The amazing thing is that it hasn’t been done from both sides; not thoroughly.
Who are you going to have from the other side? Gunther?
I haven’t arranged to see him yet. I am going to see Hans ?? next week.
Oh he’s a bullshitter. I had to intervene in a fight between one of our Poles. We had a sort of gathering at Cottesmore a few years ago; can’t remember what it was about. Major Bob poked fun at the Poles and one particular Pole took exception and..Major Bob was shooting his mouth off and exaggerating everything; what a great ace he was and so on.bullshit! Gunther Raal (?) would be a good one. Walther ? is dead.it’s getting difficult to find them I should think.
Yes it is but a lot of people have done interviews over the years and written memoirs and so on and to a degree that’s fine. From my point of view, I am interested in what it was like for the German bomber crews.
Would have been terrified..
I am going to the German military archives in Freiberg. I’ve just completed a book about the Italian campaign and that was a rich source. There were all sorts of diaries and memoirs. As a rule of thumb, I’d say they were more open than a British equivalent, that tend to be matter of fact, whereas these chaps were really baring their souls which is what you want. There was one very funny guy I went to see. He was a German infantryman and he’d been practising for amphibious landings in March and April 1941 and I said â€œWhat were you training for? He said â€œThe invasion of Britain! I said â€œIn 1941? And he absolutely insisted on it. Afterwards he said to me â€œMany years after the war I visited England on the ferry. I looked at the cliffs and thought we would never have done it! Instead he ended up going to Russia 3 times and getting wounded 5 times.
I read some quite amusing articles about aviators and their efforts in 1940; how they were seconded to the Luftwaffe virtually and they hadn’t got the right equipment and apparently they kept get lost.
The idea behind my book is to broaden it out. What I am trying to do is to contextualise the whole thing so I am also going to include the first RAF raid on Berlin and I have been to see some people in Berlin who remember it. Also the higher strategic levels and what was going on and a lot of new academic work recently has very conclusively remarked that Hitler in 1940 – his biggest enemy was Britain with America hovering in the wings and it was absolutely essential to get Britain out of the war ASAP and I think the reason he went to Russia was really because suddenly he was faced with a protracted long war and he needed all the oil and minerals to do that and it was essential for him to knock Britain out of the war in 1940 and whether he did it with an invasion or by blocking them or bringing them to the peace table, it didn’t matter as long as Britain was out of the war. So there was an awful lot at stake. I think the other interesting thing is that a lot of historians when they approach the Battle of Britain now, tend to look at it from 60 years on and what happened in the rest of the war. But the bottom line is that at the beginning of June 1940, there wouldn’t have been many people who would have put a bet on Britain surviving the year. Things were looking pretty bad after Dunkirk and Norway. You were 32 squadron at that time. Can you remember thinking â€œWe could be in a spot of bother here? Or were you just a young man taking it on the chin?
I remember cheering when France collapsed; saying â€œRight, thank God; we’re on our own now and we can bloody well fix it. Because the French had been dragging us down really because their effort was pretty miserable; their participation. Landing in France in the early days, after May 10th when we’d go over at first light; refuel; operate in France; come back in the dark to Biggin Hill; get a meal; fall into bed to be woken up almost instantly because there wasn’t much darkness then and you were off again. Had some breakfast and we used to get off an hour before first light. Dawn was just beginning; there was just about enough daylight to see around.
This was in May 1940?
Yes; to be on a French airfield, having to refuel our own aircraft from tins – of course they weren’t organised to do anything virtually – and seeing a French fighter doing aerobatics over the airfield and a Dornier 17 came steaming across at about 5,000 feet and we thought Christ, he’s got us on the ground, but he was going somewhere else thank goodness and we said to the colonel (?) â€œTell that bloke there’s a Dornier 17! And he said â€œToday he is only authorised to do aerobatics, not combat!
How ridiculous! You were very conscious of the French being all over the place?
Presumably you were only flying over France once the Blitzkrieg began?
That’s right; we started at a little airfield in Belgium; only lasted one day; we never went back there. There was a British squadron there – half Gladiators; half Hurricane. It was an auxiliary squadron – can’t remember which. They were jumpy as hell because they were on this little flying club airfield and the roads were teeming with people pushing carts and refugees and God knows what heading west. One of their sergeant pilots hadn’t turned up and he was found in bed with a knife in his chest. They thought this was either some 5th columnist or one of the refugees looking for money or something. We did a couple of sorties from there and then went back to Biggin Hill and never went there again and they obviously moved out smartly because they’d been overrun. It was all quite fascinating.
And no radar or anything.
No and no Aldis – we couldn’t get contact with anybody. Various HQ’s seemed to always be on the move; you couldn’t get in touch. So when we’d refuelled we thought we might as well go and have a look around..
So you just took off?
Yes and we’d go off and see what we could see. If you were lucky, you bumped into some Germans. Otherwise you just flew about the sky looking at what was going on down on the ground.
So you were patrolling a line?
Not even a line?
Well, we hadn’t got any instructions so it chaos and the other thing was we were lucky that we had a chap that spoke fluent French and he managed to get us some food occasionally from a nearby farmhouse, but otherwise you got no food all day.
How often were you flying over and landing somewhere in France or wherever?
Daily until they ??
Could you sense it was all going pear shaped? Presumably because of the refugees and ..
It was all confusion.
No way to fight a war?
Was there a sense in the squadron that you’d be better off staying at home?
Not particularly; you hoped you would and occasionally you did bump into some Germans whereas you wouldn’t have done if you’d been sitting at Biggin Hill and of course we were getting nice petrol for our cars! I came back from France one evening and the flight sergeant said â€œRight, pull the tankers up, drain all the aircraft..oh you’ve got this bloody French 90 octane stuff. We were on a 100 of course.I said â€œWhat are shall we do? He said â€œChuck it in the ditch. I said â€œHang on – stick it in our cars and fill them up!
I seem to remember you had one or two victories in those early days didn’t you?
I had one. I lost the best man from my wedding – Johnny Milner. Nobody saw what had happened and we just hoped for the best. It took about 2 months and we got a card from a prison camp and all it said was â€œSorry chaps; I wasn’t looking!
You thought he was dead did you?
We’d no idea but we thought he’d probably been killed.
He survived the war?
That’s right; he was locked up for the rest of the war. He got out a couple of times.
Was he in Stalag Luft 3?
He was; he didn’t get out through the tunnel. He got out much earlier. He got himself to a German airfield and lay and watched it for a couple of days to check out the routine. His idea was to hop into a 190 and fly it back and land it in the first field he came to before he got shot down and he chose an aircraft and he spoke German as well as French so he could read what all the controls were but he couldn’t get it started and then along came a ground crew chap who asked him who he was and he gave a fictitious name and the chap said â€œWhat unit are you from? and Johnny thought â€˜Ahh! That’s difficult! Think of a number because you’re not going to get it right!’ They hauled him out of the aircraft and he complained that he couldn’t get it started and they told him it was awaiting an engine change! So he was back inside again. I think he got out twice.
I wonder if anyone ever did fly back?
