Interview with Lawrence Henry di Placito. One


Interview with Lawrence Henry di Placito. One


Lawrence di Placito served as a second-class coxswain on the RAF Air Sea Rescue launches during the Second World War. He was born in Chertsey and attended Egham grammar school where he was a member of the cadet force. Upon leaving school in 1936 he was employed with the Post Office as a clerk/telephonist. Early in 1939 he joined the 6th Battalion East Surrey (Territorial Army). Lawrence went through military training, but he was told he would not be allowed to remain in the unit because of his Italian parents.
At the outbreak of war, he left the Post Office and was employed building naval vessels at a boat yard on the Thames in Chertsey. It was here that he first heard about RAF Air Sea Rescue, which he successfully enrolled into. Following training at various establishments he was posted to Newhaven on High Speed Launch 190 as a gunner.
Lawrence describes rescue operations: a Spitfire leading them to an airman in a dinghy; a Wellington aircrew rescued close to Le Havre on 17 July 1943; a German wireless operator who baled out from a downed Ju 88 and his parachute being divided amongst the crew, and finally rescuing the United States serviceman T G Giles who baled out of a P-38.
Occasionally they would come across mines that had broken free. These would be guarded until the Navy arrived and detonated them. This would result in the surface being covered in stunned fish which the crew would be able to scoop up.




Temporal Coverage




01:27:39 audio recording


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AdiPlacitoLH170209, PdiPlacitoLH1701


DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, the interviewee is Dav, the interviewer is David Meanwell, the interviewee is Laurie Placito. The interview is taking place at Mr Placito’s home in Line in Surrey on the 9th February 2017. Okay, Laurie so if we could start with you, your parents, where you were born and where you grew up.
LP: Yes, I was born in Chertsey, Surrey 21st 1st 1922. [Ringing sounds] with six boys, three girls and two children already pre-deceased at the age of three and four. I was educated at the Stepgate school, council school, until the age of eleven, where I passed the scholarship for the grammar school, which was Stroves Grammar School, Egham. And from there I left Egham, Stroves in 1936. I took up employment at the post office as a sorting clerk and telegraphist, at the wages of twelve shillings and sixpence per week, of which one shilling and three pence was stopped for unemployment benefit. War came, before the war came in 1939, I joined the sixth battalion of the Surrey Territorial Regiment, with the headquarters in Chertsey, Drillhall Road, Chertsey, which consisted then of two or three times a week marching up and down the roads, drilling and such like. This brought us up to the summer of 1939, before the war had started. I was called in to the office to say that I wouldn’t being going to the summer camp with the rest of the lads, because of my Italian parentage, I therefore, I was sort of thrown out of the Territorial Army. Now this clashed with my position at the Post Office because I was, at the Post Office I signed the Official Secrets Acts; the Postmaster told me, he said they can’t really do that he said, but things what they were, so I just had to accept it. Now in, war started September the 3rd 1939. I saw all my old friends go off before into the summer camp. They had about three weeks summer camp training. At the end of the training war broke out and these lads were shipped out to various places, with the barest of minimum of training, not firing a rifle in, in, anger or shooting, just all theory really. I therefore then, I left the post office and I was employed at a boatyard, building naval vessels in, on the Thames in Chertsey, where I was friendly, very friendly with another young lad. Now we’d talked about this air sea rescue business what we’d heard about, so we both decided to join. We went to Acton town hall to join the RAF Air Sea Rescue. We were called into separate rooms, but before this I didn’t have much knowledge of sea going, but David, my friend, he knew all about the sea and the points of the compass and such like and he genned me up on questions. So eventually we were called into two separate rooms. I was questioned concerning my knowledge of the sea but I explained I didn’t know much but anyway at the end of the day, I was accepted. You know, David came out of his room said how did you get on? He said they won’t accept me he said, because I am a trainee boat builder and I was only a labourer really, so that put paid to that friendship [laugh]. Going back previously to this, to early ’39, I was only seventeen, I went to Surbiton town hall near Kingston, was a recruiting office and I applied to join the Royal Scots Greys Cavalry Regiment, because I was so full of horses. Now the recruiting sergeant told me, he said for one thing you’re too young, you’re not seventeen and a half, he and another reason he said, forget about the horses he said you’ll never see a horse on active service. Well that, this was all previous to me joining up at the town hall. So, I waited quite some time for my application to come through before I was called up, and from there I received me travel warrant, to travel to Cardington in Bedford. Now Cardington was a pre-war airship station, and the airship mast was still in place where the, all the different airships used to moor. At Cardington I was issued with kit, which consisted of uniform, boots, shirts, etc. It was a bit of a hit and miss affair because you lined