Interview with Rex Statham


Interview with Rex Statham


Rex Statham was born in Luton. His father died in a motorbike accident when he was very young. Although Rex had been very keen to join the Navy he volunteered for the RAF as a flight mechanic. When he realised that many trained mechanics were being posted overseas he decided to remuster as a flight engineer. He flew operations with 158 Squadron from RAF Lissett. On one occasion a corkscrewing Lancaster hit their aircraft. Although badly damaged, the crew managed to return and crash land RAF Woodbridge.



Temporal Coverage




00:52:48 audio recording


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AM: Well right. So, first of all we’re here in Luton and it’s Monday the 27th of June 2016. This is Annie Moody for the International Bomber Command Centre. I’ve also got Gary Rushbrook with me and we’re talking today to Rex Statham.
RS: That’s right.
AM: So, I’ll tell you what, before we start can you just tell me what your date of birth was Rex?
RS: Yeah. The 25th of January 1924.
AM: 1924.
RS: Yeah.
AM: Right. And where were you born?
RS: In Luton.
AM: You were, you were born in Luton.
RS: Yeah. I think it was 37 Princess Street. I think it was. I’m not quite sure the number. I can’t remember it.
AM: Yeah.
RS: I didn’t see it.
AM: What’s that?
RS: We moved across the road after that.
AM: Right. What did your parents —
RS: When my dad died.
AM: I was going to say what did your parents do? So, what was your early life like?
RS: Well, my father got killed. We moved across the road. I think it was 37 to fifty —no it wouldn’t be 37 but we moved up to 51. That’s where I, that’s where I was born. 51 Princess Street.
AM: And, and then? So, what happened to your dad? What sort of work did he do?
RS: Well, he was in the hat trade. He was in the hat trade. He used to sell ribbons and all that sort of thing.
AM: Yeah.
RS: I don’t know, I don’t know quite what, what, a shop or whatever or if he travelled for somebody.
AM: Yeah.
RS: I’m not quite sure about that.
AM: What about brothers and sisters? How many of you were there?
RS: Never, never had any brothers and sisters.
AM: So just you and you were an only child.
RS: Yeah.
AM: And you said your dad died. So how old were you then?
RS: Yeah. He died. He got, he got knocked off his motorbike. And he died after that.
AM: How old were you then Rex? ‘ish?
RS: Oh crikey. I can’t quite remember. I don’t really know. I was only small. I can only just remember him.
AM: Yeah.
RS: I can’t remember. Probably about five or six. Maybe. Maybe not quite as old as that.
AM: So, so young.
RS: Yeah.
AM: So, what, what was your life like then then with your mum?
RS: Well, when, when he died we moved. After a time we moved across the road. Yeah. It must have been because, earlier because I can remember I wasn’t at school. We moved across the road to live with my grandmother and grandfather. They had a hat factory across the road. We moved into that. In to their place with them.
AM: Yeah. Because we’re talking pre-war so pre-national insurance.
RS: Oh crumbs, yes. Yeah.
AM: Or widow’s pension.
RS: Oh yes. Yeah.
AM: Or anything like that.
RS: Yeah. I don’t think she ever got that.
AM: No.
RS: Yeah. That was that. Moved across the road and I know that, I know that I got, they had to go round and find some place that would let me go, take me. Like a school. Because I wasn’t old enough to go to school because apparently I nearly got run over by a lorry and they saw it and they got me in at some, it was a kiddie’s, a little kiddie’s school. You know. There was no such things as nursery schools in them days. It was a little school.
AM: Yeah.
RS: York House in Luton it was. I can remember that.
AM: So, what were school days like? Did you enjoy school?
RS: Not really. Well, I did and I didn’t. I weren’t a lover of school. I weren’t a lover of it. Definitely not a lover of it. Now, I went to, I went to Wallace Street School in Luton which was an ordinary council school you know. And then I went to the Modern School. I passed the exam to get in the Modern School and I went there. And then after that I went up to a place called Clarks College in London. It was [pause] and then the war broke out. I didn’t, you know —
AM: What, what were you going to do at Clarks College though?
RS: Well, it was just an educational place, you know. I really wanted to go in the Navy. That’s what I wanted to go in. I was absolutely barmy on going in that. I wanted to be an engine room officer artificer apprentice. That’s what I wanted to be but I never got there.
AM: So, what happened? Why the RAF then? How did all that come about?
RS: Well, it, it was during the war. War came along and they was after — and I, well I was working at Hayward Tylers. I was apprenticed at Hayward Tyler’s in Luton. And, I don’t know, everybody else was joining up and all that. And I just wanted to go and join up. So, I went and joined up as ground crew you see.
AM: Why the RAF though after you’d been so mad on the Navy?
RS: I don’t know. I don’t know really, why. And I don’t know. But —
AM: Maybe your mates were joining the RAF.
RS: Yeah. The boy who lived next door was in the RAF. And yeah. I joined up. I joined up as a flight mechanic. And —
AM: Where did you go to join up? Can you remember what, what —
RS: Yeah. Edgeware.
AM: What was the process?
