Interview with Geoffrey Lenthall


Interview with Geoffrey Lenthall


Geoffrey Lenthall was born in Nottinghamshire but spent most of his youth in Scunthorpe. He happily volunteered for aircrew but found himself working as ground personnel. He eventually trained as a wireless operator and was posted to 9 Squadron. He had a friend who suffered eventually from 'Morse madness' which led ultimately to a mental institution and an early death. After the war Geoffrey returned to banking and then to the fish markets and finally to the Lincolnshire Life magazine.




Temporal Coverage




01:19:10 audio recording


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AH: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Anna Hoyles. The interviewee is Geoff Lenthall. The interview is taking place in Mr Lenthall’s home in Cleethorpes on the 1st April 2016. Could you tell me a bit about your background?
GL: Yes. I was, I was born in Langold in Nottinghamshire. Not many people have heard of that. Then moved to Brigg. And finished up at Scunthorpe where my father was a linotype operator. I went to school at the Henderson Avenue and then the Scunthorpe Grammar School. And I still in fact go to reunions there. They have them every two years and I am the oldest member there. And I still have my old school cap which is in great demand. People want to have their photographs taken in it. And we also have a get together at the Kingsway Hotel. Just a few of us of the local school boys or ex-schoolboys. I then, from the school I left when I was about sixteen as a, to get a job in a bank. I happened to know through my uncle who knew the bank manager said, ‘Oh, there’s a vacancy for a junior.’ So I went along there and they took me on but they said, ‘If you fail your school certificate you’re out.’ Well, fortunately I passed. And my uncle by the way was, he was the father of Joan Plowright who is now Lady Olivier. I did try to get her to come to the reunions because she was at the grammar school. But anyway I I worked in the bank for a while doing the usual boring jobs of answering the phone and fetching stamps from the post office and joined the Air Training Corps and I became sergeant there. We were doing continuity drill and studying aircraft recognition, Morse code, principle of flight. All the usual things. We were all eager to get in and have a go at the enemy and I volunteered around about seventeen and a quarter and, but unfortunately went on deferred service and I was gone eighteen by the time I joined up in July ’44. Went down to London, my first visit, to be greeted by bombs and flying bombs. Doodlebugs. V2s. And that was the Aircrew Receiving Centre and we lost quite a few casualties and so moved to Torquay which was much more peaceful. And from there I went to the Initial Training Wing of Bridlington. Another seaside resort where we did all sorts of continuity drill and exercises to toughen us up. Getting up early and all the rest of it. And from there I was misemployed unfortunately as a — in the pay accounts at Kirton Lindsey working on officer’s allowances. The funny thing was there I had a desk and the airmen used to come in and salute me thinking I was an officer but I was just a plain erk. Anyway, I then thought well I shall get on aircrew training soon. And I was then sent to Blackpool to learn to drive. They obviously thought that was a good idea. Anyway, I learned to drive in Blackpool and moved down to Melksham in Wiltshire to finish off the course and got my licence down there. And I was getting a bit fed up by this time. Frustrated. Disappointed at not getting in on to do aircrew training. And having read the papers and all this and seen all the raids that were taking place and thinking I should be up there instead of down here. But anyway I was sent to Sango which was way up in Scotland. At the top left hand corner and pretty isolated. I used to, to drive the mountain rescue people. And I remember seeing a German submarine which had been captured. It came in and we saw it in the bay down below. That was my first glimpse of anything of the enemy. And I was then, I volunteered to go overseas but they classified overseas as Northern Ireland which I suppose it was over a sea but [pause] there I was, I was billeted with an Irish family. He was a teacher. She was an excellent cook his wife. And they had two attractive daughters and there were two of us staying there with them. And we used to stay up into the early hours talking about religion. They were Catholics. And the father was very strict and you know there was, there was no hanky panky with the daughters or anything like that. He wouldn’t have that. But we got on very well. She was an excellent cook and we were living the life of Riley really. And it irked us a bit the fact that we were enjoying life while people were out there fighting. And anyway we duly carried on. I was driving the men to a radar camp about seven miles away. And this continued for a while and we got on well. I got to know, this was a bit of romance came then. I met a girl called Bernadette who was an Irish girl. Very attractive. We kept in touch even when I was sent, transferred to Manchester which was a transit camp. And that’s when things started to move and I actually moved from transit camp to radio school in Madley, near Hereford. From there we flew in Proctors which were just the pilot and radio operator doing these radio bearings etcetera. The usual stuff. And then we went into the De Havilland Dominies where they were, they were fitted with four or five positions for different radio operators. And eventually passed out and got my sergeant’s stripes as a qualified radio operator and then went to to Topcliffe in Yorkshire where, which was an air navigation school. Then the cadets, they were training to be navigators and the, most of the pilots were veteran. Polish veteran pilots. A lot of them were, were quite mad. I remember one. He, he had an excellent singing voice and he, he taught us a Polish song and he got us singing this and I got on well with him. Another one was [Zachiorski?] He was, he’d got a handlebar moustache and I went up with him for the first time. And on the way back there there was a Polish resettlement camp just near the airfield and he had a lot of friends there and he liked to do a bit of showing off. And so, I hadn’t realised this. Anyway, he got back to base and we got all the instructions for landing etcetera and then he put the, this was an Anson, put it in a steep climb and eventually the left wing dropped and it stalled. And this was deliberate apparently. Then it went spiralling down to near this Polish resettlement camp and eventually he landed at the airfield. Anyway, we got out, he said, ‘Did you enjoy that?’ I said, ‘Well, it was unexpected but I shall know next time.’ He did it every time apparently. He was an expert pilot. But I spent about four years, three or four years at Topcliffe and I know we lost a couple of planes. Wellingtons then. And one of them it stalled on take-off. And anyway the pilot — and he managed to survive. He baled out. The rest were killed. And the other one disappeared over the North Sea somewhere. Never found any wreckage anywhere. It even got in the local papers. And they never did find out what happened to it. So, and then we got to, I was then occasionally called on when there was no flying to drive the ambulance as I’d taken this MT course. And you had to be on call there and everything was timed to the minute. You had to get to, if there was an emergency you had to get there in a certain number of minutes. And I also had to drive a [pause] some airman had gone mad. We had to take him into a mental institution in York and this was quite interesting. He was in the back with with two other, two men. He was in handcuffs because he was quite violent. So, they got rid of him anyway. And we used to have nights out in York and I then, I became very friendly with with a Scotsman, Jock Campbell and a chap from Bournemouth. Bish we called him. He looked like a, he used to put a collar on back to front to look like a minister. We were great buddies and anyway they said, ‘Let’s, let’s go,’ he said, ‘I know a WAAF,’ he said, ‘Let’s meet up in York and get her to bring two friends.’ So off we went to York and I couldn’t believe that the one of the friends was one I’d met in York where, the transit centre there. Another Irish girl who lived in London. In Crouch End. And we became very friendly and retained that friendship until after I came out the RAF because she came to Cranwell and I went to see her down there. Anyway, I’m rambling on a bit am I? Anyway, from [pause] it became time for demob and we’d gone out on a usual demob party as we did, in Ripon. And we’d, we’d had a few drinks of course. A bit of a singsong. And on the way back to the station my friend Bish who was a bit mad, a very quiet man normally but if he had drink inside him he was a changed character, Jekyll and Hyde and he started to climb over a railway bridge on the way back to the station. Anyway, we managed to drag him down and then we got to the station. Got in the train. And it, as it was about to move off they [pause] Bish decided he wanted, he was going to get out on the wrong side. On the off side. So he climbed out. We yelled at him. I climbed out after him to bring him back. And he was trying of all things to try and unhitch the train so that it would go off with one carriage missing at the end. Anyway, he couldn’t unfasten it of course and so I dragged him out. Then the whistle went. Train started moving. There was my friend Jock peering out of the window shouting at us. We ran but we couldn’t get in and so the train went off. Left us on the track. And the, the guard, he was there, he was shouting at us so we set off walking down the track. It was only probably three or four miles to the station we wanted to be off at near the camp so we walked along the track. It’s a stupid thing to do but fortunately at that time of night there were no no trains. And we arrived exhausted back at this station getting on for midnight and there were celebrations going in the mess even at that time. Anyway, we found Jock and he said, ‘Oh, thank goodness you’re back. We wondered what had happened to you. We were going to send out a search party.’ Anyway, that was partly Bish was, was a strange man. He was a very good friend but he got this idea that one evening he he had this idea of getting on the phone because we had a station warrant officer who wasn’t very popular and anyway Bish got on the phone. He rang the fire brigade and he said, ‘Oh, the SWO’s house is on fire. Can you come immediately.’ We, anyway, put the phone down. We went off up to bed and we heard the fire engine going and the following morning two pilots had been arrested for ringing up the Fire Brigade. And anyway, we being gentlemen we confessed and said it wasn’t them it was us. And I was, I suppose aiding and abetting and so we finished up on a fizzer and went in jail for the weekend. We were escorted to the dining room by guards and of course all the other lads thought it great fun. You know. We, we, in fact I still have a card which they’d all signed and there was a fire on the front of it and it made some comment from all the lads there. And anyway we were, we were both duly not court martialled but we we had a good ticking off from the CO and said, ‘Don’t do it again.’ And so that went on our record. But on the final night of demob we decided to fly when we get back on that to base and for some reason we managed to persuade the three radio ops to take their places. And this would be about eleven or twelve in the evening and so I’m surprised that we were let on. We must have been reeking of beer. And we went in for briefing and we got all our gear and we went off. There were about a half a dozen planes went off and so my friends Bish and Jock they were in separate planes as they were both radio operators. And we went off on a six hour navigation trip somewhere over the North Sea and back again and with turning points. And eventually got back in the early hours. Back to Topcliffe. And there was thick fog. We couldn’t land. So we were redirected to Linton on Ouse and had a Polish pilot as most of them were. Anyway, we were heading for Yorkshire, this other aerodrome and all of a sudden I heard on the intercom, ‘Christ,’ or some, it might have been a Polish equivalent. The plane shot up like a lift. He pulled the stick back and apparently it was a place called Stanage Edge which was like an escarpment and he had been flying low and he had just spotted this. So he pulled the stick back and zoomed up. And anyway we were then redirected. Of course fog had come down at Linton on Ouse. We went down to Lakenheath in Suffolk and by then we were running short of fuel but anyway we made it to Lakenheath and fortunately there was no fog. We landed there and they found us accommodation in the hospital actually. Comfortable beds. And the following morning we woke up and would you believe it there was fog. So we couldn’t take off. And this, this we should have been at Demobilisaton Centre by this time. Anyway, we were detained there because of the weather for a week before we got back. So they weren’t very happy and they had to rearrange our demob. And we got another ticking off for that. And so we had about another three months where they seemed to punish us by making us fly every day but we didn’t mind that because we enjoyed it. And so eventually we we were properly demobbed and three of us we went down to London. Decided to celebrate and have a week there before we went back home. And we went, we’d had a few drinks as we’d normally do, went round the night clubs and did the usual things and we decided to visit the American Embassy and volunteered to join the US Army Air Force to fly in Korea. We thought we didn’t want to go back to Civvy Street, you know, it’s too boring. Anyway, we got all the information and forms to fill in. Went back home and all three of us decided we wouldn’t do that. We went back. I went back to banking. Jock went back on the railway. And Bish went back to the estate agent office. And I thought that was the end of that but poor old Bish. He [pause] he suffered from, he was a bit [pause] what shall I say? When he’d, I know when he’d had a few drinks he was a changed character. But the Morse code was affecting his mind and he eventually suffered from Morse Madness and which, which — you know the continuous noise on the brain of the dit dit dot and all this sort of thing. And anyway he, he had, he finished up in a mental institution and he died before he was thirty which, you know was very sad. We were great buddies and we’d been down to Bournemouth. Met his, met his family as well. And anyway, we [pause] we kept in touch for a while and we used to have reunions back at Topcliffe. Jock and I. And we managed to get a bed you know in the sergeant’s mess no problem. Meet the lads who were still there. And then as things happen we drifted apart. He went back, stayed with his job. I went back to banking. And it was only about three years ago that I I had a message. An email on Facebook saying, “Are you the Geoff Lenthall who was flying from Topcliffe in Wellingtons?” And I wrote back. I sent him an email. I said yes. And it was, it was my old friend Jock. And so we decided we got together and we, he came down. It didn’t cost him a penny because of his special rates on the railway, as he worked there. He came down to York and I travelled up there and we found a pub and we had a meal and well we had a few drinks but I couldn’t have many. I was driving. It was alright for him. He was on the train [laughs] He could have a dram or two on it. So it was good. You know. We talked. We had a lot to talk about of course and we met each year. But last year I had problems driving and so we didn’t meet up. But we’re still in touch. Which is great. So that was more or less the — oh I did join the Volunteer Reserve for five years. And this, it was, we used to get paid for it. And it didn’t go down very well with the bank because it took a fortnight. I’d still got my allowance from the bank for the holidays but I had to have two weeks at an RAF station. And that was when I went to Binbrook and flew in Avro Lincolns. Operation Bullseye I think they called it. Went out to practice bombing in Heligoland. And that was one of the trips. And other times, other times we went to Doncaster which is now a civil airport and we used to fly to Jersey. Went down for the Battle of the Flowers and things like that. We had a weekend in Germany. All on the RAF of course. And this was at a time when one of the English planes was shot down near the Russian border and I know there were emails flashing around saying, ‘Are you ok?’ You know. They thought it was that we were over there we’d been shot down. But anyway we, we were ok. And so five years with the Volunteer Reserve. And then, so I met my wife. So I was transferred to, from Scunthorpe to Grimsby and we, I know I joined this tennis club and there was this girl in bright red shorts. And anyway I got talking to her and we became friendly and I walked her home. And in due course we were married. And as I say she died nine years ago. We had a very happy marriage and when I retired we were able to do a bit of travelling around. And we went to Australia because the sort of friends who lived near us they decided to emigrate to Australia and said keep in touch. And so we went two or three times to stay in Melbourne and we were very fortunate really. And they had a big five bedroom house. They have four daughters. And anyway the daughters married out there and one went to live in Sydney so we called on the way down in Sydney to see them. And then we drove down in his car to Melbourne. And we had a great time because they had friends who had a boat on an island off the coast and we went down there and went on this boat around the islands. And they were, I know that they used to call us poms but we got on very well with the, with the Australians. And they tried to persuade us to go and live out there. And he said, oh, he said because I then was working on a magazine, Lincolnshire Life and they said, ‘You can start, start a magazine up out here. No problem. Come and join us.’ We never actually did but we went to see them. But I joined Lincolnshire Life after leaving the bank because I was getting nowhere. I finished up at Loughborough. I went to Leicester branch. Then they moved me to Loughborough. And I was getting a bit bored with banking. It didn’t seem to satisfy my yearnings at all and so I resigned. And I went of all places on the fish docks because my father had a fishing business. My father in law. And anyway, he said he could get me a job so I went back to Grimsby from Leicester and finished up at this this company owned by one of the trawler companies and I was going around visiting customers and getting new business for the company. It was a complete change from banking to fishing and I had to go down to the docks at seven in the morning to be amongst all the fish there to see what went on. And it was a real eye opener. And so I had to learn a bit about it before I went on my travels. And they gave me a car allowance and so it became, I used to leave Monday morning and come back Friday. My wife got used to it in due course and I worked, I did it for about two years. But I used to have a talk with the MD every Friday and he, I said to him, ‘Things are not really working out.’ He said — I said, ‘You know that there’s a resentment.’ Of course they’d made me a director of the company and this didn’t go down very well with the staff. They’d been in it probably from leaving school. Working their way up you know, and this this chap comes in, ex-banker, white collar worker and he’s there you know eighteen months they make him a director, you know it just wasn’t on. I could tell there was a resentment and I said this to the MD. And so I resigned. So at about forty then out of a job and so I looked around and saw this job advertised in Lincolnshire Life. Do you know Lincolnshire Life? And they wanted a sales representative or advertisement manager. Anyway, I applied and I got the job and I had one week with the previous ad man. And he said, ‘I don’t know whether you realise or not but not only will you be doing this but you’ll be also the motoring correspondent. And,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a car test lined up next week for you in Lincoln. An Alfa Romeo.’ I thought this sounds interesting. Anyway, he went off and I took over and I was given a car to run around the county in. I went to Lincoln. Picked up this Alfa Romeo and they just let me loose for a couple of hours on the roads. And that was fine. I enjoyed that. But then of course I had to write about it in the magazine which I’d never done before. So, this was a labour of love and I eventually got into it and enjoyed it. And from then on I got other motoring tests to do as well. But we were in, in Brewery Street I think it was there and we moved to Dudley Street. The magazine. And the owner Roy Faiers, he lived in Cheltenham and he’d started This England magazine which is a very worldwide and he would fly up from time to time. He had learned to fly in his forties and got his own plane and took me for a flight in it from Humberside. And anyway, this went on for a while and there were quite a few perks with working for a magazine and I I used to get invitations to [pause] I went to Sweden for the opening of a golf course by an Englishman and things like that. And I met a few celebrities. I don’t know whether you remember Crossroads. It was a television programme and two of the people on it, Meg and Benny, they were at this hotel that was newly opened and they were guests. So I met them. Had photographs taken. All the rest of it. But it was a totally different life from banking and fishing. And there was an end product every month when they, you looked at the magazine and you know you felt well we’ve helped to do something towards this. I used to go down with the editor at the end of every month to the printers to put it to bed so to speak. Do the proof reading. And it worked very well and I I was able to, I met a lot of interesting people and part of the driving part I mean I wasn’t an official motoring correspondent. I wasn’t even a member of the journalist’s Union. But they used to send me these invitations and we used to go to a place called, in Yorkshire called Sherburn in Elmet which was a testing ground for the Mintex people of the brake linings and things. And they had a track there on an old aerodrome circuit. And each year I used to go there and I used to take a friend of mine Brian Hammond who was in the choir. And we used to spend the night there in a hotel and then on the Sunday morning we’d go around the track. It was all very well organised. We had a pep talk before-hand saying, ‘This isn’t a racetrack,’ you know and all the rest of it. We had name tags with our photograph and all the rest of it. And so we used to drive around there. Test the cars and we, a second time I had a Rolls Royce and that was great fun because it wasn’t allowed on the track. There was a special ten mile course outside. And so we took the Rolls Royce. They briefly said this does that, that does that you know. The controls. So Brian and I used to drive this Rolls Royce waving to people you know like royalty and that was great fun. We got to test a lot of cars. The, the BMW, Mercedes and anything from Minis and things like that. That