Interview with Pauline Ferdinando


Interview with Pauline Ferdinando


Pauline Fernando, widow of Harold William Fernando, reminisces her late husband. His father was posted in Germany after the First world War, where he met his wife. During the war he was stationed at Binbrook, Bath, and other stations, carrying out operations to Berlin, Peenemunde, Dresden, and Turin, followed by Operation Manna. Eventually he became a flying wing adjutant before retiring. She discusses meeting her husband and his family, family life, engagement and marriage, and wartime moral.







00:40:58 audio recording


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Int: This interview is with Pauline Fernando, who is the widow of Harold, erm William, Ferdi, Ferdi for short, Fernando. Umm, it's the fifth of October at three forty three hours, and we're sitting in Pauline's home, with her son, Robert. Pauline, can you tell me how you met Ferdi, and a little bit of your relationship with him.
PF: Well, I met Ferdi at a canteen, which was opposite the bus station where they had to wait for the buses, and I came off duty, and I went to the, er, to join my mother and father in the canteen. I came out, and I had three tables, and this young man was sitting at one. And I said, 'can I help you?' and he said, 'yes, you certainly can'. And he said, 'I'm going to ask you for three, I want twelve toasted teacakes, and I'm going to marry you.' And I said, 'you must be mad, but I'll get you the toasted teacakes'. [chuckles]. He didn't tell me that his crew were coming in after, you see. And so that's why we got off to a funny start, in a way. And I went to my mother in the kitchen, and I gave her the order, and I said, 'that young man's a cookie. He's round the bend. He's going to marry me, he says.' And she was quite annoyed, and she said, 'and why shouldn't he want to marry you?' [laughs] Her chicken child. Subsequently we found out we were both only children, and I think that drew us together even more. Ferdi's mother came from Wales, and his father was an, er [slight pause] an orphan in, [aside] what do you call that big orphanage in London?
RF: Bernardo's?
PF: Bernardo's. And his mother died in childbirth, his childbirth. And that's all I know really about Ferdi's side of the family. And I was an only child, and my mother was, she was a secretary to somebody high up in the docks. And my father was an engineer, a marine engineer. So he was working on the docks at Immingham. So that's all you need to know really about the family. Because we didn't have any family, being only children, you see. And anyway, he said could he take me home. I said, 'no'. So he came in the next week, 'can I take you home?' I said, 'no'. [chuckles] This went on for six weeks, and I thought he deserves a medal for perseverance. Anyway, I let him, and we walked home, and he came in and had a cup of tea with Mummy and Daddy, and then he went, cycled back to Waltham, where he was flying from. Then he became Pauline's boyfriend, and we were always together. And he really was the love of my life. And, I really can't explain, how we got so close, in such a short time. Anyway, we, we went on picnics and things like that. And he'd never been on a picnic, and as I says, having met his mother, I know why. And he asked me to marry me then, to get engaged. And he said, 'I'm going to ask your father'. So we went home, and he asked Daddy, and Daddy said, 'No way. Not yet. She's only just seventeen'. I was, actually. So, we sort of kept quiet for a bit, and then, as it happened, I think Mummy gave him a few nudges of pillow talk [laughs], and he said, 'it's no good, can I take her to a Mess dance?' 'Yes', he said, 'but realise you're not going to get any, I want her home by ten o' clock'. I always had to be in at ten o' clock. Well, we had such a lovely time at the dance, and we got on the bus to come home, and the bus and a taxi collided. It couldn’t have been worse, could it, because the taxi driver wouldn't admit it, and he wouldn't admit it, and the police were called. And there we were looking at his watch, and I said, 'it's quarter to ten'. He said, ' I know. I know what I'll do.' So he went out to the policeman, and he said, 'my young lady's in the back, and she's got to be home at ten o' clock'. And he said, 'I want to marry her, and if she's late, her father won't let me'. So he said, 'what do you want me to do, son?' He said, 'will you write a note telling them what's happened, and sign it?' And he did, too. And the next day, when my father went to work, he found this policeman at the gate, absolutely convulsed with laughter. He said, 'I've got a note for you'. And Daddy read it and said, 'oh, that's why they were late.' So he said, 'yes, that's why they were late, they were absolutely having a fit'. So he said, 'ok'. So that passed off very nicely. But I never went to a staff, one of the dances again until I was well and truly engaged [laughs]. Well. Eventually, eventually Daddy said yes, we could be engaged, but not married. Not yet. So he said, 'alright, but I shall keep on nagging you, Mr Borrow'. So he did. And we went out together, and Mummy and Daddy realised it was the right thing, and he eventually said yes. And we were over the moon. Oh, we didn't know what to do with ourselves, you know. Then he said, 'but you're not going to get married, she can't get married until she's eighteen. At least. Better still, twenty.' And I said, 'oh, you can't do that.' So, anyway. Pause.
