Interview with Freda Fairweather


Interview with Freda Fairweather


During the war, Freda Fairweather was called up to work for Avro’s and worked on Lancasters at RAF Waddington and RAF Swinderby. She describes cleaning the perspex windows and using her own box spanners to remove aircraft wings. She recollects flying on a Manchester and Lancaster, witnessing multiple crashes and an aircraft nearly taking off with her on the wing. She also recalls socialising with her friends and reflects on her war work with much pride.




Temporal Coverage





00:31:35 audio recording


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HD: This is Helen Durham interviewing Mrs Freda Fairweather on Monday the 30th January, 2017. [Beep]. Freda, thank you ever so much for giving us an interview, thank you.
FF: Yeah, that’s it, yes.
HD: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself before the war? Did you come from a big family?
FF: No, I worked at some iron works, [unclear] iron works, it’s closed now, I used to do a lot of [unclear] there, I was a bit younger then.
HD: Yes, how old were you then?
FF: I should think about twenty-four.
HD: Twenty-four, and how old were you when the war broke out? How old were you?
FF: Oh, I can’t remember duck.
HD: Yeah?
FF: No, I can’t remember.
HD: Ok, so where were you living?
FF: I lived in a village called Bassingham, near Newark.
HD: And you went to work for where?
FF: I went to work in a bakery. A bakery there making the cakes and the bread, but I was a lot younger then.
HD: Yeah, and can you tell me about when you got involved with bomber command?
FF: In what?
HD: When did you get involved with bomber command?
FF: When you was- If you was young and not [unclear] you got called up to do some war work and they sent me to Avro's, which I enjoyed.
HD: Yeah. What did you do?
FF: Used a hammer and chisel and the nuts and bolts, and we used to clean the perspex in the, in the- Where the pilots used to look out, they would clean all the perspex.
HD: So did you go into the planes?
FF: Pardon?
HD: You went actually into the plane?
FF: Went up in the Lancaster.
HD: Did you?
FF: I had chance to go, ‘cause I'd been there a good long while and they let me have a- I went up a bit, I can’t say I liked it though.
HD: Why didn’t you like it?
FF: Well, it’s a bit- You got to be feeling fit and well I also suffer with bad- Had bad head at the time.
HD: Yeah. So, what was your job when you went to the Lancasters?
FF: Doing- Taking all the wings off, taking the nuts and bolts and that along the wings and they were all round and when you got all that done you could lift the top off and the-
HD: And how many hours a week did you work?
FF: Oh I can’t remember duck, ‘bout twenty-four hours, more.
HD: Yeah, and were there any specific times that anything happened, any special times, or something that you remember, that was different?
FF: We used to get a lot of, what you call ‘em, shooting in the air with special ep[?] guns-
HD: Right, yeah.
FF: Yes, it’s a long while ago though. I did me share.
HD: And how long did you do this for?
FF: Pardon?
HD: How many years did you do this for?
FF: About four-and-a-half, then I got married then.
HD: Right, yeah, and did you meet any of the pilots or the crew?
FF: Yes, we used to talk to them, they used to tell ‘em where what's, when they went over Germany to do the bombing, their special planes, special bombers, when they used to bomb a certain part in the war over Germany ‘cause it was Germany was the trouble.
HD: It was a very dangerous job?
FF: It was for the pilots. But we had to work because I wasn’t married then and you had to work then.
HD: So did you clean the inside of the Lancasters?
FF: Yeah, yeah. Used to do nuts and- Used to have special box spanners ‘cause I was used to that being [?] and having two brothers, box spanners twist the- turn and loosen the screws and let the tin come up?
HD: And why did they take the wings off?
FF: ‘Cause they wanted new ones putting on and they were getting old.
HD: And did you find anything unusual?
FF: Well once found an end of a thumb that had got cut off by like that, I always remember that. Used to see where the, the blood had [unclear] upon the, what they called, top of the- Inside the airplanes, you used to get a lot of blood and things. It’s such a long while ago I can’t remember a lot.
HD: Did you find it upsetting?
FF: No, I didn’t. I’d had a hard life myself, I'd worked on the land and in the factories, I used to make- Do all sorts of things. It’s a long while ago I can’t remember a lot, but I used to use box spanners and- I had my own toolbox, with my name on it, with my spanners and screwdrivers and things, I left it there though when I left, I left it there.
HD: And was it always ladies that you worked with?
FF: No there was men and young lads. There’s two very clever, clever lads that worked there. They’re very, very clever. ‘Course it was different in them times want it, yeah. If I hadn’t of been married- When they got- I was just about to get married.
HD: So you had to leave?
FF: Yeah.
HD: Because you were getting married?
FF: Yes. It was a long while ago, you can’t remember can ya?
HD: So what time in the morning did you start?
