FRASER CARLISLE-BROWN WAS A BEAUFORT NAVIGATOR AND SERVED ON MALTA AND THE MEDITERRANEAN BEFORE RETURNING TO THE UK AND LATER JOINING TRANSPORT COMMAND.
F: The Observer Navigator sits at the front but faces sideways. It’s a perspex front you see and there’s the machine and the machine gun and the bomb sight, one thing and another, and we’re going that way you see and I’m facing this way you see. And there’s one engine there, another there, and really speaking I’m only about five feet from that engine you see. The result is I’m rather deaf. But I’m more deaf in the left than I am in the right!
J: Tell me about how you came to join the RAF, how that took you to Malta, when you got there?
F: I suppose it really started when Chamberlain came back from Munich with his piece of paper in 1938, when you know â€œPeace in our time. There was great patriotism at the time and we were only 19 years on or so, or 20 years on from the end of the previous war. So I suppose myself as a child amongst other people, other parents and their children, war was you didn’t know about it but you’d heard about it. Mostly you heard about it about friends meeting and things like this. There was great patriotism and although you hear form time to time that the royal family was unpopular, it was very popular, it really was. Now a lot of these people who write about these things weren’t even born at the time so they hadn’t got the atmosphere and so when this possibility of war came along, there was a great rush to the colours. I thought I’d like to join the RAF, I don’t know why but I suppose, I used to live in Wembley you see, and we used to see the circuits when there was the Hendon air displays annually. Anyway, I went to Astral House in the Strand, just off the Strand. Not only was there a waiting list, but there was a waiting list for a waiting list it seemed. So I thought well, the best thing I can do I joined the army, the Territorial Army.
J: So when was this?
F: This was end of 1938, beginning of 1939. I joined the Territorial Army. It was the Royal Fusiliers Regiment. And I lived in Wembley at the time with mother and my father had died as a result of illnesses contracted out in Mesopotamia when he was in the army. He’d been blinded out there and he had when he came home he lost his sight completely and he went to St Dunstan’s which is a grand place for ex-servicemen who lose their sight. I suppose that there seemed to be a great camaraderie after the war. I remember my father used to get on the train, the LNER at Sudbury Hill and he used to go to Marylebone Station, because he was employed in the civil service. Everybody on the station seemed to know everybody on the train. They were all youngish people, you know, 30s and 40s, and all the people on the station, the porters, the ticket collectors, they all had a very friendly approach.
J: That was because of shared wartime experiences?
F: Yes, to a very large extent. And of-course they were particularly friendly towards my father who lost his sight. Anyway, I joined up and I found that the unit I had joined — it had a depot in Wembley — had been changed from an infantry regiment into a searchlight regiment. Anyway, we used to go out on weekend camps you see, in the locality, to Buckinghamshire or something like that, to find out how we should operate. And I was on a sound locator. And this was a sound locator. Nothing else, nothing electrical. All it was, there were three men operated it. And it was on the searchlight site, we were about 30 yards away from the searchlight. And it was a steel tripod, probably about 4 foot high, which one levelled, and on it was a horizontal bar with compass bearings and a leveller. And on each of the bar which was probably about 5 foot 6 inches long. At each end were two plywood conical arrangements for collecting sound. And at the extremity of the cone, at the thinner end of the cone, were rubber tubes, which led to earphones, which a chap had, you see. And the idea was having set the average speed, which was round about 140 mph of approaching aircraft: this is obviously talking about night of-course mostly. Then the idea was that with a ring sight and ball you would then get the off-set of the sound behind where the aircraft was you see, and the idea was to spot the aircraft. In addition to this, the horizontal bar had a t-bar running at the same time and at the top and the bottom of it were similar cones. So one chap was traversing it from left to right. The other one was up and down. The third chap was the fellow who looked through the ring sight and was trying to locate the aircraft by these sound locators. It was blooming hopeless! I do remember on one occasion. It was a cloudy night and the RAF did a little cooperation. We were in Norfolk actually. And they sent a Manchester aircraft (the Lancaster was the development of the Manchester and it had two Vulture engines) they sent one over — aircraft cooperation — for us to practice on at night. Well it had its navigation lights on so you could see from time to time as it went through cloud, or you should have seen We couldn’t find the damn aircraft even with navigation lights on. I thought, this is no good. And then certain regiments were trawled – I think this is early 1941 – for volunteers for air crew training. So I thought this is more my cup of tea. So that’s how I got into the Air Force.
J: So were you doing searchlights during the Battle of Britain?
F: Oh yes, yes. But out in Norfolk you see and really speaking there wasn’t a lot of activity over Norfolk at all at that time. I think later on Norwich got a severe pounding. I think it was late 1941, but by that time I had left the locality.
J: So what happened when you joined the RAF?
F: I think about 30 of us or 20 to 30 from the regiment volunteered on this trawl. I suppose the regiment was about 8-900 people I suppose. We were all dotted around in sites around Norfolk. And we went to Cardington. We knew it was Cardington by the airship sheds. And we were given sort of commonsense tests on geometry and angles and whether we could spell or couldn’t and I do remember one of my questions — I think there were three or four – â€œWhat is a rhombus?. There were other questions but this one I remember. Anyway, the point is they said OK and then you go through your medical. We went for our medical and and then we were told individually we had passed. And go back to our units you see and we would be called back later. On our way back, out of that 20 or 30 people, only about half a dozen had passed. And the reason the majority of those failed is because they were colour blind. And they never knew it. Apparently at that time, there were a few traffic lights around about that time and they couldn’t tell green from red or yellow but what they could tell was the sequence of the lights and where the red light was, the top, the green light was the bottom. So if they drove, they drove by the sequence of lights. But they didn’t know they were colour blind. It is true at that time a number of people were born with – when I say disabilities, it didn’t really interfere much with their everyday lives
J: Do you think that was down to malnutrition or?
F: I wouldn’t say malnutrition, but life was very hard. My mother was a matron in a hospital before she married and she had started work I think in the Wandsworth Infirmary at the age of 18 to be a nurse. But to be a nurse first of all you had to be a Ward Maid, and you had to do all the scrubbing of the floors. And their duties were 12 hours a day. And it was hard. I certainly remember as a boy, you were in short trousers until you were 13, so you had a lot of chapped knees. When I say it was hard, in comparison to today it was hard. But of-course it wasn’t as hard as shall we say years before at the beginning of the century or before that. I suppose really speaking, the elements did have quite a lot to do with perhaps childbirth. I’m only guessing. Dyslexia: I remember at school, infant school, two or three people, young boys (5 or six in my form) who could write some letters but the other letters they wrote back to front. And the form master would come along and hold their hands and do it with them. And we hadn’t the slightest idea what it was about, but now of-course we know it as dyslexia. I must say that life relatively speaking for some people was very, very hard and very difficult. But for what I would call the lower middle classes and above, by and large it was a little more comfortable. But one had to be very economical in living. My father was in the civil service and he also got 100% pension. He got £2 for himself, 10 shillings for mother, 2 shillings for my sister who was older than me and 1 shilling for myself. That was a week. And on top of that he had his civil service pay. So we were comparatively comfortable compared to a lot of people so we were very lucky. There was a great push, not quite so worrying as these days, on education. You didn’t worry about it but your parents helped you a lot. Because the method of teaching was very much the same as your parents got taught. Arithmetic by rote and things like this, you see. It was a matter of remembrance more than anything.
