Interview with Nancy and John Boddington


Interview with Nancy and John Boddington


Nancy Boddington worked with her husband at the Pipewell Ploughing Company who had the contract to level the ground for the construction of several airfields. John worked with his father in later years and so is able to provide information about the tools and machinery used in the preparation of airfield construction.




Spatial Coverage





00:44:25 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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CB: Useful.
JB: Yeah.
CB: We’re back again in Edith Weston and today is the 8th of December 2017. And what we’re going to do is talk with Nancy and John together about how the airfield was constructed and the sorts of issues related to that. So, the basis of this I suppose Nancy is that you moved to work for Pipewell Ploughing Company.
NB: Yes. Which was the started by Sam Lloyd who lived at Pipewell Hall.
CB: Right.
NB: And he was a Lloyd from Corby. Stewarts and Lloyds.
CB: Stewarts and Lloyds. Yes,
NB: Yeah.
CB: The steelworks.
NB: Which he was apart from then. It was nothing to do with him then.
CB: No.
NB: Yes.
CB: Yeah. And so a key point here first of all is how did Pipewell come to be around this area and preparing the ground?
NB: Well, because Pipewell was really placed in the middle of everything that was constructed, I suppose.
CB: What was their work? What jobs did they do?
NB: Well, they had these Caterpillar tractors. We had those Caterpillar tractors that did all sorts of jobs. Moving great lumps of earth from A to B and so on and so forth.
CB: Yes.
NB: Levelling off.
CB: And they had contracts. What sort of contracts did they have around here?
NB: Well, they had contract to level a certain area of the land to — so that the airport could be formed.
CB: Yeah.
NB: So planes could take off and land and all that sort of thing.
CB: But they had jobs around here already for the River Board, did they? Who?
NB: I don’t know that.
CB: You said the men —
NB: He used to work, Bill used to work for the then Catchment Board.
CB: Right.
NB: Until, well Stewart and Lloyds. I was working as, working for Sam Lloyd at the time.
CB: Yes.
NB: As a secretary. And he got to know me quite well obviously and he knew that my boyfriend of the time was Bill who was working for the then Catchment Board.
CB: Yes.
NB: So, then Lloyd offered Bill, at the Catchment Board a job if he wanted it.
CB: Right.
NB: To leave the Board altogether and come and work for him preparing airfields and things like that.
CB: So, we’re talking about 1939 are we?
NB: I suppose so.
CB: Or ’38.
NB: Well, ’38 I suppose.
CB: ’38.
NB: Yeah.
CB: So, the war hadn’t started.
NB: Or ’39. Do you know I can’t remember, Chris. I’m sorry.
CB: No.
NB: I really —
CB: But the war started in —
NB: I think the war couldn’t have started.
CB: The war started in August ’38.
NB: Yes.
CB: Or ’39 I mean to say.
NB: Yes.
CB: And so, but the work for the airfield started before then.
NB: Yes.
CB: In anticipation.
NB: Yes. Absolutely.
CB: Yes.
NB: It must have done, yes, locally.
CB: Yes.
NB: Particularly in that area.
CB: Yes.
NB: Central, sort of. UK.
CB: Yes. So, the next question I suppose is what did Pipewell Ploughing Company specialise in? Did they actually do ploughing or did they tend to do other things?
NB: No. They just straightened out the land.
CB: Yes.
NB: Sort of thing, heaving great lumps of earth from A to B so that they left a certain area completely flat.
CB: Because here we are on a hill.
NB: Yeah.
CB: Here.
NB: Well, yeah.
CB: At Edith Weston, North Luffenham.
NB: Yeah, well —
CB: Because we’re talking about North Luffenham Airfield.
NB: Yeah. Yes. Because they had to bear landing.
CB: Yes.
NB: And take off areas.
CB: And there needed to be a level area.
NB: Yes. Obviously. Yes.
CB: Yes. So, what sort of equipment would they have used, John for that sort of work?
JB: Well, they’d use drag lines.
CB: Right. Would you just describe what a drag line is?
JB: What’s a drag line? A drag line has got a long boom on it.
CB: Right.
JB: It has a hoist rope.
CB: Right.
JB: And a drag rope.
CB: Right.
JB: With a bucket on it. So it flings the bucket out.
CB: Flings the bucket out.
JB: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JB: On to the ground.
NB: Caterpillar tractors came in to it.
CB: Yeah.
JB: So, it fills the bucket up. You lift it up. Move it over here. Dump it.
CB: So it has a very long boom.
JB: Yeah.
CB: Arm.
JB: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yeah. But the machines in those days weren’t very big.
CB: Oh, weren’t they?
JB: No. No. Ten RBs or seventeen RBs or —
CB: What’s an RB?
JB: Ruston Bucyrus.
CB: Right.
JB: Yeah.
CB: And Ruston Bucyrus was built where?
JB: Lincoln.
CB: Right.
JB: They were built in —
CB: So relatively local.
JB: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
CB: And in preparing the airfield what would they need to do?
JB: Well, to, first thing they’d have to do is grub all the hedges out. Cut the trees down.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Grub all the roots out. And along came the scrapers. The D8 scraper.
CB: Right.
JB: To level the, level the ground off.
CB: So a scraper is a machine with what? How would you describe it? It’s got a big blade underneath it has it?
