Interview with Jeremy Reade


Interview with Jeremy Reade


Jeremy Reade recalls the memories of his father, Charles Sturrock Reade. Charles was born in Belfast and grew up in Portrush. On leaving school, Charles spent a short time working at a solicitor's office, before joining the Royal Ulster Constabulary as a police officer, from here he applied for a commission with the RAF.

In 1939, he tried for aircrew but crashed three aircraft during flying training, so was pushed to join the maintenance unit. After equipment training at RAF Halton in 1940, he passed out and was promoted to flying officer in charge of supplying stations in the UK and overseas with everything from uniforms to aircraft. He was promoted in 1940 to flight lieutenant. Between 1939 and 1940, he was part of the training wing as an instructor at RAF Grange-over-Sands.

In 1941, the same year his son Jeremy was born, he was stationed at RAF Kinloss in Scotland. In March 1942, Charles was posted overseas, travelling from Liverpool to the Middle East headquarters supply. He then transferred to the Rear Air Headquarters Western Desert, and then to 33 Air Stores Park.

After his time in the Middle East, Charles was posted to Southern Italy, working alongside the Balkan and Mediterranean Air Force. Charles saw out the war at RAF Morcombe, RAF Cardington, and RAF Greenham Common, before retiring from the RAF in 1961 but remaining in active positions until he was 65. Charles died aged 86.







01:08:41 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 6th of February 2018 and I’m in Waddesdon in Buckinghamshire with Jeremy Reade and we’re going to talk about his father Charles Reade and his time in the RAF but his whole life actually. So, where was your father born and what did his parents do, Jerry?
JR: My father was born in Belfast and his father was Harold and his mother was Myna, and they were the only descendants of JT Reade. The family had the York Street Mill Works. The Irish flax and that and, well they made linen and his father was really supposed to be doing something in the business but he was a remarkable golfer and he sent most of his life playing golf. Unfortunately, he died early and of course that made quite a problem for the family and they moved from Belfast down to Portrush which is on the coast, and there he, he spent most of his younger life. His sort of first reactions or recollections of, of life I think was in Belfast. The huge great York Street Works were there, and he remembers the head of the family saying to his father, ‘You’ve got to make up your mind boy. Are you going to play golf or are you going to make some money?’ He chose golf and he won many championships. It certainly encouraged my father into that sport. Now —
CB: So, when, when —
JR: Charles —
CB: Sorry, go on.
JR: Charles went to school. His major schooling was at the Portora Royal School. He was packed off as in those days to boarding school. You know as it was done. Not much money in the family because of course his mother had been widowed. And he remembers being very good at rowing. He didn’t enjoy rugby or the other but they were absolute swines. Although he was the cox of, of the eight and they got to some prestigious finals he was not allowed to cox the boat because his academic prowess was not up to the standard required. And so they put the head boy in the boat [laughs] and lost the competition. Anyway, after school he worked for a short while in a solicitor’s office. Of course, he’d been through the OTC at school and of course you’ve got to realise that this was very soon after the First World War and he can remember you know, the postmen with all their First World War medals and how they had two, two posts a day. Two deliveries a day. And you also had all the terribly injured people around the streets and of course we on the mainland tend to forget how the Irish divisions really suffered in the First World War. Anyway, after his stint at a solicitor’s office he joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The idea was to try and sort of go on the accelerated promotion and get up to become a district inspector or a county inspector but he said it was a great help that he played golf because obviously he played, played golf for the RUC, and funnily enough it was a pretty active time. He tells the story that he heard more shots fired in the RUC than he did in the whole of the Second World War. After his time in the RUC he saw that war was coming and he was given permission to apply for a commission in the Royal Air Force. Obviously, he wanted to go for air crew which, he succeeded in getting on the course but alas he didn’t do terribly well. He managed to prang three aircraft, and after three Hinds had been smashed up they decided he’d better be an equipment officer. But in front of me I have got a photograph of his flying training course in January of 1939 and in it there are thirty two men on the course. And on the day that he retired from the RAF he said to me, ‘How many men do you think are still alive?’ I guessed a figure and he said, ‘There’s only two,’ he said. ‘One chap who sort of came to grief and got thrown out,’ he said, ‘But those of us who were in the service,’ he said, ‘I’m the only one still alive.’ He said, ‘The vast majority were killed during the war. Either Fighter Command or Bomber Command and those that survived the war, they came to grief in aircraft accidents after the war.’ So he was the only one that was still alive. So from flying training, he then is pushed into what I call a counter of socks. He goes for equipment training at Halton, just down the road from here and after passing out he is promoted to flying officer and then he is flight lieutenant in July 1940. And he goes from 4 Initial Training Wing for Supply Equipment in October ‘39. Initial Training Wing Equipment 1940. And then he becomes an instructor, Equipment Training School in 1940. 16th of May. And then in June he’s posted to 1 Equipment Training School as an instructor. Grange over Sands. And then 46 MU in July 1940 from 45 MU, and then the 5 Motor Transport Company 1941 in January. And then 35 MU on the 4th of February ’42. But in March he is posted overseas and he reported to Liverpool. In fact, he took me down one day, and my sister and showed us where the convoy was assembling and he said, ‘You wouldn’t believe it,’ he said, ‘As far as the eye could see there were these troop ships and their escorts.’ And they were eventually allocated to a vessel and the senior RAF officers there got them all together and said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘It’s a bit grim,’ he said. ‘But nothing, you won’t find it very different from your time at an English public school as a boarder.’ So he remembers the journey on the way out. They went out in to the Atlantic doing the zigzags to avoid the U-boats and eventually they did, they went the long way down to South Africa. And at South Africa he got some good news. They said, ‘Oh, your drafts been changed. Instead of going to the Middle East you can stay down here on the air attaché’s staff.’ And he thought well, you know, that’s a bit of a, that’s a bit of a cop out and so he said, ‘No. It’s alright, thanks very much. If there’s an option I’ll go on and do something useful.’ And so he gave up the soft billet, and off he went. Eventually arriving in the, at HQ Middle East Supply in March of ’42. Then it was Rear Air Headquarters Western Desert Supply, 33 Air Stores, Park. And as you recall the war in the north of Africa was going backwards and forwards, and he tells one wonderful story when he was with a front line squadron, and they’d advanced so fast [pause] They’d advanced so fast that they’d captured some German aircraft one of which was a Stuka and so they painted it Desert Air Force colours and he recalls being sent back to Cairo to collect the beer in the Stuka. But the powers that be decided that it was a bit too dodgy because the shape of the aircraft they could have been downed by friendly fire. But he did tell me another story where things were incredibly rough in the desert. We’ve got a photograph of him by his slit trench, and having a, you know a bath in a canvas, nothing more than a canvas bucket really. And the CO of the squadron called him in one day and said, ‘Look Charles, he said, ‘We really need some furniture. Liven the place up.’ And so the story goes and whether it’s true or not I’m not sure but a gang of the, of the young lads got together. They got a three tonner and they went sailing off well behind the lines down I think it was the Gezira Club which was frequented by what the chaps up the line used to call the gabardine swine because they all had these beautiful gabardine uniforms etcetera etcetera. And anyway, they went into the Gezira Club, pulled the fuses one night, pinched a load of furniture which they put in the back of the truck and then took back out into the desert. Right. Well, after that it’s 33 Air Stores Park. Again, Headquarters Middle East Supply because by this time he’d had a bad traffic accident. I think his vehicle had been strafed and —
CB: Oh.
