Interview with Bob Sharrock


Interview with Bob Sharrock


Bob Sharrock was the son of a miner. He worked as a milkman delivering milk via a hand cart until he was given the privilege of a pony and trap. Bob then went to work as a lab technician for a gas company before he volunteered for the RAF. He trained as a flight engineer and joined a Canadian crew based with 428 Squadron at RAF Middleton St George. After one operation Bob and the crew were walking away from the aircraft when he saw a piece of shrapnel in the aircraft which he drew out with great interest.




Temporal Coverage




01:13:01 audio recording


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ASharrockR180212, PSharrockR1802


BW: This is Brian Wright interviewing Flight Sergeant Bob Sharrock on Monday 12th of February at quarter past two, 2018 at his care home [buzz] in Lancashire. So, Bob, you joined, you joined the RAF but prior to joining up can you recall your home life? You were born on the 12th of February 1925. You're actually ninety three today.
RS: A long time ago [laughs]
BW: So happy birthday.
RS: I was only, I only know that I was born in a village called Digmoor.
BW: Digmoor.
RS: My father was a coal miner. I think, but I think probably that's all on the paper anyway. That kind of stuff that I’m telling you. Yeah.
BW: So your father was a coal miner.
RS: Yeah.
BW: And do you have any brothers and sisters?
RS: Did he?
BW: Did you?
RS: I had Eric. Eric. I think you were four boys. But they're on there.
BW: Yeah.
RS: They’re on there.
BW: Yeah. On the story you've written out.
RS: Yeah.
BW: So there were four boys and one of them was called Eric.
RS: Hmm he was the eldest.
[Knocking on the door - recording paused]
BW: Okay. So you have or had an older brother called Eric.
RS: Yeah.
BW: And your younger brother was called William.
RS: William. Yes.
BW: Or Billy.
RS: Billy.
BW: And apparently he died when he was only three.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Do you recall what happened?
RS: I don't. No. I don't know. I don't know why.
BW: Do you recall what your home life was like? With your dad being a miner was it a small house you lived in?
RS: It was a small house. Yes. It was. I didn’t know anything different, you know. It was my home. That was all I knew about. It was all right. I wasn't unhappy by any means.
BW: Do you recall whereabouts you went to school?
RS: Went to? What do you mean?
BW: Went to school
RS: What for?
BW: Do you recall whereabouts you went to school or what school was like?
RS: No.
BW: Were you good at certain subjects?
RS: No. I’d have difficulty doing that. Yeah. I mean, you know I have to have a bit of time to give me a chance to think and try to remember. I can't do it just on short like we’re doing. Talking.
BW: Okay. That's all right. You fell on some hard times as a family because the pit closed and your dad was out of work.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Do you recall that?
RS: I don't recall that but it's written in there, isn’t it?
BW: Okay. So he then went to work in Kent. And came —
RS: And then he came back pretty quickly. Yeah. But that's written in there.
BW: Didn't, didn't suit him then.
RS: No. I don't know why. I don’t know why.
BW: But you went to a school in, in Prescot.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Does any of this look familiar that you’ve, you've written down? Can you read what it says here?
RS: War broke out on the 30th of September 1939 and we were then living in a small semi-detached house. 121 Dragon Lane, Whiston. From then over about the ensuing months we could see the effect of air raids on Liverpool about nine miles away. A few stray bombs fell on Rainhill but did not signify the significant damage.
BW: So there was no significant damage from the bombs that were falling in the area.
RS: Not really. Not, well that's what I’ve put isn’t it? I don’t really recall. There weren't any bombs. I don’t think there were any bombs dropped in my area.
BW: No bombs.
RS: I could see the aircraft. I remember seeing the aircraft.
BW: And you dug a Anderson shelter in your back garden.
RS: Oh, I think lots of people had one of those. Yeah.
BW: Did you have to use it frequently at all?
RS: Oh, we always used it. Every time there was an air raid on we went and sat in there. Yeah. Every time.
BW: And what was it like to hear the sirens and the bombs dropped? Were you, were you afraid much at all?
RS: Not really. We knew very well the way we were fixed we were quite safe really. Yeah. They weren’t bombing us directly. They was bombing something else.
BW: You would be about seventeen at this point weren’t you?
RS: Yeah.
BW: When the when the war broke out.
RS: I would be. Yes. Yeah.
BW: And you started working in delivering milk. So you had some early starts. Can you tell me much about that?
RS: Men were getting called to the, is that the one — ?
BW: That’s it.
RS: The forces. And as a result of it I changed to milk delivering. This meant being up at 5.30 seven days a week. Yeah. That's right. Yeah. Loading a hand cart with, with about half a ton of milk bottles and pulling it around Rainhill. I do remember that. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: What was that like? Half a ton of milk bottles on the back of the float.
RS: It was hard work and I was up early in the morning doing it. Yeah.
BW: What did you get paid?
RS: Not a lot. I think it was anything about [pause] if I’m right, I don't know but I think it was only about ten shillings for a week's work. Something. I don't know exactly.
BW: And then you met an old school friend who was working for the local gas company and you went and made enquiries about getting a job there for the local gas company. And the manager asked you a few questions.
RS: Oh.
BW: And you started work as a lab assistant.
RS: Ah yes. I remember working as a lab assistant. I can't remember the chemist's name. [unclear] willingly was soon involved in doing routine laboratory work. Testing work. Oh, I did that. Yeah.
