Interview with John Fisher


Interview with John Fisher


John Fisher was born six weeks after his father was killed on an operation over Germany. He became more and more curious about what had happened to his father and finding out more about him and the events leading up to his death as he got older. John’s father had been a wireless operator based with 9 Squadron. John began researching with the help of RAF Cosford and made contacts in Germany to help fill in the gaps of his knowledge. He also visited the crash site and the graves of his father and his crew.







00:47:55 audio recording


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JM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Julian Maslin. The interviewee is John Fisher. The interview is taking place at Julian’s home in Stafford. Also present is Ann Mullin, the subject of a separate interview. John, I wonder if you could start by telling us a little bit about your background. Where you were born and a little bit about your upbringing at that time.
JF: Yeah. I was brought up in Saxmundham in Suffolk. A little village on the A12. And that was seven weeks after my father was killed in the war. My first, I suppose early memory after that was probably only about a year later sitting in my pram and seeing tanks come across our driveway. And I often wondered what they were for but never actually at the time because I was only young and couldn’t ask it. I was brought up in a, obviously a house without a father. I’d never really asked why. Other children obviously had fathers. And children I played with and visited had fathers but I didn’t have one and I never asked why because I didn’t know what the question was. It must have just appeared natural and nobody ever told me why I didn’t have a father. And I suppose it was really, really only later in life, I suppose as late as late ‘50s early ‘60s when I really started to discover things about my father. Ann obviously knew. Ann Mullin, my sister obviously knew a little bit more about it because she was young when he was killed but I didn’t know anything at all. I think it was probably only when his medals arrived through the post unannounced that I started to wonder what that was all about. And of course I was probably, I don’t know, what was I? Thirteen, fourteen then. And started to ask questions of things like that. And then, I think about three or four years later his logbook suddenly turned up and it had obviously been in some water somewhere because it was very, very crinkled up. So I started looking at that. About that time there was going to be a pause of many many years because I’d met my wife [laughs] And that was in 1963. And three years later we were married and then we spent the next forty, thirty, forty years odd bringing up a family and making a living and all the other things you do which stop you doing the things you really want to do. So I suppose it was really about, just as the millennium turned really that I started to think what could we find out about my father. So I started asking a lot of questions. We have, had an Auntie Nancy who was really, who was my mother’s younger sister or middle sister. And she was able to fill me in a lot of things but she only knew so much and they only came out in little bits and pieces because they didn’t talk about such things and nobody talked about the war. My mother never talked about the war. And it was sort of a, not a blur but they obviously knew about it but I didn’t know where I fitted in. So just after the millennium we, my wife and I started to think because I’d got the logbook. And then we started to thinking about how can I find out a bit more about this. And that took then another two years. Because we’d still got a son at home who was heavily involved in the bank of mum and dad.
[recording paused]
JM: The pause was for a coffee break. John you were saying —
JF: Yes. So we, we started to think about what we could do to try and find out what, what really happened to my father. I knew he was buried in Hanover. And I think, I’m not sure, I think Ann may have visited the cemetery. Ann is sitting here by me so did you actually visit the cemetery? You didn’t did you?
AM: No.
JF: While you were in Germany.
AM: No. We were in the other end of Germany. Are you still on there?
JF: Yeah.
AM: Yeah. We were in [unclear] which was not, about forty miles from Munster. I think the next, I can’t remember what the next town was.
JF: Yeah.
AM: It was a long way away from Hanover. I know that. I didn’t really want to go.
JF: No.
AM: It would upset me too much.
JM: I think that’s an important point, Ann. When we met before you told me a little bit more about why you didn’t want to go.
AM: Yeah. I just —
JM: Could you say that again please?
AM: Yeah. I didn’t really want to go because I knew I’d get upset. And he wasn’t really there then wasn’t he?
JM: So, it was really —
AM: I always thought he was coming back. I used to say he’s just missing. He’s lost his memory. He’ll come back. All. Every time. Every time I had to had an argument with my step father I used to say he was coming back.
JM: I’m sure you must be speaking for many relatives of downed airmen. I’m sure you must. That’s a most important point.
JF: Yeah.
AM: I did remember him and, you know —
JM: Yeah.
AM: I remember going to tell Granny Bedwell that he’d gone missing. And I didn’t understand it all but she was upset so I thought this is something horrible but I couldn’t work out why. You know, you don’t think about it, do you? I was only about six. So —
JM: John, if you could carry on. Take on the story.
