Interview with John William Squires


Interview with John William Squires


John was living on a farm and working there when he left school at fourteen. The family of five lived in a two-bedroom cottage and John remembered hearing a plane crashing near Westborough one evening, all but one of the crew being killed. The children were put under the table for protection against a bomb exploding. The aircraft, which crashed on the 15 January 1945, was Lancaster LM619 from a RAF Bottesford Heavy Conversion Unit. The rear gunner, Sergeant G F Ashby survived. A memorial bench had been planned for the village.




Temporal Coverage





00:25:12 audio recording


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DK: I’ll just introduce myself then. It’s David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Mr Squires at his home on the 7th of April 2018. With his son Roger, Roger Squires. So if I just put that down there. Can I just ask first of all how long have you lived, lived here?
RS: You was born here weren’t you?
DK: Born here.
JS: Yeah. I was born here. Born just down here.
DK: Right.
JS: And then we moved up the road. Mum and dad did.
DK: So what year would that have been?
JS: ’57.
RS: ’37.
DK: 1937
JS: ’57. No. When they moved
DK: Oh right. Ok. You moved in ’57.
JS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
RS: So you —
DK: So what, what year were you born?
JS: ’36.
DK: 1936. Ok.
JS: Eighty two, nearly.
DK: So, you’ve, you’ve been here more or less all your life then.
JS: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So has it been sort of farming here then?
JS: Pardon?
DK: Have you been farming?
JS: Well, we’ve done a bit of all sorts here.
DK: Right. What, what do you do on the fields then? What do you grow there?
JS: We’ve got four beasts.
DK: Right.
JS: And the horse. And they keep it down.
DK: Yeah.
RS: You’ve had pigs and cattle most of your life though. Haven’t you, dad?
DK: Yeah.
JS: Yeah.
DK: Right. So pigs. Cattle.
RS: Yeah.
DK: So, when, so in going back to the 1930 1940s what was it like around here? Presumably there’s all new houses gone up.
JS: Oh yeah.
DK: Was it more fields?
JS: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
JS: Across here. That were milk. The one down. Next one. The next one wasn’t built.
DK: Right.
JS: And they were just paddocks.
DK: Right. So you’ve seen a few changes then.
JS: A tremendous amount of changes and not for the better.
DK: Not for the best. Did you prefer the old days then?
JS: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So, have you enjoyed working on the farm around here then? With the —
JS: Yes. I worked on a farm when I left school.
DK: Right.
JS: I never went to school in my last year.
DK: Right. So what, how old were you when you left school?
JS: Officially fifteen but I was fourteen.
DK: Right.
JS: And where I worked I used to go like part time and weekends, Tom Arnolds. Then the cowman got killed.
DK: Oh.
JS: In about, I think it was about October. And he come down one night and said Billy had been killed.
DK: Right.
JS: On the A1. And could I go in the morning? I never went to school no more.
DK: Oh. Oh.
JS: I did all the corn. Ploughed all the land.
DK: Yeah. So, can you remember much then about the war time years around here?
JS: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So what can you remember about those? Those years?
JS: The pub around here was called the Blue Greyhound.
DK: Right.
JS: The pub. And it was full of airmen, soldiers mainly.
DK: Where, where had they come from? The airmen and soldiers.
JS: Oh, Bottesford and Balderton.
DK: Right. So were they, were they mostly British or —
JS: All sorts.
DK: Americans?
JS: Yeah. Mostly British.
DK: Mostly British. Yeah.
JS: They were mostly British but there were all sorts of in them.
DK: Yeah.
JS: Amongst them. And mum and dad, it was only a two bedroom cottage where we lived and there was me, my brother.
DK: Right.
JS: My sister. Mum and dad. And it was never empty.
DK: Right.
JS: Never. We’d always got either airmen here. Army. Land Army.
DK: So the, the airmen then used to stay in your house did they?
JS: Well, they used to come and then go home the next day.
DK: Oh right. Ok. So what did they do when they were in your house? Can you remember? Did they give you treats?
JS: Well. Yeah.
DK: What did you get?
JS: We got, we got sweets and got gum. And I think that was about it.
DK: So you remember them fondly do you? Giving you, giving you things.
JS: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
JS: I was only very small in them days.
DK: So how old would you have been about?
