Interview with Walter Raymond Stevenson


Interview with Walter Raymond Stevenson


Walter Raymond Stevenson volunteered for the RAF as soon as he was eighteen and trained as a wireless operator/air gunner, learning Morse code at RAF Yatesbury. He flew with 'sprog' pilots as they trained and was posted to Number 3 Air Gunnery School at RAF Mona. He was flying in Bothas, which he disliked, before converting to Wellingtons. Despite hating the sunshine, he was posted to several locations in the Middle East and Africa. He served with 621 Squadron, whose role was to prevent German submarines from attacking shipping. He details the operation where he sighted submarine U852 which the crew bombed with depth chargers, visibly damaging the submarine. The commander of that submarine was later executed for the war crime of firing upon the survivors of the sinking ship, The Peleus. After demobilisation Walter returned to blacksmithing before switching to car repair work.




Temporal Coverage




02:19:02 audio recording


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CB: This story relates to Walter Stevenson and part of the air force career he had resulted in the surrender of a German U-boat and the eventual death by hanging of the captain for war crimes.
[recording paused]
CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and it is the 2nd of December 2015. And I’m with Walter Stevenson DFM and his wife Lillian. And we’re going to talk about his experiences in life but with particular interest in the war. So, Walter could you start off by talking about your earliest recollections? The family. Where you went to school.
WS: Yes. My earliest recollection is quite vivid. The age I wasn’t sure about but I was told many times when we came back from the hospital that I’d been away from home. So I was, spent x number of weeks in a hospital at Middlesbrough which is twenty odd miles from Merton. And I went there because me father had gone there on the say, Friday. And I went away on the Sunday. All I know is I saw the funny building outside vividly. And the nurse with, I’d never seen a nurse before. And I just probably went to sleep. And when I woke up I was in, I was in a ward where the matron sat talking, and father tells me this afterwards, ‘He’s too young to be on his own.’ Three wards in Middlesbrough. First World War casualties. TB. Special one for TB and a special one for [pause] TB. It’ll come in a minute. TB. Oh what I was in for? I’m forgetting the bit I was in for. I had smallpox. The biggest killer of mankind. Yeah. And father did. The two of us you know. The rest of the family which was mam, mam, me brother Tommy, older, and me sister Mair and sister Ivy. They were at home so why they didn’t get it I don’t know. I got it. And how long in there for? Sorry. The people would have to make their mind up and tell. Two types of, two types of smallpox. Very old, major and minor. The major was a killer. And the minor — comme ci, comme ca. You won some and lost some. Which I’ve later researched and found, I’ve always thought I must have had minor with dad because you can see by my face no pox. Well, it left you terribly scarred if, whether you died anyway. So —
CB: Okay. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.
WS: And how long we were in for I can’t say. And coming out and then I was spoiled. Oh my mother had then had a, not while I was in there but shortly after we had another baby. Harry. And he died early. Very early. Six months or six weeks. And again I remember that vividly. Whether I was three or three and a half then, or four. I don’t know. I don’t think I was at school. And the first time I recommend of, I remember of that was father carrying the box out. You know. You don’t carry them today do they? Just a little white box. I don’t know where he was going. No, no burial. He just walked up to the cemetery. That’s what happened in 19 — three years on top of my age.
CB: 1925. Yeah.
WS: ’25. Say ’25. And that was the end. And then you lose it. Quite a enjoyable, I I liked the colliery very much. Started school at five. Did like all schooling, liked all headmasters and marks. Again which I fought with over in the book. Could have done better. You could have done better. She could have done better. We all could. I know what it’s for. It’s to encourage you on. I understand that. But I didn’t, I didn’t do bad and I’m big enough to put it down in a book. I wonder how many others are. Not many. Oliver has wrote his CV now because being cleverer than me he thinks he should have wrote a book but he hasn’t. He’s given a lot of advice in books but, but he hasn’t wrote a book yet. He’s left it a bit too late now.
CB: What age did you leave school?
WS: And I left school at fourteen. Oh yes, you’re going to lose track. I lose track. Fourteen. Yes. I played on. I was playing football for the school eleven so I carried on. So it’s fourteen on top of twenty two. ’36 and a bit longer. Purely to play football. Not to worry about. And father said the best thing you can do [pause] And drink your tea before it gets cold.
LR: I’ll make another one. I could do with another one anyway.
WS: And it does doesn’t it? She can carry two. Very good. Right. Oh, father said, you’d better didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t. There’s one thing I definitely knew at fourteen. One is I wanted to be a footballer. I still had that here and here. And father said, ‘You haven’t got a job yet?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You’d better start looking.’ He knew well there was only one place to go and that was the mine. I wasn’t too keen on that. Not even as a fourteen year old. And I got a job in the butcher’s at Merton. Skillbeck’s. Which I liked. Riding a bike. Cleaning the floors. But it had one drawback. Working Saturdays ‘til 9 o’clock at night. Eight in morning till nine at night. Slavery. Absolute slavery. How people can. Fridays was till 8 o’clock. 6 o’clock every. Eight till six. 7 o’clock, 9 o’clock on a Saturday. 9 o’clock. Unbelievable isn’t it? And so I thought well, so I had to go cap in hand, say to dad, ‘Could you find me a job?’ I knew he could. He was a traffic manager so he had a little bit of pull. And he did. Got me a job as a blacksmith apprentice which I started about sixteen because I was playing junior football and I couldn’t play football working on a Saturday. [pause] And then I worked at the colliery from sixteen. Could have only have been two years. Eighteen. And I thought I don’t like it because even though I was a blacksmith we had to go down. Normally, blacksmithing you’d think it’s on an anvil all day wouldn’t you? No. That’s old fashioned. On the colliery there’s two types. There’s the person who goes down and does just shoes. Makes the shoes at bank and then puts them on the ponies down there. That’s one form of smithing. The other form of smithing was on the, on the bank until there was an accident or summat wrong with the coal cutting machines which we serviced and you had to go down. Sometimes, sometimes two, three mile in. Two mile in by. I did not like that at all. Hate wouldn’t be too strong a word. I hated it. But I did it until eighteen. The day I was eighteen I went to, decided — I decided. Not mother or father. I did. I was very clever then. I decided I would, the RAF has got to be a better job than going two miles under the North Sea. I didn’t think that was funny at all. Miners liked it and they did it. Terrible. Terrible job. So, I, I went with a friend of mine who was a joiner. Apprentice joiner. A bit, he was a bit older than me so he could go in at that time. But I had to wait for me eighteenth birthday because in them days, contrary to a lot of lads from London I’ve met, ‘Oh I joined up when I was seventeen,’ I said you must have had —
CB: They didn’t.
WS: You must. No. But they add a bit on you know. To the — I said, ‘Well, we couldn’t do that. We had to show the sergeant at Durham our birth certificate.’ Well you had to. Simple as that. So I signed in and that’s, and that’s the day I joined up and the date then was [pause ] it’s in the book.
CB: 1940. October 1940.
WS: Was it? Well, yeah that’s, that’s what it would be. October. And a new world to me. So I said, ‘Well, we’re off Charlie.’ I’ve just found out lately why, I did see him once after the war. He came to see me in Chalfont. There was something funny. Mind you he spent, that was his fault, he spent four years in Pershore or somewhere. In, well, when, when we’d got attested in Padgate you get attested for all. Have you — is your eyesight good? And can you breathe and can you speak? And all the, all the rigmarole. You know what it is. And before we went to bed that night I said, ‘Oh good, Charlie,’ I said, ‘I’m going home.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’m not.’ He said, ‘I’m going to Barry.’ Barry? I’d never heard of Barry. I’ve heard of Bury but not of Barry. Barry? So he went. ‘Oh, why is that?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘They’ve decided I’m going to be a fitter.’ ‘They decided? You went as a W/op AG with me.’ Then I let it, and then I blew because I was happy to go back because I was playing football anyway. And he was in Barry and then I didn’t see him for five years. The places he was around. Pakistan and wherever. And from the, from Padgate back home until I eventually was called up at Blackpool which I enjoyed. I enjoyed it. It’s in the book. The RAF might agree or disagree my feelings. The RAF to me was good when it was very good. Like the boy, the little boy. He’s bad when he’s very, he’s naughty. Good, bad and indifferent wasn’t it? It was. My, me first day at Blackpool I think I got in trouble. Well, I didn’t get in trouble because they didn’t get catch me. But they would have caught me. But I went to the toilets and I had to stop in there ‘til they’d gone away. All I’d lost was me hat. I don’t. You know. You’re supposed to stick it up —
CB: In your belt. Yeah.
WS: Or the front, ent you? Aye. Well, it must have dropped out. So then that’s when me, and that’s when me title for me war years because that was me. That was my, what do you call them? It’s so true it’s untrue. Yes. I thought that was funny. I thought that. My daughter got this. That wasn’t what I wanted at all. I wanted, I wanted that. I wanted that. A bit smaller. And I wanted that. I was going to put it and get it SIB to get it--
CB: You mean redesign the face?
WS: Yeah.
CB: Redesign the face of the book.
WS: Yes. I did.
CB: Yeah. Thanks Lily.
WS: Yes. But I’m surprised that people are prepared to give that money to the Association so that I’m happy with. It’s, it’s but I thought that was catchy. But I did, I put five titles. I didn’t do that. But anyway. Thank you, mam.
CB: So from Blackpool?
WS: I miss that.
CB: Yeah. At Blackpool.
WS: That’s at Blackpool.
CB: That was square bashing. Square bashing.
WS: Wonderful. But that’s, you haven’t got that right. Square bashing. Marching. No. No. No. I didn’t march from day one. What height are you?
WS: Yeah. What height are you? What height are you?
CB: Five ten.
WS: Five ten. Oh right. That’ll do. Five ten’ll do. What height am I?
CB: Five six.
WS: Aye. And that’s pushing it a bit. In the RAF, I think I must have had high heels. They made, in my records which I got from Lincoln the people who did the records there should have done better. I would have marked their card. I’ve got it here somewhere. I don’t know where it is. It’s a proper record of me. Five foot four and a half.
CB: Oh right.
WS: So, I was supposed to, at Blackpool which I never did and never did anywhere else either. It’s very like that but I got pulled up there. First day there, ‘You in the middle. Bobbing up and down like a cork in the ocean.’ Maltese sergeant. I thought chh. Well, I couldn’t march. How can I march behind you? So, I used to get in the middle didn’t I? You learn quick. And it never did work and I just used to put up with it. But I, I, they weren’t going to beat me. They did. No. They wouldn’t beat me but I kept on fighting them which I enjoyed immensely. All in the book and I write it down. I did. I liked, I liked the thought of them trying to beat me. If I’d been five foot ten I could have joined the Durham Light Infantry and I would have been a hero. Killed them. All the Germans. I didn’t but I could only do what I could do. My pace. I read in the papers since this year, last year how could, she was in the WAAF. How could she keep up with —? How could anybody as small as five foot. Lil was just five foot. And she was, women have got, they’ve been paid awards for overstretching. Trying to — well it’s understandable isn’t it?
