Interview with Steven Ellams


Interview with Steven Ellams


Steve Ellams is the son of a wireless operator who flew in a number of different aircraft. During the war he flew initially in Sunderlands overseas before being posted back to the UK. He started operational flying in Bomber Command with 199 Special Duties Squadron.




Temporal Coverage




00:53:06 audio recording


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AM: Ok. So, it’s Friday the 25th of August 2017 and today I’m with Steven Ellams in Manston in West Yorkshire. And we’re here to talk about Steven’s dad who was George Ellams, Bomber Command, and lots beside. So, I’m going to just stick that on the floor somewhere. That’ll do. And what I’m going to ask you Steve I know that you said your dad was born on the 16th of May 1921. So, what do you know about his early life? Where he was born. What his parents did.
SE: I did a visit to Liverpool a couple of years ago to trace his background and the family. And he was from Toxteth in Liverpool. And I’ve got his original school reports. I know he was in the Boy’s Brigade and I know that he was, on his signing up papers registered as a shop fitter.
AM: He was a shop fitter.
SE: And when I looked at that a bit closer it turns out it wasn’t quite what I thought. And the title shop fitter was more that he dressed dummies and that. So, I learned that my father was a window dresser come whatever else. Anyway, so the family, the Ellams family. It’s pronounced Ellams but Ellams people pronounce it different ways. They come from the Liverpool area and the Wirral. I’ve traced the family background. The two brothers which he had were both in the RAF at some stage and we traced that the elder brother was given the freedom of the City of Chester for being able to trace the family name back to 1066 or thereabouts. So, it’s quite a well-known ancient name. So, he being the younger of the brothers joined the RAF in 1938.
AM: Can I just wheel back a little bit?
SE: Yeah.
AM: Do you know what his parents did? What his, what his father did?
SE: Yes. His father, his father was a publican. Ran some different group of pubs in the Liverpool and particularly in the Birkenhead area. I’ve done a little bit of background on that and he was in the Merchant Navy. So, he, we’ve never been able to find exactly that part of his background particularly well but the part of the mother’s side which was extremely traumatic and something that we learned quite early on was that she committed suicide when he was fourteen. So, my father — and he found her hanging in a wood. So, we knew there was some really traumatic episode there. Now there have been other family members that we’ve traced since and there has been one of the family members has done quite an in-depth search on the rest of the family and the Ellams Printing Company have been part of that group and there are quite well documented, you know pieces in newspapers and that in the Liverpool area. And I’ve actually got the write up on his father’s death which was about 1967 I believe. So, we’ve got one or two pieces there. But the, the earlier background there was always the suggestion that his mother was Irish and his father was English but we’ve never quite been able to trace that. So, I’ve never gone back further than those bits of information.
AM: I’m trying to piece the dates together. Did you ever meet him then? Your grandfather?
SE: No. No.
AM: You didn’t.
SE: No. I never met them. Well, I certainly, obviously never met the mother. My father interestingly enough did seem to be adopted by a lady who, where she fitted in to it again we’ve got photographs of this lady but I think it was simply that she sort of took the boys under her wing when the mother disappeared. There was something there. But certainly, as far as the publican side is concerned, we’ve only got one photograph of the father in this particular pub and I have since traced that pub and that pub still exists in Birkenhead. In Wallasey. That’s where they went. And the school report and the details of that are all from the Boy’s Central School, New Brighton, Wallasey, and —
AM: So, that’s where he went.
SE: Yeah. And there’s some good information in there as to what his sort of level of education was like and he was obviously showing a little bit of technical skill at that time, I think.
AM: How old was he when he left school?
SE: I think he was about seventeen, eighteen. Something like that.
AM: So probably would have done school certificate then.
SE: Yes, he did. I think he did.
AM: He did it.
SE: Yes. I think it’s in there. Yeah. And then obviously he seemed to go straight into the RAF. Now, I believe it was his brothers —
AM: Via the window dressing.
SE: Yeah. I think it was his brothers that encouraged him to do that and certainly I haven’t been able to trace much other than his middle brother was, was a sergeant in the RAF. And the elder brother, and the one that got the Freedom of the City of Chester he ended up as the senior representative, chairman, call it what you like of the Prudential Insurance in Liverpool. So, he had quite an interesting career and he does come up in one or two searches when you google the name. And his name was John. The same as his father. So, both the senior brother and the father were both called John Ellams whereas the middle one was called Walter.
AM: Right. And then, yeah you knew that he went as a — so as a seventeen year old he joined the RAF and he went to Cranwell.
SE: Yeah. This has always been a bit of an anomaly as well because most people would know that if you went to a technical part of the RAF you would go to what was Cosford, Halton, St Athan.
AM: Yeah. Absolutely.
SE: And various other places and I always used to think it was a bit odd that he ended up at what would be the equivalent to the RAF’s senior —
AM: And that —
SE: Officer training. So, having then found loads more documentation. This was fairly recently when my mother died that we found that there was some paperwork to say that there were a group of individuals who were signed up to that college. And how or why it came about I don’t know but the list he actually kept so that he could trace some of these characters and you went as an apprentice, a craft apprentice, a technical apprentice to —
AM: To Cranwell.
