Interview with Harold James Richards


Interview with Harold James Richards


Harold Richards from Lincoln was working in the health industry before he volunteered for the RAF. After trying to be a pilot he trained as an observer. He was posted to 297 Squadron at Stoney Cross where he and his crew dropped supplies to the Special Operations Executive and Resistance in occupied France and Norway. They then took part in glider towing during D-Day, Arnhem and the crossing of the Rhine. Harold flew in a number of different aircraft including Albemarle, Halifax, Wellington, Stirling, Whitley, Anson and Oxford. After operations one of his pilots used to compare bullet holes in the aircraft with his pilot friend as a competition.




Temporal Coverage





01:00:49 audio recording


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ARichardsHJ180219, PRichardsHJ1807


CB: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive. The person being interviewed is Harold James Richards. Also known as Rick to his family, and Harry. The interviewer is myself, Cathy Brearley. Also present is Marion Giddings who is Harry’s neighbour. And the date today is Monday the 19th of February 2018. This interview is taking place at Harry’s home in Lincoln. So, first of all Harry I’d like to thank you for giving us this interview. And please could you begin by talking a little bit about your childhood. Where you were born and where you grew up and about your family and your early years.
HR: I was born in Lincoln. A couple of miles from here. And I lived in Lincoln all my childhood really. And moving around various parts in that sort of area. In the centre. The centre sort of in Lincoln. And then I did my schooling in Lincoln. And eventually left school when I was eighteen which was fast approaching the outbreak of war.
CB: Yeah. What line of work was your father in? And your mother if she worked?
HR: What?
CB: What line of work were your parents in?
HR: My father was a printing operator. Operated some sort of printing machine for one of the local papers. Mother didn’t work of course because I had a sister and two brothers. All older than me. I was the babba of the family. And [pause] well, my normal school life came to an end when I was sixteen actually. And I went and started my first job in the National Health Service. Well, it wasn’t the National Health Service then but it was a health service. And —
CB: And what was that you were doing?
HR: Clerical. And I stayed in that until I decided it was getting a bit — time for call up. So, I made the decision that I would volunteer. And at that point I volunteered for the air force having had previous training with the Air Training Corps and things like that. Sort of local interests with the airfields local. Scampton and Waddington you see. They were all on the go in those days. And eventually in oh would it be ’41 I was called up to [pause] Well, I joined up. Let’s put it that way.
CB: Yes.
HR: I can’t remember where I went to. I know where I went to but I can’t remember the name.
CB: Yes. Yes.
HR: And eventually one of the places I went to in my call up area was Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Stayed down there and then ultimately I was brought into the service. Joined up. And joined up as a trainee aircrew and did my training. Part of which was in Scarborough. And eventually, having finished my, that sort of training I was then joined a flying school. Flying training. But I didn’t do very well at that. I wasn’t a blue eyed boy there and eventually I was told that they could do a lot better without me so I had to re-muster. And at that stage I was in Carlisle I think and my next move actually was on board ship. And I was sent to South Africa to [pause] not complete but to start a new period of training. And I did precisely the same in Bulawayo as I’d been doing in Scarborough. Slightly, the temperature was slightly different [laughs] And eventually I moved up the ladder there and finished my elementary training and was then signed on for air observer. And at that time I went to [pause]
[recording paused]
CB: So it was near —
HR: Near Pretoria.
CB: Right. Ok. Can I just ask you a few questions about some of the information you’ve already given?
HR: Yeah.
CB: When you went to Lord’s Cricket Ground how long were you there for and what happened there?
HR: A flying visit [laughs] Not really a flying one but in and out. There was no training or anything there. It was merely a sort of attestation. That type of thing, you know.
CB: So that’s the enrolment paperwork.
HR: But it sounds good in your —
CB: And did you have a medical somewhere?
