Interview with Bert Turner

Title

Interview with Bert Turner

Description

Bert Turner was a member of the Air Training Corps before the war. He volunteered for the Air Force and was called up 2 August 1942. After training he became a flight engineer with 196 Squadron. He flew some bombing and mine laying operations before the squadron was transferred to Transport Command. He remembers dropping supplies to the Special Operations Executive and paratroopers on D-Day. His Stirling was hit by anti-aircraft fire on a supply drop over France but they managed to return to England. He was later shot down by Fw 190s over Holland. His rear gunner was killed he describes how they were attacked while on their parachutes. He was wounded in the ankle by shrapnel. He evaded and met up with Allied troops. After returning to operations after a lengthy convalescence, he was shot down a second time by a Me 262 over Germany. He discusses the role of the flight engineer on Stirlings. When Bert returned to London he decided he was so close he would go and visit his father not knowing that he had received the telegram saying he was missing presumed killed. When he saw his son he thought he was a ghost and passed out.

Creator

Date

2018-08-29

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:23:36 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

ATurnerHA180829, PTurnerHA1801

Transcription

MH: We’re now running. So, we just had Bert, thank you for giving your time up and also to Peter for giving his time up as well. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command. The interviewer is Martyn Hordern, that’s me. The interviewee is Herbert Turner. The interview is taking place at the Tri-Services and Veteran’s Support Centre, Hassell Street, Newcastle, Staffordshire. Also present is Peter Batkin, a friend of Bert. The date is the 29th of August 2018. So, we’ve obviously just, when we’ve asked you Peter, Bert sorry that your date of birth was the 23rd of December 1923. Where were you born?
BT: London.
MH: Whereabouts in London?
BT: 99 Ledbury Road, Paddington.
MH: Paddington.
BT: I think it’s Paddington. I wouldn’t be sure.
MH: No.
BT: It’s either Paddington or Kensington.
MH: What sort of family did you come from? A large family, a small family?
BT: Mum and dad and six kids.
MH: And where did you —
BT: I was the youngest but one.
MH: Right. I’m just opening my bottle of water of here so apologies for the fizz. Had your dad served in the First World War?
BT: Yes, he was in the RAF, in the RFC.
MH: Right.
BT: As it was then. I found a photograph the other night of my dad in his tropical kit for the Dardanelles.
MH: Right. So he’d served at Gallipoli.
BT: Hmmn?
MH: In Gallipoli. The Dardanelles. Wasn’t it Gallipoli, yeah?
BT: Ahum.
MH: James, dad was in Gallipoli as well.
BT: He, yeah, my dad and his three brothers fought in the First World War.
MH: So, what was life like growing up in the 1920s in London?
BT: We were alright. We probably, practically lived in Kensington Gardens and the parks and that. And they say, they say it was the hungry years. I didn’t know. I never went hungry. We always had something on the table. Mum was main cook and that was it. We, I went to school at St Stephens in Paddington. Did all my schooling there from the time I was three ‘til I was fourteen. Then I got a, I started work. I worked at Lyons in Cadby Hall, as an office lad. I didn’t like that. Went to McVities Biscuit factory and I finished up in the London Co -op as a delivery boy until I joined up.
MH: So —
BT: And that —
MH: At that point you were you were sort of like as I say a young teenager just before the war started.
BT: Yeah. Well, we in the Scouts and the Cubs and then I transferred to the ATC. 46F Squadron in Kensington. I’m trying to think. It must have been what? Nineteen 1940, 1939 I suppose, I joined the ATC. Of course, we went all through the blitz. But as, as I remember it all I ever wanted to do was fly. That was the be all and end all. I mean Ball and Mannock and all of those, they were my heroes and —
MH: And where did that come from. Do you know that?
BT: I’ve no idea because nobody [laugh] nobody else in the family wanted it but my my idea was I wanted to go straight in to the Air Force as a lad. A boy. And my mum wasn’t having that. Only rogues and vagabonds were served, went in the Services.
MH: What was your dad’s view having served in the First War?
BT: Dad never, dad never argued with mum. They were both short, small people. Mum was just under five foot and dad was just over five foot. About five foot two. But only slight people. Very. But I can’t remember them falling out. They never fell out in front of us.
MH: No.
BT: I’m not saying they didn’t fall out but —
MH: So so you mentioned —
BT: A pretty, a pretty average sort of life.
MH: Yeah.
BT: It was a family and that was it.
MH: How did, how did the Blitz affect you because obviously you were in London and it’s 1940?
BT: Not a, not a lot. We used to go, we used to go out fire watching at the shop in Barlby Road. We were, we used to go messaging with the ARP and that sort of thing. But it never seemed to, I know it sounds ridiculous but it didn’t seem to affect life.
MH: No.
BT: It, life went on.
MH: Yeah. But you could see the after affects I assume of the raids.
BT: You’d get up in the morning and there had been a bomb here or a bomb there sort of thing and you saw different things I mean, like toilets hanging on a wall and that sort of thing. It seemed remarkable. But my, my life just seemed to carry on sort of thing until I was seventeen and a half and then I went to Acton and volunteered. And mother wasn’t very pleased about that. ‘You’ll go quick enough but —’ she said, ‘They’ll send for you quick enough.’
MH: Yeah.
BT: I said, ‘Yes, but I want to go in the Air Force, mum.’ So, that was it.
MH: Did she have to sign you in at that age or were you old enough to sign yourself?
BT: No. I signed myself in [pause] and mother didn’t speak to me for ages. She didn’t, didn’t want to know. We’d already got, I’d already got two brothers in. One in the Air Force and one in the Army and mum said that was enough. But I said, ‘It’s got to come mum. I’ve got to go.’ So that was it.
MH: And the truth be told you wanted to go though.
