Interview with Ron Davies


Interview with Ron Davies


Talks of his joining the RAF and early training at Cardington, Bournemouth and Halton. Trained as fitter and posted to RAF Scampton on Hamden with 49 Squadron. Tells many stories of life as groundcrew at Scampton. Includes John Hannah VC, losing aircraft on operations against Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and talks of battle damaged aircraft. Mentions flying as spare on air test and training as well as Cook's tour at end of the war. Mentions how American engineers were much better equiped that RAF. Moves to RAF Winthorpe on conversion unit when 49 converted to Manchester/Lancaster.

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Temporal Coverage




01:11:48 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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ADavisR[Date]-01, VDavisR[Date]


RD2: When you, when you first joined. Why you joined for a start.
RD: Right. I joined because I was mad keen on air. As an eighteen year old I was mad keen on aeroplanes and I knew I was going to be conscripted and I was determined that I wasn’t going in to the Army so [pause] yes.
RD2: If you actually just say I joined the RAF.
RD: Yeah. I volunteered for the RAF originally in about September October of 1940. I was very interested in aeroplanes and aircraft models and what have you although I couldn’t afford to buy any at those times, at that time. And I knew I was going to be called up eventually so I decided that I would volunteer for the RAF and I went to the recruitment depot at Euston Road and there I went on to, for assessment at Cardington in Bedfordshire. And they sent me home for a couple of weeks and I was eventually called in December 1940 where I, where I was kitted out at Cardington and then transferred to Bournemouth for square bashing. And I was at Bournemouth for about six weeks staying in a boarding house. Funnily enough it was the first time I’d ever had a room on my [laughs] of my own because until then I’d always shared with my brothers and sisters and so that was the first time I ever had a bedroom to myself. And after square, square bashing at Bournemouth I was posted to Halton which was number 1 School of Technical Training where I stayed for six months training as a fitter air frame. And immediately we finished in August I was posted to 49 Squadron then stationed at Scampton flying with Handley Page Hampdens which was a twin engine bomber. Not very well heard of these days but anybody that does know anything about aircraft know it was a twin boomed strange looking aircraft. The crew sat in the middle of the wings and there was a pilot, a navigator, second pilot. There was also a bomb aimer and a wireless operator who was a mid, who was a top gunner and the rear gunner who sat in a cupola for ten hours with his legs in the air freezing to death. I mean, when they used to come out at the end of a bombing trip we used to have to defrost them to get them going. It was atrocious conditions. As far as I remember the navigator also used to double up as a front gunner. There was a fixed gun position on the front, you know. But these were very slow aircraft. Very slow aircraft. They did about two hundred and twenty miles an hour downwind and if they went on to a bombing raid it would be six, seven hours. When we went to, went to Italy once when we bombed Milan and, and strangely enough the nearest airfield in England to Milan is down in Cornwall, navigating the shortest distance. So we were all flown down to Cornwall in a Handley Page Harrow and set, they set off from there and we waited ‘til they come back and then we all came back to, to Scampton. But that was a very interesting exercise and on that raid they were away for ten hours.
RD2: So, just going back a little bit. Just did you have any ambitions to fly?
RD: I I volunteered for aircrew very early on in my, when I was at Scampton and I was sent down to London for aircrew assessment. And I stayed at Abbey Lodge or one, one of those houses in Abbey Road one of those blocks of flats in Abbey Road for two days and it was clear from the moment I got there that I was unsuitable because of my eyes. I I always operated on one eye. I had good sight with, but only on one [laughs] only from one eye and so I was rejected for aircrew and I went back to ground crew.
RD2: Right. So just if you don’t mind me asking.
RD: Yeah.
RD2: The odd questions.
RD: You, I’d prefer you.
RD2: Yeah. Ok.
RD: Because then I know what you want then. Yeah.
RD2: Yeah. When you arrived at Scampton was it the first time you’d been on a large RAF airfield?
