Interview with Leonard William Sparvell. Two


Interview with Leonard William Sparvell. Two


Leonard Sparvell lived in Bexley Heath until he joined the RAF in 1944. He trained as a Flight Engineer and was posted to RAF Kirmington. He speaks of a long operation to Stettin, in which he was in the air for nine hours and 45 minutes. He flew 30 operations and lists some of the destinations from his logbook. After the war he kept in touch with his crew and, at the time of his interview, still spoke to his pilot's wife in Australia. Towards the end of the war, he served in India and recalls his time there.




Temporal Coverage




00:52:54 audio recording


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ASparvellLW150919, PSparvellLW1501


SB: This is Sheila Bibb doing a re-interview with Len Sparvell on the 19th of September 2015 at his home in Bexley Heath and with his daughter Chris who may prompt at some, on some occasions. Len —
LS: Yes.
SB: Can you start off by just telling me a little bit about yourself and your family? Your childhood.
LS: Yes. Well. Yes. Hang on a minute. I’ll come to it in a second.
SB: Did you have brothers or sisters?
LS: I had one. One. I had one brother. Yes.
SB: Okay.
LS: And, and no sisters.
SB: Where, where you born?
LS: I was born in Bexley, Kent. And quite, quite nice. Not far away from where we are now really. But we, we knew quite a lot of people. Funny, I never thought I’d answer this.
SB: Where did you go to school?
LS: I went to school firstly at Bexley and then gradually run up, run up to one in Bexley Heath. And [pause]
SB: How old were you when you left school?
LS: Well, it would be right, right to the end really.
Chris: You were fourteen weren’t you dad?
LS: Yes.
Chris: Yeah. Fourteen.
LS: When you went. I think I started some sort of work at that time.
Chris: At the Co-op I think wasn’t it?
LS: At the Co-op. yes. It was. Yes.
SB: Okay. So you worked at the Co-op.
LS: Yeah.
SB: Did you enjoy doing that?
LS: Yes. It was quite, quite pleasant you know. And the people were alright. Yes.
SB: And when did you decide to join the Air Force?
LS: Air Force. That was, oh I haven’t looked over, looked at the time when I actually. The date I was there, I don’t. Is there anything there? Please.
Chris: It was in 1944.
LS: 1944 then. That would be correct anyway.
SB: So, we were well into the war at that point.
LS: Yes. Yes.
SB: Do you remember why you picked the Air Force as opposed to the other services?
LS: I think I did because I was, I already had thought for that and, and in no time at all I was doing things towards it. And of course, you know suddenly you feel you don’t know so much, you know [laughs]
Chris: I’m sure you know, dad.
LS: But it’s —
SB: Once you joined the Air Force.
LS: Yes.
SB: Can you tell me a little bit about your time there? Do you know where you were stationed?
LS: I was stationed in, the first place was at a [pause] oh crumbs. Just give me a minute will you? I’ll have to think. It’s got it there hasn’t it?
Chris: Blyton it says here.
LS: Blyton.
Chris: That’s where you trained. And then Hemswell.
LS: Hemswell.
Chris: And then, do you remember? You ended up in Kirmington didn’t you?
LS: Kirmington.
Chris: Yes.
LS: That’s right. Yes.
Chris: Okay.
LS: Kirmington.
SB: So —
LS: Funny all the [pause] not. You can’t manage to keep it all it seems to me. Right.
SB: Can you tell me anything about your time at Blyton, Hemswell or Kirmington? Any stories. Things that happened to you there.
LS: Yes. I, I when I went along to this, this is something. Quite often, when you had a chance not to be flying or anything else there was a young lady I used to meet on the telephone box. And, and we got together for quite a lot and went to see her mother who made a nice meal now and again. And have you got the name there?
Chris: I’m trying to remember it myself.
LS: Doreen wasn’t it?
Chris: No. It doesn’t matter. But, yeah. I know who you mean. I’ll think of it.
