Interview with Irene Bradbury


Interview with Irene Bradbury


The interview is about Irene’s husband Dennis Bradbury, who died in 2017. In the March 1943 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve, and became a wireless operator / air gunner, training on Proctors. After crewing up he ended up with Canadians on Wellingtons, 514 Squadron. His first operation was a long one to the Ruhr. He flew a total of 200 hours of which 112 were on operational bombing flights. After the war he was sent posted to Singapore and then to the Middle East. She recalls how she met Dennis after the war, and she describes their life together.




Temporal Coverage




01:05:28 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 11th of September 2017 and I’m in Brackley with Irene Bradbury and this is a proxy interview about her husband Dennis. We did start an interview with Dennis which is at the beginning of this memory card which was unsuccessful so now we’re, unfortunately he died on the 4th of June this year so now we’re going to work on the basis of Irene’s recollections, bearing in mind she didn’t know Dennis until after the war. So, Irene what would you say were Dennis’s earliest recollections of family life?
IB: Well, from what I have gleaned he had a very happy and secure childhood. He was born in Stoke on Trent, Normacot and his father was a general manager of a pottery factory. A china pottery. His mother was a housekeeper, housewife. They didn’t go to work in those days when they had children. I know that he was a keen Scouter and he went to Kibblestone Park which was a Scout camp near to Stoke on Trent, actually in Stone. And he took part in almost everything that went including the dramatics and he was in a couple of Gang shows with Ralph Reader heading the team and he he used to sing all the songs that they sang. He remembered the words right until the end really. He had had a Grammar School education. He went to Longton High School where he went at eleven on a scholarship and he left at eighteen years of age. His interest at school I know were rugby. He was in the school team and he played at scrum-half and also he was very keen on cross country running. He joined the ATC, the Air Training Corps and had training in navigation, and aircraft recognition and various subjects relating to flight. And at age sixteen he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service as a messenger. This was night duty and he was still at school and he said that he spent most of his time playing cards with the firemen. He enjoyed maths when he was at school and, and he was very good at it as well which probably accounted for the fact that he became an accountant. He had dancing lessons at school. One of the masters was very keen and took the boys and at that time it was co-ed so they had partners. The girls. And he loved dancing and it was, became a very big part of his life. In fact, we met at a dance. After O Levels he then went on to sixth form but because of the war and the call up he knew that there was little chance of going to university and so he decided to embark on a career. It was either going to be architecture or accountancy and the accountancy came up first and so he was articled to a Mr Peck in the city of Stoke on Trent and he, while he was coming to the end of his first initial exam he volunteered for aircrew. All the, all aircrew at that time were volunteers. On March the 12th 1943 he was enlisted in the Royal Air Force, the Royal Air Volunteer Reserve and on the 17th of May he reported to the Aircrew Reception Centre at St Johns Wood in London. He always thought that was rather stupid as the bombing was going on in London and a great number of the recruits would have been hurled in to outer space at any time. However, they were kitted out. They had their uniform and then they went on, on the 5th of June to Bridlington to the Initial Training Wing.
Next, they went to Yatesbury [coughs] excuse me, in August and opted for wireless operator air gunner. There were few places for pilots and navigators because they, they were all taken up and he trained at the Radio School in Yatesbury from August ’43. Then he changed from wireless operator to air gunner to signaller because they had now realised that there was some other job for him to do and he never fired a gun in anger. After training Dennis passed his exam with flying colours. Oh, pardon the pun. He moved on to airborne training and his first flight was in a DC Havilland. I think they called those Rapide.
CB: De Havilland Rapide.
IB: Yeah. It was a biplane.
CB: Yeah.
