Interview with Eunice Burley and Leonard Bennett

Title

Interview with Eunice Burley and Leonard Bennett

Description

William [Billy] Lord volunteered for the RAF and having worked for Cable and Wireless before the war he served as a wireless operator with 619 Squadron based at RAF Woodhall Spa. He had one sister with whom he was very close and who was the mother of Eunice and Leonard. Billy’s aircraft was shot down by a night fighter over Berlin. In this interview Eunice and Leonard recall the effect of the grief on the immediate family and on their own growing up years.

Creator

Date

2018-06-10

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:35:54 audio recording

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

ABurleyE-BennettL180618

Transcription

HH: Its the 18th of June 2018 and my name is Heather Hughes for the IBCC Digital Archive, and we’re sitting at Riseholme Hall with Eunice Burley and Leonard Bennett who are the niece and nephew of Billy Lord. And Eunice and Leonard have kindly brought in Billy Lord’s papers this morning for us to digitise. Thank you so much for coming all this way from Surrey and it’s wonderful finally to have this collection and thanks also for giving us this opportunity to record your stories. I wonder if we could start by talking about you yourselves and where you grew up and what kind of home you grew up in and something about your parents.
EB: Right. Well, we were born in Shirley which is just outside Croydon to Lilian and Stan Bennet. I was born in 1950.
LB: I was born in 1947.
EB: We had a very happy childhood. A lovely home. It was a sort of a brand new estate that was built just before the war so it was, everything was lovely. We had a very happy childhood, didn’t we?
LB: Yeah.
EB: So —
HH: What did your dad do?
EB: Well, do you want to say?
LB: Well, we had a horticultural wholesale business. We were, they started off in 1772 as broom makers for the Royal Gardens. Birch brooms or Besom brooms as they were known as and then we diversed in to coach business and we had two coach businesses.
EB: Yeah.
LB: Shirley Coaches and one called John Bennett’s in Croydon. And eventually it was all sold and where we had our premises is now housing isn’t it?
EB: It was the oldest firm in Croydon.
LB: In Croydon at the time.
EB: At the time but it was sold. It had two, over two hundred years. So that was quite sad really wasn’t it?
LB: Yeah. I’ve lived in Shirley all my life. I was born in Shirley.
EB: Yes.
LB: I still live in Shirley so —
HH: Gosh.
EB: And we moved to Warlingham which is nearer to Redhill in 2008 from Shirley so but yes we were all born and bred in Shirley.
HH: And did you go to the same school the two of you?
LB: Yes. We went to Benson Junior School.
EB: Yes, we went to Benson Junior School. Well, yeah, and then you went to –
LB: Shirley —
EB: Shirley High School and I went to Lady Edridge which was a Grammar School in Thornton Heath. Very near Crystal Palace football ground so [laughs] which isn’t there anymore.
LB: And when you come to read the letters in quite a few of them Billy says, “Send my regards to all those in Sandpits.” Well, Sandpits was where we had our business and I had, or we had two uncles living there and the other nan.
EB: Yes. Yeah.
LB: All lived in this little Sandpits Road which is a cul de sac. And our premises were at the bottom of it and he often wrote in his letters —
EB: Yes.
LB: “Send my regards to all at Sandpits.”
EB: And there’s also, I don’t know if you want to know this but there’s also one bit in the letter, one of the letters that says, “Can we have some petrol?” So, because my dad, well my dad was in the war but his family had lorries and coaches. They had petrol. So, he could get down from Woodhall Spa to Shirley but they had to have petrol to go back again so he often used to get some petrol from them.
HH: From the —
EB: But that’s in the letters. Yeah.
HH: From the family. Yeah.
EB: Yes.
HH: So, let’s, let’s talk then about your Uncle Billy because you wouldn’t have had a personal —
EB: No.
HH: Connection with him in terms of having known him personally.
LB: No.
HH: How did you know about your uncle, Billy Lord?