was an interesting part of the job. And I eventually decided to [pause] I’d had an offer. No. That’s right we took over because he wasn’t paying very well and I thought well am I going to leave again? Find another job. And I I mentioned about a rise but there was nothing forthcoming so I had a talk with my wife and my father in law and my banker. And in the end I made an offer to buy the magazine from, from him. And he accepted it. He wanted more than we wanted to pay but anyway we settled on a figure and got the first loan to organise and finished up as owning a magazine. And Joan used to do subscriptions. My father in law did the accounts. And I took on ladies in different parts of the county to sell advertising. You know, on a bonus basis part time, as I wasn’t able to get out and do it myself and I had a part time editor. David Rawlinson. He lived in Louth and he used to come in about two days a week and between us we put the magazine together and I’d get all the ads together and he would bring the editorial. And so we did that for a few years. And then I had an offer from one of the big companies. They owned Yorkshire Life and Lancashire Life and they wanted to buy Lincolnshire life. So they came up to Grimsby and took me out. Wined and dined me as they do. Made an offer. And I thought well I’m enjoying life really. I don’t want, I don’t want to give it up yet. So in the end I was reaching I think I was about sixty two when I had an offer from LSG. Lincolnshire Standard Group. And they made an offer and we decided to sell out and retire. And so we, we did that and that’s when we were able to travel around a bit more and enjoy life. I joined the Male Voice Choir. My father in law was in it. He was the one that persuaded me and so I had an audition and we [pause] a great bunch of lads. We had, at one time nearly seventy members and we travelled around. We went in various festivals and we also organised trips abroad. We went to Holland. Germany. Sweden. France. And they were very good. We had a week with the people. You know. The Swedes or Germans looked after us very well. Then they came back the following year and stayed with us. Then we’d have a joint concert and I’m still in touch with some of them which is good you know. We exchange cards at Christmas time and it worked out very well. And there was a tremendous spirit between singers of all nationalities because they organised at Cardiff Arms Park, a huge concert. Ten thousand male voices. There were about nine hundred and something in the end but actually there were choirs from all over and we were invited. It was a tremendous success and the feeling there singing at Cardiff Arms Park which is huge. We were alright. We were in the sheltered area. And I’ve got a video of it actually. And one year we had Tom Jones as the guest singer and the following year Shirley Bassey. And so I was able to put on my CV I have sung with Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey. And they were great occasions and there is a tremendous comradeship in the male voice of choirs. Of course there were people from all walks of life but you all get on well. They’ve all got this love of singing. And in due course I took over the, I’d started a newsletter for the choir and did that for about fifteen years and but I was finding I was having to write most of it as the contributions weren’t coming in very quickly. People seemed a bit reluctant to do this but I managed to get one or two in the choir to twist a few arms and I got some contributions coming in. And this used to come out once a quarter. And so I did this for a while and I enjoyed it. I was just paid the expenses of the, you know I used to do it on the computer and print it out. And had great fun. And then it got to the stage where I wasn’t getting enough in really to make a go of it. So by then I was getting on in years and I said well if no one else will take it over you know I’m calling it a day. And there weren’t any volunteers so it just stopped like that. Which was a pity. One man a year later said he’d take it over but he said, ‘I’ll come round to the house and we’ll talk about it.’ But that was it. No more was said. And I’m still in touch with the choir and still go to some of the concerts but unfortunately they’re down to oh about thirty from, you know. They’ve lost half their members. Old age. This is the, or they move away. I mean the average age must be well over sixty. Probably seventy. But you just can’t get youngsters to come and join. They don’t want, they don’t want to be with a lot of old fogeys you know. They’d rather be out enjoying themselves. It’s understandable. And so I gave that up and I joined the, or Joan and we both joined the U3A and I I decided to — she was interested in gardening, flower arranging. I went on a computing course and there are about thirty odd different groups in the U3A and you can choose whichever one appeals to you. It’s either a hobby or an educational thing. I went in computers and then learning German because I’d taken it at school and we’d had a refresher course when we went with the choir. And so I, there were only about a half dozen of us used to go every week to this house. She was a German. She’d come from near Cologne and lived in this country for many years. But then she, she’d done it for twenty odd years and she gave that up. And I joined armchair travel which was, we used to meet up and show films of where people had been and talked about the different places. Quite interesting. And, and there was a, I became interested in, we had our own website and anyway when the person who was doing it was retiring I offered my services. So, I took over the website which meant I had to join the committee as well which I wasn’t very happy about but I used to go to the meetings as well. I did that for a while. Are we ok? And —
[recording paused]
AH: So why did you want to join the RAF?
