Interview with Gerald Walter Bell


Interview with Gerald Walter Bell


Gerald Bell worked on a poultry farm before being called up in the RAF, where he served as ground personnel. He remembers his training at RAF Finningley and RAF Balderton. Tells of his posting to North Africa in 1942, where he initially was working on a mobile radar station. After falling sick and spending a month in hospital, he went back to Algeria, where he was in charge of the sergeant’s mess and had to look after a group of Italian prisoners.




Temporal Coverage





01:09:10 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 21st of December 2016 and I am with Gerald Bell in Weston near Towcester in Northamptonshire and Gerald worked on the ground throughout the war and we are going to talk about his life and times. So, what’s the first thing you remember about life, Gerald?
GB: Going to school I suppose.
CB: Ok.
GB: At five. Yes.
CB: And where is that?
GB: Hickling. School.
CB: Which was near where? Hickling?
GB: [unclear]
CB: In Norfolk.
GB: Yes.
CB: Yes, in Norfolk. Ok. And what did your father do?
GB: He was getting people.
CB: And how many children?
GB: [unclear]
CB: Did he really? Balance, mixed balance between boys and girls or?
GB: Six girls and four boys.
CB: And where you in the pecking order?
GB: Number seven.
CB: Right [laughs]. And mother had a fulltime job?
GB: Yeah.
CB: Looking after you.
GB: Yeah.
CB: So, you went to Hickling school. The primary school. Where did you go for the secondary education?
GB: Never had a secondary education.
CB: Didn’t you?
GB: Left school at fourteen.
CB: Right, ok, and then what did you do?
GB: Me first job was, worked on a poultry farm. That was until I was sixteen.
CB: Yeah.
GB: Then me wages went up and they sacked me [laughs], oh yes, yes, that was quite normal those days. Rather than pay you cause [unclear] I suppose.
CB: Yeah, so then what did you do?
GB: Then I went on the farm. I was the yardman, I did the milking, feed the cattle and the pigs, did the milking.
CB: And how long did you do that for?
GB: Just trying to think.
CB: Well, the war came in 1939, by which time you were eighteen.
GB: I was working, oh, I left the farm
CB: Yeah
GB: Because the governor died
CB: Oh!
GB: And everything was sold off of course and I got a job on a food farm and I was there until I was called up, that was in 1940.
CB: What kind of fruit was it growing?
GB: Well, all sorts. Yeah.
CB: So, when you were called up, where did you go for your attestation?
GB: At Cardington.
CB: After that?
GB: I went back to work of course, I was called up to Stockton
CB: Yeah.
GB: And there I did me basic training, I can’t remember the name of the
CB: This is on the east coast near Whitby.
GB: No, further up
CB: Further up than that. Ok.
GB: Yes, that
CB: Scarborough.
GB: No, no, further up. It’s that place that had the iron things shut, [unclear]
CB: Shutten, no, that’s north west.
GB: Further up.
CB: Yes, up near Middlesbrough. OK, well, we’ll come back to that, yeah.
GB: It’s a seaside
CB: Seaside place.
GB: Yeah.
CB: Yes.
GB: Quite well known.
CB: Ok.
GB: It I [unclear] think of it.
CB: Need a map. [laughs] right. How long were you there doing that training?
GB: About six weeks, I think. Then I went to Finningley
CB: Did you?
GB: Yes.
CB: Right. So, you are now, what rank are you?
GB: Ordinary AC plonk.
CB: Yeah, AC plonk. Right. And what did you do at Finningley?
GB: Any general duties.
CB: So, you were a general duties ground staff
GB: Yes, yes.
CB: So, what would that entail?
GB: Any job that wanted doing, cleaning up, anything.
CB: All outside or was some of it office work or what was it?
GB: No, no, it was all outside.
CB: Ok.
GB: Yeah.
CB: So, what sort of places would needed to be cleaned up?
GB: Anywhere, the [unclear] or anything like that, you know, anything, general duties,
CB: Ok. So, if there was a fuel spill outside, would you have to go and clean up the fuel spill [unclear] aircraft?
GB: No.
CB: No, you wouldn’t. Was there any gardening to do?
GB: No. [unclear] garden in those days.
CB: No. So, what other things could you remember that you did there?
GB: No, nothing special, really.
CB: And how long were you at Finningley?
GB: I transferred to Balderton, yes, and I suppose I was there about twelve months.
CB: Ok.
GB: And I got posting, overseas posting.
CB: Right.
GB: Yes.
CB: So, before we do that, what did you do at Balderton?
