Interview with Vivian David Williams


Interview with Vivian David Williams


Vivian Williams was born in Wales but began working in engineering in London. After serving in the Territorial Army in a searchlight unit, he volunteered for Air Force and trained as a flight mechanic. He discusses his recruitment, training and remustering. He served as a fitter with various units including 56 Squadron at RAF North Weald and the General School of Reconnaissance stationed in the Channel Islands.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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


01:20:43 Audio Recording





Temporal Coverage


CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is Monday the 3rd of April 2017 and we’re in Fiskerton in Lincolnshire talking with Vivian Williams about his life and times. What are your earliest recollections of life then, Vivian?
VW: A new house I should think. We lived in a small village called Tonyrefail — T O N Y R E F A I L where they had they, they had built, just after 1920, a new housing estate. It was semi-detached houses most of them, and they were rough cast in those days. And they had a bathroom. That was another something I remember. And they were, well at that time they were ten years before their time you know. And so that was one of the highlights. The next one was the oil lamp in the middle of the table. It had this gold filigree base, cast iron base, and a beautiful blue resin. Then shortly afterwards — yeah, that was, I must have been about four then. And shortly afterwards they actually put electricity in. As early as that, you know. And I can remember fooling about watching the electrician doing it, you know. And they had the old tumbler switches on and you screwed the cap off you know. The front of it off. And so I saw the bloke doing this and he was poking around with a screwdriver when he was connecting all the leads up. So I put my mother’s scissors in there. I leant on a chair, put my mother’s scissors in and got knocked across the room. Why I didn’t get killed I don’t know [laughs] but it was what kids I suppose. And I’d say the next big thing was the 1926 strike. And we were kept alive on charity in those days. And after that we moved to Pontypridd and stayed there until I was left school at fourteen. Elementary school. And then I was the only one in the family that could get a job. Because you got a, you went down the mine, of course everybody went down the mine so you went down the mine at fourteen and you went with a skilled man called a collier for five years. And then when you were nineteen they give you the sack and they’d give him a new boy. So, I said to my mum, I’d finished school at the end of July when the August holidays break up and, ‘When am I going to go down and get a job?’ And so she said, ‘ No, you’re not. You’re going up to London to live with my gran.’ So that was the next move. Up to London. And then the family moved up seven months later and we settled there. Had various jobs. Usually outside jobs because I couldn’t stand the factory you know. And, and then in 1938, in 1938 I joined the Territorials and I was on a searchlight detachment for a year. And then I said — I got fed up with that. I lost my job because just before, at the end of 1938, around about 1938, just say the end — they had a, had a slump in engineering and you couldn’t get a job anywhere. On the Great West Road where I worked. The factory there and all the factories were putting people off. And I was on shift work and they put off our shift. And the other shift went on to day work with the rest of the factory. And they sacked sixty four of us. You went to get your pay on Friday night and they gave you your cards. Your pay and your cards straightaway. Not an hour’s notice even.
PW: Which firm was that?
VW: Tecalemit they were lubrication specialists. Because cars in those days had umpteen grease nipples all over the chassis and everywhere. And it was an industry on its own, you know. And I was home for about three weeks getting under my mother’s feet and I said to our corporal, met corporal, I said, ‘I’m going to join the army.’ Because I just had to get away, you know, and nobody could get a job just then and so he said, ‘Don’t join the army,’ he said. He said, ‘I’ve done fifteen years in it and it never did me any good,’ and he said, ‘Join the RAF.’ And I said, ‘No. I can’t join the RAF.’ Because those days to get in you had to have a school certificate which I presume is something like four or five A levels you know.
PW: O levels.
CB: O levels rather. And he said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You’d be surprised.’ So I went up to Adastral House where you applied. And I found that they had started an expansion scheme in the RAF and had created new trades and a flight mechanic, which is what I was, was one of them. And they just dragged you in by the short and curlies you know. And that was it. And I was in the RAF then for — well ‘til the end of the war. I did what, because this was July ’38, so I did seven and a half years instead of the six that I signed for. But, yeah —
CB: Where did you go to join the RAF?
VW: The recruitment depot was at Aldwych near The Strand. And it was called Adastral House. So I, that was the first place I went to in the RAF. We were there overnight and, no, we were sent home and go back the next morning. Picked up the train to West Drayton. And that was the induction depot. And that’s where we were sworn in. Had our hair cut. They gave us ten bob which we thought was very nice. Except it was only an advance on your next weeks’ pay. They never told us that [laughs] The next morning we went to Uxbridge for our square drill. Did all our square drill, at Uxbridge.
CB: How long did that last?
VW: Twelve weeks.
CB: So in addition to drill what else were you doing?
VW: There. Nothing really. Oh we had, the only other thing that happened we had two weeks off completely because they had the scare in September of 1938 and we were filling sand bags. And nobody ever hears of it but we was almost on alert you know, then. Then we put the complete automatic telephone exchange in. We were humping all the, carrying all the various bits and pieces for 11 Fighter Group which was right behind our dining hall. And of course it’s down steps. Lots. Have you seen the hill? The complete thing is in the hill. And we were only allowed to carry all the equipment and everything to the top of the steps and they had their own team then that took it down in to the bottom. So we never saw the inside of it at all.
CB: This was the underground fighter control.
VW: Yeah. 11 Group.
CB: Position.
VW: 11 Fighter Group.
CB: Yes. It’s open to the public now.
VW: Yeah. It is is it?
CB: It is. Yes.
VW: Yeah well. I humped all the cabinets and all the equipment that went down in there. And we had a fortnight off for that.
CB: Right.
VW: Yeah.
CB: So you’re doing drill. Did you do PT?
VW: Oh yes. Oh yes.
CB: Now what about classroom work?
