Interview with Norman Shakesby


Interview with Norman Shakesby


Norman Shakesby was a radar mechanic on 405 and 582 Squadrons. Born in 1924, he was studying languages at The City School in Lincoln at the outbreak of the Second World War. His language teachers were quickly called up to act as interpreters, so on the advice of the headmaster, Norman left school and found employment as a junior bank clerk. He became a member of the Air Training Corps when it was formed, which paved the way for him to enlist in the RAF in November 1942. Having completed his basic training, Norman attended the Leeds College of Technology studying radio, from where he was selected to specialise in radar. Further training followed and he became proficient on both H2S and Gee radar. Posted onto 405 Canadian Squadron, Norman maintained the equipment on the aircraft. This also involved boarding aircraft before take-off to set the selected frequency for that operation. Care had to be taken with impatient crews, to ensure he wasn’t a reluctant passenger on operations. He had the greatest respect for the aircrew and witnessed the euphoria of them completing operations before going through the same emotions again a few days later. In 1944, a posting to 582 Squadron gave Norman a change, servicing equipment in a bay carrying out more detailed rectification. Following the ending of the war, a posting to the Middle East saw him complete his military service before returning to RAF Waddington and demobilisation. After meeting his old headmaster, he followed a career in teaching, initially employed as a primary school teacher at Riseley, Bedfordshire, before completing his degree and becoming involved in further education.




Temporal Coverage




01:20:01 audio recording


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AShakesbyFN180822, PShakesbyFN1801


IP: This is Ian Price and I’m interviewing Norman Shakesby today, the 22nd of August 2018, for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at [beep], Kendal. Also present is Pam Barker, a good friend of Norman’s. Norman, thanks ever so much for agreeing to talk to me today, it’s- I’m really looking forward to it. It is 10:37 in the morning, and we’ll start the interview now. I think, just to start off, can you- You were born on the 17th of May 1924, but you- Can you tell me where you were born and where you went to school?
NS: Barton-upon-Humber[?] if you know where it is? Where my life was dominated from the first [unclear] four years by the New Holland Pier where you went over on the river- On the train river Humber to Hull. Great excitement, when they built the- It’s a beautiful bridge but it’s taken all the excitement out of it. Don’t you want to- What was it next?
IP: Where did you go to school?
NS: Oh yes, well I attended my infant school for about one year and then we moved to Lincoln, and I went to the Lincoln St Giles junior school, took the, took the [unclear] scholarship and attended The City School of Lincoln.
IP: Ok, and were you an only child or did you have brothers and sisters?
NS: No, I have a sister who is younger, four years, and a brother who is older by four years.
IP: Ok, and what did you- I presume your mother sort of looked after you children and looked after the house, and what did your father do?
NS: Well, he came out of the army, I can- Yes, his grandfather had a- And I've got to explain how he came to have it. His family- Grandfather, was- And his Grandfather’s brother, ran a drapery shop in Hull and they sold mainly to the, to the seamen and they had a strike and they went bust, so they lost their- All the money. So, my father decided, he would follow his father, who was- Worked as a traveller for [unclear] Hopper, Hopper’s Bicycles. I’ve got them- I’ve got a catalogue about them, and he followed on, his father had retired, and he did all the Midlands and learnt how to drive by sitting at his side for miles and miles in the school holidays and, so that he- And then when he- The foreigners took over, and he lost his job. Well, it narrowed his area so much, he couldn’t have made, you know, he couldn’t make ends meet. So, he went into the brewery trading, he- When we got a- We got a pub. We got this public house in Lincoln, well just outside Lincoln, and then he got a pub right in the middle of Lincoln, and if you go now- This is an interesting thing, if you now go to Lincoln and walk down the high street, and you get to Barclay’s bank and you stop and look above where they usually look, you’ve got to look up in the air and at the top of that building it says Black Swan, and the one on the left window was my, my brother’s wind- Bedroom and his father and his mother, my mother on the other, and then when the war broke out they say it’s why he was gone, he was on the reserve list, and he was called in at Dunkirk and I still to this day remember him telling- Coming in, he said, ‘I’ve got to go, I just had the phone call and they said pin cushion or some ridiculous thing, that means that invasion is imminent and I've got to go and report immediately’, and they sent him up to Durham, to, to take on the role of keeping all the civilians in an orderly fashion if they’re evacuating.
IP: Ah right, so his, his reserve service was as a result of him having served during the First World War.
NS: Yes, yeah.
IP: So, what did he do during the First World War then?
NS: He was in the- First of all in the Hull friends which, you know, and then he, he was in the front- In line for about, oh about six months and they came down the line and said, ‘Would anybody like to volunteer going to the air?’, you know, he thought that’s a better thing than being on the Western Front. So, he said, ‘Yeah, ok’, and he came home and then he sort of spent a few months over here training to be an observer, which is at the front of the aircraft [unclear] on the- The pilot is behind him, and behind the pilot is the engine, and behind the engine is a propeller, propels hence, propeller and that was his- And then he was shot down and that ended it all.
IP: He flew FE2b’s I think didn’t he, yeah-
NS: Yes.
IP: So, so he was shot down about 1916, 1917 we think?
NS: Yes, the year before and then in 1918 armistice. Yes, he was- He did- Yes, I think it was just over a year. But it, it ruined his- He couldn’t bare to be in a shut door, room, you know, it does something to him. But one or two of his stories were interesting, how they had a- This is irrelevant, they had- One of the lads was very feminine and they got to work and back then they’d make all sorts of things with experts in the prisoner of war camp, and they would fit him out as an officer in the German army, and the block house had a partition in the middle of wood, and the German’s were one side, English the other side, and they took a panel out when the Germans changed at lunch time and put it back, and then they waited for the opportunity, they got him out as an officer, a German officer, ‘Yes it’s today, go quick’, out with the panel, and they’d also got this fella dressed up as a woman and the other one was a German officer. The two of them scrambled out, straight out through the main door towards the main gates, and they got to the gates and saluted, got a salute from the gate and they walked off, hundred yard or so down the road and he was watching them go, he thought there was- The pair of shoes that he’d got on, they would- ‘Halt’, caught him [chuckles]. It was an amazing story, so close, so close to getting-
IP: And, and his experience in World War Two then, did he stay in Durham? Did he- Was that- He was, he was just in the UK I presume?
NS: My mother was dying slowly with TB, so he put in for- Once he’d been there a week, they sent him home because he was forty-something, a lot of his- And he was very quiet and concerned, a lot of his oppos or friends, you know, the level- They’d done the same thing, signed in, they went to Middle East [emphasis] and forty-five or so. Well, he came out and he was, you know, discharged, so went back to the pub.
IP: Ah right. So, we’ll, we’ll step back a bit then to just before the war, you were- You would’ve started, what I might call grammar school, I know it wasn’t called a grammar school but this- Did you say it was the-
NS: City School.
IP: City School in Lincoln. So, you would’ve started there about 1935 I suppose, something like that, would that be right? Born in 1924, started when you were eleven?
NS: Yes.
IP: Ish, roughly.
NS: I’m trying to work it out.
IP: It doesn’t matter precisely. So you were, you were at City School when the war broke out?
NS: What happened, and it’s rather relevant in a way to what went later, Lincoln had a system whereby you can take your scholarship a year early, the bright lads, and then you could- When you got in- I got maths, so I started at ten, not eleven or what [unclear] and then as you get to the first year and second year, they pick out the top ones, who go straight through without ever a middle one. So, you did- Taking the-
IP: School certificate, was it? Yeah.
