Interview with Eric Horsham

Title

Interview with Eric Horsham

Description

Eric Horsham was born in Plumstead, London. He worked initially as a messenger for the Royal Ordnance before following the family footsteps in to the railways. He volunteered for air crew and began training as a flight engineer. He flew operations with 102 Squadron from RAF Pocklington where they were told, ‘Now that you’re here you’ll be lucky to last three weeks.’ Among his operations were several against the V-1 sites in France. His aircraft was hit on one operation and the crew lost their hearing as the plane took evasive action. The mid-upper gunner was badly injured. They landed at the emergency airfield at RAF Woodbridge. The inside of the plane resembled a pepper pot and they didn’t have brakes or radio so set off flares to let the control tower know they were in trouble. After the war Eric returned to the railways before joining local government.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2017-01-05

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

02:07:40 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ASymondsHorshamE170105, PHorshamES1602

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 5th of January 2017 and I’m with Eric Horsham down in Warminster and he was a flight engineer. And he is going to talk about his experiences in life but particularly with the RAF. So, Eric what are you earliest recollections of life?
ESH: Well, every year we went off to Devon for a holiday at relations because my people came from Plymouth and Devonport and this was held good right up until my teenage years. But early memories really, I suppose began at the age of about, serious memories, seven when we heard a very strange noise on one occasion and we all rushed out to see what it was. And do you know what? It was the R101 which was on its way to London and of course guided by the River Thames because that’s where we lived. In Plumstead. So it was logical. In fact the best view from Plumstead was the Ford Motor Works which had four big white chimneys and so that was a landmark. And following on from there it wasn’t until I was [pause] well I suppose fourteen really because that’s when I left school and they said, ‘Well, there’s a couple of jobs and one is — would you like to be a messenger in the Royal Ordnance factory?’ Which was right adjacent to Plumstead at Woolwich, you see and also the headquarters of the Royal Engineers. So that’s what I did for six months because it was destined that I should take the Railway Clerical Examination and join the rest of the family working on the railway. So that’s subsequent to that they sent me to train as a booking clerk. But I didn’t show up very brightly so they said, ‘No. We’ll send you to a goods depot.’ Which was rather like being banished, you know [laughs] because, can I be humorous at this point and say, well yes I was sent to a depot call Nine Hills which was in Vauxhall near Waterloo and on one side I had the Brand’s Essence and Pickle factory churning out pickle. And looking the other way we had horses because everything was delivered, delivered by horses, and drays at that. And on the other side we had the gaslight and coke company pushing out fumes so that was my early memory on the railway and then a friend of mine said [pause] well I told the friend of mine in the railway business that I was very unhappy there. So, indeed the friend said, ‘Well, we’ll try and rectify that,’ and apparently I didn’t shine as a booking clerk either. So they sent me to the estate office of the Southern Railway which was way out in the country at Chislehurst, but I digress because previous to — I mean we, talking about the year 1937. As you’ll appreciate if I was ’23 — born ‘23. ‘33, ‘37 that’s thirteen or fourteen years and 1939 came along. We can verify those dates and we had to join anything organised. All young people. So, but I think maybe I’m a bit previous to that because I went along to the Air Defence Cadet Corps. This would be somewhere about 1937 at least. So from there of course we went on to the Air Training Corps which was very much in evidence at Woolwich because we were, had the run of the Woolwich Polytechnic, and the chief there was indeed given the rank of wing commander in the Air Training Corps. Wing Commander Halliwell. So, that’s where I first got my, sort of my aircraft experience and of course it was a very good base for workshop practice. We all started off wanting to be flight — to be aircraft fitters. Fitters and turners. And the very basic things that we did were of course in connection with Tiger Moths where you really had the history of aircraft from very early days, and we had to learn all about turn buckles and things which kept the wings in place. But of course as time went by, here we are in ’39 and we were getting heavy bombers coming in, and if you’d, you had to decide, you know, really what you wanted to do because you were going to be called up for sure. And state a preference. So of course I did. And that was to be a flight engineer. Now, as an aside to this, engineers in the Air Force — flying, got twelve shillings a day. Now, you, you know seven twelves is eighty four. That’s four pound forty a week which is not to be, not to be sniffed at. But of course we also had to join something anyway. So, off I went to, to be called up but unfortunately there was a problem because I’d had a medical earlier for call up and the doctor discovered that one leg, ankle or calf, was slightly different to the other one. And of course yes it would be so because when I was born it was in a splint up until a year, eighteen months which straightened it out but it never did quite catch up with the other leg. Anyway, they said, ‘No. You’re grade three. We don’t want you.’ So off I went back to the estate office and soldiered on. Filing I think was our main job then because the railway had a vast estate. However, ok, come twelve months I was getting pretty fed up so I went up to the local recruiting office and said, ‘You know, I’m available. And I’m partly trained as an engineer. I want to join the Air Force,’ and they said, ‘Well that’s alright. You’re in the Air Training Corps. You should be alright.’ So they sent me off to Cardington and, for a medical. Went to Henlow actually. Adjacent. Just down the road from Cardington. Saw the top brass and he said, ‘Well, jump up and down there,’ and so I did. And he said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you, off you go.’ So back to an interview at Cardington. The very, very modern method of identifying people. You had all these puzzles in a book, and you went through the book. A hundred puzzles and things like a bit of algebra, you know. And I knew a little bit. Anyway, I got the question right and I was the only one in that class who got it. So the squadron leader who was interviewing, and he was loaded with gongs, of course to a young man I couldn’t take my eyes of these gongs. Anyway, he put me through all the paces and he had a civilian officer too, with him, in the interview. And in his room he had every kind of aircraft and I was to — aircraft recognition. So I did very well at that because we were well trained in the Air Training Corps. So off I went then back to civilian life and then a little while later got called up for Aircrew Reception Centre at Lord’s. So we had a, we were very honoured because we had to be kitted out in the Long Room which was famous as you know. We had drill on the famous turf. Now, that lasted about three weeks by which time we were fully kitted up and said, ‘Right. Off to Torquay you go.’ We thought that was jolly good because Torquay was a lovely holiday centre wasn’t it? Anyway, we did, I did eight weeks there altogether. And we learned administration and the law of the RAF and the time came when they said, well, you know, off to the squadron — no. Off to the big training centre you go. And I remember I slept the night on Bristol Temple Meads Station because that was it. We were going to St Athan in Wales. And the train service being what it was we did arrive at St Athan with two kit bags by the time we got there. And humped them all the way up to the camp which we thought rather naughty. Anyway, we went through twenty six weeks, I think it was, of training throughout every facet of aircraft construction and the essential things that one would have needed to know. Like you had to be au fait with a very complicated system of petrol tanks. Now, each wing of a Halifax had six tanks. And this had to be in flying whittled down from, so that your main petrol was in the mid-section, in tanks one and three. Funny enough on the test training board they said, ‘No, you really ought to have another think about this. Go back and think for another week.’ So, then I passed out and they put a little white flash in my cap and they gave me papers for the Number 1652 Conversion Unit which was that Marston Moor.
[Telephone ringing. Recording paused]
CB: So we’re just re-starting now with St Athan and the rest of the things that you were doing in training there.
ESH: Yes. I’ll go straight into leaving St Athan.
CB: What else did you do in St Athan? Hydraulics. What else?
ESH: Is that running?
CB: Yes.
ESH: Well, yes, you had your petrol system. You had the other power that was likely to be in aircraft which were accumulators. Now, not as you would think an electricity accumulator but this was liquid in a cylinder. Oil actually I think it was. And air was pumped in giving it a pressure and on selecting undercarriage down the accumulator would push it down. This is in the case of a Halifax which was either hydraulic or pneumatic. So the way to get services to operate was by his accumulator. But not only that of course because you did have [pause] now let me think. You had the port inner engine on a Halifax is the one that supplies power to your services and —
CB: Electrical power.
ESH: Yes. Some of it would have been electrical power.
CB: But also hydraulic.