Int: Lovely, we've got seven minutes, so far. It's lovely.
PF: It's entirely different to the first one, I bet.
RF: No, the content's pretty much the same. One or two extras you've got in there.
Int: Actually, it's better.
RF: You're more confident, I think, and obviously, having gone through it once you remembered a few more things, didn't you.
PF: Yes.
Int: So, if you carry on from about, um, how you went on during your engagement.
PF: During the engagement?
RF: Yes up to when you got married, and well, leading up to your marriage. Which is Stilburn[?]
PF: Yes, 'cos you didn't do that sort of thing.
RF: No, no, no, not carrying that carry on.
PF: [laughs] So, all this time of course, Ferdi was flying ops, and I could hear them go out, and hear them come in. And I used to ring up the station every lunch time, and spend my lunch hour finding out if S for Sugar was back. And one night it didn't come back, and I nearly died. She said, 'he's been, a German fighter followed him in, and they took off again and they'd gone to another aerodrome. But don't worry, he'll be back again tonight'. He was back again tonight, and back to Berlin. How they didn't get frightened, I don't know. I said, 'don't you get frightened of going up night after night?'. He said, 'no, why should I, I've got you to come home to'. And he said, 'I've got a long lock of your hair. What could harm me?' I thought, 'oh, my'. I thought to myself, 'my God, I wish I could be as sure', you know. I was sure really. I thought that our love would get us through. And it did, thank God. But he did an awful lot of trips; Peenemunde, and well, you see in there.
RF: Yeah, Turin.
PF: Oh, yeah. Penemunde was hard. And he went to Dresden, and he said that Dresden was horrible. But he said it wasn't the bombs that did it, it was the big wind that came up. But he said that nobody believes that. And then, so forth and so with, we went on, through a very loving courtship. We did all, we did such exciting things, like I sat at home while he held wool for me, while I did a ball of wool from a hank. And if you think what does a [unclear] do today, that's awful, awful funny, isn't it? [chuckles] And we used to go to the pier. And we went to a dance with my mother and father, and Ferdi wasn't a very good dancer. He couldn't do the round waltz, and Mummy said, 'Ill teach you the round waltz, son'. So they went round and round, and he got dizzy, and Mummy sat down on the edge of the dance- er, what do you call it, where they do the band, bandstand, and he said, 'you'll have to excuse her, I'm teaching her to waltz'. And she said, 'you cheeky little hound!' [laughs] And then, from then on there was no stopping Mum and Ferdi, they were pals, well, they'd been pals from the start, really. And, erm, he user to come in, and eventually mummy said, 'well, we have a spare room, if you're not flying tomorrow, don't go, you can stay here, if you're allowed to.' So when he wasn't flying, and he had a day off, he was there, and he'd [coughs], excuse me, he'd meet me from work, and we'd go for a walk with my dog, and all sorts of humble little things, but they had a cloud of gold round them.[sound of recorder switching off, then on] Well, really, it sounds as though he was soppy, he wasn't, he was a brave boy. And the boy turns into a man, and as a man he was even better. Sorry [through tears], but you know, way back in the old days [pause]. Is that alright?
Int: Yes, that's lovely, that's lovely. Keep going, you're doing really, really well. Doing really well. If you want to have a quick break, and think about you can. Alright?
PF: You don't want the wedding, do you?
Int: Yeah!
RF: [Chuckles]
PF: Eh?
Int: Yeah, everything.
PF: [aside to RF] What else? Can you think of all the other places he went to?
RF: Oh well, it's all in here, but I mean, well, er, I think this is normal because it always records under each -
PF: Peenemunde he didn't like doing because a lot of our boys got killed.
