Interview with Joseph Wilson


Interview with Joseph Wilson


Joseph Wilson was training to be a pharmacist when he volunteered for the Air Force. He trained to as a bomb aimer and completed 47 operations with several squadrons. He recalls flying a Tiger Moth early on in training and discusses mine laying and bombing operations. He later flew with 624 Special Duties Squadron dropping supplies and agents to the resistance in Southern Europe. He became a teacher after the war.




Temporal Coverage




01:27:34 audio recording


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BW: This is Brian Wright interviewing Flying Officer Joe Wilson at 3.15 in the afternoon on Thursday 29th of December 2016 at his home in Billinge. Joe, can you confirm for me please when and where were you born?
JW1: When and where? Oh, I was, I was born in Orrel Road, Orrel, 18.5.23.
BW: And how many other family members were there in, in your family? Did you have any brothers and sisters?
JW1: Oh yes. I had, I had a brother and sister.
BW: And were you the middle child or —
JW1: I was the youngest, the youngster [slight laugh].
JW2: You, you had step-sisters and brothers.
JW1: But they weren’t —
JW2: They were older, weren’t they?
JW1: Oh yeah, they weren’t — as you say, step-sisters. They weren’t my —
JW2: They weren’t yours but they all lived together.
JW1: All lived together, yeah.
BW: With me during this interview —
JW1: I beg your pardon?
BW: With me in this interview is Joe’s daughter Jenny, who will also be, um, prompting further information and assisting Joe with, with some of the answers just to help his recall of memory. So what was your early life like Joe, growing up round here?
JW1: What was?
JW2: What was your early life like? How would you describe it, growing up round here? Was it a normal happy childhood or —
JW1: You mean, as a civilian you mean.
BW: yes.
JW1: I had a very, very — I was getting five bob a week as a —
JW2: As a child?
JW1: As a child, yeah.
JW2: As a child — is it OK for me to — as a child you, um, your father was a miner.
JW1: Pit. Yeah.
JW2: And your mother —
JW1: A school teacher.
JW2: Was a school teacher.
JW1: Yeah.
JW2: And your mother married her sister’s widower.
JW1: My mother married —
JW2: Your mother married your sister’s, your, sorry, her sister’s widower.
JW1: Who was that?
JW2: So, um, that was Nellie died and William married Agnes, your mother, and then had three more children and you lived in a semi-detached house, 176 —
JW1: Orrel Road.
JW2: Orrel Road. That was when you were five. Before that you’d lived in a, in a terraced house. So when you were five you lived in 176 where you stayed for quite a long time.
JW1: That’s OK.
JW2: That’s right, yeah. But you had a happy child — would you say you had a happy childhood?
JW1: [slight laugh] Not really.
JW2: No?
JW1: No.
BW: Were your parents strict Joe?
JW1: I beg your pardon?
BW: Were your mum and dad strict with you?
JW1: Not really. My father worked in the pits, down the pits, five shillings a week and my mother was a school teacher, wasn’t she?
JW2: Yes.
BW: And where did you go to your school yourself? Do you remember?
JW1: Nearby, yeah. It was a Catholic School, St James’s, Orrel, yeah.
BW: And what did you like learning there? Were you there until age fourteen or did you leave? Was it a primary school and you left to go to another school or what?
JW1: I was, I was there most of the time I suppose, yeah. Not altogether.
JW2: Do you recall that you, er, left — when you left St James’s do you remember which school you went to then?
JW1: After St James’s. You mentioned the name [unclear].
JW2: I think there was three children from St James’s from your year that went to West Park Grammar School.
JW1: Grammar School, St Helens, yeah.
JW2: And one of them was John Orell, who was your friend from Rock House in Upholland, and the other was Brenda Green.
JW1: Brenda Green.
JW2: And John Orell also went into the RAF during the war.
JW1: Was he lost in the war?
JW2: He was. You told me that the, um, time you had at the grammar school was limited because a lot of your teachers were conscripted. Would you like to say something about that?
JW1: Conscripted? What do you mean by that?
JW2: They went into the war. They, they had to sign up for the war when you were at West Park Grammar.
JW1: Oh yeah, yeah.
JW2: You told me that you wanted to leave school because you didn’t like art and you had to do art and lost some of your favourite subjects.
JW1: That’s true.
BW: What didn’t you like about art Joe?
JW1: I couldn’t draw.
JW2: Didn’t like it.
BW: Didn’t like it. What were your favourite subjects then?
JW1: Mathematics, I suppose. My mother was a school teacher.
JW2: And her nickname was?
JW1: Eh?
JW2: What was her nickname?
JW1: I don’t know.
JW2: Mrs Metric.
JW1: Was it? I’d forgotten.
JW2: And she was very literary, as you are, and you loved poetry.
JW1: Oh yeah. Loved poetry. Yeah.
BW: Do you recall what were you doing when war was declared? Were you at home that day?
JW1: Well, I was at school that day wasn’t I when war was declared?
JW2: I don’t know.
JW1: 1939. Born ’23. I was probably in the top class, sixth form, er, sixth form. I was —
BW: This is Brian Wright interviewing Flying Officer Joe Wilson on the afternoon of Thursday 29th of December 2016 at his home in Billinge, Lancashire. With me is his daughter Jenny Wilson who will also be adding information, prompting and asking questions of Joe to help clarify some of the information. So, we were just talking before, in the first part of the interview Joe, about you being a trainee pharmacist and you’d heard that war had been declared and you decided to join the RAF and there were two reasons. One of which was pay and the other of which you thought was glamour. Is that right?
JW1: Probably.
BW: And you thought the uniform would help you attract more girls?
JW: Yeah.
BW: I believe you wanted to train as a pilot?
JW: Yeah. I was, I was in a reserved occupation there but yeah, pilot only, yeah. In fact I wasn’t allowed to — because I got, I got [unclear] I wasn’t allowed to apply for anything else. Pilot or observer, they were both the same, er, price, wage, same wage.
BW: And it was more money than what you were on as a pharmacist?
JW1: As a pharmacist. It was do you mean fully trained?
BW: Yeah.
JW1: I was about, I was getting about two pounds a week then but, er, I worked till half past seven through the week and, er, 9 o’clock Saturday night. That was what I should have done but I, I always had plenty of — what do you call them? What do you call them where they —
JW2: I’m not sure. Oh, they had a lot of outlets?
