Interview with Frank Gerald Bassett


Interview with Frank Gerald Bassett


Frank was brought up in Woolwich. He joined the RAF at the age of 18 and became an armourer. Frank describes the difficult physical work, loading and unloading bombs. He served 617 Squadron and loaded bouncing bombs, which were different. He remembers RAF Coningsby, RAF Scampton, RAF Waddington and RAF Woodhall Spa. He also went with Bomber Command to Egypt and Palestine. Frank expresses his pride in the RAF.







01:00:02 audio recording


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FB: It was bloody hard work humping bombs out for them.
AC: Right.
FB: Good job though. Good old blokes.
AC: So, I’ve got to, I’ve got to do an introduction. I’m, I’m Andrew Cowley. I’m from the International Bomber Command Centre. I’m interviewing Frank Bassett.
FB: Yeah.
AC: And also here are his son Gary Bassett and his granddaughter, Helen Howard.
FB: Right.
AC: It’s, we’re at his [redacted] It’s the 17th of May 2018 which is the seventy fifth anniversary of the Dambusters raid.
FB: Christ.
AC: And it’s 10.32. So Frank, I’m going to put some questions to you, but before we get on to the RAF just tell me about, a bit, a little bit about your childhood, your family, where you went to school, how you came to join up.
FB: I went to school at Wood Street School, Woolwich. When I left there, I went straight to a firm that I was going to learn a trade with. That would be [unclear] case making and all that. From there, I stayed there until I done a silly thing. Decided that I’d join the RAF [laughs] I don’t know why because I was already in the Home Guard and things like that and I was only about sixteen then. I was about eighteen when I went in the RAF, and where? I can’t even think where. I know it wasn’t too long before, where you are down in, I can’t even think of the names. I couldn’t even tell you the names of the ‘dromes there. But I was in the bomb dump there, or in the armoury and unfortunately that was another silly mistake. Apart from where we did the most work and it was bloody heaviest too. And where were we talking? I couldn’t even tell you most of the ‘dromes I’ve been on. But when you think we’re talking about when I was eighteen and I’m now forty five [laughs] ninety four. So that gives you an idea, you know, but I have to say that. Well, I don’t know. I suppose I was a bit silly at the time, but I thought well both my brothers were in the Army and I thought well, although I’ve got a trade here that’s alright. They, when I, when I told them they said, ‘Oh don’t worry about it. You won’t have to.’ I said, ‘But I want to stay.’ ‘What?’ I was learning a trade there. So, I said, ‘Well, I aint going to.’ Cor, Christ. So, they said, ‘Well, it’s up to you.’ And I left there and I went in the RAF and when I came out although I’d still about three years to do they said, ‘That’s alright. You can come straight in as what you’d been trained in.’ So that was alright as far as that go. But I can only remember I was doing fire watching and in the Home Guard and when I think you know, what’s the matter with me? And when I came out I went back to my old job again. And when I was in the RAF, apart from doing my training, where was that now? One of those coastal places. Anyway, most of the time I spent in, apart from going abroad I spent in where you are now in, I’m trying to think. Was there just one ‘drome there? But it was a Bomber Command one. You know. And as far as I’m concerned I don’t think I was always, well I would be if I was in aerodromes and that, that’s where you’re going to be isn’t it? Humping bombs about. And bloody hard work I have to say but so, but I don’t know why. I suppose I went in there as a kid and as you know there’s AC1 and AC2 and all that lot and I was a corporal when I came out. So, I was still only twenty four. So that’s not bad going really I don’t think. And I have to say that to be honest I think they were a good lot really, you know. I wasn’t keen on going in the Army although I’d been in the Home Guard and that. But yeah, they was quite nice and I think 617 was a really good squadron. The only thing is that as I say as far as I was concerned it, it meant getting bombs out the bomb dump, loading them up and then getting them out of there and of course the squadron blokes put them on but that’s the easy part, wasn’t it? And then we’d have to unload more when they came in and if they was a bit late at night we wouldn’t get no dinner until, I don’t know about 8 or 9 o’clock at night so, but I was only young so it didn’t really worry me. But I think that as I say I thought 617 was a really, that was one of the strong ones, weren’t it? They were really good them blokes, I reckon. Very nice fellas. So was, aircrews and that. But as I say, perhaps ‘cos I was a bit young. Perhaps I should have chosen something a little bit better but there you go. I chose the RAF and that’s it.
AC: Was there a reason you chose the RAF?
