Bob Doe was one of the highest scoring RAF aces during the Battle of Britain.
4.20pm Tuesday 12 March 2002
I did twelve television shows last year; I’ve got German television coming here at the end of this month.
Yes, I’m conscious that you’ve done a lot. Has it always been like this or is it a recent phenomena?
I read a letter, deal with it then chuck it, I couldn’t cope otherwise. I get two to three letters a day.
Do you really? Well, I feel very honoured that you picked up on mine.
My writing is abominable. I’ve got gout in both hands and that really has had something to do with it.
Is that gout? I imagine that that does make writing a little difficult.
It doesn’t make any sense does it?
The basic premise behind this, is that my two chaps sign up at the outbreak of war; they’ve been flying in one of the university air squadrons so they’ve got a bit of flying experience and do their training throughout the winter and spring of 1939/40 and get caught up in the middle of the Battle of Britain. By the very end of July, beginning of August they are sent down south from Scotland and they are based at a station very like Middle Wallop and they are sent down to a forward base every day, very like Warmwell. Obviously, I’ll give them fictional names. I am very interested to talk to you because as I understand it, you lacked a bit of confidence when you left ..
You’re joking! Shall I give you a bit of background? Airforce officers were 99.9% university students, auxiliary squadrons of which there were twenty, which made up a large part of the Airforce and then there were those, the elite, and they wore scarlet linings to their uniforms and that sort of thing. I got into the Airforce by accident. My dad was a gardenerall these exams you needed to get into the AirforceI hadn’t passed an exam in my life! I sat one and failed it! But my Dad worked for a man called Emsley Carr and when I was fourteen which was the age you left school in those days, he went to his boss and said, You can’t find a job for my son, can you? and he got me a job as an office boy on a Newspaper he owned called News of the World. I used to go up and down to London each day and while I was there the Government introduced the Volunteer Reserve and all you had to do was give up a bit of your time and if if you were fit, they’d teach you to fly and pay you for it as well. Being impecunious at this time, I leaped at this and I was accepted, I was a Sergeant, and I was taught to fly and I did about 75 hours flying which was rather good. I realised that I had to do something because the war drums were starting to roll and I’d heard my Dad talking about the fat that he was a Private in the First World War and no way did I want to be that! The Air Ministry in those days was at the end of Kingsway, just above Bush House and just below Fleet Street, and one lunchtime I walked in to the Air Ministry and said, â€œI want to be a pilot please. I was directed to various offices and every time they found out I hadn’t passed an exam, I was passed on to another office. I ended up in an office with quite an elderly bloke. I was nineteen and he was probably in his thirties. He had his hat on the desk which had scrambled egg round the edge of it. He seemed to like me and I stayed talking to him for about half an hour. At the end of that time he said â€œWell, because of your lack of education, you’re going to have to sit an exam here at the Ministry. He arranged the exam for the Wednesday of the following week. He took a book out of the drawer and marked a paragraph and told me to learn that paragraph by heart. That was the moment of the arm, which is how you put your foot on the pedal and the power is applied. I learnt this by heart and the only difficult question at all in this exam was â€œWhat is the moment of the arm? Which I had verbatim! That’s how I became an officer in the Royal Air Force. I was offered a short service commission and from there I went through Air Force training. The initial training was at Redhill then you had the advanced training. I was trained on twin engined aircraft and recommended for bombers. The war started in September and our course finished at the beginning of November. A whole bunch of us were posted to form two new squadrons at Leckenfield in Yorkshire. When we got there, we were met by a three ton lorry and were taken up to the airfield. We asked the driver what sort of squadron it was and he didn’t know. We arrived at the mess to find the CO and two flight commanders and they didn’t know, and then we realised why they didn’t know. We had two Manchesters which were basic trainers at the time, one Tudor which was a very old trainer from the first war and one Gauntlet which was the predecessor of the Gladiator and that was all we had! So we started flying these and after a while a Blenheim turned up and we eventually got some more Blenheims and then they were all taken away one day and sent to Finland to help in the war against Russia. We were left with one Gauntlet and a couple of Manchestersthey’d pinched the Tudor or it crashed or something. Then a battle turned up. This was about the time that Battles were being shot down like flies in France, which made me very unhappy I assure you. Anyway, it was something to fly and about eight or nine turned up. Then round about March.
