"Every trip we made, about five or ten minutes before we reached the target, I used to say a few prayers, hoping that the good lord would look after me and see me safely out of the target area. And it worked."
It was in 1944 that I started with the bombing missions. And they were, they were just German targets, French targets. Some of the Germans were still holding out in some of the French towns and we had to bomb them to get rid of them.
You start out at briefing. They tell you what the target is; they give you the flight path you’re going to take; they give you the winds and weather conditions. They give you your time on target; they tell you what elevation you’re going to be. We used to be staggered from 15,000 to 18,000 feet. When you get 1,000 planes flying over a single target, and they have about a 20 minute interim to drop their bombs, you have to stagger them; you have to stagger their times; you have to stagger their heights. Now, when you’re at 15,000 feet and you look up and see somebody above you opening his bomb doors, it shakes you up a little bit. But fortunately, everything went smoothly. I used to make sure that we were on the right course and got to the target in the right time, and got back to our home base safely.
We were shot at a few times. Our tail gunner shot down a night fighter jet; and we were told that he was the first one from Bomber Command to shoot down a jet. We had some pretty, well, we called them hairy trips, adventurous, I guess. We used to do daylights and night raids; and we went to one city in the daytime, went back to base and ate, went right back out to the same city that night. The navigator was in a space. I had to use a light so I had the curtains all around me and everything. And it wasn’t often that I got a chance, whether I wanted to or not, to go up and look out, and see what was going on. But during this day- and-night bombing raid on the same city, they called me up on the day raid and the puffs of smoke that were there, I didn’t think we’d ever get through. Anyway, we went back at night and you can’t see all that, so it’s much better to fly at night than it is in a daytime.
Every trip we made, about five or ten minutes before we reached the target, I used to say a few prayers, hoping that the good lord would look after me and see me safely out of the target area. And it worked.
The bomb aimer used to sit beside me. And, of course, he only went when it was time to drop his bombs. I can remember a couple of trips where he was sitting there and we were all tired, but he’d be sitting there falling asleep, so I used to kick him in the rear end and tell him to get the hell away from me if he was going to sleep, because that was going to put me to sleep too. But we did have… But fortunately, the pilot, the tail gunner and the mid-upper gunner, everybody was, seemed to be quite alert. So we never, it was just the bomb aimer once in a while that would snooze off.
When you first started out, you know, you’re rookies and they look upon you as rookies. We were assigned different aircraft, but after a few bombing missions, we had our own aircraft. S-Sugar [an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber] was our aircraft and we used that all the time, and we had a great ground crew. They made sure that everything was working for us, everything we needed; and we used to take them out and buy them a few beers once in a while, just to thank them. They were a great bunch.
The pilot had to get 120 points and you got four points for a German target and you got three points for a non-German target ̶ like we bombed the submarine pens in Bergen, Norway. We got three points for that. When the pilot reached 120, we were screened. You finished your tour. But the last trip, I guess you’re a little nervous, you’re hoping that, you’re really hoping that you’re going to get back safely, but you don’t know for sure. And when you do get back and land at your base, there was great joy and everybody, we got around a keg of beer and really entertained ourselves.
There was one thing that I believed then and I still believe now, that nobody should have to go to war. I can’t understand why these high politicians can’t solve their problems peacefully. I know some of them are greedy and want power, but war, there must be other ways to solve the world’s problems rather than a war. But as you know yourself, we were just talking about Korea and who knows what’s going to happen there. And the same as Afghanistan and, I don’t know, there’s got to be better ways. Well, they used to say that World War I was the end of all wars and then World War II, but it never was.