Interview with Gordon Topham


Interview with Gordon Topham


Gordon Topham was born in Salisbury, but his family settled in Norwich, Norfolk and he joined the Royal Air Force at the age of 17, qualifying as a flight engineer in July 1944. Gordon’s father used to drive steam wagons and was involved with tarmacking roads - Gordon went into working with machinery, thus aspiring for a flight engineer role. Upon completion of his wireless operator training at RAF Bridlington, he was transferred to a heavy conversion unit then moved to RAF Lindholme - where he flew Halifaxes – and then to RAF Hemswell, for conversion to Lancasters. Gordon tells of his experience on his various operations, including Stuttgart, Essen, Emmerich and Freiburg, bombing oil plants, munitions factories, sustaining anti-aircraft fire damage and his encounter with a Junkers Ju 88 fighter. Whilst on an operation to Essen, he and Pilot Office Nicklin spotted a V-1 site and reported its position so it can be attacked. He also tells of landing in fog, either at his home or diverted to others including Crail in Scotland. Describes its runway out over the sea, as to simulate landing on an aircraft carrier. Gordon also talks of the time they had to fly at low altitude because of German radar - he and his pilot were ordered to hedge hop over the Lincolnshire coast when they hit high-voltage power lines. They had not lost fuel so they carried on to their target, Politz, near Stettin. He also tells of the damage to his aircraft on the return leg. After the war Gordon returned to his company after marrying. Later he became the engineering director at Quinto Crane and Plant Limited.







01:00:02 audio recording


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AM: Ok. So, this is Annie Moody and I’m here on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre.
GT: That serves you right for a start.
AM: In Lincoln.
GT: Yes.
AM: And I’m with Gordon Topham, who is in Woodton near Bungay, which in turn is near Norwich. And so, I’m going to be talking to Gordon today. We’ve got all sorts of bits and pieces. We’ve got Gordon’s logbook and school stuff and everything. But first of all, Gordon —
GT: That shows you what a —
AM: Right.
GT: Goody, goody I was, look [laughs]
AM: I’ve got it. I’ve got a report here that says the work, his, “Work and conduct have given every satisfaction. He is one of the most capable boys at handicraft that we have ever had”. Anyway, so where, where were you born, Gordon?
GT: Where?
AM: Yeah. Whereabouts.
GT: Where was I born? Salisbury.
AM: Oh right.
GT: My father — he was a steam man. He was in the Army. He learned to drive steam wagons, so, when he came out — this, you know, wheels were virtually not thought of. You had to push things around then, didn’t you? Well no, you wouldn’t know. And anyway, he took steam on as his trade when he come out the Army, and it was going around tarmacking roads. Well in those days, most roads were sort of hard core or something like that, and they were just getting the modern roads up, which were sort of single road traffic, and he used to travel quite a lot. Well, he was one of fourteen children at Salisbury, one of which died in the war, and of course, with joining the company he joined with, they had to travel all over the country. Roads, roads, roads, roads, roads. Tarmacking and, you know, in that business, he drove a steam wagon and that was the thing that did the tarring and the boiling and everything else. So, we travelled all over England, you can say, and he ended up at Wallasey in [pause], where’s that?
GR: Merseyside.
AM: Yeah. Merseyside.
GT: Merseyside, yeah. And from there, I’ve got a picture somewhere when I was knee high to an gnat and I’d got an identical steam wagon that he had, you know, a little toy. A pity I haven’t got that photo at the moment, but I’ve got a photo somewhere of him taking me with this little tractor.
AM: Where did you go to school then, if you were all over the country?
GT: That was when I just started.
AM: Right. Ok.
GT: And from there, that was all infant stuff and things like that. So the first place we settled down was in Norwich, a company there, he got fed up with tracing all over the place so he joined this company in Norwich. I’m trying to think of the name of them now, Trowse anyway, and from there he operated all around Norwich, doing maintenance with roads and steam and things like that. And that’s the first school, to say I’d got a permanent school was Trowse School, but all the others [pause], I always went to school, you know. Where ever we went they would, well the schools weren’t like they are now but, but we were accepted everywhere, go and see the Head, he’s coming, you know. So as a youngster, I went through the school ‘til normal, didn’t know anything different. If we changed villages or something, he’d do the villages around about Norfolk, we’ll say, and anything like that. And of course, we had a varying education, you could say, and we ended up, as I say, in Norwich. I went to Thorpe Hamlet School in Norwich and that’s the first school I had where I was permanent.
GR: Settled.
GT: Settled yeah.
AM: Yeah. Did you have brothers and sisters, Gordon?
GT: I had a brother, they tell me, before me, and he didn’t live.
AM: Right.
GT: So, I’ve got to say yes, I did but I didn’t.
AM: But not, yeah. Didn’t grow up with you.
GT: No.
AM: How old were you when you left school? Ish?
GT: Fourteen.
AM: You were fourteen.
GT: Those were the days —
AM: So what did you do?
GT: Went to Edward J Edwards contractors, where my father took over the first Priestman excavator from Hull and they bought this excavator, and once again, I had a piece of paper but I lost it now. For the first time, that was delivered on a railway truck and Mr Totmer got this new machine and it gravels like a huge, you know, definition of a, made it sound, a huge great machine. It was only a Priestman cub, it tore at hedges and things and tore them pieces. Went to ponds and ripped the whole pond up. A big write up in the paper.