What did you make of the Battles?
Bloody awful! It looked nice but it was so underpowered. It was so underpowered it had what they called a BP prop. You had a push forward arrangement whereby you pushed it for fine pitch and pulled it for course pitch. You took off in fine pitch and before changing to course pitch you had to put your nose down to take the weight off the prop, otherwise the engine stopped! Also, it had wheels. It was the first aeroplane to have an undercarriage. A lot of people were landing wheels up automatically and the powers that be decided that they’d cure this so they took the wheels along, red lights right across the dash and that way the wheels stayed on as long as your wheels were up so you had to fly with them on all
the time which was very unpleasant. Two of us had to go up to Abbots Finch to pick up two Battles and mine wasn’t ready so I had to stay there for a while, but the other bloke found out how to turn it off, but the switch that turned off the lights also turned off the engine! Anyway in March 1940, A spitfire landed, a solitary Spitfire. It taxied over to the hangar and we were told that it was ours. We sat in it, walked around it, it was so beautiful. The following day, 15 more turned up and that’s how we became a fighter squadron.
Can you remember that first flight in a Spitfire?
Yes. We had Spitfire Ones obviously. You see pictures of Spitfire Ones taking off and you always see them doing that..the reason was they had an undercarriage you had to pump up. You had your hand on the throttle and then you had to change over and take your hand off the throttle and put your hand on the stick and start pumping and you had to do 20 pumps so you tended to do it underhand! We had a lovely time and flew them all over the place. We were then moved down to St Edwall in Corwall.
When was that roughly?
I can give you the dates. Have you ever seen a logbook? I’ll tell you when everything happened. I flew my first Spitfire on the 25 March.
It must have felt very different to anything else you’d flown.
First of all, you couldn’t see out of the front of it when you were on the ground. You were utterly blind so you had to get used to taxiing along like thatso you could see in front of you. The other thing you had to learn was that whatever you did you didn’t put the brakes on – keep your feet still – move your feet to control the brakes. Although you had a hand control but the amount of brake was applied by the rudders, but if you kept your feet still and put the brakes on you stood on the nose so you had to keep them moving, so you had alternate braking going on all the time. Then you got up and opened the throttle you made sure you flied in pitch. You could then see everything beautifully because the tail came up in time before you were smoothing the power of the engine on the elevators. You were airborne in no time at all. As soon as you were airborne you pumped the undercarriage up and you were flying a dream. You didn’t think about turning, you did turnoh how can I describe it? It was a sheer dream. You didn’t have to think about making it doing. It was quite incredible. We had these Spitfires before they were armour plated, so I have actually brought a Spitfire into land at 65 miles an hour. To stop it stalling, you just opened the throttle and it pulled away from the stall. How amazing, to defend the world like that! It was an incredible aeroplane, and fast.
When you were up at Leckenfield, that must have been a crucial time for you to really get to know the plane.
Unfortunately you had one CO and two gunnery officers and the CO of one flight command didn’t seem to want to do any flying. It was all conducted by a man called Pat Hughes who was part of the Royal Australian Airforce, seconded to the RAF.
He was a great pilot wasn’t he?
Royal blue uniformit was absolutely beautiful, he looked a bit like an Errol Flynn type. He was a nice bloke and we did air training with him.
