Interview with John Shipman


Interview with John Shipman


John Shipman was born in Stathern, Leicester and as a teenager would cycle to Melton Mowbray to attend ATC meetings. He joined the RAF and started training as a flight mechanic. He joined a troop ship to start his posting and the journey took a very long six weeks before he finally arrived in India. Conditions on base were rudimentary and their tools were basic and there was a make do and mend mentality. John worked on a wide range of aircraft. He was promoted to the role of fitter. After the war, in 1946 there was a strike among the Servicemen who were frustrated at the delays in sending them home for demob.




Temporal Coverage





01:05:31 audio recording

Conforms To


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AShipmanJ181010, PShipmanJ1802


HB: It’s the 10th October 2018. This is an interview with Mr John Shipman who was in Transport Command and served in India. It’s being recorded in the village of Croxton Kerrial in, which is still in Leicestershire.
Other: Just.
HB: Ish. John, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed.
JS: Pleasure.
HB: Now, when were you born, John?
JS: When? 26 12 ’23
HB: Right. And where were you born?
JS: Stathern.
HB: Stathern. Right. And what, what did you, what school did you go to? What schooling did you get?
JS: Stathern School until I was eleven and then the Modern School for Boys in Melton until I was nearly fifteen, I think.
HB: Yeah. That’s in Melton Mowbray. Yeah. So, what, what were your sort of interests at the time, John?
JS: Well, not a lot of anything because in those days at my age we were looking forward to getting into the forces. We were going to be called up at eighteen. We knew that. So, what I did with a lad, a very big friend of mine out in the village we joined Melton ATC. 1279 Squadron. I think we’d be about the openers of that squadron in those days.
Other: Yeah.
JS: That took up a lot of our time, spare time because there was no transport. Only pushbikes. We had to bike from Stathern to Melton for various classes. Filing and engineering and all sorts of things like that. Parachute packing. Oh, no. Sorry we had to go and bike to Spitalgate Aerodrome for parachute packing.
HB: Spitalgate.
JS: And Morse Code. Yes. That’s near Grantham.
HB: Yeah.
JS: We had to bike there because there was no other transport so, this took up several days of the week and nights especially. And then we joined the ATC because we’d got a good chance then of getting into the RAF at the trade we selected.
HB: Right.
JS: So, it was up to the authorities whether you got it or not. But anyway we, I can’t [pause] I’ve got my medical thing. We got a medical at Leicester. After we’d turned eighteen we had to go to Leicester. Of course, the medicals in those days they just counted your arms and legs and they made you A1 [laughs]
HB: [laughs] Yeah.
JS: Waiting for the big call up. Well, I got my call up papers. I can’t think what day we had to go. I had to report to RAF Padgate which was the place where you got kitted out. That was near Warrington. So, of course, by train. In those days, there was a station at Stathern and we got on the train from there and got to Padgate and found, oh it was an awful place. Terrible for living. You had to get kitted out or you got your number, rank and name and everything there. You got kitted out with your uniform. They gave you brown paper and string to pack your civvies up, send home. And then from then on it was all queue for this, queue for that. We used to have to queue for our breakfast in a great big shed place and of course one or two of the lads were that hungry they were passing out.
HB: Blimey.
JS: And we got kitted out from there anyway. I can’t remember —
HB: What year was this, John?
JS: The nineteen [pause] 1942.
HB: Right. Right.
JS: August 1942.
HB: Yeah.
JS: And —
HB: So, you’d actually got people so hungry they were, they were —
JS: Oh, it were terrible.
HB: They were fainting.
JS: Yes. And it was everything there was [pause] everything. The kitting out was measuring and throwing things at you [laughs] Kit bags and two uniforms and, and everything like that.
HB: Yeah.
JS: They were all mess. Knife, fork and spoon and a mug and you got all this trailing behind you.
HB: Good grief. Yeah.
JS: Anyway, from there we got sent for square bashing to Blackpool. I can’t think how long we were there. That was, I know it was getting on towards the back end of the year because the winds at Blackpool was pretty terrible then. You couldn’t keep your hat on. But very much, there was a lot of bull at Blackpool. You’d got to keep your buttons absolutely shiny and that was wonderful in the sea air and you’d got to have creases in your trousers. So, what we used to do, we’d got no press we used to soak the inside and lay on them to get the creases in. But we were in like boarding houses there. Of course, they took Blackpool over in the war. It was an RAF station. We were in boarding houses there. About four to a bedroom and about three bedrooms was taken with the lads and there was one bathroom. And well, that was Blackpool life and I don’t, I can’t think how long we were there. Several months.
HB: Had they, had they decided what your trade was then or —
JS: Yes. Sorry. They decided our trade at Padgate.
HB: Right.
JS: I wanted engines and we got engines and I joined up with a lad from, from Padgate and I kept with him all the while I was in the Air Force. Al Staley he was. He lived at Burton on Trent. I kept with him all the way until we got back from India and then he got posted elsewhere. But anyway, after Blackpool we were going on technical training. We were sent, we were trained at technical training at RAF Locking near Weston Super Mare.
HB: Oh, right. Yeah. Yeah.
JS: And we did all the necessary technical work there. Engines and we were stripping engines. Engine runs and everything like that.
HB: So, all, all the engines that the RAF were using at the time.
JS: Yes. Well —
HB: You’d be learning about them.
