Interview with Harry Basil Grant

Title

Interview with Harry Basil Grant

Description

Harry Grant grew up in Kent but when his sister was widowed after her husband died at Dunkirk he went to Nottingham to be company for her in her grief. While there he took a job in the Post Office. When he was of age he volunteered for the RAF and began training as a wireless operator. On one operation he saw a body fall from an aeroplane when it was attacked. The pilot signed them up to take on further operations after their tour was complete which slightly troubled Reg because each one was a possible death sentence with or without the rabbit’s feet he took along for luck. While on demob leave a colleague gave him the contact details for work which turned out to be with GCHQ at Bletchley Park.

Creator

Date

2018-04-27

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:32:24 audio recording

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Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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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.

Contributor

Identifier

AGrantHB180427, PGrantHB1801

Transcription

IP: This is Ian Price and I’m interviewing Harry Grant today the 27th of April 2018 for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We are at [Buzz] Ulverston. Harry, thanks ever so much for agreeing to talk to me today. It’s a great pleasure. And it is currently 10.20 in the morning. Harry, just to start off with then can you tell me a little bit about your childhood? Where you were born?
HG: I was born at Lydd. L Y D D in Kent before the war, 1923. and I stopped there until I joined the Air Force. Nothing, it was just an ordinary working class background and it was quite a, quite a nice part to live. It was free of any industry. It was mainly fishing and agriculture and I stopped there until I joined the Air Force in Nottingham where my sister was living and I was at Nottingham because her husband had been killed at Dunkirk who was missing from that episode. And I was more or less a companion to her for a short while. Then I joined at the Combined Recruiting Centre in Nottingham.
IP: Ok, so just going back to your childhood a bit then. So, it was a sort of a rural area you lived in was it? Or —
HG: It was. Yes.
IP: Yeah. Sort of —
HG: It was rural.
IP: Yeah.
HG: My father worked for the WD as they called it and he was a repairer of gunnery targets and all kinds. In fact, they became quite sophisticated targets in the end. Aeroplanes and whatnot and tanks that were driven along a miniature railway line. So the old man was working at that and he worked there for years. He was also a follow on of the First World War as a lot were in that time but it was just an ordinary background. A working class background. And that’s all I can say about it. It was I, and in fact I, I’ve been down there many many times since the war and it’s very seldom I come across anybody I recognise through living up in [unclear], and that. And anyway I worked for a solicitor as a, as an office boy.
IP: Well, let’s come back to that in a moment. So, just, just going back to your upbringing and stuff what, did your mother work or was she, she was at home?
HG: No. It was in the days when women were in the home.
IP: And did you, you’ve mentioned one sister already.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Who you go and, you go and stop with later.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Did you have any other brothers and sisters?
HG: Yes. I had one brother who worked for the main brewers in Kent. A firm called Style and Winch. They owned most of the pubs. And I had another two sisters, and they were all I think good looking, intelligent women.
IP: So altogether two boys and three girls then.
HG: Three girls.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Two boys.
IP: Ok.
HG: Yeah. And so we had a very, well it was a, there was no money. No. Not, not, we lived very very poorly in a way even though the old man was, my father was working for the WD all those years in the days when unemployment, he was still working. But the pay was very poor, very poor. And in fact, since then I lived like a lord.
IP: And what can you tell me about your school days then?
HG: School days. Yeah. It was, I was up to I suppose the School Certificate standard when I left.
IP: So, was that fifteen years old.
HG: Yes. I’d be a bit older than that.
IP: Right.
HG: Probably about sixteen or seventeen and it was quite good so, and when I, things different subjects that I found difficult I found that it wasn’t my lack of knowledge it was just that these, the teachers weren’t geared to teaching the things like algebra and what not which I never could understand. But, but afterwards yes it was quite, quite a good thorough education but low class in comparison to my boys and todays.
IP: Sure. Did you enjoy school?
HG: Oh yes. I was good at it.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Yeah. I was probably one of the, one of the creeps [laughs] I suppose.
IP: Which, which schools did you go to? Can you remember the names of them? The Primary School, and was it Grammar School you went to or —
HG: Well, it was. Yes.
IP: Yeah.
HG: It was Southlands which now doesn’t exist. In fact, one of our, one of my cousins, he was a chief tech in the end and he stopped. He was at Southlands School. It was a good one that. They were very keen on nature and I won’t tell you a story of being sent out to get grass, and the grass was not what my father would call quality. And I won’t tell you what [laughs] what came of that that day.
IP: You can. You can.
HG: It was, yeah it was quite a good. A sound mediocre education but sufficient for me to have had senior jobs since.
IP: So —
HG: I was the senior supervisor at Glaxo.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. Ok. So, you left. So you were educated up to ‘til about sixteen seventeen.
HG: Sixteen. Seventeen.
IP: School certificate.
HG: Yeah.
IP: And then what happened after that when you left school?
HG: I worked for a solicitor for a short while until I went up to Nottingham to be a companion to one of my sisters.
IP: Right. So, just so I’ve got this clear, so was the plan for you to become a solicitor when you joined the firm? Or were you hoping to take articles or whatever it was called?
HG: Yes. Because the solicitor, they had a [pause] what do they call the —
IP: Like an apprenticeship was it?
HG: Yeah. But yeah, but it was after I left there I continued studying and it was by post.
IP: Yes. Distance learning sort of —
HG: Yeah.
IP: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
HG: And I came to a stop when I was, I remember getting a paper, the law of tort. And I never did found out about the law of tort because by then I was in the RAF and there was more interests going on. There was nights out and all kinds of things.
IP: So, you were, so it would have been Dunkirk was 1940.
HG: Yeah.
IP: So, and was it straight after Dunkirk?
HG: It wasn’t long.
IP: In fact, let’s step back. What, what can you remember about the outbreak of war and what your thoughts were because you would have been about what?
HG: The outbreak of war. As I said we lived on the edge of a military camp and the majority of the civilian employees were people from the first war and there was a one legged man who was in the ordnance stores and he said to me, ‘If war breaks out come down and tell me.’ Well, as I was coming down I saw a woman running down crying, and she was a German married to a civilian employee of the ordnance workshops. And I went down and I said to this bloke, ‘War is declared.’ And as I came back it was open spaces round, round between where we lived and the camp and there was, I think it was the South Stafford Regiment. They were all, got their guns ready. There was no aeroplanes about.
IP: No.
HG: But anyway it was supposed to be because the siren had sounded and, and of course that night we, we were all agog with excitement as a child thinking that Germans were going to appear. And of course nothing happened.
IP: Yeah. The phoney war. Yeah.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And I can remember a neighbour of ours dressed in anti-gas suit and a rattle and I thought hell it must be serious this. But, but anyway I went to Nottingham soon after that and I joined the RAF and that was it.
IP: So let’s talk about, so your brother in law was in the Army. He must have been a regular soldier.
HG: He was.
IP: Do you know what, what he did in the Army?