On 18 June 1940, we moved on to St Edwell in Cornwall. We started doing convoy patrols which is flying round and round a lot of ships, nothing happening. Grey skies, rain falling, miserable, no action, no fun, nothing! We were bored to tears. Only 5 of us in the squadron were deemed night operational, who’d done enough night flying and we did night patrols over Plymouth in Spitfires, which was very pointless really. The only way you could see anything was if a search light caught it, the only time a search light caught any bomber when I was up was when I was at about 20,000 feet and the bomber was at about 5,000 and I just never got there in time. They were building a new runway, the first runway, and we didn’t have much space to land, between the hedge and the runway, but we coped alright. I bent an aeroplane on one occasion which I was thoroughly told off about. I was too bloody tired to go round again. We were flying day and night. We lost a pilot while we were there, called Geoffrey Gout. We don’t know what happened. He crashed at night. In those days, we had something called flying clothing cards where all the stuff that the Airforce issued to you was entered on this flying clothing card and if you lost it, you were financially responsible for it. When this bloke Geoffrey crashed, we declared that everything we were short of, he had borrowed and the equipment officer at Group sent us a signal asking us what sort of pantechnicon he had been flying! Shortly after that, on the 13 August, we were ordered up to Middle Wallop, into the war as it were. The day we were ordered up there, the CO disappeared. We didn’t ask, we don’t know, they were all cowards.
He didn’t disappear on a flight?
Oh no. They were removed. So we went into action with one flight lieutenant and a bunch of sprogs. We flew up to Middle Wallop. It was a grass airfield. We were told to park at the far end away from the hangars, which was rather lucky because less than half an hour after we arrived, we were looking for the Mess and the place was bombed. The hangars were hit and two people were killed. We were scrambled on the day after we got there, on the 15th and told there was 200 plus enemy over Swanage area and we were to get to 15,000 feet. I always believed that I was the worst pilot in the squadron. I had a hell of an inferiority complex.
Do you know why that was?
I do now. I wasn’t clever enough to know then. I had no money, no background, everyone else did. I was just a nonentity.
Do you think others looked down on you because of that, or was a large part of it your imagination?
A large part was my imagination. I was 100% convinced that the first time I went into action, I would be killed.
Were you scared about that?
I was petrified but I was more scared of calling myself a coward than if anyone else called me one. There was no way I was going to call myself a coward, so I went. I was number two to the leader, Pat. And from that moment, for the rest of the operation, I did everything wrong that was possible to do wrong. And I do mean that. We flew off in tight formationthe sections asternthe sections were of three, which meant that there was only one person left to look around and that person was me, everyone else was formatting,
Because you’re concentrating so hard on keeping the formation, you haven’t got time to scan the skyline.
Which is the one thing you should be able to do. We proceeded to patrol up and down. At 15,000 feet which was the same height we were told the enemy were at. Eventually we turned from down sun to up sun to find there were only nine of us left. One of the three was found dead and the other two landed in France with their wheels down, so there were nine of us. Did a couple more turns and suddenly found ourselves in the middle of hundreds of planes with black crosses on the sides and how we got there we don’t know we were just in the middle of them. Of course, we all exploded like a bomb.in every direction. I finished up behind a 110.realised I had to do something about it so I took careful aim and shot him and he went down into the sea. I thought â€œI haven’t made a fool of myself! and I was very proud of that! Then I did the next thing which you should never doI followed him down, because while you’re following someone down, someone’ll come along and shoot you down, and watched him til he went into the sea and I was so amazed I pulled up and another plane had been shooting at me from behind but he hadn’t hit me and because I’d pulled up he overshot me, so I went round behind him and I shot him down. I was better than I thought I was! There was nothing in the sky after that after any battle, everything disappears, the sky is empty. I flew back to Wallop and landed and I hadn’t realised til then that you could tell when an aircraft has been in action from the black streaks from the gun muzzles down underneath the wing and the ground troops know about this and the ground troops are so elated. They want to know everything about what I’d done.they were more keen than I was about it all. I began to feel that there might be something in this and then you got deflated when you went to tell the intelligence officer. Luckily both mine were seen by Pat Hugheshe vouched for the fact that he’d seen me shot them down.
Can you remember how you felt when you landed? Was it a sense of utter relief? Were you shaking like a leaf from the after effects?
