Interview with Peter Parker


Interview with Peter Parker


Peter Parker grew up in Gainsborough. He had hoped to be a pilot but was unsuccessful, however as he had taught himself Morse code in his shed at home he trained as a wireless operator and became an instructor. He was posted to RAF Yatesbury and trained hundreds of wireless operators during his posting. After the war he returned to work in Gainsborough for Jackson Shipley, a builder’s merchants company, while also being a Civil Defence Instructor.




Temporal Coverage




00:46:16 audio recording


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HH: Alright. So it’s Wednesday the 6th of January 2016 and I am sitting with Mr —
PP: You know I’m a bit —
HH: With Mr Peter Parker —
PP: Yes.
HH: In his home in [deleted] Gainsborough.
PP: Yes.
HH: And we’re going to talk about his life and his time in Bomber Command during World War Two. Peter, thank you very much for agreeing —
PP: Yes.
HH: To be interviewed.
PP: Yes.
HH: I wonder if we could start by asking you a little bit about where and when you were born and where you grew up and went to school.
PP: I was, oh yes I could do that now. Yes. Yes. Yes. I was born in Gillingham, Kent. And my father was an Admiralty Inspector. He, and [pause] I’m stuttering now. My father was an Admiralty Inspector in Chatham Shipyard and during World War One. And in World War Two he worked, he was allocated to Marshalls in Gainsborough as an Admiralty Inspector on big guns. My, my, when I was ten my parents separated. And my father, we went up to live in Newcastle. And when I was ten my parents separated and I came down to Gainsborough.
HH: And have you been here ever since?
PP: I’ve been here ever since. Yes. Yes. Yes, I’ve been ever since. Yes. Yes. I came down at the time of the eleven plus and I wasn’t allowed to. I didn’t take the eleven plus at all. The headmaster gave, gave me special education in his office. There was two of us. Two lads. And of course as soon as war broke out, oh and then of course I got a job as a, in a local builder’s merchants and I bought my first car. And then when I first came out the RAF I bought a Triumph Speed Twin motorbike. Six fifty motorbike. And — no, I bought a — can you deduct all the bits you don’t want? No?
HH: You carry on because these are all interesting.
PP: Yeah. It has taken me by surprise. This has really.
HH: And where did you go to school in Gainsborough then?
PP: I went to school in Gainsborough too. I was the first pupils in Benjamin Adlard School on Sandsfield Lane.
HH: Gosh.
PP: Yes. With Hillier the headmaster. And he was very good. Very good indeed. And —
HH: So when war broke out how old were you?
PP: When the war broke out I was nineteen.
HH: And what made you volunteer for Bomber Command?
PP: Oh, I didn’t volunteer for Bomber Command. I wanted to be a pilot.
HH: You just wanted to be a pilot.
PP: Didn’t mind what I wanted to be.
HH: Ok.
PP: Yes. So, and all that happened was that they agreed that I could be a wireless operator/air gunner. So when I came back, my parents separated and, and I lived in Gainsborough. My mother went down to London. She got a job down in London and I was brought up by grandma, my grandfather. And grandad, he was the manager of the local Co-op branch in Gainsborough. Do you know Gainsborough?
HH: Yes.
PP: Well where the number 1 is, where the Yarborough Pub used to be, at the side of it there was a Number 1 Branch. And in those days it was the most effective branch of the, when the Co-op first started in Gainsborough. And so I, I lived there and I joined the Rowing Club and I used to row on the River Trent. And what happened after that? Oh then of course the war broke out and they, he signed me up and I was going to be a wireless operator/air gunner. But they didn’t want me straight away. It might be six months before I was called up. So I was called up and went to Blackpool and these are all the photographs of —
HH: Now, was that where you were, where you did your training?
PP: Well, I was, I was nineteen when I was first called up and got trained. Training at, all these photographs of when I was, when I was at Blackpool you see.
HH: So you were called up.
PP: Pardon?
HH: You were called up.
PP: Oh no. I volunteered.
HH: So you volunteered. Ok.
PP: They signed me up when I first tried to be a pilot you see.
HH: Ok.
PP: But I couldn’t.
