Interview with Alfred James Walker


Interview with Alfred James Walker


Alfred lived near RAF Upwood when he was a young child. Alfred’s father was in the army and worked on the Burmese railway. Alfred remembered aircraft going over his grandmother’s house and landing on the runway nearby. One morning an aircraft flew low over the house and damaged the roof and the chicken pen. Alfred said that there was no security at the airfield and anyone could just walk through - aircraft were stored awaiting repairs very near their house. He also recalled his grandparents having a large radio set on which they could hear aircrews talking to ground personnel. In 1947 the family left the area and went to Benwick, near Ramsey where they had a pub.




Temporal Coverage





00:28:50 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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MS: My name’s Michael Sheehan and [ buzz ] today is 10th of August 2018. And I’m sitting in the company of Alfred James Walker and you’re happy to be interviewed. Is that right, Alfred?
AW: That’s right. Yeah.
MS: Thank you very much. And he’s represented by Gillian Walker, his wife who’s also here. I’ve just got to read you some stuff and then we’ll hear about your riveting memories of RAF Upwood. Do you first of all confirm that you consent to take part in the recording?
AW: I do.
MS: Yeah. And do you, and at the end of the interview I’ll take you through some stuff here and get you to sign some paper.
AW: Ok.
MS: But you’re feeling well. No problems at all.
AW: Yeah. No problem. Yeah.
MS: Good. If at any time during the interview you feel tired or you want a break or something.
AW: Never like that.
MS: You want to give me a cup of tea just, you know [laughs]
AW: Yeah [laughs]
MS: Just say that you need a break and that’s not a problem. Is that alright with you?
AW: Yeah.
MS: Ok.
AW: Fine.
MS: Right. When, we had a quick chat over the telephone before I came down today and [pause] I am just checking the recording. Yeah. Everything’s working ok. And I take it you used to live at Upwood. Almost on the end of the east west runway.
AW: 2 Bury Road, Upwood.
MS: 2 Bury Road, Upwood.
AW: That was the official address. Yeah.
MS: Ok. And your date of birth?
AW: My date.
MS: Yeah.
AW: 10.7.42.
MS: So during the war you’d be a toddler.
AW: I would be a toddler.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Yeah.
MS: But because certain things were so impressive you’ve got strong memories of that time. Yeah.
AW: I have. Yeah.
MS: What things come to your mind most of all?
AW: The fact that these big aeroplanes kept coming over grandma’s house at different times. I can recall how they used to. We could look out the front room window and see them coming towards us and then run through to the kitchen and see them going down on to the airfield at the other end because there was only one field between my grandma’s and the edge of the airfield. You want to know the particular time?
MS: Anything at all you want to tell me. I mean can you just clarify one thing. You say it was one field. Could you see the threshold? You know, the end of the runway right quite close to you.
AW: Oh yes.
MS: Right.
AW: Yeah. No problem at all. If I went into the bedroom we could see all over the airfield itself.
MS: You could.
AW: Yeah.
MS: Do you remember the airfield wasn’t always tarmacked? It used to be grass. Do you remember when it was tarmacked? Do you remember them doing the work?
AW: No.
MS: Ok. That’s alright.
AW: No.
MS: So, tell us. Carry on then.
AW: And this one particular morning we was having breakfast and we could hear this aeroplane coming in and there was an almighty crash. And it had hit the chimney pots and it had knocked grandma’s chimney pot off and part of the brickwork. We rushed to the kitchen window to see all the debris falling and rolling down the roof etcetera. And when everything all quietened down we went outside to look outside and all our chickens were running around all over the place. And we take it that part of the aircraft had caught the six foot wire fence that ran around to make a chicken run. Because the chicken run was right on the very outskirts of their garden. Right at the very bottom. The wire lay tangled all in, all over the place and we spent hours collecting all these chickens up. The outcome of it was we had a lot of people come around our house and the following day when we started to sweep everything up, at the time I had no toys at all. I had a little wooden wheelbarrow.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Which my next door neighbour or grandma’s next door neighbour had built for me out of wood. You’d use it as firewood today but it was my pride and joy. I spent two days virtually collecting these bits and pieces up, wheeling them around the front and tipping them in a heap and then picking them up from the front and wheeling them around the back because there was nothing, nothing to do.