A Belgian chap cam back in about ’42 I suppose and he had found an abandoned light aircraft and he managed to scrounge petrol for it and put a bit in every day or something and eventually he and a chum got it up one night and flew it over here. A nice chap; I stayed with him in Belgium and he took me to a museum in Brussels where this aircraft was because they’d kept it after the war. He explained all the problems that they’d had. Some of the instruments had been stolen from it if I remember rightly; things like the air speed indicator and they had to devise one. Probably like the old Tiger Moths because they had an air speed indicator which was merely a piece of metal like a slice of cake, calibrated, with a needle above it and a flap of metal and as you built up speed of course the flap was pushed back and I think they devised something like that, although I don’t expect they had time to calibrate it.
Did you learn on Tiger Moths?
No, I learnt on Avro Avians and Cadets at Woodford.
You joined pre-war didn’t you? You were a regular?
Yes; my father wanted me to settle down and come into the family business when I left school but I wasn’t interested; I was fixed on flying. The family business was .we were manufacturing chemists. We made precipitating chalk for Players cigarettes and so on, to slow the burning down. Bicarbonate of ammonia – a raising agent for people like Peak Freans the biscuit people and that sort of thing until the Germans flattened it in 1940.
Where was it?
In Trafford Park, Manchester. I did nothing but play with aeroplanes from when I was about 5 years old and my father said â€œYou’d better get this out of your system. When you’ve tried it you’ll probably get bored and find it’s a bit like riding a bicycle up hill against the wind. Then you’ll settle down. So for my 16th birthday present, I was made a member of the Club and taught to fly at weekends.
Were you at school in Manchester?
Yes; Manchester Grammarso that was fine
Was it every bit as exciting as you’d hoped?
Oh it was; it was wonderful and I was taught some tricks that the Air Force never dreamed up. My instructor was a Sopwith Camel pilot from the first war and he taught me a few tricks such as you black out when you are trying to do a tight turn or pulling out of ? Put your head on your shoulder and you don’t get such a direct flow of draining blood from the head; like putting a kink in a pipe.
And that stops you blacking out?
It slows it down; enables you to pull another couple of G before you pass out. I used to tell the chaps in the squadron; it’s a good trick and it worked. I bought myself an accelerometer which I had hanging in my Hurricane, showing what the G was and I tried it; tried diving and then pulling up hard and just about blacking out at about 6 and a half G or so and then tried the same thing with my head on one side and found I was doing about 8 G, so it worked all right.
You must have been a little in awe of him weren’t you if he was an ace of the first war?
That’s right; naturally. He was a great hero, bless him George Yule (?).
He was a good instructor?
First class. By the time I joined the Air Force I’d done 110 hours or so of flying. They started me off in civil school learning to fly!
When did you actually join the RAF?
January 27th 1936, my father’s birthday; very appropriate! Before that you were being paid by the Air Force; you were sent to civil school and you learnt to fly.
So you’d been accepted by the RAF, but before you actually joined, you went off to..so you did that in 1935?
The date you joined was the date you reported to Uxbridge and were sent off to get fitted with a uniform and marched up and down the parade ground and so on.
But the process started earlier than that?
Well, the flying side, but then we did ?? who never got up to scratch flying. They discontinued them and that was that. Sadly I spent quite a bit of time on the ground because as soon as I had my first flight they realised I could fly and that I could do aerobatics and so on and they said â€œRight, well you can stay on the ground while the rest of the chaps catch up.
Where do you think this love of aircraft came from?
I was a great Biggles fan. Things like trains were dull and boring; didn’t really do anything stuck on a track; could only go forwards and backwards.
Did you have brothers and sisters?
I had a sister but she died when I was 5.so I reported to Uxbridge where they taught us to march up and down with rifles and things under a warrant officer.
What were you at this stage?
I was an acting pilot officer, on probation. â€œWill you stop talking Mr Brothers Sir when you are marching! I didn’t join the Air Force to carry bloody rifles around; I joined to fly! What are we doing here wasting our time?!
Presumably that didn’t last very long?
No, it didn’t; you then went to flying training school with RAF aircraft which were great big powerful monsters by comparison with what you were used to and that was fun and then afterwards off to a squadron.
How long was the RAF training so you think?
From January 27th until I arrived in late October at Biggin Hill to join an operational squadron.
And there was no question of you going into bombers?
Oh God no. I would have opted out I think! I think the instructors at the FDS course found you were a chap who was only interested in being upside down or something like that and so obviously you were a fighter chap, which was fortunate. I would have been terrified in bomber command. I tried it out when it was safe! I was hauled up in front of the postings air commodore who had been one of my bosses in fighter command and he said it was time I learnt other things and he was going to post me to bomber command. I said â€œI can’t go there Sir! He said â€œWhy not? I said â€œMy hands are too small for four throttles! And I’m scared of the dark! He said â€œFor God’s sake stop wittering and for once go and do as you are told. You are lucky – you’re getting command of a bomber squadron and there aren’t many squadrons flying at the moment (this was 1949). So I had a Lincoln squadron which was a lot of fun actually. But they were dead from the neck up. There was no morale. They never got together as a squadron; not like a fighter squadron did. After the war, some of them were on day flying and others were on night and if you were on at night you had the next day off..
So they passed like ships in the night..
Yes, and I heard a rumour that s squadron was wanted for the Far East and so I phoned up my postings chum who was by then deputy commander of bomber command and asked if it was true. He said yes and I said â€œWell write 57 squadron down in your notes will you? and he said â€œChrist Pete, you shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to your AOC. I said â€œI don’t know him Sir but I know you! Can you speak to him for me? He said â€œYou are a bloody nuisance; you always have been. I’ll do what I can. And we got it and we were the first squadron to go. I said to the chaps â€œWe’re going out in formation and you chaps may be very proud of the fact that you navigate your way out of Singapore and arrive within 30 seconds of each other or something. After 40 odd flying hours you’ll be pretty good at formation flying. One of the ace wartime bomber chaps, a navigator, got up at the back of the room and said â€œI’ve always navigated my own aircraft Sir and I don’t need to start following anyone else now. I said â€œThere’s the door. You’ve got 30 seconds to think about it or you can walk out of the door and the squadron. â€œI’ll give it a go! He said. I said â€œI’ll be carrying a spare engine; Johnny will be carrying a couple of spare wheels and it is crazy if we split up and I’m half way down the route having taken off ahead of you and the last chap suddenly wants an engine. We wait til everybody’s ready and then we all leave together; makes common sense. So having got them off the nest and away from married quarters and wives and so on, we turned them into a jolly good squadron, I reckon.
How long did you stay with them?
Oh a good couple of years. We came back from Malaya and re-equipped with B39 Washingtons, which was lovely. Beautiful aeroplane; engines weren’t much good though but they flew happily on 3 or 2 so.they were amusing times and then I went back to fighter command in the 50’s. I went to staff college from bomber command and then back to fighter command through Meteors, Hunters and then back to bomber command on the V Force with Valiants, which was quite exciting and then a staff job in Paris at SHAPES. Back to the MoD and then a spell in fighter command and I got my hands on a Lightning or 2 and that was about the end of my amusing flying.
That’s some career! Starting off in wood and canvas essentially and ending up on Lightnings!
I had all the pre-war fun when we really used to amuse ourselves and ?? was the finest flying club in the world; it really was.
Were you given a pretty loose leash so to speak?
Oh yes; you could take your aircraft home for the weekend. That was good – you were learning to organise yourself; navigate to and fro; check your aircraft; do your own pre-flight checks; arrange your own re-fuelling and so on. So I use to whip up to Manchester aerodrome (?) where I’d learnt to fly and my father would collect me and take me home and I did that throughout the war. I’d take a weekend off as wing leader..got Sprit 14; a wonderful aeroplane and I’d take it home and show it to my father.
