Interview with Thomas Eric Chad Cushing

Title

Interview with Thomas Eric Chad Cushing

Description

Tom Cushing lived alongside the site of what became RAF Little Snoring in Norfolk. He watched the construction of the airfield over time and the daily life of the operational squadrons thereafter. After the war he continued to be interested in the history airfield and he purchased the site. He founded a museum on site and started researching the history of the airfield. Over the years he met many former RAF staff who had been based there.

Creator

Date

2018-01-15

Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:15:01 audio recording

Conforms To

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

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

Contributor

Identifier

ACushingTEC180115

Transcription

CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is Monday the 15th of January 2018, and we’re at Little Snoring in Norfolk with Mr Thomas Cushing to talk about his experiences as a youngster before, during and then after the war. What are your earliest recollections of life, Tom?
TC: We moved into the Old Hall at Thursford which was in flats actually and my early recollection obviously was there. I went to school in Thursford which, we originally had to walk. We used to walk across the park down in to the village. The Old Hall at Thursford down there, they took the main part of the hall down in 1916 and the part that was left was the servant’s quarters and there were three families living there. One were the Boulter family, and the other was the Hill family. My first recollection of Little Snoring was my father coming home one day saying they were going to build an airfield at Little Snoring and he couldn’t understand how they could possibly get an airfield at Little Snoring because it was full of woodland and there were also a lot of not pits, they used to have these marlpits which they dug out to put soil on the land to help it. Fertilise it when they didn’t have fertiliser in those days. He then said that they were originally going to have the airfield at Great Snoring but for some reason or other they couldn’t get one of the runways in there so they just moved it over. My next memory, thoughts of Little Snoring were that they were carting aggregate through the village. They had a big aggregate pit actually in Thursford, and these trucks were going non-stop through the village. Did you want to stop?
CB: No. Keep going.
TC: They were going non-stop through the village carting aggregate down. My father also had two lorries carting aggregate on to the airfield, and because of that we used to visit the airfield and I’d visit it with my father. I can remember driving up the main runway when they were actually laying the concrete, and the mixers were there and there was a huge heap of soil on the side of the runway because they had these big earth movers which all they did was just graded the soil out, and heaped it out on the side of the runway. Obviously it was eventually spread out and I can remember the chaps actually tamping the various sections of concrete down, and it’s quite interesting because they had a big, they had a, what did they call it? A well, put down and they used to pump the water out to all the mixing sites because obviously they used millions of gallons of water and all the runways on Little Snoring airfield were laid over the winter period of 1942/43 in about four months. And there was a hundred acres of concrete laid. And when you think that every truck that came on the airfield with aggregate was a three ton truck, and all the cement came in to Fakenham Station and was carted out here also on three ton trucks it’s quite, something quite remarkable really. The airfield, in actual fact when they moved in in 1943, in August Lancasters came in here, they were Mark 2s they hadn’t actually finished building the hangars. They were still being built and probably other works were being done as well. I remember the Lancasters arriving on a beautiful August day. I was in the Old Hall and we were actually inside the drem system and I can remember them flying around. Some were coming around fairly sharply. The others ones were going out further and coming in more discreetly. I always felt and I thought the chaps who were coming in tight were probably the experienced than the ones that were going further out and coming in. After that we were aware that they were taking off night time, going on bomber raids and I used to look out of the window and see the lights, because I could see the lights when they were taking off on the north south runway and see them taking off and they’d be climbing up and you’d just see the lights droning around and eventually those sounds would disappear. And we became aware that they were having a lot of losses, and in actual fact 115 Squadron who were flying with Mark 2 Lancasters lost eighteen crews in four and a half months. They actually bombed Peenemunde from here, and my father actually picked some Canadians up hitch hiking in to Fakenham and remembers them talking about the lights and various lights and what was going on on this raid. My next, obviously we were aware of Little Snoring. We couldn’t believe it when the, at the end of the war they dispersed but my father was also friendly with Group Captain Hoare who was the station commander. He didn’t know Group Captain Simms who was the first station commander when the Lancasters were here but he knew Group Captain Hoare. And I don’t know quite why but for some reason he always used to take him to Thorpe Station in Norwich when he went on holiday, and went to pick him up. You’d think that a group captain would get a vehicle to take him there wouldn’t you? But after the war we came down on to the airfield as Group Captain Hoare took us down to look at a Mosquito, and I can remember climbing into it and I sat in the navigator’s seat which was set back from the pilot’s seat and my brother sat in the pilot’s seat. I just felt a bit envious of this but why we didn’t change over I don’t know. But I can remember saying to Group Captain Hoare, who stood outside the aeroplane, ‘You can’t see out of it very well.’ And he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘When it gets up level you can see out if it beautifully. It’s a beautiful aeroplane.’ Trimming his moustache with his hand. And the other thing, the other person we met up here with was the padre, and because my brother and I were being sent away to Gresham School which was in Holt as a boarder we were both very backward at everything and the old padre came and gave us some extra lessons. And one day he took us down to Ely and I can remember we were following a three ton truck which was an RAF truck and every time he tried to pass it this truck seemed to drive out into the road to stop him. Eventually we did get past and he waved at Dan and he went out and swore at the driver like a trooper. The thing, he took us down to show us around Ely Cathedral and the only other thing I remember was he had a dog which sat in car with us, and I remember going in to a shop where he bought some dog biscuits and dog food. He eventually left, and I understood that he lived off the airfield with his mother but he’d actually come from South Africa and I think that’s where he went back to. And whether he wrote to my father or not after the war I don’t know but I never did hear any more about him or anything of him. And his name was the reverend, well I say reverend, he was Flight Lieutenant Golding. After that, as far as the airfield was concerned they closed it down, and for a time they had a lot of Mosquitoes here which they sold all over the world to other Air Forces. They were just doing them up. And I obviously, was away at school and I should say during the war we were visited by two, 214 Squadron members. And the reason this came about was that Pete Boulter who was the other family in the Old Hall joined the RAF and became a flight engineer, and he flew from Wyton on Stirlings with a chap called Dick Gunton, who was also a flight engineer and they, in actual fact I think were probably about one of six crews that did the whole tour. The rest were all shot down. One of the other ones was a chap called George Mackie who was a pilot. They then went to Waterbeach where they were on a training station which they absolutely hated and they couldn’t wait to get back on ops again. And Dick Gunton said one night in the mess Squadron Leader Sly who was also a survivor of 15 Squadron and said, ‘I’m going back on ops again flying Lancasters.’ Which also happened to be Mark 2s, ‘And I want one of you two as my flight engineer because you’re both in my opinion very good.’ And Dick Gunton said, ‘We tossed a coin,’ he said. ‘And Pete won.’ He said, ‘Though in actual fact, he lost because after about the fourth op he was shot down and killed.’ The whole crew were killed. Dick Gunton then came to Sculthorpe, and while he was there obviously realised the Boulter’s lived at Thursford, and he came over to see Mrs Boulter but Mrs Boulter was away. Her husband was working up in London. Mrs Boulter was away. He got chatting to father and they became friends because they were both interested in old motor cars and Dick Gunton and George Mackie used to come, well right through 1940, the end of 1940. It would be 1943 through in to 1944 when they actually moved to Alton. But we still saw them from there. And I remember Dick Gunton was flying D-Day night and they shot down an ME410. He used to fly with Wing Commander McGlinn and Wing Commander McGlinn flew with all the top chaps, the station navigation officer, the station engineer officer and the station gunnery officer. And the station gunnery officer apparently was in the back of the Lancaster when the, the Flying Fortress when they shot this ME410 down. My next memory of the airfield basically was we, we just used to, I used to drive over it after — I ought to probably go back. I went, I was at Gresham school, and I was useless at maths. And when I left school I joined the Army and when I went up for WOSB I failed WOSB because I was useless at maths but I did manage, through my Army career to become a substantive sergeant after thirteen months which was apparently quite good, Which was a War Office appointment. You could be appointed by your local station. But anyway having left the Army my father at some time during his life had bought the laundry which he had very little interest in, and I was sort of shoved in there at the deep end. And when I joined there, there were thirty six people working there and later when my younger brother left school he came and joined me. We didn’t get along at all well and didn’t have a very good relationship at all, but we did build the business up and when I left there in 1982 when we split up we were employing a hundred and eighty people. We were doing all the American bases in England, which were about ten at the time. We used to send out a vehicle at night time to go around all the bases. And although I didn’t like the laundry it was very lucrative and we managed to make a bit of money and it was after this that I was shooting one day with a friend who was called Martin [unclear] who worked for Saville’s and we owned land at Thursford. We owned a farm there, and we owned the laundry and this chap Martin [unclear] said, ‘Little Snoring airfield is coming up for sale. It borders your land at Thursford. Why don’t you buy it?’ And I said, ‘Well, I can’t possibly afford to buy the airfield,’ I said, ‘It costs a lot of money.’ Some seven hundred acres all in all. He said, ‘Well, you’ve got two brothers. Why don’t you go to the bank and see if they’ll, you can borrow the money?’ To cut a long story short the bank did loan us the money and we bought the airfield. But Little Snoring originally belonged to Lord Hastings and 1947 he sold up Little Snoring and the Air Ministry bought Little Snoring Airfield. But in 1966 they decided they didn’t want it any more. They offered it back to Lord Hastings who said he didn’t want it but he would obviously get it sold and he offered it to the farmer who was farming the most land on the airfield and the only thing, this was the Ross family and old Billy Ross said, he said, ‘I’ll buy the land I farm,’ which was about two hundred and fifty acres, ‘But I don’t want the rest of the airfield,’ which was farmed by two other farmers and obviously there were concrete runways. Well, Lord Hastings didn’t want to sell it individually. He wanted to sell the whole piece. And anyway, we bought the airfield and it caused a lot of ill feeling from the Ross family. The younger ones in particular because they felt their father should have bought it but they had the chance to buy it and they didn’t. That’s how it worked out. Anyway, I actually started looking after the airfield because I was always interested in it. And around that time about, I used to drive around the airfield and I could only see a lot of RAF people with blank faces and I thought I’d start trying to collect the history of the place. Which I did. And the first person I managed to contact was a chap called Bruce Martin who was a Mosquito pilot on 23 Squadron, and he used to keep his motor car in a cart shed of Billy Ross, and old Billy Ross said he’s got an Airviews business now at Manchester Airport. He said, ‘If you got in touch with Manchester Airport they’d probably tell you how to get in touch with him.’ Well, I actually did get in touch with Bruce Martin and he actually came down here and took some photographs eventually. No. He had actually flown over and taken some photographs in 1966, the year we bought the airfield and I didn’t know that. And he said, ‘Oh, the manager of British Airways at Manchester Airport is a chap called Bob Preston who also flew from Little Snoring on 214, sorry 515 Squadron.’ I contacted Bob Preston, it’s just sort of how things got going and I’ve got photographs from Bruce Martin and I got photographs from Bob Preston. And Bob Preston said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Five years ago,’ he said, ‘One of my pilots in Paris was given the card of Chris Harrison, who was actually working for the Goodyear Tyre Company in Australia but he flew from Little Snoring as well.’ So I wrote to Chris Harrison and had a long letter back from him saying he was delighted that somebody was interested in what he did during the war. And he wrote, as I say this long letter and he said, he said, “More and more through the years,” he said, “I felt very guilty that I lost contact with my navigator.” He said, “He was brilliant.” And he said, “If hadn’t been for him I wouldn’t be alive.” He said, ‘But we lost contact when we finished our tour. He went to a navigation station and I went to a pilot training station.” At the bottom of it he put a PS, “Before the war he worked for ICI.” Well, this at the time was sort of in the 1970s and working at the laundry I had a number I used to ring in London if we ran short of supplies of any sort. We used to buy salt and chemicals from ICI, and I had a dry cleaning manager who was a Ukrainian who’d fought in the German Army during the war and daren’t go back to Ukraine because he’d have been shot. And he was one of these chaps who was very good, very clever but he used to very bad with his supplies and tended to run out of things so I had to ring this place in London where I spoke to this lady who used to send these things up usually by the next day. So I rang her and said, ‘Could you put me in touch with your personnel department?’ She said, ‘Yes. You’re trying to trace somebody are you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ I said. There were seven and a half thousand people I think working for ICI in this country then. She said, ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘We’ve got twelve people work in this office.’ I said, ‘Very unlikely he would be working there.’ She said, ‘You never know. She said, What’s his name?’ I said, ‘Michael Adams. ‘She said, ‘We’ve got a Michael Adams working in this office.’ It was him.
CB: Wow.
TC: And they obviously put me in touch and he came, Chris Harrison came back and stayed with him. And one day after I’d learned to fly up here, this was sort of in the early ‘70s this car arrived, I was just about to go flying in a friend’s Stearman who had come to take me for a flight, and this car turned up and he introduced himself as Michael Adams and his wife. And I said, ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I was just about to going flying.’ The Stearman actually stood there. He said, ‘Good heavens,’ he said, ‘I did a lot of my training on them.’ I said, ‘You can go in my place.’ Which he did. And when he died his wife wrote to me. I kept in touch with him over the years. In fact, one time he used to send out seventy two Christmas cards to people who were stationed here. And when he died his wife wrote to me and said, “He always remembered how kind you were to let him take that flight in the Stearman.” Then it was just a question of one person knowing another person and I eventually got in touch with people in Australia, New Zealand and even Canada, and collected quite a nice collection of photographs. One of the people who helped me quite a lot originally was Wing Commander Lambert. I can’t remember how I contacted him but his pilots and navigators didn’t like him at all because he wasn’t kind to them in any way apparently. And Chris Harrison, I told you about, who was in Australia said that they used to do these ops where they did a, fly over the canals at fifteen hundred feet, and shoot up the flak that shot at them. And the bomber Mosquitoes used to fly underneath and drop mines, and he said, ‘We did an op on the Kiel Canal and when we came back we heard that all the bomber Mosquitoes had got DFCs and we hadn’t got anything.’ He said the next time when they did the Dortmund Ems canal he was going out with a WAAF in the ops room. She said, ‘You’re all going to get DFCs tonight.’ He, he knew they were going on this Kiel Canal op. Anyway, when he reported to duty they said, ‘Oh, you’ve been scrubbed. You’re not going now.’ So he just went back. ‘The next day I found out that Lambert had taken my place.’ And he said he’d done the night flight test on his aeroplane and Lambert had actually taken his aeroplane and got a DFC for it. And I met another, knew another chap called Terry Groves who actually flew on that op, and he said that when they called up Lambert was nowhere to be heard. They didn’t, he didn’t actually go on the op at all. So he was flying somewhere over Germany. So as I say Chris Harrison wasn’t very pleased. He always felt that Lambert had pinched his DFC. Over the years I obviously met a lot, quite a lot of people who’d been stationed here. Wing Commander Russell who was 23 Squadron commander lived at Blakeney for some time. There was a chap called Ron Steward who was a Lancaster navigator. He lived near Aylsham. Another pilot, 515 Squadron pilot Frank Bowcock lived in Fakenham. I shall have to stop for wind.
CB: Do that. That’s good.
TC: Is that alright?
[recording paused]
CB: It’s really good. Just, quickly. Ok.
TC: Chris Harrison worked for, it would be De Havilland before the war and no, sorry he worked for Rolls Royce in Derby and he, he was on Reserved Occupation because he was an engineer on building engines. But he eventually persuaded them to let him go and he went for pilot training in America. While he was over there they were building the factory that were building Packard Merlins and they were having some sort of trouble with the assembly line, and they, what did they call it? Seconded or they took him off training for six months to work with Packard Merlin. And because of that he had the choice of when he’d finished his training as to what he could fly when he came back. And he said, ‘We’d heard that Mosquitoes were finishing their tours, whereas Lancasters weren’t so he said, ‘I thought I’d go for Mosquitoes.’ But in actual fact the Mosquitoes did have quite a lot of losses here because they were doing low level intruding work. So that’s how he became on to fly Mosquitoes. And I assumed that he’d gone on training and, and for some reason or other hadn’t qualified. The normal thing then was to post this Michael Adams. Post them on to navigators. Ok. Can you —
CB: We’ll stop there for a bit.
[recording paused]
CB: And by the way the, in going, Michael Adams what you’re saying is that he did pilot training on Stearman which was why he was interested in the Stearman.
TC: Yes. Yes.
CB: Yeah.
TC: Yes.
CB: Can we —
TC: I’ll just —
CB: Can we just do a step back to the construction of the airfield?
TC: Yes. The first, they first started constructing on the north south runway, and they gradually worked north on the, on that runway. And the next one was the northeast south west one. That came, that went across towards Great Snoring. And the last runway they put in was the main runway. I can remember coming around on several occasions with my father while they were doing this. One day there was an old keeper’s bungalow which stood to the eastern side of the airfield where they actually did the, they had all the, what do they call the people who set out the place?
CB: The surveyors.
TC: Surveyors.
CB: Yes.
TC: They had all the surveyors in there and that was their office and they had cars parked alongside of that. And during the war of course they were, all we heard was when they were building the place a lot of explosions going off all the time. And what they were doing was blowing up tree stumps.
CB: Oh.
