Interview with Rachel and John Gill

Title

Interview with Rachel and John Gill

Description

Peter Hazeldene joined the RAF from Wales when he saw a poster to see the world from a different perspective. He trained as a wireless operator and during training suspected a couple of incidents of sabotage on the base. Peter was posted to 106 Squadron at RAF Finningley. On a mining operation they were hit by anti-aircraft fire. It was only when they returned to base they realised the rear gunner was dead and his turret was awash with blood. On another occasion the flight engineer apparently went berserk and Peter had to subdue him by hitting him with an ammunition box. After his first tour of operations Peter was seconded to the Americans at Polebrook as an instructor. He then was posted to RAF East Kirkby with 57 Squadron. While he was on leave he returned to find his crew were dead or missing. The parents of his pilot travelled to East Kirkby to meet him and come to terms with the death of their son. He started a third tour at RAF Syerston and completed several operations before the war ended. After the stress of operations Peter suffered terrible flashbacks and nightmares for the rest of his life.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2017-09-30

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:38:47 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AGillRA-JT170930

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 30th of September 2017. I’m in North Hykeham with Terry and Rachel Gill and we’re going to talk about Pete Hazeldene, Hazeldene, who was Rachel’s father, and his experiences in the RAF. So we start talking to Rachel. What do you know about dad in his earliest life?
RG: Well, I know he was the eldest child of seven and he was born in Barry Island. Dad always loved the sea and I think this is, was because he was born near the sea. He had diphtheria as a very small boy and was in an Isolation Hospital. He was a member of the choir, sang in the choir and an altar boy. And then they moved to, to Cardiff. Dad enjoyed life. He loved camp. He loved to go and take, with his friend take his tent to the bottom of Caerphilly Hill. And —
CB: What did his father do?
RG: Oh, Grandpa was in a drawing office in Cardiff. Grandma stayed at home with all these children. Dad left school around about fifteen and was an errand boy for a jewellers but his love of the Air Force started when he saw a poster in a window offering to see the world from a different angle. And that’s when dad decided he would join the Air Force. Grandpa was against it because he wanted him to join the Welsh Regiment but dad was adamant and away he went. I’m not quite sure if grandpa signed his forms or whether it was Grandma. Dad joined the Air Force and came as a boy entrant to Cranwell.
CB: So this is 1939. Beginning of ’39.
RG: Yes.
CB: Although he’d showed his interest in 1938.
RG: Yes. Yes.
CB: Right.
RG: He was, he did the training in Cranwell as a, what did he do? Wireless operator.
CB: Just stop there a mo.
RG: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: Doing technical training.
TG: Technical training.
RG: Oh right. Yeah.
TG: With a —
[recording paused]
CB: So, tell us a bit more about him leaving home.
RG: It was quite an adventure coming to Lincolnshire for dad because it was his very first time he’d left home and his very first time he’d actually been out of Cardiff. Out of Wales. And he got here as a sixteen year old and he never left Lincolnshire all his life.
CB: So, we’re going to get Terry to talk about the technicalities here because he came to Cranwell as a boy entrant in the days when they were doing that sort of training at Cranwell. So what do we know about that?
TG: Well, from what he told us and from the books we have that he wrote at the time, his technical notes, he was being trained on radio and electrical theory. And at that time of course he was too young to join aircrew but when the war did break out he did volunteer for bomber crew and he was accepted for that. He was sent from Cranwell to a Gunnery School at Upper Heyford and he trained on wireless op, as a wireless operator and he was trained in Morse Code. Subsequent to that training he joined or was posted to 106 Squadron at RAF Finningley.
CB: I think as a wireless operator/air gunner then he went to an outpost somewhere to be trained in gunnery.
TG: Yes. He went West Freugh.
CB: West Freugh.
TG: Freugh. Yes.
CB: In Scotland.
TG: Yes. His first flight was from West Freugh in March I think it was. 1940.
CB: Right.
TG: According to his log book.
CB: So he would have just been eighteen then.
TG: He would. Yes. He’d just turned eighteen a couple of months before. And obviously he was successful and then was sent to Finningley.
CB: Right. Just stop there a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: We’re just going to go back to the Cranwell experience because he’s away from home and there are things there that are different —
RG: Yes.
CB: From being in Wales. So —
RG: Very different. His mum was a very good cook and there was always very good portions for the family but at Cranwell the portions were very small and obviously it didn’t meet dad’s appetite. So the only thing that he could fill up on was cabbage. Dad hated cabbage but he learned that, you know if he wanted to feel full cabbage was the way forward and eventually got to like it and grew them. Yeah.
CB: Extraordinary. But he was being trained in ground radio and electrical activities so most likely he then did some work on the ground.
TG: He did. I understand it was at Abingdon to start with before he was posted to Finningley.
CB: Before he did his gunnery course.
TG: Before his gunnery course. Yes.
CB: Yes. So while he was at Abingdon he, it sounds as though it was when he was there that he volunteered for aircrew.
TG: That’s right. He, after, he then attended a gunnery course and was posted to Finningley where he then flew as a wireless operator and air gunner with 106 Squadron.
CB: What aircraft were they flying?
RG: Hampdens.
TG: They were Hampdens at the time.
CB: Right.
TG: And he later, he was posted with 106 Squadron to Coningsby. And he did thirty operations with 106 Squadron. One of his pilots was a chap called Bob Wareing who on one particular raid they attacked the Schnarhorst and the Gneisenau in Brest and they were successful in putting that ship out of action. And the Scharnhorst. And for that raid I understand that his pilot was awarded the DFC and Peter was mentioned in dispatches. At the end of his thirty raids, thirty operations he, he was posted to Polebrook and seconded to the Americans. But I should add that whilst he was Finningley of course they used to occasionally listen to Lord Haw Haw who correctly broadcast that the clock in the sergeant’s mess was ten minutes slow. Which he often used to laugh about, didn’t he? Your father. That he was correct in Lord Haw Haw. But whilst he was at Polebrook with the Americans he flew in their B17s and he taught them wireless operations and Morse Code. And he flew quite on a few, on a few training exercises with them. One particular rather unsavoury incident took place when he took the class out, of Americans to a pub one night. Amongst them was a black crew.
RG: American.
TG: American crewman. And while in the pub the American military police came in and dragged the black lad out, beat him up and dragged him away because he was in the wrong sort of pub. They say. Your father couldn’t really understand it could he? Peter couldn’t. Pete couldn’t understand that. They charged, the barman charged your dad sixpence. Peter, Pete was charged sixpence because in the melee they broke a beer glass. But he, he never forgot that incident and he couldn’t really rationalise it. It was not what he had expected so to speak. On another occasion he told us that the flight engineer went berserk on the aircraft and in order to subdue him Peter had to, or Pete had to knock him out with an ammo box. I understand there was, and he was grounded for LMF afterwards. Not Pete. The flight engineer.
CB: The American. American flight engineer.
TG: No. No.
RG: No, this was —
TG: This was while he was at Finningley.
RG: Yeah.
CB: Oh, Finningley. Oh, right.
TG: Yeah. Sorry. I’m getting things out of order aren’t I, a little bit?
CB: Yeah. Right.
TG: Slightly. Doesn’t matter.
CB: Ok. So this is 106 Squadron.
TG: As far as I remember it was 106.
CB: At Finningley.
TG: Yes. On another occasion that they went on a couple of gardening missions which was obviously dropping the mines. But they’d got one on board still after this operation and they ventured into France to see whether they could drop this mine somewhere else. And they didn’t take much notice of it but a light aircraft gun opened fire on them and as far as they were aware nothing had happened but when they landed the rear gunner was dead and the thing was awash with blood. His area. And they could never get rid of that blood off that aircraft however much they washed it.
CB: We’ll stop there.
RG: Yes, I—
[recording paused]
CB: So, just going back to the gardening bit.
TG: Gardening of course was dropping mines into the sea and to do that one had to fly very low otherwise the mines would break up. So when they flew in over the land they would also be very low and in range of the, the light anti-aircraft gun that obviously caught the rear gunner.
CB: What sort of anecdotes did he have about training and what was going on there? So, on the airfield.
TG: Well, he did tell me on more than one occasion that he recalled two acts that appeared to be of sabotage when he was, I think training as a gunner. On one occasion he said, on one evening or one night five aircraft who weren’t parked together caught fire almost simultaneously. On another occasion he was on board an aircraft which, as it took off and it had taken off only managed to travel just over the perimeter of the airfield when they crash landed in to a field and the aircraft caught fire. They all managed to get out although Peter said he was burned a little bit. Such was the mark of the man. But when the aircraft was examined because it had failed to gain height the chain that operated the elevators had a, had a bolt inserted in to stop it from operating fully. What became of any enquiry into that he didn’t know and I don’t know. So that was a couple of sort of sad incidents, or suspicious incidents that he, he mentioned to us.
CB: What affect did the loss of the rear gunner have on the rest of the crew?