JS: Well, the Rolls Royce. In those days we were trained on the Kestrel and the Pegasus in America were radials. Bristols they were, weren’t they? And then engine running and starting. Tiger Moths and hand starting, and Tiger Moths. Everything like that. Anyway, from there we decided, they decided from there we were going for a posting. We’d got to go overseas which was rather a shock at our age.
HB: Blimey. Yeah.
JS: So —
HB: So how, how long did your trade training take do you think, John.
JS: I should think seven. Seven or eight months, I think.
HB: Right. And did, did you keep any of your notes?
JS: Oh yes. I’ve got them.
HB: Yeah.
JS: In that tin trunk in the—
HB: Yeah.
JS: In the shed [laughs] yeah, and various training books and things like that. They’re all in there somewhere. I forgot about that. Anyway, we, they decided we were going to be posted overseas which was rather a shock. So, the first leave we got was embarkation leave. I think we got a month.
HB: Right.
JS: Then of course in those days you’d no idea where you were going to be sent. So, went home and I think what happened then? I think we had a month embarkation leave at home.
HB: Who was at home, John?
JS: Well, I lived on a farm.
HB: Right. With?
JS: Mum and dad and brothers and sisters.
HB: Right. How many?
JS: I’d already got a brother in the Army.
HB: Right.
JS: And they extended, I’ll always remember they extended the embarkation leave for another month. I think they couldn’t make out what they were going to do with us. Anyway, we got, we had to report back to Locking.
HB: Yeah.
JS: Off leave. And then of course you’d no idea where you were going to go. We got sent back from there back to Blackpool because Blackpool was the, as I say was an RAF station in those days. A big posh hotel on the front was our station headquarters. And we were kitted out at Marks and Spencer’s in Blackpool for KDs. Tropical kit. That was the clothing store. And another kit bag. So we had two sets of, and a blooming great Bombay bowler.
HB: A Bombay bowler —
JS: [unclear]
HB: Oh.
JS: There and then we got a bit of an idea we were going somewhere hot. So I think we were there for, I can’t remember how long we were there. It must be in my book somewhere. So, then we got drafted from there to West Kirby near Liverpool. We had an idea then wherever we’d be going we would be sailing from Liverpool which we were. And we got moved from there, West Kirby to Liverpool to get on the boat and we got on the P&O liner troopship Otranto. And we, I think my berthing thing in there E4 deck. And that’s below the water line. We had a boat stations one morning. The first morning and squadron leader somebody, I don’t remember what his name was told us we were the nucleus, I’ll always remember it, the nucleus of a new force and where we were going it would take us seven weeks. That was a comforting thought, wasn’t it?
HB: So, this is 1943.
JS: Oh yeah.
HB: You’re in a boat and you still, you still don’t know where you’re going.
JS: No. Hadn’t a clue. Oh no. No. It was all top secret. You didn’t know anything then, did you? Anyway, we had to put up with it. I’ve got all my trips there. In there. But we, I think we were averaging about three hundred mile a day on this damned boat [pause] I thought we put down how many more. Anyway, we had, they used to have a, I was so seasick and I always remember when we were getting on the boat every twentieth person was handed a thing to say that you was mess deck orderly for the next twenty, nineteen people. I got one and couldn’t think of anyone better because I damned well couldn’t keep anything down because I was so seasick.
HB: Oh no.
JS: But I had to.
HB: Yeah.
JS: And I was responsible for anybody who wanted to go sick. Or cigarette ration, chocolate ration. Food. Sorting the food and everything. Of course, I got, I was only ever having ship’s biscuits because I were so sick.
HB: Oh dear.
JS: But anyway, that passed over and we used, we were issued with a hammock. Well, how the devil could we sleep in a hammock? I used to, we used to sleep on the deck every night. Take the hammock up and everybody was issued with a life thing like two cotton pads so you could use that as a pillow. Of course, we were getting very hot then and when we got into the tropical kit well it wasn’t too bad really.
HB: How many, how many were you on the boat? Can you remember?
JS: Pardon?
HB: How many people were on the boat?
JS: Oh, God. Thousands I should think. Army as well.
HB: Right. So it was a real big mixed.
JS: Oh yes it was.
HB: Yeah.
JS: You see we were only allowed on certain dates. Officers were allowed on the deck.
HB: So, what did you, how did you keep yourselves entertained for seven weeks?
JS: Well, I was saying we, I don’t know. We used to play cards on the deck, I think and there was no entertainment arranged or anything like that.
HB: No.
JS: I don’t know. There was no radio or anything. I don’t know what we did [laughs] There was nought to look at. Only sea.
HB: Yeah. But it improved a bit when you got to wear your tropical kit then.
JS: Well, they, when we got to South Africa we found out where, we anchored off Cape Town. Oh, I’ll tell you what we anchored off West Africa. The Gold Coast.
HB: Yeah.
