We were starting up the 420 Canadian Bomber Squad, we were the first intakes, and we started this thing up and then eventually they started bringing Canadians in. There were also Rhodesians at Waddington, a Rhodesian Squadron which they bombed from. When the Scharnorst and the Gneisenau came down the channel, they were going for some sort of re-fit, and we had Hampdens which they converted to torpedoes to torpedo these things. We had six aircraft and they left early one morning, icy it was, to try and torpedo these and it was so well protected with nets and that, they had a job to do anything, to get down. The plane that I was on, an English lad, he dived his plane on it. They saw him dive it on one of the boats, and of course he didn't come back. And that morning his wife gave birth, and I was leader on the plane, and I had to go and tell his wife. They lived nearby. It was a terrible experience. I can still feel that in me.
Basically, by the time I'd finished my training, 50% of those I'd started with had gone. I had a lengthy training, longer than most people, so that increases the number, but it gives you some idea of the fall-out rate. Most of the casualties were not on operations. Of the crews killed, something like, it was something like, one in ten or two in ten that got killed on operations as such, you know, against the enemy, because basically, none of the crews were experienced. None of them really were competent pilots, because they hadn't time to become competent pilots, they were dead before they had the experience so there was a big loss of crews in non-combat activity. I can't remember the actual figures, but it's a tremendous number that went out of combat activity, because they just didn't know how to fly. I was in five and a half years. I reckoned after five years I was a competent pilot, all the rest of the time, the aircraft flew me . After five years I flew the aircraft - if you can take what I'm getting at!
I three times came in contact with the enemy. I always say I'd what I call a satisfactory War, I didn't want to kill anybody... I, how can you say, I could easily be a conscientious objector, but I felt I had to go, but I was never in the position where I had to kill anybody. But I could say, honestly, I took as many risks as anybody did in the services. It was sort of very satisfactory in a way. I did my part, took the risks that were going, but I never had to drop a bomb on anybody or shoot anybody down, which to me was a satisfactory War.
I wrote an article for the Church Magazine, because I said I used to get down on my knees and pray before we went that I'd come back. We used to go for a briefing and when the op was mooted the CO would address you first, tell you what the target was and where you were going. Then the meteorological officer would come on and tell you what weather to be expected. Then the armaments bloke would come and tell you what you were carrying, bombs, mines whatever and then the intelligence officers if there was anything to report, so we had that early on in the day. Well anytime because we used to go night and day you know, so you had that briefing. Then you were sent back and as the navigator you would have to get your course plotted and all that. Sometimes we did night trips and some times day trips and then an hour or two before we were due off, we were given a slap up meal. Then the garry, that was a small lorry, would come and pick us up and take us down to the air strip and get on board the aircraft. I'll always remember in the rambling club that we were in here, a girl once said to me, she said ‘Were you never frightened'. I said no, but I was always happy when we got off the ground because there was another station not far from us and one bloke was trying to take off from us and he didn't get off the ground, he just went off the end of the runway and blew up, so I said I was always happy once we'd got off the ground.
All targets had code names and every time we used to go into the Briefing Room and see ‘Operation Whitebait’ we knew the target was Berlin.
Other towns were attacked such as Leipzig, Dortmund, Frankfurt am Main, Stettin - these are various places we did visit overnight - but our main thrust through the winter of 1943-44 was the destruction of Berlin. Of the 32 operations I carried out, 12 were attacks on Berlin during that winter.
As the nights wore on we found that we were at greater risk of attack from the German night fighters, rather than from flak and barrage balloons. I remember on one occasion, after we had attacked Berlin, we were picked up by an Me 210 night fighter. He kept attacking us for nearly two hours or so until we exhausted our ammunition and could offer no more resistance. We then had the bright idea of firing off our red Verey cartridges from the gun through the astrodome which must have frightened the guy off, because after this he disappeared away into the dark and we finally returned, unscathed, to our base.
One of the most terrible operations we did, I think we lost 94 bombers over Nuremberg in one night. When you think that every one of those aircraft had young men of 17, 18, 19 and there were seven in a crew - multiply that and you can see the loss of the youth of this country in one night...
At the end of the War, when they did size up the casualty rate, in Bomber Command alone we had 87,000 casualties of which 55,000 where killed.
You would see a crew arrive in the morning - they hadn’t even unpacked their bags as they were on ops that night - and you would come back in the morning and the bags were still there. They hadn’t come back to collect them...
My War was relatively hectic during operations but I can only say, compared to the soldier or the sailor, it was a clean War because we had clean sheets on the bed and we had a bed, we had eggs and bacon every morning, we had eggs and bacon on returning from a trip and a never ending supply of baked beans was always on the plate. I’ve always said that every RAF station was built on a bean mine!
I was a bit of an expert on boost and that on aircraft, and one time when we were back at Biggin Hill and they had the mauling with the Messerschmitts at a certain number of feet, a thousand feet, the Squadron Leader, the Canadian said ‘Can you do anything about this?' Well, my Dad used to have beeswax for his car, to polish his car, and I said ‘Well there's beeswax that we could do. This was 1942 and the Battle of Britain wasn't over but it was almost over so all the camouflage on the aircraft was coming off a bit and you know, they weren't doing it as much. They were all dull paint, so this beeswax shined them up, and I rode home to get some beeswax and they gave me a pass to come home and pick it up. And another thing that I said to him, I said ‘Where the aerial sticks up behind the cupola - the cockpit, put that at the bottom', and that's what they did, and they put that upwards to the tail and all these things gave extra speed.