GEORGE MUNROE WAS A FIGHTER PILOT AND SERVED IN NORTH AFRICA, SICILY, ITALY AND YUGOSLAVIA.
Date of Interview: 1st November 2002
G: Born in Glasgow on 8th June 1920. I lived for four years there and then my family moved to Edinburgh. I went to school in Edinburgh
J: Big family?
G: I have a brother and a sister. And I started work at 15 in the North British Rubber Company as a laboratory assistant. And then when the war started in 1939 I applied for and was accepted for pilot training on the 6th September. That was three days after the war began. I had prior to the war beginning been accepted for a short service commission in the RAF. But in the July of 1939 I had a letter from the Air Ministry saying that because of the current political situation the scheme had been discontinued. To report to my nearest VR centre. And I frankly felt if I couldn’t get what I wanted I wasn’t going to join the VR. However, when war started that changed everything. So I didn’t start my flying training until June of 1940 because prior to the war A.W. Tedder[?] who was then an Air Commodore had started up the idea of having a volunteer reserve which he thought could be recruited from the young men of the day, the majority of them teenagers. The idea was that after they’d finished their ordinary day’s work they would in the evening attend lectures on theory of flight, airmanship, navigation, meteorology, gunnery, etc. etc. And then at the weekends they would learn how to fly and once a year they would attend a two week training course. Now this scheme wasn’t started until 1937 but it proved to be so popular with the young men of the day that by the time the war started there had been recruited 2,000 of these young men up and down the length and breadth of Britain. About 300 of them were fully trained — they were trained incidentally by permanent RAF flying instructors — and once they had received their pilot’s brevy if they were socially acceptable, they were commissioned. If not they were promoted to Sergeant. And the ratio was roughly one to four[?]. This tells you a number of things but we’ll maybe touch on them later. So when war started they were all given preference to people like myself who had joined after the war had begun. Many of these young men purely joined to learn how to fly. Now what a lot of people don’t realise is that the first 300 were spread more or less evenly throughout the RAF: Bomber Command, Coastal Command, Training Command and Fighter Command. What it meant was that each unit or formation in those various commands might receive two or maybe three of these young men. The remainder – many of them were in different stages of training – but they started coming online in about the October/November of 1939 and by the end of May 1940 they had all been trained and they had been more or less disseminated throughout the RAF. What it meant as regards fighter command is that roughly 40-45% of the pilots on fighter squadrons were NCOs. Many people don’t realise this. Because if you’ve seen any of the films and documentaries which have been made about the Battle of Britain you go away with the impression that it was officer pilots flying the Spitfire that won the Battle of Britain. And of-course nothing could be further from the truth because there were roughly twice as many Hurricanes as there were Spitfires and of the 481 pilots that were killed, 197 of them were NCO pilots. And the majority of them were these VR Sergeants who had been trained prior to the war. They took a terrible hammering. Mainly because they were so inexperienced. They were coming up against German pilots who had fought in Spain, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, France.
J: And presumably the best way to work out your battle tactics is to take part in a battle isn’t it?
G: It’s on the job training.
J: I do remember there was six attack formations and they used to practice on these incredibly slow moving straight and level planes and of-course enemy planes don’t do that do they?
G: Another thing people don’t realise is that at the beginning of the war there was tremendous class difference. The RAF stock of pilots prior to the war were long-term career officers who signed on to age 55. Short service commissioned officers who signed on for five years on the active list and one on the reserve. And auxiliary airforce pilots. Auxiliary squadrons were attached to universities and they drew their recruits from amongst the students at university. And once they were trained up to wing standard again by regular RAF qualified training instructors attached to the squadron and once they were given their wings they were commissioned. So at that stage really all pilots were commissioned. And we didn’t begin to see NCO pilots in the RAF until the VR was started. There was a saying at the beginning of the war that permanent RAF officers were pilots trying to be gentlemen. The auxiliaries were gentlemen trying to be pilots. The VRs were neither, trying to be both. Anyway, so I joined a squadron, the RAF training at that time took six months. So I joined my first squadron in December of 1940.
J: When you joined up, it was just a question of going to the local RAF recruiting office was it?
