Ron Dearman DOB 21.9.23 Interview date – 3.8.17 by Ruth Bailey
“I’m Ron Dearman, I was born in Fulham in 1923, 21st September 1923, and then we stayed there until I was 3 years old then I went to live in Dagenham with my dad, mum, and we had a 3 bedroom house which we called our home up until the war.
“I had a very good family, very helpful family and a very loving family. There were three of us but I lost my little sister when she went on holiday once. I had an elder sister but, unfortunately, she passed away about 5 years ago. I had a younger brother and he passed away about 4 years ago. So, really, I’m on my own now. I don’t know why I’m being (like) that because I sit here and reminisce, (about) goodness knows what, read books, read family history and everything else that goes with it.
“The war started when I was 16 years old and before that I had to leave school, at 14, and then I was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship to be a carpenter and joiner, just like my dad, and I done that until I was able to join up at 18. But, in the meantime, I did join the Air Training Corps (ATC) but prior to that I was a messenger boy in the ARP, Air Raid Patrol, and riding a cycle between different posts because there wasn’t any telephones about, very few telephones about, so they used us messenger boys to go from one post to the next post if there was anything serious about it.
You couldn’t join up until you were 18. I chose to go into the Air Force because I’d belonged to the ATC and I’d learnt so much in there that I felt that I felt I could do something more better in any service than any others . I joined up when I was 18, that was 1941 and I was lucky enough, went before a selection board, to be selected to go into air crew. I was over the moon about that, so was my family as well, but they didn’t want to lose me but they were happy for me.
First of we had to go, everyone who was air crew, has to go to Lords Cricket ground in London where you receive your uniform, had a medical, and all the paraphernalia that goes with it which was very interesting. From there we went to a place called ITW, initial training wing for air crew, and there we learnt everything about flying, history of the air force, why an aeroplane, or how, it flies, all about meteorology, the stars, navigation air sea rescue, goodness knows what – we did everything in a place called Babacombe, Devon.”
(That seems a long way to go for training?) “They put you out of the way of enemy aircraft. As I said, we had to do everything there, such as wireless operating, morse code, Aldis lamp, all that kind of thing! One little incident there where two Fokker Wulf aircraft came out the sea and started firing guns and dropping bombs while we were outside in a park doing Aldis morsecode with the lamps (so this is at night time?) No, during the day. They did a lot of damage. They bombed a hospital where aircrew were convalescing after doing a tour of duty and goodness knows what, and it was really upsetting to everybody. Fortunately, they never caught any of us because we was in an avenue of trees and as soon as they came we dived behind a tree – and that was my initiation into the air force really.” (Were you scared?) “Well you wasn’t scared so much as what you were startled, you know, why are they bombing us here? Really that’s why we never done our training over here, because we were easy pickings.
From there, after passing out, you had to pass a certain standard, and I passed with flying colours – even beating college boys! So I was quite pleased with that anyway. They had to make sure that we were able to fly so they took us to a place called Ansty, near Coventry, and we were taught how to fly – how to take an aeroplane up and bring it down again. Up and bring it down again, continuously for about a week. And then, the main thing was, to bring it in safe. Everybody could take off easily but to bring it in safely, and judging heights, was a bit wearing for a lot of people but I managed that and I got my orders to go to Canada after 10 hours on these Tiger Moths. Then, while I was there, one of the things in a Tiger Moth was that you can stall an aircraft, that is lose the power, and when you lose the power it tends to spin. They took us up to a certain height, they stalled the aircraft and we had to get it out of the spin and that was easily rectified by, if you listened to your instructor properly, it was quite easily done by putting reverse rudder into the spin then gradually it eases the aircraft out pulling the stick backwards as your pulling the stick backwards you have to put a bit of power on to make it go straight and level and then make your landing. Very good he said 10 (out of 10) that’s good. So I had to go into a holding centre before we could get a boat to go to Canada. That’s when I was picked to go with thousands of other people, thousands of them.