CB: Yeah.
WS: But they didn’t understand it with me. Why is that? I felt like saying, ‘I joined up to fly,’ I said, ‘You get somebody else marching.’ But you know the — did you go to Blackpool?
CB: No.
WS: No.
CB: No.
WS: Lovely place. I’d never been there before. Well, the furthest I’d been is Sunderland. Why I went to Durham I don’t know because the sergeant made me sick. His first words were, ‘Where are you from?’ Well, you’ve got to tell them. ‘Merton.’ ‘What do you do?’ You didn’t do anything at Merton. Only the pit. So he knew that. So clever like, you know. I said, ‘Yeah, but we’ve come to join up.’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘Yeah,’ but he said, ‘We need blacksmiths and joiners.’ I said, ‘No. We’ve come to fly,’ I said. ‘We want to fly.’ He kept on and on, this sergeant. I swear he had nowt better to do. When we said aircrew, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘They all want to.’ Course I was a bit slop. I looked around. I said, ‘There’s not many behind here, sergeant.’ I gave him his rank. Don’t know why I did. Just taking the mickey. ‘Alright. Alright,’ he said. But there was nobody in there so he couldn’t say everybody wanted to join the RAF.
CB: No.
WS: And then from then Blackpool. And then my war years at Blackpool.
CB: What did you actually do at Blackpool? What did you do at Blackpool?
WS: Oh, in Blackpool. Twelve words a minute. Twelve words a minute.
CB: This was the, when you started doing Morse code.
WS: Yeah. Wireless was, as well you might know. You know. But I was quite good at it. I didn’t find it, I’m prepared to put everything in black and white. I’m prepared to put all me, they’re all in there. All the, all what I did. And I didn’t do bad. But not because I was clever. I did it because I liked it and it was different. And the only thing I didn’t like was after leaving Blackpool, I didn’t like it at Blackpool because I had to do guard one night. That’s all. I did a guard one night and they [pause] this is a joke. So true it’s untrue. Yeah. I couldn’t believe it happened in the RAF. The sergeant walked down with the people like. Down the ranks. And I’m sitting like this because I wasn’t very, I wasn’t keen on shaving if I went up. ‘Stand up airman.’ How you can stand up when you wanted a shave I don’t know but that’s what they wanted you to do. And they said, they go in a huddle, the sergeant and the PO. This was for an all night guard. And one of the big officers were guarding a hotel in Blackpool. ‘Come here.’ I thought it was a bit rough how he shouted at me like, but [laughs] I knew what it was for like you know. You haven’t shaved. Or your buttons. Well, I used to clean them like that. Rub them. And he said, the officer, you stick man. Well, I could have broke down in tears. Me? Stick man. I was about the untidiest, the poorest dressed man in the RAF. I wasn’t very good at dress. Mick used to say, ‘You look a mess,’ And even said, my mate in London. I said, ‘Well it’s, I’ve done my best but I’m not, I’m not meant to be smart at five foot four.’ [laughs] And I said, ‘Stick man?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But I’ll get you. Don’t get too cocky for your — ’ so I just stepped out and I was stick man. Which was unbelievable but it pleased me because I didn’t have to stand like a twit outside the, one of the hotels. You didn’t do anything anyway. I was to meet further problems at Yatesbury. There I did well. I did. I passed out quite well at twelve words a minute. A little bit of technical work but nothing much other than —
CB: You got promotion.
WS: It started. It started after three days when I’d do the variation in me book. It’s again my daughter didn’t do it the way I wanted it. I do about six pages which I’d done sitting here. And I think I was better to do when I went to hospital in Middlesborough. So, I put that in the middle of the Blackpool one although I don’t leave Blackpool, you’ve got to read it. You’ve got to read me about six, I don’t know how much, it’s not six pages in there but it’s in six pages in A2s which I wrote. You then take your mind back from 1941 to [pause] from 1941 take your mind back to 1925 when I was in Middlesborough.
CB: In a hospital. Yeah.
WS: Middlesborough. Then I write about the people and the research I’d done on smallpox.
CB: Right.
WS: For want of something better to do and I got a lot of help from people in the hospital there and how much it cost and all that then. And about Louis Pasteur. I was interested in reading about him. He was one of the good things I liked. You’re not French are you? You’ve not got any French [laughs] Well, me and the French is not [laughs] He then decided that I would come back again. But I’d never leave Blackpool. But after three days there, ah that’s when that started.
CB: We’re talking about the title of the book.
WS: That started. Just a title. I didn’t think anything of it other than but I thought but it‘s catchy. It’s a bit like somebody sneezing or Japanese. I don’t know what it’s like. “Airman roll your sleeves up and shut up.” Going in the building which is what I wanted on the front pages of my book. Which I haven’t got. The queue was, how many is in a squad? Fifty? I think there was about fifty. There’s a photograph of about fifty. Till it come to me. And you know smallpox is a scratch rather than you, you’d know more than I did. The rest is needles and that’s bad enough. They sling them into you like. Five, six and then the sergeant said, ‘You can have the weekend off.’ Well, you know you can just about make your bed in Blackpool. Mind you the beds were very good in private digs. But when it come to the scratch bit then my ruffles came up. He’s sitting there and I’ve got me, me list from me mam which is sacrament. She can be one thing of all things. She wouldn’t lie. That’s, that wasn’t in her. And she taught me not to lie. And so did father. They said, you’re going through your list. Chicken pox? Yes. Something? Yes. Other disease? Yes. Smallpox? No. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘No. Smallpox. You’ve got chicken, you’ve had chicken pox.’ ‘Smallpox,’ I said. And then the queues were still waiting and I’m still —I’ve had smallpox and they’ve told mam or dad it won’t scab up. Well it was like talking to this here. And that, and that didn’t do my hackles any good. And they said, then the sergeant‘s voice come over, he was only about there but I can see him, nasty smirk on his face, ‘Roll your sleeves airman and shut up.’ So, you’re going to be scratched whether you liked it or you didn’t like it or the doctor was kind. He said, ‘That’s alright,’ he said, ‘Just come back if it scabs up.’ But of course it didn’t so they were right in that respect. But then the gentleman from Bristol University who’s wrote a wonderful book, he’s done a bit of research and they fight one another you see. A lot of doctors. And all right it didn’t quite work like that. Some people did live with it and some people didn’t. And when I wrote I said well I must have had the — what do you call them? A nice gentleman. He was the top man at Bristol University. He’s in, there’s a smallpox hospital quite near. Well, there was a place I was going to go and I’ve never got there. He said he would come up and see me. I don’t think it’s a very nice museum to see. No. I wouldn’t. That’s what I thought. But I would have wanted a look around. And it went on and I knew at the next station it would be the same again so I tried to fight it and I tried to win that one but I didn’t win that one. And from then the end of Blackpool. Wonderful six months roughly was it? About six months. Strangely enough a lot of navigators went to —
WS: The place just up the coast of Blackpool.
CB: Morecambe. Morecambe.
WS: No. Not up direct. Along past. The long past.
CB: Okay.
WS: Instead of going north Blackpool, go south Blackpool.
CB: Oh right.
WS: Up there.
CB: Yeah. Okay. Well, there’s Lytham St Annes. That sort of thing.
WS: Lytham St Annes.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Oliver. I think he, he went to Lytham.
CB: Did he? Yeah. Yeah.
WS: Did a bit. But of course there was an aerodrome up there wasn’t there?
CB: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.
WS: Yeah.
CB: So the point of my question was what you did during the initial training. So when you were at Blackpool —
WS: Yes.
CB: An important point was getting all the inoculations done.
WS: Yes.
CB: Which is what you’ve just been talking about. Then there was a certain amount of marching that had to be done.
WS: Yeah. Which I wasn’t good at.
CB: Then there was physical fitness. What else was there?
WS: Oh aye. Yeah. But I liked that. I did like that. I liked the, I liked that part because I like football.
CB: Yeah.
WS: So I wanted to be as fit as possible for when I came out.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Assuming I was coming out.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Didn’t know where I was going but, yes. Torn between being a perfect airman.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Which, I’m sorry. [laughs] I failed miserably. Nothing out of a hundred.
CB: And then you went to Yatesbury.
WS: Yatesbury.
CB: And at Yatesbury was the place where you learned W/T.
WS: From twelve.
CB: Yeah.
WS: From twelve.
CB: Twelve words.
WS: To twenty five.
CB: Yeah. Twenty five. Right.
WS: Twenty five.
CB: On Morse code.
WS: Yeah. We had that. That was just the Morse. But the good thing about it was I learned a lot about wireless which I found very interesting and I did well there apart from the damned Maltese sergeant. Going to war. He said, he was the one who said I’m going along there like a cork in the ocean. But I’d just come down from Merton with a kit bag on me shoulder and I wasn’t equipped to do that. I wasn’t a massive man.
CB: So from —
WS: And then I got —
CB: How long were you at Yatesbury?
WS: Six months roughly.
CB: Okay. Right. Then where did you go?
WS: There. It’s all in there.
CB: It’s in there. Okay right.
WS: Yatesbury.
CB: Well we’ll look it up in a minute.
WS: Yeah.
CB: But at Yatesbury did you do any flying training or not?
WS: No. Because, because the RAF in their infinite wisdom were clever enough to fill the, fill the stations up with potential [pause] potential W/op AGs. So it was just my bad luck. No it wasn’t. It was my good luck. My good luck. First time I’d had any luck in the RAF. All the rest had been bad. It had, they were producing at the schools more W/op AGs than aircraft for them but it should. They did, some did fly from there. So that’s when I, that’s when the RAF, the button, summat went wrong with the system. You then went in at the end of the year and said where would you like to go because you’ve got to go out on a station until there’s enough flying schools . Which was at Mona eventually, when we got to. So you went. I remember it and now I remember this vividly, ‘Where’d you like to go airman?’ I said, ‘The north preferably.’ Knowing full, that’s where I made me first mistake. I should have said Cornwall. And damn me they would have sent me there. But it worked. I said the north east and they sent me to Thornaby. Wonderful. Thornaby was, that’s when I met me first Halton brat. Wonderful lad. Corporal. Wireless bloke. And I went, I was in private digs in Thornaby. Which the address was Thornaby, you know. They did funny things didn’t they? The Post Office. It’s not Thornaby. Thornaby in Yorkshire. It’s that side the water. Yorkshire. Telephone number, the address for mam was blah blah blah RAF Thornaby, RAF, RAF Thornaby. Stockton. County Durham. Well, I couldn’t get nothing better. It was about twenty six miles from home. I could hitchhike home at night. Go to a dance at [unclear ] Lane. Come back in the train in the morning and be back in time because it was no, I could do, the corporal said, ‘What you want to do you do.’ He was, there was nothing he didn’t know about wireless because he did the correct training at Halton. And he was very very kind to me. I wish I’d remembered — he was a London lad but I forget his name. Shame. And —
CB: What did you do at Thornaby?