HH: So were, did you go to an Operational Training Unit in Blackpool then?
PP: Oh no. No. We went to Blackpool to learn Morse. I was completely, didn’t know one thing from another. So when I came back — I used to breed budgerigars and I used to breed budgerigars in, in my grandma’s shed. And when I came back after being signed on as it were, well I was signed. I was signed on as Volunteer Reserve at that point. And when I came, when I came back I bought a Morse buzzer and I bought a Morse key and I bought the batteries and I wired it up so I could send Morse. And I asked, every time when I finished work at 6 o’clock at half past six I had, I had an hour in my garden shed with the chattering budgerigars and the Morse key and the buzzer and I was sending Morse. That happened for about six months. I’m getting in line now. That happened about six months. And one night there was a knock on the door. Quite a rather impatient knock at the door. And I went to the door and I opened the door and there were two policemen outside and a sergeant and a constable. And they’d been, they’d been warned of hearing Morse signals above the budgie chatter every night sending, somebody sending Morse [laughs]. You see. And of course I had to show them my papers and I told them what I was doing. And he said, ‘Oh good for you lad. You’re very good.’ And so that’s alright. And that, that was that it. Then about three months later I was called up to Blackpool.
HH: And how long were you in Blackpool?
PP: In Blackpool about six to eight months. They took us up to Morse. It’s all in here. They took us up to up to Morse, up to twelve thirteen words a minute Morse you see. And six, and half a day Morse and half a day square bashing. So we had a rare old time [laughs] in Blackpool for that, that time. Yes. And then when I, when we, when we qualified to get up to that we were posted to Yatesbury and then we did our first flying which was the first.
HH: Did, were you in Yatesbury for the duration of the war more or less then?
PP: Pardon?
HH: After that were you at Yatesbury more or less for the rest of the war?
PP: Oh yes. Oh yes. Yes. Yes. These are all the flights I did you see.
HH: Do you — how many? Do you know off hand how many?
PP: Well, in that time I’d done, I’d done —
HH: Six hundred.
PP: I didn’t do it but the Gainsborough News, over six hundred. Over six hundred. But that was only half of them because he counted them. I’ve been in the Gainsborough News several times. And I’m on, I’m on, on the computer. I’m on what the hell do you call you on the computer? If you read up Peter Parker, RAF, Gainsborough in the —
HH: I’ll find you will I?
PP: But it’s all, oh yes, but it’s all in here.
HH: Ok. I’ll have a look.
Other: It’s at the Gainsborough Heritage Centre. He’s had an exhibition in the Gainsborough Heritage Centre with all his photographs and things.
HH: Fantastic.
Other: When they did a Bomber Command Exhibition about a couple of years ago.
PP: So that’s —
Other: At the Gainsborough Heritage Centre.
PP: There was one of the lads, you see that I was with staying at Blackpool and that [pause] where am I? I’m here. I’m there. And —
Other: There’s loads of stuff here to see.
PP: As I say they were all killed. Fifty of us went under the Empire Air Training Scheme and they trained pilots, navigators in Canada and America. In South Africa. But I was —
HH: Did you ever visit any of those places?
PP: Did I?
HH: Did you visit any of those places?
PP: No. Oh no. I wasn’t put there. No. I’d been here all the time.
HH: You were, you were at Yatesbury.
PP: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Oh I’ve been, I was up at Elsham Wolds. That was a Lancaster squadron.
HH: It was.
PP: And I’ve, it’s in my flying logbook. I I was on Training Command you see. And they were so busy that night they didn’t want, they hadn’t time to bother with me much. They said, ‘Bugger off home. And if anybody asks you what you’re doing tell them you’re on day off.’ And he said, ‘I’ll have you a flight organized by next Thursday.’ And I came back on the Thursday and he stuck me in with a crew and they, they’re job was to go up and they’d got photographers as well. Photographers training, ‘Well this is your briefing. You’re going up to Newcastle. You’re going to bomb, photograph one of the bridges. Then you’re going to bomb it. And then you’re going up to the, to the Shetland Islands and you’re going to bomb a place at the Shetland Islands. But before you bomb it, the bomb aimer presses his button you, you’ve, we want you we’ve got to photograph it.’ So we go in and photograph it for the photographers.