IB: And his final airborne training was in a single-engined Percival Proctor 2. There were two cockpits, one for the instructor and one for the one being instructed. Training continued in 1944 and final exams and tests were in February. In March he passed his exams and was promoted to temporary sergeant and was posted to Advanced Flying Unit on the 30th of May at Staverton. There he did night flying in Gloucestershire until the 3rd of July and then on to the Operational Training Unit at Peplow where they were kitted with helmets, oxygen masks and all the rest. At that time there was a big influx of Canadians with pilots, navigators, bomb aimers and gunners but no radio and radar operatives and of course at that time also the pilots chose their own crew. So, fortunately for Dennis, Hank, who was the pilot chose him. He was the youngest of the crew and the only Englishman. Digressing a little bit to Hank, Dennis was very pleased because he was an experienced pilot. He’d been an instructor in Canada. The oldest of the lot. He was twenty five. Tall, with a great sense of humour. A very dry wit and a really capable person. They continued training night flights. Especially flying in Wellington bombers through September, October and November. Finally, they were, went to Bottesford in Nottingham and they got their final member of the crew who was the upper, the rear gunner, no he wasn’t. You’ll have to cut that bit.
CB: The flight engineer.
IB: He was the flight engineer. Len Thatcher. Dennis had one more exam to pass which was quite difficult he said but it gave him an extra shilling a day so he worked hard at that and completed the course and was finally passed. On the 10th of January 1945 they left for Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire which was their operational base. This was 514 Squadron, Number 3 Group, Bomber Command. This was one year and ten months after he enlisted. Dennis told me that one of the reasons he volunteered for aircrew was that after each night flight he would return to his own bed and a good breakfast. His first target was the Ruhr. A factory and rail marshalling yard. And the whole, the whole, the whole flight took seventeen hours from waking to breakfast the next day. Dennis was called to a non-operational station for a weeks course on a new and secret aircraft equipment. He never, he’s never told me what that was and he’s not revealed it in his book. He was considered to be officer material, had various interviews, went before a Commissioning Board and was successful. They had ops day and night, mostly to the Ruhr Valley and at the end of April 1945 the crew had completed nineteen years of, nineteen of his thirty ops which consisted of a tour. Can I just get a drink of water?
CB: Sure.
[recording paused]
CB: One extra story.
IB: Right. His mother aborted his first attempts at flight. She found him on the, on the garage roof tying four pieces of strings to the corners of a sheet he’d purloined from the airing cupboard and he was about to jump off and glide down in to the quarry which was behind their house. Fortunately, she stopped him otherwise there wouldn’t be a story to tell.
CB: Very good. Yeah.
IB: Right.
IB: When Dennis joined the RAF the chances of survival in 1943 were thirty four percent. By the end of the war with the assistance of aircraft in, on the continent it was now sixty percent. But their worst flight was yet to come. Dennis has often told me and other friends about this flight which was, which was to the Hague in, in Holland. So, the end of the war in Europe was nearing its end but one of the countries that was still suffering under Nazi domination was Holland and they were very badly treated. They were starving and so Dennis was initially very pleased to be switched to other duties of, in this case of saving lives. In, in 1945 two hundred and forty six Lancasters and eighteen Mosquitoes took off on mercy flights to Holland. Dennis’s Lancaster had sacks of flour in double parcels so that on impact if the bag burst the second bag would contain it. They were told that, when they were briefed they were told that they would be flying at five hundred feet, no fighter escort and flying at just over stalling speed with full flaps. I learned later when he told me about this how dangerous that was and they were quite horrified. They were also told that if they were shot at by the ground, the Germans on the ground they were not to fire back because of the following crews who were following in behind them. The target was, for Dennis was the Hague and they dropped at a hundred and fifty feet which was dangerously low and they could see the German anti-aircraft crews shaking their fist. They did take one or two potshots but nothing, nothing was, nothing too dangerous from that point of view. But Dennis often said it was the worst flight he ever did but worth it. And then years later —
[telephone ringing – recording paused]
CB: Years later.
