Interview with John Bagg


Interview with John Bagg


John Bagg worked as a clerk before joining the Royal Air Force at the age of twenty. He was trained as an Instrument Mechanic before remustering and completing a specialist camera course. He went on to serve on several training stations. After the war he returned to his old job, but then went into business with his wife as a photographer.







00:46:49 audio recording

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AM. This is Anne Moody and it is Friday the 2nd of September 2016 and today I am with John Bagg in Royston which is in Barnsley and I have also got with us Gary who may chip in now and again. I want to ask John, you told me you were born in 1920, where ?
JB. In this house, I have lived here all my life.
AM. Crickey, ninety five years.
JB. My Grandfather took it on then, my Mother took it over and then I took it over and I want to be carried out from here.
AM. You are not moving anywhere else?
JB. Only to my back Garden, it keeps me occupied.
AM. So did you have any Brothers or Sisters?
JB. Two Brothers both were in the Services, one was in the Army and the other was a Ferry Pilot, he transported Liberator Bombers from manufactures in Canada all over the World. Down South Australian to Caucasus Islands, that was his job.
AM. What did your Parents do John, what did your Dad do?
JB. Not very much because the jobs were scarce,and my Father eventually, because he was a Shell worker and when the owner stopped he was out of work. He managed to get a job at the Colliery, a poor job on the screens which wasn’t very nice.
AM. On the screens, what does that mean ?
JB. He was screening the coal in the dust and everything. It affected his chest so he had to go off work and I was at Normanton Grammar School in those days and I left at sixteen and managed to get a job at the [unreadable]
AM. That is unusual because quite a lot left at fourteen didn’t they?
JB. Not at the Grammar School, and the [unreadable] and I stayed there till I got my call up.
AM. So what did you do, what was your job?
JB. Just general clerical work, anything, poor jobs in those days.
AM. So you got your call up, at eighteen?
JB. At twenty, twentieth birthday you were expected to register and you registered each month after that, you had no option.
AM. So what did that mean?
JB. You could volunteer before that if you wished.
AM. So when you got your call up, what was that like?
JB. I had to go to Barnsley for an interview to try and assess you for what they put you into sort of thing, and I didn’t want to go in the Army and the chappy asked me questions, “what’s your interests?” and I was always interested in like I used to make my own crystal sets, radios and with headphones, and he asked me all this and he said ok. Then I got the word that I would be in the Royal Air Force as an instrument repairer which suited me fine and I thought what a great opportunity this is because there was nothing, nothing around here really, not the good jobs, nothing like that, and that was my call up in May nineteen.
AM. May nineteen forty.
Gary. Forty One.
JB. Forty One to go to Melcham, got a train from Ralston to Sheffield where I say two or three lads all going to the same places, you know there were masses of people travelling in those days being called up.
AM. How far had you been before that though?
JB. Not very far at all, been to Scarborough day trip, I remember paddling in the sea. Been not very far at all and been to Leeds, I’ve been to Leeds and Sheffield.
AM. So you got the train to Sheffield and you saw the other lads.
JB. Went up to two lads, where you going and they were going to Melcham same as me, and you know I have kept in contact with those two lads until they both died, one died just recently and one a few years ago, they are both [Unreadable] Barnsley lads.
AM. OK so we are going to start this recording we had a minor mishap, the batteries went flat but we will just carry on the story from where John got to. We have just got off the train, changed at Bristol and we have just got off the train at Melcham with hoards and hoards of other people who have been called up.
JB. The Military Police, so they shepherded us into buses and things into the Camp into a massive hanger and it was all portioned off, bedspaces, I was given a bed space. First thing was take your clothes off, not first thing, sorry. Get measured for your uniform, you went to the counter, there was a chap there he just said, “tunic, size off” and so on, he never measured you the sizes, you got all your kit, he did ask you size of big boots. Then you went and changed, the first thing then you parcelled your own civvy clothes up and sent them back home, you were in then.
AM. What did you get in the way of uniform then, what did you get ?
JB. Two tunics, two pair of trousers, pants, vests, socks and they were all course in those days, and the boots because most people had never worn boots, mainly shoes, but you had to get used to the boots.
AM. So what do you mean ankle boot do you mean?So just above the ankle.
