Interview with Harold Beech. One


Interview with Harold Beech. One


Harold Beech was born in Middle Rasen, Lincolnshire. He was six when war was declared and saw the construction of many airfields near his home. As a schoolboy he also watched aircraft being transported on the back of Queen Marys. A lodger with his family was a mechanic who worked on damaged aircraft, smuggled Harold Beech into the hangar so he could hide and play in a Lancaster as well as watch the airfield at work. His grandma became friendly with an aircrew and hosted them at her home. One day the aircrew did not return home and the family never knew what had happened to them. He describes seeing an aircraft crash and helping to collect body parts from the field. During the war he had recurring nightmares about invasion.




Temporal Coverage




00:46:52 audio recording


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GB: Hello. This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command. The interviewer is Gill Barnes and the interviewee is Mr Harold Beech and we’re talking together at Mr Beech’s home near Kettering in Northants on the 24th of September. No one else is present at the moment. So, good afternoon Harold.
HB: Good afternoon.
GB: Thank you so much for agreeing to share your memories with us this afternoon and your experience of the heroes in Bomber Command. It would be really useful if you could tell us a little about the background. I know we have a lovely letter from you giving us all the history, but it would be great to hear a little bit about the background of how you came to live so close to all of those Bomber Command stations. Where you were born and how you grew up.
HB: Right. Well I was born in the village of Middle Rasen. In a farming community to a farming family and when war broke out I was only six. So, it didn’t make a great impression on me then. I didn’t know things. It was always things were black and things were blue so, I was willing to learn and always had my ears pricked up and as I say, they brought the news on the war on Sunday and on Monday when I went to school I sat on a grassy bank thinking where could they get a boxing ring big enough to have all these people in it to fight, because my recollection of fighting was cowboys and Indians and boxing matches.
GB: Yeah.
HB: As things got clearer the first thing I knew, the first cloud on the village was when the government declared that they were taking over everything and could make anybody go anywhere to do anything for the war effort. And that did cause concern about the farmers and the elders. So when they were worried I was worried. However, that sort of took it in its stride, but shortly after that, by the end of ‘39, my sister had been drafted into munitions and had to go and live away to be nearer work. My brother was in the army and he was on his way to India and the community was really adjusting to what was happening and their main concern especially amongst the farmers was immediately was we going to get bombed because we’d got these stations around and those stations were being built. And so harvest had been in and was getting in and it was completed and the corn was thrashed rather early, and what wasn’t wanted was surplus and was sold. The other was stored as well away from the farmyard as possible because of the fear of the stacks getting on fire. Well, as time went on it didn’t happen thankfully, and so w — the next step was the rationing. Now every, well the biggest part of the village, the villagers kept pigs and killed them for the house, and the government had declared that they were going to get a slaughter policy and everything had stopped. Nothing could be slaughtered until this policy come out. Well there was another fear then that they were going to commandeer all our pigs and eggs and what have you and we were going to live on the scratchings. Anyway, when, when the government had decided, it was back to normal — state as normal so from then onwards as regards the rationing and food shortages we didn’t know that there was a war on really because we lived off eggs, bacon, milk, cheese. You name it. We got it. And what we hadn’t got we swapped for something that somebody else hadn’t got. There was a barter trade through the village, and that’s a another milestone that stuck with me was the way the village pulled together, because as kids we used to roam the village and if we fell off our bike or tripped up and hurt ourselves we didn’t go running home, we ran to the nearest house and they would take us in, bandage us up and give us an orange squash and a piece of cake and pat us on the back and off we’d go again. And this is how we lived. One big, well I wouldn’t say happy family, we had our ups and downs but one big family. We looked after one another and it’s, it’s surprising when I do think back to think how well we pulled together. It’s — my brother in law, well he was to become my brother in law, he was a haulage contractor based at the Oxford Hotel in Lincoln, using it as his headquarters for carting materials to the airfields.
[someone enters the room]
Other: Hello there.
GB: Hi.
Other: I’m stealing the dog.
