Interview with John Wakeford Quine


Interview with John Wakeford Quine



IBCC Digital Archive




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02:48:07 audio recording




AQuineJW160805, PQuineJW1603


CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is Friday the 5th of August 2016. I’m in Lickey with John Quine who was a pilot and he’s going to tell us all about his life and times particularly in the RAF. So what are your earliest recollections of life, John?
JQ: Well my very earliest recollection in life is living in Wales in Penarth. My father was a civil servant and he was working in Cardiff, if I remember rightly and my grandparents were living in Penarth where [pause] where my grandfather had a printing company which was in Tiger Bay. It was only a small company but apparently quite successful. In those days I remember seeing the odd aircraft go across the sky and everybody looked at it because there weren’t many there and they were little bigger than the average light aircraft of these days. Usually with two wings but sometimes one would say, ‘Look, there’s a monoplane.’ And then I remember seeing an airship on a couple of times. It would either be the R100 or the 101, I can’t remember now. Or it could have been both. And they looked absolutely huge in the sky. They weren’t, obviously but seeing a lump like that in the sky was most unusual. At an early age my father interested me in the Schneider Trophy. I missed the first one but the second one I got sort of got interested, and I listened to the commentary on the radio where of course history tells us that we, we won and on the third year we won again and we had won the first one so that gave us the Schneider Trophy permanently and the Schneider Trophy being a race for seaplanes which we won it was a sort of a basis for the Spitfire when Mitchell came to design it. So at that early age I was interested in flying and I used to have model planes which I used to fly around in my hand making the appropriate noises and whatnot as a kid of about five and later on I went on to the extremely technical one of a rubber band being used as a propellant. So that’s how my interest in planes started. And so it went on. I was, remained interested in planes. I used to see Alan Cobham and his air circus. By now we’d moved to Lickey near Birmingham and Alan Cobham used to come once a year to the aerodrome which was at the Austin motor works. The aerodrome now has gone and so has the Austin motor works for that matter but I used to be able to see them doing all the stunts from the house where we lived at the time. I did, on one occasion, go and actually view the circus on, on the aerodrome itself but I didn’t have a flight because in those days it was, if I remember rightly, five shillings for a quick trip and five shillings was quite a lot of money in those days. I well remember one trick which, wing walking and this really was wing walking because they got an aeroplane, something like a Tiger Moth, might have been a Tiger Moth and the chap got out of the seat that he was in, two in the aircraft of course, he got out of the seat and walked around the outside of the aircraft, got on to the wing and walked up and down a bit and waved to the crowd and then he got underneath the underneath wing and sat on the axle that held the landing wheels and they landed the aircraft with him sitting there and I think an extremely dangerous thing to do and certainly wouldn’t be allowed today. So later on when the war started I did a short period in the, in the Home Guard and then I volunteered for, to join the air force. Having decided to volunteer I was walking down a road in Nottingham, my father now having been moved to Nottingham because of the war and I went in and saw the recruiting sergeant and he said, ‘Well what do you want to do in the air force?’ And I said, ‘Well, I think I’d like to be a mechanic.’ I had thought at that time that it, when I came out of the air force it could be useful. Never dreaming that we might of course, lose the war at the time but he said well you, you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t, now I’m overrunning the story a bit. Yeah. I said, ‘Right. Well I’ll go away and think about it. I’ll come back next week,’ which I did. During the week I thought well if I’m going into the air force I might as well be a pilot. So I went back and I said, ‘I’ve changed my mind. I’d like to be a pilot.’ And the recruiting sergeant said, ‘You wouldn’t be any good as a pilot.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ And he said, ‘You didn’t have a secondary school education.’ Secondary schools in those days were, you know almost equal to a grammar school and I said, ‘Well, what makes you think I haven’t had a secondary school education?’ He said, ‘Well have you.’ And I said, ‘Yes. I have. I went to Bromsgrove County High School.’ So he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘. Well, alright, well I’ll put you forward.’ So I didn’t hear anything for three weeks or so as far as I remember and then I was called again and I had to go for an RAF interview and a test which I found extremely easy at the time and went away again and the next thing I knew was I had my discharge papers so I queried this why I’d been discharged when I hadn’t even been in and they said, ‘You’re in a reserved occupation,’ which was quite ridiculous because it wasn’t so very long since I left school but I was working at the Brush Electrical Company in Loughborough and so, anyway they didn’t have any objection to my going. Probably, probably glad I did [laughs] So in the end the matter was resolved and I was taken back into the air force with a different number and so I got in. Now, the sequel to that story is that after I’d been in the air force and got trained and had pilot’s wings and was an officer I was walking down the same road in Nottingham and I thought, I wonder if that recruiting sergeant is still in the recruiting office so I went in and he was. So he still being a sergeant and me an officer he of course jumped to his feet and saluted and I kept him going for about five minutes and then, then I told him and we both had a laugh together.
[machine paused]
CB: Ok.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: Right.
JQ: So having joined the RAF I went to St Johns Wood and the first place I went to was Lord’s Cricket Ground where we had an FFI and I’ve, I’ve had many a laugh with people telling them that I, I’ve been in the famous long room in the pavilion with my trousers down and they say, ‘How on earth did you manage that?’ But that was the reason. Then I went to ITW at Scarborough for a bit. I was quite amazed at the fact that there was quite a few people there that couldn’t swim because that was one of the things that happened there that if you couldn’t swim they taught you to swim there in the local baths and then from there we went out to Carlisle for ten hours attitude training on Tiger Moths and the instructor made a big mistake with me because after I’d been flying for about five hours he said, ‘Oh you’re quite a natural. If you go on like this, in another couple of hours you’ll solo.’ And we weren’t really required to solo there. It was just an attitude test. Well of course having told me that of course I went right off but I did actually solo after nine hours and so that was quite, quite a boost for me and then after a short time in Manchester at Heaton Park we were sent off to Canada in the Andes ship that had been a cruise liner which had been taken over as a troop ship and when we got to Canada we went to Moncton. It was Christmas Day I remember. We got there. We didn’t actually have our Christmas dinner and whatnot until a fortnight later. But then they had us all in a hangar and separated us out and about ninety percent of the people went to Canada but some of us were sent to America. To various places in America but we went to Oklahoma. When we got there they kitted us out with American uniforms which was a sort of summery uniform because it was quite hot at the time but we were, we had our own hats which we wore and our own insignia on the arm but apart from that it was more or less like a summer dress, and we were there for about six months doing ordinary, learning to fly and aerobatics and all that sort of thing and it was on one of these flights that was in a Harvard at the time which was the more advanced trainer that we used and I met, I had, I made a pal of a chap who lived in Redditch which wasn’t very from where I lived at home and we went on a cross country. We were sent on a cross country and we got lost or partly lost. Anyway, we weren’t quite sure where we were and I spotted this town so I thought, and there was a railway there and I thought I wonder if they’ve got the station name written up so I thought I’d go down and have a look and I went down. They hadn’t got the name on the station but they had got it written around a water tower so we knew exactly where we were then. Now the sequel to that story is that when the war had finished with Germany we were sent out to do what we called Cooks Tours over the, over the Germany, over Germany and we took ground crew with us and showed them what they had helped to do and coming back on, from one of these things on a very hot day and flying at about two hundred feet which we were allowed to do everybody was, it was, it was a bit boring and we were, and I think the bomb aimer was getting a bit bored with his life so he, and so was, so was the navigator and so the navigator said, ‘Would you mind skip if I come out and have a look around?’ And I said, ‘No you can’t do that because we shan’t know where we are if you,’ And the bomb aimer said, ‘Well, I’ll map read.’ So I said, ‘Alright then. Well the navigator can come out.’ So he came out and we flew happily along for about another half hour and it was all quiet and so forth apart from the noise of the engines of course and I said to, ‘Where are we Jimmy?’ Jimmy being the bomb aimer. No reply. And so I asked him again. Still no reply. So I said to the engineer, ‘Have a look down and see what’s happened to Jimmy,’ and Jimmy was fast asleep. So we then didn’t know where we were so I thought, right. So I saw this town. I thought I wonder whether they’ve got the name written around a water tower and they had so we were able to use that. So that was fine.
CB: I’ll just stop for a mo.
[machine paused]
CB: So when you were in the States were they military or civilian instructors?
JQ: Oh civilians.
CB: Ok. What sort of people?
JQ: Young, youngish chaps. Quite good flyers they were but some of the seniors were, you know, sort, sort of bosses over them but none of them were that old.
CB: And they hadn’t been called up for the American military and were flying training you.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: And still civilians.
JQ: Yeah. I don’t know how old they were.
CB: Well that’s ok.
JQ: Yeah. Just let me find myself again.
CB: Ok. The intriguing thing here John is that you’re being trained in America by civilians with the war having started and you’re not being trained in Canada so how did they treat you and what were the conditions like?
JQ: Well, we were, we were extremely surprised actually because if you take the food for instance. Here we were coming from a very strictly rationed country to one who although they said they were rationed was not really rationed by our standards at all and the bread was white for a start. Our bread was anything but white and there was plenty of this and plenty of that and the natives were extremely friendly, you did find the odd one but what used to annoy us although I can’t think now why it did annoy us but they used to call us limeys, the people that annoyed us. But we called them yanks so, you know, tit for tat really but most people didn’t call us limeys and they were extremely friendly, extremely hospitable and the girls were very hospitable and I remember on the first night we were a bit staggered because we’d hardly arrived and we were invited to, to a roller skating party which was quite something really. Fortunately, I could roller skate so I wasn’t too bad at that and many of the students, us that is, formed relationships with the girls that lasted for years. Sometimes some married them but I’m not sure how many but certainly there were, friendships were made and I couldn’t praise them too highly really. People would say, ‘How did you find them?’ And I’ve always said they were absolutely magnificent to us. They couldn’t have been better, Hospitable to the point of being over generous.
CB: How many of you were there on each course?
JQ: Oh now that’s difficult. I would have guessed at about fifty but I am guessing now and from memory so -
CB: And so you were in American uniform but with British insignia.
JQ: That’s right.
CB: And you had a structure with some, there was an officer, an RAF officer running it was there or what?
JQ: Yes the RAF officer was the chief of the whole lot. The CO and the ground instructors were RAF and British but the flying was done because we were at the Spartan School of Aeronautics in America and other schools were similar and I presumed that they were instructors who were instructing at the school before we arrived. Of course nobody else was there of course at the time other than RAF people except a sprinkling and I do mean a sprinkling of about six, something like that, of Americans. One of the things that did slightly annoy us, not too much really but the Americans went through exactly the same training as we did and they were awarded with the American flying badge and the RAF flying badge and we were not awarded the American flying badge. We just got the RAF one and we expected to get them both but we didn’t get them. I think on one of the things that I’ve got they do say that certain courses did get them both but whether that’s true or they just said it I don’t, I’ve no idea.
CB: So how many hours would you have done when you finished there after six months, to get your wings?
JQ: Now that’s, I shall have to have notice of that.
CB: Yeah. Well it doesn’t matter. So you’ve got your wings -
JQ: Yeah.