JB. More or less like and I think they left you alone until the next morning.
AM. So you said it was a hanger with all the bed spaces, how many beds ?
JB. God knows, massive.
AM. And no privacy or anything, what was that like.
JB. I think the next day or two they did sort it out with a hut to live in.
AM. So what was it like sleeping in a massive dormitory like that then?
JB. I can’t describe it really going from home to that, you got talking and laughing and things like that.
AM. And it’s all men of course,there is no women there.
JB. And of course in the next day or two you were assigned to a hut and then there were medicals and God knows what.
AM. I don’t know if I dare ask you to describe the medical, go on describe it for me.
JB. Line up and pants down [unreadable].
AM. What does that mean ?
JB. Well looking at everybody, I didn’t see them turf anybody out. I suppose it was for disease and had to do. The inoculation I don’t know how many of those.
AM. And you are just all in a line waiting for you jabs.
JB. The bigger men seemed to pass out more than the others a lot of men passed out at the thought of inoculations you would be surprised.
AM. Why would that be, because they weren’t used to that sort of thing because now as kids you just get used to that sort of thing, don’t you. They literally passed out?
JB. Yes, eventually you got settled in and there is a Corporal at the end of each hut in a little private thing, there is a tannoy which in the morning said wakey wakey and by God if you weren’t out of bed in five minutes the Corporal would be out and he would tip the bed over.
AM. How many men to a hut?
JB. Not too many about fifteen or sixteen at a guess.
AM. What in an open space?
JB. I got one somewhere in here.
AM. We will have a look at it in a bit.
JB. Outside and Parade then, it was about seven in the morning, PE basically then off to the cookhouse for you breakfast. There was a mad stampede, everybody, I was always the last,I couldn’t run as fast as them others for you breakfast.
AM. What did you get for breakfast?
JB. The usual, sausage, beans,bacon.
AM. Well you say the usual, but had rationing started by then, I can’t, I’m not sure?
JB. There was eh, I don’t think we had cereal or anything like that, I can’t really remember now.
AM. But you definitely remember sausage and bacon?
JB. At one place I regularly had kippers and nobody liked kippers but I loved kippers. When the asked any extras, anybody want any extra, I was always there, I love my kippers [laugh].We then started on the drills and the marching and got down on the square you know.
AM. So at this point it is just learning to be a serviceman, rather than any specific thing. How many were there at the….
JB. We were farmed out then we didn’t get a hut, into bell tents outside and it was a scorching month during that year, scorcher. We did all the exercising and everything outside it was marvellous, they got us marching up and down the square.
AM. Did you enjoy it then, because you described it as marvellous so?
JB. There was a lot of Camaraderie between you.
AM. And you still were a very young man?
JB. There were older people mixed in all in that intake, mm, and marching and marching and marching up and down the square. You got assault courses you know bayonet charging you made fun of it in a way,you know charging up and down, shouting, and bayoneting these sacks. If ever you got to do it, I don’t know how you would do it. You know.
AM. In real life when blood comes out.
JB. And the assault courses, I was one of the smallest there but I kept up with them. Then eventually [pause] where am I ? Eventually after all this training there was no vacancy for a course at the moment, so they farmed you out all over the place to wait for your call up. I was going to show you this, the first place I went to, was unbelievable [rustle of paper] to Norfolk, place called Pulham in Norfolk, that was then but the hanger was.
AM. John is showing me a picture of a Zeppelin and a massive hanger in Pulham?
JB.Pulham in Norfolk.
AM. So that’s where you were sent so what did you do there then?
JB. General duties, it was a massive scrap yard, sort of thing apart from one industry that was there was filling small bombs, packing them all in big boxes and take them to the station for distribution. They had a massive danger area with a little railway all round it and masses of boxes for these bombs to pack in, fill and empty and so on.
AM. Was it dangerous, did they have any accidents?
JB. No not that I know of, you couldn’t go in without handing in your cigarettes and things like that. You got a little train round to where you went to. Not much work to do there, there were only about fifty people there I think, fifty probably and it was just a fill in.Then, massive you couldn’t believe the size of that Hanger.
AM. So what happened then at the end of that then?