LS: Right.
Chris: My memory’s as bad as yours.
LS: I think, I think it’s Doreen. And you know now and again we went to further down the lane and had a night at some music hall. I think it was there but don’t’ t think much to it too much but there we are.
SB: Okay. When you were working.
LS: Yes. Yeah.
SB: Can you tell me a bit about the operations you flew?
LS: Yes. We were given the big one that we, we had there. We were told that, by the CO that we were going to have a very hot one. Yeah. And we were going to go very, very quiet. Right to the, almost on top of the water and we were making our way to the place that we were going to hit. We carried on. Started off, first of all in daylight and carried right down low over the sea and made our way to somewhere. And the name —
Chris: Stettin you’re talking about isn’t it? The long one. Stettin.
LS: Stettin. Yeah. Yeah. Stettin. And yeah and we, we went very close over the water until we got near to our target. Of course we’ve got to get up tight a bit when we get to a target. They can come to you very quickly. So anyway, we come out higher, higher, higher, higher, higher until we got to what we thought we were safe. We, we had a fairly good crew. And, and also we were [pause] I wish I was able to be a bit more. So anyway we got to the target and started going up and started dropping bombs occasionally. And we, we did what we were told to and eventually we, we were told to get out. You know. It was very slowly overcome, and we come to a big lot of water. Not the sea water but table water really. And we came over that and then we came near to [pause] trying to make our way out really which we suddenly came over, over water. And we were coming slowly over the water and all of a sudden we dropped our bombs. Boom. Right over the water. And that burst the water that was all ready out there for us to target on. And we, we then come lower over, overcome the water. And [unclear] had come off in to an idea of getting to our home. But that’s going to take a long time to get into our home because we’d already knocked out some water and the enemy was, lost the water. You know. All over. And, and I hope you can get some sense out of that but we came in from the sea. And we came, we had to climb a bit to get out of the way of the other side. And then turned again and then we made our way over the, towards the water. And when we got over there we dropped bombs which hit the target and the, we made a waterfall over the side which they weren’t very happy about. The other people. But we managed to think that we were going to go on over the water so we were quick, quick to go when our bombs had gone. Come down lower again. Turned in to, out the way to home and of course we’ve got to go a long time. We’d got a terrific long way to go and what, what was I, what does it say there?
Chris: You were in the air for nine hours and forty five minutes.
LS: Yeah. Well we were, we’d gone on our way to go over that, over low. Low. So then we didn’t come over. We had bombed the enemy. I think they lost about fifty or something. Fifty something.
Chris: Forty one planes missing it says here.
LS: Forty one planes missing.
Chris: Yeah.
LS: That was our planes. Our planes.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah.
LS: What about the others?
Chris: I don’t know but there was a big fire in Stettin.
LS: That’s right.
Chris: Lots of fires.
LS: Yes. And of course behind us in Stettin and there was quite quite a huge fire going on.
Chris: Yeah.
LS: And I’m certain now that later but there were, people had lost, lost more than us.
Chris: Yes. Yes.
LS: Does it give anything there?
Chris: I can’t see it here but you were, there was a lot of flak when you were flying as well, you said.
LS: That’s right.
Chris: But you were untouched. Your plane.
LS: Yeah. That’s right. And we kept getting our lower but you could see the enemy’s fire.
Chris: Yes.
LS: From about — does that give it —
Chris: Yeah. Smoke rising to twenty six thousand feet.
LS: Twenty six thousand feet. That’s right. I knew there was something like that.
Chris: Yeah.
LS: And then we started our way back. Of course you got, you were travelling all the time and, you know and we were going slowly over the water and towards our way. Which was a long time coming. And when you think the amount of, you’re going over on the water from, from that that place. We really [pause] You think, you think you might not get out. Might not get there in time you see. And apart from others of our thing I had to, to [pause] happy to keep trying to let, let the skipper know how far we were from, from our base. And whether, how we, how we hoped that we could get there in time. Which, which we did really. Quite, I think it gives to the time we got back home doesn’t it? There.
