Interview with Alfred Meadows


Interview with Alfred Meadows


Alfred Meadows was born in London. He was keen to join the RAF as aircrew but didn’t pass the medical. He was posted as a driver to RAF Old Sarum from where he witnessed the bombing of Southampton. He was posted then to South Africa. He describes one occasion when he and a team recovered an aircraft fifty miles from the nearest road. Alfred still wanted to be aircrew and was finally successful and was trained as a navigator. He was posted back to the UK and joined 608 Pathfinder Squadron.







00:33:23 audio recording


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AMeadowsA161021, PMeadowsA1601


RP: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Rod Pickles. The interviewee is Alf Meadows. The interview is taking place in [deleted] on the 21st of October 2016. Also present is Alf’s daughter Hilary Preston and her husband David. Alf, this interview is all about you so if we could just have a little bit about your early life please and any memories you might have of that early life.
AM: Ok. Well, I was born in London. Forest Hill I think it was. I don’t remember the incident but I’ve been told. And when I was nine my dad got a job. Well, he had the job before but because of the circumstances he was offered a home in London to be nearer the work. And so I moved into Southwark. Number 1, Southwark Bridge Road at nine. And I went to school at St Olave’s Grammar School in, in London. So that’s where my memories really start. And I had an office job pushing a pen. Which I didn’t like but I couldn’t change it. I stayed at for far longer than I should have done. But then of course in September ’39 the war broke out and I immediately jumped at the chance of joining in as all the stupid youngsters did. I applied to be a pilot in the RAF but I couldn’t pass the medical test. I had to blow mercury up a tube and hold it there. And I couldn’t hold it there for long enough so they said, ‘What do you like doing?’ I said, ‘Driving.’ They said, ‘Right. You’re a driver.’ Ok. ‘You’re an RAF driver,’ and they sent me to Blackpool to learn how to drive. I had already got a driving licence but that didn’t stop that. My first posting was to near Salisbury in Wiltshire. I can’t remember the name.
RP: RAF Old Sarum.
AM: Old Sarum.
RP: Old Sarum.
AM: But it was a very, well it was thirty miles north of Southampton and I did see the bombing of Southampton sitting in an armoured car outside a hangar at the aerodrome. And when the bombs dropped in Southampton the hangar doors behind me shook. But I felt I was a safe distance away. But otherwise, apart from that it was a quiet situation and I must have got fed up with it because I know about Christmas time or after Christmas I suppose, I went and asked if I could have a more lively posting. And in no time at all I found myself [pause] where did they send me for that training? And in no time at all I was on a, on a troop ship in Glasgow waiting to set sail. Well, when it set sail I, it was a packed — I was sea sick for a week so I can’t say much about that. But when I came to I did find the trip on time and Pole stars and things. I knew we were heading near the coast of America and heading south until finally after three long weeks we finished up at Freetown in West Africa where presumably we refuelled. And after a day or two turned and continued south. So we had no idea where we were going. We were joined by a battleship and accompanied by a battleship there so we thought it might be somewhere interesting until finally finished up one evening in a beautiful harbour. And we saw the lights going on on the mountainside. And of course most of us realised it was Cape Town. We wondered what would happen then but within a very short time we were on a train and there was only one way you can go on a train from Cape Town and that’s north. So we went through many of the mining districts. Kimberly and so on and finally Bulawayo. And we wondered very much where Bulawayo was and we continued for another hundred miles until the small midlands township of Gwelo which we found out we was surrounded by at least seven RAF camps for various training. From Tiger Moths to [pause] I’ve forgotten that name again.
RP: Harvard.
AM: Harvard. Single-engined Harvards for pilot training. And I wound up at Thornhill at one of these camps. And I stayed there on, I think it was three and a half years. It was very interesting. These pilots had been through the Tiger Moth stage and they were doing the flying on their own and we had quite a lot of adventures on that. Picking up, finding our way to wrecked aircraft and picking them up and so on. But I was trying all the time to get a posting for aircrew but, and at last it came. That was after a good three years. I think it was three and a half years. And while I was taken off the driving for that and I was sent to an out, outlying bombing station where I was LACICMT. LACICMT. ME. Motor. MT. Motor Transport.
RP: Yeah.