JB. You got your call up for your Instrument Repairers Course, its back to Melcham then, its all right [unreadable] all the time and then we went on the course for the cameras’, for the instruments.
AM. For the Instruments. How long was the course.
JB. Three months, it wasn’t much use to me because at the end of the course they asked for volunteers for a special camera course. On cameras’ and things like that, so I’ve always been interested so I put my hand up. I never did inspections on instruments I was always on cameras after that.a
AM. Did you learn anything about instruments or did you already know it from?
JB. I passed the Trade Test, everything but I never actually did the work.
AM. So what sparked the interest in cameras’ as I gather there wouldn’t be a lot around at that time?
JB. I worked with these massive cameras’ you know, massive cameras’
AM. Give me an idea of what size?
JB.Stood about nigh high.
AM.So we are talking about a foot high.
JB.With different lenses.
Gary. These are the ones that fitted in aeroplanes.
JB. Some were for daylight and some for night work and they had special shutters and they were all radio, electrically controlled from controllers and things like that, control [unreadable] six volt.
AM. So did you have to do another course to learn how to use that?
JB. Oh yes, that was at Halton that, which was the college.In the Winter.
AM.Near Andover.
JB. I really liked that, the cameras’ and controls and things and after that, that was near Christmas and they couldn’t find us a station at the time. So they said go home and we’ll call you when your unit is home for Christmas and we said ok. In other days when talking to people the used to say, get posted to Finningley, get to Finningley, they have chicken every Christmas. When my posting came it was to Finningley, I couldn’t believe it.
AM. Did this come through the post?
JB. Yes, report to Finningley on such and such a date. It was true chicken for every dinner for Christmas, every dinner, a marvellous place that. I didn’t remain there long because they were opening a satellite, a smaller Station at Bircotes near Bawtry and I got sent there. It was just a pile of mud when we got there, not much to do at the moment, at the time of course it wasn’t equipped or anything.
AM. Just before we go to Bawtry tell me about Finningley, what did you actually do, what did you do there?
JB On Cameras’ introduced to the Photographic Section, you were attached to the Photographic Section not to the Instrument Section, and they showed me round a mock up of all the controls working. They were all flexible drives, motor driven and everything and how to work it and instruction books and things like that.
AM. So what was your job on them, what were you doing?
JB. Servicing the cameras’ There were some cameras’ like gun cameras’ which were fitted in the machine gun turrets, you got one camera and three or four machine guns synchronised on operations with the firing of the guns.With all film, little small film going through.
GARY.Were you actually taking them out of the aircraft or were you fitting them.
JB. No we were fitting them.
GARY.Fitting them into the aircraft.
JB. Same with the big cameras’ they weren’t left in the aircraft.
GARY. So what aircraft did you start working on?
JB. At Finningley they were Hampdens, they used to call them flying coffins, [laugh] I don’t know if I should say it they were horrible aircraft and then we soon turned over to Wellingtons.
GARY. Then was it Stirlings’ after that?
JB. No I never went on Stirlings’ no, later on at one stage they did get a Stirling to try but the system couldn’t take it they were massive things these Stirlings. I’ve got one photograph in there, Stirling.
AM. Yeah we’ll come to that. So you were literally fitting them in, fitting the cameras’ in, taking them out. Who took the film out? What happened to the film?
JB. Massive, films about that wide.
AM. So we are talking about six inches something like that.
JB. Some of them are taken, I want to show you.
AM. Yeah we will have a look of those in a minute.
JB. That was the size of them, that was the film size.
AM. Right so it was about six inches.
JB. There were hundreds of exposures you know they were massive.
AM. So we are back on again, we have just been talking to Johns’ Wife and we have switched the recorder on. So John has just been telling us about the working on the aircraft and the cameras’ so tell me a bit more about that then.This is still at Finningley?
JB. Yes I didn’t remain there long. I was sent to Bircotes.
AM. Tell me about that then?
JB. They was just starting up, we had to wait for aircraft being allocated to us first of. Then it got working then em, It was my first really working, fitting the cameras’ I had only been under instruction mainly at Finningley and then we had to go out together, the vehicle took us for transport. You might have six or seven lined up that day, six or seven sets, controllers and everything, might have electric motors. Suppose I had to service everything and controls and electric motor to do. It was our job to fit them in the aircraft all ready, all ready for off, Bomb Aimer had them.
