Interview with Robert William Maggs


Interview with Robert William Maggs


Robert Maggs lived in London until his family were bombed out and moved to the seaside. He joined the local Air Training Corps and later volunteered for the RAF and trained as a gunner. During training his plane crashed and he was left trapped. He doesn’t remember how he managed to escape through the turret. After completing a tour with 90 Squadron he was posted to Egypt.




Temporal Coverage




01:10:30 audio recording


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AMaggsRW161110, PMaggsRW1602


MC: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interview is taking place [deleted] in Lincoln. The date is Thursday the 10th of November 2016. The interviewee is Robert Maggs and the interviewer is Mike Connock. Ok, Bob, well the first thing is can you tell me a bit about when and where you were born?
RM: I was born in Brixton, South West London, SW2 and I grew up there until we got bombed out. My parents. My mum and dad and my sister. The four of us. I had two other brothers. They was in the army. And one was in the Royal Artillery. And one was in the King’s Royal Rifles and he got captured at Calais and, with four thousand other blokes and walked into Germany and spent the next four years in captivity.
MC: So what did your parents do for a living?
RM: Sorry?
MC: What did your parents do for a living?
RM: My, my father was a meat porter at Smithfield Market. And mum was a mum, you know.
MC: Yeah.
RM: She did spare work two or three mornings a week for a posh [unclear] around the corner called Kings Avenue. And that’s how I grew up.
MC: And what school? What was school life like?
RM: I went to school just down the road. Two hundred yards away. Past Jones’ the greengrocer. And we used to warm our hands in there in the winter. You know. I played football for the school. Not many times. I don’t know. Three or four times. And —
MC: You enjoyed your schooldays then.
RM: I enjoyed the school, yeah. But you know in those days money was hard. Father had a very tough job and he used to drink a lot because he was in the First World War and he got captured and ill-treated. And he was never, after about fifty I think he wasn’t much good really. Walking but mentally he was affected.
MC: So when were you born? What year were you born?
RM: Eh?
MC: What year were you born, Bob?
RM: I was born 1925. On the 1st of April. April Fool’s Day. I went to Park Road School. And New Park Road School because somebody decided to split the education at a certain age and concentrate the bulk of the education on the age, the older age. I played. I ran. I ran. I was a good runner. I got in the athletics of South London in Battersea Park. I didn’t win but nonetheless I took part.
MC: So you grew up. So when, at the outbreak of war you were a teenager.
RM: Yeah. I was born in 1925 and at ‘40 [pause] No. In 1940 I’d be fifteen. I remember we took a bike ride with a mate to a place called Croham Hurst Woods and we spent a Sunday morning in the park on our own. And I bought a bike to do the baker’s round. And that was it.
MC: So, what — so you left school at fifteen.
RM: Sorry?
MC: Did you leave school at fifteen?
RM: Yes. I left the school at fifteen. Just an ordinary. I worked for Noons and Pearsons in the West End. I used to travel up by train. [unclear] I think it was [unclear] train.
MC: What did you do for them? What sort of work was it?
RM: I think it was [unclear] train. And I stuck that job for about a year and then the bombing got more severe in the day and that in that period.
MC: What job, what work were you doing for that company?
RM: Just clerical work.
MC: Clerical work. Yeah.
RM: I was a sort of an official postboy. There were about a dozen of us because it was a great big building. It was a business they used to print control Humorist and Men Only and papers and that sort of caper. And I left there after about a year. I say about a year because it was about a year. Then I took a job on Brixton Hill in an architect’s office. Sorting out plans and a bit of work. I was on my own. I didn’t do any typing or anything like that. And then we got bombed out. I remember that. It was a Sunday. And the baker’s shop opposite got bombed out. Mr [Clow?] and his daughter got killed. It was a Sunday morning actually and so there was a lot of people about. The sirens blew and oh another, another raid. This time it was indirectly aimed at Brixton. On the same. Anyway we got bombed out of London and I wasn’t involved in talking about it. It was between the officials. And the next thing I knew I was following my father and mother and we moved to a place called Lancing. We could have stayed in South London I understand but anyway they decided to move away and so we went to Lancing. I’d never been to the seaside in my life. And it was ten miles from Brighton. Originally I think it was fifteen shillings a week which was a lot of money for father but he used to get a pension from some government body. Because as part of his war service he wore a silver badge and there were not many of them and he got a pension for that. About five shillings a week or something. Quite a, quite a lot of money. And anyway so he didn’t work. I got a job as a baker’s roundsman. I didn’t have an education. Not a worth one but I didn’t have any brains I suppose. And I, so we lived in this house and it was very nice. Modern. Nice country. And my father and I, he used to help me with the baker’s round and then the milk round when I got a different job. That was the West Worthing and we used to get the twenty past six train. I think it was twenty past six in the morning. Get to work about a quarter to seven and because we only went to West Worthing and then that was the stop we got off at. And then after that, I did that for — in the meantime I joined the ATC. It was the ADCC Air Defence Cadet Corps in London but they made a bigger body of it and called it the ATC. Air Training Corps. And I joined that at Shoreham. I had an interview and I was told that, by then I was about sixteen. I told them I was a good boy and did all the right things and didn’t push old ladies off the pavement. Which I wouldn’t do in anyone’s business at all. But I joined the ATC, I got a uniform which was the lure. It was the pride, and, and what was it then? Oh yes and from there I had my first go at flying. We went in a Catalina aircraft. Just out to the sea and back again.