TC: And one of these tree stumps had actually blown up near this, these cars parked and it completely flattened an Austin 7 and it just sat there literally with this huge tree stump plonked on top of it. That’s something I remember very well. The actual bungalow was eventually moved after the war down to Langor Bridge which is about two miles away, and rebuilt by a chap called George Owen. I think he bought it off the Air Ministry. Apart from that just coming around the airfield seeing it rebuilt I know there were a lot of Irishmen here which I understand were billeted all around the place, and the foreman of all the works was a chap called Morrissey. An Irishman. A really big man. A tall man and he was called Lofty, and after the war he started up in business on his own and he was the first person in this country to make a concrete tile because he was friendly, or knew an Englishman who’d been over to America before the war who’d said they used to make tiles of concrete over there. Apparently he made some samples of these concrete tiles, flat tiles with pin holes through them and took them to the council and they agreed to put them on. And the first concrete tiles were put on a bungalow in Thursford, built by this builder Morrissey. And I stayed, obviously friendly with the Morriseys and Lofty Morrisey did a lot of building for us over the years. I was going to get him to build this house. He built my first bungalow in Fakenham but I was going to build this house but the biggest problem with him was he’d start building, then leave it and then go and build somewhere else. And of course when you want something built you want it completed. But I still know his son Jim Morrissey who is still in the building trade. Have I, have I —
CB: What was the sequence then when they build because they’re building runways and taxiways.
TC: Yes.
CB: And then dispersals.
TC: They were, they were actually building all the houses the huts and accommodation places at the same time as well. And it’s quite interesting. All the drains were dug out on the airfield with drag lines. They didn’t have any JCBs in those times. And when you think of it it’s quite a, quite an effort really. The airfield obviously was extremely well drained. All the runways were drained. All the dispersals were drained. And when we bought the airfield in 1966 one of the first things was to get the land, which was obviously disrupted through bad drainage, we had to get it all re-drained which we did gradually over the years. When we three brothers bought the airfield my older brother was farming at Thursford. My younger brother was more interested in the laundry. As well my laundry duties I also looked after the airfield. And when we eventually split up in 1982 I acquired the airfield, and my younger brother kept the laundry. My oldest brother had the farm at Thursford. I can’t remember. Have I done the Army bit?
CB: No.
TC: I haven’t? No. I went, I was away at school at Gresham School, and when I finished school I joined the Army and went up for a WOSB which was to become an officer. But of course I was so bad at mathematics I failed my WOSB, and spent my time in the ranks. But I did raise or rise up to become a sergeant in thirteen months. A substantive sergeant which at that time I understand was quite a, quite an achievement.
CB: I should imagine it was. What were you doing in the Army?
I was I was actually in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. We used to supply everything. Everything the Army had apart from food and fuel. It’s now the Royal Logistics Corps, and I think they supply everything but I, unfortunately I was stationed in the country. I tried to get abroad but it didn’t work.
CB: What was the meritorious activity you did to get such fast promotion?
TC: I suppose I was just good at my work and I took exams. I used to go up to Chilwell to do exams, which I passed. The only thing that did happen towards the end of my time Suez was attacked by us and the French, and we painted all our lorries up, all trucks and vehicles up ready to go to Suez, and we were literally bound to go within three or four weeks. And it all came to a close. Stopped. So I didn’t have to go and I was quite pleased about that because it was near my time for coming out and a friend of mine who’d actually been demobbed a few months earlier was called up and he was still in the Army when I came out. He was on Army Emergency Reserve.
CB: So did they have to repaint them the colour they were originally?
TC: They did. They painted, yes they painted them back again then. Yes. They were painted this desert colour. A sand colour. Then I came back and went in to the laundry business which my father had acquired at some time or another. When I started there there were thirty six people there. The highest paid man was earning ten pounds a week, and the highest paid lady was earning seven pounds a week. It gives you an idea how things have changed. And this was in 1956. And eventually my younger brother came and we managed to build the business up and when I left in 1982 we were employing a hundred and eighty people.
CB: What, what was the motive? How did you manage to grow the business so much?
TC: Well —
CB: What did you do?
TC: I decided from an early age that going around to houses picking up family bundles wasn’t really very lucrative and I managed to get a lot of contracts doing bulk work like hotels and factories. We did ICI at Stowmarket, in fact. But we also did a lot of American work and at one time we were doing virtually every American base in England. We used to send a truck out overnight to pick up stuff which came back to us the next morning. A lot of that had to go back the next night.
CB: Did you invest a lot in machinery too?
TC: A lot of machinery. Yes. Yes. They always said that by the end of the time I was there you could afford to spend twenty thousand pound to get rid of one person. But it was still quite labour intensive and I think we were one of the first people who employed people from France. We took on a family and put them up and board because we were desperately short of staff around the area. In fact, my brother and I used to go out to the villages at night time asking if they knew anybody who wanted to do work, and we actually had five vehicles bringing in people every morning from all the surrounding villages. I think now the laundry is not in the family anymore. I think now, that a lot of employees are apparently from Spain and Portugal. But then as a complete change I had actually done a bit of farming. Obviously my father was a farmer and I’d done a bit of farming in my holiday time and the airfield, there were a hundred acres of land on the airfield and I farmed that for a while. Basically until I retired.
CB: Was that arable?
TC: Arable, just arable land. Yes. In, in the about the 1970s I started collecting this history of the Airfield and over the years I’ve met a lot of people who were stationed here. Chris Harrison, who I mentioned earlier always said could I try and contact a chap called Terry Groves, who was a pilot on 515 Squadron and he said he was one of the only people he ever met who was completely fearless. He was rather like Micky Martin who actually came here, a Dambuster, who came here and flew with 515 Squadron, and I tried very hard to trace Terry Groves, he used to apparently drive speedway bikes before the war, and wasn’t successful. But one day a car turned up outside my house. The window was cranked down and this chap said, ‘My name’s Terry Groves. I used to fly Mosquitoes here during the war.’ I said, ‘Hello Terry, you’ve lost your moustache.’ He said, ‘I don’t remember you.’ He said, ‘You weren’t on the squadron, were you?’ I said, ‘No. I wasn’t.’ But anyway, we became quite good friends and he had a daughter living at [unclear], in fact and he used to come up here quite a lot and because I learned to fly in the 1970s off the airfield here, I did actually take Terry flying one day which he very much enjoyed.
CB: What had he done after the war?