GB: Same thing, general duties. Yes. Nothing special.
CB: Who was, who were you reporting to in that case?
GB: [unclear] in charge, that’s all.
CB: Which section would that be?
GB: I was [unclear] to general duties
CB: The general duties section
GB: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So, did you enjoy being at Balderton or was it boring?
GB: Nothing was boring, no, because I lived in the village, I been far away so everything was new
CB: Yes.
GB: Yes.
CB: So, the bright lights you came to
GB: Yes.
CB: So, what did you do in your time off?
GB: Chasing the women
CB: Did you really?
GB: And drinking of course [laughs], yes.
CB: Was that confined to the station or were you
GB: No, [unclear]
CB: Yeah? How did you travel around from the station to
GB: They had lorries.
CB: Yeah. What was the nearest big town?
GB: Doncaster, yes.
CB: So, that had lots of service people in it?
GB: Oh, quite a few, yes.
CB: Yes.
GB: Lots of people from Finningley went to Doncaster.
CB: Yeah. What sort of time did you have there?
GB: Oh, enjoyed myself of course.
CB: What was the main activity when you went out, apart from drinking and, dancing did you do?
GB: Not a lot of dancing,
CB: No?
GB: I don’t think.
CB: Cinema?
GB: Yes.
CB: So, the lorry would take you and then collect you, bring you back at a certain time.
GB: Yes, yes.
CB: If you missed the lorry, then what?
GB: You had to get back on your own.
CB: How did you do that?
GB: Yeah, walk back [laughs].
CB: How long did that take?
GB: [unclear] Couple of hours, something like that, yes. You had to creep in the camp without anyone knowing [laughs].
CB: What was security like on an airfield?
GB: Pretty good, you used to have to lift up the barbwire and get underneath.
CB: Did you?
GB: Oh yeah [laughs], To get in.
CB: How many times did you get caught?
GB: I didn’t get caught [laughs].
CB: But some people did.
GB: Oh yes, yes.
CB: And then what happened?
GB: I don’t know, I supposed they went before the [unclear] and that was that. Well, you didn’t get away with anything if they caught you.
CB: Who was the person on the station you feared most?
GB: Oh, I suppose, the SWO.
CB: Yes, Station warrant officer.
GB: Yeah.
CB: He had a lot of power, did he?
GB: Yeah [laughs]. Keep out of his way.
CB: Why were people worried about him?
GB: I don’t know, I suppose everybody looked up at him, didn’t they? Yeah.
CB: Even the junior officers were worried
GB: Yes, yes.
CB: So, on the station, what sort of entertainment was there there?
GB: Oh, there was quite a few of the, what was it, not naafi, I forget the name of the people that used to do the
CB: The WVS, was it?
GB: No, it wasn’t, no, it was the [unclear], I suppose they were actors, not professionals.
CB: Oh, ENSA, yes.
GB: Yes. That’s right.
CB: ENSA, yes.
GB: ENSA, yes.
CB: They came and did performances.
GB: Yes.
CB: Where would they do that on the station?
GB: I was just trying to think, it must be one of the hangars.
CB: Ah, right.
GB: Yes. Yes, yes, we didn’t have anywhere else to go, in the winter we used to do roller-skating in the hangars.
CB: Right. How popular was that?
GB: Oh, that was very popular.
CB: So, how did people keep fit during their service in the RAF in the war?
GB: Cause they got us fit when we did the training sort of thing and we never bothered after that really.
CB: And when you were off duty, then you ate in the airmen’s mess, did you?
GB: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. And what was the food like?
GB: Not bad, I suppose, yes, yeah. Yes, never heard any complaints.
CB: And to what extent did you link up with the aircrew?
GB: Not much, not really,
CB: What was
GB: Only if we were on guard duty and they come up [laughs]
CB: How often did you have to do guard duty?
GB: I don’t know. One fortnight, something like that.
CB: So, the guard be on a shift system, what were the shifts for that? Certain number of hours on and then and a certain number of hours off.
GB: Yes. Yeah, I think it be about two on and four off, something like that, yeah.
CB: Yeah. So, did you manage to arrest any aircrew who were trying to get in late?
GB: We wouldn’t arrest anyone [laughs], we knew the most of them anyway.
CB: Yeah. But to be effective you had firearms, didn’t you?
GB: Yes, yeah.
CB: And did you have live ammunition?
GB: No.
CB: So, did that have any restriction on the deterrent?
GB: I suppose they knew as well as we knew.
CB: Yeah, yeah. And so Finningley and Balderton, were both Bomber Command organisations, what was going on at those airfields?