MS: And what did you do in your later life as a job?
AW: [laughs] Yeah. That was my building experience, I suppose.
MS: It was [laughs] So you had no choice did you?
AW: I had no choice. But, and then I can, I can, I can recall when we couldn’t have a fire at the time to heat any water up because we were waiting for a chimney sweep to come to make sure the flue was clear. And I can remember grandfather when the chimney sweep did come he picked me up in his arms and we walked down the garden and we had to shout the chimney sweep when the brush came out the top of the chimney.
MS: Did the aircraft, can I ask you a question? Did the aircraft actually make the runway or did it crash between you and the runway?
AW: I think actually it landed on the grass before it hit the runway. But there was no fire or anything of that side as I recall.
MS: Did you actually see the aircraft?
AW: Yeah. The aircraft was like, was there. Yeah.
MS: Sitting there or —
AW: Yeah. Sitting on the grass.
MS: Right.
AW: Yeah.
MS: So it landed short then. Was it on its wheels or —
AW: It was on its wheels.
MS: Oh right.
AW: Yeah. Because after we’d collected everything up, collected all the chickens up we then walked across the field and looked to see what was going on and this aircraft stood there.
MS: Right.
AW: With multiple people going around it. And that’s as far as we went. But the strange thing was we could walk on to the airfield because there was only one section of wire strung between posts and we’d just duck under it and walk on to the airfield. There was no security whatsoever. And the, there was a loop in the runway right at the end. Went right into the corner of the airfield.
MS: Yeah.
AW: And that’s where they used to store an aircraft.
MS: Would it be there? Have a look there.
AW: That’s where they used to store an aircraft when it wanted a major, something major doing to it because it would be there for a long long while.
MS: Right.
AW: In this loop here somewhere.
MS: Right. And Mr Walker is showing me a loop which is literally between the camp and his house and it’s to the —
AW: Yeah.
MS: Just to the west of his house. If you look, anybody who looks at an Ordnance Survey map will see a P almost next to his house and the loop is there. Just literally one field away with a footpath between them.
AW: Yeah.
MS: Ok. Thanks for that.
AW: Yeah. And we, I used to go down there so regular —
MS: Yeah.
AW: That the people that was repairing the aircraft used to stand there and talk to us. And it was as open as that.
MS: Yeah.
AW: There was no security whatsoever.
MS: And you were just a toddler.
AW: I’m just a toddler. Yeah.
MS: Right.
AW: Yeah.
MS: Do you have any other memorable recollections from that time? Anything else? Did you see aircraft crashing? Or —
AW: Yeah. What I could, what I did remember quite vividly was grandmother. Well, for a start my grandfather, he had a taxi business and in the process of taking people backwards and forwards after they’d been on sorties or whatever the case may be he used to collect them up and they used to be or there is a hotel in Ramsey. The Red Lion. Which was basically the only place where you could be put up for the night. But grandmother always used to take people in. And I got used to these strange people coming in the house. They used to get fed for an evening meal and they always had a big breakfast before they went. Some of them, I think they must be Polish.
MS: Right.
AW: Because they didn’t talk English.
MS: Yeah. She wasn’t a spy was she? [laughs]
AW: But, and when I, because I used to live with them I had a little bedroom above the stairs. A little minor bedroom. Now, if three people turned up they used to nick my bedroom and I used to have to have a makeshift bed put in grandma’s room.
MS: Right.
AW: And I can remember it because it was made of two fireside chairs turned to make a little square.
MS: Oh right.
AW: And then I used to lay in there.
MS: Because, of course you were just a toddler at the time.
AW: I was just a toddler, you see.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Yeah.
MS: You know you mentioned about the food. How did you get on for food during the war?