JS: They called it White Man’s Grave then, didn’t they? We anchored off there. I think to take water on I don’t know but anyway we were there for about two days. My God it was hot. And it was the first sight of bananas we got there. Of course, there were no bananas here.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
JS: And from there we sailed on to, we saw Cape Town. We stopped there for something. Of course, and then we went in to Durban and we found out we were getting off the boat in Durban to change boats. That wasn’t too bad. But in the meantime on the boat I got this great big abscess come up on the back of my neck so I got transferred straight in to hospital there. Springfield Military Hospital which was very good and I was very lucky [laughs] because the other lads were on the Clairwood Race Course which had been rapidly converted to a camp and there was not a bed or anything. They just lay on a blanket under this open shed. So they didn’t fare so well. The only thing that they got there was white bread and apricot jam. They reckoned that was marvellous [laughs] because old Alfie used to come and see me in hospital. He used to tell me all this you see. Anyway, I was in hospital for, I think I were there for about three weeks but while we was there people, the white population of Durban used to come and fetch us out. Take us out. So I did very well. I went, took me two or three times to the coast. Isipingo Beach and Manzanita Beach and Valley of a Thousand Hills. They took us everywhere. Mrs Anderson it was used to take us out and of course she had to take us back at night. And then we got drafted again. All good things came to an end. We got put on another boat. The P&O Strathnaver.
HB: Right.
JS: And I’ve got the berthing thing there but we weren’t quite so low deck on that one but of course we’d crossed, already crossed the Equator getting down to Cape Town. So, we still didn’t know where we were going. So we set sail again and we crossed the Equator again going up the other side of Africa and we finally arrived in Bombay.
HB: Seven weeks.
JS: Seven weeks later. When you think about it can you imagine what today if they told some of these youngsters they were going to be seven weeks on a damned boat? They’d have a fit, would they? But anyway, we were put in camp at Bombay. Worli. I always remember going through a Gateway to India at Bombay, isn’t there? A big arch. We went through there. We got motor of the transport to this transit camp at Worli and then we were there for a day or two. We still didn’t know the destination and from there we were put on a troop train and we were told it would take two and a half days on a damned troop train. Can you imagine it? I think all we lived on was boiled eggs because I think they used to boil them in the engine. And there was hardly any toilets or anything and imagine the heat. It was awful. About eight to a carriage. We had to sleep there with one place to wash. Anyway, we were towards the end of this terrible journey we crossed, oh, I don’t know. We could look out. Paddy fields and all this carry on in India. We finally arrived at Karachi. So we were told that this was our destination and we would be stationed at RAF Mauripur which was just a new station just outside Karachi. So we got on the, we used to call them garreys, didn’t they? The back of the garrey and delivered to RAF Mauripur in the middle of the, on the edge of the Sindh Desert. Passed through Karachi. The other side of Karachi.
HB: Yeah.
JS: Fortunately, we was only about three or four miles off the Arabian Sea. To the beach. So we weren’t too bad there. A bit of a [unclear] So we were billeted there. They were only building, only building this blooming place. The billets, we’d got no electricity. They give us these hurricane lamps and the old Indian bed. The charpoy we called it. We got to know all that. It was just a strange knotted thing and a, a mosquito net. Ten to a block. There was like double blocks. There were ten this side and ten this side. And then work started.
HB: So, during —
JS: I was an AC2 flight mechanic in those days.
HB: Yeah. During all of this travelling and getting there did you ever have any refresher training? Or —
JS: No.
HB: They just relied on the fact you’d been and trained. Been trained and that was it. You were going to remember it all.
JS: We got pat, there was one or two of the older lads there I’ll tell you because a lot of these lads that were there was one or two lads there had escaped from the Japs at Singapore. Do you remember that?
HB: Yeah.
JS: When the Japs, a lot of the lads had got out. Quite a few of the older lads had been out there before Singapore and places. So we got posted with a fitter. I was only a AC2 flight mech then. We got posted. We each had a fitter and we just did the jobs. Got all my details. I’ve got details of every aircraft.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
JS: At that, in those days it was more fighter stuff coming in. We had Spitfires and Hurricanes and Beaufighters and Blenheims and —
HB: So how did they arrive John? Were they, were they being flown in on by —
JS: They’d be flown in.
HB: Ferry pilots.
JS: Yes. Flown through —
HB: So, where had they come from?
JS: Well, they’d come through, they’d come from the various airfields in the, in the through the Middle East which wasn’t at war. At Sharjah and Habbaniya and places like that. And then we had a satellite strip I think. What was the name of it? Jawami. They had to land there.
HB: So, had they all come from England?
JS: Yes.
HB: Had they actually flown from England?
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
HB: Or had they been, had they been on ships.
JS: Yeah. That’s what we were doing. We were doing minor inspections on them you see so they went through to the different squadrons in India. But quite a lot of Spitfires were assembled at another place near Drigh Road. They used to come in crates to there. They assembled there and then they came to us for putting into squadron use you see.
HB: So what, so what would, what would you got a new Spitfire or you got a Hurricane or whatever.
JS: Yeah.
HB: What would, what would you actually do? You’ve got it sort of come to you —
JS: Well, we had to make sure that everything was [pause] we had sort of an acceptance check.
HB: Right.
JS: And Mosquitoes we had as well. And gradually things got bigger. We got Dakotas and Liberators and oh, I don’t know. You’d not got Yorks in those days. Hellcats. A lot of American stuff as well. Hellcats, Corsairs, we were doing just, just doing well, a detailed inspection on whatever they wanted. I think every forty hours they had these minor inspections. Minor star inspections and things like that. We worked to a schedule.
HB: The —
JS: The fitter did so much and the flight mech did so much, you see.
HB: So how, how did you, I mean like the Hellcat or the —
JS: We’d no training.
HB: The Liberator, how did you actually learn about the engines?
JS: We didn’t. We didn’t. We just had to do it.
HB: So, it was —
JS: If there was a mag drop we had to change the plugs. I’ve got quite a set [unclear] I was saying there were no training on American. The Pratt and Whitley twin wasps on the Dakotas. We’d no training on them.
