Interview with Betty May Pearson


Interview with Betty May Pearson
William Mollison Walton


Her brother-in-law William Mollison Walton, after training to be a pilot in Canada, was based at RAF Swinderby with 97 Squadron. In 1944 his aircraft was attacked and he baled out. He spent two days on a small island where he buried his parachute, He was eventually being taken in by a French family. William was visited by the chief of the resistance organisation and was taken to Hesdin where he remained until British troops helped him back home. William ended up as a Pathfinder.




Temporal Coverage




00:22:31 audio recording


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MC: This interview is being conducted on the behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Mike Connock and the interviewee is Betty Pearson. The interview is taking place at Betty Pearson’s home in Lincoln on Monday the 12th of March 2018. Also in attendance is son Stuart Pearson and —
GW: Gillian.
MC: And Gillian.
GW: Watkin.
MC: Watkin. Ok, Betty. Thank you for doing this interview. Just, just as a start just tell me a bit about where you were born and where —
BP: I was born in Bracebridge.
MC: Oh, so you are a local lass.
BP: Yeah.
MC: When was that?
BP: 1928.
MC: 1928.
BP: Yeah.
MC: So, tell me about who you want to talk about today.
BP: My brother in law.
MC: Your brother in law.
BP: Bill Walton as I knew him. William.
MC: William.
BP: William Walton.
MC: William Walton.
BP: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. And how did you come to meet him?
BP: Well, we used to go, my sister and I used to go to North Hykeham dance. A village dance every Saturday night and Bill was at the RAF Swinderby finishing his training I think and he used to come with his friends to the dance, to the Hykeham dance and that’s how they met. I was allowed to go. I was six years younger than my sister. I was allowed to go if I stayed in her company. But I knew they didn’t want me there so [laughs] I used to, I made my own friends unbeknown to my sister.
MC: So, what do you know about Bill?
BP: Well, I knew he was Scottish and he lived just outside Perth and they got on very well together.
MC: Where was he born? Do you know?
BP: I don’t know but it was in Scotland of course.
MC: Yes.
BP: I think probably in the Perth area, because his parents were farmers.
MC: How old was he when he joined the RAF? Do you know?
BP: Oh, I think he was about nineteen. He was a pilot when he was nineteen.
MC: Really? You don’t know where he did his training?
BP: At Swinderby.
MC: Oh, yeah he was at Swinderby.
BP: Yeah. Yeah.
MC: At the time, yeah.
BP: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. So when did, did you follow him through his career? Did, you know, were you aware where he went? What squadron he went to.
BP: No. I don’t know the, I think Stuart’s got all that business down, haven’t you? The squad, squadron number and everything.
MC: So, tell me your story about, about Bill. What do you know about him?
BP: Well, I know that they were courting for quite a while and he was often on duty flying his plane and she used to see him when he wasn’t flying of course. And then we moved from North Hykeham, my parents and my sister and I to an off licence in Bracebridge and I think I was fifteen. I knew I wasn’t allowed to serve beer so I couldn’t have been sixteen but I could eat sweets and chocolate, and I used to test the beer out of the pump. My dad used to say, ‘Have you been at this beer?’ ‘Well, I’ve got to see it’s alright, dad.’ [laughs] So, that was, that was the off licence. We were there quite a while before all this flying business happened. And of course sweets were on coupons in those days and the kiddies all used to come in with their ration books and I used to be able to cut the points out, and serve them the sweets and I enjoyed doing that. It was lovely. And then one day it was the beginning of the sweet coupons and the shop was absolutely packed out and there I was serving sweets. Didn’t look up. I hadn’t got time to look up until the shop was empty and when I did look up there was this airman in a mucky old battledress just inside the door. I didn’t recognise him he was so dirty. But then I realised who it was. Unfortunately, my sister wasn’t there. She was at the pictures with mum. So they had a bit of a shock when they came home. You can imagine.
