Interview with Douglas Robinson


Interview with Douglas Robinson


Douglas was in the Local Defence Volunteers before joining the Royal Air Force as a pilot. After Babbacombe, he did initial training at Scarborough and then in Rhodesia. Initial flight training in Harare on Tiger Moths was followed by service training on Oxfords at Bulawayo. Douglas had an eventful passage home when his troop ship, the Oronsay, was torpedoed by Italian submarine Archimede and he spent eight days in a lifeboat.

After returning to the UK, Douglas went to an Operational Training Unit to get crewed up, initially at RAF Wymeswold and then RAF Castle Donington on Wellingtons. He went to RAF Marston Moor and on to 158 Squadron at RAF Lissett on Halifaxes where he describes an encounter with Group Captain Leonard Cheshire. Douglas relates how a rear gunner refused to fly and was court martialled.

Douglas flew three operations to Berlin and on the third took a direct hit. After most of the crew baled, he managed to land in the Netherlands before being taken prisoner. Stalag Luft VI, on the border of East Prussia and Lithuania, was followed by Stalag Luft IV after the Russians approached. For three months Douglas was part of the Long March before being rescued by the 6th Airborne Division and flown back home.

Douglas stayed on for three years after the war. He was posted to RAF Wing and went up to Cosford as a flying officer. He attended a Lancaster Conversion Unit and flew Lancasters. He finished at a development squadron at the Central Signals Establishment. He recalls flying a Lancaster at the first Biggin Hill Air Show in front of Winston Churchill.




Temporal Coverage



01:33:56 audio recording

Conforms To


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DR: Unfortunately, when I came to Oundle people started calling me Dougie and if I, if there’s one thing -
GR: You don’t like. Yeah.
AM: Right. We won’t do that. Right. Here goes then. So, my name’s Annie Moody and I’m a volunteer with the International Bomber Command Centre and today we’re in Oundle and it’s the 11th of September 2016 and I’m with Flight Lieutenant Douglas Robinson and he’s going to tell us his story. So I’m going to start off, if I may, just asking what your date of birth was.
DR: Date of birth.
AM: Yeah.
DR: 27th of July 1922.
AM: ’22. Right. And where were you born Doug?
DR: Where?
AM: Where were you born?
DR: I was born in Skegness.
AM: Skeggy. And what, what did you parents do? What was your family background? What was your family like?
DR: Well my father was a retired warrant officer from the Indian army and that’s, that was it. He was retired. He did a job as Registrar of births and deaths for the district around there. Well the, not the district. Skegness and one or two surrounding villages.
AM: Yeah. Did you have brothers and sisters or -
DR: Sorry?
AM: Did you have brothers and sisters?
DR: Yes. I had three of each. Three brothers. Three sisters.
AM: Right.
DR: My eldest brother also went in to the Indian army but he, not until during the war and he was commissioned into the Indian army. Had to come out I’m afraid when they gave India independence.
AM: Right. And what about schooling? What was your schooling like?
DR: Skegness Grammar School.
AM: Yeah. Did you enjoy it?
DR: Well. I didn’t dislike it. Didn’t really enjoy it.
AM: No.
DR: It was alright at times.
AM: How old were you when you left? Sixteen.
DR: Sixteen.
AM: Sixteen. So you would be, that would have been 1938.
DR: Yes. 1938. Around there.
AM: So what did you do when you left school?
DR: I went into a bank. The, have you heard of the TSB? I started as a junior clerk in the TSB and it was strange actually because it was a brand new office. They built it and you know there was no business there and there was the manager and me. The manager was only in his early twenties. He lost his life in the navy during the war.
AM: Right.
DR: I don’t know whether you’ve heard about it but there was a [terrible buzzing noise from interference on microphone -] [a ship, a naval ship escorting the Queen Mary from the [?] across the Atlantic bringing American troops and I think it was the Mary was a lot faster than the cruiser that he was on and so it zigzagged to keep the -] And one day bright sunshine as it is today, middle of the afternoon the ships came together and neither of them gave way and the Mary went straight through it, total loss of life. He was on that. His widow, she was, she’s dead now, she got a pension from Cunard as a result of that.
AM: Blimey.
DR: [?]
AM: So there you were though, a bank clerk with your, with your young manager.
DR: Yeah.
AM: And along came the war.
DR: [not then?] What made you join, what made you join the RAF?
DR: I don’t really, I don’t really know. I did a year in “dad’s army,” The local defence volunteers and then I don’t know I began to think I ought to be doing a bit more -
AM: Ok.
DR: For the war than this.
AM: What were you actually doing in the defence, in “dad’s army” then?
DR: Well we used to guard things that didn’t need guarding. The electricity power station, power thing and the gas works and the funny one was the telephone exchange because they’d built a new post office at Skegness and the telephone exchange was on the top floor so you’d be defending the telephone exchange but people would be coming for posting letters anyway[laughs] I mean.
AM: When you say defending it, defending it with what?
DR: Rifles.
AM: Oh you actually had rifles.
DR: For a year I had a 303 rifle and, I think it was fifty rounds of ammunition in my bedroom every night.
AM: Did you ever, did you ever use it in anger?
DR: No. No. We practiced firing but we never used it in anger.
AM: Yeah. So -
DR: There was -
AM: Sorry. Go on.
DR: There was a scare, a national sort of scare about September of 1940 that the invasion was about to start and we were called out with one of the local, one of the army units that was stationed locally and went out in to the country and spent a cold night out there. Came back next day when it was all cancelled.
AM: But I interrupted you ‘cause I asked you how come you joined the RAF.
DR: Well as I say I felt I ought to do a bit more and I think, oh what really eventually did it. One of my jobs at work was to go to the post office and I went in one day and they’d got a leaflet there which was in sort of three sections and the first one it was about pilots joining and they got twelve and six pence per day I think it was and the next one was navigators and they also got twelve and six pence a day and the third one was gunner eight and sixpence a day so I thought well I can’t fly, well I’ll never be able to fly and I’d done reasonably well in my school certificate maths so I thought well navigator must involve mathematics so I went. I sent this form off to become a navigator and I went to Lincoln for an interview. I’m not sure whether it was at Lincoln or if it was somewhere else but anyway there was a board of three officers. I think it was a group captain and he said, ‘Why do you want to become a navigator?’ And I told him and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you want to be a pilot?’ And I said, ‘I don’t think I could, could do that,’ so he said, ‘Well, I think you could. Would you be guided by me?’ And so I said, I said in my ignorance, I said, ‘Well if I went on a pilot’s course and failed it could I then become a navigator?’ ‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘You’ve my assurance on that.’ It shows how green I was. But anyway I agreed to become a pilot and that was it.
AM: And that was that. So, so talk me through it then. What happened? So they’ve decided you’re going to do pilot training,
DR: Yes.
