Interview with Len Doward

Title

Interview with Len Doward

Description

Len Doward was in the army when he saw an advertisement for aircrew so he volunteered. He trained as a pilot. On one operation he saw a Lancaster alongside hit by bombs from a Lancaster above. After his operational tour Len was posted to India and then Burma where he witnessed the Japanese surrender at Mingaladon airfield.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2017-10-26

Contributor

Julie Williams

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.

Format

01:30:21 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ADowardLA171026

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell. The interviewee is Len Doward. The interview is taking home, at Mr Doward’s home at South Nutfield in Surrey on the 26th of October 2017. Ok. Well, Len if you could perhaps say a little bit about where and when you were born and how you came to end up in the forces.
LD: Yes. I was born in London, along Westminster Bridge Road. Not far from Westminster Bridge. And we went from there when I was quite young to Sutton, off Sutton Common Road, Woodstock Rise. And from there I went, in 1938 when Chamberlain came back waving a piece of paper saying. ‘Peace in our time.’ It was just before he returned from Munich. I went over and I joined the Territorial Army in the Drill Hall that was on Stonecot Hill in Sutton. And that was the 31st, it was the 325 Company Royal Engineers, the 31st Battalion, Royal Engineers and the CO was Colonel Jones who was the PPS of the Prime Minister at that time. So, Jonesie was our boss. And we were mobilised on the, I think the 15th of August 1939. So, we went from there. We had to go to the Drill Hall. And then we were taken in buses down to what they called our Battle Stations which were outside Horsham, Broadbridge Heath. And when we got there, there was some squaddies already there in the course of erecting big tents. They were like marquees. And we were, the different companies that were there, they were given a number of marquees. And also the squaddies, they were handed linen covers and then we were told to go over to a corner of the field where there was a great stack of bales of hay and we had to fill these linen baskets with the hay. That was our bed and that was what we slept on. And then we were there [pause] I’m forgetting ‘til when [pause] Oh, I volunteered for the RAF, flying duties because we had a notice in Company Orders that came around that the Air Force, they were seeking volunteers for aircrew duties, so I put my name down. And I had a cousin at that time. He was in the Royal Engineers and he was a member of the bomb disposal squad. And he was older than me, but I’d applied for Johnny, that was my cousin to claim me. That I could go and join him in the bomb disposal squadron which was still the Royal Engineers. But anyway, as luck would have it the transfer came through into the Air Force. But before I got the ok I had to go up to what was known as arcy tarcy which was ACRC. Air Crew Reception Centre. Known fondly as arcy tarcy which was in a large block of flats. St Johns Wood. And we had to go, for our meals we had to go in our different flights over to London Zoo, in the London Zoo Restaurant for our meals. That was breakfast, lunch and tea. So that is what we had to do and you had to march over there and you would go as a flight. Also to go over there to have your jabs and so on, and medicals. Well, it just so happened that a number of us had transferred from the Army but we also had in the flight, we also had complete newcomers in to the services. They were as green as grass and — alright?
Other: Withheld.
LD: Ok. And what happened was that these youngsters who never experienced any form of service life they were that green as grass that when we were due to go and have our jabs, inoculations and some brought up to date well coming from the army most people had had all their jabs. We had a notification in our pay books. So, all we had to do was just flash our pay books and it was showing there the jabs that we’d had. Well, the youngsters straight out of Civvy Street [pause] the people who transferred and we were rotten devils at that time. We would tip each other the wink and we would say how terrible it was with these jabs, and it was surprising the number of people that died from them. They would have the jab and they would collapse and that was it [laughs] And there was one fellow, ginger haired character and he looked as green as grass and he was. And we were discussing this with another fellow from the army and we said. ‘Yeah. No, that was terrible to think that you’re having your jobs that are going to keep you alive and instead of that it killed you.’ And this poor ginger haired fellow he just collapsed [laughs] Yeah, but it was all good experience. I went from there, from arcy tarcy up to Scarborough, and Scarborough, that was [pause] I’ve got a photograph. The CO there was a Squadron Leader [Ailing?] in the middle. And this, he was the training wing warrant officer. He was a clever devil. He was a regular air force man and he was a warrant officer first class. And I’ve forgotten, I’ve got the blighter’s name down here somewhere. We got all their names and Nodder Locke, he was, we called him Nodder because he had this problem with his collar and he would do this from time to time. So, he was called Nodder. So, Nodder, he was Surrey County Cricket Club groundsman. and where is he now? Oh, here we are. Thorn. That was his name. Thorn. He was a London police constable and he was awarded a George Medal for rescuing a number of people from a bomb demolished building. And he got his GM. That’s Thorn. And also, I’ve got there’s some other blighter on here as well. Quite a well-known character. I’m old, I forget. But that was our CO. Squadron Leader [Elwin?] And that’s the warrant officer. And what was his name now? I’ve forgotten his blooming name. [pause] Anyway, he was a regular Air Force man and he was a clever devil. He was claiming four marriage allowances. [laughs] Yeah. Yeah. But they eventually caught up with him. Long after I’d left there. And he was demoted down to an AC plonk and he was put in the slammer. I don’t know for how long but he served time in the Clink and he came out, down to an AC plonk because he was a regular serving fellow. So, that was that. And got quite a number of people on here who one way and another they became quite well known. And one of them. Scottie Cochrane. His name was Alex really but we called him Scottie and Scottie, he was the company secretary of the brewers Ind Coope and Allsopp, yes. So he had a fair wack of booze frequently delivered. Yeah. So, we were alright there. And it’s rather strange because I, I got an email. I was checking my emails this morning and there was one that had been put out by a great friend of mine. We were on the same squadron and his name is Jack Ball. Well, Jack Ball he’s got it on the internet, email. He’s got down a history of the experience from being green as grass until you got up and found yourself as a skipper on an aircraft. And he’d got it set out absolutely superbly, and he’s got in the language that the man in the street could understand. But very good. That was Jack Ball. But one way and another all these characters —
DM: So, that was, was that September 1941?