MC: That was with the ATC?
RM: Yeah. With the ATC. On a Sunday morning. And a nice day anyway. It only lasted about ten minutes. And we used to circle and come down. It was very exciting and of course it fed the pangs of doing more and more and so I did. I took it more seriously and learned —
MC: Morse. Morse code.
RM: Yeah. That’s right. I couldn’t think of it. And I was taken in there and after six months they, if you were keen about joining the RAF which I was and I used to do two, two days a week. Two nights a week. And it meant coming home and rushing and changing into a uniform which was the be end and end all of everything. And anyway I had an interview for about twenty minutes. Physically I was told I was fit although I was thinking only the other day that my height was six foot nine and a half and to qualify for coming in the barriers you had to be six foot ten.
MC: Five foot ten. Nine and a half.
RM: Five foot ten. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Five foot —
RM: Otherwise you couldn’t join. Too tall for aircrew. Taller than you anyway. Anyway, and after six months I got a letter from the Ministry to say I’d qualified. I had another examination just to check everything was still alright and that was six months intervening and then I joined in London. Stayed in a block of flats with I think it was fifty or sixty blokes. All in one big pack.
MC: How old were you then?
RM: That was in nineteen [pause] I’m trying to — 1940.
MC: Nineteen forty — you must have been, were you eighteen?
RM: I was eighteen. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. That would be —
RM: That’s right. Yeah.
MC: It would have been 1943 wouldn’t it?
RM: I was eighteen on the 1st of April and I joined up around about that time. Of course it was very exciting for a young lad. Mixture of people really and to learn something about the excitement of flying aircraft. And I qualified. Not on the grounds of pilot. No. Pilot — no education. Navigator — no education, bomb aimer. I don’t know what qualified him. Jay Hartley his name was. He was an officer, I don’t know what he would be. And the pilot was a New Zealander and he’d, he’d joined in New Zealand for the American Air Force.
MC: This was your pilot.
RM: And he qualified as a, so he told me, he qualified as a, as a pilot and then he, he did his air training and all that and then he decided he’d take part in the action. So he volunteered for the RAF out there.
MC: When you first joined did you have to go through basic training with the RAF even though you’d been in the ATC?
RM: Yes. Yeah. I went to St Johns Wood where we used to have breakfast and basic lessons on flying and what aircraft meant and the shape of things. And what you were expected to control. And you used to have trips. Not many. Twenty at a time. For a day out to see the aircraft.
MC: So was it at this stage which selected what crew position you would be?
RM: Sorry?
MC: Was it at this stage that selected what crew position you would be?
RM: Yes. That’s right. They shoved it up. I mean I had a proper interview. Three officers I recall. And pilot, I didn’t have an education. Navigator I didn’t. Bomb aiming I didn’t. Wireless operator I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all so I didn’t. Wasn’t very keen. So you were just left with two gunners.
MC: So you trained as an air gunner.
RM: Yeah. Trained as an air gunner. And we went to Bridgenorth. We went from [pause] near Doncaster it was. To Bridgnorth. Bridgenorth. I think we went to, we jumped a course and we finished up on the Isle of Man. And I did four months on the Isle of Man and I qualified as an air gunner.
MC: So it was your gunnery training in the Isle of Man.
RM: Sorry?
MC: It was the air gunnery training in the Isle of Man.
RM: Yeah. Definitely.
MC: Yeah.
RM: Definitely. All of it.
MC: Oh right.
RM: I had the square bashing and saluting and all that you did at the ITW. Initial Training Wing. But the others you, the flying bit you did in the Isle of Man. And after two, after year, one year I qualified as an air gunner. They didn’t select you for a mid-upper or rear gunner. It depends on whether you was that big or that big or that big. That’s how they did it. Or they did when I joined. And that was it. And I joined a squadron with another escapee. Because we went to a place called Coningsby which was an OTU place.