SE: Cranwell. And you then went on to whatever station. And Aldergrove in Northern Ireland seems to be the station where he went immediately after that as a wireless operator. Obviously, Cranwell doesn’t do, do apprenticeships now. And of course, when I got to talk to Peter about this I said that he was always very proud of his hat band which was a particular type of colouring or squares or whatever the colouring was. Because when he was the senior training officer at RAF Cosford he used to go on about how he went to Cranwell and they were always sort of like, ‘Well, wait a minute. How could you have gone Cranwell if you weren’t a pilot?’
AM: Yeah. Why would you be?
SE: So, there were all these sort of anomalies in there. But I’ve actually got the list now of the apprentices that went to Cranwell in those years and I think Peter’s copied that now.
AM: Right. Yeah.
SE: Or I hope he has because that document must be pretty rare.
AM: It will have all been copied.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Did he ever speak about then? So, he left school with school certificate. Window dressing seems a bit —
SE: I know.
AM: Left field.
SE: I got the shock of my life when I got the documents from Innsbruck in Gloucestershire saying what his original occupation was.
AM: And you just don’t know. It might have just been the temporary job.
SE: Absolutely.
AM: Earn a little money.
SE: Absolutely. Absolutely.
AM: And but did he ever speak about actually joining the RAF and —
SE: No.
AM: Where he would have gone to sign up?
SE: No. No.
AM: So, somewhere there’s a bit missing there where he would have, he would have signed up.
SE: Yeah.
AM: They would have looked at him.
SE: Yeah.
AM: To try and decide — ok.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Which bit of the RAF then.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And somehow they’ve picked him out as being technically minded.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Which is where you then go on to find out that he became —
SE: Yeah.
AM: You know — a wireless operator.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So, how did, from your, from the records that you got how long was it? You said he wasn’t at Cranwell very long and then —
SE: It seemed about a year that the sort of apprenticeship they did. It didn’t seem to be much more than that because the first major entry or tracing I could come up with was sort of ’40, ’41. So, there’s a bit of a gap between the beginning of the war and leaving Cranwell and going to Aldergrove. So, there’s this Aldergrove connection in Northern Ireland that I can’t quite piece together and then it seems to be that around that time he was obviously showing some aptitude and it was the case then that he went for flying training. Now, I do remember him talking about that and that his claim was that he could take off but he couldn’t land, and that he basically got turned down for —
AM: Right.
SE: Flying training. And this was when he was re-mustered then as a W/op AG.
AM: Right.
SE: And that’s when that logbook starts.
AM: And that happened to quite a few of them.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Where they showed the aptitude but for whatever reason they dipped out of the pilot training.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And then as you say were re-mustered.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Because looking at the logbook.
SE: Yeah. It starts —
AM: At you say it’s got —
SE: With Defiants.
AM: This one starts with the Defiants.
SE: Yeah.
AM: In ’42.
SE: Absolutely.
AM: So, you’ve still got a gap there.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Where he would have had to have done some training to fly as a pilot.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Before he got to the stage —
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: Where they decided he weren’t going to be one.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: And then he would have had to do his, his wireless op training.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So, that was the beginning of the war. So he would have trained as an air gunner as well.
SE: Yeah. And that’s where it really starts for me.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Because he, he very early on I remember I was really into Airfix model making. And I bought a model of a Defiant. And that little brass one there is a Defiant. And he used to look at that and say, ‘See this thumb and you see those scars?’ He said, ‘That’s as a result of getting my thumb caught in the trigger on a Browning machine gun that’s on those turrets.’
AM: On the Defiant.
SE: And that’s when it starts there with the log.
AM: Yeah.
SE: And I’ve traced one or two of those aircraft. I think there’s one of them still, I’m not even convinced it’s not the one that’s at the RAF Museum. But I have done a bit of work on Defiants.
AM: Right. So, what’s, looking at the logbook which starts in January ’42. So, he was at Number 2 air gunner’s, Air Gunnery School.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And as you say was on Defiants.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And, and the remarks within the logbook are about the number of rounds hit.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Fired. And how long it took and what have you. All in Defiants.
SE: Yeah. I think the, as I understand it was the turret. In other words, depending on what aircraft you were likely to be posted onto you would learn and train on a similar type of turret. And I’ve been to the museum here in York where they’ve got a Bomber Command turret exhibition and they are quite specific these turrets. And they’ve all got different names and that and I do understand that’s where that came from. So, the high likelihood is you would then be posted on to an operational squadron which would have those type of turrets.
AM: That’s right. And yet —
SE: Or that’s as I thought it was. Whether that’s true I don’t know. But to go from there to Sunderlands.
AM: Well, yeah.
SE: I thought was a bit strange. And the other first aircraft you’ll see crop up there is a thing called a Lerwick and a Lerwick was a two-engine Flying Boat that had a very poor track record.
AM: That’s it so, so —
SE: So, he went to that first which was presumably the Conversion Unit, and then finally on to Sunderlands.
AM: Even just on the first page where he’s at the Air Gunnery School he’s in the Defiants. Quite a number of the pilots that he was flying with were Polish.
SE: Yes.
AM: By the looks of the names.
SE: Yes. Yes.
AM: And when he starts off you’re looking at the number of hits — one percent, six percent, seven percent.
SE: Yes [laughs] it’s not very good is it?