BW: Can you remember what you did in the lab?
RS: I can't.
BW: No.
RS: No. No. I can’t.
BW: You were doing tests on calorific value flue gas analysis.
RS: I know, I remember we sort of walking around and taking temperatures of the retorts and things like that. Yeah.
BW: And then you started night school for maths, physics and chemistry.
RS: Oh. I probably did that because of the, you know it was necessary to get some education because I’d only had an elementary education really until I got that job.
BW: And at the same time, while you were working you joined the Air Training Corps.
RS: Ah, that's right. There was always one. A local one. We had a local one.
BW: Do you remember much about your time in the ATC?
RS: No. I don't remember detail. I don't. I’m sorry but I don’t.
BW: I’m sorry but it got you interested in flying didn't it?
RS: Oh yes. Aye. Oh, it was a regular thing, you know. Once a week.
BW: Do you recall whereabouts you flew from?
RS: No.
BW: Would it be Woodvale perhaps?
RS: I can't remember. I can’t remember. I don’t. Isn’t it in there? Surely the place is. If I if I was writing about my flying it would have been be from where. Does it not say where from? The ATC. Took off from that point. Well, the ATC, there was no flying then as far as I remember anyway. Elementary navigation and drill. Two occasions when we went on a weekend camp yeah to Blackpool Airport and once to Crosby.
BW: Once to Crosby.
RS: Crosby on Eden. One day at Crosby I was hanging around the aircraft that were a test flight being sent to [pause] does it say? I’m not, I’m not reading along the lines. A test flight and did I want to join him. I sat in the observer's seat and we flew over the Lake District themselves. I remember that. Aye. I do remember that. Flying.
BW: So you were asked to in the observer's seat on a test flight.
RS: Yeah.
BW: And you went flying over the Lake District.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: What was that like?
RS: I do remember oh that. Oh, it was exciting. Very. Aye.
BW: It would be the first time you ever flew, was it?
RS: Yeah. I remember flying. Yes. It was good.
BW: What was it like being sat next to the pilot at the time?
RS: I was right behind him. Difficult for us to talk to each other really because he, we were both looking the same way and I was behind him and what we did, well we did manage it but it wasn’t a conversation. There was, was, there was some talk, yes. But I wouldn’t remember what we talked about.
BW: Do you remember looking out over the Lake District?
RS: Oh yes. Oh, I was always looking out. Always looking out at the ground below. Yeah. Aye.
BW: Did you get —
RS: Now that we’re talking about it it’s coming back a bit, you know.
BW: Did you get to see much of the lakes? Do you remember. Did you fly over anywhere like Windermere?
RS: I see them. Yes. I used to see the lakes. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: Did you fly over Windermere or anywhere like that?
RS: I think so. I’m not sure really where we went. Where we went. Because I wasn't the navigator. Well, I wasn’t navigating it.
BW: And what made you join the RAF then because this is now during the early part of the war?
RS: Yeah.
BW: You've joined the ATC and you've had a limited amount of flying experience. What do you think made you join the RAF?
RS: Oh, it seemed to be the natural thing to do if you're in the ATC. I think so. Nothing's in, you know I was out. I’m pretty sure that I was looking forward to joining the RAF. Yeah.
BW: Did it seem exciting for you?
RS: Oh, it was interesting. Yeah. I don't know about exciting. Must be getting morbid but I can visualise now sort of going to [pause] well I don't know why, going to the local gas works and having a chat with the manager there and the, and the chap who was the chemist. I do remember. I only remember the event. I don't remember what we talked about. Only the business they were doing. I was learning a bit I suppose.
BW: And did you, when you joined the RAF did you want to be a pilot or did you want to be another trade like a gunner or something?
RS: I don't know because there was a period and it must have been about five or six months with some kind of school in preparation for joining. And we did all kinds of things in that time. I suppose it was to find out what we were interested in and what we were capable of doing. But that I remember. Not, not in great detail.
BW: You were called up to be interviewed at the aircrew selection board at Padgate near Burton Wood at Warrington. And you decided to go for PNB or flight engineer. And PNB stood for pilot —
RS: Pilot. Navigator. Bomb aimer.
BW: And then what happened during that time? During the selection?
RS: They all started their training together. A lot of, part of the, this in Canada. I never went there. Or in Rhodesia. As they went through their training selection was made. The best, the best continued as pilots. The next were navigators. I don’t think I left the country for my training. My training. I don't remember. I don't remember doing so. I’m sure I would have done.
BW: So, from the intake some went to Canada or Rhodesia.
RS: Yeah.
BW: And the best continued as pilots. The next best were navigators.
RS: Yeah.
BW: And then the rest of bombardiers.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Or bomb aimers I should say. And you selected flight engineer.
RS: Yes. I did. And that's what I was. A flight engineer. In, in, in practice, you know. Bombing. We did a bit of bombing of Germany as a flight engineer.
BW: And it says here, if you just recall this. Just read that.
RS: I joined the Air Force in June 1943 aged eighteen. I reported to the Lord's Cricket Ground in London. Aye. We were billeted in blocks of flats nearby. Here we were issued with uniform. Given a number of inoculations. Jabs. Initiated into drill, exercises and introduced to canteen food. Not a bit like home cooking [laughs]
BW: So, what was it like being in London at the Cricket Ground?