AM: How did that all start? Where did you go first for -
DR: Well first of all I went down to a place near Torquay. Babbacombe near Torquay and I got in a flight there of about thirty five of us and it was my first experience of RAF jiggery pokery because the NCO in charge of the flight said, ‘I know the postings clerk and for,’ I think it was, ‘sixpence a head I can get you posted where you want to go,’ you see so we all wanted to go to the same place. So I paid my sixpence and all the rest of it and we paraded in the little theatre they’d got there on a Saturday for the posting and of course they posted the wrong Robinson. He, he went on my sixpence. So I had to sort of stay there. I stayed the next week and went along for the posting things and I wasn’t on that one. Then on the next week I found out the, I found the NCO who I’d paid my money to and I said, ‘Look I’m fed up being here. Get me posted this week or else.’ And I got posted but instead of going where the others had gone to Torquay I was posted up to Scarborough and I did my initial training at Scarborough and from there I went to Southern Rhodesia.
AM: Right.
DR: To do my flying training.
AM: How did you get to southern Rhodesia?
DR: By troop ship. Really packed with troops. They were going to -
AM: Where did it sail from?
DR: Sorry?
AM: Where did it sail from? Can you remember?
DR: It actually sailed from Glasgow. We were, we were in West Kirby in the Wirral for a few days and then they took us up to Glasgow and we sailed from the Clyde in a convoy, a big convoy. Called at Freetown on the way and then around to Durban.
AM: How long did it take? Ish.
DR: It seemed forever but -
AM: Yeah.
DR: We were in Freetown for several days whilst they refuelled and one thing and another and then as I say went around to Durban.
AM: Were there any scares while you were on the boat?
DR: Not going out. No.
AM: No.
DR: No. We were all at, we had a big convoy. We had, I was trying to think of the battleship that was with us. It was in Freetown near us. It went on from there to the Far East and when they sank the Prince of Wales it was sunk at the same time. I can’t thing which one it was now.
GR: Was that the Repulse?
DR: Repulse.
GR: Repulse. Yeah.
DR: Yes. Repulse I remember sailing past it as we went out of Freetown. Went. Yeah.
AM: So there you are a boy from Skegness.
DR: Sorry?
AM: So here you are a boy from Skegness.
DR: Yes [laughs]
AM: In Rhodesia.
DR: Yes. Yes.
AM: So what was that like? What?
DR: Well it was, it wasn’t bad at all really. We, there was a transit camp we went to first which was the old, it was a showground really and we were in the cattle shed, cattle, where they used to display the cows and so on, had the things on the floor we sat on but it was alright. That was just near Bulawayo. Then we went up to what was then, well now Harare anyway and that’s when I started my flying training. Initial training.
AM: So what was the training like? How did you -
DR: Training on Tiger Moths. And I had a very nice Australian instructor. Very good with me otherwise I wouldn’t have passed but –
AM: How, how did they go about teaching you to fly?
DR: Well he sat in the front cockpit and I sat in the back and communicated by tubes but, but he, he told you what you do and you would do a movement with him and then he’d tell you to do it on your own. It wasn’t really all that difficult.
AM: Could you drive a car at the time?
DR: No. No.
AM: No.
DR: I learned to fly eleven years before I learned to drive a car.
AM: The reason I ask that is because it’s pretty much the same I guess. Somebody’s showing you how to do it and then you do it.
DR: Yeah.
AM: And how long was that training? Were there any alarms and scares in that?
DR: That, that initial training we started at the beginning of November and finished at Christmas.
AM: Right.
DR: And then –
AM: So quite quick.
DR: Moved back down towards Bulawayo for the service training which there were two lots of stations, for service training. One for single engine aircraft by and large expected to go on to fighters and the other for twin engine so we went on the twin engines, the old Oxfords.
AM: How did they decide which you were going to be?
DR: Well you were asked your preference but you didn’t necessarily get it but they obviously had a certain number to post to each place and they made up the number if, but I went on the one I wanted to do actually. The twin engine one. And -
AM: So what did you go on to then then as a twin engine -?
DR: That was the Oxford. It was a –
AM: Right
DR: Wooden aircraft actually. It was designed, it was a nice little aircraft actually.
AM: Yeah. Tell me a bit more about the training then. Any alarms and scares or did it all go smoothly?
DR: Well, yeah, I had a, had a little prang on night flying. The airfield there, it had, it was strange ‘cause it was a grass airfield but there was a concrete thing across one end which we taxied on. You’d land and get on there and beyond that there was a lot of wasteland which was sort of elephant grass you know and that, this night I took off. I think it was my first night solo and I took off but didn’t do it very well and I finished off skidding along the ground in this elephant grass. So I got out and started to walk back and I met the crash thing coming. He said, ‘Have you seen the pilot of that aircraft?’ And I said, ‘Well I am the pilot.’ [laughs] So that was it. But that was all. That wasn’t much. It wasn’t very scary. I mean, just slid along the ground.
AM: Just skidded. It was like a skid.
DR: It was just, I mean, you know, people weren’t overjoyed with you [laughs].
AM: I was going to say, well that was going to be my question. What happened? How much damage did you do to it?
DR: Oh I -
AM: And what happened as a result?
DR: I imagine, I don’t know really what they did. Whether it was written off or not. It probably was. I don’t know. But no. We, we got away with it.
AM: And what happened as a result? Did you just get a telling off or just -
DR: Yeah I got a bit of a telling off and that was about it, about it but the funny thing was they immediately rush you to sick quarters because they think you know there must be some [laughs] you must have some injury, internal if not, but I was in sick quarters overnight I think. That’s all. And then I had to go down to the flight and went with an instructor around, around the low flying area. Supposed to get over your nerves or something.
AM: Climb back on the bike.
DR: Yeah.
AM: So to speak.
DR: Yeah. So that wasn’t really much though.
AM: So what next? You’ve -
DR: Well when we eventually passed out from there and got our wings and so on we went on a train down to Cape Town and then we got on a troop ship that was coming back to this country, almost, there were a few people on but there was about a hundred of us from Rhodesia and there were also some people who had been on air crew training in South Africa. I’ve got a book by one of them in there. Coming back we got on this ship in Cape Town, the Oronsay which was, there was a line called the Orient Line and they only had about four or five ships and they all started with the letters OR Orient, Orion, Orontes and so on and we’d been on our way to Free, going to go to Freetown on the way back, on our way and then in the early morning when it was still dark there was a horrible bang [laughs] and a torpedo came in. I heard the torpedo hit, hit the ship, I heard it hit the things, heard the in-rush of water and I heard the torpedo go bang and I thought it’s time to get up so we got out. There wasn’t, there was no panic. People went quite quickly but quietly upstairs. Unfortunately when we got on deck, well I suppose we knew it before we got on deck but my boat station was on the port side but it had developed a great list to starboard which was where the torpedo had gone in. So all the boats on the starboard er on the port side couldn’t be lowered so which, so went around to the starboard side and there didn’t seem to be any. They’d all either gone or, so I went, I went back to the port side and they had several rafts there and I let one of these rafts go and it went down into the darkness and I thought well there’s not much point in following that. I didn’t know where it had gone so when I went back around and where, oh there was a boat about to go, the last boat. I met a friend of mine actually on the way around and so we went to get on this boat and the chap standing in the thing said, ‘Just room for one more,’ and my friend got on first. He said, ‘Room for one more.’ My friend said, ‘Can’t you get my friend on? There’s room for,’ ‘No, only room for one.’ So he got on and I didn’t [laughs].
