Interview with Eric Wilkin

Title

Interview with Eric Wilkin

Description

Erik Wilkin worked on the railways before he joined the RAF. Initially he wanted to be a pilot but it would be a significant wait for training. He trained as an air gunner and was posted to 115 Squadron. On one occasion his aircraft made an emergency landing at RAF Woodbridge after been attacked by a Ju 88. On another occasion he was injured in the leg from a shell splinter. Eric’s first pilot showed him how to fly the aeroplane so he would be able to take over if the pilot was injured. Eric was awarded the DFC and bar but did not receive any courtesy in its award.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2017-06-07

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

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

Format

01:04:56 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AWilkinE170607, PWilkinE1701

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

JS: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jim Sheach. The interviewee is Eric Wilkin. The interview is taking place at Mr Wilkin’s home in Blairgowrie, Perth and Kinross on the 7th of June 2017. Eric, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview. Could you tell me a little about your life before you joined the RAF?
EW: Well, I was a schoolboy [laughs] I left school at the age of sixteen. Went to work on the London North Eastern Railway. Great Eastern Section, Cambridge. And then I was keen to get into the RAF. Didn’t want to be pushed in to the Army if I could help it. I had a chance when they, the soon as the school I got an offer to take a course, an engineering course down at Dagenham College and I went down there. I got temporary residence. Lodgings. And the day after I arrived Jerry came over and bombed a load of the Ford workers out in Dagenham. So they came around and told me that the house I was in which belonged to them for the workers at Dagenham and so out I was on the road. Nowhere to go. So I went to the Trinity Halls in Cambridge and joined up. Joined the RAF. I wanted to be a pilot. ‘Well, you can’t be a pilot. It’s twenty two months wait before you can become, start your training.’ What can I be then? ‘Well, you can probably be a [pause] you might be able to get in as a wireless operator. We’ll give you a test.’ And they sat me down in front of a machine and there was bleep bleep and bop bops going all over the place. I wasn’t making any sense of that so I wasn’t any good as a wireless operator. And they then passed me on to, ‘Well, there’s only one thing left for you and that’s a gunner.’ So, I said, ‘Well, I don’t mind that.’ My father was a machine gunner in World War One. He did his, he, in fact he helped to open the Machine Gun Corps at Belton Hall in Grantham. And he was also chatting about machine guns, machine guns, so ok I’ll be a gunner and in I went. Alright. Get home. Sign everything off. ‘We want you back in seven days.’ And I was in, just like that within seven days as a gunner. So they were short of gunners obviously. From there I went down to London. To the place where all the recruits went. The zoo. And from there it was a question of moving across to Chipping Sodbury, Bridlington and up to Scotland to Number 2 Gunnery School there. And I passed out a gunner. When would we be now? I’ll just check.
[pause]
EW: It would be in [pause – pages turning] If only I could feel my fingers.
[pause]
EW: I passed out as a gunner at, in [pause] can we just hold there [pause] while I check on it.
[recording paused]
JS: Ok.
