Interview with Roy Briggs


Interview with Roy Briggs


Roy Briggs was born in Battersea, London. After leaving school he undertook an engineering apprenticeship with Benham and Sons, producing equipment for the war. He describes his life during the Blitz. When he joined the Royal Air Force he trained as a wireless operator and served at RAF Fiskerton. He was on operations to Plauen, Cuxhaven and Potsdam. He also took part in Operation Manna and Operation Exodus as well as Cook’s tours over Germany. Until he was demobilised in 1947, he served at RAF Upwood. After the war he returned to a career in engineering.







01:58:03 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and I am in Hemel Hempstead with Roy Briggs who was a wireless operator in the war and we’re going to start talking about his earliest days and right through to his working life as a civilian. So, Roy, where did it all start?
RB: In Battersea. I was lucky but we lived in a London terrace which was by the side of Clapham Junction Station, and Mac in number 3, my dad in number 5 married two girls from 17. There was still a girl and a boy left there. One, one aunt was married and one of the sons was married but they only lived locally so when I was born we moved to Balmoral [?] Street opposite Price’s Candle Factory alongside the Thames. We lived in a downstairs flat. This, what I’m saying now I’ve got vague remembrance but it’s mainly from the family talking. When the Thames got high the water come up the manholes and come down in the basement where we were and the police knocked us up and we, we went upstairs. We weren’t there long. My grandmother on my father’s side had diabetes and lost both her legs so mum, dad and me moved back to help grandad with nan so from then on I saw my two grandfathers and my grandmother every day. My grandad, who had come from the country, had rabbits, chickens and racing pigeons and I was very involved with him with the racing pigeons from an early age. He died by the time I was ten and I used to put rings on the, on the young birds. They used, he also got fairly bed ridden and he instructed me from the bed on what to do. I matched them up, pairing them up for mating and so I rung them. I took them up to Clapham Common and released them. We had a friend who used to race our pigeons so I was down there most days. My aunts, on Saturday afternoon, used to go to Battersea High Street and Northrop Road shopping and they used to come in to see grandad and grandad so on a Saturday afternoon it was, in the summer, it was the men playing darts in the garden and the girls chatting with nan and drinking tea indoors. [mild laughter] The only time that I went away I think I went to Westward Ho! I think it was only for a week, what they called in those days school journeys. We had an undertaker’s opposite us on the corner and horses. The Chapel of Rest was opposite us and the horses used to be there in those days when they went I went and picked up the manure and put it in buckets of water for grandad for watering his flowers and stuff. And in Battersea in those days that was sort of the life. My father worked at South Kensington Museum. The highlights in the summer used to be when he used to cycle home and come in to Battersea Park and mum used to take us down and we met in the park and had a picnic and played games before we came home. When I got bigger we used to go as far as Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common during the summer holidays but that was about it. I went to Shillington Street School at first until I was, till I was ten and then I went to Latchmere, Latchmere Road. I broke me thigh when I was ten, I didn’t realise it, playing football. On a Sunday morning going down to get the chicken food and the pigeon food I took the dog with me and on the way home I collapsed and got up and didn’t realise at the time but when I got up I shot the bones up. Somebody come to help me and that they hopped home and told me dad and he came down and got an ambulance and took me in to Battersea General Hospital where I was, where I was put on traction for weeks, for some weeks to pull me leg down and then when they took me down to plaster me they measured both my legs and the one that they hadn’t pulled down had grown so they put me up again to pull the other, the leg that had broken down to get it to the same length. My uncle worked for Battersea Borough Council, driving. Used to come and look over the wall, get on the back of the van and wave to me [laughs]. My grandad looked after the horses for Battersea Borough Council and he used to go in early of a morning and feed them and clean them, get them ready to take the dustcarts and that out so he used to come home about half past nine to have his breakfast. So, he, he was around during the day. He used to then go back in the evening to feed them and look after them in the evening. [pause] Yeah. That —
CB: What about school?
RB: Pardon?
CB: What about school? So, when did you leave school?
RB: 1939. I was, I’d put in for going to the, be a telegraph boy but went and had tests and that but there was people at sixteen who’d left Grammar School going for the same job because it was thought to be a fairly good job [laughs] in those days and I did not get accepted so I then started at Quickflows [?] it was supposed to be a good little engineering firm. So the Labour Exchange told me. They did Spitfire cockpits and also the sliding windows on London Transport buses. I got the job of cleaning the Bostik off round the glass that went in the frames to slide and as there was somebody there about nineteen and had been there since he was fourteen and he was still cleaning Bostik off the glass I did not [laughs] think it was a very good job. Luckily my mum had worked with somebody in the 14/18 war and her son worked for Benham and Sons, a catering company, and she had a word and he’d just finished his apprenticeship and he had a word and got me a job there. I think, I think it was somewhere about May ’45, er ‘39 I started there. They were starting to expand because they were getting contracts for the Ministry for cooking equipment and that because they’d started re-arming with cooking equipment if not the aircraft [laughs]. They were in, in Garratt Lane and they went over the River Wandle and they were having an extension built. They, they dug down and took half the Wandle up and built an air raid shelter in level with, in the Wandle [laughs] really and then built on top of it more workshops which were finished probably late, late ’39. Yeah. ‘39/’40. Yeah. I, first of all, started building dish washers and then I got in with Jimmy Thurgood who was a good all-rounder in his, in his thirties and he was the odd job man and with him I got a lot of experience and when I did sinks and drainers and boiling pans with him but, yeah he, if there was maintenance trouble quite often he used to get involved in it. Getting on in to, in to 1940 and Dunkirk our first Ministry contract was for hold fasts. It was one about half inch six steel plate and one about three quarters and they were somewhere about four foot square and they had, I believe, thirteen holes in them with thirteen tie rods about three foot long I believe. We made the tie rods and the nuts and one went either side. Being a catering firm we didn’t really have big lifting gear and somehow or other we got permission to use the Wandsworth Greyhound Stadium car park and Jimmy Thurgood and me went down there and we met a low loader with sixteen foot by eight foot sheets of steel. We took some crowbars with us and we crowbarred these sheets off the low loader on to the ground and at the same time, all very organised the [laughs] British Oxygen Lead [?] came with Oxy Acetylene boards which they unloaded there for us. We went back I suppose about a quarter of a mile away to the works and we picked up gauges and hoses and cutting equipment and went back down there and connected up and we cut these sheets into eight pieces, four foot square which was still not really handable [?] but a lot better. We, we put these on a trolley and pulled them along Garratt Lane to the works. They went in and they, they flame cut them to the shapes on the outside and then they went to the machine shop where there was only one machine. It cut, it drilled the thirteen holes which I think were somewhere about three quarters. As soon as they were done they were assembled and taken to Clapham Junction Railway Station and put on, in the guards van and they went straight down to the south coast but they were set in concrete for coastal guns to be connected to. The first contract was done in about seventeen days. A manager or director of the firm afterwards said to me said to me when I said about this ‘oh it didn’t matter what it cost’, but cost wasn’t in it. People just worked on it. They drilled the holes. If somebody went for a break then somebody else stepped in. The drills. There was a stock of them. When they needed re-sharpening they went to the tool room and re-sharpened and it it it just kept going all the time. After the first contract we got lots more and then we started, which was something very new, rocket [emphasis] launchers and Jimmy Thurgood and me were on, on the first of the rocket launchers. They, we had the sheets come in and there was lots of holes punched in them so that the heat could go through and, but they were made in to a half round with rolled edges either side and the rockets were just placed on them and fired. Fired. There was the back of it rested on the ground and there was two, like a tripod, fixed half way up. After the first ones other people started getting involved and Jimmy Thurgood and me we got involved in the firing gear, because the heat that came out of the end of the rocket melted [emphasis] the first firing gears [laughs] and [background laugh] we, we devised a, a nose which we did an [abrasion?] at the end which touched the contacts and it went back down on to a spindle with a, with a, a spring on it, and, I worked or we worked till about 1 o’clock the first time we were on this and there was a despatch rider waiting there and he took it down, I believe, to Aldershot where the rest was already down there and they fixed it on to try it out. The night superintendent came along and said, ‘What are doing here?’ We said, ‘We’ve been working here.’ Well he said, ‘Are you Roy Briggs?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Your dad’s been on wanting to know if you were still working and I told him no.’ Of course there’d been an air raid and I wasn’t home [laughs]. So he said, ‘You’d better go.’ So, [laughing] as we’d finished I went home and dad was on the doorstep waiting for me. Yeah. We went in about 10 o’clock in the morning and by then we’d found out that it had been partly successful but not successful. We made a little bit of alteration to the shape but the main trouble was the springs. Anyway, we got, we’d, they’d got on to the spring manufacturers and we, we made two of these contacts during the day with the U shaped and in the evening the springs came and we fitted them and once again it went down to Aldershot. I think this lasted three or four days, three or four nights by which time we had a successful job and it went in to mass production. Yeah. But in ‘39 in the summer they had started calling people up and, to do I think it was six months National Service but because the war started before they got out and they were still in the services but after Dunkirk these people came back out of the forces because as they’d all sort of finished their apprenticeships it was easier to train soldiers to fire a gun than it did to make engineers which took much longer. Yeah, what, in fact one of them he come out and he got the chief, he was the chief Ministry inspector. A couple of others. We then started building rocket, anti-aircraft rocket launchers. I don’t know whether they have a name. When they were, they went into parks they were known as Z batteries. There was, they started off as singles and then there was four, doubles. The doubles were long tubes with about five holes drilled in them which had studs go through them and they were welded and cleaned off on the top and those studs held them on the framework. The base was, was round and went down and then these went on and we, we took over a printing works at Colliers Wood and they were made, all made over there. They went into the parks. Wormwood Scrubs there was no and I think, I think it was about sixty odd in a battery which fired about a hundred and twenty, a hundred and thirty rockets. They weren’t very accurate but they put a barrage up [background ‘Hmm’]. They carried on until 1943, when the army was getting short of people they took the people off these guns and ATS went on there and the Home Guard which were not really needed, they thought, then. There wasn’t much chance of invasion. They, they took over at nights as well. I do know one or two of the Home Guards who, who fired them. This, this time probably because I could, I could make simple tool jobs and we had half a dozen fly presses with ladies on them and I was more or less looking after them. It was, it was of a range. We had everybody from an actress to a lady whose father was a doctor and had never been out to work. Quite a shock for her to see what life was like. We had a prostitute. We had Kath whose husband had been killed at Dunkirk and yeah I more or less looked after them. Made sure the parts that they were putting through the fly presses were there and cleared away afterwards and if anything went wrong sorted it out. When I went to, yeah, the same time we’d taken over cheaper garages at northside, Wandsworth Common which we were, we were producing cooking equipment in. At Clapham Junction the milk depot closed down just before the war and we took over the milk depot at Clapham Junction and there ovens and stuff was made. There was, round Wandsworth High Street there was a dump or you could call it [laughs] you had a bit of a shelter, and not much but people worked in there doing sinks and drainers and by that time we were involved with the City and Guilds and their training rooms and that, professors and that were actually producing for us mass produced parts and that. Well there was one of the theatres. They took that over and that. It was a general office for getting war work done and we had gone from somewhere about five hundred people to, I think, about sixteen hundred people in that time. Colin. Colin Benham was quite well educated in engineering. His cousin, who was a commander in the navy, came out to help with us in the war work. There again, thought he had, with his, he had an engineering background I think, but, it was more useful. Miss Benham came and she, she looked after people who, who’d been bombed out and that and did things what she could for them and generally did work for them. Yeah. They had, they did their own ventilation stuff and sterilising. Big sterilisers. When it come to register I can’t remember which it was now. If you registered as a sheet metal worker you weren’t, you weren’t reserved occupation. If you were registered as a sheet arm worker you were. Or it was the other way around. Anyway, as I wanted to go in the air force, I’d been in the ATC, I registered as the one that went. I didn’t tell them that I’d put it down. And yeah while I was in the ATC we were attached to the Home Guard. We went down to Bisley throwing hand grenades and firing. We actually, in the ATC we actually had 1914/18 Lewis guns which they’d got out the dungeons from somewhere. I started off as number three but by the time I was going in the air force I got up to number one. Number three was, as they fired up to six hundred rounds or more a minute you know, you had to have a supply going. One fired and the other one fed it through I think and I, I got it up and then gradually we went up. Yeah. There was talk at the time that if we were invaded there was holes in the ground on Wimbledon common and that and some of us would go up there and come out to try and kill Germans. I thought afterwards that when, after Dunkirk, a little while afterwards there used to be reports come in that in villages in France somebody had come out and killed a German and they had killed all the, all the men and that over fourteen and things like that and then there were reports that they’d killed everybody in the villages, you know, I thought if I’d have come out and killed somebody how many of English and Londoners might have been wiped out by it. I had that in my mind all my life and glad it never happened. Yeah. We, we, we had a stick of bombs dropped around our road in October ’45. We’d had brick air raid shelters built in our back gardens. We had one and next door had one and there was just a three foot square hole which we could have got in to them or them in to us. I think there was about nine bombs came down. One of them had blown up and dad and me ran out and we went down the road and as I passed the house with somebody I used to go to school with he said, ‘Roy we’ve got a great big hole in our passage’ and I said, possibly a bomb by the side of it, probably a bomb had gone down so I said, ‘You’d better, better grab some clothes and get out in case it goes up.’ Before the war I used to help a green grocer setting up his stall before, before I went to school and on the way back home to get washed I used to take the vegetables into the fire station, Este [?] Road fire station which was in the next road to us. It was only half a dozen houses down so I did know the firemen in there. The fire engine from there came, came around and somebody I knew said, ‘Roy we’re here now. You go back home.’ So dad and me went back home, I was in the shelter and dad was in the doorway. We were talking to mum and there was a big bang and the bomb which was in this house had gone off. Dad and me raced down there. The fire engine was more or less wrecked and I couldn’t see the firemen I knew but anyway the other, other people were coming then. As we walked back home the moon was out and we saw a hole in the Flatt’s house. Jean, my sister was friendly with Jean, the daughter, and dad and me went and started banging on the door and couldn’t get any reply and next door come and said, ‘What are you banging on there for?’ We said, ‘The Flatt’s have got a hole in it, in their roof. Probably a bomb’s gone through it.’ So she said, ‘Oh. We’ll, we’ll go and tell them.’ They were in the shelter at the back and they went and told them and they came out and they grabbed some stuff and we helped them take it over outside in the car park at Clapham Station. They’d built an air raid shelter and we took it over but they went in the shelter and then we went back home. The, what we didn’t know that one of the bombs was on the shelter at the other end and later on it went off and killed, I think it killed two people in the shelter but [unclear] Jean and that. Yeah this must have been on the Friday night. On the Saturday morning I cycled over to the Beverly at North Cheam and my mum had had a friend over there who she’d worked with during the war and I said, said to ‘em, ‘Any chance of mum and my sister and me coming over?’ And they said, ‘Yeah come over.’ Her son was in the marines. ‘We got a four foot bed.’ So mum, me and my sister went over there and we slept together in the four foot bed [mild laughter] but dad stopped at home more or less. Dad patched up the windows and that that had gone, to look after the house really during the night. We had some old [unclear] but they didn’t bother to put, they didn’t bother to replace the windows. They put like a muslin over it, there was just the downstairs in the front that had a window in because people could have broken the, got through the muslin quite easy. The glass was a bit more difficult. Yeah and I cycled from North Cheam to Wandsworth in the morning. The raids were still on sometimes and the guns on Cannon Common were blazing away, shrapnel was coming down and when we went home of a night it was still, they were still firing and the shrapnel was still coming down. I’ve got a feeling that I did that for three or four months before we went back home. Yeah. March ‘43 I went for the first medical at North Cheam. I think some, early April, went to Euston House for the aircrew medical and selection board which I passed and got me number and the, and the King’s shillin’ and got deferred for two or three months but there was a great demand to get in as pilots but I think some of them were deferred for about a year there was, they had that many. Yeah. And in fact I was called up for going to Lord’s Cricket Ground on the 21st of June 1943. As I, as I went there I met Len Spratt who I spent the day with at, at Euston House and we went in and we, we got our injections at the same time in the long room. We dropped our trousers in the long room. W G Grace was on the, a picture of him was on the wall. [phone rings in background] I don’t remember but they, they said that they used to turn W G Grace’s around.
[phone ringing and then phone conversation]
CB: So we —
RB: It’s a bit —
CB: We’re just on W G Grace and when you were at um when —
RB: Yeah.
CB: You went to Lords and he was looking down on you.
RB: Yeah but they do say that they used to, used to turn him around when we dropped our trousers but in all of it I don’t remember that [laughs]. Yeah. We, we were in flats opposite Regents Park Zoo. Len and me were in the same room and, in fact, I can cut it short, we were always in the same room or the same hut for the next year. We, we went in to the zoo four times a day to eat. In the restaurants not in, not in the cages. Along by our flats were Stockleigh Hall and another posh one. I must be getting old I can’t remember their names. Yeah, and they had a garage underneath and they did put a canteen in there but we still we were talking to people afterwards who were at Lords they that they were still using the zoo for quite some time. We went to Seymour Hall for lectures and swimming. You could march down there and have a lecture in the morning and go in the afternoon and they’d removed the flooring and you were in, in for swimming. There was a garage at the roundabout at St Johns Wood and they took that over and that’s where we got kitted out. In, in the park was [pause] anyway I can’t remember at the moment. They used that as the hospital. The normal run was to stop at Lords for nineteen days. Some, some things were, activities took place in Lords. They had the gas mask room built there and you went in and tested your gas mask. You got paid there, sat on the seats in Lords till you got called out for your pay. We did our first marching in Regents Park and in the back streets there. First four, three nights were spent putting your names on all your clothes and that. After that you were allowed out where most of the Londoners took their civvy kit home and sort of saw their parents. Unless you were on guard most evenings were free. Yeah, after the nineteen days we went to the railway at Olympia. I think it was called Olympia and there was another name for it where there was a troop train in there and it was just the one train and all the different trades went on and they dropped off a couple of carriages every, every here and there going along. We used to then, got taken to, either pilots or navigators, where they were going. We went to Bridgenorth which was up on the high level. There was a lift to go down to get on the street level down by the river. Yeah. Yeah. We went out to, there was 18 and 19 ITWs which was mainly wireless operators and air gunners. I, I had actually gone in as wireless operator/air gunner and at that stage I was still a wireless operator/air gunner. Probably jumping the gun a bit. Early in oh probably the decision had already been made and hadn’t got through that to stop training wireless operators as WOPAGS for Bomber Command. The, the thought was that if your gunner got killed or anything and you had to go back, by the time you got back, operated the dead man’s handle which lined the turret up with the fuselage, opened the doors at the back, disconnected his oxygen, his intercom and got that out of the way. Got hold of him and pulled him in and if he needed first aid badly to stop it and then we’d have got in to the turret we would probably have been shot down anyway so after that ruling come out we stopped doing the full air gunner’s course although we did enough that we could have got in and fired them. If the wireless operators were going to Coastal Command they then went on and did the air gunner’s course because all the gunners I believe and wireless operators operated air gunners and they did a swap around on sixteen hour flights that they all had a break from whatever they were doing. Yeah. I, I stopped with Len for all that time and then they said he had webbed feet and got to go to Coastal Command. We don’t believe it [laughs] and I’ve still kept in touch till today. Yeah. We, at, at Madley after ITW we went to Madley where we flew on Dominies where you could have an instructor and a number of you went in there and you had the one set and went through it, after that you went into Percival Proctors which is just well, [?] you and the pilot in the main although there were some three seaters if anybody was having trouble and they needed an instructor up with them. Most of the, most of the flights were about fifty five minutes but the most dangerous part was coming back to land because they used to see the NAAFI van leaving the site and they had Lyons fruit pies which were delicious but there was a very limited number and they all wanted to get in to get their pies. There were one or two collisions when the airfield controller fired Very cartridges to tell people not to land. They always thought he was firing at somebody else I think. Yeah. It was, it was pretty hard work on, on training. You, we had Morse. At the same time we did things which health and safety and things because I suppose they thought we were all going to end up as officers and NCOs. We did things like setting up camps by a river and taking the water for cooking from the top and washing and using the ablutions down the way the water was lying. [laughs] Yes. We had to do fault finding on, on the radios, coding and things and you used to get a test on these. Some were about every fortnight or so. If you did not do very well then you went to evening classes and I believe a week was eight days so that the schools were used every day. You had a different day off every week. If you went on evening school and then on the next time you hadn’t picked up or perhaps it was a couple of times you then went to FT which was Further Training and you didn’t want to do that ‘cause you lost all your mates. You went back a few courses. I, I was nearly always on extra training but I never went to FT. The people who went to FT if they went back a few courses and then didn’t succeed they were then ceased training and well the only place for them really was to go as air gunners. We had people who, who joined us at Madley who had been to America and failed as pilots and then go on the training as navigators and had failed at, failed as navigators. I believe some of them after that went, went as bomb aimers. Yeah, in fact we had one chap who reckoned he’d worked it that he’d fail his pilot’s and failed as a navigator. I don’t know whether the air force had caught, caught on to him but when he took his wireless operator’s exams he just scraped through and I don’t know whether the air force had done that deliberately and he was the first one that had to bale out [laughs]. Yes, well I got me, got my sergeant’s stripes about a fortnight before I was nineteen, went on leave and then we went back and then we still did another about three months wireless operator’s training. After that we went to Llandwrog, North Wales. Number 9 OAFU I think it was. They were flying Ansons and we got bearings for the navigators who were really having more, more experience of flying and training where they were going but I believe sometimes we used to fly two or three times a day with different crews. I think we were only there about a month. After that we went to 30 OTU at Hixon and we got crewed up. We, we got Reg, Reg Featherstone as a pilot, Johnny Smale as the navigator, Roy Briggs as wireless operator, Benny Benson as a rear gunner and me and the navigator disagreed afterwards about whether we got Taffy Jones as a mid-upper. He seems to think that we didn’t get a mid-upper until we went to Heavy Conversion Unit but I’m sure he’s wrong. Oh and we got a bomb aimer. This is bad [laughs]. He was an Indian civil servant. I can’t, I can’t believe I can’t remember his name. [laughs].
