Interview with Jill Saunders


Interview with Jill Saunders


Jill Saunders’s father Frank Simon was born in Salford in 1917. He served an apprenticeship as a fitter before joining A.V. Roe. He had joined the RAF volunteer reserve but as he was in a reserved occupation, he was only called up in 1944. He trained at St Athan as a flight engineer and was subsequently posted to 166 Squadron, based at RAF Kirmington, in October 1944. The remainder of his crew were all Australians. They were one of the crews sent to RAF Scampton to form 153 Squadron. Altogether, Frank flew 19 operations before his crew were transferred to the Pathfinders at RAF Little Straughton in January 1945. However, he became ill and was hospitalised in February 1945. It was while working at A.V. Roe that Frank met his future wife, Peggy. She was born in Kendal in 1920 and had worked at a shoe factory before being conscripted to a munitions factory in Manchester. They married after the war. Frank worked at a power station until his death at the age of 55 in 1973. Peggy lived into her 90s.
In about 2006, Jill made contact with the 153 Squadron Association and through it, with two of Frank’s former crew. She became involved in the running of the Association and remains Honorary Secretary.




Temporal Coverage




00:53:45 audio recording


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AM: Right. I’m just going to pop that there but just ignore it. So, today it’s Friday the 9th of June. The day after the election 2017. And this is Annie Moody for the International Bomber Command Centre. I’m with Jill Saunders today and we’re at Jill’s home at [ buzz ] Whiston, in Rotherham. And Jill’s going to talk to me about her mum and dad and their experiences during the bomber war. But then we’ll also come on and talk a little bit about Jill’s experiences since with regards 153 Squadron and also with regards to research into a specific plane. So I’m going to start off, if that’s ok Jill just to ask you a little bit about what you know and what you can remember about your mum and dad’s childhood. Perhaps we’ll start with your dad first. How old would he, can, can you remember what year he was born?
JS: He was born, he’d have been, he’ll be a hundred in, next month.
AM: Ok.
JS: So he was born in 1917.
AM: Right. Ok. So just towards the end of the First World War then.
JS: Yes. Yeah.
AM: Where was he born?
JS: He was born in Salford. His mother died when he was twelve. And his father died about eighteen months later.
AM: Right.
JS: Of a heart, of, well no. His mother died, she’d had an operation for, to have her tonsils out and they left a swab in and she got septicaemia and she died. Which he never got over. And his father I’m not supposed to know it but he was found hanging in the outside loo about eighteen months later.
AM: Right.
JS: So my father was actually brought up by his much older sister, Margaret who he idolised. She was his mum virtually.
AM: Yeah.
JS: And he lived with her until after the war. Until he got married.
AM: Did he have brothers and sisters?
JS: No. No. No, he didn’t.
AM: No. So did Margaret.
JS: Well he had his sister. Margaret was his sister who brought him up.
AM: Of course.
JS: Yeah.
AM: But you said she was considerably older than him.
JS: Yes.
AM: Yeah.
JS: That’s alright.
AM: I’m thinking aunt rather than sister there.
JS: Her son, Les died last year, in fact. He was eighty. He was my cousin obviously and he thought the world of his Uncle Frank and Auntie Peggy. And told me once how, I think it would be in November ’44 he’d be about ten or eleven, something like that. He went to school one day. They were preparing for the Christmas concert and they needed some gold paint for something so the teacher said, ‘Anybody got any gold paint?’ So he said, ‘I’ve got some at home, sir.’ ‘Go home and get it then.’ And when he got home his mum, that’s my dad’s sister Margaret was there making tea and toast for a full seven aircrew who were all sitting around on the living room floor. So, young Les walked in and sort of wow. And they made a fuss of him and he had some tea and toast. And it was the naughtiest thing Les ever did in his life. He didn’t go back to school. They took him to Bellevue for the afternoon.
AM: The zoo.
JS: Yeah. And funfare as it was in those days. And he thought that was great fun. And you know they all made much of him and he remembered my dad and all his crew until the day he died which was last year.
AM: Yeah. It just shows you doesn’t it? So did your dad go to school in Salford?
JS: Dad went to school in Salford. Yes. He was Salford born and bred. Proud to be a Salfordian. And started work. He got an apprenticeship as a fitter.
AM: So, did he leave school at fourteen or —
JS: I don’t know what age he would be.
AM: No. Because it was usually the fourteen for school certificate.
JS: Something like that. He was bright though. Totally wasted. And he was a brilliant engineer. And I think he served his time at Reynold’s. Reynold Chain. That was in Trafford Park, I think in those days. In fact, he worked at the time with Harold Goodwin the actor who was in a lot of war films including, ‘Bridge over the River Kwai.” Little man. He was in quite a lot of war films. And every time one of these films came on TV my dad would go off. ‘There he is the little so and so.’ He was a conshy. He wouldn’t go in the war.
AM: Ok.
JS: But he made all these films afterwards which really wound my father up.
AM: I can imagine.
JS: So, yeah. So he, as I say he served his time as a fitter. In his latter years he was such a good engineer his nickname was Two Thou Frank because everything had to be done to two thousandth of an inch or less. He was just meticulous with everything. The paperwork. You know. He drove me mad with my homework. You know. I had to underline my answers and it had to be neat. He was just that sort of guy really.