Chris: Well it says you were up in the air for nine hours and forty five minutes.
LS: Yes. That’s it.
Chris: Which is a long, long time.
SB: Yes.
LS: That, that gives you exactly how it was and, and it takes a bit of time to get that amount of range. And there we are.
SB: Can you remember how you felt during that trip?
LS: No. I was too busy to be like that [laughs] I was. I was too busy. I mean the skipper was there. I threw out the stuff that stops the enemy from seeing where we were a bit, you know. I forget what they called it now but it was thrown. No. I was too busy. Yes. I was really too busy. The a bomb aimer was sitting in his place in the front of me. And he put his legs behind mine. There. And of course the enemy was still trying. Still around at any rate. And there we are. We were gradually moving nearer to home. And it was about what? About fifty? Fifty was it? Does it, does it say the time?
Chris: No. It just says you were in the air for nine hours forty five.
LS: Yeah. About that. The one where we, what time we were getting to home?
Chris: It doesn’t say the time. No. It just says how long you were out.
LS: Oh well.
Chris: Yeah.
SB: Long enough.
Chris: Long enough. A long time.
LS: Yeah it was.
Chris: It must have seemed long.
LS: In a, in a very small time, you know. Thirty. About thirty times.
Chris: Oh how many?
LS: Thirty. About thirty times. Thirty.
Chris: Thirty sorties you did.
LS: Yeah.
Chris: Yeah.
LS: Thirty.
Chris: Thirty flights.
LS: I’m talking about the thirty times.
Chris: That you went out.
LS: To take on the last bit.
Chris: Oh right.
LS: Yeah.
SB: Yeah.
LS: That is. But of course we had losses as well. And —
SB: How did you feel about that?
LS: Well, when you are doing something like that you don’t think about it you see because [pause] not at the time anyway.
SB: Afterwards?
LS: Well, you say, ‘Poor Joe has gone for a burton.’ Or so and so and so and so and so and so and so but of course you did, if you lost a pal and the pal was in blazes like that you do get that. You’ve lost somebody, you know but there’s a chance of another one in time to go out there to do. So you just carried on. There was a small, a small meal when we got back. I forget what we had then but it’s some silly thing. Does it say that?
Chris: No [laughs]
LS: No. It doesn’t. Right. Well. We did. When we got there and they started seeing what we had done and what they thought we had done and all that sort of thing. But no, and then we did a lot you know. It wasn’t just one. It was one or two. I mean, we were in, you know, what the target, what it was. We [pause] wish I had a good head [laughs] [pause] Yeah. Well, we were just as likely to do another town like that another day. But we, out there but they weren’t as bad as that one which we said that they, at nine wasn’t it? Nine.
Chris: Nine hours.
LS: You don’t get those every day.
SB: So, can you tell me about some of the others that you flew?
LS: Yes. There’s, if I get up. You’ve got the names of the —
Chris: Le Havre you did. Quite —
LS: Yes.
Chris: Several attempts.
LS: That was a silly one that one.
Chris: Yeah. Okay
LS: Go on.
Chris: Falaise.
LS: Yeah.
Chris: Le [unclear]
LS: Yeah.
Chris: Rüsselsheim.
LS: Yes. Rüsselsheim.
Chris: Airfield in Holland Gilze Rijen.
LS: Gilze Rijen. Yeah.
Chris: Lots of attempts at Le Havre.
LS: I beg your pardon?
Chris: Lots of attempts at Le Havre.
LS: Yes. That’s not —
Chris: Four times.
LS: Yes.
Chris: Frankfurt on Main.
LS: Yes.
Chris: An aerodrome in Holland Steenwijk or something.
LS: Yeah.
Chris: Calais.
LS: Yes.
Chris: West Capel.
LS: Yes.
Chris: The sea wall. Saarbrücken
LS: Yes.