JS: Five or six. Seven maybe.
DK: And, and you can remember those changes in the wartime then?
JS: Oh yes.
DK: Yeah.
JS: I can remember a lot about them. And then went on to [pause] from, from all the airmen and Army and Land Army and everybody it was like.
DK: Yeah.
JS: All come to our house. We had a very great big table in the kitchen. As big as what this space is.
DK: Yeah.
JS: Proper farmhouse table in the a kitchen. It were only a two bedroom. A [pig] hanging on the wall.
DK: Did, did any of the Land Army people actually work here with, with your parents?
JS: No.
DK: On the farm. No.
JS: No. Any Land Army we had she were up at [Lind’s]
DK: Right.
JS: That was up at where the NT junction goes on to the main street. The farm just on the left there.
DK: And they were Land Army girls were they?
JS: Yeah.
DK: Mostly? Yeah. Right.
JS: Yeah.
DK: So just coming to the incident then of the plane crash that you saw. Could you tell us a little bit about what you saw?
JS: Well, we’d just finished killing the pig. Just finished cutting it up.
DK: Right.
JS: And Fred Potts, he was the pig killer and my dad and a sudden, we just heard this very big bump. And then the noise like and then of course everything just lit up. Sort of orange. Because it lit up the room above our lighting. And then everything. We wanted to know what had happened.
DK: Can you remember what time of day it was? Was it in the morning? Evening?
JS: No. It was the evening.
DK: Right. Can you remember roughly what sort of time? Early evening?
JS: Nay. But I would reckon about 8.45.
DK: Right. Ok. Ok.
JS: We’d just finished cutting the pig up. Fred Potts lived down at the Grange.
DK: Yeah. So you didn’t actually see the aircraft come down.
JS: No.
DK: You just heard the noise. So did you go over to the crash itself.
JS: No.
DK: And did, did your father go over and have a look? Or —
JS: My dad worked at the farm just across the road here. They owned these two fields. Well, they owned the land like.
DK: Yeah.
JS: He’d got beasts and him and Fred Potts went on their hands and knees because there were bullets flying everywhere. Went on their hands and knees over a plank, over the dyke here, up the edge and then the field was along an the end a big dip in it.
DK: Right.
JS: And they crawled across there and they went to there to see if everything was alright there. And it didn’t, didn’t get as far as there.
DK: So sadly then most of the crew were, were killed as far as you know.
JS: Yes. They was all killed sadly.
DK: So can you remember the recovery? Did the Air Force turn up?
JS: Yes.
DK: To put the fire out or —
JS: I can’t remember much about the fire because I didn’t go out that night.
DK: Yeah.
JS: I weren’t allowed out. I mean, I was only about, I think — what would I be? Ten, six, five?
RS: Jenny put you under the table didn’t she?
JS: Eh?
RS: Put you under the table.
JS: Yeah.
DK: Why were you put under the table?
JS: Because they thought the house was going to go up.
DK: Oh right. So —
JS: We were put in the glory hole for a start and that was like the cupboard in, like a lean to cupboard in it.
DK: Right. So —
JS: Under the stairs.
DK: Was your family worried that there could be bombs on board presumably.
JS: Yes. Yes.
DK: That might have gone up again.
JS: My brother had got double pneumonia and mother wrapped him in a blanket and said she was going out. Take us all out of it. And my Granny Horton was here. Mother’s mother. Helping to get the pig out of the way. And she said, ‘We’re not. We’re stopping here, Aggie. If we go we’ll all go together.’ And we stayed in there and we were shoved under the stairs in the glory hole. And they had the notion that if, if it did blow up then the big main beam of the house would drop on us.
DK: Yeah.
JS: So we were taken out of there and put in [laughs] put under the table. And my sister had got her head in the stays of the chair like. She didn’t get in properly. She was struggling and she was trying to get under. But we was under the table.
DK: And in in the days afterwards can you remember anything about the crash itself? Were they taking the wreckage away? Or —
JS: Yes. I can remember that.
DK: Yeah. How did they take the wreckage away? Did you see any of that?
JS: Yes. They reckon they went, come down this Green Lane and pick it up and they couldn’t get down.
DK: Right.