NS: A year before you should, and that mean- Can I tell you why it was awkward? Because, when the war broke out, I was nearly getting- We lost all our teachers, we ended- I was taking like languages, we ended with two teachers who- And they were both called up because they were interpreters, you see, and because of that it- We reached a position where everything was collapsing at Dunkirk, absolutely pandemonium, and we, we were told there was nothing terribly- Headmaster said, ‘I don’t think the universities are going to be functioning because everything, you know, and everything’, he said, ‘You better get something, get a job and now’. So, the two of us, there were only two doing languages, the- And I never knew what happened to the other physics people, whether they were kept on, but we were more or less, ‘You better go’, and so we both decided to go into a bank. So, at sixteen, I was whipped off to Alford because Barclays worked on the basis that you couldn’t work in your hometown, you might know that you earned too much and have a living, you know. Whereas my friend went into NatWest, and they let him stay home. I had to go into digs, so at sixteen I [unclear], she’s a lovely lady looked- There were two juniors, and she took us in both, [unclear] till I was called up. So that- And I was away from home, my brother had got- Qualified as a pharmacist and been called up, but it was, you know, plenty of sergeants and things, you only got a good payment. When I was called up, it was [chuckles]- Hadn’t got anything, there were no, no, you know, exams or an A to show for it, but I’ve-
IP: So, how did, how did you find working for Barclays then? Did you enjoy that?
NS: I did actually, yes, and I had to get there and it was the Tuesday of Dunkirk and that was the last to be- Took them out of the sea then, and there was no trans- Very little transport, I got a bus within three miles of Alford, sun and sun, you know, lovely day with a big suitcase tramping along and a fella came along in a milk float [chuckle]. He said, ‘Where are you going?’, I said, ‘I’m going to Alford’, he said, ‘Hop on’ [chuckles]. So, the horse went trotting along and I sat at the side of him. We got there and there was this very forbidding win- A big white door and it said Barclays, so I went round, I pushed a big spring and it went behind be bang [emphasis], you know. This little tubby fella came up behind the counter, he said, ‘Good Morning, can I help you?’ and I said, ‘I’m the new junior’, ‘Where the hell have you been? Dunkirk?’ [laughs]. I can remember that as clear [chuckles].
IP: Good stuff. So, so you were- Must’ve been at Barclays for a couple of years I guess then before?
NS: Oh yes.
IP: Yeah.
NS: And, I took ten of the- Six of the ten bankers' exams and in the last year at, what was I? Sixteen, seventeen by that time, seventeen yes. The- We’d lost our chief clerk, we’d lost the other junior, only in one junior and [unclear] curious one- We had ladies, two ladies and it was years later, she was, I’ve forgotten- She lived in a big house in the village and invited me one night to tea. She was about three year, four years older than me, invited me to a dinner and we played [unclear] tennis, and met her years later. I was listening to the radio in bed, and they said, ‘This is’- And I cannot remember her name, and ‘We’ll tell you how she came to be in Africa’, and she was the [unclear] right-hand woman, and it was because she had to be kicked out because they were saying she was, you know, telling him not what- What not to do, when he shouldn’t’ve been doing, and I thought, I’ll write a letter to the BBC and tell her I'm here, you know, to see her. He put it off, I then went to look for her and she had died. Anyway, that covered me the earlier times.
IP: Yeah, so you mentioned you were called up to the RAF, you didn’t volunteer, it was- You just got you papers?
NS: Yes, but while I was in the air force- While I was in the bank, I joined the ATC for Alford and I was a flight sergeant. I mean, that’s my flight sergeant’s uniform, and so, when I joined the air force, I made sure I got into the air force by doing ATC. They took people who were outstanding, took them into the radar and radio station, that’s how I got into it and they said- Curiously enough at any one time in the- [unclear] would you want to hear what, how, where, when?
IP: Yeah, well we’ll get onto that ‘cause I'm- The first thing that struck me about it was, I mean it sounds like you were quite well educated and that sort of stuff, so I was wondering why you didn’t end up as an officer? Do you know how that-
NS: Yeah, because a technician- I mean I was a- Totally without any knowledge of- Because the first thing they did do, we did six months in Leeds college of Technoloy to do all the radio and stuff, and then they took the top two to go into radar, and the top two, me being one of them, we went down to London, we were digs in the, what do you call? The prom place.
PB: [Whispers] Royal Albert Hall.
NS: The?
PB: Royal Albert Hall.
IP: Royal-
NS: Can’t hear [chuckles]
IP: Royal Albert Hall.
NS: Oh yes, Albert, just round the corner from Albert Hall is Albert Court and it’s a very posh- They said the [unclear] or somebody [unclear] had had it, so they covered everything with plywood and we were in there, and we prayed[?] the outside, which was at the time the front of one of the- The London, you know, university, and we- Say we went into 3 Squadron because we had a fellow army officer who’d come to make [unclear] in London and you had to say, ‘A Squadron, B, C Squadron’, and turn, where? ‘Left turn’, down Vickery and Grand Exhibition Road, what’s by all retired [unclear], how it is there, and you wheeled left at the V&A and there were laboratories with the V&A, and I came out as the top two in that, with the- Having done Gee and we didn’t- We’d done a bit of H2S at that point, and we did- How long was it there? About six months.
IP: So, you just- Sorry to nip back again. So, you were called up to the RAF in November- Was it December ‘42, wasn’t it? That’s right, and did you go straight to Leeds from there, or did you do basic training first, you did sort of square bashing?
NS: We went in- Yes, we went into [unclear]
IP: Into where sorry?
NS: We went in the west coast area there was an RAF training camp there.
IP: Ok, alright.
NS: So, we did that, and then we went up to Redcar
IP: Oh yeah, yeah.
NS: And a little aside that, years later I was teaching in Redcar new college and I was standing- Having a dinner at the [unclear] hotel and the last time I'd been there, I'd been standing out while the officers tell you to [unclear] [chuckles]. Anyway-
IP: How did you find- How did you find the basic training and stuff? The square bashing and all that sort of stuff?
NS: Oh rubbish. We got off very lightly because we were ATC cadets.
IP: So, you knew how to do drill, and you knew how to make-
NS: You were taught how to- In half an hour we had to- You know, what it- To arms, ‘Shoulder, arms’-
IP: Rifle drill, yeah.
NS: And they said, ‘Right’- One of the other corporals, ‘You’re gonna do it with the flag tonight’. Pull the flag down and that sort of thing, back to the hotel [chuckles] well it’s like Dad’s Army, we’re actually in fits, even he was laughing [unclear] [laughs].
IP: So, you did- So, you did that sort of basic training and then from there, from Redcar I guess, you went to Leeds to do your mechanic training. But, do you know how they selected you to be a, a mechanic? I mean, presumably you could’ve gone off to any training?
NS: Yes-
IP: Cooks, bottlewashers-
NS: Well, the only thing I knew, is they said, ‘You were a bank clerk, we found them very, you know, very good at this bank clerks’, I don’t know why-
IP: Maths and stuff maybe, I guess, I don’t know.
NS: I couldn’t say why it changed to-
IP: Ok, alright, alright. So, to Leeds, down to the Albert Hall, London. Do you remember how long you were in Leeds doing your-
NS: Yeah, six months.