EW: Ok. I was on my gunnery course at Dalcross on the 17th of July ’43 to the 28th of August ’43. I passed out on the 28th of August ’43 with eighty eight point nine percent result. ‘Very good type. Always at the fore when any work to be done,’ said the chief instructor. And I was first on the course to go up and salute him and take my brevet and stripes and march off. That was in Dalcross. And from there I came down south to RAF Station Wing. And at RAF Station Wing we did another gunnery course and then we crewed up there. Now, my first pilot was an Australian. Evan Chitty was his name. And I was in the room along with a whole crowd of other chaps and a tall fellow came across to me. A fellow by the name of Frank Leatherdale, who became our navigator. That fellow there. And he came across to me, he said, ‘Have you crewed up yet?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, would you like to join Evan Chitty’s crew as a gunner?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘A mid-upper gunner.’ I said, ‘Yes. I don’t mind. Nobody else wants me.’ You see. And so I went across and was introduced to Evan Chitty and we went through the whole training course as a crew with a rear gunner named John Wagner. Now, John Wagner did five trips with us, this is jumping forward a bit and then decided that he was unfit. And he was unfit. He was terribly ill. And so he retired from the crew and we got another gunner then. But I went to Evan, with Evan Chitty and we went flying around the country on Wellingtons. In fact, I did a nickel with him to Paris [pause] In August it was. It would be about then, did this nickel to Paris. And after we’d done the, that we were doing other training around the country. Flying Wellingtons out of RAF Station Wing. And he flew with a very bad cold one night and he got pneumonia. And of course they put him straight into Ely Hospital, put him in an oxygen tent and he was there for three weeks. So, I was without a skipper. So, then I met up with McKechnie. Don McKechnie. He was a Canadian who had been flying navigators around Canada with one foot on the control column and a dish of food in the other hand. He’d done it that frequently that he was, you know absolutely bored rigid with it. And he came to us as — I was going to say clueless. That’s nearly good enough. Clueless. Tail less pilot. And he was fixed up with the crew that I was with because we were floating you see having lost our skipper. And anyway, Mac took over as pilot. Donald S McKechnie. A spoiled Canadian boy he was. Never hear from him. Never heard from him. Wrote every year. Sent him Christmas cards and all the rest. And it was the final reply we got from him, the whole crew this was, was a handwritten sheet telling what he’d done, what he hadn’t done since he’d been out of the Canadian Air Force, or out of the Air Force after he went back. And he then had it photostatted and sent to all of us. That was the last we heard of him. That was Mac. So, but if you wanted Mac you could always find him shooting crap on the billiard table in the officer’s mess with his other Canadian friends. That’s where you could find Mac always. And he and I never really got on well together. Although he would never fly without me, we never really got on personally well together. In the same crew we had Frank Leatherdale. Now, Frank was like a big brother to me. Very very military type, Frank. Died only about a fortnight, three weeks ago. And he was marvellous chap, Frank Leatherdale. We had — Ken Denly was the bomb aimer. Arthur France was the engineer. He was the boy who went in for the dough. And then we had Bernard Payne who was [laughs] a bit of a dude. Always wore leather gloves. Always had his cuffs turned back and, and Bernard was, he was a loveable chap. We used to box together he and I. And the last man of course was Joe Wagner. George. John Wagner, as I say, who eventually left us and was replaced by Joe Hayes. A nice little fellow from Wrexham in Wales [pause] Of the crew I, they’re all dead. Frank died just as I say a few weeks ago. Ken Denly, he died oh six years ago. Arthur Franks in ’86. Joe, he died about five years ago. Bernard Payne got run over by his own car. He’d parked it on a sloping drive and went to open the garage door and it ran over him and killed him. And that was the end of that crew. But that’s the crew there. There’s the Canadian skipper. That’s Frank Leatherdale. That’s Ken Denley, the bomb aimer. That’s Arthur France the one who wanted to get out and make the dough. That was Bernard Payne with his sleeves. You can’t see them. And that was Joe Hayes. And myself there.
[pause]
Now, as a, as a crew we went first to Waterbeach and did our training on Stirlings. Then from there we were taken off Stirlings and put on Lancaster 2s. And we were then taken over to 115 Squadron at Witchford and we were on Lancaster 2s. Those were the ones with the radial engines. Nice aircraft. Very very quick to get off the deck. Much quicker than the Mark 3 and, you know they sort of went to the end of the runway and went up like that. But once they got up there they waffled you know. They hadn’t — and then I did a tour at Witchford with McKechnie of twenty nine because he did one as a second dickie. So, I got one short there off thirty. I went then to Oakington with the same crew. Except Arthur. Went with the same crew to Oakington. And we were alright there. Flew with McKechnie there. And then when he came to the, his twenty eighth trip, ‘I’m going home.’ So, right — the crew broke up and all went their various ways. I was left high and dry. I’d, although I’d finished a tour, the actual second tour I didn’t want to leave because you see Oakington RAF station was six miles from my home. I saw Oakington built. I loved Oakington. I worked at Oakington Railway Station. So, it was a home from home for me. So, everything was nice and comfy. I thought I’d try and stay on. So I went and saw the gunnery leader and he said, ‘Ok. You can do. You can join Flash McCullough crew. Now, Flash McCullough [pause] What a lad. He was a Liverpudlian. Looked like Don Ameche. Just like Don Ameche.