JW1: The Air Force.
JW2: Oh, the Air Force. I’m not sure. Barracks?
JW1: Eh?
JW2: The barracks.
JW1: Before I joined — I’ve forgotten. I was, I know I was a, I was a, so they say a laughable airmen [?] really.
BW: Where did you sign on or sign up? Did you sign you in Wigan? Was the nearest recruiting office in Wigan?
JW1: Yeah, oh yeah.
BW: And where do you go from there? Do you remember where did they send you for training?
JW1: It, it was overseas but I can’t remember where?
JW2: Initially, I don’t think it was overseas. I think you started your training in this country.
JW1: I probably started, yeah, but I didn’t finish.
BW: Did you actually get on to do pilot training in the first stage or were you drafted to be an observer instead?
JW1: Well, I was, I had, um, I wasn’t considered good enough to be a pilot really.
BW: Did you actually get to learn to fly a plane at any stage or were you just told that at the beginning?
JW1: No, I never saw, never saw an aeroplane in those days.
JW2: He did [emphasis] get to fly.
BW: I think you said you flew a Tiger Moth, didn’t you?
JW1: Oh, well yeah. Yes. What do they call it when you do a couple of hours just to see whether you were going to be air sick or, you know, not suitable, really. That was the idea. It wasn’t, it wasn’t to teach you anything really. [JW2 talking quietly in the background]
BW: So, you started on a flying course in this country doing a couple of trips on a Tiger Moth and then you were told you weren’t suitable to be a pilot. Is that right?
JW1: Yeah.
BW: And from there you went on to train as a bomb aimer instead. Is that correct or did you go into air gunnery?
JW1: No. I wanted to be a — no I wasn’t a gunner because the pay was terrible. It was terrible as a pilot but it was better than an air gunner’s pay.
JW2: Joe, your grandson recalls you saying that you learned, you were learning how to fly in Hamptons and Wellingtons?
JW1: Hampdens.
JW2: Hampdens, sorry. And Wellingtons. Is that correct?
JW1: Yeah. I know I went solo as, as, er, training to be a pilot when I was about, well I’d only be eighteen, that’s all.
BW: You were flying solo?
JW1: I was, I did, to be in a flying job really. I was but I only did a very, very short time.
BW: What do you recall about your training to be a bomb aimer?
JW1: I didn’t like it [slight laugh]. I didn’t like joining it but after a while it became a better, better paid job, slightly paid better, but that was about all really.
BW: And I believe you went up to an Operational Training Unit at Lossiemouth, number 20 OTU?
JW1: Number 20. Yeah.
BW: Would that have been 1942?
JW1: Probably. Yeah. ’42. I was born in ‘23. I was nineteen then.
BW: What do you recall of your time up in Scotland? Anything?
JW1: Well, I had relatives close by. My wife was a Scot, eventually.
JW2: Event— but you hadn’t met her then.
JW1: No. I hadn’t.
JW2: You hadn’t met her then. Later on you had relatives in Scotland but when you were nineteen I don’t think you had relatives in Scotland.
JW1: I didn’t like it then [slight laugh]. I’m surprised anybody cares these days about it.
BW: From then on I believe you went to a Heavy Conversion Unit at Pocklington, 1652 HCU is that right?
JW1: Pocklington. Yeah.
BW: And do you recall the people you met there? The crew you met there?
JW1: I don’t recall it but some— somebody, one of them was here and mentioned it to me to bring it back to me, I suppose. That’s all. Five bob a week wasn’t much working about fifty hours or more. That was all I got. Five shillings.
BW: Your log book shows that you were training on Wellingtons and your pilot was Sergeant Griffiths.
JW1: Yeah.
BW: What do you remember about Griffiths?
JW1: Nothing really but if, if somebody mentions something it would bring it back to me. He was a Scot, I know that. I don’t remember. I don’t remember.
BW: You did a lot of cross country training and some of it was at night, flying Wellingtons.
JW1: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: And you’re up at the front in the nose.
JW1: Yeah.
BW: What, what was like that?
JW1: Bloody cold. It was — we got all the breezes there. It was considered, it was quite laughable to everybody that I was a pil— I was going in for a pilot, yeah. I’m trying to think what we called it. Nobody has ever talked about it since then so I don’t remember.
BW: So, from your log book you left training on the Wellington on the 20th of September 1942, having done just under twenty-three hours day flying and thirty-one, sorry, forty-seven hours night flying?
JW1: How many years, forty-seven?
BW: Forty-seven hours, forty-seven hours. You then joined the conversion unit early in 1943 and you learned to fly Halifaxes. And your pilot on the Halifax was a Sergeant Griffiths. Do you remember the names of the other crewmen at all?
JW1: Not off-hand, no, but if anybody mentions them it would bring it back to me.
JW2: Can you remember anything about somebody called Marsh, Wilf Marsh?
JW1: Wilf Marsh. He was an observer. He wasn’t very athletic really. He was quite a fat lad.
JW2: He was married wasn’t he?
JW1: Oh yeah.
JW2: Was he the only married one on your crew?
JW1: As far as I recollect, yeah.
JW2: Right.
BW: There was another crewman, Flight Engineer Charles Walker?
JW1: I don’t remember that.
BW: No. Navigator, er, Anthony Holmes, or Tony Holmes.
JW1: Do you know, I don’t remember that even.
BW: No [clears throat].
JW1: I don’t know why they are interested.
JW2: It is interesting dad.
BW: It looks like your regular aircraft was code letter P. Do you have any recollections of P? Did you have a nickname for the aircraft at all? Was it —
JW1: I don’t recollect P. I’ve forgotten what you were —
Other: Is he talking about the nickname for the aircraft?
JW2: Yes.
Other: It was something ghost. Something ghost related.
JW1: What’s that?
JW2: Can — did you call the Halifax — did you have a name for, a nickname for your aircraft? Your grandson seems to remember that it was something related to ghosts.
JW1: I don’t remember.
JW2: You can’t remember.
JW1: I don’t remember.
BW: So, you haven’t done many trips. You’ve done about nine or ten trips maybe, in the early part 1943, most of them in March. Do you remember where you were flying to, what your targets were, in March ‘43? Were you flying to the Ruhr, Ruhr valley?
