Interview with Ron Tomlin

Title

Interview with Ron Tomlin

Description

Ron Tomlin grew up in Birmingham and was an apprentice carpenter before working in a munitions factory. He volunteered for the Air Force at 18, and after training, flew operations as a bomb aimer with 10 Squadron. His aircraft was forced to ditch in the English Channel and he became a prisoner of war. He discusses the conditions he endured before he was liberated. He became a draughtsman after the war and attended 10 Squadron reunions after his retirement.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-08-18

Contributor

Cathie Hewitt

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:08:31 Audio Recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ATomlinR150818

Transcription

AM: Okay so, this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, and the interviewer is Annie Moody, the interviewee is Ron Tomlin, and the interview is taking place at Mr Tomlin’s home in Streetly and it’s the 19th of August 2015. So, Ron, can we start with, can you just tell me a little bit about your family and where you were born, and your family background, what your parents did and school and stuff like that?
RT: Right, we was born in a place close to Shrewsbury, it’s called Ford, a little village, erm, I only lived there for a short while because my Father had come back from the First World War and he’d got himself a little van and he got a job with the post office, and then the post office got their own vans and er, so his little job dried up and we, and without his van he really didn’t have any trade apart from the fact he was a bit of a mechanic, he knew a bit about motor cars et cetera, and so they came back to Birmingham and they did their best. But, my Father had been gassed in the First World War and he couldn’t have a job inside because he was always spitting, and in those days people thought this was like a dirty habit, but modern information tells me, that spitting into the fire was the most hygienic way, they didn’t have paper hankies in, they couldn’t wash out, disinfect. We lived in a little back house, erm no garden, outside toilet that sort of thing and erm, this went on, my Mother tried to get her five children educated, my older brother went to grammar school, I went to grammar school but only on my second attempt because I didn’t pass high enough to get a grant for the books, and they couldn’t, my Father was unemployed, my Mother earned a living with washing and things like that, cleaning, and they, they couldn’t afford the extra grammar school fees, but because my older brother had gone, when he'd been there two years, I passed again, I could now go because I could have his books and his rugby shirt and things being passed down and so on, that went on until I was fourteen
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: When I ran away from home, I went to stay at my auntie’s house in, close to Shrewsbury, close to where I’d been born, on a farm, until my Mother bought me back, but I just didn’t want to go back to that grammar school, I didn’t want to learn French, I didn’t want to have a different life to all my friends, because nobody else I knew apart from my brother had gone to grammar school and in the end, erm and in the end that was accepted and I became apprenticed to a carpenter, and I say a carpenter, he was a big firm and he, he fitted out bars, Gaskell and Chambers, after a couple of years of that, I was fed up with that, and I wanted to get more money and the war had just started. I was sixteen, I was able to break the apprenticeship because I got a job doing war work at the BSA factory, and er, so I started working there and it wasn’t long afterwards, erm, one of the things that got me interested in the airforce was that the BSA had an ATC squadron, that’s the Air Defence Cadet Corp which became the ATC, and because this was the early days and because I was interested, I got a fair amount of promotion in that, and so when the BSA factory got bombed in nineteen forty one, I got fed up with clearing up after bombing and went with a couple of friends to join up. Now, we all wanted to be pilots
AM: Of course
RT: And they sent us away to Cardington for a three day test and I was accepted for pilot training, erm the other two, one was thrown out because he had flat feet
[loud aircraft noise]
AM: Because he had?
RT: Flat feet
AM: Flat feet
RT: Medical
AM: Yes
RT: And the other one, he was slightly older than us, he was accepted but into the RAF Regiment, so he didn’t come home with us, he was now in the airforce, he’d been thrown out and I’d been put on deferred service until I was old enough to start my pilot training, came back to Birmingham, I had to do evening institute work, navigation and things of that sort, until in nineteen forty two, late January, nineteen forty two, I was called up, I was now eighteen, erm eighteen and a little, and I went to Lords, the usual place for aircrew, I went to Scarborough, erm I had a problem with my feet, and when I’d finished my Scarborough breaking in, marching and all that, I was put into hospital to have toenails removed because they’d been bleeding, when that was finished and that took some time because I was eventually sent, it went wrong and I was sent back to Birmingham into Selly Oak hospital, I then went back to Carlisle, and I did my twelve hours pilot training
AM: Twelve hours? [emphasis]
RT: Yes, pilot training, at the end of twelve hours, the instructor said, ‘I’m not going to let you take off and land on your own, we haven’t got enough aircraft to let you crash,’ and so, I was placed into aircrew
AM: Right
RT: Sent away to the Isle of Man, and I eventually passed out with an observer brevvy, I’d done that, done navigation, bomb aiming, air gunnery and from the Isle of Man with my brevvy
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: I’d come back to Hastings in England, where I was being trained with advanced navigation, when the school got shot up by German planes, it was on the sea front and they shot out all the windows, and because we were now, some were needed to go, I got posted up to Lossiemouth and, to join a crew
AM: So, Hastings to Lossiemouth, how did you get from Hastings to Lossiemouth?
