Interview with Jean Culkin


Interview with Jean Culkin


Jean Culkin grew up in Sunderland and worked as a tea girl and then a typist in a reserved occupation. She discusses her life and her wedding to her husband, John George Mackel Culkin. He was an apprentice at RAF Halton before becoming a fitter (engines). He served with 35 Squadron at RAF Leeming before being posted overseas to North Africa and Italy. After the war Jean accompanied her husband on postings to Germany and Hong Kong.








01:40:34 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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ACulkinJ170913, PCulkinJ1702


CH: This interview is being conducted for the international Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive. The interviewer is Cathie Hewitt. The interviewee is Jean Culkin. Also present is Sue Kendall, Jean Culkin's daughter. The interview is taking place at [buzz] in Washingborough. Ok. Thank you for agreeing to be, agree to be interviewed, Jean. I just need to say the date is the 13th of September 2017. If you could start by telling me something about you early life, and your family and where you were brought up, please.
JC: I was born in Sunderland. I can't remember the name of the street. I think it was Rosewood Street and it was the West End of Sunderland. I had a sister, my mum and dad. My dad worked for Ringtons and they sent him when I was five years old from Sunderland to Newcastle. I went to school at Newcastle. I left school when I was fourteen. I left school on the Friday and on the Monday I was working. I had to go down to the Bureau and they used to say, ‘What would you like to do, Jean?’ ‘I’d like to work in an office.’ And sure enough that's how I started. Tea girl in an office when I was fourteen. And of course, the war was just around the corner. I didn't want to join the Services. I was a home girl really and that was it. But I left school on the Friday and I started work the following Tuesday in an office as a tea girl. Then you go from that, sort of doing invoices and teaching me to type. I got fed up with that job. I was there for a year. Applied for another job and went on from there. I went to typing school. That was about eight months. I wanted to do shorthand but I couldn't remember all the figures. The alphabet is entirely different and that was it. That’s how I finished. In an office as a typist. There was five or six of us typists, two manageresses and the boss and it was a sweetie factory. And you couldn't be called up because sweeties, sugar that came under the rationing so some of the girls wanted to join the Services and the boss man said, ‘If you want to go you'll never come back.’ Because once you were in this job its government. Yeah. Food. And that was it. I was there. I left when I was twenty one. Yeah. That’s all.
CH: When you were twenty one, what year was that?
JC: I was born in ’24. ’45. No. Was it thirty, ’45?
CH: So, you were working in the sweet factory during the war.
JC: The war was just around the corner. Yes.
CH: The war hadn't actually started.
JC: No. But it was on its way, you know. That’s why some of the girls wanted to join the ATS, the WAAF —
SK: But when the war started you used to sit with a bucket of sand didn’t you? In the dark.
JC: Sorry?
SK: When the war started in Newcastle and they were dropping bombs you had to sit in the factory with a bucket of sand.
JC: Yes.
SK: On your own through the night.
JC: Yes. That’s right.
SK: In case a bomb dropped.
JC: In case [laughs] What I would have done, I couldn’t even work a stirrup pump properly.
SK: No.
JC: You know. The pump. But I’m still here so I must have got through it.
CH: So, when the war started —
JC: Yes.
CH: Where were you working?
JC: This was at the sweetie factory. Yes. Yes.
CH: And you stayed working there throughout the war, did you?
JC: Yes. Yes.
CH: Could you tell me a little bit about working there? What you did.
JC: It was, well the orders used to come from upstairs where the factory was because they had a van that went out to all the sweetie shops and they used to take orders, go back up here and give it to all the guys that made the toffee and the sweets. And halfway through the week one of the ladies would come down and say, ‘Right, this order is for this shop.’ This shop. This shop. Now, the boss used to say, ‘Right. You do that. You do that, and you.’ So we had sort of, you know your own section to do. Yeah. Now —
CH: Did you work shifts?
JC: No. No. It was nine ‘til five. 1 o'clock on a Saturday. Yeah. No half days. No. No. It was quite, quite interesting.
CH: So, during the war did you see much of bombing?
JC: Well, yes because in the garden we had an Anderson air raid shelter and we’d just probably just go to bed about nine, half past nine, 10 o'clock, just get nice and comfortable. Mom and dad were in the front bedroom, my sister and I were in the bedroom and the siren would go and my dad would say, ‘Right. Up.’ Just leave your nighties and dressing gown on and run down the stairs, the back stairs into the Anderson shelter. But my mum would say, ‘Just a minute. I've got to get the case.’ That big, with the policies. Full of policies for the house. Yeah. Anyway, there we were freezing cold. ‘Right. Go on. Get in the shelter.’ And we’d [coughs] excuse me we’d sit in there until the all-clear went. And eventually my dad thought, ‘Right, we'll have to make this comfortable.’ So then he got some cushions from somewhere and we had cushions to sit on instead of the wooden seat and you could sort of lie down. The all-clear would go maybe three, four, 5 o'clock and you’d think, ‘Oh God. Right. Can we go up now?’ ‘Yeah.’ My dad wouldn’t let us leave unless that siren said mmmmm. Go upstairs and my mum said, ‘Right. It's nearly time to go to work.’ Pointless going to bed. It’s 7 o'clock in the morning. Go in the bath and get washed, changed, clean your teeth. Toast. Cup of tea. Off. My sister to the fruit shop at the top of the street where she worked and meto Cowper and Dodsworth where I worked. The sweetie factory.
CH: Cowper and —
JC: Cowper and Dodsworth.
CH: Dodsworth.
JC: Yes. Yes. We never saw Mr Cowper. He lived in Jesmond and he was very rich. We went up there one Wednesday afternoon. Miss Tomlinson, the boss said we’d been invited to Mr Cowper’s house. Jesmond. And we went and, oh it was beautiful. Beautiful. And they had a swing in the garden. The girls would say, ‘Can we sit on here?’ ‘Can we sit there?’ And we had glasses of lemonade and we were there for about two hours. And then Miss Tomlinson, our boss said, ‘Right, girls. We’d better go now.’ Yes. So we all got on the bus and came back to Cowper and Dodsworth and finished off what we were doing. That was Mr. Cowper. Very posh, you know in those days.
SK: Yeah. Yeah.
JC: Yeah. We never saw him at work but it was Mr Dodsworth in the office.
SK: Probably just counting the money.
JC: And Miss, there was a door there, Miss Tomlinson, our boss lady. She was here. And then the typists here. Shorthand typist there and there was Stella McQueen. She was the youngest. She was fifteen.
SK: I wonder where she is now.
JC: She came in one day, she’d only been there about four months and she came in one day and she said, ‘You know my brother. He’s eighteen. He's just been called up for the Air Force and he’s been posted to the Middle East.’ ‘My God.’ I said, ‘What's his name?’ ‘Steve McQueen.’ You can't forget Steve McQueen. And by this time I was writing to your dad. I got a letter and he said, ‘You wouldn't believe it Jean but I've got an airman here called Steve McQueen and he says he has a sister that works with Jean Dodds. In the Middle East.
SK: Oh, wow.
JC: Because Jack’s squadron was with Monty. You know, they were behind. Monty was on, all the Halifaxes were here. Now, how's that for a coincidence, eh?
SK: Yeah.
JC: Yeah. Yeah. That was it.
SK: Didn’t he meet somebody who knew Auntie Anne who lived in Schimel Street? Dad.
JC: What? In the RAF?
SK: When he was away he met somebody.
JC: I don’t know.
SK: And he said his sister lived in Schimel Street and that he had —
JC: Is that how they got —
SK: Somebody Dad was with in the RAF who, who knew. Knew Schimel Street. At the top of the other end, I think.
JC: I can't remember that, sweetheart. No.
CH: Can we go back to when you were working in the factory?
JC: Cowper and Dodsworth. Yes.
CH: Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
JC: The delivery man, yes. It was horse and cart. Well, couldn't get petrol. Yes. And his name, the driver, Ambrose and Ambrose used to come to the office every morning at half past seven because there was always somebody around and say, ‘Right. I'll be back in an hour. If I can have my order sheet. As soon as I get the order sheet I’ll get the sweeties from over there in jars. So I can put it on my van.’ With the horse. Yeah. Yeah. I think he was about seventy, Ambrose. Yeah. But he was lovely. I’ll always remember him. Nice old man. Yeah. Load the back of the cart with all the jars of sweeties and paradise fruits and peppermint, you know, bon bons. Yes. Yeah. What else can I tell you? It was nine to five. An hour for lunch.
SK: How much did you earn?
JC: Seven and six. What’s that today? I mean, but in those days you know, I mean, I think my dad was on about two pound ten shillings a week. The rent at Rothbury Terrace, seventeen and six a week. I don’t know. Upstairs flat you see.
CH: What did your father do?
JC: He worked for Ringtons Tea. He was, there again a van. They had the van. If you get the tea packet out I’ll show the lady, and the horse. And he used to start, he had to be, 7 o’clock he used to start work. He used to get to the factory, go around the back and the young boy would give him the horse and my dad would come down with the horse and the van there and he’d have to put the horse in to the van and kit it all out and what not. Yeah. And then the van boy who was with my dad would say, ‘Right, we're off, Mr Dodds, are we?’ Sure enough, yeah. He’d have his order for where he had to go. Gateshead. You know. All around. Heaton. Yeah. And he’d be out. I often wonder, he used to get terrible chilblains because he used to have to knock on doors. He used to wear mitts. My mum made him mitts but they didn’t get rid of the chilblains. Yeah. And he used to have to be out on the street at 8 o'clock and he’d get back about 7 o'clock at night. As you did in those days, you know. It wasn't a nine to five job. And I used to think, my God in all the rain because there was no front on the front of the van in those days. It was just the horse and the boy by him, you know. Helping him. Yeah. He must have got soaked. That's why he had blooming chilblains. Yeah.
CH: How old were you when you met Jack?
JC: Sixteen.
CH: Could you tell us a little bit about meeting him?
JC: Yes. I can tell you an awful lot.
SK: You’ll hear his life story.