IB: Years later we had met up with Woodie the navigator and Lily his wife as we frequently did when they were in Europe and we were in Amsterdam, at a hotel. In the evening we went down to the bar and the barman asked if we had been to Holland before and Woodie said, ‘Well, not actually in Holland but over it.’ And he explained that they were part of the crews who flew the mercy trips and the man came from behind the bar and embraced them and it was a very emotional occasion. He said that he had been a little boy of ten. That his mother was starving. That she gave them pieces of leather to suck on to stop the hunger pains. And we didn’t pay for a single drink after that. It was, it was just very emotional.
CB: So, when was that that you went?
IB: I can’t tell you exactly but it would be late 60s, I think.
CB: Right.
IB: After that [pause] I’m going to have to refer to the book.
CB: Ok.
IB: Just a little bit about Dennis and what happened after the war. He was promoted to flight sergeant on the 19th but didn’t sew the crown on his sergeant’s stripes because the following day his commission as a pilot officer came through and he obtained his officer’s uniform. The Canadian government grounded all Canadian aircrew for them to be repatriated to Canada with a view to their fighting the Japanese across the Pacific. Therefore, Dennis was no longer a crew member and expected to be reclassified as ground staff. He didn’t really want this and an English crew who arrived from the Middle East literally days after the end of the war having had no operational experience lost their radio and radar, radar crew member and so Dennis volunteered. His new pilot, Johnny Allen became a dear friend. They, they converted from Liberators to Lancasters and on one notable practice bombing raid they suddenly found that they were losing one of the engines. They decided that they didn’t want to bale out. That they would try and do a landing. Dennis wasn’t particularly bothered when they said that they’d lost one engine because with Hank who was a very experienced pilot he’d actually flown on two just to demonstrate to them it could be done and had actually flown on one for a very short time. So Dennis thought that Johnny could land this plane no problem. Well, he, he landed with wheels up and slewed across a field and Dennis got out to go and see [pause] to to arouse the farmer in the farmhouse across the way and fell in to a ditch. He was the only casualty. He had a severe cold.
Shortly after that the Air Ministry disbanded 514 Squadron which was a temporary war squadron anyway and the final bombing sortie was on April the 26th 1945. Do you want statistics?
CB: If you’ve got some.
IB: Yeah. His aircraft flew three thousand eight hundred trips to forty four targets and dropped a total of over twelve thousand tonnes of bombs, high explosives and incendiaries. In 514 Squadron Dennis flew a total of two hundred hours of which a hundred and twelve were on operational bombing flights including night and day flights. All the officers of 514 Squadron had an, aircrew and ground staff attended a farewell dinner in the officer’s mess on August the 16th and for quite a while we had, still had the menu. I remember thinking that they must have scoured the country for the food because wartime was still in operation and rationing was still going and it was rather a sumptuous meal. After the war, well knowing that the war in Europe was finished but that there were still the Japanese to deal with the Air Ministry decided that there would be, have to be air sea rescue points at various stations across the world to Japan and to that end there was developed an unsinkable life raft. Life boat, and Dennis was drafted in to Coastal Command and they started their training and they carried on right through August when the Japanese war came to an end. Continued on to September, November, December and when they went back after the Christmas leave they really thought they would be disbanded. But no. They were decided that a certain number of them would go out to Singapore and do an exhibition of dropping a life raft in front of Lord Mountbatten. Dennis was in the crew that was chosen and so they spent quite a few weeks getting there knowing that there was no real war to fight. The bomb had put paid to that and they, they delayed their, their flight to Singapore by several days and really made it a holiday which perhaps they deserved. They, they couldn’t fly over mountains because they were loaded with the aircrew and plus the equipment plus some ground crew and so they had no oxygen masks so they had to go the long way around and so they would stop at, on the French Riveria I think they stopped. They had their little holiday there and blamed it on a faulty engine which had to be repaired. Then they flew on to the Middle East and did likewise and had to have a pay parade or something and eventually got to Singapore and the the life