G: Yes. I had a letter from the Air Ministry telling me about my previous application you see, so when I went up to the local recruiting officer he said, â€œOh no, we’re not dealing with anybody. I said â€œWell I think you are. Just have a look at that letter. â€œOh, right. And the recruiting officer then said to me – this was about 11, half past 11 in the morning – â€œCould you be back here by 2 O’clock with your case packed? And I was.
J: And what date was that?
G: That was 6th September 1939. The RAF really didn’t know what it was all about. Because it was so chaotic at that time. Total disorganisation. Anyway, I joined my first squadron in December of 1940.
J: So that means from the moment you joined up to the moment you joined your first squadron was about 15 months.
G: Yes, just over 15 months. That was with 17 squadron. Then I left them in September of 1941 to go to an operational training unit to act as a staff pilot, training other pilots how to fly the Hurricane. Although when I was with 17 squadron I did actually fly five or six hours on Spitfires. We were given one to try it out to see how
J: But basically it was a Hurricane squadron?
G: It was mainly a Hurricane squadron. Then I did a years rest. Until September of 7th September 1942 I joined 32 squadron. And this was almost immediately prior to the going out to North Africa. At that time they were doing a bit of nonsense called the Turban Light[?]. You may never have heard of it. They took a twin engine Boston[?], cut the nose off it and put a searchlight on the front. Filled it up with batteries and also a radar set and then a Hurricane formated along side it at night. The Boston[?] picked up the enemy aircraft on the radar and then he homed in behind them, yelled dive and you dived down and then said pull up and when you pull up he lit up his searchlight and illuminated the
J: Didn’t it work?
G: Anyway, I joined them on the 10th at West Rawling[?]. Three days later I was at Honolly[?] and very shortly after that, about ten days later, I was at a place called Baggington[?] and then was posted on the 27th October to West Kirby prior to going out to North Africa.
J: When did you find out that you were going out to North Africa?
G: Virtually when I was there. They took us to North Africa on there were a lot of troop ships but they didn’t put us on a troop ship. There were six escort vessels and they split up the pilots on the escort vessels. The idea being that if they put us on troop ships and the troop ship got sunk they lost all the pilots. We went out on a ship called the Western, HMS Western. And it took us about ten days and we landed at Algiers. That would be about 20th November, just after it had started. But the organisation was so brilliant that they landed the pilots at Algiers, the ground crew at Philipville – which is about 200 miles away – and our aircraft at Gibraltar – which is 200 miles in the opposite direction! We had to thumb a lift from the Americans in their Dakotas back to Gibraltar and also to Oran. Our Hurricanes came out in crates. Well eventually they were built up into Hurricanes and we flew them back to Algiers. They were the four canon Hurricane with two fifty gallon long range canons so it had a tremendous range. But flew a bit like a tank. The Hurricane originally was a very good aeroplane, until this is interesting, Hurricane Mark I had a Merlin III engine, about 1,000 horsepower. The Mark II had a Merlin 20 which was 1,250. Now if you leave the weight and everything constant to an aeroplane with an increase of power by 25% it’s a tremendous difference. And this was the case in the Hurricane. And it was a wonderful thing. But then some bright character came along and said well if that increase in performance is so good, why don’t we give it some extra guns. So they added another four 303s. Plus they’ve got another lot of four lots of 250 rounds of ammunition. That cut its performance back. But then some other bright character said â€œThese 303s are a bit like shooting peas at them. Why don’t we put some canons in it?. So they fitted four canons. Now I don’t know if you’ve seen a four canon Hurricane but the guns are so long that about that length sticks out the front of the aircraft. Anyway, that was the one that we took out to Africa. We operated from Algiers mainly defending the town against attack by German aircraft but also a lot of convoy patrols. Did convoy patrols for a long time. Then in April 1943 we got our first Spitfire 5c and we only got a few of those. We got about three. They were Spitfire 5cs and Hurricane 2cs, at the same time. We still carried on with the [?]. We did sweeps out to sea after… And then in I think it was May of 1943 we shot down our first German aircraft which was a Heinkel 111 which was a bomber. I had previously chased a Junker 88 but he got away from me in cloud. Then over a period of time they slowly gave us more and more Spitfires and in June of 1943 we got our first Spitfire Mark 9 which actually was the first production 9 Spitfire that came off the production line JK395. A lot of people don’t realise that the 9 was really only a 5 with a slightly longer nose. It was to take up the Merlin 60 series of engines which had a two-stage super charger. And the two-stage super charger made the engine that much longer. We still carried on with our shipping and anti-reconnaissance and a whole lot of stuff. In squadron history this squadron still exists out at Northolt. They now call themselves the Royal Squadron because essentially they’re a transport squadron carrying people all over the place. In the squadron history that they’ve got, it’s very interesting that they mention flying officer Higgins shooting down the Heinkel. They also mention our CO shooting down two Junker 88s and then it says – they named them – and then it says â€œthe squadron shot down four Focke-Wulf 190s. But no mention of who shot them down. Would it surprise you to learn that the majority were shot down by NCO pilots! And in fact prior to that on July the 5th I shot down an ME 109G4 on 22nd July a flight sergeant pilot shot down an ME109
J: Was that in Sicily by that stage?