J: You got accepted and
F: I think we’d been back about 3 or 4 days to our regiment and we were called again and we went, I think we went to Cardington again, just for a day, and then we went on to Stratford-on-Avon which I believe was a sort of recruiting unit of some description. We were kitted out. I remember staying in one of these large hotels with the names of all the Shakespearean actors. I think we were there for about 3 days. Have you come across this expression: â€œthey also serve who stand and wait? It was a great saying in the service because there was a lot of waiting around in queues and it was a great it was quite good and you met a number of different people from different callings, and different parts of the country. And a lot of us, probably the only time we’d left home was when we had been on holiday or something when we were on holiday from school with our parents and so we didn’t know a lot about the outside world. And from there I think we went straight on to Scarborough. We did our initial training week. I’ve got a feeling that was six weeks classroom. And the classrooms were on the cliff, halfway down the cliff to the south of Scarborough town. They were these sort of large sunrooms which visitors used to go and sit in the sun. And these were turned into classrooms. We learnt aircraft recognition, tropical hygiene (pretty elementary stuff), meteorology in its simple form (fronts and anticyclones, which way the wind goes round and lines of front). We were introduced or re-introduced to geometry again and with the basic being the triangle of velocities which of-course had a great bearing on working out your course from the track you wished to make you see and the force of the wind. So you off-set your course in degrees away from the track you wish to make to compensate for the wind. Oh magnetism, and this is where of-course physics from school helped a lot because you remember north and south pole and lines of magnetism, and variation and deviation. And another thing was physical training as well. And they said what games do you want to play? And we all said rugby. So it was rugby on the stands you see. But after one fellow had broken a leg and another an arm, they said that was enough because they wanted us all fit as you can imagine. So they said none of this. During that six week period I think it was organized by the military and the town council, whereby they had competitions for marching between any units who were there you see. And marching was a big thing and the army always won. We were all transfers from the army and we went in with our flight representing the RAF and we won it hands down. And the army were non-plussed. Of-course we’d done all our basic training some time before. Actually I did some of mine — there used to be a military camp at Stukeley, it’s not there now — I think it was six weeks there.
From there we were posted, Oh yes, immediate posting to Brough, which is the Blackburn flying school. The Blackburn Aircraft Company. And we did about three or four hours flying there. I’m never quite sure why. But it stood us in good stead. And then we were posted to – we didn’t take any wings or anything like that, we were just in the air. And then we were posted to the Observer Training School at West Freugh, known as the Frook near Stranraer. And that is where we did all manner of things: further meteorology, astro-navigation, DR navigation (dead reckoning), mercator chart, rum lines, a lot of equipment, bomb site for drift taking, astro compass, the pilots compass, repeater compasses, deviation and variation on the mercator chart. There was a hell of a lot of stuff. We did magnetism again, aircraft recognition again. Oh yes, and we did airfiring gunnery and we did bombing as well with 12 pound practice bombs I think. And our bombing area was in Luce Bay which is just to the south I think of Stranraer. And there was a neck of land and then there was Loch Ryan facing north, and Loch Ryan was where they had Sunderland flying boats: not that we had anything to do with them.
J: When you were practicing bombing, what aircraft were you practicing in?
F: Hanson. And our navigation exercises were also in Blackburn Bopper aircraft. And the staff pilots were Czech and Polish. And the Blackburn Bopper was originally designed and built by the Blackburn Aircraft Company as a general reconnaissance bombing and torpedo aircraft but it was somewhat unstable, and — as a number of British aircraft were at the beginning of the war — underpowered. One of the reasons being I suppose was the aircraft manufacturers didn’t have the capacity to turn out the increased powerful engines that were required for the aircraft. I’m only presuming this but I think so. Actually I think the Bopper was used on three occasions for operations but had such a poor reputation they withdrew it and it went into training command. Another reason why the Blackburn Bopper was unstable, it had a dorsal gun turret which stood immediately proud at the top and about midway between the nose and the tail and of-course this would affect the air flow quite considerably and might have had a lot to do with it. Now I don’t know anything about it but it seems reasonable.
J: When were you earmarked for navigation?
F: I really don’t know. I think it must have been when we were at, either ITW or at Bruff. That’s the only thing I can think of. Initially I believe, people who were inducted to the RAF aircrew, a lot of them they assumed that they were all going to be pilots. This is not entirely right but broadly it is. And if they felt you were going to be better at something else, or not good enough for a pilot, then they would re-classify you.
J: Did you want to be a pilot?
F: Everybody that transferred from the army thought they were going to be pilots. Not that anything was said but it was just a natural assumption, although of-course we were aware that other aircrew were required. Anyway, so I’m sure it was either at ITW, no on second thoughts I think it was probably at Brough that I was categorised for Observer training. Of-course at that time, people who navigated were called Observers, which you’ll probably know, and you’ll probably know how the name came about.
J: I don’t actually.
F: Well it came about from WWI where the chap behind the pilot was called the Observer. And he had one wing, he couldn’t pilot. And his job was to help map read and observe things and that carried out thought peacetime and into the beginning of eventually I think the Observer training wasn’t quite so comprehensive. Ship recognition was another thing we had to do. At our Observer Training School at West Freugh, our navigation instructor was an ex merchant seaman navigation officer and we found eventually that what he taught us was invaluable. Because he taught us how to read the surface of the sea. The wind lanes, because that was the direction the wind was going, the sea horses, because they fell back into the wind and so you could see the direction of the wind, and then according to the sea horses and the amount of them on the surface you could estimate the speed of the wind. And of-course that was invaluable when it came to flying Beauforts at 100 or 50 feet, whatever it was you see. And of-course when we got to the Mediterranean, we didn’t have any navigation aids at all. All we had was the sea. And so of-course it was a matter of reading the surface of the sea and getting a pilot who was going to fly low anyway to avoid any enemy radar that was about. And that is how we navigated. I’m diverging a bit aren’t I Oh yes, Fairey Battles. They towed the trobe from when we were doing air gunnery. I remember, I think it was in the Daily Mail, before Dunkirk, I remember large letters in the Daily Mail, that the Fairey Battles, our bombers were so fast that they had to put their air plates on to slow down to bomb. What a lot of codswallop. But you know how these funny things stick in your mind. We passed out at West Freugh, I’ve got a photograph of our flight from West Freugh somewhere.
J: So by the time you’d finished at West Freugh, you had qualified?
F: Yes, we were presented with our wing, our Observer Wing and a certificate to say we were qualified to navigate and then I think we had a spot of leave, about a week or so, and we were posted to the No.5 Operational Training Unit (OTU) C for Coastal, at Chivener, near Barnstaple in Devon. And when we got there we found that we were going to learn to operate Beauforts. And its there we met a lot of WAP AGs and pilots and its where we crewed up together you see. We didn’t fly first of all, we were all put in a crew room and we sort of sorted ourselves out and I remember I had a Royal Canadian Airforce Pilot, Stanley Balkwill, but whereas a lot of pilots who normally went there had to learn to fly Beauforts there at the OTU, some Canadian chaps had come over from Canada — I can’t remember the actual station – they’d actually soloed on Beauforts in Canada, and really had come over here to crew up. And so some of us were rather fortunate in having pilots who’d already soloed on Beauforts. Because the amount of crashes during training was quite phenomenal.
J: Was it considered a difficult plane to fly?
