace, I’m gonna go off the end of the runway.’ Which we did, off the end of the runway, the undercarriage collapsed. Nothing happened, no fire, nothing like that. I remember getting the hatch off the top off the roof and diving straight out and running like mad. They all did. But fortunately nothing happened.
CB: It didn’t go up?
TP: No, nothing. Didn’t burn or anything and fortunately no bombs went off. That’s when the rear gunner got shaken up ‘cause being at the back end of the Lancaster he probably caught the main shock. He was invalided out. And then you’ll see how we went on. Look, target after target after target, mostly in the Ruhr. We went to Berlin two or three times, flew to Berlin with Wing Commander Adams, the CO, towards the end of my tour when ‒, ‘cause Jock Wallace had finished his thirty in October and we all had to fly as spares with other crew. When he left you see I ‒, in October, I stayed on as flight engineer leader until about ’44, ’44 that was when I was commissioned and then sent to St Athan. You interested in anything after the war?
CB: Well, I am. Just back on ‒, what was your role in the aircraft?
TP: Flight engineer. I was virtually second pilot.
CB: What did you actually do?
TP: Well if you think of it ‒
CB: From take-off.
TP: Pardon?
CB: So from take-off you do the throttles.
TP: I would select the fuel, air conditions, oxygen, see that all the engines were running perfectly and then, when the time came, apart from starting the engines, you know, um ‒. When you think of it the pilot just had his control tower and his rudders and his instruments in front of him, I was left to do everything else, speed of the engines, the air speed, the oxygen, everything. The petrol controls were down to the right, you had bunches of instruments to tell you how much fuel you got, what pressures there was, what coolant pressures were, looking after the oxygen supply, everything that the pilot couldn’t do.
CB: Yeah.
TP: So you could say you did everything the pilot could do but you never flew the aircraft.
CB: So just taking off you’re doing the throttle?
TP: Taking off the pilot would turn onto the runway, he’d line up by using the outer engines and once we were straight and level he’d say, ‘Full power,’ and I’d push the throttles right to the grate. We’d done our pre-flight check, of course, before and once we were safely airborne he’d say, ‘Undercarriage,’ and I’d lift the undercarriage up. Later on I’d bring the flaps up and then we’d settle down to whatver air speed he wanted er ‒, and then we were off.
CB: So what flap did you set for take-off?
TP: Fifteen degrees.
CB: And the tanks were managed by you, the fuel, so what tanks did you start with?
TP: We always started with the inner boards, the in boards, and as soon as you were airborne you went over to number twos, and as soon as number twos getting low enough you went into number threes into number two and then you emptied number two and then did the remainder on the number ones.
CB: Right, so the number three is out towards, is beyond the engine?
TP: Yes.
CB: Right on the wing tip?
TP: You had number three tank, you had one, two and three on both sides. It had lesser amount of fuel. That was emptied into number two when there was sufficient space in number two that had been used up.
CB: So the sequence of fuel flow was through tank number one because they were linked directly to that. So number two tank ran into number one, did it?
TP: No, you ran on number two.
CB: Oh you did?
TP: Until they ran out and then you went back on to number three, the inward boards, number ones, yeah.
CB: Right, so when you’re in the air what are you doing then? You’re airborne and got to cruising height.
TP: Every twenty minutes I was making a log.
CB: Right.
TP: Of engine interpreters. Pressures, everything, er ‒, and that was it, seeing everything’s alright.
CB: And so what revs were you taking off at?
TP: Three thousand per engine.
CB: And you’d pull it back after how long before you ‒? And at what level?
TP: Until we were safely airborne. We had an override. Normal engine speeds were three thousand plus twelve but we had an override. We’d put the boost up to fourteen, if not more, and then when you were safely airborne you’d take out the override and continue climbing at twenty-eight fifty, twenty-eight fifty. You never moved the throttles once you were airborne. You had your throttles fully open. You controlled your speed on the engine speed on the revs so you were there, you saw he’d ‒, the pilot had got the speed that he wanted.
CB: OK. What about the pitch on the propellers?
TP: [Sigh]
CB: So did you take off in fine pitch?
TP: Yeah, always in fine pitch, yes.
CB: Then what?
TP: And then you’d come back to whatever airspeed you wanted.
CB: And you’d change to course pitch for cruising, would you?
TP: Pardon?