RT: By train
AM: Right
RT: By train with a warrant and a change of crew or whatever, and this and that or whatever, and from there, I joined up with five other people in what was known as Dibben’s crew, all the names are then, and for about three months we thought we were about to go out over Germany in a Wellington, we thought we were ready to go, we’d been doing a lot of flying particularly at night and we’d been, we’d had all sorts of mishaps, we’d had engine failure in Scotland, we’d had, we’d been shot by anti-aircraft guns over Oxford, we were ready to
AM: [laughs] Sorry to interrupt, what plane were you doing that training in then?
RT: It was in a Wellington
AM: You were in a Wellington, okay
RT: We were the Wellington crew ready to go, but then they said, you are going to be transferred to a Halifax
AM: Right, so at that time there were only five of you because you were a Wellington crew?
RT: There were only five of us, that’s right. So, we went back to Marston Moor in Yorkshire, under a CO who was Leonard Cheshire
AM: Right
RT: And we spent a few weeks learning to fly the Halifax
AM: Sort of, conversion training
RT: And we picked up an extra gunner called Agnew, and we picked up an engineer called Bob Hollinrake, but Bob Hollinrake is waiting for his cremation next Tuesday
AM: Yes, very sad
RT: That’s the last of the crew, yep, so erm, when we were then ready we were posted to 10 Squadron at Melbourne
AM: Right, okay
RT: And we got there in early July and we noticed, at the time I didn’t realise this was happening, but I know from records since, that most of my crew were being borrowed by other crews to go on missions. The pilot went twice, the navigator went twice, the engineer went twice, one of the gunners went once, and I was just sitting waiting for whatever
[loud aircraft noise]
AM: So, at that point, you hadn’t, had you done your first operation?
RT: No [inaudible]
AM: What was that like then, waiting while your mates were off doing operations?
RT: It’s one of the mysteries of life, because I and Louis Ure, the other man that didn’t go, have discussed this many times, we didn’t know, we were never waiting for them to come back, we were never asking them what it was like, we didn’t know, whether we would have been allowed to go if there was a raid on, we wouldn’t have been allowed off the station anyway, so we must have known, but for some reason it’s not in our minds now, so we don’t know
AM: Maybe, your just young and getting on with it
RT: That’s it, but then, late in July, probably the twenty second, twenty fourth of July, as a crew, we went to Hamburg
AM: The first one
RT: The first one
AM: So, what, what did, tell me about the day then, the bacon and eggs and then, did you have bacon and eggs?
RT: We, we always had a nice bacon and egg meal when we came back
AM: Right
RT: Yep, and we erm, I believe we had a good meal before we went, but the day of any operation is from lunchtime onwards, is being briefed, not only are you being briefed as a whole crew, each of your separate trades are being separately briefed about this, that and the other by the master bomber or the chief engineer or whatever, and then erm, in the early evening you are preparing for your trip, you are checked to see you are not carrying this, that and the other, you’re having your meal and eventually it’s time for you to be taken in your little van with the nice WAAF driver, and to your dispersal point, and there’s twenty aircraft almost surely being taking off and it takes a bit of time to get, it isn’t like, you see, twenty fighters taking off in the Battle of Britain, erm, all in dispersal places, they all have to assemble, they all have to fly off and gather on the coast before you set off in your wave
AM: And there’s a lot more men than there were in the fighters in the Battle of Britain, there’s seven of you in each plane
RT: That’s right, yep, and so erm, and then of course you don’t see much apart from the back end of other aeroplanes or something going wrong, because it’s all dark you know, nobody’s got lights on and the radio silence, but so, but when you go to a place like Hamburg which is already burning, you see it from a long way away, and our second big, [unclear] no serious incidents on our first trip to, our second trip was also to Hamburg, two or three nights later and we had a problem, we found that our oxygen system had failed, particularly there was none to the rear gunner who was singing as if he was drunk, and we made contact with our base and were ordered to get down low because of the oxygen, returned to base
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: Eject your bombs in the sea
AM: Why was he singing because he was drunk, from lack of oxygen?
RT: From lack of oxygen, yeah, and it wasn’t clear whether the whole oxygen system was failing or just his part, but without a rear gunner protecting us we were too vulnerable anyway and they wanted us to come back, so they bought us back, erm, that was in my memory as being one of the raids, not knowing what time or where it was, but the man who made the film, looked up all the records and assures me that it was on the second Hamburg one we went on, and we were not too far over the sea when it happened according to him, in something like an hour and three quarters we were back home, whereas we would have been six or seven hours across the sea to get back down
AM: What happened, what did you do with the bomb load when you were coming back?
RT: We dropped it in the sea, we ejected it, and we had trouble with that too, we reached the stage where we even considered chopping out the, the last of the bomb bay racks for which we had a chopper, we’d been briefed on that if you had to get rid of them, but it actual fact a lot of shaking about, eventually they all went but not all in one place, but seeing as you was over the sea it wasn’t too bad. Two or three nights later we went back out to Hamburg again, this time no problem, that was a good mission, and so two out of three Hamburg runs were okay, and then this squadron was stood down, they had been on a lot of operations in July and early August and we were given a three day pass, I think they shut the whole squadron down in order to try and bring the planes back up to
AM: Scratch
RT: Because, I mean, on our first two missions that we did see planes sink, we did see planes going down, and these, we did encounter searchlights but the drill was always the same, you know, left, left, [unclear] and whatever, we reckoned we did have a good pilot and no serious mishap. So, having had our three day’s we went back
AM: Where did you go on your three days?
