Interview with Harry Hodgson

Title

Interview with Harry Hodgson

Description

Harry Hodgson was ground crew during the war. He was based with 10 Squadron, working on Halifax Bombers at RAF Melbourne. Harry said it was a very busy time patching up the holes from both anti-aircraft fire and bullets on the Halifax. He remembers having to work in freezing conditions when the planes were on the dispersal points getting them ready to fly again. It was after around 3 operations the aircraft would be taken into the hangar for a more thorough overhaul. Harry was also on the receiving end of German fire when the airfield and local roads were strafed by German fighters that had followed the 10 Squadron Halifax Bombers back to base. Harry was a sign writer before he joined up and due to this was asked by several of the crews to paint the nose art on their aircraft.

Creator

Date

2017-07-23

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:31:01 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

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

AHodgsonH170723, PHodgsonH1701

Transcription

SP: This is Suzanne Pescott and I’m interviewing Harry Hodgson today.
HH: Yeah.
SP: For the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive.
HH: Yeah.
SP: We’re at Harry’s home and it’s the 23rd of July 2017. So, thank you Harry first of all for agreeing to talk to me today. I was just thinking do you want to tell me about your time before the RAF, what were you doing before you joined?
HH: Well, I, I was in an apprenticeship. I was in an apprenticeship at the Regal Displays at St Anne’s Road, South Tottenham, training to be a commercial artist, you see. And I did my training and as I say, and then I was called up in 1943 to the RAF, and this was when my experiences started in the RAF as a, I was a flight, a flight engineer mechanic on airframes during the Second World War between 1943 and 1945. And then when the squadron broke, well we didn’t break up actually we went over to Transport Command, in to Dakotas. Then we flew from Melbourne, Yorkshire to an airfield in, in [unclear] in Gloucestershire and that’s where we’d done our training on Dakotas and from there we flew out from St Mawgan’s to India which took us about a week. We, our first flight was to Sardinia, at Calibri in southern Sardinia. And then from there we went to Libya and North Africa. And from there we went to Tel Aviv. From there we did a bit of training, and we went to Wadi Halfa, on the Nile. And then from there we went to Aden. That’s on the southern tip. And about, and we went to from there we flew to Karachi and Mauripur, and did our training there on Dakotas, and from there we went out to India. Well, we was out in India, yeah. And there we, I was posted to a place called Ambala, north of New Delhi on to Spit Mark 14s, a Spitfire squadron. And then I did a bit of training up there, and then I was reposted back to my old squadron number, Number 10 Squadron. And then we went from there to Chakulia, that’s the southern part of Calcutta. And from there we did some more training, and flying Dakotas. Well, I was in a ground crew at this time, so I kept the planes flying. And then from there as I say I was posted to Burma on, on Dakotas where we was supply dropping rice to [unclear] and all the places that were cut off by the floods, and they couldn’t get the food to the local villages, and so we had a stint there for two or three months, about six months. And then we, we flew back for, I was posted back to my old squadron again. So I’d been posted here and posted there, and then I got, reformed with my old squadron, Number 10. And then ever since then as I say, I was with the squadron so I was there until the war finished in 1945, and that’s when I got demobbed in 1947.
SP: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
SP: So, Harry, what made you decide on the RAF, did you have a choice which of the forces to go in to?
HH: Well, the point is there were going to put me in to the Army.
SP: Right.
HH: But I never passed their medical.
SP: Right.
HH: So I still kept on with my old squadron.
SP: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: So in a way I was glad because I didn’t want to go in the Army.
SP: Yeah.
HH: No. I was quite happy where I was.
SP: And do you want to tell me a little about, a bit about Melbourne airbase? What was it like being there? What was it like at Melbourne?
HH: Well, of course they did a lot. It was a new airfield and they were still building on the airfield, making more runways because it was quite a big airfield. And we used to take flights in that couldn’t make their own base because we had a FIDO system there which lit up the runways because of the fog we used to get up in Yorkshire. And that cleared the air so the planes could land. So we were quite busy in that period. That’s why we had quite a few dispersal points. So we could carry loads of aircraft from different airfields.
SP: Yeah.
HH: Yeah, that’s it. No. As I say I I had a good, a good life in the, in the RAF because you know, I said to the guy I used to do sign writing and paint these lovely girls on the aircraft which kept all the boys [laughs] happy, yeah. So I’ve had quite a varied life in the RAF you know. Which I was trained to do which came in good stead.
