Interview with Robin Wright


Interview with Robin Wright


Robin was born in Norwich on 16th June 1937. His father was in the Royal Air Force in Manchester, and then in Thetford Forest where the Merlin engines were stored. He finished his service at RAF Marham. Robin spoke about his school days. He remembered a bomber crashing about half a mile from his home with everyone on board being killed. At the end of the war Robin was undernourished and sent to a special day school in Colman Road where the children were fed three meals a day. In 1947 the family went on holiday to Hemsby, near Yarmouth where German prisoners of war were digging land mines and barbed wire from the beach. Robin got called up for National Service in 1955 and went to Cyprus with the army. Since leaving school he had had 22 jobs. He thought that Bomber Command had done wonderful job.




Temporal Coverage




00:35:00 audio recording


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MC: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Mike Connock and the interviewee is Robin Wright. The interview is taking place at Mr Wright’s home in Branston, Lincoln on Monday the 12th of March 2018. Ok, Robin. Thank you very much for doing this interview. We’ll start a bit about the beginning so just tell me a bit about where and, when and where you were born.
RW: I was born in Norwich on the 16th of June 1937 in the nursing home on Drayton Road, Norwich and later moved to the Lakenham Estate on the south side of Norwich which was built in ’35. And I moved in when I was about a year old. Ok.
MC: Yeah.
RW: Now, we had an Anderson shelter at the top of the garden about seventy yards from the back door and I bloody hated it because they used to you wake up about nine o’clock at night. You’d been asleep you thought a long while. The Germans started to bomb so we had to get out of bed, a warm bed and go down in the cold with an earthen floor. No electricity. An old paraffin heater that used to send off dirty smoke and fumes. It was awful. So anyway that was, my father bought this shed, the shelter, an Anderson shelter at the end of the war off the city council at Norwich for seven and six pence and we just, we took it down and put it back on a cement plinth at the top of the garden and that was his garden shed. So that was that, then when we went to school I went to Cavell Road School in Norwich as I say right on the very edge of the city and we had a shelter built in to the playing ground and we used to get, when the bombers come over we used to go down there and we used to sing, we used to sing, “Ten green bottles hanging on the wall.” So that muffled the sound of the bombs [laughs] And I was there several years. The railway station, the main Liverpool Street to Norwich line ran right alongside the school so at 12 o’clock you used to see the East Anglian come in to Norwich. And there was a live train that went from the spur off the mainline to the back of our garden and it went into Victoria Station which is now a Sainsbury supermarket. But my mum was shaking a duster out the back bedroom window one day and along come a Jerry in a fighter and she said, ‘I saw him plain as hell sitting in the cockpit,’ but he was looking to bomb up steam trains. That was, that was what he was looking for.
MC: What did your father do?
RW: My father was in the RAF.
MC: Oh. Was he?
RW: And he was at, which is now Manchester Airport and he was in spares. And one time we did go up and stay because he was on a very private estate and they had a car which they could use. A black Morris. And they had a pond. And my mum and me went up there and stayed for a week as I remember it. And as I say my father moved from there to Thetford Forest. And they used to store the engines that came, the Merlin engines that came from Derby and Nottingham and they’d stack them there because all the bases were in the Norfolk Suffolk area and then when they come and pick up a new engine. And that was why there was three blokes and an officer. And one night they’re walking into Thetford to have a pint and the jeep, American jeep pulled up and said, ‘Do you want a lift lads?’ ‘Yes please.’ He said, ‘Where’s your transport?’ He said, ‘Oh we aint go no transport.’ But they were eating fortunately with the Americans so they were on fresh orange juice. Anyway, he said to them, ‘I know who are you are,’ he said. I’ll get a jeep for you tomorrow.’ So the next morning a brand new jeep arrives and they used to go just down to the, for the food. And once a week to Thetford for a drink. And about three months later an American officer come around. He said, ‘You’ve got jeep registration — ’ so and so. ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘It’s got to have a new engine.’ He said, ‘Well, we only go down the road.’ ‘Don’t matter,’ he said. ‘Got to have a new engine.’ That was the Americans for you. But as a young boy in school we had an American sergeant from the Air Force come in to school and we had to sit in the, on the floor in the school hall and he said, ‘Our rations for boiled sweets has come and we want to give it to the children. English children.’ So we were each given six sweets each. Boiled sweets. We were allowed to suck one and the rest were to take home with you. But I never gave mine, any of mine away. Anyway, that was that. Towards, well it was the end of the war Mr Moore of course was the only teacher. He was the headmaster. The rest of the teachers were old ladies. Very old ladies to me. And they just taught us the basics you see because all the teachers were in the forces. And one day he came with a blackboard and he’d got the Union Jack on it. Now, I’d only ever seen white chalk. I’d never seen red or blue chalk. And he says to us, ‘If this is outside tomorrow you’ve got three days off because it is the end of the Second World War.’ Well, I took no notice did I? Until the next morning. Goes around the front of the school and there’s a blackboard. So I turns tail and goes home. Well, my sister was born in ’44 so just about a year, nearly a year old in May. And I said to me mum, I said, ‘The war is finished.’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘Your dad’ll be home soon.’ And that was it. We didn’t have any parties. We were pretty hard up. We used to have a minimum amount of coal to put in the fireplace which heated the water and cooked on it and always had a kettle there because that would be boiling for tea and that. But we lived pretty, pretty basic life. And if I wanted anything to eat my mum would cut me a doorstep. That’s a large slice of bread. About three normal pieces with dripping. Pork dripping. And if you could get hold of the bottom of it which was the brown stuff where the blood was on it.
MC: Yeah.
RW: It was beautiful. That was a real good thing.
MC: I remember it well.
RW: But that was the end of that. We did have a bomber crash, because as I said beyond this top of the garden railway line there was nothing but fields and a bomber just missed the chimney stack and it crashed about half a mile away. And I never did find out who was in it but it crashed and all the ammo exploded and they were all killed. I only know this because my sister and this little girl were born at the same time and the father was an insurance agent but he was in charge of the Fire Brigade in Hall Road just above us and he’d been called out. And then I heard the next day that, you know they were all dead and the ammo had all gone up. And that was just between Hall Road and Ipswich Road on the Inner Ring road.
MC: You don’t remember what, you don’t know what type of aircraft it was?
RW: No. I don’t know if it was a bomber or I don’t know if it was an English bomber or an American bomber because it would most likely be —
MC: Lots of Americans there weren’t there?
RW: Yeah. But you see the Americans didn’t fly during the night.
MC: No. They didn’t.
RW: They didn’t.
MC: That’s true.
RW: They flew mostly during the day the Americans. The Eighth Air Force and Ninth Air Force.
MC: Yeah.
RW: Because they were based around Norwich. And the other was a Lancaster. More than likely been a Lancaster at that time. And so that was that one. Now then. What else? Oh. I was going to tell you about the school dentist. At the end of the war we all needed teeth treatment, you see. And they, they brought the dentist in to the school and set up with a nurse. And they used to come around to the classrooms and call your name out. Well, it was horrible because it was a foot drill. They didn’t have electric. It was foot drill. Drill the fillings in. And this nurse come around one day and I said to her, I said, ‘Have I finished the treatment now?’ ‘Yes,’ she said. And bugger me an hour later she came around and called my name out. I weren’t very happy about that I’ll tell you. What I can tell you about, at the end of the war I personally was undernourished and was sent to a special school in Colman Road, near Eaton Park on Eastern Counties number 2 bus which took about a dozen of us from our area to the school. And you got there for 9 o’clock and you were given porridge straight away. And after about three lessons at midday you had a meal. A cooked meal. And then this must have been in the summertime of ’46 because we were put outside on camping beds with blankets and we slept ‘til about 3 o’clock and then we were taken back home again. So that’s what happened. I think that —
MC: Where was that school?
RW: That was Colman Road School and it was near Eaton Park in, in Norwich.
MC: Oh, in Norwich.
RW: Off Unthank Road.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
RW: And so that went on, I think for about five months and then I was —
MC: ‘Til you got built up.
RW: Discharged. You wouldn’t think that today would you?
MC: No.
