Interview with Thomas Peter Payne. Two


Interview with Thomas Peter Payne. Two


Tom joined the Air Training Corps as a deferred service airman even though he was under-age. In April 1942 he received his call up papers to report to the Air Crew Reception Centre at St John’s Wood before being posted to Ludlow. He then went to the Initial Training Wing in Torquay. Tom was posted to No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School at RAF Brough on Tiger Moths, and RAF Heaton Park in Manchester. Tom then went to Moncton, Canada, and the Neepawa Elementary Flying Training School, followed by a Service Flying Training School at Swift Current on Oxfords. Guy Gibson gave a lecture about the Eder Möhne and Sorpe operation (16–17 May 1943). After being hospitalised with scarlet fever, Tom eventually returned to the UK.
Harrogate and refresher training in Perth followed. Tom was posted to No. 3 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Feltwell where two B-17 crashed. He went to RAF Kidlington and, after finishing at the Advanced Flying Unit, Tom was posted to 26 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wing to fly Wellingtons where he crewed up. In March 1945 he was posted to RAF North Luffenham flying Lancasters. Tom then had to report to 90 Squadron at RAF RAF Tuddenham and joined a different crew. He undertook a few Cooks’ tours for ground crew to the Ruhr, and went to 15 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall where he became flying officer. He brought back some British troops from Italy and did Operation Post Mortem, including a German radar at Kiel. With a few hundred aircraft, there was a significant danger of collision.
Tom finished at an instructors’ flying course at RAF Lulsgate Bottom and was demobilised at the end of 1946.







01:35:11 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 21st of April 2016 and I’m in Hemel Hempstead with Tom Payne and we’re giving a second interview here. It’s the 20th.
TP: 22nd.
CB: It is. Oh the 22nd. Sorry.
TP: Tomorrow is St George’s Day.
CB: Ah.
TP: Which should be a national holiday.
CB: Yes. Quite right. And so Tom is going, as you gather, is a sprightly man and he’s going to start off, please, Tom by your earliest recollections and then right through to at least the end of the war. Please.
TP: Well, I was born in Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead, in a cottage which had two bedrooms and the rear bedroom was accessed through my parents’ bedroom so we couldn’t stay out late and come in without them knowing. I was born in 1925, in December and I already had two brothers but one was much older being born before the First World War. I had one sister. My earliest recollections are of the building of the Public House at the end of our row because originally it was one of our cottages but they built a new one behind it and then knocked down the cottages that had formed the pub. I’ve got a photograph of the day that pub was closed or I assume it was. A picture of a group of men sitting outside and one of which was my dad. He was obviously a very very regular visitor to it and it was only three doors from home and he wouldn’t have any problems. The front of, frontage of the pub had a drive in and drive out when they moved the cottage and it had a row of small wooden posts with iron chains linked between them. But these chains weren’t just ordinary linked. They also had spikes on them. And I remember trying to skip over them and falling and one entered my knee which was very painful and taught me a lesson that you’ve got to make sure you’ve got enough height when you’re trying to clear an obstacle. I went to Bury Road School which was about a mile away I suppose. No buses there. Had to walk. My brothers also went there. Although my eldest brother had been to Boxmoor School because of the war but the cooperation between our neighbours we all went to school together. No mums took us. We just had to find our own way. And no real major road to cross because Marlowes whilst it was a through road you just kept to one side, down Bridge Street and along Cotterells and we were there. Quite a happy crowd at school. The headmaster was newly joined to us but he had a crash on his motorbike hitting a cow which put him in hospital for some months so I didn’t get to know him too well. But the result in 1936 we all sat the exam. The 11-plus. Well before I was eleven of course but I passed for the Central School as did two of my mates at school. So in 1936 I was over to Two Waters Central School which, that consisted of four classes which took you through ‘til you were fifteen. It was a happy school. Twenty boys and twenty girls of each year from eleven upwards but unfortunately after a couple of years the secondary modern education started and the new school was built in Crabtree Lane which housed all 11-plus children from the boy’s school. Separate from the girl’s school. The Central School had to be amalgamated in to the secondary modern because the staff had all got jobs at the secondary modern and the headmaster became headmaster of the Crabtree Lane School. That was a Mr Barnard. More of him later because our paths did cross when I joined the air force but still [pause] I stayed at school until I was fifteen whereas most of the boys around me left at fourteen. But the three Central School chaps from Bury Road we stayed on ‘til fifteen and went into local businesses. I joined John Dickinson’s as a junior foreman which was just running around with bits of paper and collecting the output from the girls on the production machines making paper bags. It was quite interesting but it was boring. Unfortunately, the war had started and my cousin, who was living in Dorset as an only child of my mother’s younger sister [pause. Someone enters the room], sorry. Come. My daughter. Come in love.
CB: That’s fine. Do you want to stop?
TP: Yeah.
[Recording paused]
CB: Sorry love. She’s captain of Bermondsey Golf Club.
TP: Oh right.
CB: Ladies captain I mean.
CB: So we were just talking about the fact that you left school and went to Dickinson’s.
TP: Yeah. Yeah. I went to Dickinson’s
CB: And it was a boring job.
TP: Yeah. The foreman of course above me was also an ex-Central School chap. We got on well together. But my cousin who joined the air force immediately pre-war was an observer on Blenheim’s and he was with 21 Squadron but he was not very enamoured with the flying and the dangers and he did write a letter to an old school chum of his saying he realised it was only a matter of time before they got the chop. The losses were very high at that period and unfortunately in June 1940 he was posted as missing presumed killed which was a hell of a shock to everybody. But I didn’t find out until after the war exactly what had happened to him and his body is buried in France with his other two crew members and he was actually flying with 15 Squadron which I joined later. But we didn’t know that at the time because the losses on 21 had been so great they had to amalgamate them altogether. Still flying out of Wyton but that was the way it went. So that summer I did try. I took the bus in to Watford. Put my long trousers on and I went to the recruiting office but the sergeant there said, ‘Come back when you can shave. ’ So that rather upset me but it meant that by 1941 I decided that I would approach the ministry, the Air Ministry direct. And I had a separate appointment sent to me to report to Euston in November 1941. I was still fifteen but they thought I was nearly eighteen and I got away with it. I was put on deferred service. Given an RAF VR badge which I’ve still got and wear it very proudly and then had to just wait for my call up. One of the conditions of being on deferred service was to attend ATC. Now, Mr Barnard was the commanding officer of 1187 Squadron in Hemel Hempstead so I arrived there one evening and he welcomed me with open arms and said he wondered how long it would be before I came in and I said, ‘Well I have been committed to come to you.’ And he said, ‘What do you mean?’ So I gave him the documents that I had to pass over and he read them through and looked at me and he said, ‘You’re not old enough.’ I said, ‘Well you know that. I know that but they don’t,’ and he immediately stood up, came around the desk, shook me by the hand and said, ‘Congratulations. I know you’ll do well.’ And so I joined the ATC as a deferred service airmen. No uniform but I did attend their lectures and started to learn aircraft recognition and Morse code and all the other little bits that go with it but in April ‘42 I received my call up papers to report to ACRC at St John’s Wood. And there, with ninety nine others, we formed a flight or rather a shower of people shuffling along the road at first but the corporal was instilling into us the discipline of marching. Tallest on the right and shortest on the left and everything else to be able to form up and show a reasonable body of men and after five weeks of inoculations and vaccinations and uniform issue and getting bits of uniform that would fit you we felt reasonable as airmen. Unfortunately, we had other jobs to do and one of them was scrubbing the concrete floors of our billet in Hall Road in North London. So I was limping when I went on parade one day and the corporal called me out and made me report sick because I’d got a very large swelling on my knees. And the doctor, the MO, looked at them and said, ‘Are you very religious?’ To which I said, ‘No. ’ So he said, ‘Well you’ve got housemaid’s knee,’ and as a result of that a directive was issued to all the corporals to provide kneeling pads in the future but we still had to scrub the concrete floors. After a couple of days I was back on normal duties and looking forward to a posting but there was a big hold up in front of us. We learned much later that the influx of potential aircrew was greater than they anticipated and the losses at the far end weren’t high enough to compensate for the people going through. So they extended all the courses. They put in another course for us so instead of after five weeks of ACRC instead of three we did five and then we got posted to a village called Ludlow in Shropshire. And we arrived there — all still a hundred of us but the field had a slope on it. It was very wet. It was raining. There was a lorry already parked inside the field and inside were thirteen bell tents from World War One. And we were told to erect them in a row and allocated join up. Eight in a tent leaving the corporal to share with only four others at the end. He took the four biggest blokes so that was reasonable and we ended up later that evening lying on mattresses on top of our ground sheets with our feet to the pole and our heads to the outside. But if you wanted to get up in the night and go and relieve yourself it was a question of trampling all over other bodies to get out. And I was fortunate. I’d got the position near the flap opening so it didn’t affect me all that much. We stayed there several weeks. [pause — pages turning] Yeah. It was about a month and it was now late June and we got our postings through to ITW. Ours came. We were sent to Torquay. To the Toorak Hotel. And this was in one of the side streets of the town but it was quite a pleasant place and we soon sorted ourselves out into the rooms and we had sheets, at long last and comfortable beds to get into. The only trouble was you had to make your bed every morning. Fold the sheets square with the blankets folded underneath and wrapped around and have the kit laid out on the bed so it could be inspected. The inspection was quite severe and discipline was really tough and one had to learn that the corporal wasn’t your mate or friend. He was corporal and ruled the roost. The rest of the staff were quite friendly. Our officer was a golfer by the name of Sandy Lyle I believe. Our PTI was Spur’s goalkeeper Ted Ditchburn. Very friendly fella. He was a corporal but got promoted to sergeant while on the course. We did cross country runs. Wonderful going through these apple orchards. Bright red apples. So obviously they lost a few of them but when we tried to eat them of course they were cider apples so we soon learned that was not the thing to do.
[Recording paused]
Whilst at Torquay we had regular visits. This was from late June until the November of ‘42 and most evenings in the summer the Luftwaffe would pay us visits with Messerschmitt 109s and Fokker Wulf 190s coming in low over the sea out of the sun. They weren’t seen until the last few seconds and the gunners on the cliff had no option but to start firing at them while they were pulling up over the town and a lot of the damage in the town was caused by the shrapnel from the guns as much as the cannon from the Fokker Wulf 190. It was very disturbing. And they also carried small bombs and they hit the girl’s school which, luckily, they were empty. They were on holiday. But tragically in the — later in that stay there they actually hit the Palace Hotel which was used as a RAF hospital and it housed a lot of the Battle of Britain fighters that had been, pilots that had been burned in their aircraft and the losses I don’t think were actually known at the time. It was all kept secret and nobody knew but I’ve been to a reunion down there and met the nursing staff that were on duty at the time. I was on the duty at headquarters where we just had a 303 rifle and three bullets. Or five I think it was in the end. But mainly it was fire picket duty but we never had any incidents. No problems at all. But several of my friends got injured whilst in the town. They were queuing up for the cinema and the High Street got shot up but apart from the cannon on the 190 there was also the pieces of concrete that were thrown around as potholes were made when the bullets hit the ground and scattered into the crowd. And one of my mates was working helping the rescue and he felt a bit draughty himself and he found blood pouring down his leg and he was a casualty of a piece of shrapnel which was something about eight inches long which had penetrated his fleshy part of the top of his leg and with the adrenalin running and helping everybody else he hadn’t noticed he himself had been injured. He had that as a souvenir to carry around with him but he was in hospital for quite a while, while his wound healed up. I can’t remember the chap’s name. There was too many of us. I spent a spell down there. I had breathing problems with the heat. I spent, I think it was three nights in the Palace Hotel myself. They certainly looked after us but as an AC2 I didn’t get any sort of [laughs] additional help. Anyway, I passed all the exams and became an LAC and the pay increased from two and six to three bob a day. So that was alright. And was posted immediately from Torquay to 4 EFTS up at Brough in Yorkshire for twelve hours flying on Tiger Moths. This was in November to early December ‘42 and I went solo before my seventeenth birthday. Or nineteenth according to the RAF. Then of course it was a question of getting Christmas leave which I was very fortunate enough to do and was posted to Heaton Park in Manchester which was a holding unit where hundreds of potential under-training aircrew of all sorts, shapes and sizes were held. A lot of us were fortunate enough to get private billet accommodation where I must admit that the locals were very very kind to us and looked after us well. The main thing about Heaton Park was the weather. I think it rained almost every day except if it didn’t it was snow. And we had a few diversionary postings from there to other departments where we did some training. One of them was to Filey over in Yorkshire where we went on a commando course in January ’43. And to say it was cold would be an understatement. Our billets were the boarding houses along the seafront. Three or four stories high with sash windows and the strength of the wind coming straight from Russia was enough to keep them rattling all night although we managed to solve that problem with stuffing and with newspaper. I don’t know how long they lasted but I’m sure they can’t still be there now so. [laughs] Unless Everest have done a lot of double glazing. They certainly needed it. And back to Heaton Park and eventually we had a posting to say — you’re off. Nobody knew where but we had a train and it went north and we arrived up in Scotland and found that there was a troop ship lying out in Scapa Flow which was to be our home for a few days and we assumed being as we was up in Scotland that it was heading across the Atlantic and we were going to Canada. But it was rough crossing the Irish Sea first of all and none of us got our sea legs and there was all the food floating up and down the tables in trays. Slopping around down there. It was a revolting sight but once we’d settled it wasn’t too bad. Then of course we had an outbreak of Scarlet Fever. Who brought it on board nobody’s sure but there was quite a lot on our deck that were affected. The result was that the ship, which was really the Empress of Japan and had been re-named Empress of Scotland, still had the name Japan across, carved in the letters on the back of course. But we arrived and went in New York. Zigzagging across the Atlantic with everybody that was available would be up on deck scanning the horizon looking for U-boats. Icebergs were another danger and we did see one or two. But we docked in New York and the first thing was that the military came aboard and all those that were in the sick bay on Scarlet Fever were taken off and rushed to hospitals. And we were then marshalled onto trains which no locals were allowed to come near. We stopped once. I think it must have been around Boston or somewhere and some more people were taken off to hospital with Scarlet Fever. And we eventually arrived in Canada. Get into Moncton where we were all put in isolation and the following day we all had to be examined medically with a thing known as a Schick and Dick test which saw whether you were subject to Diphtheria or Scarlet Fever. If any of the inoculations proved positive you were put in close confinement but the rest that were negative got their postings. Having been put in close confinement you were then put on a course of injections and — but eventually posted and I got to Neepawa EFTS. Did my flying there in March, April and early or mid-May. Passed the EFTS ok. No problems. And got posted to SFTS on Oxfords at a place called Swift Current. However, got to Swift Current, had my last injection and within a matter of days I was in hospital with Scarlet Fever. In strict isolation so I lost all my buddies. A lot of them got washed off the course anyway. Come around to the window of the hospital to wave goodbye. And eventually the few that remained got their Wings in July and got on their way back to the UK. I, on the other hand, remained in hospital until, I think it was the end of May. About then. Yeah. It was in May and didn’t finish my course as a pilot until October when I got my Wings and then got shipped back to Moncton. We were only there a couple of weeks before we were on the Mauritania at Halifax and heading back to Liverpool. That was quite, quite a journey. We were allowed to go home for Christmas from Harrogate where we were to be stationed and after Christmas reported. This was now January ‘44. Having been a pilot for three months there was still no news of any postings. You got dotted around the country and sent to various courses. A little bit of refresher flying in Scotland at Perth and it was always back to Harrogate until eventually in May I got a posting to Feltwell which was number 3 Lanc Finishing School but it wasn’t Lancs for me. It was merely to be their airfield controller while the weeks passed by before I could get to OTU. I was there of course for the D-day period which was quite an event because Feltwell had a grass airfield but with Summerfield tracking. The hut at the end of the main runway was below the hump in the middle of the runway so you couldn’t see the full length and D-day plus two or three we were advised that our American friends would be dropping in on us because they’d got enemy aircraft over their bases to the, in the east of England. We had a few B17s come in. We had gooseneck flares so they were all lit up. But then there was an almighty crash in the — over the hill.