GB: What was it, they were just previous to the [unclear] on the bomb.
CB: Yeah.
GB: So,
CB: So they had the operational training unit
GB: Yes, right.
CB: At Balderton, yeah.
GB: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
GB: And Finningley.
CB: And Finningley, right, ok. So, what were the planes that they were flying to do that? Do you remember?
GB: I think they were mostly Wellingtons.
CB: Right, yeah. And what were their flying hours day and night,
GB: Yes,
CB: Did they, both day and night? Was it?
GB: Yes.
CB. And what about accidents from the training?
GB: Yes, a few.
CB: Were they? What sort of things went wrong?
GB: I don’t know, they never really let on what has happened to them.
CB: Right. Did any happen on the airfields?
GB: No, no, no,
CB: So when you got, you finished at Balderton, what time of year was that?
GB: I can’t remember all.
CB: So, that’s 1941 anyway.
GB: Yeah.
CB: So, you then posted overseas. Where did you go?
GB: We had to go to, oh, blimey.
CB: Did they have an assembly point in Britain before you embarked? Because you had to
GB: I’m just trying to think where we went to, to meet up sort of thing
CB: Yeah.
GB: The whole lot of us, was always [unclear] about fifty of us, on, blimey, I can’t think of the name of the place.
CB: Where is it near?
GB: On the south coast.
CB: Ah, right.
GB: Where they used to control the aircraft.
CB: On the radar stations?
GB: Yeah.
CB: Right.
GB: The main one. But I can’t remember.
CB: But it was on the coast.
GB: Nearly on the coast, yes.
CB: Yeah. And then everybody assembled, who were all these people, were they mixtures of ground and air crew or what were they?
GB: They weren’t aircrew at all, these were all
CB: All ground crew.
GB: All ground.
CB: All ground personnel.
GB: Yeah.
CB: So, when you were assembled, then where did you go?
GB: You had to go down to Sidforth for training with the army, the Dorset, was it Dorset?
CB: Yeah.
GB: We had training there.
CB: What type of training were you having?
GB: Army training sort of thing, yeah, we were getting fit and all that sort of thing, yeah, yes.
CB: Yeah. A lot of marching?
GB: Yeah, yeah, quite a good bit of marching.
CB: And then live firing of ammunition?
GB: No, no, we never had any firing at all.
CB: What were they training you up for to do?
GB: They were training us for the, we went to [unclear], it was the 893 AMES Air Ministry Experimental Station, that’s right.
CB: Oh, what did that do then?
GB: That was a mobile radar.
CB: Whereabout?
GB: We did that down in Dorset, there was one there.
CB: Ah, there was one there, was it?
GB: Yeah.
CB: So, were you effectively part of a defence, like airfield defence, is that, was that the job?
GB: No, we had separate people on our course that were for defence
CB: RAF regiment, yes. Right.
GB: RAF regiment sort of thing, yes. Anyway, we went from there to up to Scotland to get on the boat for North Africa.
CB: Right. Where was that? Glasgow?
GB: I think it was Glasgow.
CB: And where did you sail to?
GB: Algiers. On the way there the ship being [unclear] broke down, so we had to leave the convoy and they sailed on, they got it started again, woke up one morning and we were on our own. But we could see the destroyer over the far distance [unclear] far behind that, looked after us, that sort of thing. But we caught up eventually.
CB: Did you?
GB: Yeah.
CB: What went wrong with the ship then?
GB: I don’t know, they didn’t say much, you don’t know, you hear all sorts of things. They said the gaffer or the ship captain got recommendation for getting it going again.
CB: Was this an old holiday liner or was it a special troop ship?
GB: No, [unclear], it was a special troop ship.
CB: Right. How many people on the ship?
GB: Don’t know, I wouldn’t know, there’s no end of them.
CB: Did you get a bunk or a hammock?
GB: Hammock, yeah.
CB: What time of year was this? In the winter or the summer or?
GB: I couldn’t tell you. I can’t even remember the date of the invasion there.
CB: No. North Africa.
GB: Yeah.
CB: 1942.
GB: Yeah.
CB: Ok, so you got to Algeria,
GB: Yes.
CB: Then what?
GB: We had to, wait our turn to get into the port and all that sort of thing cause there was quite a lot there of course, all the Americans were there as well and we had to put up in the, built up a marquee in the zoological gardens in Algeria until we got our kit cause we had to wait about a week or two before we got it.
CB: Then?