Other: That was, that’s —
PP: And then, and then, and that was it.
Other: That’s my dad look there. That was a Dominie and that’s the wireless instructors so.
HH: This is great thank you.
PP: Where’s that — ?
HH: I’ll have a look at that.
PP: Where’s that other book there?
Other: That’s it.
PP: There.
Other: Pardon?
PP: The other. This one look. Pass me that one Jane. This one.
Other: Oh that was the opening of the Spire that one. That’s at the opening of the Spire.
PP: Where is it? No. Where’s the other one like this? Is it around the corner there?
Other: I don’t know dad.
PP: That’s in Switzerland. You’re not interested in that are you?
HH: Is that, is that after the war?
PP: Yeah.
HH: We can look at that after when we’ve talked some more.
Other: That’s up there. They just want —
PP: Have a look at it.
Other: No. She doesn’t want that.
HH: Wonderful.
PP: You can —
HH: Yes. I think that’s that one isn’t it?
PP: Eh?
HH: That’s, that’s a bigger version.
PP: That’s all there.
HH: Yeah.
PP: That’s all there.
HH: So what did — did you train air gunners, wireless operators for various different kinds of aircraft?
PP: Oh yes. In the air. When I was first an instructor I was, I was on Blenheims. Oh dear dear dear. Blenheims.
HH: Halifaxes.
PP: The early. The early, early bombers. There was Blenheims.
HH: Manchester.
PP: No. No, that’s no that’s the —
Other: Halifaxes.
HH: Halifaxes.
PP: No. They’re the four bombers.
HH: Stirlings.
PP: Stirlings, yes. And — well they’re all in —
Other: Lancasters.
HH: And then Lancasters a bit later were —
PP: That’s, that’s another. That’s [pause] that’s me there you see. See what it tells you [pause] Six hundred and twelve flights, in. That was in 1943 but at, shortly after that I did, oh I can’t tell you the full. I’ve done more than that anyway. If you read that —
HH: That’s a lot.
PP: If you read that that’ll tell you all about it. And that’s, you would be at this would you, this? Yes.
HH: Yeah. I was there.
PP: That’s, that’s that one. That’s that one that’s up there.
HH: Yeah.
PP: Yeah.
HH: These are wonderful. This is a great story.
PP: Pardon?
HH: We’ll, we’ll make a copy of the story for the Archive as well.
PP: That’s here look.
HH: And that was you at the opening of the —
PP: Yes.
HH: At the unveiling of the Spire.
PP: But this fella mustn’t be touched at all.
Other: Benjamin. We don’t want any pictures of Benjamin because Benjamin, because he’s —
HH: No. No. We won’t.
Other: No. Because with him being in the RAF and his job.
HH: Yeah. No, that’s absolutely fine.
Other: I get told off. Well, I get told off.
PP: That’s all, these are all Claire’s pupils.
HH: That’s right.
PP: Has she shown you them? Oh you’ve seen all these then.
HH: Yeah.
PP: That’s, I was second one here somewhere. I think that’s my bald head there.
HH: Did you enjoy that day?
PP: Eh? Lovely.
HH: Did you enjoy the day?
PP: Oh yes. It was a grand day. Every aircraft. Look. It tells you here look. Due to overflight.
HH: That’s right. Blenheim.
PP: Every, every aircraft that flew. Yes. The Lancaster.
HH: And the Lancaster was supposed to fly but didn’t.
PP: Yes. Yes.
HH: And then the Vulcan last.
PP: The Vulcan. That’s right. Yes.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
PP: And they came around and just swept past. Well, you’d have seen all that.
HH: Yeah. It was very, very moving.
Other: It’s a pity I couldn’t have gone really but I had to look after mum so — yeah.
PP: And presumably, presumably some of these, these girls had relations that were on that.
HH: Yeah.
PP: But don’t —
HH: No.
PP: No.
HH: Understood.
PP: That’s him there. You see.
HH: Yeah.
PP: That’s Claire’s, that’s Claire’s —
HH: Fantastic day.
PP: She probably told you about that.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
PP: Has she?
HH: Yeah.
PP: But this is my, this is —
HH: That’s a very lovingly made scrapbook. I can tell.
