Interview with Basil Goldstraw


Interview with Basil Goldstraw


Basil Goldstraw was born in Buxton, Derbyshire. He joined the RAF at the age of seventeen to do a motor mechanics apprenticeship. He wanted to join aircrew but was grounded due to a medical condition. After training at Number 3 School of Technical Training he was posted to 75 New Zealand Squadron as an engine fitter and worked on Stirlings. On one occasion he remembers a Ju 88 aircraft that attacked the aerodrome dropping anti-personnel bombs. When 75 Squadron disbanded he was posted to RAF Spilsby to join Tiger Force in the Far East. He flew to Singapore via Malta and Iraq. On completion of his tour he returned to the UK and was demobbed from the RAF.




Temporal Coverage



01:21:38 audio recording

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GT: This is Sunday the 8th of July 2018 and I’m at the home of Mr John Basil Goldstraw, known as Basil or Bas, born 30 March 1925 in Buxton, Derbyshire, England. Basil joined the RAF in 1942 at the age of seventeen years doing a motor mechanic apprenticeship and later was grounded due to a medical condition so became an engines fitter on Stirlings and Lancasters. Basil was demobbed from the RAF early in 1947 after being sent to the Far East to help support Tiger Force in mid-1945. Basil, thank you for allowing me to interview you for the IBCC Digital Archives. Please tell me why and how you joined the RAF in 1942.
JG: I always had an interest in aeronautical. Even, yeah one of my regular magazines was Aeroplane which I wish I’d got these days. They’d be worth a fortune going back there. And I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to go and swim, I didn’t want to dig trenches so I thought the only way for me I’m going in the Air Force. So, I did it. I took a day off work, went to Manchester. Came in in the evening. Mum said, ‘Where have you been?’ I said, ‘I’m no longer — ’
GT: How old were you, Basil when you joined up?
JG: Well, I’d be seventeen.
GT: Did you have to have your mother’s written permission?
JG: She didn’t know until I came back [laughs] She was, she was not impressed.
GT: You didn’t have to show your birth certificate then.
JG: She was not impressed. No. So it was just a case of, I must be honest after I joined the RAF from being accepted I did get my call up papers for the Army and I wrote across it, “Accepted for the RAF,” sent it back and never heard anything else.
GT: Well, Basil from the age of fourteen you said that you were a motor mechanic. Was that your calling?
JG: Yeah.
GT: Was that your interest?
JG: I think it was more a case of my family saying, ‘You ought to do something useful.’ So, you know, that’s it so I spent quite a number of years doing that. So yeah, and other things. It was rather a strange apprenticeship because it was with the local authority and although they had vehicles they still had horses and carts [laughs]
GT: So your apprenticeship was specifically about —
JG: Well, cars and general engineering. Yeah. See that there? That is one of the, one of the old steam rollers that we used to have that, yeah —
GT: Basil is pointing to a horse effigy and it’s quite comical.
JG: Aveling-Barford. Yeah.
GT: Yeah. Ok.
JG: Yeah.
GT: And that was in Derbyshire or Manchester?
JG: That was in Derbyshire. Yeah.
GT: Fabulous. So from —
JG: And —
GT: Yeah. Carry on.
JG: Ah, well no, I was going to say so I went in the RAF and when I came out, when I got demobbed I went back to my original employer doing the things I’d been trained to do.
GT: What about your training in the RAF? What did they give you?
JG: Well, after my initial, my initial training, basic training was carried out at Arbroath. Living in the old jute mills. That was a revelation. Yes. And then from there went to Blackpool, civvy billets because we were posted to Squires Gate, 3 SoTT where initially you did a flight mechanics course. Engines. Came out of that and I’m not quite sure. I think from there I went to Hendon and did my fitter’s course. From there posted to 75.
GT: Ok. So with your engine training what type of engines did they have you working on? The latest and greatest or was it [unclear] first?
JG: Oh, no. No. The crap [laughs] pardon me. One of, one of their prized possessions for the training school was a Blackburn Botha [laughs] dear oh dear, you know. And I think actually at the end of the course we started the engines up on that and there was no way it could fly. You know. They didn’t. So, no. General training would be on an inline engine. You would be specialising on carburation or ignition or that so you would take, and you would have to answer questions on the board when they’d finished to see whether you could get your grading coming off because you were either an AC, AC1 or an LAC coming off there, you see. And from there I can’t, there’s a blank. I can only think that I went to Henlow because that, that fixes in my mind. Did a, did a fitter’s course down there and then sent to 75 at Mepal.
GT: So when you joined your operational squadron was that the first time that you’d, you’d looked at, in this case you were working on at Stirlings? Yeah.
JG: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
GT: So the first time on radial engines.
JG: Well, the, the old Botha had radial engines in, you see. So I forget what they had in. Whether they had [pause] what would they be? Perseus. The old Bristol engines. They weren’t much good. Yeah. No, the Stirlings. Yeah. That was an eye opener. There they are up there. You know, with all old radial engines, especially sleeve valve before you start them up you’ve got to turn the engine over to stop hydraulicing. If you don’t, I mean you see this more on the Americans. You see them on the, on the Fortresses or the Super Fortress and you see them getting on bringing the prop around. Yeah. The idea is to get rid of the oil out of the bottom cylinders because overnight they would do there and if you went in, pressed the button to start up you could actually blow a cylinder head off. Yeah. So, yeah. So and with the, with the Stirlings, imagine how light they are, you had a bloody great starting handle [laughs] to, you had to sort of get this in an orifice in the engine. Plug it in. And then you’d be two of you turning this round to get the props to turn round sufficient. Laughable. Oh dear.
GT: That was every time before engine start up.
JG: Yeah.
GT: When the crew was sitting in the aircraft waiting to go.
JG: Well, you do this prior to them sitting in there. You know, getting ready. Turn the engine so the crew could go in and say, ‘Righto, lads. Number one. Number two. Number three, and number four. Fire them up.’ Yeah.
GT: So when you worked on the aircraft did, did you help out the armourers or were you two separate?