AM: So what, so if he started work and apprenticeship.
JS: Yeah.
AM: As a fitter.
JS: Yeah.
AM: What year would that be then? ‘Ish?
JS: I don’t know.
AM: Or am I, obviously pre-war.
JS: It’s pre-war. Yeah. And I know he was a Volunteer Reserve.
AM: Right. So, so this is when?
JS: Because I’ve got his little VR badge. And I think he moved onto AV Roe’s working there and was classed as Reserved Occupation.
AM: Yeah.
JS: So, he was actually older and later joining the fray.
AM: Right.
JS: Than most his contemporaries —
AM: So he actually worked at AV Roe as an, as and engine, a fitter.
JS: Which is where, where he met my mum.
AM: An engineer. Yeah.
JS: Yeah. And he finally got his call up papers and kept for years his one way ticket. His rail ticket. Which —
AM: Yeah.
JS: I threw it out of course. He called it his one way ticket. So, yeah. So then he, he trained for the, they wanted him, they were short of engineers in the RAF and it was the obvious place for him to go really. He trained at St Athan as most of them did. Then he, I’ve got his logbook there. He went through various places but ended up in 166 Squadron at Kirmington.
AM: Ok.
JS: And then in October ’44 he’d crewed up with six Australians at Kirmington.
AM: Right.
JS: Formed a crew, and they were sent down to Scampton to form 153 Squadron with a number of other crews.
AM: Did he tell you anything about the crewing up process? And how they, how that particular —
JS: Yeah. He didn’t, he didn’t but the two guys in his crew that I spoke to and that I met in 2006 did in that they were all just more or less shut in to a room and said form yourselves into a crew. Now, I don’t know whether my dad picked them or they picked him but he ended up in an all Australian crew apart from himself.
AM: I think that was what was in my mind. How did he end up with six Australians then?
JS: Whether the six of them had got together and we need an engineer he’s the only one left. I have no idea. I don’t know who would. Whether the skipper picked them all or who knows.
AM: We’ll never know.
JS: No. No.
AM: But from there they would have gone on to —
JS: So they started ops, I think late October ’44.
AM: They would have gone to Heavy Conversion Unit.
JS: They did that before. He did that before.
AM: Ok. So then the crew.
JS: If you, if you can stop that I’ll go and get his logbook and —
AM: We’ll have a look at that afterwards.
JS: Yeah. Alright.
AM: Oh, well hang on. So what I’ve got here in my hand is a copy of Jill’s dad’s logbook. Jill’s got the actual logbook. And once they’d crewed up and were actually ready to start operations they moved from 166 Squadron to 153 Squadron. Jill, have you any idea why? Why did they move squadrons?
JS: They were just for, as far as I’m aware they were just actually forming a new squadron, 153.
AM: Right.
JS: And I, I don’t know that it was only 166 that was sent there or whether there was others sent there as well to make up the squadron. I could find that out for you. I only need a phone call to Bill Thomas and he would tell me.
AM: Yeah. No. It’s just interesting.
JS: Yeah.
AM: To wonder. Because obviously I’m looking. I’m looking at [pause] I saw the training and the familiarisation. The circuits and landings. All the rest of it. The night bomber. Fighter affiliation. Diversion and bullseye. Almost all with Pilot Officer Mettam.
JS: Yeah.
AM: As the pilot. But for some of them, and we’re in Halifaxes at this point as well. So, Pilot Officer Mettam. Was he one of the Australians then that became the —
JS: Yes.
AM: The final crew.
JS: He was his pilot.
AM: Right. Ok.
JS: Right the way through.
AM: Yeah.
AM: So what we’re looking at now is that in —
JS: Also had to do dual and solo. The flight engineer had to be able to fly.
AM: Right. Yeah.
JS: Himself.
AM: Yeah.
JS: In case anything happened to the skipper, of course.
AM: So then in September 1944 when the training had finished that was when they moved the following month in October ’44 to 153 Squadron. So he was based —
JS: At Scampton.
AM: At Scampton. And did he, what did he tell you, if anything, did he tell you anything about the operations? Any stories. Any — or just what it was like.
JS: He — no. He only told me about coming back with the full load on. But I subsequently found out a couple of stories from the skipper and tail gunner when I met them. The tail gunner was a real comedian. Apparently, when they all got back and went for their bacon and eggs Ned didn’t. He went straight to the parachute shed to chat the girl’s up who were folding up parachutes. But that was what Ned was like. He said they were coming back, I don’t know whether dad was with them or not at the time, from one op and he said they were on fire. He was in the rear turret and there were sparks and all sorts flying and they were coming down and he could hear them jettisoning fuel, and you know and preparing for a nasty. And he got on his mic and said, ‘Are we baling out, skip?’ And Mettam, in his voice, ‘No. That won’t be necessary,’ And brought it down sweet as a nut. He also, then Mett himself did tell me once they were diverted to Manston. I don’t think it was the one that dad was on because I’m sure he would have told me but he overshot at Manston which is very, not like Mett but the problem being that as he overshot he hit a ploughed field and the furrows instead of going the way he was going went the opposite way. So I said, ‘Well, what happened?’ He said, ‘Well, the nose dug in,’ he said, ‘And it flipped over.’ Completely flipped over from the back end over the front end. I said, ‘What the hell did you do?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘We all got out and scratched our heads, looked at it, laughed and hitched a lift back to Scampton.’