Other: Yeah.
PP: This is right from the beginning, you see. This [pause] that’s giving all —
HH: These are all copies of your qualifications.
PP: That’s Guy Gibson.
HH: Have you, did you know Guy Gibson?
PP: Oh no. I’d nothing to do with him. No.
HH: No.
PP: That’s just cuttings that I found in newspapers.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
PP: That’s an instructor with his five cadets you see.
HH: So that’s very similar to the job you did.
PP: Pardon?
HH: That’s very similar to the, to the role you played.
PP: Yes.
HH: As an instructor.
HH: Yes that’s — yes.
PP: No known survivors. I didn’t know. Not know. Didn’t know.
HH: So sad. I mean the attrition rate was so high in Bomber Command wasn’t it?
Other: Yeah. It was. Yeah.
PP: You can take this and sort this out if you want to. Do you want to take this?
HH: That would be lovely but what we’ll do is we, what we do is with with collections like this is that we, we will photograph it as if it is a scrapbook.
Other: Ok.
HH: So it comes out just like the scrapbook.
Other: Yes.
HH: Rather than individual pictures or anything.
Other: Oh brilliant.
HH: We will keep it as a scrapbook.
Other: Yeah.
HH: So that’s how it will be presented.
Other: Oh lovely.
HH: Yeah.
PP: Have you come across that? Look. Take an example. A hundred airmen. Fifty one were killed.
HH: On operations.
PP: And nine killed on active service. Three seriously injured. Twelve taken prisoner of war. One shot down. One survived.
HH: One survivor.
PP: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: Of a hundred. Yeah.
PP: So that’s in there. You can take, oh and I have got some photographs at at [pause] what’s that at? At the airfield.
HH: East Kirkby.
PP: Eh?
HH: East Kirkby.
PP: East Kirkby. That’s right. I’ve got some photographs in there.
HH: We’ll go and have a look.
PP: That’s the big, we used to get up on the Big Ben’s roof. Opposite Big Ben. On the roof. Jerry watching.
HH: So you were in London then were you?
PP: And these look. There’s one thing that’s quite interesting. I challenged them, challenged these people, this newspaper, Sunday paper was a whole lot of bullshit. You know. It didn’t happen.
HH: Well good. We need people to do that.
PP: I could prove it so, so you could take all that.
HH: Great. Thank you.
PP: Night fighters fed on carrots [laughs] Do you want to take this?
HH: Thank you. That would be great. Well we, everything we’ll take I will give you a receipt for and I will return it.
Other: Ok.
HH: Soon.
Other: Yeah.
PP: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: Ok. But you were going to tell me some of your, your stories.
PP: Eh?
HH: You were going to tell me some of your stories.
PP: Yes. Well yeah. Yeah.
HH: And I want to tell me the one about training those coloured aircrew. The wireless operators who were sick.
PP: Yes. Yes. Yes.
HH: Now, where were they from? Those.
PP: They were from Algeria.
HH: From Algeria.
PP: They were French. French. I’m sure they were Algerian. Algerians.
HH: And they were being, you were training, you were instructing them for what purpose?
PP: Well, they wanted to set up a bomber squadron you see.
HH: The Free French.
PP: That was de Gaulle. He was in charge of the Free French. And he wanted —
HH: And they were sent to you.
PP: He wanted to set up a squadron.
HH: And they were —
PP: And they did.
HH: And they were sent to you for training.
PP: They agreed with that but we had the job of training the wireless operators.
HH: And what was it like?
PP: Eh?
HH: What was it like?
