Interview with Martin Edwards


Interview with Martin Edwards


Martin Edwards recounts the war-time stories of his father, Frederick Edwards. Frederick was born in Kent in 1923, and lived on the family farm. He joined the RAF in 1943 as was posted to Canada for training as a navigator. On his return to England, he finished his training and joined 101 Squadron where he completed his tour of thirty operations in Lancasters. Martin tells several humorous stories told by his father, including the time the mid-upper gunner shot down a cheese sandwich. On another occasion, when the aircraft had a hung-up bomb, Frederick tried to kick the bomb free without success, and as their radio had been damaged, they sent flares upon their arrival and were directed straight into a hangar, where they told senior officers and everyone scattered. Often on the return journey, the crew went to sleep after they left enemy territory with the aircraft on autopilot, except for Frederick, and it was his job to wake the pilot up seven minutes before landing, to take control. During his time on operations, none of his crew were killed, although the bomb sight was hit by anti-aircraft fire whilst the bomb aimer was looking away. Frederick told Martin that he was disappointed in the reaction he got from people after the war about the bombing of Dresden. His final three operations were Operation Manna food drops over Holland. He was then posted to Egypt where he flew C-47's carrying bodies of servicemen to the cemeteries. He finished his service in 1946.




Temporal Coverage




00:23:14 audio recording


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JH: My name is Judy Hodgson and I’m interviewing Martin Edwards, son of Frederick Edwards for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at Mr Edwards home and it is the 21st of June 2018. Thank you, Martin for agreeing to talk to me today. Can you tell me about, you know, your father? His date of birth, where he was born and early years that you know.
ME: Yeah. Sure. That’s not a problem. Dad was born on the 20th of June 1923 in Belvedere in Kent which is now a part of Greater London. The family house. We had a farm and he was one of eight. He was the second son. Second eldest son. His eldest son was Harry. Yeah. And he went to St Augustine’s School in Heron Hill in Belvedere and then on to Brook Street School in Erith. His brother Harry got a scholarship and got to the Grammar School. But the family couldn’t afford to send more than one so dad just stayed at school and did the General Certificate or whatever it’s called, of education that they took then and then left at fifteen. I don’t know what he did after work but he ended up, I think he was an office boy at a company called Sloggett’s which was a builders. Now, whether that was before or after the war I don’t know. But he definitely worked with Sheila Hancock. She was a secretary there so she probably doesn’t remember him. And then he, he started his active service in 1943 and he, he trained to be a navigator which he got sent to Canada to be a navigator. Then he came back in to the UK and was in 101 Squadron for thirty ops and bombed Dresden. Part of them, but Ludwigshafen, Berchet — Hitler’s bunker. He bombed that as well. And one of his proudest claims is that the people he flew with, or his crew they never lost a single person. They came back and everyone came back safe. Always. He has some funny stories to tell. He had some funny stories to tell. One of the, one stories he said, he’s told me was, was when they’d flown to the target and it was fog bound so they had to come back and dump the bombs in the North Sea. And the pilot, who it appears he had the same pilot all the way through, a Flight Officer Brooking, he said, ‘Well, where can we bomb, Fred?’ And he said, ‘We’ll go and bomb the Frisian Islands.’ So they plotted a course to the Frisian Islands and bombed the Frisian Islands and then flew home. And the commandant or whoever it is said, ‘Any successful? Anyone successful mission?’ Everyone said no except for dad who said, ‘Yeah. We bombed the Frisian Islands.’ ‘Ok. Fair enough.’ Other funny stories. There’s lots of funny stories. They used to, because of the trip they’d taken and France was already being, they were already fighting in France when he was flying so they’d fly over to France and then up through France over the trenches and then up in to their target in Germany. And as they crossed the trenches what the rear gunner would do they’d take all sorts of rubbish out the, out the mess and they’d throw darts and anything they couldn’t down on to the Germany trenches hoping to at least hit one or two Germans. But the rear gunner used to take a bottle of wine with him with a cork and then he used to drop the cork and then the bottle of wine and they said, ‘Why did you do that?’ He said, ‘Well, Fritz is sitting down there in the trench, the cork hits him on the helmet, he looks up, ‘Was ist das?’ and gets the bottle in the face.’ That was the theory anyway. In practice they were probably miles apart. But that’s not the point. The biggest disappointment I think was Dresden because he felt very upset that people seemed to indicate, and over time that they went there to intentionally burn, burn Dresden. Which they didn’t. He just went to bomb his, bomb his targets and come back and the fact that the wooden houses, they caught fire was an unfortunate result but he was very upset that it seems now being diverted that, or the impression is that they went to Dresden to burn it down and they didn’t. Although those deaths were very unfortunate but he really didn’t like that. That people were sort of saying, ‘Oh, well, you know, you were nasty,’ sort of thing. Amusing stories. The rear gunner who shot a cheese sandwich. Sorry the upper gunner who shot a cheese sandwich. This is the one story that all my family remember. And they had a bomb aimer, not a bomb aimer, I think it was the radio operator who didn’t like cheese sandwiches. So every day you’d fly off and you get your cheese sandwiches because that’s all you’re going to get. And he goes, and he really had not a good time of it or whatever so he threw his cheese sandwich out the port in the roof where dad took his mirrors. And as it flew past the upper mid-upper gunner he shot it. A big burst of fire. He said, ‘What was that?’ ‘Well, I don’t know but it was going really fast.’ So when they came back to land, ‘Any hits?’ He said, ‘Does a cheese sandwich count?’ ‘Fine. Never mind.’ Other stories. The hung up bomb. He, they flew out and one of the bombs was hung up. It was stuck in its cradle. So they opened, the bomb doors were open and they opened the hatch. There’s an inspection hatch or something in the plane and they were holding on to my dad who was only five foot three. And he’s trying to kick this bomb out while you’ve got the bomb doors open and everything like that and they couldn’t shift it so they came back. And they flew to the airport and they let go of the flares which, because the radio gear had been shot out. They sent the necessary flares out to say that they’d got a bomb hung up. They came in to land. They were given permission to land. They were waved in and went straight in to the hangar where everyone was and two wingless wonders as dad used to call them came down and went, ‘Didn’t quite understand the flares, old chap.’ He said, ‘Oh, we’ve got a bomb hung up.’ ‘Oh f —.’ And everyone was diving for cover. Sorry. Sorry about the language but [laughs] so everyone was diving for cover because they’d got this bomb that could have gone off at any moment. You know. So no problem. So it didn’t go off thank goodness. So that was, that was that. Other stories. I’m trying to think. There was, there was the bomb aimer. He, you always used to get a prism. The bomb aimer would get a prism in a bag. He’d have to sign for it and go out and then he’d put it in to the necessary hole in the plane to lay the bombs. And they were going along and they’re reaching the target and the bomb aimer had lined everything up and he turned away to check that the bomb doors were open and everything was right. He turned back and the prism was absolutely shattered. The ack ack had hit the prism and it shattered. So had he been looking in the prism it would have smashed his face up. But just by doing the checks, safety checks he got away with it and so when they got back they go, you know to return the prism he goes, ‘Shh,’ and just lets out loads of glass shards over the bloke’s desk. ‘There it is.’ He goes, ‘Oh thanks. Yes. I don’t think I can fix it though.’
[recording paused]
ME: Well, I’ll sort of go back to the beginning. His service record which you would probably be interested in. He started. He’s got a summary. Well, I’ve got his logbook. That’s the point. I’ve got a lot of his stuff which will be on the, on the site. There’s the map when he flew to Dresden. The actual map he plotted the course and came back. Plus all his notes. The logbook. What he did. Where he did it. Where they crossed the coast. What times it was and everything like that. So he started his service in, on the 30th of the 9th. 30th of September 1943 and he ended it on the 30th of the 9th 1946. Right. He completed thirty operations. The last three which I’ll talk about later because they are important to me. But he bombed Ludwigshafen which I’ve been there. This BASF lives at Ludwigshafen and he’s bombed them twice so [laughs] I thought of going to tell them but I don’t think they’re very keen. And he bombed Hitler’s bunker as well. So he did, he did quite a few of the right sort of bombings. So, yeah I mean we could go through the ops but these are all recorded. So Essen, Ludwigshafen, Kirn. Standard Hanover, Hanau, Bottrop, Kleve, Dresden. There we go. Dresden. The 13th of the 2nd 1945.