G: No, this was still in North Africa. We were stationed at a place called Bizerta, near Bizerta. Actually the airfield was called Las Balla. Which is an airfield near to Bizerta. I was still an NCO pilot. By then I was a Warrant Officer pilot. As I say there were three 109s shot down all of them by NCOs and then on September 2nd a flight sergeant pilot and I shot down two 190s. On 6th September there were another two Flokwolf 190s destroyed, one of them by an NCO pilot. On 6th there were another two Flokwolfs destroyed, one of them by an NCO pilot. So the NCO pilots were shooting down but weren’t given any recognition for it! We finished up in North Africa on 19th September 1943. What happened was we were waiting near to Bizerta for the troops to land at Montecavino[?] but what happened was they landed at Montecavino[?] and then they were pushed back and then they pushed the Germans back and then they were pushed back again and they were going like this back and forwards across the airfield that we’d got to land on. And eventually by the 19th they reckoned that things had settled down sufficiently so we could fly there. But there was still fighting over the airfield. And that was the end of the campaign as far as I was concerned.
J: And then you went over to Italy presumably?
G: Well we went to Italy, yes. We served in Italy and we did escorting of Mitchell bombers and shipping patrols. We did a lot of work over the top of Yugoslavia, air to ground strafing[?]. All very frightening. And then on December 17th of 1943 we began getting our first Spitfire Mark 8s. The Mark 8 was actually designed to combat the Flokwolf 190. It had a lot of extra things that the 9 didn’t have. It had extra fuel tanks. It had a two speed, two-stage super charger. But we started getting that. And then it goes on on my next log book which I shall need to go and get Yes, we continued from Montecavino, until January of 1944. Then they moved us back to Maison Blanc to totally re-equip us. You see in Italy we had Spitfires, Spit 9s and still Hurricanes. So we had four different aircraft on the squadron. But as I say in January 1944 they moved us back to Maison Blanc, Algiers, and totally re-equipped us. And when we went back we went back to Foggia[?] which is on the other side of Italy and we operated over Yugoslavia in conjunction with the – what did they call themselves? – partisans. And also escorting destroyers that went in and at that time we lost two Flight Commanders. In fact we lost a lot of pilots at that time. On the 13th of the month we lost Flight Lieutenant Brody and on 16th of the month we lost Flight Lieutenant McKay[?]. I can’t remember but I think the CO sort of said â€œStep forward anybody who wants to be a Flight Commander and everybody took three steps back. We were losing a lot of pilots at that time. I lost my number two at a place called Ziostrock[?]. He was shot down by ground fire. Most of it was being shot down by ground fire. Terrible. They had a poor canon mounting that was fairly deadly. And then on April the 2nd, no it would be April the 10th, the CO said to me â€œMr Munroe I want you to apply for a commission. And I said â€œThank you very much sir but I don’t want a commission. And he said â€œI don’t give two hoots what you want, it’s what the RAF needs. You’re applying for a commission. â€œNo thank you, sir. â€œYes you are. Because if you don’t I will see that you are posted back to the desert, into Cairo. But what I didn’t know at the time was that he couldn’t do that. Because since I was second to have expired he had to send me home. So I flew over to Naples and I thought I’ll make a right mess of this commissioning board. So the answers that I gave them were really quite nonsensical and I thought that’s fine, no commission for me. So I get back home, hear nothing about it. I’m posted back home and I’m home for about a year when the CO in Britain sends for me and says â€œMr Munroe why are you improperly dressed? and I immediately thought oh dear, my flies are undone. â€œNo, no. You’re wearing the wrong badges of rank. â€œNo I’m not. I’m a warrant officer. â€œYou’re a flying officer. That was it. And I got a year’s back pay. Because I’d been commissioned back-dated to Italy. Very useful.