VW: No. Just drill. We did just drill. PT. We did. We had — they give us an introduction to show that you were in the RAF. And they had two old fuselages, just fuselages, in the MT section and they were bolted to the wall, or chained to the wall but the engines were serviceable. And they used to just take us over there and after about a fortnight and show you. This sergeant and his corporal starting them up you know. But no it was just drill and ceremonial drill and we —
PW: Tell them about running those engines. Starting those engines.
VW: Oh yeah. They, the funny thing we were down in Old Warden and they had a — what was that one they started Phil?
PW: Oh that was a Camel.
VW: A Camel. And he started it by swinging the prop in reverse. And this is what the sergeant used to do. Swinging it in reverse. And we heard later on that he got killed doing it. But yeah but that was the only diversion if you like. The rest was just drill. Drill all the time.
CB: And you had twelve weeks of that.
VW: Yeah.
CB: In total.
VW: Well, yeah except for the –
CB: The two weeks.
VW: Two weeks I was out. Yeah. But we lost that.
CB: At what stage did you know what trade you were going to take?
VW: Oh right from the first. Because they said, give me the choice of being a flight mechanic or a flight rigger. And I said I’d be a mechanic. So that was put on your docs straight away.
CB: And when did they describe what was involved with that?
VW: Oh at the first interview.
CB: Right.
VW: At Adastral house, you know.
CB: So what was it that the flight mechanic was designated to do?
VW: As a mechanic he was responsible for the day to day maintenance of whatever engine or aeroplane he was put on.
CB: So after Uxbridge where did you go then?
VW: Well, we went down to Manston in Kent. But it was on a course that was actually obsolete but we were a small flight. Instead of being a hundred and forty four we were only sixty four and I think they lost us somewhere and they posted us to Manston on this course which was three weeks on engines and three weeks on air frames and as I say it was called a fitter’s mate’s course. You were only qualified to hand the spanners out, you know on that one. But it was obsolete anyway and then from there we went to Henlow in Bedfordshire to do a basic engineering course for six weeks there. And then from there we went to St Athans. Got to St Athans on January the 16th in 1939. And they were, we were there until the end of July and — close to the end of July and then we were given eighteen days leave. And then I was posted to 56 Squadron. Fighter squadron. And at North Weald on Hurricanes.
CB: When you were at St Athan that was basically an engines course was it?
VW: Yeah. It was. Yeah.
CB: So what variety of engines did you deal with then?
VW: Pegasus. Bristol Pegasus and Rolls Royce Kestrels. And of course the Kestrel was obsolete then wasn’t it?
CB: Did you have any Merlins there? Or —
VW: No. No. No.
CB: So the first time you came across Merlins was when you went to the Hurricanes?
VW: Well, we had three. We had three Hurricanes there. That was the nearest I’d came come to the Merlin. But to work on, no. It wasn’t until I got to 56 Squadron. As I say that was my job. I was responsible for the day to day maintenance of the aeroplane that they put me on which is actually hanging in the roof of the South Kensington Museum.
CB: Is it? Right.
VW: And —
CB: It survived that long
VW: Yes. Phil would know.
PW: It’s a miracle survivor.
CB: It’s a Mark I Hurricane.
PW: Yes.
VW: Two.
CB: Mark 2 is it?
VW: Yeah.
CB: Right.
PW: No, it was a Mark 1 dad.
VW: Was it?
PW: Yeah. it’s L1592.
VW: Yeah.
CB: So what was the serviceability like of the squadron? There were how many aircraft in the squadron first?
VW: There was twelve aircraft.
CB: And what —
VW: Two flights of six.
CB: Yeah.
VW: Twelve aircraft. A flight and B flight. Yeah.
CB: And what was serviceability like?
VW: Very good because they’d only been equipped with new Hurricanes some months before I got there and I think they didn’t fly very often but I think they must have been restricted. Looking back. You know, for saving the fuel because, you know, they knew what was going to happen. But they would only fly perhaps two hours a week.
CB: Amazingly low.
VW: Hmmn?
CB: Amazingly low.
VW: Yeah.
CB: So what —
VW: They had to keep their hours in, you know.
CB: Yes. The pilots had to keep enough hours.
VW: Yeah.
CB: To be able to qualify.
VW: Yes. That’s right. For their logbook.
CB: So how much leave did you have at the end of St Athan?
VW: Eighteen days.
CB: Oh eighteen days.
VW: Yeah.
CB: Right. So we’re in August.
VW: Yeah.
CB: When you get to North Weald.
VW: Yeah.
CB: Right. And how long did you spend in North Weald in total?
VW: We moved. The squadron moved in October. Yeah. In October and we moved to Martlesham Heath in Suffolk. They were, they were on convoy duty for the convoys. Shipping in the North Sea. They had a sector to patrol.
CB: Right.
VW: And, but we, but everything was very quiet. Very quiet, you know. They only had one, our own squadron only had one tussle with a reconnaissance flight, you know. A Dornier. One of the Dorniers’. Something like that and that’s the only time we saw the gun patches blown off the guns, you know, like that. But other than that it was very quiet. We had nothing very much to do at all. Just wait. They just did patrols and nothing else.
CB: So you got there in October ’39.
VW: Yeah.
CB: How long did you stay with that squadron?
VW: Until Christmas.
CB: Right.
VW: I only stayed with them six months altogether.
CB: Right.
VW: The first six months of the war.
CB: Then what?
VW: Then I went on a conversion course to be a fitter.
CB: Where was that?
VW: At Hednesford in Staffordshire.
CB: To be fitting what?
VW: Pardon?
CB: A conversion course to be a fitter.
VW: Yeah. That meant that —
CB: Specialising in what?
VW: Yeah. But you were only allowed to do certain things as a mechanic. Like, as I say, the day to day maintenance.
CB: Right.
VW: Which was nothing much more than filling the tanks and doing the ground runs in the morning. And then while, when I first went there they used to have all the cowlings off on a Friday morning. Just once a week.
CB: Right.
