Interview with Francis Burtenshaw


Interview with Francis Burtenshaw


Francis Burtenshaw lived in Teddington. He worked at the Hawker aircraft factory until he was called up to the Army. He was posted to India to work in Intelligence. He worked near the bases of Generals Auchinleck, Cawthorn and Wavell and was working with intelligence regarding the war in the Pacific.








01:42:45 audio recording


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FB: Yeah.
TO: So, what year were you born?
FB: 1924.
TO: And where did you grow up?
FB: Where did I grow up? In Teddington, where I left and turned the key on my house that’s thirteen months ago to sell my house to come here. Yeah. And I failed my 11 Plus, but it didn’t go against me in anyway because, you know I seem to, when I went to the Council School they were a very good school and believe me there's none about them now. There's no schools about them right now. The masters although they were very strict we respected them. We respected the masters and the headmaster. He even interviewed my mother and father to see how I was getting on and everything at school. We had everything there. Sports. Swimming. Everything. Athletics. You know. And then I left. I left there in 1938 and I was, you know, automatically sent a letter from Hawker Aircraft to say that I was assigned there and would I report there. And that's where I went. All I started doing was fetching and carrying. That's all I knew about aircraft. And then as time went on I used to sit in all the Hawker Hurricanes that they fought the Battle of Britain with. I actually sat in them, you know. Yeah. And a Scottish engineer called Jock Golds. He was a very very clever engineer. He sat me down one afternoon and he said, ‘Now, Frank,’ he said, ‘I'm very pleased to have this interview with you.’ He said, ‘I’ve just come to see what you know.’ After an hour he said, ‘Well, Frank,’ he said, ‘You don't know a lot. But we're going to teach you.’ And they did. Oh yes. They did. Yeah. And then I got my calling up papers for the Army. 1938. Yeah. No. No. Not 1938. 1942. And I reported to the Royal West Kent Regiment at Maidstone in Kent and we went through six weeks of constant, I mean all us lads, we were all fit from school and you know you could stand it but I mean we had to climb over walls, climb through barbed wire. Your name it you had to do it, you know. Physical training twice a day. And do you know who brought that in? General Montgomery. Under his orders. Twice a day physical training. Yeah. And then I went to, I went to an Army Battle School and from then onwards I my eyesight is very short sighted and I went before a medical board and there were some quite high-ranking officers there and they asked me all questions. And I said, ‘Well, you know we don't think you're fit for combat. Not with your eyesight. But we’ll, we’ll put you in a, in other activities.’ Which they did. And then it came on and on and we were sent to India. Yeah. We went there and I got, I got to Bombay and there’s a big military hospital there called [unclear] And I was put in there because I had constant haemorrhaging from the nose and I collapsed. I didn't know where I was and they put me in the military hospital in Bombay. And then as time, there were some wonderful specialists in the Army then. There was the ENT specialist operated on my nose his name is Major [unclear] and they did it all properly. It was done in a big operating theatre and all my nose was cauterized and everything and then they decided that my blood count was very very low so they decided that they would start treating me. Well, you couldn't get any blood plasma in those days. It was all there for the lads down up at the front at Kohima. So, we had oh, what was it? Injections of what was it, Sandra? Liver. Liver injections we had in there twice a day and it built me up again. And then they discharged me from there and then onwards I went and I got put on this draught for India and we went on board the SS Strathaird. P&O Liner. Twenty five thousand tonnes. How many troops on board? I'd better tell you what it was designed for. It was designed for the Australia first class run. P&O. Now, of course it was taken over by the Army so we were put on this Strathaird and there was five hundred first class passengers on the SS Strathaird before the war to go to Australia. How many of us do you think was on there?
TO: About three thousand.
FB: Six. Yeah. And we were so lucky because the German Air Force, and the Rommel, you know, the German Army, they were advancing on Cairo. And the two officers that stopped them going was Wavell and Alexander. Wavell was the Viceroy of India. Did you know that? Yeah. That’s where my office was. Right next door to Wavell’s office in Delhi. Yeah. Yeah. And, yeah we had some very high-ranking officers. Have you ever heard of General Auchinleck? There you are then. Yeah. And he was the commander. He was. Him and Wavell was transferred to India Command and they sent Wavell and, and Alexander to the Western Desert to fight the, with the 8th Army. Yeah. And then I saluted Auchinleck so many times in the HQ. Used to walk past him you know. He had a massive Great War room there. You've never seen anything like it. How, how the, how the allies got everything together to fight that war considering the Japanese had got the upper hand I'll never know. I'll never know how they did it. The organisation in those, a bit different than what they got in Westminster now. They couldn't organise a tea party. They couldn't organise a tea party up there, all the old, you know. It's so sad really. All fighting one another except they should be, you know, doing other things. But as time went on in Delhi I, my friend, two friends and I when we, when we arrived at the training camp in Doolally, it was called Doolally, just outside Bombay we were summoned to the major’s office and he said, ‘Well, you chaps.’ He said, ‘How did you manage this?’ So we said. ‘We don't know, sir.’ ‘The posting you've got is unique.’ And he said, ‘Report to the station tomorrow morning with your kit. You'll have your own carriage and you’re going to New Delhi.’ And then we were introduced to all the people in Delhi because we had to do, had to do all this work on intelligence and we produced a resume of activities every week. That’s three of us did that. But that was all done by the other staff and it was all, do you know what a Roneo is? Oh. That's a very old-fashioned printer. And the old, the old Indian [unclear] they used to print it off but the girls in the office they were stenographers. You know, typists. And they had a, I can never remember what that was they used to print it on. Once they did a sheet it goes. It went on to the Roneo. Then they, we had to send all these things out to all the various Commands you know. Yeah. Yeah. So as time went on of course we were, we were, three of us were made Sergeant because we were handling classified information, you know. And I used to ride about Delhi on my bike with my dispatch case and, and you know I wasn't at all afraid or anything like that. No bother there then. No. Delhi was quite quiet, you know. But then in 1947 Mahatma Gandhi, he stopped the fighting because the Muslims and Hindus and the Sikhs were all fighting one another. And I came out in April ‘47 and that started in ‘48. That did. Yeah. Then as time went on because we used to live in the bungalows at the [Arun?] Stadium in Delhi. That was a stadium, you know for things and yeah, we used to live there. But I see you are to do with Bomber Command well Bomber Harris heard of him?
TO: Yes. Yeah.
FB: Oh sorry. I thought you must have heard of him and of course the Germans laid waste to the East End of London you know. But the point about the German Air Force was in the Battle of Britain they'd got antiquated aircraft. They've got quite a lot of aircraft they’d had before that period of time. The only one that was, that stopped us was the Stuka. Now, that, all the time you know. Yeah. And what about them poor devils that are on the beaches of Dunkirk? Yeah. Stukas. Coming down all the time dropping bombs on them. Yeah. Oh yeah. And then yeah of course Teddington where I live you now do you know Teddington.? Well, you should go there one day it's a very nice little place and there's a plaque on the, on the docks on the, I'm lost for words now Sandra.