GL: Why? I always had a love of aircraft and obviously as a lad you know I’d read about the, and about the exploits not only of Bomber Command but fighter pilots as well. And its, I thought well this this is the one for me. I didn’t really fancy the army or the navy. The air force really was the only place and we all joined. All the friends of us. We got ourselves very fit. We used to go for morning runs at the Air Training Corps. And we had, went every week to classes for — well learning all about flying really. About the various navigation, Morse code, air craft recognition. I could recognise any of the German planes I thought at that time when our memories were good. And to me it was the only thing that I wanted to do was to get up and fly. And I did later on take a gliding course in Norfolk which was a great thrill but that was later on in life. But it was, I knew one by one we we either volunteered or were called up. All the aircrew were volunteers. And one of my friends he he went to the Fleet Air Arm and he got in before me. And also I met an air gunner who, about the same age as me and and he’d done about twelve operations and I thought how was that? Anyway, we talked about this and he said, ‘Well, I volunteered as tail gunner. Said I wanted to be in straight away.’ And had I known I would probably have done the same because as I say being the same age he got in quite quickly. They were short of air gunners because they were very vulnerable at the back end of the plane of course and so he he couldn’t understand this. He said, ‘Why don’t you do operations?’ he said. Of course that was so disappointing for me. I thought well had I known would I have done the same thing? Volunteered as a tail gunner? Probably not have even come back. I mean he was lucky. He managed to survive but I know there were fifty five thousand more than that who who never came back. Who just died. Which was a, you know was a tremendous casualty list. But even so you know it was the thought of getting up there and it’s, and the thing is, I know that people when they say when they bombed at Dresden. There was a lot of talk about that. And there were so many casualties but after all it was war. They were bombing us the same way as we were bombing them. They bombed Hull and London and all the big cities and so it was. I don’t know whether any, there was any Christianity came into that. I mean there were some people who’d say, ‘How could you possibly go up there and drop bombs on innocent people?’ But you were just, just doing your job. You thought no more about it than that. You couldn’t really do anything else. If, if you didn’t, I mean there was some on the training who, who refused to, to do the training. This was at Bridlington where they had to jump into this, off the edge into the quayside, about twenty foot and with a Mae West on. And they refused to do it. And so they, they wouldn’t do it so they, they were taken off aircrew training. That was all part of it. You had to jump down, swim to a dinghy and climb aboard. All part of the training. But you just had to do this if you wanted to be in aircrew and it was an ambition of mine. And I mean when I wrote the book eventually that was my — I wanted to be a pilot. I think which most youngsters did anyway. I did actually get behind the controls of a Wellington bomber with a pilot by my side. Dual control. And he said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘You can take over now,’ he said, ‘Piece of cake,’ he said, ‘Just get a compass bearing and hold the stick and keep it steady,’ and he said, ‘I will land it though when we get there.’ But he said, he said to me afterwards, ‘You can take off if you like.’ He said, ‘I’ll watch you.’ We managed to get off eventually. Not very, not an ideal take off but then he said, ‘Fly it up to Yorkshire and I’ll take over.’ But it was a great thrill and, and then the flying in the gliding course as well. And I did think when I retired that was another thing I will do. I will, I’ll learn to fly at the local flying school. But so many other things to do I never got around to it. So it was sad really. It was disappointing. I mean I’ve watched many films. I’ve read lots of books. And of course when Dambusters I mean which was a tremendous thing there. Incidentally, I’m having the Dambusters theme at my funeral. I’ve already got it planned and I’ve written all this out for my daughters and I said, ‘Play that when people are coming in and then we’ll have the hymns etcetera and then at the end I’m going to have Perry Como singing, “For the Good Times.” Which was one of my favourites. And it was one my wife’s as well. Anyway, I’m getting off the beaten track aren’t I?
AH: Could you tell me a bit more about the training? What you did.
GL: About the —?
AH: The training. The training.
GL: Trailer.
AH: The training.
GL: Training.
AH: Yeah.
