Interview with an anonymous interviewee (An01137)

Title

Interview with an anonymous interviewee (An01137)

Description

Anon, from Scarborough was keen to join the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot. Disappointed that he didn’t meet the height requirement he joined the RAF and began training as an electrician. His aim was to travel abroad with the service but to his disappointment he never left Yorkshire. His first posting was with 424 Squadron. The squadron was kitted out to transfer to North Africa and although they prepared the aircraft for the journey the British ground crew didn’t make the move and he was posted to 425 Squadron. Among his duties other than the electrical work was to provide guard duty for crash sites and he was also called on as an escort to airmen who were accused of misdemeanours. On the squadron he met a childhood friend from Scarborough who was an air gunner. He was killed on operations. He volunteered to transfer to the Fleet Air Arm and joined that service until he was demobbed.

Creator

Date

2017-07-10

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:38:15 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

AAn01137-170710

Transcription

SC: So, if I do the introduction. I’m with Mr [buzz] sorry [buzz] I’ve got that — I’ve got that wrong right from the beginning.
Other: That’s a good start that is.
SC: I do apologise. That’s —
Other: Don’t worry.
SC: It was, it was wrong on the email that I got. But —
Anon: Oh.
SC: So we’ve corrected that. I’m here at your home at [buzz] and it is the 10th of July, I think today at 10am. And you were a of member of, you were a ground crew electrician.
Anon: Yes.
SC: I believe. So, if you want to start with your earliest memories of contact.
Anon: Well, my first contact with Bomber Command was when I was in the Air Training Corps at Scarborough. I, I was 313 Squadron. I was in that from the beginning of it and, in 1941, I think. And we went on a week’s camp to Driffield. RAF Driffield. And there were two squadrons there. If I remember rightly there was Blenheims, Bristol Blenheims and Handley Page Hampdens. And they, whilst we were there in May it was the first thousand bomber raid. I think it was on Cologne. And that was the first one that Harris put out as more or less I would have said a PR —
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Exercise. But as far as I know they all came back. And whilst we were there also, that was with Bomber Command. But also it was the first time I went in the air. That was in an Airspeed Oxford. A trainer.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And that was interesting from the point of view we flew over Scarborough which was my home town. And the pilot quickly came back from the sea because there was a convoy there. He said to us after, he said, ‘I came back inland quickly because,’ he said, ‘They start shooting at anything these days.’ [laughs] So, and that was the first introduction into the Air Force proper. And then at seventeen and a half I tried to get into the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot but I’m only five foot two now. I don’t think I was much less than that then. The first thing they do is sit you on the floor with your back to the wall and there’s a white line. If your feet don’t reach that white line then my chances of being a pilot were [pause] Anyway, they offered me to come in as a telegraphist air gunner or an observer. No. They said, ‘What are you going to do?’ This is a lieutenant commander. He played up with me because I was trying to shuffle [laughs] to get my feet to reach the white line. But yeah, I said, ‘Oh. I’ll try the Air Force.’ And I went to Hull, to the centre there. Recruiting Centre. And a flight sergeant interviewed me. He said, ‘Well, you’ll never make pilot. You’re far too small.’ He said, ‘But I see you’re an apprentice electrician.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re a reserved occupation.’ I said, ‘Yes. But I’ve got permission to break my apprenticeship and join up as long as it’s aircrew or submarines.’ He says, ‘Well,’ he says, ‘Come in as aircrew. But you’re an apprentice electrician,’ he says, ‘Why don’t you come in as an electrician and then re-muster when you’re tall enough and become a pilot.’
SC: Yeah.
Anon: So, I didn’t take any talking into it. That’s what happened. Well, I never was tall enough. I’m still only five foot two [laughs] Anyway, the outcome was that I went to Hull and then got a railway ticket from there down to Cardington on my eighteenth birthday actually. Handy because they wouldn’t let me in before then. And I got my King’s Shilling I think it was then and fitted out. Kitted out. And then went to Blackpool for six weeks square bashing and, well you learned to use a rifle and throw a grenade and that sort of thing.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And didn’t have to be taught drill although I had to do it. And get your hair cut several times.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But went from, after six weeks there went to RAF Henlow which was in two halves as an operational station there and a training centre for electricians. And I was there for four and a half months and then you get a weeks’ leave. But before you go on leave you’re given a form to fill in. “If,” that’s a big word, “If you had the choice where would you wish to serve?” So I put three months at RAF Driffield then anywhere overseas. Well [laughs] I never got out of Yorkshire. I went to RAF Topcliffe which was used by the Royal Canadian Air Force. 