WS: Thornaby.
CB: What did you do there?
WS: Nothing. Well, I was supposed to be learning wireless. So we had, the squadron was 608 Squadron. It was two, two parts. 608 Squadron and C OTU. It was an OTU for Canadians on Hudsons. So that was, that was an advantage of a different radio set for me to learn. And he, he virtually, I went out with some of the ground staff lads and if they wanted help I couldn’t do much. But, but if, if anybody was flying, as you see in the log book I did quite a few in, I did quite a few just short trips. A bit scary too because they were sprog pilots. A sprog short trip. We got lost one day when we were going to Scotland. If you read the — it’s in there isn’t it? That’s sometime when I lost my book. About then. But, anyway, most enjoyable. First time I’d had a pint of beer from a padre. That’s a good record isn’t it? That was the second one I’ve had from you. Thank you very much. I was going to see this, the sports officer about football. And I knocked on the door. ‘Aye,’ he said. ‘Come in.’ He was a Catholic priest. [unclear] And he, he said, ‘Do you want a drink?’ I said, ‘Yes please.’ I thought to get a free drink from a padre is pretty unique. And he said, ‘Stand there. I’ll get the officer for you.’ And I thought that was very kind. And the trips were, the trips were nice but I didn’t know whether they were dangerous or not because I’d never done any flying. That’s me first. But they were all — have you got it?
CB: No.
WS: Oh. Let me. I’ll [pause] It could have been in my other [pause] oh dear.
CB: Right.
WS: That’s, that’s —
CB: So we’re looking in the logbook now.
WS: Silloth. No. That’s Silloth.
CB: That’s at Silloth.
WS: We want Thornaby. Thornaby. Yeah. They were all just scratchy ‘til we got lost one day and we went to Paisley. I said, ‘Well what’s gone wrong?’ And they were nice lads. All Canadian crews. We just went out into Paisley one night and then back the next morning. So they, they could still fly a bit.
CB: So you were at Thornaby for some time.
WS: Well, typical RAF they said you’ll only be there a few weeks. Turned out to be one year. So it’s a one year of me. Of me. But it was, as you can see I got quite a few flying hours in.
CB: Yeah.
WS: I don’t know whether it helped me or not. Some were good. Some were bad.
CB: We didn’t talk about your air gunnery. So after you’d done the wireless operation where did you learn your air gunnery?
WS: Well, from there I was called to —
CB: Ah. After this —
WS: Yeah. From when, when we went back I expect I had leave from there. Yorkshire. The island.
CB: In Yorkshire?
WS: No. In Wales.
CB: Oh Anglesey.
WS: Anglesey.
CB: Right.
WS: Thank you. And that was an experience in itself. You said that you’ve got Anglesey. Oh that’s right. That’s all right. Yeah.
CB: That it?
WS: Silloth
CB: Air gunnery was Silloth was it?
WS: So that’s, that’s where my logbook goes for a —
CB: This is because you’ve got interruptions in your log book.
WS: Hmmn?
CB: This is because you have interruptions in your log book.
WS: Yes. Well, because I lost it.
CB: Yes.
WS: I lost it, you see. See, because I’ve got it down there. There’s my [pause] this’ll scare you to death then.
CB: The point about this is that Walter is good at losing things. Including his logbook.
WS: Yeah.
CB: So we’re now on to Mona in North Wales.
WS: Yes.
CB: Right.
WS: Mona. I thought that was different. That’s right in the middle of northern — have you been there?
CB: No.
WS: It’s dead in the middle.
CB: Really. Yeah.
WS: You know where the prince went?
CB: Yes.
WS: That’s on the isle, that’s on the end.
CB: Right.
WS: It’s still not far by island standards but, but you used to get a garry or summat to Mona. I only had one day off a week. Actually, Heather’s son’s just went up there to get his BA.
CB: Oh.
WS: And he went to Bangor.
CB: Yeah.
WS: We used to go to Bangor once a week.
CB: The interesting thing about your Number 3 Air Gunnery School at Mona is that all the pilots are Polish.
WS: All Polish.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Yeah. All Polish. Very good. We never, we never had any problems. Well, one problem when they tell you at school, ‘You could have done better.’ There’s one trip there that’s pretty outstanding. See. People could invent summat, a talking glass.
CB: Yeah.
WS: They’d make a fortune [pause] On —
CB: Right. We’re looking in the logbook.
WS: On the, on the 24th of February 1943.
CB: Yeah.
WS: On 24th of February.
CB: This is when you did an outstanding gunnery job.
WS: Well, there were so many things went wrong. We started in the morning. Have I got the hours down right? Ah, 10:50. 10:50. 10:50. That’s ten to eleven in the morning. And [pause] and on ‘til the 28th of February. Same trip. Same. Same, I don’t know if it was the same pilot or not. I think it was the same pilot. Up, down, up, up. You’re supposed to — it takes about a half an hour each. Less than that. And these are the things that can go wrong. And of course there’s like the aircraft that tows the drogue. What do you call them?
CB: What was the plane you were flying? An Anson was it?
WS: No.
CB: Or a Wellington?
WS: No. We weren’t. No. I think it, I think it was the horrible one. I think it was the horrible one. The, the Botha.
CB: Oh.
WS: Yeah. Nobody liked that.
CB: No.
WS: It was alright for training. But this, this was a one day trip. Most of them last an hour a bit. An hour and a bit. An hour. Less than an hour. We started here. Up, down because there was no drogue.
CB: Right. To shoot at.
WS: That’s the first.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Up down. In the same, the same, guns u/s. Up, down towering aircraft u/s. That’s the one. Then no, no aircraft. All that in, it’s a one day trip and it lasted, it lasted [pause] was it the 28th? Yeah. The 28th 12:50 and it went on. It went on about 5 o’clock at night.
CB: Right.
WS: For one trip.
CB: Yeah.
WS: For one.
CB: Because of things going wrong.
WS: Somebody should have done better there. Good job I wasn’t marking their card.
CB: So there you went. Then you went to Hooton Park. What did you do at Hooton Park?
WS: Hooton Park. I never knew what it was. I know what, I know what it is. And they had Bothas again. Did you ever? You didn’t fly in Bothas?
CB: No. No.
WS: Frightening. Absolutely frightening. But they just weren’t any good for anything. We got up and down with them but they had a bad name. Hooton Park. That’s in the Wirral Peninsula. Yes. Yeah. That was interesting that was.
CB: Right. Okay. So when did you go to the OTU? So you qualified as a gunner.
WS: Oh yeah.
CB: And qualified as a, you’d already done your radio operator
WS: Anybody could qualify as a gunner. It’s only, it’s — but yes. You had to do it, you had to do it.
[doorbell rings]
WS: That’s my daughter.
CB: Oh right shall I do? Oh she’s there.
WS: Julie. Two hours late. Is mam there?
CB: Okay. We’ll stop. We’ll stop a mo.
WS: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: Okay. So you were saying? How did you feel about this? About the bombing.
WS: Well, yes, because I just, you live in an alcove in a colliery don’t you? You know how it is. And, and if ever there was it was a reserved occupation. None of us need ever join up. Well, you know it’s all volunteers anyway flying. But you didn’t have to join up. You were reserved like policemen. And them that didn’t want to go and dodged it. There was a few of them about. But I just thought I wanted to get in it but I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to go where the sun shines because I don’t like the sunshine. I abhor the sunshine. And I went to the hottest place on earth.
CB: But you were talking about bombing just then. And you felt you wanted to pay back the bombing.
WS: Yes. Yes.
CB: Go on.
WS: Yes. Well, but of course then I wasn’t sent to Bomber Command.
CB: No.
WS: That’s what’s in, that’s the bit that annoys me. I didn’t want to go to, I didn’t want to go to Japan or the Far East or Middle East. They’re not, it was the Germans I wanted to eliminate. They wanted to eliminate us so I thought I would like to eliminate them. Hitler or no Hitler. Whoever. They’re trying to make him a goodie now but he was no goodie. No goodie. The words come out ‘cause I grew up you see sixty fifty, reading the paper mostly for football interests but I can still see the photograph, “This is my last territorial claim in Europe.” Lies. Lies. Lies. And of course they’re still lying now. And that’s sad. Very sad. You can’t listen to liars who change your mind and changing and liars and then he marched in another one and keep on and on and on. That wasn’t nice in nineteen — to me it wasn’t anyway. Whether other people viewed it I don’t know. But [pause] but enjoyable at Hooton Park.
CB: So what --
WS: It was different.
CB: That was the radio school. Then you went to Silloth for the OTU.
WS: Yes. The, that was, that was the start of television. But —
CB: What? Gee?
WS: Yeah. Well, you know with the stripe down the middle and it was alright for —
CB: This was for navigation.
WS: It was alright for ten minutes, a quarter of an hour. We were supposed to be looking at it when we’re W/op AGs. We had three, you know in the Wellington and then we just showed it around. In fact I just come off the wireless set. I’d been on the wireless for two hours on May the 2nd. Then I went in the second dickie’s seat when I saw what I thought, never mind all the clever people, ‘Oh you saw the submarine.’ No I didn’t. I saw a long black object on this waterbed.
CB: Okay.
WS: Nothing else. Nothing new. Nothing. But people say, make it all sorts of stories up. Back to Silloth. It was interesting learning how the, you could pick up things.
CB: This is on the radar.
WS: But I —
CB: The H2S.
WS: Yeah.
CB: This is on the H2S radar.
WS: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
WS: That whatever.
CB: Okay.
WS: Whatever it was. And then from there to —
CB: What were you, what were you flying when you did that at Silloth?
WS: At Silloth?
CB: When you were using this equipment. So this —
WS: No, we used that equipment at [pause] at, on the Wirral Peninsula.
CB: Yeah. Okay.
WS: On the —
CB: When you were at Hooton Park? When you were at Hooton Park.
WS: It was Hooton Park.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Bothas at Hooton Park.
CB: Yeah.
WS: I think.
CB: So at Silloth.
WS: Yeah.
CB: You’ve got it as Number 6 OTU. So what were you converting on to there? On the training unit.
WS: Wellingtons.
CB: Wellingtons. Right.
