Interview with Clifford Watson. Two


Interview with Clifford Watson. Two


Clifford Watson remembers his training as a pilot in Salisbury, Zimbabwe, but being scrubbed at the flying test. Tells of when he flew a Ju-88 at RAE Farnborough. Talks about the different wages in various trades. Tells of an emergency landing at RAF Horsham St Faith and the removal of a four-thousand-pound bomb. After being demobbed in 1946, he initially worked for a firm on relay systems installations at Whitehaven. Afterwards, he moved to Kenya, where he was employed as a prison officer, and then to Tanganyika, where he worked for the Directorate of Civil Aviation. Gives a detailed and vivid account of his time spent in Africa: tells of the visit of Princess Margaret; repaired radios for the local population; tells of submerged Catalinas in Lake Victoria; underwent surgery in Nairobi for the amputation of two fingers; encounters with the local wildlife; helped an aircraft to land safely. Remembers carrying out radio repairs at Entebbe. When he went back to England, ended up working for Pye Telecommunications.




Temporal Coverage




01:57:53 audio recording


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 and



AWatsonC170719, PWatsonC1704


CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 19th of July 2017. I’m back in Fenstanton talking with Bill Watson again, about his experiences and we are just going back to the Rhodesia days on initial training, so what was the form there? You started with pilot training
CW: At the Elementary Flying Training School in Salisbury there were fifty of us on the course, at the end of six weeks there were thirty still on the course, twenty had been scrubbed, and there were only fifteen of the thirty still on the course, I’ve gone solo, I was one of the fifteen who hadn’t, so we had to see a fly test and all fifteen of us failed, we all failed [unclear] a fly test, twelve of us notified a grievance and we were interviewed and we wanted to know why I’d failed, I failed, you failed Watson on two points, you did wheel landings instead of three-pointers and secondly you took off and climbed at half throttle. And my final remark there was that I landed exactly as I was instructed, I was running out of landing area so I’d to get down, either get down or go round again and I chose to get down exactly as I was instructed, secondly if I took off and climbed at half throttle I performed a miracle and we could [unclear] one of them and that was it. And that was before the group captain, no, before the wing commander, Speedy Powell was our wing commander in charge of all flying in Rhodesia, a long time later he became our group captain in North Africa and I reminded him about Rhodesia, he said, don’t tell me you failed the pilot’s course, you didn’t, he said, it’s just that there were too many of you on it and there were several hundred people waiting in Bulawayo, they’d already completed the EFTS waiting for Service Flying Training School, bigger aircraft, and there was too big a delay so not everybody could be trained as a pilot. We were offered observer trading and they said there could be a little delay in taking the course and we’d already met people who’d waited six months for the course, we knew better, so we all remustered to air gunner, there’s a picture of that course
CB: Yeah. In your book.
CW: So, we then went to Gwelo, to Gwelo, place called Moffat,
CB: Right. Now, we were talking earlier about how you got paid, we’re going fast forward now onto the Wellington so what were the rates of pay cause you were all sergeants except you in this particular case on the Wellingtons. So, what was the rate of pay?
CW: The same as when I became a sergeant
CB: So, the pilot got twelve and six a day
CW: [unclear]. During the training?
CB: No, after the training
CW: Until we qualified, we were LACs
CB: Right, yes
CW: I think, I think it was seven shillings a day as LACs, I’m not sure, I don’t, I’m not sure. As an AC2 initially I was on three and six a day. And, when the training started, it went to seven shillings a day. And as a qualified air gunner, sergeant air gunner, seven and six. And later as a warrant officer, twelve and six. As a pilot officer, twelve and six [laughs]. We did get a [unclear] once in those days, I don’t recall what it was, every little helps [laughs].
CB: Yeah. But the pilot got paid more.
CW: The pilot was more all the time.
CB: Yeah. So, he got twelve and six a day, the navigator
CW: On the observer course, I’m not sure
CB: In the Wellington, he got twelve and six a day you said, and the others got the seven and six a day
CW: Yeah.
CB: Going fast forward now to, because we, this is just extra information for what we covered before, but fast forward now to the end, at the end of the first tape, we got to the point where you’d had to make an emergency landing at Horsham St Faith near Norwich and you didn’t realise it but there was a hang-up of a four thousand pounder and the question on that was, was the fuse live or not? And having talked to a bomb aimer, he thought it probably had been earlier on, but after that incident, what did you do?
CW: No, we didn’t discuss, at the time we didn’t discuss whether it was live or not.
CB: No. Left it to the groundcrew.
CW: Didn’t’ occur to us. I suppose the bomb aimer was a bit doozy, he was a Canadian [laughs].
CB: After that experience what did you do, cause your plane had been moved to the other side of the airfield.
CW: Well, the skipper informed base and base organised a team to come out and remove the bomb, as the Yanks had damaged the coupling. Was rather amusing really when the Yank came in and said, say, fellow, we can’t get off, take off the overload tank and the skipper said, well, oh, don’t worry about that, leave it, and then the flight engineer, the flight engineer woke up and said, we didn’t have an overload tank, yeah, sure, but it’s, about six foot long, and the bomb aimer woke up and he said, no, no, no, that’ll be the four thousand pound bomb, no, they don’t make bombs that big [laughs], meanwhile I’m just sitting back resting [laughs]. A crew came out and we were there for three days. We tried to enjoy it because I’d been to school in Norwich, I went to see an old girlfriend there, a girl I knew at the arts school called Joyce, went to the door and asked to see Joyce and it was a warrant officer who came to the door, interesting chap, he was on Lysanders
CB: Oh, really?
CW: Taking spies over, oh, he quite a chap [laughs], interesting really
CB: So, you beat a hasty retreat after that, did you?
CW: No, no, oh no, no. No, I used to walk home from school with Joyce, that was all.
CB: Yeah. So, the aircraft was fixed, what happened then?
CW: Oh, then we took it back to base. And the chaps had already taken away the bomb
CB: Yeah.
CW: The question whether it was [unclear] just didn’t arise, at least, I wasn’t aware of any discussion. It couldn’t have been [unclear], could it?