CB: And then -
JQ: Well we got our wings. Well in getting those wings we, at one point we’d done advanced training and we were halfway through that and they split us in to two then. They assessed people as being fighter pilots or bomber pilots and fighter pilots went on to air to ground gunnery and the bomber pilots did something else. I’m not sure what they did but presumably bombing but I’m not sure. I was put on the fighter pilots lot.
CB: Oh.
JQ: But when I got back to England they didn’t want any fighter pilots so I automatically went on to bombers.
CB: Right.
JQ: We had an aside on this one is that we had, we did have reunions after the war and I went on one and it involved us doing an internal flight. We went into Dallas, flew into Dallas from Britain and then from there we’d got to go fly to Tulsa. I think I’m right and from there we got a ground thing to Oklahoma. I think that’s the way it worked. Anyway, you had to do this internal flight, wherever it was and I noticed while we were waiting to board the aircraft, a civilian aircraft, I noticed the pilot go around the back of the desk and disappear and I thought, I wondered why has he gone around there? So I sort of wandered around while we were waiting for boarding and he was there coming out of a little sort of cubby hole thing and I said, ‘What are you doing around here?’ And he said, ‘Oh I’m just checking up on the weather,’ he said, ‘We’ve got a computer in here, comes out on the weather,’ he said. ‘I don’t know why I’m doing it here actually,’ he said, ‘We get it out on the aircraft anyway but,’ he said, ‘I thought I’d just have a look.’ I said, ‘Well you’d better do a good landing when you get,’ and he said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘You’ve got forty five pilots in the back.’ And he said, ‘We haven’t have we?’ He said, ‘I’ll give it to the second pilot. He lands it better than I do’ [laughs] So off we went and during the course of the flight he wandered back and he was saying hello and whatnot and, and when we’d landed and it was quite a reasonable landing he was there waiting and he saw me and he said, ‘Well? What did you think of the landing?’ And I said, ‘Nine out of ten.’ [laughs]. So anyway he laughed too. So that was that.
CB: Yeah. When. when you were in the States doing your training to what extent was the, how rigorous was the training? They examined you, tested you all the way did they?
JQ: All the way through.
CB: Or did you lose quite a few people because they didn’t pass.
JQ: Didn’t lose many people, no. And of course while up to that point sixteen people had been killed.
CB: Of the fifty or -
JQ: No. I mean -
CB: No. In general.
JQ: Since the thing started.
CB: Oh right. Ok.
JQ: And certainly one of my friends doing this air to ground gunnery had not pulled up early enough and had tipped his wing on the target which was a fairly a big target, half the size of this room and landed, well not landed but crashed about two fields away and of course he didn’t do himself any good so he disappeared. I don’t think he died or anything like that but so people, people left for one reason or another. Either they, very few fortunately got killed. Some, some just couldn’t complete the course because they were injured or their health wasn’t good or they had to stay there in hospital and whatnot and wait until they got better and then complete the course and presumably did something else so -
CB: I ask the question because over a course of training, period of training for RAF pilots there’s a continuous chop going on and I just wondered how the chop rate was there.
JQ: No. Well I would have said it was quite good actually.
CB: And then when you’d finished the training did they run a party for you or what did they do?
JQ: I remember the party very painfully actually.
CB: Oh. She was as nice as that was she?
JQ: Well we had, they told us they were going to give us this party at the end. Either they told us or we assumed it from somebody else who had it for us and we knew we were going to get one. In the, in the restaurant, what do they call it? What do they call the PA.
CB: The PX.
JQ: And so what we decided to do was to pay every week while we were training. We put in so many dollars. I can’t remember how much it was now each and then that would give us a free night. The night came and it was due to start say at 8 o’clock. I don’t remember quite now but all I’d got to do was walk from my billet, across about a hundred yards to the restaurant, PA or whatever and there I was so at five to eight I went across and there was a lot of blokes there and one bloke came up and said, ‘Hello John what are you having?’ That was only, I mean he wasn’t paying anyway but you know I said, ‘Oh I’ll have a beer, yes.’ Well he brought me this beer back and he said, ‘Cheers.’ ‘Cheers.’ And it was neat Scotch he’d got in this thing.
CB: Jeez.
JQ: I’d got, it wasn’t half a pint but it was I didn’t query it because we were in America not England. I’d have queried it if it was a beer in England because you should be up the top you see but it was three quarters of a glass, half a pint glass of this thing and it was neat Scotch so I thought well I’ll stick on this. I gently got a way through this. It was in, blokes were coming in and so forth and so I finished this thing and we still hadn’t started dinner so I don’t want to drink a pint of beer on the top of this half a pint, I don’t think they had pint glasses, I can’t remember now so I thought I’d have another of these so I had another of these Scotches. Big one. And we settled down to the dinner which, if I remember rightly was very nice and I finished this thing and all around me blokes were getting tight, you know, really really tight and I thought I’m blinking well doing well here on this Scotch. I’d better have another. So I had another. And I was still alright when I finished it and I thought, I don’t know how I managed this you see. So I thought well that’s over, finished, so I went outside you see and well the cold air hit me so I thought I’d better get off to bed so I started to walk this hundred yards to my bed and I got as far as the flagpole in the middle of this lawn where they ran up the RAF flag ceremoniously at 7 o’clock every morning. And I thought, oh I do feel tight. So I sat down and I don’t remember another thing until I woke up at half past five in the morning with the dew on me and I thought blimey I’d better get out of here or I’m going to be in trouble if they come to ceremoniously put [pause] so I staggered, I staggered to my bed, got into bed and of course I’d got to get up about an hour later or something like that and I felt like death for about three days, you know. So I won’t do that again. I don’t know how I managed it to be quite honest.
CB: So what was the accommodation like? Were you in individual -
JQ: Well the accom -
CB: Rooms or dormitories?
JQ: Well the set up was a, was a hotel. It had been a hotel. It was a chain. A bit, a bit like Premier Inn or something like that and they’d got a chain all around America of these things and they’d taken one of these over as the administrative building and it had got a fair amount of land around it or they’d, either that or they’d cornered it and they’d built these wooden huts you see which wasn’t terribly out of the ordinary ‘cause of course, particularly in Oklahoma a lot of their, or most of their houses are wooden anyway and they were very comfortable and of course being in the RAF the lino was polished, sort of thing, by us and all the beds were all tidy and done up officially when not being slept in and all this sort of thing and it was all very nice. When we went back on the thing, the, I forget what had happened to the administrative building. It wasn’t RAF. Whether it had gone back to being a hotel I don’t know but they let us go into the huts that we were in which had been taken over by Wrangler’s Jeans and they looked a right shambles. They really did. Absolute dump. And so that was it but while we were there it was very good.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: I was a bit bothered about the fact that they’d built some, for the junior people, you know, the new intake they, I think they were stepping it up or something but they’d built another set of dormitories in wood and they also put some loos with them and the loos were just a series of WC’s about a yard apart all the way down. No, no shielding around them -
CB: No.
JQ: At all. I didn’t, I thought I couldn’t do that but fortunately I didn’t have to use those because I was a senior by that time.
CB: So what rank were you under training?
JQ: Under training I was an AC2 and as soon as we got our wings they made us sergeants and then from then on it was up to them how you got on and what you did and all that sort of thing.
CB: So you got your wings. You’re a sergeant. What happened to come back? How did you come back?
JQ: We came back on the Queen Mary, no Queen Elizabeth the first which I think was made to carry about three thousand. It was a cruise ship but it hadn’t been finished. It had been started before the war and it, and it was a ship which would go but it hadn’t got, the cabins were all inside but that was about it you know. Well, as a troop ship you don’t need all the comforts and what not so in a room which was supposed to be for two there would be six blokes and they could only sleep in it one night and the next night they’d have to sleep wherever and somebody else moved in and then the next night you were back in it and so you alternated but I mean the crossing was only about four days anyway so, but they’d got, on a ship that was supposed to take three thousand they’d got about ten thousand on it and it went at full speed and zigzagged all the way and if you didn’t lie down on the floor, if it wasn’t your turn to be in bed, in a bunk if you didn’t lie down on the floor somewhere by about half past six, at night you didn’t lie down because there were so many bodies all over the corridors and what not it was just practically impossible to find enough room to lie down so everybody was sort of certainly sitting down and marking their space very early on in the time. Nobody shaved, or very few people shaved. You couldn’t in actual fact have a decent shave because they didn’t, didn’t, if you turned a the tap on sea water came out which, which is alright for having a swill around but if you try and make a lather with, in salt water you’re struggling. You just don’t get one. So a lot of people thought blow it, you know, they just four days and just began to look -
JB: Stubby.
JQ: More unkempt every day.
CB: Where did that go in to?
JQ: That went in to, it went in to, Greenock.
CB: And from there where did you go?
JQ: From there we went to Heaton Park in, in Manchester. And from there, after we were at Heaton Park for a while, [pause] No I’m telling you wrong I’m sorry. We went in to Harrogate. Yes. That’s where we went. We went into Harrogate and then we were allocated places from there. I went to Oxford. To, up a little field and I mean a field at a place called Windrush.
CB: I know it.
JQ: And there we learned to fly on Oxfords.
CB: That’s at Witney.
JQ: Pardon?
CB: Windrush is at Witney.
JQ: Is it?
JQ: And -
CB: So this was for your twin engine training.
JQ: That’s right and I remember going off, they sent us, they sent us off on a cross country. A solo cross country it was and I started off on this solo cross country and I ran into cloud which didn’t bother me because we could fly on instruments but unfortunately I came out of this cloud after I was supposed to have turned because I thought I would and I did come out but I couldn’t find myself and we got a system going, Darkie. I don’t know whether you’ve come across that.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: It was an emergency system and I thought well I’ll call up Darkie. So I said, ‘Hello Darkie. Hello Darkie.’ And the nearest aerodrome was supposed to reply. This is whoever. And then you knew where you were. Well one did reply and Snitterfield it was I was supposed to get to. I was now supposed to have landed at Snitterfield and so I said, ‘Hello Darkie. Hello Darkie. And they came back, they said, ‘Hello Darkie. This is Snitterfield.’ And I thought well I must be here and I was looking around and I thought well I can’t see Snitterfield here. You’d see an aerodrome. It was right underneath me. That’s why I couldn’t see it. [laughs]. Anyway I eventually spotted that and landed there and that was fine. And then another time I was doing something in this Oxford and I was flying low, minding my own business as it were and I smelled roast beef. At least I thought it was roast beef and it didn’t strike me for a bit and then I thought what am I doing smelling roast beef up here? So I thought what is it and I looked down and the batteries are there in an Oxford.
CB: Right next to you.
JQ: And it was sort of boiling over, this battery so I got, got down a bit sharpish after that but anyway it was alright. From there I was sent to Peplow which is, is up near Wellington in Shropshire and there we flew Wellingtons which I thought was quite a nice aircraft actually because of course by that time it was getting a but outdated and I think it was there that they put us all in a room and said pick yourself a crew.
CB: So this was an OTU.
JQ: Now, wait a minute.
CB: Based where did you say?
JQ: Yeah. Yes. Peplow. A place called Peplow.
CB: Yeah. Ok.