RS: Well, not very exciting. It was, it was all concentrated really. They were, they were only put there for a short time but it was part of my training. Yeah.
BW: So this, this isn't quite the first military experience you've had because you've had a uniform in the Air Training Corps presumably.
RS: Oh yeah.
BW: So you had some preparation for it.
RS: Yeah. Oh yes. Yeah.
BW: And then you went down after two weeks to Torquay for initial training.
RS: Yes. Yes.
BW: And do you recall anything about, about the sort of things you were doing?
RS: No. I don’t.
BW: Learning Morse code.
RS: No. I don’t. I don’t. It was all kind of stuff we did. I can't remember it. I’m glad I wrote that down. It’s been a bit of a help to you.
BW: And you were either between sites when you were going between classes. You had to move either at running pace or marching.
RS: When was this?
BW: Do you recall that?
RS: When? Does it say?
BW: When you're doing?
RS: When or where?
BW: Yeah. This is in Torquay.
RS: In Torquay. Oh yes.
BW: Your initial training and running between places.
RS: Yes. Yeah. We ran everywhere. Yeah. Yeah. I do remember. We never marched. We always ran.
BW: And was that because the buildings were quite far apart?
RS: No idea. They were some distance away. Yeah. Yeah. Aye. Yeah.
BW: From there it says you were then posted to St Athan in South Wales.
RS: Oh yes. Yes. I remember all that. Yeah.
BW: So just read this section aloud for us.
RS: The next posting was to St Athan in South Wales. Here we started our technical training. Most of us were allocated the Halifax bomber, others the Stirling, the Lancaster and a few to Sunderlands. Flying boats. I was [pause] I was — I’ve lost the page. But I was — I’ve lost it. I was there. I was. Oh, this print. I was, and then the next line. Disappointed. I was disappointed not to be one of the latter [unclear]
BW: That you were going on flying boats.
RS: Sunderland Flying Boats. That's right. Yeah. Yeah. That’s right.
BW: So you wanted to fly those.
RS: I wanted to fly those.
BW: Any reason?
RS: Oh, I don't know [laughs] I don’t know what the reason would be. No. Not now. I would have known then. Most of the time [unclear] we also, we also had a drift drill, PT, swimming and other recreational activities. About this time that with all leave I went to a dance at the Parish Room at Prescot. Yeah. Yeah. I met Dorothy [laughs] Yeah. I remember that. There she is.
BW: That’s your wife. The picture on the wall.
RS: Yeah. Aye. The following March 1944 I was posted to 1664 Heavy Conversion at, at Dishforth. This was where we went up with the aircraft. Trained on the two-engined aircraft. And we were made, were moving on to the heavy bombers. Oh aye. Aye. Sorry. I’ll find out what we did.
BW: So this is March 1944. You’re posted to 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit at Dishforth and that's where you met your aircrews.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Do you recall how it was that you were assigned a crew at all?
RS: I don't remember any particular reasons at all. There was, I wasn't the only one. It was happening to a few of us. It was just a case of the captains. I remember the captains of the crews were kept, made themselves very busy interviewing these future flight engineers. Yeah. They worked hard at it.
BW: So you met your captain and he interviewed you.
RS: Yeah. They were all Canadian.
BW: Were all the other guys in your crew Canadian?
RS: Yeah. I was the only one.
BW: And this pilot was named —
RS: I was a good friend of the mid-upper gunner. We were friendly.
BW: Do you remember his name?
RS: No. I don’t. I don’t.
BW: Your pilot was called Willard Mc, Mackeracher.
RS: Mackeracher.
BW: Mackeracher. That's M A C K E R A C H E R.
RS: Yeah. Willard Mackeracher. Yeah.
BW: Willard.
RS: Aye. Oh aye.
BW: W I L L A R D, his first name. Willard Mackeracher. What do you, what do you recall of him? Was he a friendly guy?
RS: He was alright. Oh yes. Yeah. We got on very well.
BW: But of course, in terms of being crew if you're his flight engineer you're sat right next to him in the aircraft.
RS: Yeah.
BW: I’m just going to show you a picture which is of the interior of a Halifax and the flight engineer’s position. And it's —
RS: I can't see it.
BW: The flight engineer would be sat here in this position.
RS: I can't, I don't recognize it. I don't recognize the picture at all. I don’t recognise it.
BW: Doesn't bring back any memories.
RS: No.
BW: Sitting next to him.
RS: No. No. You brought that with you. Yeah. I haven’t seen it before. I couldn’t, I couldn’t make it out.
BW: Can you recall anything about when you would do checks in the aircraft? Or when you would be getting the aircraft started up?
RS: We did all that. What was necessary. It was a matter of routine really but I can't remember what it was now. Yeah. Try one thing, and then another just making sure everything was working before we took off.
BW: And when he, during a routine sortie would be ready to take off what kind of things would you be doing? You're sat next to him and he gives you an instruction of some sort. Can you recall?
RS: Yeah. I can't remember. I can't remember the detail of what we did. How we flew the thing. But we did all right, you know. Did okay. Aye.
BW: I’m just going show you a colour picture here of a Halifax. You’re like —
RS: Oh yeah.
BW: Like the ones you flew.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. That's right. Yeah. The Halifax.
BW: What was it like to fly?
RS: Quite good. It was good fun really. It was good. You know. Nothing, nothing very worrying about it. It was, yeah. I enjoyed it.