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Heard it. [?] Couldn’t find out what it was. Sent an erk on his bike to have a look and he come back and said that two Fortresses had locked themselves together and were blocking the rest of the runway. So I sent them off to douse the gooseneck flares while I stood on the end of the runway with a verey pistol firing reds in to the air. Couple still managed to get in. How they missed the crash I don’t know. More luck than judgement or perhaps the idea was they couldn’t fly. They had no instrument flying experience and night-time flying to them was a hazard. But the other two got down. Luckily, we learned there was no — nobody killed in the crash. A few of them got some minor injuries but most of them had leapt out as soon as the aircraft had hit but one had run up the fuselage of the other and chewed it right the way through but all the airmen, aircrew that were in the back of the Boeing must have got out pretty smart and missed it all. Went around the wreckage in daylight and was amazed at the comfort that was in the B17 compared to British aircraft. I’d been inside the Lancs at 3 LFS but to go inside a B17 with all its sort of [capod?] filled padding which was clipped on to the walls everywhere and I did find a couple of nice rectangular sections which came in use much later in life as a cot blanket for my first daughter. [laughs] But the wrecks were soon removed and I finished my spell at Feltwell and headed off to Cambridge to have a month’s refresher flying before going on to Kidlington where we had another month getting used to flying Oxfords and during that period we went back to Feltwell for a week because they had the beam approach training facilities there which we hadn’t got at Kidlington or Cambridge. So I was, felt at home when I got back to Feltwell for that week. And then, out of the blue in September after being back at Kidlington and finishing AFU I got a posting to 26 OTU at Wing. Thirteen months after getting my wings I was at last going to fly Wellingtons. And there of course the first thing you did at Wing was get crewed up and it consisted of all the aircrews except — all the aircrew except flight engineers. Put in a hangar and you sort of wandered around looking to see who looked a reasonable sort of chap and chose your crew. I picked up a bomb aimer who had befriended a Canadian navigator and between us, the three of us, we then found a couple of air gunners and a wireless operator. We had the two gunners picked at OTU although you only used one on a Wellington at a time. But tragically one of the air gunners let us down. Totally out of the blue. He’d come to my wedding in December. All the crew came to the wedding because we all had Christmas leave. But then in January whilst flying on a night cross country he suddenly lost it. Went berserk. And I passed a message to the wireless operator to tell base I was aborting. Coming down below oxygen level in case it was a problem of that and straight back to Wing. We were met at dispersal by an ambulance crew. He was frozen in the turret. They had a job to get the turret open but he was taken away and nobody ever saw him again. I presume he was marked LMF which was a great shame because he was a nice guy but thankfully it had happened at OTU and not at —on an operation. But we soon picked up another gunner. Phil. Quite a chubby fella but he was great. Great company. And we all got posted off to — we spent a couple of weeks at Sturgate in charge of the blanket store. But our posting suddenly came through for North Luffenham in the March of 1945. We spent the next two months flying around in a Lancaster doing cross country’s, bombing raids on the ranges. Some nights we were sent on diversionaries which meant us flying towards the enemy but turning away before we reached them, much to our dismay. And it was quite an interesting time. Loved flying the Lancaster. It was beautiful. A beautiful aeroplane. And all seven of us — we’d picked up the flight engineer by then. He was originally a pilot. He’d finished his course and was offered the chance to re-muster either as a glider pilot or as a flight engineer. The majority I understand choose flight engineers. So they went on a separate engineer’s course and then joined us at the Heavy Con Unit. After finishing Con Unit of course during that period we, VE day had arrived and it was quite interesting the discussions that were had in the big hangar after we did a rehearsal until some bright spark suggested to the CO that if the band played a more recognisable tune it might be more suitable and there was deadly silence and the bandmaster said, ‘Sir. That was the march past of the Royal Air Force.’ [laughs] Again, there was silence and everybody accusing everybody else of not being able to do their job but it was quite funny for a few minutes. After finishing Heavy Con Unit we were all sent on leave but I had a recall. A telegram to report to 90 Squadron at Tuddenham and not being on the telephone or in contact with any others I expected to find my crew when I got to Tuddenham. Unfortunately, when I arrived I went in to the CO’s office and I was introduced to my crew who had just lost their Australian skipper because all Commonwealth aircrew were taken off of flying and that’s how I lost my navigator. So I lost my whole crew. A bit annoyed of course but soon got to know the guys. Did a couple of flights with them. A couple of Baedekers over Germany going down the Ruhr showing the ground staff the bomb damage ostensibly as a exercise for them but in reality it was very political for, to let the Germans, particularly the residents in the Ruhr and Cologne was a special one to let them see what the Lancaster looked like in daylight. And there we were at two thousand feet. Any given time there would be fifty to eighty Lancasters circling Cologne at two thousand feet and it must have caused the kids down below to be terrified. But politically it was obviously a good exercise. And I was only there for the month when the CO suddenly decided that he’d got a brother who was stationed at 15 Squadron at Mildenhall and would I like to swap with him? Well I was only a flight sergeant by then and so I went over to Mildenhall to meet the CO. A Wing commander McFarlane. And when I walked into his office, gave him a salute he looked and he said, he was very surprised, ‘Oh. You’re Payne. Sorry,’ he said, ‘But we only have — we don’t have non-commissioned personnel as captains of our aircraft. So you are hereby commissioned and you have a week’s leave to get your uniform. Thank you very much.’ So I was a pilot officer or so I thought but after a week I turned back, I returned back to Mildenhall and I was accused of being incorrectly dressed because I was a flying officer apparently. Immediate promotion. [laughs] Much to my wife’s surprise. She lost her payment book because officers are paid the wife’s money and as a gentleman you are obviously expected to hand it over. It shook me I tell you but — and also of course at the same time I had been giving my mother a tanner a day which was recommended when we joined the air force so that if anything happened to you she would be able to claim a pension of some sort. But of course when I was commissioned that had to stop as well which was — my mum understood but I don’t think the wife really took it very kindly but she enjoyed the increased money anyway. Then as I say I was a flying officer. Settled in at Mildenhall quite well. We did several trips. Mostly things like going to Italy to bring back British troops on to England. Twenty at a time stuck in the fuselage but you had to, you weren’t allowed to use the automatic pilot because there had been one or two crashes which they had assumed had been caused by automatic pilot failure at low level or two thousand feet or so. You didn’t go very high because the troops would have needed — no heating in the fuselage. We also did, a little earlier on we did a, one of the first things we did was a post mortem on the German radar at Kiel where a few hundred of us in daylight approached Kiel and we were all given heights to fly but I found myself being covered in Window so I throttled back a bit because the cloud, I was just in the base of the cloud. Fortunately, I did the right thing at the right time because there appeared a B17 in front where I’m sure that every crew member except the pilot was shovelling out Window and it was smothering my aircraft and blocking up air intakes and God knows what else. So if we’d have carried on we would have run straight into them so we realised that the danger of collision at night when a thousand planes were over the target or large numbers over the target at any one time. The danger of collision was, must have been very great and we understood from later discussions with various boffins that they had calculated that on those raids up to a third could be lost. So that’s two thousand men could have been lost at night just by friendly action of running in to each other without any enemy action taking place at all. And that’s why they trained so many of us and fortunately we had the back up. Fortunately, the losses weren’t as great as they predicted and they were still high enough. I doubt whether we’ll ever know the numbers that were involved of mid-air collisions with friendly aircraft or aircraft being hit by bombs being dropped from planes flying higher. We know that there were instances but how many? Nobody can tell. Well, my period at Mildenhall finished in ‘45. I was sent on an instructor’s flying course. Lulsgate Bottom at Bristol. My wife was expecting our first child at the time so I had more interest in getting home at weekends than stopping and hanging around Bristol. Fortunately there was a chicken farm quite close to the airfield and I was able to take a couple of dozen eggs home most weekends which were gratefully received by the population at home. Finally I was demobbed. Officially at Bruntingthorpe but I don’t ever remember going there but that is my, supposedly the depot where I was discharged from and there I got into Civvy Street. This was the end of ‘46 and my first child was born in the July of ‘46 so it was a family life and a question of trying to find accommodation because I was living with my parents and eventually the council obliged by providing a three bedroom house which was just in time for our second child two years later.