Right. We’ll have to come back to that. After doing ground training we started flying. Reg was struggling rather and he, we soon sort of always had another pilot in with us and I think it was probably only after a couple of weeks we had the chief flying instructor in with us for a couple of times and Reg got grounded. Unfit for heavy aircraft. So, we become a headless crew. Robbie Roberts had, had joined the air force before the war. He had been seconded to the Royal Navy and had spent some time on the Ark Royal. He then re-mustered for pilot training and went to South Africa, and I believe South Africa and Rhodesia for pilot training and ended up, I can’t remember what the, what aircraft he flew but he did a tour in the Middle East before coming back to England. He was then at Hixon as a headless crew and we got together and luckily because he’d got this mass experience it didn’t lose us too much time because he had twin engine experience. So we, we swapped between Hixon and Seighford. Spent some of the time over at Seighford for OTU. When we were at Hixon they were a rotten lot. They said as we got in the plane, we were on circuits and bumps at Seighford and they said, ‘Roy take us back to Hixon will you?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ full of confidence and I got in and we took off and I worked like mad to get Hixon to recognise my call sign amongst the other three hundred who were trying to get it. Eventually I got through and I got a bearing and all proud I said fly so, so and so and so and they were all looking at me and laughing and they went like that and we were about two foot off the ground [laughs]. Yeah talking about like that when we were on Lancs the navigator used to call the sign out for the, to get the speed out for the pilot. Of course the pilots didn’t do anything. Only drive. I mean the engineer used to push the throttles up with him. He used to do what I told him. He used to do what the navigator told him and the gunners if they wanted him to do something he had to do what they told him. Yeah and Johnny was calling out the speeds and I, it was getting slower and slower and I was looking at him and he looked at me with panic in his eyes because we shouldn’t be up in the air and we weren’t. Rob had made that good a landing we were on the ground. We were all looking at the, on the other hand Rob did a rotten landing and we bounced and Len said, ‘Oxygen going on skipper.’ [laughs, including background laugh] They were a few of the, yeah, from, we were, we were actually in a field at Hixon by the side of the railway. I don’t know whether you remember but in the, in the ‘40s after Hixon packed up English Electrics took over the hangers and they were taking one of their big transformers and it got stuck on the level crossing and a train hit it. There was a loss of life but that was actually at that level crossing in the field that we used to stop in. Yeah.
Yes. We then went on to a holding unit I think, for a couple of weeks before going to Swinderby. We started heavy conversion on, on Stirlings. After Stirlings and when you were used to four engines you used to then go to Lancaster Finishing School if you were going on Lancasters but a couple of weeks into our course there was enough Lancs available and they phased, the courses in front of us carried on on the Stirlings but we were the first at Lancaster course to go right through on, on Lancasters. Yeah, we picked up Len Piddington as the, he was a pilot flight engineer. In 1944 they had trained that many pilots they didn’t know what to do with them so they sent a complete courses of flight engineers from St Athans to the army ‘cause the army was shorter, short of people and these pilots went to St Athans and did an engineer’s course on the promise that if they completed a tour on Lancs on Bomber Command they could then go back and re-muster and finish and carry on as a pilot for Lancs then but of course the war finished and none of them had finished a course by the time, I don’t think, a tour by then. I have met one person who carried on flying on Lancasters and finished his tour and went back and then trained as a pilot and he went into Lancs. We then, I think we went to a holding unit, Balderton I believe, because there wasn’t all that much flying. There was a lot of snow around in Lincolnshire but it wasn’t, it wasn’t too long because we went to Fiskerton. The pilot and I think the navigator, some of the crews went second [?] dicky on tour with an experienced crew, they never entrusted me with anybody [laughs]. They, on the day after me twentieth, yeah my twentieth birthday because I was the only teenager in the crew by this time, Benny who was a teenager when we first crewed up had had his twentieth birthday. I, [pause] we, I don’t think I went out drinking because we were on an air test of N-Nan which had completed a hundred ops so we flew around N for Nan. I think it was an air test. Afterwards we flew, N-Nan did a hundred and thirteen ops and we took it on its hundred and tenth and the hundred and eleventh. Yeah. We then had a week’s leave to, which they used to say to go and say goodbye to your family and before starting ops and went back. We got called for an op which I think they called us about midnight which got cancelled and then we, we got called back to the briefing room for an attack at Plauen on the German Czech border. This was one of the targets that the, Churchill and Stalin had agreed needed bombing. It was er, we took off just after 6 o’clock and got back something like I think it was nine hours. Nine hours trip, which seeing we’d been up for an op the day before and we then had to go in for the debriefing and a meal. Carried on for quite a while and I think it was four days later we got called to do a daylight on Potsdam on the outskirts of Berlin. We were all briefed and ready to go and the Met Flight said that the weather was too bad over there so it got cancelled. We got called back to the briefing room later on and the stream was told us it was still Potsdam but there was still one going around Germany. They told us that the Potsdam raid was still on. This was the first time Berlin had been bombed for about a year. The last time by Lancasters. The last time they’d lost about forty two I think. Mosquitos had carried on bombing Berlin of the night, light night bomber force. They used to bomb regular with their one four thousand pounder. In fact in the darkest days Mosquitos used to do two flights a night. A crew would take off in light over here, bomb Berlin, come back, a new crew, new bomb and another crew would take off and it would be light by the time they got back. Anyway, we were told we weren’t going to Potsdam. We were going on a daylight training aircraft were going to have OTUs and heavy conversions were going to fly towards Germany to pick up the fighters like this was just going to be our squadron. I’m not sure if we had one or two Mosquitos and we were going to fly around Germany and bomb Cuxhaven on the way back and I don’t know whether it was because we had an experienced captain we could then go back in and see what we could see on fires and that and then I could send a message which I didn’t want to do because the German fighters could pick up on your radio. But they, we felt that they were risking our lives unnecessarily because if there had have been fires we were going to be home in an hour and a half. We could have told them. [laughs] Anyway, we went back in, didn’t really see anything. I mean we didn’t have enough aircraft really to get any fires going and I did code a message up and send it, send it back. Oh yes and on the nine hours to Plauen it was an extra long night because somebody had a puncture in front of us and we couldn’t get back to, to our dispersal and had to stop and wait there until they organised somebody to come and pick us up and a ground crew to come and take over the aircraft because we had to sign to say that any faults and that was on it. Yeah so yes so that was it. After that we had, yeah on the 18th of April we, we were briefed to bomb Heligoland. The main reason for this was that the Royal Navy were going along the North German coast supporting the army and Heligoland had U-boats and E-boats and submarines which they felt