Other: Locks.
FB: The locks. The Teddington Locks. And that's where a lot of the boats went to Dunkirk. And they were organised by Mr Tough, Douglas Tough and Bob Tough, his son had just started and they were the ones. They said to all the skippers that had private yachts to come immediately and be interviewed and make sure you’re sea worthy to go where you are wanted to go. And they organised the whole lot. Yeah. Because we had the British Navy as well. I mean they were, played a part. They played a big part in the invasion in 1944. You know. The Germans were behind the Western Wall. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, Sandra said to me, ‘Shall I tell you who my Colonel was?’ Enoch Powell. Heard of him?
TO: Yeah.
FB: Oh right. Yeah. He was my Colonel. He was deputy director of [unclear] Yeah. Yeah. Yes. He, he was a good man but he stepped out of line didn’t he? You know. A lot of problems there. Here you are. I think he did a good job while he was in his, in his office you know. Yeah. Bur of course, we got bombed at Teddington, you know. The Royal Air Force were chasing these bombers and they were coming back over our town because they were fully loaded with bombs and they dropped two bombs right near my house. Yeah. Yeah. They, they were definitely being chased, you know. Then they went all the way along the river to Kingston and our factory only got one hit. One hit. Yeah. One hit they got. But yeah, I mean the [pause] have you heard of, heard of what is it now? Have you heard of Sydney Camm and the Hurricane?
TO: I think so. I'm not sure.
FB: He designed the Hurricane. Yeah. And he designed several other planes. Yeah. Of course, the other man, who designed the Spitfire was Mitchell. Yeah. Yeah. I'll tell you they were wonderful planes and the pilots were alas a lot of our pilots got killed, you know. You know, they did a good job in breaking up the German advance but, you know they had to pay for it. Barnes Wallis said when it came through that they had penetrated the dams, ‘I am so delighted.’ And he broke down. And he said, ‘Fifty young men's lives have been cost in doing that. What I have done.’ You know. He was so cut up about it, you know. He’d lost all his, lost all the men. Yeah. So, you know, Teddington where I was born is a very nice town, you know. Yeah. Well, I came back from India in ’47 and my father was a fishmonger in Teddington and he and my mother had been running that shop all through the war getting whatever they could for the local people. And I didn't know what I was going to do. Now, I've got a letter, my son's got it, it’s, it’s sent to me by General Auchinleck. And it said, “I am very pleased to hear that you were part of our team and thank you for all your services.” My son’s got it. Another one from the First World War is one my father got. Signed by Winston Churchill. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My father was in the artillery in the First World War. And then I didn't know what to do so I thought I'll go in and give it a try and I gradually built a business up. And when I left there in ‘90, in ‘90 it was, it was a going concern. Nobody wanted it then but I reckon somebody would do now. Nobody wanted it. No. No. But yeah, my friend, one of my friends he lived in Halifax. That's where he came from and his father was Chief Inspector of Police. Yeah. He was. His father. Up there in Halifax. And another one of my customers was Superintendent Wilfred Dawes, Chief of the Murder Squad. He was one of my customers. Yeah. So, you know. Is there any, is there any other topic you want to talk about, you know.
TO: Could you tell me a little bit more about your time at the aircraft plant?
FB: Oh yeah. The aircraft factory. Yeah. That's what I was going to say. I’m rattling on here. I’m not going on about what you want. Yeah. Yeah. Hawkers in Kingston was a very antiquated factory and even the stairs when you went down you were doing this it was so antiquated. Anyway, they, they started to update it and they put all modern machinery at the, in the base of the aircraft factory and gradually built it all up you know. They had a day and night shift there. Yeah. Day and night shift. Oh yes, of course two friends of mine who worked in Teddington for a builders in fact a friend of our they went to Hawkers. Why do you think they went there for?
TO: Hurricanes.
FB: Yeah. To build the Hurricane fuselage on a, on a jig. On a jig, you know. Do you understand what I mean? Goes over the air frame. Well, the first Hurricanes they built were wood. The fuselage was wood and the fuselage was covered in canvas and dope. That was what, it smelt terribly, you now. The men that used that they were, had to drink milk all day long, you know. They tightened up all the wings then. Then of course they improved on it and they started putting [unclear] on the Hurricanes then. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, my old friend the Scottish man [Jock Gold] he was, he was the Chief Inspector of flight at Dunsfold and he was the one that said if a plane was alright or it wasn't, you know. Yeah. He was a very nice man he was. Yeah. So yeah. Oh we had, see what they did they, they put all these smaller aircraft units all over the country so that they weren’t you know open to all the bombing, you know. And the coaches used to come every day to Kingston and take the men to wherever they wanted to go. To the factories you see. Yeah. Yeah, there was, because it was, it was there was a lot of labour people around the government during the war. There was a mixture like, you know. And there was [pause] there was a man, the Minister of Food. His name was Mr Woolton. He commanded all the food in the country. And then there was, who else was there? A minister of aircraft production. What was his name?
TO: Was that Beaverbrook?
FB: You’re right. You’re right. Correct. Beaverbrook. Correct. Yeah. You’re correct. Beaverbrook. And because he was a very wealthy man and now, what was he? He owned, he owned newspapers, didn’t he? Beaverbrook. I think he did.
TO: I’m not sure.
FB: Yeah.
TO: Something like that.
FB: He was a quiet man you know. You see, my sister lives at Seaford and her neighbour Mr John Anderson. Are you familiar with the word Anderson?
TO: Oh, the Anderson shelter.
FB: Correct. Yeah. Anderson shelter. We had one in our back yard. I never went in it. I was, we were sitting in our lounge one night and these bombs came down my mother had two scientists that were billeted with my mother. My mother used to look after them and, you know while they were at the[MPL and these two bombs came down. I don't know how my, how my house sustained it but like that you know. It's got a good foundation my house. Yeah. But yeah, of course they’re thinking about the German side of it. You know, because they were, the trouble was the Nazi Party were very nasty people. Well, like the Japanese really. I mean, they were the same. But yeah, but Herman Goering he was the commander of the Luftwaffe but you know I’m just trying to think what else happened at Kingston. You know. I used to, I used to go there every day on my bike, you know to the factory. But I don't know what other activities well you know we used to have light activities you know. We used to have the Hawker Club at [Hamm] which you know you’d go there for relaxation, you know. But yeah I could still see a lot of the, I mean we had all the craftsmen there at Kingston. Tin bashers, you know. They used to mold, you know the front of the aircraft and that. And there was, what were the other men? Oh, coppersmiths. They, they made the undercarriage for the —
TO: For the fighters?
FB: Pardon?
TO: The undercarriage for the fighters was it?