MC: So was that when he came back from —
BP: Yes, after having been missing.
MC: So how did you, how did your sister find out about him going missing?
BP: Well, they were engaged to be married, and they were due to be married in about six weeks time. And I think they informed her. Well, they would do wouldn’t they? That he was gone missing.
MC: And he just turned up at the door.
BP: He just turned up. Yeah.
MC: So, I mean, do you know any of the, how he evaded or what happened, you know, to him?
BP: Stuart’s got all that information.
SP: The actual type written copy.
MC: You’ve got a copy of the —
SP: I had it from the War Office.
MC: From the, his escape report. Yeah.
SP: Yeah, but this is, this is the word equivalent of it.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
SP: This is exactly what he wrote. Do you want me to read it out?
MC: Yeah. You can do. Yeah.
SP: Right. “Flight Lieutenant William Mollison Walton DFC. 97 Squadron, Bomber Command, RAF.” And this is the gist of the message. “We took off from Coningsby at 20.50 hours on the 24th of June 1944 to bomb flying bomb bases in the Pas de Calais area. We were attacked by a fighter at a point south of Etaples. I baled out during the night 24th 25th of June and landed at Brimeux.” He gives a map reference then. “In a lake approximately one hundred yards square, in the middle of which there was a small island. I made my way to the island and was obliged to stay there in hiding for two days because of German activity in the area. I believe the Germans were searching for my crew and myself. During the morning of the 27th of June I left my hiding place after having disposed of my parachute and Mae West and made my way southwest around the village of Beaurainville where I hid in a wood for the remainder of the day. The wood was close to a farm which I kept under observation with a view to obtaining help when it became dark. I approached the house at night and was immediately taken inside. I remained here until the 25th of August. Ten days after my arrival I was visited by the chief of the Resistance organisation at Hesdin. On the 25th of August I was moved to an address in Hesdin and remained there until I contacted British troops on the 3rd of September. My flight engineer, Flight Sergeant Mayhew was killed when the parachute failed to open and was buried by the French at Marles Sur Canche.” And that, that’s his report basically. Three days after he was, he was found by the British troops, so I would presume when he got back to this country.
MC: So, Betty how, how long would from when he went missing to when he came back was it that, so your sister was unaware what happened to him.
BP: I think it was about six weeks.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
BP: I can’t remember dead accurately but it was about six weeks.
MC: So, it must have been a worrying time then.
BP: It was. Yeah. Everything was ready for the wedding.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
BP: The wedding dress on the back of the bedroom door. The cake was made already. So my sister and my mother and myself went up to Perth to spend a week with his parents. That’s when we met the fortune teller in Perth, Market Square and she was dead accurate. She really was.
MC: So did, did [pause] so when he came back so that they obviously, obviously got married.
BP: Oh yes.
MC: Was that fairly quickly?
BP: Then he was stationed at all sorts of different places, in the New Forest and Malvern.
MC: And she moved around with him.
BP: Of course. They got married and then —
MC: Yeah.
BP: The two went all over.
MC: Did he relate any of his other stories of his operations?
BP: No. No.
MC: No. No. No.
BP: No. Didn’t speak, well not to me anyway. Might have done to my sister. I forgot to mention that the fortune, the fortune teller said that he’d got a bandage around his head and he would come back. And she said to him, she said to my sister, ‘You were about to get married but you will do but not just yet.’ And the bandage was around his head when he, when he was found. Yeah. He had got injured around, just around there. As he came down I suppose.
MC: Was he in good spirits when he came back? Was he? I mean, obviously he must have been to get, to get back from evading.
BP: Yeah.
BP: I don’t know who brought him back. It’s not in your report is it?
HW: No.
BP: So, how he got back over the Channel, I assume somebody must have brought him over.
MC: What, what year was that? Can you remember? [pause] 1944, is that right?