CB: Ok. We’ll take a pause there.
TP: Yeah. [pause] Housing.
[Recording paused]
CB: We’re just restarting. Talking about the perversities of some of these things but the fact that the Germans were well organised.
TP: Yeah well they obviously had planned. They planned the war. They knew the war was going to come and their reactions were all done in the same manner. They had developed the aircraft and the U-boats and the rockets and everything else. The flying bombs didn’t happen by accident. That had been planned years before and so was the V2s. But our biggest disappointment I think in 1940, as an Englishman was the fact that we had to go through Dunkirk. Evacuate our soldiers when there were a half a million French troops under arms. There were only two hundred thousand German troops attacking but half a million just gave in and left us in the lurch because we had to get out with our backs to the wall. And I met some of the troops that were fighting at the time. Not at Dunkirk but further along the coast and I was fortunate enough for the 51st Highlanders to be over in France when they were having their last reunion a few years ago because I was visiting the grave of my cousin. And there were a few of the men there that were there in 1940 and they were captured by the Germans because they hadn’t any ammunition left. They’d fought to the last bullet virtually and that was it. But they couldn’t be evacuated from the port because the Germans were attacking all the while. So it was very well planned by the Germans. They knew exactly what they were doing all through. And it was only the bravery of the guys on D-day that got them on shore. I mean it must have been a terrible thing for those first bods that were coming over knowing they were walking straight into the face of gunfire which they were totally exposed on the beaches, you know. But I did meet one other soldier in Tring and he was injured. He had a bullet through his fleshy part of his leg on his way up to the coast and because of that the Germans were coming so he lay in a ditch for twelve hours while they all went by him and then headed south. Pinched a bicycle and carried on riding until he got down in to Southern France. He was hoping to get on the — that ship that got blown up as it left Bordeaux or somewhere down there and he met a naval force that was in town blowing up various installations and they picked him up and took him with them and he came back on their destroyer.
CB: This was 1940.
TP: In 1940.
CB: Yeah.
TP: So he was absolutely dead lucky because he was in the right place at the right time to get away.
CB: So what was your perception of the German air war and how they conducted it on Britain?
TP: Well. I think, you know, they [pause] if they’d have carried on the attacks on airfields and destroying those they might have stood a better chance but because they then switched to the cities it was a saviour for us. But we had no real defence. We were down to the last few Hurricanes and Spitfires. And the tragedy was that the coordination of the various fighting groups’ — Fighter Command to my mind they, they weren’t concentrating enough on what they should do. Thinking they could get a high wing together of a thousand fighters. By the time they’d got a thousand fighters half of them were out of fuel and had to come down and land. It was, you know, they hadn’t thought it through.
CB: And here you were in Hemel Hempstead which is between London and Coventry and Birmingham. What did you see of the German air force? Aircraft coming over.
TP: Well I —
CB: Before you joined the RAF. As a youngster I mean.
TP: Well when I was still at school —
CB: Yeah.
TP: I saw a Dornier come over one day. A Dornier come over. The air raid sirens hadn’t gone but I recognised it from aircraft recognition. It was a Dornier. And it dropped its bombs over Nash Mills Way. It was like the day war broke out. On a Sunday. There was a gathering of council officials, the ARP warden, the town clerk’s office and others in Marlowes. They were looking at the stone mason’s yard and were wondering whether to send people over to the Princes Arms area where Edney’s had a place where they were making tarpaulins. Should they bring the tarpaulins and cover up the stone mason’s yard. And when I tried to tell them that if an aircraft came over and was going to bomb anything he wouldn’t bomb a cemetery or a yard he would bomb the railway line or the canal [laughs] And they told me to be off.
CB: Yeah.
TP: That was the sort of mental attitude of the adults of the time.
CB: Yeah.
TP: They had no experience of air war. I hadn’t of course.
CB: No.
TP: But I had the intelligence to know that if you’re up there looking for a target you’re going to hit a railway line or a canal or a junction of some sort rather than bomb what looked like a churchyard or a cemetery.
CB: Yeah. I mean it’s difficult to perceive in a way but in 1939 aircraft had only been around for twenty five years.
TP: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And people’s perception of what they could —
TP: And of course the speeds of the aircraft. We hardly saw a Spitfire or a Hurricane over Hemel Hempstead. We did, as I say, see German bombers. Two or three times and at night time you heard them go over because you could tell by the way they didn’t synchronise their engines. It was a very identifiable feature. We always synchronised our engines with a Lanc you know.
CB: Yeah. Of course. On a Lancaster. Yes
TP: It meant it was a smoother ride and it was quieter but the Germans had this —
CB: Makes more of a clatter.
TP: Well yeah.
CB: A drone was it?
TP: The engines weren’t synchronised.
CB: Yeah.
TP: And they would be fighting against each other. So you could identify the noise immediately. That it was an enemy aircraft.
CB: That’s interesting.
TP: Whether you would hear that in a fighter I doubt it —
CB: No.
TP: Because you had your own noises but certainly from the ground you knew there was enemy aircraft. And of course in the early days without the radar enemy aircraft would be over here and everywhere the sirens would go but nobody would know where the aircraft was.
CB: And near to here for German targets you had Watford, Leavesden for aircraft production and also Hatfield.
TP: Oh yeah.
CB: So to what extent did you — were you aware of that?
TP: Well, I knew of that. I knew that those places were producing but I think generally we didn’t. There was no news in the newspapers and of course there was no television anyway. They’d had to have been shut down. But the general feeling at school when the sirens went everybody went down the shelters and after two or three hours down there as a senior prefect I went up with the night guy. We went up to get the rations of Horlicks tablets and things like that and the all-clear went. [laughs]
CB: So could you just describe the air raid shelters in a civilian context? So in Hemel Hempstead what were the air raid shelters? What were they?