PP: Oh. Oh, well apart from them being sick you know, the [laughs] you had to give them, you get them to a certain standard you see and then sign out what they’d done on this standard you see. Yes. Oh yes. We had the whole thing. I’m just thinking there was something else. Oh yes. Aye. Yes. One day, you know how, how they, you know the warrant officer runs the station. You know they look after the complete job and the parade ground is the, is the, the pet thing of his. He does all of his square bashing on this parade ground and one day we were back late. Oh no. Before I start on that one was that there was a difficulty with accommodation and I was, when I was given this job they’d no accommodation. And they gave me accommodation in the radar section. You know at Yatesbury they used to deliver. They’d the four wings. One wing was radar and three wings were wireless operators, air, wireless operators. Morse. Oh dear. Oh yes and in this, in this case we were late down. We were the last in. So I gets on my bike and I used to have to cycle in to, to this four wing, to this radio section in needles. So we were down late and I got my bike and off I, and I had to break in the camp the back way because it was a bit shorter. And I came in the back way and to get to the, to get to the cookhouse, the cookhouse was here and I had to come in and I came in down there from across the road and I had to get across here. So I took, got my bike and got halfway across the parade ground and there was, there was [laughs] a, ‘What the bloody hell are you doing out there airman? Come this way airman.’ And of course I came back and it was the duty officer with the duty sergeant. The warrant officer with the duty sergeant. And he asked, I had to tell him, I said, ‘Well I have been on this, on your wing for now about six weeks. I just sleep here. Sleep with you and feed with you and I come and get my meals every day.’ And then he, then he said —
HH: He let you go?
PP: He changed his tune then. ‘I didn’t know I had a flying man on my wing.’ He was quite, you know. And so I, that was that was alright. And after that he ate out my hand, you know if I wanted a pass doing. So many people knew. Oh. He thought I was a wonderful lad.
HH: Good.
PP: Oh dear. I can’t remember all these things.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
PP: I had a good time. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
HH: Did you?
PP: And I got into some queer, queer spots some times. We had, in the early days we had to get a bath in six inches of water you know. Hot water. Then of course the thing is you’d got to make sure the duty sergeant didn’t find he was with a bath half full.
HH: Too much.
PP: Oh dear. So that, oh yes we had some real good stories.
HH: And how long did you stay at Yatesbury?
PP: Yatesbury. Oh I was at Yatesbury all the time. Until the war, until the war was finished. And when it was finished there was no, no requirements for instructors you see. We were all stopped. And I was then posted. Posted to Madley in Herefordshire. They were training wireless operators as well. And when I got there, when I got there was going to be a special classroom made. We were in real trouble you know. They were sinking, the submarines were sinking ships, and they delegated five squadrons from up near York. You know, in Yorkshire. Yorkshire was all Halifaxes. They were shipped down to, to [pause] yes they were stripped down to Coastal Command. They were sub hunting you see. They give them more staff. I can’t remember it all but instead of having two wireless operators they had two radar operators and two wireless operators and they were hunting submarines. Oh dear. I can’t.
HH: Yeah.
PP: I’ve got to piece all these things together.
HH: Well, yes. It happened quite a long time ago.
PP: Oh yes. Oh yes. It was. Yes. Yes. Aye.
HH: So, I saw in one of the documents that you showed me a moment ago that you must have trained over three thousand wireless operators/air gunners.
PP: Yes. Oh yes. Yes. Yes. Oh yes. That was what they, that was what the [unclear] told. The news correspondent from the start. He asked me the same question. I said I don’t know. That’s the flying there. And all that. If you’d like to count all those flights up [laughs] all these flights up. And that. He —
HH: A lot.
PP: He came up with that figure you see. So. Oh I’d more than that. Yes.
HH: So you must have trained people from almost every part of the world.
PP: Oh yes. Oh yes. Well, see what it says here look. It’s all in here.
HH: Is that your logbook?
PP: United Nations pilots flown with. Polish.
HH: Polish.
PP: Canadian, Irish, South African, Czech, Belgian, New Zealand. Oh and Australia.
HH: Not bad.
PP: And those are the aircraft I flew in.
HH: And you can add Algeria as well.
PP: Pardon?
HH: And Algeria from the story you told earlier.
PP: Oh they came to our school you see.
HH: Yeah.
PP: Yes. Yeah.
HH: So yeah.
PP: And I never thought that, I was the youngest you see. There was two of us. Two youngsters. All the rest of the instructors were living out and they were regulars. But if you go through that it’s quite, quite interesting really.
HH: I’m sure. This dropped out.
PP: Oh yes. That can come out. You can take that if you like [pause] Do you want to take that then?
HH: Thank you very much and —
PP: And how long will it be before I get this back?
HH: We will try to do it within a week.