SP: So tell me a bit about the, some of the paintings you did. Can you remember any particular ones that stood out?
HH: Some of these like Dorothy L’amour.
SP: Yeah.
HH: I used to paint her. A nice picture of her on the aircraft and all the different, different stars in those days, you know, yeah, Lana Turner and all those big stars. Oh yeah. I thoroughly enjoyed it but they certainly made use of my, my vast experience anyway.
SP: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. That’s one.
SP: So, just looking at the, the planes that you painted who decided what to paint on a plane? Was that you or the crew?
HH: Whatever they asked me to do I used to make a rough sketches, and then I used to do them properly, you know and in time to put them on to the aircraft, you know.
SP: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. That’s it. It was quite interesting actually, yeah, oh yeah.
SP: How long did it take to do one of those paintings, do you know?
HH: Well, quite a, well quite a time really because you know I made a start, and of course when they went on operations I had to do them when they came back, so, well some of them when they came back. I know we lost about a hundred and thirty five aircraft.
SP: Right.
HH: On our squadron alone in those, in those, in that war, the years, yeah. So well, our planes were, we used to drop mines and [unclear] we dropped mines on, around Kiel in Germany, all around Le Havre in France. To stop all their ships coming out, you know, so, yeah. We did quite a bit of mining, land mining and sea mining and all that. So, it was, well quite varied we had. But apart from bombing you know Germany and that, no. It was quite an experience it was. Yeah. Well, apart from keeping the planes flying, yeah.
SP: So obviously you looked after your planes. So what would your typical day be like, would there be a typical day for you?
HH: Well —
SP: As a air crew, as ground crew.
HH: Ground staff. Well, yeah we always had planes coming back, you know been hit by flak and anti-aircraft shells and all that kind of thing so, they would be patched up and I used to have to go and suss out some of the controls in the aircraft. That kept me busy. I know we had, we had a flight [pause] I had a flight in the rear gunner’s position, what they called fighter affiliation. That’s when we had a Spitfire on our tail. I said, I said to Peter, who was the pilot at the time, I said, ‘We’ve got a Spitfire on our tail.’ He said, ‘I’ll shake him off.’ He shook him off all right. He turned this Halifax. He rolled us over. He dived [laughs] I said, ‘You don’t want to keep doing that too much. It’s a stress on the main spar.’ [laughs] Anyway, we did shake him off, he was a good pilot, you know, yeah. Oh, we had some near misses too, you know. When we had that Messerschmitt 110 came, came in from, from Norway actually, and he strafed the runway and all the roads but luckily a Spitfire got on his tail and shot him down in the next airfield and we were coming back from Melbourne that trip so we saw it, saw it actually happen, you know. It was quite, quite an horrendous day that was. Yeah. It could have been us but luckily it was, it all happened in front of us, so we could see what was happening. Yeah. As I say you still remember all those days. You had good days and you had bad days you know. Yeah.
SP: What was the atmosphere like when not all the planes came back, because you said —
HH: Very sad actually. Yeah. Well, we could see them coming over from Seaton Ross. We counted them as they was coming in and I said, ahh, we lost a few that night. Yeah. That was a sad moment because like when they all came back all the ground staff and air crew would all used to go to the Melbourne Arms.
SP: All went to where?
HH: The Melbourne Arms.
SP: The Melbourne Arms.
HH: The pub. Yeah.
SP: Yeah. The pub. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. We used to have a good drinking session [laughs] That was, you know, it was quite an experience really when you look back. Lucky, as I say I - one of the people that got through the war. Yeah. I was, it was. Some never made it. Yeah. It was the aircrew that really suffered a lot, because you never know, you know. We would see, see them coming back and counting those that didn’t come back and you knew they had been shot down. Yeah. That’s how [pause]you know, it was quite a life.
SP: So you were talking about the repairs to the plane and that. Could you always manage to repair all the planes or could sometimes —
HH: Well, we patched them up the best we could.
SP: Right. Yeah.
HH: Well, sometimes we never had a spare. We had to keep an aircraft spare, so we could take the parts off to service other aircraft that were flying. Yeah. So it was a bit, a bit dodgy in those days getting spares but, no. As I say I, I made the most of my life being in the RAF. And fortunately I, being artistic I done some of the work you know which kept up the morale.
SP: With your paintings.
HH: Yeah. Yeah, so yeah. Nice was that.