I went to Canada in a French ship, which was a long narrow boat called the Louis Pasteur. Although we went over with no escort the boat tended to roll a little bit and people were a bit unsteady on their feet and stomach as well. We got there in just over three days so we were quite happy when we landed in Halifax. From there we went to a place called Moncton (New Brunswick) which was another holding centre until we could get a train to take you to your place where you were going to be posted to learn your EFTS, Elementary Flight Training Scheme. When we got there, after 5 days on the train, from East of Canada we went around the great Lakes to get to this place on the prairies in Canada, not far from Winnipeg. Along the Laurence River, it was a beautiful 5 days journey. And, on top of that, we had some decent food to eat which was most appetising to all of us. I forget how long I was there but I know I passed with flying colours! I learned to fly and train in an aircraft called a Cornell which is a single engine training aircraft which is very adaptable to easing people to learn like me – being an old dunderhead like I am! But, I did pass and went on to, the first place I went to was Assiniboia (Saskatchewan) elementary flying training school, which is a great big, huge place.
After passing out there I went on another two day train journey to a place called Souris (Manitoba) that’s the next province along. That was another nice journey there. From there we had to go on FTS (?) that is going up one and you were told you were either going to learn single engine aircraft or multi engine aircraft. So they said to me the demand is for multi engine aircraft so I did not get a chance to fly a single engine aircraft anymore. So done that, passed all those tests and everything else and that’s where I obtained my wings (photo) I was out there for the best part of 9- 10 months – it was always terrific weather. We went out in the Spring, when the weather is nice, and came back in the Fall when it starts to get all the snow and everything, it’s very deep in Canada – so I was happy to get home.
We came back, another long train journey back to Halifax. On board there were people coming from America and other Canadian airfields. When we got on the boat there were thousands, about two thousand of us I should think, absolutely packed with aircrew, all ready to be slaughtered! Anyway, we had a nice journey home being on the Mauritania which was a nice big liner. We got back in three days, back to Liverpool where we started from. From there we were sent to Harrogate plus leave, because we hadn’t had any leave for practically a year, so I was fortunate enough to see my girlfriend again. ‘Cos my girlfriend, and myself, we went to school together and we were always friendly and when I joined the ATC she joined the women’s ATC. When I was a corporal in the ATC she had to be a bit bigger than me she was like a kind of warrant officer – I was very, very proud of her anyway.
From there we had to go to different stations. There were so many air crew that we had to be split up all over Britain and we stayed in our flights, that’s what we were called flights, and we had loads of menial jobs to do like air traffic control, helping with funerals. I went to Speke near Liverpool, and I suppose I must have attended about 40 funerals while I was there. It was most depressing – it didn’t do us any good at all to know what was going to happen to us. We were pall bearers. It was alright – we had a house that was given to us which was cleaned for us, but we had to go into Speke airport for our meals. We done that for quite a few months from there we were posted to other menial jobs. One of the jobs that we had at one time was in North Wales, the name slips my mind, and we had to dig trenches. It came to pass that these trenches were being dug to put water pipes and electric cables down for a racecourse (laughs) which was owned by the chap who invented the jet engine, Air Vice Marshall Whittle. We were under canvas there for weeks and weeks and weeks and in North Wales you don’t get that good weather either. We were well looked after with our food and such like, that’s the main thing, but it was supposed to have been a toughening up course. How convenient! (Laughs)
We had to go to another place to make sure we were good enough to understand all the radio equipment in the aircraft and we were sent to fly Oxfords at another airfield, which slips my mind, we were sent to so many different airfields. This course used to last for about four months – it’s only because they had so many aircrew standing by and they could not post us anywhere permanently. Time was slipping and slipping away but we still had to try and remember to fly the aircraft so we were put in a simulator called a link trainer. I think I did more hours in a link trainer than I did flying actually. Everywhere you went you were put in a link trainer. There was no need to give us our instructions, it was for flying at night mainly, instrument flying at night. Most of those people working in the link trainer had already done a tour of service, 33 operations.