AM: So then what happened?
DR: Well there were, this ship, I think with it being a converted ship, you know it was a peacetime liner and they’d converted it for a troop ship and they’d got it so that they’d got one boat inside another. Both used the same lowering gear, what do they call them? Davits or whatever and somehow they’d managed to lower this one right on top of the other and it was across it.
AM: Right.
DR: And so quite a number, well half a dozen people had gone down and were trying to get the top one off so I thought well I might as well go and have a go with that so I went down the ropes and having a go, put my shoulder to it and all the rest of it. You couldn’t budge it at all. It was [?]. We saw the captain’s boat go down, the captain get in and his officers and they started to go away and we thought well, you know, this is a bit odd but anyway he came back for us.
AM: Right.
DR: So we got off in his boat although after a while he transferred us to other boats to even the load out. So that was it.
AM: So where did you all get? So you’re all there in the lifeboats. Where did you get to?
DR: Well -
AM: And had it, had the main the ship sunk by this time?
DR: Sorry?
AM: Or –
DR: Well we, no it was, we were all in these lifeboats. I think there were about sixteen lifeboats successfully launched and we’re all sort of around the ship and the captain decided that it wasn’t going to sink so he started calling for volunteers among his crew to go back and sail the thing and I thought, anyway he’d no sooner done that then there was another great bang and another one, another torpedo went in. I think, I think they fired another three and eventually the thing instead of being listing it righted itself but then it gradually went down, the stern went down and the -
AM: Yeah.
DR: Nose came up and then down she went.
AM: That was it. So what happened to the lifeboats? How did you -
DR: Lifeboats.
AM: How did you come ashore then?
DR: Well we rowed for eight days.
AM: Eight days.
DR: Eight days yeah. Actually the first night it rained and rained and I had the misfortune to sit or probably, probably the good fortune to sit near the pump and it were only a little diddly thing you did this with. I was doing that all night, pumping but everybody else was baling so probably I had the easy job but we, we had to pump a few times and then after about, as I say eight days, we tied up actually, we tied nine boats in a row. It was the captain’s idea we’d stay together. I think we had nine boats in our row and there was six in the other I think. Six or seven. And after the first night we never saw the others again. They sort of disappeared but our nine stayed together. On the eighth day the, a lot of the crew were getting a bit restless. They said it would be better to be separate. We’d make more progress if we were separated and in the early afternoon the captain said, ‘Alright. Separate.’ We all separated and we’d no sooner separated than somebody spotted a Sunderland Flying Boat. It was only a little dot miles away. I mean people started sending up flares and I wondered what was happening and then I realised what it was. This Sunderland came over and circled us and dropped a few things with food in and he was in touch with the CO in Freetown and they said they’d be sending a destroyer out to us at midnight. So we sat patiently in the boat until midnight and then this destroyer appeared and we thankfully went up the scramble nets and we just sort of -
[machine pause]
GR: Life boats.
DR: I think so. I think so.
GR: Yeah.
DR: I’m not, I wouldn’t be certain.
GR: And did all the lifeboats make it to the dest -?
DR: Well some of, there were different stories. You see our nine, our nine stayed together and we were all picked up, I think, at that time, taken in.
GR: By the destroyer. Yeah.
DR: By the destroyer. Taken into Freetown but of the others some, some were adrift for about twelve days I think.
GR: God.
DR: And some were picked up by the Vichy French.
GR: Yes. Of course.
DR: Taken in to Dakar
GR: Yeah.
DR: And they were interned there for some time and there were quite a few ladies actually. Well half dozen or more. I think they were nurses. I know there was a squadron leader and his wife. Well, time expired and coming back and his wife -
GR: Yes.
DR: And what happened to her I’m not sure but apparently when they interned these blokes in Dakar they took these ladies to the border with, I forget what the British territory was but whatever it was.
AM: I can’t think.
DR: And they just set them loose and they were quite a few days trekking to the nearest place.
GR: And you never saw anything of the U-boat, the U-boat didn’t come after the survivors or –
FR: For years I thought it was a U-boat and people said that it had.
GR: You’d better record that.
DR: People had said it had surfaced and the captain -
GR: No.
DR: But it actually wasn’t a U-boat. It was an Italian ship, Italian submarine.
GR: Submarine. Right.
DR: Called the, I forget what it, I’ve got a book, a little book there.
GR: Yeah.
DR: But it was written by one of the chaps who was trained in Southern Rhodesia, er in South Africa and he actually became, he was, he’d been a foreign officer clerk and he went back to the foreign office and he became ambassador in Norway I think and somewhere else and is now sir somebody.
GR: Sir Archie Lamb.
DR: Archie Lamb. That’s right.
AM: Goodness me. That came as a, all of that came as a surprise because I don’t think you knew that did you?
GR: No.
AM: No.
GR: No. No.
AM: So you all finally get back, I mean I’ve got loads of questions I could ask like what did you eat and drink on the boat?
CR: I was going to say –
AM: Were there provisions on the boat?
DR: Sort of you know emergency rations. Small biscuits. Probably two or three of those a day. Horlicks tablets. You remember Horlicks tablets? Well we had those. They were nice. The funny thing was there was a lad from Spalding. I think he was a member of the crew, I think he was a steward or something and he was in the lifeboat with me and he didn’t like Horlicks tablets so I got all his Horlicks tablets [laughs] and then we had some water and they had a thing like a test tube. They used to bring it up about and you’d half full of that and you’d watch everybody drinking ‘cause you were making it last as long as you can you know swilling it around.
AM: Was anybody in charge on the boats or –
DR: Yes.
AM: Making sure that -
DR: Yes. One of the crew was in charge of it.
AM: Right.
DR: I forget what they called him now. I don’t know whether, whether it was his position on the ship or whether it was just, bosun. They called him bosun. Whether it was ship’s bosun or if it was just his title for being in charge of the lifeboat I never knew.
AM: But you all got back so -
DR: Yes. We got, we got back.
AM: So you all got back then. How did you all get back to Britain from there?
DR: Well we, the destroyer took us into Freetown and we didn’t get, we even get ashore in Freetown. They ferried us across to another troop ship which was actually a Greek, had been a Greek ship the Nea Hellas and we were on that coming back. There was apparently a bit of scare that it was being shadowed by a, but anyway we never, never got worried by it. It was never. We got back to England alright.
AM: So that was that. So then what happened? So you’re now a qualified pilot.
DR: Oh yes I was a qualified pilot. Well we landed at Glasgow. As the air force would arrange these things they put us in a train and took us down to Bournemouth. And the Bournemouth was run by, it was a receiving place for the Canadians mainly and it was run by the Canadians and there was a Canadian group captain there. Oh, whilst we were on the boats the merchant navy blokes had said to us, ‘When you get home you’ll get twenty eight days leave. Survivors leave. We all get it,’ he said. ‘You’ll get it.’ So when we got back we asked for this survivors leave and do you know what we got? They said you get twenty eight days. We got seven days. And that is the, that is how I got the title of my book. We had a, paraded in a cinema in Bournemouth and a group captain came on because he was welcoming the Canadians to this country and so on and he said something about, ‘Welcoming you to this country.’ He said, ‘Some of you have had great experiences in getting to this country but then life is a great experience. Adventure. Life is a great adventure.’ So I thought when I wanted a title for my book I thought that’s it. The group captain’s given it to me.
