Interview with Hugh Parry. One


Interview with Hugh Parry. One


Hugh Parry was born in Oswestry and joined the Air Force in April 1943 and volunteered to be an air gunner. Knowing that there was a height restriction on air gunners of six feet he hid his height by wearing baggy trousers. After training, he was posted to 75 NZ Squadron and then to 90 Squadron at RAF Tuddenham where his crew carried out photographic reconnaissance over Europe. Among his operations Hugh’s crew were also one of the first to take part in Operation Manna. After the war Hugh returned to accountancy. For a while he lived and worked in Bangladesh before returning to the UK.




Temporal Coverage




01:09:30 audio recording

Conforms To


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HP: And then, you want me then to carry on through my life story?
CB: Yeah.
HP: But I can’t, wouldn’t be able to give you the end.
CB: That’s all right.
Other: Haven’t got there yet.
JB: I think we’re quite pleased about that Hugh.
CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today we’re with Hugh Parry in Abingdon and the date is the 11th of October 2016 and Hugh’s going to talk about his life and times with the RAF. But what are your earliest recollections of life, Hugh?
HP: Well, I was born in Oswestry on the 22nd May 1925 to Sam and Nora. Sam was the manager of the local furniture shop. A branch of Astins. He had the, a travel gene and he had spent some time in Canada and America. His father before him had spent some time in Australia. And that gene persists in the family to date. I had a sister who was older than me. At the age of five — no — four, I went to Bellan House Preparatory School. Left there at nine, ten and went to Oswestry School which was then Oswestry Grammar School which is the second oldest school in the country founded in 1407. Got my, I was a bit precociously young. Did my school certificate at the age of fifteen and by the contact with my mother’s brother who was the manager of the local Midland Bank got a job with a firm of accountants there. And at the age of sixteen was articled to a chartered accountant. Joined the Air Training Corps and the National Fire Service was part time. In the Air Training Corps I was the youngest of a group of friends who were all going to volunteer and be on a squadron as soon as they possibly could. When they all went and volunteered they all went for PNB. Consequently they all got long deferred service. They were still taking air gunners. Well, being the youngest I went and, initially to Shrewsbury which was a joint recruiting centre for the three services. Moved from there to Birmingham which was for the aircrew medical and volunteered for air gunner. There was a height limit of six feet for air gunners. I made sure, knowing this I made sure I wore baggy trousers because I was slightly over six feet. And I joined the RAF on the twenty fifth anniversary of its formation on the 1st of April 1943 and for call-up at the age of eighteen and a half which duly came in December 1943. And I had to report to the ACRC at St John’s Wood. Well, the usual thing of queuing up for injections and blood tests and the usual introduction to that which baffles brains, and in January got posted to ITW at Bridlington where my principal memory is of PT on the sands without getting the sands wet because the rain came across the North Sea horizontally. But it was not the most comfortable of places. From there moved on to ITW at Bridgnorth in Shropshire and all just totally routine. From there to, [pause] No. We’d been to Bridlington. From there to Bridgnorth. Yes. Bridgnorth we’re at. Elementary Air Gunnery School. And from there to Pembrey on the South Wales coast. Not too far from Llanelli. Then passed out from there on the 1st of July 1944 which was unfortunate because automatic promotions came annually and if I had been told of passing out on the 30th of June I would have got an extra promotion. Sods law. Can’t say. Moved then to Woolfox Lodge. No. I tell a lie. To Westcott. In Buckinghamshire. Not too, not too far from Aylesbury where we were crewed up. There for approximately three months and it was Paddy Goode and his crew. We were an all NCO crew. And on the 7th of October we were posted to aircrew school at Stradishall which was just to keep us out of, out of people’s way until the 28th of October. From there go to 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit at Woolfox Lodge. On the 11th of February 1945 got posted to 75 Squadron at Mepal in Cambridgeshire. 3 Group. Not 5 Group. Repeat. Not 5 Group. On the first operation it was normal for the pilot, skipper, to go as a second dickie with an experienced crew on the first trip. Our CO’s crew were on holiday so he took us on our first trip. His name was Wing Commander Baigent. He was an old man of twenty three at the time. I think he got his DSO when he was with us and he died in 1953. I think that’s what my memory said. It was —
[Loud bells from chiming clock!]
