Interview with Geoffrey Charles Spencer


Interview with Geoffrey Charles Spencer


Geoffrey Spencer grew up in Birmingham and worked with his father in tool making, carrying out fire watching as a youngster. He joined the Air Force in August 1943, aged 18. After training, he served as a flight mechanic and fitter with 49 Squadron at RAF Fiskerton and 189 Squadron at RAF Fulbeck. He worked in the maintenance hangar and on the flights, and describes a crash landing in a Lancaster after an air test, as well as an accident while refuelling a Stirling. He was posted to Singapore in 1945, where he serviced engines on high-speed launches. He was de-mobbed in July 1947 and, after the war, worked in the tool making industry in the UK until he retired.




Temporal Coverage




00:53:04 audio recording


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HB: This is an interview for International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive between Harry Bartlett and Geoffrey Charles,
GS: Spencer.
HB: Spencer. We’re at Sutton Coldfield. It’s the 23rd of January 2019. Right Geoff, the floor’s yours, so I understand you come from this sort of area anyway, before the war.
GB: Well I were born in Birmingham and I lived in Erdington before I moved to Sutton Coalfield.
HB: Right.
GS: But I joined the RAF from when I lived in Erdington and the first place I went to was Cardington for eight weeks’ square bashing and then they moved me to Cosford, RAF Cosford and I did a flight mechanic’s course.
HB: You know before you joined, did you actually go to school in Erdington?
GS: Oh yeah, when I was in Erdington, from when I was fifteen, I joined the Air Training Corps and I did three years with the Air Training Corp prior to going in to the RAF.
HB: So did you get called up or did you volunteer?
GS: I volunteered.
HB: Why did you volunteer?
GS: I don’t know, because they called me, one day after me eighteenth birthday, which I thought was a bit naughty! But that’s it, they sent me there. But anyway -
HB: Sorry, where was your ATC unit?
GS: At Dunlop, Erdington, Dunlop, the big Dunlop factory there, which is still there, part of it and we did all our Air Training Corp training which was a Sunday parade and whatever we did in the week, taking exams and things to get what they call PNB status which was pilot, bomb aimer and bomb aimer and you had to take various exams to pass that exam and you were given a proficiency badge then, when you’ve acquired that, and then you had to wait around and we went to various squadrons, RAF squadrons, Swinderby was one, you know Swinderby, don’t you.
HB: I do, I do.
GS: And we also, oh where else, oh, Fradley, RAF Fradley.
HB: Don’t know Fradley, no.
GS: Litchfield.
HB: Oh right!
GS: 27 OTU that was. I went to that one.
HB: Ah, right! So when you did the ATC training, did you get to fly?
GS: Yes, we did fly. Actually we flew from, in Wellington Bombers when we were at Fradley, time expired Wellington bombers, the wings flapped, they were terrible things, and we went up without chutes. we used to just go down to the airfield at night and cadge flights. And then after that I flew a lot when I was on the squadron at Fiskerton, and I also flew in York aircraft. When, when we flew out to, to Singapore, we flew out by York aircraft from Lyneham, which is still going apparently, but it took five days.
HB: Yeah, I can imagine. So you did your ATC training, you got called up, what were mum and dad doing at the time?
GS: My father was a toolmaker and I worked for him as an apprentice.
HB: Ah right. Had he got his own business?
GS: He’d got his own business, yeah. Not a very big business, but it was a business, then in 1950 he sold it all and moved down to Cornwall, farming.
HB: So your mum and dad are there, you’ve been called up a day after your eighteenth birthday.
Nicola: He’d volunteered to go. Wasn’t called up.
GS: I volunteered for the RAF, yes. I’ve got a sister but she was in the ATS.
HB: Right. Is she older than you, is she older than you?
GS: Yes, three years older than me.
HB: That would explain it. So you go and report, and they say here’s your travel warrant.