JG: No. They were separate. Don’t want to know you. [laughs]
GT: So would they load the aircraft while you were still working on them or did they have to wait?
JG: No.
GT: Until you were finished.
JG: Yeah. They, they, whilst you were in the hangar the other trades would be working. I mean you might find the airframe people were changing a wheel because the tyre had changed. I don’t know whether you know. I mean little, when, because the wheels they are still on at present day are static virtually when it hits, you know.
GT: Oh yeah.
JG: I mean, yeah. So, the tyres were marked and they looked to see how far it had marked and they might have to change that and might have to change an oleo leg. And the armourers would be in the back perhaps changing something on a turret. The girls would be there doing the safety equipment. The dinghy, putting in new dinghies in or whatever was required.
GT: So, you mainly worked in the hangars not out on the airfield.
JG: I never worked outside. I was in, again fortunately or unfortunately I was allotted to what they called R&I, and R&I, I don’t know if it was repair and inspection or what it was. At any rate modifications. We were, we were always in the hangar. The flight boys, I never got to know the aircrews because all we got was their plane. Service it, engine change, prop changes, do what modifications, anything. Put it out on the dispersal, run it up and then they take it back on to the flight, you see.
GT: So was that part of 64 MU in Mepal? Were you separate or you were specifically on 75?
JG: 64 MU was separate. They, they used to do what we called category work. So if there was a, mostly that was air frame so if there was a sort of a main plane damage which couldn’t be done by the flights that would go over to, to 64 MU. Do that. They were separate. We sort of didn’t even associate, if you understand me.
GT: So they weren’t part of 75 Squadron but they were an integral part of keeping 75 aircraft flying.
JG: Yeah.
GT: Or did they have other aircraft come in from other Squadrons?
JG: I don’t remember others coming in. I don’t remember others coming in. There was, I think there was enough sort of flak damage and general damage on the Squadron for them to accommodate it.
GT: Yeah.
JG: You know.
GT: 75 Squadron codes were AA and JN so that’s the two main codes you kept seeing.
JG: JN C and AA. Yeah. Yeah. So, I only, you know, you know the layout of Mepal?
GT: Yeah. So, so do tell please. Describe the layout then if that helps. So from your —
JG: Well, I’ll just see. I should have a plan of it on here.
GT: So, at one end was —
JG: What you had, you had the, the main road coming up from Ely and there was a crossroad where Horse and Gate pub, the left side used to go to Haddenham down to Sutton and this one used to go around through Witchford to Mepal. So the village was down there. The main gate was on the Witchford, the Witchford Road so you had, you had the, a lot of the accommodation and servicing near the main road and then all the rest was the airfield. We had the first hangar as you got to the airfield. There were three. I think there were three hangars. We had one. There was one and there was another one over there. Yeah. A and B flights were always out in the open and everything that we did we were fortunately under cover. I mean, our hangar was big enough to take two Lancasters. You know, tail in one. Tail in the other. So that was it.
GT: Was your dispersal sealed or was it all grass? The surrounds of your hangar, was it, was it all sealed concrete or grass?
JG: The dispersals themselves where the aircraft parked they were concreted and the rest was all grass you see, so you had the, the dispersal pans that, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
GT: How many aircraft in each dispersal?
JG: Well, I reckon you would have, as I say I think you would probably have eight per flight and then they would be grouped probably of two or three together in like in a pan. And you just dispersed here. Didn’t, unfortunately didn’t, as I say didn’t have anything to do with the flights. We were, we were always so busy. First thing in the morning there would either be a plane being towed in or it would be in there already for you and say, well you know the flight sergeant in charge of the hangar was Blondie Sadler. Great lad. And he’d just say, ‘Right, there you are.’ ‘Here you are.’ You, you know you’d be given the instruction so whichever engine you, you were working on, what it was, whether it was a seventy five hour, a multiple of, an engine change or a modification, or a prop change, you know would, would be done. And you would, you would just muck in. That was it. Simple.
GT: You, you were telling me about an incident where you’d fitted an engine and it went out on a, on a flight and you were, you were enjoying a swim at the time.
JG: Oh that. Yeah. We, we’d done, I forget what we had done but we had finished early. As this was a, a Lanc had come in with four different maintenance schedules. Four different hourly maintenance levels. So you might get a seventy five hour one, you might what’s, you might get a multiple of that which would be two hundred and, three, seven, twenty one.
GT: Fifty.
JG: Two eighty five. Or you might get a, you know, six hour one of that. So they were all, all different and occasionally if you’d fitted early and everybody was happy they didn’t want any assistance chiefy would say, ‘Righto lads. Well, you’ve signed up. You’re done. You can go.’ So a couple of us went down to the Three Pickerells. Got on our bikes, parked on the side of the canal there, got in the water and swimming about. Oh yeah. There she goes on air test. We saw her go over. When we got back, when we got back into the mess or the cookhouse whichever you like to call it they said, ‘Bloody hell, you’re in trouble mate.’ ‘Why? What’s the matter?’ ‘Well —’, so and so, I think it were U-Uncle, ‘Engine run away coming in, whipped it’s undercarriage off. She’s lying on the deck.’ You see. So that was it. That made the backside twitch a bit. So we sort of left what we were doing and went up to the hangar to find out whether we were guilty or not. Luckily we came away smiling. It wasn’t us [laughs] It wasn’t us. But some poor sod. I mean they, they were strict but within reasons. If they were running short with the, with people, if they were, you know and they wanted the plane out the idea was that whoever finished last on the maintenance system on a plane would have to see it out on to the dispersal. See if all the engines run up. If there were any snags you had to do the snag finding, you know. It might be just simple like crossed leads. You might get a one inch and you might get a bigger, a bigger mag drop, you know because what they do as you run them they run them at say at twelve hundred revs and they’ve, they’ve got a set of mags. They’ve got two mags. One feeds the exhaust side of the, and the, the other feeds the inlet side. Well, the exhaust side they go around the side so that you can’t knock them up. But on the inlet side they used to, the trunker used to go across the top of the trunking you see and they used to go off at an angle. And it was quite easy at times, especially on, on the end to get, to get the plugs crossed. You see. So you’d have to go on, you know go out, get things off, and get those so you know you used to do that and then of course you used to have to see it off on air test. When it came back see the pilot. ‘Any complaints?’ ‘No.’ ‘Sign the 700,’ and, and it was alright, you see. But now this normally was a senior NCO but if they were running short I mean chiefy would say, ‘Well, you’re bloody well trained,’ in his antipodean accent,
GT: Was he a New Zealander?