SP: You talked about going to York as well. Did you? Is that where you went you say on your days off to York.
HH: Yeah. We used to go to York.
SP: Yeah. What was that like?
HH: Oh, York. That was a lovely place. York. You know. We used to have a special place to go to drink. Yeah. Oh, I forget the name of it now. Oh dear. This is going back some while now but this pub was special, just for the RAF boys, you know. We more or less, all the aircrew and ground crew were all going to this pub and all the drinks were flowing like water, yeah, in those days, yeah.
SP: And how did —
HH: I couldn’t drink now, eh?
SP: How did you get in and out of York?
HH: Well, we had a, a courtesy bus from the station, used to come in at special times and if we didn’t get on that bus well you’d had it [laughs] You had to stay in York until the next, next bus come out [laughs] And the next one. But we all made it home. Yeah. It was, it was quite funny at times. Yeah.
SP: And can you remember other of the ground crew or did you —
HH: Well, looking back at some of those pictures now. Well, we was all young. Well, when you’re ninety odd you, well you change don’t you? But as I say those, those chaps there, as I say we were all in our eighteens or twenties you see. So I know like, well we talked about things and of course everything classed together so we all knew what we were talking about. Yeah. Good now. Well, we had to make the most of it really, forces. Either you do or you don’t, you know. I know some of the boys couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t keep up with it. That’s, it’s like those chaps who were in office work you know. They couldn’t get used to the being, you know I suppose in the RAF you know. They’d been ground crew, so they roughed it a bit but of course I was used to it you see.
SP: Then you went over to India. You said you went all the way over to India.
HH: Yeah.
SP: What was life like over in India?
HH: India. Well, it was a bit hectic you know, especially on their streets out there. They’d run you over for nothing. You had to be so careful crossing the roads and all that out there because they was as mad as March hares they were. Oh yeah. I can always remember one, one instance, there was a, what they call a garry and it was pulled by horses, and they came around this bloody bend at such a rate that one of the horses collapsed and died. Oh Christ, well what a carry on because their horses are like, like gods you know. Oh, it was pandemonium you know when the horse died or anything like that. Oh dear. They couldn’t do enough. Yeah. Very shocking it was. Yeah. No as I say apart from that you know I have seen seen quite a bit of life out there. The Indians and the way they carried on out there. It was a bit different from our life anyway.
SP: And your job was repairing the planes.
HH: Yeah.
SP: The Dakotas.
HH: That’s it. Yeah.
SP: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
SP: And the jobs that the Dakotas were doing. Did you say that was dropping food?
HH: Food. Rice. Mainly rice. So, we used to go to these outlying villages in [unclear] and all those places in the north. North of Burma where they was cut off by the floods you see, and they couldn’t get the rice through by road so we had to fly it in and we used to get over the villages, and we used to drop the rice out, you know. And then they used to [pause] kept them alive. Yeah.
SP: Yeah.
HH: Otherwise they would have starved. Yeah.
SP: And were you saying that sometimes the food shifted in the plane?
HH: Oh, well. Well, at one time there although all the, all the blokes tied a load together it all snapped, and of course the, all the load shifted to the front and of course they nose dived in to the deck. Yeah.
SP: So, they actually —
HH: Eh?
SP: Crashed whilst they were carrying the —
HH: Yeah.
SP: Yeah.
HH: Oh, yes. We had our moments or so but well, we got through it anyway. You know, lucky as I say. We were fortunate really being on the ground staff. It was the aircrew that we were more concerned with.
SP: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. So —
SP: So, Harry you were saying about you had to go out to the dispersal units sometimes to repair the planes.
HH: Yeah. Oh yeah. Well, like maintenance jobs and all that you see. As I say some of the planes that came back you know were from raids the previous days. They might have been shot up or hit by flak, German anti-aircraft batteries and we just like patched them up and kept them flying. Any main repairs and that had to go in to the hangar for a service you see. Minor jobs were all done in the dispersal point. Yeah. So, yeah as I say, it used to be quite hectic, you know, sometimes when the German bombers came over. We had one scare one night. It was at Pocklington actually, the next airfield. They, they started bombing them and we could see tracer shells flying all over the place you know, and bombs hitting the runway, yeah, oh quite, quite a nightmare. Luckily, we, we escaped most of it. We were lucky really on our squadron. But no, as I say we, we did see some action I’ll tell you, when they started coming over. They used to come over from Norway, you see and well, Norway and from Denmark, up the North Sea. Yeah, because we were near the east coast we were. Most of our squadrons like Pocklington and Elvington, and Driffield were all on the east coast. Those were all Halifax squadrons and all in Lincolnshire were Lancasters, so yeah. But, oh we got through it, made the most of it. As I say we had our good days and had bad days.