raft, life boat I suppose I should call it was finally launched in front of Lord Mountbatten for a job that it was no longer required. And Dennis was then in Singapore, I don’t know for how long but some weeks. Then of course the problem then arose of the Jews being anxious to get to the Holy Land and they were required, the Air Force were required to go to the Middle East and Dennis was one of those who was sent with the ground crew and, and the staff and all the equipment and Dennis volunteered to take them by train. There were two officers and a lot of men and they went by train from Singapore. I don’t know how they got to India but they did. Then they crossed India by train. He had lots of adventures and thoroughly enjoyed it and eventually got down in to Haifa where the officers were told to, to always have their revolver with six chambers loaded. It was quite, quite a dangerous part of the world then because the Jews were fighting back. And really Dennis explained to me one day that the British had a mandate from the League of Nations at the end of the First World War to monitor the number of people going, the Jews going in to Palestine to keep the balance right. But so, so many Jews had gone to America and their influence and their money made it possible for them to have, have boats, ships, all sorts of craft crossing the Mediterranean and getting in to Palestine illegally. And it was Dennis’ job and his crew to do strip searches over the Med so that they could identify the ships. And Dennis said you could easily see the illegal ships because there were so many people below deck that they had to have vents which were very visible from the air but not so visible from the sea. So, the Air Force was strip searching the Med and when they found a ship they would radio to the Navy and the Navy would come and escort them in and the Jews would then be put into camps. Dennis had one or two little trips while he was there. He made friends with one of the clergy, the padre and he went on a tour of the Holy Land as his escort. Dennis volunteered for that because he was very interested in travel. He had a batman who, he had a batman who grew a little field, a little section of a big field of sweetcorn and Dennis one day said could, is it possible to make a pipe because Dennis smoked a pipe, out of the sweetcorn husks and Hassan said yes, he could do it. So, Dennis made this pipe and went in to the officer’s mess very proudly. Stuffed it with tobacco, lit it up and all at once he had a stem with a ball of fire on the end. He didn’t realise that he had to cure the husk before he smoked it. He was teased about that as you can imagine. They were bombed on their airfield but no casualties. The bomb landed on the football field. He had many holidays at the time he was there. They used to go to [pause] can I just look for —
CB: We’ll just stop for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: Ok. Fire away.
IB: For their leaves they went to one of the Mediterranean islands which was designated and Dennis was really quite interested in, in exploring the Med at that time and he had many, as many holidays as he could muster on the islands. And again, he found that there was a chance to have a dance. They had, also had cinemas outdoor and he at that time belonged to a Camera Club and he took lots of pictures which I still look at from time to time. When his final time at the, in the, in the Middle East came to an end he was demobbed in England and it was on his demob leave that I met him.
CB: So, when was that?
IB: That was in August ’47.
CB: And where was he demobbed?
IB: Where was he demobbed? I don’t know that.
CB: Right. So where was it that you met him?
IB: In Stoke on Trent.
CB: Oh right.
IB: At Trentham Gardens. At the ballroom.
CB: Right.
IB: And he [pause] I was quite rude to him in the first place when he first came to ask me to dance because I’d seen him talking to a man named Ron Slater. Now, this, his mother, Mrs Slater and my mother were great friends and they really thought it would be a nice idea if I married this boy. This chap. And I didn’t like him so I wasn’t going to. And he thought it would be a good idea too so he followed me around and I got really annoyed about this and I saw that Dennis had been, well I’d seen Dennis talking to him and when Dennis crossed the ballroom floor to ask me to dance I was a bit huffy. And eventually I found out that he was just an old acquaintance. He wasn’t really a friend. Neither had he been sent to mediate between me and this chap. So, I was then very nice to him and we had lots of dances and we found we danced well together and we started, we started a friendship and within three weeks he'd asked me to marry him and I was quite sure I would. And we stayed married for sixty eight and a half years and dancing was a part of our life. Always had been.
CB: Always.
IB: And we danced right up until Dennis became ill two and a half years ago.