LB: Well, from my nan. Our nan at the time and from our mother. That was the only way we ever, nan used to tell us stories about her son and mum used to tell us stories about her brother.
EB: Yeah.
LB: As I’ve said before the only thing I think sometimes mum used to get a bit confused with her stories.
EB: And also, when I look back I think mum was quite [pause] a bit jealous because my dad’s family had, he had brothers and sisters and uncles, aunts and nans and grandads and the firm had been going for so long and she had no one. Only her mum and dad. And I do think she used to get quite upset about —
EB: That the —
HH: She’d lost her brother.
EB: That she had lost her only brother. Yes. Yeah.
HH: So, I think this is probably a good moment to give us a little bit of detail, just basic detail about what happened to your Uncle Billy.
EB: You mean just about how he died or —
HH: Well, a little bit about the squadron he was in.
EB: Right.
HH: And, and —
EB: Ok. Well, he was, well you know a bit more about him wanting to be a pilot. I mean I didn’t know any of that.
LB: Yeah. He wanted to be a pilot. As I say he was a pilot officer and then for some reason he never, it didn’t materialise.
EB: Yes.
LB: And the story I’ve always been told by my mother was because, or nan, he had one leg slightly shorter than the other one. That’s why I was hoping Peter might be able to tell us when that photograph was taken. I’d like to know where that was and when it was. But apart from that that’s the only thing I remember about the squadron.
EB: He was in —
LB: There might be, but he went all through training for it and then got turned down or ejected right at the last.
EB: So, he was in 619 Squadron which was based at Woodhall Spa and he was a wireless operator. I think he became a wireless operator because he —
LB: Worked at Cable and Wireless.
EB: Worked at Cable and Wireless which was all —
HH: Before the war.
EB: Yes. Which was all to do with things like that wasn’t it? I don’t really know about and, yeah I mean its awkward because I was much younger and I didn’t really know much. I just used to know that there was a photo of him on the piano and he was always there and it was, ‘Oh that’s Uncle Billy,’ and, you know.
HH: What did he mean to your mum?
EB: Oh, he, they were very close. Very close. And it’s only now that I get, as I’m getting older I realise how terrible it must have been for her because also at the time my dad was a prisoner of war for five years. So, although she was married she never saw him for five years. My mum, my nan and grandad had lost their son and she was sort of caught in the middle trying to be a good daughter and give them support but no one was there to support her. And I only realise that now as I’m older what she must have gone through really. Not having anyone apart from her very best friend.
LB: Yeah. Auntie Peggy.
EB: Auntie Peggy. But, because she worked at, Billy got her a job when he went off to work at Cable and Wireless as well. So they, her and Peggy both worked at Cable and Wireless so, so yeah I think she was very attached to him and very, I think they were very close as children growing up from what I can, she said. Although, he, he did get married earlier on so he must have been very young when he got married and obviously I don’t know where he lived.
LB: No. No idea.
EB: I’ve got no idea where he lived when they were —
LB: They used to go to the Lyceum, dancing.
EB: Yeah. And they used to go to, when he worked for Cable and Wireless they used to go to, up to London and do all things like that and they were very, he was quite a Jack the lad I think and liked dancing but then my mum did so, and Peggy used to go with her to these places with her and join in with them. So, but yes. So —
HH: Now, there’s a particular connection that I think it would be worthwhile mentioning and that is your name and how you came to have it.
EB: Oh yes [laughs] Well, after he, he got divorced from his first wife. I don’t know her name. I don’t know anything about her. None of the family liked her. That’s all I can say. That my mum thought she was awful and then he met a girl called Eunice and they got engaged while he was training at Andover and her name was Eunice and I’m named after her. I do know that after the war when obviously he had died she met, she married an American but whether he was in the Air Force, Army I’ve got no idea and went to live in America so we’ve never seen her since. I did try and look up her name on Ancestry.co but I didn’t find it.
