Interview with George Haig


Interview with George Haig


George Haigh was already a keen footballer when he volunteered for the Royal Air Force and became a physical training instructor. He was posted to RAF Morecambe where he provided basic training to new recruits. He discusses the mixed level of fitness amongst the recruits and how a five week course was sometimes shortened. He also undertook parachute training. After the war, he continued with his love of football while also working in engineering.








01:20:27 audio recording

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CB: I’m here today, my name is Chris Brockbank and I’m here today with George Haigh accompanied by his daughter Rosemary Herrine and also his grandson Josh and we’re going to talk about his life on the ground in the RAF because he trained people many of whom worked on the ground but many worked in the air, flew in the air and we’re in Middleton Cheney and it Is the 2nd of September 2015. So George could you start please by telling me how you started as a youth, a bit about your family and then what you’ve done in your life, please.
GH: Yeah. Well I was born in Reddish in what is now Greater Manchester and I was there, I lived there until I was about eight years old and then from there my father got a job in Stockport and I went to Stockport and lived in Stockport for quite a number of years. Went to school there, a church school and, and then at fourteen had to get out and do, do some work as you had to do in those days and at fourteen I went to a dyeing and bleaching firm and then lived in, in Stockport at a, at a Working Men’s Club and, from eight years old until I was twenty, twenty three and during that time I went into professional football and signed for Stockport County which I did for three seasons prior to the war and then when war broke out all contracts were cancelled for professional footballers so I was back on the streets. The football wages in those days was ten pound a week and two pound for a draw, two pound for a win rather and a pound for a draw and that was your lot as far as, as far as that was concerned and then the first thing I thought of, being physically fit at that period I decided to join the air force and join up as a physical training instructor. Get into physical training instructing. What now?
CB: Ok. We can stop there for a mo.
[Recording paused]
CB: Right. We’re restarting now and just recapping on those early days. So what happened to the family when you were young?
GH: Well, at, at thirteen I, my mother died and the, the Working Men’s Club had to have a steward and a stewardess so when I, when I was growing up I found myself doing all the work when my mother died that she used to do in the club so I was, I was more or less the stewardess until I was about twenty to twenty two. Something like that. So even when I was a professional footballer I was still working in the, in the club. So that was what was happening early on, you know.
CB: Right. Ok.
GH: Yeah.
CB: So after your father retired then you had to move out of the club.
GH: Yeah. Well, when, when I moved out of the club and went to move in with my in-laws, future in-laws and then I got married and managed to get a house, a rented house and then came the time when I was due to go in the forces and I went –
[Phone ringing. Recording paused]
CB: We can go on now. It’s disrupting isn’t it? Do you want to wait a mo?
GH: Yeah. Wait a minute. Yeah.
[Recording paused]
GH: He went out and went into the police force.
CB: That was [Stanley?]. Yeah.
GH: Yeah and he was still in the reserve so that when war broke out they whipped him in to the Grenadiers again.
CB: Oh right.
GH: And he was, yeah, he had a, he was quite intelligent and they whipped him into India and he became a captain in the Indian army and was training Sikhs and Ghurkhas for the remainder of the war
CB: Oh right.
GH: And then they wanted him to stay to, to look after the police in India.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And he asked, he asked me actually what he should do kind of style you know. I said, there was so much trouble going on in India at the time that I told him, I said, ‘Get out.’
CB: Yeah.
GH: ‘And get back in the police.’
CB: Yeah.
GH: And that’s what he did.
CB: Yeah. So when you joined the RAF what happened? So you joined at Warrington. What, could you just take us through –
GH: That’s right.
CB: The process of what happened.
GH: At Warrington and then I went to –
CB: Bridgnorth.
GH: Bridgnorth. Yes. And then from Bridgenorth I was posted to this place in London for, on a PT course. The PT courses was all done at this headquarters of the RAF training in London. As I say I can’t remember the name of the place but we was, we was there during the actual, the actual bombing of London and we, we was training during the day and at night it was down in the shelters and that made it very difficult but I I joined up with a, with a football international, Scottish International, Jock Dodds, and we, we went through the training situation you know. But there was a centre staircase in the barracks there and there were the barrack rooms on either side of this, the staircase and we got a bed right at the very end of this barrack room, halfway up the building. And when we went in the air raid shelter Jock said to me, he said, ‘We’re not having any more of this. I can’t stand it.’ Getting no sleep at all and yet doing the PT course during the day so he said, ‘You stay with me when the, when the thing goes off, if there’s a raid on,’ so he said, ‘We’ll get under the bed.’ So the orderly sergeant that come up the steps would look in the barrack room and see all the beds were empty and just leave it at that. So we never went in the, in the shelters from then on so but it was, it was very difficult to have these air raids over London you know, all the time, you know while we were doing our training. So, and there was, there was only one bomb dropped on the, on the camp and that was a, a landmine. They were dropping land mines at that time and they dropped it on the, on the WAAF course in the, within the camp, you know but being as it was at the time, you know that we weren’t allowed to speak even to one another about what was happening around us you know. So what happened, whether any WAAFs were killed because of that I don’t know. But er –
CB: The landmine came down by parachute and then when it exploded there was a big blast. What was the –
GH: And that was –
CB: Devastation. How bad was the devastation?
GH: Well it was just the WAAF depot.
CB: Oh just that.
GH: We never saw anything.
CB: Oh right.
GH: It was a big camp.
CB: Yeah.
GH: A great big camp
CB: Right.
GH: So it must be well known. I can’t, I don’t know why I can’t remember the name of the place.