JR: Yeah. Then [pause] again in 1943 he is on 143 Maintenance Unit. And then he is posted to Air Headquarters Malta in August 1943, and he goes to Luqa, and is then sent to Gozo where he tells me that he was the senior RAF officer on Gozo. By the sounds of it he was the only one [laughs] But he was telling me about the fellow who emptied all the elsans, because there was no mains drainage or anything there, and this chap used to come along with this great big bowser and all the unpleasantness was emptied in to the bowser and he was paid to take it all away. And apparently he became an incredibly wealthy man but he was totally illiterate and Charles used to have to write out all his paperwork for him. After Malta he then goes to El Kanka, Middle East Supply Equipment and then, that’s in November 1943. And then he gets a posting to Fighter Liaison Section, Balkan Air Force at Bari in Southern Italy. By this time the war of course had moved up from the Mediterranean in to Italy and then he finds himself in the Allied Control Commission Mediterranean Air Force. His sum, his claim to fame was that they analysed Cinzano. You know, you’ve see this Cinzano Bianco and all the rest of it of fame but the local wine was being sold as Cinzano and he thought it looked remarkably like urine [laughs] So he had it analysed and sure enough about a quarter of it was. So obviously there was rapid note to the medical officers and the Cinzano was off limits to the troops until the Italians got their act together. He also found the Italian Air Force, of course the Italians switched sides, and some of them were less than trustworthy and I know that they were trying to find a certain type of bomb, and the Italian Air Force were asked, ‘Can you produce these bombs which we believe are at one of your bases?’ Charles had been very crafty because he had sent a sergeant out to check that the bombs were actually there, and the Italian colonel said, ‘Oh no. No. No. We don’t have any of these.’ And so, of course when confronted with the evidence the colonel had to produce the bombs. Anyway, from there he goes to 210 Group, Mediterranean Air Force based at Algiers, and he stays there until he’s posted to Morecambe in April 1945 and so sees out the war there. He then goes to Cardington in July ’45. And then Greenham Common in September. And then its 16 Group. And then of course by this time the Air Force suddenly realises it doesn’t need to be so big so he’s sent off to Langham near Norwich to close the station down in March ’46. They obviously liked what he did because they sent him to close down Beccles in Suffolk in July ’46. And I’ve got by this time he’s a squadron leader, and he’d been a squadron leader since April ’45. Now, he then gets, to him what would have been a home posting to Headquarters RAF Northern Ireland, and he goes there from the 17th of August 1946 until February 1949. Now, when he is sent off to what was then the Air Ministry, and he has a few appointments there. Staff of Director of Mechanical Transport. Then staff of Air Ministry Unit. Then Director General of Equipment Staff. And then he gets an overseas posting to 110 Movements Unit, Second Tactical Air Force which was at the Hook of Holland. This I remember very well because I was at boarding school and used to come back on holidays and they had all the trooping then was done by rail and by ship. They would pick up the troop train at Liverpool Street and that would take them up to Harwich Parkestone Quay where they had, there was a movements unit there and they had to be fed and watered and put on the troop ship. There were three troopships. Parkestone, the Wansbeck and the Vienna. One was a, an old coal burner and the Wansbeck had been captured from the Germans. And these boats were, well they were like cattle boats. Absolutely dreadful for anyone. It was alright, you know if you were an officer or a senior officer but the troops travelled in the most atrocious conditions. And when the troops reached the Hook of Holland again there was a Movements Unit there and a Transit Camp and they’d be fed and watered and then they’d be put on the various trains that were going up into Germany. By this time of course the Iron Curtain had come down and they were being sent up to the Tactical Air Force. And at this time of course we didn’t have the units on the Dutch border, you know. They were much further into, into Germany, up nearer the German border. We enjoyed ourselves at the Hook of Holland. I know that my father found it a little frustrating because there were only about forty RAF, and considerably more Army and of course where the two Services come together they don’t, they don’t always get on terribly well. But I remember once watching the Queen’s birthday parade and all the various units marched past and it was quite obvious the RAF were the best [laughs] Now then, following the Hook of Holland Charles is posted as senior equipment officer to Coltishall, and that really was the short straw because of course they re-equipped from Meteors to Venoms and Vampires and even Javelins. So of course all the problems were they all had different equipment. So he was a very busy man and of course Coltishall was not the best of places to be stationed. The wind would howl across. I can remember we had a married quarter that was on the Hautbois Road. Oh, after that gorgeous quarter that we had at the Hook of Holland which incidentally had been used by the Luftwaffe it was just so cold and draughty. Going back to the Hook of Holland, there was a very large Luftwaffe element there because they used to launch the V-1s from there. Just opposite to where the boats came in was the island of [MarKo] and on [MarKo] they had this huge V-1 site dominated by this huge control tower. It looked like a large phallic symbol in, in concrete, and they would store the rockets on one side of the sort of main track and then you would actually go to the launch pad that would be taken on rails, and it would be set up and fired. And of course all that’s been pulled down now. It’s all part of, of Europort. Anyway, after Coltishall he’s back to teaching again and he goes off to Bircham Newton as chief instructor. This was the admin apprentices. Everybody knows about the Halton apprentices. What they didn’t realise is they had admin apprentices as well. Not to be confused with the boy entrants. And then following his tour at Bircham Newton Charles goes to 16 MU at Stafford where he’s the unit equipment officer, and he stays there until he retires from the regular Air Force in 1961. But he had a bit of luck. He got the Staffordshire Wing Air Training Corps wing admin officer’s job, and he stayed there until he was sixty five. He really enjoyed that job, it it just meant moving offices. He used to go in, he would be in to work about 10 o’clock in the morning but he would obviously stay late because a lot of his squadron officers had civilian jobs, and at night of course then they would go on to their Air Training Corps duties. And of course he thoroughly enjoyed going around the county. He used to get terribly upset if you said that Staffordshire was a dirty, industrial county. He thoroughly enjoyed the countryside and he enjoyed the people, and of course he also enjoyed the cadets.