CB: Did you change to course for cruising?
TP: It was automatic.
CB: Automatic.
TP: It was [uncear] and airscrews, yeah. Once you’d set your throttles fully forward you just controlled your airspeed by the revelations, revolutions [emphasis] of each engine.
CB: So you had to shut down the starboard inner?
TP: Yeah.
CB: When you got hit by the Navy ship, what’s the process for doing that?
TP: Turn off the fuel cocks to start with, turn off the ignition, just let it run down, feather the airscrew, that is feather the blades so that they’re straight on to the airflow and that was it. See that your fuel was turned off. We had a cross feed if we needed it on the mainplane [?] where you could transfer from one side to another. Fortunately I never had to do that.
CB: So with the sorties coming to an end ‒
TP: Pardon?
CB: With the sorties coming to an end, what did you do then?
CB: We’d join the circuit and you’d get a number to land and you’d follow one another round until it was your turn to land and you were given permission to land. At the end of the airfield I’d put the undercarriage down, the flaps down to fifteen degrees, we’d go round to the down-wind position, I’d put the undercarriage down, I’d adjust the webs er ‒, and the rest was up to the pilot. He then ‒, that was only then that he’d have his hands on the throttle for the actual landing.
TP: He’d do that himself?
TP: Yes.
CB: Because that was a sensitive task.
TP: That was a sensitive task yes.
CB: So here we are with one engine out, which upsets the trim of the aircraft.
TP: We’ve got trimming controls here. Trimming controls for the [unclear] and trimming controls for the rudder.
CB: Right and you’re doing that with the pilot or ‒?
TP: He would do that because he’d know what the feel of the controls was like.
CB: He had the feel on the stick.
TP: To make things easy on his controls.
CB: Right, OK, so he’s doing that, then you land so then what? So you’d taxi on all engines?
TP: Taxi on the two outer engines to the dispersal point and then you’d go through the routine of shitting your engines down.
CB: So what’s the routine for shutting down your engines?
TP: Oh, can I remember now? Obviously we put them into fine pitch, close the throttles, turn the fuel off, turn the ignition off and they went down.
CB: Right, so do you now hand over as the flight engineer, with everything shut down, do you hand over to the Chiefie?
TP: Oh always see the Chiefie. The ground Chiefie?
CB: Yes.
TP: Yes and tell him anything ‒, we always saw the ground Chiefie before we took off and the pilot would sign the log book, the aircraft log book, taking responsibility for the aircraft and then of course anything that we noticed wanted doing when we came back we’d see Chiefie and the ground crew, and then we were off to the briefing room.
CB: So with the Chiefie, what was the relationship between the crew and the ground crew?
TP: Only the pilot and me went to Chiefie for that sort of ‒, as part of our duties, the others just piled into their appropriate positions.
CB: So now you’re at the de-brief, so how did the de-brief run?
TP: [Sigh] Sit round a table asking what you’d seen or telling what you’d seen.
CB: This is with the intelligence officer?
TP: With the intelligence. I was thinking about the ground Chiefie.
CB: Ground Chiefie, OK yeah.
TP: We saw the ground Chiefie to say if there was anything wrong and anything ‘cause they’d take it over to service it, the aircraft, and of course it’s quite a way to the briefing room.
CB: Yes.
TP: The briefing room was in a little ‒, I went back there years later and it was being used ‒, there were donkeys in it. It was being used as a stable. I don’t know what it had been used for before, before we used it as a briefing room, de-briefing room. Mind you there was a big Nissan hut we used as the briefing room and then we had a hangar, or a tin hut, for a locker room. We had the inevitable bacon and egg sandwich before we took off in the evenings and when we came back, if we came back.
CB: What did you take with you to eat when you were flying?
TP: We were given a packet of sandwiches and a tin of orange juice and a bar of chocolate. Yep, I carried a small tool kit. Why? I don’t know, I suppose that was if we landed away somewhere. Um ‒, navigator of course had his charts and maps and instruments. Wireless operator had his codes.
CB: So in the crews, were you sitting in your seat behind the pilot or on the folding seat at the side?
TP: The folding seat at the side.
CB: So you could monitor the instruments?
TP: Oh yes but more often than not I was standing up, only now and again could I sit down.
CB: Yeah.