LB: You didn’t know her surname or something.
EB: Well, mum did tell me it was something but again this is the, that’s the trouble. You don’t ask these questions when your parents are young. You only wait until they’re in their nineties and then their memories are going anyway.
HH: So, as you were both growing up what sorts of stories did your mum tell you about your Uncle Billy?
LB: Well, she told me but I don’t know. We don’t know again if it’s true to not. She told me that he was shot down and crash landed on the Yorkshire Moors but, and he was missing for two days and they had a telegram to say that he had been, he was, we put assumed missing in action but then he turned up. So, I don’t know. You never know when the truth ends and fancy starts but I’m not sure if that was true or not.
EB: I don’t know.
LB: No.
EB: You see I’ve never heard that.
LB: No. And it —
EB: Because, yeah.
LB: And the other one was she said, well nan told me this so it must be true.
EB: Oh, so it must be true.
LB: Yeah.
EB: Yeah.
LB: That someone who he was very close to in the Bomber Command came down to see my nan after he was shot down but there was, and he said he was in the next plane to him and he said he wouldn’t have suffered. He said, an almighty explosion and the plane just disappeared. I don’t know who it was but I remember nan telling me all this at the time. Well, not at the time but when I was old enough to understand what had happened. And it’s only sort of stories that I’ve —
EB: Yes.
HH: But, but she obviously must have spoken quite a bit about, about him. Did she? And there was that presence of the photograph.
EB: Yes. Well, my nan was very Spiritualist. She was a Spiritualist and she used to go to —
LB: Spiritualist Church.
EB: Spiritualist meetings and Spiritualist Church. Yeah, so they didn’t have a séance they, it was a proper church in West Wycombe in Kent.
LB: I took her to a thing up in London once.
EB: Yes. Yeah. And, and I do know that my mum went once. Mum wasn’t. She was more just a normal Church of England but nan was very in to it. Now, whether that was because she’d lost her only son, you know. You don’t know what you would do would you in the circumstances. And she was very that way inclined and she used to say that Billy often used to come through to her and tell her to be all, you know, everything was fine, he was happy and, but I do know that my mum went once and I was doing my O levels at the time and the lady said, the spiritualist lady said that she wasn’t to worry. That I would do ok and, because Billy was watching over me from the photo. Because I used to do my homework in the same room as the photo. But nan never, nan never spoke to me much about Billy. Did she speak?
LB: She spoke to me more about it I suppose.
EB: Yeah.
LB: I remember taking —
EB: And Grandad, he never said anything.
LB: He never spoke about it at all.
EB: No. Never said anything about it.
LB: That was his father.
EB: Yeah.
LB: He, he didn’t speak [unclear]
EB: No. No.
LB: I remember taking her up to somewhere up in London. There was hundreds of people there for this —
EB: Spiritualist.
LB: Spiritualist meeting. And the guy who was doing it said, ‘I’ve got a pilot here.’ And asked people to put up their hand up if anybody lost somebody in the war. And nan put her hand up and then this person whittled it right down and actually came up with the name. I’ve never been to one before or since but it’s quite scary. The fact that she, it was a woman I think, she actually knew. I was about nineteen at the time. Just driving wasn’t I?
EB: Yeah.
LB: When I took her up there. Whether or not it was true.
EB: Well, you don’t know do you?
LB: Or whether it was insider information from the Spiritualist Church she went to that tipped someone off but as I say there were literally hundreds of people and —
EB: But then you don’t know because I mean nobody knew that we had a picture on the piano.
LB: No.
EB: Of Uncle Billy. So why would you suddenly say that? I can understand people saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got a pilot.’ Let’s face it.