Never shaking at any stage, no way. No I was elated. I hadn’t made a fool of myself and furthermore, I’d done some good. In fact, I’d done as well as anyone in the squadron had. Only two of us had shot anything down, Pat Hughes and myself and we both shot two each. We stood down early that night. Normally we wouldn’t stand down til about 11pm but I went straight to bed and spent most of the night working out how to avoid getting shot down and what to do to shoot aeroplanes down. We’d had no gunnery training at all. The only time I’d ever fired my guns was when we were given twenty rounds each and told to shoot at the North Sea. Well, you couldn’t really miss the North Sea. That was the only gunnery we’d done. Luckily I had been trained as a bomber pilot during which we had to do some shooting from the rear turret so we had a modicum of information on deflection shooting. First of all I worked out that if I saw something coming past me from behind which is where you’d be shot down from, I worked out that the quickest method of getting out of the stream of bullets was, without flinching, just to hit the stick hard although it cut the engine in those days because we didn’t have ***negative stream carbo strips (***Jamie, really couldn’t hear what that was meant to be! Sorry!) in those days. Instead of going straight down, you got out of the bullet stream quicker than any other way if you pulled up. It was too easy to put a hole through that and then you were even worse, and you didn’t turnthat was stupid, so the stick went down it saved my life when I eventually needed to. So I worked that one out. And I worked out that I didn’t want to be in formation. What I wanted to do was be on the side of whoever was leading the thing, away from where control said the enemy were, so I could look for them. You don’t see anything if you’re looking at it. You never see anything if you’re looking at it in the airyou will see it 10 degrees offcould be 15 degrees off, but it’s round about that sector there. You just see something move out of the corner of your eye. Also, when you got to altitude with people on the same level as younot below you because of the curvature of the airand I worked all this out and really that saved my life that I was able to do that
So something would look as though it were below you..
At altitude and if you were following someone at the same height, you looked below because of the curvature of the airif they were close to you, you didn’t, obviously, but if they were a little distance away, to see them you had to look downwards.
I understand why you didn’t want to fly in formation, but how did you square that with the others? Presumably there was a new CO by then?
We didn’t, we just all went off in a gaggle.we got airborne and then followed directions from the ground as a gaggle. The leader was in front and you stuck roughly round him.
Did you still call each other yellow section and blue section
Nowell we did but.we were called Group Two or whateverdepending on who’s flying what and so on, but we didn’t adhere to it in the air. we went off in a gaggle and flew in a gaggle, at least we did anyway. Then, a week ago or so after that there was a sergeant pilot called Buzz Harker; he and I had been talking about the war and we worked out that if he and I flew abreast of each other a couple of hundred yards apart, well, between 100 and 200 yards, I would see and try to protect him from behind and he would see and try to protect me from behind. One time he saved my life because of ithe called me up and said Look out, there’s someone on your tail. So I just went into a tight turn and Buzz came across and shot him. It worked.
Did you talk about this to the rest of the squadron?
Not really. We were a bit diffident about talking to other people about it, in case they laughed at us, and we had a major disadvantagewe were 10 group squadron which was loaned to 11 group squadron for the defence of London or defence of the south coast and pilots in 11 group were given lots of information about what was happening about formations and that sort of thing. We got absolutely nothing at all because we were from a different group. We were only there for a short timebut around this time I suddenly ceased being someone who was frightened of his own shadow. In two weeks I became someone who was bloody certain of what he was doing. It did me personally a hell of a lot of good.
Did you consciously think that you had a good chance of getting through this, or did you never think like that?