CB: Ok. We’ll stop —
IB: We —
CB: Go on.
IB: Do you want me to go on?
CB: Keep going.
IB: And the end of that year in, at Christmas we announced our engagement which we had kept secret. Secret before then. Dennis’s mother thought it was too soon and was a little bit disapproving. However, we eventually got married in the Christmas, the following Christmas and Dennis took his final exams for accountancy before. Just a week before. So, we were banking on him passing so that we could leave Stoke on Trent and find our, our, finally start our married life somewhere else. I had been, meanwhile I had been to Cambridge and I was then teaching and we, neither of us wanted to live our lives in Stoke on Trent. We, he eventually, having had interviews and offered jobs from London to Glasgow or stops in between we settled on Brackley and my father in law said to, to Dennis, ‘She’ll never stick this.’ I remember him saying it and really I did for the first five years wonder whether I would ever settle in Brackley. It was, it was so far from what I had always known. I loved music and my father did too and we, we had well he bought us both season tickets for the Hallé and the North Staffs Orchestra and we had, there was no music here. However, I I had to stay and Dennis and I tried to make a life here and a very successful one. He was a good accountant. People liked him. He was a lovely person and I loved him dearly.
CB: We’ll just stop there for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: Now, just as a bit of backwards reflection on what you were doing in the war. So born in 1926 you were still at school.
IB: Yes.
CB: As a teenager.
IB: Yes.
CB: And so, the family remained in Stoke on Trent. What was happening there?
IB: What was happening there was that we were not a target for, for the bombers like Coventry or Liverpool but we were on route and they they were intercepted by our fighters right overhead. We used to watch the dogfights going on and if they got scared they would drop their bombs. The nearest one to us was a minute away by, as the crow flies and it was a land mine and it shook the place. It didn’t do our house any harm but I remember my father, it was a very dark that night and my father going around the house feeling if all the bricks were still in place. The blackout was the worst thing really because in the middle of winter it was dark at 4 o’clock when we came out of school and I was at the Brownhills High School for girls and it was quite a way. Seven miles from my home which involved two buses and a walk so we used to go together as far as possible and safety in numbers. My, my interest in music continued and in the Sixth Form I was the first person to take music as an A Level and I was tutored by Dr Percy Young who was a, he was doing BBC Music For Schools at that time and, and teaching me. Fortunately, we both got involved in writing music, composition at which I was supposed to be pretty good and had some of my work played and sung at the Victoria Hall which was the big theatre there. When it came to deciding on my career Dr Percy Young was, was convinced that I would make my way in music and he arranged for me to have a job in London, in the BBC choosing music as background and meanwhile to, to study under a Russian composer whose name I never could remember, again in London. And my job would help to pay for the fees. Unfortunately, my father became very ill. He was a mining engineer and during the war this, the difficult seams of Stoke on Trent coalfields had to be brought in to play and the men would go if Mr B would go and he, he was very very brave man [pause] sorry.
CB: We’ll just pause there for a mo.
[recording paused]
IB: Respective. And they got, they got coal from fields where seams were. They’d closed them before the war as being too dangerous but if Mr B said it was ok the men would go. And he, he contracted the miner’s disease from being so many, spending so long in these difficult seams. He didn’t need to go down there. Not, not all the time but he went so that the men would feel secure. He worked with them [pause] Ok. Apart from my music hockey was my next great love and cycling. And at the age of eighteen I went off to Cambridge to do a job, to learn to do a job I had always said I wouldn’t do and that was teaching. But my father was very very ill and the thought of doing some airey fairey might come to nothing course with this chap, this composer I had to do a sensible job. So, I went to Homerton College, Cambridge and, and I spent two years there doing a three year course so we worked pretty hard and came away with a distinction and came back to teach in Stoke on Trent.
CB: So, this is music, is it?
IB: Ahum.
CB: Yes [pause] Did you think of going to other places or because your father was ill you needed to return to Stoke on Trent?