LB: Well, an airman, wasn’t it?
EB: An airman. Yeah. Lots of people died in the, in the war so that’s a pretty safe bet isn’t it? But [pause] but anyway, so but grandad never used to say anything. I never heard him speak of Billy at all. Nan used to and my mum used to and it was always happy. They were always doing things and going out together and being a very close, her and Billy were very close. I could imagine, you know and that’s why now I realise that how she came to be quite bitter knowing that my dad still had all his family. They, she didn’t, and I think now when I look back and think well yeah, I can understand.
HH: Yeah.
EB: How she must have felt.
HH: Sorry about the background noise. It’s —
EB: That’s ok.
LB: Our family lost two people in the war. We lost Billy and we lost my dad’s cousin whose name was Leonard.
EB: Yeah.
HH: And I’m named after both of them.
EB: Named. Yeah.
HH: Ok.
LB: Leonard William Bennett.
HH: Gosh.
LB: Yeah. Leonard after —
HH: So, you’ve both got names that —
EB: Yes. Yeah.
HH: That are quite meaningful in that sense.
LB: Leonard was in the Navy. He got —
EB: He was on a Destroyer that got sunk outside —
LB: When it was invaded.
EB: Normandy. Yeah.
LB: Yeah. Normandy Landings. He got sunk that day.
EB: Yeah.
LB: And Billy got shot down. So —
EB: Yeah.
LB: That’s how I got my two names, Leonard William.
EB: Yeah. Leonard William.
HH: Now, Eunice, you particularly and maybe Leonard as well have, you’ve done a bit of research about your Uncle Billy, in, in recent years.
EB: Yes. Yeah.
HH: Explain to me why you wanted to do that or needed to do that.
EB: Well, it all started, I started doing just research on the Bennett family because we’d known that went back a long long way and then I thought we’d do mum’s family which we didn’t know so much about because also they came from Bermondsey up in London and then moved to Shirley. So, we were the only people from my mum’s family living in that area whereas —
LB: Well, they went to Dagenham first.
EB: Yeah. Well, whereas the Bennett’s were always in Shirley. So, and so I just started looking it up. I looked. I went as far back as I could which was about, to about eighteen hundred, wasn’t it? They came from Cambridgeshire. And, and then I sort of got to mum and dad and nan and my mum and Uncle Billy and we sort of, I found out when he was shot down and I thought oh I’d like to find out a bit more about that and I found out the date he died and everything because I never actually knew the actual date he died and, and then I was very lucky. I went, because you can go into the Armed Forces Records but unless you pay extra you can’t see their record. It only tells you their rank and number and when they died. And I don’t know why I did it but I went on to Facebook and I just put in about 619 Squadron. I just put, typed in 619 Squadron and this very nice man came back and said yes, he’d got all lots of records and if I wanted to find out a bit more and I put, told him who my uncle was and what have you and he told me all the crew, where he was shot down and everything and then, well —
LB: You’ve got those details haven’t you?
EB: Yes. You’ve got all the details that he sent us and, and since then he’s also told us how they died and what have you and all his flight operations. And where they were stationed and that’s sort of what started it really. But that was only two or three years ago and then we decided to come up here and look for more of it and what have you. So, yeah.
LB: I did go to the grave when I was in Hamburg.
EB: Yes. You’ve been.
LB: Yeah.
EB: To Billy’s grave. Yeah.
LB: At the time it was only a village apparently outside of Hamburg but as Hamburg grew it became consumed by outer Hamburg and I actually got an underground train to it.
HH: Gosh.
LB: Yeah. Well, overground underground. And the actual War Graves is a massive place. I went through the gates and you go in to the room, information desk looking for this grave and there was about two foot of snow on the ground. It was terribly cold. It was in January wasn’t it? And they, they said, ‘Well, you’ve got to go right up there until you come to British one.’ I walked and walked and walked and I got there, got to the chapel. I mean, the graves, you’ll see in the photo there’s only about that much of the tops of the gravestone above the stone level.