RW: Anyway, I’ve got to tell you about my dad. As I said he finished the service at Marham in Norfolk and I, at the end of the war I used to walk up with him on a Sunday afternoon so he could get the Eastern Counties 34 bus to Kings Lynn so he could get off at Marham. And my dad used to come home with candy bars. They were like chocolate bars but these were American you see. Candy bars. Well, I mean that was a hell of a treat that was. And then at the end of the war also my mother said to me, ‘Quick boy. Get the ration books. They’ve got bananas.’ And I said to me mother, ‘What’s a banana?’ Because you see I was eight years old but I’d never seen a banana. So I get up to the shop and got two bananas. One for my mum and one for me and I didn’t know what to do with it when I got it. So that was that. And in ’47 we went on holiday with the milkman and the milkman used to come around with an old RAF Commer van. About five hundred weight. And he, he scrubbed it out on a Saturday afternoon and it had canvas seats inside and we went to Hemsby near Yarmouth. Now, there’s not many kids in ’47 who went on holiday believe you me and we had a wooden holiday, a wooden bungalow on the beach. There was water but no sewerage. It was in a pan and in a shed and you didn’t want to be there Thursday because that’s when they went around and emptied them. And on the beach by the way was an old fighter plane, German fighter plane and we used to play on there. Now, if you’d have seen the jagged metal and that they’d have a fit today health and safety. But anyway we also had German prisoners of war there. They were in an old windmill and they were taking up by barbed wire and mines from the coast and they used to make rope sandals to sell to the holiday makers for ‘bacca money. And they were, they were still there the next year in ’48. They were still. They didn’t want to go back did they? There was nothing to go back to for them. So as I say it seemed dreary at the time and it was. You know. We got through but only for the, with the help of the Americans who gave, who gave us food. Sent food over for us.
MC: But they’re dreary.
RW: And then they —
MC: But good memories.
RW: And for them we must have hold them in the highest extreme.
MC: Yeah. So did you remember much about the types of aircraft flying around? Or did you see much of the aircraft?
RW: All I heard was all the bombers because they would fly around the Norwich area picking up the squadrons and then they headed for Cromer, Yarmouth or Southwold depending on where the raids were going to go on. And we, I remember after the war the Americans were still there and I was walking down to Thorpe Station on a Sunday evening and I met an American and he said to me, ‘Is there a train to — ’ oh God, what was the name of the station? It’s on the, it’s on the Norfolk coast near Cromer. It’s ever such a big base. And anyway I said, ‘No,’ I said, ‘You won’t get a train now.’ I said, ‘Your transport is up on the cattle market behind the Norwich Castle.’ So, he said, ‘Well, I can’t go there.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m half cast,’ he said, ‘The blacks don’t want me and the whites don’t want me.’ Yeah. So that’s a guy who fought in the war. So —
MC: Did you have any contact with any other aircrew from that, from around there?
RW: No. I didn’t. No. As I said I used to hear the bombers as they got ready to fly off in the evenings like you know. Depending on where they were going. You know. Berlin was a long way. Holland and France wasn’t. But fifty five thousand of our men died.
MC: Yeah. So, I mean obviously you know a fair bit about Bomber Command. What do you think about the job that they did?
RW: Oh fabulous. Fabulous job. A friend was telling me that if a cannon had hit a Lancaster’s rear gunner if there wasn’t ten pounds of flesh they weren’t buried. They were just washed out and another bloke got in the seat the next night. So, them sort of guys. For five pence a day. Crazy.
MC: Yeah.
RW: I don’t think that would happen today. I don’t.
MC: No. Probably not.
RW: And I think since the war things have deteriorated. There don’t seem to be any civility and people don’t have any spare time for you. And we seemed to be crowded. Everywhere seems to be crowded.
MC: So, what did your father do in the Air Force?
RW: He was only in spares.
MC: Oh, spares.
RW: He never was in the flying side. No.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
RW: No.
MC: Yeah.
RW: As I say he went from, oh God what did they call it? Manchester Airport.
MC: Yeah. No.
RW: It was [pause] I can’t remember off my head now but I remember going up there and staying in this fancy house. And my mother done the cleaning I think to pay her debts on the way. And then when we came home by train every damned station she was asking a serviceman where were we because she’d never been out of Norwich in her life. And never, and never did go after. After the end of the war. Farthest she went was Hemsby.
