Interview with Alan Morgan


Interview with Alan Morgan
Interview with Ella Morgan


Alan Morgan was an apprentice toolmaker and therefore working in a Reserved Occupation when he volunteered for air crew with his friend and fellow apprentice. His friend was killed on his first operation. Alan trained as a flight engineer. On one operation the wireless operator lost consciousness when he was trying to get the door closed that had been blown open when they were attacked. Alan helped him but while he also tried to get the door closed he lost consciousness. His hands were exposed and during this time he developed frostbite. Alan was sent to East Grinstead to the care of Sir Archibald McIndoe and became a member of the Guinea Pig Club.




Temporal Coverage




00:46:29 audio recording


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AMorganA170413, PMorganA1701


SP: This is Suzanne Pescott. I’m interviewing Alan Morgan today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at Alan’s home and it is the 13th of April 2017. First of all, thank you Alan for agreeing to talk to me today. I’d just also like to say present at the interview is Ella, Alan’s wife of seventy years plus and his son Peter. So, first of all Alan do you want to tell me about your life before you joined the RAF? What was it that you did?
AM: Well, I was an apprentice toolmaker at Cooke and Ferguson’s, Openshaw and I was making tools for the Lancaster bomber. And the tools were the jigs and fixtures for the bomb doors. And I carried on then. In 1942 joining up. I went to join up for aircrew but they wouldn’t have me because I was in a Reserved Occupation you see. So, anyway there was two of us went down to join up. Gerald [unclear] and myself. Apprentice with me at Cooke and Ferguson’s. Then six months later or a few months later we’d, we went home. They sent us back home. They said we was in a Reserved Occupation and they sent us back home. Anyway, later on they advertised for Bomber Command aircrew and so we both joined up together. We just signed up for aircrew which was the [pause] well I think we joined up to, as flyers, you know. Like you see. Then we carried on. Carried on working. And then the war came so it was a matter of getting in the, you know wanting to get in the forces, the RAF and that was it. I carried on working as a tool maker. Apprentice toolmaker. And I don’t know what happened after that. We just carried on and joined the Air Force in —
EM: 1942.
AM: 1942. Yeah. It would have been December ’42. Yeah.
SP: Right. And did you say you joined up with your friend?
AM: Yeah.
SP: So, did you go to the same training with him? Did you go at the same time?
AM: No. He went in six months after me but as I got injured he went on his first. He went on his first operation and he was killed. On the very first one. That was Gerald [unclear] So, but oh while we was at Cooke and Ferguson I was in the Home Guard. I was also Fire Service. Looking after the factory, you know. Going on, examining, doing the roof. So, I think that was about all, you know.
SP: What sort of thing did you do in the Home Guard? What was the — what did that entail?
AM: Well, it was entailing going around the airfield — no, the reservoir at Audenshaw. You know. Guarding it [laughs] Supposed to be.
SP: Guarding the reservoir in Audenshaw. So, you were obviously keen to go as aircrew because you tried twice. So, what, what appealed to you about going to aircrew?
AM: Well, I wanted to go flying, you know. It was as simple as that. So we, I joined up and then I was called up to do a twelve week stint at Blackpool. Parading you know. We got our peak, white peak caps on. Then we got, I got posted down to St Athans. Yeah. I can’t, yeah — and then I did twelve week at St Athans.
EM: [unclear]
SP: So, Alan, what did you actually do at St Athans? What was it you there for?
AM: We were learning how to fly, you know. Being taught how to do the aircraft, you know. All about the aircraft. Flying conditions. As, I don’t really know what we did there but we passed out as flight sergeants, you know. Like sergeants rather. And when we, when we’d done our training there at St Athan I was posted to Swinderby where we crewed up. And we did. We got crewed up and then did us training on an old Manchester bomber. Training on that. A Halifax Mark 1, an early Halifax. And also an old Stirling that was there, you know. So, and then from Swinderby, I was there about three months. We went straight to Fiskerton. 49 Squadron. And there we started circuits and bumps and flight, you know learning how to fly the aircraft like you see. And [pause]
SP: So, at Swinderby, the crewing up. Do you want to talk me through that? How did you find the rest of the crew?
AM: Yeah. Well, we got crewed up at Swinderby and then we were moved to, at Fiskerton, 49 Squadron. And there we started. Well, really we were thrown in at the deep end. We started. We were soon on bombing raid because we got there on the December ’43 and we was down for ops, you know. We did circuits and bumps and —
[recording paused]
AM: Do the throttles on the doing. Start the four, start the four engines. Check everything and assist the pilot on take-off. Undercarriage. I used to do that up. All by instruction from the pilot though and then —
PM: So he, dad he’d ask for —
AM: I used to check all, I had to check all the engines on the flight. I had to check all the engines, you know. And [pause] well that was it, you know.
