Interview with Frank Stafford


Interview with Frank Stafford


Frank Stafford grew up in a small mining village in Creswell, Derbyshire. After leaving school at 16, he went to work for the Inland Revenue, from here at the age of 18, he volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He was sent to London to begin physical training and then onto various other places for further training to be part of a Lancaster air crew. Fortunately the training was cancelled as the war would be coming to an end. Frank could either volunteer as an air gunner or join the ground crew, or enlist. He remained with the air crew and finished his training in RAF Morpeth. He joined 576 Squadron, went onto join 61 Squadron, and eventually became operational. The first operation to Germany was cancelled with declaration of peace. Frank was transferred to train on the Lincoln. After breaking his wrist, he could no longer fly, and was discharged.







00:29:19 audio recording


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PS: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Patricia Selby and the interview is Frank Stafford. The interview is taking place at Mr Stafford’s home on the 5th of July at 11 am. Mr Stafford what’s your date of birth?
FS: 10th of June 1924.
PS: And where were you born?
FS: In Creswell, Derbyshire.
PS: And can you remember a lot about your childhood? Did you live in a village? Did you live in a town?
FS: Yeah.
PS: You lived in a village.
FS: I lived in a small mining village. Yeah.
PS: So what sort of things did you get up to?
FS: Oh dear.
PS: You went, did you go to school in the same village?
FS: Yes. It’s the village school. Everybody went to the one school. Boys and girls.
PS: Did you stay in the same village for your high school?
FS: Yes.
PS: What age were you when you left school?
FS: Sixteen. Fifteen. Sixteen, I think.
PS: Were they enjoyable times at school?
FS: Yes. It certainly opened my eyes to a different world at Grammar School.
PS: You had the Grammar. Did you have to travel far to the Grammar School?
FS: Yes. About ten miles away. We had a special bus took us there.
PS: When you left the Grammar School did you go straight to work?
FS: Yes. My parents were very poor. So going to work I did a repayment for all they’d done for me.
PS: What sort of work did you do?
FS: Well, I was in the Inland Revenue.
PS: Was the Inland Revenue office quite a way away from where you lived or —
FS: That was in Doncaster. About three miles away.
PS: And how did you travel there each day?
FS: On a bicycle. We walked or used a bicycle in those days.
PS: Did you enjoy that work?
FS: Yes. Very good.
PS: What did it entail?
FS: Inland revenue work? Income tax. Purchase tax. All just work.
PS: How many years did you do that for?
FS: Well, when I was eighteen I volunteered for the RAF. When I was eighteen. And there was quite a queue apparently waiting. And then I waited about I don’t know nearly twelve months before I was called up.
PS: Right. And what did you do when you were first called up?
FS: I went to London and did all the training. Physical training. Be prepared to train as a pilot or whatever.
PS: Did they send you to a special place for extra training to be a pilot or whatever?
FS: Yes. Yes. We were about half way through the course when somebody came in. An officer came in and said, ‘It looks like the war’s going to be over before you’re fully trained. So,’ he said, ‘All the training for pilots —’ and what not, ‘Is cancelled. And we’re looking at, all we want is volunteers for air gunner.’ Air gunners. ‘So you can either enlist, re-enlist for an air gunner or go on the ground crew.’ And all the class wanted to stay in aircrew. So we retrained as air gunners.
PS: Where did you do that training?
FS: All over the place.
PS: You can’t remember anywhere specific?
FS: Well, there was a lot of places we went to. I finished at Morpeth in Northumberland when I was finally given my air gunner’s badge and what not.
PS: Did you have a choice about which gun you were going to be put on?
FS: No. No choice at all. I was just allocated rear gunner and that was it.
PS: How long did the training take? Can you remember?
FS: Yeah. I finished training December.
PS: And when did you start it?
FS: Just after May, I suppose.
PS: Quite a long stint really.
FS: It was. It was quite thorough.
PS: Yeah. What did you think about it? Did you know you were going to be a rear gunner at that time or at the end of your training?
FS: No. I told you. The officer came in the class. The training for pilot, navigator —