HB: And so he carted materials to many of the local, local airfields and we had an Irishman lived, lodged with us. He was in a gang that was you know laying the concrete and what have you and eventually my sister and he met up and they married in ‘43. So — the airfields were going up at a great rate of knots, and more and more aircraft were flying around and that was a bit unnerving because we thought we’d got the airfields we are going to get bombed. This was the dread all the way through and we got five airfields very close to us. Dunholme Lodge which was the quagmire it was nicknamed because it was so muddy. [laugh] That was the air force nicknamed it the quagmire.
GB: Yeah.
HB: Faldingworth which was right next door to my mum, my grandma. You went sort of out of her gate, across the road, through my the man’s fields, through my man’s gardens which wasn’t very wide and you were on the airfield. So we got a close contact with the airfield there and gran, I was at gran’s house when we saw the one bomb and a German had followed one of our aircraft in.
GB: God.
HB: And it must, must have been late on in the war because we’d got the Polish squadron there. Now, the airfield didn’t open till ’43 but the Polish squadron were after that.
GB: Yeah.
HB: So, and the cry used to go up, send for the Poles they’ll sort the B out [laughs]. He was flying down — the ground from gran’s house went away and he was flying low and he dropped a bomb, the one bomb he’d got and he cleared a spinney, it felled the little spinney but if he’d come about two hundred yards to the left he’d have hit the searchlight unit.
GB: Oh gosh.
HB: But I don’t think he was aiming for anything. He’d just got a bomb that he didn’t want and let go and then the next thing we knew there was — he was legging it for the coast with one of our lads behind him and we heard later they’d been shot down in the North Sea. That was my only bomb. Now, the one or two villages around got the odd bomb as well. Lincoln got two or three bombs but nobody got bombed like Coventry.
GB: Yeah.
HB: And we used to, we had a house with a window at that end of the house in the bedroom and a window at that end of the house bedroom, and we used to stand at that one and see Coventry light up and we used to see that one when Immingham docks used to light up so we got it all going on around us but we, so far, were free and as I say what concerned us more then was eating. You know, providing the food and we could and we did and well to the outside world and them poor devils in the east end we were living like lords.
GB: Lords, yeah.
HB: We were. But we saw, every day of the week we saw aircraft of some sort on the backs of lorries. Big, you know, the old Queen Mary’s.
GB: Yes.
HB: Taking, and they never stopped and wouldn’t let us climb on it [laughs] you know. We were most annoyed because they’d got these ruddy great fuselages and wings and we wanted a closer inspection. We could do it when the army stopped with their Bren gun carriers. They would let us play in the Bren gun carrier but -
GB: These were new planes, or older planes?
HB: These were the Wimpies and the Lancasters.
GB: Right.
HB: And the odd fighter pilot, we didn’t have many fighter planes going through but we did have a lot of the — but we never, now my father’s land sloped and if we went to the top of the slope we could stand there and we could watch going west, we could watch them going for Faldingworth.
GB: Yeah.
HB: A bit to the left going for Wickenby. If we stood up and turned around we could see them landing at Ludford and Binbrook on the hills, and the other way if they veered to the right, say one o’clock, they were going to Hemswell. So we got them going around and if we, as an old boy I’ve stood many a time at about half past three, 4 o’clock to see these flies coming up the sky and then they’d get to a certain point and then they’d all veer on a certain route. And then in the summer time when I used to get up early, if I got out I could see these planes coming to limp back and I remember — this was, this was late in the war I saw this aircraft coming back with a ruddy great hole between the pilots end and the tail gunner’s end and I thought, ‘Oh that’s going to crash,’ and I stood there, stood there. Waiting. No. No bump. Now, we had a man lodged with us who was in charge of fifteen other men in a gang repairing aircraft and he said to me, ‘Would you like to come with me?’ And mother said, ‘He can’t come with you. He’s not allowed.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I’m not going if it’s going to get me into trouble.’ ‘You’ll not get in to trouble if you do as you’re told,’ and he put me in the motorbike, in the sidecar, put coats on top of me. In I went and there were, they’d got a Lancaster in the hangar that was being dismantled for parts. ‘Now,’ he says, ‘Go in there but don’t show yourself and don’t start moving things cause if somebody sees the tail rudder moving they’ll want to know what’s going on. And if anybody comes,’ there was the dome underneath, ‘Get in there and pull these blankets over you.’ Well, do you know from about 8 o’clock in the morning till 5 o’clock at night I had the biggest thrill of my life. I bombed everywhere, I flew everywhere. I shot every aircraft down. The only thing was I couldn’t tell anybody.