Yes, but what was the name of it? A very famous man who invented that. It was, the only word that comes to mind with me is pneumatic but it was it was a marvellous invention that because they went on later on in the years where you’re seeing all these big planes landing with four hundred people on board. The same thing, you know. Yeah. I’m just thinking about the coppersmiths. Hydraulic. That's the name. That's the word. Hydraulic. And yeah, if course what enabled the Spitfire and Hurricanes they set up a plan where all the girls that were in the lookouts you know. They knew the radar. They knew they were coming and they used to put the word out and before they even arrived to bomb the airfields they’d taken off. And then when the airfields were built, were bombed as soon as they'd gone they used to fill them in again so they could land. They landed on grass, you know. The two fighters. The Spitfire and the Hurricane. Yeah. Merlin engine. Very clever. Clever. Yeah. That was in the Merlin engine was in the, in the big bomber. What was the big bomber now?
TO: The Lancaster.
FB: Correct. Yeah. Yeah. That was a Lancaster. My friend flew one of those. He trained in Canada, in Calgary and he married a Canadian girl. My wife and I were invited out to stay with him after the war. Yeah. In Canada. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, there was, there was other aspects about [unclear] my friend Peter Hall sadly passed on in 2005. He was in command of a gun boat in the Channel and he got into trouble with the Germans and he got sunk. So, he was immediately, was assigned to another boat and where do you think he had to come and get it?
TO: Teddington.
FB: Correct. Yeah. Built by Tough brothers. And yeah, and my mother was in the shop this morning, this is a true story and she heard this shuffling ch ch ch. What's that? All of a sudden this voice shouted out, ‘Eyes left for Mrs Burtenshaw.’ That was my mother. That was Peter. Come to pick up his boat. Oh yeah. I’ve got some stories I’ll tell you. Yeah. Yeah. He, he was in command of a minesweeper in the Channel on D-Day. Yeah. Old Pete. Have you heard of Hampton Grammar?
TO: No, actually.
FB: No.
TO: No.
FB: Well, it was a very famous school there. A lot of the boys from there went into the Air Force, you know and it was a very good Grammar School. There's another one around here called Latymer. That's, that's a quite a good school. Yeah. Private school. But yeah, I'm just trying to think about other aspects of, of course Kingston you wouldn't know it now to when we were there you know. Not with the factory. That's all gone. That's one of the law courts now. See. The Guildhall at Kingston is the law court but the Hawker factory and all that’s all gone. Yeah.
TO: How would you describe the working conditions inside the factory?
FB: Pretty poor in ‘38 and a bit precarious. Those stairs that we used to, you see what happened was we were getting the men on the roof, you know what they called overlooking the situation. You know, as soon as they got the signal that the bombers were coming they used to sit it the signal and we all had to evacuate downstairs into fallout shelters you see. They were only brick shelters. If we'd got, if we'd got a direct hit we were a bit, we wouldn’t have survived. But then of course it was a modernised, you know. Yeah. Yeah. As the war went on. Yeah. Yeah. There was a lot of good engineers there. Mr Viney. He was the chief of the machine shop. No. He’s, oh, I’m getting the department I was in, inspecting them was run by Mr Jefferson. He was the Chief Inspector. He lived in Teddington. Yeah. But yeah. Any other. Any other things you can think of?
TO: What was your everyday routine at the factory?
FB: Factory. Well, when I first went there I was fetching and carrying as a boy. I had a senior man with me. He used to give me a tick on the pack and he used to say, ‘Now, Frank. I want you to go and get this.’ But the point was that all the spare parts and jigs and everything else were, you know, very scarce so if I got the order that I got to get to a jig it will probably be in the hands of a welder. So I used to go and see the welder and he would say, ‘Well, come back in half an hour and you could take it.’ You know. He’d done his job with it and that was the job I’d got on. I used to have to go to the drawing office and get all the drawings and that was the [unclear]. The [unclear] and the, you know they were all there. All those drawings. Yeah. But you see and then I advanced. A very menial job I had. I, we used to stamp all the parts you know and all the parts that went into the aircraft were called, they were put in annealment. Annealment troughs, acid to protect them against whatever they wanted to do, you know. But yeah, that was my general thing because the Chief Inspector came up to my, up to my address, my bench and he said, ‘How would you like to go into the Inspection Department, Frank?’ So I said, ‘That would be nice, sir.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Report there on Monday morning and you can start there. And that's where I learned a lot of things, you know. Technical drawing and everything I learned when I went there. Yeah. Yeah. And of course, that was the end of me there. I wasn’t considered value enough to stay there so I had to join the Army.
TO: Don’t forget your drink by the way.
FB: Oh, thank you. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: Do you remember the preparations that were being made for the war?
FB: Well, I was only fourteen. Shall, I tell you where I was when the air raid siren went off? I was fourteen years old and I was standing at the top of my road and the air raid siren went off. Mr Chamberlain said we have no known reply from the Chancellor of Germany. We are now at war with Germany. That was the start of it. But I mean, I still can't get through my mind how they organised everything because the Americans after Pearl Harbour they came in and they helped us a lot of course, you know. All our Liberty ships. Heard of them? How many did they used to turn out a week of those? I don't know. Loads. They were all, launched them sideways you know. Yeah, and yeah, because the Americans they, it was Churchill. I mean are you going to go and see the film?
TO: May do. Maybe.
FB: Not worried.
TO: I don’t know. I’m not sure. I don’t go to the cinema that much.
FB: Yeah. Well, you know what, you know what it’s called don’t you?
TO: Yes.
FB: Churchill. Yeah. The man had just got the award for it, hasn’t he? Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, preparation. Yeah. There was a lot that went on, do you know but it didn't go on fast enough because Churchill kept on saying to the government do this, do that, you know. They knew what was going on in Nazi Germany but of course in the end of course he became Prime Minister and things started to move then, didn't they? Yeah. So, yeah, preparation was as much as it could have been, you know. But I mean we, we could have, if it hadn't been for twenty two miles, no Channel Tunnel there then we would have been overrun. Yeah. Yeah. That’s, yeah that was, that was our defence really.
TO: What did you think of Churchill?
FB: Well, a wonderful man. What could you say? Made mistakes. He made mistakes but who doesn't make mistakes when you're in command of a, you know, that sort of thing you know. They sent, they sent two battleships to the Pacific the Repulse and the Renown both sunk by the Japanese. No air cover. No air cover. Yeah. The Japanese torpedo planes came over. That was it. You know, and there was about eight hundred men were there. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, yeah I'll never forget Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he said, I can't, I can't pronounce the word he said but he said the Japanese government have just performed the most historically, I think it’s not quite the right word, act against the United States. And he said we will do our best to stop them, you know. They had to drop the atom bomb on them in the end because they couldn't, you know they couldn't think how they were going to get rid of them, you know. It could have taken another three years to win that war. The Japanese. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah the, yea, those two fellas in Teddington, they were both carpenters and they both worked for a local builder and they, they went and started work on the fuselage in the, in a Hurricane. And then, oh yes another man he used to make his own cycles his name is CR Philbrook and he uses to walk around in his work coat and everything and he got, you know when you heat up things? It was in the back of his shop. He used to mould all these various parts for the, they were his own make, you know. His name is CR Philbrook. He was in Teddington. Yeah. Sir Charles Darwin was at [MPL] Yeah. He was there. Have you got any other ideas of what you want to ask about?