HB: So —
JS: We just did it.
HB: So, nobody actually said, ‘Right. Sit down. This is what this is.’
JS: Not a thing. No. We had to do it because we were a fitter and we had to do a fitting. No. No. There was nothing like that.
HB: Right.
JS: Gradually, after several, I don’t know about a year or so I had the chance to have a re-mustering board to, to become a fitter 2E from flight mech. Which would be quite a bit more money.
HB: Yeah. Important.
JS: I had to go down to this Drigh Road. The other side of town for that. I can’t, I always remember the bloke that took it with me. A Flight Lieutenant Schultz, his name was. Oh yes. We had to do all sorts of things. Draw oil systems, fuel systems, cooler systems. Answer no end of questions and gradually ok. I found, found out I’d become a fitter 2E.
HB: Right. So, the, so and that’s, and that was —
JS: More money that was.
HB: Yeah.
JS: We were only on two shillings a day you know.
HB: Oh right. Right. Well, yeah I suppose AC2. Yeah.
JS: Yeah.
HB: You would be.
JS: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
JS: I think the, of course we were on Rupees there. I think the average, I think the exchange rate was for thirteen, I don’t know if it was thirteen Rupees to the pound.
HB: Right. So that was, that was quite a significant pay rise then.
JS: And then, and then we got into the bigger stuff like all that. That’s just a year’s work in there.
HB: Yeah.
JS: We had Corsairs, Yorks, no end of Yorks. Liberators there.
HB: And that would, that would the York would be what towards the end of ’45.
JS: That was in ’45.
HB: ’45. Yeah.
JS: Getting towards the end of the war years.
HB: Yeah.
JS: And of course, with us being Transport Command everything that came in to India came through us you see. Landed with us. We had flight, we used to have Lord Louis. Not in those days. I think the Viceroy in those days when we first got there, I think it was General Wavell. And then he changed to Lord Louis Mountbatten and he used to come through regular and being six foot tall I got lumbered with being on the guard of honour. So, we, if there had been an accident unfortunately we had to go and bury everybody and we used to have to stand guard of honour for Lord Louis and Edwina and people, all the VIPs used to come then because people started to show a bit of interest in us.
HB: So, RAF Mauripur must have gone, it must have expanded really.
JS: We went from 317 MU to 48 Terminal Staging Post.
HB: Right.
JS: That’s how we, and then everything came through us like. In fact, they built quite a nice hotel on the airfield to entertain these people as they were coming through.
HB: So —
JS: And then quite a lot of dissatisfaction in those days because every, South East Asia was neglected terrible. I mean, for a start we’d got nothing to use. We had to use a split pin twice. There was nothing. They gave us the most basic tool kit. And things did improve eventually and then of course we had this strike didn’t we?
HB: Did you?
JS: Oh aye. All the, all the, the whole line went out on strike because the treatment we got wasn’t very good. I can’t remember what date the strike was.
HB: This was serviceman.
JS: Oh yes. it was very serious. Frightened us all to death because it was, well I mean the whole line was out on strike.
HB: When you say the line.
JS: Right through from all the Middle East and everywhere. They were all, it all stopped.
HB: What? Just stopped work?
JS: Yeah.
JS: I mean —
HB: I can pause this while you have a quick look in your diary. John. That’s not a problem.
[recording paused]
JS: Tuesday the 22nd of January everything stopped.
HB: Nineteen forty —
JS: 1946.
HB: Right.
JS: “On strike from eight in the morning until certain promises are made as regards demob etcetera. Whole station went out. Afternoon lecture by the padre. Still keeping out until satisfaction obtained. Meeting at 8 o’clock.” You had to meet when it was dark you see because no one would dare. Had to put the lights out.
HB: And that’s all in your diary.
JS: Yes. Meeting. Cairo West was out, Jiwani was out, Jodhpur was out. And they all came out. Sharjah. And all they came out on strike as well.
HB: And what was, what was, what was the reason for the strike, John?
JS: Well, we got the war was over here then in ’46 and we were getting nowhere out there and when, when the lads that had been out there for four years should have been sent home, repatriated they sent all the blooming Indian Army in place over for that damned great Victory Parade in London.
HB: Right.
JS: It caused quite a bit of dissention.
HB: Yeah.
JS: But anyway, the results of the strike came out quite well really because they reduced the tour from my tour. I should have been there four years to three years. So, I was already over my time.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
JS: So after, actually it affected me as well and all the lads that went out with me because we had to wait while all these troops came over here for their Victory Parade. Anyway, we did eventually get notice we were going to be repatriated so —
HB: So what were the, so you mentioned earlier about the conditions as well. What were the conditions like in ’46 then?
JS: They had improved but we was forgotten.
HB: Yeah.
JS: Living quarters had improved considerably and we’d got cinemas and tennis courts and things like that. The food was much better and working conditions. They built us some beautiful big hangars. Open like big half-moon hangars and about that much either side and they were cool. No doors on them and much better working conditions. We got better tooling and equipment. Instead of having to stand on oil drums we were getting proper, proper equipment.
HB: I was going to ask you to go back a bit on that John from earlier on. When you got there you were saying about you got a basic tool kit and you had to use split pins twice. So —
JS: Well, it was —
HB: So —
JS: There was no electricity then.
HB: Yeah. How did you, did you have to make pieces yourself.
JS: Well, we had to. We had to, we had these basic, we had to do the best as we could. There was no electricity. For the runways they used to light those, Nitrolights, was it?