TG: He never said because —
RG: Dad passed out.
TG: Your father passed out, I think. Peter —
RG: At the sight of the blood.
TG: Pete passed out at the sight of the blood when they landed. But as I’ve already indicated that however much they tried to clean that aircraft the stains of that blood remained. But I rather think that was with 106 Squadron.
CB: And that would need a replacement. So how did the replacement fit in to the crew? Do we know about that?
TG: Peter never said. He didn’t elaborate too much on that side of the operations. He never really mentioned the losses he witnessed when he was on the raids. Although we do know that those losses and what happened haunted him for the rest of his life.
CB: Because this is the early part of the war we’re talking about here.
TG: Yes.
CB: So the Americans came in in ’42.
TG: Yes.
CB: That’s why they were getting help. So what else did he tell you about dealing with the Americans? Working with the Americans.
RG: One story was that dad had been on, I can’t tell you where he’d been on the raid but he was flying back and the aircraft had got minor damage and they couldn’t make it back to East Kirkby. So they had to fly and land lower down the country. Was it lower? Or upper? Well, he landed —
TG: South.
RG: Yes. And dad was doing the Morse Code. The colours of the day and who they were etcetera and he flew over an American base and they opened fire on them. And dad was firing away, not firing away, he was doing his Morse Code. Who he was and the aircraft. And eventually after they’d fired at them, eventually the penny dropped who they were and they landed. They were escorted. The crew were escorted by gunpoint to a higher level. Dad and his crew should have been in the officer’s mess but they weren’t. They were separated. Eventually the aircraft was made airworthy and they took off. And being as they were a whole load of young lads they raided the stores and filled it with toilet rolls. Filled the bomb bay with toilet rolls. They should have flown off and come home to East Kirkby but no. Young lads as they were the pilot did a turn around and as they flew over the airfield the bomb bays opened, the toilet rolls flew out and dad tapped away, you historically say, ‘You crapped on us [laughs] Here’s the bumph to go with it.’ When they got back to East Kirkby they thought oh my goodness we’re all going to be in trouble but nothing was ever said. So, yes. That was, and dad didn’t have a great love of the Americans.
CB: This is, this is later in the war we’re talking about here.
RG: Yes. Later. Yes.
CB: But it’s prompted by the earlier point about being at Polebrook.
RG: Yes.
TG: So —
RG: The Americans. Yeah.
CB: What else do we know about when he was there?
TG: After thirty operations which Peter thankfully survived he volunteered and was, as I say an instructor, went as an instructor to the US Air Force at Polebrook. Teaching them Morse Code and wireless operations procedure and I think we’ve already mentioned about this business about going to the pub haven’t we?
CB: Yes.
TG: Shall I read —
CB: What other, what other experiences did he have with them?
TG: Well, they, they used to fly all over the country of course but Peter at that time, I’m not sure if that time he was probably married to Olive which we’ll come to later but, who was at Spalding in South Lincolnshire and he used to persuade the Americans to land at Sutton Bridge which was only about fifteen miles from Spalding, when he’d been on a trip with them. And he’d disembark from the aircraft and he’d cadge a lift one way or another into Spalding to see Olive. So he was using them as a rather an expensive taxi but it served his purpose very well.
RG: Mum and dad met when dad was visiting a crew member who’d got badly burned in an aircraft and, I don’t think it was one of dad’s crew but it was a fellow RAF man. And he was at Stamford Hospital and I think they went on a motorbike, two of them to see, to visit this friend and they stopped back at Spalding obviously for a beer or two. And they went to the Greyhound down Broad Street in Spalding and my mum was, Olive was the bar maid there. And obviously there was some attraction and dad kept visiting. Yeah. But that’s where they first met. And if he hadn’t have wanted a beer and pulled in they would never have met. And mum and dad were married in April 1942.
CB: So, how did they keep contact during the war?
RG: I think it was dad visiting home. They lived at, with my nan in Little London which is very close to Spalding. I think it was just a question of dad coming and visiting and letters. That sort of thing. Yes.
CB: Ok. So at the end of his posting to Polebrook to assist the Americans.
TG: Yes.
CB: How long was that posting there? Do we know?
TG: Well, he, he volunteered for a second tour and he was posted in 1943. In November 1943 if I recall correctly to Husbands Bosworth where he trained with a [pause] with his second crew. A rookie crew.
CB: That was an OTU.
TG: Yes.
CB: 14 OTU. Yeah.
TG: But from February 1941 he’d been at Coningsby just to go back. He did his thirty raids. Then to Polebrook. And then by November ’43 he, he, he, he went to Husbands Bosworth and there he was crewed up with, as I say the new crew who were under training and the pilot was, flight well then he was flight lieutenant then, but a chap called J B P Spencer who was nicknamed Tuesday for reasons that Peter could never discover. Tuesday was from Durham and from quite a well to do family. They and the rest of the crew after they’d finished training were posted to East Kirkby in the run up basically to D-Day.
CB: And then what was the Squadron number there?
TG: It was 57 Squadron.
CB: Right.
TG: At East Kirkby at the time.
CB: Flying?
TG: Lancasters then.
CB: Well, normally there would be a link of a Heavy Conversion Unit between the OTU and the Squadron but it’s possible they didn’t have them operating at that time. When did he go to East Kirkby?
TG: In March 1944.
CB: Ok.
TG: That’s from memory but —
CB: Stop there briefly.
TG: I’m sure it is.
[recording paused]
CB: So we’re chopping and changing a bit but let’s just go back to Finningley.
RG: [unclear]
CB: So what, what, yes what anecdotes do we have about dad flying in Finningley?
RG: Well, I haven’t any recollection of dad talking about it at the time of that he was in there but later on life I and my husband went on holiday and we flew. It was then Robin Hood Airport and we flew from Finningley as it was and dad said oh, well his pilot, Spencer was rubbish at flying. Flying a plane. He would just throw it in to the sky and when he landed he would equally do the same. It was always a hit and miss affair whether they actually got down ok. Dad said that Finningley had got a crosswind and you had to fly, land it sort of diagonal. I didn’t believe him really but off we went on this holiday. And when we came back the wind was that strong that we basically had to fly as dad had said that his Spencer did. But it was typical. We landed and we were home. But yes. So Finningley has never got any better over the years. Or is it the pilots?
CB: Or is it the crosswind?
RG: Crosswind. Well, yes I suppose it’s how, how the airfield is. Mind you they don’t call them airfields now, do they?
CB: Well, it’s an airport now.
RG: An airport. Yeah. But to me they’ll be aerodromes.
CB: Home of the Vulcan. Yes.
RG: Yes. Yes. That’s right. Yeah.
CB: Right.
[recording paused]
CB: Ok.
TG: Right. From the OTU at Husbands Bosworth and at Market Harborough Pete then was posted to the HCU at Wigsley where they flew Stirlings. And then on to Syerston where he —
CB: Lancaster Flying School.
TG: Well, the —
CB: Finishing School.
TG: The Lancaster Finishing School, I beg your pardon at Syerston where I think they’d also pick up the engineer, would they not?
CB: They would have done that at Wigsley.
TG: Yeah. Sorry at Wigsley.
CB: Yes. But he doesn’t mention that in his tour because it’s expanding the crew to the final seventh man.
TG: I see. He never, he never mentioned much about some details.
CB: No. Then he went on to his second operational Squadron which was?
TG: 57 Squadron.
CB: Yeah.
TG: Where —
CB: That was, where was that?
TG: East Kirkby.
CB: Right.
TG: And that was in April 1944.
CB: Right. We’ll stop there for a mo. Thank you.
[recording paused]
TG: The attrition rate was very very high.
CB: So he joined 57 Squadron in 1944.
TG: Yes.
CB: Early part of ’44. Didn’t he?
TG: With Tuesday Spencer as his pilot. And the rest of the crew, Clarke, West, Hughes-Games, and Grice and George I think his name was. And they flew twenty five missions and I think they were very intense at the time. The enemy fire and such. But they managed to survive it but at the end of the twenty five raids Peter was told by the commanding officer he could not continue to fly. He’d had, he needed a rest and he was stood down. And he went for about ten days leave and when he came back he discovered that the rest of his crew were dead or at least missing. And it transpired that they’d been shot down on the 31st of August 1944 after a raid on the railway yards at Joigny La Roche. About a hundred and twenty kilometres south west I think of Paris. And when he arrived back on base he was summoned to the station commander’s office where he was introduced to Tuesday Spencer’s parents who wanted to meet him as the friend of their late son. And —
RG: Twenty.
TG: Sorry?
RG: The lad was twenty.
TG: He was only twenty years old was Tuesday. And Pete was only a little bit more and they gave Peter five pounds to spend on a good night out.
RG: No. They sent him to mark his commission and his DFC five pounds.
TG: Of the —
RG: Because of their, yes that’s in here. Yeah.