CB: Well we’ll pick it up later George.
GH: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
GH: Yeah.
CB: Ok.
GH: That’s fine.
CB: So how long were you there?
GH: I don’t know whether it was four or five weeks. I can’t remember. But the, the training went on there and I remember we went, we had to pair, the pair of us had to go in, in to a trench on the perimeter of the camp and obviously there was other pairs all around the camp during that period and we, it was like four hours on and two hours off or something like that and the two hours off we were right at the side of the, of the PT gymnasium and the, our barracks was right at the other end of the camp so we decided to go into the gymnasium and and sleep there rather than go to the other end of the camp and I remember it, I don’t know, that was when the land mine was dropped but we was on top of the training mats and we, we took all our gear off and helmet and everything and went, went to sleep there and when this bomb dropped the pair of us jumped up and put our helmets on and then fell back, back to sleep again [laughs]. The next day, ‘Why did we do that?’ You know? Absolutely ridiculous but that’s that was one of the incidents during the, during that period in the physical training and then Jock Dobbs was posted to Blackpool and played for Blackpool for the remainder of the war and I was posted to Morecambe. And then the first game I had with Morecambe was a friendly game against Blackpool. So Jock Dodds were playing at centre half, centre forward for Blackpool and I was playing at centre half for Morecambe so we were up against each other like, you know. It was, it was, that was great fun. It was great fun.
CB: So you were sent from London to Morecambe.
GH: Sent from London to Morecambe. Yes.
CB: And what was your job there?
GH: Well when I got to Morecambe I didn’t realised that we’d got to do the foot training and the rifle training and do everything. All the training that had to be done and I hadn’t had the training for any of this but eventually I read up about everything, you know and eventually got into it and did the job for two and a half years. So it was quite, quite an experience really.
CB: What sort of people were coming in as recruits at that time?
GH: Well they were very mixed. Very mixed. And being in Morecambe they were in, in billets like hotels and boarding houses and that sort of thing. That’s where they were billeted.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And they had a billeting officer. A warrant officer. Warrant Officer Smith. Yeah. And they used to come in on the train. A train load of them you know and he used to split them up into, into thirties and send them off with their instructor and, and, and give them the information as to where they were going to be billeted within Morecambe and sometimes you got, they were able to get into a hotel or a boarding house that was big enough to take the whole thirty. Other than that they used to split them up into, into different billets but you had to have a system of parading outside these billets every morning at a certain time and, and then to take them off to, to the syllabus that was going on. The only thing was as far as PT was concerned I had an hour PT every day to the recruits but other than that it was for other purposes you know. Foot drill first and then later on it got to rifle drill and then to being able to deal with, with your gun. Being able to strip it down and put it back together and all that business and we went, they did five weeks training before they were sent off, posted to wherever they were supposed to be going. And then when the, it was a five weeks course and then later the, it went down to, when they needed more men it went down to four weeks and it finished up three weeks. We’d got to fit the whole training of three weeks, of five weeks training into three weeks and that was a terrible time but it only went on for a couple of courses, you know. A couple of three weeks and then it went back to four and then back to five again and then eventually back to when they don’t want any more.
CB: But how well did the recruits handle the shorter course at three weeks?
GH: Oh it was, it was very difficult for them you know because the, the timing you know. I mean, say you hadn’t got time to do anything. You’d no time to go and have a cup of coffee and a, a coffee and a bun kind of style you know which we was able to do in the five week system you know. We had to just keep working all the time. It was very difficult. Difficult for the instructor. Very difficult for the recruit.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And there was one, I remember the first lot of recruits that came in. I’ve got a picture of them now and they, they’d run out of forage caps [laughs]. They had no forage caps so they had to put their scarf inside out on, on the head you know and that was how they was being trained. The first lot, you know. But that was only one incident that that happened during the, during the training.
CB: And how was everybody fed? Did they have big mess halls?
GH: No. No. They were fed. The people where they were staying fed them. They had the, they had their breakfast in the morning and, and the meal, meal at night and I think they, they were allowed to go in a café or something like that and buy the, the lunch. It was a real, real mixed, mixed effort but it, it worked quite well really.
CB: So your specialty really was physical education.
GH: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: How, physical training, how well did they stand up to that?
GH: Well it was, some of them were, it was very hard. Occasionally you’d have a crew of thirty men to train and they were very difficult but then again you’d get occasional cases where you’d get one that was in the squad that belonged to a military family and you was able to pick, pick one out and make them the senior man kind of style for the, for the squad. That made it a lot easier but generally speaking you know you’ve got to, you’ve got to work very hard in the early stages and you could tell, the recruits, in the early stages, they hated your guts. They hated the instructor you know but towards the end they used to be coming up to you and thanking, thanking me you know for, for what I’d done for them you know. So, yes, it was a very, very good system really.
CB: So what was it that made the PT so difficult for them?
GH: Well, I don’t think they’d had, they’d, some of them hadn’t had any training at all. They were just raw as far as physical training was concerned. Biggest majority of them was absolutely raw.
CB: Yeah. So they were, they’d come straight from school to you.
GH: Well some –
CB: Well not necessarily.
GH: Some of them had come straight from school you know.
CB: Yeah.
GH: But a lot of them had come from working and working families.
CB: Yeah.
GH: You know.
CB: Because the school leaving age in those day was fourteen.
GH: Fourteen. That’s right.
CB: So they’d, most of them would have had jobs unless they’d gone to further education. Is that right?
GH: That’s right. They’d have, they’d have a job for a short while and then and then they’d be whipped into the, into the forces you know.
