As promised, here’s the interview with Syd Marshall. Syd is a volunteer guide at the Battle of Britain memorial Flight museum, and what a great interview it turned out to be. I wasn’t expecting to meet a WW2 Lancaster crew member so it was not only a pleasant surprise, for me, but Syd had some great stories to tell about his time as a flight engineer on Lancaster bombers.
His father had advised him to ‘make sure you’re riding and not walking’ when he signed up so Syd picked the RAF after war broke out. He had wanted to be a pilot but ended up becoming a flight engineer as he’d been an apprentice engineer prior to the war.
Following many months of technical training he applied for a commission but he thinks that his lack of grammar school education held him back.
When based at Sandtoft Syd was teamed up with a Canadian pilot and the rest of the crew that he was to fly with during the war. They were sent for further training on Lancasters before being sent to fly Halifax bombers. During our chat, Syd described some of the training sorties that they went on like searching for downed pilots in the North Sea and practise bombing runs as well as flights using the new H2S navigation system.
After all too few training hours they were off on operations over Germany. He ended up flying 36 sorties in all. I asked Syd how he felt during these flights over Germany. He said that he was very young at the time and if anything, he felt very excited and that after so many sorties they got used to the life of a bomber crew member. It was an experience that he will never forget. Syd went on to describe how some of the challenges that they faced during the war were of their own making and he told a story about how they flew after a night on the town and were not really fit to fly. The story, which he said he’d not told before, saw them fly over to Germany but on the way home the pilot started to feel sick so disappeared in to the rear of the aircraft. Sadly, Syd had not strapped himself into the pilot’s seat and so, when the aircraft ended up going into a spiral dive he couldn’t control it. Only with the help of the returning pilot and after several stalls and wing-drops, were they able to regain control and head back to their home aerodrome. They landed safely but were pulled aside by their commanding officer, the next day, who pointed out that the fuel tanks were hanging out of the bottom of the wing and the fuselage of the Lancaster – LM272 – was well and truly twisted and a complete write-off.
Syd had plenty of other stories to tell including some of the other close calls that he’d had. Great stories and well worth listening to! It was a real treat listening to Syd’s stories and I could have stayed for hours. I find those first hand stories of war time experiences fascinating and I hope you enjoy listening to Syd in the podcast. What a great bloke. And if you’d like to see Syd and his fellow volunteers at the BBMF, you know what to do. Get on down to the BBMF museum at RAF Coningsby for a superb day out. If you see Syd, mention that you heard him on Flying Podcast! www.raf.mod.uk/bbmf Have a look at the BBMF web site for details of what’s on offer or, if you haven’t already, listen to episode 43.