could come back and attack the navy by the rear. Yeah. There was approximately eight hundred Lancasters and two hundred Halifaxes on the raid. We, I think we bombed Sylt. It was an island by the side of, with a little airfield on it or an airfield on it. I don’t think they’d been using the aircraft from there for some time. Somebody hit the oil storage tanks and the master bomber didn’t have much, a chance of directing bomber. I think he said, ‘Bomb the smoke, under bomb the smoke as you get in and then over bomb the centre of the smoke and port and starboard of the smoke’ you know so yeah there was only a couple of Halifaxes lost I think. It’s probably the only time I saw the thousand aircraft ‘cause we bombed and we went over we turned around to come back and we either saw the aircraft that bombed in front of us or those that were still going in to bomb you know because normally on nights you didn’t see them anyway and on other daylights if they went and bombed and carried on you didn’t see them. After that we started, mixed up with a briefing for the 20th for Hitler’s birthday to bomb Berchtesgaden, we were also being briefed and I believe we had something like twenty briefings for Bremen. Bremen, the army was having trouble in some places to advance and in other places were going easy and we kept going back to the briefing room and eventually we got, we got briefed for Berchtesgaden and we, I think we got out to the aircraft and the Met Flight said the weather over the Alps was too bad so it got cancelled. I’m not sure if the next day or the day after, yeah, the 22nd I think we went to Bremen. Yeah, in the end we went to the briefing room and they said that they were gonna withdraw troops to a certain line for, in the evening and they were ordered to come back to that line and we were going to bomb in front of it. As it was I think when we got there and we were going in as we got along there, there was some cloud and the master bomber said, ‘Apple Tart,’ which was don’t bomb. So we went there and we didn’t bomb. I think whether some aircraft earlier or after went and bombed but we didn’t bomb. The, a couple of days afterwards I think it was about eleven thousand garrison surrendered. [pause] And, oh yeah and then the squadron, we didn’t go, I think about the 25th they bombed Berchtesgaden but as we bombed, as we’d done four or five we were on a stand down and the Berchtesgaden one, that was the last one on the squadron. We, we somewhere amongst then we got a cross country looking for [pause] windmills [laughs] sorry. Sorry I had a job to remember the word. Yeah. We went around Norfolk looking for windmills not knowing what it was but on the 29th we got called to the briefing room to say that we weren’t going to drop bombs. We were going to drop food over Holland. And that was the first of our six trips over, over Holland. When we come they said that we, they hadn’t got permission for us to drop the food and they weren’t sure how the Germans were going to take it. They were going to tell them we were going to go and were hoping they were going to get away with it. Nobody got fired on although there were reports that some of the Germans were still with their guns and that but so we, so we came back and we got called to the briefing room on the 30th and were told that as we had got away with it the day before they were going to do it again and send some more aircraft in the hopes that the Germans wouldn’t think that we would do that and then they would open fire. We did it on the second and then the next, the next, the next day we got called and were more or less told the same although I believe later on that day that the, they did agree that we could go over and do it so, yeah. So we did another three we did six drops to I think, the Hague, Rotterdam, Delft and Valkenburg airfield. Amongst the children there was a girl who now works in our charity shop up the shops and we’ve got chatting and I’ve, I’ve taken her to an aircrew buffet and told her that I was feeding her sixty nine years ago. I didn’t still think I’d be feeding her sixty nine years afterwards. We’re great, we’re great friends.
CB: What height were you flying when you dropped —
RB: Oh I should think about two fifty foot or something like that wasn’t it? About two hundred miles an hour I think.
CB: And was the food in the bomb bay or how was it released?
RB: It was in the bomb bay. It was in nets. Yeah.
CB: So how did they, how were they released?
RB: By the bomb aimer on, as though he was dropping —
CB: In a sequence was it?
RB: He just dropped the lot you know and they, but they, you know, you could see the targets anyway but they had pathfinders had put targets, targets down. Yeah,
CB: Could you see the locals?
RB: Pardon?
CB: Could you see the local?
RB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah you could see, you were close enough to see them. Yeah.
CB: What were they doing?
RB: Pardon?
CB: What were they doing?
RB: Waving and, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah and they by the end they had put in flowers “Thank you RAF” Yeah. Because they, it was about nineteen thousand extra people died during that winter which they take it was you know the starvation and that. They were eating bulbs and things. The, the Germans weren’t really feeding them and the Dutch had gone on strike to help for their bit for the war effort. Yeah. I think this lady I talked to I think she was fairly well off and they had a maid and they, they, they took some of their valuables. They got her to take them in a pram out in to the country where people were a bit well off to try and sell it, you know.
CB: What’s her name?
RB: Ellen, Ellen.
CB: I think we’ll take a break there.
RB: Right.
CB: Thank you.
CB: We’ve just had a break for one or two things. By the way this is the 28th of January and we’re now going to carry on with Roy. We’re close to the end of the war, right at the end of the war but we’re talking about Operation Manna. So Roy how did you get briefed about this and what were your reactions as a crew?
RB: Well we went to the briefing room and were told that we weren’t going to drop bombs we were going to drop food. I don’t, I think it was a shock really that there was, they’d said that they’d tried to get permission from the Germans but they weren’t playing you know and that the Dutch were in such a state that they’d offered to let a ship go in but the, I believe but the Germans had said no. Yeah, it was a bit of shock yeah that I, I know that I’ve read that a CO wasn’t pleased that he was telling his crews to go in at about two hundred miles an hour and two hundred and fifty feet or something like that and there was no, no agreement and that they were going to tell the Germans that we were coming, you know, over the radio yeah. But as, I mean I could never really have imagined myself dropping bombs over Germany. In fact, as a little titbit, you know when we got, I think it was over Bremen or somewhere. I thought, is this me? A boy from Battersea doing this, you know. There wasn’t much flying before the war. It was a different world. And everything it’s just when it all starts it’s all far away and it just goes one step at a time, you know and then all of a sudden you’re on a squadron and then all of a sudden your skipper goes on a second dicky and that and it’s getting nearer and you’ve been trained for it for twenty one months you know and it’s, it is all, it is all a case of doing one step and somehow thinking that what, if anything bad is going to happen it’s going to happen to somebody else. Not you. Yeah. No. I mean even the second day there was a thought of oh when they said they were going to send more we thought are they going to let us build up you know, to, before they fired at us. They just, I think when we got over there glad that those in front of us if they, well if they’d have been firing on them we’d have no doubt turned around and come back. Yeah. Because you know I mean they could have virtually fired at you with rifles couldn’t they, I mean. Because the Dutch people had been good to aircrew that had come down over their land. They were good ‘cause the Manna Association went over there for years after the war and took part in their, I think it’s their Freedom Day or something isn’t it?