HR: Yes. I would have had the medical in the first one I went to which was the main [pause] the main joining up place. I can’t think of the name of it. That’s my trouble.
CB: That’s ok. And then flying school in Carlisle.
HR: Yeah. Well, that was just —
CB: Tell me about Carlisle. What happened there? How long were you there for?
HR: About two months. I was flying. Part of my sort of my pilot’s training course but that that was I found I got my final papers from them. And as I say it finished up on the boat out to South Africa.
CB: And what aircraft did you fly on your training?
HR: Magisters .
CB: Sorry?
HR: Magisters.
CB: And then you went on the ship to South Africa.
HR: And then we went on ship to South Africa.
CB: And how long did that journey take?
HR: Not very long because we went sort of on our own and — no. Sorry. We went with an escort. We were in a — what did they call it? Convoy. Went in a convoy. So it took us about three weeks I think.
CB: Right.
HR: And then we landed in Cape. When we landed in Cape Town we got on board the train which took us up, all the way up country to Bulawayo in what was in those days Rhodesia.
CB: So, what happened during those three weeks on ship?
HR: Nothing. Apart from just keeping yourself occupied really. As far as I remember. I suppose we would have had talks and lectures and things like that. They’d obviously have to keep up the, the appearance.
CB: Of training.
HR: [laughs]
CB: So when you got to Bulawayo —
HR: Yeah.
CB: What happened there?
HR: I did a — I went back to elementary training. Nothing to do with flying. I went back on to the same as I’d done in this country. And I did that course and then it was from there that I moved over to Pretoria and started my [pause] Well, I suppose in those days it was air bombing course.
CB: And how long did that last?
HR: Can you leave that? I’ll get it but it’ll be in the —
CB: It’ll be in your logbook. Yes. Ok. Yeah. Yes. So —
HR: And after that it was a question of coming back to this country and eventually I was posted to the squadron which was 297 Squadron. And it was posted, it was at a place called Stoney Cross in Hampshire. This was just a — I suppose a temporary thing. And the peculiar thing was when I got there I realised that it was partly an army camp. But I didn’t make the connection at that stage. It was only later that I sort of realised the connection between 297 Squadron and the army which I’ll tell you about later.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you can tell me now whilst we’re talking about it.
HR: Well, I mean eventually when I got on the squadron we used to do quite a bit in the way of cross country trips and sometimes we used to take paratroops with us. And at other times we used to take gliders. So there’s the army connection coming in like sort of at the beginning.
CB: And what was the aircraft you were in at that time?
HR: Albemarle.
CB: That was — and you were bomb aimer and navigator.
HR: Well, I was trained as a, as a navigator and a bomb aimer which you see in the logbook. But there I tended to be more on the bomb aiming side because I spent quite a bit of the time map reading. And by that I mean we used to do a lot, an awful lot of what we called cross country’s. And we’d go off in a, in an aircraft with either troops to drop at a dropping zone or pulling a glider with troops aboard which was similar to a DZ. A dropping zone.
CB: Yes. So what were your early thoughts when you first arrived on squadron and were in aircraft?
HR: Well, to be quite shattered. Well, to be quite honest I was shattered because Stoney Cross was miles away from anywhere. It was about fifteen miles from Southampton and I think about ten from — I’m trying to think of the name of the other place in the other direction.
CB: Portsmouth.
HR: No. It was only just a smallish place. But I mean any place was was home for, from the camp, you know.
CB: So, you were quite a long way from home weren’t you really?
HR: Quite a lot. Well, I mean we were more or less just outside Southampton in effect. Which was a fair distance.
CB: Do you remember getting much leave to go home and see family?
HR: Well, yes. I suppose we had. We had quite satisfactory. I didn’t, didn’t concern — didn’t concern me much actually. I was courting at the time but I wasn’t married so it, I hadn’t got the claim to be getting home at every touch and turn sort of thing.
CB: So, was your girlfriend in Lincoln at the time?
HR: Sorry?