TG: Yeah. And instead of spending it on drink because probably his first inclination would be to do he and Olive decided to spend this money on a pair of candlesticks in memory of the crew. And those candlesticks are still with Rachel’s elder sister. Pride of place on the mantelpiece no doubt. In memory of them. What happened to that crew was that from research we’ve carried out and what Peter was told at the time that the aircraft at least blew up returning from the raid. As far as we can work out. And from, again from records we obtained from the Public Record Office at Kew Hughey, Hughey Hughes-Games was the first to parachute out of the plane followed by Sergeant Grice who Peter didn’t know but was acting as Pete’s replacement while he was stood down. And the Germans later said a third parachute caught fire on the way down but no other men escaped the plane. And the Lanc which was called Q for Queenie ND954 burned out on the ground. Hughes-Games it transpired was taken prisoner of war as was Sergeant Grice and the rest of the crew were killed. And they’re buried at Banneville-La-Campagne near Caen. I might have pronounced that incorrectly. Sadly, Hughes-Games who was interviewed by the Red Cross and from some of the information I’ve given to you about it catching fire and whatever came from him he contracted meningitis and died in, Stalag 3 was it? And is buried in Poland. The rest of the crew as I say are buried near Caen. And I took Peter back there and we’ve been back to their graves several times. Sergeant Grice survived as a prisoner of war and I think he ended up back at home and he lived to be in his mid-eighties in Shropshire. But we never met him and Peter didn’t know him. So that was really the last of his memories of 57 Squadron and the loss of that crew. He did commence a third tour. Incidentally, the crew he lost at 57 Squadron were on their thirty first raid. And it’s commonly thought that thirty was the limit but temporarily it was lifted to thirty five around that time I understand. And sadly on their thirty first raid when they died.
RG: The only plane on that day to be lost from East Kirkby.
TG: On the 31st of July that raid went, basically things were a lot easier for the bombers at that time and it was the only aircraft lost on that raid, on that day from East Kirkby.
CB: How did he feel about the loss of his crew?
TG: Peter never spoke much about the experience he had until he retired from his business when he was about seventy. And I discussed it at great length with him and I took him as I say back to France, down to Kew, to Runnymede, St Martin in the Fields. All the Memorials because he started to open up but he never gave much detail about the bad side of it. He mentioned the crew had been killed and he was quite matter of fact about it but that was the surface.
RG: Say now about dad’s nightmares all his life.
TG: But subconsciously we know that he, he was greatly affected by, by his experiences. You’ve got to bear in mind that he, his flying hours exceeded a thousand. A thousand hours in these, in these terrible conditions. I mean they weren’t sitting back. They were bitterly cold, frightened to death and as he often told us more ammunition was wasted on the Morning/Evening Star than shooting at other aircraft because they were quite obviously tense and wound up. But when I met him and he was in his mid-forties then occasionally if we were staying there we would hear him in the middle of the night when he was asleep.
RG: [unclear]
TG: And also at our house in later life if he was ill he would start up talking to his skipper on the radio in his sleep. In talking almost as if it was happening. These episodes of talking to the skipper and warning him about approaching aircraft or, ‘Let’s get out of here,’ didn’t last for a few minutes. They would last for hours in, in the night. Where he would, he would start off and then ten minutes later he’d had another instruction to the skipper, the pilot to warn him of approaching aircraft. And this was when Peter was seventy five or eighty years old. This was forty years later. And it was obviously imprinted on his subconscious indelibly and whilst to talk to him it didn’t affect him if he talked about it a lot at a function when he was later in life because as I say he didn’t disclose much at all of, of the worst side of things but it was obviously there underneath. And if he, if he’d been talking to you now like I’m talking to you tonight he would have been flying again. In his sleep.
RG: In the mornings he would say, ‘Oh, my goodness. I’ve been flying all night. All night.’ Right up until he was in hospital and Helen went to see him, my sister and just before he died he was still flying.
CB: So, who used to go and see him in the night?
TG: We —
RG: Me. Usually me. Or when he was with mum, mum would.
TG: Mum.
RG: Yeah. But when he, after my mum died and he would be here with us it would be me.
TG: But he was ok the next day as a rule. The one thing I noticed about him and maybe many, many other bomber crew he didn’t have any friends from those days. Like some of the army chaps. Simply because there were none left. They had all been killed. All his crew had been killed hadn’t they? I think he stayed in touch with Bob Wareing briefly.
RG: Yes.
TG: Until he died. And about [unclear]
RG: He stayed, he stayed friends with a lot of the RAF people.
TG: But they’d not flown with him.
RG: Through his association with the Royal Observer Corps and the RAF Association.
TG: And the British Legion.
RG: And the British Legion. And also he was a member of Fenland Airfield and he loved to go and spend time down there.
TG: But he never knew or could talk to anyone who flew with him.
RG: Except —
TG: On those raids.
RG: Except —
TG: Except on one occasion at the —
RG: Metheringham.
TG: Metheringham. The reunion which was held, held every year of 106 Squadron he bumped into —
RG: Well, he nearly didn’t go.
TG: He nearly didn’t go. He was very ill. Quite ill at the time and it was not that long before Pete’s death. But we took him to Metheringham, to the old airfield and he bumped into a chap and they got talking and it transpired that on the Scharnhorst raid this chap remembered it clearly and had been in another aircraft on that same raid. And he remembered some talk of Peter shooting down an enemy aircraft. But Peter, Pete always said he thought, they thought he had originally but he never claimed it was him, did he?
RG: But he, this gentleman knew the formation. He said, ‘And your pilot pulled out of formation to go in again.’ And it was just listening to these two old gentlemen who were well into their eighties talking as though they were there that present moment. But for two old age people to be there just by chance on that reunion was amazing. Terry has that on video because we’d just got a new video camera. Yeah.
TG: That’s with IBC, they’ve got the copy of that. Well, we’ve got it here.
RG: Yes.
TG: But I video’d that conversation and it’s now been —
CB: Brilliant.
RG: Yeah.
CB: So we’re really talking about 106 Squadron when they were flying Hampdens.
RG: From Metheringham Airfield.
CB: From Metheringham.
RG: This one. Yes.
TG: He’s written Coningsby but it was definitely —
CB: Metheringham.
TG: Well, it was a satellite wasn’t it?
CB: Yes.
TG: He flew from there. He met, he once, he met Gibson once or twice and knew him. He wasn’t a very popular man, was he? Gibson.
CB: No.
TG: Very officious. But it’s not on there is it? Is that switched off?
CB: Yeah. No. No. It isn’t. We’ll stop there just for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: The matter of how to speak about these things was difficult for most war veterans. Aircrew particularly. Perhaps because of the high losses. But then there’s the effect on the families. So he’s speaking in his sleep in these times.
RG: Yeah.
CB: What affect did that have on you?
RG: Well, I was mainly concerned for Dad’s well-being really and I would go and chat to him. Although he was asleep his eyes would be open and he didn’t really know I was there. But obviously he did and then he would calm and then in the morning he would say, ‘Rachel, I’ve been flying all night.’ And I would say, ‘Yes, dad. I know.’ But he’d no recollection of me being there. But it was, it was quite upsetting to hear that he was, and he was talking and as though you know he was there, ‘Skip, they’re coming in at — ’ so and so, you know, ‘Do we fire now?’ And it was just as though he was there. But obviously, you know it was affecting his mind. And right up until the minute, well not the minute but the day before he died he was still flying. Yeah. It was —
TG: He was eighty one when he died.
RG: But as a child Dad the war was not spoken to about a lot but on the days when Dad would be slightly not well I was told that I’d got to behave because he wasn’t very well. And that was the reason. But yeah. But in the night he didn’t seem to be agitated by it. It was just as though it was happening and he was coping with it.
CB: So it’s no shouting.
RG: No.
CB: It’s just a conversation.
RG: Yes. Yeah. As though —
CB: As though he’s on the intercom.
RG: Yeah.
TG: As calm as you and I now. Controlled. And so and so’s happening, Skip.
RG: Just as though they were getting on with the job.
TG: A normal tone of voice as if and then an hour later or ten minutes later he’d give an update of some sort. ‘Let’s get the bloody [pause] out of here skipper.’ And that was it.
CB: Because he was acting as a lookout.
RG: Yes.
TG: Well, yes.
RG: Yes.
TG: Oh yes.
CB: As a child though you were told that he was, it was a bad day. So what did you feel as a child when you, he had these episodes?
RG: I just took it, I just took it as, as I’ve got, behave myself. I think I was a bit of reckless child but you know I just got to behave myself and that was it [pause] But no, he was, no. Just my dad.
CB: But he was always calm in what he was doing. It was —
RG: Just turn that off a minute.
CB: Yeah. Sure.
[recording paused]
CB: So how did your mother handle this?