CB: And when you got back from the sorties what discussions did you have as a crew?
RB: Well, we, we’d got away, you know. They hadn’t fired on us, you know and we sort of accepted it. That we had got away with it. But there was, there was that thought that the next day was, was going to be a build up but no. That was—
CB: So you’d done two. Now you get to number three. What are you feeling now?
RB: Yeah well after that we did, I think it was after the third that we were told when we come back from our third that they had agreed that we could —
CB: No.
RB: Go on dropping there. Yeah.
CB: So you stopped at six.
RB: Yeah.
CB: So what was the reason for that?
RB: VE day I think.
CB: Right. OK
RB: Yeah.
CB: Ok. So in the beginning you’ got the apprehension. What was the briefing about? If the Germans did fire on any of the aircraft ahead what were you going to do?
RB: I don’t know that there was much, you know, that they were just hoping that they wouldn’t.
CB: Just go in —
RB: I think we were about the third squadron in you know so we were in the early stages of it.
CB: Right.
RB: Yeah.
CB: Ok. So fast forward now to the last raid and we’ve got the end of the war. So can we carry on the narrative there? What happened then?
RB: We, Bomber Command brought, I think, something like seventy two thousand released prisoners of war back in twenty seven days. We took Uncle over to B58 at Rotterdam. No. Was it Rotter?
CB: Melsbroek?
RB: What?
CB: Melsboek?
RB: No, B58 at, Holland anyway. We took a service aircraft over. We had a spare wheel and a ground crew and we went over and landed there. It was no air traffic control. I think from, from, from H hour to twenty five past aircraft landed. From H30 to 55, aircraft took off and that’s how it was. You know, there was discipline and it went, and they they came in and they landed and loaded them up with troops and away they went.
CB: So this was Operation Exodus. Where did you fly into with these POWs?
CB: Because Westcott here —
RB: Pardon?
CB: Westcott up the road here?
RB: No. No, we didn’t bring any back. Although they say we did we didn’t bring anybody back, in my actual log I’ve got them asking me whether flight sergeant somebody of, did we have him on board.
CB: Ah.
RB: He was on compassionate leave.
CB: Oh right.
RB: And we brought him home but the squadron records say that we didn’t bring anybody home.
CB: Right.
RB: We one of the other aircraft brought some Red Cross.
CB: So as such you weren’t part of Operation Exodus.
RB: Pardon?
CB: As such —
RB: No. No.
CB: The squadron wasn’t part of Operation Exodus.
RB: No. No. No.
CB: Ok. Well don’t worry about that. So we’ve got to the end of the war. Then what?
RB: We took, I think we took some people around Germany. Some ground crew. To see. And then we went to Bari and Naples bringing troops home.
CB: Oh you did.
RB: Yeah. We, yeah.
CB: So just on the round robins, the Cooks tours they called them. What height did you fly over the cities? Cause that’s what you were doing.
RB: Not very high so people could see. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And what was your relationship with your ground crew during the, during hostilities anyway.
RB: Yeah we got on alright with them all but seeing as we flew a number of different aircraft you know you didn’t get the same ground crew all the time.
CB: Oh right.
RB: I mean some, some people seemed to do twenty, twenty trips in the same aircraft.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and more.
RB: No. All I got here is Exodus. Service aircraft to B58
CB: Right. Anyway, on the Cooks tours where did you fly then?
RB: Essen, Cologne, Aachen and Antwerp.
CB: Right.
RB: I think that might have been the only one we did. Yeah ‘cause in, in May ‘45 by the end of the month all Australians, Canadians and foreign people had gone out of the, out the crews, you know.
CB: Oh right.
CB: They went home immediately.
RB: Yeah they yeah they got out. So, I mean, I know a pilot, he was the only Englishman. He was on leave and went back and they’d all gone. [laughs]
CB: Didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.
RB: No. No. No. No.
CB: I bet he, yeah, what was the relationship in your crew like?
RB: Yeah alright there was only one snag was the mid upper gunner.
CB: Oh go on. What about him.
RB: He had a girlfriend in Leicester.
CB: Taffy Jones.
RB: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So he went there a lot.
RB: Yeah and you know we covered for him when we were more or less in briefings and he didn’t get back till the last minute and things. Yeah.
CB: So what, so did the crew socialise a lot.
RB: Yeah well you really had to because other crews were doing things at the time.
CB: Yeah.
RB: We basically knew our crew and then I knew wireless operators, the navigator knew navigators because they had —
CB: Yeah.
RB: Sessions together, you know. I might, if you got friendly with another wireless operator there was a, chances are that you might get sort of a bit friendly with the other crew but they would be flying other times so you know other than being in the mess —
CB: So how did the crew feel about Taffy Jones going off all the time?
RB: Yeah [laughs] We’d know that there was, there was —
CB: What did the crew say to him?
RB: Well at times we felt as we should dump him, you know.
CB: Did you?
RB: Yeah. Yeah. The rest of us were, were alright you know.
CB: Commonly known as pee’d off.
RB: Yeah.
CB: Because the flight engineers didn’t join till after OTU how was Len Piddington selected? Or did he just appear?
RB: I think, I think he just appeared. I can’t remember now, you know but yeah.
CB: Yeah and how, how did he get on?
RB: Yeah he was a Londoner you know and we had, yeah.
CB: So now we are at the end of the war what happened then?
RB: We went down to Wyton. No we went down to Upwood. Upwood was due for a clean up after the war so we went, we got transferred to Wyton. By the end of August 576 and 156 were being disbanded. Alan Craig was CO of 35 err 156. He was ex- Halton he’d done a number of master bomber trips and they, they did six Lancasters with Lincoln engines in to try them out and he did master bomber trips on them trying them out. I suppose because he had an engineering background because of Halton.
CB: What was his name?
RB: Alan Craig.
CB: Oh Alan Craig. Ok.
RB: He was well known and he got picked to take 35 Squadron around America in 1946. He, as the squadron was being disbanded he went over there to Graveley. He grounded some of their crews and they not very, they weren’t very pleased with him and he sent over to 156. My skipper was in line for going but he, his, he got married in ‘44. Joan who lived in Stratford on Avon and I take it there were a lot pilots around there she had been engaged twice and both got killed and when they got married she thought flying was dangerous and when the war finished he was to give up flying. As he’d been in before the war he was due for demob by the time they were going to America so he would have had to sign on and he wouldn’t sign on so that wiped our crew out. Flight Lieutenant Jenkinson DFM he, I don’t know how, he didn’t have a wireless operator and I’d kept me nose clean. Nothing special but you know just did as I should do. The signals officer, we got on alright but he got on alright with lots of them you know and him and Jenkinson asked whether I would like to go with them so I said yes because my crew had well I think a couple of them had already been posted to other places. Me navigator was on his way out to the Middle East. He was an accountant and he was going on ground crew in the accounts somewhere. The bomb aimer’s going. Len they sent over to, to another squadron. I mean why they, why they took him and put on another squadron. Benny, the rear gunner he went to another squadron. Yeah. So I went over to Graveley. We got our white Lancs and started flying and we were going to be Alan Craig’s crew. We spent hours in the crew room waiting for him to take us up to fly but he never did because he had other things to do and then a signal came through from High Wycombe that it was all pathfinder crews and it had got, been remade with crews from each of the bomber groups so you’ve heard of Sir Mike Beetham have you?