AM: And then the very, well then he had a go with no drogue.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So they’re not following it around anymore.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And then all of a sudden he gets thirty four percent in two hundred rounds.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And then it stops and then he moves to number 4 CO Training Unit.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And that’s when as you say he ends up on the Lerwick but then latterly on the Sunderlands. So —
SE: Well, one of, one of the interesting things about, which I do remember he did talk about that because as a kid you’d get into air guns and pistols and whatever. And again because he was senior training officer at RAF Cosford we had access to all the facilities so he’d say to me, ‘Do you want to come down to the range and we’ll get that rifle of yours sorted out?’ And I do remember him saying that, ‘You may have seen in my logbook about the target shooting and the percentage hits and that.’ And I said to him, ‘How did you ever know they were your bullets that were hitting it?’ He said, ‘You painted them.’
AM: Yeah.
SE: He said, ‘You had all different coloured bullets so that whoever was hitting it you could identify then.’ So, I said, ‘Oh,’ you know. And I then asked, you know about the, the success rate, and he said, ‘Oh, I was never that good,’ he said, ‘But,’ he said, ‘You got passed out on anything that was reasonable.’
AM: And actually depending what plane they were on you talk to lots of gunners and they never actually fired a gun in anger.
SE: Probably not.
AM: They never needed to.
SE: Yeah.
AM: They knew how to take it apart.
SE: Yeah
AM: Anyway.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So, back to your, your dad. And in, in March — so February to March through to April he was on the Sunderlands. Did he ever talk about why? Why did he end up on Sunderlands?
SE: No idea. That one’s always been a bit of a mystery. I think the fact is that he was showing an aptitude for the radio side and the radar side and the Sunderland was a very good platform to put lots of equipment on. And it’s obvious through the log that he was learning a lot of stuff.
AM: Yes.
SE: And finally became the squadrons signals officer and was again on various courses and bits of upgrade. Came back to the UK for, again upgrades on different radios and wirelesses. So, I think there was an element there that they were starting to see again that he was moving more —
AM: Yeah.
SE: To the technical side than he was either the flying or the ground side.
AM: Because in, in that whole period most of it is exercises with valves.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Two way, all the way, so we’re talking about radio stuff.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And there’s only one air to air gunnery. A hundred and fifty rounds fired. Nil stoppages. Everything else is about —
SE: Yeah.
AM: Wireless. The wireless side of it.
SE: There’s one entry there which I I will tell you about because I think it’s the most fascinating thing is an entry coming back to the UK from West Africa and it says specifically that they were attacked somewhere over the Bay of Biscay.
AM: Is that later on you’re talking?
SE: Yeah. They were attacked by an ME110. Now, the captain of that aircraft, it gives his name there. And I thought what’s the chances of this chap being alive still? And I then went to the Sunderland Flying Boat Association which is run by a chap who’s written many books on the subject and I contacted him and said, ‘Look, I’ve got this, what’s the chances —’ He gave me the current list of live pilots from that time. This is going back about ten years now. I rang the number. The guy was still alive. He was ninety two. And I said, ‘I’m Steve Ellams. I’m the son of what would have been Pilot Officer Ellams in those days,’ And he basically said, ‘I remember that trip,’ he said, ‘We got absolutely shot to bits. Nothing was below the water line. We landed at Calshot which is on the south coast,’ and he said, ‘Everybody got off, looked at each other and said that was a close one.’
AM: Yeah.
SE: And as I said it’s in the log there that he read. He remembered it. The pilot. Again, my father not being alive to verify any of this so I can only go by what he said.
AM: Absolutely.
SE: On that particular occasion.
AM: Because then I’m still looking at the logbook. April ‘42. Now, he’s posted.
SE: Yeah.
AM: But not on Sunderlands.
SE: Yeah. He did about eighteen months I think it was.
AM: Yeah. And I’m looking at the different pilots he flew with.
SE: The most significant is the early bit where you see he is on L5805 for about a month.
AM: He is. Yeah.
SE: And L8, I’ve checked this. I’ve got the records. L5805 disappeared in the middle of an operation in nineteen, was it ’41 or ’42?
AM: ’42.
SE: ’42. And the pilot is a, is a chap called Pybus.
AM: Pybus, yeah.
SE: And he was a New Zealander. Now, he has a memorial to his name in Auckland in New Zealand.
AM: Right.
SE: He and the whole of that crew disappeared. But you’ll note my father wasn’t on the crew that day it disappeared. Now, I believe this is where he has, or had this thing about Sunderland Flying Boats because if you look at the dates you’ll see the aircraft and the crew don’t appear for a month. Now, you’re in West Africa. Where are you? What are you doing?
AM: Yeah.
SE: Now, we know he suffered malaria all his life and we think, I’m not certain, I haven’t got his RAF medical records but I’m pretty convinced he got malaria. He didn’t go on that trip. The crew disappeared.
AM: And he was in hospital.
SE: He was still there. And I think he’s had a little bit of a sort of thing about that ever since.
AM: Right. Because as you say he was, he was in the Mediterranean by then. He joined 95 Squadron. He was posted to 95 Squadron, 14th of April ’42.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And then in terms of thinking about where he went —
SE: Yeah.
AM: The significant one is that after three days of engine tests they went from Calshot to Mountbatten to Gibraltar to the Mediterranean.
SE: Yeah.
AM: To Freetown.
SE: Which is —
AM: So they were —
SE: British West Africa.
AM: Yeah. Absolutely.
SE: They operated there for most of that. Yeah.
AM: All over that area.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Escorting the Queen Mary.
SE: Yeah, they had, they had quite a chequered background but according to most of the material I’ve read on 95 they were, they were just doing fourteen hour sorties into the middle of the Atlantic. It was an extremely boring time.