It was coming up to D-Day now and then we were put on leave, a whole bunch of us, a thousand of us, put on leave as a diversion to say that everything was alright because people were still going on leave. D-Day happened while we were on leave but we never had to return until our date. When we returned the first thing they done was to send us to Northolt in London. Now there was only a few of us. There was 10 pilots, 10 navigators and 3 aircraft and the aircraft happened to be an Anson aircraft, Avro Anson, and we said what have we come here for? They said you are going to fly these aircraft, we’ll tell you all about it later on. All you’ve got to remember is to take one up and bring it down again. So we had a few flying lessons again for familiarisation. D-Day was progressing all the time, all the time that was progressing. Then we were told at a meeting what we were going to do. Our job was to take photos, not to take photos but to take printed photos, to France and back again to Northolt. Evidently, as they were progressing, advancing into France, Spitfires were taking photographs of enemy positions behind our lines and so that the commanders over there could make better judgement of what they’re attacking they had to have photographs. And they were taken by the Spitfires as I said, and us in 1497 flight they called us and we had to take the photographs to the nearest Headquarters we could where we could land. That was something because, when we were flying, we didn’t have all these modern navigational aids at all. All we had was a map to say you were going to doo,doo,doo,doo….That’s where the navigator came in to find the best way for us to get there. So they loaded us up with these photographs and any other documents that had to be taken and off we went to France and found the airfield, made them sign for all these documents, then we flew back again to Northolt. But every time we came back over the coast near Beachy Head we were buzzed by two Spitfires. So we had a Spitfire on either side of us to make sure who we were and all we had to do was put our thumbs up to say we were alright – then they buzzed off then we went back to Northolt and waited for our next flight. And we done that until we ran out of airtime to get to the place where we were going to and get back again because we mustn’t take the fuel away from the aircrafts that were flying over there so they put more, longer range aircraft, and faster aircraft, as well.
And, when we got back, we looked at the notice board, which we had to every day, standing orders, and, woe betide us, we had our names down to go to a hospital in Holton, which is a big RAF Hospital in Holton, in the Midlands somewhere, and there we had about 21 blinking injections. When we asked what all this was for they said - you can only guess one thing. We said where are we going Far East? They said yes. So we missed out Middle East, we missed out Europe and we went to (the) Far East.
We started off in a Dakota was being delivered there, but we were flown there. There were 20 of us and a few other people who had to go out there because these didn’t carry many people, Dakotas, about 20 of us I suppose with all our equipment and goodness knows what.
We got there in about four stages, I think the first stage was we got to Malta, stayed there for a couple of days, then we went onto Bahrain where we stayed for another day, no we went to Cairo and then we went all the way to India. Now, where did I land in India? (laughs)
Anyway, we got there on Christmas Eve so that was a nice present! Where we landed there were dead animals lying all over the place, and goodness knows what, and put in a tent on Christmas Eve. We were then housed in a special hotel, which the air force commandeered, before we had to fly to Rawalpindi and where we did familiarisation on Dakotas ourselves. There was a special flying place there. Not only did we have to learn familiarisation on the Dakotas but we also had to train Indians parachute dropping, how to be dropped by a parachute, because they were most vital those Indians to the Far Eastern war.
We done that for a month, six weeks, something like that, before we were told we were going to join a squadron. Well, we thought we were going to fly down into Burma but no, they put us on the train. We were seven days on the train going down to Calcutta. That was the most terrible journey – not only did we have us in a special compartment but we had people hanging on trains, running in front of trains, jumping on, jumping off the train all the way there. But we were put in a special siding of a night time so we could sleep and be fed. There was always an early start so you could never have a shower or anything, nothing like that – it was a really hot climate. You were sweating hot, sweating like pigs.
Eventually we did reach Calcutta. We were put in a special hotel again but we weren’t very pleased at the time. After being in Calcutta which was for another 4-5 days leave, we went on a Dakota which was flown into a place called Dum Dum and there we joined 267 squadron, which was very good. As soon as you were put in a squadron you knew you were going to be permanent, you weren’t going to be pushed all over the place. So, we joined that squadron and we went to Chittagong where they had just started the offensive to push the Japanese out of Burma. Terrible fighting, terrible weather, everything was horrific. Especially for the people on the ground, it wasn’t too bad for us. But for the people on the ground it was absolutely mud up to their necks and goodness knows what. All those soldiers out there, they all deserve the Victoria Cross as far as I’m concerned. They were absolutely marvellous people. A lot of them complained, obviously, but most of them just fought, and fought and fought to stop the Japanese attacking – those callous, little, yellow men. (Were the men on the ground a mixture of British and Indian?) Yes. The Indians were very, very good, they were fighters to the end, they were very good.