JF: Yeah. I’d talked before to my mother when we were on our own about visiting and suggested we ought to all go together to Hanover and she said she just didn’t want to go. And I assume it’s a similar reason to Ann really. She didn’t really believe it. I know she got married again and that, but that’s you know another story. But she just didn’t want to go. So I’m now sort of around 2000, 2002 and I thought we’re going to do something about this now. Try and find out. The first thing I did was to go to RAF Cosford which is just ten minutes away from us and ask people there what we could do. And they let me look at the book which said, yeah. They crashed. Missing over Weyhausen. And so my next logical step, being a nosy reporter was to find a newspaper in Weyhausen. The local newspaper. And try and find a journalist there who might be able to help me and they may have records or something. So, I found one in a place called, in near Weyhausen, in Gifhorn, which was the area. And it’s a guy called, sorry I phoned the number. I phoned the number of this newspaper and the first person who answered was a guy called Joachim [Gris] and, ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘Hello Joachim, I hope that’s how I pronounce his name,’ because I couldn’t pronounce his name. I thought it was Joachim and he said, ‘What can I do for you?’ And I explained where I was and who I was and that. He said, ‘You’re most unfortunate,’ sorry, ‘You’re most fortunate because I’m known around here as something of a World War Two buff.’ And he said, ‘I’m sure you know what one of those are.’ I said, ‘Yeah. We’ve got several in England who are the same.’ ‘Well, I’ll be very interested in this because it’s, it’s the sort of thing I like to investigate.’ So from that we had a natter and that and I gave him details. I emailed him with details out of my father’s logbook and all the details of the plane and things and the records from the RAF. And he then set about, which I didn’t know at the time he set about looking through Luftwaffe records to see if he could actually find anything. One of the early things he came up with out of his own paper in fact, was a photograph of a crashed plane which had appeared in there. It had been issued by, by the Luftwaffe. Presumably by their press office to show, look what we’ve just shot down. The plane was a little bit mangled. It was on the front page of their paper. And he thought that might be it because it was actually shot down the same night that my father’s plane was shot down and over Weyhausen. So I took this to RAF Cosford where they identified it as a Hastings.
JM: Halifax.
JF: Hastings.
AM: Halifax.
JF: Hastings. And they actually said, ‘No. This is a Royal Canadian Air Force plane.’ And they, they contacted a group of people who had been looking for this particular plane because one of the crew was an international, I say international, a nationally known radio broadcaster in Canada and they’d been looking for what fifty, sixty years for this plane. Or news about it. So they sent all the details to them and we assume now they will do the same. Go through records and they will find out what happened. According to the cutting the, all the crew perished in that so there wasn’t going to be a survivor anywhere. But of course it was a Hastings. It was a bit of red herring but it helped somebody else out of a problem. Meanwhile, Joachim decided to go to the National Records which is some miles away apparently. It’s about a hundred and fifty kilometres away or somewhere where they kept all the microfiche records. And eventually by keying in some key dates he found out that in fact my father’s plane crashed in another Weyhausen some miles away from where he was. I didn’t know there were two Weyhausens. And it’s the Weyhausen near the big Volkswagen factory which is still there at Wolfsburg and of course have a famous football team nowadays. Once he’d found that out he was able then to triangulate that with all the Luftwaffe pilot reports and eventually he came up with a guy called Wittgenstein, Prince Wittgenstein who was the Red Baron of the day. And Prince Wittgenstein actually downed eighty three planes during his short career. He’s also, I should say prince, he was a member of the royal family of Germany. And in fact he was related to our queen through Queen Sophia of Spain I understand. That may not be totally accurate but he has a, he has a relationship somewhere along the line with our queen. But then again they probably all are. They’re all related. He found out anyway. He’s the guy who came out of the clouds and shot my father’s plane down. The nasty story for him is that two weeks later he came out of the clouds to try and get another plane and crashed into it and he was killed. So he only lasted two weeks. Lasted two weeks after shooting my father’s plane down.
JM: John, I think I should pause here and ask you a difficult question. You found this photograph and this record of the man who had taken your life and the lives of many other allied airmen. What were your feelings about that?