IP: Six months, and that, that was- Sorry, just to- Sorry. So, that was- Was that radar mechanic training, or was it-
NS: No.
IP: It was just mechanical training?
NS: Yeah.
IP: And then they streamed you to radar, the top two as you say. So you were the top two of that, you then went to your radar mechanic training in London and you were the top two of that course.
NS: I was-
IP: Yeah.
NS: And I can tell you why I was never a corporal as well, which I should’ve been.
IP: Oh, we’ll come back to that maybe. But- So, right, so-
NS: [Unclear] say this about that-
IP: Yeah.
NS: The- We’d been [unclear] and- Oh I’ll tell you. In [unclear], we had a theatre with two rollers chairs- Stairs either side and you go up this one and you shove the needle in you and then take the needle our, or take the fridge out and the needle in and you walked across the stage and they’d put the next one on tight up to the other one [chuckles], and I had a fellow who’s six foot three in front of me and he started going like that [laughs] and jumped out of the [unclear].
IP: Went down like a sack of spuds, yeah.
NS: Right, so that’s the only reason that I was in the bank clerk, I suppose I’d got the fact that I'd done some extra work at the bank with- Banking, you know, banking law, nothing to do with it, but, we’re all- And the thing that struck me it was being push here, push there and we were in digs in Redcar and I'll never forget the porridge it was burnt every morning [chuckles] and- But we then ended in nice digs in Leeds, lovely widow and she looked after the two of us and we’d all [unclear] what’d be known [unclear] and we walked in the first morning, we sat in anticipation and this [unclear] walked in and said, ‘Good morning gentlemen, take a seat’ [laughs]. Gentleman [emphasis] [laughs] oh, what a change, yes.
IP: So, just trying to get this back where we are now. So, we’ve gone- Done your basic training, did you go to Redcar before you went to Leeds then, or after?
NS: Yes.
IP: Ok, so it was Redcar first, then Leeds and then you went down to London, The Albert Hall, and did your radar mechanic training there, came in the top two of your course there and then- So what- And how did you- I mean, did you enjoy- Did you enjoy it, was it, was it- How did you find that phase of being down in London and the training down there and what have you?
NS: In all the wave forms and things that we learnt, it’s fascinating [emphasis] and I really did enjoy that, yeah.
IP: Had you- So when you’d been growing up, I mean, had you, had you done any sort of electrical, electronics or electrical stuff-
NS: No, nothing.
IP: - sort of crystal radios or any of that sort of stuff?
NS: No, well they had a whiskers, you know the old, [unclear] whiskers [chuckles] those little- Yes, and- But, nothing further than that. I’d no, I'd no mechanical background.
IP: Oh right.
NS: No.
IP: Yeah.
NS: But it- They’d got a good volunteer [unclear] and I mean, they picked somebody who they- I did, I did very well.
IP: It sounds that way. So, what happened then after you left? Did you say you were about six months, you think in London?
NS: Yeah.
IP: So now we must be into 1943, I guess, something like that, or maybe, or maybe later than that I don’t know, do you remember?
NS: No, not- It wasn’t as long as that I don’t think.
IP: Ok.
NS: And then it was posted to Gransden Lodge.
IP: Right.
NS: Canadians.
IP: Yes.
NS: That was lovely.
IP: Yeah, 405 Squadron. So- And you were posted onto the squadron? You weren’t stationed personally?
NS: No, no.
IP: You were on the squadron-
NS: There were two of us, two Englishmen among the- All the rest were Canadian radar mechanics, because we hadn’t got them at that time
IP: Ah, right.
NS: I assumed that we were still training them, you know, but- And then, I wish I'd taken the names because there was just a gang, you know [laughs]. In fact, when I went to- I’ll tell you in a minute if you want to know why I moved to-
IP: Little Staughton?
NS: Yes, Little Staughton. What was I leading up to there? Oh yes, I'm in Little Staughton and Christmas I cycled over because it’s was only about eight miles and I had my Christmas with the whole gang in Gransden Lodge.
IP: Ah, ok. So, right- Just, just going back. So, I get the impression you were happy to be a radar mechanic, I mean you said you enjoyed it, you said you found it fascinating. So, and I supposed compared to some things you could’ve ended up doing, it was great.
NS: It was a, a marvellous piece of equipment.
IP: Yeah.
NS: And you’ll see I've got a [unclear] on the inside, and when I came out, I was then mending people’s televisions, but you see then you went all this funny business and that, nothing like mine, you see, [unclear] red tube and things.
IP: And so, you joined the squadron, 405 Squadron, it was- Well, your section, the radar mechanic section, how big- How many people were there in the section then? Do you remember, roughly?
NS: Um-
IP: I mean, are we talking ten? Fifteen?
NS: Well there was about the same as on that photograph which is at Little Staughton, it’ll be about fourteen in this I suppose
IP: Ok, alright, so- But, two of you were Brits and the other, the other twelve were Canadian, and how do you, how did you find them? Were they friendly? Were they a friendly lot?
NS: Oh yes, they would- Yes, marvellous [chuckles] and they used to, you know, mock limeys and that sort of thing, but they were great fellas. The [unclear] particularly a man called Moon Mullin, and he had shock of hair like an Indian and he was a real rover. They couldn’t touch them you see, because as soon as you got one step from the safe it said ‘Private [emphasis], no entry’.
IP: Ah yes, yes, so behind closed doors sort of thing, yeah, yeah.
NS: Yeah, we did no mucking about, flying drill or anything like that, we just looked after our own [unclear] you know, along that and that was [unclear].
IP: Ah, and did you feel that you were part of 405 Squadron? Were-
NS: Yes, I was very sorry to leave it and it wasn’t to my- Actually, I can tell you later, it wasn’t to my- It’s tied up with the corporal, it wasn’t my- It wasn’t to my best and it was all because the radar officer found out- When I went there, I went there as an AC1 and within two, three weeks he’d made me a LAC because I was so good, and they then wanted to form a new squadron at Great Staughton, or Little Staughton [unclear] and they’d taken the half from one English one and half from the other English one, but they needed the officer and they took the officer who was English, with the Canadian and he had- He said then, he said, ‘We want one more’, so he came to me and he said, ‘I’m going to move to- And I’m taking you with me’. I thought, well I'm gonna be alright here, he’d look after me. Did he hell [emphasis]. I got there, and of course, what happened was that after a few weeks it came to the idea of this new squadron getting there, getting there informa- Getting their [unclear] better, you know, going up to corporals, and they were- And I thought, well, the two- They’d already got theirs, two from one half and the other two, so no [unclear], and that was it, and nobody said anything, and I thought oh that’s a bit [unclear] and it dawned on me why. This half, ‘Oh we want this man’, this half, ‘We want this man’, and ‘I want this fella’, no way mate, you haven’t got any supporters there, and then didn’t have- That was my first time that I wasn’t made a corporal [chuckles] which I should’ve been because I was in- You know, he took me with him because he thought I was good [emphasis].
IP: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
NS: But, anyway I didn’t want the job, because at the [unclear] I start off by doing DI’s every morning in the cold-
IP: Daily inspections? Yes.
NS: [Unclear] and then I got into the- When I got to Great Staughton, I was put on the bench doing- We didn’t do Magnetron, I didn’t- Never got- Didn’t know how it worked but that was obviously a big secret. But I did the H2S and the Gee, putting the faults right on them. I always remember, I loved that, it’s like a detective model. You go through all the, the [chuckles]-
IP: The diagnosis?