BW: Did you find it technically challenging at all?
RS: Timesing?
BW: Technically challenging. Was it demanding?
RS: Oh yes. Oh, part of life. Yes. Yeah.
BW: Did you feel you'd had thorough training before?
RS: I think you'd get.
BW: Doing the job.
RS: Yes. Oh yes. We went through a lot of training. A lot of training.
BW: Did you feel quite confident?
RS: Oh yes. I was quite confident about doing it all. I was taking it all in, you know. And it didn't seem to be too difficult. It was alright. It was alright. Nothing I didn't like about it.
BW: And you got on well with the rest of the crew. You said you were good friends with the mid-upper gunner.
RS: The mid-upper gunner. That’s right. He was the only one. Yeah.
BW: But you got on well with the others?
RS: We got, well enough. But he was my friend out of, out of the crew. He was a Canadian.
BW: And you were the only Englishman.
RS: Oh yeah.
BW: In a crew of seven.
RS: All the others were Canadian. Yeah.
BW: And you spent some time while at Dishforth doing training sorties. And it says that there were three trips. After you've done about ten hours there are three further trips made to give the gunners and bomb aimer some practice. And you crashed on your third trip to give them practice.
RS: I don't remember a lot about it. Only that we did crash. I don't remember much about it. I don’t think, nobody was hurt or anything.
BW: It says, it says here it was apparent and subsequently reported.
RS: I can't read it, sorry. Sorry. I can't find out where we're in we put all the subsequent reported that we were, had suffered an engine failure which slewed us over the [pause] over to miss the runway. Yeah. Yeah. Oh yes. Aye. But I don't remember. I remember it happening but I don't remember a lot about it.
BW: And as flight engineer one of your engines has failed.
RS: Yeah. Nothing I could do about it, you know. I’m the flight engineer but I didn't do anything to engines. They were on the air, they were on the aircraft wings. I couldn't get to them.
BW: Of course. So this is happening as you're, as you're just about to come in and land.
RS: Yeah, and I I think the job itself didn't have a very deep technical training. It was enough to help the pilot along. To take some of the load off his mind. To help him. That's about all there was to it.
BW: And on this particular instance as you're on the approach to touch down one of the engines has failed.
RS: Yeah. Did it? Is that what —
BW: And it's caused you to skid off the runway or slew.
RS: Yes. Aye. Oh yeah. Yeah. I don't remember it sorry in detail did you see. Something that had happened and we were no worse off for it.
BW: And nobody was injured.
RS: No.
BW: It says that you remember being knocked about and then you opened your eyes to see you're in, you were actually a few yards in front of the nose of the aircraft.
RS: Oh heck.
BW: So somehow you’ve come out through the —
RS: I don't, I don’t know how. I wouldn’t know.
BW: But there was an Italian prisoner of war who's helped you escape.
RS: Was there?
BW: Got you out of the aircraft.
RS: Yeah. I don't remember. Well, you know it was all happening while I was being thrown about really.
BW: In the description it, it says that when you were examined in hospital you were found to have a compression fracture of the vertebrae in your lower back and a plaster of paris jacket was applied from the groin to the neck and you were in bed.
RS: Oh yes. Yes. I do remember. I vaguely remember that. I don't know why. Yeah. I know there was something wrong with me and they put in plaster. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s in there.
BW: So you could walk about fairly normally. You were in this —
RS: Just about. Upright all the time, you know. Aye. Yeah. I remember. Aye. God. You're reminding me now. I’d forgotten about it.
BW: And you couldn't, you couldn't bend down properly.
RS: No. No.
BW: So they sent you on leave and you went home and then you were at a convalescent home in Hoylake in the Wirral and you're in with other air crew who had also been, for want of a better term banged up.
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: Or banged about.
RS: That’s right. Yeah.
BW: In plaster casts.
RS: Aye.
BW: What was it like being there?
RS: I can't remember the detail. It would be alright. They did very well for us really. You know. They did give get us help in putting in things right. Aye. I got treatment. I got treatment. I was alright.
BW: Were none of the other crew taken to hospital with you?
RS: Oh no. That was the mid-upper gunner I was all friendly with. He was about the only one. The others —
BW: But none of the crew including him.
RS: Didn’t bother with me. No. Didn’t bother me. Only him. Just the pilot occasionally. I never had anything to do with the flight engineer err with the wireless operator or the navigator or anybody like that. Or, or the rear gunner. I didn’t have much to do with him at all. I didn't care for him very much. Yeah. But the mid-upper, the mid-upper gunner I was friendly with. Very friendly with. Canadian. Yeah. We were good friends.
BW: What did you do in your time off with these guys before before the accident?
RS: Didn’t do anything much with them. I used —
BW: But I mean with your mid-upper or the skipper. Did you go out?
RS: Yeah.
BW: Drinking with him.
RS: Yeah. I I don't know. We were good friends. That's all I can remember. Did a lot of things together. Whatever they were. I can't remember.
BW: And then while you were, while you'd been in hospital and convalescing the invasion of Normandy took place. And then in August 1944 it says you were posted back to Dishforth and you got another crew.
RS: Oh.
BW: And this skipper was R Anderson. And you knew him as Andy.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. [unclear] posted back to Dishforth to join another crew. What was it? I think it were Roy.
BW: Roy.
RS: I think so. It's just R Anderson. We knew him as Andy.