JS: So they were going to come in from across there [unclear] But then there was this big dip in the field and the things bellied when they went over it. So they organised that. I can’t remember them organising it but they did do, and they dragged the big, the top of the hill down to the bottom and made it just a ramp.
DK: Right.
JS: Then they came over with Queen Mary’s.
DK: Yeah.
JS: And a mobile crane arm. I don’t know whether the was an arm on them or what. But they came in a mobile crane and picked bits up by bit and took it.
DK: Yeah. And you can actually remember the Queen Marys and, and the mobile crane.
JS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
JS: I can remember seeing that.
DK: So how long was if before all the wreckage had gone? Was it quite quickly? Or. —
JS: I think it was pretty quick because it snowed like hell that night.
DK: Yeah.
JS: And you didn’t see much in the morning like because it was all snow. But it did as the snow disappeared. And you know where it came over the river don’t you?
DK: Could you tell me? Is it —
JS: Yeah. It came, it came down in those fields out the back there.
DK: Right. Ok. Ok.
JS: Not my land. Foston Fields. It hit the riverbank and jumped up and crossed the river.
DK: Right.
JS: That was when the rear gunner fell off. And then it carried on going across the field, scoping it out with the propellers still going.
DK: Right.
JS: It hit the tree in the lane down here.
DK: Right.
JS: Grubbed the first tree up by the roots. The second tree it snapped off at about twelve foot. And the third tree it took off at about twelve foot. And then it crossed the lane and there was a big elm on this side. On the right hand side.
DK: Yeah.
JS: And it hit that and it catapulted it around and all the rubbish was in this hedge. All the wreckage.
DK: Right.
JS: And in this hedge.
RS: The wheel come down the lane and stopped up there where that black car is.
DK: Oh right.
JS: One of the wheels did. It hit a tree just here. Right here in front of those conifers.
DK: So you’re quite lucky then it didn’t come into the house.
JS: Oh Christ, we were exceptionally lucky.
DK: Yeah.
RS: The tree up there you can still see the split in it where it split in half. Can’t you?
JS: Yeah. It hit that tree there.
DK: Let’s all go and have a look later.
JS: Yeah. It hit that tree there and then carried on. It carried on going up the lane which is only thirty yards I think from here.
DK: Yeah.
JS: And we were sitting there. It hit the tree up there and knocked the top out of it and then it was dead then. It knocked the top out of this tree.
DK: And presumably were you finding bits of wreckage in the years afterwards?
JS: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
JS: Only bits of rubbish. Tin and that.
DK: Yeah.
JS: You know. Alloy and things.
DK: Right.
JS: And dad found, for years dad was finding it and he had a tin, a box up there. And someone, I was going to give them it and they came down. I went to the box and it was empty.
DK: Oh.
JS: But there was nothing of any value.
DK: No.
JS: It was just a bit of alloy and a bit of metal like.
DK: Yeah. So how long was it before you kind of were conscious of, of the crew being killed? I mean did you know that as a child?
JS: More or less instant.
DK: Yeah. But you were aware that one of the crew did survive.
JS: Yes. Tom Arnold at the top of the village. I don’t know what he was. Air raid warden. Possible.
DK: Yeah.
JS: He came down and said, ‘You’re alright, missus. There’s no bombs on it.’ And he came down across these fields. ‘There’s no bombs on it so you’re alright.’ So everybody was relieved then like.
DK: Ok. What I’ll do just for the recording then I’ll say here that we now know that it was Lancaster, the serial number LM619 and it came from 1668 Heavy Conversion Unit and it crashed on the 15th of January 1945.
JS: Yeah. I think it was.
DK: Does that sound right?
JS: I think it was that date but I’m not sure.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve checked on that and six of the crew were killed but the rear gunner survived.
JS: Yeah.
RS: He later took his own life.
DK: And I understand —
RS: Yeah.
DK: He subsequently committed suicide. [The rear gunner, Sergeant G F Ashby died of natural causes in 1958]
JS: Did he?
DK: Which, that was tragic.
JS: I didn’t know that but it left him a bit, it sent him doolally like.
DK: Yeah.
JS: He was found wandering at Bennington.
DK: Really?
JS: He’d walked up the river.
DK: Yeah.
JS: And he was found at Bennington.
DK: Presumably he was suffering concussion or something or —
JS: Yeah.
RS: Yeah. You said you can remember the smell can’t you?