LD: Yeah.
DM: Yeah. That was Scarborough.
LD: September ‘41. Yeah. And that was the initial, 11 Initial Training Wing up in Scarborough. That hasn’t got Scarborough on there but that’s where it was.
DM: Yeah.
LD: And these are the signature of the people up in there. So that’s that.
DM: Put that over here so it’s safe.
LD: Ok. Thanks.
DM: So, where did you go from Scarborough? Where was the next training?
LD: Where did I go from Scarborough? I went from Scarborough to Hixon. Hixon. That was an Elementary Flying School. But at Scarborough you had to do all the ground lectures and you had to pass the exams following the lectures on the different subjects. You would have navigation, meteorology, a number of other subjects. Oh, Morse code. And they had semaphore to a degree but they didn’t go up into that very much because the instructors didn’t know what they were teaching [laughs] So, that was it. But that was Scarborough. Then from there went to Hixon. Oh, here we are. Arcy tarcy, Scarborough. Oh no. I went to Brough. Not Hixon. I went to Brough. That was elementary flying. And from Brough I went to Heaton Park in Manchester which was kicking off point before we were shipped out to Canada for flying training. Then I went from, went out to Canada. To Moncton. Then from there I went to elementary flying in a [unclear] Then I went to service flying in Swift Current but I didn’t like Swift Current because they were on multi-engine. Twin engine. It was a Service Flying School but the aircraft they had there, they were Airspeed Oxfords. Twin-engined. But I wanted to go on to fighters so I got a transfer from there into Swift Current which was a Service Flying Training School for singles. And I went from there to Calgary. Calgary back to Moncton on the way home. Then HM troop ship Andes. But it’s all down there, yeah.
DM: What did you think of Canada?
LD: Sorry?
DM: What did you think of Canada? Did you —
LD: Canada?
DM: Yeah.
LD: It was very good. The people there they were very very kind. They really were. And they couldn’t do enough for you. And we came, because we packed up training on the Friday evening but from the Friday evening you would be invited to spend a weekend. Different families. Canadian families. And they would come and collect you, take you to their homes and deliver you back on Sunday evening. And they were very very nice. Very very kind. They really were kind people. And that was that. Then I went from there, Swift Current up to Calgary. Yeah. Then I went up to, got back England. Up to Harrogate. And then from there to give us something to do they sent us up to Whitley Bay on what they called an RAF Regiment Course. So, although you were in the Air Force to fly they sent you up there to understand what the RAF Regiment did on the ground. And you had to take part in some of their manoeuvres. So, that was that. And it was that cold up in Whitley Bay that you received — you had, it was a coke stove in the middle of what you would term a sitting room or a lounge. And it would be in the middle of the room with a stack going up through the roof. And you were given a ration of coke but wintertime you soon got through that. So, what we did, because it had a garden at the back of the house where we were billeted it had a wooden fence. So we started burning the fence [laughs] And we worked our way along one side. And as luck would have it before anyone came around to check out we were shipped out. So [laughs] So, that was an experience that was. But that was up in, that was in up in Harrogate, I think.
DM: When you were going —
LD: That was at Whitley Bay.
DM: Whitley Bay, yeah. When you were going to Canada and came back from Canada were you seasick? Did you have a good passage, or —
LD: No. We were on the ship. HMS Andes. And where was I? I can’t remember. I went out to Canada on the troop ship Letitia. And I came back from Canada on the troopship, the Andes. And these two ships, they were both cruise liners in peacetime. And conditions weren’t the same on those because they’d converted them in to troop ships. And under the decks where they’d had cabins and so on for paying passengers they’d all been ripped out and you had a clear deck space for the whole of the deck. And you were allocated a hammock. And the hammocks they were so close together that they couldn’t even move with the movement of the ship. They were solid and as the ship moved you all went with the ship like this. Yeah. So that was, and that was going out on the Letitia and coming back on the Andes. And from there I went up to Harrogate which was called Number 7 Pilot’s Recruiting Centre. And from there I went on the RAF Regiment course at Whitley Bay. That lasted what? Five weeks. Then I went to the, what they called GR School which although you were a pilot, qualified pilot you had to go on the GR course which was Ground Recognition course. You had to go on that to learn the duties of the other crew members, and you also had to become conversant there with your Morse code. So, do you know Morse code?