RG: Well, very calmly I think. Dad would on, on what I now know was his sort of bad days he would be prone to picking arguments and probably doing a bit of shouting which was quite unusual for dad because he was quite a calm person. But in, you know he would be probably be shouting at mum but I just sort of took it as I’d just got to behave myself and that would be it. But mum always, when dad was like this was always very sort of calm, and well I suppose she was talking him down a bit. But it was never mentioned why he was like it and I just thought oh well other people’s dads shout and that, you know and that was it. But as a general rule he was such a calm sort of person. Took everything in his stride really. But on these occasions that, that used to happen. Yeah.
CB: To what extent do you think over the years he had spoken to your mother about his experiences?
RG: I don’t really know. I wouldn’t. I would imagine not a lot. It was, I wouldn’t, I never overheard them talking about anything but then I wouldn’t always be there but, no it was usually, if dad spoke about anything it wasn’t how it affected him. It was usually telling a tale of what he’d been up to. What raid he’d been on and different aspects of what they, you know, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t the horrors. It was more of the good bits. You know. Tearing about on a motorbike and that sort of thing as you would expect lads of that age to be doing.
TG: And he was only twenty or so.
CB: Yeah.
TG: When all this was —
CB: Yes.
TG: You know, that was the average age of these —
CB: Sure. Oh yes. Absolutely. So she was in the Spalding area.
RG: All the time. Yes.
CB: Surrounded by Air Force. They were married in the war.
RG: Yes.
CB: She continued did she in her bar work?
RG: Yes. She was a nanny and, to a family who had four children and they kept the Greyhound. So in the day mum would be looking after the children. Helping with that sort of thing. And then she would as and when she was required she would be the bar. The bar girl. Yes. So she stayed with the family. Well, they’re godparents to me and later John one of the sons went into partnership with my dad as a nurseryman and, but mum didn’t live always at the Greyhound. She lived with her parents in Little London. And then when my sister Helen was born she, she was with nan and then mum would be continuing to work and home as normal mum’s do. Yeah.
CB: The reason I ask the question is because to some extent she was programmed to the losses and the stoic reaction of the other crews.
RG: Yes. Yes. I don’t honestly know whether it was all talked about but no doubt it would be you know mentioned. You know. Particularly the loss of all the crew. The last, last one.
TG: I’ve mentioned Tuesday and then of course she had the incident with the DFC. Your mum was disappointed.
CB: So what was that?
RG: Well, dad was awarded the DFC. And mum saved all the coupons and my nan, all the coupons for a new outfit. Coat. A new coat was, I think she had it made and, and you know all ready to go to London, to the Palace and then the king was very poorly so of course it, they couldn’t go. And the DFC was given to dad by his commanding officer over the counter more or less at East Kirkby. And it was very, very disappointing for mum not to be going on that.
CB: I can imagine. Yes.
TG: The king did write. We’ve still got the letter of course.
RG: Oh yes. We, yeah.
CB: Not the same as having it —
RG: No. But no —
CB: Conferred on you.
RG: Well, in those days where they lived, a little village. Oh, you know. Olive Hazeldene. She’s going to the Palace, you know. And a new coat was got. You know it’s just, well, it was one of those things isn’t it? The poor old king.
CB: Well, people didn’t travel much in those days so —
RG: No.
CB: It was a major —
RG: It was a big thing.
CB: Task.
RG: Yes.
CB: We’ll pause there for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: You were, so let’s just catch up on here.
RG: Do you know, I’m really, I’m really a very strong character but when I start crying I cry for days. Mr Panton, we were talking to him, oh I forgot what I was going to say. We were talking to him one day about dad.
CB: Just to that in to context the airfield was bought by the Panton’s for their chicken farm.
RG: Yes.
CB: And then they bought what is now called, “Just Jane.”
RG: Yes. Yeah. From Scampton. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So you were saying though that before that happened.
RG: No.
CB: We used to go there.
RG: No. No.
RG: Yeah. We used to go.
TG: Go back to the beginning.
CB: Dad would just go in.
RG: We used to go there, but we never used to speak to anybody because we were like trespassers trespassing and but we used to go and just like look and that was it and you know we girls would probably play hide and seek and that would be it.
CB: On the airfield.
RG: On the airfield. Yes. And then when after dad died we got the Memorial cabinet set up. We were talking to Mr Fred Panton one day and he was saying, and I said my dad would never come in the Lancaster. And he said that they had, when they started doing the taxi runs they had this gentleman who booked himself on one of the flights as they called it. He would come early, have a bit of lunch and sit there and then he would be ready, his flight would be ready, they would call him but he just couldn’t bring himself to get on it. And he said he did it numerous times. Not just the once. Numerous times. Where he really wanted to go on the taxi run but couldn’t bring himself to. And he was, like dad had flown from there.
CB: What do you think was the origin of that reaction?
RG: I would imagine that it would be bringing back all the horrors of, of going. You know, on these raids.
CB: In your case was it your father’s reaction of the loss of the crew without him being there?
RG: He never actually said anything about it but no if I mentioned, ‘Oh, shall we go on one of those taxi runs?’ ‘No. I don’t think so Rachel.’ And that was it but he did [pause] he got a tree planted just around the corner from the mess and in memory and he had a plaque put for his crew. You carry on. Oh dear.
CB: We’ll stop a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: Even though —
RG: Even though dad never actually said how he felt about his crew he did have a tree, bought a tree, a big flowering cherry, had the tree planted and he had a plaque with the all the names of his crew and why we put it there. And now we’ve got, and now we’ve got one by the side of it for dad.
CB: This is a really emotional and emotive activity and task to follow up. But taking the bombing war itself what was his attitude towards bombing in general?
RG: He just, he just, he didn’t do too much commenting on it but I got the feeling that dad was given a task to do and they just went and did it. And didn’t give a great deal, no I was going to say a great deal of thought to what they were doing but obviously they were. But they were just following orders I think. That’s, but he didn’t, dad didn’t say too much. He was a very private sort of fella. Yeah.
CB: Terry, what do you think?
TG: Well, he told me that it was a job that had to be done and he did as he was told and he kept at it. It was the only way. Bearing in mind at the time the only people that were taking the war to Germany was Bomber Command. And he, I asked him sometimes why they’d not been recognised and he just said that’s just how it was. He wasn’t, he got to the stage where he wasn’t, he wasn’t bothered that there was no particular medal for Bomber Command in the war. We all know the political sensitivities about that but that was the way it was. He had a job to do, he said and he did it to the best he could. And he said he was just very, very lucky to have survived.
CB: We talked about his DFC. His navigator also had a DFC. Doesn’t look as though the pilot had a DFC. But what was the, his 57 Squadron pilot because his 106 had two DFCs didn’t he? Wareing.
TG: I think Bob Wareing, 106 Squadron had a DFC and probably a DFC and bar. Peter eventually got his. He said he got it because he was lucky to be alive. But read the citation. Continually went into some of the worst and most heavily defended targets. Sorry. You asked me what?
CB: Yeah. I was going to say what was the reason that, given for his receiving the DFC? Because it was a particular point.
TG: It was a non-immediate award.
CB: Right.
TG: And it was I think the citation and it’s around somewhere was continued enthusiasm and leadership going in to some of the, as I say the worst defended targets repeatedly again and again and again. When he was eventually put forward for it and he received it in 1944. Yes, it was 1944.
CB: Ok.
[recording paused]
TG: It was, it was some years or quite a long time after I had married Rachel that he even mentioned he’d got it. It wasn’t something that was a big thing with him.
RG: As a child dad was a member of the Royal Observer Corps. He was chief, Observer Corps at the post at Maxey, and on ceremonial occasions, on marches and Remembrance Sundays the medals always came out. So he was very proud of them, but as to talk about it that would be a different matter. But on an occasion where other members of the Royal Observer Corps and the British Legion and all that he would wear them with pride. Yeah.
CB: Now, his 57 Squadron tour finished at twenty five ops for him.
TG: Yes.
CB: What did he do after that?
TG: Well, he, he, he started a third tour at Syerston. From Syerston on Lancasters. But he did a few operational tours before the war finished.
CB: Which Squadron was that?
TG: I can’t remember.
CB: It doesn’t matter. But he was on operations. Not training.
TG: No. He was on operations. We see from his logbook he made at least one or two trips to Berlin. Four or five days after Germany surrendered.
CB: Oh right.
TG: And that was the end of his operational duties but I think he stayed on for another eighteen months or so before finally leaving the RAF.
CB: What, what — how did he come to be in the Observer Corps?
RG: My Uncle Bert. He was my godfather. He was a member of the Royal Observer Corps and dad went. Followed him sort of thing. Yeah. Got the Queen’s Silver Jubilee for services to the Royal Observer Corps. And he was chief observer at the Maxey post.
CB: Which is where exactly?
TG: Just outside of Peterborough. Between Peterborough and —
RG: Yeah. Market Deeping.
TG: Until, until it was disbanded.
RG: Yes.
TG: He, he stayed ‘til the end.