HP: 75 New Zealand Squadron which doesn’t appear on a lot of Bomber Command memorials because it was New Zealand Air Force. We were posted there because there was a shortage of replacement crews coming forward and there was several, not too many, UK crews there. They were a wonderful, friendly people. They had comforts sent to them from New Zealand which were, was not in such an austere state as this country and they shared. Shared them always with us. Leave, of course, was compulsory on a squadron every six weeks. Things got easier. We had five leaves in four months which didn’t do us any harm. When you went on leave you get, got an extra five shillings from the Nuffield Fund which, added to the eight shillings which you got there, was a welcome addition. Looking back forty pence a day to be an air gunner does not seem an overpayment. Anyway, we stayed there until the 16th of June ‘45 and did half a tour there. The last one being the first air drop under the Operation Manna which was very different to the others because we had to go over there on a specified route at three hundred feet which was, we were told, it had been agreed with the Red Cross. We were not told it had been agreed with the Germans because on that date it hadn’t and we were followed by flak guns who were lining this route. That part of Holland was, at that stage, still occupied by the, by the Germans. The reason for Operation Manna was that twenty thousand Dutch people had died from starvation. So the affect, you can well imagine, was very great on all the rest. Despite their German occupation they were out in the streets. Out on the rooftops waving their flags and generally cheering and waving us and that was quite remarkable. Because we were on the first one we didn’t have packs to put the sacks of food on. They were just loaded on the bomb bay doors and they were dried egg, dried milk, flour. Really basic things. And you did it at three hundred feet. You just opened the bomb doors and there they went. And of course coming back it was so wonderful to have been giving life instead of taking life. An earlier but totally different memory results from the publication in the newspapers of the Belsen camp being liberated. With piles of corpses and piles, and people walking. Well walking or sitting. Skeletons. Slowly starving. We seldom but very occasionally would wonder where our bombs had dropped because there was an inevitable meeting between the bombs and hospitals and children and so forth and so on. And this was at the back of your mind wondering where they had been because I mean you couldn’t possibly see where they’d been. But once we saw the pictures of Belsen it had two effects on us. One was horror. And the other one was it removed any feeling of guilt. So on the 17th of June we were posted to 90 Squadron because 75 Squadron was going to be repatriated or go out to the Pacific or somewhere. And that was at Tuddenham and we were there on operational review which was photographic survey of the whole of Europe. We were, we believed that we were going out with Tiger Force to Okinawa in September ‘45. We were never officially told that but when the bombs dropped in August ’85 on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a tremendous cheer went up because we knew that we were not going to be done again. There were one or two crews who hadn’t been on any ops who were a bit disappointed perhaps.
[Recording paused]
CB: Right. We’re restarting now.
HP: We left 90 Squadron and the crew was dispersed on the 30th October 1945 and we were sent to Catterick. Some of us. So I think the pilot and the navigator were posted to Transport Command and the rest of us were spare. And there was a holding unit at Catterick where, it was there until it was decided what we’d do with us and we were there for a month until the 28th of November ’45 when we were posted to Silloth for work at a, at a Maintenance Unit. And I found myself in the guard room in charge of a guard dog and walking around. And since I was of an equal or higher rank than all the rest of the policemen that was quite a pleasant occupation. Just walking around the camp. And I made sure I had the dog with me. On the 3rd of January, possibly because of my background in accountancy, I was sent to the School Of Accountancy Training at Kirkham which is not too far from Blackpool and finished there on the 31st of January. Moving from there to an Equipment Disposal Depot, 276 Maintenance Unit at Burton Wood. From there on the 27th of February at my last posting to 268 MU which was an Equipment Disposal Depot at Marston Moor in Yorkshire. People have heard of Marston Moor. And if I had obeyed orders I would still be there now because I was told to report to the demob centre on the 31st of April 1947. So I didn’t. I went there on the 1st of May and therefore left the RAF. Now, from a family point of view in March, no, May, 1945 I met the girl who was going to become my wife and we got married in October 1946 and managed to get a flat together on our demob. And in May 1948 the first child was born who was described by the local Scottish GP as, ‘A wee demob present.’ I returned to the firm where I was articled because it was a five year article. I had just done two. About two years before going in the RAF. Concessions due to people who’d been in the forces. The five years was reduced to three so I had a year to do then and I had the exams to do. You got exemption from the intermediate or consideration on two subjects in the final. I decided to opt for the consideration of the two. This was done by correspondence course. There was no tuition other than the occasional Saturday morning lecture in Liverpool. Took the final exams in November ‘48 and got the results in January ‘49. It was easy to find out what your result was. We were on the second floor of this block of flats and you knew what time the post came and it came down and just went through on to the floor down there. You had a careful look and if it was a thin envelope you had failed. If it was a thick envelope it had the application for membership and you knew you’d got through. So from there having moved from a very small practice in Oswestry. You know, which was local firms, farms and nothing. Small. Needed to go for some experience on bigger stuff so we moved to London. Lived in Raynes Park and I got a job with Price Waterhouse. No. I beg your pardon. [Pitt Mark and Mitchell?] which was audits on a big scale including, I can say, Fairey Aviation at Hayes, which was interesting. Having done that for a year I decided I would rather make my own mistakes than find other people’s so got a job with United Dominions Trust which, at that time was the main hire purchase business and their premises were in Thames Street. They were just by London Bridge in London. I stayed there for two years and it was, it was a boring job and then the travel gene came out so I got a job with the India