GB: Eventually we got our kit, got on the road and we went as far as, into Tunisia I think, I’m just trying to think of the name of the place, Setif, but I don’t think it’s that name now, they’ve changed them, cause they were all French names, weren’t they? Now they’ve changed them all
CB: Right. This was in the back of a truck.
GB: Yes.
CB: How come, where was that?
GB: I got used to that sort of thing. They asked for volunteers to drive them
CB: But you could drive.
GB: I never, I could drive but I never volunteered, cause it was too dodgy,
CB: In what way?
GB: [unclear] you know,part road and all sorts of things. Anyway, we got as far as Setif and whether the Germans had made a push, we had to come back quick, I suppose because they were afraid that we’d get captured and they get all our stuff, cause I don’t think there was any other [unclear] like us about those days.
CB: You were all RAF people, weren’t you?
GB: Yes.
CB: How many, roughly?
GB: Roughly I suppose fifty or sixty.
CB: Yeah, the same fifty, yeah.
GB: Yeah, yeah. Cause we had to offer a day and night sort of thing. Anyway, we went back to Algiers and put up the stuff there, yes, we [unclear] from there.
CB: What were you doing in that time?
GB: You know the aerial, I suppose that
CB: For the radar.
GB: Yeah. Those days to move the aerial you had to turn the handle, that was my job, turn the handle at the aerial.
CB: Was this a constant movement as a sweep?
GB: Oh yes, yes, backwards and forwards, they had a barrel in there where all the kit was and they’d ring it, you carry on, when they ring it again, you turn it back sort of thing and you had to keep doing that until they got the two, I suppose the two planes together sort of thing, yeah. It was quite, you know.
CB: You got quite strong in your muscles, did you, arm muscles. What sort of, how did that work on the shifts for that?
GB: We had three shifts, three eight-hour shifts. And you, you know, you did all the [unclear] shift sort of thing.
CB: So, when you weren’t winding the thing round, what were you doing?
GB: It was a full-time job really.
CB: Oh, it was.
GB: Yeah.
CB: Day and night if there were three shifts.
GB: Yeah.
CB: So, what happened next? Was this a portable radar?
GB: I suppose really that was the first mobile radar there was.
CB: Yeah.
GB: Yes.
CB: So
GB: I think the Yanks used to come and visit. You know, [unclear] men come and visit to see what it was all about. But I got [unclear] well, I’d say mood, I got a bad chill and we didn’t have a doctor, we only had a first aid man
CB: Medical orderly
GB: Medical, yeah, and the thought I got pleurisy, cause they [unclear] me into hospital and of course none of the hospital would take because none of them had got the separate
CB: They needed an isolation room to take you
GB: Yes, I think I went nearly [unclear] for a year. Come back to all years now they, I managed to find one
CB: And what had you got? What were you suffering from?
GB: I don’t know, I was there for about a month
CB: Clearly more than a cold.
GB: I don’t think that it was anything more than a cold.
CB: Where did you go next? Back towards Tunisia?
GB: No, no, while I was away, while I was in hospital, they moved, I think they went to Sicily and I don’t know whether it was right or not but I was told that the ship that they were on got bombed, what happened I don’t know after that. But I went back to the, oh, [unclear] forward maintenancy unit.
CB: Ok. What happened there?
GB: Well, we followed the army, you know, into Tunisia.
CB: Yeah.
GB: Until they packed up and I went back to Algiers and finished the tour there.
CB: Doing what?
GB: General duties again.
CB: In, same place in Algeria, was it?
GB: Yes, with the
CB: But you had no radar by then because it had been moved, had it?
GB: Oh yes, they took, the whole lot went.
CB: How busy were you kept during general duties when they took you back to, when they kept you in Algeria? Were you busy or not?
GB: I think I spent most of my time on the sergeant’s mess, being in charge of the sergeant’s mess.
CB: And you had
GB: And we had Italian prisoners there doing [unclear] so we didn’t have to work.
CB: Ah right. So, what rank were you by now?
CB: LAC in the sergeant’s mess. So, what were your job then with the Italian prisoners?
GB: To see that they did the work, that was all.
CB: Who spoke Italian?
GB: No one [laughs]
CB: Nobody. So how did you communicate?
GB: I don’t know, we made them understand sort of thing, yeah, [unclear] supposed of you [unclear], no, no, no
CB: And were they willing workers or?
GB: There were some who were a bit dodgy but most of them, you had to watch them though
CB: Why?
GB: They’d nick anything, yeah, I remember one chap I caught, he got the tablecloth wrapped round him, so I discharged [unclear] [laughs]
CB: So, apart from nicking tablecloths, what else did they pinch?
