Interview with Bob Frost. One

Title

Interview with Bob Frost. One

Description

Bob Frost recounts experiencing the London Blitz as a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service. He volunteered for the Royal Air Force and trained at the Air Gunnery School at Evanton, Scotland. He was then posted to the Operational Training Unit at RAF Chipping Warden. He describes an aircraft crash in Lincolnshire while at Chipping Warden. His operational posting was to 150 Squadron at RAF Snaith. On an operation to Essen, two of the Lancaster’s engines were damaged and the crew bailed out over Belgium. Frost describes being taken in by a farming family and sheltered by the resistance. Reunited with his crew, they were passed along the Comet Line through Belgium and France, being accompanied from Paris to St Jean de Luz by Janine de Greef. They met Dedee de Jongh who, together with a Basque smuggler, accompanied them across the Pyrenees into Spain. From Madrid they were driven to Gibraltar and flown to the United Kingdom. Bob Frost did not undertake any further operational flying. He was eventually posted to RAF Bridgnorth, where he met his wife Daphne, who was in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-09-16

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:43:03 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AFrostB150707

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

GC: Right here we go. My name’s Gemma Clapton. I’m the interviewer. I’m here with Sergeant Bob Frost. We’re doing an interview for the International Bomber Command in Lincoln. How about we start with how you joined the RAF and why? Your reasoning.
BF: Well to begin the story. I am Bob Frost. I was born in Camden Town, London, 1st January 1923. I grew up there. Went to the [Lyal Stanley?] Technical School. Took German. Went to Germany before the war and saw Hermann Goering arriving at Cologne Railway Station and scuffles in the streets between Germans for the Nazi party and the few who were opposed. When I got home I told my parents that I thought there would be trouble ahead and there was. The Second World War.
At that time, around about 1937 there was recruiting going on for the air raid precautions and the Auxiliary Fire Service. I joined the Auxiliary Fire Service as a messenger boy and went through the London Blitz operating from Camden town and across Holborn and that part of London. Coming home off watch one morning around about 5 o’clock I saw a man at Mornington Crescent digging at what had been his house, his mother was buried inside. He only had his bare hands, and I thought to myself helping to put fires out is one thing but it’s not stopping them and so I went and joined the Royal Air Force. My father had been in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War and was back in the RAF in the Second World War.
I passed for all grades of air crew but was told that pilot training I’d have to wait at least eighteen months before starting on pilot training. I thought the war would be well and truly over by then and so I took the offer of becoming an air gunner and went into the air force just immediately after my eighteenth birthday.
It took a year before I went on my gunnery course but I learned a great deal about what really happens to keep an aeroplane flying in the air force. It was a jolly good lesson. I went to Chipping Warden Operational Training Unit and was crewed up there with Bill Randle, the pilot, Scotty Brazill the navigator, Walter Dreschler, bomb aimer — Canadian, and Norman Graham — Canadian, the wireless operator. Whilst on that course we crashed an aircraft, destroyed a barn and knew from the way the crew reacted that we could instantly rely upon each other as a complete unit. It really welded us together.
We were posted to 150 Squadron, Bomber Command at a place – Snaith, near Doncaster in Yorkshire and there on our twenty second trip over Germany when we were carrying one passenger, the second pilot – Del Mounts a United States citizen who’d joined the Canadian Air Force before the United States came in to the shooting war and he was flying with us on his first op to gain experience before taking his own crew.
Going in to the target which was Essen we were hit by heavy anti-aircraft fire that put the port engine out of action. The aircraft relied on that port engine for all the hydraulics and this meant that the turrets no longer worked or anything at all but we pressed on and dropped our bomb, we only had one, a four thousand pounder cookie, on the target area and then headed straight for home. But over Belgium the starboard engine packed up at about thirteen thousand feet and we had to jump out, bail out, and came down by parachute.
I landed in a field which seemed to come up and hit me. When I’d collected myself and my parachute I hid the parachute as best I could and set off in a south-westerly direction using the Pole Star as a guide hoping to head for Gibraltar. We had worked out what you did when you were shot down, not if you were shot down but when and heading for Gibraltar seemed to be the best option available.
