Interview with William Albert Warwick


Interview with William Albert Warwick


William was five years old when war was declared. He lived on a farm in north Lincolnshire not far from RAF Kirton in Lindsey, RAF Scampton, RAF Hibaldstow, RAF Blyton, RAF Sandtoft and RAF Sturgate. An anti-aircraft unit was also nearby. William remembers the aircraft overhead and an unexploded bomb landing near the farmhouse door. Some of the soldiers were billeted in the farmhouse next to their cottage. With there being a number of airfields in the area quite a lot of aircraft crashed in the vicinity. William then gives a short history of the Royal Observer Corps,








00:12:57 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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HD: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Hugh Donnelly and the interviewee is Bill Warwick. The interview is taking place at Mr Warwick’s home at [ buzz] Gainsborough on the 27th of February 2018. Correction on the 13th of March 2018.
WW: I was five years old when Britain declared war with Germany in September 1939 and lived on a farm in North Lincolnshire within striking distance of a dozen airfields. The nearest being Kirton Lindsey home of the American Eagle Squadron. Scampton, the Dambusters with Guy Gibson. Hibaldstow, famous for Margaret Horton and her ride on the Spitfire tail. Blyton with the Polish pilots. Sandtoft and Sturgate. So there was plenty of air activity. This formed the early part of my life. Also within two hundred and fifty yards was an anti-aircraft unit together with searchlights, machine guns and posts etcetera. This was a target for the German bombers. Mainly Dorniers. And they tried to demolish the camp by dropping incendiaries but luckily they missed the camp by a few yards. Most of the bombs were dug out by hand and defused and one stood at the back door of the farmhouse for years as a memento. When the Army lads first arrived they were billeted in farm buildings attached to our cottage. My mother baked pies for them and in return they felled birch trees from the local woods to keep the kitchen fire going. The soldiers also came around in the morning to shave with the hot water. Mugs of water balanced at every point convenient. Vivid memories of the Dorniers in the searchlights shining silver and trying to dodge the beam. Also in quiet moments the soldiers would shine the beam at us when we stood watching from the back door of our house. When I started school the first instruction was to take cover under the desks when I had to do so by the teacher. This was done when an aircraft passed overhead whether it was friend or foe. Bert Carpenter, the headmaster was a member of the Royal Observer Corps but I wasn’t aware of that until much later in my life. The next thing of note was one morning I went out to feed the chickens and the sound of machine guns blazed away. Greeted me. My mother dashed out shouting, ‘Come in. Come in. The Germans are here.’ This proved to be a barrage balloon had broken its moorings at either Hull or Grimsby and the Spitfires from Kirton Lindsey were trying to puncture the balloon so that it would sink to the ground. I have no idea how much shooting was carried out but when I came home from school the balloon was virtually down at Middlemoor Farm near Susworth about a mile away where it had either snagged on a farm implement or had been tied to one. During the war years double summertime was in operation to give the farmers better daylight working hours. As young lads this was to benefit to, to the three of us young lads to play cricket until dusk. This we did with an old oil drum for wickets, a piece of a five bar gate for a bat and a wooden ball from a coconut stall. This carried on until one of the lads bowling missed the catch and it struck his eye splitting it wide open whereupon we held him under the pump to treat the problem. Later he acquired, we acquired a rubber ball. Because we were out at dusk the Lancasters mainly assembled to the north of us. Somewhere in the River Humber Region to fly south and probably the Isle of Wight before dispersing over Germany to their allotted targets. The sight of the engine exhausts glowing in the gathering gloom is another outstanding memory. And later in life I was to trace the history of some of the aircrew for a friend who had lost track of a long gone uncles etcetera. Doodlebugs or V-1s were another intrusion. Mostly they were launched from France to the south of England but when the RAF destroyed their launching positions in France they sent them over to attack Manchester and Sheffield from Holland. One night we heard these V-1s with the motorbike noise and my dad had got out of bed to see what was happening. I said, ‘Get back to bed. It’ll only be the Mosquitoes coming home.’ But he said, ‘They’ve got a fire at the back.’ I heard that, I heard one that crashed on to a pig sty. Otherwise, I don’t know much about them in North Lincolnshire. Because of our proximity to the airfields quite a lot of aircraft crashed in the area and because I didn’t have a bike I had only heard about them. Most were under guard anyway until the RAF rescue vehicles took the remains away. Both human and material. Many aircraft around us were Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters, Halifax, Lysanders, Lockheed Lightnings from Goxhill, Whitleys, Wellingtons, Ansons and later Venoms, Vampires and Meteors. I can’t remember many German aircraft coming over. Only Junkers and Dorniers really. There wasn’t any time like street, there wasn’t anything like street lights or other lighting because it was complete blackout. Car lights were restricted to four candle power to shine no more than ten feet in front of the car with the hood to deflect the light. Even a cycle lamp had to be hooded to shine onto the front wheel. We must mention the Royal Observer Corps without, who played a major part in the outcome of the war. Their volunteer observers provided twenty four hour cover seven days a week. Stood out in the open in all weathers looking and listening under the supervision of Fighter Command. They’d fly, they identified friend or foe err stop that.
