Interview with Frank Saunston


Interview with Frank Saunston


Frank Saunston joined the ATC in 1941 and then the RAF in 1942. He worked as a transport driver at RAF Peplow and then as a forklift driver at RAF Methwold on the bomb dump. Describes his role and his duties and gives details regarding the bombs used. He took part in Operation Manna and tells of how the food was packed and dropped over Holland. Finished up as an air gunner on Sunderland flying boats. Witnessed a V1 dropping on the block of flats where he was stationed near Regent’s Park in London and gives a detailed account of the event. Remembers an aircraft accident when he was posted to Scotland. Tells of how he wanted to stay longer in the RAF but was told to go back to work in food production, where his knowledge of agriculture would have been more useful.




Temporal Coverage





00:40:17 audio recording


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ASaunstonFR170522, PSaunstonFR1701


DK: So, this is David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre talking to Frank Staunton at his home on the 22nd of May. That’s ok.
US: I’ll show you these afterwards.
DK: Yeah, I can have a look now, that’s ok. I’ve got the recording going so, I’ll just leave that there. Alright, oh, ok. So, that’s from the Dutch, isn’t it?
US: Yeah.
DK: That’s the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands
US: Yes
DK: That’s a contribution to Manna and then Operation Manna there. So, that’s the Manna Association, isn’t it?
US: Yes. It has something to do with Lincoln?
DK: Yes, oh yes, yes, all aspects of Bomber Command, the groundcrews,
US: Yes
DK: The bombing campaign and the Operation Manna and that sort of thing
US: Oh, just I didn’t realise the date was on it till just now.
DK: Yeah
US: The 20th of April to the 8th of May 1945.
DK: [unclear], isn’t it?
US: Yeah, yeah and that came with
DK: The medal as well. Ok.
US: Yes, and he got the medal and he had to wear that one [unclear] on parade
DK: Right, ok.
US: Yeah, yeah.
FS: Fifty years afterwards
DK: Better, better late than never
FS: Pardon?
DK: Better late than never.
US: Yes was quite [unclear] in that case
DK: Lovely, lovely [unclear] medal, isn’t it?
US: Yeah, that is lovely.
DK: Yeah
US: [unclear]
FS: [unclear] now, that’s the only one in 149 Squadron and 662 cause anybody’s got one
DK: Really?
FS: Yeah, cause I’ve been on the Mildenhall register
DK: Right
FS: And the man at the Mildenhall register didn’t know anything about it and I told him what it was for and he said, well, nobody else has got one
DK: Ah, right. Can I just ask, to start with, what were you doing immediately before the war?
FS: Sorry?
DK: What were you doing immediately before the war?
FS: I’ll start from the beginning.
DK: Yes, sure, please, yes
FS: When I left school, I left school in August 1939 and I had various jobs before I got a job as a garden assistant at [unclear] and while I was there the local ATC started on the 14th of May 1941 I joined the local squadron 1406 [unclear] Holbeach when it was formed I was interested in going into the Air Force and so I volunteered to join the RAF in 1942 and I went and had a medical and passed the medical and they said they would call me when they needed me and so I had to wait until I think it was about November 1943 when they said, we’ll call you up on and sent me a date of the 12th of January 1944 and so I joined the RAF and I went down to ACRC in London and did all the kitting and all the main and drilling and that sort of thing but because I was a local boy and I didn’t go to grammar school, my education wasn’t quite the standard that was required, so they sent me on a training course at Liverpool to 19, number 19 PACT it was called, Pre Air Crew Training Course where we spent six months in the Liverpool College of Commerce and at Liverpool [unclear] Street Technical College and together with the training, initial training, drilling and all that sort of thing, that lasted six months. After six months we went back down to St John’s Wood where we was reassessed, well, I was down to pilot, navigator, bomb aimer but they, the actual medical side to do with the pilot side of it was that my legs weren’t long enough. So, because, they said my legs weren’t long enough and they didn’t want any navigators and they got no call for bomb aimers, would I take a second job and as and because I had a very good aptitude I was selected to become an air gunner but they didn’t want any air gunners, so they sent us on a course, training course down at Babbacombe, Paignton and Torquay and after we’ve been down there for three months they said, well, they couldn’t really feed, they couldn’t really afford to feed us, they needed people in other jobs, would we take another job? So, we said, yeah, well, what are they? And they said, well, you can go clerk GD, general duties or you can become a transport driver because we are short of vehicle drivers so I said, I