Warrant Officer Milton Brazil. Age 93
After volunteering at 18 into the RAF, training in Canada and serving in India and the far east as a bomb aimer/navigator Milton ended the war flying commercially at the inception of Air India before returning after the war to his hometown Glasgow and the family egg business.
Milton was interviewed at his home in Glasgow on 25th August 2015
Milton, can you tell me a little about your background. I’m Milton Brazil, born in Glasgow in 1922, the second son of Ben Brazil and Esther Joseph; my father was born in Glasgow in 1895, my mother was born in Leeds, we would go down and see my grandparents there. I have a younger brother who is two years younger than me and lives in America, there was a sister three years younger than my brother who lived in America and she died seven or eight years ago.
Other than my service in the RAF from 1942 to 1946 I’ve lived in Glasgow all my life. I went to school in Glasgow, Albert Road Academy which was in Pollokshields, I left there in 1940. I knew that I would eventually go into one of the services.
We were provision importers, mainly eggs, probably the biggest importer from Poland pre-war. We had fifty odd shops throughout Scotland at one time, selling only eggs, after the war there were ten left. You could not carry on during the war, business did not exist because the importation and distribution of food was done by the government.
When I came out of the air force in 1946 I went into the business, such as it was. We hoped eventually to build up again to what we were but the whole system of distribution changed and the country became to a large extent independent in certain foodstuffs, although we did carry on for another 10 years until my father passed away in 1955, but it wasn’t a business which could be sustained. I had various other interests. I was involved in security for some time.
After school did you have a trade. I went into the business until I joined up. Before I was called up we were given a date in the future when our age group would have to register and I knew that if I waited then I would have no choice and would be put in to whatever the requirements were at that time so I volunteered. I was able to pick. I asked to be selected for aircrew.
Am I right in thinking aircrew were all volunteers. We were all volunteers, I do not recall any instance of any member of aircrew not volunteering. Some may have been encouraged. I volunteered in 1941 and was called up for service in August 1942 to report to Lords cricket ground, which was the arrival place for all possible aircrew. We were stationed in London, in St. Johns Wood, for six or seven weeks and got basic training there, moved to Brighton and got further training. Then up to Yorkshire to ITW, Initial Training Wing, that was a three or four month course. From ITW we went to Harrogate, awaiting dispersal either to South Africa, Canada or kept in this country. They didn’t do much training in this country, any training they did do would be fighter aircraft not bombers.
There was something to do with my eyes, which did not permit me to take a pilots course, naturally it was everybody’s desire to be a pilot but nothing I could do about it.
We went out in 1943 to Canada, sailed over on some big liner on its own, I think it was the Aquitania, we sailed with no escort into New York and from there the train up to Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada which was the dispersal unit for RAF. After a few weeks I was sent down to Picton in Ontario to do my bombing course, three or four months there, then I went out to Portage le Prairie the other side of Winnipeg and did my navigation course. I came back to Picton after the navigation course was finished and sailed over on the Andes with the Canadian forces that were assembling (for D-Day).
In Canada I was trained on Anson’s, came back to this country on Anson’s initially and then Whitley’s. The country was broken up into various groups, I was sent to No. 4 Group which was a Halifax group. I was in Halifax’s right through. I was there until for whatever reason my crew was sent down to join 298 squadron at Tarrant Rushton in Dorset, which was not a bombing squadron; they were glider towing, troop and supply dropping. In July 1945 after the war had finished in Europe we were sent out to India.
Did you meet other Jews in the service I heard there was a meeting in York, they had use of a room in a Shul, which somehow or other I got to hear about and I remember going there once. I can’t remember if they were air force or just service people, that’s the only occasion I came across Jewish people.
I never encountered anti-Semitism and that made life a lot easier, the fact that there was no problem.
Did you go into the RAF with a particular rank. I was just an aircraftsman and finished my training as a sergeant, flight sergeant, and then warrant officer and I finished my service as a warrant officer.
I was trained as a navigator/bomb aimer. I crewed up in 1944 when I came back from Canada. The pilot was the one forming the crew. Somehow we were friendly and we got together as a crew, there was already a navigator, as I had done the dual course I elected to be the bomb aimer, it was probably the best crewman to be because apart from being bomb aimer I was a navigator, I assisted the pilot on take off and landing, I was trained as in gunnery and wireless so the crew wanted me because I was mobile in that sense.