ESH: And hydraulics had to be learned. Flaps were hydraulic. The other services control are foot and pedals by the pilot on the fin and rudder. And the elevators — well they would be hydraulic you see running a pipeline out. And flaps for instance. Fairly high pressure, well two and a half pounds I think were the standard pressure in the system but it was enough to push a big flap down against the airstream. And so electrics — you had to be au fait with the electrical services, and therefore you had to mug up on Ohm’s Law if you like in order to appreciate the power that you could get from electric motors. So, and then of course you had to know the different gauges of the stressed skin of the alclad which was a compound of the aluminium NG7. You see, the mind gets very hazy when it comes to the complete structure but you were able, by the end of six months, to walk through a mock-up of an aircraft with your eyes closed. You could have bandaged the flight engineer. He was the one who moved around and you were perfectly au fait with where the main spar came across so you could sort of jump over that. And of course the controls for your petrol were underneath the, what’s called the rest position which was a little sort of bunk for resting people. We didn’t go to sleep there actually but it was very useful. And then in the front of the aircraft of course you had the pilot with the wireless op immediately underneath him. And the navigator and the bombardier in the nose proper. So they, we were pretty well genned up by the time we left there. We could go anywhere blind folded within the air craft there and operate switches without thinking about it. So then they said, ‘Right. Here’s, here’s your ticket.’ You’re on your on your way,’ to a place called Pocklington — no. Sorry. Marston Moor. The sight of the famous battle actually was just down the road. And this was number 1652 Conversion Unit where all the crews got together as and made up as crews. Now, I hadn’t met our crew before then but we were very late. The mid-upper gunners and the flight engineers only met the crew, the other crew of four who’d come along from EFTS and their various ‘dromes where they had been instructed, to make up a crew. And it was strange because we assembled in the hall and the flight engineers and the gunners — mid-upper gunners, would be sitting in chairs and then in came the existing crews because they’d been flying Wellingtons which only required five people. And then — how do you find a pilot? They said, ‘Join up with somebody,’ so eventually, I think we were down to about two flight engineers and a chappie came along and said, ‘I need a flight engineer. You’ll be my flight engineer won’t you?’ And it turned out that he was a very very competent pilot. His name actually was, he was a Pilot Officer Francis then, who came from a village near where we are now called Stoke St Michael near Shepton Mallet. Anyway, he was quite stern. He always said that he’d seen our records but I don’t think he had. Anyway, he brought the crew along and said, ‘This is our flight engineer. Do you think he’ll be alright?’ So that was it. That was our crew. And so then we started training on the next day on circuits and bumps because this aircraft was totally new to our pilot. And while we’re on the subject of crew we had a very important chap in the crew who is of course the navigator. Now, we had actually in retrospect, having had thirty odd ops to prove himself, and we wouldn’t be here now if it hadn’t have been for Oscar Shirley, who was our navigator, because you could turn him upside down. You could have umpteen course changes. He knew exactly where he was. Because it could be very, I mean I heard of crews who had navigators that weren’t too good and that was curtains. However, we won’t dwell on that. But, and while we’re on crew our bombardier was fresh from the first few months of a teacher training course. He was called Johnny Morris but not to be confused with the comedian. And Alan Shepherd was our wireless operator. Now, Alan Shepherd came from Ringwood, off a smallholding. Wonderful chap really. Did a lot of good work after the war. Who else have we got to account for? Oh rear gunner. Yes. Rear gunner, another Londoner. I’m just desperately trying to remember his name. You wouldn’t believe it would you? [pause] I’ll remember it in a moment. We’ll come back to that. Now, who haven’t we accounted for? Mid-upper gunner. Jimmy Finney from Hull. Lovely lad who later got shot up on one operation and had to pack it in.
CB: And your bomb aimer?
ESH: Ron Alderton was the name of the rear gunner by the way. He is still with us as far as I know but when I phoned him the other day he said, ‘I’m losing my marbles. I can’t come and see you.’ So, there we were. Crew set up. And then of course we all had our bicycles with us. Off in the van and off we went to — I think we went by train from Green Hammerton to York. And then York out to Pocklington, and the station yard was just gravel in those days. And then of course we walked over to the ‘drome which was quite close. Each of us had two kit bags and a bicycle. But we knew we were going to Pocklington and it didn’t have a very savoury sort of record. In fact they said, ‘Now you’re here you’ll be lucky if you last three weeks.’ Which was a throwback from — 1943 was a desperate year and here we are in January or February was it of ’44, at the Conversion Unit. And Pocklington had, sorry not the Conversion Unit. Pocklington — the actual RAF station and there was definitely a pervading sort of sense that this was a bit dodgy, you know. However, we were led into operations in around about, just before D-Day. We’d done all our circuits and bumps and cross country’s and they let us down very gently on short trips to France. I mean the first trip we did was to a place called [unclear] which was a P-plane place. P planes were coming in thick and fast so Churchill had said to our boss Air Chief Marshall Harris, ‘Look get your lads on this. I want it stamped out.’ Because they knew the 6th of June was coming up. So we continued to do that until right through until well after D-Day. To various places which you wouldn’t be able to find on the map because they don’t give, you won’t find them as places like Foret de Dieppe. Which is unheard of, I mean, but there you are. And then we started ops didn’t we? And of course our accent was on night bombing. Can you imagine having a sheet of aluminium stood up against the wall and you gathered up in your hand and [pause] gravel? Now, you threw the gravel at the aluminium. Now that’s just what it’s like when you’re being shot. If you’re near a shot. Because all the shrapnel comes and hits the aircraft like that and that is getting just a bit too close for comfort. However, they were nights. Now, what you don’t, what you can’t see you don’t worry about do you? Even though it was seven or eight hours sometimes. Or five or six to the Ruhr. Because we were concentrating on the Ruhr. I mean Essen after we’d been there and some of the other lads had been there previously there wasn’t one brick standing on another. And that’s where Krupps the armament works were ruined, you know — finished. Because we were mainly at that time after [pause] I mean our targets were decided by the Ministry of Economic Warfare. And they said, ‘Right. Wipe out Germany’s oil and that will end the war.’ So that’s what we did. We went to all sorts of obscure places trying, in bulk, to wipe out an oil plant. Because, I mean, you’re looking at a complex in the middle of a small area of a village. Now it took a lot of aircraft to plaster it so we did a lot of this up and down the Ruhr. I mean there were so many places I won’t bore you with that. But that’s what we did. But also we went to one or two further places like Brunswick. Way across east to Berlin. And then Hanover, Soest, Osnabruck and they were very well defended. And of course the night fighters hadn’t quite been been nullified as they were a little later. So we had, I suppose a charmed existence. And one of the deadly things the Germans did was to position a gun at a fixed angle — called a shrage gun and it would come out and go straight for the port inner. Once you got the port inner — well that’s where your services came from. And there’s no way really you could put a fire out. You’d try by diving [pause] but no really we had a charmed existence I suppose. And then D-Day came along and in preparation for that the squadron was busy but we didn’t actually get over Normandy until, I think it was July the 18th 1944 when it was, there were troop concentrations around Cannes. Now, if you remember Montgomery couldn’t shift them and everyone was looking to him and saying, you know, ‘You’re going to be a failure aren’t you? You can’t. You’re army can’t do it.’ So they whistled up the Air Force east of Cannes where Tigers tanks had dug in in expectation of a bombing raid. and of course we were there 5 o’clock in the morning and it soon became obscured by dust and smoke. And really it was pretty terrible for the Germans I’m sure because they staggered out of their bunkers and that, having been bombed by I think it was a thousand aircraft. Not all at once but over a period of about half an hour. Your concentration was so great yes you could time them and of course this was, in effect, an army cooperation. We had to be very careful because the army had to lay down a yellow barrier of flares with a given margin which they decided was safe so — and I do remember on that occasion I think as we were coming — as we were going out on that raid as you’ll realise Cannes isn’t that far from England. They were coming back. So, quite amazing you know to see these aircraft coming back and you hadn’t got there. Now, this was daylight of course because they switched us from night after a time because we went on to daylight because of course if you can see something it should be, you should be more accurate. Now, we did go on right through the summer. We went to one P-plane place seven days running. Foret de Dieppe. If you can find it on the map. Because one operation was preceded by Mosquito. Now the Mosquito could — it was planned he would be on a fixed from England on the exact spot. So we were trundling away there getting towards — and the secret was when he dropped his bombs everyone else would do theirs. And of course unfortunately we got up near the target and one aircraft opened its bomb doors and dropped the bombs and of course everybody else did the same. So really that was — the idea was good but it didn’t work in practice. Whether the Air Ministry would like you to know that I don’t know. But yes, it was so. So, we were largely on P-plane bases but then we went on, as I say, to daylight. Oil installations. Because at that time it was really beginning to show that the Germans couldn’t really put enough in the field because they hadn’t got the petrol. So, mainly of course we were up at the Ruhr at places like Gelsenkirchen where there were oil installations and that more or less saw the summer out. But one operation did stand out for us and that was army cooperation with the Americans who were trying to push into the Ruhr and we hadn’t yet, they hadn’t yet done it but there were three towns. Julich, Duren and Eschweiler, and I think they are adjacent to the [pause] now what was the name of the forest?
