Interview with Bill Harvey


Interview with Bill Harvey


Bill Harvey was working in the mines before volunteering for the RAF. He knew that as a miner he was in a Reserved Occupation and he would only be able to leave the mine if he was to volunteer for aircrew. He was accepted and began his training. Rather than do the crewing up in the traditional way he was posted to RAF Lossiemouth to replace a gunner on a crew which was already established. When Bill was not back in camp on one occasion when an op was planned he was disciplined by being sent to the Corrections unit at Sheffield. After he had served that time he returned to the crew and to operational flying. When they returned from their last operation Bill describes the relief of surviving to being like having a cloak taken from his shoulders. After his operations he was posted back to Lossiemouth where he trained French aircrew. On one occasion he had the experience of having to rescue one his trainees who actually slipped and put his foot through the aircraft.







01:28:29 audio recording


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AHarveyW180802, PHarveyW1801


SP: So, this is Susanne Pescott and I’m interviewing Bill Harvey today who was an air gunner with 640 Squadron and we’re interviewing for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive. We’re at Bill’s home and it’s the 2nd of August 2018. So first of all thank you Bill for agreeing to talk to me today. So Bill do you want to tell me a little about your time before you joined the RAF?
BH: Well, if I go back to when I was six or seven was the first time I saw an aeroplane. It was a biplane. The aeroplane circus came to Broomhill which were two mile off my home and I were really interested. From then when I was fourteen I started working in mines. Mining. It were being in the mining district there were no other sort of work. And when I got to be sixteen I was put on, the war were beginning to look like coming in 1938 and I was put on regular nights under the mine looking after all the machinery. And that wasn’t nice for a lad at sixteen to be on the nights and sometimes I had to work weekends as well. Then when the war did break out I was seventeen. When I got to be eighteen I went to join up and they wouldn’t let me join because I were a miner. They told me no. Come back when I were twenty one. So when I became twenty one I was still on regular nights Darfield main colliery. And I actually made a friend, an office lad, an underground office lad and he were getting a bit fed up. [Irving Baldy?] and we both joined up together at Barnsley because they’d only let us join aircrew. No other because we couldn’t go in the Army, we couldn’t go in the Navy, we couldn’t go in the Air Force to be ground staff. It had to be air crew. Not knowing what aircrew were like then we said we’d take it. We went for a weekend in Doncaster to be interviewed, to be examined and have a medical. We had to stop overnight. I failed the first interview, blowing mercury up and doings. And me wanting to get into aircrew I blew it up and held my tongue there. So they failed me for holding me tongue there. So I begged and prayed them to let me go and do it again. Where they were doing the examination were on the third floor of a new building. A court building at Doncaster. And I had to go down to the bottom floor, run up to the third, blow it up and hold it for thirty seconds and did it ever [pause] I don’t know how I managed it but I did it. I passed all the exams, arithmetic and everything else, and I thought this’ll be funny this if I go to, if I’m not eligible to get into aircrew which were Royal Air Force then. So we both passed it. Went home. They’ve given us a number, us Air Force number 1595171. You never forget it. Irving got his letter first after a month to go. I were a bit peeved because I hadn’t got one and he’d been in three weeks. They wouldn’t let us go together. With us being mates and pals they wouldn’t let us. No way were they going to let us be together through the war. And I got my papers three week after to go to Lord’s Cricket Ground and that’s where we started being in the Royal Air Force. We spent a week there in a big hotel St John’s Wood. Then we went to Shropshire. Spent, I think it were about four week there. Three or four week. We were sent then to Bridlington. In Bridlington they must have thought we were illiterate or something. It were like going school. And then when I found out a lot of people at that time couldn’t read and write were going in aircrew. We spent a few weeks there, and we were posted up to different gunnery schools and I were posted up to Dalcross just outside Inverness. And [pause] that’s where I remember it very well because if you wanted to go at night in to Inverness and you missed the last bus home it were a seven mile walk. I missed the last bus once and then I had to peel spuds for a week which weren’t very nice. Then we passed Gunnery School. They gave us the stripes and sent home on leave. We were supposed then to wait for a letter to go to a crewing school to be crewed up with other people. You had to go to this place, a big hangar and you had to find out who you’d like to fly with. But for some unknown reason I got a letter to go up to Lossiemouth and meet a crew up there that had already crewed up at one of these places and they’d been together a fortnight. And somehow or other mid-upper gunner couldn’t, he couldn’t mix with them so they took him out and I took his place. So I had no chance then to pick my crew. Although good luck and what have you we really gelled. There were six of us but there were only one turret so although we won’t fly one would be in the rear turret and the other would be messing about with the front gun because it were a Wellington. That’s how we, we went from there to Acaster Malbis at York for a fortnight because somehow or another there were that many crews finishing and all ready for going on to squadrons that somehow or other there were a bit of a backup. So we did a fortnight at Acaster Malbis. Then we were sent to Riccall, Heavy Conversion Unit and we weren’t very happy because they were the old type Halifax. They were the really clapped out Halifaxes. You were lucky if you got off the ground with it. But we did a lot of training on it and then we were there about four week. We were sent then to Leconfield, 640 Squadron and that’s when we were introduced to [pause] we used to have a name for it. Where you could see people that that had been there a fair while not smiling and walking around not smiling and we were a crew that were always really happy and smiling together. Our first trip were to bomb an airfield in France, and we didn’t know what we were going to get. Lucky for us there were ten tenths cloud and we got a recall. We circled the target a little bit and then we were recalled home. That were our introduction to being on a squadron. Our