General Navigation and Railway Company Limited founded in 1847 which provided river steamers up and down the Ganges and the Brahmaputra with a head office in Calcutta. So went there. Obviously in the accounts department. The scale of it was rather surprising. There isn’t a bridge on the Brahmaputra for the first seven hundred miles because there isn’t enough stable bank. One of the principal activities was bringing tea down from Assam. There were a lot of general cargo but that was a bulk one. And in the month of October which was the busy month we would bring down from Assam to Calcutta for loading up from the port six hundred thousand eighty pound chests of tea which is a lot of cups full. The passenger vessels were licensed to carry more passengers than the Queen Mary. Two and a half thousand. Perhaps not quite in the same standard of comfort but it was an important link in the travel of East and West Bengal which were now separated. East Bengal at that stage was East Pakistan. Later changed its name to Bangladesh when it separated from what was then West Pakistan. In the December of that that year we moved from Calcutta to Dakar where an office was being set up because of the split of all the various companies following the devolution in 1947 and had to set up, from scratch, an accounts department there. Fortunately, twelve Hindu clerks were content to come with me even though they were moving to a Mohammedan country which had been a lot of unpleasantness in the recent past and I was very appreciative of that. They stayed for about four or five months whilst I got the furniture for the office and recruited seventy local people with a minimum qualification of a B-Comm and generally speaking an M-Comm. That meant that they were able to express a third as a percentage or the other way around. There, until the [pause] sorry. In Calcutta we were in partnership with the River Steam Navigation Company which was the same company that ran the British India Steamship Company and they were, ran joint services but they had separate marine engineering accounts and all the other departments and it was decided it would be better to set up the joint ones. At that time I was posted to Chittagong and there to sit in an office for six months drawing up the procedure and the layout of the books and all the things for the joint accounts department in Calcutta. Having done which, posted back to Calcutta to make the bloody thing work and stayed doing that until 1957 when, by that stage having had another child out there and where the expat community was tending to diminish. It was, when I went there in 1952 there were ten thousand British expats in Calcutta. All with, all in management jobs. Decided it was better to come back to the UK. Decided then not to work north of a line from the Mersey to the Wash. Not London. And the Black Country. Got a job just outside Abingdon which was in Berkshire with Ameys which was a building material company using sand and gravel quarried stone, concrete, concrete products. I stayed there from 1958 until retirement in 1985 at the age of sixty.
[Recording paused]
CB: Just doing a recap on a number of things now, Hugh. In your earliest stages you talked about your friends volunteering for PNB — Pilot, Navigator, Bomb aimer. What happened to them?
HP: They were called up, sort of, eighteen and a half, nineteen. Sometimes just a bit over nineteen because they initially were put on deferred service but when they were called up they were given ground jobs as aircraft and general duties. And none of them completed any flying training or ever got to a squadron. So my decision to go for air gunner although it was thought a much lower and lower class occupation than the rest of the aircrew I was fortunate enough to get all the way through and became their envy. I got paid slightly more which was a bit expensive when they were on leave and I was at the same time.
CB: To what extent did you keep up with them during the war?
HP: Very little.
CB: You didn’t know where they were I presume.
HP: If you were on leave at the same time you did but I mean your life was very full.
CB: Yes. Ok.
HP: And you, you were meeting new people all the time.
CB: Yeah.
HP: And you didn’t make too many intimate friends as such because you were aware that their, of their life expectancy and that there was this distance. Certainly between crews and to an extent within a crew.
CB: Ok so —
HP: You were very close together. If one chap had any money you all had money. But as far as mixing with families goes — no. The bare minimum.
CB: Now you mentioned crews. So this is moving ahead a little but you crewed up at number 11 OTU at Westcott and what happened there? You arrived at Westcott. Then what happened?
HP: The day after arrival all the various un-crewed up members were assembled in a hangar. The pilots then sort of cruised around accumulating a crew. And there didn’t — there was no logic about it. There was no question of people being placed with one or another. It just happened. In the American Air Force I think they were posted together by order of their superiors but with us we just accumulated and that started off as a period of trust.
CB: And what was your pilot like?
HP: Paddy Goody was basically of Irish descent. He was, I think he was a flight sergeant there. He got a commission in the end of March I think it was. ‘45. We were all from very much the same background. You know. Sort of Grammar School or equivalent.
CB: Ok. And was he a good leader? [pause] Or you just followed what he —
HP: Well we worked together as a crew. There wasn’t conscious leadership as such. We moved as a unit. Not as six people commanded by the pilot
CB: Right. And then what about the other members of the crew? Should we? What about the bomb aimer?
HP: The bomb aimer. Taffy Williams. We knew him as grandad because he had his twenty third birthday when he was with us and he came from not too far from Rhosllanerchrugog. Try and spell that.
CB: That’s an easy one. Yes. [laughs]
HP: The navigator, Roy Wootton came from Nottingham. The Gilly, the other air gunner, he was a Londoner. The flight engineer, he joined us when we were at Heavy Conversion Unit and he was a Geordie. The wireless operator, Gilly — no. Harper. Gilly was the other gunner. Harper. Harper he was. He came from Grantham. Now he was a bit of an oddity. After an operation he would sit on his own in the mess not talking to anyone and he ended up by more or less excluding himself from a crew. So he left us and we were joined by another wireless operator who was a spare on the squadron. I can’t remember his name. We weren’t together all that time. Otherwise, as a crew if one had a pound you all had. You all had a drink, you know. And it was very much a crew spirit.
CB: So the crew spirit at the OTU.
HP: That’s where it generated.
CB: Was pretty good was it? It’s just that when you got to the HCU that you had this difficulty with Harper.
