Interview with Doug Petty


Interview with Doug Petty


Born in Shildon, County Durham Doug Petty was a car maintenance apprentice before joining the Royal Air Force in 1942 as a flight engineer.
He completed technical training at RAF St Athan, where he met Betty, his future wife. From there Doug went to the Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Topcliffe to meet his Canadian crew before being posted to 429 Sqn at RAF Leeming. He recalls his pilot was removed for lack of moral fibre and they had to find another one. Doug learned to fly the Halifax in case the pilot was injured and from there the crew completed a tour of 30 operations together. He says each crew lived in a house on the station instead of in the mess.
Doug flew mine-laying operations to Norway to keep the Tirpitz from the convoys and during this period they shot down a Ju88. Some of the crew were awarded medals while Doug was commissioned. On another operation Doug was away from his engineer panel when shrapnel hit it. He says he kept that piece of shrapnel for many years.
For their last three operations, the crew converted to Lancasters but Doug tells us he preferred the Halifax because it was easier to move around in. He also describes the carburettor icing problems on the Bristol Hercules engine.
He was relieved to complete his last operation, having recently married Betty and was sent to India where he recalls that flying with the Indian Air Force was more frightening than wartime operations.
After being demobbed, Doug went to work at Cardiff Airport and then London Airport in charge of aerodrome equipment. He recalls the arrival of the first Russian airliner.
Doug left aviation for the Forestry Commission and found it ironic that he helped clear a bombing range of unexploded ordnance, which he had probably dropped, before planting new trees there. He was invited to fly in the Goodyear airship and took his teenage daughter along.
Doug says he was determined to tell his own experiences because his father had never spoken about his WW1 service.




Temporal Coverage



00:53:28 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit and




GR: Right, this is Gary Rushbrooke for the Bomber Command centre, and, we are today with Flying Officer Douglas Petty, it’s the thirty-first of August and we are at Doug’s home in York. So, er, right Doug, can you tell me a little bit about yourself, I know we’re in York, er, was you born here or?
DP: No, I was born in Shildon in County Durham but I was serving an apprenticeship with a garage in Darlington that erm, primarily looked after customers, wealthy customers from North Yorkshire who had either Bentley or Rolls Royce cars, and I’m telling you that because that’s why I ended up as a flight engineer
GR: Ah
DP: Erm, I decided when I got, you were allowed at that time, to stay on if you were in an apprenticeship until you had completed your five years, whereas otherwise you were called up at eighteen. So, at twenty years of age I knew, that I was then going to be taken into the forces in one form or another, so, I decided that I would rather volunteer for the force I wanted to go to, which was the RAF rather than being told I was going somewhere else, and the interesting thing about that, was that I was a twin and my brother Alan said, ‘oh I’m not going to bother’, he said, ‘I’ll just go were ever they send me’, and of course he got recruited into the Army which he didn’t really like. [laughs] But anyway having done that I’d volunteered for the RAF
GR: Were they, what I was going to say, you said you got a twin brother, erm, any other family?
DP: Yes, I’ve got a sister whose seven years younger than me and my parents of course, they’ve been dead for quite a number of years
GR: Yeh, and I believe, I know we were just having a look earlier, that er, your dad was in World War one
DP: Yes, he was in World War one, erm, he also [emphasis] did quite well, he came, he was, he came from, not a farming, he was a farmer’s labourer’s son and had never seen anything else other than working on someone’s farm, and he volunteered to go into the army in the first World War and, because he was so good at what he was doing, within two years he was a sergeant and within a year after that he was a lieutenant and so he’d done very well. But, one of the interesting things about it, I only found out all of this when I looked into his history after he died, because he never talked about any of it or told us anything about it, so I made up my mind when that happened, I thought well, this is silly I said, because people in the future want to know what happened in the past, so I made sure since then that I made sure that my records, and all that I’ve done are recorded at Leeming in particular and also Elvington
GR: Yes
DP: And of course, now they are going to be at Lincoln
GR: Yes, yes, ah that’s good. So, yes you were an apprentice?
DP: I was an apprentice and I was working on Rolls Royce and Bentley cars, so when I went along to volunteer for the RAF, the recruiting officer said to me, ‘What do you want to do, Petty?’, and I said, ‘I’d like to be a pilot’, and he said, ‘What’s your records?’, so I told him, told him what I’d been doing, and he said, ’You’re not going to be a pilot, you’re going to be a flight engineer’. [laughs] So, I went to London for initial training, etcetera, then to Torquay
GR: Right, would this be nineteen forty-two, forty-three?
DP: Nineteen forty-two
GR: You joined up in nineteen forty-two?
DP: Well the end of forty-two, beginning of forty-three, er went
GR: And from volunteering and going to the recruiting office, did they send you straight to London, or?