AW: Food. We had no trouble with food whatsoever.
MS: Something going on here. Go on.
AW: We, of course we had a big garden.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Because it was a council house. All council houses had a rather large garden. And as I said we had all these chickens so eggs were no problem. We was for having, forever having chickens in the hearth. Little baby day old chickens in hearth.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Until they got old enough to put outside. Which gave us a continuity of meat in a manner of speaking.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Just over the road was two grass fields with high hedges and the hedges underneath was full of rabbits and we used to go and put, or grandfather used to go down and put a wire noose around, and —
MS: Yeah. Snare. Yeah.
AW: Snare them one way or another. Wild blackberries. Wild mushrooms. We lived perfectly ok.
MS: You got your five a day.
AW: And plus next door to Mr Smith which was the next door neighbour to grandma there used to be a farmer with cattle. So we used to go there if we wanted any milk. And just there again I used to take my little wheelbarrow with a little tin jug with a lid on it.
MS: Yeah.
AW: And I used to go with grandma around there and pick I suppose it was quart or something like that. Straight up.
MS: This was, this was fresh milk. Not pasteurised. Nothing like that.
AW: Fresh milk. Oh no. Fresh milk.
MS: Whole milk.
AW: Straight out the cow.
MS: Right.
AW: And if we could get cow’s [unclear] we used to have them.
MS: Cow’s?
AW: [unclear]
MS: What’s [unclear]
GW: [unclear] it’s disgusting.
MS: What’s [unclear]? Sounds like the wrong end of the cow. Go on.
AW: Sorry. A cow’s [unclear] is the milk a cow produces immediately after it’s had a calf.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Which is extra creamy and thick.
MS: Right. Is this the one with the curds in it?
AW: It’s the one with the curds in it.
MS: Right.
AW: Now, officially we shouldn’t be drinking it but grandma used to make a custard, an egg custard with it.
MS: Right.
AW: Put two or three eggs in with this really thick cream and put it in the oven and when it came out it was yum.
MS: Perfect. When you’re young you’ll eat anything.
AW: Well, yeah. Exactly.
MS: Yeah.
AW: I mean so consequently we, we didn’t really go without.
MS: No. It sounds nice. Did you mention pigs as well when I saw you the other day?
AW: My dad used to have —
MS: [unclear]
AW: Yeah. Pigs in the village. When they had little ones they was distributed amongst the community if you like.
MS: Right.
AW: Because I think originally they used to have to have the agricultural people wanted them all registered.
MS: That’s exactly right.
AW: Well, these weren’t registered [laughs]
MS: Right [laughs] So you didn’t eat them then.
AW: So we ate them.
MS: Got rid. You ate the evidence. Can I ask you a couple of questions? You know the, you know when the roof came off how much damage was actually done.
AW: Sufficient for them to put scaffolding up and we had two or three men there for two or three days to put it right. I think they must have taken about two foot of the brickwork off as well as the chimney pots.
MS: Ok. Just out of interest because you were a toddler and obviously the only things that you remember things that would be really significant. Do you remember any other damage to any other houses in the area at all caused by aircraft or bombs?
AW: No.
MS: No. Not at all.
AW: No.
MS: Did you have a happy childhood?
AW: Well, I suppose. It was happy I suppose but of course I had no mates because there was no children around that area.
MS: Yeah.
AW: The only one that was around that area was four doors up from us and it was a girl. She was about four years older than me. Well, as I was a toddler she didn’t want to know me because I was —
MS: She was babysitting you.
AW: You know. She was too old.
MS: Yeah.
AW: So although [pause] I suppose I was happy. Yeah.
MS: Yeah.
AW: In my own little world.
MS: Yeah. and then your dad came back from the war.
AW: That’s right. Yeah.
MS: He’d been a prisoner of war I understand.
AW: Yeah. And of course when he came back I didn’t know he was any different to the airmen that used to come to grandma’s house.
MS: No.
AW: So, he tried to put me on his lap and I ran away [laughs]
MS: I bet that didn’t make him happy.