JW1: I can’t [clears throat] recollect them but if someone jogged my memory and told me, gave me a name, I might.
JW2: Do you recall that you did — you got some time off when you did a reconnaissance trip. Can you remember that?
JW1: I got what?
JW2: You took some very good photographs of a target or your plane did and, um, they were so helpful that they gave you some time off. Can you recall that?
JW1: No.
JW2: Well, you told me it was an armaments factory at Essen?
JW1: Essetene [?]
JW2: No Essen.
JW1: Oh, Essen. Oh yeah.
JW2: And you told me they were so pleased with the helpful photographs for target information that they gave you some days off.
JW1: I can’t remember.
JW2: You can’t remember that, no, no. It might have been Krupps.
JW1: Krupps.
JW2: Might have been Krupps. Does that sound —
JW1: I think we lost, if I remember rightly, fifty-five one night, from, mostly from —
JW2: Bombing.
JW1: Yeah.
BW: There are some details, some brief details here. Your second operation, in March 1943, was gardening.
JW1: Was what?
BW: Gardening. Which means mine laying.
JW1: Oh yeah, gardening, yeah.
BW: Do you remember anything about dropping mines in the water?
JW1: No. It was cushy but no. I mean, we were not didn’t go on trips anything like as dangerous as that was. They, they were all mine laying operations, just round, round the drome, that’s all.
BW: And then your third op at night was to Essen, followed by three days later Nuremberg.
JW1: We lost about fifty aeroplanes.
BW: On the Essen raid?
JW1: Yeah.
BW: And then you went a few days later to Nuremberg.
JW1: Oh yeah. That was a long one.
BW: That’s deep in Germany. And then the night after that you went to Munich which is in the south of Germany.
JW1: I remember the name but I don’t remember anything about it really.
BW: You then had one raid at Stuttgart, followed in April by another trip to Essen and this is, I believe, is interesting because your comment in your log book says you were coned for eleven minutes. You were in the searchlights for eleven minutes. Do you remember that?
JW1: No.
BW: And you got back to base and you had to go and see the CO, the station commander, following that and he took you up for a flight. His name was Gus Walker.
JW1: Oh, ay. I don’t remember. I remember the name, that’s all. Yeah.
BW: I believe what happened, you were lucky to survive the raid over Essen, being in the path of the searchlights for so long.
JW1: Lost fifty, fifty planes.
JW2: But then when you got back the station commander took you and the rest of the crew up for a flight to show you how to, to show your pilot Griffiths how to take evasive action.
JW1: Oh yeah. I don’t, don’t remember anything about that either.
JW2: I think, I remember you saying that, um, you weren’t sure — you wanted to call him, ‘Sir,’ and he said, ‘Call me Gus.’ Can you remember that?
JW1: Who, who was that, Gus? Who was it?
JW2: Who do you think it was?
JW1: I don’t know.
JW2: Gus Walker.
JW1: Oh yeah. Little fella.
BW: Air Commodore with one arm.
JW1: Was it? Oh yeah. He was quite well famous then, really. Gus Walker.
JW2: He showed you how to do evasive action.
JW1: Yeah. Throwing the plane about, yeah.
JW2: You told me that you that you’d waggled your plane before you learned how to do evasive action.
JW1: Yes. I did that. That were evading.
BW: Just dipping the wings.
JW1: Yeah. Yeah. Why do they want to know all—
JW2: Can I — I think that it’s something that would be quite interesting for — you were doing your bombing trips and you, you had a strategy that you think helped you, your crew to survive. Can you remember what your strategy was because I think Brian would be interested?
JW1: Just dropping markers, you know, that’s all really. We, we didn’t bomb anything then, we just gave the impression that we were going to go that way and they all turned and went that way and we went the other.
JW2: You told me — is it OK to — you told me that when you were in the briefings you always took a great interest in why they would navigate a particular way and you asked a lot of questions so sometimes you would say so why, why would we take that route and not this route and you seemed to be asking pertinent questions about the route.
JW1: Oh yeah.
JW2: You did use the stars. You said that you used the stars and sextants to work out where you were and you felt your mathematics helped with the navigating because your role was a navigating as well, wasn’t it?
JW1: Yeah.
JW2: But you told me as well that your aim as soon as you knew where you had to go to was to get there as quickly and efficiently as you could. So I don’t think that you always went with the column when you flew with your crew. Can you remember?
JW1: Well, I only remember it as much as you’re, you’re talking about now but —
JW2: Tell me what you remember about not flying with the column.
JW1: Well nothing really accept —
JW2: That’s a shame.
JW1: Where was it? Where was that?
JW2: You told me that you had that as a strategy that you would, you didn’t fly with the column.
JW1: Oh yeah.
JW2: And that it was such large numbers that did happen, that people would go astray and then return to the column further on. You told me that on occasion you would still be circling the target when the Pathfinders arrived so by the time the target was marked — do you remember what would happen? What you would do?
JW1: No. Go on.
JW2: You told me that you would bomb it and you would be on your way back when the rest of the column was arriving.
JW1: Yeah. I [clears throat ] I wasn’t — I hadn’t been in the Air Force but I knew more about navigation and, you know, the work of the pilot or whatever, flying, in those days. Yeah.
JW2: There was a question about why you were chosen to do — work with 624 because 624 was special ops and the dangers were very different. You could fly into a mountain if you did not know where you were going so there was a question about whether you were chosen for the special ops work because your navigation was so good.
JW1: I think that’s probably true.
JW2: Because you tended to reach your target and come back before the others.
JW1: But I was a bomb aimer, not navigator. Bomb aimer.
JW2: No you weren’t but you told me you that helped with the navigating.
JW1: Oh probably.
JW2: So you were the bomb aimer, yeah. And you felt that your matriculation helped you with the navigation.
JW1: Oh yeah. I just got —
JW2: Was the observer not bomb aimer and navigator.
BW: Observer was a generic name. The trades tended to be, um, how can I say? Co— combined, in that you could be called a — it dates back to the First World War when the pilot was also listed as an observer but then the trades began to separate and some of them retained the old title of observer as well but, strictly speaking there would be, in the Halifax, there would be the pilot, navigator, wireless operator, um, bomb aimer and three gunners, front, back and mid upper so —
JW2: Did I speak too much then? Was that too —
BW: No, that’s alright. That’s alright. [clears throat] I believe when you were flying on operations before you went to, um, the briefings that you would take communion as well as a Catholic?