Was he always very interested?
Oh yes; sometimes he was more enthusiastic than I was!
But he didn’t learn to fly himself?
No; he couldn’t because he was too blind. He lost an eye in the first war and couldn’t see a lot out of the other one.
Was he in the infantry?
No; we had an explosion at the factory and it was filled with hydrochloric acid and some got into the other eye. He could see telegraph lines but not the posts and if he put his head on one side he could the posts but not the wires. To drive the car he had some glasses designed by Zeiss in Germany which was like a bulky telescope type of thing on spectacles and that showed him the road and what was on it and then he’d pull down from the roof of the car a great big lens that blew up the scene so he could see what was going on and he made sure that the coppers on duty at the cross roads all got a good Christmas box! When they brought in having to read a number plate at so many yards, he had to give up and my mother took over all the driving; drove him to work and back.
But in those pre-war days, you didn’t head off to Cranwell or anything like that?
No; I wanted to get flying, not do a 2 year course.
But you were commissioned?
Oh yes; I got a short service commission – 5 years and I thought that after that I’d go into civil aviation.
So when you were joining, you weren’t thinking about the possibility of war on the horizon?
Not then; not til I got to Uxbridge in 1936 and the chap in charge of us was a highly decorated squadron leader; a Welshman called Taffy Jones who stuttered terribly and he gave us this talk one day.There’s g g g g going to be a f f f f fucking war and you ch ch ch chaps are going to be in it. Never f f f f forget that when you get into your f f f f first combat, you will find your f f f fucking f f f frightened! And never forget that the ch ch ch chap in the other c c c cockpit is twice as f f f fucking frightened as you! and he was right. I thought Christ that chap must be having hysterics! I’d better shoot him down and put him out of his misery!
And you did?
Yes! Dear old Taffy; he was a great chap and became a good captains and station commander up in Cheshire somewhere on a Spitfire conversion unit. He decided he’d fly a Spitfire and so being a great enthusiast, he took off and pulled the wheels up too soon and slid along his belly half way down the runway. He got out and said â€œThis f f f fucking machine is b b b broken! Get me another one! Dear old Taffy.
So you got your wings at the end of that training period?
And then you went to ATU?
Then you went to Uxbridge and did your marching for about 3 weeks I suppose and had lectures on discipline and all the rest of it and then off you went to flying training school and did your flying and then went to a squadron.
Was that 32 squadron?
Yes; from the time I joined in January ’27 to late October, then I was in 32 squadron.
Were they in Hurricanes when you joined them?
No; they were just getting rid of the Bristol Bulldogs – I got one flight in a Bulldog and then we got Gauntlets and we’d had Gauntlets at flying training school which had been a sore point with the operational squadrons that there were these chaps at flying training school. Flying training school was in 2 parts – the initial training conversion for RAF aircraft and then you either went onto the fighter side or bomber side and so I went to the fighter side and we were flying Gauntlets and the squadron still had things like Bulldogs. They were saying â€œWe’re the operational squadron and yet these chaps have got the new ones! Then that was changed. Those that had Gauntlets lost them pretty smartly and the squadrons got them. So I was trained on Gauntlets and that’s what I had on 32 squadron til 1938 when we got Hurricanes which was a great change.
It must have been quite exciting getting those.
Oh yes; great fun. Of course you didn’t have any training. You read the book and then you were off. We didn’t have any dual Hurricanes.
Had you flown any Hawker aircraft before the Hurricane turned up?
I’d flown a Hawker aircraft at training school – Hawker Harps and so on. Interesting thing about Sydney ? designs. I don’t know about the Harrier because I never got the chance to fly one but all the Hawker aircraft I flew, on the stall they always dropped the left wing; notorious. Something in the design I suppose. The Spitfire flew absolutely straight when it stalled. The Hurricane would always drop its left wing and so did the Hawker Harps and so on. I never flew a Fury but they probably did the same.
One of the things I am very interested in isthere’s been a lot of discussion about tactics and how in the early days of the war, the RAF was there going in with their Number One Attack! Go! And all this kind of stuff. Did you practise all that?
Yes, we practised all these attacks; that’s what you were doing all day. You were on parade at 8 o’clock, colour hoisting; inspection of the chaps by the station commander and you marched off to your hangar and the hangar doors were opened and the aircraft wheeled out and you went to the pilots room and had a cup of coffee and then at 10 o’clock the flight commander told you to go off and do a reconnaissance of your sector and for us that was Kent and Sussex. He’d say for instance â€œYou have got to find a church at this map reference and draw a picture of it on your knee pad and then you’ve got to go and find so and so. Off you’d go and try and find these things which was fun. Or you’d be doing formation practise.
Was there quite a lot of that?
Yes; or interception practise up to 30,000 feet and that sort of thing, or whatever. There was quite a tough routine – when you arrived in the squadron, you were the new boy; the bog rat. Nobody spoke to you other than to say â€œPress the bell and order me a drink!
Sounds a bit like school.
Yes but I was lucky because Guy Harris and Humph Russell had also done their FTS with me; they were at Uxbridge with me and the 3 of us went to the same squadron. So we could talk to each other. I remember on a Sunday afternoon, we were sitting out in deck chairs in the garden and one of the flight lieutenant’s took his shoes off and ???? and about 10 minutes later said â€œI want my shoes. Which one of you is most junior? Go and get my shoes!
You must have been quite a tight knit bunch by the time war broke out?
Oh we were, yes. You were a well grounded team because you all knew each other intimately and you knew all the sergeant pilots even though not quite so intimately, because they were a good bunch of characters and you were all after the same thing.
The first few moths of the war you were presumably patrolling the Channel and that sort of thing?
Yes; you went off to X raids (?) – some plot that turned out to be nothing. I was lucky really at Biggin because we were the first station, the first squadron.we were the only squadron until they formed 79 squadron, and we were involved in the radar development side. Three of you would be launched off and I was the junior so I carried the stop watch and every 2 minutes I gave a 15 second radio transmission so the radio stations could get a position on where we were and we’d go off and intercept incoming airliners from the Continent and we were told not to go close to them but to report their height and how far away you were when you spotted them; how near we’d got to them and that sort of thing. Then the stop watch was thrown away and an automatic contactor unit was fitted to our aircraft and that did it for you. Every 2 minutes it switched the radio on and gave a transmission and you didn’t have to say anything and that was fun.
Presumably it was quite exciting to be involved in something that was a brand new development?
Yes; our ops room had concrete walls and the station commander who was running the interception and those pilots who weren’t flying were the staff and they were marking the positions they were given on a blackboard and the sort of thing you’d hear on the radio was the station commander calling out â€œDunbar (?) blue leader; vector, vectorhow can I see the fucking board with your fat arse in the way?! All very primitive!
When you were operating over France you obviously knew about radar and what it could do, so it must have seemed a very backward step to go over there and have none of that?
It was; you had no control at all; no knowledge of what happened.
When you were doing those missions over France, you were doing your missions in a flight strength were you?
And if you did see a target, would you do your kind of Number 6 attack! Or was it just a free for all?