FB: It was strange really because I was, as I say I was in the Home Guard, which was Army and no I never thought about it but for some reason or other. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because it’s a young lot wasn’t it? You know. And somehow or other I took to a fancy to it. And I soon learned better of course, but I, I really believe that they are, so was the Army I suppose and the Navy but I mean when you look at some of these kids nowadays, or these idiots as I call them no wonder the Germans said, ‘Christ [unclear] the only good was the Army.’ No. I think I quite liked it and what did I do? About four years I suppose. So, but I can’t say as I’ve got any complaints. I didn’t get into any trouble but I also didn’t do silly things which I think was quite good. And I liked Lincolnshire. That was quite good.
AC: Did you have any choice about the job in the RAF?
FB: Well, yeah actually we did but I don’t know. Well, of course I’d experienced the bombing at home, but when I went to the recruiting place they said, ‘What do I want to join the RAF for?’ and I thought as a young, a young, that’s sounds alright. So I said, ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t mind the RAF.’ And to be honest I haven’t got a bad word to say about them. Not like some blokes do, you know. I quite liked it even though I got in the wrong lot. Getting in the Army, by Christ. I should have, have gone in the office or something like that. Doing nothing [laughs] But no, I think they were a good lot of blokes, and I think 617 Squadron really were a fine lot. Well, they all were really. But they were a nice lot of blokes, I think.
AC: Did, did you get a choice of about whether you wanted to be an armourer or anything else in the RAF?
FB: I was in the RAF.
AC: No. Did you get a choice about what you wanted to do in the RAF?
FB: I couldn’t tell you now. For some reason or other I can remember roughly going to one of the ‘dromes and they said, ‘Well, we need blokes in the bomb dump.’ So [laughs] if they’d have said, ‘We need blokes in the café,’ I suppose I would have been in the café. No. So I got used and I had a few friends there and that’s it. So, I thought it was quite good. I don’t think that was a bad I say. Well, I would say that but I do think they were a good lot. There was none of this you know like some blokes they don’t want to be. As a matter of fact, there must be because when I had my photo taken they wouldn’t allow. ‘Your hat’s not on right.’ [laughs] but I was about twenty something then, I suppose.
AC: So, can you, can you describe to me a typical day for you in the armoury?
FB: A miserable day?
AC: A typical.
FB: A typical day. Oh. Well, we come out from the billet. We’d go down to the armoury. We’d be told what had to be done. If there’s anything going out that day there could well be a couple of lorries coming in with bombs on board which meant of course you had to do that. So therefore, you didn’t have a nice little job sitting somewhere. You’d do that. You’d have to make sure everything was as it was and it was hard work. I mean, you probably know yourself you get those long sodding bombs and you get one bloke on each end. It’s not easy. And then you get the hard ones where you’ve got a crane. And to be honest we never used that crane. You see you’ve got a crane there, a lift there. Nobody ever touched it. All done, done by hand. And when I think about well, I don’t know get four or five of you on it. That’s not bad. But you have to remember I was only twenty or so if I was about forty something I might have had a different view. But I thought they was, I thought they was quite good. I liked the places, and I suppose in a way just because you was in the Army didn’t mean you didn’t have anything else to do. Oh yes you did. When there was other things there you might be, I don’t know, route marches, or, whatever else had to be done. But like, as I say I was only young then so it didn’t worry me.
AC: Good.
FB: And where I worked wasn’t a piece of cake so it never worried me. So —
AC: Just going, you mentioned your billet. What was that like?
FB: Well, I had various billets but I have to say even about that for a billet it’s not bad. I don’t know what the Army’s like but this wasn’t bad. I mean it wasn’t like a hotel but [laughs] but the billets were alright. And you had to keep the place clean but I think that’s a good thing because I even say it to the kids sometimes if you’re, if you’re not organised you’re just a rabble and I don’t think the RAF was a rabble. Or any of the other services. And I found that most of the blokes, providing you were sensible you was fine. None of this old [moaning] None of that. As I told these I do have to have to have a bit of a laugh sometimes because I remember a bloke coming along the road and he said, ‘Oh, I want to get a paper.’ He said, ‘It does fold up I suppose.’ There’s all these blokes coming along and he said, ‘Ah, just a minute mate. Where do you get a paper?’ ‘Mate? Mate,’ he said, ‘What do you think they are? Report to the guardroom.’ But I mean, they weren’t all that bad really but I mean as I said before I do believe if you don’t have discipline it’s just a bloody rabble. And apart from, I don’t like to say that, apart from the German Army the British Army is the best in the world. That’s my one. I’m sure the RAF is also [laughs] alright. But no. I did my bit quietly really. I was glad to get home mind you but I went to Palestine and Egypt and that but I don’t know, you know.
AC: Did, did you have any contact with the aircrew?