RF: It was a volunteered one, wasn't it.
PF: Yes.
Int: Did he do Op Manna? Did he do Op Manna, where they dropped the, dropped the food to the, er, the Dutch?
RF: Oh, after, er during the war? Just after the war, Yes, and he also did, erm.
Int: Berlin.
RF: That's it, cos he, erm -
PF: The other thing I've remembered is that when he's bombed, you see, he has the name Ferdinando, and he was born in Germany, in the first World War his father was posted overseas in the army of occupation there, and Ferdi was born there. And in the second World War he bombed the daylights out of it. But he said he, they never aimed at anything, you know, they tried not to, anyway, but he said after all, they started this war, and they bombed Coventry and they bombed London, and they didn't care about anything. So really, as they said, um, as Bomber Harris said, they are now reap the whirlwind. And they did. But to see a young, fresh-faced lad, as he was, grow into the man he was, his son can guarantee that, he was wonderful. And he stayed in af- he stayed in so many years after, and that's when we were sent to Germany as [pause] second World War's, what do you call it, army of occupation. And so, so it went on from there. And the children went with me, I went with him, and wherever he was posted, I went. And a lot of the people sent the children to boarding school, but not me. I wanted them with me, I wanted the loved ones with me. And Ferdi didn't insist on that, either. He wanted his family, and he was a family man. And he was a great sportsman, er, he played for the RAF [unclear], he actually shot for the RAF at Bisley, and he won the cup for them. When he was at Binbrook, that was. And we went, we went to different, you know, stations after the war. Wherever there was a vacancy, and someone wanted to, you know, and then of course, he became, [pause] what do they call it now, I've forgotten. You'll have to excuse the forgetfulness. When [pause], can't remember, when they took over from someone who was, you know, going somewhere else. We went right round Lincolnshire like that. Wonderful. Then we went to Bath, and we went to all sorts of places. In fact-
RF: Was it Adjutant? Was it an Adjutant?
PF: Yes, that's what it was, he was Flying Wing Adj. So he didn't do so bad. And I must admit, that I don't think that my two boys missed any, er, Command, when he was taking the salute. Never missed one. I had to stand with them in the rain, the snow, the frost, and we loved it. That was our Daddy [chuckles]. And, well, then he eventually came out of the RAF. But it was, while it was there, it was the most wonderful life. Mind you, I was lucky, I had a wonderful husband.
Int: Tell me a little bit more about his crew. Did you meet-
PF: Oh, his crew. Well one, Paddy, was the, erm, can't think what he was, er, I think he was the, er, Navigator, but Ferdi was a Navigator, but, Bomb Aimer, but also he could fly the plane. He'd been to, he was trained in Canada, to be a Pilot. [aside] oh, thank you [pause] Bomb Aimer, oh yes, this, Mike Finnelly? Was the Wireless Operator, was as nutty as fruit cake, and the Mid Upper Gunner was , I can't read this, I haven't got my glasses on, and, I don't know some of these, cos I don't know, you know, we had just a few people. The Pilot was, oh I should know that because he got a medal for it-
RF: Will Brook.