I never thought like that. On 11 September, less than a month after we got to Middle Wallop, we were called back up to St Edwall again because we only had three of the original pilots remaining. We were called back up to be given new pilots who we trained. As is my wont, when anything happens like that, I go to bed to sleep and think. I realised that we weren’t going to be allowed to stay down in Cornwall and in fact two days later I was commanding a flight in 234 Hurricanes, which I had never flown. A workman’s tool is the only way to describe it. Went up there on 28 September and I shot my first aeroplane down in a Hurricane on 30 September. I carried on flying in Hurricanes and two outstanding things happened while I was flying in Hurricanes. I accused another pilot of cowardice which didn’t go down at all well. We only had 5 planes left in our squadron at that time. We were scrambled. I was leading. I had 5, or maybe 6 pilotsIt was the first occasion where I swear these four engined bombers.in fact I was cleared of that afterwards when someone checked, and they did fly the odd four engined bomber. I got over the Isle of Wight area and there was a beehive of enemy aircraft. its the only way I can describe it. It was like a mass of bees going round and on the bottom of us were a couple of bombers. I’d always believed that the Hurricanes should take the bombers and the Spitfires the fighters. I knew there were two squadrons of Spitfires over the top of us, 12 aircraft. We went in the six of us, turned over and went down the sea guard and through the middle of this so we could have a go at the bombers below us, knowing that the Spitfires would take care of us. As I went down, the Spitfires turned away.one got killed in the action. When I landed, I accused the CO of extraordinary
cowardice and he’s never forgiven me to this day. Then in October I got shot down, Mind you, I’d been awarded the DFC just before that so I was flying with my chest stuck out. The enemy fighters were coming over with the odd bomb on. We were scrambled to intercept one of these raids. We shouldn’t have been. Hurricanes should never have been used for this because they were up at 18 thousand feet and the Hurricane was useless in pursuit of the Germans. We went into cloud at about 4 thousand feet and I lost the other three in no time at all. If you’re sitting above a cloud looking down into it, you see another aeroplane in it for the last 500 feet that it’s coming up, but if you’re the one actually in the cloud, you can’t see a blind thing until you’re completely clear of the cloud and I came up slap underneath the German planes which had sat there watching me come up I fact and they got me from behind and in front at the same time. I’ll never know how they did thatGod knows how they avoided hitting each other. But I had proof that I was hit from the front and from behind because I had bullets through my shoulders from the front, bullets through my hand from the back and had cannon shell all over the from the parachute I was sitting on, some went through my heel which cut my Achilles tendon, so I wasn’t very fit. But when I was hit I saw a bullet go past my shoulder and hit the dashboard and I did what I had trained myself to doI hit the stick and that got me out of it. I had still had one good arm. I went back into cloud. That saved me really. I realised I’d been hit but I was still alivethis one through the shoulder, I really thought was through my chest.
Was it instantly absolute agony?
No, it was as if you were hit by a sledge hammer. There was no pain involved. So I realised I wasn’t dead and that I ought to do something about getting out. Having hit the stick I was on an outside loop, so when I pulled the sunhouse release, it didn’t release. I wasn’t with it enough at that point to work it out. I was trying to tear the straps which pulled off and I fell out, I don’t know whether they’d been shot off or what, but I fell out and all I can tell you is that falling through the sky without a parachute was the most wonderful feeling I’ve ever known. It was a lovely feeling. Anyway, I realised that I ought to do something about this and so I looked around and I gave a mighty tug and the parachute came out. I was very grateful especially as when I looked up and saw that the parachute was actually a colander! This cannon shell had exploded onto the parachute I’d been sitting on and had sent bits through all sorts of places. Anyway I came down through cloud and came out of the cloud at about 4,000 feet over the most beautiful blue lagoonit really was the most wonderful sight! This was Poole Harbour and I was going towards this island which was Brownsea Island. In those days all the drains of the isles went into a sort of quagmire and where did I land? In that quagmire! I was minus one leg, minus one arm and was knocked out. I came too with an Irishman standing over me saying â€œWho are you? And so I told him in no mean fashion who I was and he was brilliant. He carried me all the way to the jetty where the navy said they would pick me up and took me to hospital in Pool where they sewed everything up. Two things happened when I was there. The hospital was hit but only with an incendiary bomb thank God. The other thing was they said I had gas gangrene in my hand so they stuck a needle in me about that size which cured it, no problem.
So you were actually shot through the hand?