JB: It’s towed. It’s towed.
CB: Oh towed.
JB: It’s towed.
CB: Yes.
JB: It’s got two, two ropes on it. One for tipping and one for digging. You’d hoist it up.
NB: Towed by Caterpillar tractors isn’t it?
CB: Yeah.
JB: Well, when you’re going along with it you drop in to the ground so far and all the muck goes into it.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Put the apron down and the apron thing lifts up and lifts. It goes down again. Then you hoist it up.
CB: Yes.
JB: And you travel to where you’re going to dump it off. You hoist the apron up. You pull the other lever. It’s like a big gate. It shoves it out.
CB: So, let’s just go back a bit. You’ve got countryside that’s not, not fully level.
JB: Yeah.
CB: It’s got ditches around the fields. You take out the hedges. When you say grubbing what’s that actually mean?
JB: Well, they root them out. They can use a rooter. A thing called a rooter in those days.
CB: Ah.
JB: It’s another thing you pull behind a tractor.
CB: Right.
JB: And it had big prongs that went into the ground.
CB: Yes.
JB: It would root the — pull the root out.
CB: Right.
JB: Or to loosen the ground you’d put a rooter in.
CB: Right.
JB: Farmers use them today.
CB: So, in pulling out the roots what is happening? Is it going in to a big —
JB: They then —
CB: Tub at the back.
JB: No. No. With the roots they use a D8 tractor with a blade on the front and a bulldozer balled into heaps and burn them.
CB: Oh, do they?
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: But I’m thinking as its going along are the roots being moved out sideways or do they — or are they just loose on the top of the soil as it goes along?
JB: Just loose on top of the soil.
CB: Right.
JB: And then the bulldozer puts it in heaps.
CB: And then the bulldozer puts it in heaps.
JB: Burn it all. Burn it all on site.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
CB: So, then when you’re using the other machine it’s picking up soil from one place.
JB: Yes.
CB: And putting it down in another.
JB: Yes.
CB: Is that right?
JB: Yeah. And also the drag lines are used to dig all the drains as well. Digging out trenches for the drainage. For all the electric cables for the landing lights. All that sort of thing.
CB: Ok. So, the first job that Bill was doing Nancy was doing the levelling of the ground.
NB: Presumably, yes. Yes.
CB: Because that was their specialty, was it?
NB: And they got, SJ Lloyd got to know, because I was his private secretary.
CB: Yes.
NB: And I used to go into his study every morning and, you know take letters and things like that.
CB: Yeah.
NB: And so he got to know me quite well, and he got to, to know that I had a boyfriend who work worked for the Catchment. The then Catchment Board.
CB: Yes.
NB: And I think he thought there’s the sort of chap we need now and, well doing our work. So, that’s how Bill got the job working for the Pipewell Ploughing Company.
CB: And in this case the Air Ministry —
NB: Yeah.
CB: Asked for bids from various construction.
NB: Well, yes. Levelling off of the land so that the airfields can be put there.
CB: Right.
NB: All that.
CB: Because this wasn’t the only airfield that he built.
NB: Oh no. No. He didn’t actually build them.
CB: No. No.
NB: He just prepared the land.
CB: No. But he prepared. Yes.
NB: Yes. As a firm we —
CB: He was involved in building.
NB: Yes.
CB: Yes, so —
NB: With several more. Caterpillars they got in as well then.
CB: Yes.
NB: And more people.
CB: Yes.
NB: Working.
CB: Where did they get the labour from? Was there —
NB: Well, I suppose it was local. I mean there wasn’t a lot of labour with our firm.
CB: Right.
NB: It was just somebody to drive these Caterpillar levellers. Two or three of those.
CB: Yes.
NB: In the area. All around about the Midlands because they built a lot of airfields then.
CB: Oh, did they? Yes.
NB: Yes.
CB: Pipewell did.
NB: Here, there and everywhere. Yes.
CB: So, it was, they were already established by the time.
NB: Yes, absolutely.
CB: Yes.
NB: Well, it just so happened at that particular time when it was needed.
CB: Yes. And of course the officer’s mess was built before the war started.
NB: Was it?
CB: Because it’s an expansion period airfield design. So they’d got going with that.
NB: Yeah.
CB: Early on.
NB: I wouldn’t —
CB: Yeah. Well, we’ll pick that up elsewhere.
NB: I know we were he was a member of the [pause] we used to go to the dances and things like that there.
CB: Yeah. Later on, yes. Yeah. So, in using the levelling equipment what did you describe it as? The machines.
JB: Well, D8 scraper.
CB: So, the scrapers.
JB: Or D7 scraper.
CB: Right. So, these are Ruston Bucyrus machines.
JB: Drag lines and, yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JB: And they used to use — I can’t remember what they called them.
NB: Just the basic thing wasn’t it?
JB: Yeah.
CB: So, their scraping off certain areas and then —
JB: Yes.
CB: Filling in others. So —
JB: The whole idea about muck shifting, you’ve got a high level. You’ve got high and low.
CB: Yeah.
JB: So, you dig off the high and put it in the low.
CB: Yeah. Now —
JB: They use huge great rollers. Compactors.
CB: Right, so that was the next point really.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Because in using rollers and compactors.
JB: Yes.
CB: You have to do it gradually don’t you?
JB: Yes.