MC: So how did you come to leave Norfolk?
RW: Oh, I got, I got called up. National service in ’55. And I went to Suez in ’56. And then I was taken from there, they couldn’t get us out, we were only supposed to be there a fortnight. We were only there about a fortnight.
MC: Were you in the Air Force?
RW: No. I was in the Army.
MC: Army. Yeah.
RW: And they couldn’t get us home so we were ferried on an old steamer across to Cyprus and we landed at Limassol. And then we were taken to a camp. A transit camp near to [unclear] or somewhere. And then I finished up, they built a camp in, our own boy built a camp. A canvas camp. And they had Korean tents in the winter which held about twenty blokes but they had double canvas walls. And then we went to the ordinary four people in a tent. And square tent. But we did have a firebug in the camp who set fire to tents. We had to cut the poles quick and get out and never did find out. But we had an old corporal who was in the Second World War and he used to play the bagpipes and he used to come around at 6 o’clock in the morning blowing these bagpipes and there was a dog. Somebody had a dog and it [howling] in the morning [laughs] Yeah.
MC: That woke you up.
RW: Yeah. And we had a lieutenant who was from the Second World War. He, he was a toughie he was because we had a square camp with gun posts on each corner and two guys with 303 rifles going around the inside. And he got to these two blokes and he said, ‘What are you doing?’ They said, ‘We’re just patrolling, sir.’ Anyway, he grabbed the rifle off one of them because he was that close and he smashed the butt on his head. He said, ‘Don’t let me get that close again.’ Yeah.
MC: Yeah [laughs] So what work did you do when you left, left school?
RW: Oh, I’ve had twenty two jobs.
MC: Oh God [laughs]
RW: I’ve had two sackings. And I worked for two companies for thirty years. Yeah.
MC: Goodness gracious me.
RW: Yeah. So, I’ve been around but I spent nineteen years as a rep in Lincolnshire for Britvic soft drinks. And I also worked for Brooke Bond Tea as a sales rep in the Peterborough area. I used to go out to Oakham and places like that. I done that for eleven years. And one day I pulled up outside this supermarket in Stamford and there was a little boy and his mum and this little boy said to his mum, ‘Oh, look mum there’s one of those monkey men.’ I thought it was about time I changed my job. Yeah.
MC: So that brought you to Lincolnshire then.
RW: I, I lived in London for seven years and I met a girl from Enfield and couldn’t afford to buy a house so we, it was funny because I was talking to a guy on Twinings Tea outside this business where I was a rep and I said, ‘Oh, that would do me. A job like that.’ He said , ‘If you want to go in to this business,’ he said , ‘You want to join Brooke Bonds.’ So anyway, I went down. He told me where the depot was in Wood Green and I went down there and there was only a lady cleaner. She said, ‘You’ve got to get in touch with the head office at Cannon Street.’ So I wrote to them, got an interview and the bloke said, ‘Well, the only thing we’ve got at the moment,’ he said, ‘Is relief drivers for holidays and sickness.’ He said, ‘What do you really want?’ I said, ‘Well, I really would like to get back to Norfolk.’ So he said, ‘Well, look I’ll have a word with my counterpart at Bury St Edmunds.’ I said, ‘Oh, thank you very much,’ because I’d find out his wife come from Yarmouth, you see.
MC: Oh.
RW: So, you see we were on a par. So anyway I got a call to go and see this guy at Bury St Edmunds one Saturday morning. And I hadn’t got a car so I had to hire one. And he said, ‘I’ve got a chap retiring at Peterborough in January.’ This was about September. ‘Would you be interested?’ I said, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Yes, I would.’ But the money was only twelve pound fifty a week. I was on twenty quid a week in London. But you’ve got to remember the cost of living was much cheaper. So I moved to Peterborough. Twelve pound fifty a week. I bought a three, new three bedroomed semi-detached bungalow at a place just north of Peterborough. Dear me. And —
MC: Whittlesea.
RW: Eh?
MC: Whittlesea.
RW: No. That’s south.