Chris: Marshalling yards. Emmerich which is a township. Stuttgart.
LS: Right. Well, you can see by that number, the number we were on and of course our numbers was, what was it? Twelve hundred. To us what we [pause] the 3020. Twenty. Twenty. That’s right isn’t it? Is that the —
Chris: You did your thirty flights.
LS: Thirty flights.
Chris: Yes.
LS: Yeah. That was —
Chris: What you did.
LS: What we did.
Chris: Yes.
LS: Yes. That’s right. I’m losing things actually.
SB: That’s alright.
LS: A bit. But the main factor is that lot that’s on there which shows you when your friends haven’t, or a lot of them never got that far anywhere.
SB: Yeah.
LS: We were the lucky ones really. Alright.
SB: Okay. Can you tell me a bit about some of your pals?
LS: Pals?
SB: Yeah. Some of your mates in the air force.
LS: Yes. Well they were all there. Even though we were rather [pause] when we were in a crew, like eight, eight men you know you sometimes think you’d keep to yourselves you know. You [pause] you know we went out together when you had time off. And there we are.
SB: Did you have many changes of crew?
LS: We had one because the chap fell out. Fell out the plane when we, when we landed and he fractured his leg. So we lost him. And then we got a Canadian for the last five ops. And he kept on talking Canadian all the time anyway. Making [laughs] making one hell of a row he was. But anyway he filled the last bit that the other one didn’t. And I think we never met, saw that chap again. You know. Funnily. After about the first week. And they, he was, he had a family of children in. I don’t think he really should have been in the game as we put it. And, but as I say that’s why we didn’t see him again after the first few days. And we were busy with another person, you know.
SB: Did you, sorry did you keep in touch with them after it was all over?
LS: Keep in touch with the —
SB: With any of them.
LS: Yes. To a, to a certain degree we did. After the war you’re talking about. Yeah. After the war. Yeah. I still talk to the, my pilot’s wife. What’s the time now? No, I can’t get her any more at the moment. But I can, and do, at 8 o’clock in the mornings quite often. I pressed my button. Well, at 8 o’clock and she says, ‘Is that you Len?’ [laughs] And she’s there. That’s now. That’s now. Now, that’s the pilot’s wife. But of course the pilot has been dead twelve years ago I think. Something. Quite a lot. And also the bomber chap. He was in the same similar thing. He was one who, who was in the same manner of the pilot. They were the same same type of people. The right. Did I give a name?
Chris: Both came from New Zealand didn’t they?
SB: Yeah.
Chris: Yeah.
LS: New Zealand. Right. That’s right. And as I say I speak to the New Zealand wife still. And we talk quite often. Quite often. Yeah.
Chris: You went to stay as well.
LS: From here. From here.
Chris: You went to stay once didn’t you? In New Zealand.
LS: I did it, twice I think it was.
Chris: Twice was it?
LS: Yeah. And that was a lovely place really.
SB: So, any other stories from your time in the RAF?
LS: It’s very old. Hard really. But [pause] funny really.
SB: Once the war —
LS: I flew with other squadrons on, sometimes. Sometimes. Not very often.
Chris: At Scampton wasn’t it?
LS: At Scampton. Yeah.
SB: When the war was over —
LS: Yeah.
SB: How long were you in the RAF then? Did you —
LS: Say it again will you?
SB: Once the war was over.
LS: Yes.
SB: How long did you stay in the RAF?
LS: No. I didn’t stay in the RAF.
SB: You left.
LS: After the war was over.
Chris: Where did you go, dad? Do you remember? India.
LS: I was just thinking. Oh, that part. Yes. I went. I’ve got a photograph. Yeah. Because what happened we, yeah we packed up with that part of it. And we [pause] oh crumbs. Yes, it should, I should have mentioned that as well. We, yeah we went out to [pause] India.
Chris: India.
LS: India.
Chris: Yeah.
LS: We went out to India. And yes and there [pause] crumbs. Yeah. Just give me second. I’m losing myself really.