AM: That was something. I — what did I have there? Oh, I had two or three vehicles and a mechanic and a first aid man. And it was our job to keep an eye on the bombing ranges and supervise the bombing. Which I did for six months. And finally my posting came through for the aircrew training. Where did I go for that? I’m trying to remember. Anyway, it was one of these camps in Rhodesia but that didn’t last very long because I went to a, a flying training, to a Tiger Moth camp as first training and I managed to put the Tiger Moth through a fence. They didn’t, wouldn’t stop. I found that, that was how I found the Tiger Moths didn’t have any brakes [laughs] So, I remember being interviewed by those smart RAF gentlemen who said he didn’t think piloting was my mark but perhaps I’d make a better navigator. So I was posted to Moffat which was a navigator training station. And in due course I passed though the test there and became the proud owner of a badge. Shortly afterwards we were posted. When that, when that course finished we were posted. Most of them hadn’t been abroad for long and so they went off to somewhere for action stations but I’d been out there for, I think it was four years and so I got posted home. Harrogate.
RP: So how did you get back? Did you come back by ship?
AM: Yes. We came back through the, through the Canal. And Gibraltar. And there we stuck back at Harrogate. We stuck there for months. I got moved around a bit. There was one spell we were at Gretna Green where we got a bit of flying in. They teamed us. There were a lot of RAF, newly trained RAF pilots there and a lot of newly trained navigators. When we had time in between the five mile runs that we did every afternoon [laughs] they’d give one of the pilots the key of the Tiger Moths and gave me a map and say, ‘Go and get lost for a couple of hours.’ And that was enjoyable. It was over the Lake District. We used to shoot up the Lake District mountains which was rather fun. What happened then? But we just went on waiting and I was nearly a year waiting for the operation. Before going to a squadron you had to go to an operational. Operational Training Unit. OTU. And that came eventually. And you told me some time ago where it was. It was somewhere in the Midlands. And that was fun and I enjoyed that. And it was there that I had a very lucky stroke because we were doing cross-country. A night cross-country. And we were given a wind, course that navigation then was all by wind and, wind and luck. And we were given a wind that was completely wrong, and when I got a fix that I knew was right I had the choice between using my fix or using the one I was given. Well, it was very tempting to use the one I was given but I was so sure of my reckoning that I used mine. I was one of the, we were one of the few kites to get back in time. The others all got lost all over the country. They were using the —
RP: So, this was in a Mosquito.
AM: Yeah.
RP: In a Mosquito.
AM: They used the wind they were given because they didn’t trust their own [laughs] So I think that’s how I got my above average grading. And that got me a posting to this Pathfinder squadron.
RP: So that was at Warboys.
AM: Warboys.
RP: Warboys.
AM: Yeah. Well, I was there some [pause] it was only a matter of a few months. And I was teamed up. What they did then was teamed up a pilot with lots of experience and a newly trained navigator with a good record. And I was teamed up with this chap. He was a Welshman. He’d been an instructor in Canada for years and years and so he was a highly skilled pilot but he didn’t fancy going. He was either recently married or just getting married and he didn’t fancy flying Mosquitoes. So I got turned off from, separated from him and flew with all kinds of — a Anybody who had a, had a flight and hadn’t got a set navigator I flew with them for a bit.
RP: What rank were you at this time then?
AM: Flight sergeant.
RP: Flight sergeant.
AM: I nearly said flight lieutenant but I wasn’t [laughs] And, well, that lasted perhaps a couple of months and I did those low-level ones. One to Hamburg. And one to somewhere on the Danish coast where there was a German training course. Yeah. So that was over, mainly over the North Sea.
RP: Was that a reconnaissance flight rather than a bombing run? Or were you —
AM: It wasn’t a bombing run. No. It was just to show we were still around. As the one, I think it was Hamburg where we passed low enough to get fists shaken at us which was much preferable I thought [laughs] to what they could have done. And then that finished and well it was at that time that the Americans dropped the atomic bomb and so our posting, I suppose that was with Taffy. That was the Welshman who didn’t want to go and win the war for anybody.
RP: So what, how did you get chosen for a Mosquito? Was there a choice of aircraft or were you told?
AM: Oh no. It was, this was at 608 and that was the Mosquito Pathfinder Squadron.
RP: So you were given to the squadron.
AM: Yeah.
RP: You didn’t have a choice of aircraft.