AM: So you’re in Bournemouth.
DR: Hmmn?
AM: Then I’m just trying to think chronologically of what happens next. Do you carry on with your training but go to Heavy Conversion Unit? What? I can’t remember what order things come after that.
DR: Yes, yeah from I’m not sure where, we went first to Operational Training Unit.
AM: Yes.
DR: To get crewed up.
AM: Right.
DR: Started at a place called Wymeswold and finished at Castle Donington which now of course is East Midlands Airport.
AM: Yes.
DR: And that was on Wellingtons and from there we went to Marston Moor which I’ve already told you about. Meeting Cheshire. And from there to 158 squadron.
AM: Ok. Do you want to tell me the Leonard Cheshire story again for the recording? Tell me the Leonard Cheshire story again for the recording.
DR: Well the night after we got to Marston Moor we decided we’d go in to York and three of us went to get on the bus but the bus had gone so we went out on to the road and decided to thumb a lift which sergeants weren’t supposed to do and we were, it was quite a long road. We could see a car approaching and we stood there thumbing and suddenly realised it was an RAF car and as it got nearer we could see it was an officer driving and when he pulled up we could see that he’d got four rings on his sleeve and he was a group captain. And he said, ‘Alright. Get in.’ So the other two jumped in the back and I had to get in, open the front passenger, well I opened the front passenger door and his cap was on the seat and so momentarily, momentarily you don’t know what to do. So do I, I can’t touch his cap, I can’t sit on the seat while it’s there but anyway eventually he said, ‘Don’t sit on my bloody hat.’ So I picked the thing up, put it over the back and got in.
AM: And he took you to York and dropped you off at –
DR: Bettys Bar. Yes. You’ll finish up there anyway.
AM: So, anyway, so back to the chronological order. You’ve crewed up. How did they crewing up go? Who chose who?
DR: Crewing up well yes it was, it was reasonably good. I was in a hut and I got to know ‘cause they bring in, I mean if they’re making say twenty crews they bring in twenty pilots, twenty navigators, twenty bomb aimers and so on and I was in this hut with quite a number of other people of various trades, and I got to know a number of the wireless operators and I met them actually in a pub in Loughborough as well and they’d got an air gunner with them so the four of us seemed to go out quite a lot together. I had to make a decision which wireless operator I had. I could only have one of them and so I selected one and so that was my wireless operator and my rear gunner. I needed a navigator and a bomb aimer. There was a navigator we’d got quite friendly with and I asked him to be my navigator and he said he’d already agreed to be somebody else’s but he would find me somebody who was, and he found me a navigator. A very nice bloke and a good navigator and the navigator found me a bomb aimer. It was funny actually because all the bomb aimers, bomb aiming had only just, bomb aimer as a, as a trade had only just been introduced and they were trying to popularise it I think and so they commissioned most of them. I think of the twenty, twenty five that we had there were only three who were non- commissioned.
AM: Right.
DR: So nobody wanted the non-commissioned ones. They thought there must be something wrong with them if they [laughs] so I got a commissioned one and that was the initial crew until we went to -
GR: Heavy Conversion Unit.
DR: Heavy Conversion Unit on to Halifaxes when we got another gunner and a flight engineer.
AM: And a flight engineer yeah.
DR: And they were just detailed to me so I didn’t get a chance to -
AM: Ok. But you got the full gang.
DR: So I got the full gang but didn’t always keep them I’m afraid. The rear gunner I had, we were very friendly together but one night he refused to fly. Well, he didn’t refuse to fly. We, we were going to Berlin actually and we taxied around, do you know Lissett?
GR: Lissett, yes. Yeah.
DR: Well normally we could approach the runways on either way. This particular night as it happened we were all coming from one direction and it was very fortunate because I got the green light and as I got the green light to go on to the runway this gunner said to me, ‘I don’t think I ought to go.’ I said, ‘What did you say?’ He said, ‘I don’t think I ought to go.’ And I thought well I can’t go anywhere. What do I do? I can’t, can’t call up the flight control because of the radio silence but as I say with the other side being vacant I just taxied straight over and parked on the, on the taxi -
GR: On the side. Yeah.
DR: The, the other side and I thought well air traffic control are going to see me there. They’re going to think well what the heck’s he doing? And they’ll find out and fair, true enough, after a little while the officer in charge of night flying was Brian Quinlan. I don’t know if you knew Brian. He came out on his motorbike and I said to my, my temper by this time was a little frayed and I said to this gunner, ‘You’d better get out and tell this officer what you’ve just told me.’ So he got out and within a few minutes Brian Quinlan appeared in the cockpit and he said, ‘Taxi back. Taxi to the next intersection, you know, where the runway came in, turn and come back again and wait here.’ Which, which I did. And when he got, when I’d no sooner got back there then he appeared on the runway on his motorbike with a spare gunner on the pillion and this poor bloke got in, got in the rear turret and that was it. We went away.
AM: And what happened to the other one? Just disappeared.
DR: Yeah. Well yeah.
AM: Lack of moral fibre.
DR: He was court martialled and it was a sad old time really. I had to go as a witness. I don’t know who I was witnessing for but I mean I, but it was, I felt sorry for him in a way because he looked so dejected and you know he’d been a nice enough bloke.
GR: How many operations had you flown by then?
DR: I don’t know. I should think probably about eight or something like that.
GR: About eight. Yeah. Ok.
DR: What, what he, I think what probably happened the one the previous one we’d done was Milan and it was over nine hours and it was in, coming back anyway, it was in bright daylight and he, I think he was a bit nervy all the way. He kept saying, ‘What’s that on the port starboard, on the port bow Paddy?’ Paddy, being the mid upper and Paddy in a broad Irish accent, ‘Och it’s only, only a bit of cloud,’ you know, and this sort of thing but you could tell really. I mean at the time I never thought anything of it but afterwards, after the refusal to fly and so on it struck me that his nerve had gone by that time I think.
GR: Because when you flew back from Milan it was complete, you flew back over France didn’t you?
DR: Over Switzerland.
GR: Over Switzerland.
DR: And France.
GR: And France yeah. In daylight.
DR: Yeah.
AM: What, what, so when he was court martialled what did they actually do with him?
DR: Well. Well he was court martialled. The funny thing was they questioned, when they questioned me it was strange they wanted to see was he actually ordered to fly. Well I mean they didn’t order for a standing place, ‘You’ll fly tonight’. ‘You’ll fly tonight.’ I mean it wasn’t like that. Just a board went up and the names of the pilot was on and -
GR: Yeah.
DR: You took that crew went and that was it but he was actually as I say court martialled. Ordered to be reduced to the ranks and to serve eighty four days detention but the AOC didn’t confirm it so he got away with it.
AM: Right.