first, second trip [pause] I’ve got it. Our second trip was to Soesterberg. Same distance in France somewhere we think it were. We bombed that no trouble. No problem. And then we did two trips. One to Le Havre where the Germans were holding out. So that were like us first four trips were easy. Then we moved towards, when we went into crew room to briefing still laughing. Not knowing what it would be like really to be on a real bombing trip. We went to Scholven, Ruhr Valley and we could hear people, some of the crews, some of the old crews that had been there before calling it Death Valley, Happy Valley. All sorts of names. And we kept wondering why? Why? And then that’s when we realised why they were losing a lot of crew. It weren’t very nice to be shot at. When we came back we were due for six days leave. Yes. When you went to a squadron and you walked through that gate you were on duty for six solid weeks. The only time you got out was if the weather was bad and you were stood down and you weren’t going to do any flying. Then you could probably get two or three hours to go in to a village if there were any one near or anything like that. But after six weeks, you got six days leave to recuperate from that six weeks. And in them six days I got married. So then I took the wife back. She insisted she were going back with me so I found her some lodgings about five mile out of Beverley. That meant like I was going from Leconfield through Beverley for four or five miles on a bike. And they weren’t very light them army bikes. And so after a fortnight I just got fed up with it and packed her off back home. It were no good. It were taking a toll. In other words I weren’t doing my job right. I were tending to miss things as we were flying which I shouldn’t do. An air gunner, his job was to look after the plane and get it back safely and I didn’t think I was doing a good job. That’s why I sent her back home. And through then we went on then different trips. Some bad. Some good. There were always anti-aircraft bods. It were frightening. I don’t think anybody that flew wasn’t frightened on some trips it was so bad. You wondered. If it hadn’t have been for the fact that the gunners had something to do looking out for enemy aeroplanes, you didn’t bother with the flak. You just didn’t want to miss if there had been any aeroplanes. Then after about a third way through a trip you realised when you’re over the target there would be no enemy aeroplanes because they wouldn’t be flying through their own flak. So really you could just settle down through the bombing run and coming out the other side of the flak. Then you started working again. You daren’t [pause] there were times when we came out of debriefing room, there were times you’d think oh God, how about tonight? Sometimes you did have to. On our thirteenth trip, Oostkapelle must have been the easiest run. The easiest trip we could have. We were going to lead 640 Squadron in. We were the front aeroplane. We were going to bomb from four thousand feet because that was the cloud base. But at four thousand feet we were still flying in cloud so Bill the pilot decided to come down under cloud so he could see what we were doing. Three thousand feet we were still in cloud. Well, my [trouble], but next thing there was such a big bang and I thought that it were enemy aircraft and I’m looking around for enemy aircraft. They were so that they hit starboard outer and we were going down and Bill the pilot was screaming, ‘Dinghy. Dinghy.’ That meant we were going in to the sea. So I looked down and I just lowered my seat to get out of the turret when I felt it level off. And then I heard Bill say, ‘We’ve got it.’ So him and the bomb aimer must between them must have rectified it. So I pulled my seat back up, stopped where I were still looking for enemy aircraft. Still not knowing that it were the guns. Then we decided, some people, I think we were about a thousand feet off the sea. Everything were quite plain, so we decided as a crew we’d go around again because we’d still got the bombs on board. And we went around again after Bill had got us back to about two thousand feet and there were only us left there and they were firing at us with their rifles and all sorts. You could see them. But me and Reg hadn’t swung his, because Bill were having trouble keeping the aeroplane, keeping it level and everything. So we both put us guns aft. We didn’t, we didn’t shoot anything. We just faced off and left it at that. We were still looking for enemy aircraft. Then when I looked over the side and saw they were firing all sorts at us. Then all of a sudden they seemed to scatter when Arthur opened his bomb bay. So they’d an idea that we were going to drop us bombs somewhere which we did. We dropped them bang on target. And as you dropped them and Arthur shouted, ‘Bombs away,’ Bill swung the aircraft around, not waiting to take the photograph, although a photograph were taken but it were taken on another part of the island because all of us tilted over, it had gone over. That were our thirteenth trip. Never to be forgotten. Then we’d next morning we were called to the briefing room. We were going to the self same place again but we were using a different aircraft. Z-Zebra were being repaired. And it was like a Sunday morning trip. So quiet. And then we got to know a fortnight after that that the army went in and we captured it. So that, that were us thirteenth and after that everything [pause] the next raid I remember very clearly were Julich. Julich. 16th of November. A daylight raid. It was a big raid. I think it were a railway. Germany were sending their troops to the front line. We had to try and destroy it. We were down to go in the fourth wave and as we were going in we had two dog legs to go when the first wave were going through. And in the distance I could see them going through and it were a box barrage. The first time I’d ever seen a clear box barrage and they were taking a hammering. They were really shooting one or two down. And I said to Bill, ‘Bill, look at that lot over there.’ And we’d still two dog legs to go to come on our bombing run. He said, ‘Oh, they might have run out of ammunition by the time we get there.’ I said, ‘Bill, we’re in the bottom layer. Don’t you think it would be nice if we crawled up to the top layer?’ And he said, ‘We can’t do that Rosey.’ He called me Rosey because there were two Bills. He said, ‘We can’t do that because the photograph has to be taken at nineteen thousand feet.’ And that were the bottom layer. And I remember very clearly on our bombing run looking up. There were a Lanc above us with the bomb bay doors open and it’s not nice looking at them. And we were on our bombing run so he was on the bombing run. I asked Bill to move over. He looked up. He said, ‘Oh God.’ He did move over. The next thing the Lanc let it’s bombs go and Bill said, ‘You’re right. It’s got bombs.’ We were that near. We were that close. So we got away with it again. Then after that the further we went into the Germany the longer we were in the air. Tiring. After that we got seasoned to all the flak and everything. Then on our last trip [pause] when we landed on our last trip which were to Homberg no problem. No trouble. Although I think if I look in the reference book then maybe they did lose some. But when we landed we got out of [pause] We had ‘chutes and everything. We got out of the aeroplane and knowing it were our last trip it were like a cloak running off my shoulders. Nobody could tell what it were like. Nobody could feel. They can’t explain what that feeling were like but it was just as though somebody had took a cloak and you’re free. That were my last trip. And then I went on leave. And I got a letter to go back up to Lossiemouth as an instructor for some French crews, and I couldn’t talk a damned word of French. So I thought I’d done flying but I did another month flying with French crews which were happy enough. We weren’t getting shot at and drinking plenty of French wine which were a happy end to my flying. I never flew no more when I left Lossiemouth. And after that I went on two courses before I realised that Sylvia, my wife were pregnant. So being a miner I were able to take what they called a Class B Release. And I took Class B Release and came home just in time for Christmas. In fact, I was took off records. Put on reserved records until the 7th of January or when I left. 1946 were when I left the RAF and went back into the mine. I stayed there for about eighteen year. Then I were offered a job in glass container industry. I didn’t think there were another life other than mining. It changed my life altogether because there was, after I’d been there twelve month they were short of somebody to be secretary for the Union branch and they asked me if I’d do it. So therefore I did that. And then after three year there I became chairman at Yorkshire glass container industry. Then after that I were asked to do National Joint Industrial Council Member which I took for four year which meant travelling all over England attending different glassworks, sitting on dispute committees, safety committees. Never being at home. Not seeing the wife as much. I think I saw the wife more in wartime than what I did in work time, I’ll never forget. She were working. I were working. We’d two lads. I were getting called out at night regular. So I went to see a landlord in a little boozer down Wombwell, and he said I could use that as an office from 9 o’clock ‘til closing time. And that became my office for at least eight year where anybody in trouble at work and other works could phone me and not disturb the wife. So then we ended up happy. And I retired when I was sixty two. It weren’t doing my health any good travelling up and down and going to disputes and safety committees. They were taking a lot of time up so I retired and I never, I’ve now been retired thirty two year and still feel fit. When I retired I did a bit of golfing but it weren’t too heavy so I bought some Crown Green woods, and I played Crown Green Bowling up to being ninety two in competitions winning different cups and shields. And I would still do it today if I could get on [laughs] which when I go with my son on holiday the first thing he does is look for a Crown Green Bowling Green and we go and have an hour. And so that’s the end and I don’t know what’s, I lost Sylvia two years back. So, we’d been married seventy one year. Three months short of seventy two so I think we’d had a good life. So that’s my story.
BH: It's a wonderful story Bill and there’s so much detail in there.
SP: Hmmn?
BH: There’s so much detail in there and you talk about Sylvia and you married her during the war. How did you actually meet?
SP: Well, funny enough I were walking out with her cousin. And we weren’t courting, we were just walking out because her father worked at the same place as me and I’d known her. We got an invitation to Sylvia’s seventeenth birthday and her cousin were only seventeen. So we went and somehow or another her cousin decided to go home. She weren’t feeling well. So I ended up going for a drink that night and I partnered Sylvia and that’s how we got together. She were working on Lancasters at Bradford. She were working, I think it were at Leeds Airport or somewhere making Lancasters. When I told her I were joining up she weren’t very dead keen. I didn’t have to go but I could only go in aircrew which I’ve mentioned before. So there must have been, every aircrew man was a volunteer. Didn’t have to go. Didn’t have to do it. Didn’t have to go on a trip. If you said you weren’t going to go on a trip they couldn’t put you on a plane. They couldn’t do ought. But and that comes the trouble. They were put on, no matter how many trips they’d done. You could have done two tours and on your third tour and you said you didn’t feel like going again they’d put lack of moral fibre, LMF on your records. Which to me weren’t very nice. So, but I’m digressing back to the Air Force again and I shouldn’t do that. We, I came out, me and Sylvia and we were married while I were in the Air Force. We lived with her mother and dad for two year before we got a council house. We didn’t have any money so we had to rent one. They were all, nobody had money to buy them in them days although they weren’t very dear. But from being fourteen I’d always been a staunch Labour man and I’d been to Union schools from being sixteen. And when I looked back I can understand why they put me on regular nights. Keep me out of trouble because in them days lads down, young lads down the pit going down at fourteen didn’t have anybody looking after them and I learned a lot to do with the Union rules and regulations so that I could look after a lot of the lads at Darfield Main. Even when I come back in to the mine from the Air Force I still took it up. Union work. And I think that’s why I were offered a job in the glass industry. So I could use my Union skills. And actually funnily enough it were a company employee, one of the men that recommended I had this job. So we got on very well. So that’s what I’ve done with my life. Looking after other people. When I retired I joined the British Legion. I became chairman of the local branch. Then when we decided they were going to have a 640 Association I became chairman of that because nobody wanted, knew how to carry on. And from being chairman we were losing that many members. Secretaries. I became secretary and I used to write a lot of newsletters. I used to write newsletters. Send them all over. Canada. All over. And now I don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t do any gardening. I’ve always been a gardener. I love gardening. I find it very difficult now which is understandable at my age. So, I don’t think there’s much more I can tell you. You can ask your questions now.