RS: I joined up at the Drill Hall in Edgeware. I had to go up to Edgeware to join up. I had my medical up there and all the lot and then when I got called up, which was quite a long time after I had my medical and that I went, I went to Cardington. And from Cardington I went to Yarmouth on the foot bashing course. And the assault course which we went on. Used to go up and down the [pause] climb up and down the, you know, the funfair.
AM: In Yarmouth.
RS: A lot of nonsense really.
AM: Great Yarmouth.
RS: Great Yarmouth. Yeah.
AM: So, where you staying then? Where were you all in digs?
RS: Oh, we was all in civvy digs. I was in a house in Wellesley Road. I remember that. And the guard room was next door. That was another house. The guard room was the house next door. Yeah. That’s, that was, I remember doing my square bashing. I quite enjoyed that.
AM: Yeah.
RS: And —
GR: Did you know what you was going to be then? Did you know? Had you —
RS: Yeah. I knew I was going, I knew I was going in for, to be a flight mechanic but —
GR: So, as ground crew.
RS: You had to. Everybody had to that.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Initiation course. Initial course. You know.
Other: Could you pass me my handbag. There it is.
[recording paused]
RS: Yeah. I did that. And —
AM: So this is ground crew isn’t it?
RS: Yeah.
AM: So, you joined up.
RS: I joined up as ground crew. You see.
AM: You joined up to be ground crew.
RS: You see. And when, when we left Yarmouth I went to Cosford which was a flight mechanics course.
GR: Right.
RS: And it suddenly struck me that there was people was, as soon as they was passing as flight mechanics they was going overseas. I thought I’m not bloody going to go overseas. I didn’t want to go overseas. So they, they was recruiting for flight engineers. So, I went and re-mustered as a flight engineer.
AM: When you say you re-mustered what was the process then to do that?
RS: Well, it —
AM: You just told them.
RS: Well, actually nothing. You just asked if you could go and they give you an aircrew medical which was a farce really. He just came up and see if you was deaf and whispered in your ear. And I can remember him saying, ‘jam tart’ in my ear. Bloody stupid really. And then we went on this course which was, more or less, pretty much a fitters course but included air frames and that. We went on to that. So I passed out from that as a sergeant and I went from there. That was in Christmas 1943 that was. I went up to, come home, went home, come home for Christmas. And after Christmas I went up to Rufforth near York.
GR: Yeah.
RS: And we, we did our, you know — flying training up there. So, I’d never, never been an aeroplane before. We did our flying training and we was just about to go and be posted to a squadron and the pilot, which was a sergeant —
GR: Had you crewed, obviously you’d crewed up by then.
RS: We’d crewed up. Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
RS: We’d crewed up. He said, ‘I don’t want to fly bombers. I want to go on to Transport Command.’ That left us, we was messing about then for about three months doing nothing.
AM: How had you crewed up then?
RS: How was we crewed up? Well, it’s rather funny because they pushed us all in this big hut with all, there was officers and God knows what, all in this hut and they pushed us all in there. You just walked around and anybody you thought you fancied you just —it was a farce really. And we just crewed up. I crewed up with Spivey, you remember John, err Maurice Spivey.
AM: Maurice Spivey.
RS: Yeah. He was in it.
AM: Who chose? Who chose who? Did you choose him or —
RS: Well, no. You just went. You just went and spoke to them and said, ‘Did you want a flight engineer?’ And they sort of said, ‘Yes,’ so that was it. If you liked them.
GR: Yeah.
RS: If they was alright. Where [pause] and we had a, we got a pilot. He was a squadron leader the pilot was. No, a flight lieutenant. Sorry. A Flight Lieutenant Parry it was. And as soon as we got to — we, we passed out eventually after about another — fair while we passed out again. And we went to Lissett. And —
GR: So, this was when you’d been given a squadron.
RS: Yeah. Went to Lissett.
GR: With a new pilot.
RS: Yeah. Flight Lieutenant Parry.
GR: Yeah.
RS: And he, we got on to Lissett and about the second day we got on to Lissett the flight commander of C Flight which we were put in he, he crashed in Bridlington Bay and all the crew got killed. And they made, made Tom Parry up to a squadron leader. And we was the flight commander’s crew. Well, of course that was, that was heavenly because —
GR: So you hadn’t flown any operations yet.
RS: No.
GR: But straightaway you’re —
RS: No. Straightaway. But that was heavenly because you didn’t, you didn’t go on every night. One every night. You had spaces. Long spaces between them, see.
AM: What was your first operation to? Can you remember?
RS: Yes. I can remember. A place called Ferme D’Urville. It was on the night of D-Day.
GR: 5th of June.
RS: Yeah. In fact, when I, when I had to get the information to get that medal I wrote all those French trips out.
GR: Yeah.
RS: I’ve got it in the back room.
AM: Yeah.
GR: So the start of your operations.
RS: Yeah. Do you want to have a look?
AM: We’ll have a look afterwards.
GR: Yeah.
GR: Well we’ll just pause it for a second and we can.
AM: Oh. Alright.
[recording paused]
GR: So your first operation. On the —
RS: 5th of —
GR: 1st of June actually.
RS: I don’t know what that’s —
GR: Yeah. The first of June was to Ferme D’Urville.
RS: It was a gun sight. I remember that.
GR: What was it like though when you were first, when you were in the ops room or you were told — ?
