Interview with Pat and Frank Harris


Interview with Pat and Frank Harris


Pat Harris’ brother John ‘Jack’ Harris joined the RAF straight from school as an apprentice. During the war he volunteered for aircrew and trained as a navigator. He was reported missing when Pat was serving in the Wrens. His death was finally confirmed and he is buried in Rheinberg Cemetery.
Stan Harris joined the RAF and began training as an air gunner just as the war was ending. During his training at Cottesmore the gunner of another crew who was a sergeant reported sick in order to meet some WAAFs along with the bomb aimer in Stan’s crew. While he was absent his crew including the officer who had replaced him were all killed.




Temporal Coverage




00:19:54 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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DB: Today, which is the 24th of March 2018 at 14.45 it’s Denise Boneham interviewing Pat and Stan Harris at their home in Diss. Pat, would you like to tell me a little bit about your brother’s service?
PH: Yes. He went in to the Air Force straight from school when he was almost seventeen. He went as a an apprentice, a toolmaker but the instruction was shortened because of the war and then immediately he’d qualified, he volunteered for aircrew and he became a navigator. And he was operating from Bardney in Lincolnshire.
SH: 9 Squadron.
PH: 9 Squadron, and he was with two Australians in the crew and one Canadian and one young man who was only eighteen. I didn’t know the other two at all. And then he was reported missing and unfortunately we didn’t know until after the war what had happened, which was a great strain on my mother who was home alone because I was already in the Wrens. And we finally found out that they had crashed in Germany and then they were buried after the war in Rheinberg and we have visited that cemetery which is beautifully kept. And it was great loss for my mum because there were three of us girls and one son so that was a bit sad.
SH: It was a long distance existence.
PH: My mother was living on her own. I didn’t have a father, and when I went in the Air Force err in to the Navy both my sisters were married so she was home alone. And I hadn’t been in, I was only seventeen and a half when I joined up so I’d only been in the Wrens about six months when he was reported missing which was a great shock being away from home and I really felt it greatly. My mum used to listen every evening on the wireless. They used to have a list when they heard about prisoners of war that, and she hoped that his name would come up but it didn’t. In fact, somebody of Jack’s age who had also been reported missing she heard his name which filled her with hope, but it wasn’t to be. So we didn’t know anything until the end which was pretty grim for my mum.
[recording paused]
PH: Yes. When Jack came on leave sometimes the Australians came, and in fact I have a treasured little photo of the pilot with my niece who at that time was a little tot of two, and I’ve got the snapshot here which is rather sweet. Yes, we knew them and sometimes I took Jack and the two Australians to the Kodak dances which I used to go to religiously [laughs] and, you know we loved having them. It was all very sad. I can remember, and he was a navigator, when we used to walk home from, if we’d been to a dance and he used to be pointing out the various star formations to one of the lads, Alan. And it was all very interesting to have them there and hear bits from their lives but they didn’t talk about a lot of what was going on of course. I didn’t realise it was 9 Squadron. They did talk about Bardney, and they were quite happy there and we have visited since. Since we’ve been up here we have been there but there’s more or less nothing to show which is a bit sad. But we went into the church there so it was nice to be able to point to where they’d been. Also of course his name is in the Cathedral, in the books there and they did, you know turn the page for us to see it which was rather nice.
[recording paused]
SH: Go on.
PH: Lincoln Cathedral. As a family we did visit Rheinberg quite often. My mother went until she was a bit too old. My eldest sister went regularly every year with the organised group until she was too old. So, we kept in contact and we were very very pleased with the condition of the cemetery which was beautifully kept.
[recording paused]
PH: Not the parents of one of the Australians that we knew, but a family friend in Australia who had also lost their son. And when I was back home having been discharged they came over because they wanted to see where he had trained. He was an only child, and where he had trained and that sort of thing. So they came to visit us on their travels on behalf of Alan’s parents. So that was interesting. It was nice to meet them.
[recording paused]
PH: The reason my brother went in to the Air Force in the first instance was because when he left school he had an idea that he would like to be a GPO engineer but he had to be eighteen, and he was only just seventeen. And my mother would not let him dawdle around for the next year and perhaps lose interest in things. So his second choice had been that he would like to go in to the Air Force so, and that’s why he became an apprentice toolmaker.
SH: You could say he was flying on Lancasters in 9 Group. In 9 Squadron.
PH: Oh, yes. He was flying on Lancasters in 9 Group. And I had only been in the Wrens about six months when we heard that he was missing, and quite a shock. He was then twenty one or twenty one and a half and it was rather sad that he had written to me a very long letter which I still have, when I went in to the Wrens telling me what to do and what not to do [laughs] and how to behave. I still have that letter. And I did get a letter from him after he was, just after he was missing. I’d just heard and this letter came and I had sent him a letter which was returned to me as well, which was sad. His name was John Carter but he was always called Jack, he always had been Jack and I have seen his name of course on the Memorial. And the Australians, the two Australians in Jack’s crew. One came from Melbourne, and one came from Broken Hill but I’m not sure which way around that was. But they fitted in very well when they came home with us and on the way home when we’d been to a dance my brother used to be pointing out the stars to the other two and what they meant which was quite interesting. Their names was Jimmy Jubb and Alan Johns.
[recording paused]