AM: Yeah. Because some of the, apart from the transit ones that were getting them —
SE: Yeah.
AM: From somewhere to the somewhere else.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: They are quite short. Relatively anyway. Short flights.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And so from May ’42 he was the second wireless operator.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And then from mid-May became the first.
SE: Yeah.
SE: Yeah. And the main, the main aircraft that seems to have survived right through with his time was EJ 144. Now, that aircraft was finally written off some time in ’44 after he’d left the squadron. But I’ve got pretty good records from 95 via John Evans, as I say. He’s the guy who’s done all the books on the Sunderland and he’s got a very good record of this lot. And it just seems to be that apart from a couple of crashes that they had and they’re mentioned in there where they’ve had one or two issues and I’ve got those photographs and those photographs have been published in, in John Evan’s book. And, I think in one or two other aviation books as well. So, again he never mentioned Sunderlands. He never mentioned crashes. He never mentioned this business in the middle of the Bay of Biscay with the ME 110.
AM: Yeah.
SE: And you sort of think but having visited the RAF Museum and clambered aboard the Sunderland they’ve got there and realised that this thing that you can see above your head as well was a pretty big aircraft and that you can sleep on it. You could —
AM: Oh yeah.
SE: You had quite a nice little setup on there. You’d have bacon butties.
AM: It’s a lot bigger than being inside a Lancaster?
SE: Absolutely. It’s a huge thing. And I think that they had a reasonable time. But one thing I do remember is that [pause] oh, it’s my chair. I wondered where that squeak was coming from. One thing I do I remember — when we were in Singapore we found an abandoned canoe on a beach. And he said to me, ‘We’ll have that, do it up, and we’ll call it Archimedes the Second.’ And I thought, so where’s that coming from? Not realising ‘til many, many years later that Archimedes the Second was EJ 144.
AM: Right.
SE: So, he called it after the particular Sunderland Flying Boat. And we got a close up of the hatch on EJ 144 on a, we got a photograph up on it and we pulled it in and sure enough you can see it. And according to John Evans it’s one of the very few Sunderlands that actually had a name.
AM: Right.
SE: So, somebody named it Archimedes the Second.
AM: I’m looking at carrying on at the other stuff that he was doing. And then August, September and October was spent on the ground as a squadron, as the squadron, you mentioned, squadron signals officer.
SE: Yeah. Yeah. So again going technical more and more.
AM: Yeah. You can see where it’s heading, can’t you?
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: And then back to his Sunderlands.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Through December. I should know this but I don’t. Where’s Mountbatten.
SE: Mountbatten. It’s just —
AM: Gibraltar to Mountbatten.
SE: It’s just off the south coast. It’s at Calshot. It’s the, it was the RAF Sunderland Flying Boats.
AM: Right.
SE: Yeah.
AM: EJ. There we are EJ 144. So, all the way through 1943 we’re back in around Gibraltar. Back to Bathurst doing lots of escort duties.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: And he describes himself as gunner signals at that point.
SE: Yeah. Yeah. And occasionally he’d be navigator as well I think.
AM: Yeah.
SE: On one or two trips. So they obviously had a grounding in most of the sort of basics and flying was obviously something that he was never going to pursue after that early knock back I suppose you’d call it.
AM: Do you know you look at it and — so into March ’43 and on Sunderland EJ 144 now with the same pilot throughout now.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So, we’re now with flying officer [Calcut?]
SE: Yeah.
AM: Having had a number of different —
SE: Yeah.
AM: Pilots until then.
SE: And he went on to become the commanding officer. And I, believe it or not met the guy when we were based at RAF Brampton. So we’re talking 1968, 1969. This chap came into the officer’s mess. My father looked at him and said, ‘My God, I haven’t seen you since — ’ whenever. And he introduced him. And I thought wow there’s a Sunderland connection for the first time. And again —
AM: So, how old would you have been then?
SE: I was about seventeen. Sixteen. Seventeen.
AM: Yeah. Ok.
SE: Maybe I was a bit older. Eighteen. No. I was just about going off to university.
AM: Right.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Because I mean you look, you just look at some of the entries and think I just wish I could ask him about this one.
SE: Yeah.
AM: The ten hours fifty plus during the day. Plus two hours ten at night, anti-blockade runner patrol.
SE: You realise that, you know we do a trip from here to Hong Kong. It might be what ten, twelve hours and we think that’s heavy going. But you’ve got your drinks and you’ve got your meals whereas these guys are fourteen hours in the air.
AM: Absolutely.
SE: Out in the middle of nowhere and nowhere to go.
AM: Yeah. Yeah. There’s some. There’s a couple of fourteen hours. Twelve hours.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: See the last one on that page.
SE: Well, you think you’d go do-lally just looking at the sea all the time.
AM: Yeah. Yeah.
SE: I mean, the Atlantic is the Atlantic however you play it out. And you’d think gosh if you were out over there for those numbers of hours it would be quite exciting to see a submarine or something surface.
AM: And just looking at that date. That’s March. So he was out virtually every day. Virtually every day.
SE: This is why I’ve always queried that gap in the log when that crew disappeared because you couldn’t possibly be on holiday or just sitting on the ground. So, I’m convinced that that’s when the malaria got him.
AM: And the submarine attacked one.
SE: Yes. There was one or two occasions they did actually get to do something.
AM: Yeah. Anti-submarine patrol again. Oh, see, you look at that one. So, we’re in April 1943 now. On the Sunderland that he was on for ages and ages with Flying Officer [Calcot?]