GS: Yep, I volunteered at Dale End in Birmingham, right in the centre, that’s it. Then, I say, went to Cardington, eight weeks square bashing and then I went to Cosford and did a flight mechanics course. I don’t know whether you know, but in the RAF there were five trades starting with Group One which was the expert and Group Two which my lot, flight mechanics. Three, four and five you finished up with the bog cleaners, you know, yeah, that was group five, they didn’t do anything. Well from Cosford I went to Fiskerton, 49 Squadron. And I was put into the hangars there servicing the Lancasters, I did a fifty hour service. And from there I was sent out on the flights, B Flight I was on, servicing the Lancasters before they flew on ops. You’re okay, getting all this down are you?
HB: Yep, it’s, I just have to keep an eye on the batteries, that’s all, Geoff.
GS: At Fiskerton. And I used to fly there, used to fly at night time. You had to sign a form, Form 700, to say that you’d serviced the aircraft and you were satisfied. And the pilots invariably said have you signed the 700, yes I have to, said right go and get a parachute, you’re flying with me, if you’ve serviced the aircraft, I want to make quite sure.
HB: His guarantee then!
GS: That was the guarantee. I used to fly that was it. Anyway I used to watch them go out every night. Count how many came back and there was always a few missing.
HB: How did you feel about that?
GS: Not very happy. And then, from Fiskerton, they had FIDO. Do you remember that? You remember FIDO?
HB: Well, I remember it, but some people don’t, what was FIDO.
GS: FIDO was two pipelines joining along the runway which they set alight, which cleared the fog.
Nicola: With fuel dad, was it? Did it, was it fuel?
GS: Hundred octane fuel they used, I don’t know how many thousand gallons every time. One time we went to nearby Waddington, you know that don’t you, doing engine change on a Lancaster and then the pilot said well I’m on ops tomorrow so I’ll fly you back, and during the time from Waddington to Fiskerton, which was only about ten mile, the fog came down and the pilot said - he phoned down the ops tower - and they said well we’ll light FIDO for you, which they did. But the thing is when the fog clears it creates a heat haze, and the pilot said it’s gonna be a bumpy landing.
HB: Oh no!
GS: So we made the approach and he said the alternative, he said, I shall have to crash land it. And the sergeant that was with me at the time, he said, if you do that, we’ve just done an engine change, he said you’ll have to change the bloody lot! [Laughter] Which was quite true. Anyway, he made a very bumpy landing, the brakes failed, so we turned off the runway at about fifty mile an hour and he says hold on we might not be able to stop, but he stopped right in front of the watch tower. And at that time, back at Fiskerton the squadron split up. 49 Squadron went to Syerston, you know Syerston, and 189 Squadron which I was seconded to went to Fulbeck, which was south of Waddington. That’s where you’ve got that bit mixed up I think. [Sounds of paper rustling]
HB: And that was with 189 Squadron.
GS: Yeah. Who were also at Bardney.
HB: Yeah, that’s sort of, answered that sort of little hiccup there.
GS: Well from there they sent me on a Fitter One course at Henlow, which puts it in the right order.
HB: I’m just interested in that Geoff. When you went to RAF Cosford, they would train you as a flight mechanic on all the various engines, the Merlins, the Hercules, you know, all those engines. So when you actually got posted out, you were working on, what sort of engines were you working on then, with the Lancs?
GS: Merlins.
HB: You were working on the Merlins.
GS: Merlin 20s.
HB: So what was the difference between doing your training as a flight mechanic and your training as a fitter?
GS: I don’t know, it was just more sophisticated, more intricate details on the Merlin engine. For instance, I can remember doing a block change on the Merlin engine, which if you’d been a flight mechanic was unheard of. We were in, one of the aircraft came into the main hangar and we did a, and a V12, and we did a block change, which is quite intricate.
HB: So the block is the bit where the pistons go up and down.
GS: That’s right, that’s it, six on each, which was quite a big job doing that. Which we managed okay and that’s when after Fulbeck they sent me to Henlow on that Fitter One’s course. Where did I go from there?