BT: I wanted to go. Yes. Oh yes, I was. I thought it was going to be all over before I had my chance. But I went to Acton and volunteered and I had to go to Oxford for three days for, you know I don’t know what they called it, an interview with, and exams. And they told me I could go in as a flight mech and [pause] I could study to be a pilot if I wanted. Fair enough. And they called me up on August the 2nd 1942. I went to, from [pause] went to Penarth for seven days where they kitted us out. And from Penarth we went to Blackpool where I did my square bashing and, in civvy digs. We were there ‘til December I think it was and we marched out to Halton in December ’42.
MH: And that’s when you went to a, to a squadron then, did you?
BT: No. No. That was, that was training school.
MH: Right.
BT: I started my flight mech’s course and they put a notice up on orders. They wanted flight engineers. So we, a lot of us volunteered and we had to go down to London for our medicals and I was accepted. And about February we were posted to St Athans in Wales where we did our flight engineer’s course. And [pause] we had a funny experience there. We were all out on the, not the outside the hangars where the school was for a NAAFI break and all at once somebody says, about four or five hundred blokes stood around and all at once somebody shouted, ‘Jerry.’ And everybody drops to the ground and looked and three, three German aircraft flew across. The only thing was they were wearing RAF roundels [laughs] They were captured aircraft. But that was amusing. And then it was 1943, mother died while I was at St Athan and that was a blow. We [pause] we didn’t get over that. But I finished up, I passed out at St Athan. I think I got about sixty five, seventy percent. It was a pass anyhow through and I got my tapes and my brevet. We moved from St Athan to 1657 Con Unit at Stradishall, just outside Newmarket and while I was there I crewed up and met my crew, Mark Azouz, John Greenwell, Leo Hartman, John McQuiggan, Teddy Roper, Pete Findlay and myself. And we started flying Stirling 1s and we did our day circuits and bumps. Started night circuits and bumps. And we did a couple of circuits and bumps with the instructors on board and the skipper screened, turned around, he said, ‘I’m getting out,’ he said. ‘You take it around for one yourself and put it to bed.’ And my instructor said, ‘If he’s getting out I’m getting out. You’re on your own.’ [laughs] I thought fair enough. Off we went. Undercarriage up and away we went. Anyhow, skipper said, ‘Undercarriage down.’ And the undercarriage wouldn’t play.
MH: And this was the first time you’d flown solo as a crew.
BT: Yes. So well, we did all we could think of which I don’t suppose there was much. Told them downstairs that we were having trouble with the undercart. Anyhow, we eventually, we had to try to wind it down by hand. We got one leg down but we couldn’t get the other one. So, we got one leg down and that was tighter. They decided that we were going to have to land at Waterbeach. Then halfway to Waterbeach they decided the best thing was to land it on Newmarket Race Course. So, skipper put her down on Newmarket Race Course.
MH: And you got the one leg back up again.
BT: One leg up and one we, they managed, we managed to break the lock on the starboard, no, port, port leg and the skipper took her in and we landed and I think she was, she was a mess. And we all got out and climbed out and we were all standing on one of them rings and the ambulance driver came up and looked at us and he counted us and he turned around and, ‘What, nobody hurt?’ And we, nobody had a scratch so that was it. And then we were called in the flight office the next day and wingco was very annoyed. He told us we’d broken his aeroplane. That was, that was the end of that. Anyhow, we got away with it and we finished up we were posted to 90 Squadron at Tuddenham just before Christmas and we did, I don’t know, it was six or seven trips. We did a mine laying to Sylt, Kiel and that sort of thing and then at the time they were busy bombing the French factories for the Doodlebugs and that. And we did a couple of them. And then they posted us away to Tarrant Rushton to go glider towing and para dropping. We went [pause] we went to Tarrant Rushton, we were only there for oh, a couple of weeks, a couple of three weeks as I remember it. It doesn’t, doesn’t gel very easily but I don’t think we operated from there. We, we took over Keevil from the Americans in around about March ’44 and we were glider towing and doing supply drops in France for the SOE.
MH: What sort of stuff were you taking over to the SOE? Did you know what you were taking?
BT: No. No. It was all in canisters or baskets or anything. Occasionally we would have a couple of bods we’d take over. SAS people initially. A lot of them were Poles.
MH: Were there, was those trips quiet trips or —
BT: Sometimes, it was but we did [pause] D-Day came up and they decided that we’d got to, all aircrew had got to fly with sidearms so they issued us all with .38 pistols and you can imagine nineteen, twenty year old kids playing cowboys and Indians. But we woke up one morning and went out to an aircraft and they’d painted the white stripes for the invasion. That was, all came as such a surprise that nobody knew anything about it until it was done. But the mechs were standing on the wings painting these blooming white stripes with brooms. Then D-Day came up. We were ready to go on the 5th. But no. We were ready to go on the 4th and it was cancelled. And then they gave the order that we were going on the 5th and we took the paratroops over D-Day on the, we took off on the 5th you know.
MH: Yeah.
BT: Early morning to —
MH: What planes were you flying then?
BT: I beg —
MH: What planes were you flying then?
BT: Stirling 4s. Yeah. We took twenty paratroops over, dropped them off and that was it.
MH: What was that like that you were flying across then?
BT: Do you know, do you know Peter will tell you, I’ve said this so many times before. It was one of the quietest trips I remember.
MH: No flak. No —
BT: We, we saw barely anything. It, it surprised, it, it sounds ridiculous when you first say it but as far as I was, we were concerned it was one of the quietest of our trips.
MH: And the paratroopers. Do you remember what —
BT: The paratroops went in.
MH: What battalion were they from?
BT: Hmmn?
MH: Do you remember what battalion they were from or [pause] Do you remember what —
BT: No. No. No. No, we didn’t have a lot to do with them. Chatted to them and all this, that and the other, you know.