RD: Well, I’d seen, I’d seen Hendon from the outside but I was very excited to be in the front line as it were and I knew immediately I got to Scampton that I was in the front line. There was, this was an operational squadron and not, and not playing, playing games like most servicemen were doing at that time. I was very excited being on it. I was very proud to be there. Very proud. I mean I I was a nineteen year old. I was streetwise. I wasn’t, you know I was brought up in the East End of London. I was streetwise but a nineteen year old in 1940 was a very unsophisticated individual. I had never bought any clothes for myself before I went in. My mum bought my, my clothes. If I had to have a suit for work she used to come to the shop and my mum chose it and my mum paid for it. So, I was very unsophisticated but I knew I was in the, in the front line and I admired the pilots very much. I mean, some of them were well decorated. We also, Scampton had a VC. A guy called Sergeant Hannah. He wasn’t actually with 49 Squadron, he was with the co-squadron at Scampton at 183 Squadron and he’d won a VC crawling out of a burning Lancaster in the air to put out a fire to stop them crashing. And he succeeded but to this day how he did it I don’t know. But I used to see him regularly and I was always very very proud to just to have a look at him and he was a Scotsman from Glasgow and just an ordinary sort of a guy and, and I was very proud to be with them. I liked the crew. The aircrew. But the one occasion we had this Australian pilot. Holt. Aussie Holt he was called. Very very nice fellow and one very funny story he was very superstitious as most aircrew were and they used to do strange things before flights. Operational flights. And his particular crew used to stand against the rear, rear wheel of the Hampden and have a pee together before they took off. And a couple of days later there was a DROs, Daily Routine Orders with the words I can remember to this day were, “Promiscuous urination against tail wheels will cease forthwith.” [laughs] Which I decided was very funny though I don’t think it stopped him [laughs] And so —
RD2: So, what was your, you arrived at Scampton these obviously were the first warplanes that you’d had to —
RD: Yes. These were the first ones —
RD2: You trained on what? Things like Battles or —
RD: We trained basically on, I think there was an Avro [pause] our training was all theory at Scampton except for the last two weeks when we went on the airfield at Halton where there were various aeroplanes. Not much. A Battle, an Anson and, and that was the only time we saw aeroplanes. When I got to Scampton they were overcrowded with crew because the Technical Training Schools were churning out. So, when I got to Scampton and I was posted to Flight 1, Flight 1 or Flight C. Flight 1, I think. And on each flight had four aeroplanes and there were three flights so there was twelve in a squadron. On the four planes that I was on, my flight there were probably eight engineers per aeroplane which was much too much but the idea was to put guys like me with the people who knew what they were doing just to, in effect train us on the [pause] and my job as a fitter airframe was everything in the aeroplane except the engine where there were fitter engines and that was their job. But the fitter airframe dealt with the hydraulics, the pneumatics. Everything.
RD2: Did that include battle damage?
RD: Battle damage was done in the hangar which is not on the flight. Flight was merely maintenance. Battle damage was done in the hangar. Serious battle damage went to a Maintenance Unit but, but the hangar at Scampton, as far as I remember there were three hangars. Or four hangars. Three or four hangars and you know little bits were done there.
RD2: Was one, did each flight have a hangar or was it just whichever was available?
RD: Whichever was, was available. And eventually as people were being posted, particularly abroad, mainly abroad the numbers of the crew were reduced and towards the end of my time at Scampton there was probably only two flight engineers on per aircraft. We had to do a daily maintenance. That’s check everything on the aircraft that we, that was, that we could by sight. And then there were certain other checks that were done regularly and ground crew used to move the aircraft in those days as well on the ground.
RD2: How was that done?
RD: Well, the engineer used to just start up and move them around. Yeah. Yeah. That, that stopped very quickly but when I first went there you know your ground crew used to move aircraft on the ground and we had to deal with the wheels and tyres and things. A big job always was if a plane burst a tyre on landing. Then we had, used to have to get out there with jacks and planks and planks of wood because there were no runways at Scampton at that time so if a bomber came off in the mud you had to really lift it up to get, get the wheel on. I remember we used to have to put out planks of wood and then we had these jacks we’d lift, put under the wing and lifted them up to change the wheels and that was a big job in, in all weathers. And it was pretty cold there too. I remember how bitterly cold it was.
RD2: What, what months were you there?
RD: I was there from September. August. August September ’41 to April ’42 when they threw us out to [pause] and I went to Winthorpe and they threw us out to put in, put in the runways.
RD2: So, you were there right through the winter.
RD: Right through the winter. Oh yes. And it was a tough winter. I can remember on the night of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau bombing when we, when we lost half the squadron. It was a very sad time standing out on the runway until 1 o’clock in the morning waiting for aircraft to come back. And there were no drem lighting in those days because it was grass and if there was snow as there was at that time we used to have gooseneck flares and there were probably twelve or fourteen gooseneck flares along the runway with one airman on each pair of flares on either side. So, you would light your gooseneck flare when an aircraft was, you were told an aircraft was coming in. You’d light your gooseneck flare with great difficulty with a match that kept blowing out in the wind and then run like a lunatic across the other side to light the other one before the aeroplane arrived. And, and once he landed then you had to put your gooseneck out and wait, wait for the next one because you couldn’t disclose your your your situation. But that was probably the saddest night of my life when I was out there. It was so depressing in those conditions and knowing that, that they hadn’t got back. And my particular aeroplane P for Peter went down on that Scharnhorst and Gneisenau raid with that Sergeant Aussie Holt as the pilot. Yeah.
RD2: So, could you describe that in a bit more sort of general terms because there were a lot of aircraft lost weren’t there?
RD: Yeah. There were a lot of aircraft lost. We used to do a thousand bomber raids in those days and the thousand bombers were made up of aeroplanes from here, there and everywhere. And although a large number were lost the number per squadron was small. We, we had lost aircraft on raids on many occasions. One, perhaps two but six or seven out of the squadron is a big big toll and unusual. I mean I’m told other squadrons had similar experiences but I didn’t experience it at 49 at that time. But Scampton was a very comfortable station. It was a pre-war, purpose built blocks. There was nothing skimped about it as there was at [Skimpton?] where we were in Nissen huts and outdoor toilets and washing houses and things of that sort. We were in two story brick built billets with proper bathrooms and toilets you know.
