Interview with George Patrick Smith-Leach


Interview with George Patrick Smith-Leach


George was born in Chelmsford, Essex. He then moved to Clacton-on-Sea where he went to school before going to a seminary catholic college. When war broke out, he and two other boys aged 15 or 16 ran away from college and went to Ipswich to join the army. George arrived at RAF Honington in July 1940 and stayed there about a year. Bombs were stored in an underground network. After training he joined A Company 70th Battalion for airfield defence, guarding 9 Squadron aircraft at night. 311 Squadron, flying Wellingtons, were later living in tents about five miles from the station. The squadron lost a few aircraft and underwent further training. George recalled the station commander and padre watching the aircraft take off.
George remembered an occasion when aircraft had come back damaged with a badly injured crew. He said the aircrews would touch part of the aircraft for luck before flying. He thought crews were inspiring and would have liked to be transferred to the Royal Air Force. The crew gave him the opportunity to have a flight in a Wellington, which he described. At weekends they would occasionally all go to Bury St Edmunds to a dance. After RAF Honington the unit was transferred to RAF Martlesham Heath on guard duty. They then went to Felixstowe as a battalion. After special training the unit joined the Combined Operations Bombardment Unit 4 which was attached to a warship. Next they did airborne training to go to India and Japan. He was demobbed in India, married and then became a policeman at Ayre. Finally he became Chief of Police for British Transport Police.



Temporal Coverage




00:47:28 audio recording


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ASmithLeachGP180608, PSmithLeachGP1801


AM: George, anytime at all, if you want me to stop asking you questions, just say so
GSL: No, I’m fine, honestly, I’m used to it, in my [unclear] service
AM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Center in Lincoln. The interviewer is Alistair Montgomery and the interviewee is Mr. George Smith-Leach. The interview is taking place in George’s home in Troon, Ayrshire and his wife Margarite is also present. George, good afternoon
GSL: Good afternoon to you
AM: Right, well, just to get it going, tell me a little bit about your upbringing before the war?
GSL: Before the war, I was born in Chelmsford, Essex and then from there I moved to Clacton-on-Sea and then I went to school in Clacton-on-Sea and then I went to a seminary catholic college and after being there for about six years when war broke out, along with two others, we ran away from the college, went to Ipswich in Suffolk and the three of us said we were eighteen years of age, no questions were asked, no birth certificates was asked, and we joined the army.
AM: Right, and whereabouts did you join the army?
GSL: In Ipswich
AM: And did any of your family have a military background or [unclear]?
GSL: Yes my father, my father was in World War One, came right through World War One and then when war was declared, I think he was on the reserve or something, and he went back into the army about five weeks before me, he was fifty-two years of age, and was approaching the limit where he needn’t have gone back and I was the opposite way, I needed to exaggerate my age to make me older and before that his mother was married to a regimental sergeant major, I don’t, I really don’t know what regiment he was with and he served his time in India and she lived in India and then came home to Chelmsford and she lived in Chelmsford, Essex until she died but I don’t know enough about their background, my father never ever, when I used to say to him, well, is World War Two anything like World War One? He said, you just get on with World War Two and watch what you’re doing, never mind World War One. He would never speak about what he went through, all I do know, he was at Ypres and he was at Gallipoli, where there weren’t many British troops, they were nearly all I think Canadians but I know that when the World War Two finished, he was the second man demobbed in the British Army and he had about eight or nine medals which I think went to my great nephew.
AM: Right. And where was your first posting?
GSL: My first posting was, after Ipswich we did a bit of training there and then the battalion was split up into companies, A company which I was in went to Honington, C Company went to Martlesham Heath and D company went to Waddington and E Company was the what was now known as the company headquarters company and so I landed up at Honington where we were the ground defense troop, 70th Battalion the Young Soldiers Suffolk Regiment.
AM: So, were all Suffolk Regiment engaged in airfield defense?