BW: What was he like? Do you recall much of him?
RS: He was alright. He was. He didn't have a lot to do with me out of, you know. I was, he was more concerned with the navigator and wireless operator and I mean we were a bit lower down in the scheme.
BW: So at this time you'd done, over a period of four weeks ninety eight hours flying in Halifax.
RS: Yeah.
BW: And then you were told you were going to be moving on to Lancasters. And you did about ten hours flying time in three days.
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: Which is good going. Before you were declared operational on Lancasters.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Do you recall much about the Lancaster? What it was like to fly in comparison to the Halifax.
RS: Not really. Not really. It's all a bit vague. It's too far away. I don’t remember it. I can remember where I sat and so next to the pilot. Next to the pilot to help him whenever he needed any.
BW: And your next posting was in October ‘44 to 428 Squadron.
RS: Where? 428.
BW: 428 Squadron. The Canadian squadron.
RS: 428 was a Canadian squadron. Yeah. Some of the numbers are still familiar to me. 428. Yeah. Well, I don't remember a lot about that in detail.
BW: The unit was based at Middleton St George in County Durham. And that's not far from Darlington is it?
RS: No. It’s not. No.
BW: Did you get to go into Darlington much on your time off?
RS: No. I can't remember. I don’t think we did. We’d get out on the, on the necessary occasions but we were on duty, you know. I mean, we were flying. We were kept busy because we were being used. We were flying quite a bit.
BW: And over the period of the next six months from October ‘44 to around about April ‘45 you did twenty eight ops.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Twenty eight trips.
RS: Aye.
BW: That was practically the full tour.
RS: Yeah. Aye. Not far off.
BW: Do you recall any night time trips at all?
RS: No. No. I don't. I can’t remember anything in detail like that.
BW: I’m just going to show you another picture which is of the interior of the, of the Lancaster which shows the flight engineer’s position.
RS: I can hardly see it.
BW: And at that, this is looking forward so the pilot sits on this side on the left and your fold down seat is here next to him. And your control panel would have been on this side. To your right hand side.
RS: Can't see much. Not, there you are, it’s too, too —
BW: A bit too dark.
RS: Not enough in it. Not a good, not a good picture. Not enough detail in it. It’s all black isn’t it?
BW: Do you recall what the Lancaster was like to be flying in?
RS: Oh yes. I don't recall it as such. You know. I wouldn't do that. But as I remember it was quite comfortable. Yeah. I enjoyed driving it. Riding in it. It was no, it was a good job for me to do. Yeah. I enjoyed it. I felt that I was being used properly. Yeah.
BW: Did it feel in that case like a, a proper engineer's aircraft in the sense?
RS: Oh yeah. Yeah.
BW: It was well put together.
RS: Yeah. Well I wouldn’t say it went as far as that.
BW: They say the Lancaster was made to get into and not get out of. Did you, do you recall what it was like trying to get into one and get over the main spar into the engineer's seat.
RS: I don't remember a great deal of getting in and out of the aircraft quite honestly. Don't remember. You know. Not much.
BW: And just.
RS: Just vaguely sort of climbing some stairs that had been put there to get you up to, to the point where you got in.
BW: At the side. This is at the side of the aircraft.
RS: Yeah.
BW: To get in at the rear door.
RS: Nothing wrong with that. I was [unclear] all the time. Yeah.
BW: And you would have had to carry your ‘chute in with you, your parachute in with you.
RS: Oh yes. Yeah.
BW: What did you do with it when you got in?
RS: Ah. I can’t remember now. I put it somewhere. I put it handy. I don’t. I wouldn’t —
[recording paused]
BW: Sorry, Bob. You, you were saying when you got into the Lancaster, up the steps at the, at the rear door you would have turned right to go up.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Into the front of the aircraft. Can you remember what you did with your parachute?
RS: No. I can't. I’m sure I’d carried it with me.
BW: Yeah.
RS: I think I would. I don't remember though.
BW: But it's quite cramped in a Lancaster isn't it?
RS: Yeah. Oh aye. Yeah.
BW: Because you had to get through a narrow space and then get in to your position next to the pilot.
RS: Yeah.
BW: What was it like when the aircraft was fully loaded with bombs and and fuel. Did you find it difficult to handle or —
RS: No. Not really. It was, oh everything was straightforward really. I just had a job to do and I did it. Yeah.
BW: And when, when you were on the runway and just about to take off what would you be doing to help the pilot?
RS: I was sitting next to the, helping the pilot with fixing the engine speeds and doing like that. All kinds of things but I was helping the pilot.
BW: And, for example as he runs the engines up and takes the brakes off to start —
RS: Oh.
BW: Moving down the runway what would you do?
RS: Just wait. Wait and watch. Make sure that everything was doing alright. Not much to do really once you were on the way. Everything was automatic.
BW: And do you recall any, any voices or instructions.
RS: No.
BW: You would get.
RS: Not really.
BW: Through the headset from people or conversations you had as you were —
RS: No. Not really.
BW: Cruising.
RS: I know, as I said, the [pause] the what do you call them? Operator. Wireless operator. There was a wireless operator and navigator. I used to see them but I didn’t have a lot to do with them. We didn’t work together.
BW: And you're taking off at night time and you’d to fly across the Channel into Germany and bomb certain cities. From your position right next to the pilot you must have had a good view.
RS: Oh yes. I did.