No, I don’t think we ever got to that stage. A) we didn’t meet enough enemy. Where the ones we met were first combat – little black specks like oil on the windscreen – one of them swept over the top of me and you thought â€˜Christ! it’s the bloody enemy!’ and you could see a 109 so close you could practically count the rivets on it and see the oil streaks under the fuselage. But they must have been taken by surprise as much as we were. You’d think â€˜Where the hell’s he gone? He’s turning round and diving down on us! Oh jolly good!’ and then the battle began.
Presumably at that point Number 4 Attack has gone out the window? Each to their own!
I remember a chap who came diving down on me, came out of the mist and over shot which gave me a chance to get behind him and clobber him. You have exciting moments. One time, our leader called â€œThere’s a bomber down there! Let’s go down and have him! Then he said â€œNo, it’s a Blenheim. It’s one of ours! I think we got it wrong; with hindsight, I don’t think it was a Blenheim. Anyhow, we missed it!
You had a pretty quiet time of things until the Blitzkrieg began?
Yes; you were doing convoy patrols in the Channel – that sort of thing which was quite amusing but when they started attacking convoys, that became more amusing. The excitement grew slowly and progressively.
Were you married by the beginning of the war?
I got married in 1939. My wife’s father was not very much in favour of this. He wasn’t in favour when we first met. Fly boys – all they do is get killed; not a good idea. My wife said â€œIn April ’39 I’ll be 21 and I can do what I like and so I went to the station commander – you had to be a squadron leader or aged 28 to be able to get married and I was 21! I went to the station commander and asked for permission to get married. He said â€œYou are a bit bloody young aren’t you? What if I said no? And being a stupid Lancastrian who can’t resist saying his piece I said â€œIt would be a bit difficult to send you an invitation to the wedding Sir! He roared with laughter fortunately and allowed it. I said to my fiancÃ© â€œWe have to get married before April and she asked why and I said â€œBecause I can claim married tax back for a whole year! So we go married in March and that was fine.
And her father came round?
Oh yes, we got on fine.
Did you get married quarters at Biggin?
Oh no, no; you were entirely on your own. Well you were living in sin officially; you weren’t supposed to be married. We rented a little bungalow on the edge of Biggin Hill for 25 bob a week. I was lucky because I was promoted to flight lieutenant when I was on my honeymoon and before we went, the station commander said â€œYou can’t leave the country and you’ve got to be near a telephone at all times We’d just had the Czech crisis or something; there were constant panics going on. We went to Cornwall and I got a telegram the day before we were due to come back and it was from my deputy who was running my flight in my absence to say â€œCongratulations! You are promoted to flight lieutenant. Your pay is now 20 shillings and twopence a day; 20 shillings for you and twopence for your wife! So that was a pound a day which was a big jump from 14 shillings and very necessary; had to eat the bull terrier after all and he only ate steak!
Did you meet your wife at Biggin? Was she working with the RAF?
She was down at Boscombe and I happened to meet her and that was it. My father bless him bought us some carpets and furniture for this unfurnished bungalow and when war was declared I said â€œI’ve got to move you because this is not a good place to be. So she went and lived with an aunt in Westerham and I could commute there when I was stood down. It was only 6 miles. When things began to hot up, she was sitting at her dressing table putting on her lipstick at about 5pm, hoping I was going to go down that evening, and some clumsy Hun dropped a bomb fairly near and a piece of shrapnel whizzed in through her open window and smashed her mirror. I said â€œThat’s it; you’re moving. You go and stay with my people in Lancashire. So that’s what we did. Got her away from the worst of it anyway. Which was good because she used to count us in. Every time I came back from a sortie, I had to do a whiz over the house to reassure her I was still around.
She got on with your mother and father ok?
Oh yes, my parents adored her. That was all fine and when I got a week’s leave I’d go up and spend it there.
She was a staggeringly beautiful girl.
Oh yes she was super; gorgeous; I was very lucky.
When you got married you knew there was a high chance of war coming. You didn’t have any doubts on that score?
No. When you went to the cinema there were news reels in the middle showing Germans marching up and down and the Zeig Heil and all that. In 1935 I’d spent a couple of months in Germany when I was on school holidays and waiting to hear from the Air Force. By then I was 17 and you had to be 17 and a half to fly. My father said â€œGo to Germany and learn a bit of German and see what’s going on. He had a German company that owed him money and Hitler had put a clamp on payments and he wasn’t going to get the money and so it was arranged that I would get the money and spend it in Germany and I lived with a German family with 3 sons.
Where was that?
Near Nurnburg ..maybe Nuremburg (?) – 3 sons – Harald who was the eldest; big burly chap. At 6am I looked out of the window and there was Harald marching along in a black uniform leading a bunch of chaps with shovels on their shoulders for rifles. This was in 1935. Then there was Kurt and he was learning to fly and it was â€œOh yes, we haven’t got an Air Force – ha ha!
He wasn’t seriously denying the Air Force was he?
No, not really, but he knew and we knew – this was what it was all about. Then the youngest was Walther who was 6 foot 8.
Were they a similar age to you?
Kurt was; Walther was younger. I asked him â€œWhat are you going to do when the war starts? He said he was going into u boats. I said â€œYou’re going to bang your head a lot aren’t you! After the war I got a letter from Walther saying that Kurt had been killed on the Russian Front – he was a bomber pilot; Harald was in a prison camp run by the Americans and it was up to me to go and get him out post haste! I thought you arrogant bastard!
But did you like them when you were living with them?
Oh they were good fun, the lot of them and I enjoyed myself. They came marching down the street one day and everybody was doing this except me. I was standing there in flannels and a blazer with my hands in my pockets. I had the feeling that someone was looking at me and I turned round and looked and there were two enormous chaps in black uniforms with their thumbs in their belts rocking on their feet; armed with pistols and daggers and so on. They were giving me the eye and I thought ok
So you Zeig Heiled?
Otherwise you’d get beaten up or something.
Did you learn any German?
Not much; I perfected their English! And Walther came home with me for a holiday and stayed about a fortnight and then went back to Germany and that was the last I saw of him.
You had a bit of an insight then?
Oh yes; it was obvious they were gearing up in a big way. Maybe they’d only got shovels but it wasn’t going to take much – give them a rifle and
You could have ended up flying against Kurt..
If he’d been in the Battle of Britain. When I was on the staff in Paris, I had a Battle of Britain fighter pilot on my staff and I bought my little team over for Farnborough Air Show and my American Deputy arranged a Dakota to bring us over and we sat..can’t remember his name.it will come back to me. We sat him in the right hand seat up front and my deputy crept up behind him and shouted â€œAchtung! Spitfire! Which he took very well; took it on the chin. When we were having drinks in the RAF Club, the bar was humming with people just before Farnborough and he turned to me and said â€œIs zis ze club where only ze member can buy ze drinks? I said â€œYes. He said â€œCould you arrange for me to buy ze drinks for everybody? I said â€œWhy? He said â€œWell, I can go home and say alone, I made it! I said to the barman â€œDon’t report this! The Colonel is allowed to buy a drink. He bought a drink for everyone in the room, bless him. He was good value.
Lots of people have said to me â€œIt’s the machine, not the man. Would you go along with that? I mean presumably, when you are in air tussle, you are not thinking about the individual you are shooting at; it is the aircraft.
