RS: Your father and I were founder members of the squadron; when it went out to France, you see, we were the first officers in the squadron.
Me: Can I ask you a few questions about it? I mean what, for example, do you remember about my dad?
RS: Well, I can remember he was a very cheery sort of fellow, very popular, very well liked.
Me: The record I got from the RAF says that he came to join on the 20th February 1918.
RS: One Hundred Squadron? Did he? He left about the middle of August.
Me: It says here he was demobilised on the 14th of April 1919.
RS: I came out in about June. I can soon tell you... (goes and fetches the book 'The Annals of 100 Squadron' and peruses it for a moment.) Ah, the raid on Boulay, well, there were three places we went to...
Me: What date was that?
RS: August the 15th. Boulay, Friesdorf and Buhl. I was with Potter and went to Buhl that night. Where your father went I don't know.
Me: He actually shot down a 'plane that night I believe.
RS: Yes, and then he went to 'active aerodromes' and I did too on the 16th of August.
Me: Do you remember why he was given the DFC?
RS: I don't think it was for any specific action, I think it was for his general work.
Me: What was he like in those days?
RS: Oh very 'hail -fellow-well-met' sort of chap. Very cheery. Oh yes...very popular.
Me: Who were his main friends?
RS: I don't know who he flew with. (Checks the book again) Ah, Johnson, yes, he was with Johnson every time. Johnson was quite a good chap, and he was shot down at Frankfurt. Your father left; and Johnson, Chainey and Pitman, who was the armaments officer, observer. He'd finished flying and went for a trip as rear gunner to Frankfurt and they got shot down.
And strangely enough, I was in Grantham, in about 1926 or 7 or so after the war. I was there with my wife and I ran into Johnson in the hotel, you know, he was just going off and we were just arriving, sort of thing.
Me: There was a chap called Miles as well...
RS: I knew Miles. Yes now, Wilson... (looking at the record of raids in the Annals) that was about the 16th of august and I think that's about the last raid he did.
Me: He (my father) told me once that they were going along, and one of the bombs didn't drop off, and it was dangerous to land with the bomb still on, so he had to climb out on the wing and kick it off.
RS: Well it was a very silly thing to do you know really because ... I used to carry along the fuselage a cane about six or eight feet long, strapped in there. And I used to look around and flash my flashlight to see if all the bombs had dropped. Well, if one bomb had stuck, which occasionally they did, I'd get this cane out and give this bomb a push and away it would go you see. Well, we had a fellow...a machine that landed...with a bomb in the rack, and a fellow called Scudamore, the observer, got out...went over to this bomb... picked it up...got hold of it and it went off and blew him up - killed him.
Well, of course the bomb under the wing, with it's propeller...(makes turning motion with hand) - as you're flying along the propeller turns and the bomb is primed so that when it hits the target, or anything, the percussion cap goes through and bang...you see. So, if you had a bomb in your rack there and you gave it a poke and you hit that propeller the bomb would go up. It was absolutely stupid to do it, I never thought at the time, but that's what happened.
I think august the 17th was your fathers' last raid, and I lasted another two and a half months after that. Let's have a look and see...(refers to the Annals) ...Wilson, yes there we are,with Captain Bright, yes he was a good chap. July the eleventh, yes I was on that raid to Boulay.... we went to Boulay a lot.
Me: Can you tell us something about the big 1660 pound bomb that you dropped from Handley Pages? Apparently you dropped two. Another pilot says he dropped two and yet the squadron history says that the grand total was only two.
RS: Oh, well I never knew of anyone else dropping any - except my machine.
Me: I wonder who the other pilot was...
RS: I understood that we dropped only two, it was my machine, and I believe there were only about ten dropped in the whole war. Anyway I know I dropped two. You know you had to...this bomb was underneath the fuselage and ten minutes before the target I had to crawl back into what we called the engine room, lift a hatch, and there was the nose of the bomb. I'd unscrew the vane, pull it out, and then I had a lot of cartridges, things about this length (indicates a length of about a foot with his hands) two or three lots of these. And I'd ram them in, they were to prime the bomb, and when they were all in, I'd put the nose cap on, screw it up and it was set to drop. Then I'd go back to the front of the machine when we were on the target, use the bombsight, pull the lever and away went the bomb.