CB: You can’t.
JB: Yes.
CB: Put a big pile in and then roll it.
JB: No.
CB: Because it won’t work.
JB: Layers down at a time. And then it’s compacted. Rolled.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Then another layer on top.
CB: So how does that work? There is a level of material you can put in that can be compacted efficiently. How deep is that? Is that several feet? Or —
JB: I don’t know. Could be several feet. Depends what sort of, what sort material they were using. Clay.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Material. Stone. I don’t know much about that.
CB: No.
NB: It happened such a long time ago.
CB: It did didn’t it?
JB: Yeah.
CB: And in this sort of area was there a lot of stone in the ground causing —
JB: Lots of stone. Yeah.
CB: Is there?
JB: Yeah.
CB: So, how did they deal with that?
JB: I think from what from what dad used to say they used to employ Irishmen.
CB: Right.
JB: On — what do they call it?
CB: Were they picking stone?
JB: Picking stone. Yeah. Picking it up.
CB: And putting it into bins.
JB: Yeah.
CB: And then trailers.
JB: In bins. That’s it. Yes. Put on piecework.
CB: Oh yes.
JB: Yeah. Piecework.
CB: Right. So, what does, what’s piecework?
JB: I don’t really know. Do you know mum?
CB: Well, it means that they, doesn’t it mean that you get a task which is priced?
JB: I think that’s it.
CB: And the more, more tasks you do.
JB: I think you’re paid, I think you’re paid on what you pick up.
CB: Yes. Yeah.
JB: That’s what piecework is. Yeah.
CB: So it encouraged them to work harder.
JB: Yes. Yes. The more you work the more you get paid.
CB: Yeah.
JB: You see.
CB: Absolutely.
JB: Yeah.
CB: What would they do with the stone? They would need it wouldn’t they for the base of the runway so what —
JB: It depends on what stone it was. If it was stone that was no good they’d have to take it away and get rid of it.
CB: Right.
JB: But what stone they probably used here. It would probably be limestone.
NB: We didn’t build the runways, did we?
JB: No.
NB: No. We just levelled the land.
CB: Yes. Yes. Right. So, just going back to you, Nancy. Bill’s job was levelling the land. What we talked about here was that they would dig up various things, including stone.
NB: Yes. Yes.
CB: And roots. And they’d burn them.
NB: Caterpillar tractors, yes.
CB: Yes. Yeah. How many people were Pipewell employing around that time? Would you remember?
NB: Ahh, how many people? Well, I don’t, I can’t remember how many machines they had. Can you, John? You ought to know that?
JB: Don’t know.
CB: No.
JB: No.
NB: I can’t. I mean, they were all in different places.
CB: Yes. I was thinking just on the airfield here when they were building it.
JB: No.
NB: Yes, well a lot were.
JB: Desborough. Woolfox. All the airfields around here. Kings Cliffe.
NB: In this area you see there were so many.
JB: Wittering. Cottesmore.
CB: They did all of those.
JB: All of them around here.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
CB: So, it was a sequence of working.
NB: Just levelling off.
CB: So, once they’d done the levelling and their job was also to burn off the hedges and trees.
NB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Right.
NB: And then —
JB: And then the main, main contractors. Could be Tarmac. Could be Wimpey.
NB: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Any of the big companies.
CB: Who, who was the contractor here?
NB: I can’t remember.
JB: Wimpeys.
CB: Oh, Wimpey. Right.
JB: That’s what I think.
CB: Yeah.
NB: Who was it?
CB: Ok.
JB: I think they were Wimpey’s.
NB: Wimpey’s was it? Yeah.
JB: George Wimpey.
NB: Yes. Yes. It was Wimpey’s.
JB: Yeah.
NB: That was one of them anyway.
CB: So, what would they be doing?
JB: They’d be putting the, the runways in.
CB: Yeah.
JB: And all the hard standings. The aprons and the [pause] all the drainage pipes.
CB: Because early on in the war airfields didn’t have hardened concrete runways, but here they would initially have to put in, as you said, all the aprons. That is to say build the hangars and outside the hangar would be.
NB: That’s it. Yes.
CB: The apron which is where you’d park.
JB: Where you’d park.
CB: Your aeroplanes.
JB: Yes.
NB: Yeah.
JB: Yes.
CB: Because you don’t want them parked on mud do you?
JB: No. No. Because a lot of the early airfields weren’t even concrete. They were grass.
CB: Yes. Well, that’s what this one was originally wasn’t it?
JB: I don’t know.
CB: And then they had a perimeter track.
JB: Perimeter track. Yes.
CB: Yeah.
JB: And I think there was one, two, I don’t know how many main runways were up here. Was there three or four? Three. I think three main runways up here.
CB: Yes. Three main runways.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JB: And a big perimeter track all the way around.
CB: So, after levelling they would then dig out the runway strip.
JB: Yeah.
CB: And —
JB: And then, then the Wimpeys would come along and put all the concrete and whatever. Tarmac and concrete. Tarmac — whatever they used
CB: Yeah.
JB: I don’t know what they used.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Do all of that and put all the drains in and I don’t think we, we put, I don’t think Pipewell’s put the drains in. I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I just don’t know.
CB: But they had to have drains along.
JB: Oh yes.
CB: Along the runways themselves.
JB: Yes. Yes.
NB: Oh yes.