GSL: Yes, that was primarily and I should say here categorically that this was Winston Churchill’s own idea that he didn’t like the idea of young men being in with older men who’d come back from Dunkirk who were complaining that they hadn’t had the backup that they should’ve received and they were saying well, Hitler will be over here before long and it wasn’t good for morale and he decided with Field Marshall Alanbrooke that these Young Soldiers Battalion should be formed and there was seven Young Soldiers Battalion formed, they received, were treated as men and got men’s pay and it should’ve been eighteen but the majority of us were all under eighteen, I was fifteen years and eleven months when I went to Honington as ground defense troops
AM: And just tell me what RAF Honington was like when you arrived as an airfield, probably never having seen one in your life before
GSL: No, when we arrived there, when we arrived at first, there was a lot of wooden huts and then the other side of the airfield were brick buildings where the RAF were but we were in these wooden huts, hadn’t been in I think since the airfield had been built but that was where we were stationed and the first day we arrived there, we’re marching up the road and the sergeant major is marching us along and the air raid siren went off and up went the red flag and the red flag would meant that the, that the air raid was imminent and the yellow flag that went off you can [clapping] I didn’t want to go [unclear], anyhow and so the yellow flag went up and he said, we were all looking around apprehensively, and keep marching, he said, and we march on and then the red flag went up and the next minute, I think it was a German Dornier we found out, flew over us, firing machine guns at the hangars and that was our baptism.
AM: So, what you, do you know which RAF units were based at Honington at that?
GSL: Yes, the main squadron there was number 9 Squadron which I understand at that time was one of the most experienced in the RAF, so we were told and then about ten months later the Czechs arrived and they were called the 311 Squadron but they were at a satellite airfield about five miles away from Honington and they were there in tents because there was no accommodation for them and they weren’t very happy about what went on there, in fact at one time there was nearly a mutiny and I think it was the prime, the minister in exile came down, I think he was Benes or somebody was called, he came down and spoke to them all and then they started as a squadron, an operational squadron but things were so bad that on their first raid they lost five aircraft and one aircraft actually landed in France and they never had time to destroy it and they ran away from the aircraft and were taken in by French resistance I think but the Nazis used that aircraft again, so we were told, so things got so bad that even when they were coming in to land or take off, there were crashes so in the end they were taken off operations and a chap who was my hero, Flight Lieutenant Pickard, was, took over the training of this particular squadron, along with the squadron leader whose name I can’t quite remember at the moment but I can get it, and between the two of them they took over the training of them but even in training there were some fatalities, crash landings and things like that, and then I think after about six months it was decided that they were ready then to go back on operations so they used to have to fly their planes from the satellite airfield, the name I’ve forgotten but it is somewhere in my records, and they would fly their plane to Honington, be bombed up et cetera and take off from Honington on the operation, land back at Honington and they’d have to fly the plane after debriefing back to the satellite airfield.
AM: And what airplanes were they operating?
GSL: Wellingtons, all Wellingtons
AM: Right, were 9 Squadron operating Wellingtons as well?
GSL: They were operating Wellingtons and Honington I understand, I can’t verify this, were the first squadron to not drop bombs, they went over and dropped leaflets over Germany and I think they were one of the first squadrons to do that but they all got back safely
AM: I better make a declaration of interest here, I’m an ex member of 9 Squadron and that story is absolutely true [laughs], right, ok, so there were two Wellington squadrons
GSL: Yes
AM: Based at Honington and your job was to act as a guard force
GSL: Yeah, we actually were the ground defense troops for the airfield and then we used to do two hours on and four hours off at this dispersal base, so we would guard the plane at night and during the day when they weren’t on operations and we got to know the crews of our particular plane very, very well indeed and all the time Flight Lieutenant Pickard would come round with the Czechs and the Czechs, the only thing most of them could say was wiz-o and they’d pat you on the back and say wiz-o, wiz-o and one of them who could speak English I remember he came up to me, patted me on the back, nearly knocked me over and said, why aren’t you at school? What are you doing here walking about with a rifle? They couldn’t understand these boys were guarding them. But one thing that did come across with them that the difficulty with the training of them, according to Flight Lieutenant Pickard was they would go in so low to bomb a machine gun such was their hatred of what the Germans had done to their country and so some of the planes would come back with bits flapping off them, some they couldn’t get the wheels down, so we experienced many, many crashes and things like that and the smell of burning flesh, I always remember that to this day would hang over the airfield.