HG: He, yes, he was a driver with the 8th Battalion of the Tank Regiment. I can remember him well because in the, in the camp at that time was a tank regiment. The 3rd Battalion. In fact, two of my sisters married regulars from that regiment. I can remember it well and —
IP: And, and this chap your, the sister who lived in Nottingham. The chap did, he was missing at Dunkirk I presume he was eventually declared dead was he?
HG: He was declared dead.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Yes. And we found where he was buried and it was rather queer because I have a nephew who was in the Thames Valley Police, and he was, he was a great one at finding out about like this, and he said that they went to see the grave of this man. My sister who was their mother I think remarried a man from the Tank Corps. Kept in the family. It may sound a bit queer that but yes she and yeah and they, they found out where his grave was and they, it was queer that and I was probably the last bloke to see him alive.
IP: Really? Yeah.
HG: Because the —
IP: From your family. Yes. Yeah.
HG: Yeah. Because it was a tremendous [pause] East Kent is bad for snow and it was, in 1940 snow was very bad.
IP: That’s right. Yeah.
HG: And I was travelling to a place called Ashford. If you know where that is?
IP: I do. Yes.
HG: And he got, he was going to Aldershot and he got out. I got out and he got out, and that was the last and he was then killed. But yeah, that was me in the school and the war years.
IP: Yes. So you were, I presume or you can tell whether I’m right so because your sister was on her own.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Did she have children by then or —
HG: No.
IP: Right. Ok. So, she was on her own so it was felt that you should go and as you say support her.
HG: She was, they thought that as I was like single.
IP: Yeah.
HG: That I would be a companion. And I can always remember the journey there was a terrible journey because the main stations in London were badly damaged and we had to go right around London. I went with my mother. There were two of us and my mother came back and I stopped. In fact, I never went back again. And oh, it took us hours to get to, to Nottingham. We had to change somewhere in the Midlands and, well it was all excitement as far as I was concerned. And we got to Nottingham and of course we had to, we got a taxi and I can always remember there was another woman there. Could she share the taxi with us? Yes, that would be alright and we went along, went so far somewhere in Nottingham and the house that she went to was empty. But of course I was a kid. That would be a crisis for that woman and we went on. But I was there about twelve months.
IP: Ok. So that, so obviously that was after the Blitz had started.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Because you said London was damaged.
HG: Yes.
IP: So, we’re talking probably late 1940 about —
HG: Yes, it was.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Yeah.
IP: So you were there then. So, you were there. What did you do? Did you find work in Nottingham? Or —
HG: Yes. I got a job with the, with the Post Office and I found that quite interesting and but of course it was only temporary work and I wouldn’t have liked to have been in the Post Office but yeah.
IP: And was Nottingham bombed? I can’t remember if Nottingham was bombed very much.
HG: It was bombed.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And we all went down to see the damage in the middle of Nottingham. Yeah. Oh yes. It’s queer. It was a funny existence because my training as it was, was never completed in the solicitor’s, as a solicitor.
IP: Yeah.
HG: But I think I would have been probably good at that. You’re going to listen to, in fact I’ve talked about it in this room and I have some friends who live at Swarthmoor. I said, I said, ‘I could have been your family solicitor.’ Whether I ever would have ever managed it I don’t know, but I’d remember the law of tort. I’d never heard of that have you?
IP: I have heard of it but I don’t really know what it is. Yeah.
HG: It was correspondence. Correspondence. I was in the RAF then.
IP: Yeah.
HG: The law of tort.
IP: So you kept your, this sort of distance learning studying to be a solicitor —
HG: Oh yes.
IP: Going for some years really didn’t you?
HG: Yes. I did it for, I must have done about two years and of course I used to write Wills. Write them. Not, not full, not the intricate parts of them, and I can always remember I had flaxen hair because my wife used to think it was piebald and we used to go out to a farmer. And the farmer, and they were rich farms in Kent he was going to pass us to his son but by then they’d been in mortal bloody what’s the name and he got chopped out. And I wrote that Will. I can remember it to this day. So many acres and freehold and yeah.
IP: So he wrote his son out of his Will then.
HG: Well, yeah and I can remember when we were going back one day and then I had my doubts about the quality of, of solicitors. I was a bag carrier at that stage and we used to go to this farm and I used to get banished to the kitchen and I didn’t mind that because there was a nice girl there. And he said to me, ‘How, how much are we going to charge this old bugger, Leo?’ And I thought I can’t believe I’m - I thought it would be scientific, but he didn’t make it, he used, I went out to that farm as a bag carrier oh two or three times and each time the Will was changed. He was going to have the farm. He wasn’t going to have it. He was.
IP: And the solicitor based the bill.
HG: Yeah.
IP: On how much the person was worth rather than.
HG: Oh yes.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Yeah. Yeah. Well, they were, they were mates, you see. They probably belonged to the same —
IP: Yeah. So going back to Nottingham then you were, so you were there for about twelve months you reckoned.
HG: Yes.
IP: So around about the end of 1941 I suppose.
HG: It was.
IP: And you —
HG: I joined.
IP: Did you volunteer?
HG: Yes.
IP: Or were you conscripted?
HG: No. I, I volunteered and —
IP: So, you got your choice of Service. Why did, why did you decide? Well, why did you decide to volunteer first of all?
HG: Well, because I didn’t want to be a soldier. And I can always remember the bloke said, ‘You don’t want to go with that nancy bloody crowd.’ He said, ‘Look at these smart uniforms.’ There was blokes there in Guardsman’s uniform and I thought no. But yeah. I thought, yeah I’d like to be a wireless operator in the RAF. Never thinking that wireless was a technical bloody subject and it took me all my time to pass out. Oh yeah.
IP: So you, right so you chose the RAF.
HG: Yeah.
IP: What, what [pause] did you have something, I mean was that right at the first stage you thought, ‘I want to be a wireless operator,’ or did, what did your, what was your —
HG: I joined as, I applied as a wireless op.
IP: Ok.
HG: And I think practically all the lads I was with that day were the same because we drifted the usual way. Blackpool and Padgate which was a [pause] that was a Receiving Centre, I think. Padgate.
IP: But why? I’m intrigued as to why you would pick out wireless operator specifically that you wanted to do. Was it, were you used to fiddling with radios or did you, you know —
HG: Yes, I was and I used to have a, I was given an old radio before the war and I used to get some queer sounds off that because it was a straight set. It wasn’t like the Superhet that we had, and I thought yeah I would like to have a do at that never thinking that it would be bloody hard work. Because some of those they had the best of instructors you know from the tech schools and I can always remember one chap. He didn’t want to belong, and we was the classroom at Yatesbury which now doesn’t exist. It was a big, big camp there. There was four wings and I can remember Syd, ‘Oh, you have dropped the proverbial testicle Mr Oliver,’ and so he was flung off. And I saw him after the war. He went as a driver, and he was happier that way. But —
IP: So, I’m trying to get this in. Just, just sorry excuse me for going back but just to try and pull out the details as it were.
HG: Yeah.
IP: So you applied for your wireless operation in the Air Force did you know that that meant you would fly? Was that —
HG: Oh no. It was ground.
IP: Right.
HG: Ground wireless op.
IP: Ok. Yeah. Yeah.
HG: I didn’t remuster to air crew until I’d been in the RAF probably two years.
IP: Ah ok, right. So let’s, let’s sort of pick that out of it then. So, so you applied. What did your, what did your parents, what did, well what did your family think? Your sister. Your parents. About you joining up with the Air Force.