HP: No. That was on the squadron.
CB: On the squadron. Right.
HP: Yes.
CB: Ok.
HP: Because after an operation he would sit separately.
CB: Ok.
HP: Not after a flight.
CB: So why did he move? Was he — did somebody say, ‘Right. That’s it.’ and say, ‘We’ll have somebody else,’ or, how did that happen?
HP: Well as because he was part of the crew the rest of us said, agreed with the pilot, that he would go and see the chap in charge of the wireless operators, you know. Which was a sort of separate wireless operators section. There was a gunnery section, a bomb aimers section and say, ‘Look we think it is better from his point of view as much as from ours if he doesn’t stay with us.’ Now, he was eventually posted but we made sure that he didn’t carry with him the horrible initials of LMF with which I’m sure you’re familiar.
CB: I was going to ask you about that. Keep going. Yes.
HP: Yeah. Yeah. We made sure that he was just posted and not, not labelled.
CB: Ok. So what we’ve talked about is going back a little now. You joined at Shrewsbury. Was that a recruiting office?
HP: Yeah. Shrewsbury was the combined recruiting office for all three services.
CB: Right. And what did they do there? You knew you wanted to be RAF but —
HP: Oh yes. Yeah. So you went, you went to the RAF section. You said what you wanted to do. You had the normal medical which everyone went through and you had an interview and if you were considered reasonable at that level you then went to Birmingham for the aircrew medical and aptitude tests and recruitment and where you got your shilling.
CB: Now. The shilling’s important. We’ll come back to that. But you said aircrew tests. You’d already indicated you wanted to be an air gunner.
HP: Yeah.
CB: Were you on that stream?
HP: Yes.
CB: And what were the —
HP: No. No. You were on an aircrew stream.
CB: Aircrew stream.
HP: At that stage.
CB: Right. Ok. So what tests did they give you there?
HP: Oh. Extra medicals. Extra sight tests. Hand and eye coordination with which you’re familiar. The test.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Ok.
HP: And aircraft recognition. All sorts.
CB: Then when you went to ACRC, the Aircrew Reception Centre in —
HP: St John’s.
CB: St Johns Wood was there any repetition of what you’d done or was it a different? What did you do there?
HP: You went there to be kitted out and punctured.
CB: Yeah. Inoculations.
HP: Yes. And if you were in one particular requisitioned block of flats you actually went to eat in Regents Park Zoo.
CB: But not eating the animals. The —
HP: Not. You didn’t know.
CB: [laughs] So then you went to ITW at Bridlington. That was an ITW was it? Bridlington.
HP: It was.
CB: Pardon?
HP: Yes.
CB: It was. Right. So that was when you were on the beach and you’ve got the driving rain.
HP: Yes.
CB: What was the main activity there?
HP: Aircraft recognition. The guns with which you had to be familiar. Both from the point of view of their components and their stripping and very limited amount of firing. Law, discipline and just general background to assimilate you in to the air force with a view to moving on to air gunner training.
CB: So what were the guns you were using? Were they ones that were used on the ground like Bren guns and rifles? Or —
HP: Yes. They tended to be. But that was a minor point. I mean using live ammunition was not that very serious.
CB: Ok. Then you went to Bridgnorth. Now this is the, [pause] a gunnery school is it?
HP: Number 1, Elementary Air Gunnery School. Number 1 EAGS.
CB: Ok.
HP: No flying there at all but just taking this, taking the ITW disciplines a stage further.
CB: So how were they teaching you air gunnery there? For instance to what extent did they use clay pigeon shooting?
HP: I don’t think we had clay pigeon shooting there. We might have done but it was just more intense of stripping and reassembling and, say, aircraft recognition and you did a limited amount of astronomy so that, you know, you could do that and a limited amount of what might happen on an escape and evasion. I don’t remember much more.
CB: Ok. And the guns there. Were they the type that would be in the aircraft? In other words Brownings. 303.
HP: I think it was there we were first introduced to the Browning 303.
CB: In a turret? Or in an open deck?
HP: I think we had possibly a very limited amount of turret manipulation but very limited. And yeah and following a dot which was put around a darkened chamber through the gun sight.
CB: Right.
HP: To get the turret manipulation.
CB: So your next move was Pembrey on the, on the [Caernarvon?] Coast.
HP: South Wales Coast.
CB: Cardigan Coast is it? Anyway. The edge of Cardigan Bay.
HP: Yeah.
CB: So that’s —
HP: No. No. No. South Wales.
CB: South Wales. Right. So where —
HP: Yeah. Overlooking the Bristol Channel.
CB: Oh. Over the Bristol Channel. Right.
HP: Yes. Yeah.
CB: So what was the activity there? What did they teach you there?