JB: Yes. Yes.
CB: Yeah.
NB: Yes.
JB: [unclear] they would dig the trenches out. They would fill them. I don’t know in those days, but these days they use all sorts of weird materials like some sort of cloth stuff they put in and then fill it up with stone.
CB: As part of the drainage.
JB: Well, they put piped, pipes in down. They put pipes. The pipes have got holes in them so they fill them up with stone. And then they’d put like a tarmac stuff on top. They used to call it [purvis?]
CB: Oh.
JB: Now, purvis is, is big stones in tarmac which is rolled and when it rains the water goes through it.
CB: Oh, does it?
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So, you’ve got a basic concrete. Well, first of all you’ve got something underlying the concrete probably have you, which is just plain stone?
JB: Well, they dig the trenches.
CB: Yes. I’m talking about the runway.
JB: They used to put this sort of cloth stuff in but whether they did in those day I don’t know. And then the pipes in, and the pipes have got cuts in them.
NB: Drainage.
CB: This is for drainage. Yes.
JB: Cuts or holes in them.
CB: Yeah.
JB: And on top of that they put stone. It wouldn’t be limestone. It would be granite.
CB: Right.
JB: Because limestone gives off a lot of muck. And then on top of that they’d put this tarmac stuff. It’s called purvis. It was big, well it was big lumps of tarred stone.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Which is rolled in place and water could drain right through it.
CB: Water straight through it.
JB: That’s it. Yes.
CB: And the runway construction was a concrete layer first of all.
JB: Concrete.
CB: And then on top of that —
JB: Not necessarily.
CB: They had some kind of bitumen.
NB: We didn’t do the concrete did we?
JB: No. No. No.
NB: We just prepared the land.
CB: No. This was, this was the main contractor.
JB: Yeah.
CB: Yes.
JB: The main contractor did all that. But not all, all runways would have got a tarmac on top. Some were just concrete.
CB: Were they really?
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Because they didn’t want the concrete to be, the thing about concrete is it becomes white and shiny.
NB: [unclear] It all happened so quickly because everything was happening in, you know, in the world with the planes and things, you know.
CB: Yes.
NB: It had got to be done quickly.
CB: Yes. So, in, in Pipewell while this was going on what were you doing?
NB: I was in the office.
CB: In the office.
NB: Yes.
CB: So, did you have contact directly with the people in the, working on the jobs?
NB: I used to go out and pay the men on certain, yes whichever land they were working on. Yes. I did, once a week. I used to do that.
CB: Yeah.
NB: I think that was once a week. Yeah.
CB: So, what transport did they —
NB: It was a very small company really.
CB: Yeah.
NB: It was just a new one.
CB: So, you were in the office.
NB: Yes.
CB: Who else was in the office?
NB: They’d got [pause] what would you call the chap who — what was his name?
JB: I don’t know.
NB: I can’t even remember the man’s name they employed who knew all about building roads I suppose and flat things and things like that. And he came in to the work in the office as well.
JB: It would be a surveyor. Would it be a surveyor?
NB: Yeah.
JB: Would that be a surveyor?
CB: A building surveyor.
NB: A surveyor. Yes. Surveyor.
JB: A surveyor.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yes.
NB: Yes. Surveyors. Two surveyors I think we employed at the, then at the time who did all the preparation.
CB: When you say preparation they would go out to the site would they?
NB: Yes. And level the land with a caterpillar tractor.
CB: And size it up and work out what to do.
JB: Well, surveyors, well, can I say this?
CB: Yeah.
JB: A surveyor uses an instrument called a theodolite.
CB: Oh yes.
JB: And that’s, that’s how they could tell when the, when the, where the ground was low or high.
CB: Right.
JB: Where the muck wants to come from. The high to go into the low or vice versa.
CB: So, just let’s look at that. So, they’d go out from Pipewell’s office. Where was Pipewell’s office?
JB: Pipewell.
NB: Near.
CB: In Pipewell.
NB: At the Hall.
CB: Yes. At the Hall.
NB: Yes.
CB: So, they’d go out on to the site. So, what would they, John what would be the first thing they would do when they go on a site as a surveyor?
JB: The first thing they’d do is they do all the measuring with tapes.
CB: Oh.
JB: And then they’d put pegs in, drive pegs in to the ground. Then they’d go around with the, one chap goes around with a staff.
CB: Yeah.
JB: You know, goes up. It’s got numbers on it, another chap comes along with a theodolite.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Which is on legs.
CB: Yeah.
JB: And looks through it. And when you look through this, look at the staff —
CB: A sort of a telescope is it?
JB: Yeah. But the numbers are upside down.
CB: Oh, right.
JB: Quite difficult to read unless you’re good at it. And then they then go to various places that’s on the peg or off the peg.
CB: So, they have one central, they have one central point where the theodolite is standing.
JB: That’s it. Yes.
CB: And then they have a man with a staff.
JB: That’s it.
CB: With a graded —
JB: Yes, and he goes —
CB: Pole. Staff.
JB: Puts it in. I don’t know what the pegs are for. I used to do this years ago. I can’t remember now.
CB: The pegs identify the point that you’re doing the measurement on.
JB: I just can’t remember, Chris.
CB: But as you said, am I right that —
JB: I I know what you’d when you are surveying, you always put the staff on the high bit.