HB: Did you have, obviously you passed the course.
GS: Yeah, I did, I passed with honours on that actually, I did quite well.
HB: Did you get promoted and more money?
GS: I got promoted; I got my props. I was an LAC, so I was quite chuffed with that. And then I went to Holmsley South, now that’s a place in the New Forest, right down the south. I was only there a month, then I went to Duxford for about a month, which was on Spitfires.
HB: Was this all the while working on the engines?
GS: Yes.
HB: For just like a month.
GS: I was a Group one Tradesman then see, I was more useful to them. And then, now where did I go, oh, I went to a place called Hinton in the Hedges which is in Oxfordshire. And when I go there - no aircraft - and the whole airfield was full of airc – of lorries and all the maintenance stuff and what they were doing, they were, all the airfield’s completely covered in all sorts of lorries and all sorts, aircraft carriers and all this sort of business and they’d bring them round into the main hangar, which was still there, service them and put them out back into the airfield and eventually they were dispersed to the place that they wanted them. But, I was wasting my time there, of course.
HB: I was going to say what were they using you for then Geoff?
GS: Well they were using me for, to going out on my bicycle to any of the lorries that were, various types of lorries, bring them into hangars, spray them, blokes spraying, and going out again.
HB: Group One tradesman doing that.
GS: I was a Group One tradesman.
HB: Just slightly moving that cause it’s just making a bit of a noise.
GS: That’s better. Absolutely fine. Yes.
HB: I’m just. So you’re only there a short time then, I presume.
GS: Yep, and then from there, I went to Lyneham and they posted me out to Singapore.
HB: How much, how much notice did you get of that?
GS: Well I don’t know really, I never took time of notice.
HB: So what year do you think that was about?
GS: That was late ’44, because, or late, that’s right, because at that time I as posted out there, went to Lyneham, they dropped the bomb; the atomic bomb.
HB: So that would be ‘45 then.
GS:’ 45. That’s it, that’s it. They dropped the bomb and I flew out to Singapore.
HB: Just take you back to you know, Cosford, Fiskerton and all them. What sort of leave did you get?
GS: Well the usual leave thirty six hour pass, forty eight hour leave. I think I had exp, expo leave before I flew out to Singapore. I think I had fourteen days.
HB: Expo?
GS: Yeah. What do they call it?
HB: Debark? De, Debarkation?
GS: Embarkation!
HB: Embarkation leave. Oh right. So what did you do with your leave, did you come home?
GS: Oh yeah.
HB: Came home. You go to the local dance hall.
GS: Local dance hall and all that.
HB: In your uniform.
GS: I met my wife there, at the local masonic, you know. I had an incident when I were flying out to Singapore. There were two York aircraft went out and there were twenty blokes in each aircraft and we knew each other, forty odd blokes, and we tossed up which aircraft we’d go in. We went to Malta, Habbaniya, what’s, I forget the one in northern India, and then Calcutta. Dumdum, Dumdum airfield, and I elected to go on the first aircraft, on the York that was going to Singapore and the second aircraft didn’t get there: it flew into the Indian Ocean. So that was why, sheer luck, is why I’m still here. And then I did twelve months in Singapore. I had to remuster again then because they didn’t want aircraft fitters then, so I had to remuster as a Fitter Marine and I was on high speed launches wandering around the East Indies, which was quite a good time.
HB: So you went from Lyneham, you flew down through Malta, Middle East, into,
GS: Singapore.
HB: The northern India one and then Singapore. You’re based at Singapore. So you were in what, were you in tents or in quarters?
GS: In quarters, I’ve got some pictures of them actually. We were initially sent out, when we’d gone from Lyneham they told me I was on what they called Tiger Force, which was going to Okinawa which was the nearest point for bombing Tokyo, but because I was in Singapore I didn’t want that because the war had finished with Japan then.
HB: So they just literally took you off aircraft fitting and said -
GS: Fitter marine!
HB: Fitter marine. That’s, what was the big difference with the engines then?