PF: Brook, that's right. Brook. Then the, er, rear gunner was Jimmy Flynn, and he came from the other side of the Island, and he was tiny, and the other was a tall one. And he, too, married a Grimsby girl. Cos he always said that the Grimsby girls were the best girls. [laughs] And the Nottingham people say that their girls are the best girls. They're all the best girls. And so it went on. And life became, to me, one load of love, affection, happiness with my children, and a wonderful life. And we were married, would have been married [aside] sixty nine years this year? Forty four we were married, yes. Well, we were married a devil of a long time. I'm only looking out the window cos. Anyway, after the honeymoon, which didn't take place, because he was called for special duties, and so we had a week in the Yorkshire Moors later on, and then all the crew got leave as well, you see. So we thought about them as well, you see [chuckles]. And it was wonderful. We, I rode on the Yorkshire Moors until he threw me [laughs] and then I had to walk home. We were going to this big hotel at, er, I can't even remember where I went on honeymoon. Anyway, we went, we stopped off to ask the way, was it Morecambe, somewhere like that, by a policeman, and he said, 'how do you get to there?' He said, 'you just got married'. I said, ' how do you know that?' He said, ' you're covered in confetti, dear.' [laughs] So I said, 'oh, I thought we'd got rid of all that.' And he said, 'take my advice, and go to the Falcon Inn on the Moors. You'll have a wonderful holiday there.' And they hadn't any room. They'd got a caravan in the grounds at the back. Of course, that sounded wonderful to us. On our own, in a caravan, oh boy. And so he said, 'but I'm not going to let you have it until you go up to the next Inn, and see if you can get in there.' So we said, 'alright.' So we walked, we drove away, we sat and had a cunnuddle, a canoodle in the car, and went back and said, 'they're full up'. Lying our heads off, we'd never even been in. And so we had eventually a honeymoon in the Yorkshire Moors. It was going to be in London, but there we are, it didn't happen. But it couldn't have been a better honeymoon [chuckles]. And so. Life went on. And we had a wonderful time, because there was a big hotel on the cliffs, and of course they were on rations. Now I don't know where these people got their rations from, but the food was fantastic. And there was a lot of civilians there, and one had a, what do you call those cars that the police always ran, the, er, Rovers. And we had a tatty little Austin Seven, that I bought for my husband as a wedding present. Cost me all of twenty quid, and I was broke after that [laughs]. And we used to stop at every dump to see if we could find anything for the car. [laughs] Because, if you ran over thirty, I used to sit holding the roof on, cos it was a cabriolet. But it went many miles. And we didn't have the children then, so, good job, wasn't it. And so. Do you want any more? Oh God, I think I'll have to-
Int: Tell me a little about your life in Immingham, during the war.
PF: Oh, yes. Well, I was a hairdresser. And, er, of course Immingham became a naval station, and er, whatsiname, er, Prince Phillip's bod. Mountbatten. Mountbatten was there, and he was loved by everybody. And he used to come in have his hair cut, and, 'cos downstairs was the lad-, no, downstairs was the gents, barbers and haircuts, and upstairs was the ladies salon, you see. And I got all sorts of people up there. The [pause] Dowager Drogheda from Ireland, and all sorts of people like that. And I used to earn an extra couple of bob if I took her dog out for a wee. So, nobody wanted to do it, it was too [unclear]. 'Pauline, you don't want to do that'. I said, 'I want the two bob'. [laughs]. Because I was saving up for a present for Ferdi. And so it went on, like that. The boys in the Navy supplied all the fruit and the stuff for my wedding cake, because my mother and father would say, 'who's going on leave tomorrow?', and they'd put their hands up, and he'd say, 'I've got a bed for two'. And so, because Immingham was, I don't know how many miles it was to Grimsby, but it had a tram, and the tram didn't get in until the first train had left, and so they lost a day of their holiday. So once Daddy found out that, he used to say every time, I mean he'd come down and there'd be sailors all over the blooming place. On the chairs, you know. But Mummy and Daddy loved people, and they couldn't do enough for the boys. So, really, [aside] you remember them, don't you? He's not going to talk to me now. Anyway, what else have I got? I got onto, the honeymoon and that was that, and then he came back and went on to Ops. Did a second tour. That was the day we got back. And so we went through all the agony of Berlin, and all the rest of the others. But, I knew he'd come back, because he'd said he would. And he did. What else do you want? I'm nearly worn out.
Int: That's okay. You're doing really, really well.
PF: I'm going to these places, I'm seeing them, that's the trouble.
Int: No, no that's ideal. You're bringing a bit of life to it because you're doing that. So, no, it's lovely. You could talk a little bit more, er about, er, about how you felt, perhaps, um, about Ferdi being on Ops, you know, how you felt when you knew he was on Ops. Or, or, if you'd prefer, you could just talk about how the war affected you, apart from, obviously, having sailors all over the shop [laughs]. How the war affected you in other ways.