PS: Yes. But —
FS: Or bomb aimer.
PS: But you became a rear gunner from what I understand from your daughter.
FS: Yeah.
PS: When did you know you were going to be a rear gunner out of the other gunners?
FS: When we had the crew. When we picked the crew. They said, ‘You’re a rear gunner. You’re a mid-upper gunner,’ and what not.
PS: Right. So you were then sent off to a squadron. Or whatever.
FS: Yeah. Then we started training as a crew.
PS: Oh right. So where was that? Can you remember?
FS: Several places. Not just one place. I finished up at Waddington anyway. Training a lot from there.
PS: Can you remember what squadron you were in?
FS: Hang on a sec.
[pause – pages turning]
FS: 576 squadron. That’s at Fiskerton. I went to several places, I know.
PS: Yeah. Were they all English crew?
FS: Yeah.
PS: Is that your logbook?
FS: Hmmn. 61 Squadron, Waddington. That’s where I ended up.
PS: So you changed squadrons. You sort of moved about a bit.
FS: Yes.
PS: Was that difficult when you got to know a group of people and then they shipped you along to another plane?
FS: Well, we always flew as a crew.
PS: Yes. Did the crews move or did they —
FS: No. We were training most of the time in Lancasters.
PS: Yes.
FS: Went to different places. Different.
FS: Yeah.
PS: So what happened when you finished your training? They sent you on.
FS: Went to Bomber Command.
PS: Yes.
FS: And then we [pause] They gave us about three days leave. And when we went back we were operational then. Given an operation to bomb Germany. And then peace was declared.
PS: So did you actually get to go to bomb Germany?
FS: No.
PS: You didn’t.
FS: No. We were all ready to go.
PS: Yeah.
FS: And it was cancelled. All.
PS: The war came to an end.
FS: Yeah.
PS: You were very lucky, weren’t you?
FS: Yeah. I didn’t realised how lucky I was really.
PS: No.
FS: I never thought about anything else but flying.
PS: No. You trained in the back of an aircraft.
FS: Yeah.
PS: How did that feel?
FS: I got used to it. Didn’t mind at all.
PS: I’ve seen how you got in and out and what chances were if you had to get out quickly. They weren’t easy. Did you know that?
FS: There weren’t. Yes. We knew all about that. Yes. But never, never even thought about it really. I was twenty years old. Twenty, twenty one.
PS: Yeah.
FS: Just never thought about it.
PS: So you were never in the position of losing crew. Losing part of your squadron or anything like that.
FS: No. We had a good crew. We all liked each other and got on very well together. And all being young we couldn’t see any danger at all.
PS: Do you think you would have seen danger if you’d actually gone on a run?
FS: Oh yeah. They were, that’s the first thing they did was to shoot and kill the rear gunner. We knew that. Realised that. But you don’t think about it. Well, we didn’t anyway.
PS: Yes. I can see what you mean. You were young. But it was a very young crew wasn’t it?
FS: Very young. Yeah. Yeah. It’s all wrong now. Looking back it’s all wrong. I mean [pause] I saw the, I was in London when the Doodlebugs were coming over and fighting in the air and it was wasn’t very good. But again, you don’t, it seems up there out of the way. Didn’t seem to affect you very much. But of course it did.
PS: So you don’t think it had any, well obviously it did leave you some lasting effects but nothing too nasty really. Do you think? Or do you think it did?
FS: No. No.
PS: So the war came to an end. Did they just demob you then or —
FS: No. We carried on. We converted to Lincolns. Training again in that, and then after a while I broke my wrist. So that was the end of me flying. So I ended up in Pay Corps. And finally got discharged.
PS: So there were some really nasty damage to your wrist.
FS: Yeah. It was in plaster. So that was it.
PS: Yeah. Interesting.
FS: Very condensed.
PS: Yes. But do you keep up, did you keep up with any of your crew afterwards?
FS: No.
PS: No.
FS: No. I think I was the first to be demobbed I think. The crew stayed together.
PS: Did they continue flying after you’d gone into the Pay Corps for any length of time?
FS: Yes. As I say they converted to Lincolns. And they trained in them.
PS: And what did they do after they’d trained in those?
FS: I don’t know.
PS: Do you know? [laughs]
FS: I’ve no idea. I suppose they carried on or got discharged or demobbed, I suppose.
PS: So what did you do after you were demobbed?
FS: I came back to the Civil Service. Inland Revenue.
PS: Did you go back to where you were working before?
FS: Yeah.
PS: Or where did you go?
FS: Yeah. In Doncaster. Yeah.