up in front of a counter and a fellow looked at you and said I think you’re about a size and threw you a coat or jacket hoping it would fit. Anyway, that soon sorted out. We was only there a very short time to draw kit, from there I was posted to Great Yarmouth, RAF Great Yarmouth to do basic military training. Now this consisted of marching up and down the, the roads, rifle drill, shooting, bayonet, with the bayonet with the dummy, you had to charge at the dummy with the bayonet. Now what that meant for me being an air sea rescuer [chuckle] I never, would never know., This was a very, quite basic training, but it consisted of assault courses, as I say, rifle shooting, the Sten gun what had just come into operation, using the Sten gun. Sitting in an enclosed room without your gas mask, when a gas was turned on you had to find your way, to get your gas mask on before the gas got too much for you, which obviously you had somebody standing by. We were there for about two, Great Yarmouth, we were there Great Yarmouth for about two, two months, marching up and down the roads. One particular thing I always remember was our drill corporal was a Yorkshireman, a Corporal Harrison. And on every march you had to sing On Ilkley Moor Bar Tat, I knew every word of Ilkley Moor Bar Tat. Anyway that came to an end and we travelled well at once to go to Tayport, on the Scottish Coast. Now Tayport, well obviously it was a port, but it was also home to RAF Leuchars It was an Australian squadron at Leuchars, mostly Australian squadron, but we were there just doing menial work ‘cause it wasn’t a training station for air sea rescue it was just a pit stop, so my day was employed either helping in the hangars, or we had a very zealous CO with his garden. That garden had to be kept up, it was pristine, there was even stones had to be painted white, all round the garden. What’s more, he had a dog, and this dog was obviously come and dig up where you had to. This lasted for a few weeks and for the first two or three weeks I was stationed, rather I was in barracks with the Aussie squadron, And all day long every time someone would come in it would play – what’s that Australian song?
[Other]: Waltzing Matilda.
LP: Yes, Waltzing Matilda, that would be on all day every day, Waltzing Matilda. Well eventually I came out of that, back into the English section of the RAF and from there, oh I had this thing of joining to be a flight, a flying airman, so I went into the office where you remuster, that’s where you changed your trade. Now I spoke to the recruiting I suppose he was an officer, I’m sure. I explained what I wanted to do. He said ‘Whatever for?’ Well I said I think I was just getting a bit fed up of waiting around for this air sea rescue. So I applied to be a wireless operator air gunner. His reply was ‘I’ll give you a bit of advice boy’, he said ‘Only birds and fools fly.’ Now I thought that wasn’t a very nice thing, because he’s sitting in an office all day long, with those poor fliers night after night out flying, doing a terrible job. Well, anyway, within the space of another couple of weeks I was posted and I didn’t hear any more of that application. So from Great Yarmouth I went up to Tayport, that’s how I got to Tayport. As I say I was at Tayport for a bit, killing time actually. And then we got posted to RAF Corsewall, Corsewall Point, that’s on the other side of Scotland. That’s at the head of Loch Ryan at the head which led down to Stranraer, the waters at Stranraer. Now here we commenced our training, our air sea rescue training proper. It was a very, very, what shall I say very complex because it covered so many subjects., We had to study for instance buoys, buoys how they was attached to lines underwater to a mooring called a mooring trot, how to scull a boat, a small rowing boat with one oar, navigation, morse code and semaphore flags. The morse code was, was [chuckle] was a bit of a laughable situation because you’d be paired off and you had to send, one would be sending, one would be receiving morse code course there was many rude messages sent from one airman to another! Also aircraft recognition you would be thrown cards and you, you had to say straight away, English bomber, English fighter, German bomber, German fighter such like, and also from school work you were given a books and pens and you had to write notes and notes down of rules of the sea, the meaning of flags and such like. And then there was the practical training where we were taken down to the waters edge to the port and it would be put on different vessels and you would practice how to work a boat. These were called sea plane tenders, there was a, an old hulk moored, moored out at sea and you had to come alongside. The coxswain would shout out ‘come along port side to or starboard side to,’ and you had to turn your boat round to starboard of course there was lots of times there was lots of crashes [chuckle] ‘cause not many boys were able to control boats like that. As I say it was very thorough, thorough training. It, although it was an uncomfortable billet. The billets were nissen huts scattered about in the woods. And for the washing facilities were very basic, you had wash tubs, but for the toilets consisted of, of a row each side just with sacking in between each person so you could have a conversation with the follow sitting opposite on the other side of you, and I’m saying when I said it was basic, it was basic. At the end of the, at the end of the, at the end of the huts, nissen huts there was a big container of a blue liquid. [Turns away] What’s that liquid, erm,
[Other]: I can’t remember.
LP: Perm, permanganate of potash,
[Other]: Yes.