GS: Phew, terrible. There were three Peregrine engines inside the high speed launches, one either side and one at the back of you and it was a hundred and forty degrees in there, so you could only spend ten minutes at a time. When they were going at full throttle, which was thirty knots, you hadn’t got much chance, so you had to come up after ten minutes. It was horrible.
Nicola: What about it, do you remember when you fell in the water dad.
HB: You went overboard did you?
Nicola: You were on, someone backed in to you. Go on.
GS: Well what happened, I was on the quayside, there was a drop in the water of about thirty foot. Some western oriental gentleman I called them, didn’t call them that, backing a lorry up to me he must have seen me, I was looking out to sea and the next minute [slap sound] it hit me and I was in the sea and fortunately there was an officer standing there and he galloped down into the water and dragged me out. Cause it was only about eighteen inches of water.
HB: You were lucky.
GS: It knocked me out virtually. I came round and he said you had a bit of luck there, didn’t you airman. I said yeah, did, I’m glad you got me out. He said look down there, you see all those snakes, he said, they’re all bloody poisonous. [Chuckle] So, sick quarters, and I was okay.
Nicola: You never saw the guy, did you from the truck.
GS: No, the bloke took off, never saw him again.
Nicola: He knew he was in trouble, didn’t he.
HB: So you’re working round, all round Singapore, so you must have had a few trips out to the islands.
GS: Oh yes. Up into Malaya, Penang and Java, Sumatra of course they’ve all changed their names now, haven’t they. So I had twelve months. When I was demobbed, they, I came back by sea. I had to go to a transit camp in Malaya and then came back by sea and it took a month! [Paper shuffling]
Nicola: A month’s cruise then.
GS: I came back on that!
HB: So that’s the, I’ve done it again, I’ve take them off.
GS: Can you spell that?
HB: The Johan van Barneveld.
GS: That’s it.
HB: Looks like bit like an ocean going cruise ship, doesn’t it!
GS: It was only about sixteen thousand ton!
HB: Oh, small!
Nicola: Dad, didn’t you see one of the little boats that you’d serviced, didn’t you see somewhere recently.
GS: Oh yes, I went to Henlow, you know, to the museum there. As you went in, to go in to the museum, on the front was an air sea rescue and the actual [emphasis] one that I sailed in when I was at Singapore.
HB: The same boat?
GS: The same boat, same number: 2528.
Nicola: You didn’t tell them though did you.
GS: No. I knew.
HB: Wow! That’s, so there was a group of you there, you obviously got on well, you know, and so you’d have had to take your leave while you were in Singapore, if you had leave.
GS: I don’t think we did. I was at Seletar, in Singapore. There’s the -
HB: Of course it’s got the flying boats, hasn’t it.
GS: Oh yes. There was a Sunderland. That’s a high speed launch, those sort of things.
HB: So these, this photograph album, we’re going to need to copy all this.
GS: Are you?
HB: There’s one you’d broken.
GS: Yeah, that’s a spit that crash landed. There I am again.
HB: Yes. We’re going to need to copy these I think, Geoff.
GS: These are the -
HB: They are the quarters.
GS: They are the quarters. The Japs had them before we, after, before we got there, first thing they do took all the doors off the bogs so you had no privacy at all. [Laugh]
HB: Ah, right. So, we’ve got you to Singapore, you’ve been on your high speed launches, I think what we’ll do, we’ll just have two minutes pause, right, in the interview, just while get our breath back and then we’ll come back to them. Right, we’ve switched back on, we’ve had a little bit of a break and Nicola, Geoff’s daughter’s just gone off to work, so we’ll just recommence the interview and so we’ve got to the demob in Singapore and all that business, but can we just take you back, back to your airfields, because at one point you did something a bit.