JQ: And put us all in this room and I finished up without a crew. Couldn’t make up my mind or they couldn’t make up, because everybody was supposed to have a go, you know. So they said, ‘You’ll have to wait ‘til next week.’ Anyway, I didn’t wait for next week ‘cause they got in touch with me in in the afternoon. I think we did the thing in the morning and they got in touch with me would I report somewhere which I did and oh by this time I was a flight sergeant and I reported and they said, ‘One of the pilots has gone missing,’ not missing, ‘sick. So we’re not holding the crew up,’ he said, ‘We’ve got two pilots and one crew so what we’re going to do is we’re going to let you meet the crew and the crew’s going to pick the pilot.’ So we met them and they picked me which was a bit fortunate for them because while we were still there the other pilot, the one that wasn’t picked, got a crew and he was flying this Wellington around still doing his training with the crew and the wing fell off and they all got killed. The initial finding was that it was pilot error but they did actually prove in the end that it wasn’t. That apparently, so I was told at that time, that the wing on a Wellington is only held on by two, albeit heavy bolts, one of which had rusted through or something [pause] and, and that that brings me to another tale of the same thing because a ground crew member when we were on ops, after we’d finished on operations, a ground crew member told me that one of the faults with the Lancaster was that they tended to get cracks in the main spar right near the fuselage and what what they used to do to cure it was to drop a piece of channel over the top of the main spar underneath the outer skin and pop rivet it on and put the main skin on and that was it and he said, ‘If you’d known that’s what we were doing you would never have flown it.’ I don’t think that’s quite right because we wouldn’t have had any, any say in the matter but how true that is I don’t know but that’s what a ground crew member told me.
CB: So you finished your OTU.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: With the crew who picked you.
JQ: That’s right.
CB: And how, where did you go after that?
JQ: Went to Lindholme.
CB: Right.
JQ: Which is now a prison I think up at Yorkshire and then we -
CB: And what happened at Lindholme? What was that?
JQ: Well Lindholme was four engines. Getting on to four, training on to four engines.
CB: So you got extra crew members there. Was this the HCU?
JQ: Yeah.
CB: Heavy Conversion Unit.
JQ: Yes. I think that’s what it was called. I just got one, one crew member there, the engineer.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: I can’t. I flew a Halifax but I can’t remember whether it was, yeah, it must have been before we went on to the Wellingtons. I had some time on a Halifax and I remember learning all about the complicated fuel system on a Halifax because you’ve got to be careful because if you do it in the wrong order it can cut petrol off to all engines.
CB: Right.
JQ: But I’ve [pause] and I went on to Lancasters. Now I hadn’t got an engineer at the time and I was flying a Lancaster around without an engineer.
CB: At the HCU.
JQ: Yeah, but it wasn’t long before they gave me one and he was, he was an ex lorry driver. Nice chap. Anyway, he, he turned out to be a first class engineer in actual fact but at this time the, if you’re putting the flaps down on a Lancaster the lever is just there and you -
CB: On your right side.
JQ: Yes and you push, you push it down and wait for the flaps indicator to go around to whatever flaps you want and then you pull it back up again to the right position, to the sort of neutral position but its hydraulically done and if it, if it doesn’t work the trick is you push it down and if nothing works so you pull it up and push it down again and nine times out of ten it works ok. So we were practicing circuits and bumps with the engineer and I called for fifteen degrees of flap on the downwind legs so he gives me fifteen degrees of flap having slowed the aircraft so that it would take it. Now I’ve then got to slow the aircraft down a bit more so I can put thirty degrees of flap on and I’m now coming in on the final approach so I call for thirty degrees of flap and he pushes it down and nothing happens so he obviously does the right thing he pulls it back up again but he didn’t push it down again so, what fifteen degrees of flap or whatever how much he’s got down comes up rather smartly and we went down extremely smartly because we’d slowed down, half stalling really. So I rammed the, all the throttles wide open and we missed a tree by about a foot and everybody swore like the clappers and the engineer never did it again [laughs].
CB: Ok. We’ll stop there a mo.
[machine paused]
CB: So on the question of the engineer and the use of flaps and throttles who would normally run the flaps?
JQ: Normally the engineer would do the flaps.
CB: On your command.
JQ: On my command.
CB: Right.
JQ: That’s right and as I said before he made a mistake the first time but -
CB: Yeah.
JQ: He never made it again.
CB: No.
JQ: On, with regard to the throttles he followed me up. I always did the throttles.
CB: On take-off.
JQ: On take-off.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: In every way but he was there just in case something happened, I took my hand off for some reason or whatever, his hand was always there so that he could just push, push them up. He also looked after the petrol of course and switched all the tanks and so forth and after an initial period of time I trusted him enough to not even tell him to do it. He just did it. And there was a point where that came extremely useful because getting back to the war and why we were there and so forth we were hit by anti-aircraft fire on occasion and I never noticed to be quite honest because I was still on the bombing run and on a bombing you’ve got to fly extremely accurately straight and level and keeping the height and the speed and the attitude of the aircraft absolutely [thing?] There’s only way of doing that particularly at night is on instruments, so you’d be there on instruments trying to be as accurate as you can and the engineer er the bomb aimer would be saying, ‘Left. Left. Right. Right,’ and so forth and you’d be following his instructions and so I was doing that when the upper mid, mid-upper gunner said, ‘Skip, we’re on fire,’ and I looked and the port tank was on fire and going quite, quite well but it hadn’t exploded.
CB: Which tank is this? Is this number one on the in board?
JQ: I don’t, no it’s -
CB: Close to the fuselage
JQ: It was, I can’t remember. I think it was between the two engines I thought.
CB: Right.
JQ: Anyway. I can’t remember to be exact. Anyway, I was still on the bombing run because I thought well we’ve got to finish this bombing run so keeping a quick eye on that or trying to and doing the bombing run at the same time. I was trying to decide what to do and I thought well the thing to do is we’ve probably got to bale out but I was determined to finish this bombing run because we were so near so I said, ‘Prepare to abandon the aircraft,’ but I still continued the bombing run and the bomb aimer still continued to give me instruction and then when we’d finished, when he said, ‘Bombs gone,’ we’d still got to carry on that little bit longer for the photograph you see and by this time I’d come to the conclusion that if we were going to bale out, over the target was not a good idea, because apart from the fact that you’d be getting into a whole lot of anti- aircraft fire because the Germans weren’t aiming at any particular aircraft they were just pumping as much stuff up there as they could possibly get and so and if you managed to avoid all that the natives below wouldn’t be very pleased to see you and indeed they had been known to be extremely annoyed. So I thought well we’ve got a short dog leg to do which is going to take us about five minutes I wonder if we could, we shall have to risk it so as soon as, soon as the time was up I’d turned and it was then I said, ‘Prepare to abandon ship,’ which they all did. Before we got to the end of the thing, the end of this dog leg the fire went out, much to everybody’s amazement including me and we, I’d then got another problem. Have we got enough petrol to get back? Now, quite by chance, the engineer hadn’t got much petrol in that tank which is why it went out but how much was in it we’ll never know because, I’ll tell you in a minute. So I said, ‘Well have we got enough petrol to get home?’ And he sort of calculated up what we’d got in the other tanks and so forth. Fortunately it was a Ruhr thing so it was a short trip. He said, ‘If we’re careful we’ve got enough to get home.’ So he was able to give me an assurance so we were careful and we had to come back at a slow rate and you know, not too use much petrol and that sort of thing. When we got back we found, oh, on the way back the mid-upper gunner said, ‘Skip, I can’t move my turret.’ So I said, ‘Oh. Do you know the reason?’ He said, ‘No. I’ve no idea.’ He said, ‘Could I come down then?’ You know, because he was a bit cold up there and it was a bit warmer in the cockpit and I said, ‘No, you can’t. You stop up there and keep a good lookout,’ So he stopped up there. Anyway, when we got back and down and safe we found that the jettison tube which, I don’t know whether you know, a bit about that diameter and if you want to jettison petrol you pull a lever or push a button, or pull a lever I think it was and this thing drops down and all the petrol goes whoosh down and what had happened was that where we were hit it it had set the thing on fire but at the same time it had dropped this petrol jettison tank down and all the petrol went down very quickly out of the aircraft and what was burning but quite fiercely, instead of exploding it was sort of burning and there wasn’t a lot of it so it didn’t last more than about five minutes or something like that. Well the sequel to that is that it must have been about forty, forty five years later my rear gunner had a sixty fifth birthday party, a surprise party given to him by his wife and she invited all the crew and we all went up and of course he was very surprised and we all got chatting and what not and it was then that he told us this tale. He said, oh no I’m over running the thing, I’m sorry. I’ll go back again. When I’d said, ‘Prepare to abandon ship.’
CB: Yeah.
JQ: He opened his doors, got his parachute out of the thing and clipped it on himself or got it ready to clip on himself, I don’t know whether he’d got room, yes he did. And he sat there waiting for the instruction to bail out in which case he would have probably turned this thing and gone out backwards.
CB: Rolled out backwards. Yeah.
JQ: Now, me in the front there when everything had, when the fire had gone out and I decided that we weren’t going to abandon ship after all I I gave the order not to abandon ship you see and I called everybody in turn and said, ‘Are you alright?’ And one by one they answered and said, ‘yes,’ they are but I didn’t get any reply from the rear gunner so I sent the engineer back to see if he was alright and after a minute or two he came back and he said. ‘Oh, he’s alright. He’s ok,’ he said. I said, ‘Well why didn’t he reply?’ And he said, ‘Well when he got his parachute pack out,’ he said, ‘He inadvertently pulled his plug out of his thing.’ He said, ‘he never got the message not to abandon ship,’ you see. So at this party forty five years later he told, he said he was sitting there waiting for the abandon ship thing and it never came so he thought we’d all gone and he was in there on his own and he was there for ages. Well until the engineer went back. What a thing for a chap to sit in there thinking he’s flying in an aircraft which is flying on its own which of course it could well have been.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
JQ: And I think that’s absolutely amazing.
CB: Right. So we’ve got to the stage earlier where the engineer pulled up, didn’t use the flaps right.
JQ: Right.
CB: And we’re getting to the end of being at the HCU and then we went on to the operational flight.
JQ: Yeah. That of course was -
CB: That you were talking about.
JQ: That of course was an operational flight.
CB: Exactly. Yeah. But we haven’t finished the earlier bit which was when you were at the HCU. So how did you finish at the HCU?
JQ: Well the thing I remember about that is that, also was that I was at the HCU I’d fixed to get married and they sent a message through saying would I attend a commissioning interview, on my wedding day. Not that they knew it was my wedding day.
CB: Right.
JQ: So I thought I can’t put my wedding off you see so I went to the CO and said would it be possible for me to, thing, and he said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘You can’t do that,’ he said. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You can,’ he said. ‘But,’ he said, ‘The chances are you won’t get a commission if you don’t.’ And so I thought, ‘Well I won’t then,’ you see. Anyway, my crew, crew persuaded me that that wasn’t a very good idea so I requested another interview with the CO and he gave me one and he said, ‘Well Quine,’ he said, ‘It’s not my decision,’ he said, ‘It comes from group this has.’ And there was a sergeant in the room at the time and the sergeant said, ‘What’s the problem sir?’ So he told him. He said, ‘Would you excuse me a moment,’ and off he went and he came back again and he said, ‘It’s alright sir. I’ve fixed it quite good.’ He said, ‘If he could get there for 2 o’clock in the afternoon instead of 9 o’clock in the morning it’ll be ok.’ And I thought the CO couldn’t do it and that sergeant had done it. Well it appeared that the sergeant worked in the office and he was in touch with with his counterpart at group and he got through and this chap had said it would be alright, you know.
