Interview with Bernard Sterry and Cecilia Pearson


Interview with Bernard Sterry and Cecilia Pearson


Bernard Sterry and Cecilia Pearson, both born in Hull, talk about their lives as evacuees during the war. Bernard, who was 10 years old when war broke out, was evacuated from Hull to North Lincolnshire until September 1944, when he came back home at the age of 15 and got a job as an apprentice electrician. Cecilia was six when war was declared. She was also evacuated to North Lincolnshire, to Winterton and other places; she remembers the day her father was killed. Bernard and Cecilia both remember seeing Hull burning from the distance. Bernard tells of his dad, a bus conductor, who volunteered for the RAF in 1940; after doing his initial training at Blackpool, he was sent to RAF St Athan to become an engine fitter; he was then shot down by a German aircraft after a training exercise on a Stirling. Bernard later found out that the aircraft that had shot down his father, was in turn shot down shortly afterwards by a Mosquito over the North Sea. Among the various episodes, Bernard witnessed in early 1945, the bombing of a cinema in Hull and the people killed were the last civilian casualties of World War Two in Britain to be caused by enemy aircraft.




Temporal Coverage





00:31:19 audio recording


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IL: Uh Ian locker uh interviewing Bernard Sterry and Cecilia Pearson at Cecilia’s home in Walkington near Beverley, East Yorkshire. Bernard, I understand you're starting. Tell us about your early life then with your father in Hull.
BS: Well, we lived next door to a school, so I went to that school, but we moved from there when I was about seven, I think eight
IL: [unclear]
BS. We moved a bit further out of town uh, up Beverley Road and we got some bombs there and we had to move out of that
IL: Right. Some bombs!
BS: Yeah
IL: When, so when was that?
BS: Oh, when the war started, yeah
IL: Right. So how old were you when the war started?
BS: Ten
CP: Ten
IL: Right
BS: So uh, we uh, we moved to Adderbury Grove after we got bombed out of uh Epworth street and we stayed there until that, well I stayed there until I got married and you probably did and uh
CP: Well other then being evacuated
BS: Right yes, was evacuated. War, I heard the war being declared on the radio or wireless as it was then on the Sunday the third of September. On the fourth of September the three of us, because we had another sister, they went to an aunt of my mothers, who brought her up and I went to a cousin of my mothers in a place called Winterton, over in Lincolnshire
IL: Right okay
BS: You probably it
IL: Yes, I do
BS: Yeah and I went round about four different places before I finally got settled with a family at Roxby which is about another couple of miles further out, nearer to Scunthorpe. I went to school there for a little while until what, when I was 11 I think and I went to Winterton School and uh when I was 14 uh, my mother saw the headmaster and convinced him that I had to stay on another year because she was in the ambulance service and she was working 24 hours a day and then 24 hours off and then so she [unclear] couldn't do with me at home, she couldn't look after me so I was there until uh the august in 1944, that would be, I think yes and then I came home and I got a job as an apprentice electrician so I stayed there
BS: Who’s that lot?
CP: You!
BS: Me?
IL: Found a newspaper cutting of Bernard being commonly fed at Winterton School
BS: That’ll be me there with the glasses on, on that side
IL: So you were away, so you were evacuated from Hull for the whole war?
CP: Yeah
BS: No, until
CP: No, [unclear]
BS: September ‘44
IL: Right
BS: When I came home, I was 15 to that time and I came home and got a job as an apprentice electrician
IL: Right. So, did you see any, did, could you look across the water and see any of the bombing of Hull?
BS: Oh yeah, it was light up like a Christmas tree and you see the bombers in the searchlights as they're coming over there's a bit of a direct line it was known [unclear] about eighteen, twenty miles I think but we, I used to stand outside watching. You could see the searchlights pick up on the aircraft and [mimics anti-aircraft fire] you could hear the guns going but uh I don't know, what else
IL: No. Was Scunthorpe bombed?
BS: Oh, they managed to, they managed to get a [unclear] down near Lysaght Steel Works and they killed a donkey in a field and that was it
IL: Right
BS: So, they should know where Scunthorpe was because they built the steel works [unclear]
IL: Right [laughs]. So what about you Cecilia, where you?