JW1: Oh yeah.
BW: So did you attend services every time or just occasionally?
JW1: Well, all the time then, yeah.
BW: And do you feel your faith gave you comfort or, um, support?
JW1: I think so, yeah, yeah. Support, yeah.
BW: Did the other crew members go with you or not?
JW1: No, they didn’t. They were — I was the only Catholic there. I don’t know what you’d call them.
BW: But they I believe also felt reassured when you —
JW1: They what?
BW: They felt reassured when you’d been you to the service and had communion as well. Is that right?
JW1: Say that again. They felt what?
BW: They felt reassured that you’d had communion before you went flying.
JW1: Oh they liked that, yeah, yeah, yeah.
BW: Did that make them feel they feel like they had God on their side?
JW1: They thought it was a safety movement really.
BW: So you was bit of a talisman for them. You were a bit of good luck charm.
JW1: Very likely, very likely, very much likely because I was quite young then. In 1940 how old would I be? Twenty-three? Born in ‘23 to ’40. Oh, phew —
BW: Seventeen.
JW1: Seventeen would it be?
BW: But you were slightly older than that. You were nineteen and twenty when you were on these operations.
JW1: On ops, yeah.
BW: Did the rest of the crew have good luck charms or mascots?
JW1: I don’t know. I’ve forgotten.
BW: No? But with that and your skill as a bomb aimer/ navigator they must have felt they were going to come back every time with you on board.
JW1: Oh yeah. It was, it was the relationship with the pilot and the bomb aimer and the navigator in between, yeah.
BW: And when you were over the target didn’t you have control of the aircraft?
JW1: Oh, I sat next to the pilot to help him with it. He sometimes he’d take so much evasive action he, he would be out of action, you know. He’d lose control of it really.
BW: And were there any instances over the target when you had to take control if he lost it?
JW1: Well, no. I was alongside, alongside the side of the pilot. I’m trying to think now. We were the first to bomb there usually, you know, because I was — well I’d been in the sixth form at the grammar control, you know, as a mathematician so what they thought was difficult wasn’t to me.
BW: You obviously have a logical or engineering type, mathematical type thinking pattern or brain, don’t you? You were a, um, pharmacist before the war but then you had this mathematical/ logical skill to see them accurately and quickly to the target and come back. And what was it like for you over the target being in the front, very front of the Halifax? Can you remember what you would do?
JW1: Well, not really but bomb aimer, navigator or observer was two people.
BW: Did you feel you worked well as a team then?
JW1: Sorry?
BW: Did you feel you worked well as a team?
JW: I think so, yeah. I knew more mathematics than any one of them in the crew, even the pilot ‘cause I’d been in the sixth form at the grammar school.
BW: You had to lie prone in the front of the aircraft, looking through the nose, looking through the glass canopy down at the target and tell the pilot to stay on course or to manoeuvre so that you could drop the bombs accurately. You also had to keep the aircraft on course for another thirty seconds so a photograph could be taken, didn’t you?
JW1: Yeah. Yes.
BW: And did you take the photograph?
JW1: Pardon?
BW: Did you take the photograph?
JW1: Well, I told them when they should be, er, marking the, you know, the ground, what you call it? Phenomenon, ground — I don’t know what you call it really but they weren’t con— weren’t considered worth talking about, um, bomb aimers, you know — they thought we knew nothing about navigation and flying, flying an aircraft.
BW: And do you recall what you might have seen on the ground below you when you were over the target? Could you see searchlights and fires?
JW1: Oh, searchlights, yeah, yeah. They would very often have, where the target was, um, stations nearby where they could light the, you know, they could light the searchlights in the hopes that anybody up, up above would think they were the target. I weren’t. I didn’t. I knew more navigation than the navigation officer because I’d got through to sixth form in grammar school in mathematics.
BW: But you could tell the difference between decoy fires, which is what you’re talking about, and the actual target you were aiming for.
JW1: Yes. The fires and the decoy would still be there after we’d done about half a dozen or more of them trips because it would still be there lit but, er, I don’t think any of the others knew anything like as much navigating as I did you know. They, they just obeyed, obeyed the lights really.
BW: Do you recall the different colours of searchlights that you would see over the target?
JW1: No. No recollection, no.
BW: There was one, called a master beam, which was a blue beam and it was radar controlled so if it locked onto an aircraft all the other yellow or white lights would, would lock on, would switch over and lock onto it.
JW1: Yes. That’s true, yeah.
BW: Did it happen to you at all?
JW1: Sorry?
BW: Did it happen to you and your crew at all?
JW1: I don’t remember really.
BW: You talked of a raid on Essen when there was over fifty aircraft were lost. Did you see any of the other aircraft being shot down?
JW1: Yes. All the time. All the time but, er, we made a good partnership, the pilot and observer and myself and we used to go higher up than they did so really the anti-aircraft shots were at a lower level really.
BW: So you flew above the level of the flak. That’s what you’re saying. You flew above the range of the guns.
JW1: Did I say that? I don’t remember that.
BW: Well you flew, you say that you flew higher than the rest of the aircraft presumably because you were then higher from, above the guns.
JW1: So we could dive down and allude, well, the defenders, you know, down below, really. Yeah.
BW: And when you were briefed about the target did you question the height and the positon at which you were going to bomb these targets? Did you think you could do better?
JW1: Did I question what?
BW: Did you question what they were briefing you about when they, when they told you where you should bomb the target, what direction you should come from and what height? Did you try and do it differently?
JW1: Did I what?
BW: Did you try and do it differently?
JW1: I forget really. We were a lone aircraft. One, you know, we — and all the rest of the bombers went on the official target I suppose but I didn’t.
BW: And what made you do that? Why did you decide to do that?
JW1: Well, I’d been long before I joined the Air Force we studied the tactics, you know, we knew what was expected of us really, I suppose, so very often I could go in and out of the target and be on my way back from the target and not have any anti-aircraft anywhere near us, you know.
BW: So your aircraft never got hit?
JW1: Never got hit? I’d forgotten about that really.