HG: I never, I never discussed it with them. And they never, well of course during the war everybody was in something, and I don’t think my mother was all that pleased you know because she could remember the first war and that made, it sounds a bit what’s the name, but it was fluid in those days. And I can remember going down from Nottingham and I said more or less I had joined the Air Force but I never, there was never any other discussion.
IP: Ok.
HG: But it all seems so long ago.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. So, from [pause] you said it was the Combined Recruiting Centre at Nottingham so obviously it was all, it was presumably all three Services then that recruited there. So from there you, I presume you went home, packed your bags and at some stage you got called forward to —
HG: I was in —
IP: For basic training.
HG: Yes, there is, yes I went to, back to my sister’s and I said, ‘I won’t be here long.’ In fact, I was wait, I waited about two months until you got that buff envelope. And I can remember all the lads that I was with that day because they thought I was a Londoner. I was still a foreigner in that part which hurts at times, and we always, we all went and one followed the other because you were like a load of sheep at that stage because you were going in to the unknown and, but at the end of the training at Yatesbury I was, oh we had like square bashing at Blackpool.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Up and down the Prom, and —
IP: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HG: And the police everywhere. Military police. There was a lot of Poles then. Polish airmen there. But anyway and the, when we, we were assembled ready for the off when we were going posted from Yatesbury. They said, ‘Anybody wanted to go aircrew?’ Well, it was the time that air gunners were dying. Well, it used to be, “I want to be a w/op ag and fly all over Germany and get shot up to buggery.” That was the song. But you never thought that you’d would be involved in it and I never did. I never, it never bothered me ever but —
IP: So basic training at Blackpool then.
HG: Yeah.
IP: What, can you remember much about your basic training? What did you think to it?
HG: Well, it was very, very strict. Very strict. And I seemed to be —
IP: After a Kentish boys upbringing I suppose and —
HG: Yes. And I seemed to have seven left feet you know when, and I can always remember the bloke was called Shortess, Shortess and he had a voice like a bellow. And everybody seemed to do everything wrong. And they had all out of date DP rifles and we used to march up and down there. Yeah.
IP: How long was it? How long was basic training? Can you remember?
HG: Oh, about three months.
IP: Oh, was it that long?
HG: Yeah.
IP: Wow. Ok.
HG: Well, it was the beginning of ’42. That’s right.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And it was, it was the middle of ’42 before I got down to Yatesbury. And of course Yatesbury is in Wiltshire, and I did manage to get, I got a weekend and the whole unit was displaced over the full length of England and nobody turned up on time and I, and I was still on Lydd Station, miles to go and my mother said, ‘Oh, you will be alright won’t you?’ I said, ‘Oh yes.’ Knowing full well that I had no chance. And we got to Chippenham and they had bloody dogs running around rounding us up and we had to, we had to march that distance from Chippenham to Yatesbury. Oh, bloody hell. Dear oh dear.
IP: How far is that? I don’t know how far that must be.
HG: It’s a damned long way. It seemed further.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Because we’d been travelling all night.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And the, and the travelling. There were blokes in the rack and [pause] I don’t think it’s stuck has it?
IP: No. No. It’s alright.
HG: But I remember that more or less said, ‘Anybody for aircrew?’ There was always somebody because they got extra clothing, lovely shoes and whatnot.
IP: More money.
HG: Yeah. Yeah.
IP: So, so Yatesbury was, so you were an AC I guess. An aircraftsman.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Can you remember? In those days.
HG: Yeah.
IP: So Yatesbury was sort, sort of trade training to be a —
HG: That’s right.
IP: A ground wireless operator.
HG: Yes.
IP: Yeah. Ok.
HG: Yeah. There was four wings there. One was the Admiralty, Wrens and the other three were, number one wing was aircrew and the other two were just ground staff.
IP: Ok.
HG: Because when the, oh because that’s right, yeah. Anyway, I got sent to Hendon. Lovely. I first flew from Hendon. That was lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
IP: So that was how long? Can you remember how long the trade training was at Yatesbury? That would be —
HG: Six months altogether.
IP: Yeah.
HG: But there would be yeah about six months. It was a bloody —
IP: So we’re almost at the end of 1942 then.
HG: Yeah.
IP: I suppose. And were you, were you posted to Hendon from there?
HG: Yes.
IP: Right. So that’s where you were stationed doing your wireless operating.
HG: Yeah.
IP: And Hendon was a fighter station.
HG: It was. It was lovely because we used to do early morning DIs on the aircraft. Pull the trolley acc, get a penny, put it across the terminals, so it had the [pause] and so you had on, get up into the aircraft and put it air to ground. Oh yes. I used to thoroughly enjoy that. And we went. Oh, that was first the first time I flew because you could go on air tests providing they had the name in the [pause] what was the book? Authorisation book.
IP: That’s right.
HG: And there was a bloke, there was a corporal who came with me our first time and he went to the parachute store. I said, ‘Why do you want there?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’m not going up in that bloody thing.’ He said, ‘I’ve been servicing the engines of that.’
IP: What was it you were flying? What did you fly in the first time? Do you remember?
HG: Now, what did Coastal Command fly then?
IP: Hudson? Hudson. Ok.
HG: They were lovely.
IP: Yeah. Two engines, I think.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And a lot of them were flown by KLM pilots. I remember one day he cut one engine and throttled back on the other and [unclear] [laughs] but, oh yes I used to enjoy that.
IP: So, did you fly much then when you were at Hendon? Did you get the opportunity to fly a lot?
HG: On air tests, yeah. In fact, they had a variety of aircraft. It was a transit drome was there.
IP: Yeah.
HG: In fact, I think it was [pause] yes because I used to see them come. I used to see them waiting, holding parachutes waiting for, just like a civvy what’s the name? It was lovely, and of course being in London I could nip home.
IP: Yeah.
HG: But that came to a final stop because I remustered to air crew and somebody said, ‘What do you want to get yourself killed for?’ I said, ‘Oh no, that’s all right.’ I enjoyed it and, but then it was a long time then before I got to a squadron.
IP: Yeah. So how long were you at Hendon? Can you remember?
HG: Twelve months.
IP: Ok. Yeah. Yeah. So about, so now we’re at the end of 1943ish.
HG: Yeah.
IP: And that was, it was at that stage you volunteered to go to aircrew.
HG: Yeah.
IP: So what, what made you decide after, after all that?
HG: Well, I used to see all these blokes because they were [pause] because I came across a lot of the aircrew, and I thought I can do the bloody job as good as them, and there was a warrant officer in charge of the ground wireless ops and he’d been in France at the beginning of war and he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘The old Jerry wants bloody stamping on.’ He said, ‘They were right bastards to the civilians.’ And I said, ‘Well —’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You might enjoy it.’ And it didn’t take long to get on the first, the first place I went to was —
IP: Walney Island. No.
HG: No. Not Walney Island. It was Madley. Madley.
IP: Ok.
HG: I don’t know what it was afterwards but, and there was a lad with me. There was always a bloke who was unwilling and I, and I followed him. He said, he said, ‘You don’t want to go with that lot,’ he says. You want to muff the exams.’ I couldn’t do that because I remember the day that we finished training at, at Madley, and they said, ‘The following are qualified — ’ And I thought that was great because they came to, I came to Barrow then which then is why I’m here. Because my wife, well my wife has never been in this place but it followed on.
IP: She was a Cumbrian lass.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Ok. So —
HG: I know I was saying —