MH: British I assume.
BT: Yes. Yes. It, it was just another trip. And then we did a trip to France and a delivery for the SOE. Arms and whatever and we got there and when you went on these SOE things all you were looking for is five bonfires and we found it. And when we got there Jerry was waiting for us and it got nasty. First, we went in, dropped what we got, came out of it. There was a light flak gun busy after us but we got away with it and he never touched us and we flew in and checked for a hang up. Well, on a Stirling there’s a step and it’s across along the width of the bomb bay and the bomb bay on a Stirling is three different sections. That’s why it can’t take big bombs. And in this step there was three little glass windows only about the size of a tin. You know, a pea tin top and you held a torch against one end and someone looked at the other and if they could see the torch you hadn’t got, the light, you’d got no hang-ups. If they couldn’t you’d got a hang-up. And we had three hang-ups of containers.
MH: Just hadn’t been released from their old —
BT: They hadn’t dropped. So it was skipper turned around and said, ‘Well, they never touched us that time. We’ll take them back.’ Which thinking about it afterwards was a stupid idea but we didn’t think about that at the time and I said, ‘Well, somebody will have to give me a hand.’ I said, ‘Two of them I can drop myself but the other one’s the other end of the aircraft.’ So, ‘Well, McGuigan can drop the other one.’ So, fair enough. And when you drop them you just pull a bolt back and they drop. But they drop without a parachute. A parachute won’t open for some reason. I don’t know why. So anyhow, skipper goes and we go around and just as Leo said, ‘Drop them,’ dropped a, Jerry hit us and he put the starboard outer out of action, damaged the starboard inner and peppered us a bit. None of us were touched. Fair enough. We came out but the skipper shouted for me and I went up and he turned around and said, ‘The starboard outer won’t feather.’ I said, ‘Well, use the —’ [pause] he said, ‘The starboard’s running out.’ ‘Feather it.’ He said, ‘It won’t feather.’ I said, ‘Oh.’ So I said, ‘Get Pete out of his turret,’ because the torque on the prop on the starboard outer could possibly take the rear tail up. The fin and rudder. So we got Pete out of his turret and just as we got Pete out the props flew off somewhere over France and we flew back. We landed, landed at a place called Colerne just outside Bath. And they were, they were surprised to see us naturally so, but they were flying Mosquitoes and Spitfires. And I remember the CO there turned around and very unpolitely, turned round at the skipper and said, ‘I don’t know whether you’re a fool or a hero bringing this abortion in here.’ But anyhow the skipper got a DFC for it and we went back to Keevil.
MH: What, what was it like? You’ve had, you said your early flights were fairly sort of just dropping mines and that. I take it you’d never been really shot at had you in those first flights before you did your —
BT: Oh, we’d been shot at but not as badly if you know. It was just part of the —
MH: Yeah.
BT: Somehow or another it [pause] it didn’t seem to be a part of the equation that you got [pause] I don’t know why.
MH: And, and so and then you go to drop these supplies off and you go back round again.
BT: Yeah.
MH: And then you get hit.
BT: My point, thinking about it afterwards it was supposed to be a secret mission [laughs] Well, Jerry’s there shooting at you. These blokes have got to pick, down there have got to pick these containers up and they’re not light by any manner of means and disperse and get them off and Jerry’s on the doorstep. So all you’re doing really is handing it to Jerry.
MH: And what, what were your thoughts when the plane got hit?
BT: What can I do?
MH: Did you ever think you’d never get back?
BT: No. It never. Do you know, I can’t remember that at all. In any, I got, in any event I could never think of, it never entered my head that we were going to get hurt. Then after that it was we did a, there was an Operation Tonga as I remember it and it was a massive air drop to the south of France of containers for the French. Free French. That was, I think that was the only time that we flew then with other aircraft at daylight. Then I got married. I married a WAAF on the station. We got married on the Thursday. We had three days leave in London. We got, came, we went back and they shut the gates for Arnhem. And on the 17th of September we took a, took a Horsa to Arnhem and we went again on the Monday and it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t bad at all. The opposition we met was practically negligible. On the Tuesday we had apparently there was Air Ministry issued an order that all intelligence officers were to fly a mission. Well, my skipper was a Jew, as was the bomb aimer and the intelligence officer we had was a Jew so I suppose we would keep it in the family and he decided to come with us and of course they just gave him a helmet with a mic and a, earphones on. No, no oxygen mask or anything. And I used to go up second dickie when bomb aimer went down to the bomb aiming position but he’s sitting in my seat. So I’m halfway down the fuselage and in a Stirling that’s it. You can’t see anything. You’ve got to stick your head out the astrodome to look around sort of thing and flying along quite happily. Go to, got to the [unclear] where we turned in to the target and we were flying along quite happily and all at once, ‘There’s flak over there.’ [pause] ‘There’s flak.’ The skipper turned around. He said. ‘There’s flak where?’ He says, ‘Over there.’ He said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘That’s port.’ He says, ‘And the other side’s starboard.’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘And it’s a long way away don’t worry about it.’ I thought to myself things are getting tricky. Jerry’s getting naughty. So I went down and stuck my head out the astrodome. Oh, well away in the distance is a few bursts of flak. We went in and we dropped our Horsa and went back home again. And then we went again on the Tuesday and Jerry got organised and it was rough. We had a rough and we were jocking through this lot the skipper turned around. He says, ‘Flak,’ he says, ‘I wish I’d got him with me now.’ He said, ‘I’d show him flak.’ We got away with it. They knocked us about a bit and we got a few holes in but we were fair enough and we, we got back and that was our thirtieth so we thought that’s it. No more. A rest. And on the Wednesday night they told us we’d got to do another one on Thursday. We’re short of crews. Fair enough. So on the Thursday morning we goes out to the aircraft and the skipper walks along and his scratching cats are missing and he’s got a bar on. What’s this? So, he anyhow, the skipper’s got his commission. Pilot officer. He got awarded a, promulgated with the DFC same day. So, we’re on for Arnhem, Thursday. Go out to the aircraft. Run it up. We couldn’t get revs and boost on. I think it was the outboard inner. One of them was playing up anyway. Doesn’t matter. Couldn’t get it to turn. ‘Take the spare aircraft.’ So you had to move everything that we were carrying to the spare aircraft and the rest of the lads had taken off so we were about twenty five, thirty minutes behind them taking off and skipper said to Leo, ‘Cut corners. Let’s get back with the lads and we can go over together.’ But we got there just as the lads were coming out and we had to go in on our own and it was rough. We got shot up a bit and it happened. And while we were over Arnhem this is a bit cheeky but still I went second dickie. McQuiggan, the wireless op went down the back because we were carrying baskets. Big baskets that had to go out and two Army dispatchers were flying with us and McQuiggan went down the back to supervise that.
MH: Were the dispatcher’s jobs to push the stuff off?
BT: Yeah.
MH: Was that their job?
BT: Yeah. Well, the Stirling had a big hatch at the bottom, in the, at the bottom of the fuselage near the tail where the paratroops dropped out and we used to have to push a, an A frame down and peg it in to stop the paratroop bags wrapping around the elevators. So McQuiggan’s down there doing that and we went through and as I say Jerry knocked us about a bit and we got through and McGuigan come up from the back and I went back to my own station and McGuigan come up and he, he’s covered in blood from head to foot. I looked and I thought where do you put a dressing? And I don’t know, ‘Where are you hit, Mac?’ He turned around and he said, ‘The elsan.’ I said, ‘The elsan?’ A shell must have burst under the aircraft, and the elsan, the chemical toilet is held down by three bolts and it had taken off and it had thrown it all over McQuiggan. And elsanal fluid is the same colour as Jeyes fluid and he’s —
MH: He’s not covered in blood.
BT: Anyhow, we got, we’re flying along and skipper asked Ginger for a course to Brussels. We’re flying on two engines. Well, we’re moving on two engines and I looked out the astrodome and I’ll never forget it. I looked up and there’s six fighters and I thought they were Tempests. And I wouldn’t mistake a 109 for a Tempest. A 190, yes. And I still say they were 190s. The Air Ministry said there were no 190s flying [unclear] Anyhow, they decided that we were going to be their meat and they, they came for us. Well, the rear gunner shot the lead aircraft down. The lead fighter blew up. I saw it with my own eyes. But then they got nasty and skipper gave the order to abandon aircraft and we baled out over a place called Niftrik and we, the Army picked us up. We got landed, four of us finished up in a farm house in Holland and, but they gave us egg and bacon. Then the Royal Horse Artillery picked us up, took us back to their camp, give us a night’s kip and put us in a lorry to go back to Belgium. And just as we were moving off, well we got to a crossroads somewhere or other and the Redcaps, Army Redcaps waiting there. ‘You’ve got to leave this and get out, sir.’ So we got out and we were lay in a ditch for I don’t know and in the finish we, we were walking across a field in Holland and the Americans picked us up and took us in to Veghel. And we got in to a Veghel, we spent the night there. And the next morning the Green Howards relieved that and the paras were coming out of Arnhem and I can’t think of the general, was it who was on the ground but he came out and there was a staff car waiting for him and he had, he went in the side car err in the staff car and before, there were five actually. Another crew bloke I don’t know he was now got in with us and we went in that to Brussels. We spent the night in Brussels and flew back to England the next day. We got in to England on the Sunday. The put us in a coach to take us to the Airworks in London and of course it was almost passing my home so I turned around to the driver and said, ‘You can drop me here. I’m going to see my dad.’ And, ‘You can’t.’ I said. ‘I’m going to.’ I said. So, I got out and I’m carrying a box like a wooden box, a tomato box with peaches and grapes from, and apples from Holland. And I got out the car at the, on the Western Avenue and I stopped a bloke in a car and he took me home [laughs] And I gave him a peach and oh he was quite happy. And I, we lived in quite a big house in London in Chesterton Road at the time and you had to go all round the house and in through the scullery door at the back and the dark passage from the scullery in to the kitchen. And just as I walked up the passage my dad come out of the kitchen and he took one look and passed out. And my brother was with him, he was on leave and he came out and he said, ‘What are you doing here? You’re dead.’ Thanks very much. They’d had telegrams, “Missing believed killed.” Because none of the boys had seen us. Seen us bale out.
MH: No.
BT: I had something to eat. My dad took me to Paddington Station. Well, my dad paid my fare back to Keevil. I never had that money off the Air Force either [laughs] And I’m standing on Paddington station, a sergeant. My trousers were ripped, I’d got no collar and tie, I was wearing a bit of orange supply chute around my neck, got no cap. I was wearing one flying boot and one flying boot that I’d cut down because I’d got an ankle wound and two MPs parading up and down in front of me and clearly they could see [laughs] And eventually they come across to me. ‘Sergeant, you’d best come with us.’ And they took me to the RTO and the RTO officer gave me a bed and they woke me up with a cup of cocoa. Put me on a train for Keevil and when I got back to Keevil of course I’d got no money. I got no money for the bus. One of the airman had to pay my fare. The bus driver wouldn’t let me on the bus without the fare. So, when the airmen paid my fare and I got back to Keevil and I thought well, I’d better go and see the wife, so —