DK: Yeah.
DK: Can, can you sort of remember the smell then of the —
JS: Yes.
DK: What did it smell like? What’s it —
JS: I can’t remember what it was there but it, yes there was a smell with it. And there was a fire. A big fire. A hell of a big fire. And it all petered out and bullets sort of seized up. Shooting around.
DK: Yeah.
JS: And we went up to the bedroom window then to look at it. The bedroom window was just out, just out here like.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
JS: Straight down onto the site.
DK: So you were looking down on the crash site then.
JS: Yes, almost.
DK: Yeah.
JS: And then we were allowed to go out then when it, after we’d been told there was no bombs on it and the bullets had died.
DK: And when you first saw the wreckage can you remember sort of what you saw?
JS: I can’t remember what it was but it was a tangled up mess.
DK: Right.
JS: I can visualise what it was. It was a tangled up mess and there were bits everywhere.
DK: Yeah.
JS: Engines. One engine had carried on going when it come off.
DK: It implies it was coming out as some speed isn’t it?
JS: Pardon?
DK: It implies it was coming up at some speed doesn’t it?
JS: Yeah. It was landing.
DK: Yeah. So do you know where he was trying to land then? Or —
JS: Yeah. He was trying to land at Bottesford.
DK: Right. Because that’s that way.
RS: Yeah. Three fields.
DK: That doesn’t help the recording me saying that way, does it?
RS: No. But its three fields. If you look on the thing its three fields further on.
DK: Oh ok. Right. So he, he nearly made it.
RS: Well, there was Nissen huts and things in this farm. Farm building. Weren’t there, dad?
JS: Hmmn?
RS: There was huts in this building. In this farm, wasn’t it? There were huts in it weren’t there?
JS: Yes.
RS: So whether he took it that that was landing.
DK: Yeah.
RS: I don’t know.
JS: Yeah. It was all like cat gut.
DK: And —
JS: Twelve foot up.
DK: And as far as we know, this is just for the recording here the pilot we know was a Pilot Officer Thompson.
JS: I don’t know who he was.
DK: No.
JS: They’d got permission to land at Bennington err —
DK: Bottesford.
JS: At Bottesford.
DK: Yeah
JS: And they’d got permission but they’d got to go around again.
DK: Right.
JS: And then go down and they thought he was in there because there was a tin sheds in this field. And they put it down there and of course the river. They give the job up.
DK: Yeah. Can, can you remember the Lancasters then? And various other aircraft all flying around here?
JS: Yeah.
DK: So was that, was that quite a common occurrence then?
JS: No. We’ve had hours and hours on a Sunday evening. Especially Sunday. Stood on our front yard. The front, the front of our cottage watching them fight. Dogfighting.
DK: Oh right.
JS: Just up here like. And you see him and then you, you either hear it [humming noise] that was a goner or, or they, or they cleared off.
DK: Yeah.
JS: Times and times and times we used to stand in the yard watching them. All in the dark we was.
RS: There were searchlights here, weren’t there, dad? Searchlights on Bennington Road.
JS: Eh?
RS: Searchlights on Bennington Road weren’t there?
JS: Yes.
DK: Searchlights. Yeah. Any anti-aircraft guns or —
JS: I can’t remember them.
DK: No.
JS: I can remember the searchlights.
DK: Yeah.
JS: I can remember the searchlights operating by being two men.
DK: Yeah.
JS: One of them was sat there tending the wheel. Well they both got a wheel and one was a gun aimer.
DK: Right.
JS: And when they were fighting, you know like this scrap were going on up there. But it was regular to see them. The searchlights on the farm.
DK: Right.
JS: Yeah. And all around here there was barbed wire. And probably about four posts on the roadside and a hole dug.
DK: Yeah.
RS: That’s Bottesford airfield.
DK: Oh right. Closer than I thought.
RS: That’s us.
DK: Right.
RS: Landed. So it dropped there.
DK: Yeah.
RS: There was only them two.
DK: So that’s where he was trying to make for, wasn’t it?
RS: And there’s a couple beside the A1.
DK: This is another memorial. The other side of Bottesford then.
RS: That’s right. Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Another crashed Lancaster.
JS: Yeah. There was one or two around here.
DK: Yeah.
JS: Different ones.