NS: Yes, the- You’d got a big, a big book of all the info- The brown [unclear] that goes to that, and that- And you used an oscilloscope because you got a wave form, that’s [unclear] wave forms for television, they go quickly down and then slowly, quickly down because you’re putting it into the devalves[?] and you’re making it move, the dots, so you get that- It’s- It makes it move round on the screen and when I got to the other- Great Staughton they said, ‘Well you know quite a lot about H2S so we’ll do it on the Benson[?]’ and I was doing it one morning and I couldn’t find this damn fault and I thought, oh it’s lunchtime so I got on my bicycle, because you all had bikes then, and I'm cycling and I think, oh I didn’t try that one, I'll have to go, ‘Norman put your hat on’ [shouts] [laughs]. I’m trying to [unclear] a bloody war on, and you’re telling, put my hat on [chuckles].
IP: Have to get your priorities right.
NS: [Laughs]
IP: Hats are everything.
NS: [Unclear] a bit.
IP: Right, so just, just going back to- Was it 405 Squadron- Were they already on the pathfinder force when you joined them then?
NS: Oh yes.
IP: So- And was, was that one reason- Because you were top of your course were you particularly selected for the pathfinder force do you think? Or, or did it not quite work that way, or don’t you know?
NS: Well, I mean the thing was you went to Gransden Lodge and it was pathfinders and I don’t know whether I was chosen- I don’t know where the others went, you know, [unclear].
IP: Yeah, yeah, ok, yeah. Did you, did you understand at the time what the pathfinders were all about? Did you understand how the, how the bomber offensive was working kind of thing?
NS: Yeah, oh yes.
IP: So you, so you were- I mean this is, this is the whole thing that interests me of this whole- Being part of the squadron and understanding what was going on ‘cause as an LAC you might reasonably not know exactly what they were doing and what was required. Somebody turns up with a broken H2S-
NS: LAC is the highest technical thing you can get to.
IP: Right.
NS: So you’re bound to know, you know.
IP: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and you were well treated on, on the squadron?
NS: Oh yes, yeah.
IP: What did you, did you have any thoughts at the time about what the bomber crews were doing? About what they were going off to do, did you think about it at all?
NS: Oh yes.
IP: And what were your thoughts?
NS: Very, very traumatic, you know, and we used to see them off at that time it was like metrology[?] mare[?], eighteen aircraft one behind the other, and I'll tell you the story what I did- Happened to me on that line [chuckles] if you’re interested?
IP: Yeah, go on then?
NS: And- But- And we- At the front of it, it had the caravan with a dome and the red light and green light and they’re there in case a fault starts before they get off, so you can see them off, and then you see them back, and that was it.
IP: Yeah, so you used to watch them come in?
NS: And that’s three you’ve got.
IP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Did you get to know the crews quite- Or
NS: No.
IP: I mean-
NS: Not a click.
IP: You didn’t meet the navigators or anything like that who are dealing with the equipment?
NS: Well, I did because I was put in charge of what was like a big toy. It was a huge tank- Well a tank, ten foot by ten foot, full of water with a little scanner and underwater you can have it at a pay low frequency, so it’s a mock-up of the H2S in- Underwater, and you had the controls at the side and they had to- Before they got their little badge, extra pay, they had to pass the test I gave them to get to Berlin underwater [chuckles] which is fascinating
IP: Yeah.
NS: I always thought it would do lovely for the kids, pathetic, this little thing buzzing under water, and had this arose because you asked me something-
IP: ‘Cause I was asking you how well, how well you got to know the navigators and that-
NS: So I did get to know some of them and one particular one, they were in- This was at- I didn’t do it at Great Staughton, I did it at Gransden Lodge and one I’d got friendly with and he- And his brother was also in aircrew, so there was another there and we all went out for a drink at times, and to put it short, we saw them right through to the end.
NS: Yeah.
IP: And we counted it [unclear].
NS: Yeah, no that’s ok, that’s I- I understand. So, you said you- That you went to see the Lancasters off and that sort of stuff, and that must’ve been eighteen I think you said on the squadron, that must’ve been quite- I mean it must’ve been really impressive seeing eighteen, eighteen Lancaster-
NS: Yes, they stopped it very quickly because one night [unclear] all 8 Group into [unclear] he was there from senior, saw them all there and went down the line, so they stopped it very fast.
IP: A German intru-
NS: Bomber.
IP: Oh bomber, or an intruder- Well, doesn’t matter really, does it but-
NS: Yes, it was a foreign air, aircraft. So now they used to wait to be pulled off the outlined positions, one at a time. But it used- It was quite a, you know, quite an occasion. Everybody was there, all the ground crew were seeing them off and it was quite a- Quite emotional.
IP: And did you have to deal with anything with the aircraft at that stage then, or?
NS: We would’ve done if there’d been an error because they’d run all aircrafts, all their instruments are put in through it as while they were waiting and if there were- No I didn’t- Never had one- That was my servicing during the day [chuckles].
IP: So you have to- So if there was a problem with the H2S or, or, well Gee, you had to jump on board the aircraft and try and do a quick, a quick fix?
NS: Oh, we had more that, we had to jump on anyway because the Germans had got the Gee and it’s a very accurate piece of information in this, in this country it was at one end of the runway to the other, and we didn’t want this happening so they decided we’ll delay the actual frequency until the last minute. So, it was- We had about ten boxes all with a different set-up and each one had another ten, so there was a hundred choice and that was only put in twenty minutes before take-off, and job of radar mechanic was to put them in the back of the van, get the [unclear] WAAF to drive at the end, starting and went jump in the first one, up to the eye[?], over the back, [unclear] room, ‘'scuse me’, get to the next [imitates vehicle]. Eighteen, one after the other and you’ve got seventy-two machineries in front of you, propellers [imitates propeller] noise and this particular- Next one, next one I got to, seventeen, eighteen, eighteen [imitates vehicle] right up to the front and the wireless op was there with his headset round his neck and I'm just screwing it up and hear- And on his, on his- In the earphones, ‘Are you ready for take-off [unclear]’ [imitates aircraft engine] and we were swinging onto the, ‘Me, me’ [chuckles]. So, ‘We’ve got a foreigner, stop, stop’. So, I had to say, ‘I’ll just finish this’, ‘Ok, cheers’. Go down into the mid-upper, ‘'scuse me, could you open the [unclear] door?’. ‘Cause I couldn’t open it from the inside, never had done that, I could open it from the outside. He’d have to get out- I delayed them ten minutes while I [chuckles] I don’t know whose fault it was. I mean I was going at a noble pace standard every time before, I think they were a bit ready that, bit-
IP: A bit keen to go?
NS: Yeah.
IP: So you nearly got a free ticket to Hamburg or Cologne or Berlin or wherever?
NS: On 405 Squadron they had brothers and such and occasionally they used to take the brother with them, very illegal.
IP: I know, I know that passengers used to go occasionally, and there’s some really sad stories of course about bombers being shot down with passengers on board who shouldn’t, who shouldn’t have been there really.
NS: They could shoot them.
IP: Yeah.
NS: Because Hitler’s spies.
IP: Mhmm.
NS: That’s why I-
IP: So you, so you didn’t- You never went on a, on a trip? Would you have liked to?
NS: No.
IP: No.