TO: When you were sent out to India —
FB: Yeah.
TO: Was there a concern that Japan would invade India?
FB: Pardon?
TO: When you were sent out to India —
FB: Yeah.
TO: Was there a concern that the Japan would attack the country?
FB: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. They had come across the water to Singapore and there was no stopping them. But they, they got to Imphal and Kohima and my old friend, there's his watch look, his uncle was in the battle of Kohima and he was blinded, his uncle was. But the, yeah they were well dug in there but, you know, but, you know, the 14th Army, you know they, once they started to win the Japanese started to run down to Rangoon. You know. And then that was, you know the start of the better time for us. Yeah. So, yeah, I'm just trying to think. I used to make, when I was at home you know I had a little workshop in my garage and I used to make all sorts of things that I learned to make in Hawkers you know. But yeah, it was, they, they reckon today at the moment there's only sixty six apprentices that are qualified at the moment, you know. And they are all, they are employed by a [unclear] company. Yeah. They often give it out on the TV, you know. But these people who are employing these people are now skilled you know. My son got an apprenticeship and he did well for himself. He’s been twenty one years now, San. Yeah. Twenty one years of it.
Other: What for?
FB: Andrew.
Other: What his business?
FB: Eh?
Other: What? His business?
FB: Yeah.
Other: Forty one.
FB: He’s a professional Carpenter. Yeah. He’s very fussy about his work Yeah. He’s not doing so much work now because you know he was, well he's taken on all sorts of work isn’t he. Yeah. Yeah. You’re, where did you say you were based at?
TO: Well, I'm actually doing this independently as a hobby.
FB: Oh right.
TO: But I share the recordings with the International Bomber Command Centre.
FB: I see.
TO: So, they have it preserved. So —
FB: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Ever been to Manston?
TO: No, actually. No.
FB: No.
TO: No.
FB: That was another aircraft aerodrome, you know and there are pictures in there. My friend lives in Broadstairs, and her cousin was on the, on the raid on the dams and his picture’s in there. Yeah. Yeah. Peter. Yeah. He was a, in one of those things but yeah we used to go there quite often to the Manston Airport. Had our lunch there and had a ride around in the bus and all that, you know. Yeah.
TO: What was your impression of General Auchinleck?
FB: Auchinleck? Well, I presume he must have done a very good job in India, you know but I’ve not really got a lot of, you know, knowledge about him. Yeah. There's a book called, “The Unknown Soldier.” That’s about him. Yeah. Yeah. Cawthorn was one, he was in India but yeah but it's very, the word went around that all that we’d been sent to India for originally was to defend the empire, you know. To stop the Japanese getting into India. All that was wasted because you know they got this partition came along. Muhammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan and Pandit Nehru, India. They were the two main ones. Are you familiar with their names? Oh, you are. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: What was your, what do you remember about Enoch Powell?
FB: Well, I'll tell you he was a very very reserved man. I mean I, when I was sitting in my office in Delhi I could do that and touch him on the shoulder, you know. But he didn't have a lot to do with us. General Cawthorn, he was the one that always used to speak to us, you know. But Cawthorn was higher than him but he, he couldn’t, you know, we couldn’t really, in direct contact with him. But I took my files to the Houses of Parliament to see Enoch Powell. I was invited there and we arrived one afternoon and the sergeant at arms at the House of Commons tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Mr Burtenshaw, Mr Powell will see you now.’ And we went into his room to see him, you know. Talking about Delhi and all that. You see he was in the western desert. Yeah. Yeah. Some of those people had a really rough time. Yeah. Yeah, cause the Chindits they were very brave people. Oh dear. I knew several. I knew several officers that used to go behind the Japanese lines. Yeah. And they always survived, you know. Yeah. They always survived. So, yeah, all the old airfields in England, I don't know if they sold a lot of them off. I went to Malta to Gozo and they had an Air Force unit and of course the Germans very nearly got in to, nearly got in to, that's gone isn't it? Gozo. Malta. Malta. Yeah. Malta. Yeah. You know, my general admiration is for those people that organised that war. They really knew what they were doing. Can you imagine all the people that had to be employed? Civil servants sending out calling up papers. You know. And not only that, railway passes. Report here. Report there. You know. Get on a train. Because they had military police at most of the stations. You know, you didn't get past them unless you’d got a pass. Yeah. But yeah, I mean the, of course Bomber Command it got so massive in the end under Bomber Harris that you know they, what was it? Where was it they bombed?
TO: Do you mean Dresden?
FB: Was it Dresden? It was wasn’t it?
TO: Yeah.
FB: Bomber Harris. Yeah. Yeah. He got rolled over the coals over that didn't he? Yeah. Yeah. Old Bomber Harris. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: What do you think of General Wavell?
FB: Wavell. A very good man. He was the one that stop the Germans from getting to Cairo with Alexander. And then Montgomery and Alexander took over in the western desert. But yeah, he did a very good job in, you know, in defence. I mean they got very close to Cairo, you know. They could have easily captured it. Yeah. So yeah, they could have done. Yeah. Wavell. Peter Montgomery. One of my officers. the Viceroy's social secretary. He used to organise all the Viceroy's things that went on in the Viceroy's Palace. He came in our office and he said, ‘How would you three chaps like a nice treat tonight?’ So, we said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘Well, get yourself up to the Viceroy's Palace and you’re invited to a band concert.’ And we got there and were seated and then all of a sudden the band struck up, “God save the King.” Wavell and Lady Wavell appeared. He was in his Army uniform with his red sash and Lady Wavell was in a white crinoline gown with a blue sash. Then we all sat down and the concert started. That wasn’t the finish of it. Captain Montgomery said, ‘Are you fellas hungry?’ So, we said, ‘Well, we are a bit, sir.’ ‘Go and see what's in the next room.’ Couldn't believe it. It was all laid up in there with all the various people, you know eating all this. Yeah. Yeah. Of course, the people that lived in India say back in the 20s or so had a very good life. And at Singapore. The same thing. All had servants and there wasn't and of course it all gradually [pause] oh, sorry, it all gradually went pear shaped in the end, didn't it? The old British empire. Yeah.
TO: You can have some of your drink whenever you want. It’s fine.
FB: Pardon?
TO: You can have some of your tea whenever you want. It’s fine.
FB: Oh. Oh, it is my tea, is it? Yeah. Well, yeah I don't want to bore you with things but I've, I’ve got one or two things that, you know I don't like too much about my general make up now but you can't do anything about it. It's just one of those things, you know. You know and I, I mean I, I I put down how I survived to my mother. She was a very good mother, you know. And also Sandra’s mum. She did a lot to help me, you know. Yeah. I’ve got, like this illness this elements I got that put me in here was a [pause] what was it called Sandra?