JF: Initially, I think I’d like to throw bricks through his window [laughs] but not really. In reality it was a war. He was fighting a war just like our people were. I mean, we have to say my father had just bombed the hell out of Dresden. You know. Or my father’s plane. He hadn’t. He was a radio operator so he didn’t actually press any buttons but he was part of that. But we were fighting for freedom. We were fighting for our country. The German people were not necessarily fighting for their country. The German people were fighting for peace. That’s what they wanted. And they wanted to be rid of the Nazis. Whatever anyone said they were a cruel nasty lot and this is why when eventually we turned up in Hanover to stop with some people the first thing they did was to apologise for the war. And these were only a young couple in their thirties who had no experience of that war. And they just said, ‘We’re sorry about the war and we’ll help you any way we can while you’re here.’ And that was nice.
JM: Thank you. Did you find out whether Wittgenstein had any surviving family members?
JF: He has many, many, many surviving families. In fact, I trawled recently through the internet just to try and find out who his families were and there are Wittgensteins everywhere. You’ll see them mentioned in the last few weeks doing things. Either going to visit our queen, going to weddings, funerals of other Wittgensteins. And there seems there’s a whole lot of them. A whole lot of them.
JM: And have there been histories or biographies written about Prince Wittgenstein’s war service or the service of —
JF: Yeah. Certainly. There is a whole website devoted to Prince Wittgenstein who shot my father down because he was the Red Baron of the day. Nobody else had downed eighty three aeroplanes. And he, he was a night fighter. He, he was the probably their top night, well he was their top night fighter. He was the top, top fighter pilot and probably a big loss to the German Luftwaffe. But the one thing we realised is that they were very efficient. So when Joachim, Joachim came to look for the Luftwaffe records he was able to get out of those records the very docket which was signed on the spot. Noted on the spot of what the Germans found when they visited the site. And he was able to copy that and send that to me. And that clearly showed they’d found four, it didn’t, it wasn’t specific I think, they’d found four or five bodies in the aeroplane. The plane itself was intact and with the rear gunner still in place. Two others apparently had baled out, and either killed or died and were found in the top of a tree. But just to take that now a little bit back a bit. So in 2002, after two years Joachim had come up with the story. He’d found it was Weyhausen. He then contacted the mayor of Weyhausen and the mayor instantly said to him, ‘I have memories of this and I think there are people in the village that will have memories of this.’ And he asked around and found two people who were in the local school at the time and remembered the crash. And, and they even heard it. They heard it coming down. They remembered being taken to the site by their teacher the next morning and they were all gathered around this plane. And the name of the guy was Frederick Tager who, a very, very nice guy and still very young outlook and he remembered everything. He said the plane was there. The tail gunner was still there. Most of the plane was buried four or five feet in the ground. It had come straight down nose and ended up against an oak tree. They were cleared off by the Luftwaffe people and the military guys who came because they said there may be unexploded bombs in it. In fact, there weren’t. As it turned out there weren’t any. They’d dropped them all over Dresden of course. But they were cleared off and the Germans apparently because a lot of them still crept up in the trees and watched and the German people apparently stripped the plane of any useful things and some of it was taken away and the rest was buried. And that’s, that’s that. We visited in 2004. We were helped. My brother in law came with us. And his wife. The four of us went. Went to Hanover. Rented a car and seventy kilometres to Weyhausen and Wolfsburg. And we were met by the mayor. Had a reception. A nice reception. The mayor and various other people. And because Joachim was a journalist there was an entourage of ten journalists with him [laughs] because he was obviously making a bit of money out of it as well. He said he would from the start. And we had a bit of reception in the mayor’s parlour and everything and some drinks and things and a chat and the German press took some photographs and things. We were then taken to the site by this man who, one of the two men who originally remembered it. And it was in middle of a forest. It had all grown up and been replanted since it happened but the oak tree where the plane was was still there so he was able to identify it very, very clearly. In fact, there were still some gouge marks in the oak tree which we saw and he said they were almost certainly caused by the plane. And so we laid, we basically, we laid a wreath. Sorry about this.
[recording paused]
JM: We just had a short pause there.