CB: Depends how the sequence went, as I understand it, talking to a bomb aimer
CW: It might have slipped out, well, it must have slipped out, they wouldn’t have messed around with it live, could they?
CB: Well, they’d defuse it first, wouldn’t they?
CW: Could they do that? I don’t know.
CB: Bomb disposal.
CW: [laughs]
CB: Anyway, we don’t know.
CW: We don’t know.
CB: So, you got back to base, then what happened?
CW: Oh, we just carried on then, as usual. There wasn’t, that wasn’t the last trip, was it?
CB: No. So, what was the last trip?
CW: I don’t know, it’s in the book.
CB: Yeah, we haven’t got the book here.
CW: No.
CB: So, the war ended in Europe, VE Day, 8th of May 1945, what did the squadron do then?
CW: Couple of days before D-Day, I went on leave and I was at home where I [unclear], on D-Day I was at Du Cane Court in Belham, my father’s secretary, my father had just come back from Africa, I was with my wife Hilda during Churchill’s speech and we listened to that, listened to Churchill’s speech on the radio and was quite emotional really, we realised that, we realised we could make a decision on what to do more than ten minutes ahead, it was a tremendous feeling, I found later there was a victory parade on the camp like everywhere else, eventually I suppose I went back to Balderton. From there I was put, I went on a photography course at Farnborough, that was interesting, I went up in a Junkers 88 cause at Farnborough there was the, what do we call it, the?
CB: Well, they had the enemy aircraft evaluation flight
CW: Yes, yes
CB: [unclear]
CW: What was it called, I forget, they were studying enemy aircraft there, I went up, an English pilot in a Junkers 88, I realised that when he, when the Junkers 88 was attacking, he couldn’t and he was aiming ahead of an aircraft, he couldn’t see what he was aiming at, he was aiming ahead, and the bomber was behind the nose of the Junkers 88
CB: Oh.
CW: Which, which I found interesting, yeah, [unclear] the course was a waste of time really because obviously no vacancies and RAF photography had little in common with normal, my type of photography and from there, [unclear], I think the next posting was to Graveley and my diary records that I was adjutant of 106 Squadron and I think and that turned out to be wrong, I was squadron, I was adjutant at a squadron with no personnel and there were twelve officers there waiting for demob, I had an office with a desk and there was a safe and that was it, I know, eventually I said, who the heck am I responsible to? Balderton or the station adjutant? And I was [unclear] back to Balderton. Oh dear. Eventually I was recalled and posted to 61 MU, I think we’ve covered that.
CB: I don’t think we’ve covered that bit.
CW: No?
CB: No.
CW: 61 MU Handforth, I think perhaps that’d go off, no.
CB: We’ll just pause. We’re restarting now and I got to correct myself when I said Bill Watson and I meant Clifford Watson [laughs], so here you were, posted to an MU and the group captain says to you
CW: Yes, he stood up and he said, sorry old chap, I didn’t get your name. Must excuse that fellow, he said, he was in that office before the war when that was natural
CB: Regulars
CW: [unclear] type of thing, that was, he was in charge of this unit, it was a [unclear], a big [unclear], he was in charge of this before the war as a civilian and when the war came he stayed there, was commissioned and continued to run it [laughs], it is rather remarkable, so I then collected my kit and I was told where the living quarters were
CB: Just interrupting before that, he knew somebody you knew in Africa. This group captain.
CW: Oh yes. Oh yes, the group captain at the MU
CB: Yes
CW: Knew the group captain in the earlier days, group captain Speedy Powell, he knew him in the earlier days, and he was very pleased to learn that, but I hadn’t seen him since of course
CB: Cause he was a wing commander running the training in Rhodesia you said.
CW: Yes, he was a wing commander then
CB: Yes
CW: And the group captain in North Africa
CB: Right
CW: Speedy Powell, did you see the film Target for Tonight?
CB: Yes
CW: Well, Speedy Powell was the flight lieutenant briefing officer there, they used to have quite a , what you would refer to as an Oxford accent, very posh accent, nice bloke and a leader from the front, yes, he didn’t come into it later
CB: So, the group captain then told you to get on with your job at the end.
CW: Well, after the interview with the group captain, I went to where I was to be billeted and there, I met the other twelve officers, yes, no, I’m sorry, I’m off track. That wasn’t at the MU, yes, it was, my mind’s a bit hairy, yes, I met the other twelve officers but they were on duty all the time and they were very unhappy, I’ve been there about an hour and an orderly came in with a new [unclear] and I was to be assistant duty fire officer under training but for twenty-four hours, the day after I was duty fire officer, duty officer fire under training, the third day I was duty fire officer, and so it went on when after the fire officers there was cypher officer three days and so on, in line fire picket officer and all that and everybody was on duty every day and there were briefing about this, they weren’t allowed in the mess in the afternoon and so on and they decided that, to complain, not a mutiny but to complain and I drew the short stick or the long stick and I went back to see the group captain and he was quite receptive and I gave him the proper story of what happened and he dealt with the problem and what happened then at 61 MU? Then think I was recalled to Balderton, yes I called to Balderton and then I was sent to Oxbridge for demob and that was in June ’46. And I was given a cardboard box and a demob suit and I went straight to Whitehaven where Hilda was, my wife was sort of looking after things whilst I got there and I got stuck into a job then in Whitehaven, the firm had taken over a rundown radio relay system, it had four hundred installations there and I thought, well, I’ll give it two years and see what I can do and I built it up to two thousand and forty, two thousand four hundred installations in two years, after that I went to London as a [unclear] manager and I opened three more branches and in 1949 I’d come from eleven stone seven, which was my weight throughout the war, to sixteen and a half stone and I saw the doctor about it, a lady, and she said, oh, I think you should have a change of diet, a change of job and a change of environment, I recommend you emigrate [laughs], so I did. Meanwhile, my father had retired to Kenya, he’d sold out the business, the relay business and gone to Kenya, where he’d acquired a farm during the war, which was derelict. And he’d gone to Kenya and I thought, well, I’d go and see the old man. And we did. We didn’t intend to stay but I’d experienced Rhodesia and the desert and England really, didn’t appeal to me very much, frankly, so we went to Kenya and joined my father on the farm. It was six hundred acres in Kiminini, yes, just outside Kitale, in the southern highlands two hundred and fifty miles from Nairobi. I’d been there six months when I’d a letter from immigration saying that I’d violated the terms of a visa so I