AM: What happened to the plane though upside down in the ploughed field?
JS: That’s right. It wasn’t their problem was it? So, yeah, I mean I did found out a little bit from them two. Dad didn’t speak a great deal apart from he did tell me a few times about the time he came back with a full load on and I think that must have really frightened him. Having to land with a full load that they had been trying to get rid of for a few hours.
AM: Did, did he ever say anything about what he saw as the differences between, because looking at it most of the training was done on Halifaxes and then right towards the end of the training in September they went on to Lancasters.
JS: That’s right.
AM: Did he ever talk about the difference between the two?
JS: No. He only ever spoke about Lancasters.
AM: Right.
JS: He never mentioned Halifaxes at all to me. I think like most of them he was in love with the Lancaster and still are.
AM: And that was the one he did all his operations on.
JS: Yeah.
AM: So. So, I’m looking at the logbook and the first operation was to Essen. And then a couple of Colognes. Nights. A fair mix actually. Mainly, mainly night. Mainly night operations. Cologne. Dortmund. Düren. [unclear] Freiburg. And did he ever say anything about the operations. How he felt about them or —
JS: The only thing he did tell me about was having his bacon and egg and them saying, ‘Flying tonight, sir?’ Which when I watched the “Dambusters” film and having eaten in the mess at Scampton I found it very difficult to actually eat in there. To even go through the doorway. It was just, yeah it sent shivers down my spine.
AM: I think you said, so I’m looking at the operations and we’ve, let me just find the right page. I think in total he did —
JS: I think it was nineteen. I think.
AM: Nineteen.
JS: I think it was nineteen.
AM: Yeah.
JS: I’m trying to find out because they were, they were transferred as a crew down to 582 Pathfinders at Little Staughton in January ’45. Dad was admitted to hospital in Ely in February ’45 and mum did tell me that he, he had done an operation in Pathfinders.
AM: Right.
JS: But there’s no record of it anywhere.
AM: No.
JS: And I think that’s perhaps because he was, didn’t get his logbook filled in and was whipped in to hospital quickly.
AM: Right.
JS: I don’t know.
AM: Because, yeah because on the logbook as you say it shows the last one as number eighteen in January ’45 over the Bay of Biscay. And then you said he was ill.
JS: Yeah.
AM: What, what was, what was wrong? What happened?
JS: He took bad with stomach ulcers and in those days if you had a stomach ulcer they cut you vertically from top to bottom and removed all sorts of things. And he suffered for the rest of his life.
AM: Right.
JS: With duodenal ulcers. I mean today you take a course of antibiotics. I did myself only a few months ago.
AM: How long was he in the hospital? You say he was in the hospital in Ely.
JS: Ely.
AM: Yeah.
JS: In Cambridgeshire. Yeah. Because he was taken from — he was taken from Little Staughton which is Cambridgeshire way isn’t it? And I presume Ely was the biggest hospital.
AM: Yeah.
JS: Looking at the photographs of him just after the war and on honeymoon painfully thin and gaunt. It had obviously, the war and the operation had really taken it out of him.
AM: Well, you know it’s a huge operation.
JS: Yes. Yeah.
AM: And he wasn’t tall to start with. Five foot seven and a half I’ve read on his, on his commencement papers.
JS: Yeah.
AM: So, obviously then he was that was it he didn’t fly again.
JS: He was. Yes. He then went into, he was made to, made to go in the Home Guard.
AM: Because he left. He was actually discharged in May ’45. So then he went in the Home Guard. Any stories about that?
JS: No. He just found it all very amusing and like little boys playing with sticks over their shoulders. Just like Dad’s Army, in fact.
AM: And he would be quite a bit older than them.
JS: Yes.
AM: Well, older than the young ones.
JS: Of course.
AM: Obviously then there’s old.
JS: Yeah.
AM: Old ones as well.
JS: Yeah. And I think he was one of the few that had actually seen action.
AM: Yeah. He would have been twenty eight by then. Which was actually quite old for a flyer.
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: So, tell me a bit about your mum and then let’s come back to your mum and dad together. Tell me a little bit about your mum’s early background and where she was born.
JS: Mum was born in Kendal in the Lake District. A country girl. She was one of nine in a small house up there. Left school reasonably early. She was born in 1920.
AM: If she was one of nine did she ever describe to you, talk to you about what sort of house they lived in?
JS: Oh, my God. Yeah.
AM: Go on. Tell us about that.
JS: I’ve been in there.
AM: Oh, you have.
JS: I have.
AM: Describe it for me then.
JS: Just an ordinary [pause] well they were all grey stone built.
AM: Yeah.
JS: Got to be in grey stone in Kendal. Just an ordinary semi with three bedrooms and a downstairs toilet. They did have an indoor toilet and a little bit of a bathroom downstairs off the kitchen. But very small and there was five boys and four girls. And they all had crazy senses of humour. She’s often told me about how they were all tops and tails in bed and many a night the boys would sneak in when they had just gone to sleep, crawl under their bed and just lift the bed up. Frightened them to death. They, they were all she had one brother who she came in one day, she ran in from the garden because she could hear her sister screaming. And her brother had a roped down on to the kitchen table with a carving knife dangling on a rope wrapped around the light fitting swinging. Lowering it like a [laughs]
AM: As you do.