CB: So what time was the wedding?
JQ: Well the wedding was supposed to be at some reasonable sort of time but you know 9 o’clock in the morning there’s no reasonable time you can get married about 6 o’clock in the morning or something like so I would have had to have cancelled it but what I did do was to got married at half past nine in the morning and then I’d got to get from here, well not this house, but, you know, a similar one.
CB: Lickey.
JQ: Lickey. Well it wasn’t Lickey actually. It was a place called [Linkbery?]
CB: Oh yes I know.
JQ: Where we’d gone to live by that time. No. It wasn’t. No. I beg your pardon it was here. It was here, Lickey. And I had to get, get there without any public transport or cars. Well public transport but certainly no cars so I managed to get myself on a train. It must have been about 11 o’clock or something like that ‘cause I got married. Had a quick wedding breakfast. Got on a train, went, that’s right it was a train. I went into Birmingham, and then I had to change trains in Birmingham and get up to Derby, Burton on Trent, get off at Burton on Trent and there was a taxi outside. There weren’t many taxis but I went up to this taxi and I can remember I said, ‘Could you take me to Eckington Hall?’ I remember the name of the place. It had been taken over by the RAF and I said to him, ‘Could you take me to Eckington Hall?’ He said, ‘I’m engaged.’ So I said, ‘I’ve just been married.’ And he said, ‘Oh. Well I’ll take you then.’ [laughs] Not only that. He not only took me but he also took my wife and we were going on honeymoon. You couldn’t go out of the country of course, you couldn’t even go to the seaside in those days. Not within ten miles of the coast so we had to go to Shrewsbury and so when we got to Eckington Hall in this taxi I went up to the guardroom at the, which was at a lodge at the front of this big hall and saw the thing in the guardroom and the chap said, I said I’ve got my wife outside. We just got married. Could she come in as well? He said, ‘Oh no you can’t bring her in.’ You see. So I had to say, ‘You’ll have to stop out here,’ you see, so leaving a rather a large case and what not with my wife I said, ‘Well which way do I go?’ and they said, ‘It’s that nissen hut over there,’ ‘cause they’d put some huts in the thing. So leaving my wife there I went and it’s now about 2 o’clock in the afternoon or something like that and I went to this nissen hut and I opened the door to find myself immediately in the interview room with an interview going on and a sergeant rushed over and he said, ‘You must be Quine.’ And I said, ‘Yes I am.’ He said, ‘Go around the other side.’ So I went around the other side and the place was full of people.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: All waiting for commissioning interviews so somebody I knew there, and I said, ‘How, how long is it?’ They said, ‘Well we’ve been here since 9 o’clock this morning,’ And I said, ‘Well what’s the order?’ And they said, ‘Well, you know, did they take your name on the way in?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Well that’s it. You have to wait for it.’ He said, ‘You’re in the back of the queue.’ I thought, blimey, what’s my wife going to do out there? So there wasn’t anything I could do about it. So took my hat off and sat down talking to these chaps and I hadn’t been there two or three minutes and they shouted out, ‘Quine.’ And so I got up and they said, ‘Your hat. Put your hat on,’ you see [laughs] so put my hat on. I went in and they knew all about it and they said, ‘You got married.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well we hope you have a nice honeymoon and good luck,’ and so forth and off I went to find my wife and she’d been standing outside there and of course all the guards were looking at her all the time so she thought she couldn’t stop. So she wandered off down the road and got herself in the telephone box and she was sitting on her case in the telephone box.
CB: Now which date was this?
JQ: Pardon?
CB: What date was this?
JQ: It was September the 28th 1944.
CB: Right. So when did you know that you’d got your commission?
JQ: It wasn’t long. It wasn’t long. It was quite quick actually because I was still at Lindholme and I knew I’d got it and they gave me some leave, a few days leave so I could go and get myself kitted out and I came to Birmingham. I got kitted, kitted out in a shop that knew all about what they were doing and they’d done it so many times before.
CB: So you’ve got married, you got the interview, you went on honeymoon to, where did you say?
JQ: We went to -
CB: Shrewsbury.
JQ: Well it was near Shrewsbury.
CB: Right.
JQ: It wasn’t in Shrewsbury.
CB: Ok.
JQ: I can’t remember now.
CB: Ok. So you’re at the HCU at that stage at Lindholme.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: When did you finish there and where did you go?
JQ: I think I went straight from there to the, to Hemswell I think. I can’t remember now.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: Yeah.
[machine paused]
JQ: So you’re finished at Eckington Hall. What did you do then? You’ve got your wife there waiting for you.
CB: Yeah. So we’d got to go on honeymoon from there.
JQ: Yeah. So we’d got to go back to Birmingham and then catch a train to Shrewsbury so we got back to Birmingham along with three friends that I knew that, who had also been at the interview and we were standing on the station at Snow Hill and my wife decided that, you know, it was men’s talk and what not so she’d gone and sat in the train that was there and one of the other chaps, a chap with red hair so we called him Ginger quite obviously, he’d gone to keep my wife company and have a chat to her and so forth when the train started moving with Ginger and my wife in the thing and me on the platform so there was quite a scramble to change over but we managed it.
CB: Crikey. Where did you meet your wife?
JQ: I used to go to school with her at Bromsgrove High School and we went on the same school bus and in the end we were married for sixty three years.
CB: Brilliant.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: Fantastic.
JQ: She died in 2006.
CB: Right.
JQ: So -
CB: Ok.
[machine paused]
CB: So you left the, at the HCU. You had Lancasters, you had Halifax to begin with. Then what happened?
JQ: We went on, got converted onto Lancasters.
CB: Right. And so you left there and went to which -
JQ: We left there on the29th of the 11th
CB: Yeah.
JQ: ’46. No.
CB: ‘45. ‘44
JQ: ’44.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: And -
CB: And went, went to your squadron.
JQ: I went to the squadron on December the 2nd.
CB: Yeah. Which was -
JQ: 1944.
CB: Which squadron?
JQ: 170.
CB: Right. At -
JQ: Hemswell.
CB: At Hemswell. Ok.
JQ: And then I went on my first operation on December the 4th
CB: Yes.
JQ: But it was only me that went on that. My crew didn’t. They just, they had the thing of sending you as second pilot for your first time to give you the idea.
CB: Where did you go?
JQ: Karlsruhe.
CB: So then you picked up your crew for the next ones. What was the next raid?
JQ: The next one was Koblenz. December the 22nd
CB: Ok. What were the most notable ops? Do you remember?
JQ: Well I remember, well obviously we went on fire was the one -
CB: Yeah.
JQ: I remember most.
CB: When was that [pause] ‘cause that was caused by flak.
JQ: That was caused by flak. Yeah.
CB: I’ll stop for a mo. while you look.
[machine pause]
CB: So one of your notable events was when you got hit. So what was that?
JQ: That was on Feb -
CB: And when was that?
JQ: That was on February the 3rd 1945.
CB: Ok. What happened there?
JQ: Well we were flying at Bottrop. There was intense searchlight activity with a heavy and light barrage and predicted flak and we were hit by flak and the port wing caught fire.
CB: And how did you know that you’d been hit?
JQ: Well the mid-upper gunner spotted it and -
CB: So if you’re hit in the fuel tank what normally happens?
JQ: Well it normally explodes.
CB: Right. What did the crew do?
JQ: The mid-upper gunner spotted it because I was flying on instruments at the time, on the bombing run and I had to make up my mind what to do and I decided to finish the bombing run which was only a short time afterwards and then decide whether to abandon the aircraft or what to do and I decided that baling out over the target with all that flak and everything else wasn’t a very good idea and so I decided we’d do a short dog leg which we had to do and then bale out so I warned the crew to get ready to bale out but the short dog leg, which was going to take about five minutes, after a couple of minutes the fire went out. For what reason we didn’t know at the time and our biggest problem was would we have enough fuel to get back again. We did in actual fact find out that when we got back to the aircraft, to the aerodrome at home that the discharge tube from the tank for quickly discharging petrol had been hit, it had set what petrol there was in the tank, not a lot fortunately, on fire and the rest had gone straight out of the dumping, discharge tube and, which had then wound itself around the mid-upper turret stopping it from movement.
CB: Blimey. Yes. So the gunner was lucky not to be dowsed in fuel.
JQ: Well he was. Yes. Yes.
CB: Oh he was dowsed in fuel.
JQ: No he wasn’t. He was lucky.
CB: He was lucky yeah. In the circumstance of a tank being ruptured what would the flight engineer normally do?
JQ: Well there wasn’t a lot he could do. There was a, there was a lever to pull which, if I remember rightly, it was nitrogen which would go in and dowse the flames but I can’t remember where it was now but that was, that was the procedure but it all happened so quickly and what with everything going on one -
CB: Sure.
JQ: One wonders.
CB: I’m just wondering whether they would, the flight engineer would normally try to pump fuel out.
JQ: No. he wouldn’t do.
CB: Or was that a dangerous thing to do?
JQ: Well he wouldn’t do it fast enough. I mean fuel normally ignited, explodes doesn’t it? I mean why it didn’t explode, my own theory is that it was so fast coming out of this discharge tube because it was about a foot in diameter this thing.
CB: Oh.
JQ: And so it would really go out and what was left was just burning plus the fact that there was a fair airstream coming over the top of the wing which would keep it from sort of flaming upwards. It was all flaming backwards. It was flaming quite a lot but, enough to be quite frightening.
CB: What speed would you be flying -
JQ: Oh we’d be doing -
CB: On your run in to the bombing?
JQ: We’d be doing roughly two hundred and twenty five miles an hour, er knots, knots or miles and hour I can’t remember now.
CB: Did the gauges read in knots, or miles an hour?
JQ: Do you know I can’t remember?
CB: It doesn’t matter. I’m just curious.
JQ: I pretty sure it’s knots but -
CB: Yeah.
JQ: I wouldn’t put my shirt on it now to be honest although I’ve got a thing here which, cruising speed two hundred and ten.
CB: Right.
JQ: Miles per hour that is.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: A hundred and ninety knots.
JQ: And on today’s thing you’d think this was low but the service ceiling of a Lancaster is twenty four thousand five hundred and I took one up to twenty four thousand on one occasion and it was getting extremely slow to get any higher and you know you, you couldn’t get any -
CB: Staggering.
JQ: Headway at all really.
CB: What, what height were you on that day you had the flak fire?
JQ: No. I haven’t -
CB: Would your engines be running at normal cruise all the same all the time then? It didn’t, the fire didn’t affect the engine, either of the engines on that side.
JQ: No. No it didn’t. No. I did actually, when we got back into safer areas I did actually slow the aircraft right down. At night, it’s a bit, it all seems to be a bit hairy sort of doing odd manoeuvres at night but I thought I thought I’d better do it and I warned the crew I was going to do it and I slowed right down to almost a stall. In fact it was beginning to judder and I thought well that’s alright. So -
CB: So your stall clean, that’s with the flaps up, would be what? Roughly. A hundred and forty. A hundred and thirty miles an hour.
