Interview with Maurice Bailey


Interview with Maurice Bailey


Maurice Bailey left school at fourteen and went to work in an engineering firm. Tells of how he always wanted to become a pilot, since he saw an aeroplane for the first time at school. After being discouraged from becoming a pilot by the RAF recruiters, he then trained for a flight engineering role. He flew twenty-seven operations with 227 Squadron at RAF Balderton. Describes his role and his duties as a flight engineer. Remembers carrying out an emergency landing with only two engines working. Flew his first operation to Gravenhorst on the 6th of November 1944 and his last operation on the 10th of April 1945 to Leipzig.




Temporal Coverage




00:48:44 audio recording


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ABaileyM170815, PBaileyM1701


DK: Do my best, right, so this is David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Maurice Bailey at his home on the fifth, is that fifteenth? Fifteenth of August 2017 with [unclear] Bailey. I’ll just put that down there.
MB: Yes.
DK: Just put that there, so, it’s catching you rather than me. If I keep looking down, I’m just making sure it’s working.
MB: Ok.
DK: Yes, I have been caught out when the batteries have suddenly stopped. Ok, so, what I want to ask you first, Maurice, what were you doing before the war?
MB: Very good question, you’ll have to bear with me because my memory’s not good. I left school at fourteen in those days, my mother and father were separated, I can vaguely remember my father and his name was William Bailey and I don’t know whether it was a result of that but although my name is Maurice, spelled MAURICE, I was always everywhere known as Bill, Bill Bailey, so everyone that you may talk to, at any time will always know me as Bill rather than Maurice and I left school at fourteen, I first went to work in a machine factory called Sylvesters and I worked on a circular saw, just for interest [laughs] first thing [unclear] I got my hand [unclear], I was damn lucky that I didn’t lose it but I spent some time, it was rather nasty, you know, it was months rather than days or weeks properly healing [unclear] before I could use my hand [clears throat] excuse me, fortunately my mother was a skilled nurse, and she used to insist on me doing hand exercises several times a day, you know, I’m quite sure it’s due to the mother’s insistence that my arm is quite normal now but when, as I grew older I was, I always remember I went to an ordinary school, [unclear] school, and one day the teacher called us all out into the playground and you must come out boys and look at this, that is known as an aeroplane, you know, I know it sounds silly but you never saw one in those days, I distinctly, I’m not begin dramatic about this, I distinctly remember and I would be, I don’t know how old, ten, probably somewhere like that and I said to one of my mates, one day I’m gonna be flying one of those, and of course they all laughed at me, you know, there’s nobody that comes to school like this will never get to fly, well, of course I went to work, I left school at fourteen years old
DK: Whereabouts was this that you went to school? Where was home this time?
MB: It, home was in, I remember distinctly 19 [unclear] road
DK: And which town was at this time?
MB: That was in the Potteries area
DK: Right.
MB: And there was
US: Was it Tunstall [unclear] Maurice?
MB: Yeah, I was gonna say, you may remember the landmarks as you drive on the main road, there’s Mow Cop, Mow Cop Castle but I was actually born on the other side, that would be south east of Mow Cop, at a place called Biddulph. I don’t remember [unclear] I was born and my mother, my father was a naughty lad, he used to drink a lot and I never met him until years later when I was older, you know and working but my mother had this habit of having, money was very tight, coins and she put things on the table [unclear] when the milkman comes and you know, sixpence for a loaf of bread or whatever and me father used to come apparently and take the top coins off each one so he could go out for a pint, he was not a very nice man and what’s that [unclear]?
US: [unclear] to it
MB: Oh, I can’t really see it very well, but anyway that was roughly how I was brought up as a young lad, my mother and father split up and my mother went to live with her parents, my grandfather, their names were Whitehurst and Arthur Whitehurst, my grandfather was I suppose what we now describe as an over the top Christian, damn was a naughty word, swearing, I distinctly remember him coming to me, there were fields opposite to where we lived and of course as young kids we’re always playing in the fields football and what have it, and I can’t remember exactly what I said but it was either buggar or bloody, you know and he stood and I can remember to this day now the horrified expression on his face, he said to me, I have never heard anybody in our language, in our family use such language, get in the house! And I wasn’t allowed out for, oh, a week or so after that and, you know, and I’d only said, either damn or buggar or something, I mean if you’d heard me later when I was in the RAF, for goodness’ sake, what he would have said! [laughs]
DK: Did you see, find the RAF a bit of a release from that [unclear]?