JS: Yeah. And those were the sort of things. They had to make their own fun.
AM: Well, yeah.
JS: And they sort of tortured each other.
AM: The television. Sitting in front of the television.
JS: That’s right.
AM: Where was she in the age range? Somewhere in the middle? Top or bottom?
JS: She was right in the middle, I think.
AM: In the middle. Right.
JS: In fact, the youngest of them mum always said our Lenny was born, she was on the change when she had him. He was the first to die in actual fact. My mum was the last one to die. She died three years ago. She was ninety four.
AM: So she left school at fourteen.
JS: Yeah. And as you do in Kendal you go to work at the K Shoe Factory which later became Clarks. And she was there with all the girls doing piecework. She did piecework all her life and quite happy.
AM: Describe for the tape what piecework is.
JS: Piecework is, you get paid for, per item. So the more items you do per day the more money you get. So it had a great impact on her life because her idea of doing something well was doing it as fast as she possibly could. She went to the gym which she did in her fifties and sixties it was, ‘I’ve finished,’ in ten minutes flat because she’d just tear around like a lunatic. Everything she did was at break neck pace because she was used to being on piecework. She later went on, she carried on for the rest of her life as a machinist. And worked for a number of years making nurses uniforms.
AM: It’s just piecework’s not a phrase you would hear now.
JS: No. No.
AM: And of course —
JS: I don’t know what they’d call it now.
AM: When you said she did piecework.
JS: Yeah. Yeah. It was the only thing.
AM: So, so back to she worked at —
JS: Yeah.
AM: The K Factory.
JS: She worked at Ks. And then the war broke out so she would be about nineteen. Nineteen and a bit. They were obviously stopped from making shoes into more useful footwear and she ended up on flying boots for the RAF. And she told me how as the flying boots went along the production line and they all did their little bit to them and all the girls to relieve the boredom and because they felt they had to, no. They wanted to. Slipped little notes in the boots as they went along in front of them. Little slips of paper. You know, “God bless the RAF.” “Good luck.” “Stay safe.” All that sort of thing.
AM: Nowadays it would be have my mobile number.
JS: Yes. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So then after a while there she was all her brothers and sisters were doing their bit in various places, she was sent down to Manchester to work in the munitions factory in Trafford Park. And while she —
AM: Did she have a choice of what war work she did?
JS: No. No. She was just —
AM: Quite the opposite. That’s where she was sent.
JS: She got a notice that’s where she was going and that’s where she went. And then once she was sent there of course there was a little bit of room left in the home where she was brought up so her mother, my grandma then had to take in evacuee children. She had two little boys. One didn’t last too long. And then the second one was from the North East. A pale sickly child and of course nice fresh air and good food as far as, well to what he’d been used to his parents came to visit him and didn’t recognise him. So, yeah mum’s now in, I think it was AV Roe she was in. It was, she was making parts for Lancaster bombers and she was doing something with a bit of metal. I don’t know what it was and in came a load of airmen and dad was amongst them. They were obviously all engineers. As part of the training learning how it was all put together and their eyes met over, I don’t know whether it was a lathe or something like that and that was that. they started going out together. And they got engaged. He sent her money to go and get a second hand ring somewhere. He wouldn’t get married until after the war. She used to go home at weekends, I think. Now and again. And her sister, my auntie did tell me that whenever she saw dad by this time was on ops and whenever she got up in the morning and read the newspaper and it said a thousand bomber raid over so and so again last night. Apparently, the colour just drained from her face and she wouldn’t eat her breakfast and couldn’t do anything. And they all left her alone until she got a telegram because dad always sent her a telegram when he, as soon as he got back. After he’d his bacon and eggs I suspect. And as soon as she got the telegram she was alright. But he wouldn’t get married ‘til the war was over. And his war was over when he got [pause] well when he came back of the Home Guard I suppose after he’d been discharged from the RAF.
AM: You were telling me some stories about your mum. So when she’d moved to Trafford and was working at the AV Roe factory obviously she would end up in digs.
JS: Oh yes. That was the only thing she would ever spoke about. I mean she never spoke about the work or the girls or anything. It was just the horrible digs she was put in and there and it was bed bugs and fleas and it was filthy dirty and icy cold. And she couldn’t wait to go home at weekends. She hated it and she was lonely and she was a very timid soul. A very nervous person. You know to be taken from her nice comfortable country existence like that to be sent to a big city to have to do that and put up with all the bombing and everything else. I remember when it was D-Day she said, she said they knew it was brewing and that morning she said all through the night they’d heard aircraft going over. She said it was just a constant drone all night long and they knew that something was, was happening. And that morning the hooter went in the factory, Everybody to the canteen,’ and they all lined up in the canteen and the guy said to them, ‘Let’s just say a prayer for the lads. This is it. This is D-Day,’ and she said they all just you know had a few minutes for the, for the boys.
AM: Sorry that gulp was me sipping water. So then obviously you said he sent this telegram every time he got back.