It’s the aeroplane; at the very end.I think it was the last one I shot down.it nearly made me sick because it was a 190 and he hadn’t a clue – 1944 – you were really taking candy from a kid. He was doing gentle turns like this – a sitting duck and I slapped the cannon shells right into the cockpit which would have killed him instantly and I thought â€œOh Christ, I didn’t really mean that. I’d hoped you were going to jump out and parachute down or. It was very unpleasant.
It’s a different type of war from being an infantryman on the Gothic Line for example, isn’t it?
It is a great game to start with but after they broke my wife’s mirror with a piece of shrapnel, I then said â€œRight, these are a bunch of bastards. I don’t like them any more. I am going to be beastly.
When was that incident with the mirror?
It was sometime like June.
Quite near the beginning then?
Yes, when they were beginning to probe inland.
The other thing I was thinkinganyone can get shot down at any time and be unlucky but presumably you by that time were a very experienced pilot. You must have had a colossal advantage over a lot of people?
All the people we lost were the new boys; it was the sad thing. The whole of the pre-war squadron survived the war. Some had been shot down in 1940 and didn’t fly again. Some had been badly wounded, but none actually killed. It was the new boys who bought it and of course they hadn’t had much experience on Hurricanes for a start, whereas we, having had Hurricanes since 1938, knew the aircraft inside out. You knew what it could and couldn’t do.
So when you get into the cockpit, you are not even thinking about flying it, you are just flying?
It’s all automatic; you can play it like a harp if you like – get the best out of it, and you don’t forget it. Bit like riding a bicycle I suppose.
So when you were in a melee of swirling aircraft, you just knew what you were about?
There is an appalling book by Richard Overy that came out for the 60th, where he claimed to go back to the basics of the statistics and he conveniently forgot to include any 110’s in his quantities of fighters. It might not have been a very good fighter but it was still a fighter, or used in that role. Something that I am interested in which gave the Germans a massive advantage is the fact that they had cannon because you’ve got to pump a heck of a lot of bullets in the right place to down an aircraft, particularly a bomber which has more than one engine, with .303 Browning machine gun bullets. But if you’ve only got 15 seconds worth of ammunition, you might be pumping for 10 seconds or more just to hit the thing, whereas with the cannon as well, the velocity and the force and the charge – the explosive power of that cannon is clearly massively greater than the machine gun.
Oh, a tremendous advantage.
Were you aware of that at the time?
Yes; you envied them their cannon. You also broke the fighter command rules that your guns were supposed to be towed in to 200 yards range where the ? are gathered together in shot, but you weren’t going to get very far like that; the odds were that you towed them in considerably and you got up jolly close – 50 yards if you could; as close as you could get and then you really did hammer it.
Do you think a lot of people wasted ammunition by firing too far away?
Oh yes; just about everybody did to start with.
15 seconds is not very long is it?
Did you ever find yourself swirling round the sky with no ammunition thinking God I am in trouble here?
Yes; it was an unpleasant feeling! One of the things my private instructor taught me – my Sopwith Camel chap – he said â€œSuppose you see tracer passing on your left – the instinct is to turn away from it. The chap who is shooting will have noticed that he is flying to the left of you and he will be correcting his aim. Trick him – go through where he is firing and you’ll collect a few holes probably but meanwhile he is correcting the other way and you throw him off totally. The other thing I used to do that I dreamed up myself, having been caught and bounced by ..it was always the aircraft you didn’t see that shot you down, so I’d always wind a little bit of rudder trim on so that my aircraft was crabbing slightly and so when a chap came up behind and said â€œAh – extend the aircraft and I’ll fire there and I shall get him – I wasn’t going there; I was going slightly to one side of there! That was a thing I always did and it worked very well.
Did it give you a sore leg?
No..the rudder was ?? because you wound the trim on the back.
Oh I see.
There was no weight on the leg.
So was that something you did on the ground?
No, when I was airborne. Align (?) the knob a little bit so the plane was crabbing. That saved me on a number of occasions.
Did you pass that on to the others?
Oh yes; I don’t know whether anybody else did it but naturally you told your flight you were training.particularly the new boys. I had one new boy who was flying astern of me and was supposed to be looking after my tail..you’d get the feeling sometimes that somebody is looking at you.some 6th sense or something. I glanced up in the mirror and there was the biggest and fattest 109 I’d ever seen! It filled my mirror. Oh Christ! As I looked, so his front end lit up and I pulled and pushed everything and pulled away very violently and he shot away upwards – he hadn’t hit me. I was doing a tight turn and thought where the hell is my number 2, the new boy. Ah – good lad; he’s a bit too far behind but he’s cutting the corner and he’ll catch up and then his front end lit up shooting at me! Oh dear! I was a bit rude to him! Told him to desist! When we got back on the ground I told him â€œYou should have carved me right out of the sky! What you need is more gunnery practise so I am taking you off operations for 5 days and you’ll do intensive gunnery practise. That was a great blow to his pride and morale but it taught him a sharp lesson.
Presumably a lot of the new boys had not had any gunnery practise?
Quite; no experience. It was sad those chaps.
I seem to remember that you were in 32 squadron til September-ish and then.
28th August we were pulled out of the line for a rest and to replace our losses; train them up and we went up to Northumberland.
That must have been a welcome relief wasn’t it?
A great relief; I thought this is nice; I am going to enjoy this. It lasted only a few days for me because 257 squadron lost both flight commanders in the same battle and so I was posted down to bolster them, along with Bob Tuck. That’s where I met Bob.
Oh yes, because he was from 92 I think, wasn’t he?
Yes; Bob arrived with me..I walked into the pub wherever it was these chaps.
Were you a flight commander then?
Yes and so was Bob. I looked at these chaps and thought I know what’s going through your tiny minds – 2 experienced flight commanders both killed – what chance have I got? That’s what you’re thinking so we’ve got to get that out of your system. The problem really was the CO.
Yes and the first sortie we did with him we were told to patrol the Maidstone line at 20,000 feet which we did and then we saw this great horde approaching. He said â€œWe’ve been told to patrol the Maidstone Line and that’s what we’ll do til we’re told otherwise. So we pissed off and left him and got stuck in and I remember thinking at the time maybe we were wrong to do this. The controller could have been holding us for a follow up wave or something, but when it happened the second and then the third time, Bob and I said to each other â€œThis chap doesn’t want to get involved. We filled ourselves full of enough booze to ring up the AOC 11 Group and told him and the next day this chap left and Bob was 6 months senior to me so Bob became CO and that was it.
Do you think the CO had been..I know it’s a horrible phrase, but LMF?
He was; he was a bit on the old side for a fighter pilot. The interesting thing to me was, looking at his career after the war, they allowed him to resign and retire in 1942. I thought why? There were all sorts of admin jobs that he could have done. Why let him go? They got rid of him. He was obviously a dead loss in other ways.
It’s a bit like having an albatross around your neck. Maybe you just attract.
We got 257 going then.
Where was 257 based?
Bartlesham; we were there for a month and moved to North Weald which was great fun. We joined 249 and John Redneck Grandy (?) who had been an instructor at my FTS, he was the flight lieutenant instructor when I first met him and came the day, a notice went up on the mess notice board saying â€œFlying Officer Grandy has been promoted to Fl.Lt. (He was an acting Fl.Lt)..and he has been awarded a permanent commission in the Air Force. So naturally Fl.Lt Grandy had a party in the mess and it was the first time that Brothers who was used to drinking ginger pop was introduced to beer! I’d never had a glass of beer and I got well and truly pie-eyed and I teased Grandy when he was chief of the Air Staff that he was the chap that turned me into a drunkard! Introducing me to this dreaded beer stuff! He was a great chap was John. I was very fond of him.