CB: Absolutely.
RB: He come from East Kirkby down to Graveley and swapped with a crew. We swapped with a crew from 138 at Tuddenham and, I was, I was torn. When he come he didn’t have a wireless operator and I said did I [?] want to stop with him and you know I didn’t want to lose my crew so I said no. It was the worst thing I ever did really because when they got us over there to Tuddenham we were a new crew and they were grounding crews left, right and centre. They sent. They us on leave. I got recalled the next day and got posted so I never saw any of Jenks crew. The day after I left the two gunners come back and got posted. So I found out. By the time the pilot come back he didn’t have a crew. They’d all gone, you know [laughs]. So yeah at Tuddenham we were doing photographic work for town and country planning. We didn’t do much because we were making maps over bombed areas but quite often you know with cloud and that we didn’t get all that much photographic work done. And anyway I don’t know whether I would have gone because Flight Lieutenant Koreen [?] had a mid-air crash. He had a nose and he went into somebody’s tail and the wireless operator had frostbite and I never did find out whether he went around America.
CB: So they took their Lancasters with them did they?
RB: Yeah they did.
CB: To America.
RB: Yeah they went around. Sixteen —
CB: Good Lord.
RB: Sixteen went around America. Yeah. Yeah. I did, I did have all the cuttings and that.
CB: Yeah.
RB: And um —
CB: But you never went.
RB: No. I didn’t go but I knew the people, a lot of the people, and I thought of, and when I saw Mark Beetham up at Hendon once I said ‘I got them’ and he said ‘I didn’t ‘ave it cause I was there’ so I handed over to him all the photos and that that I had. Yeah. Yeah it’s like. How far are we going to go on?
CB: No, we’re just, it’s just a question of what you did at the end of the war.
RB: Yeah.
CB: ‘Cause you came out in ’47.
RB: Yeah.
CB: So what did you do between the end of the war and when you were demobbed?
RB: I went to Cranwell on a, on a course for VHF Homer. Do you know?
CB: Yeah.
RB: VHF Homers? I operated a VHF Homer at Wyton. Only for a day or two. I was on air traffic control as an RT operator giving aircraft permission to take off and land. I, I was on duty now, now, now I’m going to do a bit of a shine [?] I was on darkie watch. Darkie watch. Anybody know darkie watch?
CB: That’s, no. No
Other: No. No.
RB: It was on channel 4. The transmission was I think was ten to twelve miles maximum so if you were in trouble during the war you could use plain language.
CB: Yeah.
RB: And you could say —
CB: Oh it could only go twelve miles.
RB: Eh?
CB: Yeah.
RB: You could say Lancaster of 576 squadron I’m lost.
CB: Right.
RB: They could put searchlights up and things like that.
CB: Oh right.
RB: If you had trouble they could get somebody to talk if he was injured or in trouble and things like that. Anyway, I was the only one, there was no flying so I was the only one on air traffic control for the night. I took a —
CB: We’re just pausing to look at documents.
RB: I took a call from Group in the night that the Americans had lost a Dakota in the Alps. Oh I’ve already told you every, every three weeks we were duty Air Sea Rescue [?] Squadron and had to have an aircraft standing by all the time. I think we had airborne life boats which had come in. We had one of those. We never used it as far as I know and I switched on the tannoy and said, ‘Emergency air sea rescue. Emergency air sea rescue. Emergency air sea rescue. All air and ground crews report immediately. All duty air and ground crew should report immediately.’ I rung up the crash crew to make sure they’d heard me. The Met girl had come up before she’d gone off. I knew the winds. I’d put the runway lights on, I’d put the perimeter lights on and by the time the, I can’t believe it now but I believe it only took somewhere, something about just over a quarter of an hour for a crew to come ready to take off and by that time ‘cause I wasn’t supposed to give the aircraft permission the flying control officer was supposed to be there. I mean when I was on an airfield by meself overnight I wondered whether if it had ever happened you know if someone had said, ‘I’m in trouble.’ I had to [?] switch the lights on for them to land. What would have happened —
CB: Yeah.
RB: You know, but officially?
CB: What rank —
RB: So —
CB: What rank are you now for authority?
RB: I’m warrant officer.
CB: You are. Right.
RB: Yeah. Yeah the, anyway we got them off and they went to the Alps and they did find the Lanc but I think they —
CB: The Dakota.
RB: Pardon?
CB: The Dakota.
RB: Yeah, they found the Dakota. They saw it a number of times. In fact I can probably tell you how many times they found it. [pause] Anyway, in the Alps, flying, they’d saw it a number of times and there was a crash crew from Milan sent to find them and I think they went across to Castel Benito for the night and then went back the next day.
CB: Right.
RB: I suppose being the nearest —
CB: Yeah.
RB: Anyway they went over and —
CB: This was a daylight operation?
RB: This is looking for daylight in the Alps, yeah. I have got the cuttings here.
CB: So why didn’t the Americans send a plane to search?
RB: I don’t know. I don’t know. In fact, in fact I think afterwards they did sort of say that —
CB: Can we look at those in a minute?
RB: Yeah. Yeah well yeah well that —
CB: Yeah.
RB: That is the paper reports.
CB: Yeah.
RB: And it’s in focus and we diverted the Lanc to what is now London Airport to be interviewed by the BBC.
CB: Right. Amazing.
RB: And I’ve here got the signal from the American air force. Message received as follows from the USA Air Force in Europe, ‘Please convey our deep appreciation for the efforts in finding our aircraft and the hard work put in.’
CB: Brilliant.
RB: And when we were clearing up they said, ‘Roy you did most of it. You’d better take that with you.’
CB: Very gratifying.
RB: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RB: Yeah.
CB: So when are we talking about? 1946 is this?
RB: This is ‘46.
CB: Ok. And you were at Cranwell.
RB: No. No, I’d come from Cranwell. I’d done the course at Cranwell.
CB: Oh right.
RB: I’m back at Upwood.
CB: Back at Upwood. Ok.
RB: Yeah.
CB: So you’ve done, you’re still flying intermittently.
RB: No. No.
CB: Not at all.
RB: No. No.
CB: Ok so how did you come so we’re in ‘46 but you didn’t leave till ‘47 so what did you do in the rest of the time?
RB: RT at Upwood.
CB: Ok and how did your demob come about?
RB: You got a demob number. Your age and when you went in and mine was 45 and that was due out but it varied on trades because believe it or not in some trades they were short. Trades which had been built up at the beginning of the war were due for demobbing and if they hadn’t, if they didn’t need more along the line yeah and I did while I was at Upwood the only other highlight was I went over to Wyton because they were short of an RT operator over there and somebody on the VHF Homer and I did, I did a day or two on the VHF Homer over there. Yeah.
