Interview with Eric Wright

Title

Interview with Eric Wright

Description

Eric Wright in lived in Rotherham at the start of the war. As a school child he says that he did not really understand the implications of it. The family moved to Nottingham and he describes life there, with the air raids and sheltering under the Morrison table shelter in the living room. He recalls one air raid in which his house was damaged, and he had to be rescued but his friend on the other side of the street was killed. After a year they moved to Lincoln where his father became an air raid warden and fire watcher. One night in 1943 his father took him up to the roof of Lincoln Cathedral, from where he saw a German aircraft drop bombs on Lincoln before it was shot down. During an air raid on Sheffield, his mother was seriously injured and subsequently died. Being a child he was not allowed to go to the funeral. Later the family moved Doncaster. He explains that after the close of RAF Skellingthorpe, live ammunition was dumped in the lake at Hartsholme Park. He also describes how they managed to get cordite from cannon shells to make 'scarlet runners', a type of firework they let off in the school playground. After the war, Eric did his National Service with the Royal Artillery. After training in he was posted to a light anti-aircraft unit. During his service he was based in Germany where he helped to clear Belsen Concentration Camp. He became a driver using a variety of vehicles. He also served for five months in Korea, where he was injured.

Creator

Date

2018-04-22

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:00:30 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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.

Contributor

Identifier

AWrightE180422

Transcription

MS: My name’s Michael Sheehan. I’m at [buzzzzz] and I’m interviewing Eric Wright. Is it ok to call you Eric?
EW: Yes.
MS: Thank you. Right. My name’s Michael. The date of the interview is the 24th of the 4th 1918. The time is five to eleven. 2018 not 1918 [laughs] I’m a hundred years out, aren’t I? Right, Eric.
AS: Also present —
MS: Oh, yeah. Also present, thank you very much, I’m being corrected by my beautiful assistant, is Audrey Wright who’s here, who is Eric’s wife on his behalf. And also with me is Anita Sheehan who is one of the other interviewers for the IBCC. So, are you happy to be interviewed, Eric?
EW: Yes.
MS: Basically, recordings of these interviews are intended to pick up the stories of people who administered the damage such as the bomber crews, the people working for the Bomber Command and also most importantly people who themselves suffered as a result of the bombing or who witnessed the conflict. And you were —
[recording paused]
MS: The recorder, because it’s doing some strange things. It’s actually flashing as we’re talking which is not what it should be doing so I do need to stop. Sorry about this —
[recording paused]
MS: Yeah. The recorder appears to be working ok. So what we’ll do is we’ll continue with the interview, Eric. Ok. Right. So, now then, as I said before would you like to tell me a little bit about your recollections prior to war?
[recording paused]
EW: We lived at Rotherham and —
[recording paused]
EW: Fought in the First World War, got me and —
[recording paused]
EW: [unclear] Drive, at Rotherham. And we got all the blackouts up and everything and it was quite keen, you know. They used to come around and make sure there was no –
[recording paused]
EW: Dad was by this time in the Civil Service and he was appointed as manpower services manager.
[recording paused]
EW: I suppose at that age you took it all in your stride. You, you took it in but basically there was no immediate effect so you didn’t sort of worry about it as a young kid. You know. It was as simple as that. You went to school.
[recording paused]
EW: Other youngsters were talking about it. But it didn’t register that you could have a bomb dropped on you or things explode, you know and all the rest of it. It just didn’t register and life went on.
[recording paused]
EW: Anyway, we moved to Nottingham. We moved to Gordon Road at West Bridgford.
[recording paused]
EW: And then things started to happen there because mother had got rheumatoid arthritis and although they built a community shelter on —
[recording paused]
EW: So they equipped us with a table shelter. A Morrison table shelter. There was two —
[recording paused]
EW: Morrison but I came across a lot of people who, who had an Anderson table shelter. It replaced the, it replaced the living room table and was most peculiar and it was quite a plaything for me because we used to have a big mattress in there, you know [laughs] We used to go in there.
MS: Can you describe it to us?
EW: Yes. It was four very solid steel legs with a steel sock and right around the outside of it was a mesh arrangement with a door where you could get in.
[recording paused]
EW: Peculiar really. It was very cold, you know with it being metal but once you got the mattress in it was ok.
[recording paused]
EW: At this time having been transferred to Lincoln.
[recording paused]
EW: We got a number of air raids in Nottingham but we, if we didn’t go to the communal shelter —
[recording paused]
EW: There was one or two bombing raids and you know being a young kid and that you were, we could hear the bombs whistling down and the bang at the end of them and I used to say, ‘Oh, that was a good ‘un.’ [laughs] It wasn’t. Far from it [laughs] And then one night the roof came in and it came through the, it came through the bedroom floor immediately above and there was a lot of slates and dust and what have you.
[recording paused]
EW: ‘Still. Don’t move. There will be somebody here in a minute.’
[recording paused]
EW: And about an hour after that. I would think it would be a quarter of an hour somebody came.
[recording paused]