J: Why were you so dead against being commissioned?
G: Probably the best rank in the RAF was Warrant Officer. You had all the advantage of being commissioned but without the responsibility. You also wore an officer’s uniform, which was very nice. I suppose it was really traceable back to the beginning of the war when the RAF had literally turned me down out of hand, although having previously promised me a commission, they turned me down out of hand. I suppose I took Anyway, now that was virtually the end of my operational flying. Because when I came back home I was trained to be an instructor and I flew Harvards, Oxfords, Tiger Moths, Prentices and eventually at the end of the war I finished up I was de-mobbed in November of 1945. I had been for the few months before that as an instructor at 19FTS Cranwell which was the thing immediately prior to them re-starting RAF Cranwell as the permanent flying officer training place. So then I was out of the RAF for four years.
J: What did you do in between?
G: I went back to my job in the rubber company and became a rubber technologist. However, I’m walking down the street in Edinburgh one day and I look up and I see an aeroplane and I think â€œOh how nice it would be to be up there. And then I thought â€œyou’re a clown you know. Anyway, that was it. I rejoined. I rejoined in March 1949. And I served on the flying training school until 1949 when I was posted to Hong Kong
Wife: Can’t be 1949, you only went back in in 1949.
G: Yes. I beg your pardon I was looking at a Spitfire 14 you’re quite right
J: So when you went back you flew a Spitfire again did you?
J: It must have been on to jets wasn’t it?
G: No, no. I served with 3FTS until 1950, beginning of 1950, and was then posted on an Air Ministry named posting to Hong Kong to act as Permanent Flying Instructor and Training Officer to the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force who were part of the Hong Kong Defence Force. And I stayed there until I came back again in 1953. And when I was with them I was flying Oxfords, Harvards and Spitfires. The very last Marks: the Mark 18 and the Mark 24.
J: What were they like? They must have been a completely different plane weren’t they?
G: A bit like flying a battle ship. To me they were no longer a Spitfire. Carried four canons. Carried a lot of power. Carried 2000 you could either have the 24 with a 2,000 horsepower engine or 2,240 horsepower engine with a contra-rotating prop. Because it was a contra-rotating prop if you opened the throttle too fast the prop stood still and the fuselage went round the prop! Anyway, so I stayed with them until 1953 and then I came back home in December of 1953 and joined I was given an option of three different things: either the Edinburgh University Air Squadron; the Aberdeen University Air Squadron; or a Fighter Control Unit in Inverness. So I picked the one in Inverness and I spent the remainder of my time until 1957 in Inverness. And that was my history in the RAF. And I thought that was the end of my flying. But of-course it wasn’t. Because I was stationed at Glasgow with an insurance company and saw an aeroplane flying over and decided oh yes it would be nice to fly that so I started civilian flying. And I flew from round about 1970 until 1990 and that had been all fixed wing flying. And then my wife treated me to a three day course on helicopters. I’d never flown helicopters.
Wife: He’d never flown helicopters and he was celebrating his 70th birthday and 50 years of flying and I thought we’d have to do something to mark it so we got him onto this course up at Elstree and he came back from the course having signed up to flying helicopters.
G: So I got my helicopter pilot’s licence in 1994. And then immediately following that they discovered a lump on my right lung which was cancer. So that was the end of my flying.
Wife: Well when they operated on that it caused various disturbances in the heart and civil aviation people were not
G: Quite rightly, quite rightly. I’d had a fair innings.
Wife: You were 74.
G: I’d had 54 years of flying which is a reasonable amount of time. Flown one or two prototypes. I flew the prototype of the Provost, Piston Provost, which was the HPR2, which was the Piston prototype to the Provost. And to the same specification there was another aircraft built – and they were almost identical – was the Percival P56 which was also a piston prototype. And then afterwards, much later, the what was that one I flew with Geoff Cairns? Lovely wee thing.
