Interview with Cyril Bristow Adams


Interview with Cyril Bristow Adams


Cyril was born in London in 1921 and lived in Battersea with his relatives; he met his wife in 1940 while working at Harrods. His family were killed by bombing after he joined up. Cyril enlisted at RAF Cardington in 1941 and was trained to be a fitter, then joined Bomber Command at RAF Scampton working on Hampdens, Manchesters and Lancasters for 83 and 49 Squadrons. He got married in 1942 and lost his house to a V1 while his wife was in St. Thomas’s hospital having their first child. Cyril was transferred to RAF Swinderby to 1661 Heavy Conversion Unit working on Lancasters and Stirlings before being posted to Transport Command serving in Palestine from 1944 to 1945. After demobilisation he worked in Northern Ireland, Nigeria and Peterborough. After being made redundant and losing his wife in 1998, he moved to St. Neots to be closer to his daughter.




Temporal Coverage




00:41:36 audio recording


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JH: My name is Judy Hodgson and I’m interviewing Cyril Adams today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We are at Mr Adam’s home and it is the 2nd of August 2017. Thank you, Cyril for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present at the interview is Sue Ford, his daughter. So, Cyril can you tell me your date of birth, where you were born and something of your early years with your family?
CA: Well, I was born 9th of December [pause] which — 1921. I lived with my father and mother and sister and grandma in a house in Battersea, London. Unfortunately, it was bombed and they were killed. I was in the Air Force at the time so probably I was lucky.
JH: And what were you actually doing though in the years before the war as a young boy?
CA: Well, I was apprenticed. Well, after school I was apprenticed to an engineering firm until I joined up in 1941.
JH: And where was that?
CA: We went to where the airships —
JH: Cardington. Cardington.
CA: Cardington. That’s where it started. And [pause] well from there you go to — you were introduced to the ways and wherefores of the Air Force and they send you away to do some training in, and square bashing and all that sort of business. Then I went to [pause] a place called — oh what’s it called? Where they do — I was on a fitter 2 course. Where I became a fitter 2E. AC2.
JH: And was the training in various places? I mean, did you move around?
CA: I moved around. I went to [pause] Scampton with 83 Squadron as a fitter 2. 49 Squadron. That was at Scampton too. And then I went to a Heavy Conversion Unit. 1661. Which was at [pause] where we played bridge. What was that called?
SF: Swinderby, was it?
CA: Swinderby. Yeah. And when I was at Swinderby I got, I went overseas to — I left Bomber Command. I went overseas to Transport Command at Lydda in Palestine. And I was there for — to the end of the war.
JH: So, what year was that then? Do you remember?
CA: Well, it was 1944 to ’46. And then we came home on what they called the Medlock Route which was, we came by lorry across the Sinai Desert into Egypt by the Bitter Lakes. And from there we went by boat to Toulon. And then by train across France to Calais and then Dover and then up to where we got demobbed. That’s roughly what happened.
JH: And what aeroplanes did you actually fly in throughout the war? What? Were they all the same?
CA: Hampdens.
JH: Right.
CA: That was the first lot. And then we had Manchester which was the forerunner for the Lancaster. And then we had Lancasters with 83 and 49 Squadron. I left there. They became a unit and I went to 1661 Conversion Unit where we built up engines from, for the Lancaster and Stirlings. When I was abroad I worked — it was like, Lydda was a Transport Command aerodrome and we serviced aeroplanes that were going out to the Far East. And it was quite pleasant in Palestine. We had the trouble with the Arabs and Jews but, well it’s history isn’t it?
JH: And what was your actual job, if you like? When you were —
CA: I was a fitter 2.
JH: Yeah. All the time. All the way through.
CA: On the engines. Yeah. I became a corporal, acting sergeant. Which I fulfilled the job of looking after and the daily running of the maintenance on the planes that came through. Or planes that — I was on a squadron as well.
JH: Do you remember any particular operations that you did throughout the war with — you know?
CA: Well, I can remember the German Navy going up the English Channel. That’s the Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst. Planes I was on, they went in to bomb it and they were damaged. I can remember the Peenemunde raid which was in Poland which where they were trying out all the V-1s and V-2s. And I can remember the first thousand bomber raid which took place while I was at Scampton.
JH: Did you have many crews? Did you change crews very often?
CA: Well [pause] we had like a engine fitter, aircraft [pause] like an aeroplane fitter and they were on probably two planes. They used to do the maintenance and then that’s while I was on a squadron.
JH: Were you anywhere where you had any near misses through your, you know, flights or —
CA: Misses?
JH: Any?