AM: So what was your role then?
GT: Sorry?
AM: So, what did you do then, in that.
GT: Well I was then still at school, wasn’t I?
AM: Oh right, yeah, sorry. I mean, once you left school though. What did you do once you left school?
GT: With the background, he knew the people around about, and Edward J Edwards said, ‘Your boy want a job? Come on. Put him in here’. And that was maintenance in Edward J Edwards.
AM: Right.
GT: Well it was Edwards J Edwards and Harry Pointer were two of the only contractors around then and Harry Pointer said, ‘Well I could do with him, because I’m solely plant’, not lorries and things which the other one was, so I transferred to him. My father was friendly with both of them actually. And that’s where I started, at Harry Pointer’s.
AM: Right.
GT: On plant hire, which was the first thing they had there after the lorries. They had lorries and things like that, first of all.
AM: Yeah.
GT: He built Norwich Football Ground.
AM: Oh, did he?
GT: The new one, yeah.
AM: Crikey.
GT: Anyway, there [pause], where did we go next?
AM: So, you’ve started there at fourteen.
GT: Yes.
AM: And leading up to eighteen.
GT: Yes. I’ve kept there, and they moved up to Aylsham Road.
GR: Had war broken out by then?
AM: Just.
GT: Yeah. Yeah.
GR: War had just broken out.
AM: Just.
GT: Yeah, and of course, that had just broken out and I suppose the big man, I want to fly, I want to fly.
AM: Is that what you fancied doing then?
GT: Yeah.
AM: Because before, so as a fourteen, fifteen year old in Norwich.
GT: Yes.
AM: Do you remember the bombing then ‘cause there was quite a lot of bombing in Norwich, wasn’t there?
GT: Oh yes. Yes.
AM: What was that like then, being on the end of that?
GT: Well I wouldn’t say it was like Coventry or anything like that.
AM: No.
GT: It was very minor.
AM: But there was though. Quite a bit of bombing.
GT: Yes. Yeah, and mainly at St Andrews, the plane, around there, the factories and things, they got those. But, yeah. And from there, the war was on then and that’s when I joined the RAF as a cadet. You know the —
AM: Right.
GT: What do you call them?
AM: So, before you were eighteen you joined up as a cadet.
GT: Yes, yeah., and that was an evening thing that you could [unclear]. So, when I was eighteen, seventeen, about seventeen I think, I went to evening classes and things like that for the ATC. Then I joined for the RAF and that was a case of, yes, you’ve joined. You’re, what did they call them? Reserved service, or something or other.
AM: So, you —
GT: So, I joined that and just waited until they said, ‘Right, you next, come in’. I went to Cardington and joined the RAF from there, from there I went to London. I think it’s all in that book actually.
AM: To Lord’s Cricket Ground.
GT: The large, yeah, Lord’s Cricket Ground. Used to eat in the zoo.
AM: I believe so.
GT: That’s where [laughs] yeah.
AM: I’ve heard stories about the food in the zoo.
GT: Yeah, yeah. So that was where I was, where you had your jabs and things like that and free, sort of, in the RAF. From there I went to Usworth in [pause], Usworth, right up North. In —
AM: Is it in Yorkshire? I’m not sure where that one is.
GT: No. Go up North. One.
GR: Northumberland.
AM: Northumberland.
GT: You go up North.
GR: Newcastle. Durham.
GT: Durham.
AM: Durham. Near Durham.
GT: And there for, I think it was about six weeks initial training.
AM: So that’s like square bashing and stuff like that.
GT: Dead right, dead right, yeah. There was hardly anything there. That was in the middle of winter. You had tents and things like that, just to harden you off, I suppose. It was really, cold taps, outside to wash, and from there went to St Athans.
GR: Yes. A lot of people.
GT: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
GT: And from there, St Athans, we went to Bridlington for training for, you know, the de de da da de da.
AM: Oh, the wireless operating.
GR: Morse.
AM: The Morse.
GT: Yeah, yeah. I went through most of the things that you’d need in the RAF, you know, you didn’t go to a gunner school or this, that and the other. You had a little bit of everything as an engineer.
AM: Right. How did they decide you were going to be an engineer?
GT: I did.
AM: You decided that.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Right.
GT: There was a panel when we joined up. They had this panel of a half a dozen big commander, and, ‘What do you think you’re clever about?’ Of course I said that I joined, I was plant hire and stuff like that, and heavy machinery, and I think they decided that I’d be a engineer. And that’s what I was rated at from there. Flight engineer. But of course, you had nothing to do with flying then, that was purely St Athan’s training. Well with the training I had, there’s paper boys and all that, joined up and I was an engineer anyway and to tell them more than what they were learning, so, I had an easy, well, not an easy run there but anything to do with engineering, they seemed to latch on to me. So, I had a good time there and I’ve got some things in there from that. So what was it? Dates and things. I can’t —
AM: So once you’d done that, yeah, some of the dates are in your log book
GT: Yeah. When was that?
AM: On what date did you go to — hang on. So that’s the first page. So, your air acclimatisation.
GT: We’re in the, yeah, we’re in the Con Unit then.
AM: Right.
