Interview with Gerald Rich


Interview with Gerald Rich


Gerald’s father, Wilfred, joined the Royal Air Force in January 1920 and stayed until about 1927 training as an aircraft fitter. He re-joined in June 1940 at RAF Cardington. In 1944, upon completion of training, he went to No. 1 Air Gunnery School and three months later to No 26 Operational Training Unit working on Wellingtons and crewing up. From there they went to the Heavy Conversion Unit training on Lancasters before joining 103 Squadron on at RAF Elsham Wolds on 3 November 1944. Wilfred flew 19 operations. He was shot down in February 1945, aged 40, being one of the five survivors. He served out the rest of the war in a German prisoner of war camp and was repatriated in about May 1945 and demobbed some months later. Gerald believes his father went back into the catering industry, retiring at the age of 65. He died aged 73 in 1978.







00:30:10 audio recording


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Other: Hang on-
CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 17th of April 2018, and I’m in Hove with Gerry Rich, whose father, Wilfred Rich, was a mid-upper gunner in 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds. What were the original- What was the earliest information you have about your father? What his parents did and so on?
GR: That was as a child, I remember my father telling me that his father had been in the army and I seem to remember him telling me that he was a professor of music at the royal military school of music. I know that he was very much into music, my grandfather, because when he, when he finally passed away, he left my father a lot of books on all the great composers, you know, which, which my father was interested in. My grandmother was just an ordinary housewife, and they lived out their retirement years in Belgravia in London. That is, that is as much as I know-
CB: Yeah, yeah.
GR: -you know, about my grandparents.
CB: Ok.
GR: [Coughs] excuse me.
CB: And where was your father born?
GR: My father was born in Southsea in Hampshire, on the 3rd of January 1905.
CB: And what was, what was his father doing then?
GR: His father was in the army.
CB: He was in the army then as well?
GR: He was in the army then, yeah.
CB: Right, ok, and where did he go to school?
GR: Again, I'm not sure, but I’m just assuming that it was in Southsea, although obviously being in the army they travelled around quite a bit and he probably had various schools that he went to.
CB: Yeah.
GR: I mean in one period I know they were over in Ireland during the Irish rebellion in 1917 I think it was. So, he would’ve still been at school then. No- Yes, he would-
CB: No, he won’t, will he. Oh, yeah, he will, yes because he was born in 1905, yes, he’d be ten.
GR: He would’ve been still at school then, he was born in 1905. But again, I don’t, I don’t know.
CB: Ok.
GR: Literally don’t know.
CB: So, school leaving age in those days was fourteen, what did he- Did he leave school then do you think?
GR: Again, that is a complete, complete blank. I don’t know, I’ve got very little knowledge of his early life. I only know about his war years and, you know, various snippets of information.
CB: When did he join the RAF?
GR: He joined the RAF in January 1920, and he went to Cranwell as a boy, entered at fifteen, and he stayed there till around about 1927 when he left, and I believe came out of the air force, went into civilian life but trained as an air frame fitter and a rigger in- While he was at Cranwell I believe. But from 1927 onwards when he came out, again, my knowledge of what he did was, was very, very sketchy. He didn’t, he didn’t divulge a lot, you know.
CB: And when did he re-join?
GR: He re-joined in 1940.
CB: We’ll pause there for a mo.
GR: He went in- He re-joined the air force on the 20th of June 1940 at Cardington and then went to the 7- No 7 reception centre on the 23rd of June and on the 12th, I think it was, of July that year he went to No 9 school of tactical[?] training, stayed there until the- Round about the 22nd of November in 1940 again, where he joined 13th maintenance unit. Then on the 29th of October in 1941, he was posted to Iceland. Then- He was there until- I think it was about the 6th of March 1942 when he joined 56 Squadron, and on the 6th of August 1942 he’d been admitted into hospital at Ealing.
CB: Ely?
GR: Ely, I beg your pardon, Ely, and then discharged on the 17th of August ‘42 [unclear]. When he was discharged from hospital, he went to the AFDU, the air fighting development unit at Abbey Lodge and he went there on the 29th of November 1943 and then from there he went to 151, er 15 initial training wing where, his [chuckles] his love of being up in the air, which started when he was at Cranwell, when he was taken up in an Avro 504K and immediately fell in love with flying. That was rekindled, and then from there, on the 12th of February 1944 he went to No 1 air gunnery school and on the 30th of May ‘44, the operational training unit, and that was No 26 operational training unit. Right, so we started initial training wing.