wanna go for that one , cause I thought, I might as well ride the [unclear] [laughs]. Anyway we went on the course down at Melksham in Wiltshire and it lasted eight weeks and in eight weeks’ time, you had to learn to drive all the vehicles that the RAF had and my last job was to drive the Queen Mary which was sixty some odd foot long. I left there and was posted to Peplow in Shropshire where we used to start the tractors for the WAAFs in the morning cause Peplow at that time was training glider pilots for Arnhem and D-Day and because we were doing this course, we stayed with them until that course ended and when it ended they transferred me down to Methwold in Norfolk and that was on Bomber Command where 149 and 622 Squadron were based and it was while I was there, I had the job of forklift driver in the bomb dump and we used to load the bombs onto the trolleys and we used to load the trolleys in a train to take round to the aircraft to bomb up and a Lancaster bomber squadron [unclear] when it comes to feeding them [unclear] about twenty two bombs of some kind or canisters of some kind or one big bomb which was one odd thing but anyway we were doing that and one day we had a senior officer coming down to the squadron and a fortnight later we had this thing come through that we, apparently we’re going to send food to people who were starving in Holland called Operation Manna and it was on that job that I did actually did load and did suggest some ways of the stuff landing on the ground because you wrap a sack of flour in its own right, you drop a sack of flour and it hits the ground, it bursts, it throws it out [unclear] fan shape and it’s no more good to anybody so that was decided how was we going to drop it and so we had this talk about it and we said, well, if you put that bag in a bigger bag, a clothing woven one, the bigger bag would catch the contents and so we put this ordinary sack of flour, a standard sack of flour, it’s about sixteen stone I think or fourteen stone into a railway sack as we call them which were big and used to carry corn on the railway and stick them up and that and we dropped, at the second drop we did with that it did burst open but the contents inside was all in, you know, thrown about and they found that it would be difficult to salvage all the contents without losing all [unclear] in the fabric material so we said, what else can we do? So, I said, well, the best thing I can think of is if you get that bag of flour in a railway sack which is about twice its size and then you put it in the bigger one which is bigger still which the farmers locally called [unclear] bags because [unclear] from the local factory was sent out to the farms in these huge sacks so if you put it in that one and you stitch it up in that one and you roll it up in that one when it came down the weight of the flour at the front would cause the thing to open up and the back end would flap and because it’s flapping, it retarded the fall and we tried that and it worked.
DK: It worked.
FS: Yeah.
DK: And these were being dropped out the Lancasters, were they?
FS: Pardon?
DK: They were being dropped out of Lancasters.
FS: Lancasters, Stirlings as well.
DK: Stirlings as well.
FS: Yeah
DK: Right.
FS: But they dropped them out the Lancasters and then the other thing was they always [unclear] get them in the Lancaster so someone came up on this big thing, I don’t know who made them but they came to us in a lorry load and they called them panniers
DK: Yeah
FS: A pannier would fix into the bomb bay, either side, yeah, and then you could shut the doors and that was all enclosed and so that was decided on, so we did two drops for panniers and that was quite successful. What I wouldn’t say is to drop things at two hundred and plus miles an hour you don’t get the results you think you gonna get, because a large can of corned beef dropped at two hundred miles an hour on the airfield [unclear], it would go in the ground as a big can of corned beef and go down about two foot in the ground because it was [unclear], it would come up on top and when it come on [unclear], it was fat as your book. Absolutely but it [unclear] burst the can
DK: Alright.
FS: No, so they decided it wouldn’t matter which way it dropped, it would still be usable.
DK: The contents were still ok?
FS: Yes, inside, yes. And that what I had and then when I came out the RAF, I mean, finished me course as an air gunner, I mean, done the jobs at Methwold and at the [unclear] base, I went to, went to the, finalized me course and I finished up as an air gunner on Sunderland flying boats.
DK: Alright.
FS: Yeah. So that’s my life story.
DK: Do you know which squadron you were with, with the Sunderlands?
FS: Pardon?
DK: Do you know which squadron it was with the Sunderlands?
FS: Scotland?
DK: The Sunderlands.
FS: Yes
DK: At which squadron?
FS: I wasn’t with the squadron.
DK: Ah, right, ok.
FS: I was with a ferry unit
DK: Ferry unit, right, ok.