JF: Yeah. The mayor quite kindly said he would pledge to lay a wreath every year on Remembrance Day. We should have gone back the next year to, to the Remembrance Day but I was ill unfortunately and so we couldn’t go. But we will go soon. And I’ve been ill off and on since but we will be going. We’ve said we will come back again. Meanwhile, the next morning we appeared in, on the front pages of about, I don’t know it was ten, twelve German newspapers and there may be a lot more who I didn’t know about which Joachim was responsible for. He’d also contacted our local paper, the Stafford Newsletter and eventually they came out to see me as well and we did some things. And we went, we’d previously gone to the Hanover Cemetery to see the graves of all the men and one thing I learned then was that in fact, this was from the curator or manager of the cemetery in fact all the remains were buried there. They weren’t just nominal graves. Which I hadn’t known before. I thought they just put them in a collective nominal grave and they didn’t. They were, that was all the bodies, they recovered them. They were quite efficient like that. The cemetery beautifully laid out. In fact it was on, on the garden programme the following week as one of the best gardens in Europe. It was a moving experience but it’s something we had to do. I don’t know what will happen. The plane. There’s quite a large chunk of the plane still there that I would think, we were told by the mayor there will be a lots of planes in that area and probably the only reason the night fighter was patrolling that area was because of the factories nearby. And that would probably have been normally been a safe route out from a raid because taking a large sweep round the north and coming back over the side of Spain and stuff. But on this occasion it wasn’t. He would have been patrolling there at the same time. I haven’t actually done a lot more about this since and I’ve sort of, that’s the one thing that I set out to do. It’s probably which I would never have done in my younger days. Most people don’t have time to do this sort of thing. And there must be thousands and thousands of people in the same boat who have lost somebody but won’t know anything about it. I’ve since of course become an interviewer for the International Bomber Command Centre and interviewed some flight crew myself and I’ve found out their experiences. And that also has been an experience for me to hear out what they got up to and how they survived. Some of them flew many, many missions. It’s, it’s, I would do it again.
JM: John, you’ve given us a very vivid story of this particular research journey. There are one or two questions that are in my mind. One of them is I wondered whether you’d ever come across relatives or friends of any of the other crew members from your father’s crew?
JF: I have tried and tried to find them. The reason I probably can’t — my father was the only married member of the crew. The rest were just young and he was the oldest at twenty four. The rest were eighteen, nineteen and I suspect they were the son of somebody and those people have now died since and nobody after that has had any memory of them because they weren’t married. They didn’t have children themselves so there is no one to keep their memory alive. I have tried looking. I’ve put messages on websites. On, on sites that relate to the war and relate to Number 9 Squadron even. But I have not yet come across a single person and I suspect I won’t. I will try again when the Centre is open because that, the information which is going to be on the Centre will have so much information about other people and things that some of those, it may just strike a chord. But I think there has been a greater awareness lately of the World War Two and of the sacrifice that people gave up. My father was looking after barrage balloons in Hyde Park and needed more money. Ann was on the way. And he took that extra shilling a week to become, to become air crew. That was —
JM: How do you —
JF: A high cost.
JM: How do you know that that was his motivation for remustering?
JF: I was told by my auntie, my mother’s sister that that’s what he did. Now, whether that’s right or not but somebody must have told her and I presume he told her at some stage. ‘I’m going to do this and I can get an extra shilling a week for this.’
AM: John.
JF: Ann may have heard this story.
AM: Yeah. I was just going to say my mother said he should have gone to Canada to do something but she wouldn’t let him. And I think she felt guilty then because, you know —
JF: Yeah.
AM: He was going on some course which he’d probably be here now. Well, maybe not now but, you know.
JM: So we have one of these situations where —
AM: A decision was made.
JM: A decision like that.
AM: Yeah.
JM: Had such a profound —
AM: Yeah. Made a difference.
JM: It really did.
JF: Yeah.
AM: She always wanted to go to Canada after that but she never got there.
JF: No. No. No. One of the things I think which we both know. He played the piano, didn’t he?
AM: Yes. He did.
JF: And a brilliant pianist and played in a band.
AM: Yes, he did. He was in a band.
JF: At, doing Glen Miller stuff and he probably would have gone on to be quite good because musically he was quite, he was really good. And I think that’s where my mother and him met. Is that right?
AM: I’m not sure. I’m not sure.
JF: Once again it was my Auntie Nancy who said all this.
AM: Yeah. Granny Bedwell had a piano which I used to go bang on.
JF: Yeah.
AM: Because I wanted to be like my dad.
JF: Yeah.
AM: I couldn’t.
JF: Yeah. We think my mother and father met at the Market Hall in Saxmundham.
AM: They used to have dances in there.
JF: We know that they had a first date in 1937 at the Picture House in Saxmundham because I’ve got the ticket.
AM: A picture of it.
JF: Yeah. I’ve got the ticket and I’ve given that now to the local museum. And I think probably eventually we’ll hand over the logbook and medals and everything to the local museum.
JM: Super.