JW2: You did say, you did say that you got shrapnel in your face.
JW1: I did yeah. Little sparks, yeah, but I could have been on my way, not at the target but defence, on the way to the target. I could have been miles away.
BW: Do you recall when that happened?
JW1: No.
BW: But it wasn’t serious enough for you warrant you spending time in hospital?
JW1: Well, I didn’t tell them I was hit. I didn’t lead the life that was expected of me from the rest. I was keeping clear of the rest of the bombing — what did we call the list of, tier?
JW2: The column yeah.
JW1: Did we call it a tier?
BW: I don’t know.
JW1: T I E R.
BW: So while everyone else is flying the official route, while everyone is flying the official route and doing what they were told presumably you’ve given the instruction to the pilot as where to go and what to do, to stay out of the away from the main force?
JW1: Tell the pilot to stay away from — oh the pilot of our aircraft you mean? Oh yeah. I was in and out of the target before the rest of them had started bombing really, very often.
BW: Even before the Pathfinders arrived.
JW1: Yeah, yeah. It was handy being a, a Pathfinder because we got extra defence, if you like, and we could bomb the target and then go and mark nearby and, you know and a lot of them would bomb where we dropped these markers, really.
JW2: We need to clarify this but you told me that you had advised that it would be a good idea to drop false markers.
JW1: Oh, we did that. Yeah.
JW2: Who did that? Did you do that as, first of all, you requested that, that as a strategy? You put it forward?
JW1: Oh yeah.
JW2: And what happened then?
JW1: Well it meant there were fewer bombers going to the target, fewer who should have been on the target, dropping bombs nearby and they were glad of it because it kept them out of serious anti-aircraft fire. I’m surprised they’re interested in this so many years after [slight laugh].
BW: That, that was about your time on 102 Squadron and you then moved to number 76 Squadron at Linton on Ouse and according to your log book you changed pilot. You then had Sergeant Povey.
JW1: Yes. Les, Les Povey.
BW: Les Povey. And your original crew at 102 Squadron apparently were shot down and killed after you left.
JW1: Shot down what?
BW: They were shot down, they were brought down and killed on a mission, weren’t they?
JW1: Were they killed? Yeah.
JW2: You were supposed to go on that trip and we, we —
JW1: Which trip?
JW2: It was a, a raid on an armaments factory in Stettin and it was a birthday present for Hitler.
JW1: For whom?
JW2: For Hitler. It was on the 20th of April 1943 and you were supposed to go on that trip but you had cold sores on your face and couldn’t wear your oxygen mask.
JW1: No. I wasn’t allowed to go.
JW2: You were not allowed to go but you did go to the briefing.
JW1: Oh yeah.
JW2: And someone else went to that briefing as well. We met him later. Tom Wingham wrote about it in a book called, um, “Halifax Down” and he said that people were very anxious about the trip because it was a full moon and they were advised to go high over the Channel and low over Denmark to evade anti-aircraft. So we, we read about that afterwards. So your crew were lost. You waited for them to come back. You waited on the runway for them to come back.
JW1: And why wasn’t allowed? Tell me again why wasn’t allowed to go with them?
JW2: You had cold sores on your face and you couldn’t wear your oxygen mask. Can you remember waiting for them?
JW1: It’s coming, coming back to me yeah. Just a very slight recollection that’s all.
JW2: You told me that beyond a certain time you knew that —
JW1: They couldn’t get back, yeah.
JW2: That they were either going to be prisoners of war or the plane had come down or there was a vague hope that they’d landed somewhere else in the country but you waited.
JW1: That’s true yeah.
JW2: Can you remember what happened when you saw your name with another crew after you lost your own crew?
JW1: It was the pilot that was —
JW2: No. After you lost your crew and you saw your name was put on a board with another crew ready to go off again. Do you recall what you did?
JW1: No.
JW2: You put it in your back pocket. You put your name off the crew list and in your back pocket and then what did you do?
JW1: I don’t know.
JW2: You went home.
JW1: Did I?
JW2: And when you walked down the front path your mother had just received a telegram saying you were missing in action.
JW1: In action, yeah. They thought I’d gone with the crew, yeah.
JW2: This was the same period of time that someone at The Stag asked if you were dodging the column.
JW1: And he was chucked out the pub.
JW2: He was because your father and the landlord knew why you were home. You were absent without leave because you’d lost your crew.
JW1: Yeah.
JW2: Can you remember seeing your crew’s families, going to see the crew members’ families?
JW1: No, I can’t remember it.
JW2: I think you wanted to tell them what had happened because you knew they wouldn’t learn for a long time.
JW1: I can’t remember.
BW: If I read you the names of the crew that were lost would that help?
JW1: Go on.
BW: Your pilot was Wilfred Ambrose Griffiths, the second pilot on that raid was Thomas Samuel Eric Bennett, a New Zealander.
JW1: A what?
BW: A New Zealander. He was from New Zealand.
JW1: Oh yeah.
BW: The flight engineer was James Thomas Smith.
JW1: I don’t remember any of them really.
BW: There was Wilfred Charles Marsh.
JW2: Wilf Marsh.
JW1: Wilf Marsh, yeah. I do remember him. I do remember.
JW2: How do you remember him?
JW1: I remember Wilf Marsh but I need some, for somebody to remind me what —
BW: He was one of the oldest of the crew.
JW1: Oh yeah.
BW: He was thirty-one.
JW1: Thirty-one?
BW: The same age as, er, Tom Bennett. The other observer on the crew list was James Campbell, James Kenneth Campbell. You knew him as Ken.
JW2: Ken Campbell. What do you remember about him?
JW1: Nothing.
BW: The — you mentioned this guy before, the wireless op, the wop, AG, Sergeant Arnie Jenkinson.
JW2: Jinxy [?].
BW: Arnie Jenkinson.
JW1: Yeah.
BW: And the two gunners were Alex Cuthbert Weir. He was Canadian. Do you know if he was the mid-upper or the —
JW1: Pardon?
BW: Was he the mid-upper gunner or the rear gunner? The Canadian?
JW1: I forget.
BW: And the last one was Sergeant Bertram Charles John White.
JW1: John what?
JW2: White.
JW1: I don’t remember.
JW2: Can I try and jog your memory about Arnie Jenkins?