DM: Not really, no.
LD: Oh.
DM: Only three dots and three dashes.
LD: [laughs] Well [pause] if someone says to you nine dits and a da you know they’re being rude.
DM: Fair enough.
LD: Because nine dits, it goes, it starts off with nine dits in Morse code is a dit a dit three dits.
DM: Right.
LD: Now, I’ll tell you the second letter and you can judge for yourself the last two. So, the first one is S. Dit de dit. The second one is four dit dit dit dit which is H. Now I’ll leave your imagination to the other two [laughs]
DM: I think I’ve got it, think I’ve got it. So, by this time from what you say you knew you weren’t going to be a fighter pilot, did you?
LD: Yes. And I trained on what they called Harvards, they were. They were used as fighters but then they became defunct as operational and they put them in to what they called Service School. That was Fighter Training School. And I was training on fighters. On the Harvard. Now, on the Harvard, oh that’s, I don’t know whether that bloke’s on that list. He could be somewhere. [pause] Oh, he’s probably on there somewhere. But he’s a tall guy and what happened was that the Harvard was a twin seater training aircraft although it had been used in fighter service but they put it down to training. What they called, not elementary but service flying, and the Harvard it was quite a good aircraft. You could do all kinds of things in it but when you were training you went to Service School. You thought that you were the king’s pin. You were mustered. And although you would be booked out for certain things [pause] I wonder if I’ve got it in here.
[pause]
LD: Ah. Here we are. The [unclear] Tiger. Tiger. Tiger. Tiger. Harvards. Here we are. That was at Swift Current. And you had to go and understand before they turned you loose. You had to understand and you had to certify that you were fully aware and understood the different aspects relating to the aircraft you were flying. So, although you signed this it was a means whereby if you ballsed up any of these actions you would be held responsible. And particularly if you killed yourself [laughs] They would say it was his own fault. So you wouldn’t, or your survivors wouldn’t get a pension. So, that was that. But I’ve got it down here. Yeah, here it is. Harvards. Started here [pause] And also you had to do link training. And I think the link training is at the back of the book.
DM: So, link training if I’m right was a bit like a flight simulator. An early form of flight simulator.
LD: Yeah. I’m babbling on.
DM: No. You carry on. That’s fine. But that’s what a link trainer was. It wasn’t, you weren’t in an actual plane, you were on the ground.
LD: Yeah.
DM: Yeah.
LD: So, these are the different things that — there you are, link trainer as well. You had to be proficient in the link trainer and you were certified by the link trainer instructor as to whether you were competent in his various exercises. And see, I’ve got it down here. Link, link trainer. And you had to do different things such as if you were flying an aircraft but you would be completely enclosed and you would have to do it on instruments. And through the earphones they would tell you to fly a certain course and you had, it was just the same as in a cockpit. You had to fly a certain course. They would tell you, ‘Right. You’ve reached a certain point. Now, you’ve got to find your way back and land at your home base.’ And this is where it comes out and you had to do different things which was timing on the beam. You had to time yourself on the beam and if you did that when you had to turn, turn off the beam on to certain heading, fighter heading. Then do a specific turn at a given rate. You could do rate ones up to four, four or six turns. Well, rate one was a nice gentle turn. Four or six would be as if you were bloody Top Gun [laughs] And that’s it. And this is what you had to do. You would be under the hood and you would be given directions what to do and you had to do this. And then we’ve got here you had to do homing, timing. Then they would give you an unknown course to fly. You didn’t know. And you had to go so far and then you had to judge from the sounds you were getting through as to what you would do next. And it was quite interesting that because you then had to find out how you were going to get back. Although you weren’t in the air to get back to base but you still had to go through the motions. And I’ve got it here, you see. Then you had to form what was known as figures of eight and you had to allow as if you were up in the air for drift and so on. And that was all down here. So, that was that. That was the link. And then I’ve got the list of my crew here. [laughs] I’ve got the list of when they passed on.
DM: Really?
LD: Yeah, Flash, we called him Flash Gall because he was the navigator and he would masticate his food a minimum of sixty chomps. And he would chomp. And you would sit down there with a pre-flight meal before we went off on ops and we called him Flash as a result. And Flash would sit there and you’d say. ‘Bloody hell, hurry up.’ And you would be the last on the crew bus to get out. Yeah. That was Flash. And he snuffed it on the 9th of December ’44. And Doug Jackman, the narrow gutted fellow. He — which one was he? [pause] Oh, here we are [pause] That was my, that’s my wireless operator, that was his job in Civvy Street.
DM: Senior investigations engineer.
LD: Yeah.
DM: With the Zinc Corporation.
LD: Yeah.
DM: Southern Power Corporation. That was in Australia. Broken Hill.
LD: Yeah.
DM: New South Wales.