PP: Oh. Oh, I don’t mean as quick as that but I promised the girl at the news office to give her some dough but I didn’t want to — I’d so much on I hadn’t time to sort all these things out.
HH: Yeah.
PP: Oh, these here. Did I go through this?
HH: Yes.
PP: Yes. There’s everything here.
HH: So when did you leave the RAF? Did you continue? Did you continue in the RAF after the war?
PP: Oh no. Oh no.
HH: So what did you do after the war?
PP: No. Good. Well I worked for a builder’s and plumber’s merchant. You know Jackson Shipley?
HH: Oh Jackson’s, yes.
PP: Do you know them do you? Do you know Eric Jackson?
HH: No. And did you work for them all the time?
PP: Yes. Yes.
HH: Since the war.
PP: Yes. I was with Shipley’s and I was corresponding with Eric, Eric Jackson. I knew him, I knew him when he was, when the two lads were down here and he set his first station up. First thing up. Where is it here? Surprised [pause] If I can find the right file.
HH: Gosh.
PP: I’ve just got letters that I had from him. I can show you. I can show you those another time. I’ve got letters from Eric Jackson when he was starting his first, first shop at the corner of Tentercroft Street.
HH: I know where that is. Yeah.
PP: He started his first shop then.
HH: Gosh.
PP: Yeah. And then, then he wanted me to go to work. I could have had a job from him in 1947. He wanted to give me a job. I said. ‘Well, I’ve already been told by our governor at Gainsborough that they’re going to open a showroom and I’m going to be the manager.’ So I was manager of plumbing and heating when I came out. Yeah. Right ‘til the, you know, right to the, well to leaving. I didn’t want to go. He wanted me to manage the other branch outside so but I was quite happy at Gainsborough.
HH: In Gainsborough.
PP: Yeah.
HH: So when did you, when did you retire from that?
PP: In ’85. I think that was it. Are you recording all this? It isn’t worth recording is it? [laughs]
HH: It’s interesting to —
PP: About a job.
HH: It’s interesting to know what people have done since the war.
PP: Yeah.
HH: Have you been active in any of the squadron associations or the air base associations at all?
PP: No. No. No. Oh I was a Civil Defence Instructor. Yes. I’ve got some, I’ve got all my — where are we?
HH: And was that in Gainsborough?
PP: Yes. I was Civil Defence Instructor for lecturing on nuclear weapons.
HH: Goodness me.
PP: For oh about four years. I used to go around all the schools. I’ve got them. I’ve got all my letters here somewhere. Oh dear.
HH: You’ve got quite a record of your own. You’ve got your own archive here.
PP: Where did I put them?
HH: Careful.
PP: It’s my legs that are the trouble now.
HH: That looks like an interesting bag.
PP: Those were all my lessons.
HH: Goodness me. Gosh. You’ve kept all of your lecturer’s notes. So would that would have been in the 1950s or 60s?
PP: That was it. Yes. That’s right. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: And that was to school. You went around schools did you?
PP: Pardon?
HH: You went around schools did you?
PP: Well, the schools were used you see. Not the school. For the members to set up. To set up a — excuse me.
HH: That’s ok.
PP: I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. That’s quite an interesting one. Read what it says there. I’ve a cousin that’s an international clothing manufacturer. And he has businesses in Japan and he and he’s dealing with all places in Europe and he’s got places in in America and Canada.
HH: So he’s in to clothing. He and he is also a veteran of the RAF it says. Yeah. Very stylish.
PP: Oh. Oh dear. You’re going to have a job sorting that out.
HH: No. It’s absolutely fine.
PP: What else have I —
HH: In fact, what I’m going to do is perhaps we can —
PP: What else have I got?
HH: Are there any other stories you’d like to tell?
PP: Eh?
HH: Are there any other stories of your time at Yatesbury that you’d like to tell?
PP: That I’d —
HH: Any other stories from your time at Yatesbury?
PP: Well, well apart from coming the back way at two and 3 o’clock in the morning. Oh yes. We had, oh yes, we used to get up to some tricks one way and another. Yeah. As I say the one where they had to wipe all the aircraft up because all the, all the pages of the exercise books were all stuck where they’d tried to throw it out the window. What was the other one? There was another one. Oh, the other one. I can think of a few more I think one way and another. But let’s have a look. See what else I’ve got. Oh. My knees are not very good.