JG: Yeah. Well, he was New Zealand or Australian. I forget which he was. And he’d tell you to get out and do it. So you would go out there and run it up and do what was necessary. I mean they were fairly free, free souls. Perhaps one thing that you shouldn’t say but all ground crew were, had to do guard duty at some time or other and we had a wonderful engineering officer. I can’t remember his name and he was on guard. He was commander of the guard one night and it was getting towards the back end of the year and the first crews, the first eight or ten people went out on their guard and later on when, when things were getting a bit quiet he said, ‘Now, I want x number of you to go back to your billets and have a sleep, but —' he says, ‘If the officer of the guard comes around and wants to go around and inspect, the guards that are in bed but should be out on the guard —’ he said, ‘I want, I want that number of people to get outside quick.’ So, what it amounted to you’d perhaps have thirty blokes there, and there might be six sent back to the doings and after, after, after the it had gone dusk you see and, oh dear. I don’t know how we got away with it. Great people though, you know.
GT: So you perfected the engine changes pretty quick. How many fitters did it take to change a, well first off a Stirling engine and then a Lancaster engine? Any differences?
JG: My mind’s a little bit hazy on the Stirling but we could, we could do a Merlin change in a morning. In a morning. Definitely. It’s so simple. I mean once you, once you’d done it and you had a good mate. I mean it trollies around. Cowlings off. One of you would start disposing. One of you would go to the front and get the prop ready to get that off, you see. So, get everything loose. Once you’d got the prop you go back and help, help your mate to start then. No trouble. And if you could get handy with a cold strain, that was the beauty of it. Yeah. Yeah. You could get him [pause] Get the prop off on its stand. Engine in. Engine out. Engine in. Prop back on. Probably, oh what? Half an hour and then you’ve got to do all the, the refitting of all the pipework and everything. So, no trouble. No trouble. No trouble.
GT: And you were always signing the 700 for your work or job sheet or work sheet.
JG: Every, every job that you did you signed for. Generally speaking you had, it’s an old fashioned, a strip, a strip of paper. A strip of paper and on there would be every item that you would have to see to. So you signed that strip and that strip went back into the records and you signed where it had gone in the records in the office. And if you, if you did your first strip quickly and there was more to be done you could probably do two or three of these. They were like maintenance forms but in a strip. It was quite, you know, you got used to it actually. Got used to it. Yeah.
GT: The maintenance practices that you guys worked to they had independent inspections before you put cowlings on or covers on? Or was that just solely your responsibility?
JG: Once, once you’d taken the cowlings off and put the cowlings back on, taken outside. Run up. Right. And that was it. As I say when you was out after the last crew to finish would be the people who would do any rectification. But there was no, there was no senior officer inspection of the work you had done.
GT: Not even senior NCO.
JG: No. No. They did it. Yeah.
GT: You, in the last couple of years have visited the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and, and offered them some gold information there, Mr Goldstraw. Tell us a bit about talking with the engineers of today and how they’re looking after the BBMF Lancaster compared to how you did it.
JG: Well, it was quite interesting going up to Coningsby. I mean the tools we had to do the jobs that we had to do were what normally now the average gardener would have for his lawn mower [laughs] and whilst I was up, whilst I was up at Coningsby because, oh that’s interesting and this is something else they got two of the boys out of the car, the cave already.
[recording paused]
GT: Right. So Basil, what we were discussing was the differences between then and now. Basil, the BBMF Lancaster and its technicians compared to the technicians and fitters of your day. What, what was the differences that you found? And I understand you visited and chatted with these guys too.
JG: Well, the equipment. The equipment we were issued with as I say to compare what we had with what they now use for servicing was sort of the, the odd spanners that the average gardener would use for his lawn mower. I went up to Coningsby because they wanted information from ground crew as to what we did and how we did it and wonderful people up there but they had no idea of how we managed with the equipment that we had. And they actually fetched one of their, or actually fetched two of their toolboxes out to show me what they use and of course there were lovely, embedded in sort of plastic all shiny stainless steel spanners and everything, you know. Whereas we had to manage. You know. If you were taking a prop off and I used to do a lot of this work you, you had to use [laughs] you had to use what you were given with. And on the, on the big ring that locked the dome on to the, the prop we, we used to use the tow bar off the trestles as a hammer to get this tightened up because you couldn’t do it any other way. Ah dear oh dear. Just imagine that. Bloody great tow bar. Put it under your arm and you’re doing this. Yeah. Great fun. Great fun. But things change. Things change. Now, they, they although the engines are still the same they’ve got computer systems which identify any problem but that was a revelation to see the, the tool kits and listen to the, and for them to listen to us to how we did the job. Oh dear. Yeah. I got, I’ve got better tools in the garage than we had to do with. You had two or three spanners, a high faced hammer, a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. You wouldn’t believe it would you?
GT: Were those tools that you’d made yourself or they’d given you for servicing the engines?
JG: Oh, no. They, they were issued for servicing. That’s what you were issued with. A set of spanners. Not all the same make. A high faced hammer, a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. That was it.
GT: Today’s Royal Air Force is very hot on tool control because you leave a tool in behind a panel or in a cockpit and that aircraft goes flying it’s imminently in danger. What, was there any kind of tool control back in your time? In wartime.