Did you see any action. I saw action, limited in this country, more in the month that I was in India, we did more runs out there, dropping supplies into the troops on the ground, we were more a support group than an attacking group.
I had a comfortable war I don’t remember ever being attacked either in this country or the far east. We did runs into Burma and China but never recall being in contact with enemy forces other than on the ground.
D-day I was away from the squadron I was up in Yorkshire on a course and the funny thing was I was away from the squadron again on VJ day. In the middle of August 1945 I was in Burma. I was in some airfield in Pegu which if I remember rightly was just north of Rangoon, we had taken some supplies in there and we going to bring some POW’s back out when we heard the war over.
After VJ day our crew was sent to Ceylon to pick up nurses there and bring them all the way up to India, then down to Singapore. We arrived in Singapore about eight days after VJ day. The runway was damaged and we were stranded in Singapore for some seven or eight days and I remember that was a high point. To be in a country that had just been liberated. There were still Japanese around, they weren’t free, they were in camps, we did have contact with them.
Eventually we came back to our base which was in the central provinces in Raipur in India, I was there for some time.
I was sent to Delhi and joined a crew there flying Halifax’s. It was the beginning of what became Air India. Internal flights were set up, we started a run from Delhi to Karachi, down the coast to Bombay, further down to Ceylon on the west coast, then up the east coast, Madras, Calcutta and then back into Delhi. I was there for a couple of months and then went back to 298 squadron.
They were thinking of doing something with 298 in Indochina because there was trouble there at that time. We didn’t go, the squadron was transferred to Baroda away up on the west coast in the far north, this was about July 1946.
Was your time in the RAF the defining point in your life. I was a member of 298 squadron reunion, I did a couple of reunions. No longer of any interest to me. I was a member of the RAF association, I didn’t continue that either. Those days are no further interest to me.
Were you aware of many changes on returning home. Yes, they’d all grown up, the bunch of the people my age I went to school with had either gone into business or university, I can’t remember who my friends were when I first came home but they did change, it was a different life to what I had before.
I met my first wife in 1950, we were married in 1951 that didn’t survive. Maybe Ten or eleven years and that’s it and we went our own way. I met up with Pat some years after that and we settled here, my two boys grew up, and went there own way, my younger son who was killed in a car accident he was a vet. My elder son went into social service went to university got a degree in economics and moved south.
Did your family understand experiences in the war. No I don’t think anybody who has not done service would know what it was all about, particularly flying. Again talking to army people they wouldn’t understand, their life was different to mine. We had a bed to sleep in every night, we flew from whatever base we were at and we came back and even if it wasn’t our own base we had a bed so it was a different life.
Have you shared your experiences with your children and grandchildren. I have mentioned it. I’d lost interest, it was a part of my life which had gone. I’d survived which was the main thing. Not through any cleverness on my part, just the way things turned out.
Apart from the fact that I trained in Canada, I saw the world. Funnily enough I was in Canada just before the outbreak of war and we sailed back into Glasgow on August 29th the week before war broke out . The following Sunday, September 3rd, war broke out and what was the first boat to be sunk? The Athenia. That was the boat we came back on. These were experiences, these were things you can recall if you think hard enough.
Were you prepared for the war. Who is prepared for war? I was too young to start with. In 1939 I was 17, I was still at school. We knew there was bluster, nobody thought, or if they did we didn’t think in those terms and until 1939 war didn’t mean anything other than the fact that Germany was not a place for Jewish people to be in and that was the extent of it.
Can you reflect on the country today and the expectations you had for it. Now I’m not political but I do not understand or like the way that this country is being run today. I’m not interested in other countries, I fought for this country, I’m a British subject, and what they’ve done here is something I do not understand and today I wouldn’t vote. I’ve got no respect for our current prime minister, although I don’t know why, I can openly say I voted Conservative all my life. Maybe it’s my background, the way I was brought up in very comfortable circumstances, probably that had a lot to do with it.
Do you leave a legacy. I haven’t written anything down, I’ve spoken to my son and I think he knows my background, he probably knows me better than I know myself and that’s the extent of it, he lives in Kent, he will not come back to Glasgow. I’ll see my days out here and he is happy there. I’m in touch with him regularly. I’m in touch with my brother in America, I speak to him every week. I lead quiet life here; I go out one night a week to play bridge.
I’ve lived a full life, there’s probably much more I would like to have done, for whatever the reason I didn’t. I’m still surviving, one way or another.