CB: Yeah. So when they’d finished with you did they know what they were going to do as a trade in the RAF?
GH: They knew what they were going in to and they knew that when the training had finished that that’s where they’d go. They’d go to different camps around the country doing different things to –
CB: Right.
GH: Mechanics. Mechanics were –
CB: How many were air crew that you trained?
GH: Oh I can’t remember.
CB: But there were people who became, were becoming –
GH: There were, there were quite a number that became aircrew you know.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And I look, look back at some of the photographs that I’ve got of the recruits you know and wonder where, where, where they got to you know and –
CB: Yeah.
GH: And whether they survived really because I reckoned a lot of them went as rear gunners and that sort of thing you know.
CB: And did the air crew people stand out in the training any more from the others?
GH: No. No. They were all more or less the same and they all mucked in really you know and, and most of them you know especially towards the end of the training they were very much together in, in the thirty, thirty men kind of style. They were a team and helped each other you know.
CB: Yeah.
GH: They were very very good.
CB: Yeah. So you did that for how long?
GH: Well for the two and a half a years I was at Morecambe. Or the two years I was at Morecambe and then the half year that I was there was when they’d had enough RAF recruits and they went to change over to the WAAF and they asked me to go over to stay with the WAAF you know and train the WAAF and I wasn’t liking it at all. I I fought against it quite a lot but there were two other professional footballers at Morecambe with me who, who had moved over to the WAAF depot and it was then them that decided me to, to have a go at it you know and then I found out when I started training then that they were far easier to train than the men were.
CB: Why was that?
GH: I don’t know.
CB: What was, what was it that made it difficult for you to start training them?
GH: Well they trained.
CB: In the first place.
GH: They weren’t, they weren’t fit for one thing. They’d had no, the biggest majority of them never had any physical training.
CB: Not even at school.
GH: And, and then the, I found that the WAAF, when I was training the WAAF, they were, they were more supple than the men were and that made it far easier to train them and I got on well with the, with the WAAF after a time when I got, got over the shock.
CB: What was your wife’s reaction to that?
GH: No. She wasn’t very happy I can tell you although she did, she did come and we lived out for quite a while in Morecambe. My wife got herself a job with some insurance people who had moved out of London in to, in to Morecambe and she was working as a secretary there for quite a while.
CB: And what was the syllabus for the WAAFs? Was it the same as for the ground, the men?
GH: Very similar. Very similar yeah.
CB: Even with the rifles?
GH: Actually, no rifle. No. It was just the, and we didn’t bother with the foot drill. They had their own instructors. The WAAF, the WAAF had their own PT instructors but they needed a man when the, was training in bulk. They hadn’t got the voice to do the training in bulk so they always, they always called on the RAF PTI to do the training in bulk.
CB: So when, here you as a PTI as a specialty.
GH: Yeah.
CB: What were, was the process you went through in training them? What exercises effectively did they do?
GH: Well there was only the exercises. I don’t, I don’t realise really what they were really you know it was just a matter of running on the spot, arm movements, body movements and that sort of thing.
CB: Circuit training? Did you do circuit training with them? So you go around the gym doing different tasks.
GH: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. The, the, they had quite a, quite a system and they had a series of games and they topped up the score of each team in each section. It was quite a difficult system, you know.
CB: And did you use wall bars and dumbbells?
GH: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: Press ups.
GH: Dumbbells. Yeah.
CB: All those things.
GH: Wall bars, dumbbells, the horse.
CB: Oh yeah. So jumping the horse.
GH: Jumping the horse.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And that sort of thing within the gym you know. Morecambe we took over a cinema actually to, as a gymnasium. The Alhambra Cinema. [laughs] Took all the seats out and we used it as a gymnasium.
CB: Yeah. So in the winter what was the temperature like?
GH: Terrible. Terrible. At Morecambe especially you know. It was, it was very bleak there you know and there was one, one or two incidents you know when the sea was so rough and coming over on to the Promenade that we couldn’t do any training. You look along the Promenade at Morecambe during the training and you wouldn’t see anything but blue uniforms, you know. Training somewhere or other. Marching. It was, it looked to an outsider a complete mess but it was very very well controlled. Very well.
CB: So after they’d finished their five week course what did they get for PT? Did they get some kind of certificate to show –?
GH: No. No. No. No. They just, they’d been trained and that was that. Just sent off to the next stage of their training. They went, they went on to the, on to the station and on to the train and was taken wherever they were needed to go.
CB: So you trained men mainly but six months were women. The WAAFs.
GH: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Where did you go from Morecambe?
GH: To Wilmslow.
CB: And what did you do there?
GH: RAF Wilmslow. I was training recruits, WAAF recruits, in the same way that I’d been training them at Morecambe.
CB: Right. So that was -
GH: Just, just for mass purposes you know.
CB: Yeah.
GH: They had their own NCO’s you know to deal with them as a squad at a time you know.
CB: Did you also do drill when they were all together?
GH: When they were all together we did drill.
CB: Yeah.
GH: Passing out, passing out parades and that sort of thing.
CB: Right.
GH: Yeah.
CB: So how long were you at Wilmslow?
GH: I was at Wilmslow about two and a half years there.
CB: Ok. And –
GH: And we were right at the side of Ringway at the time and Ringway was one of the main parachute instructor where the parachute, the army was, was being trained there and they had RAF instructors there then at that time.
CB: So when did you get into training parachutists?
GH: Well it was only a short period when, while I was at Wilmslow. I had the opportunity to go across to Ringway and do this training.
CB: So you did the parachute instructor’s course did you?
GH: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: And then what?