J: As a child had you always been interested in aeroplanes?
G: Oh yes. When I was a little boy. When I was 12 or 13 I had a meccano set and you could buy extra bits and pieces with which you could build an aeroplane so I built an aeroplane. Anything to do with aeroplanes I was fairly interested in.
J: Had it always been your intention to join the RAF regardless of war?
G: More or less.
J: You just thought as a young boy â€œI want to fly.
G: That’s right. I suppose if I’d had any sense I would have joined the VR but the VR, a lot of them, not intending to fight a war, they were joining the VR to learn how to fly. But many of them went on to great things. For example the second highest top scoring fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain was Ginger Lacey, Sergeant Pilot Ginger Lacey, with a score of 15 aircraft destroyed. Now he went on to become Squadron Leader Ginger Lacey. But he was an NCO in the Battle of Britain. And he became Squadron Leader Ginger Lacey and took 17 squadron to Burma. Then Sergeant Pilot Johnny Johnson became Air Vice Marshall Johnny Johnson and was the top scoring fighter pilot for the whole of WWII. Many others became Squadron Leaders, Wing Commanders, Group Captains. Two of them actually became Air Chief Marshalls. But one of them to my mind was the most amazing was a Sergeant Pilot Neil Cameron. I flew with him on 17 squadron in early 1941. Neil came from a relatively poor family in Perth, Scotland so he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His academic achievements were noticeable by their absence. But despite these two drawbacks — he was a Sergeant Pilot in the Battle of Britain — by the time he retired in 1978 he had become chief of the Air Staff, holding the rank of Marshall of the Royal Air Force which is the highest rank in the RAF, equivalent to an Admiral of the Fleet or a Field Marshall in the Army. At one time in his career he was equerry to the Queen. Five years later he was raised to the peerage and became Lord Cameron of Dalhousie. Not bad for a one time Sergeant Pilot! So a lot of the backbone of the RAF, after it had used up all the pre-war ones that they had, came from these NCO pilots. 32 squadron, when we went to North Africa, we had eight NCO pilots and five commissioned officer pilots. But this really isn’t known by many people. They got the impression that the RAF was all commissioned officers. It wasn’t. It only became totally commissioned officers when the V bomber, the atomic bomb came in. Because they felt they couldn’t trust an NCO pilot to drop an atomic bomb! It then became all commissioned officers. They did away altogether with NCO pilots. And since then of-course it has been commissioned officers all the time. As it was in the American Airforce. Talking about this, this might interest you. In the North Africa campaign I was returning from an operational sortie in a Spitfire and running out of petrol and decided to land at the nearest airfield which happened to be one which was occupied by an American fighter squadron who were equipped with the P47 Republic Thunderbolt. I don’t know if you’ve seen a Thunderbolt or seen a picture, it’s a huge aeroplane. Anyway, having landed and taxied and parked alongside one of these monsters, refuelling began. About halfway through the procedure an American Captain rolls up. And the conversation went a bit like this:
â€œHiya bun. Tell me, what sort of a ship is this?
I could feel the hair rising up the back of my neck and I said, â€œExcuse me, Sir, this is not a ship, this is an aeroplane.
â€œGee, says he, â€œWhat sort of an aeroplane is this?
I said, â€œThis is a Spitfire.
â€œOh, this is the famous Spitfire. Well! Tell me, what sort of horsepower does it have?
â€œWell, it’s got a Merlin 63 engine, horsepower is about 1740.
â€œJesus, where do they put it?
I said, â€œWell, you see that area ahead of the windscreen but behind the propellor box, it’s in there.
â€œTell me, is this your aeroplane?
â€œNo, it belongs to the Royal Air Force.
â€œHell no, I don’t mean that. Do you fly this aeroplane?
â€œYes, sir. That’s what I do.
â€œTell me, I’m not seeing any badges of rank on your epaulettes. What sort of rank are you?
â€œWell, I wear my badges of rank on my sleeve. I’m a Warrant Officer.
â€œOh you’re a commissioned officer.
â€œNo, I’m not a commissioned officer, I’m a Warrant Officer.
â€œWhat the hell’s that?
â€œWell, in your Air Force you would call me a Non-Com.