VW: Just to see that nothing had fallen off. Or you know, nuts loose on the, the exhaust stubs. Check them all around and that sort of thing. And mostly it was observation.
CB: Yeah.
VW: You had the run every morning. You would check the, just check the mag drops and that.
CB: So you’d run them up every morning.
VW: Oh yeah.
CB: How did you make sure that plugs didn’t oil up? Because if all you were doing was running it up. Did the plugs oil up doing that?
No. No. You didn’t get plugs oiling up at all.
CB: So you didn’t do plug changes because the planes weren’t flying enough.
VW: Oh no. No. Because that wasn’t my job. But when I went on a conversion course as a fitter.
CB: Yes.
VW: Instead of being on the flights.
CB: Yes.
VW: Out on the aerodrome. We were in the hangar and we you doing inspections. And these inspections came around at pre-determined intervals. And then of course you did things like plug changes and oil filters.
CB: Oh, they were done then. Right.
VW: Yeah. And well anything that was going. Anything that could be done on the station and we couldn’t do a lot because we were a mobile squadron and we had to be away completely in an hour and forty minutes.
CB: Oh did you?
VW: Yeah.
CB: Right.
VW: Shifted. Gone. So our stores was in a big box in one of the annexes in the hangar, you know. Instead of the usual thing of a separate building.
PW: Yeah.
VW: Like you get. But we had to carry everything with us.
CB: What were the trucks that you were using for that? Crossleys.
VW: We had, we had a three ton Albion lorry. Yeah. And a Bedford artic flat bed. And that took all our stands and that you used for propping up the plane when you’re doing jobs on them you know and that sort of thing. Any equipment that we had which was very little so we couldn’t do a lot. But as a fitter you were qualified then to go into what they called maintenance and you just went into the maintenance hangar and you did whatever was scheduled as maintenance on that particular aeroplane or that particular engine.
CB: So, on this course at Hednesford.
VW: Yeah.
CB: Then that was on specific aircraft. Which one was that?
VW: No. No. Just engines.
CB: Just in general.
VW: Just engines in general. Yeah.
CB: Ok. How long did that last? The course.
VW: Well from Christmas. Christmas ’39. I went there on Christmas Day 1939. And we left there to do, did part of the course there and we finished it off at Cosford. And I carried my [unclear] when we went there. Somewhere about halfway through the course. And we left on the 30th of May and I got posted to the Channel Islands. Because that’s the first flying school that I went to. The School of General Reconnaissance. And they were at Guernsey. But we were only there a fortnight. We had to get out anyway because the Germans were coming in. But we should have, the flights were at Guernsey and we should have been posted to the parent unit which was at Thorney Island. And they mixed it up again so we had another fortnight’s holiday on Guernsey until we had to pack up and go. And went back to Thorney Island there [pause] We were there at Thorney Island [pause]
PW: What dad’s not telling you —
VW: Until — we were there, I can’t remember when we left but we were there but we were there while Dunkirk was on.
CB: Right.
VW: Because everybody had to have, no matter where you went you had to have a Lee Enfield and fifty rounds of ammunition.
CB: Oh.
VW: Everybody. Everybody on the station was armed. You know. Ready for anything like that. And we left there to go to a place called Hooton Park up near Liverpool. Well Wallasey. And the day after we left they flattened the hangar.
CB: At Thorney Island.
VW: Yeah.
CB: Did they?
VW: Yeah. Flattened it. So we were dead lucky there.
CB: Well, Dunkirk was the end of May so perhaps you went to Thorney Island a bit earlier — to Guernsey a bit earlier than that.
VW: [pause] Yeah. It’s a long time ago.
CB: It doesn’t matter.
VW: Yeah. It’s a long time ago.
CB: It’s all around the same time.
VW: Yeah.
CB: What — at Thorney Island what were you supposed to be servicing there?
VW: Ansons.
CB: Oh right. These were shipping reconnaissance were they? Or what were they doing?
VW: Well, it was the school. It was called the School of General Reconnaissance.
CB: Oh I see. Right.
VW: It was. It didn’t have a squadron number.
CB: Yeah.
VW: It was the School of General Reconnaissance.
CB: Ok.
VW: And shifted us up to Hooton Park.
CB: Yeah.
VW: Which was just across the Mersey from Speke Airport.
CB: Right.
VW: And from there we went to Blackpool. We missed the blitz on Liverpool.
CB: Right. How long did you stay at Hooton Park then?
VW: Oh just a matter of a couple of months I should think.
CB: Right.
VW: And then [paused] we were posted to Blackpool. And that’s a date I remember because when I was posted from Blackpool to South Cerney in Wiltshire.
CB: Yeah.
VW: It was on the 18th of October.
PW: Gloucestershire.
CB: Yeah. That’s where I joined the RAF.
VW: Sorry?
CB: That’s where I joined the RAF.
VW: Where?
CB: South Cerney.
PW: South Cerney.
VW: Yes [laughs]
PW: 1 FTS.
CB: So, so, yeah. 18th of October ’40.
VW: Yeah.
CB: At South Cerney. What was happening there? This was a different unit was it?
VW: Oh yeah. That was 3FTS. Number 3 Flying Training School. We were doing conversions. Taking the pilots from the Empire Air Training Scheme. Canada and South Africa.
CB: Oh yes.
VW: And converting them from like Harvards onto twin engine Oxfords. Airspeed Oxfords.
CB: Right.
VW: Yeah.
CB: Because these were people all destined for bombing. Bombers.
VW: Yeah.
CB: Ok.
VW: They were introduction to multi engine.
CB: Yeah. And how long did that last? That posting.
VW: That posting lasted till Christmas again. 1942.
CB: Right.
VW: Nearly two years there.
CB: And during that time you were dealing with the, what were the engines on the Ansons?
VW: The engines? Oh the Cheetah 9s.
CB: Cheetahs. Yeah.
VW: Cheetah 9s. And then when we left South Cerney we went to 17 AFU. Advanced Flying Unit at Watton in Norfolk and we were on Masters 2s. Fighter trainer.