LP: Every man had to gargle with it, permanganate, and if you didn’t and you went sick with a sore throat you were in trouble, you were on charge, as I say it was very basic the conditions. The nissen huts were equipped with a paraffin stove in the middle of the hut. Now you were issued with a ration of paraffin and that had to last you so much, so many days, or day or whatever it was. If you used it up that was your fault, but you’ve got to remember we’d be out at sea, or on the boats rather, you’d be wet and cold, so that paraffin did always last. Now another situation was you had to do guard duties, now the guard duties consisted of dotted around this camp, in the woods, sentry huts, well, just stands really, just a metal stand, you would do I think it was either two hours on or four hours off, or vice versa. This was after you’d done your days’ work at the training. Now, one of, one of the duties of the guard, night guard, was called a rover patrol, he would as the word say, he would wander round the camp just looking at different places keeping an eye. I’d have an old Lee Enfield rifle, First World War issue, with five rounds of ammunition. Now if you come across a German I don’t know what would happen [chuckle]. One amusing, well I don’t think it was amusing really, on my amble round the roving patrol I came across a big bowser, a big tanker, which I thought contained paraffin, I thought well this is lovely [laugh]. Now, I searched around to find a container, luckily I found this container, put it under the bowser, turned the bowser on but instead of paraffin it was all effluent, effluent that came out [laugh]. So I was in a bit of a state, the rest of the, that was cleaning me uniform. Food, I suppose for RAF food wasn’t bad you just had to line up and you were served by a WAAF, RA WAAF girls. But you held out, you had a mess tin, knife, fork and spoon and tin mug. You’d hold your mess tin in front of the WAAF and she would dish whatever was up – plonk. Well, the food wasn’t all that great, but another incident, rather amusing. The officer would come round. A shout would go up ‘Orderly Officer, any complaints?’ But the Orderly Officer would come round accompanied by an NCO, ‘Anybody any complaints?’ Well, one brave soul shouted out ‘Yes sir, I’ve got a caterpillar on my plate.’ The officer walked over, this is true, he walked over to the boy, he said ‘There sir, it’s a caterpillar.’ ‘Hmmm,’ he said, ‘just push it off’ he said, ‘with your spoon.’ ‘Well, I wasn’t going to eat it sir.’ So that was another happy episode. Previous to this I forgot to mention, when I was at Great Yarmouth there was one particular airman, late in the afternoon he would go up to the NCO in charge, say a few words to him and off he would go, well we had to continue till the end of the day. So I said to this boy, after a couple of visits I saw him. I said what do you say? What gets you to come home so early? ‘Well, I’m in the boxing club.’ So I was always interested in boxing as a youngster so I said ‘Can I join?’ he said we’d be only too glad to have you. So I joined the boxing club there which was an asset really, I boxed and a couple of times at Great Yarmouth amongst the RAF. Well also, now also, back up to Tayport, not Tayport Corsewall Point, Corsewall, there was a boxing section there. And the fellow in charge was a guy who was an athlete, a pre-war was a runner, he wasn’t a boxer, a runner oh can’t remember his name. We used to have running, training before going on duty so I joined the boxing club there. Now, I did very well there really, because I’m not praising myself, but every Sunday we had what’s called a uniform parade. We had two uniforms, there was the best blue. Now on this best blue parade, everybody was lined up on a Sunday morning had a full inspection, the flag would be hoisted, the CO of the whole section would come round and inspect each man, so he gets to me, the Orderly Officer who was with him taps me on the shoulder and says you stay there you and I thought ‘Now what’ve I done?’. And so when the parade was dismissed and everyone went, the CO and officers came up and congratulated me ‘cause I’d boxed the night before apparently and I won my two bouts. I always remember one because it was an officer and I anyway that was the end of that but also stationed there was, I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of him, a Steve Donahue, now he was a champion jockey of England, Steve Donahue, like our Lester Piggott today. Well his son was Pat Donahue, now Pat Donahue was an officer, first of all he was just a NCO but the second time I visited he was an officer and he was a very good boxer. Pat, Pat Donahue, a very good boxer and I was very friendly with Pat although it didn’t do him any favours but was just the fact that we became good friends what with him being an officer and me being NCO, just a private. What more can I say about that? Oh, another amusing incident, on a Sunday as I say, you had the day off. They used to run the transport buses into Stranraer, which was quite a bus ride away and there were no such thing as seats and you was just clinging on, hanging on as best you could. I was hanging on at the back of the bus, and the fellow next to me, he said ‘Where do you come from?’ I said ‘Oh, you probably wouldn’t know, a place called Chertsey, in Surrey,’ and he laughed, he said he lived at Everstone. Now he turned out, he was Worts w-o-r-t-s funeral directors and Harry Wort was a funeral director, well there again there was another strange quirk because when we finally moved from Corsewall Point to various stations Harry moved off and I didn’t see Harry again till he arrived a year later when he turned up at Newhaven, he’d spent what they called the white man’s grave, the Gold Coast in Africa. Well, I don’t know quite how long we were at Corsewall Point because, it was a very long, as I say, it was, covered a lot of work, classroom work, practical work, seamanship and such like but eventually I passed out from the giddy heights of AC2 to aircraftsman first class with a rise in pay. [Laugh] I’ve got my figures actually what rise in pay. Shall I get those figures now? Well, my rise in pay, my pay in 1942 that was three shillings per day. And out of that three shillings, I made an allotment to my mother of one shilling and sixpence per day, so that was ten shillings and sixpence per week. And this was for twenty four hours a day service. [chuckle] But then in March 43 I was a AC1, I was getting four and ninepence per day and I was still one shilling and sixpence to my mother. August the 1st 1943 I was receiving five shillings and threepence and still making the allowance of one and sixpence to me mother and I think it was not until 44 that I was getting six shillings per day [papers shuffling]. But I had, had a very good family. My sister used to regularly send me money, so really I wasn’t too bad. I did not smoke, when I say I used to drink, it was, you couldn’t afford to drink a lot anyway. Now [pause, shuffling of papers] Can I go back to my days at Great Yarmouth?