AM. Yes because there was the one that automatically went off when the bombs were dropped.
JB. Yes and there are different cameras’ I say, some were for night flying, taking photographs at night, synchronising those big bomb
GARY.Were there a timer when the bombs were released, a time for starting to take photographs?
JB. They had to judge the height and speed and all this on this timer, you see.
AM. So did you set the timer?
JB. No the Bomb Aimer set the timer.
AM. The Bomb Aimer set the timer.
JB. The heights and things and it were on the shutters, so many seconds before the flash was expected to explode. Then it went, I think the flash operated it to close it. What we did when we was on training where I was, all mine was on training not Operations, they had infra red lights on certain buildings, there was one on the Menai Bridge and some in Churches and they were sent out at night to sort of Bomb this place and if they bombed it they got the infra red signal back.
AM. So not literally Bomb it [Unreadable through interruptions]
JB. They were bombing it and the flash would go off, they should get this infra red light on the thing itself you see to show that they hit it. Of course many of them didn’t.
AM. Who taught them to use the camera, who taught the Bomb Aimer to use the camera?
JB. I suppose I was in their training their briefing. It was funny, one place I was on if you were on like, picket duty might be about six month, eight month you were watching around for fires, something like that. You would get a book, some of the Aircrew might get an early call if they were flying off at seven o’ clock, and you’d get a book with the names on, hut so and so bed number so and so and you would go into this hut and find this, you can imagine me go up to this bloke and say are you Sergeant so and so, sign this [laugh]. It used to be comical, sign this, he would be signing to say that you called him.
AM. So it wasn’t your fault if he didn’t turn up.
JB. It must have been Operations when they went away and some of them didn’t come back, on Operations.
AM. Did you get to know the Aircrew then?
JB. Not really no, because they were changing very rapidly. They went to our place and then they would go somewhere else for different training.
AM. I am interested in the cameras’ who, what, who manufactured the cameras’ what make were they?
JB. I don’t know, I don’t know.
AM. So not like a massive company like Kodak or anything like that?
JB. No No. I haven’t any photos of them at all.
AM.So you’d go to the aircraft and fit it, the Bomb Aimer, you would make sure there was a film in it and all the rest of it.
JB. Then when they came back
AM.[interruption] that was going to be the next question, off they went then when they came back what did you do then?
JB. Well you had to take the things off, for the film, the things the film was in and they went to the photographic department for processing.
AM. So you took the film off and you took it up to the…
JB. We worked in the photographic department, it was where I worked sort of thing. I had nothing to do with that side of it but I was in with it. I use to go in watching and the massive films that used to come out you know, massive and the machines to process them.
GARY. How long did you stay there for John, you know you left Finningley?
JB. Left Finningley, went to Bircotes.
GARY. How long were you at Bircotes for?
JB. Not very long at all, oh ah, probably about twelve months and then I got a call sending to Whitchurch in Shropshire, which eh that hadn’t been opened up very long. They were all new places I managed, they were setting up you see. I eh I really loved it there in Shropshire.
GARY. And that was an Operational Training Unit?
JB. They were all Operational Training Units.
AM. You said you really loved it what, what was it you really?
JB. The people that you worked with they were marvellous, some, I know one chap he was a very wealthy chap at least he told us he was and he used to play with one of the big bands in London. Harry Roy of something you remember in those days [little stutters] His Father was a Colonel or something as well, a real mixture.
AM. What did you do on your days off?
JB. Eventually I took my bike with me.
AM. Push bike or Motor bike.
JB. Push bike, I took it with me wherever I would go and I used to go out on my days off, round Shropshire, nearly every road in Shropshire.Went up into Cheshire and all over the place. I never lounged about on my days off. I hadn’t been there long when they was, is that Sleap? They was opening a Satellite at Sleap and I was posted there to start it up.
AM. Sleap is SLEAP Sleap Airfield.
JB. Sleap.
GARY. Was you there when the aircraft hit the Control Tower?
JB. No, no. but I was there when there was a Squadron of American Flying Fortresses, they couldn’t land where they were going so they were coming to Sleap to land in an emergency and bye you never seen them land like it. I mean I was, it was one off, one down, clear the runway before another one could land, whoosh one after the other like lightning, not a space between them.