Other: Duodenal ulcer burst.
FB: Pardon?
Other: Burst duodenal ulcer.
FB: Yeah. Burst duodenal ulcer. Five weeks I was in there. Yeah. I was lucky to get away with that. Yeah.
Other: At your age. Yeah.
FB: Yeah.
TO: Do you remember anything else about Wavell at all?
FB: General Wavell. Well, I mean I saw him enough in Delhi. He used to, you wouldn't dare in a foreign country now, you wouldn't dare arrive in an open car like Kennedy did and Wavell used to go around in all his full regalia in his Rolls Royce. Yeah. Yeah, everywhere he went he had an escort but you know. Yeah. Oh yeah, we, I used to go down to the Royal Engineer’s Headquarters in Delhi every week and pick up the maps of China and India and all those maps us, three of us had to put them all in envelopes and post them to the various Commands where they were all in, you know. They all knew what they were about, you know. Oh yeah. Yeah. I can still remember two officers. General Carton de Wiart, [unclear] and Major [Fox-Holmes] Chinese Intelligence, Chinese Intelligence Wing, Calcutta. Yeah. And he came, he came to join us, major what did I say his name was? [Fox-Holmes]. That’s right. [Fox-Holmes]. He came to join us in Delhi and he said to me one day, ‘I’ve got a job for you, sergeant.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Well, be careful, won’t you?’ I said, ‘Well, where am I going?’ Well, he said, ‘You’re going to the old city on your bike and I want you to go to Olivetti.’ You know the one. No?
TO: Typewriters?
FB: Typewriters. And he said, ‘I want you to go there to Olivetti and get a portable typewriter and bring it back here.’ And I did. I went all the way into the old Delhi and got it and brought it back. Yeah. Yeah. We had quite a lot of interest but my most interesting job was on my bike everyday to the Viceroy's Palace. That was my most interesting job. Yeah.
TO: And what did you, what was your impression of the Viceroy's Palace?
FB: Magnificent. I’ve been sat in the throne room where the King and Queen used to sit. I sat on that. All beautiful polished floors. All the buildings were beautiful in India. Oh yeah. The British, the British Raj they did quite a lot for India. I mean railways they built and everything else, you know. But, yeah, Wavell, he [unclear] [That's what I don't like about these places is not a lot of activity, you know] But yeah Wavell he was quite a high up officer you know because one of the officers that came before him was Kitchener. You’ve heard of the Battle of Omdurman? You have. Yeah.
TO: Churchill was there.
FB: Yeah. Yeah. That’s correct. Four years it took to get that back. They murdered General Gordon in Khartoum and they had all these, [unclear] who they were, the enemy were all on camels and horses and they overran the British Army. So, what did Kitchener do? He loaded all his artillery on to all the dhows in the, in the Nile and took them up the Nile to Khartoum and lined them all up along and when the Mahdi started to attack they got a shock. Artillery. That was the end of them. But the British, the British have been in so many, involved in so many things in their lives, you know. The British people. Army and that. My uncle was in the Army. He was in the Army. Yeah. Oh, yeah. I think Wavell played his part all right.
TO: What were the, what were your working conditions like in India?
FB: Working?
TO: Your working conditions [unclear]
FB: Yeah. We were in the government buildings, you see. Oh yeah. Very good. Yeah. And the living conditions as well. Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’ve lived out in the sticks in India in tents. That’s not so good. I managed to progress from that.
TO: And what were the, were you working with people of different nationalities in the office?
FB: Yeah. Well, we had all Indian messengers, you now. Mainly [pause] what were they? Not Sikhs. I don’t know what they were now but yeah we were well organised in our office. We had everything to hand and everything, you know, for coping with all what we got to do, you know. Yeah. Every week we used to send out hundreds of envelopes for the Commands, you know. Yeah. Yeah. We did. Then came the day in 1947 when we were told, ‘You’re on your way home.’
TO: Did you have to take medicine?
FB: Pardon?
TO: Did you take a lot of medicine in India?
FB: No. The only medicine I had to take when I had my, when I was in Bombay I had to take a medication called M&B. Have you heard of that? No. Well, that was the forerunner to the [pause] one they’re using now a lot.
Other: Antibiotics.
FB: Antibiotics. Yeah. Yeah. M&B. Yeah. Yeah. All in all I had a very interesting time, you know while I was there. Yeah.
TO: And when you were handling these classified documents were you ever concerned that there might be spies around?
FB: Oh, absolutely. But not, not really. I think it was so quiet in India then. At that particular time. I used to ride from the office up to the Government Buildings and I never ever gave it a thought that anybody was going to attack me or anything, you know. No. And the secretary to the Viceroy, he was an English, oh a very thorough gentlemen, you know and I used to take the dispatch case in to him. He used to come out and he used to say, ‘Good morning, Sergeant. How are you today?’ I'm very well, sir. Thank you.’ ‘That’s alright. I won't keep you long.’ And he used to take all the paper that he wanted out of the, and put the ones back in and I used to take them back to the, to the office again, you know. So purely and simply our job was admin, you know. It wasn't combat. You know. I mean I I mean I, I hadn't got any idea I was going to go into combat. I'd been to Battle School. I’d been to one but, you know. Not too bad. It wasn't too bad. I’m glad I went there because it was very interesting. Very interesting. Yeah. Indian Railways, you know, Indian Railways were a marvellous thing that the British built, you know. Yeah. Yeah. All the hill stations and everything, you know. Yeah.
TO: Did you have to sign the Official Secrets Act when you joined the Service?
FB: I can't remember if I did or not but I mean we were all under the thumb, you know. You daren’t, I mean even to this day what I’ve told you I would never have told anybody else in those days. No. You were just silent, you know. Didn't say anything. One of the captions in England during the Second World War was, “Walls Have Ears.” Yeah. Yeah. “Walls Have Ears.”
TO: And when did you hear about the Battles of Kohima and Imphal?
FB: Oh, well, in Delhi of course. We were in direct with the 14th Army. Oh yes. We knew about that very well all the time, you know. Yeah. But yeah, that was where they met their match there. The Japanese. All the Japanese Army were peasants. They’d never had anything in their life and they was determined to get what they wanted. Right. They mistreated a lot of our men. Terrible. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: Did you have any contact with Lord Louis Mountbatten?
FB: I saw him. In my room here there’s a picture of Wavell presenting a Gurkha with his Victoria Cross. It’s in my room here. Yeah. Mountbatten was sent out there by a Labour government to expedite our exit from India. Didn’t make a very good job of it. Caused a lot of bloodshed, you know. We should have stayed there another year. Yeah. Sandra and I, we used to go to the reunions every year in London. India Command. Didn’t we? A friend of mine, he was, he was the Viceroy's Gardener. Charlie Reader. He’d been in service of the Indian government for fifty years. He was in charge of all the gardens. Yeah. Yeah. All the Viceregal Gardens, you know. Yeah.