NS: I’m not a- I couldn’t have stood it. I used to think, how do those lads do it day after day? And I came to the conclusion the only thing that kept them going was the comradery between the crew. You can’t tell anybody now, so you keep going but- I know it's a bad day today but this could be a bright, summers afternoon and they climb in that bloody aircraft and go out and come back two having gun- Not coming back and then you got to go again two days later and it goes on and on for forty of them.
IP: Yeah, yeah.
NS: Which is amazing.
IP: Yeah, absolutely incredible, yeah, I take my hat off to them.
NS: I used to say to people, just before you start criticising them, just put yourself in their position
IP: Yeah.
NS: In the army, you have [unclear] bloody army and a fired battle and people getting blown to bits and then you pulled help and you have a rest. Those lads go every morning knowing they’re going, by the afternoon they’ll be off, maybe two days rest or what, you know, and I, you know, I admire them to the fullest.
IP: Mhmm, yeah, couldn’t agree more. Right, so we’ll- That’s, that’s- I think you’ve provided some really interesting information there. You moved onto 582 Squadron at RAF Little Staughton which is near Great Staughton I know that much. Was that- But you were working the bay then weren’t you, so you had less interaction with the aircraft and the crews I suppose but you were still doing the diagnostic stuff. Was, was that much of a change then, being on 582 after 405? Did you- I mean, it sounds like you missed 405 because you said went back for their Christmas dinner?
NS: Yes, yes.
IP: But, but was it a big change going to 582 or?
NS: Well, yes, I didn’t want to go but it [unclear] you know, orders is orders and he was gonna take me with him.
IP: That’s right.
NS: But of course, I- If I'd have stayed in 405, I’d have been a corporal. It was very sad that he was trying to do something good and it didn’t work that way, well I could’ve- And an interesting thing, I mean to prove it, we had to be on duty, one every night, one- And I was in this- I was in there and I walked into the office, looked around and there was a waste paper basket and pulled it out, it’s torn up and said ‘LAC Shakesby corporal’. So it’d got to the point actually putting it forward and they’d killed it
IP: Mhmm.
NS: And I went right through until [chuckles]- I can tell you that- I won’t tell you, but I can have so many- Every time- I had four other times when I just didn’t- Just missed it, and the last time was when I was being demobbed. The officer on- At Waddington, when I went to sign and get it signed off, he said, ‘You know, you’ve got an awfully good record here Shakesby’, he said, ‘You know, you should’ve been made a corporal’, I said, ‘Well, it’s just the way’, he said, ‘I’ll- Going to put it- I’ll put it in for you, I’m going on leave for three weeks’, and I was demobbed by the time he got back [chuckles], so it’s- Such is the world.
IP: Yeah.
NS: But it would’ve been nice because my wife, my wife would’ve got more money and I’d have got a bit more kudos.
IP: So you were married by then?
NS: Yes.
IP: When did you get married then?
NS: Pardon?
IP: When did you get married?
NS: 1946.
IP: Oh, I see, oh ok, so this was- Right, not during the war then, it was after the war that you got married. Ok, alright well-
NS: Yes, it was actually almost VE Day, V- No, no- Let me go-
IP: How did you meet your wife?
NS: I was- She was a girl in the digs we’re in in Leeds.
IP: Ah, ok. Right, so you kept in the touch all the time as you were moving round the air force and then- Oh ok, then you got married, wow. Yeah, ok.
NS: Too early, but [chuckles]-
IP: You did what you do don’t you?
NS: I got [unclear] I've got two boys.
IP: So, that kind of ties into my next- What was going to be my next question actually, which was how- What did you do for social life when you’re on the squadrons then? What, what social life did you have?
NS: Mainly in- The British Legion had a bar on the, on the drome and they had a special bitter and we used to end up there playing dominos and what not and every time, every few weeks or when- You had a day off and there was a bus to Cambridge and I well remember having been drinking the night before and getting on the bus the next morning and I was trying to keep upright [chuckles].
IP: Bit worse for wear?
NS: Yes.
IP: Ah yes, nothing changes. So, so it was- And, so you’re going to Cambridge with your mates and that sort of stuff and- So you’re going to Cambridge with your mates and what have you?
NS: Well, normally I usually was on my own, you were the only one off from there-
IP: Ah yes, yes of course, yeah, yeah, ok, and did you get any leave? What did you do- I suppose you’d have gone to see your girlfriend or whatever-
NS: Yes, we usually had weekends towards the end of- Later time until the, as I say, the bomb dropped in Japan and they- We all- Had to be sent back and they didn’t know what to do with us, so they sent us to the Middle East as- With the radio mines, and then because I got- I’m now jumping very quickly-
IP: Well, I was just gonna say. So, you, you did your time on 582 Squadron, I think- Yeah, we’ll cut that sort of stuff. So, you did your time on 582 Squadron and then were you on 582- So VE Day happened, were you still on 582 then?
NS: Yes, yeah.
IP: You got married around about that time as it happened, did you get- Where did you go- Did you go back to Leeds to get married or?
NS: Yeah.
IP: Ok, was she a Leeds girl then I take it?
NS: Yes.
IP: Ah right, ok, and- So, VE Day came, you were still kept in the air force ‘cause obviously they couldn’t demob everyone immediately and the Japanese war was still going on anyway, and then they dropped the bomb- So- But you weren’t up to then- ‘Cause I know numbers of the bomber command squadrons were, were ready to go to the Far East and some of them were converted to transport squadrons as well-
NS: Yeah, we, we were ready to go, we got the clearing and we were starting to, to convert onto Lincolns.
IP: As, as a transport squadron or as a bomber?
NS: Yeah.
IP: Ok, as a transport squadron.
NS: Well I thought- We thought as a bomber.
IP: Oh I see, ok, yeah, yeah. So- Right- Ah that’s interesting. So, so you’re waiting for that but then as you say, the bomb- The atom bomb was dropped-
NS: Fortunately, fortunately, weren’t looking forward to that bit [unclear]
IP: Yes- What- I suppose, just going back to VE Day, can you remember the- I mean this is just one of those general things if you were around at the time. Can you remember when the news came through that the war had ended?
NS: Yes, I think I- It was a morning I remember on the radio, and there was [laughs] great hilarity from everybody on the [unclear] as we can well imagine.
IP: Yeah, yeah, I was gonna say what was your reaction? What did you think about it?
NS: Oh, we wanted to go, it was an adventure [unclear]
IP: Yeah.
NS: [Unclear] we’d been- I’d been in the air force a length of time by then.
IP: Yeah. So, you were ready to go home?
NS: I was.