The bullet came through the armour plating and the Germans had a thing where the bullets had an extra hard core and when it hit the armour plating, the core carried on and went into my watch and then into my hand which was on the throttle. I was back in operation 10 weeks later and found I was still acting as CO. On January 3 we had a signal from Group asking for two volunteers. What they wanted to do was put day fighters up at night, on a clear moonlit night. Obviously the acting CO had to go and there were a couple more volunteers. I couldn’t really get into the aeroplane a couple of the crew had to give me a bunk up. When you cut your Achilles tendon, it takes about a year to heal. You can still fly an aeroplane perfectly well. There was solid cloud, very thin about 500 foot thick at about 2,000 feet, and brilliant moon above that but beneath that, you could see everything on the ground because the moon was shining through the cloud. Got out into the Gulf Stream up to about 15,000 feet. Being January 3, it was very cold, probably about minus 13 outside, could have been even more. My instruments started to give me weird readings that didn’t make sense. While the temperature remained constant, the pressure went down which doesn’t make sense. It can’t happen. I rang up middle Wallop and told them what was happening and they told me to come back and gave me a course for Warmwell, which was the nearest base on the coast. They said the duty pilots would fire rockets to show me where it was. They told me to try to get back before the engine stopped. So I turned round and started going back, and I was down about 10,000 feet and the engine stopped and sparks came past my arm and left me just gliding down. This course that Middle Wallop had given me was brilliant. I came down through a layer of cloud slap over the middle of Warmwell. This was fantasticwouldn’t happen normally. Warmwell was a long airfield with hangars at one end and a wood at the other end. I thought I’d sooner run into the wood than the hangars and with a Hurricane you can put it down wheels up at 160 miles an hour perfectly safely and walk away from it. I thought if I got me speed up to 160, if I misjudged the approach in anyway I could still cope with it alright, and I went round and came in over the hangars, saw them going past and realised I was safe home and dry. However, since I’d been there beforeI’d only been there oncethey’d been bombed and they’d brought in tons and tons of huge rocks to fill in the bomb craters and I went slap into this heap of rocks.
I sat in the harness with a broken arm and my face was knocked off on the gun side but I wasn’t knocked out. I remember looking up at the sky and then it suddenly went dark, so I put my good hand up to my head and found my nose on top of my head, which didn’t seem quite right somehow! About that time, a couple of blokes turned up to try to get me out. My feet were tangled up in the rudder bars and I remember getting very cross with them because they tore my trousers pulling me out and they were my only decent pair of trousers! In those days they had nursing sisters in the sick pools and they took me to the sick pool and this lovely, lovely voice.by this time I was sort of gone and my face had swollen up.lovely motherly voice and she put her hand in mine.apparently it took them three quarters of an hour to get her hand out of mine. They took me to the local cottage hospital. They didn’t have any doctors but they had an operating theatre. There was an army division and the army doctor was made available to the cottage hospital if they needed him. They called him in. He put my eye back in because it had been knocked out and he stitched everything back where he thought it ought to go. Stitched my nose back on because it was still attached by a tiny bit of skin. Thought I might be lucky and I was, and put me to bed. They used to have VAD’s which were trainee nurses, usually young girls. They left one of these young girls and I came round perfectly well and she chatted away to keep up my spirits but the only thing she could talk about was the large lady who’d died in this bed! Which didn’t really make me very happy! I was back in operations in May. I wasn’t burnt that’s the thing and this nose is a lump of bone taken from inside my hip. When I came out of hospital this eye was quarter of an inch lower than this one. Before I went back into ops I had to have a private medical. All eye examinations are done at eye level. If I looked one degree above level I could see 2 of everything because one eye was quarter of an inch lower than the other, but at level, my eyesight was perfect! So I went back with a fairly phoney medical review.
What were the living arrangements like at Middle Wallop? When you were stood down, did you go to the local pub and that sort of thing?
You’re joking! We were only stood down once the whole time we were there. We were on duty all the time .we were needed! There was one time when the weather really clamped down, and we were stood down and there was only one car in the whole squadron, so there were five of us in this car and we went off and found the local pub. The locals in there were gentlemen. They got us talking. We didn’t talk but they got us talking and we had a very pleasant session with them.
Did you have a room to yourself?