MC: Oh, is it? Course it is. Yeah.
RW: No, it’s north. Werrington.
MC: Oh, I knew it was Werrington [laughs]
RW: Werrington. Yeah. Anyway, the bungalow was two thousand one fifty and I put a deposit of two hundred and ten pound down and I had to pay fourteen pounds fifteen shillings a month for rent. And then I moved from there to Bourne and I had a lovely four bedroom detached house on to the forest, Bourne Woods and that cost me, well the land was nine hundred but the total was four thousand six hundred. Yeah. Yeah.
MC: Amazing.
RW: And you could pick your own brick and what colour tile you wanted as well. Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
[recording paused]
RW: We had a siren on top of a telegraph pole in the British Rail services yard at the top of our road. And, and the other thing I can remember as well we had the 88 bus and —
MC: This is when you were a child.
RW: No. This was ’46.
MC: Oh ’46. Yeah.
RW: This is ’46. And walking up the road and the bus suddenly stopped and it was Remembrance Sunday and everybody got off the bus including the driver got out of the cab and just stood for the three minutes.
MC: Two minutes.
RW: Two minutes.
MC: Yeah.
RW: Yeah. And also about ’47 I went to the, with my father to the City Hall in Norwich and its Memorial Gardens at the front and it was Remembrance Sunday and it was like a football match. There was thousands. Oh, and the other thing I want to tell you was they had Orford Place in the city is now a Debenhams store. But before that it was called Bonds and it was a large department store and it took a direct hit. And I saw when they cleared it out, Brigg Street was to the north side of the Orford Place and the cellars, you could see the cellars below the shop but I, I would say that it was at least seventy foot deep and they used that as a fire hydrant to fight fires in the city. In Norwich. And that was a massive hole that was. And Norwich took a battering with a sort of a Blitz in ’42. April 26, 27th. Because we’d bombed Lubeck Hitler ordered that they should bomb Norwich. Twenty eight aircraft bombed the city. A hundred and sixty two people were killed. Six hundred were injured. They used forty one tonnes of high explosive and three tons of incendiary bombs. And there was a, opposite Colman’s Mustard factory near the river Yare there was some cottages and an old boy I used to imagine was probably a pensioner, he was eighty four years of age and the bomb hit the house. He was upstairs in bed and he finished up in the front garden still in the bed. Unfortunately, he had his daughter and a granddaughter of sixteen in the house and they were both killed. Yeah. Oh, I have two cousins. Three cousins. Two girls and a boy and they lived in a slum in a Coronation Street like houses. And Boulton and Pauls which is on the River Yare was a factory. A wood place. They thought the Defiant and the Mosquito were being built there but they weren’t. My uncle, who was a foreman went to Wolverhampton and his family for the duration of the war building planes. Now, I don’t know if there were Boulton and Paul Defiant or Mosquitoes but I rather think they were Defiant. Anyway, Boulton and Paul’s factory, this bomb was aimed at there and it was only about half a mile off and it came this side of the river and bombed the last house in this row of cottages and seven people were killed. Now, my grandmother lived on our road and she said to her son, George who’d got the three children, ‘You can’t stay there George. You must bring them children out. We’ll swap.’ So, George and the three cousins moved into our road and my grandmother went to live in this cottage. It was a pretty damn poor state of affairs. And they’re still alive today and I still see them every year. Maybe twice a year. They both, two in, three of them live in Norwich still. Yeah. But that was close call. That was a close call. We did have bombs drop on Lakenham but they dropped in the fields and they didn’t do any damage. And I remember ’46 ’47 was a terrible winter. Bitterly cold and it didn’t clear ‘til May but we had an Anderson shelter. The side of an Anderson shelter. They’re zinc. They don’t rust. And you can get six on it and a box to sit on but you couldn’t guide it. It was too bloody fast. So when we got down the bottom of a field you jumped off. You rolled off there on to the snow because it used to hit the edge. You know, this bit. And then we had to drag it back up again. Yeah. And we also used to go down Sandy Lane. And at the bottom of Sandy Lane was a cottage where a water mill was and she used to put her embers from her fire out on the road so that’d slow the sledges down and we went by. Yeah. But there was just by this wind, sorry, water mill. It was called the Lakenham Cock and there was a pub called the Cock Inn. So we used to go in there in the summer. Mum and dad and my sister and we’d have a pop. A bottle of lemonade and a packet of crisps and sit outside on the front of the river. Wow that was a treat that was. Yeah. Oh, during the war Italian prisoners were on Scotsman’s Meadow which is on the road to Stoke Holy Cross just by the estate and we had a river there and we, in fact I learned to swim in it but it wasn’t very good because the cows were also in the water drinking and doing other things and we used to swim in it. But anyway these Italian prisoners were brought in to build [pause] dig a dyke just off the river so that the cattle didn’t go in the river and they went to this dyke. But it wasn’t long before it was overgrown and back to normal. But they were Italian prisoners of war they were.