GARY. But they would have been returning from Operations.
JB. Yeah.
AM. Did you get to go on one?
JB. No, oh no there were Guards round straight away, Guards round straight away. They was off next morning, you couldn’t see anything but it was unbelievable the way they landed.
AM. Its stuck in your mind.
AM. Going back to the Cameras then you said that worked on Hamden’s and you worked on Wellingtons did you stick with Wellingtons.
JB. Yes mostly Wellingtons, I don’t know if it was Sleap or [unreadable] where they didn’t get a Stirling, I think the ground wasn’t solid. They were so big the Stirling, massive, there is a photograph there somewhere and me stood under it.
GARY. We are looking at a small photograph of a large Stirling with one man underneath.
JB. No that’s not it.
GARY. It says on the back, Stirling, Heavy Bomber, me standing in front of the wheel.
JB. It must be me then. [laugh] massive. One thing about the Wellington.
GARY. Just getting a photo of a Wellington.
JB. To get in there was an entrance there and you can see there was a little ladder there. Most of them where I was never landed at all.
AM. And the entrance is just underneath the fuselage ?
JB. Yes just there, there was a trap door that flew up and you had to get in, you had to get hold and pull yourself up.
AM. What with the camera.
JB. No put the cameras in first and get, I never saw a ladder all the time I was there and I wasn’t very big but I managed like everybody else eventually pulled myself into it. That’s where I got me muscles from.
AM. [Laugh] So where next after Sleap?
JB. Ah well I was at Sleap when the War finished actually, then it was a case of they were trying to close it down quite quickly I think. There were a lot of them and they sent me to Oakington near Cambridge and I had to confess I never done a Daily Inspection on instruments in my life and they wouldn’t believe it, I hadn’t honestly. All my work was on cameras and I was the only person on the Station that could really that had had the course on it as to what it does and that. Normally used to get instructions for modifications I had nobody to ask because nobody knew about them but I had to be taught by myself then, but I really enjoyed my life and [unreadable] know particularly [laugh].
AM. How long were you there before you were demobbed they.
JB. Laterally I used to run the little Cinema, they had a little Cinema a little 16mm projector and a screen in the dining room at the end of the dining room. Used to get new films, you know proper films the would show to or three nights a week. I used to run that with two other people there were three of us used to run that.
GARY. So when was you demobbed John, when was you demobbed?
JB. I was demobbed, oh going back to, I went to Oakington eh [garbled] Not long after that they sent for me in the Orderly Romm and they said your posted. I said thank the Lord for that. From there up to Kinloss, I thought who the,Kinloss. The war was over as well you know. I think they was trying to, didn’t know where to send you and I went from Oakington to London and a ticket to Kings Cross, a long journey.
AM. So what did you do in Kinloss?
JB. Nothing much they didn’t want me at Kinloss because they had finished and they sent me to their sort of Satellite which was Brackley and what it was they were taking all the aircraft, surplus and storing them there. There were hundreds of them.
AM. That’s spelt BRACKLA. So literally aircraft, old Bombers.
JB. It was a sort of Graveyard put it that way. As they came in from bringing the troops home from various areas, when they landed they brought the aircraft there just for storage. We just took sort of things, valuable things out of them and shoved them all in the corner.
AM. What sort of aircraft were they?
JB. All types of Aircrew.
GARY. A Graveyard of Aircraft.
AM. I am just looking at something John has just given me. Including a hundred Halifax Bombers some straight from the factory, and we have got a picture of them.
JB. It was just a Graveyard for destruction, no we just parked them up and that was it. Spent our time playing football, got nothing to do.
AM. You didn’t even have to take the cameras out of them.
JB. No,no they had already been taken out I suppose.
AM. So how many of you were there, how many of you playing football and not very much?
JB. There weren’t very many at all, I think it was just a place to fill in.
AM. How long were you there for?
JB. About eight or nine months and I’d taken my bike with me which I rode every Sunday. I cycled all round Loch Ness and all of the Mountains. I had a marvellous time there, you could do what you wanted.
AM. Who was in charge?