IP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So- But as it turned out then, 582 was pointed out to go out to the Far East and- I mean from your reaction it sounds like you didn’t want to do that but-
NS: We were dispersed all over and we were sent out to the Middle East, and I was spent with- Two of us, two- Where a ground [unclear] team was operating for the Middle East and we had eight Nissen huts on this barren- Well it’s- I think there’s a photograph of it actually, and we, we went on AS[?] and then did a bit of overhauling then, and we got all the messages on the [unclear] screen in [unclear] morse code and I’d been there- And we used to go from there to Castel Benito, fifteen- Well you’ve seen them haven’t you, fifteen hairpin bends to get down to the flat plane and then the- It’s still an airport for Tripoli and they had two tents for us and we’d arrive this, you know, fairly dirty [unclear] and the white things on the [unclear] and you’d say, ‘AMES’, ‘Oh, that bloody lot’ [chuckles], air ministry experimenting, and they had two, two tents for us and we fed there and we stayed the day and then we went back, and then a day went with nobody and then the next one went and back, and we were doing this about [unclear]- About three months, it said, ‘Shut down, these are your orders, close [unclear] shut it off’. So, [unclear] won’t shut it off, we just carried on going down, nobody did a thing. We had two months where nobody did anything but play monopoly and go [laughs]- We had a- And there was a little village, we went through it to get to the set, there was one photograph showing the Nissen huts and they had little tin cans, the [unclear] smoke and they used to stop us and swap cigarettes for eggs, so we’d get eggs and then go, come back [unclear], and in that village there were two Italians, one was the electrician, he had an engine that he’d start by doing this [imitates engine] and they had electric lights but it went off at ten o’clock because that was the orders, and the other one was a bar and we used to go down to the bar, nobody else went except us and there’d be all liqueurs on, we used to drink our way down them [chuckles] and they had a little girl and she taught me to say [sings a tune]- Can’t I’ve forgotten the words now.
IP: The Italian national anthem it sounds like, was that the one? I don’t know but- So- Right- Because I was thinking you must’ve been desperate to get home but it sounds like you were having quite a good time in the Middle East really.
NS: Well, it wasn’t- Mixed feeling, I mean ok, I could’ve done without it. Then they sent us back to Cairo and they said to put us on then this, this- Well, dismantling these radar, because the- We’d only been the few, the rest were still doing that. So- And we had our tents in a little enclosure and guards at the gate, so and then we’d get garries[?] to go into the treble 1MU, that’s the- That’s the- What we did, called it, and I got there on my own, having flown and I thought well [unclear] I'll go on parade. ‘Airmen, get your hair cut, get that shined up’, and I thought bloody hell mate I haven’t been- And all the lads round me were eighteen and I was twenty-two, you know, and I knew the ropes a bit, ‘Oh righto, sir’, and I found out then that the guards at the gate were from some foreign, foreign empire, maybe- I’ve forgotten which one it was then, but they went off duty at ten to seven and the British got in- On at seven o’clock, gap of ten minutes, so I used to go out at five to [chuckles] because by that time [unclear] I had a severe stomach dysentery, or not as bad as that but when I came out the fella said, ‘You feeling better?’, I said, ‘Yes’, ‘cause he was being in the hospital. ‘Have your bowels moved today?’, ‘Yes’, ‘How many times?’, ‘Twenty-four’ [chuckles] and the toilets were the other end, you know [chuckles] that’s your fault from doing- Getting it. So, he said, ‘Would you like to do a misemployed?’, he said ‘You won't get any pay and you’re still on tread with 1MU, but there’s a hotel, Regina, which looks after all the posts in the Middle East, they have three offices in descending ranks, wing commander all this, and several women who [unclear] and I have to decide, the person is going is a corporal and he’s being demobbed, would you like to take his job?’. I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds ok’. So, I used to walk out every morning- This is why I got [unclear] going out early before the- And arrive at the hotel, and it was quite pleasant [unclear] the three offices used to have a bit of a [unclear] and then I'd watch the girls and, and- So when we- All the correspondence came through me, and this [unclear] oh, airmen with whatever they called it release over, under, sixty, home. Oh, I'm fifty-eight. The wing commander came in he said, ‘I see you’ve read that Shakesby’, I said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Well, we’re going to make you a corporal and we’ll keep you’, and I thought, like hell you will [chuckles]. So, ‘Yes, thank you sir’. This is the next time I didn’t get it.
IP: Yeah, yeah.
NS: So I got on the bicycle and I biked out to treble 1MU, it was about four miles and went to the dis office and knocked [knocks], ‘Yes’, ‘Hello corporal, you’ll be wanting to see me soon’, ‘Why? What’, I said, ‘Well this, you know, people, I'm due for the re-pat’, ‘Oh god, we don’t know, it’s not’, I said, ‘I know it’s true because I've seen the-’. I said, ‘But, just remember I belong to this unit, not that hotel, I'm fifty-eight’, ‘No’ he said ‘I’ve got- Ok’.
IP: When you say you’re 58, what, what do you mean?
NS: That’s a number.
IP: What, as in your service number, or-?
NS: Just a number relating to your- Time you’ve been in.
IP: Right, gotcha, ok, yep.
NS: Well and the- Fifty-eight was- And it was up to sixty, you see. So, he said, ‘We’ll look after you’. So, I went back and several weeks went by, [unclear] to get moving, got to organise transport and everything to get the fifty to home, and then it came through, LAC Shakesby report back to M- 71 MU and [chuckles]- I still remember that face of that officer, ‘Oh’, he said ‘I see you are’, I said ‘Yes sir’ [chuckles].
IP: On the way.
NS; He said, ‘Pity we were going to make you a corporal’, I said, ‘Yeah, well I know which I prefer’ [chuckles]
IP: And that was you- So you were demobbed once you got back to the UK then?
NS: No.
IP: Oh.
NS: No. I had then- How long was it before I was demobbed. That was a different thing from being demobbed, it was just they were using it for this particular group who’d been sent overseas knowing nothing what else to do with them. You know, I can’t remember-
IP: So when you went back to the UK, where did you go to then?
NS: Waddington.
IP: Right.
NS: And I lived in the Black Swan, every night, I was there when I went to get my signatures [unclear] office and said, ‘Are you arriving or leaving?’, I said, ‘I’m leaving sir’, ‘I don’t remember seeing you’, so you know. Of course, the radar officer knew because I'd said to him- My parents lived down the road, he said, ‘I’ll get the sleeping out pass for-But I'm going on a- I’ve got to come back, I'll be back several weeks’, and of course it was just over weeks, I just went home and came back again. I thought that if I'd been in [unclear] too long.
IP: Knew how to keep your head down.
NS: I mean [unclear] looked around they were all bogs, you know, and- And he said to me, he said- And he was looking at that, he said, ‘This is an excellent report’, he said, ‘Why are you still not a corporal’, I said, ‘Well, there’s a story’ [chuckles].
IP: Yeah, ok. So- But Waddington was your last base?
NS: Yes.
IP: And then you were demobbed?
NS: Yes.
IP: Was that a good day?
NS: Yes [chuckles] the only thing was that, it had been all this snow and ice, which took me off my bicycle every morning and evening. They sent me to the west coast to be demobbed and there wasn’t a snow flake over here, they hadn’t had any snow, and by the time I got back we were flooded out, we couldn’t get into the village, the snow melted all this stuff and, and that was-
IP: And where, where did you go? Once you were demobbed, where did you go then? What, what happened? Where did you go to live and what did you do for work?
NS: This is when I went to the west coast to be signed off and-
IP: Yep, yeah, and given your suit-
NS: And then went back and they said ‘Cheerio’ on-
IP: But, where did you go? Did you go back to Lincoln? ‘Cause your wife presumably was still up- Was she still in Leeds at the time?
NS: No, she was living in Hykeham, where my parents were.
IP: Ok, right.
NS: So, yes I just walked out and I'd got my civvies over in the west coast, sent back on the rail pass, said- Went to see the radar office who said, ‘Well thank you, cheers’, pity about that, pity you were on gone leave, I might’ve been a corporal but never mind.
IP: And what did, what did you do work wise then? Once you left the RAF, what happened about that?