CB: Yeah.
JR: Now, as far as Charles was concerned he had a good reputation in the service. He was as straight as a die, which is always a good thing for an equipment officer personally, but not career wise. You know you can’t, when senior officers are badgering you for this, that and the other you know you have to say, ‘No. The regulations don’t allow us to do it.’ So, he remained a squadron leader from the end of the war until he retired. And then when he went to the ATC he had to drop down to flight lieutenant, and he did that for a, did that for a couple of years and then they upgraded the post again and he was back up to squadron leader. I can remember him saying at one stage that he’d been a squadron leader for nineteen years.
CB: A bit hard going.
JR: Yes. Yes.
CB: What do you think was the thing that stood out most in his career that he was proud of?
Other: Probably flying the plane under the bridge.
JR: [laughs] He, I think he was a bit, a bit disappointed, you know being chopped from aircrew but he brought it on himself. He was a real sort of Jack the lad in an aeroplane and you know and clearly they, they weren’t going to have that. I think he, I wouldn’t say he enjoyed the war but he certainly found it shall we say a darned sight better than the RUC, and he certainly decided to make his career in the RAF rather than going back to, going back to being a policeman.
CB: So, what was this flying under the bridge bit?
JR: Well, precisely that. I’m not sure. Wasn’t it done? Well, if he was at Prestwick there must have been —
Other: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: A Scottish bridge.
JR: Well, yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Yes.
Other: Wasn’t it Liverpool?
JR: It could well be. Anyway, it was, he flew down a river and flew under a bridge and of course it was —
Other: Trying to be a Jack the lad.
JR: Yes. Totally verboten.
CB: Well, it’s not the sort of thing that —
JR: No.
CB: It’s the forms you have to fill in if you crash the aeroplane.
JR: Oh, absolutely.
CB: Not the loss of a pilot.
JR: Now, funnily enough because he was chopped from pilot training when the threat of invasion was at its height he told me he was recalled to flying. Flying Training School and they took him up in a training aircraft and the idea was that as a sort of last resort these training aircraft could drop bombs on the, on the German Army you know as it, as it advanced.
CB: This is the invasion.
JR: Yeah, absolutely.
CB: Counter invasion system.
JR: Counter invasion. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JR: So he was passed out from the sort of suicide squad but thank heavens he was never called upon to do it.
Other: And of course as they’d have had you in ’41. He was posted up to Scotland.
JR: Yeah. Yeah.
Other: And you were imminent because you were a honeymoon baby.
JR: Yeah. Yeah.
Other: And I think because of that they posted him out of flying.
JR: Oh, no way he was going to fly another thing, unless it was sort of these sort of suicide mission things. No. No. He was an equipment officer and that was it.
CB: Did he, did he find there was an element of frustration in being an equipment officer on the basis that there were rules in the Air Force but the CO’s of the squadrons wanted things in a hurry.
JR: Yeah, but you know that’s like in any, any big organisation. He enjoyed his time at the Ministry funnily enough. It was the Air Ministry then. It was interesting because he was in an office in Northumberland Avenue and I got sent down after a stint in Germany. There wasn’t a post for me at [unclear] vacant for a couple of months so I was sent to the Ministry. When I spoke to my father about it he said, ‘Oh, yes,’ he said, ‘You were in the same office that I had when I was at the Air Ministry.’ It had been downgraded. That had been the provost marshal’s department that we had.
CB: How did he feel about you being an RAF policeman?
JR: Oh [laughs] he wasn’t very keen on the idea actually, yes.
Other: He hated it.
JR: Yes.
Other: He wanted anything but for you to go to the police force.