MB: Very much so, yeah. I mean
DK: Yeah. So, you’d seen this plane at school, was that, how did you then up in the RAF?
MB: I remember saying to my school chums
US: If you read that [unclear]
MB: Darling, I can’t see very well but it’s ok I can remember, I remember very clearly at school saying to my mates, when the aircraft came out over, in fact it was all new then that the teacher said quick boys and girls come out into the playground and look, there’s an aircraft going over and as I looked up [unclear] I don’t know what it was single engine thing and spoke to one of my mates and I can’t remember the actual words but they said something like, more or less, how they managed to keep up there without you know, falling out of the sky, I said yeah but one day I shall fly and they all laughed [unclear] school go up there and flying and I said, well, we’ll see
DK: So, how long after that was it that you then joined the RAF?
MB: Well, in those days you left school at fourteen and I must have been thirteen-ish, something like that and I went to work in the machine shop at a place called Sylvesters in Tunstall, which was the nearest town
DK: Yeah.
MB: And it was ok because I was working on machines, you know, which suited me, I mean, I liked, I was always dismantling things and reassembling them and that sort of thing
DK: Is that what made you, is that how you became a flight engineer?
MB: Oh, I think so, yes.
DK: Yeah.
MB: But I always remember this instance when we came out and the teacher said, that’s called an aeroplane, you know, and I turned to one of my mates and I said, I shall fly one of those one day, and they all laughed, [unclear] daft
DK: Ca you remember joining the RAF at seventeen?
MB: Yes, seventeen and a quarter I think I was something like that
DK: Did you go into the recruitment office?
MB: Yes, I went to, I can’t remember the exact words, I mean, I knew that I would be like everybody that was healthy called up anyway and I thought I ain’t going in the army or the navy, I’m going in the RAF and I want to fly
DK: So that was your reason for joining the RAF?
MB: Oh absolutely
DK: To avoid the army and navy
MB: OH yes!
DK: And hoped to fly
MB: Yes. And at that time, I must have been seventeen and I was working and as I said in an engineering firm called Sylvesters
DK: Do you remember much about the early training in the RAF?
MB: Oh yes, I can remember it clearly.
DK: Was there a lot of square bashing?
MB: Oh yes, a lot of that and
DK: Can you recall where your initial training took place?
MB: The squadron was at RAF Balderton,
DK: Alright.
MB: Where’s Valery? Oh, she’s gone. She’s very good, she got notes about this, it’ll come to me in a
DK: Yeah, yeah.
MB: Where did I go? It was in London when I joined up
DK: Was it at Lord’s Cricket Ground?
MB: It was near there
DK: Yeah, yeah.
MB: Yes.
DK: So it was Lord’s Cricket Ground initially?
MB: Yes, it was.
DK: Yeah, yeah.
MB: I’ve got notes of all this somewhere or Valery has, and I know it was, I think a three week’s course when you first joined up, literally to teach you to salute and march and stamp to attention and
DK: Right.
MB: If you’ll forgive the King’s English, all this bullshit, you know
DK: You did like that then, all the
MB: Oh no, nobody really but I mean, I was so keen on flying that I would have done anything, I would have stood on me hands for a couple of weeks just as long as I could get
DK: Can you recall how you became a flight engineer then?
MB: Yes. You went through a series of exams and tests, bear in mind that I came from, I was a very, very much a poor working-class family,
DK: Yeah, yeah.
MB: You know, there’s no, I couldn’t dress that one, no matter how I tried but having said that, I was so determined that I wanted to go flying and all my mates and the teachers said there is no one that comes from this sort of school and flies
DK: Can you recall what the training involved, to be a flight engineer?