FB: Not an awful lot because you have to remember the crews are out there. Me and my comrades were down in the bomb dump, and it wasn’t just a question of, ‘Oh, well that’s alright then. We haven’t got anything coming.’ It wasn’t like that as you probably know. There was bombs coming in all the time for you to unload apart from doing the rest of your work and it wasn’t easy but, I don’t know. I suppose I was, as I say I was only twenty or so. It didn’t worry me. I didn’t worry about cranes or anything like that. And I think it was, I can’t honestly say, I can’t remember it all, the difference when I was up but I can’t honestly say I was disappointed in the attitude or anything like that, and no, I think it wasn’t always, hey up, stand to attention. But when you was off duty it was quite good. So, I don’t think there’s, I think personally, I suppose I would say that but I really think they are a good force. I don’t know what they’re like now of course but, you know.
AC: Were you involved with loading bombs actually on to the planes?
FB: No. Actually, what we, what we did we got the bombs out the bomb dump and done what we had to do with them. Got them on the trucks. Pushed them out the trucks, and the aircrew had their own blokes so really in a way amongst the armourers they were the easiest. They had to unload them, load them on and that’s it finished. But not us. We might have loaded them on, got them out there. And then go and have your tea. When you come back there’s three trucks coming in. And it was bloody hard. But that’s another strange thing because I know I’d never done an easy job when I was in civvy street, but they was never what I would call [pause] it wasn’t easy, and you know yourself when you get one of these with a load of bombs on it, it’s not that simple but I’d find it a bit harder now I suppose, but no. I think they were a good lot and I think, well I think all the British forces are good. I would think that. But I’ve, I have no complaint about which is basically, I know there are some blokes in there in a nice office jobs, I suppose but that’s just one of these things. But other than that, I think they were a good lot of blokes. And the crews were good and all, I think. They weren’t [unclear] they was good blokes. So, and I really think that in a way they had a very hard job. I mean it’s not easy flying over somewhere and so —
AC: In your bomb dump can you remember any particular smells or anything about it?
FB: Not off hand, I can’t. The thing is as I say, because I didn’t choose any particular, what I wanted to do I suppose they’d go, oh good another bloke for the bomb dump, and that’s why you know I always worked in bomb dumps but it didn’t worry me.
AC: Was it, was it particularly hot. Cold. Can you remember?
FB: Sometimes it would be when the weather was a bit warm, you know and you’re humping bombs around. Remember you might have had a crane to do some things but like most blokes, ‘I don’t want a bloody crane. Get hold there,’ you know. But I’m, I’m saying that I don’t really, I suppose I’m biased really but when I say the RAF is the best one. There’s not one as good as that in the world. Never mind. You know. So, perhaps I’m biased.
AC: And can, can you remember any of the mates who you worked with? Any personalities?
FB: Well, I worked with a few blokes [unclear] I can’t remember. I can’t remember their names. Not even, look you can see one here [paper rustling] but I couldn’t remember his name either. Not him, I mean he worked in the bomb dump. He’s not [laughs] That’s me. I know you shouldn’t have your photo taken like that but I did. No, I’m trying to think of. As I say once I came out the RAF that was it. I went back to me work and —
HH: [unclear]
FB: It’s a long while ago. A long while ago. Trying to think. Probably might have been, might have a lot of jokes about different things but basically I think when you hear people talk about oh bloody this, and that I can understand it but they were a good lot of blokes and we knew what we had to do and that’s it. And if you wanted the war to end as quickly as possible you did that, didn’t you? You didn’t do silly things. I can’t think of any complaints. Even with the NCOs and that. They were quite good blokes. So, I think [unclear] we did but they were quite good.
AC: I’m going to read four placenames where 617 Squadron were just to see if it jogs your memory about where you served.
FB: Christ.
AC: There’s Coningsby.
FB: Yeah.
AC: Scampton.
FB: Yeah.
AC: Waddington
FB: Yeah.
AC: Woodhall Spa.
FB: Yeah. I’ve done all of them at different times. I remember them clear as anything but if you’d have said to me who was the captain of so and so, Christ, who would that be now? You know. But no, I really thought that and I still think they were the best aircraft in the world.
AC: So, did, did, did you have a favourite place out of all those?
FB: Well, I liked Lincolnshire. I don’t know why but I did. I was up there. Quite good there. Used to get out you know when we wanted to and the camp itself was quite good you know I thought and even the grub wasn’t bad really.
AC: But which —
FB: I know you hear these people moaning about everything but if you were honest it’s a bloody sight more worse than that so but no I can’t even remember what ‘dromes I was on. I’ve been on all them ‘dromes. I was at the one when the Lincolnshire blokes come in. You know, the Dam ones. But I can’t, I can’t remember. There were other ‘dromes I was at and of course I’d done certain courses at times and things like that but I can’t honestly say that oh, bloody awful you know. I think, and I might be wrong but I think a lot of young blokes they got it bloody easy in the forces. You know. The kids these days look at you they wouldn’t have that for five minutes. But you know I’m a bit scruffy myself now I suppose. Mind you I’ve got some better clothes but no. No, I have to say that although I don’t know why I really chose them. Perhaps it might have been glamour but if I was of that age again that would be who’d I’d prefer to join. The RAF.