SB: Yeah. I’ll just pause this for a minute.
[recording paused]
LS: And isn’t it funny?
Chris: Baroda or something.
LS: Eh?
Chris: Baroda.
LS: Baroda
Chris: Was that right? I don’t know.
LS: No. Arriving in Africa.
Chris: Oh you went to Africa first didn’t you?
LS: Yeah. Africa
SB: Now was this the same? Your squadron went out or —
LS: No. No. No. No.
SB: You changed now.
LS: We were more or less split by then, you know and [pause] Yeah. Now then. I think I can get, get the thing coming in. [pause] Yes. Yes. I went to [pause] yeah, I can tell you something in a minute. Yeah. Yes. I was posted to a place. You might, we’ll have a photograph of it. Should have.
Chris: I’m sure we’ve got one somewhere. Yeah.
LS: You’ve got photographs of this.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah
LS: It’s just come to me now.
Chris: Yeah. Okay.
LS: Then I went, I was really in charge. Well, the skipper on that base where I became said, ‘Well, you’re looking after all here,’ he said, ‘I’m not, not going to come very much to see you. You just carry on.’ And so, and, and there was one particular night when I, when I was made to believe while I was there was that there was, the Indians were shouting [pause] Oh crumbs. They were coming up the road where we were. And so I had to get my lot mounted up. And I said, ‘Now listen lads.’ I said, ‘Don’t. Don’t fire your,’ your — ‘They’re coming up the road. You are to, I will let you know what to do.’ And I was told to, and I told them that the Indians were saying, creep, dear me I’m making it worse now [pause] I was telling my chaps that they must keep, to keep up but not hurt —
Chris: Not hurt anybody.
LS: Yeah. Not to kill anybody at all you see. So, anyway they came up and started coming up the road and I said [unclear] ‘Stop. Stop. Stop.’ And they didn’t stop. So, when they didn’t stop I shot over their heads you see and got all our lot to shoot over their heads. Well, they didn’t like that so they, they all turned and ran back to this, their base. They got, got back to where they came from. In the end that rather seemed to change because they didn’t, they became quite, rather like friendly you know. And I’m just trying to think of the name of it. But at any rate they came, you know, they came back friendly and they wanted to, they said, could they have a fly you know. You know. Sort of thing. So I did. I managed to get them a flight. For them to go up. And I went up with them and they were alright and they came back in the car and that’s when I found that the people from there were really happy to have us really, from there. I have, I have pictures of them.
Chris: You have. Yes.
LS: You’ve got pictures in there.
Chris: I’ll have to see if I can find some in here dad.
LS: Yes. They’re around because I’ve seen them today.
SB: When were you in India?
LS: Yeah.
SB: Do you remember —
LS: Yeah.
SB: Which years?
LS: Hmmn?
SB: Can you remember which years you were there?
Chris: It was from June ’45.
LS: Yeah.
Chris: To September ’46.
LS: Now then.
Chris: That’s one in India isn’t it?
LS: Yeah.
Chris: And that one’s in India.
LS: Yeah.
Chris: That’s one with the skeleton.
LS: That was in, in the place where I was. You see. In there. And that was the same. That was our billet there. Oops. That’s, no that’s a different part. That’s going home I think. That one. I’m not certain about it anyway.
Chris: What about the one with the skeleton, dad?
LS: The skeleton.
Chris: Yeah.
LS: Was a naughty one, yes it’s. Have you got it there?
Chris: No. You’ve got it. I think you’ve got it.
LS: Yeah. You see, that’s, that’s when the one in, in our billet there. And I’ve got others. Somewhere upstairs. Various.
Chris: So all in all was India a good posting?
LS: Yeah, I think it, I think it was. There was. I used to go into the town. The local town all right. and they were okay with me sort of thing. Where the Maharaja of Baroda used to be. But he had an, he had a stack. If we went up there.