[pause]
EW: That’s — there he is. Flash McCullough. And there I teamed up then with the new crew altogether. There was Lucky Hudson, Barker. Myself there. This fellow, Griffiths was a w/op. And this was the engineer Syd. Very quiet chap from Stockport. And of course there that’s Tiger Smith. Not Tiger Smith. They all called him Smithy. He had a standing joke. He always said Smiff. You know. He caused trouble on paper raids by saying he was Smith with two F’s [laughs] Things like that. That was Smithy but I called him Tiger because the first time I met him was when I went to join the crew and he was grinning from ear and I said, ‘You know, you remind me of the poem, “The tiger that always smiled.” So, he became Tiger. Only to me. No one else in the group called him Tiger. They called him Smithy but he was Tiger to me. And his daughter is the one I think whose put you in touch with me. Mrs Brown. Yeah. So, he was a lovely lad was Tiger. Marvellous man. Wonderful gunner. A wonderful gunner. That was it. And I went on to Oakington as I say and I did twenty eight there with McKechnie. And then when he went away and I joined this crew I did another fifteen with them. So, in all seventy three. Seventy two trips. Some very good. Some very not so good. But I got this book here of my own personal reminiscences. You might like to look at them. They’re all my own comments. Little things that I picked up. Like nickels and that that we dropped. And comments there. Actually, the worst trip I think that we ever did was, going back to McKechnie was about the 7th of June 1944. ’44 — to Chevreuse, south west of Paris. Now, that was the time we’d landed in France on the 6th of June and they were bombing all the railways to stop the troops being brought up from Italy to reinforce the troops on the, on the Channel. And they said there was a railway line there [laughs] Pardon my laughing but this is funny. They said there was a railway line there and we went to bomb it. And when we got there there were no rail, there wasn’t a railway line. It was thick fog and there was, from Witchford they sent twelve aircraft and lost six there that night. Including the flight commander. And all we were doing was flying around in this fog. And then you’d suddenly see a shadow come looming out. You’d draw on him and he’d be a Lancaster. And then you’d — the next thing there’d be another one. You’d draw on him and he’d disappear before you could fire. It was a JU88 or a Focke Wulf 190 because of course we were right next door to the German airfield in Paris. And to lose half your squadron on one night that was a very very bad night that. A night I never forget and never will. I always will remember. The station was absolutely miserable. Absolutely miserable. We had some wonderful ops. Some wonderful ops. The finest one that I went on was the one to that crafty little German chap. Was a chum of Hitler’s. He got bumped off, didn’t he? Do you remember him? Well, he brought up a —
[pause — pages turning]
EW: There’s that Chevreuse one.