IP: We’ll come back to your wife, but so you volunteered. What was the process for volunteering for aircrew? Can you remember when you were at [pause] at Hendon, sorry. Did they come around looking for volunteers or did you have to step forward and say?
HG: No. I just said. ‘I wouldn’t mind being on aircrew.’ That was all.
IP: Yeah. And a bit of paperwork and you were on your way to Madley.
HG: I had nothing to do.
IP: Yeah. Right.
HG: It was all done for me.
IP: Ok.
HG: All I got was a posting at Madley.
IP: And so Madley was kind of initial aircrew training or something like that was it? Or —
HG: No. It was Number 4 Radio School, and it was lovely. It was at the, we had Proctors. Do you remember those? And they used to come around like a taxi rank, and when you go up to them [pause] I can always remember arguing about a mark I got. A low mark because you took off, you picked up a ground station that was sending it’s call sign back to, you transmitted to it and landed. Tell the pilot because there was only two of you. And I remember he was a New Zealander and I got a very low mark and I thought bloody hell I should have had a hundred percent for that. I remember arguing the bloody toss to this bloke. I said that’s, ‘You’ve got a down on me.’ I don’t think he’d ever seen me before in his life and, yeah. I can always remember waiting in the briefing room I think and there was a WAAF there as there was always and she had a gold watch and she’d taken it off and one of the blokes had [unclear] and he wouldn’t own up to it. So we were all in it and I thought oh hell. But he did in the end but he, I can remember how embarrassed he looked.
IP: What happened to him? Can you remember?
HG: Nothing, he was lucky.
IP: Yeah.
HG: He was lucky. It was just accepted that he was stupid. But yeah I used to like that.
IP: So, you were, so Madley, so you did your, I suppose that was your conversion from being a ground wireless operator to being an airborne.
HG: Yes.
IP: Wireless operator.
HG: That’s right because —
IP: And then, then what happened after that?
HG: We did gunnery there and then we did Wellingtons but that’s all in my logbook.
IP: So what, tell me about gunnery training then.
HG: About what?
IP: Gunnery training.
HG: Oh [laughs] yeah. Gunnery. Say you, well usually three gunners and they were Ansons and the turret was in the back. The rear. And as you lowered your guns so your seat would go up and you get halfway out and sometimes the bloody thing wouldn’t operate and the seat would lock you in and you’d get tied up with your Mae West.
IP: So you’d get caught up in the, in the turret.
HG: In the turret. Yeah. And, but you do say a thousand rounds and the, if you were say number one gunner the tips of your bullets might be painted red. So the drogue would have that number. Then when they discarded the drogue they’d have it there on a long table. But I never got above average even though there used to be beam and, or quarter cross under when it got [pause] and sometimes I’d get the turret, the drogue right in front of me and I’d never get, never get [pause] they wouldn’t, they’d purposely mark you low to keep you going because it’s only, I had a look at it afterwards. Reasonable or something and the, but of course the gunnery included the hydraulics which I never did understand.
IP: So the sort of technical operation of the guns. The gun turret itself.
HG: The gun turret.
IP: That sort of thing. Yeah. Yeah.
HG: The, the vane oil motor, and I can remember we were sitting chewing over the different things. I said, ‘Well, if I was a school master I would, the backward action of the breach block — ’ and I swatted on that and that was the bloody question I got asked and they thought I was a wizard. The backward action of the [pause] oh yeah. I can’t do it now but its queer.
IP: So you were firing at drogues being towed by aircraft.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Did you do any that, was there any ground based training or anything like that?
HG: Oh yes. They had some turrets mounted on the sea shore operated by a little two stroke engines and they used to, used to do a bit of firing. And I can always remember sometimes the make of the bullet it used to explode when it got outside the, you know the flash thing.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
HG: That was round.
IP: Yeah.
HG: I remember a bullet and [unclear] —
[doorbell – recording paused]
IP: Right. Sorry about that. You were saying about the bullet that exploded.
HG: Yeah. Just it was queer that that happened umpteen times. I never, well I never fired a gun in a Lancaster. I never, never had an occasion to go near a turret. I just kept to the radio.
IP: Sure.
HG: But it was funny you know they, they had, can you remember the old 1082 and 1083? Well, that was the old fashioned, the pre-war transmitter and receiver. Well, when the new ones came in everything was beautiful. The transmitter click, click. But yeah I, I can remember at the Trade Test Board there was one. Is that —
[phone ringing – recording paused]
IP: Right. So, we’re still at Walney Island then. Did you do any clay pigeon shooting there? Do you remember that?
HG: No. But I had, they did do clay pigeon shooting there and because there was a little, a little airman not much taller than her and he was always, he could never do anything right because you always got one didn’t you? And so they put a, he was an expert at clay pigeon shooting. I can always remember that. Yeah.
IP: Yeah. They used to use it to teach leads and all that sort of stuff didn’t they?
HG: She was a nurse. Canadian army.
IP: Oh, the lady who just —
HG: Yeah.
IP: Who just visited. Yeah.
HG: Yeah. She’s my friend. That’s all.
IP: Yeah.
HG: But she usually rings me three times a day. In the morning to see I’m awake and then in the afternoon at teatime, and when I go to bed at night. And I go to bed at it’s usually about ten past nine.
[recording paused]
IP: Right. So, so Walney Island was gunnery training and then can you remember where you went after that?
HG: Yatesbury. Oh, sorry. Wait a minute.
IP: You’ve been to Yatesbury. Yeah. It would have been —
HG: We went to Desborough.
IP: Right. Was that, was that the Operational Training Unit? Is that the OTU? Is that what they called it?
HG: I think that was the OTU.
IP: Yeah. Desborough. Desborough rings a bell but I can’t, whereabouts is that?
HG: That’s near Northampton.
IP: Ok. Ok. So, tell me about that. What happened at Desborough? At the OTU.
HG: OTU. We were on Wellingtons there. That was alright. And you’d do cross country and, and then —
IP: So, that was OTU was all about learning to be —
HG: Yeah.
IP: To live in a bomber basically I suppose.
HG: That’s it. Yeah.
IP: Ok. And they used the Wellingtons as a training aircraft.
HG: They did.
IP: So were you crewed up with your crew by now?
HG: No.
IP: Right.
HG: We weren’t crewed up until we got to Lanc Finishing School.
IP: Ok. So, let’s, let’s concentrate on the OTU at the moment. So, so tell me a bit about that. What you can remember of the OTU?
HG: Well, it was all cross countries, circuits and bumps. And yeah, that was all. And we did some quite long cross countries and I think we was there [pause] No, I mustn’t forget the timescale. We was there about six, six months.
IP: Yeah. So we’re probably in, are we in to 1944 by now then do you think?
HG: No. Must have been, must have been [pause] that’s right because we left the Gunnery School at the beginning of ’44. That’s right. That would have been ’44.
IP: Ok. So you were, so this was about learning as I say to work in a bomber base of course.
HG: Oh yes.
IP: Did you enjoy it?
HG: Yeah.
IP: You liked flying.
HG: Yes. I didn’t mind it at all. After a bit it’s a bit, you get a bit blasé don’t you? You think oh bloody hell I’m not on that lot again.
IP: And were you a sergeant? Were you made NCO by, by then?
HG: Yes. Yes.
IP: Ok. So you were living in the sergeant’s mess.
HG: Yes.
IP: All that sort of stuff.
HG: Yes. That was quite good was that.
IP: Getting paid a bit more.
HG: Yeah. Not a lot.
IP: Ok.
HG: I think it was about seven shillings a day. Meagre. And but when we got to Lanc Finishing School they had all the bods there you know milling around and a bloke came up to me and his name was [Van Weele] He was a Dutchman and he was saying what a, what a good pilot he was and I said, ‘Alright, I’ll come along with you.’ And then we got, we got shifted again. I got with the man I stopped with for the rest of the tour. A bloke called Dowling. I don’t suppose you ever came across him. He was an expert at helicopters. He wrote a book called the first hundred. Well, it wouldn’t be the first hundred would it? The first years of helicopters in the RAF, and —