When we got to Chittagong, they were taking Akyab Island along the East coast of Burma, because that was a kind of a natural port where boats could go in and take supplies in. I won’t go into the fighting in Burma because that’s where General Wingate got killed and his Chindits because they were fighting behind the lines, all the way down from Camilla (?) and they were the ones that had to be served with supplies all the time. They done that from Chittagong for a while but as soon as they took Akyab that’s when there were two or three squadrons of us based there where we flew all over Burma dropping supplies to these chaps. But, over there, while we were flying Dakotas over there they were sending messages, what they wanted. Each aircraft went in a different direction, we didn’t fly (as a) squadron. So, told where we were going, the navigator had to go and make his plans, his flight plans, come back and tell us all about it. As a crew we went out to the aircraft to make sure everything was stored properly and we started our big adventure out there supplying the troops.
Our biggest problem out there was the weather - especially when the monsoons (came). We had no oxygen in our aircraft so we couldn’t go above 20,000 feet, no 10,000 feet – we mustn’t fly higher than 10,000 feet without oxygen. So we had to do all our flying underneath that, or we could take a chance and go over the rainy bit but then you might get caught in a cumulonimbus cloud and if you went into one of them you never came out again because it was so strong in that cloud that it would shake the aircraft to pieces. So we went underneath all the time. All the crew said, “Under, under.” So we went under and we got to our destinations, but to find the destination was a job on its own because to find a big, white cross in the middle of a jungle clearing, or something like that. You had to fly at treetop height and drop your supplies but sometimes there was a field that was capable of taking a Dakota and then we made landings. Those landings were very bumpy and hard on the undercarriage so they was always tested when we got back to base, they had a good test of the tyres and the undercarriage. But to see the smile on the faces of the soldiers on the ground was something to be appreciated. We didn’t get away with much out there either because most of my crew, we all had prickly heat and when you get prickly heat you know you’ve got something. You’re just running for shade all the time, you couldn’t stand the sun any longer, you felt as though you were having thousands of blinking pins stuck in you. The only thing that would stop it was to get in the shade quickly and use talcum powder if you could get hold of it, used to ease it. Other than that it was a bit hectic.
When we got back to base we were flying nearly every day, “where are we going now, where are we going?” Some of the places out there we went to, especially a place called Myitkyina where the Japanese held one end of the runway, ‘cos that was more or less a permanent runway there, and the British held the other end. We had 40 gallon drums of oil on board, that is diesel oil for the tanks, and we had to fly that in to Myitkyina. Because one end of the airfield was held by the Japanese we had to fly with the wind to make a landing which was very, very hard to do. We managed it but we took off quickly, they unloaded it quickly and took it away to their depot but we had to take off again over the Japanese. They wanted to fire at us but they didn’t fire at us because it gave their position away to our people where they could have been slaughtered. There were many incidents over there that I don’t want to remember really.
(How long were you actually there for?) I went out at the end of ’44 and I came back in ’46, so I was there for two years. (So you were out there after the end of the war?) Before I came home we got down to Mingaladon, which is Rangoon, and from there we had to carry on flying and bring back some different kinds of people who had different kinds of diseases and some Japanese prisoners of war who had to be interrogated. We went down as far as Hong Kong, Singapore and Java, Indonesia. Not in one go, it took us about a week to fly there and back again. When we came back we were still flying ok and all of a sudden the CO called us into the, what we called our cinema, and he said, “Sorry lads, in a month’s time the squadron is disbanding.” And it was one of the most famous squadrons in the country that was, the 267 squadron, it done all the drops that the other ones didn’t do. It was just wiped off the books. We came home on a boat which took three weeks or more. Landed at Southampton, no bands playing, nothing. We went to a place called Hednesford in Staffordshire, where we were given clothes, hats, shoes, a £100 and “goodbye lads”. There’s a lot of things I could fill in, lots and lots of things I could fill in, but that is the basic bit of my part in the war.
(Have you ever been back to India?)
No, I was offered to go back to Burma, by some organisation, to fly us back there. I said to my son, ”Do you reckon we should go to India, er to Burma? I said really it’s for the soldiers because they had so many cenotaphs out there it was unbelievable. But I can’t remember one air force one so I said it would be mainly travelling the coast, a day here and a day there, So he said,” Do you reckon it’ll be too far for you?” ‘Cos we were going to fly out in one go, you know, and in the end he said, “It might be too much for you.” So I didn’t go.