RT: We didn’t
AM: Oh, you just stayed there
RT: We stayed there, we stayed there, we, Louis and I have discovered that whilst we stayed there, the
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: we, the skipper was entertained at the navigator’s house in Staffordshire, and we always ribbed them about this, ‘why did you take him and not us,’ and we always used to take the mickey and that sort of thing, but erm anyway, this has all come out later on
AM: Yes
RT: In those days, none of those things would have probably, so we, we then, soon after we got back off our three day break, we were sent to Mannheim, which is a long trip, not across the sea, down England, right across Paris, right across Germany to Mannheim, seven hours sort of trip, and on our way back one engine overheated and we were forced to shut it down, so when we got back to base, we assumed that we could happily go to bed and we wouldn’t go the next night, the same night we just got back, but around lunch time they woke us up, and said, your aircraft is now suitable and we are raiding Nuremberg tonight, right, and you are required to go, so two or three of the crew, Bob Hollinrake, I think, and the skipper and the engineer, took the plane up and came back and said, its ok, and so we got briefed, and that evening at about quarter past nine, we set off again, right down England, right across Paris, right across, a bit further this time, this was an eight hour, before we got to the target, the same engine packed up again, and so we dropped a little behind the bomber stream because, I think we were in, it was in five waves from memory, and we were in two, so the fact that we were going slower than the rest meant that we were still with them like, just at the end, but we were probably [unclear] it wasn’t too long after that when we’d lost a bit of height because we’d had to come down a little bit past three because a fighter had frightened us, and partly because we were gaining a bit of speed et cetera by coming down. We lost another engine
AM: Same side or?
RT: No, no, one on each side
AM: Oh, okay
RT: And, okay, you can still fly, you can still fly a Halifax on two engines, but we decided we would go back to engine number one that had failed and see if we could get it going again, because it had overheated again, we got it going again, not too long we had the same problem again, and they dabbled with trying to make it three out of four but we never really had more than two. We gradually lost height and when we came back over Paris, we were all on our own of course, we’d now lost the, the other, the shelter of the others
AM: No, you weren’t in the stream anymore
RT: And, technically we were a bit too low, we were around nine and a half thousand feet, that is well in the range of guns, but not hit, and we got out over Dieppe
AM: Yeah
RT: Heading for Beachy Head, which was our right route home because the mines had been swept in order to make a ditching area, but we got hit by something [emphasis] in the wing, we believe it was a German warship, and I’ll tell you why later, but we, the plane couldn’t fly straight and whatever had happened to the wing, and the pilot decided that the only, and we’re still in cloud
AM: Was it still dark at this point?
RT: Oh yeah, it was four o’clock in the morning
AM: Oh right, sorry
RT: And it, yeah, and we’d been going since quarter past nine, it would have been a night out if we’d got back to Yorkshire. It was actually quarter past four when we actually hit the sea, but erm because of his problems with the controls and his decision is he’s not going to make the English coast, he’s got to get himself a good ditching chance, you’ve got to have enough control, to control it when it hits the water, though he did his best, as I say, we believed we had a very good pilot, he did his best, and we got six out I was, stayed with the pilot because I used to fly the second [unclear] and about six hundred feet we came out the cloud, and I said, cheerio to him, and took up my position which is lying on the floor with my feet on the bulkheads, and one of my jobs was to just jettison the two escape hatches, which I did, went down to join the others down there, and it was fairly soon after that, although I think he probably only had one engine going when he hit the sea, he wanted to make sure he got absolutely control over what it, it had to be good, not anything that could suddenly alter, and because we had the perspex nose and the sea was rough, and it was in rain, the nose broke when it hit a wave, in theory, he tried to put the tail in first and fall into the sea, that’s the theory of it, but the nose went so we were suddenly flooded because it, and of course it isn’t just sea water we’ve got, its fuel
AM: Fuel, yeah [coughs]
RT: And the dye that it, the yellow dye the Fluorescein, that they, so we were
AM: Hang on, the yellow dye of?
RT: It’s called Fluorescein, and when the plane hits the water it releases a yellow dye so you can see over
AM: Right, okay
RT: It distinguishes where the plane went in, I mean for some weeks after in Germany we were all yellow, but so, we then get up as quickly as we can, my job was to be first out as bomb aimer, other people have got other duties to do, Louis is supposed to be sending his message and to, I mean now he’s in his ditching position, he’s done all that, the navigator’s supposed to be bringing the charts with him and
AM: Packing his bag
RT: I think he had a big bag which was supposed to be locked on his arms, he claims he got a bang on the head and he didn’t get all his stuff, not able in time, but anyway, I’m at the dinghy, the plane is flat on the sea, I was able to get into the, onto the wing, took the dinghy over because it was inflating the wrong way up, push it into the sea, get into it, and then the others are coming one at a time, the pilot of course is still in his own bit, he’s got to find his way to us, but the dinghy isn’t inflating as it should
AM: I was going to ask you, so the dinghy, who lets the dinghy go or does it do that automatically?
