Interview with Sidney Borthwick


Interview with Sidney Borthwick


Sidney enlisted on 4th January 1944 at the Air Crew Reception Centre, Lord’s cricket ground. He was accepted despite a tumour on his left arm. Sidney was a rear gunner on Lancasters. After trained at Blackpool, he served at RAF Bottesford, RAF Bridgnorth, RAF Bridlington, RAF Catterick, RAF Kirkham, RAF Ludford Magna, RAF Scampton, RAF Stormy Down and RAF West Kirby. He recalls operation Manna. When the war ended, Sidney had an overseas posting to Ceylon.




Temporal Coverage




00:40:45 audio recording


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AS: Ok. So, there we are. So, this is Andrew Sadler interviewing Sidney Borthwick at his home in Staines on Tuesday the 5th of March 2018. Sidney, can you, you were telling me about how you signed up in to the Air Force. Can you tell me about that?
SB: It’s a bit indistinct now but there were recruitment areas in every town weren’t they? Staines. No. Where was it?
Other: West Hartlepool?
SB: But I’ve always had something wrong with my left arm. A tumour on the bone shaft of my left arm or something. The kind of thing that when you were in the playground at school. They’d just maybe let you out of lessons and you were all mad and you were chasing each other and they used to grab me and it was right where this tumour was on my, on my left arm. And it was like something on the bone that when they did things like that it wobbled about. I’ve still got it [laughs] It’ll only be, it’s long forgotten now you know but I was in the playground. I had to be very careful in the rough and tumble of [pause] what was that famous thing we used to play? Tig or something like that.
Other: Tag.
SB: Tag, and —
Other: And did this affect you for going in to the —
SB: Well, they used to grab my left, my arm you see and under there somewhere there was like a nodule or something. A tumour on the bone shaft of my left arm.
Other: But did that affect you joining the Air Force?
SB: Well, yeah. Oh, yeah. You had to keep your mouth closed about that, you know. So I think I probably went somewhere in this area to volunteer and they thought [pause] So I thought, well I’ll go to another place. There was another place. I forget the name of it now. I’ll go up there. I went in. Wanted to volunteer, you know. Here I am. ‘Yeah. Yeah. Fine. You’re in.’ [laughs] So a lesson in life that sometimes you’ve got to [unclear] [laughs] Yeah. So, yeah.
AS: And how old were you then? Was this before the war or after it had started?
SB: Doesn’t say anything in here, does it?
Other: You’ve always said that you lied about you age.
SB: I haven’t seen this in ages.
Other: You always said, dad that you lied about your age. If you had to be eighteen you were only seventeen but you put your age forward to the point that I always remember mum always said she never really knew what you were at a birthday because you kept it up.
SB: Sergeant Brooking. I wonder how he is nowadays.
AS: Can you tell me anything about the training that you did? How did you come to become a gunner?
SB: How come?
AS: How did you come to become a gunner?
SB: Well —
[door chimes interrupt recording]
SB: If you volunteered. A lot of people said, you know. ‘I want to be up there.’ You see. But I wasn’t like that. I knew I had limitations so I thought well there’s plenty of appendages on there, you know. You can be a bomb aimer, a mid-upper gunner and all the rest of it. So I didn’t cast my line and I always lived with the thought that one day they were going to walk up to me and say, ‘Are you Sid Borthwick?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes.’ And he’d say, ‘Yeah. Well, we know all about you. Bugger off.’[laughs] So, yeah I think I went [pause] [unclear] place. What’s it called? I forget now.
SB: So, I learned pretty quickly when to keep my mouth shut and things like that. You, you lived in fear when your turn would come. They had a thing that spun around. I forget what it was but it was part, part of your volunteering. You passed these things and I thought I don’t think I’ll ever get through that but yeah. Be like mum. Or be like dad, keep mum. So, the less you say that can [pause] they could put up against you afterwards the better.
AS: Can you tell me about the training you had?
SB: Training?
AS: Yes.
SB: Well, yes. It’s all written down in the book.
SB: Units at which served. ACRC. Aircrew Recruitment. St Johns Wood. In brackets I’ve put Lord’s. So, is there a big err St Johns Wood? What is the name of that?
AS: The Cricket Ground. Lord’s Cricket Ground.
SB: 4th of January 1944. And then I went to Bridlington, Bridgnorth. Stormy Down. And then Ludford Magna. Christ almighty. Catterick. Christ, I was up in Blackpool. I remember that. I had a good time up there.
AS: Can you tell me where you were posted?
SB: I was at ACRC. At obviously, Air Crew Recruitment, St Johns Wood and I’ve got here Lord’s. 4th of January ’44. So there must have been a place up there where you went. [unclear] Upper Heyford. Scampton. Bottesford. Ludford Magna. Catterick. Kirkham. Blackpool. West Kirby. Demob. Off.
AS: Can you remember how you came to be a gunner?
SB: Capabilities. You know in your own mind. You know what you could take on without [pause] Although I always remember at school I was always in the back row. Of course, it gives you good pretensions that, you know. I don’t know what your school was like. Your headmaster sat down there and in the front row you had all the dummies as we used to call them, you know. People as thick as two planks. They were, you can imagine him standing there thinking how am I going to drum anything in to this lot? And I knew from that, the seating in the classroom how I was doing, you know. If you got yourself in the back row away from, the master used to sit in the front with the big cane didn’t he to see if you were awake. And I knew from that what I was capable of or what I thought I was capable of. So I might have diminished myself in certain respects but it gave me a line that I wanted to be above possibly. And without any, what did you call it educationally? You got secondary education, was it? The first. Secondary.
