16 December 2016
Aeroplanes have played a huge part in the life of one schoolboy turned RAF airman... By Walter Horton, Senior Citizens’ Media Group
When I was young I was always interested in aeroplanes. It was a Sunday afternoon and my grandma was over for dinner. I didn’t want to sit at the table, I wanted to get into the garden because I could hear an aeroplane.
My mother said, “Let him go,” so I went into the garden and looked into the sky. Coming towards us was this plane – a Messerschmitt 110, a German fighter bomber. As I watched, he dropped two bombs that fell on my new school, which was called Ethelburga.
Of course it was Sunday, so luckily no one was there – and that was the end of my new school. The picture above was from before it was bombed. We used to help the air raid wardens by putting out incendiaries with buckets of sand.
We were bombed out in Battersea where I lived, by the flying bomb named the doodlebug. You could hear it and you could see it, but as soon as the engine in this bomb stopped it meant you were in trouble.
We had a lodger, called Percy Clarke, who wouldn’t go to the shelter because one of the ladies had a budgerigar in the corner of the shelter that she used to talk to, and Clarkey couldn’t stand this which was understandable.
We came out from the shelter and it was like a thick fog: there were pieces and things flying through the air. My father said, “Don’t let the boy see because I think Percy Clarke’s a goner.” In my way, I loved this man who I called Clarkey.
When we looked, the blast from this flying bomb had blown him from his bedroom through the kitchen into the front room – and he was still in bed. All we could see was this white figure all covered in plaster and my father said, “I don’t think there’s any hope.”
But he started to pick all the plaster off and suddenly, lo and behold, it was Percy Clarke, and he said, “What the bloody hell’s going on?” We couldn’t believe it when we got him out. He hadn’t got a scratch.
I was a drummer in the Air Training Corps. I started playing in the band as a solo drummer and we used to go marching through Battersea Park. We were quite popular.
When I was conscripted, because I’d been in the ATC and was always interested in aeroplanes, I was told I was going to be in the air force.
I flew Lancaster bomber aircraft, which had been used during the Second World War. They had a crew of seven and the number of those aircraft shot down was tremendous. Luckily I had nothing to do with this, because I started after the war.
I was involved in the Berlin Airlift, which was quite hair-raising. One of the things I liked was classical music and I found out one of my favourite conductors, Herbert von Karajan, was going to be in East Berlin. So me and a friend decided to go and see him. We decided to stop and have a drink at a pub first.
The chap who was serving the drinks said we must get out straight away. He said the money we had was Eastern Marks and that if they saw us in the pub we could be arrested. So we didn’t see that concert but we managed to get back into West Germany. If we had been caught, we would have been court marshalled because we shouldn’t have been there.
What a wonderful wife
When I married, who should I marry but a German – a German Jew, from the family of a well known man who was head of the police in Berlin, Bernhard Weiss. But I met my wife over here in England.
She was running a club called the Happy Over 60s, but I used to call it the Unhappy Over 60s because it was mostly women who were always talking about one another.
But Hilda, my wife, was quite a wonderful person. She was an interpreter in the war crimes trials in Nuremberg.
She escaped from Germany when she was about nine years old. The Gestapo came for her. But this guy in the house she lived in asked them, “Have you got the correct papers?” And they checked, and they hadn’t, so they couldn’t take her away. So my wife escaped through Belgium which was still neutral at that time.