FS: Yeah. I was, I went to, squadron, [unclear] RAF [unclear] in Scotland
DK: Right
FS: Or [unclear] if you like and we were based on a distillery
DK: Oh right [laughs]
FS: Yes. Very nice,
DK: Very nice
FS: Anyway, I did, I joined the course a crew and there was ten of us in a crew and we did [unclear] because by that time the war had finished and
DK: The war had ended, right. So you
FS: There was still [unclear] submarines still out there even then but we used to do patrol out over the Atlantic at places like Rockpool, I went to Iceland, went to [unclear] in the Shetlands, places like that, while I was there and then when we came back we were going to go to Singapore and the crew had slept in our billet with us two days before they took off and went and we were due to go the next day down to [unclear] to get equipped for the temperature, you know, shorts and all that sort of thing and we were going off in to Singapore but the crew that went down the day before were taking off and we were taking off at about quarter past two in the morning and the crew that went down the day before they took off and on the takeoff they lost an engine and they were fully loaded and you got two thousand four hundred and forty eight gallons of fuel on board and they lost an engine and so they told them to climb up as well as they could and on the way up they lost another engine and they got up to about four to five thousand feet and they told him to jettison this fuel and turn in a certain direction but unfortunately the people who were telling them about what to do didn’t realize that there was a two way wind, at the height that they were the wind was blowing in one direction and at a lower level it was blowing in the other direction and so what happened? They told them they had to turn and when they turned they came back in and they came back in to the vapor cloud and it blew up in mid-air completely, nothing left of it, yeah and so our trip, we were going down the [unclear] and we were on the fly path taking off when it was withdrawn.
DK: Alright.
FS: And it was withdrawn,
US: [unclear] thirsty.
FS: And it was
DK: I can stop there for a minute. Yep, there we go,
FS: Anyway, we got our, our trip was aborted and on the station for just over two weeks and they came up with to report they caught us that morning and I went along and they said, now, you aren’t going to Singapore, he said, because you have knowledge of agriculture, of food growing, that job is more important than you becoming an air gunner on a course in Singapore so he said, because it’s paying so much money to America for the food we need to grow our own where we can, so you can go back into agriculture to provide food so they sent me as on class B2 as a reserve and I stayed on that until it was abandoned and I came back home and the family had moved from where we used to live to Sutton St James, father had got us from [unclear] at Sutton St James and so at that point I got a job working for my father on his four acre holding and that was my life.
DK: You had a story about a V1. Yeah, there was a story about a V1?
FS: Oh yeah
DK: Yeah, so could you tell us that story?
FS: When I was back in August having finished a course at Liverpool, we were stationed or billeted in Viceroy Court which is just off the edge of Regent’s Park, very [unclear] block of flats but we did only use the bottom two floors to sleep and it was [unclear] of us in one room with an opening of eighteen inches by nine as the only means of air in the room, there were no doors on, all the doors had been taken out and we’d been having our usual daily exercises in the park, Regent’s Park across the way and we came back in from there and get to change back from PT gear into ordinary dress and we did that on the top floor and cause at that time the air raid warning went all clear at eight o’clock in the morning and at one minute past it went warning again and the doodlebugs started coming over after eight o’clock and we were there getting changed from PT gear into ordinary dress and we heard one coming so we went down on the balcony outside and funnily enough after a few seconds its engine stopped and we knew that when the engine stopped it was about to come down somewhere and there it was, coming through the clouds, straight through our block of flats.
DK: Did you actually see it, coming down?
FS: Oh yeah
DK: Yes, yes
FS: Coming straight for us, ah, well, we all went mad, we, I got down two flights of stairs in the toilet, there’s no doors on the toilet and it was no water in the toilet but I got flat on me chest in the toilet and got one he had covered up but I didn’t get me right here covered and then it went off and then I really funny things cause you got two thousand pounds of TNT going off, makes quite a bang and that was that, anyway we finally got down and they went, now what happened and so apparently this doodlebug coming down instead of coming directly at us as it was, it turned and it ran into the Canal Bank, where the Grand Union Canal is at that point and it ran into the bank outside [unclear] which he lived and it exploded but all the blast went upwards into the air and so the damage to our block of flats wasn’t all that bad, you could put your arms through the wall and shake with the people in the next room but that was apparently because it was a single frame building and it’s only the solid part
DK: [unclear], yeah
FS: That was fractured, yeah and then they sent us down, they sent us up the road to check on the people because mainly all the people in those flats were either relatives of or families of people, forces people working in London
DK: Right, ok.
