Interview with Arthur Emlyn Williams


Interview with Arthur Emlyn Williams


Arthur Emlyn Williams talks about his life before volunteering and what lead him up to volunteering. His parents were upset about his decision to join the RAF. In September 1943, he was accepted for training as an air-gunner. He started his first operational tour from RAF Skellingthorpe. He recalls an occasion where they flew to Trondheim in Norway, flew over the North Sea to get back to Wick in Scotland. He tells of the weather during this trip and how, when they landed back at Wick, the craft only had 5 minutes of flying time left. On September 1944, the crew was briefed to go on an operation to Ratydt. During this operation, the crew had a close call where they almost collided with a Liberator. The crew prepared themselves to bail out over Rouen because of the weather, however they managed to fly back to Lincolnshire. On his 21st birthday, he had an operation to Munich. On the return trip, Arthur noticed a ditched aircraft and he gained the nickname Catseye Williams. At Skellingthorpe, Arthur recalls watching 61 Squadron leader Horsley’s craft blow up after both of his engines cut. Arthur notes his ambivalence and anxiety towards his next operation in Stettin after this. The crew came across a Lancaster that almost collided with them, only being avoided by their pilot diving the craft to not collide with the Lancaster.







00:54:59 audio recording


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AWilliamsAE150608, PWilliamsAE1510


AEW: My name is Arthur Emlyn Williams. I am recording this for Bomber Command and I have pleasure in doing so. I volunteered for aircrew prior to my twentieth birthday. Nineteen I was in nineteen forty, late ’42, ’43. I was employed in the mines but because a lot of friends of mine were going away I thought I wasn’t going to be left to them and let them do all what was necessary and the only reason I could leave the mines was either by volunteering for submarines or aircrew. Well, I didn’t, I didn’t fancy volunteering for submarines because in my opinion it was a highly dangerous job and in my opinion they were men. So I volunteered for aircrew and I was accepted to train as an air gunner. Ok?
MJ: Yeah, that’s fine.
AEW: My first thought of training was to Penarth for an after station bard to find out whether you were suitable to train as air crew. I was accepted then. Then a letter came requiring me to go to Air Crew Receiving Centre in Lords, London. We were there for about three weeks. Nothing very intensive but I quarrelled with my instructor Corporal MacDonald and he was a nasty old fella. Anyhow, from there we were posted to Bridlington up in the East Riding of Yorkshire where we did six weeks square bashing and quite intensive and we did a lot of training on a beach in Bridlington. Three weeks there. We were then transferred to um Bridgenorth for air gunnery training course, elementary air gunnery training course. We were there for quite a while and thoroughly enjoyable where we learned about turrets and pyrotechnics and what have you. Ok that went by, the EAGS the Elementary Air Gunnery School. Then from there we did, I was asked where I would like to go for air gunnery training so I thought there was one in, there were two in Wales. One, Stormy Down was one and then the other one was down in West Wales that was Number 1 Air Gunnery School. I applied, no I applied for, it was near home Stormy Down and lo and behold I wasn’t lucky. They posted me to Inverness right in the very north of Scotland where we did about six months on training as an air gunner and where we did our first spot of flying and where the, these fighters then were dragging what we called drawing in where we oh drogues they were pulling drogues and we had to fire at these drogues towed by these martinets and we all had coloured bullets, different coloured bullets so they could see well these were fired by Emlyn Williams or somebody else. And I mean during that period several bullets went quite the other’s martinets that was pulling the drogues. Right, after six months and we passed out as air gunner. I enjoyed my training up there. I was quite, quite young at the time. And that then after, given a week’s leave and then we were posted to Market Harborough where we did training on Wellingtons at an Operational Training Unit and this is where we had our first experience of a crash. We crash landed because, in my opinion, the skipper wasn’t quite knowledgeable enough with the angle of glide indicators which indicated when you were coming in to land. If they were two reds you were too high. Red and an amber you were still too high. Two ambers still too high until we had two greens. And of course we crossed when the, when the indicators showed we were too high. He wasn’t knowledgeable enough with what went on. None of us were hurt. Ok. We soon flew off. From there we went to Swinderby where we first enjoyed experiencing a four engine heavy bomber and they were quite, I enjoyed the Stirlings and they were quite heavy. And there we did our first more or less operational diversionary units. We went to targets to more or less make the enemy think we were going either, this indicated to easily where were we going oh dear, oh dear anyhow diversionary targets. Making the enemy think we were going there and drawing the main force from Germany. We were there for about three weeks and then of course until the skipper and all the crew were quite intimate with whatever or not with the Stirling we were transferred then to Syerston. Number, number, number 4 I think, Lancaster Finishing School. We were there for about ten days before they thought ok they’re quite conversant with the Lancaster then they transferred us to 50 squadron in Skellingthorpe, Lincoln. That was where we started our first operational [team] operations. Right.