GB: [unclear] as well because you couldn’t, you never had a clue really
CB: Yeah. So, when are we here now, what’s the date we are talking about now, when you are looking after the Italians?
GB: It must have been, I must have been there three years then. I was there three and a half years altogether
CB: Were you?
GB: Yeah. So that’d be towards the end of when I was there. When I got me demobbed from there.
CB: Oh, did you? So, the war was finished, the war finished, did
GB: No, I didn’t. I didn’t get me demobbed from there, we came home, now I went to Leicester East,
CB: Yeah.
GB: They were getting prepared for the victory parade and they had all the cars and lorries and that to do all ready for the victory parade.
CB: So, this is May 1945.
GB: Yes.
CB: So, what did they get you to do?
GB: I was working in the SWO’s office
CB: Were you? And what would you do in there with him?
GB: Paperwork, I suppose, mostly, yeah.
CB: So, how long were you at Leicester East?
GB: Until I was demobbed there.
CB: Yeah. You were demobbed from there?
GB: Yeah.
CB: And when was that?
GB: I haven’t a clue, really. Anyway, I got my demob and I went home, I got another three months leave, you know, two or three months, I don’t know how long it was and there was nothing there for me to do. I could have me job back but I didn’t want it, so I re-joined again and when I re-joined, I got a job, I got a job that they asked me if I wanted, it was behind the bar at the officer’s mess, at the record’s office, Gloucester.
CB: Are ye?
GB: We were stationed at
CB: Innsworth
GB: That’s right, yeah. I was in there for, cause I signed up for four years
CB: Ah, right.
GB: But, the end of the four years, they delayed releases for twelve months, I counted the, what war was on?
CB: The Korean war.
GB: Was it Korea? Yes, that’s right, yeah, they delayed the release so I had to do five years
CB: What rank were you at this stage?
GB: Corporal.
CB: Did you come back in as a corporal?
GB: Yeah.
CB: You left as a corporal, did you, at demob?
GB: No, no, I didn’t,
CB: Ah.
GB: No, I come back as a corporal, yeah.
CB: Right.
GB: And that’s where I met my better half. She was in the officer’s mess service.
CB: At Innsworth?
GB: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So you were both behind the bar or what was she doing?
GB: No, she was in the officer’s.
CB: In the administration, was she?
GB: That’s right, yeah.
CB: So, when are we talking about now, 1951?
GB: A bit before that.
CB: ‘50.
GB: Yes, a bit before then, yes. Because I got married, she left the forces and I got married in 1948.
CB: Oh. When you were still in.
GB: I was still in, yes.
CB: Yeah. Ok, so then what?
GB: I was there for five years.
CB: Yeah. But, what about accommodation? Did they give you a quarter or what did they do, they didn’t have any quarters.
GB: They didn’t have any quarters.
CB: No.
GB: The wife stopped at her home.
CB: At. Which was where?
GB: At Eaton, in Wragby, it’s not far from here
CB: Wragby
GB: In Eaton
CB: Yeah. Right.
GB: It’s about five miles from here. Yeah.
GB: Yeah.
CB: Ok. So, you just go and see her at weekends.
GB: Yes, every other weekend I was off, come and see her.
CB: Right, so, how did you manage to travel around? What was the transport arrangement in those days?
GB: Trains, yeah.
CB: Did you get a travel warrant or did you?
GB: Yes, yes.
CB: Cause you were underage, were you? Under twenty-five. No, you weren’t, no. So, you payed for your own travel.
GB: Yeah.
CB: Ok, so you came, you did your full five years because of the extension of one year,
GB: Yeah.
CB: What did you do after that? You didn’t sign on again,
GB: No.
CB: So you went to civilian life.
GB: Well, we got the club, worked in a club at, blimey.
CB: What sort of club?
GB: Working men’s club.
CB: Working men’s, right. Cause your experience behind the bar
GB: Yeah
CB: They found that useful, did they?
GB: Yes.
CB: Right. Whereabouts in the country was that?
GB: I’m just trying and think now, blimey, Jonathan, where was
CB: Was it round here?
GB: No, no, no. You worked with the Oxford, what’s the name? [unclear]
US: [unclear] Green.
GB: No, I don’t think.
CB: Not the place, I tell you.
US: Place or [unclear] company.
CB: I tell you what, let’s do it a different way, you demobbed originally from Leicester East, when you did your four years and added one to make five years, you were demobbed, where were you demobbed from? Cause you were at Innsworth, so, where were you demobbed?
GB: I can’t remember, to be honest.