GH: Well I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t continue with it you know. I went back to the WAAF depot and –
CB: Right.
GH: Training the WAAF.
CB: Yes. Any incidents in the parachute training that are –?
GH: Yeah. There was, there was one incident there where Molotov was, came over from Russia to see what, what was happening with the, with the parachutists, you know, to take back to Russia. To find out, you know, to deal with the parachute training in Russia. I remember Molotov being there and it was a, the wind was far too fast for, for real flying for the training so there was a half a dozen instructors went up and the, I remember that the pilots weren’t, weren’t going to take them up. They said it’s you know, the wind’s too, too strong for it and anyway the CO said Molotov was there and this had got to be done. But I remember what, what happened to Bert Wooding, I think, was the first one out and they were extending at Ringway, expanding the runway and he was, he was the first one out. We didn’t do the drops at Ringway. We did them at Tatton Park but because Molotov was there it all had got to be done at, at Ringway. So I remember Bert Wooding was the first one out with the drop and he landed on the edge of this where they were building the runway and he broke both his ankles. And then there was another one. There was a warrant officer. An Irish, an Irish guy. I forget his name now but he broke his back during that fall. So it was, it was a dangerous thing to have happened, you know.
CB: Yeah.
GH: Just because Molotov was there.
CB: Yeah.
GH: That was the only incident I remember.
CB: So for the parachute training some of it was from flying aeroplanes. Some of it was from balloons was it?
GH: Yes. You went, you did the training in the gym first, you know. Jumping off the horses and that sort of thing, you know and then you went on, eventually went up on the balloon you know and did the jumps from the balloon. And then, and then they went, and the early ones was in the old Whitley.
CB: Bomber.
GH: Bomber with the hole, hole in the bottom and that’s how they did the jumps first and then of course they get the, managed to get the Dakotas then you know and that was entirely different situation you know.
CB: So in the aircraft they had a static line that was attached –
GH: That’s right.
CB: To a rail.
GH: Used to just stick the ring on the rail you know and they’d all be in a line ready you know and the RAF instructor, you know was at the entrance, and, and the, when it came to the actual jump at Tatton Park they used to get them moving you know. And I remember one of them said to me, you know, that he, he’d had one that chickened out you know and he had to send him to the back of the plane you know to take his ring off and take him to the back of the plane while, while he finished the jump, you know.
CB: And then clipped him on again.
GH: And then clipped him on and pushed him out [laughs]. Yeah. It was very interesting for some of them you know.
CB: What experience or knowledge did you have ‘cause this is early in training so it’s less likely, people with LMF which was the people who were a bit worried about what was going on. Lacking moral fibre.
GH: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Did you experience any of that?
GH: No. No.
CB: See any I mean?
GH: No. The only, the only bad do that I had of that was at Wilmslow. At Morecambe rather when they were in the gas chambers training them with the gas masks training and he, there was one in during my instance there and he came running out on to the main road and was off down the main road. I was a sergeant at the time and I got the corporal to go and fetch him back you know but he had claustrophobia of course. Couldn’t stand the, it was only like a hut, probably about as big as this room and you packed probably about a whole thirty into this, you know and put the masks on and got the smell of the stuff you know and, and then take the masks off and then and then bring in another, another thirty kind of style, you know. But there was only that one incident that I ever knew, you know that –
CB: Ok. Just clarifying that. So they start off with the mask on.
GH: Yeah.
CB: With oxygen.
GH: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Then the mask is taken off.
GH: That’s right. To get –
CB: But there’s smoke –
GH: That was to get –
CB: In the shed.
GH: Yeah.
CB: Ok. And it’s just smoke is it?
GH: Yeah. That’s right. It’s when, when it, the whole thing had settled like you know. There was no danger, no danger to them at all.
CB: No.
GH: But they just, they just got the smell of it before –
CB: Yeah.
GH: Before it was –
CB: Yeah. And how long did they have to have the mask off?
GH: Oh I can’t remember.
CB: Before they put it on again.
GH: I can’t remember [laughs].
CB: Right. Ok.
GH: I can’t remember.
GH: Good.
CB: They had, they had an instructor within the hut, you know.
GH: Yes.
CB: We weren’t. We just took them there and pushed them in the hut kind of style and told them what was going to happen you know and there was an instructor inside there you know to, to deal with all that business.
GH: And throughout the war did everybody carry a gas mask?
CB: Yes. They always had to have their gas mask with them.
GH: Yeah. Ok. We’ll pause there for a mo.
CB: Yeah.
[Recording paused]
GH: The welterweight champion of the world.
CB: So if you could just, I gather that you -
GH: He was the one who –
CB: Met some important people.
GH: That was coming in.
CB: Yeah. Ok. And Peter Kane.
GH: Jack. Jack London.
CB: These are boxers.
GH: Jack London, the heavyweight champion.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And quite a number more but I can’t remember the name of them but -
CB: Ok.
GH: As I say I’d got to get, I managed to get one to get against, against Peter Kane and that was Teddy O’Neill, Scottish bantamweight champion. I got, I got him to fight –
CB: This was a boxing match.
GH: Peter Kane.
CB: Yes.
GH: Yeah and he eventually beat him too. It was only like a three, three round effort like of course to have.
CB: Right.
GH: You know.
CB: These are people from another camp you’re talking about.
GH: From another camp yeah.
CB: Yeah. So there was competition between the camps.
GH: And the top brass for instance were in the front seats around the ring you know and, and I remember Teddy O’Neill knocked Peter Kane out in, in the second round and he finished up in the CO’s lap. [laughs] Oh dear me. Yeah. All good fun.
