Interview with Reginald Tween


Interview with Reginald Tween


Reginald joined the Royal Air Force in 1943, becoming a flight engineer with 415 Squadron, Bomber Command. He tells of his love of making and flying model airplanes, and that although he wanted to be a pilot, his love of anything mechanical, made him an easy choice for a flight engineer. Reginald tells of joining the Air Training Corps, watching the V-2 rockets coming over his home in Tilbury and their effects. His first operation was on 3rd August and it was to target the V-1 sites near the Pas de Calais, and he had missions to Stettin and Duisburg. He tells of two Lancasters who were shot down. Reginald flew 28 missions with Bomber Command (145 hours in daylight missions and 66 hours during night operations)



IBCC Digital Archive




Vivienne Tincombe


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ATweenRC150909, PTweenR1501

Temporal Coverage


GC: Right. This is an interview being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. My name’s Gemma Clapton. The interviewee here today is Reginald Tween who was flight sergeant.
RT: Sergeant.
GC: 514 Squadron. The interview is taking place at his home in Heybridge Basin on the 9th of September 2015. Right, how did you get started in the war? How did you join up?
RT: Well when we were youngsters, we were always interested in models, especially model aeroplanes, and we carried on from there. I joined the ATC, and that was my ambition, to join the Royal Air Force to fly. Being in the ATC as a top cadet, blowing my trumpet a bit, I had two flights at Hornchurch Aerodrome while I was in the ATC, so I knew what flying was like.
GC: So you wanted to fly. Not Army or Navy.
RT: No. No. No. No. No. Flying was the one interest, yeah [unclear]. Do you stop it?
GC: Yeah.
[recording paused]
GC: So you did the acc. Now, you’ve just —
GC: Act.
GC: ATC. You’ve got me at it now.
RT: Auxiliary training.
GC: Tell me a bit about before you joined up.
RT: Well we was always in to making models, making model aeroplanes and flying them. There was a group of us, a brother included.
GC: Did your brother serve? Did you —
RT: Yes. On — he failed the medical for flying so he had to serve in the Meteorological branch.
GC: Was he jealous?
RT: A bit, yes, because we’d both looked forward to flying so much.
GC: So, as a member of the ATC, what did you see of the war before you joined Bomber Command?
RT: Well, all the fighting going on overhead, and the oil works being set ablaze and all that sort of thing. The whole war was going on overhead, bombs dropping at the end of the garden where we lived and that sort of thing.
GC: Where did you live at this time?
RT: Chadwell, which was two miles from Tilbury, and we stood out at the back door, watching what was going — did like to see what was going on, even with the shrapnel pinging down. And an anti- aircraft shell landed in the back garden on the point of the house, blew half the garden into the front road. Another, another time, there was a land mine dropped a couple of miles away and blew the back door off of the house.
GC: So did these things make you want to serve more?
RT: Not particularly, no. We were, we were so keen to start with. I do remember one time, this is later, when I was on leave, I saw the V2s rocket being launched from Holland, saw the vapour trail of the rocket come up and over and then it landed in London. Because we had the report a couple of days later, that the rocket had landed so and so.
GC: So obviously where you were, which is Tilbury, which is not far from East London.
RT: It’s a direct line from Germany to London.
GC: Yeah.
RT: They used to fly right overhead. And the diesel engines — you could tell them a mile away, with a certain hum, hmmmmm, all the time, couldn’t mistake them. Then, when I was at work at Purfleet, West Thurrock, I’m cycling into the works entrance, and a Junkers 88 came over and dropped a bomb right over my head [laughs] which landed at the Van den Burg and Jurgens, where they were making all the margarine. Killed a couple of people.
GC: So did all the young men just want to serve? Did they believe it was their duty to serve?
RT: In the ATC?
GC: Yeah.
RT: Oh yes, all the youngsters. Yes. Yeah. And we said they started it, we’ll finish it.
GC: So, once you decided that you was going in to the Air Force, how did, how did your training start and where was you based?
RT: Oh, I joined up in London, St John’s Wood.
GC: Whenabouts? When?
RT: Oh I can’t remember. Forty, must have been ’43, and then we went from there to Torquay. Did lots of training there.
GC: When —
RT: Then —
GC: Sorry.
RT: Yeah, then to a station near — just south of Cambridge, Wratting Common. W R A T T - Wratting Common. Then from there we went to Feltwell, further training, near Cambridge, and Lakenheath. No, not Lakenheath, Methwold. Methwold.
GC: My granddad lived there. At Feltwell.
RT: Yeah. And then from there, we went to the squadron at Waterbeach and started operational flying from there. In August, August, I was looking at it, August the 3rd was my first flight. Operation.
GC: So, during your training, did you want to be a flight engineer or did your training just to lead you that way?