BP: I would think about that time.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Did you say that it said —
SP: Just after D-Day.
MC: Yeah. It’s alright. You can come in. You’re alright.
SP: Yeah. Just after D-Day.
MC: Yeah.
SP: So obviously he introduced himself to the British troops who were invading Normandy.
MC: Yeah. So what raid was he on? Do we see?
SP: It was a raid to a place called Prouville, which was a big —
MC: Oh, Prouville. Yeah. Yeah.
SP: V-1 flying base.
MC: Yeah. That would have been supporting the D-Day invasion.
SP: Yeah.
MC: I should think. Yeah. Yeah.
SP: Shot down by a night fighter.
MC: What else can you remember, Betty?
BP: Not a lot really except the wedding when we, if there’s anything on there that I haven’t told you about [pause] When he left the RAF he joined the civil aviation. Most of that was spent in Scotland somewhere.
MC: Do you know where he did his flying training?
BP: Yeah. Swinderby.
MC: Oh, I don’t think he would have. He was a pilot, wasn’t he?
BP: Oh yes.
MC: Yeah.
BP: And then he went to East Kirkby didn’t he Stuart?
MC: Yeah. So he —
BP: Yeah.
MC: He could well have done his flying training in Canada.
SP: Do you know, I —
BP: He did. He did. He did some in Canada, yeah. I remember now.
MC: He did. Yeah. Yeah.
SP: I remember you telling me that.
MC: Yeah.
BP: I’ve got here that he was training for his, to be a pilot at aged nineteen to twenty.
SP: He, he did get a —
[recording paused]
MC: He got the DFC. We do know.
SP: He did, yeah.
BP: Yeah. Yeah, he had to —
[recording paused]
MC: You have a read of it. Just read a bit out. Fill it in as you feel like —
BP: When I first met Bill it was North Hykeham village dance when he met my sister, Doreen. He was stationed at Swinderby, completing his training for a pilot and was aged only nineteen to twenty. He was a regular visitor to our home in North Hykeham, and they eventually became engaged. He moved stations. RAF, in brackets, and soon became a pilot and flew over Germany and later completed two tours and was promoted to flight lieutenant. My family and myself moved to an off licence in Lincoln, and their marriage was arranged. The wedding dress hung on the back of the bedroom door and the cake was made. Within six weeks of the wedding Bill was reported missing. My mother, myself and Doreen went up to Scotland to stay with his family for a week, and went one day to Perth to have a look around [cough] Excuse me. We saw a sign for a fortune teller. Doreen removed her RAF brooch and went inside. The information the lady gave her was very, was unbelievable, ‘You were going to get married weren’t you?’ She said, ‘Well, you still will. He will come back and has a bandage on his head because he landed in a tree.’ And I don’t know whether that was true, that bit. He was on an island. There may have been a tree. I don’t know. We went back to Lincoln and I helped in the shop. Doreen went back to work. I was serving sweets when the, in the shop when one Sunday, too busy to look up, the shop was full of people cashing in their sweet coupons. Sweets of course were rationed and it was the start of the month so the children all came in to spend their points. When the shop was empty, about fifteen minutes, I looked up, and there was a scruffy man in a scruffy RAF battle dress inside the door. Of course, it was Bill and I told him mum and Doreen were at the pictures. The reunion took place an hour later and the wedding a few weeks later, and that was it.
MC: But yourself you actually grew up during the war then.
BP: Oh yes.
MC: Yeah. So what do you remember about the area around Lincoln? There must have been a —
BP: Oh, well we lived at Hykeham and I used to cycle sixteen miles a day to work at the GPO, Guildhall Street when I was fourteen. Four miles there. Four back at lunchtime. Back again in the afternoon and four back. Sixteen miles a day. And I remember one day I cycled to work and there was a policeman on duty at the Stonebow as there was in those days and he stopped me. He said, ‘Sorry miss. You can’t go any further. There’s a bomb down there.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘But I’ve got to be at work at 8 o’clock.’ ‘Oh, alright then. Go on.’ They let me go down Mint Street. Where the bomb was I’ve no idea but I went to work. That was it.