MB: Yes, oh yes.
DK: What did you have to do?
MB: Well, first of all, there were certain tests when you went and joined up and said I want to be aircrew, what do you want to be? And of course everybody wanted to be a pilot, well, they said to me, you can’t be a pilot, you haven’t had a good enough education and there were various things and anyway they said, there’s a list longer than your arm of lads that all want to be pilots, you will never be a pilot.
DK: Did you never consider being an air gunner or
MB: Well, I, my next set of questions was well, what can I be? And they said, all the things that meant I would be ground staff and I said, I shall never join the RAF to be ground staff, I shall wait until I am conscripted and if it’s the army, it’s the army, and if it’s the navy, it’s the navy, if I can’t go in the Air Force flying, I don’t go in.
DK: So, you were very determined on that
MB: Absolutely.
DK: Yeah.
MB: In respect of my lovely wife, at that stage I used to use a lot of bad language and I emphasized it by using that, you can, I’ll leave it to your imagination
DK: So, can you remember the first time you got in an aircraft?
MB: Yes, I do, very clearly.
DK: Where was that then?
MB: That would be, well, let me just think through now, the squadron was at Balderton, I’ve got this written down somewhere
US: It’s in your hand
MB: Well, is this? Oh, [unclear].
DK: And it says, you went to the heavy conversion unit at Syerston.
MB: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
MB: Yes, it was before I went to Syerston, it’ll come to me
DK: So, yeah, ok.
MB: And but there was, when you joined up so to speak, there was a reception centre, everybody went there and it was there that you were categorised and I clearly remember they kept trying to push you into situations that they were short of gunners and so forth and then I’m sure you will forgive me but there was lots of bad language used in those days and I clearly remember saying I ain’t going to be an f-ing gunner or anything else, I’m going to fly and be a pilot and I remember this person saying to me, don’t speak to me like that, he says, otherwise you won’t be anything, I said, alright, I won’t be anything, I’ll go, and he laughed and called me up, you know, and he said, hang on, you can, you just calm down a bit, he said, there are several things that you can be and be trained in aircrew, and of course the first thing he said, is gunner, I said, I’m not going to be a gunner and I said, I’m not going to be a front gunner, a mid-upper gunner or a rear gunner, oh, he said, you seem to know a lot about aircraft, I said, I read nothing else but aircraft, that’s why I’m going to fly one and he thought a bit and he said, well, how good are you at maths? You know, and I said, well, you must have results, I’ve done the entrance test and he lifted it up and he said you’re quite good, I see, he said, well, there’s a possibility you could be a navigator but he said, I very much doubt it, he said, everyone wants to be a pilot, so he said, you won’t be a pilot, so I said, well, what else is there? He says, well, the next best thing up front, he says, there is the front gunner but the next thing is the flight engineer, he said, and that to me stands out, he said, because he said, you’d be an engineer [unclear]
DK: I’m just having a look at your logbook here and it says you did the flight engineering school at St Athans
MB: That’s right
DK: Yeah. With number 4 SOTT, School of Technical Training
MB: Yes, that’s correct
DK: And that was on the Lancasters there?
MB: It was, no it was mainly on
DK: On Stirlings
MB: Stirlings, yes.
DK: Yes.
MB: Yes.
DK: So,
MB: I know, I clearly remember the Lancaster landed, for some reason it must have been running short of fuel and I was that keen, you know, I was looking around it sort of thing and the skipper had gone back to it, something, some reason rather and he was a nice chap and he spoke to and he said, what do you been training for? You know, and I said, well, aircrew, I said, but they are trying to push all on to being gunners and he said, why don’t you consider applying to be a flight engineer?
DK: I’ll just embarrass you know, it’s got your examination results, flight engineer’s course, and you got 66.9 percent.
MB: Yes. Yes.
DK: And it’s stamped PASSED
MB: Yes.
DK: You passed that.
MB: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So that was 9th of August 19444.
MB: That’s about right, yes.
DK: So then you’ve got on to the Heavy Conversion Unit?
MB: Yes.
DK: And that was on Stirlings.