DK: So that was, that was the only accident you saw then was it, the — or you were aware of around here?
JS: Yes. Yes.
DK: So, so once the war’s finished was it a big change here then?
JS: I can’t remember. I can’t remember. I can remember my dad because he worked over there.
DK: Yeah.
JS: He got a big mark on, every, every door around here. VE. VE. I can remember. I can remember him walking around doing it.
DK: Yeah. So everyone was quite pleased and celebrating were they?
JS: Yeah.
DK: Right.
JS: Yeah. And I mean all that’s gone now. The buildings and everything’s gone.
DK: Yeah.
JS: All gone in to development. But if you found them doors you’d find this VE.
DK: Right. Ok. That’s marvellous. I think we’ve sort of covered it, haven’t we? We can, we can come back again if you want to. if I, I’m going to turn this off now so, but thanks very much for that.
[recording paused]
DK: Sorry. Go on. You were going to say.
JS: We heard this droning noise and everybody looked at everybody and said nothing. And then it was just bang. Crashed and everything just sort of shattering and then the sky lit up orange.
DK: So you could feel the ground shake could you?
JS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
JS: You could feel feel the whole house shake. I thought it was going to fall down.
DK: Yeah. I guess when you’re that age you’re not too frightened of things but can you recall if you were a bit scared of that or —
JS: No. I wasn’t scared. I don’t know about the rest of the family but I weren’t scared.
DK: Yeah.
JS: It was excitement to me.
DK: Yes. I can imagine.
JS: But then Tom Arnold came down and he came across the fields to the back door there and said, ‘Are you alright, missus?’
DK: Yeah.
JS: Because my dad had gone across to the rectory. There were no bombs on it. So I don’t know how he knew. Whether they’d informed him.
DK: Yeah.
JS: I think he was air raid warden.
DK: Yes. I guess they would have known quite early if it was on a training flight that there was no bombs. So —
RS: They put guards on it didn’t they?
JS: Yeah.
DK: But what were the guards? Were they the Home Guard or were they soldiers? Can you remember?
JS: Weren’t Home Guard. They were MPs.
DK: Oh ok.
JS: Put on it to guard it.
DK: Yeah.
JS: As I say it snowed and they commandeered the Village Hall. They had that. And my dad was milking the cow across here like he always had done. And the bloke, one of the guards came across with him. And then when he saw where the milk come from he was sick.
DK: He didn’t know.
JS: No. He didn’t know. He just thought it came out a bottle.
DK: I think there’s a lot of people today don’t know where milk came from.
JS: Yeah.
DK: Right. Ok. That’s, that’s marvellous I’ll stop this again now but thanks very much for that.
[recording paused]
DK: You mentioned, you mentioned about the boot. You were saying that there was a boot out there after the accident.
JS: Yes.
DK: Can you remember what you saw there?
JS: A flying boot. And then you looked in it and it was like a half foot. Half a leg.
DK: And that was in what is now your back garden.
JS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. And how long was it there for?
JS: I can’t remember how long it was there for. I would imagine it wouldn’t be very long but I can’t remember.
DK: No.
JS: It happened in the night. I think it was a Saturday night. I think it would be about 8 o’clock. And of course, it was all found in daylight the next day.
DK: Not a, not a nice thing to see was it?
JS: No.
DK: No. Oh dear.
JS: I should think it was probably picked up the next day. I don’t know what happened to it.
DK: Yeah.
JS: It was reported that there was a boot there.
DK: Not good. Not a good thing to see.
JS: And on those trees what I showed you the first one was grubbed out completely.
DK: Yeah.
JS: The second one had got a load of gut hanging.
DK: A load of — ?
JS: Like cat gut.
DK: Oh.
JS: Where it had been got up there about twelve foot.
DK: Yeah.
JS: And dripped like.
DK: Oh dear. Not a very pleasant sight.
JS: No.
DK: Well, I hope we can get the Memorial sorted out to them. That would be very good wouldn’t it?
JS: Yes.
DK: Yeah. I like the idea of the bench. Sounds a good idea that.
JS: I don’t know what. I haven’t got nothing to do with that. Sorting the Memorial or doing anything with the Memorial.
DK: Well, your son is trying to sort something out, isn’t he?
JS: Yeah.
DK: Ok.


David Kavanagh, “Interview with John William Squires,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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