Quick index: [
Robert "Bob" Foster's lecture |
Campaigns in France and Norway |
RAF before the war, Foster comes into the picture |
First flight on Hurricane |
The Battle of Britain |
Experiences after Battle of Britain |
Hurricanes did an awful lot of work |
Career in the Pacific Theatre, Spitfires at Darwin |
Robert W. Foster's interview |
Aviation Museum Society, Finland invited the British RAF warpilot Wing Commander Robert W. Foster, DFC, AE, to Finland in June 2004. Mr. Foster, a true British gentleman, blessed us with two most interesting lectures, the first one at Finnish Air Force Museum at Tikkakoski, the second at Finnish Aviation Museum at Vantaa.
Recording: Jukka O. Kauppinen (Grendel)
Transcription, part 1: Paul Rix
Transcription, part 2: Jason "Replicant"
Final editing and photos: Jukka O. Kauppinen
Many thanks to Paul and Jason for doing the transcription. The result is surely must better now, when native English speakers listened closely what was spoken and wrote it down.
Wing Commander Foster was born in year 1920. He saw the clouds of war rising over the Europe, and decided to join the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve in January 1939. Mr. Foster described, that he didn't want to go to the trenches, but while the death in the sky was still possible, it was at least a more glorious way to go.
He flew a Hurricane fighter in the Battle of Britain and was a pilot trainer after that, processing some 100 pilots. He was then transferred to the 54th Squadron, who flew the Spitfire fighter, and in 1942 was sent as reinforcements to Australia. Located at Darwin mr. Foster fought against the Japanese. FInishing his 2nd tour mr. Foster then joined the Normandy invasion in ground duties.
In the war mr. Foster was credited with 9 aerial victories and he retired from RAF in 1947, returning to his pre-war workplace Shell. He retired from Shell in 1975.
Please first read the shorter preliminary report from www.virtualpilots.fi/feature/photoreports/bobfoster2004 before progressing to read this whole lecture transscript.
Many thanks to the chaps of Aviation Museum Society, Finland for arranging this visit.
"This is the nearest I've been to a 109" - Wing Commander Robert "Bob" Foster
Robert "Bob" Foster's lecture
- Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure for me to introduce
Royal Air Force pilot, Wing Commander Robert Foster. Welcome to Finland.
Thank you very much. I didn't understand a word of that, except the end bit, but I hope that it was alright anyway. (laughter)
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you again for inviting me to
Finland. This is my first visit but I certainly hope, not the last. It
is a lovely country you have. Beautifully clean. Nice people and good
food and wine too (which is most important).
Anyway, last night I was talking to a chap in the British Embassy, and
he reminded me that this weekend there is a commemoration service to do
with the Crimean War, which I think goes back to 1856 or something like
that. And it reminded me, the year I was born 1920, my father might
have listened to some chap who had been in that war 64 years ago. In
other words, it is a long, long time since 1940. And I think I am at
least on my own here that no one else will remember very much about it.
Anyway, 60 years ago today, or tomorrow as we all know, a great event
occurred in that the Allies landed in Normandy. A great event, known by
the world. Another event happened on exactly the same day, 64 years
ago, when I, Robert Foster, first flew a Hurricane. That event went
unnoticed by the world generally. A great day for me!
I don't know how much you know about the Hurricane. As you know, you
had one here at one time and it is now in the other museum. But, it was
the brainchild of a man called Sidney Camm, who, together with Mitchell
who invented the Spitfire, and Messerschmitt with the 109, were the
three great designers of the 1930's. Sidney Camm had a great
reputation. He started with before the Harts and the Hinds and so on,
through the Fury's , then the Hurricane, and the Typhoon and Tempest
and eventually of course, the Harrier. So he had a really great and
distinguished career as a designer.
The prototype was built in 1935 when the air forces of the world were
talking about single wing mono-planes. Before then there had been
Bi-planes but the airforces were realizing that they were being
outdated and the RAF, the Air Ministry asked for a design for a single
wing mono-plane. And Camm and Mitchell in turn came up with the
Hurricane and the Spitfire. The prototype Hurricane first flew in 1935.
It was pretty basic, it had a two blade propeller, a single speed
propeller. It had an undercarriage that you had to wind up and it had a
speed of about 250mph. That was the prototype. But, it went on from
there and the Air Ministry was quite impressed with the design so they
ordered 600 of these aeroplanes. Quite a big order in 1936! And Hawkers
went ahead building this thing, with developments coming along all the
time. The first Hurricane to be delivered to the RAF was in 1937, when
it went to 111 Squadron at Northolt. They were the first squadron in
the RAF to have this single wing monoplane. It made history, and it
affected me in a way because I was 17 at the time, that it flew from
Edinburgh to London at an average speed of 408 miles an hour, which was
quite extraordinary for a fighter plane in those days. And it did
impress everybody. It impressed the British people anyway.
I don't think it impressed the Germans very much, because their
Messerscmitt could not fly as fast as that. And they did realize, I am
sure, as people did later, that this chap Göring who was in Edinburgh,
sat there for about a month until he found a following wind of about
80mph - (laughter). So he got there at 400 miles per hour but actually
it was about just over 300. Anyway, it was a good propaganda story and
the Hurricane became the great hope for the RAF. In 1939, September,
when the Germans declared war, the RAF had 18 Hurricane squadrons and
one or two Spitfire squadrons coming through. Four of those squadrons
were sent to France, which stayed there throughout what was called the
'Phoney War' of 1939 until April 1940. In April 1940, I am sure you
know most of this history, but I will repeat it, Hitler launched his
attack, first into Norway and then, of course, into the Low Countries.
And in May, the 12th, he invaded Belgium, Holland and into France. And
immediately we sent another twelve squadrons to France, to back up the
four that were already there.
Campaigns in France and Norway
So, we had about 16 Hurricane squadrons in France. As you well know
from your history, it was a complete disaster. The Germans broke
through the British Army. The French Army collapsed on our right, the
Belgians collapsed on the left. The British Army was forced back to
Dunkirk, where, at the beginning of June, they were evacuated. And at
the same time of course, the Hurricane squadrons went back with them,
lost a lot of aircraft, a lot of men. They extracted the British Army,
but the cost of that was some 477 fighters by the time Dunkirk was
over. That was mostly Hurricanes, some Spitfires and some Blenheims.