EW: ‘Are you all alright?’ And mother shouted no so the door was forced and in they came and they started moving all the rubble that was down in order to get the door open to get us out and we got out. And mother said to me, she said, ‘Come on. Get ready for school.’ You don’t, [laughs] didn’t happen. She said, ‘Get ready for school. You’ve got to meet Michael.’ Michael lived across the road and we went, you know every morning we walked to school. So I got ready for school and I said to mother, ‘Ok, I’m going.’ She said, ‘Alright. Be careful. Don’t pick anything up.’ [laughs] Of course, we was encouraged at this time to pick up any shrapnel up we found and it used to be put in a bin at school. And of course it used to go back and melted down and made into ammunition [laughs] to be sent back to Germany.
MS: Return to sender.
EW: Yeah. So I went out the front door for school and I looked across the road and I just couldn’t believe it. Michael’s house was flat [pause] And I just went back in. I said, ‘Mother, I’m going to school on my own.’ I said, ‘Michael’s flat is just a heap of bricks.’
[recording paused]
EW: She said, I didn’t know about that. I said, ‘Anyway, I’m going.’ So I went to school and we was both in the same class and something that I’ll never really —
[recording paused]
EW: Roll call in the class and they missed Michael Cousins off completely. She just went through the list, called, ticking the register off and all the rest of it. And then a little girl, she said, ‘You haven’t called Michael’s name out.’ So, she said, ‘No. Michael won’t be at school today.’ And she said, ‘He’s going to another school.’ Right.
[recording paused]
EW: We knew what it meant. I mean there was no two ways about it. We knew what it meant. But we, well it just carried on, you see. They kept us occupied with the lessons and all the rest of it. Also, the school was damaged. This was one of, most probably the good part [laughs] because we hadn’t the class rooms and consequently we couldn’t go to school every day. We went to school about two and a half days a week and they used to use people’s front rooms as classrooms. So you might be on one street one day and another street the next, you know, and you had to find your way. You was expected to find your way.
[recording paused]
EW: And then it was just over a year we was at Nottingham and then dad came home. He came home from Lincoln and he said, ‘We’re moving.’ So, I said, ‘Right. Where are we going?’ And he said, ‘You’re going to Lincoln.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘Where’s that?’ [laughs] I hadn’t a clue where it was. So, we came to Lincoln and we came, he rented a property on Crane Grove at Western Avenue. I don’t know whether you know it.
MS: I know Western Avenue.
EW: Yeah. Well, it’s —
[recording paused]
EW: At the time Skellingthorpe Aerodrome was operational and when they took off at night they used to come straight over us and we used to stand in the upstairs bedroom window and count them out at night. And quite often we used to count them back in, you know and it was always a talking point because one was —
[recording paused]
EW: I suppose really in Lincoln with having so many aerodromes all the way around us we didn’t, didn’t suffer an awful lot.
[recording paused]
EW: Raleigh bikes and Boots at Nottingham because I think at that time —
[recording paused]
EW: Raleigh was making these fold up bikes which the troops used to use.
MS: Paratroopers. Yeah.
EW: Yeah.
[recording paused]
EW: We was lucky in Lincoln to a certain extent but we had one incident where —
[recording paused]
EW: Came over and it crashed on Highfield Avenue which is just off Skellingthorpe Road.
[recording paused]
EW: I think we’ve gone through this haven’t we because there’s some, there’s some paperwork in there that was written up by somebody from the Echo only a short while ago. Not that one.
MS: No.
EW: It’s another one that’s in there. And I said we was on the Skellingthorpe Road School field playing football like and named was a lot of other lads who were there at the same time.
[recording paused]
EW: I went down. We weren’t allowed down then because the street was, Highfield Avenue was shut off.
MS: Yeah.
EW: So —
[recording paused]
EW: I believe Dave lost his sister. His younger sister. And there was quite a few people —
[recording paused]
EW: And that was a training exercise where that bomber came down. So —
MS: There were a lot of training accidents.
EW: So that was that. And then of course we got the situation where dad was going —
[recording paused]
EW: Watching duties and ARP duties and all the rest of it. Telling people that [laughs] blackouts weren’t working.
MS: I understand that on one occasion you accompanied your dad.
EW: Yeah.
MS: To Lincoln Cathedral which was a fire watching position.
EW: Dad being one of a group of W’s where they were rota’d for fire watching was the last Friday in every month.
[recording paused]
EW: The place of fire watching was on top of the Lincoln Cathedral.
[recording paused]
EW: I ate at him for weeks and weeks and weeks to take me up there when he went fire watching. And then one Friday night he came home and he said, ‘You’re coming with me tonight. I’m taking you up on the Cathedral.’ And I think —
[recording paused]
EW: There were four. There used to be four of them go and they were all W’s and I think one of them wasn’t fit to go.
[recording paused]
MS: What was that?
EW: Wright. Walton. Wooton. Right.
MS: Right.
EW: Now what the fourth name was I don’t know but I knew Tommy Walton very well because he was a very good fisherman and he taught me how to fish in the River Witham.
[recording paused]
MS: Good pike river.
EW: Oh yeah. We mustn’t go in to this.
MS: No. Go on. You were poaching. Never mind.
EW: No. We weren’t poaching. We had licenses.
MS: Yeah. I’m only pulling your leg. Tell us about the Cathedral.
EW: Anyway, we got up on to the Cathedral and it was absolutely fantastic you know. I think my mind was oohh just the vista and everything. A young lad, never been up as high as that before I don’t think. I mean I’ve been down collieries and I’ve been down pits. Of course, grandad worked in, well he worked on the winding gear at Wath Main colliery.
MS: Oh.
EW: And no, it was absolutely wonderful. Wonderful night and all the rest of it and dad just said, ‘You make yourself scarce while we get on with what we’ve got to do.’ And that, if I remember right they had to log out from the various sections where they could see and it was section —