GB: No.
HB: And whilst I was in this aircraft of course there were holes in the fuselage and I kept squinting out and watching them repair and they were repairing the body, the fuselage on this aircraft and there was a hole, well about this big and all of a sudden I see him with the old spray gun and then he put this paper on and sprayed again and he put some more and then he went inside and did something else. A man, obviously a pilot or crew went and stood and watched him and they must have said something to him but I did hear the man saying to the mechanic, ‘That’s right, Ben. Put plenty of paper on. The bullets don’t ricochet so bad.’ Well I went home to mum and said, ‘Ben makes aircraft like, repairs his aircraft like I make my models.’ ‘Don’t be daft,’ she said. He said, ‘He’s right my duck. If there’s a hole of a certain size we paste over it.’
GB: Yeah. I thought they use canvas. I was surprised to hear they, they used paper.
HB: Well it was a peculiar type of paper. It was glossy.
GB: Yeah.
HB: Oily, but used to, well, whatever the glue they’d used it was glue.
GB: Yes. Yes.
HB: It stuck and that’s what they did.
GB: Gosh.
HB: I just couldn’t imagine it. And another thing that impressed me was what they did — there was seven men in a crew. What they did in that confined space.
GB: I was going to say —
HB: With all the clobber.
GB: Yes.
HB: And being an old boy I said, ‘Where do you go to the loo?’ [laughs] and they’d got a five gallon drum with the top sliced off, screwed to the floor and that was their loo and I said, ‘Well you wouldn’t have to turn upside down.’ [laughs] I mean —
GB: Good grief.
HB: That’s how my mind worked.
GB: Yeah. Well it would.
HB: Yeah. But —
GB: So it felt very confined inside.
HB: Oh yes, to me it was very confining. When I thought of them trying to run around with their chutes on their back —
GB: Yeah.
HB: And then was told well they don’t put the chutes on their back. They pick them up, put them on and then jump out.
GB: Right.
HB: I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ You know and —
GB: What was the rear gunner’s space like?
HB: Well I got in.
GB: Yeah.
HB: And it was claustrophobic. Your knees were up near your chin and you wriggled your bum to turn around.
GB: Yeah.
HB: And you’d only got a little aperture to get in and out of. You were exposed. You were out there. You were tail end Charlie.
GB: Yeah.
HB: And I thought I don’t want to be him. No. [laughs] And I didn’t want to be the pilot ‘cause I couldn’t see out the top. [laughs] I couldn’t sit down and look over the top. But having seen those aircraft flying and then seen that aircraft there and been inside for eight or nine hours I absorbed that much I didn’t sleep at night thinking oh what happens if I can’t get out? You know. Where’s my parachute? And, you know and then to think well there’s all those flaming holes that were coming in, there was bullets coming in.
GB: Yeah.
HB: No. I just couldn’t, I just couldn’t envisage it.
GB: Incredible.
HB: It was incredible but when I got home you see, both mum and Ben lectured me on the dire consequences if I ever spilled a little bit.
GB: Yes.
HB: And there, when I were, I mean when you’re in the school playground well I know that. I’m different, you know. Oh dear, I can’t tell you and then when, of course when I could tell anybody they weren’t interested were they?
GB: Incredible.
HB: But it was an experience that’s lived with me for –
GB: Yeah.
HB: From that day.
GB: Yeah.
HB: And it taught me even a lot more respect.
GB: For what they went through.
HB: Yes.
GB: It must have brought it home.
HB: It was and —
GB: And you saw other planes in the hangar being repaired.
HB: Being dragged in and out
GB: Right.
HB: In and out. Some of them had got little or nothing. Some, well they had to cut ruddy great patches and put patches on and weld and rivet them and what have you. All he did was repair. The other –
GB: Yeah.
