WWII Memories
Personal Histories of World War Two

A Bomber Pilot in the Royal Air Force

This is a record of an interview with Ed Solomon of North Ferriby.

He was interviewed by Daniel Doris and Verity Bird.

Ed Solomon joined the RAF 62 years ago and flew 37 sorties in Wellington bombers.

He dropped bombs on Munich, Berlin and lots of other German cities.

He was a flight engineer and acted as a second pilot.

He had to ensure all the tanks of fuel were emptied, right down to the red fuel light so that they could get home.

Usually there were seven men in a bomber; it depended on the size.

Sometimes there were eight when the second pilot was being trained.

He was hit by anti-aircraft fire and once landed on an emergency airstrip on one engine.

He was often hit, but anti-aircraft fire was not the scariest thing...

...night fighters were the worst and the only thing you could do to evade them was to perform a corkscrew manoeuvre and try to shake them off.

Generally if a fighter had you in its sights, you'd had it.

On my first sortie onto the Ruhr there was a carpet of flak ahead of us.

Strangely it was one of the prettiest things you would see in your life as there were lots of colours in these explosives.

Our pathmarkers dropped different coloured sky and ground markers in reds and greens and yellows.

They were named after Australian and New Zealand areas as they were often dropped by these people.

After a while you got quite blasé about it.

Aeroplane explodes
An aeroplane explodes after enemy flak damage

I was relieved when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, I'm afraid.

Remember, they were pretty awful at that time and not like they are now.

They ill-treated prisoners of war and civilians.

If the whole of Japan had been exterminated, no one at the time would have worried very much.

Don't think the worst of us; we had only read the horror of what they had done.

I didn't feel sorry for them, because it ended the war and I was just preparing to go to the Far East to take part in bombing Japan, in what was known as Bomber Command Tiger Force.

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We were just getting crewed up again when the dropping of the atomic bomb stopped all that and virtually ended the war.

Lots of my friends got killed in other crews.

Only once was one of our crew hurt.

Coming over the French coast, a single machine gunner opened up as we were flying low and our gunnery leader, who we didn't know well, picked up a bullet.

He couldn't walk for a bit, but that's the only casualty we had in all our raids.

In that sense I had a good war.

I rather enjoyed it, being young and stupid.

We were all between eighteen and twenty-five.

I was nineteen.

We had leave every six weeks because of the losses and the arduous nature of the job.

There was severe petrol rationing, but all air-crew and submarine services were given petrol coupons so that we could run our cars.

In the forces you had quite good food and lots of bread was always available.

I suppose we were in some ways quite glamorous figures, but I don't think any of us thought of life like that.

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I suppose it was an exciting life for a young bloke, but highly dangerous.

You didn't think about the danger.

When you're 18 you don't worry so much about death.

The medals I have were those given to us at the end of the war.

Every uniformed service got the General Service Medal etc.

There is air-crew Europe and the 1939-45 Star that everyone got who took part in operations.

The casualty rate was pretty high in Bomber Command and typically you might lose 10% of your force.

A lot of those people would land by parachute and your first duty was to evade capture, and escape.

There was a very elaborate escape operation run by the Danes, Belgians and French that would transfer you from town to town to town and accompany you if you could get hold of them.

If they were caught they were shot there and then.

So they were very brave people, the nationals of Belgium, France etc. who helped air-crew and other service men to escape from prisoner of war camps.

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It was your duty.

If you couldn't make contact with one of the helping organisations you were on your own and we were given a little escape pack, which was a small box, that contained things like a knife, a fishing hook (for catching fish to eat - there was no room for ration packs!), high energy sweets (for until you got used to living off the land), a snare for rabbits and a compass.

Also, there were all these maps, dependent upon which part of Europe you were operating over.

You had sufficient geographical information to get to Spain.

If you went to Switzerland you would get interned, so you headed for the Pyrenees and Spain.

But I have to stress, you usually made contact with one of the escape organisations in Belgium or France who would help you from unit to unit, maybe over a period of months.

I think the British Government paid these rogue guides who escorted you over the mountains into Spain.

You have to remember at that time most of the young people were in the services, apart from jobs like nurses and doctors who were in reserved occupations.

There was conscription.

You got your call-up papers between eighteen and forty-five, unless you volunteered as a stupid sixteen year old like me.

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The army had the largest need, but you didn't have a choice which force you went into.

There were not many young people still around villages and towns.

All the major towns in the country were bombed e.g. Hull was heavily bombed, and there were significant losses.

My memory of air raids in this country was coming through the London Underground on my way back from leave and those platforms were absolutely full of bunks and people were living in those underground stations in the war.

All the locals in the area would descend into the Underground at dusk.

That lasted for about three years, I should think.

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