MJ: [Bit more]
We were, we were crewed up in Market Harborough, Number 14 Operational Training Unit. Len [Farrow?] from Southport was the pilot. The navigator Vince from Essex. The wireless op was from Devon, Senior, Arthur Senior. The bomb aimer was from Canada but lived in Dundee for a few years, Jock Barr, we called him Jock. The engineer, his nickname was Boost, he was from, Alexander his name was from Scotland. The rear gunner was Taffy Thorne from Cwmbran in South Wales and myself Emlyn Williams from Swansea Valley. We all crewed up then and we were quite a happy crew and had, and we trusted each other implicitly. There were a several instances I would like to record. On each operation, however small or large, you know, each one had something else to say about each other. One instance was we flew to Trondheim in Norway and the weather was atrocious and I was sad to say that we, because of the weather we couldn’t drop the bombs and the bomb aimer didn’t want to drop the bombs anywhere in case it would injure a lot of civilians [in any other area?]. So we came back and we dropped the bombs on the sea and flew back to Wick in the very north of Scotland. I’ve got a letter somewhere in the house. The bomb aimer paying tribute to the magnificent navigator we had, Tom Vince. And the, the weather going back we were more or less, we were compelled to fly about twenty or thirty feet above the North Sea and we were so young then and wouldn’t say afraid but we couldn’t think of any danger at all. We flew back and when we arrived at Wick we had about five minutes flying time left. Course that was told to us after wasn’t it? Not to cause us any worry and we landed there because the weather was so bad. We stayed three nights there and we were like heroes. You can imagine us walking about Wick in our flying clothes because we didn’t have our own suits at all did we? And we were, we were the toast of the area. Eventually, time had come for us to depart for Lincoln. We were very disappointed because we enjoyed walking about the streets in Wick in our flying clothes. Still young weren’t we? Twenty, twenty one and Len now he was a bit of a daredevil so he flew back over Blackpool and I can see it myself now he flew, imagine over the tower of Blackpool we flew the main road and the beach was quite well, well below the level of the promenade in Blackpool and I can see him now he flew now right above the beach in Blackpool and this man walking the beach went like that.
Other: The thumbs up.
AEW: Thumbs up. I can see him now. By then the fog had cleared over Lincoln and we managed to land and that was one of the main reasons why we flew the North Sea because Lincoln was always shrouded in fog and we were often diverted. Yorkshire or down on the south coast and spent a day there, spent a night in Yorkshire, York and a couple of other places. And as I said fog was the main cause of us being diverted. On the 19th of September 1944 we were briefed to go on operation to a place called [Ratydt R A T Y D T] at ten thousand feet. Our, our master leader for that trip was Guy Gibson.
MJ: Yes.