GL: Oh yes. Well, most of that was well in London of course we were just avoiding the [pause] the V-1s. That was more or less Reception Centre but Bridlington was where we did the training. Where we, this was where we had to jump into the sea and swim to the dinghy. And you were, I think the expression was LMF. Lack of moral fibre if you refused to jump. But we had assault courses and things like that and of course we used to go into was it the, one of the big concert halls there to do the Morse training. And we had to pass out at eighteen words a minute. And at the radio school which was at Madley I remember there. This was when we first got into aircraft, you know. Until then I’d never seen an aircraft. And we, I know that several of us went to work at Hartleys Jam Factory which was quite nearby. We used to get paid for that. But I digress. The actual flying and learning the Morse code I I didn’t really have any great difficulty with. At the, as I say we passed out at eighteen words a minute and I still look back and if I’d go on short wave I’d try to take any Morse messages but some of them were very fast. But I remember we [pause] I got to know a chap who lived in Essex and he was a married man. One of the older ones. And he, I sort of, I looked I looked up to him because he’d been around and he was an older man and anyway sort of looked after the younger ones. But there were some who found out that when they went up flying they suffered from air sickness. That was another thing. Just unfortunate. They just couldn’t cope with it so they had to find a ground job then. But the, I was just trying to think of the [pause] from the Isle of Man when we were in Jurby we were on Ansons then and the wing commander he he lived in [pause] near Grimsby actually. And anyway I had a talk to him and I managed to get a flight. A flight back from Jurby to — we landed at Binbrook in this Anson and I got home from there. He went to his home and we had a weekend at home. I know my parents couldn’t believe it. But yeah there were perks like that in flying but I think, you know the sheer joy of being up there. I know that it wasn’t, it wasn’t so pleasant you know, having seen all these films. You know when you were on the air raids on Germany and the cities etcetera with all the flak coming up and anti-aircraft and the fighters attacking you it wasn’t a piece of cake at all, you know. They really went through it. I admire the — I look up to them. They were always my heroes really. I mean people like Alec whom you’ve met, you know. I mean he, he was flying a Spitfire with no armament at all. Just took photographs. But I mean people like that I’ve always looked up to. And in a way I suppose I thought well why wasn’t I one of them? You know. A sort of feeling of not inferiority but disappointment in the fact that I never made it there. But I know there were several of my own age who were, who were in the same position. You know they, because I have met them and they say, oh yeah, they felt the same way. It was just one of those things. So, so the next war I shall probably volunteer as a tail gunner to start with if there is such a thing. Of course times will have changed. They’ll all be jets now. And I mean this is one of the joys the reunions. I was an associate member of 9 Squadron because I’d met someone in Lincolnshire Life who came. We used to sell books. Aircraft books. That’s how I got an interest in it as well and he was a rear gunner and he put me on to the Aircrew Association in the first instance. And in fact he was a local man. I used to see him at Tesco. He’s gone now unfortunately. And this is it with, well they’re not all old aircrew at Aircrew Association. There are some younger ones that came in after the war of course. You know, the jet men. A different school. But we used to meet up at these 9 Squadron reunions. The older ones and the younger ones. It was interesting you know to have talks with the young jet men, you know. To see how different it was. But I’m just trying to think of anything else of interest which [pause] No. Better switch off now. I’ll have to have a think.
[recording paused]
AH: What was it like coming to London from Lincolnshire?
GL: It was quite different. I’d never been to London before and to be uprooted from the wilds of Lincolnshire to the big city was quite something and I remember going down on the train. And there were several servicemen there and I remember one saying to me, ‘Why aren’t you in the forces?’ I said, ‘I’m on the way to join.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Good for you mate.’ And I said I would join the RAF. And but approaching the city you could see all the ruined houses and everything there. I thought they’ve really, they’ve really had it pretty hard. And it was, it was so different. I mean in Lincolnshire we’d had the odd, the odd raid and I remember a Heinkel 111 shot down near the steel works and we went to see it as boys do. But in London the — everything was so different. And when we got out of the train the first thing I heard was an explosion. I thought well that’s the first one. And we had to, we had to be on every so often we’d be on duty to warn people of a coming raid or an approaching doodlebug. We used to have to go up on the roof. We were on St Johns Wood and we’d taken over a lot of the luxury flats and anyway if we saw a doodlebug coming we’d got a whistle with us and we used to go in. We were in pairs and anyway as soon as the engines stopped that’s when of course that’s when it went down. So we blew the whistle and run like mad to try to get down in the basement and all the others were there by then. But we used to march and we used to wear steel helmets when we went from place to place. Once we, we went to the zoo. We used to go to the zoo and I remember we, if we night watching, if we were watching the, we’d sleep on tables and the reason for that was when you got down you put your foot down you could hear the crunch of the beetles you know. Oh they were awful. There were so many of them there. And apart from that I mean we had raids pretty well every night. And we got used to the idea but we knew that you know eventually we’d have to move and this is why we went out to Torquay. But life in London was so much different. Rural Lincolnshire we, I suppose we were spoiled up here. We don’t, we don’t see a lot of it. we used to see the odd doodlebug. They used to launch them from planes apparently from the North Sea. But we never actually had any in Lincolnshire at all. As I say the, Hull used to get most of the bombing. We could tell. If we saw a red glow in the sky, ‘Hull’s getting it tonight.’ But considering we had two steelworks in Scunthorpe I’m surprised we didn’t get more raids really. My father was a warden, sector leader, and he used to come and see us you know in the shelter from time to time there. We had great fun building those. The old Anderson shelter with grass sods all over it and a stirrup pump if it got flooded and so cold we had these oil heaters. But we spent quite a bit of time in the shelters. And you could, there were Morrison shelters as well which were in the house. They were reinforced tables. Quite strong actually. Which I suppose were better than going out into a cold damp Anderson shelter. But it all seems such a long time ago now and you just wonder when the next one will be. I mean they’re talking World War Three with the Russians and all the rest of it, but it would be people like you and the grandchildren who are around. We shan’t be around that much longer. Well, I’m optimistic. I mean I hope to reach ninety one. We shall see. But yes I would, I tend to I say to my grandsons, you know ‘Whatever you do if the time comes, if you have to join up, join the RAF,’ I said, ‘It’s the only one.’ The Brylcreem boys as they used to call them. I know we did get a few comments about that. But it was a good life. I really was fortunate. I had about four years and I enjoyed my time which is more than a lot of people who’d been in the RAF. I mean they had a pretty tough time a lot of them. Some never came back. But I was very grateful for the fact that I, you know had served my country to some extent. Little though it was. But it was an enjoyable time and a good experience. And it broadens your mind certainly because you meet up with people from all walks of life and they all have different views etcetera. And I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Anything else you want to ask? No?