GS: When I was at Fulbeck, we moved from Fiskerton to Fulbeck and I was on duty crew and we had a Stirling bomber come in to be refuelled, and me, being completely new to Stirling bombers, went up in the cockpit, turned the fuel line which I thought was the one, an elephant’s trunk came down and deposit about a hundred gallon of fuel on to the tarmac. [Sigh] And we had a bomb happy, as we used to call them, flak happy, sergeant flight engineer, saw what I’d done, he came up, he said don’t worry about it, so I shoved this fuel line back up into the aircraft and screwed the cock on. I said what about all the fuel on the deck and he said don’t worry about it, so he started the engine up, which in itself was bad enough, it blew the fuel away cause we were way [emphasis] out on dispersal, miles from anywhere you could say, but when Stirling bombers with Hercules engines start up, flames come out, and if it, that bloody aircraft had gone up in bloody flames, so would I!
HB: Blimey! You’d have still been paying for it! Good grief Geoff!
GS: We were on dispersal which was about as far side of the airfield from the Headquarters from about a mile and a half away, this was near Newark, Fulbeck is quite near Newark, and that’s what happened and that was an incident. I told my daughter about it and she was amazed, and I got away with it.
HB: You must have had a few close shaves though.
GS: Oh yeah, I did. Flying the aircraft, we did land with one Lancaster, when we were, where were we? I think it was at Fiskerton, and the undercart folded up and it broke the Lanc up actually, broke the imagine what it did to the props and that.
HB: Was that landing on the main runway or did you get on the grass?
GS: On the main runway, we were going along the runway and the undercart, hydraulics, it just collapsed, and that was dead dodgy. I remember that., but apart from that.
HB: So where would you have been, when that happened, in the Lanc, where would you have been sat?
GS: Usually on the flight engineer’s place because, usually, the flight engineer nearly always went with the pilot on, what do they call it? Air test or fighter affiliation and [cough] that’s when that happened, the undercart folded up, just the one wheel. It did a lot of damage. Props of course went on the port side and that was it.
HB: You got away with that one as well.
GS: I got away with that one as well. But then, from that one as well. And then from then on I made sure I picked the time I went, flew, went on the air test. [Chuckle]
HB: Why was that?
GS: I was getting scared to be quite honest. Yeah. There was another incident we had, I’ve forgotten what it was now. Something to do with Lancasters, but normally was a wonderful aircraft, you know. We had several crews that did a full tour of ops at Fiskerton.
HB: Yeah. Did you, when you were at Fiskerton, did you always maintain the same aircraft or was it just parade in the morning and get one allocated?
GS: When I was servicing them in the hangar, which was called the maintenance hangar. Different aircraft came in to be serviced. Fifty hour service, hundred hour service, hundred and fifty and then a major, major, but when I was on the flight, when you’re on the B Flight, which I went out on, I had to do the flight and, and sign the Form 700 which was meant that you, they didn’t all [emphasis] say you come, you can come fly with me, that was preservation by the pilot, if I’m going to die you’re going to die with me sort of business!
HB: Good incentive to keep you up to speed.
GS: Up to scratch. Cause I can remember quite well, I serviced one Lancaster, I remember it even now, I was on the port engine which you had to get a, you had a big service ladder to get up to it, and I had to fill it, the Lancaster engine got an oil at the back, thirty six gallon, and I went up to check the height of it, put the cap on as I thought and came down, thought nothing of it. And then the regular B Flight mechanic, he said, “everything all right?” I said yeah, he said, “I put that filler cap on properly for you.”
HB: Ooh.
GS: And there’s another incident. I thanked him profusely, I obviously hadn’t locked it properly.
HB: Oh wow!
GS: That could have been trouble. If he’d gone up, flight, and the filler cap had come off -
HB: Difficult.
GS: And I didn’t go on flight affiliation as they called it. They’d have a Lanc going up on air test and they’d have a Spitfire or Hurricane doing aerobatics, simulating getting at the rear gunner. Well I went, I only went up once on that because for the only time, I was sick, sick as a dog and I thought bugger flight affiliation from now on!
HB: So fighter affiliation wasn’t one of your favourites!
GS: No it wasn’t!