JS: Every time. Yeah.
AM: From ops. I’m just trying to piece together in my mind so she’s still there working when he was in hospital in Ely as well.
JS: Yes. She must have been.
AM: She must have been, mustn’t she?
JS: She must have been. Yeah.
AM: And then come the end of the war he’s in the Home Guard.
JS: Yes.
AM: Well, not the end. From his discharge which was in May ’45.
JS: Yes. He went into the Home Guard.
AM: He’s in the Home Guard.
JS: In the Manchester area again, I presume. I don’t know for sure but I presume it was in his home town. I think it was in Salford.
AM: And she would still be in Trafford Park or would she have moved back up to Kendal.
JS: I have no idea when she moved back. I’ve no idea.
AM: But obviously they’d got engaged by then so —
JS: It was all go then. Yeah.
AM: So when did they get married? ‘ish?
JS: Well, I was born in ’49 and I think they’d been married two to three years before they had me. 18th of April err 27th of April.
AM: Where did they end up living?
JS: She moved down to Salford to be with him. They moved in a, oh it was an awful house. I can remember it even as a kid. It was four back to backs next door to the school. And when it rained we had buckets everywhere. It was cold. It was damp. The toilet was a hundred yards away in a block with three others to go with the other three houses that were back to back with.
AM: Just explain what back to back, what you mean by back to back.
JS: Well, these were, it was two semis and then attached to them at the back of them was another two semis. So it was a square block of four properties.
AM: And that means that the windows were only on the front because the —
JS: That’s right.
AM: Back wall is the dividing wall.
JS: Two walls.
AM: Between the two properties.
JS: Two walls.
AM: Which is why we call them back to back.
JS: That’s right.
AM: It’s like four in a square as you say, isn’t it?
JS: Yeah. Yeah. And torn up newspaper for loo roll. I can remember my mum always going mad that, ‘Mrs Garforth, next door has been using our toilet again. I can tell.’ [laughs]
AM: So the toilet was at the end of the —
JS: The toilets were along the side. So [pause] let me see. You’ve got the four houses there.
AM: You’ve got your four houses in a square.
JS: Back to back.
AM: Yeah.
JS: And there’s a bit of a garden here and the road there.
AM: Right. So in the front of each house.
JS: And there.
AM: There was a garden but then at the side of them —
JS: No, there wasn’t. No.
AM: No.
JS: The front of that house and this one were on the, on the road.
AM: Oh right. Ok.
JS: Right. This was ours. This one here. And the front door was here.
AM: Right.
JS: So it was on the corner and was that one. And the toilets were there.
AM: Right.
JS: Difficult to explain.
AM: And were there four separate toilets then?
JS: And so we had to go from, yeah.
AM: Ok.
JS: In a row. So we had to run from here.
AM: But you were further away.
JS: The furthest away.
AM: Because you were furthest away house from there really.
JS: Yes. That’s right.
AM: From the toilets.
JS: And that was Mrs Garforth’s. And our toilet was quite handy for her [laughs] And my primary school was here.
AM: Right.
JS: The school yard gate was there.
AM: Right.
JS: So whenever they couldn’t find me as a two year old I was in the school yard playing with the kids. And the teachers knew me and they’d take me in to class with them at two and three years old.
AM: I’m trying to think. 1949. Would rationing still be on?
JS: Yes.
AM: It would, wouldn’t it, then. So no sweets or anything like that.
JS: Oh no. No. No. You were lucky if you had clothes on your back. Times were really hard. Tin bath in front of the fire.
AM: Yeah. Once a week.
JS: By this time my dad was working at the power station. At Agecroft Power Station. And he used to go off on his bike. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Agecroft Brew, but it’s about one in one. Cycle down there to do his stint at the power station and then have to cycle all the way home and many a time we didn’t see him. I didn’t see him for days on end because he’d go to work and then it was can you do some overtime? So he’d go straight into overtime and then during the overtime there’d be a breakdown so he could be there for forty eight hours. And there was no phones or anything.
AM: No.
JS: He’d go off to work and we really didn’t know when he was coming back.
AM: Did your mum work? Or was your mum at home.
JS: Mum was working full time as a machinist. Yeah.
AM: Oh, you said she worked her whole life [unclear] Yeah.
JS: Yeah. So the next door neighbour was the caretaker of the primary school that I’ve just described and they became great friends. And she was the grandma that I never had was Auntie Nellie. She babysat so that they could both go to work. She was a wise old soul. She virtually brought me up.
AM: So how long did you live in in those houses?
JS: We lived there until I was about seven.
AM: Right.
JS: And then we thought we’d hit the big time because we were granted a council house a couple of miles away. And I mean it was the business, you know. We’d made the big time.
AM: Indoor bathroom. Indoor loo.
JS: Yeah.
AM: Yeah.
JS: Nice big garden. It was in a state and dad set to and he made it lovely. It was his pride and joy. But in those days the rent man came on a Friday or whatever it was. You had to pay him in cash. No pets. You did as you were told else you were out. No benefits. No nothing in those days.
AM: No. Well yeah. Its, I’m just trying to think what year National Health came in. ’50. I can’t think.
JS: I think there was national health but there was no benefits as such.
AM: No.