424 Squadron. And that was on Wellingtons which, rather amusing in a way because at the training school at Henlow the sergeant who took us for bomb gear, he says, ‘Well, I’m supposed to have three day on Wellingtons but,’ he says, ‘You’ll never see one.’ So, he says, ‘All I’ll tell you is it’s an unusual connection. Unusual things for connecting to the bomb release.’ So there was five, a five pin plug. He says, ‘And I’ll tell you something now so that you’ll never forget the rotation. The order of connecting it,’ he said. From the lip, the little pin thing that sticks up. Going clockwise,’ he says, ‘It’s red, yellow, blue, green, white or white green. But,’ he says, ‘I’ll tell you how you’ll never forget it, he says, ‘Now, I’ve have to modify this because we’ve got WRNS coming err WAAFs coming through,’ he says, ‘But it’s — Rub Your Belly With Grease.’ [laughs] You can still, even now, seventy, well seventy odd years isn’t it? More than that now. You just don’t forget.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But that was just amusing in a way.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Because you’d got to Wellingtons and that was all there was for 424 Squadron and you’d never been taught anything about them so you’re there with [laughs] they’ve given you a manual and you’re having to read from it —
SC: Yeah.
Anon: As you worked. But they moved then [pause] well, we went to Linton on Ouse and then back again to [pause] Linton on Ouse back to —
SC: You’ve got Skipton is the next one.
Anon: No.
SC: Oh sorry. Back. Yeah.
Anon: I’ve got to read from this thing. ATC, Blackpool, Henlow, Topcliffe, Linton Ouse. It was Skipton on Swale but that didn’t come in that order.
SC: Right.
Anon: My memories. Although I’ve got all the places I was stationed at I haven’t got them in the right order.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Went back, and still on Wellingtons. And then 424 were going to be posted to North Africa and this was in ’43. And we went, we were kitted out with a whole new squadron of Wellingtons in tropical paintwork.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Very light sandy colour. And we worked for, well I worked for thirty two hours without any break.
SC: Gosh.
Anon: Except for meals. Bringing the aircraft which were brand new up to scratch and that was when the first Gee was put in. That was the electronic stuff. Although we, the electricians only put the supply there.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But the machine itself, the screen was covered up in a shroud so as we’d no idea what it was we were putting in the supply there for.
SC: Right. Yeah.
Anon: For — but anyway the outcome was that we were — got all those done. Then they sent us to — it was Dishforth where that was done.
SC: Right.
Anon: And then they sent us up to Catterick airfield where they kitted us out for Africa. We got all the gear and gave us the injections. Then decided that the English ground crew weren’t going.
SC: Ah.
Anon: So [laughs] then, I think I went to Skipton on Swale I think it was. And it was Halifaxes. No. Tholthorpe.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Halifaxes. 425 Squadron. French Canadians. And it, they were Halifaxes and they weren’t very — how can I put it? They weren’t electrically well fit out.
SC: Right.
Anon: It struck me afterwards that the electrical stuff was an afterthought. See —
SC: Gosh.
Anon: The difference between that and the Lancasters that come on later was where you’ve got the main panel all the conduits coming in, in the Halifax there was one screw connection in front of another one. So if you wanted the back one you had to undo the front one to get to it. Umpteen wires in these air conduits. Plastic things. But in the Lancaster they were staggered so that you could do the one you wanted.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: A nightmare as an electrician on the Halifaxes. A pleasure on Lancasters.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But then, oh I finished up in that squadron, 425 maintaining the link flight simulator thing. Nothing like the simulators of today but they actually got in it. A little laid out thing like an aircraft cockpit. And it was operated by pneumatics and electric and on the port side of the [pause] Just down the side there was a lever you could operate to regulate the turbulence.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And you could nearly make yourself sick.
SC: Gosh.