â€œAre you trying to tell me that Non-Coms in the RAF fly single seater fighters?
â€œYes, sir. And they’ve been doing it for about three and a half years.
â€œWell I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.
I nearly agreed with him but I didn’t. And off he stomps, muttering to himself â€œWould you believe that? Non-Coms flying single seater fighters.
And of-course the Americans didn’t know this. They thought that as in their own force, all pilots would be commissioned. The RAF got an awfully raw deal. Give you an idea about how the public thought about the In 1940 I got some leave and I went back home to see some of my old chums and when I met up with them the conversation went a bit like this:
â€œHello George. So you got your wings then?
â€œTell us, what sort of aeroplanes do you fly? Do you fly fighters or bombers?
â€œOh I fly fighters showing off my top button which is undone.
â€œOh, fighters. Oh Spitfires?
â€œNo, Hurricanes. And it was almost as if I had uttered some sort of obscenity. Because obviously in their minds if you weren’t flying a Spitfire [end of side A]
I think why the Spitfire got is name
J: I think it’s just such a beautiful looking aircraft.
G: Oh yes. That in part is it but also in 1938 Hitler marched virtually unopposed into Austria. Then at the beginning of 1939 he tried the same thing with Czechoslovakia but met with resistance, which he crushed. Then on the 1st September he began his blitzkrieg against Poland. And because of a treaty that this country had with Poland we declared war on the Third Reich on 3rd September 1939. By the 30th September, despite everything we could do, Poland was bombed and shelled into submission. So Hitler then turned his attention westward firstly to Denmark, then to Norway, then to Luxembourg, to Holland, to Belgium and finally to France (and France who at that time had the largest standing army in the whole of Europe). Yet despite this, she and other countries were crushed into submission by the Blitzkrieg. We, as you probably know, got some 300,000 of our expeditionary force back across the channel through Dunkirk. So there we were as a country, north of the channel, virtually defenceless, because our 300,000 had come back minus all their equipment. And Hitler knew that he dare not invade Britain until such time as he had total and complete mastery of the air so he began his Blitzkrieg. Firstly he bombed the radar stations, then the fighter stations, then the civilian population. They had a terrible time of it. But to some degree their morale was sustained because there in the skies they could see their fighters. They could see their Hurricanes and their Spitfires. They could see an aeroplane that could spit fire at the enemy and blow them out of the sky, forgetting the fact that there were far more Hurricanes than Spitfires, but what sort of emotional response do you get from the name Hurricane. And of-course the media grasped hold of this and they played it up for all they were worth. That was it. But it was a beautiful aeroplane, there’s no doubt about it.
J: It’s also the elliptical wings, they’re so
G: There it is there. The bottom one is a Mark 8 and the top one is a Mark 9. Mark 8 is very very pointed wing.
Wife: It’s instantly recognisable even to a civilian idiot like myself. I mean if you look at that you know you’re looking at a Spitfire. If you look at the picture on the wall
G: There are three different models there. The one at the rear is a Mark 1, the one in the middle is a Mark 8 and the top one is the Mark 24. And the artist that painted that for me called it â€œA flight of fancy. Because there is no way that those three aircraft could have been in the air at the same time. And the background is Hong Kong. It’s painted by Group Captain Green of the Spitfire Society.
J: But presumably you were training on Harvards?
G: Oh yes. I started training on Tiger Moths at a place called Hatfield which then was a grass airfield.
J: Can you remember your first flight?
G: Oh yes. I sat at the end of the grass airfield
J: You were in the front cockpit or?
G: Oh no you moved into the front cockpit when you did your first solo because the switches were controlled from there and you couldn’t control them from the back. No my first solo was interesting. The instructor had taken me up one or two times. Got back into dispersal and he said â€œMunroe, I’ve done all I can with you so you just need to go and kill yourself. And I thought well that’s a happy thought! So anyway, I taxied out, did my battle action, did my battle actions again, did them again in case I’d made a mistake twice, did them again, and finally plucked enough courage up to take off. And it was glorious because for the first time I was flying the aeroplane. What I realised then was when I was with him I wasn’t flying the aeroplane, I was flying the aeroplane plus him, with his hands and feet on the controls so it was like flying a tank. And I made the finest landing ever! I made a beautiful three-pointer. Because this thing you could fly with one finger. It was so light on the control. God it was wonderful! And then after I qualified on those I went onto flight training school, flew Harvards.