JC: I lived in [laughs] I lived in Newcastle. Right. And I had a cousin, my cousins all lived in Sunderland and Dorothy, she was three years older than me, she wrote to me. No telephones in those days. She wrote to me and said, “Why don't you come through this weekend? I've got some friends coming.” We used to play Newmarket. Cards. I said yeah. I wrote back and said, “Alright. I’ll come.” So, I packed my little case. That was on the Saturday, 2 o’clock and went to Dorothy and she said, ‘Wait, I've got some friends coming tonight. There's Danny Culkin and he's got a nephew. He’s in the Air Force.’ I said, ‘Oh, OK.’ ‘He doesn't know anyone here. So, you know, play Newmarket cards. Snap. Anything.’ And sure enough Uncle Danny came with another friend and Jack. And Jack. Oh my God. That was it. It went [pat pat]. But he was so shy. He really was so shy. Really. There's some photographs in there you can see. He, he had three sisters. You’d think he’d be used to women but he was with boys you see. He joined the RAF at fifteen. It was all boys, and he was just very shy. I met him twice. He didn't know me. Not really. He knew my name playing cards and what not. And then eventually you see, the war was coming on and Dorothy wrote and she said, ‘Do you know what, Jean? I think, why don’t you come through this weekend? I don't know how long Jackie will be here.’ Because his uncle said he might be going soon. ‘Where are they going?’ ‘I don't know.’ So I did. I went for that weekend and funnily enough Dorothy said to me, ‘I'm washing my hair tonight, Jack so I can't take you to the bus stop. I'll tell you what. Our Jean will take you.’ Oh God. Pouring with rain outside. Head square, riding mac on and we walked. It was only a ten minute walk to the bus station because he had to go to Durham. You see his squadron was at Durham. He’d finished his training by the. And then the bus came for Durham. He said, ‘Oh, I have to go.’ Then he gave me a kiss. And he sat on the back seat on the bus and he just waved like that. And that was it for the next three years.
SK: Five years [laughs]
JC: Five [laughs] Three and a half years I think because then Dorothy had written to me and said, ‘Hey, how’s about, they’re always on —’ because her fiancé who was taken prisoner of war, Ralph in Germany. He'd only been in the Army, he was called up, he’d only been I think eighteen months and he was a prisoner of war. So Dorothy said, ‘Tell you what, Jean. Why don't you write to Jackie Culkin because I'm writing. I'll send you his address.’ So, I thought, ‘Yeah. Ok.’ So I started writing. And that was it. For the next three and a half years. At the start he didn’t know me. I knew him. He didn’t know me. And that was it. And we’d been writing how many? Two years. Two years, because he was away what, three, three years, wasn't he? So, two years we'd been writing and then he said, “Why don't we get engaged? By proxy.” Yeah. Alright then. So, we got engaged by proxy.
CH: How old were you both then?
JC: Twenty. And Jack was twenty one. Yeah. Twenty one and a half. There was eighteen months between us. And we had the proxy engagement party at my cousin Dorothy's house and Jack’s mum, a wonderful cook, she made cakes. My mum made scones. Rationing, you know. And that was it. I didn't have a ring so Jack’s, Nanna Culkin said, ‘Look, Jean, here, take mine off.’ Gave it to dad and he put it on my finger. He said, ‘Right. You’re now engaged to my son.’ Lovely. But I hadn’t seen him. I mean, it was just writing. You see, I think when you write letters you open your heart out, don't you? And that was it. Then of course how long did I have to wait? It was another eighteen months before he came home because don't forget he was in the Middle East and the war was not, and eventually Shirley the youngest sister wrote a letter and said, ‘Our Jack’s coming home so you'll have to get some holiday.” Which I did. God. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. It must have been worse for him because Nanna Culkin, she was a wonderful cook and I think she spoiled him when he first came, you know. After the war. After the desert he wouldn't eat. And I could never ever buy a tin of corned beef. He used to say, ‘Jean, never ever buy corned beef. Bully beef.’ That's what they lived on. He wouldn't have corned beef in the house [laughs] He wouldn’t. Yeah. So that was it more or less. I had to go through to Sunderland of course and he got there on the Saturday afternoon. I thought he would open the front door. Don't forget I hadn't seen him all this time. Just writing. But he hadn’t and it was his sister that opened the door. ‘Oh, come on in Jean’ I had my little attache case for my whats, my nightdress, no pyjamas I think in those days, dressing gown blah blah and his mam came through. She said, ‘He's not well.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘He's been sick all night. He’s killed the goldfish.’ ‘Pardon?’ The goldfish was in a bowl in the main bedroom and he was sick. There was nowhere to be sick. So when he came he said, ‘I've killed Goldie.’
SK: I think it was nerves because it was such a long time.
JC: It was because, you know what nanna was like for cooking and I think she gave him too much food and he hadn't been used to food. Anyhow, I had to sleep with the girls in that room and Jack was in the main bedroom and nanna and grandad were in the spare room and of course nanna, you know what she was like. Up in the morning. ‘Our Jack, come on get up. Jean’s already up.’ I got up, went to the bathroom, changed, you know. Cleaned my teeth and whatever. Did my hair.
SK: And you still hadn’t seen him.
JC: No. I still hadn’t seen him. I was in the kitchen where the cooker was there. Nanna was doing the breakfast and he came down clunk clunk clunk. Oh my God. He just came over and just said, ‘Oh, how are you?’ And just kissed me on the cheek. That was, so Nanna said, ‘What do you want for breakfast, son?’ He said, ‘Nothing. Just toast.’ And he was looking at me and you see it was just writing but he used to say when you write to someone you pour your heart out, don’t you? And that was it. We had toast and a cup of tea and mum said, ‘Right. Go for a walk. Dinner,’ this was Sunday, ‘Dinner is on the table at 1 o'clock.’ And when she said 1 o'clock, she meant it. So, she said, ‘Go on. Take take your girlfriend out.’ So we had Thompson’s Park and he was actually holding my hand. Yeah. And then he said, ‘Can I kiss you?’ I said, ‘If you wish.’ And that was it, and he looked at his watch and he said, ‘Five to one. We’d better get home.’ Because it was only a ten minute walk and of course the dinner was on the table and all the family were there, you know. His sisters and two brothers. That was it. And then I was going to help Aunt Anne wash up. You know, do the washing up and mam said, ‘No. Go on our Jack. Get out. Get yourself down to Seaburn by the seaside. Fresh air.’ And we spent the afternoon at Seaburn. Walking in Seaburn.
SK: But then unfortunately the two families didn’t get on, did they?
JC: Not really. At the time, don’t forget we were engaged, weren’t we and my dad said, ‘Right, we’ll make —’ There was still rationing going on, ‘We can have a little wedding, you know. It’ll be, we can't afford a lot. At Newcastle, St Gabriel’s?’ ‘Yeah. That’s right.’ Jack said, ‘Yeah. Yeah. Whatever. I don’t mind.’ Through to Sunderland and mum said, ‘No. No. You’ve got to get married in the church at the end of road.’ And I said, ‘Well, my dad wants, I've lived in Newcastle and all my friends are there.’ No. Arguments started. Your dad had, he'd gone back to wherever and that was it. He said, ‘I can't stand this, Jean.’ He used to come home every other weekend because you only got so many railway warrants a year, didn’t you. ‘I can’t stand this.’ So, he came one weekend. He said, ‘I’ll be at Sunderland this weekend. Ok?’ So, I thought, ‘Right. Yes, ok. I’m going through. See what’s going to happen and I got there and there’s Jack’s sister and mam and his other sister sitting by the window. You know, on the settee. And he said, he looked awful. I said, ‘What's wrong?’ He said, ‘I've had a busy week at work.’ He said, ‘But can I speak to you privately? Is it alright mum? I’m just going to take Jean upstairs. I’ve got something to say.’ And I thought, ‘That’s it. It’s off.’ So, we went upstairs, sat on the bed and he closed the door and then he said, ‘Don’t say anything.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Shush.’ And then he opened the door. He thought somebody might have gone upstairs listening. So, he said, ‘Don’t get upset. I said downstairs the wedding is off for the time being. It isn't. It’s on. We’re getting married August the 21st, Weston Super Mare Town Hall. I’ve got a special licence. I’ve booked a room in a farmhouse just on the outskirts of RAF Locking.’ Which was the Air Force then. ‘So that’s it. I’ll send you your ticket.’ How the heck he did that from Weston Super Mare I don’t know but he did. So, I got the, I got the train. I packed my case and I had it for two weeks holiday and my mom said, ‘Right. Send us a card when you get there to make sure you’re alright.’ So, I said, ‘Yes. Alright.’ Got the bus from Simonside [unclear] to Newcastle Central. I think it was the 10 o’clock train to Bristol Temple Meads because Jack said he’d meet me there at 4 o’clock when the train got in. And I’d got my case and this and that with me and I thought, ‘My God, what if he isn’t there? I’ve got ten shillings in my purse and he’s not there.’ I thought, Oh God. And it was hours, you know. The 10 o’clock train got in to Temple Meads at four and sure enough he was there. Oh, thank God. So, I said, ‘What now?’ He said, ‘Right. We’ve got to get the bus to Weston Super Mare.’ Now to RAF Locking it’s the village. t’s actually, it’s a farmhouse and she rents out rooms so we’ve got that for the next week. And then we’re off to Bournemouth for a week. Ok?’ ‘Alright then.’ So, I take my little case in and Jack said, ‘Right. We’re getting married on the Wednesday so I’ll see you —’ This was Saturday. Sunday. He said, ‘I’ll see you on Monday morning. I want to bring my civvy stuff here because I’ve got to lock up and clear from the station.’ So, I said, so I was all by myself in this strange place but the landlady was very nice. She took me around where the farm was, you know. It was growing apples and stuff and whatnot. I wasn’t in the least interested but you’ve got to say yes. Yeah. So I was in B&B for two days and then your father came with his civvies and what not. He wouldn’t get married in uniform. I said, ‘Oh, please.’ ‘No. No. No. I wear a uniform all day.’ Hmmn hmmn. And he wouldn’t. He just had his best suit on, you know. RAF tie. He left me there, and then he came on the Wednesday morning. We were married at 3.15. He came and he put his case in and his uniform ready to go back to work and what not and on the morning of the wedding I didn’t see, I saw him that night and he said, ‘Right. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ And he came, we were married at quarter past three and he came at 12 o’clock. The lady made him a cup of tea and whatnot. You know, the landlady and whatnot and then we got the bus into Weston Super Mare to the Town Hall. We had to be there at 3.15 and the best man was a corporal. He was getting married on the following Wednesday. So we went, and he had his fiancé. She wanted to meet me. So we go in front of the registrar and he said, ‘Right. Yes. Alright. Sergeant Culkin?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And you are Jean Dodds.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And you are —’ What was his name? Oh God. I can’t remember his name now. I can’t remember the best man’s name but he was, he was a corporal. Yes. That’s right. And the registrar and, oh Florence, his fiancé was there as well. She was one of the witnesses, and the registrar said, ‘Right. Yes.’ And he said to Florence, ‘How old are you, Florence?’ She said, ‘I’m eighteen.’ He said, ‘You can not be a witness. You’re eighteen. You’ve got to be twenty one.’ You did in those days. So the registrar said to one of the clerks, ‘You’re going to have to get somebody.’ So we walked down the street and this man, ‘Can you register the wedding with us?’ And he came in. Who he was I don’t know. Yes. And that was it. We got married and the registrar said, ‘It is exactly the same as a church wedding. We’ve got no hymns, we’ve got no bells and we’ve got no confetti but it is legal. Oh, and by the way the Bishop of Bath and Wells is in the next office. Would you like him to officiate?’ I said, ‘Oh yes.’ And Jack said, ‘No. Would you get on with it please.’ And he wouldn’t have the Bishop of Bath and Wells. Next door. I thought well this is it, you know. I thought it was just the same as the church wedding but there’s no hymns, no bells, no nothing. But it is legal. Yeah.