EB: Through the snow.
LB: So, I couldn’t see which was his grave.
EB: Oh, right.
LB: So I went to the chapel and left the flowers I brought in the chapel but —
EB: My nan went.
LB: She went, yeah.
EB: Yes. With the Red Cross. They took them but it wasn’t until 1970s, was it?
LB: No. No.
EB: Because grandad had died by then so it was just her. She went with the British Red Cross to see the grave where her son had died. Well, you know. Which was quite nice for her. I haven’t been yet so —
HH: Do you hope to?
EB: Yes. Yes, Roger and I hope to go out there one day and have a look. It’s sort of combining it perhaps with our —
HH: And when you came to the IBCC last year there wasn’t the building there but you were able to find his name.
EB: Yes, his name was there.
HH: On the Memorial Wall.
EB: Yes. Yes. Yeah. Which, I mean, we were so lucky that day. It was, I mean I was telling Len about it. I mean we, I didn’t know it existed. That’s, you know, we were coming up to Lincoln just to go to Woodhall Spa. I knew he was stationed there and I just thought, oh well and we’d seen a documentary about that East Kirkby Lancaster and we thought well we’ll go to that.
I didn’t even know the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was stationed up here either. So, we, that’s what we were going to do and we went to the East Kirkby place and got some pamphlets like you do when you’re there and it happened to mention about the IBCC. And I thought oh and I happened to phone up and I spoke to —
HH: Sue or Nicky probably.
EB: Yes. Yeah. And she said, ‘Oh, well, we’re not open.’ And I said, ‘Oh well, never mind.’ And she said, ‘Can you, its not opening —’ and I said, ‘Oh no, we live the other side of London.’ And she said, ‘Well, why don’t you come along? We’ve got some other people that are coming.’ So if it hadn’t been that I, you know it was all —
LB: Meant to be.
EB: Meant to be. Yes. Yeah. So, yeah, so —
HH: And that’s how we met.
EB: Yes.
HB: And got to talked about the letters.
EB: That’s right. Yes.
HH: Yeah.
LB: Yes. Yeah. You said to me, ‘Have you got anything?’
HH: It’s so wonderful to have them.
LB: Yes.
EB: Yes.
HH: And to be able to digitise them.
EB: But we didn’t, I don’t know, we didn’t notice, know we had any letters did we until mum went.
HH: How did you discover those?
EB: Well, because mum went into a nursing home about three, three years ago.
LB: Five years ago.
EB: Yeah. Three or four years ago and obviously we had to clean out the bungalow that they’d lived in and we sort of came across them then, didn’t we?
HH: And you didn’t know of their existence until then.
LB: No.
EB: No. No.
LB: But lots of things went missing because I did know that nan had a telegram about Billy being shot down.
EB: Yeah. We haven’t got that. No.
LB: So I don’t know what mum’s done with that.
EB: No. No.
LB: I never, we never found it.
EB: No. No.
HH: Where had she kept these papers? These last few.
LB: Just in a drawer in a cupboard, wasn’t it?
EB: I think they were in the drawer in her bedroom. Yeah. And it wasn’t until I was going through it systematically, sitting on the floor like you do and I thought what’s all this and yeah, I think it was in a metal box, weren’t they? Weren’t they in that funny little cranky metal box that had a dent in a middle? And it looked really and I just said, ‘Oh,’ you know, ‘What one earth are these?’ And started reading them and realised.
HH: What they were.
EB: But the funny thing was I never found any letters from my dad to my mum and he obviously sent her loads. I’ve got letters from her, him to his mum and dad that he sent when he was a prisoner of war but we never found any to mum, did we?
LB: Well, I did see some.
EB: But where are they then?
LB: I don’t know.
EB: I haven’t got them.
LB: She probably, because there was a lot of censorship in it.
EB: Yes. Yes.
LB: Where they’d gone through with a black line.
EB: Yeah.
HH: It’s so interesting what people choose to discard when they move on through life and what they choose to keep.
EB: Yes. Yeah.
HH: And these clearly were very precious to her. These —