CB: Right.
JB: Never put it on the low bit.
CB: Right.
JB: Because you’ve got to make money.
CB: Yeah.
JB: You know, for the, so that’s what they did then and took all the readings.
CB: Yes.
JB: And then, and then we had to go out with pegs.
NB: Yeah.
JB: And knock pegs in to the ground.
NB: So, Bill left the Land Catchment Board and came to work for —
CB: For Pipewell.
NB: Pipewell Ploughing Company.
CB: Yes. So what was his role in Pipewell? Thanks John. We’ll come back to that. So, Nancy what was his role in Pipewell Ploughing Company? Bill. Your husband.
NB: Well, supervising the machines working on, on the sites, and taking levels and things like that himself. Basically that was it because that’s what we were doing.
CB: Yeah. And working with, they’ve got these surveyors to help out as well that we talked about just then.
NB: Well, I think he was a surveyor.
CB: Yeah. As well. Yeah.
NB: More or less.
CB: So, they gave him a car did they? To get around in.
NB: They must. Yes. They must have done. Yes. They did, I think.
CB: Yes.
NB: Now that you’ve mentioned it, yes. Yes.
CB: Because you had the opportunity as his girlfriend initially to go out in it.
NB: Yes. I suppose so. Yeah. I suppose so. Yeah. I can’t really remember what car he’d got. I really can’t. I can’t remember.
CB: Yeah.
NB: But yes, obviously they had to.
CB: Yes.
NB: Provide things like that.
CB: And when you went out to pay the men how did you get out there? Because you didn’t have a horse, did you?
NB: In my car.
CB: Yeah. What was that?
NB: It was a little, what sort of cars I used to have when I was very young. I don’t know.
CB: Austin 7 type things was it?
NB: It was my own car, anyway.
CB: It was was it?
NB: Yes.
CB: Yes.
NB: And I just used to go out to the airfield and pay them. Take the, well I used to prepare. Go to the bank at Kettering first to get the money out.
CB: Yeah.
NB: So on and so forth.
CB: And then you made up the payslips.
NB: Made, made them up and went out and delivered them. Yes.
CB: And how was the accounting dealt with? You worked it all out did you? [pause] Because you put together the payslips.
NB: Oh, the men, the drivers or what do you call them, the people who were working the machines.
CB: Yes.
NB: Sent in their time.
CB: Timesheets.
NB: Sheets, That’s it.
CB: Right.
NB: Yeah. Which I worked out in the office.
CB: So, the timesheets would show how long they had been.
NB: Yes.
CB: Working that day.
NB: The hours they’d worked and where and when. Yes. That’s right. And then I’d go every Friday. I think it was every Friday morning I used to have to eventually go into Kettering bank to get the money to pay the men. And then I got the money all ready in its different bags and things and went out to pay the men. It was as basic as that in those days.
CB: Yes.
NB: Because it was all new.
CB: Yes. So, when you had to do the compilation of the pay slip, the timesheets and convert that into payslips.
NB: When I was sent the timesheets, yes.
CB: How did you do the calculations? Was there a simple abacus machine? Or did you just do it in mental arithmetic? Or what did you do?
NB: I have no, I’m sorry but I have no idea.
CB: Because it’s so long before any kind of calculator came along.
NB: Yeah. Yeah. Obviously, I’d got their, I had, obviously had their timesheets.
CB: Yes.
NB: And I suppose they were, depending on what sort of stage they were paid so much an hour for different jobs which I had to work out, and then go and get the money.
CB: Yeah.
NB: Yeah.
CB: And you were comfortable driving around with all that money?
NB: Oh yes. Well, yes. Never thought about it really. Yes.
CB: No. So, when you got to the site how would you, because some of these sites must have been a bit, what shall I say, dependant on the weather could be a bit muddy, so what happened?
NB: Yes. Well, I did —
CB: So, did they report to you?
NB: I did go out to the site but generally speaking the people, SJ Lloyd and other people took the money out to the sites. In all done up in little envelopes. You know.
CB: Yes.
NB: All that sort of thing.
CB: Yeah.
NB: And that was —
CB: Did they have to sign that they’d got their money?
NB: Well, I presume. I presume, yes.
CB: Yes.
NB: I suppose so. Yes.
CB: And then you got it all back again.
NB: Yes. I suppose so.
CB: Yeah. That’s alright. We’ll take a break there.
[recording paused]
CB: So, when you went to the site who did you —
NB: Very occasionally I went.
CB: Yes.
NB: Well, the foreman.
CB: Right.
NB: And we’d give it, give the — probably only four, three or four or five men were employed there.
CB: Yeah.
NB: That’s all. At different airfields.
CB: So, John we’re talking about although compared with today the equipment’s not that big how would they move it about in those days from one site to another?
JB: On low loaders. Be a low loader. Be a lorry with a, with a big trailer on the back. They’d drive the machine up on to it and just drive it away.
CB: Because the roads were not up to, to today’s specifications either.
JB: I don’t know. I wouldn’t know would I?
CB: No.
JB: I wasn’t around in those days so I wouldn’t know. That’s the only way to get them around. You can’t track, you can’t track a machine from site to site.
CB: So, these were largely tracked machines or were they wheeled?
JB: Tracked. Tracked.
CB: They were on tracks.
JB: Yes.