MB: Stirlings, that’s right.
DK: Yes. So what did you think of the Stirlings as an aeroplane?
MB: Not much. They were, most of them were radial engines and they were well known for being faulty, very seldom did any of them go on ops and come back with all four engines still running. And I remember thinking like, well, I’ve got to fly on one of those, I’ll fly on one because I want to fly and of course we were trained on Stirlings and I flew for a while on Stirlings.
DK: So, the aircraft didn’t give you much confidence.
MB: No.
DK: No. Were you busy then as a flight engineer on a Stirling? Did you have a lot to do?
MB: Oh yes, it was difficult because whereas in a Lanc, the Lancaster you were upfront whereas the pilot and the flight engineer and in fact and I don’t say this boastfully but the engineer, particularly if he knew what he was doing, did most of the flying.
DK: Yeah.
MB: You know, pilots usually, as was the case with my skipper, they were heavy drinkers and they would always go back and sit in the navigation compartment, the navigator could keep his eye on the course and all the rest of it, the engineer which in [unclear], would sit on the controls which would be in, what they call it when it’s all automatic?
DK: Yeah
MB: Anyway, it would be on automatic control
DK: Yeah, autopilot
MB: Autopilot, that’s right
DK: George,
MB: Auto, that’s right, yeah
DK: George’s the autopilot
MB: Yeah, that’s right, yeah,
DK: That’s it
MB: And the skipper used to, when he got to know me, I mean, was a long while before we became friends because he was an out and out snob, he came from a very wealthy family and he expected everybody to stand to attention and call him sir
DK: Shall I mention his name? Is it Flight [unclear] Mike
MB: Mike
DK: Aughton,
MB: Aughton, that’s right, he was a nice bloke actually
DK: That what we won’t record it [laughs]
MB: Yes, but I always remember
DK: Was there a big class difference then in the RAF?
MB: Oh, very much so
DK: Yeah
MB: Oh yes, I mean, I was very much working-class lad, you know, but Butch, the
US: Bomb aimer
DK: Bomb aimer
MB: The bomb aimer, you see, the pilot, bomb aimer and navigator were all trained very similarly, and they all had that same level of education and [unclear] if you like
DK: So were they a bit of clique?
MB: Very much so
DK: Yeah.
MB: And I mean it was very unusual for any of those three not to be a commissioned officer and for me to be upfront was the expression because as a flight engineer, you were really like a second pilot, for me to be upfront just as a, in that time, a flight sergeant I was and later on warrant officer, warrant officer heist non commission rank and it suited me fine because you were held in quite high esteem in the sergeant’s mess where we dined and I did my tour as catering officer, you know, in my off period, and the girls that did the cooking, I don’t mean this conceitedly but they took to like me because they knew I was an ordinary working-class lad and I used to live like a lord and I was offered a commission later on and I thought, no, I don’t pay any fees for this, I eat better than the officers, you know, so I am staying as a warrant officer, which I did,
DK: Just for the benefit of the recording, I’m just gonna read something from the logbook here, it says, after St Athans, you were at 1661 Conversion Unit
MB: Correct
DK: That’s with the Stirlings
MB: Yes
DK: And then you went to number 5 Lancaster Finishing School
MB: Correct
DK: So that’s where you first flew on the Lancaster at finishing school
MB: That’s right, yes
DK: Yeah. And that’s presumably where you met your pilot?