DP: Straight to London
GR: Oh, right yeh
DP: Where you erm, you were fitted out with uniform, and er all the various details and what, what service you wanted to do and things you want to do etcetera, it was all sorted out there. Then eventually then, from there, those of us who were going to be flight engineers, erm, well all ranks and all sections in the air force, we all went to Torquay for initial training where you were marched up and down with a little white flash in the top of your cap [laughs] and for quite a period of time. And from there I went to St Athan, in South Wales, where they were training flight engineers. I was there for six months, roundabout six months, undergoing training, but that was very interesting, they got us on engines, we had an instructor called Professor Tizard, and he was a wonderful man, he knew his engines inside out, both radial and inline engines, but he also had another thing which he practised and that was physiotherapy [laughs] and if anyone complained that they had a bad back and anything like that, amongst the students, he would just say, ‘right clear all the stuff off the table lads’, he said, he used to put the lad, whoever it was on there and then start kneading his back, [laughs] but anyway it was a good training. And from there I went on leave for a short while, and then I was posted up to North Yorkshire, erm, to the Heavy Conversion Unit at Topcliffe, and that’s when you met the crews you were going to fly with, and of course we were told at the time that this was all Canadians, so as a young lad, a twenty year old, you wondered who on earth you were going to meet, people from a place like Canada, which in those days was so far away it was remote
GR: Yes, yes
DP: But, you, the important thing was, you were totally allowed to mix with anyone and everyone until you eventually found people that you could mix with and talk to, and to me, in retrospect, I think that was one of the most important things that they ever did. Whether the RAF did it, as well as the Canadians I don’t know, but certainly the Canadians did it, you had to find your own crew
GR: Yes
DP: Yes, and find your own friends
GR: I know other people I’ve spoken to, yeh, when they were crewing up, they were literally all put in a big room and you just went round
DP: And chatted to people
GR: Like a pilot would come up and say, ‘what do you do?’, ‘I’m a rear gunner’, ‘oh do you fancy being in my crew?’, so yes, the RAF did
DP: Yes, oh well
GR: Exactly the same
DP: That’s interesting to know, because then, I’ve chatted to other people and no one’s ever said that directly to me
GR: Oh, definitely, yeh
DP: But, the Canadians certainly adopted the same system
GR: But when the Canadians were there, so you were there at Topcliffe to crew up, were the other six already a crew?
DP: They were already a crew, they had come from, Canada as a crew and training on of course, on twin-engine aircraft so they didn’t need a flight engineer. So, you trotted around until you met the six who were all together and then of course we started our training
GR: So, they adopted you, they were there looking for a flight engineer and they thought, we’ll have this one
DP: We’ll have this one, yes
DP: They used to make fun of my, a great deal of fun of my accent in those days, because I had a Durham accent, which sort of lengthened [laughs] the erm, some of the words but erm, they used to take the mickey out of me, but never mind, I got my own back in many ways [laughs]
GR: We’ll come to that
DP: It was good, because you got to know each other and you got to know, everything about each other and what went on. Now, after we completed at Topcliffe doing our training at the Heavy Conversion Unit, we then went to Leeming as a crew, and there you started doing your, virtually training again in actual fact, erm, as a crew, and one of the things that they did which was slightly different I think, to the RAF, was that most of the Canadians, trained for the particular post that they filled, whatever it was, pilot, navigator, bomb aimer etcetera, so you didn’t have, shall we say, bomb aimers or navigators who trained as pilots
GR: Right
DP: So, the consequence was someone had to be trained to fly the aircraft, so the first thing that they started with the flight engineer, was that you had to do so many hours on a link trainer, so I did something like thirty hours on a link trainer and then when we started training flying, I had to do landings, I had to land the aircraft to make sure there was someone available if anything happened to the pilot
GR: To the pilot
DP: So, I also learnt to fly the aircraft [laughs]
GR: Which is good, so in theory a second pilot
DP: Yes, yes, yes, of course as I said the Canadians didn’t have anyone who failed in one course, it was just the way they did things I suppose?
GR: And this was on Halifax?
DP: This was on Halifax’s then, yes. Originally of course on Rolls Royce engines, but later on, when we got on the squadron, we also flew Halifax’s with the Bristol radial engines. People have asked me many a time which I preferred, the inline engine or the radial engine, and I think obviously for one important reason I preferred the inline engine, and people have asked me before about this and have said well why what’s the difference, and I said well stop to think about it for a moment, I said because if you had an inline engine which was about four, four and a half feet long and the carburetor was at the back of the engine, I said, the air coming in onto the engine when you were flying, was warm by passing over the engine, so, there was very little problem with the carburetor, but, I said, with the radial engine which was only about eight, two feet eighteen inches, two feet from front to back, I said, the air had very little chance to get it warm, so, I said, quite often when you were coming back after you’d dropped your bombs, and you were doing a gradual descent with the engines throttled back, I said, you get your carburettors icing up, on radial engines, and I said, on one occasion we came, er, we were dropping back and we’d got two engines, er, two carburettors iced up, so I said, the only thing we could do then, was level out and increase the revs to heat the engines up again and eventually get them freed again, so we had, but on one occasion, in fact, we had to come back with one engine permanently feathered because it just wouldn’t unfreeze, wouldn’t, the carburetor. The carburettors in particular, was the Stromberg carburetor on those engines, which seemed to be quite susceptible to freezing if you didn’t make sure that didn’t get the engine warm enough to stop that happening. Erm, and we came back on that occasion, er, I think if I remember rightly, and I can, and I was doubtful about the height, but if you were below something like three or four thousand feet, as you came over the English coast, you had to fire off the colours of the day to let them know that you were
GR: Otherwise the local defence, anti-aircraft
DP: They think you might be opposite, so, that was another job the flight engineer did if you were coming back with engines feathered or faults and you’re low, was to make sure the colours of the day went off as you came over the coast, [laughs] to let them know that you were friendly [laughs]
GR: So, going back to Leeming, you were posted to 429 squadron
DP: Yes
GR: Erm, when was you first, how much training did you do at Leeming before first operation?