JQ: Something like that. I’m just wondering if I’ve got it here. Some people could remember these things straight off and I’m blowed if I can.
CB: Anyway -
JQ: Maximum speed is two hundred and eighty seven at fifteen thousand feet.
CB: For the Lancaster yeah.
JQ: For the Lancaster.
CB: So the other part of your tour you did how many, how many ops did you do in total in that tour with 170?
[machine pause]
CB: So with 170 squadron then how many ops did you do for, it wasn’t a tour but before you moved? You did how many ops? You did eight did you?
JQ: Eight.
CB: Right. Then why did you only do eight?
JQ: Because we moved. We volunteered for, a notice came up they wanted volunteers for, the thing, now there’s a little story about that because we decided that we’d have a go at this.
CB: At what? Volunteering for what?
JQ: Volunteered for -
CB: For Pathfinder.
JQ: Pathfinders.
CB: Right.
JQ: Yeah. And this was something from our point of view I suppose was a little bit new in actual fact because most Pathfinders were Mosquitos but they decided, I don’t know whether they decided then or it just happened to come up but anyway they had this thing and on the 170 squadron we had A crews and B crews and A crews were judged by the practice bombing that we did as to how accurate they were. We had to do, if I remember rightly, drop smoke bombs, we only dropped smoke bombs for practice within about ten yards of the target and it, it might have been a bit more than that but I’m not quite sure and we got, dropped ten within that thing. Well we were a B crew so we decided to try and prove we were an A crew so we did actually, and they said well you know prove to us that we, you can do it so we went up in Lancaster and we went down to the bombing range near Southampton to do this and if I remember rightly it was from about fifteen thousand feet we were dropping eleven pound smoke bombs. The first one we dropped alright as far as I remember. The next one coming up and of course I’m trying to fly very accurately and the bomb aimer says, ‘Overshoot.’ So we overshot and went around again and do a sort of circuit you see and sometimes we dropped them and sometimes we overshot and in the end we dropped them all and the bomb aimer said, ‘I think we’ve done it.’ So in exuberance of the fact that I’d been flying very accurately and you know really trying hard with this thing I decided that I’d [?] like this knowing exactly what would happen of course by pushing the control columns but I was a bit too exuberant about it so the rear gunner had the ride of his life and the navigator lost a pair of compasses down the side of the aircraft never to be found again. So anyway we had a good laugh about that.
CB: So you put the nose down. How long did you run it with the nose down?
JQ: Oh only just down and then back again.
CB: Oh right.
JQ: But of course the tail comes up you see.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: The nose goes down, the bomb aimer was wondering, I should think, where he was going.
CB: Bumped his nose. Yeah.
JQ: Anyway, that was alright. We had a good laugh about it. I said, ‘I’m sorry blokes I didn’t mean to do it quite that hard,’ you know. They said, ‘Oh that’s alright.’ That’s when I learned the navigator had lost his compasses or his dividers or whatever they were so we go back to the squadron and and land and the pilot is usually the last one out because you know, the rear gunners usually get out pretty smartly and then the wireless operator. The navigator has got to put his maps away in his bag and he’s got to get himself out and then the pilot’s got to see that the controls are locked and the petrol’s switched off and all this and the engineer might beat him by a short head sort of thing and so I’m just switched everything off and seen everything’s alright and walking down this thing and I could hear this row going on. I said, ‘What’s the row about?’ You see. And I looked and I thought I know what the row’s about. It was this high tech bit of equipment that we’d got in the back of the Lancaster namely an elsan toilet. You see, I wasn’t to know that the elastic band over the top had broken so of course as we, as I’d pushed the stick forward all the contents had come out of this toilet and of course it’s blue. I could see. I mean it’s not a thing you can wipe down just like that because the inside of a military aircraft is full of struts and wires and all sorts of things.
CB: Christ.
JQ: And this, this flight sergeant was going on to my crew despite of the fact that two of them were officers and going on about, ‘bloody mess’ so I thought that’s a bit much. I shall have to apologise so I get to the top of the steps and he’s down there and I said, ‘I’m sorry chiefy,’ I said, ‘It’s, it’s my fault. I was a bit too enthusiastic.’ ‘That’s alright sir. We’ll soon get it cleaned up.’ [laughs] So that was a tale.
CB: Brilliant. What, who were the other officers, what, in the aircraft?
JQ: Well there was Mike Seaton who was navigator. And I’ll tell you a tale about him in a minute and then there was Alf Thompson, rear gunner. Eddie Howell, mid-upper gunner.
CB: All officers.
JQ: Oh no. Beg your pardon. You only wanted officers didn’t you? No.
CB: I want to know all the others but -
JQ: Yeah. Well they were -
CB: I’m just curious about the officers.
JQ: Yeah. Well the navigator was an officer.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: Jimmy Green, I haven’t told you. He was an officer.
CB: This is the bomb aimer was he?
JQ: He was the bomb aimer. And then there was Jack Bassington. He wasn’t an officer. How many have you got?
CB: Wait a minute. Yeah. Sorry. So Jimmy Green. Mike Seaton, Ralph Thompson was the rear gunner.
JQ: No. Alf.
CB: Alf Thompson. Sorry. Ok, who was the mid-upper?
JQ: No. No. He was the rear -
CB: Yeah, but who was the mid-upper?
JQ: Eddie Howell. How many have you got?
CB: Wireless operator?
JQ: Jack Bressington. Bressington.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: And me. That should be seven.
CB: Engineer?
JQ: Engineer.
[machine paused]
CB: Just ask you the question. So John just going back to the time the plane’s on fire the mid-upper tells you that the plane’s on fire. What’s your immediate reaction? How do you feel about that?
JQ: Well it’s difficult to, difficult to say really. If you’re one of these people who can make an instant reaction and it happens to be the right reaction then that’s what you must do but the average person it takes a second or two to sink in and I was doing a job on a bombing run and so I knew that I’d got to do something and the thing I was doing was the nearest thing to do. Having done that I was able to think that getting out of a plane over a target in an area full of anti-aircraft fire with a lot of hostile natives below wasn’t a very good idea. The chances of, of the petrol tank blowing up were diminished slightly, I realised quite quickly because if it was going to blow up it would have been blown up before then and so I thought with a bit of luck I could get to the end of a dogleg which was going to take me about five minutes and then bale out and that was my intention and fortunately the fire went out for whatever reason. We didn’t know at the time but we found out when we got back what had happened.
CB: So you said already you slowed the aircraft down but when you landed, how did you feel?
JQ: Relieved [laughs] yes because I was relieved because it was a fact that we, the fire went out was a relief to start with but we were then faced by the fact that we might not have enough petrol to get back so we might still have to bale out at some stage but at least we might be able to get to somewhere where it was a little bit more friendly then there. So when I slowed the aircraft down and let it almost stall and put the wheels down and I got the indication that they were down and then pulled them back up again of course then I was more relieved at that but we still couldn’t be quite sure whether the aircraft wheels would stay locked down when we got there so I tried to put it down as gently as I could but we were quite relieved to get back.
CB: So your concern there was whether the hydraulics had been damaged. Was it?
JQ: Yes it was. Or anything, any other reason.
CB: Yeah. So what I’m thinking is you taxi to dispersal.
JQ: I wasn’t bothered about taxi.
CB: Then what do you do?
JQ: Yeah. I think we, I don’t think we whooped with joy or anything like that you know I think we just sort of accepted it as being jolly good fortune and next stop the -
CB: The fry up.
JQ: The coffee. Coffee.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: Coffee and rum.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: And the interrogation as to what had happened.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: And, and then eventually to get to bed because we were usually pretty tired by that time.
CB: But you were a bit more tired with that one.
JQ: Yeah.
[machine paused]
JQ: To the dispersal that you know we’d be, we’d be briefed in the briefing room as to what we’d got to do, where we were going and get all our maps, or the navigator would get all his maps together and you’d put all your kit on and you’d get in the wagon and they had to take you out to dispersal and dump you there and you wouldn’t get in the aircraft because you were going to be in there long enough so you’d stop outside the aircraft and chat or do whatever and the CO used to come around, always came around and said, ‘Good luck everybody,’ and then off he’d go again in his car and you’d laugh and joke and whatnot and I’ve often wondered why we did it and everybody did it you know. And I think, thinking back, I think it was bravado. You know. We all, we all knew why we were going and we all knew the chances that we, but nobody said it and I think you just joked. The Americans used to play baseball or something or other.
CB: Antidote to the stress.
JQ: Yeah. I think so. I think that’s what it must have been.
CB: So you’ve got, you’ve got out of the wagon. You’ve peed against the rear wheel. You -
JQ: No. I never did that.
CB: Oh. You didn’t. Right.
JQ: No. Some of them did.
CB: But when you, as soon as, the joking is outside, but as soon as you get in the aircraft.
JQ: No. There wasn’t any joking there.
CB: Right [pause]. How did the crew get on?
JQ: Oh fine. We never had any, any bother about anything. Yes. We were ok.
[machine pause]
JQ: Bomb aimer had been in the air force a little bit longer so he tended to be the one that knew about things. We didn’t get on with him to start with and tried to get rid of him but the CO wasn’t having it. I think if we’d pressed him really hard I think he would have done it.
CB: Was it because -
JQ: Because you were supposed to be able to do it.
CB: Was it his second tour?
JQ: No. No. No. I think he’d been on the ground. He was always a bit, could never quite understand him really. A bit of a line shoot you know. But you know having got over the initial thing we all understood him and you know, he used to joke about the fact, because we had batwomen you know and he always used to say, ‘No batwoman has ever, ever beaten me to the door,’ sort of thing and things like that he used to say. Nobody believed him of course.
CB: This is because you had a mixed crew in terms of rank so you had officers and he was one and you had NCOs so -
JQ: There was one, one on somewhere. I think it was one of the heavy conversion units we were on, he was a wing commander and he used to make his crew line up and salute him as they got in.
CB: And he was serious.
JQ: Oh yes. He was dead serious.
CB: And he was the squadron commander was he?
JQ: No. No. He was just one of us really but his rank was wing commander. Quite how he got there, he was probably re-mustered from some other thing.
CB: Just on that topic did you ever get people who came on an ad hoc basis from OTUs? So they would just come to a station because there was always a shortage of somebody sometime and would just fly with a crew. Did you get any of those?
JQ: Never had that.
CB: In term, we’ve talked about a number of aspects but in terms of your gunners you have a mid-upper and a tail gunner.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: To what extent -
JQ: And of course the bomb aimer had guns up front.
CB: And a bomb aimer at the front. So how often did they, did you get attacked and fire the guns?
JQ: Well never is the answer to that. They did fire the guns but not in anger only to, you know see where we were going and we had to do something to fire at something for some reason or other in the sea. I can’t remember quite why it was now but we never, and I’ve often wondered why we never got attacked and I have a feeling that it may be you read these stories about blokes going on the raids, I’ve read one or two actually and they seem to choose their own height. They might, might attack the target at the right height but in between they’ve gone down low or whatnot. They always used to give us a height to fly and I always flew it and the reason I always flew it is was that I reckoned the higher you go the less petrol you used because the air’s thinner so you don’t need quite so much so that’s what I did. I did what I was told really.