checked on the visa which said that I was authorised to enter the colony of Kenya within three months of the above date, it made no reference to how long I could stay, so they got it wrong, I saw the labour officer and he said, I’ve seen this before, they have got it wrong, but they don’t mean what they say, I said, well, that wouldn’t stand up in court, when we go to court I produce my visa and it doesn’t say anything about staying for three months, he said, he would never go to court, he’s [unclear] to himself, that fellow, he said, the only way you can stay in Kenya is get a government job and he looked through his file, he said, there is one vacancy which might be suitable, prisons, in the prisons, [unclear], prisons warden? No, assistant superintendent Grade 2, accommodation provided, leave after two and a half years, two weeks home leave, local leave each year, six months home leave after two and a half years, after four years, I’m sorry, after four years, that sounds interesting, shall I make an appointment? And he did. So, I went to Nairobi next day, stayed at the New Stanley and saw the commissioner of prisons the day after and I, after a long conversation I got the job and we moved down into prisons, prison accommodation there which was just outside the wall, it was interesting but I didn’t fancy staying there for the rest of my life so at the end of the year I resigned and that evening I told my father on the [unclear] that I’d resigned from the prison, I’d like to come back to the farm for a while, he said, Cliff, go and see Joe Furniss, the director of civil aviation, go and have a word with him, he’s a decent bloke, I’ve seen, I know him, so I went to see Joe Furniss, so I went to the head office of the directorate of civil aviation and inquired if there were any vacancies and Burt Leeman, staff officer gave me a form to fill in, now I just filled it in when Joe Furniss walked in and I was there in uniform and he started asking questions and in fact I didn’t need a further interview, I was offered the job but he said, the first posting will be to Mbeya, which is in South West Tanganyika, near the Rhodesian, Northern Rhodesian border and join another fellow there, he will be leaving in about four or three weeks and you take over and it’s a one man station, you will be on your own so think about it, I thought about it, please call me in, a few days later, alright, I went back to the prison, to tell the, the commissioner had said, you can leave when you like, you will finish with us in six weeks, that’s your four weeks’ notice and two weeks leave that you’re entitled to but you can leave when you like and I went back to the prison to tell him that I’d be leaving within a few days and before I could say anything, he gave me a letter terminating my appointment, I don’t want this, I just resigned, not through the proper channels, I tore it up, put it in the basket, I said, I’ll be leaving tomorrow, and I did [laughs]. And we went to Mbeya, nice place, that’s where Colin was born, no, John
US: John and Cris
CW: John was born in Mbeya, yeah. It was a one man station where the one man is responsible for absolutely everything that happens on the station, working hours, I was under obligation to meet or to be there attending to scheduled aircraft and there was only one a day on average, the rest of the time I had to deal with any situation that arose, there were no working hours, it was all the time, and we lived on the spot, there was a DFg 10 direction finding receiver there, it didn’t work, it was on a table or a desk about five feet long in metal built up at the back and the receiver was inside the, where it was built up, and the valves on this receiver, five of them, plugged in from the front, the thing didn’t work and one valve wasn’t, didn’t light up but that was the second RS stage, I thought I’ll fix this thing so I requisitioned another valve but they didn’t have any, the facility had been taken out of use at the end of the war, no valve, so I [unclear] out the grid and [unclear] little capacitor, I [unclear], the tune circuits were still there, fixed that but there was no HT so I had to fix that, fitted a modern rectifier instead of the old selenium thing and the set worked, it was beautiful, about a month later an aircraft, what was that aircraft? a type of aircraft, big biplane, can’t remember the name, an aircraft called [unclear], it was flying from Blantyre in Nyasaland back to Cairo
CB: Not a Rapide
CW: Three thousand
CB: Not a Rapide, was it?
CW: Rapide? No, a big monoplane.
CB: A monoplane.
CW: I couldn’t remember it the other day, we are wasting time there, Anson, an Anson aircraft, the Anson called [unclear] and they flew [unclear] and I would rely on the beacons, [unclear] can you make any suggestion? I said, transmit on [unclear], can you transmit on 333? Yes, he could, give me a call on 33, so I took a bearing on him and he was way over to the south west, instead of being due south he was south west, so I gave him a QDM, brought him overhead, he was above cloud and eventually he could see Mbeya Peak, brought him over, but he was above cloud, had to get down, meanwhile I had spoken to a Dakota and I could see the cloud was clear to the east where the Dakota was coming from and I checked that he could see the ground so I suggested to the bloke he flies on 090 until he could see the ground and then descend and I brought him back under the cloud and he was really chuffed, I went down to see them, I said, there can’t be much wrong with the DF loop, there was nothing wrong with it, there was a link between the loop and the J type twitch, cause there were three aerials on the Anson, one for HFRT, one for direction finding and the trading aerial and they there, those three were linked to the switch which was linked in turn to the receiver and the transmitter, the screen on the [unclear], on the link, the screen had come undone which put the thing out, it was no longer balanced, so it wasn’t defect, it was a loop, and I took out, all I had to do was change the link and it would have been ok but I took the link out, took the link out, took it up to the workshop, fixed it, put it back and it worked, fine, he was pleased. Following day they took off and two weeks later I got a letter from Joe Furniss, a superior reprimand, using equipment which was not authorised, you must realise that, had that aircraft come down, that aircraft was lost, had it come down, in the bush, you would have been under severe criticism and subject to the law, I thought, Crickey, Joe, that’s not Joe, signed director of civil aviation, and underneath is, underneath is written, bloody good show, Cliff [laughs], bloody good show, Cliff, keep it up [laughs]. I had that letter for many, many years but it disappeared.
CB: Not in your album then.
CW: I don’t think it’s there.
CB: I had a file, well, I still have, with sort of things, and recommendations, also the, what would you call them? References, really. Things that I could quote [laughs]. Where was I?
CB: We’ll just stop there for a moment. So, when you arrived at
US: Guest house.
CW: Sorry?
CB: What was your accommodation when you arrived in this place? What sort of house did you live in?