CB: Yeah, if you drove them on the road what happened then?
JB: Tear the, tear the road up.
CB: Would it?
JB: Yeah. Yeah. Because they’re different tracks to tank tracks.
CB: Oh, were they?
JB: Yeah. Because they’d got cleats on them. Big cleats that stick up like that.
CB: Oh. And when you say a cleat it’s a spike is it? Or a metal strip.
JB: A metal strip.
CB: Right.
JB: But the drag lines are down. They have flat ones you could, you could drive a drag line on the road but it would take you forever to get there because they were very slow compared with the Caterpillar tractors.
CB: So, the reason for having the cleats on was because the ground would be soft and you needed to have some kind of —
JB: Grip. Grip.
CB: Purchase on it, yeah.
JB: Grip. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JB: But you can’t work in wet weather. If it’s very wet with a D8 scraper you can’t work when its wet because you, you can’t get anywhere with them.
CB: Because it just sticks does it?
NB: Too wet. Well, you get bogged, bogged down.
CB: Oh, bogged down.
NB: You get bogged down. If it’s very wet material. Very wet. You can’t work. It has to be fairly, semi-dry anyway.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
CB: We were talking earlier about the rollers and the —
JB: Compactors.
CB: Compactors.
JB: Yeah.
CB: So, what’s the difference between a roller and a compactor?
JB: Well, a compactor’s got big spikes on it that stick out the roll in big lumps that compact the ground. A roller is smooth.
CB: Right, so the spikes are to do what, are to push it in or —
JB: To push it in, yeah. They push the ground in and compact it together.
CB: How long would a spike be on that sort of thing.
JB: Well, about a —
CB: About a foot?
JB: About a foot.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
CB: So, they must be quite difficult to move on the, to put on to a transporter. Or did they come off? Or —
JB: I don’t know. I don’t know, Chris. I can’t tell you.
CB: Right.
JB: I just don’t know, I don’t know anything about compactors at all really. I haven’t worked with compactors.
CB: Right. But you know how they work so —
JB: I know how they work because they use them on tips.
CB: Oh, do they?
JB: Yeah.
CB: Right.
JB: Big landfill sites. They use them on there.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Landfill sites.
NB: Well, presumably the Caterpillar tractors had to travel to jobs on their own.
JB: No. They had to be on low loaders mum.
NB: Did they?
JB: You can’t shift them up.
NB: I can’t remember.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Or big trailers of some sort. I don’t know what trailers they used in those days. I haven’t a clue.
CB: So, on the Caterpillar it’s called a tractor but is it actually also a bulldozer? What, what were there bulldozers also?
JB: They call everything a bulldozer these days but they haven’t a clue what they’re talking about. A bulldozer is, is a tractor with a blade on the front.
CB: Right.
JB: That’s a bulldozer.
CB: So in the circumstance we’re talking about would they be using bulldozers as well or was that something that was —
JB: Yes, because, because the blade is detachable. You take it off.
CB: Right.
JB: Put it to one side.
CB: So you could use it to tow other things when it’s not got the blade on. Is that what you mean?
JB: That’s It. It tows a scraper. You tow a scraper or a rooter.
CB: Right.
JB: Yeah.
CB: I mean with these airfields —
JB: Well, they could probably tow a roller as well.
CB: Right.
JB: Well, they can tow a roller. Because I don’t think in those days they had self-driven rollers, I don’t know. Or whether they had self, self-driven compactors I wouldn’t think they would in those days. They were towed by tractors, Caterpillar tractors.
CB: And Caterpillar of course was an American.
JB: American.
CB: Machine.
JB: Yes. Yes.
CB: Did they make them over here then? Probably not.
JB: No. I wouldn’t think so. No. They weren’t because they were shipped from America.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yeah. Yeah. And that was Illinois. Peoria. That’s where the Caterpillar Tractor, the tractor company is.
CB: Yes.
JB: Got all big plants all over the USA for different types of Caterpillar machinery.
CB: And back to Nancy. Bill was travelling around in all these places. Was he able to tell you what he was doing or was it all kept a fair secret?
NB: I’ve no idea. I presume —
CB: You didn’t talk about it.
NB: I don’t know. I presume that he was paid a salary.
CB: Yes.
NB: And that was it for him. I don’t know how much he was paid or —
CB: No. But in your conversations with him would he talk to you about what he was building?
NB: Not particularly. No.
CB: No.
NB: No. No. Not at all really that I remember.
CB: And how long did he continue to do this job of constructing airfields?
NB: Well, throughout the war really. Wasn’t it?
JB: I don’t know.
NB: It had to be.
JB: I presume so.
NB: Various breakdowns happened all the time and had to be organised, I suppose and all that sort of thing.
CB: What else did they, did the company do other than doing the preparation for airfield?
NB: Basically I think that was it, wasn’t it?
JB: I don’t know mum.
NB: Just shifting, well just moving earth from A to B.
CB: Yeah.
NB: And making flat land for —
CB: Flat land.
NB: A landing.
CB: Yes.
NB: Aeroplanes.
CB: So, after the war what did the company do?
NB: Oh my God.
CB: Were you still working there or did that, was that —
NB: I don’t know. I think I’d left.
CB: Because they went in to —
NB: I think I’d married by then.
CB: Yes.
NB: And was probably pregnant.
CB: Yes.
NB: Yeah.