HB: Air force mechanics serviced.
GB: Right.
HB: Got the engines ticking over. But oh dear, I used to think — and he used to have a deadline, 3 o’clock in the afternoon. If he said he could get three aircraft on the runway he had to have three aircraft on the runway. And then, well, I could see out of the hangar door but it was long distance, the tractors coming with the bombs. I didn’t see them loading it onto the aircraft but I saw them dragging these and I thought, ‘Oh blimey what if they go off.’
GB: And so this mechanic, this guy doing the repairs, he was your lodger.
HB: He was our lodger.
GB: Yeah. And where had he come from?
HB: He came from Lower Wortley, Leeds.
GB: Right.
HB: He worked for AV Roe.
GB: Right. Oh yes.
HB: And, well a more conscientious chap I’ve never come across. He never ever spoke of his work.
GB: Yeah.
HB: Never ever spoke of his work but obviously he’d said something to mother because she said, after he’d gone home again, he worried about the airmen going out in his aircraft. Would they come back?
GB: Yes. Did he get to know the airmen and the aircrew?
HB: Briefly.
GB: Yeah.
HB: Briefly. As they’d pass through.
GB: Yeah.
HB: They’d come to inspect their kite.
GB: Yeah.
HB: Well if their kite bought it that was the end of them.
GB: Yes.
HB: And, I was bitten by the air force at this very early age ‘cause it was the great I am and I wanted to join the air force from that day onwards but I didn’t want to fly.
GB: Right.
HB: I didn’t want to fly. There was too much going on.
GB: Did you ever get to do that?
HB: I joined the air force. I got the job I wanted and I did it for five years.
GB: Wow.
HB: And that service in the air force made me a man. I was a country bumpkin, very seldom had gone across the village boundary from childhood to seventeen and a half but when I got out and got in the job I was an RAF policeman.
GB: Oh right.
HB: And at eighteen I’d got a lot of authority.
GB: Yes.
HB: And I got the old elders saying, ‘Now, keep your mouth shut and your ears and eyes open,’ and that was the soundest advice I ever got because boy did I walk into a few brick walls.
GB: So that would be the mid ‘50s. Would it?
HB: I joined the air force in 1951.
GB: Right.
HB: At this railway station with them having the ordinance there they had to have the RAF police to come and supervise.
GB: I see. Yeah.
HB: And they said to me, ‘Well you’re big, tall and awkward. You’d make a good policeman. You ought to go in there,’ so I quizzed them and they talked to me about it so I wanted to go into the air force. I wanted to be a policeman and my brother, when he came out the air force, er out the army said, ‘Don’t go as a conscript, go as a five year man’ -
GB: Yeah.
HB: ‘And you’ll see the world.’
GB: Yes.
HB: ‘At the country’s expense like I did.’
GB: Yeah.
HB: ‘Only I saw it being knocked about. You’ll see it when it’s put back again.’ So I joined for five years and I saw Bridgenorth, Lyneham, Clyffe Pypard, Weston on the Green and Abingdon.
GB: Oh, very nice.
HB: So I didn’t go very far.
GB: No.
HB: Abroad even. So that was my worthwhile RAF experience.
GB: Yes.
HB: And because of that I am the person I am.
GB: I can understand that.
HB: And, now as I say we used to walk five miles to grandma’s –
GB: Yes.
HB: At weekends and what have you, and this particular weekend we’d walked on Saturday night, and we only, well we’d walked on Saturday afternoon and about 3 or 4 o’clock an airman come, ‘Hello ma.’ Sat down. She give him a cup of tea. Then another airman come and I thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ Anyway, that evening seven turned up. Chatted, had a cup of tea. But now, as I said being farmers and the farming community the food was there so we brought sandwiches. We brought ham sandwiches, back bacon sandwiches and what have you, all on the table and they were tucking in saying how delicious it was and what have you. How the hell can you do it? To start with they refused to eat it. And I thought as a kid, you cheeky devils, you know. You’re refusing gran’s sandwiches? No. Rationing was on and gran could not afford to give them food. They got theirs on camp. Well gran being gran she stuck her hands on her hips and she said, ‘If you don’t eat that you don’t come again.’ And after that it was a little oasis.