JH: Right.
ME: That was his mother’s birthday. The 13th. And he died in the 13th of the 2nd 2015. Seventy years. The anniversary of him bombing Dresden. Or being navigator that bombed Dresden. In the plane that bombed Dresden. Which is just incredible. So, yeah. Bottrop, Mannheim, Ludwigshafen it’s all there. Kirn, Dessau, Misburg. Bombed. Sixteen bombs. Air test. Oh, air test bombing. That wasn’t an operation obviously. His last three operations are the ones I really want to talk about. And that was his sandbag dropping. All that sort of thing. Positive. And again Berchtesgaden which is where Hitler was.
JH: And he kept the same —
ME: That was the last. Last op. Twenty six of them. That was the last op that he did. Bombing.
JH: The pilot was the same. Yeah.
ME: Oh Brooking. Brooking. Yeah. His pilot. Brooking, all the way through. The same pilot. A Mr Brooking. He got promoted quite a lot. Started as a flight officer. Whatever his name was. Oh, one of the things he used to say with crash landings. He said, you fly back and it would be on automatic pilot and he said you get almost to the end, seven minutes to landing and he would go and wake the pilot up and say, ‘Seven minutes to landing, skipper.’ And he’d go, ‘Where do you want? What’s the heading?’ He’d give him the heading and they’d go and land it. And he said most, most of the crash landings they had were due to pilot error. Forgot to put the undercarriages down and other things like that. Lock them down. Because they’d just woken. It had been a ten hour flat. The bloke. And he said when he was, when he was flying the skipper said to him once, ‘Why don’t you come up the front and have a look what’s going? How can you sit back there and not know what’s happening?’ And he said he went to the front of the plane and there’s tracer bullets and the wings were like only a foot apart on the planes and there was things diving everywhere and he said, ‘I went back and sat down,’ he said, ‘I’d rather not know.’ But you can imagine the pilot. The stress the pilot must have been under. So coming back, automatic pilot, once you got over the trenches and you’re back switch the automatic pilot on and he had a kip. Then he’d wake him up. Seven minutes before landing. ‘Seven minutes to landing, skipper.’ ‘Alright. Heading?’ And then he’d take them in. Incredible.
JH: What planes were —?
ME: They were Lancasters.
They were Lancasters. Yeah.
JH: Yeah. Yeah.
ME: Yeah. Lancasters. They were all asleep. Dad was the only one that was awake. He went to Whittlesford on his eightieth birthday. My uncle took him. Uncle Harry. Well, Sally and Harry. Harry and Elsie took him to Whittlesford. 101 Squadron were still there. And he was going through the plane and the guide, one of the ladies, the girls who did the guides he said they didn’t know what, there was a hole in the floor right by where he sat and they said, ‘What’s that for?’ And he said, ‘Oh that’s where you drop the flares out.’ If you wanted to, you know send up flares you didn’t. You dropped them out there. You lit them and you dropped them out that hole. And they didn’t know. And so he’s trying to explain things to this guide and all the other people on the trip are going, ‘Come on, we’re going,’ He goes, ‘No. No. No. He can stay as long as he wants. He’s one of us.’ You know. So she let him prattle on forever. But yeah that was his eightieth birthday so that would have been 19 — quick calculation 1993. No. 2003. Yeah. Eighty. Twenty. Yeah, 2003. Yeah. So it wasn’t that long ago.
JH: No.
ME: But they’ve just shifted from Whittlesford. 101 Squadron. It’s only just moved. Well, was moving then sort of thing. So I think that’s why he was taken. But, yeah the last three trips. The last operations he did was sort of, [pause] turning the page, the Manna droppings. And this is, when I was a kid he used to say, ‘Oh, we’d fly the plane and we flew it so low that you could look up to people on hay bricks.’ You know, haystacks. You were that low you were looking up at haystacks. And I thought, oh yeah. Right. Yeah. Blah. Blah. Blah, you know, ‘Yes dad, I believe you. Not.’ He said, ‘Yes. We had to do this low level flying.’ Right. And then later on when I was older he told me about these Manna droppings. And I said, ‘What were those?’ He said, ‘Well, basically Hitler was, well the Germans as well were starving. They were still occupied. Holland was still occupied and they were absolutely starving, and they couldn’t. No food or anything so we, we dropped food for them. For the Dutch to eat.’ The freedom Dutch fighters or whatever, the Dutch people to eat. And he would fly in, they would fly in low level to a designated place only a couple of foot off the ground by the sounds of things, and they open the bomb doors and chuck everything. And everything would drop out. So no crates. Loose foods in tins. Well, the eggs would have broken I guess. But I think it was tinned. Dried eggs.