SP: You say you got demobbed in ’47.
HH: Yeah.
SP: So what did you do after the war then? What did you —
HH: Before, I was a, I worked for a display firm called Regal Displays. I was an apprentice to being a commercial artist you know, doing signs and painting, photographs, murals and all that kind of thing. So it came in good stead when I was called up and I did a lot of that work in the RAF. They got me, being artistic they got me lined up for jobs [laughs] Yeah. So in a way I didn’t have a bad life really. Yeah.
SP: And then you went back to your artist, your painting.
HH: Well —
SP: After the war.
HH: I did go back for a while but I couldn’t, couldn’t settle down, because open air life. So I, I went to another firm. So I still couldn’t get really settled down. That’s how, I took up cycling. That was what my pastime was, because I liked the open air life. And that as far as that’s why I keep fit today. Yeah. I still got the bike in. Well, not my, the bike I originally had, but I made a design racing frames you see and I used to do a lot of racing you see in those days. But no, when I came out I just took up touring, you know. I got a bike and joined a Cycling Club and went all over the country. Yeah.
SP: Ever back to Melbourne?
HH: Eh?
SP: Ever back to Melbourne?
HH: I went back to Melbourne. Yeah.
SP: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. I took the wife back there actually. She wanted to see it. Yeah. They’ve got a Memorial outside it now haven’t they? Yeah. Because the farmer, I know the farmer well they’ve still got the perimeter track going around and they use that for drag racing on there.
SP: Yeah.
HH: So, they still keep the airfield going in that way, in that respect. Yeah. That’s, no it was a quite a nice airfield actually. It was, it was a what we called a model airfield because they did a lot of extra work on there, that one because it was quite a big airfield. Well, where we had a lot more dispersal points so we’d take, take any aircraft in when it got misty. We had the FIDO system going either side of the runway and the planes could land you see without, you know crashing. Yeah. It was quite interesting really. Yeah.
SP: Yeah, so that, that’s great Harry. Is there anything else you think you’ve not had had the chance to say or anything that you think —
HH: No.
SP: You want to put down on tape.
HH: I’m just thinking. This is going way back now. When I was called up, yeah, I went to Cardington. That’s where I did all my square bashing there, and we used to go around all the little side roads, you know with full pack. Oh, that was a job and a half, you know, cor. You were just, just glad to get back to take all your packs off your back, used to be quite heavy by the time you got back. Yeah. That’s how well it kept us fit. PT in the morning at 6 o’clock just, we were dressed in a pair of trunks. That’s all we had. Yeah, on a cold morning, oh, getting up was a, quite an effort of it. Yeah.
SP: And how long did you do at Cardington in the training? How long would you be there for?
HH: Oh, about four, about four or five weeks. And we passed out there, and so that’s where we went to, to the different airfields you see. I was posted up to Melbourne, and as I say I went on to ground staff and a lot of them went to different parts of the ground staff like MT section and the, there was packing, the packing up of parachutes and all that kind of thing. Yeah. I know once I picked up this parachute and I’ve picked up the rip cord, and of course I was, had the ‘chute coming out trailing along the bloody, bloody ground. And the sergeant said, ‘Well, you can take it back and you can repack it.’ So I had to take it back, and I saw how they did it, so I did pack, repack it, so I made a single pack. Repacked the ‘chute but no, it takes a lot. A lot of strings came out, you know yeah, and all your silk was all folded over. Yeah. You had to get it so nice and neat so you can fold it back in to the pack. Quite a job but still I managed it alright. I mean I was quite mobile in those days [laughs] Yeah. So I’ve seen a bit of life. Yeah. Well, that’s, that’s why, you know when you’ve been in the Services it does you the world of good. It’s good training for like living, living a longer life, you know. Yeah.
SP: Well, that’s brilliant Harry. So I just want to say thank you very much on behalf of the International Bomber Command for doing the recording for them today.
HH: Aye. Yeah.
SP: We’d just like to thank you for your time.
HH: Yeah. That’s fine love, yeah.
SP: Ok. Thank you.

Collection

Citation

Susanne Pescott, “Interview with Harry Hodgson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 25, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11113.

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