In the early light of the morning I came to the outskirts of a small village Kapellen by Glabbeek in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium, and I crept around the outside of the village, didn’t dare enter into the centre of it and I noticed a small farmhouse and for some reason that was the place for me. I went, knocked on the door hoping that an elderly lady would answer and I would be able to run away faster than she should she not prove friendly. But the door was opened by a burly young man. He spoke Flemish. It sounded to me something like the German I had learnt at school so I answered in my schoolboy German and the door was slammed in my face. I regarded that as a good sign, knocked again and eventually I’m in the kitchen of the house and there’s grandfather, grandmother, their daughter carrying a baby in her arms and this burly young man – her husband. They took me in and looked after me.
Whilst we were having a bit of a pantomime in their kitchen that morning a woman came along knocking at the door. This was round about 6 o’clock in the morning, to buy meat because the family were also the village butchers and she had seen me skulking around and made pretence of coming to buy meat at 6 o’clock in the morning. I discovered later that she was visited by the local resistance and told if she breathed any word of what had happened she would not breathe many more breaths. She kept quiet.
I stayed with that family for about a week and I was asked if I could ride a bicycle. Yes. And then I followed somebody on a bicycle to a small town Tienen or in French Tirlemont and was taken to the house of Manny and Marcel Renards [?]. Marcel was a stockbroker in Belgium and he gave me a suit. Now he was a big fellow and I was just a young lad of nineteen and the trousers came up under my armpits and I could easily look down and see [laughs] that the suit was really meant for a larger man but it served me well did that suit and I stayed with them for a while before being taken by train to, no it wasn’t a train it was tram to Brussels and lodged at a house of [Ashil Alieu] who lived on the outskirts of Brussels near to Laeken, near the royal palace there.
And whilst there I was taken into the centre of Brussels to the flat of two ladies, both Elisabeth and one of them came back from a shopping expedition and let her shopping bag fall across the table and out of that came a passport sized photograph and lo and behold it was Del Mounts - our passenger on that last trip. I recognised the photo and said ‘yes I know that fellow’, and the look of relief on the faces of those two girls was really good to see. They had queried Del’s story, they had queried my story. I was talking German. Del pretending, they thought, to be an American. The Germans knew that aircraft were coming down and crews were making escapes and so whenever an aircraft crashed they put in dummies on the ground pretending to be out of that aircraft. They would then enter into the underground network and when they got a list of names they would give them to the Germans and the whole line would be wiped out. That happened twice to the line I came through – the Comet Line, which succeeded in helping escape eight hundred and twenty allied air crew during the course of the war but at tremendous cost in lives to themselves.
From my [pause] safe house in Brussels I was taken to another place and there we met Bill Randle, our pilot who had succeeded also in finding his way in to the Comet Line and Del Mounts came along as well and we three were then taken from Paris to St Jean de Luz down in the south west corner of France by train in the company with three other escaping airmen by a young girl, Janine de Greef who was seventeen years of age. She made that journey from Paris to the south west corner of France twenty odd times during the war. So that meant forty trips in all. A real heroine that girl.
At St Jean de Luz I was taken with the other five members to a farmhouse on the outside of St Jean and there I met again Dedee de Jongh, the Belgian girl who had started the Comet Line going. She had been training as a nurse before the war. The war came she was doing her bit looking after the men who had not been able to escape at the time of Dunkirk. And they found that the cost of maintaining these men, because they had to buy all their rations and things on the black market, was prohibitive and they really needed to clear these men back to the United Kingdom and so they took a three Scottish highlanders down to the south west corner, got them over the Pyrenees through Spain, Gibraltar and back to England and that began the opening of the line to bring men back to this country.
From my position in Paris when Janine took us down to the southwest corner we travelled by train and the train was stopped at a frontier and we were taken into a hall, had to produce our identity papers which I had been provided with. I was now a Belgian seaman who had been stationed at Bordeaux and had travelled up to Brussels to his mother who lived there was elderly and not very well. Now I was now going back to re-join my ship down at Bordeaux so I had a reason for travelling. Had anybody examined the address on my papers the street existed but the number did not, so nobody would have had an unwelcome knock on their door from the German authorities seeking to know where this seaman Robert Seamoness [?] as I was known, had gone. They protected people from unnecessary adventure without any harm to anybody. They were a very thoughtful and well-arranged lot.