JW1: Son.
JW2: Son, yeah. You said that his mother had a haberdashery shop, 360 Ashton New Road.
JW1: Yeah.
JW2: Do you remember?
JW1: It’s coming back to me when you mention it.
JW2: What about your Magdalene? Your Magdalene used to make clothes and she knew that family didn’t she?
JW1: I’ve forgotten.
JW2: Or she met them through you, I don’t know.
BW: Well, I had so many that I had to recall and the crews, but she would, I would expect this one to remember, you know, the one you — that parents, do remember, yeah.
JW2: Ken Campbell was from Widnes.
JW1: Was he?
JW2: Yeah.
JW1: I went there didn’t I?
JW2: I think you went to —
JW1: And they didn’t want to know me.
JW2: You went to 360 Ashton New Road but that was Arnie Jenkins’ house.
JW1: Jenkinson.
JW2: Jenkinson, yes, sorry. But he was an only child and it’s a shame you didn’t go back.
JW1: Was he lost?
JW1: You, you told me his mother couldn’t speak to you. She was so upset and she had to hurry off the doorstep and when you got muddled up in your older age and you thought it was because you’d replaced, they’d replaced you but Arnie Jenkinson wasn’t replaced, wasn’t the replacement for you. Ken Campbell was and he was from Widnes.
JW2: I’ve forgotten.
JW1: I think it would be hard for anybody to see a familiar RAF uniform on the doorstep and know you weren’t going to see your son coming back.
JW1: Yeah. I can understand that.
BW: So, you went drinking in the local pub when you were at home called The Stag?
JW1: Yes. They said I was dodging the column, the other people, yeah, so I left and didn’t go back there.
BW: And was your dad a regular in the pub as well?
JW1: He was but he wasn’t — he worked down the pit. He wasn’t a member of the crew really.
JW2: Was he proud of you?
JW1: Eh?
JW2: When you came home in your uniform was he proud of you?
JW1: Oh yeah, yeah.
BW: Did your family ever worry about you when you were on the raids?
JW1: Well, they wouldn’t acknowledge that they were bothered, you know, but they were.
BW: And you used to cycle home to Wigan from Pocklington.
JW1: I’ve forgotten.
BW: Did your family make a fuss of you when you went home each time?
JW1: Well there was only my parents really there. The rest were based either in the Army or the Air Force. I don’t know where they’d be.
BW: So, you being the youngest, when you came home you were spoiled by mum and dad were you a bit.
JW1: A bit yes.
BW: Did your dad take you out drinking?
JW1: Did what?
BW: Did your dad take you out drinking or not?
JW1: He did after a while but he, you know, he didn’t like me being in the pub really.
JW2: You told me that he used to ask you to put your uniform on.
JW1: Yeah, I know he liked it. You got special treatment in the pub even if they didn’t know you personally, you know.
BW: Did people buy you drinks when you went in the pub with your uniform on?
JW1: Phew. Not really, er, occasionally one might but, um, it was, er, it was —
JW2: What can you say about the bottles of whisky that you used to bring home?
JW1: I don’t know. I’ve forgotten.
JW1: You told me that you were given bottles of whisky and you used to bring them home in a kit bag and give them to your dad.
JW1: Where did I get the whisky from?
JW2: I don’t know. I don’t know.
JW1: I’ve forgotten myself.
JW2: From Pocklington somewhere.
BW: You were based at Yorkshire with 102 Squadron at the time the dams’ raid took place.
JW1: A what?
BW: The time the dam busters’ raid took place.
JW1: Oh yeah.
BW: Were you feted at all because you were part of bomber crews?
JW1: Was I what?
BW: Were you feted at all? Did people make a fuss of you when you went home at that time, simply because you were in bomber command?
JW1: Oh yeah.
BW: And did the uniform pay off? Did you attract many girls?
JW1: No. I had a girlfriend of my own, Cathleen McGraw.
JW2: I’ve been told that your half brothers and sisters had children who used to dote on you. So they would be your nieces and they used to dote on you and there was photographs hanging up in your brothers and sisters houses of you in your uniform. They all recall a particular photograph of you in your uniform.
JW1: I can’t remember.
JW2: But I was also told that you wore leathers like Marlon Brando and you had a motorbike. Can you remember having a motorbike?
JW2: Did I have a motorbike?
JW2: Did you have a motorbike then?
JW1: I had a motorbike once upon a time but it was only for a few days and then —
JW2: Oh right. OK.
JW1: I got a little aeroplane [slight laugh]. I was lucky to survive really.
BW: And you had a few months flying with 76 Squadron at Linton and then Holme on Spalding.
JW1: Holme on Spalding where?
BW: Do you remember much about that base?
JW1: Pardon?
BW: Do you remember much about that base?
JW1: Not really.
BW: There were some accidents, um, at Pocklington and at Holme on Spalding by Halifax crews coming back that crashed. Did you see any or hear of any crashes?
JW1: No, I didn’t realise that. We were usually the first back because I, I’d studied navigation and mathematics at the grammar school, you know. I knew more about it than the navigation people on the squadron.
BW: From your log book on the 10th of August 1943 you started flying with 138 Squadron at Tempsford. Now that’s down south in Sussex and it was a special duties squadron. Did you volunteer for special duties?
JW1: No but I was — but they thought I was good enough for it I suppose.
BW: So, somebody tapped you on the shoulder and said you’re going down south?
JW1: Yeah. Mind you, it wasn’t as a hazardous a place as the squadron, going from the squadron, you know, up north. The German fighters would be patrolling along the coastline waiting for them to go.
BW: Waiting for you to go out?
JW1: Yeah.
BW: And did they patrol waiting for you to come back as well?
JW1: They would be, yeah, but we were, didn’t come back as a —
BW: A squadron.
JW1: Yeah. We came back individually all over the place.
BW: Did you see any action with night fighters or —
JW1: Oh yes. We saw them. We saw planes going down sometimes but my pilot, the second pilot I had, could get higher up than they, they were.
JW2: Can you, can you recall why Les Povey was such a good pilot?
JW1: No.
JW2: Because he’d been a gold prospecting pilot before the war, in Africa.
JW1: Was he? I’ve forgotten.
JW2: That’s what you told me. He was a gold prospecting pilot so he was a very experienced pilot before he joined up.