DR: He got off and Calder I don’t know whether he rang me, or spoke to me one day and said, ‘As he wasn’t found guilty he’s still on the strength of the squadron and I don’t suppose you want him back do you?’ I said, ‘You’re right there.’ [laughs]
AM: That’s a no then. Yeah. So what did they do with him? Did he stay or -
DR: I don’t know what happened to him eventually.
AM: As ground crew or -
DR: I don’t know what happened to him eventually.
AM: Yeah.
DR: He would be posted away I think somewhere.
AM: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
DR: But it was, I don’t know, a pity, you know how Group Captain Pickard was at -
GR: Yeah.
DR: He wasn’t there in my time. He was there before I got there but he had a couple of horses at a farm there and our dispersal we lived on was one field away and this gunner was a real horsey type so he used to go and look after these horses. Groom them and one thing or another and then we [laughs] we used to ride them down to the pub [laughs]. Well we used to get on and they knew the way to the pub and so we’d go. There were three of us. One would ride a bike and the other two would go on a horse and we’d tie them up outside the pub and have a drink or two and then they’d know their own way home and of course we lost all that when he went but –
AM: We’ve jumped a little bit because we’ve gone from the Heavy Conversion Unit. What we didn’t say was that you were posted to 158 squadron at Lissett.
DR: Yeah that’s right.
AM: So I’m just. So you’re on 158 squadron now.
DR: Yes.
AM: So the stray bod that you got did you keep him or did you get another?
DR: No. No. He, I got another one.
AM: Right.
DR: I got a Canadian.
AM: And kept him.
DR: Yes. I kept him. I was with his, one of his sons and two daughters last week at 158.
AM: Wonderful.
DR: They come over every year.
AM: I’m going to jump again now then. So I know that you’ve done a number of operations now and I know that you either have done or are going to do Berlin.
DR: Yes.
AM: So tell me about Berlin and what happened.
DR: Well this night of course with having this kerfuffle with the, we were about fifteen, twenty minutes late taking off so I tried to make that up as best I could but it could, got to Berlin and nearly everybody else had gone so we had the whole Berlin defences to ourselves and it’s a long way across Berlin and it was very, very well very, very lonely flying across it. We think there was a fighter had a good, started to attack but I’ve an idea that it was a Mosquito was around and chased him I think so we didn’t get attacked. We got over quite safely that time.
AM: That time.
GR: Yeah.
AM: So tell me about -
GR: How many times did you go to Berlin?
DR: Three.
GR: Three.
AM: Three.
GR: Yeah.
DR: It was -
AM: So, on the third one -
DR: On the third one we were, we’d just dropped the bombs, the bombs had gone and there was an almighty bang. It really was. I’m sure it was a direct hit and the nose of the aircraft just started going up, straight up in the air which isn’t very healthy, I mean it could go into a stall in no time but I just could not seem to get it to stop and I said, ‘Prepare to bale out,’ because I thought we’ve had it and I realised the moment I’d said that the intercom was dead so I thought I’ve got to do something about this. I got a chap, you know we used to take a, when a crew came to the squadron he usually did an operation with an experienced crew.
AM: Yes.
DR: Well, and I’d got this chap, second pilot. I got him to put his leg across my legs and push on the control column. I was, I’d got it under my knees like that and he was pushing with his leg and we flew I think for over two hours, two and a half hours like that and the nose was trying to come up all the time and it was just above stalling I think. And I flew along. The Baltic was on the right and I thought to myself, shall we go to Sweden? And I thought, incidentally, we were all supposed to be on leave, we should have gone on leave that night. It was an incentive to get back but I was thinking about Sweden and of course I knew nothing about Sweden. With my boyhood knowledge I thought it was very mountainous so you know how could we flying in to mountains trying to get, so I decided I wouldn’t go to Sweden. We’d try and get home so we kept on and weeventually got to the Dutch coast and we were there at the time we were supposed to have been back at Lissett. We’d got winds against us of very nearly a hundred miles an hour. The aircraft was only just above stalling speed and I thought well I’m not going to go, I couldn’t risk going across the North Sea. We wouldn’t have got, we wouldn’t have got any more than half way across. If that. So I thought, and by this time we were down to five or six thousand feet. I can’t really remember but there was a light flak battery firing at us and doing a bit of damage so I thought well the only thing is we’re over a friendly country. Bale out and we might get in with the underground and you know so I baled them out.
AM: If the intercoms had gone how did they know to bale out?
DR: The only way, actually, the flight engineer. I told him to go around and tell everybody to bale out which he did. He, and then he came back and I said, ‘Have they all gone?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Well you’d better go then’. Of course we stowed his chute and my chute together and he was supposed to get the chute, two out, bring me mine, put his on and go. He came back and he said, ‘One of them was damaged.’ ‘So I said, ‘Well you’d better take the other one then.’ ‘No. No. I can’t. I can’t leave you.’ I said, ‘No you get in. Take, put that on. Get out.’ And he argued and I’m not going to argue and told him three times to get out so I said, ‘Well if you’re going to stay you’d better get back in to the rest position and brace for,’ I didn’t know, you know I realised I’d got to somehow get the thing down and I flew along looking for a decent, a good field and eventually, well it wasn’t long actually before I saw a field I thought I could do it -
AM: Was it daylight by now?
DR: No. It was -
AM: ‘Or dawn?
DR: Yes in-between sort of thing. Yes. It was sevenish in the morning. Something like that. And it was, I think it was lighter looking down than when you actually got on the ground. Anyway, we got down and skidded to a stop and got out and had a, well the funny thing was I thought I’d better go back and see if he’s alright and this is [laughs] this is the truth I walked back to him and instead of being braced he was standing up and he said, ‘Are we down?’ ‘Who the heck’s flying this thing?’ [laughs]. You know.
GR: Well that’s a compliment to the pilot.
DR: It was. Yeah. Anyway we got out the escape hatch and then we were having, I thought we’d have a quick look at the damage and we were having a look and as you say it was half-light or not quite half-light and he said, suddenly said to me, ‘There’s somebody the other side of the aircraft.’ And so I went around. I thought the only thing to do, whoever it is, oh and he said, ‘He’s got a gun.’ I thought well the only thing you could do is confront the chap so I walked around and didn’t need any confront, he was friendly. He said something about, I don’t remember whether he said, ‘Have you had a meal?’ Or, ‘Would you like a meal?’ And I thought, I was thinking I want to get away from this aircraft as far as I can as quickly as I can so I refused it and we walked. We left the thing and we walked on. We walked out through a village and up a country road and there was a bend in the road and there was a farmhouse there and the farmer outside so we went to him and asked if he could give us a drink of water or something and we had a drink of water and I asked him where we were and he brought out a little school atlas and, ‘There.’ And there just about covered the Netherlands. [laughs]. I thought well I was a little bit clued up about –
AM: Yeah.
DR: Which country it was. Anyway, we went in his house and to get to his house you went through a cowshed. I noticed there was a sort of hay loft sort of thing you know so I asked him if he, if we could get up there and he said, you know shook his head and talked about the Germans you know, shoot him and so on. I can understand his point of view.
AM: Yeah.