[recording paused]
HD: Recording briefly stopped and now started again.
WW: They were identified friend or foe. They crossed, across the British Isles for their work during the early war years in 1940 and they were granted the title Royal. So, I don’t know how that will finish off. That’s the end of it.
HD: That’s great. That’s the end of the recording. Thank you very much, Bill.
WW: Is that ok?
HD: Yeah. That’s brilliant. Thank you.
WW: Good.
[recording paused]
HD: Speak when you’re ready. Right. Bill is going to continue this with a short history of the Royal Observer Corps.
WW: And this is the forward from, just stop it a minute.
[recording paused]
WW: Right. This is the forward from, “Attack Warning Red,” and it was a book written by Derek Wood about the formation and the history of the Royal Observer Corps. So describing the early history of the Royal Observer Corps. So describing the early history of the Royal Observer Corps Derek Wood made the point in this book that the Corps did not fit neatly in to Service or Ministry. In a sense that was true. From the outset the Corps fostered a strong volunteer spirit coupled with a healthy egalitarianism which led in to resistance among its members to the concept of a paid service because it was voluntary. This total commitment to a volunteer ethic set the Royal Observer Corps apart from the formal organisation of peacetime services. Yet once it came under the wing of the Air Ministry in 1929 the community of interest was soon recognised and there sprang up a close and harmonious relationship with the Royal Air Force which continues until this day. In fact, the Royal Air Force Association have now took over the running basically of the Royal Observer Corps. Under a series of wise leaders the Royal Observer Corps expanded during the 1930s along with the Royal Air Force. It was all done on a shoestring and it is revealing now to learn that the sixteens group structure decided in 1935 was to cost no more than ten thousand pounds per year. Never before and I suspect never again could a nation obtain a vital arm of defence so cheaply. But it was when Lord Dowding took over Fighter Command that the Royal Observer Corps really achieved its highest purpose. Fully aware of the limitation of the primitive radars available to him he had a clear understanding of the Corp’s worth as a complement to them and of the vital role it would play in the struggle that lay ahead. Where others were dazzled by the price of new technology he stoutly defended the requirement for visual and audio tracking of enemy aircraft. When Winston Churchill dismissed the techniques of the Royal Observer Corps as stone age Dowding sprang to its defence and of course he was right. Derek Wood recounts fully and entertainingly in this book of the Royal Observer Corps in the Second World War and what a magnificent story it is. During the Battle of Britain and afterwards the Royal Observer Corps provided our only intelligence on aircraft operating below five hundred feet and because its members were well trained and as keen as mustard the Corps were not confined to low level reporting. The operation of the alarm within the alert, notification of bale outs and crashes and a wealth of other intelligence flowed from the Observer Corps posts. As the war ground on the Royal Observer Corps expanded in every direction. Helping home lame ducks. Assisting in air sea rescue. And taking an heroic part in D-Day fleet with its members dressed in hybrid military uniform as temporary Naval petty officers. The list of its activities is endless. It was all made possible by the ideal that, the ideal of selflessness freely given, volunteer service and, “Attack Warning Red,” provides us with a timely reminder of the worth and strength of that ideal. After the war came the anti-climax of stand down from ’45 to ’47. But Fighter Command would, Fighter Command expanded at the time of the Korean War. The Royal Observer Corps once again came to its assistance. Valiant efforts were made to regain lost ground but although it remained effective throughout the 1950s in identifying and plotting low level raids the advent of high speed, high flying jets could neither be seen or heard was to prove an insuperable problem. Thus it was the role of the Corps changed in the early 1960s to that of monitoring nuclear fall-out. As the field force of the UK monitoring organisation the Royal Observer Corps continued to play a vital role in the defence of this country and still maintains the close contact with the RAF which has become so much of its history. To all those who have served in the Royal Observer Corps or ever been associated with it this book was a joy to read. I count it a great honour to have been asked to contribute this forward and I take this opportunity on behalf of the Royal Air Force to salute the Royal Observer Corps and all its members past and present.” And that was Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Humphrey. Chief of the Air Staff. Will that do?
HD: Thank you, Bill. That’s lovely. And that concludes the recording.
WW: Yes.
HD: Thank you very much.


Hugh Donnelly, “Interview with William Albert Warwick,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 9, 2023,

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