HB: Yeah. Nitrolights. Yeah. So —
JS: Never had any water.
HB: Yeah.
JS: We couldn’t drink the water anyway but there were hardly any water to wash. I think they used to have to pipe it from the Indus. And all the drains was open. We used to have to jump across the drain to get to the mess.
HB: Blimey.
JS: The showers was, of course there was no hot water of course. We had to have cold showers but there was hardly any water. It used to be a big occasion. Somebody used to shout, ‘The showers are on.’ And every, of course, we never used to wear much. We only used to wear a towel when we were in the billets. We didn’t take a lot of dressing. It didn’t take long to get to the shower.
HB: Right. So, they, so that was really basic.
JS: Basic.
HB: Living and working.
JS: Terrible.
HB: At that time. When did that improve? Was that sort of towards ’45 then?
JS: Yes. Towards ’45 it did improve slowly. Yeah. As the war gradually finished this side we were getting more attention.
HB: Right.
JS: But the food, it was, I don’t know, I’m sure. One day a week we had to live on K-rations. Those American packs.
HB: Yeah.
JS: We got a pack for breakfast and pack for lunch and a pack for dinner. A tin of something and a few biscuits. Three cigarettes and a box of matches. These matches. About sixty sheets of toilet paper. And we had, I think there used to be egg and bacon in a tin for breakfast or something like that. Stew for dinner. Maconochie’s, I think it was.
HB: Yeah. So that sees you through to ’46 so because over here they were they were preparing in Bomber Command they were doing a thing called Operation Tiger. Did you ever hear anything about Operation Tiger over there?
JS: No.
HB: Because that was where they were gathering up experienced crews.
JS: No. We wouldn’t hear anything you see.
HB: Yeah.
JS: Because everything was top secret, wasn’t it?
HB: Yeah, because the plan was for Tiger was for them to go out to India and then move on through Burma to bomb Japan.
JS: We wouldn’t have any radios or anything, you see.
HB: No.
JS: Never heard a thing.
HB: So, how, how did you get to know what was going on in the war then?
JS: Well, we used to, I used to buy a newspaper. the Daily Gazette and pay [unclear] a day it was.
HB: Right.
JS: We had the paper come.
HB: Yeah.
JS: I’ve got one in there actually.
HB: Yeah.
JS: Of when the war finished.
HB: Yeah. So and that was your only source of information.
JS: Yeah.
HB: You, didn’t, you didn’t —
JS: Rumours.
HB: Yeah. I was going to say you didn’t get drawn in every month.
JS: No. No. No. Nothing like that.
HB: So, so, if anybody started a rumour it would be believed.
JS: Oh yeah. It would go like mad.
[clock chiming]
HB: What sort, hey up. That will go well on there. It’s recording it nicely. So what sort of rumours did you get John? Can you remember any of them?
JS: Not really. No. I can’t remember really what there were.
HB: Yeah.
JS: As I say we used to say we used to get this paper every day. That’s about, and we use to get information probably from the front. And past Calcutta wasn’t it? And it was east of the Brahmaputra.
HB: Right. Right.
JS: You used to get a bit of it when the lads used to come because some of the lad used to come back posted to us you see and we used to [pause] any lads that was injured or anything like that we would ferry them back here.
HB: Yeah.
JS: Some of the troops. In fact, after the war we [pause] they built a big trooping camp at Mauripur and most of the lads that were coming back from Burma came through us. We used to get about forty take-offs a day. Dakotas out.
HB: Yeah. And they were flying —
JS: We used to have to service about three aircraft on a shift in them days.
HB: Did you?
JS: Stirlings or Yorks or Dakotas, Liberators. They made everything into a transport.
HB: Yeah.
JS: They even made up a Lancaster. They made a Lancastrians didn’t they? It only held about fifteen people but —
HB: Yeah. Well, if got them back. Yeah. it’s important. So, you’re working your backside off. What about mail from home. Letters from home.
JS: Plenty of mail. We got —
HB: Yeah.
JS: Mail was pretty good actually.
HB: You’re still a single man at this stage, are you?
JS: Yes. Yeah. We used to, we used to get quite a, quite, in fact when I was twenty one my mum sent me a cake.
HB: Oh lovely.
JS: I used to send no end of stuff home because the Yorks especially when we, when we got the Yorks coming through full blast we used to go downtown and buy say boxes of tea and [pause] put, in fact I bought mine with a watch and put it inside the tea because you had to be a bit careful [laughs] And we used to sew these parcels up and the York crews used to post them for us here. They were very good at that for us.
HB: Right.
JS: So I used to get shoes for my sister and mum and I used to send mum dress lengths and things like that. We’d got quite a good thing going actually. But you used to have to parcel them up and then you had to put a declaration on the front. What was in it? You know. For customs this end.
HB: What? Like box of, box of tea containing watch. Yeah.
JS: For this end, you see.
HB: Yeah.
JS: It had to go through customs.
HB: Yeah.
JS: So —
HB: Did you ever have any bother with that?
JS: No. No. No. Well, these aircrew we used to at the back of the outboard engine on the York nacelle there was a big empty space and these lads used to put mats in there, carpets, Indian carpets. We used to take this damned thing down and they used to — [laughs]
HB: This sounds like, this sounds a bit interesting this though.
JS: Well, one thing led to another. It was alright. It was all very legal [laughs]
HB: Yeah.