RT: I never thought about it
AM: And its auto, should automatically inflate
RT: It is definitely inflating
AM: Okay
RT: When I first saw it upside down and then I turned it over it was inflating, its only when we got inside and the others started to pile in, and seven of you in one of those dinghies is a bit of a squeeze
AM: You still got your flying boots and everything on at this point?
RT: I’m sorry
AM: You still got your flying boots on at this time? [inaudible]
RT: Oh yeah, all in that, and it’s starting to, it’s trying to float below the surface and it’s starting to fold up like a
AM: Yeah
RT: Air is escaping, it’s only then that we realise that its full of holes, shrapnel, a small piece of shrapnel had gone through when we were hit on the wing, it’s gone through the folded up dinghy, now part of our drill is to find all the items we drop attached to the dinghy by cords, one of which is a knife, one of which is a pair of bellows, one is some food, one is a Very gun, there’s a whole set of things, the first thing we want is the knife, because of our position folded up in the water, not sitting on the water and because we’ve got holes, not only in the air bit, but also in the bottom, the pilot says, we must find the knife otherwise we are going down with the plane, we were attached to the plane, it’s a strong cord, ‘stand up one at a time, because there’s holes in the bottom, take your flying boots off, I don’t want anybody’, and I’m the first one standing up, my job really was to be first in everything. I stand up, first thing is my flying boots are over the side, nobody’s ever admitted to it but if you look in my little museum upstairs, you’ll see most of the crew in later years have sent me cards of flying boots
AM/RT: [laughter]
RT: Because eventually of course I arrive in Germany in bare feet, and I’ve had bare feet for a fair little bit of this nonsense. So, we can’t find the knife, the new air gunner a man we’d never quite got to know as well as the five man crew, Sandy Agnew, he produces a sheath knife from down his flying boot, a thing which we’d always been told, ‘don’t arrive in Germany armed even with a knife, because if you’re armed they could kill you,’ whereas in the Geneva convention they’re not supposed to, he cuts us free. Very shortly after that we see the aircraft slide away, that’s right, so now we start to find these cords and find these things, we find the bellows, we find the bag full of corks, they’re like old fashioned spinning tops, little wooden things with threads on them, different sizes, with different size holes
AM: So, they’re for plugging all the holes?
RT: So, we start plugging the holes, we haven’t got enough for all the things, so people by holes have got fingers in, and things like that, but we’ve got the bellows and we start pumping, we kept that thing going for seventeen hours until we were rescued off the French coast. By then we’d found a little bit of Horlicks tablets, we found a Very cartridge gun, and we were you know, we were sailors now, we were but we couldn’t guide the dinghy
AM: So, you drifted back to the French coast then?
RT: Yeah. We got paddles but it’s a round thing and there’s no way two people can paddle a round thing and it, you know, eventually we’re off the French coast, we know we’re off the French coast at nine o’clock in the evening, it’s like twenty four hours since we left home, and there’s a ridiculous [emphasis] debate going on, can we, can we paddle all the way round to Spain? Shall we risk trying to go up towards all the twenty one miles, or if we get into the North Sea we’ll get lost, you know, et cetera, et cetera. When we see a Spitfire coming, two Spitfires actually, coming back over the coast, we fire our Very cartridge and the one Spitfire comes down, puts his canopy back, starts to wave to us and we’re now getting quite excited, it’s only a matter of minutes until they drop a flying, er flying lifeboat to us or whatever, or a flying boat will come and pick us up
AM: Yeah
RT: But, we were so close to the French coast, we didn’t realise how close we were, because the waves were high enough to hide it from us down there, but the Germans had seen the Very cartridge, and so they start to flash Aldis lamps, ‘identify, identify, identify’
AM: They’re actually [coughs] on the coast or were they [inaudible]?
RT: No on the coast
AM: Oh, okay
RT: And, eventually we flashed back because we also had a lamp, ‘RAF, RAF’ and they came out in a fishing boat with soldiers, armed soldiers, we all had to lie down, because of, we realised that there was a fair bit of risk with that sinking dinghy and we hadn’t got food or whatever, I think we were pleased to be picked up, to be saved as it were, you know
AM: At least you hadn’t drowned
RT: We weren’t drowned, yeah, and a boat came and they took us to a place called La Trémouille [?] which to me until recently is an unknown place in France, we’ve been back there a couple of times et cetera, I’ve had a holiday there. This last week or so, there’s a, a new series, series started on BBC and it’s all based on La Trémouille [?] [laughs] it’s a beautiful little town with all sorts of intrigue going on, you know, but anyway, we’re taken to Abbeville airfield and handed over to the Luftwaffe
AM: Are you still in your soaking wet clothes at this point?
RT: Oh, we are soaking wet, we were put in a little hut just to ourselves, in our wet clothes, we got a blanket each, still in our wet clothes, they locked us in and they gave us a saucepan full of hot potatoes in their jackets which were quite pleasant, and then the following day, a group of people who we believe to be two crews of German bombers, a party just bigger than us, we were seven they were probably nine, maybe ten. We were put on a train, still in our wet clothes and taken off to Germany, the journey took four days
AM: With the, with the German bomber crew
RT: Oh yes, they were in charge
AM: Is that right, okay, yeah
RT: One of those men loaned me his spare pair of boots, which I wore until I got to the first prison camp
AM: Did they fit you?