RG: He did all the talks on the, you know when the bomb, what was going off. I used to go with him on those talks. We talked to all sorts of organisations. I was in charge of the slides. You know. To show them. I felt as if I knew everything about it. Yes.
TG: I did talk to him about D-Day. I asked him if he’d been on an operation leading up to D-Day and in fact as his logbook proves he was. 5 Group went and bombed on the evening of the 5th of June 1944. Maisy Grandcamp and that area there. I asked him what he thought about it and what he knew about it. When he went on that raid he had no idea it was D-Day. He didn’t know it was D-Day and neither did anybody else but the top brass. As you probably know. And he said he thought it was funny because as he flew over the Channel, he thought on his screen there was a lot of Window. The silver.
CB: Radar jamming.
TG: The radar jamming stuff that was flying around but it, they did the raid and they got back and he went back and went to bed. And then when he woke up the next morning they told him it was D-Day and what he’d seen on his screen wasn’t Window. It was the boats. It was, it was the invasion fleet going. And that was the first he knew it was D-Day because of the secrecy of everything.
CB: This was on his H2S radar.
TG: Yes.
CB: He was seeing it.
TG: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
TG: But that’s, but that’s his recollection of that. But he remembered some, some raids and he’d tell me briefly about them. I think once they, shortly after D-Day they were detailed to attack Caen. The Germans there, and bomb at a certain point. But between taking off and getting this message our side, I think Canadians advanced further and I think there was quite a lot of allied troops killed by our own side in that raid. You probably know more about it than I do. Similarly we talked about the Scharnhorst earlier. That was a raid he told me that went slightly wrong. The plan had been, I think it was Poleglase was the station commander who led them in. But the plan had been for bombers to go in early at high level and get the bombs, the ships guns pointing upwards when Pete’s group would come in low and give them a good hiding. But I think the timing went wrong and they were waiting for them and hence the first three aircraft were shot out of the sky and then Wareing took that detour inland and came and got them from the other way. But these are the things that are probably not documented anywhere else.
CB: Now, the other major ship of course, capital ship was the Bismarck.
TG: Yes.
CB: So to what did he, extent did he have an involvement with that?
TG: He told us and it came to light after a chance conversation forty or fifty years later. Forty years later. With a chap in the Mail Cart pub at Spalding. But Pete told us that they knew where the Bismarck was heading but they didn’t quite know where it was as I understood it. So they went off to lay some mines in the Bay of Biscay and they were talked down as to where they should plant these mines by some of the Naval vessels. And that is what they did. And obviously a short time later the Bismarck was sunk by other means. But the chap in the, in the pub years later it transpired was on one of our Naval vessels and he was a wireless operator talking with the RAF and giving them instructions. So it was probably that Peter actually had spoken to this man before but never met him in entirely different circumstances than over a pint in the Mail Cart.
RG: Steward and Patteson’s.
TG: Yeah. So Steward and Patteson’s was a, that was another. Pete. Pete knew his beers. He knew them like no man I’ve ever met. And he could drink probably more than any man I’ve ever met [laughs] But when I first met him he used to take me to the Dun Cow at Spalding. Well at Cowbit. And he had this Steward and Patteson was one of the local brewers and Pete with his favourite pint but they used to grow barley in Norfolk for the beer, and they used to grow barley in Lincolnshire on the other side of the River Nene. And Pete could tell from the drink which side of the river the barley had been grown. Now, whether he was shooting the line.
RG: He would be.
TG: Which I’m sure he was but people believed him. So there you go. That’s, that’s the man. He was a very tall man, you know. About six foot two, wasn’t he? Very gentle. And he could speak equally to Prince Phillip or the Queen who he met a time or two.
RG: Garden parties.
TG: Or to the local drunk on his bike going past his nursery. Couldn’t he?
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
TG: Couldn’t he? He was at ease with anybody.
CB: And talking of nurseries. After the war how did he come to take up horticulture?
RG: Well, he went to work for Nell Brothers. Horticulturalists in Spalding. And he went as worker there. And then he went to Swanley Horticultural College and did a course on growing and all that sort of thing. And then he came back home. And then one of the Prestons, John Preston was of school leaving age and he thought he might like a career in horticulture. Growing type things. His father was loosely connected. And so they set up the nursery. They rented the land from Uncle Bert and they set up the business of Redmile Nurseries. John was the young lad and my dad was the expert as it were. And they worked there ‘til dad retired. You know. Quite a successful. Growing tomatoes, lettuce. The land had a bit of wheat on. They did lot of potato chitting. Cut flowers in the greenhouses. They expanded a little bit but that’s it. That’s where dad worked.
TG: He spent all his, his remainder of his working life.
RG: Yes.
TG: The Preston family that Rachel mentioned are the same ones that Olive was nanny too.
RG: Yeah.
TG: And who owned the Greyhound at Spalding.
RG: Yes.
TG: And in fact, John, his partner only died last week. He was eighty five.
CB: Ok.
[recording paused]
CB: Do you want to just say that again.
RG: Yeah. Dad grew all sorts of veg and things like that. Tomatoes and lettuce. But he absolutely hated tomatoes. It was quite funny really. You grow them, you know and yeah. But he hated them.
CB: What was the origin of that?
RG: I’ve absolutely no idea really but yeah. Yeah. It’s [pause] yeah.
TG: But his —
RG: But we never ate tomatoes like they do in supermarkets now. Red. They’d always got to be firm and orange and they’d always got to be of a certain size. Other things like you have beef tomatoes and things nowadays they just went on the skip. It had got to be if I can remember pink, or pink and white. That was the grade of the tomatoes.
TG: If they were red they weren’t fit to eat.
RG: No. They were thrown out. They were only for frying.
TG: But of course Rachel does the garden. That’s been inherited from her dad I think.
CB: Looks smashing.
TG: Well, your other sister is a horticulturist.
RG: Yes. Helen is horticultural.
TG: In a big way big way down in Spalding.
RG: Yes. Yeah.
TG: Yes.
CB: Stop there again.
[recording paused]
RG: And they went on their honeymoon. The Preston’s had a bungalow at Surfleet Reservoir. And mum and dad went down there. I suppose it was all the time they’d got. They went down there for the honeymoon to the bungalow at Surfleet Reservoir. It’s where the river comes in and there’s a, there’s a sluice gate before it goes out into the sea. Surfleet Reservoir. In the day it was quite a nice little place to be. Yeah, and that’s where they went on their honeymoon.
TG: About three miles from home.
RG: Yes. Well, why not?
CB: Might have got recalled.
TG: Well, yes.
RG: Well, that’s always a possibility isn’t it?
TG: That was it. But —
CB: Stop there.
[recording paused]
CB: So, did you go back to France quite often? Where the crew were buried.
TG: Rachel and, Rachel and I went on holiday in France quite often and always drive. One time when we were coming back we went to Normandy where my father fought and went to some of the cemeteries at Omaha and others. And at the time I think I managed it was sort of pre-internet days really. But I managed to find where Peter’s crew were buried from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and on the way back we travelled to Banneville and to the Commonwealth and found Tuesday Spencer and Weston Clark and Anderson. Their grave. And we came back on the Tuesday and Peter had never set foot abroad. He’d left his mark. By golly he had in France and in Germany from high, from on high and I mentioned I’d been and I didn’t know really how to put it because I didn’t know how it would affect him emotionally. And I said we’d been and found the graves and he did say, ‘I’d like to go.’ So this was on the Tuesday. On the Saturday we jumped in his Rover and I went back to France with him and we had the whale of a time. We had a whale of a time. We not only visited. We visited some hostelries there and we visited Pointe du Hoc and Omaha, and I took him to the graves and he stood beside them and he signed the book. He was very quiet but he was completely controlled and he was able to speak quite easily of them. And so he did and we’ve got photographs of the graves and Peter with them.
CB: So what did he talk about?
TG: When he was there? He would talk about Tuesday. He was, I think the closest because he didn’t know anything much about other crews and that was fairly [pause] fairly part of the course wasn’t it? He knew his own crew but Tuesday had a motor bike and he’d got a girlfriend. I think he was having trouble with this girlfriend and I think Pete used to advise him a little bit on the, on procedure and protocols and things like that. But I think he also used to take Pete to Spalding to see Olive and that sort of thing and have a few pints.
RG: Dad put in here that he socialised an awful lot with Tuesday. He had a little bit more money than dad and if they went somewhere, probably go to London and he would put them up and I think dad quite liked that idea.
TG: That happened once. They made a forced landing somewhere down south and Tuesday had the money and he put the whole crew up in a hotel in London. And Pete was quite happy to participate. He put his back in to that evening I think [laughs]. Really put his back into so, and enjoyed that wouldn’t he? But having said that and between meeting him and Tuesday dying was only eleven months or so wasn’t it? So they were, they were, they were friends but they, they must have known that, well what was going through their minds having looked around you didn’t make plans for the future necessarily.
CB: No. You said he was asked to speak to Tuesday’s parents.
TG: Yes.
CB: What did he think about that?