CB: Was your girlfriend in Lincoln at the time?
HR: In Lincoln. Yeah. She lived up at — on the Nettleham Road in those days. So —
CB: What about written correspondence? Letters. Were you a good letter writer?
HR: Oh, we had them. Just the same as everybody else really. We didn’t have any, any problem. But as I say we spent quite a lot of time in the air. In fact I had one of my pals he couldn’t stand the pressure and he had to give it up. Well, had to give it up. He was medically unfit to carry on so you can imagine that it was pretty hectic at that time. Well, that more or less carried on then right the way through until we got to the sort of D-Day.
CB: And what were conditions like at, on base?
HR: Well, they were Nissen huts. Nissen huts right out in the country.
CB: Was it cold in winter?
HR: No. I don’t think it was. I can’t ever remember it being sort of snowy. It was somewhere in the middle of the — is it the New Forest down there? Is it the [pause] You could tell it was a bit isolated.
CB: What about other nationalities who were there?
HR: We didn’t have any. They were all —
CB: All British.
HR: As far as I recall, apart from the Scots and Welsh and that sort of thing we didn’t have any foreign. Not that I’m aware. I can’t remember to be quite honest. I don’t even remember my own. My own crew. I mean I remember them basically but if you asked me to describe them or say what nationality they were I wouldn’t know.
CB: Ok.
[recording paused]
CB: So you went on a trip in to the village.
HR: Well, it was not a, not planned at all. It, it was just that I was so I suppose isolated at the time. It was fairly early on. I thought oh damn it. I’m going to have a walk down to the village [laughs] or to a village. I wasn’t sure quite where. So, I walked down this, the camp road and got to the main road at the bottom and before I’d done a lot of map reading I turned left. I walked about, oh a mile along that road. Nothing happened. I thought I’ll turn around and go back. So I went back. I thought well I’ll go on. A bit further on. And that’s when I went to Ringwood. And that was when I, I didn’t actually buy the ring at that time but I spied the ground at that time.
CB: For your wedding ring.
HR: For my wedding ring. Not necessarily but I saw there was a jeweller there and so that was it. But that was the sort of isolation that I felt at that time.
CB: And did you choose your wife’s wedding ring from the same place?
HR: Sorry?
CB: Did you choose your wife’s wedding ring from the same place?
HR: I could have done. I don’t recall actually. I definitely remember doing this. But no I think she probably came with me when I, when I bought that because — well actually we didn’t get married until what, two years after I came out of the air force. So that would put us up to 1948. So, it was a bit early then. We’re talking now about, I suppose ’42. Something like that. ’42 ’43 when I was down there.
CB: Can you tell me something about the navigational aids that you used? Either in training or in flight.
HR: Yeah. Basically in my training I tended to do the normal. I can’t remember the technology now. The normal one where you had ordinary — had to do it all by maps and plotting and things like that. I mean these days they’ve got things. Not these days but later on we had things called Rebecca. Which was a type of homing signal. And of course there was what they called Gee. That was another one.
CB: I’ve heard of Gee.
HR: You’ve heard of Gee have you?
CB: Can you explain how it worked?
HR: It’s, oh don’t ask me how it works. No. No. I’m afraid that was a bit beyond me. I, because by that time I was more or less concentrating on the bomb aiming side of it. Other than the navigational map reading which was obviously necessary in these SOE cases.
CB: So, where did you go to after being down near Southampton?
HR: Stoney Cross. I’m a bit vague as to where I, where I was stationed other than I remember a station some time up in Yorkshire. I think it was Hutton Cranswick or, oh Linton on Ouse. Linton on Ouse was one that I was at. But that was later on. I can’t remember. I was also at Brize Norton for a while. But those tended to be later on. I think there must have been some earlier ones. I think there was one called Hutton Cranswick or something like that. That was up in Yorkshire.