And some 300 pilots which we could ill afford to lose. I mean, we were
still building up our strength then. But that was the cost to the RAF
between May and June of 1940. At the same time, the Norwegian campaign
was on. And the RAF sent Gladiators initially to Norway and then in May
of 1940 they sent a squadron of Hurricanes which landed somewhere in
the north in Narvik area. They were not very used to the conditions,
And the story goes, I don't know if it is true or not, that they were
having a lot of trouble finding an airfield or establishing an airfield
when some Laplanders came by driving thousands of Reindeer's heading
North. So they stopped the Laplanders and said would they let the
reindeer's march up and down. (Laughs) Sounds unlikely, but it is in
the official history, so there must be a basis of truth. And the
Laplanders said well no, they couldn't do it unless they had some
alcohol. So the doctor who was there said "well I have some medical
stuff, would that do you, 100% alcohol", so they said, "oh yes, that
would be great". So the story goes that they gave and kept feeding
these Lap chaps with the alcohol and they kept driving these reindeer's
up and down and they had a nice airfield. How true I don't know, but it
is a good story.
Anyway, at the end of the Norwegian campaign we had to withdraw again,
and the Hurricanes were left there. The Squadron Commander was told to
leave his Hurricanes and go back on board the aircraft carrier
Glorious. Actually they had been flown off the Glorious into Norway and
this chap, a man called Cross said "No way, you have an aircraft
carrier there, we will land them back on." . Well, it had never been
done before, they had no arrestor hooks, they had nothing at all but
Cross said "We will have a go". He and 14 pilots landed 14 Hurricanes
on the Glorious for the first time ever without arrestor hooks. It was
a tremendous feat of airmanship.
The sad thing was, that on the way back from Norway to England, the
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau came across the Glorious and she was sunk
with all the pilots except Cross, and all the aircraft. It was really a
very sad ending to a very gallant effort. At the end of June, the
Germans had already lost 1250 aircraft, which was surprising to a lot
of people who thought the whole thing was one sided. In fact it wasn't.
The Germans needed transport aircraft, all sorts of aircraft, in all
their campaigns. So the 1250 aircraft, even the German Air Force
couldn't manage to cope with that loss. So both sides held their breath
RAF before the war, Foster comes into the picture
We were back in the UK. Lord Dowding, who was the chief of Fighter
Command, refused adamantly to allow any more Spitfires or Hurricanes to
go to France. He said he needed 53 Squadrons to maintain the defence of
the United Kingdom. By the end of July we had more or less got that
number back into action. So in June, I come into the picture. I didn't
make a lot of difference, but I came into the picture.
I think it is interesting to talk about the formation and format of the
Royal Air Force before the war. We had a fairly small regular Air Force
.. Fighters, bombers and so on. They were supplemented in 1926 by what
we call Auxiliary Squadrons. These chaps were squadrons in reserve.
Mostly what one might call a "Gentleman's Club". In other words they
were a 'Millionaires' kind of club. They enjoyed their flying at the
weekends. The Hawker Hinds or something like that. Not front line
aircraft, but similar. By the start of the war there were 26 of these
Aux Squadrons in existance, 14 of which were in fighters. Two of which
had already been equipped with Hurricanes. In 1937 the Air Ministry
decided that they also needed a further backup. They formed what was
called the Volunteer Reserve. The Volunteer Reserve was a crowd of
young men interested in flying. You were recuited more or less into the
Airforce but you were not given uniform. You flew at private flying
clubs at the weekend for free. In other words it was a way to learn how
to fly on the strength of His Majesty's Government, which was a great
This is where I come in to it. I was one of these chaps who thought
like Biggles or Ristoff (??) or something like that, with the war
coming I want to be a fighter pilot and I wanted to shoot down all
these things. I also didn't want to be a soldier in the trenches,
although why being shot down in flames is any better than being stabbed
with a bayonet I really don't know, but it sounded more glorious
(laughter). So, I enlisted in the Volunteer reserve in the beginning of
1939 at the age of 18. There were, at the outbreak of war, some 5000 of
us on this reserve. And of course, we were all called up on the 3rd of
September when war broke out. I, like all the others, reported to my
base or recruiting center to be told "Go home, we haven't a clue what
to do with you, we have no training facilities, so go home and we will
let you know when we want you."
That went on until November. I had done 50 hours of flying before the
war in an what was called an Avro Cadet . I was called up in January
1940 and I went on to my flying training which consisted of flying
(Hawker) Harts and (Hawker) Audax's. At the end of May, into June I was
sent to another place where I flew a Harvard for about 5 hours because
the transition from Harts to Hurricanes was quite a big jump. As you
all know, the Hart was nothing, no undercarriage, no flaps etc. So we
had 5 hours on Harvards, and then I was sent to an operational training
unit to fly Hurricanes. And this is where the 6th of June, 64 years ago
tomorrow , comes into it.
First flight on Hurricane
My first experience of the Hurricane was rather unfortunate, truly my
own fault. The Hurricane One had a normal (unclear word, "fleetboat?") but it only had a variable pitch (propeller). In other words
you had the pitch on course or fine. To take off you put it into fine
pitch, went off and climbed up, then put it back into course for flying
around, and then to land you put it back into fine (pitch). Anyway,
this was at a small airfield in Norfolk and a chap called Smallwood
called by the Air Force 'Splinters', leant over the side and said push
this and press that and off you go and fly the Hurricane. There were no
pilots notes or anything like that. So I got in this plane and taxied
out and did everything I thought was right and took off.
Listen Bob Foster telling this story
I thought "Oh My God" We I trundled down the runway, this grass strip,
on and on and on. Eventually I got in the air and I remember thinking
to myself 'God, am I going to fight the Germans in this danged old
thing", which was a bit unkind to the Hurricane. Well, then I put my
undercarriage up then tried to set (the propeller) from fine to course
(pitch). But of course, I was already in course pitch. So to the airman
here it will mean something, but to the non-airmen it probably doesn't
mean anything, but it is like trying to start a car in bottom gear. As
soon as I put it back into fine pitch to come into land and took off
again, I then realized of course, that I was flying a proper aeroplane
and not some clapped out old thing.
There is a certain amount of luck, I think, in any theatre of war, or
any person's war. I had quite a lot of luck, as I think I can tell you
later on, and the first bit of luck was that at the end of June I had
done about 40 hours in Hurricanes and the Battle of Britain was just
about to commence. We were posted, at the end of our course, to various
squadrons about the country. One chap, who came from Glasgow, was
posted down to Redhill, and I came from London and I was posted to an
airfield just outside of Glasgow, which is in Scotland, as you probably
know. So, we thought, this is ridiculous, lets try and switch this
posting because I could get to be near my home, and he could get to be
near his. But the CO would not have anything to do with this. He said,
"No, you are posted to 605 Squadron at Drem, just outside of Edinburgh
and you (the pilot from Glasgow) are going the other way". This chap
went straight into it, and lasted three days. That was the end of him,
he was gone. He had only done about 40 hours in the Hurricane and the
Battle of Britain had just started and he, ahh well he bought it. I
went up to Scotland, and we stayed up there until September by which
time I had done perhaps another 40 hours in Hurricanes.