GT: Learning to fly.
AM: So, what was that like then? So, you went from the, doing all the on the ground learning, if you like.
GT: Yes, yeah, and we had to go to whatever they put us on to, then from whatever aircraft we were going as training, so that’s when we started flying actually. But I was flying as a flight engineer then.
AM: Right.
GT: And —
AM: So at that point, have you been, you haven’t crewed up yet or anything like that have you? Or have you?
GT: Well, yes and no. That’s, I think you can read more into that, than what I can tell you.
AM: Here we are. So, what I’m looking at now in Gordon’s logbook is that he passed his flight engineer course at St Athan in July 1944.
GT: What’s the —
AM: And then from, yeah, so that was July 1944.
GT: Yeah.
AM: And that was from there.
GT: Yes.
AM: You went to Lindholme in Yorkshire.
GT: On what?
AM: On Halifaxes.
GT: Halifaxes. That’s right.
AM: Halifaxes.
GT: Yeah. And on a Halifax, the flight engineer sat that way on, and you were traveling that way and you do all the machinery, you know, the engines and everything, used them from the side. They decided that when they got the Lancaster, what was that odd guy sitting there doing nothing? We’ve got a spare pilot here. Doing less than if he was [laughs]
AM: Right.
GT: So, they decided that the flight engineer should be second pilot. So, then I went on flying courses and things like that and — no. First of all, I lost my mother, and you get six weeks free, you know.
AM: Bereavement leave.
GT: To sort things out there. And so, when I came back which, there will be a break there somewhere from when I left Lancasters. Halifaxes in to Lancasters.
AM: Yes. ‘Cause that’s July.
GT: Yeah.
AM: And then by September, looks like the first Lancaster. At Hemswell.
GT: Hemswell, that’s right, yeah, for training on Lancasters.
AM: And that was flying with Pilot Officer Nicklin.
GT: That’s right, and I stopped with them in the training and that’s where I started operating, didn’t I? Somewhere there?.
AM: When did you crew up then? When?
GT: Well, whatever those dates are there.
AM: Hang on, let me just put that there for now. So, right, so you crewed up with Pilot Officer Nicklin then.
GT: Yes, yeah.
AM: Got you. Right. I’m with you.
GT: That’s where we decided who should be what.
AM: And you completed your crash landing and dinghy drills and your parachute drills.
GT: Yeah.
AM: I’ve got the certification of that there. So then —
GT: Can use them [laughs]
AM: So, you were at Heavy Conversion Unit by the time you were on Lancasters then.
GT: Yes.
AM: Yeah.
GT: Yes.
AM: And I’m just looking at your first operation. So tell me what it was like, getting ready for that and the actual operation. What can you remember about the very first operation?
GT: Funny thing, you know, people say, ‘Oh you must have been terrified on the first’, and all that, but you didn’t. You took it as a matter of that was your job to do that and you just got in an aeroplane and did it.
AM: Yeah.
GT: So, there was no fantastic, you know, ‘Oh dear, here we go’. or anything like that. So that’s that started. Is it? What’s the first one.
AM: Emmerich. Stuttgart.
GT: No. That can’t be the first one.
AM: Is that not the first one. Where am I looking?
AM: Yeah I think it is.
GT: Yes, that’s it. Operation. Emmerich.
AM: Yeah. Emmerich.
GT: Emmerich. Oh yes.
AM: Yeah.
GT: That’s right. Stuttgart.
AM: To Stuttgart.
GT: Yeah.
AM: And then quite quickly after that. So we’re in October.
GT: Operations. Yeah.
AM: Yeah, we’re in October ’44.
GT: Yeah.
AM: You went to Essen.
GT: Essen, yes.
AM: For your second one.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Sighted vertical rockets.
GT: That can’t be the first one, can it?
AM: No, that looks like the second or third one.
GT: Circuits and landings. [pause] Just general flying, cross country bombing. Emmerich, yeah. And that there’s — what date is that? 4th of the 10th ‘44.
AM: Yeah.
GT: To Emmerich.
AM: Yeah. So those are your first ones to Emmerich.
GT: Emmerich, yeah.
AM: And then to Essen.
GT: No, Stuttgart isn’t it?
AM: Stuttgart. Sorry.
GT: Yeah.
AM: And then Essen.
GT: Yeah.
AM: And I’m looking at what you’ve written in here, sighted vertical rockets. So, I don’t know what that would have been.
GT: Well that’s the V1s, you know.
AM: Oh right.
GT: The ones that went straight up and down on to London.
AM: Right.
GT: ’Cause we had to say exactly where we saw them, so they could bomb them out. Stuttgart. Fighter, air to air firing, Essen. Well, that’s Essen there.
AM: Yeah.
GT: Oh yeah. Emmerich. I’m getting the two mixed up.
AM: Ah right.
GT: Cologne.
AM: Flak damage.
GT: Three times to Cologne, Cologne, and flak damage on that one.
AM: What can you remember about the actual flights then? What was it like?
GT: Like flying an aeroplane. Honestly.
AM: Yeah.
GT: You know, you’re doing a job.
AM: What’s it like when you get the flak and —
GT: You get the Yanks, ‘Hey boys, look at this. Hey boys, look at that’. There was none of that. We would fly in an aeroplane, fly, you know, to keep it in the air. And that was a job to do and you were doing it.