DM: Oh yes, yes.
[Other]: [ Cough]
LP: Yes, during my days at Great Yarmouth, the raw recruit, you obviously jumped to any order that you were given. Now, the second day I was there, the corporal in charge tapped me on the shoulder ‘Haircut Hughes!’’ I said, ‘Corporal,’ I said, ‘I had a haircut yesterday.’ He said ‘You’ll have another one today.’ So everybody tapped on the shoulder had to have a haircut. Now after you had your hair cut, you had to give the barber a sixpence, so he must have done very well out of – him and cohorts. And also at Yarmouth I think it must have been a big college because it was a big open room with showers, no shower enclosures, just open showers. You had to have a shower today – another sixpence. So that was quite a lump out of my, those must have made good living the barber and the shower man. And also I must, [shuffle of papers] injection time. Now it would be a column of men you had to bare one shirt sleeve, go past a so called medical orderly for an injection. There was no just holding your arm, just walk by one big stab. No change the needle. Next one up, another big stab. And I see grown men what I don’t know if it was fright or nerves just collapse on the ground.
DM: Can you remember when you started actually active service? When you’d finished your training. 43 or 42
LP: It was the beginning of 43. January 43, yeah. Now, I’ll come to that now. I was posted from Coreswell Point, Scotland to Gosport, Portsmouth. I was only there a very short time and this consisted of we were based on Stokes Bay, part of Portsmouth Waters, Southampton Waters, it was a testing ground for torpedoes. At the end of a long runway, a seaway, was an old hulk, bored, the aircraft would come down, drop the torpedo obviously aiming for the hull. And our job was to patrol up and down retrieve the torpedoes and so forth. Well that lasted only could have only been there only a few weeks. From there I got a posting to Newhaven. Now Newhaven was a very busy station. And it was there that the actual air sea rescue began. I was, I was told to find a billet in the town, Newhaven town, because the actual nissen huts were full and the, a certain number of airmen were billeted with families in houses. Well I was stationed with billeted with a Mrs Cook, her husband was away on war work, she had two children and an old grandmother, but she did look after me. She used to obviously get a ration allowance for food. As I say, from there I was taken straight on to high speed launch 190. Now it took quite a bit of get used to because you were mucking in with old hands really and I was a newcomer, but I got quite capable. My first job was a gunner. The gunner at this time there was a stand outside each a stand either side of the wheelhouse with a Vickers drum fed machine gun. Now my job was to hang on to that machine gun. Don’t forget the boat is not just cruising up and down its moving. But, as I say it was, it was a drum-fed machine gun but these didn’t last very long as it wasn’t so long after the guns were taken off of that and then we had a for’ard gun, revolving turret with twin browning machine guns, that was my next job I was a Browning machine gunner front turret. The turrets, the armament on the boat as I say they disbanded these two shields machine guns. There was a front turret, a rear turret, and then they decided to put a twenty millimetre Oerliken canon right at the stern of the boat. Well that did slow us down a little bit, the cannon. For there I was the gunner, that was my job, I had to be in the gun turret, and it was only after that I took my second class coxwain’s course, I was called in one day, the CO said I think you should take a coxwain’s course. From there I had been at Newhaven, I don’t know, five six months, I was sent up to back up to Corsewell Point for another bout of training as a coxswain. Well I passed that out, that meant a, that meant a rise in pay and also a jump in rank from leading aircraftsman to corporal. By this time I was quite, what shall I say, well quite at home on the boat: I knew what to do and what not to do. And my job was to be in the wheelhouse. There was a first class coxswain, the skipper and the second class coxswain in the wheelhouse. And you took it in turns to coxswain the boat.
DM: How many of you were there on the boat?