LD: Yeah. He was quite a big noise in that company. And also I’ve got, that’s a Halifax. I’ve flown those. And this is us.
DM: That’s the crew. So, when —
LD: And —
DM: When — can you —
LD: You had to, you had to recognise ships as well. So that if you saw a ship when you were coming back from a trip, North Sea or Channel, whatever, from the recognition you’d either try and bomb them out of the water or just report back what you’d seen. So they would know they were friendly. But that’s the crew. And George Buckman. He was a senior engineer for Esso Petroleum in Southern Australia. And he was responsible for the whole of South Australia for Esso. He was the young one, Stan, seventeen. Roy had his own business. He was an electrician. This narrow gutted so and so [laughs] he, he just couldn’t adhere to being regimented. We were all sensibly shod but not Douglas, no. He had to be different.
DM: Wearing his wellies.
LD: Yeah.
DM: Yeah.
LD: In his welligogs.
DM: And you say he used to take all his brass buttons off.
LD: Eh?
DM: You said he took all his brass buttons off.
LD: Yeah.
DM: And put black buttons on. Did he get caught? Did he get put on a charge for that or —
LD: Well, he was, he finished as a headmaster of a school. And his wife Kate, she was a headmistress. So they were both in the teaching profession. But that’s those two and its surprising really.
DM: When — where did you all crew up?
LD: Sorry?
DM: Where did you, where were you when you all crewed up? Where were you?
LD: What, our base?
DM: Yes.
LD: We were based up in [pause] Wireless op — that’s his place. That’s the navigator [pause] And I stayed in the Reserve until ’59. On the last aircraft I flew was [pause] I was given the opportunity, not that I was booked out as the pilot but I was like a second-Joe with a fellow. This was 1954. And he allowed me to fly the Meteor. Yeah. For a short space. That was interesting. And I did an hour at that. Yeah.
DM: So, going back. Going back to you’d finished your training.
LD: Yeah.
DM: You crewed up.
LD: Yeah.
DM: With all your crew that we’ve just been talking about.
LD: Yeah.
DM: Were you in Halifaxes then? Did you go on ops in Halifaxes?
LD: Yes. There we are. Halifax. Flew Halifax at what they called a Conversion Unit. So, we did this [pause] this was in August ’44. We converted to four engines. And I got on very well with my instructor from two to four. He was an Australian and because I had Australians in my crew, two, we got along like a house on fire. He was an Australian. And I had two. So, that was quite good. And his name was Pickles. And that was on the Halifax. That’s when we did a Conversion Unit on to Halifaxes, and before that I flew Wellingtons. And it was then when I went to OTU [pause] Where the hell would that be? Oh, I know. I was at Haverford West, and that was where I received my intro to the Wellingtons. And that was down Haverford West. That’s the west coast of Wales. And we had a runway that we took off over Cardigan Bay. And one of the commanders there, his name was named Donati. Flight Lieutenant Donati. And he’d been in the Middle East on what they called a Met flight. Meteorological flight. He’d been doing flights up to certain heights and recording the weather and so on. Well, Donati, he brought back from the Middle East he brought back with him which was [unclear] a dingo dog. A little dog. And this little dog, he used to go out on the rampage looking for bitches and he would disappear for a couple of days. And in what we called the crew room where you were waiting to be signed out and so on and you took an aeroplane. He had, in the corner he had a cushion where he could come and sleep. And if he’d been out on the rampage for a couple of days he’d come back and he’d sleep for about a day and a half in the corner, this dingo. Yeah. And Donati. He was as bad as the dog. And Donati used to go, used to go in to Cardiff. And I remember one occasion I got a telephone call from Donati. He was in Cardiff and he said, because he was a flight commander and I was just a member of the flight. So, he telephoned, he said, ‘Book yourself out an aircraft,’ he said, ‘And come and pick me up at Cardiff.’ Anyway, I booked myself out. So, I got a navigator and I said, ‘Right. We’re going to Cardiff.’ So, we went to Cardiff. Landed. Went to the crew room there and there was Donati. He looked absolutely, if you don’t mind the term, absolutely shagged out. It was unbelievable. And there was the dog fast asleep as well. So, that was Donati. But he was a nice fellow was Donati. And I went from Haverford West to [pause] I’ve got it all in here. At the back. It’s incredible. And I went from there. I finished, I finished a tour, a Bomber Command tour and because I fell out with my CO, because at one time in Bomber Command when they first started doing what they called daylights they equated three daylight trips because it was just across the Channel and back again. You had to do three daylights to count for one night. Well, because it got so bad with the fighter dominating the coast, the ME 110 and also the ack-ack they quickly changed that to one on one. So, that was, that was when I was down in [pause] oh I’ve forgotten. Somewhere.