HP: Well again just a development but at that stage you would have four trainee air gunners going off in an Anson firing live ammunition at a drogue towed by a Miles Magister or a Master. I can’t remember. I can’t remember which. And when the tow was over the drogue would be dropped on the runway and it would be picked up by the four trainee air gunners from the Anson. Having landed before they got, they got to it and that would be taken into a hut with a long bench and you would then identify the bullet holes which you had made. Not that anybody else had made. Now the, I think the firing was two hundred and fifty rounds for each. It was made up in a belt of four lots of two fifty. Three had their gun, their round tips dipped in a colour and the fourth one didn’t have any colour at all. So you had traces of the colour in the drogue and you counted the number of holes and divided them by two. One for the bullet to go in. The other one for the bullet to go out. And that gave you a score. You also had fighter liaison with the camera gun where you were practising deflection and bullet trail and all the other various parts. And with the target aircraft diving, moving, doing mock attacks. And those, the film from those camera guns was then assessed as to your ability to be able to fire directly.
[Recording paused]
CB: We’ve talked about your training there in the Anson and you mentioned deflection shooting. Could you just describe what that means?
HP: The only point blank shooting which was shooting direct at an aircraft would be one which was immediately behind you and travelling at the same speed and not changing direction. From there you could aim straight at it. If it were in any position other than that you had to put the bullet where the aircraft would be when the bullet got there and this would involve both speed and direction. It might be climbing — losing speed. It might be diving and gaining speed. So you had to rapidly assess which you thought it would be and in your gun sight there was a point and a circle. Within the circle you would draw a line in your mind from the point to the edge of the circle that the plane would be coming in to and you then had to assess how many of those radiuses you needed to move according to the speed of the aircraft relative to the speed of the one you were in. Apart from that there was one other complication that your own aircraft could well be manoeuvring violently as well.
CB: Yes. So in practical terms then the amount of deflection, the amount you aim ahead would depend, to some extent, on the relative position of the other plane.
HP: Yes. And what it was doing and what your own plane was doing.
CB: Right. So what might your own plane be doing?
HP: Might be diving, climbing, turning.
CB: What about corkscrew?
HP: Well if if you went into a corkscrew it was most unlikely that the attacking aircraft would follow you because it wouldn’t be able to. That was the point of the corkscrew. If he could follow you through into a corkscrew well there was no point in corkscrewing.
CB: Right. So could you just describe how you’d get into the corkscrew and what was the corkscrew?
HP: The cork.
CB: Who would call the corkscrew?
HP: The gunners would usually call the corkscrew because they would be the ones seeing the attacking aircraft who were aft. And you could corkscrew to the port or to starboard. A corkscrew to port would be when the pilot would dive port and having done that for a matter of some seconds. Ten, fifteen perhaps. He would then turn the aircraft and dive starboard. He would then climb starboard and then climb port and then he would dive port. And that would repeat a circular movement which can adequately be described by going along and describing a pass, a corkscrew in the air.
CB: And the fighter would normally be closing at a higher speed or the same speed?
HP: He would, if you were corkscrewing the fighter would probably stand off because his chance of being able to hit you when you were corkscrewing were the same as your chance of hitting him when you were corkscrewing.
CB: Right.
HP: That was the point of doing a corkscrew.
CB: Right. So we are at Pembrey and you’ve been getting all this training. What happened then? How long was that? Relatively short period?
[Recording paused]
HP: The Air Gunnery School was from the 25th of March 1944 to the 30th of June so that was three months which was the longest period there.
CB: Ok. And from there you went to the OTU.
HP: Yes.
CB: We talked about crewing up. What did — because there were all the disciplines except flight engineer at the OTU what were the tasks you did as a crew?
HP: Well we were flying in Wellingtons so we had to become familiar with the Wellington. When walking down the gang plank from forward to aft or aft to forward you had to make sure you didn’t, you didn’t let your foot slip on either side because it would go through the fabric of the fuselage and that would cost you five shillings to the ground crew to mend when you got back. And since your pay was four shillings a day you were very careful walking. It was familiarity with cross country flying with the wireless operator then. It was everybody becoming more familiar with their trade and doing, for the first time, practice bombing runs with practice bombs on bombing ranges which might be on the ground or they might be just just on the coach.
CB: And were you — as far as the gunners were concerned that wasn’t a task you were directly involved in but were you doing fighter affiliation?
HP: Oh yes.
CB: As well?
HP: Yes.
CB: And how would that normally take place?
HP: Generally more. Generally with, not with drogues but with cameras. And not — and with fighter aircraft because it was part of their training. So you were helping a fighter, our own air force fighter aircraft to do the same thing so they would have their camera guns on you.
CB: Now the number of airfields was very high so what area would you be doing fighter affiliation work? It was?
HP: Well you could fly out over the sea or you could, or you could go west because if you went west say from [pause] oh a line drawn up north south through Birmingham there was plenty of air space there and there was, or went beyond Yorkshire there was plenty.
CB: Right.
HP: Or over the sea.
CB: So you were at Westcott for three months and at the Number 11 OTU. And then you go to the HCU. At Westcott did you know where you were going to be posted or did that only emerge —
HP: No.
CB: At the last minute?
HP: Well it only, in fact it only, when you got your orders through the post because you were probably on leave. You just reported.
CB: Right. So you’d finish your OTU training and go on leave and then find out. In this case that you were going to Woolfox.
HP: Yeah.
CB: So what happened there? What was the aircraft?
HP: From there to the Lancaster which was of course a lot bigger aircraft. You had your flight engineer.
CB: He joined you then.