TP: Well the air raid shelters in Hemel Hempstead. There were a few public ones. The ones in Marlowes were opposite where my mother lived and they used to go over there at night apparently when the sirens were on because of the dangers. You could hear the noise and see the lights from London when London was being bombed. I did a stint when I was — before I went in the air force as a fire watcher in Lower Marlowes where it was organised by the fellow that owned the DIY shop. If anybody wanted some DIY he had all his stall of paints and timbers and everything so he obviously wanted protection. So we had an old cottage that we used as a base for fire watching and that was — we did one night on, two nights off sort of thing. Between us there was enough of the shopkeepers to join in but there were very few private residences down from Bridge Street to the arch. There weren’t sufficient privately occupied houses as opposed to all the businesses which lock up.
CB: Yeah.
TP: And most of them went away but we never had any instances in that area. There were some fire bombs dropped the other side of Marlowes somewhere down in [Sewells?] Road area apparently. And of course there were bombs in Nash Mills. We did have, I wasn’t, I wasn’t around then, I was in the air force — we did have some bombs drop in Astley Road where, opposite to the school I used to go to. Infant school. I think one person died in one of the houses. That house had to be totally rebuilt but it was a clear cut bomb. Another, I think it was more like an oil drum landed at the back of the off-licence at the bottom of the street. And others landed in the park. There were craters in Gadebridge Park which were a pretty sight. [laughs]
CB: Well the Germans used land mines didn’t they?
TP: Yeah.
CB: That’s what looked like an oil drum but actually came down by parachute.
TP: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
TP: But as far as I know the one at the bottom of Astley Road they didn’t find a parachute or perhaps somebody whipped the parachute [laughs] before the forces came. I wasn’t around at that. I was in the forces.
CB: No.
TP: But there was one that landed with the bomb.
CB: Well they were silk so they made good dresses. Nash Mills was where the printing works was it? Of Dickinson’s. John Dickinson’s.
TP: Well John Dickinson’s had got the factories just beyond where they hit a row of houses.
CB: Oh.
TP: And I think two of the houses were destroyed but they were parallel to the canal so whether he was aiming for the canal or whether it was shortfall from the factory you just couldn’t tell.
CB: No.
TP: Because bomb aiming in those days was hit and miss.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. You could —
TP: And it was only area bombing that really could succeed if you []
CB: Yeah. As we are talking about the civilian context here could you describe what was the air raid shelter? What was it? Made especially was it?
TP: Yeah, it was.
CB: And what it was like inside?
TP: Yeah. The public air raid shelter. We didn’t have the private Andersons ones in Hemel. They weren’t issued to Hemel but the one in lower Marlowes at the back of [Tozers?]. I suppose it was about thirty foot long. It was half submerged but well protected and it had benches down each side as far as I recollect. I never spent any time in there. I was in the forces but I know because my mother used to take in evacuees. She had two or three people from London that stayed with us while they found somewhere else to live. She had a couple of, a couple of girls. School age. Teenagers. And then she had one chap who had lost an eye in London. With his son. I think the son played football later on for one of the London teams. Stokes I think his name was. And then she had a family. A couple and their teenage son and they went back to London eventually although the son stayed in Hemel and he lived in St Alban’s Hill.
CB: Right.
TP: Near where Derek’s. Before you get to Derek’s in Lawn Lane itself. Or somewhere near. Eventually.
CB: But the air raid shelter was made of concrete was it? And then covered with earth. How was it made?
TP: Difficult to say. I didn’t see it being constructed.
CB: No.
TP: But it was well protected with earth and everything.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Over the top. Usual shape.
CB: Yeah.
TP: And of course with a door on the side at an angle so there was no blast went through.
CB: Yeah. Changing to your experiences in Canada then. How did you feel about that because you had some spare time as well as study time as it were?
TP: Yes. It was very —
CB: So what were the Canadians Like?
TP: Canadians. They were very friendly. Very friendly. I spent a week in Winnipeg on sick leave. I should have gone to Vancouver. I realise that now but I didn’t then. But I spent a week in Winnipeg and met some friends there. Same as in Neepawa where I did my training because I was a Salvation Army at the time. My religion.
CB: Yeah.
TP: And I visited the Salvation Army homes.
CB: Right.
TP: Of the towns I went to and they were — while I was in Moncton the officer there, we actually visited a local prison to get a, yeah, the band went and I went along with them. I didn’t play an instrument. I was on drums at Hemel. But it was it was interesting talking to the prisoners and they were quite receptive to find that the Brits were there and still fighting, you know. Because as I say it was early ‘43 I got out there and the Americans still hadn’t got involved too deeply in the war even then, you know. They were starting to build up but they had to build the aerodromes first for them and it takes time. But it was a good experience meeting the families. You were nearly always invited out to Sunday tea or something like that, you know because at Moncton you were just killing time. You had nothing to do.
CB: It’s in the middle of nowhere.
TP: Well it was on the eastern seaboard or near the eastern seaboard but it was literally the only thing you could do was go to a cafe and eat. Not having the pubs and things like that.
CB: Quite.
TP: Where you could socialise.
CB: Yeah.
TP: It was a different story, you know.
CB: And in the training how did that work? Did you start early in the morning and go —
TP: Oh yeah. Very often out on the prairie, flying. We started at 6 o’clock and it was interesting while I was at Brough of course on the very early flying. First flying.
CB: Before you went out to Canada.
TP: Before I went out to Canada you had to see —
CB: That’s in Yorkshire. Yeah.
TP: Whether you had any ability to fly.
CB: Yes.
TP: And some people didn’t have and they were wiped out then.
CB: Yeah.
TP: After doing the twelve hours training on Tiger Moths they had taken an aerial photograph of the aerodrome and of course it was Blackburn aircraft were using it as well and whilst it had four gun emplacements there was only one that was in use and of course this showed up on the photograph by the fact that there was no pavement to it, no paths in to it. Snow and everything else had accumulated so instead of taking a coach out to dispersal every morning we had to march around these gunsights and march around them and make them look as though as if they were being used.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Although though they had wooden guns on them.
CB: Oh had they?
TP: Yeah. I don’t think it bothered the enemy because I don’t think they considered Brough was a big enough target but —
CB: No.
TP: Although the Barracuda was being developed by Blackburn at the time which seemed to us quite a formidable aircraft.
CB: Yeah.
TP: You know, but, yeah.
CB: Yes. So just going back to Canada. So you’d start at 6 in the morning. You had flying training but what about the grounds?
TP: Oh then you had other lectures and things.
CB: Yeah. So how did that work?
TP: You went into classrooms and you had sort of an hour and a half, two hours on navigation, on astronomy, on meteorology. Morse code. Aldis lamps, you know.
CB: The weather.
TP: It was all varied. Yeah. Yeah. Meteorology was a very big subject. Of course that was a failing in the early days because the forecasting, you know, was very poor. I mean we had plenty to tell us what was coming in but not what’s over there. It’s passed us but did it go that way or that way. So yeah. It was, it was tough. And very often fog would appear totally unexpectedly, you know. You would come back and find your base covered in fog. You know. It was proper.
CB: In the UK you mean?
TP: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Yeah.
CB: So you had a big contrast between the weather in Canada —
TP: Oh yeah. Yeah.
CB: And the weather here. So what was the weather like in Canada?