HB: So this is when they practiced doing, did they call it corkscrew?
GS: That’s right.
HB: And you were in there when they did that.
GS: I was in the back, I was in the rear turret at the time. It was horrible.
HB: Right, so we’ve gone through, we’ve gone through the squadrons and you’ve gone to Singapore and you’re going to be demobbed and they’ve put you on the troop ship, in Malaya, how long did it take you to get home?
GS: One month. I can remember it ever so well. We went from Singapore to Ceylon as it was then, I’ve forgotten the name of the town, and from then on we flew, we sailed from Ceylon up the Red Sea to Port Said and then across the Med and it was four weeks, and of course all the, everybody’s being demobbed on board that ship, so I can’t remember any details.
HB: Was it, so it wasn’t like one big long, month long party then?
GS: Oh no, oh no. I slept on deck, everybody else was, well most of them, slept in hammocks. And I couldn’t get on in a hammock, so I slept on deck and that was it and I went to East Kirkby and was demobbed.
HB: So you landed back in England.
GS: Southampton.
HB: At Southampton, bunged you on a train.
GS: Train. Up to East Kirkby. Demobbed and I was a civilian.
HB: Did you get your suit?
GS: Yes. Got me suit, and a yellow tie. [Laugh] I remember that ever so well.
HB: Were you still a single man at this time, Geoff?
GS: Yes, oh yes. I was twenty one going on twenty two.
HB: But you’d met your wife before you went out to Singapore. Sorry, what was your wife called?
GS: Hazel.
HB: Hazel, right. So you met Hazel when you were in your uniform looking smart in the dance hall. So you’d obviously been writing, in the force.
GS: Yes. I was running two women at the time! [Laugh]
HB: Were you! Were you now!
GS: I got rid of the one.
HB: Ah right. Was that, that was another one back here was it?
GS: Yeah. They were both back here. I remember I had the two photographs on the side of me bed, on the side of me billet in Singapore, and I used to say to the bloke which do you think’s the best out of those two and they always pointed to Hazel, she’s the homely type they used to say.
HB: Oooh!
GS: And that was it, I married her. We were married sixty three years.
HB: That’s good.
GS: Good going isn’t it.
HB: It is, it is. So you came back to East Kirkby, you’ve been demobbed, back home to?
GS: Back with my father in engineering.
HB: Yep. That’s still in Erdington.
GS: Yeah, and then, that’s right, my dad sold his business moved down to Falmouth as a farmer which didn’t work out: you’ve got to be born into farming and he did ten years before he came back north again.
HB: So what did you do. I mean he went down there in 1950 did he, did you say?
GS: Yes.
HB: You’d stayed in till 47, hadn’t you?
GS: Yes.
HB: So, once he went down there what did you do, did you?
GS: I went. We’d got another, one of dad’s younger [emphasis] brothers, he was in the shoe trade, and I had the option then and I went into the shoe trade for three years. It wasn’t very pleasant because he wasn’t a very pleasant man to work for, so I stayed with him for three years then I went back into toolmaking. I worked for Cincinnati, the big American company, making milling machines and all that.
HB: You obviously enjoyed that.
GS: Yeah. Better it was, yeah.
HB: And that was you till, what, through to retirement I suppose.
GS: Yes, I suppose it was. No! I stayed in the tool making trade, I worked for a company just down there on the estate for twenty seven years.
HB: Wow!
GS: Tool making.
HB: So out of your, you know, I mean it was a difficult time, I mean the war had been running for three, nearly four years when you went in, when you actually got called up, and you’re living in Birmingham which was a big target.
GS: Oh, it was!
HB: So what was it, what, before you joined the RAF what it like living under this threat, really?
GS: Before I went into the RAF, well Birmingham was bombed quite badly, like Coventry. If they missed Coventry it was Birmingham, because all the car industry as you know, is in this area and we were a real target because at that time dad worked for Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory, which is just down there, making Spitfires, building Spitfires and he worked in the tool room there before he started on his own. That was quite a job.