CH: So nobody knew you were getting married.
JC: No. So we got outside and John, the best man, John Turner, he said, ‘Right. I've got to go. I've got to see where Florence is. She's around here somewhere.’ So off they went. He said, ‘I’d better take a photograph.’ We didn't have a camera. So, he took the photograph. Otherwise, we wouldn't have that photograph. So off they went and your dad said, ‘I'm starving.’ And I said, ‘I'm absolutely parched.’ He said, ‘First of all there’s a Post Office over there. Let’s go over, get a card each. One to your mum and dad and one to my mum and dad.’ Which we did. “Dear mum and dad, arrived safely. Yes, Jack met me at the station. Oh, by the way we were married at 3.15 this afternoon. See you in two weeks. Love Jean and Jack.”
CH: Wonderful.
JC: So this, this is what he wrote to his mum and dad. A card. That was it.
SK: Nanna would have loved that.
JC: Eh?
SK: Nanna Culkin would have loved that.
JC: [unclear] Well, she’d have been, you know. So we did and I said, ‘Now what?’ He said, ‘Oh, let’s go and have something to eat.’ So we had, remember Fortes? The catering people? Before your time. Fortes. Yeah. There was a cafeteria. Straight in there. Tea for two. Steak, egg and chips. Brown bread and butter. White bread and butter. No, I don't think we had a cake afterwards. No. Don't forget things were still rationed.
SK: You didn’t have any money, did you?
JC: No. I had, I think I had ten shillings and your father had forty. Forty quid. A lot of money.
SK: But luckily dad found some jewellery, didn’t he?
JC: No. It was a cigarette box. We’d had, we finished with Locking. The village of Locking. Then we had to get to [pause] where was it? Bournemouth. That was it. We had to get to Bournemouth. So we had to get, I think we got the bus to Bournemouth because we had a room for four days, five days, I think in Bournemouth. Yeah.
SK: Where did dad find the —
JC: Oh, yeah. That was, we were out one morning walking and we said, ‘Right. Let’s go and have a cup of tea.’ It was all tea in those days not coffee and he, he knocked something and I said, ‘Well, that’s shiny. What the heck’s that?’ And it was a cigarette case. Picked it up, opened it, nothing inside. So, he said, ‘Hey, I know. What if I find a jeweller shop? Maybe we could sell.’ I said, ‘Can’t you take it to the police?’ ‘No. Finders keepers.’ So, we went into this little shop and they said, ‘I’ll give you —’ I think it was five pounds. So, we had five pounds. Yeah. That made us rich. I didn't have any money left by then but your dad had his fiver.
SK: Didn't dad by a silk shirt or something?
JC: Oh, that was, that was our last day at Bournemouth. There was a sale on at this gent’s shop. We were looking in the window and he said, ‘Oh, look at that shirt.’ It was silk. Brown. A very light brown with a little stripe in. I think it was about three pounds. Something like that. I said, ‘Oh, go on. Get it.’ So he, yeah he got, out of that money that we got for the cigarette case we went to the cinema with that and we were able to eat. Don't forget we were only B&B. Then he bought this shirt. Yes. Silk shirt. It was lovely. It was a fawny brownie.
SK: So, somebody’s probably at home now saying oh that silk shirt —
JC: Yeah. That shirt. So that was Bournemouth. Yeah. That was it.
SK: Well done, mum.
JC: Do you reckon?
[recording paused]
CH: OK. Jane, if you could tell me something about your husband, Jack. Please.
JC: Yeah. He was born in Sunderland, 14th of May 1923. He had three sisters and two brothers. They lived in a council flat in the East End of Sunderland. His dad was a tugboat skipper. He used to bring the big ships into the River Wear, you know and he was on, I suppose shift work. He couldn’t, he didn’t, never had a nine to five job. Yeah. Dad was lovely. Yeah. As I say three sisters and two brothers. Two brothers. So six children altogether. Yes. But the flat was so small that his two brothers had to go and live with an auntie. Aunt Anne at the other end of town. It was only a two-bedroom flat you see and you can't have boys and girls sleeping together. No good. Yeah. Then he went to a local school and then he went to Sunderland Junior Tech. I think he was fifteen. Yeah. He was fifteen when he was [pause] Yeah he was fifteen years old and he told me that he was coming out of the gate at night, you know, after school and there was this man standing giving out leaflets and he gave it to all the boys. All these boys got a leaflet. So when he got home mum was, ‘Empty your pockets.’ Marbles and everything and there was this piece of paper in there and she had a look in there and said, ‘Oh, I'll let dad have a look at this.’ So when dad came in from work about 8 o'clock that night he said, ‘Oh, look they’re wanting, it’s the Royal Air Force. They’re wanting apprentices. What do you think about that, Jack?’ He said, ‘No. I want to be a draughtsman. I want to go to sea.’ He said, ‘Well, no. Look. Look. What I'll do I'll write a letter to this address and tell them blah blah blah and we may get a reply. We might not.’ Sure enough the next week there came a reply and it was a railway warrant. He'd never been out, he’d never been out of Sunderland. He was fifteen. First time on a train on his own. Down to King’s Cross to see the RTO which is what it said on this paper and the RTO took him to the other side of the station and he got a train to RAF Halton. And that's when it all started. He met other guys and what not. I think he was there for about two weeks. Did PE and just, they were just talking about the RAF and what they wanted to be, you now. He had a medical. He passed the medical. And then they said, ‘Right. You can go home now and we’ll let you know.’ So getting home he told mum and dad and they said, ‘Oh, that’s it then.' Sure enough a week later there was a train warrant for RAF Halton and that was the beginning.
CH: And how old was he then?
JC: I think he was sixteen. Fifteen. Sixteen. So, from the very beginning because the very first time I saw him before he went to war he had sort of silver thing on here and that was to say he was an apprentice. Part of the uniform. Because I used to think that's funny, normally you get stripes or what not but it was on the arm. Yeah. And being shy I didn't like to ask him, ‘What’s that for?’ That's about it, I think.
CH: Did he tell you much about his time at RAF Halton? He was known as a Halton brat wasn't he?
JC: That's right. Yes. A brat. Right. There's a lovely photograph in there if you want to look at it. Yes. All boys. All boys. Yeah. He enjoyed it. I think at the first week he was actually there I think they went into this huge hall and there were these guys sitting at a table and as you came you know along here you sat there and they’d say, ‘What would you like to do if we accept you in the Royal Air Force?’ He said, ‘I like cars. I like bicycles.’ ‘Engineering.’ And that was it. So he was put on a course for airframes and engines. That was it, you know. Did all his training there and everything. Getting up the PTI used to come into the room where all the guys were sleeping. I think it was six o'clock. ‘Right. Out of bed, shorts on, toilet, we're going for a run.’ Summer and winter 6 o'clock. And he ran, I think for about a mile. Get back. Straight into the shower. Get your work clothes on, your overalls and then have breakfast and then go to your classroom. And that was it until about 5 o'clock at night. Then probably have homework, then have dinner, change of clothes, have another shower, change of clothes, and then do your homework ready for the next day. And that was it. Yeah. So a busy time. Yeah.
CH: So, did you know Jack then when he was apprentice?
JC: Not really. Not really. I knew with my cousin I knew of him you see. His name and whatnot but that was about it. No.
CH: Did you meet up with him when he came back on leave?
JC: Yes. Of course, in those days leave was few and far between, you know. A forty-eight if you were lucky. And there was one weekend I was through at my cousin’s because she had written me to say, “Jackie Culkin is coming this weekend. You’d better come because you might not see him for a month.” So I went that weekend and the usual thing, you know playing cards, you know and whatnot. And that was the last time I saw him until three and a half years later. He didn't realise at the time that was embarkation leave. But of course, you can’t, you don’t say anything, you know. Yes. That was embarkation leave. Yeah. So that was when I started writing. I thought I’d carry on because my cousin, her fiancé had been taken prisoner so she said, ‘I’ll write to Ralph, Jean but you’ve got to, you know start writing to Jack.’ And he told me the last time he saw England, because two of the guys were quite well to do and they had a car, a two-seater racing car and so one of them said, ‘What will we do with this?’ And the corporal in charge the whole lot said, ‘Nothing we can do. It’ll just have to stay in the hangar.’ ‘But where am I going? I’m going overseas.’ ‘Sorry.’ So they just had to leave the cars.’ And of course, they weren't there three and a half years later, were they?’ Yeah. Yeah. That was one of the story Jack told me. Yeah.