[pause]
LD: Whitley Bay. Little Rissington, Rissington, Haverford West, Haverford West. Then did conversion to Wellingtons. Wellington. Then did another conversion to Halifaxes. Then I did another conversion to Lancasters. And then did a conversion to [pause] Oxfords. Twin engine, and it was there, yeah I flew Tiger Moths, Harvards, Anson. I flew Oxfords with a Cheetah engine. Wellingtons. Different class Wellingtons — 3, 10, 12, 13 and 14. Halifax with a Michelin engine, Lancaster. Argus, now, the Argus. That was when I was out. And for my cheek with my CO I fell out with him because I told him that he was chicken and he chose short trips. I said, ‘It’s about time you bloody well did a long night trip instead of these short ones.’ Anyway, he had his own back because when I finished I found myself on the banana boat out to India. He got his own back. But the bugger is still alive and we keep in contact. He lives up Harrogate way. And he lost his wife of a considerable number of years. Bobby his wife’s name. They’d been married, oh thirty odd years but she passed away about four or five years ago and he’s since remarried. But that was — then I did Argus. Went out to, I did a communication squadron out at Alipore, which is the outside of Calcutta. And there had to fly, first of all because they didn’t have pukka aerodromes and airstrips the engineers they would dig out a strip in the jungle and you were give a map reference. So, you had a map and you had [pause] what the hell? A Dalton. A Dalton. It was a Dalton [pause] it was a computer. And from that you could work out from the atlas points you’d been given, you could work out with your computer, you could work out the course you had to fly. But more importantly not necessarily a course but the track that you had to find because the course is what you will fly on the compass but the track is what you had to cover over the ground. So you had to make certain that you were tracking over the ground. Going in the right direction despite the fact you were probably, your nose was an entirely different direction. So you had to do that and you would be given a map reference. And you had to find this by yourself in an Argus because you had no navigator. You were given a map, a compass, and you were given a map reference point and you were told, ‘Right. You’ve got to be there at a certain time,’ because the Army brass of course they were going through, the 14th Army, through the jungle and they were holding conferences as the 14th advanced. And they would pick an atlas point that you had to be there at a certain time so they could conduct this conference before they in turn upped and moved on. So, you had to be there before they moved on. And that was interesting because you in turn would, on occasion you would take senior brass to either conduct a conference or be part and parcel. And that was quite interesting because I flew some interesting people on some of these trips. And one of them was [pause] I forget where. Yeah. I used to go up to [pause] I flew a Brigadier Haynes on one occasion. We had to go up to Sylhet which was at the foot of the Himalayas and take him up there to a conference. And we had a colonel who was going up there at the same time. Mellor. And I had Air Commodore Hardman who eventually became Marshal of the Royal Air Force. Hardman. And I flew him up to Sylhet which again was at the base of the Himalayas. And Brigadier Weston, I took him a couple of times. And a Colonel Dutfield, and that was going up. That was up, going up into Burma. And they were, they were interesting trips because one of the people I took was a Mrs Metcalfe, and I had to take her up to Alipore which was an airstrip outside Calcutta. I had to take her there. And Mrs Metcalfe, she was the senior nursing officer out in India. Australian lady. And she was that down to earth she was unimaginable really. She really was, talk about a spade a spade. But I had some very interesting people. I met quite a lot of them. Plus the fact that in Calcutta you had what was known as the Grand Hotel where you could go there. And if you were taking someone, if they were going to a conference and it would last more than twenty four hours you would book into the Grand Hotel. And you would have to meet the expenses but what you did you claimed your expenses when you got back. And that was a very very swish hotel the Grand. It really was swish. Where they had these very tall Sikh soldiers all dressed in white. Bandoliers and so on. They were the guards with the Sikh plumes. They were the guards at the entrances and so on and they had one on each landing. And they also had a lady guarding each landing. A member of the Indian Army guarding each landing with a table and she had a register of who they should allow on the landings. And you had to be in that book or you weren’t allowed on the landing. But that was all very interesting. Plus the fact that they had what was known as a Senior Officer’s Club there and you had to be squadron leader and above. That meant that you’d attained your majority in the army. Anyway, I was a flight lieutenant so I hadn’t attained my majority — squadron leader. But I was very fortunate because I was invited as a guest to enjoy the facilities of the Officer Club and it was a beautiful. You wouldn’t have thought there was a war on. Absolutely spotless. You could go like that. Not a speck of dust. Absolutely fantastic. And all the servants they were all dressed in their pukka garb with their white long breeches, their hats. They were absolutely immaculate really. And that was an experience in itself. But needless to say I went on one occasion, Bob Hart, he was a Northern Rhodesian fellow and he’d done a tour of operations over here as I had done and he in turn, we were very much alike. Very [pause] we seemed, we didn’t think twice about what we said. Yeah. And Bob, he was the same. Bob, he was the senior engineering officer, Northern Rhodesian mines. He was a very very tall guy. About six foot four. And they had East African troops out there in Calcutta and on more than one occasion walking along the pavement in Calcutta and they had a battalion of black East African soldiers out there. They were all black. And if two of them were on the same pavement as you and they were coming towards you he would yell out in their tongue, ‘Get off the bloody pavement in the gutter.’ And they would all jump on the side and get in the gutter. Yeah. But that was, and his name was Robert Kitson Hart. RK Hart. Yeah. He was a character he was. And I remember one occasion we’d been out. We’d been out drinking to a club and we were going back to our digs at the Grand and they had what they called garreys. In other words it was like a Hansom cab. Some had two horses. Some had four. Anyway, we rented, hired a garrey, a Hansom cab and Robert Kitson, he said to the garrey wallah, the driver, ‘Grand hotel.’ Well, dependent upon the time you were in the garrey so you paid accordingly for the time you hired it. Well, this garrey wallah, he was going so slow it was surprising that the horse didn’t fall over. Anyway, Robert Kitson said to him, [unclear] which means hurry up. Anyway, he got the horse getting to not exactly a gallop but a reasonable trot. That wasn’t good enough for Robert Kitson. So, Rob was sitting with me in the back. He got up and he got hold of the garrey wallah, threw him off. Climbed up into the seat and he shouted out to the garrey. ‘Run you bastard. Run.’ He whipped the garrey, the horse into quite a bit of a gallop and he was shouting out to the garrey wallah, ‘Run. Run you bastard, run.’ And he took us to the Grand. Drove all the way to the Grand. And when we got there and he said to the garrey wallah, ‘I drove. You get no tip. I drove. I did the driving.’ So, yeah. Yeah. Six foot four. Robert Kitson. I’ve been so lucky in life. I’ve really been so lucky. Talk about lucky.