J: They were a different kettle of fish weren’t they?
G: Oh well very much more power. You’ve 400 odd horsepower.
J: But also they’d drop speed a lot quicker wouldn’t they?
G: Oh yes.
J: If you weren’t careful they could really?
G: Oh the Mark 1s could. The Mark 1s had a very nasty habit of dropping away. She would also ground loop very easily if you weren’t careful, if you applied the brakes too harshly she’d go down. Once you started to ground loop
J: But I guess it’s like anything. You’ve just got to get used to its foibles and?
G: Oh yes. The first solo in a Harvard was quite an experience. Because you’re going up off from — I think the Tiger Moth had it wasn’t much in the way of horsepower. I think it was something like 180 or 200 — and then the Harvard you’re looking at 400. It’s a lot of horsepower.
J: Did you have any problems in training? Didn’t every get a â€œpull your finger out Munroe or anything like that?
G: I never had any accidents, no.
J: You progressed quite smoothly?
G: Oh yes. In fact funnily enough when I went for this commissioning interview in Naples, one of the board said to me – he was an Air Commandant – â€œTell me, Mr Munroe, what accidents have you had? And I stuck my chest out and said â€œNone at all, sir. And he replied, â€œOh you mean you know nothing at all about flying? I could have hit him! I really could have hit him!
J: Can you remember your wings examination?
G: Well that was very interesting because I was flying all the time. Up to the time I got my wings I was an LAC (Leading Aircraftsman) so I had my wings on as an LAC. And of-course I was seen by a military policeman one day who said â€œWhat the hell do you think you’re doing wearing a pair of wings! I said, â€œIt’s because I’m a pilot. â€œYou’re not a pilot as an LAC!. And at that time they really didn’t tell us to put our stripes up until we got to operational training unit and then we were Sergeant Pilots. But right up to then we’d been LAC pilots all the time. We didn’t have wing presentation.
J: Where did you do your training?
G: I did my training firstly at Hatfield, then at Anstey, which is up near Coventry. Then at just next door to Oxford, Kiddlington. Then at a little place called yes Kiddlington, Brize Norton, Chipping Norton and then to OTU at Sutton Bridge in Norfolk and then to a squadron.
J: And your first flight in a Hurricane was that at OTU?
G: That was at OTU.
J: That must have been a leap again?
G: That really was something else.
J: Can you remember being excited at the prospect?
G: They never had a dual Hurricane or a dual Spitfire so the first time you flew it, that was the first time.
J: Can you remember being very excited at the prospect?
G: Oh yes. The thought of flying a Hurricane was wonderful. But on my first solo I was up at about 4,000 feet still trying to find the undercarriage lever. The tremendous difference in the power but if you go from 400 to 1,000 that is a big jump. But the Hurricane was such a delightful thing to fly. And it really was a puppy dog. You could do things in a Hurricane and get away with it. But if you did them in a Spitfire you would kill yourself. I was stationed once at Sunborough in the Shetlands and I had to fly from Sunborough down to a base at Elgin and it was at night, with a full moon, absolutely flat calm sea, and of-course blacked out coastlines. And navigation was poor and I climbed up to about 15,000 feet and when the Murrayshire coast came into line I screeched down from 15,000 to circuit height and in to land, totally forgetting that at night your eyes are very slow to accustom to a different change in height. So in to land, undercarriage down, flaps down, hold on, as I thought, at about 10 to 12 inches, which was about 10 to 12 feet and I thought this thing’s taking an awfully long time [?]. And it suddenly fell out of the sky from 10 or 12 feet. And then it bounced away up and then it bounced. And it did about six of these before it eventually stopped and I taxied into dispersal to be met by my Flight Commander who said, â€œMunroe, what a magnificent display that was! You really will have to teach us all how to do it! Six perfect three point landings from the one approach!. But if I’d done that in a Spitfire the undercarriage would have been straight up through the wing. The underside of a Hurricane is very very powerfully built. And the girders that go across are all specially made. They are curved from a plate. It’s not a tube. It’s a plate that is specially curved. We went out to a little airfield at where was that little airfield where we saw the Hurricanes being built?