SE: Yeah.
AM: “Searching for survivors we sighted lifeboat.”
SE: Yeah.
AM: But we don’t know whether they actually found any.
SE: We know there’s lots of stories about Sunderland crews landing to pick up people. We’ve got some fantastic stuff in John Evan’s material about even a Sunderland being towed by a ship back to base. There’s some fantastic stories with Sunderlands. I mean, they were such a versatile plane. And to be able to put one down in the Atlantic and get off again must have been almost impossible with, you know the rise and fall of the waves alone.
AM: We’ve got April ’43. The port outer seized and the prop stopped.
SE: Yeah. Yeah. There’s the, I’ve got the photographs of some of the crash landings and there’s one with a wing tip gone and another one with a chunk out the tail. And John again has put together the photographs I’ve sent him with the squadron records and said this is what happened. And so I’ve been able to piece it together from that.
AM: Yeah. Because that one where the — so when the port outer engine seized and the prop stopped and then the very next day engine change.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Full engine change. Straight out again.
SE: Yeah. Absolutely.
AM: Even though there was a small oil leak.
SE: Yeah. And learning again more about Sunderlands you know that they could actually get these gantries over the wings and lift the engines off. And of course the worry, as I then learned is that if an engine seizes and the prop keeps spinning or whatever it just literally just shakes the engine apart and can do more damage if you don’t get it sorted.
AM: Well, yeah. 26th of May, convoy escort OC 5. Didn’t meet them but crashed on landing.
SE: Yeah.
AM: The port float was written off at Port Etienne.
SE: Yes. I suppose quite symbolic and I think that’s the one I’ve got the photographs of. One of those, you know, things hanging under the wings there.
AM: Yeah. I’m looking up at the model you’ve got.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: And these are the floats.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Under the wings.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: So —
SE: They’re quite big. I mean, you know. They’re quite sizeable objects. They’re made in presumably lightweight metal but I’ve seen one or two in various museums.
AM: Right. I’m just flicking through the Sunderland ones now because I’m interested to see what he then moves onto. So, there’s lots of the same. I’m sure it wasn’t the same at the time but [pause] because then we get as far as August ’43 and he was posted. So, he wouldn’t have been doing operations counted in the way that they counted them in Bomber Command at the time.
SE: Correct. Correct.
AM: However, it’s clear that they were out virtually every single day.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Doing quite long flights.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So, I don’t know, maybe you do. Was there a point at which they said, right you’ve done x number of hours now, that’s it? You’re off. So, so in Bomber Command it would have been, ‘That’s it. You’ve done a full tour.
SE: Yeah, looking at the way the personnel seemed to change it seemed to be based on exposure and experience. So that I’ve always taken it as read that it would be the numbers of hours that, not maybe in the air but using the equipment.
AM: Right.
SE: So, his expertise would have been building up now on radar and various forms of electronic communication and that would be the reason he was posted on. To then go on to do more training which appears to be the case before he goes back to flying again.
AM: Well, yeah. I mean following, not the usual pattern but a pattern that quite a few followed then they would have finished their tour of operations or however you described it and would become an instructor. They’d end up at an Operational Training Unit.
SE: Correct.
AM: Training.
SE: And that seems to be the case because he goes to OCU.
AM: And that’s what he’s got.
SE: With Sunderlands.
AM: Yeah. It’s number 4 COTU.
SE: Yeah.
AM: At Alness.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Where was Alness?
SE: Somewhere up in Scotland.
AM: Is it?
SE: I think it’s up Oban way. Somewhere up there.
AM: So, we’re August, September now. And straight away he’s instructing. And describing the exercises he does and who with but then another one where pupils not found but I’m fit to go solo. I’m adding a few extra bits there.
SE: Yeah.
AM: He doesn’t say I am he just says fit to go solo.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So then in to December ’43 still an instructor on Sunderlands.
SE: Yeah. So, for somebody who had so much time on Sunderlands its, it’s remarkable —
AM: Yeah.
SE: That he just never spoke about them.
AM: Yeah.
SE: I mean his nautical side he did speak about because they used to, you had a captain of a Sunderland not, not a pilot. And he used to talk about mooring up and you know there was a definite sort of leaning towards that side. Whenever we used to go out on a boat or whatever he would say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that.’ So, I think he took to that side of it. But the actual Sunderland. The aircraft. The stories. All the stuff that’s in that book. Nowhere did he ever talk about it.
AM: Just, no.
SE: No. Even when I made the model he just sort of went, oh.
AM: Alright then. And now here we’re coming to January and February ‘44 and this is the first time radar’s actually mentioned by name.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: But, but he also does an air to sea rescue duty but no trace of survivors. So, there were —
SE: Well, I think what, what, again from John Evans, John Evans’ material that it appears that when you were on an OCU of some sort you were still, if you were in the air and something took place you would be sort of commandeered.
AM: Still operational.
SE: And you’d be expected to go.
AM: Yeah.
SE: And help out as it were.
AM: And by April ’44 qualified to operate and instruct pupils in Mark 3 radar equipment.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: And just before that he’s done his radar instructor crew courses [pause] Which then takes us onto [pause] from Scotland.
SE: Out to the Caribbean.
AM: Out to the Caribbean.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Nassau.
SE: To be re-mustered again.
AM: Yeah.