CB: Did they have other planes as well?
VW: No. Just them because we did engine changes all the time. I was in, in the maintenance hangar there was a fitter.
CB: Yeah.
VW: I passed out as a fitter so I was in the maintenance hangar and we did what — they used to come around to the maximum number of between inspections and we just changed engines all the time.
CB: It was quicker.
VW: Yeah.
CB: What were the engines?
VW: It was easier for us to change the engines and send them back to places like Alvaston in Derbyshire and they did a complete overhaul of them.
CB: Right.
VW: In the factories.
CB: What were the engines?
VW: Mercuries. Bristol Mercuries.
CB: So how long at Watton? So from Christmas ’42.
VW: To [pause] now my dates are a bit [pause] I can’t remember my dates after that.
CB: Ok. Where were you posted to after you’d finished?
VW: At Watton?
CB: At Watton.
VW: We cleared out everything. All our backlog we cleared that up and the Americans moved in and it became a bomber ‘drome then I suppose. One of these bombardments groups would be there. And it was all grass when we were there and they put thousands of tons of cement in one hangar and they put obviously concrete runways in, but we’d gone by then.
CB: So personally where did you go to?
VW: We went to a little ‘drome near Crewe called Calveley. C A L V E L E Y. Calveley. And doing the same thing there. Training pilots, you know. A lot of them from overseas. Australia. New Zealanders. And then we went —
CB: What were the planes? What were the aircraft there?
VW: Master 2s.
CB: Right.
VW: They were the same squadron like. 17 AFU.
CB: Oh right.
VW: And then we went to Spitalgate near Grantham. That was 12 FTS. Yeah.
PW: No. 12 PAFU.
VW: Oh yeah. Yeah. Probably yeah. Yeah. Advanced Flying Unit. Yeah. And from there we moved up to, that would be around about the end of 1944. And we went to Hixon in Staffordshire. Hixon. And was there about two months and then I got posted to Lyneham on Transport Command. That’s when I finally got out of flying Training Command. That’s when we went to Lyneham. And we were flying Yorks there.
CB: At Transport Command.
VW: Transport Command. Yeah.
CB: What were you doing at Hixon?
VW: Just on the same, 17AFU. Doing the same thing.
CB: Yeah.
VW: But not much at all.
CB: Right. What was the aircraft? Because it was an Advanced Flying School. What was the aircraft were they using?
VW: Oh the same as we had at Grantham.
CB: Oh.
VW: They were Blenheim 4s and they were obsolete too.
CB: Yeah.
VW: The first time I saw them was at Martlesham. One of the first bombing raids of the war and it was a flight of five from two squadrons, 110 and 107 and they flew over and they bombed the islands off the German coast. Silt and Bochum. Like that. And they surprised them, 110 Squadron, Yeah. They surprised them and lost one. When 107 Squadron’s five went over they lost four out of the five. That was some of the very early casualties.
CB: And that was from Martlesham.
VW: Yes. Yeah. I think they hadn’t got that much of a range and I think they were at Wattisham and they lobbed down at Martlesham and filled the tanks up.
CB: Right.
VW: Topped the tanks up. Yeah. But — and then I was demobbed from Lyneham.
CB: When was that?
VW: January the 26th 1946.
CB: Right. How did you feel about that?
VW: Actually, I was enjoying myself and we were, I was a corporal and I was offered to be made sergeant if I signed on. My wife put her foot on that and, ‘No. Not likely,’ she said. ‘You’re coming home.’ By that time we had my daughter and Phil and his younger brother who is just over from Australia. And they were there so she’d had the three of them from 1940. My daughter was born, and he was ’44.
PW: I was ’44 Ted was ’46.
VW: And Ted was 46’
PW: Yeah.
VW: So I had to get home and take my responsibilities.
CB: So the rank of sergeant eluded you.
VW: Oh yeah. Yeah.
CB: But you’d looked forward to that had you?
VW: Well yeah because I was enjoying myself there. It was a very nice station and also we had chances of — they used to fly out as far as Japan, you know, taking engines and equipment to all the stops that Transport Command from Lyneham used to stop at. They used to go from Lyneham to Gibraltar. Gibraltar to Cairo West. From Cairo West to somewhere in what was then Persia, Iraq.
PW: Habbaniya.
VW: Yeah. And then Karachi and then Singapore. But they did fly, I remember they flew a prop to Japan. I think it was for the Lancaster. You know. That went all around the world after the war.
CB: Oh yes.
VW: They were trying to sell them.
CB: Yes.
VW: You know, so they were on a promotional tour and they had several with a prop in Tokyo. And they flew the prop out there.
CB: Yeah. The Argentinians bought fifteen.
VW: I didn’t know if they sold any.
CB: They did. Yeah.
VW: Because it wasn’t all that long. Well I say it wasn’t all that long. They [pause] I was at working as a civilian on the Maintenance Unit at 5 MU at Kemble.
CB: After the war.
VW: On Lancasters.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And it wasn’t, I was there for about a year and we would bring them in from the, from the service and they would examine them. The inspectors would go over them to see what was wanted to be done and they had a list of things to be done. And then they would mothball them to a certain extent. Put them out and then when the RAF wanted them they’d bring them back in to our hangars, the preparation hangars. And we’d do everything that was on the list, like that. And they’d go back into service. New paint job. And, but that didn’t last very long and the next thing they were out on the park and they just chopped them up. Got rid of them all.
CB: Well how full was Kemble Airfield? How full was it with these things?
VW: How?
CB: How full? How many aircraft on it?
VW: Oh. Must have been about a hundred I should think.
CB: Oh right.
VW: Easy. And Hants and Sussex Aviation just took, they broke them all up.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And took them for scrap. And we say now there were rows of four Merlin engines there all over the place and if they’d seen them today. The people who need them, you know.
CB: Yeah.