HR: But those all tended to be later on. I can’t think. I’ve been trying to think of what, what camps I was on but I think I was basically at Stoney Cross most of my early time. Unfortunately, my logbook doesn’t show it you see other than I could probably work it out by the trips we went on. Because I always put on the logbook the actual route that we were taking.
CB: So, how did you come to be involved with the SOE operations?
HR: Well, it must have been from the start. I wasn’t aware of it other than the fact as I say that we’d got army connections. That was the only thing that made it any different from these, these places up here. Of course the other thing is that whenever one went on an op you went on your own. I mean, you didn’t, you didn’t go up in a flurry like they do for the Bomber Command. You see they go up and there’s probably twelve aircraft go off at the same time. Well, we used to just sneak off at all sorts of different times.
CB: And how much notice would you get?
HR: We would know on the day we were going. They would tell us in the morning you see. And then probably we’d have some sort of a briefing in the afternoon. Wouldn’t be a great deal because obviously they wouldn’t know a great deal. They’d just say you go across the Channel and then when you get get there then you just find your way from there sort of thing. That’s how it used to work.
CB: And was most of this work done at night? When you were doing the drops.
HR: Oh it would all be at night. Yeah. There was no, well there were a few, a few day trips but they weren’t I remember one day trip we had to to Oslo. But that’s the only time I can ever remember that we went in the daylight.
CB: And I’ve read that it was often the drops, the night drops were often scheduled around the phases of the moon and so that you would have some light.
HR: Well it could. We had nothing else you see.
CB: Yeah.
HR: You see, you imagine when we, that the the practice was that one would take off from your ‘drome, go across the Channel at about what? Three hundred feet. Very low anyway. Before you got to the coast you’d start to climb to make sure that you were sufficiently high enough to get out of the range of the guns or whatever and then of course when you got the other side you had to drop. And the rest of it you see was at about what? Three hundred feet. Well, there’s nothing. You can see nothing at night at three hundred feet. I mean you can’t look for trains or bus stations or things like that you see. It’s a question of looking for places where there was, well forestries or woods. That was another darker sort of area you see that you would find on your maps and —
CB: So, it’s quite dangerous then isn’t it?
HR: Well it wasn’t, it wasn’t —
CB: Rather than obviously open spaces.
HR: Although we were lucky actually because whenever they gave you somewhere it was usually in a reasonably unbuilt, not built up area because obviously you see these people were having to come out to receive you as it were. So, you could only really go in the moonlight where you would get the moon, picking up or picked up by the water if there was any lakes or rivers. That was another thing. If you got on a river you were alright because you could follow it you see.
CB: And did the people on the ground use torchlight to help you?
HR: They did. They did but it was a slow sort of situation because obviously they were careful and so were we. So I mean when you got to what you thought was roughly where you should be you just had to look and see if there was any, any possible lights. I mean these lights were given at a certain signal to give which we would be informed of. They’d be saying, well they’d be flashing out whatever. The signal. And then at that point then you could start doing, offloading your containers or whatever you were taking.
CB: So, it would be a different signal each time. What sort of —
HR: Oh yes. It wasn’t general. No. It was just a—
CB: And what sort of a signal might it be? Was it based on Morse code signalling at all?
HR: Oh yeah.
CB: Yeah. So would it be a code word maybe?
HR: It could have been a code word. It could have been anything really as long as it was something that wasn’t easily sort of dis well not discernable but able to work it out quickly.
CB: Do you remember any of the signals that were —
HR: No. I don’t. No.
CB: Particularly given.
HR: Actually it used to be the job of the gunner to flash the signal but — or the navigator often did because I was, as I say I was busy trying to locate what we called the DZ. The dropping zone.
CB: And I imagine it was a mixture of dropping agents as well as sometimes supplies.
HR: Well, we didn’t have any agents dropping. They were, they were a completely different concern as far as we were concerned because obviously they used to fly from Tempsford on the north, Great North Road there. That was their, their headquarters.
