Interview with Arthur Emlyn Williams


Interview with Arthur Emlyn Williams


Arthur Emlyn Williams was working as a pump operator at the mines, before he volunteered for the RAF. His mother hid his first recruitment letter. He trained at Lord’s Cricket Ground, and Number 2 Air-Gunnery school at Inverness, on Ansons. He discusses a crash at Market Harborough while at 14 Operational Training Unit. He flew operations with 50 squadron from RAF Skellingthorpe. Arthur gained his nickname Catseye William because his eyesight was better at night than the day. Arthur’s first operation was in Brest, and it lasted 3 hours. In Trondheim, Norway, the bomb aimer wanted to drop bombs on the target, but because of the weather they couldn’t see the target, so they dropped bombs over the North Sea instead. Arthur was afraid of collisions, noting an occasion where they almost crashed into a Lancaster that had its bomb doors open and another near miss with a Liberator. After Arthur finished his tour, he went on to other jobs as an Airfield control assistant and in mountain rescue.







00:27:09 audio recording


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EM: My name is Emlyn Williams, born in 1923 in the Swansea valley. That makes me nearly, nearly ninety two next birthday. I volunteered for the RAF and accepted to be trained for an air gunner. Now, when I volunteered I was in the mines. I had a good job and I could have stayed there for the rest of my life but I was, I trained to be a pump operator which involved maintaining the water level so that it didn’t flood the mine. So, I applied and the only reason I could join was by, to leave the mines was to volunteer for either air crew or submarines but I didn’t fancy submarines because I thought it was a dangerous job. Right, um first of all we went as far as Penarth to, to find out whether I was suitable to be trained. We were there for three days. Anyway, for a while time went on and I had a letter saying that you are suitable to be trained so that was fair enough. Shortly after that I got a letter which my mother hid from me because she didn’t want me to go because my father was unemployed and I wanted, she wanted me to stay where I was to bring in extra money to the, to the house. Well, I had a letter from the Air Ministry asking why I hadn’t replied so they sent me another letter which I made sure I found and I had a letter and I wrote back to state that I was willing to be trained and consequently I had another letter then to say that I was expected and I would be sent another letter with further details on what to do. Right, the other letter came to say that I was accepted and I was to proceed to Lord’s, near Lord’s Cricket Ground where we were trained, well, you know, Corporal MacDonald was our instructor and he was a nasty one and I was sorry then I had volunteered but anyway it was ACRC Air Crew Receiving Centre. We were there for about three weeks. From there, of course, we went to, first stop from there is, was Bridlington, square bashing we were for quite a while. Six weeks a think. Where we were trained on the beach and it was quite enjoyable. Can we stop now?
Six weeks from Bridlington we were, I was posted then to Elementary Air Gunnery School, Bridgenorth. We were there for a while training on turrets, pyrotechnics, various turrets you know and it was quite enjoyable but there was no flying then at all. So, that was Bridgenorth and from there, Elementary Air Gunnery School we were asked then where we would like to go for Air Gunnery School where flying was involved. Well, of course, being a Welshman I said well I wouldn’t mind going to either Stormy Down near, near Cardiff or Pembrey, Number 1 Air Gunnery School. And I was hoping that would be the case. Either of those. But lo and behold the next thing I had a letter saying I was to be transferred to Inverness [laughs] at a place called Dalcross, Number 2 Air Gunnery School. Well, I couldn’t do nothing about it. Couldn’t argue. So we were posted there and we were there for six months where we were trained in Ansons. Well, that involved flying where martinets kept towing a drogue and we were involved now in shooting at this drogue and each one had different coloured bullets to prove now if mine was red and I had more red markings it meant that I had better success than the others but anyway there was red bullets, green bullets, brown bullets. You name it that was it. Six months there I think we were transferred then we were passed then and then we had our stripes. Sergeant. That made us more proud than ever like. And of course we had a brevvy. We were sent from there down to Market Harborough, 14 Operational Training Unit and we had to familiarise with Wellington bombers and there of course we crewed up. Len Farrow, the skipper and so forth. Tommy Vince, navigator from Essex. Jock Barr, bomb aimer, Dundee. Engineer, Boost his nickname was, from Alloa in Scotland. The wireless operator he was from Hastings. Taffy, the rear gunner was from Cwmbran in Wales and myself. The rear gunner opted to go now to be the rear gunner because [he was short, short ass we called him] so he went and it suited him quite well to go into the rear gunner position. I kept to the upper gunner position my eyes were perfect. I had good vision, better vision at night than it was during the day and that’s where I gained my nickname was Catseye Williams because I was good with eyesight. Right. That was when we experienced our first crash landing in Market Harborough. I think was because the skipper wasn’t quite acquainted with the angle of glide indicators which indicated either