AM: And you did it.
GT: No, I never remember any of the Yankee films at all or any of them. So, you know, that was, that was the run of the, you’d been trained for it and so you did it. I think that’s probably what, why we got through it. Because we were trained ready for it and didn’t do the, ‘Hi boys. Hi’ this and ‘hi’ that.
AM: You just went and did it.
GT: Yeah, that’s right. So, Cologne, Cologne. I’ve got some pictures somewhere of Cologne Bridge over the river.
AM: We’ll have to see if we can find them after. And then we’ve got Dusseldorf.
GT: Dusseldorf, yeah.
AM: Bochum.
GT: Bochum, yeah, all of them straightforward.
AM: Yeah. More flak damage at Dortmund.
GT: Dortmund, yeah.
AM: And then when you went to the, I don’t know how you pronounce it. [unclear]
GT: [unclear] yeah.
AM: You were diverted back to Waterbeach. Why would that have been then? ‘Cause then you diverted to Waterbeach and then you flew from Waterbeach back to your base.
GT: Ah, that’s where we landed. We’d been on the [unclear], coming back. I think there was fog in there or something so we had to divert to Waterbeach.
AM: Would they have had the FIDO? That FIDO landing stuff then if it was foggy?
GT: No, they had that at Scampton, didn’t they? Not Scampton, the airport near Scampton.
AM: I can’t remember.
GT: The big one where the AWACS was stationed, yeah. Trouble is Waterbeach. That was just Waterbeach just for a landing.
AM: Right.
GT: Probably fog. Fog or something like that.
AM: Ok.
GT: And Freiburg, yeah, that was the next one. Seven hours, thirteen flying.
AM: Hang on. Two pages.
GT: Yeah, Merseburg, oil plant, bombed that and that was an eight hour flight. That’s a long flight then. Scampton to base because we, once again, fog. Fog was a devil in those days. You know, the old smoke about and London used to black out, didn’t it? So, we got diverted there to Scampton to base, to Scampton, then went back to base.
AM: Then back to base.
GT: Yeah, and Essen. That was a hot spot that was.
AM: In what way? What do you mean by hotspot?
GT: Well, all the factories for armaments were built there, Ludwigshaven. That’s another one, yeah. Fighter combat, oh yeah. That was a JU88. We got caught out with them but that didn’t last long.
AM: Did your, did your gunners actually shoot at, fire at them?
GT: Oh yes, they had several goes, they were chuffed if they could get a shot. But in the air, things like that were - pfft - and that’s all over. So you don’t get big, once again, like the Yanks, ‘Hey boys, look at that one right there’, [laughs] so, anyway.
AM: Because they were flitting about. They were faster than you I guess. Aren’t they?
GT: Well they used to fly in formation. We didn’t, we just, you know, we were at the point where we were going along and —‘Look out’, That was your old man, ‘Look out there’s another one’, ‘Another one’. ‘Cause that’s pitch black, no lights or anything. And there never was a thousand bombers in the air. They used to say a thousand bomber raid, but there’s around, sort of, about eighteen and eight. Thousand, yeah, about eight hundred.
GR: Yeah.
GT: At that time, but with, we’ll say London Airport now, if that has two or three aircraft at the same time, there’s all hell let loose. But with eight hundred of you doing this.
AM: All in between each other.
GT: Yeah. Look out, up and down.
AM: Did you have any near misses?
GT: Oh many, many, yeah, same with on the targets. There was no, ‘you go in first’, ‘You go in’, ‘Come on, so and so. You go in’. That was a case everyone for themselves. So you’ve got to say you were bombing up, down, around. So, there was bombs coming down over your wings. And one night, there was a whole stick of bombs come right across ours, missed our aircraft. It’s luck as well as the skill, you know. And anyway, we got through that. Where have we got to now?
AM: You had a Munchengladbach. Oh, hang on. Before that one. Stettin Harbour.
GT: Oh, Stettin Harbour yeah. Is that the —
AM: It looks like you landed in Scotland.
GT: Oh this, yeah. That was the panic one, when everything in this country was covered in fog, so, we had to land. The only place we could get was in [pause], what’s the name of the big aircraft.
AM: Crail is it?
GT: No, that was where we ended up.
AM: Oh right.
GT: We shouldn’t have gone there. But anyway, diverted to up North, by the time we got up North we were running short of fuel and couldn’t find the station because of the fog, so we were cruising around. Now, I think that’s the biggest scare we had there because —
GR: What date was that Gordon?
AM: December ’44.
GR: Yeah. That was quite an infamous raid where Bomber Command should not have gone out that night.
GT: Yes.
GR: Because of the weather.
GT: Yes.
GR: They knew. They thought the weather would turn.
GT: Yeah.
GR: And I think, if I’m right, Bomber Command actually lost about fifty or sixty aircraft.
GT: Yes.
GR: Due to the weather conditions.
GT: Yeah, yeah.
GR: And the fog and having to crash land.
GT: Yes. Well when we landed in this, or when we arrived in this country, you couldn’t see a thing, just a blanket of fog. So, we got this diversion to, oh, the number one aircraft in Scotland. What’s the name of it?
AM: No. You’ve got me. I can’t remember.