JG: No. I mean, put it this way you didn’t dare lose a tool because you had to go and tell chiefy and get another one. So, no. No. No. No. I had the tools in my box from the day I was given them ‘til the day I left there. Yeah. Absolute crap. I actually was walking through [pause] where was I walking through? I was hitchhiking. I’m trying to think a minute. Not Lincoln. I was walking through Lincoln and I saw this shop and there was a set of Bedford chrome, chrome vanadium spanners in the window and I went in and bought those. I paid, I think I paid twenty five shillings for them and I’ve still got some of them now.
GT: In 1944 you did this.
JG: That. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, so they became part of my toolbox but I hung on to them at any rate. So —
GT: And no one else knew what tools you had and you didn’t compare tools with other technicians or fitters.
JG: Oh no. No. No. No. No.
GT: You guarded your tool bag.
JG: Well, I’ll tell you what. If you changed the starter motor [pause] if you changed a starter motor what you wanted was a sort of box spanner with the universal joint on it [unclear] So the only thing you could get, somebody on the Squadron did and got a T spanner with a sort of five sixteenth box spanner, a short one on the end of it and you could try and hold the bloody starter up and get this nuts on. Oh dear. Tools. One of the, one of the other jobs which you could have. Are we still on? Oh, I see. Yeah. Was Lancasters were prone, Merlins were prone to lose their exhaust stubs. And it’s, it’s sod’s law that if the studs, if they, if they fell off not only could they damage the tail plane, you know, the [unclear] but the studs would break in the block at an angle. Right. And we had, well I once said, ‘If chiefy gives me another one of them I’ll go absent,’ because you were working at a slight angle you see that the block is. We’d only got air drills which were, we’d nothing else. The actual drill bits were poor so you had to try and get, I mean if, if it slanted, if it’s below if they were broke off and you got a bit you could get a pair of pliers on or something like that you might be able to hook them out but nine times out of ten there would be a broken in, in the block and they would be broken at an angle. Now, you try and get a drill to go in at an angle to try and then get it, get the drill to bite so that you could go in straight because if you made a mess of it you could find that you were getting a right old rollicking because you might have disturbed the cooling system. You know, one of the [pause] so you had to be very careful. It was a piggish job. You succeeded by trial and error. A lot of swearing. A lot of time, you see. And you could do it but you had a, what they called a Trepanning tool which you could put over the undamaged studs of the next two mountings which would give you an idea. But a waste of time. It was all virtually trial and error to get, to get them in and get the studs, studs out.
GT: The product today we use is easy out.
JG: Oh. Easy out. Yeah. Electric drills. You could put them there and you know there were so many ways that if it’s at an angle if it’s broken, if it’s broken off at an angle where you could grind that with the, you know modern equipment to get it right. Spot on. And then get inside. That was a lousy job as I say. Yeah. Yeah. I said give me one more of these and I’m going AWL OL. I think I’ve got that written down somewhere. But you never did it because you know, you know you had to do it. Yeah.
GT: You were working in the hangars, you just explained to me, most if not all of the time.
JG: Yeah.
GT: Were you in contact to know that the Squadron had lost aircraft each night?
JG: Not necessarily. You might, it might filter back to you that you had, you know that they lost two or three aircraft or somebody might say well so and so didn’t come back. Something like that. You used to see the damage sometimes that the, you know holes in the main plane that would be brought in for the fitters to do, you know. Tanks damaged so they’d have to take the panels off, take the tanks out.
GT: Yeah. It was one night in July ’44 that they lost seven aircraft in one night. So that was, that was pretty horrific for the Squadron’s morale as well.
JG: Yeah. Yeah. Well, the people who would notice that would be the lads out on the flights. They would, you know because then they would be waiting for replacement aircraft coming in. And they’d have —
GT: So that meant there was two specific separate components to the maintenance teams. Ones on the flight line and doing the flight line work and you guys in the hangar. No, there’s a third. Then there’s you guys. Intermediate. And then you’ve got the MU on the other side doing the deep level stuff. So there’s the three breakdowns.
JG: Yeah. It was. I’m not sure about how far 64 came in on this. Never had, I never had a lot to do with them but yes from the point of view of 75 you had the guys on the flights who attended to them. You’d have, I mean on the flights you might have for each aircraft or for a group of you might have a couple of flight mechanics, air frames, you might have a couple of fitter’s engines. There might be flight mechanics. You might have an electrician, armourer. You might have a couple of air frame mechanics just to keep, keep those planes up there. And anything major, modifications, anything major used to be pulled in to the hangar. We were never short of work. I can tell you that. No.
GT: Now, you mentioned that Mepal had several night intruders come and attack the airfield. What happened on those occasions?
JG: Well, the first time, the first time he came in they scattered anti-personnel bombs all over the place so again until the, until the armoury people had been in that was dead. At that particular time we had no air defence so there was a big panic on. Quite a number of the ground crews were sent to Waterbeach to learn how to use the twin Brownings on the stalk mounting and we actually had two of those sets on the, on the airfield for future use. But when you were on duty with them at night you were not allowed to open fire until, unless you got orders from headquarters. So by the time you’d seen him and got the orders old Jerry was on his way back home.
GT: Did you actually see the German aircraft itself? Did you know what it was that dropped the —
JG: It was a JU88. Yeah. A JU88 that night. Yeah.
GT: Bombing. No strafing.
JG: Just came down, just opened the bomb doors and gone. Must have followed them in you see or I say followed them in he probably actually knew where we were from the, from the old landing lights that were still there you see because I don’t think they did, I don’t think he did any particular damage. No.
GT: Some of the aircrew have said to me that they had their navigation lights on but once they started being followed the practice was to switch them off.
JG: Yeah. Yeah.
GT: And 115 Squadron at Witchford had several shot down as they were coming in to land by Messerschmitt 410s.
JG: Yeah.
GT: And that’s been well documented so with Witchford and Mepal being in the same orbit.
JG: Well, yeah. That’s strange actually. They seemed to get more problems than we did. I only remember that one in particular and there might have been one other instance where he just, what shall I say? Flew over and didn’t do any damage. But not being a night bird it was just that I actually was one of the people that like many others who got sent down to Waterbeach to know how to operate the [pause] there and I was on one night. Not when we got an intruder but I knew what the instructions were. Don’t fire.