TP: Well we started our stuff our first flying at Neepawa there was sort of six foot of snow around the place and the wind would not be dead down the runway and so you would start take-off and you would get above the snow which was piled high on either side where the snow ploughs had been down and the wind would suddenly take you one way or the other and you had to be prepared for it and be clear of the snowbanks otherwise you were whipped in to those. Quite, quite a problem. But the, my first experience of tragedy was the fact that my instructor was instructing with another pupil. I was with the officer. The senior. On a test as luck would have it and we went out. Neepawa had a subsidiary field for practicing precautionary landings. Low level approach and dropping in and somebody had busted a Tiger Moth out there [unclear] before and the rescue truck was out there loading it and my instructor, Sergeant Smith had got this other pupil with him and he took over control and did a beat up on the truck that was being moved and unfortunately, when he pulled up, his tail wheel, not skid tail wheel hit the crane and he went in and the aircraft burst in to flames. Luckily the pupil, the student, got out from the back but the instructor died. And that was a shock, you know. You think if an instructor could do it what chance do you stand? You know.
CB: Yeah.
TP: So you just don’t fool around.
CB: No.
TP: And they gave him a military funeral, you know, but his remains and he went off. I presume and they shipped him back to England. I don’t know.
CB: Oh he was a British instructor was he?
TP: Yeah. He’d just, he’d only just got his Wings a short time before. He’d trained in Canada. Got his wings. He was so good they kept him back as an instructor.
CB: He was a —
TP: From an instructor’s course.
CB: Yeah.
TP: But he still was juvenile enough to —
CB: Yeah.
TP: Try something.
CB: Now what do you understand by the word “creamy?”
TP: Eh?
CB: He was a Creamy. Well, apparently they called these people who — I’ve interviewed a couple. The people —
TP: They creamed them off.
CB: They were so good they creamed them off.
TP: Yeah.
CB: Because they were so good at flying and instructing potentially.
TP: Well they could be good at flying but not good at instructing.
CB: Indeed.
TP: They can’t impart the knowledge.
CB: They called them Creamies.
CB: Yeah.
TP: I never heard that expression actually.
CB: And it’s a term that continued until relatively recent time. Might have —
TP: Didn’t heard it.
CB: No. Ok. How long, how many hours did you do over there? Quite a lot before you got your wings.
TP: A few hundred hours.
CB: Yeah.
TP: I should think in total.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Yeah. They extended the courses. This is what, how everything got put back. Even ITW was extended by a couple of months. So as you obviously gained more knowledge. Which was a good thing.
CB: Yeah.
TP: I mean when you think that my cousin within six weeks or so he was on operations.
CB: Yeah.
TP: And he was even acting sergeant to begin with. Crazy. The gunner was still an LAC at one time, you know. Promotion to —
CB: I suppose you have to say they did learn from their mistakes.
TP: Oh yeah.
CB: With these things.
TP: Well they learned but what happened to them when they were POWs. That’s what caused the hassle because if they captured an LAC he went to work. Whereas if he was a sergeant he was slightly different. If he was an officer it was even different again you know.
CB: Yes. Fast forward to OTU. So how did that work? The crewing up. Tell me about the crewing up.
TP: The crewing up was very interesting. As I say we were all in a hangar and everybody looking for everybody else. And I met the bomb aimer first. Very smart looking fella. Little tache. He was a real ladies man in the end apparently because — funny story but he had already picked this Canadian observer or navigator and so we three got together and we were then looking for two gunners and the wireless operator. And they all sort of gelled. You met people and had a chat with them. ‘Where do you come from?’ ‘What are you doing here?’ And the bomb aimer came from London so he found, eventually he found the wireless operator who lived quite near to him in London sort of thing. So they thought they’d got a something that anchored them together.
CB: Yeah. Something in common.
TP: It was quite interesting but yeah, Reg was quite a fella. He had a job writing for many of the chaps in the other crews. He could write a “Dear Rosie,” letter sort of thing. [laughs]
CB: Yes. The antidote to “Dear John. ’
TP: Yeah. [laughs] He did quite well at that apparently, you know.
CB: Yes.
TP: Truly grateful was one of his favourite expressions. [laughs] They’ve all passed away unfortunately.
CB: Yes.
TP: Except his widow is still alive.
CB: But that’s an interesting point in a way. In a more serious vein. One of the people I interviewed talked about his CO giving up flying on operations because the lady who he proposed to said, ‘I’ll only marry you if you give up operations,’ because he’d done a tour already. Because the three previous fiances she’d had had all been killed. So what extent did women — the WAAFs we’re talking about?
TP: Well I was already married.
CB: Yes. But —
TP: I married my childhood sweetheart.
CB: Yes. Quite right.
TP: She’s up there.
CB: Yeah. Smashing. But you saw this. You observed this did you?
TP: Oh I see. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: A sequence of these girls, these WAAFs having relations.
TP: Yeah. Yeah. Well as I say my bomb aimer — Reg. He had. He had a girl. She was, I think she was older than him. [unclear] he used to call her and I think she was something to do with fashion or film or something like that but my wife and I thought, no, he won’t marry her, you know. When we got an invite to his wedding it was a totally different. It was an ATS girl he married.
CB: Oh was it really.
TP: And she was a cracker. She was lovely was Jean.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
TP: Yeah.
CB: You mentioned your own wedding which was in ‘44 when you got back from Canada. Wasn’t it? Was it?
TP: I got back from Canada in ’43.
CB: Oh ’43.
TP: I was home a year.
CB: Yeah. Ok.
TP: And got engaged when I came back.
CB: Oh that was it. Right.
TP: It took a year before I married.
CB: Yeah but —
TP: Her dad was, ‘No. No. You wait my lad.’ [laughs] But she wanted to get married and I said no. I didn’t want to get married at the time.
CB: No.
TP: I said, ‘Well what if something happens to me?’ And she said, ‘Well at least I would have part of that.’
CB: Yeah.
TP: So we got married. Come back from Canada in ‘43. Got married in December ‘44. And all of the crew came to the wedding.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Including the air gunner who went berserk.
CB: Oh he did as well did he? Yeah. He — he’s the one who’d gone.
TP: Yeah. Don’t know what happened to him.
CB: Yeah. Earlier that was.
TP: That was after my wedding.
CB: Oh after the wedding.
TP: Yeah.
CB: Right.
TP: That was January ‘45 when we were finishing at OTU.
CB: Oh I see. That was when he —
TP: On a night cross country.
CB: Yes.
TP: And he just lost it altogether.
CB: Right.
TP: And our worry was he’d start firing guns and draw attention to us which you don’t want when you’re on a diversionary and things like that so you tried to keep as quiet as possible. And you didn’t know whether he was suffering from lack of oxygen because you just couldn’t go to the turret. Couldn’t get into the turret to see him.
CB: So what happened to him?
TP: I’ve no idea.
CB: No.
TP: As I say I passed a note. Didn’t want to let him know. I scribbled a note to the wireless operator, ‘Contact base. We’re returning and tell them briefly why. ’
CB: Yeah.
TP: ‘Problem with rear gunner.’
CB: And what did they do then? The aircraft landed.
TP: Well.
CB: So how were you met? Or did you wait? All get out?
TP: No. We went to dispersal as usual. They put us in dispersal and an ambulance was waiting in dispersal and the ground crew — as I say we had to force open the rear turret in the end because it was iced up as well. Although I’d been flying below, it was wintertime obviously. Weather was pretty chilly. But it gets very cold in the back of a Wellington and he just couldn’t take it. He was still screaming, you know.
CB: Oh. Was he really?