F: It was a good aircraft but it had a high wing loading. It had +12 engines which were round about 1050 BHP if I remember, and the aircraft was underpowered and it wouldn’t fly on one engine at all. And later on under the lease lend business we had some Pratt Whitney engines: twin wasp engines. And I think they were 1250 BHP and the mark 2 Beauforts had those and they were considerably better, more reliable as well.
J: Can you remember roughly what time it was that you were at the No.5 OTU?
F: Yes, I can tell you that. It looks as though I went there in April 1942.
J: So it was the best part of a year training was it?
F: Yes. Yes, April 1942 I went to Chivener. And whilst we were there, the whole of the OTU moved to Turnbury. As you know, Turnbury is a famous golf-course. It had been then but it was right on the west coast of Scotland, south of Prestwick, and they were still building it when we moved there. And I remember we went, we landed in Beauforts, because they had taken all the equipment up there. And as we landed, there were people stood on each side of the runway digging, they were digging drains. Not only that, a large proportion of them were women: women navvies. And they were brawny Scots folk I can tell you. They did work hard.
J: So presumably that was just to finish off?
F: That was to get used to the aircraft you were going to be in operationally.
J: Who was in your crew then?
F: Ah. We were known as the â€œFour Bs. Balkwill (that was Stan Balkwill, the pilot, he was the Canadian, very good pilot, very nice chap), myself Carlisle-Brown the Observer, we had two wireless operator air gunners who took in turns to do the wireless or to do the gunnery, one was Brockett (Ronnie Brockett from Luton) and the other one was Bob Buckley from Durham. And I think we were probably the only crew who did all our tour of operations plus a bit more together. There are reasons why other people didn’t do it, perhaps somebody fell sick or was wounded or had done their tour or was posted away or something like this you see, but it was probably, I’ve got a feeling we were the only one.
J: You were just told you were going to be in that crew together, there was no choice in the matter?
F: Oh no. When we got to Chivener, we met the pilots and the WAP AGs for the first time, we all inter-mingled in the crew room and got chatting and then we formed ourselves into crew so: he looks a nice chap, we’ll have him, and so it was.
J: From there you flew out to the Mediterranean?
F: Yes, having done OTU we then went to Lyneham, No.1 FTU (Ferry Training Unit) at Lynham. I’ve got a feeling we were there for about 8 days or so I think. We went to Lynham at the end of July 1942. And we left there on 11 August 1942.
J: And that was for the Mediterranean was it?
F: Well no. Actually we left there to go to Portreath which was the jump base on the north Cornish coast and it was a jumping off point for aircraft being ferried. We were at Portreath for six days, couldn’t take off because the weather was really clamped down, and on 17 August, at 8.45 in the morning (GMT) we took off from Portreath for Gibraltar and it took us 8 hours 15 minutes. There was a little amusing incident during that trip: would you like to hear it?
J: Yes please.
F: Well when we took off we were ordered to fly at 6,000 feet. This was principally for petrol consumption because we were loaded with all our kit what with one thing and another. And we were I think about half an hour out from Portreath, we were going more or less due south and the idea was to make for a dead reckoning point about 10 or 15 miles west of the north-west point of Spain and then to go pretty well due south, more or less parallel to the coast till we came to Cape St Vincent and then across to Al Geceras[?] Bay to Gibraltar. We were briefed and they said well the only navigation aid you’ll have is, there’s a German radio beacon and there’s a particular type of name for this radio beacon and I’ve forgotten it at the moment but it sends out dots and dashes and from the frequency of them you could tell your position in degrees from where the beacon was you see. And this beacon was run by the Spanish and it was La Corruna. And the chap who briefed us said be careful, they always close down at lunchtime. I remember this briefing, and we all laughed, because it was most specifically for Focke Wulf aircraft operating the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic you see. Anyway, we sort of meandered down, I think we were doing about 140 knots or something like that, maybe a little less, 135, because it was fuel consumption we were concerned about, and we got above cloud inside half an hour. Anyway, after we’d been about 2 or 3 hours we could see the sun, but we hadn’t been issued with sextons so we couldn’t take sun shots. But not only that, the aircraft itself was not as stable for taking astro shots as larger aircraft, and of-course there was no astro dome, so if you wanted to take one, you had to open the entry hatch above the pilot and use your – so that you didn’t get any refraction of light you had to have your sextant, which is a bubble sextant and not a marine sextant of-course. So you had to level it, whereas a marine sextant you put the level against the horizon. Being above the horizon we had to level it you see. So really speaking it wasn’t conducive to good astro shots. Anyway, we were buzzing along there and I said to Ronnie, can you get me a bearing from La Corruna, and he said yes, and he came through with one. And about two minutes later I said can you get me another one, to get a running fix you see, two position lines, and you transfer a position line to where you were, after two minutes, to run a ground speed and then when that crosses there’s our fix you see. And it put us further out of the Atlantic than I’d anticipated. So I said to Ronnie, get a third one and check our position. So he came back, he said I’m sorry, they’ve shut down for lunch. I think it was about 1 O’clock. But it was what the chap had told us about. I said it’s the only fix I’ve got, we shall have to alter I think it was probably about 10 degrees to port. We were still above cloud and Stan said to me, you know where you are? I said well I know where we should be so I said to Ronnie, can you tell on the ASV (that’s the air to surface vessel) whether we’re above land or we’re above sea. He got on and he said sorry, the ASV’s u/s. New aircraft, oh we picked up a new aircraft at Pilton, I forgot to tell you about that, when we were at Lynham. And we’d done a few consumption tests, one thing and another, test the aircraft. I think it was for about 8 days when we were at Lynham. And I think all crews, both the crews, followed the same procedure. No matter what course you were on at the OTU, there was to Lynham, picking up an aircraft and doing the tests on it and then Portreath and flying out. Oh yes, we’re flying out. The ASV was US Ronnie says so we were still about 6,000 feet and I was looking out of the perspex in the Observer’s nose of the aircraft. I said, I can see land behind us. Just through a break in the cloud and then it disappeared. So we knew we were probably over Portugal. So I said we’ll turn 270 due west. I said better run for about 10 minutes thinking in terms of making a guess of how far we’d gone inland you see, and at that time we’d only got mercator maps, we hadn’t got topographical maps of Spain and Portugal: no reason to have them, we weren’t supposed to be flying over there you see! Anyway, Stan said well we’ll do one of the things we’re never ever supposed to do, we’ll go down through cloud without knowing where we are. Well we did. We broke cloud, I think it was about 800 feet and about 3 or 4 miles behind us there was land, but not only that, we’d come straight west down the valley of the T+ with large mountains each side of T+. Were we lucky! Anyway, it was really a matter of having pinpointed ourselves, the rest of the trip down to Gibraltar was a bit of a doddle, except of-course when we got to Gibraltar, we found that the hydraulics were US. So we had a system whereby you had cartridges in the undercart which the pilot would fire and blow the undercart down and then to make sure you locked we had to handpump which I had to keep on pumping to make sure the undercart was down and kept down. And the runway at Gibraltar wasn’t very long at the time: I think it was about 1100 yards and they were lengthening it into the Al Geciras Bay. We landed and we were there for about a week I think while they fixed the aircraft up.
J: What was the air speed mechanism?
F: Have you ever seen one of the air screens of radar at all? Very much like that except that it didn’t have the circular hand going round. What in fact it had, it was very primitive.
J: ASV was comparatively new technology wasn’t it?
F: Oh yes. Actually what had happened was that it was a development of
J: It was for seeing what was on the ground rather than in the sky wasn’t it?