CP: I was born in Blundell Street, the same as Bernard next door to the school and Epworth Street, Adderbury Grove but I, I can remember that night that we were all outside because dad had picked me up when the war was announced we were outside in Epworth Street, weren't we? Yeah
IL: Right
CP: And then from there I was six, just six and then I went to Winterton as Bernard said and I was moved about nine times in about six years
IL: So were you moved around members of the family or were these
CP: No
IL: Was this, just strangers?
CP: Yes, strangers. The first one was mum's aunt and then we moved to various strangers in Winterton, various places and then Stella and I were split up [unclear], wouldn’t she?
BS: She [unclear]
CP: And I went to Elsham there and I was there a couple of years I think and then from Elsham I went to Horkstow and was at school in Saxby,
IL: Right
CP: Yes, Saxby, but we could see Hull burning from the school windows. Uhm when dad got killed, the lady I was living with in Horkstow, uhm I was outside, and she just came outside and said your father's been killed and walked back in
BS: She was a bit cold, wasn't she?
CP: [unclear]
IL: So, how old were you then, how old were you then?
CP: When dad got killed, I was ten
IL: Right
CP: But I lived [unclear] in there at Winterton and there's a gentleman there and had a big store, didn't he? Mr Wilfred
BS: Yes
CP: Had the store and they, they were [unclear], he even walked from Winterton to Horkstow to bring me a present at Christmas. He was a bachelor wasn't he [unclear], he had a housekeeper
BS: He had two sisters, I believe
CP: Yeah, housekeeper and then I was 12, wasn’t I, when I came home
BS: Could be
CP: Yeah. I didn't go to dad's funeral I wasn't allowed to go said I was too young
BS: Well I was at home
CP: You got the telegram, didn't you?
BS: When I found the telegram on the uh floor when they opened the front door, telegram was on the floor I picked it up and that’s it, I was the first to know. I took it up to mother uh, she was at an ambulance station and she promptly fainted and then we went and told my dad's mum and father and they were absolutely shocked we would imagine that uh my grandfather didn't last too long after that it seemed to go downhill really shockingly because I don't think he was in too much health to start with so that was it more or less
CP: I can remember dad coming home on leave 48 hour passes and being home and they dropped a bomb in Melbot Grove digging this crater because dad, we were in the shelter and dad went out to help didn't he?
IL: So how, did you, did you keep it, did how did you keep in touch or did you see each other when you were
CP: He used to come to see me
BS: Yeah, I was going on a bike and go to see her
IL: Right. So when did you see your mom?
CP: Occasionally
BS: Very infrequently
IL. Right
CP: Occasionally, I think maybe three times
IL: During the entire time you were evacuated?
CP: Yeah
BS: Your father and I came across [unclear] at one time to see us
CP: Yes I was in the playing field and we were all lined up ready to come in and I saw dad and I ran out, I ran to him and he said oh go back, go back you'll get into trouble and the teacher said no, no that's fine and then it went home, you know, went off
IL: So, when he came home on leave, did you usually see him?
BS: Sometimes
CP: I think he was going about three to three or four times that's all then, so we've seen them about four times
IL: So, did he come to see you or did you come back to home?
CP: We came to Hull
IL: Right
CP: Came on the ferry
BS: Well I was at home on Easter, er when his last visit, when he came home on leave, it was in the Easter of 1944 and that was the last time I spoke
IL: So obviously we're mainly talking about from the bomber command perspective your father, what did your father do before the war?
BS: Well, he served his time as a cooper
IL: Right!
BS: With the parent company
CP: Johnsons
BS: And when he was 21 he got the push [unclear] apprentices [unclear]
IL: Yeah
BS: And [coughs] excuse me, he went uh with the Hull cooperation transport as a conductor and he was on trams for a little while and then uh, he got transferred onto buses
IL. Alright
CP: He [unclear]
BS: He was a bus conductor until the war broke out when he volunteered [unclear]
IL. When did he volunteer?
CP: 1940
BS: Would be yeah
IL: Thanks
CP: 1940
IL: And did he have any, so did he volunteer straight away for the RAF or was he?
BS: Well he wanted the RAF
CP: Yeah, yeah
IL: Alright
CP: Went straight into
BS: Did he have any uhm, did he have any connection to the RAF?
CP: No
IL: Right
CP: No, whatsoever his brother wouldn't go in, would he? He was, his brother was a conscientious objector, wasn’t he?