RD2: They would be the sort of the H Blocks. H blocks.
RD: Yeah.
RD2: Around, around the parade square.
RD: Basically. Not [pause] As far as I, no I don’t think, they were near the square but not round it. Yeah. They were all in that part of the airfield but I can’t remember being around the square. The parade ground was immediately behind station headquarters as you came in. Station Headquarters was at the right and, and the square was just beyond that and then these blocks were distributed around the beginning and the airfield was further down. Down the road.
RD2: So, you were what? What rank were you at this time?
RD: I was, went as an aircraftsman second class when I qualified. Then I was promoted and then I became AC1 and then I became a leading aircraftsman, LAC which was the most senior before [pause] I had no ambitions to, to —
RD2: You would —
RD: I would have —
RD2: You would have gone on to be a corporal, wouldn’t you?
RD: Yes. Yeah. The next jump up would have been a corporal but I had no great ambitions because I wasn’t that great an engineer. In fact, knowing my capabilities now I’m amazed I coped at all [laughs] Coped at all. But had I been a flyer obviously I’m sure I would have been a lot more ambitious than, than I was.
RD2: So, your, your sort of off duty moments would have been spent mainly in what? The Airmen’s Institute?
RD: No. We used to, we used to work twenty four hours every third day because remember all operations were at night. I mean, we did very few daylight raids. The Americans did all the daylight raids but of course they weren’t in the war yet but 49 Squadron only operated at night and therefore you had to have a crew on all night if, if there were operations. As there were on most nights. So, when you worked there were no days off. When you worked twenty four hours you came off duty at five or six in the morning and the rest of the day was yours. So I, we used to go to bed for a while and then get up and get the bus in to Lincoln to have something to eat or something to drink and perhaps go to a dance or a movie, the cinema and then walk back from Lincoln. Five miles. Of course, the buses never ran, ran after 6 o’clock and we certainly couldn’t afford a taxi in those days. But I always liked my food and whereas most of the boys would go drinking I preferred to go and find myself a little café and get something to eat and tuck in that way.
RD2: I take it from that that your opinion of the RAF food wasn’t that great.
RD: No.
RD2: No.
RD: We, we used to have it was good food ruined by bad cooks. It [laughs] we used to have rice pudding for desert every day. Seven days a week. And rice pudding was unsweetened. There was a shortage of sugar so you used to get a dollop of raspberry or strawberry jam in the middle of the rice pudding and then mix it up until it looked like mud and then eat it. That was sweet. And the day I was demobilised I took an oath that I would never eat rice pudding again and to date [laughs] I haven’t broken that.
RD2: Yeah.
RD: But no. I was not terribly impressed with, with the feed. Even though, even though there were proper cookhouse that we had. Every facility was there. I remember I got jankers on one day, on one occasion for having my hands in my pocket or something of that sort and a warrant officer, station warrant officer told me to go and get my pocket stitched up and report back at 5 o’clock to let him see. Which I did. And I showed him the pocket that I’d sewn up. He said, ‘What about the other one?’ I said, ‘Well, I only had one hand in my pocket.’ [laughs] And he said I was impertinent and I was on a charge and I got three days jankers where I had to go to the cookhouse. Do some, some work. And there was a lovely lady cook who I had a nice chat to and she made me some mushrooms on [laughs] or some, some food on toast and we had a good chat and I did some of the washing up but not, not a tremendous amount.
RD2: Brilliant. So, do you remember, I mean was there, I mean, two aspects. One, was there a lot of square bashing? Was there a lot of marching about?
RD: No. No. On, on an operational squadron it was very informal. You have to remember that at Scampton there were two squadrons 49 Squadron, 183 Squadron. There was discipline but there was no what they call bullshit. Right. But at Scampton there was also the administration headquarters at, at the top by the gate and there they tried to enforce discipline which they did in the case of, I mean if I’d have been out on the flight with my hands in my pocket with my overalls they’d know I was trying to keep my hands warm to do some work. But if you were up around headquarters and you had your hands in pockets then you were in trouble. No. There was not a lot of discipline on the squadron because we were all doing a job that was far more important than the, than the discipline.
RD2: On the other side of that was there a lot of social life on the base?
RD: Yes. Mainly through the NAAFI. Mainly through the NAAFI where we all used to meet in the evening. Occasionally there was a concert and we used to have our own singsongs and things of that sort. One thing that I would like to, to mention at this stage was we had a Salvation Army van used to come around to Scampton every morning. I think every morning. Rarely in the afternoons but every morning without fail and no matter what the weather these two girls used to arrive with hot tea and what we used to call wads which were little buns. And, and no matter what the weather, I mean in thick snow they used to come out. And to this day I’m a great supporter of, I say to my wife what we ought to send and she said, ‘You know, it’s too much now.’ I say, ‘It’s not too much.’ I remember the wonderful work they did. They were a Godsend and they used to come out on to the flight every day. They obviously had to come through the front gate so, you know I was trying to think how they got out on to the flights but they obviously came through the front gates and used to go to the three flights in turn. They were wonderful girls. I remember. I’ll never forget the Salvation Army.