JR: Yes. Yeah.
CB: What was it he disliked about the notion of the RAF police?
Other: Them and us.
JR: Surprising you know because he’d been a policeman for five years, but no he, I think it was the idea that well you know it was, well, you know it was them and us.
Other: The dividing line on camp.
JR: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It was quite funny actually because one Christmas when we were at Bircham Newton my brother who later become a lord bishop became rather drunk and so I locked him up in the guard room [laughs]
CB: We’ll stop there for a mo.
JR: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: So we talked in general terms about where he was and he was an equipment officer but what exactly were, was he and other equipment officers doing?
JR: They were providing all the equipment on the station be it uniforms, pots and pans for the messes, engines for the aircraft, tyres for the MT section and the great thing was the fuel farm. These aircraft gobbled up a huge amount of fuel and of course it all had to be brought in. Went in to storage tanks and the tanks had to be dipped to make sure, you know that no one was nicking fuel because at that time the fuel wasn’t rationed and at some years it was very, very tight. He had obviously a staff to help him but he was exceedingly frustrated by the paperwork. He said it was the only branch that had gone backwards. He said that when he first became an equipment officer they would send an airman down to each of the squadrons with the day’s deliveries, with his little barrow and then say, ‘Right,’ you know, ‘What do you want tomorrow?’ And the airman would bring the cart and the list back and that’s what would happen. Instead of sending signals, they used to send lettergrams so, and they would go. It was like a telegram but in letter form and it would, you know reach its destination the next morning and so they would have all the equipment ready and it would be despatched to the stations from the depots.
CB: So, it’s an electronic transmission.
JR: No. No. It was —
CB: Literally.
JR: Literally a letter.
CB: Literally written out. Right.
JR: Written out. Yeah, and he reckoned it was far more, it was far more efficient and later on it was all done with signals and teleprinters and things like that.
CB: Now having been in yourself you’ll know exactly how the RAF works so you talked about Stafford which is the MU there which is the biggest in the UK probably. What goes on at an MU, Maintenance Unit?
JR: Well, the stuff comes in from the manufacturers and then it’s sent out to the stations, but you’ve got stuff that’s you know got to be kept for war reserve and for deployment overseas, and different sites. Then obviously they were dispersed because of enemy action. Enemy aircraft could come along and of course we learned the hard way didn’t we, in the Falklands? We put all our troop carrying helicopters on the Atlantic Conveyer. That was hit.
CB: Yeah.
JR: So when we arrived at the Falklands surprise surprise no troop carrying helicopters and people had to yomp across the island. Again that was some staff officer got it horribly wrong.
CB: And in the war a lot of the munitions are consumed. Not just fuel at a high rate but munitions so was he in the armament bit, or was that done completely separate from equipment?
JR: Do you know I don’t know. I would think that it would have come under equipment but with the armament specialists, you know obviously having the input but he was mostly mechanical transport. You see in the, certainly in the deserts and up through Italy everything was so mobile and they had these huge convoys and you know all the equipment and the stores would go with the convoys and they would set up at the, at the next location.
CB: So keeping tabs on this the North African campaign was a see saw backwards and forwards.
JR: Oh, absolutely. Yes.
CB: And so the result of that was a large amount of gear was unable to be shifted.
JR: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: What did they do about that?
JR: Blew it up. You couldn’t leave it for the enemy.
CB: In Britain then the difference there is that you’re in range of bombing aircraft and did you say there was a lot of dispersals? So how did that work?
JR: Oh the, well the dispersals that, you just built your, your sites, you know, in, in different locations. Obviously out of the spread of a, of a stick of bombs from an aircraft. The places like Stafford were built between the wars so, you know you’d be looking at not conventional spread of bombs, but a spread of bombs from an aircraft in the, in the 1930s.
CB: Yeah.
JR: But, of course near Stafford you had that monumental explosion.
CB: In Derbyshire.
JR: Yeah. Absolutely. It was on the Staffordshire border.
CB: Oh, for an ammunition dump.
JR: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JR: Yeah. Which of course not many people know about.
CB: No. A lot of people killed.
JR: There were indeed. Yes. Yeah.
CB: So that really raises the topic of safety so how were things from a safety point of view dealt with?