So eventually when we went south in September of 1940 I had done some
80 hours in Hurricanes, which is not much in this day and age, but it
was quite a lot for those days. 605 squadron was sent from Scotland
down to Croydon which is in South London. It is on the outskirts of
London, it was the old London Airport before the war. We went down
there and arrived on the 6th of September 1940. Which was a day when
the Germans would be raiding over the South Coast. The last month or so
they transferred their raids onto London itself and hit the Docks Dock
area and the East end of London. Our first sight of war was arriving at
about 6 o'clock in the evening and seeing London burning as we went in
to land. We thought to ourselves "now we are in a war, now we really
know what it is all about.
The Battle of Britain
A lot of things happened to me in the next two or three months in the
Battle of Britain. It was all a long time ago, and I don't
remember everything. The next day, the 7th , we took off and a chap
called Jack Flemming, a New Zealander who was an old friend of mine was
flying at the rear. You probably know about this, and I know that the
Finnish Air Force knows about this, because we were still flying in
this antiquated Vic formation which the Finns, I believe, had decided
was 'not on' many years previously. But the RAF in many squadrons were
still flying this. So we flew in three vics. You were flying in a
beautiful type of formation but it was useless in a battle zone because
no one was looking around. So we had two chaps at the back called
'Weavers' and Jack Flemming, a New Zealander, had spent three years in
the Air Force getting ready for this moment. We took off at 11 o'clock
in the morning, and by 12 o'clock poor old Jack had had his Battle of
Britain. It was over. He was weaving around, but he didn't see the 109
that came down on him. The whole thing was in flames. He managed to get
out and woke up, as he said wryly later, in the Maternity ward of he
nearest hospital. He suffered major burns, he survived and died two or
three years ago. A great friend of mine was Jack. He was one of the
original 'Guinea Pigs' who you have possible heard of. Pioneered by a
New Zealand Surgeon called McKinder. He did a lot for burns of British
Army, Navy, Air Force, Allied airmen. A wonderful new technique for
(treating) burns. Because he was experimenting on these chaps they
(with a sense of humour) called themselves the Guinea Pigs. The Guinea
Pig Squad is still going. There aren't many left now, one or two. Poor
old Jack passed on not long ago, but he (McKinder) did remarkable work
and you would not have known when you saw Jack unless you saw him
stripped off, because his whole body was red, but his face was quite
OK. Anyway, he was our first casualty. The next day we launched and
lost George Forrester who went straight into a Heinkel 111. And life
went on like that. Sometimes we flew two or three times a day,
sometimes we didn't fly at all.
My first action I remember very well, because our CO, a chap called
Churchill (nothing to do with the other one). His eyesight wasn't very
good (for a fighter pilot anyway). We were scrambled to attack this
crowd of bombers and he didn't see them. We headed straight for them. A
chap called Mckeller said "Come on, we are going to hit these bastards"
and (laughs) Churchill kept on going. We were approaching each other at
about 500 miles per hour closing speed. In the end, we just closed our
eyes, pressed the button, and went over the top. That was it, that was
my first attack on the bombers. I didn't see anything! Old Churchill
gave up after that, he decided it was much too frightening to carry on
(laughs). Not quite true, he was a great man.
Listen Bob Foster telling this story
I've often wondered if there is something psychological in this because
it happened to me many years later in a Spitfire when we were going
into a crowd of Japanese in the Far East. There may be some sort of
mental blockage, I don't know. We were going to attack the Japanese
Betty's and the CO (I was a flight commander then) said there they are
down there. I couldn't for the life of me see those things. I often
thought to myself, I wonder if there isn't something mental that says
'I don't want to see these things'. As soon as he went into attack,
Bump, there they were, 27 Betty bombers. We went down and all was well
but it is a funny sensation. I don't know if you have noticed that
sometimes, but you just don't see things. Looking around the sky at
times someone can say "Look at that bird" or 'Look at that aeroplane" ,
you have to blink before you see it. So it is not automatic. Of
course, seeing 109's in the sun is not an easy job.
I have not mentioned a lot about the background of the Battle of
Britain but I am sure you know that radar was a most important factor
in that we were at least able to see the Germans forming up over the
Calais area. We didn't always get enough warning and on this occasion
we were still scrambling for height at about 17.000 feet with the
bombers above us. I pulled up into as tight a turn as I could and
fired. I must have just about been on the stall, because with the
recoil of the guns I suddenly 'spun in'. We were at 17.000 ft - no
trouble. As I pulled out I looked in my mirror and there, sure enough,
behind me was a 109 coming in close. I mention that because at the
beginning of the war some high person in the Air Ministry said "Why do
you want rear mirrors?" surely you can look around and see one of these
chaps. I thought to my self "Thank you Sir for that day", because if it
hadn't been for that mirror I would not have seen this chap. He was
coming down, I did a steep turn and he went shooting down past me, so I
got away with that one.
A few days later we went up and attacked a crowd of 110's that had got
lost or lost their escorts, the people they were supposed to escort.
They were in a tight circle above Sussex. We went into them and I
opened fire. Just as I did there one God Almighty bang and the whole
engine blew up. My instant reaction was to get out. But then, I turned
the fuel off. There was a lot of glycol coming out. I turned the oxygen
full on, turned off the fuel. Nothing was burning so I thought, I don't
know, lets see if we can do something with this. I looked down. I
hadn't the least idea where I was, except that I was over Southern
England. I saw what I thought was a huge field below me (laughs), it
was a huge field in fact. So I tested things, I could get my wheels
down (flaps wouldn't come down, but my wheels came down), so I thought
ok, we will go in. I did quite a good deadstick landing which was quite
nice, but it was a big field. It turned out to be Gatwick Airport
(laughs). Not the Gatwick we know now but it was still a big field. As
I was coming in to land a 110 came crashing down right in front of the
control tower, blew up .
I got out of my aeroplane and it hadn't burned so a chap came up and
said "are you alright?", I said "Yes thank you". He said "did you shoot
that down?" I said "I don't know, maybe, perhaps I did". He said " I
just wondered, it all blew up and I have this chaps ear here if you
would like it" (laughs). I didn't take his ear, but that was the sort
of feeling, this chap thought he was doing me a good turn.