PF: Yes, well, it was very. I'll start again, if you like. It was dramatic being married to an airman, but then I was only one of many, and the ladies who were married to Naval men went through even worse, I think. And of course, the poor girls who were married to soldiers who went out east, and that was murder for them. But, because I worked with one of the wives of one of ones in a prisoner of war camp in Japan, in Japanese hands, on the Death Railway, and, this is a little ad lib, I went to the cinema with my mother, and you don't probably remember the Gaumont News, no, well the news came on, and it showed you these people in the camps. How they'd got it out, I don't know. And I said, when I went back to work, 'Go see it, because I don't know what your husband looks like'. And she actually saw her husband. Actually I don't think it did her good because he was skin and bone, and the manager of the Gaumont cinema let her in every night at news night, so she could watch it. So she, she and I had a bond then. And one of those little things that you did in the war, you helped each other. It's a shame it doesn't go on now, but there we are. That was a different time, a different age. Blimey [pause], I'm ninety [pause], so really, it's a long time ago. [Pause] What else do you want? {Tape machine noises] I'm just trying to think. I don't think I can do much more because I don't remember it all.
Int: No, no, you're doing extremely well. Extremely well.
RF: I think it's quite good, actually.
Int: Yeah. And you're bringing lots of little things like, little side lines.
PF: Well, you had to help each other in the war, didn't you?
Int: Yeah.
PF: [Chuckles] And I always remember [rustling as tape machine moved]. One of the things I do remember, like the canteen, was a couple of Americans came in. And I didn't know whether they were Officer, or other ranks, I didn't know anything about them. And I served them, and the erm, my father said, 'they're not supposed to be in here, Pauline'. So I said, 'why not?', and he said, 'because they've got their own place by the, across the road'. He said, 'but they seem happy enough' Well, they tried to come in every time, because they liked it so much. [chuckles] Anyway, they wanted to meet my mother and father, you see. So I said, 'if you meet me from work, I'll take you home, and you can have supper with us'. Which was fish and chips from the fish shop. And, that, er, that's how the, how I got to know I'd been talking to a quite high up officer. I didn't know who he was from Adam. And Mummy and Daddy [unclear], and he carried on coming to see Mum and Dad all the time he was there. But you dare not say anything, like, 'oh, I'm sorry we haven't got that, we can't get it now', because the next day a bloody great tin would come up. You know, of Pineapple, or something like that. They were very, very, helpful, you know, kind and considerate. And they got a bad pasting, really, because they weren't, they weren't really as bad as they were made out to be. They were nice boys, just like ours were. And they had mothers waiting for them. Anyway, they corresponded with my mother and father until well after the war. Any how, Daddy got, in, back at the Navy, in the dockyard, he got interested in one of the divers. And you know that in those days they had big hats on, didn't they. And he went down, and he said, 'co, aren't you frightened down there?' He said, 'no, no I'm not. If you know what you're doing'. And that boy, or man he would be, again corresponded with my parents until long after the war. So you see, by bringing a little bit of kindness, you got kindness back. But that, they don't seem to realise that, these days. What you give, you get back. And that goes both ways. If you're rotten to somebody, you expect to be rotten to somebody back to you.
Int: Tell me a little bit about when war first started, and you, you must have been still at school then.
PF: Yes, I was. Of course I thought it was exciting. Of course I didn't know any better. And I can remember they had an Evening Telegraph, the Grimsby Evening Telegraph, and he stood on the corner of the main road, and he said, as Mummy and I were coming up the street, she'd been to meet me from school, and he said, 'read all about it. War's started.' And I remember that. And I remember I said to my mother,' what does he mean the war's starting, Mummy?' And she said, you'll find out soon enough, dear.' And she didn't tell me, and I gathered, slowly, and I realised that I was, you know, when I grew up, that I was part of that war. But I don't think, - Oh, I gave blood. Well I thought I was ever so brave, I gave blood. And I collected stamps for them, and all sorts of things like that. But, my father was in the Home Guard. 's a lovely story, this, because Daddy, as soon as he was, he was a Sergeant, you know, in the Home Guard, and he went out on duty, and the other sergeants said to him, 'Oh, Jack, will you go down that lane and don't let anyone go by it will you, because we don't want them in there.' So Daddy went and did as he was told, and two hours later the man came back, and he says,' Oh, good, it's not gone off, then.' He said, 'What?'