JS: I mean you were privileged if you got a council house and you made sure you paid your rent. And you had to be, you had to be a good upstanding family with a full time job and able to afford the rent. There was no housing benefit or anything. If you couldn’t afford the rent you couldn’t have a council house. Times are different now.
AM: So then you grew up.
JS: I grew up.
AM: Got married. Moved away.
JS: Yeah.
AM: Your dad carried on working. I think you said your dad died.
JS: He carried on working. He worked hard all his life. Yeah. And then he had a heart attack in ’73. Died in ’73. He was only fifty five. It should never have happened.
AM: So quite young.
JS: Never have happened.
AM: Relatively speaking.
JS: I mean in this day and age they’d have put a stent in and he’d have been alright.
AM: Yeah.
JS: Again. And the care was dreadful. Within ten days his back was covered in bed sores. I didn’t believe him. I thought he was joking. Then he leaned over and I saw his back. It was raw. Absolutely blistered from top to bottom.
AM: It’s just how things have changed. When you do look back at something like that it makes you realise how much things have changed.
JS: I saw him the night before he died and he was fine. He’d watched the Cup Final. Manchester United. He was made up, buzzing. ‘Look at, they’ve moved me up here.’ ‘Well, that shows you’re getting better. Look. Your charts back.’ ‘Yeah. Ok.’ And then I got home and I got a phone call 6 o’clock the next morning, ‘It’s the hospital here.’ I said, ‘Is it my dad?’ ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Is he dead?’ She said, ‘Yeah. There’s nothing you can do. We’ve told your mum on the phone to get down there as soon as you can and then come here at 9 o’clock for his things.’ Well, by the time we got to my mum’s house she was running up and down the stairs just completely hysterical. They just told her over the phone and she was on her own. And we got there and he was still in his bed with the curtains around. Oh, there’s a bag with his things in. Sign for it. Sign for a post mortem. Come back tomorrow.’ And my husband said, ‘No. You’re not doing a post mortem.’ ‘But we’re — ’ He said, ' No. He’s dead. Peggy, don’t sign.’ I’ve never seen my husband be like that before. It was quite barbaric really. He didn’t deserve it. He worked long and hard all his life. He had a really tough life.
AM: So, tell me a little bit now about you and afterwards and 153 Squadron and and your relationship and what you do.
JS: Yeah. Well, because of dad’s discharge from the RAF Mett, his skipper was his hero and dad was all set for going back to Australia with him after the war. But of course because he was hospitalised and everything he lost touch with them all. And he tried ‘til the day he died to find them all but they were all Australian and there was no internet and phones or anything in those days. And he spent hours in the library but he wasn’t able to come up with anything. And on and off from thereafter I kept having a dabble myself and then the internet struck up and in 2006 I got hold of a guy who was on the internet, down as a representative for 153 squadron. And his phone number was there so I rang him and I said, ‘Is that Bill Thomas?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘153 Squadron.’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘My dad was with 153 Squadron.’ And he said, ‘Just a minute. What was his name?’ And I told him and he said, ‘That’s right. Came down from Kirmington. 166.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ He said, ‘Yeah. His skipper was Hal Mettam.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Hang on a minute,’ he said, ‘I’ve got Mett’s phone number here. Do you want it?’ Well, I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it. I sat on it for two or three hours before I rang him and he, he was quite curt with me when I, when I rang. He was a bit off guard. He was moving house. He was about to eat his dinner and that was that and I put the phone down. Well, he put the phone down. And I thought well at least I’ve spoken to the guy and I set to and I wrote him a letter. Enclosed a few photographs and my contact details and I stuck it in the post. I got home from the work the following night and this Bill Thomas called me again. He said, ‘How did you get on speaking to Mett?’ So I said, ‘Well, it was a bit of a weird conversation really.’ He said, ‘Yeah. He was a bit aloof.’ He said, ‘I’ve got another one for you.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Another member of his crew.’ I said, ‘Oh, go on then.’ ‘Ned Kennedy, his tail gunner.’ I said, ‘Yeah. That’s right.’ He said, ‘He lives in Scarborough.’ I said, ‘Oh wow.’ And he gave me the phone number. I said, ‘Scarborough?’ He said, ‘Yeah. Scarborough, New South Wales.’ I said, ‘Oh right. Ok.’ So I waited ‘til the early hours of the morning and I thought right I shall ring now, because of the time difference. A little lady answered the phone and she put me on to Ned and he said, ‘Hello.’ I said, ‘Is that Ned Kennedy, 153 Squadron?’ ‘Yes. ‘I said, ‘Do you remember your flight engineer?’ He said, ‘Frank. Yes.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m Frank’s daughter.’ ‘Well, bugger me,’ he said in a broad Australian accent. He said, ‘You sound just like your dad. I can hear him now saying “Want a cup of tea, skip?”’ So, cutting a long story short I got home again the next night and lo and behold there was an email from Mett, the skipper which took me by surprise. Apologising and saying yes he did remember and everything. And, and we kept in touch. And in May ‘07 Mett came to the reunion. I went to the first reunion. And Ned, very sick, in a wheelchair got on a plane and came over from Australia and we all met up at the reunion and there wasn’t a dry house in the house.
AM: Where was it? Where was the reunion?