TP: It was a seat that folded down and hooked up to the side. Er ‒, I just had to keep an eye on the air speed and the revelations, and the boost pressures, oxygen supply, air supply, in fact do everything other than what the pilot had to do to fly the plane.
CB: So you did your thirty ops. How did you all feel having completed thirty ops?
TP: Well, it was different because the crew had previously flown Wimpys, doing their operational training as a crew of five, they even did one windows raid over Germany before they came to the Heavy Conversion Unit where we were crewed up with myself and another mid-upper gunner and, of course, we finished at different times. Once the pilot had done his thirty because he did two or three ops the second Dickie with an experienced pilot before he took his own crew. So Jock finished in October and I had four more to do, so I was kept on as the flight engineer leader, and it took me round to April 1944 for me to do the four extras or extra four with the other crews.
CB: Is that because there weren’t spaces with the other crews?
TP: That was because the others were short, short of a flight engineer, for some reason or other.
CB: Yes.
TP: Or it was a made up crew with the CO, something like that. One of my flights to Berlin was with Wing Commander Adams. He was an air attaché, apparently, and he’d been sitting at a desk late on and he’d volunteered for air crew. He said he couldn’t bear the thought of what I was and not volunteering or not getting onto an operational squadron. He was a fine fellow, Wing Commander Adams.
CB: Did he complete the war?
TP: As far as I know. He didn’t do a full tour of course.
CB: No.
TP: But he commanded a squadron. He was still there when I left it.
CB: So there was a point where the crew, because of the pilot Jock finishing early, there was a point when all the crew effectively dispersed.
TP: That’s right.
CB: So what was the feeling then?
TP: [Sigh] Sadness in a way because you’d flown together, you’d been through it all, you’d lived together, you were in the same tin-hutted barrack room.
CB: The Nissan hut.
TP: Nissan hut, yeah, you went out to Lincoln all the time together, you went round all the pubs together, not that I drank much, but you got to know one another quite well and then to suddenly find it’s no more, you’re out on your own, but that was life. It happened to a lot of crew members very often. When we went to the RAF [?] course we had to have a spare in the wireless operator’s position after the Ralph got hit we had to have a different man in the rear turret because Taffy, Taffy [unclear] got injured. So you couldn’t really ‒
CB: That disrupted the family.
TP: Pardon?
CB: That [emphasis] disrupted the family really. What was it like then for you working with other crews on a temporary basis? How did you fit in there?
TP: It just fell into place. I mean, you knew what you had to do and that was it.
CB: But there was no social link with that because it was a one-off.
TP: There was no social, no.
CB: So now you’ve finished your thirty and you went to St Athan as an instructor?
TP: I was commissioned at the end of my thirty and I went to St Athan to train flight engineers.
CB: What was that like?
TP: It was very good. You were teaching them all about the Lancaster. [Laugh]. Every now and again, there was a MU Maintenance Unit on the other side of the airfield where they were doing repairs, you know, on the Lancasters, and every now and then you’d get a telephone call, ‘We need a flight engineer to go with the pilot.’
CB: For the test flights.
TP: Not necessarily a test flight but to and from the factory, to take aircraft to and from the factory.
CB: Oh right.
TP: Yeah, that was great fun, just the two of you in the aircraft flying low over Wiltshire, the Malvern Hills, I’ll always remember that and then from there I went on, as I say, in peacetime in 44.
CB: So now you’re in peacetime and a new squadron, what’s the feeling of the crew then?
TP: You didn’t have a crew as such, although crews did tend to stick together. I became the squadron adjutant and the CO’s flight engineer so it was only when the Co wanted to fly I flew as his engineer. At other times I flew as and when required.
CB: What was the Lincoln like compared to the Lancaster?
TP: It was a wonderful aircraft in many ways. It was a larger Lancaster. We liked it. We went as a squadron on a goodwill trip to southern Rhodesia to show the Rhodesians, to say ‘Thank you,’ to the Rhodesians who’d flown on the squadron during the war. It was named the 44 Rhodesian Squadron.
CB: So it was more powerful, more manoeuvrable, what was it like?
TP: More powerful, bigger engines, bigger in size as well, yes, heavier. The only time we went and did practice bombing stuff was to ‒, in peacetime, was to the U-boat pens in Heligoland. It was mostly just training.
CB: What were you dropping?
TP: I think they had some kind of armour-piercing bomb that they had tried out.