JW1: I’d forgotten that.
JW2: And he was older as well.
JW1: He was almost forty then.
JW2: And he looked like Errol Flynn.
BW: And you moved with him down to Tempsford.
JW1: Yes.
BW: So what happened to the rest of the crew? Did they just keep you and Les together?
JW1: I don’t recollect what happened to them but they, very often, with other crews a very experienced person, trying to get them out of that aircraft and, you know, with the special squadron and we came in that category.
BW: And you moved then in August ‘43 abroad. You went and flew to Blida in Algeria.
JW1: Blida, yeah.
BW: To join 624 Squadron.
JW1: Blida was in, er, I don’t know what you’d call it now, with a lake. What do you call it now?
BW: So, we were talking just before Joe about your transfer to the special duties squadron, when you flew to North Africa, to Blida in Algeria. What do you remember about that?
JW1: Very little, if anything really, but because I’d been learning maths at school and, you know, they used to, even though I was one of the least experienced, er, air people, air crew they, er, still wanted me to tell them about it, you know.
BW: And you conducted operations, again in a Halifax, but you were dropping supplies and spies I believe in different parts of Europe.
JW1: Oh yeah, yeah. I’d forgotten about those. I’d forgotten details of them.
JW2: You told me that you can remember, um, dropping agents that were also dangerous people.
JW1: I’ve forgotten.
JW2: And that they —
JW1: They were let out of jail you mean?
JW2: Yes and you told me that, that one of them — do you remember one particular case where he was dropped with handcuffs and when he landed he would be able to access the key to unlock himself because it was zipped up inside his outfit? Do you remember that, um, Jim Rosbottom was the despatcher?
JW1: I’ll just have a sip.
JW2: Jim Rosbottom was the despatcher.
JW1: Jim. It wasn’t Jim.
JW2: Jim Rosbottom.
JW1: It wasn’t Jim though was it?
JW2: Yes he was the despatcher and you said that he was the despatcher and you said he used to tie himself to the fuselage when he was dropping some dangerous people to ensure that he didn’t get pulled out of the plane as well.
JW1: I’ve forgotten.
JW2: And he also used to, he used do his own form of bombing sometimes by throwing whole packets out, of leaflets out instead of cutting them up sometimes.
JW1: Oh yeah [slight laugh].
BW: Did you ever talk to these agents that you were dropping?
JW1: I forget that really. I think they were kept apart from us, you know, in the aircraft so we wouldn’t do.
BW: Were they put on at the last minute after you’d all been briefed and got in the aircraft?
JW1: Not really. They’d been let out of jail to do that job. Is that my tea, love? Is that mine? I’ve got a recollection of it, yeah.
BW: What did you do?
JW1: I don’t know. I just put it inside my satchel with my shirt over it [slight laugh].
BW: So, you were told to leave your log book with the CO and you took it instead when he wasn’t looking. He nipped out the office and you slipped it under your shoulder and put your jacket over?
JW1: Very likely.
BW: And you flew, on these missions you flew to quite a few different places. You flew to Yugoslavia and you flew to the south of France, Corsica and Italy as well.
JW1: And what?
BW: And to Italy as well. Do you remember how you dropped the supplies to the resistance, the partisans?
JW1: Not really. I’ve not thought about it. I’ve not kept the memory going. I used to know it.
BW: But there was another member of the crew, Jim Leith.
JW2: No he was a different. He was in 624 but they were not dad’s —
BW: In a different aircraft.
JW2: But dad, you told me about when you went over the — is it the Samarian Gorge, is that right?
JW1: Go on.
JW2: Is that right. Is it called the Samarian Gorge in Greece?
BW: I don’t know to be honest.
JW2: And you told me, you told me that your Halifax was so heavy with your load that you had to jettison it and when you got back you had a lot of explaining to do because you discovered what your heavy load was. Do you remember what your heavy load was? It was gold bullion but you didn’t know you were carrying it.
JW1: No.
JW2: I wonder whether that was an orthodox war practice and I wonder who found it.
JW1: People used to, if you were dropping money or gold, they would to take a bit of it for themselves.
JW2: Off the flight, yeah. Well, you would have crashed into a mountain, you would have crashed into the Gorge, if you hadn’t dropped it because you were losing height.
JW1: Oh, happy days [slight laugh].
BW: Were all of these flights at night?
JW1: Yes, as far as I remember. I think there may have been the odd one, overseas ones, that were in daylight.
BW: How did it feel when you were flying these missions as opposed to being over Germany?
JW1: Oh it was a lot easier.
BW: Just because it was secret did you feel any heightened sense of danger?
JW1: Not really, no.
BW: Did you treat it like any other sort of job?
JW1: Yeah.
BW: And what was it like when you on the base in North Africa. What were the facilities like? Can you remember? Was it a rough strip?
JW1: Not really but it was fairly close, you know, to Britain.
JW1: Do you remember that you almost got into trouble one night because you snuck out somewhere to go drinking and, er, or for a night out and I think you missed your transport back and you had to come through territory that you didn’t know very well but you had to walk all the way through the night to get back on for parade the next day.
JW1: I’ve forgotten.
JW2: You’ve forgotten that? Do you recall, um, do you remember that you got fined and you thought it was a miscarriage of justice?
JW1: No.
JW2: What do you remember about the, the revolver that you left on the plane, the Halifax overnight?
JW1: Nothing. I know, er, I took a revolver, you know, in case we were shot down and we —
JW2: You left it on the plane and it went missing.
JW1: Oh yeah.
JW2: And you got hauled up for questioning about it and I seem to remember that you said in your defence — well they said you should not have left it on the plane because it was in your care, and you said, ‘Well maybe we should have taken the Browning off the plane as well.’
JW1: Take what?
JW2: Maybe we should have taken the Browning off the plane as well because there’s an armed guard there. Anyway, they, they didn’t accept your response and they fined you. So you had to pay. Can you not remember what your fine was? You were fined a few pounds for losing that revolver or not looking after it so somebody took it but you were very annoyed about it.
JW1: Yeah.
JW2: Because there was an armed guard and it still went missing.
BW: Your CO, when you were in North Africa, your CO was Wing Commander Stanbury. Does the name ring any, ring any bells with you?