When I got to the Pyrenees I was taken with the six of us who had travelled from Paris over the Pyrenees by Florentino Goicoechea[?], a Spanish Basque smuggler. He was a professional smuggler and he guided men over the mountains to safe haven as we would thought in Spain. Whilst going over he led the group, Dedee de Jongh brought up the rear, I was the last of the six men and during the crossing I fell into a great pit, knocked all the wind out of me. Dedee saw what had happened and called Florentino back and he lifted me out of that pit like a drowned rat and dumped me on the ground at the side and all was well.
From time to time he would stop by a bush and bring out a bottle of Cognac which was passed around and how he knew one bush in all those hundreds I don’t know but he always found the right one. When we got to the other side of the frontier to cross the river Bidasoa we found that the river was in flood and we had to walk for another five hours to a bridge crossing in order to get on to the Spanish side. Climbing up towards the steep slopes on either side of that bridge there I was stopped looking at a little hut which had the Spanish Guard Seville members inside and one was outside smoking a cigarette. And I lay against the ground looking up at him in the darkness below thinking, ‘For goodness sake hurry up and finish your cigarette. I want to get to the other side.’ Well, eventually he moved off and I moved over and then we were greeted by a car with CD plates on the back and taken to St Sebastian and at that point Dedee left us and returned back to carry on her dangerous work through Belgium, France and up to the frontier. Florentino, he’d gone off and was then ready to bring the next group of airmen across.
In Spain we were taken to the British embassy in Madrid. It was the old Victorian building and the stables had been used there in the days of horse drawn traffic and that became the dormitory for we, the escapers, and there were quite a number of Poles there including the one who was in our group Teddy Frankowski. He wanted to get back to England and we thought he wanted to resume the fight against the enemy. It wasn’t really that. Back on station he had a motorbike and he didn’t want them to sell it before he returned. He thought a lot of that motorbike.
At Gibraltar we were housed quite comfortably but water was the great shortage. The lack of pure water was the great thing there and we were issued with soap. It would float in seawater and when you tried to wash with it was like using a piece of pumice stone. It scraped you clean.
But we were debriefed at Gib and then after almost a week there told to be ready to take off in an American Dakota of the United States 8th Army Air Corps and we were flown back to the United Kingdom. We flew right out over the Bay of Biscay to avoid the land and any fighter aircraft and landed at Portreath in Cornwall exactly five weeks and four days after taking off from Snaith in Yorkshire.
Nobody knew anything about us at all. We asked could we please have an overcoat because by now it was approaching Christmas time and it was jolly cold and we were provided with the proper air force winter uniform, given £5 which was a huge sum of money and a railway warrant up to London.
Bill went to his family. I went to see my mother who was working for the London Fire Brigade at that time at Shaftsbury Avenue and I walked into the place where she worked, she was a cook and said, ‘Hello mum,’ and we both stood and hugged each other. She hadn’t received anything other than the telegram saying that I was missing. She had called my father who was stationed at Chivenor in North Devon and they had both gone up to visit my brother David who was evacuated not far from Doncaster and then they went across to the squadron to see if there was any news of what had happened to me but there wasn’t any because I hadn’t been picked up by the Red Cross or anybody else. The shock of that telegram caused my father to become ill and he was admitted to Sheffield Military Hospital suffering phlebitis in his legs and unfortunately was not passed as medically fit for service anymore and was discharged from the air force. I’ve always regarded my father as one of the casualties of war.
I went back to where the squadron had, was or so I thought but when I got there I found it was no longer in this country. It was at [?] in North Africa. No, I didn’t want to go to North Africa thank you very much and so I was sent back to London and sent to RAF.
[pause]
And I was sent to RAF Uxbridge as a holding unit, I was put into a barrack room with a number of other aircrew NCOs of all aircrew trades and in the morning ordered on parade on the barrack square and was being marched up and down with these lads who I discovered had been sent to Uxbridge for court martial as lacking in moral fibre. They thought because I was wearing an air gunner’s brevet that I was one sent there for court martial. So I left the parade ground. A warrant officer standing on the side bellowed at me to get back on parade and I told him in two words what to do.