IB: Did I need to what?
CB: Did you have the options, other places to go to or did you return to Stoke on Trent?
IB: I returned to Stoke.
CB: Because of your father’s illness.
IB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So what level were you teaching?
IB: Seniors.
CB: Senior School.
IB: Yeah. I was trained for senior. Yeah. When we came eventually when we were married and we came here we were living in two rooms. One up and one down with the use of a bathroom and the kitchen and we were told we could have our baths on a Wednesday and do my washing on a Sunday or the other way around. Once a week. And it was, is this being recorded?
CB: Yeah.
IB: It was, it was really quite, quite primitive and, you know I wasn’t used to that. I was used to quite a sophisticated city life really and this country life didn’t go down very well. However —
CB: This is in Brackley we’re talking about.
IB: This was in Brackley. There came up a job. Well, I was asked to go and be temporary head at the village school at Westbury which had sixteen pupils and an assistant. Well, it was like a big family really and so, and all ages and they weren’t my, the age I was trained for. They were little ones and juniors up to the age of eleven. But I enjoyed it and I was, I was told to apply for the job. And I discovered there was a house going with it so the house was the reason I applied for the job and I got it and we lived there for five years before moving back to Brackley and building the house that is up on the main road.
CB: It's good to have the house with the job.
IB: Took the house with a job. Yeah. Or the job with a house. Our son Malcolm was born while we were in that cottage at Westbury and one of the reasons we left was that he was, when he was a little toddler crawling and half walking pulling himself up and at two, the back door of the school and the back door of the kitchen of the house were next door to each other and I had a nanny to look after him and he would escape because we put him in a, in a, what do they call them? A playpen. And he would lift it up and crawl underneath. So we would frequently find all at once there would be a giggle from the back row of the school, of the classroom and we would guess what it was. And the older girls would love to get him sitting beside them and, you know playing with him instead of paying attention to what I was doing. I thought he’s going to be ruined by this school. So I then, there came a job as a music teacher in the secondary school here and I applied for it and got it. Came back here.
CB: And how long did you stay there?
IB: About twenty one years, I think. I didn’t always teach music. I’d been there about two years and the, I met the headmaster who was really limping along to the end of his, of the term and he was suffering with a bad heart and he looked as though he was going to have a heart attack and I stopped him and said, ‘What the matter?’ And he said that Miss Mansfield, the PE teacher had walked out and I thinks he was the fourth in, no the sixth in four years. The girls were terrible. It was the Teddy Girl, Teddy Boy era and they were, they didn’t do as they were told and I said to him, ‘Look, look don’t worry.’ This was really to calm him down. I didn’t really take it seriously. And I said, well you know, ‘I’ll do it,’ because I was the youngest on the staff, ‘I’ll do it until you get somebody, Mr Taylor.’ And so he was very pleased and I had the [pause] you know, the what do you call them? The organiser of PE for the County came and talked to me and we got so that eventually they asked me if I’d take the job on permanently. Well, it went with a higher salary and —
CB: This is the head of the school?
IB: No. This was the organiser.
CB: Just the organiser.
IB: The county organiser.
CB: Right.
IB: And she, she had the power to employ me and I got a grade, graded post with this you see so we were trying to raise the money to buy this piece of land here and build a house. It was going to be very small because you couldn’t, you couldn’t build a bigger house. You were restricted in those days and so I took the job and I taught PE for twenty one years.
CB: Just going back a bit to the war. Stoke on Trent. Your father and you were talking, you were talking about how you were sharing equipment facilities. So, the air raid shelter was it?
IB: Yes. The air raid shelter that was designated for our Crescent which was about ten or twelve houses was, was given to us. We had to erect it in our garden and that was the one shelter for the whole Crescent and it was a crush. And my father and I didn’t particularly enjoy being in there hours and hours so we used to go out and watch the dogfights and the fighters shooing off the bombers and that was when it became dangerous because they would drop their bombs and fly away just anywhere.