AEW: With Dambusters but he was on a Mosquito and over the intercom we heard his message, ‘Hello main force. Hello main force. This is your master leader calling.’ We knew it was Guy Gibson. ‘I am down at two thousand feet and I can see everything bang on.’ And we were at about ten thousand. So he was marking the target for us at two thousand feet. After the operation we bombed and we left back for base and when we got back news had come to us that Guy Gibson failed to return. So, he must have been, I don’t know exactly what happened, there were so many rumours that he may have been shot down by a Mosquito in mistake for a Junkers 88. So, there many rumours about him not returning.
MJ: What do you think yours is?
AEW: Pardon?
MJ: What would you think? Your personal thoughts.
AEW: Well he could have been shot down by the ackack over the target or maybe shot down or wondering, might have been shot down by his own, his crews you know but I don’t like to, I don’t like to say anything, you know. He was there to mark a target and he did a good job in marking the target. Being red or green I don’t know but anyway the main thing was he didn’t return, so.
Other: Here.
AEW: Ok. I can’t remember the operation we went on but the weather was quite atrocious again and we flew through many an electrical storm and icing was also a danger to us, was beginning to form now on the wings you know. So clouds were ten tenths. So to fly out of the cloud and we had to fly as high as we could and ten tenths cloud means ten tenth. Thick cloud isn’t it? Eventually, this was the most amazing thing, we flew as far as twenty six thousand feet and I can see it now. As we emerged from the cloud, had it been a second earlier, we would have collided with a Liberator. We were going home and they were going out to bomb a target. A second earlier and we were just emerging from a, I said, ‘Christ, skipper, that was close.’ Well, I thought I could have touched it like you know. It was, oh dear, I don’t know it was twenty six thousand feet, just emerging and there he was and we flew at twenty six thousand feet for a very, very long time and slowly the cloud began to, cloud situation easing up and it was still intense and the skipper thought, ‘Well, look here boys if things don’t improve we’ll have to bail out.’ So, most of the crew went as far as the main door. We opened the door getting ready to bail out now and anyhow we were over a place called Rouen. Is it Rouen? Rouen? Over France. And the clouds just disappeared and we could see land. So we come down from twenty six thousand feet down to eight hundred feet. Even that was low to bailout but anyhow we were amazed at that and we were all thrilled and we shouted for joy, ‘Oh thank goodness for that.’ And then we flew back over the coast all the way to Lincoln. There was another instance when we did the three trips to Munich really. One was when I celebrated my twenty first birthday over Munich.
MJ: Yeah.
AEW: And that was quite, quite an exciting night really and it was such a beautiful night for bombing and our target was um we had to open city. That meant we had to bomb the city itself and I can see looking down on Munich and where we were now when I had my twenty first birthday eighteen thousand feet and we were looking down and the streets were quite plain. Ideal. It did affect me a little bit because we were asked to just to bomb the streets. You know, no specific target in mind but just the streets and I think we were, you couldn’t refuse. We were briefed for it and if you refused you were more or less branded LMF weren’t you? Lack of moral fibre. And you just had to carry on but I had my twenty first birthday. Still young weren’t we? Three time over Munich and back from one trip then I forget whether daylight it was and where I was as mid upper gunner I could see everywhere three hundred and sixty degrees isn’t it, you know and on the way back I happened to look out and there over the sea I spotted an aircraft had ditched so I gave the information to Tommy Vince, navigator, and the wireless op to take a fix so they could send a message back and say exactly where it was. So that’s where I had my nickname as Catseyes Williams. [Laughs]. That’s it. Yeah. Ok. There was one instance I had finished flying and I was making my way over to the mess to have tea and of course there were two squadrons on Skellingthorpe, 50 and 61. Well 61 squadron were taking off and Squadron Leader Horsley was leading the squadron so I watched him. He was taking off first and as I, and in fact as I was walking across the runway [nearly finished taking off first] and then he took off and I heard it quite plainly. His engine cut. It had a full bomb load. So I watched him. His idea was to come in again so in actual fact he flew around the cathedral and came back in again to land but as he came