JH: Dried. Yeah.
ME: And he said they banked as they flew in there was no one there they couldn’t see any bodies. As they banked and flew away all the food had gone and they still couldn’t see anybody. They just had to clear the field really quickly so they must have been hundreds of people waiting for this to drop and just dropped it. No crates. No nothing. Just dropped it out. and then they flew away. And they did three of those. And that’s, and years later my cousin, Harry’s daughter had married a guy called Phillip and dad died and when dad had died I was talking to him afterwards and I told him about this Manna thing. The Manna drops. And he said, ‘I wish I knew because he saved the lives of my family.’ And he and that too me should be what is lauded about what happened in the war. That’s the thing that people really should. That’s the just incredible act of bravery to fly in that low to save people’s lives. It’s completely the opposite of killing people. Saving people’s lives. It’s just an absolutely brilliant story. And to actually know somebody whose family had survived because of it. just incredible. Even though he bombed the Frisian Islands.
JH: Yes.
ME: [laughs] Which I’m sure they’ll forgive him for. I mean, I guess that’s where the, anyway after that he did his thirty services. Never lost a man as I said. They never had the same crew but he obviously had the same pilot. And I wonder where he is. I wonder if he’s still alive. It might be nice to meet him. Anyway, that’s and so then he went in to, went over to serve the rest of his time over in Egypt and flying bodies to the central, to the crematoriums and what have you. One of the funny stories. When I was at school I was learning German and I came back and said, ‘Oh. I’ve started to learn German,’ and dad went to me, ‘Oh, fish paste is best.’ And I goes, ‘What?’ He said, ‘That’s German for what time it is.’ I said, ‘No, it’s not. It’s wie spät ist es. Not fish paste is best.’ So these are the phrases they were supposed to learn in case they were shot down. I don’t think he would have got very far, do you? [laughs] And again when he came back from Egypt some Arab came over or something oh [unclear] ‘What?’ And these are the phrases they picked up while they were out there. So they were, yeah just ferrying bodies left, right and centre. Get them all back. You know, from the desert and everywhere. All the fighting. So they were getting them all back to the cemeteries in Libya and wherever. Egypt.
JH: And what were they flying? What planes were these?
ME: Oh, they were flying Dakotas.
JH: Oh right.
ME: Yeah. American planes. One time he was out there it snowed and he said it was the funniest sight he’d seen because all these Egyptians thought the end of the world had happened because it was snowing. It doesn’t snow [laughs] and they’d never seen snow before and they were all praying to Allah and running around in circles. It was just a bit of snow. It didn’t settle but it was snowing. So he just thought it was hilarious. Then he came out, left, and he came and he met mum. Well, that, that is a romantic story in itself.
JH: Oh, tell us.
ME: Yeah. It’s a romantic story. I mean mum’s still alive but she’s not well bless her. But she, he was, I’m a DJ right. I’m a mobile DJ. I’ve been a DJ since I was seventeen. He was the first mobile DJ. He would put his wind up gramophone in a wheelbarrow and his 78s and wheel it down to the local Youth Club and wind it up and play the records. And they were all jive records. You know the old. And the Royal Air Force Band and all sorts of things like that. So him and mum were great jivers. But that’s not the story. Mum went back to my gran one day and said to gran, ‘I’ve seen the man I’m going to marry.’ And gran said, ‘Well, what’s his name.’ So, ‘I don’t know his name. I’ve just seen him.’ And she’d seen him wheeling his wheelbarrow. And she cornered him and obviously ended up marrying him [laughs] Fought off all opposition and ended up married. So we guys haven’t have much chance at all. We’ve, I’ve decided that. And they were married sixty five years and they were in love. Oh just the stories I could tell about that is just —
JH: And when did, what year would they have married then?