[recording paused]
I went in to the shed and I was reading. There was a little bit of an oil lamp in there.
[recording paused]
EW: The sirens went and I got up and I thought well, I’m going out to watch what was happening.
[recording paused]
And then this German bomber about all over the sky and there was some tracer bullets. Now, I’ve queried this. Would they have been, would they be using tracer bullets at that time?
MS: I don’t know about the time but I do know tracer bullets were used.
EW: Yeah.
MS: It depends on the state of the aircraft.
EW: Right. Anyway, there was bombs dropped and they sort of catalogued this on a sheet. Where the bomb flashes went. You know, the explosions were.
MS: Could you tell?
EW: Well, I more or less knew the direction from up, up there where they were falling and then of course there was quite a few on Monks Road and that area. And —
[recording paused]
EW: Report, it tells you that the plane flew down the High Street.
MS: We’re referring here to a report from the Echo. Lincoln Echo. I’m not sure what date it was.
[recording paused]
EW: Disappeared sort of south and it was chased from there. And I do know there was two bombs dropped in Boultham Park but nobody mentioned them because there was no damage.
[recording paused]
EW: There was, there was also the damage done on Dixon Street and I remember the plane going down. I hadn’t a clue where, where it was going down. Of course, it’ll have that —
[recording paused]
EW: Elevated. You was more or less —
MS: Yeah.
EW: Level with the top of the ridge, you know and it went down. It was shot down.
[recording paused]
EW: That was that and when they come to the end of the stint of course that was it. We went home. On the [laughs] on the Monday morning at school I happened to say to someone, they were on about this, you know, the bombs that had been dropped, all kids as they were. And I happened to say that I was on top of Lincoln Cathedral with my dad who was fire watching and that was the wrong thing to say and it went through the school, you know. I was mobbed. ‘What did you see?’ ‘Did you see the plane shot, shot down?’ And at assembly I had to go on stage in front of the full school [laughs] tell them what happened. And when it got to the point where I say I saw the plane when it was shot down and disappeared, and the explosion when it landed, you know. When it hit the ground and all the rest of it every body cheered like mad. You know.
MS: Yeah.
EW: All the kids at school. Cheering like mad.
MS: How do you actually, what were your, what were your feelings when you were on the roof? What —
[recording paused]
EW: I wasn’t all that happy quite honest because you didn’t know what was going, I mean they avoided the Lincoln Cathedral. You know, there was no, there has always been this thing about Dresden and I’ve been to Dresden anyway, but there was always this thing about Dresden but they did an awful lot of damage in this country so I don’t worry too much about Dresden. You know, I just don’t worry. It was bombed.
[recording paused]
EW: Everybody’s attitude hardened you know. Even us. Even us as young kids.
[recording paused]
EW: I think a lot of people of my age who went —
[recording paused]
MS: I just want to check that the thing’s counting up [pause] Yeah. It’s, the recorder I believe is behaving in a very strange way. I think what it’s doing is when we go quiet it goes on to a different —
EW: Oh, it will do.
MS: It starts. Yeah. I’m going to, this is something I’ll look at later but it’s recording properly anyway. I want to ask you about something which is not a very pleasant time in your life. 1943 was when you were on the, the top of the —
[recording paused]
EW: Mother [pause] went to Sheffield to see her mother and father and she had quite —
[recording paused]
EW: Had a shelf around the room with a lot antiques on it.
[recording paused]
EW: And at the time she said, ‘I’m going to Sheffield.’
[recording paused]
EW: She said, ‘You and Linda — ’
[recording paused]
EW: She went to Sheffield and —
[recording paused]
EW: She wasn’t in a good way at all and the doctor moved her in to Lincoln County Hospital. And —
[recording paused]
EW: From what I remember of course they used to shelter things from you as kids, they used to shelter things from you, was that there was another raid while mother was in Sheffield.
[recording paused]
EW: She got an injury and that’s why doctor put her, when she managed to get home. Don’t ask me how but she did.
[recording paused]
EW: The doctor put her in Lincoln County Hospital and —
[recording paused]
EW: Then of course there was another raid. A bad one in Sheffield. Grandad was injured but grandmother lost her life.
[recording paused]
EW: My sister agrees with me on this because we have talked about it.
[recording paused]
EW: She used, prior to that she used to tell us, ‘I shan’t be long before I’m home. I’m feeling —'
[recording paused]
EW: Point of sixty years afterwards we was all in Devon weren’t we having a bit of, sort of a bit of a family reunion and we was talking about this and she said, ‘Yes —'
[recording paused]
EW: I said, ‘I don’t even know where she was buried and — ’ I said, ‘Because I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral.’
[recording paused]
EW: My sister, who isn’t Linda really. They called her Rosalind but she got Linda as a shortening.
MS: Well short [laughs]
EW: So, she said, ‘Well, she’s in Burngreave Cemetery at Sheffield.’ So, I said, ‘Right.’
[recording paused]
EW: Finally, I don’t know who I we got in touch with. Did I get in touch with the Sheffield Bereavement Services?
AW: That’s right.
EW: Yeah.
[recording paused]
EW: By return of post they gave me all the information.
MS: This one we’re seeing here?
[recording paused]
EW: There’s that.
[pause]
[recording paused]
MS: Out here. What’s that then? That’s Burngreave Cemetery Summary Report.
EW: Yeah. That’s summary report.
MS: Yeah.
EW: There’s also, it’s a wonderful place. It really is.
MS: Was this war graves?
[recording paused]
MS: Chapel, Cemetery, Victims of the Great War 1914-1918. Remembered in Burngreave Cemetery.
EW: No. What is in here —