FF: Half-past-seven. We used to go on shifts, that was half-past seven till half-past two and then the next shift come on, half-past two till half-past nine at night. They were long hours.
HD: And was there a night shift?
FF: Pardon?
HD: Was there a night shift?
FF: Yes, night and the day shift. I worked most nights there.
HD: Did you find you were busier at night?
FF: Not really, no. [unclear] more the beginning and end, and they didn’t need to materialise[?].
HD: So which year was it that you were very busy?
FF: About 1944 ‘cause the war started at 19- What year did the war start?
HD: ‘39
FF: Oh ‘39, yeah. I’ve been there a long while love, but I worked a bit beforehand. You can’t help growing old that’s the trouble 'int it.
HD: And did you still live in Bassingham at this time?
FF: You what?
HD: Did you still live in Bassingham?
FF: No I lived at North Hykeham. My mother had a small holding there, and she used to rear chickens and things like that, it was quite nice, it was big old farm house, but it’s going back a long while like, I can’t remember.
HD: Did you ever, when you went to work, ever feel frightened that something might go wrong or there might be an accident?
FF: You didn’t- Too young to bother or to understand or, youse too young to bother. I used to get a lift to work in a- On one of those, what do you call them? I can’t remember, I’m a little- Tram car things? I used to get a lift to work on that. It’s a long while ago though duck, you just can’t remember can ya. I did my bit and I'm satisfied now, I just wish I was a bit younger.
HD: Yes, and how many were in your crew? In your team?
FF: Used to be the pilot and the co-pilot and two air gunners and a rear gunner at the back, so he could- At the back he could see the airplanes and then he could shoot at them then. There’s wonderful plane them Lancasters, I know they all said it, without them they would never of won the war. They were so agile and that, easy get up and down. It’s a long while ago though, you can’t remember can ya?
HD: And, when you went to work and you went to the Lancasters, did you go on your own or were you in a team of people?
FF: No, I went on the bus, couldn’t of gone by car in them days, had to go on the bus, but I had a bicycle and on afternoons I used to go on my bike, we used to make afternoon shifts. I used to go on my bike there.
HD: And you had a team with you, did you when you were at the Lancaster? Was there a team of you, was it just you on your own? Working?
FF: Yes, yes. It’s a long while ago duck, all I know it was the Lancasters that won the war. They were so well made and active and easy to get up and down off the floor.
HD: So you saw them taking off and landing?
FF: Yes. I once went up with an old Manchester airplane. The old aeroplane called the Manchester, it was a two-engine, one each side, it was a very old plane. Me and another girl we had chance to get up and chance to get up, she was only young then and didn’t see no danger.
HD: Did you enjoy it?
FF: Yes, I’ve had a good life, had a good husband, I've got two good daughters, I've no sisters left living now, no sisters left living.
HD: And did you have a lot of friends who worked with you at Avro's?
FF: Yes, oh we used to get- Make our own amusements, I used to play the accordion and then one young man used to play- He was very good on the mouth organ, you used to get these mouth organs where you can press in and out on each side, get different tune. I was brought up in a musical family. I just wish I was a bit younger to do it again.
HD: So was your husband in the RAF, or had a connection with bomber command?
FF: He was in the army, he got called up, he was in the royal army service corps, he was driving jeeps, them jeeps about up at- Where, I can’t think, Northumberland, yes. It’s a long while ago I can’t remember a lot more.
HD: That’s fine.
FF: But if you were single, you had to go to work. I enjoyed it though, before that I worked at Boots, the chemist, on the chemist counter, at there but then that was called not a special job, you had to do something more, bit better, bit more war worthy.
HD: And did you get a lot of training?
FF: Yeah, up and down the plane, on the wings and once sat on the wings and the airplane started to take off.
HD: And you were on the wing?
FF: Yes, but they soon found out and they stopped the plane. See I was so agile then, I was young and fit. I could jump off the plane, off the wings and-
HD: That was a near escape, wasn’t it?
FF: It was yes. If you were single you had to work, and I was single then you see.
HD: Is there any special memory you have of working at Avro?
FF: Well, we saw one crash, it was a four-engine bomber, a Lancaster and he crashed when it come to the ground cause his engine failed, and it couldn’t get stopped it just crashed to the ground. But the pilot and the co-pilot they had an, what you call ‘em? what you call ‘em? A parachute and they got out before it crashed. I always remember that cause I wasn’t very old then
HD: No, whereabouts did it crash?
FF: At Waddington, just outside, just outside the aerodrome. It nearly got home before it crashed, I always remember that.
HD: That must’ve been quite frightening to see that?
FF: Yes. It’s going back a bit though ‘int it?
HD: It is, yeah, and did all the crew survive?
FF: Pardon?
HD: Did all the crew survive?