As I said, there is a lot of luck comes into this flying thing. Early
October I suppose it was, there was always one or two things you were
taught. For instance, you didn't hang around. You went into the bombers
or whatever it was, you hit hard, you got out again. You didn't stay
around to see how good you were or if you had hit or so because that
would really ask for trouble. The other thing was "Beware of the Hun in
the Sun" which was a great rhyming figure, but how true because, the
Germans, would invariably come in south of us, the 109s , right into
One day we were stooging along quite happily in formation being
vectored onto some bandits (we didn't know quite where they were)
minding our own business. Then, suddenly someone said " BREAK BREAK
BREAK" . Well, you don't argue when you get that instruction. You don't
say "Why are you saying this?" So we broke, and my number 2 , a chap
called English, went up just like that. I went down as fast as I could
and pulled out, looked around, nothing happened. Then ahead of me, for
some unearthly reason was a 109 going home quite happily. So I did the
cowardly thing, sat behind him and shot him down. It was quite
extraordinary, I don't know what he was doing. I think he must have
been one of the 109's that attacked us , made his shot and figured he
was done. Anyway, he was going home quite happily, but he didn't make
it. You can't relax at all when you are in action. You can't just sit
back and think "Thank God for that, lets go home". That does not work.
Another slightly amusing time was: It was a cloudy day and we had a
running fight with some 109's. I came down through cloud. Fighter
pilots are not renowned for their navigational ability unless you have
a railway line or something like that you were a bit lost. What we did,
when we came down over the channel we saw the coast ahead, you flew due
north until you hit a railway line that ran from Ashford to Redhill. It
was dead straight, you couldn't miss it. And then you would find the
people would turn off. The first lot would peel off for Biggin Hill,
the next lot would peel of to Kenley and we would peel off to go home.
Slight exaggeration, but basically it is true. Anyway, I came down, saw
the coast and thought I would fly North and all would be well, so I
crossed the coast and looked at my instruments and thought "that's
funny, my instruments are all wrong, they say I am heading South.
Nonsense, I must have upset the whole thing". Suddenly there was a Boom
Boom Boom and black smoke appeared all around to the side. I thought
"Bloody gunners don't know a Hurricane from a 109" Then I thought to
myself, "Oh, yes they do. I know what I am doing, I am heading straight
down to Paris, I am not going to London at all" (Laughs). I was lucky!
There I was 30 miles or 20 miles into France on a nice day. The only
thing to do was turn around and come home. And it was a long way home I
can assure you! I was extremely lucky. One little Hurricane, on it's
own, being fired at, no 109's or anything around. So I got home rather
late, and my only reception was that when I got back into the Mess the
chap said "Sorry Sir, you are too late for Lunch!".
I said about not hanging around and McKellar, who eventually became our
squadron commander; a chap called Squadron Leader McKellar, who got
about twenty plus to his credit during the Battle of Britain.
Great character and fiery little Scotsman but a great, great chap… He
got three in one day, in fact on this raid that old Churchill lead us
into because Archie (Editor's note: Archie McKellar, 21 victories)
fired at them and hit the middle one. I forgot to mention this, of
these 111s and one hit the other so he got three. He was very
lucky, but anyway he got twenty altogether. And one day in
November the 109s decided to come over carrying bombs, high level, not
escorted and just being nuisance raids to bring us up into the
sky. And this was on the 1st November 1940 and we were up and we
saw a crowd of these and we were way above them and so Archie said
"Come on, here we go down", so we went down but we were much too fast,
the dive I know why, we went down like 'that' and the 109s saw us and
we overshot them on the way down. A quick burst, they turned and were
gone; we overshot. Well, once you do that, I mean, you've had it,
you go home, but I did anyway. But Archie being what he was, he
thought "No, no, I'm going to chase these so and so's" and that's,
unfortunately, was the end of Archie. He went on, on his own, didn't
look around, chasing this chap and the last thing was, they saw him
going straight into a field in Kent. It's a lesson that I suppose
you should've learnt; you just don't take too many chances.
Experiences after Battle of Britain
Anyway, that was briefly my Battle of Britain experience.We then went
up to Martlesham Heath, which is on the east coast, in February.
And again I talk about luck and I'm sure luck does come into
this. One day in February/March '41 this airfield was bombed, we
were on waiting list at dawn and we're sitting at dispersals, which was
on the other side of the airfield, and suddenly a whole lot of 110s
came over, dropped their bombs onto the airport buildings.
Fortunately they didn't kill many people. So we were scrambled
about, as a, well, not a cat in hells chance of catching them because
they were around and away, but we were still scrambled and we went
haring out to sea as fast as we could, up through the clouds.
And I must have been about 30 miles out to the North Sea thinking "Oh
well, there we are, lovely day above the clouds, time for breakfast"
and not thinking about anything. And suddenly, God knows why, I
sense to this 'they know why', I looked around and there, sitting about
'there' was a Heinkel 111 below me, it had come up through the cloud.
You act before you think and God, and I pulled over, and as I pulled
over, a string of stuff went straight right past me and I thought to
myself "you stupid so and so!" Just relaxing for those few
seconds and if it had been another half a second I wouldn't have been
here today! So what guided me, God knows, to turn round just at
that very second to see these chaps sitting there. Anyway, up and
around, he dived into the cloud and I hit him, I don't know if anything
happened or not. But there we are, luck again, luck comes into it.
Do you have 21st birthdays here or 18th? I don't know? We
have 21st birthdays, which is a special birthday, and I remember my
21st birthday very well because we were then up at a place called
Turnhill near Liverpool. And it was, well, May 1941, and we'd
drawn night flying duty. We were using Hurricane's at night to
try, we had no night-fighters as such, so they used some of the
experienced Hurricane pilots to go up at night, over Liverpool to
hopefully intercept some of these bombers coming in. And it was
our turn, it happened to be my birthday and the weather was cankering
so we went down to the dispersals and took a crate of beer with us and
thought "well, they're bound to stand us down and then we can have a
few beers" and that would be it.
Anyway, they didn't! (laughs) At 11 o'clock there's a raid coming
up over Liverpool, off we go. And what we used to do was they
used to fire the guns up to 15.000 feet and then we would start, what
we called, fighter-nights at 17.000 ft only, or 16.000ft, only a
1.000ft above where the guns were supposed to go off. Well,
knowing gunners it could have gone off anywhere so we used to draw as
to who would go at 16, 17,18, 19 and 20 and being my birthday I got the
short straw and was at 16.000! So, anyway, we went off and the
night clamped nothing, I went up there, we all up there, and in the end
we were recalled and being the last one off 'cos I was the lowest; I
was the last one back. So I got in, it was really not very nice
getting in, in a Hurricane at night with glim lamps on the airfield,
you know, no big lighting or anything like that. And I got in and
I thought "well, that's right, the chaps will be here and we can have
our beer now", and blow me, what they'd done is they'd drunk all the
beer and gone to bed! My friends and colleagues the idle bums,
rotten lot! Anyway, that was my 21st birthday.
