Interview with Frank Charles Standen


Interview with Frank Charles Standen


Frank Standen always wanted to fly. He volunteered for the RAF hoping to become a pilot. Sadly, an eye defect was detected. He volunteered for motorboat crew and took part in air sea rescues. On one occasion he was involved in rescuing the crew of a Stirling that had crashed. Recently he met the son of one of those crew members rescued from that aircraft.




Temporal Coverage





00:28:56 audio recording


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DB: This is an interview with Mr Frank Standen at his home in Tring on the 18th of February 2017 at 3pm. Frank, tell me a little bit about why you joined the Air Force.
FS: Well, like many youngsters of my day I didn’t want to be an engine driver. I just wanted to fly. And my whole interest was flying. In fact, I wished to join the RAF for a short term commission in 1916 I beg your pardon [pause] In 1936 I hoped to get a short term commission in the RAF but my parents because I was only sixteen were against it. But of course early in 1941, once the war was on I decided I’d volunteer at the Grey Mare in Eltham. But that, followed by on the 3rd, 30th — I beg your pardon on the 3rd of March 1941 I reported to the RAF at Uxbridge as requested and after medical tests and interviews was accepted for aircrew training, in brackets, pilot. And I was sworn in the 6th of March and given my number on the Reserve. On the 5th of July I received my call up to repeat, report at ACRC Baggeholme err Babbacombe and the Hotel Trecarn. I was kitted up, inoculated, gas drill and so forth. And by the time July was, middle of it spent I was transformed. Transferred to the newly formed Number 1 ACRC located in Richmond’s Park. Lord. Lord’s Cricket Ground and Abbey Lodge in North West London. This was followed by drills, square bashing etcetera. Sadly, I was informed that I was in a I flight as I had, so I was told, a lazy eye muscle but could be cured by exercises. A small care. So, I beg your pardon a small card putting a goldfish in a bowl. I was informed later that there was a delay in training aircrew and I was, as I was a volunteer I could leave the RAF or if I liked it I could re-muster to another trade. As a six week old employee of the RAF I requested to see the CO. This was granted and I had a very fair interview in which the CO said he sympathised with me but it was a medical decision which despite his rank he could not over rule. I was very sad as I was always wishing to fly. But after consideration I decided to volunteer for motorboat crew. I was now based at Ilfracombe towards the end of October 1941 as a UTMBC in a civilian household with three other UTMBCs which, are a small unit with a pinnace, a seaplane tender and motor boat and several dinghies. The base was at the end of what was previously the pier end of the harbour and it had a hill upon which was a chapel that had a small steeple which contained a light to indicate the harbour entrance. This was used as a classroom where we were instructed in the Morse code, signalling, knots, splicing and the rules of sea before we were posted to Calshot Motorboat Crew Training School. 31st of January 1942 I was posted to the Motorboat Crew Training School which took us through the subjects that we were introduced to at Ilfracombe. Plus more boat handling including rowing a cutter. At the end of the course, if you did well you were promoted to AC1 and could, if possible you could choose to be posted to an area of your choice. I was promoted and requested to be posted to Dover and was lucky to get my choice. In March 1942 along with several other MBCs we arrived at Dover and some of us were allocated to Dover and some, including myself were passed on to Ramsgate which was also part of 27 ASR, with the base being a recon, being a public house. The Royal Oak. After a spell on the dumbarge with a tank of three thousand gallons of seventy three octane the previous airmen had not kept the bilges clear. Thus when he was transferring fuel to the mobile bowser he started the pump and the bilges burst into flame. Fortunately, a naval fire party were on duty and they managed to put the fire out. I had proved myself so I was made one of HSL 127’s crew. At that stage the skipper was pilot officer L P Flowers who whilst a corporal coxswain in charge of a seaplane tender during the evacuation of Dunkirk when he took part in rescuing troops later to become head of the RAF marine section. Group Captain L P Flowers MBE MM. We’re now in May and I, along with MBC Trivet would temporarily detach from our launches to assist in ferrying an RAF pinnace from the manufacturers on the Isle of Wight to Tiree in the Hebrides. We collected the pinnace and joined the Naval convoy to commence our journey which was an experience in itself. At Padstow in Cornwall myself and the other MBC were recalled to Dover to our own units. In August 1942 I attended the gunnery course at the school on the Isle of Man. And on the 1st of September 1942 I was made up to LAC. 7th of April until 17th of June 1943 I was on a coxswain’s course. A second coxswain at Corsewall Training School. On my return after my second course I was saddened to hear all of my crewmates and the crew of 127 had been posted overseas and a fresh crew had taken over 127. Later Flight Lieutenant D A Jones who took over HSL 127 after Pilot Officer Flowers had transferred to Dover on HSL 186 whose skipper had gone overseas with the former crew of 127. And 127 had an entirely new crew. It so happened that a Dover based launch HSL 178 arrived at Ramsgate whose second coxswain, a married man with a family was anxious to go on leave. I, big heartedly said I would take over his post before his leave was up. Unfortunately, 179, I beg your pardon 178 returned to Dover with me on board. Dover and Ramsgate were both part of 27 HSL unit. Was a little put out as Ramsgate was a smaller and more friendly town than Dover was. However, it was a blessing in disguise as in September I met and became friendly with a Wren who later became my wife. Once at Ramsgate I was allocated to the position of second coxswain on HSL 2549. Again, a