GT: You expect me to remember all this and you can’t remember one [laughs]
AM: It says Crail because then you had to fly back from Crail to base.
GT: To get, yeah.
AM: It says Crail in Scotland.
GT: Yeah, that was right. But that isn’t where we were going.
AM: Right.
GR: Lossiemouth.
GT: Lossiemouth, isn’t it?
AM: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. That’s where we were going, yeah.
AM: Well done.
GT: That’s what I was trying to think of, yeah. We were supposed to be going to Lossiemouth and had just enough to land there. Well, we’ve got to find Lossiemouth for a start, but I’ll always remember we were going along and we got the whole crew on looking out, because it wasn’t too good then, the visibility, and I was sort of looking out the side and making sure. Where are we? And the navigator was panicking, he couldn’t get a fix on it. Anyway I was going along it, the Highlands, you know, to go up to Lossiemouth and I thought, I don’t know, I’m sure there shouldn’t be sheep under a tree [laughs] so panic stakes. I think we’re a bit low. So, anyway, we missed them and we were hunting high and low, that was really locked in then, so we were getting low on fuel as well. So we said, well there’s only one thing, set her out east, last bit of land we see, panic, down, you know. Leave it, let us look after ourselves, but it was just coming to the coast and there was a pundit light in the sky, through the fog, you know. A pundit light. Every aircraft has a pundit light. And, of course I don’t know who saw it first, one of us did, so we said, ‘Don’t let that go, keep on’. So, went around the pundit light and that’s all you could see. We’d come down and we could hear someone say something about, ‘One thousand. One thousand’, well, one thousand, so, they were trying to tell us there was a thousand feet runway, or yard, runway.
GR: Yeah.
GT: And that was, you know, we couldn’t get it in there, we couldn’t get head nor tail of what they were trying to tell us. So, we were round and round and the pundit light must be here somewhere and saw a runway, dumped in the runway, stopped dead, and just sat there, in fog, waiting for somebody or something to happen. The WingCo came out, ‘Hi boys what are you doing here?’ Well we landed, well as you know, that’s a flight, an RAF station built for the aircrew, Air Force. The —what do you call them? For the small fighter aircraft.
GR: Oh, a fighter base.
AM: A fighter.
GT: Yeah, well for aircraft. Air, Air base.
GR: Yeah.
GT: To be landing on aircraft and things like that, and this Crail was a place that used to train for that.
GR: Right.
GT: So it went straight out over the sea, and when they land, that was like landing on an aircraft carrier.
AM: Oh right.
GR: Yeah.
GT: So anyway, he said, ‘You’re on an aircraft carrier’.
GR: No, a training, so —
GT: That was just training flight.
AM: A training flight.
GR: But it was the length of an aircraft carrier.
GT: Right.
GR: So it was practicing short landings.
GT: Yeah, even then the fog had got so thick, you just couldn’t move.
GR: No.
GT: And anyway, they said, ‘Leave the aircraft where you are’, that was in the middle of the runway, but the runway, ‘We’re doing some repairs on it and it’s out of action at the moment’, so that was a bit rough. So anyway, they took us off to see if they could find some, this was the middle of the night, well early morning, so everyone was in bed and they couldn’t find anywhere to leave us and then we were sort of [pause], ‘Is it daylight yet?’ And I know, we all sort of got fed up with walking around, and got there and I went in the hangar, well we were in the hangar, actually, and there was a concrete verge in this hangar, and I thought, I’d got my big coat there, I know where I’m going to sleep tonight. I went and laid in the hangar and went off. I don’t know where the others. Well, sort of went here, there and everywhere. But there was no one about. That was Christmas, so they’d all gone. And that’s where we spent the night. Well from there —
GR: Do you know what happened to the rest of the squadron that night? Did they all go to different bases and —
GT: Well, they all went to different bases.
GR: Yeah.
GT: And some didn’t make it, I suppose.
GR: Yeah.
GT: And [pause] where are we up to?
AM: Yeah. When you, when you flew back from Crail to your base, it was actually on Christmas Day.
GT: That’s right.
AM: Yeah, 25th of December.
GT: Yeah.
AM: 1944.
GT: Yeah. Yes, I remember that, and being a Lancaster on a air, on a sea based runway.
GR: Air base, yeah.
GT: That was quite a thing to have, you know. All there, they all wanted to see our Lancaster and everything like that, then we got, time, they’d done the holes in the runway and it was time, as you say, it was Christmas Day and so, yeah, it was enough to get back home now. Home was Kirmington and they’d put us down as missing, you know, lost, but anyway we set back for there. They gave us some petrol and you know, cheerio, get off home, seat. And so, when we left there, the big boys together, you know. They’d been, they were talking to us and saying, oh what a big aircraft, all like that, everybody there was interested in the Lancaster, they’d never seen one before. So we went, took off, and we decided, well, I suppose we did decide to give them a shoot up on the air base. These are the things that go in your mind. And of course we give them a —
GR: Flypast.
AM: A flypast.
GT: Yeah, yeah.
GR: Waggle the wings.
AM: Waggle, yeah.
GT: And that was a great thing in those days, and they was chuffed as hell about that. So that’s when we got back home there.
AM: So, yeah. An hour and twenty minutes to get back.
GT: Yeah, and we knew where we were going then.
AM: And still in December, you’ve Münchengladbach, an abortive one because of engine failure.