NS: My father was, being the pub, was great friends with a fellow who was one of the officers in the Russen Hornsby, they build- Built electric motors for the mines, and he said I could get a- And I had a- I applied then for the- I went to see my headmaster and he said, ‘Well, would you like to take up teaching?’, I said, ‘Yes’, he said, ‘Well there’s an emergency scheme for anybody who wants to, you’ve got the right- You’ve got matriculation’, he said, ‘But one thing, they’ll offer you twelve months’, he said, ‘Don’t- Go for the full time one which is still being used by everybody normally because it then, I think the others might be down paraded a bit by not being the full course’, and he said, ‘Apply to Leeds’. So, I applied to Leeds and I had to wait a year, and I was then working in this chaser in the, what you call them, [unclear]- Anyway they built these, this-
IP: Mhmm.
NS: And my job was to go around the stem[?] all and they had a- They had a foundry[?], they had a machine shop and they had, what’s the others? Anyway, there were three different processes and they used to get stuck with the bits at one of them, these can’t go ahead until that goes, so my job was to go and hurry it up you see.
IP: Trouble-shooter?
NS: Yes and just before I left, I found out where they kept all their information for each of the [unclear] each one of them in a Kardex system and if you looked at this Kardex system it shows what the- The number of the machine and where it was. Well, when the oddbod, boss at my office went to the weekly- Say, ‘Why aren’t we getting on with this?’, and they’d say, ‘Well, we can’t get, can’t get the thing out of the machine shop’, ‘Oh well’. So, I thought I’ll check this, so I went- Nobody stopped me and I pulled out, where is it? Oh, it’s in, it’s in the [unclear] oh, boilers, the boiler shop. So, I went back to my boss, I said, ‘That one, it’s in the boiler shop’, So he went [chuckles] to the next meeting, ‘It’s in the boiler shop’, ‘What, how did you find that out?’, and I thought this is a ridiculous English industry, they told [unclear] from where they want- Don’t want to be caught napping, that they deliberately don’t let people know what they should know.
IP: Yeah.
NS: Anyway, I thought I'm leaving after a fortnight, so I got a bad name, I can tell you, ‘Don’t do that mate, don’t tell them where we are, let them find out’, I said, ‘I have found out’, he said, ‘Well you’re out of orders, you can’t go in that place, it’s not your’- [Chuckles]
IP: So-
NS: Is this irrelevant? I don’t know-
IP: No, no, no it’s- No, it’s not at all. But you went to Leeds from there to do, to do teacher training?
NS: Yes.
IP: Whereabouts in Leeds were you doing that then?
NS: Brickett and-
IP: On Briggate?
NS: Yeah- No, not Briggate. It’s the-
PB: Beckett..
NS: Beckett.
IP: Oh, Becket college.
NS: Yes.
IP: Ah right, which is now- Which became Leeds polytechnic and is now-
NS: Well, it was polytechnic [unclear] when we were there-
IP: University of Leeds or Metropolitan or something, yeah.
NS: And the- I was there, the second [unclear] and they just had one more, there were three intakes of the men- And the girls were the- From school and so here was the men's dormitory and there was the girl's dormitory with the various names and there’s as [unclear] used to say, ‘There are two-hundred men chasing two-hundred women across the quad’ [chuckles] ‘cause we were behind them on the rotation and they were eighteen and we were almost twenty-six. It’s a bit- I mean I, I was [unclear] with my wife, I was true to her and, and because we’d got a baby by that time anyway.
IP: Oh right, ok.
NS: And- But the others had a whale of a time, the single men.
IP: Yeah, yeah, and was your wife back in Hykeham still-
NS: Leeds.
IP: In- Oh, she, she went with you to Leeds?
NS: Yes.
IP: Yeah, so what- How long did the teacher training last then?
NS: Two years.
IP: Ok and what were you, what were you going to teach?
NS: Well, it was all- They were all primary.
IP: Ah right, yeah, ok.
NS: And I'd got matriculation and, on the way back one day when we were going back to our own houses, there was a- One of the other fellows he said, ‘I’ve just appealed to London University for a degree’. Well, I didn’t want to do- I mean I'd been doing it ten years and [unclear] a reunion [unclear] and that’s- I was trying to [unclear]- Yes, we had a reunion and I'll put in for the training he said. Oh, so I wrote to the London University of course I wanted- I remembered that fellow on the Leeds, where we- In our training, ‘Good Morning Gentlemen’, I thought that’s fair fee for me, I want to be further education me, and- So I wrote to the London and they said, ‘Well you’ve got a matriculation so you get interview’, and of course there was no financial aid, I had to pay the lot and I had to do it at home. So, I did a- With a [unclear] two children and my wife, sorry I'm going to be working all night and I did it nearly every night for five years.
IP: To do a degree course from home? Distanced learning.
NS: Yes.
IP: I didn’t know they did that in those days
NS: It was- Well it’s- It’s called private and I've got the list of all- And there is a whole lot of people who were doing it at home.
IP: Oh right, ok.
NS: Then.
IP: Oh, what was your degree course in then?
NS: Mine was- I was in second- I was in economics
IP: Oh right, goodness, ok. So, and you were at that- You were teaching at that stage I presume?
NS: Yes-
IP: Which-
NS: In a small village which was- It was the only one left in Bedfordshire which went from five to fifteen and I used to take the juniors and all of the group for music. I got on quite well. I could play the piano roughly and I had to play for the hymns, and I had to take the- All the ones for music and, and I quite enjoyed it because I got them first of all in the juniors with- The music man came to see me he said, ‘You’re doing very well here’, he said, ‘Would you like to have a set of percussions, [unclear] for the juniors?’, said, ‘Yes’. So, we got tambourines and all sorts of things and a record player and they used to- And it- I taught them [chuckles] I taught them on tables because they used to say, ‘You’re the violins, you’re the flutes’, and I put the radio on and say, ‘Right [hums a tune] one, two, four, two, four, three, four’, and if it was a wet Sunday, a wet half-time, you know-
IP: Yeah.
NS: Playground. They’d say, ‘We’ll stay in, can we do the music?’ and they loved it.
IP: Yeah.
NS: And they learnt their tables by god.
IP: Which village in Bedfordshire was it, can you remember?
NS: Yes. Riseley.
IP: Oh, ok.
NS: It’s just off the main road.
IP: Yeah.
NS: Down, Bedford.
IP: Right.
NS: And it’s one of the best years in my life, but for my wife as well. That village was fantastic[emphasis]. We had a drama group, I'm into drama, we had [unclear] drama group with no end- We used to win trophies and we had the vicar who was- He used to say, ‘Oh Mr Shakesby, [unclear] bring Mr Shakesby a cup of tea’, and he could do everything [unclear] of comedy and the other fellow was a- He’d been Bedford, Bedford, what do you call it? Anyway, Bedford Modern. I don’t know whether you know, it’s a public school?
IP: I’ve heard of it.
NS: Yeah, and he- And his father was a big farmer but he’d been robbed by [unclear] and went- During the war, somebody had done him down and they were down in quite poor circumstances. They lived in a little cottage and when my wife and I went for tea they had a little girl who had look of [unclear] said- And her coat of arms, she was an Irish professional tennis player and Godfrey, he was mad about drama and he and I- Because he used to get the artistic side and I was the [unclear]- I’ll, I'll produce this one, and used to go to London, when the, what’s it [unclear] all the musicals, and he’d come back with the music and put different words to them, quite illegal, and we had a very good pianist and we used to do these and, and I've got all the photographs of them [chuckles] and he used to say, ‘Hello [emphasis] Norman’, and the people who had- The- In Bedford there was a factory which made chalks for the schools.