WS: Wellingtons. Now, the reason, being there I flew with the bravest and the daftest pilot in the RAF. He was well named. Lovely man. Even though I got in trouble with him. I flew with him and I must mention this because it’s very very interesting. His name, you can’t forget his name. Bond. I am Bond. James Bond. Well, he wasn’t James Bond he was probably Willie Harry Bond but his name was Bond. And of course my best friend in London, his name was Bond. You see, I could never forget. He was on the, and he, you had to fly in Ansons when you first, when you first go to Silloth. And you had to fly from Silloth. This was, scared the life out of most people. You had to fly from Silloth. I knew every inch of the way. Silloth. Blackpool. Back to Silloth. Dead straight. Nothing complicated. Not at all. Three W/op AGs in the Anson. So Stevenson goes on first. I go on first. Then I had trouble getting through to Silloth. To the signallers up there. It was getting worse as the hour. Anyway me hour was up and I had to get off and another W/op AGs got on. I thought trouble here. So when I get back to the signals officer and I presented him with a blank sheet he wasn’t a very happy puppy. He said, ‘Not very clever sergeant.’ I said, ‘No sir.’ And the reason it wasn’t very clever? I had a blank sheet. And he said, ‘What’s the cause?’ ‘I don’t know what the cause is. I’m just learning how to —’ And when we land and come back I thought I know what the trouble is. He decided in his infinite wisdom I think. He did it regular. He’s very clever at it. Have you been to Blackpool? No.
CB: Ahum.
WS: You have? So you know the three piers. You fly over the top of them. Bondy didn’t. Bondy hedge hopped them. Three of them. And back again. Oh he’s got to do it both ways. I thought I know why I didn’t get through. So, so this signals officer said, ‘You’ll have to do it again sergeant.’ I thought, ‘Yes, please.’ And so within two days I had to do it again. Who was the pilot the second time? If you put money on it you would have been wrong. It was Bondy again he smiled. I thought, nothing to laugh at I said. And he said, ‘Hello.’ So I said, ‘Hello,’ I said, ‘I didn’t do very well last time.’ I said, ‘I got a blank sheet and got a rollicking from the — ’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘You’d be better going on second.’ I thought how does he know when it’s better to go on? He’s flying the damned thing. He’s not operating the, the signals. So he, I went on second. And my heart bled for the chap who went on first but I thought well you have a dose of it and see. See what you get. And of course I got through. No problem. So it was pretty, were a bit and when I go to the plane the second time he had a smile on. He says, ‘hello,’ as if much to say I’ve seen you before. As much as to say, ‘I’ve seen you.’ Do you know what he offered and I’m sure this was a bribe and I’ve never had them before. I don’t know whether you’ve smoked them. Did you smoke?
CB: No.
WS: Well what, you wouldn’t know about these then. These are the crème de la crème in smoking. Now, I’m just telling you. I’ve forgot the name.
CB: Woodbines?
WS: Vulcan Sobranie.
CB: Oh right.
WS: So when I get up to the front I said, ‘I’ve finished.’ A flight Lieu’s a flight lieuy, ‘I’ve just finished sir.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘How did you get on?’ He knew how I got on. I said, ‘Alright.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘It‘s best not going on first.’ He knew. He knew where he was flying, you know. I didn’t get on and he, he offered. He smoked and I never. You’re not supposed to smoke on them. But he handed me. I said, ‘Oh, thank you sir. I’ve never had one of these.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘They’re very nice.’ You had to be a flight lieuy and above to afford them. They’re about, do you know how much they are now? Well, I only know through paying the paper. Eight pound. Eight pounds for cigarettes to kill you. And so he said, ‘Have a cigarette.’ I said, ‘Can I smoke sir?’ He said ‘yes, yes.’ And one more story just about Flight Lieutenant Bond. Coming back somebody’s wrote a book. Kiwi. And I wish, I forget the title of it or else I would tell you willingly. When he. We used to go to Carlisle of a night and get a train back to Silloth. Him, this Kiwi and Bondy, obviously they were mates as well and they’d obviously been grounded for some reason because you don’t fly as a flight lieuy flying u/t air gunners. That’s not, that’s not what you joined up for. And he talked the driver, I nearly said the pilot, he talked the driver from Carlisle, from Silloth rather. No. Carlisle to Silloth. If they could have a go at the — and they did.
CB: Driving the train.
WS: The engine driver should have had his head. If anything had gone wrong there would have been big trouble. Great guy. And the book’s to verify that. There’s a book about it, a New Zealand skipper about his time at Silloth. If you work the times out I’ll bet you the magic eye can find the book and you’ll be, it’s worth a read if it’s only to tell you about Bondy.
CB: Just going back to what you were doing. So, what was the equipment that you were using that you didn’t get a signal on so you got a blank? What was it?
WS: The, oh that was —
CB: Was it a direction finder or was it —
WS: No. That was —
CB: Was it a type, it had got a screen had it?
WS: No.
CB: Did it show you a map? What did it do? [pause] I’m trying to work out what it was that this thing was doing. That you were doing.
WS: No. No The wireless was just [pause] the wireless was just [pause] the wireless. No. Well, I didn’t. It wasn’t what we had when I was at Thornaby. So it was just, the wireless was just Marconi.
CB: But you were picking up signals of some kind but not all the time were you? What was it?
WS: I don’t know what. That was the first.
CB: So this is like a television screen.
WS: Yeah.
CB: But it’s circular.
WS: Yeah. With a line.
CB: And it’s got a cross in it.
WS: Down the middle.
CB: Yeah
WS: It’s in the book.
CB: Right. Okay. So this is a way of getting on to a target is it?
WS: It, it picks up all sorts of things. Picks up coastline.
CB: Yeah.
WS: There a certain amount of —
CB: Right. So it is an H2S type.
WS: Well, yes.
CB: Yeah. Okay.
WS: I’m not very —
CB: Okay.
WS: It was [pause] you could cheat a bit and look away. You shouldn’t look too long because you’re only this far from the —
CB: Yeah. From the screen.
WS: I don’t think it was all that good but —
CB: So then after you were at Silloth that’s when you went to Thornaby. And you were there for a year.
WS: To where?
CB: Thornaby. And you were at Thornaby for a year.
WS: Yeah. I was at Thornaby.
CB: And then, then you went back to Silloth.
WS: Yeah. Well, now see that’s where my logbook went astray.
CB: And this is the — oh right.
WS: You found that.
CB: Yeah.
WS: It’s lost somewhere around there.
CB: Okay.
WS: When it came back to me. And that’s me original one.
CB: Yeah. Okay.
WS: It just mixes it up a bit.
CB: Yeah. And this is a lot of trips over the Irish Sea obviously.
WS: Yes.
CB: From here you went to 303 FTU at Talbenny.
WS: Aye.
CB: In Pembrokeshire.
WS: Aye.
CB: What did you do there?
WS: What did? We did a couple of trips there. They were classed as operations. To tell you what I did.
CB: It was a navigation —
WS: Yes.
CB: Trip.
WS: They were navigation trips really. Nothing to do. Well of course you had to go.
CB: And this is on Wellingtons is it?
WS: Wellingtons and plus the, plus the fact that we, that Mitch and one of the W/op AGs was sent off. Was sent off to pick up our aircraft which we were to fly out to the Middle East and beyond.
CB: Right. So from there you flew out to Rabat.
WS: Terrible. Yes. Yes.
CB: Okay. What did you do there?
WS: Well, then it was in Rabat. Rabat. Well, well it changed. We didn’t fly to Rabat.
CB: Right.
WS: The RAF in their infinite wisdom had decided [pause] what’s the other place? Have I put it?
CB: Well, then they went to Cairo.
WS: No. But —
CB: And Wadi [Sadiki?]
WS: Well you see the first landing place from when we left. When we left —
CB: Talbenny in Pembrokeshire.
WS: No. No. No. Let’s, no, let’s go back. When we left —
CB: Hurn? Hurn, near Bournemouth.
WS: We left. Wait a bit. We left Silloth and we went to —
CB: South Wales.
WS: We went to Talbenny. Yes. And then from Talbenny we went to Bournemouth.
CB: Yeah. To Hurn.
WS: Hurn.
CB: Yeah.
WS: That’s it. We were at Hurn.
CB: And that’s when you —
WS: We flew from Hurn.
CB: From there.
WS: To the place that changed.
CB: Gibraltar? Did you —
WS: Hmmn?
CB: Did you got to Gibraltar next? On the way.
WS: No. No. No. We went to [pause] Rabat’s there. They changed it. It wasn’t Rabat. Can you switch it off?
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: Right. We’re just pausing for a moment.
[recording paused]
CB: Restart. Hang on.
WS: We went out the first night at this small place.
CB: Yeah.
WS: So it wasn’t all that big.
CB: Castel Benito.
WS: It wasn’t. It was quite big and Oliver, about four of us went out. I don’t know why we did but we did. Somebody’s stupid idea. And Harvey said, ‘You’re both for it,’ and ‘What did you do?’ It was always my fault. He said, ‘Somebody just pulled a knife.’ So Harvey had to, Oliver had to report it to the station commander.
CB: Your navigator. Yes.
WS: Yes. And on the ground this was. And they put them and they put the area out of bounds.
CB: Oh.
WS: But it was very interesting in the morning. When you went out from Blighty, from Bournemouth or Merton. Where ever I lived. When we went in the sergeant’s mess the communal mess they were. When you were in the queue, and this was a novelty to me, you had, typical American of course. You had to put your fingers up how many eggs you wanted.
CB: Oh.
WS: How many you wanted. We hadn’t had any eggs in this country for, very, even in the mess we didn’t know we had them. Private digs. So when you got there the eggs was all fried. Typical American. The eggs fried and just put on your plate.
CB: Fantastic.
WS: Wonderful. That’s the only thing that stood out about that. I said to Harvey, ‘I didn’t do anything,’ but, I said [pause] ‘Well,’ he said, ‘That bloke pulled a knife. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘That doesn’t mean very much.’ Typical Harvey. Oliver. Blame anybody but himself.
CB: Was that a military person who’d pulled the knife or a local?
WS: Hmmn?
CB: Was it a military person who —
WS: No.
CB: Pulled the knife? Or a local?
WS: No. No. It was a local. So they put that out of bounds. So they must have been worried about it.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Stopped anybody going in.
CB: Right.
WS: Just an ordinary boredom. Flying out to [pause] my birthday spent in, my birthday was spent at Cairo West.
CB: Okay.
WS: It was normal for my, I did have slight truck, it was nothing. Typical RAF. Painted with that stuff you know. Don’t know what they called it. It was a disinfectant. Anyway, the rest of the crew went to Alexander. Not Cairo. You know, we landed in Cairo. Joe was, I went in hospital in Cairo. I didn’t know they had a hospital but they did. And they all said, ‘Cheerio. See you when you get back.’ I said, ‘Thank you very much. Tell us how lovely it is at Alexander.’
CB: So from Cairo you then went on eventually to Mogadishu.
WS: Yes.
CB: The whole crew. You flew down there.
WS: Yes. Yes. Oh yeah. We flew from Cairo to a nice place. Well, it wasn’t a nice place but it was —
CB: Well, it’s a place called Port Reitz.
WS: Where?
CB: R E I T Z. Port Reitz.