EB: I think also a lot of the time she was quite cross with my dad to think that he’d gone off for four or five years and was a prisoner. I know it sounds stupid but in her mind she’d lost her brother and my dad wasn’t even there to help her. And he was a prisoner of war the whole time. So —
HH: Yeah.
EB: Because, I mean he was captured in 1940 and spent the —
HH: Spent the rest of the war in —
EB: Yeah. Didn’t come back
HH: As a prisoner of war.
EB: He escaped from Italy and then was picked up again and taken to Germany so, yes. He didn’t —
LB: Finished up in Czechoslovakia.
EB: Yeah.
LB: That’s another story anyway. So —
EB: Yes. That’s another story. So —
LB: But the impact on her would have been quite profound.
EB: Yes. And also having your own firm, when he came back he had to knuckle down and make the business, well he was the brains behind it.
LB: His brother was —
HH: What happened with, how did it tick over when he was away?
EB: Well —
LB: Well, his father was still alive.
EB: Yeah.
LB: And he had two brothers who didn’t go in to the war. I bet they were too old.
EB: They were old. Too old I suppose.
LB: A bit too old.
HH: So, they kept the business going. The family business.
LB: They kept the business going, yeah. Because dad was the youngest.
EB: It was only ticking over. Dad was the cleverest one of the family and it was his brains that made it. Took over.
LB: Yes. He was a [unclear]
EB: Bennetts Coaches which were very big in South London at the time and, and diversified from just making, we used to make John Innes Compost and then, and do the brooms and he —
LB: One of the biggest manufacturers in the country at one time.
EB: Yes. Yes.
LB: In compost.
EB: Yeah. And then it obviously got bigger and obviously he was very busy, never there, you know and I think that’s why she was even crosser with him at times. Although they stayed together for sixty odd years, didn’t they? So, yeah.
HH: Amazing. Yeah. Yeah.
EB: Yeah. So —
HH: So, what is the story knowing what you now know. I mean what does the story of Billy Lord mean to you now?
EB: Well, I just wish I’d known him because —
LB: We’d have loved to have met him.
EB: Yes. I think we would have got on really well.
LB: He was also a good rower apparently.
EB: Oh, I didn’t know that.
HH: A rower.
LB: Yes.
EB: I didn’t know that.
LB: He used to row on the Thames in this club. Well, his father, grandad did as well.
EB: Yeah.
LB: And Billy did that as well.
EB: I didn’t know any of that.
LB: Yeah. And at Andover.
EB: And he was a boxer, you said.
LB: And he was a boxer.
EB: Yes.
LB: In that box we brought up there’s some medals. Is there a box of medals in there as well?
EB: No.
LB: Oh ok. He won some.
EB: No. We didn’t bring that.
LB: He won some belts. I don’t know where.
HH: Well, Bomber Command squadrons had boxing teams.
EB: Yes. So, he might have done it in —
LB: It might have been there. I don’t know. Never said —
The medals he’s got at home were before that because we looked a couple of days —
LB: Yes. I think you’re right. Yeah.
EB: Before we came up. They were nineteen, like ‘36 so he obviously did box so he might have well boxed up here as well. So, but yes, I just, I just wish he’d been alive and I think my mum wishes he’d stayed alive obviously and I think she would have been happier and I think it wouldn’t have been such a one-sided family. We grew up with —
LB: I’d have like to have sat down and talked to him about his wartime experiences.
EB: Yes. Yeah.
LB: We learned lots from my own dad about his war experiences but everything else we get is second hand, sort of.
EB: Yes. Yeah.
LB: All the time.
EB: Yeah.
LB: Which is a shame.
EB: And, of course now it’s too late because mum’s gone as well. So —
HH: But the important thing is that you have carried on telling the stories that you learned long, from long ago and you supplemented those stories with research that you have done.
EB: Yes. Yes.
HH: So that in a sense your family can pass those on for the future.
EB: Yes. Yes. Yeah.
LB: Oh yes.