[pause – pages turning]
EW: It was a beautiful raid. I’m trying to think where it was now. But [pause] Villers-Bocage. He’d got all his tanks and everything there. And they called us, rushed us out, bombed us up and sent us off. And the whole lot arrived there all together. Halifaxes, Lancasters, hundreds of aircraft all showered bombs down on this place. And I’m told, I didn’t see it myself, I’m told that a person who went to the place there was a German tank on the roof of a house that had been blown up there. They really did plaster them. That was the finest raid I ever did see. There was just one big black cloud when, when we left. It was the best one I — it was a cracking raid that. And then of course I was on the one to the pottery town. The one that caused all the trouble with Bomber Command and everything. I was, that was a good raid that one. The Germans were miserable about that. They were saying, you know you came over here and they were on our raid err TV claiming that the chaps who took part in that raid ought to be prosecuted as terrorists and all sorts of things. But they’d got — they got a hundred thousand young girls from Eastern Europe working in the factories in Dresden. In the tobacco factory making ammunition for the fighters. In the glass factory making gun sights and torpedo sights and everything. And these poor girls were — had one solitary overall. They didn’t have any clothes at all. But oh no, and they were made to stay ten hours a day in the factory. Working there. Bitterly cold. And then we go over and we blast that and the people who get killed are those girls because they didn’t have air raid shelters. The Germans would have their air raid shelters you see. They got killed. They were the people who were piled up thirty five deep in the market square after the raid. Aye. That was. Then of course the whole blooming shooting match took on to that. There was that wing commander. What was his name now? Woods, was it, who was the chief, chief padre for the RAF? He started it. Running us down. Letting us down. Saying we were criminals and all the rest of it. And then we didn’t handle that very well at all. And that’s why Bomber Command didn’t get any recognition until about a couple of years ago. Over that do down there. I mean poor old Butch Harris he didn’t get a anything out of it. They didn’t make him a lord. Should have done. He was smeared with paint and everything — his statue. It made me mad that did. I lost patience with it. In fact in some of the books there I was looking the other day and I made some very caustic remarks about it. That was the — but anyway I finished up as I say doing seventy two. I got the DFC and bar for it and I had the sad misfortune of getting it when King George the 6th was very ill. So, again I had to go down to London to collect mine. Walked into this office. It must have been the Air Ministry. There was a sergeant there, a discip standing behind the counter. ‘Name?’ Told him. Climbed the steps. Threw it. Threw it across the counter. I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ Yeah. Just threw it across the counter. It was, you know, he could have handed it to me. But there we are. That’s life. That’s life. I’ve enjoyed, I enjoyed my service career. I had never got hurt at all. Never got hurt. I got frozen up several times. I’ve broken icicles off my oxygen mask eighteen inches long when we’ve been flying. And my legs have been dead with pin — with [pause] what do you call them now? When you get aches and pains. Not pins and needles. Hot aches. I’ve been hopping around the station for three days with hot aches in my legs. And it was that that was [unclear] The trouble was you see with the turret, the mid-upper turret you had the ammunition boxes on either side of your legs. So, in order to get electricity to your feet and slippers that you had, electric shoes, socks, they had these strip wire down and this side of your leg and that side of your leg was totally exposed. Bitterly cold. In fact, I thought [laughs] for claiming a war wound stripe. We ran into a, a JU88 night fighter. It was a clear moonlit night and you could see them. Ours and theirs floating around in the sky. Just like fairy, fairy things you know. And there were four in a row. One, two, third was a JU88 and another one. Seven or eight hundred yards away from us. It was that clear you could see them. Bright night. And suddenly this JU88 loosed off a couple of cannon shells and stopped one in our petrol tank on the port wing which didn’t go off and the other one into the flaps on the port wing. So we had to land at Woodbridge because we couldn’t put flaps down you see. And then we had to leave the aeroplane there and they towed it away and got the shells out of it and blew them up. So, that was the nearest I ever had to getting the chop. But on that, on a particular night we were flying and a shell burst near us and it, it, well it made a colander of one side of the aircraft and a piece of fragment went into the ammunition box alongside my leg. And I felt some sharp pain in my leg when — bang, you know. And I couldn’t wait to get down and see what had happened. I rolled my trouser leg up carefully and looked and I’d just got one little bruise there. What had happened was a piece of shell splinter that was meant for me should have come through and smacked in to my leg. Smacked into the base of a couple of rounds. 303. The bullets came through the aluminium casing and hit me in the leg. So it took it all off. So that was the nearest do I ever had to getting my wound stripe up [laughs] Oh happy days. They were happy days. As I say, my earlier life was spent in Cambridgeshire. The village I lived in was Cottenham and my father was a farm labourer. Served in World War One. He was wounded five err wounded three times. Gassed five. And he had an open wound in his back in 1931 from World War One. And he was pensioned out of the Machine Gun Corps on half a crown a day for a week. And that was his pension. World War One. He came out. Started up a fish and chip shop in Nottingham. Doing great guns mother and he. Both of them, 1924 five hundred quid each in the bank. Wonderful. 1926 — the local pit struck. They were coming, ‘Could they have fish and chips on the tick?’ You see. And they came and dad said, and then the husbands were coming. And dad was one hundred percent against strikes. He was furious. He said, ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’ll set tables up in the shop. The women and kids can come in. They can have free fish and chips. They’re not having them.’ Had the windows smashed, the door was kicked in. Another one. All bang crash wallop. But it was fun when you look back on it now but dad said to the mining leader there who came in, he said, ‘You know, you’ll go back on pit boy’s pay.’ And he did. And he did. Went back on pit pony boy’s pay. Can I get some down? Am I talking rubbish?