VW: They’d cry.
CB: Yeah. I bet.
VW: Should be here somewhere.
CB: I’ll just stop the, stop this for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: We paused just for you to get your prized screwdriver. Could you just describe. We’ve just had a picture of you with it. Could you just describe the background of it? Please.
VW: Yeah the screwdriver is basically a Merlin blockstud.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And the ends have been re-formed to make it into a chisel. And the handle is carved out of, shaped out of a solid block of aluminium. And the machinist shaped the handle and then he put, he drilled it to take the squared end of the, the square taper in to that. And he put the shank, the stud in the lathe and — the other way about. The handle was in the lathe and this was in the turret of his capstan lathe like that.
CB: Right.
VW: And he just pulled the capstan handles and —
CB: Put it straight in.
VW: And it never moved.
CB: No.
VW: At all.
CB: Now that engine stud. How would that have been formed in the aircraft? On the engine. Because you had the block and the head separate didn’t you?
VW: Yeah.
CB: So how, how did this work.
VW: This end was screwed in to the crank case. All you got was the crank case itself with the holes in it to take this and that was screwed in to there. Then you slide the cylinders on, right. So the end, this end, threaded again would protrude above the top of block.
CB: Yes.
VW: And then the head itself would slide down over that as well and this is just long enough then so that you get enough thread on the end to take the nut that holds the whole lot together. The three pieces together like that.
CB: Ok.
VW: And it’s in a block like that because it’s a V engine. So you have two rows of these down one side and two down the other side like that for the other block.
CB: So getting the block on is a heavy job.
PW: Yes.
VW: Well it’s yeah but —
CB: Sorry the cylinder head I meant to say.
VW: The cylinder is not so bad. Getting the block is the bad job because you have to introduce six pistons in to the bottom of the cylinders.
CB: Yes.
VW: As so all six have got to be in the right place and you’ve to gently feed them in, feed the rings in. Squeeze the rings to go in and then you just work it down very carefully because what makes it worse it’s on an angle anyway, you know, like that.
CB: Yes. A V12.
VW: It’s suspended you know and the block is on an angle going down because of the V of the engine.
CB: Yes.
VW: But — yeah.
CB: So these wet liner engines are they?
PW: Yeah.
VW: They, well Phil knows more about them then I do.
CB: They are. Effectively that’s why you’re putting in the —
VW: Yeah.
CB: Cylinder and then putting the head on.
VW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Right.
VW: Yeah. Because —
CB: Ok. And then for each part of the V.
VW: Yeah.
CB: Because these are V12s you’ve got six cylinders. Each. How many studs are there per cylinder?
VW: Four.
CB: Right. So that’s twenty four.
VW: Yeah.
CB: And you’re trying to thread the head over that.
VW: You’ve got rows like a porcupine.
PW: It’s like there are four studs per cylinder.
VW: Yeah.
PW: But between the cylinders the studs are shared.
CB: Right.
PW: If you can imagine.
CB: Yeah.
PW: You know, you have four studs for this one and then two of them become two of the four for that one.
CB: Right. Ok.
PW: So you got fourteen studs on each side.
CB: I see. Ok.
PW: Yeah.
CB: Right.
[recording paused]
CB: Now, when you were at Lyneham what was the excitement you had there?
VW: I was in a little section. And I had a gang of four airmen and they were split into groups of two in a little workshop alongside the hangar. And when the, the engines had done a certain number of hours in the aeroplane they were taken off the whole, what we called a power egg right from the wing, the front of the wing, you know from the firewall.
CB: Yeah.
VW: The big bulkhead.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And they’d take the lot off. Just undo all the connections and then they’d put it in a special stand with four wheels and they’d bolt them in there like that. And then they’d link them all up together and then the David Brown would bring them up to our place.
CB: A tractor.
VW: Yeah. Bring them all to our place and I went up two of them. And the other corporal in the hangar he would have the other two for his four blokes. And they used to have two on each and then we would take the engines out and then renew any, anything that controlled our pipes. You know. Various things in the, that was left, you know, in the engine bearer. Any oil pipes, fuel pipes, coolant pipes, perhaps put a new coolant tank in which is just over behind the prop. Anything like that that had to be renewed. And then put a new engine in, like that. And then they’d go back in into hangars straight on to the Yorks.
CB: Now the York was essentially a Lancaster with a different body. What about the engines? Were they different?
VW: It had Lancaster things on it didn’t it?
CB: Were the engines the same as the Lancaster?
VW: Well, no not really because they were Merlin 24s that we had.
CB: Was that more powerful?
VW: No. I don’t think so. Were they Phil?
PW: They were slightly more powerful yeah. The general run of the mill Lancaster Merlin was twelve fifty horsepower or thereabouts.
VW: Yeah.
PW: And these were, I think they were slightly more. About fourteen hundred so a little more powerful. But they had different characteristics. The supercharging was slightly different on them. So, you know the York’s flew a different profile to the Lancaster and the engines were suited to that characteristics.
CB: And they didn’t fly so high.
PW: Didn’t fly so high.
VW: Yeah they went through.
PW: Yeah.
CB: So fast forward now to Kemble. So you’re a civilian there with 5MU. How long did that last?
VW: Two years.
CB: Then what?
VW: This isn’t — do you need this?
CB: Well, it’s just to know what people did after the war really.
VW: Oh yeah.
CB: Because you learned a lot in the war that you didn’t know before.
VW: Yeah.
CB: How did that impinge on your career until your retirement?
VW: Yeah. Well I went straight into a garage you know, because knowing engines. And I had four years, yeah, four years in the garage. That brought me up to 1950. And the Suez Crisis happened.
CB: ’56 that was.
PW: No. You’re getting confused with Berlin dad.
CB: So 1948 was Berlin. So the Korean War was 1950. Did you called in to the Korean War?
VW: Maybe. That was —
CB: I’ll stop that just for [pause] yeah go on.