Me: This would have been on the Handley Pages?
RS: Yes, on the Handley Pages.
Handley Page 0400 Bomber
Me: One report apparently says the bombs were chained in place... or were they on a bomb rack?
RS: Oh no they weren't chained into place, they were on a bomb rack. I don't know how they were held there, I'm sure. I pulled the lever and it was released. Away it went.
Me: Were they accurate? Did they drop straight or wobble about during their fall?
RS: No, they used to go down tail first with their nose up, then they'd turn over and you could see them go straight down for the first hundred yards or so, then according to the height you were, sometimes it was , oh half a minute if you were at 10,000 feet - I was only at 10,000 feet once, but at 3 to 4 thousand it would probably take about 20 ,30 or 40 seconds, then just burst on the ground, on the target.
Me: Did you ever do any practice flights with the big bombs on board?
RS: No, never, no. No, it was just put on the machine and we took them over.
Me: So there was no test dropping in daylight or anything like that?
RS: Nope, nope.
Me: If these bombs were so powerful then why weren't more dropped by the Independent Force?
RS: Well they only came into effect during the last month or so of the war and as I say, I understand there were only 10 dropped in the whole war and we dropped two and I suppose if the war had gone on we would've dropped a lot more.
Me: What makes you think that there were ten dropped?
RS: Well, that's what we heard..that's what we were told.
Me: The official figure was eleven. All during 1918.
RS: That's right. Well, we heard it was ten, and we dropped two.
Me: Back to the Fe2Bs for a minute. What equipment did you have in the front cockpit . My father did a drawing here (I produce drawing) which seems to show a dashboard light. Can you tell us what that represents? Really we just want to know what equipment you had in the front there.
Observer's view from Fe2b, under searchlight. (Ink drawing by my father)
RS: Well, we didn't have any equipment very much. We had a bombsight right on the outside of the nacelle at the front and alongside it was a lever which we pulled to release the bombs. On the right was a hole in the floor for a parachute flare and we had two or three of these in a rack, which I personally never used, but we used to push one of these through and it would release when it got through and it would light up the target for about three minutes I think...Parachute flare. And apart from that we only had a machine gun on a post with racks of ammunition in the wall of the nacelle, that's all....that's all we had.
Me: So you didn't have any sort of dashboard lights or anything?
RS: No, nothing at all, we just had a flashlight. I used to have a flashlight 'round my neck with a box with battery and a wandering lead and I used to look at the map from that. Oh, and I think I had a compass too...I think there was a compass as well, yes. No we didn't have any equipment at all, really.
Observer, Lieut. S.N.Bourne, in front of Fe2b with operations map, gloves and leggings.
A Hampshire vicar's wife tells of her father (pictured above)-
(Excerpt from email received 17/3/99)
"I was talking about Roy to our local vicar's wife, and I could hardly believe my ears when she told me her father flew in 100 Squadron in the 1st War as well! Her maiden name was Bourne and I believe he flew on raids with Roy. She has a message pouch with a letter from her father still enclosed with the weighting stone. It emplored his mother to ask the gardener to save some moleskins to make a new flying cap because it was so cold flying in the open cockpit.
Me: Out of my fathers pilots, do you know whom was his preferred pilot?
RS: Well, I flew with a fellow called Middleton most of the time. We got on very well together Middy and I.
Me: Was there any choice as to who you flew with?
RS: No you just went and looked at orders and you'd find what machine you were flying in, and who you were flying with. But I was with Middleton for, oh.. half to three quarters of the raids I did.
Me: What was Captain Bright like?
RS: Well, he flew with your father.
Me: Which flight was he in? A, B or C?
RS: Oh, I forget now. I know I was in C flight which was six machines. We had 3 flights of 6 machines. Eighteen flights in the squadron.
Me: Like another one of these? (I offer him a cigarette)
RS: Thank you very much.
Me: How much do you think an observer was involved with the care and maintenance of the machine?
RS: Not at all, he simply operated it.
Me: What about the pilot?