GB: Yeah.
HB: They, they come regular, but not night after night and this, this set me up again wanting to be in the air force because they used to put their coats on me and their hats on me and what have you. I thought I was the great I am and then again getting back to the other how the heck could they do it? They found gran had got a piano in the front room. Well the sing songs they had in there and again they’d be gone and they’d probably go early, say 7 o’clock and, ‘See you tomorrow then gran, see you tomorrow.’ No, ‘See you tomorrow ma.’ It was always ma. ‘Oh righto boys, righto. When you like. Anytime.’ And I thought, ‘Where are they going? Oh are they going on a raid?’ And I used to be on tenterhooks till Sunday and if they didn’t come back Sunday night that was it but they did. Except one, one night gran turned around and said, ‘Where’s Taff Lloyd?’ Pregnant pause. Arm around her shoulders. Outside. She come back, tears down her face. She’d been asked not to mention any face that was missing. Just leave it. So that’s what she did. And these men they used to come, well, they were half inching stuff out the mess [laughs] ‘cause they used to come with coffee and tea and sugar and, you know.
GB: Why not?
HB: Well, this is it.
GB: Yeah.
HB: She said, ‘Don’t get into trouble for our sake. We can do it.’ But they couldn’t understand how we could do it. Well, if they’d seen that it was a little hamlet and nearly everybody in the little hamlet when they got to know what gran was doing there would be a screw of tea, a screw in a newspaper or a bit of paper. Coffee, sugar, you know. Some would come with a cake. Some would come with two cakes. Some would come with— the butcher used to leave potted meat.
GB: Wow.
HB: The baker used to leave some scones or cakes. It was, it was all pitching in together.
GB: So this was a complete Lancaster crew.
HB: This must have been a —
GB: Yeah.
HB: Complete Lancaster crew because this went on for about, just about three months and it stopped as abruptly as it started and we couldn’t, well gran, couldn’t get an answer and we had the service in church hoped and prayed that they’d been posted.
GB: Yes.
HB: But those seven men were close to us today and gone tomorrow and we never had an inkling of what happened to them at all to this day. Oh that did — it took the heart out the little hamlet. It really did.
GB: And did you know the various roles that they played when they were flying? Did you know who was the pilot?
HB: No. I didn’t know their names.
GB: Yeah.
HB: But I knew there was an air gunner ‘cause I wanted to ask him. There was an N for navigator but that was all I knew. And gran, my parents, my aunt, I was not to question them.
GB: And were these English aircrew or —
HB: Oh yes they were English lads.
GB: Yeah.
HB: English lads.
GB: And they all got on as equals.
HB: Oh yes. There was no sir, this that and the other. Nothing, nothing there when they were in the house.
GB: Yeah.
HB: And they come in uniform so, no it was, they were all in together. But I would imagine later on in life I would imagine that there were no barriers because you were all out doing a dangerous job.
GB: Yeah.
HB: But at six and seven I didn’t know what was going on but they, and it all happened because a man, gran used to have a little shop.
GB: Yeah.
HB: Well, it was a shop, such a thing that sold the essentials. The Elastoplast’s, the box of matches, something like that. The baker would leave half a dozen loaves or cakes and what have you and the people would come and pick it up. And he come in for a box of matches just as gran had poured a cup of tea out. ‘Do you want a cup of tea mate?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Come and sit yourself down. Have a sandwich.’ Have this, that and the other, and he was one of the crew and so he said, ‘Do you mind if I bring a mate?’ She said, ‘Bring as many as you like but it’s only a little house. We can only get so many in,’ and he come with his six mates.
GB: Fantastic.
HB: We, I mean that village for years after mentioned they would have liked to have known what went on and we know they enjoyed their selves and how they appreciated this little oasis for relaxing. I mean some nights they’d come and they’d get, they’d get on a chair or they’d sit with their backs to the chair and go fast asleep in front of the fire. Gran used to say, ‘Look at them poor devils. Tired out.’ No. It was —
GB: Do you know which airfield they were flying from?