GT: Yes, we had three engines and one was a bit dodgy at that, so we came back, and I think that’s the one we dropped the bombs in The Wash. Here.
AM: Yeah.
GT: ’Cause, well we couldn’t land with them on, so we landed and so we dropped them there and come home, abortive. So we didn’t do that one, did we?
AM: No, that don’t count does it?
GT: No.
AM: Dotted line for that one.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Instead of a proper line.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Scholven/Buer oil plants and range bombing.
GT: Who?
AM: Scholven/Buer. It’s near Gelsenkirchen.
GT: Oh yeah, yeah, oil plants, yeah, I’ve passed there. I can’t name it either.
AM: No, there’s so many.
GT: Nuremberg.
AM: Yes, that’s another.
GT: So, in January ’45 now.
AM: All these are in the Ruhr.
GT: Yeah.
GT: Where people say they did these trips but a lot of them were all little places, Freiburg and places like that where, you know, anybody could have gone in and bombed them.
GT: Yeah.
GT: But the ones with the red, they’re all in the Ruhr. Armament businesses, you know.
AM: Yeah, yeah. They’re all again —
GT: Mind you —
AM: Ludwigshafen.
GT: Ludwigshafen yeah.
AM: Wiesbaden.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Dresden.
GT: Dresden, yeah.
AM: That’s your furthest one, nine hours thirty.
GT: Yeah, Dresden, Dresden, Dresden.
AM: That was the one that caused all the trouble wasn’t it?
GT: Oh yes, yes. I knew there was something about it, yeah, that’s right.
AM: Did you, did you know anything about the trouble it was causing at the time? Or was it only afterwards.
GT: We knew it was a pottery place, you know, it was a marvellous for pottery, Dresden pottery was the thing. But there were still armaments there, there was still people there that worked in the armistry business, that was done for a purpose. No one will ever know who did it, Churchill or what, but yeah, we did the snags there, yeah. Where have we got to?
AM: That was, so that was February 45.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Chemnitz.
GT: Chemnitz.
AM: Jet aircraft sighted.
GT: Oh that was the first jet aircraft we’d seen, yeah, ‘cause they got it before we did, and this thing attacked us but the thing was, that it was so fast that they couldn’t keep long enough to do any damage. ‘Cause that’s – pffffftt - you know.
AM: Yeah.
GT: It was panic stakes then, but that’s, there was nothing dangerous about it. Well they could have been if they had been able to control it.
AM: I’m just looking at this one just before it where, Politz near Stettin.
GT: Stettin.
AM: And it says collision.
GT: Ah.
AM: With cables.
GT: Ah, now, that’s the one.
AM: An aircraft severely damaged. Tell me about that one.
GT: Where did we go from there? Did I have a piece of paper on the back here?
AM: Oh, is it the one where your pilot was —
GT: Yes, yes the —
AM: I’ve seen.
GT: Which ones there. That’s the general one they sent out to all of us with the aircrew thing itself.
AM: What actually happened?
GT: Well. If I can find this one. [pause] Must be the other, is there?
AM: That’s your school one.
GT: Oh, I’ll put that —
AM: Looking at this one though, the one about your pilot.
GT: Yeah.
AM: So it was the 8th, the night of the 8th and 9th of February ’45.
GT: Yeah [pause] it’s here somewhere. Oh here it is. That’s where he [pause]
GR: I think it’s this one, it tells you it’s when you took off, this particular one, on taking off you became airborne and your aircraft got caught in the slipstream of another aircraft.
GT: That’s it. That’s it, yeah.
GR: Which made it temporarily uncontrollable.
GT: Is that the actual citation?
GR: Yeah, and then having the misfortune to strike high tension cables.
GT: Ah, I took over with my start, didn’t I?
AM: Can you remember what it, what it felt like when that happened?
GT: Yeah. Well that’s what we’re sort of getting around to, isn’t it?
GR: It is that. Book, it’s that. Yeah. And I think that’s detailing.
GT: Yes, yeah, the original one.
AM: It doesn’t matter because this tells us the story.
GT: Yeah.
AM: So you were caught in the slipstream of another aircraft.
GT: Yes.
AM: And became temporarily out of control.
GT: Yes.
AM: Having the misfortune to strike the high tension cable that broke but Flight Lieutenant Nicklin, so he’s flight lieutenant by this time.
GT: Yes.
AM: By superb handing of his aircraft regained control.
GT: That’s the usual bumph isn’t it, yeah.
AM: But your major navigational aid was completely unserviceable.
GT: Yeah, yeah.
AM: But you did still go to the target.
GT: Yes, now, what happened, it was raining and bad weather that night, been abortive three times and the third time, you know, you sit on the end of the runway, waiting to take off and there’s a chap in the caravan at the end gives you a green or a red, you know. A green is get out of it [laughs], so three times that was a red, go back to the station. to the dispersion, and the third time it was another blooming raining day. Well I was getting a bit fed up of sitting there a couple of hours each time, another raining day, and — green. Green. Eh? In this? So anyway we took off, I think there was about twelve aircraft took off on that, and in Lincolnshire, the orders were keep low, hedge hop. Because radar shines like that from Germany, and they knew exactly when you were taking off, you know [pause] the depot. So, anyway, if you keep low, they couldn’t get this radar on you. Well, we took off in a big stream, we were too low, so we hedge hopped to over the Lincolnshire coast and normally, you know, just a hedge hop trip. We got a bit too low and Lincolnshire is covered in blinking high tension cables, the big old pylons and big lines. Well, anyway, I’m going forward a bit now, but let’s come back, nicely going along, you know, bad weather, we sort of couldn’t really see anything using the navigation and what not, and all of a sudden, there’s a terrific crash and all the windows turned green. You couldn’t see through them. That was the electricity going through.