HP: He joined you there and it was just more cross country. More. Just more of the same but I think we went on one diversion raid to Calais. We would. You did that to sort of draw off the German Air Force from the intended target. They would have a force going there and we got, I think we got shot at over Calais which was a bit unfair we thought because we were only training.
CB: Yeah. Not fair at all. [laughs] So those sorties. Would they, what sort of flight time would you have there? Would they be fairly short because you went to Calais and back? Or would you then go on somewhere different to make up the time?
HP: Excuse me while I look up.
CB: That’s fine.
HP: Woolfox Lodge. We did a lot of circuits and landings, rated climbs, fighter affiliation, a run on H2S, cross country’s or practice bombing and general fighter affiliation. Yeah.
CB: Ok. We’ll stop there just for a mo.
[Recording paused]
CB: Ok. So you finished at Woolfox Lodge and you were then posted to Mepal in Cambridgeshire. What, what were you impressions when you arrived there? The squadron and the station.
HP: Well we were made very very welcome.
CB: This is a New Zealand squadron.
HP: Yes. And we were still at that stage an all NCO crew. We didn’t have any problem. You had the traditional two crews to a Nissen hut and everybody had a bike so that they could get to the mess and they could eat. Everything was relatively informal but the discipline all through the training became more and more your own discipline and the crew discipline. You weren’t ordered to do many, to do things in detail. You knew you had to report at a certain time every day to the gunnery section or what, if you weren’t doing anything else and you just did it. As you would any job in Civvy Street. There was a high degree of discipline but it was self-imposed of necessity.
CB: And tell us about the crew. So they had a motto and the squadron was supposedly New Zealand but what was the composition?
HP: I don’t follow the —
CB: Right. So what was the motto of the New Zealand Squadron? 75.
HP: That was, that was the motto of the New Zealand squadron Ake Ake Kia Kaha.
CB: Right. Which meant?
HP: “For ever and ever be strong.”
CB: Right. So why were there, why were there British crews as well?
HP: Because there weren’t enough New Zealand crews coming forward to replace the casualties.
CB: Right. And what about the ground crew?
HP: All British.
CB: And what association did your crew have with the ground crew?
HP: Well, we had the same aircraft all the time and it was friendly without being really familiar. They wouldn’t want to become over familiar with the crew because they didn’t want to lose their crews. But they tended to, if you were on an op, they would wait to see if you came back before they went off on leave.
CB: And what was the chief, the chief of the ground crew, the chief — the crew chief. Who did he liaise with in terms of the aircraft?
HP: Well he would liaise according to the trade which was involved. I mean you had air frame, you had wireless, you had gunnery. You know. Engines. They had, the ground crew were a team of specialists who tended to reflect the trades of the aircrew. On return from a flight of any sort whether it be training or operational a report would be made to the ground crew of any problems or anticipated problem.
CB: And who would do that in your crew?
HP: Depends on the speciality. There’s no point in anyone trying to inform the problems of another one’s trade because he wouldn’t know.
CB: Right. So in the crew there are people at the front, people at the back and people in the middle. As the mid-upper gunner who had the best perspective?
HP: When you say perspective you mean the greatest all-around view?
CB: When you’re flying.
HP: Oh yes. No doubt about it. The mid upper gunner because you could turn through three hundred and sixty degrees and you could look upwards and downwards.
CB: And in your position how many guns did you have?
HP: Two.
CB: And how often did you fire them on operations?
HP: Seldom.
CB: Was there a reason for that?
HP: Yes. Nothing to fire at as we were mainly on daylights to synthetic oil plants.
CB: Ah.
HP: Bombing on GH which you are aware of.
CB: Yeah. On —
HP: And we had close escort of Mustangs and high escorts of Spitfires. So we didn’t have a lot of trouble with fighters. We had the odd rocket one would come through. Go up and, you know, firing as it went up and firing again as it came down.
CB: ME262 er 163.
HP: 163.
CB: 163. Yes.
HP: Yes. The 262 was the first —
CB: Jet.
HP: Jet. And the target areas were heavily supported by flak. The reason we were going there was to — obviously so that there was no oil available. No fuel available. And it became apparent from the shortage of fuel for tanks and aircraft that we were achieving what we set out to do.
[Recording paused]
HP: That is shortly going to go twelve.
[Recording paused]
CB: Ask the question.
JB: I was just wondering how it was that you met your wife and what she was doing.
HP: I was, I was on leave and I was friendly with a family called the Morgans. Morgan family. And we used to tend to go to the same places. This was the Queen’s Hotel. She was friendly with a female member of that family. I was familiar with one of the boys. I went in there. Met for the first time in April ‘45 and it just moved on very naturally from there.
JB: Oh right. And so was she working?
HP: Yes. She was working in a chemist’s.
JB: In the hotel?
HP: In a chemist’s shop.
JB: Oh right.
HP: She wasn’t a qualified pharmacist.
JB: No.
HP: But she did a lot of dispensing from the prescriptions.
JB: Right. Right. Did she develop that after the war? Did she carry on? Did she?
HP: No. We were. No. We were married. She was the mother of the children.
JB: Yes. That was a time when you did. You did. Your job was to be mother of the children wasn’t it?