RS: Well, it, it was alright. You didn’t think much about it, you see. The first one. You was a bit thrilled to get on it weren’t you? And it was right on the, right on the Pas de Calais area and it was only about, it was just like, shall we say about, well it was, it was as if the guns were firing over us.
GR: Yeah.
RS: They had to fire over the sea. We didn’t go in, you know we just —
GR: You hardly went over French territory. You just —
RS: Yeah. Only went over it. But then the next one we went on was a bit different. Went to Trappes.
GR: Trappes.
RS: Trappes.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Yeah. We lost five aircraft on that.
GR: What, 158 Squadron lost five?
RS: Yeah. It was, I think, I think that was quite a few aircraft lost on that. We went, we went after the marshalling yards to stop the Germans bringing the reinforcements in.
GR: Reinforcements up. Yeah.
RS: Yeah.
GR: And did anything happen to you on that raid?
RS: No.
GR: No.
RS: No.
GR: So even though you lost aircraft.
RS: We just lost aircraft. Yeah.
GR: Yeah. You were alright.
RS: Yeah. That was the first time I saw the Eiffel tower from up above.
GR: Not bombing it [laughs]
RS: No [laughs] We weren’t bombing it. No. We dropped, we went, it was a railway yard just outside Paris.
GR: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. That was quite a famous target that was. Yeah.
RS: Trappes. Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
AM: What was it like then actually, actually seeing —
RS: What the Eiffel Tower?
AM: No. The railway yards. Actually seeing them and —
RS: I couldn’t see them because I was engaged in other things.
GR: Yeah.
AM: Right.
RS: I couldn’t, I was, I didn’t see most of the targets.
AM: What were you actually doing then?
RS: Well, I was, the pilot was like sitting in front of me and I was, there was this, like this partition and they, all my dials was at the back on an armour plated thing. And I was in there you know and I’ll tell you I was sitting in there but I had to do other things. We used to, we had Window. I don’t know if you know what Window was.
GR: Yes. Yeah.
RS: It was those metal strips. And it was my job to put them out and they went down the flare chute.
RS: Because that was to jam the German radar.
RS: That’s right.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
RS: But I, what I did most of the time was taking these things out the packet and chucking them down the chute.
GR: Yeah. Did you have to do that on every trip?
RS: Yeah.
GR: So they dropped Window on every trip
RS: Yeah. Dropped Window on every trip.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Yeah.
GR: Now, looking at your list on the 6th of June which was actually D-Day you did two operations.
RS: Yeah. We did one in, one at night. One in the early morning and one at night.
GR: Right.
RS: Yeah.
GR: What was that like? Did you actually see the invasion fleet? Did you?
RS: Yeah. Yes. We saw, I saw the invasion fleet. Yeah. That was, it was about forty mile long.
GR: Yeah.
RS: It was massive. You know.
GR: As though the English Channel was full.
RS: Yeah. In the English Channel. Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Yeah. I saw that.
GR: And how did the raids go then? Was it, obviously the daylight one would have been your first daylight raid.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. The first daylight. Well —
GR: Was that different? Well, obviously it’s different but —
RS: It was. Yeah. It was, it was quite, you got quite enthusiastic about it really because you’d never done any. You’d never done it before. You know it’s the first one.
GR: Yeah.
RS: When you looked out. Yeah. That was [unclear] I remember that.
AM: What was that like then seeing all that invasion fleet there?
RS: Well, it was, it was quite something. You know, you had a job to take it all in if you know what I mean. There was so much of it and we were, we weren’t all that high.
GR: No.
RS: Because we wanted to get, to make sure to get this gun emplacement. I think we did get it. I don’t know. But they never sent back again so I presume we got it. It’s, it was quite, seeing all these vessels in the Channel was quite, quite something.
GR: Because obviously you knew the invasion was on.
RS: Yeah. You could see these merchant ships.
GR: Yeah.
RS: And then you saw the war ships on the side of them. It was quite, it was quite interesting really.
GR: Yeah.
AM: Could you actually see the men on the beaches?
RS: No. No. No. Couldn’t see that. I don’t think there was anybody on the beaches at that time.
GR: Yeah. The first one, the, your first raid, yeah on the Maisy gun emplacements was, yeah, dark.
RS: Dark.
GR: The daylight was to Chateaudun.
RS: Chateaudun. Yeah.
GR: In the daylight. Yeah.
RS: When, when we went to [pause] where was it? I forget where it was now. We went with Wing Commander Dobson. And he was a pilot. I don’t know if I’ve got it on there. I can remember that. And we was quite low and it was when we, we went to Caen.
GR: Yeah.
RS: And unfortunately they had crossed the river before we got there and we didn’t know our blokes had crossed the river and we dropped the lot. And it went on our blokes as well. It was a bit, it was a bit —
GR: Yes. That was the Canadians wasn’t it?
RS: Yeah.
GR: Mainly.
RS: That’s right. It was.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. When we, when we sort of turned in a circle I looked out. I looked out of the side window and we was, well we was low enough to spot this German ack ack gun in a field. Saw that.
GR: They were, they were shooting up at you.
RS: They weren’t shooting at us. They was shooting up but not us.
GR: Yeah.
RS: At us. But they were shooting up there.