Anon: I know. But you used to have fun with that. It wasn’t used much by the pilots funnily enough. That was the French Canadians. So it was a sort of a lazy time that. A bit on the boring side. But posted then back to Linton on Ouse where I think it was 426 Squadron then and they were Lancasters and they were lovely aircraft to work on. Seven miles of wiring I believe and used to, for the DI, Daily Inspections there used to be two electricians and one went around the outside while the other one was inside operating the switches to put the various things on.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: The landing lights. The wing lights and the tail lights that you go around seeing if they work. And then the chap that’s outside gets in and does the rear turret. Checking the gun solenoids and the lighting. And the, the lighting on the gun sight.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But also the one outside checks the micro switches on the landing gear.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And the chap up in the cockpit makes sure that the lights, the green or red lights operate as they should.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And the [pause] there was a plug for an external accumulator. Trolley acc as they are called. But you only used that for when they’re trying the engines out. Now, the engine fitters were the bane of our lives because if you weren’t around they would sneakily run the engines up without having put the trolley acc in and they were running your internal batteries down.
SC: Right.
Anon: So, if [pause] if the battery was flat when you came to do an inspection you had to change the batteries.
SC: Oh.
Anon: And that was a heavy job. You had to trail to the battery room. Get a transport. That wasn’t always easy either. Sometimes you had to push them on a trolley all the way back to the aircraft.
SC: All the way back.
Anon: Another thing about the aircraft which might sound amusing now but if you’d any soldering to do there was nothing like electric soldering irons of course.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: You had what they called a mox iron, MOX, and it was a white tablet. Quite a large one that burned like fury. And it had, well to me a whacking big soldering iron, the old one with the wooden handle.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And a big chunk of copper at the end of it.
SC: At the end of it.
Anon: And you put that over the flame you’d got but you had to be fifty yards away from the aircraft. And you had to run like made after it got to the heat. When the flames died down it run like mad. You got a hot iron and get in to the Lancaster and run up to the fuselage to get to where the batteries are because the lugs occasionally needed replacing. But that was — oh, I’d better say where I’ve been. That’s the easiest way I think. We got to Henlow, Topcliffe, Linton on Ouse, Skipton On Swale, Sutton on Forest, Tholthorpe, Dishforth, Catterick, Linton on Ouse again, Lindholme. Ah, this was when I finished at the Canadians but whilst I was with the Canadians the discipline was far slacker than in the RAF. Whilst I was at East Moor the, occasionally they had what they called a backers up course for ground crew. It was [pause] well earlier on when the RAF regiment weren’t as prominent. The, you’re doing the protection of the airfield really but you’re taught how to use a rifle again and bayonet and what was it? Throw a grenade.
SC: Throw a grenade. Yeah.
Anon: Or something.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And unarmed combat.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And really infantry work. And you had this to do for a week which we all detested. We were supposed to be craftsmen. Anyway, the outcome was that whilst the last day of our week a Halifax unfortunately crashed in our area. And I have the impression that whichever the area it crashed in the nearest airfield had the job of guarding the wreck that crashed. And unfortunately, although all the crew except the pilot got out the pilot stayed in and he was burned. And horrible really. But the backing up course that week was only about, if I remember rightly about eight or ten of you. You were given the job of guarding the crash.
SC: Yes.
Anon: And you were fitted you up with sandwiches and food for the night sort of thing and a bell tent and some slept but there was always one on guard. When it came to my turn it was the middle of the night and and then it was bitterly cold. And I got inside the back end of the Halifax to get out of the cold. While I’m in there I heard something moving. And so I got out and still listened and still could hear walking. So, ‘Halt. Who goes there?’ Frightened to death [laughs] The rifle and — and got no replied. ‘Halt and be recognised.’ Mooooo moooo [laughs] A cow in the next field. But but that only lasted, you had to stay there until they cleared the crash and we were there a few days actually. And, but you get seventy two hours leave after that weeks’ training.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: I’m all togged up, best blues and just walking towards the main gate when from the office, SWO’s office, the SWO, Station Warrant Officer that is —
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Shouts, ‘Airman.’ Beckoned to me of course. Says, ‘I want you as an escort.’ ‘I’m going on leave, sir.’ ‘Not until you’ve been on this.’
SC: An escort.
Anon: And it was escort for a couple of Canadian airmen that had been caught in Thirsk with their caps off. And the Redcaps, RAF police had caught them and reported them. And anyway that’s, ‘Escort and accused, quick march. Caps off.’ And you’re there in front of the Wing Co. And this is the Wing Co who I said how good he was. He, ‘Read the charge out, SWO.’ And, ‘Whilst on active duty,’ and the date and so on, ‘The airmen seen without their caps on going from the Red Lion to the Black Bull at Thirsk.’ ‘Anything to say?’ — CO. ‘No sir, but actually we were going from the Black Bull to the Red Lion.’ ‘Case dismissed. Incorrect evidence’. You should have seen that station warrant officer’s face. He was an RAF — a lot of the admin staff were RAF. I missed my train but [laughs] it was worth it to see his face.