F: That’s right. It was developed from what they used to call Radio Direction Finding (RDF). Because that was what the towers on the Dover coast had first of all: RDF. They developed this in part and started to fix it to sound locators for anti-aircraft. But it was at its infancy and the idea was if you were on target you got a straight strobe light up and down. But I’ve got a feeling that – whether it went to America for development or no I think we did our own development here – and ASV was one of the first things, Air to Surface Vessel. Oh yes, that’s another thing we had to learn during our we had to learn vessel recognition because obviously we were designed to recognize ships as well although we didn’t realize at the time: types of merchant ships but very much warships as well of the German and Italian navy. We stayed at Gibraltar, 17th to Gibraltar. Six days at Gibraltar while they repaired or maintained the aircraft. And then we took off and we had to return to base the same day because something was wrong with the electrics. New aircraft mark you! And we were another three days. We eventually took off for Malta.
J: Did you know right from the beginning that that was where you were headed?
F: Oh no. Oh yes, we knew that we were going to Gibraltar and then to Malta and then possibly the Middle-East but they were possibilities only sort of thing but we certainly knew we were going to the Mediterranean. Where we’d end up we weren’t quite sure. Another amusing thing: Whilst we were in Gibraltar, we were housed in these semi-circular Nissan huts, which are sort of corrugated iron. And there was a lot of explosions going on because the rock was being further penetrated for military purposes, so bits of rock came flying all over you, and there were holes in the Nissan huts where bits of stones and rock had come through.
J: So you had to watch it a bit?
F: Yes, you did rather.
J: When you were on the ground, did you sleep in the same Nissan hut together as a crew?
F: Yes, that’s right, we were all together.
J: Stan Balkwill, was he an NCO?
F: Yes, he was a Sergeant Pilot. The same as myself, as Sergeant Observer and the two WAP AGs, Ronnie and Bomb, they were Sergeants as well. So we all messed together so to speak.
J: I imagine you all got on pretty well didn’t you?
F: Oh yes. We did. I do remember, Stanley for instance came out with American and Canadian expressions you see which were new to us but quite understandable. And Bob from the North came out with north country expressions. I remember one expression of Stan’s, it is probably well known now. His expression was â€œthat’s the way the cookie crumbles. It was quite new to us. We’d hardly ever been away from home. Oh yes, when we were briefed at Portreath, that when we landed at Gibraltar, not to have any air of bravado or anything like that, because dozens of aircraft had done it before! Take us down a peg just in case. We took off for Malta and we were loaded with lovely sandwiches and thermos with coffee, they really were we had loads to eat, not that we ate it all. I suppose we got half way and we were more or less running parallel with the North African coast. It might have been about 20 or 30 miles to the North, I can’t remember, but before we got to passing south of Sardinia, we saw floating on the sea was a Cant Italian float plane. Now then, we didn’t do anything about it because although we were loaded with ammo and things, our main job was to get to Malta with a replacement aircraft. Anyway, on later reflection we felt that this was an Italian reconnaissance aircraft, spying out the route of supply aircraft from Gibraltar to Malta. And eventually of-course actually some chaps on our Beaufort at Chivener/Turnbury, two or three of them were shot down on that route so they closed that route down certainly for daylight flights anyway and then they started putting more aircraft through Takaradi on the West Coast of Africa and flying over Africa, Sudan, and up the Nile which a number of replacement Beauforts eventually did.
J: So then you got to Malta
F: Let me see. We got to Malta and landed. And we had a Mark II with Pratt and Whitney lease lend engines. As soon as we got down there, a squadron leader, I don’t know who he was, said ah a mark II Beaufort, I’ll have that, and we immediately lost our aircraft. Which I was a bit fed up about. But then they said have you done a torpedo course? And it so happened that after we’d gone to Turnbury from Chivener
J: Did you land at Luqa?
F: We landed at Luqa, yes. And I think the airstrip there was also probably about 1,000 to 1,100 yards and I think it was a ravine at one end and pretty dicey the other end. I can’t quite remember. Anyway, you certainly had to land in the allotted space.
J: What can you remember at Luqa at that time?
F: We lost our aircraft but
J: So you were there to join 39 Squadron were you?
F: Yes, that’s right. But, yes, we got there on 24th August. On 27th August – now there’s an interesting thing – the Pedestal Convoy. On our way, flying to Malta, we saw quite a lot of debris floating in the sea. We didn’t know what it was at the time. Debris floating in the sea from the sunken ships of the Pedestal Convoy. We were flying quite low at the time, one of the things we saw was a lot of oranges. Amazing isn’t it! An area of orange and we looked closely and they were oranges. I think we were round about 50 feet at the time. I think I had the binoculars as well. Anyway, we landed and we lost our aircraft as I say. Immediately we were taken along to the Sergeant’s Mess to have tea. And four of us went along and we sat down in the Mess and we’d had a fine lunch of sandwiches etc. and when we sat down we were given one of these pint mugs of tea and one round – about half an inch thick – of white bread. And that was the lot. Just one slice. I drank my tea and the chap sitting next to me – he was a sergeant ground-staff chappy – he said â€œdo you want your slice of bread? I said â€œno. He said â€œcan I have it?. I said â€œby all means. This is how hungry they were. And by and large of-course it was reckoned that air crew were favoured from the point of view of food rather than ground staff because of their endurance in the air. I think by and large they were fed a little better. And I must say the cooks on Malta did marvellously. The way, the different ways they managed to dish up corned beef is amazing. They really worked hard. Anyway, three days later, they said have you done a torpedo course? At that time they hadn’t set up the torpedo training unit at Turnbury. They were setting it up and eventually the chap in touch – do you remember a tennis player by the name of Tony Rodrum[?] Well his son was also a tennis player. He was the chap in charge of the torpedo training unit at Turnbury and I think later at Longkesh [?] as well. We flew in a Dakota aircraft as passengers to Cairo. And that was a seven hour night trip. And then from there we were moved into an RAF staging post at a place called Al Mazar near Heliopolis (an aerodrome at Helio). We were there just a day or two at the most and we then went by train across the peninsula to the canal zone: Shelufa which is just 3 or 4 miles north of Port Suez, in the canal zone. We did our torpedo training there and most of it was concerned with low flying over the Red Sea and approaching almost any vessel that happened to be in the Red Sea: it could be an Arab dhow, or it could be a merchant vessel. We never did naval vessels because the naval vessels always opened fire before they tried to recognise you which was quite wise. We had our photograph taken at Shelufa, and I have a photograph taken there, hanging up in the hall. I don’t know if you know the layout of a Beaufort aircraft do you? Very briefly, it was a mid-wing monoplane, crew of four: pilot almost in the front higher up, on the left hand side. And a seat for the navigator on the starboard side next to him and another seat for the observer navigator in the front[shows photos]. There’s a turret which is fared in to the front part of the fuselage. There’s Bob Buckley in the turret. The wireless operator was here in the side hatch and you would also have a demountable gun there which you could fire from there and the other side. And there’s Stan the pilot in his position.
J: This was all taken when you were all near Suez?
F: Those were all taken at Malta and later on in Tunisia[shows more photos] that’s me in my navigation position and it had a bombsight here, there’s the bombing panel (not that we did much bombing) and which we would take drifts for navigation purposes. And I had a repeater compass somewhere here and there was a navigation table somewhere there with parallel rules and a small light which at night time you came down, it had about an inch of light coming out and you held it like this so it couldn’t be seen and you wrote like this. Because we didn’t have any radar aids as such
J: You look like you’re all good mates.