SB: Yeah. I wasn’t going to set the world on fire.
AS: Can you tell me anything about the training you did to become a gunner?
SB: It’s not very clear to me actually.
AS: Can you remember where you were? Where you were stationed? You said, you said something. You read from your logbook you were in Scampton. Can you tell us something about that?
SB: Yes. This this is the book they give you when you join. You join up. Certificates of qualification etcetera. [pause] And then it goes all the way with you through. Red ink for night flying. Blue ink for daytime. Stormy Down. Yeah. Old Anson. I remember that.
AS: Could you tell us about that?
SB: I couldn’t get on quick enough. It was, it was like taking a lad from the streets and I’m talking now a long time ago.
[telephone ringing]
AS: Did you go on many missions? Can you tell us about some of those?
SB: What? In the real war you mean?
SB: Do you remember Concorde?
AS: Yes.
SB: Concorde BOAE. Passenger proving flight. Two hours up the Bay of Biscay. That was Concorde. A brand new aeroplane. [pause] ACRC. That was the old Bridlington. Then to Bridgnorth. Then to Stormy Down. Upper Heyford. Scampton. Bottesford. Ludford Magna. Catterick. Kirkham. Blackpool. Training. I was shoved off to India when they’d finished with me.
AS: Can you tell me about that?
AS: What did you do after the war? Did you manage to settle back in to civilian life?
SB: Yeah.
AS: Was it difficult or easy?
SB: I’ve got in here Blackpool. Retraining [pause] as an equipment assistant. So it sounds like my flying days are over. Remustering training because when, when the war ended they wanted, well the lads who had been up where ever fighting the war. Serving. They all wanted to come back to England. Be in Blighty again. So lots of people like me, probably midway let him go on. So, the next thing I know I’m up in Ceylon. I’m posted overseas. Mind you it was wonderful. You’d never see [laughs] Never see them in your lifetime. Sitting here kind of thing. It’s the place to be. You see the ladies picking [pause] oh what the hell do they call them? Actually, you know the things are actually growing up there. You go from the, one day dropping bloody bombs all over the place. A couple of weeks later you’re in a foreign country. Why? Well, those lads had been up there so they’re due to come home and we need to replace them, don’t we? Yes. Off you go then. Next. [unclear] you’re sitting ladies in the, where was it? Ceylon? [pause] And they’re picking, yeah what the hell was it? What is tea like? The plant. A shrub isn’t it? [pause] Mind you, for a single bloke it was a good life.
AS: What were you doing in Ceylon? Why did you go to Ceylon?
SB: Because the government sent me there, I suppose. I didn’t volunteer for it. I just, as I say it was the time of life like that. The next thing I know I’m sitting on a bloody great liner with my feet over the edge. ‘What rank are you?’ ‘Flight sergeant.’ ‘Right. Well, you see all these squaddies sitting on this liner with you? Right. Tell them to get their feet back in. Inboard. They must not sit on the edge with their feet dangling over.’ [laughs] I thought, well I’ll tell you it was the way of it was a weird old thing, yeah. A couple of days later you land somewhere and the ladies are picking tea and things like that.
AS: Can you tell me anything about the Lancaster because you were on Lancasters, weren’t you?
SB: I was on Lancasters. Yes. A rear gunner on a Lancaster.
Other: Can I do you another coffee?
AS: No. I’m fine thank you very much.
Other: Yeah? Can I switch this off, dad? It’s quite warm. Can I take your tea?
AS: Can you tell me anything about your squadron reunions that you, can you tell me anything about your squadron reunions?
SB: I don’t think there are squadron reunions.
AS: Can you remember being at Scampton, because I think you were at Scampton, weren’t you? In Lincolnshire.
SB: What?
AS: Scampton. Were you in Scampton?
SB: It’s funny when you look at these things. Things you, because the Dutch refused to cooperate with the Germans. They were starved.
AS: And you went and dropped some food for them, didn’t you?
SB: Yeah.
AS: Can you tell me about that?
SB: Well, as I remember it we just went on to the runway, opened the bomb doors, right and rammed in as much stuff as you could. Not giving a lot of thought to what it is and we just kept doing that and then said to the skipper, ‘Pile on a bit more. Not a lot but a little bit more.’ And these because the bomb doors came down like that kept closing them down. Closing them down. Closing them down. Closing and they kept ramming stuff in to give to these people who were starving because the Germans, the Germans wouldn’t give them any food, would they? Because, because the Dutch refused to cooperate with the Germans they were starved themselves. Yeah.
SB: I often wonder because we never kept, I mean if you flew all this time with all these people when you were demobbed that was it. Well, really —
AS: Good.
AS: You’ve got a good number of videos about the war, I think.
SB: “Imperial War Museum. The Official Collection. Royal Air Force at War.” Mind you, you’ve got to have plenty to, I used to have these. Yeah. There’s the lads bombing up. The front turret of a Lancaster. Crew positions of a Lancaster. [pause] I’m not quite sure if that’s my position there. Rear turret in a Lancaster. Yeah. [pause] “The story of the Lancaster bomber.”
AS: Ok.



Andrew Sadler, “Interview with Sidney Borthwick,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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