IL: Right
CP: He wanted to know everything about it and dad wasn't prepared to tell him
BS: Dad was killed on uh just after a training exercise had been on and they were landing at their own airfield and a German aircraft followed them in and shot them down as they were landing. The way I understood it, they bounced off a couple of aircraft and banged into a hangar and that was it.
IL: Right. So what was he flying in when he was?
BS: Stirling
CP: Stirling
BS: Stirling bomber
CP: He didn’t like then, did he? He hated them
BS: He was a flight engineer
IL: Right. So what sort of things was he doing, sorry, let's, if we just take a step back then. So, when he joined the RAF what, can you tell us what you know about his service in the RAF?
BS: Well, he did his square bashing at Blackpool
IL: Right
BS: And they were actually stationed at some of the hotels in Blackpool obviously because of shortages at camps, I suppose who had been so busy and when he finished that he went off to St Athans
IL: Right
BS: To train as a uh engine uh fitter
IL: Right
BS: And it was it's quite a long course actually and then he was on ground crew for a while and he volunteered for the aircrew
CP: But his commander didn't want him to fly, did he?
BS: No
CP: He wanted him to stay ground staff
IL: Who, sorry, who didn't?
CP: His commander
IL: Right
CP: He wanted to stay ground staff but he wouldn’t, he wanted, maybe because he was quite a bit older than the others they were like in the 20s weren't they?
IL: Well, I was going to say how old was your father?
CP: Dad was 37 when he was killed
IL: Right. So he was, so that
CP: Like 32
IL: So he'd be about 32 when he when he joined, when he joined up
CP: So the others were just boys weren't they?
IL: Right
BS: They used to call him puff
CP: Yeah
BS: The aircrew
CP: So he was, he wanted to keep up with him I suppose didn't he? Wanted to do his bit not because he was older
IL: So, as ground crew, do you know where he where he was stationed when he was ground crew?
BS: Don't really remember
IL: Right. You don't have any, no, you don't know particularly what aircraft he was working, he worked so?
BS: No, not as an engine fitter, no
CP: No, either
IL: Right. So when did he when did he volunteer for aircrew?
BS: I don’t know, he was ground crew for a while.
CP: 1941
BS: ’44, no, it would be late ’43 when he volunteered I rarely 40 but he volunteered for aircrew because he was still on the training when he got killed
IL: Right, okay, so he was, so he was training to be a flight engineer
BS: Yes
IL: Right
CP: But the last fortnight that he was alive, they'd been flying day and night
BS: OH yeah
CP: And they were tired out and sick and fed up a bit, he'd written to his mother
IL: Right
CP: That he was
IL: But these,
CP: So [unclear] tired
IL: These were just training, he was just training missions
CP: Yeah [unclear] fighter, cause he came out of the sky and shot them down
BS: As far as we know, he was on training, but training flights often uh used to cover what they called gardening, dropping mines off the coast, Dutch coast
CP: But they've been getting ready for D-day, haven't they? I think that's why they've been flying day and night
BS: Well that was a week after
CP: Yeah
BS: It was exactly a week before, it was on a wet Sunday 1944 when he was killed Sunday no, Sunday night, Monday morning, half past two on the Monday morning, when he was killed
CP: 31st, was it 29th or 30th?
BS: 29th
CP: 29th
BS: And he, uh you interrupted my train of thought there
CP: Sorry?
BS: You interrupted my train of thought
IL: You were talking, you were talking about some of these training flights being mine laying
BS: That's right yeah, they did. It wasn't officially [unclear] but that's what they did, it's part of the training but actually they were a bit of a dodgy [unclear] laying mines because the Germans would often be waiting for they but they certainly followed him but I
CP: He had orders to land, didn’t he? He just had orders to land
BS: [unclear] I went to the Lancaster at, what they call it? East Kirkby
IL: Right
BS: You know it, yeah. I went there on my 65th birthday I think it was not, maybe not, maybe later uh it was a treat for me from the family apparently and I went into that Lancaster when we went out about when it came back and I, there was a German uh fellow on the aircraft he'd come across and he was there like and he was talking to me and I told him what had happened and he said, oh, he said I’ll find out about that. So he wrote to me and told me exactly what had happened and there was two of them on the aircraft, it was a twin-engine aircraft and they gave me the names and ranks
IL: Right
CP: What, the one that shot him down?