JS: Well, we got this thing going and then eventually you see we got our turn to come home. So, I went around. We waited. I know was on, off, on, off repatriating for ages. We were getting a bit cheesed off. Eventually we got into a group where our group was coming on. So we got cleared of Mauripur and we had to, we were going to be flown to, this was another thing. We were flying everybody home and we had to come home by boat [laughs] Anyway, we, we got clear of Mauripur and we got we were going down to Bombay. We got in to Dakotas and flown down to Worli at Bombay. While we were down there it was the monsoon season. It just chucked it down with rain about every second. Anyway, we eventually got on to another troop ship. What was that? Strathnaver, was it? Something like that. We weren’t too bad on that one. We weren’t on deck below the water line. But it was the monsoon season and I was sick about every day for a week I should think. I’ve got in there somewhere.
HB: Oh dear.
JS: It was that rough.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
JS: But coming back you see we could come back through Suez because the Middle East was open you see. The war had finished.
HB: Oh, of course. Yes.
JS: So once we got clear of this nice smooth seas it wasn’t too bad. We came through the Suez Canal.
HB: Did you stop on the way through?
JS: No.
HB: At Cairo or anywhere.
JS: Only to take water in at was it Port Said. Port Said, isn’t it?
HB: Yeah.
JS: And it was nice through the Suez. There’s a big statue isn’t there? Ferdinand de Lesseps pointing at Port Said. I think he was something to do with the building of it or something. We passed Aden and Malta and finally got back here.
HB: Where did you land when you came back?
JS: We landed at Liverpool.
HB: You left at Liverpool and you come back there.
JS: Yeah. And what happened then? We got, from Liverpool we went back to a place I think it was West Kirby again. Of course, we were back in our blues then. We got rid of, we threw all the blooming tropical kit overboard into the Arabian, into whatever sea it was we were crossing.
HB: Did you?
JS: Yeah. Bombay bowler and all that went. Anyway —
HB: Was that official or was that just something you did?
JS: We didn’t want the stuff, did we? We’d got to carry it. Anyway, we were back in blues then and it was, oh it was hot when we got back here. It was a beautiful summer. I think it was around about July or August. Got sent home on this embarkation leave for about a month. Then what happened? Oh, I know. I got posted. Waiting for a posting this end I got posted to RAF Silverstone. I think it was 70 OTU, on Wellingtons which was quite nice really. It wasn’t too good for getting home though at weekends. But anyway, I did do. We weren’t there long before they closed Silverstone and we went to, from there to North Luffenham. North Luffenham was, well Silverstone Aerodrome we were, anyway it was a wartime station. We were posted everywhere. Everybody was issued with a bike to get to the technical site.
HB: Oh yeah. And of course that’s Silverstone in Northamptonshire. Where the —
JS: That’s right. Yeah.
HB: Where the Grand Prix circuit is now.
JS: We were all issued with a bike. You had to watch your bike though because if somebody broke the chain they’d pinch yours [unclear] puncture. You had to take your bike to bed with you more or less. Tie it to the side of the bed. Anyway, they closed Silverstone and we got sent from there, the same unit to North Luffenham. That was near Oakham, wasn’t it?
HB: What, was that an OTU?
JS: Terrible that was. Pardon?
HB: Was that an OTU?
JS: Yeah. The same one. The same unit.
HB: Oh right. The whole kit and caboodle moved. Yeah.
JS: They moved out and we moved in.
HB: Right.
JS: But the bull there was terrible. No matter what time you would hear the bugle would go at night we had to stand and salute the blooming direction of the flag. It was terrible there. Anyway, they closed that. Well, they didn’t close it. We got moved from there to Swinderby. The same unit again. There had been Lancasters I think at Swinderby but we took the old Wellingtons there. And from there I got demobbed.
HB: Right.
JS: I got demobbed in [pause] it was that bad winter. Was it ’46? ’47?
HB: ’46/47. Yeah.
JS: Just right coming back from the tropics, wasn’t it? Anyway, I got a job at Avro’s which was only just down from that. Four or five miles wouldn’t it be.
HB: Can I just stop you there, John. You’ve come back. You’ve gone to these OTUs. What was, what were the OTUs doing with the Wellingtons?
JS: Training crews.
HB: They were training crews.
JS: Operational training units.
HB: Right. Right
JS: Training crews I should think. Yeah. On an OTU.
HB: Right.
JS: And then —
HB: So you, so you came back. You get demobbed at Swinderby.
JS: I got demobbed from Swinderby. We had to go back up to West Kirby to get demobbed.
HB: Oh blimey.
JS: And you got, of course, you got a suit and everything didn’t you and a bowler hat [laughs] or a shirt and tie.
HB: Yeah.
JS: And you had to, you were supposed to keep your uniform because you weren’t officially demobbed fully. You were only put on hold for the duration of the present emergency.
HB: Right.
JS: You see, so they could send you back anytime they wanted you.
HB: Right. So, yeah.
JS: If war broke out again.
HB: So, it wasn’t like —
JS: It didn’t.
HB: It wasn’t like the Reserve. It was —
JS: I got a job at Avro’s.
HB: Yeah.
JS: And strangely enough they got a big contract for York refurbishments. I was working on the same aircraft that I had been on in the Air Force.
HB: Yeah.
JS: [unclear]
HB: So where was Avro’s at the time?
JS: Langar.
HB: Yeah.
JS: It was only about four miles from home.
HB: Yeah.
JS: Probably not that.
HB: You were still a single man.
JS: Yeah.