IP: So this was, so let’s just again step back a bit. So we’ve done, we’ve got the OTU on Wellingtons.
HG: Yeah.
IP: You did that at sort of at Desborough that was wasn’t it?
HG: Yes.
IP: And then from there you went to Heavy Conversion Unit. What you called Lanc Finishing School, I guess.
HG: No. That was right. There was one in between. Stirlings.
IP: Ah.
HG: Because we had those tremendous losses with them.
IP: Yeah.
HG: They were hellish things. Huge. But of course as a radio operator you only had the radio to look after.
IP: So, what were you doing on the Stirlings? Obviously it was part of the training. These were training aircraft that you were on.
HG: Yeah. They were training.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And they were all bloody clapped out. They were all clapped out. And there was, there was one. I can always remember one aircraft. The pilot had been a fitter so he knew about engine handling and I can always remember him writing a letter home when he was pissed, and he said. ‘Do you think they’ll think that’s original.?’ And oh dear. The things you did. But it was nice. I liked that.
IP: So, that was, when were you flying Stirlings? Can you remember? Or flying in Stirlings I should say. That wasn’t Desborough but —
HG: Well, it’ll be in my logbook.
IP: Yeah.
HG: It would be —
IP: It doesn’t matter particularly but I’m just, just intrigued.
HG: It would be in 1944.
IP: Ok. Can you remember where? Where you were based?
HG: This is a bit —
IP: Don’t worry. No. That’s fine. So you were on, I’m slight, we’ll have a look at your logbook after. I’m slightly intrigued as to what this this Stirling [unclear]
HG: It’s all in there.
IP: Yeah. From Stirlings then you went to, was it Heavy Conversion Unit? Was the Stirling the Heavy Conversion Unit?
HG: Yes.
IP: Right. Ok. So then, then once you’d done that you went on to —
HG: We went to Lanc —
IP: Lancaster Finishing School which was probably operational conversion unit or something like that I guess.
HG: Well, it was called Lanc Finishing School.
IP: Oh, was it really? Ok.
HG: And you did a few GH homings with the radar.
IP: Yeah.
HG: But they had a scanner on the roof so everything was inverted and they pulled the curtains across the cockpit, and I said, and we were at Feltwell with a grass aerodrome and I, and I got the blips. I said, ‘We’re right above the aerodrome.’ They said, ‘Oh, there’s no sign of any aerodrome here.’ And I got up and pulled the curtains. I used to enjoy that. I got one and, [pause] one and six a day extra for operating the radar. Which was —
IP: Yeah, old seven shillings.
HG: Oh yeah.
IP: Whatever it was. Yeah. That’s another twenty percent or so isn’t it? So, yeah.
HG: Then I went to Lanc Finishing. Then we went to the squadron.
IP: Right. Let’s talk about Lanc Finishing School then. So this is where you crewed up.
HG: Yeah.
IP: You mentioned about the Dutch pilot that was —
HG: Oh, Van [Weele].
IP: Yes.
HG: Van [Weele].
IP: And then but you, but you ended up crewed up with a different pilot in the [unclear]
HG: Yes.
IP: So this was, this was this whole thing that they started where they basically threw you all in to a hangar or a hall or whatever.
HG: Yeah.
IP: And you wandered around.
HG: That’s right.
IP: And made your own crew. How? How did that work? What did you think to that?
HG: Well, not much because like as I say I’d picked on one bloke. Yeah. That would be alright and then you’d be drifting around and you’d find you’d, you’d got another pilot. It was hit and miss but it was effective because well I’ve got photographs of the crew I was with. There were three Canadians.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. So there was, so you formed a crew. Now, I understand that the flight engineer came along later.
HG: He did.
IP: Yes. So you got all of the crew bar one including gunners and navigator, bombardier. All that, all that stuff.
HG: Yeah. Everybody.
IP: Ok.
HG: Except the engineer.
IP: Right. And was that [pause] was that towards the end of that time, can you remember? Or —
HG: No.
IP: Just before you shipped off to —
HG: Yeah. Just before we went to a squadron.
IP: Yeah.
HG: I think we picked up the engineer.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. Ok. So, you formed your crew. We’ve, we’ve, I think we’ve, there’s nothing else to say is there about your time at Lanc Finishing School? Can you remember much about that? What did you think to the Lancaster first of all? What was your, what were your first impressions when you [pause] Can you remember?
HG: Yes. I thought they were tinny. I think they, you know I thought they were nice but after I think like, what was the other big —
IP: Stirling.
HG: Yeah. Stirling.
IP: And Wellingtons you flew.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Well, they were nice were the Wellington. Yeah. We used to have to pull the props though around on the, to use the engine and [pause] oh yeah.
IP: Quite small inside the Lancaster as well isn’t it? It’s quite constricted. Not much space.
HG: In a Lancaster?
IP: Yeah.
HG: No. There isn’t a lot of space and, but as a wireless op I had a heater right beside me. You could tell that. But they were easy to fly was a Lancaster because many times I’d got at the wheel and, because you should swap over and —
IP: So you all got the chance to see what the other person did kind of thing.
HG: Oh yes. Yeah.
IP: Yeah.
HG: I could.
IP: Was that official? Was that formal as part of the training or was it just something you did as a crew?
HG: Completely unofficial.
IP: Right.
HG: I don’t think that they’d frown on that. They, they had a WAAF, a WAAF sergeant who was flying a Lancaster and she’d got into the, from what I understood she’d gone into the seat, the pilot’s seat and she knocked the flaps over so it flipped on its back, and they took a lot of, took a lot of, I understand. I never was in that position.
IP: It’s funny the stuff that went on. I read a little while ago about a WAAF of some, I can’t remember what rank she was but actually went on a mission. I think she was the wife of one of the crew or something like that. She went on an mission over Germany.
HG: Oh.
IP: Obviously unofficially.
HG: Yeah.
IP: And I mean that, I was aware that people did go as, as, I won’t say hangers on but as observers shall we say on missions.
HG: Yeah.
IP: But I was staggered that somebody took, took a WAAF with them because you think God if they’d, if they’d had problems then.
HG: Yeah. I don’t know but you see when you went to briefing all the crews were together and you don’t go out. No. I don’t, I don’t know how they would manage that. I don’t know.
IP: Ok. So Lancaster Finishing School and then off to —
HG: Squadron.
IP: 115 Squadron. Did you call it one, one five, or one fifteen, or —
HG: Well, I always say one one five.
IP: Yeah.
HG: My navigator who died just a year ago.
IP: Ok.
HG: He used to say a hundred and fifteen but, yeah.
IP: Tell me about your crew. What can you remember about the guys you flew with in those days? What were they like?
HG: Well, the two gunners were Canadians. I never, we never had much to do with them. I was more to do with the navigator because he was really sick coming air sick one day and so I took over the plot. Bloody hell. I can always remember going back. In the compartment, the navigator’s compartment in a Lancaster you had, you had at least two compasses. The gyro compass which you always had to switch on when you got in and the only thing that saved me was I said, I said to the gunners, ‘Have a look to see if you can find, see a pond. A lake. A big lake,’ because I looked on the charts and on that heading. And they did so. We got that and so we worked from there and we got nearer to the English coast and I got a QDM. A magnetic bearing that took us right to the ‘drome. And I left the trailing aerial out. Bloody hell.
IP: So he was, the navigator was pretty debilitated then with the, with the air sickness.
HG: He, he was. Well, he did come back. He did. Yes. He was always really airsick because there was one exercise they called fighter affiliation.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And I don’t know whether you ever saw the pilot then. He used to have his feet up on the and he used to be pulling back and I can remember getting in to one Wellington after it had been on fighter affiliation and the bloke had been sick all over the bloody place.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Oh, Christ. Yeah. We did that. Fighter affil.
IP: So, right. So that was your navigator. Any other crew members you can remember particularly?
HG: Well, you never had much to do with the engineer but we had, we had a port engine blown out and —