BS: They were shot down by a Mosquito. Apparently, it was the only aircraft over England that day
IL: Right. So they would, so the aircraft that shot your father down was also, was then late it was was shot down by mosquitoes that night
BS: It was shot into North Sea, yeah
IL: Gosh!
BS: So there was two of them on that, that they got killed as well
CP: Was it blue two planes that had been hammered into? Dumped right into the hangar [unclear]?
BS: They hit two aircraft and bounced into the hangar
CP: Yeah
BS: And they wasn’t actually going [unclear]
CP: No, certainly he was shot down, he bounced in and took two others with him
BS: They hit the hangar
IL: So, did you ever have any contact with any of the other people from, where was he stationed when he was killed, sorry?
CP: Bury St Edmunds
BS: No, he wasn't. When he was killed, he was at Spring, Spring Cottage I think it was, it was a satellite ground for uh Stradishall
IL: Right
BS: Which is now HMP prison
IL: Right
BS: But uh that's where he was when he was killed
IL: Okay. Did you ever have any contact with any, you know, station commander or?
CP: No
BS: There was a, an officer came from the camp uh to refuel them
IL: Right
BS: But uh that was the only contact we had
IL: So, presumably his funeral was in Hull?
BS: Oh yeah he's in Chanterlands Avenue.
IL: Right
CP: Your mum got five pounds to order it, didn't she?
BS: Sorry?
CP: Mum got five pounds to order his funeral from the [unclear], to bring him home
BS: Uhm they paid for the, all commissions paid for the stone and they maintain it because I wanted to print the names on to make it stand out and I was told by uh Gary, the funeral undertaker that uh I couldn't do it, I wouldn't be allowed
CP: I know, bless you, to [unclear] proper dues
BS: So, I didn’t do it, but they do clean them up now and again
CP: I cleaned it up last time I went
BS: And they recut the letters on it names you don't know that but that's infrequently. I don’t know, what else I can tell you about it? You’ll have to tell me what you want to know.
IL: Well, whatever, it's your story you know uhm, anything you, if you want any details you want to tell me about your dad or about his service, um?
BS: Well we don't know much about that really except that he did serve time at St Athan as I said training as what we call it? Not as a flight engineer, he was on ground staff and he was a mechanic but uh, he was classed as a fitter, that was it, a fitter 2e that's what he was and it was an LAC there by that time and he only became a sergeant when he went to the, into aircrew
CP: On that last letter I think it said, from the last letter I think it was 1943.
IL: Did he?
CP: That last letter was five months before he got killed
IL: Did he talk about what he was doing when he came home more?
BS: No, not really, no
CP: He did to his parents I think but not
IL: Right
CP: Not in front of me he didn’t. Don’t know if he said anything to you
BS: No, what I think we were a bit too young really
CP: Yeah. Those kids were kids then, weren’t they? You know what I mean
BS: And you were reminded fairly frequently
CP: Pardon?
BS: You were reminded fairly frequently that you were kids
CP: Should be seen and not heard
BS: Something like that, yes
CP: [unclear] should be seen and not heard, pity the [unclear] now [laughs]. And I belong then corporation [unclear], didn't he when before the war
BS: Yeah before the war
CP: Yeah
BS: Yeah, he got a few prizes for that
CP: You said it'd come out of the [unclear] in the recession wouldn't he, in the 30s
BS: Yeah
CP: And he went into corporation
BS: He, he was taken out of the paint industry when he served his time at 21. Nearly all apprentices, whatever trade you were, when you reached 21, out through the door
CP: And he got married then
BS: Well the father would, his father wouldn't allow him to get married before then
CP: No
BS: Because our eldest sister, Stella, she was born before that
CP: Yeah, about eight months before they got married, wasn’t she?
BS: Yeah
IL: Right
BS: He wouldn't allow him to get back until he was 21 which was the norm in those days, oh well
IL: What happened to your mum then after the war?
CP: My mum was in the ambulance service during the war
IL: Right
CP: She joined that and um wouldn't she? Driving ambulances and then she was at various jobs, didn't she?
BS: Yeah
CP: And then in 1955 she remarried
IL: Right
BS: Yeah, he was chief engineer on a trawler
CP: Yeah and then he died didn't he? And then she was a widow after that until she died what 80, 88 [unclear] wasn’t she?