TC: Mundane jobs. Wartime had been his, his greatest time. When he left here he went to Swanton Morley and he’d actually done thirty ops here, and asked to stay on because he said, I said, ‘Why did you want to stay on ops?’ He said, ‘I must have enjoyed it,’ and he said, anyway, they said, ‘No. You need a rest.’ But I persuaded them to stay on, but he said they said, ‘Well, you can two or three more.’ He said, ‘I’d done another twelve before they realised it,’ he said, ‘And then they did post me out to Swanton Morley.’ Well,’ I said, ‘That’s unusual. You have would normally have gone to a training station.’ He said, ‘Well, he said, I went there because they were still flying ops from there.’ And Micky Martin was there as well apparently, and one of the things he did tell me was one day a Spitfire arrived there, and just parked up on hard stand, and he said, after a week it was still standing there. He said, ‘I’d never flown a Spitfire. So I went around to see if a flight sergeant, said, ‘Can you – ’ flight engineer I presume, ‘Can you get that Spitfire started up for me?’ And he said, ‘‘Yes, I can.’’ He said, ‘Anyway, I got in it and took off with it.’ And he said, ‘The only thing was you had to change hands when you took the undercarriage up.’ I think it was over the other side of the cockpit. The lever, and he said, ‘When I took my hands off the throttle,’ he said, ‘The throttle friction nut was loose, and it wouldn’t keep tight.’ And he said, ‘Every time I took my finger off there the engine faded.’ He said, ‘Anyway, I eventually did sort this out and —’ and he said, ‘I, I flew this Spitfire for several months. I used to, and I was the only person who used to fly it. Nobody said anything. I used to fly it down to London.’ And go down to see his wife. He said, ‘Anyway, one day Micky Martin said, ‘What’s that Spitfire I saw you flying the other day?’ He said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I only fly that. I don’t let anybody else fly that.’ He said, ‘I’m going to bloody well fly it.’ Anyway, he said, ‘Next thing I knew he took it off, and he roared over Addison at [unclear] Hall who sat outside with all his papers on the desk which blew everywhere and,’ he said, ‘And after that the Spitfire disappeared.’ But he used to fly down to London apparently in an Oxford with Micky Martin, and they used to land at some airfield there. I think during the war, it was just the way they were. One interesting thing was going back to the war, war years 115 Squadron started off at RAF Marham. They then went to Mildenhall. Then to East Wretham, and then came to Little Snoring. And when I was being taught at school we were being taught by an ex-pilot called Malcolm Freegard. and he flew from Marham but I didn’t realise until I started doing the history of Little Snoring that he’d actually flown with 115 Squadron from Marham, and he didn’t know they’d come to Snoring, because he was actually shot down over Germany and became a prisoner of war in Stalag 3. And he said that he was in an acting group there, and people like Rupert Davies were there who eventually became the Maigret. I don’t know if you remember him. Is that, do you want to stop?
CB: Yeah.
[recording paused]
TC: And he said that in actual fact a lot of these, most of the people on the camp were really fed up with the people who were trying to escape because, he said every time they were caught all the privileges of the camp were stopped. And he said, ‘Not only that they pinched all our, our bed boards.’ So he said, ‘We were probably sleeping on about three bed boards which wasn’t very comfortable.’ And he said although he helped disperse soil around the camp when they were digging it out but he spent most of his time, he said they actually piled most of the soil under the theatre apparently. And I remember him saying that at the end of the war they were put on a train to be sent eastwards away from the Russians, and he said they stopped at a station somewhere and he said, there was a small vent that he could open up, because they were stuck in these cattle trucks. He said, ‘I opened this up for some fresh air and was looking out,’ and suddenly there was a crack right near his head, and he looked around and somebody had shot at them with a rifle. So he said, ‘I thought after all I’d been through to nearly be shot at the end of the war.’
CB: Yeah.
TC: But we used to lead him on through some red herrings to talk about the war, so we didn’t have to be taught Latin or something although I can’t remember what. He was a very nice man and I took him down to a reunion at Ely.
CB: Yeah.
TC: At Witchford. You could land at Witchford at that time and I actually flew down there one time to this reunion. I went to several reunions after the war for 115 Squadron, and 515 Squadron started having reunions back here in the 1990s, and I met a lot of the people who used to come back. But I eventually stopped it because in the end it was becoming too much for the older ones, and the only people coming back really was the children and I wasn’t really very really interested in children coming back to reunions so I that’s why I stopped it.
CB: How did you run it? What facilities did you have that made it practical?
TC: I had a small museum out here, and we used to, in actual fact meet in the Flying Club. The McAully Flying Club Clubhouse, and we used to get a fish and chip van come around to provide the food, and, and they, they were very good. One year I managed to get the Battle of Britain flight over here and a Mosquito. Not a Mosquito, a Spitfire came over and did a display which was quite nice.
CB: The museum itself. What were the contents of that?
TC: It was basically the, quite a lot of things that people had lent me, given me and had my photographs in there. But it was basically a wooden hut which had actually been a sergeant’s mess at Langham, which my father had bought. And it got to the stage where nobody was coming back, and it needed quite a lot of work spending on the roof and whatnot, so the majority went down to Flixton Air Museum. And I’ve still got a few pieces on a table out in one of my barns which I show visitors when they come, and as I say the majority of the stuff either went back to people who, who owned it, or it went to Flixton.
CB: How did people know about your museum?
TC: For quite a long time I had a notice in the church, and one interesting thing happened from that was, one day a person turned up from there and said looking all round, very intrigued, he wasn’t a pilot or anything he was just interested in what happened during the war. And he said, oh he said quite interestingly he said, ‘I was staying he was staying in a campsite down in Devon last year and the chap there said he was a Mosquito pilot serving up in Norfolk.’ And I said, ‘What was his name?’ He said, ‘I just can’t remember, he said. Everybody called him Josh.’ And, I said it was obviously Josh Hoskins, I said who I’d tried to contact but never been successful. He said, ‘Yes, it was him,’ and he said, ‘I’ve got his address at home. I’ll let you have it.’ Anyway, he let me have this address and telephone number, and I rang him up and had a chat with him, and I can’t remember why, I had quite a long chat with him, but I. He was very friendly with Bob Preston who was the manager of, became the manager of Manchester Airport, British Airways. And Bob Preston had always said, ‘If you ever manage to trace him please put me in touch.’ Anyway, I rang him back, and said for some reason or other I can’t remember why, and his wife answered the phone. And she said, oh she said ‘I’m so pleased you rang him,’ she said, ‘He’s dying of cancer. He’s not expected to live many more weeks, she said but you’ve bucked him up enormously.’ And anyway, I rang Bob Preston who I was still in touch with and told him, Bob Preston went down to see him the next day.
CB: Really.
TS: Which I thought was very nice.
CB: Excellent. Yeah.
TC: So that sort of thing was incredibly rewarding.
CB: I bet.
TC: More rewarding than most things that could happen, and over the years another thing that happened was, if you go to the church you’ll see that there’s a poem in there written by a chap called Steve Ruffle who was ground crew on 23 Squadron, and he came up here and I had quite a long chat, and just as he was leaving he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, he said ‘I wrote a poem, he said when I left here after the last time.’ He said, ‘It’s not very good, he said, but would you like a copy?’ and I said, ‘Yes I would.’ And I think it’s the best poem I’ve read of any poem written after the war, and in this poem he mentions a friend of his who’s an artist, and he’d actually done all the record of the scores of the kills and the rewards. And these boards were hanging in the officer’s mess and they were rescued by a lady called Mrs Whitehead who entertained the troops in her house during the war. She lived in a farmhouse in the village, and she went into the officer’s mess one day after the war because she heard a noise in there, and somebody was about to chop all these boards up for firewood, and she cleared him out, and she put these boards in the church and they’re there to this day.