VW: The — anyway the petrol went back on the basic ration.
CB: Yeah.
VW: So lots of people took their cars off the road and they sacked twelve of us.
CB: Right.
VW: In the garage. Because they had no work. I went to the, what they used to call then the Labour Exchange for a job and they said, ‘What did you do in the war?’ I said, ‘I was an aircraft mechanic.’ They said, ‘We’ve got a job for you,’ and they sent me out to Kemble. To the MU. And I was there for two years. And then I had various jobs. Short term. Taxies. I drove a taxi. And then I went from there to driving milk tankers for the Co-op Milk Department. And I had six years. No. Eight years. Eight years with them.
PW: A long while with them.
VW: Eight years with them. And actually in the first year wasn’t on the tankers. It was picking up the milk from farms in churns. You know. And then I went from that on the tankers for what we used to call long distance. Our long distance was a hundred miles a day I think at the most. Because you covered all the south of England. But yeah, and in 1962 I went into the factory in Swindon building motor bodies for British Leyland. And I was there then ‘til I retired.
CB: Which was when?
VW: 1984.
CB: So just to get the sequence because we changed it slightly. Did you go from Lyneham into working as a garage mechanic?
VW: Yeah I —
CB: Before, before you went to Kemble.
VW: Oh yeah. Well that was when I was demobbed.
CB: Yes.
VW: From there.
CB: Yeah. Ok. Right. I got it the wrong way around. What year were you married?
VW: 1940. Yeah.
CB: And how did you meet your wife?
PW: Teenagers really.
VW: We were fifteen when we married because she was just nine months older than me so we were both about fifteen. Yeah.
PW: That was when you met wasn’t it?
VW: Pardon?
PW: That’s when you met.
VW: Yeah.
PW: Because you said when we were married [laughs]
VW: Oh no. When we first met. Yeah. We married in 1940. Sheila was born in ’41.
CB: She lived near you.
VW: Pardon?
CB: She lived near you did she, is that how you —
VW: Yes. In the locality yes.
CB: Yeah. Good. Right I’m going to stop there for a mo. Thank you very much.
[recording paused]
CB: So just, just going back a bit Vivian.
VW: Yeah.
CB: When you were in the Territorial Army and you working at Tacalemit
VW: Yeah.
CB: What did you do in the Territorial Army?
VW: I was on a searchlight detachment and we, we had a ninety centimetre light and we had six lights altogether and I was on, I was always on what was called the home light. So I was on the centre and all the other five, yeah the other five, they were three or four miles away in a ring around as me in the centre. Like that. They were disbursed about three or four miles. And we used to have two girls fly a Dominie from, a Dragon Rapide in Croydon as the target. So the the detachment would be two spotters laid out at forty five degrees from the light. They are there. The lights here. I’m on the end of the long arm with the wheel, the wheel elevates it and to go around you just walk forwards or backwards, you know, like that. Very primitive. And then I had an earpiece and we had a telephone line to what they called the sound locators. They were sort of wooden horns. And they were on a stand and you could move them that way or around. You know.
PW: Azimuth.
VW: Circular movement you know. And also you’d get the elevation to get the sound. And then there was a corporal who was, lance corporal who was in charge and he was shouting in the other ear. And so you know we didn’t know where we were half the time and it was like [Fred Carnell’s?] outfit. It really was. All the other lights were all over the sky like waving corn you know. Like that. And then the girls would, they’d be flying without navigation lights, you know and they’d get fed up and switch the navigation lights on [laughs] and everybody was on to them.
CB: And suddenly you’d get them. Yes.
VW: And we’d cone them in the aeroplane you know. Great stuff. And they would switch the navigation lights off again and we were all lost. We were all over the sky again you know.
CB: These wooden detectors were pre-radar weren’t they?
VW: Oh yeah.
CB: So this was the only system they had.
VW: They came out the ark I should think.
CB: Yes. And they didn’t work.
VW: No. No.
CB: So how often did you actually acquire a target with a light?
VW: I don’t think we ever acquired one at all. Only when they switched the navigation lights on [laughs]
CB: [laughs] Right.
VW: And I was on that for about nine months I suppose.
CB: Yeah.
VW: We used to go out to aerodromes. Down to Aldershot, you know. Any military establishment like that. We used to go and spend a weekend.
CB: You’d take the lights.
VW: Take the lights.
CB: Yes. And how —
VW: And then we’d — pardon?
CB: All six would go would they?
VW: Yeah. And the lorries that they were transported with were Tilling-Stevens Petrol Electric.
CB: Right.
VW: You might, I think you’d have to go online to find them.
PW: Yes. You would.
VW: They were — that’s what they were called. Petrol electric. How that worked I don’t know but they would, they had this damned great generator on them. And we used to [pause] then he had a long cable. Oh it must have been about fifty feet at least. And he’d got to link up this cable so you don’t hear anything of the generator going at all. And [pause] and as I say I’d be on the home light and as I say we never, never really caught one at all. We were always all over the sky you know. Only when the girls switched the nav lights on. But it was, it was fun really. We were having a good time. You know. Not really working at it you know.
PW: Not taking it very serious.
VW: For us it was so impossible to find them.
CB: Well it was always peacetime wasn’t it so there wasn’t exactly an incentive to do a lot.
VW: Yeah. Yeah we used to go and do aerodromes and army.
CB: What was the unit called?
VW: The unit was called [pause] my army number was 2052042. Sapper. Sapper Williams. 339 Company. 26th London Electrical Engineers. R E, Royal Engineers. We come under Royal Engineers.
PW: Only the army.
VW: Yeah [laughs] yeah.
CB: This is before they really got the searchlight detachments operating.
VW: Well then they had the big ones you know.
CB: Yeah.
VW: They also had a hundred and twenty sized. A hundred and twenty centimetres but they were the same, just a larger light. And they were carbon arc lights. And then of course I went on crush guard somewhere near Spalding and they had a searchlight detachment there and it was a radar controlled light. This was some years later in the war. And it was radar controlled and it must have been a hundred and eighty, nearly two hundred metres, you know. Like that.