HB: Faldingworth.
GB: Right.
HB: We had, in the end, this must be getting towards the end of the war, probably ‘44 something like that we had, the station was utterly manned by Poles.
GB: Yes.
HB: There was Polish WAAFs and Polish crews. And they invited all the Scout groups and Guide groups as near to the camp as they could, to a tea. Well, they served salad. Now, salad to us was lettuce, tomatoes, radish, onions and some celery. Now, we got the lettuce, we got the tomato, we got the cucumber but we got diced carrot er diced beetroot and grated carrot and grated cheese. What’s all this? But being kids that had been taught to eat what was in front of us we ate it and it was good. And the meat, I don’t know what the meat was but that was good too. And then of course they came out afterwards with Polish cookies. Oh we thought we were at the end of the world with these cookies. There you go and that was, as I say they were the Polish crews that gave us tea. I mean nowadays when you see salads dished up you think, ‘Oh blimey.’ [laughs] Oh yes there was the coleslaw.
GB: Oh yes.
HB: And the, well I presume it was Waldorf Salad, because I went home and said to mum there was pineapple mixed in it and there was nuts, and there was so and so and so and so. She said, ‘I don’t know what sort of salad that is then.’ But that’s what, that’s what it was. It was new to us and by golly we enjoyed it. It really was.
GB: So the war came and then passed and your experiences led you to join the RAF.
HB: Well, yes I did, yes, but we, having seen the other side of the airman’s work I saw the other side of life. I was, it must have been a Saturday I was on one side the village and I saw this aircraft and it was coming down and it crashed on the other side of the village. So, I’m on my bike round there, right next to the school was a farm and in the field it had crashed and exploded. Well, I’m bowling up past the implement hole and my mate Bob’s sort of hiding in there. And I said, ‘Bob what’s up?’ Well, he never answered. I said, ‘Come on, what’s up with you?’ So, I went in there and he wouldn’t move and he wouldn’t talk. Well the ambulance men and the firemen were all about so I grabbed an ambulance man. I said, ‘Look, Bob’s not very well.’ ‘Oh God has he been hit?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ So he went in to see him and he said, he said, ‘Come on Bob,’ and he carried him out and he said, ‘No. He’s in shock.’ So, anyway he took him home and that was the end of that for the day. But when we got to school about a week later poor old Bob had been at the top end of this field, seen this aeroplane coming for him. It didn’t matter where he ran it was coming for him and in the end he just froze, and it was shock.
GB: Gosh.
HB: ‘Cause it crashed at the bottom end of the field and he was at the top end of the field.
GB: He was lucky.
HB: And the aircrew were just blown apart. Men with a handle at each corner of a blanket were going around whilst others picked remnants up and we, as an old boy, we old boys, there were three of us, two from across the road saying, ‘There’s some more here. There’s some more here. There’s some more here.’ And, well to put it crudely we saw boots with feet in, masks with faces. It was gruesome. And then we were told to buzz off, you know, ‘Go on shoo shoo shoo,’ so we went into the fields around it and there were more bits in there so we kept shouting, ‘There’s bits in here, bits in there,’ and in the end we were taking them around. So, I’d gone home. When darkness was falling I went home. Went to school the next day, went out to play, come back. Mother says, ‘Here I want a word with you. What have you been up to?’ ‘Nothing.’ ‘Yes you have. I want you to tell me about it.’ ‘I said I haven’t been up to anything.’ ‘Yes you have. The policeman and the district nurse have been here.’ I said, ‘What on earth did they want?’ She said, ‘What were you doing yesterday afternoon when you left here?’ I said, ‘Oh. Helping the men to pick up bits of the airmen. Oh.’ Well, obviously they’d come to see if I was alright. And that showed me the other side of life. I mean, when I didn’t think anything about it when you see a boot with a foot in it or bits and bobs here and you think, ‘Oh, well, you know, I’ve got to put it in a blanket.’ That was it. It never had any effect on me whatsoever. Nor the other two lads.
GB: Gosh.
HB: Why? We don’t know. Nobody can explain it because looking back it was gruesome. It was gruesome.