JR: Well, certainly what, certainly didn’t have health and safety at work in the western desert [laughs] nor in Italy. I think it was all common sense. They were sensible men and you were on the road together so I think they were a pretty close knit unit and any cowboys would be very quickly brought to heel.
CB: So, now we’re talking about people. In the RAF the bomber crews were all volunteers. In fact the country was operating conscription so in the, throughout most the war, the Second World War so in the equipment side how did they stream people into being equipment airmen? There was a mixture of women and men was it? Or how did it work because you were in the, you were in the police but —
JR: Yes.
CB: After the war. But was the principal similar in terms of selecting the people to do the various jobs.
JR: I think it was all done on a supply and demand. You know, we need so many airmen to be suppliers. We need so many to be cooks. We need so many to be gunners. I know I can remember my father saying to me when they formed the RAF Regiment in 1942 he was extremely worried that he would be drafted into it. He had this fear of the war becoming like the First World War, trench warfare and of course he’d been brought up with the nightmare stories of the Western Front and, you know he’d seen obviously the results of that and he had no intention of being cannon fodder.
CB: No. What was the purpose of the RAF regiment?
JR: To defend RAF airfields.
CB: Right.
JR: And to secure them.
CB: So this is another reason, another type of munitions that they were using. They were using Army type equipment and munitions were they?
JR: Well, they were using Army anti-aircraft guns, because of course you had initially soldiers defending an RAF airfield which Churchill thought was absolutely ridiculous, and the army weren’t very keen on the idea. And the original RAF Regiment uniforms were khaki.
CB: Oh.
JR: Yeah. With RAF Regiment flashes and the, what the airmen called the shitehawk underneath it. And they you know they had the brens, the light, the light machine guns and the, the 303s.
CB: And bren gun carriers.
JR: I haven’t seen any bren gun carriers from that period
CB: Right
JR: But I should think you’re probably right because obviously later on they had armoured vehicles. I know we had them at Bruggen.
CB: Did you?
JR: Yeah.
CB: We’ll stop there for a mo.
JR: Ah huh.
[recording paused]
CB: We were talking in general terms about the equipment branch, but how did it actually work in terms of selecting people?
JR: Well, first of all you have to realise that the RAF was extremely lucky. It got the people it wanted, and most people didn’t want to go into the Army. You got conscription rampant at this time, and people wanted to go in to the RAF in preference to the Army or the Navy and the other thing was of course education standards. School leaving age was fourteen.
CB: Right.
JR: Yes, we had the boy entrants and the apprentices coming through. No way did they meet the needs of this greatly expanded Air Force. So it was a case of training people for a particular job. But I don’t know a great deal about the organisation of the equipment branch during the Second World War. I just know that my father was an equipment officer, and that he had trained other equipment officers.
CB: Yes.
JR: And of course the, the officers would all have been, I would have put the equipment officers, I would suggest would all have been at least, you know school cert.
CB: Yes.
JR: That would have been the —
CB: I suppose I’m leading to the point that the airmen will have had roles that would vary from being able to deal with a lot of things at a desk, being able to hump boxes around and to drive vehicles. Because when you joined the RAF most people couldn’t drive. We’re talking about 1959/60.
JR: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So it was even less likely then.
JR: Absolutely yeah. Well, you’ve only got to look at the layout of most RAF, old RAF stations, the ones that were built between the wars and of course you’d narrow little roads. The only person that had a motor car as such was the CO, and everybody got out of his way. But no, obviously you had to have people to drive the delivery vehicles. The main thing was the petrol bowsers because they didn’t have a direct fuel supply that ran up and down the country underground that could be pumped into the various stations and in to the fuel farms.
CB: When the war started.
JR: Yeah.
CB: But then they built the network in the east didn’t they?
JR: Yes.
CB: Which was pumped by, by fuel line.
JR: Yeah. Yeah. But you know you had these stations springing up overnight didn’t you? And of course the east of England was all operational and the west was training. Most of your bomber stations were very much in the, in the east. In the Royal Lincolnshire Air Force as we used to say.
CB: We’ll stop there for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: When children left school at age fourteen their, because of their ages they couldn’t have been very thoroughly trained, so what happened when they left school?
JR: I think they went, a lot of them went into apprenticeships and of course we, the RAF would have certainly have capitalised on that. But as far as the equipment branch was concerned they had to be numerate. I mean, I can remember there was supply accounting and all the rest of it. You had these vast numbers that all had to be crunched, and the books had to balance and of course it was all audited. So yes I would have hated it.