Did you know Tom Neill in those days?
I think I’d met him; I’ve a vague recollection but my great chum was Butch Barton the flight commander of 249. Butch was in the next room to me at FTS because Barton came before Brothers in the room allocation. We were friends at FTS and then met again at 249 and we all used to go to the pub together in the evening. I believe Butch is still alive; I haven’t heard to the contrary.
Wasn’t he in France as well? With Number One squadron?
Yes; I’m not sure he was One squadron. My son in law is secretary to the One squadron Association. He was One squadron with Harriers. My 2 sons in law met when they both joined the Air Force and became great buddies with the result that Charles married my younger daughter and the best man was Mark and he married my elder daughter the following year. They are a closely knit bunch and both produced 2 children and the whole bunch go off together on holiday and so on.
Where are they now?
At this present moment they are sailing from Barbados to Antigua where they have to hand over their chartered boat. They live near Malmesbury so not far and Hilary lives that way 25 minutes. That’s why we came looking for a house somewhere here. Now that Annette has died, Hilary or Wendy will stand in.I had a reception the other day at the House of Commons and I rang Hilary and asked her if she’d like to come and she didso they were both Air Force – Transport Command and Chas got bored and reckoned he wasn’t getting anywhere as a Fl.Lt and was thinking of leaving. Hilary rang me and I rang my chum who was Air Chief Marshall Director of Personnel and said â€œJohn would you get the file out on Fl.Lt Cairns? See if he’s going to be Chief of Air Staff or what. He said â€œPete, you can’t ask me questions like that! I said â€œI thought we were friends! He said â€œYou are a bloody nuisance! I’ll call you back. He did and he said â€œProbably the next squadron leader. If there’s a war or some major crisis, he might make wing commander – that’s it. I said thanks and rang Hilary and said â€œOut! and he left and worked for a metals broker and was very well paid and then the boss said he wanted him to go and stiffen up the branch in Canada. Chas said fine but only for 3 years because I want my children educated in England not Canada. Did it for 3 years then came back and packed it in and Hilary who is a great entrepreneur, set up in business and Chas joined her, supplying school stuff, and then got into globes, which they now make and are as busy as bees.
Jamie – not at all sure you need all this family stuff, so I am leaving this out about other son in law!!!! If you want it, let me know! 1.47.59
Do you ever find yourself getting bored?
I find it is very lonely in the evenings. During the day I am usually too busy with mail and I am chairman of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association. I got a lot today saying that Peter ? had died and I have to write back saying how sorry I am that Peter’s fallen off his perch. He was born 6th September 1917 and I was born on the 30th and we were friends in the Air Force.
It must be a bit depressing.
It gets quiet in the evenings and the only thing I can do is to turn the stupid box on and have some noise and watch something ridiculous so I can shout at it.
You haven’t got a good pub in the village?
A super pub and if somebody is coming to see me I usually arrange for them to come in time for lunch and take them there.
After the war I left the Air Force and went to Kenya, in the Colonial Service in 1947. The Air Force said they wanted me to go to the Staff College in Haifa for a one year course and I said â€œNot bloody likely! So I joined the Colonial Service and the winkled me out because the Air Force said they would hold me. I did 2 years out there.
Was it interesting?
It was very interesting and taught me a lot. Taught me not to be such a ? character.
What do you mean by that?
I’ve always said what I think; not necessarily what your boss wants to hear; very often quite the reverse. However, that’s a Lancastrian for you. Lo and behold, the Berlin air lift was on and Korea was brewing. The Air Defence (?) secretary had nightmares of a third world war from Korea and thousands of empty cockpits and he said â€œGet the cannon fodder back! So I got an invitation to go back into the Air Force and I’d had enough of the Colonial Service.
So it wasn’t compulsory? You were just asked?
Yes; they invited me back and said I’d be squadron leader. They were charging my 5 years seniority for my 2 years out which meant when I came back that all my chums who’d been junior to me were now my bosses. I never had great ambitions to be Chief of the Air Staff or anything like that. All I wanted to be was a pilot who was paid the same wages as the Chief of the Air Staff!
You got to be Air Commodore; that’s pretty high up.
Amazing when you think of it. But my chum Fred Roussier (?) became Air Chirf Marshall and so on. That was all right because you called them Sir on duty and off duty you called them Fred.
All the fighter pilots I know are a very gregarious bunch, with perhaps one exception. You were on your own in your cockpit but you like a drink and a laugh and none take life too seriously.
People say to me â€œYou seem pretty fit, despite your age. I say â€œYes; I’ve got the secret! Cigars, whiskey and wild women but I’ve run out of wild women so I need more cigars and whiskey! I had a little plane in Nairobi – this is it. But it was an expensive pastime, especially on Colonial Service pay. When you joined the Colonial Service, you were allowed to buy a car because that was the only way to get around but it was on a 7 year interest free loan that was deducted from your pay over 7 years, which was a very good deal. But being awkward I said â€œI want an aeroplane! When I wrote to the District Commissioner and said I wanted to resign they wrote back â€œYou can’t; nobody has ever resigned and you can only resign with the personal permission of the Colonial Secretary Mr Creech Jones. I thought strong measures were in order so I wrote back saying â€œYou’d better tell this Creech fellow that I’m leaving and since I am temperamentally unsuited to the administration, I do not intend to interfere with it further. You can contact me on extension so and so. Back cam a letter saying â€œYou can resign but you owe us £957 for the cost of your passage out and your wife’s passage and your kids allowance and so on and so forth. I said â€œI’m still going but I can’t pay you. Back came a letter â€œIn view of your service to date, you are entitled to 6 months leave on full pay and a passage home. I said I’d pick up the pay in Nairobi but that they could donate the 3rd class passage to the poor because I’d bought a first class passage through the airport! I threw a big party in Nairobi for all my chums and my District Commissioner said 2 days before I left â€œI haven’t had an invitation to your party. I said â€œThat’s not surprising; you’re not going to get one! I’ve never liked you; you’ve been a bastard to me and my wife. There was nothing he could say to that. The first thing he did when I reported to him was to say â€œAre you the chap with the aeroplane? I said â€œYes Sir. He said â€œYou’d better sell it. We’ve no use for it in this district. I thought we’ll get on like a house on fire! Then he wanted me to fly him over the boundary between Kenya and Uganda where the tribes were in dispute as to where the real boundary lay and he wanted to take photographs from the air. I said â€œFine, but it’ll cost you. And I stung him! I ran a flying club there to help pay for it and had a thriving little flying club. By that time we’d moved up to Lake Victoria.
That must have been sensational flying?
It was gorgeous and of course the weather was never a problem. You could predict it months ahead. I only had one false landing, bringing my daughter back from school in Nairobi and the engine started coughing and spluttering and while I still had some control I put it down on a bit of scrub. Within minutes of landing we were surrounded by people. We were taken to the local District Commissioner’s house where we spent the night and the next day he leant me his car and his tool kit and I fixed the aeroplane and went back and fetched my daughter and he drove us back to the aeroplane and I did an air test on it to make sure it was alright and landed again, picked up my daughter and off we went home.
Did you ever have any hairy moments during the Battle of Britain?