ME: They married 1949.
JH: Ok. Right.
ME: And they built their own house. Dad was, as I said working in construction so he went to Night School and became a surveyor. Taught himself basically. Went to Night School. Paid for himself to go to Night School. Learned to be a surveyor. And where we lived, Belvedere was bombed out because I mean one of my ex-girlfriends her grandparents were bombed out seven times because we were south of the Thames. So the planes, the German bombers would come up the south of the Thames and just bomb everything because the arsenal was there. And they didn’t know where it was exactly but they knew it was south of the Thames so they just bomb along south of the Thames. So when I was a kid I used to play in these bomb holes and pretend they were bomb holes. And when you grow up you realise they were bomb holes [laughs] So you played war in actual bomb holes. But no, they got a bombed out site, boarded site. A house. Dad, dad designed the house. They dug the, mum dug the foundations and then he employed builders and they built the house. Family house. And so and my sister was born 1950. So they were married in ’49. So just checking [laughs] And it well just he was a surveyor and ended up working for several companies and ended up at housing construction in London where he was a quantity surveyor. So basically his job was to price. If you were building a housing estate which they were he would price up the housing estate and they’d invite tenders. And they’d all come in. He’d lock them in a drawer and then he’d go out and price the job up and come back and find which tender was closest to what he estimated the cost to be. Not the cheapest. The closest one to what he estimated it to be. But the corruption in the, there was so much corruption there he said because they had this little box that said percent discount which was always empty when he put the tenders in to the drawer and when he got them out it had already been filled in so that it was, percent discount was closest. But we won’t go into corruption in government because that’s just too much because he was as honest as the day is long. He would not. He hated it. The corruption was just too terrible for words. But —
JH: Was he working in that right through to retirement then?
ME: Yeah. Yeah. I mean he basically took early retirement. They shut County Hall down. He just took early retirement. So he retired at fifty six and moved down to Kent. In to this lovely village called Woodchurch. It’s got two pubs, one church, one cricket square and a windmill and it’s just archetypal, and you just go in, drive around and go out again. It’s not really. Jan Francis lives there. You know, Jan. “Just good friends.” Jan.
JH: Yeah.
ME: See, name dropping everywhere. Sheila Hancock. Jan Francis. Just loads of them. But a story he did tell about in the war, the Windmill Theatre. Very famous theatre in London which was open twenty four hours throughout the war seven days a week and it had naked women in there. And there were always naked women. They weren’t allowed to move. They just stood on the stage while the acts were going on and what have you. And he told me of what they called the Windmill Steeplechase. And I said, ‘What’s that then?’ And he said, ‘Well, basically the guys in the front they would stay there for ages and if they, once the act ended or whatever they would leave and the people in the seats behind them would jump over to the seat in front and the people behind them would jump over the seat in front. So everyone would move one forward. So the people at the back would slowly move down and then you go home. You’d probably spent all forty eight hours rest. All your R&R was spent in the Windmill Theatre jumping over seats. But the Windmill Steeplechase. Now, no one’s ever heard, no one’s ever told me about that since. Dad was the only person that told it to me. So that was quite amusing. The Windmill Steeplechase. But no, I mean he had, he had a great life. He just really was honest. He enjoyed his golf.
JH: Is that what he did in retirement really?
ME: Yeah. I mean he was.
JH: Golf and —
ME: Golf was basically his passion but mum joined him with golf as well. She couldn’t, if you can’t beat them join them and they just used to go on holiday and just play as many golf courses as they could. Just go somewhere in the UK and play as many golf courses as they could. But I mean the rows, the only rows they ever had, the only rows were well when one of them played more golf than the other in a week [laughs] It was like, ‘You’re playing more than me.’ ‘So.’ So they used to play three or four times a week. But no, I mean it was they were incredibly in love. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it. I mean I’ve never been married because I could never compete with how in love they were. Dad would come home from work and snog her face off before we could have our dinner. I was just like wow. She’s, yeah it’s just incredible.
JH: Well, thank you Martin for allowing me to record this interview today and, yeah I’m sure everyone will enjoy all the memories that you’ve been able to record about your dad. Thank you.



Judy Hodgson, “Interview with Martin Edwards,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 4, 2024,

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