AW: So, yeah. I mean unfortunately I haven’t got that memorabilia here because my daughter’s, my granddaughter has been using it as a —
GW: Ella. She’s been doing a she’s been doing a, she’s been doing her mocks for her GCSE next year and she’s done her, part of her English on the Second World War.
MS: Ideal.
AW: Yeah.
MS: Right.
GW: We could get it, Alf but another things you see Alf’s dad was in the Army.
MS: Yeah.
GW: And of course the map that we took to Riseholme was of airfield, wasn’t it? And that’s why we didn’t think it was —
MS: Yeah.
GW: Because it’s Alf’s memories that you want, isn’t it?
MS: Oh absolutely.
GW: And not —
AW: Yeah.
GW: But I suppose we could get some.
MS: No. No. Don’t worry about that.
AW: Yeah.
MS: This is, it is Alf’s memories. You’re quite right.
AW: You see, that, that map —
MS: Let’s turn this off for a sec.
[recording paused]
MS: So, you’re mentioning this map you took to Riseholme. Yeah.
AW: It was a map of the, officially the Midlands but it went slightly higher than the Midlands and not down to the coast but quite a long way down and it showed every Air Force base or every airfield. But also it had a number on the side of it which no one seems to know why. For a start Biggin Hill perhaps was number forty. RAF Wyton perhaps was seventy three.
MS: Yeah.
AW: There was no logic numbers left to right, north to south.
MS: Got you.
AW: They was all over the place. Now, whether that was a code that when they was talking to people when they was coming in to land, ‘We’re going to land at number — ’ so and so, we don’t know.
MS: No. And you say that was left.
AW: I can’t, I can’t recall any other way I can get it.
MS: Other than it being left with your grandmother.
AW: Left with grandmother.
MS: Yeah. When we were chatting the other day when did your dad actually come back? Was it after the fall? Where was he? Singapore?
AW: Yeah. Burmese Railway he was on. Yeah.
MS: So what year did he come back home?
AW: 194 —
GW: The telegram was 1945 but I thought he went to Roehampton for his feet first.
AW: No. He came home first.
GW: Oh, and then went back.
AW: And then he had to go to Roehampton.
GW: I see. Yeah. That’s —
AW: To have his feet put right.
MS: What was wrong with his foot?
AW: He had a railway sleeper drop on it.
MS: When he was working on the railway.
AW: When he was working on the railway.
MS: Right.
AW: Of course he had to continue working and it twisted his foot all up.
MS: Right.
AW: So he had to have his foot broken again and then reset. He was off. Laid up in bed for weeks for it to be repaired because it was all steel pinned, and etcetera.
MS: Right. And did the, did the time in prison camp affect your father at all?
AW: Yes. I’m sure it did. He wouldn’t, I couldn’t get a word out of him what happened. There was nothing, was there?
GW: No. He couldn’t talk about it.
AW: Couldn’t talk about it.
MS: No.
AW: We heard nothing. No.
MS: Did it affect his behaviour at all?
AW: I don’t, I don’t think it did.
GW: Not as such I don’t think.
AW: But it, I’ll put it this way —
MS: Things he wouldn’t eat or anything.
AW: I think it, I think it affected him to a certain degree. It wasn’t. When he came back he wasn’t a lovable father. If you know what I mean. There was never any embracing or, ‘I’m sorry my old son if you’ve hurt yourself. Come here.’ No. If you hurt yourself he would say, ‘Come here. Let’s have a look. Stop whingeing,’ and he would —
MS: Get on with it.
AW: Put it right with a bit of horse liniment.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Or whatever the case may be, you see. So there was no, it was harsh if you know what I mean.
MS: When we were chatting on the telephone the other day just sort of setting, just me saying what I would be talking to you about. You mentioned something very interesting. Your father had some dietary things later. He wouldn’t eat certain things.
AW: He wouldn’t eat rice. He wouldn’t have rice anywhere near him because that’s all they had to eat when he was prisoner of war. And it was a no go.
MS: Ok.