GT: So you had several stand too’s yourself with the gun.
JG: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So that was it. So, that was it.
GT: Did you live on base during your time at Mepal?
JG: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And a good crew actually. Yeah.
GT: Because you were eighteen or nineteen years old at that time, weren’t you?
JG: Oh yeah. Full, full [laughs] full of the joys of spring.
GT: And did you go down to the pubs much? Not that you were allowed to were you but —
JG: Well, yeah they, no as long as you were there, again it didn’t matter what you did at night as long as you were there in the morning. As long as you were there. I mean I, yeah we used to, we used to go down to the Chequers. Dinner on camp on a Sunday was rubbish so perhaps on a Saturday night we’d say to the barman, ‘Can we have sandwiches tomorrow?’ And he’d, he’d knock up sandwiches. So we would go down to Chequers and have a pint of beer and sandwiches and then go back for the afternoon session until we finished. But I mean I must admit I, before I met my wife I had a girlfriend. And my girlfriend lived away. And her mother thought I was the best thing since sliced bread and sliced bread hadn’t been thought of in those days. So, the father didn’t take much to me. His daughter. You can imagine that. Oh yeah. That’s not for publication.
GT: Did you sneak her on, on to camp? Did you seek her on to the station?
JG: No. I didn’t. No. I sneaked off. I rode my bike. Oh dear. I, I actually she pushed me and pushed me. She wanted to marry me. And I said no. No. No, because her mother thought, yeah. ‘Are you coming to dinner on the weekend? Are you off by any chance?’ Yeah. Oh dear.
GT: So what, your shift work was it just the normal 8 ‘til 5 work? How did they organise it for your servicing? Did they go all twenty four hour servicing?
JG: Eight. 8 ‘til 5, 6 o’clock. If the plane was wanted you would work ‘til the finish. Occasionally you would work all night. I’ve done that. Started in one. Started in our hangar and then moved to where there was another hangar up on [pause] I don’t know what flight that was and they were, they were stuck up there. We were finished so we were sent up there and we went out, came back after we’d had a meal. Worked all night until the next morning, I know that night I’d, I’d finished and I put a prop on that had been repaired and when we ran it up the bloody thing vibrated. So I had to take it off again and put another. It hadn’t been balanced right. So this happened occasionally. A bit of swearing. Get on with the bloody job. Yeah.
GT: So you must have still had blackout as a huge issue or problem so how could you blackout a hangar? Was it easy to keep the light from getting out or were you diligent —
JG: Well, I, generally speaking I can’t remember that I ever worked in the dark in the hangar so that would, I never think about that. I mean you used to go there and do your work and go home. This particular night there was a maximum effort one that we had to do. Well, we were working outside. I forgot even what the lights were, you know. I know that I was very much engaged doing this bloody exhaust stub replacement. So that taxed you. Yeah.
GT: So you mentioned maximum effort and that is also the title of a small movie made on 75.
JG: Well, if you had twenty six planes normally you would not have a maximum effort. You might send out, you know eighteen or twenty or just twelve but as, as they got in to Normandy — maximum effort. They wanted every plane that was flyable. So, you know if it was a case of well this was in, ‘Well, get it ready. We want it for tomorrow morning,’ you know. Occasionally you would find there would be one plane that would be waiting for spares and that would be parked up at the far end near the bomb dump. And if you wanted a part that you were short of and stores hadn’t you used to go and put a robbing chit on that so that, you know you could take off what you wanted, you know. But apart from that maximum effort meant maximum effort. Every plane available must go.
GT: Did you get to see your commanding officer much of the Squadron?
JG: Can’t think of. Can’t think of. No. No. I can’t. It was a case of line up in the morning, roll call then get on with your work, you know. Fairly, fairly flexible. Yeah.
GT: Was there an airman’s bar on the airfield or was it just the senior NCOs and junior NCOs bar?
JG: Well, the only place you had on the bar for, for the, the sergeants had a mess but any beyond that, they just had the NAAFI. The cookhouse and the NAAFI. And I can’t remember drinks being available in the NAAFI. Used to go down to Sutton to the Chequers if you wanted to drink. I used to drink elsewhere.
GT: In later years the Chequers had a lot of photographs up on the walls which I’ve visited several times. When you were there did they have anything up on the walls that related to the Squadron or was it all pretty bare?
JG: No. I mean if you were to, if you’d have gone in to the Chequers, let me think [pause] I went in to the, I said to the wife, ‘I’ll take you down there. I want to show you where I was.’ Now, I’ll tell you what. In 1968 I came down here and going back home one day I said to the wife, I said, ‘We’ll go back a different way. We’ll go back through Cambridgeshire and Mepal.’ And we went into the Chequers for a meal and a drink. And I was looking at some of the photos, they’re not there now of the Squadron and I was looking at one particular one and one of the locals came up to me and said, ‘No good you looking on there, young man.’ I said, ‘Oh really?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘You’re too young to —’ you know, because I’ve always been, I’ve never looked my age, if you, I mean they tell me now. And I said, ‘Oh really?’ I said, ‘Well, just as a matter of fact,’ I said, ‘Do you see that bloke there?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, that was me.’ [laughs] He went away with his tail between his legs. Yeah. But if you go in the Chequers now it’s under new ownership and they’ve taken all the good ones away. All the good photographs that they had have gone.
GT: Now, there was also not only German intruders but there was Americans that visited Mepal, you were telling me. Aircraft would come in from their day’s sorties and you’d be —
JG: Oh yeah. That used to be exciting because when they were coming back from a bombing raid they were only, their interest if they were in trouble was forget about the red flag, the red signals.
GT: Flare.
JG: The verey lights going up saying stop, you’re not coming in. They said we’re coming in. And it was quite interesting. We had two. One, one was the Fortress and our blokes were coming in and they were firing verey lights up. Stop. Stop. Stop. You know. Don’t come in. He ignored it. He came in and glided down. Landed up. And there was a Liberator did the same, Oh yeah. Yeah. I’m getting down on to mother earth. That was very interesting. But no accident. The rest of the crews. Our blokes used to fly back in what we called a gaggle anyway you see and they’d be, and all of a sudden this Yank would come through the [laughs ] Make way. I’m first. Yeah.