LP: Well on the boat, the boat consisted of the skipper, obviously an officer, a flight sergeant first class coxswain, a second class coxswain, a wireless operator, a medical orderly, two engineers, and two more gunners. Roughly, sometimes you’d have eight of you, sometimes there’d be ten of you. Now, the day consisted of hours and hours of searching, we had, the first boat that was always called the first boat, on first degree, that was usually, the rendezvous thirty miles south of Beachy Head, that was the usual one for the first boat, you’d be on station if you were the first boat you’d be on station, at six o’clock you’d be on station if not near that you’d be on your rendezvous. Now when you were on your rendezvous, patrol up and down just waiting orders really, it could be a long, long long day. But suddenly you’d get a crash call now this was taken by the wireless operator and ours was a very good one named Norman and a good wireless operator too. If he didn’t have his helmet on, Norman he would have it by his side. Now he could pick up our particular call we were a seagull, seagull something, I forget my number but we were seagull something. As soon as Norman heard that, he’d get the signal and that came from the Navy. Now although we were RAF Coastal Command, we were directly under the command of the Navy when it come to positioning. So you would take the course of that call and go up and down, up and down and what you would do call a square search, you would do a certain distance, a mile, one way, turn starboard right then back again so you were doing a search square all the way to where it had been reported – a crash. And you would report search and search and whatever you did your search. Now sometimes you’d be there all day log and do nothing but another time you’d be flying here there and everywhere. On one particular, one particular search, I’ve got it written down here somewhere, we had a crash call I was a gunner at the time and I was still in the front turret. This was in my early days. We were patrolling along and suddenly this spitfire came overhead. I didn’t know it was a spitfire at the time, fired his machine guns in front of us. At first thought I thought it would be a German, he turned round, turned round again and then I could see it was a spitfire, and he took us right up to this pilot sitting in his dinghy, which was a good save, we saved him. Now on that journey, the turret and I’m not exaggerating or making it up, a mine floated past and I could have stretched out and touched it. But there’s nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t the first mine I’d see, they was quite frequent. Quite often you would see a mine broken free of its moorings floating. Now we used to have to report the Navy and the navy would send out a vessel and destroy it. But that was very handy when they would explode the mine you’d get buckets and buckets of dead fish, or stunned fish and it was just a case of scooping the fish up. Although when I was in a private billet I used to have, the landlady used to supply my rations, but the rest of the crew, or those who weren’t in private, they would draw rations for the day and we would have what they call a galley which consisted of a methylated spirit stove and you would do your cooking, but the fact that I wasn’t part of it didn’t make any difference really, you was just part of mucked in together. Clothing, clothing we were well-equipped. We had duffle coats which no other RAF had, proper rain coats, rain macs, we had sea boots, jack boots, just slippers for ordinary time on the boat when you were in harbour and also our CO he was Squadron Leader John D. Syme, a very, what shall I say, a man’s man. His main concern was the welfare of the boats crews. Now all of the boats crew and the probably the base crews as well, we had sheets to sleep in, not just a blanket because the ordinary issue was blankets, two blankets, but John D. always made sure we had sheets, clean sheets. On board, when you slept on board if you were on duty at night, then you would sleep in a sleeping bag, and you had fold down bunks.
DM: Would you be at sea?
LP: I’m sorry?
DM: Would you be at sea when you were sleeping?
LP: Yes. You would, there was no regulation you would be at sea eight hours, ten hours and then come home. It didn’t work like that. You went out until you were called. You just couldn’t say well it’s time to come home, you just did as you were called. As I say, I’ve got a record of it here where you’d be out. You’d do a crash call and that would take a day and then you’d still have to go out. So the hours was long. Also, another thing, it was, it was the only base in the whole of the RAF Air Sea Rescue that received a rum ration, going back to the old days. Once you’d been at sea so many hours, you were entitled to the skipper’s, to the skipper’s, to the skipper’s thoughts it was time for a rum and everybody had a rum ration. And if you stayed out longer and longer you still had another rum ration. But that was entirely up to the skipper.
DM: Did you ever get attacked? Did you ever get attacked?
LP: No. We were always told you must never open fire on anything unless you were attacked first. We lost a couple of boats on the, what they call it, the early landing, where it was a failure?
DM: What was that Dieppe?
LP: Dieppe, yes. We did lose a couple of boats, I wasn’t at Newhaven at the time, but we did lose a couple of boats there. Two or three got killed. When DD come here around we had armour plating put on top of the wheelhouse. And on the part of the fore deck was armour plated and you had a big five white star painted on the fore deck for aircraft recognition as an allied sign. Now I’ve got somewhere I picked up Germans, shall I tell you about?
DM: Yes, that would be very interesting.
LP: Right.
[Other]: Doc here ten past one in the morning.
LP: Yeah, ten past one in the morning, crash call to position 360 degrees Hove two and a half miles, search the area till hours when message received to return to harbour. After seen in dinghy airmen picked up German wireless operator from a JU88. We searched the area for the remainder without result. Returned to Newhaven, and prisoner handed over to Naval authorities at 0705 hours.
[Other]: No further incident 1400 hours.