DP: Erm, we landed, we came, landed at Leeming on [pause] early March and we did the first operation at the end of March, so we were
GR: About a month?
DP: About three weeks
GR: Three weeks
DP: Yes, with training there, er, of one sort and another, and of course with me having to do something like thirty hours on the link trainer as well to make sure I could fly the aircraft, [laughs] and then we eventually, and then of course the thing that happened then, was that each member of a new crew went with an experienced crew on an operation. Erm, and people often say to me, why did you do thirty-one ops and I said well, because I went on one with another crew, and I said, as did all the rest of my crew, and I said, my pilot went on his, and when he came back he said, ‘that’s it, I’m not doing anymore’, [laughs] and he was as far as we know, he was sent to Sheffield to the detention centre for lack of moral fibre
GR: Oh right
DP: But we never heard of him again, quite honestly
GR: So, the original pilot, the six of them?
DP: That was it
GR: He just did one and?
DP: So, we had to go back again to the Heavy Conversion Unit, and our pilot that we flew with Mitch, Robert Mitchell, he’d come over on his own because he’d been training other pilots in Canada, he was a particularly good pilot and had spent quite a bit of time training new pilots, and then came over on his own, so the reverse happened. Instead of six people looking for an engineer, it was six people looking for a pilot [laughs] So, anyway again, we
GR: Was that unnerving at the time, the fact that, that pilot had come back and?
DP: Well, we hadn’t flown with him on any operations, so in a sense it wasn’t
GR: Right
DP: I suppose if we’d flown any operations, but as we were each going with an experienced crew, we erm, we didn’t know that fact that he just didn’t have the courage to carry on
GR: So, on your first trip, you know as, with the experienced crew, can you remember where you went to, do you remember what the raid was, or what it was like, what did you feel about it?
DP: Well, I’ve got my records but, erm, I’d have to look at it to find out which one it was
GR: Oh, no worries
DP: As far as I can remember [pause] no I can’t
GR: No
DP: I need to look at my records to see where it was, it wasn’t a particularly long one anyway
GR: No
DP: Now, one of the things that happened to us, and I think this is interesting really, is that our bomb aimer turned out to be particularly good. I mean there’s probably more people know at that time if you got within five miles of the target, they considered that you’d done extremely well, [laughs] but our bomb aimer was extremely good at making sure that we were at least somewhere near the correct aiming point, so much so, that they decided on squadron that we were an ideal crew for mine laying. So, we did nine operations mine laying. [laughs] Now, this is totally different to bombing because bombing is at nineteen to twenty thousand feet, mine laying you were down about six hundred feet
GR: And was that as a single aircraft?
DP: No, there was often, probably four, or half a dozen aircraft mine laying, and of course it was in the Norwegian Fjords and the Baltic, where we were doing this, and quite often you’d be given the target where there was probably, obviously a German battleship, loitering and hiding, waiting to come out and attack, convoys in the, in the, on the way to, between Russia and us
GR: Yeh, so this would be, this was, March nineteen forty-four, weren’t it?
DP: Yes, yes, or just after it
GR: And that was going up to Norway when the Tirpitz was laid up?
DP: Yes, yes
GR: And they were doing a lot of mine laying, to prevent the Tirpitz coming
DP: That’s right
GR: Yeh
DP: So, we did nine of those, and they were, well, exciting as well as interesting because it was on one of those that a JU 88 attacked us, and the mid upper gunner managed to shoot him down. He came in from above because we were obviously, we were flying so low, but this fella came in from above to attack us and the mid upper gunner got him and shot him down, and of course there was this big shout of glee from the upper turret, ‘I’ve shot the bugger’, [laughs]
GR: I’ve got him, did you sustain any damage or?