TO: And what kind of rations did you have in India?
FB: What for?
TO: What kind of rations did you have in India?
FB: Oh, well, where I was very good. We had a mess. Sergeants and WO’s mess and we had all this food. Yeah. Great Army cooks.
TO: Sorry. I’m just going to pause for a second.
[recording paused]
FB: They were all Indian. Anglo, because there was a lot of Anglo Indians in India you know. Intermarriage. A lot. You know. Most of the girls in my office were married to Englishmen, you know. And there was a special place like a village where they all used to live, you know. Most of them were Army, you know. Yeah. But yeah, I'm just trying to think what's the name of that place was where they were. I forget that. When we had very hot seasons, forty or fifty and we used to carry our beds. And the Indian word for bed his charpoi and we used to carry them outside and we got mosquito nets on poles and we used to carry them outside and then over the fence from us was the [unclear] It must have been hundreds and hundreds of years old and it must have been a lot of battles based around Delhi, you know. And every night the wolves howling. We were one side of the fence and they were on the other. Oh dear. Yeah. Yeah. It was quite an experience. Oh, we went, we went through on the Bay of Biscay on a trooper. Four days rough seas. None of us could do anything. Terribly rough. Very rough. Yeah. Very rough.
TO: Were you afraid of a U-boat attack?
FB: Well, not really because we got, we got, we got right up to the Suez Canal and we hadn’t seen anything and we were told that the German Luftwaffe made a raid on the week before we got there but we didn’t see anything and we went straight through the Suez Canal. You know. but because that was the Battle of the Atlantic really. You know. German U-boats. Very bad. Yeah. Very bad. Yeah. Are you, do you work or are you at college?
TO: I’m at, I work for the Civil Service at the moment.
FB: Oh yeah.
TO: In Ofgem.
FB: In where?
TO: Office of Gas and Electricity Markets.
FB: Oh, I see. Yeah.
TO: What did you think of Chamberlain?
FB: Chamberlain?
TO: Yeah.
FB: Neville Chamberlain. Well, he tried his best to keep us out of the war but I'm afraid it didn't work. You know. He went to Munich. He was trying to, you know maintain the peace but in the end it didn't work. So that was it. We had to go to war with Germany. Yeah. We’ve had some famous statesman in England you know. All the, Gladstone and all those people. You know. All famous politicians. Yeah.
TO: Do you remember hearing about Dunkirk?
FB: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Of course, being in Intelligence. [unclear] the boats. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We all heard about that. Yeah. That was a bit of master planning to get them out of there with the Germans all around, you know. Get them out of Dunkirk. Yeah. Yeah. A friend of mine [pause] what was his name now? In the Army. Oh yeah, there was a, we were on the troop ship and I was walking down the, one of the gangways and I spotted this young officer. So, I went up to him and I said, ‘Sir.’ ‘What can I do for you, Private?’ ‘Well, Sir, I know you.’ ‘Do you?’ ‘Yes, I do and I know the school you went to.’ He was a local boy from Teddington. He was an officer in the British Army. He’d just become a sub-lieutenant. Yeah. Quite a surprise he was. Yeah.
TO: And what did he say then?
FB: Pardon?
TO: What did he say when he knew, when he realised it was you?
FB: Oh, you know, he didn’t actually know me but I said, ‘I know you because of the school you went to.’ You know. Yeah. Yeah. And I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been at Kohima, you know. They were all young officers, you know. Yeah.
TO: At the, at your office when you heard about Kohima was anyone worried that Japan would win?
FB: It was a vital battle. Yes. Vital. The Japanese didn't have enough backing to get in there. They were stopped at Kohima and Imphal. Yeah. The battles. Yeah. Yeah, [unclear] very good. Very good Army. A disciplined Army. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it's [pause] yeah. Sorry.
TO: Sorry. Were you going to say something?
FB: No. That’s alright.
TO: Ok.
FB: Yeah.
TO: Before the war started had you read about Hitler in the papers?
FB: Yeah. Yeah, we didn't seem to be unduly worried then. Of course, they all, everybody was getting issued with a gas mask in a little cardboard box. Everybody got one. Yeah. Gas masks. They thought the Germans were going to use gas. Yeah. But yeah, it was, yeah it was, it wasn't too bad really because as soon as the war started the rationing came in, you know. You were only rationed with certain commodities, you know.
Other: They were still on rations when I was born.
FB: Eh?
Other: They were still on ration when I was born.
FB: Yeah. It was. Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. It was. Yeah. And they were, clothing and everything was rationed, you know. You got coupons, you know. Petrol was rationed.
TO: Do you remember, did you have any favourite wartime entertainers?
FB: Oh yes. Lots. George Formby. Tessie O'Shea.
Other: Vera Lynn.
FB: Eh?
Other: Vera Lynn.
FB: Vera Lynn of course. She went to Burma. Yeah. Entertained the troops. She's over a hundred now. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: And what do you remember about the Blitz?
FB: Well, you see being in Teddington we were lucky. They were flying over us and that's when I told you that I reckon they were being chased by the RAF and unloaded their bombs on us. But we were lucky we, we didn't get blown up. But, oh the Blitz was terrible. My father went up there one, well he run, he managed to get through on the phone to the market. Can you imagine? All that bombing the night before and they told him that if he could get there he could have as much fish as he wanted. So he thought, I'm going to go and have a go and he went up there and he got over the London bridges, all the hosepipes and everything and got to the market and came home with quite a lot of valuable fish for people, you know. Yeah. Yeah. Yes, it was, oh, my father he was a, you know, a tough man he was. Oh yeah. Really really tough. Yeah. The Blitz was terrible but you see the trouble was that a lot of the people used to go down to the shelters at night and one of the shelters got a direct hit. That was terrible. Yeah. One of the shelters got a direct hit. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: And what were the conditions like in the shelter at your factory?
FB: Well, they were only fall out. They weren’t, they weren’t, you know, just all you, all you did was just sit in there and we all thought well what are we sitting here for? There’s nothing happening. So, that’s when they started to put these Observer Corps men on the roof. And as soon as they got word that the Germans were coming over the, over the Channel we got the word in Kingston. Everywhere, you know. Because you know I think that saved a lot of lives. We didn’t get bombed during the day in Kingston. Only at night. One night only. Yeah. Yeah. One night only. Yeah.
TO: And what were your, what about, I was going to ask you about rationing in this country.
FB: Pardon?
TO: I think I’ve already asked you about rations in this country?
FB: About?
TO: Rations in this country.
FB: Rations?
TO: Yeah.
FB: Well, anybody living in the country was alright because they could get the chickens and rabbits and eggs but people in the town they got very meagre meat rations, you know. Anything like that was very meagre. Yeah. But we used to, I’d sell a lot of rabbits in my shop. Fresh rabbits. Wild rabbits. Everybody came and bought them. They, you know they couldn’t get meat, you know. Meat and fish and that sort of thing. You couldn’t get meat. No. You had to sort of have a look around and see what you could find, you know.