MC: So there must have been a lot of airmen around in those days. There were a lot of —
BP: Oh, there was. All over the place. Yeah.
MC: Can you remember seeing the aircraft in the air?
BP: No. It wasn’t so much that, no. But I know one day when we were still at Hykeham, there was a bomber came over and we could recognise it by the sound of the engines. My dad had built a shelter in the garden and we all trooped down there when the siren went. One of the neighbours who was a gentleman of about seventy, he used to bring his knitting in. He used to do his knitting in the shelter. And the bomb dropped just over the road from where we lived funnily enough the [pause] there’s a crater in the field opposite and my sister thought it was her fault because she opened the door at the wrong time and the light came on. But that’s the main thing I can remember about the war really.
MC: So, what did your dad do during the war?
BP: My dad, he worked at Rustons. He was just in between those ages where he was too old to join up. He was too young in the First World War, too old in the Second. So he never went in the Forces but it was a good, you know it was a wartime job if you like he did at Rustons.
MC: And did you have any siblings? Any brothers and sisters?
BP: Only my sister, Doreen.
MC: Yeah.
BP: So —
MC: She’s the, she’s the one that married Bill.
BP: Yeah.
MC: Yeah, obviously. Yeah.
BP: Yeah.
MC: What did they do after the war? Did they stay in Lincoln? They got up to Scotland or what?
BP: Well —
MC: You said he joined the civil airlines.
BP: When he left the RAF he did. Yeah. He was in the RAF for quite a while after that and then he joined the civil aviation.
SP: Air traffic control.
BP: Yes. Yeah. Traffic. Yeah.
MC: Oh, he was air traffic control. Oh right.
BP: And then he went to, he was at Dyce, Aberdeenshire and —
GW: Prestwick.
BP: And Prestwick, yeah. They lived at Ayr when he was at Prestwick. And he was in the New Forest as well. That was nice.
MC: Certainly moved around from one end of the country to the other.
BP: They did. Malvern. He was at Malvern. Yeah.
MC: So were they good days in Lincoln in those, in that period when you —
BP: Oh we all enjoyed it, you know. They call it the good old days didn’t they? It wasn’t of course but remember I was only fifteen so I was allowed to do more than if it had been, you know, ordinary times I think.
MC: Let’s just. I mean I think we talked about his squadron. He was in ’97.
SP: 97 Strait Settlement Squadron.
MC: Strait Settlement, that was right.
SP: Yeah. Yeah.
MC: I thought they were Pathfinders.
SP: He ended, I think he ended up as a Pathfinder.
MC: Yeah.
SP: I believe so.
BP: He did, yeah. He did. Yeah.
MC: With, yeah do you know if he went to any other squadrons?
SP: I don’t to be honest.
MC: No.
SP: His daughter might be able to help on that one. She’s got some information.
MC: Does, does she still have his logbook and stuff like that?
BP: Yeah. They have got his flying logbook but there’s very little information in it strangely enough about the crash. About when the aircraft was shot down. I have got that. I can, I can dig that out.
[recording paused]
MC: You say she’s got an original letter from the French family.
SP: Yeah, from the French family and she’s had problems getting it translated. I don’t know whether that would be of any use to you.
MC: Absolutely, yeah.
BP: I mean the uni could translate that surely.
MC: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. No. It’s, it’s very good because that’s the sort of thing that the archives need.
BP: Yeah.
[recording paused]
MC: So did, were you old enough to go to the dances in them days?
BP: My goodness me, yes. I was only allowed to go if I stayed with my sister.
MC: With your sister, you said. Yeah
BP: She was six years older than me you see.
MC: And how old were you?
BP: When I started to go to the dance, and put my lipstick on when I got outside.