CH: What do you know about Jack's time in the RAF war broke out?
JC: Not a lot. But you see it was all Yorkshire. He was on the bombers. The Halifax bomber. It’s the same as the bombers here. I was told the name Halifax. Lord Halifax was a Yorkshireman, and they had these big bombers and they said, ‘Right. What are we going to call this one is the Halifax.’ Because Lord Halifax had a lot of money and he backed them. That’s the story that your dad told me.
SK: But he went off to Italy. Or North Africa?
JC: Yes. Yeah. He went, because Monty was with the 8th Army. I think they were behind the 8th Army. I’m not sure. Or they perhaps they loaded the aeroplane up, dropped the bombs and then Monty would come up. He was with the 8th Army. He was attached to them. Yes. Definitely.
SK: And then he went to Italy.
JC: Yes. Yes.
SK: And which side were Italy on then? Our side? Was that when they, because dad liked the Italians, didn't he?
JC: Oh yes. He loved Italy, yes. He liked the Italians. They were very friendly. Very friendly.
SK: Were they on our side then?
JC: Oh definitely. Yes. But don’t forget Italy capitulated in the beginning. Oh yeah, they were very kind because when they were in the desert if they were near a farmhouse one of the lads would say, ‘Right. Geordie. Jack, I'm going to that farmhouse, see if we can get some eggs.’ So what the RAF lads used to do, they used to get these food bags from the UK and it was tea bags and of course these had all this tea, the lads in the hangar had the tea and then the dried tea bags they would take to the farmer and the farmer would give them six eggs for one tea bag and little did they know the tea had already been done. That was cheating, wasn’t it? Honestly. That’s what he told me [laughs] So, that was awful. You shouldn't do that. He said, ‘No. When you're young and in the middle of the desert waiting for Monty to do something.’ Yeah.
CH: I’m just looking at Jack’s notes that he made.
JC: Yes.
CH: It says that in 1939, when war with Germany was declared he was transferred back to RAF Halton to finalise the shortened apprentice training.
JC: Yeah.
CH: And he passed out as an Aircraftsman First Class.
JC: Yes.
CH: And he was not classified as still under eighteen years of age and not eligible for [man’s] service.
JC: That's right. Yeah. He was still a boy entrant.
CH: And then in 1940 he was posted to Number 4 Group Headquarters at Heslington Hall in York.
JC: Yeah.
CH: And it says after a cup of tea he was sent to Number 4 Group, Bomber Command Communication Flight, Rawcliffe Lane, Clifton, York.
JC: Rawcliffe, yeah.
CH: And it says here, “Apprentice J Culkin became a popular airman to take around on site visits to look after aircraft and to do starting drills. Eventually most staff officers took an interest in showing the apprentice how to fly and allowing him to take the controls of most of the flights. He became a very good flyer.”
JC: Yes.
CH: And on the 2nd of July he was re-classified Aircraftsman First Class and now classified to carry out the duties of Fitter 2 on engines on all —
JC: Yeah.
CH: RAF aircraft.
JC: Yeah.
CH: He worked on flight aircraft including the Westland Lysander, a Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, Albatross, the Bristol Blenheim, the Bristol Botha, Handley Page.
JC: Yes.
CH: And then on the 3rd of December he was posted to 35 Squadron RAF Leeming in Yorkshire which was the first squadron equipped with the Handley Page Halifax bomber.
JC: Yeah.
CH: Did he ever talk much about flying the Halifax?
JC: No. I think he enjoyed it. I think he enjoyed it. Yes. Because he knew that the lads that he worked with were good engineers. He knew that aeroplane would fly. Definitely. Yeah. He was good to the lads.
CH: Do you know what was actually his role?
JC: What? As an aircraft fitter? Teaching. Teaching them to use the tools properly. You know. Because we were stationed in Germany weren't we? What was the first when you went to boarding school.
CH: Hildesheim.
JC: Hildesheim. It was RAF Hildesheim, wasn’t it? And that was the Army Air Corps and we were the only RAF people, all the others were Army and Jack had to train some of the Army boys how to service the helicopter. And they used to come to work in hobnail boots and he’d say, ‘There’s no way you're getting on that aeroplane with those boots. Go back. Get your plimsolls on.’ Yeah. Hildesheim RAF Hildesheim] yeah. We were the only RAF people there. What was dad? Sergeant. Flight Sergeant then.
SK: Flight sergeant.
JC: Flight sergeant I think he was. Yeah. Yeah. In fact, Major Begby, in charge of the whole lot we were coming back to the UK and he said, ‘Look Jack. Why don't you come with us?’ ‘What?’ ‘Join the Army. You’re a sergeant now. If you join the Army now in six months you’d be a staff sergeant. Then you’d get warrant.’ I think Warrant Number 2 and then you’d go Warrant Number 1 he said. He came home. He said, ‘What do you think, Jean. What about the Army?’ I said, ‘The Army? No. I want to stay with the RAF. I like the RAF.’ And with the Army you move in a battalion. With the RAF, you’re single, you know. You know, you’re posted. A sergeant posted here. Corporal posted there. But you’re not in a group so you’re with the same people all the time. I said, ‘No. I like the RAF.’ So that was it. We stayed with the RAF.
CH: I’m just going back to Jack’s notes. It says in 1941 he sat and passed the Trade Test Examination and was re-classed leading aircraftsman and is now heading a modification team working on such projects such as fitting all squadron aircraft with propeller de-icing systems.
JC: Yes.
CH: Modifying air intake and modifying engine controls and the station was bombed on several occasions with the station commander being killed.
JC: That would be in Yorkshire. RAF. Dishforth? No. [pause] It doesn't say does it? No.
CH: It says he flew, so he was posted to 76 Squadron at RAF Middleton St George.
JC: Yes.
CH: County Durham.
JC: Yes. Yes.
CH: And he flew with the squadron to Tain in Scotland with a full bomb load aboard.
JC: Yes.
CH: Waited several days for the weather to clear and for the squadron to bomb the German pockets battleship. The Tirpitz.
JC: Yes.
CH: It was hard work and long hours.
JC: Yeah.
CH: And he was now in charge of a maintenance crew responsible for one Halifax bomber.
JC: That’s right.
CH: And then in 1942 he mentions a court martial. Would you like to tell me something about that?
JC: All I know about this he was one minute late. It was his turn to do guard duty and he was one minute late and the corporal in charge said, ‘Right. I’m going to charge you, Culkin. You are one minute late.’ ‘But corp, I was working on an aeroplane.’ Anyhow, the Group Captain found out about this as it goes in orders and he had the two of them in front of him and he said, ‘Do you know what corporal? The thing is this young boy is working on an aeroplane. Perhaps he's got one screw to fit in. One minute late. Admonished. No. You go back to work, Culkin.’ That was it. He could have been court martialled for one minute late. But they had to be like that, you know.
SK: [unclear]
JC: As your dad, I mean, you know you’ve got two stripes on your arm. Wow.
CH: It actually says this happened on his nineteenth birthday.
JC: Yeah. His nineteenth birthday. Yes. Just before he went overseas.
CH: That was in May and then on the 10th of July all the squadron aircraft and selected crews and personnel took off in the early hours for a mission in the Middle East and he was one of them. They planned to fly and land at Mersa in North Africa.
JC: Yeah.
CH: Via Gibraltar. It took a few days to service the aircraft and load the bombs, fly back to base by flying over southern Italy and bomb the Italian fleet at Taranto. Over the Alps and back to base. A total tour of sixteen days. Did he ever talk about that much?
JC: No.
CH: No.
JC: Not things like that. No.
CH: If we go forward a little bit to when you got married which year, what year was that in?
JC: 1946. Yeah.
CH: So, the war had finished.
JC: Yes. Yes.
CH: Would you like to carry on about your life together then?
JC: It was, it was wonderful. Not a lot of money around. I mean the pay wasn't very good. He was stationed at RAF locking and we had to live in rooms. I’d never been away from home any length of time. He eventually got us the first set of rooms. There was a bedrooms and the use of the kitchen. That was on the main road in Weston Super Mare. We were there for about two weeks. Jack used to go on his cycle, go to work and I used to just potter around in the bedroom and then think, oh, I'll go for a little walk. We were there for two weeks and then the landlady decided, ‘I'm sorry but you're going to have to go. I've got summer visitors coming.’ ‘Pardon? We've only been here two weeks.’ ‘Well, I’m sorry. You've paid the rent so you know, you can go.’ And we had to go and find accommodation. Little did we know that this was a council house on the main road and you're not supposed to sublet. So someone had obviously said mmm mmm because seeing Jack in uniform. Yeah. So somebody said. So, then we had, he had to go back to the mess and find out the roster where rooms, you know were. We did eventually get a couple of rooms but oh living with someone. Having your bedroom which you had to keep tidy which was fair enough. Use of the kitchen. Oh. Which the landlady put some money in the gas and I'd come in, ‘Oh, you can’t use that. That’s mine. You can come in half an hour and use your area.’ Oh, it was awful but you're young you know. Twenty two nearly. That was it. So we had three lots of rooms while we were, no married quarters in those days. Then eventually I found out I was pregnant. I thought oh great. Jack said, ‘Do you want to stay at Weston?’ I said, ‘No. No. I want to go home to my mum.’ So we came back. Yes. Oh, and then he had to go to RAF Locking and continue. I think he was teaching there. I’m not sure. So I stayed at home and went to see the doctor and whatnot and Dr Goodman says, ‘Get on there. Let me have a look.’ And my mum was standing by me. He felt my tummy. He said, ‘Yeah. When was your last period?’ January the what? 5th. Just a minute. October the 12th your baby is due.’ So, I said, ‘Ooh hospital.’ He said, ‘Oh no. Well, you're late. When you get pregnant you’ve got to come and see me ASAP. You can’t leave it two times, three times. You can’t. We’re all full up. I’m sorry. You’re having the baby at home.’ I said, ‘Oh, ok then.’ So, mum was with me and she said, ‘That’s alright.’ So Dr Goodman said, ‘There’s a midwife lives in your area. I’ll send her. Her name is Mrs Bowmaker so she’ll come and see you. Probably tomorrow.’ And that was it. So she was born at home. It was lovely because Mrs Bowmaker just lived around the corner. She was our local nurse. Yeah. Remember names. It's amazing. She was lovely. She really was.