RS: He wasn't concerned with the maintenance or anything. He just took over the machine from the Flight Sergeant.
Me: Did they show any interest in what the mechanics did?
RS: After we'd done a raid we'd leave it, go and make our report, go in the orderly room, go in the mess and have a cup of coffee and a sandwich or something like that, and go to bed. But next morning we used to go onto the aerodrome and have a look at the machine to see if there were any holes in it, have a chat with the flight sergeant and that sort of thing. But it was left to the mechanics and crew to do it. We didn't bother with it, we just took it over when it was ready.
Me: Did any of them get killed or blown up putting the bombs on?
RS: No. Had a very funny experience...a very unusual experience really. I was down, I forget who it was with... whether it was with Middleton or... I was down to go to Krupps factory at Essen, which was about 50 or 60 miles north of Cologne, and I worked it all out. We'd got to get to Krupps and we'd got to bomb it and whatnot, and then we'd got to get back; and I went into the operational room, I was navigation officer of the squadron at the time, and I had a big table, about three times the size of this table, with a map of the whole front with blue chalk showing the line, you know the front, and showing where we were and where the various targets were and tracks out to them and all that sort of thing.
I went in to this operational room to have a look at orders which were on the board ,where we were going that night, which machines were going and who was going, and there I was down with so-and-so to go to Essen. Well, on the other side of the room was our rear gunner, a fellow called Best. He was an observer, rear gunner. Hadn't been with us very long, probably a month and there he was crying his eyes out. I said "what's the matter with you? " He says "I'm down for Essen, I know I shall'nt come back." I said "Well, I'm down for Essen and I've got to find the way there and got to find the way back and I've every intention of coming back if I can," I said "now pull yourself together, we'll rely on you to use that machine gun if we're attacked, because you're the only defense at the back of the aeroplane." ...Crying his eyes out! And I worked it all out out, and I reckoned it was about eleven and a quarter hours flying there and back with our 1612 pound bombs, and I don't think we could have got back, that is if the wind was not more than twenty miles an hour south west. Otherwise we couldn't get back at all.
Well, I think we should have probably bombed Essen if we'd got there , which we should have done, then we'd have come down south west a bit, to a little neck of Holland. Holland comes out like this (indicates with hands) into a three mile gap and then it bulges out again...there's Belgium...and you can go across this three mile strip and you're into Belgium and then up along the coast to Dunkirk and all that sort of thing. I think we'd have done that because it would've been easier for getting back rather than coming right down south against the wind. But we never did it because the wind was always much more than twenty miles an hour, so we never got there.
Well, about two or three years ago I saw in the obituaries, and I read them every morning in the Telegraph...'the Reverend Best'... and they gave his initials or his christian name., so I looked it up in the annals. There it was! it was our Best. The Reverend Best..He must have gone into the church. He was crying his eyes out in this operational room... scared stiff!
Me: Maybe he turned to the Lord, as it were, at that moment!
RS: Probably did!
Me: Those experiences must have made you aware of life and death in the raw, so I suppose it must have had that effect on a number of people.
RS: Well, I never thought anything of it. I mean we never thought we were going to be hit or anything like that, or we weren't going to come back. It never entered my head at all.
I did some very foolish things really...on FE2b's. It was very hot in July 1918, very hot indeed, and once or twice I went flying just with a helmet on, goggles, a shirt with Sam Browne and shorts.
Me: Sorry, what's a Sam Browne?
RS: My belt, with a strap which goes over here. (indicates over right shoulder) S'called a Sam Browne...officers belt, shorts, stockings and gym shoes, that's all...and went on a raid and came back. Well, it was very foolish because if we'd been brought down on the other side I wouldn't have had any clothing at all. You know, it was all right in summer; what happens later on when you want some clothing and warmth? Very silly.
RS: ...did that once or twice.
Me: What sort of feeling did you get bombing in the dark? Did you feel safe and hidden in the darkness or was there a feeling of fear?
RS: No...no fear, never frightened at all. I don't know why but I was never frightened.
Me: Do you think any of the others were?