RT: Yes
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: We, when we arrived in Frankfurt, still with our dinghy, carrying our folded up dinghy, we were paraded on the station and the crowd came and spat at us, [unclear] bombers and all this sort of thing, which we thought was a bit unusual, we’ve found out since, that it was probably normal
AM: Did they try and get at you or were they just?
RT: No, nobody hurt any of us, no, et cetera, then they, the same nine people, they took us from the station to a tram car, one of these door tram cars, one behind the other, they shunted some people out, put us on and they took us to Gestapo headquarters, and outside Gestapo headquarters, the proper name is Dulag Luft
AM: Yeah
RT: Its well known as Dulag Luft now. The German had his boots back, they were his boots, they weren’t mine they were his, the, we didn’t need to explain, exchange, because I had no German, he had no English, he took me things and we went into there, and of course once we got in there, for about a week, we were then separated, we were in solitary confinement, interviewed most days by some German, sometimes we were put back in a cell with another airman
AM: But not your own crew?
RT: Not our own crew, sometimes we were put back with a member of our own crew, but we’d been briefed about all this, it was well known, we just don’t talk to one, if you don’t say anything, you know, but this went on for a week
AM: Did they do the nice guy, bad guy?
RT: Oh, all of that
AM: Cigarettes, all that stuff
RT: The officer with his gun in, gun out, until you’re proved to be, ‘I can shoot you,’ it’s all within, and ‘I don’t accept you’re a prisoner yet’, ‘you are not answering but I want you to’, ‘we are only allowed to give you rank name and number,’ ‘where you went to school’ and so, and so, ‘you attended Mary Street primary school,’ they got all the details, you know, so it, ‘that’s true, that’s a lie’, ‘I could shoot you for telling a lie’
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: [inaudible] but anyway, it went on for about a week and then we were all bought together again
AM: Were you scared, were you frightened, how did you feel about it?
RT: I think, I think I’m a young lad of nineteen, I must be, but the only time I can recall being really scared was while we were waiting to hit the water, you know, saying prayers and whatever, whatever comes into your mind, that’s a completely unknown situation you just don’t know what’s going to happen and, but I’m sure I’ve had a number of scares from Germans and things of that, but none of it is that I can recall in any detail, I’m sure, I’m not claiming to be brave or anything like that, so I think I must have been, but it’s not foremost in my mind. So, ooh, we are then in this Dulag Luft, which is, we were released by the Gestapo and we go into what it’s like, a little prison camp next door, there are English people in charge and they may be collaborators, they may be genuine people working on behalf of newly caught prisoners, I don’t know, but I still haven’t got my boots, and as I enter the compound somebody gives me a tin of condensed milk, and as soon as I got it opened, I scoffed it and I was violently sick, [laughs] but I can remember that in great detail
AM: It’s too rich for your stomach
RT: Well, I mean we hadn’t eaten for some time, you know, and on that train for four days, we’d had a little bit of German sausage and a little bit of bread, once a day, you know, the same as the Germans were having, that’s what they were having, they also [emphasis] didn’t have a bed for four days, you know, they were just in a wooden seated carriage, the same as we were, et cetera, so, okay, you’ve [unclear] then, you’re put on a train, bus carts and I’m taken to No 1 prison camp
AM: Were you still with your other six crew?
RT: Oh, we’re all together
AM: You’re all together
RT: We’re all together
AM: Yeah
RT: And we’re all together for some, that camp was organised into what we’ll call sixes, the food was shared out and you had to be in a combine of six, and so six of the crew were in the combine and one wasn’t, it was the little gunner, the man with the knife, he was in another combine with a Scotsman that he, because he was another Scotsman, so anyway, that was that. That was a nice prison camp, it was organised, it took all the people shot down since the start of the war, were all there, and they’d got a theatre and they’d got football teams with names like Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, and I’m told that that one or two ex-professionals who’d become aircrew were playing in the teams, I didn’t know the people, and that was a nice enough place, and then somewhere along the line I acquired a pair of American army boots from the stores, the prison camp stores, but then a few months later we were, because it’s now getting very crowded, there were so many English and American prisoners coming in, its nineteen forty three, it’s all happening now and we were put on a train and we were taken to Lithuania. Four days again, same situation, we went to a reasonable camp, just started
AM: That was Lithuania, can you remember where it was?
RT: It was a place called Heydekrug
AM: Alright
RT: In Lithuania
AM: Yep
RT: Erm, we stayed there until, I think we went there in about November, remember I’d been shot down, its, its early September I’m in a prison camp
AM: Yeah
RT: So, I was not there too long in the good camp, then we go off to this very cold place in Lithuania, erm and nice place as I say, large place, four compounds, Americans in one, English there, English there and probably others in that one, and whilst we were there, five crew air gunner, Jock Finney, met his brother in law through the wire, he was in one of the other compounds, he knew he was there, and he persuaded the Germans to allow him to transfer to be with his brother in law and he took the little scotch lad with him, they all went together, and that was it, end, we never saw them again. They survived the war but not [unclear] we were involved in. Now, in about July or just after the invasion in June, we were overrun by the Russian front
AM: So, we are in nineteen forty-four?