GR: And looking at it you did quite a few operations in support of the Normandy landings.
RS: Oh yes. Yeah.
GR: All the way through to August. Yeah.
RS: That’s right. Yeah. When we went, we used to go after, the Germans had their fighter ‘dromes around there. We used to go and try and bomb the fighter ‘dromes at night.
GR: Yeah.
RS: It was, it was quite, quite good.
GR: And after the Normandy campaign you obviously moved on to —
RS: Yeah.
GR: The industrial area in Germany.
RS: Yeah. We went, we went on to those flying bomb sites which was sort of a waste of time really.
AM: Why was that?
RS: Well, they was only like ramps and that and so small you had difficulty in hitting them. And the V-2 sites, they moved them about. So you —
GR: Yes.
RS: You just dropped where you thought, you know. We were told where to go but —
GR: Yes. The V-1 sites.
RS: Yeah.
GR: Were like the proverbial needle in a haystack.
RS: Yeah.
GR: You know. A small ramp in a —
RS: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
GR: Reasonably large area.
RS: And they could move them about.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Yeah. Did that.
GR: And on the operations across to Germany any near misses? Any close calls?
RS: Oh Christ, yes. Yes. Frightened me to death one night. We was going to Hanover. We got to Hanover. We was on the bombing run and a German fighter attacked a Lancaster which did a corkscrew and came up underneath us. There was a hell of a bang and apparently, I didn’t see him but the gunner said they went down because it must have squashed them. And we hadn’t got rid of the bombs. And what, I can’t quite remember, that Lancaster so Stan said was, went down. That, that went down, you know. That must have gone down and crashed. And crashed.
GR: He’d come up underneath the Halifax.
RS: It come up underneath. Like that.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Right underneath our bomb bay.
GR: Smacked into you. Yeah.
RS: And what happened then? There was, oh, there was another bang and the starboard inner engine went flying up in the air. Come up, bolts sheared off and engine went up.
GR: So you lost an engine.
RS: Yeah. Lost an engine. Yeah. Completely lost it. And we, I turned off, I shut off the fuel cock for the —
GR: Yeah.
RS: For the starboard inner. And we, we couldn’t open the bomb doors. Anyway, I pumped the bomb doors and pumped the bomb doors and where the, what do you call it switch, where the handle because the engine driven pump which opened the bomb doors had gone with the starboard engine.
GR: God.
RS: That was, that was driven off the starboard inner engine. And —
GR: Was the starboard outer still alright?
RS: Yeah. That was alright.
GR: That was still going.
RS: That was still going. And I managed to get the bomb doors open and we let the bomb, we dropped the bombs and, but when I went to check we still got the, I think, I think it was the four thousand pounder on there I think and that was still hanging up. And we were trying like hell to get rid of this and we couldn’t get rid of it. Anyway, we came back. We got back over the coast and we was going to land at Woodbridge but we weren’t, I was with this bloke. A pilot. McLennan. He wouldn’t. He said, ‘If you can’t get rid of that bomb you’ll have to jump out.’ Anyway, we, we managed to get rid of this bomb just as we almost got to Woodbridge, on the coast and it went. And we crashed it. We went to get the undercarriage down and of course one wheel come down. The other one didn’t and we crashed in the trees at Woodbridge. And that’s, that was how Maurice Spivey, he broke his fingers.
GR: Yeah. Maurice Spivey being obviously being obviously another member of the crew.
RS: Maurice was the wireless operator.
GR: Yeah. Maurice. Yeah.
RS: Somehow, I don’t know. He lost his fingers. He never flew again. He didn’t.
GR: Right. And that was because you were obviously coming in to land with just the one wheel.
RS: Yeah. No. He — I don’t know.
GR: But then you, you literally crash landed.
RS: Yeah. We crash landed. Yeah. Of course. It tipped over didn’t it? And we went into the woods there. Went into this big wood. I don’t know quite how Maurice got rif, got his fingers but I know he had them and then he had to, they cut them off in the hospital. I don’t know. I think he got frostbite as well because we’d got no, all the glass had gone out all one side of the kite you know. All one side of our Halifax. Where it was damaged with this bloody Lancaster.
GR: Yeah.
AM: What about the rest of the crew? When that damage happened.
RS: Well the mid-upper gunner was alright. The rear gunner was alright. But there was all the papers, you know. The maps and of course it was all like a shower of paper inside so it all blew back. Pat was alright and Geoff was alright. Did you know, did you know Geoff [Heatman?] and Pat [Carroll?]
GR: No, I didn’t. No.
RS: Didn’t you?
GR: I knew Maurice Spivey, but —
RS: Yeah. They were alright.
AM: You know you said you finally got rid of the bomb just before Woodbridge.
RS: Yeah.
AM: So you were over, over the Channel by now and in —
RS: Well, we was at the North Sea. Not far from —
AM: Right. So you dropped it in the sea.
RS: Not far from Woodbridge. We dropped it in the sea. Yeah. Pat managed to, I don’t know quite, I, I was working and trying, you know trying the bomb release. This screw. The big butterfly screw and I couldn’t do it and he happened to. Just was lucky and twisted it.
AM: Yeah.
RS: He got down and had a go twisted it and it just dropped.
GR: It was a good job because if you’d have crash landed with that on board.