. And he says, 'you've been guarding an unexploded bomb, boy.' [Laughs] And he says, 'Good God, I didn't know that'. He says, 'No, but if you'd known that, you wouldn't have stayed, would you?' [Laughs] And the other thing, when they bombed, I didn't have a bicycle, but my dad did, and I used to go everywhere on my father's bike, very un-lady-like, of course, and I went to see how my grandma was, she lived the other side of town, and I do remember this, because I'll never forget it, a little girl had got a basket, and she'd got some of these dollies and teddies and sweeties in her basket, and the warden was going very gingerly towards her and saying, 'Sweetheart, put that down, and I'll find you some more up here, and then we'll get them all together.' And he was sweating, I remember, and the little girl put it down, and she said, 'Now, I'll have to tell my mummy about this, won't I?' And he said, 'Yes.' They only had to touch them sometimes and they went off, and she'd got three of them in this little basket. So I went and saw that my grandma was alright, and er. We had a wedding reception, by the way. I do remember this. I'm back-tracking now. And, um, it was difficult to get one, to get everyone togther, you know. I mean, I had to get leave co-ordinated and, we went to the [pause], oh I've forgotten the name of the place now. Anyway, it's in Cleethorpes, and it's opposite the only, Grimsby was the only town, place, that played always away, because their football was just over the, into Cleethorpes. So, I always remember that. Anyway, we got this lovely, lovely reception, you know because it was very difficult to get food. And we all went back, we were supposed to go off to London, of course, but that was all up the creek. So we went back to my mother's house, and everybody that could went with us. And I got changed, and said, 'Where's our taxi, Mummy?' And she said, 'Oh, it's outside'. And somebody had pinched it. [laughs] And so we got on the trolley bus and went home and said, 'Oh we've got to go and collect Grandma'. And [unclear] went and collected my grandma, and she came to the wedding reception on her, you know. So, everybody was happy, and of course, we had nothing, nothing to drink, of course, you know, there was nothing there, and Mummy hadn't got food for all these people, so my Maid of Honour, Betty, said, 'I know. Everybody here like fish and chips?' And they all said yes, and I looked at my mother in law, [chuckles], and I said, 'Yes, we love them'. So she went to Charlies which was down the road, and she said, 'Can we have twenty five pieces and chips?', and he says, 'What's going on?' And so she said, 'Well, Pauline got married today'. He said, 'My little Pauline?' She said, 'Yes, she's grown up'. So he said, ' Oh, I'll have to get her something different.' So he did all that, then he came out with a big dish with two lovely plaice on it, where'd he'd got this plaice from, I don't know, and chips all the way round it, and 'Love from Charlie' on it. [laughs] And we sat down in the middle of the floor, with all our friends around us, and tucked in to fish and chips. And that was the funniest wedding reception you've ever seen, a posh one and an un-posh one. But that was our life; we were up, and down. We didn't care. [tape noises] Was that the end? [unclear] So having consumed the fish and chips, Grandma decided she'd go home, and they took her home in a taxi, and everybody went down to the Yarborough Arms to have a drink, except the old ones, you know. Needless to say Ferdi's mum and dad didn't, well my mum and dad didn't, because had to stay with them, didn't they [chuckles}, and my boss, where I worked as a hairdresser, had booked us a room in the Yarborough Hotel. It's right outside the station. And so we went to the Yarborough Hotel, we slipped away from the drinkers, and got down there, and I put the wrong name down, didn't I? {laughs] He said, 'You're not a Borritt any longer, you're a Ferdinando.' I said, 'Id forgot that'. He said, ' You go up, and I'll come up later.' So we laughed our heads off when we got up there, they'd given us twin beds. So we fooled them, we slept in both. [laughs]. And I saw, in the snowstorm, I saw off my groom, the best man, and sidesman all back to war. And I cried all the way home, because there was no buses and, in the snow, but it was the most wonderful wedding. No one could have had better, not even the Princess and the Prince. [Tape noises] And I must admit, I didn't get warm for a couple of days, because there were no windows in the church, and the organ was bombed, and the church was bombed, but my father was a choir boy in his youth, and his choir-master played piano, the grand piano for us, and we had everything that went with it. And we had Leibestraum [cries] Snivel. Because I've had Leibestraum every anniversary since, [through tears] because it is love, it's about love. Oh, I'm getting maudlin [laughs].



Denise Boneham, “Interview with Pauline Ferdinando,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 29, 2023,

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