TO: What can you tell me about your, the training that you went through in the Army?
FB: Pardon?
TO: What training did you go through in the Army?
FB: Oh, God. Yeah. I, we had physical training twice a day by order of Montgomery. I went to a Battle School and we had to lay on the floor under barbed wire and they were firing live ammunition over our heads. And the Sergeant major said, ‘Don't put your head up otherwise you'll lose it.’ Yeah. That, that was it so after the war my last posting was a German POW camp and I was in the office with several other sergeants and I used to have to go down to Retford in Nottingham to a hotel and arrange for three lots of accommodation for lecturers coming from Germany to lecture prisoners of war. I used to do that very often. And then one day I was told to take a trainload of German prisoners to [pause] Oh, God, where did I go with them? Yeah. I forget where we went but you know we were, we were transferring them back to Germany, you know. Yeah. Yeah. It's, you know and of course I finished my days up there, you know. Yeah. Retford in, Retford in Nottingham. Yeah. Yeah. A lot of farms around there where the Germans were working, you know. [unclear] Farms. All sorts of farms they were working on. Yeah. Even today they're telling us they can't do without the immigrants because they’re all working on the farms. Nobody else would. Nobody else would do the job. Yeah. Yeah. So, there you are. Do you have to travel a lot in your job?
TO: No, not really.
FB: No. It’s an office job is it?
TO: Well, yeah.
FB: Mainly. Yeah. Yeah. Where is it you actually live?
TO: I live in Chiswick at the moment.
FB: You live in Chiswick? Do you really? Oh, right. Yeah.
TO: Were you never worried that Britain might lose?
FB: There was times. Yes. There was times. Yeah. You see, but you see the Germans were planning that. Were planning an invasion of England but our people had got so many inventions, you know. I mean, they to my mind what they were going to do when the Germans came over they were going to set fire to the sea, you know. To stop all the invasion boats coming in. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Churchill. Well, Churchill went to America several times. He was flown there to the White House to have words with the president and he said to the president, ‘We are very very short of destroyers.’ You alright?
Other: Yeah.
But he said if you've got any. They gave us fifty destroyers. Of course, they were all antiquated so they had to, you know do a lot of work on them before they could even use them in operations. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, of course the two ships that were built in Scotland. Eighty five thousand tonnes. The Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary. You know that, don't you? How many troops do you reckon they brought to England at a time?
TO: Ten thousand.
FB: Fifteen thousand.
TO: Wow.
FB: Sleeping at night and sleeping during the day. Yeah. And they had this all worked out when they came across the Channel so the U-boats couldn’t get there, you know. Yeah. Oh yeah.
TO: Did you have any relatives who were in the Forces?
FB: You know, I —
Other: Tony.
FB: Eh? Oh yeah. My brother in law. Tony. He was at an American air base. Yeah. He was RAF. Yeah. I can't think there was anybody else.
Other: Of your generation.
FB: No.
Other: It was World War One.
FB: Yeah.
Other: Most of them were in.
TO: And do you remember, what do you remember about VJ Day?
FB: My daughter’s got that. You’d like to see that. She’s got all the memorabilia. She’s got the VJ and VE Day both. What are they called Sandra? Pamphlets. She’s got them. And Delhi. Delhi Victory Parade in 1945 and ‘46. Yeah. A fantastic parade, you know. Oh yeah, all of the people in London went mad didn't they? Yeah. Yeah. To think that they’d the last they’d been under great deal of pressure, you know. Yeah. They did very well really. The civilians. It was all a bit of aggro at the time. Yeah. A friend of mine had a fish shop in Chiswick. I think they sold it to either Marks and Spencer’s or Sainsbury's. They owned a lot of shops, my friend and he sold the, you know, things down.
TO: Do you remember the reaction in your office when the news came in that the war was over?
FB: Oh, yeah. Well, terrific, you know. I mean we got it pretty quick in Delhi, you know. Very quick. Yeah. Very quick. Yeah. Yeah, it was over. They didn’t stop fighting finally for a few days I don’t think, you know. Yeah. War is a horrible thing. Oh. God, I don’t know what to say about it all really. You know. The Germans they really did bomb London very heavily. They did. Yeah. They did. Yeah. We had to be, oh, yeah, a customer of mine he built all the waste land in London. His name, his name was National Car Parks. Remember them? That was him.
Other: Hobson.
FB: Eh?
Other: Hobson.
FB: Oh. Yes. Yeah. What was, yeah. He’s a millionaire.
Other: In Teddington.
FB: Eh?
Other: In Teddington.
FB: Yeah, he lives in Teddington. Where I lived. He’s got a beautiful house. Yeah. Yeah. Unfortunately, I, this, all this came on me this illness and you know, I had to come in here. I didn't have enough money to, it’s very expensive here. So sadly, my Sandra there, and my son, how they did it I'll never know I just used to sit in the back. Sit there quiet as I could and they used to tell me what they were doing and what they were getting rid of. You see, my wife and I lived there for, how long was it in, San? Fifty.
Other: You lived there for seventy five years.
FB: I did. Yeah. But mum and I lived there from nineteen, what?
Other: ’55.
FB: Fifty five. Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
Other: Until 2000, when mum died.
FB: Yeah. That’s right. I had some more built on the house, you know. Make it bigger. But —
Other: We had a shelter in your garden.
FB: Yeah. We did, didn’t we? Yeah. Yeah. Yes, we did. Yeah. Now, I’m just wondering what we’re going to do to my house. I can’t go near it I can tell you that. Yeah. My house was on the main High Street, just off the main High Street and I used to spend a lot of my time in Marks and Spencer’s and all those places, you know. Going around trying to keep me amused like, you know. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: How do you feel today about Germany and Japan?
FB: Well, it's such a long time ago now. I’ll tell you a story about that. We were, my wife and I were in Venice and we were sitting down by the unclear gondoliers and this young Japanese guy walked up with a camera and he stood on one of those things and he went and he fell in. So, me, very naughtily said, ‘That's one for our boys in Burma.’ [laughs] Yeah. I’ve had how many? Oh, Sandra's got a Honda now. If you want to buy a car.
Other: That’s not Japanese.
FB: Honda. Honda. Honda. Honda. Yeah. Anyway, Sandra had my wife’s car and some lady unfortunately bashed into it and wrote it off so we had to get another one. The one she’s got now.
Other: [unclear] machine.
FB: Yeah. Yeah. She’s had that a while now but they were only talking about Honda’s this morning. The bloke on the radio said don’t ignore Honda. Honda. They’re good. They know what they’re doing. Yeah. The one that Sandra had of my wife’s we were quite surprised it rusted underneath and they wouldn't pass it. Yeah. Which is very unusual. Yeah.
Other: That wasn’t mum’s. That was the second one.