MH: Bearing in mind you’d only been married a few days at that point.
BT: Yeah. I’d been married a week exactly when we were shot down and she’d been told that she was a widow. So anyhow, I walked in, up to the cookhouse and she come running out and the first thing she said to me was, ‘You stink.’ ‘Thanks very much.’ Anyhow, I finished up, I went up the billet and had a wash and had a shower and went to sick bay to get my ankle dressed. Hospital. So they put in the blood wagon and sent me over to Ely. And I’d hopped all over Holland, I’d hopped halfway across England, I got out the ambulance. I had to hop all over the hospital and they x-rayed it and all the rest and, yes. Fair enough. Nothing wrong. Dressed it and put it back and I went back to Keevil in sick bay. Well, my wife had to go in hospital for an operation about three days later so I turned around to the quack, I said, ‘Can I go in the blood wagon to see the wife at Ely?’ ‘You can’t,’ he said, ‘You’re, you’re a stretcher case.’ I thought thanks very much. So we, anyhow we finished up we stayed at, I was in dock for ten days I think and on the Saturday they let me out and I got, I was sent on survivor’s leave. And my wife came with me, and we had to travel from Keevil to Stoke on Trent. We got to Bristol and we had to change stations at Bristol. Anyhow, we got on the train and like all wartime trains it was packed and I’m standing there and the porter slung a case in and of course hit my ankle and didn’t know what it had done at the time of course. But I finished up the journey sitting on kit bags and God knows what. And when we got to my wife’s home my wife took the dressing off and had a look and it had knocked the scab of the wound. So, anyhow, I had my leave and went back and while we were on leave we, they’d moved from Keevil. I think they’d gone from Keevil to Shepherds Grove. And we got, when I got to Shepherds Grove we, I went and reported sick and I’m back in bed again. And anyhow it all went well in the finish and that was it.
MH: Could we just go back to when you got shot down and you parachuted out of a plane had you ever parachuted before? Had any training to parachute?
BT: Never had any training at all apart from someone saying, ‘Well, you put the chute on here and you pull this. Oh no, we never had parachute drill. We had dinghy drill but I never, we never had —
MH: What was dingy drill?
BT: Eh? They used to take you to the local swimming pool.
MH: Baths.
BT: Swimming baths, and they’d throw a seven man dinghy in the water upside down and you wear a flying suit and a Mae West and you’d got to go in there, swim in, swim to the dinghy and turn it upright. It’s quite a job and it was. On the bottom of the dinghy there’s two hand holds and you have to hold these hand holds, pull them towards you as much as you can and then jump on the bottom of the dinghy to turn it over.
MH: Right.
BT: You finish up underneath it and that was, that’s the only dinghy drill we did.
MH: And what height did you bale out at then?
BT: Around about three to four thousand feet.
MH: And did the parachute open straight away or did you have to have a rip cord?
BT: On, on rip cord.
MH: And did anything happen on the way down?
BT: Yes. Jerry tried to kill us.
MH: Would you mind just sort of giving a bit more detail to that?
BT: Well, we all, we all baled out. The rear gunner was killed in the aircraft. The navigator went out the front and I went out of the parachute hatch and we were shaking hands on the way down and a Jerry fighter decided we were his meat and it was very naughty. But he didn’t notice the Thunderbolt behind him and the Thunderbolt, American Thunderbolt shot him down. But they shot the skipper. The skipper was killed.
MH: On the way down.
BT: On the way down on his ‘chute. Well, he was wounded. He died in hospital. So I was told.
MH: And when, when the Germans were flying at you could you feel the bullets whizzing past or, or was you just, is that what —
BT: It’s no good saying yes.
MH: No.
BT: I can’t remember.
MH: But you knew what they were trying to do?
BT: We knew what, as I say the navigator and I, Ginger and I we flew, we dropped together. We dropped in a field together and because [pause] Germans wear field grey, well, we were lying there in a field and there is a grey bloke, a grey dressed bloke dressed, heading for us. And Ginger turned around, he said, ‘Bert, shoot him.’ I said, ‘You shoot him.’ He said, [laughs] ‘I’ve lost my gun.’ And it was a good job we didn’t shoot him. He was a Dutchman wearing one of them navy blue boiler suits that had been washed and washed [laughs] and just looked like Jerry field grey.
MH: So, that point where you dropped down were you, were you behind German lines then or were you —
BT: It was a very fluid situation. Nobody knew who was where or any, if you understand what I mean. There was no front line or, it was all the time I was in Holland you couldn’t say where you were. You were in safe ground sort of thing.
MH: Yeah.
BT: It, one minute you’d be talking to your own Army sort of thing. The next minute there were Jerries but [pause] we saw, we saw a Jerry, a Jerry Tiger tank. It came looking round. Smelling around. But we had nothing to with the job. Didn’t get involved with it.
MH: What was, what was going through your mind then? You’ve been shot down, you’ve been parachuted, the Germans are trying to kill you on the way down, you’re now not quite sure where you are. What was going through this young man’s mind?
BT: I don’t know what was going through my mind. All I knew, all I could say, think was we’d got to get to the Army. We’ve got to find it [pause] I know it sounds ridiculous but I can’t remember being scared. I should have been. I should have been but I can’t remember being scared. At times now I have nightmares but it didn’t seem to work then.
MH: No. I take it you weren’t given any training how to, you know if you parachuted over enemy territory how to evade the enemy.
BT: Pardon?
MH: Were you given any training to evade the enemy?
BT: We were given lectures. You know. What to do and what not to do but it —
MH: And how did that bear out in reality when you actually got there? Did it actually make sense?