FS: And so they sent us down to the one that was nearest to where the thing fell and to go and have a look at it was unusual really because we went inside and there was, we met a man in the hall way and he said where did they go? And I said, where did who go? He said, them gang, that gang of blokes, I said, what gang of blokes? He said, well, they come in here and then they [unclear] a big bang, he said, it was, he said, and somebody’s been pinched our wardrobe, I said, what? He said, somebody’s pinched our wardrobe, I said, no, I don’t think so, anyway we arrived, he took us up to where it was and he said, it stood there, against the wall and it’s not here anymore, that gang of blokes took it, I said, I didn’t see any gang of blokes, anyway he was quite, quite confused, quite think about it when a knock came on the door and a woman from two, not the next flat to his but the next flat, she came and she said, I don’t want that! I said, you don’t want what? She said, I don’t want that wardrobe in my house, it’s not my kind of furniture and I said what wardrobe? She said, well, them blokes came and they put a wardrobe against my wall. So, what he meant was the [unclear] of the building must have opened up and the wardrobe went through two rooms and rested against the wall.
DK: Yeah, so it crashed down.
FS: Yeah
DK: So, no men never actually stole it then?
FS: Pardon?
DK: No men actually stole it.
FS: There wasn’t anybody there.
DK: No, it’d gone through the
FS: It’d gone through
DK: Floors. Yeah, strange.
FS: Yeah. So, the whole of the building must have opened up and shut up again. Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Strange.
FS: Yeah.
DK: And can I just confirm, whereabouts in London was this?
FS: It’s on the edge of Regent’s Park
DK: On the edge of Regent’s Park, ok.
FS: I’m not sure what road, not sure what road is in. If I got a map
DK: That’s ok, in Regent’s Park it’s ok. Know roughly where it was
FS: Pardon?
DK: That’s ok, Regent’s Park, I know where that is.
FS: Yeah, I can show you exactly where it is. I got a map of London.
DK: Yeah. That’s ok. I got an idea in my head where the canal is.
FS: Yeah
DK: Yeah. Can I just ask, just going back to your time working in the bomb dumps
FS: Yeah
DK: Did you used to actually load the bombs into the aircraft?
FS: I only loaded them onto the trolley.
DK: Onto the trolleys.
FS: But I loaded out to load the food into the aircraft.
DK: The food into the aircraft
FS: Yeah
DK: So, you had a tractor then, was it?
FS: A forklift
DK: Forklift, and you loaded them down
FS: It was electric
DK: Right
FS: Forklift
DK: Yeah
FS: Didn’t have an engine, is an electric one
DK: Right
FS: He used to plug it in, charge it up overnight if you weren’t using it or when between times, when you got so long between before you load in more stuff
DK: And then, the trollies then went out to the aircraft
FS: As a bomb train, we called it,
DK: Bomb train, yeah
FS: Yeah, cause one lady took my bomb train one night and she had a John Brown, a, yeah John
DK: A tractor, a John Brown tractor
FS: Yeah, she had a John Brown tractor and they were quite big things, quite powerful and they were quite fast if they wanted and she decided to take my bomb train in a hurry and she overturned it and she overturned it on the runway and the bombs came off the trolleys
DK: Right
FS: And then there was a big discussion as to what they were going to do with them and they said, well, the only thing you can do with them is go drop them in the sea and the disposal ground
DK: Right. So, they couldn’t be reused again.
FS: There’s delayed action
DK: Right, ok.
FS: Delayed action bombs and because they had fell off the trolleys, they started the action working, which cut the time down as to about three to four hours
DK: So you had three to four hours to dispose of them.
FS: Yeah
DK: Yeah
FS: Anyway, they had to call the crews out of bed, they were gonna take them on a trip the next day and load them all up on the aircraft which I did several of them on the aircraft and they flew them off to the dropping zone in the North Sea, it’s just off Dogger Bank somewhere and as the aircraft came back and landed, you could hear the bombs who went off in land and there a thousand pound bombs and they’re quite [unclear] yeah
DK: So, were quite a few of the tractor drivers women then?
FS: Pardon?
DK: Were quite a few of the tractor drivers women?
FS: OH, Quite a lot of them were
DK: Yeah
FS: Quite a lot of them
DK: She wasn’t hurt then, was she, when she rolled it?
FS: Pardon?
DK: Was she hurt when they rolled it? Was she hurt?
FS: She had trapped [unclear] it turned over.
DK: Just the bomb trolley?
FS: Just the bomb trolley.
DK: Right, ok. She was ok then?
FS: Started from the back and the [unclear] went up, yeah.
DK: So she was ok.
FS: Pardon? She was ok
DK: She was ok.
FS: She was ok.
DK: Can you recall what types of bombs you used to pick up?
FS: Pardon?
DK: Can you recall which types of bombs, the types of bombs that you, you picked up with the trolley?
FS: Types?
DK: Types, yeah.