MS: Not the Great War obviously.
EW: No. What is in here is a lot of reference to the East Yorks Regiment which dad served in in the First World War.
MS: Right.
[recording paused]
EW: No. But as the years have gone on, you know and really —
[recording paused]
EW: Disabled daughter and another son and daughter that she’s —
[recording paused]
EW: I said about this. The funeral. I was at Doncaster when the funeral was held and my auntie and uncle went to the funeral and I said, ‘Why can’t I go?’ And I was told —
[recording paused]
EW: You get babes in arms at funerals now.
[recording paused]
MS: Can I ask you a question? It’s a bit personal. You lost your —
[recording paused]
EW: It was difficult. I mean Auntie Marie does —
[recording paused]
EW: For me and a lot for my sister. And it wasn’t until dad employed a housekeeper —
[recording paused]
EW: And she moved in and sorted everything out and then —
[recording paused]
EW: When I was in Doncaster I went to another school and this was a lot of problem with my education. I chopped and changed that many schools you know and you had to make fresh lot of friends and all the rest of it but no it was just that I was told, ‘You’re not old enough to go to a funeral.’ You know.
[recording paused]
MS: What I want to do now is I want to —
EW: My sister went.
MS: Oh yeah.
EW: And it was a very bad day apparently and Burngreave Cemetery is, I regard it as being a little bit of a unique set up because as you’re going —
[recording paused]
EW: In to the cemetery, goes between those two chapels. Now, one of the chapels was where all services was held for —
[recording paused]
EW: Chapel was where services was held for other denominations as it were.
[recording paused]
EW: And it’s more or less derelict today.
AW: Shame.
EW: Yeah.
[recording paused]
EW: There which we have done, haven’t we?
AW: Not for a while though.
EW: Not for a while.
[recording paused]
EW: Difficult drive to get there quite honestly. It’s alright. We do —
[recording paused]
EW: Grandad bought the plot and they’ve all gone in there.
[recording paused]
EW: It’s difficult.
MS: Because?
EW: Well, it’s consecrated ground of course and the strange thing about this, my sister said that when she was alive she said —
[recording paused]
EW: ‘When you go to Burngreave,’ she said, ‘Take a Rosemary bush and plant it on the grave. She said Rosemary was mother’s favourite plant. So we took this little Rosemary bush, didn’t we? I took a trowel with me and all the rest of it and I thought, I’m digging down and I thought this is —
[recording paused]
EW: I didn’t know what to do about this, you know. I thought well I have to plant the Rosemary bush but what’s that canister?
[recording paused]
MS: Not far down.
EW: No.
MS: Very odd.
EW: Virtually on the top, isn’t it?
AW: Ahum.
EW: Because it’s quite stony ground. And anyway, I mulled this over for quite a while about this and finally I got in touch with Sheffield Bereavement Services and we arranged to meet the people who looked after the cemetery and —
[recording paused]
EW: It was round.
MS: Yeah.
EW: And it was some sort of plastic. Or like plastic material.
MS: Was it grey?
EW: A greyish yellow.
MS: I’ve seen an urn for a —
[recording paused]
EW: The, the people that looked after the cemetery. They came up and they dug it up and they said, well there’s no reference to who it is, but they confirmed that it was ashes.
[recording paused]
MS: Propose to do at the moment is just pause the interview if that’s ok to give you a break. Yeah. And for me to also check that this is still working. Is that, ok? It had better be.
AW: Would you like a cup of tea?
[recording paused]
MS: I’d love a cup of tea please. The interview is paused at half past eleven. Eric, thank you very much so far. I’m just going to make sure this is working.
[recording paused]
MS: I’m from Lancashire. Anita’s from Bristol. Thanks Audrey. Right.
[recording paused]
MS: Right. Resuming the interview with Eric Wright. It’s now twelve minutes past twelve. Eric, thank you and Audrey for the tea and biscuits and the laugh in the interim. Let’s [pause] I wanted to just ask you about something. You showed me some photographs just now and they were of Belsen camp. The place where—
[recording paused]
EW: We used to have church services at Belsen. Belsen. And we used to go down there and do whatever we could do to clear the place up because it was in a very rough state of course. It’s not like it —
[recording paused]
EW: Walk through the woods and even see the gas chambers which were in a more or less in a semi-derelict condition. Tumbled down. But you know the sort of shower rows? They were still there which were told, or they told people that they were going to get a shower and the shower went in and the gas actually went through them. But walking through the woods you never heard the birds singing or anything. There was uniform buttons and buckles off belts and that sort of thing.
[recording paused]
EW: You know, how? You know, why did they do this? And it was really even for a young man sort of eighteen, nineteen it was very depressing.
MS: Was that the age you were at the time?
EW: Yeah.
MS: So, this was just six years after the war ended.
EW: Well, I was nineteen at the time when I was at Belsen. Yeah. Yeah.
[recording paused]
EW: We was there basically to do cleaning up. It was mainly fatigues which the regiment did periodically and had a church service there on a Sunday.
MS: You were in the Royal Artillery, I understand.
EW: Yeah.
[recording paused]
MS: You just told me a second ago about the, your smiling, the disposal of ammunition in Hartsholme Lake just outside Lincoln.
EW: Yeah.
MS: What happened there then?
EW: When they closed Hartsholme Lake down, Hartsholme, sorry Skellingthorpe Aerodrome down, all the ammunition, or a lot of the ammunition was dumped in Hartsholme Lake, at the north end of the island. And there must be a massive amount of scrap copper down there or brass.
MS: Yeah.