AM: Oh no. They were all, that was, it was Pathfinder Force. That is something I never did understand because I felt at the end of the war I should have got something from Bomber Command. But when I made some enquiries this Pathfinder Force wasn’t Bomber Command. I never did understand it. So I haven’t got any. They gave me, what was it they give me instead? France and Germany Star. Which wasn’t the same as the Bomber Command that I expected. So I rather wondered if and why and what I had any connection with Bomber Command and I’m still wondering.
RP: Well, I think they, because they were Pathfinding for the bomber force.
AM: Yes.
RP: I assume that was the connection, wasn’t it?
AM: You see our job was dropping flares. We didn’t carry bombs. You had several coloured flares for the day. Three or four different colours. And our job was to go in second, minutes ahead of the bombing, bombing force and low down. At rooftop height. Drop the flares on where you could. You see the early bombing raids of the war were way off. If you got a bomb within five miles of the target you were doing well. So they had to improve it and they did it with the improved navigation schemes and then the bombing force [unclear]
RP: So who actually was dropping these flares then? Was that your responsibility?
AM: That was mine.
RP: So you were sort of, not exactly a bomb aimer.
AM: No. I did —
RP: But as one of your duties.
AM: Well, I go. I had. Yes. I did. I think I was a navigator bomb aimer.
RP: That was your designation. Yeah. Yeah.
AM: Yeah. What used to be called an observer in the early days. So, if we were going very low, dropped these coloured flares and get out of the way quick because the bombers would drop them from above. It used to be funny because I didn’t do any of the operational ones. But they, they used to get home and be sitting having their cup coffee when the heavy bomber crews turned up. Nobody believed they’d actually been. Anyway.
RP: But did the Mosquito feel safe to you then?
AM: Oh yes. Lovely.
RP: You felt safe.
AM: A lovely aeroplane. Very fast. I know I saw over four hundred on the clock once going downhill. But then the war finished and I got demobbed. Went to a teacher’s training place and stayed there how many years? Thirty perhaps.
RP: So it was your choice to be demobbed. You could, could you have stayed on do you think?
AM: I don’t remember that we were ever asked.
RP: That was just something that you —
AM: I’d had five years of it so I would probably have said no thank you.
RP: So what, what’s the most memorable thing from that five years do you think? Of your career in the RAF?
AM: To survive it uninjured.
RP: Even, even in Africa.
AM: Oh yes. We used to have some adventures there. Some of them are written down in that.
RP: Yeah.
AM: Bit of —
RP: We can take that later. Yeah.
AM: Yeah. All sorts of things. It was very much driving in rough country. An aeroplane, or the pilot didn’t choose where he put down if he had trouble.
RP: No.
AM: And he’d be fifty miles off the nearest road. The bush track. There’s one yarn in there that springs to mind. It was an Anson I think it was and I don’t know where it had come from and it ran out of fuel. And this chap put it down successfully on an open space. And then of course it was a question of what are you going to do with an undamaged Anson fifty miles to the nearest road. So, I was very friendly with the education, not the education —engineering officer and so we had a, we went out and had a look. It was a long open space. And he said, ‘I think that we could, instead of dismantling the thing and taking it away back to camp fifty miles without any roads,’ he said, ‘I think, you know I think if we swing it off the ground he could take it off.’ So that’s what they decided. So we went out, cut the grass and the mole hills and things and then had to find a pilot to take it. And they produced a young man who was most unhappy about it [laughs] He said, ‘I’ve been through the Battle of bloody Britain. I’m not going to break my neck here.’ And, but then he either had to risk it or say no and that would have ended his career. So we sent, we went out eventually and spent some days smoothing it out as best we could. And then they brought him out. He had a look at it and he didn’t like it one little bit. But in the end we, he had, we got it he got it all lined up and we were holding it back by the wings while he ran the engines up. I think it could only have been just out of fuel. I don’t know. The first time we tried it slinging sideways and that didn’t improve him. I was near the wing somewhere and I could see the perspiration running down his nose and dripping off his nose. And they did it again and the second time, oh just before it they decided there was something wrong with the pump for the pumping up the undercarriage. No. And so he had to have somebody aboard to do that for him. He couldn’t do it himself. And so they asked for volunteers. Straightaway one of the ground crew said, ‘Ok. I’ll go.’ What struck me was the difference between these two. The pilot — he knew what he was doing. He was bracing himself. And this other chap just wanted to get back to camp quickly. And I’ve always remembered that. There was one lad who knew what was happening. The other bloke just wanted to get back to the dance hall. Anyway, eventually it took off and we saw it go down the hill, disappear out of sight and then climb away beyond. And came back and took our heads off as he came back. One of the —
RP: He made it back to base then.