LP: Then 1400 hours we searched till quarter to five, 1745 hours. Now going back to that German,
DM: Yes.
LP: Now going back to that German. This was early hours of the morning and we picked him up with a searchlight. Previous to that there’d been an air raid over Newhaven, the district. The funny part of it was. We kind of felt it was we picked, he’s sitting in the dinghy, he’s got a very pistol in his hand. We said ‘Are you all right? Are you all right?’ friend, no answer, he didn’t answer. And it took several minutes to realise he wasn’t British or Allies, he was a German. Part about it was on this particular journey the engineer was a Belgian. His name was Albert, They called him Albert. Now Albert wasn’t a regular on the boat, it was a one-off. Now Albert, was forced to leave Belgium in the German invasion. Albert hated [musical sound]
DM: Yes.
LP: Albert hated Germans he realised it was a German he was for throwing him back in! Well, it took a bit of persuading, but another interesting thing was, I kept his very pistol, the Nazi very pistol and had a whistle attached, and part of his parachute we divided up, silk parachute. I had quite a nice piece of silk parachute which I gave my sister for her baby girl at the time wasn’t it. It made her christening gown. I think the skipper had his boots, I think the skipper had his boots. Anyway we took him back to harbour. Oh, we clothed him, we had dry clothing, gave him dry clothing, we took him back to harbour and then it was quite a way from the water’s level to the harbour wall – which was up a steep. Somebody had the bright idea of blindfolding him. Well he put the blindfold on and he was absolutely shivering. He thought we were going to shoot him. Anyway we got him up on board and got him to naval and it was a couple of weeks later that a complaint came through that somebody had taken his fur lined sea boots, flying boots and I kept that very pistol and the whistle for not, four, five, years back.
[Other]: Four, five years.
LP: Years, then I gave it to somewhere in Newhaven.
[Other]: Museum.
LP: Newhaven.
[Other]: Museum.
LP: Yes, museum at Newhaven. Anyway to pick somebody up early hours of the morning just with a searchlight, he was lucky, wasn’t he?
DM: He was.
LP: Another. Which one’s this one?
[Other]: The Walrus, where you rescued the men from the Walrus.
LP: Not the one off the French coast was it?
[Other]: Don’t think so, no.
LP: This is another. This made the headlines in the paper this rescue. [shuffling of paper] That’s the original but,
DM: That one: ‘Six RAF men saved in the battle of the Seine’?
[Other]: That one.
DM: Six men saved from the wreck of a Wellington bomber, so that was you, you rescued those men?
LP: Well, it’s strange really, I won’t go into all the details of how we got there.
DM: Well you can do.
LP: Can I?
DM: Yeah.
LP: Well, shall I read off that?
[Other]: Hmmm
LP: If I read it off that, I can’t read it. [Pause] There’s a lot to read isn’t it.
[Other] You dropped the lifeboat.
DM: Which bit are we talking about? So they obviously came down over the other side of the Channel, the French side of the channel.
LP: The mouth of the Seine.
DM: Right. So why were you, were you sent there or were you already there?
LP: No, no we were on patrol in the channel when we got a call, so we had to break off from where we were to go there. Now, two RAF launches took place.
DM: When was this, do you know? Oh yes, July 17th 1943.
LP: Yes. Two launches were sent there. Now I was on 190 and after you see all the air, fighting going on we found that airmen, six airmen, were in an airborne lifeboat, it was one of the first that had ever been dropped. They climbed out of their dinghy into this airborne lifeboat. Now I think the other boat was 177, 190 177. 190, we reached the crew first. Now our coxswain, the first class coxswain, Bert Underwood, a very good coxswain, in his anxiety, he came along a little bit too fast for the crew. We threw ‘em a heaving line, we were going a little bit fast for them to hold onto the line, consequently we passed. 177 behind us, they picked the crew up. Strange part was, they picked the crew up, turned round and gone straight back to Newhaven. Now we were left out there, off the French coast [laugh] with this lifeboat. First of all, orders came ‘Sink the lifeboat, return to base’. So on board we had a tool chest consisting of axe and various tools these were passed along. At the last moment a message came up again, ‘Return to Newhaven with lifeboat.’ So that meant towing, so consequently, we had to put the tow line on the lifeboat and tow it back to Newhaven which took ages, ages. I don’t know what time we got back, I never know what time we got back, but that was a good rescue that.
DM: Did you rescue any other bomber crews during?