AM: So, just tell me if you can, George, what the dispersal site where the aircraft was parked was like
GSL: Well, it was say a big cops of trees and in a horseshoe method, the whole tree in a horseshoe [unclear] would be cut out and the plane would be backed by a little tractor and then it was over to us, the army, to guard it during the night and then when they were ready, sometimes they would come during the day and the plane would go up, sometimes practice but sometimes it would go over the sea and fire the machine guns and then it would come back in and be put back in the bay and then the people would come up and bomb it up ready for night and at night, even if we’d off duty, we would go down and watch the plane one after the other going on the runway and up the flare path and there used to be a caravan towards the end of the flight path and a green light would go on and the plane would go, lumber off and get up in the sky and circle till they formed up and then off it would go and even if we were off duty sometimes we’d go down to the dispersal bay along with the fitters and people like that and they had a bit of a heart there and played darts and then one of them would say, it’s time for, and they’d name the plane to come back and we would go outside and these men were so good at engines they’d stand there and then one would look at the other and they’d say, she’s in trouble, and [unclear] the plane would be appear and [unclear] flying on one engine and then it would land, swivel about but finally come to rest and then the fire engine and the ambulance would go out to it and then I remember once they lifted the navigator out and his uniform, always remember that, soaked, absolutely soaked in blood, lifted him carefully out and the medical officer would come out, perhaps give him an injection I don’t know what it was, they’d put him in an ambulance and off he would go, then they would go round to perhaps the rear turret and I remember vividly this night, and put it round so they could get to the turret from inside the plane and they’d yank out the rear gunner and on this particular occasion he was dead and he went into another van thing and away it went but this wasn’t isolated, as the thing sort of hopped up, so it became a little more frequent. And then after the leaflets were dropped, then they went into bombing and at Honington they had underground network where when the train arrived with all the bombs, they would shunt the whole plane with bombs on it back into this tunnel and if the air raid came, obviously the Germans who I understand had visited Martlesham Heath Air Force and Honington before the war and must have known about this, they used to aim and try to get this underground place where all the bombs were stored and so sometimes if we weren’t on guard at the planes we’d be on guard at the bombing place, where they bombed up and things like that and they used to give us a bit of chalk and we would write obscenities about Hitler on the bombs before they went off to the plane, but so we got to know the aircrew very well indeed and when there was a raid gonna be on, then sometimes these young fellows would come down all kitted out, ready to get in the plane and we’d kick a ball about or they would say lend us your rifle, and they’d take our rifle and as their mates going down, they would jump out of the trees, point their rifle at them and say, halt? Who goes there? You know, laughing and things like that. And the things they did, superstition, one fellow I remember him, he was, I think he was an air gunner and his name was Ginger [unclear] and he used to come round and say, I’m bursting to urinate and he had to go round the plane to the off wheel and urinate over the wheel and he did this every time before he got on the plane, others would come down and they’d give you a book or something that they were reading and say, hang on to that, I’ll get it when I come back and this was them thing, well, I’m coming back and things like that and when they didn’t come back, if we called it our plane and when it didn’t come back I really and truly there was much sorrow round about the place, all these young blokes that we’ve been kicking the ball about with before they took off weren’t coming back anymore but I should say 9 Squadron didn’t loose an awful lot of planes and sometimes planes would come in because sometimes land weren’t at Honington but that’s where they used to come in to land and when they came in, they nearly almost crash landed. So and then, sometimes when they were going away and they’d handed you something, sometimes they would hand you a letter and tell you that a certain girl they were gonna meet at the dance hall in Bury St Edmunds, describe her and they would say, hey, if I’m a little bit late getting back here will you see that [unclear], she’s got red hair and sounds so and so and her name is Maisie or something and so only once did I have to try and find this young lady to give her this letter because he didn’t come back. So you got