AH: What do you think about the way Bomber Command was treated after the war?
GL: Well, that was pretty awful I think. I mean Bomber Harris he took a lot of the brunt. I mean, partly because of Dresden. But they were only doing really what they had to do. They said they were, they were bombing civilians rather than bombing targets but I mean what happened in London or Birmingham or Hull? They weren’t just bombing targets. They were just indiscriminate. And I don’t really see why they was so much criticism of them. I mean after all they, they joined the air force. They joined Bomber Command to to go, take part in raids over Germany or wherever. Italy. And they, I know that the bomb aimer was the person responsible for dropping the bombs but I’m sure they didn’t have any, any feelings about what they were doing or what was happening down below. They had a job to do and it was, ‘Left. Left. Steady. Right a bit. Bombs gone.’ And that was it. They were just doing their job and I don’t really see how, how they can criticise. I know that they made a lot of Fighter Command. You know. Saving the country which, yeah but Bomber Command they certainly did their part and Bomber Harris was was respected by all the people who were in Bomber Command. Although he was heavily criticised afterwards but you’ll always find this. There will always be someone to criticise when its all happened. You know. Especially if they weren’t there and they don’t know what it was like. I mean it must be terrible when when you read of say ten thousand people killed in a raid on Dresden. Innocent people. You know, women, children. But that was war. And they were doing just the same to us and I see, I feel very strongly that there should be no criticism. What’s war is war and you do what you’re told to do and this is what they did. So [pause]
AH: What was your friend Bish’s name? Your friend Bish. What was his name?
GL: It was John Bartlett. Yes. We all called him Bish. He was always known as Bish but the poor devil he got the doolally tap I think they called it. Which was Morse Madness. But he was a great friend and as I say very quiet. Being a southerner I think you know we got on very well. He was rather reserved but he’d have a drink or two and he’d just be a changed character. He’d come back and he’d throw people out of their beds, you know. Tip the bed over. Things like that. I couldn’t believe the things he got up to but he got away with it because he’d got this smile and [pause] strange really. But it got to him in the end. You know. The Morse madness and it was so sad that he lived through the war and then just died like that. In such a way. But it did happen to quite a few people apparently. It didn’t affect me at all but I know some were badly affected. And one of these days I’m going to buy myself a Morse key and see if I haven’t lost the touch. No. I know that Jock he he was being a Scotsman he admitted to me once, he said, ‘I can get, I get a bit aggressive when I’ve had a drink or two.’ You know. Och aye tha noo and all that. And we did have one or two skirmishes I remember in London but he said, he apologised afterwards, you know. He said, oh he said, ‘We’re buddies,’ he said, ‘Don’t mind me. This is me. That’s how I am.’ Anyway, he’s now happily married with four, four sons. He’s way ahead of me. And he married the girl he was, he wasn’t a Catholic then but he took conversion lessons to be a Catholic and that’s what he wanted. We used to pull his leg about it of course as you do. When you’re out with the lads. Because I’d met this Irish girl and I said it’s love at first sight. Red hair and blue eyes. A beautiful girl and well I put in the book there you know we went on the balcony of this hotel we were in and I went to kiss her and would you believe it I asked her permission? You know. Would you find this these days? It’s straight in you know. But I was so naïve with, with girls particularly and it was so [pause] Anyway she put me at my ease and we had a kiss and that was it. But we did we did keep in touch. But she married her boyfriend. One she’d known from the Catholic from early days. Are you recording this as well? Oh dear. [laughs] I wonder if I’ve said anything I shouldn’t have said. Anyway, I haven’t sworn. But do you find this of interest really? Is this all going in the permanent thing at Lincoln? Is it? So who will listen to this then I wonder.



Anna Hoyles, “Interview with Geoffrey Lenthall,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 27, 2023,

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