RT: I was also mechanically minded. Everybody wanted to be a pilot obviously, but my education let me down, so as soon as they knew, they asked me questions about engines and various things. They said, ‘Right. Flight engineer’, so that was that. I accepted it, no qualms. I wasn’t good enough for a pilot and that was it. Yeah. Everybody can’t be a pilot, obviously, and I had a — well, I won’t say a wonderful time but it was, something. Well it’s one of those things, I mean, a lot of lives were lost. But I never — the furthest I’d been from home was a week’s holiday in Clacton before I joined up. In those days, a Sunday School outing was to Maldon once a year.
GC: So we’ve gone as a flight engineer. Tell me about your first op then, if you can remember it. Can you remember?
RT: Yeah. The flying bomb sights, in — near the Pas de Calais, near, near Calais, just across the channel. Actually, I’ll go and get my logbook [pause]. Every, all the cricket matches. We flew from Cambridge, all the way to Cornwall at, say, four hundred foot, and everybody lay flat on their face. Three hundred Lancasters in one mass. And the cows were jumping the hedges, the farmers must have gone berserk after. Then the tail gunner saw everybody getting up again. We flew at a hundred foot over the Atlantic and it took us nine hours, there and back, and we bombed coming in from the south, to catch them unawares, they were only sweeping from the north. And on that trip, the skipper said, ‘Swap seats’, and I flew the plane for twenty minutes, down off the Channel Islands, coming back, and I had another flight at the controls on this second trip which was a day later, for twenty minutes. And the rear gunner, he’s saying, ‘Get him off there. I’m getting sick here’. because I was going up and down [laughs], oh dear. On one of those trips, I had to shut one engine down. We had trouble with the hydraulics and oxygen U/S, but we weren’t climbing very high, so that was ok [pause]. Our sixth operation was to Stettin, in the Baltic. We come back flying over Sweden, that was a nine hour flight also, and seven, eight and nine trips were bombing barges and troops in Le Havre. We were down to two thousand feet due to the weather. Two were shot, two of our aircraft were shot down. All baled out. That was daytime. Now, the tenth trip saw two Lancasters collide and blow up over France.
RT: On the fourteenth trip, to Duisburg, we had two Lancasters following us which were to drop their bombs when we dropped ours, as we were the senior crew. As we approached the target, there was a stick of bombs coming down on the starboard side, so I nudged the skipper, he looked out and saw the same thing on the port side. So with that, he put the nose down slightly to get away from the bombs which were dropping just past our wingtips. With that, the radar picked us up. The next thing, there was a terrific thump and the aircraft stood on its nose, we were heading straight down. When I picked myself up and I looked back and the two behind had just blown up, completely disappeared. All I could see, was red flame, black smoke, nothing, just one huge bang. When I looked at the speedometer, we were doing four hundred miles an hour, more or less straight down, so the skipper yelled, ‘Give us a hand’, and we managed to pull it out of the dive and regain our height again. Then a couple of minutes later, the bomb aimer comes staggering up from the nose with his helmet off, torn off, his mask, and a huge strip of skin off his, I could see bare skull right across his head. Blood everywhere. Oh, a terrible sight. So I managed to bandage him up, took him back, laid him on the bed and then he said, ‘You’d better have a look to see if the bombs are gone’. So I had to lay down on the floor, amongst all the blood, looked in the bomb bay and half the bombs hadn’t dropped, so that was another shock. So the skipper then said, ‘Well you’d better, better drop them soon as you can’, so I went back with a special lever we had and I dropped the bombs as we flew back across Germany. That was, that was the most unnerving trip we had out of the whole lot. On that same trip, Richard Dimbleby flew with one of the other planes from our squadron, which was a very unusual thing, for a civilian to be allowed on to a plane to fly, but he did anyway. So that was that.
RT: Oh, and the twenty fifth operation was to Dortmund. I’ve got here, ‘Jolly good trip. First kite to bomb. Tons of flack. Twenty five holes’, so that was that. On the twenty eighth operation, ‘Very good show. Tons of flak. Very accurate. A few holes. Two Lancasters shot down that we saw. Two five hundred pound bombs loose in the bomb bay’. When the undercarriage was selected down, there was two bangs and the two bombs were laid on the bomb doors, so we had to fly all the way out to the North Sea, open the bomb doors and just let them fall into the water. It didn’t explode and that was that. [pause] That’s it. Right. So my last, my last trip was on the 16th of the 12th ’44, Siegen. Distance, nine hundred and fifty miles. ‘Fairly good attack. Tons of flak en-route. None over the target. Ten tenths cloud all the way. Roads and rail. Hedge hopping on the way back as a last trip, with toilet rolls thrown out over the aerodrome as we celebrated our last operation’ [laughs].
GC: So how many ops in all did you do?
RT: Twenty-eight. I was, I was sick for one, had a cold, so you can’t fly with your ears blocked up. Yeah, so that was that. Then we went on indefinite leave after our operations finished [pause]. All told, I flew a hundred and forty-five hours in daylight, sixty six hours at night, so we had more daytime flights than we had night time flights actually.