to know the aircrew very well so when it was foggy and they couldn’t go on a bombing raid, we all used to go down to the Bell and we used to say, there was the men that flew it, there was the men that crewed it and looked after it and there was the ass that guarded it and they would say, come on, drink up and about a pint of beer was my wack in those days and you would be sitting there with all this beer, come on young fellow, my lad, they used to look upon us I think as mascots, all these boys guarding them, men that were going out on a arduous duty like that and we were supposed to be guarding them, these bits of boys. So, and then the, station, I’ve forgotten his name but he’s in writing somewhere, you might to able to get hold of it, the station commander there was an ex flier and nearly every night he used to come down when a raid was on and stand there watching them taking off and things like that and sometimes the padre would come down and he would stand there too and give us all the blessing before the plane took off but they had all [unclear] another one that I got to know very well, I’ve forgotten his, his nickname was Taggy, and he had his girlfriend’s stocking tied round his neck, this was his mascot, and another one had one of those little yellow chickens, fluffy chickens they used to get on Easter eggs and he would have that as his mascot, and he’d be, I’ve lost my chicken and they’d try and say, come on and get, for God’s sake get in or something,up the little ladder to get in and he would insist on, we all had to go and look for this yellow fluffy chicken thing and then about six weeks after that he didn’t come back, the plane didn’t come back and about six weeks after that I was in the guard room and one of the lads came in, he said, look what I found out there, he said, chickens, he said, this is not gonna last an egg, and I looked at it and said, do you mind if I have that? And it was his chicken, that, this fluffy thing that he’d as a mascot and I had that up to about four years ago and I don’t know what happened to it. So there were thing but you had a terrific, you know, we were Army, they were RAF but you had a terrific camaraderie with them and when we came down sometimes, I’ve seen them, one of them going into the wood at the side of the plane and be violently sick and then come back and clamber in the plane and then they were all jostling and joking and pushing each other about but one of them, what the heck was his name, Tommy something, and he was nineteen and he was the pilot and the oldest aircrew ever I knew was only, he was only thirty-one, he was an air gunner and he was, they used to call him the old man, help the old man, you know, been kitted on, they were trying to help him up this little ladder to get him in, cause he was the old man at thirty-one.
AM: So [clears throat], how long did you serve at Honington in total?
GSL: I was at Honington for about twelve months and then was
AM: Right, so what, what did you, what kind of?
GSL: Arrived in July 1940, and we left in the November ’46, we were relieved by the King’s Royal Rifle Regiment
AM: So, November ’41 you left
GSL: Yeah, ‘40
AM: No, November ‘40
GSL: Yeah, were only there a year
AM: Right, ok
GSL: And then I went to Martlesham
AM: Let me just, kind, I don’t, when did you arrive, in 19?
GSL: July 1940
AM: July 1940?
GSL: Yeah
AM: And you left when?
GSL: We left in November 1940
AM: Right
GSL: We were there about a year
AM: Right, ok.
GSL: But, and on top of that, sometimes when they came back, they clambered out the plane with all it to go and get debriefed a little van would turn up with a WAAF driving and everyone had to kiss her, this was part about the thing as well that they were back or something like that, when [unclear] climbed out, hey, come on, where’s my book? You shouldn’t be reading that! And I looked at the title and it was Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I handed him the book back and but not just me, the others things like that went on as well, but they really were, well, I would only call them, I was only sixteen then but they were inspiring people when you saw them going off but all these different things had to do, urinating against the wheel or go around and touch certain parts of it, all this went on and but and then when sometimes when they came back, they’d say, it’s your lucky day, here’s my chocolate, cause they got a bar of chocolate and an apple or a banana or something, not a banana, an apple and they’d give me their rations and they’d say, ohm I couldn’t eat that, you know and I would say walking round, then I got to know Flight Lieutenant Pickard very well and I was always telling him about and he used to say to me, you know more about the bloody Wellington than I do and I used to say, yes, I want a transfer to the RAF, can you help me to do so? And he said, oh well, I don’t know, you can’t do that, now leave it with me or something and then I’d throw sticks for Ming and then he’d say to me,
AM: You got to explain, who’s Ming?