(Would you like to go?) Not really, it will bring back too many memories for me but it will never go away from my head.
(So your main role during the war wasn’t combat fighting, it was supplies and transportation?)
That’s right. Transport command never carried arms so we could never fight back – all we had to do was to see if we could outfly them. Lucky enough we weren’t attacked. Here I am, still in one piece!
(Did you make many friends?)
You made friends with your crew. I had two Scotsman, we had four in a crew, two Scotsmen and the other chap came from the Midlands, Birmingham way, could never understand what he was talking about. They were all good lads, they was all NCOs. ‘Cos I was never an officer, I was only an NCO. In fact there were more NCOs flying than there were officers in the end you know. But it was a good experience I suppose. A horrific experience being out there, but they (were) always laughing, always laughing. When we landed with the stuff they would say, “Have you got our post? Have you got our post?” “Have you brought those cigarettes for me?” I said “Yes we’ve got everything but I don’t know what you’ve got in there”. I had to sign for the manifest each time but I never looked at it, nothing to do with me the manifest. First thing they gave us was a cup of tea, they always had tea on the go.
When I was at Akyab we lived under canvas and that’s not very nice. I mean to say, you get under canvas, there was about 8 of us, two crews in one tent, a bell tent, we called them bell tents. We had a charpoy for a bed, just a wooden frame with ropes across and three biscuits. We also had wires round the top so we could put our mosquito nets up, tie them up the top and tuck them under the biscuits to keep the mosquitos out at night time. We were often woken up in the middle of the night with a scuffling up above and looked up we could see rats running round on the string followed by snakes trying to catch the rats. It’s unbelievable the living conditions out there. I suppose we were fed the best way they could and that’s where I was introduced to, I won’t say jam because we had plenty of jam, because that’s all we had when we were kids, that’s all my mum could afford. It had cheese put on it to make it a bit more tasty, we had cheese. It was the first time I had tomato sauce. I was introduced to a lot of different food out there, tomato soup, I never had tomato soup when we were kids. We were introduced to so much different things over there but I would never have curry. I will never eat curry, for a start it’s too hot, it’s hot enough out there as it is without having that blinking stuff. One time in Rayalpindi where we were giving familiarisation to these chaps who was going to jump from the aircraft. They’d all had curry and we took them up one afternoon, so that they could make a jump. When we landed the wireless operator says, “Christ almighty! Come and have a look here mate! So we went to have a look and it was yellow right the way from the top of the whatsername right down to the door where they jumped out. So we said ‘dear oh lor’ and we had to get out of the emergency hatch. But they were sent back to clean the aircraft. It wasn’t very nice but all these little things you can remember. It was probably air sickness, they had never been up before. They had done ground jumping. They were all Indians or Pakistanis, they were all mixed then.
(What was the highlight for you?) Getting letters from my girlfriend. She was a sister in a hospital in Romford. After we were demobbed and came home she said, “We’ll get married soon?” She wanted to get married before I went away but I said there was no way, I didn’t want to leave a widow behind. We got married a year after in 1947 and she had one day to go before she knew the results of her exams so we got married on first Sunday after she got her results on the Saturday. My son was born in 1950.
(The training seemed so well organised in Canada)
It was. It was. It was good and bad. I went from the sublime to the blood and thunder you know. The people in Canada were so nice, friendly.
(You certainly saw the world)
Well, little bits of it. I’ve seen most of Europe and Canada. We did get some time off when we were doing our training so I went up into America for a week or something like that. But other than that it was always training or working – they never let you sit down for five minutes. We didn’t get much leave – we were put in a blinking link trainer each time. Every time we got half a day or something – “link trainer!” So we all had to line up to go on a link trainer.
(So you didn’t see much of your girlfriend or parents?)
When I went to Canada I didn’t see them. We only had one weeks embarkation leave, that’s all we had. When we came back we had three weeks leave then I had to start work again.
(What did you do after the war?)
I wanted to do something different, well I wanted to continue flying really but being an NCO we didn’t get much of a chance because we never had bank balances like the officers did. Parents banked up their money for them and goodness knows what. That’s why I was never an officer because I didn’t have a bank balance, I couldn’t pay the bills. They had to pay half towards their uniforms, they had to pay mess fees and goodness knows what. They could never go in the mess and say give us a pint, they had to make sure their crew was with them and buy them all a drink. Mess bills were pretty high. You paid to be an officer.