EW: Brass cartridges. If anybody dares, dare dredge it out but also the schoolkids at Skellingthorpe Road School we used to go down there and we used to persuade the man who was dealing with the ammunition to take the business end off the, off the cannon shells and give us the cordite strips that was inside. Once we got these we used to wrap them up very tightly in brown paper and bind them up with string and then stick a little bit of cordite in the end and light it and it used to run all over the school playground. And it was what we called scarlet runners. And we used to do this until the headmistress [laughs] headmistress found out where we was getting it from and all the rest of it and then it was very quickly stopped.
MS: Who actually taught you how to do it?
EW: I don’t know. I know who the main ring leader was. It was a chappie called Tony Patten. He could be [laughs] Tony Patten was in to everything but you didn’t get in to trouble during the war. You didn’t get in to trouble at all. You didn’t cause any problems. They’d got enough problems with Hitler. And the park keepers at Boultham Park, I’ve been chased by them. I’ve had my earhole warmed by them. And the police. It used to be the flat of the hand, you know and then they used to say, ‘Where do you live?’ You used to tell them where you lived and they used to go home, tell your dad. He used to stop your pocket money. And you used to get another good hiding. And I’m still here at fifty, at eighty five [laughs] none the worse for it.
MS: It’s not affected you at all has it?
EW: No. No [laughs] No. No, you didn’t. You just didn’t cause any trouble at all.
MS: What was the best thing you remember about the war years as a child?
[recording paused]
EW: Occasion. I can’t let this go. On Boultham Park Road there was a shop called Brancasters. It was a general store.
[recording paused]
EW: Information that they got some chocolate bars in there which was as scarce as rocking horse droppings of course.
[recording paused]
EW: Coupons so, which we produced them. He said, ‘Well, with the coupons you’ve got,’ he said, ‘I can let you have a Mars bar to share between you.’
[recording paused]
EW: Others, we used to go fishing.
[recording paused]
EW: And we used to make our own jam butties and take them down and we used to down on the Witham at the back of what is now Walker’s Crisps and we used to fish and that river was crystal clear. You didn’t need, the rods we made ourselves and all this sort of thing and we used to fish until we got fed up with it and then it used to be a case of take our clothes off and in the water. Anyway, one day I was fully dressed and I went home wet through and dad said, ‘What you have you been doing?’ I said ‘I fell in the river.’ He said, ‘You’re not going fishing again,’ he said, ‘Until you’ve learned to swim.’ So I was sent to learn to swim to a friend of his who was in the Yorkshireman Society with dad because he was in to that and he, on my first lesson he said, ‘You’re not going to take long to get going.’ So, he said, ‘You can swim.’ He said, ‘Where did you learn that?
[recording paused]
EW: I said, ‘I learned in the river with the others.’ [laughs] You know. And they were, they were really good times. We used to go down there with you know possibly a bottle of pop which was a glass bottle with a charge on the bottle which we used to take back and get the money. And we used to just while away the time fishing or swimming until the girls got to know.
MS: Ah.
EW: And they came, the girls used to come down from, you most probably knew them, I don’t know they used to come down from Russell Street and all the rest of it because they knew we were swimming in the nude like. So, we used to get in the water and we wouldn’t come out.
AW: Oh dear.
MS: Do you think they knew that as well?
AW: It’s a wonder they didn’t pinch your clothes.
EW: Well, I don’t know. I think we had, we had a good system all around really. But no, we used to make all our own amusement, you know. We, we used to go to football occasionally and it was a leather football with a blow-up bladder inside it.
MS: Yeah.
EW: And it had to be laced up and one of the masters at Sincil Bank School, that was Eric [Jobley] who, I think he was the science master there. I’m not sure.
[recording paused]
EW: We used to take it to him and he used to repair it and put it all back together and lace it up.
[recording paused]
EW: So, football. Cricket was a little bit different because you weren’t dependant —
[recording paused]
MS: You’re a Yorkshireman. You should be able to play cricket.
EW: Yeah. I know. Play on the, on the mining ground where they used to use a lump of coal as a ball.
MS: Makes you hard [laughs] I need to ask you now, if it’s alright about, you told us a little bit. You told us about Belsen. You were in the Royal Artillery. How long were you in the Royal Artillery for?
EW: Officially two years.
MS: Was it conscription?
[recording paused]
EW: Conscript, this was another story.
MS: Yeah. Go on.
EW: I don’t —
[recording paused]
EW: I went in —
[recording paused]
EW: There was quite a few of us. I mean I knew one or two of them that was with me at the time. We got kitted out which was —
[recording paused]
MS: They tell you you’ll grow into it.
EW: Yeah. That’s right. Anyway, the common gag is and you’ve got to have heard this before. The only thing that fit me was my tie.
MS: Yes.
EW: So, when we, when we got in to barracks at Oswestry we were saying, ‘Hey, this doesn’t fit me. Does it fit you?’ [laughs] and all this. Some people with trouser legs that short [laughs] Oh, it was crazy. It was. Anyway, we was shipped out, on from there to Tonfanau in Wales. And that was training. That was the start of training and I can always remember Sergeant Feint, Bombardier Routledge, and Lance Bombardier Spalding. They got us all altogether and they said, ‘We’ve got a job to do on you lads. We’ve got to smarten you up and get you trained up and you’ll not like what we’re going to do but you’ve got to put up with it. You’re now in the employment of the Queen.’ [laughs] What have you. And I shall never forget them as long as I live and they told us that. ‘You’ll not forget us three for the, you know for the rest of your life.’ And I didn’t. It suited me. Tonfanau. In fact, we went back didn’t we?
AW: We went on holiday, didn’t we?