GC: Was it safer day or night do you think? Was there a difference?
RT: I used to like to be able to see where we were going in daylight. It was, it was, because our navigator, he only saw one target, he was cooped up behind his curtain. We said, ‘Come and have a look at this, Les’, and he came out, took one look and dived back in [laughs], he wasn’t interested. But I used to fold, fold my seat up and be ready, looking out, around, up and down. On one trip, we were coned with searchlights. We had an awful job getting away from that because once you were in searchlights, usually that was curtains, because they could zone in onto you then, but we put it into a steep dive, or the skipper did, and we managed to escape, which was very lucky. I do remember it was so bright that I could fill out my log sheet with the petrol, without using a lamp. It was like daylight. Oh it was unnerving. Oh dear. Terrible.
GC: Someone told me that they were happier with the guns going, because the guns meant that the night fighters weren’t up. If the guns weren’t firing.
RT: Oh yes. Yeah. We only had two, bags of fighters, two MEs after us. That was at night. There was only one more when we were with, had fighters to contend with, but it was the flak. We was going into briefing and they would mention there might be six hundred light guns and maybe eight hundred heavy guns in the target area, so everybody started biting their nails, and [laughs] oh dear, yeah. See the black puffs, there was so many shells bursting, it was like flying into clouds at times, even though it was a clear sky. In the daylight, all these puffs filled the sky with smoke. Quite unnerving, yeah. Right, so that was it.
GC: I’ll turn that off for a second.
[recording paused]
RT: A Nissen hut down by the River Cam, away from the airfield for safety. We used to go swimming in the river when we weren’t flying. Oh, one special occasion, we were told not to leave the camp under any circumstances as there was a possibility of operations that night, so the pilot decided he wanted to go and see his girlfriend in Cambridge, and he went. Lo and behold, we had the call to operations, so we went to briefing, had our meal, had everything. In the meantime, we had to tell the squadron leader in charge of the flight that we were short of a pilot. So he gets in his car and goes off to Cambridge, one of the gunners showed him the address, and brought him back. He came back just in time to get in the aircraft and take off, otherwise he would have been court martialled. Oh dear. So we’re telling him where we’re going, what we’re going to do and everything else, as we’re flying there. Oh dear.
GC: So it was a close unit.
RT: Oh, he nearly had the chop there. Oh dear, he would have been thrown out, dereliction of duty and all the rest of it. Disobeying an order. Oh dear, yeah, but it all turned out right in the end. Good job they had a car handy.
GC: So did you [pause], can you describe what it was like to fly in a Lancaster?
RT: Absolutely exhilarating to me. That’s, that’s what I spent my youth dreaming about, flying, and I’d been up twice in the ATC, so didn’t have any trouble, sickness or anything. Lovely. Terrible thing you have to have a war to get flying in. But I was, I enjoyed every moment of it.
GC: And what was the Lancaster like?
RT: Cramped. Our parachutes were stowed under the navigator’s table, so you hadn’t a hope in hell of getting it if there was any damage to the aircraft, because once you turn over or something like that, you just can’t move. Because when we were training over the Thames Estuary, we had a Spitfire doing fighter affiliation with us, in other words, mock attacks, and I’m standing up alongside the pilot, and all of a sudden as we dived and pulled up, I went blind, with G forces, and it was a very strange feeling. Quite a few seconds and then my vision suddenly came back. And I wondered, I couldn’t move my hands or my feet, I was glued in place with the G forces. Oh, it was amazing. The only time I ever had that effect. It might have been better if I’d have been sitting down. It wouldn’t have happened because they have G suits now to stop that, stops the blood draining out of your head, yeah. But it was very peculiar, yes.
GC: Can you remember the sensations of, for example, a bombing sortie over a city? Can you remember the noise? The smell, those kind of things.
RT: Well you didn’t get anything outside because it was so noisy in the aircraft, but at night, I looked up on one trip and I could see a row of red-hot exhausts, just above our head. If I’d have stuck my arm out of the top, I swear I could have touched the plane. It was a big shock because there was no good in dropping down, we might have done the same to the one underneath. Oh, it was very, very dodgy, very dodgy, especially when we were flying in solid cloud. You didn’t know who was next door or above or below you or anything, and then when we flew through cumulus cloud, the bumping and the disturbance, oh terrible. It would shake your teeth out nearly, it used to [laughs].
GC: I suppose it must be a different kind of flying, because these days, we have a lot of technology and equipment. You literally did it on —