CB: But Bill moved in to —
NB: He stayed with them didn’t he? Stayed with them forever, didn’t he?
JB: No.
NB: Didn’t he?
CB: Well he, didn’t he go into —
NB: Oh, I know. They were bought out by a firm from London. That’s it. Yes.
CB: Right.
NB: He used to, he used to work for them didn’t he?
JB: GT. Was it GT Crouch?
CB: Oh yes.
JB: Crouch.
NB: That’s right. Yes.
CB: Crouch yes, I remember Crouch.
JB: GT Crouch, not Derek Crouch.
CB: Right.
JB: GT Crouch, they were —
NB: Our little firm was bought.
CB: They were house builders in London.
NB: Bought out by Crouch.
CB: But he —
JB: Subsidiary company.
CB: Right. But did he then go into stone quarrying or —
JB: Yes.
CB: He did.
JB: All sorts.
CB: Diversified. Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
CB: We’ll take a break there.
[recording paused]
JB: Well, it was Limestone Buxton who owned the place didn’t they?
CB: So what they were doing was scraping away the soil so that the quarrying could take place.
JB: Yes. And also, we also did the quarrying as well. Didn’t they mum?
NB: I don’t think I worked for them then.
JB: You didn’t.
CB: Where was the quarry? Was that quarries around here?
JB: No. Leicestershire.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Leicestershire, Newark area, British Gypsum was Newark area. Did a lot, did a lot of work for them. A lot of restoration work. A lot of digging out of the gypsum.
CB: So, restoration work is what?
JB: Putting, putting the land back as it was.
CB: Right.
JB: That’s restoration.
CB: And do we know whether at the end of the year, at the war then the task was to restore some of the airfields to their original purpose?
JB: They didn’t do any of that.
CB: They didn’t.
JB: No.
CB: Right.
JB: No. No.
CB: Ok. Stop there.
[recording paused]
CB: So, John later years you came to work for your father’s company.
JB: Yes.
CB: What did you do?
JB: Well, my first job was to go out to a place called Twywell. This is between Kettering and Thrapston. Opened up an old ironstone quarry. And we had to go and get all the trees out of the old cut and burn it all ready for the machines to come in to take over the sites and start digging out the ironstone.
CB: So, they took out the ironstone and then was the site restored or —
JB: Yes.
CB: And is that what you did?
JB: That’s what we used to do.
CB: Right.
JB: Yeah.
CB: So, you’d, you’d take the material, the material out.
JB: Yes.
CB: To reveal the ironstone.
JB: Dig the ironstone out and —
CB: Oh, you’d dig out the ironstone.
JB: Well, I didn’t.
CB: No.
JB: Not personally, no.
CB: No.
JB: But that’s what we used to do.
CB: Yeah.
JB: We had machines to dig the ironstone out into dump trucks and truck it to the railway waggons and tip it into the railway waggons and they could, they could then be transported to the steelworks.
CB: Right.
JB: Wherever that was. And that wasn’t for, that wasn’t for British Steel at Corby. That was for —
CB: At Scunthorpe was it?
JB: I don’t, I can’t remember either. I think it was for a firm called Richard, Thomas and Baldwin they were steel people from what I can remember.
CB: Right.
NB: You’re talking about seven hundred years ago, you know. Seven hundred years ago. Crikey.
JB: But I think that’s the only ironstone. We used to do a lot of restoration from the old ironstone quarries all around Northamptonshire. A lot of restoration to put, to put them back as they were.
CB: Yeah. Of course, thinking of this area. Exton Park had that huge dragline.
JB: Yeah.
CB: Which warped its way —
JB: [unclear]
CB: To Corby.
JB: To, to Harringworth.
CB: Oh, Harringworth.
JB: Harringworth.
CB: Right. An old airfield.
JB: An old airfield.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Which the old airfield is still there.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Because there is a flying club there.
CB: Right.
JB: And they worked the dragline for not many years and then they parked it up and scrapped it.
CB: Oh, did they?
JB: Yeah.
CB: So, at Exton was that one of the tasks of your company to restore that land?
JB: No. We had nothing to do with Exton.
CB: Right.
JB: No. No. We didn’t have anything to do with Exton at all. That was, that’s British Steel at Corby. I think they dealt with that.
CB: Right. So, what we’re really saying is that there was a lot of work in preparing the land for airfields. And of course that evaporated after the war, so —
JB: Yes.
CB: You were then clearing land for mining.
JB: For mining and quarrying.
CB: Quarrying.
JB: Yeah.
CB: And putting that back.
JB: Yeah.
CB: So the basic principals were still the same.
JB: Oh yes.
CB: It’s just that the product was different.
JB: Yeah. Yes.
NB: I’d left by then.
CB: Yes.
JB: Yes.
CB: Right. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: Now, these airfields consumed a lot of land. Probably five hundred, five hundred and fifty acres. That’s a lot of space.
JB: That’s a lot of space, yes. Yeah.
CB: And the main contractor, as I understand it this was Wimpey, you said.
JB: Wimpey. Or it could be Frenches.
CB: Yeah.
JB: A lot of companies around in those days.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Big companies. French. There were Kier as well, we had in those days.
NB: And we were sub-contractors I suppose.
JB: We were sub-contractors, yes.
NB: Because we were on the spot.
JB: Yes. Yeah.