TG: He described it as it was, didn’t he? He, he, they wanted to speak to him and he was summoned to the office. The station commander. When he returned after ten days or so. And they really wanted to talk to him about Tuesday and how he’d found him because obviously they knew or they had been told that Pete was his best friend while he was down there. I think all he could tell them was —
RG: How it was really.
TG: How it was. And when he’d last seen him and that sort of thing. He didn’t express any emotion at all.
RG: No.
TG: To me. He never expressed any emotion. He just told it how it was and that was all his experiences. The only clue you got to the effect was as we mentioned was the night.
RG: Nightmares. Yeah.
TG: The nightmares if you like to call it that. When he was flying at night. That was the only time he, you would know that there was anything amiss. That he’d been affected. He would talk about his drink. The drinking sessions and the good times. He’d talk about not being able to remember because they’d had just to blot it out. But the middle bit. The bit where it happened he, he didn’t go into any detail other than the funny bits usually. And occasionally obviously the rear gunner being hit. But he was, he was baled out twice. Wasn’t he?
CB: So why did he have to bale out of the aircraft?
TG: I think the aircraft made it back to the UK, in England both times. I think on one occasion he landed in a field and it was foggy. And I’m sure he told me that there was somebody had reported this fellow had come out of an aircraft and a police car was, was on the road and he was the other side of the hedge. And I think they thought he was a German or something to start with because he was running down this hedge side with the police opposite until they could sort of meet up and he identified himself. He did get some shrapnel in the backside once. Didn’t he?
RG: Yes. I think mum used to have it in her sewing box. I don’t know if it’s still there [laughs]
TG: It’s probably —
RG: Yeah. I don’t, I don’t think it is now. Yeah. You always, when I was a kid that, ‘Oh, no. That came out of dad’s, dad’s bottom,’ like, you know [laughs]
TG: It had gone through the seat.
RG: Yeah.
TG: Wherever he was.
RG: And when he landed in the tree I think he ripped his leg. But that’s the only injury he got. Yeah.
TG: I think he landed in Norfolk on one occasion if not both. Then struggling back.
RG: The thing is though when you’re growing up you hear, and later on you hear these things and because you’re so engrossed with living —
CB: Yeah.
RG: You don’t take it on board. And then all of a sudden when you get older and you get interested in these sorts of things you think oh, I wish I’d learned more. I wish I knew more about my granddad because he was in the First World War and he, I just knew that he was a horseman but I didn’t know whether he rode a horse. I didn’t know what he did, but he was, he looked after the horse —
TG: A blacksmith.
RG: No. He wasn’t a blacksmith. He looked after the horses that pulled the big guns. You see, I didn’t know any of that.
CB: No.
RG: You know. I didn’t. I mean, ok apart from a picture at my nan’s of him in uniform I wouldn’t have thought. It wasn’t until later on that I’ve got some spoons and knives and things in there stamped with numbers. And they are my granddads and my great uncle’s that they took to the war with them.
TG: They’d be stamped and issued to them, wouldn’t they?
RG: With their, with their service numbers.
CB: No.
RG: I didn’t know. You know, I didn’t know any of that.
CB: No.
RG: And then of course when you get interested it’s too late because everybody’s gone then. Isn’t it?
TG: You see, we’d been across there a lot. Both to the Normandy and to Ypres and the Somme. I nearly lived there. Certainly, if you look behind you when you’re upstairs you’ll see books. I’ve got the 57 Squadron book. The, “57 Squadron at War,” which is very difficult to get a hold of now. I’ve got it. I’ve got it upstairs there but, when I go around to some of these places I mean I often go or used to go to Sleaford and one other, and Norfolk where they’re doing all these re-enactments and you think gosh these are really, because I’m really into these things as you probably gathered. And I start talking to these and they’re all dressed and they, when you actually talk to them they know very little. They want to get dressed up and do battle. They’ve never been to Normandy. They’ve never been to those. They don’t know about, they just want to get dressed up and look you know. They don’t get into it.
CB: They’re actors.
RG: Yes.
TG: Yes. But they’re just enthusiast who want to get dressed up and think it’s fun.
RG: I went.
TG: It annoys me. That they should go and look at those cemeteries, you know. And they’ve never been. I said, ‘What do you think to Omaha?’ ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘Omaha.’ You know. Or, or, or Tyne Cot, or Passchendaele or some of these, you know.
RG: I challenged one at Metheringham Open Day one day. He was there and he had DFC things on, you know.
TG: He was dressed up.
RG: He was an officer and he’d got the DFC. You know, the ribbons.
TG: He was a postman. He’d never been in a —
RG: I said to him, ‘Oh, you’ve got, I see you’ve got a DFC there,’ you know. He did not know what I was talking about. I said, ‘That, that ribbon there. That’s a DFC.’ ‘Is it?’
TG: Yeah.
RG: And I thought, what are we doing here? You know. Yeah.
TG: If they’re going to do that they want to know more than I do.
RG: Yeah.
TG: And my dad was there and he, you know he was reported killed, missing in action to my mum on the 18th of June 1944. Fortunately, in the same post she got a letter from him. He was in Carlisle Hospital with a great lump of shrapnel in him. At Ranville, at Ranville, just up from, from Pegasus Bridge. He’d been smashed up. But as I say after three or four months he was fit enough to go back. That’s where he got this.
RG: I don’t know.
TG: He lived ‘til he was ninety six my father. Red beret and airborne.
RG: Yeah.
TG: And all this sort of thing.
RG: Before he died it was the, was it the seventieth anniversary or something. VE. VE Day.
TG: The week before he died.
RG: Yeah.
TG: My dad was in a home here. My mum died a few years before. And he managed to reach the seventieth anniversary of D-Day.
RG: Yeah. And at the home they did a big, a big thing. It was a Care Centre there. And they did a meal and everything like that.
TG: They got him dressed up with his medals.
RG: And he went and it was, it was a good day. He wasn’t quite sure where he was.
TG: It was his last Friday or Saturday on earth.
RG: Yeah, but he, yeah it was —
TG: He died the following Thursday.
RG: But he’d got his red beret on. And he’d got his medals up and he’d got the photograph sat on his knee all day. Clutched. Of him when he was a young man.
TG: A young man in uniform.
RG: And that. Yeah.
TG: And you couldn’t get it off him.
RG: No.
TG: He had it like this.
RG: He clutched it all day.
TG: He died the following Thursday.
RG: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Oh right.
TG: Two years, three ago.
RG: Yeah.
TG: Two and a half years ago now.
RG: But, you know a lot, a lot of people don’t know what you’re talking about when you say these things.
CB: They don’t. No.
RG: No.
TG: No.
RG: I mean, this film I haven’t been to see it. Terry went with some lads in the family.
TG: I went to see “Dunkirk.”
RG: Dunkirk. And I listened to a report on the radio and they, was it the radio? No. Wireless. Whatever you call it, you know. And they said that it’s been made because a lot of people don’t know what they’re talking about.
TG: They don’t know the difference between Dunkirk and D-Day.
RG: And people when they were interviewed them, and they said, ‘Do you know about Dunkirk?’ ‘No.’ You know. And I think to myself, oh dear. It is a shame.
TG: But they don’t know why they’re here.
RG: No.
TG: We, I’m ashamed to say that one of our friends we used to go to France and Germany a lot. Just jump in the car and book a ferry and go down the Moselle or whatever. Last time we went to Lille and Bruges. We ended up right on the coast at Dunkirk waiting for a ferry, I think we came back from Dunkirk.
RG: Oh, I can’t remember.
TG: But we came to the very end where there’s still some guns there. I don’t know if you’ve been on that coast. There’s still some German guns there. And Sheila, who is just a few months older than you and we’re talking Dunkirk and she said, she turned and said to me, ‘Is this where they all came up on to the beaches then? And the invasion.’ And I think, they weren’t going that way. I mean she’s seventy. I mean, I just think how can you go through life —
RG: Yeah, but don’t you think though like I’ve —
TG: Without knowing that it happened hundreds of miles away. D-Day. And they were coming — we were going up there.
RG: But I’ve grown up with Lancaster bombers. I’ve grown up with them, you know. And my girls they’ve grown up with them as well through granddad. And this is how we’ve been. And all, aircraft in the sky, ‘Oh look. There goes the Dakota,’ or whatever. I’ve grown up like that. But a lot of people just don’t know what you’re talking about. I know a few years ago I was at work and it was, it was a nice day and we were in the canteen and we’d got the windows open. And we sat there having coffee and I said, ‘Oh, listen. Oh, there goes the Lancaster.’ No one looked. They looked gone out at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. I said, ‘Listen. Can’t you hear the engines?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘It’s a bomber. It’s going over.’ ‘What are you talking about Rachel?’ I said, ‘It’s the Lancaster.’ I said, ‘It’ll be going back to Coningsby and do its circuit around the Cathedral.’ And they had no idea what I was talking about. Now, that is sad isn’t it? Yeah.