AC: You said you did some courses. Can you remember what those courses were?
FB: Oh, Christ. Now you’re asking. It’s about ninety years ago. Oh Christ. They must have been armament courses some of them I suppose. Various other ones what you do, you know. I don’t know. They would all be to do with war. It wouldn’t be dancing or anything like that. But no. I can’t think. I can’t even think of the names of the blokes. But you wouldn’t, all that time ago, would you? I was only twenty or so. In fact, I was only, I think I was eighteen when, when I went to join the RAF and as I said I might have been about eighteen and a half by the time I got in there. But no. I met some nice fellas and I thought the, you know it was better than just marching all day or something. I understand, I suppose the Army has to do that probably amongst the other things but I was always, I’m even trying to even think of some of the names of the squadrons. 617 of course. You don’t forget them. And as far as I’m concerned they were without doubt, I’m not saying all the rest of the crews weren’t. They were. But 617, well, you know. But it was hard work but what do you expect? So —
AC: I think you may have loaded some Dambusters bombs. Is that right?
FB: Yeah. Oh yeah. But as I say, as you probably know first of all they come in from wherever they’re made. We unload them there. When they go out we load them again and the only difference was the aircrews had their own blokes for putting them on board. Bloody lucky. That’s all I can say. But no, I have to say that I’m not like some people, bloody war. I mean it was a war and that’s it. You could be in the Army which would have been worse. Both my brothers was in the Army and it wasn’t too great for them. No. I think [pause] Yes, I could have stayed out. In fact, the governor said to me, ‘You are doing a job where you won’t get called up.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got no objections to being called up.’ [Unclear] But you wouldn’t ask that now. I know that. I suppose a bit silly at the time but I don’t regret it. Not really. You’ve got to do this and that’s it as far as I [pause] I wouldn’t do it now if I was, you know but I wouldn’t say no to anything like that and I realise you’ve got have to have a certain amount of discipline. I know that. But looking at it another way I think they was pretty good in lots of ways. So —
AC: Were, were any of your ‘dromes ever bombed while you were there?
FB: I think, vaguely, vaguely, I can’t remember, I suppose. I can’t even remember which ones it might have been. Why? I don’t think the damage if I can remember correct was too much. They were soon shushed up I think. But it must have been Lincolnshire, that’s where I was at, that’s where I spent most of my time before I went abroad, you know. And I can’t even think of the name until you mentioned the names of them ‘dromes. And I can’t even remember the commanding officers or anyone else. But as I say it’s ninety years ago. I’ve had nothing to do with the forces since then really, you know.
AC: Did you ever watch planes taking off or landing?
FB: Yeah. Yeah. I suppose I’m a bit biased but to me the RAF, there was no one like them. They couldn’t land like that and couldn’t take off and they couldn’t be like them but that’s how you’ve got to be I think. You’re not concerned with the enemy. Yes, I think there was some very good crews there. I was only looking in the paper the other day about their, what’s his name now. Apparently, he had short legs and he couldn’t get in to the RAF. But then he was a squadron leader with them. That just shows you. I met one or two blokes mind you but I suppose basically once you either go in to a trade or you gone in to whatever it was you stuck with that because as far as they was concerned that job was yours wasn’t it? And I think they were quite good blokes really. I don’t think there’s any real nastiness amongst them. They were quite all right. Maybe I was just lucky and most of the blokes were just good blokes. I never thought that sometimes you might go out to the ‘dromes but you never got any of these squadron leaders, ‘Oi you —’ and their weight you know and I thought that was bloody good really. They didn’t have to be like that but they were. Maybe I was just lucky and had lucky crews there.
AC: Did you know any aircrew? Did they tell you of any of their experiences at all?