SE: To join up with the crew. Now, I’ve got the photograph which Peter will have of the crew that they joined up with. And according to the archivist at 223 he was able to name all those characters but in one or two of the publications they’ve got the notations wrong or they haven’t got the right caption. Because, I’ve queried how come my father’s not listed on some of the photographs but he’s on them and vice versa. So, we’ve got a little bit of an anomaly with the record keeping as to which crew he was with. That’s pretty clear in the, in the documentation. But on the photographs, and apparently this is a common thing that they get a photograph from somebody. They haven’t quite got the caption right or the names are wrong or something like that.
AM: Yeah.
SE: So, he ended up on coming back from being re-mustered or crewed or whatever they did out in the Bahamas. The photograph’s there, and then came back to 223 at Oulton.
AM: Yeah. So, he goes to Nassau. To Number 111 Operational Training Unit. So, we’re coming back to going on operations again.
SE: Yeah.
AM: One, oh the transit is on a Dakota. Yeah. So, that makes sense. Off we go in a Dakota. And then he’s on Liberators.
SE: Yeah. Now, again why Liberators? I don’t know. I could see the connection between Sunderlands and Stirlings because they’re made by the same people — Shorts. So, I would have thought that you would again keep people on similar. It’s a bit like saying you’ve always been with British Leyland.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Or you’ve always been with Ford. That’s how I understand it. And so it means that you would be familiar with a lot of the equipment and the things that are on those planes. But Liberators? American. Don’t know where that would fit in to be honest.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Just presumably where they did their training and its obvious from again the way its reading that there was —
AM: Well, and if you think about when it is. I have absolutely no idea if this is relevant or not but we’re after D-Day now.
SE: Yes. I wondered. And that’s, again he never ever mentioned about, again the period of the war where I always thought well he must have been involved in D-Day. As you would anybody that was in the forces but you see there that he was well clear of that.
AM: Yeah. There’s because the gap is —
SE: Yeah.
AM: That he did his final instructor crew the 1st of May ’44.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And then the next entry is the 15th of June 44. So that period —
SE: Yeah.
AM: Of getting ready for D-Day and —
SE: Yeah.
AM: D-Day.
SE: Well out of it.
AM: And then all of a sudden he’s on American bombers.
SE: Yeah. Yeah. It is interesting. And again, it could be and I would like very much to get hold of his medical records from the RAF.
AM: Yeah. Could have had the malaria again.
SE: Yeah. I think again there’s been, something happened in and around that time that’s knocked him out because there are these gaps where you’ve thought well what were you doing for that period?
AM: And at such an intense period.
SE: Yes. Exactly.
AM: When they’re not going to send them all home doing nothing are they?
SE: No. Not at all. Not at all. No.
AM: Yeah.
SE: No. And then from RAF Oulton where he didn’t seem to be there long before again he’s recruited to go to another training establishment or course or whatever. And then from there he’s bounced on to North Creake. Now, being as both those squadrons are Special Operations Squadrons with 100 Group you can see that there would be a progression then to where ever you can do the job. Train at the same time. Use the expertise. Now, again I never understood what RCM meant in the logbook until somebody pointed out it was Radio Counter Measures and Radio Counter Measures being anything to do with throwing metal bits out of the aircraft to doing signal —
AM: They dropped the —
SE: Signal, yes. Or as I now understood that a lot of it was putting —
AM: Windows.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Sorry.
SE: Was it Windows? And putting out a lot of duff gen. So, in other words they were sending signals out within the main bomber formations to say we are actually something else. And it wasn’t for some considerable time did I put all that together and realise that these Stirlings were a pretty clapped out aircraft in amongst the main formations.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Doing all of this.
AM: Yeah.
SE: And they were doing it in patterns. And I’ve now managed to acquire three publications on the subject and it’s fascinating because we’ve now been able to trace the main pilot. We can see he was the guy who he was with most of that time and they did these like figure of eight patterns in the sky.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Or did a box or whatever out into the North Sea over the particular target areas. Sometimes they weren’t involved in actually bombing. They were just up there, you know messing about if that’s the right term. Whereas where you’ve got an entry that’s in red with a target then they were bombing, so —
AM: Yes.
SE: We know then that some of them were involved in actually dropping munitions and others weren’t. And again he never mentioned it. He never used to say oh we dropped all these bombs on so and so but through those publications I’ve learned a tremendous amount of what they were up to.
AM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Because he was posted. So, he was posted to 223 Squadron.
SE: Yeah.
AM: On the Liberators. And as you say by October some of it is in red now so we’re on operations. Just, “Patrol as briefed” operations.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So we don’t know what the patrol was.
SE: No.
AM: And then [pause] and we’ve got a gap again. October ’44.
SE: That’s when I think he was another signals course.
AM: Right.
SE: Going to —
AM: Oh yes. Yeah.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Yeah. Quite right.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So, posted for a signal leader course.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Which takes us to January ’45.
SE: Yeah.
AM: 199 Squadron, North Creake.
SE: Yeah.
AM: As you say, Stirlings.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And now we’re out over Germany.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So —
SE: Yeah.
AM: We’re out, we are within Bomber Command as support. Stuttgart. Metz. Eindhoven. Liege.
SE: Yeah. One of, one of the things that we learned as well from the archive of 199 is that according to that logbook they flew the last operational sortie.
AM: Right.
SE: And the aircraft was N-Nan. And we’ve got the photograph in the album which Peter’s got where it’s, the caption says, “Last op,” and “A dusk take off.” And I always thought that was significant. And that tallies with the operational records from that squadron to say that they were on the very last operation actively, with Stirlings at 199.