CB: So I’m thinking that perhaps the demobbed point guided you to certain jobs.
GB: No, no, no.
CB: How did you find this job?
GB: Well, I looked in the, I used to take the daily paper for the pubs.
CB: Oh, right.
GB: So, I found the job. Oh, yeah.
CB: Yeah. So, how long did you work there?
GB: I was there about three years before I got a better job.
CB: Yeah, which was what?
GB: There was another club at Maidstone in Kent.
CB: Maidstone, right.
GB: Yes.
CB: What was that club?
GB: It was originally a liberal club but I think that [unclear] anyone could join
CB: Right. And how long did you work there?
GB: I suppose I was there about four years.
CB: Then what?
GB: Then the wife was expecting so we had to get out and I got a job at Morton in Surrey. Bar manager.
CB: What sort of accommodation did you have? Did they provide accommodation with these jobs or did you have to rent outside?
GB: Well, I first, the pub, the club at Maidstone had a, above the club was house
CB: A flat.
GB: Yeah. But, when I went to Morton, they offered me accommodation, you know, temporary sort of thing until I found somewhere myself, which I did.
CB: Did you buy a house, or did you rent one or what did you do?
GB: No, I bought it,
CB: Right.
GB: [unclear], you know.
CB: Was that your first house?
GB: Yeah.
CB: Yes. So, what sort of job was it, as the manager?
GB: It’s a busy job, cause it’s a big pub. Had a ballroom, you know, they used to do midday lunches and all that sort of thing, parties at night.
CB: How long did you keep going on that job?
GB: Oh, until the boss retired, they had a new pub built down in, blimey, here we go again. On the Thames, what sort of [unclear] I can’t think of the name.
CB: Lots of places on the Thames.
GB: Yeah.
CB: So, how many years do you think you were at Morton roughly? How many years were you there or when did you move [unclear]?
GB: Oh, not long, I wasn’t there very long.
CB: Oh, weren’t you?
GB: Yeah, no.
CB: So, you sold the house and moved somewhere else.
GB: I fell out with the boss, the wife got yellow jaundice and she had to go to hospital and the boss said, I got four children then, you’d have to put the kids in a home, and I said, sod that, I’m not going to put my kids in a home, so I packed the job in and we came over to her, place in Eaton, temporarily and I got a job at Plessey’s in Towcester.
CB: Ah, right. You sold the house at Morton and bought one up here, did you?
GB: Oh yes, yes,
CB: In Eaton.
GB: I sold that and I went to, I can’t think of the name of the [unclear] place, no good at [unclear]
CB: Yeah, ok. And Eadon spelled EYDON. Right? And then you joined Plessey. So, what did you do at Plessey?
GB: Making computers or parts of them
CB: Yeah?
GB: Yeah.
CB: What was your role?
GB: Pardon?
CB: What was your job?
GB: On the machines, machines [unclear], we were operating the machines
CB: So, what were the machines doing, making printed circuits or assembling them?
GB: No, making the
CB: Switch gear?
GB: Making the small, they were like small, very small [unclear] of different, I don’t know what sort, different minerals, they were ground and punched together sort of thing and we had to test them.
CB: Right.
GB: See if they were [unclear] or the machines tested them, we had to run the machines, all massive amount [unclear] into millions
CB: Ah really?
GB: Yeah. Some of them you had to have the telescope to see what was going on, on in the machines sort of thing.
CB: Yeah. So what
GB: I was there about, I was there until Plessey packed up and I had to, I got a job on making rolling tubes, steel tubes
CB: Oh yeah? In Northampton or
GB: No, in Towcester
CB: In Towcester.
GB: Yes. And I stopped there until I retired.
CB: What age did you retire?
GB: Sixty-five.
CB: Right. And when did you move to Weston?
GB: It was before I got my job at Plessey’s.
CB: Oh, was it?
GB: Yeah. It’ll be fifty years ago next month.
CB: That you moved here. This house here, next door?
GB: Yeah.
CB: Then in retirement what did you do?
GB: In the garden [laughs].
CB: Cause you’ve got quite a bit of land. Did you do it all by hand or did you have a rotavator or?
GB: I’ve got a rotavator
CB: Right. And what was your specialty in growing?
GB: [unclear] [laughs] no, all sorts.
CB: Did you have a favourite?
GB: Not really.
CB: Plant or fruit?
GB: No, no.
CB: And after a bit, that got a bit too much, so you got somebody else to do it, did you?
GB: No, no, I’m still doing it.
CB: Oh, you’re still doing it?
GB: Yeah.
CB: Fantastic and you’re ninety-five.