RS: Well, we wouldn’t.
GR: No.
RS: We wouldn’t have crash landed.
GR: You would have jumped out. Yeah.
RS: We would have jumped out with our parachute.
GR: Did the whole crew, I mean obviously Maurice was injured. Did the rest of the crew get out all right?
RS: Oh yeah.
GR: Yeah.
RS: We all got out. We’d got, we’d got a spare gunner that night. A bloke who hadn’t, this was his first trip. A rear gunner. I can’t think what his name was now. And —
GR: That filled him with confidence then.
RS: Yeah. It filled him with confidence. He refused to fly again.
GR: Oh right.
RS: And the last time I saw him he was stripped and working in the cookhouse at Melbourne. Oh God, it was quite a, quite a do that night.
GR: Obviously. Yeah.
AM: Sounds it.
GR: But your crew went back flying.
RS: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
RS: We had a new rear, another rear gunner because Arthur had, Arthur went sick.
GR: Yeah. So a new aircraft.
RS: Oh yeah, we had a new aircraft.
GR: New rear gunner. Yeah. Yeah.
RS: Oh yeah. That one wasn’t any good. That was a write off.
GR: Yeah.
RS: That was a right off. Yeah.
GR: And you carried on? Did you carry on to do, was it thirty operations?
RS: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Yeah.
GR: Did a full tour.
RS: Yeah.
GR: When did your tour finish?
RS: Well, I’ll tell you. This was rather funny. I went. I had two to do and I went, I went to, I got posted to Melbourne to do the 10 Squadron, to do the last two. And I did one and then the last one I did was the last raid of the war. That was on a place called Wangerooge.
GR: That’s right. Yeah.
RS: I remember that.
GR: So why did —
RS: That was —
GR: Sorry. Why? If you’d done twenty eight operations at Lissett with 158.
RS: Yeah.
GR: Had the rest of the crew done twenty eight or had they done thirty for some reason?
RS: Well, some had done more because you see when, when you’re a flight commander’s crew you don’t, what can I say? They don’t do as many as how can I put it. They do. Tom Parry only had twenty to do because he’d done a tour before. So, that left us with ten anyway. And how can I put it? If, if all the crew, if all the crews, their crews were, you know healthy and that. You was just, you just didn’t have anything to do.
GR: No.
RS: And then they started messing about with these things, didn’t they?
GR: Yes.
RS: And saying that French trips would only, we’d got about three to one German and all that messing about with. But I was going to say on that last raid on Wangerooge I happened to look up, up and there was a Free French bloody Halifax above us and he dropped his bombs and it went and his big bombs went between our wing and the tail plane.
GR: Close call then.
RS: Close call that was.
GR: On the last raid.
RS: Yeah.
GR: Just going back a little bit. How did you feel about, obviously you’d been at 158 Lissett and then oh two more operations to go. Can I fly with another crew at 158? No. You can go to 10 Squadron.
RS: That’s right. Yeah.
GR: Melbourne.
RS: Go to 10 Squadron at Melbourne. Yeah.
GR: On your own.
RS: Yeah.
GR: None of the other crew went with you.
RS: No. They’d all gone. They’d all gone.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Stan Hibbert he, he went. He come back from leave to do his last few.
GR: Yeah.
RS: See. I was on leave when he, Stan finished. You see, we, we when Tom Parry went it was like they, like they took the pilot away from you.
GR: Yeah.
RS: You were spare.
GR: Yeah.
RS: You didn’t, you know.
GR: It just seems unfair to send you to a complete other squadron.
RS: It is. Well —
GR: Just to do two ops.
RS: Well they did. I did my last two.
AM: Can I ask you about, you know when you were talking when you just said they started messing about and France only counted — you had to do three France’s for one German.
RS: Yeah. They did. They started messing about.
AM: When did they start doing that then?
GR: After D-Day.
RS: It was, yeah. Way after D-Day when they started saying that they thought the French trips was easy. Well they weren’t. They were, they were just as hard as what the German trips were but they thought that, the powers that be thought it was a doddle and it wasn’t. That’s what they said.
AM: So they only counted it as a half an operation.
RS: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
AM: Right.
RS: That was the sort of things they did. They, they didn’t play fair with us in a way because what they used to say was Scarecrows when you used to see a lot of fire going up in front of you or on the side of you, you know. They said it was like, what can I say, like a flare which was put up and burst to look like a, you know like an aircraft or something. The Germans put it up. But it wasn’t. It was our blokes being shot down. It was. They weren’t fair. They weren’t fair to you really. We did our bit but some they, they weren’t all that —
AM: Why do you think they did that?
RS: Well, to stop people being frightened. It’s a bit harrowing when you, when you see an aircraft suddenly burst in front of you. Burst in to flame in front of you.
AM: I was going to say I can imagine but I can’t actually.
RS: It is. It’s a bit harrowing.
AM: Yeah.
RS: So they said it was, it was Scarecrows. What the Germans put up to frighten you.
AM: Yeah.
RS: And it bloody wasn’t. It was some of our kites going down.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Amazing really.
AM: So what, after that then, after the last operation, what happened then? So you’re at Melbourne then. Not at Lissett.