CB: Ardennes.
ESH: The Ardennes, yes. Indeed. The Ardennes and these Germans had all their batteries concentrated in that area and they could dig in these Tiger tanks and they were very difficult. I mean they were very difficult to move. And the crews also were dug in and ready to come into action as soon as the raid had passed over. Anyway, we went through the target and on our way out and we must have wandered. At that time of course to nullify guns you dropped out metallic strip, Window, which really foxed the German radar. And they were pretty good on this radar. And we did wander around to one side on the way out. Out of radar — out of the Window cover and you could see. I was lucky I had a little dome and I could look out as a flight engineer to the rear and you could see these black dots coming up, but you didn’t know whether that one was going to follow that one but it did. And there was an almighty bang and so skipper Francis knew what that was so immediately put it into a dive. Now we were about fifteen thousand feet I think and we ended up diving and ended up at eight thousand feet hoping that the Germans wouldn’t be able to follow us down but the place was full of smoke and cordite. The smell of cordite. If you’ve opened up a firework or let it off you’ll smell cordite and that’s what, that’s what was filling up the aircraft. So you couldn’t communicate. Everyone had gone deaf so you had to wait for your hearing to come back. But being a flight engineer I was able to walk around because we were at level flight by that time. Previous to that we’d been pinned in our stations. The G-effect being such. And so the first thing I saw — the aircraft looked like a pepper pot on one side, the starboard side, and daylight was streaming out. No flaps. And unfortunately Jim Finney in the mid-upper turret was pointing to his leg and the shrapnel had gone through at the thigh which rendered him, his control of his foot etcetera to be nullified. So wireless op and bombardier got him out of the turret and laid him down in the fuselage, bandaged him up and they cut his trousers first in order to find out where the where he’s bleeding. And they did a good job on him because you know if a chap’s losing blood he’s losing life blood. So, anyway, the skipper said to navigator, ‘Give me a course for home.’ He gave him a course irrespective of what we were flying over and he pointed the nose in the right direction and off we went and we were soon back. I suppose at — oh yes it was awkward because there was a mist coming up and a fog but we were pointed towards Orfordness and the aerodrome there which had FIDO. Fog Dispersal [pause] Fog Incandescent Dispersal Organisation. So we were able to fly around once firing off all the red flares that we had so they should know down below that we hadn’t got radio, we hadn’t got brakes. But it’s a long runway and it was called [pause] There were two — one was at Carnaby further up the coast. This was Woodbridge. Straight in off the sea straight on the ‘drome. So it was getting pretty misty and it was closing in. November is a bad month isn’t it? Anyway, we got down didn’t we? And we managed to take up the full length of the runway, ended up on the grass at the end. But nevertheless we were off out of trouble. And along came, well they knew full well that this aircraft was damaged. Couldn’t talk to us. So they sent out the wagon and dear Jim was soon in hospital. And we, along with a couple, quite a few dozen others descended on the cookhouse for a supper, you know. Which we did eventually get because they didn’t expected all these people to come in 5 o’clock in the afternoon. And so what do you do? We’re down at Orfordness there in the east coast of Essex. They gave us tickets back to London and then back to York which was an excuse for everybody to spend the night in London. But I was lucky because I could get an electric train just down to Woolwich as it were and back home. We never got pulled up. None of us had hats. Well, I think, I think the skipper did because he was very particular about carrying his nice peak cap, you know. However — yeah, so we, but that’s only one of about six different aircraft that we had on the tour. Some of the numbers are in the logbook. But where we had different problems — for instance on one occasion we had a seagull in the engine nacelle which put that out of action. So of course you didn’t use that aeroplane the next day. We had so many we could have a new one every day if necessary. As I say, we had about seven. We got the undercart. That went down alright otherwise we wouldn’t be here would we? But it could be things like that which would be, could be very dodgy. And we eventually finished our tour on oil installations. Let’s see [pause] towards the end. Towards the end. Towards the [pause] October. October. Through Christmas. Probably about January or February of ‘45 and that was the end of our tour. And we had done twenty daylights and about thirteen night trips which clocked up something like four hundred, five hundred hours flying. Full stop.
CB: We’ll stop there for a —
[recording paused]
CB: So we’re just, we’re just doing a recap now which is on the damage on the aircraft.
ESH: Yes.
CB: So starting at the point of the big explosion. Then what happened and what was the effect?
ESH: Well I hope I can remember.
CB: That’s alright.
[pause]
ESH: Well we left the target area and unfortunately we may have erred to one side of the Window cover which of course blocks out their radar and nullifies their accuracy. But nevertheless they caught us up and in a flash there was an almighty bang and our hearing disappeared straight away and the skipper put it into a dive, And down we went. Down. Down. Down. Something like eight thousand feet I suppose before we levelled out and that was a relief but we were then, I was then able, as a flight engineer to move around and observe any damage and by jingo there was. Looking out the port side — the starboard side the flaps had disappeared. One important, very important thing. The whole side of the aircraft was peppered and daylight was, it was more or less a window. And our mid-upper gunner, now our hearing had come back and our visibility was quite goon— pointed to his leg and indeed he had caught, been caught by shrapnel right through his thigh from his turret. So that very shortly after our wireless operator and our bombardier came out and got him out of the turret and cut his trouser and stopped the flow of his blood. And we realised it was very urgent to get back to England because, fortunately our four engines are still turning over in spite of losing some major control of the aircraft, so on arriving at Woodbridge which was a mighty long ‘drome a mighty long runway and very wide too we had to circle. We had to tell the ground what was happening. And so there we were flying, running off red verey lights in case there were other aircraft in the circuit, but there was no issue. We did one. One circuit around the flying control and straight in to the funnel of the runway. Without — without radio we felt pretty helpless. The fog had closed in on the aerodrome now at this time but he was an A1 skipper and as I say one of his things that he was so good at was flying blind, he could fly in any condition. He got us down and we got Jimmy into the transport and away to the nearest hospital.
[pause]
CB: Was there any fire on the aircraft?
ESH: No. Fortunately we didn’t have fire. Which is a pretty terrible thing.
CB: So you had no, no hydraulics and you had no electrics. How did you get the undercarriage down?
ESH: Well, it’s heavy, it’s a very heavy undercarriage. Massive wheels on a Halifax. Six foot high nearly. If I remember rightly the hydraulics had gone which serves flaps, bomb doors, undercarriage and, actually what happened is [pause] there is another precaution because if your —
[pause]
CB: You could wind it down could you?