AM: Yeah. Oh yes.
RP: So you mentioned, I mean going back to base. Was there a reasonable sort of social life out in Africa then?
AM: What’s what?
RP: A reasonable social life. Did you, I mean –
AM: Only camp, and that’s all. Gwelo was not a lively place I must admit. Salisbury I think was a bigger town. What’s it called now? I’ve forgotten. I expect, no, you wouldn’t remember. When I, when I was posted in the first place they didn’t know, they knew I was on a troop ship but of course they didn’t hear from us, from me for six weeks getting to Salisbury. And eventually I must have got a letter home I suppose because I remember I was told that my mum said, ‘Six weeks? Salisbury’s only ninety miles down the road.’
RP: Different Salisbury.
AM: Different Salisbury [laughs] She couldn’t understand why I’d taken six weeks to get there.
RP: Yeah.
AM: So I had an easy time there. I mean those little adventures I had were just that. I did get struck by lightning once though.
RP: You got struck by lightning.
AM: Well, the aeroplane.
RP: Oh the aeroplane. Oh right [laughs]
AM: That’s another one of those. That was when I was starting the navigator training. Air appreciation flight it was.
RP: Right.
AM: And we were tootling along and I was checking the drift because we didn’t have all this modern sophistication. We had to find how much the aircraft was drifting owing to the wind. And I’d done my stint and got back into the seat. And my partner was just, he lived in Taunton by the way, Owen [Bogg?] and I was, got back to my seat and he was just pushing past to get by, to lie down to sight the drift and both engines stopped dead. There was a lot of exclamations. I can’t repeat it because he was an Afrikaner. Just as well [laughs] I don’t know what he said but it was quite rough. I think his first shout was, ‘Prepare to take crash stations.’ And then he changed it. No. His first shout was, ‘Prepare to jump.’ And then a few minutes afterwards, ‘Alright. I’ve spotted an open space. Take crash stations.’ And we sat down and braced ourselves and eventually we bumped into trees. We were over trees about like those out there. And we hit the tops, tops of those and then hit the bigger and eventually came to a stop. Came to a stop. The fuselage. It was an Anson, I think. The fuselage broke in half. When I looked back over there, there was one engine lying on the ground a few hundred yards behind and the thing slid to a stop. And nobody was seriously hurt.
RP: Good grief.
AM: Except the monkeys who came out of the trees and were gibbering. Wondering what had happened. And, well we had a radio I suppose. And eventually got in touch with a local police station and they sent a truck out to pick us up. And eventually we got back [Soliloquy?] that’s come back hasn’t it? A village nearby. And got ourselves a lift back to camp.
RP: It didn’t put you off flying then.
AM: We were very lucky. There were quite a few of us and there was no serious injuries. You never met Harry I suppose. He was, he lived by the, he worked on the railway in Taunton. I came to see him after we came home but I don’t know what happened to him.
RP: So who was Harry? Was he —
AM: Pardon?
RP: Who was he? Harry. Your friend. What did he, was he the same as you?
AM: He was a navigator trainee as I was. Yeah.
RP: So when, when you came back.
AM: Here. After the war.
RP: Yeah. So back in England in the RAF did you find you were quite happy with the RAF life or was — ? Did you take to it?
AM: I had a year without any real contact. They just posted me around one town to another. I didn’t do anything useful for a year because they had too many pilots and navigators trained. There hadn’t been the losses that they’d expected I presume. But eventually I got to the OT. Occupational Training Unit.
RP: So in that year what did you actually do then? You just, you were on an RAF station then.
AM: Yes.
RP: Just.
AM: I had a lot of leave. But the place was flooded with trained aircrew. And I suppose the operational units were crowded. Oh. I had a [pause] I don’t remember much of that but it was the best part of a year I know. Then finally I went to — where was it? I did say I believe. Somewhere in the Midlands for the OTU.
RP: Yeah. Because you went to Banbury first and then to Warboys. Yeah. Ok.
AM: Oh, I went. Oh yes. Right at the end of the war and 608 was closed down and so I was posted then to Warboys. But I didn’t do any flying in Warboys. I was there probably a month. A week or two. I don’t remember. And then I got my discharge. Oh, that’s right. Those last few months I was still a flight sergeant and got flying pay but I was sent as a driver to a hospital as their ambulance driver. So I spent those last few months, no probably weeks back at driving the RAF vans.