(Did you keep in contact with anyone?)
No. It broke us up. We came home together, back to Hednesford together, and we all swapped addresses, we didn’t have telephones, but nothing materialised from it. That’s why they’ve got a thing going now, for the last four or five years, called Project Propeller. I go there every year, we’re flown there from Rochester. In fact just a couple of weeks ago I was in Gloucester Airport where someone flew me from Rochester to Gloucester and back, “What do I owe you for that?” and they said, “You dare ask me how much I want?” He says, “You’ve done more than enough for us. It’s costs us nothing. It’s costs you nothing” We had to pay £10 for a lunch. They get as many (veterans) as they can. In the Burma Star there, in the centre page you will find an obituary column. There are 53 names there, if you look at an older one there were five or six pages of them.
(Do you want to tell us about your flight in a Spitfire last year? How did it come about?)
It was a bit of political stuff going on between Headcorn and Biggin Hill. Headcorn used to ask us to go to Duxford and meet all the people and goodness knows what. I met a chap there, he lived in Hong Kong, when he knew that I flew Dakotas he came up to me and said, “Where can I go and buy a Dakota?” I said, “Well you’ve got plenty of money then haven’t you!” I said, “I’ve no idea, they’ve all been grounded.”
I got to know them at Headcorn one of the chaps who organises different things, he invited us earlier on last year to Duxford for a special day. When we go to Duxford, a special hangar there, and in that hangar they had a Lancaster bomber. They were doing it up, taking it to pieces, repainting it and goodness knows what. One of the chaps said, “Can we have a look in there?” Oh I don’t know, I said, I’ll go and ask the chap who has organised it. I went up and asked him, do you reckon we can have a look? He came back and said, I’m sorry but there’s stuff all over the shop in there. For a start we don’t want you to fall over and hurt yourselves and the next thing is we are not allowed to let you in there. From there this chap who want to buy the Dakota he said, “Sorry you couldn’t get in there, but I tell you what, the next time you come to Headcorn you can have a flight in a Spitfire. So I said, “Well, that’ll be lovely.” Anyway, so Gerry was there as well, and it came to pass, someone must have told them at Biggin Hill. So, Biggin Hill jumped in and said we’re going to treat you and Gerry to a flight in a Spitfire at Biggin Hill. I don’t know why they are after Gerry and myself all the time but everywhere we go …. We don’t get any expenses when we go to these places, we pay our own expenses but we like going because it’s our way of life.
To go up in that Spitfire, well! We had to go for half an hour tuition, this, this, that. We both said, yeah, yeah, yeah! When we got in the cockpit the chap says, “Do you remember what you were told?” We said, this, and this and this. So he strapped us in and off we went. But to go into that Spitfire and hear the roar of that engine it was something, it really was.
(You actually had control did you?) We haven’t got a licence so we must accept everything they tell us to do. Once we were off the ground they said, “OK, it’s all yours.” He said we can only be up there for 25 minutes. It takes 5 minutes to take off and land so we got 20 minutes. He says, right we’ll go over towards the river first. So we went off towards the River Thames and you could see everything from up there. We flew round and he said, “We’re not going to do aerobatics and we’re only going to do 200 mph.” Because we had to save as much fuel as we can because a Spitfire goes up to nearly 400 mph if it wants to. Went round, flew over here and he was telling us about all the different places underneath. We banked over the river came down and the next minute we came over Sevenoaks and at Sevenoaks he said we’ve got permission to land. So I was up there for 25 minutes. So we landed and came back. But that bit of experience in a Spitfire it was something. So you can understand how those young chaps got on during the war. The speeds that they were going, about 300 or 400 mph. Turning and swinging, that aircraft could do anything – you only had to touch the control and you were away. It was so sensitive. It was an experience I will never forget. I’ve been in all the newspapers I think.
A local newspaper report on Ron’s flight in a Spitfire.
Ron volunteers every week at the local Spitfire and Hurricane Memorial Museum at Manston in Kent. He gives talks / tours of the museum, serves in the shop and does book signings among other things.
I have subsequently found this interview that Ron did a few years ago – pages 8 & 9