The rest of my Hurricane career was as an instructor at an Operational
Training Unit (OTU) where we were getting chaps from Canada and
Australia and so on. And it was quite interesting teaching all
these chaps to fly Hurricane's, and in March '42 I was sent, posted to
a Spitfire squadron and I spent the rest of the war flying Spitfire's
in various parts of the world. But we're talking about
Hurricane's today, so we won't go into that.
Hurricanes did an awful lot of work
Hurricane's did an awful lot of work during the war, that they were
really everywhere. They were, when we wanted aeroplanes you had
the Hurricane. And the poor old Hurricane was always the first
in, in any of these theatres of war. Malta, there were four there
originally, in the end they flew another twelve in. Sixteen
against the 109s coming over from Sicily. In my old squadron,
605, all their pilots there, they flew off a carrier in the Med and
flew 600 miles across the sea and then, to get there, they got there
safely, a lot of people didn't later on.
Hurricane's were in Greece, in Iraq… Greece they had a rough time,
again against the 109s. Iraq, Syria, you mention it, the
Hurricane was there. Middle East, there were hundreds of
Hurricane's there, only a few to start with. In the end I think
there was about twenty-five Hurricane squadrons operating in the Middle
Hurricane marks, I don't know if you know about that? The
Hurricane 1 was an eight gun fighter; Hurricane 2, the Hurricane 2B had
twelve machine guns; the 2C had four 20mm cannons; the Hurricane 2D had
two 40mm cannons.
They were turned from fighters into ground attack type of bombers,
ground attack aircraft throughout the war. Interesting point that
Hurricane 2, when Middle East war started in '41 or '40/'41, it took
about five weeks to get these Hurricane's from England, round the Cape
up to Egypt in five or six weeks. Fortunately somebody said
there's an easier way than this, so what they did, Imperial Airways had
already blazed a route across North Africa, if your geography is okay.
What they did, they enlarged the airfields and they landed these
Hurricane's at a place called Takoradi to Egypt which did more to help
save the Middle East than anything else probably.
The Hurricane of course arrived in Singapore at about the same time as
the Japanese were about to land. Fifty one Hurricane's were sent
there in crates, they landed, they assembled them and took over from
the much, what shall I say, not renowned, that's the wrong word,
Brewster Buffalo's that were there at the time, and although they did
better they were overwhelmed. The other half of 605 Squadron, who
keep coming into this, were flown off Illustrious, HMS Illustrious, and
landed in Sumatra where they fought the Japs back through Sumatra into
Java. They lost all their Hurricane's in the end and the whole
squadron finished up in the bag in Japan, which wasn't very nice.
Also, the Hurricane was used to great extent at sea, as I say they, it
was proved they could land even without an arrester gear on a carrier
so they thought they would be very good. Before some ingenious
chap said "why don't we use the Hurricane on merchant ships, put it at
the end of a huge catapult and catapult this thing off?" And they
were called Hurri-cats. And what they did, they had this huge
contraption in front of a merchant ship thing and they'd strap the
Hurricane in and, (laughs), you revved up your engine full, I
wasn't on this thing, thank God, and someone pulls the elastic sort of
thing and you went screaming off into the air!
And the idea was that convoys were being harassed by Condors and so on,
halfway across the Atlantic and no one could get to them, so the idea
was to launch this Hurricane off this merchant ship who could then
attack the Condor, or whatever it was. The pilot would then have
to say "well, okay, I can't get back to land, so I'll either land on
the sea and hope for these Navy will pick me up or I'll bail out and
see what happens". And so they, in the end, I think they had
about ten merchant ships equipped with these Hurri-cats and it was
supposed to be the chaps were volunteers but I think what happened, I
know it did with one chap who was in 605 Squadron and his Squadron
Commander couldn't stand this chap, he was a naughty boy; always in
trouble. So poor old Kennedy was 'volunteered' by his CO to join
this unit. And he was lucky, he did three trips across the
Atlantic and didn't have to launch once and he said "it was the most
boring thing just sitting there, wondering whether he was going to be
sunk anytime and not even getting off".
In the end I think they did about 137 trips with these Hurri-cats and
they did launch on eight occasions, or nine occasions. I believe I'm
right in saying once on one of the Murmansk convoys which was really;
this chap was launched and he got out into the sea but unfortunately
they lost him. I mean he didn't stand much chance, not as you
know in those sort of waters.
Talking of Murmansk of course, I had forgotten the Russian's who in the
end received 3.000 Hurricane's, what happened to them God only knows,
you know where some of them went because they came over here of
course. But the Russian's, we sent 3.000 Hurricane's to Russia,
which was quite extraordinary and we, Churchill once said "We'll get no
thanks for this" and of course he was right! The Russian's never
even acknowledged that they had the damn things and that was typical of
Mister Stalin wasn't it?
Well, I can go on nattering away like this for a long time but what I'm
really saying is the old Hurricane was really, a great aeroplane.
It was sturdy; it stood up to everything; it was kind; it swung a bit
on takeoff, to the left, it dropped a wing but nothing you couldn't
correct. It was a bit basic to start with. I remember at
Aswaz (??) we used to have these chaps coming in from Canada where they
trained on the great plains, not a cloud in sight and so on, and the
OUT was just outside Newcastle and that was belching out coal smoke all
the time; you couldn't see anything. But you'd teach these chaps
and the original Hurricane, its undercarriage and flaps were a sort of
gate change thing and sometimes it was very sticky to get to and it was
in your right hand. You would take off with your throttle in the
left hand, your stick 'here', you'd have to take off the throttle, put
it on the stick and try and get this 'thing' in. So you'd see
these chaps takeoff, and then he would take his hand off 'here' and
he'd probably forgotten to screw up the 'thing', so as soon as he took
it off the throttle, it would come back, so he'd go back like 'this'.
Listen Bob Foster telling this story
You can all sense what was happening, now you'd go back having
tightened it up, put his hand on 'here', then he'd try and get his
undercarriage thing in, and it was an awful thing to do, like changing,
you know, double de-clutching an old car. And you could see this
chap disappearing into the wrong direction (general laughing) and every
time he pushed the stick forward to get it in and then he'd push it
back. Anyway, we got away with it, we didn't lose anybody, but,
oh dear, dear! They also tended to land all over the countryside
because they weren't used to fog and mist and clouds and things like
that. We got away with it, they disappeared into goodness knows
where, where they are I don't know, we must have had about, while I was
there, we've must have pushed about a hundred through I suppose?