CW: In Mbeya?
CB: Yeah.
CW: In Mbeya, you refer to the one
US: Yeah.
CW: On the open, on the runway. We lived in the old Wilson Airways resthouse, it was a 1930 terminal building really, and the combined resthouse where people used to stay overnight, there were about ten bedrooms, weren’t there? About ten bedrooms, no electricity
US: No bathroom
CW: Ey?
US: No bathroom
CW: No bathroom, oh.
US: [unclear] the loo [laughs].
CW: And we had oil lamps for lighting. There had been a twelve Volt wind thing but that wasn’t there. But there was a very big place enough for twelve people.
CB: There must have been power to run the DF station. So, why wasn’t there in the accommodation?
CW: But the DF station was about four hundred yards away up the hill. And there was a cottage alongside the transmitting station, a very interesting place, we decided to move up to the cottage, and I ran a line from the transmitter station about fifty yards over, no, maybe a hundred yards over to the cottage, a bit of wiring for lighting and heating in the cottage and we had power then from six in the morning till six at night except on occasions when aircraft were overflying that night and I was asked to put the beacon on and we lived in that cottage and my [unclear] radio shack was in what used to be the boys quarters at the back of the cottage and one day I was talking to another amateur in South Africa, I told him where I was and he said he was in Muizenberg, I said, I remember Muizenberg, we were working down on the beach and a lady invited us to dinner or to lunch and she said, what are you doing for lunch? We said, well, we probably aren’t, come and see me at twelve o’clock, have lunch with me, it’s a big house up there, number so and so, ask for Mrs Macbeth, I’ve not covered this one?
CB: Go on.
CW: No?
CB: No.
CW: Ask for Mrs Macbeth, it’s a big house, and I did, went to the door, the three of us, and I asked for Mrs Shakespeare [laughs]. Well, In Mbeya I mentioned that and he said, you know, that very house is where I’m living, where I’m speaking to you from and Mrs Macbeth told us a few days ago that incident and we had a good laugh and he said, whereabouts in the cottage are you? And I told him, in what used to be the boy’s quarters at the back of the cottage, can you see the backdoor of the cottage from there? Yeah, yes. Have a look, he said, is there a hole about twelve inches above the floor, in the middle of the door, about two inches above the floor? Is there a hole in the door? I said, yeah, there is. Yes, there is, oddly enough, he said, and look on the wall at the back of the door, there should be a big dent in the wall, I’ll go and have a look, there was, well, it had been repaired, you could see where something had been repaired, he said, that was a 303 bullet that went off by mistake, he’d moved, there was a rifle there and he’d moved the rifle, it was loaded and cocked, and it went off, and the bullet went through the door, hit the wall at the back, that was a billion to one coincidence, it was a coincidence on two coincidences but he lived there for a while, during the war and he was in the place where Mrs Macbeth became Mrs Shakespeare. Lovely place. I used to go to work at six o’clock in the morning, sometimes a bit earlier, just as it was beginning to get light, and on occasion, it was still a bit dark, and I went to the top of the narrow road which led down to the DF station, my place of work, and I met the night-watchman the African at the top of the road, he was waving his arms, oh Buana, Buana, [unclear], Tembo mingi, mingi [unclear], matata mingi, Tembo, and he was like this, what he was, he was referring to Tembo, the blend of beer used by the African was called Tembo and I thought the bloke’s been drinking, he’s telling me he’s drunk, anyhow I went down to the DF station, opened up the radio, contacted Nairobi and [unclear] a funny smell, it was getting light, so went outside, we were surrounded by elephants, there must have been about twenty odd elephants there and they were having a meal in the maize [unclear] opposite the station [unclear] some of the Africans were living and they were growing maize all round them and the elephants were there, enjoying themselves with the maize and the Africans came out and they were throwing things at the elephants and three of them got killed, three were killed
CB: How did that happen?
CW: They attacked the elephants and the elephants didn’t like it and all the elephants had to do was knock them over and then kneel on them, what a mess, it was an occasion there, a bit of tribal warfare, and three of the injured came to the cottage, could we take them to hospital? And I did and of course had to give my name, name and address, and I got the bill, I got the bill, it happened again, so I gave my name and address, Ramsay Macdonald, 10 Downing Street [laughs]. It was a very nice place Mbeya.
CB: We’ll stop there for a bit.
CW: From six months leave
CB: From Mbeya.
CW: From Mbeya. Aircraft to Entebbe and then six months leave. End of leave, back to Tanganyika, this time to Mwanza, Mwanza was on the southern end of Lake Victoria where we were, where we lived in an old German villa which was about a hundred feet up the hill overlooking Lake Victoria, nice view and Hilda enjoyed the paintings from there. Whilst on leave, I spent a month getting qualified in the job I was doing, that’s another story, when I joined the department, the smaller aerodromes or the aerodromes other than the international ones were manned by post office people, there was a radio station and a European wireless officer, wireless operator and that was his sole job, the rest of the work was done by Ministry of the Public Works Department and Administration and when I joined it coincided with DCA, my department taking over total responsibility and they took over the radio stations and the Europeans running them but those people were ex-army with no background of aviation at all, they were running into trouble so they decided that they would all get qualified and that included me, so I spent a month doing a bit of squatting and then I got a flight aero licence, Ministry of Aviation licence and a PMG first class licence was, either one was enough, and being stupid I decided to get both but in fact the DCA didn’t know it, but the PMG licence with the aero endorsement was no longer in use, well, I got a PMG anyhow. There were several emergencies at Mwanza and one night we had to put the flight path out, the flight path was using [unclear] like watering cans with a big [unclear] full of paraffin with a wick and that had to be laid out and it was used for the first time since the war, there was, the [unclear] came, now what happened there? There was an aircraft should have arrived at Dar-er-Salaam and hadn’t so they opened up all stations, no contact for over two hours with the aircraft, all stations were opened up overnight, during the night, Nairobi found opened up, I had to get to the airport quick and open up the BHF and I sped down the main street doing about sixty and I was picked up by the police, anyhow I didn’t slow down, full speed to the control tower, dashed in, upstairs, switched on the VHF, everything else with beacon, was working full time now, switched on VHF and three Askari [unclear] European came bounding up the stairs and I said, be quiet! Just be quiet! And I called the aircraft. The second time I called in, the aircraft replied and I gave them QDMs to get to Kisumu and he landed and that was the night we put the flight path out and he landed just before dawn, I was charged and it cost me, I think it was a hundred shillings in [unclear] for speeding and I said to the magistrate, what was more important than speeding was getting on to the radio and working that aircraft and getting him, giving him some help, find a hundred shillings, well, [unclear] later on I used to help the radio, the police radio technician and now and again he’d give me a day off cause he used to be in our department and he knew my job, no, I’m sorry, I’m jumping the gun here, that occurred at Kisumu later, oh dear, are we on tape? We can’t delete that, can we?