F: Yes. This chap, this naval chap, he was on a minesweeper, I got friendly with him when we were on Malta and he was in charge of provisions on a minesweeper. And I remember I went down to the dockyard to meet him – I think we were going somewhere together – and he had a case, a small case. So I said (Don Chapman was his name) â€œWhat have you got in the case? â€œWell, just on the way to the Officer’s Mess, I’ve got six bottles of gin in here which I can flog. I suppose, being in charge of rations he could ten seconds afterwards, the handle came away and it dropped on the ground and all the gin floated away. He was in a minesweeping flotilla. We got to No.5 Middle East Training School and we did our torpedo training there and then we went back to Malta. And this was about the time of the 8th Army push. I think it was in November. [checks notes]: Beginning of November. The Squadron had moved from Malta, in-between times because they hadn’t sufficient fuel to fly, and so they’d come back to the Middle-East.
J: Where abouts?
F: Shelufa, although we did some operations when we were at Shelufa but our advanced landing ground was just west of the Nile Delta and it was LG226 (Landing Ground 226) Genakolis[?].
J: So you weren’t on Malta with Patrick Gibbs then?
F: No. He was there at the time that we landed with our aircraft but he, I think he went home from there for a rest from Malta I’m pretty sure. He was never effectively my commanding officer. Did you know eventually he was correspondent for the Manchester Guardian?
J: Is he still alive?
F: He was three years ago. He was, when I say remote, he was a very kind person, but he wouldn’t approach you but he would engage in conversation. But I think his time as leading torpedo exponent may well have affected his attitude. Have you read his book?
J: Not entirely.
F: He also wrote Torpedo Leader. Even if I’d have seen him at Malta I wouldn’t have known him. We had 25 crews of four I believe
J: When you got back in November?
F: Yes. And our commanding officer a Wing Commander Maurice Gaine.
J: You got back to Malta in November
F: We flew back in formation as a Squadron. By that time they had sufficient fuel for us to operate and we were based at Luqa.
J: What can you remember of Luqa? Was it still looking pretty ravaged?
F: It was in a pretty bad shape.
J: Crashed aircraft all over the place?
F: Bits, you see what used to happen. If it was crashed an unrepairable and there were no bits they wanted of it, they used to push them over into the ravine. And so the amount of metal there after the war must have been most wonderous to the Maltese in salvage.
J: Can you remember what the dispersal was like, your living conditions etc?
F: They were still in the business of building aircraft pens: sort of U’s, they were U-shaped and probably about 10 feet high. And of-course the army helped a lot, filling in holes on the craters and this sort of thing. And the Maltese did with their donkey carts, carrying stones and boulders all over the place. I was billeted first of all in a place called Balluta Buildings. Now that’s placed in Balluta Bay which is just to the north of Valetta or north-west of Valetta. There’s another little Bay there as well and then there’s St George’s Bay. I used to go swimming and sailing now and again in St George’s Bay with a friend of mine.
J: Were you in a room together as a crew?
F: Oh yes. I think it must have been about 10 of us in one big room there. I think it was a four or five storey building which had been built by the navy in the 20s or 30s for navy personnel and when we went there for the
[end of side A]
F: No, just Stanley and myself.
J: You moved to where?
F: A hotel almost on the Sliema front, called the Meadowbank Hotel. And when we went to Malta in 1993 for the 50th Anniversary I looked for the Meadowbank Hotel and it’s not there. There was a chap walking down and we were looking there and he said â€œCan I help you?. I said â€œI’m looking for the Meadowbank. He said â€œWere you in there?. I said â€œYes. He said â€œSo was I. And he turned out to be Danish I think and he’d been on Wellingtons I think. He said â€œWhat Squadron were you in?. I said â€œ39. â€œOh he said, â€œI’ve got two friends on 39. I said â€œWho were they. He said â€œNot on Malta but when I was a POW. He said â€œDo you know Ralph Dodd?. I said â€œHe was my best friend on 39. And he’d met him as a POW. Anyway, I said â€œWhat’s happened to Meadowbank. He said â€œThey’re rebuilding it but on a different site. We thought we’d go and have a coffee at the Meadowbank Hotel. We went round there and went in and there was a young girl. I said the reason we were visiting because years ago I was at the old Meadowbank. â€œOh he said â€œDuring the war?. I said â€œYes. â€œOh she said, â€œI must go and fetch mother and father. And they apparently were the niece and nephew of the previous owners. And they were quite elderly themselves. But as they were such good cooks at the Meadowbank, 39 had pinched them for the aircrew Mess at Luqa.
J: So every morning you’d go off down to Luqa?
F: Actually we didn’t really have a lot of spare time. It was almost a daily routine. We did shift work: we were standing by for eight hours, we had 3 flights: A, B and C, and each did eight hour shifts standing by. And the idea was that if a message came in from a reconnaissance plane, either a Baltimore or a Spitfire, then we would stand by. And really speaking standing by itself somehow – perhaps it was the heat as well, I don’t know – but one got back from the aerodrome and one almost fell into bed. I went into Valetta on very very few occasions. It was mostly Sliema and Valetta.
J: How did you transport yourself into Luqa from there?
F: We had a bus that used to call at the seafront
[digresses into showing photos and Ralph Dodd]
J: Were you pleased to be commissioned?
F: Yes, well, I’m not quite sure you see. By and large, coastal command crews had a greater intensity of training than other crews. Probably because you had to concentrate on your navigation because of the lack of navigation aids you see. And also I think certainly in the strike aircraft I suppose replacement crews were shall we say much more frequent than other squadrons. [shows you something]. You see there’s strike aircrews, the type of aircraft and their chances of survival.
J: Not very good.
F: No. And I think perhaps because of the selection process they had for coastal and particularly Beaufort aircrews, there might have been a greater potential for commission people than in other types of squadrons.
J: But you didn’t mind being split up from the other two for instance?
F: Well, really speaking, not because we were still with them a hell of a lot you see. At Luqa airport for 8 hours a day. Oh but if we were going out we all went out together anyway you see. It was only the sleeping time that you weren’t in the same billet you see.
J: You were on 8 hours standby, suddenly the call comes through
F: We’re already on the aerodrome, in the aircrew room you see. And we go into the briefing room and they said well look there’s a target, Maratimo Islands, which is in the western end of Sicily or Palermo on the north coast or dashing across to Cape ++ you see. In this position, believed now, seen so and so, probably got 2 or 3 escorts
J: Typically this would be supply shipping, Italian merchants
F: Yes. Actually, it wasn’t the naval craft we were at mostly you see. It was really the supplies we were at you see. And then I think we only did about three day strikes or two day strikes. That’s right, because the Italians and their vessels would try to move them at night time only you see. They would creep down the coast sometimes during day time, but night time when they were possibly more vulnerable. And you would go out singly in about 2 or 5 minute intervals or something like that and then backtrack or search around that area.
J: How many planes were there to a flight?
F: Well we didn’t go out together you see. I think probably we had about 7 aircraft to a flight or something. But about 8 or 9 crews or something like that. Well that’s what we were supposed to have but it depended upon serviceability, how many crews were viable.