AM: Yeah. It’s just all described as bomber support. You desperately want to grab him and say, ‘Yeah. But what did you do? What did you do?
SE: I mean I don’t know whether his Morse code was sending out or whether they were doing it verbally or what they were doing. But I would assume that the, the duff gen as I call it or the disinformation would be giving wrong positions, or saying that the formations heading to — where ever.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Or I just don’t know what they were doing other than —
AM: Because for everyone else it would be radio silence.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So —
SE: Yeah. And radio counter measures. It makes you think oh they’re bouncing signals back or they’re, you know, defending something somehow. But I really just really don’t know what all that was about and I know, as I said earlier that he was fluent in Morse code. I mean he could tap out anything.
AM: And with Flight Lieutenant Lind. Did you ever —
SE: Ray Lind. We’ve got photographs of Ray Lind. He got a DFC and bar. He was quite an accomplished pilot and he went on to stay in the Air Force for a while. And there is some correspondence between him and Ray Lind so they were obviously quite good pals. But whether he’s still alive today I don’t know. He may well be because he was about a similar age. And let’s be honest if he’d have, if he’d have lived he would have been now the same age as Bill Barford. So that would take him to ninety [pause] wait a minute, ‘21 ‘til now.
AM: What would your dad be? Ninety — your dad be ninety six if he was still alive.
SE: Yeah. Yeah. Bill was, yes. Bill was ninety five, ninety six. Yeah.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: So, bomber support. And that finishes then in March ’45.
SE: Yeah. Yeah. And the war ended not long after that.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And then he ends up just after the war.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Signals officer.
SE: Yeah. And then the, the real sort of career takes off where he is now re-categorized for major aircraft. That’s anything with four engines from what I could see where he became a VIP crew man. So, in other words, according to all of that — and there’s some very interesting names in that logbook. There’s people like Sir Pirie. Oh, wait a minute. What’s his name? What would have been equivalent terms today of the Minister of defence or various other VIPs and you’ll see later on in the logbook that they were flying all over world. They were flying important people. And he, having this particular category as a wireless operator, air gunner, signaller, whatever. And I’ve got, which I only really looked at today for some reason. I’ve never really paid any attention to it before but there was a little diary thing here which was in amongst a lot of his other affairs. And this is called, Aircrew Categorisation Card. Wireless operator air. Now this dates from — the very first entry is the 7th of March 1946. And it’s saying, qualified VIP on all types of service aircraft and equipment. And it basically goes on that each time there was some other aircraft or whatever then you can see that it goes on where you’ve basically got a record of you are one of the number one people now for taking VIPs around. And you’ve got, and if you look at the very back of the book there’s a, there’s a little sheet in the back cover that says — it’s almost like saying if you stop me I’m the person that you should be paying attention to because I’m the person who knows what I’m talking about. I’ve never seen that before.
AM: Pretty much. Yeah.
SE: I’ve never read it before. And I suddenly saw it today and I thought, oh wow, look at that, you know.
AM: Is — did I just see or am I [pause]
SE: And the range of aircraft that he ended up in.
AM: That’s exactly what I’m looking at now.
SE: Oh, it’s huge. It’s huge.
AM: That’s exactly what I’m looking at now.
SE: If you look at the back pages of the logbook you’ll see. It’s got — what aircraft type have I flown? That I’ve flown on. And I think it’s the last but one page in the back there. Go back. Go back further. Yeah. There.
AM: Yeah.
SE: And it’s got and then I think it goes to the actual aircraft there.
AM: Yes.
SE: And you start thinking wow that was a fair number of aircraft that you flew on there.
AM: And he did get to fly a Lancaster.
SE: On one. Yeah.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Even though he never mentioned it. And when we were younger I’ve got photographs of me on the strip at Changi where a Lancaster landed that’s the very one that’s Just Jane. I’ve got a real association with Just Jane up at East Kirkby.
AM: Yeah.
SE: And I clambered aboard with him in 1965 when it came through on its way back to the UK. I climbed aboard again in the mid-70s when it was the gate guard at Scampton. And I had no idea until my wife bought me a present for, I think a fortieth, fiftieth birthday something like that to do a night flight over on Just Jane. And I was over there and I kept thinking there’s a bit of déjà vu going on here and sure enough it turns out to be the same aeroplane which I had no idea.
AM: Just shows you.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Have you actually counted up how many —
SE: No.
AM: Bomber command operations he did?
SE: No. No. Never did. I know there’s a, there’s one commendation thing in here which I’ll just show you which I thought was quite an interesting one which again is getting very friable now. This one. That one.
AM: Right.
SE: Now, that one as I say is quite a rare one. I’ve not seen one of those before and its getting quite thin on the, you know the print. But I think Peter picked up on that one.
AM: Yeah. I’m just trying to see a date on it but this was 199 Squadron.
SE: It doesn’t. I know. I couldn’t find a date on it either. I thought that’s a bit silly that.
AM: But this is for meritorious service and good airmanship.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And it’s, a full operational tour has been completed without having been involved in any accidents or ever having an unnecessary cancellation or abandonment of an operational sortie.
SE: Yeah.
AM: I’ve never seen one of those before.
SE: No. I’ve not seen that before. And that’s 199. So, again that that’s must have been the last trip or the last trips that he did.
AM: I wonder who that was signed by because it’s been approved by somebody for —
SE: Yeah.