LP: Yes, yes. That another one? Routine patrol in the channel, a fine day, round about mid-day skipper said it’s about time we had something to eat, so we were preparing something to eat, when looking up at the sky, we saw a US American fighter bomber a P38 I think it was, a twin-fuselage. That disappeared and then we saw a parachute gently floating out. We followed him, where the parachute was going to land, and it turned out that when he had pulled his cockpit cover he’d dislocated his arm. He was floating in the water, unable to save himself. We were alongside in minutes. One or two of the crew jumped overboard, held him up while we got alongside him, and picked him up and took him back to base. I’ve got a letter from his CO, this letter is dated 29th of March 1944. Dear Sir, The excellent work of the members in your command when they rescued First Lieutenant T.G. Giles, United States Army, from the waters of the English Channel on the 16th March 1944 cannot be allowed to pass without an expression of appreciation. It is my very great pleasure to send you this letter of commendation for bringing about an operation with such happy and favourable results in the case of an officer of my command. Lt. Giles was forced to bail out of his plane while returning from an operational mission over occupied enemy territory. In so doing he sustained severe injuries. His condition was such that he was practically helpless when he reached the water. He was not able to find his dinghy and he would not have been able to get into it if he had and he was not even able to inflate his Mae West. It is fortunate indeed that launch 190 commanded by Craig as was brought alongside without delay. This pilot could not have survived any length of time in the sea on his own. The prompt and sure action of the ASR personnel in this instance merits the highest praise. The courageous action of the men who when over the side to render assistance is most noteworthy. I am fully aware that this rescue is not an isolated incident, but one of a number of superb accomplishments on your parts that have saved many ditched airmen, both British and American, under catastrophic circumstances, but one cannot disregard that if it were not for the immediate aid given so skilfully and successfully, and I am sure that Lieutenant Charles would not be alive today. The sentiment of the whole of this organisation when I express that thanks of a job well down. The crew of the HS190 was the Skipper, Flying Officer Craig, Flight Sergeant, first coxswain, Sergeant Placito, second coxswain, leading aircraftsman Fiddler fitter, LAC Hayes Leading aircraftsman Leading Aircraftsman Hyde crew. That was a good rescue that one.
[Other]: It was.
LP: There’s so many more [chuckle].
[Other]: Still there’s a sad one.
LP: How about or bore you too much, if you left me that, well there’s not much attached to that one, not so far off the French coast there were German floating stations which consisted of a bed, provisions for downed airmen. And on a couple of occasions we came across these stations but fortunately or unfortunately there were no airmen alive in it. We just inspected them, took note of what was there and left.
DM: Do you have any stories around D-Day? What happened on D-Day with your group?
LP: Well on D-Day it was quiet actually, our D-Day was very quiet. Our boats weren’t considered deep sea going; they were built for speed. Pictures of them where they came out. I’ve got no big thing about D-Day. We went out early, picked up odd, odd bits of floating material rafts and such like but no actual rescues. D-Day was a quiet day considering the other days you would be there all day and all night.
DM: You were talking earlier about a rescue involving a walrus.
LP: Yes,
DM: Okay so this is where you picked up a civilian body.
LP: 0710 routine patrol over Beachy Head. Crash call to position search direct by Beachy Head Beachy Head Station, that would be the station at Beachy Head.
DM: Coastguard, or maybe coastguard?
LP: Coastguard, that’s the word. We carried out in company with a Walrus and sir sea rescue aircraft at 1445 received another call to position. On position at 15:15 hours quantity of wreckage found at 1600 hours we sighted a body of a civilian
[Other]: Civilian.
LP: Position 5 degrees off Newhaven seven miles delivered body to police. Returned to patrol until 2115 hours. [shuffle papers] Yes, we picked that poor boy up, that civilian bather. What wasn’t nice, the skipper wasn’t pleased to take him on board, no he thought about either sinking the body or, but he was told, yes, that was sad that.
DM: Take you on now to the end of the war. What happened when hostilities ceased?
LP: Yes, just let me et me thoughts. Yeah, I finished the war off as a transport driver actually.
DM: How did that happen?
LP: The Japanese war finished in
[Other]: August.
LP: August. Okay then yeah. When peace, okay then, when peace was signed with Germany in May, it meant that there was no longer essential for so many routine patrols to take place owing to the fact that it was just friendly aircraft. When peace was signed completely with Japanese surrender, the station the RAF station I don’t know what to try and say.
DM: You were still at Newhaven?
LP: Yes, still at Newhaven. I know what, the end of the German surrender the Japanese war was still in. It was decided to send boat to the Far East. The boats that were chosen to go were copper plated hull that is the hill was plated with copper plate to stop borings from sea insects. 190 although I wasn’t aboard at this time, 190 got as far as Gibraltar when it was halted and that the operation to go to the Far East was aborted, was no longer necessary, The reason I was no longer on board at this time I failed a medical exam and you had to be A1 to be a boats crew. So I was taken off HSL 190 and given a shore job. I was lucky enough to be made a transport driver. We had a Bedford vehicle used to run messages to Thorley Island and into Brighton. This was a very good job because it was so easy going. The reason I got the job was an old friend of mine who was on 190 was a transport driver his job was to drive the warrant officer his name was Stevens a nice gentlemanly man, Steves, Stevenson, he was to take him where he wanted to do to go. Bill Stoneman used to frighten the life out of him wherever he drove. He wasn’t a driver he relied on somebody else to drive or whether Bill did di deliberately or not I don’t know but he fell out of favour with the WO I was called into the office by a friend of mine, Don Stovey, who was a clerk and said that Warrant Officer Stevenson wanted a new driver, a different driver would I take the job. Of course I jumped at it. So from there on I was the station driver. The strange part about it was, I was the only one knew where the vehicle was kept. It was kept in a side street in Newhaven in the town. So consequently we used it on many occasions at night for our trips into Brighton, [chuckle] but I think this soon came to an end when I think it was spotted by another, a Marines, not a Marines, a motorcraft, I beg your pardon a motorised section of the RAF in Newhaven at the time and I think it was one of their vehicles that was mistaken for us and anyway from then on the vehicle had to be kept outside the officers mess on the harbour. Yeah.