RD2: So, on the [pause] were you on the base for Christmas? At Scampton.
RD: Yes.
RD2: Can you describe that?
RD: Yes. At Christmas the officers, we had turkey and the officers carved the turkey. Used to have the officer come round every meal for, ask if there were any complaints but you didn’t complain. I don’t know why. I know some of the older ones didn’t ever complain but nobody ever complained despite how bad it was. And it may well have been that some of them were quite satisfied with the, with the adequacy but I always had difficulty in coping with, with getting enough food. But the officer used to come around, ‘Any complaints?’ Every day. The duty officer. And then at Christmas operations were always suspended and this was one of the reasons why we were caught out with the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. We were bombed up with armour piercing bombs for a raid before Christmas and then we were stood down and they had to be de-bombed and then after Christmas it happened and we had to get our aeroplanes off in a hurry and I don’t wish to make a song and a dance about it but I do think that we probably had the wrong bombs for, for the job. On the day we didn’t have the armour piercing bombs on the aircraft simply because they, we had been caught out and they came through when they didn’t expect them. But that would have been the Christmas and we did have turkey and as I say the officers served it. It was very enjoyable, very lively and you know there was great camaraderie in the, in the squadron and there was competition between the various flights as to who could get their aeroplanes out ready for take-off first and things of this sort. But there was a great camaraderie in the squadron.
RD2: So, you were, you’re, I’m trying, if you work it into sort of like a working day for you.
RD: Yes.
RD2: You would have been out on flights. The aircraft were dispersed out —
RD: Yeah. Although there were no concrete runways there was a concrete strip around and, and off the concrete strip there were these little arms with the, with the round at the, I can’t remember what we called them.
RD2: Dispersals?
RD: Dispersal Unit. That’s right. Dispersal Unit. And in the middle of that Dispersal Unit was the flight sergeant’s hut and the flight sergeant was the senior NCO in charge of that flight where we used to get our orders, and various stores were kept there and the aeroplanes were walking distance from there. Now, we were probably then a mile to Flight 2 which was around another part of the aeroplane so we never saw them very much. There was just our four aeroplanes around the hut where we, where we worked. So we would get down there at 8 o’clock in the morning and we would get instructions from the flight sergeant to do either daily routine inspection or tow the aircraft down to the hangar because it had a bigger inspection or tow it to the compass swinger where the aeroplane had to be swung regularly to be sure the compasses was alright. And that was all our, all our duty or the actual compass was an instrument, instrument mechanics job but we used to have to see to the [pause] and, and then we were told later in the day whether there was going to be operations and if there were then armourers used to bring out the bombs and load up and we, we would assist with that.
RD2: Did the armourers also arm the guns?
RD: Yes.
RD2: At that same time.
RD: The same. Yeah. And armourers would come in during the course of the day either to put them in or change them or exchange them or whatever but, but armourers were at, were not on flight because there would only be a couple of armourers for each flight. Three or four armourers for each flight. Bombs weren’t heavy at that time. The biggest one was either a five hundred or a thousand pound but if they were doing long raids they only had two hundred and fifty pound bombs and we had, and they could be manhandled up by, by the guys themselves. And then at, we’d have our lunch and we’d go back for lunch I think and then we would work through ‘til 5 o’clock unless you were on duty and then you would stay or go. Go and get some supper and come back and see to seeing them off and bring them back hopefully.
RD2: So, seeing them off did you, was there was there a point where the aircrew would come out and talk to you before —?
RD: Oh, when they came out they used to come out in a bus. They would always chat to us. Always chat to us and know, anything special about had gone on with the aeroplane or anything been touched or anything of that sort. And then we used to wait and service other aircraft if any that were on the ground that hadn’t gone off whilst they were away. And once they came back then the crews would come off and go back on the bus, go back for debriefing and we would just wrap up and go home unless there was something wrong with the plane. Then we would get to deal with it there and then.
RD2: Would the, would the aircrew talk to the flight sergeant and say you know this engine is running rough or something like that?
RD: Oh yes.
RD2: Or would they come directly to you and say its hydraulic —
RD: No. No. He would go, go to the flight sergeant because [pause] yes, they they would always report to him. If it was something simple like something had come detached inside the plane they’d say something’s come off. Will you, will you have a look at that?
RD2: So you had a long interim period there where if the planes were away for six or eight hours.
RD: Yeah.
RD2: What did you do during that period because that was overnight apparently?
RD: Yes. That was at night. You could sometimes get, get your head down for a little bit in in the flight office.
RD2: Which was where?
RD: Where, where the flight sergeant was. Yeah.