TP: Yeah. He just lost it altogether. Why? We never heard because nobody knew because nobody ever says.
CB: No.
TP: Whether it started with lack of oxygen. It could well have been you see.
CB: Yeah.
TP: But we’ve no means to knowing.
CB: So then the new air gunner comes. Rear gunner comes.
TP: Oh no. He wasn’t the rear gunner.
CB: Oh he wasn’t.
TP: No. Eddie was my rear gunner.
CB: Right.
TP: He was a lorry driver from Worcester.
CB: Oh right.
TP: Eddie was — he was great fun he was.
CB: Yeah.
TP: But he — you know. He was the real rear gunner. It was the mid-upper gunner who was in the rear gun, rear turret and didn’t like it.
CB: So then you go to the Heavy Conversion Unit at North Luffenham. 1653. That’s when you get the flight engineer.
TP: Yeah.
CB: How did he come aboard?
TP: Well they just —
CB: Did you select him or he was allocated or what?
TP: Well I think from memory all of us crews went into the hangar.
CB: Yeah.
TP: And there was probably ten crews went on the course — conversion. And there were ten flight engineers lined up.
CB: Literally.
TP: And then it was take your pick sort of thing.
CB: So you did your selection did you?
TP: I think we did as a team. Yeah.
CB: You personally or the whole team came over.
TP: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. And what was he like?
TP: He was a good lad. He was a butcher from Devizes.
CB: Oh.
TP: Married but no children. And, yes, he was he was very pleasant but as I say he’d been, he’d been through pilot training. Got his pilots wings and then they said sorry there are no more vacancies for pilots. You’ve got a choice. You can be a glider pilot for troop carrying which is a one way ticket.
CB: Yes. Absolutely. Yeah.
TP: Or you can be a flight engineer.
CB: Yeah. So in that circumstance did he keep his flying — his pilot’s wings?
TP: Oh he had his pilot’s wings.
CB: Yes. Because after the war I interviewed somebody — after the war they took them away and you wore the brevet of your specialty.
TP: Oh. I don’t know.
CB: No. But anyway in the war. Yeah.
TP: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So there were two pilots on the Lancaster.
TP: Yeah. In effect. Yeah.
CB: In effect.
TP: Yeah. Yeah. Well not on every one but you know —
CB: No. No. No. No.
TP: Yeah.
CB: I mean in your circumstance.
TP: But when I went to 90 squadron. He was a flight engineer. He wasn’t a pilot.
CB: Of course. No. Absolutely.
TP: He was a flight engineer.
CB: Yeah. Can I just go on to another point you mentioned on a previous occasion the Stabilised Auto Bomb Sight. Could you explain what that was and how it was different from the one you had before.
TP: Well, this was, this was the bomb sight used by 617.
CB: Right.
TP: It was much easier than the Norton which had, I think, fifty odd adjustments to make it before it was set but the SABS had, instead of the ordinary, the old Mark IX just had wires to track down and you set the thing up and got the pilot to, ‘Left. Left,’ or, ‘Right. Right,’ or, ‘Steady. ’ And if he said, ‘Steady,’ Eddie would say, ‘Yeah. What do you want?’ [laughs] You know, the SABS had like a glass prism with a lighted sword and the cross point of the hilt was for the target and you tracked, tracked it down. Much shorter than the long strings but the sword looked as if it was on the ground. It was in this glass prism but it was where it was projected. It looked like it was travelling on the ground so you could —
CB: So were all the Lancasters being refitted with that?
TP: They were being refitted with them but they only had them on the specialist units at the time.
CB: Yeah.
TP: And they used them — I don’t know whether you saw the article there, there was an article in Flight or Aeroplane?]. You can probably still read it now where after the war —
CB: Yeah.
TP: Lancs went over to America and 15 Squadron was amongst them but we got the proverbial brick in a bucket whereas the Americans were half a mile away.
CB: Even though they claimed to be precision bombers.
TP: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: With the benefit of daylight.
TP: Yeah.
CB: We’ve effectively come to the point where you got to the squadron just as the war finished. So you didn’t get in any operations.
TP: No operations at all.
CB: Right.
TP: No.
CB: So the war finished. Then what?
TP: Well —
CB: We’re talking about 8th of May 1945.
TP: Yeah.
CB: The war ends.
TP: And in June I was in a squadron.
CB: Yeah.
TP: 90 squadron. I’d been home on leave. I’d had a telegram — report to Tuddenham and I naturally thought that’s the whole crew.
CB: Yeah.
TP: I get to Tuddenham and I find I’m on my own.
CB: Yeah.
TP: And —
CB: Why was that?
TP: And I was introduced, introduced to a completely new crew.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Who’d had an Australian skipper and he’d been subbed off back home. Taken off of flying as all Commonwealth aircrew were. So I took over the whole crew. Didn’t know a soul. Took a little while to get used to them of course, you know. Amongst the crew one of the guys was a flying officer already. And that’s how I think the air force changed their attitude to the fact that you can’t have captains of aircraft with lower rank than members of their crew.
CB: Yeah.
TP: But it didn’t affect 90 Squadron. They still hadn’t thought of that. I was a flight sergeant and he was a flying officer. I think he was a bomb aimer. I’m not too sure. Could have been the navigator but the rest were sergeants. They’d done, I think they’d done six food drops or something like that. They hadn’t done anything serious —
CB: This was Operation Manna.
TP: Operation yeah. Because they’d only been on the squadron for a few weeks anyway.
CB: Right.
TP: They were only that little distance ahead but sufficient to have got —
CB: Ahead of you.
TP: Yeah. And it was, we did the Kiel operation. Operation Post Mortem where we were checking the radar. And I think I did one or two Baedekers taking ground staff over Germany when the CO said, ‘I’ve got a brother at Mildenhall. Would you swap with him?’ And [laughs] you know I mean —
CB: With the whole crew.
TP: The whole crew. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So he moved his whole plane across.
TP: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: In exchange for yours.
TP: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
TP: As I say I went over there and the CO was McFarlane. He’s still alive I think but he’s got dementia problems in Australia.
CB: Right.
TP: He was surprised to see that I was only a flight sergeant because as he said, ‘All the captains of our aircraft are officers. ’ You know. ‘We don’t have non-commissioned officers. ’ So that’s how I got commissioned. Completely out of the blue but that’s the way it went.
CB: As a pilot officer.
TP: You did as you were told.
CB: Of course.
TP: You went as you were told.
CB: Yeah.
TP: You had no say in it.
CB: No.
TP: You very often thought that there was a little man manipulating. Oh somebody lives in London so we’ll send him to Glasgow. Or that Scot can go down to Cornwall.
CB: Yes.
TP: It happened you know.
CB: It happened to my father. So you became to be a flying officer. A pilot officer. But it didn’t last.
TP: No. I got back to — after a week I went to Simpsons and you know and got my, got kitted out and got told, ‘You’re incorrectly dressed. You’re a flying officer. ’ [laughs] You know.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Crazy.
CB: Had to have it all done.
TP: Yeah.
CB: So what did you do from then on?
TP: Well. I was going to be a school teacher.
CB: No. No. Excuse me just a mo. In the RAF.
TP: Oh in the RAF.
CB: ‘Cause we hadn’t got to —
TP: Yeah.
CB: So you became a flying officer.
TP: Became a flying officer.
CB: You keep flying? Doing what?
TP: I kept flying on Lancasters — doing — went to Italy to bring British troops home.
CB: Yeah.
TP: We did several Baedekers down the Ruhr.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Several — a few other post mortems.