DR: So we decided, well I decided we wouldn’t stay and we got out of the house and two Dutch policemen came around the bend on bikes and they came to us. One was a young bloke and the other was a bit older and they, I don’t know for certain but it seemed to me that the young chap wanted to turn us in and the older one wasn’t very happy. He looked as if he was a bit tearful actually but anyway they, he had to go along with what the younger one wanted to do so they took us back to the village we’d come through and telephoned the Germans. And that was it.
AM: And for you the war is over.
DR: Hmmn?
AM: For you the war is over.
DR: Yes. Well, that, that was the greeting yes. For you the war is over.
AM: So what year are we in now? Is this -
DR: That was January ’44.
AM: ’44.
DR: January the 29th ‘44.
AM: So when the Germans came and got you where, then what?
DR: Well they took us to what was obviously a house which they’d taken over as a sort of place for their troops to live in and we were there most, so funny actually because they made us turn our pockets out and all this sort of thing and Lofty the engineer he’d taken an orange out of the, that we had in the flying rations and of course he’d got this orange and he put it on [laughs] and it was so funny ‘cause there were Germans coming in and poking it. You know. They’d never seen an orange before [laughs] But we were there most of the day and then they took us down to the station, local station and we went by passenger train up to Leeuwarden. I don’t know whether that’s the pronunciation L E E W A R D E N. And there was an NCO in charge of us and two other blokes and the NCO, he walked in front with a drawn pistol and one of the others walked at the side of us and the bloke with a submachine gun walked behind us and I thought well if you let off with that you’re going to get your mate in front here as well but anyway they paraded us through a long street in Leeuwarden and it was so funny I mean there were people walking past victory signs, thumbs up and there was a tram car came along and it just kept pace with us and you could see all the passengers in there doing this -
AM: Thumbs up and -
GR: Victory signs.
AM: V for victory to you.
DR: And we were sort of, yes. Acknowledging it all. I mean, it was, it was so funny really because it wasn’t what they were intending but they were showing off to the Dutch that they’d got the, you know -
AM: They’d captured you.
DR: Yeah. They got the terror fliegers and all the rest of it and anyway they took us along in to a big compound. Well a sort of parade area. It was a naval barracks and they opened a cell door and pushed us, well didn’t really push us, made us go in and there was all my crew there except one. They’d picked them all up except one.
AM: All of you. The whole lot. Did they know that they were your crew?
DR: I don’t know. I imagine so. I imagine so. And he, actually he, the one that was missing wasn’t really one of my crew, my mid upper gunner was a Southern Irishman and we were all supposed to go on leave that night. Well he used to get a couple of days extra for travelling to Southern Ireland and he’d already gone so this chap that was with me, this Canadian standing in and of course they hadn’t got him and he was the only one who did make it to the underground.
AM: Right.
DR: Apparently some farmers found him. They’d got the little pens out for the sheep to go in, supposed to be lambing or something and they found him hiding in one of these and so they took him in and looked after him for a time and I don’t really know the full story but he was eventually picked up with the underground in Antwerp or somewhere so he they’d got him quite a way away but he were betrayed and that was it. He was finished in another prison camp. I never met him again. He didn’t get, I did meet him again in a reunion after the war but I didn’t during the war. We thought he was dead. I thought he must have had an accident baling out and you know and that’s it. And -
AM: We, we spoke to someone else who exactly the same thing happened and I think the escape line, the escape line was the KLM line.
DR: Yeah.
AM: That he’d been, and exactly the same. Captured at Antwerp.
DR: Yes.
AM: So the whole lot of you there minus one. And where did they take you from there?
DR: From, yeah, they took us, the same night I think they took us to a Luftwaffe station. Actually it was a Dutch station it was about the biggest or only sort of regular air force station. I can’t remember its name. And we were in the cells there for the best part of a week I suppose. They tried to interrogate us and so on and then from there they took us to Amsterdam and we were incarcerated in Amsterdam jail for a week or so. Yeah.
AM: Where did you end up? Which prison camp did you end up in?
DR: Sorry?
AM: Which prison camp did you end up in?
DR: Well, from, after we go into the interrogation place we went to, or I went to, some of us went to Stalag Luft 6 which was up on the borders of East Prussia and Lithuania. We were there until July of ‘44 when the Russians were pushing the Germans back. The Germans had got right in to Russia.
AM: Yeah.
DR: And the Russians pushed them back and we could actually hear the artillery fire and we were beginning to get a bit worried about what might happen if we were liberated by the Russians but anyway they then took us, not all of us but I was one that was taken, they took us to, in the cattle trucks down to Memel which was in the port of Lithuania. I don’t know what it is now. I couldn’t pronounce its name now but it was called Memel. We were put in a little tramp, in the hold of a tramp ship which was filthy and we were about, I think we were about four days from there to, oh dear, I forget the name of the port now.
GR: Don’t matter.
AM: No. It don’t matter.
GR: Don’t matter.
DR: A German port in
GR: Yeah
DR: Sort of [?] When we got off into cattle trucks again and we had, I think, one night. Oh they, as we got off that, the boat they handcuffed us in pairs. I thought I was being clever and I asked if anybody was left handed so we had could have one left hand and one right but we didn’t. I got this Canadian but apparently he was right handed too but he had his right hand handcuffed to my left and we were, officially we were handcuffed together for about three or four days but we soon learned how to take them off actually.
AM: Oh good.
DR: So people were taking them off.
AM: I’m just thinking when you’re doing the necessary -
DR: Yeah.
AM: Ablutions and things like that you don’t necessarily want to be handcuffed –
DR: That’s right.
AM: To someone.
DR: No. We, people soon learned the key of a corned beef tin came handy with that. It used to be out -
AM: But where did you get the key of a corned beef tin from?
DR: Off the corned beef tin. Red Cross parcels.
GR: Red Cross Parcels.
DR: Red Cross parcels.
AM: Oh so that was your rations. Right. Ok.
DR: Anyway, we and then we got to Stalag Luft 4 and we had a very rough reception there. We got, we got to the station, or the siding, very early in the morning and it was a really hot day and they kept us in the cattle wagons ‘til about two in the afternoon and we got, got out and of course to try and carry all your, what belongings you had, I mean, for example I had a greatcoat. We were wearing greatcoats. It was the easiest way to carry them and it was really hot. And anyway about 3 o’clock they got us out of the things and we lined up and there was a German officer got up, and he, he’d got, he’d got an immaculate white tunic on. Oh really. And instantly, instantly became known as the ice cream man. But he was obviously in charge and they marched us out on to the, on to the road, lined up and there was a lot of cadets, naval cadets that came and they were all armed, all, and he ordered them to fix bayonets which wasn’t a very friendly thing to do and we started walking along, or marching along this road and they started saying –
GR: Thank you.
DR: They started saying, ‘Quicker. Quicker. Quicker’ and we were getting, until eventually we were sort of running and then we were in a wooded thing then suddenly they turned left and there was steep hill and we were going up this hill and they then tried, they were then aiming to jam you in your backside with these bayonets and of course people were throwing all their stuff away to lighten the load. I’d got a haversack thing on my back which I couldn’t take the stuff out so the Canadian who was running with me he got it open. He was throwing stuff out and we ran up this road and you could see people with blood coming down them, and I passed one poor lad I knew. I don’t, I can’t remember his name but I knew and the chap he was with had obviously passed out and he was there -
AM: And he’s still handcuffed.