CB: So the CO was a bit surprised.
GH: He was a bit surprised. Yeah. [laughs]
CB: Yeah. And what about other famous people? In the, when you were doing square bashing.
GH: No. I don’t.
CB: Churchill’s daughter.
GH: Churchill’s daughter. That was the only one that I remember but I often, I often wonder you see whether, I’ve got recruit’s photographs of nearly all the squads that I trained in that, in that box you know and I I will look at them from time to time and think, you know, what happened to him? You know. What happened to him? You know.
CB: Did you ever follow up with anybody?
GH: No. No I didn’t. No.
CB: Right. So you’ve idea what happened to them?
GH: I’ve no idea what happened to any of them but –
CB: Ok. We’ll stop there again.
GH: Yes.
[recording paused]
GH: And I it turned out that there was a goal keeper playing for the prisoner of war. It turned out to be Bert Trautmann and he turned out to be the goal keeper for Manchester City after the war and he played for Manchester City for more or less all his life, you know. All his footballing life.
CB: This was the prisoner of war camp. Where was that?
GH: That was outside Wilmslow somewhere. I don’t know. Altrincham or somewhere very close. I can’t remember exactly where but it was in that area and as I say, you know the, the mostly there was the wardens were playing but, but they had one or two of the prisoners that were any good like, you know would play in the team and Bert Trautmann was one of them. I always remember him very well.
CB: Right.
GH: Because I met him later in the football, in the football when he was at Manchester City and we had chat about it, you know when he, while he was there, a prisoner of war.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
GH: Yeah.
CB: Good. Thank you.
[Recording paused]
CB: So we’re talking about Jack Brymer.
GH: He was at Morecambe actually.
CB: Jack Brymer was.
GH: Jack Brymer was. Yeah.
CB: And what was he?
GH: He was a clarionetist with the London Philharmonic or something like that, I think. And yeah, he –
CB: He was on one of your courses.
GH: No. He was, he was stationed in Morecambe with me, you know and I I started the Morecambe and Heysham Rhythm Club and we used to meet in the, on Central Pier every Sunday morning and there was always a lot of musicians coming into Morecambe playing and they always used to come there and Jack Brymer was one of the leaders of, for me anyway, you know of running things in the Morecambe and Heysham Rhythm Club. I don’t know whether it’s still going or not. [laughs]
CB: So how did they keep or you keep the recruits entertained outside training hours?
GH: Well that was one thing you know but there was always somebody doing something or other you know. You know. Running, running a dance, dance something like that you know. A ball, running a ball or something you know and yeah there was always something going on at Morecambe you know because there was, I think there was two or three theatres there.
CB: Yeah.
GH: Where these entertainers used to come to entertain the troops.
CB: But at Altrincham that was all WAAFs and it wasn’t a seaside place. So –
GH: No. No. That was –
CB: What did they do for entertainment there?
GH: No idea really. I left, I didn’t interfere with, with the WAAF after, after training. My wife was living out as well you know.
CB: Right.
GH: I had my own things to deal with you know.
CB: I was thinking -
GH: In the evenings.
CB: I was thinking of some band or orchestra or whatever.
CB: Yeah. Well –
GB: You talked about to entertain them.
GH: There was, there was one that was stationed at Wilmslow for a time and that was a couple of RAF who played the piano. They both played the same piano. I can’t remember who the name was though but they were very well known and they were playing all over the country really, were those two.
CB: Right. Thank you. We’ll stop for a mo.
[Recording paused]
GH: Morecambe and Wilmslow. When we went on courses and one course we went on to was at Cosford and one of the things that we trained there, or learned to train was the dinghies for aircraft. The fighter, the fighter dinghy, the small one and the large Q-Type big one for the aircrews and we had to learn how, how to deal with them for the, those pilots and crew and the worst one was the Q-Type. The big one.
CB: That took seven.
GH: Yeah. And that was automatically inflamed when they were ditched but quite often it was upside down and we had to train, train the crews to, how to right these dinghies. They’d a loop right in the centre underneath and the, the rope that ran around the outside. You used to get your hand in that rope and the loop and you used to bring it upright and get it to a certain level and then you used to have to twist it and throw it.
CB: Yeah. I remember doing that.
GH: Do you?
CB: Yeah.
GH: Well that’s how we were trained to train the aircrews you know whenever we came across the situation you know. Yeah. I remember that well.
CB: We’re now stopping for coffee.
GH: Right.
[recording paused]
CB: And tea.
GH: Yeah. There was -
JH: Do you take milk and sugar yeah.
CB: Just one.
GH: They used to train you how to get them out of the water and how to be able to push them under and then lift them out to get them back into the dinghies and we were doing this in the swimming pool at Cosford and there was one of the officers there in, in, full, full dress. He was going out somewhere and he thought he’d have a bit of a laugh with me like, you know. Get me to the side like, you know and dip me under and keep me under longer that he should have done kind of style, you know. Laughing all the time with the instructors as well like, you know. The instructor’s didn’t like it of course ‘cause I was an instructor of course and I came, came out you know and I, I was so bloody blazing mad like you know that I skimmed the water you know right at him on the side of the pool and in full regalia like, he was absolutely soaked from that. The, the officer couldn’t do anything about it. He’d asked for it and got it kind of style so anyway he had to go back to the billet and change. He was going to meet the CO or something. [laughs] Oh yes that’s one of the funny incidents that happened. When they’d finished the training and we –
CB: In Morecambe?
GH: In Morecambe yeah and we got the squad there to take them to the station to, to away, to take them away to where ever they were going to go and whatever courses they were going to go on and there was one, one lad there. He was a bit, he was an only, an only boy and he was, he was a money man I think you know, of the, of the family.