SK: When did you join dad again then?
JC: After you were born. I think it was the end of January. You are born October. It must have been January, February because where was he posted then?
SK: Debden.
JC: Yes. RAF Debden. That’s right. And we got a married quarter. Yeah. Our first married quarter.
SK: But I can remember before, where was it we had to queue outside in the cold for food? That horrible place.
JC: RAF [pause] RAF Croft which is just on the outskirts because your dad was posted to Padgate. RAF Padgate, and just on the outskirts, RAF Croft waiting for the married quarters to be built in, it was Canberra Square. That was the married quarter we got. We had to live at RAF Croft. Oh, John was in his pram wasn’t he?
SK: You were like Nissen huts, weren’t they?
JC: That’s right. Yeah. They were Nissen huts.
SK: Awful. And we used to have to queue outside.
JC: We had to. Yes. Breakfast we had to eat with the airmen. All the people, RAF people coming back from overseas. Wives you know and sisters and brothers and all coming back to RAF Croft. Nissen huts they were literally. And we were given two rooms in a Nissen hut because we had two children. Group captain’s inspection every Thursday morning and I think did you go to like a Kindergarten?
SK: I just remember queuing for food, mum.
JC: Yes.
SK: With the [twins]
JC: We had to go to the main mess hall, didn’t we? Because John was in the pram wasn’t he?
SK: I can remember mounds of coke and coal.
JC: That’s right. Yes, that’s right.
SK: You had to queue and go nearer and nearer the [unclear]
JC: Yeah. I know.
CH: So this Nissen hut. This was for you?
JC: Yeah.
CH: Or families.
JC: Families coming back from Egypt and you name it. Coming back from overseas. Aden.
CH: Do you remember which year this was?
JC: Our John. What year was —
SK: I can remember queuing [unclear]
JC: John was, you must have been four five. Five. He was five. What year was that?
SK: In fact, you said that a lot of the women whose husbands weren’t there were doing things they shouldn’t be.
JC: That's right because they were dumped there. The wives and kids were dumped there you see
SK: And dad was court martialled nearly there wasn’t he?
JC: Yeah, because he ah that was because we had a smelly drain. We had two rooms, didn’t we? We had a drain outside and he said, ‘This is disgusting. This really is.’ So he went to his superior and he said, ‘Right, we’ll see what we can do for you sergeant.’ They didn’t do anything about it.
SK: The families officer came around didn’t she?
JC: Yes. Yeah. Wondering what we were complaining about and the smell was awful because it was all the nasty stuff you know.
CH: What facilities did you have in the Nissen hut?
JC: We had a table and four chairs. A dining table in one room. And in the other room was, Sue was in a bedroom. Was John in the same bedroom because he was a baby then. I can’t remember.
SK: I can’t remember. All I can remember is queuing for food.
JC: Food. Yes. Because we had to go to the mess hall for food. There was no cooking facilities in the Nissen huts. None at all. So we had to be up and be at the mess hall for seven, 7.30 when the corporal behind, you know, the cooks used to say, ‘Right. What do you want?’ Bacon, egg blah blah blah. ‘Oh, and you’ve got a baby. I can give you an extra pint of milk,’ because John was a baby. Yeah. And it was awful wasn’t it really. Did you, you didn’t —
CH: Did you have shared toilets?
JC: Well, the toilet was right at the end of the Nissen hut. Yes. We shared a toilet. All these people coming from the Middle East and whatnot you know.
CH: And how long did you live in that for?
JC: Well, we were waiting for a married quarter at Padgate. I think we were there about five months. Four months. Five months.
SK: I can remember moving in to Padgate.
JC: Yes. Padgate. Brand new quarters. Canberra Square. Lovely because Sue was about six.
SK: No, not that old. I’ve got a picture on my [Gresham] Flyer haven’t I?
JC: Oh yes. Yes.
SK: With John on the back. John would then be about two I suppose.
JC: Two. Yes.
SK: I’d be about five.
JC: Well, there was three and a half years difference roughly but yes. Eventually got a married quarter. It was lovely.
CH: What year was this then that you moved to Padgate?
SK: I’d be [ ]
JC: You were about —
SK: ’53.
JC: Yeah. You were.
SK: Fifty —
JC: Were you eight or seven?
SK: No. Not that old.
JC: Eh? Were you older?
SK: It was when dad went to Aden.
JC: That’s right. Yes. Yeah.
[recording paused]
CH: Ok. So you were at, moved into married quarters at RAF Padgate.
JC: Padgate. Yes. Yeah. Brand new married quarters. Beautiful. I think we were there for about eighteen months weren’t we? And then your dad was PWR. Right. Preliminary Warning Roster. So he was put, he had to go and get his jabs and whatnot and he was going to go to Aden. Khormaksar. It was either Steamer Point or Khormaksar and he was going to Khormaksar. I’m not sure whether they had a helicopter there or [pause] I don’t know what the aeroplanes were really. He was there what —
SK: We were supposed to join him weren’t we?
JC: Yes. We were joining. We were supposed to be. It was a two year tour. You had to wait one year for a married quarter so if the wives and families went out it would be twelve months. Jack was there for about six months but before he went away he said, ‘Right You have your inoculations. Leave the children because [TBT] was a nasty one. It makes you feel ill. So I thought, ‘Right.’ I’ll go up to the Medical Centre and have my inoculations. What not. The children could have theirs later. He’d been out there I think six months if that. Sue’s birthday was coming up October so mam came down. Auntie Mary with Steve and Alan. Nana Culkin came. October the 12th. Your birthday. Great. So we’d all been in to town. We did some shopping. Cakes and blah blah. Came back and there was a notice on the letterbox.” Urgent.” I though oh good. We’ve got a married quarter. Went in. Emptied the shopping. I thought, oh I’ll open this. “Dear Mrs Culkin, sorry to inform you —” I thought, what? “Your husband is seriously ill in hospital. The CO will get in touch with you.” I thought, oh my God. So mum, Jack’s mum said, ‘It’s alright. Auntie Mary and I will look after the kids. You go and see someone.’ So it was only about a ten minute walk to the actual entrance to the offices and whatnot. The headquarters. So I went around there, saw the corporal. He said, ‘Oh, I’ll see if the groupie is in and he will see you, Mrs Culkin.’ So I waited for about ten minutes. Then the group captain, ‘Would you come in please.’ So I went in, sat down and he said, ‘I had a signal from Khormaksar this morning. I’m sorry to tell you that your husband is seriously ill.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘He’s had a stomach ulcer that burst.’ He said, ‘I’m getting more information. You got the telegram?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, I’m on the wire all the time. I get it before you.’ So I said, ‘Yeah. What happens now?’ He said, ‘Well, have you had your innoculations?’ I said, ‘Yes. I’m up to date. I had them before my husband left.’ He said, ‘Because maybe this week I could fly you out. It depends. Who could look after the children?’’ That’s ok. Somebody would.’ So he said, ‘Could you come and see me tomorrow at 9 o’clock? I’ll have another signal by then.’ I said, ‘Yes. Certainly.’ So I came home. That was Sue’s party. So I went around the next morning. He saw me straight away. He said, ‘Right. Sit down.’ I thought, oh this is terrible. He said, ‘No. There’s been a slight improvement. He’s taking tablespoons of goat’s milk.’ No cows over there. It’s goat’s milk. ‘He can’t eat anything but he’s having these tablespoons of goats milk. He’s been unconscious for over twenty four hours but now he’s coming around,’ from whatever, you know. The MOs quite worried about him but we’ll keep you in touch.’ So the group captain said, ‘I’m not flying you out. I don’t want to do that now. Come and see me tomorrow at 9 o’clock if you will.’ I said, ‘Yes, certainly.’ I went around and he said, ‘Good news Mrs Culkin. He’s much better. He’s not taking food but he’s drinking milk. It’s goat’s milk. No cows in Aden.’ So, he said, ‘I’ll be on to them again sometime tomorrow. But you can come and see me tomorrow any time. Whatever time you wish. I’ll have time for you.’ And so I had to come back and tell the family blah blah blah. Mary had to get home because the boys had to do schooling and what not. I think Nanna Culkin had to go home. So there was just Jean and Sue and John. I went and saw him the next day, the groupie and he said, ‘Good news. I'm not flying you. Your husband has gained consciousness and we don't know whether he is going to finish tour out there. I said, ‘Oh, we’re probably near the top of the housing list.’ He said, ‘Oh that’s the by and by. No.’ And sure enough the next day the corporal came around the next day. ‘Sorry, Mrs Culkin, ‘I don't think you're going to Aden.’ ‘I’m not going. Oh, that’s sad.’ He said, ‘Don’t be sad. It’s an awful place. If you see the group captain on Friday he’ll fill you in.’ So I had to go and see him again on Friday. He said, ‘You're not going out. We’re going to get your husband back.’ I said, ‘Back. I thought I’d enjoy it out there.’ ‘No. No. No. No. So, you'll just have to stay in your married quarter and we’ll let you know when your husband’s home.’ He’d probably come home by I don’t think aeroplane because in those days aeroplanes didn’t fly as much for families. I think he was coming home on the Empire Windrush. He came, that's right. Oh you were at sea for —
SK: Was that the one the one they used for the West Indians?
JC: No. It blew up eventually. The Empire Windrush. Yeah. The next. Your dad got home from the Empire Windrush. Right. And he had a months leave. He had to go and see the doctor. The MO. Sick quarters every other day because of his tummy and what not. But the next time the Windrush came it blew up. So he missed it. Yeah. Yeah, he missed it.
SK: That was good luck there then.
JC: I know. I know. Then he was put on lighter duties. I think its A4G4 something it’s called. When you’re not A1 you’re A4G4. So he was on the bottom because of his tummy ulcer and he thought My God. Now, I’ve got to get myself fit to be A1, which he did. Then that was it about Padgate I think.