CB: Fantastic. Yeah.
TC: And anyway these boards were done by a chap called Douglas Higgins. This chap, this chap Steve Ruffle’s friend and he said, ‘I feel very said. I lost contact. We were great friends during the war.’ He said, ‘I lost contact with him.’ Anyway, he’d mentioned him in this poem. You’ll see that in the poem if you go to the church, mentioning the artist who did the murals on the wall, and he said he was my friend. And anyway, everybody who came back to the airfield after that, I said, ‘Do you know, did you ever know Douglas Higgins or anything about him?’ And this went on for years. And one day a WAAF came back and I said, ‘Did you know Douglas Higgins?’ Her name was Mary Hicks. And she said, ‘Yes, he lives down the road from me in Sheffield. I still see him.’ So I put them in touch and they met again. They met up every year until Steve Ruffle died.
CB: Amazing.
TC: And Douglas Higgins is still alive to my knowledge at a hundred and two.
CB: Is he?
TC: And he came back here two years ago when he was ninety eight, well he’s. No. Four years ago. He’s about a hundred two, not, but I haven’t heard from him and I should probably ring him up very shortly and have a chat with him. But he was a very religious man, and happiness sort of comes out of him. He’s one of these people, and, but as I say he’s still alive and he did a lot of painting, and I’ve still got one of his paintings here now that he did. When he came back to me, it’s a painting of the church. He looked at this painting and said, ‘That’s very good. Who did that?’ Because I had my name over it and I took my name off. He looked. He said, ‘Oh, I don’t remember that.’ And he’d painted it. I’ll just show you that.
CB: Do.
TC: I’ll just show you. It’s a very nice painting.
[recording paused]
CB: You’ve talked about people coming back here, and we know as a background that actually so many people in the forces never wanted to speak about what they had done. Do you think it’s different? There’s a difference between speaking about it and coming back? What makes them come back? Or has made them come back?
TC: I think a lot of them had worked all their lives after leaving here and generally I think they suddenly look back on their life as they gain, as most people do, things they’d done when they were young. Dick Gunton who came to see us during the war, he used to see us during the war. I managed to trace him up to Lancashire, and he didn’t really want to know anything about anything. He said, ‘Don’t ever put me in touch with anybody. I don’t want to know anybody that I’ve ever met during the war.’ And he said, in actual fact, he said, ‘I felt in the war, I rose to the rank of flight lieutenant,’ which I think is the same rank as captain in the Army and he said, ‘I was the head of engineering on RAF Oulton’ he said, ‘And I, I reached, that was the time I reached my pinnacle.’ He said, ‘After that my life,’ he said, ‘I had a small garage and nothing very much happened,’ he said. And I felt Aubrey Howell who was a, a Lancaster pilot came back here, and he had the small graphic works, but his bomb aimer was a millionaire apparently, and the difference of during the war Aubrey was a very strict, apparently in, in, in the aeroplane and they survived their tour of ops and Aubrey Howell actually did eight trips to Berlin from there, and he’s, he’s sadly dead now but I did meet him on several occasions. I think some of the people, an example probably is probably Wing Commander Russell. I met him on several occasions away from the airfield, and he was very helpful in letting me copy his photographs and talked about it all. When he came back to the airfield, I just felt he didn’t want to be here. I took around my little museum I had here at the time and he showed very little interest in it all. And I just felt he wanted to get out and away. And he actually learned to fly again from Swanton Morley, or got his licence back, but he never ever landed at Little Snoring in spite of the fact I invited him on many occasions. Other people who’ve come back, I think it was basically the fact that they’d worked their whole lives and were thinking about what they did when they were younger and I think over time, I was in the Army you tend to remember the good times rather than the bad times. For example, doing forty eight hour guard duty over a snow cold weekend with snow blowing in the hut you were sleeping in.
CB: Yeah.
TC: But, you know that’s just an example. But I think a lot of the people, Wing Commander Russell’s navigator, one of his navigators, I actually wrote to him I knew where he was he saw Wing Commander Russell and said he’d had, ‘This chap, Cushing write to me about Little Snoring airfield. He said, ‘I’m not interested in that. I don’t want to talk about that.’ That was it.
CB: You were reported to the boss.
TC: Yes. Yes [laughs] but —
CB: Do you suppose that there are some experiences that are too dramatic, too traumatic for people to want to address?
TC: Yes. I, I can tell you —
CB: And how does that come out?
TC: Tell you something else. A chap called John Derby contacted me, and said he’d like to come back and visit the airfield, and he was a mid-upper gunner on Lancasters. And when he got back here he wanted to go down on to the main runway. That was the only place he was interested in. The end of the main runway, he walked around there on his own. I stood talking to his wife. When he came back he said, ‘My crew left here,’ he said, ‘In 1943.’ He said, ‘I wasn’t with them and they all got shot down and killed.’ And he said, ‘I felt guilty about it all my life.’ And he, in fact what he didn’t know was in fact there was a survivor and he was a chap called Heath. And I met him years later and he said they were flying over Stuttgart, I think it was, and he said he suddenly heard the shout from the rear gunner, ‘Fighter,’ and machine guns going off. He said he looked up because he was the bomb aimer, he looked up and there were tracers coming right down the length of the Lancaster, and he said they must have hit the pilot because I know they had an armoured shield behind them but he said the pilot slumped forward. He said, ‘The next thing I knew I was on the parachute.’ He said, apparently the whole aeroplane had blown up and he said, ‘The next day the Germans took me out to where we’d bombed the night before and it was a false town near Stuttgart.’ He said, ‘But I had the great satisfaction of being on the outskirts of Stuttgart,’ he said, ‘When the Air Force came back the next night and bombed the hell out of it.’ But John Darby who I was talking about he had actually won the DFC. He’d been shot down over Europe and escaped I understood through the Pyrenees out of Spain and he got a DFC for that. He was a warrant officer. And literally a few months later his wife rang me up and said he’d died, and he wanted his ashes spread on the airfield, on the airfield where he’d walked. And she came down here and we had a little service out there.
CB: Lovely.
TC: And there are several lots of ashes from people who served here during the war. There are two couples who met here near the flying, near the control tower. They worked in radar. Both of their ashes spread there. And two or three others as well.
CB: In spreading the ashes do they have some kind of memorial plaque?
TC: The only thing is —
CB: On the site or what?
TC: There is a little plaque on the control tower.
CB: Right.
TC: But one of them, there isn’t. I ought to really put it up. A chap called Tom Hodgson. He died.
CB: Was this —
TC: He was a fitter.
CB: Is this control tower the watch office type?
TC: It is the watch office.
CB: Yes. The original.
TC: It’s known as the watch tower.
CB: Yes. Yes.
TC: But I always call it the control tower.
CB: Can we just go back to this feeling of guilt?
TC: Yes.
CB: Of being a survivor. What is it? What is it that gives them that feeling of guilt would you say?
TC: I don’t really know is the answer to that. It’s obviously, I think they think, ‘I should have been there and I shouldn’t be alive. I survived and they’re dead.’ I’ve just read a book about, “The Cruel Sea,” about Nicholas Monsarrat and how things happened there. And similar things happened with them. People survived shipwrecks.