RT: Well on — instrumentation in those days was very basic, very basic, yeah. Nowadays they’ve got an instrument that tells them how many miles they’ve flown, because when I’ve been up in the cockpits, on foreign holidays, I’ve asked to see if I could go up in to the, on the flight deck, and I told them who I, what I’d done and that, and I said, ‘Well what’s that then?’ ‘Oh that’s how many miles we’ve flown’. Oh. Dead easy, yeah. GPS, global positioning these days, you can’t get lost, but we had to find our own way. Well when you were in a mass, you just follow the leader, but at night, it was different. Everybody had to navigate then because there was no lights at all. No, no.
GC: So, is there one operation that sticks out in your memory?
RT: Well, that one where the two blew up behind us. That was a sight, oh dear, terrible. Just there one second, gone the next, yes. But at least they didn’t suffer, they never knew anything about it. Just one big bang and they were gone. But that aircraft we were flying, that never flew again because it was so bad, it damaged our tail plane. They seemed to think that if we’d have flown much longer, it would have fallen off of ours, so we were lucky there, very lucky, yes.
GC: So the ground crew were as protective of the planes as we hear.
RT: Oh yes. Yes. Yes, the same crew for the whole period of flying. Actually, we flew three different aircraft. One was time expired, it had reached its maximum flying hours, and the next one was written off, didn’t fly again, and then we finished up with the third one, so we were quite lucky actually.
GC: Can you tell me a bit about life after the war? How did you hear that the war had ended? What was your emotion to that?
RT: Well everybody was very pleased because we were on six months leave, ready to go to the Far East, so that meant that we were finished flying for good, while I was on five weeks leave, and that was it.
GC: Would you do it again?
RT: If — if need be, yes. We were doing it for a cause, a good cause. He had to be stopped. And as Bomber Harris said they started it, we’ll finish it. I never had any qualms about dropping bombs on cities. They started it, I mean I used to see them flying up. Well they dropped bombs where I lived anyway, houses up the street, so we were only giving them back what they started. Oh yes.
[recording paused]
RT: It was like sitting in a bus, they just go up and your ears pop, but when we did our two low flying trips, that was flying. Two hundred and twenty miles an hour at four or five hundred foot, everything flashing by underneath you. That was when, when you had to be careful and watch what was coming up ahead, but when you’re up at thirty thousand feet, people go from A and B, they don’t know what’s on the way. I used to like to be looking out the window when we flew abroad, but other people would be either asleep, reading books. I had my head glued at the window to see what was passing underneath, night or day. Oh yes.
GC: So, you were a bit of an adrenalin junkie then.
RT: Oh, for flying. Yes. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. We used to have a huge kite. We built a huge six-foot wingspan model and it used to run up the wire on a gadget we made. Hit stop at where the kite was and then drop and glide all the way back, because we had huge fields where I used to live, and we’d have to run like hell to retrieve the glider before someone else found it. I used to go cycle to Hornchurch Aerodrome, which was six miles from home, and we used to watch them testing the Spitfire’s cannons, firing at the railway sleepers. Wood, pieces of wood flying everywhere. They left the tail up so it was horizontal. Oh dear. Now it’s a housing estate where the aerodrome used to be. Hornchurch. Yes.
GC: So why, that brings the question, why Bomber Command and not Fighter Command. Why the bombers?
RT: Well I wasn’t clever enough as a pilot, so the only thing left was crew, and the fact that I was mechanically minded, obvious to us, was a flight engineer, which I quite enjoyed. Sitting there filling my petrol log out. Every time I altered the engine speed, I had to work out how much petrol we used from each tank, in case the instruments were damaged. Every quarter of an hour I think that was, yeah.
GC: So, it’s like we said. It’s not technical, it’s mathematical and instrument based.
RT: A lot of it, yeah. Actually, sitting alongside the pilot, he only flew it. I used to do the revs. Same as when we took off, he’d start it off, then he used to say, ‘Through the gate’, I’d put the throttles — the last bit, three thousand revs maximum, then you’d say, ‘Throttle back’. Once we were airborne, flaps, speed, all the controls I operated, which was like a second pilot on an airliner actually, yeah. And we were supposed to be able to fly it straight and level in case the pilot was injured. I think I could have flown it, but I don’t know about getting down. I’d have flown back, got them to bale out and then ditched it, I think, oh dear.
GC: They would have taken that off your weekend rations, would they?
RT: Yes. Oh dear. Yeah. Yes, but out of twenty-eight trips, I only ever saw three parachutes. Of all the planes that either blew up, a wing blown off, just spiraling down, nobody, nobody could get out, so having a parachute wasn’t much good a lot of the time. No. You had to find it, then clip it on and then try and bale out. It wasn’t on. Too difficult, no. And those that were spiraling down, they knew what they were heading for obviously. It wasn’t quick, they could see it coming. Yes, it must have been terrible.



Gemma Clapton, “Interview with Reginald Tween,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 9, 2020,

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