JF: That’s it.
AM: I think that’s the ticket.
JF: Yeah. That’s it. Yeah.
JM: So what age was your father when he lost his life?
JF: Twenty four.
AM: Twenty four I think. I’m not sure. I’m not sure.
JF: Yes. He was.
AM: Twenty three. Twenty four.
JF: He was twenty four. Yeah.
JM: So a picture is emerging of the young man with family responsibilities.
JF: Yeah.
JM: With a sense of national commitment. And commitment to the national cause.
JF: Yeah. He’s got one daughter.
JM: He’s got one —
JF: And another one on the way.
JM: Yes.
JF: Me.
JM: Yeah. And makes this step to, to remuster as aircrew and he does a number of operations and then he loses his life.
JF: I think he did twenty four.
AM: [unclear]
JF: I don’t know that for a fact but I think that’s another thing which I gleaned from somewhere.
JM: Yes.
JF: Probably out of some records somewhere.
JM: Yes.
JF: We know nothing of his thoughts at the time of course. We just don’t know them because there’s no records anywhere. I did, while I was in Lincolnshire on my last visit there was a pub near where he was stationed and one of the, I spoke to someone who said, ‘Yes. Number 9 Squadron. They used that pub. And that’s where your father played the piano.’
AM: Oh.
JM: Because 9 Squadron was based at —
JF: And I hadn’t heard that one before.
JM: No. 9 Squadron was based at Bardney.
JF: That’s right.
JM: And there were two pubs based in the local village.
JF: Yes.
JM: Both within walking distance.
JF: Yes. That’s right.
JM: So it could have been one of those. I think one’s called the Black Dog.
JF: I think it was the Dog and Duck or something.
JM: Black dog, I think. Something of that sort. Yes.
JF: Something like that.
JM: Yes.
JF: And, and I was told then and I think actually that’s when we [pause] yes that was on the last visit. That would be for, I forget where it was now. A training session or something.
JM: Yes.
JF: Yeah. And, yeah, he said, ‘That’s where your father played the piano,’ because that’s where they all gathered.
JM: That must have been very moving. To have seen that.
JF: It was. Yes. I don’t think I can go there because it’s not there anymore. Something like that. Or it’s closed. It’s now a house. Something like that. Yeah. That’s my story.
JM: Yeah.
JF: And I would really love to hear of other people who would like to go through that same measure because if they follow what I did they won’t get Joachim now because I think he’s retired and gone off somewhere else. But there are loads of people who would help them and they, they shouldn’t sort of think oh, I don’t know, I’ve no idea where it is and I don’t know where I’m going to find it. It’s easy. It did take two years but it’s fairly easy.
JM: Well, we know that there are quite a number of privately published books available where families have —
JF: Yeah.
JM: Made researches of this sort.
JF: Yeah.
JM: But I’d like to think that the interview that you are giving today will encourage people who perhaps haven’t gone that far to take those first steps.
JF: I hope they do and I hope the children of those people do it as well because that’s further memories for them and that will show them exactly what they fought for.
JM: Yes. Yes.
JF: And you have to always remember that RAF people were volunteers and they didn’t have to do it. Ok the alternative then was ground crew. Ground forces —
JM: Yeah.
JF: And things, but it was a volunteer organisation.
JM: Would you say that this family research that you’ve done has that significantly affected your view of what Bomber Command did during the Second World War? I had the impression when you started out telling us although you grew up as a young man after the Second World War that you hadn’t really been totally aware of what had been going on and that this story has actually increased that awareness. Is that fair?
JF: No. I hadn’t really. Because you’re so busy growing up, aren’t you?
JM: Yes.