[Telephone ringtone in background]
GH: You carry on. He was the, the mother came with him to the, to the training and she used to be there at the side like, you know with a fur coat on like you know and seeing how her boy, boy, her only boy was doing kind of style and this, this went on for five weeks like, you know and I couldn’t do very much about it you know. She was staying in a hotel in Morecambe looking after and seeing that her boy was alright and fortunately the lads took to him and looked after him kind of style you know and he, he was and he got, he was a damned sight fitter when I’d finished with him of course and when they were marching away and along the Promenade towards the station I noticed that he’d got something on, on his pack. They were in full pack like, you know. Ready, ready to go away and there was a chamber pot on his, on his gear. I said, ‘What the bloody hell have you got there?’ He said, ‘The landlady charged me for it because it was cracked.’ And he said, ‘I wasn’t going to leave it there and get somebody else caught with this trick like, you know, of having to pay for the chamber pot.’ I said, ‘Well bloody well get it rid of it quick.’ He said, ‘What do I do?’ I said, ‘Get over to the sea,’ where the sea was in there. I said, ‘Sling it over the top and into the sea.’ I said, ‘Get back in to, in to line quick.’ I always remember that.
CB: The significance, I think that’s interesting because the significance of that is that we didn’t have the accommodation that you know nowadays.
GH: No. No. That’s right. Yeah.
CB: So what was the accommodation like? How was it set out?
GH: Well the, it was, it was quite good. Most of it was good but occasionally you found a landlady like, you know that was looking after them who was a bit wrong you know but we used to get in touch with Warrant Officer Smith and he used to deal with it. He used to say, ‘Well you either mend your ways, you know or we’ll take you off the list and you don’t get any more recruits.’
CB: So under each bed there was a chamber pot.
GH: There was a chamber pot. Yeah. [laughs] And that, that was in the local billets you know that –
CB: In the hotels.
GH: The landlady -
CB: Yeah.
GH: In the hotels and that –
CB: Yeah.
GH: Sort of thing.
GH: So in the morning people went and emptied their chamber pots.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And washed them out.
CB: That’s right. Yeah. But this, this was cracked you see and the, and this landlady had charged him for it you know so he said, ‘I’m, I’m taking it with me,’ he said, ‘I’m not, nobody else is going to be caught with this.’ Oh aye, I got, I made him chuck the chamber pot over the wall into the sea [laughs].
RH: Killed a few whales.
CB: In Reddish.
GH: When I lived in Reddish, I lived there ‘till I was eight years old and there was no electricity. It was all gas. There was a little gas mantle and we had to be very careful because they were very fragile you know to get them to work and when I was eight years old we went to this club in Stockport and it was electric lights all over the place and of course at eight years old like I was switching them off all over the place. Yeah. [laughs] Having a real good time with them but and also it had been a well-known house. It was a four, four storey property and it would, it were owned by a well-known doctor, surgeon and he had two daughters, I remember and they had, at the side of the fireplaces there was like a lever that went down into the servant’s quarters like, you know, and when they wanted the servants they just rang this damned bell thing you know. It was all hooked up to that you know.
CB: Yeah. Mod cons of the day.
GH: And the, and the electricity, you know that was, that was something else. At eight years old I thought oh dear me.
CB: So in Reddish -
GH: No gas lights to bother about like. Switch the light on and off.
CB: Yeah. In Reddish what were the heating arrangements?
GH: The heating. Nil. Absolutely nil.
CB: Open fires.
GH: You had a fire, an open fire. Yeah. That was the only heating you had.
CB: And the toilet and washing?
GH: Well the toilet was outside in the, in the shed outside.
CB: Was it a flush toilet or a thunder box?
GH: No. It was a thunder box. [laughs] And er –
CB: Which meant that a horse and cart came around regularly and –
GH: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: And then they –
GH: Dealt with it. You know.
CB: Then the thing was tipped in -
GH: Yeah.
CB: To the cart and put back again.
GH: That’s right. And I remember the doctors for instance you know. I remember my mother paying a penny a week. Hospital fund as she called it. A penny a week you paid. But we had, we had a family doctor that used to come around and deal with things and I suppose he got paid with this penny a week thing you know.
CB: Yeah. Well the NHS didn’t start until 1948.
GH: No, that’s right. Yeah. This was from 1915 to when I was eight. It would be thirteen, 1913 when I left Reddish.
[Recording paused]
CB: Just tell us a bit about “walls have ears” George.
GH: Well you weren’t, you weren’t allowed to talk about anything appertaining to the, to the war. Like where I was you know, in London. These bombs that dropped on the camp where I was. We weren’t allowed to talk about it at all so I never found out what happened to these people that were bombed on the camp. I know it wasn’t me that was bombed but it was on the WAAF depot but there must have been some casualties within that WAAF camp you know to, to have happened to them. Fatal happenings.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And you just, you just weren’t allowed to talk about these things.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And that stuck a lot after the war and that’s why the serviceman didn’t talk to their children or their wife about what happened because that’s how they’d been brought up. Just keep your mouth shut. Walls have ears. [laughs]
CB: Now bearing in mind that aircrew went on operations, normally thirty and then did something else did you get any people who were effectively being rested coming to help out on your training?
GH: No. No. No. I never came across anybody but I remember taking, the recruits sometimes had to be taken in batches to wherever they were going and I remember I had to take about twelve recruits and that meant that a sergeant had to go with them as well as a corporal and we went to a, a big air force place on the east coast of Scotland. Can you think of anywhere there?