RD2: The [unclear] Yeah.
RD: Yeah. That was the flight office. Yeah, and [pause] but invariably there were things to do on perhaps another aeroplane that wasn’t there but if there was nothing around then we would play cricket or football and things of that sort if, if it was light enough during the, during the summer and, and then we used to just find somewhere to get your head down. There was no such thing as beds or, or anything of that sort.
RD2: Yeah. So, I’m just trying to think. When, where there, where there were periods where the crew were sitting out at the flight hut on standby?
RD: No. Remember we’re bomber crews not, not fighter. Bomber crews were at headquarters and, and there was a sergeant’s mess and there was the officer’s mess and they would be there being briefed or perhaps training themselves. I mean, frankly I didn’t know what they were doing in the course of the day. Mainly if they’d been on ops they would, they would be sleeping. But then they would only come out when it was, it was time to go. Perhaps be out there for a half an hour a quarter of an hour, twenty minutes something like that and yeah, we always used to chat to them at that time. Because you would never ask them about what was going on because wherever they were going was secret. So that, I mean as it happened through the grapevine we knew.
RD2: Yeah.
RD: Basically where, where they were going and when they got back we used to just, you know, get it confirmed. Yeah. That’s flashing now.
RD2: Yeah. That’s ok. It just means the tape is coming to an end.
RD: Right. Right.
RD2: It’s got another five minutes.
RD: Right. Ok.
RD2: I’ll carry on if you don’t mind.
RD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
RD2: What was I just going to say? Yes. The procedure if you knew, how did you know an aircraft was coming back either battle damaged or [unclear]
RD: Well, we knew from the, from the conning tower. From the air control. That we used to get a word through the office that they were on their way and then you would just watch. Watch them land. As I say when, when they had to use the gooseneck flares and we used them I would have thought on six occasions when I was there to, to bring them in. The number one guy next to the air control tower would be told to light his and as soon as he started you did it all the way along but that was the most awful experience. Standing out there at night hours on end. I can’t tell you how cold it was. It used to blow across Lincolnshire straight from Siberia. How cold it was. And, and the sheer boredom. You couldn’t, you couldn’t read and you couldn’t sit and you couldn’t talk to anybody. You were just standing there and I mean occasionally we used to, we’d get halfway and shout to each other. But there was nobody to talk to because he was like two, two hundred yards away, a hundred yards away and —
RD2: But then —
RD: But they were good days. I only remember the good things.
RD2: Yeah.
RD: I don’t remember much of the, of the awful things that happened.
RD2: Yeah. But I know the, if, would you know if an aircraft was coming in and had possible damage?
RD: Yes.
RD2: To its undercarriage or something like that.
RD: Well, air control would know but we wouldn’t know until we saw. The extraordinary thing is when, when you’re on a squadron like that you can hear your, the engines of your plane as opposed to any other aeroplane and you know a stranger merely from the sound of the engine. And you were used to looking at aircraft and even when they were in the air we could tell if one, I mean, at night obviously you couldn’t but during the daytime if somebody had a flat tyre or the undercarriage hadn’t come down properly then, then, then you, you could tell because you could see but other than that the first thing we knew was we could see it come down and go over on one side.
RD2: And presumably on the airfield next to the control tower was the fire station and the —
RD: That’s right. The fire tender and the crash crew on the fire tender were at the side of there. One, one occasion that I perhaps can mention that one of the bombers came back on one occasion and when they stopped on the dispersal we used to sort of do that to open the bomb doors and it wasn’t my aeroplane but it was on, it was one in the squadron. As they opened the door a bomb that had come off the attachment but hadn’t fallen was trapped in the door, dropped and exploded and some of the ground crew were killed there and it was not, not a pretty sight. It was not a pretty sight. It was pretty awful.
RD2: Were the aircrew out of the aircraft at the time?
RD: They were under. Underneath it. So the ground crew and the aircrew, or some of the aircrew were there. I think there were some survivors. And then we had another time when an aeroplane crashed coming in to land in in to a field just outside the airfield where when we got there you couldn’t tell humans from cows and it was, that was an awful awful thing. An awful thing. But those things I’ve tried to wipe —
RD2: Yeah.
RD: Out of my mind. Yeah. Yeah.
RD2: I’m going to just stop and change —
[recording paused]
RD2: Like that then. This has been, whereabouts well I mean we’ll go back just to repeat what you were saying.
RD: Yeah.
RD2: You’d hitch a lift.
RD: Yeah.
RD2: In the —
RD: Yes. In those days it was quite easy if the crew were on a non-operational flight if you’d, and you got permission you could go out and have a flight round if they were on circuits and bumps or if they were going to another station to do something and come straight back. I flew quite on, I wouldn’t say a regular basis but on a large number of occasions I flew in the, in the, in the Hampden.
RD2: Where did you, I mean which position did you take on this?