JF: There was only one incident that really came back to me about what war is all about. That was when myself and two neighbours. I suppose we were only nine and ten then or something like that and we used to go fishing in Saxmundham in a particular pool which was up a big steep hill. Past the church up a big steep hill and we’d go fishing there. And one day, on our way back we decided to stop in a copse which was very, very overgrown with ivy and everything. And we came across a well and we thought this is lovely. This well was covered in ivy but we uncovered the top of it and it had got a thick concrete top on it. A really massively concrete top about a foot thick. And we thought that’s strange isn’t it? You don’t put that on a well. So we played around on the top for a while and lit a fire on top. You always light fires when you’re youngsters. And then we started exploring the sides of the well and could see that a lot of the bricks around it after we pulled the ivy away were actually crumbling. So we got our knives out and that’s the other the thing you always carried when you were young, a knife [laughs] and started scraping away. We scraped away one brick and pulled some others out and then some others. Lit some bits of paper, shoved them down the well and we could see by the light of that before the flames went out that there was a lot of metallic things down there and didn’t know what they were. So we all, by this time we’d got a hole about two foot wide and being careful we didn’t fall down we all picked up bricks and collectively threw one each down this well. There was a massive explosion. A fire ball whooshed straight up in the air and we fell backwards. I lost all my eyebrows and a bit off the hair. Julian, my friend lost his and Christopher, his brother lost his eyebrows. And we fell backwards and we ran like hell and while we were running away, ‘Don’t tell anybody. We mustn’t tell anybody. Don’t tell anybody. Don’t tell anybody.’ And this is the first time I’ve ever told anybody [laughs] including my mother. Anybody. We gather because we did creep back later, it and they were all, there was lots of iron things and things around. I assume that they were incendiaries. But they appeared to have been very unstable.
JM: Yes.
JF: Now, there were other shapes of things down there which wouldn’t have been set off by the incendiaries. I can only assume, I can link these probably with the tanks that I first saw sitting in my pram after, just after the war rumbling by. I think they dumped all their surplus in that well because they would have been heading down that hill from the coast and I think that’s what happened. The bad news is that after many, many years that well became the garden of, on a new estate of a house. I visited it a few years ago and we couldn’t really find it but we knew where it was and it was still covered up in ivy and stuff. We assumed it was filled in. Julian, my friend, you’re Julian, asked somebody about it. He said, ‘Oh yeah. That was filled in and it was — ’ such and such. Now, I think the house belongs to somebody who I used to know in Stafford but I’m not sure so I won’t talk about him because the poor devil is sitting on a bomb probably. We did, we met up at a reunion of Leiston Grammar School about four years ago and the first thing Julian said, ‘Have you told anybody?’ And I said, ‘No. No. We wouldn’t do that.’ He said, ‘Perhaps one day we should do.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but not yet.’ So my mother knew that we lit fires in the woods so we said we had a flare up in a fire. We’d lit it with a, we used, used to get tins of paint from a local builders and off their scrap yard and used them to start a fire with, you’d like to find out. So we said it flared up, and we all got burned. That’s how we explained that because nobody would even believe us —
JM: No. No.
JF: If we said a well blew up.
JM: Right. Now, John, if I could ask you another question here. These researches that you’ve told us about they more or less coincided with the time when the, the perception of Bomber Command in the national psyche was changing. Leading to the development of the Bomber Command Memorial in London and the award of the clasp to surviving Bomber Command aircrew.
JF: Yeah.
JM: I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your views as to how Bomber Command was, has been treated.
JF: Yeah. I think what it is which I’ve ascertained since of course the proper, there was a lot of anti-propaganda around. The war was also very political and there were people in the military who decided for one reason or another that you could only fight wars on the ground and that there was no other way. Tanks. Tanks and men. And that attitude I think remained. The other thing was bombing or carpet bombing which is what we were really involved in then caused a lot of, a lot of ordinary people to die. Thousands upon thousands. Especially if you look at Dresden and places like that. And even Berlin and Hanover. They all suffered. So it wasn’t really very nice or courteous to talk about it and people didn’t. They forget that we were on the receiving end of such things as well and, you know deadly V bombs and things. There was no stopping them. They just killed masses of people. Not military stuff. Just people. And the whole point of all of that was to, to turn people against war and to disillusion them and to dishearten them and say, ‘Let’s give up. Let’s talk to Hitler.’ And it was the other way around as well, you know [unclear] And it was only really later in years wasn’t it and we’re only talking now after the millennium that things really started to change and people suddenly said, ‘Hey, these people actually did a brave job. They died for this country. Why shouldn’t we honour them?’ And, and the Memorial in London was, I suppose really the start of this new feeling. And now the International Bomber Command Centre has, has enhanced that really. And I suppose, and also I think the military or the people at the top used the excuse that the RAF was a volunteer organisation. Therefore it couldn’t be officially recognised. And so they didn’t do anything really. They just volunteered and they went out and bombed people and that was it. That was wrong. That was wrong because without the RAF Hitler would never have given in that quick. Because the, the country was demoralised purely by the bombs. We couldn’t have done that with people on the ground. We would eventually have probably but we couldn’t have done it that quick. And we have to remember our country at the time was bankrupt. We’d borrowed so much money off America and other places that we hadn’t any money left. So you know it was essential to finish that war quickly. And I think it would have gone on and on and on had it not been for Bomber Command.