HH: Is that another of your scrapbooks?
PP: That’s the one I was talking to you about. Eric Jackson.
HH: Oh yes.
PP: That’s from Eric Jackson look. You can read that if you want to.
HH: This is a letter from Eric Jackson in 1971.
PP: Yeah. But I wouldn’t, I don’t think that ought to be actually —
HH: No.
PP: I don’t think that ought to be —
HH: That’s an interesting letter. No. Of course not.
PP: I was on heating. I was in charge of heating you see. Heating and bathroom equipment and plumbing. And this is what it says here look, “Will you please convey my personal thanks and thanks of our two representatives to Mr Peter Parker who assisted us in manning the stand. I am quite certain that without his expert knowledge of potential customers we would not have enjoyed such a good return.” And a pat on the back.
HH: That’s a nice letter to get. That’s 1977.
PP: I have been advised not to pass notes at all from this year’s stripper. They used to have a stripper [laughs] Oh dear.
HH: Talking about heating.
PP: Eh?
HH: Talking about heating reminds me of something that I read about being in a Lancaster. That the wireless operator was, his was the warmest place in the plane.
PP: Oh yes it was.
HH: Was that right?
PP: Oh yes. It was. Yes. Yes. Yes.
HH: And was that an attraction of the job?
PP: Yes. Yes. Well, I don’t know it meant much about the job, you know. But it was in quite a warm spot but you couldn’t see what was going on you see. But the biggest job of the wireless operator was, was getting them home. You imagine the thousand bombers bombing a target. Then they’ve got to come back and find England. Then when they found England they’ve got to find out where —
HH: They’ve got to land.
PP: So the wireless operator will contact two or three spots and when it crossed, like the points crosses that’s where you are. You could tell the pilot where he was. And it was up to him to steer from that point to get to England. Some did overfly England [laughs] Yeah. Yes. You wouldn’t believe it. Yeah. Yeah. That’s me when I was fifteen or sixteen.
HH: Where was that taken?
PP: Newcastle.
HH: In Newcastle.
PP: Yes.
HH: Whereabouts in Newcastle?
PP: Condercum Road. Why? Do you know Newcastle?
HH: My granny was born in Blaydon.
PP: Blaydon. You could hear the Blaydon Races. Good heavens above. Yes. Aye. Oh yes. Yes. And Cabourn. If you look at Cabourn. Cabourn in the, on your computer he’s got, he’s got two businesses in Japan and he’s known all in New Zealand. Not New Zealand. All over Europe anyway. And also in Canada. And also in America.
HH: I will. What I’m going to do is just to say thank you very much for this interview and also to your daughter Jane —
PP: Yes.
HH: Because she was here for some of it and I’m now going to turn the tape recorder off.
PP: Yes ok.
[recording paused]
PP: I was aircrew and I had a eye test when I was posted to a gunnery school. In five weeks I would have been a sergeant. And they were, the situation was that they found that I had a slightly defective right eye and the optician said, ‘He’ll never fly again.’ It’s all, all in here. And, and then two years later I had a, I was annoyed and I got, I went and demanded to see the CO and I told him the whole history talking to you. He were a grand fellow. He ran the whole caboodle. And the old warrant officer, the bullshit warrant officer, you know, he was in it, he was [unclear] something. He said, ‘Well, I’m going now.’ And he said, ‘Just a minute Parker. Come here a minute. What do you think about working at Yatesbury? Sending Morse?’ Well, to tell you the truth I’d not thought about it. I wanted to fly. But on the other hand I had heard that there’s boatloads of wireless operators being sent out to the desert and sent and sent to Burma. ‘Yes. If you’ll give me a job I’ll have it.’ ‘You’ve got a bike haven’t you?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Alright. Monday morning take your bike and go across the flying school. You know where the flying school is. Where the big hangar is. And go and sign there. And you’ll, you’ll work in a receiving station.’ And there was ten of us all working an aircraft each. Going through the various exercises. What, what happened then? Oh and that was a lovely job, piece of cake. We used to watch rabbits. We used to watch rabbits on a rabbit warren. And we had a medical orderly, Corporal medical orderly, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’ve got some ferrets at home. I’ll bring a ferret next time I come. Next time I go on leave.’ And true to his word he brought, brought a ferret and we had a ferret in the hut. And then we used to go to this rabbit warren and put the, put the, put the ferret down and the rabbits used to come out and we used to have rabbits. Rabbit stew in the hut. We used to have two, two stoves. You see this wasn’t the RAF. It belonged to the Bristol Aircraft Company you see. And we had two stoves and we used to strip rabbits and have rabbit stew on the brew.