CA: Well, we, when you did a, any work on the aircraft they went up on what they used to call a night flying test and you had to go with them. Just as a, it was posted, issued out with parachutes and you went up with the plane and checked everything was alright with what you’d done. While it was flying. These amounted to, well they varied from half hour if it was quick job or if they went a bit further could be an hour. So, I could see the idea that if your work wasn’t up to scratch you were — you reaped the benefit [laughs]
CA: It, it was a, well we wouldn’t say it was a really hard life. But you were out in the elements all the time and most of the work was done out on the dispersals. But some of the work was done in a hangar. Engine changes and things like that, as and when they came up.
JH: How many of you would be working on —
CA: Pardon?
JH: How many of you worked together? You know, on a job sort of thing. How many of you?
CA: Oh, the ground crew I should think was about fifty for a squadron. And we used to march from the hangars out to dispersals. Used, used to have a transport listing circulate the aerodrome and they used to get lifts out to where ever you were wanted to work.
JH: Did you actually have much leave? You know.
CA: Well, leave. We got —
JH: What did you do?
CA: A week. A weeks’ leave every three months. And seven days. And then you’d, if you were lucky you could get a forty eight hour pass. But as most of that was taken up in travelling it didn’t seem much point really because most of it was done with hitchhiking you know. The forces seem to be well catered for on the lifts they got. There weren’t many cars on the road because of the petrol shortage. But there was always lorries that you got a lift in.
JH: And where did you go when you went on leave anyway?
CA: Well, went in to London. The family were there until they were killed and then after that we — I got the wife accommodation in a nearby town and I used to go there you know. Whenever I got a pass.
JH: When did you get married then?
CA: 1942.
JH: How did you meet?
CA: Well, before I joined up. About 1940. We met at — we both worked at Harrods. I was in the, on the, in the engine room because they generated all the power for the shop from the engine room. Diesel generators and steam boilers. And they had a hundred and forty lifts which were maintained. A lot of them were goods lifts as opposed to what the customers used. And while I was there they fitted in an escalator. And when the, when there was an air raid the girls that did the — on the switchboard went down to the shelters and the lads who worked on the engineering side used to go up to the exchange and work the switchboards up there ‘til the air raid was finished and we swapped back again.
JH: And what did your wife do there then if she was working there?
CA: She was working there for a time and then in haberdashery. And then she went and worked for Selfridges after that until our first child was born. And that’s my, that’s Susan’s brother and he was born in ’44. It was very, it was a very fortunate birth because she was in St Thomas’ at the time that the V, V-1s destroyed our house. So — and that was that.
JH: And then what? You finished in ’46 was it?
CA: Yeah. Finished in ’46. In November.
JH: Were you in touch with any of your old mates? Crew mates, you know. Or squadron mates.
CA: Not since. No.
JH: No.
CA: I haven’t been in touch.
JH: No.
CA: Well, the chaps I used to work with on the squadron some of them came to my wedding but after that everybody split up and went, you know different places.
JH: And after that? You know, when you’d left your squadrons and what did you do sort of then in later years then?
CA: What?
JH: Work and —
CA: When I came back into England I went to get my old job back but the, the recompense wasn’t very good. So, I got a job with [pause] with the Vestey organisation. And I became eventually their chief engineer. I had to study at night school to get where I wanted to go but eventually got there.
JH: Where you based then? Where was this?
CA: This was — I lived in Battersea. Then we had what they used to call [pause] accommodation that was bought by the government and then you were able to live as, as a family in the house that the government had bought. And then I got a — after about two years, that’s when Susan came along. We went to live in Shaftsbury Park Estate which was an estate mostly of terraced houses. And then we moved out of London where we bought property in [pause] in Hertfordshire.
JH: So, did you still work at the same place or was this after all this?
CA: Oh, I worked all over the place.
JH: Oh. Right.
CA: I worked in Northern Ireland. A place called Carrickfergus. And then I went to work in Nigeria for the same firm doing much the same job.
JH: What — did your family go with you or —
CA: On one occasion they did. But not the children. It was just the wife because they were growing up and they were at the teacher’s training college weren’t you? And my son John was — he joined the Stock Exchange. And I didn’t really benefit from that [laughs] Unfortunately, he’s died since but [pause] we had our moments. And that — I was working in Peterborough when I was made redundant in ’81. And we lived in a place called Deeping St James which was just on the corner of Lincoln and Peterborough. Lincolnshire. Not Lincoln. And then after that I — my daughter, who lived in St Neots, near St Neots she thought when my wife died in ’98 [pause] she thought it would be better if I came down nearer to where she lived. And I’ve had this flat and I’ve been here, well eighteen years now. So, that’s, that’s me.