RS: Oh what happened then. Oh, that was great. I got sent home for three months. Sent home. Used to get my money through the post. Used to get your wages through the post every fortnight. It was great. And then, oh it, life became quite, quite pleasant. It was, I can’t think [pause] yeah what happened then was we, we was, I had to go back to Lissett for a re-assessment board. And they said, I said, ‘I don’t want to become a, to go back as a flight mechanic or anything like that. I don’t want to do that.’ So, anyway I didn’t hear any more. I got sent back home. The next thing I know I had to go down to Chivenor in North Devon. And I went back down there and we was there for about a fortnight and I got, I got posted up to Stranraer and, and I was on a fitter marines course which was, which when I, when I saw what it was I was quite enthusiastic. We was on these air sea launches. Air sea rescue launches. It was great. It was. And I was a fitter on these air sea rescue launches. And I went for, did the course. We did the course and I got posted up to Invergordon. And oh, it was great up there it was. It was lovely. And then what happened? I can tell you what happened. What was good. We had to [pause] — Alness, it was Alness, it was a Flying Boat Station which was further down, down Loch Ryan. And [pause] that, we had, they closed down and they got refuellers there which were boats filled with petrol and they used to refuel the Sunderlands. And we had to take these, these refuelers down to Dumbarton. We used to go to tow them down. Tow one down on the side of it, you know, lash it to the side of it, go through the Caledonian Canal right up to Dumbarton and come back again. That was a fortnight’s trip that was. But then, then I was engaged in a rather, an effort which I never did find out what, if it was any good to them. They filled a Sunderland up. That was before they took the refuellers away. They fuelled this Sunderland up and took it out in to the centre of the Loch and opened the taps and cocks, let the petrol out and I sat there and shot a verey light picture at it and set it on fire. And then we had to put it out. It was, we, we got these pumps and a water jet on us. Oh, it was.
AM: Why?
GR: Practice.
RS: Practice. What good it did I don’t know. What good it did, Lord knows. I don’t.
AM: I bet that was exciting though.
RS: It was. It was quite good. It was quite good. It was quite good. It’s, it was a bit dangerous and one time when they put the, they got the, put the boat out, our launch right up under the wing of the Sunderland. It could have blown up but it didn’t. But it wasn’t full up of petrol. Just enough to set it on fire and make a — because it was all around the water and everything. We used to spray, spray the water and get, put the fire out on the water. It was quite good. Quite interesting.
AM: And this, has the war finished by this point?
GR: Yes.
RS: Oh yeah. Yeah.
AM: So, yeah.
RS: It had finished yeah.
AM: So why are they doing all this if the war’s finished?
RS: Well, I suppose, I suppose it was for, what can I say? Well, I suppose they were still Sunderland Flying Boats about.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Not where we was anymore because they took them all away after that. But they was down at Calshot and at Pembroke Dock and all around there. I mean, if they had a crash and that the things we did could have been useful for them.
AM: Right. So it was —
RS: But whether it was I don’t know.
AM: It was to learn.
RS: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
AM: Yeah. How long were you up there for then?
RS: I came out in 1947.
AM: So two years.
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
AM: After the war finished.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. It was quite good. I quite enjoyed it.
AM: And were you up there for the whole two years?
RS: Yeah. Come home. I was demobbed from there.
AM: Right.
RS: Invergordon. Went down to, overnight train down to [pause] oh near Liverpool. What was it? Padgate. And got demobbed from there.
GR: Yeah.
AM: Right. So what was demob? What was that like?
RS: Demob.
AM: What did you get?
RS: Well, a bit of a farce. What did I get? I got a suit. Which wasn’t, not really my style. And a shirt and a tie, I think it. And a pair of shoes. But it, you know, I think, I think I wore them for a little was while but then they went in the bin. Yeah.
AM: And what, what did you do after? Once you’d been demobbed?
RS: Once I’d been demobbed. Well, what did I do? Oh, I went to work at Brown and Greaves. I went in the offices in the purchase department at Brown and Greaves.
AM: What was that?
RS: Well, they used to make laundry machinery.
AM: Right.
RS: They used to make laundry presses and things, they used to make.
AM: So, I know that later on you became a chiropodist.
RS: Oh yes.
AM: How did all that happen?
RS: Well, I thought I wanted to do something else so I went to, you know decided I’d try something else so I went to one of these schools to learn to do it.
AM: Why chiropody though?
RS: Well, I don’t know really. I think it was because my late wife had a verruca and she went to this, she went to this chiropodist in Wellington Street in Luton and, you know I went with her and it looked an easy sort of job. And it was, what I thought, it was money for old rope. And so I applied to be one.
AM: So how long was the training for it?
RS: Oh, how long? About three or four months.
AM: Oh, only three or four months. Oh right, I thought it would be several —
RS: Maybe a bit longer than that at that time.
AM: Yeah.
RS: It’s two years or three years now because they turn to other things as well now.
AM: That’s, I thought that’s what I thought you were going to say.
RS: Yeah.
AM: So that’s it then. You did chiropody.
RS: Yeah.
AM: Right through.
RS: I did part one and part two of the course and that was it.
AM: Yeah.
RS: No. Part. It was a little bit longer than that. I think probably all together it was with a part one and two probably it was six or seven months.
AM: Yeah. When you talked about your late wife. What, what year did you get married?