JM: Thank you. Could I ask you another question, please? You and your sister are obviously direct descendants of your father. You’ve done this research. What has been the effects of this research on younger generations and on the family as a whole? Is there a discernible reaction?
JF: Yes. I’ve spread this around my own family. My own children. The grandchildren are still a bit young to understand but one of them is nineteen. They’ve all seen this. They’ve all seen it and they’ve realised what went on. My grandchildren are all in America, and my children and so they’re a little bit out of the war they were. Although America were involved later on but they were still a bit out of it. The general population didn’t get involved. But they’ve all seen the information which I’ve got and the press. The press cuttings and things. And they understand now what went on. Which is quite good. And I think I’ve read recently that our children are now going to be told about World War Two more as part of their studies. That I think is essential because the future of the world really can be only peace. War achieves nothing and it never does in the end. It’s a temporary solution. It doesn’t achieve total peace. We’re now at verbal war with the, with the EU. You know. That’s ok. Verbal’s ok. That doesn’t matter.
JM: Jaw jaw.
JF: It’s war and fighting that destroys the world and could well do in the end. Terrorism is something we didn’t have then. It didn’t exist. You fought a war. Went in and fought it and came out and there was a victor. That doesn’t happen anymore and its made war worse I think. And I think the younger generation are getting to realise this. That if we continue to have wars involving people and nuclear bombs and all the rest of it there will be no war left. No world left. Because that’s the, that’s the state of war nowadays and weaponry. Its, its so disastrous whereas before it was very very very directional. I don’t know. I don’t think I’d like to be a younger generation now because the future I don’t think is particularly good.
JM: Perhaps I could turn to you Ann now as we’re drawing to the end here. We’ve met before.
AM: Yes.
JM: You gave me a very full interview. And now you’ve heard what your brother has to say.
AM: Yeah.
JM: Has this changed your views at all? Has it added to your knowledge? Do you see things in any way differently?
AM: No. I knew it pretty well. I knew Johnny went to Germany and all that. You know. I was there but I mean the people we stayed with, the lady was lovely. We went, the first three weeks we were there we didn’t have army quarters. And the man there never spoke to us once and he watched war films on the telly in just black and white obviously in those, it was the sixties but he was horrible. But the lady was lovely.
JM: Just a different experience.
AM: He hated us. I know. You could feel it. But you know. We hadn’t done anything had we?
JM: No.
AM: You know.
JM: It’s an interesting contrast.
AM: Yeah.
JM: Because your experience of meeting German people was quite different from yours at that —
AM: Yeah.
JM: But perhaps, was it at a different time?
AM: Yeah. Sixties.
JM: Would the proximity to the war? So that might explain the difference do you think?
AM: ’63, ’64. No, ‘64 because I had Andrew then.
JF: We’re talking just sixteen years.
AM: Yeah. Yeah.
JF: After the war and memories would still be very very much alive.
AM: I mean, you know —
JM: Yes.
AM: I got on quite well with the German people that I met. But not him.
JM: No.
AM: He was — and I’ve never lived anywhere like that before, you know. I’d only been married a few years then so —
JM: Do you think he might have served in the German forces?
AM: Oh. I think he had. Definitely.
JM: So that might explain his —
AM: Yeah.
JM: Reluctance.
AM: But he was just horrible.
JM: It’s been a fascinating, fascinating afternoon listening to you both. I realise that through my incompetence at the beginning of this interview I forgot to ask you to give your father’s full name and rank and where, where and when he was born. Could I ask you to do that now please just for the record?
JF: Yeah.
AM: Yeah.
JF: Over to Ann I think. George Kenneth.
AM: George Frederick Kenneth.
JF: Frederick Kenneth.
AM: Bedwell. And he was a flight sergeant. And I don’t know where. I think he was born in Kings Lynn.
JM: Right.
AM: Or it could have been —
JF: Oh, actually —
AM: I’m not sure.
JF: I’ve only just discovered this.
AM: Oh. Do you know where he was born?
JF: Yeah. He was born in Lewes. Sussex.
AM: Lewes? Where’s that?
JF: Lewes. That’s on his birth certificate.
AM: Oh. Oh. I never knew that.
JF: Yeah. Lewes. Sussex.
JM: Right.
JF: I don’t know why. We don’t know how.
AM: Oh.