CB: Was it a big one?
TP: We didn’t have any big ones, no cookies, or anything like that.
CB: No but was it a tall-boy, which was the ‒,
TP: I never flew with a tall-boy.
CB: Right.
TP: I know people who did.
CB: But this was a different type of anti-submarine pen bomb?
TP: Yes, that was later, yes. I served in Germany after the war, I served with a Wing Commander who flew one of the tall-boy aircraft and bombed the Bielefeld viaduct in [unclear] and crashed.
CB: That was a Grand Slam.
TP: Grand Slam yes but other than that the peacetime flying with 44 was absolute wizard.
CB: So you finished your tour on 44 then what did you do? Were you a flying officer then?
TP: I was doing my tour with 44 as is was in peacetime you get sent away on different courses and at some stages I was sent away on intelligence courses, PR courses, photographic intelligence courses, and so then from there, from 44 squadron I was posted via 3 Group Headquarters for three months in Intelligence, of course with the squadron leader, and then I was moved to Headquarters Bomber Command in the Intelligence Section of the ‒, 1,2,3,4 of us. I was then responsible for target information for exercises and they used to collect information as to what to use, what place in England to use as targets, and I’d work ‒, I’d work during the operation down in the ops room, which was quite a thing when I come to think of it. This was where Butcher Harris used to control me from.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Anyway me, then being a commissioned officer in the secretarial branch, I had to do an accounting course, so off to an accounting course to Hereford, and my first accounting post was at Bridgnorth in Shropshire and there I was collecting money from the bank, paying, doing airmen’s paper wage, and then became a flight lieutenant and I was then in charge of airmen’s pay at Padgate in Lancashire and then still as a flight lieutenant I was posted overseas to be an accounting officer at RAF Mauripur just outside Karachi in Pakistan. That was quite a job. I had to pay not only the three hundred-odd airmen of the unit (it was a staging post) I had to pay the airmen and officers that had been seconded to the Pakistan Air Force and also those RAF personnel that were seconded to the embassy in Karachi and I remember my first visit to the embassy, only to find out that the Wing Commander that had been my Wing Commander as intelligence officer at Headquarters Bomber Command, was there as the group captain air attaché [laugh]. Is someone at the door, did I see the door move?
CB: It’s just ‒
TP: Not to worry [laugh].
CB: Small world.
TP: Anyway, that was a two year posting and it was pretty hot, bouts of dysentery, fortunately it was close to the coast and we had a lido down at the coast and we could go and swim and stay the night. But the conditions around Karachi was horrendous. It was just after the partition of India and Pakistan, where they segregated the Indians, the Hindus on the east side and the Muslims on the west side, and the squalor of the camps was awful. I had a ‒, I had a Pakistani batman, Ashworth, he was very good, do your kit, your dhobi every day because you used to sweat a lot because of the heat. It was just a flat barren airfield.
CB: This is Pakistan as an independent country?
TP: Pakistan Air Force place, they were flying there.
CB: What did they fly?
TP: They were flying Harvards. They were the sort of things training’s for [laugh] and the admin officer on the unit was a pilot, he was a pilot, and at that time pilots were required to keep in flying practice so what he used to do was borrow a Pakistani aircraft, a Harvard, and I used to go with him and I learnt to fly Harvards. Oh, I had fun flying a Harvard with him until I sent in the bills to headquarters and then they stopped the flying [laugh], yeah.
CB: Yeah, amazing.
TP: I had fun flying Harvards.
CB: So back from Pakistan, where did you go then?
TP: I’d been out of the country two years. By then I was courting my second wife, bless her heart. Where do you think they posted me after three ‒, three months at an administrative course in Norfolk?
CB: Orkneys?
TP: Bircham Newton.
CB: Oh right.
TP: I was sent to the Isle of Man.
CB: Yes.
TP: Way out of England again to train officers [laugh].
CB: Quite a journey.
TP: Oh dear, and then as time went on I was promoted to the squadron leader, quite out of the blue, and told to report to the AOC of Maintenance Command. Hello, hello, come in.
Other: Sorry.