ESH: No. There was a precaution against it falling down which is called withdrawing the uplocks. This is a job that the flight engineer had to do. He would go down to what the rest position which is where our mid-upper gunner was. And there are two D rings. One each side protruding from the fuselage. The cable obviously comes through the back of the wing because the undercarriage would have been beneath the wing, and it was a simple system. Ok. You pulled the D ring which pulled a cable which released a sort of a gate bolt. This bolt, if you can imagine a gate bolt, held up the undercarriage. So the undercarriage would automatically fall down. So that’s obviously what the, as flight engineer, I did on approaching. We were fortunate in as much as that was all intact. I mean if the aircraft had lost its undercarriage earlier you not only would it have caused a lot more loss of fuel flying with an undercarriage down, total drag. But in this case no. The uplocks worked. Irrespective of any hydraulic system. And of course your warning lights came on here and there.
CB: Ok.
ESH: We covered that have we?
CB: You have. Yeah.
ESH: So therefore we got — we were on the ground, Jimmy’s off to hospital and we are left to go and find our supper again with another hundred bods as we used to call ourselves. The next morning we were given a pass to go back to Pocklington via London so everyone had a night in London if they couldn’t get home. We all seemed to arrive the next morning for the 10 o’clock up to King’s Cross, up to York and that was the end of that sticky situation.
CB: When you had a night in London where did you stay?
ESH: Well I was able to go back. Once we got to London I was able to go back to Plumstead to my folks, and one or two of the other crew had friends that they could call on. Or relations. In fact Skipper Francis had some relations down in Slough way. Now, Ron Alderton, the rear gunner, had Canadian friends temporary and he did a night of the rounds of whatever pubs he could find and night clubs. He had quite a roaring time. I mean we didn’t need to get a train before 11 o’clock from Kings Cross to get back to York. So, on the train back we were, you know, reminiscing. And I always remember I’d tried to write out something for the, for the skipper at the time when all our hearing had gone and it was an absolute shambles. Unfortunately, you couldn’t hear anything and I found I couldn’t even spell the word fuselage. What I should have done was “Jim hit.” Two words would have conveyed that but instead of that — in the event you do not act logically and you would find that you had difficulty in getting to grips with language. You could move about and you knew exactly what you should do but you couldn’t think it through. But we were all in the same boat weren’t we? We all lost our hearing for quite a time.
CB: So you —
ESH: But we got back. That was the thing.
CB: You experienced the initial shock. When did the secondary shock hit you and what was that like?
ESH: Well, we had a night’s sleep, as you will appreciate, in London and I suppose we were rehearsing the events in the train for five hours. But we well appreciated that we were very lucky. But I don’t think at that time that that sort of event had too much effect on a crew. We were all together weren’t we? Jimmy was unfortunate but he wasn’t killed. That would have been a terrible disaster. So therefore I think we’d already been used to five years of war. I mean I’m talking about ’39 onwards, you’ve already had four years and you became inured to stress, in effect. So although we went back over the ground again but we were as a crew, we were complete. We were very lucky.
CB: How long before jimmy rejoined you?
ESH: Jimmy, unfortunately was off to hospital in Oswestry and he was ruled out forever more as a flyer and we received then a young gentleman from Scotland called Onderson. He was very broad and I think mostly we didn’t call him Ian, I think we just called him Jock and he was quite happy with that. And he finished up something like five or six operations with us. He became one of us obviously.
[pause]
CB: Now, you were saying that you did thirty. In your tour there were thirty ops, twenty of them were daylight. How many of those were to do with the V weapons and what happened?
ESH: Well, as we said the V weapons and the P-planes. The V weapon was of course outside our control. It’s a rocket and you don’t hear it coming, you don’t know it’s left the ground even. And if you were anywhere near it then it could destroy half a dozen houses at one time. So we were mainly concentrating on P plane sites because you could flatten them. Until they put them on lorries and then of course you couldn’t find them. So, yes.
CB: So you were, you were in daylight but how easy or difficult was it to find the V1 initially and then V2 sites?
ESH: Well, I don’t think that we could ever find — the V1 for instance was secreted in the middle of a forest and certainly fighters could eventually have a go because they could see them and once we’d identified, or the Air Ministry had identified the location they knew what they were looking for on lorries. They would shoot them up but of course V2 was purely a mobile rocket. But once it was off it was off and it would perform a perambular and no one knew it had gone and no one knew it was coming. And there was just a terrible explosion and five houses could be — disappear.
CB: But the V1 sites, as you said, in forests — how effective would you say your endeavours were in dealing with those?
ESH: Well you want the truth. A question like where would you find the P- plane sites in a forest? All we had to go on really was what came back from our agents by wireless. That there was this activity in a certain place which the Air Ministry would identify, or the sight would be identified and it would be marked on our maps, as I say, as a very obscure village in Pas-de-Calais. The only thing we could do was mass bombing. In fact I don’t remember a site which wasn’t bombed on each occasion with less than three hundred aircraft. So that you hoped that within that aiming point you would destroy it. And I think we did a lot but not all.
CB: Saturation bombing.
ESH: Yes. That was the idea. Saturation bombing [pause] Stop.
CB: Ok.
[recording paused]
CB: Now, some of your endeavours at bombing these V1 sites perhaps were more effective than others. Was there one site you went to several times?
ESH: What? A V1?
CB: Yeah. In Dieppe.
ESH: Yeah. Foret de Dieppe. Did I not mention earlier?
CB: No. So, just, just cover that can you? The fact you went several times.
ESH: Oh yes indeed.
CB: Why did you go to that several times?
ESH: Yes. In order to mitigate this nuisance of the V2, V1s of which many thousands were being aimed at England at the time on a fixed track. One morning, in fact five or six mornings continuously we searched out a fixed ramp in a forest called Foret de Nieppe. Which of course is in the Pas-de-Calais, if you can find it. And it took thousands of tonnes, must have done, to obliterate that site. But it was, it wasn’t able to fire off these V1s in rapid succession because, you know the Germans were very thorough and got it to a high state of proficiency but we did concentrate for many weeks and months on finishing off these P-planes because it was aimed at civilian population.
CB: How many times did you actually see V1s flying towards Britain on your way to the target?
ESH: Well fighter pilots did of course but not, not us.
CB: You were too high up, were you, to see them?
ESH: Yes. I mean they didn’t, they came in at about two thousand feet so I can’t say I saw one. But I saw the damage and I experienced a V2 standing on Albany Park Station which was on the, what’s called the Dartford loop line. Bexley Heath, Barnehurst and down there. And I was standing on the station and this thing dropped a quarter of a mile away and I had to ask the station staff what that was. I mean, you know, I didn’t see it. If I’d have gone along I’d have seen a row of houses demolished but that. No.
CB: And what was their reaction to your question?
ESH: Who?
CB: The railway people.
ESH: Well he sort of said, ‘Where have you been?’ Because it was — this is not live is it? Well he wondered where I’d been not to know that London was being plastered with P-planes bombs. That sounded by the way like a common 6oo cc motorcycle engine.
CB: And you weren’t able to tell them what you were doing to counter this. You weren’t able to explain what you were doing, to the people in London.
ESH: No. Well they could see —
CB: Bombing.
ESH: They could see I was in uniform.
CB: Yes.
ESH: But they were so busy with their ordinary lives that I was just one of two million servicemen. It didn’t rate more highly than that.
CB: Right. Ok.
ESH: Pause?
CB: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: So what other events were noteworthy.
ESH: Ah well, now what comes to mind straightaway is on the way in to a target to see an actual aircraft hit. And you must remember this has got a full bomb load of what ten [pause] what had we got — five twenty thousand pounds of TNT going up as well as the fire bombs, and it’s the most horrifying experience. But I do remember that occasion when — and the skipper was quick to point out that the Germans did send up what they called Scarecrows. But I’m sure this would be more than that because the whole sky around that aircraft was just bits, black bits in the sky. Now, you see a Scarecrow couldn’t put up that much material could it? I don’t think so. I think this was a very salutary experience but you didn’t dwell on it because, well, you know, it could be happening at night time and you never knew anything about it.
CB: So we’re talking about night time now are we?