GB: And that was a Lancaster that had come down.
HB: Well, nobody seemed to know what it was.
GB: Right.
HB: We knew there was six or seven men in it and there’s a plaque in the church porch, but general knowledge I suppose somebody knew, but general knowledge didn’t come to my ears as an old boy to say it was a Lancaster that crashed. But it caused a bit of a rumpus. It didn’t half shake the earth.
GB: I can imagine.
HB: But, so, I saw, I’ve seen the bombing, one bomb. I’ve seen the carnage. I’ve felt the loss of my sister and my brother because our family, I was reduced to one, an only child bringing up ‘cause my brother didn’t come back till ’46, and my sister had got married in ’43 and she lived away. So that was the end of our family by 1940.
GB: And after the RAF what did you do with life then that’s brought you to Northamptonshire?
HB: Well, I came out and got a job in Gainsborough with an engineering firm. And I have never had a more boring job in all my life. It was cutting cog wheels with one tooth rotating on and it went from this side of the cog to the other side and that was done. Now, the hardest job was sorting out the cogs on the side to rotate this one. Once you’d done that you just went in and pressed it and if you got a thousand cogs to make it took you three weeks. You just went in for three weeks and pressed a button to stop it and start it and play cards and [?] and play cards and in the end I said, ‘No. I’m not having this.’ I came out. My father played hell with me. ‘You’d got a job, you haven’t got one now. There’s no work on the farm for you.’ So, anyway I said, ‘No. I’ll find a job. I’ll find a job.’ So, I then went on the railway as a plate layer. Now that was Fred Karno’s army that was. [laughs] Weeding and putting the tracks straight. Now, the line bends this way and the line bends that way. Now, to get the line straight again you have a little jack that lifted it up, and they packed granite chippings under the sleepers, let it down and it levelled out. Now, if it was this way nine or ten men got a crowbar, stood with their legs apart, put the crowbar between their legs and went ooph and shifted the track back. [laughs] Oh it was, it was all hydraulic. [laughs] But as a lad porter at fifteen, the station master and secretary would come along in the morning till 1 o’clock and then they’d buzz off back to their parent station and I was left with the signalman to run the station. I had to issue the tickets, service the air force station ‘cause when they went on leave it was pandemonium.
GB: Yeah.
HB: And that till had to be right. I remember it was a halfpenny short and I had to put a halfpenny in it. And I had to scrub the floors, clean the toilets, keep everything, wipe the edge of the platform, keep the lights going and I used to walk a mile one way and a mile the other way to the distant signals putting new lamps on.
GB: Gosh. Well, you weren’t bored [laughs].
HB: I wasn’t. No, I wasn’t but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thoroughly enjoyed it. And then as I say, I went into the air force and then came out as a plate layer. And eventually they, now I can’t think why I packed that one up, but I decided to join the RSPCA as an inspector, and I did that for thirty years.
GB: Wow. And that brought you here did it?
HB: This —
GB: To Twywell.
HB: That’s where I met my wife. Now, sitting in the guardroom at RAF Clyffe Pypard, Swindon was there and I forget now what was up there but it was a long valley, a long deep valley, and in the morning the milk train used to start puffing off and go slowly across this valley, and sat there, stood there at the gates watching it. You know in these cartoons there’s a thing like this with a caption in it from the bottom there, I could visualise that and I saw a house close across the bottom of the plot of land. Behind it was into the fields, and on the left was a spinney, and on the right was a house. When I met my wife, came here, went up the steps, stood in her garden I thought, ye Gods. The house was on the left but the spinney was on the right and I thought how uncanny can you get? So when I got to know her a bit better I said your fate sealed it.
GB: Absolutely. And in your five years in the air force in the early ‘50s and you were stationed all around Wiltshire by the sounds of things, and flying stations as well, what was the RAF feeling like then? Did you meet people who’d been active aircrew in the war?