RT: They were nowhere near us, but we’re in Lithuania and the Russian front is cutting off that whole section of Latvia and East Prussia, it’s all being, and so the Germans evacuated us by sea from the port of Memel and bought us back in to Swinemünde, a four day trip down in the hull
AM: All of you? How many?
RT: Eight hundred, down, we were on one boat, eight hundred, that was our compound. We know that on the day before, we only know now, on the day before in another boat, the American compound had also made the same route, and when we arrived back in Swinemünde, we were bombed by the American airforce, so we were lying on the truck, cattle trucks and there was a German pocket battle ship firing at them
AM: Would they have had any way of knowing who was on the boat, they just wouldn’t would they?
RT: No, no, no. So, eventually we were on a train, cattle trucks again, another four-day trip, this time back into Poland, at a place called [unclear] now, when we get it, this is known as the run off the road, this is the, which you all, one you must surely have heard about, when we get off the boat, where a lot of us have been manacled, we’re not manacled down in there because we couldn’t climb up the ladder
AM: So, hands rather than feet
RT: Yeah. But once we got off, some were pairs, some were fours, manacled together, and then, I call them the Hitler Youth, it was like a naval brigade of young soldiers with dogs and bayonets, start to chase us through the woods
AM: Yeah
RT: Wanting us to run, now we’re manacled together, and according to one lad, and we’ve each got a little haversack on our backs, which is an old shirt sewed up to make, to carry any bits and pieces that we’ve acquired in our nine months of captivity or whatever, and so, that runs down to your manacle and your stuck. I managed to get my hand out of my manacle because I was quite thin in those days and I’ve avoided any injury, and I’ve run on, I’ve left my other lad, whoever he was, I don’t know the name of who I was manacled to, I don’t think he was one of our group at all, not one of our crew certainly, and so eventually we arrived back in what we believed to be the prison camp, we now know it was a five kilometre run from when they attacked us, and we do know that the worst lad had sixty something bayonet wounds in his backside, prodded, not stabbed, prodded
AM: What where, what were the German guards doing, just letting them do it?
RT: No, they were the ones that were doing it
AM: Right, okay, so they were the guards who the young lads, were the ones, yeah
RT: They were the guards. The documents now say that they wanted us to escape and that on the edge of the woods was machine guns, that’s what the big books now record, we never saw any of that. We stuck together, not because we wanted to stick together, we were just following one another. Now, when we got to this camp, it wasn’t a camp, it was the outside of a camp, there was, we had to go in with a, what you get at a wedding, with a, soldiers, a guard of honour with the soldiers
AM: Oh, yeah, yeah
RT: Who bit you, prodded you, made sure that nobody had got anything, even a toothbrush, and then for some days, we were in this camp, with no huts, sleeping at night on the floor, and outside was a great pile of all our gear. Eventually that got shared out amongst us, toothbrushes, whatever, anything, and it took a few weeks before huts were made
AM: What month are we in now, is it, are we still in winter?
RT: No, this was July
AM: So, we’ve moved back through, yeah, with everything
RT: It was just after the invasion
AM: Of course, in forty-four, yeah
RT: So, the weather is much better, although there was a very nasty thunderstorm where one of, because before we got proper huts we had what we called dog kennels, they were like little sheds about five foot tall, four foot six tall, about ten people could lie on the floor, so at night we’d get into those. One night there was a terrible thunderstorm, two of the huts got struck by lightning, two or three prisoners got killed by the lightning, that must all be documented
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: Over a few more weeks, the Russian prisoners, they were like slaves, and they built a proper prison camp and we went into our compound and the facilities there were quite reasonable, a massive toilet block, seventy-two seat toilet block, and so on, and which the sludge of the toilets had to be moved everyday by the Russians
[unknown]: [background talking]
AM: [inaudible] yeah
RT: With their oxen carts, they used to suck it up with a little explosion that caused it to
AM: Okay we’re paused, hang on
RT: Have we stopped?
[unknown]: [inaudible] I just said
[unknown voices]
[unknown] Just a little nibble, its ready but we’re having it indoors
AM: Right
[unknown]: Not bringing it out here
AM: Oh, we’ll come in, can we come in when we’re done?
[unknown]: Do you want to finish all that and then come in?
AM: Yeah, can we?
[unknown]: Yeah okay, fair enough
AM: Alright, right then
[Unknown] [laughter] I hope you are not going into too much detail Ronald?
AM: No, you’re not its wonderful
[unknown] I’m sat here listening and
[unknown] [inaudible] [laughter]
AM: So, cut you off in your prime, off you go again
RT: Anyway, we were in [unclear] which becomes a very reasonable sort of camp, the main occupation, was the guards trying to count us, every day. Every day we’d be forced out of our, I mean at night time, the huts are all on legs, dogs are underneath them, to avoid escaping. You do your own cooking on a little bit of a stove in there with your ration of potatoes or your twenty eighth of a loaf every day, a slice of bread
AM: And if they’re on legs you can’t dig tunnels?
RT: Not easily, you, et cetera, et cetera, and so on, and then in the daytime, they would force us out while they searched the huts and then they would do a count, somebody would manage to sneak through there and spoil the count for them
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: This went on all the time. Is he a bomber? Oh no, he’s just a passenger thing, yes. Have you got him recorded?