EW: Yeah. And the camp’s not there. Its, it’s a shame really but it’s not there.
[recording paused]
EW: But it was, you know in the mountains and all the rest of it.
MS: Is it South Wales?
EW: Yeah.
MS: It’s lovely down there.
[recording paused]
EW: And [unclear] and all the rest of it and the firing range on there and all that so —
[recording paused]
EW: We’d finished training.
[recording paused]
EW: It was a competitive thing. There were three batteries. A, B and C and they used to do it as competitive. The one who gets, one who wins out of the three batteries there was a prize.
[recording paused]
EW: I got with a right set of, you know, I got with a right set of good lads. They really were and we won it. So, what’s the prize? ‘You’re going to get Christmas holiday. ‘So that’s alright. I had to go half way across Louth. Seventeen hours it took me across to get there. We got the travel warrants and all the rest. We’d one lad with us from Ireland. A chappie called McRory.
[recording paused]
EW: Kit with me. He said, even my rifle. He said, he said, ‘My brother’s been in the Irish Fusiliers,’ or whatever it was, ‘And said he’ll show me how to bull it all up and get it all done.’ And he said, ‘The only trouble is,’ he said, ‘My warrant’s going to take me as far as Liverpool.’ He said, ‘To get across to Ireland from there,’ he said. ‘I can’t afford it.’ So we had a whip around and he got his money to get him home.
[recording paused]
EW: Never came back.
MS: Rifle and all.
EW: No rifle. I always used to say it was the start of the IRA.
MS: Was it a Lee-Enfield?
EW: Yeah.
MS: They’ve got plenty of their own.
EW: But from there we went down to Woolwich on embarkation leave and we was in Woolwich for, I don’t know for about three weeks but we got eighteen day leave before that.
[recording paused]
EW: I was told I was going to the 12th light ack ack. You know, where all the small blokes went to the light. Big blokes went to the heavy ack ack. And we went to Trieste but fortunately I wasn’t there for very long. It was a mucky filthy place
MS: Trieste.
[recording paused]
EW: We had, one of the bad things about Trieste we had biscuit mattresses on the beds.
[recording paused]
EW: We had to throw them out the barrack window on to a trailer and if they were left there too long you could see the fleas jumping on. You know, it was grim. Anyway, we left. We left Trieste and we was on board ship and I’ve still got to look at the map and work out just exactly where we went —
[recording paused]
EW: For four days and then we went from —
[recording paused]
EW: I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed Wales mainly.
[recording paused]
EW: And I saw the monkeys at Gib.
[recording paused]
EW: Was on Malta. And we was at Malta for five weeks for a firing camp and the thing I —
[recording paused]
EW: All the rest of it and the one thing that I always remember was the open sewers.
[recording paused]
EW: The black flies. They didn’t bite you or anything like that but they were big.
[recording paused]
EW: Moved on. Being the youngsters in the regiment we moved on as the advance party to Germany and we went to Celle.
[recording paused]
EW: Extra training. We got our Christmas leave and when we got back to camp they said, ‘You’re behind with your training. You’ve had Christmas leave so we’re going to give you further, further training.’ And I didn’t know what this meant at the time. I don’t think the others knew what it meant so we had extra —
[recording paused]
EW: Weeks, I think, training which was very hard.
[recording paused]
EW: Anyway —
[recording paused]
EW: I was in Germany. They got a group of us together.
[recording paused]
EW: If you look at my Army records and you’ve got them in number there’s no mention of the five months I had in Korea.
MS: Is that right?
[recording paused]
EW: Records.
MS: And yet there’s nothing on it.
EW: Nothing on.
MS: That’s devious.
EW: Exactly. As I say there’s no record of that time. Just a straight two year National Serviceman. When I applied for my veteran’s badge and they said yes you were so and so —
[recording paused]
EW: For that five months we were paid as regulars which was alright for us. You know. We used to take, you know, very thankful. We’d nothing. Nothing to spend it on.
MS: No.
EW: So, I came out with eventually when I came out because it took us I would think nearly a month to get to Korea and it took us more or less the same period of time to get back and during that time my father didn’t know where I was. All my letters home, he used to write me a letter and chew me off for not writing but I used to write and the letters used to go to Germany and then from Germany they used to be posted on to Louth and they used to have BAOR 23 on them. But I wasn’t and the letters were vetted. We weren’t allowed to say where we were.
MS: Did you do any live firing in Korea?
[recording paused]
EW: Right. If you look at that eyebrow.
MS: Yeah.
EW: Right. It’s a lot thicker.
[recording paused]
MS: Eyebrow.
EW: Yeah. I was lucky wasn’t I?
MS: Yeah. Shrapnel?
EW: No.
MS: A bullet.
EW: A live round, that was. Yeah.
MS: Strewth. Were you married at the time?
EW: No. It was before I even knew Audrey.
MS: So, you should have been called Lucky, not Shorty [laughs]
EW: [laughs] No.
MS: That is lucky.
EW: But the lad who was stood next door, well he wasn’t stood, he was under camouflage next door but one to me like I was saying to him, ‘Whatever you do, when you’ve fired, move, because your muzzle flash —
MS: Yeah.
EW: Gives you away.’ Anyway, I said, ‘What’s up George?’ I said, ‘Have you heard me?’ You know.
[recording paused]
EW: Whether it was the same bullet or not I’d like to know.
MS: Did it fracture your skull or —
[recording paused]
EW: Well, the, the problem was we hadn’t a reliable wireless operator. We was forward, you know. Moving up and passing the info back.
MS: Yeah.
EW: And blood was running down, you know. Down in to my eye. I couldn’t see what I was doing with my right eye at all because of the blood in it. Right. And —
[recording paused]
EW: And got through. We could do with a bit of a system see. There was just eight of us up and I think this was something to do with the number. Eight. Six and we’d got one man injured and another man out of this world like. Anyway, they eventually —