DP: We had some, he’d had a go at us and there was a few, one or two holes in the fuselage, but nothing serious. So, when we got back, the, well, at the end of doing the nine, mine laying, because we did further bombing raids after that, we ended up then with the pilot, the navigator, the bomb aimer, the mid upper turret, the mid upper gunner all with DFC’s, we had four DFC’s in the crew, and I was, I mean, also and I got rewarded for it in the sense that I was then called to see the C.O. and told that I was going to be commissioned
GR: Right
DP: I suppose that was because they wanted to keep the DFC’s for themselves, you know, for the Canadians, well obviously I would understand it if they did, they didn’t want to give any that were, they could allocate too, to anyone else
GR: You can understand, yes, your bomb aimer was very good and obviously got the DFC for that, your mid upper gunner if he shot down a JU 88 and they tended to get an award, but er
DP: But I was quite happy, so we ended up in actual fact, with six commissioned officers and one sergeant who was the radio operator [laughs]
GR: Ah, right, yes
DP: Oh dear, but they were a, they were, I can think. One of the things about the mine laying trips which erm, I really liked the Norwegians for, and so, also the Baltic as well, was, when they heard you coming you’d see lights going on in all the houses, obviously they’d give you, they’d guide you in to what you wanted to do, and then after you’d dropped your mines and you were coming out, you’d see the lights had started to go out again as the German troops went round
DP: Oh dear, but of course with us flying at about six hundred feet to drop mines, I mean, the anti-aircraft guns weren’t any use, so they had to rely on fighters to do any attacking, and they did a lot of damage I must admit did the German fighters, because there was four of us went from 429 Squadron on one particular raid and out of the four we were the only ones to come back
GR: Oh, right
DP: They got three of them, the fighters, but of course you are doing a long run in on a steady course, at six hundred feet, and the bomb aimers saying, ‘steady, steady, steady’,
GR: Were these daylight or night time?
DP: They were both
GR: Both, yeh
DP: Yes, we could lay mines at night as well which was a good thing, but er, you were doing a lot of flying at about six hundred feet on a steady course, so you were very, you know, very prone to the German fighters
GR: You would be, yeh
DP: Having a go at you, at least when you were on the normal bombing raid you could take evasive action by corkscrewing and things, but on mine laying, you couldn’t, not at that height. [laughs] So, it was a case of flying straight and level for quite a long time, a relatively long time, you know, maybe twenty minutes or so you see, so erm
GR: And, when you said, out of the four of you that went, you were the only ones to come back, did later on, did you find out exactly what happened to the other three, or?
DP: They were shot down
GR: They were all shot down?
DP: Yes, they were all shot down, yes, yes, but what happened to them, erm, whether they landed on land, or whether they landed in the water, I don’t know
GR: You don’t know?
DP: I was never able to find out
GR: Were they all from the same squadron, 429?
DP: Yes, yes, all from 429
GR: That’s a big loss in one night
DP: It is a big loss, isn’t it, yes, three aircraft
GR: And probably makes you think twice
DP: Yes, yes
GR: So, then you went back on bombing operations?
DP: Well, they were mixed all the way through, they weren’t done totally separately, and they were mixed all the way through, erm
GR: ‘Cos how long did your tour last, if you started roundabout end of March forty four?
DP: We did the last one in March forty five
GR: Oh, right
DP: So, we did twelve months, but of course there was the break in between going back to Heavy Conversion Unit, and back again
GR: Ah
DP: That’s why it took so long to do thirty-one operations [laughs]
GR: And, were they all on Halifax’s, or?
DP: No
GR: No
DP: Er, again in retrospect, you’d think why on earth did they do it? But, we had three operations to do to the end of our tour and then they converted us on to Lancasters. Why they didn’t leave us to finish off on Halifax’s, I do not know, so we had that break when we spent almost a month converting to a Lancaster and learning to fly a Lancaster, and then to do our last three operations [laughs]
GR: Well, I must admit it does seem, strange
DP: It was strange wasn’t it, it was yes
GR: Although, it gave you, er, not an experience but yeh, you are somebody who actually flew both aircraft
DP: Yes, I think in actual fact, if you think logical about it, it was probably because they wanted to get, they’d been told by the Air Ministry that all the Halifax’s were going out and they were sending Lancasters in. So, it was a case that they were having to convert you, rather than just doing it out of awkwardness [laughs]
GR: And what did you feel about the two aircraft? I know we spoke briefly before the recording, but er, which aircraft did you prefer?
DP: Well, as I said before, I think I preferred the Halifax purely and simply, although it wasn’t as fast as the Lancaster and it couldn’t carry as big a bomb load and couldn’t fly quite as high, it was easier to move around in, and I think probably in retrospect that made you feel safer, knowing it was easier to get out of, if you needed to do so. Because of the problem with that, I mean, getting back over, well one of the things that I liked about the Halifax as well, as a flight engineer, was the fact that [coughs] you would sometimes get hang ups, and the bomb aimer would say, ‘number’s one, three and seven haven’t gone’. So, it was the flight engineer’s job to go down the fuselage straight away, and take off sort of a twelve-inched diameter metal cover where each bomb was, there were turn buckles on the top, took them off, put your hand down and then manually release them, and then put that cover back on, do the next one and get rid of the next one. And, we’d been on a daylight raid and we were coming back, and the bomb aimer, on the way back and we were descending, erm, flying, and he said, ‘we’ve got three hang ups’, and that was the most we ever had, and of course, I had to nip down the fuselage and take these three circular covers off and trigger them with my hand, and get rid of the three of them, and the bomb aimer then said to the pilot, ‘bombs gone, you can close the bomb doors’, now, ‘cos you’re flying with the bomb doors open of course, which slows you down and erm, so I put the covers back and when I got back I plugged into the intercom again, and he said, ‘you did very well Doug’, I said, ‘what do you mean?’, he said, ‘you dropped them on a little village’, [laughs] oh, dear, dear, dear. Yes, and that was a Sunday daylight raid so somebody was probably sat out with their lunches [laughs] but you don’t know what you’re doing with them, you had no idea, do you?