AM: Yeah, be alright, as long as it doesn’t drop anything on us
RT: It isn’t too long now, and we coming to the end of January, this is now nineteen forty five
AM: Forty five
RT: And the Russian front comes again, and this time the same routine, but instead of the ship or the train, we just set off walking and it goes on from the sixth of February until I get liberated on about the sixteenth of April
AM: Okay, how did you get liberated?
RT: The British army. By then we’d walked back to [unclear] which is a big, nowadays well-known place, it was so crowded that our column were told they had to go back again, and our column did leave and went back the way they come, most of my crew went with them, but Dibben, the pilot and I, went into sick bay, lay on the floor and said we were too sick to move, and we just stayed there, two days later we were liberated by the British army. We knew the army was getting close because we could see the searchlights in the sky
AM: Who was it that sent the others back?
RT: Oh
AM: Germans or?
RT: Germans
AM: The Germans, right
RT: And, the people in charge of the camp, because the camp was run by Sergeant Major Lord who was a big disciplinarian who had been captured at Arnhem
AM: Right
RT: And whilst I was in [unclear] a British soldier took me into the town to show me the little village, first day out of the prison camp, [unclear] and who should I meet? But Ken Pugsley, the lad with flat feet, who’d been captured at Arnhem as a prisoner and was in the same prison camp. I met him in Germany [emphasis] [laughs]
AM: Five years later
RT: Absolutely. But, on the march, I developed frostbite, I just couldn’t walk [inaudible]
AM: In your feet?
RT: Yeah, I couldn’t keep a, shouldn’t, whether it was those army boots from
AM: Americans
RT: Americans, which were never going, the right size or whatever, but anyway, and so the Germans [unclear] took me on a work cart and with a soldier, put me on a train, took me to a Belgium workers camp, dropped me off, and for seven or eight days, I was fed by a little Belgium school master
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: Until he died last year, he corresponded [inaudible words] and a Serbo-Croat prisoner operated on my foot with his penknife which eventually, to release the pus, to allow the thing to get out. They put me on a dressing, on about the seventh, eighth day, we’re now into March, the German soldier arrives back, takes me on the train, puts me back with my crew on the march in a snowstorm with a cardboard box on my foot which lasted about
AM: About a day?
RT: No, not quite
AM: [inaudible]
RT: And so on, and so then, there we are back on the march again until we eventually
AM: It’s a strange mentality isn’t it, that they’d come, dropped you off, get you fixed up, bring you back
RT: Yep
AM: And get you to exactly where you’d been
RT: Now, when I recorded this in my film, I said, that the Germans with their efficiency, took me back to wherever the column had got to, but I now know from looking at my other documents, that for eight days the column stayed in th same place
AM: Oh
RT: Because all the roads ahead, were full up with other prisoners
AM: Right
RT: And, population escaping from the Russians, and so there was nowhere for us, so we are stuck
AM: Between a rock and a hard place
RT: Between the few farms. We had a prisoner on a bicycle, he was known as Percy Caruthers, he was allowed, and he spoke good German, he was a pilot, he was allowed to ride ahead contacting farmers to see if they would put up some prisoners overnight in their barns, provide food or hot water, and because no farm could take eight hundred, he would probably find about five farms in an area, and he would issue a document to say you helped British prisoners of war, and which would stand them in good stead with whoever liberated them, okay and so on, because we’re talking now about Poles and Germans, and all sorts of people because of the war and whatever, and that was the way it was, you know, so eventually I’m liberated
AM: So, you meet the British?
RT: Meet the British and within a few days I’d been fumigated, flown back home and then I was put for two years in Cosford Hospital because of, I was very [unclear] I had no nutrition and I was suffering from dysentery, you know, couldn’t hold food or whatever
AM: Two weeks, so you were two years in, two years did you say?
RT: No, two weeks
AM: Two weeks, I thought you said two years?
RT: No. And I left there on the seventh of May and was home for VE Day, whereas the rest of the crew
AM: They’d had to go backwards
RT: Gone back. They weren’t liberated until after VE Day
AM: Right
RT: And so on, they were, so we arrived back home, erm, even the little ambulance that took me from the airfield down in Hertfordshire to Cosford, called my Mother’s house to let her see me in the back of the, it wasn’t an ambulance, it was sort of a little canvas thing, you know and so on, that was in the middle of the night, because
AM: Did she have advanced warning that you were going to turn up?
RT: No, no, they knocked at the door
AM: [gasps]
RT: And said, ‘we’ve got your son out here’, you know, that would be the first she knew that we’d been liberated and of course it was before the end of the war, and so. And then we, I stayed in the airforce for about a year, the airforce didn’t want me to leave until my future was ascertained. Now, you know about my background of mucking about, this, that and the other, whilst I’d been apprenticed to the carpenter, the bit I fancied was the drawing office, so I’d arranged to get a training course to the draughtsman, and until that training course came through, the airforce kept me on
AM: Right
RT: I was a warrant officer, I got a good salary, I had a nice little flat in Scarborough, I only had to stay in Scarborough long enough to find some prizes for the spa dance every Saturday, and once I’d got my spot prizes I could go home and come back the next week, so
AM: Were you on your own?