CB: I understand.
HR: And they had their own squadron there actually. In fact if you look at this book they’ll tell you that 138 Squadron was, was their actual, the squadron that did all the —
CB: The agent drops.
HR: Taking the agents. Plus of course the Lysanders. They used to do a lot. You’ve seen these funny little Lysanders. Well, they used to do a lot of that sort of thing.
CB: I see. Yes. Yes, the —
HR: No. Ours was completely material. We used to drop containers which contained all sorts of things.
CB: Yes. The book you refer to is a book that both Harry and I both have called, “Forgotten Voices of the Secret War,” by Roderick Bailey. Which is about SOE operations. So, what sort of supplies would you be dropping?
HR: Well, frankly we wouldn’t know. I I don’t know anything that I dropped other than the fact that it was a container.
CB: What sort of size container was it? In feet for example.
HR: Well, it always liked a coffin but it was obviously bigger than a coffin. But that type of thing along. Well, have you seen them in these books? That’s the type of thing. And they had all sorts of things that —
CB: They must have been quite robust to have withstood being dropped from —
HR: Oh yeah.
CB: So high.
HR: Well, we used to drop about what three hundred or something like that you see. And it was on soft soil hopefully. If nobody was in the way.
CB: Would you have to go around for other drops or would you be able to —
HR: Oh no. It would be one drop and off. Oh yes it was, it was paraphernalia to do all. Get the aircraft in position and get it with the, with the wheels — well some. Most of the time they’d put the wheels down to give you more resistance and the flaps and all sorts making it as easy as they could. Comparatively so. So, of course as soon as you dropped them everything was brought up. Wheels up and the flaps up and we were off. But it was just one. One trip around.
CB: And would you typically fly with the same pilot and other aircrew?
HR: We had our own, we had our own crew. Yeah. The crew was, was more or less fixed. In fact I had one. I had one, one fella well you’ll see in the logbook for about half my period and then I had another one. Changed me over.
CB: Do you remember the names?
HR: Yeah. Shortman, Flight Lieutenant Shortman was the first one. And the other one was Millnoy.
CB: Mill —
HR: Flight Lieutenant.
CB: Millroy.
HR: Millnoy.
CB: And the aircraft?
HR: I only remember them because I’ve got them in my logbook you see.
CB: And what was the aircraft you were using for that?
HR: Albemarle for that one. I’ve got a photograph actually but you can’t see a great deal of it.
[recording paused]
CB: So, can you tell me about how you went around the country in the aircraft showing them to other RAF bases.
HR: Well, prior to the invasion we had the task of going around the different areas of particular defences that might be involved in any sort of attack. Either by the Germans or us going over there. And these aircraft were specifically being used. All the British and all the, the allied, all the allied aircraft were marked with this particular white marking on the fuselage. And we went to Linton on Ouse in Yorkshire. We went up to Turnhouse in Scotland. And I think we went to another place in, in Hutton Cranswick. I seem to remember that. That was up in Yorkshire. But operationally I don’t think we moved from Stoney Cross. I can’t ever remember, except moving to Brize Norton and that was specifically for the D-Day and Arnhem and the crossing of the Rhine. I think we went from Brize Norton for, for those. But in turn we went from Brize Norton to the one on the coast in, in Kent. Oh God, what’s the name of it now? Well known one. Right on the tip of the coast there.
CB: Not sure.
HR: Well, that was the one we actually went from for those three. On those three occasions.
CB: So tell me about D-Day.
HR: Not much to tell. No. We were unfortunate that we lost a glider. How —?
CB: Did that ditch in the Channel?
HR: Oh. We got over the coast. Oh we were virtually there. Well, sort of midway between the water and the, the battlefield as it were at that time. So we were within a matter of miles but it just disappeared. Unfortunately.
CB: Yes. Yes.
HR: I never heard anything about it but then naturally one wouldn’t.
CB: And Arnhem.