IP: Ok.
NS: And they used to come- They were also from Bedford Modern in their schooldays, and they used to come to the village and Godfrey was there and he’d say, ‘Hello [emphasis]’ [laughs]. Anyway, that’s not RAF [chuckles].
IP: No, no, that’s alright, but going back to the RAF, did you find it hard to adjust after the war? After you left the RAF then, or did you just slip into being a civilian again no trouble?
NS: I found it very easy.
IP: Very easy?
NS: Very easy.
IP: Yeah, you just put it all behind you and cracked on sort of thing? Oh ok. But what were your thoughts at the time about- ‘Cause obviously, by then Bomber Command people had turned their backs on what had gone on during the war pretty much, did you have any thoughts at the time about that? Or, or were you not concerned greatly?
NS: Sorry about?
IP: About how, how the world- Or how the country was starting to look on the bomber offensive and that sort of stuff and trying to forget all about that stuff.
NS: I wasn’t very happy, you know, and when it got worse and worse, when they had this old thing built and somebody knocked it down and, you know, in one of the parks and I thought, oh this- You know, but you can’t do anything can you? So- But I always had a great admiration for those lads and I pushed it whenever I could and say, ‘Hey, just a minute you saying that, just think this, they go on, you know, this eight, ten-mile- Ten hour and then they come back and have a cup of tea and go to bed and then they’ve got to go again in two days' time’. My friend, I met him up at Great Staughton, we’d been on- He was the other one of the two, and he came and he was on, on Mosquitos with what you call it, the Oboe and that was much easier. They used to be setting off at eleven at night, ours would’ve been in the air by eight, by then [chuckles] and they were back home and, [unclear] by night fighters, so if you want to go on ops, go on-
IP: Mosquiots.
NS: He was a little fellow and, and the radar, the Oboe was in the front and it was a thing like the front of a car, the lid lifted up and then he went- And one day he was in there, in the seat and somebody came along and pushed it and shut it up and the thing took off [chuckles]. I met him after and he was- He said, ‘I didn’t want that again’. He said, ‘Somebody came and shoved it, next thing I knew we were rumbling down the runway’, and the pilot came back because he felt there was a big weight on the front, something wrong with his aircraft, he wasn’t going on ops he was doing, you know, what are they called? When they do this-
IP: Yeah, just a, an engine test or whatever it-
NS: [Unclear] and lifted up the-
IP: Was he in the nose of the aircraft then?
NS: Sorry?
IP: He was stuck in the nose of the aircraft?
NS: Yes, yeah, you know, just room for a little fella in there, he was [unclear] like this and he’s sort of leaning over there and this [chuckles]-
IP: Good grief.
NS: Another funny story.
IP: Yeah, yeah ‘cause there are two VC’s won at 582 Squadron during the time you were there, but I don’t know if you would’ve- If you would’ve known about that, there was a South African captain won a, won a Victoria Cross and a chap flying in a Mosquito won one as well but- But that doesn’t ring any bells? I don’t know whether that news would’ve percolated down or not. ok. So, so you- Did you spend your whole working life as a teacher then? Was that how you- That was your career as it were?
NS: Yes, I got my degree, I got a job in a- Well I got a job in Bedford College because there was a job offering for business to them, accounts, accounting, which is my- One of my- And it was night- They had a night team there and a night school with- That with the adults and that [unclear]. The only thing was, the nasty part [unclear] was that I had to hand the [unclear], you know, apprentices and the plumbers on, what you call, general studies.
IP: Oh yeah, yeah.
NS: Absolutely back breaking, ‘Well what are we doing this here for ey mate?’ [chuckles] and I stuck it for a year and I couldn’t do it any more than that so- But I got into it, I got into FE, that’s my thing.
IP: Right.
NS: And so I went to Redcar, which was a new college and-
IP: And what did you teach there, at Redcar?
NS: Business studies, what I've just said.
IP: Yeah.
NS: And, commerce and all that side.
IP: Yes, yes.
NS: And I had a fantastic principal Joe Dunning and the- Is this irrelevant? [Chuckles]
IP: It’s all relevant.
NS: He- The- Redcar had been opened for one year for the engineers, business side and the general degree and A-level, O-levels were starting that time and there was five of us for the whole of the, that side and I remember sitting at the five with the head of the department [unclear] are we going to get anybody? ‘Cause we’d seen nobody yet, you know. When I left four years later, there were thirty-two [unclear] staff, from five and Joe [unclear]- I won’t go into that but that’s my sadness about missing- I found out only just recently that Joe Dunning had been here before he died.
IP: In- What, in Natland? Or in-
NS: Yes.
IP: Good heavens above.
NS: And I'd been in the same place, I desperately would’ve met him.
PB: And seen him.
IP: Yeah of course.
NS: ‘Cause I went to see him at one time, we went up Glasgow, ‘cause we went to Glasgow and I went onto the iPad and a glowing report of him in [unclear] he sorted all their technical colleges out and they’d given him this award and that award and he’d died in, well 2010 wasn't it? Or 5.
PB: Yeah, while we were here, yeah.
NS: And, it said- And his wife had retired to Penrith and there was an overlap of three, three-
PB: Years we were here.
NS: [Unclear] years, when we were both alive and he was- And he died by the time I got there. So- What some six weeks ago, I said I'd go and see the wife.
PB: Yeah we did, we met his wife.
NS: Delighted.
IP: Yes, yes, I bet, yeah.
NS: Of course, I got a programme because in my- I was only there for two years and that was because I fell out with a man in- Anyway, doesn’t matter. But- What, what he did, he’d seen one of my productions at Saltburn, so he’d been down to London and it was the Union of the Australia, New Zealand were having a technical week and then he went down to London, came back with- Full of [unclear] with Galileo and he said, ‘That’s what we’ll do with this, Galileo, and you are Galileo’. I’ve got the programme [chuckles] I’ve got it out there, and so I took part as Galileo and it was nice because after I'd seen his wife, his widow, she said [unclear] money, she said, ‘She remembers you in the, in the, that play’, I thought if you saw it, you should be ‘cause it’s a magnificent performance [chuckles].
IP: Did you, just- I think we’ll round it off- Oh blimey we’ve been going for a long time actually. Did you, did you keep in touch with any squadron members? I mean 405, they’re all Canadians so they would’ve gone off back to Canada I suppose, wouldn’t they, so you didn’t keep in touch with anyone after the war?
NS: No, no, no.
IP: Ok.
NS: No I lost touch with them all.
IP: Yeah.
NS: Once we came over from oversea because I kept meeting new, new bobs of people. I mean when we got to Tripoli with a ground [unclear] chain, that when we left there, we went to different places and then never met them again.
IP: Sure, ok.
NS: So I haven’t got a- Nobody.

IP: Well, we’ve been going for nearly an hour and a half-
NS: I know.
IP: -Norman, so I think, I think to save your strength we’ll call it- I’d just like to say, it’s fascinating listening to you, I mean I'm sure we could talk for hours more, but, but I think we’ll call a stop there, it’s been great. Thank you ever so much, I do appreciate it.
NS: Well, I’ve enjoyed it, it’s nice to talk about yourself.
IP: Exactly, exactly.
NS: You see, it’s the drama, dramatic in me [chuckles].



Ian Price, “Interview with Norman Shakesby,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 14, 2024,

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