happy ship. The skipper was a young and recently appointed skipper but the first coxswain was an educated and mature gentleman. On the 26th of September 1943 it was a hectic and busy day. The first coxswain was on leave and I was acting and first coxswain. There was a lot going on. As far as the invasion was concerned prior to that we had been very busy with a fair number of pickups. Including one on the 6th of June 1949 when five aircrew of a Stirling ditched off of Flushing and were “rescued” after a hazardous trip through minefields and a long proximity to the enemy coast for a long period. As described in the submission of the result in the awarding of the DSO on the 24th of February 1944 to Flight Lieutenant D A Jones, known as Jonah. Including, there was also a Halifax of 78 Squadron twelve miles off of Calais. And the search which carried the launch to within 2.5 miles off Calais as described in the submission of that which resulted in Jonah’s DSO. There was also, on the 20th of September two survivors of a Stirling of 149 Squadron, Sergeant Davies and Sergeant Fossleitner, three miles off of north west of Margate. Two other members of the crew were picked up by fishermen and three were lost. There was several other pickups in December ’42, January ’43. In fact, we were quite a busy and successful crew. Finally, we picked up Lieutenant Watner of the RNAF who we thought was dead but artificial respiration was applied and after a while there appeared to be a slight sign of life. On arrival at Ramsgate he was handed over to the Naval medical officer who continued respiration and gave an injection but sadly there was no hope. Just jumping forward several years. On the 3rd of March in 2016 I was honoured to be [pause] yes, invited to the unveiling of the Search and Rescue Triptych by the HRH, the Duke of York, KG on the 3rd of March at the Royal Air Force Club. An amazing instance has then dawned upon me that whilst talking to the Duke of York I mentioned about the pickup of the Stirling of 149 Squadron way back in June 1942. Little did I know but there was a person who was representing his RAF helicopter who happened to be representing his squadron. And whilst we were having lunch he came up to me and said, ‘I couldn’t but hear, overheard that when you were speaking to the Duke of York you mentioned about a Stirling. Was it by any chance off of Flushing?’ A gentleman came up. A gentleman called Paul Martin introduced himself and said, ‘I overheard you speaking to the Duke of York and you mentioned about a Stirling aircraft that ditched off of Jutland.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Well, one of those crew was my father.’ Now, this gentleman who was born in 1949 I realised suddenly that he wouldn’t have been here had we not picked up and his father lasted to the end of the war. And Martin wouldn’t have been there. So, I must admit I since, since that day I was amazed to hear from Paul that he was not born until 1949. With the final of the [pause] with the war over in Europe we were then operating out of Ostend but we were recalled to the UK for redistribution. And it so happened that I got transferred to a Hants and Dorset. That’s known as a double decker launch that was on its way to Norway. We travelled up to Aberdeen and then across to Norway finishing up at a little fishing village outside, outside Stavanger called Tananger. It was a very quiet little place and our skipper obviously realised that there wasn’t a lot of air sea rescue business going on and he volunteered to take over a German boat, and also a flight lieutenant who was the expert in radar. And he was interested in visiting all of the German bases where they had radar equipment. Which, if it was of interest to him would be unbolted and transferred with the help of the Germans plus the two SOS SAS army gentlemen who loaned us their jeep to transfer these bits of radar that he thought would be of interest. Plus the ammunition which we later dropped overboard in the deep fjords. But it was quite interesting visiting these places. And also the German ninety metre launch which was entirely different from our fast nippy HSLs but a good sturdy boat to take a jeep on its foredeck. A load of unexpired ammunition including packets and cartons full of explosives which we also dumped in the fjords. On one of these trips we had a radio message come over and the radio operations — I think I’ve got — the radio operator passed a note to the skipper who promptly takes his, my hat off, sticks his hat and says, ‘Well, congratulations we’re splicing the main brakes as you are, you have just become a father,’ and my son. Back in Hemel Hempstead and then to Tring had just produced my first child. The years rolled by. I was demobbed way back in 1946 and I then took up civilian work back at Bishopsgate Goods Station in 1946. However, in reaching the time old age of ninety four I was put forward September 19 — I beg your pardon the 1st of September 2016 I have, I received a letter from the French Embassy in London informing me that I had been appointed to the rank of chevalier in the Order National de la Legion d’honneur. I was a bit amazed at this because the ceremony to be held on the 11th of November 2016 at the French Residence. I feel that I must say at this level that I’m most honoured to have been appointed to the rank of chevalier in the Order National de la Legion d’honneur and feel that the award is for the many of my colleagues in the Marine Craft Section of the Royal Air Force who are no longer with us. Some of whom have a greater reason than I for being selected for such honour.
[recording paused]
FS: In particular flying officer P C Clapham. My mate Phil, who unfortunately never came back and lost his life on the 11th of November 1944 whilst on a raid that nobody knew why their aircraft never survived. But I certainly am one of the lucky ones. And as I have said there’s far more people who are no longer with us who have a such honour. Everything isn’t it?


Denise Boneham, “Interview with Frank Charles Standen,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 17, 2024,

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