CB: We can.
CW: At Mwanza, yes, that was a difficult station, my car then was a
US: [unclear]
CW: An A70
CB: Oh yes, Austin A70.
CW: [unclear] after the airport and there was a jackal, no, not a jackal.
US: Hyena?
CW: Hyena, was a hyena coming down the road at ten knots, I was doing sixty and we collided, went over the top, oh well, but the rule is if you damage an animal seriously, you destroy it, that was the rule in there which was fair enough, so I stopped and went to where the hyena had landed and it got up and wobbled off, so I didn’t have to shoot it, one [unclear], there was an aircraft at Mwanza, it was, belonged to the Lint and Seed Marketing Board, that was a posh name for a cotton board, and this chairman used to go out to the farms and deal with quality control and so on and I used, went out many times with him and finally he allowed me to fly the thing, when he’d learned that I’d been on a pilot’s course, he said, if I’ll come in and go, wow, lovely, no problem at all, and took off, flew around and landed and after several flights on that I was quite happy and then one day he said, I’m going out to New Saza, New Saza goldmine, care to come? And we did, I was passenger, and he left me at the goldmine, got in a Land Rover and went to deal with his cotton, and a couple of hours later he came back and he was laid on the backseat of the Land Rover, he’d been bitten by, what was it? I forget the name of the snake now, a very poisonous snake and he was unconscious and there’s an Indian doctor he said, he’s got to get to hospital quite quick, well, there’s only one way, we’ll put him in the aircraft and I flew the thing back to Mwanza but that, I don’t think that’s in my diary
CB: No
CW: As soon as I was airborne I called Mwanza on HF, spoke to the assistant who normally wouldn’t use the radio, I called him by name and phone, get an ambulance to meet the aircraft, I’ve got an urgent case and he did, I got this trouble, do you mind?
CB: We’ll stop. So, behind the house you had leopards.
CW: Yes, we were told about it when we arrived, but we sort of brushed it off. Yes, in the back garden there was a big, what used to be an outside kitchen and access to it was a five steps, was a well-appointed place and I used that as a workshop, as in my spare time I repair radios, and that paid the school fees and so on, I must have repaired well over a thousand radios, literally, I know that number from the number of invoice books I got through, they were African, mostly African radios, dry battery sets, and the plug on most of the dry batteries was a very crude affair, and it was too easy to put the plug in the battery the wrong way and when you do that, you put HTU where the [unclear] and I was buying wholesale batteries, scores at a time, and I wasn’t charging very much, a set of four batteries, four valves, the repair each of the sets needed a new set of valves of course
CB: Yeah
CW: And that was costing me one pound per set roughly, but the shops were charging more like five pounds for a repair, I was charging fifty bob
US: It’s rather hot
CB: We’ll stop there just for a moment. So, you were charging fifty bob?
CW: I charged fifty bob, the [unclear] were charging more like six pounds so I was doing that all the time, had a very nice workshop and one evening, it was dark and I was carrying between my fingers a couple of pounded milk tins, empty tins, and I got at the bottom of the stairs, steps and this leopard sitting on top there and it just looked at me and then it jumped and I went down and the thing went over the top, it wasn’t attacking me, it was getting away.
CB: Yeah.
CW: There were no records of any attack on people, not even on Africans, their diet was the hyena and monkeys and so on. But the leopard
CB: And what?
CW: Oh, I, but I nearly cut these two off, I cut, the tendons were cut and that was hanging off, anyhow I [unclear] to hospital and the doctor put the whole thing in
CB: Plaster?
CW: Plaster and I was having penicillin injections
CB: Ah, right.
CW: After a couple of weeks the pain was really dreadful and the only painkillers were Paracetamol so, oh dear,
US: That was your idea to have sausage roll? Oh, sorry
CW: You’re too kind. And I said, the pain’s wicked, please have a look at it, no, he said, it’s better where it is, I thought, no, there is something wrong there, I said, doc, if you won’t take it off, take that plaster off, if you won’t I will and the nurse had a word with him so he took it off. Oh, what a mess, it was like a tapioca pudding, all piled up, I said, you’ve got to get
CB: The infection
CW: That hand, gangrene is the trouble, he said, that hand’s got to come off, oh,
CB: Thank you.
CW: He said, you’ve got to get, that needs surgery,
CB: Excuse me.
CW: And the nearest surgeon’s in Dar-es-Salaam, they’re all at a conference, I said, ok, wrap it up, I’ll get to Nairobi, you couldn’t get to Nairobi just like that [laughs]
CB: Flying
CW: In aircraft at three o’clock, I’ll be on it and I went to Nairobi, no ticket just [unclear] crew
CB: Right
CW: And into hospital and they fixed it, but the tendon, the tendons had grown onto the scar tissue
CB: Oh!
CW: So that’s all I can do
CB: Yes
CW: With those two
CB: Yeah
CW: They were very good at the hospital, I was in there a month
CB: Were you?
CW: Yes, a month. But all they did in ten days there was a big bowl on the floor full of something and it was soaking and it was a few days before they identified the particular [unclear]
CB: This was a salt-based fluid, was it, that you were putting on? [unclear]?
CW: Yeah.
CB: We’ll stop there for a bit because we’ve got some brilliant sausage rolls.
CW: [unclear] Police came there from all over the place.
CW: To protect the Queen Mother. Yeah.