GB: I had to get someone this last summer to do it because I couldn’t do anything. I was so bad that they took me round to see different houses, they wanted to rehome me.
CB: Oh, did they?
GB: Yeah, [unclear] always that sort of thing that I pulled through.
CB: Your hands are not up to it any longer.
GB: No.
CB: No.
CB: Right. Sounds like you’ve done it brilliantly well
GB: [unclear] do it, yeah.
CB: Yeah, amazingly active. That’s what kept you going. So, the final question, what, to what do you attribute your long life at ninety-five?
GB: Just luck, that’s all. Cause my wife was a better woman than I was. And she went quicker. Yes.
CB: Yeah. After the children grew up, did she work herself?
GB: Yes, she did a bit of work, yes, she was at, here we go again, blimey
CB: What sort of job did she do?
GB: Office work.
CB: But she wasn’t also at Plessey with you?
GB: No.
CB: She was somewhere else.
GB: Yes, yes.
CB: Ok. And she died in 2000, sixteen years ago.
GB: Yeah.
CB: Well, Gerald, thank you very much indeed. That was most interesting and the different things. What would you say, actually there is another question, what would you say was the most memorable thing in your role in the RAF? Something that stands out.
GB: I suppose, really was the invasion of Algiers, really. See the working to get us cracking sort of thing.
CB: Good, thank you. [file missing] So, what we didn’t do, what we didn’t do, Gerald, was to find out your return journey from Africa, where you set off from and where you landed and what happened to you.
GB: I haven’t a clue, really.
US: You told me, I remember talking to [unclear]
GB: Coming home, oh yes.
CB: Yes, coming home, which route did you take and what happened?
GB: We travelled by boat from Algiers to Naples, then we’ve come from Naples all up Italy through Switzerland to France, France to [unclear] coast and we landed at, blimey, here we go again,
CB: Newhaven.
GB: Newhaven, yes.
CB: And what was that experience like?
GB: A bit rough [laughs]
CB: Was it? In what way, did it stop at the start or did it?
GB: No, yes, roughly didn’t stop at all sort of thing [laughs]
CB: How did they look after you, was a troop train with, it wasn’t just RAF, was it?
GB: Different stages
CB: Right
GB: They had stops at different stages but
CB: Was it the same train all the time or did you switch?
GB: As far as I know because they changed engines, I don’t know.
CB: So how many days did that take?
GB: It was a fortnight.
CB: So, where did you sleep?
GB: On the train, of course. We will be going night and day sort of thing.
CB: And what about eating?
GB: We used to stop to eating, there were different places, they got, you know, they’d organised places to stop
CB: So, what did they do, pull the train off the main line, into a siding, so that you could eat, where they had some kind of military kitchen?
GB: I suppose that’s what it was, I can’t remember really, I suppose [unclear] more than we rather than things that were going on really.
US: I wondered on that journey you were going through Europe that had been bombed and was war torn, I just wonder what you saw and whether you were surprised at what you saw because you’d been where you were all the time.
GB: Not really, no.
US. And the train kept going, it wasn’t the trains were bombed or destroyed.
GB: Well, it was a bit dodgy, going over the river Po, I think it was, in Italy, it was a bit shaky there, that was the only thing that I remember, really.
US: Were you looking out on ruins at the cities and things?
GB: Not really, no, no,
US: What about France, did that look intact?
GB: No, no, I can’t remember anything but
CB: A fortnight’s a long time to have on a train, what did you with yourselves all that time? Apart from sitting there. Did you play cards? Did you?
GB: No, I never have played cards
CB: Just talked or slept.
GB: Or, oh yeah.
US: Do you remember what your feeling about England was when you got back? Did it look different or did it feel different at all or?
GB: Oh, it felt lovely coming back, how green it was after been out in North Africa, yeah.
CB: And being a country boy, you particularly appreciated that
GB: Yeah, yeah
CB: So, when you got back, then did you go, you can’t have gone straight to Leicester East, where did you go before you went to Leicester East?
GB: [unclear]
CB: What I’m saying is did they have a reception centre for the whole train?
GB: I’m sorry I really can’t remember.
CB: We’ll stop again there, thank you. [file missing] so, when you got back to Britain, and you had the opportunity to see family, how did you feel having been away for so long?
GB: I don’t know, I suppose I expected, I saw what I expected, nothing different really.
US: Were you, when you got home, were you excited or were you very tired or?
GB: No, I don’t think so, no.
US: And were your family asking you a lot about what you’d seen? No?