AW: Other than that he had no problems at all regarding indigestion or stomach ulcers or anything like that at all. The only thing was when he came back although he was nearly six foot tall he only weighed just over six stone.
MS: Right. So he needed building up.
AW: So he got built, well he got built up because —
MS: Because of the milk.
AW: We had all the stuff laying around.
MS: Which you found disgusting. Your face is saying it all. Right.
AW: Another thing, another thing I didn’t say at the time.
MS: Oh yeah.
AW: Which I remembered later. Grandmother used to have an old radiogram.
MS: Yeah.
AW: It was a thing about the size of a four drawer chest of drawers. Massive great thing.
MS: Yeah.
AW: And it had all these different wave bands on it. I realised afterwards when I was older because when it broke I took it to pieces but all these wave bands were on it and the people that used to stop at grandma’s house they used to turn it right the way down to a low frequency.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Although I didn’t know what it was at the time and we could hear the discussion between the aircraft and RAF Upwood.
MS: Right. You couldn’t do that on a modern radio. That’s interesting.
AW: Yeah. And so we knew when the aircraft was actually coming before they actually came into sight.
MS: Right.
AW: And I can even now remember at different times grandmother used to say in the morning when it all went quiet, ‘There’s not many turned up today. They’ve had a bad night.’
MS: Ah. Right. Yeah.
AW: And it was, it was solemn if you —
MS: Yeah. I know.
AW: Yeah.
MS: I got that impression from you. What you’ve just said and also the way you’re looking about it as well.
AW: Yeah.
MS: When did you leave the area? When did you move away?
AW: I was there eighteen months after dad came home. So it would be ’47.
GW: Because Fred was born ’48.
AW: Yeah. He was born ’48 and he was born in Benwick. Yeah. 1947 I left the area.
MS: Yeah. Is there anything else you can think of at all that is significant or you want anybody to know or — ? Because it’s been, it’s been very interesting certainly from my point of view listening to you explaining about that because it’s a time I didn’t know. You know. I was born in ’48 so —
AW: No. It just blows my mind that I can remember, thinking about it, so much when I was so young.
MS: Yeah.
AW: But at the same time even now if we go somewhere if a hundred and fifty miles away I can take you back without looking back at the map. I still recall.
MS: A good memory.
AW: A good memory.
GW: He’s got a very good memory
MS: Right. Ok. Right. What I’m going to do then if it’s alright with you I’ll read this bit at the back. Is that alright? First of all thank you very much indeed for chatting to us today.
AW: You’re very welcome.
MS: I’ll explain now what’s going to happen to the recording. Some of this sounds very official but it’s just the way we have to do it.
AW: Yeah.
MS: Are you able to confirm that you consented to take part in the recording?
AW: I did. Yeah.
MS: And you’ve assigned to the university all copyright in your contribution for use in all and any media. Is that ok? And you understand that this will not affect your moral right to be identified as the performer in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988. Whatever that means.
AW: Whatever it means.
MS: Right. Do you agree your name will be publicly associated with the interview? But you understand that all other personal details will be stored under strict confidential conditions and will not be shared with third parties. So just your name. Yeah.
AW: Yeah.
MS: Ok. Do you grant me permission to take your photograph for the purposes of the archive with my phone?
AW: Yeah.
MS: Thanks. Very kind. And do you agree to the interview being made available online so people who have computers will be able to go to the IBCC Archive and download your interview? Is that ok? That’s great. Your daughter and granddaughter will be able to do that.
AW: Yeah.
MS: Yeah. And do you agree, oh this agreement sorry will be governed by and construed in accordance with English law and the jurisdiction of the English courts. And if you sign here for me that shows that you accept the agreement. Are you happy with that?
AW: Ahum.
MS: Thank you.
GW: Alf, would this gentleman like to see this stuff of your dad’s that Libby’s got at the moment?
MS: Yeah. I wouldn’t mind if it’s there.
AW: Yes. Yes. The only thing we haven’t got it here, have we?
GW: No. But I’m saying we can get it from Libby.