RD: I would normally either sit next to the pilot or as a second pilot or I’d go down in the nose where the bomb aimer was, would be. Or I would find myself a position in the mid-upper turret where, where the wireless operator whilst he was wireless operating wasn’t in his cupola he was sitting down by his radio. So, the upper gunner wouldn’t be doing any wireless work whilst, whilst they were in a position where they might be finding —
RD2: It must, it must have been quite exciting to be —
RD: Oh, unbelievable. Unbelievable. Particularly in those days where just nobody but the very, very wealthy flew anywhere. Oh no, I was always very, very happy to have a flight. Even if I had to work late or something of that sort to, to make up time and —
RD2: Where, where what sort of places did you go?
RD: We never landed but we used to go on, I remember flying from Lincoln up to, up to, north west towards Wigan Pier. And then they, we used to also go, they did bomb aiming practice out on, in the Fens in East Anglia somewhere. I went on a few of those. Never had a full crew because it was only one member of the crew who would be training and they would then need a pilot and a navigator so there was probably three crew and they would take one or two ground crew. In fact, on an occasion I went I think I was the only one. But they were very very enjoyable trips. And then, I mean this is long after Scampton but at the end of the war I did a trip over Germany to show the various towns where we had dropped bombs. That was, that was a very exciting episode as well. I went in a Lancaster on that and we did a tour of all the towns that the squadron had bombed.
RD2: Yeah.
RD: And that, that was very interesting.
RD2: So just going back to the Hampden itself.
RD: Yeah.
RD2: Hampden. Hampden or Hampton.
RD: No. Hampden.
RD2: Hampden. That’s it. Yeah.
RD: Yeah. Yeah.
RD2: I’ve heard various reports. I mean, some, I heard some, one aircrew called it a flying coffin but from what you said it sounds to have been quite a reliable aircraft.
RD: In my opinion it was a reliable aircraft. There were, there were very few accidents that weren’t, that were caused in my [pause] as far as my recall goes very few accidents where aeroplanes went down because of a fault. There were a large number of accidents where there was human error, I mean. But I can remember being told by a number of crew that that thing flew itself. You know. It needed very little control. So, I’m a little bit surprised to hear that the crews called it a a flying coffin. But I I was not aware of it. No.
RD2: Whether that was in reference to being able to defend itself.
RD: Ah. That, that of course is another thing, you see. Bearing in mind what it had. It had one fixed gun in the front, a gun at the top controlled by the wireless operator gunner and the rear gunner who was in a cupola underneath the aircraft at the back sitting there with his legs up like this. Fixed all, all night long so that he couldn’t see anything above him. He could only see stuff below him. So, from that point of view, yes. I could see it would be a trap but in those days there weren’t that many night fighters. Most of the aircraft were taken down by anti-aircraft guns.
RD2: I think, going back to Scampton were you, was the station ever attacked by the enemy?
RD: Yes. One afternoon. One afternoon Jerry came over and machine gunned one part of the airfield but not a lot of damage was done. The other thing that happened as a result of that was that the aeroplane, the aeroplanes they thought were vulnerable on the ground so they decided that of the squadron six of the aircraft would be dispersed to another airfield just a mile or two or a landing strip a mile or two away so that if Jerry did decide to come over and have a go again he could only get a half the squadron not the whole squadron and —
RD2: Was that Ingham?
RD: Possibly. I I know that name but I can’t remember if it was the name but it was just a few miles away. We took off at Scampton and straight down on to this airfield and every night six aeroplanes would go over there with two ground crew. You would have six pilots and two ground crew. And then we used to button up the six for the night and come back in another aeroplane and the next morning go back and bring them back again. Now, the story goes that after a while somebody had the bright idea that instead of, it was a waste of time and you know the effort of getting six aeroplanes on to another field was really not worth it but after a while somebody had the bright idea that they’d make up six mock Hampdens in wood and, and put them at this other airfield. And the story goes that two days after it happened Jerry came over and dropped a wooden bomb on that airfield [laughs]
RD2: [laughs] That’s brilliant.
RD: Yeah. I dined out on that story for a long time.
RD2: That’s fantastic. That really is. Thank you. That, it’s brilliant [laughs] Great. But the airfield itself was never bombed at Scampton.
RD: Not, not that, not that I remember. Not that I remember. No. What would they bomb? There were no, they were trying to get the aeroplanes obviously and I think this is what, this what do they call it, strafer, ground strafer. The aeroplane came over and just machine gunned. I think he did damage some aeroplanes on that raid and that’s why they decided to disperse half the squadron but other than that I can’t recall anything at all. I can’t recall anything of that sort.
RD2: No. I mean, you don’t recall whether because I mean that must have been, really made you feel very much on the front line.
RD: Oh yes.
RD2: Yeah.
RD: Well, I’d felt on the front line when I was on the square bashing at Bournemouth because we used to parade on, on the lower promenade at Bournemouth and one afternoon Jerry came in straight off the sea. And after that we used to [laughs] we used to do our training in the side roads around, around on, on the East Cliff around Meyrick Park. We use to go on the side streets there. So, I’d seen some of that when, when I’d been at Bournemouth.