ESH: No. Night time, other than someone standing and throwing grit at your aeroplane that was the only indication you would have had that there were some shells very close by, but you see what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve. Although you might feel the effect of it, especially if you’d another aircraft in front of you you’d be perhaps very difficult as a pilot to maintain your position because you’re right in his slipstream. And there’s a slipstream of four engines just in front of you. I mean there were so many aircraft in the sky that it’s a wonder and in fact we lost a lot of aircraft because of collision. Indeed we did if the truth is known. No, there’s a bit of variation. We also had some trips with mine laying. Now, what happens? Mine laying. Well we had a chap from the navy came up and showed us exactly what’s going to happen because these things are quite weighty. I think they weighed about a matter of hundred weights and I think the maximum we could carry would be two. But there would be a whole squadron perhaps, or a lot of aircraft from other stations, all on the same business, and so off we went out across the North Sea and in to the Baltic. We had to pass over an island called Bornholm. Now, how far it is into the Baltic I don’t know, not very far perhaps because we were after this shipping route between Swedish oil coming down to feed the German factories. But I do remember dear old Bornholm put up some ack-ack you know [laughs] as though they could catch us with it. One little gun you know. It was a bit of humour in a not too humorous event. But that made a change from flying over the Ruhr because actually the first time I saw the Ruhr at night, well you’d never believe it. We came into the south of Ruhr and there was a bank of searchlights for the next fifty miles. Up and curving around. And, you know, when the chaps had said you’ve got to avoid searchlights I can understand because once you get pinned or —
[Mobile ring tone. Recording paused]
CB: So we’re talking about in the Ruhr and the way they would have, the place was defended.
ESH: Yes. Right.
CB: And how they were able, in the dark to track where people were going.
ESH: Well if I describe the scene.
CB: Yeah.
ESH: The first time you saw these early night trips that we did it took a bit of getting used to. And the first time I saw searchlights. Now, if you can imagine Kiel up in North Germany. Right around and come down through the rest of the Ruhr down to [pause] what town would be the south of the Ruhr?
CB: Stuttgart. Stuttgart.
ESH: Stuttgart. And Nuremberg. That is something like fifty miles isn’t it? Or more.
CB: More.
ESH: A solid ring of thousands of searchlights, it was like day. And it curved actually from the north right down. Facing England to the south. Stuttgart. Nuremberg. And even further south than that I think. A solid — banks of hundreds. And if, if you got near one they had one particular, in groups, they had one particular searchlight which was extra powerful and it used to show up blue, and, well we did get coned on one occasion. We were lucky because very often you couldn’t get out of it. There were so many and they could sort of follow your track and there was this master searchlight and everybody else was following. And what we did, we managed to get out by just diving and weaving. And I suppose we lost a few hundred feet and you had to make that up because you had a flight plan. You know, you didn’t depart from that flight plan. You just didn’t go off on your own doing your own thing. That was certain, certain tragedy that would be because you had whole squadrons of night fighters still and they were still able to fly. Although, they couldn’t do the training because they hadn’t got the petrol, so the petrol bombardment was beginning to show. I mean we’re talking now about mid-’45 aren’t we, you see? Sorry —
CB: ’44.
ESH: ’44. From ’44 to the end of ’44 it was gradually having an effect on German oil production, synthetic oil. And of course being as they were small patches they were very difficult to find. I mean, you might have one oil refinery and its ten miles from the nearest town. Now, you’ve got to be very accurate to get anything delivered to that site and — if you could get there, you know. But of course the German fighter production was going down so fast that I think we had a charmed existence from nineteen — from June ‘45 really to, or September ’45 to the end of [pause] ’44 to the end of ’44. I mean we were very busy D-Day time for the next three months, and then it sort of slackened off because you were limited to what you could do in the way of army cooperation. In fact the army didn’t want the Air Force to take full credit for having liberated Germany. So [pause] but raids were still being, operations were still being carried out by the squadron right through to mid-‘45. Or ‘til D-Day.
CB: You talked about the intensity of searchlights. What effect did that have on the air bomber’s ability to identify the target?
ESH: Well, searchlights. Yes. But you had visual and of course later in — from D-Day onwards the squadrons were equipped with H2S which was radar with the ability to show up features on the ground. To be able to distinguish between water and land. Now, if an oil refinery was situated just off a river that aiming point would certainly be able to be calculated and it left an aiming point for a whole squadron of aircraft marked by Pathfinders. You didn’t go on your own. It was, at that time, after D-Day, everything was Pathfinders and they would blaze the trail and you’d have a Master Bomber and he would come through your RT. I remember one occasion when the Main Force was given a name so it would come out rather like this. ‘Widow 1, Widow 1 to Main Force. Bomb the red TIs.’ And then a minute later, ‘Widow 1 to Main Force. Bomb the yellow TIs.’ Because of bomb creep.
CB: TI being target indicator.
ESH: Target indicator. Yes. So you had a whole spectrum of colours. Red. Green. Blue. Yellow. And they could be changed rapidly by RT from the master bomber to the main force so that he kept, you kept pace with bomb creep and you became more effective with that. In fact very effective in the end. I mean such people as Wing Commander Cheshire as he was then would be up the front there giving the, giving that RT direction.
CB: Would you like to just explain what is bomb creep? Bomb creep. What is it?
ESH: Bomb creep. Yes. What happens is that [pause] it creeps back rather than on to the target. How it happens — I suppose if you’ve got a conflagration then bombardiers could think that that was where you should be aiming. So a lot of aircraft, I mean, don’t forget there are five hundred aircraft on this job so that some of them would think that was the target. But, so the Master Bomber had to keep reminding people that it was creeping back and it shouldn’t do. He’s got to go on to his new target indicators. And he changed the colour of course. So you knew what to look for. Otherwise your bomb load was nullified.
CB: Ok.
ESH: Go on to [pause]
CB: Yeah go on. So we’ll stop there for a mo.
ESH: Yeah then —
[recording paused]
ESH: I said Cora’s mum and dad yes.
CB: Yes. On a slightly lighter note clearly as a crew you had your, and personally you had your social side. So what did the crew do, and what did you do individually?
ESH: Well, that’s what I did individually and didn’t take any part in any social activities with the crew.
CB: Right. So what did you do?
ESH: I didn’t go drinking, you see.
CB: No. So what did you do?
ESH: I spent most of my time in York.
CB: Right. And what did you find there?
ESH: This family.
CB: Right.
ESH: And I was made like a son.
CB: Were you?
ESH: So I didn’t — we all went as a family to the theatre one evening and we saw the famous lady who had just started acting. She was in, “Last of the Summer Wine.” Very famous. You chaps have got memories haven’t you?
CB: We’ll latch on to her later. So, but but the family —
ESH: I’d better jot her name down while I think of it.
CB: Ok. Yeah. So you —
ESH: Thora Hird.
CB: Yeah. So the family was in York. What did the father do?
ESH: He was invalided. He couldn’t do anything because of the start of silicosis.
CB: Right, but what was his trade?
ESH: That was — he was in charge. He had his own firm of plasterers.
CB: Right.
ESH: So I’ll go on to that. I’ll just make a quick note, Thora Hird.
CB: And they had a son and a daughter.
ESH: Yeah. Yeah. Famous restaurant in the middle of York. Still there.
CB: But you’d go to that as well would you?
ESH: Yeah. I’ve got it. Yes.
CB: Go on.
ESH: Ok.
CB: Yeah.
ESH: Live?
CB: Yes.
ESH: We were talking about the social life on the squadron. Well, as I say I think I was eighteen when I, nineteen when I arrived there, and went out into York and I met this delightful young lady called Cora. And she said, ‘Well, if I’m going out with you my people want to see you.’ So I went along and they became my mum and dad for that time. And her dad was a, had a plastering firm but he was suffering then from, I think, the start of silicosis and he couldn’t work but nevertheless they went out of their way to look after me, and of course the extra attraction was of course la belle Cora. And at that time there was a show going in York and who should be a young actress was Thora Hird. But I don’t think she remembers that herself now, bless her. She’s passed on hasn’t she? But Mr Parker’s claim to fame as a plasterer was the ceilings, for instance, in Betty’s Bar. Now Betty’s Bar is very well known in York and it’s still there. And if you go down into the basement you will find a mirror which is now cut up into three parts. And pretty well every famous flyer has got his signature on the glass having done with a diamond ring. And they’re all there. I think you’ll find Group Captain Cheshire left his mark there. And quite a lot of others passed through but they’re all on this mirror. So that’s down in the basement of Betty’s Bar. It’s worth going down to see. There’s history galore down there. So they looked after me like a mother and father, not withstanding the fact they had a son in the Middle East. With the 8th Army I think it was. But of course being really a dangerous occupation I had no business stringing this girl along. I mean I was her first boyfriend and you know the effect that has on young ladies. So, the crew were very good. They didn’t question me as to where I was spending all this time you see. Which brings us to —
CB: How you broke it off.