CB: What heights would they be?
JQ: Well it varied. I mean, it, I think the lowest in anger would be about fifteen thousand and the highest would be about twenty and of course the Germans knew this and that’s why they put their thing, they had a box and, but I think what some people must have done is to say right, ‘We’ve done that, dropped the bombs, right, stick the nose down and get home boys,’ you see and you can get that bit faster sticking their nose down and what not. Well you’d use more petrol doing it that way but you’d obviously have enough to get back but you know if you, if you were in trouble then perhaps you’d might miss that bit that you’ve got. But look at it from a fighter’s point of view. Chap’s there in a fighter and he’s churning around at night and there’s one nice and down low where he is and other than that he’s got to climb up to twenty thousand feet or something or other and do up there so he thinks I’ll stop down here and probably gets the pickings down there which wasn’t not the reason I stopped up there in actual fact. I stopped up there because that’s what they said so that’s what I did so -
CB: And when you’re in the bomber stream you need to be on some pre-agreed level don’t you?
JQ: Yes but I’ve read quite a few stories about people who didn’t and of course there must be a lot who didn’t or don’t admit it or didn’t admit it at the time and but I mean I had one time, is that on?
CB: Ahum.
JQ: One time we were told to get together, I can’t remember, rendezvous, that’s the word I was trying to think of, rendezvous at fifteen thousand feet above our airfield along with a lot of others and so we started off and we’d got I think three quarters of an hour, or an hour or something like that to do it and it took us more than that to get to fifteen thousand feet by which time everybody else had gone and it, I mean it was a night raid but it started off in daylight and I knew the reason that we, everybody else had gone was because we weren’t getting the power and I was looking around for a reason. Checked everything through. Checked everything I could think of. I couldn’t find the reason and they said, we did actually set course at the time we should have done but we set course at a lower level. We were still climbing, trying to get to this fifteen thousand feet. By the time we get, we got to the coast the darkness was closing in and we could see the Dutch coast and we could see flak coming up like mad there so we knew that that’s where the bomber stream was and we were on our own and so I thought we were in for it when we, you know, they’ll get us good and proper but anyway so on we went straight through Holland. Nothing. Every now and again on the way we could see these, this flak coming up and every time we got to somewhere near there, nothing. And then we get near the target, near it, it’s going to take us another quarter of an hour or so to get there but I could see over there at about two o’clock to my thing was this beautiful sight, it was amazing really and I thought what on earth is that? And I very quickly realised it was our raid going on and you got the fires that had been lit with the bombing, you’d got Window, do you know what I mean by Window?
CB: Absolutely. Yes.
JQ: Yeah. Trickling down, well you couldn’t actually see the Window but you could see the sparkles coming down. You could see the searchlights going up in to a cone over the top. You could see the markers green and red and what not there and the anti-aircraft fire and it was really was a beautiful sight and it took me a second or two to realise what the devil it was because I knew we’d got to go there, there and bomb on the way back. So I thought blimey. They were really going to be waiting for us when we get there so we did that, we came and we turned around and we were on the run in now. So this time I thought right I’m going to get out of here as quickly as we can so I put the throttles right up, and we went in and we did the bombing run, we went out, not a searchlight came up. Nothing. No ackack fire. Nothing. And it was only on the way out as one searchlight popped up and it wasn’t terribly near us and we got back and we never had a blind thing really and we were all on our own.
CB: Amazing. What height did you manage to achieve in the end?
JQ: Oh I think we, I think we -
CB: It doesn’t matter but I was just curious.
JQ: I can’t remember now. I’ll just see if I can spot it.
CB: Because in practical terms if you were low on power it would be pretty difficult loaded to get high wouldn’t it?
JQ: Yeah. Oh that wasn’t the reason. No, I found, we found out the reason afterwards when we got back because I went around the next morning and said to the mechanics, ‘What did you find?’ And it was stuck in hot air and there was a lever, hot and cold air and I checked that but the answer I got was when they loaded the bombs they, they’d bent a control rod. Now, why a control rod for hot air should go through a bomb bay I’ve no idea but that’s the answer I got so. But I did check, check that. That was the first thing I checked because I -
CB: Well let’s pick up that up a bit later. Can we move to when you became a Pathfinder? So you moved from 170 because you did your practice bombing.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: You were so elated with that you put the nose down and –
JQ: Yes.
CB: The elsan -
JQ: Yeah.
CB: Decided to -
JQ: Yeah.
CB: Fly.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: But presumably you were re-graded on that.
JQ: We were. Yes. We were.
CB: So -
JQ: They made us an A crew.
CB: That made you an A crew so what happened then?
JQ: So then they posted us to -
CB: So 582 squadron.
JQ: 582 squadron.
CB: Little Staughton
JQ: Little Staughton. That’s right.
CB: Now this was a demanding experience was it?
JQ: Well they, yes, they didn’t put us straight onto ops because they don’t operate quite the same. They don’t operate the Lancasters quite the same either. They fly them a little bit faster and various other things I can’t quite remember them all now but it wasn’t that much different but they had their own way of doing things. We were expected to, if I remember rightly, we were expected to get to the target plus or minus. I can’t think whether it was a minute or four minutes plus or minus but whereas main force they give you each hour and you started off when you should get there at the time and when you arrived you bombed but you, with Pathfinders you started in good time and then the navigator worked out, he kept working out the eta and if you wanted to lose some time then he’d say, ‘Lose a couple of minutes Skip,’ you see, so I’d turn forty five degrees to the, to the route for two minutes. I’d turn ninety degrees back for two minutes and that puts you back on where you were but two minutes later and then you kept doing that and doing that and you could actually get there more or less smack on time doing that but of course it means that you’re there longer and then what you do then is you have, you have to drop Window which protects the people behind you. It doesn’t do anything for you. It just accentuates the view of you because they can see a line of Win, on the radar they could see a line of Window coming from you but nothing in front so they know that’s you. So we had a special radio which we switched on just before we got anywhere near the target and that sort of blurred everything in front so it gave us the protection that we were giving everybody behind. Having done that we’d go in and if you were new to the, to the Pathfinders you would go in as a supporter. They wouldn’t let you drop a flare or a marker or anything like that but you would go in with those blokes who were going to do that and the fact you were dropping Window and using your radio and all that sort of thing you were supporting them in that, in that respect. You would then, having supported them in that way you then did a circuit around, came back into the bomber stream again and came up to the target again.
CB: In the bomber stream.
JQ: In the bomber stream. And then drop bombs or whatever they’d put in, in the bomb bay. I always thought that was the most dangerous time to be quite honest because it was like doing a u-turn on the M1 at night, you know, without any lights because you didn’t know whether there was some of your own bombers.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: Would come and wipe you up you know. I mean I know they worked it all out so that you should all be separated but it doesn’t work like that you know.
CB: No.
JQ: Anyway we never did come to any harm. And then after you’ve done some of those then then they started giving you flares and markers to drop.
CB: How many sorties, ops, would you have to do before qualifying for that? Normally.
JQ: I, I think it was five.
CB: Ok.
JQ: No. No. Wait a minute. It could have been more than that.
CB: So after five you would then join the others straight in.
JQ: Straight in. Yeah.
CB: With flares.
JQ: Except the master, master bomber of course. He was floating around all the time.
CB: Right. So the master bomber would be there and then he would be, what height would he be at?
JQ: Oh he would go -
CB: Watching what was going on?
JQ: Anywhere. Usually quite low.
CB: Oh was he?
JQ: Yeah. And usually in a Mosquito.
CB: Ah.
JQ: In fact I would think probably always in a Mosquito.
CB: And would the master bomber be a pilot or would he be a navigator in a Mosquito?
JQ: Do you know I don’t know? We had, you see, on our squadron, on our thing at Little Staughton we had 582 which was Lancasters and 109 which was Mosquitos and it used to annoy us because we’d go in and we’d take off say at half past six and they’d take off about half past seven. We’d be back about twelve or whatever. They’d be back at ten.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: And in bed.
CB: Yeah. Really narking, yeah.
JQ: Yes.
CB: And they’d eaten all the fry up.
JQ: They didn’t do that.
CB: They didn’t get a fry up because it was before midnight.
JQ: What was the question you were asking?
CB: The question was how many ops you had to do before you qualified to go in on the main operation?
JQ: I’m not sure that there was, there was a particular time but -
CB: Because they monitored your progress did they, in the early stages, more than they would otherwise.
JQ: I don’t know.
CB: We’re just looking at the logbook.
CB: Let’s pick that up, that one up later John.
JQ: Yes. Ok.
CB: So how many, you joined the Pathfinders? They said after, say five that you would then go in on the main operations. So these were all at night were they?
JQ: Yeah. Yeah they were mainly.
CB: And a wide variety of -
JQ: No. No they weren’t, they weren’t all at night. There was the odd one or two as the war went on.
CB: Yes. And then so you did eight ops with 170. How many ops did you do with 582? That was more wasn’t it?
JQ: Yes it was.
CB: But while you’re looking that up when you joined 170 you had the first op was as second pilot.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: With Pathfinders did they do the same thing?
JQ: No. Straight in.
CB: Right. So when your Pathfinder activity came to an end, why was that?
JQ: The war finished.
CB: Right.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: And how did you feel at that point because it wasn’t the end of a complete tour of thirty ops was it?
JQ: No. It wasn’t. No.
CB: So did you feel short changed or what did you feel?
JQ: Glad the war was over. No. Didn’t worry too much really but, no. You’d got other things to think about and you’d come through. No. Sort of mixed feelings I suppose really. We were glad the war was won.
CB: Were there any major raids you went on as a Pathfinder?
JQ: Well it depends what you call a major raid.
CB: Well -
JQ: And I don’t know which one we could -
CB: On the really large cities. Berlin.
JQ: Oh I didn’t go to Berlin.
CB: Right.
JQ: The reason for that was they did actually try it before we joined Pathfinders and it wasn’t a success because they lost a lot of planes doing it because the fighters, their fighters were so much faster than the thing and you got all that time to get to Berlin.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: And back again.
CB: No.
JQ: And Berlin was really Mosquitoes all the time.
CB: Right.
JQ: Towards the end when I -
CB: For Pathfinding.
JQ: Well for anything really.
CB: Right.
JQ: I think they did the odd one or two to Birmingham but er to Berlin but I went to the major cities. Hanover. I think that, when we were on our own, was Hanover.
CB: And the Ruhr.
JQ: Ruhr all the time because that’s near, that was near that was an easy one.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: I think the longest one I ever went on was a nine hour trip but I can’t remember where that was too. Somewhere in the north of Italy somewhere.
CB: Ah right. So it was Turin was it? The raids in Italy.
JQ: If I could spot it I would know.
CB: In the Lancaster you could fly over the Alps could you? Or did you have to fly around them?
JQ: I don’t think, I don’t think we flew anything direct. We usually went around things you know because if you were direct they knew you were coming.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: Yeah. I’ve got one there. Seven and a half. That was Dessau, wherever that is. [pause] Mannheim. [pause] Essen of course [pause] Bremen. Dahlen. Hanover [?] Lutzendorf, wherever that is.