CH: What job was Jack doing then?
JC: Sorry?
CH: When he came back from Aden what, what job was he doing?
JC: He was, at Padgate he was teaching the old apprentices. Aircraft apprentices. One level to another doing modules. Is that what they’re called? Yes. He was teaching. Yeah. That was a good job because he was eight until five. 8 o’clock until five. Another job it would be God knows when he’d get in. but it was a school for the young apprentices. Yeah.
CH: So, he came back from Aden —
JC: Yes.
CH: Where did he go to after that? Did you stay at Padgate?
JC: No, because we got another posting after that didn’t we?
SK: It must have been, was it Odiham?
JC: It could have been RAF Odiham. That’s where the choppers were.
SK: Odiham.
JC: RAF Odiham. Hampshire.
SK: 11 [unclear] Road.
JC: Eh?
SK: 11 [Unclear] Road.
Was it 11 [unclear] Road. Yes. Yeah. Nice married quarter. Yeah. Very nice. We had a married quarter. Very nice because she went to school there and John started school there didn’t he? Yeah. And we hadn’t bought, we hadn’t had a car then. Didn’t have enough money so I said to your dad, ‘How about me going to work? John is now seven. At school.’ So he said, ‘Alright. I’ll go in to HSQ this afternoon and see if there’s anything going.’ He came back that night and he said, ‘Would you like to work in HSQ?’ I said, ‘Yeah. What?’ He said, ‘You've got to see the Warrant Officer on Monday morning.’ ‘Oh okay.’ I went and saw the Warrant Officer and he said, ‘Have you worked in an office before?’ I said, ‘Oh yes. I've always worked in an office.’ He said, ‘Well, what we’re looking for is a movements clerk.’ I said, ‘Yeah. Ok.’ So he said, ‘Can we see you 8 o'clock Monday?’ ‘Yes.’ So I went and saw him and he said, ‘Right, Mrs Culkin you are working in this room. The orderly room. You are our movements clerk.’ No WAAFs in those days. Not in all the camps. No. No. All airmen. So I was in this room. There's my counter. There's my desk and I've got all these four airmen behind me and the flight Sergeant, my boss was up there. I went and I thought oh my God. ‘Right. Come in Mrs Culkin. Now, have you used a Bradshaw’s?’ I said, ‘What’s a Bradshaw’s?’ ‘Its a timetable for trains.’ You know. ‘And then you’ve got timetables for buses. You’re a movements clerk.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘What will happen, we get a note from HSQ for boys who are being posted. First of all they’ll come to see you. You are movements clerk. You will already have a letter for me, your flight sergeant to say where these men are going and you’ve got to write out a warrant for which train. You look up the train times, what time they get there, if they change and you will give them a bus warrant. They might need a bus to get to the railway station.’ ‘Yes. Alright.’ God, this was my first day. I’ll die. I can’t do it. I said this to the AC1 behind. ‘I can’t.’ He said, ‘Can I call you Jean?’ I said, ‘Yes, of course you can.’ He said, ‘That’s it. You’re now a movements clerk. Yeah. Ok. So —
CH: That was a lot of responsibility.
JC: It was, yeah.
CH: To make sure they were on the right train and in the right place.
JC: Yeah. The mail used to be brought in to the next office and it was all sorted. And then Movements. I’d get my pile here and think oh yeah. Oh my God. And then you’d got to go to the Cardex and find the airman, get his card out, put it down here, get your pad. Where does he work? Oh yeah, he’s in hangar number five. Corporal so and so. Account number 5. “Come to see movements clerk ASAP.” Put that in the mailbox and the maily, the corporal would go around and then you’d see these guys. ‘Where am I going, Jean?’ ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’ Where am I going?’ ‘Oh, yeah. Oh you’re going there. Oh. Oh not overseas. No. Not yet. No. You’re not PWR.’ Preliminary Warning Roster. ‘No. You’re not. No. You’re going the other end of the country.’
SK: Could you arrange for them to have better postings then?
JC: Oh no. Oh no. That came from HSQ. No. That was nothing to do with me because some of the maybe a corporal airman, ‘I don’t want to go there, Mrs Culkin.’ ‘I’m sorry.’ You know. And then don’t forget I had the Cardex. So whenever they moved I had to move from one hangar to another and then when eventually, when they eventually left the station that was blocked there. You put their card in there so they’d gone gone gone. They’d probably gone somewhere else you see.
CH: Gosh.
JC: It was very good. It was 8 o’clock until five I think. An hour for lunch.
SK: That’s probably why your memory’s so good now.
JC: Do you reckon?
SK: Yeah.
JC: Oh, it was fun. I mean movements. I’ve got photographs. I was showing you last week. There’s me in the front and the lads behind me.
CH: This was at RAF Odiham.
JC: This was RAF Odiham.
SK: Odiham.
JC: Yes. Yeah. That was a new quarter wasn’t it. Hampshire. Yes.
CH: Gosh. Do you remember how long you stayed at that station for?
JC: Was it three and a half, four years?
SK: No. Not that long because I had to go to boarding school because you went to Germany.
JC: Oh yeah. We were Preliminary Warning Roster. We got our posting to Germany, didn’t we? RAF.
SK: Was that ’58 ’59?
JC: Yes. About ’58. Yes.
SK: Does that tie in?
JC: Yeah, because she was eleven.
SK: If you were eleven and you were in the RAF and you were posted to Germany.
JC: Yes.
SK: You had three big boarding schools.
JC: Yes.
SK: You couldn't go to day school.
JC: No.
SK: You had to go to boarding school because John Hamley went as well didn’t he?
JC: That’s right.
SK: I went to Prince Rupert School in Wilhelmshaven.
JC: Yeah. Because the school only taught to the age of eleven so Sue had to —
CH: So you went to Germany with your parents.
JC: Oh yes.
CH: And you were in boarding school in Germany.
JC: She could have either gone —
SK: Because John was younger.
JC: Yeah.
SK: He went just to the day school didn’t he?
JC: If Sue had wished they said you could either go back to the UK, stay with grandparents in Sunderland or grandparents in Newcastle. But, ‘No. I don't want to do that. So she went to Wilhelmshaven. Boarding school. Yeah.
SK: Which some years earlier had been a big SS base.
JC: Yeah. It was.
SK: On the south coast [unclear]
JC: Was it the Navy? Was it the —
SK: Yes. It was the deepest what do you call it? Harbour.
JC: Harbour. Yes. Wilhelmshaven.
SK: Where all the warships used to come in.
JC: That’s right.
SK: It’s great in the summer but very cold in the winter.
JC: In the winter. But board.
SK: I slept in the old billets I suppose.
JC: Yes.
SK: For the German Navy.
JC: Oh God. Broke our hearts. Never been away from home before and you were, how far were you? Two hundred miles was it?
SK: Two, two fifty something like that.
JC: We couldn’t see you for six weeks because the head said, ‘No. If you come and see the children you’ll upset them. So can you leave it for six weeks?’ So we went up after six weeks but she was fine. We thought oh God. Oh, John thought it was great.
SK: He was at home.
JC: I’ve got my mum and dad all to myself. My sister’s gone away weee [laughs] yeah.
CH: And how long were you in Germany?
JC: Two and a half years. This was when Major Begby who was in charge. Army Air Corps, it was. That’s when he said to Jack, ‘Look, your promotion. What are you? Sergeant? Flight sergeant? If you come to us Jack you’d be a warrant officer two, warrant officer one. Then you’d go for your commission in about five, six years.’ So, ‘I’ll have to go home and ask Jean. See what she thinks.’ He came home and he said, ‘Hey, hows about joining the Army?’ I said, ‘Padron?’ ‘Yeah. Look, we move in battalions. Not like we do. Singly.’ I said, ‘No.’ The Welsh Regiment was there then and the girls, everybody knew each other all the time but you used to know oh yeah. Oh yeah. ‘We’re all going there. Great.’ Mates forever. In the RAF you don’t do that. You make new friends. I said, ‘No, Jack. Do you want to go in the Army?’ He said, ‘Not really. I’ll tell Major Begby tomorrow.’ Yeah. Ok then. So we didn’t go in the Army. Anyhow, the Army go on schemes and the guys are away for about three or four months at a time because the girls, we all lived in, it was a block of flats then, wasn’t it? And the girls they were lovely. Welsh Regiment weren’t they? They could all sprechen sie Deutsch and the girl next door said, ‘Have you been to Germany before Jean?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘So you can’t sprechen sie Deutsch.’ I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘I’ll tell you what when they kids have gone to school I’ll take you shopping.’ ‘Yeah. Ok.’ The first thing I learned was kleines weiβes brot bitte. A small white loaf please.
SK: [unclear]
JC: I know. And then she said, ‘Right. We’ll take you to the butcher’s shop. But you get by and it was two and a half years, wasn’t it? And it was wonderful. Yeah. It was absolutely wonderful because the Army Air Corps were good. And I think there was one Royal Navy petty officer. It was funny that. The Army, Navy and Air Force all at, what was the Navy doing with the RAF and the Army? Never knew. But he was a petty officer so he must have been good.
SK: May have got the wrong movements clerk.
JC: I hope not. Not guilty my lord. But Hildesheim was nice. Yeah.
CH: Then it was RAF Leconfield.
JC: Yes. After that posted to RAF Leconfield.
CH: 1961.
JC: Yes. Yes. Sue went to [pause] What happened there? Had you finished?
SK: Longcroft School.
JC: You went to Longcroft. Did John? John was still at school wasn’t he?
SK: I don’t know where. He’d be on camp I think.
JC: Yes. Yeah. Could have been. Yeah. So, Leconfield.
SK: And then on to —
JC: That was Yorkshire. Leconfield wasn’t it?
SK: Then where? Then to here.
JC: What?
SK: Was it Scampton or –
JC: Scampton. Waddington. We went to both didn’t we?
SK: Then to Germany. You went to Germany.
JC: Oh yeah, we went to —
SK: Oh, did you go to Hong Kong? No. You went to Hong Kong.