DM: So, you decided to stay in the Air Force after the war.
LD: Sorry?
DM: Did you stay in after the war? You didn’t come out and go back in. You stayed in the Air Force.
LD: No. I stayed on for what they called VR training. And I went to various aerodromes. Pukka aerodrome squadrons on. I went to a number. I’ve got them in the book. And I did my fifteen days annual training with them in different types of aircraft. But in my last, last year, I think in my sixth or seventh year VR training I opted to do that over there in Redhill because in Redhill they had a Wing Commander Scott. He was the head of the Training Unit there. Now, Wing Commander Scott only got the job because he married into the family. His wife, their family, they owned the aerodrome. So, he got the job running the aerodrome. Well, anyway Scott, he employed what they called civilian instructors. They hadn’t been in the Air Force but all they’d done, they’d just, they had instructed in civilian life. Well, there were two that he had civilian instructors and what they did they would take you up and they would give you different exercises to do. Come down and sign you out and so on and that was it. But when the weather was what we called clamped, in other words you couldn’t fly what they would do they would get you to do, Scott would get you to do different ground exercises. One of them happened to be swinging the compass. Well, with swinging a compass what you had to do you had to get what they called a DR, Dead Reckoning compass. You had to get a dead reckoning reading so that you got due north. And then you went through the various compass points to ensure that the compasses, they had little lead rods through them and you would adjust the rod to get the thing reading correctly. Anyway, it was what they called clampers. So, Scott said, ‘Right. You’ll have to swing compasses.’ Anyway, he said, ‘Right. Two aircraft out there.’ So there was a pal of mine, he was on the VR but he lived on the same road as me. John [unclear] Well, John he had some highfalutin job in the city. I forget what it was now. But John and I, we used to travel up together and we were given the two aircraft to swing. Anyway, Scott said, ‘Right. The two aircraft. One each. Swing the compass.’ Well, he outranked me. He was a wing commander so I had to do as he said. As I was told. Anyway, I got out there and there were two civilians and they said, ‘Right. You swing that compass,’ and they said to John, ‘You swing that compass in the other aeroplane.’ Yes, please. I don’t know if you want to use the room at all.
DM: No.
LD: Alright.
[recording paused]
DM: Right. So swinging the compass.
LD: I went out there and there were two civilians there, ‘Right. You swing that aircraft. You swing that.’ So, I said, ‘Hold on.’ So, I went back to Scott who was in the flight office. I said, ‘Tell me, sir,’ because he was my superior, ‘Tell me, sir. Is it right that a commissioned officer in the RAF VR, is he supposed to take orders from a civilian?’ ‘Good lord, no. Of course not.’ I said, ‘Well then, tell those two to swing the aircraft themselves.’ [laughs] So, that was it. Got away with it. Yeah. But they tried it. But having said all of that I’ve been so fortunate in life. I’ve really been so fortunate.
DM: What job did you do in Civvy Street?