HB: Right.
JS: And I think I was there, I was there about twenty one years actually at Avro’s but I was on engines just the same. Well, I did all systems of engines. I specialised on engine controls at Avro’s and to be on them you had to be, you had to have a [AID] approval. Air Ministry inspected approval. So, I got quite an interesting job there actually.
HB: Did you have to take exams to get that?
JS: No. No. No.
HB: That was, yeah.
JS: It was just something you got. You just got inspected for. You got your job inspected, you know. And I was on engines there. We had a Lanc. We had a York contract and we had a Lancaster contract. We had Lincolns, Shackletons, Vulcans.
HB: The Vulcan.
JS: Yeah. We did experimental jobs on Vulcans. We changed the, we did an experimental fitting of the conway on the Vulcan. And then another one we did we fitted a very high-powered Olympus engine on another one. It was so high powered it was sucking the skin off the intake. But anyway and then another Vulcan when we did the Blue Steel rocket. That was very very secret. They even screened our parents for that.
HB: Did they?
JS: And I got married then in, when [pause] in ’56. I was still at Avro’s. And then of course in ’68 they closed it down. The runways weren’t, it wasn’t worth doing or something. I don’t know.
HB: Yeah. Wow.
JS: I can still quote you the firing order of a Merlin engine.
HB: Quote me the firing order.
JS: A1, B6, A4, B3, A2, B5, A6, B1, A3, B4, A5, B2.
HB: Never forget it.
JS: No.
HB: So overall, you know considering you went in in ’42, you know and you’re well in to ‘46 coming up ’47 when you finished what, what’s your, what’s your biggest, your longest memory? Your best memory of your time during the war.
JS: Comradeship. Miss it a lot. I must tell you this. When, after I’d been at Avro’s some time about the first month or two I just couldn’t settle. I missed the, I seemed to miss the lads and the comradeship, you know. I mean, when you’ve been living with say twenty lads for three years nearly it was like a family wasn’t it? You used to share each other’s joys and sorrows. But I missed, oh I did miss the lads. There came a scheme because that cold war was starting and they bought a bounty scheme out where you could get, they would pay you three hundred pound to go back and you’d keep the same, everything the same as when you left. So, I thought oh I considered doing that and I sent for the papers but as it happened my dad had a, like a stroke, didn’t he? And I thought I just couldn’t leave mother again so I scrubbed around it. But while we were at Langar on the Yorks the Berlin Airlift was on and we worked, we could work for twenty four hours a day because if we wanted because the Yorks were ferrying everything in weren’t they? The Yorks and Dakotas and that and they were all coming back to us in a terrible state.
HB: Yeah. Yeah, and you were doing the maintenance.
JS: Yeah.
HB: On the engines for that. Yeah. Yeah.
JS: Yeah.
HB: So, it was the comradeship that kept you.
JS: Oh yeah.
HB: Going.
JS: I missed it terrible.
HB: When, when you were out in India you were almost isolated.
JS: Yeah.
HB: This RAF camp. What did you do? I mean how did you work for leave?
JS: Oh yes.
HB: Because you were there for what? Three years.
JS: Yes. well, on leave I was. Yes, I must you that. We had a month’s leave each year and I used to go with Alf who I was with all the time. Alf and I we used to go to Simla in the Himalayas. It’s Shimla now. They’ve put an H in it now, haven’t they? We used to go there for a month. I’ve got some nice photographs of that and it used to take us, it used to be a day and a half to cross the Sindh desert by train.
HB: Yeah.
JS: And then another it would take us two days to get to Simla anyway and two days back but it was lovely up there. Seven thousand five hundred feet up, isn’t it?
HB: Yeah.
JS: We did that and then what else? We were so near the, as I say the Arabian Sea. We were at the edge of the desert and there was absolutely nothing there whatsoever. Only desert. We built a, like a little camp there with packing cases of whatever the glider, oh, we had a glider assembly place at Mauripur. We weren’t on that but they came in packing cases and we built this, like a rest camp right on the edge of the sea and we used to go over. We could go there for a weekend or if we got, you know slack time we used to go. We used to bike there across the desert. Yeah. It was smashing there because we never used to wear a stitch [laughs] Not a stitch.
HB: I was starting to wonder they gave you a uniform [laughs]
JS: You were in and out of the sea. There was nobody at all. Only us.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
JS: We were in and out the sea. I’ve got photographs of it but they did put some shorts on for —
HB: Yeah. So —
JS: Oh, it was, it was smashing there.
HB: Yeah.
JS: You know, it was different. You can’t imagine. I can’t imagine it now, you know and how it was, how relaxed it was there. There used to be, you used to go for long walks right along the beach at night. Of course, there were no mosquitoes there you see at the edge of the sea. So, of course, in the camp we had to sleep under a mossie net and the only big thing about the beds were we used to get blooming bed bugs terrible. And they were only like threaded string along the wooden frame so what we used to do we used to bring a can full of [unclear] petrol back from the tech site, take your bed outside into the middle of the square where there was nothing. Only sand. Louse it with petrol to kill them.
HB: Ah, I thought you were going to say you were —
JS: Bang the blooming bed down and out came the bugs.
HB: I thought you were going to say you set fire to it. Yeah. Yeah, that’s, that would it. That would do it.
JS: Aye. And in the corner of the mosquito net and the damned bed bugs were terrible. And I’ll tell you what else we used to get a lot of. Scorpions. You used to have to tip your shoes upside down at night before you got in to bed because they used to get inside them. What else? Well, there was Praying Mantis and [unclear] cobras under the chocs we used to get. Quite a lot of them.