CB: Oh a bit of variety. So now the war is finished. It’s the 8th of May 1945. What happened to the squadron and your flying?
JQ: Now wait a minute. Did you say the 8th of May 1945?
CB: The Europe, the war in Europe is finished.
[long pause]
JQ: Yes. That’s right. Well -
[long pause]
JQ: On the 4th of April we did an op to Lutzendorf.
CB: And you did some raids, some ops after that for the month because May, we’re talking about 8th of May and what you did after that?
JQ: Well on May the 3rd
CB: Yeah.
JQ: Much to our surprise because the war hadn’t finished they said, ‘You’re going food dropping.’
CB: Oh yes. Right. So you did Operation Manna in Holland.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: Ok.
JQ: Nobody’d done it. Certainly not to our knowledge anyway. Two hundred feet. Which is low.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: To drop food at Rotterdam.
CB: Is this over the city or in the countryside?
JQ: In the countryside. Well near enough Rotterdam you know and -
CB: Is that in the bomb bay or was it chucking it out of the door?
JQ: No. No. What they, they sprung it on us really. We’d. I think the negotiations had begun before that but we didn’t know anything about it and we were still in in a bombing mode.
CB: Right.
JQ: You know, and we were still practicing for it as we always did and they said, ‘Right, you’re food dropping at two hundred feet and the Germans have promised not to fire.’ And we thought a likely story. So we set off on this thing. What they did was they had done a few tests and they’d found that it wasn’t really a practical proposition to sort of take a load of parachutes and have it dropping down by parachute. What they’d do would stick it in paper bags like a concrete bag that you’d have concrete powder in and stick stuff like powdered egg and grain and that sort of stuff you know. Flour and, in this bag and drop it from two hundred feet. Well of course the bag burst immediately so then they had a bright idea and they thought what if we put another paper bag around it what would happen and it didn’t. I presume if it went on top of a pole or something it would do.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
JQ: You know. So then they got something like a football net behind a goal and they attached that to the bomb hooks or some of the bomb hooks in the bomb bay and then that gave something they could put all these bags in and then and we were able to close the bomb doors and then from then on it’s a bombing raid.
CB: Right.
JQ: You see, so it was done exactly the same. It was marked.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: And from two hundred feet so we went over and did this and I was careful to put my altimeter, to put pressure on my altimeter highly correctly and off we went. When we got there, obviously being daylight, we could see all the aircraft and I was here and there was two or three aircraft in front of me, you know, only about a hundred yards away. There was one there and one there, one there, one there but slightly higher than me and I remember looking at my altimeter and thinking well they’re a bit high. I’m at two hundred feet. But of course your instruments vary a bit you know so I didn’t bother because I thought well I’m within twenty five, thirty feet of two hundred feet or they’re too high. One or the other you know. We’d come up to, up to the point and they released their bags. Well I had a hundred weight bags of this, that and the other flying past me like, you know I thought, God, you know I thought if one of those hits us we’re in for trouble.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
JQ: You know there was nothing I could do about it.
CB: Yeah. You had to pull it back did you?
JQ: No. I didn’t. I just, we just kept going. I thought well even if I’d pulled back I couldn’t have missed one.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
JQ: So anyway it all went down and it was, the Germans didn’t fire and it was highly interesting to see what the Dutch had done because there were Union Jacks all over the place.
CB: Oh were there?
JQ: Where they got them I’ve no idea. You’d see kids in a school, what looked like a school playground and on the ground in the playground there’d be this flat on the floor and they were all waving like the clappers and all out in the, a right reception they gave us.
CB: Yeah. Fantastic.
JQ: But all the time we wondered whether the Germans would fire but they didn’t so so that was that and I think there were one or two. We only did one but there were one or two like that.
CB: So you only had one sortie. You didn’t have to fly at low level to get there did you? You just had to let down -
JQ: Yeah.
CB: At the last minute.
JQ: If I remember rightly. Yes. In fact I’m sure that’s right. My common sense tells me that. Not my memory.
CB: Yeah. And for the drop you don’t want too much speed so what did you haul back to?
JQ: I can’t remember.
CB: But you did, you did throttle back.
JQ: A thousand probably because I mean we were so used to flying up, up high.
CB: No. I didn’t mean that I meant the speed. So you don’t want to be going at two hundred miles an hour dropping bags do you? You -
JQ: Oh yeah we did.
CB: Did you pull it back?
JQ: Yeah. We did.
CB: And just keep it at -
JQ: No we well -
CB: A hundred and fifty or something.
JQ: No. I didn’t pull it back.
CB: Right.
JQ: In fact we got, I don’t remember any instructions to pull it back. I don’t think it would make any difference anyway.
CB: I was thinking about the impact.
JQ: Well, they got from two hundred feet anyway so -
CB: Yeah.
JQ: It would have slowed a bit by then wouldn’t they?
CB: Yeah.
JQ: It seemed to work anyway.
CB: So after that the war ends.
JQ: After that we got sent, I got sent to Dunkeswell.
CB: Oh yes.
JQ: Which is in Devon.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: And, oh I did do some, on May 15th I fetched some prisoners of war back from Juvincourt. Then I got sent to Dunkeswell.
CB: How many times, how many trips did you do? That was Operation Exodus wasn’t it? Bringing back POWs.
JQ: Yes it was. I’d forgotten that. Yes.
CB: How many trips of that did you do?
JQ: Only one.
CB: That was from Holland. Was it from Holland?
JQ: No. Well, Juvincourt. I can’t remember where Juvincourt is.
CB: Belgium.
JQ: Either France or Belgium I think.
CB: So you did one of those. So you went to Dunkeswell. What happened there?
JQ: Well we were supposed to be transferring on to Lincolns for the Japanese war.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: But it never happened. I did a bit of test flying there of Lancasters where I flew the Lancaster completely on my own. Usually with a couple of ground engineers or even one ground engineer because -
CB: What were you testing then?
JQ: The pilots had reported faults with -
CB: Ah.
JQ: With the thing and -
CB: Yeah.
JQ: It was either before they’d been put right or after or both, you know. I remember taking off in one thing and I checked all around outside and as soon, as soon as I took off one of the wings dropped so I immediately corrected it and I found instead of being like that, straight and level, I was flying like that and it worked perfectly well. The only thing about it was that I couldn’t get any farther that way I’d really got to go this way and go all the way around and -
CB: What did that turn out to be?
JQ: Well –
CB: A spanner left in the plane?
JQ: No. A trimming tab on the aileron.
CB: Right.
JQ: Was bent up too much or down too much. I can’t remember which way now. Something quite simple really but I mean you know unless you knew quite what, what you were doing.
CB: Right.
JQ: And if you panicked and tried turning even faster you might get yourself into trouble. I realised you couldn’t get that way anymore so I went this way.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: But of course when you’re coming in to land it doesn’t help you know you’re coming in to land -
CB: Of course.
JQ: Like this. Well if I want to go that way I’m going to use my rudders or something.
CB: I’ve had an elevator trimmer go myself and run out of stick movement.
JQ: Yes.
CB: When you don’t know what it is it’s disconcerting.
JQ: Yes.
CB: So after Dunkeswell then what? Did you have to, how long did you stay in the RAF before you were demobbed.
JQ: No longer than I could help after that, you know. Having made -
CB: Right. Was that the end of flying? Dunkeswell.
JQ: Decided that was it. That wasn’t the end of flying for me but -
CB: No. No. But in the RAF.
JQ: In the RAF.
CB: When was your last sortie with the RAF?
[long pause, turning pages]
JQ: It appears to be January the 18th 1946.
CB: Ok.
JQ: And I was actually, what happened then, after that, I was taken off flying. I got sent back to my old Little Staughton.
CB: Oh.
JQ: Which rather surprised me and I had an even, even bigger surprise when I got there because when I’d left it it was a thriving bomber station and when I came back there were about no more than a dozen people in the sergeant’s mess and about three of us in the officer’s mess and two of them had been there quite a while and wanted to go on leave and so one of them said, ‘Well, here’s the key to the bar. You’re in charge. Goodbye.’ [laughs]. So although I never had the title I was virtually CO. Only for a short time. Only about a fortnight, something like that and then, then I was demobbed.
CB: From Little Staughton.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: What did you do after that? Because you’d done engineering before you joined the RAF. So what did you do when you left the RAF?
JQ: Well I thought I didn’t want to go back to the job I was in because I’d started wrong anyway because I went into the drawing office and although I did alright in it and understood what I was doing I’d really started wrong because to go in to a drawing office you really ought to start on the floor, not in the drawing office, on the floor doing engineering stuff and I realised that that was the way I ought to have done it so I thought, no, I didn’t want to go back there. So I cast around for a bit and the Ministry of Labour, as it was in those days, wanted, they ran, ran a course. They realised there were a lot of people in the services, particularly officers who had gone in at a young age as I had and hadn’t got any experience of business. So they thought well if we give them some experience of business perhaps we can slot them in to the employment lot and they’ll know what they’re doing you see and they’ll have caught up a bit so I thought well that’s a good idea so I applied. They didn’t take everybody but I applied and they accepted me and I went down to Worcester and it was a three week course if I remember rightly. They taught us, well, quite a lot of stuff. Accountancy. You know, a bit of this and a bit of that and a bit of the other and quite good. And then if you wanted to you could apply then for a speciality course which was another three weeks and that you could be put out with a firm and they could teach you about what went on at their firm and if they liked you or wanted you and what not they could take you on and possibly would take you on. So I thought I’ll have a go at that so I had a go at that and went through all that and, and then said, ‘I’d like to,’ oh apart from the people who you were with for the speciality, no wait a minute, yes, apart from the people you were with on the speciality course the ministry, if they didn’t want you the Ministry of Labour would find you a thing. And the chap, chaps that I was with didn’t, didn’t want me so I applied to the Ministry of Labour for them to find me. So they said, ‘Oh yes. We’ll find you somewhere.’ Nothing happened. And then I queried it a bit and they sent me to someplace that, you know, I thought blimey if I come here I’m really going down you know. You know. Real Dickensian stuff you know.
CB: Oh. Sweatshop.
JQ: So I thought well this is a right thing so I said, I had a bright idea and I went around and I said, ‘Can you give me a pile of your leaflets?’ And they said, ‘What do you want a pile of leaflets for?’ And I said, ‘I’ll find my own.’ Well they thought that was a jolly good idea. Saved them a lot of bother you see. So they gave me a pile of these leaflets and I went around to people I thought might be likely and asked to see somebody and most of the time they didn’t because they didn’t, you know didn’t know what I was about so I’d leave a leaflet and what not and one of them turned up. It was in printing and my grandfather as I told you was in printing.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: So I I went there and I did quite well.
CB: Locally.
JQ: I did, I went into the office, I didn’t go to the actual printing. I went into the office and I took up, doing a night course on costing which I did. Printers had a costing system so I did that and the people who were running this who were the British Master Printers Federation they, when I’d finished they said, ‘Well we’re short of a teacher in Birmingham. You wouldn’t like to do it would you?’ Because I’d, it was three certificates you got and I’d got all three so I said yes. So I taught that for three years until I got tired of it. And then one day I called on, oh I got on to the sales side of that, for that thing then and they gave me a car, a small car and then I called on a customer one day and it was a woman customer and she said, ‘My managing director wants to know if you know anybody that’s interested in a job in printing.’ So I said, ‘Well I’m in printing.’ She said. ‘Yes. That’s why I said it.’ So I said, ‘Who is it?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know he hasn’t told me.’ So I applied for it and got it and it was for a big printing company Sir Joseph Causton.