MC: So was that crewing up? Or had you crewed up before then?
RM: Yes it was. It was for crewing up. It was a Sunday morning. Four hundred blokes stuck in a hangar. And a whole mixture of ranks and careers. And just by chance I chose another and he chose me. And as two gunners we offered our services around the, around the — and finished up with this New Zealander bloke. An English bomb aimer. An English navigator. Dickie Bush. He died actually a couple of years after the war. He was good. He wasn’t the sort of the flying type at all. Dickie Bush was, he just wanted to do his bit and found that he had the ability to do it.
MC: So did you, did you crew up just the full seven or did you fly — you know other training in Wellingtons or anything like that?
RM: Yes. We, we initially we — what were we flying? I think the once we got qualified we drove Wellingtons. So the gunners, well one of them had nothing to do, you know. So you used to switch over. As they say. A bit as a rear gunner. If you went out to Bristol on a square leg. You came back and you changed gunners a couple of times. You know, just different uniform really.
MC: Did — was that an Operational Training Unit? Was that?
RM: Yes. Actually yeah.
MC: Yeah. Can you remember what number it was?
RM: I might have it in my logbook. It would be in that drawer. You can take it with you. Take it —
MC: So. Yeah. That’s alright Bob. So yeah. I mean, obviously you said the Isle of Man for your Air Gunnery School. That was 11 Air Gunnery School at Andreas, Isle of Man.
RM: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. And then you say you went on to the OTU. 11 OTU.
RM: Yeah.
MC: 11 OTU. Where was that? Can you remember?
RM: OTU wasn’t far from London. Buckinghamshire. Somewhere like that.
MC: Oh yeah. Right.
RM: I’ll have a trip down. We got into OTU. You flew from OTU because at that time we had a New Zealander pilot.
MC: Yeah.
RM: And he pranged a kite and I and me the other gunner decided enough was enough so we started sort of about being late and all that and in the end they sent us to the Isle of Man for three months I think. Three months. And all the boys really on the same, so they but he got a [unclear] so he spent a night at the working full training and all that. We spent, I think we spent six weeks there.
MC: Yeah. So that was all on Wellingtons was it?
RM: Sorry?
MC: That was all on Wellingtons. Wellington aircraft.
RM: Well, we didn’t fly in the air at all. We went to Sheffield and I remember walking from Sheffield. There’s a point and you go down there. We went to the town. Down there.
MC: Where was that?
RM: Sheffield.
MC: Oh right. Oh right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
RM: Where they sent the, the naughty boys. So they called them. But most of them went on to be [unclear] people but the odd few just there for the glory or whatever. I was clearly disappointed so, but you can borrow that.
MC: So when you went to, after you finished at the OTU you went to a conversion unit did you?
RM: Yes.
MC: Yeah.
RM: Swinderby.
MC: Oh right. Yeah.
RM: It’s called Swinderby.
MC: Yeah. That’s only down the road from here.
RM: We left there for the disciplinary course and we came back there and when we were told according to the flying officer or the gunnery leader and said we were in disgrace and we would be posted not with a crew but as an individual. And you’re going there. And you’re going there. But as it happened we both went to the same squadron. His name was Tom MacCarthy. He plays a relative part in the story. And he came from London. Paddington. And I came from Brixton in London. So we had something in common. After that he qualified. He didn’t have to qualify. He was already an air gunner, but he went with a Canadian crew. All Canadians and he was the only limey as it were. And he won the DFM actually. Shooting down an aircraft. And I used to go weekends to London with him to, well meet his mum and dad. And he had a younger brother, Bill. Billy MacCarthy. And he was younger than, younger than I. Then Tom, I can’t remember whether Tom did a first trip or I did. One of the two of us. And I forget where the target was. It’ll be in there.
MC: So you got posted to — which squadron did you get posted to?
RM: We got posted to Tuddenham. Tuddenham.
MC: Which squadron was that?
RM: 90. And it was near Newmarket. We used to spend a lot of evenings getting a few beers down the pubs in Newmarket. They used to send a lorry at 11 o’clock to pick us up.
MC: So social life was good.
RM: Oh yeah. Some of us were always late and nine tenths were drunk. But you know it seems a bit dramatic to say but people lived for the moment. I don’t know if they did. They enjoyed what they did put it that way. If two or one aircraft come back with shot up or crashed on landing or something like that two, two mates had gone you did your training with. So you came very close to reality. It’s difficult to say all those years ago.
MC: So what can you remember? All the names of your crew? When you got to 90 Squadron your skipper was a New Zealander you said.
RM: Yeah. You seem we’d got this South African there and he pranged a kite at OTU and so we decided, him and I, that the other gunner and I we didn’t want to know about him any more so we went spare again. And as a spare you went to the gunnery office every day to cleaning guns in the armoury or doing physical training. Or drinking in the pub.