GSL: The dog, this big, old English sheep dog, there’s photographs of him with that as well and look after Ming for a minute, so I’d hold him by the collar, held his head off as he walked away, I’ve got to go to a meeting with the boss, he said and he doesn’t like Ming cluttering along in the room or whatever it was, so finally one day he said, yeah, ok, I’ll give you a flight up but I want it in writing from your commanding officer that he’s allowing you to do so. So I went to my commanding officer, company commander and he said, a flight in a Wellington? I said, yes, Flight Lieutenant Pickard here’s his extension number, if there is any problem you’ve gotta ring that, so anyhow I had to be at the, it’s all in there, I gotta book for you there, magazine and I went there at half past one and he turned up with a Czech crew and they were going up on some sort of flight, so I arrived and they kitted me out, parachute good as well now, and all the Czechs could keep patting me on the back, wiz-o, wiz-o, wiz-o, they kept saying, then we climbed in the plane, he was the pilot and the co-pilot with him, and I laid on that little bunk thing, and then I sat where the navigator sat, and all that, then I climbed through, and they put me in the rear gunners turret, and then we took off and that was in those days, 1940, it was like a trip to the moon. And we took, we flew off, you could look down, I’ve described it all in the article in the magazine, then we went over the sea and then, I was at the back at this time, navigator, was standing by the navigator and one of them came through, he goes, and took me through and sat in the co-pilot’s seat, and Pickard sitting there, still the hat at the back of his head and [unclear] and we went over, took across the shore and the co-pilot was standing behind me, no guns today, no guns, so when got down, sometimes these trigger happy anti-aircraft gunners used to fire at them so anyway we went over sea then I heard the rattling of guns and this was him testing the machine guns or something and then we turned round and flew back and the next thing I saw Pickard was out of the pilot’s seat and this, the Czech chap was in. Then we came back and landed in these, we’re going down occasionally taping like this and going like this or whatever I can’t you know control and it went in the flare path, touched down and that was us and then I got out and again they gave me bars of chocolate and [unclear] well I was the talk of the company, I was a hero, I’ve been up in a Wellington
AM: Wonderful experience
GSL: Yeah, it was, really, it was, but then after that, I went to apply for a transfer and the company commander said to me, I know your real age, he said, you’re only now coming up for seventeen, if I sanctioned you from here to the RAF, he said, my head would be on the block knowing that you’re not even aged to be in the army, he said, wait you live, wait till you’re eighteen. So I told Pickard this, he said, oh well, you know where I am or something, keep in touch and I used to watch as he got his promotions and where he went, the next thing I knew he’d taken over a new Mosquito squadron or something and then the next thing I heard that they went on this raid and after he’d dropped his bomb or whatever it was and knocked the wall down, he circled and was directing the others in and he got jumped and was shot down and killed and he’s buried in near that place wherever it was
AM: I think it’s Amiens
GSL: Is that where it was?
AM: I think so.
GSL: Yeah, and they made a film and I used to say to my then [unclear] oh, I knew him well, I used to throw sticks for his dog, oh yes, and pigs might fly or something, you know but I did keep in, I’d send him occasional Christmas card but he was so busy, you know then, I think he got to group captain rank I’m not sure. But I know when we left there was a great feeling of sorrow among us, you know, and I think we livened up the place with the [unclear] to get up to, that I mean, one Dornier that was shot down and we were mounting guard over or something the dead, the pilot had been shot through the head, he’s, the German pilot, he’s still in the plane and we had to guard it to make sure no one came up and took bits away for souvenirs, so yeah, and then Sam Costa, the great Sam Costa, he was there, there was a raid on one day and him and I were sitting at the same table
AM: And what was he doing there?
GSL: He was in the [unclear], he was a leading aircraftsman, him and Denny Dennis
AM: Right
GSL: Britain’s Bing Crosby and we’re under the table the raid came on, and kippers, I don’t know where they came from [unclear] and well, he said, I don’t think we’ve been introduced, a bomb, a raid going on, he said I’m Sam Costa, I said, I thought I knew your face, he reached up, got the kippers, and we’re eating the gats in my magazine, the full thing, eating these kippers and then the raid was over and we went outside, we’re standing talking and right beside the doorway was an unexploded bomb, so we all took off running in all directions and he was on there on the show one day and I said to my late wife, I had tea with him, she said, another one of your stories? So, in the end, I wrote to him and I got a photograph back which group captain Tate’s now got and in his own writing on the back, dear George, you are so right about Honington and the kippers as well. And I thought, well, it’s no use lying of in the attic and I gave group captain Tate that as well.