LD: Banking. Yeah. And again, I was very very fortunate. I got a job. I got a job in 431 Oxford Street. It was when I first became aware of girls. Because in 431 Oxford Street I was there as the junior. Well, the junior, you were the dogsbody. You ran all the errands. And you took what they called returns. In other words cheques that came back to your customer unpaid. What we called bounced cheques. You had to deliver them back to the customer and you got their signature for the return, indicated that it had been returned and in turn their account was debited because of the return. Well, I went there to 431 Oxford Street. And as luck would have it at that time Mr Gordon Selfridge who used to call, what they used to call it walking the floor and he would walk every floor in Selfridges every morning starting at 9 o’clock spot on. And he would walk around with two after him and he would make various comments. And the earthlings, they had to make a note of what he was on about. But it was that time that he used to get the lift girls and they had lifts and they had a lever in the side of the cabin that they would pull for up or down. And these girls, they had skirts just above the knees which was quite something in those days. Quite above the knees. And they were all exquisitely turned out because they had to go through the beauty parlour before they were allowed anywhere near a lift. So, they had to get in early, beauty parlour, all the make-up and so on. Everything neat and clean. Tidy. Wear kid gloves before they were allowed near a lift. And then they would all stand at the entrance to the lifts and Mr Gordon, he would go around looking at each one, particularly at their knees. ‘Ok.’ ‘Yes, ok,’ and he would go around with his retinue looking at all the lifts before they got in and operated the lifts. So, it was there that I really became aware of girls. And I really appreciated the manner in which Mr Gordon hired the girls. That was an experience in itself. And over there, being a junior at 431 I would take the returns. In other words, the return cheques that had bounced. I would take them back to what Selfridges had, it was called an accounting office, it was like a cashier’s office. And in there the head cashier he was a very staid gentleman. Always wore grey single breasted suits with a waistcoat and with a halberd across here with the bar on there, strapped across his waist. And he always had the pocket watch in his pocket. And you’d go up there and before you handed them over he would always look at his watch, which was a gold Hunter and he would put it back in his pocket again. And he would make a note as to the time you turned up with them in case you skived off somewhere. But he was a very meticulous gentleman and he always wore stiff white bow collars with a bow tie. Always. And he was absolutely immaculate. Shoes as well. And he was a tall guy, very tall. But I learned a lot from going over there at 431. I really did. And from there at 431 it was a ritual. We used to close at, I think it was half past twelve on a Saturday. Half past twelve everything would be what we called bagged up. Go downstairs in to the strong room. All the money would be on the trolley to go to the strong room and and then you had to take all the ledgers down which would be on a separate trolley. Well, being the dogsbody junior that was your problem. You had to get all the ledgers down in the book room. Then after that you would lock up and you would have to hand the keys to the book room to the chief clerk whose name was Goodrich. Same as the tyres. I’ve never forgotten it. And his name was Henry, and he lived at Haywards Heath and he used to travel up each day. But Henry, he was a nice fellow and I remember that 15th of August 1939, he called me up to his desk which was, he had a raised bench type desk on a platform so he could overlook the whole of the office including the cashiers. And he called me up there and I thought, ‘Oh hell, what’s wrong?’ Anyway, I got there and he said, he was very nice, he said, ‘I’m very sorry to tell you but you’ve been mobilised and you’ve got to report to your Drill Hall as soon as you can. So, you can leave now, get home, explain to your parents what you have got to do and get to the Drill Hall as soon as you can.’ I went home. My dad was home. And I’ve never put all my webbing together then. Being what they called, I was a sapper then in the REs and I never put my webbing together. And I said to my dad, ‘I’ve got to put my webbing together because I’ve got to go and report,’ I said, ‘Could you help me?’ He said, ‘No, it’s no good me giving you a hand,’ he said, ‘The only way to learn is to do it yourself.’ So, that was how I learned how to put the webbing together. Over to the Drill Hall and I had to go upstairs. Cliff Ford was up on the balcony with his red sash on. So, he said, oh he said, ‘You’d better go in to the office.’ He was a lieutenant. And he was a member of a stockbroking firm.
Other: There we are. There we are. One for you. One for you.
LD: Thank you dear. I think his name was, I think it was Hammond.
Other: Do you think, I mean is he alright? Because he seems to be going on, not so much about —
LD: I’m dribbling on. I was quite keen on swimming then. I used to go with my friend Ken Shepherd up to the swimming pool up at North Cheam, and I heard that someone told me there was a swimming pool at the Drill Hall. So, I said to Cliff Ford at the Drill Hall [pause] I asked him, ‘Is it true you’ve got a swimming pool here? If so I wouldn’t mind signing on so I could use the pool.’ Which meant that I could save, I think it was sixpence to go in the pool up at North Cheam.
DM: Right.
LD: So, he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘You’d be surprised what we’ve got here. Go and have a word with the officer and he’ll explain to you what we’ve got.’ Anyway, I went upstairs. Went in. Saw the officer. And I said, ‘I understand you’ve got a lot of sport facilities here including a swimming pool.’ He didn’t say, ‘No we haven’t.’ He said, ‘Oh, you’d be surprised at what sports facilities we’ve got here.’ He said, ‘I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you would like to come along and join us.’ So, I said, ‘Well, that sounds interesting.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s right, ‘he said, ‘If you’re interested would you like to sign along here?’ [laughs] Sheep to the slaughter. Signed. So, he said, ‘Right. That’s it. And he called, they didn’t call them sergeants in those days they were sarnts, ‘Sarnt major’
DM: Another lamb to the slaughter.
LD: In came Cliff Ford. ‘Right,’ he said, ‘Take the sacrificial, he signed on.’ So, that was it. That’s how I came to sign, to volunteer. Yeah.
DM: When you —
LD: Yeah.
DM: On ops in Bomber Command.
LD: Yeah.