JC: Hong Kong for a tour. Yes. That’s how, of course we went to Hong Kong. That was lovely. We had a choice. Jack, I think your dad was at Scampton. Waddington. I’m not sure. He saw the movements clerk and he said, ‘The thing is Jack you’ve got a choice. You’ve got Singapore. Hong Kong.’ ‘What do we do?’ So he said, ‘Tell you what. Go home. Discuss it with the family. Let us, let us know tomorrow.’ So he came home that night and talked about it and I didn’t mind either. I don’t know whether it was you said Hong Kong or John. I don’t know. Anyhow, posted to Hong Kong two and a half years. And Sue said, ‘Ok. I’ll come with you but I’m not sure whether I’ll like it.’ And we said, ‘It’’ll be alright, Sue,’ you know. ‘Meet new people.’ Because you were twenty then weren’t you? Twenty. Yes.
SK: Twenty one.
JC: Twenty one. She had her twenty first in Hong Kong, but John, ‘Oh yeah. I’m all for it.’ That was it. So, two and a half years. But after six months.
SK: Yeah. I came back.
JC: Sue couldn’t stand the heat and the crowds and, ‘Dad, I want to go home. I’ve had enough. Can I go back to Lincoln?’ Went to stay with two friends didn’t you. ‘Oh, you can’t go on your own, Sue. You’re only twenty one. Please stay.’ ‘No. No. I’ll buy a wig mam before I go.’ Do you remember you bought a wig?
SK: I did.
JC: You did. Why? I don’t know. You had beautiful hair. Anyhow —
SK: The humidity.
JC: That’s it and the crowds of people. You couldn’t, not used to it.
SK: It was the humidity I think.
JC: But there again you had a job there didn’t you?
SK: A good job.
JC: She had a good, the Hong Kong Electric Light Company. Typist.
SK: I was PA to the boss.
JC: Yeah. She had, do you know what. She was earning more than her father who was a warrant. She was.
SK: [unclear] what I was earning here. I had a super job. I don’t know [unclear] but I did.
JC: ’No. I can’t stay dad. Really. I don’t like it. It’s too, I can’t stand the heat.’
SK: Yes.
JC: That was the spring.
SK: And that’s then end of the story. We ended up here.
JC: Yes. Yeah. She came back and that was it. Met Jim. Jack was due to come out of the RAF.
CH: Ok. Right. So the final base was Waddington.
JC: RAF Waddington. Yes. That was a nice posting. Of course, the children had grown up. I was more or less just doing housework, you now. I’d more or less finished work on camps. On any camp. I thought oh my God. And then we had to think about coming out of the RAF. We knew that these bungalows were being built so we came down. Saw the boss man, put down a deposit and then we got this bungalow. No. That's about it, I think.
CH: That was in the 1980s.
JC: 1980s. Yeah. 1980s. Yeah. I think that’s about it because I think Sue had by then met Jim.
[background voice]
CH: Interview paused for a moment.
[recording paused]
CH: Ok. So, interview restarted. You were just going to put the deposit down on this bungalow.
JC: Yes. Jack was due to come out of the RAF at fifty five. And that was about it, you know. He said, ‘Right. I’ve got to come out some time.’ Because he loved, he loved his job. He loved looking after the lads. The airmen thought the world of him. When we were at RAF Gutersloh the group captain said, ‘Right Jack, when you get back to the UK that will be your last tour so we want to do something special here.’ He said, ‘Oh, please no.’ He said, ‘It’s just a little party.’ Because he got on with all the lads whatever rank, you know. Anyhow, I was working at RAF Gutersloh as well. They wanted someone in the, I don’t know, we did ordering. My friend Carol and I did ordering. Airmen used to come in, Air Publications, ‘Right. Jean, I want this. Can you get me this booklet?’ Every Monday morning a pilot would come in, ‘Can you get me this booklet? This booklet.’ Because all the orders used to go to RAF Bruggen. They arrived there at the weekend and on the following morning they’d be back. They’d be flown back to Gutersloh so all the officers and airmen could come in and get their books and whatnot. I did that for about two years and I loved every minute of it, you know. It was absolutely wonderful. And there was, I must tell you this, Carol, my friend her husband was a corporal. We used to take sandwiches to work and she said, ‘Jean, I'll take you to the Corporals Club.’ I said, ‘I can't. Jack’s a warrant.’ She said, ‘No. We can have a cup of tea. Bring your sarnies and we’ll sit and have a natter and I can say hello to my husband. He’s over there. He's a corporal.’ ‘Yeah, ok.’ So we were having our sandwiches and I’m sitting back listening to all this going on. A lot of lads, you know having sandwiches and natter natter and who walks in the door but Jack in uniform. If he had his hat on like that I knew there was trouble. So he goes straight, he could see me. He couldn’t miss me and I thought oh my God. I thought he’d come for me. No. He’d come to two lads a the counter and he said, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ You know you're working on blooming helicopters, aeroplanes and you're drinking beer. My office. 2 o'clock.’ I thought oh God. I didn't dare look at Jack. He was so stern. Anyhow, I got back to work and that night he picked me up at five, I finished at five and I said, ‘What was that?’ He said, ‘I couldn't look at you love because I would have laughed but when I put my hat on straight like that they know they're in trouble.’ I thought, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I got back to the office, got back to my desk, took my hat off and put it on the side and I said, ‘Right. You two stand there you stupid nincompoops.’ So I put my hat on like that, I said, ‘What the hell do you think you're doing? You're working on choppers. Drinking beer. 12 o'clock. You’re working on engines for Christ’s sake.’ Yeah. And he really really told them off. ‘Sorry sir. We shan’t do it again.’ He said, ‘You do that again I’m going to really report you to the CO. The CO knows nothing about this but he will do.’ And he frightened the living daylights out of them. That told them. He said, ‘But you’ve got to teach them. You can't drink beer when you're working on aeroplanes.’ You know. And that was it. Yeah. I said to Carol, ‘I’m never coming to your club again.’ [laughs] But I'm still in touch with Carol. Yeah. Her husband, when they got back to, they came back to England the year before us. Oh, she was lovely. She comes from Liverpool. And she'd been back a year and then she found out she was pregnant. She had twin girls. And the twin girls I think were two year old and he met somebody else. He, he was an electrician. He came out the RAF, got this job in this factory and the boss of the factory was Swiss, a Swiss lady and it was love at first sight so got a divorce from Carol. So I still write and she says, ‘Jean, never mention his name to me again.’ Because the girl twin girls are now twenty, twenty five years old and got children of their own. We write every month I suppose and she says, she often says in her letter, “You know, my dear friend I can't believe we've been writing from 1970 when we got back to the UK. It’s wonderful.” You know. Yeah. Once a month we write. I haven't seen her. Our Sue says, ‘Why don’t you get a telephone number?’ I say, ‘Sue, if I start talking to Carol I’ll never, I’ll never get off. I mean we write pages and pages Can you imagine the telephone bill?’ No. We keep it as it is. Yeah. Carol, bless her. Carol.
CH: You mentioned Jack —
JC: Yes.
CH: On his final posting they were going to do a little do for him.
JC: Yes. Yeah. Oh, at RAF Gutersloh. Yes. Yeah. I’ve got pictures of that as well. I think they’re in there. I’m not sure. And they said he said we came home on the Thursday night. He was leaving them on the Friday because we had to get back to get back to the UK. He said, ‘There’s something happening at work.’ I said, ‘There’s bound to be.’ He said, ‘Have you heard anything in Air Publications?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, some of the officers come in? Haven’t they mentioned?’ I said, ‘No. Nobody has said anything. Why would they tell me?’ He said, ‘I’ve got a funny feeling.’ I said, ‘Yes. Ok. God, stop worrying about it. We’ve got packing to do when we get back home and get the boxes ready for going back to the UK.’ Right. So, he said, ‘Ok.’ Came back and that was the Thursday and on Friday he dropped me off at my office, Air Publications and I knew there was something going on because I had, one of the officers had been in. He said, ‘Don’t you dare say anything.’ I said, ‘Promise. I won’t say a thing.’ And he, Jack knew there was something was going on months beforehand because the airmen were disappearing. They got through their work but he thought this is very odd. What the hell are they doing? But they kept up to date with their work, you know and eventually on the day of leaving, because he dropped me off at work at 8 o’clock that morning and I thought I wonder what’s going on. I know. I’m going to ask my flight sergeant if I can walk up to his hangar. And do you know what these lads had built? A wooden helicopter. There’s photographs in there and he’s standing on the steps with a group captain here drinking because the groupie said, ‘You know forty years is a long time, Jack. All the best and I hope you enjoy Civvy Street.’ Yeah. So they said, ‘Right chief. Get in.’ And they pulled him in this chopper right around the airfield. Stopped at every, everything. ‘Bye Jack. Hope you’ve enjoyed your forty years.’ Yeah. Yeah. And it was absolutely wonderful and when he picked me up that night it was lateish. It was half past five, 6 o’clock. He said, ‘Did you know anything about it?’ I said, ‘No. I knew nothing about it.’ I was sworn to secrecy. He said, ‘Did you know they were going to build that little chopper?’ I said, ‘No.’ All out of wood. You see one of the corporals would say, ‘Right. I’m going to disappear for a half an hour. You cover for me.’ And they’d go in to another part of the hangar. This, yeah. It had wood, it was all made of wood. The wings there, two wheels there and two wheels at the back and a little seat inside. And there’s a picture there of Jack on these steps and the groupie standing with a glass of champagne on him [unclear] Yeah, but forty years is a long time and he said, ‘Right. Where are you going Jack?’ And he said, ‘I think I’m in Lincoln somewhere. I don’t know. Waddington. Scampton. I think it might be Scampton.’ He said, ‘Well, good luck. All the best.’ Yeah. I think we went to Scampton first. Yes. Went to Scampton and then Waddo. Yeah. To finish off, you know. But it was good. Open Air Days over here when Jack was at Scampton or Waddo because if you were in uniform, you know Sue and Jim and the boys were only this and no entrance fees. ‘Right. Come on.’ You know. Well, now I think its about, is it about twenty, thirty pound to get in Open Day? It’s quite a lot. But it’s all for a good cause, you know. I mean, I watch it on telly. Absolutely wonderful. All these things that are going on. When Jack and I were in it there’s only a little few sort of little offices where they had cups of tea and sandwiches and biscuits but now it’s ginormous. Which is fantastic, you know. Yeah. So that was the end of that.