RP: You must have been the highest paid ambulance driver in the RAF.
AM: I think so. That didn’t, that didn’t dismay me. And I suppose I did that for a couple of months. That would be some of that year of course. And I had the ambulance quite a bit. I know I went to a hospital in Banbury with somebody who had a head injury. I don’t know really how much use I did but that filled in several months. A couple of months perhaps out of the — and that was interesting. I’m trying to think of the name of the little town.
RP: So, have you, have you ever been back to Banbury or Warboys or anywhere you were before? No?
AM: No.
RP: Old Sarum?
AM: Oh wait a minute. I did call. I did call back at [pause] once coming back from going up north I called in. Where was it? I was at the [pause] where was it? With the RAF Mosquito squadron, 608.
RP: You went to Banbury or Warboys.
AM: Warboys.
RP: Yeah.
AM: No. That was afterwards.
RP: That was afterwards.
AM: It was before that. The one I was at the longest.
RP: I thought it was Banbury.
AM: Downham Market.
RP: Downham Market. Yes. Downham Market.
AM: I did call in there one day because I know I found the [laughs] I went and found the crew room and it was full of chickens. It had been turned into a chicken shed.
RP: Well, most of, most RAF places have.
AM: It was some years after the war of course. Yeah.
RP: So, then for the rest of your life you were a teacher then. Yes?
AM: Yes. And, well yes. When I got out of teaching. I finished up working for the Road Safety people. I was a schools liaison officer. And I was a driving instructor too.
RP: That driving experience came in useful then.
AM: Yeah. No. Hilary won’t remember my driving, driving instructor experiences. No. I did it in your very early years I’m sure.
RP: Ok.
AM: And then when we retired in the early ‘80s we could retire then you see at sixty or sixty one I think it was. We spent twenty five years of travelling. Which are, there are worse ways of spending —
RP: Oh yes. Absolutely.
AM: Yeah.
RP: Well, thank you Alf it’s been fascinating listening to all that.
AM: If you —
RP: I’m delighted to have listened to it. Thank you.
AM: Well, if anybody finds anything interesting in it they’re welcome.
RP: I’m sure they will. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you. Ok thanks very much.
AM: We’ve got several copies of that.
HP: I’ll —
RP: Have you got, you’ve got more. Oh yes.
AM: Yes.
RP: They would like to see that. I’m sure.
AM: I know we’ve got three copies.
RP: Oh right.
AM: I’ve got two.
HP: So, should we photocopy it or scan it?
RP: Well, I’ll contact Peter and see what he says.
HP: Get them to give me a call.
RP: Because what they normally do sometimes if you’re not happy about scanning it you can send it to them. They scan it and send it back to you.
HP: Yeah.
RP: Or if you’re happy to scan it.
HP: Dave can scan. Can’t you?
RP: According to those instructions if you’re happy to scan it and send the JPEGs to them they’re happy with that.
HP: Ok.
RP: If it fulfils that format on there they’d be more than happy.
HP: Well we, ok.
RP: I’ll tell Peter I’ve given you the instructions so that, no that’ll be fascinating. That’s the sort of, exactly the sort of thing they want to see. Especially photographs. They love those.
AM: There are some photographs in there.
RP: They’ll like that.
AM: Whether there’s any, I’ve got any more I don’t know.
RP: But if you’ve got any more you know.
AM: Not any more war times things I don’t think.
RP: But obviously I’ll mention the logbook to them because you never know. They might know about this museum at West Malling. They might be able to track it down.
HP: That would be interesting.
RP: Where the archive went to.
AM: I’d like to. That was silly of me to give that up. It was a new museum opening.
RP: Right.
AM: And they were scrambling for bits to put in it.
RP: If they find it I promise you’ll get to read it.
HP: That would be good.
AM: There’s not a lot in it.
HP: If it’s located it would be good.
RP: But they have, yes they do have, it’s amazing how many logbooks sort of suddenly appear because its always been at the bottom of a cupboard.
AM: Yes.
RP: You know. It’ll suddenly appear.
AM: Did you ever meet that friend of Eddie’s?
HP: Oh no. The Peter.
AM: No. Not the teacher.
HP: Peter.
AM: Peter yes. My brother had a pal who was — what was he on? Lancs I think. And he oh the hours he did. Oh, he did thousands.



Rod Pickles, “Interview with Alfred Meadows,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 23, 2024,

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