JB. And I was there when my Father died actually and they sent for me in the Morning and told me and a Warrant home just like that. Come back when you want sort of thing. I think they were glad to get a few people out of the way, you know [pause] and there we are.
AM. So what eventually happened were you just demobbed and that was it.
JB. Yes went to Padgate for demob, pick your suit, trilby hat if you wanted one.
AM. Where was the suit from, was it Burtons, Montague Burtons?
JB. No they were there, you picked one out there. Masses of them.
AM. So what did you eventually get, a suit, a trilby?
JB. Shoes, everything I don’t know about shirts, I can’t remember that.
AM. And that was it.
JB. That was it, came home to a months leave and then you started a job and your job was guaranteed back at work. Or a job, if they couldn’t find your own job they were guaranteed to find you a job.
AM. And was your job open for you.
JB.Yeah, Yeah.
AM. So you went back there.
JB.Up to Monkton, up to Colliery.
AM. How long did you work there for, did you carry on with that or ..?
JB. Well I got moved to the Headquarters in Grimethorpe in Colliery eventually I left the Coal Board and went back to the Coal [unreadable] where I started as a lad.
AM. Tell me about your photography though, having learned how cameras work?
JB. We started a photographic business me and my wife taking weddings and things.
AM. Where did you meet your wife, when did you meet your wife?
JB. In Barnsley.
AM. After the War?
JB. After the War, the Cummin Ballroom in Barnsley.
AM. What year would that be?
JB. We got married in nineteen fifty three about two years before that about nineteen fifty.
AM. So well after the war then. So tell me about this photographic business then?
JB. It was just mouth to mouth sort of thing, photography was very scarce in those days, films and things like that and people couldn’t buy them, buy films.
AM. What sort of camera were you using. Was it still Box Brownies?
JB. No a reflex camera, you focussed [pause] and that’s mainly it.
AM. It’s interesting though, we have some fascinating photos hear and if John will allow me I will scan some of them because they will absolutely go with the story. Well that was great thank you.
JB. A place I was on, I can’t remember where it was, they used to go on leaflet raids to France and these were some of the leaflets they used to take to drop.
AM. When you say they used to go on, the plane..
JB. No the training.
AM. The Trainees.
JB. Bit tatty I’m afraid are these.
AM. So John has some of the original newspapers that were dropped, little newspapers, going to let me have a look. “review de la press libre”
JB. I don’t know what it is
AM. This ones dated the 29th of November 1942, fantastic. Gosh, so how did you get your mitts on these?
JB. They were at our place and I just had a few took a few.
AM. Brilliant, I am no sure if I can scan these, I might have to photo them instead but they are wonderful.
JB. That’s in German by the looks of it and when we were getting towards the end of the training and sent them on a leaflet raid.
AM. Yes that would have been one of the first pre Operations.
JB. They only went over France [unreadable] we were told they could look through and they could tell how the buildings were like in stereo. They could tell if there was a deep hole or things like that on things they had passed over.
AM. Just looking at some of these photos, so what’s that one then?
JB. Well that’s, that was a, that’s a corner of the cameras.
AM. So we have four lads who worked there on a motor bike and side car but with one of the cameras that John is talking about.
JB. We had a little van mainly, got my first driving license there.
AM. That’s the Graveyard.
JB. That’s the Graveyard and that’s me sat on the step there.
AM. Of a NAAFI Van with a cup of tea.
JB. I think it was the Salvation Army actually.
GARY. John can you remember how much you got paid?
JB. On training it was seven and a half pence a day.
GARY. I have seen one where you got two shillings a day which is ten pence.
JB. Yeah.
GARY. Can you remember up to the end of the War when you were a fully qualified Leading Aircraftsman?
JB. It was a lot better, I can’t remember now though.
GARY. It’s just curious.
AM. Is that you.
JB. Yes that’s in my workshop and those are the controllers for the cameras.
AM. And this is you working on…
JB. On something or another, I had the place all to myself, nobody bothered me.
AM. And there was literally only one of you on each Training Unit.
JB. Yes
AM. We’ve got you playing bowls here in Shropshire. What we also got from John are a number of photos of Cologne of Calne, bombed to smithereens basically and these would have been the photos from the cameras….. Gosh.



Annie Moody, “Interview with John Bagg,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2023,

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