JS: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.
EW: Oh.
JS: That’s been absolutely fascinating. You know, you spoke about —
EW: Now —
JS: When you, when you came out.
EW: Pardon?
JS: When, when you came out of the RAF after the war.
EW: Ah well.
JS: Coming out from Bomber Command. What did you do then?
EW: It was when I came out of the RAF I went to the demob centre and I had trouble there. I’m trying to think how it came about [pause] I was handing him the kit and I had a .38 Smith and Wesson that belonged to the RAF and had been issued to me. Oh, I know what it was. Yes. We had a fire in the hut and it burned my [pause] kit bag with all the data about this pistol and I never bothered to go and have it re-registered to me. And when I got to the centre to come out of the RAF I handed what over they wanted off me. And I pulled this pistol out. I said, ‘You can have that now.’ ‘You can’t. We can’t take it. You’ll have to wait.’ So, I went and sat down. I sat there all day. And at the end of the day I said, ‘Well, what’s happening?’ They said, ‘Oh, we can’t take it. We can’t. We’re trying to find out what we’ve got to do with it.’ And so I sat there for a whole day before he said, ‘We’ll take it in custody and look after it. I said, ‘Well, what have I got to do?’ ‘You come back tomorrow and get your hat and your togs,’ you see, ‘But you can come back tomorrow.’ So I lost a complete day there over a blasted pistol. I didn’t want the flaming thing. I’d used it mind you quite a bit but I didn’t want it. As a matter of fact I used to take it home with me and go out in the fields behind my house where I lived at Cottenham and I used to put a target up in the base of a tree and shoot at it. And I was quite good at it. I went back about seven or eight years afterwards, after I’d been plugging into this tree and the tree had died and blown over [laughs] So, the only thing I ever killed with a pistol [laughs] The only thing I ever killed. Now, Frank Leatherdale, the navigator on the first crew he had a luger. One of these wooden holstered ones which he lost when he was in Korea. He went to Korea, Frank did. And it’s in the river [unclear] or whatever it is there. He threw it in there rather than be captured. We lived in Nissen huts at Witchford and Frank was a fanatic wooden aircraft modeller and I used to go and sit with him and watch him modelling away and do little bits for him in his billet. Used to sit in the corner. And he always used to be eating something. He used to go to the NAAFI and buy loads of cake and stuff, bring it back, put it — have a nibble of it and put it down. And a mouse got to hear about this and of course the Nissen huts there had been built — well you know how. They just put down a concrete flat and then bolted it around the outside. And you got all these corrugation all the way around. Of course, Frank then saw this mouse at it. Jumped up and got his stick and went after it and it was through this hole and outside. Frank said, ‘Right, matey I’m ready for you.’ He loads up his luger and he waits. The next day the mouse came in. I wasn’t there at the time but I heard about it. And he put this pistol down the hole the mouse went and banged until he’d emptied the magazine [laughs] and went outside expecting to see a dead mouse. He’d blown a hole through the concrete footpath. Oh, he was a lad. Lovely time. It was that sort of thing made life worth living. Poor old Frank. Aye. I spent hours with that lad with an astro compass at Wing. Shooting the North Star. He was going to teach me navigation but he never got around to it. He was too busy all the while doing something or other on his own navigation. But he was going to teach me to navigate so that I’d be able to move over into the navigator’s seat if ever I needed. But my theory on navigation was steer 270 and that [laughs] that’s was about it. But that was Frank. But oh, we did have some fun. It was a great life. A great life. I wouldn’t be against anybody. My younger son who is looking after me now has just come out. He’s done twenty two and a half years and —
[telephone ringing]
EW: He’s not. Wait a minute. She’ll come around.