CB: So, he’s in gunnery?
GR: Gunnery school, No 2 air gunnery school.
CB: So, he went to the operational training unit?
GR: Went to the operational training unit where, he knew he couldn’t be a pilot so- He still desperately wanted to fly so he decided to become a gunner and train for that.
CB: So, the operational training unit is before they go to the squadron.
GR: Right.
CB: We’ll just stop there a mo.
GR: Did I mention that before he went to the OTU?
CB: Yeah. So, we’re on the OTU, so what did he do at the OTU?
GR: At the OTU, he- They were- He was trained on Wellingtons and it’s where they were crewed up and that was carried out by placing all the aircrew’s, all the different roles, in a hanger and they managed to sort themselves out and form a crew. From there they went to the heavy conversion unit where they were trained on Lancasters, and from there they were posted- Or he was posted to 103 Squadron.
CB: When was that?
GR: That was in- On the 3rd of November 1944.
CB: Right, ok. So, what detail do you have about the operations they did?
GR: What, when he was shot down [unclear]?
CB: You’ve got a list of operations, haven’t you?
GR: Ah yes. He flew nineteen operations with 103 Squadron. The first one was on the 18th of November 1944, which is when ICOL[?] and the last one was on the 23rd of February 1945 Pforzheim where he was shot down and taken prisoner. And then he served the last months of the war out in a German prisoner of war camp and he was- He came back to this country in abut May 1945, I think.
CB: Good, and you’ve got a picture there, what’s that picture?
GR: The picture here is of him, taken at the German prisoner of war camp and-
CB: That’s part of his ID card?
GR: No, that’s-
CB: It’s not?
GR: That was taken by the German officials at the prisoner of war camp, with a number at the bottom, 11915, which I should imagine was his, his number which they gave him at the prisoner of war camp and as I say, he stayed there. He- A little story, while he was there, being very clever with his hands [coughs] excuse me- Being very clever with his hands, he made a telescopic toasting fork out of barbed wire which he managed to acquire from the fencing around the prison [chuckles] and, I don’t know what happened to it but it was quite something. A three pronged- Like a trident. Funnily enough, I remember us, after the war, using it to toast bread in front of the fire. But, as I say he was very clever with his hands having originally been an airframe fitter and a rigger and- He carried that, that skill right through his life.
CB: Yeah.
GR: He was always making things.
CB: What did he say about his experiences in the prisoner of war camp?
GR: Very little, if nothing at all. He did mention the fact that there was a separate compound in the prisoner of war camp for Russian prisoners who were treated very badly. There was no love lost between the Germans and the Russians, you know, especially the military personnel and he said they were treated really badly. But, apart from that he didn’t say anything, you know, didn’t say how he was treated whether it was badly or good or- I do remember him telling me that after he was shot down, he, he managed- He landed in Pforzheim, right in the centre while the air raid was going on, and he was caught by the local authorities, the local police or something, and handed over to the military and they made him stand in the town square while they covered him with fire arms from a safe point. I remember him saying that that was a very uncomfortable experience, and then they, they took him to a Luftwaffe base, where he was treated really well and he was interviewed by a German- A Luftwaffe officer who asked the normal questions, where are you based? What aircraft? You know, how many there? And etcetera. But he said, ‘All I can give is my name rank and number’, and he gave him his name, rank and number and the chap who spoke perfect English, and apparently was educated at Oxford said, ‘That’s alright old chap, no problem at all’.
CB: [Chuckles]
GR: And, before he left, because apparently they were marched down to the prison camp and I think he was saying it took about three days to march, and they gave them a slap-up meal at the Luftwaffe base before they went, which quite amazed him actually after what they’d done, you know, and after that obviously forgiven, as they used to say, ‘The war was over’, you know, and then he was repatriated in, in May and that was his war as experienced in the air force and of course he come out into civilian life then.
CB: Was the camp a Luftwaffe, a Stalag Luft camp or was it plain Stalag?
GR: Stalag Luft, it was a Stalag Luft. No, Stalag Luft, I think. Seem to remember him saying that.
CB: Right.
GR: But I couldn’t- I did try and chase it up online and talking to various people but I couldn’t, and the web master and the editor of the magazine up at Elsham, Keith McCray, he said that that’s often the case because as the allies advanced through Germany, when they came across, across a prisoner of war camp, the German authorities would destroy all records. So that’s probably how.
CB: Mhmm.