CB: Were there also anti-aircraft guns as well or just fighters? There were, were there big guns firing up?
IB: Oh, anti-aircraft. Yes.
CB: As well.
IB: Yeah. Oh, yes.
CB: So, the shrapnel from those was dangerous as well.
IB: Well, they weren’t immediately near to us.
CB: Exploding shells. Yeah. Yeah.
IB: They weren’t. We were [unclear] of the county. Yes.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
IB: Yeah.
CB: Right. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: I’m going to ask you the question. Just going back to Dennis then. In his period of service when he was flying what was his most memorable occasion would you say?
IB: I would say it was the flight over Holland. The mercy flight. Because as he says in the book up ‘til then in the Air Force he had been destroying life. Now he had a chance to save it.
CB: And how many sorties did he make?
IB: Two.
CB: Two. Right.
IB: Both at the Hague.
CB: Yes. And when he was flying at this low level what could he see?
IB: He could see the Germans shaking their fists at them.
CB: And to what extent could he see Dutch people? Did he mention that he could also see the Dutch?
IB: Oh yes. They, they were you know waving and crying. Yes. Very touching.
CB: What effect did you think that had on him?
IB: What? The Air Force and the rest of his life?
CB: Yes.
IB: I think he was so pleased to have survived that he was going to make the most of his life and he did.
CB: And did he maintain links with Air Force Association?
IB: He did at one time. And then [pause] I’ve forgotten what happened. I think, I think the local one stopped and he didn’t rejoin.
CB: Now, apart from Len Thatcher, the flight engineer his crew was Canadian so to what extent did he and you maintain contact with them after the war?
IB: Oh, we maintained a great deal of contact because Woodie married a Yorkshire girl called Lily and they frequently came over. And at one time in the early 60s Woodie said, ‘It’s about time you came over to Canada.’ So, we did. We went to Canada and he organised our trip from, we flew in to Vancouver and then on to Victoria and we were then hosted by doctors because Woodie was the General Secretary of the Canadian Medical Association and knew doctors from one side of Canada to the other and he introduced us to these people who looked after us for the time that we were in the various places right the way until we got to Toronto where they lived and then we spent some time with them and then we went on to, to Montreal which was Expo year. This was in ‘68 or ‘67. One of the two. And, and we spent some time with Hank. Now, Hank’s wife would not fly or go on the sea. So —
CB: Hank was the pilot.
IB: The pilot.
CB: Yes.
IB: Lovely man. So, Hank was never able to come over to England so we made trips over there. We had several trips over during the years to both Hank and Woodie and, and Woodie in his position as General Secretary had to arrange with other countries conferences. Well, it was really an excuse for a holiday expenses paid, you know, tax free and all that and he embarked on several trips. We, he invited us to go with him to Quebec one time and we were listed. I was under secretary and Dennis was the accountant and so we were treated like royalty you know because they wanting to sell upwards of six hundred rooms, you know. So, we had loads of jaunts like that and of course when he came over with Lily to to England we’d meet and also if he were in Europe he’d suddenly ring up and, ‘Hi Denny.’ They always called him in Denny. ‘Hi Denny, we’re in Stockholm. Do you fancy coming over for the weekend?’ You know and we’d go. ‘Hi Denny, we’re in Amsterdam.’ You know. ‘Monte Carlo.’ We went. We’d just, you know drop sticks. Up sticks and go. So, we had a lot to do with the Canadians and they were great. We all met up in in Florida one time at the place that Woodie, St Peter’s something or other in Florida and both Hank and Woodie spent their winters there with wives and we, we all six met up and had —
CB: That’s St Petersburg, Florida.
IB: That’s right.
CB: Yes.
IB: Yeah. And we met up there. That was, I think that was the last time we went.
CB: Great friendships came out of these experiences.
IB: Yeah.
CB: To what extent did they actually talk about their time flying in the war?