IP: Was that from flak or —
HG: Yeah.
IP: Yeah.
HG: It was a direct hit.
IP: Oh right.
HG: And, well that was bad was that. In fact, I’ve got a full account.
IP: Where? Can you remember where you were? What city you were bombing for that one? Do you remember much about it?
HG: No. I can’t.
IP: You just remember the port engine blowing up.
HG: I can probably get it easy enough when I look at the obituary of the navigator because I wanted to, I wanted, I suggested going into [pause] what was that Dutch? There was a prang ‘drome on the continent for badly damaged air, like Woodbridge, Carnaby, and there were three prang ‘dromes but there was one on the continent. Not far from [pause] it was near, it was in Holland. I wanted to divert there but there was enough petrol to get us back to England. But when we had a look I was surprised because I’ve got the [pause] I’ll show it to you. And I looked at the aircraft and they repaired it because we borrowed an aircraft that morning. You know I used to — what aircraft did you fly on?
IP: I wasn’t. I was on air defence radar sites. I was a fighter controller.
HG: Oh yeah. I don’t know anything about that. I’ve got [pause] I won’t be a sec.
[recording paused]
IP: Right. So, so were you still a sergeant then? Can you remember? By the time you got to 115 squadron.
HG: Yes.
IP: Right. So and what about the rest of the crew? Were they all senior NCOs as well or were there any officers amongst them?
HG: No. The pilot was a flying officer. And who else did we have? And the bomb aimer was the same. He was a Canadian. And what used to annoy the pilot was he had about three times of the salary.
IP: Oh, the Canadian did.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HG: Oh yes. I used to [laughs] but Dowling he was a public schoolboy.
IP: He was the pilot wasn’t he? Dowling.
HG: Yes.
IP: Yes. Yeah.
HG: And of course consequently he used to look down on us and we used to pull his bloody leg and [laughs] because there was, there was no such thing as rank. Not rigid, not there. Yeah. I’m sorry if I’ve —
IP: No. No. Not at all. And then I mean because I know you finished the war as a warrant officer.
HG: Yeah.
IP: So let’s, let’s leap ahead. We’ll come back to the missions and flying with 115 Squadron but I’m interested to know how you got promoted to, you know or why I suppose might be a rude way of putting it but —
HG: With a wireless operator you had to do five ops and pass a class one exam, it wasn’t very technical.
IP: And that was to get to flight sergeant.
HG: To get, yeah to get the crown.
IP: Oh, yes. Yes, ok. Yeah. Yeah. And then how did you get to warrant officer after that? Can you remember?
HG: Just by service.
IP: So it was all on, it was, yeah so it was on service rather than being on time. It was on, on a certain number of missions or whatever it happened to be.
HG: Well, missions weren’t included in it except as a, to get your crown you had to do I think five. But then not many did manage to do five.
IP: No. That’s right, sadly.
HG: I’ve got some. I put in for a commission at one stage. I couldn’t have done it and I’ve got all the details. I was looking at them yesterday and I wrote and it had all the places that I went that you would know in Germany but, yeah.
IP: So, what, what can you remember then about when you were on 115 Squadron then. I mean can you remember any particular missions? Obviously, there was the one where you lost the port engine.
HG: Oh yeah.
IP: Were there, are there any others that stand out in your mind particularly?
HG: Yes. We had a runaway prop and so I called section J. 6 and J was the east coast three, three stations where they could plot you without permission. They never said anything. I thought it was, it were queer. A runaway prop. I’d never come across that before.
IP: This is where it just it revs higher and higher and —
HG: It sounded bloody awful. I think practically the whole east coast must have heard us [laughs] and but when we got hit, we got hit on the [pause] well there were bits and pieces everywhere and the amount of petrol coming into the fuselage, tremendous.
IP: When was that? When the port engine got hit or was that —
HG: Yeah.
IP: Is this another time you’re talking about?
HG: Yeah. It was tremendous was that.
IP: That must have been quite frightening with fuel.
HG: Well, I was never frightened because you had so many jobs to do. Emergency jobs like different systems to switch off and —
IP: Oh ok. So when, once the, once you had the engine had been hit and the fuel’s in the aircraft then you go, you’re going through your checklists. As you say shutting systems down that sort of thing.
HG: That’s right. Yeah.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And what I could remember reminded me of a bacon slicer. You know, when there’s, when they, when they’re chopping and a noise like a bomb, and that was the engine and its dying what’s the names?
IP: In the death throes. Yeah.
HG: Yeah.
IP: So, so as you say so once you had an incident like that there was so much to do it took your mind off it.
HG: Oh yes.
IP: What about generally? Would you say you were frightened? Or did you, did it —
HG: Not in the slightest, because don’t forget the clock was in four parts. Quarter of an hour and quarter past where you listened out to either your Group or V39 which was the call sign of Bomber Command. V39. And sometimes you’d get a frequency of fighters operating. And what you would do then you’d turn your, you’d tune your transmitter up, clamp the key down so it was operating this noise on, on the fighter, on the Jerry fighter frequency.
IP: Oh, the night fighter frequency.
HG: Yeah.
IP: Yeah. To try and jam their —
HG: But I remember the number of aircraft they had. Say five hundred. And the number of people, near misses because in that thing it was mainly missed, you know when they crashed into one another.
IP: Air to air collisions, yeah. Yeah.
HG: There was a, we had a second tour crew and they were all squadron leaders. They were all bags of braids and I can remember looking out when they got a hit and I saw a body come out of the broken fuselage.
IP: Right.
HG: But it, it never, it never really affected me at all.
IP: What about the rest of your crew? Were they, do you remember if anyone had any particular problems or —
HG: No.
IP: Because the LMF procedure was pretty awful wasn’t it? I mean if guys that couldn’t cope and had to stop.
HG: Oh yeah.
IP: Stop flying.
HG: Oh that.
IP: Do you know anyone that had to, was taken off flying?
HG: Yes. I did. There was trouble because they got demoted and the trouble with LMF. But I forget half the things, you know.
IP: It’s alright. It’s alright.
HG: I can remember one when they were going on, they were advancing on the continent and they got stuck did the Army so of course they called [laughs] called on the RAF and they just, we was at briefing, full squadron and everybody out except two crews. That was, we were the senior crew then and we went out without fighter escort and it was cold, it was foggy.
IP: This was a daytime. This was a daylight mission I presume.
HG: Daylight.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
HG: And I thought well so what. But I used to have two or three rabbit’s feet and a bent screwdriver which I’ve still got because I used to use it for all kinds of [pause] People used to have, I used to be the errand boy because don’t forget the wireless op was the only one that was in communication outside of the aircraft, and when you got a high icing index you got St Elmo’s Fire and I can remember all the aerials coming down. But the pilot had no idea of the limitations of radio. He thought he could lean out the door [laughs] And I was trying to think of that [pause] that band leader.
IP: Glen Miller.
HG: Who?
IP: Glen Miller.
HG: Glen Miller. Well, he got, he must have got into the jettison area because we got a recall and I said, because I passed it immediately to the pilot, ‘We’ve got a recall.’ And he said, ‘Find out from that bloke flying alongside what he’s got.’ And I had an Aldis lamp and it came back, “You’ve got cow shit on your bomb doors.” [laughs] And I can’t remember what his comment was. I said that’s the only thing. But everybody was flying low because we were flying back to base.
IP: So you were, so this is the night that Glen Miller was killed you were all, you were all recalled were you because their aircraft had gone missing? Was that it?
HG: It was in the daytime.
IP: Right.
HG: And he flew from some London aerodrome that the Americans had because they annex anything don’t they?
IP: Yeah.