SP: And this was on Lancaster bombers did you say?
AM: Yeah.
SP: At Fiskerton.
AM: Yeah.
SP: Yeah. Ok. So, what — your crew. So, tell me a bit about your crew. Who were you crewed up with?
AM: Well, Jack Lett. He was a, he was a pilot, you know. He’d done, he’d done his training at Canada. Then there was Jock Irving, the rear gunner. He was my best pal, you know. Then there was Frank, the wireless operator. Then there was the bomb aimer. McIndoe. Oh no. Not McIndoe. Mac. Macke. And then there was Tommy Woods, the mid-upper gunner. Andy, the wireless operator. So, we was all pals together you know.
SP: And did you go out as a team? A group.
AM: Always. Well, I had a motorbike. I bought it off me dad in what —1944 I’d have that bike wouldn’t I? The motorbike. And Tommy Wood, the mid-upper had a little Morris car. And whenever we was on stand down we used to go to Lincoln, you know. All together. All the crew. Pile in his car and I’d always take some, take somebody on my motorbike. And then we used to, if and when I got a forty four hour pass I used to come home, you know. As long as I got back for Monday morning, I think 8 o’clock. So, that was it.
SP: So where did you used to go in Lincoln?
AM: Oh, we used to go — well, we were adopted by a café owner. Alice, she was called. And if we was ever in Lincoln you know we were stuck for a meal or a drink she used to provide it for us, you know. She was very good, Alice. But we used to go mainly in the sergeant’s mess you know for entertainment. For entertainment. But really we didn’t go a lot into Lincoln because we were so busy. Every day we was flying, you know. Training. And then when we was on it was short and swift. The Bomber Command. I was doing bombing runs on to Berlin six times. Which was terrible, you know. It was. You was lucky if you survived one let alone six times. Then I went to Leipzig. And that was on my twenty first birthday. Oh yeah [pause] It’s not got the, it’s not got the — oh Berlin. Yeah.
[recording paused]
SP: Ok, Alan. So, you’re talking about your different raids and you said you did two raids on your twenty first birthday.
AM: Yeah.
SP: So, do you want to tell me about those?
AM: Yeah. Well, the first raid was to Stuttgart, no Stuttgart it was but —sorry. Leipzig.
SP: That’s alright.
AM: Sorry. It was Leipzig. And then the second, the next raid was Stuttgart. And that’s when I lost, you know, I got frostbite. What happened, the door got blown open by heavy flak and skipper sent the wireless operator to close the door. He blacked out. Skipper sent me down and said, ‘You’d better see what’s happened to Frank.’ So, I went down with a spare oxygen bottle. Saw to Frank. Managed to bring him around a little bit and then I got him back to the main supply where his position was. He was ok. Then I went back myself. I managed to close the door and then I blacked out. And unfortunately, in the transition I’d took my gloves off and unfortunately my hands was exposed and they took the, they was exposed. How long I don’t know. But the skipper then dived down to ten thousand feet and at ten thousand feet I, oh, the bomb aimer came for me and between us we struggled back to the rest bed and then I flew home. And we made an emergency landing at RAF Ford on the south coast. And there they took me to, in the ambulance from the, from the aircraft straight to Chichester. And there [pause] whether they gave me wrong treatment I don’t know but they put me hands in saline gloves. Warm. Warm saline gloves. And unfortunately, according to McIndoe at the hospital where I was transferred from Chichester to East Grinstead it was the wrong treatment. So, immediately they got me to East Grinstead they put both my hands in ice buckets over me, that was slung over my bed. And from then on unfortunately they started going black at the tips and gradually they went black all the way up to the knuckles. And after about three or four weeks I had to have them amputated. And that was my, that was my finish I thought. You know. But while I was in hospital I kept coming home on leave, going back to the hospital. Having different operations because I had operation for all the tendons and the nerves shot, err cut down because they was hurting me every time I put my clothes on. So they did that. They did do one at a time. They wanted to do them altogether but I said, ‘No,’ I said, ‘One at a time.’ And I was ok. Independent with one hand, you know, bandaged up. Anyway, I, I survived all that lot but unfortunately I got pneumonia with the cold being on my chest. We think it was that or the shock of the operation. I don’t really know but I got pneumonia and they sent for Ella and my mum and dad. They came down to the hospital to see me, you know. But the war was still on, you know. We were still having raids in London and doodlebugs was flying over the area you know. It was, it was a hectic time really, you know. That was the, that was the end of my career as I thought but fortunately I I got an interview at Adastral. McIndoe put me in for aircrew again. And then I got my, I went to Adastral House. Passed for a, I suppose an assessment at Empire Air Navigation School at Shawbury. And I passed that and yeah I was — oh, we went to, I did the usual training exercises plus a trip to Gibraltar. And at Gibraltar we got fired on. We had, we had two pilots at the time so we got fired on by us own warships in the, you know to keep away. So we had to keep away from them. And the two pilots changed seats but one of them pulled the red, the emergency accidentally and pulled the wrong, and it blew off and smashed all the astrodome. So we was delayed at Gibraltar for about six days. And there I went shopping with the crew, you know. And I brought, I’d got a kit bag and I filled it with bananas and brought bananas home didn’t I? And they’d never seen bananas in England. It was, it was a good holiday that [laughs] I enjoyed it there at Gibraltar. And then I come home. I think I got married, didn’t I? Yeah. 10th of June 1944. And that was a big occasion. I remember that. So, I think that was about all, you know. Up ‘til that time.