SC: It was worth it. Yeah.
Anon: But that’s just amusing. But that was with 426 if I remember rightly. 432 that, aye. Thurlby I think his name was. Wing co. But he used to have parties in the mess for the morale and that. Thought the world of him, everybody. But then I went back finally whilst I was with the RAF, RCAF. Went back to Linton on Ouse and 432 were there with Lancasters. And one of my old friends was an air gunner. Flight sergeant air gunner, Freddie Frith and I was talking to him the night before he took off and of course with pals back in Scarborough and lived in the same street actually. And —
SC: Gosh.
Anon: Played football and cricket and that sort of thing as lads. And he never came back. And he was the one I was telling you about. That unknown grave. And he’s at Runnymede. The Memorial there. But went then, went back to the RAF proper. Talk about bringing you down to earth. You had to have your buttons cleaned and really be professional I suppose.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But it was very relaxed on the Canadian side. But back there and this wasn’t an operational squadron. The first time I hadn’t been on an operational squadron and it was [pause] well to us it was stricter than the rest had been on the ops. But we, I was there almost a year and they had the job of, well apart from looking after Lancasters you did the battery charging. And they also had the airfield runway lights to keep and check and for that you had to have transport. Well, one day it was my turn to do this. We did it in turns and when I went for transport the one that was available they said, ‘Have you got a licence?’ I says. ‘Only one for Civvy Street. I haven’t had one—’ ‘Oh, well if you’ve one for Civvy Street you must be able to drive.’ He says, ‘That’s the only car available,’ and it was the CO’s Humber.
SC: Oh gosh.
Anon: I’d never been in a posh car like that before. And I got it on the runway up to ninety miles an hour.
SC: Wow.
Anon: I really, really enjoyed that but —
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Then of course you had to go back slowly to make sure all the lights were on.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: On the — but that was [pause] that was by 1945 now. And I may be right [pause] yes it would be. Anyway, the oh the other thing we had to do which I mentioned earlier to you was at Metheringham we had a lighthouse to let planes know where they were. Those that had lost their way and didn’t know where they were. This flashing told from the parent station which was Lindholme, by telephone. It told to put the aerial lighthouse on and it flashed two Morse letters which the aircrew all recognised as where it was. A bit like a lighthouse at sea flashing.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Certain letters. But that was an amusing that was. Being young and silly in those days. It was the middle of summer this time I’m thinking of. We used to go out before the, well the aircraft weren’t going out really ‘til dark time so during the day we went into the nearby town. I can’t think of the name of it now. It wouldn’t be Scunthorpe would it? Anyway, and on a pushbike.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Which I’d biked from the airfield on and I finished up that night with my bike on top of a haystack. Stuck. So [laughs] Young and silly. But when the phone went you had to get out there and get that flashing light going. That shows. Ad there’s a motor mechanic, a corporal general duties chap in charge of you and yourself, an electrician and you had a caravan. And it was a change from being on the airfield.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And the farmer or his wife used to keep you well fed as well.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But that was the end of the RAF. I was at Lindholme which is now a prison. Raise a few eyebrows when you say, ‘Oh, I’ve been in Lindholme.’ [laughs] But anyway, I was there when VE day came. And shortly after that there was a notice went up asking for volunteers for the Fleet Air Arm for going out to see the Japs off.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: That finished my RAF lot. But I did volunteer for the Fleet Air Arm and went there as an electrician. Well, for two minutes at, I think it was RAF Warrington but it was a mixed camp. Half the camp was Air Force, the other half Navy and you were kitted out when you got to the other side of the camp. You were, for two minutes — a minute to twelve and a minute after twelve you were a civilian. You’d been discharged from the Air Force.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But hadn’t been accepted into the Navy. And then you, you were kitted out on the Naval side. And they’d pipe in the morning dress of the day. And but number, you were given [number 9 ?] now, I forget. But they — nobody had a clue how to dress. You stood on your beds trying to look out these Nissen hut window to see what other people were wearing.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But from there you went to transit camp which was at the HMS Daedalus II. Daedalus III rather. The shore base. And you just got kitted waiting to go somewhere but they get all sorts of things. And don’t let anybody tell them Nelson’s dead. He’s not.