[tape breaks off]
F: Not that I did any operations on Beaufighters because my tour had well expired, but there were six of us, no seven, and we got to a staging post called Fort De Lot[?] near (can’t remember name), and we didn’t know how long we were going to be there but the chap in charge of the camp said you can get your rations now, the same day, and you can get your drink rations and he said it’s for a week. It was a bottle of whisky each. So we drew this bottle of whisky each, there were six or seven of us, and we were sleeping in wooden huts, probably on pillars of 2 or 3 feet above the ground you see, and that night we said well whose bottle shall we drink tonight. Oh, I don’t know who it was, but, we opened somebody’s. And it was a nice warm night and the moon was shining, we were chatting about this that and the other and there were seven of us and we finished the seven bottles of whisky! Now we were only about six or seven yards from the entrance to our hut, I think it was about four wooden steps per hut. Vernon going up the steps, he suddenly fell. He was down on the ground. â€œWhat’s the matter Vernon?. He said â€œI’ve lost my teeth. We couldn’t find them. So in the morning, we looked for them and there were Vernon’s teeth under the stairs.
J: When you were on Malta and you’re on readiness and you get called into the briefing room and you’re all ready to go
F: Yes well we get our briefing and we get our Mercator charts out. We draw the track in and they say well you can either go this way or that way. Actually, if it was the west coast of Sicily what we would either do: we would either creep up about 10 miles on the south coast of Sicily or we’d make our way straight across from Malta to Cap Bon[?] which was a very good landmark, even at night. And then we would change our course form Cap Bon to the Maratimo Islands and then past them and turn due east to Palermo or something like that. What we tried to do was to get a good pinpoint as near as possible where we expected to find the target. And of-course a good pinpoint generally speaking is land.
J: Was there much activity there at that time?
F: Oh yes, quite a bit yes.
J: Can you remember any particular missions where you found your targets?
F: Oh yes, the one chap, I think you might find it in there, called ++ Wattlington, known as Bud, he was from Bermuda. And he joined the Royal Canadian Airforce, he could already fly and the Royal Canadian Airforce could not absorb him at the time, so he joined the Ferry Pilots Unit in Bermuda and ferried an aircraft across the Atlantic. And when he was here he joined the RAF and went through the training. One night, he was given a target to attack, I think it was round about Maratimo Island, I’m not quite sure, and he got a ship in his sights, and it was very dark and rather foggy. And then he found he was attacking a destroyer. The flak was very intense but he was going for the merchant vessels you see, so he broke away and then he found the aircraft somewhat lighter, so he said to the wireless operator â€œHave a look down will you? and the torpedo was no longer there. So he went back to base and when he got there, a torpedo is connected by a cable round the circumference which holds it in you see, and it’s anchored above, the cable falls to one side and the torpedo drops. The torpedo of-course also has an air rudder on it to guide it so it falls straight and level through the air as well. When he got back and the engineer examined they found a piece of shrapnel had cut the torpedo cable. Of-course it wasn’t armed you see because it’s only armed when a small pedal on the front revolves, and that does the arming of the torpedo.
J: That was lucky.
F: Yes. I think practically everybody had their moments of undesired excitement.
J: Can you remember feeling frightened during these or was there too much to think about?
F: No, because you were so busy at the time. You were, mostly at night time you were looking all the time for the target, and also you were checking your drift on the bomb sight all the time, making sure you were on track because you wanted to be as precise as possible in your navigation. The pilot himself was concentrated on flying at 50 feet which in night time is very demanding, and during the day time for that matter. The air gunner was sweeping the skies all the time just in case there was anything around. And also looking for ships himself you see.
J: Did you ever get attacked from the air?
F: Oh yes, on one occasion. Night time. This was coming back from Suez or Sfax on the north African coast. I forget the name of the bay there. We’d been mine laying and we were coming back and then there was this, one of the first types of German night fighters and they had an orange glow in the front of the nose and we were coming back, about 100 feet and we saw this behind us. And Stan went down to about 50 feet and it followed us, when I say all the way back, all the way back except probably for the last 10 minutes. We’re telling the briefing officer, he said of-course the reason he couldn’t attack you, you were so near the surface of the sea that he couldn’t really tell when to pull away after the attack. But that is the only occasion that I can definitely remember that. And the only reason we knew it is because it was one of these prototype night fighters with this orange glow in front.
J: When did you start doing mine laying?
F: I think our first operation was a mine layer.
J: So you used to mix them up?
F: Oh yes. Our first mine laying was on Tunis in the middle of November 1942. That’s right, then we did a
J: What sort of mine laying was it?
F: Mine laying for ships. What we used to do was lay mines in the shipping lane, immediately in front of a port. Apparently we did some bombing on L+[?] 2nd delay. I couldn’t remember that.
J: Did you have any good successes?
F: Oh yes we did, in mine laying. At Tunis I think a week later we got survey reports and then also We also laid mines at Palermo, as well as Bizerta and Sfax. Oh yes, â€œ12 January, Sfax, mine laying, chased by night fighter. Sfax more because of-course that’s where most of the Italian supply shipping was going in you see. On one occasion we, Oh yes, that’s right we were doing a talk[?] strike at night: normally the idea is to attack the vessel with the moon behind the vessel you see so it’s silhouetted
J: Were most of your attacks at night?
F: Yes. Mostly because the shipping movement was at night by the Italians. Although we did go out on one squadron strike during the day but we were recalled and I think one of the reasons was that they couldn’t organize any top cover for us during the day.
J: When you went out, did you also go out with the Beaufighters behind you?
F: Yes we did. The idea was for Beaufighters cabin and machine gunning as immediate top cover and when possible, but it didn’t often happen, Spitfires on high cover. But really speaking it really never got off the ground that sort of thing.
J: And did you have many torpedo successes?
F: Oh yes. We had two which we could mark. As a matter of fact, I think it’s in Roy’s book. We were the last crew to drop a torpedo from a Beaufort in the Mediterranean. On one occasion, I think it was somewhere off the west coast, somewhere on the Maratimo Islands, when it was a moonlit night, but because the proximity of the vessel to one of the islands, we had to attack with the moon behind us. And so we were silhouetted. And so we got rather a lot of reception. We dropped and scored but in the meantime we were hit and it was a bit of a dicey business but nevertheless things panned out alright. Anyway, it’s in his book. And another occasion also approximately in the same area, there was a 5,000 tonner I think, I think it had anchored for the night, but anyway the long and short of it was it was stationary and we got to hit her midships. Very nice. That’s two I can specifically remember. But of-course there were more torpedo misses than hits and on one occasion, this is the bones of it, the squadron went out daytime to a daytime attack on the Italian fleet, and we were recalled either the Italian fleet or units of it, I’m not quite sure we were recalled and for heavy battle cruisers and such like, the depths for the torpedo run is 26 feet I think because a much deeper hull you see. And then very quickly we were ordered out again, against merchant men, and all of them missed. And they all went underneath the targets. What had happened, they hadn’t re-set the depth, the depth-setting from 26 feet to 6 feet for merchant. As you can well imagine, a lot of this is what you hear via the grapevine from the engineering officer or something like that. It was only when we were going to attack something that we got something definite and our results. What they started to call the â€œneed to know business. And our knowledge of Malta generally speaking was very much squadron oriented. You didn’t really see or know what was going on outside the squadron.
J: How long were you on Malta for then?