SP: So, it sounds as though it was great to get back to doing something after you’d come out of hospital. Do you want to tell me a little bit about what life was like in the hospital at the time? What was —
AM: Well, it was like a [laughs] it was like a hotel really. There was a piano in the middle of the room and they used to be singing away. A big barrel of beer. And all the lads, all the lads used to trip out of bed and have a glass of beer. Or I used to have whisky though brought to me by Mrs Dewar, the Dewars whisky people, you know. And every morning she came visiting. I used to get whisky, you know. A drop of whisky.
SP: Was this some special — the treatment you had? It was part of a club did you say?
AM: Well, Mappin and Webb used to run therapy like. Major Mappin used to take us out for trips out in the pub in a big Lagonda, you know. He used to take us out. Those that could get out of bed, you know. And then we used to have trips to London Palladium. All the big shows, you know. They sent us tickets and we’d go. A party of us. I’d go down and have a night out, you know in London. It really was, it was alright. It was very very good.
SP: And did you say it had a name? You were a part because they were doing trial things for recovery. Was it called the Guinea Pig Club did you say?
AM: Yeah. Yeah.
SP: Ok. So, what, what was the Guinea Pig Club?
AM: Well, it was all the badly burned Battle of Britain pilots first started it. They formed a club. But as the, as the time went on Bomber Command, all the aircrew Bomber Command used to be Guinea Pigs as well you know because they was badly injured. And we kept together all these years right up to the, well up to the last year. The last year was us last reunion that we’d had with the Duke of Edinburgh being our president and he was there with us. I don’t know where it was at.
SP: At East Grinstead.
AM: No. That, we went to the —
AM: National Arboretum was it?
[recording paused]
SP: So, Alan was there anything else about the hospital?
AM: Well.
SP: That you want to say?
AM: Well, we used to go in the grounds. Ella was with me at that time. She’d come down visiting me and we sat in the grounds and we used to watch the doodlebugs fly over just above the height of the balloons. And one actually got tipped and the planes used to chase after them, you know. Sometimes they tipped them over with the wing or sometimes they’d shoot them down. But having said that we was in the grounds of the hospital, sat down and one doodlebug came down. It must have been a mile away and oh the blast from it. We could feel it at, couldn’t we? We could feel it. And the noise was terrific. And that, that happened once while we were down there. Oh, there was a lot of activity going on wasn’t there? Every day there was something going on. But having said that we survived it all, you know and we just carried on. You know.
SP: So, from, after the hospital you said you got married. And then what happened after you came out of the RAF?