GT: Well, the Americans didn’t carry navigators. Only one aircraft per flight did they carry navigators so many of them perhaps just saw an airfield and said —
JG: They saw an airfield and they were in trouble that’s where I’m going.
GT: That’s where the British bombers had the best. They had a navigator for each aircraft wasn’t it? That was the best way of looking at that.
JG: Yeah. Yeah. Oh no.
GT: What, what was one of the best times you kind of remember from Mepal if there was one?
JG: I don’t think there was a best time. I must admit this, considering it was wartime I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the people I was with. I enjoyed what I was doing. And I enjoyed the girls, you know.
GT: Nineteen years old.
JG: You see we had, we had the, a small musical group. They were called the oh [pause] the 75ers I think they called them and they used to play. There was Johnny Kimber he used to play sax. There was Len Mitchell. Len Mitchell, I forget what he played. There was Arthur Swift played the fiddle. There was a drummer. I can’t remember his name. Well, Arthur Swift, Johnny Kimber and Les Mitchell they actually were members of the billet I shared so I got on with them and yeah, they used to play in Chatteris, to the dance on a Friday or Saturday night if they were free and this is where we used to land up for a dance, oh yeah. Good. Yeah. I enjoyed it. I can’t think really that I, there’s any place, any point in my time at Mepal where I didn’t enjoy it. You know.
GT: You knew that this war had a lot at stake of your guys to make sure you won.
JG: Oh yeah.
GT: Even at nineteen. Yeah.
JG: Yeah. Yeah. I mean I accepted that I wasn’t going to become aircrew because of having to go in there so you just make the best of it.
GT: Yeah. If you don’t mind can we briefly touch on why you volunteered for aircrew but they grounded you. So could you expand on that please?
JG: Well, what, what had happened with me I’d always, I’d always had a problem bleeding and it never bothered me but the local dental officer on the Squadron was a bit over ambitious trying to fill a tooth and he, he broke a tooth and I know I said, ‘Oh, I’m in bloody trouble now.’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s got to come out.’ Well, he took it out and couldn’t stop the bleeding and he sent me home on a forty eight hour pass or a thirty six and when I got home I went into the Army place that was in Buxton to see the medical there and they tried to stop it and gave me an extra day and I went back, reported to the sick quarters again. They let it get infected and I landed up in the RAF hospital and it was, they managed to get rid of the infection, they stopped the bleeding and all that happened after that was my grade wasn’t, my medical grade was not reduced. They didn’t say what the problem is but they said, ‘You’re grounded. You’re not going to fly.’ And it wasn’t until 1950, early 50s when I took it on myself because I’d got a problem to go to the doctor and said, ‘Can we sort this out?’ So did that and I landed up with a card which says I am a carrier of haemophilia. So, yeah.
GT: So you find out that around about early 1943 when you were aiming for aircrew and suddenly no. You’re not doing it and you were, you were staying as, as ground crew.
JG: That’s right. Yeah.
GT: And you contribute that may have saved your life.
JG: Eh?
GT: You contribute that that may have saved your life.
JG: Well, it’s ironical isn’t it something that could kill you almost saves your life? You know. I mean the point is that if you like saying this if I was away and sort of fell off a cliff and bled to death nobody could have, I would have, I would have just bled to death you see because I’m bleeding and I mean that has [pause] switch if off.
[recording paused]
GT: Right. Now, Basil we were moving on through to the end of ’44 and in Europe there was a devastating winter but Mepal was not affected much. No. So —
JG: No. I can’t really remember being snowed in or anything like that. I don’t know whether we were. No. I mean everything went on as normal until towards the end of ’45 when —
GT: The end of ’44 because the war was finishing by around about April ’45. Because you were then chosen for Tiger Force you were telling me.
JG: Yeah. Well, I was just going to say.
GT: Yeah.
JG: 75 disbanded. Went to Spilsby. They went to Spilsby for home leave and then to be part of Tiger Force because the Japanese were still fighting and there was a collection of people. I was one of them who was sent abroad to become part of Tiger Force ground crew for the Lancaster or the —
GT: Lincoln.
JG: The Lincoln. But in actual fact, by the time we got out there the war had finished so it was a case of being left there until your demob number came up where you were then sent home.
GT: How did you get out to Singapore or the Far East as it was known then?
JG: They flew us out. They flew us out from Swindon area. They flew us out. First, first trip out was to Malta. We spent a night in Malta. Then the following day we went to Habbaniya in northern Iraq. The following day I think we went to Karachi. The following day I may be, I may be out of, I may be out a couple of days actually. And then we landed at Calcutta and at that particular time we were some of us were transferred to a transit camp at Ballygunge waiting to go down into Malaysia and so forth. You know. By that time as I say the war had finished. VJ I think had come and gone so we were in sort of [pause] what shall I say? We were in no man’s land. You know. We were just being handed on, handed on. From there down to Mingaladon, Rangoon, Butterworth and one other place. Seletar. Changi. The other one you have to forget about.
GT: Tengah.
JG: Tengah, and then we got on the boat to come back to England, Southampton. And —
GT: Now, what was that boat’s name?
JG: The Johan van Oldenbarnevelt [laughs] Should have been sunk at birth.
GT: Do say that name again. That sounds so good. Do say that name again.
JG: The Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. One of the Dutch liners in small letters which actually became a cruise boat and sometime in the early 50s caught fire. She became the Laconia. That’s right. She became the, she was renamed the Laconia and she was a cruise boat and she caught fire in the Mediterranean.
GT: It got you home safe. Now, during your time in the Far East as it was then you didn’t service engines. Because that’s what you were sent out there to do.
JG: No. No. No. No. Anything but. Anything but —
GT: Was that a disappointing end to your war?