CB: What do you know about the retention rates of airmen in the RAF because, they’re in fairly, a lot of them in fairly rural areas, and so did they have people just nipping off?
JR: What do you mean? Absent without leave during the war?
CB: Yes.
JR: Oh yes. I mean the, the Service was like any other part of society. You’ve got your bad lads in it. I think the RAF was a darned sight better off than the other services because people —
Other: Can I intervene just here? I find —
[recording paused]
CB: So what was it in relation to society?
JR: Well, the station personnel were a microcosm of society in general. Probably a darned sight more, well they were a darned sight more selective than the Army, but even with the Army in my career I found that if you had a core you know like the REME, or the Royal Engineers or something like that they were very much on a par with the RAF, and decent guys, decently behaved and many of that I’ve a pleasure to be with but I recall one unit of infantry. I won’t mention the regiment so I don’t offend anybody but it was like the RAF Regiment. If they were gunners they were an absolute menace.
CB: Socially.
JR: Yes. Yes. Yes. If they were on missiles or something like that they were jolly good. They were as good as any of the technicians. But your basic infantryman come anti-aircraft gunner, oh when they were all together you had the herd instinct and I found them very difficult.
CB: We’ll stop there again.
[recording paused]
CB: Parents die at all sorts of ages. People die of different ages but at what age did your father’s father die?
JR: I think he was about eleven.
CB: And what affect did that have on his attitude to life would you say?
JR: Well, he, he became a very cautious, careful man. I wouldn’t say he was a particularly brilliant father. It was very difficult because I was born in ’41, you know and I didn’t see him again until he came back from, from Italy, you know in ’45.
CB: Right.
JR: And I can remember when he did come back I saw this chap in RAF uniform walking up to the front door and I ran to my mother and I said, ‘Mummy, mummy there’s a strange man at the door.’ She said, ‘It’s not a strange man it’s your father.’ And funnily enough that sort of rather set the tone for, for the rest of my life. I was packed off to boarding school at the age of five and a half which was —
CB: That was a bit young.
JR: I couldn’t agree more and, but he certainly made up for it with the grandchildren. He was an extremely good grandfather and he was extremely good with young people and this is probably why he did very well with the Air Training Corps, but I think it was, it was the war rather than him.
CB: He had the two different factors didn’t he? One was as a youth he didn’t have the guiding light of his father.
JR: Yes. Yes.
CB: Then he had the disruption of the war itself and the sorts of things he saw.
JR: Yeah. Although, he’d obviously, you know he, they were bombed and strafed and all that sort of thing in the forward airfields but he was quite adamant that he heard more shots fired in anger whilst he was a policeman in Ulster.
CB: Before he joined the RAF.
JR: Exactly. Exactly. Whether that was, you know a throwaway remark I don’t know.
CB: Or just coincidence.
JR: Yes.
CB: Let’s stop there again.
[recording paused]
CB: I’m thinking from the family point of view your parents got married at the beginning of the war and you were born in ’41. So how long before, well your father was here when you were born was he?
JR: Yeah. He, he was at Kinloss and I was born in Forres. And then pretty soon afterwards he, he went down to Merseyside, but no quarters or anything like that. You had to find your own quarters and as far as your family was concerned, you know, you paid their expenses.
CB: Where did your mother and you live then when your father was moving about in the war?
JR: Went down to Sussex and stayed with my grandmother, in not necessarily in her house but sort of nearby.
CB: Where was that?
JR: Bexhill.
CB: Right.
JR: Yeah, and Horsham. My grandfather went back into Service and he started off as a training officer up at Catterick and then went down to Sussex, and was a commandant of the POW camp at Battle.
CB: Oh.
JR: Having both German and Italian prisoners of war.
CB: How did he feel about that?
JR: Very happy to still be in Service I think. This was his third war of course. He started off in the Boer War, then did the First World War, and, you know recalled to the colours for the Second World War.
CB: And when you were really young [cough] excuse me you were in Bexhill what do you remember about bombing and the V weapons?