RS: 1947.
AM: So after. After —
RS: Yeah.
AM: After demob.
RS: Yeah. No. Just before demob.
AM: Just before demob.
RS: What was I going to say? Yeah. She died. It was you who took the, I showed you a picture didn’t I?
GR: You did, yeah.
RS: And do you know I’ve lost them pictures and I can’t find them. I’ve got one on the computer. And I can’t find them.
GR: Of?
RS: Of me standing on her father’s houseboat.
GR: Right.
AM: Right.
RS: With her and her young sister.
AM: Yeah.
RS: You took, you took them off to snap didn’t you?
GR: Yeah. And there was the crew. I always remember the crew photo.
RS: Yeah.
GR: With you and Maurice in.
RS: Yeah. I’ve still got them.
RS: Yeah.
AM: You’ll find them.
RS: Yeah.
AM: And I know you went, you used to go to the 158 reunions at Lissett.
RS: Oh yeah. We used to go to that.
AM: Yeah.
RS: Yeah.
AM: Every year.
RS: Well yeah.
AM: Meet old friends.
RS: Until quite recently. Met my, it was about 1964 time. Yeah. We used to go there. Oh year after year. Used to stay in the Ransdale in Bridlington. We used to go up for a week. We used to. We used to have a week. Take a week off. Go up there for a week.
AM: Have you seen the Memorial? You know that, that —
GR: The 158 Memorial.
AM: The 158 Memorial.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Oh yeah. In the church. In the church yard. The cemetery.
AM: It’s near the, it’s, there’s another one that’s the men. A crew and it’s at the side of a field that’s got all the windmills in it.
RS: Yeah. I’ve seen that.
AM: You’ve seen that.
RS: Yeah.
AM: Yeah. Yeah. A good place to finish.
[recording paused]
RS: But at Bomber, at one of those Bomber Command signings a bloke named Ehrhardt or something.
GR: Rolf.
RS: Rolf Ehrhardt.
GR: Ebhart.
AM: Ebhart.
RS: Ebhart. Yeah. He was a German night fighter pilot.
GR: That’s right.
RS: On 110s and he said to me, ‘I might have met you.’ I said, ‘I’m bloody glad you didn’t.’
GR: That’s right. Well, I think we come and picked — me and Mick Cooper.
RS: That’s right. We went to a do, didn’t we?
GR: Yeah. And we picked you up.
RS: Yeah.
GR: And that’s it. You got talking to Rolf.
RS: Yeah. And he sent me a, he sent me a lovely picture of himself as a lieutenant in his uniform.
GR: Yes.
RS: And a picture of his aircraft.
GR: Because funny enough when I looked up your, in my little directory I’ve got.
RS: Yeah.
GR: Obviously I keep all the details. Addresses. And in brackets I’ve put, “Either friend or in contact with Rolf Ebhart,” under your name so I remembered.
RS: Well, he died didn’t he? He was a dentist.
GR: That’s right. Yeah.
RS: He died.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Oh, we used to correspond quite a lot.
GR: Yeah, see. Yeah.
RS: And he was going to come over and then all at once.
GR: Yeah.
AM: Gone.
RS: And now —
AM: And that’s it.
RS: I’m in touch with another one now.
AM: Can I, can I just ask then.
RS: Yeah.
AM: So, how does it, after all these years and you’re talking to the Luftwaffe guys.
RS: Yeah.
AM: What’s that like —
RS: Well, they’re no different to us. In fact, I have a lot of time for the German air force. A hell of a lot of time for them because towards the end of the war Adolf wanted to, they put a lot of these, now wait a minute, towards the end of the war Adolf wanted to shoot all the British airmen didn’t he?
GR: Yes.
RS: And the Gestapo was going to do it or the SS was going to do it and the German Air Force said no. They’re not going to. The German air force took them all into their bases.
GR: Yeah. Because apart from Stalag Luft III which was The Great Escape.
RS: Yeah.
GR: The Luftwaffe was still in control of all the —
RS: Air force.
RS: Prisoners.
GR: Prison camps. Yeah.
RS: Oh yeah. That was, I’ve got a lot of time for the German Air Force.
GR: Yeah. Because you met them at that first do at the Aces High when the Germans came across.
RS: That’s right.
GR: There was you. I can’t think who the others were but there were about, there were two or three Germans. Two Germans. Yeah.
RS: And the Germans have never shot, shot you know as they’ve come down in parachutes.
GR: German civilians during 1944.
[recording paused]
RS: My log got, I cut my finger, I had a big scar in my finger and it’s only just recently gone. On my little finger where I caught it on a jagged metal. And there was my, my log sheet and the folder it all got a lot of blood on it but I’ll tell you who’s got that. That’s gone to the air museum at [pause] oh where do you call it?
AM: Elvington.
RS: Elvington.
GR: Elvington.
RS: Yeah.
GR: Yes. The Halifax Museum. Yeah.
RS: Yeah.
[recording paused]
RS: Oh, he did give me a fright. He did. I really did. And he said, he said to me, ‘You can take this dog and walk it for me.’ And I had to take it on a lead and walk it around. Of course, I was, I was, you know, what can I say? They thought I was an idiot walking this bloody dog. That was —
AM: This was around the base you’re talking about here.