TP: Ah, can I have a cup of tea for my guest please? He’s a very important guest this man. The AOC, Maintenance Command, he says, ‘Page,’ he says, ‘I want you to take over a squadron of administrative personnel to support an airfield construction branch controlled by a wing commander and a squadron leader to the Isle of Kilda in the middle of the Atlantic.’ Oh how much time? Altogether I was out of England for five years. Bless poor Cecilia. Cecilia bless her, trained as a state registered nurse whilst I was away. Anyway, after that, after I’d finished that, believe it or not, I was appointed Senior Accounting Officer at Uxbridge, at Uxbridge, the station where I’d joined up. Imagine my feelings walking through the gate. Eighteen years before I’d walked through that gate to join up and now I was to be the Senior Accounting Officer in charge of all the finances. That was good, that was good anyway. At one stage I got a duty, a royal duty in St Pauls Cathedral, when the Queen was there, I was there as an usher. [Background noises].
CB: Thank you very much.
Other: Sorry, I spilled a bit, think I filled it up too much.
CB: Thank you love.
TP: And the squadron, the station got up a concert party and I got involved in that and we put on a Christmas show in St Clement Danes Church [laugh]. So what happened after Uxbridge? Three years in the Ministry of Defence, in the Personnel Department, and occasionally I was required to do duty overnight and weekends as duty Personnel Officer in case there was any flap on. And then I lived out at Watford at the time and commuted into London every day because you had to find your own accommodation. The three years passed very pleasantly and then again I was posted overseas, Germany for three years. I went as Senior Accounting Officer at Wildenrath in Germany just over the Dutch border. There, believe it or not, I had five hundred Germans on my payroll, plus all the RAF side of it. I was responsible for pay and conditions and court martial and everything to do with personnel B2, B3, B4 and that lasted three years and that was very enjoyable. It was.
CB: Cecilia was with you then?
TP: Pardon?
CB: Cecilia was with you then.
TP: No, she wasn’t. She was still in England. She was still at ‒. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes.
CB: Paying all these Germans and British people.
TP: I mean, going to places I’d been out to bomb, Gelsenkirchen. I was close up to the Ruhr you see. It was funny really. At one stage a collection of officers, Army and Navy, went on a goodwill tour to the Bürgermeister at Hamburg and we were in the Bürgermeister’s office. He’d got great big maps on the wall, a great picture of Hamburg as it was and Hamburg ‒, no, was it? As it had been built, Hamburg as it had been rebuilt and Hamburg as it was when we knocked it down. I was stood at the back of the blooming crowd of officers were listening to this story. I thought, ‘My God, I helped knock it down.’ [Laugh].
CB: Amazing.
TP: Oh dear, oh dear. Beautiful thing was I had a fortnight’s leave every ‒, each year, so Cecilia came out and the first time I hired a caravan because I had a car with a towing bar ‘cause I was doing a lot of gliding stuff and I picked her up at Ostend and we got in the caravan and we towed all the way down into Austria, stopping here and there. We parked in Salzburg. Oh what a lovely city is Salzburg. We had a wonderful fortnight’s holiday. The following year on the fortnight we just got in the car and drove where the car would take us and that too was wonderful. We went down to Bavaria and Switzerland and Austria and it was really wonderful. I learnt a lot. I thoroughly enjoyed it. We both did of course. Then what happened after that? I got a home posting, OC Personnel at RAF Swinderby in Lincolnshire, as the OC Personnel and then by then time was getting on and I got a letter from the Air Ministry saying there was no more promotion unless I was promoted to wing commander and I thought I can’t go on like this, Cecilia and I had been separated too much and too long, ‘I think I’ll take my retirement,’ and at that time, I don’t make a lot of this because ‒, oh yes, I was in my office one morning and the telephone rang. He said, ‘This is the bank manager. Have you any personnel coming out of the service who would like a job in a bank? I’m setting up a new bank in Lincoln.’ I said, ‘I’ll have a look at my records Sir and see if I’ve got anybody.’ Next day I thought of this and I’d just got this letter from the Ministry saying there was no more promotion unless ‒. I rang him back the next day and said, ‘I’m interested but,’ I said, ’You’ll have to wait six months for me.’ He said, ‘I’m prepared to do that.’ And so, much to my dismay and regret, I had to leave the service and join the bank in Lincoln. Mind you it was very helpful in the following years ‘cause I got two pensions, RAF pension, bank pension, old age pension. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for that. I can afford to pay for this now.
CB: That’s really good, isn’t it? Look, this is getting cold so
TP: I’ll just have a drink of tea.