And then went to see the adjutant and explained to him that I had not returned back to this country in order to be marched about on his parade ground. He was most surprised and that evening I went home with an open leave pass in my pocket whilst they decided what on earth they were going to do with me. And the upshot of all that I was posted to the RAF Marine School at Coswall [?] in Scotland teaching the marine side of the air force what to do with such weaponry as they carried and tactics against enemy aircraft attacking them because a lot of them were engaged on air sea rescue in the North Sea and the best advice that could be given and the skippers of those north sea ASR boats agreed, was to leave the 303 machine guns wrapped up in oiled casings and not try firing them off against a Junkers 88 equipped with twenty millimetre canon. The best thing they could do was to shut down the engine, leave no wake and hope that the aircraft would start running out of fuel and leave them alone.
They did a jolly good job those chaps but I wanted to go back into the air force but not bombing this time but to go back supplying munitions to the underground movement and I succeeded in being posted to an operational training unit which would have led me on to 644 squadron flying Halifaxes, dropping supplies and also glider towing troops across the channel. But the air force stepped in and said no you’re not allowed back on ops anymore and none of our crew ever went back on operations again because if, we assumed we should come down again and were caught questions might be asked of us as to what had happened the first time around. Whether that be the case or not I’m not too sure but I finished my time in RAF Bridgnorth in Shropshire and there in the sergeant’s mess I met a young WAAF, a hospital steward, we were married two years later and we had fifty years and six months of happiness before eventually she succumbed to motor neurone disease.
Now I live in Sandwich. A daughter looks after me. She lives nearby and the friends I made during the war we’re on to the great-grandchildren. They have become our family. And to those people working in the resistance I really do accept them as the real heroes. If we were caught it was POW. If they were caught the whole family was caught and what happened to them I hate to think, in the concentration camps.
The stories I’ve heard from their relatives and the fact that when I went back to Paris to see Robert and Germaine who’d looked after me in ’42, Robert was no longer there. He’d been arrested in ’43 – executed in ’44. Germaine, they were going to send to forced labour for them. She refused to work for them and so was put in to Ravensbruck concentration camp. She survived, became aunt to my children and lived to be ninety years of age. Then she gave her body to the local hospital. I was given her two bibles. The old and new testaments in French and those bibles are now lodged in Canterbury Cathedral where they have a French chapel and a service in French every Sunday afternoon to the memory of a very brave person. That’s my story.
This is the Observer and Air Gunners Flying Log Book. And you had to get it signed every month as being accurate. This is to certify 1383682 LAC Frost R qualified as an air gunner with effect from the 23rd of January 1942. So I became an air gunner sergeant on the 23rd of January 1942. And that was Number 8 Air Gunnery School Evanton, Scotland, north of Inverness. Results of air gunnery course - exam mark ninety percent. Remarks – well above the average and then they made a ricket of the stamping here, well above the average. Should make an excellent air gunner. J Compton, Squadron Leader. I came top of the course.
That was why when I went eventually to the Operational Training Unit at Chipping Warden they put so many pilots, so many navigators, so many wireless operators and you were all in to a big hangar - sort yourselves out into crews. There were ten pilots, ten navigators and so on you see and that is what happened. This is my 12 OTU Operational Training Unit, the different flights, circuits and landings, circuits and landings, instrument flying, circuits and landings, cross country’s and all that kind of thing. That was the gunnery school and I came down from there as I say and they asked did I want to accept a commission or apply for a commission ‘cause I came top of the course and I said no thank you. I just want to be an air gunner. That’s all I’ve joined for.
And then we go to number, that was 12 OTU. That was in Oxfordshire and I’m crewed initially there. Let’s see if I can give you this. Evanton that’s there. Now here’s 12 OTU. Now look, date, hour, aircraft type, pilot and my first pilot and we’d sorted ourselves out in this big hangar – Sergeant Lock L O C K. I look down the list and his name never comes up again. What happened?