EB: Well, it’s funny actually because my daughter, my youngest daughter who’s got two little boys, seven and six, they’ve been sent homework home this week actually saying they would like, they are doing the Armed Forces Day on the 29th of June and could they bring in all information from their, any relatives that were in the Second World at War. First or Second World War. So, we’ve got lots to do with my dad but they’ve also got lots, they’re going to take out everything I’ve got about Uncle Billy as well so it’s going to be passed on to the next generation which is, I think is lovely.
HH: Yeah.
EB: And Michael, the seven year old, he knows that he’s had a great uncle who was a pilot and he said he was in the war and he, he gets quite proud of it. The fact that,, I think it’s that fact he was in a plane and what have you but they don’t realise that the consequence of war do they at that age? So —
HH: No. But that’s how you pass the stories.
EB: Yes. Yes. Yeah.
HH: From generation to generation.
EB: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: Isn’t it?
EB: And my daughter actually, Helen, my dad, I know it’s nothing to do with Billy but dad wrote all his memoirs down of being in the Prisoner of War camp and she got it all and put it in a book.
HH: Wonderful.
EB: And she had, gave one to everybody, didn’t she? And its called, “My [Gas] in the War.” by Stanley Bennett. And yeah, so his, that will be remembered forever. So it’s all what he wrote down and how, what have you and we got him on tape as well haven’t we? Talking.
LB: Yes. Somebody came down and interviewed him.
EB: Yeah.
LB: I don’t know who it was.
EB: I don’t know.
LB: I’ve got the tape at home.
EB: Yes. And well, we put it on to a CD and it’s so funny because he said he was driving this truck in the Libyan desert and they don’t know where they’re going. They just were told to take some bombs to some other depot.
LB: [unclear]
EB: And travelling along and lo and behold seven tanks were coming along the same road and they just, he said, ‘I got off there pretty quick.’ But he didn’t, they didn’t, they just went and they were fine so —
HH: There are some weird situations.
EB: I know.
HH: In the middle of a war.
EB: Yeah.
HH: Yes.
EB: Yeah. But so, yes it will be all remembered and I’m pleased that Billy will be remembered and I’m, I think that’s why I wanted to do it. because I’m sorry that I never thought to ask lots and lots of questions but —
LB: Well, there’s more you could have asked but you have got to be careful as well, haven’t you? Because —
EB: Well —
LB: You start digging too deep and they get upset.
HH: I think the other thing is that when people are traumatised and that upset often they don’t want to talk.
EB: No.
HH: And that would have been much more the prevailing way of dealing with things. To bottle it up.
EB: Yes.
HH: Nowadays, I think we’ve changed how we deal with these things.
EB: Yes. Yes.
HH: And we tend to be encouraged to talk it out.
EB: To talk about it. Yes.
HH: Whereas in those days I think people were told that, you know the sense of the situation was that you just kept it to yourself and you just carried on and, yeah.
EB: And I suppose people, there were so many people that had lost people.
HH: Yeah.
EB: You know.
HH: It would have been very different.
EB: Difficult yes.
HH: Yeah.
EB: You can’t —
HH: Yeah.
EB: Yeah, so but —
HH: Well, thank you very much —
LB: So, what I can’t, sorry I was just going to say —
HH: You carry on.
LB: One of the things that we still can’t understand is he had, at the end of the war an Canadian or an American pilot.
EB: There was, he was an Amer, Canadian. He was an American.
LB: He was an American flying for the Canadian Air Force.
EB: Yeah. Because he couldn’t, yeah.
LB: Yeah, but before that as far as I can ascertain he only became the pilot for that last flight. Is that right?
EB: I don’t think so.
LB: Well, in one of the letters it said that whoever was the pilot got moved to another plane for some reason and they got this new guy come in.
EB: Oh, Heffernan.
HH: Yeah.
EB: I don’t know.
LB: I thought he —
EB: I thought he was with him the whole time.
HH: In fact, what happened during the war was that because America stayed out for so long Americans who wanted to volunteer for the RAF or where ever else presumably crossed into Canada.
EB: Yeah.
HH: And they served with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
EB: Yes.