CB: And the Queen’s pilot and another chap on the crew, I took them to the hotel and when I took them back I was stopped by the police at the entrance to the airport, you need a permit to get in there, I said, I don’t need a permit, everybody needs a permit, I said, look, if I don’t see to that aircraft, the Queen Mother is going to be awfully annoyed, oh. I didn’t know the copper, he was from somewhere else, of course I got in. The hangars on that airport were taken over by grain storage and they were full of maize and there was enough maize there to feed the entire population of Africans for two years. And maize was being taken out, more fresh maize was put in and one day there was a problem on the door, one hangar, and when that was dealt with they found a propeller up above the hangar door and they told me about it, so I recovered the propeller and put it in the transmitter room, about a year later the grain storage me a letter from a chap in England who referred to the propeller and eventually there was a survey going on, with somebody’s surveys, the survey people
CB: Aerial photography survey, was it? Skyviews or somebody?
CW: Somebody aerial surveys, a popular firm, when they returned to England, they took the propeller back with them so all the chap had to do was collect it from them. Many years later, the level of the lake came up eight feet when they built the dam at Jinja in Uganda but somehow the Nile was diverted and the level of the water came up eight feet, I actually saw the shadows of a couple of aircraft which were submerged in the lake, they were amphibians
US: [unclear]
CB: What, Walruses, were they?
CW: No, they American [unclear], Catalinas
CB: Catalina, yeah.
CW: A couple of Catalinas were submerged just off the end of the runway in the lake and they were about two feet under water when I saw them, when I saw their image, now they are under ten feet of water and the lake rose eight feet. And that became the largest inland lake in the world, bigger than the one, Lake Ottawa, because when the lake came up, when the level came up it spread out and one or two villages got submerged, so that [unclear]
CB: What happened when Princess Margaret came?
CW: Yes, they made a big fuss when Princess Margaret came, there was a passenger ship called the Sybil which was completely refurbished and that was put out for her disposal
CB: On the lake
CW: On the lake. I had to fit a radio to work aircraft from the Sybil, railways and harbours had to fit a radio to work their network and then they had to fit a police radio so there were [unclear] of radio on the Sybil, that’s ridiculous and in the end she didn’t go, she didn’t go on the Sybil, oh, and not only that but the Wigen, the Wigen came and was based there while she was there, just in case she ran into trouble out of sea, out on the lake, ridiculous, apart from that the road to the airport was seven miles from town to the airport and it was on Merron Road, just sand, Merron Road to the airport and for that [unclear] visit became a tarmac pit, they put down layer of [unclear] and then spread it and it was a beautiful road, really wonderful road and the princess went on it, thought that jolly good and about two weeks later it rained [laughs] and the rain went under the tarmac, what a mess, it was back to Merron Road, goodness knows what that cost. What else happened at Mwanza? Got one of Hilda’s pictures at each end of the terminal building and he said, what did you [unclear]? Those pictures, get them draped, I said, I don’t have any [unclear], any drapes, snaps his fingers to his PA, Pa [unclear] to local purchase order, what is it you need [laughs]? And we [unclear]
US: I never actually saw them because we weren’t there then, Colin and I had been sent home
CB: This was the regional commission you were talking about.
CW: Regional commission, yes, regional commissioner, PC, provincial commissioner
CB: Ah.
CW: Well, he was the senior man in the province, and he wanted to see it draped so we did that. I gave one to the director, by then the director was Stacy Coles, commander station Coles, was actually a retired naval captain but he used the rank of commander because, well, there were too many captains there, captains of aircraft so to get, avoid confusion, he called himself commander. Stacy Coles later, yes, that was a point, I got a message from Nairobi, that Stacy was in jail, at Kisumu, I went to see him, and what happened he was due for home leave and he was issued with air tickets, by government tickets but Air France gave him some complementary tickets with a stopover of two weeks in Paris being entertained royally, but they did some favour of some sort to the director and with that in line he used the Air France tickets and the others went back to the treasury and the others went back to the treasury but it wasn’t, they were debited or rather credited to the wrong bank, they were credited to his bank and he wasn’t aware of it until he got back and he was arrested, arrested for theft cause he wasn’t used, he used, he’d cashed in the tickets in fact, he did no knowledge of it, he was set up by an Indian in the treasury and that Indian was caught about a year later, but meanwhile Stacy was given three years in imprisonment but after a year he was released and I don’t, that’s when Joe Furniss became director.
CB: Right, stopping there.
CW: After about a fortnight an Askari brought the radio back to me, not working, one valve had been unplugged and wrapped in paper and put back in and there was a letter in there for me, Cliff, do you think you can put a transmitter into this? There’s a spare hole on the chassis [laughs], I had in fact built a one valve receiver, which people got to know about because I’d used it on, with a key transmitting to an aircraft, who was a one valve transmitter radar, not receiver and I’d used it and it became known in the trade, could I put a transmitter in? Well, that was fair enough, that was quite easy, I did, put a transmitter in, I had a spare crystal for some cash frequency which was clear and I took the set back to him, for an aerial we used the iron mattress on the [unclear] but the airport was only a mile away, across from the prison, the prison was a mile away from the airport, only a mile, and I was able to talk to Stacy as I built another tiny transmitter for the low power, couldn’t use one of the big ones, so had two low power transmitters there, I knew the prison’s officer there and I met him in town one day and he said, bloody funny thing, Stacy came to me, Stacy said, he told me there was another prisoner being transferred to Kisumu, he said, I don’t want him in my cell, make sure he’s not in my cell, please, how the hell did he know that another prisoner was coming? I said, Stacy can hear the key clicks on the prison transmitter and he probably tuned to Nairobi or something, tuned to the prison network, he said, no home then, yeah [unclear], he could in fact listen in to the prison radio,
CB: Right
CW: Because he was a good communicator and he knew the Morse code [laughs]
CB: How did they find out who this man was, who had corrupted the ticket refund?
CW: I don’t know, I think he bragged about it, yes, he bragged about it in the wrong place
CB: How long were you out there? In the end, when did you come back?
CW: After eighteen years
CB: What prompted you to return?
CW: Sorry?
CB: What prompted you to return to the UK?