TG: The other thing your dad didn’t like to see and it must have affected him. I sometimes wonder about why he said it, is every time he saw an old airfield in Lincolnshire and he saw the control tower standing derelict he would say, ‘I wish they would pull them down.’ He said, ‘I wish they’d pull them all down.’ I think it was a reminder. He didn’t, he didn’t like to see them. Did he?
RG: No. Not derelict anyway. No.
TG: I mean, I didn’t know —
RG: He was ok at East Kirkby. You know, because it’s all been restored.
CB: It’s restored. Yeah.
RG: Yeah. But he always went to East Kirkby just for a ride. You know, ‘I’m just going to ride.’ Woodhall Spa. East Kirkby. That way on. But yeah. There we go.
CB: Just going back to the, your parents in the war people took very different views as to whether they should marry or not. So why was it that your parents married essentially in the middle of the war?
RG: Just turn that off a minute.
[recording paused]
RG: Wouldn’t like to hear that. She, you know. Why mum and dad got married in the war. I think they, you know had a good relationship. Romance blossomed and I think the idea was well, why shouldn’t we get married? You know. In those days it was the way forward regardless of how long they had got together. I don’t think that entered into it. So, yes. They, they married. Yes.
CB: And we talked about their links and because they were physically not next to each other while the flying —
RG: Yes.
CB: Was going on. So that covers that matter. Thank you.
RG: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: So, Terry. On your case.
TG: My dad was in the army and he was on the beaches at D-Day and wounded just after. But they married in 1941 and my dad was on a few days leave and they had a special licence. They decided to get married on the Wednesday night and the ceremony took place at the church on the Saturday. And everything was pretty quick in those days although I was three or four years coming along and the eldest of five brothers. They caught up for it later on, didn’t they? But he survived the war. My father.
RG: And they were married for nearly seventy years.
TG: Nearly seventy years.
CB: You had a long and auspicious career in the police force and to what extent did you come across policemen who’d been in the war and did they talk about it?
TG: Well, only early on did I come across it and only for a short period because the chaps on the patrol car with me were much, much older and had served.
RG: Lofty had, hadn’t he?
TG: There was one chap who was, I remember distinctly. Never had a cigarette out of his hand. And he’d been on the Northwest Frontier, was it? As a stretcher bearer and drummer boy. And he told me a few tales.
CB: In India.
TG: Sorry? In India. Yes.
CB: In India. Yes.
TG: And his skin was still leathery. They called him Lofty. A wonderful character. But he didn’t go too much into, into his experiences and I didn’t see many others who were old enough.
RG: And Vic’s dad. Was he in the war?
TG: Yes, but he didn’t serve with —
RG: No. No.
TG: Vic’s dad. No. I met one or two people. One chap had been, he’d worked in an office in Lincoln and he was, you’d call him an insignificant little chap and he wasn’t very noisy. He kept quiet but when he spoke everybody listened because he’d been on the, in the Navy, I think the Merchant Navy and been torpedoed twice and survived. That sort of thing. I think Alf Dixon who was the office man at Spalding when I joined had been torpedoed in, in the Navy. But I was only nineteen when I joined. And I mean I had school masters who had been, all of them had been in the war. One had lost his leg. The deputy headmaster. That’s a thing.
CB: And what about the felons that you dealt with? Had any of those been guided by the forces originally?
TG: No. No. They, young as I was most of them and they just jumped on to the one side of the fence while I’d fallen on the other at the time. I was on the law enforcement side. But no it didn’t.
CB: So, going back to the war itself you talked about the experience of one of the crewmen and being [pause] we were talking about, touching on LMF.
TG: Oh yes. Yes.
CB: So, what was that dimension as far as Pete was concerned? What his knowledge.
TG: The man was out of control. He said he was. He just had him, you know he was shell shocked was probably —
RG: Flak happy.
TG: Flak happy was, was the word. He’d gone flak happy. Completely flak happy and gone berserk on the aircraft. Endangering it. As I said, Pete said he hit him with a ammo box and knocked him out. And then he was charged. Probably court martialled. I don’t know for LMF. In these days you’d have probably got a handsome sum in compensation for all the stress he’d been put through. But that’s as far as it went. I don’t think Pete came across it. Or if he did he didn’t mention anything about that at all. Even if he was stressed. I mean obviously what he said they were terribly stressed. You wouldn’t go out and get blind drunk to forget what you’d just seen, done and been through like they did. It was the only release they had. The only release. They above all went from relative safety to the most terrible danger in a very short time. Whereas no other arm, arm of the armed forces experienced that, did they? They were, either they were out there fighting at a fairly consistent level, I know it went up and down but the bomber crews and I suppose the fighter pilots as well went from sitting at home in a pub in England or with a girlfriend and hours later being subject to the most horrendous barrage and being attacked from above and below. And it was a huge contrast for them.
RG: And the frequency of the flying and the raids. If you look at dad’s logbook it sort of says you know, he’s made up the logbook and its flying such and such and where they’ve gone. Good long way away. Then they’re back. And then it’s not five minutes or so before they’re off again, you know. And they would be going at 9 o’clock and 10 o’clock at night. Flying. Night flying. Coming back. Then afternoons. And there wasn’t a good long rest period in the middle so they, they would be tired out, you know. Head wise as well as body. Physical. Yeah.
TG: Sometimes a crew would be lost and of course their uniforms would, and everything they’d left in their billet was moved and their beds made up for the next crew to replace them. The next crew would come. And then before they went to bed they’d probably gone on a raid and be lost and they’d never use the beds that were made up for them. I mean. As you know. This was the —
RG: I don’t think modern society can understand what a lot of they had to put up with that and go through really. I know there’s different things. Different aspects now. But they just had to get on with it in those days. Well, from what I can understand.
CB: You touched on a point indirectly which is that the socialising of the crew and in this particular case Tuesday’s crew was mixed airmen of sergeants and officers.
TG: And, and —
CB: So, how did that work?
TG: There was I think there was pretty well classless. I think those, those divisions were not, Peter never, Pete never mentioned anything of that nature. The only thing he objected to was when they were marched off at gunpoint by the Americans at this base and they were all put in the sergeant’s mess when he said he should have been in the officer’s mess. But they were questioned and all sorts. That’s the only time he ever, but I think he had taken umbridge at the Americans attitude rather than anything else because Pete had no thoughts for what anybody’s background was. He’d treat everybody the same.
RG: No. Absolutely.
TG: Whether he was a prince or a pauper. Quite literally. And he spoke to all people from all of those classes and you could be with him and he could hold a conversation with anybody from any background but he never ever —
RG: Never judged anybody.
TG: He never judged anybody.
RG: No.
TG: And he never sort of said, ‘I’ve got the DFC,’ and everything. He never got, it never got entered into conversation.
RG: He was just a nice chap.
TG: He was just a nice sociable chap who liked a pint after a hard days work at the nursery. And sometimes in later life he’d go down to the Mail Cart on the bus wouldn’t he because of the road safety. But one of the funny things I’ll tell you about Pete when I was first was going out with Rachel. I think I was first married.
RG: I think we were married.
TG: I think we were married. And Pete and your, and Harold.
RG: And his friend George Samsby.
TG: And George Samsby.
RG: And some, one other.
TG: They were a right drinking group.
RG: Oh dear.
TG: And they all used to go to the Dun Cow at Cowbit. Now, me and my mate who was quite a lot older than me were in a patrol car one night and it was about one in the morning coming back into Spalding along Cowbit Bank. And I could see some of the cars outside the well-lit pub because closing time was about ten thirty and this was 1am. The lights are still on. There were a few cars outside amongst which was your dad’s.
RG: Harold’s.
TG: Your brother in law’s and George Samsby’s and my co-driver, he said, ‘Look at that pub. Let’s go and raid it.’ I, I was appalled that these, you know, he says, ‘They’re all drinking.’ So I said, ‘I’m sorry, Brian. I can’t Brian, I can’t.’ He said, ‘Why not?’ I said, ‘Because I’m at court in the morning. If I get tied up with that lot I’m going to be here ‘til 4 or 5 o’clock.’ I didn’t mention whose cars they were because I could see it in the paper that, “PC arrests whole family illegally drinking.”
RG: Oh dear [laughs]
TG: Dear me. In the local pub. And I could imagine quite a rift, you know and I’d have to go and give evidence against him and then bail him out.
RG: Oh dear.
TG: But he was wonderful company. He was wonderful. He were wonderful company your dad was. Wasn’t he? He was. He used to work like anything. But when they used to be at Maxey they used to get an allowance to cut the grass at the Royal Observer Corps Post. To pay somebody to do it. Well, they didn’t. They kept the money and cut it themselves. So every year they had a right old booze up and a dinner to which we went with the money for the grass cutting. Resourceful to the last. Wasn’t he? Yes.
RG: He used to have these, you know exercises and they’d you know pretend that there was going to be a —
TG: Nuclear war.