JR: I know a bit about it because one hit us. We were bombed. I don’t know if it was a V weapon or not but I can remember, you know the fire brigade getting us out of the house. And my lasting memory of that one is, despite the blast, despite the glass and the debris and the damage and all the rest of it there was a photograph of my father been completely undamaged, not even moved and this sub-officer from the Fire Brigade put his arm around my mother and said, ‘Never mind dear. He’ll come back,’ and pointed to the unmoved photograph of my father in uniform.
CB: And where was he at that time?
JR: North Africa.
CB: Right. And to what extent did he talk about his experiences in North Africa?
JR: Well, funnily enough he was quite sort of free and easy about it. It was all the sort of Service stuff. The jokes and the, you know the pranks like pinching the furniture from the Gezira Club, and all those sort of things. It was only later when I went to Aden and things like that that I sort of got a gist of what it would have been like for them in North Africa. He mentioned the diet which of course was absolutely atrocious. Bully beef, sand, tea, you know and how when they were on the move they would just get a jerry can of petrol, get a heap of sand, empty it over the sand and light it up and that was your, your fire. Boil the kettle up and have a cup of tea.
CB: Yeah.
JR: But no, he didn’t like the food.
CB: So, after the war he continued in the RAF but then he started running Air Training Corps squadrons. How did that come about and what did he do?
JR: Oh, that came about because they had created these wing admin officer posts for each county. And you were responsible, not the officer, the wing officers were responsible for running the damned things, and reporting back to Air Cadet Headquarters which I think at that time was at White Waltham, where at one stage they had the RAF staff college. It was just, funny enough it was a Civil Service appointment but you were a full time RAF reserve of officer status, and this was coming up. Staffordshire was not a county that people were falling over themselves to go for. He applied for it and got it.
CB: Based at Stafford. RAF Stafford.
JR: Stafford. Yeah. Just moved offices.
CB: Oh, right.
JR: From being station equipment officer he just moved to a barrack block that had been taken over as, as the wing headquarters.
CB: And when he did retire finally what did he do?
JR: Oh, great cyclist. Still played golf. In fact, he died at the age of eighty six. A week into his eighty sixth year. He was a very competitive golfer and my sister is extremely good and she would come down from the Wirral to Staffordshire when we were living at a little place called Gnosall, and they would go out and play. And it was serious stuff and the week before he died he’d given her a thrashing [laughs]
CB: [laughs] Amazing. Right. We’ll stop there. Thank you.
[recording paused]
Other: Marvellous stories of Ireland. It was wonderful.
CB: You were going to say.
JR: I was going to say that after my mother died he really opened up, you know about his young life and his, some of his time, you know in the Service. I think he was in a way slightly jealous. I mean, I was very lucky. Well, I wasn’t lucky. It was just the way the cookie crumbled. We got lots of overseas tours. You know, in my branch at that time it was a case of three years UK and then three years overseas. And then because of the job I did in the UK, you know you get jobs overseas anyway. But I felt he could have had a better career if he was lucky and, you know if he had been like me and had the chances of going overseas a lot more.
CB: He originally was selected for pilot training. Do you think he harboured a long term disappointment at never really progressing in that particular role?
JR: I think a secret one. But he must have realised, you know the skills required. I spent two years taking Prince Faisal through the whole of the RAF flying training assessment and I was hugely impressed by the young men who were going through the system with him. You know. They were the best of the best. And I think, you know in 1939 people had no idea what was going to be like.
CB: No. Well they didn’t think it was going to progress did they?
JR: Exactly. Exactly.
CB: And when the V-1s started coming across Bexhill was there any suggestion that you should be evacuated or people just thought they’d stay there because they’d never get hit?
JR: I think it was everybody thought everything was heading for London. But I was most interested, you know when we were posted to the Hook of Holland you know and we were able to go across to the island of [MarKo] and actually see the sites of these damned thing that they were so, so well made. And the tod line which I used to play in as a child, father used to come round and hoik us out. There was barbed wire along there. The Dutch didn’t want you in those places. But if we’d landed there, if the allies had landed at the Hook of Holland they would have been slaughtered. The machine gun posts, the gun posts, there were heavy guns. You, you would really have had a hell of a time to get past those, and they were so well camouflaged.
CB: Fascinating.
Other: I think the most, actually out of all the family history the most interesting one is the Jeremy’s uncle who was —
JR: Yeah, I’ve explained.
Other: The D-Day landing.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Jeremy Reade,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 17, 2024,

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