WS: [pause] Port Reitz. No. We went from Cairo [pause] Where are we here? Cairo. 11th ‘til the 10th. That’s it, my birthday is the 29th of the 9th. So that’s four days. So I’d been in hospital a couple of days to Wadi [Said?] and I don’t know where that is. Wadi Said. And it’s quite a decent sized place in North Africa.
CB: Okay. Anyway, so on there then you’re, you took the aeroplane, your aeroplane all the way from the UK.
WS: Yeah.
CB: So you’re still in that plane.
WS: We’re still in that. And that was our plane number.
CB: Yeah. So then you went down. Where did you go from Cairo?
WS: Cairo to Wadi [Said?] Now from there to Juba. Juba’s the funniest place.
CB: Where was that?
WS: It was. In between. In between.
CB: Okay. And from Juba then that was just a staging post was it?
WS: Nothing there. Nothing there. Nothing there. People must have gone mad. I think they filled it. I think they filled the aircraft up with, with —
CB: Water?
WS: Cans. Cans of fuel. Cans of fuel. There was only one officer and it must have been an awful place. And then that was the short trip from there to —
CB: Mogadishu?
WS: To Cairo.
CB: Oh to Cairo. Right.
WS: Yeah. We did go. Before we went to Mogadishu we went. We landed. We didn’t, we didn’t go up to Mogadishu then. We went straight down from, we went straight down from Cairo [pause] from Kenya. We were in Kenya. Right. And we had engine trouble there.
CB: Oh.
WS: In Kenya. So we went down to Mombasa.
CB: Right.
WS: On Mombasa but by the time we got to Mombasa they’d changed it again. Mombasa was going to be the home of our squadron. 621 Squadron. It was the home of 621 Squadron. Just there’d been a number of ships sunk by U-boats in the trip around Africa.
CB: Yeah.
WS: You know, up. Up —
CB: Up the east coast.
WS: Yes. Up the east coast there and then turned around into. They wanted Japan so they had to be the big type of U-boat. The U859 was one of them. U852 was one of them and they, they changed Mombasa then. Just as we got there they said oh you’re not here now. Well we are here now but you’re not here now. We’ve moved up the coast to Mogadishu which reportedly moved and I read it a while back the last place on earth.
CB: In Somalia.
WS: It’s about right. Oh terrible. Terrible.
CB: Okay. So was, did that become your operating base?
WS: Mogadishu was.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Yeah. Thank you love.
CB: And what was the role of the squadron? What was the role of the squadron?
WS: To stop the U-boats going up there. So we knew or you know, through, through Enigma out here. Very cleverly. I know it’s very clever. But again you see it’s very clever but only for navigators and pilots. They didn’t come to me and say, Oh I stayed with these people I’ve mentioned. I’ve read air gunners. I’ve got books that said, ‘I told the skipper this. And I told — ‘ You don’t tell the skipper nothing. The age old, my father would say, ‘If you’ve nothing better to say shut up.’ The skipper wouldn’t listen to you anyway. You. You were an advisor. Don’t get carried away with your job. You were an advisor.
CB: Right
WS: That’s why you had that scrape.
CB: Right.
WS: To say, ‘Alright navigator. You can come and have a look at the screen if you want.’ Which he probably did. I can’t remember. But people make out that they, they turned up. You don’t do that. Not even Bomber Command. No Commands. If there’s somebody on your tail you tell the skipper. But first you fire at the damned aircraft before. It doesn’t matter. The skipper doesn’t give a toss as long as you hit the aircraft if there’s somebody at your back. But that’s another story of fairy tales and no fairy tales here.
CB: So, on the aircraft you are actually trained as a wireless operator signaller and also as an air gunner.
WS: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
CB: On this squadron 621.
WS: Yeah. Well —
CB: What was your role? Where were you? You weren’t sitting in a turret at the back.
WS: No.
CB: You were doing a wireless operator job.
WS: I was a wireless op. Two hours. Two hours each.
CB: Right.
WS: The three W/op AGs.
CB: Right.
WS: Two hours on the set. Two hours on the set. Two hours [pause] There’s nobody in the front turret when you start. The set, the set, the IT, the ITV you know. We called it the ITV screen and then the rear and you go around from there. So on May the 2nd I, I was, I had been on the set and I’d just come off.
CB: Okay. Can I just clarify this? So, you’re flying along and you alternate. There were three wireless operator air gunners.
WS: That’s it. We were all —
CB: And you’d do two hours each.
WS: We were all the same.
CB: So you then go and sit in a turret when you’re not on the set. Are you?
WS: No.
CB: Oh. Where are you? If you’re not on the set where are you standing?
WS: I wasn’t. No.
CB: So, as a, as a signaller —
WS: Yeah.
CB: And air gunner — you do two hours on the set.
WS: Two hours each.
CB: Each. So where are you? Once you’ve done two hours what are you doing?
WS: Just operated from rear turret.
CB: Right.
WS: Spare. You didn’t go in the front turret.
CB: No.
WS: I went in the front turret because I’d sighted it and as I was sitting on the —
CB: So specifically, in this particular case. This is fast forward that on one of the sorties.
WS: Yeah.
CB: You saw on your screen a submarine. Is that right?
WS: No. No. I didn’t. I didn’t see it on the, on the, I saw it with —
CB: Oh right. Mark one eyeball.
WS: Yeah. I see it, I saw it there because, because the navigator in their infinite wisdom whose got all the information when you take off. It doesn’t matter who’s sitting where I was he knows that this is the line that the U-852’s coming up, you see.
CB: Ah.
WS: It’s been reported. But we don’t know that. But the pilot and navigator’s got a good idea where it is. Although Mitch in his infinite wisdom and he was no fool, he was on the toilet.
CB: Oh.
WS: He decides to go to the Elsan. Mitch is on the Elsan so the second pilot is flying. A bloke called Harvey Riddell. A Canadian. Nice lad. Never heard no more from him. I reckon he was killed in the Middle East somewhere. I’ve tried to get his name. Oliver tried but he didn’t succeed either. I went in the, Harvey took over the plane. The weather was diabolical. No question about it. Cloud. Rain. Everything. You’re not going to see nothing there anyway and the time then was probably just prior to 4 o’clock. I then move off the wireless set because that was somebody else moved on because we, you’ve got, you’ve got to have somebody on the wireless set. The ASV is not all that important. And then I [pause] only he must have spoke while [laughs] while he was on the toilet. He must have spoke. Harvey must have spoke and said, ‘The weather’s diabolical skip. What do I do?’ So he said, ‘Go down.’ Whatever. Not interested. Whatever. And as soon as he went under the weather — like this. Unbelievable. From that to this. Thank you love.
CB: So not, so what height are you flying at this stage? A thousand feet. Two thousand.
WS: Yeah. Not, not very, not very high. Not very high. But it happened immediately. It happened, it happens in seconds. The distance I didn’t know until Oliver tells me because he was, he’s got it worked out from when I sighted the submarine. It was about six or seven miles. I didn’t know the naked eye got so — my eyesight’s very good. Even today. I can read. I had me eyes tested Wednesday. I haven’t changed. My glasses haven’t changed. I haven’t got —
CB: Right.
WS: They’re the same glasses which I’ve —
CB: You’ve had for ages.
WS: Yeah. Which is luck.
CB: So you looked out because you’re in the front turret.
WS: No. I was in the second pilot’s seat.
CB: Oh you were in the second pilot’s seat. Right.
WS: Yeah. You see, because Harvey had gone.
CB: Yes.
WS: Mitch was coffeeing. Well, he should have been.
CB: Yes.
WS: But he said he was. And when, as soon as we went down I said ‘Harvey.’ As simple as that. I saw it as easy as that. And look. Did I see a submarine? I have never seen a submarine in my life. I saw a long black object.
CB: Right.
WS: Which wasn’t a ship.
CB: Right.
WS: It just looked, you know, like your tie laid down in the water.
CB: Right.
WS: That’s what it looked like to me. And of course I’ve done all the Q and all the U. Well watch officer. Is there a watch officer in the navy? Well you were to blame. But then like the First World War the man who puts his head above the — you win. You put your head up and I win. And that’s just the way it, he got the rollicking. He was to blame because he he should have been looking out for anything.
CB: For aircraft.
WS: For anything.
CB: So he was looking the wrong way.
WS: Yes. Yes.
CB: So, so you see the submarine, you tell the pilot. The second pilot.
WS: No. I tell Harvey.
CB: Oh. You tell Harvey.
WS: That’s when, that’s when Harvey —
CB: Yeah.
WS: That’s when Harvey told Mitch.
CB: Gets — yeah right.
WS: He soon left the —
CB: Yeah.
WS: He soon left the Elsan. And Mitch was up there like a flash. I was out of the seat like a flash. And I went straight in the front because that’s the position you should be if you were there.
CB: Yeah.
WS: You’re not normally there anyway.
CB: No.
WS: It’s usually Mitch in the second.
CB: So you got out of the second pilot’s seat.
WS: Oh yeah.
CB: Down into the turret at the front.
WS: Oh yeah. Which is only from here —
CB: The guns, the guns are ready primed are they?
WS: Yeah. It’s, it’s only from here to the television.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
WS: As close as that.
CB: Ratio, yeah.
WS: Yeah. And then it —
CB: And then what?
WS: And it just got bigger and bigger. I did nothing. People. Well, I did. I had my finger on the trigger.
CB: You gave it a burst did you?
WS: Because I could see what air gunners, anybody could be in there. Just an air gunner. But when you get the sight with that —
CB: Yeah. So you got it on.
WS: If you, if you press before you’re wasting ammunition.
CB: Yeah.
WS: And you might get jams. You’re told not to. That not’s technical. You’re told to do short bursts.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
WS: To save that you know. And just short bursts. You don’t get no jams. I got no jams.
CB: No.
WS: How many did I kill? You don’t think I was counting them do you?
CB: How many bursts did you give?
WS: Well, how do I know?
CB: Right. But you just do so you immediately started firing is what I’m getting at.
WS: Oh no. Not immediately. As soon as I got within the range.
CB: Yeah. Which is what? What’s your range?
WS: Because they still hadn’t gone down.
CB: No. What’s your range? Four hundred yards or [pause] normally.
WS: It’s not an interesting job.
CB: No.
WS: An air gunner. It’s a doddle job. You just — the distance from there. The distance —
CB: But they were all on the conning tower so you got them.
WS: Yeah. Well they weren’t all in but they were trying to get in damned quick.
CB: Yeah. Into there.
WS: I actually saw them running along the —
CB: Oh, on the deck.
WS: Yeah. You couldn’t help but, you couldn’t help but see them. I would have thought they should have manned the guns.
CB: So in practical terms. When you’re running the guns like this —
WS: Yeah.
CB: What did you shoot at first?
WS: Oh just the top of the conning tower.
CB: The conning tower. Right. And so —
WS: I didn’t pick people out and say, ‘I don’t like you.’’
CB: I didn’t mean that. No. What I meant was do you go for the conning tower first?