SP: Just going back to your crewing up do you want to tell me a little bit about who your crew were? So you crew up. You crewed up at Lossiemouth, didn’t you? You were sent up there to join an established crew already.
BH: Yeah.
SP: Do you want to tell me who your crew were? Were they, you know different nationalities on it?
BH: Our pilot Bill Goodrum. He came from Middlesbrough. His father were a master builder so Bill were really in the building trade. Bomb aimer came from Sheffield. He were in the steel industry. Wireless op came from Edinburgh.
SP: What was he called? What was his name?
BH: Bob. Bob came from Edinburgh. Bob. Larry was the youngest of the crew. He came from Brighton. Reg actually lived in Beverley. Couldn’t believe it when we were sent to 640 Squadron. Leconfield is only just outside Beverley. Which were good for us all because if we got two hour spare we always went down to Reg’s mother for a pot of tea. And then I came from Barnsley. A miner. Then last one to join the crew at Riccall were the engineer, and I think he came from Bury but we never got to know really. So, that were, but he was the last to join. Engineer. We didn’t pick the engineer up while we got to the Heavy Conversion Unit. He seemed a nice lad. We were all ok together, no problem, but very rarely did we go out as a crew. Bill were a sergeant when we arrived. We were all sergeants really when we arrived at Leconfield and when we left Leconfield at the end of March in ’45 he were a flight lieui. So that were really quick but we know why. He used to volunteer for all jobs flying. That meant we were volunteering as well because we had to fly with him. So we did more practice bombing than anybody else on the squadron and that’s why he became a flight lieui so fast. We think. Bob, the wireless op. You could, if you went in a boozer he’d be in but he’d be playing snooker. He were a very good snooker player. Larry was the navigator. Were tall. Very long hair. He were always finding us a place to go he’d been invited to. If they got some daughters we were invited to a party as a crew. That’s the only time we ever went together. Reg were always at, if he’d two or three hours he was always down at home. He had two sisters and they were always inviting us but we could never. Really there were only two or three times we went and had a party there. If we were stood down, at Reg’s mother’s, if we were stood down at any time we would all go to Reg’s mother’s. We were happy enough. But we never seemed to find time to go a lot down into Beverley because it was me and Reg were always studying aircraft. Even if, if we were nothing to do, if we come back off a [unclear] at night two or three hours in bed. Then we’d go down to the gunnery office and start looking at any new aircraft that had come out. So really it paid off for me and Reg. Oh, I can honestly say that me and Reg never fired us guns in anger. Daytime Bill always kept a flight plan and we always seemed to be in the middle. On a, in a daylight raid was the only time you ever saw how many aircraft were going. And the aircraft, there’d be two hundred in each wave. If it were a big raid there’d be two hundred or so. All supposed to go through this little box. But when, when you were going there seemed to be aircraft three miles wide. The sky were full of aircraft, but it were three miles wide and you used to think how on earth are we all going to get to the exact same target. It made you wonder at times what, what you were really doing. But I think that’s why we came through. We kept a flight plan. Some of them you could see them they come out of the bomb run, spend the thirty seconds taking the photographs, then you’d see them bank over and start diving and going away as fast as they can to get back home. To be the first for egg and bacon I suppose. But it was always them that were being shot. Damaged. Of course if you saw a dogfight and they were trying to get to one aircraft there’d be three trying to get at that aircraft. But there were some silly devil that had to get off the flightpath, trying to take shortcuts and he would pay the price. So on a night if you fired your guns you were telling other aircraft where you were. You were telling the enemy where you were. I remember on one trip we’d had a bashing with the flak and we were coming back. We were talking about, still me and Reg were looking around and I said, ‘Look over here at 2 o’clock on starboard, Reg.’ ‘Oh,’ he says. I said, ‘We might have been hit. And he couldn’t have been, in the dark we could see him plainly. 109. And he flew with us for about ten minutes. We didn’t mention it to Bill, the pilot. He thought it had gone so we didn’t mention it. And we weren’t talking about it, me and Reg we were just watching him. The next thing he just went. Just banked over and gone. But he still didn’t know. When we got back we had a talk about it, me and Reg. We didn’t fire because if we had fired at him he’d probably some mates at the other side that would have wanted to know where the aircraft were and we would have been giving our position away. So actually you didn’t. You only had to fire your guns if you were being attacked. And if you were doing things right you didn’t get attacked. If you were moving your turret up and down they could see that you were awake. If you weren’t moving your guns up and down they’d an idea you were asleep. So that’s I think how we got through thirty eight trips although I only did thirty four. I did three week or [unclear] they call it. Anyhow, I got myself in trouble. Put it that way. I can’t say big words or I’ll lose my teeth. I got myself in trouble. It was when I’d just got married and we were supposed to be on our honeymoon and we were stood down while 12 o’clock. We’d been to Le Havre in the morning. Came back. We hadn’t dropped us bombs and we were stood down while 12 o’clock. And it were a daylight raid so I got my bicycle to here. You know what it is when you’re first married. And at half past 8 at night I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to get off back.’ I had to be back for 12 o’clock. And it were really cloudy. I thought well, they’ll not be going tonight. I’ll go back about 4 o’clock in the morning,’ which I did. When I comes through Beverley on my bike really going like the clappers I could hear aeroplane’s engines. My heart missed a beat. They were getting ready to go to Le Havre again. And I was cycling. Couldn’t get through the gate but I knew where there were an opening because I knew where all the ports where you could get in, and I went in and I went straight around to, to where Z-Zebra were. Bill give me a rollicking. I said, ‘Well, I’ll go as I am.’ He said, ‘No. We’ve got a mid-upper. Mid-upper’s going.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll swap places with him.’ He said, ‘No. You can’t.’ He said, ‘Go back and see the CO.’ So I went back and saw the CO and he sent me to Sheffield Correction Centre for three week. And they cut all my hair off. I had some lovely long hair which all aircrew did. You did. Nobody bothered about aircrew. How they were dressed to go. I don’t know, because you might not come back off of any trip. I mean they were losing actually three out of every five who were getting either killed or injured or prisoner of war. So I did three week there. Everything they did were honoured except Sunday parade where I did two Sunday parades. And you had to be smart. And there were some bad lads there. Really, really bad lads. Someone asked me what I did. And I had to take all my kit bags. Five. All my flying clothes and everything. I couldn’t leave them at Leconfield. When I got on the train to Sheffield and I got to Sheffield I phoned them up at Dalton, that’s where it were, to send transport down. I got another rollicking and if I weren’t up there in half an hour I’d get another week tacked on to my three weeks. But I were lucky. I got a taxi driver to take me up and he didn’t take no money off me. It were a good job because I didn’t have any. That were why, that’s why I missed four trips.
SP: And did the crew take you straight back into the crew? There wasn’t any risk of the mid-upper staying.
BH: Well, when I went back I were really the fittest man on the squadron, and I went straight back the day after on a trip so there were no problem. The crew didn’t mentioned it. They didn’t mention it. They never mentioned it to me. It’s something I didn’t forget but I never did ought wrong again while I was in the Air Force. Never.
SP: Did you keep in touch with the crew after the war? Did you stay —
BH: Well, the only person after the war [pause] Goodrum. Bill Goodrum, pilot. I went up for a, me and Sylvia went to his, his mother and dad invited us for the weekend up there and we went up for a weekend. And then I got Bill’s number. He got married. I went up. Visited him at the house he’d built. And after that every New Year at 2 o’clock in the morning he’d phone me. That were my birthday to wish me a happy birthday. As drunk as a lord he were. He must have been drunk to phone me up at two in the morning. So we kept in touch that way. And then in nineteen, the early 1980s my youngest brother bought a caravan but he bought it without the knowledge that he’d got to tow it, and he didn’t have a licence. He didn’t even have a car. So I had to take it to a site at Bridlington. So, I knew where Reg lived because I’d visited him about four year after we’d left Leconfield. So I knew where he lived. So when I dropped the caravan off in Brid I came back that way through Beverley and called to see Reg. I don’t think he knew me at first. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘It’s Rosey. Come in.’ They’d been to Elvington that day. It was a Sunday. They’d been to Elvington and he were telling me they were going to be rebuilding a Halifax there. And somebody were trying to start a 640 Squadron Association, he said, ‘But I’d like us all to be first.’ But he didn’t know that Larry had passed away about two year before I met him again. And funnily enough Larry had phoned me at work. He’d stayed in the Royal Air Force and he’d made himself chief navigator at Cranwell. Yeah, it were Cranwell, and he came out and the only job he could get were working at Folkestone. Control, controlling people at them that searches them and that, and he didn’t like it. I said, ‘Well, I’m here.’ I said, ‘I can get you a job here,’ because then I were working at [unclear] and travelling about. I said, ‘If you want to come up here you could get a house up here.’ So, ‘I’ve got a house here. I said the only thing I said is, ‘I can get you a job at the glass industry, no worry.’ He said, ‘I don’t want that.’ And then after I spoke to him, I didn’t phone him again. I’d got his number and his address and the next thing his wife rang me and said he’d passed away. So I said, ‘Well, when’s the funeral?’ She said, ‘Oh, we’ve had the funeral.’ It was nice to tell me. So anyway a bit after that a squadron leader, he’d retired, he were a teacher at one of the schools about two mile up the road at Darfield, and he called. He said Larry were his lecturer, his chief while he were in the Air Force. And Larry was only a flight lieui and he were a squadron leader. But Larry was the boss of navigators and this squadron leader were on when they were dropping the first atomic bomb. He were on it, this squadron leader and he were telling me about Larry and everything. So I have to go out. So anyway we got to know and he called a time or two telling me about what Larry and done and you know how good he were. So I kept in touch with his wife. Well, Sylvia did. And then I got a message from Reg, the rear gunner. He’d like us all to meet but how do we get on one another. I said, ‘Well, leave it with me.’ So then, where I had my office down Wombwell, when I were working for the Union there was a chap there worked in the Post Office. He were the chief of the telephones. So I mentioned it to him like. We all wanted to get. He said, ‘Do you know where they live?’ I said, ‘Oh aye.’ So I told them where they lived. He said, ‘Names?’ And the next thing I were talking to everybody and it were the holiday period so then we arranged us own meeting. All together except for Larry. He’d gone. He’d died. They didn’t know. We met up at Middlesbrough. And the next time we met then were at 640 Squadron Association at Elvington. We all met there again. Larry had stayed in the Air Force. Bob had stayed in the Air Force. Bill, because he were a pilot and he wanted to do a little bit of private, he joined the ATC training youngsters at Stockport and he did all the flying for them. Piloting. Nobody else had a chance when Bill were there with being a flight lieui he were their gaffer. So he got that. And Reg had gone back plumbing. He were a plumber. He got back plumbing. Arthur had gone back into the steelworks. I think he were working in the offices. Frank had gone to live in Australia, or he’d told us he’d gone to live in Australia. He bought a house in Australia. He brought his family up in Australia. Then they all decided to come back to England for a holiday and when they got back to England they stopped in England and started all over again in Barrow. So really, and then that’s how we all kept together, and I kept in touch with them all. I used to go down to [unclear] where Arthur lived, the bomb aimer, nearly every month to see him. And these past few years, well these past four year I’ve been going down to Eastbourne to see Bob because that’s where he’d gone to live and he wasn’t very well. In fact he passed away twelve month back. They’ve all passed away now. He were the last before me. There’s only me left of the crew. I went to Bill’s funeral, I went to Arthur’s funeral, I went to Bob’s, and I went to [pause] I can remember, but I can’t remember the names. Reg. The only funeral I didn’t go to were Larry’s and I couldn’t go to that because they didn’t let me know. So somehow I would have got there. It meant travelling.
SP: But you did stay together quite, after you re-met.
BH: No.
SP: The reunion quite, after in 1980 when you got together.
BH: Yeah. When we got together.
SP: You were still quite in touch. Yeah.
BH: That was when we first all got together again.
SP: Yeah.
BH: And, yeah, you know all rear gunners. For reunions though. Reg had passed away. Bob, Bob, he went to a few. We went to a few. Not many. Frank went to a few. Not many. Me, Arthur the bomb aimer and Bill, the pilot always went to them. At one period Bill were secretary, I were chairman and Arthur were treasurer. Nobody wanted to do it so I we said like we would do it. Well, Bill did. He thought it were [unclear] again. I said, ‘Bill, we’ve got a life to live as well.’ And then when it come to writing letters, newsletters that fell to me again. And it fell to me to have them printed which I did. I found a person to print all newsletters in Rawmarsh. In a printing firm. He were very good about it. He would sort it all out. I’d give him all the gen. He sorted it all out. Had it printed. Put it in the envelopes and he’d only take cost price for it. So all we had to do was pay postage.
SP: Is the Association still an active one? Is 640 Squadron Association still going?
BH: No.
SP: No. It’s finished then.
BH: No. ’99. I think it were 1999. There weren’t many of us left then. There were only about twenty turning up at Associations. Arthur wanted to pack it in. Bill had died. I were doing secretary job. I were actually doing the chairman’s job as well. Nobody wanted to do that but we got one where we coerced one bloke to sit in there in chair and I would pass him what to do. And so it were left like Arthur said, we said to him like, ‘I’m not going to have this job next year.’ So I told the meeting. We were having the meeting in Garrison Church in Beverley and I said we need somebody. I had an idea that Kevin, my youngest son and his wife would have run it but I couldn’t say, ‘Kevin and Beryl will run it for us,’ because they were in Sheffield visiting their daughter. They go twice a year there and spend a lot of time there. When they come back I explained it to them and they said, ‘Well, we would have run it, dad.’ I said, ‘Well, I couldn’t very well tell the meeting,’ I said. So we decided that there were that many passing, passing away that it wouldn’t be viable. And we had a bit of money because people were, kept sending money in and we were very careful and I were looking around to get the cheapest thing I could. Like the only postage were letters. I mean I were writing letters. He would only, Beresford’s they called the printer he were doing it cost price. And oh, I wrote to [pause] well the chap that started the Association he wanted a letter writing to the brewery. We were having this big meeting at [pause] We were unveiling a stall in the church yard in Beverley and he wanted a letter writing to John Smith’s Brewery. They got some money from there. The he wrote in to an insurance firm and they wrote back, “We’re building houses. Not knocking them down. You can’t have anything.” So you know I were really active all the time. All the time I’ve been retired I’ve been active.
SP: Yeah.
BH: Probably that’s why I’m living a long time. I don’t know. But —
SP: So we —
BH: You know, people, I’ve lived in this street all us married live. We used to live in one of those houses across the road. I’ve always lived in a council house because when I came out the Air Force although we were both working the wages weren’t very big. We didn’t have the money to buy a house so we were grateful to the council were they to build us one. When it came that Margaret Thatcher said you can buy them Sylvia knew my thoughts. These houses were built for people that couldn’t afford to buy and we’re not going to take it off the market. In a way it’s paid off because if we’d have bought it, Sylvia had only been retired five year when she really started being ill. She wasn’t seventy when she were ill. Started being ill. Really ill. So that meant —
SP: Yeah.