BT: It didn’t bear out because there was no one to help us if you understand what I mean. We didn’t, we didn’t run in to civilians. The only time I saw any civilians during that period was when we landed and we were taken to a farmhouse. They took us. We went in to the farmhouse and there must have been the district in this farmhouse trying to, wanting us, getting round to us you know and they couldn’t do enough for us.
MH: No.
BT: But when, once the Army picked us up I don’t, I don’t think we spoke to a civilian until we got to Brussels.
MH: And your ankle injury. How did that, what was that? What had you done to yourself?
BT: Well, the only thing [pause] I don’t know. I was the only one who was scratched apart from Pete. Pete was killed. I didn’t realise I’d been touched until we landed and then when we dropped off I felt it. But whether [pause] the only thing I could think of was a piece of shrapnel. But where it went heaven knows. There was no, nothing there. Still got the scar for it.
MH: I can imagine.
BT: It wouldn’t heal. Once the scab had been knocked off it wouldn’t heal and I was in dock oh quite a while. I remember the Group MO came to, to visit and he looked at it and they were, our, our, the squadron doc was looking after me and he turned around and he said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘You can’t do anything else,’ he says. ‘Just keep pouring it in.’ Yeah. But at the time I was under the weather. I was having boils and I had a Whitlow on my finger and that was, that was amusing. I I went home on leave with a Whitlow and that night, oh God I was in agony and my dad came in to me and he said, ‘What’s the matter?’ And I said, ‘My finger.’ ‘He says, ‘Go to the hospital in the morning.’ So I went to Du Cane Road Hospital and they had a look. ‘Oh yes. Sit down. Sit. I’ll send someone to you.’ So I sat down and two blokes came and they were rugby three quarterbacks I think. They were both about seven foot tall and fifteen stone like Peter and they said, ‘Are you the airman with a Whitlow?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Come on.’ And Du Cane Road is a teaching hospital and they took me in a theatre and there are all these seats up there and we sat down at this table and he turned around and he said, ‘Put your finger —', he put a block on the table, ‘Put your finger on there,’ he said, and he sprayed it with some blooming stuff and it was, yes, and he was chatting away quite happily and he picked up a scalpel and he banged on my finger and it just went thud and then he promptly cut it all the flipping way down and wrapped and turned round, ‘Come on.’ And we went to the plaster of Paris place and they put a splint on on my hand. Then they bound my hand up like a boxing glove and I said, ‘How can I get my jacket on?’ Fair enough. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘We’ll pin your jacket up, put you in a sling. Fair enough. Then he gave me two pills. He said, ‘You’ll want them tonight.’ So, I said, ‘Thanks very much.’ ‘Now, you can go home on the bus.’ ‘Thank you very much.’ So anyway, I went out of the hospital on the bus and I’m standing at the bus stop and these two old ladies standing there. I heard one say to the other, ‘That poor boy,’ she says, ‘I wonder how he got his arm — [laughs] I thought to myself, I wonder if they would smile if they knew it was a Whitlow. But that was it and then for the next four months nobody wanted to know me. I used to go back to camp and oh, nothing. Go away. Go on leave. And I was on leave on and off for about four months. Then what, I don’t know how true it is or what it is but they were on about something that we’d been behind enemy lines and we’d come back and if we went again we could be shot. What it is I don’t know but anyhow, it was—
MH: They didn’t want to be associated with you just in case you got shot down again or something.
BT: No. Anyhow, we they decided that we could [pause] I stayed on leave and I was home on leave with the wife at night. Just got in bed. Gone to bed. The doorbell goes so I go to the door. ‘Yes?’ Telegraph boy. Well, I’d still got a brother in the Army and I thought, Derek. No. “Flight Sergeant Turner.” Oh. “Return to unit.” Oh. The next day I go back to unit. ‘Wing Commander Baker wants you.’ ‘Oh, right.’ Goes to see Wing Commander Baker. ‘Ah, Turner. I want to do some flying.’ ‘Yes,’ What’s that to do with me? ‘But my navigator and my flight engineer are sick.’ I said, ‘Oh.’ ‘Well, Greenwell’s decided he’ll fly with me. You don’t mind do you?’ Well, how the hell do you say no to a wing commander? So, ‘Yes, sir.’ So fair enough. ‘We’re doing a cross country tomorrow.’ Fair enough. So we do a cross country with Wing Commander Baker. Now, my pilot was good. I’m not saying Wing Commander Baker was bad but my pilot was good. And the Stirling that they got ready for us they filled with Australian petrol. So, when we come in to land we’re down the runway. Oh dear. A few nights later he decides we’re doing a bullseye on Leeds so we do a bullseye on Leeds and they put the same petrol in the plane and we come down [pause] oh dear. And Wing Commander Baker turned round, he said, ‘That’s twice I’ve done that.’ And Ginger said, ‘Yes, I know sir. We were with you both times.’ ‘No need to be nasty, Greenwell.’ ‘No sir.’ Turner. 19th of February the tannoy goes. ‘Flight Sergeant Turner report to Wing Commander Baker.’ ‘Yes sir.’ Down to Wing Commander Baker. ‘Ahh Turner. My navigator is better so we don’t need Greenwell.’ So I said ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘But Morgan is still bad.’ ‘Yes sir.’ ‘Well, I want to operate.’ Oh dear. That’s a bad idea. ‘Yes.’ ‘You don’t mind do you?’ ‘No sir.’ ‘Right.’ So, December, February the 20th and we know the war’s nearly over and they’re trying to keep Jerry this side, this side of the Rhine. They don’t want him to reform on the other side of the Rhine so they’re knocking down all the bridges on the river to stop him and we got the job. So we flew to Holland and we attacked this bridge at the Waal. On the Waal at a place called Rees and it was a nightmare. It was the worst night. The worst trip I ever had. And then just to cap it all Jerry jet jobs were on the job. So we were shot up by the flak and shot down by a Jerry fighter.
MH: Jet fighter that shot you down was it?