MB: That’s where we crewed up, yes
DK: Right. At number 5 Lancaster Finishing School
MB: Yes
DK: So, that’s where you first met Michael [unclear]
MB: Michael [unclear], yes, and
DK: And then after that, you then gone to 227 Squadron at Balderton
MB: That’s right. It was worth noting then that it was very clear that Mike, the skipper, he wanted all officers in his crew, he was a real snob and to me I think then I was a flight sergeant oh god, you know fancy having enough flight sergeant in your crew and particularly sitting upfront the second pilot and the bomb aimer Butch, he was quite unusual in those days, he actually had a car and he had a problem starting it and he came to me, they all called me Bill, and he said, Bill, he said, you used to work in a garage? And yeah, I said, yeah, he said, I’ve having trouble starting my car, he said, do you think you can give me some idea of what’s wrong with it? And of course, I went and had a look at it and I said, yeah, all the valves have had it, once, all the valves grinding, and you put on some new valves, God, he says, that’s gonna cost me a fortune, isn’t it? I said, no, I can do that for you [unclear], he said, what, you can actually take the [unclear]? You know he couldn’t believe it but in fact I ended up virtually stripping the engine, I put new bearings in, new valves, ground it all up and of course at the end of it he’d got a nice engine, a nice running car and wherever we went, you know, he used to tell the story about, oh, our engineer Bill [unclear] but so I made a good friend of Butch and I always remember, I don’t know what the situation was but Mike the skipper just wasn’t nice to me, he hated this idea of a non-commissioned bloke sitting upfront with him
DK: Was he a good pilot?
MB: Was very good, oh yeah, was very skilled, you didn’t get to fly on operations on the Lanc as a pilot unless you were really and if you did, and you weren’t very good, you didn’t last long
DK: So, how many operations did you actually do then?
US: Twenty-seven wasn’t it?
MB: Twenty, what?
US: You always told me it was twenty-seven.
MB: Twenty-seven, that’s’ right. Yes, twenty-seven operations.
DK: In your logbook here I think, it refers to what must be your first operation, the 6th of November 1944
MB: [unclear]
DK: To Gravenhorst?
MB: Ah, Gravenhorst
DK: Gravenhorst, I’ll just spell that for the record, GRAVENHORST
MB: Yes, that’s right
DK: Do you remember much about your first operation?
MB: Yeah, I don’t remember details but I remember feeling for the want of that expression excited I mean, bearing in mind we’ve done lots of training exercises and take offs and landings and my skipper, Mike [unclear], he’d never been anywhere but at school and university, he just wasn’t with it, you know, with one of the lads.
DK: So this was the whole crew’s first operation then?
MB: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
MB: Oh yes. And Butch the bomb aimer as I said had a car and I actually almost reconditioned the engine and of course as far as Butch was concerned
DK: You [unclear]
MB: I was brilliant
DK: So, what was it like flying at night? I mean, these are night operations so you’re being shot at and are they quite scary or?
MB: Yeah, but bear in mind, I mean, you are young and daft and that’s what you wanted to do but also you’re very, very busy and yeah I mean as a flight engineer particularly you couldn’t leave your situation, imagine the dashboard full of instruments and most, this sound very [unclear] but most people including engineers although they’d been trained as flight engineers they hadn’t had my background, I’d worked in garages and what [unclear] and I had stripped engines, there’s no problem and rebuilt them
Dk: So, your role is then to look after, make sure the engines are running properly
MB: Oh yes
DK: Presumably the fuel as well
MB: Oh yes, yeah, flight engineer is responsible for making sure that the engines, you know the settings for revs? Oh, my brain, I have an onset of Alzheimer, I have difficult remembering sometimes
DK: So you’re, you’re making sure the engines are running ok
MB: Absolutely
DK: Yeah
MB: And, you know, you can tell from temperature gauges
DK. Yeah, alright
MB: Oil pressures and whathaveye if things are working correctly and my skipper as an example had been trained on Halifaxes I think they were and the engines are quite different and he was quite used to operating plus two pounds of boosts, a Lancaster operates on plus four, after take-off when you are getting full power which is twenty pounds a boost you, when you know that your air speed is climbing even though your altitude is climbing, you can afford to throttle back and make the engines take it easy a bit, you know, some people bang the throttles open, you know, and they bugger the engines up in, you know, quite a few operations, where I very quickly got a reputation that our aircraft wanted very little doing to it rather than, you know, regular servicing and
DK: So, did your pilot put them on the wrong setting then?