JG: Oh yeah. That was, that was stupid. I mean, I spent, yeah I spent hours in a plug bay testing plugs, cleaning plugs, checking the bloody insulation and the lads who were on the flying boats at Seletar used to [laughs] loads of these plugs in, ‘They want testing, mate.’ So you’d take another set out. Absolute waste of time. Yeah. Absolute waste of time.
GT: Although, you did see VE Day in England but then were shipped out after it didn’t you?
JG: Oh yeah. It was just a case of then right the way probably certainly after Mingaladon.
GT: Yeah.
JG: We were just sort of saying, ‘Righto. Well, what’s our number? When’s it coming up? When can we go home?’
GT: So, you managed to get home about end of ’46 early ’47 then.
JG: Yeah. Yeah.
GT: You stayed out there that long.
JG: Yeah. That was a lot. Yeah.
GT: That was enough. So, what, what did you work on then once you were demobbed. In civilian life again.
JG: Oh, vehicles of any description. Steam rollers. Anything that was mechanical and I did that. Yeah. I had a very interesting civilian life. Very interesting.
GT: So you had a job with the local authorities.
JG: Yeah.
GT: Boroughs.
JG: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. And what were you doing for them?
JG: Before I came down here? Oh, well maintenance of any of the sewerage works or water works equipment. The vehicles. The machines that they used. You know. There was always something and [pause] yeah.
GT: And in 1947 you met Muriel.
JG: Well, I met Muriel before ’47. But yeah.
GT: You married her in ’47.
JG: Yeah. I met her in, I met her the first time in 1942 but nothing came of it and it was, it’s even now I don’t know how we got together again. No.
GT: But you had many years of great marriage.
JG: But [pause] yeah.
GT: And sadly Muriel died in 2008 but you have had a son and a daughter.
JG: Yeah. A son and daughter. A granddaughter. Two great grandchildren.
GT: Fabulous. Your son Ian who is now fifty six and daughter Susan sixty seven.
JG: Ah she’s sixty seven.
GT: Brilliant.
JG: Yeah.
GT: And a lovely granddaughter Louise looks after you too.
JG: She’s about, she’s about I think she’s forty and the two grandchildren are fourteen and sixteen.
GT: And you’re, I’m speaking with you now in your lovely house here at Haywards Heath so and it’s very kind of you to allow me to visit you yet again. I’ve visited you several years in a row now.
JG: Welcome to see you.
GT: It’s fabulous to chat with you. So after you did some obviously illustrious work for different boroughs and counties you retired in 1986. What did you retire to? Badminton. Squash.
JG: Well, actually when I, when I retired the first time because of being involved and I had to go back to work for twelve, for eighteen, no twelve months. I had a month off and then went back to work and did, and did any work. Any work I could find part time, and ’86 [pause] Let me think. ‘86. Yeah. How old would I have been in ‘86? I can’t even bloody [pause] yeah.
GT: Sixty.
JG: What?
GT: Sixty one. You’d be sixty one.
JG: Sixty one.
GT: So you, you became a road transport engineer before that too didn’t you?
JG: Yeah.
GT: So, yeah —
JG: Yeah. I’d got my transport manager’s licence and I was a member of the Institute of Road Transport Engineers and a member of something else. IMI, you know so —
GT: It must have been a very satisfying job building the local roads and keeping them going. Was it?
JG: I’ve got to say this. It was a more satisfying job with the people I was with before I came down here because local government changed. In 1974 local government changed completely. I mean, whereas we had been responsible before I came down here we were a borough and we were responsible for our own sewerage and waterworks and our old roads everything. I came down here, a slightly different environment and then in ‘74 the local government changed and the water authorities came in and all the rest of them and roads went back to the County. Sewerage went to the Water Authority. The water, that was strange. What was the other one? There used to be, where the effluent used to go in to the river from the sewerage works the water bailiffs used to come up and they used to check the water to see if we were polluting the river which after 1974 the Water Authority took over the sewerage works so they became their own mentors. Right. So one never knew. I mean if you listen to the radio now we’re polluting the streams these days which are under the authority of the Water Authority. We’re polluting them more than we did when it was run by the local authorities and you had the water bailiffs checking on your pollution problems. So, yeah [pause] Yeah.
GT: So, Basil you’ve been a long time member of the Bomber Command Association and the Royal Air Force Association.
JG: Yeah.
GT: You have therefore been to many dinners and meetings or trips away.
JG: Yeah. Yeah. I usually join in with the Christmas dinner at the local RAFA Club and I get the occasional call out as a wartime serving person to join in with the functions at Coningsby or wherever it is, and quite enjoy that. And of course we have the Association AGM every year which I’ve now got myself into at St Ives. So, yeah. I still get, I still get calls.
GT: Well, I know the UK 75 Squadron Association friends of are very pleased to have you amongst their —
JG: Yeah.
GT: Many members now. And I know you’ve laid wreaths for and on behalf of the Association at several recent events.
JG: Well —
GT: Been fantastic. You’re wearing one of my Squadron ties in many of the pictures I see so it’s fabulous and of course your Squadron badge on your jacket.
JG: Yeah. Have you seen my Squadron badge on my car?
GT: Brilliant. You see. So, its brilliant that you’re a 75 Association chappie and me from New Zealand. You from the UK. Love it and that’s just fabulous. Now, also sports wise and you are now ninety —
JG: Three.
GT: Ninety three and you’ve been still playing —
JG: Up to Christmas I was still playing badminton three times a week. Bowls in the season. Enjoying life. Living. Living the good life. Without a wife.
GT: And it’s marvellous you’ve got your own iPad. You’ve had that five years. You’re on the internet. You’re a very internet savvy man and it’s great to be able to keep up contact with you as I do with you from New Zealand. So —
JG: Yeah. Yeah.
GT: Its fabulous, Basil.
JG: Yeah.
GT: Basil, do you look at the service you did to know that the bombing arena of Bomber Command and how they achieved a huge amount of shortening the war against Adolf Hitler. Do you consider they could have done it any other way?