CH: Some wonderful happy memories.
JC: I know. Absolutely. And I’ve still got them.
CH: Yes.
JC: Which is good, you know. As I say to our Sue your body might give up but this is the most important part isn’t it, you know. I can say, ‘Help. My legs won’t move today, Sue.’ She’d say, ‘Yeah, alright mum.’ But you see when we left Hong Kong John was what? Seventeen. And our Sue, she was in England, couldn’t stand the heat. And of course, it came for us coming back and he’d finished schooling out there. He was just on seventeen and he said, ‘You know what, Dad, I don’t want to go back to the UK.’ ‘What? What are you going to do?’ He said, ‘I like Hong Kong. I like the life. I've got come nice school mates out here. We've all left school now, passed our exams and done this, that and the other. Do you think I could stay out for a couple of years?’ ‘Oh John. I don't like leaving you.’ He said, ‘I'll tell you what I'm going to look for a job. We have got a month before you get back so I’ll try and get this job. If I don’t get it I’ll come back to the UK with you.’ Damn me. He got this job at Rediffusion. Hong Kong Rediffusion. He came in for his lunch that day. It was only a half an hour. He could walk. ‘Mum and dad if — ’ we had a television about this big, in those days black and white, he said, ‘Watch that tonight. You might see something.’ I said, ‘The news? We know the news. Hong Kong news.’ He said, ‘No. Watch it.’ ‘Ok.’ So he said, ‘I’ll see you about 10 o'clock tonight.’ ‘OK.’ So, the 6 o’clock news came on and it was from RAF. What? ‘And we are now training some of our pilots —' What they do is take you out in an aeroplane, drop you in the water. You’ve got the thing, your life jacket on and whatnot and somebody comes and rescues you. And John says, ‘They’re trying me.’ They were trying him that day. ‘John, will you jump out?’ ‘Ok.’ Our John jumped out and that’s where he was on telly. Yeah. So he came up to the mic and he said, ‘That was the first jump I’ve ever done from RAF Kai Tak. Thank you.’ That was it. So came in that night. ‘I thought the likes of that by God it was scary but luckily I had the life jacket on and everything. Can I stay? Please? I finished my schooling. I think might have a job, you know.’ ‘Where?’ ‘RTHK.’ ‘What doing?’ ‘Television. Look we did all that today and I did most of the camera work.’ Oh God. And that was it. That was John in Hong Kong and that. He didn’t want to come back. Sue couldn’t get back quick enough. She couldn’t stand the heat. It was hot, you know if you’re not used to it. And he’d been out there about three or four years and he sent us tickets for a holiday. First class. BA. Yeah. It was a lovely. Lovely. But by then he’d met Flora and what not. He’d met her. She was in Miss Hong Kong blah blah blah and I think she came in second. And of course that’s Flora. That’s her birthday thing. And he met Flora because with RTHK they were taking photographs and whatnot and he asked her for a date and that was it. They've been married, she's fifty six this year so they've been married, they've had their Pearl wedding anniversary. Yeah. Because Justin is now, their elder son is twenty nine and Emma is eighteen. No. Sorry. She’s twenty one. Yes. And she’s just started university in Beijing where her brother is. Because Justin he got a job in Beijing. He’s marketing and he’s just had a good promotion. He’s just come back from Shanghai. Because now with those phones he can talk to his mum day or night can’t he? I haven’t got one of those phones. Because when she was here yesterday she said, ‘Oh, Justin wants to say hello.’ I said, ‘Oh, hi Just.’ He said, ‘Are you alright nanna? Your hair looks different nana.’ I said, ‘I know. It’s age, you know Justin [laughs] All the curls have gone.’ He said, ‘No. You look good. I’ll see you at Christmas.’ I said, ‘Are you?’ He said, ‘Yeah. We’re coming for Christmas.’ So he's coming and Emma’s coming because Emma’s just started Uni there learning Mandarin. No more Cantonese. It’s all Mandarin because the Chinese took over didn’t they? When we left how many years is that? Quite a few. So you’ve got to learn and our John’s been there all this time and he can not speak Cantonese or Mandarin. ‘I’m not learning that. If they can’t speak English they can’t speak English.’ But you know. So that’s about it.
CH: With Jack and his career in the RAF.
JC: Yes.
CH: You’ve travelled and stayed all around the world.
JC: I know. And I met people, wives who said, ‘Travelling? What? You're moving again?’ ‘Yeah. What about you?’ ‘No. I'm not moving my two boys.’ This was a corporal’s wife. ‘No. My boy’s education comes first. No. My husband can go anywhere he wants.’ And I used to say, ‘No way.’ Jack would say, ‘No way. I’m not putting you down. I want you with me. Why get married? What's the point? Why get married if you're going to leave your wife in a house because of education?’ I mean our Sue and John have done well in their education no matter where we've been they've gone to schools or colleges you know. It's been great for them. I mean we've got Flora now and two lovely grandchildren. Where is Emma? There's Emma. And there’s Justin.
CH: A wonderful family.
JC: I know. Just how old is Justin now? Gosh. Thirtysomething. Our Emma's twenty one. There’s nine years between them. They wanted, isn’t it amazing when you want children, you can't have them then all of a sudden, ‘I'm pregnant.’ Because there's nine years between them. No, but it's great. It’s lovely.
CH: So how long have you lived in this bungalow?
JC: 1974, I think. Jack was leaving the RAF so we had to have somewhere to live and start getting furniture, you know. This is not the same furniture we had when we moved in. Yes. Yeah. And we thought, ‘My God. The garden.’ There was a hell of a garden at the back and at the front. Jack and I used to do it and then of course I lost him. So, our Jim said, ‘Don’t worry mum.’ He loves gardening and he only lived at the top of the hill. Jim does all the gardening. Bless him.
CH: But when did Jack pass away?
JC: 1999.
CH: ’99.
JC: 1999. Yeah. He didn't see the New Year. You know. The centenary. No. We were at my sisters at Albrighton just on the outskirts Birmingham. She said, ‘Jack and Jean why don't you come up for four or five days?’ So Jim said, ‘It’s alright dad. You're not driving. I’ll take you.’ So we went for the weekend. That was Friday and Saturday. It was great. We went out with my sister and brother in law in the morning because Sue and Jim had come back here. And it was on the Sunday afternoon we'd been walking around, you know looking at various things in their village. Got back and Mary had done dinner for us. Spaghetti Bolognese. Really enjoyed it. It was great. I think it was about 10ish and Jack said, ‘Oh, do you mind if I go to bed? I feel ever so tired’ I said, ‘I shan’t be long.’ He said, ‘No. Don’t be long’ So right. So Mary and Bob went to bed and then I went to the bathroom, washed my hands and what not and he said, ‘Do you know I feel a bit odd.’ I said, ‘Do you? Are you too hot?’ he said, ‘No. Not really.’ So, I said, ‘Alright then. You go to that side of the bed and I’ll —’ It was a double bed. It was a six footer. And I think it was about 1 o'clock in the morning I heard him make this funny noise and I thought what the hell was that? I said, ‘Are you alright?’ And his head went like that. I thought oh my God. I got up and put the light on. Mary was in the downstairs bedroom with Bob and I shouted like hell. ‘What?’ I said, ‘Mary, can you dial 999?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Jack’s not very well. Please please hurry up. Hurry up’ So the ambulance, they couldn't find Albrighton. They couldn't find the village and I mean when we eventually got to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham they said you’ve got about four minutes, you know, when you have one of these attacks. It was a massive. He never had heart trouble in his life. Never.
CH: How old was he?
JC: How old was he when he died, bless him? Well, he was two years older than me so, I think he was seventy, seventy five. About seventy five. Yeah. I was about seventy three. Yeah. Seventy five. Just enjoying retirement, you know from the RAF and whatnot. But it was quick. By God it was quick. So we had to, eventually had to get in the ambulance. The ambulance chap was working on him but I thought ahum. There’s something wrong here. And the driver shouting to the back, ‘Can you hold tight please?’ So quick. I mean it was 2 o'clock in the morning. Luckily no traffic around. We got to the hospital and they worked on him but the doctor, lady doctor came in and said, ‘I’m sorry, Jean.’ I said, ‘Oh my.’ In shock. Then of course we had to get in touch with Sue and Jim at three or 4 o’clock in the morning. They got up, got dressed, came straight down you see. Luckily Jim being in the police force he said, ‘Now, what's going to happen mam because we're in a different county there’s going to be a young policeman,’ he said, ‘I've just spoken to him and he's going to take notes.’ He said, ‘He’s just going to ask you a few questions and just answer yes or no.’ Which I did. And then the doctor came in. A female doctor. She was lovely. She said, ‘You’re from Lincoln, aren't you?’ I said, ‘Yes. We live in Lincoln.’ She said, ‘I’ve just done four years in Lincoln Hospital.’ I said, ‘Oh that’s amazing.’ She said, ‘But I’m ever so sorry. There was just nothing we could do. It was a massive coronary.’ Whatever. And that was it. It was terrible coming back home. Jim driving and me in the back. Sue there. And oh God. Sue couldn’t get over it because dad’s favourite. But there you go. That’s life and I thought oh. And that was seventeen years ago almost. What do you do? You can't give in, can you?
CH: What a wonderful life you had.
JC: I know. Absolutely.
CH: Absolutely.
JC: Wonderful. I’d do it all again.
CH: And fantastic memories. I’d just like to, we’ll end it there.
JC: Yes.
CH: But thank you so much.
JC: Yes.
CH: So much for telling your story.
JC: No. You’re most welcome.
CH: It’s been wonderful.
JC: Thank you ever so much.
CH: Thank you very much Jean.
JC: Very kind of you. No. Thank you.



Cathie Hewitt, “Interview with Jean Culkin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 2, 2022,

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