in to land his other engine cut and he just ploughed in to the ground and blew up. And I can see myself now flat on the floor trying to mind all the debris from the aircraft and I remember quite well after that the rear gunner was the only one alive and he was buried in his turret into the ground about ten feet. Squadron Leader Horsley was one in front. Anyway, we were briefed then for another one to Stettin. And funny thing I never had any mixed feeling about any, any trip we flew like you knew but Stettin, I had mixed feelings about Stettin. We already, we hadn’t, we hadn’t quite entered the aircraft. We were in dispersal we were and anyway, word had come through that it was cancelled and we all just kissed the ground isn’t it because of the mixed feelings I had that we would never come back. Right, as a youngster people say weren’t you ever afraid? Being nineteen, twenty, I didn’t know what danger was. Whether you believe me or not but we’d seen many a night fighter ME110 mainly at night. But at daylight we’d usually normally meet the ME109s or Fokker Wolf 190s but the only thing I can honestly say that the only thing I was afraid at night were collisions and I’d seen many. And one night of course we were flying and this Lancaster came across. I thought he was going to hit us so I said, ‘For Christ’s sake skipper, dive.’ And down he went and this Lancaster flew over us. Why the crew didn’t see us at all but if I hadn’t seen him he would have hit us and from then on I was really scared about collisions. Ok. I am the last surviving crew member of a Lancaster bomber, Emlyn Williams of Pontardawe near Swansea. It all began back in 1941 when I was the son of an unemployed father. We were more or less requested to go into the mines rather than be called up for the armed forces so that I could support the family with an extra income. The job I was given was quite a safe job really looking after the main turbine pump in a mine responsible for keeping the water level safe. I could have remained in a comfortable job for the rest of the war but I was rather uneasy most of the time, most of my friends were either volunteering or were called up for the army, RAF or the navy. I knew that my only chance of leaving the colliery was to volunteer for the submarines or aircrew. These two services were the only alternative available. I did not fancy the subs as I considered this to be too dangerous and so unknown to my parents I volunteered for aircrew. This process took a while and it was [summer or sometime?] 1942 when I came across this letter by accident. My parents had hidden it from me. This letter asked me to present myself at an address in Penarth to attend an [?] Board. This was a three day event. A pass or fail effort. Sometime later I got the result I wanted that said I had satisfied the examiner and would notify me in due course of the next involvement. At this stage I spilled the beans to my mother and father who were both upset at the news. All this took time of course. I was still nineteen in September 1943 when I received confirmation from the RAF that I’d been accepted for training for aircrew as an air gunner. The training was in stages of course. First of all at the Aircrew Receiving Centre in London. That was my first taste of what it was like for the first time away from home. It was quite an ordeal as the instructor there was for one purpose, for breaking you in slowly. This lasted three weeks and in that time I wished I was back in my soft job looking after the pump. Living in London was quite expensive and my seven shillings a week did not go very far. By the end of the three weeks I had become quite hardened to the punishment I’d received and was ready for the next posting to Bridlington in the East Riding of Yorkshire. This was all square bashing but a lot easier, healthier, good body building and enjoyable. I was in fact sorry to leave for [the next?]. The, the next part of the course was to Bridgenorth, Wales where I had to go six week at a Preliminary Air Gunnery School. This was familiarisation with turrets Frazer Nash and Boulton Paul and of course machine guns and pyrotechnics. This took six weeks in all and was excellent basic training. From there I was given several options regarding going to air gunnery school. I knew there were one or two in Wales and so I asked to go to Stormy Down near Bridgend, a half hour journey from Pontardawe. But my hopes were soon dashed when they announced my next posting was to Dalcross near Inverness. The Jocks in my company were delighted of course for they were going home and to my disappointment there was to be no appeal and to Scotland I went. This was for a period of six months training and the experience of flying for the first time in an Anson aircraft. This involved firing Brownings 303 guns at an aircraft towing a drogue. I