F: Now I left there I got there in August, went away to Suez, and then oh we also did some mine laying at Catania and Tripani mine laying, I’m not sure whether that’s on the south coast of Sicily Tripani is on the west coast, that was quite remarkable, because some very remarkable things happened ++ navigation. On this particular one, we were going to Tripani which was up towards the west coast, and what we did, I remember specifically, was we set course from Malta, straight across to Cap Bon, pinpointed ourselves there and then the distance I think must have been about 14 nautical miles or something, but relatively short distance. Turned out the wind in the locality and set that and on ETA to get to Tripani, nothing. So I said to Ronnie â€œWhat’s on the air speed?. He said â€œSea only. So we said â€œLet’s go back to Cap Bon. So I did the reciprocal back to Cap Bon, and we got it quite OK. So we said â€œWe’ll go out again. We did the same thing. Same result, no result. Got back to Cap Bon. So Stan said â€œWe’re a bit short on fuel, we’d better return to Malta, which we did quite easily. I’ve got a note here: â€œMine laying Tripani, lost, return with mine.
J: When was that?
F: That mine laying was at the beginning of April, at Tripani. But there was another, we were going out on another Rover Talk Strike[?], in March to Taranto. And we left Malta, went due east and we were low and the sea was like glass. No wind, nothing at all. We went out, turned north on our ETA from our DR position, turned north up into the Bay of Taranto, cruised along there a bit and then we got a pinpoint on the west arm of the Bay of Taranto. I think the only thing we saw was a very small sailing ship, because the Italian fleet weren’t coming out you see. And there were no merchant vessels in the vicinity. So we came back to our DR position, we flew south to it and turned due west to Malta. Well just about two or three weeks before we had been fitted with VHF radio. Not only that, we had been fitted with VHF DF radio, so we could get a QDM, that was the only time we could do it. And we turned at the DR position, turned due west, and the sea was like glass. Went up to about 500 feet, I reckoned we were about 10 or 20 miles from Malta, I said â€œAnything on the ASB Ronnie. He said â€œNo, not a thing. We should have seen it by then you see. So I thought better get down on the surface again. Looked again, nothing. So I said to Stan: â€œI can’t understand it. No wind, nothing at all. So anyway, about 5 minutes before our ETA at Malta, he said let’s go up and QDA on VHF. I said â€œOK. We did and we were right on track, and not only that, we got back on ETA. But there’s nothing at all on ASV. Spoke to two other crews who’d been on the same duty, they experienced the same thing. It really is an amazing things that can happen and there’s no explanation for it. Having done that, that was before the time when I was lost on the Tripani trip. The following day I had to go and see the Air Vice Marshall about commissioning. And I think there were three of us there, chatting, and a very friendly approach but businesslike. I think the AVM said to me â€œHave you ever been lost?. So I said â€œYes. So he said â€œHow did that come about?. I told him what happened. He said â€œLet me tell you. You’re never a good navigator until you’ve been lost.
J: That was Park presumably?
F: It might have been P Lloyd. Some years ago when I went to Whitton in Cambridgeshire (39 Squadron reunion), I met a chap who’d been on Beaufighters on 39 after Beauforts and he had been P Lloyd’s Aid de Camp.
J: When did you leave Malta eventually?
F: Oh Morris Gain, his initials were M.L. But he was always known as Larry. Because Larry Gain was a welterweight boxer at that time. I’ve got a feeling his second name was Lawrence. Jane’s mother and sister lived near Grimsby and I saw Larry Gain at a reunion on one occasion and apparently his two sisters lived almost next door to Jane’s mother. Now then, 1 June I left Malta.
J: By then you must have were you aware of the change on the island. The food must have been improved by the time you were leaving?
F: I suppose, yes, but we hadn’t put it into context what happened at the time. But on reflection yes, we were able to get chapattis on the black market, things like that. Which we hadn’t first of all.
This is a letter a chap wrote to me some years ago, chap named Hamlyn lived in Suffolk. He was doing a Malta history, 1918-78, he wrote to me and I wrote back and told him one or two things. I never got any reply from him but there’s a few of my notes on Malta and the economic situation and the people. You can borrow that if you like. I forget what’s in there but you might find one or two points interesting. But one of the main things of-course was the friendliness of the Maltese. We went back to Malta in 1993 and the friendliness from the older people from Malta was quite phenomenal. This is when the Libyans were on their way out.
J: Can you remember your rations improving as time went on?
F: One of the things I do remember, because things were still pretty grim at Christmas time but nevertheless we had Christmas 1942, I think we had corned beef dressed up in some other way, probably some sage and onion stuffing or something like that. But the cooks went out of their way to do their very best. I think it must have been about April, March or April, where as air crew we had a large tin of apricots given to each one. Well of-course they were large tins, so what we did, we paired up to open our tin. We had one tin between the two of us one day and another day we’d have the other chap’s tin. And also we got some oranges as well. Later. So yes it was improving. By and large the food itself didn’t improve all that much although I do remember that we started to have something which I suppose you would say was something akin to roast beef. And we started to get tinned peas and I think tinned vegetables. It did show a slight improvement, but really speaking not a great improvement up to the end of my but I believe that subsequently it improved quite a lot and very, very quickly.
J: You weren’t conscious of the build-up of personnel and more planes as the invasion of Sicily preparations got under way?
F: No, because at that time it hadn’t started when we left. One of the reasons we left – there were a number of reasons of-course – but one of them was that we could do strikes from Northern Africa equally as well as doing them from Malta. So it was a matter of Malta, leaving to get other squadrons, probably to get fighter cover for Sicily and things like that.
J: To give them more room?
F: Yes. And of-course they had more reconnaissance aircraft coming in as well. Certainly more fighter squadrons and then I believe, I’m not quite sure whether they had more bomber squadrons or not. I got the impression that the bombing that was going on from Malta and Sicily was more medium bomber from North Africa and Liberators from North Africa and also Wellingtons from North Africa. Night Wellingtons, torpedo Wellingtons – and they had two torpedoes – they stayed on Malta. The reason I know that is because 221 squadron, one of which is one of them, a WAP/AG’s which we didn’t require on Beauforts, they switched over to Wellingtons, and he was on these until he finished his tour. So that’s how I know 221 stayed at Malta. Another thing I said to him â€œWhat did you do when you finished your tour. â€œOh he said, â€œI was posted to South Africa. I said â€œWhat did you do there. He said â€œI was wireless operator on an Imperial Airways flying boat that went from Durban to Calcutta and back, and the rest of the war I was doing that he said. â€œAnd the food was stupendous. Thinking in terms of returning, I returned and I was posted to 5 Coastal OTU again which had moved to Longkesh which now you know is the men’s prison. I was instructing there for a little while and then they were phasing Beauforts out and they were all going to the Far East. We left our Beaufort by the way in Cairo and that was going to go on to the Far East for torpedo squadrons there.
J: So that’s when your crew split up, at that point?
F: We split up actually near Portville, just a few miles south of Tunisia, when we were going on to Beaufighters.
J: So you were in North Africa for a bit?
F: I was in North Africa for a bit, but I didn’t do any real operations.
J: But you were in North Africa with Beaufighters?
F: Yes. As my tour had expired and we were getting new crews in, I wasn’t on it.
J: And then you were involved in D-Day?