BW: Can you recall what you saw when you looked out the window?
RS: No. No. I’d have been in the dark.
BW: You didn't see any fires or anything like that.
RS: No.
BW: And were you ever caught in a searchlight or anything?
RS: Not that I recall.
BW: Were there many fighters around? German fighters. Did they come after you at all?
RS: I didn’t seem to see much of them. I think they were but we didn’t see much of them. No.
BW: So it seems like it's it was fairly quiet on many of these trips.
RS: Well, to be a flight engineer any aircraft flying, fighter aircraft flying they would have attacked us. And we never got attacked as I recall. Never.
BW: Did you see it happen to any of the other —
RS: No.
BW: Aircraft.
RS: No. No.
BW: So in some ways to do twenty eight trips in those conditions when it was fairly quiet for you was pretty fortunate.
RS: Yes. Yes. Oh yeah. I remember worrying about it. Never, I never tried to dodge it.
BW: And on one occasion when you came back there there was apparently a piece of shrapnel in the fuselage.
RS: Yes, there was. It was only a small piece but it was there. I found it.
BW: Where was it?
RS: Just in the side. Under the, just under the air [pause] the air there, the line. The wing there. Just under the wing. In the body. Yeah. I found it.
BW: Sounds like it was near the bomb bay then. If it's under, if it's under the wing where the —
RS: It would have been somewhere near the bomb bay. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It would. Aye.
BW: How did you manage to find that?
RS: Just accidentally really. As we were walking past I saw it. As we got out, we were walking away I saw it there. So I went and pulled it out. But it was just a piece of shrapnel. It was still in there. It was only a small piece.
BW: So, you, you had a lucky escape.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Had it been perhaps a slightly bigger piece.
RS: It were stuck, as I say stuck in the in the body. Very thin body but it was just stuck in there. I pulled it out with my fingers.
BW: And you, you've no idea what, how that happened. Whether it was a piece of a —
RS: No idea.
BW: German shell or a—
RS: No. No idea.
BW: A cannon shell or something like that.
RS: No. I don't remember it happening.
BW: Do you think —
RS: I think it was just that very end of a, of a shot and it was just getting towards the end of his run and hit the aircraft because it didn't go through. It got stuck halfway. In the fuselage itself. The fuselage is only a thin skin. So it wasn’t, couldn't have been very hot. Hard.
BW: Do you feel that your aircraft was a lucky aircraft or your crew were lucky?
RS: I felt confident. I wasn't worried. I knew, you know we were all going to come back. We'd go and come back.
BW: And you didn't have, or did you have any superstitions or rituals to bring you luck?
RS: No.
BW: No.
RS: No.
BW: So you all just thought it's a regular job. We'll get on and do it sort of thing.
RS: Yeah. Oh yeah. I was a, I had, you know I had my worries at times. Very often. I didn’t like it. Everything we did. But it wasn’t so bad. Wasn’t a bad life.
BW: What didn't you like? What sort of things?
RS: Oh, I can’t remember exactly. I can’t remember.
BW: I mean were there, were there things perhaps about, were they about dropping the bombs or was it about being over a heavily defended target? Do you — what, what do you think?
RS: Well, not much you could do about it. We had to bomb a certain target. And to get to it you had to fly over general, generally over a city. A built up area anyway. Yeah. And that's where the, the anti-aircraft guns were fitted too. We were — but we never got shot down. We got hit. As I say, that's one I remembered. The piece of shrapnel in the fuselage.
BW: Some of the air defences were over the coastline and some were around the cities.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Did, do you remember whether any were particularly —
RS: No.
BW: Heavy.
RS: I can’t remember. I can’t remember.
BW: Were most of your sorties at high level or did you ever bomb from low level?
RS: No. We never bombed from low level as I remember. Always at high level.
BW: And do you recall seeing many other RAF bombers or Canadian bombers in the stream at all?
RS: Not a lot. Just occasionally. We were going as a stream. When bombers were, it was all bombers. All the bombers. We all went as a bomber crew. It was a number of aircraft went and bombed it. Yeah.
BW: And do you recall seeing many of them in formation over the city?
RS: Not really.
BW: Or did you feel pretty alone?
RS: No. We didn't do much in formation. We flew together and we had an eye on each other. Yeah. That's all I remember. Not that I’m, not I’m still trying to sort of climb so far behind aircraft number so and so. You thought, you just sort of pitched yourself up in the in the crew. In the team of crews. Yeah. To just get where you could out of it like. Yeah. I can’t remember much of the detail quite honestly.
BW: So it was almost, I suppose as you describe it was almost like you were flying in your own aircraft. It was almost like you were flying solo as a crew. There was very little sight of other aircraft.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. Didn't see much of them. No. They were there. You knew they were not far away because you go over as a team of crews when you went bombing. You didn't go on your own. You went with a crew. You know a crew would have been about ten or something. Nine or ten aircraft.
BW: And could you see them dropping their bombs on the target?
RS: No. No. I say no. It's quite possible. We wouldn't have, it wouldn't have registered with me or anything. It wasn't important. That’s all we were there for. Dropping the bombs. And if I saw it dropping. Good. That's what he's going to do now.
BW: And you never had to turn back for any reason. You never missed a target.
RS: No. Not that I recall. No. Not that I know. I don't think we — there may have been but I can't recall.
BW: And you didn't see any other aircraft from your squadron get shot down.