FB: Christ, now I’m trying to think. I can’t think of any. I can’t even think of some of the raids they used to make. I know sometimes of course unfortunately they didn’t all come back. Sometimes they came back a bit, but I never, I never heard anyone saying, ‘Sod this,’ you know. Might have been one or two. I never heard anything like that and I thought they was all good blokes and certainly they never sort of laid the law down. As far as they were concerned they were aircrew and that’s it. And providing you was sensible it didn’t matter, you know. I thought they were good. Most of them crews. And yeah, there must have been something. A few of them shot up and that and various things. But as I said being in, it would be where you got Bomber Command. So of course most of my time was concerned with bomb dumps. I was getting bombs out, bringing them in, doing all this, doing all that so you didn’t get a lot of time really to, a bit of time off now and again and things like that but you worked. There’s no doubt about that. But I couldn’t think of any, I can’t think off hand that nobody liked. Obviously, I didn’t have so much to do with the aircrews but obviously when they weren’t training or anything they wouldn’t just stroll around the camp. But as I say if I had to join another force I know I’d, as I say I was in the Home Guard but they would be the ones that I would probably and it probably the same sort as I was with. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I got used to it and there was some good blokes there, you know so, but no, sometimes the air raid would go off and but I can’t think of any real, real bad ones, you know. I can think of some being shot up a bit and things like that. Fortunately, when the crew weren’t in them [laughs] but I can’t really think of [pause] I suppose, in a way, thinking of it now working a lot of the time and you would be in the bomb dump wouldn’t you? Someone’s got to bring the bombs in. Someone’s got to arm them up, someone’s got to load them and get them out to, and the aircrew blokes, not them but their crew who had to do it for them. But they was a nice lot of fellas so, but no I can’t think off hand. If I was that young again and I wanted to join it would probably be the Air Force again. I don’t think it would be, perhaps I’m being biased but I’m being honest when I say I don’t [unclear] I didn’t find any of that providing you behaved yourself and dressed yourself properly. I think these blokes bellowing their heads off, a load of rubbish some of that is I think. But there you go.
AC: What did you get up to in your time off?
FB: Well, of course, being in London [laughs] you would be dodging bombs and things like that wouldn’t you because the raids was going on here just the same. And I don’t know. I suppose those blokes said, ‘Why the bloody hell did you want to join the Air Force when bombs come over here.’ But there you go. No. I didn’t do an awful lot. There wasn’t a lot you could do. And obviously I only had Air Force pay then. I wasn’t earning more than people on the outside. But I can remember, you know when I got demobbed as I told the kids once I went down to where I used to work, saw the manager, had a word and the bloke, I should have done a six, five or six year course. Actually, I’d done three of them when I went. I came in and one of the blokes said, ‘Hello.’ I said, ‘Hello.’ He said, ‘Are you coming back now?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Oh, can I find you a job on the bench.’ No. He’s not going to find me a job. I’ll tell you what. He’s been doing the same job you were doing but I don’t care about that. While you were still here I was somewhere else. So other than that, fine. So I’ve never had push here, push there. All those. And I’ve always considered I’ve done a job well so —
AC: So, when you were on the ‘dromes —
FB: Yeah.
AC: On your time off did you go to pubs or, what did you do with your spare time?
FB: I’ve never smoked except a very little when I was young. Never drank. Did I [unclear] I don’t think so. No. I used to go out with the lads and might go in one of the cafes down there or things like that but we didn’t have a lot of money did we so we didn’t you know. But no, I might go to the pictures now and again. It was only about fourpence I suppose. No. It was all right. But nice enough blokes. We never had every day off of course. [unclear] sometimes but I can’t really have any moans about it. You know, I mean you don’t go to war and expect to have strong wine and [unclear] and got plenty of money do you? And I never had plenty of money so I accepted. No. I liked Lincoln as I say. I don’t think I’ve been there since but I did, perhaps it’s because the RAF was mainly a lot of young blokes weren’t they? I think, you I know. I think so. But no, it was alright.
AC: What about RAF songs? Have you got any of those for me? Songs.
FB: Songs?
AC: From the RAF.
FB: Yeah. I can’t remember them off hand. There were a few of course. Some were a bit more than the others but basically as I say I think as one German bloke put it there’s only two real armies. The British Army and the German. He’s probably right. But no, we had some good blokes there. Obviously, we must have had a few blokes who were a bit, you know but judging by today I don’t think so. I mean even your hair cut. I can remember them saying, ‘Get your hair cut.’ It was no good saying you had it cut yesterday. ‘Well, they didn’t cut it right.’ No. There must have been some things I didn’t like. I mean I have to say at times I’d think, ‘Oh Christ, there they go. They are on a day off. We’ve got to go back and unload another load of bombs.’ But it might have been a bit of a moan. But wouldn’t be now though so —
AC: Did you get sent stuff from home? You know, parcels from home.