JS: That’s it.
EW: She’ll stop it.
[recording paused]
EW: No. He’s done twenty two years and I don’t think he’s enjoyed it as much as I did in my four and a half. I don’t think as much. After I finished at [pause] at Oakington I went to Market Harborough. Gunnery. And I was in the gunnery section there and I had a wonderful time. I — do you remember this or did you know the scanners they used to scan film on in the RAF? And it used to go click click click. A square at a time. Well, I converted one of those into a scan to scan night vision shots that were taken of a Hurricane attacking a Wellington. The Hurricane had two infrared lamps set a foot each inside the wingspan and they showed up as black dots. So we got a film, a picture with two black dots. Two black dots up here and they get bigger and come around like that and I’d got to try and scan them. And what I did was eventually to get these [pause] a template put over it and I could draw a line across between these plots and plot them. And we were able to assess that. Now, the wing commander in charge of gunnery in that group was named Windmill. He came down, patted me on the back and gave the gong to the fellow who was in charge of the section for doing this. So, I was — but I didn’t want it. It was a what do you call it now? Galloping horses. He got that. Corky got that. And I had a wonderful time there at Market Harborough. And then of course that closed down. We moved from Market Harborough then to RAF Station Manby. That was the station where I believe the CO route marched the whole station because of an incident on parade going on Thursday. Route marched the whole lot, men and women — and in snowy weather. And they had to go around with ambulances picking up the women who’d passed out. That was at Manby. Well, it hadn’t changed very much. But I made the best of my time there by joining in with a drama group. And with a couple of German soldiers, prisoners of war, we knocked down the old stage in the number two hangar and we brought all the wood down to the upper deck of the airman’s mess and we built a stage there with these two Germans. And one was an electrician so I said, ‘Would you wire it?’ He’d love to, he said. So I said, ‘Righto then. Tell me what wire I’ve got to order.’ ‘Don’t worry. Don’t worry. I’ve seen the wire.’ He’d seen all the scrap wire down on the dump. So, I had to go and accompany him down there and he was pulling this out, rolling this up and pulled this out. Do you know we had a stage there as good as a West End stage. Yeah. The fairy godmother could disappear. She did once. She fell through [laughs] But they could disappear. Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. We had some wonderful days. Shows there and pantomimes. And the old man was quite pleased with it and he was quite pleased. He came on the stage and said he liked to see a good old fashioned pantomime where everybody knew what everybody was going to do. So that was Manby. And after Manby out into the wide world. I was ready to go. I was demobbed [pause] And I just got married and living and here we are. You know. That’s a crude effort that of mine but that’s roughly what the way it went. Now, of the people I met that I’ve rated highly I rated Flash McCullogh. His wife lives at, down on the south coast. His widow. Flash McCullogh. Lucky Hudson. Of course, Tiger Smith. Yes. He’s, he’s dead and gone. Tiger. Syd James. I’d rate him high but I think he’s gone. That’s McCullogh, McCullough’s crew. McKechnie’s crew — they’re all dead. All dead. Apart from me. And I am, you know in the knacker’s yard as you might say. Yes.
JS: What, what did you do —
EW: That’s what I say to the doctor when he comes to the house, ‘If I’d have been a horse you’d have shot me six years ago.’ And he look at me gone out. He can’t understand why, you know. Clinging on to life and that. Anyway, then McCullough. That was all I had really in crew.
JS: What did —
EW: I can’t think of anything else to tell you.
JS: What did you do after the war?