RS: Yeah. Around the base. Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
AM: So, just tell me again what happened on the plane? He was, he’s the group captain and he’s piloting it.
RS: Oh that was with an air test. That was an air test that was.
AM: Oh right.
GR: Yeah.
RS: That was an air test. What it was, the, the engine went, went wrong. It started spluttering so he decided, I said to him, ‘You want to feather it. Feather the propellers.’
GR: Yeah.
RS: You know what I mean?
GR: I do. Yeah.
RS: The propellers going like that they turn them into wind so the wind blew and it stopped the engine. He pushed the bloody button and instead of pushing it and letting it go he pushed it and held it down and of course it feathered and unfeathered, unfeathered and feathered, and all the oil went out the system. And of course it just flopped round and milled round. Ruined it.
AM: So what happened?
RS: Well, nothing happened because it was him. If that had happened to me I would have been, I would have been in the cart wouldn’t I? For ruining an engine. I’d have been put on a charge.
AM: And what was he? He was the group captain.
RS: He was the group captain.
AM: When I say what happened I mean how did you get back down?
RS: Well, we got another three.
AM: Oh right. So it was only one engine that he — right. I thought you meant all four.
RS: No. No.
AM: Did you, did you only ever fly in a Halifax? The Halifax. You never set foot in a Lancaster at any point.
RS: Yes. I did. I had a flight. It was either a Lancaster or a Lincoln. It was at Cranfield. I went to Cranfield with some air cadets once in Luton. From Luton. And I had a flight in either a Lancaster or, it was either a Lancaster or a Lincoln. I don’t know.
AM: So which did you prefer? That or the Halifax?
RS: Oh the Halifax.
AM: Why?
RS: There was more room in a Halifax to move about. With the Lancasters you had to crouch down and get through the spar, the main spar and all that. With a Halifax you just step over it. That’s why, that’s why I wanted a Halifax. Couldn’t get on with it.
AM: Yeah.
RS: Couldn’t get on with a Lancaster. Oh, I’ll tell you another thing. Group Captain Sawyer took me up in his Tiger Moth.
GR: Oh right.
RS: In Lissett. I was frightened to death. I was. Because he would perform, you know. Show off. He was quite a good bloke actually. He used to, he was, what can I say? Any of the aircrew blokes he, he always used to — sergeant, no matter what you was.
GR: He’d take you up and —
RS: Yeah. Yeah.
GR: He just wanted to show you how good a pilot he was.
RS: Yeah. Yeah, he did.
GR: Looping the loop and things like that.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. Well, our Wing Commander Dobson was alright as well. I can’t think, I can’t think who it was, I had a motorbike at the time and that was when there was a, there was a purge on for people using aircraft petrol in their motorbikes. It was a different colour. And when that purge had finished I had to go in to the adjutant’s office. The station adj, not the, not the aircrew adj, the station adj, and he got a load of petrol in there in bottles and he said, ‘Can you use that?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ He gave me all these bottles of petrol. It was all aircraft petrol so I used all that. Oh, it was, it was quite —
GR: Yeah.
RS: It was. The station adj and the aircrew adj was, well I don’t know. [unclear] him. The station adj, the station commander, the wing commander. They was all ever so good to you. They used to, well, talk to you.
GR: Good.
RS: And they weren’t like the army people — you mustn’t talk to the lower ranks, you know. They used to talk to you.
AM: Did you go out in to Bridlington? Did you have nights out?
RS: Oh Christ yes. I certainly did. Had lots of nights out and plenty of beer.
AM: And?
RS: Well, yeah, I had a few girlfriends but not a lot. You know, I used to go with a WAAF at one time. No, I didn’t, I didn’t have a lot of girls in Bridlington really.
AM: But you drank a lot.
RS: I used to have a few drinks.
AM: How did you get there from Lissett? On your motorbike?
RS: I used to go on the motorbike. Yeah. Or else you could go on a bus. The bus used to stop just outside the camp. I’ve been, I’ve been out there wanting to get a bus and Americans come along in a jeep and picked us up.
AM: Where were they based then?
RS: I don’t know.
AM: No.
RS: I don’t know. Oh, that, that was that was another story that was. The [pause] one night the weather was ever so bad down this, down this area and we had a load of American Air Force people. I think they was Liberators. I think that came up to, and we had, you know quite a few of them land at our aerodrome. They was there for about two days. And when they went, one, when they went to take off one, I don’t know what happened, it was a, I think his undercart collapsed or something. It didn’t crash but they couldn’t take off. They had to fetch it on a wagon and when they took, they’d got the Norden bombsight in it. And they took this Norden bombsight out and they, as the crew stood around they drew their pistols so as you couldn’t go around and get near it. Bloody idiot. That wasn’t, ours was a better bombsight than what theirs was. Yeah, I remember that. Because the people that came to us was based at Cheddington. Down here.
GR: Yeah.
RS: Yeah. Yeah, they all stood around this Norden bombsight with their pistols.
GR: Protecting it like the Wild West.
RS: Yeah. It was a load of rubbish anyway when you compared it with ours. Yeah. Right. Well that’s it.
GR: Right.



Gary Rushbrooke and Annie Moody, “Interview with Rex Statham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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