JW1: Oh, [unclear] . I remember the name, Stanbury, yeah. Because they had a shop or something then didn’t he?
BW: No. No.
JW2: Clive Stanbury?
JW1: Clive, yeah.
JW2: What do you remember about him?
JW1: Not much.
JW2: Do you remember him asking you to do another mission when you done your two tours?
JW1: What did I say, ‘Bugger off?’
JW2: I’m not sure [slight laugh]. I think you said you didn’t have to do it. You told me at the time that you felt this particular one would be suicidal.
JW1: I’ve forgotten that one. I’ve forgotten the incident.
BW: So it was a case of one more trip but you said, ‘No.’
JW1: I bought these carpets while I was there.
JW2: That was much later.
JW1: Eh?
JW2: Yeah. That was much than that, dad.
JW1: Was it?
JW2: Yeah.
JW1: I thought it was from the Air Force?
JW2: No, no they weren’t.
JW1: Are you sure?
JW2: Yeah.
JW1: I’ve forgotten then.
BW: Your last operations were in early March 1944 and then you flew back in a Dakota by quite a circuitous route, by the look of it. You got lifts here there and everywhere through Egypt and then you went down to Bulawayo in Rhodesia.
JW1: Oh, yeah. Was I instructing there?
BW: It doesn’t say so but did you come an instructor after the war.
JW1: Afterwards yeah. For a bit until I was demobbed.
BW: And what do you recall about being demobbed? Were you happy the war was over?
JW1: I think I must have been but I don’t recollect much. Do you do many operations with people such as I?
BW: Yes.
JW1: And did as many aircraft, as many trips as I’ve done?
BW: Some have but not many because usually after thirty ops that was it. That was the end of their service but you went on to do forty-seven.
JW1: I did forty-seven trips? Amazing.
BW: In total.
JW1: Amazing.
BW: And were you ever injured at all during that time?
JW1: Sorry?
BW: Were you ever injured at all during that time?
JW1: No.
BW: You mentioned that you received some shrapnel in the face.
JW1: I don’t remember.
BW: At one point.
JW1: It’s gone out of my head.
BW: It must, it must not have been a serious injury. What happened after the war? Did you continue in the RAF?
JW1: Not really. I was chucked out. They didn’t want me then after the war. Well, I say they did but a group of them from the local squadron, er, knew who I was, you know, and I’ve forgotten anyway.
BW: Do you remember when you left the RAF?
JW1: No. What does it say there?
BW: Would it be about 1946?
JW1: ’46?
BW: Would it be about that or was it ’45?
JW1: Oh, forgotten.
BW: What did you [clears throat] what did you do when you returned home? Did you —
JW1: What job did I do?
BW: What — did you meet up with your girlfriend?
JW1: I’ve forgotten that even. What did I do when I came out of the Air Force?
JW2: Well you’d broken up with Cathleen McGraw because you were a Catholic and she wasn’t and it was, it was irreconcilable I think and you went to teacher, you went to teacher training.
JW1: Where at?
JW2: Strawberry Hill in Twickenham.
JW1: Where?
JW2: Strawberry Hill. Richmond was it?
JW1: Yeah.
JW2: And you met my mother when you were teacher training. You were in her classroom. You were an assist— you were learning how to be a teacher and she was already a teacher.
JW1: Where is she now? She’s not with us?
JW2: No. Its twelve years since —
JW1: How long since?
JW2: Twelve years.
JW1: Was it?
JW2: Mm. [background noises]
BW: [pause] Do you remember anything else from your teaching days?
JW1: Did I what?
BW: Do you remember anything from your teaching days? Did you back come up here to teach or did you stay down south in London.
JW1: What’s he say?
JW2: Well, you fell in love with my mum.
JW1: Where was she?
JW2: Well, she was down south and you decided to go, when everyone else was on rations, you decided to go and live in Rhodesia and you, you got married secretly in London. Your family didn’t know because you’d — it was complicated because you had broken up with your — someone who was still visiting your mother’s house and, um, you got married and then you went to live in Africa for five years, Rhodesia, and then you came back and had my brother John. And so after that you were teaching in Rhodesia, in Cyprus, Limassol, and Korea.
JW1: I’ve forgotten that.
JW2: That’s what you did.
JW1: Runcorn [?] before you retired.
JW1: That it?
BW: What do you, er, what do you think of the commemorations being given for Bomber Command?
JW1: What do I think about what?
BW: The commemoration, the remembrance that’s being given to Bomber Command now?
JW1: I don’t know. I think I went to one and I wasn’t allowed to — for some reason or other. The first one, early in the — I wasn’t allowed to join the rest of them because I, I was in civvies really. You know, to be in civvies, they wouldn’t acknowledge that, what we’ve been talking about now.
BW: So did they not mention Bomber Command? Was, were you sort of side-lined a little bit?
JW1: Yeah. They didn’t mention it. They were glad to see the last of me ‘cause I knew more about it than what they did, you know, being left in England.
BW: But what about the respect or the commemoration that’s being paid to veterans of Bomber Command now. How do you feel about that?
JW1: Never thought about it.
JW2: We went to it dad. Were went to the celebrations. A statue showing several airmen on the way back from ops looking tired and dejected and, and, um, exhausted that was unveiled and it was very powerful. We went up there when the Queen opened it at Bomber Command and we, the whole family went with you to that and you went, you went up to the statue. After all the fuss had gone down and we had a few, we had some beers at the area where we were, and then we went just to look at it when the crowds had gone down but the crowds were still there. And there were a lot of people asking for your autograph and they wanted you to shake hands with other veterans and lots of photographs were taken. I think you were surprised at all the fuss then as well. But there was a big campaign to, to, um, to acknowledge the role that Bomber Command played in the war because some people think you were ignored or that you were demonised. Bomber Command did not get a campaign medal.
JW1: No.
JW2: And it took till a few years ago for you to get a clasp.
JW1: I never got it.
JW2: I need to apply for it yet.
JW1: Eh?
JW2: You are entitled it and I need to apply for it for you.
JW1: You can have it if you get it.
JW2: Right, thank you. I’ve got it on tape now.
BW: It’s official. OK, well that’s all the questions I have for you and thanks to you Jenny for all your help.



Brian Wright, “Interview with Joseph Wilson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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