GR: Oh God. Yeah.
GT: The aircraft, and there was a hell of a bang, but, ‘What the hell’s that?’, ‘What was that, gunner?’ you know, the rear gunner, and he said, ‘Well there’s some high tension cables all flashing on the ground behind me’. Of course, that was, we’d gone right through. Luckily the middle of the pylons, the actual, the actual wires themselves. Had we have been either way a little bit, you know how the big old pylons are.
GR: You’d have hit the pylon and —
GT: We’d have hit the pylon and we were chips. Well why we weren’t chips, I don’t know but we sort of shook our heads and the windscreens all cleared up. And we were looking trying to see what, the gunner was the chap who told us, you know, what was behind. It was all on fire on the ground. So we pressed on and the old aircraft was doing a bit of shuddering and the engines running, we were still flying, we had a little check-up on it. The fuel was still there, we hadn’t lost any fuel, and so we decided to carry on to, where was it? Was it Stettin?
AM: Politz.
GT: Politz.
AM: Near Stettin.
GT: Yeah, that was near Stettin that.
AM: Yeah.
GT: That’s mining, mining job, and as we got over the coast and went on the job, did the mining, come back. When we got back on the ground and looked at it, there were all the propellers were sort of knocked back, they were all out of line in other words. Not to that degree but, and the engine coolers, which you put them up and down to cool the engines.
GR: Yeah.
GT: And they’re the lowest things on the aircraft, and all those were missing, and the radar. That was, what this was, the aircraft with the radar on the bottom, they used to have a turret at the bottom, then they did away with the turret and made that radar. So that was a piece at the bottom.
GR: Yeah.
GT: That was gone, missing all together. I think all the bits are in there.
AM: Yeah.
GT: But that didn’t look too good in other words, and had we have known or been able to get out and see, ‘No, we’re not going anywhere with that’. But we did, we got there and got back again and that was what all the hoo-hah was about.
GR: Yeah.
GT: So —
AM: So your pilot was recommended for an immediate DFC.
GT: Yeah, yeah, even though it was his fault we hit them [laughs]
AM: And that, and it was quite a long, it was a long flight. It was eight hours thirty.
GT: Oh yes, yeah.
AM: Yeah, and that was, and that, so by February ’45, then you did Dresden and Chemnitz.
GT: Yeah.
AM: And at that point you’d completed your first.
GT: First.
AM: Tour.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Your first thirty ops.
GT: Which, boys together, they send you home for six weeks, a rest, but when you come back, you join another crew, or get crewed up again and get another aircraft and like that. But we all sort of said, well, we’ve all stuck together, a nice little pile of us, you see, so we said we’d carry straight on which you’ll find —
AM: You did.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Because your thirtieth was on the 14th of February.
GT: That’s right.
AM: And then, by the 1st of March.
GT: Yeah.
AM: You were up again.
GT: Yeah, yeah. That’s right. So we did the second tour straight away instead of waiting, I think that was six weeks, when you broke up and then had another crew.
AM: And he’s got a DFC by his name, in your logbook now, look.
GT: Oh yes. Yes, yeah.
AM: So you went to Mannheim.
GT: Mannheim, yeah.
AM: Dessau.
GT: Dessau, yeah.
AM: And that —
GT: They were all Ruhr ones.
AM: Yeah, that’s where you saw the Junkers JU88 again.
GT: Yes, yeah.
AM: And your very last one was Dortmund.
GT: That’s right, yeah, Dortmund.
AM: Flak damage.
GT: Yeah.
AM: So that was the 12th of March.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Yeah. So, thirty six operations altogether.
GT: Yeah.
AM: So then when war finished then, you were telling me about, you were still at Kirmington, but no one knew you were there.
GT: Oh, when, when the war finished, yeah. All the aircraft had to go back, you know, it was storage and what not, and we’d finished operations then, so our aircraft was redundant anyway, so they took that off us. Then the pilot who went back to New Zealand, and we sort of broke up then but we was, there was three, was it three or four? Three, I think it was, engineers, somehow or other, we got forgotten about and we were living in the NAAFI, in sort of luxury [laughs] and anything they wanted to do on the aircraft, we got aircraft, we got lorries coming in. We want three loads of so and so from the so and so area, we organised that, put them on. Somehow, we got we were the only aircrew, or the only airmen there to control the whole aircraft, the whole airfield.
GT: Yeah. Where were we?
AM: So, you were at Kirmington, holed up in the NAAFI in luxury.
GT: Yeah, yeah. We were in charge of the whole, you know, in charge and we were there to break the whole, to close the whole thing down. Lorries used to come in, wWe used to say, ‘You want a thousand blankets in this lorry’, and want this and that. No, I shan’t tell you what we did with the other blankets [laughs] but we hadn’t got enough to fill a lorry so we cut them in half, ‘course the villages, they were having a whale of a time. They were taking blankets and electrical bits, and bits out of this and bits out of that. So, anyway, that’s, they decided, oh where did you come from, and that’s when we got diverted to, sent to Scampton, on this 617. Is it?