HB: So where you were living at Erdington, I mean they had bombing in that area, didn’t they.
GS: Oh yes, quite a bit of bombing yeah. We were actually, there was only bombs locally, but none actually where I lived in Hollandy Road, there wan’t much. You’re going back seventy years now you know.
HB: That’s right.
GS: Trying to remember all these things.
HB: Yeah, I mean mum and dad obviously, you know, you’ve got your sister, yourself, you know, there’d be that worry wouldn’t there. What did you do in the evening? Did you ever do fire watching or anything like that?
GS: Yeah. When I was fourteen, when I left school, I was fire watching in the centre of Birmingham. I’d got a job, just a normal job in the, in tool making, er in the shoe industry and they got me fire watching. They gave me a stirrup pump and a bucket of water and go up on the top floor of this building and if they drop incendiaries: put ‘em out. Fourteen years old.
HB: Good grief!
GS: I remember that quite clearly.
HB: Did you leave school, cause obviously you’re at work then, at fourteen, did you leave school with any certificates?
GS: No, I didn’t get School Certificate. I left, I elected not to go to secondary school, which was from fourteen to sixteen, so I left at fourteen from the ordinary council school. I lived at Yardley then, on the south side of Birmingham.
HB: Right, right. Of all your time in the RAF, in Bomber Command Geoff, what do you think was your best time, what was your best bit of being in the RAF?
GS: Well, the activity when I was at Fiskerton. Oh yes, definitely. The fitter’s courses and flight mechanics courses was a chore. Just hard work it was really, but when I get, when I was at Fiskerton and also Fulbeck, and Waddington, which I was there. Waddington was the place to get to because it was an peace, it was an established squadron none of this nissen hut business or anything of that, and that was the place to go. But I wasn’t there long enough to appreciate it. It’s still there, isn’t it. I noticed that when I went to – yeah.
HB: So what, we’ve said that was something you enjoyed, was being busy, and you’ve got all your mates and whatnot, so what did you do, when you weren’t on leave, what did you do for entertainment when you were on the squadron?
GS: We used to go to the camp cinema and, thing I noticed mostly [emphasis] about the camp cinema, you went in there and you couldn’t see the screen for the smoke, cause everybody smoked at that time and I didn’t smoke and me eyes come out and they were watering permanently after that.
HB: Oh right. So that moves us on. What was, what do you think was the worst bit of your service?
GS: When I was at Holmesly South in the New Forest it was my twenty first birthday and I wanted a forty eight hour pass because me wife, me mother had got a big party organised for me. So I went to the SWO, Station Warrant Officer, and asked for a forty hour pass and he refused it. And I remember then I thought, when I get back into civvie street I’ll have you. [Laugh] Never did of course, but I remember it ever so well. He refused me a forty eight hour pass. He knew what it was for but didn’t show any compassion whatsoever.
HB: And what did you think after the war, when the war ended, what did you think the sort of feeling was about Bomber Command?
GS: [Sigh] Well, they lost so many men, in ’42 onwards to the, till D-Day, fifty five thousand men were killed, weren’t they. I, I thought that was absolutely terrible. All the aircrew, I got to knew them, when I was at Fiskerton, by name and they’d go on ops and didn’t come back. It was a horrible feeling all the while. Because at the time, when I was, now where was I, oh yes, at the end of my fitter’s course, yeah, you fixed for time, at, on the fitter’s course at Hen, Hendon, that’s right, near Bedford it is.
HB: Halford?
GS: Henlow, not Hendon, Henlow, near Bedford. I applied to go on a flight engineer’s course, which was accepted, at St Athan. I was posted and I got there: what have you come for? I said I’ve come to do an FE’s course. They said we don’t want any more, so they sent me back. Which was just as well because if I’d have done a flight engineer’s course, I’d have been there and gone on ops, I wouldn’t be here now, would I? There were so many casualties. I can remember one time we lost ninety eight aircraft one night, on ops. Lancasters, mostly.