FB: A few. Some blokes might have got a few more but that never worried me but as I say I didn’t used to drink and I smoked very little which I soon packed up when I came out the forces. I haven’t smoked for I don’t know how long. And no, sometimes I would get bored and have a kick about. If you were a lucky boy you’d get in a team, you know. But I’m trying to think. Obviously, someone must have had a moan. It doesn’t matter what it is and who it is. Someone is going to have a moan, aren’t they? But I can’t think and I have to say by that and large I think most of the officers and people like that were quite good. They didn’t go out of their way to be bloody nasty to you or anything like that. Certainly not in the bomb dump. They’d got no time for that. So, you know. No. No. No. I’m saying that if I had to join the forces again maybe I’d have a different view now but they would be who I would join. Well, if you look in that what’s the name you’ll see a 617 Squadron plane there. That’s how, just on the top there. But no, I think, I can’t think [pause] I wouldn’t want to do it now of course. A bit older now [laughs]
AC: Did you ever think where the bombs were going?
FB: Oh yeah. We had an idea where they was going. We weren’t told but we had an idea by the load so we knew roughly where they was going and I have to say we never thought poor sods or anything like that. They didn’t think that about us and obviously we didn’t them. To us they were the enemy, that’s it. Unfortunately, I suppose the civilians weren’t. But I don’t believe our blokes were so any old how. I don’t think they were like that. I think they would, did what they had to do. I don’t think they just went and dropped bombs any how. I don’t think that. Apart from the photos they brought back. But no, I suppose, I mean when you look at some of these young kids today. Christ. I suppose they could be smart enough. No. I think [laughs] I don’t know why. When I, when I got posted, first one, you know for joining I don’t know why I didn’t think, oh Christ, fancy getting Bomber Command. Letting me in. But there’s no doubt about it Bomber Command did do a lot of work in spite of all the others. I’m not saying they didn’t but Bomber Command was bloody hard work and certainly for the crews. I mean, some were very unfortunate, weren’t they? But I think they were nice sort of blokes. So —
AC: You, you mentioned that you went abroad.
FB: Yeah.
AC: Was that with Bomber Command?
FB: Yeah. I went to Palestine I think it was. Probably a photo there. Palestine and Egypt. But I think by that time it would be about nineteen, I’d been in the forces about two years then and there were rather funny things with that at times. Very funny.
AC: What sort of funny things?
FB: Well, on one camp I was at we used to have a place about two, two miles from the camp and you’d go out and I went out there and by that time I had four blokes and I would be in charge of them. And somebody rang up one day and they said, ‘How many men have you got there?’ And I went, ‘You what?’ ‘How many men you got?’ I said ‘Well, you just tell me the code.’ ‘I’m an officer.’ ‘I’m sorry what you are but — ’ ‘Well, you tell me.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t.’ And he slammed the phone down. So, when we got back I told the blokes. They said, ‘Oh Christ,’ they said, ‘That’s one of the Stern Gang people.’ Them sort of people, ‘You were lucky.’ I said, ‘I know I was.’ Nobody would do it [unclear] And I think it was two months after that they done away with that. But so, considering we were bloody lucky really. So, I didn’t get too many of them, you know. We were —
AC: So, what was this place that was two miles away?
FB: Who I was with?
AC: No. You told me about a place that was two miles away from where you were.
FB: Oh, just a caravan. What it was for I don’t know but they used it for some reason or other. It was out there. Wasn’t out there much longer. I’m glad it wasn’t, you know. But obviously there must have been some nasty things going on at some places. We were lucky I suppose but there you go.
AC: And were you doing the same job in Egypt and Palestine?
FB: Mainly. But all to do with the armoury of course. Unless you wanted to do something else, I suppose. No point then. You were already in that sort of thing, weren’t you? But no. I was, I suppose from the time I finished my training basically that’s what I did. Armoury. I wasn’t asked [laughs] whether I wanted to of course. But, but as I say I don’t think it was all a bit of cake but I don’t think there’s a lot of people realise what they’ve got to thank these people. Particularly some of the air crew. There you go.
AC: So, after the war did anybody speak to you about what Bomber Command had done?
FB: I can’t think off hand, you know and I could have gone on. Strangely, I’d only been home about three weeks and I think I got a letter saying, perhaps you are fed up now being in civvy street and we, if you want to come back in to the Air Force you would get immediate upgrade, you know. Higher rank, you know. But I was home then. I’d got a couple of kids so I wasn’t interested in. I suppose I’m a little bit, you know. You never hear me making any complaint about what they were or even the ones that weren’t too good. If you was in the war you was in the war. And that’s it. Better than my brothers. They was in the Army. Well, I don’t know.
AC: Did, did you ever miss the RAF?
FB: I suppose I can’t really say yes because I was still only young. Back home, back in my job, I’d got two kids, earning good money and fairly, you know, no one saying what I got to do and if I wanted to go anywhere I’d go anywhere. But I still think that I know you get blokes saying you must have been bloody mad. But I really think that if you had to go, I didn’t have to I know but I think really by and large I think they were good lot of blokes really. There must have been some of the blokes that weren’t but by and large I think they were quite good and I can’t ever remember being in any real trouble, you know. I might have had my hat put on the wrong way but other than that I think they was quite good, you know and certainly the rest of the blokes and definitely the aircrew were. None of this, the aircrews that were in the station none of them [unclear] No. No. They’re all good blokes but perhaps we were just biased at the ones we chose.