RD2: Yeah. When [pause] a slightly aside point. You obviously had WAAFs on the station.
RD: Yes.
RD2: At that time. Were they very much segregated?
RD: Yes. WAAFs were mainly in air control and had nothing to do with us in in any event. There were, there were lots of, lots of officers that were far more attractive than than erks like [laughs] like us. But later on when WAAFs came in as, as mechanics but that was very very much later there was no segregation. I mean they did the same job as we did. We used to, we used to tease them unmercifully but, but, but —
RD2: And at Scampton were they billeted off station?
RD: No. Remember that was a permanent station so there would have been quarters for WAAFs. In fact, trying to turn my mind back because it’s not something I’ve thought of I think the WAAFs might have been in wartime huts as opposed to the H blocks distributed around but but basically there was, there was no, no problem. There was no problem as far as I remember. There was no, no problem at all.
RD2: And did you have much to do with other neighbouring stations? Hemswell or any of the others?
RD: Not really unless your aeroplane landed somewhere else because of fog or, and then you’d have to go over there just to see that they got back alright and you’d come back with them. The one interesting thing I remember at Scampton very early on. An American aeroplane landed at Scampton because he, he was in trouble and they sent a ground crew over to see to this aeroplane. And we were amazed, amazed is not the word, at the equipment that each American engineer had that we didn’t have. If we wanted a special set of spanners we had to go from the Flight back to stores, sign them out for the day, use them and take them back. The Americans had the same tools around their belt and we were very very conscious of how even in those days very early on in the war how much better equipped the American serviceman was to, to us. I mean we had a toolbox, you know. A hammer, a chisel and a screwdriver but anything more sophisticated than that used to have to be borrowed because there weren’t, weren’t enough to go around. There were obviously a few sets of spanners in the stores but not enough for —
RD2: Yeah.
RD: To leave out on the Flight. That was one thing that we noticed very much. That how much better equipped they were than, than we were.
RD2: So, after you were at Scampton and then you moved because they were building a runway.
RD: Runways. Yeah.
RD2: Was there any notice of that or was it just —
RD: We weren’t just told that we were. I think we were told a while before that the squadron was being broken up. I think it was broken up. 183 went somewhere else. To another, I think they went to Waddington or somewhere like that but 49 was broken up for some reason or the other to make 1664 Conversion Unit. And we were all, that’s ground crew and aircrew were transferred to Winthorpe whilst the builders came in to put these runways in and of course after the runways were put in then the station was reopened with 617 Squadron. The Dambusters Squadron. But as I say from Scampton I was sent with 1664 Conversion Unit to Winthorpe which I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it or seen any sign of it but that is, no longer exists. I think I told you I took [laughs] I took my son up there on one occasion just to show him where [laughs] where I won the war and we couldn’t find the airfield. Eventually I went on some private land and it was all farmland and the hangars were being used by the farmers as, you know for storage of their grain and materials and vehicles and things of that sort. But that just appeared but but Coddington Hall which was the officer’s mess at Winthorpe is a house that still exists I believe and I don’t know —
RD2: Yeah.
RD: Whether anybody knows anything about that. I couldn’t find it.
RD2: No. No, I know the name.
RD: Yeah.
RD2: Yeah. But what was purpose of the Conversion Unit?
RD: Well, well to convert them from these much smaller aeroplanes to the large. Remember the Hampden only had two engines. And, and to convert them to the larger Manchester which was the Lancaster with two engines and, and the Lancaster with four Merlins. The Manchester as far as I remember had two very large radial engines whereas the Lancaster had four. Four Merlins. And it was an entirely different animal to fly. Much faster. More powerful. Carried much more weight than the Hampden. The Hampden carried very little for, for its size really. I don’t think it carried anything over above a thousand pound bomb and it had one thousand pound bomb. That was not very much whereas the Lancaster carried a much bigger load and it was an entirely different thing to fly. More up to date in in many many respects.
RD2: More difficult to work on from your point of view?
RD: No. Not really. It was better to work on because it was more accessible because, because of the size. I mean in the Hampden you used to have to squeeze in everywhere. It was alright for me. I was small. But some of the big guys had, had difficulty.
RD2: Just going back sorry. What sort of engines did the Hampden have?
RD: A Hampden had [pause] I can’t remember.
RD2: Were they Bristol? Were they radials or —
RD: I think they were. I think they were. I think they were. The other story I’ve just thought of about the, and when we were on the Conversion Unit was when Gee came in. This was the radar. The first radar was Gee and when they put those in all the aeroplanes came with Gee. One of the ground crew used to have to sleep in it all night in case somebody, somebody tried to [laughs] with a gun, with a gun, used to sleep in it at night with a sten gun, I think. In case anybody tried to come along and take it. And this went on for, for quite a while but I couldn’t believe [laughs] sleeping. Sleeping in —
RD2: Did you ever have to do it?
RD: Oh yes. Sleeping in the fuselage [laughs]
RD2: Not very comfortable.