Chris: You got quite sick didn’t you at one point? You got sick at one point. You got that, that prickly heat.
LS: Oh septic prickly heat —
Chris: Yeah.
LS: . I had to go up to the [unclear] Hills.
Chris: Yeah.
LS: To get over that. But that can be nasty but there we are. I found that being in India and other parts where I went were — seemed to be very interesting. Very interesting. You know. I seemed to eventually get on with them. Most of them you know. And sometimes I used to take them to town with the lorry we’d got there sometimes. And things like that.
SB: Your role in India was very different to your role during the war.
LS: Oh yes. Different [laughs]
SB: How did you feel?
LS: The war was different wasn’t it? Oh yes. But, but I was interested in most of the things I saw out there. I could get some more photographs that we’ve got up there. Upstairs somewhere.
SB: Perhaps when we’ve finished the interview we can look at those. Yeah.
LS: Yes. That’s it. But yes. I think I enjoyed the certain things too. As a matter of fact gosh I’ll tell you another thing because I started getting more or less quite good money I suppose. And I used to send home to, to my mother you see. And told her that, you know, ‘This is for you,’ you know. Sort of thing. Well, of course it never was you see because when I got home, on our wedding day mum had got the money and gave me all of it to give for the [unclear] over the our wedding. Yes. That’s, she said, ‘There you are. I’ve saved all the money for you.’ I said, ‘What did you want to do that for?’ ‘I did it because, because you should have it.’ And that’s what she did. And there you are. And that was past the church and that. The one that we got at home.
Chris: It’s up there isn’t it? The wedding picture. Yeah.
LS: Yeah. Yeah. And so there we are. That’s mum for you isn’t it?
SB: So after India where did you go?
LS: Now then. India. You haven’t half got a glutton [unclear] for punishment, I’d say [laughs] Where did I go after India? Yeah. Now then. I liked that. I like India. [pause] Now, do you know I’m having a bit of a job with this one because —
SB: Well, can you remember when you left the RAF?
LS: Yes. You’ve got the date there.
Chris: I think it was. Discharge. Yeah. Service and release ’46. Was that when you came home from India? Yes. You came straight back home after India.
LS: That’s it. Yeah. And —
SB: So —
LS: I don’t know what I started doing then. Oh yes I do. I think. Oh crumbs. Who did I work for?
Chris: Stock Exchange.
LS: Stock Exchange [laughs] That’s right. It was the stock exchange and I couldn’t think of it you know.
Chris: For years and years.
LS: Yeah.
SB: Okay. So, so you had this two year period basically.
LS: Yeah.
SB: ’44 to ’46 in the RAF.
LS: Yeah. RAF.
SB: How has that influenced the rest of your life?
LS: What has — ?
SB: How has it influenced your life do you think?
LS: I think it did. I think it did quite a lot because every now and again I used to talk to somebody who was similarly properly in it but takes, takes a moment. You just saw you know. That was my main. What’s the, it’s a job now really.
SB: Is there anything about that time that you regret?
LS: Well, I don’t think I did anybody bad. Really. No. I tried to be kind to everybody and that sort of thing. In the long run.
SB: So a good experience.
LS: Hmmn?
SB: A good experience.
LS: It was. It was really because yes because it’s something I’d never do in any other way.
SB: So, any other stories you’d like to share about that time?
LS: Well. I went up, up the hills and that sort of thing and you know got on well with people and things like that.
SB: Good.
LS: Yes. I, I, it was always something to do. I mean [pause] I don’t regret anything. I don’t think I’ve done anything bad you know. Anything. Anything like that at all.
SB: Was there anything you would have liked to have done that you didn’t get to do while you were in there?
LS: Well, it wasn’t, it wasn’t [pause] wait a minute. I still had a reasonable life when I, afterwards as well.
SB: Good.
LS: Yes. And I still got to see certain people afterwards you know. Like the ones there.


Sheila Bibb, “Interview with Leonard William Sparvell. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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