DM: So you finished your time in the RAF as a driver.
LP: I finished sa a driver, yeah.
DM: Can you remember when you were demobbed?
LP: I’m sorry?
DM: Can you remember when you were demobbed?
LP: I got demobbed in 1946 I don’t know, middle of 46, something like that, I was demobbed, yeah.
DM: Did you go back to the post office or
LP: No I didn’t I no, I didn’t I just worked for me brother-in-law driving and one thing an another. But it was such a funny thing feeling you know being under orders twenty four hours a day. I forgot to say, that when it got near D-day time, all the civilian billets were closed and where we used to have single beds in the, in the nissen huts they were all double bunked so, to get all, so all the boys were on call. Yeah, it was a good job driving because quite often they, the officer would go into Brighton to pick up papers and also the rations were picked up in Brighton at the, one of the big hotels I think it was the Metropole or the Grand Hotel which was run by RAF, yes, it was the Australians had taken over. Which was the hotel that was bombed? Was that the Metropole?
DM: That was the Metropole.
LP: Was it? Yeah.
[Other]: I think it was.
LP: Yeah, I think it was the Metropole yeah, well the Australians were living there they had taken it over, and that was also then, I used to have to go in for a clothing exchange because what usually happened, well it always happened, if you had something worn, your clothing were worn and you thought need a change we had a storeman at Newhaven, Tiny Wellman, he was a big fella, they called him Tiny Wellman, he was the storeman, and it was up to him if you wanted a new pullover or a new shirt or whatever, it was up to him whether you got it or not. Which was, you know he either liked you or didn’t like you. But after that, all the clothes were kept at Brighton and it was my job, I could take clothing in and exchange it, so consequently I did a good, had a good job changing clothes for the boys that wanted, you know new shoes, whatsoever. But you used to get up to all sorts of tricks to earn a shilling, because one particular, in the Metropole, the Australians had taken over, and there was one room with dozens of pairs of shoes, they would throw the shoes in, me and a friend of mine I used to take with me, we would sort out shoes, take ‘em in to the clothing exchange, get a new pair of shoes for pair of old ones. The things you did. [Chuckle] I tell you one other happy episode too. When the war ended, horse racing started, and Brighton was, I think it was the first race course in the south of England to open. Now, there was no signalling affairs, there was no way when the horses. I don’t know if you understand horse racing but when they go down to the start, there was no way that they knew where the horses were at the start or when the start, starting gate opened or not. So they came to Newhaven to look for a signaller or signallers. One of my best friends was a signaller so he said you come, he said you can do the transport, so I used to take the transport, it lasted for about three or four days. We would take two men down to the start of the racecourse, and two men at the finish with Aldis lamps because there was no speakers as such, and they would signal when the horses were ready to go off, to start, they would signal to us they’re off and then obviously we knew if they’d won or lost so we had a good few days, three or four days with that. But going back to that American we saved he piled cigarettes, whatever, in a day or two the CO sent down. I didn’t smoke, it didn’t matter to me, but one of the do-gooders there tried to put the block on it, to say you know you didn’t do it for, for cigarettes. Obviously we didn’t do it for that but that was his kindness to do it wasn’t it. I would have liked to have met that American some time.
DM: Yeah, I suppose all the people you rescued you don’t really know what became of them after they walked off your boat, that was it, they were gone.
LP: Yeah. We used to have something about the size of that polished wood and every rescue you’d put on you’d put a roundel on, you know, RAF roundel, you’d stick one of those on and we had that on the.
DM: Did you used to put a swastika on when you rescued a German? [Laugh]
LP: No, we didn’t put a swastika on, no. We had two Germans, two particular Germans. One German, I had only been there a short time. He was in the water or in a dinghy. We picked him up and he had the sense enough when he’d baled out he’d wrenched his leg and his leg I don’t know, was half off or half on the sense enough to have tourniquets round his thighs. We saved him. There you are, years and years ago.
DM: Yes, thank you.


David Meanwell, “Interview with Lawrence Henry di Placito. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 29, 2023,

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