CB: So after, so the main contractor you’re saying would have equipment as well.
JB: Oh yes. Yes. Yes.
CB: Same sort of —
JB: Same sort of — yeah. Same machinery. Yes.
CB: So, when it came to making the runway they would have to dig out.
JB: Yes.
CB: A trench. A very wide trench.
JB: Yeah.
CB: Because they were —
JB: Yeah.
CB: Fifty yards, a hundred and fifty feet wide.
JB: Yes. Yes.
CB: Which was a big strip.
JB: That’s it and then fill it full.
CB: To put in.
JB: Fill it with stone.
CB: Yeah, right.
JB: Compact it, roll it and then whatever they put on top of it.
CB: Then the concrete. And then the bitumen.
JB: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: But that would be by, done by the main contractor probably.
JB: Yes. Or it could have been, could have been done by Tarmac. I don’t know.
NB: We didn’t.
JB: No mum. We didn’t. No. No.
NB: We just got the land ready.
JB: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Right, good. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: I think that comes to the end now.
[recording paused]
CB: Of course, North Luffenham we’ve been talking about but there were other airfields. What other ones did he do?
JB: Woolfox.
CB: Yeah, that’s on the A1.
JB: That’s on the, I believe he did work at Wittering.
CB: Yeah.
JB: And also Cottesmore, South Witham, Kings Cliffe, Desborough.
NB: What was he doing in Desborough?
JB: It’s a big airfield there mum.
NB: Oh.
JB: Grafton Underwood.
CB: American base.
JB: A big American base. I’m not sure about Spanhoe up here.
CB: Yeah.
JB: Harringworth, which was, which was American.
CB: It was.
JB: It was a supply depot.
CB: It was, wasn’t it? Yes.
JB: Yeah. Yeah. And also maybe where the prison is over here, outside of Leicester. There’s a big prison isn’t there? Gartree.
CB: Oh, Gartree.
JB: Yeah. The airfield there.
CB: And then over towards Market Harborough. What about that area?
JB: Don’t know, Chris.
CB: Did they work that way or not?
JB: I presume they did, because it’s in the area here isn’t it?
CB: Yeah.
JB: It’s in their area.
CB: It is really. Yeah.
JB: I think they probably did. Yes.
CB: So, the point is they were preparing lots of airfields.
JB: Lots of airfields.
CB: Which kept them pretty busy.
NB: Yes.
JB: Kept them very busy. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Right.
JB: Yes.
NB: Captain Willows lived out there didn’t he? He was dragged into the firm.
CB: Was he?
NB: Which he enjoyed. Yeah. He was a friend of SJ Lloyd’s, I think.
CB: So what did he do for the firm? Was he an accountant?
NB: Well, he went around to see that they were all working properly and being paid properly and all that sort of thing.
CB: Well, as the company grew the supervision had to.
NB: Yes.
CB: Didn’t it?
NB: Yes. It was quite big. I’d left by then, I was having children. Yes, it was a quite a big little company in the end.
CB: Yeah, and Bill your husband was gradually moving up the company was he? In seniority.
NB: I suppose so. Was he? I can’t remember.
JB: Made a director and he ran the Stamford. He ran the actual civil engineering side of Stamford. The heavy plant. He ran all that.
CB: Oh, Did he? Yeah.
JB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, he had a lot of machines and big machinery.
NB: I suppose so by then, yeah.
CB: The investment must have been huge.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: In equipment.
JB: Yes. A lot of machines. Yeah. And then they went up the swanny.
CB: Sold up.
JB: Yeah. Well, the company, subsidiary company, GT Crouch they were, they were housebuilders weren’t they?
CB: Yeah.
NB: Yes.
JB: Built a lot of houses all around London.
NB: Yes. Yes.
JB: And they were the people from Kingston upon Thames and also had another company which had something to do with paint or something. I don’t know what that company was. Paint.
NB: I don’t know.
JB: Quite a few companies and the other one was Pipewell. The plant that dad ran. And some whizz kid came in. They got some whizz kid who was going to do this and do that and it went [noise]
CB: Right.
JB: Yeah.
NB: It folded completely.
JB: Folded completely.
NB: I believe. I don’t know.
JB: But dad did have the, have the opportunity, you know, with David Carden.
NB: Really.
JB: Remember David Carden.
NB: No.
JB: From Corby. To take over two or three hundred D8 scrapers and he could have got all the work at Corby when the steelworks closed down.
CB: Oh yes.
JB: Because David Carden used to be a big wig there and he went to work with dad and he knew all the people over there and if they’d, if they’d taken over some of the scrapers they could have made a killing, but they didn’t.
CB: Right.
JB: So, there you go.
CB: Such is life.
JB: Such is life. Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: The added information relating to RAF North Luffenham is that the land was requisitioned in 1939, the airfield was opened in December 1940. And it was actually, it was closed in 1998 eventually. It is three hundred and fifty feet above sea level. It had a pundit code of November Lima. And the squadrons and units based there were, in 1940 61 Squadron with Hampdens followed by 144 Squadron also with Hampdens, then number 29 OTU in 1942 to ’43. Then in ’44 and ’45 1653 Heavy Conversion Unit with Lancasters. And later Beaufighters, Stirlings and Mosquitoes.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Nancy and John Boddington,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed January 23, 2022,

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