Wife: I can’t remember the name of it. All they do is to refurbish Hurricanes.
J: I once got a chance to sit in a C Hurricane. I couldn’t get over how cramped it was in there but I don’t know what I was expecting. I found that my shoulders were touching either side.
G: Well they would because you’re very tall. There was even less room in a Spitfire than there was in a Hurricane. The Poles and the Czechs were very funny about the Hurricane. They thought it was a little puppy dog. And I can see why. Because they had been flying things like Potesses[?] and a lot of other rubbish that they had in the Polish and Czech Air Force. But we were sitting at Croydon one day sunning ourselves and somebody looked up and said, â€œThere’s three funny looking aircraft, what huge great radiators they’ve got. Somebody said, â€œThey’re not radiators, that’s the cockpit! It was three Hurricanes in tight formation flying upside down. Not flying but gliding, because the Merlin engine doesn’t run very well upside down. When they get down to about 1,000 feet, the two outside ones go that, this one does that, they come up in formation and land in formation. And it was three Czech pilots. And we discovered later that they had been with the Czech aerobatic squadron pre-war, and of-course they had a lot of experience. But they said â€œHurricanes are lovely. Just like a little puppy dog. You could do anything with a Hurricane and of-course with a Hurricane you could out-turn a Spitfire. And that’s important because if you’re going to shoot someone down, particularly in a turn, you’ve got to out-turn him and shoot ahead of him. If you shoot at him your bullets are where he has been so you’ve got to deflection shoot and shoot ahead of him.
J: Did you manage to master deflection shooting?
G: Oh yes.
J: Lots of people just couldn’t do it at all could they?
G: We hadn’t a very good sight. We had a reflector sight but it wasn’t very good.
J: Perhaps you can explain to me, I’ve seen a reflector sight but I’ve never understood exactly what it does.
G: You notice that there was a dot in the centre and a ring round about it? OK. Depending upon the angle at which you are attacking him, you get him on the outside of the ring, flying towards the dot. Now before you do that, you set his wing span – there are two knots underneath the reflector sight: one of them controls the wing span, the other controls the range. If you were dead astern of him, there are two little bars come in from either side. If you were dead astern of him at 200 yards with his wing span of 48 feet I think it was, these two things would touch him either side. But usually you very seldom got a
J: But have you got time in the middle of a to fiddle around setting these things?
G: Not really. Not really. It’s a bit like firing a shot gun. But I’ve got a programme now, I wish we’d had it then, it’s called Combat Flight Simulator. Brilliant! I had to write to Microsoft and tell them off. I don’t know if you noticed but in the Combat Flight Simulator, you can fly for the RAF, the United States Airforce, the Luftwaffe. And in each case you begin at the lowest rank. And the lowest rank in the RAF is shown as Pilot Officer. So when I saw this the first time I nearly went mad and I wrote to the compilers of Microsoft, pointing out that during WWII there were Sergeant Pilots, Flight Sergeant Pilots and Warrant Officer Pilots, all flying operationally. No reply. About a month later I wrote to Bill Gates himself, for his personal attention, and pointed out to him that Pilot Officer was not the lowest rank in the RAF. About a month later I got a reply, apologising for the fact that there had been no response on the first letter, explaining that they had discussed this business of rank and had assumed that it would be better if they kept the ranks in all the three forces equivalent and it wouldn’t make things complicated for the public who didn’t know anything at all about it. And he was terribly sorry and that no offence was meant and that his generation appreciated all we had done for them etc. etc. etc. I think really what the case was the compilers said well everybody in the United States Air Force is commissioned, if they’re a pilot. So the same must be here.
J: You enjoy it do you?
G: Oh yes, I play it regularly.
J: Obviously it’s nothing like flying?
G: It’s very realistic.
J: Do you think it is?
G: Oh yes, I know it is. I know it is. It’s very very realistic.
[discussion about Combat Flight Simulator]
J: The one thing I think is the vision can’t be anything like it was for real. I find my orientation is harder to feel.
G: You can play about with it in that you can extend the vision either side and the book tells you how to do it, so you get a complete all round vision. But it is slightly distorted. If you want some real fun, fly with a Hurricane and you’ll find you can out-turn anything in the sky.