DM: Did you have any hairy moments?
LD: What, in bombers?
DM: Yeah.
LD: Yeah. A number. We were, we were attacked on a number of occasions but I think I put it down on the first but it got so that you were used to seeing things. You didn’t bother. And the navigator would it put it the nav, in his nav log. Attacked or whatever. We had a number of near misses. There was one poor blighter, he was flying alongside us and there we went out in what they called a gaggle. And a gaggle meant that you flew out, not in any type of formation but you flew out as a mob. And what happened was that — have you got someone picking you up?
[recording paused]
DM: In a moment. You were saying the navigator, the navigator would make a note in his log that you’d been attacked and that it happened quite a lot.
LD: Right. Where was I?
DM: You were talking about when you were, when you were attacked. By fighters, I assume. From time to time.
LD: Oh yes. JU88.
DM: You said something about when you all went out in a gaggle.
LD: A JU88. And then we were going out in a gaggle on one trip and the fellow alongside me because we were scattered all over different altitudes one fellow above him released a bomb, went through his wing and that was it. Yeah. So, although you thought that the dangerous aspect of it all was on the bombing run it could be quite a bit hairy if you had some idiot above you. But I’ve been very, very lucky. I worked my way. I told you I was shipped out for not keeping my tongue between my teeth.
DM: Yes.
LD: Shipped out to Calcutta. And from there because I wanted to know what was going on what they called the TO, Transport Officer who was stationed in the Grand I bothered him to know where I was going. ‘Where the hell am I going? What am I doing here?’ Well, that’s another story but to cut that short, I finished. I found myself out in Calcutta. From Calcutta I went to [pause] Calcutta. I went to Burma. And Burma, again I was very lucky because this time I was on, I mentioned the communication flight where you took brass and high ranking officers down to conferences. And it was there, and it’s been in the news recently, one place in Burma which they called Myanmar.
DM: Myanmar or something. Yeah.
LD: Which is a place called Cox’s Bazaar. Well, I’ve been there. And Cox’s Bazaar was the first place that I landed in Burma which had been evacuated by the Japanese. And we were following, following the Japanese down that coast and we went into Cox’s Bazaar. And you had to be careful because they were laying booby traps. In addition to which, due to the humidity there, the temperature a lot of the furniture was made of bamboo canes. But because they were fraught with the humidity you could look at a table and chair which would be like that and you would touch it and it would collapse due to humidity. And the, what the hell did they call it? [pause] They turned into [pause] I’ve forgotten the blasted name. But anyway furniture was like that. You would touch it if the Japs had been there and it would collapse. Also, you had to be bloody careful that you didn’t touch something that the Japs had left behind that had been booby trapped. And it was there that we worked our way down. I was still on the communication flight and we got down to Mingaladon which was the landing strip for Rangoon. And it was there that we were called to attend the surrender of the Japanese, the general, Japanese general of that area. We were called by Mountbatten to attend and watch the surrender of the Japanese general to Mountbatten himself on the Mingaladon airstrip. Well, we had to attend there and Mountbatten, well he was an absolute s o d. He really was. And he made the 14th Army members who were attending they’d sweated their guts out through the jungle these squaddies and he made them, they only had one set of khaki, he made them scrub their khaki. And they were issued with white blanco to do their webbing. They were issued by Mountbatten this stuff and they were told that they had to launder their kit. Be absolutely spot on. Khaki green and all their webbing including spats had to be white. And they had to parade absolutely spot on to be in attendance when this Japanese general surrendered. And I was there at the time when the Japanese surrendered his samurai sword to Mountbatten and Mountbatten accepted his surrender. The Japanese general, he bowed out all the way, virtually on knees which was a terrible humiliation for him. And later that day because he was so humiliated he committed hara-kiri. And that was Mountbatten. But the surprising thing is before all this happened my father was a Royal Marine. And during WW1 my dad was on Lord Mountbatten’s staff. But at that time, because he was known as [pause] it’s the German name for Mountbatten anyway. He was known as, he was Chief of the Naval staff, despite being a German because Victoria had German descendants. But he was chief of the Naval staff and he had to resign, and my dad was in his office as Royal Marine. And my dad said that it was the first time that dad had seen a man cry. And he said it was at the time that Earl Mountbatten, as he was then he wrote his resignation letter. Signed it. And he said, dad said, ‘The man was in tears when he handed me the letter.’ And he always addressed dad as John. And dad said, ‘He said to me, ‘John, you know who you’ve got to deliver this to.’ And my dad had to deliver it to what was then, despite Mountbatten resigning as First Lord dad knew who he had to take it to his successor. And dad did that. But he said the first time he’d seen a man cry. So, that was the Mountbattens. But having said all that, dad, being a Marine and being on Mountbatten’s staff, dad was billeted with him as his batman. As a batman living in Mountbatten’s quarters at Number One London. That, that’s the accommodation at Marble Arch and it’s still known as Number One London. And dad was billeted at Number One London [laughs] Yeah.

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Citation

David Meanwell, “Interview with Len Doward,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 1, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10787.

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