DR: Handcuffed to him. Couldn’t move. You could see he was absolutely terrified the poor lad. He was only a very young lad I think. And then we got to the, eventually got to the top of the hill and turned and about a half a mile away was the prison camp and we, we got there. I hadn’t been touched actually until I got there and then one of them got his rifle up and started having a go at my ribs but he didn’t really do anything hard. He tried and didn’t. And then they called them off and we went into the vorlager, sort of first place. Not right in to the camp and we were there all night.
AM: When you said, you said they were cadets so were they just, were they teenagers or young. Young.
DR: Well I suppose they were, no I suppose they were eighteen year olds.
AM: Right.
DR: Sixteen, eighteen year olds. Yeah. But, they’d, all the other guards of their own but a lot of them, but it was, it’s always been known as, ‘the run up the road.’
AM: Yeah. So how long were you in there for then? Where are we now? July did you say? July 44?
DR: July then until February of the next, of the next year when we started on the Long March.
AM: So you did the Long March.
DR: Three months of that.
AM: And what was the worst bit of that?
DR: Sorry?
AM: What was the worst bit of that?
DR: The weather. It was so cold. Snow and ice and sleeping out at, some nights, we did sleep outside some nights. Most nights they found a barn or something like that more or less but we had one or two nights out. But one night we went to a farm and there were three large farm buildings in a row with thatched roofs and I think they put some of their own transport in one. In the end one. We were pushed in the centre one and some army prisoners in the left hand one and we were tight in this thing. When we, they’d got straw in the floor and when we laid down at night we were head to toe in a row and touching each one. It was as close as that and during the night we heard an aircraft flying over and we could hear it approach and it dropped a bomb on the, and it hit the thing where they’d put all their stuff and it flew away again. Came around machine gunning and I was lying down there. I could see tracer bullets coming through the straw you know and he hit the wall on the side and before there was a little ring of fire and it just spread like mad and it was, the whole lot was going and people just sort of got up and walked out and that’s it. They didn’t really run.
AM: No.
DR: But um -
AM: Did you, did you see it? Was it an allied?
DR: Sorry?
AM: Was it a British plane or a German?
DR: Oh we take it that it was probably a Mosquito. We’ve always called it the Mossie raid. I mean we were just guessing at that. We sort of -
AM: Yeah.
DR: I think it would be an allied one.
AM: Then when –
DR: I think there were, there were three or four of our blokes were killed.
GR: And then towards the end of the long march I presume you walked into allied hands.
DR: Well yes. We were very, it was a great day to remember. We, we were stopped in a village and we sort of spent the night in a barn and this, and I got up to make the coffee and there was Americans with us as well and I suddenly heard an American voice shouting, ‘The limeys are here. The limeys are here.’ And looked and it was the 6th Airborne Division coming through the village.
GR: Brilliant.
AM: Yeah.
DR: What a day that was.
GR: What a day that was.
DR: And they were throwing tins of their rations to us you know and we didn’t eat half of them, more than we, actually it was, everybody was just having a good time.
AM: What condition were you in by then?
DR: Well -
CR: He looked a bit thin on the photographs.
DR: Yeah I was very thin and I think I got frostbitten feet. They were always cold. We was lousy. [laughs].
AM: Yeah.
DR: But apart from that we weren’t too bad.
AM: So how did you get back home then from that, that stage?
DR: Well, they, the 6th Airborne asked us to stay there that day because they were bringing all their stuff through and then we get up to, oh what was the name of the place, what was the place where Montgomery took the -
GR: Luneburg Heath.
DR: Yes.
GR: Luneburg Heath. Yeah.
DR: Well that was the town.
GR: Yeah.
DR: And we had to get up there the next day and it was quite a thing because people were pinching bikes and cars and all sorts of things to get up there and we were a bit slow off the mark. We couldn’t find anything but we found a bloke who was going out in a pony and trap thing so we got on board there and I sat, jiggling mind you it was a beautiful sunny day. It was quite a nice ride, trip and we eventually we got to a village and we stopped for a drink. Went in the pub and demanded a drink and of course when we got out the pony had gone but one of the Canadians, our Canadians came along driving a bus so we piled on to this bus and it was so funny ‘cause there were Germans were walking back on the side of the road and everybody was trying to get a good hat.
GR: Souvenir.
DR: If you could see an officer with a nice smart hat. Boom. [laughs] No. It was. I got a sword.
CR: Yes you got a sword didn’t you?
DR: Going through a village, a great big pile of swords so I got out and had a look and picked one I liked and still got it.
AM: Wonderful. Might have to have a photo of that.
DR: Sorry?
AM: We might have to -
GR: Have a photograph of that.
AM: Take a photo of that. How did you eventually get back though to England?
DR: Well, we, we were flown back. RAF Dakota.
GR: Dakota. And back to England was you? Was you demobbed straight away?
DR: No. No. Actually I stayed in the air force for three years after the war.
GR: Oh.
AM: You were probably deloused first weren’t you?
DR: Hmmn?
AM: They deloused you first.
CR: They deloused you.
DR: Oh yeah.
GR: Yeah.
CR: You were lousy when you came back.
DR: They more or less did that when we landed. We landed at a place called Wing. I don’t know.
AM: Yes. Yeah.
DR: And I was posted to Wing.
GR: Yeah. We know Wing.
DR: Soon after but they arranged it quite well actually. They sort of deloused you and they set it out like a restaurant or café and the ladies would bring you tea and coffee and then the buses took us into Aylesbury and put us on a train up to Cosford.
GR: Yeah.
DR: And then I went on leave from Cosford.
AM: Had you been able to tell your parents? Did your parents know that you were alive?
DR: Yes. Yes. Actually, yeah, I think the Red Cross had told them that I was.
AM: Right. Ok.
DR: And the night we got back the RAF gave us forms that we could send telegrams. So we got telegrams to say we were back.
AM: Yeah.
DR: But -
AM: And that was that but you stayed in for another three years.
DR: Yes. What happened was that when I was shot down I was a flight sergeant but had been interviewed for a commission and the commission came through backdated about a month before I was [laughs] before I was shot down. So I came, when I came back I was actually a flying officer and it rather appealed to me. I thought well here I am, a flying officer, I’ve never been in an officers mess in my life and I was when I got back though and I thought, they gave us interviews to see what we wanted to do and I said, ‘Well I would like, I want to stay on flying.’ And, ‘Oh well, you know everybody wants to do that who wants to stay in.’ People who, others just want to get out. And I applied for a permanent commission and when they put me on flying I thought that’s it I’m getting my permanent commission but it wasn’t so. I extended my service for two years and towards the end of the two years I extended another year. At the end of that time I had a letter telling me that the king thanked me for my services but he didn’t want me anymore. [laughs] So that was that.
AM: Thank you and goodbye.
GR: Yeah.
AM: In the, in that three years though you were flying. Where? Whereabouts? What -
DR: I flew Lancasters then instead of Halifaxes.
AM: Yeah.