Yes, I had one in 257 squadron. The new Hurricane was delivered and I said â€œI’m flight commander; that’s mine! I went off on a convoy patrol and took my Polish number 2 and we were miles out to sea circling these ships at about 3,000 feet and suddenly I got twitchy. I thought you’re going to get your feet wet one of these days. There’s something wrong. I turned the mag switches and there was no mag ? I opened up to full throttle no trouble; extra boost no trouble. Meanwhile I was heading towards the shore. I got a few miles off and I thought you’re just getting lily livered Brothers; getting frightened of the water; back to the convoy. I turned back out to sea and there was a great bang and the propeller stopped dead and oil poured over the windscreen and I though oh Christ; bit low to bail out; think I can make the beach – just. I was getting close to the beach and I thought I don’t want the beach! The bloody Army will have mined it! Oh God! Somehow I had to stretch the glide and clear the beach so I took a deep breath and shoved the nose down and built up speed and swept at a couple of feet over the beach and through a hedge and into a field. I jumped out, got a sixpence out of my pocket and took the cowling off to see what had happened and there was a connecting rod sticking out of the side of the engine and I had words with my chum who was chief test pilot at Rolls Royce. There must have been something – it wasn’t just him above looking after me. There must have been something that made me suspicious. Could it have been some high level vibration? Something you can’t hear but you can sense? He said he doubted it. Obviously the main bearing had gone and the con rod had broken. I suppose it could have been making high pitched noises. Anyhow, him above had been looking after me and I made it but that was the only difficult one I had.
Did you have the same fitter and rigger all the way through, when you were in 32 and 257?
People always talk about the trust they had and presumably it has to be absolutely..
I met one of them when I got back from Kenya. I was standing on Victoria Station and I saw this chap going through the crowd and for once, not only did I recognise the face but the name appeared straight away and I shouted across the crowds â€œCorporal Collyer! He came to a stop and saw me and came trotting over and I said â€œWhat are you doing these days? He got a bit pink and said â€œI am a British Airways captain now!
People are always talking about the performance of the Hurricane against the Spitfire and the Spitfire against the 109, but presumably it depended upon the individual aircraft. If you had a brand new aeroplane, you would think it would perform better than one that’s been through the mill. It’s like an old car.
I got an extra 7 miles an hour out of mine. I took the mirror off the top and bought myself a car mirror that was curved and had that mounted inside the windscreen, so got rid of that drag and then when we were sitting on the ground, my rigger and I used to sit on the wing with some sand paper and the Spitfire was all flush riveted and the Hurricane was pock riveted, so we’d file some of the pock off the top; not too much or you’d weaken it, but just take the skin off the top to flatten it a bit and we did it over both wings all the way over and I reckon we got an extra 7 miles an hour out of the aircraft. No one else bothered but I thought it was worth doing and it gave me something to do on the ground.
I was going to ask what you did when you were waiting to be scrambled.
Very often you slept.
Did you find you did get used to it? You were saying that the first time you went up you were terrified. Was it something you got used to?
Oh yes; the worst part was being on the ground, waiting, because your mind could then stray to your chum who you’d just been to see in hospital who’d been badly burnt, and start thinking Oh Christ that could be me one of these days.
You must have had good confidence in your own abilities though?
Yes you did, but hopefully not over confidence.
It’s a fine balance.
Yes; softly, softly catchey monkey was the approach. After all..the Red Barron made his score by taking great care before he attacked something, that he was well covered – there was nothing else around that was going to clobber him whilst he wasn’t looking – that sort of thing and I thought that’s not a bad idea. You can’t hang about but just do your checks before you dive into the fray.
In 1940, do you feel the German pilots were pretty good on the whole?
They were bloody good. Some of them had fought in Spain. Most of them had fought in Poland and they were so experienced and they were arrogant to the extent that they were all-conquering.
Their over confidence caused them major mistakes.
We shot a 109 chap down near Biggin. He bailed out and was picked up by the Police and put in the guard room at Biggin and we found out and we got him out and took him over to our dispersal and we got the ? of the 109 that Smythe had shot down propped up against the wall of the hut and we said â€œThis is one of your 109’s and all he said was â€œMaybe – he spoke very good English. We took him inside and gave him a drink. We had some booze illegally in the dispersal hut. Had to keep a close eye on the Poles who were fingering their knives because they would have killed him on the spot and I don’t blame them. I would have as well if I’d been in their situation – the thought of these buggers in my country, possibly raping my wifethen we took him over to the mess and got him some more drink at the bar and he then said â€œMay I have paper and pencil? We said â€œWhy? He said â€œTomorrow, when the Luftwaffe blackens the sky and you lose the war, I want to write all your names down to make sure you are well looked after and we laughed and laughed. He couldn’t understand it. â€œWhy are you laughing? â€œOh you poor fellow! You are going to lose! Arrogance! Charmingly put over, but
Was there much boozing of an evening?
Yes, we used to boozedreadful! We were stood down at 11am one day because it was low cloud and pissing with rain. We filled the bar and got pissed and at 2pm the sun came out and we were called to readiness and scrambled. I shall never forget taking off thinking â€œThat button..turn it that far..switch on gun sitesgun siteswe were all absolutely tanked up.
But you all survived?
We all survivedmind you when you saw black crosses, you were instantly sober. I suppose the adrenaline kicked in so fast, it cleared your head. The only other time was I went to a party at HQ and parties always used to last til 5 or 6 in the morning so I hadn’t bothered to book a room, and this one finished at about 1am. I pulled up a couch in front of the fire and settled down and the next minute all the lights came on and in came the WAAF’s with their hoovers and I thought I can’t be doing with this. I rang up transport and went back to the airfield. There was my Spitfire in the moonlight picketed down. I undid the pickets; pulled the covers off the engine; pulled the chocks away from from the wheels and got in and started it up, and then thought oh bugger! the silly bastards haven’t refuelled it. Oh well, I’ve got enough to get home. I took off and arrived back at base – they weren’t expecting me of course – called up the tower – I want lights! Out came a truck and it started along the runway putting goose lamps down with the chap lighting it. I said â€œFor Christ’s sake get that lot off the runway. 3 lights will do; I am short of fuel. I touched down on the grass just short of the concrete and there was a lip where the concrete started and I hit it and there was the most awful clang and I thought the undercarriage was going to come off and the aircraft bounced into the air and I was instantly sober and taxied in. I raised hell with them for not being better organised and reacting faster and went home to bed!
You were flight commander in the battle and then later squadron leader and wing commander and all that – what do you think made a good commander? Was it looking after the others? Setting an example?
Setting an example to the others in taking life seriously and hoisting in the information given to you; enjoying yourself and letting your hair down when you can so that you don’t start dwelling on things.I had one chap, bless him, Blacknall, and we were sitting at Hawkinge (?), waiting to take off when we were doing this stupid business when there was a lull after the main battle and we would go off – be sent off – to patrol the French coast down to Rouen and back to show them the Air Force still existed, waving the flag at the Germans who took no notice when you were outward bound but as soon as you turned for home down near Rouen, if it was a bright day and the sun was behind you and in their favour, and you were getting short of fuel, so you didn’t want to stick around anyway and we lost people. We were sitting waiting for one of these things and this chap I noticed was covered in perspiration and I said â€œAre you alright? You look as though you’ve got flu or something. He said â€œI am not feeling very well. I told him to go down to sick quarters and see the doc. The doc came to see me and said â€œHe’s not flying; he’s not even going to take his aircraft back to Biggin Hill; he’s had it. He thinks all sorts of things are likely to happen to him – thinks he’s going to fall into the sea and drown blah, blah. So we didn’t see him again. He became a test pilot, testing re-built aircraft and he took a Hurricane off and they’d wrongly connected the ailerons so that when you put the stick over this way to turn left, the aircraft went that way. He had a ghastly crash; smashed himself up and was in hospital for over a year and then went back to test flying. I thought to myself he has got guts, just a different type of guts. He can’t face the enemy but he can face all these other sorts of possibilities.