And we pushed them all through, but there was one chap, an American, it
doesn't matter what his name was. And really, he was
hopeless. But he'd come in from America and he'd crossed
illegally into Canada and trained in Canada and came over here and he
really wasn't up to it and in the end I said "You know John", that's
what his name was, "I really can't pass you, it's not on!" And he
said "Oh please, my Father…", who was a kind of prominent American
actor, said "no, really, he'd be really be so upset with me if I didn't
pass, please, please, please let me carry on and I shall be alright in
the end." So much against my will, I said "Oh, okay, but be
careful!" And the poor chap lasted a fortnight, that was it, and
I often thought to myself why wasn't I stronger and trust my instincts
on this thing and say "No, off you go, you're not really up to
it." The others, I don't know what happened to them all.
Anyway, back to basics, the old Hurricane, in the end they produced
14.500 of various marks. All over the world, they were in every
area of conflicts, apart from the far, far east. And they did a
jolly good job, they did as much to save civilisation I suppose in
their way as anything else. Unfortunately after the war, like
everything else, in Finland too I gather, you dump them into the ground
and left them. Now after sixty years they're beginning to come
back, they're finding odd ones and I believe now there are seven flying
around the world and there are another forty odd in various static
exhibitions, such as yours.
As a final note, as a sign of hope, there's a chap called Vacher, Peter
Vacher, whose wife Polly Vacher, I was saying earlier on today, is an
around the world aviator. She's 59 years of age and she's just
completed a round the world from pole to pole flight which is quite a
thing. Anyway, her husband was wandering around India two or
three years ago and came across a wreckage of an old Hurricane in the
backyard of Bengal University, or somewhere, and they were using the
engine to teach engineering students. He made enquiries about
this Hurricane and then he rang me up. He said "Do you remember
Hurricane V4118?" So I said "Well, I don't know." He said
"Have a look in your log book." So I did, and sure enough I flew
this aeroplane, so did one or two others, from Croydon, in September
1940. He said "Great, I'm going to try and get hold of this thing
if the Indian government will release it." To cut a long story
short, two years ago he got it home in pieces and we saw it as his farm
near Oxford and he said "I'm going to restore it." You got a
picture of me sitting in it, it's just the framework was there but all
the canvas had gone and everything else, but the whole thing was there
including the engine. He's had it done and hopefully by the end of this
year this aeroplane, in our markings, will be flying again. And
it will be the oldest Hurricane flying and it's one I actually flew out
of Croydon in some of these things I've described about. So that
would be great to see that in the air again 64 years after the event,
so all is not over, the Hurricane is still around and may it long
Career in the Pacific Theatre, Spitfires at Darwin
Bob: Any Questions?
Finn: I'm quite sure that all of us would like to hear a bit more of your experiences in the Pacific.
Bob: Well, here we go, I'm not boring you are we? I hope?
Yes, well, I went to 54 Squadron, which is a very well known RAF
squadron. There's a little, long story about this, if you don't
mind? And this was in 1942. As you know the Japs attacked
Pearl Harbor on the 7th of December 1941 and by March '42, Singapore
had fallen, Sumatra and so on, and they got down almost to the border
of Australia. And the Australian Government panicked; the
American's were gradually coming in but they weren't there yet.
And they sent over their Foreign Minister, a chap called Dr. Everett to
see Churchill, and said "Can you send us a division of troops to defend
Australia", and this was in June '42.
And Churchill, I think quite rightly, said "At the moment, Rommel is
hammering at the gates of Cairo; we're losing convoys all over the
world; Singapore's fallen; we're back-peddling as fast as we can in
Burma, the answer to that is no we can't." So he said "Well, how
about some battleships or warships?" and Churchill again said "Well, if
you remember, they sank the Prince of Wales and so on, you know, we
haven't got many to spare", so Everett said "Well, how about a wing of
Spitfire's to save Australia?" Which Churchill said
"Great!" So he said "Yes, I'll do that." He then got in
touch with the Chief of Air Staff, Portal, who said "Sir, in all due
respect, Malta is almost about to fall, we can't get enough Spitfire's
there, we can't get any more through the Middle East and that we really
need every Spitfire we can possibly have. Send the pilots but let
them fly Buffalo's or Kittyhawk's or something."
So Churchill, thank God, said "No", he said, "I promised Dr.
Everett that I will send Spitfire's and as you know there's some one
thousand Australian airmen in Britain, we must do something in return,
so you will send Spitfire's."
So reluctantly said "Alright" and they looked around and they, and
Churchill said "It must be a well known famous RAF squadron together
with the two Australian squadrons who were already in England; 452,
So they said "Well alright, 54 Squadron is on, up in the north of
Scotland resting, because they'd been in the south with the Battle of
Britain and so on. We'll send them, it's a very well known
squadron", so that was how we got involved. So they sent us off
from Liverpool on 'Stirling Castle', which was the big liner which had
been converted. And all our Spitfire's were on another ship and
we sailed down part through West Africa and this was in June 1942, just
when things were boiling up in the Middle East. And so, in the
end Portal (the Chief of Air Staff) came back to Churchill and said
"Sir, we must have those Spitfire's in the Middle East." So,
reluctantly we got in touch with the Australian's who again were
reluctant to say "Well alright." So, to cut a long story short,
we, a whole wing of air-force trained pilots arrived in Australia and
our aeroplanes were all in the Middle East, which was quite nice as it
meant we had about two months sitting around in Sydney with nothing to
do before our aircraft arrived!
It wasn't until January '43 that we eventually got up to Darwin, in the
north of Australia, which the Japanese were raiding. Fortunately,
or unfortunately, whichever way you look at it, the tide had turned in
the Pacific by then and the Japanese were heading backwards. They
hadn't gone far, and they were still raiding Darwin but the threat to
Australia had gone. And we were up there, and the first aeroplane
to be shot down was by me, with a bit of luck. It was a high
level reconnaissance plane, called a Dinah, who didn't realise, I
think, that Spitfire's were there because it was a pretty fast
reconnaissance aircraft, twin engine thing. But it wasn't as fast as a
Spitfire, so they thought they could run from the Kittyhawk's, which
they could, but not from the Spitfire. So I got that, it wasn't
And they came over, probably, no more that eight or nine times while we
were up there. They'd usually send 27 bombers, Betty's,
accompanied by some twenty or thirty Zero's and normally the 452
Squadron would go into the Zero's and we would go into the bombers
while we were there.
But the thing to mention really about that one is the Zero.
People don't know much about, well, know about them. The Zero was
a remarkable aeroplane, then Japanese Zero, or Zeke, however you want
to call it. Very light weight, tremendously long range, I mean
they'll have come in from Timor, as you will know, and coming over to
Darwin, engaging in action and then getting back to Timor, and that's a
long fight in a single engine aeroplane, but they could do it.