F: Oh yes, when we came back I was instructing at Longkesh and Beauforts scrapped up and I went as Navigation Instructor to an advanced navigation school near Barrow in Furness. So I was there for a little time but I wanted to get back on the squadron. And it seemed to be that if you’d done an operation on Beauforts then it was very difficult for you to get back on another operational squadron. That’s how I got posted to 271 squadron which was working up at Down Ampney near Swindon. That’s an interesting thing. I was walking round Down Ampney on one occasion, I think it must have been April 1944, I saw a friend of mine who was in the same form as me at school: Joseph. He was a Staff Sergeant Glider Pilot. I said â€œWhat are you doing here Jo. He said â€œYour lot, meaning our squadron, towing our lot, over on the invasion of Normandy. Which we did, and I never saw him again. You probably know of an author by the name of Martin Middlebrook. Well I corresponded with him once or twice when he was writing his authentic book on Aden. He sent me his book about a month or two before the 50th anniversary. So I thought I’ll look up glider pilot regiments and his squadron under the acknowledgements. And there was Joseph’s name there. So I wrote to him. About 10 days later Joseph phoned me up. He lived in Lewis in Sussex. We had a natter on the phone. And he told me that he’d done a few other ones. He’d done the Sicily drop and he told me what had happened there, and some ++ dropped in the sea. And apparently one of the reasons was that as the RAF hadn’t got sufficient Dakotas, American pilots were towing them over to Sicily but a lot of them were civilian pilots and none of them had seen warfare before and so they were seeing ack-ack and releasing the towing and pushing off and that’s why a lot of them landed in the sea. But he also told me, he said â€œWere you doing any work for the Pacific?. I said â€œYes, I was. He said â€œDo you know, if I’d been ordered out there, I’m sure I’d have found a good reason for not going.
J: So did you end up in the Pacific?
F: No, after I’d done a bit at Down Ampney I was posted to Leicester East and then Sireston[?] which was a transport conversion unit as a navigation instructor. And whilst I was there, after I’d done my navigation period, I was crewed up to go to India or Burma I think it was. And the day before I was going I was pulled off the posting and I think it was because they required long range navigation instructors or something. Anyway, I heard about six weeks later through one of the chaps at Leicester East that the crew I was going to go with they’d bought it in the Dakota on their very first flight over the hump.
J: That was lucky for you.
F: Yes, but you know luck does play a part. I came across two sayings: either â€œLord looks down on the righteous or â€œthe devil looks after its own. I must say that I found during my period of service you always found one person in a unit, who could always scram something from somewhere, but the number of lovely people I met really good chaps, really was. Times are different now but they didn’t say they were patriotic, they just were. They didn’t have to say it. And it is true, you were operating for your immediate friends in your squadron and your regiment, but it was for the country and the king and queen were always there.
J: Did you lose a lot of good mates in the war?
F: Oh yes. On the Beaufort squadron, yes. I’m not quite sure but I think that we were the only whole crew of a four that ended up and retired, and even then that was because Stan Balkwill went back eventually as a pilot instructor to Canada and he was instructing on Mosquitoes, and Mosquitoes are deadly for taking off because the props, they’re not contra-rotating, they spin to port both of them. And one of his engines cut on take-off, killed instantly. And he was a marvellous pilot. Every Beaufort pilot had to be a good pilot because of the type of aircraft, to be able to gauge your landing and the high wing loading, very good. Strong aircraft.
J: I guess when close friends die you have to get on with it?
F: It’s difficult to recall what one’s feelings were. I had a good friend of mine, Bob McCullock, he was ++ went to Observer School together. You’ve probably heard of the Militia. It started in 1938. Bob was a Glaswegian. He was called up in the Militia. He was in the Cab++ in the 50th Highland Division. He went to France. And he didn’t come back through Dunkirk. He came back partly by a rowing boat. And he said he was with three other chaps in this rowing boat, or two other chaps, they got almost half way across rowing I think two nights and a day. They were picked up by a destroyer. He said â€œArmy’s no life for me and transferred to the air crew. And we met at the Observer School and we were good pals always and in a very short time he was knocked down off Palermo, night time.
J: So he went out to Malta with you did he?
F: Yes, same squadron. He went out at the same time, so we were together. He was knocked down and I thought â€œPoor old Bob. And then a couple of months later I think the whole of the crew were POW, so you see it lifted things a bit. When I was at home eventually and there was the invasion of Normandy and a lot of the POW camps were overrun by the allies and he was in one of them which was overrun. And we were all having a drink in the pub because he came – I lived in Wembley with Mum and he came down and stayed with us from Glasgow – and he brought out a roll of banknotes, tightly rolled, and they were American and Canadian dollar notes of various denominations. He said â€œCan you change any of these for me?. I said â€œWell I can change some but at a time because I was on the cross channel, I was on Dakotas at the time you see. So I said â€œWhere did you get all this?. He said â€œEverybody left, the guards had run away, nobody left. There were just two chaps left on the camp, who just stayed around. One was an American air gunner, known as Tubber. We had a nose round the camp to see if we could find anything and eventually we ended up in the camp offices. And in the camp office there was a safe and I remember Bob’s words, word for word. He said â€œI don’t know what that American airgunner did before he joined the Air Force but he had that safe open in less than two minutes. All the cash.
I remember walking in Cairo, I think it was about June or July 1942, I saw a school friend coming towards me. And he had been flying Hurricanes in the defence of Crete. Now he was walking with two friends – I think they were squadron friends. Now this chap named Duncan, his name was Keith Duncan, and he was a good bowler but he was a left arm round the wicket bowler but he had a most peculiar overarm action and we christened him Daisy – I don’t know why, because he just wasn’t straightforward. Anyway, he was walking towards me, I said â€œHello Daisy!. He could have killed me of-course because there were these two squadron friends who obviously wanted to know why he was called Daisy.
A lot of these funny things happened.
When we went over to Arnem on the 50th Anniversary, the chappy who organized something from Down Ampney, lives in Coventry. He does a lot of the squadron and we went over there by coach. First time I’ve been back since. And when Joseph had phoned me up, he said he was going to the anniversary. No point in meeting, he said, there’ll be lots of people there. Went over there and on the Sunday morning there was a Church service at Oost++ cemetery. It was really very very touching and all the children there had flowers. We were walking towards the exit gate, Jane was with me, one or two squadron friends and their wives, and there was Jo on the inside of the gates looking towards the pathway. We recognized each other right away. Jo had a walking stick. He was a sort of cockney’s temperament with always a ready turn of wit. And he got a twinkle in his eye. He was an amusing fellow, a very likeable fellow. Anyway, his mouth was bleeding. I think one or two ladies got their handkerchiefs out and handed him one, I introduced him. I said â€œWell what happened Jo?. He said â€œI was standing behind the Padre and talking to Queen Juliana[?] who was a very, very nice lady. And the Padre who was a rather tall fellow turned round quickly and hit me in the mouth. And he went on to say, â€œDo you know I bled more today than throughout the whole six years of war.
J: It’s nice that you still get to see your comrades in arms.
F: Well immediately after the war it was really a matter of getting back and earning your crust and it wasn’t till probably about 70 or something I think I saw an advert about 39 Squadron reunion at Whitton, Cambridgeshire, and it was the first reunion since they’d formed in 1917. So anyway – we lived in Kensington at the time – so we went along, stayed on the station a couple of nights. I must say the squadron went out of their way to make us feel at home. And of-course met one or two folks who had been on Malta with me. One or two kept in touch and somebody wrote to me and said there’s an advert in ++ about a Beaufort Middle-East reunion. And it was an address of a chap in Northwood, Middlesex. So I wrote they organized, I think there must have been 20 of us, for a luncheon at the Victory Club, Seymour Street, which was quite successful, and then three or four more arranged transferred it to the RAF club and then we started getting attendances of 60 or 70 – that wasn’t only Beaufort Middle East, that was Beauforts altogether. You met people.