CB: I mean the notion is, the actuality is that on a Lancaster or the big aeroplanes the crew is the family.
TC: Yes. Oh, yes. Yeah. They all, they all went out together, drank together even if they were flight sergeants and officers.
CB: Which was, yes.
TC: All on Christian name terms.
CB: Yes. They worked, toiled and died.
TC: Yes.
CB: As a family.
TC: Yes, they did. Yes.
CB: And is this the basis of the guilt?
TC: The majority of the Lancaster crews and the bomber crews stayed together and in touch. I think it was possibly, I don’t think it happened quite so much with the Mosquito crews for some reason or other. I think they split them, went their separate ways more.
CB: I suspect it varied according to when the end of the operations were.
TC: Yes. Yes.
CB: And what people did later in the war.
TC: One of the people I met was Buddy Badly who was a New Zealander and he was a brilliant pilot apparently. And when he was doing his training in Canada he hadn’t qualified as a pilot but he was sent up in a, in an aeroplane, told to do stall turns and he did this stall turn and when he started to go down he couldn’t move the elevator. It was stuck. So he was going straight down and apparently he was up at about eight thousand feet and all he could see down below was snow and ice because it was mid-winter there. And he suddenly thought the only way I’m going to level this aeroplane out is to climb over the back seat which he did and levelled it. And he found he could fly it by reaching over the seat and controlling the aeroplane like that.
CB: Crikey.
TC: And he called up the station and said that he was in trouble and couldn’t move the elevators and apparently the wing commander took up and came through beside him and said, ‘You’re never going to land that. You’ll have to bale out.’ He said, ‘It was getting dusk,’ and he said, ‘I was still miles away from the airfield.’ He said, ‘I looked down and all I could see was snow and ice and I thought they’ll never find me.’ And he actually took the aeroplane back and landed it.
CB: Gee.
TC: And didn’t even damage it. And for that he got the Kings Commendation for flying before he’d even qualified as a pilot. And he then did a tour in the Middle East and came back to Little Snoring and there is a story in the book I’ll tell you. They had a photograph taken when they arrived from the Middle East. 23 Squadron. There were several of the squadrons around here were flying Mosquitoes and they had a reunion of all the people that had been in 23 Squadron, and Group Captain Heycock who was station commander at West Raynham had also been a 23 Squadron commander. And they had this photograph which I have in my album and I’ll show you. They had this photograph taken where they all had their fingers up. The next photograph, which obviously was a serious was taken and Buddy Badly was standing behind Group Captain Hoare and held a wine glass so it looks as if the wine glass was standing on Hoare’s head. And when the photographs came out Hoare was furious, called Wing Commander Murphy in who was the squadron commander and said, ‘I want him kicked off the squadron. It’s an absolute disgrace ruining this serious photograph.’ And Murphy said, ‘I’m not going to do that,’ he said, ‘He’s one of my best pilots.’ Anyway, Buddy Badly had various situations. He landed a Mosquito back at Woodbridge because I think he’d lost an engine and had been shot up badly. And the next thing that happened they were over Venlo about a fortnight later and they attacked this airfield. He went over there with George Stewart on a Day Ranger, and he said as they went over the airfield George Stewart shot up this JU88 but he said there was nothing in front of me and they said they would obviously never go back, he said. Anyway coming back over the coast there was this big Freya mast and he thought, ‘I’ll have a shoot at that. At least I’ll shoot at something.’ And he went down and shot this thing up and there was a German standing there with a little machine pistol shooting at him and he knocked his engine out and he couldn’t get any rudder controls either.
CB: Jeez.
TC: He said the only way he could go up was on the trim tab and he said, ‘I said to the navigator,’ because he’d lost an engine which wasn’t on fire apparently, just stopped, he’d feathered it he said, ‘We’re never going to back to England.’ He said. ‘You’ll have to bale out.’ But he said he’d got a new navigator and the navigator said, apparently while the navigator was trying to get up, he accidently pulled his parachute cord, and, and he said, ‘I had silk all over me everywhere,’ he said, ‘And I was fighting to get this parachute silk out of the way,’ so he could see what he was doing. He said obviously there was no way he was going to bale out without a parachute so he flew the aeroplane back to Woodbridge and landed it there on one engine. Which took quite a long time I understand. Two or three hours I think. And anyway, he said he rang up from Woodbridge to Little Snoring. Group Captain Hoare answered the phone and he said, ‘Could you send an aeroplane down to pick me up?’ And Hoare said, Hoare said, ‘No. I bloody well can’t. You can find your own way back.’ He said, ‘So I had to gather my parachute.’ Which he had to bring back which he had, and the navigator was carrying his all bundled up and they came back to Little Snoring. So Hoare was still feeling a grievance. Anyway, Murphy went on ops on the 2nd of December which was a couple of months later I think, was shot down, was killed, and Buddy Badly was posted out the next day, he said. So Hoare never did forget. The other thing that they said about Hoare was that when he arrived at the station Micky Martin was here who had the DSO bar, DFC bar, and of course Hoare had the DSO and DFC, and what the chaps on, the pilots and crew on 515 Squadron said was that Hoare had him posted away because he’d got more medals.
CB: Yeah.
TC: But he did twenty two ops from Snoring.
CB: Did he?
TC: Micky Martin.
CB: Yeah.
TC: And he was actually mentioned in Cheshire’s book of calling him up while they were on ops.
CB: Fascinating. We’ll pause there.
TC: Yes. Ok. I think we’ll just peruse —
[recording paused]
TC: I took flying the chap who was actually fearless on 515 Squadron, he said they were coming back off ops one night when they had a radar on the Mosquito which could pick up on anything coming up behind them. He said they were flying along, and this blip came up on the radar and he said, ‘I did a 360 degree turn.’ And they had this ASH radar which had a thin beam. This way rather than a round beam, from an oblong beam. He said he couldn’t pick up anything in front of them, he said anyhow this, this actually happened three times. This blip kept coming up he said and it was rumoured that you could pick up your shadow, and so it was a false reading. He said, ‘I said to my navigator [Doc Wray?] I’m going to ignore it this time.’ But he said, ‘At the very last minute,’ he said, ‘I was coming up. There was a Halifax coming up a bit above us,’ He said, ‘At the last minute I lost my nerve,’ he said, ‘And as I turned,’ he said, ‘Machine gun bullets came up and shot the Halifax down.’
CB: Jeez.
TC: So, he said, there was something behind them.
CB: Jeez.
TC: He said, ‘We scarpered like mad then for home.’
CB: Jeepers.
TC: Because, he said we obviously couldn’t find it on our radar. But the radar that 85 Squadron had which was a, high flying radar apparently had a better, they could pick things up better than this narrow radar. That’s the only thing I really want to say.
[recording paused]
CB: Just returning to the construction of the airfield what’s the, what was the position there?
TC: My father was friendly with Frank [Prune] who founded Little, Great Snoring, and when Frank [Prune] heard that they were going to build an airfield all over his land he wrote to the Air Ministry saying that, giving all the production, it’s very good land there apparently, saying that he produced this that and the other. And obviously didn’t want the airfield to be built there. But it didn’t make any difference and they said he was actually crying in his beer in the pub in Fakenham. And it was only because they couldn’t get one of the runways in. I don’t know which one it was. Long enough. But they just moved the airfield over to Little Snoring. That’s it really.
CB: But the land here was owned by whom?
TC: It was, it was owned –
CB: By —
TC: Lord Hasting, which I have already mentioned.
CB: By Lord Hastings which you mentioned. You mentioned it.
TC: Yes.
CB: What I meant to say was —
TC: Which he wouldn’t have bothered I’m sure.
CB: Do we know anything about his? Do you know anything about his reaction to that?
TC: No. I don’t. No.
CB: Right. Ok.