PS: And you did that all the rest of your working life?
FS: No. The Air Force made me very restless. And then I transferred to Customs and Excise.
PS: Oh right.
FS: And I stayed in Custom and Excise until I retired.
PS: I should think Customs and Excise was more exciting. More interesting.
FS: I suppose so. Yeah. But I was very restless. I couldn’t settle down.
PS: I think that’s understandable. So you moved about from Doncaster did you?
FS: I moved a lot. Yeah. I moved all over the country.
PS: Nice.
FS: Sheffield. London. Harwich. Kings Lynn. Letchworth. Northampton and —
PS: You did get around.
FS: Yes. You see, I was very restless.
PS: Did you settle down eventually or you stayed restless?
FS: I suppose I settled down eventually. Yeah. [pause] Yeah.
PS: So now looking back what sort of effect do you think being in the RAF made to you? As it obviously made your restless but —
FS: Well, I saw a bit of the world anyway. Italy. Malta. And I flew over Germany. We took some VIPs over Germany to show them the damage that had been done by all the bombing. It was terrible.
PS: Yeah.
FS: It was shocking.
PS: That was, was that before, still while you were in the RAF?
FS: That’s when I was in the RAF then.
PS: Yeah.
FS: We just used it as a, to show different people what it was like in Germany.
PS: Yeah.
FS: And it was terrible.
PS: Did you have to do many of those trips?
FS: No. Not many. But we did a few. We brought back some Army people. Bring them back to England.
PS: So, what did you think about it at the time or immediately afterwards?
FS: I didn’t think about it at all.
PS: It was, when did you start thinking about it?
FS: When did I start thinking about it? [pause] I don’t think ever. I just accepted it.
PS: Yeah. It’s just looking back now.
FS: Yeah.
PS: Being asked to recall it it’s —
FS: It’s terrible. Yeah. I’m against all wars. They’re all terrible.
PS: Yep. When you were in the RAF what sort of things did you do to relax when you weren’t training or in flight?
FS: Sleep. Used to fly at any time. Day or night. You couldn’t get enough sleep. [pause] But we were well looked after I must say. There was always a meal when we came back from flying. A meal ready for us. There used to be a meal and then back to bed and wait for the next flying.
PS: These trips you did after. You know, when you were taking the people up to have a look. They were quite long were they? They were quite long trips were they not?
FS: Yes. I mean —
PS: So, so —
FS: Fly to Germany and around to Germany. Quite long trips. Yes.
PS: So you’d need something to eat when you came back.
FS: I forget.
PS: Did you take stuff with you to eat or was there stuff on the plane to eat?
FS: No. Never. No. Well, normally we used to fly about twelve thousand feet and go and have, we had oxygen masks on so we couldn’t.
PS: No.
FS: I told you. We didn’t eat.
PS: Anything else you want to tell me?
FS: Hmmn?
PS: Anything else you want to tell me?
FS: Not really. It was a phase. I think I was very lucky. I didn’t realise how lucky I was. Perhaps was a little bit disappointed we didn’t go on a bombing raid but I’m glad we didn’t. So it was mostly training all the time. After we trained on Lancasters. Then we trained on Lincolns. And then I just came out.
PS: When you took these VIPs to have a look at Germany after things were finished what you, were you, you weren’t still sitting on a gun were you? Or were you?
FS: Oh yeah.
PS: You were.
FS: We always flew with a full crew. We had to.
PS: Oh, I see.
FS: So if if the pilot was learning something it would be a full crew. Same with the navigator, the wireless operator. Full crew. Always.
PS: So you did get a sort of sense of what it was like. I mean, no one was firing at you I know but being in the back like that.
FS: I saw what was going on. Yeah.
PS: Yes.
FS: Yeah.
PS: Yes.
FS: I had a good view. So that’s about it I reckon.
PS: Well, you’ve done very well. Thank you very much indeed. I’m quite happy to sit here if you want to try and think of anything else. But that is fine as far as I’m concerned.
FS: No.
PS: Ok.
FS: As I say it’s a long time ago.
PS: Yeah.
FS: A different world. I’m anti-war and I can’t [pause] I don’t understand people who wanted to fight and threaten and whatnot. I just don’t understand it.
PS: No.
FS: Yeah.
PS: Well, thank you very much indeed. I’m very grateful for letting me come. Thank you.



Patricia Selby, “Interview with Frank Stafford,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 5, 2023,

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