HH: Very nice.
PP: And then one, and then another time it was probably three or four months later we put the old ferret down, and he got down. He seemed a long time and then we happened to look up. Looked around. And there was cattle all around. You know they’re very inquisitive, cows are. And we were lying down on the floor, and these rabbit holes and it had brought the cows were all slowly meandered up and they were all around us you see. And then that never came. That was it. The ferret never came, the what do they call it? The one I put down the hole.
HH: The ferret.
PP: The ferret. Yes.
HH: Never came back.
PP: Never came back. No. So that was the end of that.
HH: What a pity.
PP: Oh we had some, oh we had some raw times yes. And nobody bothered us you see. We weren’t, all we would do was fed. We just got fed and fly. And flew you see. So I did four flights a day. You’ll see it in that book there.
HH: Four flights a day.
PP: Four flights a day. Yes. From Monday to, Monday, Monday to Friday. Not Saturday.
HH: And how long was each flight?
PP: Each flight was oh about an hour, an hour and a quarter. We used to fly all over the place. Except when, when you know the landings came. When they were training. Oh we came across towing gliders. You know. Ready for the place too far. Stage too far. You know. That one. I used to know, I used to know a pal that was, we used to go out and have meals together each week. He was a wing commander and he used to tell me all his stories. Oh dear. He’s died now though. He died three or four weeks ago. I still keep in touch with his wife. And he was, he was [pause] he was a Cambridge. This is a good story really. He was a Cambridge man. When he passed out from Cambridge they sent him to the RAF as a pilot and he was a Spitfire pilot and got trained as a Spitfire pilot. And then he was posted and they sent a, they sent along a [pause], they sent along [pause] Oh it’s gone. Anyway, it was, it was an old aircraft and no good at all. You know if Jerry had seen it he could have knocked him down straight away and they’d sent him to France with another, another four or five pilots and he’d just, out of training school. They landed in France on a grass field site. And they landed in France in a tented camp. And when they went there, when they landed there there was a row of ten brand new Spitfires straight from the works and they had a wizard, they had a wizard time flying these Spitfires around until Jerry broke through. Jerry broke through you know and overran France and they had to, had to go and he was the last one off. And he was taking this Spitfire down the drive and he happened to look and he saw there was one bloke going around. So he went around again and watched him. And he was going in to vehicles. So he went around again and landed. And it was the warrant officer in charge of the, in charge of this camp and all he was doing it was setting all the machines. All the traffic. They’d escaped to the coast you see to make the raid back home. They’d gone to the coast and all the vehicles that were left, he’d started all the engines, put them on full blast so it, so they ruined them. It ruined them. And then he told him, and he told him, ‘Get in the back here. I’ll take you off home.’ He said, ‘I’m not, I’m not. You’re not allowed to you take you in your aircraft.’ ‘That’s an order. You get back there and we’re going home. I’m going home and you’re coming with me.’ And he took him home and when he got, when he got, when he got home, when he got to the base they put him on a charge for putting an aircraft at risk with putting more people into it. And of course he explained it all. And then in the end he got the French Croix, Croix de Guerre. He’d a row of medals. He got a French Croix de Guerre for, for doing what he did.
HH: Gosh.
PP: In fact, he was then, he was then then [pause] he was then given the job of with the Resistance in France and he used to fly Lysanders in to France doing all, all the various things. In the end he was made paymaster and he used to used to, used to go out in a, in a, in a Lysander. Lysander. That was what it was. And in the end he used to go out with a, in a Lysander and pay the Resistance men. Aye.
HH: Fantastic.
PP: That was, that was a good story. That was one story he told me.



Heather Hughes, “Interview with Peter Parker,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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