AC: Did you stay in touch with any of your mates?
FB: No. Not now. I wouldn’t be. I did one or two. I saw one or two and then of course I went to visit one or two blokes who I was in civvy street with but that was a long while ago. I couldn’t even tell you their names now. So not, no as I say I married and got a couple of kids who have also got kids. So no, I don’t think and I stayed in the job I left right up until the firm closed down. And other than that, so I was still working when I was fifty eight so, you know.
[recording paused]
FB: To get to any reasonable rank you had four lots to get through there. AC1, AC2, AC1, LAC before you got to a corporal rank. So I, and I was, remember I was only young then but I did —
GB: You got promoted, didn’t you?
FB: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
GB: Was that a few things —
[recording paused]
FB: Really, what I told you. I don’t think I was deliberate. I’m just not that way. I’m not going to say I would like it. I might not like it but there you go. But for me you know but I’d like to think I did my best while I was in the force. I didn’t do anything really I might have done one, two or three silly little things but I didn’t do nothing that you shouldn’t do. So therefore, as far as I know I never had a bad word anywhere and I, as I say it takes you a while to get these promotions but when you think about it I was a boy in a sense but I don’t know if somebody said to me would you be proud to be in the forces? And I would say yes. The RAF. That’s what, I chose that. They didn’t put me in it. So, you know, and I’d sooner think I did the right thing even though I sometimes speak to people, ‘ Cor, Christ, I wouldn’t have liked to have been in that lot. Didn’t you have any time off?’ I said, ‘Time off? A bloody war on. What are you talking about? Time off.’ We did get a certain amount of time off but no I found most of the blokes and most of the officers and that, even the commanders I didn’t find them [unclear] I think if you behaved yourself they were alright. They don’t expect you to always, but they, they’re not nasty blokes like some of these people say. Bloody ridiculous. But there you go. But I’ve got a nice big one of those down at my daughter’s. That’s where that’s come from. But no —
AC: So, you came from quite a poor family.
FB: Yeah.
AC: Is that right?
FB: We were all poor in those days unless you were in work and had a job.
AC: And do you think you sort of built up your health and strength when you joined the RAF?
FB: Well, basically I must have done because I mean I had to leave school when leaving age was about fourteen, I suppose. Something like that. Because you needed to get out and get a job and I was fourteen and as far as I can remember to be honest now I don’t think I was, I’ve got a few things now but I was still doing things when I was eighty [unclear] And I think, I think the, I don’t know how bad the Army really is, or the Navy but I think the RAF was quite good and they were who we got the training from. They weren’t all mugs or anything like that but they were decent blokes. If you behaved yourself that was all they were asking for. So I’d already got, I don’t know perhaps I was just lucky. It might have been that.
AC: I’ve been told you did PT on Great Yarmouth beach. Is that right? Do you remember that?
FB: I don’t know whether I can. I must have done it. Must have done it. And route marches and things like that on a course like this, you know. Well, I mean I’d been in the Home Guard. I’d done a few. Not like that but it didn’t worry me. And I thought, by and large I still think if you’ve got to compare different countries I don’t think there’s one to [unclear] our country. Perhaps I’m just biased, you know.
AC: And when you were doing the Dambusters stuff.
FB: Yeah.
AC: Is that right you realised that there was something was going on? The bombs were a bit different.
FB: Oh yeah. I mean these were on a, weren’t like the ordinary bombs, you know. These were on a you know, on a [unclear] they looked like that but on a great big long what’s the name and you’d got up there. You’d got a crane but you’d no time for that. And so you’d dump them on as I say. Push the tray and then someone would take it over and take it out to the ‘drome and their blokes would put it on and they’d finish with it then. We weren’t of course because as soon as you got stuck down in would come a load more and you had a lot of work to do but so had lots of other blokes and some poor sods were in the front line so how can you, you know. I’ve never been that way. Just as now. I mean, lots of blokes now say, ‘Sod that,’ you know but I’ve never been like that and I like to think I behaved myself when I was in the forces. But yeah, I must have put some weight on. I think I must have been about, I don’t know eight or nine stone and a little while ago I weighed just on eleven stone. I don’t know. Twelve stone. Obviously, I don’t work now in that way. But no, I think when you talk about, we know it’s all rubbish about the grub‘s wrong but it’s not that bad and the cooks are not bad blokes either. So, I don’t think it was, it wasn’t like going to the Royal but I mean what do you expect? And I suppose we all had our little moans but I still think, I might be wrong but I think choosing the RAF was the wisest one. I think they were not so bad as maybe it’s different in the [pause] you know. I mean in the RAF you’re dealing with not only ground staff but you’re dealing with aircrew so I suppose perhaps don’t get so much, you certainly get some hard work but, you know. So —
AC: You mentioned the food there. I think sometimes you had to make do with sandwiches you weren’t keen on.