HB: What, what, what were they?
JS: They were like a big lizard only very poisonous like. Big things. They used to go under the chocs. We’d pull the chocs away probably one of those things would run out.
HB: Sounds a bit —
JS: You got used to it didn’t you?
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You’d have to. That’s where you were working. Yeah.
JS: Well, the scorpions, if you got a scorpion you used to kick it outside and put a ring of petrol around it and light it and it used to commit suicide, don’t they?
HB: Yeah. Yeah. So, so did you, you’d got this massive airfield at Mauripur. You’ve got all these planes coming in. You’ve got all different aircraft types coming in. You’ve got people going, passing through. I mean you must have had, you must have had some accidents.
JS: Oh, we did. We had. We had terrible accidents. We had a Liberator crash one night and of course right around the airfield there was this massive ditch built. Monsoon ditch. Ditch Like a big dry riverbed to protect the airfield in the monsoons but it never did. But anyway, that’s what it was for and this Liberator must have, I don’t know how it managed to crash but it crashed into one of these monsoon ditches, ditches and there was eight Army sergeants in that. Killed them all. Burned out. And you see in those days we had to bury the same day in that climate. We had to, we used to, me being on guard we used to have to fire over the grave and they used to take photos of the grave to send back to the, of course some of these lads were all different religions as well. They had to have different burials [unclear]
HB: And that was, and that was there was a cemetery on the airfield was there? Right.
JS: There was a cemetery in town.
HB: In town.
JS: In Karachi. Yeah. RAF cemetery.
HB: Right.
JS: Well, a troop cemetery because there was a big army barracks there as well. Napier Barracks.
HB: Oh right. So, we’ve been out there, that your best memory is the comradeship. What’s your worst memory? What was the thing that you hated the most?
JS: Heat.
HB: The heat.
JS: Ahum. You got used to it and I tell you what, you used to get awful prickly heat. That was awful. You used to get it around your waist and that. Anywhere where your clothes fitted tight.
HB: What, what was the treatment for that?
JS: None. Eventually, right towards the back end of while we were there they organised hot baths and it was a crude affair. They used to do boil the water outside in this mass tub and the old ones used to come and fill the hot baths for you and you used to get as much hot water over you as you could because it opened your pores and you got rid of, it was the salt in your pores that causes prickly heats and the heat and the water opened your pours and cleaned it all out. So it was quite a good cure for it. But there was no other cure.
HB: Right. So, we’ve come out. Come back. We’re back in England. We’ve gone to work at Avro’s at Langar. So how did you meet your wife?
JS: A dance.
Other: A dance in [Woolsthorpe]
JS: Well, my brother is married to the wife’s oldest cousin.
HB: Right.
JS: Well, we I think we were at a ball at [Woolsthorpe] weren’t we?
Other: [Woolsthorpe] yeah.
HB: Yeah. And that was it.
JS: There’s one other thing I forgot to mention was the monsoons. About [pause] well prevailing wind used to mostly come from the sea which wasn’t too bad but when the monsoons was coming, about June it would change around completely and come from the land. And then we had the most awful sandstorms. Terrible. With having no doors or windows in the barracks, in the billet, it used to fill everything with darned sand.
HB: It must have made maintenance difficult.
JS: And they had to close the airfield.
HB: Yeah. It must have made maintenance on the engines difficult.
JS: Oh well, they had to shut everything down and wrap everything up. Put the engine covers on and everything. It used to like come in drifts but we were issued with special spectacles for that. They had guards on the side because it affected your eyes and used to wrap around your legs. It was terrible. And then when the monsoons came well it was, we only had, it used to last about a week. It used to flood the complete blooming airfield. We’d got no work again and it used to, like I say this monsoon ditch which was supposed to drain it away but it never did but originally the old, well the old it used to wash the top off the blooming billet because it was only like mud. Eventually they proper roofing on. But we used to have to put your ground sheets across the top of your bed just to —
HB: I see. Make do and mend.
JS: I’ll tell you what else it used to be good before. It used to cure the prickly heat. As soon as it used to rain everybody used to strip off completely and run out in it.
HB: So, you didn’t have many female staff on the station then.
JS: None. Oh well, they didn’t bother. These Indian women used to do all the work, didn’t they? The builders and everything.
HB: Yeah.
JS: They didn’t bother. We didn’t bother about them but we did have a, each have a, each billet had a bearer which was an Indian sort of coolie. We used to pay them a Roopee each a week and he used to, we had a water bottle [unclear] we had a bottle. He used to fill that for us, make our beds and sweep the floor and do that for us. Paid him a rupee a week.
HB: Yeah.
JS: He lived on that as well. That would be ten rupees a week which used to be about a pound wouldn’t it?
HB: Yeah.
JS: Not quite a pound.
HB: Yeah. Well, it’s fascinating John. I can see, I can see why we wanted your interview.
JS: Well, that was life in India.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. And what, after Avro finished in the 60s what did you do then?
JS: Went up to [pet foods] in Melton.
HB: Oh right. Right.
JS: Got a job in the maintenance there.
HB: Yeah. Well, I think that brings us neatly to the end of the interview, you know. And if you’re happy.
JS: Yeah. Are you happy?
HB: I’m always happy. I’ll stop the interview now.



Harry Bartlett, “Interview with John Shipman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2024,

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