GR: No
DP: No idea, yes, erm
GR: So, thirty-one operations over the period, forty-four into forty-five
DP: Yes, yes, just about twelve months from one to the other, yes. So, whatever happened to our first pilot, of course, we will never know whether he was just sent back to Canada or, erm, I would imagine probably from hearing of other people that went to Sheffield with lack of moral fibre that they were immediately demoted, I think that’s normally what happened to them, and they were. I think quite often, that I’ve heard from other people that sometimes they make people who’d simply been put on ground duties or something like that?
GR: Yeh, literally working in the kitchens whatever they, not the worst job, but you know they’d be demoted to probably to AC2 or something like that, and just, yeh
DP: One of the things that, always tickled me was that on 427 Squadron, they started the habit, erm, [laughs] on their last operation, everybody would use the Elsan toilet and then the flight engineer would throw it out over Germany, [laughs] until everybody got told off, [laughs] about all these disappearing Elsan toilets
GR: So, did you do that on your last op?
DP: No
GR: No, no
DP: No, we’d all been told off about it before then, but it was 427 Squadron that started that habit
GR: And, over the period of the thirty-one operations, any close calls or?
DP: Erm
GR: Obviously you were attacked by the JU 88
DP: Oh, yes, yes by the JU 88, yes, we got shot up quite a bit on one, and it was anti-aircraft fire more than anything else, and in fact, erm, I was up beside the pilot fortunately, on the Halifax and because we were going into the target, and that’s where I was, beside the pilot, and not on my engineering panel. On the Lancaster, you were sat there anyway because the engineering pilot was immediately on the right in the second pilot position, but on the Halifax, it was behind the pilot, on the panel there, and I’d left my panel to be with the pilot while we were going into the target, and when I went back to my panel to check again, there was a lump of shrapnel in the engineer’s panel. It had come through the Perspex cover and it was quite big, it was about two inches long, from an anti-aircraft shell, and it had come through the Perspex and it was stuck in the panel, And, I kept it for many, many years as a souvenir [laughs] of that particular raid, but where it is now I don’t know, it probably got lost when we moved houses at some time, but er, I used to show that to people and say, ‘look, that nearly hit me’, [laughs] but it didn’t because I wasn’t there in actual fact, I wasn’t there
GR: So, what did it feel like to get back, after your last operation and you knew that was it?
DP: A great deal of relief I suppose, and yet at the same time, people have asked me this question so often before, and what was it like, what was it like on operations? And, obviously I was relieved, pleased, but I suppose it was in many ways, first of all let me go back a bit
GR: Yes
DP: At Leeming, it was a permanent station, so they had houses, two rows of houses on the station for staff, and what they decided to do there, was that the permanent staff on the station, lived in the mess’s, and the houses were allocated to crews. So, a crew, no matter what your rank was, lived together in a house
GR: Right, which is different to a lot of bases
DP: Oh, yes
GR: So, you had your own house?
DP: We had our own house, and there was seven of you in a house and there was two rooms downstairs, there was three, two rooms upstairs and a bathroom, so normally two people would share a room, and you lived together there, and you worked together, so, you knew everybody intimately and you had to learn to live together, didn’t you?
GR: Yes
DP: The drawback to that was, we very quickly found out, that you’d probably be in the mess, then you’d walk back to your house and you’d see a vehicle outside, next door or a few down the road, with ground crew loading luggage into it, and you knew very well that that was a crew that had gone, and their luggage was taken, and even if you hadn’t been told that an aircraft had been lost, the fact that you saw this happening, you knew one had. I think to me, that was one of the things that was wrong, the fact that you’d got to know that a crew had been lost, by the fact they were taking all their personal belongings out of the house
GR: But, that obviously happened on every other base where, wherever?
DP: But, it must have done, yes, yes, but it had to done and that was the end of it, it had to be done, yes
GR: So, yes, so, so, yes, a feeling of relief when your operations finished, erm?
DP: Yes, yes, definitely, and the fact that I had only just got married, in the February, and we finished at the end of March, [laughs] that also was an additional reason for a feeling of relief
GR: So, did you, did you meet your wife during the course of the war, or?