JG: I think they missed opportunities. I think when they went, when they burst the dam, bust the dams they should have gone back and bombed them to stop the rebuilding and they never went back. That was, I think that was a big mistake. I’ve no time for these people who say Dresden was wrong. We’ve all got hindsight. We’re all blessed with hindsight. Bomber Command had a job to do. Unfortunately, Harris takes the blame but he was on instructions from higher authority. We were not the only people who went in to Dresden. I mean we went in to Dresden but the Americans went in two or three times after we’d started it and we went back. Yes. I think we, I think actually we missed out. During the Battle Of Britain we were still throwing .303 bullets at Messerschmitts and they were throwing cannons. If we’d have had .5s or cannon we would have done much better. And it was known. It was known in 1939 that the Spitfire and the Hurricane were [pause] what shall I say? Under armoured. And I don’t know whether you know a very interesting fact that I on the, on the Germany was more [unclear] Germany was far in advance of us on radar. But they used it differently. You know. They were. Their gunnery was absolutely fantastic. Radar controlled. Yeah. Yeah. Ack ack the same. Searchlights the same. We used radar different to them. It’s quite interesting. If you go on to the iPad there’s quite a lot of information on there about German radar. No.
GT: Well, Basil we have covered a good deal of your career, your life, your experiences. I’m certain that the International Bomber Command Centre, the IBCC is going to be very interested in your story and your life. I think we should call it quits now and sign off and thank you very much for chatting with me today and I, I certainly am impressed. I certainly love your story and I’m very honoured to be able to record —
JG: No. No. It’s —
GT: Your history today.
JG: We did, you know I’ve said this before. It’s switched off.
[recording paused]
GT: Go.
JG: Well, you’ve got the fitters.
GT: Yeah. So this is fifteen disciplines.
JG: Fifteen different disciplines. Yeah. You’ve got the air frame people. You’ve got the electricians. The radio mechanics. You’ve got the armourers. You’ve got the safety equipment the WAAFs, the buoyancy. You’ve got the refuellers.
GT: Parachutes.
JG: Refuellers. You’ve then got the airfield control people. You’ve got the cooks. They’re all there. They can’t do without them. You’ve got the medical services. You know. So, I mean what’s that? That’s ten is it? And I could think but the administrators. You need them. There’s so much paperwork. So, I don’t know. I, I could think of painters and other, and other I mean it sounds silly but they’re all there. The storekeepers. The bloke who brings the NAAFI people. All these are different disciplines that go to allowing you the finished article. You know. I will say this. I, a big, a big bone of contention of mine when Doolittle took the bombers to Japan off the carriers eighty crewmen all got a minimum of a medal. All eighty people got a medal. Some of them got higher medals but everybody. The Dambusters. Thirty five medals were given out. Every man who went out there should have had a medal because nobody could, nobody could do on their own what the crew did together, you know. Guy Gibson, for all whatever he was couldn’t have got there without his navigator, couldn’t have got there without his radio operator and probably couldn’t have got down there without his gunners as a protection. So why do you pick one person out for a medal? I was rather aggrieved last year. Johnny Johnson is the last of the Dambusters. He got a medal. Nothing against Johnny Johnson but there was, what was her name? There was a woman. She used to do Countdown. Do you know her name? She got involved. Wanted him to be made a sir or mentioned in the, you know and I said what you should do, forget about, Johnny got his medal, what about using the word getting the medal for all those people who got nothing. Even though they’ve retrospectively they should have all had a medal. Even if, even if they were nowhere and they weren’t alive the family would have appreciated that and it’s something that I feel very strongly about. That they didn’t, you know. Yeah. So, yeah. You know. No man is an island.
GT: The campaign medal for the Bomber Command people has been a strong tidal wave of support for many years and they should, yeah. And it should. Well, I’ll tell you what then Basil it’s something that the medal should have been struck and given to all the Bomber Command people and that’s what hasn’t been done and it’s still ongoing. The fight is still ongoing for it.
JG: A friend of mine he spent a tour on, he was a navigator and he flew a Wellington from England and navigated it all the way out to Egypt. The tragedy is I had his actual log, handwritten log that he had done. He was very precise. He spent a full tour out with the Wellingtons if you like on Bomber Command out from, in the Aden area.
GT: Mediterranean.
JG: He doesn’t get a Bomber Command —
GT: No. No. It’s he gets the Africa Star and the Italy Star is all the Mediterranean Command so —
JG: He doesn’t get anything. But Oliver, Oliver is about four years older than me. I still speak to him. He used to be in the office at work before I moved down here, and they actually forced a U-boat to the surface and it ran aground to save itself. Yeah. I don’t know what Squadron. 108 Squadron something like that flying there but he was a top, top class navigator. And he just gets I don’t know what he gets as a medal, you know.
GT: Yeah.
JG: But yeah.
GT: It is something that should be acknowledged and unfortunately the decision was made in the 1950s and they’ve stuck with it but I am very proud to visit and see and talk with many of the airmen.
JG: Yeah. Yeah.
GT: You are one of the few groundees about and it’s been such a pleasure to chat with you and listen to what you experienced.
JG: Is that off or on?
GT: It’s on. So, so from my point of view now Basil, I think we should complete our interview and then sit and have a cup of tea.
JG: Yeah. Good idea.
GT: But it has been such a pleasure discussing this with you and I thank you.
JG: Yeah.
GT: I thank you much.
JG: Thanks for coming. Yeah.
GT: Any last word you’d like to say?
JG: No. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed my, I enjoyed my RAF career. I enjoy, I enjoy being involved with it now. I think it was a tragedy when they stopped conscription. It should be brought back because nobody, nobody has respect for anything these days. No. It’s always Tom, Dick and Harry. Anyway, I’m pleased to have done what I’ve done.
GT: Thank you. Thank you, Basil.
JG: Let’s have a cup of tea.
GT: Let’s have a cup of tea. Thanks Basil. I’ll package this up for the IBCC and they’ll be —
JG: They’ll probably think some of that’s a load of bloody rubbish, you know.
GT: No way. Thanks Basil. Ok. Good afternoon.
JG: Yeah.
GT: Goodbye.


Glen Turner, “Interview with Basil Goldstraw,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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