HB: Hmm. That’s a lot of men.
GS: Well Lancaster aircraft, they’d only got, they’d got four guns in the rear turret, two on the upper turret and two in the front, but they were pathetic compared with German aircraft which had got canons. Twice the fire power. So that was the thing about Lancasters. But apart from that they had the biggest bombload, they could fly at twenty two thousand feet and none of the others couldn’t. If you had a relative that was on Halifaxes, they weren’t a patch on Lancasters, during the war. And Stirlings, they were a joke they were. The rear gunner in a Stirling his expectation of life was about a fortnight. [Whistle] It was awful, wasn’t it.
HB: Hmm. Yeah. So the, when, did you ever do any sort of like Cook’s Tours when you came back? You did?
GS: Yes, I did the one, over Germany. It was a revelation that was. When you flew at about ten thousand feet, something like that, and the debris, there was nothing left, of any of the towns. We didn’t fly over Berlin, but we did all the other ones.
HB: How did you feel about that?
GS: Terrible. You know, you thought why was this, all this necessary? That’s the way you looked at it, you know, because Nazis were the pigs, but an ordinary German, he was just another bloke to me. And that’s the way I feel about that.
HB: Difficult.
GS: Was difficult wan’t there. Is there anything I’ve missed on this?
HB: I was going to say do you want to have a look at your list Geoff, is there, see if we’ve covered what you want to talk about.
GS: [Pause] Karachi was the place I went to in India, on the west coast and then Calcutta on the east coast. Yes. I enjoyed me time when I was in the Air Training Corps 1940 to ’43. Fradley, Cosford. I did a week at Cosford in the Air Training Corps. Swinderby and Bovington. Bovington were, I’ve forgotten what aircraft they were. Twin engined, and I know that you had to wind the undercart up, ninety eight turns, I remember that because they hadn’t got hydraulic, retracting. Hinton in the Hedges was the place that really was a waste of time, with all those aircraft, all those, all those lorries and things. I can remember once, I had to go out on dispersal to bring, bring a lorry in for servicing and I got in it and started it up. I noticed it was in front wheel drive, so I moved out and it dropped on the deck – there was no back wheels on it! [laughter] I just got out and left it. So that’s another place I’d have, could have been a naughty boy! [cough]
HB: Perhaps you were as well you didn’t stay there that long!
GS: It was. Only there about a month. I got promotion while I was there. I remember ever so well. The sergeant, I was after me props, I’d got me one and I was after me LAC, and he asked a question. He said, “What do you know about errors of articulation?” Tell you, I remember this, and I said yes it was there, the Hercules, aircraft where the con rods were in a different position every stroke of the engine. “Good,” he said,” you’ve got that.” And that got me me props.
HB: Did it?
GS: Yes!
HB: So that made you a Leading Aircraftsman.
GS: Group One Leading Aircraftsman, which was quite good. But I should have got me tapes when I was doing the flight engineer’s course. But that was it.
HB: Well I think, it’s quarter past twelve, and I think we’ve sort of come to bit of a natural conclusion Geoff.
GS: Yes.
HB: So, I’m going to terminate the interview now while we just sort your photographs out and how we’re gonna handle them. I want to thank you, honestly, it’s been a really [emphasis] enjoyable interview. You said to me in the break, oh we’ve been all over the place. It doesn’t matter.
GS: It’s very disjointed.
HB: What you’ve told us is important, and it’s also interesting. And we’ll forget quietly about pushing the wrong button for the fuel for the Stirling! So thank you very much.
GS: Well, I wonder about that flight engineer, he was flak happy as they called it during the war. And the fact that we got away with it, I said to him afterwards, I said, what about if, we’d have had flames out the Hercules, we must have had some, but didn’t see them, well that would have been curtains, I said bloody will and I’ll have been with you!
HB: Oh dear! Right, well thanks ever so much Geoff.


Harry Bartlett, “Interview with Geoffrey Charles Spencer,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 24, 2024,

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