CB: Oh right.
JQ: And so I applied for that and I got that and the rest is history. I did, did quite well and they gave me a car, and then a bigger car, and a bigger car and then I thought well I’m driving a lot around in this car I could fly around. So I said, I said to the sales director, ‘What about it?’ He said, ‘Good idea. Yeah. Why not.’ So I did that a bit and then, and I’d got my own aeroplane by then.
CB: Oh had you?
JQ: So I thought well if I did use it for business they paid the expenses. I thought well they might as well own it why don’t I sell it to them? So I sold it to them the aeroplane.
CB: Oh did you?
JQ: And used it on the proviso I could use it for private means if necessary provided I paid the costs so they agreed to that and then we were taken over and I ran into trouble then because we were, we got in to a sort of recession and they said, ‘Well we’ll have to cut the aeroplane down,’ So I bought it back off them and used it privately and in the end I found that I wasn’t using it as much as I was paying. It was costing me in those days three thousand pounds a year if I never moved it out of the hangar.
CB: Really. Crikey.
JQ: So if I moved it out the hangar but I did quite a lot of things like I found that flying for business was a lot more demanding than flying for the RAF apart, you know, in the war of course.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: Because the RAF I mean they’re sensible. I mean I can remember being up in the, being up in my aircraft over Norfolk way on one occasion flying on business and I looked down and there was all these highly specialised aircraft and I can’t think what they were now.
CB: RAF ones.
JQ: RAF ones. Lightnings.
CB: Oh yes.
JQ: I don’t mean the old Lightning that they had.
CB: Right.
JQ: I mean the new ones.
CB: P1 yeah.
JQ: And they were all on the ground. I was up in the blinking air tossing around like mad and things like that you know and I found that you had to be, you had to be a lot more smart as well because in the RAF you got things like defrosting and that sort of thing and you can’t afford to buy that sort of thing in the light aircraft. Apart from the weight. So in the end I found that I wasn’t using it as much as I’d think so I thought I’d better give it up so I did. And in a sense, in a sense I’m still a pilot because although I haven’t got a licence -
CB: Yeah.
JQ: You know in all this post that comes through your door, all these catalogues I get, I get it all the time or when it comes to the door I pile it here and I pile it there.
CB: Nice one. Nice one. Nicely said. So when did you retire eventually from the printing world?
JQ: I think I was about oh I did, I have left a bit out which I forgot for a minute because I went, this Sir Joseph Causton and the aeroplane whatnot I retired from Sir Joseph Causton, buying my car off them as I, as I went, at a cheap rate.
CB: Right.
JQ: And I hadn’t been retired that long and a chap rang me and he said, ‘John,’ he said, ‘I’ve got somebody who wants me as, as a salesman,’ he said, ‘But I don’t want it. I wondered if you’d like to start up again,’ you see. So I thought I’d investigate this. So I did and I thought I don’t want to be employed any more. I’ve had my time but anyway I went to see them. They were in [pause] what’s that new town down south? Down your way.
CB: What, Milton Keynes.
JQ: Milton Keynes. They were in Milton Keynes or near it. Yeah. It was Milton Keynes. I went down and I said, ‘Well,’ you know, ‘I am interested but I don’t really want to be employed by you. I’ll employ myself and you can pay me a –
CB: They could pay you a fee.
JQ: A fee for it.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: So that’s what I did for some years and did alright at that too. So that’s it really.
CB: When did you eventually -
JQ: So I must have been about –
CB: Retire?
JQ: Seventy, seventy, seventy two. Something like that.
CB: I’ve just got two extra questions that you prompted me with earlier.
JQ: Oh yes. Yes.
CB: One was to do with baked bean tins.
JQ: Baked bean tins. Yes. Yes. We had a thing apart from the elsan toilet that we’d got in the back like every other Lancaster.
CB: In the Lancaster. Yes.
JQ: We didn’t actually use it to be quite honest. But then we never had the same Lancaster anyway. You could get one or the other or whatnot. But, but people did use it but we we had that the engineer organised this. He always used to have a baked bean tin and where he got them from or why we could get baked beans during the war I’ve no idea, but this used to be passed around. You know, anyone who wanted a pee you didn’t have to get up. He’d come along with the baked bean tin you see but of course it gets full so he had to, and so if possible it was kept until we were over the target and then tipped down the window chute.
CB: Just as a bonus for the target. Yeah.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: And the other was the cracked -
JQ: Oh well that was, that was -
CB: Bomb.
JQ: After the war while everything was still going but even though the war had finished, you know, this was at Little Staughton and we still did, you know, practicing because we, I mean the war with Japan was still going and we were sort of getting ready for that but you know everybody was still flying and that sort of thing but not in anger and the CO called me to see him one day so I went and saw him and he said, ‘Quine,’ he said, ‘We have a bomb in our bomb dump which has got a crack in it,’ he said, ‘And when the,’ he said, ‘It’s got a crack in it and the explosive is seeping out through the crack and crystallising,’ he said, ‘And when it gets into a crystallised state it gets a bit unstable and the bomb’s liable to go off,’ he said, ‘And we’d rather not a bomb go off in our bomb dump if you don’t mind,’ he said. ‘So what we’re going to do is we’re doing to load it into a Lancaster and ask you to fly it and drop it in the sea in the appropriate place,’ because there was an appropriate place for everybody to drop stuff if they had to so you know wondering why he’d picked on me for this job you know so I went around and I think it was something like a Sunday morning and there wasn’t a fat lot going on, I went around to see the crew half of whom were still in bed cause they didn’t want to do much on a Sunday and they they were highly delighted to get out of bed for this thing you see. So for some reason or other which I can’t remember I had to go up to the guardroom so I went up to the guardroom and the military policeman there who everybody loves as you know said, ‘Morning sir. Lovely morning.’ So I said, ‘Yes it is a nice morning.’ He said, ‘Nice night, nice day for a flight. Are you going for a flight sir?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am as a matter of fact.’ ‘I’d love to come with you.’ So without telling him why we were going I said, ‘Yes certainly. You can come with me if you want to.’ And he said, ‘Well I shall have to ask my superior.’ I said, ‘Well go and ask him then.’ So he disappeared in the back and he came back about a minute later and he said, ‘Yes that’s alright. He said I can come.’ I said, ‘Right 2 o’clock at dispersal.’ I told him where. So off we go and just before two the bomb’s been duly loaded. We could see that because the bomb doors were still open. You didn’t close them until, until you were about to taxi off. I didn’t tell him why and he didn’t ask why either or where we were going. I told the crew not to tell him and we took off and as soon as we’d taken off we told him and he went white. And so we flew out and dropped it without any trouble at all really. Quite gently we did it, I flew it out ‘cause I didn’t -
CB: I bet. ‘Cause none of you wanted to join your maker did you?
JQ: And of course I hadn’t inspected it and in any case I wouldn’t have known what sort of state it was in by looking at it, not being an expert on these things. So anyway, we dropped it and of course then he got his own back.
CB: Oh.
JQ: ‘Cause he’s a hero now you see. So, I mean, ‘I’ve been in an aircraft with a wonky bomb,’ you see.
CB: Amazing. Final question really and that is after the war a lot of people, air crew were sent on tours of Germany they called the Cooks Tours.
JQ: Cooks Tours.
CB: Did you do any Cooks Tours?
JQ: Yes. Did those.
CB: So who were the people who went? What was a Cook’s Tour and who went on it?
JQ: We flew out to the Ruhr as a rule. In fact it might have been all the time to the Krupp’s works at Essen which was a right sight. You should have seen it. It was a tangled mass. We really clobbered it. No doubt about that. And we were cleared to fly at two hundred feet and we’d get there and usually what I did was do steep turns around it because when you do a steep turn you can look down and got a really good view of it and most people seemed to enjoy that and having done that we just came back again.
CB: Yeah. But who were the people you took?
JQ: Now, the people we took were in the main were ground crew and they enjoyed it but we ran out of ordinary ground crew. I don’t know how many I did. I didn’t do that many but I did do some so we took some WAAFs. They decided they’d let the WAAFs come. We didn’t organise it so they were provided with sick bags and we did exactly the same as we always did. We went around, steep turns, around, out comes the sick bags whoo [laughs] and then we came back again and I think, I think if I remember rightly I think I think it was one of those, this business I’ve told you of the bomb aimer going to sleep when he was supposed to be map reading I think that was why we were at -
CB: Right.
JQ: Two hundred feet.
CB: Did you, how many did you take at a time and how did they actually get the experience of looking?
JQ: I think they enjoyed it and they all -
CB: But how many would you take at a time?
JQ: Oh it wouldn’t be, it wasn’t many. Four or five. And they’d be up, standing beside me and I’ve got a feeling some of them went down.
CB: And behind you. Yeah.
JQ: You’d get two at the side I think, to watch. To watch. I think you might get two in the bomb aimer’s position. I can’t remember exactly but I know we had some at the side and I think that’s where the others must have gone but we never had more than four or five.
CB: And they just sat on the floor.
JQ: Oh they sat on the floor on the way to and from.
CB: But your full crew was there was it?
JQ: Oh yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JQ: We had a full crew.
CB: Right. Ok. What was the most memorable part of your career in the RAF?
JQ: Blimey what a question [pause]. I can’t tell you. It’s all pretty memorable actually.
CB: Well you’ve done really well. So, John Quine thank you.
[machine paused]
JQ: The war. They didn’t look out we just -
JB: You just packed them in did you?
CB: How many could you carry in a -
JQ: They just sat on the floor in the back.
JB: Yeah.
JQ: And we gave them blankets.
JB: Right.
JQ: Which we took with us. I think it was about thirty or something like that.
JB: Really.
JQ: Because we hadn’t got, we hadn’t got any bombs on of course.
JB: No. No.
JQ: That’s why we were able to take a weight like that but I think, I don’t think they were in much comfort.
JB: No.
CB: But they just wanted to get back.
JQ: Yeah.
JB: So why were they special that they got -
JQ: Oh we never found out why.
JB: No.
JQ: Never heard.
CB: No. If you take the Buckingham, the airfields at Westcott and Oakley received fifty seven thousand POWs.
JQ: That’s amazing isn’t it?
CB: Yeah. In that operation.
JQ: Yeah.
CB: Operation Exodus.
JQ: Yes. I remember the name Exodus.
CB: Yeah. Normally a Lancaster could take twenty five but that was really pushing it.
JQ: Well it could have been twenty five. It could have been. I said thirty but, you know I’m guessing a bit but I thought of something just now that I hadn’t told you. What question did you ask John?
JB: How many prisoners of war could you get -
JQ: Oh that’s right, you did.
JB: In a Lancaster.
JQ: Yeah. Now, I can’t just think. If I think in the next few moments I’ll -


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with John Wakeford Quine,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed January 27, 2020,

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