[recording paused]
EW: I don’t think we would have got out of it. The worst issue I ever had in Korea was when I first got there. I was on guard one morning and the sergeant came out. He said, ‘Is there much happening?’ I said, ‘There’s some blokes up there on the ridge.’ And there was this one chap, he said, ‘Take him out.’
[recording paused]
EW: And I come to the conclusion, the same as a lot of the others you did what you was ordered to do. Not what you would have done by choice.
MS: Yes.
[recording paused]
EW: Done a bit of shooting before I went in the Army. I was with Louth Old Mill Small Bore Club and all they, every time I went on the range it was done competitively like.
MS: Yeah.
EW: We used to be firing and I used to be doing pretty good with that and then it was sort of a couple of bob in the kitty and the winner took it. Well, I knew how to rig, rig the sights, fiddle the sights and all the rest of it so —
MS: You knew what you were doing.
EW: I knew what I was doing. And the strange thing at the end of all this, when I got back home I’d been home about a fortnight and I’d gone back to my old job and one of the lads there was in the Small Bore Club the same as me and he said, ‘You haven’t been down yet.’ I said, ‘No. I’m coming down.’ Anyway, I said to my stepmother, I said, ‘I’m going down to the Old Mill tonight.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘We’re not going to start with that again are we?’ She said, ‘We’re not going to start again with the police visiting to check your guns and check your gun covers and all the rest of it.’ I said, ‘No. We’re not.’
[recording paused]
EW: That’s what we’re about.
MS: Yeah.
EW: You’d got a job to do and you did it but, no.
MS: Didn’t rejoice in it.
EW: No.
MS: No.
[recording paused]
EW: It was nothing really looking back. I’m lucky to be here talking to you to be quite honest
MS: From that you are.
EW: Yeah.
MS: I’ll say. Yeah.
[recording paused]
EW: I’m not sure Audrey knows about it, do you?
AW: No. No. You’ve never said anything. I mean, it’s been quite enlightening.
[recording paused]
EW: Well, they, the thing, the thing about that you have remarks about it when I put the electric razor across my eyebrows.
MS: I could do with it on mine.
EW: I put that across. If I take too much off it does show. But no. No.
MS: Lucky man.
EW: Yeah. A lot luckier than —
[recording paused]
MS: Yeah.
EW: Now —
MS: Was he a close friend?
EW: He [pause] well, no. He wasn’t. He was, he’d got in as a National Serviceman. He was from Northampton and, you know you always get one and he was absolutely crazy that lad. He was —
MS: Comedian.
EW: Oh God, yeah. How rude can I be?
MS: As rude as you like. Close your ears ladies.
EW: Well, when we first went in, when we first got to a regiment one of the officers came in one day and he’d got us all in a lecture room and he was going around us all, ‘What did you do in Civvy Street?’ You see. Well, at that time I was in horticulture and that’s what I intended going back to.
[recording paused]
EW: He said, ‘What did you do?’ George Panther, they called him. He said, ‘What did you do?’ He said, ‘I made manhole covers, sir.’ So, he said, ‘Oh, you worked in the foundry did you?’ He said, ‘No. I wasn’t in the foundry.’ He said [laughs] ‘I worked in a ladies underwear factory cutting, cutting gussets out for ladies knickers.’ Now, you can imagine. You can imagine what that went down with the, with the other [laughs] other young lads. I shall never forget George for that.
MS: His card was marked.
EW: And no, he was, he was good fun to be all the, with all the time really, George was. Well, another one called Jeff [House] he was from Wiltshire. He was farming. And the camp where we were in Germany or the barracks where we were in Germany was an old German hospital and it had got very long corridors. And we used to be coming up from the cookhouse and Jeff used to be way down the corridor and I used to say to one of the lads, ‘Shout a number out.’ He used to shout a number out and I used to shout, ‘House.’ [laughs] He would turn around and say, ‘One of these days.’ There was such a lot of banter.
MS: Do you know, the guys you were working with in the regiment, I imagine a lot of them had service from the —
[recording paused]
MS: Did it make any difference to them? How they were?
EW: No. They with the sergeant that went out to Korea with us, he’d been through a lot of the campaigns during the war. They called him [Brogden] Irishman.
[recording paused]
EW: He would be telling you something and he would say, ‘Have you got it, lad? If you haven’t got it, get it. Got it?’
MS: That’s a catchphrase.
EW: But he was a super bloke to be with. You couldn’t have wanted to be with anybody else better than him.
[recording paused]
MS: Or tell us I should say.
EW: There will be something I remember. There’s been such a lot.
MS: Yeah. A long period of time. Anita, can you think of anything that needs covering that I’ve not covered?
[recording paused]
AS: The vehicles that you learned to—
EW: Oh, the vehicles.
AS: Operate in the, yeah.
EW: When I first got to Germany they said, ‘Have you —', ‘Can you drive?’ I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘Do you want to learn to ride a motorbike?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, if you like.’ And then because I was doing a lot of cycling I thought I might as well. That is just one point there with you being RAF. And I was dispatch riding and like the other three mates I had who was all non-smokers. That’s something you might be interested in. I was asked to go to Oldenburg with a load of paperwork all in the pannier on the bike and all the rest of it and it was very bad weather and the German roads very much like that. Cobblestone. And there was snow on them. I had a very hairy ride to Oldenburg. And when I got to Oldenburg the chappie on sentry duty lifted the barrier and I got halfway underneath it and he let it go and it dropped across my shoulders.
MS: Oh.