CB: Centimetres.
VW: Radar controlled.
CB: Yeah.
VW: That was I don’t know how successful they were but we were bloody hopeless.
PW: Pretty good.
CB: So you enjoyed it.
VW: Oh yeah. The Terriers. You know. It was adequate. It was an opportunity to get dressed up.
CB: Yeah.
VW: We used to get a few raspberries here and there, you know. Saturday night soldier.
CB: Yeah.
VW: But no I quite liked being in a crowd you know like that. In the company. Yeah.
CB: And when you joined the RAF how different was that?
VW: It was, it was much the same. I liked being with the company of other people. You know. I quite liked it in the early times you know, like that. And it wasn’t until I come across — I ran fowl of this engineer, warrant officer. That spoiled me for the RAF and I wasn’t interested after that.
CB: So what happened there? When was that?
VW: What?
CB: When did you meet this difficult person?
VW: October 1940. Yeah. October 1940.
CB: So what happened there?
VW: Well the School of GR was at Blackpool and they got posted to South Africa and — but they had this idea that you were going to get your wives out there so you had to be earning a certain amount, certain level of pay to cope with the cost of living out there. And I wasn’t. I was thruppence a day short because I wasn’t an LAC then. And so there was twenty of us I think that got then posted to different units in the UK. And I went to South Cerney. And I was there two years. You know.
CB: But you mentioned this warrant officer.
PW: This guy was —
CB: What was the significance of that?
VW: Well he was the engineering warrant officer of that and he, we just got off on the wrong foot. And I became bloody minded and I was always in trouble. I was always up on a charge. And in the end the engineering officer had us both in the office and he got as much of a bollocking as I did there, you know. He said it himself, he said, ‘This has got to stop.’ He said, ‘Getting him on,’ me, ‘Putting on a charge on trivial things,’ he said, ‘It only makes a man bloody minded.’ And he coined the phrase.
PW: And he was exactly right.
VW: And, yeah, and after that instead of being recommended for your classifications you had to take a board so he couldn’t do anything else but give me the opportunity to have a board. He comes up to me in the hangar and he said, ‘You’ve done very well.’ It took him a lot to actually congratulate me on it. It must have been hard for him.
CB: Dented his pride a bit did it? And the result of the board was what?
VW: I became an LAC then. And then a little while later I got posted from there to 17 AFU at Watton. And the engineering officer said, ‘What’s that thing on your sleeve?’ And I said, ‘It’s a good conduct stripe.’ He said, ‘How long have you been an LAC?’ I said, ‘Not very long sir.’ And he said, ‘Right,’ he said, he said, ‘You should have been a corporal by now, you know, at least.’ And I said, I didn’t, I just sort of bluffed it over, you know. Didn’t say what had happened obviously.
CB: No.
VW: And he said, ‘We’ll soon do something about that. And then in two months I was a corporal.
PW: I bet he found out what had been going on.
VW: I don’t know, he must have, yeah.
PW: ‘Cause it would have been, it would have been on your records.
VW: He must have looked on my docs. On my records.
PW: On your records.
CB: Trouble is that warrant officers are difficult to challenge.
VW: Yeah. Yeah. And the thing was you see then you were getting, frequently getting overseas postings. Well, we were, I was actually living out in Cirencester. Being a married man.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And so they, the sort unspoken rule then was that all these overseas postings were filled by single blokes. You know. And he was living out as well so you know we were in the same boat. He couldn’t treat me any different you know and so we got away with it like that. Made it so much easier.
CB: What would you say was the most memorable point about your RAF service?
VW: Memorable. Oh my first flight.
CB: Because we haven’t talked about that. So, ok, so first flight.
VW: Yeah.
CB: What was that?
VW: In a Magister. We were supposed to have an air experience flight at the end of the technical course at St Athans but there were so many entrants there, you know. People coming off the courses. They were pushing them through as fast as they could and they just didn’t have enough aircraft to give everybody this air experience flight. And that was in a Magister. So we got to the squadron on 56 Squadron and suddenly one of the NCOs there found out that none of us airmen had flown. And our CO was quite surprised you know because we were in the air force. We obviously should have had at least had, as I say the air experience flight. The initial flight. So our CO borrowed a Magister from somewhere. And each pilot then took his crew up. And bring up and then all the way back and that was the best thrill I think I’ve ever had. You know.
CB: Right.
VW: And most memorable that was. Frightened I to death but I was hooked after that and I used to fly in anything on air test. A lot of blokes, you know would say you know, ‘I won’t fly in that bloody thing you know.’ But if a pilot went up I would.
CB: Yeah.
VW: I just loved flying. Still do.
CB: How many hours do you reckon you got on doing those air tests?
VW: I must have done seventy or eighty air tests and they ranged from ten minutes to an hour on the Lancs.
CB: Yeah.
VW: At Kemble. That’s the way to fly. On the Lancs.
CB: Now the RAF was actually desperate for air crew. Particularly early on. So people were asked if they’d like to volunteer. What happened to you?
VW: Well, as I say, you know I just — they just put my medical back a month but they said, ‘We’ll keep your posting open,’ but I never heard any more, you know, at all. And I didn’t push it because my wife said no.
CB: Can we go fast backwards a bit? So how did you come to volunteer for aircrew in the first place?
VW: To get away from that engineer warrant officer.
CB: Right. Good.
VW: The attitude in the hangar. I just lost interest in it you know. That’s how he affected me. I thought I couldn’t do anything right. Although a lot of it was my own fault but no.
CB: So when you —
VW: Actually you see then they were losing so many aircraft towards the end of 1942, or the middle of 1942 and I thought then, I mean I could have been posted to Stirlings or something like that.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And I wouldn’t have stood a hope in hell’s chance of coming through it.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And I hadn’t, my daughter then she was born. She was born in 1941 so — he wasn’t born till ’44. But —
CB: So after you volunteered what was the next step? What did they do?