FF: Yes, they did in that one but I saw a lot didn’t survive, we saw a lot come to the ground that didn’t survive.
HD: So, you saw quite a few Lancasters crash then?
FF: Yeah, they had Lancasters some there near Swinderby near Newark, some of the Lancasters there, we used to go there on the army bus to get there. I’ve seen them with the life, but I all say it was the best made plane, they were strong and they were light. They did a good job. A lot didn’t come back, that’s the trouble, a lot of the soldiers didn’t come back. Two of the soldiers which my husband worked with that, where was it? near London, they never came back, they turned funny in the airplane, turned, had dizzy and that and they never survived. But I've done my share, worked on the Lancasters and that and done my share, cleaning the mirrors so the pilot could see and that.
HD: So did you clean the inside and the outside?
FF: Yes, well right in the front where the pilots looked out ‘cause there were two pilots you see, there was co- What you call a co-pilot in case one just felt queer, didn’t- The other one took over. I - They were wonderful aeroplanes and I’m always proud that I worked on the. But you can’t turn the clock back can ya duck, you’ve got to carry on haven’t ya?
HD: So you- When did you finish working for Avro?
FF: Well, I worked at Boots for a long while, then they found out I was young enough to, young enough to go on aerodrome, you see, they got younger people, in the shops, I worked at Boots about two year and I got sent because I was a bit older, I got sent on the Lancasters, but I enjoyed it though, and they all say it was the Lancaster that won the war and the Spitfires.
HD: How long did you work on the Lancasters?
FF: ‘Bout two year. I had a bit of a rash came on me though, on me arm, on me legs so I had to stop off. I didn’t stop off work but I didn’t fly, I went to work on the bottom on the, what they call, air ground, on the ground.
HD: Why did you get a rash? Was it something from the plane?
FF: It was something in the materials you used to clean and use, it was a special sort of stuff but I, it, it all went though ‘cause again this is special stuff ‘cause I was so young then I didn’t know what was happening to me.
HD: And so you worked at Waddington, which other-
FF: Yes, and we went down to Swinderby a bit. Swinderby was a bit open air, very open air, open spaces, it was a lovely aerodrome though, clever pilots that used them planes, I shall always remember long I live them pilots, they were brave ‘cause they knew that one of them went up there they might not come back. But we did all we could to help them and save them.
HD: I should think you were a great support?
FF: Pardon?
HD: You would be a great support for them?
FF: Yes, yes, well I was pretty strong then, I was- ‘Cause we were working down the land I got muscles, good and strong then. But you can’t, you can’t keep young forever can ya, no.
HD: So did you live at home in Bracebridge- In North Hykeham?
FF: Yeah I lived at home, yes ‘cause mother had a big farm house there, there was five bedrooms.
HD: You never lived on the stations then?
FF: We did from- We did some weeks, we did, when there was a lates, we used to be able to stop on there at night and it was- We had like a little long bed with just top [unclear].
HD: Were you in dormitory's?
FF: You what?
HD: Were you in a dormitory, sleeping with others?
FF: No we were on the aerodrome itself on in- Because the aeroplane, the hangar was built- Big hangars and there was room for aeroplanes in there.
HD: And you slept in the hangars?
FF: Yes. I saw, I’ve done my bit in the war. I’m glad, I'm glad we won the war, it took a long time though. Took troops from other countries to help us. I want very old then I were only about seventeen, but I was fit and I could use hammer and chisel, nuts and bolts.
HD: You were tough?
FF: Yes. It’s going back a long while duck, it makes you feel sad when you think about it. We had- I made good friends with the girls, good lasses, they were clever as well, they were tough, they could handle spanners and things like that and the box spanners.
HD: So what did you do for social times? To go out socially?
FF: There used to be a pub across the road called the John Bull, it was a big pub it had a big room, extra room like and we used to go across there and have a glass of shandy and sit down have a bit, and a sandwich.
HD: You had quite a crowd of friends then?
FF: Yes, we all stuck together. I lost touch with a lot of them though when I come-
HD: You used to play the piano, did you?
FF: Yes I played by ear, I used to play in the school in the morning, what you call it? In the morning when you first start.
HD: The assembly?
FF: Yes, I used to play the piano for the hymns, ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away,’ and all them they were quite easy, I was born to be musical, I played the mouth organ as well.
HD: So when you worked for Avro, did you ever have a chance to play the piano with your friends and-?
FF: I didn’t after I left ‘cause we had a very old piano in the old farm house, and when nobody wanted it so mother got somebody to move it to my house, that was at North Hykeham, near the [unclear] iron works, yes. Happy days but the, without the- The Lancasters were the one plane that were used most in the war ‘cause they were so agile, they took off the ground ever so easy