ESH: How we —?
CB: Broke it off.
ESH: Oh yes. I mean, we used to have, our famous perambulation was around the wall of York. And, you know it took quite a time so, and broke her heart I’m sure, but it had to finish. It would had been too traumatic otherwise. And we were then left to finish our tour which, there again was mainly oil installations. But come September of ’44 the CO called us all into the briefing room and said, ‘Now we’re all going to France tomorrow. We are bringing petrol to the army.’ The army was fighting at Eindhoven and so they said, ‘You are going to be loaded up with petrol,’ which they did. Each aircraft. Two hundred and fifty, five gallon cans stacked along the fuselage and tied in so they didn’t bounce around. Off we went to a German field which they’d laid out what’s called Sommerfield tracking to stop an aircraft or aircraft and vehicles bogging down in a puddle. So that was rather jolly. I mean there we were — flew a hundred feet all the way. And really that’s one of the nicest things to do, you know. Flying low level where we’d see haystacks with pigs on top because Jerry had pulled the plug on the dyke. Very naughty of course but you know it really devastated thousands of acres. And we had to fly over that into Brussels. Well into an area of Brussels called Melsbroek which was just a grass field. And it was very enjoyable. We landed there and fresh air and went to the village and do you know what? There were grapes growing on the trees. Oh grapes. Well, I mean who wants to leave there? Anyway, this so happens, you know that we tried to get off the next day, I’m sure it was the next day. So soon you could be accused of organising this. But we oiled up the plugs trying to get out of a big puddle and there’s no way you’re going to get out of it because what the wheels do and they’re big, they just churn a great gap, pit in the soil. So therefore that was, we were stuck there until you get a fitter out with a set of plugs to put it right, and I think all four engines were oiled up. Anyway, that meant that we had three days in Brussels. So what did we do? The first day we piled into a local tram and went into Brussels where we stayed at the Gare de Nord Hotel. And I was the only one who had any money [laughs] you know, because they said now any money you’ve got to change it. You’ve got to, sorry we had to change it for the currency that was wartime currency. And so of course our money was soon gone staying at hotels. And we went in to one, oh yes we, I must tell you a little story here. We went in to one hotel and up to the second floor and it was a night club with an amphitheatre and a stage and events, you know. Acts taking place. But on the way up the staircase in a corner there were two six foot six American sergeants and they had a lovely carton of cigarettes, a big carton. And they were presumably flogging them off. I mean if they could get another carton like that they’d make a fortune because there were no cigarettes in Europe. In fact, people would give you their gold watch for a packet of cigarettes but that — now our rear gunner being a sort of international type said, ‘No,’ we must find, he’d come from Canada on, he was trained for something else in Canada because he talked about Montreal. And he said, ‘We must see an exhibition.’ And actually it wasn’t what I fancied but anyway we didn’t get that far because there was no exhibition. So we met this old boy in the road and Ron says, ‘Exhibition?’ So, he didn’t speak French perfectly. The chap was quite happy. This old boy. ‘Come with me. Come with me.’ And off we went with this chap down the main thoroughfare and down some back entrances, back places, back roads, alleyways to a pub. And this pub was run by this aged lady who sat at the high stool and dished up what went, passed as beer. And there were us. We were all sitting around on stool, a continuous stool like in a queue. And I mean, you know, it was alright. A bit of light fare. And the skipper was there of course and he hadn’t taken his hat off that time. And in comes all th ese girls in bathing costumes. I mean, to eighteen year olds you know this is seventh heaven isn’t it? What’s next then? And they were sitting on our knees and some of them very shapely. And the skipper suddenly caught on, he said ‘Right. Here’s the gun. Out you lot.’ And we had to leave because it was a brothel wasn’t it? And he wasn’t, he wasn’t having his crew sullied by such goings on. So, that was, that was Brussels for me.
CB: So you got two black eyes and you couldn’t hear anything either.
ESH: [laughs] So. No. We had to make apologies to these young ladies and disappear. We would have liked to pass on perhaps a bar of chocolate.
CB: Of course.
ESH: But we didn’t go prepared. But it’s a pity. But Ron did — he went to a private family that night. I don’t know what the attraction was but anyway he did — no. Johnny Morris this is, ex schoolteacher. He obviously thought about it because he brought a bag of coffee back next time and made arrangements for it to be delivered to a particular curie. A priest at the local church who he had met somehow. But that’s the best we could do really. Normally you went in with your two hundred and fifty gallons. The army came up with a truck, unloaded [pause] and there we went off again. The next day with another load. So we were really kept busy bringing in something like two thousand gallons at a time for the army to use up at Eindhoven. Because they were six hundred miles from the port at that stage and just couldn’t keep going, you know. I thought I saw somebody moving out there but maybe I’m wrong.
CB: So did you carry, did you then later deliver any other kind of goods or was it only petrol?
ESH: Only petrol. But I believe later. Very soon. Our squadrons were engaged on dropping supplies to Amsterdam and it made a great impression on our Dutch friends.
CB: That was food. Operation Manna.
ESH: Yes.
CB: Yes.
ESH: We weren’t engaged on that but rather carried on with the last few trips into Europe.
CB: So when you come to the end of your tour what happened then to the crew?
ESH: Ah yes. Well, do you know on the aerodrome was an experimental department run by a squadron leader. And they, one of the problems with the Halifax was coring of the oil in the oil tank. Super cooling. And it was called coring. And every effort was being made, well funny enough in my tour I never came, never had the problem. I dare say we never flew in an icing. What you call an icing.
CB: Weather condition.
ESH: Yeah. You get icing conditions at certain heights and if you stayed in it it was very bad for the oil coolers but we managed to keep out of that. But a lot of experimental work was being done because a lot of the aircraft did — was affected. And so they, we worked for the experimental department there which was set up at Pocklington. Going on cross country’s with modified aircraft that in effect would fly through anything up to Scotland and back in the hope that we would be able to pinpoint the procedures to cure it. But unfortunately we had an aircraft, an aircraft engine go over speed for some reason so that rather folded up at that time.
CB: Which kind of engine was that?
ESH: Well, Halifax — a Bristol Hercules 100. That was the latest. But coring was a very difficult thing. So of course what was happening was that everyone was now asking us to be re-mustered. There was nothing for us to do except hang around. So —
CB: Was there an option of going on another tour?
ESH: Oh yes, that was always an option, yes indeed. But — and a lot of the chaps did but I think I was more anxious to go back to civilian life. But I was ‘Duration of Present Emergency.’ Or I was D of P E.
CB: Yeah.
ESH: And of course they were not giving out any commissions at that time. So there wouldn’t have been a lot of future in staying so I applied to be re-mustered.
CB: And what happened?
ESH: And then left Pocklington.
CB: Ok.
ESH: Being posted to whatever came up in the Air Ministry I suppose. And off we went then re-mustering at a famous station for the army in north Cornwall — north [pause] Catterick. Now, there was a little RAF station for re-mustering at Catterick in an ex-mine working. Anyway, my number came up eventually but in the meantime we were sent on indefinite leave. Now, I didn’t want to have to pay to go to the skipper’s wedding because train fare was quite expensive. But I gave his address on my 48. My seven day pass as it were. Or indefinite leave. The consequence of that will be explained a bit later.
CB: Right.