CB: Can we just describe Baedekers? So Baedeker is essentially picking up on the German tour guides.
TP: Well it was called Baedecker but it was you did a trip to the Ruhr.
CB: Yeah.
TP: You went, you know, down to Essen, Cologne, Dortmund. Looked at the canals and things like that. All at two thousand or so and so feet in broad daylight and there were swarms of you, you know and it must have —
CB: Frightened them.
TP: Let the Germans know.
CB: Yeah.
TP: That there was an air force above them.
CB: Yeah. And this was what it had been.
TP: It was more a political gesture although it was sold as showing the ground staff.
CB: What had happened?
TP: What it was. And I had one of the first Lancasters converted to take female passengers.
CB: Right.
TP: It had a curtain around the elsan. [laughs]
CB: [laughs] Right.
TP: But you didn’t take air gunners. I think all we had then was navigator, a flight engineer, wireless op and engineer. Yeah. Navigator. Flight engineer. Not even a bomb aimer. No.
CB: No.
TP: Because you weren’t going to be dropping anything [laughs] But —
CB: And they sat in those stations and then rotated did they?
TP: They sat. Yeah. One would be in the nose in the front turret. One would be in the mid-upper turret, one in the rear. Of course you didn’t have any extra windows so —
CB: No.
TP: They had to be either in the cockpit or in the positions to see. And —
CB: How many people did you take at a time?
TP: Three or five. It wasn’t very many.
CB: No.
TP: Surprisingly, you know. I thought we would take more people. It’s obviously so as to let them have a good look.
CB: But also the ulterior motive was —
TP: Yeah.
CB: Making Germans aware of what was going on.
TP: Aware. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Ok.
TP: That’s all it was done for.
CB: Yeah.
TP: And we did over the dams and that’s another thing. On the dams raid, you know, Gibson came out to Canada in ‘43.
CB: Oh you saw him.
TP: Gave us a lecture and told us all about it. But he couldn’t explain or he wouldn’t explain why there was no follow-up. It needn’t have been low level things like he did. I mean it could have been high level stuff with delayed action bombs. I mean they let them rebuild that. It wasn’t in full use for several years because it wouldn’t have the pressure until it had all settled.
CB: Oh.
TP: But it would have delayed the building.
CB: Yeah.
TP: Just with one or two bombs every week or so.
CB: Yes. Yeah.
TP: I’m sure they thought of it but whether they were in hand with Krupps to say we won’t do any [laughs]
CB: Well they wanted — yeah.
TP: After the war you wanted [back?] production and so — yeah. It’s weird isn’t it? When you think of it.
CB: So —
TP: It would have been the- easiest thing in the world.
CB: Yeah. Absolutely. Where — so after doing a bit of that when did you actually leave?
TP: I think it was November or December.
CB: Forty — ?
TP: ‘46
CB: ‘46. Ok. Right. So what did you?
TP: They didn’t release, you see they learned their lesson from the First World War.
CB: Right.
TP: When they released everybody too soon and altogether. It swamped the country. Couldn’t find jobs. We had a lot of problems. And I think that they thought trickle it out.
CB: Yeah.
TP: But of course most of us as youngsters had gone virtually straight from school so we had no job to go back to or it was a very junior job which wouldn’t have been sufficient after four or five years in the forces, you know.
CB: So what did you do?
TP: Well as I say I got accepted — two things. I first of all got accepted by BEA for training as an airline pilot. But after discussions with my wife [laughs] in those days Paris would have been an overnight stop. And with the dolly birds as usherettes on the aeroplanes she said, ‘No way am I going to let you,’ [laughs] which I suppose made sense you know.
CB: Right.
TP: So I gave up that with BEA. But I did carry on for the strategic and there was a teaching college at [Ashridge?] or there was in those days but you couldn’t get there until you’d been selected for a college anywhere in the country and eventually, after eighteen months, I got a college up in Newcastle upon Tyne. Well, how could I go up there and have a home when I’d got a family in Hemel? No way could we all move up there.
CB: No.
TP: So then you could apply to go to Ashridge but then there was a three year waiting list at [Ashridge]. It was just impossible. So I’d done six months as a bus conductor while I was waiting. And a fellow in Hemel who ran a confectionary shop — I went in and helped him in the shop and made his ice creams and things like that. Then the new town developed and I went up. I was the first male to be employed in a new town factory. I went into engineering. I hadn’t had any engineering experience but I went in as a storekeeper originally but they realised I got a bit more intelligence than what most of the people working for them had and so I ended up I was there eleven years. I became their office manager and ran the place and then I got poached by a firm in London and joined them. Part of the [Ager?] group. And —
CB: What were you doing there?
TP: Machine tools. They were selling second hand but buying new machines from the continent and selling them to distributors in England and that’s when I came in. And I was made a director and we were well away and then after twenty two years or more of that I decided it was time to quit. I was asked to look after the interests of one of the companies for a couple of years in Spain to see what they could do. And so I virtually went into retirement and just worked from home with this guy in Spain. But I don’t regret it, you know. It was a —
CB: At what age did you retire?
TP: I think it was ’86 so I would have been —
CB: So - but your full time work when you gave up working as a director.
TP: Oh when I gave up full time work was — sixty one, about ‘83 or something like that. 1983.
CB: How old were you then?
TP: I was sixty.
CB: Sixty.
TP: Roughly. Because I was born in ’25.
CB: Yeah.
TP: So there you go. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
TP: I was fifty eight. But —and I spent the last few years helping this guy organise in Spain.
CB: What was he doing?
TP: Selling machine tools.
CB: Oh he was. In Spain.
TP: No. In England.
CB: Oh in England.
TP: You know, anywhere. I sold a few in Europe and beyond and made a comfortable living.
CB: Yeah.
TP: I wasn’t pushed. Didn’t want the hassle.
CB: No.
TP: And I certainly couldn’t bear it today with everybody got the mobile phones and GPS, you know.
CB: Yeah. Nightmare.
TP: Yeah. I ran — when I was working for the firm in London and was a director I also ran their service department.
CB: Oh yeah.
TP: Had five or six service engineers you’ve got to keep tabs on all the while. Well it’s easier now than what it was then of course but in those days if you know send an engineer into Wales and they’d alter all the signposts around and that [laughs] They didn’t want the English in.
CB: No. No. Right. What would you say was the most memorable experience you had in the war?
TP: First solo. That is something which — you’re free.
CB: Yeah.
TP: You’re on your own.
CB: Achievement.
TP: Achievement. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: How many hours? Do you remember?
TP: What?
CB: How many hours had you done to get to solo?
TP: Ten or eleven. Something like that. You only had twelve hours. About that but if you went solo you got extra time EFTS.
CB: Right.
TP: They took that into consideration. But I still remember the guy — he was the pilot of Blackburn Botha.
CB: Yes.
TP: That took me for my flying test.
CB: Oh was it?
TP: And he was a big bloke. Oh he must have been about eighteen stone.
CB: In a Tiger Moth.
TP: In a Tiger Moth.
CB: Crikey.
TP: ‘Don’t forget laddie. Without me being there you’re going to go up. ’
CB: Oh yes. On your own.
TP: I mean Brough airfield had got a — it was sort of almost below sea level.
CB: Oh right.
TP: They’ve got a dyke all the way around it. On the estuary. And you’ve got to clear. So with him in the front you cleared it but without him in the front you were —
CB: Amazing.
TP: You were up to a thousand feet before you reached the front perimeter.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Well Tom it’s been really interesting. Thank you very much indeed.
TP: Thank you.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Thomas Peter Payne. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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