MB: He hadn’t a clue, he was as thick as [unclear], he was really was, a nice bloke and the point that I am leading up to tell you, he wanted all commissioned officers and I was only a flight sergeant I think at that time and he went to the flight engineer leader whose name was Tuffy Coulston, I’ll never forget him, Tuffy couldn’t complete a sentence of more than about four or five words without the f word in it and when my skipper came to him and he said what flight engineers have you got that are commissioned officers? He said, you’re Aughton’s crew, aren’t you? He said, you’ve got Bill Bailey, haven’t you? He said, yes, that’s right, and I won’t use the actual word he used in respect on my wife, yes, what’s the matter with him? He said, you’re the world’s biggest, you can guess what, you’ve got the best engineer on the squadron, he said, do you realise that he had the first self-service garage in the UK and he opened his own repair shop in a property which he actually built himself, which I did. He said, and he was the only bloke that ever made that service station work at a profit because everybody used to come to fill up the petrol so they could book in to be serviced at his garage
DK: Just taking you back a little bit, when you used to take-off, did you actually have to do anything to help the pilot?
MB: Oh yes, yeah
DK: What did you, what was your role then?
MB: Well, in a Lancaster, the pilot, I’m sitting at the controls now
DK: Yeah
MB: And the pilot’s on my left, here, slightly higher than me with the joystick as we called it
DK: Yeah
MB: In the middle are the throttles, [unclear] levers, [unclear] levers
DK: Yeah
MB: And all the dials that tell you the temperature changing and the four engines of course, so you’ve got four of everything, temperature, boost control
DK: Yeah
MB: Oil pressure and all that sort of thing and what, unless you’d been properly trained or I mean as in my own case, I’d been working as an engineer before I went in the RAF, you’ve got to know what you were doing to know what all those readings meant and if one engine was showing high temperatures, low oil pressure, you know, there’s problems
DK: Did you ever loose an engine?
MB: Oh yes, yes, getting back
DK: And what would you do? You had to shut it down
MB: Feather it, you called it, yeah, turn the propellers in line of flight so that it stopped revolving and
DK: Did that happen on a number of occasions?
MB: Yes, the worst of all was fortunately we were at a very high altitude over twenty thousand feet, I can’t remember exactly, if I looked at my logbook I’d probably remember the actual operation and we really got hammered, you know, and I knew that we’d been hit in two of the engines, both outer port and starboard outer engines, but I didn’t, we called it feather them, you know, stop them, yeah, feathering means turning into line of flight to stop the propellers revolving. I kept them running, watching the temperature and oil pressure and everything until we got out of the target area and then I shut them down
DK: So you were flying on two engines then
MB. Flying on two and then the third one packed up and it looked very much it was going to be a case of bail out and by that time, I mean, my skipper had been, he simply didn’t like me, he was a snob and he wanted all commissioned officers, you see and I said to him, if you want to get back alive, you know, those two outer engines have got to be feathered, the port inner, which was one of the remaining engines, is the next one to pack up, so go easy on it, but whatever we’ve got to do is keep your altitude as high as you possibly can until you get in [unclear] to stalling and then let it slowly, nose down which will help the speed you see. Which we did and of course we got back.
DK: So, you must have covered some distance then on the [unclear]
MB: Oh yes, I mean, I thought we would have been very fortunate if we didn’t have to do a crash landing in the fields somewhere.
DK: Did you get back to Balderton or?
MB: We got back to our own base, yes.
DK: Got back to your own base.
MB: And in fact, I’ve thought about this many, many times, I told the skipper, by that time, he’d got used to the idea that at least engineering wise I did know what I was talking about, I said, look, keep the altitude as high as you can, obviously you’ve got to keep the nose down to keep your airspeed to that situation that we were under control but try your best so that when we come in to land, I’ll start the other inner engine up but be aware it will pack up, if you’re not very, very careful but at least then with a bit of luck we’ll be able to land on two engines. I said we’ve got to, we’ve already called up, you know, an emergency landing and that meant instead of going on the circuit, you made right for the landing point and they stopped all other aircraft and you just went in and I can’t remember, I think it was Balderton where we landed but I can’t be sure, that I was able to calculate because that was my job, you know, that would be very, very fortunate
DK: Can you recall what it was that damaged the engines? Was it
MB: Oh, we’d been hit
DK: By flak
MB: Oh yes, yeah. And in most incidents the real problem is if, first if the cooling goes and you can’t keep it cool not by any other means then that means the oil pressure rises that means [unclear] so the engines will cease up and we were down to two engines then and I said to the skipper, keep the height, by that time at least he would listen to me, maintain your altitude, level and speed, you’ve got to keep speed enough to keep airborne obviously but don’t be tempted to let the nose go down to get your speed up because you’re gonna need it otherwise we crashed and you will need the altitude in order to bail out once we’re under our own, over our own territory, I mean you can’t bail out over less than two thousand feet
DK: No
MB: And so it was a dodgy thing, I mean, they, the bomb aimer Frank was doing his calculations we are just about keeping off altitude that we can bail out and he was all for bailing out, Frank [unclear] aircraft’s no good, that’s when you please yourself I’d rather walk out.