HG: And they couldn’t have been informed but they must have known the jettison areas because there was one south of Beachy Head and there was one just off the east coast.
IP: Ok.
HG: Because we, we came back one night. We thought we had petrol leak and based on my observations they said, ‘Right. If you say that’s — ’ I thought bloody hell I’ll be shot if, but when they got back the engineering officer who was in a white boiler suit, he said, ‘I can’t see anything wrong with this.’ But we were losing petrol.
IP: Yeah.
HG: But I got the blame for it.
IP: Because it was your, your suggestion that you should turn back then.
HG: Yes.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
HG: I said, well what happened was directly we got airborne that night our mid-upper gunner said he was getting a cold draft up his backside because he was immediately below the flare chutes.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And so as I was because you crawled along and I thought bloody petrol here. I said, ‘We’ve got a petrol leak.’ And they were tapping the gauges. ‘Well, there’s nothing showing here.’ Well, I kept, and I forget, we were going somewhere east. They said, ‘Oh no. It’s alright.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what you say. We’re losing petrol.’ So, we turned around and we got somewhere in the English Channel where we got a challenge from a ship. You know, they used to, when you got, when you got convoys they had warblers.
IP: Ok.
HG: Yeah, their transmitters had a warbler on.
IP: Ok.
HG: And so you knew that you was approaching either a warship or [pause] and we went that night and we got challenged off Dover, and it was surprising what a beam and of course I was the one to read it because it was in Morse and you know you probably think I’m telling you a load of bullshit but it was a funny life.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Yeah. Flight.
IP: But you all survived it ok.
HG: We all survived it and nobody seemed to [pause] nothing, nothing. Nobody even when we got hit but I’ve got the obituary because that was given to me. The obituary of the navigator because his son after he died came here and gave it to me.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And, but he was quite a clever little bloke and [pause] but he used to get airsick a lot.
IP: Yeah.
HG: So I used to be stand-in navigator. I didn’t mind if it was long distance because I could use the transmitter and I don’t suppose you came across that much did you? The different things we used to use like QDMs and —
IP: No. And I think a lot of it has changed now anyway.
HG: It must have done.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
HG: Well, that would be old hat.
IP: Now it’s all GPS and that I’m sure. But it was INAS, and inertia navigation systems and stuff like that when I first joined that they were using but —
HG: Oh yeah.
IP: But no, it’s moved on quite a bit I think. No star shooting or anything like that.
HG: No what?
IP: No, no star shooting. You know doing the, I can’t remember the name of the thing but taking measurements off the stars and what have you. They don’t do that.
HG: Oh.
IP: The navy was still doing that.
HG: Yes.
IP: I spent time on a ship.
HG: Mind you that astro nav.
IP: Yeah.
HG: As they called it very few people could master that. In fact, I’ve got a logbook that I use for amusing the kids. That was on astro nav. I don’t know where I got it from but I got it.
IP: So, were you, let’s let’s sort of get in order because we’ve been going quite a while now. Were you involved in the Dresden raids or anything like that?
HG: No.
IP: You weren’t.
HG: I’d finished.
IP: Oh, because you finished in March didn’t you? Was that the end of your tour? Did you do a full tour?
HG: I did more.
IP: Oh.
HG: We did thirty. We did about nine more than that.
IP: How did that happen? Was that —
HG: Because the pilot thought you’d only be dodging around. Footling around as they used to say.
IP: We’ll just carry on.
HG: The first.
IP: What did you think to that? Was that a crew decision or was that what the pilot said? ‘This is what we are going to do chaps.’
HG: That’s right. No. He’d decide.
IP: Oh ok.
HG: And of course you were used to one bloke steering and —
IP: What did you think of that then? Doing more than your, more than your thirty mission tour.
HG: Well, I wasn’t really. I wasn’t really keen on it because we were doing a lot of French runs which were highly lethal. And of course when I used to be walking down to the briefing room at night I used to look at the clouds and if there was bags of cunim you knew that you was doing a lot of dodging. In fact, coming back from Kiel we went, there was a big cruiser there that night and coming back from Kiel the pilot said, ‘It is now midnight.’ And somebody in the crew said, ‘Well, what do you expect me to do? Ring a bell or something?’ But he was well educated in comparison to us because we thought our education was adequate to get a living. That’s why I got that better job at Glaxo.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Because I’d, I’d studied chemistry a bit.
IP: Sure.
HG: Not that I remember a lot.
IP: So you did, you did thirty nine mission then and you finished in March ’45 I think I’m right in saying.
HG: Yeah.
IP: What happened to you after that? What —
HG: Oh, I went on indefinite leave.
IP: Oh.
HG: I had about three or four months just nothing. And then you had —
IP: Did you go home then or where did you go? Do you remember?
HG: I came here to my wife.
IP: Ah yes. Yes. Ok.
HG: You see. And then, that’s right. And I put in to go, I thought I’d have a little do at codes. What did they call the bloke who did the codes?
IP: The bloke who did the codes?
HG: Yeah.
IP: Turing.
HG: Eh?
IP: Turing? The guy who invented, who worked at Bletchley Heath, Bletchley Park, sorry.
HG: No. I went to Bletchley Park. I worked at Bletchley Park for three months.
IP: Oh ok.
HG: I went, I got —
IP: That was after the war though was it? Or —
HG: Yes.
IP: Yeah.
HG: That’s right. Yes, I was. I’ll tell you small things happen into big things don’t they? And I went for a pint one day into the Royal Oak, a famous name. And then my home. And who shall I see leaning over the bloody what’s the name was a fellow wireless op from 115. I said, ‘Here, what, what are you doing?’ He said, ‘I want to know what you’re doing.’ I said, ‘I’m on demob leave.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve got a job with the Southern Railway as a wireless operator on the ferries.’ He said, ‘I’ll give you an address. You can remember this address,’ he said, ‘But don’t tell anybody,’ I don’t know why he said that, ‘Who gave it to you. Major Bellringer, Box 25, Ruislip, Middlesex.’ So I wrote. Told them I was out of work and sob story and I got a, I got an interview at the wireless headquarters of the Post Office in London. And I thought I knew London a bit but I got on the wrong bus so when I got to the place there was some petty bloody clerk. I said, ‘I’m a bit late I’m afraid.’ And he said, ‘Indeed.’ He said, ‘Follow me.’ And I followed his footsteps and there was, this room was full of aspiring candidates. All for GCHQ. And I got a job with them and I went to Bletchley Park and was there for oh several months. It was lovely. But all the boffins and blokes who did all the [pause] they’d gone.
IP: Was this after the war had finished?
HG: Oh yes.
IP: This was, this was listening to Russian stuff presumably and stuff like that. You may not be able to talk about it and that’s fine if, if that’s the case but —
HG: Well, I was, we was doing mainly commercial [ITATs], [ITATs] are government. If you got an [ITATs] coming there was bags of [ITATs] slipping up. Oh, and they learned us to type there. It was the government. It was the government communications.
IP: Yeah.
HG: That’s why I was there. I was one of the —
IP: So, sorry I just want to wrap the war up really. You finished ops in March and you were put, put on, on extended leave.
HG: Extended leave.
IP: Until —
HG: Yeah. Until I went on this codes and cipher course. You’ve got to be good at crosswords for that. I hadn’t a bloody clue and so I came back. I finished and I went on to [pause] I did nothing.
IP: So, were you demobbed by now?
HG: No.
IP: Or were you still in the Air Force? Yeah.
HG: I still had another few months to do.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And I forget what I did then. Nothing very much because you was occupying a rank that you weren’t trained for. Oh, it was bloody awful.
IP: Yeah.
HG: And I used to sit in the mess there.
IP: Which? Where were you? Which mess was this then?
HG: That was Ossington near Newark.
