When did you join the RAF and why did you want to join?
At the age of 17 you could volunteer but at the age of 18 everybody, boys and girls, were called up and were directed into any of the services, even going down the mine to be a “Bevin Boy”. I didn’t fancy that at all so at the age of 17 I volunteered to join the Royal Navy. This was because my Dad joined the Navy in 1905, went through the First World War and got himself a DSM as a leading seaman. I thought, “Well, I am keeping the family tradition, I’ll go and join the Navy.”
However, I had been a very very sickly child. I had had all sorts of children’s illnesses; I had TB when I was 12-13, I was in a wheelchair at 12, had all my teeth out at 16 and so when I went out to tell Mum and Dad I was going to volunteer they said, “Oh yeah go on, you’ll never get in with your health record!”
I went down to the recruiting centre and was going to join the Navy, but the naval recruitment officer was my own doctor. I thought, “If I go in there I’ll never get in” so I went next door and joined the Air Force. I really was very, very surprised I was accepted to serve with no particular rank or job and poor old Mum wept buckets.
From then on we had some minor testings and went up to Manchester. I was sworn in at the age of 17, had some little minor tests and they said, “You can train as air crew”, which was an even bigger surprise. From there we went down to London to the ACRC (Air Crew Reception Centre) where we lived in local big hotels and had all our meals in the zoo, which was great!
Did you specifically want to become a pilot?
That was an ideal but you didn’t expect to. After further examinations I was told I could train as a pilot, which really was a surprise. It really was a big boost and ego trip, I never imagined anything like that at all.
What did your initial training consist of?
There was the scheme called the “P&B”. If you started learning to fly as a pilot and couldn’t cope you became a navigator, bomb aimer or another crew member. I had exams, went to a school that they called ITW (Initial Training Wing), which was in Newquay and was square-bashing. We then hit it with aeroplanes and did this initial training. After about six weeks you were posted to learn to fly. We started initial training in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Stratford was taken over by the Initial Training Wing and I can say I’ve been on the stage in Stratford because they used to use the theatre for aircraft recognition! It was great and I had a nice time there and after that I was posted to Canada.
What was your training in Canada like?
Oh it was brilliant, it was really was and the Canadian hospitality was marvellous.
We went over on a Polish boat and then had three days on a train across Canada, which was quite something. I spent most of the time sitting on the steps of the train watching the scenery. It really was amazing because I’d never been used to that sort of thing at all. We went to a little aerodrome just south of Calgary, called De Winton, which was a big grass field. We then learnt to fly, starting on the Tiger Moth, the DH82A Tiger Moth, but Boeing sent 300 Stearman aircraft up there for us to learn to fly on. I did most of my training from then on the Stearman and that was quite a nice thing.
At the end of that course I wasn’t getting on terribly well because I’ve got little short legs. My instructor didn’t think I was getting on as well as I ought to. At the end he said “Do you want to carry on?” and I said “Yes please”so I was allowed to carry on. From then on I never looked back, I just took to it as quite naturally.
At the end they said, “What do you want to join, Bomber or Fighter Command?” Of course you can imagine about 99 percent of us said “Fighter Command” so I was sent to Bomber Command!
How did it feel to be sent to Bomber Command?
I didn’t feel anything, it was just nice. I didn’t really expect to be in any Command as I’m a bit of a stodgy old slow coach!
What other aircraft did you train on in Canada?
We were then sent down onto the prairies to Medicine Hat and Saskatoon where we were learning to fly on the Airspeed Oxford and that was nice. We didn’t have a crew and there were just two pilots: one was a pilot and the other was a navigator and we switch over. We once did a little bit of low flying over one of the lakes, which we shouldn’t have done, and flew through a flock of geese. We had these geese wrapped round the aeroplane and they broke the Perspex. I was sitting in the navigator’s seat and had a wet duck wrapped round my face! We managed to get back but that experience, believe it or not, helped us during the war.
In what way?
We had similar things happen during the war, but again not deliberately.
How did your training end in Canada?
Having finished that course when you became aircrew under training you put a little white flash in your cap. When I went and qualified at Medicine Hat and got my wings, you took the white flash out of your cap and sewed your wings on as a pilot.
What was your journey back to Britain like?
It was three days back across Canada and down to New York and we came back to the Clyde on the Queen Elizabeth. There were thousands of others on board but it was nice most of the time. However, we lost two people overboard during the convoy but the boat didn’t stop and just threw a couple of lifebelts over. It couldn’t stop because of the submarines.
What happened once you returned to England?
We did a little rehab training in Kidlington and then went to an Operational Training Unit (OTU) where you had to acquire a crew. They put all the crew members into a very large room and said, “Sort yourselves out” so you ended up just picking. I tossed a coin for my wireless operator and ended up with “Taffy” who was a little rebel but a wonderful man.
I now had a crew and then we started to learn about operational flying, bombing, navigation, fighter affiliation etc.