DP: yes, when I was at St Athan in South Wales, where I was training as a flight engineer, erm, that was interesting as well because this happened to be a Sunday or something like that, and a friend of mine and I had set out, and we said, ‘oh come on we’ll go into Cardiff and have a look round there’. So we got on a train and went into Cardiff, and we came out of the station, and the first building, in those days anyway, was just outside the station concourse, and was the YMCA, and, oh we’ll’ go there and have something to eat or something like that, so we were going up the stairs to the YMCA which was on the top floor, and coming down the stairs was two young ladies, [laughs] and we started to talk to them, and they said what are you doing today and we said we are just in town, we are going to have something to eat and then have a look round. They said, well, would you like to go to a party? [laughs] we said, what sort of? they said, we are having a party at this other girl’s house, June Ranbury, her name was, and mine was Betty Edwards, and we said yes, we don’t mind going to a party the two of us, so they took us and we had to get on the bus and go to this person’s house. When we got there, the girls said, we have decided which one we want, and this June Ranbury wanted me and the Betty Edwards said she’d have the other fella, but anyway erm, there was some discussion when we got there and we decided that they’d made the wrong decision and that I preferred Betty Edwards and he preferred the other one [laughter] and that’s how we got together
GR: And that’s how it worked out
DP: That’s how it worked out, yes
GR: So, was Betty in the services, was she?
DP: No, she was in the Royal Ordnance factory, and that always tickles me because she was eighteen-year-old, eighteen years old, and she was put on a, trained to work a lathe, turning gun barrels for tanks, an eighteen-year-old girl turning gun barrels for tanks, [laughs] and that was an interesting life at that age because they used to work twelve-hour shifts, twelve hours day for a fortnight, twelve hours nights for a fortnight, turning gun barrels, erm
GR: I think that’s what a lot of people forget, erm, obviously, the majority of the men, and some of the women, were off fighting
DP: Yes, yes
GR: But the whole country was, erm, was working to make that possible
DP: To make it happen, yes
GR: Erm, and yeh, all the young girls went in to some sort of, whether it was making uniforms, making armaments, and they were doing something, working on the land to produce the food, so
DP: She had some stories, some interesting stories, I’ll tell you about that because, they had people come from various organisations, when it was their meal break, in the middle of the night or the middle of the day, to talk to them, obviously, erm, encouragement to keep on working, and she said on two occasions, they had a Russian airman come to talk to them who could speak English
GR: That’s good
DP: Yes, what they were doing in this country I’ve no idea, but she said they used to say, it’s great that we are comrades and that sort of thing, she said, she will always remember that, and she said, how we used to cheer them and this sort of thing, the fact that they were all so involved in the war
GR: So, you carried on a romance, you got married in February, finished your ops in March, what happened to you then?
DP: Well, I decided, that I liked being involved with aircraft, so I applied and I joined what was then, the Department of Civil Aviation
GR: Right, is this after you were demobbed or while you were still?
DP: After I was demobbed
GR: Right
DP: Yes, yes
GR: Sorry, I’ll go back. Where were you on VE Day? So, if you finished March forty-five, May forty-five, can you remember where you were, on leave or?
DP: I was on leave, but I can’t, I’ve tried and tried to remember what we did, my wife and I at that time, but I just can’t remember what we did, but anyway
GR: But, when was you demobbed, I presume you were demobbed in ooh, forty-six, forty-seven
DP: Yes, I was demobbed in [pause] when was it, I’ve got the date somewhere?
GR: I know you said you got sent to India, didn’t you?
DP: Yes, I came home from India in the March, which was, the country was deep in snow, and I had, I suppose something like six weeks leave, so it was April to the beginning of May, when I actually, officially left the RAF, and that’s when I decided that I liked being involved with aviation, and it just so happened that they were looking for a mechanical engineer at Cardiff Airport, and I applied for it and I got the job. Cardiff Airport at that time was at Pengam Moors, and I can add a little story to this which is interesting. Because, because it was at Pengam Moors, the runway was only a single runway, one end of it was over Cardiff and the other end was over the salt marshes. So, because there was a possibility of aircraft running off the end of the runway, we were equipped with airbags, large airbags and a compressor which was used to rescue these things, and I hadn’t been there very long, when a phone call came from Bristol which was the headquarters, to say that Bill Pegg had put the Bristol Britannia down in the mud on the River Severn, because he had an engine on fire, and this was in February, and because I was the nearest airport, with airbags, would I take a couple of men and go there and to help to rescue this thing. So, off we went in February, and I took two men with me, and we got across to the other side of the Severn, on then, what was a ferry at [unclear] which was part of the way across, and it wasn’t far away from where he’d ditched the aircraft. So, we got there and there we were in February three of us, wading about in mud, for two days, while they took, while they, all the staff from Bristol, took the seats out of the aircraft, and then we filled the fuselage with airbags and inflated them, so when the tide came in, the thing floated, and the army had come with a big crane, they hauled it to the side so they could then lift it out, onto the hard surface where we were able to get our airbags out then, and get back to work again and at least I got a letter of commendation from the Managing Director of Bristol Airways for helping to rescue their plane [laughs]