RS: I don't know, some were a bit yellow. I went with one chap and he simply would not go into the target. He simply would not, and the CO said to me once, a little time later, something about this fellow Ebery, he was sort of pumping me...but I didn't give anything away...but he was yellow. He simply would not go into the target. No, I personally was never frightened at all, it didn't worry me at all.
Me: What about my father, did he have any sort of reputation for his work at all?
RS: No, just very popular that's all.
Me: Do you remember any details about him?
RS: No, I can't really because he was senior to me, he was a Captain.
My father, Capt H.B.Wilson
Me: He had a nickname though didn't he?
RS: We called him Bub. He was a big-breasted fellow. He was very well-built and we called him 'Bub' Wilson!
Me: Did he find that amusing?!
RS: Oh I think so, yes!
Me: What sort of a night life did you have? In Kingsfords' book (Night Raiders of the Air) he describes you going off , well him anyway, to the local bordello.
RS: Oh, into Nancy. Well, very occasionally... It was only once I ever went myself. If it was a bad weather report, no flying and so on, the CO would let us off and go into Nancy and we'd go to a restaurant called the 'Liegois' and we'd have dinner there, steaks usually, and I'm sure now those steaks were horse flesh. I'm sure they were horse steaks but they were very good.
Me: Did my father go there.
RS: I expect so... I expect he did. I was there once, we had King George, the Duke of York, he became George the Sixth eventually. He was on the other side of the aerodrome with the 'wing'. He was there for two months with us, in fact he was going to fly in my aeroplane on a raid, we were going to take him. At the last minute they wouldn't let him go because, if we'd been brought down , he was second-in-line for the throne and all that hooha...so we didn't fly. But I often saw him...nearly every day. And, in the 'Liegois' once, I saw him with his aide-de-campe and Major Greig...and the Duke of York was as pickled as an owl! He was as drunk as could be!
Me: Drunk as a skunk!
RS: Ay. ..Ay, in this 'Liegois'.
Me: What sort of thing went on there?
RS: Just dinner and... rowdy a bit, you know, and all that sort of thing, and then after dinner...there'd be a beeline for the whoreshop... number nine...the... er...you know...(sheepishly) Is this recording?
Me: (Evasively) I'll just check...
RS: It was very interesting, I wouldn't have anything to do with the women at all...I was too frightened, but they used to come in, you know, in little chiffon things with long stockings on and bulging with money. The money they'd taken they'd put in their stockings to keep safe. They dare'nt put it anywhere else! They always carried it with 'em, and they'd come and warm their bottoms. There was a stove on the far side of the room with a rail round, and they used to go there and warm their bottoms, and some chaps would take one of these women and go up into a cubicle with 'em and poke her and whatnot and all that sort of thing. All that sort of thing went on...Well, I never touched them, but I went there just for a bit of fun you know... we'd have some champagne. Champagne was five bob a bottle. We'd have champagne and so on...and I'd....It was quite amusing really.
Me: Would my father have been involved in that?
RS: He's sure to have gone in with those parties I think. I'm sure he did, yes. We all did. But I can't remember really because he was in a clique above me. He'd got his own pals, Johnson and Miles and Captain Bright and so forth. So they were a little clique superior to we worms down below, second Lieutenants.
Me: So it was a bit like a school situation really?
RS: Well, it is somewhat, yes. But I used to go swimming with them as I tell you.. (Points to a photo in his album of him and my father swimming together in the Moselle river) Do take that photograph out...yes take it out- do. We used to swim together and have quite a bit of fun in the water.
Me: Which one shall I take?
RS: Go on ... take that one. I don't know who the other fellow is. I took one out of that album, of a fellow called Greaves who was our rear gunner and he died about three or four years ago, and I sent it to his son in Houston.
(Looking at the photo) This Moselle river was eighty yards wide and eighty feet deep. We had these inner tubes...mine's a bit buckled. But that's your father! (beaming)
Me: Great! Thank you I'll cherish it.
RS: Yes, it was taken in July 1918.
(End Tape One)
Next transcript (No.2) Interview Index RFC intro page
Emails I have received about these pages
More pictures of 100 squadron RFC from my father's album
Various WW1 related objects in my possession and some found at the old aerodrome site nearXaffévillers in France