CB: Montrose there was one.
GH: No. No.
CB: No.
GH: No. It wasn’t there. And there was a single track railway there and I remember we got –
CB: Leuchars. Leuchars was it?
GH: No.
CB: Ok.
GH: It’s still going. The air force -
CB: Oh Kinloss.
GH: Kinloss.
CB: Yeah.
GH: That’s the one. And they had a single line railway there and we’re off the train and we handed them over to one of these guys with a truck like to take them to the camp and I managed to get him to sign the docket that I had for, for these recruits. Otherwise I would have to wait for the next day to catch a train back. It was a train due to go back and unless we got rid of these recruits to this driver and get him to sign, sign the docket for them you know I’d have to stay the night. And what they used to do when you were taking recruits like that it was when your leave was starting so it was part of your leave that, you know, as far as I was concerned.
CB: Yeah.
GH: So I thought no I’m getting rid of this lot, so anyway I got, I got him to sign the docket for them you know. He said, ‘I’ll get, I’ll get, I’ll get in trouble when I get back,’ he said. In my mind I said, ‘I’ve got to get back to, back home.’ I said, ‘I’m on leave now.’
CB: What rank was he?
GH: He was an LAC.
CB: Right. And that was quite a long journey then.
GH: LAC driver.
CB: Yeah. Leading Air Craft man.
GH: Oh yeah. It was, it was a long way that you know and -
CB: What provisions –
GH: And I’d got to get back to Stockport.
CB: Yeah.
GH: To start my leave.
CB: Yeah. So what provisions did they give you on the, like, the recruits for that journey?
GH: Did you say it was Lossiemouth?
CB: No. Well it could be Lossiemouth. Yeah.
GH: Lossiemouth.
CB: Ok. Well it’s close.
GH: Lossiemouth. It was. Yeah.
CB: Is not far from Kinloss.
GH: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
GH: Lossiemouth.
CB: Right.
GH: That was where we were.
CB: Yeah.
GH: They’re still active aren’t they?
CB: They are. Yeah.
GH: Yeah.
CB: So what provisions were they given for the journey because it was a long trip?
GH: Well, they had, they had a pack, a food pack made up for them you know but on the camp you know.
CB: Yeah.
GH: And you always –
CB: What would that be?
GH: You always got something enroute you know at a station. You know, where they could get a cup of tea and a bun.
CB: Because you had to change trains.
GH: You changed trains yeah. Yeah.
CB: How long did that journey take, roughly?
GH: I don’t know. About I think it was about six hours or something like that I think.
CB: And when they got to Lossiemouth what were they going to do? Was that where they were to be stationed?
GH: That’s where they were going to be stationed but what they was going to be doing there I just don’t know. I don’t know what the individual was going to do. Whether they were going to be pilots or gunners or whatever I don’t know. Flight mechanics or whatever.
CB: Because at that point -
GH: I don’t know.
CB: They wouldn’t have any trade would they?
GH: No. No. No.
CB: Right.
GH: No they would be just fit [laughs]. As best I could get them anyway.
CB: Amazing. And they were all be good at football after you were doing it.
GH: Oh yeah football was, yeah, I loved that. You see Morecambe had a, we had a team of professional footballers from somewhere or other. Arthur Chester, the goal keeper, he came from Queen’s Palace. He played for Queen’s Palace and QPR and Bill [Byrom?] he played for Blackburn. Arthur Lancaster He was another goalkeeper. He played for Huddersfield. Oh we had, goalkeepers we were alright. We had three, three professional goalkeepers. [laughs]
CB: Completely blocked the goal.
GH: That’s right. Yeah. But we were only, only playing one of course but yes we, and we won quite a lot of trophies during that period with Morecambe, you know. Yeah.
CB: So just going then to Wilmslow. When you finished there was that because of the end of the war or you were posted somewhere different.
GH: No. I was, I left the air force in, it would be ‘45 I think.
CB: What time of the year?
GH: I can’t remember.
CB: And where did you go from there?
GH: I went to Lancaster. I, that was when I had to get myself a job. Being about twenty nine, thirty at the time. I had to get myself a trade. Lancaster City came and wanted to sign me for their team and I said, ‘Well I’ll sign for you if you get, give me a trade,’ so that’s when I went in to engineering and I finished up in engineering all my life.
CB: What type of engineering?
GH: Well it was a craft really. It was metal spinning. We used to spin parts for aircraft and all that sort of thing, you know. Spin, spin on a lathe, you know, Used to give you a block of wood and, and a drawing for what, what you were going to shape it to and then you’d put it on, on the lathe, get it drilled and on the lathe, turn it to the shape that was necessary and then spin it. Spin metal on to that to give you a shape and that’s, that’s what I did for the rest of my life but when I finished when I was sixty five they were starting, they were starting to finish with the spinning and they were doing nearly everything by press. By pressing. They increased the method of dealing with these things. They used to make a press and they used to press it. Everything was pressed and did away with the metal spinning then so I got out at the right time you know when I retired.
CB: So you went to Lancaster City.
GH: That’s right.
CB: And you played with them for how long?
GH: I played for them just for one season and then there was another team of, that came to me you know to play for them and I became an FA coach. I went on an FA coaching course and I became a coach and I became a coach and manager of this team, non-league team. In the same league as what Lancaster City was. So –
CB: Which one was that?
GH: I was with them for three years.
RH: Rossendale
GH: Rossendale. Rossendale United.