MC: So your skipper was?
RM: And so —
MC: Was that Williams?
RM: After the South African, spare gunners. So we did two. I don’t know how many Tom did. But I did a couple of being there. A couple of gunners. Gunnery aircraft. I forget now. I don’t know if any —
MC: Can you remember your first operation?
RM: Sorry?
MC: Can you remember your first operation?
RM: Yes. A place called S. Solingen.
MC: Solingen. Yeah. Yeah.
RM: Solingen.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. That was with Flying Officer Williams. Flying Officer Williams.
RM: Yeah. That’s the —
MC: Yeah.
RM: New Zealand bloke.
MC: Yeah.
RM: Yeah. Rod Williams.
MC: Yeah. Who was your flight engineer?
RM: Who was what?
MC: Who was your flight engineer?
RM: Flight engineer. Reggie Breen.
MC: Oh yes. Yeah.
RM: Reggie Breen he was an ex-London policeman. Six foot six and all that. Could hardly get in the aircraft let alone put his head out. And he was a great bloke and he had a young team. He was nearly forty when he volunteered. He was that, with a pointed hat and all that malarkey, put it out and all that but he kept the younger team, even the pilot, ‘You shouldn’t do that,’ and all that. He put, he put the brakes on certain matters.
MC: He was the dad of the team.
RM: Yeah. He was the daddy. He kept the brakes on the madness.
MC: And your navigator? What was his name?
RM: Dickie Bush. He was the fellow that died. He was a very studious, serious bloke. Never drank and never smoked. Didn’t do anything the other pilots and navigators did. Took his job seriously and as a consequence we always felt we had the number one navigator in the squadron. And there would be justice in saying that.
MC: Yeah. And your wireless operator?
RM: Wireless operator came from Newcastle. I forget his name now. It’ll be down there somewhere.
MC: Yeah. And your bomb aimer? Do you remember his name?
RM: Jay Hartley.
MC: Oh that’s the one you said. Mentioned earlier.
RM: The other officer in the crew. There was the pilot. Williams. Rod Williams actually. He was an unusual nickname. And then Jay Hartley the other officer. Then we had the navigator.
MC: Bomb aimer. Oh no. You’ve said the bomb aimer.
RM: No.
MC: The flight engineer.
RM: Flight engineer.
MC: Yeah. You just said.
RM: He was a policeman.
MC: Yeah. You said. Yeah.
RM: And after, the other gunner was called Tom. Tom somebody. I should remember.
MC: So how, what was your experience of these raids like? Can —
RM: Well, it depends on the number really. Sometimes you had sixty go out. Another time you’d have six hundred. And the bigs I arranged they had a bigger number. But it seemed that way to me but I only talked a bit and discarded it.
MC: No close calls?
RM: Well. One. One. It was a daylight over — I forget the [pause] we got mixed up in some German was trying to shoot down another Lancaster in daylight. And the bombing range would be about, height would be about sixteen. Sixteen thousand. But of course as gunners you never got all this information until after you got back. Talking to the blokes, ‘Oh, did you really?’ All this sort of thing.
MC: Quite uneventful then. How many operations did you do?
RM: Thirty.
MC: You did thirty. The full thirty. Yeah.
RM: Yeah. I did thirty. At twenty five they had a big review because they could see the war was nearly finished and that was about —
MC: Yeah. Because that was in late ’44 wasn’t it? That was in late 1944.
RM: Yes. About early December ’44.
MC: Because you did —
RM: There was a big review. They extended the bombing trips. To complete the first tour you had to do twenty five. If you did live long enough and you did another one then you — how many was there? Fifteen I think.
MC: I mean —
RM: Only one bloke on the place had fifteen done.
MC: So, I mean looking at your logbook you did quite a few daylight raids.
RM: Oh yeah. The green were, the green were —
MC: Yeah. Daylight.
RM: That’s right. And the rest were black. Yeah. Saw, saw a lot of the action but it was, could be five miles away. Another time you could be at the, leading the stream in and the Germans would knock out the leading one. And the aircraft, the enemy aircraft seemed to stand off when there was densest. They used to break off and wait in a circle. So we were told. And make another attack and two or three attacks as we were coming out the other side. Generally, generally you lost two or three going in and maybe more flights and squadrons about. You never used to see them. You were told afterwards that, well before in fact it was estimated number was four hundred and ninety five if you like and when you, when you got to eighteen thousand on a clear day you could look across, see planes all at the same height but then they seemed to get nearer. They used to start moving. Moving that way and taking evasive action which was a dangerous thing to do. But as I say when you’re eighteen years old, nineteen years old I was scared, there’s no doubt about that but I could do my job but at the same time you realised that you was in a dangerous job. And you got well paid for it. You was earning, I think it was seven and six pence day as soon as you were [pause] Then I had that for a year and it automatically gave you air gunnery sergeant’s badge. Yeah. Flight sergeant.