AW: Yeah.
MS: The, just let sign that. The, I’ll explain anything that’s what we call real such as maps, documents things like that I’m not allowed to actually take possession of. What would have to happen is you’d have to take those to Riseholme Campus.
AW: Yeah.
MS: And show them. And they could scan them in and, and if you wanted to hand stuff over then that would be discussed with them but we’re not allowed to take anything away with us.
AW: No. No. The archives itself as it is we shall keep.
[recording paused]
MS: Alfred, while we were just sitting here just chatting you told me something quite interesting. Immediately following the war. Do you want to just take me through it again? You, just to set the scene, you, about eighteen months after the war was over you moved with your parents. Yeah. So where did you go to and what happened?
AW: We moved back to Benwick which was a little village about eight miles from Ramsey.
MS: Yeah.
AW: And the only residence we could have was a pub.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Which basically, which only sold beer. It didn’t sell spirits. It was just beer. And so consequently it wasn’t earning enough for our parents to bring up as it was two children then because my brother was born.
MS: Yeah.
AW: So dad took a job as a lorry driver. And one of the major jobs he had was on a regular basis he used to have to go down to London, Covent Garden with a little Austin three ton truck. Well, in those days the potatoes was in hundred weight sacks. Hessian sacks. And this one particular time I remember he went down there and he had sacks of potatoes down each side and across the back and in the middle was full of stuff that shouldn’t have been there. There was eggs, there was chickens, there was pieces of pork and one thing and another from the pigs that we’d had.
MS: The pigs that didn’t exist.
AW: The pigs that didn’t exist. And this happened two or three times as I can recall. Also my uncle he used to live in London and he used to spend his week’s holiday, he was only allowed one week a year —
MS: Yeah.
AW: He used to spend his week’s holiday in Benwick with us.
MS: Oh yeah. We’re interviewing again by the way Gillian because this is something that’s relevant. Yeah.
AW: And we used to have a, he used to come down in a taxi. One of the old black cabs.
MS: Yeah.
AW: With the, an open side where they used to put the cases.
MS: Yeah.
AW: And the same taxi driver used to come every time. And we used to know a fortnight or so before hand and we used to get all the food that we could. Collect up for him.
MS: Yeah.
AW: He used to stop overnight and then the following night he used to go back to London. But this poor taxi was loaded right down with —
MS: With contraband.
AW: With contraband goods. The following weekend it was his job again to come and pick my uncle up again.
MS: Yeah.
AW: Well, in the week that he was over at Benwick he was collecting more stuff up and there was just room for him to sit in the back of this taxi and the rest of the stuff was full up with stuff again.
MS: What would have happened if he’d have been stopped?
AW: Well, I suppose he would have been in serious trouble.
MS: Yeah. Because it was during rationing wasn’t it?
AW: Because, yeah, it was during rationing you see. I mean, the stuff that moved around it seemed as though because it was a pub it was the hub of the village so consequently everybody that was coming in was bringing stuff and swapping stuff. No money took place.
MS: No.
AW: It was —
MS: Barter.
AW: All barter you know. I’ll give you that if you give me this.
MS: All very sensible.
AW: And that that was the way we lived.
MS: When were these journeys done? Broad daylight?
AW: Oh no. They was all done at night time. And apparently when he got to Covent Garden although there was a row of lorries waiting to be unloaded his was the first lorry to get unloaded.
MS: That’s strange.
AW: They used to go straight by all these other rows of lorries and disappear in to a corner somewhere.
MS: Did you ever go with him?
AW: I never went with him. No.
MS: No. Did you hear about this from your father?
AW: Oh yes. Yeah. Well, sometimes a lorry used to be parked in our back yard behind this big six foot fence before he went out.
MS: So you’d see it get loaded.
AW: So we could see what was being loaded and we knew that father was on his way back to Covent Garden again.
MS: Right. Country folk are not beyond the wall are they? Thank you very much for that.


Michael Sheehan, “Interview with Alfred James Walker,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 27, 2021,

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