TC: A lot of the airfield there was a woodland came right up the centre of the airfield.
CB: So they had to take the woodland down completely.
TC: Cut the woodland down. Yes. Yeah. It was a fairly new woodland apparently.
CB: A final thing could you describe what a drag line is and how it works?
TC: It’s a caterpillar, tracked vehicle with obviously a cab. A cab on it. It had a long crane like construction out front with a bucket which hung free on cables and it was just literally dropped on to the soil. And I think they could adjust the angle of the bucket and they pulled it towards them. Pulled it towards the digger. It was a very, very rudimentary type of digger really. And when, when you think of all the things that, all the drains that were dug out they were all put in, and I presume they, they must have been used I would think even to do the smaller roadways and the perimeter tracks. The only other machines they had were these big American earth movers which had a big wheel on the front with a cab and the engine sticking out, and they had this huge container at the back which can literally drag along and, and lift the soil up into it, and they could also deposit that from it—
CB: into a bucket,
TC: A big bucket. Yes. I can draw one even now. The way they looked. I think they still use a similar type machine.
CB: Now, the runways were concrete on top but what was the composition of the —
TC: Absolutely nothing underneath. They were just put straight down on to the clay.
CB: Oh.
TC: And if there were pits which there were, which were pits that were used to take out soil to fertilise the land, they would fill those in with rubble, and all of those pits where they were they would drain right up to them to make sure they were never wet.
[noise in the room]
TC: Did I hear something?
CB: You did. A ting. Right. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: So we’ve had a really interesting conversation. Thank you, Tom Cushing. Fascinating.
TC: I hope it's useful to you.
[recording paused]
CB: Right.
TC: I lived in the Old Hall at Thursford as I’ve said and I could see across to the airfield which was to the west. And one morning I looked out my bedroom window and saw a Lancaster upended in a drain. When I started a history of the airfield, trying to trace the airfield I tried to find out which Lancaster this was. And I got the daily record sheets of 115 Squadron, went right through and there’s nothing in it. After that I asked anybody who came back if they remembered the Lancaster, and nobody did. One day a person I flew with, a friend of mine who was a manager at Keiths of Barsham said he’d had a shoot there one day the previous week and one of the guests had said his father had crash landed a Lancaster at Little Snoring. I said, ‘Was he a Canadian or Englishman?’ He said, ‘I think he was an Englishman.’ I knew a Canadian had gone off the other end of the runway. And anyway, to cut a long story short it was this chap, Howard Farmiloe, and I got in touch with him. He was a land agent in Devon. He came back and told me all about it. They’d been on their way to Berlin and been shot up by a night fighter and lost a port inner engine. He said everything else was going ok. The gunners claimed to have shot the intruder down. Over Berlin they’d lost another engine from another fighter. He’d flown all the way back to Little Snoring, they were the first drem lights they’d seen on two starboard engines and he said, ‘We’d actually done quite a good landing.’ Probably shooting a bit of a line, but he said quite a good landing. And he said, ‘I couldn’t understand why going down this runway which was at that time it was 07, why we weren’t pulling up.’ And what he didn’t know was that the runway is twenty feet lower that end. At the eastern end. So, he went off the runway and upended in the drain and he said, ‘When I got to the end of the runway I thought about pulling the undercarriage up,’ he said, ‘But two nights earlier I’d done the very same thing at the station I was at with similar problems of no hydraulics and wrecked a Lancaster and been told off by the wing commander for wrecking a perfectly good Lancaster. Anyway — ’ he said, ‘We, we all clambered out,’ he said, ‘Up and walked up to the control tower. Told them we had a Lancaster down.’ He said, ‘They didn’t believe us but they sent out the fire truck and saw it there.’ Eventually we actually climbed over it and I collected some [ash] spent cartridges which were in the front of the aeroplane which eventually got lost somehow or other. I think, somebody stole them. Eventually they, they put a balloon under the tail of a Lancaster and put sleepers up on to the airfield and winched it back on to the airfield. They did actually fly again and it was shot down some months later.
CB: Oh.
TC: But not, not with him on board, because he’d finished his tour and he was the youngest man to get the DSO in the RAF.
CB: Was he really?
TC: Yeah.
CB: Let’s just to cover one point which you mentioned then, which was, drem lighting. Would you like to describe what that was and how it worked?
TC: It was literally a circle right round the airfield with bleed off points which came into the runways. And when that runway was in action obviously all the other ones were out so there was just one. So they knew exactly which one they had to go in on.
CB: So this is lights on poles.
TC: Lights on poles. Yes.
CB: How high are these poles above the ground?
TC: Telegraph poles size.
CB: Right.
TC: Height.
CB: But you can’t see them from a great height. You can only see them from low.
TC: I think you can see them from a great height. Yes, the ones that were there.
CB: Right.
TC: But the ones on the runways were shaded.
CB: Right.
TC: So you can only see them when you were coming down low.
CB: Right.
TC: I have actually got some old, three old cast iron drem lights.
CB: Have you?
TC: Yes.
CB: Fantastic.
TC: Which were the last three I found on the runways.
CB: Amazing. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: So we’re looking at the album here and part of the airfield.
TC: Yes. Over the winter of 1943/ 44 they stored a lot of gliders here before D-Day, and we came down to the bottom end of the airfield and the chap standing on a guard gate there obviously a bit bored took us across down to this field. This field here, and showed us round the gliders.
CB: This is on the edge of the airfield between the runways.
TC: Yes. They stood, they had several on the standing down here I presume, some up here. They had twenty two altogether here apparently and they all disappeared before D-Day. Ok, that’s it.
[recording paused]
CB: We’re, we’re looking at bicycles. All, everybody had their bike.
TC: Yes. When 115 Squadron left Little Snoring they took off, bombed Berlin and landed back at Witchford. And Aubrey Howell said that every crew had all their bicycles on board and all their private kit because, he said they weren’t going to leave their bicycles behind to be stolen. And one crew was shot down. A chap called Woolhouse, because any, any record you ever see it’ll say that he took off from Witchford but he actually took off from Little Snoring. And when I first heard this story Aubrey Howell told me, I thought, well are they exaggerating? Was it true? But Wing Commander Rainsford came back here who was a wing commander at 115 Squadron at Little Snoring, and while we were walking down the runway he said, ‘Of course. you know,’ he said, ‘They took off from here, bombed Berlin and landed back at Witchford.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Of course I’m sure.’ He said during the evening Witchford rang up and said it was fogbound and they said they were probably going to have to land them back here.’ But he said, ‘Later on they rang and said the fog had dispersed so they went back to Witchford.’ It’s interesting, Woolhouse whose aeroplane was shot down, and I often wonder what the Germans might have thought if they had seen seven bicycles in it.
CB: Seven bikes in the Lancasters.
TC: There’s another interesting story to that, I’ve had somebody in touch with me recently who’s going to dig Woolhouse’s aeroplane.
CB: Ah.
TC: Which is in Germany, and he said that although all the crew were killed he said he’d, he’d talked to two schoolboy witnesses who said they saw two parachutes coming down. So they think probably the other two might have been executed. But he’s going to do a dig on that this summer apparently. So I told him to look out for bicycle parts.
CB: Absolutely.
TC: That’s Aubrey Howell and his crew.

Citation

Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Thomas Eric Chad Cushing,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10765.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.