MC: Yeah.
RM: And then you did another year and you got automatically they gave you a warrant, warrant officer. Because then you got a badge on your tunic then. You got an officer and all the rest of it and you hadn’t done anything different.
MC: So can you remember when it was you got your warrant officer?
RM: When I — well, it would be rather late. Probably be about March.
MC: ’45.
RM: Or April 1945.
MC: Right.
RM: Could have been a bit earlier.
MC: I noticed that you were on the Nuremberg raid in January ‘45.
RM: That’s right. Yeah.
MC: Do you remember that one?
RM: Not individually. As far as we were concerned from memory it was no different to any other midnight raid. It was a night raid.
MC: Yeah.
RM: And as a big raid we were told how many aircraft were scheduled to be in these. Close and things. And we saw, we went down low because by then the experienced pilots used to know when to go down or go up or go. And so our pilot he used to try and I’m not shooting a line, he was trying to get as much packed into every trip. So if he saw an aircraft didn’t know which way he was going he used to take it on and give it a lead. Not that the rest of us were pleased about that but he liked it.
MC: So did you get diverted many times on return?
RM: No. No. We were, the only time we got diverted we did a mining raid over [unclear] somewhere like that. Sweden. Norway. I mean we did eight hours. We finished up in Scotland. We landed in Scotland.
MC: Lossiemouth.
RM: Lossiemouth. That’s right. It wasn’t open. It was open as an aerodrome but we never saw it. We took off. Refuelled and did a five or six hour stooge down the spine of England.
MC: I also notice you were on Dresden. You did the Dresden raid as well.
RM: [unclear]
MC: Dresden.
RM: Dresden. Yeah. That was a long trip. I was quite proud to have done that. I don’t know why. But you know, memory. You talk about these thing and old memories flick up and you wondered if you were the person telling the story. And I don’t, after the war I was over and the New Zealander pilot went home. He was the headmaster actually. He became a headmaster. He came back and married a girl from where I lived. In Streatham in London. Yeah. And he came to see me and spent a couple of hours having a chat and that sort of thing.
MC: Do you remember anything about the Dresden raid? Because it is obviously was quite an infamous raid. Because it was —
RM: No. Nothing outstanding. As far as we were concerned. I’m not being modest. We took off with hundreds of others. I forget how many. I used to log. I had a separate diary. I don’t know whether I’ve still got it and I used to write my own personal views rather than the official thing.
MC: Do you still have that?
RM: I should really. It should be about. A little cheap volume. I did have it for years. I’m sure I’ve got it somewhere.
MC: So what — when you finished with 90 Squadron you finished thirty trips. Where did you go after 90 Squadron?
RM: Yes. Good question. I went back to Jurby I think it was. I did my training in Andreas.
MC: It says Egypt.
RM: Oh yeah. It was after that because —
MC: So from 90 Squadron you went to Middle East force in Egypt.
RM: Yeah. We, we they asked for ten crews. I think it was ten crews to go out and convert the blokes from Liberators down to Lancasters. Or up to Lancaster. Whatever. And we went out to Egypt. We did it in five or six weeks I seem to remember. Then we were posted to Middle East Command and transferred down to a place near Cairo. Seven or eight miles. And —
MC: Which squadron was that? Can you remember?
RM: Didn’t go with a squadron.
MC: Well I’ve got, your logbook says 40 Squadron.
RM: Well. It would be 40 Squadron.
MC: Yeah.
RM: And then I did, I did eight months I think. Something like that in all. And they said well if you don’t like Middle East Command and all the rest of it. So if you like it you can volunteer to come back. So I did.
MC: But you did quite a lot of flying in the Middle East. In Egypt.
RM: Sorry?
MC: You did quite a lot of flying in Egypt.
RM: Oh yeah. Yeah. Well, it was boring on the ground. Squadron, squadron leader with nothing to do. I mean the same day was the same as the next day.
MC: Yeah. The skipper in Egypt was a Flying Officer [Bleuring?]
RM: Bleuring. Yeah. He did come and see me. We did meet in Lancing. He was a nice fella. Different again. He wasn’t a hero type. But the New Zealand pilot I flew with on ops he, he wasn’t a show off but he liked to let people know he was an RAF pilot. Bomber pilot. So what he got up to in the officer’s mess we don’t know.
MC: So, you were out in Egypt for quite some time. When did you come back?