But Japanese mentality, particularly before, they were only offensive,
they weren't interested very much in whether their pilots came back or
not, because they had no armour plating and no self-sealing tanks, and
no defence whatsoever. So if you hit a Zero it just went, there
was no second chance. On the other hand, if you tried to mix it
with a Zero, it would out turn you within about two turns. So you
didn't. You got above the Zero's, you went in and you came back up
again; you could out climb it and out dive it but you couldn't out turn
the Zero. So luckily, or unluckily, it got boring up there in the
end. I mean, we sat on our backsides in Darwin, which was not the
nicest place to be in those days, waiting for the Japanese that never
came. I was lucky, I had finished my second and a half tour by
then, so I came home and I got home just about now, just before D-Day
and went out to France, but not on a flying job, I was on a ground job
in Normandy which is another, another story.
Our time in Australia could have been far more interesting, could have
been better, more action and so on but we did what we had to do, in
other words, the Japanese stopped raiding Darwin. Anyway, the
Spits, I think we got about sixty off aircraft between us in the
end. It all contributed towards the war effort but unfortunately
MacArthur didn't like it. He didn't like the Brits and we
suffered from that, I mean, we got no help, no thanks, no nothing at
all, we were just one poor little RAF squadron stuck out on its own.
One day we got clobbered by, well, we didn't, we lost about eleven
Spitfire's but seven of these went down in the sea because they,
because they ran out of fuel. We knew very little about high
winds in those days, it's quite extraordinary. I was on leave,
the name 'Lucker', luck again you see, I was in the fleshpots of Sydney
when all this was happening. We chased these planes out to sea
and then coming back they must have hit this very strong wind, and they
lost seven or eight Spits but not to enemy action. But as the
news got through, MacArthur and the American's would have a whale of a
time, they really pulled our chains. We were getting all the
kudos, the Spitfire's, and the poor bloody American's were slogging it
out in New Guinea and not getting any thanks at all. So they took
an opportunity to swipe back at us. Apart from that it was grand.
Bob: Yes. Anything else?
Finn: Sir, I visited Duxford in the year of 2000, 6th September.
I saw one day, we loved it, the 'Duxford Wing'? And they were
flying twenty-three Spitfire's.
Bob: That's right, and Hurricane's.
Finn: How come, there are more flying Spitfire's than
Hurricane's? Perhaps due to the fact that they were more wood, I
Bob: Well, actually, yes. I think some of the Spitfire's
were probably weren't all destroyed and also a lot of these are
rebuilds you know, re-makes, they're not necessary old, I think they're
almost building Spitfire's now, providing you can sort of get the
basics and I know someone in America too. That's the reason that there
were some Spitfire's left lying around more so than Hurricane's but
also they are virtually building Spits.
Bob: Good show wasn't it?
Finn: Yes, very good show.
Bob: I know, I hadn't seen as many Spitfire's as that either, not even during the Battle of Britain!
Robert W. Foster's interview
After the public lecture I had the pleasure of meeting mr. Foster in private for additional question for an article to be published in the Finnish aviation magazine Siivet - plus for the readers of Finnish Virtual Pilots Association historical articles. Thanks a lot for that, Aviation Museum Society people.
Bob Foster and the author at Finnish Air Force Museum.
Jukka O. Kauppinen
- How strong those war memories are still on your mind?
After the war I did not talk about them for years. Only in the last
20-30 years, when the others have started talking and thinking about
the war I started thinking about them. And the more you think about
them, the more the memories come back. I always remembered them, but
there seems to be much more interest on them now.
- Was it difficult to talk about them at first?
No, not at all. I always talked about them but the pressure is on more.
Time goes on and not so many of us are left anymore, people want to get
know before it is too late.
- You have never lectured about your experiences and now you was suddenly contacted by these people.
Their secretary contacted me and asked if I'd like to come, and I said why not.
This is the first time I have travelled to be a speaker. I'm not a professional speaker.
- Quick visit to Finland to you…
We have a lovely runup today, yes. Not to Lappland, though.
- How many of you are still left?
Battle of Britain pilots? 200 - out of 3000. 500 were killed during the
battle and 700 before the end of the war. So 1200 were killed during
- You talked a lot about luck. What is your most frightening war experience or was it one of those you already told to us?
Everything is always over so quickly. It is not like Bomber Command,
where you sat there for hours. Air fighting is over and done with
literally in seconds. I mean, you are immediately frightened as I said,
when we were jumped from the sun by 109s. The instant reaction is
fright but in five seconds or less it is gone. I suppose the worst
accident was when I was shot down. That took five or ten minutes before
I got the airplane down. Not knowing what might happen - the airplane
could have burst into flames or anything could have happened, really.
But that's looking back on it. I don't know what I felt at the time - I
was more interested on getting the thing down on the ground.
- I've spoken with many Finnish pilots and some of them have said, that they had somebody or something watching over them.
I nearly said that with this incident out in the North Sea. I still
don't know up to this day. It was clear daylight, like today. We
scrambled, climbed above the cloud, thinking about getting home by
breakfast time. There was nothing to worry about, here, let's go home.
I don't know up to this day what made me turn. So I agree with these
chaps, there may be somebody up there. I don't know, could well be. So
was when they shot down the chap next to me, that could have been me,
there was the grace of God in it.
I didn't go on, there was so much to talk about. We lost a chap in
similar circumstances, and he was gliding down similar to me. I didn't
see it, others told me later in the ground, about 1000 feet up in same
situation as me. And suddenly the whole thing bursted into flame. And
he was killed. It was too late to bail out you see. He thought he would
- You talked a lot about Hurricane and almost skipped Spitfire in your
speech. It looks like the Hurricane has very strong meaning to you?
Yes. I learned to fly and fight with the Hurricane. And I did 40-50
hours in the Hurricanes through the worst of the war. So I have more
affection to the Hurricane. The Spitfire was later on, it was a better
airplane but I learned how to fight a war with the Hurricane. They were
both wonderful airplanes in a different way.
- If you could choose one, which it would be?
It is a difficult question. They were used in different roles. The
Spitfire was certainly a more efficient airplane in the fighting role.
But it wasn't used as a ground attack aircraft, while the Hurricane was
the more adaptable aircraft. They used them for example as tank busters
later in the war. Spitfire got better and better, flew faster and
higher and so on, but it was never used in the same role as the
- You was in Normandy in 1944. What did you do there?
I was on a ground job. I was taking a lot of war correspondents around
the airfields. Up to now all the press in England had concentrated on
the army. All the war correspondents had been attached to the army. But
RAF also had their say on the invasion. So RAF had all the national
papers, the BBC had people attached to the Royal Air Force. And we had
2-3 experienced people taking them around, introduce them to people,
make sure they had people talking to them. Pilots would talk to them if
there was another pilot around, that was the attitude. So I would
introduce them and be around. It was interesting, too. They quite a lot
of good stories and got in to the airstrips, they were all airstrips in
Normandy by then. And I knew one of the commanders and so on.