HH: And then when America did enter the war they were given a choice to join American squadrons or to stay with the Canadian ones.
EB: Yeah.
HH: And many of them elected to stay.
EB: Yes.
HH: Because the thing about Bomber crew was that the crew themselves formed incredible tight bonds.
EB: Yes. Yes.
HH: Incredibly tight bonds.
LB: But he decided to stay obviously.
EB: And I didn’t realise that man that I spoke to, David Young on the 619 Squadron Facebook he said that they all went to, after they did their basic training they eventually went on to two bomber, two engine bombers to train with those and then they went on to the really heavy Lancasters and they sort of were practically sort of put in a big room together and they made their own crews that —
HH: That’s right.
EB: People they got on well with. You know, obviously, you had to have a pilot but they sort of, a lot of them —
HH: It was a deliberate —
EB: Yes.
HH: It was a deliberate strategy to, to try to ensure that crews got on with each other.
EB: Got on with each other.
HH: It was their responsibility to get on.
EB: Yes. Yes.
HH: It was nobody else’s responsibility.
EB: No. Yes. Yeah.
HH: They had to —
EB: Yeah.
HH: Make a go of it because they were so dependent on each other.
EB: Yes. Yeah. Now, whether he was with another person in the Wellington crew before they got on to the heavy Lancasters but he was with Heffernan the whole time.
LB: That’s what I don’t understand because in 1942 he was at Andover. Then he went to Scotland and he wasn’t killed until nineteen—
EB: ‘44.
LB: ’44.
EB: January 1944.
LB: And yet if that thing is correct he only did about twelve flights.
EB: Well, twelve or thirteen flights before.
LB: Yeah. But according to that he was on a second tour.
EB: Well, I don’t know.
LB: Yeah.
EB: Perhaps, he did a tour with Wellingtons. I don’t know, love.
HH: Well, it’s, yeah you could probably, you could probably find the Service History from the Operational Record Books in the National Archives.
EB: Yeah.
HH: At Kew.
EB: Yeah.
HH: That’s where you would go to find.
EB: Ok.
HH: That detail.
LB: Yeah, I know.
HH: Unfortunately, what most people would be able to have is the logbook. Each person’s logbook but quite often when somebody was killed —
EB: That was, yes.
HH: The logbooks —
EB: Didn’t survive.
HH: Sometimes didn’t be, they weren’t reunited with families.
EB: Yes. Yeah.
HH: So, but you would be able to piece together quite a lot of the story.
EB: Yeah. Well, perhaps we’ll go to there then and ask because also don’t forget the man I was speaking to or on Facebook David whoever. He was from 619 Squadron. So presumably before they were in Wellingtons, when they were training on Wellingtons that wouldn’t have been 619 Squadron would it?
HH: That would have been the final after the Heavy Conversion Unit.
EB: Yes. Yes.
HH: He would have been posted to 619 Squadron.
EB: So, what he did in the others I don’t know, Len. This man was only —
HH: You know, it was very, it was [pause] no two peoples training was identical.
EB: No.
HH: I mean, some were taken across to Canada for training, some were sent to Southern Africa for training.
EB: Oh crikey.
HH: Some were sent to various points in this country. Wales, Scotland, for training and sometimes training could last for a few months and sometimes it went on and on and on. It all depended on circumstances.
EB: Yes. Yes. Yeah.
HH: And so it can be —
EB: Yes.
HH: Quite a confusing picture to piece together.
EB: So, we have to go to the National Archives at Kew. Ok. We’ll do that then, Len.
HH: That’s another day’s outing.
EB: Yes, it is, isn’t it? That’s not far from us. Well not that far. Yeah.
HH: Well, thank you so much both of you for sharing these memories and these stories and it will be wonderful to be able to put these stories that you’ve told us in to the collection in the Archive. Thank you so much.
EB: Well, thank you for having us, Heather.
LB: It’s been a pleasure.
HH: Thank you.
LB: Most enlightening.
EB: Yeah.

Collection

Citation

Heather Hughes, “Interview with Eunice Burley and Leonard Bennett,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 2, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10728.

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