CB: So your demob date was actually 1945 but you didn’t take it till ’46?
RB: No, no, no that was 45 was the number.
CB: Oh sorry.
RB: But it came up —
CB: Beg your pardon.
RB: It came up. Wireless operators. It was due March ’47.
CB: Right.
RB: Yeah.
CB: Ok so then you knew that in advance.
RB: Yeah.
CB: Where did you go for demob?
RB: Lytham St Anne’s at Blackpool.
CB: Ok and what happened then?
RB: They said did I want to go back in? [laughs]
CB: Yeah. And you said —
RB: No. Well those, at that time well pre-war the air force spent a lot of time overseas. In actual fact about that time squadrons of Lancs used to go to the Middle East and that for a month and come back, you know so it would have been a whole different ball game then if, from the —
CB: So when did you meet your wife Joyce? What was she doing?
RB: 1943.
CB: Right. Where was she?
RB: Um she was in Battersea. Yeah, she worked for the Red Cross and St Johns Joint Organisation [?]
CB: And so you saw her intermittently or how did you —
RB: It was intermittently, yeah. Yeah, yeah I mean I was only coming home once every three months for leave sort of thing or —
CB: Yeah.
RB: An odd weekend.
CB: So that was another motivation for leaving the RAF was it?
RB: Yeah and to really I suppose to start doing something for, for me life you know.
CB: Yeah. So what had you chosen to do when leaving the RAF?
RB: I didn’t choose it. I got a job in engineering didn’t I?
CB: And you went back to it.
RB: I went back to it yeah.
CB: Ok. And they had to, it was a reserved —
RB: Pardon?
CB: Place? They had to take you back.
RB: Well yeah when I went back in there he said, ‘I’m not taking you back. I didn’t want you to go and you went.’ He was joking he was. [laughs]
CB: Oh right.
RB: Yeah. I I didn’t really have any young life, you know, even social life ‘cause I went to evening school for three years and evening school was evening school. There was no day release in those days you know. I used to work till 6 o’clock and race home and drink a cup of tea and race to be at Wandsworth Tech by quarter to seven, you know.
CB: And what was the course?
RB: Sheet metal plate work.
CB: Right.
RB: And after I passed it I went back in to work and said I passed my course and they said, ‘Right, Roy, we will give you a rise. We will put you up from one and seven pence farthing to one and seven pence three [emphasis] farthings.’
CB: Fantastic.
RB: And a little while later they said we’ve got a contract for Kirkup [?] Oil Pipeline and their cooking equipment as they’ve got so much oil they want it oil [?] fired so the boiling pans if we give you a half a dozen people to work with you you control it [laughs] ‘cause you’re getting the extra money. I’m getting the extra ha’penny an hour. So you know thinking back on it that probably they’d charge on [?] it got ten bob a week extra so you know yeah so I I organised it that the iron framework had to be, go and be hot dipped and galvanised so I sort of got that organised. The outer panels were going to be vitreous enamelled but we didn’t have a plant in those days we had to send it out to get it vitreoused [?] so the bits that had to go you got done in the hopes that when they come back all the in-house bits, the pans in stainless steel and the tops and that and the bits and pieces you were making you kept it going and it all ended up, yeah.
CB: So you spent the rest of your working life with that company did you?
RB: No. No I well we couldn’t get a house, you know. We were, we were in the mother in laws front room and then we managed to get two rooms and there was no chance of getting a place in London, I mean and Bartlett’s were in the same line but they, they were moving from Bell Steet because they thought they were going to be pulled down for the Harrow Road Flyover and they were having a place built out here so I applied for a job there and got it.
CB: In Aylesbury.
RB: No Hemel.
CB: In Hemel.
RB: Hemel, yeah, yeah and in fact we got a house and were down here before the factory. We had to travel up every day you know to, the next job I got when I was at Benham’s they got the contract for the ventilation for the House of Lords and the Commons what had been bombed during the war and they were used to galvanised and aluminium but underneath the fancy plasterwork they wanted stainless steel because they didn’t want it to rot and after all the cost of all the plasterwork so I got the job of the stainless steel because it all had to be welded and I could weld stainless steel when it was all curves and that. Yeah.
CB: So you know the House of Commons backwards.
RB: No. No, I didn’t, I didn’t go up there at all. I just made it and it all fitted so I didn’t have to go up there. Yeah. I got, I got in with the, the gang that places in London, the restaurants and that hadn’t been, hadn’t had any building work done on them during the war and we went to places like Derry and Toms to, to update their service counters. We used to, at this time we were working eight to eight because we were busy and we used to go up there Friday dinnertime and the counters were red hot. The counters in the pre-war used to be galvanised pipes going back with steam going through them and they would be red hot and we’d start stripping down from as soon as they’d finished serving dinnertime and we’d carry on stripping down and the stainless steel tops and that in the early days there wasn’t welding on stainless steel. It was riveting and various means and er but we used to put that on the lorry which used to go back to the works. We used to go home and then go in at 8 o’clock on Saturday morning. Our outside fitters used to be pulling out the pipes because at this time copper pipes were going in to replace the galvanised which were some had like rusted and that you know so we used to go in to the works and replace the tops and anything that needed to be. Sometime during Saturday night we’d load it on to the wagon and we’d go back and we’d go straight in and we’d start putting it up but there was no break because you didn’t know what snags you were going to come. Until it was finished you just kept so you worked from Saturday morning all the way through Saturday night round and it usually used to be sometime Sunday afternoon that used to get finished and you’d say ‘right we think we’re there’ you know, we ‘ave to, we used to have to make sure there were no leaks or nothing so there wasn’t too many of them but there was one. Barclays bank had a terrific long counter and it was decided that it was hopeless to try and do it all in one weekend so we did it in three weekends all running on so for four weekends I didn’t have a weekend off. I was out working eight till eight. Luckily it was, it was during the summer so I wasn’t at evening school. My son was born and I daren’t, my wife went into hospital. I daren’t say I’m not going because you were in that gang and if you didn’t go you were frightened that they wouldn’t have you next time you know but er
CB: When were you married?
RB: 1950.
CB: And how old are, well who are your children?
RB: Roger.
CB: Yeah and how old is he?
RB: He’s about sixty —
CB: No. He was born when?
RB: Er ’52.
CB: 19, and the next one?
RB: Peter ’53.
CB: Yep.
RB: Trevor ’56.
CB: Yeah.
RB: Andrew about ’59, I think.
CB: And then you adopted.
RB: Yeah.
CB: Who? What’s her name?
RB: Elizabeth.
CB: And how old is she? When was she born?
RB: About ‘69 I think.
CB: Right. So you needed to get over the others a bit before you took her on [laughs]
RB: Yeah. Well [laughs] Roger was working, you know.
CB: Oh was he?
RB: Bringing money in.
CB: Yeah. Right. Ok. We’ve done amazingly well. Thank you.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Roy Briggs,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,

Item Relations

This Item dcterms:relation Item: Interview with Katherine Thompson and Roy Briggs
Item: Interview with Katherine Thompson and Roy Briggs dcterms:relation This Item