Introduced them and they got their stories, I think it worked quite
- How many flight hours and types you have?
Not a lot. Just over a thousand. And not real many types. About 10. Lysander was 7th type, Spitfire 9th, say ten.
I didn't know much about the Finnish part in the war, but I knew the
Russian thing, as I was in the same base as the two squadrons that were
eventually shipped and flown to Murmansk.
- Did you fly ever after the war?
Only privately, I was no more in the Air Force. Only occasionally, Twin Comanche.
- What career you had after the army?
I came back to the company I worked for, Shell. I worked at Shell until
I retired, 1975, 29 years ago. I had already done 38 years for them.
In war time England military service, if you worked for a company
before the war and you were called up, the company had to take you back
after the war if you wanted to go. And also your wartime service
counted towards service.
A lot of people stayed on the Air Force. There wasn't much choice you
know. I decided to go and I've never regretted it. You never know about
life. Some chaps were flight lieutenants or captains when they left,
and others finished as marshalls. You never know.
- Have you been active in the British veteran pilots' organizations?
Not a lot, Battle of Britain memorials of course. We have what we call
Royal Air Force Association, for the retired. I'm active in that. And
working for the benefit of fund, which is a charitable thing. Yes, I
have kept interest in the RAF. And the squadron association of course,
605 Auxiliary squadron was disbanded in 1956. All the reserve squadrons
were disbanded in 56, they were no more useful. 54th squadron is still
ongoing and they have reunions, where I go.
- It must be interesting to participate in these squadron meetings. What do you think of the pilots today in the squadron?
They are all the same. But a bit older. They are! You are roughly 28
when you get to the squadron now, we finished in the lot by that time.
We had 20 year old pilots. But the spirit is the same. And the guys are
really nice to the old gentleman, they look after you, they open the
door for you and things like that. Yes, they are a good crowd of lads.
- Have you met any of your old opponents?
We talked about that the other day. There is quite a craze now for
getting books and paintings and drawings signed by people, so we go to
Duxford airshow or other places to meet up with them. They try to get
2-3 RAF pilots and 2-3 German pilots and so on, all signing books and
I didn't tell this story, but Katie was born in Berlin. We went some
years ago to Berlin to see her mother, who lived in East Berlin. Her
mother said "my next door neighbour would like to meet you." So we met
him and Katie said, that we think he might have been in the Luftwaffe.
He said "have a beer" and we had a beer, and he looked at me and said
"I think we might have met before". And I said "I doubt it, I have
never been at Berlin". He said "I think we might have done." I wondered
where that might have been. He said "maybe in England in 1940, because
I was a rear gunner in a Heinkel." So that's the spirit and we had
another beer. He caught me completely with this "I think I might have
seen you before"!
(showing a painting, "Fight over Darwin")
Yes, that's right. What they did, they started a flying collegeship in
Australia, called Spitfire Foundation, to raise money to start a
bursary in the Sydney university for engineers.
They sponsor couple of chaps every year. Signing these things, I signed
them and some Australian Spitfire pilots did, to raise money to start
the thing. They were selling the paintings for 200 pounds at the time.
They made quite a lot of money from them, I signed 500 of them.
- As you were flying against both the Germans and the Japanese there was quite a difference between the two opponents?
Yes, the Zero was outstanding. Ok, the 109 and Spitfire had roughly the
same turning circle. The speed was slightly different but it depended
more on the pilot than anything else. But with the Zero, until late in
the war when the Allied aircraft got faster, they could never outturn
the Zero but they could outclimb and outdive it. It is quite a
remarkable airplane. And the bombers were of course the same. I mean,
you could hit a German bomber but it was armored and so on. But if you
hit a Japanese bomber it would immediately burn, as they had no self
sealing tanks, no armour, nothing at all. They were like the kamikaze
in a way. In the start of the war the Japanese were not at all worried,
they had so many pilots and aircraft. And they were over enemy
territory anyway. I mean, they didn't carry parachutes. If you got shot
down you'd go to heaven, or wherever the Japanese go.
- Do you think there was any other differences, possibly in the pilot mentality?
I think the Germans were more, what should I say, human than the Japs.
I'm sure the Japanese had this talent, you never took them as prisoner
of war, did you, very rare later in the war you did. But initially - it
was dishonorable to be taken as prisoner. This is why they despised all
our prisoners of war. Their mentality.
- What about the world of today compared to the 30s/40s?
I don't know. You can't compare, can you? I mean, can you imagine what
it would have been like in 1939-1945 if we had television, instant
communication? It is bad enough now! There's a funny little war and it
is 24 hours a day, like that? Can you imagine what it would have been
like with a real war going on for five years? You just can't compare,
you can't imagine what it would have been like! Or take it into reverse
- if you didn't have all this the Iraq things would just go on and
nobody would know about it. Wars go on now, don't they, you suddenly
hear there has been a war going on in Sudan for the last five years and
nobody has even heard about it or does care about it. It is all this
publicity, the press pushing things and so on.
But I think the people are the same, basically they are. Different
standards. I mean drugs - I had never heard of a drug. I drunk a lot of
beer but drugs were a non existing thing. And now they are one of the
worst things you can happen. And it is very sad. On the other hand
people aren't starving, but people are starving around the world, but I
mean they aren't in the so called civilized countries.
- About the old plane that is now in Britain. It was found in India?
Yes. As I said we sent a lot of Hurricanes to India, to Burma and so
on. This one was obviously sent crated, to be reassembled in India. I
don't know where it went but it might have gone in 44 or something,
when they were phasing out Hurricanes and bringing Spitfires and other
more modern airplanes in. It got to India and got stuck in dock or some
storage and then sent to a university to train people on engines. So
they took the engine out and kept the airframe in the backyard and
there it stayed for 50 years, just like that. Until this chap heard of
it or came across it, and it took him about five years until the
university would say "yes, you can have it". It was an old wreck but I
don't know what it was about, the Indians are funny people. In the end
he bought it from the university and brought it home. As far as I know
it should fly this autumm, hopefully. I'm looking forward to that.
This lecture and interview took place on June 2004, at the Finnish Air Force Museum at Tikkakoski. Mr. Foster was invited to Finland by Aviation Museum Society, Finland.
Recording: Jukka O. Kauppinen (Grendel)
Transcription, part 1: Paul Rix
Transcription, part 2: Jason "Replicant"
Final editing and photos: Jukka O. Kauppinen
Copyright Virtuaalilentäjät r.y. / Finnish Virtual Pilots Association 2004-2006.