WS: Yeah.
CB: And they’re all running for the tower so they walk straight into it.
WS: Well, I expect this. I expect the captain had told everybody get in and get down but it was too, too late.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Too, too late.
CB: So, what happened then? So, you’ve clobbered all these characters on — the submarine doesn’t submerge does it?
WS: Oh yes.
CB: Oh it does.
WS: It went down. Oh it went down. So I thought, and Mitch thought too, when you spend hours just flying over water you probably don’t, you don’t expect, you should be expecting to see them they’re not. As well you know the size of the ocean. And within seconds of going over we thought whacko, he’s gone down which means we’ve sunk him. Well, what else can you think? It’s the first time. We then circled in a circle. Circled the swirl or whatever. Whatever. He went.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Whatever you see. And surprise surprise he came up. But [pause] but even I, in my infinite wisdom which is zero to think, to think, if, if we haven’t sunk them and he’s coming up that means we haven’t hit him. Well, that isn’t true either. We’d more than hit. There’s the submarine going along. The skipper by now knows what he’ll do. He’ll zigzag or whatever. So, Harvey, I suppose that the, because we haven’t got a bomb aimer.
CB: Yeah. He’s the bomb aimer.
WS: He presses the tit or does, does the skipper press it?
CB: Well, they both can can’t they?
WS: Eh?
CB: They both can.
WS: They both can.
CB: But, but normally doesn’t the navigator go down to do it?
WS: He’s got to get the figures out hasn’t he?
CB: Yeah.
WS: For the position and everything. Anyway.
CB: Yeah. Anyway, so were bombs dropped? Well they were depth charges. So you dropped, did you? Depth charges.
WS: Six.
CB: Yeah.
WS: You dropped them all, you see. If they had two lots —
CB: Oh. All in one go. Right.
WS: If you had two lots you could have go at this. Have another go like this. Make sure. It’s got to be, there’s a height down which I don’t know.
CB: Yeah.
WS: There’s a certain depth where it, where if you but the six has got to be dropped in a stick you see.
CB: Yeah. In a bracket.
WS: You can’t drop one at a time. You dropped the stick.
CB: Yeah.
WS: See, there’s, going that way you should drop one, two, three. Hoping two, three or four might, he might switch and get them. And when he come up and I used the words in my simple vocabulary. It come up like Blackpool Tower. Well, I knew that wasn’t right. So, while I knew we hadn’t sunk it I also knew we’ve done summat. Well, if he was alright even the simplest of person would tell you he’d be away running wouldn’t he? And he wasn’t was he? So, and I used the words Blackpool Tower which I —
CB: When he comes up. Yeah.
WS: We haven’t got that. But it came up. You know. I don’t know how submarines come up. I’d never seen any. But you would think that it would come up like a ship wouldn’t you? But it didn’t. It come up like that. And then flapped on the [pause] I’ve got the number one. I’ve got a better view than the skipper. I’m two yards further ahead of him. And I just, I saw the flap on the surface. I can see it. I don’t know if that’s good. And then within seconds. And then he opened fire on us.
CB: Oh did he?
WS: And he’d got an awful lot of armament.
CB: 37 millimetre.
WS: He must have some poor gunners because he never hit us and we were the only aircraft. By that, by this time of course we, we’d got the whole of the East Africa. Not that there was a lot of aircraft in East Africa. We’d flown from a horrible place. Scuscuiban, pronounced Shoo shoo ban. Diabolical area. Good that we sailed, we left from there in the morning but there was other, there was other stations but some of them just one aircraft. And 8 Squadron had been at, in Khormaksar for years and years you know. They’re very old.
CB: That’s Aden. Yeah.
WS: The squadron was. 8 Squadron. 8 Squadron, they were. And we were sent out there to help them I suppose. If they needed help, but [pause] And the more they fired though of course Mitch in his infinite wisdom you’ve got to judge his fire power and keep just outside of it. It would be silly going inside it else you wouldn’t be here to tell the story. And he’d be take great delight in sinking the aircraft that had damaged his. So, you just keep going in and out and by this time it’s red hot with information to ships in the, in the area. I don’t know if there was any ships in the area. Never there when you want them probably but, and we just kept on and on until our petrol level got as low as humanly possible. We had x amount of time to get back. And we did just have enough petrol. When we landed everybody was waiting to congratulate us and say congrats and everything like that. By this time we’d got, 621 had quite a few planes coming in but we’d done what we had to do. And there were about eight or nine aircraft and none of them sunk them. And he was a sitting duck. They weren’t a sitting duck when I, we went. Although they were. But he’d been down and chased. What we’d done we’d damaged the chlorine pipes.
CB: Oh.
WS: Whatever. Whatever it is and the skip, and one of the engineers shook his head to the skipper and said ‘we’ve got to go up and we’ve got to beach, beach it as soon as,’ which we did at [unclear ] There’s a coast place there where it had beached. And it was a success. And to think that we, we’d only ever seen one and we’d got ninety nine, we probably got a hundred percent success in as much as all the information we got, the RAF, after the navy had finished collecting all what they wanted you can have what’s left. They did the business. But it’s—
CB: But just to clarify this. So —
WS: Just.
CB: You’re sitting in the, in the co-pilot’s seat.
WS: Second pilot, yeah. Dickie. Second dickie as it was called.
CB: And you get, yeah. You then get down in to the nose where you’ve got the forward guns and there are two 303 machine guns.
WS: Two. They were like toffee apples.
CB: Yeah. But you’re spraying them.
WS: Yeah.
CB: Now, on the way over do you, does the plane drop the stick of depth charges as it goes over on the first pass or did you have to go round again?
WS: As you were going over.
CB: Yeah.
WS: I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t know as a W/op AG and I’m not interested in looking down, I’m interested in looking —
CB: Sure.
WS: There. But even if I did I wouldn’t know what I was looking for. I only said ‘There’s the submarine. Go now. Go now.’ But of course he can switch when he’s gone under water.
CB: Yeah.
WS: So you don’t know. But then he, you have got to drop. The pilot. He’s trained to do. Suppose you were coming that way, we’re coming this way. You’ve got to drop them there. The first one there you might just walk in to the second one or the third one. So it could be the second, third. Could be any of them.
CB: Yeah. But what I meant was is they weren’t dropped on the first pass. When you were shooting they didn’t drop immediately after that did they? You had to come around again.
WS: Oh no.
CB: To drop.
WS: No. No, they had, no, they dropped them first time.
CB: They did.
WS: Mitch.
CB: Right. So that was good moving. Yeah.
WS: Dropped them first time.
CB: Right.
WS: And that is the nearest I can tell you.
CB: So, they were dropped. Not all in one go.
WS: Yeah.
CB: But in a stick.
WS: What they dropped —
CB: One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.
WS: Yeah. You drop them all. That’s the sad bit. I don’t think they perfected.
CB: But it obviously damaged the submarine.
WS: No. It’s probably right in as much as if you. If you hadn’t, if you hadn’t dropped them in a stick and he comes up with — you’ve read his armament have you?
CB: Thirty seven millimetre. Yeah.
WS: Yeah. Terrific armament on a submarine. Could blast you out of the skies and blow you to kingdom come. We couldn’t kill dead flies with two 303s and a four at the rear. With four at the rears. Good if you hit somebody but it’s —
CB: So, after the first pass. After the first pass.
WS: Yeah.
CB: When you did the shooting —
WS: Yeah.
CB: And then the bombs, the depth charges were dropped.
WS: Depth charges.
CB: Was any more fire. Did you, from the front or the rear turret, did they shoot again?
WS: No.
CB: Right.
WS: No. Because, only because he was up in, when I told you he’d come up and I think, I remember Mitch saying, ‘Take some pictures Harvey.’ And he was in his position then. So with the camera. Because if you, if you hadn’t dropped them then he could have blown you out of the skies with —
CB: Yeah.
WS: The next time.
CB: How far out to sea was this? Five miles?
WS: I can’t. I can’t —
CB: Twenty miles? Could you see the coastline from where you were flying?
WS: I couldn’t —
CB: No.
WS: And I wasn’t [laughs]
CB: No.
WS: And I wasn’t looking.
CB: Okay.
WS: I was looking at getting back to base like everybody was. Because at the time we’d been out or when we took off from when we timed from when I saw that I don’t know. I didn’t time. Oliver might know. He might not. I don’t know.
CB: We’ll ask him later.
WS: Yeah.
CB: Okay. So, anyway the submarine was then guided to the shore. Pointed at the shore and beached.
WS: Yeah. Well, you knew then —
CB: Yeah.
WS: That’s where he was going. Yes.
CB: Right. And the other aircraft from didn’t, they didn’t manage to hit it but they did bomb it did they?
WS: Well, again I don’t know but he got to the shore alright. Well —
CB: What happened then?
WS: Well, we were gone then.
CB: No. But when they got to the shore what happened?
WS: Well, he tried to scuttle it.
CB: Right.
WS: And made, I would say what’s the word? Hack?
CB: Hash.
WS: He made a hash of it. Yes. Made a hash of it. Whether he was thinking about his self I don’t know. It was his first journey as a captain. He’d been on other things you know. But it was his first journey out from Kiel as a submarine commander.
CB: A commander. Yeah. But he’d already sunk ships. He’d already sunk ships hadn’t he?
WS: Yes. Yes.
CB: Right.
WS: He’d sunk a ship that was built in, in Hartlepool.
CB: Oh right.
WS: The Peleus. And that’s why he was shot at dawn. Like I told you there was only five days difference between Mitch being killed and him shot at dawn. Irony isn’t it? The twist of fate.
CB: But he, the captain, Eck had been shot because of what he did. So what had he done?
WS: Oh he’d machine gunned, this is naughty as an officer —
CB: Survivors.
WS: This is naughty. He’d machine gunned people from the Peleus in the water.
CB: After he’d sunk the ship.
WS: It was your duty as an officer. As a captain and an officer to bring people on the ship. Find out what you can from them. Put them back out to sea if you should. In a boat if you don’t want them on your boat. Put them back there and then go. He didn’t do that. He, I think it was probably a slip of memory or —, no. It wasn’t. It was words from and I know with the research I’ve done, with the German High Command. I’ve read it from Kiel. That’s where. I’ve just read it. The officer, the officer in charge has got to be completely in charge but donates who’s in charge of the submarines. They were a bit like Hitler. They’re not going to do anything but they do do summat. And he said everything’s got to be obliterated because it’s your life. Now, that’s one thing telling that and when the skipper does that it’s wrong isn’t it? The trials you see it was found that that was naughty and that was wrong. And even though they don’t do that at [pause] although we were far from not guilty.
CB: But what had happened was there was a lot of debris on the sea. Surface of the sea wasn’t it?
WS: There was quite a few of them saving but again, as the famous saying, these are my saying, well my father saying — you live by the sword you die by the sword. Well, he cleared everybody which he thought was right so as everything’s, he can get away and people won’t see him. I understand what he has to do as a captain. But again it kicks you up the bottom when you, when you think you’ve cleared everything up and you haven’t. So four people survived.