AM: Oh, well I went back to Cooke and Ferguson’s. The Guinea Pig must have wrote to Cooke and Ferguson’s. Well, I think so. And I started there back on switch gear. Apprentice, you know. Apprentice. Yes. I was on switch gear for, no. And then I went on. I moved from switch gear to jig boring. And I went to the tool room. In a specially heated room and a special machine. And also there was a [unclear] in there I learned how to use that. And I carried on working there for about ten years isn’t it? Ten or more. I carried on working until the firm was taken over by a company in south of England and they made five hundred of us redundant. And from then on I went then, I went to different factories you know. One factory I went on a milling machine. And another factory I went jig boring. Another — but the hours were so long. They wanted me at work because I was in contract work and the hours were so long that I didn’t want the hours. I wanted to go out caravanning, you know. At weekends. But they always wanted me to work longer and longer and longer. So, then I moved from there. I give up that job. I went toolmaking at another contract firm. And I carried on tool making ‘til I finished. ‘Til I was sixty. Yeah. I retired, didn’t I? At sixty. And I’ve had a good life really. You know. I think so anyway. I’m worse now than I have [laughs] I have been because you know I’m always dizzy and I can’t remember, and I’m deaf [laughs] Oh dear. Dear. But we had a good life. And we’ve always gone abroad haven’t we with the caravan? Travelled all over Spain. Been to Germany. Been to Switzerland, Italy. Yeah. Oh, we’ve had some really good holidays with the caravan. Then we sold the caravan and I moved up to a motorhome and we travelled about in that, didn’t we? In fact, we’ve still got the motorhome in the, in the doings and I’ve give it Peter. He’s taken it over and he’s enjoying it I think, you know. Oh dear. So —
SP: So, how long have you been married now? You and Ella.
AM: How many years?
EM: Seventy two in June.
AM: Seventy two years we’ve been married. So I think she knows me by now, you know. Oh, I couldn’t have done without her. She’s been an absolute Godsend, helping me. She even, she even has to shower me you know because otherwise I’d flop down, you know. But I survive, don’t I? I have a morning in bed after a shower [laughs] To recover.
SP: So, Alan is there anything else you’ve not had a chance to say or anything else you think is important that you want to say? Anything else important you’d want to say before we finish the interview? Or anything you think you might have missed?
AM: Well, anything. That I’ve got a good family. Good job I’ve got Peter and Leslie to look after. You know, if there’s anything I want doing now they do. Yeah. Or Kenneth. Yeah. Kenneth, my eldest son. He’s, he was a retired, he’s a retired dentist. They’ve been brilliant with me. They look after me now. Oh dear. I couldn’t do without them. I couldn’t.
SP: It’s been a pleasure to do the interview with you Alan. So, thank you for sharing all those stories. So, thank you very much.
[recording paused]
SP: Ok. Alan so just chatting you’ve got a link to Vera Lynn. What’s —
AM: Yeah.
SP: What’s your link to Vera Lynn?
AM: Well, it was a party that she was invited to down at East Grinstead. Was it the hospital? Yeah. It was the hospital and she came to visit us all. And I knew she was, you know like I thought, well I’d make her something. I presented it to her at the hospital. And it was a bird box. A Blue Tit box. And I presented it to her at East Grinstead. The hospital. And she was thrilled to bits with it and she wrote me a letter thanking me. In fact, she wrote me two letters, didn’t she? First one thanking me and the second one was to tell me that the Blue Tits was, the Blue Tits was going in the bird box. And she was thrilled to bits wasn’t she? That’s a few years ago.
EM: About eight. At least eight years ago.
AM: About ten years ago.
SP: Brilliant. So, you made that bird box for her at home or at the hospital?
AM: Yeah.
SP: At home. Yeah.
AM: At home. I had to make them, a dozen at a time and sell them for —
SP: Charity.
AM: Fund for the hospital, you know.
PM: You’ve done all sorts, haven’t you?
AM: I did. I did a lot for the hospital, you know.
SP: Ok. Thank you for that.
[recording paused]
SP: So, this is Suzanne Pescott and I’m interviewing Ella Morgan today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at Ella’s home and it’s the 13th of April 2017. So, thank you Ella for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present in the interview is Ella’s husband Alan and son Peter. So, Ella do you want to talk to me about your war years and what you remember?