BT: And out of the, out of an aeroplane I jumped again. I landed in a pig sty up to my flipping knees and I didn’t know whether I was in Germany or Holland or where I was. I’d no idea. I was on my own. And then a soldier came marching through the blooming door and he said, ‘Where is he?’ I said, ‘Who are you after?’ Oh, he said, ‘You’re English.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I was told it was a Jerry.’ I said, ‘No.’ So we went back. I went back to them and I was, I was no how. I remember him giving me a glass of rum and they took us back to a place called Tilburg, I think it was. and flew us home in an air ambulance. But Wing Commander Baker and Flight Sergeant Gordon were killed. And that was the end of my flying career.
MH: What were your thoughts the second time you floated down from a plane?
BT: I couldn’t tell you what I thought. I don’t know. I don’t, honestly. As far as I know I was terrified and [pause] at —
MH: What sort of height did you drop from this time? Similar sort of height?
BT: Hmmn?
MH: What sort of height did you parachute from this time?
BT: About seven thousand feet.
MH: Oh, that was a bit further up.
BT: And we were pretty high.
MH: I take it the two that lost their lives were they did they lose their life in the plane or as a result of the plane crashing? Didn’t they get out or —
BT: I don’t know. I don’t know. All I remember is Baker telling us to bale out. The navigator, bomb aimer and the wireless op and myself got out.
MH: What was it like suddenly seeing these jet powered planes? I take it you’d heard about them before then or —
BT: No. It was the nearest thing I could put it down to it’s the same as looking at one of these sci-fi comics. You know. It just didn’t seem real.
MH: No. Extremely quick.
BT: Hmmn?
MH: Were they flying extremely quick?
BT: It seemed they were there and gone you see before you looked, you know. It [pause] it’s, it’s an episode I can’t really remember and I’m not sorry about that.
MH: No. I can appreciate that. So, at that point you then become a twice holder of the Caterpillar Club badge.
BT: I I never got the second one.
MH: Didn’t you? Oh right.
BT: No. I did get the first.
MH: Oh right.
BT: The first, on my jacket. Oh God. Excuse me.
MH: And I take it, do they come from the manufacturers of the parachutes?
BT: The first one [pause] this one the adjutant of the squadron applied for it and got it for all of us. But the second one I heard nothing at all.
MH: Can I take a picture of that before we finish, Bert? If that’s ok?
[pause]
MH: So they owe you one then.
BT: Yeah, they owe me, they owe me the train fare from blooming Paddington to Keevil. Well, my dad my dad paid.
MH: Yeah. Yeah. So, so that was the, that was it for your flying then after that second one.
BT: Yeah. I finished flying then. I went to [pause] I went to Gillingham in Kent in the office. I was tootling around there and the Warrant Officer Powell came to me one day. He said, ‘Ah, Mr Turner.’ I’ve got my WO for Arnhem. When I got back to Shepherd’s Grove, I think. Shepherd’s Grove. Not, yeah Shepherds Grove, the wing commander was a South African captain and he turned around and told, he said, and he turned around, he told me, ‘I’ve put you in for an award,’ he said, ‘They refused it. So you’re having your warrant. Money will do you more good anyhow.’ And that was it and I went to Gillingham and Warrant Officer Powell came to me. He says, ‘I’ve found a job for you.’ I said, ‘Oh, yes?’ ‘Yes.’ He says, ‘There’s an orderly room at Roborough.’ He said, ‘I want you to go there and run it.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not —’ ‘Oh, you’ll manage.’ He said, ‘You’ll manage.’ He said, ‘You’re in charge.’ I said, ‘Am I in charge?’ He said, ‘You’re the only one.’ So I went to a little aerodrome just outside Plymouth. A place called Roborough, and I think it was run by ex-aircrew. Every, everywhere you looked there were aircrew that had finished. Of course, the war had finished and it was, it was, it was an eye opener. We went there and as I say I was orderly room clerk and station warrant officer. The CO was a chap called Hill. Henry Horace Hill. He was a flight lieutenant observer and he used to mess at Plymouth and he used to travel by motorbike and sidecar from Roborough to Plymouth.
MH: When did your demob come along then?
BT: Yeah. Then demob came and I went bus conducting. I went down the mines. I tried, I went to oh, TI Industries, Simplex and I couldn’t settle anywhere. I don’t know why. But then I went to a place Cartwright and Edwards to, on a pot bank. And I started dipping and finished up on the kilns and that was it. I finished up. I did thirty five years working for a pot bank.
MH: Any thought of going back to London? Was it always that your wife —
BT: It’s never bothered me. I like, I’ve been down to visits but when mum died the family broke up. It, of course the problem was we were all away from home at the time. I mean my brothers were in the Air Force, in the Army and I married as I say and I came up to Stoke on Trent. Derek married and he went to Manchester. We corresponded for a bit and then then somehow or other it, you know how it is. Things don’t go as you plan and we lost touch. I don’t know where any of my family are now [pause] No idea. But [pause] I haven’t, I don’t miss London at all.
MH: So when we just go back to when you, just for my benefit and I suppose the people who will listen to this interview. What was your, what did your job entail on the Stirling? What was your —
BT: Main, mainly you were watching petrol consumption and changing tanks.
MH: To balance the plane out and —
BT: No. For, a Stirling’s got fourteen petrol tanks.
MH: Right.
BT: At least. It can fit another six. I know it sounds stupid but it is. There’s a little bomb bay at the root of the wings and it’s room for three bombs. Or three petrol tanks in each.
MH: Each side.
BT: Wing each side. We had, one holds three hundred and twenty gallons, two hundred and forty and then as it gets towards the it’s [pause] [unclear] of petrol but you had to change tanks. But you always got rid of your small tanks first.
MH: Now then, you ended up flying, was it Stirling 4s was the last Mark you flew?
BT: Yeah. Yeah.
MH: Now, were they, how did they differ from the, I think you said you flew Stirling 1s at the start, didn’t you?
BT: Well, there was no front turret and there was no mid-upper turret on a Stirling 4. They took the turrets out. And there was a big hole cut towards the rear of the fuselage where the paratroops jumped or dropped out.
MH: And that, the plane was principally marked as a Mark 4 because they did it for parachutists and —