CB: Oh did they? Right.
WS: Yeah. Four people survived and they found a way back to West Africa where the, where the Peleus was hit first.
CB: Oh.
WS: I don’t know how important the Peleus was now but it was just a tramp steamer I think. All different nationalities you know but and they got back to, they got back to port and that’s what, that’s why it came under the trials. And him and three officers were shot at dawn. And when we got back you’re talking about what he should do to clear up. When we landed back at Khormaksar, at Scuscuiban at about [pause] it‘s, it’s in the book what time we landed back.
CB: Yeah.
WS: I don’t know.
CB: In your logbook this is. Yeah.
WS: We got back at [pause] 7 o’clock at night. Well, the, the [pause] the fitters. I thought oh no. I’m not going back there again. But that’s what you’ve got to and you’ve got to do. So they decided that they had to fill up again just in case. He could have escaped but there was far too many aircraft in the vicinity so he didn’t escape. But anyway we did go out at 7 o’clock didn’t we? That night.
CB: Right. Right.
WS: Nothing happened. It was just beached by the time we got there. But, oh and when we got back from the first trip. When they were filling up, one of the fitters, fitter lad said, ‘This is your lucky day.’ And we said, ‘Well, yeah. It’s anybody’s lucky day if you sight a submarine.’ You don’t sight them once a year. So, 8 Squadron had never seen one I don’t think. He said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t mean that,’ he said, ‘You had one tank completely empty and the other one not very good.’ I remember when we just jokingly said to Oliver then, ‘You left that bit close.’ Yeah’ Oliver said, ‘I’ll get it a bit nearer next time.’ Well, you don’t think about that. You just think about getting back I suppose.
CB: You hadn’t been hit by any of the submarine fire had you?
WS: No. No. That’s what I say. While they were escaping by the time we’d got there.
CB: Right.
WS: So they were escaping. They were trying to get down in the conning tower. I’d never seen a conning tower but that’s where he was. I could have moved the turret sideways but I don’t see as there was any sense because there were two or three around it. Two or three bodies. I could actually see them, you know. I was nearly as close as you are so no problem seeing them on there. So I didn’t have any reason to move my turret at all.
CB: No. No.
WS: It was just, it was what they called plain firing but people could make a lot of it and say they did this and did that.
CB: So you’d, at that stage how long had you been out in that area?
WS: 4. 4 o’clock in the morning.
CB: Yeah. So you could be airborne for quite a long time could you?
WS: Yeah. Yeah. It, it was. It must have been. It must have been, the fuel must have been pretty low. And you’ve got to think then, and plus the fact that by, by the time we left the circle and going in and out just so to use up a bit of his, his ammunition. You’ve got to vary because some have, some has got different ranges to others.
CB: Of course.
WS: I don’t know the reason.
CB: Got to confuse the gunners.
WS: Mitch did. He said, ‘You had enough fuel to get to the end of the runway.’ I thought, charming.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Charming.
CB: Amazing. Was the, your picture on the wall shows a Wellington in white. What colour was the aircraft? Was it camouflaged in any way? The one you were flying.
WS: That was painted. I didn’t ask him to do this. He was on the squadron. He’d been at 8 Squadron. Then he come on our squadron. He just died Christmas. He just died last Christmas. Because he didn’t, they said he should have gone to the doctors and he said, ‘No. I don’t go. I’m not going to the doctors. I’ll just have antibiotics.’ He should have gone to the doctors. But his son is a very good painter. In fact that’s all he is good at. He’s, well because that’s all he does. His son. But the lad who did that his father must have picked the, I don’t know, it’s not a bad painting. A hand painting.
CB: But what I meant was that picture on the wall shows the fuselage white. But what colour was your aircraft?
WS: I think it was white.
CB: Right.
WS: I think it was white.
CB: And the wings are blue.
WS: Hmmn?
CB: And the wings are blue.
WS: Oh, well if that’s, I don’t —
CB: I just, for background. So, after the submarine incident then what? Yeah. So you’ve had the excitement of sinking the submarine effectively. Disabling it. Then your flying time didn’t stop. What did you do after that? In the days and months ahead.
WS: I don’t know. I don’t know. In the book Mitch and I went up. I went up. Mitch and I went up but I think that was before we sighted the submarine. Went up to Transjordan. That’s what it was called in them days. Transjordan. Don’t know why. Do you? Transjordan. I don’t know. We then went to a little island not far from where the, not far from Ben Abela right. Called Socotra. Have you? No? Don’t go there. You know what the king did there if you stole. Chopped your hands off. No messing. Got the tree and hand and he did. It belonged to, the Russians took over. I think the Russians still own it now. It didn’t belong to us but we went there and we were within a whisker. We were within a whisker of the U859. So, he’d got up in the meantime and this was about August time when it was the end of — it did get through but then I think he was sunk just before he got to Japan. So, we’d done a good job. And it was the, it was the end of submarines trying to get through to Japan. So in their infinite wisdom the British have, they [pause] yes.
CB: So that, your tour, how many, how many ops did you do to do your tour?
WS: Not as many as Oliver because [laughs] because he was a good navigator. Don’t ask me this because I can’t tell you and Mitch is not here to tell you. But a big chunk. He said, ‘Go and pack your bags. We’re going to Trans, we’re going to Transjordan.’ I don’t want to, I don’t want to go to Transjordan but when you’ve been at Khormaksar Transjordan was haven. Have you been to Kenya?
CB: I haven’t. No.
WS: No. Well —
CB: But Khormaksar is Aden.
WS: Khormaksar is. Yeah. Yeah, but what I’m saying is Khormaksar is diabolical. Ninety nine shirts this colour. Shirts, as soon as you put them. Kenya is not. Kenya is like this. And Socotra wasn’t bad. The climate how it was good I don’t know. But it was better. So the, we went there when the U859 was coming around which we learned later from my later second pilot who lived in Keighley. And the gentleman who, a gentleman lived near him whose livelihood was, if you never did — bringing up, bringing up gold from the, from the sea. Yeah. He had a diving, diving down and bringing up and he lived at Keighley where our second, second pilot came from. And he, he knew somebody and he knew that he’d got. Where he’d got it from I don’t know. He knew something about the U859 and we were within, we were within a very close distance of that but had got through to somewhere off India when I think somebody sunk it anyway.
CB: So, after that where did you go? Where did you go after that?
WS: When I come back to Blighty.
CB: Well, you went to Transjordan did you? You went to Transjordan.
WS: Yeah.
CB: And how long were you there?
WS: About six weeks.
CB: Oh right.
WS: Do you know what we were there for? Typical RAF of course. Aircraft instructor’s course.
CB: Oh.
WS: What aircraft? You don’t see any aircraft in there. I said, ‘What?’ All I spoke to Mitch was afterwards I said, and he was a big man, six foot odd, you know. I said, ‘How did you do?’ ‘Oh. Well,’ he said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ I thought, ‘Ah, I’m doing better than you.’ I’ve got about seventy eight percent. So, that wasn’t bad. I don’t know what, I don’t know what it meant. When I told blokes back in the squadron they told me where to go. So I went there [laughs] But, but then we were, when we were away Harvey just flew a different aircraft. He thought it was great. I didn’t. And he was one of the unlucky ones you know because when he finished training in South Africa, he did his training in South Africa. I moaned about my flight sergeant. I know it was only pennies but it’s a lot of money to me. He come back from there I told you. And we went to, to he went to Blackpool. Squires Gate. Squires Gate. That’s it. That’s the name of it. And when he come back [pause] from there, and then Eastbourne. Have you been to Eastbourne? Do you know Eastbourne? Well, he was in a hotel, a big hotel on the front there. Did you see it? Where it had been half been rebuilt. Where Hitler hit it. Well he, the navigators were all in there.
CB: Oh were they?
WS: But they were out in the morning so they didn’t, they didn’t. Well he’d come back there. He’d come back there. He went through OTU like us. Silloth. Then went abroad. Did his tour as a sergeant. And then within weeks he was a flight lieutenant.
CB: Quick as that.
WS: Yeah. Well why? Ask me why. Well, because he was commissioned in South Africa. Could have done better I think. The, the, whoever was in the [pause] yeah. So he was a commissioned. I never got my flight sergeant but that was just pennies. But he was, he should have been. He looked, he looked like officer material. I said, ‘Bad luck Oliver.’ But he didn’t seem to mind. I didn’t get that. That would have drove me up the wall.
CB: So you, you ended up as a flight sergeant. You ended up as a flight sergeant.
WS: I —
CB: You became a flight sergeant.
WS: And then I become a warrant officer.
CB: And then a warrant officer.
WS: Yeah.
CB: But when did you get those two is what I meant? So flight ––
WS: I don’t think I got me flight sergeant.
CB: Oh just straight to warrant officer did you?
WS: I wrote, I wrote to the check people and they said it was, it could have been when I was up in Transjordan. You don’t think they are going to transfer statements and pennies up to Transjordan. No. It probably came through records at Khormaksar without telling. I don’t think I was very much interested anyway.
CB: No.
WS: And then I was, and the reason I was, and that’s when I went to Scampton as sports officer. Because I expect the sports officer had been demobbed.
CB: This is when you got back.
WS: Ahum.
CB: Well, so after, so from Transjordan you came back to where in England?
WS: Oh no. No. No.
CB: Where did you go?
WS: Back to Khormaksar again.
CB: Oh you did.
WS: Oh yeah.
CB: Okay. Yeah.
WS: But I enjoyed it there. Why? Well, because it was like Kenya. The weather was, the weather was very English. You know. I played football. I enjoyed that.
CB: So then? When, when were you demobbed?
WS: Demobbed in, demobbed, well, at Coningsby. I was probably demobbed [pause] I was probably demobbed at Scampton because I’d gone there. RAF Scampton. To be —
CB: Sports officer.
WS: Yeah. To be sports officer. Well, I would be I think. There was only two of us there.
CB: Then what? So when you came out of the RAF, what did you then do?
WS: Out the RAF. Blacksmithing down here.
CB: So this was 1945, ‘46 was it?
WS: I came down here.
CB: When did you come out of the RAF?
WS: August ’46.
CB: Okay.
WS: Roughly.
CB: And then what? So what did you do immediately after you were demobbed?
WS: Here.
CB: Why did you come down here?
WS: Well, quite easily. The reason I came down here I lost me, again Stevenson, and I didn’t lose this. I didn’t lose it. It was stolen from me. You know we used to sleep with the paybook under the pillow. Well, it puts a crease in your trousers. That’s the only thing I know. And I’d had a few drinks in Newcastle. I was looking for two minutes actually or [unclear] been with me. And when I woke up in the morning nothing under the pillow. So I went down to the bloke in YMCA Newcastle. And that’s when the story of [pause] That’s when the story of [pause] the paybook. Sixty odd years.