GR: Or the main reason why we don’t know where he was.
CB: How did he get out of the camp?
GR: He was repatriated by the Americans I believe, who were advancing through that part of Germany, and he got out that way and eventually got back to the UK and, as I say, demobbed in May. Although, it wasn’t May actually, he got back in May and I think it was later in the year that he was demobbed and I can’t remember exactly when.
CB: What about the conditions in the camp, any idea?
GR: No, again he didn’t say, he didn’t talk about it, so I’ve no idea what the conditions were like. I should imagine they were pretty uncomfortable, but I just don’t know for sure.
CB: OK, we’ll stop there for a mo. When did you say he was demobbed?
GR: I think it must’ve been-
CB: Does it say there? I imagine they demobbed him quite quickly. Do you know how he got back? Did they fly him back? See where I am, near Aylesbury is Westcott. Now, Westcott and Oakley (the nearby airfield) received between them fifty-four-thousand POW’s, flown in by aircraft. It would be interesting to know whether he came in that way.
GR: Again, that, that- It’s a blank, I don’t know.
CB: Yeah, it doesn't matter.
GR: I don’t know.
CB: But he was demobbed in ‘45 was it?
GR: In ‘45 yeah.
CB: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
CB: They tended to demob there prisoners first because of the conditions they’d been in.
GR: Yeah, it looks as though it might’ve been August 1945 he was demobbed.
CB: Ok. Now, what do you know about what he did when he left the RAF? Did he immediately go into something, or what happened? Did the family- Before, I'm not, I'm not rolling it yet.
GR: I, I was still very young so I don’t really know. I know that he was in the catering industry, hotels and that, and they got an idea, went back into that. But we, we were living in North [coughs] pardon me. We were living in Northampton at the time, and we moved down to London so he could find work.
CB: Yeah.
GR: But he was away quite a bit, so I should imagine he got a job which necessitated him being away from home.
CB: Mhmm, was the whole, the whole of his life after the war, was in catering, was it?
GR: Yeah, he, he, he didn’t have a career as such
CB: Ok, let’s- We might as well get this. So you were born in the war? Where, where-
GR: I was born in [unclear]
CB: In ‘41.
GR: I was born in 1941 in Northampton.
CB: Where were you and your mother living during the war?
GR: Northampton.
CB: Right, why was that? What was the significance of Northampton?
GR: I don’t know, I don’t know [chuckles] quite honestly. We- It’s where we were, I’ve got, I’ve got a recollection of bombers flying over Northampton where, you know, we heard them where we were living and the sirens went off and my mother grabbing me and diving under the kitchen table [laughs], you know, for protection, although that wouldn't've given us much protection but, we did- Before we moved down to London, we went to my mother’s family, in a village called Flitwick in Bedfordshire, near Ampthill, and we stayed there for some time, until my father was demobbed, and then we all moved down to London.
CB: So, when he was demobbed, what job did he do?
GR: He went- He didn’t go back to his old job, so I think he just looked for a new job in catering, you know, somewhere down south, because he did work in the Northampton area before when he was in the hotel catering sort of line but, again, my, my knowledge is very, very sketchy. Simply because he didn’t tell me and I was too young to cotton on, you know, to what was happening.
CB: And what age did he retire?
GR: He retired at sixty-five
CB: Right
GR: But unfortunately, he died at seventy-three in 1978.
CB: Right.
GR: But I think- Looking back, I think the war took a lot out of him and it really knocked him for six, you know, as it did a lot of aircrew that survived, and I was never really close to my father. So, he didn’t confide in people much, he used to play his cards very close to his chest, you know, so- And that, that’s about all I can say, you know.
CB: How much do you think your mother knew about what he’d been doing, in the war?
GR: [Sighs] I don’t know what he told her. I, I should imagine she knew quite a bit. She knew- She must’ve realised what flying a bomber over Germany, you know, was all about and the risks involved.
CB: Well, he was quite an old man as far as- In terms of air force ages ‘cause he was forty when he was shot down.
GR: That’s right.
CB: Next day. So- Do you know what the reaction of the crew was to the difference in age?
GR: Well, I know the pilot- The pilot, Cliff Hart, was Australian, was in Royal Australian Air Force, and so was the- I think the wireless operator Angus- Trying to think of his name now. Angus McGrath, he was Australian, and they unfortunately both died when the aircraft was shot down.
CB: How many survivors were there in the-
GR: Pardon?
CB: How many survivors were there from-
GR: Five, there were five survivors.