RM: Yeah. I thought we were out there about eight months. Could have been longer. Couldn’t have been longer because —
MC: So did you, did you decide to stay in after the end of the war? Did you decide to stay in the air force after the end of the war?
RM: No. No. The — we had an individual interview from the squadron and what did you intend to do in Civvy street, and it was named Civvy Street. Being in there I thought well this has been cut and dried already. So —
MC: Because I notice, I notice from you logbook you didn’t, you went back. When you left Egypt you came back to the Isle of Man.
RM: Yeah.
MC: Air gunnery school. As an instructor.
RM: Probably did. Yeah.
MC: As an instructor.
RM: As an instructor. That’s right. Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
RM: To, to —
MC: But that was in, that was in May ’47 which is nearly two years after the war ended.
RM: 1947. Three months. Well, I retired on July I think. July of ’47. Something like that because I say that definitely because I got married to my wife in August. August 1947.
MC: So, did you enjoy the Isle of Man? Because you were obviously there twice. Did you enjoy the Isle of Man?
RM: Oh yeah. Yeah. I’d have liked, I’d have liked a job in the RAF. Now, apparently he’s been here. He became an officer. He did, ‘How many trips did you do, Bobby?’ I said. He said, ‘Thirty,’ — I did thirty nine, ‘Twenty nine rather.’ He said, ‘I couldn’t do another.’ ‘But you became a flight lieutenant.’ He said, ‘I did,’ he said, ‘I was.’ He went to India and Australia and New Zealand. He went all over the world with his wife. This bloke. And he had a good job. An air officer commanding training I suppose. And he stayed in and made a career of it. He stayed another ten years and they said well you know, time’s come. You’ve got to go, and all the rest of it. So he told me. He was here two months ago. He’s, he’s retired now. He lives in a village six miles from Lincoln. I could give you his, I mean it would be a matter of record.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. So he came to visit you here.
RM: If you wanted to get another story. A different type of story probably.
MC: Yeah.
RM: Then he’d be the bloke.
MC: Yeah. So your logbook says you finished on 28th of July 1947.
RM: Yeah. 28th of July. And I got married. [unclear] unfortunately.
MC: You got married in July. Just after that.
RM: I got married in August the 23rd. August the 23rd ’47.
Other: Yeah.
MC: And where did you meet her?
RM: I met her in the, I was going to the pictures at Lancing not far from Worthing. Two miles from there. It’s a very small seaside place.
MC: So, you knew her before the war. Knew her before the war. You met her before the war. In Lancing.
RM: No. No. No. No.
MC: This was when you went back home.
RM: I was on six day leave. Seven day leave, and went out to the cinema. And coming out I noticed this girl and chatted her up and we got married, you know.
MC: And that was in ‘47.
RM: We had two children.
MC: So what did you do after the war then? Once you were —
RM: Oh no. No.
MC: Got back home. Got married.
RM: Well, I got married. I was a baker’s roundsman. I used to work for the Co-op and you get your job back automatically. So I stayed with the Co-op about ten months. Then we decided London had more to offer. I don’t know why. But anyway we seemed to like London. Both of us. So we took over a couple of rooms in where my brother lived. In Norwood. Norwood South. North Norwood. South Norwood. We, we grew up together, had children in this —
MC: Were you doing the same work?
RM: Yes. I got a job with a building society. Church of England. A Church of England building society in New Bridge Street. Just off of Fleet Street. I was there ten years and I felt disappointed with the opportunities presented. Maybe I didn’t suit them or they didn’t suit me. And I left there and I got a job in a dress shop. Not selling dresses. Designing them. Little bit of the [unclear] And then I got fed up with that and I had two children as I said so I went to an advert of the Leeds Permanent Building Society and became a clerk in their London office in membership services. And became a branch manager. I opened our own office in Croydon in Surrey. Well, we lived in Streatham so it was halfway home. And then I got a, got a car, glamourous and then after about five years I got a promotion to be a regional manager. And that meant managing two or three branches in London. Holborn and so forth. And they offered me regional manager’s job stationed in Cambridge which I liked and I liked the life there. And I saw out my career there. I was offered, about two years from the end when they dropped the ropes really. Dropped the ropes on me as regards by then I was — I forget when I retired. ’70. ‘70. I think it was ’70. I’m not too sure of that but anyway the —
MC: So you stayed in Cambridge.
RM: Oh yes. They called me in to Leeds one day and you changed your car every year. Every town manager got a new car. Brand new. You used to go to the agent, ‘I’ll have that one.’ I’ll have that one. Tended to be all the same colours and if you became an ultra-regional manager you got a better car. A Hillman Minx or something like that. I think they used to be called a Minx.