CB: I’ll just stop for a minute.
TP: I hadn’t realised we’d run into tea-time. I was a founder member of the Gliding and Soaring Association and at one stage when I was at the Ministry of Defence I was the Treasurer.
CB: That was based at Bicester, wasn’t it?
TP: The first aero-tow. You’re talking about aero-towing.
CB: I used to do that, yep.
TP: I was running the ‒, I’d been on a couple of er ‒, gliding courses with ‒, at the gliding school and I was running the Cosford Gliding Club and we had a two-seater Sedbergh and as we were close within thirty miles of the Long Mynd in Shropshire we thought we’d get more flying on the ridge so we trailed the two-seater Sedbergh up to the Longmynd and parked it there but couldn’t get the airmen there. Transport, nobody had any transport. It was awfully difficult to get them to the Mynd so it wasn’t viable, so we pressed on at Cosford. I suddenly realised it was wind wasted so I thought we must bring it back to Cosford from the Long Mynd which is about thirty miles away so I thought, ‘How do I do that? How do I get it back?’ ‘Ah,’ I said, ’The only way to get it back is by aero-tow.’ Well, I’d never done an aero-tow. I’d read up the books, you know, and I got in touch with a tug pilot at Harden in Cheshire and I asked Tony about it and he said, ‘Yes, on a suitable day,’ he says, ‘I’ll take you there and we’ll bring it back.’ We flew up to the Long Mynd which wasn’t an airfield as such.
CB: No.
TP: There was a ground engineer there on permanent duty with him and there was one another. Anyway, we managed to get the Sedbergh out of the hangar, rigged it, put a bag of sand in the second pilot’s seat, positioned oneself back from the hedge [?] and all was ready. Off we went. First aero-tow. It was rough. It was [emphasis] rough but anyway soon settled down and soon find your position and then a very pleasant aero-tow for about thirty miles back to Cosford. That’s the first aero-tow I’d ever done.
CB: Amazing.
TP: Nobody taught me.
CB: No.
TP: And then we put it to good use at Cosford. And then I was moved from Bridgnorth to Padgate which was quite a way away from Cosford. I couldn’t get there and so I joined the Derbyshire and Lancashire Gliding Club at Camp Hill. Now that was wonderful. Wave flights up to six, seven thousand feet, smooth air, hands off the controls almost. Lovely. But then of course you didn’t prolong the flight because you only had an hour because there were a lot of other people wanting to have a turn. It was lovely civilian gliding club. At one stage, when was it? When I was at Bomber Command I crewed for two RAF pilots who were flying an Olympia in this championship, the 1953 Championships, and oh what was his name? Anyway, he finished up as a wing commander at Cranwell. We picked him up once. He landed from Camp Hill at Skegness, as far as you could go before being over the sea, and when we found him, when we as a crew we had an RAF MT [?] driver in an RAF vehicle, and when we found him the Olympia was de-rigged and standing up by the side of a pub. The pilot was inside with the local policeman drinking. Oh he trailed all the way back. Next time it was my turn. Er ‒, was it my turn? I can’t remember which way round it was now. I know I flew there two years running. In the meantime I joined the Lancashire, Lancashire and Sheffield. Sheffield, what County was there?
CB: Derby.
TP: Anyway ‒.
CB: Oh Sheffield, Yorkshire.
TP: Yeah, anyway, I joined the civilian’s club and I managed to do my thirty miles from Camp Hill to Lindholme in an Olympia. But one of my best flights was later on from the RAF Centre at Bicester, um, I did a hundred mile Gull flight from Bicester to Swanton Morley.
CB: I know it, yeah.
TP: In one of the more super jobs. Coming back on the Sunday morning, this was the Sunday, coming back the Sunday morning through Cambridge a wheel came off the trailer. Fortunately there was a gliding club at Waterbeach and so we got in touch with them and they lent us a trailer and in the streets of Cambridge we unloaded it from one to the other and I got in touch with Marshall’s Airfield, the engineering works, if they’d collect the trailer and repair it, and it was late Sunday afternoon when I arrived back at Bicester. It was quite a weekend that was. I’m talking too much.
CB: It’s alright. That’s really good. I’m going to stop you because your supper’s getting cold. Thank you very much Thomas. That’s been really useful.

Collection

Citation

Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Thomas James Page,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8888.

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