RS: No.
BW: Or anything like that. So they were all I guess fairly successful.
RS: Yeah.
BW: In getting out to the target.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Dropping the bombs and getting back.
RS: And getting back home. Yeah. It was alright. It was an interesting life at the time.
BW: And when you were on the way back were there any instances where you had [pause] I don't know to, to swap fuel over from different tanks or when you had engine failures perhaps.
RS: Not that I can recall.
BW: No.
RS: There may have been some times but I can’t recall them.
BW: But you clearly all made it back safely. None of the crew were injured or anything like that.
RS: No. That’s right.
BW: So in some ways you've joined a lucky crew. Although you'd had an accident with your first crew in training.
RS: Yeah.
BS: When you've been with your second crew you've got through a complete tour of ops.
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
BS: Did you ever hear what happened to your first crew?
RS: No. No.
BS: Did you keep in touch with any of them?
RS: Not that I recall.
BS: Once they’d left.
RS: No.
BS: So when you get back to, when you get back to when you get back to base at Middleton St George what would you have been asked about the raid? Would you have been debriefed at all?
RS: Oh aye. We had. We ran through it but I don't, I don't remember it in detail by any means but we all always had interviews. Always interviewed. Reported back and saying if anything happened or hadn't happened. Say what we could about the trip. Yeah.
BW: And did they do that before you could be dismissed and have breakfast?
RS: Yeah.
BW: Because presumably you're coming back.
RS: That’s right.
BW: Very early in the morning.
RS: I don't, I can’t remember. I think they did. I think it was before we had breakfast. Before they provided us with any food. Yeah. Yeah. It wasn’t —yeah. It was a fairly quick do really being interviewed afterwards. Didn't take a long time. And you got used to it. It was a regular thing. Oh, there it is. I keep getting lost.
BW: Do you remember any of the other crews perhaps telling you stories of what they'd experienced or if they'd been hit?
RS: No. No. I was very friendly with the mid-upper gunner. Not so much the rear gunner. He was a different, a different character for me. Yeah. I didn't have much to do with him.
BW: So you've, at this stage got through your tour of operations and it's towards the end of April now in 1945 and coming up to VE day. Do you remember anything about the announcement of the end of the war?
RS: No. I can’t recall.
BW: Where you were.
RS: I can’t recall it. Aye.
BW: What happened to you after the end of the war? Because you're now a qualified flight engineer.
RS: Yeah. I was just, I wasn’t pushed out right away. I was still kept in all right. In fact, I spent some time on the south coast of England. I don't know why but we spent some time down there.
BW: It says here, just read that aloud to us.
RS: With the war in Europe ending in May 1945 and operating flying finished it was apparent that the authorities had to find something for aircrew to do to [pause] can’t find my line. System mechanics. After that I was posted to Kinloss where we spent time inhibiting engines on bombers in case they were needed again.
BW: So you were fitting engines on bombers in case they were needed again.
RS: Try them out. Yeah. Tested. Yeah. So they would run again next time. Aye.
BW: Do you remember any of your commanding officers? You would have had a, just thinking back to the time when you had joined the unit you might have seen your commanding officer or been briefed by him and then presumably when you've got to the end of your tour you would have had a, perhaps a sort of a farewell speech or dismiss parade or something like that.
RS: No. Not that I remember.
BW: Never.
RS: No.
BW: No. Never remember seeing any of the wing commanders around.
RS: No. No. I don't remember. Things would have happened but I don’t remember.
BW: So for some time you remained in the Air Force after the end of the war and you were demobbed in February 1946.
RS: Yeah.
BW: So that's almost exactly seventy years ago.
RS: A long time ago.
BW: Slightly more than that. Seventy two maybe. But you'd been in for two years and eight months. What happened to you after you left the RAF?
RS: I can't remember. I can't remember what I did. Some time later I learned that the Institution of Gas Engineers had arranged some courses for employees who had their technical education interrupted by war service. And I went and applied. Made an application. I went to Aston Technical College for six months to get the, my Ordinary Grade Certificate in Gas Engineering. Yeah. That's all there.
BW: So you've come out and gone to Aston Technical College to get an Ordinary Grade Certificate.
RS: Yeah.
BW: In gas engineering.
RS: Yeah.
BW: And then you've moved to Liverpool Gas Company. And then Birmingham Technical College to get a Higher Grade Certificate.
RS: Yeah.
BW: So you’d become a gas engineer. Now —
RS: Obviously, to get back to my gas works where I worked. Get back to my gas works.
BW: So it seems there’s been quite an industrial link or thread if you like through your life because your dad was a miner in the coal mines in South Lancashire and then you've been sort of a lab assistant and an engineer.
RS: Yeah.
BW: But then you've yourself gone into gas engineering.
RS: Gas engineering. Yeah. Oh yeah. Not a bad life. Not a bad life. Interesting. Yeah. And, you know, sort of important enough. Busy enough.
BW: And you mentioned during your time in the RAF that you met a young woman called Dorothy.
RS: Oh aye. Aye. I remember. There she is up there. Up there. Her photograph.
BW: And that was when you had started your training as a flight engineer.
RS: Yeah.
BW: You'd come home on leave, gone to a dance at the Parish Rooms in Prescot and met Dorothy Marsden.
RS: Yeah. That's right. I remember going there. Yeah. I remember the event.
BW: And do you recall what she looked like when you met her?