I’m near to Oxford at this Operational Training Unit. There’s a heavy air raid on London. I asked for a twenty four hour pass to go and see if my home was still ok. Remember I’d been through the London Blitz and knew what could happen. So they said yes you’ve got twenty four hours out and back so I took off, went home, everything was alright. I came back and one of the pilots there Sergeant Randle said to me, ‘Bob would you like to fly with me?’
I said, ‘No thank you I’m flying with Ginger. Ginger Lock.’ He said, ‘Ginger Lock’s not flying with anybody anymore.’ He had taken up a Wellington aircraft and sat in the back where I should have been sat was a chappy who was going to become a wireless operator air gunner. He’d done his wireless course and he was waiting for his gunnery course and the opportunity to fly in an aeroplane was too good to be missed. Ginger flew that aeroplane and the whole crew with him, a scratch crew, down to Henley on Thames where Ginger lived and they flew down over the River Thames up the hill on the other side straight into the trees at the top and he wrote the lot off. Had I not had that twenty four hour pass? And that was my introduction to what flying was all about? You see?
So I’m now flying with Sergeant Randle. And the first trip that we did together, you can’t imagine it, detail not carried out. Landed at Llanbedr. It was a cross country exercise. Navigation for the navigator. Remember we were an Operational Training Unit and the aircraft that were flying at these Operational Training Units, these OTUs, were all aircraft that were no longer fit for operational flying. They were clapped out. And so you got more crashes from these places than anywhere else because the aircraft as I say were clapped out. And the first trip that I did with Bill we landed because the aircraft was clapped out. That meant that it wasn’t working. Come home again.
That went on there and now I’ve got Randle, Randle, Randle, Randle, Randle all the way through until we come to the 21st of June 1942. We took off at 9:30 in the evening and we were going on a cross country navigational exercise. Crashed near Whitton, Whitton is in Lincolnshire, at 1:52 in the morning. We’re bowling along, I say bowling along in the air and the engines start playing up and Bill says get ready to bail out. Walter, our front gunner, bomb aimer said he didn’t think that was a good idea. We were too near the ground. So Bill said right take up crash positions and we crashed near Whitton. We hit a barn. I’ve got a picture of it somewhere.
[pause]
And when Bomber Command Museum was opened and we met together forty odd years after the war, the day after that we went to where we had crashed to see what it looked like and that was taken there and that’s was the farmer’s son who’s now grown and has replaced his father as farmer. They weren’t owner farmers they were tenant farmers and they’d had a new barn built – a brick one. The one we crashed into was a wooden one with a thatched roof and when Norman our wireless op, I’ll show you Norman [pause]. This one here, the Canadian wireless op. Now he would be sat about the middle of the aircraft and he came out through the thatched roof swearing what do the so and so British put on their houses ‘cause we didn’t know it was a barn at the time but he found Bill Randle the pilot unconscious in the crash so he dragged Bill out. I was in the rear turret and the gun sight that was right up in front of me came back, hit me on the head, I’ve still got the scar up there somewhere and it knocked me unconscious. Only for a little while, not for hours but just for a few seconds and I’ve got my turret turned sideways so that you could open the doors and drop out the back. That was how you got out of that particular one at that time and I opened the doors and there running alongside the aeroplane is this lad. Can you see the one right at the end, at this end, that’s it you’ve got this hand on it. That fella Scotty, the navigator. He was running down the side of the burning aircraft to get me out of the turret. When I say it was that crash that brought us together we realised that we would look after each other whatever happened and that really welded us together as a crew. If anybody in the crew said turn right we all turned right. You didn’t argue. The pilot was the one in charge but if anybody in the crew saw something that needed instant action and they said stand up, sit down, jump about, do anything, you did it. You didn’t say why, you just did it because you trusted each other. Now I’m the last one alive.
GC: Well we’ve got your voice on tape now.
BF: So -
GC: It won’t ever be lost again.
BF: You see, that’s these things. Now you’ve seen Daphne.
GC: Yes we have Daphne.
BF: As a young - when a fellow had seen her with her three stripes on -
GC: Ahum.
BF: Tell me when you’re ready. I met Daphne at RAF Bridgnorth in Shropshire in the sergeant’s mess. She had just been made a sergeant. She had a boyfriend before then who was an airman and she had been a corporal but when he saw Daphne with her three stripes on he turned tail and ran. But Daphne came into the mess and two years later we got married. Best thing I ever did.

Collection

Citation

Gemma Clapton, “Interview with Bob Frost. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 21, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/2339.

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