MC: Were there any German prisoners of war there?
RW: Only what I met on Hemsby.
MC: Oh yeah, you said.
RW: I met them at Hemsby beach. They were digging, as I said land mines and barbed wire out of the beach. Yeah. And that was ’47 when I first met them. When I first saw them and they were brewing tea like for the lads.
MC: So you’ve developed a bit of an interest in the Air Force then.
RW: Well, yes and the history of the Second World War. Yeah. And I’ve been to Auschwitz. That was something that was. I remember seeing all the sandals and the, what else was there? Combs. There were stacks of them in there you know. What was left. But it was a terrible place. You can’t think how one race could treat another. But at the end of the day they got their comeuppance. They didn’t think they were going to lose. In fact, I think if they had bombed for another ten days cities and Air Force bases I think they could have flown in. And it was only that that was that close. It was only that Hitler withdraw the main Air Force to go to Russia. So it was a very close call.
MC: Yes. Indeed it was. Yeah. So, you met, you met your wife —
RW: In London.
MC: In London after the war.
RW: She was Irish.
MC: Oh was she? Yeah.
RW: Yeah. I didn’t know but she got thrown out of the IRA for cruelty. How lucky can you get? And then I met a bloody woman who’s lived with me when I first bought this place and she was an alcoholic. So I’ve been unlucky with women. Anyway, by the way this is my house in Norwich with my mum and dad.
MC: So, Roy.
RW: Roy lived in Enfield and was a pal in mine at this dance school at North Twenty, Barnet High Road. Anyway, in ’53 I went with a chum from Norwich to Caister on Sea Holiday Camp. And there was five girls from Enfield. Ok. I didn’t know where Enfield was then. So anyway I used to do the Creep. You done two steps and rocked and two steps and rocked and I thought I was the cat’s whiskers going around this ballroom. And the band was the [Harmison] brothers and there was five brothers in the band. And they had a special railway line that went through the camp. It went from Norwich to Yarmouth and up the coast to Caister and Hemsby. Only on a Saturday. To take holidaymakers from the East End and London area and they had their own platforms and they used to go as far as Hemsby because I remember seeing the train turn around and the stack of steam coming out. Then he’d pull in, pull up the people who were going home. Same at Caister. And then run back to London Liverpool Street. Yeah. Anyway, the rail was still underneath the sand dunes there at Haven Leisure. Caister on Sea Holiday Camp. The first holiday camp opened in 1903 and people took their own provisions and piled all in together and they cooked their own meals. Yeah. They were in tents in them days. That was the thing there.
[recording paused]
RW: Now, Hadley Woods. Do you know it?
MC: Yeah.
RW: Between Potters Bar and Barnet. And I lived with a chauffeur and his wife and he, he was from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. And their name was Death but they were stockbrokers and it was pronounced Deeth. And they used to go to Scotland in winter time for a shoot. Stags. So we used to get venison. Yeah. Which the chauffeur used to bring back. Yeah. Oh, I told you about Elaine Paige. It’s her there. There. Yeah. That was in the North Twenty Dance School that was. Yeah.
MC: Well, Robin thank you very much for that. That was, that was excellent. No, that was excellent. Thank you for all, all your time and thank you for the interview. Thank you very much.
RW: Yeah. I think that’s about —



Mike Connock, “Interview with Robin Wright,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 22, 2024,

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