HR: Similar. Similar.
CB: Similar loss.
HR: But we didn’t get as far there. In fact, when you see the logbooks you’ll find that I think we did an hour and a half on D Day and an hour to Arnhem. Something like that.
CB: And the Rhine?
HR: And the — we crossed that alright. Yes. We did that. Five hour journey. Five. Five hours seventy five I think it was. Something like that.
CB: And that, was that dropping supplies?
HR: That was taking, that was taking troops. We took gliders. Those were glider. Glider towings. So we lost the glider which was the annoying part because we don’t know what happened to the men. But what happened? I’m not suggesting anything.
CB: That indicates the degree of difficulty of the actual role.
HR: I mean it could have been something that broke. Could be a, you know sort of the rope. The rope. The wire between plane and glider broke. Came undone. No idea.
CB: So how many troops would fit in a glider typically?
HR: Oh not a lot. About ten to twenty I should think. Something like that. They’d be just like, just like, you know what an aircraft looks like inside. You know, forget all about the driver and his sort of area and I mean you’ve got the whole of that because there wouldn’t be anybody there. There would be a pilot. A couple of pilots you see with a glider pilot with a glider. And they would take over you see once the thing was released. But they’d just be pilot on either side. Probably about, there might be about seven or eight on either side of the fuselage. It depends on the size because you had, you had two types of glider at that time. We had the Hamilcar which was the big one. And then we had the smaller one which was the [pause] oh my God what did they call that?
CB: I’ve heard of Horsa gliders. I’ve heard of Horsa gliders.
HR: That’s right. Horsa. Yeah. Well, they were the smaller ones. But the bigger one was the [pause] was the other one.
CB: Do you know if that’s something that men would volunteer for? To go in a glider. Or would they be ordered.
HR: It would be part of their training. Part of their duty. I mean they didn’t mind which way they went as long as they went. These lads. They were [laughs] as we call it muck and nettles [laughs]
CB: And I imagine there’s a lot of risks in safely landing a glider as well.
HR: Well, providing the, the area is right to land there shouldn’t be any difficulty because after all you take them to what they called the dropping zone and that’s, that’s perfectly clear. The difficulty is that if it gets in to rough territory then it gets difficult because I mean there’s no engine or anything like that to help them land. So it was just a question of going into the ground really. Trying to get a long clear run.
CB: And what sort of height would you be at?
HR: Oh not very high. When we were towing them we’d only be about fifteen hundred or something like that.
CB: And the Rhine operation was a more successful one.
HR: I don’t know much about that because we went straight there and straight back. I’ve got no idea what happened there.
CB: Was that lots of gliders went at the same time on that one?
HR: Would have been. Yeah. Yeah. It would have been quite a sight I would think from the ground.
CB: What sort of number?
HR: Hmmn?
CB: What sort of number?
HR: I honestly don’t know. I honestly don’t know because obviously it’s something that we would look upon it as a normal sort of process I suppose but —
[recording paused]
CB: So are there any other particular events or moments that you recall for any reason? Either humorous or particularly dangerous or near misses.
HR: I can’t think of any near misses. I mean the procedure was — on an ordinary operation the procedure was quite simple. We, we would have a briefing. But again unlike Bomber Command we went in singles. We didn’t, we didn’t go in, in loads. And then the idea would be flying sort of very low over the water and climb up to keep out of the way of ack ack stuff. And then immediately you got over there, drop and then it would be a question of map reading yourself to wherever you were going.
CB: I imagine you were kept fairly busy during —
HR: Well, I didn’t do anything other than map read the whole time that I was once I got to the coast that was it. I mean I was immediately confined to the nose and that was it. And I would sort of help the navigator if he was in any sort of trouble. If he sort of said, ‘Can you, can you see anything down there?’ And it would be a question then yes or no. And then we would be praying that somebody would be coming out to meet us. We would aim to get to a particular place. We’d know where it was. We’d get what they — a map reading reference. And we’d, they’d be aiming for that. They’d have picked a course to get there. And then it’s a question of looking. Trying to see something as you went past.