CB: In your, in your book.
WS: An event.
CB: Right.
WS: An event. And the bloke said, ‘Oh, it happens all the time mate.’ I go, ‘Oh it’s alright for you but I’ve got to go back to Coningsby and tell the bloke.’ But they were alright as it happened. But not nice when you’ve lost. And when the, the Express reporter, very words, remember them vividly. This was after I was married. We’d been out for a walk Lil and I and when we came back and then she said, ‘Someone is on the phone.’ And it was our, the Air Gunner’s Secretary from London. Lived in London. I think he was a policeman and he said, he started interrogating me and asked me if I — and I said, ‘Well what do you want to know about?’ He said, ‘Were you in Newcastle,’ blah. I said, ‘I don’t know but I probably was,’ because I used to go there sometimes. I had an aunt live in Newcastle. Quite a good way from the town centre. And then he said, ‘Well, they found your paybook.’ So when the Express get word because there’s a cut off in the papers isn’t there?
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
WS: Between, yeah. So Manchester downwards. And the air gunner from [pause] it was in the AGA, Air Gunners Association. He was, he rung up the secretary and the secretary rings me. And that’s was how that was found. And they tret me well up there. Had a wonderful day.
CB: So what did you do when you came out? Immediately you came out. For a job.
WS: I then worked at, I then worked, just worked at Beaconsfield as a blacksmith. I went back to blacksmithing.
CB: But why did you choose down here?
WS: Because I’ve already said —
CB: Because of Halton.
WS: I’d already said to the reporter of the, of the Express —
CB: Yeah.
WS: Like, up there. He asked me that question, ‘Why have you come down here?’ And the words are just as vivid today as they were then, ‘I thought the cherries were sweeter.’ Meaning the choices. We’d got more choice.
CB: So as a blacksmith where did you work?
WS: Joe Lake’s, Beaconsfield. Wonderful. Wonderful man. He’d been a First World War soldier.
CB: Oh.
WS: It’s not there now. They’ve pulled it down. It’s a shame.
CB: What was it? What was it called?
WS: Lake. Lake and Mockley.
CB: Oh. Lake and Mockley.
WS: Do you know them?
CB: I don’t. No.
WS: Lake and Mockley was the name. And then I had a few changes after then.
CB: So where did you meet Lillian?
WS: Here. Wycombe.
CB: Right.
WS: Wycombe. At the town hall. It’s been pulled down has it?
Other: No.
WS: They ought to have done.
Other: Valentine’s Day.
WS: Was it?
Other: 1947.
WS: Don’t know who thought of that.
Other: Mum thought he was Polish because she couldn’t understand him [laughs]
CB: So, you spent all your life at Lake and Mockley when you came down here.
WS: No. No.
CB: What did you do after that?
WS: I went to. Well I was very good at welding to have been a blacksmith. I’ve done fire welding. Half the people that repairing wood I just went repairing motor cars. Panel beating. I switched to panel beater.
CB: Oh right.
WS: And that gave me a fair living. Fair. Not great.
CB: Well, we’ve done really well. Thank you very much indeed. And Lillian had been in the RAF as well.
WS: Yes. It’s in the book there.
CB: Okay. Good. One other thing that came out early on was you talked about how people were in reserved occupations and that’s what yours was. But you volunteered.
WS: Oh yes.
CB: What about this business of LMF. Did you come across that?
WS: No. I didn’t you know. But it annoys me. First, it’s not a thing to talk about.
CB: No.
WS: All I know is this. Again, this is typical RAF. Well, it’s just the RAF I’m afraid. I told a wing commander at Halton that and all last Monday when we were up there. He said, ‘I understand.’ He come from Edinburgh. He wasn’t born in Edinburgh but he was an Edinburgh lad. Charming man. Have you met him?
CB: No.
WS: Oh you want to meet him. They’ve got a lovely little museum there now.
CB: Yeah. I’ve been in it. Yes.
WS: Have you been in it?
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
WS: Well, the bloke kept showing me the Wellingtons. I just, I said, ‘I’ve seen a few of them.’ Yes. He said, ‘Yes. I know what you mean.’ NCOs were disgraced. Now, wait a bit. LMF. I haven’t delved into the business but I think in my little mind there’s no difference between a sergeant and an officer. If you’ve the sickness or the fear of or decided flying is not for me half way through and it gets the better of me that’s a sickness. The Americans recognised that. We don’t. All I’m saying that is if you’re a sergeant you were disgraced. Did you know anything about it?
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
WS: On the square. Ripped off. And sent to the Orkneys. I say the Orkneys. Cleaning toilets out somewhere. Now, officers weren’t tret like that. They didn’t have any parades for any officers who had LMF. I think that was wrong. But then that’s Britain and that’s how the service works. I don’t know if they had LMF in the army. They must have had surely. In the trenches. Must have had. Or the navy. All I know is about is me. You know, you don’t, you don’t know the, you don’t know the difference.
CB: No. That was really good. Thank you very much.
WS: It was.
CB: Fascinating.
[recording paused]
WS: I’m just saying I don’t understand it. That’s why I said —
CB: We’re just talking about the time out in the Middle East. And so it wasn’t based on the number of operations that you did.
WS: No. It wasn’t. It wasn’t else I would have been —
CB: How long were you there?
WS: Else I would have been six months later just because I’d been up to Transjordan. I didn’t want to go to Transjordan. Mitch said, ‘Get your bag out. We’re going to Transjordan.’ And when he said aircraft recognition I didn’t stop laughing when I left him. I didn’t dare laugh when he was there. I expect he was happy to have a rest. I didn’t want to have a rest. But see what I mean it’s —
CB: So what we’re getting at is that you were out there for a year.
WS: A year. And all the, all the crews that started the squadron in when they —
WS: When it was formed, when it was formed 621 Squadron, when we went up to London, what do you call him, my mate Bond asked one of the high ranking officers. All the plaques were along there except ours you see. So he said, ‘How come we’re not on there?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘621.’ Oh well,’ he said, ‘You were a special squadron.’ Special squadron. ‘You were a special squadron so they don’t put them up there.’ Well, I said, ‘That’s rubbish.’ ‘Well, no,’ he said, ‘You probably weren’t formed long enough.’ Well, I said from 1943 to ’49 or ’50. I don’t know when it was and I wasn’t interested. See what I mean?
CB: Yeah.
WS: He didn’t, he didn’t think that.
CB: It says here that 621 Squadron was formed at Port Reitz, Kenya on the 12th of September 1943.
WS: Yeah. And when was it closed?
CB: And it was disbanded when the number was changed to 18 on the 1st of September 1946.
WS: How many years ago was that?
CB: So that’s three years.
WS: They were going a bit longer than that. Well, he’s right then. Three years.
Other: So they can actually change the name of a squadron.
CB: Well sometimes because it’s a high squadron number.
WS: 18. They had Lancs didn’t they?
CB: Yeah. Probably. But anyway it was a complicated —
WS: It is.
CB: Situation. But they had so many squadrons they couldn’t continue them all.
Other: Oh I see.
CB: And what they’ve done is to keep the lower numbers because they were the ones by definition that were the oldest.
Other: Okay.
CB: Because they were formed in the First World War.
Other: Oh I see. Oh okay. That’s interesting.
WS: Yeah. It is.
CB: So how often did you fly on balance when you were out in Mogadishu, Khormaksar or whatever? Every day or every other day.
WS: About two hundred and fifty hours you see. That’s if you take a Bomber Command tour I was going to say I’m not saying you would do it one year but you could do nearly three tours in one year. Assuming you, I’ve got the survival rate. The survival rates are not all that high. In fact they’re pretty low. But for the length of time we were out there and the lads were lost in a short space of time. I remember one crew. I don’t who they are now. I wish. I’ve got their names and I have got the names of all the initial crews. They [pause] four of the five or three of the five of this crew was commissioned in the morning. Like, say they got the commission come through tomorrow morning then they’ll do tomorrow morning. And they were lost that day.
CB: Oh were they really?
WS: So that’s a loss if it’s, see you didn’t have to if, if you get in the water you’re deaded anyway. You can have all the rigmarole all your life but it’s, the ocean is a big, big place. I’m just saying so. So why did they? I don’t know. They probably, thought a year was long enough. My mate was, I told you he was out in Pershore who joined up with me. I think he went around the bend. Well you would there.
CB: He was there all the time. In Pershore.
WS: All the time. From Barry.
CB: From Barry.
WS: Yes. Yeah.
CB: Barry Island.
WS: Well he probably thought I’d never been to Barry.
CB: So we’re talking about being in a very hot area. You’re flying regularly. What did you do when you weren’t flying?
WS: Very little I should think.
CB: Football?
WS: Football.
CB: Swimming?
WS: There wasn’t much. Football in Khormaksar was diabolical. Sand’s glass. We all know that. You just had to go down. Even when I was on the boat coming home the doctor at the, halfway up the stairs said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Oh it’s nothing. Sir. It’s just a little graze.’ ‘Take it off. And of course everybody is on the boat laughing at me. Nothing to laugh at. So, I took it off. Well, it was just an ordinary [pause] probably a bit infectious you see with the sand, ‘Alright,’ he said, ‘Put it on and see the MO in the morning.’ See what I mean? They —
CB: So what you mean is that when you fall over playing football on the sand it cuts you badly in the knee.
WS: Yeah. Diabolical.
CB: Okay.
WS: Diabolical.
CB: Right.
WS: We had, we had an officer bought, two officers, got to belong to officers to feed them. Got the photographs. I can see them now. Well, I didn’t mind the gazelle. And I’ve read letters about that. I reckon. they said it had a withered back leg. If you read about gazelles now. When cheetahs are after them where do they bite? Well, there’s only one place they bite because the gazelles are faster than them over short distances. I reckon he had its leg nipped off. Anyway, he was friends with the cheetah. My officer had bought a cheetah. I know. And he’d got to feed it.
Other: I’d have been a bit worried —
WS: Must have had more brains than sense. And they were walking around this when I was playing one day and I didn’t like the look of it at all, but I don’t know if it was harmless.
Other: I’d have been worried about it eating the football.
WS: Ridiculous. Bloody ridiculous.
CB: Just finally you’re, you’re in the, are you in the British Legion?
WS: I’m in the Legion. I’m in the RAFA.
CB: The RAF Association.
WS: Yeah. Still getting them. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. That’s really good.
WS: Yeah.
CB: And do you go to meetings of the RAF Association?
WS: Well no. But purely because now I’ve lost the car.
CB: Yeah.
WS: That’s the only reason.
CB: Good. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: There’s a correction in the interviewer’s comment about the radar in training. It’s not H2S but it was the ASV Mark 2 radar. The Mark 8 Wellington flown by Walter had an ASV Mark 3 in a nose blister centimetric radar.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Walter Raymond Stevenson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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