AM: Yeah, 617.
GT: Yeah, and that’s where we dropped the Dambusters two.
AM: So, I know you’ve told me a little about that before but tell me again. Where did you drop them?
GT: Out to the Irish Sea. The other side of Ireland, on the Irish Sea.
AM: And it was the remainder of the bombs from the Dams raid.
GT: That was the last two that was bleeding in the, in the bomb dump and they wanted to get rid of them.
AM: Right.
GT: Quickly.
AM: So these were the bouncing bombs.
GT: Yeah.
AM: Did they bounce when you dropped them then?
GT: Didn’t see that part [laughs], I know they went off.
AM: No, when you dropped the last two I mean.
GT: Yeah, that’s what I mean. We just dropped them dead, just to get rid of them and that’s when the whole sea, actually didn’t see them hit the sea but the whole sea was – zzzzzz - for miles around.
AM: Gosh, and you were telling me a little bit about when you met your wife.
GT: Well I met her in the RAF. Her father was the farmer there and he had a dairy farm, and, well there was the dog. That’s right.
AM: Oh the d —
GT: She loved dogs.
AM: Right.
GT: And I used to go up to breakfast every morning and she’d be delivering the milk, and that was all. She was always after the dog. So, you know, I know all about him and we got to stop and talking and the next thing, I was having boiled beef and carrots at the farm. And all through the do I was on, she lived, her bedroom, you could see right across the runway, all the dispersals and she used to, at night time, this was when things got serious, and at night time, she would watch all the aircraft come in and go to dispersal and those that didn’t come in, you know, they were the chops. And so she never used to go to bed at night time ‘til she’d seen our aircraft in the dispersal. In the —
AM: Come back.
GT: Yeah. So that’s, that was the thing but nothing serious until, until I finished operations and then we got married at Kirmington Church, which is the local church, which is —
AM: I can see your wedding picture there.
GT: That’s one, yeah, there’s one of the church there somewhere.
AM: So when did you, when were you finally demobbed. I’m just trying to find it here in your logbook.
GT: Now I wouldn’t have been demobbed. They tried their hardest to keep me in the RAF because I was doing quite a good job then at Scampton, not Scampton, Binbrook, and they wanted me to stop in the RAF. They promised me all sorts of things, I was going to get a PO and you know, pilot officer and that, and then you’d go this and train people to do that and what not. But the firm that I’d left to go there said, ‘We want you back and we’ve got, we made, there was six houses at Guardian Road for you to come back to’, because they knew I’d got married then, and our first child, after that was over and so, you know, ‘What are you going to do? We can’t keep this empty for a long while. And, when are you coming back? And are you coming back?’ The RAF were saying, ‘You’re a key man in Binbrook. Stop in here, you’ll be, you know, God almighty and go all over the world’. Well, married and one child on the way then, we decided that roaming around the world, I’d done enough of it, so packed up the RAF went back to my old job.
AM: Right.
GR: And that was round about July 1947.
AM: ‘47.
GT: ‘47 was it?
GR: Yeah.
GT: And that was on Guardian Road.
AM: So it was more than two years after the war finished though.
GT: Yeah. Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
AM: Any regrets? Are you glad you did that?
GT: Yes, very glad we did it. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, alright it’s a glamourous job in the civilian RAF but that isn’t like making a life for yourself, is it? Just a glamourous thing to be, travel the world and not knowing where your head is going to rest next time. So there’s pros and cons for either way, but my main thought then, was family life, settle down, do my job that I know I do and carry on from there. So we accepted the house and that’s where I was for about twenty one years.
AM: And you were still only about twenty two then.
GT: Yes. I was.
AM: Twenty two then. Twenty two or twenty three.
GT: Yes. I suppose I was.
AM: It’s amazing isn’t it?
GT: Yeah. From there I had [pause], what was it? I started at Harry Pointers, they put me on to Pointer contractors, then I got on the Pointer Plant Hire, and then they sold out to Readymix and Readymix kept the plant hires for a while and then they come to, well, they got a little gang of us together in the plant hire and, ‘Look, we’re selling out. We don’t want plant hire’. They wanted gold out of the ground, gravel and stuff like that.
AM: Yeah.
GT: And they’d sell for business and what not, so they didn’t want plant hire at all, so they said, ‘We’ll set you up, and if five of you will get the, all the five various, you know, the plant hire’, well there’s several different sections of it, ‘and the five of you will be directors. We’ll give you the’, aircraft, the aircraft, the cranes, the big old cranes and, you know, ‘You can take the company from us’. Well, they give us a very good deal and because the house was mortgaged and everything else and fingers crossed, but luckily that came out all right. So that’s when we turned into Quinto. Crane and plant.
AM: That what I’m looking at.
GT: That was five of us.
AM: Quinto crane and plant limited. Gordon Topham, Engineering Director.
GT: That’s right. Yeah.
AM: And on that note, I’m going to switch my recorder off.
GT: Good.



Annie Moody, “Interview with Gordon Topham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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