CB: Did you typically go to France?
HR: Oh yes. Yes. I had I think about three journeys there from what I can recall.
CB: Where else did you go other than France?
HR: Oslo.
CB: You mentioned Oslo.
HR: Just those four places because my ops actually only totalled, I think about ten. Something like that. And that included some of these aborted ones. So I didn’t have a great deal of experience on that.
CB: What sort of things were you able to see from the air that you could use as landmarks other than obviously rivers and train lines?
HR: Well, just rivers really. And, and trees. The forests or parks or anything that gave a darker sort of appearance from I mean because you’ve got to remember you were whizzing along at about three hundred miles an hour. Two hundred and fifty. That sort of speed. So you didn’t have a lot of time to see anything. But I mean you just set, set course from a particular point and then that was it. Well, then once you got to what you thought was a sort of vicinity of where you wanted to be it would be all eyes out trying to find this lamp that you’re supposed to be looking for. And then of course once the lamp was sighted then you would do a couple of circuits probably just to make sure that it wasn’t somebody just going to see the cows or something like that. Just to see that they were the right sort of people. And, and then it, once you got agreement I mean there would be signalling between us and the ground. Once you got communication as it were then it would be as I say preparing the aircraft to make the drop. You’d have to find out which way the wind was coming. Obviously to be going into the wind to drop it. To, you know, make it that much easier. And once they, once the people on the ground started to collect they’d make a line for you. And the idea would be to drop the containers on that line of lights. And if everything went ok well then it would be a question of putting the aircraft back into flying mode and off.
CB: And over the time you probably flew in a lot of aircraft. A lot of different aircraft as part of your training and operations. Which was the first aircraft you ever went in?
HR: I should think it was probably when I was flying pilot. Tiger Moth. And then a Magister. And then I started on the, the other navigational ones and they were things like Oxford. Oh I’ve got a list of them somewhere. I don’t know whether I can —
[recording paused]
CB: So you flew in a lot of different aircraft and you have a list there of all the aircraft you flew in.
HR: I have. Well, prior to re-mustering I was on a pilot’s course and I flew then in Tiger Moths and Magisters. And then when I was removed [laughs]
CB: Relocated.
HR: I was scrubbed [laughs] and I went navigator/bomb aimer and I flew in Albemarle, Halifax, Wellington, Stirling, Whitley. Or as part of my training on, at navigation school I was in Ansons and Oxfords. I’ve just turned up a little note here. Operations. All I’ve done with this is that I’ve made a note of the time. The duration. And there’s one, two, three, four, five, six. There seems to be six of these that we’ve been talking about. These special deliveries. And then there’s one to Norway. I’ve said that. I don’t know what happened to that. I don’t remember very much of it. It was six hours anyway. And then I’ve got D-Day an hour. Then there was a trip when we did forty minutes. The aircraft was defective. And then there was one. The Arnhem one which was another hour. And the Rhine crossing — 5.25. So that, that was the operations.
CB: That’s a lot of different aircraft. Do you remember how, how different they seemed from each other? Obviously there’s a big difference between a Tiger Moth and a Halifax for example, isn’t there? What were they like to fly in? The different aircraft.
HR: I don’t think there was much difference frankly. Other than the fact that the, as I say some of them were faster than others and some were more defensive then others. More. Not that we ever were attacked. Although the funny thing was, I’ll tell you this, one of my pilots — are we on?
CB: We are.
HR: One of my pilots had a thing with his friend who was another of the pilots of the squadron of who could be attacked the most on these trips. And they used to have an examination when they returned to base to see whether there were any bullet holes anywhere. But that’s, that’s the sort of thing that you get. But that was my first pilot. Shortman. Flight Lieutenant Shortman. But the other one I didn’t do so well with him. He was the one that did all my failings.