two reds you were too high, red and amber you were still too high, two ambers questionable, then you had to wait to get two greens which meant you were ok to land. He couldn’t have been acquainted with the situation because we landed what four or five fields back and fortunately the area was so flat and it was a right off, the old Wellington but we suffered no injuries. We were ok. Ok, after a while there we had some leave and we were transferred to Swinderby where we had to acquaint ourselves with four engine bombers and she was a big one, the old Stirling. Huge. And when we did first started landing we must have bounced about fifty feet away because skipper wasn’t quite acquainted with the controls and that was, that was the Stirling. I think it was [1660] high conversion unit and we were there about six weeks. Ok, that was enough for us. We were transferred then to Syerston. I think it was number, I think Number 4 Lancaster Finishing School. I’m not quite sure of the number. We were there for about ten days to again familiarise ourselves with the aircraft which we did and then of course the big moment came where we were told we were now going to transfer you to a squadron and the squadron was 50 squadron where there were two squadrons on the station 50 and 61. And we enjoyed it there and of course each operation we were a bit apprehensive of all operation big, long or short you know. Ok. Brest was my first operation. It was only about three hours. Three or four hours but even then we thought it was an easy one but several aircraft were shot down over Brest and we had to more or less follow the armed forces the army. Brest and we went as far as Le Havre, Boulogne, these were pretty good you know and we had no difficulty, you know. Nothing frightening about the operations. Then of course they must have thought they’ve had enough of these short operations and start doing the big ones. Where are we? A Flight, C for Charlie we were and we flew the same aircraft right throughout thirty five ops. Incidentally, there was an aircraft next to us D for Dog they were called then. Now they’re called Delta aren’t they? That aircraft went missing on every trip and because of that I think they changed the call sign D for Dog to [double dix?] I’m not quite sure but we were very sorry. We knew the boys well and every trip they went missing. This was very sad you know isn’t it? Now, we were lucky. Thirty five ops and no problems at all. Right. This was mentioned that Lincoln was always immersed in fog with the result of course that we were diverted many a time because of this. Just to mention Tangmere down in the south. There was Ludford Magna in Yorkshire. There was Pocklington in Yorkshire and Dishforth up in Yorkshire. It wasn’t very far was it? Not very far from Lincoln was it? Next, next county I think. And it was quite a novelty for us meeting other aircraft. Mostly Halifax crews you know. And of course one, Wick was one in the very north of Scotland. Wick. We were briefed to fly to a place in Norway, Trondheim. And we were quite a long trip Trondheim but there again that caused problems because the weather was so bad we couldn’t see the target and the bomb aimer didn’t want to drop the bombs on anything other than the target so we dropped the bombs in the sea. Right, this meant then after that we were informed that Lincoln again was shrouded in fog so we flew over the North Sea and the weather was atrocious and the bomb aimer warned the skipper many a time, ‘Skip,’ he says. ‘You are flying too low. If you keep at this all the time we’ll be hitting the sea.’ So he rose for a little while and after a while we landed in Wick. The very north of Scotland and he did, when we landed the engineer said, ‘Well we’ve been very lucky.’ He says, ‘We’ve only got about seven or eight minutes fuel left,’ when we landed and we were lucky. And we stayed there for three or four days in Wick and, dressed in flying clothing we felt like heroes you know walking the streets of Wick. Teamed up with the girls and all that. And we were sorry really to leave Wick to fly back to Lincoln but the time came of course and we had to fly back and Len, the skipper did enjoy doing a bit of daredevil flying like you know. We flew over Blackpool on the way back and I can see us now we practically, the promenade in Blackpool is quite high and we flew now almost parallel with the promenade over the beach. And I can see this man now with his thumbs up as if to say, ‘Well done boys,’ and eventually we landed in Lincoln. That was quite an enjoyable trip and especially low flying over Lincoln. Some exciting moments did occur during our career in flying. One was of course was when Guy Gibson, VC, was marking a target for us. For a long time the air ministry officials thought well he’s done enough flying so they pleaded with him to give up flying and give him a desk job. He didn’t like that at all and he pleaded and pleaded. In the end they allowed him to fly a Mosquito and of course on that night there was a target called Ratydt R A T Y D T. I can’t remember what, what was involved but Guy Gibson was marking the target for us. We were up in eleven thousand feet and his voice came over the radio to say, ‘Hello main force. Hello main force. I am down at two thousand feet and I can see the target bang on.’ Those were his words. We were up at eleven thousand feet. I’ll always remember that. In fact I wrote to [?] to ask if any other crew members who were on the same trip heard his voice and I had a letter back stating that he, this particular man, did hear his voice so that was a little proof that Guy Gibson was marking the target. Whatever the colour was I don’t know but anyway Guy Gibson, he never made it back and there were so many rumours of what happened so I wouldn’t like to say. [?] He didn’t come back anyway so that was that. That was one incident. Ok. I can’t say, I was so young then, I can’t say I was really scared about operations. We were attacked many times by night fighters, mainly ME110s but my main fright was night collisions and there were many. There were many. On one occasion I had good vision all around and the next thing this Lancaster came towards us and I thought, ‘Is he going to hit us?’ So I said, ‘For Christ’s sake skipper, dive.’ Down he went. And this Lancaster had its bomb doors open. I’m sure that if he’d continued and we hadn’t dived he would have hit us with his bomb load and all so that was that. Many a Lanc went down through colliding with others and of course being, I was an asset really because my night vision was one hundred percent. Fantastic. But as I said collisions were my main concern. It was the only thing I was frightened about. Ok. Yeah. Ok, another incident was following our attack on some target I can’t remember we were we left the target and the weather was absolutely atrocious. Ten tenths cloud, ice was forming on the wings, electrical storms we went through and they were nasty so the skipper said, ‘Well to get out of this we’ve got to fly higher, twenty six thousand feet to get out of the clouds.’ Twenty six thousand feet. That was quite high for a Lancaster then but we made it but as we emerged from the cloud had we been a second or so earlier we would have hit this Liberator. We were going home and he was flying out to a target I expect. Well, I was amazed. I absolutely swore. I won’t say what I did, what I said but as we made it he flipped above us. Two seconds earlier we’d have hit him and that would have been a catastrophe wouldn’t it? But anyway we were lucky. He was flying to a target and we were going home. We were flying back now and there was no sign of the ten tenths clouds abating. He was so worried, the skipper, and the navigator. He knew where we were. So, the skipper said, ‘Well, if this is going to happen, is going to get worse,’ he says. ‘We’ll have to think about baling out.’ So he told us all to stand by the back door, get the back door open ready for baling out because he was concerned now about our petrol situation but we flew and we flew and we flew and all of a sudden we broke cloud somewhere over France and we were down to eight hundred feet. It was still a bit low to, to consider baling out but anyhow at eight hundred feet we saw no more cloud and we were lucky. So we flew back to Lincoln but because Lincoln was again shrouded in fog we were told to divert to Tangmere, down in the south, and that’s what we did. We there for a day or two before considering flying back to Lincoln. One funny side of life was, the crew, now I’m not sure whether we had finished operations but we were going out to Lincoln for a night out, seven of us and there we were at the top of the road now, waiting for a bus and what, what went by was a hearse and all very old fashioned they were old fashioned then 1940 ’44 [or so]. He pulled up and said, ‘Boys would you like a lift?’ [laughs] So we all trooped in the hearse and took us all to Lincoln. [laughs] It was a funny one wasn’t it? Whether that would have been a bad omen or something I don’t know but anyway life went on as usual and we thanked him and then we went for a couple of pints. Then of course when we finished flying the air crew situation was well there were so many surplus. Some of course had to fly to France or whatever to, Manna was it? When they were dropping food to these towns that were deprived of food and what have you. And of course we then we weren’t involved anymore we were advised then to to think what we would like to do so the Airfield Construction Unit was the main job we had and then transferred to Aberdeen and Dyce airport. Airfield control assistant my job was. To man a caravan on the end of the runway and take part in controlling aircraft that wanted to take off or land. On top of that I was so young and so full of energy that I joined the mountain rescue and I thoroughly enjoyed that and we were involved in many a rescue and life then was great between the two jobs and that was it until I was more or less considered for demobilisation. One other thing that caused the problems was the fact that when we were ready to take off we didn’t mind that at all but there was one instance a target called Stettin. I think I had mixed feelings about that. I thought if we went on that well I didn’t fancy my chances at all. That feeling you had like, you know. But anyhow the wireless op had a message, ops cancelled. We said, ‘Thank God for that.’ So we all kissed the ground. And of course prior to that of course well then we had to take wakey wakey tablets didn’t we because we’d already taken tablets to keep us awake for the whole trip and then we had other tablets then to correct that and then for us to allow us to go to sleep. All [your?] problems isn’t it? But Stettin was, well the only one I had mixed feelings about but fortunately it was cancelled. Ok.
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command Oral History Project my name is Michael Jeffery. I’d like to thank Emlyn Williams on the 17th of the 6th 2015 for his recording. Thank you very much.


Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Arthur Emlyn Williams,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 18, 2024,

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