SC: Right.
Anon: The air force, went and got at Melksham. This was an RAF base but it was Navy training for American electric switches which are different to our RAF wiring. We had two wire system. They had one wire and earth. And what, you were given the month on that. But two weeks of that were trying to learn what all the initials were because everything’s done by initials in the Navy.
SC: Right.
Anon: We were always in trouble with the master at arms for various things. Two of us, I was one of them walking across what we called the parade ground and somebody bawled out to us, and we were, ‘At the double,’ because we had started walking towards him. It turned out he was the master at arms and he wanted to know why we were walking across the quarter deck instead of doubling. And this is the sort of thing.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And I think the Navy was about fifty years behind the Air Force but it was still enjoyable. But whilst I was on that course they dropped the atom bombs and they didn’t know what to do with us. They — I finished up instead of hoping to have got overseas as my original intention had always been was, I was posted up to Scotland. To Royal Naval Air Station Dunino. And I was on Fairey Barracudas.
SC: Gosh.
Anon: Which were torpedo bombers and they’re like toys compared to Lancasters.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But all we were doing was getting them up to front line state to be flown down to — I think it was Speke in Lancaster. Lancashire. Where they were dumped. Scrapped.
SC: Right.
Anon: But they wouldn’t let us, them go if there was anything wrong at all.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But, I don’t think [pause] I hope I haven’t wasted your time.
SC: No. Gosh, no. No. It’s been a fascinating journey.
Other: That was the first time I’ve heard it.
Anon: The very first time.
Other: Thank you.
SC: Oh gosh.
Anon: The very first time I realised how ignorant I was, was I was still eighteen. First time on night duty at Topcliffe. Wellingtons. And you were underneath the Wellington because you’ve got trolley acc lead plugged in.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And they start the engines up. They start the port, port one up first and flames shoot out of the exhaust.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: I’d never seen one at night. I saw flames and I shouted up through the hatch, which is the hatch where they went in up the ladder. Baled out at height. I shouted, ‘You’re on fire.’ It wasn’t on fire at all just the [laughs] Fortunately because of the engine noise he couldn’t hear me so —
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But you learn as you go along.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: In that case. And how on earth we won the war.
Other: You must be dry after all that. You’ve got it. Would you like some pineapple juice?
SC: I’d love. Yes, please.
Anon: But I — no, I enjoyed it.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And I’ll be honest here. I’d have stayed in the Navy. In the Fleet Air Arm. But my mother was a widow.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: My father died when I was twelve and I went back more or less to support her but —
SC: Yeah.
Anon: But on the demob leave that’s when I met Jean.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And we’ve been married just over seventy years now.
SC: Oh gosh. Congratulations.
Anon: Thank you.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Commiserations I think you said [laughs]
SC: You said that. Not me [laughs] Thank you very much.
Other: Right.
Anon: I don’t think I’ve been much use to you. What I’ve said.
SC: Oh, it has been. It has been a tremendous valuable story. I’ll switch this off now.
Anon: The worst thing I think I had to do was change an alternator in the middle of the night. Well, I say it was the middle of the night. It was pitch dark.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And it was snowing. And it was out on the airfield. It wasn’t in the hangar. And I stood on the engine stand there. Your fingers, you could hardly feel them.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And you’d wires to connect.
SC: Yeah.
Anon: And bolts to, well the fitters I suppose were supposed to do that but you weren’t going to get a fitter out of the Nissen hut to come and —
SC: Yeah.
Anon: Do something you could do yourself. Put the nuts and bolts to hold it in place. But —
SC: It must have been really difficult.
Anon: But I managed to go through the lot and never get charged.
SC: That’s good. That’s an achievement.

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Citation

Steve Cooke, “Interview with an anonymous interviewee (An01137),” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 27, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10077.

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