CB: Right. But they were, they were both killed those two?
GR: They were both killed, they went down with the aircraft, but they never actually found the spot where they went down.
CB: Ok, stop there. The early parts you spoke of then, your father had been on a charge for doing something with his motorbike, what was that?
GR: Ah yeah, he, he was fined a pound for riding a motorcycle without lights on, and also, a short while afterwards he was fined three pounds for riding a motorcycle without a license [chuckles] so, he could be a bit of a bad boy at times.
CB: This is in the early days of him being in the RAF?
GR: That’s right, yeah. That was when he was quite young.
CB: Yeah, where was that?
GR: I believe, I think it was Biggleswade
CB: Right
GR: Mentioned Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, so- And I remember when he was in- He was based in Norfolk in the early part of the war, I think it was a place called Matlaske, Matlaske? But anyway, he was based in Norfolk and he was fined fifteen shillings for riding a bicycle [chuckles] without lights, so- He had his tanner[?] for breaking the road traffic laws.
CB: Yeah
GR: But, apart from that, I know very little about what-
CB: Did your mother ever talk about- To you, about what your father did in the war?
GR: No, never
CB: Did you ever ask her?
GR: No, I was too young at the time, remember I was born in-
CB: I’m thinking later years?
GR: Later years? No, no. No. He kept quiet, so I just didn’t ask, you know, it wasn’t a question of, ‘What did you do in the war Daddy?’, you know, it was, it was accepted that we don’t talk about it.
CB: Yeah
GR: And I think, one offshoot which I didn’t mention before was that my sister, went into the women’s air force for a short while, and I think that’s because my father was, was in the air force himself, I think that had a lot to do with her going in.
CB: You’ve got quite an interesting bunch of pictures there, and cards. What are they?
GR: These are all postcard size pictures which somehow my father had taken when he was a prisoner, or just after and they’re various pictures of the war from a German point of view, actual photographs I think taken, some of the Russian army, others of damage caused by the conflict, a couple of them are hand drawn coloured postcards which are obviously propaganda material but, I've no idea how he came to have them, no idea whatsoever, but they were in his [unclear] when he died, plus there was a Christmas dinner menu from 1941 at the RAF station Reykjavík in Iceland, which has been signed by quite a few people that he obviously knew when they were there, from various parts of the country. Also, another Christmas menu from RAF Bridlington, Christmas Day 1943 and a telegram, which my mother received from Elsham Wolds telling her that, and I quote, informing her that her husband, ‘Wilfred Dudley Rich is reported missing from operation on the night of the 23rd/24th of February 1945, letter follows immediately’, stop, ‘Any other information received will be communicated to you immediately’, stop, ‘Pending receipt of written notification from air ministry, no information should be given to the press’, and that was the telegram she received. Also, I have a ticket here issued by RAF personnel, third class return from Northampton to Stamford and Stamford back to Northampton, and that was dated the 7th of September 1943.
CB: What was the significance of going to Stamford, do you know?
GR: I haven’t the vaguest idea. Lincolnshire-
CB: Yeah
GR: I don’t know what was at Stamford
CB: Yeah
GR: He was stationed at Elsham Wolds and they used to go to Barnaby, Barnaby the Wald which is a station which is no longer there now, and also I have his national registration identity card, which shows his whereabouts, addresses- Various addresses he lived at, and stamps, the first one was issued ’45. This must’ve been after he came out of services. ‘Cause they’re stamped ’45 and ’46.
CB: Ok
GR: And the rest, the rest of his affects are on display in the memorial room at Elsham Wolds
CB: Which is the squadron base?
GR: That- Which is the old squadron base.
CB: 103 Squadron
GR: It’s on the corner of the old aerodrome
CB: Is it, yeah. What have they got? An old Nissen hut? Or, what’s it in?
GR: No, the- Anglian Water treatment works are there and they’ve allocated a room for the association where they can display all their memorabilia and- You know, information about people who served there and [unclear] very interesting.
CB: What sort of stuff does it have in it?
GR: It’s got countless stuff, old stuff from Lancaster bombers, it’s got the instrument panel from a Lancaster in there, got various parts of the mechanics on a Lancaster, various uniforms, records of people that served there, lots of memorabilia, you know, information about people who served there and died, you know, were killed on operations. It is very interesting, and right next door to it they’ve got a memorial guard to 103 Squadron and 576 Squadron who were both based there.
CB: Thank you.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Gerald Rich,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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