JS: It was at the Holiday Inn in Lincoln. Prior to that they had them at another hotel in Lincoln and we had it then at that hotel for three or four years and I started to get involved. And now we have it at the Bentley.
AM: So, how did you get involved in doing more?
JS: I got involved, particularly. There was one year we went and one of our vets was taken poorly the day before as happens because they’re all getting elderly and said he couldn’t make it and the staff at the hotel were insisting we paid for his room. And the secretary at the time was, ‘Oh. Ok then. Yes.’ And started to write a cheque. And they were also insisting that in future years all these veterans must be insured in case they couldn’t come. And being the rubber gob that I am stuck my two penneth in and said, ‘No. You are not being paid. You can’t tell me you did not sell that room last night.’ ‘Well um —' I said, ‘No,’ I said, ‘There’s no way you’re having money out of us,’ I said, ‘These guys are veterans. They’re OAPs,’ you know, ‘Stop taking the mick,’ I said, ‘And regards insurance you can stick it.’ And they were sort of oooh. And then one or two people said, ‘Good on you, Jill.’ De de de de de de. Bill Thomas, in those days used to write a newsletter three times a year handscript and send it out to people. I said, ‘I’ll type that out for you Bill if you like.’ ‘Oh, will you?’ And it just sort of snowballed from there. I was elected to take over from madam who was saying yes to everything. And I started typing the newsletters for him and adding a little bit and then it got to the stage where I was actually doing them. And then arranging they decided after that particular incident to move hotels for the reunions. And we moved and I took over the bookings of that and then, you know as the vets have sort of either died or not been able to, to keep up Bill Thomas who was the secretary decided we should have an honorary secretary, an honorary treasurer and what have you. The next generation down. So that was how I got the post of an hon sec.
AM: That was you. So do you still have an annual reunion?
JS: Yes. We had it last month.
AM: How many Second World War veterans have you still got?
JS: Well, on the books we’ve got [pause] about half a dozen or so. Maybe more.
AM: Yeah.
JS: But we only had three show up this year. In fact one of them with his family came over from Majorca. He lives in Majorca now and he comes quite often. He’s a case is Jack, er the year before we went to the BBMF and we were having a look around and he got in the Lanc and he was sat in the pilot’s seat. He was a pilot. He’s the only pilot we’ve got left. He sat in the pilot’s seat and as we were walking away he was walking with his two sticks. I said, ‘Did you enjoy that, Jack?’ He said, ‘Aye. But I couldn’t remember where the undercarriage switch was.’ He’s got a wicked sense of humour. A very nice chap. The other one is Taf Owen. He did a Manna drop.
AM: Aneurin.
JS: Hmm?
AM: He’s called Aneurin.
JS: Yeah. We all call him Taf. Yeah. He did Manna drops. He’s our president. And Les Jenkin. Les [pause] Oh God. I forget his surname now.
AM: I’ll find out off you after if they’ve all been interviewed.
JS: Yes. Yes. He has. Les. Oh. my goodness. Well, his daughter’s treasurer anyway.
AM: Yeah.
JS: So —
AM: Tell me a little bit about the research you’ve been doing into a specific Lancaster.
JS: This specific Lancaster.
[recording paused]
AM: Well, tell me. So go on. So tell me about the plane.
JS: Right. Right. As part of my role as hon sec I decided one year a few years ago that we should get a bit more high tech and develop a webpage and a Facebook page. So I started them off and we’ve had all sorts of contacts come in via both. We’ve picked up a lot of new members. Particularly this last year. I think it’s because a lot of people going into their genealogy and stuff now. And things are beginning to tie up. Coincidences are happening. And, you know we had a couple meet up at the reunions whose fathers were, flew together and that sort of thing and it’s been, it’s almost spooky at times. Anyway, sometime last year via our webpage I got an enquiry. I was contacted by a guy in Germany called Roland. ‘I have some pieces of an aircraft. One of your aircraft from 153 Squadron. Would you like them? I found them in the forest.’ And he gave me the number of the aircraft. He’d done a little bit of research himself so, ‘Yes please.’ So arrived a box full of pieces.
AM: And I’m looking at —
JS: Yeah.
AM: Exactly that.
JS: Yeah.
AM: A box full of pieces.
JS: Yeah.
AM: From, blimey.
JS: They smell weird.
AM: I will take a photograph.
JS: Yeah. Well, I’ve got. I did take some photographs. Somebody reckoned that that particular, we thought that was leather but he was thinking it was part of the self-sealing liner for a fuel tank.
AM: Ok.
JS: Anyway, after a bit of research I discovered that this particular aircraft, it went down in March ’45. It was on a raid to Nuremburg with a crew and it was their first operation. And it was fully loaded with a four thousand pounder and fourteen hundred and seventy incendiaries and it was hit by a night fighter. It was virtually vapourised. But this gentleman in Germany has done a lot of research. He’s been and found their graves. He’s sent me all the information he’s got plus photographs of the crash site plus a report from the local mayor about the incident which I’ve had translated. And I’ve managed to find relatives of [pause] how many members of the crew now? I think it’s, well it’s four lots of relatives I think I’ve managed to contact who’ve become members. Yes. There we are. One. Two. Three. Four lots. So, that is still ongoing. We, at our AGM discussed it, wondering what to do with it all and seeing as the pieces are so small first refusal on the pieces has been to relatives or descendants of any of that crew. And the rest we thought we would take the most convenient bits and put them in a little presentation box. A glass fronted thing with a document which I’m trying to pull together of what exactly happened to it and give it to them at the Scampton Heritage Centre to put with the other 153 stuff that they’ve got there. That’s as it is at the moment. I’ve made lots of notes but we’ve not put a document together and we’ve not had a presentation.