EM: Well, yes. The war started the year I started work. And eventually, when I was fifteen I did go to, I went to work at Cooke and Ferguson’s in the office. And while I was there like you do I met Alan and we started going out together. He worked in the Works and we kept together then all the time. Eventually he, he volunteered and he went into the Air Force and I stayed there. And on his first leave because we weren’t married I wasn’t supposed to have any time off. So, I took the week off, I went back to the office and they sacked me. So, I thought oh well there’s plenty of work in the war so I moved on and went to another office work in local English Steel. And I stayed there. And during the time I found out I was three times, in the Works they were getting more money than I did. So, I decided to go into the Works and I learned to drive the truck around the things and I learned to drive the crane. And I stayed there. And it was while I was there Alan had his accident in the Air Force. He’d been home. He hadn’t been on a proper leave. He just used to come home when they weren’t flying. When the weather was bad. And of course we got notification. It was his twenty first birthday actually and he was due to come home three days later. So, obviously his mother got notification saying that he was in hospital. And about a week or so later what happened he’d deteriorated. He was ill and he’d been asking for me, so they sent for his mother and father and me. So, we went down and he was really poorly. He had pneumonia and his hands were a mess. They were just like brown bananas. They said that he was very poorly but I just said, ‘Oh, he’ll come through. He’ll be alright. I don’t accept that.’ And I stayed and his father came home. His mum and I stayed a bit longer. Then we came home. When he started to recover we came home. He was on the way back. And then of course while he was at hospital they was doing all the things to him. At Easter, when it was holidays I took his sister down with me to East Grinstead. She was fourteen, I was eighteen. We went down on the train across London in to, and got the train to East Grinstead and you know there were all bombing and doodlebugs but we, we just sailed along Dorothy and I. And I took her to see him and he was alright. He was great. He’d, I think he’d had his, they’d amputated his fingers by then so he was in bandages. And, you know we saw the lads. You hadn’t got to stare at the lads and you hadn’t to go and help them until they asked you. So, I told Dorothy this and it was great. And while I was there he said, ‘Oh, I won’t work and I can’t get married.’ So, I said, ‘Right. We’re getting married.’ So I came home and I knew he was going to be out of hospital at the week. It was the Monday before D-Day. Yes. Monday before D-Day. And I arranged the wedding. Mum helped me. And his uncle and auntie was very good. His mum was good. So, we arranged the wedding. We had everything organised. I went down for him. He came home on the Monday. It was D-Day on the Tuesday down there and all the tanks were ready for going over. We could see them bypass us and things like that. Anyway, came home and we got married on the Saturday. We had our honeymoon. Everything. White wedding, everything. Everybody was absolutely superb helping us. And we had our honeymoon. Then he had to go back for his — and he went back every so often for operations all through the next year. He used to travel down. Then come home. As soon as he was able he got a pass to come home. He recovered at home. And he did that until they discharged him. And then when he was discharged he went flying for the Air Navigation School as a trainer, you know. And from there we’ve just had a wonderful life. It’s been great.
SP: That’s great, Ella. You said when you were down at the hospital there was a lot going in the grounds and things like that.
EM: Oh yes. Well, when we were at the hospital I mean the war was still in full swing and the doodlebugs used to go over. We used to watch them. And the Spitfires used to follow them and you could see they were trying to tip them to send them — they didn’t want the doodlebugs to get to London so they tried to get them to come down. If they set them off balance they dropped, you know. And there was one dropped while I was there and you really felt the blast of it I’ll tell you. But, you know that was life. You didn’t think oh I’m going to get killed. You just got on with it. We didn’t bother. You know. And when I was in the hospital they warned me not to go and help any of the lads because they were all very badly burned. And they said if you want, if they want to ask they’ll come to you and ask you. And I got to know all the lads and used to go out with them. In fact, two of them after we was married came and stayed with Alan’s mother. They came up to visit. And we were real friends with everybody. You didn’t, you didn’t look at the faces. It was the person. They were absolutely great, the lads. You know. And they all tried their best to get on with their lives. Of all of the ones down there I don’t think there was one that didn’t make a life after. And that was the secret of the hospital because it wasn’t run as a hospital. It was run as a home with injured, and the rules were totally different in the hospital. You could go in and out when you want. The lads could do that. And it was really was extraordinary. All due to Sir Archibald McIndoe. He was the instigator that did, that made it. Definitely.
SP: I think you were saying as well that a lot of the families down there were —
AM: Oh, yeah.
SP: Supporting and helping the hospital.
EM: Yes. When we went down there was a little estate around the hospital and they all opened their homes for us to visit. And one lady, her husband was in the army and I used to go and stay with her and her daughter every year. Every time I went down I used to stay with them. And they were like family friends eventually. The whole thing. And then you know they built a pub on the estate and it was called, they called it the Guinea Pig Pub. And every year after that we used to go down. And we all had, they had a darts match every, every Saturday morning. There was a darts match in the, in the pub and a meal for us. And then they used to go to the, the lads used to go to their AGM. And we used to have afternoon tea — the ladies, visitors in the, in the hospital. You know, everybody was so welcoming. It really really was. There was a very unusual atmosphere that, that I’ve never seen anywhere else. I think it was due to the severity of the burns and the lads. They realised they had to make them feel comfortable, you know. That’s it.
SP: That’s great. Thank you very much for that.
EM: Ok. Well.



Susanne Pescott, “Interview with Alan Morgan,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 24, 2024,

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