AM: Right
GSL: So, he’s got all that
AM: So, tell me a little bit more about the catering you were off duty in the Honington area [unclear]
GSL: Well, in Honington you couldn’t go far because there was still the threat of a German invasion so we had to, you couldn’t go far at all, only in the evening you’d go out and we’d go into the village and sometimes in there you might find some of the aircrew playing darts or things like that, young blokes and we all mingled together in the village we’d put on in a room or something they make it up, make tea and cakes for us, the women would sit there and darn your socks or stuff like that, and then on a weekend we got into Bury St Edmunds and there’d be a dance there at the Corn exchange I think you call it, so all the Czechs and people like that would be there as well, it was right mingling of these army boys, that’s all we were, there were some men, they were on Middlesex Regiment, on these guns, and one of those actually shot a Dornier down,
AM: Gosh!
GSL: Yeah, with a Lewis gun
AM: So, when you left Honington after a year, where did you go to [unclear]?
GSL: At Martlesham Heath
AM: Right
GSL: And they were all fighters there
AM: So, why were you transferred? Was it just a unit move or?
GSL: Well, it was a unit move but I think the authorities, you know, thought that as boys we were getting far too hero worshipping these people, it might do more harm than good and those, I mean, there was things went on like staff they shouldn’t have been taking out of the camp, you know, staff that, you know, they got hold of by unfair means, and we’re on guard supposed to stop all this
AM: Do you mean, black market stuff?
GSL: Yeah, and
AM: Sorry
GSL: But because we knew them so well, we would say, yeah
AM: This is the aircrew doing the black market this or?
GSL: No, sometimes some of the cookhouse people as well, you know
AM: Right, so groundcrew mainly
GSL: Yeah, there was all sorts going on but
AM: And what sort of contraband was been treated here?
GSL: Sometimes petrol, they’d take a couple of gallons of petrol or something?
AM: Right
GSL: Things like that or yeah, but not a lot of that went on you know they, I think they lived for the day, when they went off sometimes one might have a small car and you’d be on guard at the gate, the main gate, before the RAF regiment was formed, that was us, and you’d be beyond the main gate and this little car would come along about twelve of them in it, so hanging on it and everything, hey, hey, cheerio George! And all this and off they’d go and then they’d come back at night, worse for wear with the booze, you know
AM: So you went from
GSL: Honington to Martlesham Heath
AM: Right
GSL: And at Martlesham Heath we’re guard duty again
AM: Right
GSL: But by this time, we’ve taken over from, also taken over from the RAF police
AM: Great
GSL: You had an armband on and instead of your rifle they gave us a revolver and you show you’re on the main gates
AM: Right
GSL: And things like that but and it was where, when we were there, that the RAF Regiment was formed. They transferred some of our sergeants into the RAF Regiment
AM: Right
GSL: And then, after that off we went to Felixstowe as a battalion and gradually they disbanded the 70th Young Soldiers and put us out to other units.
AM: Right. So, what did you do for the rest of the war?
GSL: Rest of the war I was in the, finished up in the war in, what is known as the special service Combined Operations Bombardment unit
AM: Right
GSL: This was Mountbatten’s idea. What it used to be, there used to be an artillery captain, a NCO army sergeant and three naval telegraphists and that was the unit, number 4 unit I was in. Now, when the invasion took place, in Sicily, Italy and France, no heavy artillery was ashore and they were finding that these tank regiments, the German tank could come and knock hell out of the invasion, so what happened? Some of us would go in by air, these units but we were attached to a warship, so we went ashore in advance of the troops that were invading and a brigadier or somebody would come up and say, you bombardment unit chaps and our captain would say yes, and he’d say, right, over there, we’ve had information that a Tiger tank unit is forming up, can you knock hell out of them? Now the captain, through the telegraphist, they would sent back to the warship we were attached to the war spy and they would send back to that and on board the ship was an artillery captain as well and between him and the gunnery officer and we were called forward observation bombardment, our captain ashore, if he got killed, I would have to take over his duties, and then the first shot would be fired, a ton shell would come over and say it landed about quarter of a mile to the left of the target, he would have to correct that, another one would come over and perhaps that would straddle target and the next one would come over and land on it and then the war spy would do a broadside bombardment, you never heard a noise like that and when all the smoke and that had lifted there was nothing there but these huge craters and that was a special training we had to have for that, so some went in with the airborne unit, some went in with the sea units, but we had to have special training for the artillery side of it and then as an infantry man as well, as well as artillery I got an extra 2 and six a day I think. I had to make sure that the, you know, while he was doing all this, that it wouldn’t be because the Germans were keen to get hold of us cause they knew it was us [unclear] the RAF would come in and spot a plane, they were being shot down and they couldn’t give the precise area as well as what we could on the ground, so after they’d gone in out of range of the warships, out of range altogether and heavy artillery got ashore, we were then sent back to rejoin certain units.