RT: Yeah, on my own, yes me on my own with a little flat in Scarborough
AM: Not booking in anywhere or?
RT: No, no, eventually they transferred me to the drawing office at RAF Wittering, but nobody in that drawing office seemed to want, so I used to turn up there on a Monday morning and then catch the first lorry along the main road back to Birmingham for the rest of the week, you know, because they didn’t want me and the airforce were trying to help me. Eventually, my training came, I did my nine months of training and then, for the first job I went to, I was well trained, first job I went to was a good firm, I stayed with them for thirty-three years
AM: Blimey
RT: Yeah, changing jobs all the way through, as a sort of promotion, a good job, that’s where I met Freda
AM: That’s where you met Freda
RT: She worked there, yeah, so we’ve been together not for fourteen years, but for sixty-one years
AM: Sixty something
RT: And so, yeah. Now, when I retired my story vanishes then, I have nothing to do, not true, I met Louis Ure in London nine years after the war, but apart from that, apart from sending Christmas cards to the crew, I had no contact with the crew until I retired, when I retired I went up into Yorkshire to a place called the Rocking Horse shop, because I’d planned to make a rocking horse for my oldest, I was still using my apprenticeship with carpentry
AM: Carpentry
RT: I had always been a bit, you know, and all these little side tables you see there, all of this is, and sheds, fences, all these fences and green house, all that’s is stuff I’ve made, and so, I go to the rocking horse shop and it’s in a place called Holme-on-Spalding-Moor
AM: Yes
RT: Which was twinned to Melbourne. So, I go into the local pub which is called the Bombers Arms which we used to use from Melbourne, and on the wall, was a chart showing that 10 Squadron had just had the 10 Squadron Association dinner, and my pilots name and the bomb aimers name were on there, so I contact the publican and he said, there’s a man at Elvington air museum
[unknown background talking]
RT: Who does Tuesdays and Thursdays, whatever, he’ll be on tomorrow, the secretary to this association. So, I stayed the night in the pub with Freda, I’ve got me bits for my rocking horse, and I go to Elvington, the man on the door says, by the time you get back to Birmingham
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: Your crew will be in touch with you, and they was
AM: And they were
RT: And the first reunion was within three weeks, it was at the Prisoners of War Association called Creaky Corps at, who were the people who were in that boat down the Baltic
AM: Yeah
RT: And that became Creaky Corps, Percy Caruthers, the man with the bike, was the chairman, and so, they had, they had a reunion every year, as did 10 Squadron, so within three weeks, we were meeting up in Wellingborough, and we went to Sywell where Percy Caruthers had been trained as a pilot, we always went back there, to the Aviator, a big hotel, and for twenty years we went to those things and when Percy Caruthers was feeling, he’s going to pack up soon, I became the vice chairman because nobody else would take it on, and shortly afterwards, Percy died, and so we went to our first meeting, and the first job I did was to say, I’m not the right bloke to be this thing, I want somebody who really wants to be it, we found another bloke, he came the chairman and he continued, and it went on, you know, he did well, he did well, it didn’t last too many years because the people were dying off, and so, and because 10 Squadron kept going
[loud aircraft noise]
RT: And, Freda and I went to 10 Squadron’s hundredth anniversary this year, we won’t go again [unclear and inaudible words]
AM: How many of the original [inaudible] war veterans were there?
RT: There were one or two including, including ground crew
AM: Right
RT: But nobody that we knew, not one of the people that we used to see year in and year out, and so on, because 10 Squadron is still flying and because they’re still flying, they’ve still got old boys who were youngsters compared to us
AM: Yeah, they were old boys but not as old as you
RT: And, some of their sons and daughters are now, you know, they had to ballot to see who could go
AM: Right
RT: Freda and I, and the pilot’s widow wanted to go and we all got tickets, and we went and stayed in Burford, we did, all the years we used to go there, we used to stay in a pub in a little village called Broadwell, which had five bedrooms, and there were five of us with our ladies
AM: Brilliant
RT: And, for years, and then this publican retired himself, and the people buying it didn’t keep it open as a pub, they shut it down for two years then opened it up as a Swiss restaurant and it failed, so it’s probably derelict now, the house, we are still in touch with the publican who lives down in Devon, you know, et cetera. But that is the story
AM: Okay
RT: As far as the war goes, you know
AM: Wonderful
RT: But the, as I say, the big story is the twenty years that we met after retirement
AM: And enjoyed
RT: Twice a year
AM: Looked back and
RT: And we always went to the reunions and we always stayed another couple of days and we, ah
AM: [Laughs]
RT: And it’s amazing that the things that they, the pilot Dibben and the navigator, the navigator eventually became a publican
AM: Right
RT: And his pub was ever so close to Dibben’s house, so every Friday night, Dibben and the publican told all their audience, related the war
AM: Open the hangar doors [inaudible]
RT: And when Louis and Bob and I joined them, we had to correct all their stories
[laughter]
RT: Yeah
AM: That was wonderful, that was wonderful, I’m going to switch off
RT: Yeah

Collection

Citation

Annie Moody, “Interview with Ron Tomlin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8918.

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