felt sorry for this pilot as many a burst from our guns went astray. Each trainee were given coloured bullets. Different colour for each. I was given [? issued with rockets?] this went on for six months. Weather permitting of course. [? ] Bombings were indoor training, use of parachutes, dinghy training, theory and practical work all to do with preparing for the big day. Operations. At the end of the six months those who had successfully completed the course were promoted to sergeant and were given a few days leave. This soon expired and was called back for further training at an Operational Training Unit at Market Harborough where I experienced flying in a twin engine Wellington bomber. This was where I met the rest of the crew and good boys they were. Pilot from Southport, navigator from Essex, bomb aimer from Dundee, engineer from Scotland, wireless op from Hastings, rear gunner South Wales, Cwmbran and myself, mid upper gunner. We were a happy crew and enjoyed our stay at the OTU. One exciting part of it was when we crash landed at night. This was admitted by the pilot it was a case of not fully understanding the angle of glide indicators. The aircraft was a right-off but we were all ok. The next part of course was to a Conversion Unit at Swinderby where we would experience flying in a four engine bomber. This again [?] a much bigger aircraft. Our stay was four weeks. We were involved in diversionary tactics diverting fighter attacks and flak from the main bomber force. This would prove fateful for some crews but we came through unscathed at Swinderby. We were posted to Syerston in Lancaster Finishing School where we did enjoy more familiarisation in a Lancaster for ten days. This was a lovely experience as she was an outstanding aircraft. We were again given leave prior to joining a bomber squadron at Skellingthorpe in Lincoln, 50 squadron. Following our leave we were first to join other crews at Skellingthorpe. Lancaster VNC Charlie. This was to be the beginning of a nerve racking tour. I was now twenty, about twenty going on twenty one. This aircraft was to survive thirty five operations. Daylight ops but mainly night ops which took us to France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Norway and close to the Russian border. Night collisions were many. I saw many going down even prior to the bombing run and on one occasion I had to shout to the skipper over the intercom, ‘Dive, dive,’ and this Lancaster was about five feet above us with its bomb doors open. The other danger was to try and avoid other Lancasters below. What I said was excellent and as you know I was Catseyes Williams. I could see well at night. Guy Gibson so fed up of ground duties after being told to take things easy persuaded the higher ups to give him one more chance and so he was given a Mosquito to fly ahead from the main force to mark a target with a particular colour for the bombers to aim for. It’s possible that I am the only remaining crew member to hear his voice over the intercom. These are his words of course, ‘Hello main force. This is your master leader calling. I am down at two thousand feet. I can see everything bang on.’ We were at a height of eleven thousand feet. He did not survive that operation and there are several rumours as to his death. Weather does play an active part to us flying. We were flying the following night on an operation when the weather turned nasty and we were in ten tenths cloud and no sign of it abating. Ice was forming everywhere and we were forced to climb to twenty six thousand feet. As we were emerging from the crowd this liberator skimmed just above us. Had we emerged a second earlier there is no doubt we would have collided. This incident stands out in my mind. We continued on our homeward journey. With no sign of things improving the navigator told the pilot to start descending as the icing was giving us more problems. This continued for nearly an hour with no sign of an improvement. Petrol was a problem. But all of the sudden the pilot gave us the order to stand by to bail out and to our relief we broke cloud at eight hundred feet not far from the French coast. We continued over the English Channel [moving papers] Oh that one. We -
MJ: It’s alright.
AEW: Alright? We landed at an airfield on the south coast at Tangmere where we stayed until the fog was cleared in Lincoln. That’s it.
[Metre 3346 until 5441 the interview has stopped but the tape is still recording. Transcription discontinued]
MJ: On behalf of the Bomber Command Project I’d like to thank Emlyn Williams at his home on the 8th of June. June yeah. Yeah, June 2015, on the 8th thank you very much.


Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Arthur Emlyn Williams,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 4, 2024,

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