AM: Right
GSL: And then, when the, the war was just about half over, in Germany, the Rhine, we got called back home to do airborne training for the invasion of Japan. So we went to India and joined the 44th Indian Airborne Division and luckily for us they dropped the atomic bomb
AM: Right
GSL: Or us and the American 101st Airborne Division were gonna be the first one to be in and [unclear] the Japanese there wouldn’t be many of us left on for sure. So that was my, but of all my service, the way I contributed to most I almost think was at Honington. Yeah
AM: So, how did you feel for you, did you leave Honington by coach or by train or did you march out? How did you feel when you left?
GSL: We left Honington, we went by three ton pickup truck to Martlesham.
AM: Right
GSL: And a lot of the RAF were out, you know, cheering and things like that. And when the, by that time of course, just after that, the Americans moved in and took over and put down concrete runways and God knows what else. But this, I’ll just get
AM: Have you ever been back to Honington since?
GSL: No, when David Tate was here, I did say, not quite, not intended anything, I’d say, oh yes, I’d really would love to go back because he said a lot of the things haven’t changed and he sent us an email that he’d been in the mess where I’d been with Sam Costa and he says, I looked round and saw the same tables and that, nothing’s changed and he said, I just looked and my mind wandered to when you and Sam Costa were having your tea during an air raid. And I did, while he was here, I did say, yes, I would like to go back and see but he didn’t say anything. If he’d said, yes, I’d like to go, I, yeah, you must come, I’d have gone. But most of my time over that period I had a great liaison with Flight Lieutenant Matheson who even gave me a big painting I’ve got upstairs and sent me this nice glass drinking mug, they only made fifty of them or something, and on top of that, he said, well, if your book’s ready for publication, bring all the books down to Honington and we’ll set up a stall and you can sell them here but no, by that time I’ve got it in the attic, gathering cobwebs.
AM: So just tell me what happened to you after the war
GSL: After the war, well, during the war here I was at Troon, up at Dundonald Camp we were training invading the isle of Arran and everything to invade Japanese islands and things like that and I met my late wife, met her, engaged and married in nine weeks and off I went to India. Well, because I’d done a bunk from the college, my education was sadly lacking because I’d done a bunk and ahead was some of the best education that you could get at these colleges, and by this time I married and war was over and I was in India waiting demob and I thought what am I gonna do now? And then my commanding officer said, you sign up for three years, I’ll get you to the Quetta, which was the Indian Sandhurst and I’ll get you, you’ll get a commission, by then I was a sergeant and he said, but you’ll have to sign up for three years and you might not get home for at least for another two years, so I’d just been married and I said, no, I won’t do it, so when I, while I was out there they were looking for police, the police were sadly depleted, so I sat the exam for Essex Constabulary and when I got demobbed, all I had to do was to go and get the medical, that made me a policeman. But the night I came home, my wife was at farming stock, her two brothers who ran the farm had a car accident, real car accident, bad accident, so I couldn’t take her away to Essex, so I had to let it go by, so I joined the police at Ayr and then while I was at Ayr, I then went to transfer to Kilmarnock and then I thought, I studied English law, because promotion in England was quicker and I went down to England to various forces there and rose from police constable up here in Ayr to assistant chief constable and then, after that, I was promoted up here to chief of police of the British Transport Police and that’s where I did thirty-six years, then I came out and did voluntary work at the Children’s Panel, chairman of advisory committee for Children’s Panel and that’s me here, still here. So, I’m now ninety-four years of age and I’ve been very lucky health wise and that was me and now I’ve been married for the second time to a lovely, really lovely lady and that’s it.
AM: Well, that’s more than it
GSL: Couple of years ago, I got a phone call to say they wanted to make me a something of,
AM: Legion d’honneur?