Yes. A very small room obviously. There was a batman who used to come and wake you up with a big mug of tea. Then you went down to the mess and had a piece of toast or whatever was going. Then fell into the lorry and went down to dispersal where they had a load of camp beds. You threw yourself down onto that and went to sleep again. My overriding memory of the Battle of Britain is the tirednessI have never been so tired in my life as I was then.
What was it that made you keep going? Just because you had to?
No question about it, you just did. Don’t say we were miracle workers, because we weren’t. I honestly believe that if a similar situation arose nowadays, modern youth would do the same thing.
Can you remember much about Warmwell?
No, I never went there again, thank God! But I did find out why they didn’t send rockets up to show me where the end of it was; the duty officer was down at the local pub having a drink, because there was nothing happening there.
At the end of the day, when the flying was done, did you go to the mess for a drink. Was there a lot of drinking done?
No, not an awful lot, you didn’t have time. You’d have a pint then go to bed. You were so tired, you just wanted to go to bed.
Between sorties, did you read, or what?
I slept, and listened to records. We had a gramophone. I remember a swing version of Martha.
How about Glenn Miller or any other particular favourites?
The only one I remember is that one. I’m sure there were others.
Did you have a mascot or any superstitions you adhered to?
I never had any superstitions at all. I went into the Battle of Britain shit scared and finished it cock sure. I was shot down but it wasn’t my fault. It sounds a weird thing to say, but it wasn’t.
When you were sent back to St Edwell, and there were only three original pilots left, can you remember how you dealt with that?
Slept. That’s how I dealt with every problem. I found I seemed to have answers in the morning. I seem to have solved the problem in the morning.
You also flew in Burma didn’t you?
I’m reviewing a biography of Park at the moment.
He was the most brilliant man. He should have received a lot more than he did. He did more good for this country than any other commander, even more than Dowding, I’m sure.
During the Battle of Britain, did you have a sense of the bigger picture?
On one occasion, I had to take a Spitfire down to Hamble where there was a Spitfire repair place. It was run by civilians and the foreman said, â€œCome back to my place for a meal and so I went back and his wife was a lovely woman, they were in their 40’s, and she was enthusing and it was the first time I realised that the people on the ground knew what was happening. They could see what was happening and I hadn’t thought about it til then.
Were you conscious at the time that you were fighting for the survival of Britain?
Yes, I didn’t want the bastards coming here thank you very much!
I’m sure that if I were shooting at a 110, or a 109 or something, I wouldn’t think that’s another Nazi, I’d think of it as a plane, not as an individual.
Exactly. You didn’t shoot individuals down. The only occasion I ever saw.I had a snapshot of someone at 13,000 feet. I’d hit him and I was heading for home and I thought No Way, I’ll go after him. He went down to sea level and set off for home and I set off behind him and slowly caught him up and took a shot at him. His undercarriage came down, his engine stopped and his hood came off. I couldn’t bring myself to shoot any more, I just couldn’t. It wasn’t in me to do it, so I flew along side him and waved, and I was getting short of petrol, so I turned and went back. I watched him splash into the sea and in fact I should have shot him down because his own side picked him up and he came back and shot more of ours down. He was Gerhard’s second in command.bloke called for Rolf Piegel. In 1989 Yorkshire TV did a programme which I had a bit in and I was telling that story and ..this bloke said â€œHey, I know you! and this was this Rolf Piegel and I had this lovely correspondence with him and his wife wrote me a lovely letter thanking me for saving his life. But I should still have shot him down because he killed a couple of ours afterwards.
Did you ever have anything to do with any German fighter pilots?
I met four after the war, I had to go up to a public meeting and speak in Yorkshire. There were 4 Germans and 4 RAF and Dr Alfred Purse, a war historian who was managing this thing. That was the only time I ever met any German pilots. Three of them were delightful and one of them was a 100% Nazi and I hated his guts.
What was it like flying in Burma? It must have been very different.
Yes, it was very different.
I appreciate you can’t answer that in a couple of seconds. Do you still have your uniform? Is that your uniform?
Lot of gongs!
Thank you very much. This has been very helpful.