CW: Independence
CB: Right
CW: That comes later, yeah, after several, several trips, every two and a half to four years, we came home on leave for six months
CB: Right
CW: So that was from Mwanza we returned to Entebbe and there, Entebbe was a very snooty place, it was the domestic, was the domestic site with Kampala, government people all worked in Kampala but they lived in Entebbe, very snooty, on arrival I was met in Entebbe by a chap I knew well, he, I’d worked with him, and he took me to the club, Entebbe club, sat there in front of the fire on a very hot day and having a drink of some sort, and a fellow came in, came to us, he said, exactly who are you? To my chum, he said, I’m exactly Harry Jenkins and this is exactly Cliff Watson and who exactly are you? And every word he said was exactly this, exactly that, what exactly do you do? Where are you employed, exactly? Well, I’m exactly in charge of the exact radar, cloud radar, cloud of the radar system and Cliff’s exactly in charge of the, everything, all the other communications at the airport and he said, you’re exactly high commission people, exactly, yes, yeah. Everything was all exactly. Are you a member, he said, exactly? Are you exactly a member? I said, not exactly, it’s just about to expire, are they exactly like, everybody like you around here? He said, well, government people sit here, high commission people sit at that end and commercial people at that end. And I said, well, exactly so what? Well, he said that’s just a matter of protocol. He said if they’re, my chum said, if ever are exactly like you I don’t think I’ll exactly renew it and he didn’t [laughs] and I didn’t join the club. What else?
CB: So, you had to leave.
CW: Oh, I was doing radio repairs at Entebbe
CB: Yeah.
CW: And a fellow brought me a portable shaver for repair and I got spares for it, I fixed it and took it back, he said, oh, this is not the one I left you, [unclear] I’ve never seen another, he said, this belongs to BOAC, I said, I can see that, but this is the one you brought, oh no, definitely not, it was, I’d never seen another, never handled another, I said, well, if that BOAC’s I’d better hand it back to them and I did. It had been pinched from BOAC and I handed it back to BOAC. Oh, and then, chap from the chief secretary’s office brought a radio round and it was in a mess and I went through it and fixed it and I gave him a bill and he thanked me, he said, of course I’m not allowed to pay you old chap am I? Why not? Well, you’re a government servant, you are not allowed to take on private work. I said, I’m not a government servant, I’m a high commission servant, different, I said, anyhow, forget paying, I’ll put the bloody thing back exactly as it was, well, no, no, no, I said, if that’s not paid by twelve o’clock tomorrow I’ll do that. And he sent some Africans with the money. And they took the set. But I didn’t do any more radio repairs in Entebbe, not even for Africans. I didn’t like Entebbe, it was, it was too [unclear], then Joe Furniss came on a visit, quite frequently visits, and I said, well, Joe, there’s no challenge in this job, all I got to do is supervise an operator on the key or on the teleprinter and a European on the RT, on HF. There’s not a job at work, I don’t need to supervise the engineers, they’re ok. Ok, let’s see what I can do and he organised [unclear] leave of this chap leaving Kisumu and I was posted to Kisumu, that’s where the Katalinas were submerged at the end of the lake, Kisumu, not Mwanza, so we left Kisumu, I did about three years at Kisumu and then Nairobi, I was posted to Nairobi, I was there in charge of the tape relay centre in Nairobi and then I moved into head office, I thought it was all gradual promotion and in the end in head office I was in charge of all communications and all personnel involved in that. Eventually we went on leave and back to Nairobi, meanwhile a white paper so-called had been issued that we’re going to get independence and independence, they gave a date and everybody would be gone by that date, everybody would have handed over by that date and we had to give six months to, six months notice within two years for that handover and a fellow, and African joined me, fellow called [unclear] and he had a very posh briefcase, with his name on the front, in cold [unclear] BFC in brackets honest and he came to me, he was to take over from me, I said, this BFC what in communications presumably? Oh yes, yes, in communications, what, how far, how deep did you go into the engineering aspect? He didn’t know what I was talking about, no, he was stuttering away, communication in many ways, seeing with the eyes, that is communicating, and listening with the ears communicating, and you got around, you can communicate on buses, aircrafts and he talking a lot of gibberish, I said, did you [unclear] this [unclear] what university? And it was all there on a piece of parchment he brought out BFC honest, it didn’t mention what it was all about but it was utterly futile then he [unclear] out another document, a pilot’s licence on the front, pilot’s licence [unclear] BFC a [unclear] thing A5 size and he gave it to me, I opened it up and the fly sheet under the front cover I lifted it up because on the front page it said, pilot’s licence valid in all parts of the world, in all countries in the world for all types of aircraft [unclear] and then I lifted the fly sheet and across, right across it there’d be a big stamp not valid in the USA. I said, you went to university, you got a BFC and a pilot’s licence, how long were you in the States? Six months, it was very difficult, very hard, very hard work, I asked what sort of aircraft did you fly? He wasn’t sure, he didn’t, he’d forgotten, but whilst I was in head office DCA established a training school, well, we established it, expanded into air traffic control and everything and we were all, most of us had to pick out of the hat the subject we were going to teach and we had, yes, we had twelve blokes, or was it six? six blokes, we had six Africans at university and they weren’t doing so well so we re-established a training school, or [unclear] did and these chaps during the summer recess, the students were going to come and do a bit of revision and we’d to take the subject out of the hat and mathematics [laughs], I’d got mathematics, oh dear, well, ok, I got a school certificate standard in mathematics which was university entrance exam with five credits, so I was at university entrance exam, these fellows were in the second year university and I had to go and teach them and revise their mathematics, and other people had other subjects, we’re not on there, are we?
CB: Yeah.
CW: Well, I’ve been, talk, teach mathematics and I knew two other chaps and I spoke to one, to John Molengeke, I said John, mathematics, where do you, where are you having difficulties? Well, he said, you can put a figure and another figure under that and you can take the bottom on from the top one and get another figure and he was serious, I said, come on, John, don’t take the mick, don’t mess about, what’s that you are having trouble with? Oh, with that and there are other things with a cross, I said, you can put a figure and another figure and it is so many times that first figure, yeah, ok, so I listen to them, and then I went to see the boss, I went to see the director and I said, look, please, on the next math lesson you do it, you have a go and you’ll be surprised, oh, he said, I was never much good at maths anyhow, no, he said, that’s not my thing, that’s not my cup of fish, and I described exactly what had happened, I said, that’s not mathematics, they are at university doing what? There’s no good in trying to take on real mathematics but they were still there when I left but I didn’t do any more teaching [laughs].