GR: Rescue the aircraft
DP: [laughs] Yes, and another thing which is interesting. I moved from there to London airport as the engineer in charge, and in those days, there was two of us because there was a central area and there was a north side, and in those days all the equipment on an aerodrome belonged to Civil Aviation. Now, it belongs to the airlines themselves, but in those days, it belonged to Civil Aviation, so they had to have someone there to look, to be in charge of looking after it. I was given the central area, where we had fuel bowsers, steps and tractors, all sorts of things, equipment like that, and the interesting thing which that I think they probably got rid of years ago, was my workshop was in the central area but it was underground, so, it was down a long ramp into the workshop and back out again with everything. In nineteen fifty-five, I think it was, fifty-five or fifty-six, Russia decided that they would like to introduce passenger flights from Moscow to London, so they were told by Civil Aviation that they would have to send an aircraft over and it would have to undergo certain tests and one thing and the other, to ensure that everything was okay, and it was a Tupolev, what was it, a Tupolev 1, 0, something, it was an ex bomber anyway, and it had been converted to a civil airline, and they’d taken all the innards out of it and put seats in it, it could seat about thirty people I think, if I remember rightly. Anyway, it arrived, this is the important thing, and as the engineer in charge of the central area, I was charged with making sure it was re-fuelled and everything was done necessary. So, when it finished, I went up to the aircraft, and the crew incidentally, could all speak English, I got hold of the engineer and I said right, ‘we are ready to refuel your aircraft’, he said ‘no, no, no’, I said, ‘why, why not?’ ‘I need to test the fuel first’, he said, and the tanker was in three compartments, so we had to get some steps so we could get up there and take a sample of each compartment and take it back on his aircraft and test it, to make sure that we hadn’t tampered with it, and then eventually he came out and said, ‘yes, okay, you can refuel the aircraft’, [laughs] So, we got it refuelled and got it all ready for take-off, and then the boss there said, well when it does the, or the Civil Aviation said, for this trial it has to have a full passenger load, to take off, and it had to fly out on what was green one in those days, which was the main approach and take off way out and fly out over Europe which was Brussels and back again, and land with a full passenger load, you see, to make sure everything was okay, so Douglas made sure he was one of the passengers [laughter] So, we got on this aircraft, this Tupolev 104, erm, and there were two hostesses on board, and we were only flying I should think, about an hour and a half out over Europe and back again to land, and during that time we were fed with caviar and champagne [laughter] and, back it came and it was accepted so they started. So, I think, whether any of the other people, or any of the twenty-nine or so who went on that are still alive, I don’t know, so I am certainly one of the very few people on a
GR: The first Russian
DP: Russian aircraft
GR: I thought you were going to say the aircraft was that bad or that dodgy that you couldn’t get any passengers and
DP: No, we did alright, yeh, no, I mean in those days when you were young, you didn’t think of the danger of it, but er, it was just an experience that’s all to fly on a Russian aircraft in those days
GR: Oh, God, yeh
DP: Without a doubt
GR: I know you were telling me before and it was just a little story, that when you finished at the airport, you went to be a forestry engineer?
DP: Yes, yes
GR: Erm, and there was a story about ploughing a field?
DP: Oh, yes, yes, well it was, it was, the mechanical engineer for the North of England, based in York, and that’s what, why I still live in York, for all these years, erm, [pause] and we at that time, the Forestry Commission was very busy throughout the country, Scotland in particular, and the North of England, acquiring land and planting it erm, to get softwoods for papermaking and that sort of thing, because most before that had been imported from places like Canada and places like that, erm, and the government had decided that we really ought to have far more of our own produce for paper, trees for paper, rather than importing it all. So, large areas, vast areas of land in those days were acquired and the North Yorkshire moors was part of it and a lot of planting was done over the years, but, unfortunately, in one sense, one area was where, when we were flying during the war, was used as a practice bombing area on the North York moors, and it had been marked out with a great big RAF roundel about, probably about thirty feet across, and we used to drop eleven-pound practise bombs. These were all recorded, a camera on the aircraft recorded where you’d dropped them and that, to see whether you’d managed to hit this big target [laughs] and you were only flying at about five to six thousand feet dropping these eleven-pound practise bombs, but consequently the whole of that area was scattered with these things, so when it was decided, when I joined the Forestry Commission, that this area had to be planted. Ploughing was done between two foot six to three foot deep in peat, and to provide a mound to plant trees on, to keep them out of the water and so of course, the first thing that had to be done, it had to be cleared of all these bombs, so, the army disposal people were called in for quite a long time going all over this area and they eventually produced quite a big heap of these things, which were eventually blown up, er, but they said, that of course we can’t have got them all, so you must be careful when you are ploughing it. So, the first thing that was, we decided had to be done was that the ploughing tractor which was a crawler tractor working on peat, was to fit armour plating on it for the driver to protect him at least [laughs] from anything that may happen buy fortunately nothing ever did. [laughs] One or two more bombs were turned up, but er, they’d either gone off or they were, turning them up in peat didn’t make any difference to them and they were eventually all disposed of, and it was eventually planted, but it struck me as being ironic that I’d been involved in dropping them in the first place [laughs] and involved in getting rid of them in the second place