AM: The Air Vice Marshall, Air Officer Commanding, HQ, 100 Group.
SE: Yeah.
AM: But I can’t read the actual signature.
SE: No. No. No.
AM: So, that takes us to the end of the war. So, obviously I’ve got this great big thick logbook here that goes on many years after the war.
SE: It explodes after that.
AM: So, tell me a bit about — I’ve forgotten when you said. You were born in ’52.
SE: Yeah. I was born at Ramsgate.
AM: So, but what do you remember before we come onto you. What — so what do you remember if anything about — they would have got to the end of the war.
SE: Yeah.
AM: So, there’s two pathways for people to go then. They could either stay until they’re demobbed.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Or they can stay on. And obviously your dad stayed on.
SE: Yeah.
AM: Did he ever talk about why or —
SE: No. I remember he, he, obviously there was the connection with my mother and he was based somewhere around Manston.
AM: Right.
SE: Which is on the Kent coast. Where he met my mother. And obviously she was from Ramsgate so the connection there must have probably thought well I’ll stay in that area. And he got posted to, or he was the commanding officer of a secret radar station on the south coast called Foreness.
AM: Right.
SE: Again, you can see the connection with the expertise —
AM: Yeah.
SE: In radio or radar. So, that’s about 1950/51. Now, by then my sister was born and she was born in Singapore because he spent considerable years number of the years after the war in Singapore doing all this VIP flying. So, from the time that the war ended and him doing the VIP stuff they were in Singapore for three years. And there’s a lot of —
AM: Sorry. When did your mum and dad marry?
SE: They were, they were married in 1949.
AM: Right. Ok.
SE: So, between ’49 and ’51 they were in Singapore. My sister was born there and my mother was — no it may be even earlier than that because my mother said on many occasions that when she went to Singapore she was one of the very first wives to go back to Singapore after the Japanese occupation. And they still had Japanese prisoners of war as servants, and doing jobs. And my sister was born in Changi Hospital and she was the very first English, or white person to be born in the hospital after it was re-opened. Because if you know anything about Changi and you know anything about that hospital and the things that happened at that hospital —
AM: I do. I do.
SE: We’ve got quite a good history of that and I’ve got several books on the, on the history of Changi. Now, so, so they came back from Singapore ’50, ‘51ish or whenever it was. And then he went to Foreness and Manston. He was, he was sort of seconded from Manston to Foreness. I think Manston at that time was an American Air Force base so there was a connection there. And then at Foreness he had this challenge. My mother tells me about this challenge where he said to get the respect of his underlings he would have to climb the tower. Now, it was only last year that I had a connection with Foreness, from their archive people to say that this was true and that the tower existed and they sent me a photograph of the tower. And apparently he climbed this tower singlehandedly. Well, you had to to maintain it. So, he said, ‘Well, if you’ve got to maintain it I’ll get up and have a look at it.’ And I was sat on the beach as a six month old baby with my mother with this all going on. And I’m like — oh sorry love.
Other: I have to go.
SE: We’ve got to go have we?
Other: Yeah.
SE: Ok.
[recording paused]
AM: Right. Ok.
SE: What we can do. You can obviously keep that there and I can now do you a follow up to that. I’ve got one of those. And I can do the bit that’s missing if, assuming you want the up to date stuff. I wasn’t sure whether you really wanted to go that far.
AM: Yes. Ok. So, what we’re going to do we’re going to pause the interview now.
SE: Yeah.
AM: And probably recommence at some later point when hopefully you’ll be able to tell us about your childhood.
SE: Yeah. By all means. I mean —
AM: About your dad and the RAF.
SE: Yeah. I mean —
AM: And your dad in the RAF.
SE: Yeah.
AM: But also what he talked about to you and what sort of impression that made on you as a child.
SE: Yeah. I mean the sort of thing that I like to remember is the, the coming home in the evening in uniform. He’d come home and he’d say, ‘Do you fancy going down to the bottom of the runway? Because there’s a whole load of Mosquitoes down there that are being broken up. And you can go down there with a hacksaw and a chopper and go and get some wood and you can make yourself a model out of it.’
AM: Absolutely.
SE: So, I know as a kid I was vandalising aircraft.
AM: The wooden wonder. Chopping it to bits.
SE: Yeah. No. We could certainly do that.
AM: Did he ever talk about, you know the, the thing about bombing. Well, mind you he didn’t bomb then as such. He wasn’t, he was an operator. He was —
SE: No. No. No. He never mentioned it.
AM: He was on support wasn’t he?
SE: Never mentioned it. Never mentioned it. I mean it was only, it was only just recently when I, when my mother died that this parachute bag appeared. I mean this bag as I say it’s got his, it’s got his name on it as a, as a pilot officer and it just was up in the attic for, I don’t know how long, you can see the W.
AM: Yeah.
SE: Oh. Air Ministry on there. And, as I say, and PO. Now, that must go back to Sunderland days, and this is his parachute.
AM: Pilot officer at that point so —
SE: Yeah. So, this is his official parachute bag. So, you know they must have got on board each time with these parachutes and thought one day I might have to jump out. But anyway —
AM: Yeah.
SE: But, yes if, if that’s the case Jackie we’d better get a shift on.
AM: So, we’ll leave it there.
SE: Yeah.
AM: But I’m sure there will be a second instalment to come.
SE: Yeah. I’ll just show you this little thing. They paid me through you —



Annie Moody, “Interview with Steven Ellams,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 19, 2024,

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