MC: Yeah.
RM: And so you felt a bit bigger big headed and you stuck all your branches. I used to reckon eighteen, nineteen. Depends on opening and shutting. Because building societies in those days were very cut and thrust. If you didn’t produce certain figures that they were looking for, the management, then then you’d be reminded that a better job would be worthwhile seeing. And all the hints. So you knew your name was on the short list. Well, fortunately my name was never and I dropped the London accent and all that business and I did that job of senior regional manager for seven, eight years I suppose. When I was about fifty I got called to Leeds for an interview with the chief general manager. I knew what it was. I knew what it was about or why. I spent a night in his company and drinking and then he offered me the job but it meant my wife was [pause] she worked for John Lee and partners which was national by then, started in London but went national and my son who was not very well. He was seventeen, eighteen years old. Just started studying. Well, advanced studying on a civil service career and he caught some disease which affected his body. He died the other day actually. And he lived ‘til he was fifty four. A non-drinker and all that sort of thing. And so he said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘If you’re going north to Leeds I’m going to go back to Cambridge.’ He had that option, you know. By then he was demoted. Still got money. But that was the benefit of working for the — they never had to sack them, they packed themselves in. They kept them on. So he kept his car and kept his life. Lived on his own with his mum, put it like that. So we never did that. I did another three or four years as a senior regional manager and then packed in.
MC: So, post war did you get involved in any reunions and associations?
RM: No. I I think I was, there was one case not long after when I went to volunteer my services. I forget. Somewhere in London. But I never got chosen.
MC: Volunteered your services for what? For —
RM: Sorry?
MC: What did you volunteer your services for?
RM: Well, just training.
MC: Oh right.
RM: By then there was the advancement of guns and all that. Kept improving and [unclear]
MC: But you don’t know whether there was a 90 Squadron Association or anything like that you could have joined?
RM: No. No. There definitely wasn’t.
MC: Oh right.
RM: Because I would have. But of course by then your civilian life had taken over. I had a wife, I had two children. By ’54, end of ’55, two children. A girl and a boy. And the RAF, they used to send you a catalogue sort of thing. But after a while I never went to any reunions ever. In fact I didn’t know where they were. But being the expenses and in between I had a dog job and I had, it’s not a joke my brother, elder brother he was, his name was Ronnie. He’s dead and gone now. He, he worked for a bookmaker in Wandsworth tick tacking. And he’d put, he used to go to all the races and dog tracks. He used to earn a lot of money and when I was short when I first went to London I didn’t have, I think was paid about eight shillings a week. Something like that. Because we used to queue up the staircase to the bosses first floor suite of rooms. There’d be a half circle of people maybe thirty or thirty five. Used to wait on this here every Friday. True. And eventually, ‘Maggs.’ You walked in to this office, opened the door and there was the assistant general manager. Had his desk laid out with all the names and all the money. The pay. Mine was about thirty two shillings a week. Something like that. [unclear] he stamps off. Anyway.
MC: What’s — I mean looking back on the war now, your war years do you have any, you know thoughts on the reasoning behind the war and how it turned out? And whether you did a good job?
RM: I don’t recollect I was concerned in the slightest. I obviously wanted England to win because I didn’t want to change my way of life. But other than that there was nothing. I wouldn’t have liked to have been a German. They didn’t do to bad in the end did they?
MC: Do you have much thoughts on Harris? Bomber Harris.
RM: Yes. I never, never met him or his team. None of those blokes who went on any special raids. But he was a distant figure. Inspiring in his words on television. And he never came to the squadron. I don’t know. I admired the man from a distance. What he said and what he helped achieve. He was a South African and, and I flew with South Africans to start off with.
MC: Yes. You said. Yeah.