FB: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Other: But I think it's sad about what do you, what else do you think about Japan and Germany now. How they've —
FB: Well, not really. Mrs. Merkel, of course, she's not one of our favourite friends I'm afraid. I mean Japan as well. I don't know a lot about them now. A friend of mine he was a surveyor. No. A designer. He designed a lot of places in Japan and that sort of thing. But —
Other: Well, Raffles was one of them, wasn’t it?
Yeah. Raffles in Singapore.
FB: And the Carlton Tower in London was another one my friend designed. I never hear from him now. One of my best friends. Shame, you know. I’m so sad about that. Whether they split up or not and that caused it I don't know. I really don't know. Yeah. You know, it's just one of those things. Yeah. No. The Japanese are clever. Japanese are very clever at copying. Copying things. The Japanese. You know, they can get plans and copy them and produce them, you know. Yeah. They had those aircraft carriers that attacked Pearl Harbour, you know. That was a bad bitter blow to America. Yeah.
TO: Do you remember hearing about Pearl Harbour?
FB: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. They, they, very nearly, the Americans very nearly caught a cold there but they managed to get out of it. Yeah. Pearl Harbour was, what was it? You know. A complete surprise attack. You know.
Other: Like 9/11 really.
FB: Eh?
Other: Like 9/11
FB: Yeah. Yeah. Same. Same type of planes and everything really. Yeah.
TO: During the war did you, had you already heard about the way the Japanese were treating prisoners of war?
FB: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I met some of them in Bombay. Bayoneted. You know. They didn't mess about. The Japanese. No. Very cruel people. Yeah. Have you seen the Bridge on the River Kwai?
TO: Yeah.
FB: Oh, you’ve seen that.
TO: Sure.
FB: Yeah. Yeah.
TO: What's your best memory of the war?
FB: What’s my best memory? [laughs] Coming home I suppose. Coming home. You know. You know, I wasn’t at all afraid when I was in India. You know, things were so quiet then, you know. But yeah. Yeah. We'll have suddenly notice to get packed up we came out of Delhi and got on the train. Bombay. We had to wait there some while. The ships were all full up, you see. Yeah.
TO: And what’s, what was the worst part of your war would you say?
FB: Well, I suppose that early part when I was, you know called up and in training and all that. Then when I went to India I was under tents. Under canvas for a while. You know. Yeah. We were under canvas you know. That's you see I was lucky I was born a bit late. Later on. You know. 1924. You know, I didn't actually sort of get called up that early like the others did, you know. Yeah. Yeah.
Other: You still did five years though.
FB: Eh? Yeah. Five years. Yeah.
FB: A friend of mine, his name was Porch. He had a shop in Chiswick. Fishmongers. Yeah.
TO: What do you think of films that have been made about the war?
FB: Well, I think the Americans weren’t that well informed of a lot, you know they, they, ever heard of the, “Merrill’s Marauders?” Yeah. That was one of theirs. Yeah. Of the Americans. Yeah. Because they had a tough time in the Pacific, you know. On the islands. Okinawa and all those areas. Very tough. Oh yeah. Yeah. Alright, Sandra?
Other: Yeah.
FB: Are you sure?
Other: Fine.
FB: Yeah. So, yeah.
TO: Were you surprised when the, when the war with Japan ended?
FB: Yeah. We, we actually heard about the nuclear bomb. You know, it came so suddenly. You know, and Harry Truman, the American president and all he said was, ‘The buck stops here.’ And down went the, they had two bombs didn’t they? One at Nagasaki. And one at, where was the other one?
Other: Hiroshima.
Other: Yeah.
FB: Hiroshima. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: How do you feel today about your Service?
FB: Well, I mean I often think back and think what would have been my future, you know, if I hadn’t gone in the Army, you know. Or I could have, I probably would have been with my father, you see. You know, I probably would have been with him then but, yeah. I didn’t, didn’t regret going. No. I still see myself walking out of my factory with my toolbox. Going home. Going home and getting ready to report. Yeah. In Maidstone. Yeah.
TO: And is there anything else you remember about the victory celebrations in Delhi?
FB: Well, Americans provided a lot of entertainment, you know and oh, the Royal Marines Band was there. And a lot of English footballers you know. They played various competitions and that. But yeah, they were quite some days they were. Yeah.
TO: Did you ever see the people in India being mistreated by the Europeans?
FB: Pardon?
TO: Did you ever see Europeans in India mistreating the population?
FB: Oh no. Not really. That came, you know the Indian princes were defeated by the British Army but I mean most of them were fairly well treated, you know. The, you know, the railway workers and all that. Tough old job that was going in the Indian, Indian Railways and that. Yeah. Are you alright in that chair?
Other: Yeah. Fine.
FB: Are you sure? Ok. Yeah. Yeah. The Indian Railways went right up to the Himalayas you see. I went to the Himalayas. I went there. Yeah. Eight thousand feet up. Yeah. Then my wife and I went to Sicily and we went up Mount Etna. Yea. Yeah. We had some good times while it lasted, you know. When my wife died Sandra used to go with me to Cyprus, you know. Cyprus was good. Yeah. So all in all I suppose it didn't work out too badly.
TO: When did you hear about the Holocaust?
FB: Oh, God, that was just, I’m trying to think really now. One man I knew was in the, in the brigade that relieved Holocaust and he said they knew who they were going to shoot because all the prisoners were thin and the guards were fat so they shot them all. Yeah. All the guards, you know the guards, the Japanese guards were all fat and the other poor people were all thin, you know. More or less on their last legs. It was a terrible thing. Yeah.
TO: Is there anything you want to add?
FB: Pardon?
TO: Is there anything that was quite important to you during the war which you’ve not mentioned which you’d like to talk about.
FB: Well, I mean, I was out there for about six months before I got, before I got any mail, you know. Yeah. Are you, are you comfortable in that chair?
Other: I’m fine.
FB: Are you sure?
Other: Yes.
FB: No. well, no. It was general. I used to go to GHQ. I used to go up there on my bike and so did the others every morning about six and we used to come back about nine at night, you know. All our meals were [unclear] and everything and we had salt tablets to avoid getting what do you call it? You know when you come —
Other: Dehydrated.
FB: What?
Other: Dehydrated.
FB: Dehydrated. That’s right. Yeah. That’s right. We did. Yeah. Yeah. Dehydrated. Yeah.
TO: Anything else you want to say at all?
FB: Pardon?
TO: Is there anything else you want to add?
FB: Not really. No.
TO: Ok.
FB: I’ve gone through most of it.
TO: Thank you so much for your time.
FB: That’s alright. It’s quite alright. It's been nice to meet you anyway.
TO: It’s been nice to meet you too.
FB: Yeah. Yeah.
TO: Thank you.
FB: So, you say you’re based in Chiswick.
TO: That’s right.



Tom Ozel, “Interview with Francis Burtenshaw,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 24, 2024,

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