EW: So, I got, got back to camp and I went in to see the MOT officer the following morning. I said, ‘I want to come off of bikes.’ And I told him why. And he said, ‘Good. You’re just the man I want.’ He said, ‘You’re on a driving course from Monday.’ Right. So it was jeep.
MS: Yeah.
EW: With the canvas top where you put it in four wheel drive and then got out of it and walked up the square and started [laughs]
MS: What was this? Oh, you actually brought it with you. You just kept it going.
EW: Yeah.
MS: Oh right. I see. So you walked next to the vehicle.
EW: Yeah. We just used to get it going and then get out of them and walk in front of it.
MS: Right.
EW: Did all sorts of crazy [laughs]. It was jeep, fifteen hundred weight, a three tonner, three tonner with a water carrier on the back which was about three or four hundred gallon, wasn’t it? GTB which was an ammunition carrier. And half track which was possibility one of the best vehicles I’ve ever driven.
MS: Did you drive those on the —
[recording paused]
EW: Pass on all of them. And you only had a week on each. And I had a little sergeant at the side of me. Sergeant Warren. And if your hands weren’t in the right place on the wheel the swagger cane came over.
MS: Ten to two.
EW: Yes. Oh yeah. I still do, don’t I?
MS: Its very safe.
EW: So, then we used to get, after we passed, I passed them all. Passed all of them. All the lot. And then we used to get manoeuvrability trials and it was down to Celle, RAF and they used to have all sorts of obstacles fitted up and we had to reverse these three tonners with trailers on, on the, you know with the water carriers.
MS: Yes.
EW: And every so often they used to pick on you at parade. Manoeuvrability trials this afternoon. We had to drive the, which were Morris trucks I think with forty millimetre bofors on the back. We had to drive them because we were all part of a detachment. And what it was when I was trained up as, trained up as a limber gunner there was two limber gunners between two gun detachments. So you had two guns to look after on the —
[recording paused]
EW: Yeah. So, the sad thing is I came out and I was given my pink slip to take and get my suit.
[recording paused]
EW: They wouldn’t accept it would they because I hadn’t taken it soon enough. I should have took it in straight away.
MS: After you’d driven in all the other stuff.
EW: Yeah. So, dad wasn’t very well at the time and I think he’d had his first heart attack.
[recording paused]
EW: At Louth quite a lot so I’d go there and come back again.
[recording paused]
EW: That little scooter. Well, it wasn’t little. It was an NSU 175.
[recording paused]
EW: I took my test on that and straight afterwards I bought a little car. A little Austin A30.
MS: Nice little car.
[recording paused]
MS: Is there something we should know?
EW: Well, it took her to Sheffield to see Louis Armstrong anyway, didn’t we? And I straight away put in for my test and my test came through and the lads at work were saying, ‘Who have you got?’ I said.
[recording paused]
EW: Oh God. You’ve got the Mad Major you have.
[recording paused]
EW: In fact, it was the Highway Code. It’s not like it is now which is a load of rubbish I think.
MS: I agree.
EW: And he said, ‘Have you driven? Have you been in the Services?’ I said, ‘Yeah. I’ve been in the Army.’ He said, ‘Have you driven?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I thought so.’
[recording paused]
EW: ‘I’m going to pass you.’ He said, ‘And you’re the first person I’ve passed for thirteen weeks.
[recording paused]
MS: Done and dusted.
EW: Yeah.
MS: Yeah. Eric, we must stop now because we’ve got an appointment to go and look at a house.
[recording paused]
MS: In about an hour’s time. Yeah. I’ve got some paperwork to go through before we finish. Is that, ok?
[recording paused]
MS: We finish. Normally we thank you right at the end but I’ve actually enjoyed this conversation.
[recording paused]
MS: I haven’t had such a laugh for a while.
[recording paused]
EW: Well, it’s, it’s simple. The four lads, or the four of us were all non-smokers.
MS: Yeah.
EW: Right. And we got two hundred cigarettes a week ration.
MS: To sell.
EW: And we used to take them down Celle.
MS: Yeah.
EW: And we used to sell them to a delightful little Jew. A German Jew. And he really was, he was a super bloke.
MS: Yeah.
EW: He used to make a lot of money, we used to make a lot of money and it used to make the difference between civilian salaries and, and Army pay.
MS: So, it was obviously very healthy not to smoke.
[recording paused]
MS: What I’m saying —
EW: Dad used to enjoy it. I used to take him four hundred when I went on leave. ‘What did you pay for these?’ You know.
MS: I’m leaving the tape recorder on while I go through the last bits with you if you don’t mind. Yeah. A couple of things I need to check with you. First of all you’re happy with everything. It’s always the same. There’s always loads of paperwork. Right. First of all I’ve got to ask you a couple of questions. Do you confirm that you consented to take part in the interview?
EW: Yes.
MS: And are you happy to assign to the university all copyright in relation to this and in all and any media. And do you understand it won’t affect your own moral right to be identified as the performer in accordance with the relevant law?
EW: Yeah.
MS: Basically, it’s copyright.
EW: Yeah.
MS: Now are you happy? Do you agree that your name will be publicly associated with this interview but you understand that all personal details will be stored under strict confidential circumstances and will not be shared with —
[recording paused]
MS: Your name but nothing else.
EW: Yeah.
MS: Ok. Do you grant me permission to take a photo of you in a minute? A little portrait of you. You look lovely [laughs] What are you running out the room for?
AW: He’s got to put his make up on.
MS: I’m not there yet. I’m just saying [laughs] All right then.
AW: Don’t be long [laughs]
EW: I shan’t be long.
MS: Right. I am going to put the recorder off. Ok [laughs] Bear with me a second.

Collection

Citation

Michael Sheehan, “Interview with Eric Wright,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 6, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11780.

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