SH: When I joined the Air Force [pause] Oh God. In, in about, let’s see in about 1941 I joined the Air Training Corps in Harrow. And that was before there were several Air Training Corps squadrons around that area. And I stayed there, in there before going in to the Air Force. One of our civilian instructors took us and when I say us the football team, the cricket team and athletics to an airfield just outside London and he arranged for one of his colleagues who was stationed there to provide a Wellington for the day and to take us in twos. Fifteen of us. Fifteen others. So I put my hand up quickly with my friend Peter Robbins, he died just after the war in an air crash and we went up as the first two. We did one circuit and came in and landed because weather conditions. So out of all the people who went there for that day only two of us had a flight by a Polish pilot. And the civilian instructor had brought a fountain pen that he was going to give to the pilot at the end of the day and I always remember him saying, ‘What do I do with this now?’ [laughs] That was first flying. And from then on I went in to the Air Force under the category of PNB, pilot, navigator, bomb aimer. I got ten months deferred service, although I went in after six months with another course and it wasn’t long after that that all the training of pilot, navigators and bomb aimers was stopped. They’d got too many and all they wanted at that time were air gunners or wireless operator/air gunners. So I remustered as an air gunner and passed up, passed out in Dalcross in Scotland. From there I went in to a Wellington training course. I was a [pause] I’ve forgotten the name of the title anyway and we did a course at Silverstone and from there we posted. Oh, we converted on to Lancasters at Cottesmore, but by that time both the war had been ended and I did, so I didn’t, didn’t do any operational flying. And then after that, after the Jap war ended I went on to transport for about a year and a half and then was demobbed. Oh yeah. At, at Cottesmore we started flying on Lancasters, and there were two, there were ten, ten crews each of seven men in the course and one night in a circuits and bumps operation one of the Lancs crashed and they were all killed. But the crew that were killed there were seven, there were six officers in the crew and one rear gunner as a sergeant but that rear gunner because he was stationed with the officers and he had nowhere to go in the evening he always booked in with us. With my crew. And he went, he reported sick the day before that crash to go with my bomb aimer to meet a couple of WAAFs in, in Oakham, Rutland and he survived of course but the man that, or the crew that took his place, a warrant officer, he and the six officers were all killed. That’s just about a month after the Jap war ended. I remember that the pilot of that plane who was on our course he was getting married in two weeks time from that time. Yeah. That’s all. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. During our time at Cottesmore we were told that we were being trained for Tiger Force which was the British Government to send a force of RAF, Army and Navy out to the Far East to back up the Americans who they recognised had done so much for us in Europe. So that’s another point I never got to really [pause] To driving, yeah. When I came off flying I had another year and a half to do, to spend in the RAF, Air Force and we were able to choose the next, next part of the RAF training that we went in to. So I put down transport and I was sent up to a place called Dishforth, RAF Dishforth in Blackpool, and we trained on civilian cars. Austin 6s. And passed out there and was posted then to a place called Hinton in the Hedges, where they were preparing all sorts of vehicles. Every lorry you could think of was being serviced. And every day we would report there to drive them up to Manchester. Somewhere north of the Manchester and I think they were being issued to the French government. And then after that I was given the job of driving the army Matador with its trailer, eight wheel trailer, and we were clearing all the radar equipment all around Cornwall and Devon because it was being destroyed by the salt and the sea situation and I’d been sent out to there and collect them and bring them back to Welford near Reading. And then after that if course I was demobbed.
[recording paused]
SH: We went down to Sutton. Sutton Bridge. Do you know Sutton Bridge? I ended there. Yeah. And the other place we went to was an Army place up in Yorkshire. Now, I’ll just say, well it’s not much to say about demob really is there?
[recording paused]
SH: Oh, my goodness. When the war ended and my, one of my best friends who was, he had been a bomb aimer we, we more or less lost contact because he got married whereas I hadn’t been married. But somewhere six months to eight months after that that I met my wife Pat and it turned out that she had been in the Services. Demobbed a little earlier than me. She was in the Wrens and so we had quite a bit to talk about with the RAF and the Wrens. We were finances. Finances? Not finances.
PH: Fiancés.
SH: Fiancés [laughs] We were fiancés for about a year and now of course we’ve been married for seventy years. Our [pause] takes place in about —
PH: September.
SH: September this year. When I, when I first met Pat she gave up her dancing career and when I gave up I’d already, in order to meet people I’d joined a Cricket Club and I merely packed that in. So we then went on to live in a small little flat. From that flat we went in to her mother’s house because her mother had retired and gone down to Port Isaac in Cornwall. And from there we moved to North Harrow, another house. From there we moved to Ickenham, a much bigger house. And when I retired we came up to Diss in Norfolk, and we’ve made another move within Diss to get a smaller house to cut out the garden and the staircase and here we are in a small lovely little bungalow.
PH: My mum worked in an estate agents. She was a secretary and up came what we called the flat but actually it was the upstairs of somebody’s house. So we had the front room and a bedroom and the other bedroom had been turned in to a kitchen. But there was nothing at all in it except a cooker. We had no hot water. We used to go to my sisters to get bath once a week.
SH: I should have said all that actually, shouldn’t I? [laughs]


Denise Boneham, “Interview with Pat and Frank Harris,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2022,

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