BT: Yeah.
MH: Dropping supplies.
BT: Yeah.
MH: And what have you.
BT: Yeah.
MH: So did you lose some of your crew from when you first started?
BT: Oh yes. We lost a mid-upper gunner. Yeah. A mid-upper gunner that we’d [pause] Teddy Roper. We lost him. I never heard what happened to Ted. He, he was an Essex boy as I remember. Essex or Kent. And he had a girlfriend Penny [ Lopey ]
MH: The things you remember.
BT: The things you think of.
MH: Yes. And did you keep in touch with any of your crewmates after the war?
BT: The last one, Leo. The last one.
MH: Yeah. Leo Hartman.
BT: Leo Hartman. He died at Christmas.
MH: Oh dear.
BT: Yes. I’ve got a copy of his logbook.
MH: Was that the logbook you mentioned to me earlier on when we first met?
BT: Hmmn?
MH: That you had lost your logbook.
BT: Yeah.
MH: And you said that you had a copy of one of your crewmate’s.
BT: Yeah. Yeah.
MH: So, you kept in touch with Leo all the way through up until he passed away.
BT: Well, we did. Just Leo didn’t go on the last one. Leo. Leo, when we came back from Arnhem Leo went to London and he never, he never, he went to Uxbridge and stayed there ‘til the end of the war ‘til he was demobbed. But we kept in touch. I kept in touch with Pete Findlay until he died. But McQuiggan wasn’t interested and Ginger, the navigator he was too far away. He was up, he lived at Fencehouses in Durham.
MH: Right.
BT: That way. And we went in, he went to take up, to a pub. Became a landlord I believe. He got a DFM for the trip we did to France and he died of cancer. Thirty odd years. He was sixty something when he died. And I I met Pete [Bodes] brother and his wife.
MH: That was your rear gunner.
BT: Yeah.
MH: Was that a difficult meeting?
BT: Yes. They want particulars and it’s not nice. Did he get, did it hurt? I don’t think being hit by a cannon shell hurts. But, he had a girlfriend on the station, a WAAF and she had that you know that purple mark on her face.
MH: A birthmark.
BT: Yeah. And it was rather bad and she’d been up to, for some reason and [pause] and I had [pause] when you get talking like this it, it comes back.
MH: Like I said before if there are things you don’t want to talk about then just say.
BT: But, no. It [pause] it’ll pass.
MH: So, we’ve got all these thirty one, thirty two missions that you’d fly in the end.
BT: Thirty one. Yeah.
MH: What was life like in between? You watch these television films of, sort of flying boys down the pub and then back to reality.
BT: I get so cross at times when I watch these films. It’s, I mean I watch the Dambusters and I’m ready to hit someone.
MH: Because it’s not how it was.
BT: They get it so wrong. Well, I mean they’re, they’re supposed to have advisors and when they get the basics wrong it’s time to pack up. Now, you take the Dambusters. It’s nothing. It’s wrong, but it’s nothing. They’re having egg and bacon before they go. They sit down for a meal in the film. You didn’t have egg and bacon before you went. You had egg and bacon when you came back and blokes used to joke, ‘Can I have your egg if you don’t come back?’ And if you look, you watch there’s three Lancasters taking off in line abreast on a grass aerodrome. On a grass airfield. Carrying mines? They’d dig in.
MH: You’d take off one after the other on a hardstanding. A hard strip.
BT: Used tarmac runways. You know, I mean it’s only [pause]
MH: But that’s film for you, isn’t it?
BT: Yeah. Oh yeah.
MH: I think we’ve, we’re probably coming very close to the tape running out. Not that there’s a tape
BT: Yeah.
MH: But another fascinating hour and a half. Is there else that you think you need to tell me? You want to tell me.
BT: I don’t think so. It’s, I mean, I’ve always [pause] I’ve always thought I had a good war. I had a pretty clean war. It’s only when I think of the last op that I get a bit maudlin. It, I was lucky. But I met some decent people. I, we go, we are very fortunate we’ve, we’ve got in with a group, “D-Day Revisited,” and we go to France every June. And we go to Arnhem because I make a point in September of going to Arnhem and going and seeing the lads. I take a wreath to the skipper and he’s still the skipper seventy odd years later. But we go to, go to a little village in France, Arromanches and we were there this year and Pete turns around to me and said, ‘Bert, two blokes here want to shake hands with you.’ I thought right. Turned around and there’s a group captain and an air vice marshall. And I turned around to him, I said, I pointed to groupie, I said, ‘That’s God.’ I said, ‘And that one I don’t know.’ But I mean they’re nice chaps. They’re, they talk to me as if we’re equals and all the rest. You wouldn’t dream of it happening [laughs] I mean, I don’t, I don’t think I spoke to our group captain, and I couldn’t tell you his name, in all the time I was on the squadron.
MH: Different times.
BT: But we meet these chaps and they seem to be interested.
MH: I don’t think they seem to be, I think they are Bert. I think they are being polite.
BT: Did you say you wanted a photograph?
MH: Right. Right. So, I think I’ve asked all the questions. Thank you for giving your time. I know there’s some difficult things we’ve talked about but as you say, you know —
BT: I’m sorry if it’s been boring.
MH: Quite the opposite. It’s been fascinating. Its been absolutely fascinating. It’s been a privilege to sit and listen to you.
BT: It’s —
MH: And I think the important thing is in the future people will be able to listen to your words.
BT: Oh.
MH: And the things that you did, and I think we have to remember you were a twenty something young man, weren’t you?
BT: Well, this is it. We were. We were kids. We were, we were enjoying ourselves. We, it was a big adventure.
MH: Yeah. When you get older you start to look back and think well as you get older and experience affects you do different things.
BT: Oh, that’s a different matter, isn’t it?
MH: Yeah. It is. Right. I’m going to turn the tape recorder off. We’ve been going for oh an hour and twenty six minutes so its twenty five past, twenty six minutes past two.
BT: Oh, are you alright, Peter?
PB: I’m alright. Yeah.
MH: Peter has been very well behaved. I’m very grateful, Peter for your time as well.
PB: You’re welcome.

Collection

Citation

Martyn Horndern, “Interview with Bert Turner,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/9340.

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