GB: No, they weren’t that interested, really, I suppose they’d had all the others come back and they heard it all sort of thing, cause all me three brothers, all were in the forces, they’d all come back alright,
CB: That was good.
GB: Yeah.
CB: And did you compare notes with them?
GB: One didn’t want to know anything about it, that was the one that joined the navy, he [unclear] he was with, he was on the HMS Howe I think it was [unclear] in the Far East, he didn’t think much of that. The other brother that was in the [unclear], he went missing and mom had a letter saying he was missing, he turned up alright and he’d never, I’d never heard him say a word about the army or anything, he never mentioned it, the other, the oldest brother was [unclear] on the army service corps, he was full of it, anywhere he went, you know, he enjoyed it sort of thing, he was [unclear] on of those
US: Was there a celebration that you got home safely?
GB: No, no, I didn’t stop at home that long, really
US: Were you already thinking about what you wanted to do with the rest of your life?
GB: I know I wasn’t go to stop at home, [unclear], no. Trouble is, I’d heard so many things from different chaps, how they’d got on, what sort of jobs they’d had, I thought, I must have some of that [laughs]
CB: And then after the war, how often did you speak about the war to other people?
GB: Not a lot, I don’t have much to say about it anyway.
US: Do you, when you look back at the whole of your life, is that, that chapter, the war years, is that very memorable, is that quite a big part of your experience? No?
GB: I forget that, yeah.
CB: So what was the
GB: I really think it was a waste really
CB: A waste of your [unclear] life?
US: Was it not an important part of your life?
GB: No.
US: [unclear]
CB: What would you say was the worst experience you had, during your military service?
GB: I don’t think I had any, of worst experiences, I was just, [unclear] to muddle through sort of thing.
CB: I was thinking, when you got to, you moved from Algeria along the coast to Tunisia, then found the Germans were actually coming back,
GB: Yeah.
CB: How did you feel about that, did that seem dangerous or did they not get close enough to you to?
GB: I don’t think, they didn’t get, they wouldn’t let [unclear] to us
CB: Because of what you’d got
GB: Because what we’d got
CB: You’ve got this radar, yeah.
GB: Yeah.
US: I’ve got one last question, is did you make friends in the RAF that you kept afterwards? Did you keep up with people?
GB: Not for long really, just for a little while, we got, you know, [unclear] the other sort of thing but it soon fell through, yeah.
CB: A number of people in their initial training found friends for life. You didn’t do that, but did you get a good friend who started with your initial training and then moved on with you during their [unclear] service?
GB: No, no, I met several that had done, I’d done the training with, you know, various times sort of thing
CB: Yeah
GB: Trouble is you never knew when you were moving so you couldn’t make too many friends.
US: Ok. I just wondered whether there was ever a moment for you, perhaps at the start, where you knew you were going off fighting for king and country and that meant something to you and was important to you?
GB: No, I’m afraid not, no. No, as I say, I never was ambitious.
US: Did you agree that the war needed to be fought to stop Hitler?
GB: Oh, well, yes, yes, yes.
US: And you agreed that you needed to be part of that, you needed to join up to be part of that fight?
GB: I was trained up, [unclear] called up, yeah, no, I wouldn’t have volunteered, I don’t think.
US: And were you with a lot of people who felt the same way that you were there because you had to be, not because you believed in it?
GB: Yeah, I think a lot of people, yeah, I think a lot of people missed doing what they liked to do sort of thing didn’t understand of doing what they had to do
US: When it came in your life at the start of what would otherwise have been the beginning of your working life
GB: Yeah
US: It got in the way
GB: Yeah. Well, there wasn’t really, even before the war, there wasn’t much to look forward to in that, you know, in that of the country, so, I suppose, really, I was glad it brought me out of it, yes.
CB: What it did was take you out of Norfolk, put you into another part of the country
GB: Yes.
CB: And you’ve always been happy in this area presumably
GB: Yes, yeah, yes. Yes, I’ve been lucky really, I’ve had four good boys, I had a good wife, can’t ask for much more really
CB: Well, no, I think [unclear], extremely good. Did your wife and you speak about the war at all?
GB: No, not really, no, no, I don’t suppose we ever sat and had a talk about it, no.
US: Do you have any idea what her war was like?
GB: Well, I don’t think she moved around much, no.
US: Did she make good friends with the people she worked with?
GB: Oh yes, yes, she is much more friendly than what I am, [unclear]
US: And did she keep those friends after the war?
GB: Yes, I suppose she did, yeah, much more than what I did, mostly because they were all round here sort of thing and she was round here.
CB: Right.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Gerald Walter Bell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024,

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