ESH: But from there I got a letter a little later being posted to the Isle of Man as an airfield controller. But it just so happened that my papers actually never got to my home. They got to the skipper’s address. Now, you can have a bit of a laugh if you’ve been in the service because this was six weeks later, or rather that was alright but it was the last seven days. I was absent without leave. But I turned up. I was on my way to the Isle of Man. Well, I got to the Isle of Man alright. Yes. And having got to the Isle of Man you got off at Douglas and, you know, looked at the local restaurant. Two eggs, steak and chips, that’s marvellous. Have some of that. So immediately dived in and had a good nosh as we used to say. And then you got a little local narrow gauge train up to the Isle of Man up to the north. Because I was going to be stationed at a little place called Jurby which was a good hopping off point for anybody going to or coming from Reykjavic. Which, I would then put three searchlights up to guide them in. But it was more disastrous from my point of view because what could the CO do? He has a chap seven days adrift. The first — I went to the guardroom and he said, ‘We’ve been looking for you. You’re seven days adrift.’ So, go up before the CO. Very nice chap. By the way first of all you have to be vetted by the station WO and he actually said, ‘Do you know I’m awfully sorry to have to do this but you’re up before the CO tomorrow.’ So, you march in, in the usual way with the, you know, left right left right left. Turn right. ‘So young man. What do you want to do? A court martial or do you want my punishment?’ ‘Well your punishment sir. Thank you.’ ‘Right. Seven days loss of pay.’ And do you know what? You can imagine the scene can’t you? Pay parade. And you announce yourself before the cashier’s table, ‘1869854 Horsham. Sir.’ And he would say, ‘Three and sixpence.’ This went on for weeks at three and six pence a week it takes quite a time to get to four pounds forty. Seven days pay you see. You can clue that if you like but its [pause] but indeed I think because we had a chap at High Wycombe and he was called Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Harris and of course they did think twice before they shoved the book at one of Bomber Harris’s boys. And I think I was saved by that because it’s a heinous crime in the air force to be AWOL anywhere. Anyway, we carry on from there because I enjoyed the time on the Isle of Man. Being in charge of the airfield. Not a lot went on but we did [pause] we were a home for stray aircraft and of course the station was very busy training the rest of The Empire Air Scheme for training navigators. And we would use, or they would use Ansons. So of course we had a squadron of Ansons to fulfil the contract. And of course my job, one of the jobs, mine and my crew — I had a crew by then of Scots lads that were setting up a parking area with glim lamps every day, because they were doing night flying, and these glim lights were fuelled by accumulators and shone a red light. And you had to put them in a certain order because then the aircraft on the way back knew where they were to park. And they used to get it in the neck if they ran over a glim lamp. Other than that when we wasn’t flying we were all in flying control and we used to do a shift where we had two and a half days off. They still do that in the police force apparently, here. Afternoon, next morning or night, off the next day and the next day and the following morning. So that enabled you to go and see the local sights. Peel Castle on the Isle of Man. And of course we did get busy aircraft and they would come in some awful times from Reykjavik and sometimes I was, what did they call it? Duty officer? Duty. Yeah. Duty officer. And I had to find them accommodation so I had to lay the law down. Pull rank on whoever was in charge of the blanket store so that these chaps had a night’s sleep and could get, we would — the cookhouse would provide a supper for them. That broke up your time. So, in effect, eventually they sent us back to the mainland. To top — I was stationed at Topcliffe which was an ex-Canadian station and underneath every table and ever chair was chewing gum [laughs] That’s how I remember the Canadians. But there was no flying going on which was a shame because we [pause] I was only thinking these chaps had applied for discharge and therefore I was in charge of an airfield with no aircraft. We kept the grass nice and tidy. But as I say we could go into, no, we couldn’t go in to Topcliffe for two eggs, steak and chips. It was unheard of. But what you could do is you could go to a local village called Topwith . Now, there are two brewers in Tadcaster. One is Sam Smith and one is John Smith. Now, you’ll know John Smith because his beer is everywhere but what we ought to have down here is Sam Smith’s which was thick and black. And it was as black as your coat. Black as night and it was the next best thing today to Mackesons. But you could get quite squeamish, not squeamish — quite drunk on it. So then you met up with a lot of other interesting aircrew and you absorbed their experiences, and then gradually, one by one, they disappeared. As I did one day. On the 2nd of January 1947, in the bleak midwinter. It was very bleak down south anyway and there had been a lot of snow around. One interesting side now, talking about cold. We were very cold in Pocklington so we could burn, burn bicycle tyres in the hut. But old Jim said, ‘Do you know what,’ Jim Finney that was then [pause] now wait a minute I’m wrong. Jim has already had that shrapnel in his leg. But anyway, there was another member in the crew. It must have been Alan Shepherd, the wireless op. He said, ‘I know. There’s a bottle of petrol over there.’ And somewhere someone had left a bottle of petrol. And it was a hundred octane. So he said, ‘Stick it in the stove to get it nice and warm.’ And it did. It blew the whole thing apart [laughs] Which wasn’t very clever was it? Anyway, we’ve left. We’re at Topcliffe aren’t we? And then, sooner or later, ok the 7th of January or thereabouts I found myself out on my ear having been discharged at, somewhere near Preston. And we asked for a taxi and do you know that’s the only time in my life so far that I ever have driven in a Rolls Royce. There was a very famous place near Preston. If it wasn’t Preston it was Southport where there was a big demob place. Anyway, that’s where we ended up, in a taxi going to Preston Station. And home on indefinite leave still. Well, no a fortnight wasn’t it then? Fourteen days and that was it finished. Now, the thing is then going back to the old firm. Now, I found myself in the railway estate office before long but they didn’t really want me I don’t think. They said, ‘You can go up to Victoria Station and go to the archives.’ Temporarily. So that was a fill-in job. Going back through papers going back to 1900 where people had to pay for a sort of fly privilege to bring a pony and trap on to the station property and they had to enter into an agreement. Time goes by awfully quickly doesn’t it when you’re demobbed? So I stuck with the estates office for [pause] until 1957. And I didn’t seem to be going anywhere much so I went out into the big bad commercial world. And went to a builder’s merchants called Roberts Adlard who were quite famous in the southern counties. Their headquarters were Southampton. I had this friend of mine who was a rep and that’s how I got there. But, and mind you I’d left London so it was a big change to go to work in Rochester Cathedral, Rochester, the ancient town on the Medway. Rochester Cathedral. Yes. And this builder’s merchants wasn’t going anywhere so Horsham said to himself, ‘Look. Hadn’t you better find a job with a pension?’ So I had experience in the estate office which was very similar to the housing department of Rochester City Council. And applied and got the job as a rent collector of all things. Going around collecting. They had five thousand houses all broken up in to thirty different schemes or so. So that enabled a transition from that to a more permanent sphere. And of course the only way you can get up the scale in local government is either by passing a lot of examinations or becoming a professional man, like, I don’t know, an accountant which is a good solid five years work. But no there we were at Rochester with several other ex-service people especially from the navy, being next to Chatham. And so we said, you know, ‘What about a rise?’ They said, ‘Oh no. No. No. We can’t give you that but if you take a certain examination there will be money in it for you.’ So the one I took was the simple one. It was the clerical division of local government. That is talking about local and central government. Writing an essay etcetera. And after six months we took the exam and we all passed. So we thought go and see the governor again now. A different kind of governor. And for passing the examination I think — I was paid five ninety in those days. So he said, ‘Yes. Well, you can go up to five ninety five.’ A five pound a year increase. So we’ve got to do better than this. So you had lists of jobs you see, circulated. And the next port of call was Maidstone Borough Council as a senior rentable assistant in charge of five rent collectors and proving the books every weekend. Now Rochester City was a purely written system. Now I got to Maidstone and it was all done by a machine called a Powers - Samas punch card accounting. And a dreadful business because my collectors used to go out with a run off. The rent for various properties. And they would put X Y Z here and they wouldn’t put anything on their sheet. So, immediately you were what –? Two pound fifty out. I used to be there at half past nine, 10 o’clock at night on a Friday balancing the books because you had, in effect, over thirty different schemes so you had to sit down and balance these schemes to find out where the error was. Which was good training wasn’t it?