BH: It meant then we were both retired. We’d got a caravan. We bought the caravan when we retired. A new one. We’d had one. We’d been camping at first and then we bought this caravan to go. We liked touring Scotland. She did. We were always up Scotland, and we bought this new one. I think we only used to twice when she started being ill. So that meant I had to look after her. And we, we started applying for things for her. We couldn’t have them. We were too, we’d too much money in the bank. That were, you know. And I said, ‘Well, that’s no good.’ I was still in the Labour Party. Still a member, and I started talking to some of the councillors which I knew nearly them all with going to meetings and that. And they were telling me and giving me advice. So when it got too much for me and she became then, she had to have oxygen in the house so there were oxygen pipes running all over and I still, we didn’t have nobody to give me a hand and I applied again for some help. And I still didn’t. We were refused. So I went to the monthly meeting and I met a councillor there and I were explaining to him how we were getting refused, you know. He said, ‘Leave it with me, Bill,’ he said, ‘I’ll write a letter myself and put it in.’ And a week after a doctor called. Not our own doctor. Another doctor to see Sylvia for this application for her allowance because they gave an allowance you know and he let me read it. I thought, well it looks no different to what I wrote, but there were a little bit at the bottom that were different to what I’d put in. In fact, it were telling the honest truth, you know. She were really poorly, and so this doctor came and saw her. He said, ‘Oh aye.’ So she got carers allowance. Top care allowance. But we also got back pay for twelve month from the first time. So then we, I could have, I applied for a stairlift. I applied for everything for her but we had to buy them. There was too much money in the bank. So I said we’d better start spending some. So, you know, so we did but we always had to buy stuff to look after Sylvia. She passed away two years back.
[recording paused]
SP: So just going back a little bit Bill. You said you did training in Lossiemouth.
BH: Yeah.
SP: During the war. Do you want to tell me a little bit about that? What life was like at Lossiemouth and the training that you did there?
BH: French.
SP: You trained the French didn’t you? Yeah.
BH: French crews.
SP: Yeah.
BH: Well, we were still, for a period we were still using Wellingtons. I think for the first week. And French crews. One goes to Wellingtons. Of course, Wellington bomber you couldn’t just simply get up and walk down to the rear turret. You had to walk on a plank which was about a width of a square four paper. Not many. So you had to be careful. You had to hang on to the sides as you walking down to the rear turret. The first week. Oh dear. I don’t know whether they’d had too much wine or what. You were taking four at a time up and one in the rear turret and three down, sat down the front and we were changing from the first one to the second. We were changing them over and it were after lunch anyway. He came from the rear turret. Of course they couldn’t pass to go to the front and I was taking the second one back and I thought he looked all right to me. And he went with his leg through. One leg went over the plank and somehow or other he went through because it were like a funny shape. His leg went through so there we got him out anyway, two of us. I went down first and got on top from the other side and one of the other Frenchmen. There was one who could talk English. Every time I went up there was always one that could talk English. Yeah. We insisted on that. And we got him out. The pilot said, ‘Well, we’d best go back.’ I said, ‘Well, we’re not using oxygen. We don’t need oxygen. We’re not high enough. What’s the use? Let him go up and sit down because he’s scratched his leg and God knows what.’ I said, ‘One’s been injured. There’s only two more. We’re not going to be a long time.’ And after that when we got back we reported it to the CO didn’t like it. Otherwise I should have been more careful. I said, ‘It weren’t me.’ I mean how could I tell him? You know. I didn’t know he were drunk. Anyway, the week after we went on to the Halifax. No problem then. And we could take then I think it were eight at a time so we were up longer and there were no problem. Just swapping over and interpreter with the other one. He were always flying. Poor bugger. I don’t know. The only one who could talk English, so he went up every time we did and I said in the morning and I said in the afternoon, you know. I knew he were getting fed up. And then at the end of the month they did their course. And they didn’t know what to do with me. They sent me down to Abingdon. And I were at Abingdon about a fortnight. I came back up to Wheaton on a course but I think it were to, really to look after some [pause] there were some new entrants were on this course. They didn’t know what to do with them so they put them on this course. It were learning them to be stock taker, warehousemen. So they said like I had to learn warehouse. I said, ‘I don’t want a warehouse job.’ But I had to go. But I finished up being in charge of this hut. There were about twenty of them. But I was still going on the course with them. Anyway, after about six week on the course we were finished. I know I failed. I didn’t want to be warehouse. I mean it was easy enough. Instead of just filling three forms in you filled four forms in. If you were on four you did three. You know. So then they changed. All them that were in that hut went on leave. I don’t know how many there were. They all went on leave and I’m looking around for my ticket to go on leave. I weren’t getting one and there were an officer there, aircrew and he was in charge. I was in charge of [unclear] and he was in charge of the [unclear] I said, ‘Well, give me a weekend pass then.’, ‘I can’t,’ he said, ‘There’s another lot coming in.’ I said, ‘I’m not going on a course. I’m not going on a warehouse course,’ I said, ‘I’m digging my heels in.’ So I want to see the adjutant.’ What adjutant? He wouldn’t let me see the CO.’ I explained it to him. I said, ‘I’ve just been on a course and all I were doing were looking after that hut,’ I said, ‘And it’s not fair.’ He said, ‘Well, forget about it.’ He said, ‘That course that’s going in is going on a driving course. You can go on that.’ I were going to blurt out I can drive because I’ve been able to drive from being sixteen. I’ve had, I had a licence at sixteen before I went in the Air Force. Besides working in the pit I were doing some spare driving. Because all drivers were in the army and at sixteen and a half you could drive providing you got Ls on your vehicle but nobody at the side of you. You could drive with your learners. So I were leading like before. In 1939 I was FSO to different parts of villages around here. [unclear] you know, really in my spare time. So anyway that’s how I went on this course. There were twenty more lads coming and I had to march them up to this big hangar go across the main road and it were like the other side of the main road. It were in Wheaton itself. A big hangar and there must have been three hundred cars in there. BSM Motoring School. That’s what it said on. And I told the main instructor, ‘There’s twenty lads here and me.’ He says, ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a note,’ so he says, ‘We’re splitting you up into threes.’ So me, I could already drive like but I wanted to be first in this car, and I got in. I think we’d only gone three miles when he said, ‘Hey, stop,’ and these two at the back couldn’t drive and he said, ‘You can drive.’ So I had to say, ‘Yeah. I’ve got a licence. A learner’s licence but it had run out with being in the Air Force. So he said, ‘But you can drive, can’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Well, you sit in the back and the other two can learn.’ So then I spent, they were in cars for the first month and I was sat in the back of this car with my feet up. No worries, except taking them there and bringing them back. Then when it were a different. They went on to lorries. Big lorries. So I said, ‘Oh, I’m not going to sit in the back again. No way.’ So I told the bloke in charge like, I said, ‘I can’t drive a big lorry. Never have done.’ So I learned that role. I went that road. So when I came out they gave me licence to drive everything. Drove rollers, motorbikes, everything. There you are. I said, ‘All I’ve been on is lorries and cars.’ ‘Oh, that don’t matter. Take it.’ So when I got my first licence I had all these things on. Anyway, I went on this course and when it finished I decided then, oh I got to know Sylvia were pregnant at the end of the course. So I went again to see the adjutant. He were a nice bloke. You could always get in to see him. I told him I fancied taking visa leave. Told him why. ‘Oh, that ain’t a problem. Go on your leave first, because if we start now he says they’ll not get you seven days leave.’ He said ‘Go on your leave first and then come back and see me again.’ So then I went on leave and that were ok. Came back. Went to see him. That were October. And a fortnight, or a week before Christmas, that were it, a week before Christmas I had to go down to Uxbridge. Demob. [unclear] off my back. All I had to give them were my overcoat. I had to give my flying kit. Just my overcoat. That’s all they wanted. Everything else they said you can keep. So I kept all my stuff and come home with this suit. And then when I looked at my paybook it said my pay finished on the 7th of January. So I were back working the week after. I just went down to the colliery and that was it. I got it. I were put on nights again.
[recording paused]
Early doors. If you know Brid there’s a big hall at the bottom and then there were this big hotel across the road and there were only officers used to go in there. And I met up with two lads, two Scots lads. We were billeted. All Air Force had took over Brid then. Every boarding house had been taken over because there were that many aircrew there. Me and these two lads for a bit of fun like we marched into this hotel and everything went quiet when we walked in. They served us. No problem there but everybody were looking at us. All the officers were looking at us all the time. So we never said a word. Just talking about different things together and we just drunk up but when we were coming out we got a squadron leader who stopped us at the door. He said, ‘You know, airmen don’t come in here.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Well, they just don’t come.’ He said, ‘You’re the first that have been here for months.’ He said, ‘But we’re not telling you to stop out but you don’t come in.’ That’s all he said to us [unclear] Now, that were officers, you know. And then at the end of the war, we weren’t there [pause] We’d left, left for the end of the war, there were no more war. Good. They tell me in the sergeants mess they put a rope across for regular sergeants, flight sergeants, warrant officers on that side and aircrew on this side. I said, ‘Well, it was a damned good job we weren’t there then, you know.’ I couldn’t believe it but that’s what they said they did. Yet again when, I’m sure they called it Georgian Corner or Square at Beverley we had a room there for every crew finishing the tour and the one to have a night out which every crew did and give the ground crew that had looked after their plane a good night could go and take over that room. You know. Have beer at beer cost price. So I remember when we went we took our ground crew. I think it were about 6 o’clock in the morning when we all trooped out really. From 6 o’clock the night before and the beer kept flowing and flowing. But then we were all young. You know what I mean? I remember that one very well. You know.
SP: Well, Bill thanks very much for sharing your stories with us today. There’s been some really detailed stories there. That’s been fantastic.
BH: Yeah.
SP: So I really appreciate your time on that. So on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive we want to thank you for taking part today.
BH: Well, this I could just, I don’t, I’ve no crew mates left so I’ve nobody like to visit, or you know. I used to like to go to Canada and visit that museum which, I mean, I think it took ten year it took them to rebuild that one.
SP: You’re pointing at the Halifax picture. The one they’ve repainted, err the one they repaired that came out of the —
BH: And they’ve no mid-upper turret if you look.
SP: Yeah.
BH: [unclear]



Susanne Pescott, “Interview with Bill Harvey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 13, 2024,

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