FB: Well, we did. Not the, all the camp didn’t. They were all right. 5 o’clock tea or whatever. We did because we had, as I say we got to get the loads out and you know talking about one lot, you’re talking about I don’t know could be ten or fifteen loads you got to get out and you’ve got to get them out and you’ve got to put them on there and you’ve got to send them out and the squadron armourer would take over then but their’s was not bad. They had a good job but I mean they didn’t have to get them out. They had to put them on. But that’s not, and that’s just them. You’ve got all the other bombs remember, even, you know for all kinds so you would be working all day a lot of the time and at times they’d say, ‘Well lads, we’ve got some nice grub for you coming out the line.’ [groan] Yeah. Because you’ll be working out here ‘til 8 o’clock. [laughs] So, but I don’t know. I suppose you must let them moan, isn’t it? I have a moan now sometimes. [unclear] I have to put him in his place. I don’t know. I don’t know how he’d have got on. I really don’t. Blimey, he’d been in the guardhouse and not come out for a long while I reckon. No. I think if you’re honest about it if you’re in the forces you’re in the forces and that’s that. There’s no good being [unclear] about it. You’ve got to [unclear] haven’t you up to a point so that’s it. I’ve never been in any trouble.
AC: Going, going back to your time in Palestine and Egypt I think there was some stuff going missing from your camp was there? Do you remember that?
FB: I can’t honestly say I do because we’re talking about ninety years ago nearly.
AC: In the latrines, was it?
FB: I thought basically where ever we were was not bad but I suppose I would say now, ‘Cor sod that. All that hard work,’ but like I say I was only twenty so, eighteen when I went in to the forces which I didn’t have to do but I did and so I don’t think, I still say that alright I’m biased I suppose but I still say the RAF is the best air force in the world. Whatever they say. Probably the other countries say the same but, you know.
AC: Is there anything I ‘ve not asked you about that you think might be of interest. Anything you can think of?
FB: Well, I can vaguely remember some. Vaguely, when there might have been some outside attack on the camp or something you know from outside. But I can’t even remember where they were or who they were. But they were nothing to them. Well, they were. They got in the way I suppose. But like as I said before there would probably be some things I wouldn’t know because like I said before if you was in the armoury that meant you had to work. There’s no doubt about that. Not like working in the office or some cushy little job. It wasn’t like that. You could be bleeding working hours all day. Grub brought out to you for your dinner. You know. Your dinner was, I don’t know 12 o’clock but about 8 o’clock at night. Get home by about often, where you was working at. You know. But no. I suppose in a way if I was one of these sort of persons that didn’t like [unclear] I’d probably say bloody [unclear] but I can’t say that. I’m not saying I would volunteer again. I’m a bit older now but you know. But no. I mean some of the times I went on was really good. Really good. But some weren’t so good of course. But there must have lots of things that went on that I can’t recall. I think I can vaguely, must have been something wrong with some, one or two aircraft got blown up somehow or other but I mean ninety years is a long while to think. I couldn’t even tell you the names of the camps I’ve been in. I couldn’t even tell you that and I liked that. We were there for a few years so I don’t know why. I don’t know and I don’t think [pause] I can’t say about today but I certainly don’t think it’s as bad as a lot of people would try and make out. If you’ve got to behave yourself you’ve got to behave yourself. So, I can’t say anything about simply because you know you think you’d go out when you liked and you can’t do that but I don’t think that’s myself. I’m not sure as I would do it again of course. I know better. But if we all thought that we’d all be marching along with the bloody Germans or something. You can’t do that. So, I don’t know.
AC: Well, that’s —
FB: Oh well. I’ll think. I could make it [unclear] When Gary’s, ‘What’s he on about. What’s he [unclear] I don’t know who they are?’ And I don’t know who you are of course, but I suppose I don’t know. I said, I don’t know [unclear] Bloody honour, I think. I don’t know but there you go, you know.
AC: Well, that’s, that’s been very interesting Frank and it will be very useful for our purposes so thank you.
FB: Well, as long as I’m only discussing things probably at one time I wouldn’t have bothered to answer it but I’ll try to be honest. I haven’t tried to pretend [unclear] several people or nothing like that. I haven’t done that. But what you really want it for I don’t know. But there you go, you know.


Andrew Cowley, “Interview with Frank Gerald Bassett,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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