EW: Somewhere in here I’ve got a write up I did on Oakington RAF Station. When it was built and all the rest because I worked at Oakington Railway and I used to love to go up the signal outside. Peer across and see what they were doing. It was funny you know. Oakington RAF. I wasn’t there at the time but when the 5.20 to Kettering came down and it was one of the old fashioned ones with huge wheels at the side. Went from Cambridge to Kettering. They used to be loading the Stirlings up and they used to bring all the Stirlings right around the airfield and park them alongside the railway line. Tail on to the railway line. Bomb them up and everything. And you could virtually see the carriages lean over as the people all clawed out of the way. I thought what a marvellous way, ‘Hello. Is that Herr Watson? They’re coming tonight. They’re loading up at Oakington. I can even see it.’ You could almost hear them saying it. It was an absolute give away. And those poor old Stirlings used to get knocked the hell out of it. But I flew a Stirling with — when Chitty was a pilot. Chitty always said that if ever he was knocked out I was to take over. And we were at Wratting Common. What a place. It was just being made an airfield. It was all mud and water and the billets literally they ran with, down the wall. If ever we went in, if we lit a fire — condensation. Condensation right across the room like fog. And I found a way of breaking up some trees there that had been chopped down. They were silver birch. By picking them up as a log, bashing them on this metal trough they broke, they sheared off and we stuffed some, the fire with these logs. And the lads of course they could do it. Bernard and the rest of them they kept stuffing them in and the chimney pipe went red. It went straight through the roof red and was glowing red outside. They had the station police down, ‘Put that out.’ [laughs] What a blooming effort. Yes. That was it. But they used to hang the sheets up and they used to steam. That was a wicked place. But anyway I flew a Stirling at — when Chitty called me up alongside him. Sat me on the co-pilot’s seat. Said, ‘Right. It’s all yours. You fly it. Let me see how you can fly an aeroplane.’ And I flew completely around the cross country we were doing. A lot of, you know jittery but never the less I did it. And he called the crew together when we finished and said, ‘Right. If I get knocked out Eric takes the wheel.’ And they understood that. The lads understood that. They’d say, ‘Before he takes the wheel let me know and open the escape door,’ you know. And that sort of thing.’ They were quite genuine, the lads [laughs] Now, I wish we were all together again for a good do. You know. We’d have a right good do. Anyway, I hope I’ve been helpful.
JS: That’s good. After the war what did you do in civilian life?
EW: Pardon?
JS: After the war what did you do in civilian life?
EW: Oh. I went, I got married in 1956 err ’46. So I was married seventy three years last year. I’ve got the old thing hanging up there from the Queen. And I joined Stanton Ironworks Company near Nottingham. And I went to work there in the slag sales department. Accounts section. Doing the accounts which was in an awful mess. It had been left to a number of girls and they got in an awful mess. You know, you were constantly having telephone calls from customers saying — look, I bought so and so on such and such a date at fifty five and six and I had some the next day and it was fifty seven and six. Why? You know. They’d got all everything all munched up. So I sorted that out. And then along came the chance of being the assistant welfare officer because the assistant welfare officer shot himself on the range at Stanton. He’d been mucking around with the girls and got himself into trouble and he shot himself with a 22 on the range. So, I joined Colonel [unclear] OBE or MBE one of which. And I did four years with him in welfare. He and I got on like a house on fire. And then the job came up for — they were wanting a representative for slag sales. That’s the blast furnace slag crust turned into roadstone coated with tar and bitumen and what have you. So, I was lectured by the assistant commercial manager and told that it had been let go badly which it had. Old Palmer had had an easy life. He wasn’t very keen on selling slag. And I made an effort there and got that on its feet and along came a chap from Amalgamated Roadstone Corporation. A Jock Turner. And he was friendly with Cameron and said to Cameron, ‘I’ve got a good job going. Do you know anybody who is good?’ You know at Roadstone and that? And Ken said, ‘Oh, we’ve got the class. We’ve got the lad.’ Cameron got me in. He said, ‘You want to go there. You’ll be a director in two in two or three years.’ I went along. He was the biggest twister out. This chap. I stuck it for six years. Do you know I was waiting for my expense account to be settled four months after I’d spent my money? I’d [eleven?] pounds then and the expense account wasn’t very heavy either because I was always very keen to keep it as low as possible. And anyway I went in, went in to the office one day and then I said, ‘By the way, I’ll be leaving in a month. Here’s my notice. Goodbye.’ Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. I thought he was going to cry. But anyway, I left and I joined ICI at Buxton. Now, a fellow who works at, also worked in the Leicestershire field, Don Bell was the sales manager for ICI Roadstone. And I got in touch with him and he said, ‘Yes. You’re just the man we want, Eric. Right away.’ Went up to see him. He interviewed me. I was in, and I was with ICI until 1978. Then along comes this smart fellow who knows how to do everybody’s accounts. Do you remember him? Johns was his name. Remember him? Thick set fella. ICI closed down after he’d been there. He came along and tried to close [unclear] down. Do you remember the series? I watched him very carefully, he closed ICI down and ICI sold the paint to a Dutch firm and making thousands out of Dulux that Dutch firm. He sold it and they just kept the chemical works. Not the chemical as much as the medical stuff over at, over in, near Macclesfield. And I came out with a reasonable pension. They’ve been very good to me. I get my pension regularly and they write to me and tell me how they are and that sort of thing. They were a good firm to work for. A pity they ever packed up. I went in to the salt mine in Cheshire on one occasion. What a sight to behold. Go underground and face a seventy foot face of salt with cranes, big diggers shovelling up. Underground. You couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe it. That was a wonderful wonderful firm. But what I liked about ICI was no matter how high up a manager was if a junior person came along with an idea of some sort they would listen to it and if it was reasonable say, ‘Right. Go ahead.’ If it wasn’t reasonable say, ‘Well, we’ll talk this one over. Don’t do anything yet.’ They were very, very very reasonable. A remarkable firm to work for. Pity they ever folded up. Pity they were folded up. And that was after. Then when I retired I came up here. Now, I used to be an enthusiastic gardener. Look at the mess it is now. What a mess. I used to put three and a half thousand bedding plants out a year here and a beautiful show. And the lawn which is like a grass field now was like a bowling green. And we used to play carpet bowls on it. I’ve got a carpet bowls set in the back there. I used to play carpet bowls with the kids. Up and down it. And that kept me busy. And then in 19 — in the centennial year 2000 I was looking after my son’s dogs and he lived at Brechin. He’s the eldest son. He was a dentist and he was divorcing his wife. Or his wife was divorcing. I don’t know which but they divorced. And we were looking after him, my wife was from Monday to Friday. And I brought the dogs over here and looked after them and the pair of dogs and I went four and a half mile walk each day. I had a wonderful time. And on centennial night, the year 2000 I was over in Brechin and I took the two dogs for a walk. And we went into Brechin Park and I stood on the top of a grassy slope that leads down to Brechin War Memorial listening to them chiming in the New Year. And I slipped and fell and broke a rib. And I swear to this day that’s what started this. I’ll swear it’s that because nobody knows what causes this except they know it’s the finger, fingertip nerves that have been cantalised, eaten, torn away but you can hardly bend your fingers. And anyway in 19 — 1903 I bought myself a second new car. We had a caravan up to then because we used to travel around with these sons. Getting rid of wives and having children and that. Used to travel around in the caravan. I got rid of the caravan. Got rid of that car. Bought a new car. A little — a Japanese anyway. A lovely little car. And I ran it for three years. My granddaughter, I gave it to her. She lives in Aberdeen and is an accountant. And she’s driving it now. 1903 was a good little car and I turned my driving licence in the same year. Of course I did this. I realised I’d got to. I drive on the roads to the bottom here and there’s a halt sign and when I went to put my declutch put my foot down and the car lurched and jumped. You know. That sort of thing. And my wife, ‘Oh, what are you doing?’ You know. That sort of thing. So, I knew I wasn’t fit to drive. So, I packed the car up there and then and as I say gave it to my granddaughter. And that brings me right up to present.
JS: Yeah. That’s been really super. That’s been terrific.
EW: Has it?
JS: Magic. Just let me stop the record —
EW: What I will try and do is find that —
JS: Can I — yeah.
EW: Sheet of paper about Oakington for you.
JS: Can I just stop this recording.

Collection

Citation

James Sheach, “Interview with Eric Wilkin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 6, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11772.

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