AM: And did, did you say your dad had flown in that plane?
JS: Yeah. Yeah. And part of my research shows that my father flew in that, in that particular aircraft on one occasion. I think it, did I say it was October ’44 and it went down in March ’45. There’s also Tom Tobin who you have on your records. It was his, his favourite aircraft. He did about fourteen ops in it before it went down.
AM: But not that one.
JS: I’m in touch, regular contact with his daughter in Australia. A Douglas McCourt also flew in it on March the 2nd. I’m in contact with his son in South Africa. And Doug is ninety five and still going strong. And there is another. You have Peter Baxter’s memoirs on record. His son, Mike Baxter is in our Association because his father was the engineering officer for 153 and he actually flew in it as well. And he says in his memoirs, “We flew in Lancaster W-William. Appropriately numbered with my initials PB642 Peter Baxter.” So yes. It’s quite incredible really tying it all together. We’ve got a couple of photographs of members of the crew. We’re still trying to find more. As I say I’m still pulling it all together.
AM: Those pictures of the graves at the back.
JS: These are pictures of the graves.
AM: Where are the graves?
JS: At —
AM: Durnbach.
JS: Durnbach War Cemetery. And this is where he found the pieces. These are photographs of where he actually found the pieces of the aircraft.
AM: Given that there were that many, I mean you describe it as virtually vapourised.
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: Given that there were that many incendiaries on them.
JS: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: It sort of makes you wonder.
JS: Yeah. Tiny little pieces.
AM: What went in the graves.
JS: According to, according to the mayor in his report he says [pause] where is it? [unclear] Yeah. That, that’s what Tom [pause] Tom Tobin was in it. Flew fourteen ops in it or something. I’m just —
[pause – pages turning]
AM: Yeah. it’s, it, it is absolutely fascinating to look at the, to look at the photographs of where he dug the pieces up from.
JS: Yeah.
AM: It actually looks like wood smell.
JS: It is.
AM: It’s come down in woods.
JS: I’ve got the actual crash site and a map with it plotted on it. As I say, I’ve really got to bring all this together.
AM: Yeah.
JS: That’s my ongoing project at the moment.
AM: Yeah. but although you describe them as quite small pieces, which they are there’s quite a lot of it.
JS: Yeah.
AM: There’s a whole box of it.
JS: Well, there’s two boxes arrived. I mean one box arrived within days. And another one a few weeks later.
AM: How did he know?
JS: I have no idea. I have no idea. I mean most of that information in there in the graves and everything all tallies up and he, there’s a lot of Germans now doing this.
AM: Oh yeah.
JS: With metal detectors.
AM: Yeah.
JS: And then following it up and researching it.
AM: Yeah.
JS: And that’s what he does a s a hobby etcetera. But I found it particular spooky when I opened the box. It was just a cardboard box. It had leaves and mud and twigs and things in it as well. And the smell as I opened the box and as I touched a piece and thinking dad’s flown in that.
AM: Yeah.
JS: We just, we both just stood there and we actually shivered.
AM: A little shiver.
JS: There’s one place. Is it that page?
AM: Your dad could have probably told you.
JS: Yeah.
AM: What they were and where they were from.
JS: Like this one we worked out that this piece we worked out at the AGM that that’s got to be part of the one of the seats because they’re screws rather than rivets. Right. So it would have been screwed into the wood.
AM: So I’m looking at a piece of metal that’s maybe eight inches long.
JS: Yeah. And you see that’s the interior colour paint.
AM: And maybe about, yeah, about three quarters of an inch wide. You can see the green paint on it and the one, two, three, four, five, six screws with the screw heads. And on the other side of the metal where the screws have gone through it, the whatever it was and it looks like some sort of leather seat cover.
JS: That would have been a washer of some sort on the other side with it being screwed you see.
AM: It’s, I will take some photographs of this. It’s fascinating.
JS: As I say we decided in our infinite wisdom that that would be part of a seat.
AM: Yeah.
JS: Because it will have been screwed to something wooden which would be a frame for a seat.
AM: Yeah.
JS: As opposed to rivets in, in other bits, you see.
AM: Crikey. So we’re looking at a Lancaster with rivets through it here and I wish I could bring Rosie the riveter in. I’ll tell Jill about Rosie the riveter later.
JS: That would be interesting. You know they’re quite heavy.
AM: It is absolutely fascinating.
JS: Yeah.
AM: To look at and think what, what they are and what they were
JS: We’ve scoured them all to try and find numbers on them but you can, you can feel the different metals. [unclear] probably a bit of shrapnel judging by the weight of that.
AM: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s absolutely fascinating looking at all these. I’m going to switch the tape off now and then take some photographs.
JS: When it first arrived —


Annie Moody, “Interview with Jill Saunders,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 4, 2023,

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