HD: They made a lot of noise?
FF: They did when they got up in the air, when the revved up they made a big noise.
HD: Yeah, and you used to watch them going off?
FF: Yes, and sometimes never saw them come back. But there were so many of them you see, young fellas that was called up. You can’t help growing old like, can you, that’s the trouble can ya? No.
HD: Is there anything else you want to tell me about your work on the Lancasters?
FF: Once we were working on the aerodrome, we was outside cleaning the perspex and putting new screws in the perspex that had come loose, and an aeroplane crashed so we ran, it was an old-fashioned Manchester plane, called Manchester, big heavy plane.
HD: Were you nearby?
FF: They took them off the- Out the air ‘cause they were so heavy they couldn’t keep up.
HD: Were you nearby, were you?
FF: You what?
HD: Were you nearby the crash?
FF: No- We had an aeroplane crashed on our little farm, where me mother lived, come down in the field, near the pond, just near the pond.
HD: And that was a British plane?
FF: Yeah, it was happy days though, there weren’t nothing to fright- We lived in the country but they was nothing to frighten you much, you just went out with your dog and that, and nobody would hurt ya.
HD: So you never felt frightened?
FF: No, I always felt happy when I got my dog with me, called him Ranger, he was a Red Setter, they’re gun dogs they are, they- If a plane crashed they- The first [unclear] on the plane, to the plane to pick anything out, what they call them? I can’t think what they call them, the- The aeroplane things, I can’t think what they call them, the Manchester's- There was Manchester's and the Lancasters, but the Manchester it got grounded ‘cause it was found out it couldn’t- It was too heavy to fly. It couldn’t get off the ground, it did go out for quite a lot of times but then it crashed. They were happy days though in them days, and you didn’t fall out like you do today, no. You can’t turn the clock back can ya duck?
HD: You can’t.
FF: And that’s me oldest daughter, you’re not doing bad are ya?
Other: Not too bad [laughs], keep trying.
HD: So when you finished at Avro, you got married-
FF: Not straight away. I went to work on a poultry farm at our village, it was a very well to do poultry farm, they were very well to do and their special chickens and things like that, they were very wealthy people and they had a lovely home and big dining room, used to allow me and me sister to go in the dining room and have a bit of dinner they did.
HD: So what was it like being a civilian in the war?
FF: Well you felt more better ‘cause I had a good home and a good husband.
HD: And were you rationed with food?
FF: Yeah we still rationed yes, but we were lucky we had our own chickens and our own pig you see. We had two pigs and chickens, and a goat. The goat used to eat all the- It would keep the edges and that down, edges round about. It’s such a long while ago duck I can’t- I mean to talk about.
HD: How do you feel about it all now?
FF: Pardon?
HD: How do you feel about it now? Does it make you quite sad?
FF: I forgot all about it duck ‘cause me life's changed, changed altogether. See I’m in this home and I can’t do a lot, I'm quite happy here though, I’ve got a good bed. You can’t be at home forever can ya?
HD: Yeah, well it’s really interesting what you’ve told us, thank you very much.
FF: Pardon?
HD: Very interesting what you’ve told us, thank you.
FF: Oh yes it was duck, course they were right from the start, it was the Lancaster bombers that won the war, they were specially made and they were very strong planes and there’s- they had special guns where they could shoot down on the ground with the guns, I went in on one. I wouldn’t like to do it again though.
HD: No, what was it like when you went into the plane, when it had got back?
FF: Well, it felt a bit strange, awful smell of petrol that you got, no windows you see for the smell to go out. But there was a wonderful, wonderful plane, I'm always glad I worked on them. I just wish I was a bit younger duck. I’m ninety-four, I think.
HD: You’re doing very well.
FF: Yeah, I'm not bad, am I?
HD: So, was there a favourite moment in your job whilst you were working with Avro, what was your favourite part of the job?
FF: I think when we had a break in the middle of the night, when I was on nights, I always had an hours break and we used to be able to wonder round and see what, different things. It’s such a long while ago duck, I can’t remember such a lot about it.
HD: What did you see, can you remember?
FF: Pardon?
HD: What did you see when you had your hours break?
FF: I think we used to go on the airfield, walk on the airfield when there’s no aeroplanes there, we used to walk on the aeroplanes, round the ground at Waddington, yeah, Waddington was one of the biggest camps.
HD: Yes, well thank you ever so much for giving us this interview, thank you, it’s been very kind of you.
FF: Yes, it’s been a pleasure. I still have happy memories of- Had a good marriage.
HD: Ok.



Helen Durham, “Interview with Freda Fairweather,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024,

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