CB: Did you have any lucky mascots that you took with you?
HR: No.
CB: I know some people did, didn’t they?
HR: Oh I’m sure they did. No. I’m afraid I was very fatalistic about it, you know. If it happens it happens.
CB: I was going to ask you if you were frightened. Or thought about it.
HR: No. I don’t think — I think the only time I felt a bit scared was as I say when we went to Norway it was — I was going to say a new country and didn’t quite know what might, might happen. And I got a feeling that there was other planes in the sky at the same time as us which I hadn’t had before. And I was a bit, wasn’t too happy then. I was pleased when we came away. Because we’d done an awful, we’d done six hours, you see which was about another two hours on top of our normal trip. But no. No. It’s just one of those things really I suppose.
CB: Did you have any particular rituals or habits or things you did?
HR: No. No.
CB: Do you remember others having those things?
HR: I can’t say that I do.
CB: And then the war came to an end.
HR: Yeah. Well, of course when the war came to an end it was, as far as I was concerned it was the end of the, of my career in the air force. Although I could have stayed on. For a time anyway. But of course it wasn’t. I already had a job. I’d got a job with the Health Service in those days.
CB: Did they keep your job for you, after the war for you?
HR: Oh yes. I was told that when I came back it would be there. So I came back and of course the pending wedding at that time of course because we got married in ’48. So, it was only sort of two years later. And so I, I decided that that was, that was the end. And I think that’s the end of my story.
CB: And what was your wife’s name?
HR: Vera.
CB: And then you remained in Lincoln ever since.
HR: Oh no. No. I’ve, when I, when I started up sort of back at hospital there I spent — well I was forty four years in the National Health Service. Or rather that and its predecessor. And I had a, funny thing I was going to show you this Marion.
[recording paused]
HR: Yes.
CB: So, you went back in to the Civil Service and you were in St Albans.
HR: I did. And I spent a total of forty four years in the National Health Service and the prior service. And eventually came back to, to Lincoln. And that’s really the story of my wartime I suppose.
CB: Was it usual for people’s jobs to be kept for them until after the end of the war?
HR: Well, mine was because I specifically, specifically asked whether it would be. And when I was told I obviously took advantage of it. But had they said no, well then I would probably have stayed on in the air force. For a time anyway. Because I’d got up to warrant officer by then you see. So it was far as I could, I could get without going in for a commission. Which I probably would have gone in for, you know. If I’d stayed in.
CB: Was that something that the NHS typically did was to hold everybody’s jobs for them or was there only certain jobs.
HR: I suppose. I suppose it was actually.
CB: What about people in other lines of work? Were they, did their employers keep their jobs for them?
HR: Oh I don’t know, that I can’t, that I can’t. I wouldn’t like to say.
CB: And are you in contact with any other people that you served with?
HR: No.
CB: Or part of any of the RAF Associations?
HR: No. Funnily enough after, well at the Spire when they had that function on the, in January that Marion was talking about I met somebody from [pause] I think it was somewhere sort of Northampton or somewhere like that. He had something to do with a group of people called — I can’t think what they called them now. I’ve got a letter from them. They want me to go and join them at some function [pause] I think its October.
[recording paused]
CB: So, is there anything else can you think of that you would like to talk about?
HR: I don’t think so. I think you’ve got a — we seemed to have spent quite a long time and I think you’ve got something to write about even if it’s, doesn’t get to the top of the class. It’ll be something to include in your list.
CB: Well, thank you very much for your time Harry. It’s been an absolute pleasure to meet with you and it’s been very very interesting. Your memories. And in particular because they are slightly different from other interviews and oral histories that have been collected because your role was a specialised role. And in that way was slightly different from others that we have interviewed. So thank you ever so much for your time.
HR: It’s been a pleasure.
CB: You’re welcome.


Cathy Brearley, “Interview with Harold James Richards,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 15, 2024,

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