CB: Amazing. Yes.
ESH: I remember the deputy who we worked under. You never saw the treasurer. He was the high and mighty. The holy of holies. But I saw the treasurer on one occasion. He said, ‘Horsham,’ he said, ‘How is it that you spent all this overtime?’ Four hours on a Friday night, you know. I said, ‘Well you know. The chaps put one thing on the sheet and then put another in the book.’ He said, ‘Horsham you really should consider the propriety of asking for overtime.’ It’s not much of a thing to a chap who’s just put four hours extra sweating his guts out. Anyway, that’s another aside isn’t it? Next thing is of course to get promotion isn’t it? And where did I go from there? Yes. I applied for a job in the County Council’s office, in the planning department. Which is where I ended up in 1978. Yeah. 1978. And then took a sort of early retirement.
CB: How old? How old were you when you took early retirement?
ESH: In ‘78. I was born in 1923.
CB: Oh right.
ESH: ’23.
CB: Fifty five.
ESH: Just short of sixty. Oh there’s a bit more to come isn’t there?
CB: Go on then.
ESH: Yeah. Well then [pause] I go back, to retrack a little bit. Going back to my days at Maidstone Borough. Wasn’t getting much anywhere and a friend of mine, who lived adjacent to us said, ‘Why don’t you come into the poultry business with me?’ He said, ‘We could then step the production.’ Because he was, he was managing single handed two thousand layers. So we promptly put some new housing up and I put all my wealth into it and we ended up with eight thousand head of poultry. Not quite as big as JB Eastwood who came along and said, ‘Look you chaps. I don’t care, I’ve got millions of birds. And I don’t care if I only get a farthing a head. I shall still make a profit.’ Which was quite true but it was disastrous for us because we couldn’t compete with that although we did very well. I mean we had a neighbour a few miles away and he was able to keep five thousand which was less than we had. And he could work in the mornings and take all the afternoons off and play golf. That’s what he did. We thought that’s a good idea. But we were saddled with our eight thousand and with fowl pest in the offing if we didn’t look after it then we’d be sunk. Nobody else was going to look after it. So you put in a fairly, a fairly full day. Eight till five minimum. But it was very good experience because it sort of taught me that come what may I could always get a job because you’ve got some skills. Especially you’d be very valuable to a poultry farmer if you could go in and say, ‘I can go in and look after ten thousand.’ He’d say, ‘Well, you know, I’m like Mr JB Eastwood. I’ve got millions.’ But nevertheless it was the same principal. So we didn’t make a fortune but we didn’t lose our shirt. I say we being collective. And then what did I do next? Well, I went back to the old firm didn’t I? Back to local government. Into the planning department this time, of the County Council. And my draughtsmanship experience came in very handy because we dealt with maps all day long. And so in 1974 I got the most marvellous job because the ministries were all on to local governments and County Councils to find out how many, what land have you got. You don’t even know what you’ve got to build houses on. And he said, ‘Well Horsham. The job’s yours. And we will depict it on a twenty five hundred scale ordnance survey sheets,’ which was a bit better than what you get on your deeds, you know. You could even show a rainwater pipe on a twenty five hundred scale. And Kent had forty seven, forty eight District Councils which I had to visit one after the other because if you didn’t carry the local authority with you you’d be sunk. They hated County Council. And they hated them because they put extra on their rates didn’t they? So that was a very enjoyable job. So thirty nine, forty, forty one, forty two [pause] No. What do I say? 1974 — 5 — 6 — 7 - 8. It took four years to do but at the end of the time we could show in the planning department that we had fifty two thousand units of accommodation each housing three people. That was your capacity then but of course a lot of it was land that you wouldn’t want to release straight away. I mean there was something like fifteen, twenty acres at Folkestone on the golf course. I know because I lived looking over these lovely green fields but you couldn’t release it all at once but that was my job.
CB: And you enjoyed it.
ESH: I enjoyed that. I never — it’s a time when I was glad to go to work because it was so, it was my job and it was interesting and I had to fulfil this promise made to the governor that it would be finished in a certain time, you know. And then we, we retired officially.
CB: When?
ESH: In 1978. 1978. Yes. Yes and went off to live in Cornwall for seven years. Froze the pension which was the thing to do. So I froze mine for another eight years so I had to go and get a job to keep the wolf from the door.
CB: Yeah.
ESH: Which I did. In Cornwall.
CB: Doing what?
ESH: Well, I saw an advert in the paper to the effect that, “Handyman wanted,” and they gave the telephone number and it turned to be at what was the Ritz Cinema which is now a bingo hall. And the idea was that I was going to look after all the maintenance. Well, it was rather nice to do something different if you’ve done the other jobs for forty years, you know. So I did that for two or three years. The firm was called Mecca. You’ll know Mecca. They’ve got them everywhere of course. All your Ritz cinemas now have gone to bingo halls. I had to do many things. Change all the lights and there was a lot of lighting. Also you had an emergency system on what was it? Ten volt accumulators which you had to cut in if your mains failed you had your own generator as well. So you had that system and you had emergency lighting if all else failed. So I enjoyed that job really.
CB: ‘Til when?
ESH: About three years later. Right up until about 1981. In that time my and a crew of two or three lads we painted the whole of the inside of the cinema including the ceiling. Which pleased the powers that be because they said, ‘Well done Horsham. We will send you to Tenerife for a fortnight for you to recover,’ [laughs] So that was something that came out of the blue. Yes. You see every year they have competitions and whoever wins the competition probably wins a place to summer holiday. And this time it was Tenerife. So there were about a hundred of us went off to Tenerife. All found, you know. Very nice indeed. Now, you wouldn’t get bonuses like that in local government of course. Since then I haven’t done much of anything have I?
CB: Throughout this time you were —
ESH: Hmmn?
CB: Throughout this time you were supported by this lovely lady. Ellen.
ESH: Yes.
CB: Where did you meet her?
ESH: I met her the first day I went to work for the railway. She was going on the same train. There is a station south of London called New Cross. So that people from further down went up to New Cross on the train and then down to where the estate office was evacuated. It was at Chislehurst. Now there was a big house at Chislehurst called [Sidcup?]. And it was on an elevated position and there’s the railway coming up and there’s the tunnel. Elmstead Woods Tunnel. So that’s, I met her in the train and she was busy there with her needles and you know sticking her little fingers stuck up like that click click click. And so that’s how it started. Her and her friend actually. Her friend was called Winnie Glover and I suppose she thought, ‘Well, she’s done alright for herself,’ [laughs] And that’s, we’ve been going ever since.
CB: When did you marry?
ESH: 25th of May 1946.
CB: And how many children have you had?
ESH: Two girls.
CB: So one’s called Gillian.
ESH: One’s Gillian. Yes.
CB: Yeah.
ESH: And she trained and became a teacher and married a headmaster. And then she went, they went off to Hong Kong and taught for seven years. And now she lives in an old mill on the Vienne River just outside Chauvigny. Whereas Alison trained as a nurse here and she trained in Weymouth and Dorchester and then went on to the hospital at Warminster. Hence the reason that we’ve came somewhere near her in old age.
CB: And she married a —
ESH: She married a —
CB: A doctor?
ESH: A sergeant in the MOD police. A young sergeant who is now or rather shocking really some year ago he went in one Monday morning and they said, and he has twenty five years’ experience as a policeman and by that time as I say, he was a sergeant. No. She didn’t marry a sergeant then but he became a sergeant. And they said, ‘We don’t want you anymore.’ Made him redundant, just like that. So, but funnily enough he still works as an instructor for the police. Driver. He trains their drivers and that’s what he’s doing today. Alison’s just finishing up her last eighteen months as a nurse.
CB: Well I think many many thanks, Eric.
ESH: Pardon?
CB: Many thanks, Eric for two and a half hours of interview. And absolutely fascinating.
ESH: Well it’s one man’s experience isn’t it?

Collection

Citation

Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Eric Horsham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 21, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11709.

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