IP: Ok. So you just, you were just hanging around kicking your heels then.
HG: I just kicked my heels until I got demobbed.
IP: Ok.
HG: And then as I say, and then it all sprung up again when I went to the Royal Oak and I wrote to this bloke. I never did see Major Bellringer. I think that was just a fictitious name and it was rather, it was a nice job to do but the pay was piss poor. But I was married and I, you had to pick a radio station, listening station near where you lived so I picked Cupar in Fife. It had a big mast in the middle and it used to be, there used to be a bloke there with a peak cap. He used to look at it. He didn’t have a bloody clue what was going in and I never went. I was there for two or three months. Oh, and the wife. I couldn’t afford to stop at a hotel because we were putting up at a hotel and so they employed the wife as a clerk.
IP: Right.
HG: And, and by then Glaxo wanted chemists. I thought I did school chemistry. A little did I remember but I did, and I got a job there. And I never looked back because I was senior. I’ll show you the advert. I took the advert off the board that advertised my job but I still, I was senior supervisor, and of course they still pay me that as pension. And so I’m alright.
IP: So you [pause] I said we’d talk about your wife you met your wife when you were at Walney Island.
HG: Yes.
IP: Doing gunnery school. Was she, I can’t remember was she in the WAAF?
HG: No. She was —
IP: Local civilian.
HG: She worked. She worked in the shipyard.
IP: Ah, ok.
HG: She worked in the turbine blade and apparently all the rough women worked there. I used to pull her leg about it and yeah, and where have we got to?
IP: Talk about your wife. When you met her.
HG: Yeah. I met her.
IP: When you were at Walney Island.
HG: Yeah. I met her. We were, oh it must have been Christmas time because we went out that night three of us. One was killed afterwards and we went to a pub and then we walked into Barrow and I met the wife and she, things she remembered about me was that I was a terrible dancer. I said, ‘Well, I was as good as Fred Astaire,’ [laughs] But —
IP: So , and so you obviously kept in touch as you moved around. When did you get married then?
HG: Well, that was ’44. We got married in March ’45.
IP: Ok, right. So just, just as you finished flying really.
HG: Yes.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
HG: Oh yes.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Because she used to say when she used to listened to the news and one aircraft was missing she thought oh he’s got the bloody chop. But I managed to — yeah.
IP: What did you think, now we’ve talked about this beforehand a wee bit about when obviously the Dresden, well Dresden happened while you were still flying actually. It was about, it was about January February time I think.
HG: That was still while the war was on.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. So, and you weren’t involved in that but —
HG: No.
IP: But that was part of the build up to this. Everyone got a bit, a bit I can’t think of the word.
HG: Anti.
IP: Yes. For want of a better way of putting it anti the bomber offensive really at the end of the war.
HG: That’s right.
IP: Very easy to do with hindsight I suppose but —
HG: Yeah.
IP: But, and there was, there was a certain amount of stigma attached to the whole thing. What were your feelings on that at the time as this sort of started coming out? Where everyone was sort of you know talking about Bomber Command in whispered tones I suppose really and regretting the whole thing.
HG: It never, it never bothered me. Never bothered me because well when we went to Kiel which was the last one I knew there was a, they told, they used to tell you roughly what they knew was around and there was a big cruiser there and I biked up there. I forget what I was at. I biked up to Kiel and it had been concreted in to the, it had was turned upside down. I’ve got the, I’ve got the written notes about it.
IP: So it was hit. Was that the target then? This cruiser.
HG: No, the —
IP: Or was that just —
HG: I think the target must have been —
IP: The docks or whatever.
HG: The docks.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Because everything was put out of commission.
IP: Yeah.
HG: Everything was awful. It was. They talk about potholes in the road. Bloody hell, it ‘d nearly break you neck.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. So, no. You just, you just it didn’t touch you. All the stigma that was —
HG: Not a bit.
IP: No.
HG: No. Well, I never knew.
IP: And if people asked you what you did in the war you’d tell them quite happily you were on bombers and that kind of stuff or —
HG: Yeah, but nobody would, nobody asked me.
IP: Right.
HG: Nobody has asked me.
IP: Because everyone was in the war I suppose. It wasn’t something you tended to —
HG: Well, they were practically all civilians around here.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
HG: And next door he was a Matlow and I used to think, well he’s got Alzheimer’s now and I used to think you’ve got a bad memory. I thought mine was bad enough. And then I found out that he wasn’t born until 1942. So he never saw anything of the [pause] and a man next to him was, he said, ‘I made your bullets that you used to fire.’ And the rest were just civilians.
IP: Yeah. Youngsters.
HG: So, there is nobody around here. Oh, the woman next door when we, we had a job mainly because I had no money or at least had what was the norm, and we couldn’t afford to buy a house. And I got friendly with a man who’d been in the 8th Army and he used to tell me how marvellous it was and he said, ‘Here,’ he said, ‘There’s a house going and it was an old ramshackle place, and we had great fun in it. It was, and the woman next door her family had moved out and we moved in, but she’d, she’s never mentioned it and I never have. Yeah.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
HG: But of the, of the Services I think I would have been best in the Air Force. I don’t think [pause] Well, my neighbour —
IP: So, you’ve no regrets then.
HG: No, oh no.
IP: Do you look back on it? You seem to look back on it quite fondly. Is it, is it, was it a good time, part of your life, do you think that — ?
HG: Well, it was in a lot of ways because yes I, I think the RAF was good. I think their methods and because it used to be very strict when you were training. I remember falling out with, of all people the NCO in charge of the guard room.
IP: You don’t want to do that.
HG: I did. I got marched up in front of the groupie and, and but we started talking about flying and I forgot what we were in for but he said, ‘He had to report you because there were a lot of airmen around,’ which I understood.
IP: What had you done? Can you remember?
HG: I forget. I think we were on a lorry and we was going up to the communal site. It was something, something of nothing. But I used to talk to him in the mess afterwards [laughs] Yeah.
IP: Any bad memories?
[doorbell ringing – recording paused]
IP: So, any bad memories from your time there? Can you remember?
HG: No. I thought the RAF were very fair. I thought they were good. I thought they had the best of, they had the best of the bunch. Not only of aircrew but of the main.
IP: Do you think your time during the war, I mean obviously it sets you on a path doesn’t it in life but do you think it helped you in your, your future life? If you, if you try and compare it to what might have happened if if you’d stayed in Kent. Obviously you might have ended up as a solicitor if you’d have stayed in Kent and the war hadn’t happened.
HG: Yeah.
IP: So you ended up going in a different direction but did it, did the, your time in the RAF help you do you think in some ways or —
HG: Well, I think they were business like. The RAF. They had a job to do and they always did it, either way. There was no, when I hear of the way the Army used to flog around and what not I think we were very good. I think of all the services they were the best.
IP: Perfect. As a former member of the Air Force I think we’ll leave it there. We’ll finish on that high note. That high praise indeed for Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force. Thanks Harry. That’s been great. It’s been, it has been a long time. I apologise for that but there were just so many great stories.
HG: I’m sorry if I wasn’t very positive on some things.
IP: No. Not at all. No. No. It’s been great.

Collection

Citation

Ian Price, “Interview with Harry Basil Grant,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 20, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10836.

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