RS: Yeah. Her photograph’s up there.
BW: Yeah. Her photo’s there.
RS: Yeah.
BW: She —
RS: Oh, I —
BW: Photo’s there of her as an older woman.
RS: When I met her, you know. Yeah. Aye. I was anxious to marry her.
BW: And you married in 1947. What was that like?
RS: Alright. I was happily married but she died early. I don't know why. I can't remember why. I must, I must have known at the time but I don't know now. Yeah. Just it was a disappointment to me I can tell you that she did die because we were quite happy still living together.
BW: And do you remember much about your life in post-war?
RS: No. Have I much down there? I don't remember much about it.
BW: Well, you worked in various industries and working in well various companies I should say and departments. Working for local gas companies.
RS: Yeah.
BW: And you moved up to Burnley.
RS: I don’t remember. I don't remember those, all those details. I don’t remember them at all.
BW: See if that brings back any memories.
RS: Gas industry at the time [unclear] the town’s having gas works put in by, as a private company or various departments of local councils. 1951 the industry was nationalised and these undertakings, apart from the biggest towns like Manchester and Liverpool were formed into small groups. This gave the support, the opportunity to create their special departments specialising in particular activity. One of these was sale of gas to [pause] the sale of gas [pause] I’ve lost it. Sale of gas is to. [unclear] Yes. I remember now. Yeah. Back. Back to selling. Selling. Working at the gas works and selling gas. Selling gas to industry. Yeah. All part of the job.
BW: So you, you've post-war married and you raised a family.
RS: Yeah.
BW: Three. Three children.
RS: Yeah. Robert, John, Jeremy and David. Four of them.
BW: Four. Four boys.
RS: Aye.
BW: And you said yourself you were from a family of four. Four boys as well.
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: And then —
RS: Oh, well I’ve got it all written down there.
BW: You've, you’ve stayed.
RS: I’m glad I did that now.
BW: You've stayed in the north west.
RS: Yeah.
BW: And then eventually you moved to Garstang which is where we are now, in 1982 and [pause] from there on it says, as you, as you've noted here you've had a comfortable life and a varied life. So at this stage now we're here talking about your war service. And have you, have you heard much about the efforts to commemorate veterans of Bomber Command?
RS: No. No. I’d not heard.
BW: Did you know there's a Memorial in Hyde Park?
RS: No.
BW: Okay.
RS: No.
BW: Well, the, the Centre that is going to be the, the sort of repository for the interview.
RS: Yeah.
BW: For your story is based in Lincoln.
RS: Oh.
BW: And do you have any particular thoughts about the commemoration of veterans like yourself or —
RS: No.
BW: Bomber crew. Are you glad it's happening?
RS: No. There were a lot of us. There were a lot of us. No. I don’t remember.
BW: Are you glad it’s happening?
RS: Eh?
BW: Are you glad it’s happening?
RS: Oh, it's all right. It’s all past. All gone now. Nothing I resent at all really. Not a bad life at the time considering. We were useful. Doing a good job. Yeah. Quite happy about it. Yeah.
BW: But it's a good thing that veterans are being remembered for their service in Bomber Command do you think?
RS: Sorry?
BW: You think it's a good thing that veterans are being remembered for their service in Bomber Command.
RS: I don’t know.
BW: Because you have been overlooked.
RS: I don’t know if it matters that much really. I don't know whether we're being remembered or not.
BW: Well, you are. The, the stories and the experiences that they've had are being remembered.
RS: Are they? Oh. Oh, I can imagine that happening. Yeah. Somebody happening. Writing. Writing a story about it. Why not? But I didn't have anything like that to do. I didn’t do any. That's what I wrote. What’s on there now. That’s all my writing that I did. Nothing else.
BW: So, I don't think there's anything else left to, to cover. You've answered all the questions.
RS: Well, I couldn’t. I don’t think there’s anything more.
BW: Yeah.
RS: I can’t think of anything else.
BW: Okay.
RS: I packed up. Packed up with flying and went back to work at a gas works. Yeah.
BW: Yeah. And just sort of got on with life.
RS: Yeah. What else could I do? I know at one time I was covering an area. Rainhill. Visiting them every week. Once a week. Visiting their customers. That was, that was a matter of routine. Part of the job. I wouldn’t say once a week. I used to go every day taking milk out. I went in to delivering milk. Yeah.
BW: That was when you were much younger.
RS: Oh yes.
BW: And that was before you joined up.
RS: Yeah. And pulling a hand cart to do it until eventually they provided me with a pony and trap. That was a good time.
BW: So at least it made it a bit easier for you.
RS: Oh yes. Made life a lot happier.
BW: Well, just remains for me to say thank you very much for your time, Bob. And thank you very much for —
RS: Oh, it’s alight.
BW: Allowing us to record the interview with you.
RS: I’m sorry if I don't recall. I can't recall everything that happened. You know. To tell you. But I don’t. I don’t. I just don’t recall everything.
BW: That's all right. We have the material written down as well which will back up the —
RS: Yeah.
BW: Stories you've told us.
RS: Yeah. Well, I suppose that —
BW: On the recording.
RS: Yeah. I suppose that, I don't know why I did that but I’m glad I did. Yeah.
BW: That's been good to hear from you. So, thank you very much.
RS: That’s alright.
BW: Thank you.



Brian Wright, “Interview with Bob Sharrock,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024,

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