GSL: Knight of honor or something
AM: Legion d’honneur?
GSL: Yeah, of and I thought, I said, no, I don’t want anything to do with that, I got six medals from my own army, that’s it, enough for me, and I got a police medal as well, and I don’t want any more medals at seventy odd years ago and Margaret said, look, if you don’t go, I’m going. So finally, I went and they gave me this medal, I don’t know if you’d seen one, I got that, and that’s it. So me, I don’t, I was asked here to join the British Legion, I said, I’m sorry I don’t believe it, on D-Day I like to go to church, quietly in church and sit there, say a few prayers and meditate cause I lost a lot of good pals, I was on the D-Day landings, I landed five minutes after midnight on D-Day and saw a lot of [unclear], lost a lot of good pals, and then three weeks after that this side of Bayeux I was wounded in the leg and came home and with being young I suppose and fit I was ok again within about a fortnight, I thought of going back to my unit, and I didn’t, I went to Ringway, Manchester as an instructor, and I was desperately trying to get back to my unit and one day the sergeant major came in who didn’t like for some reason, why have you got two names, he said? Only officers have two names. I should call you Leach. So he came in, ah, Leach, you’re getting your transferred [unclear] I thought how wonderful and what happened? I was posted to India. Then I came home from India and that and went into the police, never regretted it, did thirty six years, which I enjoyed and then, when things were getting very political I could’ve gone on it that rank, I could’ve gone on to 65 and I said, no thank you, it was getting very political, I thought it was time I was out of here, thirty-six years is enough, by that time I was in my late fifties, so I came out. But I always look back vividly to my days at Honington with those aircrew, always. All these young men, they were there one day, gone the next and there was a WAAF sergeant and a senior NCO in the RAF that they used to go round when they never returned, put all their belongings in a bag or something, and a new lot moved in, you know.
AM: When a crew was lost
GSL: Yeah. So
AM: That must be a great upsetting
GSL: For them I should think yeah, very, but they used to say, when some of them climbed down out of the plane they would say, can’t stop, I’ll see you tonight or something, my bacon and eggs awaits me, they got bacon and eggs when they got back or something but sometimes we had, their first raid on Berlin, we all had to go to the briefing room on guard outside and anyhow after they’d gone they had a map up, there was a place where you could look through a crack, and a blackout with a big red tape, and they put this tape from Honington up to where it gotta go and then the weather officer, he would come and tell them all about what the weather was to be like, they’re all righting away and things like that and then finally the station commander, he would come up and tell them and the operations, there were these four important men before they went on a raid and then they’d come and they’d say, where’s’ the ball? And start kicking this ball about again
AM: How many times did you sneak to watch this briefing process?
GSL: Oh well, I shouldn’t be telling you that
AM: No, I’d like you to
GSL: Well, about six or seven times
AM: That must have been fascinating
GSL: Yeah, we had a place where there was a crack that very few of us knew about, but we were there on guard, even the RAF weren’t allowed in there
AM: Right, so this
GSL: And this day, this, I always remember, we had a bloke with us called Nobby Byer, a Londoner, was reputed he was only fourteen when he joined up and said he was eighteen, and he stole a pair of long trousers off a line to put on because he’d only got shorts and he was a so and so and there’s bits in there in your magazine you’ll read, anyhow he was on guard and this RAF officer came up and Nobby said, you can’t go in there, and he said, what do you mean, I can’t go in there? I’ve got the weather reports or so, you can’t go in there or something, I’m going in there, Nobby turned around with his rifle, you don’t you go trying going in there and in the end they chap with all these pipes, hammered on the door or something and they opened up, in, yeah, oh yes.
AM: Well, George Smith-Leach, to give you your proper name, or I should say, British Transport chief constable George Smith-Leach, thank you very much.
GSL: Right
AM: That’s a pleasure, I really enjoyed that, George, thank you
GSL: It’s an honor
AM: No, a pleasure
GSL: An honor
AM: [laughs], right, well, that’s gone alright I think
GSL: Well, that’s the first time I’ve spoken like that, I’ve told Margaret bits
AM: Yeah
GSL: Not even my first wife but to her I’ve told her bits like this


Alistair Montgomery, “Interview with George Patrick Smith-Leach,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 5, 2023,

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