JH: Did you ever fly after the war? You know, have you gone into aeroplanes on holidays.
CA: No. I didn’t. No. I didn’t do any. Only as passenger. That’s all.
JH: There aren’t any particular exploits that you remember? That —
CA: Pardon?
JH: Can you remember any particular exploits that happened? Any of your, you know, through your war years. Do you remember?
CA: Well, I did mention some of the bombing raids that I was servicing the aeroplanes that took part in it previously. No. I don’t think there was anything outstanding really.
JH: You didn’t feel in danger particularly. You know, from —
CA: Oh, we came under fire several times when I was in Palestine. The, the Irgun Zvai Leumi. That’s a terrorist group. A Jewish terrorist group. And, and I was taken prisoner by the 6th Airborne Division and kept in a compound overnight until the adjutant vouched for me that I worked for him. So, that was — well it was —
JH: Quite scary.
CA: Part of the job that. What I was used to.
SF: You formed a Cycling Club, didn’t you? Out there.
CA: What?
SF: You formed a Cycling Club out there.
CA: Oh yeah. We had cycling. I was always a cyclist. And we [pause] the place I was at at Lydda we formed a cycling club and we used to tear around the roads doing time trials in Palestine with the — and the Arabs knew what we were doing. They used to throw stones at us knowing we wouldn’t stop. So, we got the help of the Palestine police. They marshalled the route that we were on so that put a stop to that. These were bikes that we bought in Italy and sent out because being in Transport Command you could utilise the aircraft for, for well for your own purposes sometimes. The, and we were able to buy fruit and stuff that the civilians in England hadn’t seen for all, all the war. And we got that sent back by bomber — well, they weren’t Bomber Command. They were Transport Command. They used to run a service and all the Prisoners of War that were out in Far East came through our aerodrome in transit to — they were flown home. It took us three months to get home but they had bigger. They had the opportunity of flying so they took it I think. And they weren’t in very good condition either some of the poor devils. Mostly from the Far East. Japanese Prisoners of War. So that’s, that’s my story.
CA: Ok. Is there anything else that you can think of that he might mean to add or —
SF: I can remember him telling me what it was like to come home on the train. How uncomfortable it was going through France.
CA: Oh yeah. We used to travel by train. They used to be old German carriages, and with wooden seats. And they used to stop in a siding for hours and hours while the rest of the railway went rumbling by. And also they had places where you could use washing facilities. Not showers but washing facilities and food. It was all arranged on this Medlock Route across France. When we got to Paris the, all the bridges were down [pause] and we, they were all temporary bridges that were built for trains to go across. And they weren’t very stable. I can remember that.
JH: Why was this called the Medlock Route? What, what —?
CA: Well, it was [pause] we got a boat across the Mediterranean from Port Tewfik. Up the Canal and in we went. The boat we were on broke down and they towed us in to Malta. And we transferred on to another boat but we weren’t allowed to go ashore so we didn’t see much of Malta. And we went off between Sicily and Italy. Saw Mount Etna and other volcano islands. And eventually we got to the South of France and we went into transit camp there until we got the train. Took three months to get home.
JH: I can imagine.
SF: I also remember dad telling me about when he went up to Cardington when he was a young lad or man. And he had, they took you to big hangars there.
CA: Yeah. We slept in one of the airship hangars.
SF: Slept on the floor.
CA: Really draughty old places they were. But that was where they gave you brown paper and string to wrap all your civilian clothes up and sent them home and issued you with a uniform. When we got back they issued with civilian clothes. The other way around when we got to the demob centre which was near Birmingham.
SF: And mum went up to live there for a while, I think.
CA: Yes. She did.
SF: Because she had been bombed in London and you had a room somewhere. Was it Grantham? I can’t remember now.
CA: We had a room there. Yeah. We had to move the bed to open the door. Still it was a place to live. That’s in a place called Newark, Notts. And I used to cycle into, to Swinderby from Newark. It was only about ten miles and used to, sometimes used to get passes for weekends and things like that. While I was there at Swinderby I was in a Nissen hut complex on the side of a river. And there was no [pause] facilities for washing or anything like that. So we used to wear Wellington boots and go down and shave in the river and wash. And it was all good fun that was. Right.
JH: Ok. We’ll just, just pause for a moment then.
[recording paused]
JH: I’d like to thank you, Cyril today for allowing me to record this interview. Thank you very much.
CA: Right.


Judy Hodgson, “Interview with Cyril Bristow Adams,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,

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