You didn’t hold it against someone?
No; I had someone..we were still doing..in â€˜49/’50, copying bomber command’s efforts doing exercises rendezvousing over a target – you were allowed plus or minus 30 seconds on the target; plus or minus a 100 feet in height; stacking without lights over the target; even in peacetime; bloody ridiculous. There was an exercise one night – I wasn’t on it as I’d been on one the previous night and the AoC came down and he and I were in the tower and I said â€œThat aircraft won’t take off tonight. He said â€œWhy. I said â€œThe captain is yellow. I’d like him removing tomorrow. I don’t blame him. He’s married and 6 months ago he asked for the night off because it was his wife’s birthday and somebody else took his aircraft and that was the night we had the big collision over Newark when 2 Lincolns flew into each other and his stand in was one of them. They were all killed – 16 air crew and he would have been the chap had he not had the night off and that’s why he’s frightened out of his life on these stacking exercises. I don’t want him in my squadron any more. The AoC said â€œRight, I’ll get him moved tomorrow. What else could you do? I didn’t blame him; he’d lost his nerve completely. I said to the AoC â€œI think it’s high time bomber command stopped this ridiculous way of exercising. Then I was talking to the great Australian dam buster chap who became an Air Marshall. I was chatting to him at a party and I said â€œI would have hated being in Bomber Command during the war; it would have been terrifying being in the middle of this cluster of chaps, some of whom dropped bombs on their chums. I would have followed the crowd at low level, climbed up to bombing height when I got to the target and them immediately descended to low level again so that I’d have been away from all the flak, away from the night fighters congregating in a great mass.. He looked at me and said â€œThat’s exactly how I played it! I was posted the Middle East in ’43 and had to go to the AoC and tell him I couldn’t go because our first baby was born in November 1940 was a Rubella baby – blind and couldn’t talk; couldn’t do anything and my wife was about to produce our second baby. Annette had had German measles in the early stages of the first pregnancy. She was worried stiff about the second baby and I said â€œI have to be there because if there’s anything wrong, she’ll flip her lid in a big way. So he cancelled my posting to the Middle East. The first one is still alive. My dear old Sopwith Camel instructor married his girlfriend who was a doctor and we had been looking after this child all the time but we were having to go to Kenya and I’d said we’ll have to put her in a home and she spent most of the time living with my parents. My mother seemed to have rather adopted her in lieu of my sister who’d died. My father said â€œIf you put that child into a home, you need never darken our door again. I said â€œWhat am I supposed to do? Molly the wife of my old instructor said â€œI’ve got the very place where she’ll be looked after. We used to go and see her but she hadn’t a clue who we were. We had some eye operations done on her but to no avail. So that was it. She is now 66 and I presume she’s still alive. So I didn’t go to the Middle East which I would have rather have liked.
You’d have ended up in Italy probably. Is there one thing about the Battle of Britain that you feel hasn’t been addressed?
The radar side was so vital. Without the radar we would have lost. You couldn’t have standing patrols waiting for attacks. The radar was the vital thing. I think what has not been really recognisedwe certainly would have been invaded and they would have succeeded. They then would have owned Europe. There would have been no toehold for the Americans to come to our aid, even if they’d wished to under those circumstances. The Germans were developing long range bombers. They had got the rocket man, who I met in Germany after the war. He showed me the stuff in his laboratory. He of course joined the Americans. I question how long America could have survived attacks on the east coast from the Germans and on the West by the Japanese at the same time and the Argentine chums of the Germans would have said â€œPut an army ashore here and they can move up north.. into the southern US, via Mexico. Who is going to stop them? Then Hitler would have achieved what he wanted to be – master of the globe virtually, hand in hand with the Japs.
You are absolutely right; if they’d got a toehold in Southeast England, they’d have walked it. We almost had no army in 1940. That’s one of the things I am intending to had the U boats and the Luftwaffe concentrated on the Navy, they’d have wiped them out because they didn’t have enough armour plating as was proved in Crete.
The Stuka boys would have fixed them. The Navy should have learnt that lesson in Singapore.
My book is going to be singing the praises of Fighter Command.
At the end of â€˜412, early ’42 the Aussie squadron I’d formed went back to Australia – that was another escape I had. Doctor Evans (?) came to visit my Aussie wing at Kemley and he kicked me out of the briefing room because I wasn’t Australian as the CO, and told the chaps they were going home and they said they weren’t going home without their â€œSquaddie. I thought Christ I don’t want to go there. I’ll be stuck there for the rest of the war doing nothing – well, fight some Japanese but there’s no future in it promotion wise or anything else. I’d have been forgotten totally by the RAF. I’ve got to get out of this. I went to see the AoC who said there was nothing he could do. He said â€œDr Evans has just seen Winston Churchill and your name cropped up and Churchill said he could think of no better person than an experienced Battle of Britain Ace to lead the battle for Australia. That is it. I went to the Hyde Park Hotel where Dr Evans was staying but he was out. So I went to the bar and got pissed on brandy and ginger ale and eventually he arrived with his entourage and I followed him up to the 6th floor and into his room. I said â€œI gather you are expecting me to go to Australia and I am not going. He said â€œRest assure dear boy, you will be awarded every possible decoration in Australia. I said â€œI don’t want any of your fucking Aussie medals or anything else! I don’t like you! I like my Aussie chaps but they can handle it on their own. They don’t need me. It was like water off a duck’s back and I didn’t think I’d got anywhere. We packed up the aircraft and crated them and I sent the chaps on leave except the ground crew and I was sorting out admin. 48 hours before the boat was due to sail from Liverpool I went home. All my kit had gone on the boat and I was due to report on the Monday morning. On the Sunday evening the phone rang. It was a chap from 11 Group saying Dr Evans had just flown off to see Roosevelt and as he’s out of the country I was to report to the HQ of 11 Group on the Monday. I did that and they told me I was taking over 602 squadron and gave me a wing. I got myself kitted up with an emergency clothing card. They said â€œIt’s not an emergency! I said â€œIf you think my stuff is going to come back from Oz, you’re very naÃ¯ve! I went to 602. We were sent off for a rest up in the islands and the pubs there opened at 6 and shut at 7 but we found friends in the Navy there and they said â€œCome with us and we hopped into a boat and went out to the battle ship and got pissed in the ward room and then they gave us a ride back and that was fun until we were all in the pub one night with our naval chums and a civilian said to one of my pilots â€œWhat are you chaps doing up here? and one of my chaps said â€œI thought you all knew. We are guarding the Navy’s ? hole. We didn’t get invited by the Navy anymore but fortunately I was promoted and the station commander tore me to shreds because one of my sergeants had been seen wearing red socks instead of black socks. I became a wing commander and was able to go and say goodbye to him and tear him to shreds, the pompous old bugger.