GH: And they –
CB: And you –
GH: Had quite a good team but I got out of it for one reason and that was because money was beginning to talk in the game and I was getting players that I knew to come to play for Rossendale and the directors said, ‘Oh we can’t afford him. Too much. He needs too much money,’ and I wasn’t able to get the players that I needed at the time because they hadn’t got sufficient money so that was that.
CB: So how long did you actually continue as a coach and manager?
GH: About three years. That was, I think I was thirty three -
CB: Because you were juggling -
GH: By that time.
CB: Two things weren’t you? You were -
GH: Oh yeah.
CB: Juggling the sport.
GH: That’s right.
CB: And the trade.
GH: That’s right. And I found that I could, I could make a living, a better living by playing part time football and and working as an engineer so that I got two wages coming in then you know and that, that was well worthwhile then because the amount of money that was being, you see Rochdale when I was playing for them at the end of the, the war they wanted me to play for them but they, they offered me absolute rubbish as a wage you know and that’s where I realised that I’d got to do something about this after, after playing finished.
CB: When did the children come along? During the war?
GH: No. After the war. My son, my son was born just at the end when I, when I finished in the air force. He was born right at the end.
RH: ‘47/48 I think.
GH: Was it?
RH: Yeah. And I’m –
GH: 1947/48 yeah.
RH: I was ’54.
GH: Yeah
GH: 1954.
GH: Yeah.
RH: Tell them about when you were at the conflict you were telling me the other day about when you were playing for Lancaster and doing your metal spinning at the same time and you had an accident.
GH: Yeah. Oh that’s right. Yeah. The, it was a bit, the engineering was a bit on the dangerous side you know. The metal spinning. You get cuts very very easily you know and there was one, it was, we were working Saturday mornings then and I cut the end of my finger off and I went across this room towards the nurses place, you know, at the other end of this room. I was halfway across and I fainted and that’s the only time I’ve ever fainted in my life and I’d lost so much blood that it must have affected me you know. I was only out for a minute or so like you know and then they, they managed to get me up and take me to the hospital in, in Lancaster to get it seen to and we were playing in a Cup tie that day and I said, ‘Well I can’t, can’t play today.’ ‘Oh we can’t do without you. It’s a Cup tie. You’ll have to. You’ll have to play today.’ And we was, we had to go to a team called Bacup in Lancashire to, to play this Cup tie and and they’d strapped it all up you know and bandaged and everything and I played this Cup tie. I had to go off before half time because the ball had hit this. I tried to keep it out of the way and it all started to bleed again so I was covered in blood and the trainer, trainer took me off like, you know and bandaged it all up again you know. The second half I was pushed out again. [laughs]
CB: Never looked back then.
GH: That was my experience.
RH: I mean the –
[Recording paused]
CB: So we’re just going to get a question from grandson Josh
GH: Yeah.
CB: And see what the reaction is. So Josh what’s the question?
JH: So I want to know if you resent the war at all?
GH: No. I don’t, don’t resent it at all. I think what was, what was done had to be done and I hate to think what would have happened if we didn’t win the war. What would have happened then?
JH: But asides from, you know, the war happened, yeah and you had, you did your bit and that’s very honourable the, the politics involved in it. I mean does that, does that make you angry or –
GH: Well the politics –
JH: I mean just the very, the fact of war and the nature of it.
GH: I never went in to politics at all, you know. I just did what I thought was right and and I thought that the war was right. It needed, it needed to be done and that’s what we did and did it successfully.
CB: What do you say was the general public attitude?
GH: The general public attitude didn’t, the, I don’t think they liked the war. I mean to say you get the Londoners who had been in these raids on London all through the war you can’t expect them to say, ‘Well I enjoyed it.’ They, they, they wouldn’t enjoy it. No way. But I think that it was something that had to be done and the forces, whatever they were, navy, army, air force they’ve all done their job and done a good job and the people today should be very thankful for what happened.
CB: Any more? Ok. Thank you. So we’re now winding up at five to one and many thanks to George, to Josh and to Rosemary. We are in Middleton Cheney having been talking with George Haigh.
[Recording paused]
GH: It was two –
CB: Arriving in Morecambe. Yeah.
GH: Two, two physical training instructors like that posted to Morecambe. There was two of us and I was given the travel warrant so I was in charge kind of style and we went through Stockport. The train pulled up at Stockport on its way to Manchester and then on to Morecambe and I I said to this bloke with me, I said, ‘I’ve got the warrant.’ I said, ‘I’m, I’m going home to see my wife.’ So I got off the train there and went and saw and saw my wife. Got back to the station at midnight kind of style you know and we were going off to Morecambe. We eventually arrived in Morecambe at midnight and they didn’t expect us at that time of course and the, one of the police, SP, he, he took me into the headquarters and it was a hotel that they’d taken over in Morecambe and they’d got cells in the basement for any wrong doers and they said, ‘The only thing we can give you is one of these cells.’ I said, ‘Well how do, how do you go on about when you have an air raid like?’ You know. Because coming from London like you know we thought everybody had the air raids. They said, ‘We never have an air raid here at Morecambe. Never.’ Anyway, we got, got to bed in this, in this, in one of the cells and they were going to billet us next morning and the air raid warning went and it was the only time that Morecambe ever had an air raid warning and I went outside and it were like the illuminations. Everybody put their lights on, you know [laughs]. Morecambe was flooded with lights and we found out like, you know, that this, this plane had obviously got lost and was in its way to [Barrow] and -
CB: Across Morecambe Bay.
GH: Across Morecambe Bay.
CB: Right.
GH: And that was the only raid that Morecambe ever had in their, in their life. [laughs]



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with George Haig,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 19, 2024,

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