SP: When you got outside.
BP: I’d be about fourteen I should think.
MC: Fourteen. Yeah.
BP: Yeah. And I probably looked a little bit older. I used to get plenty of dance partners.
SP: Yeah. I bet you did.
MC: Yeah.
BP: That’s where I learned to dance.
MC: Yeah.
BP: North Hykeham Parish Hall.
MC: Yeah, a lot, were there a lot of RAF boys at the —
BP: Oh, God. Yes.
MC: They were all RAF boys at the dances.
BP: Plenty of partners, and the local lads didn’t like that much at all.
MC: No.
SP: Yeah.
MC: Where did you have the dances did you say?
BP: North Hykeham.
MC: Oh, North Hykeham.
BP: There’s a church hall just near the church there.
MC: Oh, the church hall. Oh right. Yeah. So where did the lads, the RAF lads come from? Do you know which stations?
BP: Swinderby.
MC: Mainly Swinderby.
BP: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
SP: Yeah. He did learn to fly in Canada because I remember you telling me that. I think he probably told me as well.
BP: Yeah.
SP: Learning to fly in Canada. But, yeah I can, I can well his son was the same age as me and I can’t remember my Uncle Bill talking about the war at all.
BP: No.
SP: Did he —
BP: No. No.
SP: He did, I think he did recall an incident where they were taking off and a Lancaster flying in front of his exploded, you know. Faulty bomb and the whole thing went up. I remember that.
BP: I can remember you telling me that. So he must have told you.
SP: Well, either me directly or dad.
BP: Yeah. Yeah.
SP: It might have been dad. I do remember that so —
[recording paused]
MC: Yeah. I mean you say about the, you know it being too late and yeah, and the politics, yeah.
SP: Yeah. It beggars belief it’s taken that long. The rate of attrition amongst bomber crew was, well as you know was huge wasn’t it?
MC: And you talked about Coventry.
SP: The apologists for Dresden I think had an influence on the decision not to commemorate Bomber Command’s exploits, but I think if we had a conversation with the relatives of the Mayor of Coventry at the time, he might have something to say about that. So whether politics has played the major part in this delay I don’t know but I think the Centre’s an amazing building. I love the way it’s so interactive, and I think that will help a lot of the younger people get a grasp of what they actually went through in the war because they live in the IT age and it’s very technically advanced isn’t it, the information?
[recording paused]
MC: So, I gather Bill is obviously no longer still alive.
BP: Oh, no. He died when he was about sixty two.
MC: Sixty two.
BP: Yeah.
MC: He wasn’t very old then.
BP: Cancer. No. And my sister as well. She was sixty two. They both died.
MC: Oh really. Both died at sixty two.
BP: Yeah.
MC: Oh, goodness me. Yeah.
BP: Well, Doreen was six months older than Bill and she died six months after Bill had died so they were the same age more or less.
SP: Are we —
[recording paused]
MC: So, when are you actually he was obviously brought back through the lines by the French.
SP: Yeah.
MC: And then he —
SP: I’ll just —
MC: And then he tied up with the British troops did he?
SP: Yeah. I’ll just re-read this. These are his exact words.
MC: Is that what you read before?
SP: Yeah. The document says, “Secret,” at the top of it but I don’t think that applies anymore, do you? For a while I did wonder about that because being an ex-copper, signing the Official Secrets Act I thought maybe I shouldn’t be doing this but God, it was 1944. “On the 25th of August I was moved to an address in Hesdin and remained there until I contacted British troops on the 3rd of September.
MC: Oh. So he contacted the British troops.
[recording paused]
MC: Right, it’s just to say thank you Betty. Anyway, thank you for the interview, and to you, Stuart.
SP: No problem.
MC: Much appreciated, and we’ll, we’ll get this on file. Thank you very much to both of you.
BP: You’re welcome.



Mike Connock, “Interview with Betty May Pearson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 20, 2024,

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