DK: Did the pilot give you the option to bail out or?
MB: Oh no.
DK: No, you stick with it.
MB: No. By that time the skipper was more [unclear] to me, at first he wanted all commissioned officers and everybody else, he was a snob
DK: Did he thank you when you got back?
MB: Not, no, they never did, not in so many words, no, but I think he said words like you did a good job there, Bill, you know, but we did alright really but I mean I always remember after you’re so busy you don’t think, we came in on a, we called up and went for emergency landing to wherever it was and that meant you don’t join the circuit you’re navigator plots a course which brings you right on to the entrance to the landing spot so that you’re all in line with the runway loosing altitude all the time and we’ve all thought you know we’re gonna go in far too low, we ‘re not gonna make it, we’ll land in a field or something, anyway at last we saw the airfield and we were on the right course we’d got a damn good navigator, Len and I said to skipper you gotta take your chance now, I’ll open the last engine, you know, try and climb and then if one packs up, at least you can put your nose down and keep the airspeed and it didn’t pack up but, you know, we went
DK: Looking back on that operation, do you think you were quite lucky?
MB: Oh, very much.
DK: Yeah
MB: [unclear] as soon as we got to the UK coast bailed out, but we didn’t, we landed
DK: Do you think that was the worst incident that happened to you?
MB: Oh, to me? Yeah, definitely.
DK: Yeah. Can you recall ever being attacked by any German fighters?
MB: Oh yes, many times. Well, so many times, probably eight or nine times.
DK: So, what happened when the German fighters were attacking?
MB: Well, you’ve got, the bomb aimer is also, he operates the front gun
DK: Yeah
MB: Which is not much good because I mean obviously at the front, if an aircraft comes to attack you from the front our speed would be something like one seventy, the fighter would be at least two hundred so there is a closing speed of nearly four hundred miles an hour you know they’re gone whereas if they’re on your tail which is very dangerous they can keep out of sight till the last minute, keep a slight [unclear] just dive down on you, quick [mimics machine gun fire] and you’ve had it. But we got good gunners, mid-upper and rear
DK: So how did you avoid being attacked then?
MB: Well, there was a point at which, you see, when you are, when gunners are shooting, I think it was every fourth or fifth bullet that came out, is
DK: Tracer
MB: Tracer, so you can see it, you see and you can aim better by following where your tracer’s going but the trick was avoid the temptation to shoot unless you’d got something to shoot at and you’re pretty sure you might hit it you know
DK: Was that to avoid drawing attention to yourself then?
MB: Oh yes, as soon as you started using those guns other aircraft I mean, German aircraft could lock on to you, if they got no tracers and no nothing apart from only perhaps glowing from your engines at the back they’ve got nothing to lock on to, you know, and your best bet was where they would expect you to dive would be to roll and climb, they’d be rolling the opposite way and diving on you so then, you know, there would be a separation speed of anything up to six hundred miles an hour, you’re gone before the chance to turn round and find you or they’d find some other poor soul
DK: So these emergency roles did the pilot do this quite often whne [unclear] being attacked?
MB: Oh yes, yes.
DK: So he’d take the orders from the gunners to roll the aircraft
MB: Yes, yes.
DK: And was it part of your role to also look out for fighter or
MB: Yes, yes
DK: So, can you recall ever actually seeing any?