RM: Yeah. Very nice. Very charming. Really charming bloke. Cigarettes. We used to get cigarettes from South Africa. He used to be very liberal on what he give away and he really was a nice chap. But Tom and I had our conversations. Tom, the other bloke, gunner, he used to, ‘What do you think of him?’ ‘He’s alright but I’m not that bloody keen about his flying.’ And it sort of increased atmosphere or the layout. And it was difficult. I mean we never saw him again after we pranged the kite. He pranged the aircraft. I had the fright of my life. Biggest fright because when he landed on no wheels, or one wheel and he went to starboard and it spun around and it stopped. And it was dead of night of course. No lights anywhere. Of course the other blokes. ‘I’m out.’ ‘I’m out.’ ‘I’m out.’ And I was the last one. I was mid-upper that night. Well, the mid hatch comes inwards. It doesn’t go outwards, it goes, well it did came one bit. Quite a big bit. Nothing else. But from the mid-upper you had nothing to tread on. To get in your turret you had a bar and a bar and the solid bar which your feet, you know trod on. So and you couldn’t stretch your leg. And of course I got this sort of and in the panic no doubt about it, panic I must have kicked the bar away because I was left hanging like this. I thought, and of course you heard these noises. People, ‘I’m gone.’ ‘I’m gone.’ ‘I’m gone.’ ‘I’m gone.’ Sod you. I’m stuck here. And I heard them shouting, ‘Come on Bob. You’re the last one. You’re the last one. Bob. Bob.’ Well, I didn’t enjoy that a minute. I let go under the armpits and stood on the aircraft. Looked around. Saw a pickaxe. A chopper. We used to carry them around the aircraft in cases. A black leather case. I tried to hook it on to the Perspex. It’s strong stuff you know. Perspex. And I couldn’t do it. And I’ve thought about it dozens of times how, and then somebody said, ‘Fire.’ I thought bloody hell. That’s the worse you want to be in. Fire. And one of the engines had sparked and burned some petrol. And so I didn’t know what to do. People were shouting and cars were drawing up and all this sort of thing. And all you could think of was self-preservation. It didn’t matter about anybody else at all. I’ve never said this to anybody but it’s true. I could have — the King’s rights. But it didn’t do me any good, [unclear] wasn’t very good. So I didn’t know what to do so I jumped down again. The second time I was trying to find, ‘Well, why didn’t you go that way.’ ‘Because sir, because smoke was coming from the front.’ Going through there. And you didn’t know. There was a wall of smoke building up. Coming in internally in to the aircraft. So you thought, well I don’t know what I thought to be truthful. One way was self-preservation. Stay at the top. And I couldn’t get through to it. But I got this chopper and I don’t know how I managed it. I pulled myself out through the turret and I came out through the turret. That meant just getting hold of the guns and sticking them on the floor, loosening them. I forget how I did it. And this was only a training raid. I thought oh sod me. You do don’t you? Well I did. I know I did. I said sod me. I was nineteen years old and I was —
MC: So that was when you decided that the, that South African wasn’t the man for you.
RM: Eh?
MC: That was when you decided the South African wasn’t the man for you.
RM: Well, it probably helped. You know, people were shouting, ‘Fire. Fire.’ And, ‘Starboard. Starboard.’ The starboard side. The aircraft was tipped in. I don’t know what I felt. I’ve never known. I’ve never. I’ve asked myself the question but I couldn’t face it really because —
MC: So you actually smashed the rear, the mid-upper turret did you? With the axe.
RM: Well, to be truthful I don’t know what I did to get out. I know when my head showed above the level of the aircraft someone saw a head move and said, ‘Oh Bob’s free and he’s alright.’ But even then you had to pull yourself through and you were still exposed you see because your mid-upper is on his own. See you either had to slip down by how many feet. Twelve feet, ten feet. Something like that, I know I didn’t have a very good, I know I had a fag but that was it.
MC: Was the aircraft a right off?
RM: The aircraft was written off as far as I know. I didn’t care about any aircraft. I didn’t care. To be truthful I didn’t care about anybody.
MC: No.
RM: No I didn’t. I’ll be honest about it. But these things are not daily occurrences thank goodness. Otherwise I wouldn’t have survived. They, they come and go. And the next crew you speak to down the line are a little bit wise. You had a prang and yeah what a [unclear] game this is. I did this and I did this. Make you laugh. When you think about it you laugh about it. But they were explaining it all to themselves you know. What a game this is. I’m not going to do this again. This lark.’ So there came a lighter life. As you, as you go on. They were great lads. They were really nice people. I’m sorry I didn’t make a career. I could have done. Talking to this here gunner that did. He became a FO Flying Embassy or something like that and he used to go around stations and stations in [unclear] coordinating training programmes and all that. He had a good job. Did that for twelve years. And then they said to him one day — and he became a salesman for a ladies perfume. He did alright. He’s still alive. Well he was. Six weeks ago he was alive. He lives nearby. Helping you if It’s possible. He would be available with a wider spectrum of the war after. But his deepest regret he never did the other one.
MC: But you didn’t. You decided you wouldn’t stay in. You decided you wouldn’t stay in.
RM: Oh yes. Well, I wasn’t offered anything. If I’d had been offered it I’d have considered it because I liked the RAF. I would. Nice ring as a warrant officer. You couldn’t keep it. You might get an officer interview but of course you see I never had no background. This, this lad his father was some major engineering person. His mother was well off so he came from the right background. I never. I came from right down.
MC: Well, Bob thank you very much for that. That’s been very good. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your time.
RM: A lot of jumble really.
MC: But thanks very much.


Mike Connock, “Interview with Robert William Maggs,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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