CB: So, this was all when you were at Nairobi headquarters?
CW: Whilst on HQ and [unclear] I did a bit of flying on the Anson and that was later changed for a Heron, I mean, I was the only one there with a flight RO licence and we’d been somewhere, well, we’d done an air test on the Anson and it was in the hangar and, no, I’m sorry, it just had a [unclear] and we were going to convert it to do an air test, the following week we’d been on quite a safari with it, so it was in the hangar, we’d get in or we were going to get in, we did the air test, no we didn’t, I’m getting very confused, the aircraft had a [unclear] and we had to take it out to do an air test and as we went by the side of the wing, the tip of the wing, the skipper, who was not our normal pilot, he put his hands on the tip of the wing and chinned himself and there was a horrible creaking noise and the wing root, the wing root had collapsed, so we had dihedral on the starboard wing and the port wing it was anhedral, we just couldn’t believe it, it just had a major inspection, but the major inspection doesn’t remove the cladding on the wing, look at the wing root, which was wood, all wood and white ants had got in there, termites, well, of course, when we were flying the thrust on that was downward, well, was like that, forcing upwards, but when he forced it downwards it collapsed and we’d been flying about a week before
CB: Sounds frightening.
CW: What a way to go, in an Anson [laughs].
CB: So, you were saved.
CW: We suggested that the men, the schedule of tests by doing precisely that [laughs] we [unclear] did anything else, and remove the cladding, which was canvas, remove the canvas cladding and have a look at the wing root
CB: So, then you move to the Heron.
CW: Oh, then we, that [unclear] the fire practice on the Anson
CB: The Anson, yeah.
CW: We took the radio out and it was used in fire practice and we got a Heron where the equipment was quite different, modern equipment, not wartime stuff,
CB: It’s all, all metal.
CW: It had a twilight in the, in that one [laughs]
CB: So now we are getting close to when you returned, are we?
CW: Oh yes, we
CB: Why did you return? There was political upheaval at the time so
CW: [unclear]. Yes, we returned, oh, there’s a long way to go yet, we returned and my first job was in Whitehaven.
CB: Oh.
CW: They’d broke, they’d taken on a rundown old Sissan and I gave myself two years to build it up and we did build it up and I left there after two years went to London, we’d mentioned
CB: We have, yes, that was earlier, you started with that, didn’t you? Long after the war.
CW: Yeah.
US: You got to [unclear]
CW: Oh yes, yes, we got back, yes, initially we went to Wales, yes, I got off track there, that was silly, we initially went to Wales, lived there and that’s where two met
US: [unclear]
CW: I was invited to go and see a chap in Surrey who was starting, who was running, managing a telecommunication business and I went to see him but on his letter heading there was a big factory and on the right of that a little cottage and I was invited, he was looking for a development manager, so I went to the big factory and asked to see him, oh no, he doesn’t work here, he is in the cottage over there, so I went there and he said, we’ll be getting invitations to tender for radio systems, your job will be designing the system to what they want and then we get the equipment eventually installed and so on, he said, can you type? I said, well, with two fingers, yeah. Why? Do I need to? Why do I need to? Well, you need to for a little while until we got cracking. I said, what sort of cracking, what sort of staff have we got? Well, we have, we’ll recruit the staff easily enough once we start. I said, no, that’s, I’m sorry, chum, but it’s pie in the sky, to do that you need an organisation, you need a laboratory, you need production and no, you need engineers, accountants, no, forget it, anyhow thanks for the invitation, and that was it. From there I went to Croydon and the job there was running the communications centre [laughs] and I was, they said, they talked about things and said, well, we’ll let you know, ok, but before I got to know I moved to
US: Cambridge.
CW: Cambridge. I didn’t [unclear] the letter which offered me the job, I went to, I made several visit all over the place, one was a job which I found to be communications, comuter engineer, comuter service engineer, when I found out what the job was I said, no, that’s [unclear], I’ve never seen a computer, I don’t know anything about them which was true so that didn’t work so I went to the resettlement bureau at Victoria, overseas services resettlement bureau at Victoria and the bloke said, well, I told him where I’d been and that I didn’t [unclear] any of it, I’m not very keen on what I see, he said, what is it you wanted to do? Well, I wrote to Pye but there are no vacancies. Pye Telecom? Yes. What department? I wrote to Pye Telecom telling them I was looking for a job in communications, dealing with communications equipment and he said, do you still want the job? I grinned, [unclear], get me [unclear] at Cambridge. Ernie? Yes, Jock, yeah, another bloody colonial there for you [laughs]. That’s’ how he spoke, that was how he, how he introduced the thing. He said, he said that you, a vacancy at systems planning department, I said, that’s what I’m looking for, ok, when can you go? When can you go and see him? Tomorrow. Ok and he arranged that, he arranged it for the day after tomorrow, I went to Ernie, saw Ernie and during the interview, he got so many interruptions by telephone that I had lots of time to think of the answers [laughs], and I really enjoyed my work by Telecom. A silly job came to me one day, an associated company had designed a system for Reunion Island, I’ve not mentioned this, have I?
CB: No.
CW: No. They’d drawn up this system, they were grateful if we’d give it our approval, I think that’s an odd thing, it’s a simple enough system, everything, every transmitter around the sea, around the shore, every message is repeated by the transformer on the land and in the middle, I thought, something funny here, I come up with a decent map of the Reunion, well, we didn’t have one, try the university library, so I did, went there, had the chap at the reception, do you have the entry permit? What, to get in there? Yes, you need an entry permit, oh dear, how do I get one of them? Just fill in this for me, filled in the form, name, address, representing, at the bottom university degree college, I said, oh dear me, so I wrote in there, DFC, Hamburg, DFC Hamburg, oh, ok, mate, and he, that’s fine, and he gave me a pink sort of postcard, a little card, put my name on it, signed it, put the date on it, there’s your entry permit.
CB: This is the unintended end of the Clifford Watson interview when we ran out of battery unexpectedly.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Clifford Watson. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 1, 2024,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.