JM: You don’t know anything about his parents.
JF: Oh, we know about his parents.
AM: Yeah. Granny Mabel. Granny Mabel.
JF: Yes.
AM: And Granddad Walter.
JF: His parents were living, we don’t know where. I presume they were living in Saxmundham somewhere. Or Leiston.
AM: I don’t know.
JF: But we don’t know. They may have come up from Lewes.
AM: Yeah. They were in Kings Lynn during the war.
JF: Yeah.
AM: Because we went.
JF: Yeah.
AM: We went there.
JF: They went off to Kings Lynn because his father was working. Got a job in a factory there for war munitions and then he was lodged up with our grandmother.
AM: Granny Bedwell.
JF: Yeah. Granny Bedwell. And that’s as far as —
AM: I think my dad lived with them.
JF: And the stepfather —
AM: Oh him. Yeah.
JF: Lived with them as well.
AM: Yeah.
JF: He came from a Dr Barnardo’s Home. That’s about —
AM: Emma’s still got all that on her phone ready to put, print out. Haven’t you Emma?
JM: But we don’t know, you don’t know where his musical talents originated from.
JF: We don’t.
JM: No.
JF: Absolutely. No. His job was a roundsman at the International Stores.
AM: Yeah. He used to drive, ride a bike didn’t he?
JF: Rode a bike.
JM: Yeah. We don’t know.
JF: He used to bike from Leiston every morning to Saxmundham which was five miles. And that was his job. But he —
AM: My eldest son’s inherited that. Andrew. He can. He just learned the organ and everything, didn’t he?
JF: Yeah. Yes.
AM: He still does it. He’s still in bands.
JF: Yeah. Ann’s son was a bandsman in the —
AM: The army. Yeah. He was in the army.
JF: What regiment was he in?
Other: The Queens Own.
AM: The Queen’s Own Highlanders.
JF: The Queens Own Highlanders. Yeah. And then he went on to form his own band in Sweden.
AM: He still goes. There’s a royal family in Sweden and everything. So yeah, he’s got it, I think.
JF: Yeah.
AM: I never got it.
JF: No. I tinker.
AM: I plonked away at a piano. I thought I can’t do this.
JF: No. We’ve no idea how he learned. We can only assume that his father and mother, one of them could play the piano.
JM: Yes. Yes.
JF: That’s the only thing.
JM: I know when I’ve met one or two other ex-wireless operators they have often told me that they, they were selected for that partly on the fact that they had been in the Air Training Corps. They’d learned the Morse Code. They had some interest. Some prior interest in radio. But I don’t get the impression that your father was like that.
JF: No. In fact, he —
AM: I thought he was rear gunner as well. Yeah.
JF: That’s right. He went in as a rear gunner.
JM: Right.
JF: He failed all the tests.
JM: Ah.
AM: He didn’t want to shoot people.
JF: No. He didn’t want to shoot. He failed them. Yeah. On the, they did a number of flypasts and shooting at targets and he failed. So he then went for training as a, as a radio operator.
JM: Right.
JF: And obviously picked that up quick.
JM: Yes. Had an aptitude for it.
JF: Yeah.
JM: You had to send and receive Morse at a certain level.
JF: Yeah.
AM: Yeah.
JF: Yeah.
JM: It wasn’t an easy task in any sense, was it?
JF: No. No. No.
JM: And the wireless operator was very often a sort of Jack of all trades in the crew because he would be needed to support other crew members as look outs or do whatever was needed as part of the team. But there’s no record really of your father leaving any evidence of that in his letters or —
AM: No.
JF: Nothing at all. No.
JM: No. No. No.
AM: No. I read all my mother’s letters at the time.
JF: Yeah. The last letter home we assume was the one where I was conceived.
JM: Good.
[recording paused]
JF: Just, just to end this, Julian. There are lots of unanswered questions I think. We’ve been able to piece together some of the answers but there are a lot which are not. But we’ve got enough to get a picture of my father and having been to the site where his plane crashed a lot of people have not been able to do that. They’ve just been told they were missing and that’s it. And of course those, rest of that crew were unmarried and over probably just a period of a few years they were probably forgotten about almost. There was nobody to remember them. But we’ve, we have answered a few questions between us. I hope it encourages more people to do the same.
JM: John and Ann, thank you very much indeed.
JF: Thank you.
AM: Thank you.
JM: Very good.



Julian Maslin, “Interview with John Fisher,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 4, 2023,

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