FS: Well, you see, the means of dropping bombs is [unclear] for years and the types of bombs we were dropping were thousand pounders, the American one was the [unclear] on with the top, keep some of them cause they were known to explode and they contained Torpex which is the same stuff as they put in torpedoes and it makes a big bang and it does a lot of damage, we load probably twenty two, twenty one or twenty two of them on an aircraft and that was allowed, they used to take a thousand pound bombs
DK: So, it’s about twenty-one, twenty-two thousand pound bombs
FS: Yeah
DK: Yeah. And were there any bigger bombs you
FS: Bigger ones? Oh, we had four thousand pounders which were [unclear] three section, two section canister at the front end is like a big barrel and the back end was empty and it was nose and tail fuse and three fuses in the nose and three in the tail which unwound when they left the aircraft the safety pin pulled out the fusing thing unwound and fell away and that let the fuse ignite and go to the front and when it hit the ground it went off [unclear] you had the two section one with the tail and you had the three section one
DK: So, they would have been eight thousand pounds and twelve thousand pounds
FS: That’s right, yeah
DK: Right, yeah
FS: And they had these special ones which had dropped on the submarine pens at Brest, but we never handled them, they were done by a couple of chaps with a huge forklift thing that could carry them cause we couldn’t carry them, they were too heavy for us
DK: And were many of the loads incendiary bombs as well?
FS: Incendiary?
DK: Yeah
FS: OH, yeah, yeah [laughs]. You wouldn’t believe it, seven thousand or eight, would ye? The [unclear] the ordinary stick incendiary bombs, there was ninety of those in a canister
DK: Right
FS: They came to us in boxes, right, and we had a canister carrier which took four of those
DK: Right, so that’s four times ninety
FS: Four times ninety
DK: Right
FS: And you only did with those, got a crowbar very carefully took the lid off the box and then you put the fuse in back over and you did all that with them upright and then they took them out [unclear] over come in the aircraft, you could have twenty of those or twenty four, twenty one of those at a time, we reckoned about seven thousand at that time of Dresden and Cologne where we sent a lot of fire bombs and the next after they come up with a load of high explosive and so on and that turned the course of that two weeks we unloaded or offloaded a T3 hangar which is about probably four hundred foot long or twenty seven line, we emptied it in a fortnight
DK: All full of incendiaries?
FS: All incendiaries. Yeah. And the bigger canisters of incendiaries was worked a different way, they were shaped like a bomb and had a copper nose to them and the copper nose had four nozzles facing outwards and when it hit the ground, it exploded but it didn’t explode and blow itself to pieces, but it started off as a fire from these nozzles, sort of high pressured gas burning and they would drop on the ground unless they lay flat on the ground they would turn themselves upright and set fire to everything around them but this was like [unclear] settling well flame sort of thing and there were some which [unclear] and they did quite [unclear] canisters and fused them up yeah.
DK: So, how long would it take to load up a whole squadron of aircraft?
FS: Pardon?
DK: How long would it take
FS: About a day
DK: About a day.
FS: Yeah
DK: So, you’d be out there early morning right through the day
FS: After [unclear]
DK: Yeah [unclear], they took off
FS: Yeah
DK: Yeah
FS: Yeah.
DK: So, it’s a day’s work to load up a whole squadron.
FS: Pardon?
DK: A day’s work to load up a whole squadron.
FS: It [unclear] just a day, you do it again tomorrow
DK: Yeah
FS: Every day the same.
DK: Yeah, yeah.
FS: I think in some cases I only had about three hours sleep at night, probably only about three hours sleep at night.
DK: So, I think that’s very interesting information there, thanks very much for your time. I was just going to ask, what do you think now about your time in the RAF?
FS: What do I think about it?
DK: What do you think about it now.
FS: I wish I’d stayed there. I wish I’d stayed there actually, but I didn’t have that choice more or less, I always say they thought that my job as food production was better serving the country than my career in the RAF was
DK: Yeah. So, you had no choice, you had to come out
FS: I had to, yeah, yeah, I had to come out because I had knowledge of food production, that was the answer
DK: Very, food is very important though, food is very important
FS: Oh yeah, well, when you work out how much they were paying for a boat load of food for America, you can understand why they wanted to stop him [unclear] it and reround it when they could and as I say, I think they most probably, most probably it was a good thing for the country and they wouldn’t be feeding me, would they? I was feeding them.
DK: OK then, I will stop there but thanks very much for that, that’s more or less, that’s, thanks very much for your time. I’ll stop there.



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Frank Saunston,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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