HB: Yes. We used to have, at RAF Benson, we used to have a flight sergeant who was the unofficial test pilot. Mad as a hatter. Always went past the guardroom, ‘any boy for a lift this morning, men?’ So I said, ‘Now, are we boys or are we men?’ So anyway we got a new recruit and he said, ‘What does he mean?’ ‘He means he’s going up in an aeroplane. Do you want to go with him?’ ‘Oh. Do you reckon he’ll take me?’ I said, ‘Go after him.’ Anyway, we said, ‘Be back at five, ‘cause you’re on at five.’ Anyway, 5 o’clock come and he never turned up so we filled in. 11 o’clock this pasty faced individual come staggering into the guardroom, could hardly stand up. ‘What the devil’s happened to you?’ ‘I went up with him,’ he said. So I said, ‘Yes.’ Well apparently he went up and he kept going and he said, on his intercom he said, ‘Can we go down again?’ ‘Yeah, sure,’ and then he rolled and he said, ‘The contents of my stomach left by every orifice in my body,’ and he said, ‘When I got out of that aircraft fuselage I slipped down the side of it like a globule of oil going down the side of the can,’ and he said, ‘I’ve been all this time cleaning up the aeroplane and myself.’ [laughs]. There again, you know, you’ve got to see the funny side of it. Not like the banker’s wife who didn’t see the funny side of the police sergeant. We often, we often wonder how that got out because the police sergeant and the inspector would not spit a word.
GB: No.
HB: They were tight lipped so she must have complained about the police sergeant and the inspector to a friend or somebody who spread it around because by golly it didn’t half spread and she was, she was serenaded on many a night by the locals.
GB: So places like Lyneham, were they very busy at that time?
HB: Yes, because we were, we were bringing in, we brought in people like Sir William Penney and other important — and the Glorious Glosters man who won a VC in, wherever it were. We had to escort them. They were coming in and there was cargo flights of all sorts that were important and had to be put in bondage and what have you, and it was — we were constantly doing raids because people were lifting the cigarettes.
GB: Yeah.
HB: On raids. That RAF Lyneham was the place I got put on a fizzer. I was on duty in the guardroom with a colleague and he said, he just said to me, ‘Hang on a minute. I’m going to the flicks.’ So I thought, ‘I hope to God nobody comes and asks where he is.’ So, he went to the pictures and he come back. So the next night he said, ‘It’s your turn.’ I said, ‘No. I’m not going.’ He said, ‘It’s your turn.’ He said, ‘You have to.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ He says, ‘Yes. You have to. One of us has got to be on duty at the cinema through the showing.’ So I went, shaking like a leaf. Come back. Sure enough a bloke who had been under open arrest had absconded. So muggins was up in front of the adjutant on a fizzer, and he started off, now he was an officer in charge of the guardroom. And he started off by dressing me down about neglecting duty and what have you, and the flight sergeant was my escort and he said, ‘Excuse me sir. Can I say something?’ He says, ‘He’s only standing by your orders. You ordered that since there’s trouble in the cinema a policeman had to be on duty at each performance.’ ‘Case dismissed. Get out.’ But he didn’t half scare me I’ll tell you. On a fizzer. What am I going to tell my parents? Reduced to the ranks and all that caper. No, but as I say, the war had a definite effect on me. It had an adverse effect on me because from a very early age my father, as I said, had this sloping ground that was two fields divided by a high hedge. Now, night after night I used to have this nightmare. Germans were occupying the top field, English down the bottom field and there was all hell let loose but never anybody got beyond this hedge. And I always ended up by being chased through the village, through town streets by the Germans with rifles, and I used to wake up crying my eyes out having wet the bed. Frightened to death. Night after night, after night, and my mother she used to suffer from bouts of asthma, and when my brother came back from the day he arrived on the doorstep she never had another bout of asthma. It was purely nerves. But it took me some time to get over my nightmares. I went into quiet times after the war for a long while.
GB: Can I just ask what happened to your father’s farm in the end?
HB: It was, he was retired in 1965, and a lot of his land was rented so it was taken back. He’d got two paddocks of his own near the house but the rest of the land was taken back because it was rented so it just packed up.
GB: Fizzled out. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
GB: Well that’s great. Thank you very much Mr Beech for sharing your wartime memories with us today.



Gill Barnes, “Interview with Harold Beech. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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