VW: Oh I just got posted away.
CB: No. No. They — what I meant to say was when you volunteered they then gave you some tests. So what was the first thing they did?
VW: Well you were posted away on a gunner’s course.
CB: Yes.
VW: And, and you did that and I don’t know — perhaps their way of thinking. But you didn’t get your medical until you’d finished your gunner’s course. But our MO just took it into his mind, ‘Oh I’ll give you your medical now.’ You see. When we were clearing out our what’s the name, flew around.
PW: Yeah. You go around getting cleared from the station.
VW: You go around station and clear everything you know like that. Of course one section is the MO and as I say if he hadn’t given me my medical then I’d have gone through, you see.
CB: Yeah.
VW: I would have gone to the air gunner’s course and then back up to Penarth to the medical before I got sent on the, on the conversion course because I would have been the flight engineer.
CB: What was the hiccup with your medical?
VW: The fact that I had this paralysis.
CB: Where?
VW: And he knew how long it would last.
CB: Where? What?
VW: Before it, my face came back to normal again you see, like that, and he said, ‘We’ll keep your posting open,’ but they never did and we never pushed it.
CB: ’Cause you wife wasn’t in favour.
VW: No. No. She wasn’t.
CB: Unsurprisingly.
PW: If you knew my mum you’d understand just how much of a brick wall that was.
VW: Yeah. I mean —
CB: But looking back would you have liked to have converted to aircrew?
VW: I would have liked to yes but looking back —
CB: Ok. So —
VW: I could weigh up the chances looking back.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And then never even thought about being shot down.
CB: No.
VW: Or anything like that.
CB: No. You were invincible.
VW: In retrospect, I mean I would, I could easily have been one of fifty five thousand.
CB: And which planes would you have wanted to have flown in?
VW: Oh the Lancaster. Yeah definitely. A Lancaster. Because the other went — I only know one of them. He was my mate there at Cerney. Name Lou Boyd. An Irish kiddie and he went and he did his conversion course at Swinderby.
CB: Right.
VW: On Lancs. I don’t know where the others went. I mean on one of them, on one of them.
PW: 1660.
VW: One of them was the sergeant in the hangar and he was thirty five
PW: Yeah.
VW: And he was the same as me. Just didn’t like our warrant officer. Never got on with him. And he went. Yeah thirty five he was.
CB: And how many ops did he do?
VW: I don’t know. I lost touch with all of them. I really did.
CB: Right.
VW: I only met Lou once. He came back and sorted us out and he was half way through his first tour then.
CB: So he —
VW: That was the, they told us when you lose an engine from mechanical failure. You don’t see it. You don’t realise it. The engine is not working.
CB: Because it’s wind milling.
VW: It’s wind milling.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And the thing is that it windmills. The revs stay the same.
CB: Do they?
VW: Yeah. The revs. The oil pressure stays the same, and that. You don’t get anything off the dials to indicate that it’s not running. The pilots afterwards said that there was, he felt a slight drag on that one side. But the first indication the engineer got, the flight engineer was the oil temperature goes down.
CB: Right.
VW: But everything else is the same bar the oil temperature.
CB: Because the pilot can feel it yawing.
PW: Just a little.
VW: Yeah but he would just take that as the engines getting a bit out of sync. Perhaps. You know.
CB: Right.
VW: Like that. Yeah.
CB: Actually that’s a point. How, yes, on the ground did you go through the procedures for synchronising the engines.
VW: Well you get the throttles and your boost gauges as near as damned synchronised and then when it comes to revs you [pause] you set the revs by synchronising the two. Either starboard engine or the two port engines or two starboard engines. So you get one engine up to what do you call it [pause] economical cruising. And then you look through the propeller. The inboard propeller so that it’s superimposed on the inside of the outboard propeller and if its strobes they’re out of sync.
CB: Right.
VW: And you use then the prop control.
CB: The pitch.
VW: Pitch controls.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And when that stops and it’s superimposed and just stops inside the other and then you do the same with the other side. With the other two engines.
CB: Just going back to your earlier point— if you lose an engine, you feather it and put it in —
VW: Yeah. You can feather it yeah.
CB: And what pitch can you put it in. What is the description of the pitch that you can put it in?
VW: Neutral.
CB: Right.
VW: Because it’s just the blades are just dead on to the slipstream.
CB: Yeah. The side of the blades.
VW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yes. Good. Thank you very much. We’ve done really well.
PW: I really enjoyed that.
VW: Is that ok?
CB: Absolutely fascinating.
VW: You can edit. Edit it.
CB: They will but the fact is that they will be letting you have a cd. Listen to it and if you want to alter anything you can let them know.
VW: Yeah.
CB: But eventually they will edit it. Initially they will copy it.
VW: Well I shan’t bother.
CB: Now, you may remember what I said to you was it would be helpful if we’d any supporting stuff. That picture.
PW: The photograph that’s up there. Just on the end.
CB: That would be really good if we could borrow that. Yes. Have you got your wedding picture handy?
PW: No. We haven’t at the moment.
VW: No. We can’t find it.
CB: If that can come later.
PW: No. Dad hasn’t got it.
PW: I will find the pictures for you.
CB: Will you?
PW: And I will sort this one out as well.
CB: So there’s just one other form then which is to say that you’re happy. You authorise them to donate a copy of the picture and let you have the thing back.
VW: Yeah. That will be alright.
CB: Ok. How did you come to settle in Fiskerton? You were never stationed here.
VW: That’s another story in itself. We were, Phil got demobbed from.
PW: Waddington.
VW: Waddington.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And settled here in Metheringham and we used to come up on weekends for a weekend like that and we liked it up here.
CB: Yeah.
VW: And —



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Vivian David Williams,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 21, 2019,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.

Can you help improve this description?