HP: Yes.
JB: So that’s something that I don’t think people these days quite cotton on to. Apparently.
CB: We’re going to stop because we’re coming to the 12th hour.
HP: Yes.
[Recording paused]
CB: We’ve restarted now just to pick up on an item which was to do with the wireless operator and we didn’t really go in to it but LMF, lack of moral fibre was a particular stigma. So how did you see it and how did it affect your crew?
HP: You were aware that this was a sanction. You couldn’t be put on a charge for refusing to fly because you were all volunteers. There had to be a sanction for those who deliberately avoided it or demonstrated any signs of cowardice. It would, a lot depended on the squadron commander and the medical officer as to the sanction which would be applied and to the history of the individual and what he actually did to possibly justify an assessment. If somebody was — appeared to refuse to fly out of sheer cowardice he could be classified as LMF. That was put on a rubber stamp on all his documents. He would be posted to an aircrew disciplinary school at Sheffield and the same thing could apply to a total crew if a total crew went, as a unit, LMF and those initials would follow them as a matter of disgrace all the way through. So because you couldn’t be disciplined for refusing to fly you had this as the alternative which was shame. And it was shame that would accompany you for the rest of your time. So to what extent this stopped people taking actions which would possibly declare them LMF of course can never be known.
CB: And in the case of your crew — what happened there?
HP: Nothing.
CB: But you had a man, a wireless operator —
HP: We had a man who we could no longer get on with and he was isolating himself. He carried out, he carried out his job reasonably well but became incompatible with us and for that reason we made sure that although we made arrangements with him to be replaced that there was no stigma attached to him.
CB: Yeah. He was posted elsewhere was he?
HP: Yes. I think so. But no —
CB: But nobody. Nobody knew.
HP: Yes. He left but we don’t know where he went or what or how.
CB: And the new man? How did he react to joining the crew in these circumstances?
HP: He was glad to be back in with a crew. He was no longer a spare man.
CB: And why would people be spares?
HP: Well he was on either his second or his third tour.
CB: Oh.
HP: And I think the rest of the crew had finished, finished a tour and he had a few more ops to do to become tour expired. So spares.
CB: Yeah. Now in your case 75 gave way to 90. What were the circumstances of that?
HP: Well 75 Squadron, as far as we understood it, was going to be returning to New Zealand.
CB: So the war has ended in Europe.
HP: Yes.
CB: 8th of May.
HP: Yes.
CB: 1945. How soon after that did they —
HP: Well beginning of June we were posted to 90. I don’t know when 75 actually moved back to New Zealand.
CB: And there was the Maori motto but were there Maori members of the crew?
HP: There were.
CB: And what did they do in the aircraft as a task? Do you know?
HP: Well, any. Any job.
CB: So they were pilots.
HP: Yes.
CB: Yeah. The whole span.
HP: Probably fewer pilots because of the length of training but there was.
CB: Yeah.
HP: Yeah. And they were a wonderful friendly people.
CB: And they had a boost to their rations. How did that work?
HP: Who said they had a boost to their rations?
CB: Well because they, they received parcels from New Zealand.
HP: Oh all. The whole of the New Zealand squadron.
CB: That’s what I meant.
HP: Got home comforts.
CB: Yes.
HP: Yeah.
CB: What did they get mainly?
HP: Oh you got cigarettes fully packed in tissue paper, silver paper and cellophane covered cardboard boxes and I think there were chocolate and so forth. Nothing very major but sufficient to make the non-New Zealand crews feel that they were welcome. That they, it wasn’t that a whole group of people got something that you didn’t get and that there was a gap between you.
CB: Yeah.
HP: There was every attempt to keep it as a unit.
CB: Yes. So they were supplied by New Zealand but everybody, regardless of origin on the squadron —
HP: Yeah.
CB: Took. Was able to benefit.
HP: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Your final operation before the war ended was Operation Manna which was supplying food to people in Holland.
HP: Yes.
CB: You talked about your, the first op. What other operations did you do there? Was that the only one or did you do several other Manna drops?
HP: No. We did the first one on, it was a Sunday. The 29th of April and then it got other squadrons. It was a privilege to actually be able to do it and other squadrons and other crews were involved. There was a limited number to start with.
CB: What was the significance of flying at three hundred feet rather than a different level?
HP: If you’re dropping stuff in sacks you want to drop it from not too high otherwise the sacks would burst.
CB: No. I meant, I meant rather than two hundred or one hundred because the impact is so high.
HP: I wouldn’t know.
CB: No.
HP: You might have had pylons going up to two hundred and fifty. Who knows? But I mean that — somebody had to fix that.
CB: Yeah.
HP: You couldn’t do it, fly at ground level even though Holland is pretty flat.
CB: Because you never knew which windmill was coming up next.
HP: Yes.
CB: Right. So how many sorties did you do? Operations did you do on Manna?
HP: As far as I know, oh only one on Manna. And I think we did fourteen bombing operations I think it was.
CB: Yeah.
HP: And then one on Manna.
CB: Ok. And —
HP: And we only did one night operation. That was to Kiel.
CB: Ok.