BS: No idea
IL: Right is there anything else you feel you need to, you'd like to tell me about?
CP: Well, we'll remember afterwards then [laughs]
BS: I saw a bomber taking off from Elsham, cause where I was, we were below the Lincolnshire Wolds and Elsham was on the top and you could see him taking off. He'd be flying north to take off and it got not far off the runway apparently when it blew up, so it left to be cold and stopped the other aircraft flying off from the red. So I understood from someone I was talking to some years after that there was everybody on the camp, including the group captain uh commander, he was out there with a shovel and anybody else who couldn't [unclear] filling it in and within just over half an hour or so they've been flying again, taking up on it and carrying on
CP: Mother got a machine gun in the corner of Beverley Road didn't she?
IL: Sorry?
CP: Mother and my friend got machine guns at the corner of Beverley Road
BS: No, they didn't
CP: Well that's what I was told
BS: Well you had more than I did right um
IL. Right. From a German plane?
CP: Yeah, [unclear] at the corner of Beverley Road and King Edward Street
BS: I saw
IL: When was that?
CP: I don't know what year it was, but I remember her saying that they had to get into a shop doorway to get out of the way
IL: It was that when they were on duties ambulance?
CP: No, no they were walking in Hull
IL: Right
CP: They were off-duty
BS: Well, I saw the last German aircraft over Hull and it shot up a cinema, two cinemas on Holderness Road, people were leaving, cause all the lights were on as they went out through the doors and they machine gunned them on the way out. I want them coming down the red himself because I was walking down King Edward Street that was nearly opposite Thornton valleys when it went over and I can see all the markers quite clearly on it and quite low down
IL: So when was that?
BS: That would be 1945, early 45.
IL: So it's fairly early
BS: Yeah
IL: Right okay
BS: That would be one of the last raids. I understood it was the last one
IL: I think it's the last actually, yes because I, I know that and I’m not 100 percent sure but I, I think that those were the last civilian deaths in the UK from enemy aircraft action
BS: Yeah
IL: The cinema queueing, the cinema [unclear] in Hull so if you saw that that's actually, that's really interesting
BS: Well, I saw it go over, I heard it
IL: So, is it a single engine or was it a two-engine fighter or?
Bs: No, it wasn't a fighter, it was a bomber I think
IL: All right
BS: But, uh or a fighter bomber, uh I heard the machine gunning so I was walking along, along King Edward Street that would be when they were [unclear] and the people leaving the cinema
IL: Right
BS: And that, I was on the side where he came across me sort of thing so he wouldn't see me because I was in the dark, uh couldn't see me on that side running a bit of moonlight probably I don't remember that much but uh
CP: People coming out with cinema they'd be littered
BS: But I was, I was in the dark it was all dark down there never had any streetlights of course in those days
IL: Just one just, maybe one last thing, uhm did you ever have, did you, were you ever conscious after the war of the sort of the lack of recognition of Bomber Command?
BS: Not really, not until
CP: [unclear], no,
BS: Not until
CP: [unclear]
BS: Some years ago, [unclear] years ago [unclear] aware of it
CP: Cause it’s always been Spitfires, hasn’t it? Never Bomber Command, they [unclear]
IL: There was no, there was no, there was no, there was no sort of, you've never had occasion where you've maybe been talking about your father or his wartime service and people have been oh well you know Bomber Command and they were all, they didn't do a very good job, well they did a great job but you know that they were sort of, murdered lots of German civilians and
CP: I did meet a Luftwaffe pilot on holiday
IL: Right
BS: You did what?
CP: Met a Luftwaffe pilot on holiday
BS: Oh, do you?
CP: Yeah cause I was with these Germans, because for some reason people mistake me for German when you're on holiday, for some reason I don't know why um
IL: Is it because you keep taking the taking the sun lounges? [laughs]
CP: Maybe, yeah, could be
BS: You'll have to excuse for a moment
IL. No problem at all
CP: Was in this cafeteria at night time with these people and he came in and then you know we enjoyed the evening when, when he, when it was time to go he got up and kissed me and they all roared with laughing cause they never, they said, they never ever thought they'd see him kiss an Englander [laughs]
IL: Right. I’m going to I’m going to stop this now if we, if we'll just chat.


Ian Locker, “Interview with Bernard Sterry and Cecilia Pearson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 19, 2024,

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