GR: [inaudible] Twenty-five, thirty years later [laughs]
DP: Yes [laughs]
GR: Oh, that is good
DP: Yes, oh, dear
GR: That’s wonderful Doug, I shall pause it there, thank you
DP: Yes, as I said earlier on, I was posted to their headquarters, and for some peculiar reason I was put in charge of statistics, which a section, with, what was known then as Hollerith machines, and I had eight girls, Anglo-Indian girls and the Hollerith machine was a punch card system, so information would come in from all the units of how many aircraft they had or how many sergeants they had or whatever, and these girls would punch these cards, and then they were fed into the Hollerith machines and the holes were read by the machine
GR: Yes
DP: And then, the information would come out as statistics you see, and I hadn’t been there very long in charge of this, only a week or two, and these statistics came out, and they didn’t agree with what the station had said on a previous occasion about how many, I’ve forgotten what it was, personnel or whatever, that they had, so I thought well, this was in, I was in Delhi by the way and this was in [unclear] so, I went to the Wing Commander and said, ‘excuse me sir’, I said, ‘I’ve got this discrepancy here between what has come up on the Hollerith machine’, I said, ‘and what the units say’, I said, ‘what do I do about it sir?’, he said, ‘you know what to do Petty’, I said, ‘and what’s that sir?’ he said, ‘you get yourself down there [laughs] and count them yourself’, [laughs] I thought this is daft, so I said, ‘ok sir, ok’, so I said, ‘how do I get down there?’ and he said, ‘get on to the Indian air force’, he said, ‘if they’ve got anything going down in that direction, they can take you’. So of course, I got onto the Indian air force and said, ‘have you got anything going down to Secunderabad?’ and that, oh, they had something going next week or something like that, and I said, ‘right oh, and can I go with him?’, ‘Yes, yes of course you can’, so I went to the airport, the Indian airport, whatever the date was and it was a Dakota and an Indian pilot, and we met each other and said, ‘how do you do’, and that sort of thing, and I said, ‘I’m coming with you’, ‘Oh, that’s great, that’s great, somebody to talk to’, sort of thing, so we took off and we are flying down India and we were probably at about six thousand feet, five or six thousand feet, and in front of us was a massive great big cumulonimbus thunder cloud and I thought oh well, he’ll fly round that, he didn’t, he flew straight into it. We were tossed about all over the place in this Dakota, and eventually we got out of it the other side, and I said to him, ‘General, I don’t want to be rude but’, I said, ‘I’ve flown in Bomber Command’, I said, ‘thirty-one operations’, I said, ‘and I was never really scared’, but I said, ‘with you on this, I was bloody frightened’, [laughs] ‘Oh, I’m sorry’, he said, ‘well it’s no good being sorry, we could have been killed’. [laughs] On another occasion I had to go somewhere, and it wasn’t a Dakota this time, it was another Indian pilot and quite honestly, I don’t know, how their air force ever survived, and I can’t remember what it was but it was a twin, smaller twin engine aircraft that I was er, I could go with him, and we took off and we got up to about three or four thousand, three, something like three thousand feet and he’s sat in the pilot’s seat and I’m sat next to him. He put automatic pilot on and he got up out of his seat and went down the fuselage, to the back, and then came back a few, you know, seconds later really and sat down again, and I said, ‘what was that?’, he said, ‘I’d forgotten I’d taken off on the reserve tanks, instead of the main tanks, so I just went down to change over’, [laughter] Oh, dear, [laughter]
GR: But, you’re still here, so [laughter]
DP: Yes, in this country they, I’ve since then, I’ve flown in two things, I’ve been in a hot air balloon and I’ve been in the Goodyear airship
GR: Oh, interesting
DP: Yes, the Goodyear airship was from Doncaster, erm, and the funny thing was, this was when I was working for the Forestry Commission and I was buying at that time, all the Goodyear tyres
GR: Yep
DP: And, they rang me up this day and they said, ‘by the way we are bringing the Goodyear airship up to Doncaster, would you like a flight in it?’ I said, ‘that sounds very interesting’, he said, ‘would you like to bring anyone with you?’ So, I came home and said to my wife, ‘would you like to fly in an airship?’, and she’d never flown in her life, and she said, ‘no thank you’, but my daughter who was about, in her teens then she said, ‘I’ll go with you Dad’, [laughter] so we went down to Doncaster and had about a forty-minute flight in the Goodyear airship [laughs]
GR: That’s good
DP: Which was very interesting, yeh, very interesting. I enjoyed that, it was a totally uneventful flight it was lovely being able to look at everything at that sort of speed in an airship
GR: Yeh, better than flying in India?



Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Doug Petty,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 26, 2023,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.