HP: That was the night the Scharnhorst sunk. We of course sank it.
CB: Yeah. Of course you did. Yeah. Everybody did.
HP: The other nine hundred aircraft on the operation missed.
CB: Everybody did. Yeah. That’s it. So 90 Squadron now. So you’re in 90 Squadron what’s the brief there?
HP: Well. Carry on with operation review which was the —
CB: This is the mapping. The film mapping.
HP: This is the mapping of Europe. Yeah. Generally long distance flying. Anything up to eight hours.
CB: And at what height would you be flying there?
HP: I think the, it was because of the cameras I think we were at twenty thousand feet above ground level.
CB: Oh.
HP: So the height varied.
CB: And it’s a big place. Continent of Europe. So what was the focus that you had geographically?
HP: Well, not a particular focus. You just went. Went where you were told the following day.
CB: Yeah. But did it tend to be any consistency like —
HP: No.
CB: Going over —
HP: No.
CB: France or whatever.
HP: No. I mean over France. We went once to Norway and there you were supposed to get there at first light before the clouds formed. Norway at first light. The fjords, the fjords, the bottom of the fjords were in darkness so we had to wait until that was light. As soon as that was light the cloud started up and down so we went and had a look up the fjords and we were flying up one and turned around to the left and stopped. S we just managed stopped so we just manage to scrape over the top.
CB: Crikey. Yeah.
JB: Nasty moment.
[Recording paused]
HP: That was on the 5th of September.
CB: So your mapping work took some time. How long did that continue until?
HP: Well I’ve no idea how long other people carried on.
CB: No.
HP: We did our last mapping trip on the 5th. On the 5th of September.
CB: Right. And then after that did you stand down?
HP: We were made redundant.
CB: Pardon?
HP: We were made redundant.
CB: Oh you were. Right. Ok. So that’s when you went to the —
HP: Yeah.
CB: Other places. Catterick.
HP: You had, you had a lot of newly trained crews you see. Moving forward.
CB: Right. And they wanted to use them.
HP: Well they were just replaced those who became redundant.
CB: Yeah. Right. Ok. Good.
HP: And of course squadrons were disbanded.
CB: Yes. [pause] But 90 carried on.
[Recording paused]
HP: On Bomber —
CB: Just going on to equipment. We touched briefly — you mentioned H2S the scanning radar. So what was it, how did it work and how did you use it?
HP: We didn’t use H2S. We were bombing on GH.
CB: Oh. On GH. Right.
HP: And
CB: Why didn’t you use H2S?
HP: Because it wasn’t as accurate as GH. We were daylight bombing on synthetic oil plants which were not vast areas and the, you had special training to familiarise yourself with, with this and specially equipped aircraft and on, on a squadron going one in three aircraft would be equipped with —
HP: With GH only. And two aircraft would formate on that. So you went out like that because I think the question of the strength of signals. I don’t know much about GH but we went on a course where the navigator/bomb aimer were familiarised with this method of accurate bombing through cloud or through anything else like that and you had to maintain a steady course to go over this which was helpful for the flak.
CB: Absolutely, because this is running on a lattice system and, right — so talking about flak to what extent did you get damage from flak?
HP: You usually came back with holes of some sort. We came back once with two engines gone on one side which was not particularly healthy. Another occasion I knew I was dead. I was doing a search there. I’m fairly tall. If I was looking up the back of my head would be pressed against the Perspex of the turret at the back and there was a loud bang where my head was touching this. I turned around and there was a hole about the, about the size of a penny. So I felt the back of my head. Nothing. Looked around at the hole. It was definitely there and if I wasn’t bleeding and didn’t feel any pain therefore I was dead. Now, this lasted for perhaps a half a minute, a minute before you realised that it was a large piece of, large piece of flak had ricocheted off. But bearing in mind you’ve been on oxygen and heated, you’re cold, you’ve got temperatures of minus thirty, minus forty and there was stress. So for that short period of time I knew I was dead. But you came back with holes almost practically anywhere.
CB: And in your turret which way would you normally be facing? Was it —were you rotating it?
HP: Aft.
CB: All the time? Or mainly aft.
HP: Yeah. Yeah. The normal position of a turret was facing aft because you didn’t have to rotate the turret to see.
CB: Yeah. So when those engines went out you would be looking backwards so you wouldn’t see them being hit.
HP: Well you wouldn’t necessarily see them being hit because they would be from underneath and since the engines were underneath the wing.
CB: No. I’m just wondering whether you happened to see as both went out. Whether you happened to experience that.
HP: I can’t remember. I can’t remember.
CB: Right.
HP: You soon knew it had happened.
CB: Yes.
HP: There was a change in sound immediately.
CB: We talked about GH is was the navigation system also used for bombing but from earlier in the war the H2S with the bulge underneath was introduced. My question there was why wouldn’t you use it?
HP: Because the fighters could, 1 — because the fighters could home in on it. 2 — it wasn’t as accurate for the targets which we were detailed to bomb and there weren’t too many squadrons on daylight bombing.
CB: Right.
HP: In Bomber Command.
CB: Right.
HP: We were.
CB: Good. Thank you.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Hugh Parry. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2023,

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