RG: Nuclear war, you know. And away dad would go there. And the first thing that went down into the post as they called it was the beer laughs] It went down, you know. The beer.
TG: That was because they were underground weren’t they?
RG: Yeah.
CB: They wouldn’t want to get it contaminated by radiation would they?
RG: Absolutely not.
TG: It didn’t matter about anything else but they’d be locked down there for a few days, wouldn’t they?
RG: Yes.
TG: With the luncheon, didn’t they? The luncheon meat and —
RG: I felt as though I knew everything about the Royal Observer Corps.
CB: What would you think Pete would have said was his most memorable experience in the war?
RG: Golly. That is a question. In the war.
TG: Well, only the things that he’d mentioned really because he didn’t go into that much detail. He mentioned the Scharnhorst thing because they lost those aircraft and they put it out of action for about a month. The loss of his crew, and those things we’ve already highlighted.
RG: I think he would probably have said it would be his mother in law’s cooked breakfast because when he was at home on leave nan, my nan would always make sure that he got the eggs and he got the bacon and had a good, you know a good breakfast. But I can’t think of anything on the raid side or operations that dad would talk about more than another.
TG: He just, he just did it.
RG: Yeah. I think the loss of his crew. He talked about that a bit but, yeah. No.
TG: It was a, it was a period in his life that —
RG: He just did.
TG: They did. And when it was over he wanted to put it behind him.
CB: Yes.
TG: And what he did subsequently was in complete and utter contrast. Wasn’t it? Growing plants and, and selling them. It wasn’t a noisy machine driven —
CB: Destructive force.
TG: Destructive force. It was a constructive effort.
RG: But all his hobbies and things were RAF connected. Yeah.
TG: They —
RG: Yeah. He had a great love of flying and things.
TG: He liked, liked flying. As I say. The Holbeach Club and his wireless op. His amateur radio and obviously the ROC, RAFA and all this sort of thing.
RG: My sister. My younger sister. She —
TG: There are three of them.
RG: Three of us.
TG: We’ll not mention Jane.
RG: Jane. She lived in Bath and she’d just bought this house and they were having it converted. Fantastic place it was and she wanted dad to see it. Now, dad was a very, very sick man and she wanted us to go. And I said, ‘Dad won’t survive a road trip or a train trip.’
TG: He had a heart attack when he was about seventy eight, so.
RG: Yeah. I said, ‘Dad won’t survive that, Jane. It’ll just absolutely knock him out.’ So she chartered a helicopter to come and fetch us.
TG: [unclear] anyway.
RG: Yeah. But dad was absolutely in his element. He, we set of from Fenland Airfield. Right. You know. Little Fen.
TG: In this helicopter.
RG: All his mates were watching him and this chappy in the uniform and off we went.
TG: To Bath.
RG: Terry and I went to Bath.
TG: With your dad.
RG: Yeah. With dad. And dad sat in the front like this. And as we got, we went over where Prince Charles lives. Highgrove, and that. And when we got —
TG: Highgrove. Yes.
RG: When we got near somewhere or other there was two Hercules in the sky. Now, helicopters fly quite low.
TG: It was over the —
CB: This is Lyneham.
TG: No.
RG: No.
TG: No. The one that was closest.
RG: No.
TG: Fairford.
RG: Where the —
TG: Fairford. It was closed at the time.
CB: Because —
RG: Yeah. Because they were converting for the —
CB: Americans. Yes.
RG: Yeah. Two helicopters, two Hercules were coming like this and we’d got, we were all sat in the back. Got these headsets on and I said, ‘Oh, oh look at those Hercules across there. Look at those.’ You know. We were coming like this. These two Hercules were coming like that. And I thought to myself I don’t know but we’re just a little bit too close to those. So I said to the pilot about these. I said, ‘Oh they’re a bit close to us, aren’t they?’ He went, ‘Silence in the cabin.’ Closed me. So then he kept saying to the radar people and whatever.
CB: Control room. Yes.
RG: Yeah. Control room. He kept saying such and such, ‘This is Echo Tango Lima 546,’ or whatever we were, ‘We are a Jet Ranger. We have five people on board. We are flying from Fenland Airfield in Lincolnshire to a private landing spot in Bath. We are a Jet Ranger. We have five — ’ And I kept thinking and I kept thinking, I kept thinking you keep telling them. And he kept saying it, repeating and the control place said you are de, de, de, der like this. And he kept saying and, ‘Yes. We are a Jet Ranger.’ And he kept repeating it. ‘We are a Jet Ranger.’ And then the call sign like that. I thought, yes you tell them who we are because when we hit there’s not going to be anything left of our Jet Ranger. And then all of a sudden this voice said whatever the call sign. ‘You are a Jet Ranger. You are flying — ’ you know repeated everything. He said, ‘Yes. We are.’ And the next minute our little helicopter, well it wasn’t a little one, we went down like this. We went right down like that. I thought I don’t like this, we’re going down, and these Hercules literally went over the top. And when we got calmed down the captain said, ‘Phew.’ And what it was the call sign of us was very similar to one of those Hercules and they’d got us muddled up.
CB: Oh.
RG: But do you know dad sat in the front and dad said something, ‘Well, Skip. That was a good, good shout.’ Or something like that.
TG: Good show.
RG: Good show. Yeah. And the fella said, ‘I bet you’ve had more experiences than that one.’ And dad said, ‘Yeah. But not as exciting,’ or something like that. But oh dear. But, yeah.
CB: Crikey.
RG: Dad was laid up for quite a few weeks after that one. Oh, you haven’t been recording me have you?
[recording paused]
RG: And he obviously had —
CB: So Terry I just want to go back to what talked about the parents of Tuesday coming down to see Pete. What do you think they were looking for?
TG: Well, Durham is a couple of hundred miles away from East Kirkby at least. And travel wouldn’t be very easy at that time. And they were there waiting for Peter when he returned from his, his short period of rest. Expressly having requested to see him. And there must have been a terrible gap in their yearning to find out more about their son in his last days and to speak to his closest friend of that time. His drinking mate. His flying mate. And Pete was able to fill them in. How they were. What his attitude was. What his spirits were like. Right up until the last time he saw him which was obviously some time after his own parents. The fact that they went out to dinner with Pete when they were down there, the fact that the station commander had accepted them on to the base because it wouldn’t be easy for civilians to get on there at that time must have been a great —
RG: And the five pounds.
TG: Must have been a great comfort to them. And having then travelled home. Probably having had to stay down in Lincolnshire for a day or two. To post him the five pounds in recognition of both the comfort he’d brought to them and also for his recent commission, Pete’s commission, clearly shows to me that the effort that they put in the, that it’s the terrible desire to fill in the gaps in their son’s life as much as they could was for closure.
RG: And dad had done it.
TG: And Pete had fulfilled that and filled that gap as much as he possibly could. He brought them closure. And hopefully they went away, well clearly were much happier than they had have been. But to have lost him without any of this detail would have, they would have always wondered. And it wouldn’t have been an easy journey for them to make because they didn’t know what they were going to hear really.
[recording paused]
CB: So what did he particularly appreciate when he was on his trips?
TG: Coming home. He said, he said that often coming home particularly coming home they’d waste a huge amount of ammunition shooting at the Morning or the Evening Star. Whichever time of day Venus was up. When they were very tense and they thought maybe there were fighters waiting for them to land. But one of the loveliest sights he said was the landscape below. England was always greener and he knew he was in England just from the colour, the density of the green rather than on the continent. He didn’t look out for the Cathedral as, as a lot of crews did. Boston Stump was the, was, was more visible than the Cathedral when they came home.
CB: The Lincoln Cathedral.
TG: Than Lincoln Cathedral. But he particularly loved the greenery. That’s more than anything else he loved to see the green green grass of home as they say. And it was greener than over the water.
CB: Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: I want to take you both together.
RG: Oh dear.
CB: And where shall we do it because it’s nice here. Or we can for it outside?
TG: You can do it outside. Or wherever you like.
RG: Yeah. Do it where you like.
CB: Well, we just have the picture with you.
RG: Yeah.
CB: Just hold it between you. It’ll be nice to do it outside wouldn’t it?
RG: I’ll put a bit of lipstick on I think.
TG: She’s got to do her hair.
CB: That’s good. Let me in the meantime just write my email address on there.
TG: I’ll try and send you three and four at a time. Or whatever.
CB: Whatever. Yeah.
TG: Yeah. I’ll just get my shoes on.
CB: Ok.
[pause]
RG: Yes. It would be quite appropriate to be in our garden.
CB: Well, I think so.
RG: Dad and I spent an awful lot of time on it.
CB: Did you? Yes. I think it looks super. Well, I’m looking to move. To downsize my house.
RG: Oh yes. I don’t —
CB: Thank you.
RG: What was I going to say? I think we ought to downsize.

Collection

Citation

Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Rachel and John Gill,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 5, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10825.

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