IB: They, they only talked about [pause] they didn’t talk about the gruesome things. They just talked about the funny things that happened, you know. Like Dennis said they came back from a bombing mission one night and on the way back Dennis noticed between his feet there was like an egg-shaped lump and the next day they, he thought, you know he thought nothing of it. The next day they found out that a piece of shrapnel had come through. Possibly when the bomb, bomb doors were open. I don’t know. But it was before the bombs had gone and it had just missed two one thousand pound bombs and come up in front of Dennis’s feet. Just a little bit bomb. So, you know, they talked about that and laughed. You know. That sort of thing. They didn’t [pause] I was, when we went to Coningsby I, and we went in to the Lancaster I was horrified at how dark, cramped, enclosed it all was and to think they flew at night time and were shot at in that plane. I found it quite upsetting. When you think how young they were.
CB: How old was Dennis at the time?
IB: He was [pause] twenty I think. Nineteen or twenty.
CB: We talked about Hank the pilot and Woodie was the navigator.
IB: Yeah.
CB: What about the other crew members?
IB: We lost touch with them.
CB: They didn’t even link up in Canada.
IB: I know that Gort, that Gort had a nervous breakdown.
CB: He was the mid-upper gunner.
IB: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
IB: He was the older one of the lot.
CB: Yes.
IB: He was thirty.
CB: Was he? So he was grandad really.
IB: He was grandad.
CB: Yeah.
IB: Dennis was baby.
CB: And then the rear gunner Tom, of course. He was replaced by a chap called Don.
IB: Yes. I think they didn’t really get on very well with Don. He was very introspective and you know, the rest of them were all outgoing. They were quite pleased to get Don who was more like them. I think they were a crew that got on and were gelled together you know. Which is a good thing if you were putting your life in their hands.
CB: Absolutely. Yes. Well, they were the family.
IB: Yeah. Yeah. Dennis had a great admiration for Hank and he was like daddy you see. He was a bit older. Twenty five and twenty was a lot.
Other: A lot wasn’t it then.
IB: A lot of difference there.
CB: Yeah.
IB: And he had such a dry wit. He was very very kindly. Very quiet. This tall man, you know and he was lovely and Kay his wife was a sweetie. She really was.
CB: What did Hank do as a job after the war?
IB: He was a bank manager.
CB: Oh.
IB: When he went back. Yeah. And his wife was a nurse. And they had this boy Charlie. I remember sitting on Spider Lake and Charlie teaching me how to cast and at night you know at night time the cabin was just behind and then there was a bank and there was Spider Lake and we, it was all lit up at night of course with lights and we would sit there. Yeah. And on the last morning he said, ‘Come on, Irene. Let’s go and just have one little more go.’ You know. That last morning I happened to think I’d do a really good cast this time and I went right back and caught my line in a tree. That was my parting shot. And there was Dennis saying, ‘Come on we’ve got a plane to catch.’ So I had to leave Charlie to unwind it but he’s been over here since his dad’s died.
CB: What about your own children? Have they shown interest or did they ever get information from Dennis about what he was doing?
IB: Who?
CB: Your children.
IB: Mine.
CB: Your own children. What about them?
IB: Not really. No. It was too remote, isn’t it? You know. It was the war so that was that.
CB: And when Charlie came over did he link in with your children?
IB: Well, by this time Malcolm was living in London.
CB: Oh.
IB: But they, they did link when they were together in Canada. When they were —
CB: Oh, because you all went out.
IB: Malcolm was older —
CB: Yes.
IB: Than Charlie.
CB: Right.
IB: But they did. They did have a rapport and with the two boys the two girls of Woodie’s Malcolm had a great time from being quite little. He was younger than them.
CB: Right.
IB: They spoiled him.
CB: Well, Irene Bradbury, thank you very much for a very interesting conversation about Dennis.
IB: I hope I’ve been able to help.
CB: It’s been really interesting. Thank you.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Irene Bradbury,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 21, 2024,

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