MB: Oh, very, very often I mean but I did actual operational flights you normally did thirty in a tour I did twenty seven and [unclear] looking back, and this is not being dramatic, you know, I mean, looking back I was very fortunate I would say out of twenty odd flights, at least ten of them were very, very fortunate that we got back but in fact we got back every time, except the last one, I mean, literally when we landed, the aircraft fell to pieces.
DK: Is this from Leipzig?
MB: I think it was
DK: Yeah, your last operation here, I just read this out, it was the tenth of April, that would be 1945
MB: That’s right
DK: So, it was to Leipzig
MB: Leipzig, that’s it.
DK: So, this was your twenty seventh operation
MB: Yes
DK: So, did something go wrong then?
MB: Well, go wrong, yes, I mean, engines were overheating, I mean, we lost far too much of what you should ask of Merlin engines you know, I think, two had packed up altogether and we’d been flying on one gradually losing altitude which was ok we were back over the UK then and we’d, the navigator worked out that we would be down to about two thousand feet which would put us on the circuit and we could ask for emergency landing and go straight in on the what we called funnel the approach to the
DK: Do you know, can you recall now why you didn’t do the thirty operations, it was just twenty-seven? Cause you didn’t fly after that.
MB: Yeah, it was close to the end of the war.
DK: You simply because the war ended.
MB: Yeah. Well, almost but I mean, it was regarded, I mean, they had an attitude or a system where, they knew the war was going to end within weeks, days sort of thing and the blokes that had done [unclear] over fifteen operational flights must have done a lot of training and were very experienced and it wasn’t fair, some of the new boys had done very little, they could take a few risks and we could take it easy, so, I mean, it was unusual, I had done [unclear] twenty seven and it was unusual that I was still on operations
DK: So, all these years later, looking back on your time in Bomber Command, how do you feel about it now?
MB: I wouldn’t go flying
DK. Really?
MB: Oh no, very, very, I mean, anybody that did more than about ten or fifteen ops and was still alive was very, very lucky, and I’m talking numbers, I mean, there was lots of us that did survive obviously, but there’s a lot more that didn’t. I mean and you got quite, sound horrible, we used to say, when you landed, are we all in lad whoever was doing the, forget what’s it called, the counting effectively, and they’d say, yes, it’s just two more but we know one of them coming back because they’d had some message roll that was going down and they did say things like who was that? I always remember this one, Frank Butcher, oh I never like, excuse me darling, never did like that bastard, you know
DK: Yeah
MB: But we didn’t mean it, that’s the way we spoke
US: It was a way of kind of hardening yourself I think
MB: Yes
US: Against the reality
MB: Yeah.
US: Because you’d know that it could be you the next time
MB: Oh absolutely. Yes, I, I mean the lads, my lads were then other colleagues that flew, not just our air folks, they’d come in and everybody knew me as Bill, Bill Bailey, how many ops have you done Bill? And I’d say like towards the end, twenty-five, twenty six, whatever it was, oh, you are as good as bloody dead, mate, you know, can I have your, you know, your best blue uniform? Can I, you know, that was the way they used to joke, you see, we never thought [unclear] about it.
DK: Did you stay in touch with your crew after the war?
MB: For a short time, but not for long, there was one, I think that was Butch wasn’t it? did I meet him when I knew you?
US: We met them at the RAF Balderton [unclear]
MB: Oh, that’s right, yes,
US: Not Butch
MB: No, it was one of
US: His son and grandson we met
MB: Grandson, that’s right, yes. But it was at that time when Valery was just referring to I suddenly realised, you know, just how fortunate I was, you know
US: Say as well Maurice, you’ve always told me that when you had two friends and you joined up together although they went in different squadrons, you were the only one out of you three who came back
MB: Out of the three, yes
DK: So there was three of you, all friends and the other two died
MB: The other two got killed, yeah.
DK: Ok, I’ll stop you there, I’m conscious we’ve been going for a little while and well fifty minutes but thanks very much for that, that’s
MB: Pleasure



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Maurice Bailey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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