DR: Yeah I flew. I was in, well, we had to more or less had to go, start our training again. What happened you see there people there who’d been POWs four or five years so they had, obviously had to have a refresher course if they wanted to go on and so they didn’t really just make a refresher course for us they stuck us on the course that the new entrants was doing, you know, people doing for the first time which was alright. We went back on to Oxfords and I did Oxfords and then on to Wellingtons and then on to the Lancaster Conversion Unit and then from there I went to the central signals establishment which was at, we did about, I think I did a bit over a year there and Cicely and I lived out. It was just after we got married actually I went there and -
GR: ’Cause that’s the one question we’ve never asked. Did you two know each other during the war?
DR: No.
CR: No.
GR: No.
CR: I didn’t even know him.
GR: Right.
DR: Yeah it was quite an interesting job on central signals. We used to, well we got various things. There were two squadrons, one calibration squadron their job was to go around calibrating the approach landings. I forget what they were called it now. The blind flying approach.
GR: Yeah.
DR: That was their main job. We were the development squadron. We were supposed to develop, test fly new things but of course we were test flying things that had been used during the war [laughs] and, but we had other things to do. We used to test the Gee coverage over France and Holland and so on and over Wales and Ireland and so on. We used to have a route to fly and pinpoints to go over and it had two cameras in the aircraft which took pictures simultaneously. One of the ground and one of the set so that they could be compare the -
AM: Right.
GR: Yeah.
AM: Yeah.
DR: But invariably one of them went wrong so they’d say, ‘Let’s do it again.’ But it was quite interesting. We also had to, people that were doing the calibrating and what not in Germany we used to have to take them over with all their equipment and fetch them back and so on. That was a bit of bind but one of the funniest, probably the funniest thing in my career was when I went to fetch a load back once and they weren’t ready. I went on the Friday and they weren’t ready. They was going to be ready on the Saturday morning so I said, ‘Well I want to be off by 8 o’clock at the latest,’ And they got to get all their equipment there and so on. But anyway when we eventually got them in the aircraft it was the COs monthly parade on the airfield. Lutzendorf I think it was and they’d no parade ground, they used to parade on the runway. So I was about to taxi out and the parade was getting on, forming up on thing there and my temper was getting a little frayed to say the least so I had words with air traffic control and then after a few minutes they came back and said, ‘Well the parade’s going to march off the runway onto the overshoot area until you’ve gone so you’re alright to go along there, turn and take off.’ So I, ‘Fair enough. I can do that.’ And they all marched off and I got along there and I turned, as I turned I opened up the throttle up. All the caps went. [laughs]
AM: Wonderful.
DR: Didn’t stop to see them sorting them out.
AM: And off you went into the wide blue yonder. What did you do after the, after you’d left the RAF?
DR: Sorry?
AM: What did you do after you’d left the RAF?
DR: I went back to the bank.
AM: To the bank.
DR: Yeah. Eventually. Yeah.
AM: At Skegness?
CR: He did one flight in a Lanc over Biggin Hill didn’t you? The first Biggin Hill.
DR: Yeah. Well yes just before I came out. It was the first time they’d done this Battle of Britain day thing you know and all the stations wanted a Lancaster. They all wanted a Lancaster and -
CR: Winston Churchill was there.
DR: And I think our people agreed to supply about four or five or something. Well I wasn’t going to do it on this Saturday. I know they didn’t put my name down for it anyway and then my boss, the squadron leader, said to me, he said, ‘Why don’t you come with me?’ he said, ‘I’m going down to Biggin Hill. We’ll have a day out’. So I said, ‘Alright.’ So that was on the Monday. On the Tuesday he went off on leave. He said, ‘I’ll see you on Saturday morning.’ ‘Alright.’ On the Friday afternoon air traffic got on to me to say Biggin Hill had been on the phone and they would like the Lancaster to go down today for obvious reasons. They’d only got a short runway and if you make a mess of it they can clear the mess up before the crowds come in tomorrow. I mean that was obvious what it was. So, you know they said Duchy is on leave. You’ll have to bring it so I thought fair enough. I took it down and -
GR: Sorry to interrupt you but when you do flights like that -
DR: Yeah.
GR: How many crew did you have? Did you have like a flight engineer with you, a radio operator?
DR: I think I had a navigator, a radio operator and, an engineer, I think.
GR: Yeah. So the four of you.
DR: I don’t think we needed any more than that.
GR: Yeah. Sorry.
DR: I had a lot of odd bods who wanted to get away for the weekend you know. Poured out when I said that.
AM: But you didn’t really need a rear gunner.
GR: No [laughs]
DR: But no it was funny actually and of course it was a big display.
GR: Yeah.
DR: The guest of honour was Winston Churchill.
GR: It was the first Biggin Hill Air Show.
DR: Yes. The first Biggin. Yeah. Winston Churchill was and the funny thing was that, you see nearly all the other things were fighters and doing aerobatics and so on and the CO of the squadron came to me and he said, ‘Would you do three engine flying?’ So I said, ‘Yes. I can do three engine flying. I’ll do two engine flying.’ ‘Oh that would be nice,’ he said. Afterwards I thought I’m an idiot because we were supposed to practice three and two engine flying but the maximum height, rather the minimum you weren’t, I think for two engine flying you weren’t supposed to come below five thousand feet. So I thought well five thousand feet they won’t see me. So Winston Churchill’s going to be down there. What the heck do I do? I think eventually I compromised a bit but I didn’t, I didn’t go the full hog down to a thousand feet or anything like that. We went down a bit below what we were supposed to do. I did the two and two on one side look spectacular.
GR: What you flew with two -
DR: Two on one side.
AM: So both on one side.
DR: Yeah.
GR: And both -
AM: Going and the other one’s not.
DR: Yeah.
AM: Does that not make you –
GR: Yeah.
DR: No.
AM: Swing around.
DR: You hold it alright and the -
AM: Ok.
DR: But the big shock, the only trouble you get is if, if they cool down to much and you can’t get the flaming things started [laughs]
GR: I’m sure you were alright.
DR: Yeah but -
CR: Would you like a cup of tea or anything?
AM: I think we’re done. I think we’re done actually.
GR: Yeah.
AM: I’m going to switch off now.
[machine paused]
GR: It wasn’t Len McNamara was it?
DR: Sorry?
GR: It wasn’t Len McNamara.
DR: No I don’t think so. I don’t think it was McNamara. No.
GR: Because Len had rear gunners.
AM: The one question I would have asked as well was just, so you flew the Halifax operationally but then the Lancaster after so which -
DR: Yeah.
AM: Was your favourite and what are the pros and cons of the two?
DR: Well I’m still a Lanc, er a Halifax man.
GR: Halifax.
DR: I think it’s nicer to handle. Certainly nicer to get in and out of and you know there was not a lot to choose between them I think but it’s on things like that that I would judge it.
GR: And to be fair everybody who we’ve asked the question of who -
AM: Prefers Halifax.
GR: Served on Lancs and Halifax they all said the Halifax.
DR: Halifax. Yeah.
GR: They said, ‘Alright the Lanc -



Annie Moody, “Interview with Douglas Robinson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024,

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