RD: No. Well, as it happens it wasn’t that bad because you had the main spar running through and a little guy like me could, could lie, lie across there. And —
RD2: So, you stayed on.
RD: Yeah. One more thing. Maybe not. I don’t think it’s too crude to tell you the story but when we had the first WAAFs on the plane they were coming around and we were having to show them what was what. Where the, in the middle of the Lancaster fuselage was the main spar where the wings were where we used to have to walk up the, you could walk up the fuselage and cock your leg over the main spar which was like a seat on the other side and we used to tease the WAAFs to tell them to sit in the seat lay back and look for the golden rivet [laughs] up, up at the top of the aircraft. But not too, not too naughty. Yes. The golden rivet.
RD2: Yeah. So, are there, is there anything else that sort of —? Oh, I know, you did, before we started recording you were telling me about the old hands who were at Scampton.
RD: Yes.
RD2: When you first arrived.
RD: Yes.
RD2: You know, both the ground crew and in aircrew function.
RD: Yes. They were. When I first arrived in at Scampton in August September ’41 there were a number of ground crew who were regular airmen as opposed to volunteers or conscripts as it were who’d been in the Air Force before the war. Now, in the old days aircraft engine fitters, I think all fitters, aircraft and, engine and airframe fitters were also qualified gunners, air gunners and used to go. When I first went there they used to go on operations as a rear gunner which I found very exciting and I wouldn’t have minded having a go myself but by that time it was only aircrew that would be permitted and they only used them on rare occasions when there was somebody sick or they were short of a gunner or something of that sort.
RD2: Yeah.
RD: But as I say these guys used to look after the engines during the day and then go off on a, on a bombing raid.
RD2: Yeah. So, from when you left Scampton just sort of in sort of broad terms how did you finish the war? The next years.
RD: Well, when, I carried on 1664 Conversion Unit. We were converting all the time. And then when we got to VE-day they decided that squadrons were going to be sent out to the Far East because there had been no heavy bombers in the Far East ‘til then but I can’t remember where the runways were going to be. Probably India or somewhere like that. And they were going to get squadrons to go to the Far East. When that ended, when the Conversion Unit ended which would have been 1940, be in ’45 I was transferred to Number 1 Signals Depot at West Drayton where I joined fitting parties to fit radios and radar in to aeroplanes all, all over the country. So, although that was, that was my last year it was a good year because I travelled all over Britain with a small fitting party of six. And we used to, air frame mechanic, a couple of radio engineers, electrician, and, and a sergeant in charge and we used to go to various aeroplane, airfield, aerodromes over the country. I went to a number. To Leuchars, I went to in Scotland for a while. I went with a Polish bomber squadron on detachment and they were at Bury, Bury St Edmunds and there was a Polish bomber squadron, I can’t remember what number and we we did some work on their aeroplanes. I also did, fitted at an air, at Cambridge, Marshall’s Airfield, Cambridge. I was sent on detachment there with a party to fit a radio for the first time in a biplane.
RD2: A Tiger Moth.
RD: A Tiger Moth. And it was, until then it had the speaking tube and, and I fixed this. I did the work fitting the actual thing whereas the wireless engineers get it connected up. And when I’d finished this Tiger Moth belonged to the station commander there so he said, ‘Come on. Let’s go and test it.’ So, like a shot I got a parachute and sat in the rear seat and we used this intercom in the, in the Tiger Moth for the first time ever. This would have been 1945/46. And oh, that was the most exciting ride ever when he started doing some stunts because the station commander was showing off a little bit and he said, ‘Well, come on. Let’s go home,’ and he pulled the [unclear] and went straight over and did a, you know, I’ve forgotten what they call it now when you do it.
RD2: Loop.
RD: Loop the loop, yeah. You know, did the loop the loop, said, ‘Let’s go home.’ And he pulled the stick back and we did the loop the loop and that was it. But that, that was very exciting but that of course was right, right at the, towards the end of the war. And then I was demobilised in July or August ’46 having done five, five and a half years. Generally speaking I think I can say I had a, a very exciting war. I survived with two arms, two legs and all the rest of it. And it was a busy war. I was never ever bored as a lot of people told me they were when they were waiting for things to happen. Being on an operational squadron from day one I never ever had anything of that sort. I don’t, I don’t think I was ever bored.
RD2: Did you look back when you went to what was essentially a very temporary airfield from a permanent station did you look back and think —
RD: Yes.
RD2: God, I miss that.
RD: Yes. Yes.
RD2: Can you, can you compare them?
RD: The biggest comparison, personally the biggest comparison not from a work point of view but from a personal point of view was having to get up in the morning and walk across the field you know, in rain or shine to the ablutions. You know. That, that was the biggest thing for me. And the ablutions didn’t have the showers. The showers were somewhere else and that, that I found although I accepted it because I knew it was a temporary station. But for the other facilities I was not too conscious because where Scampton was four or five miles from Lincoln Winthorpe was only less than a mile from Newark. So, we, we had the convenience of being able to walk in to town most nights if you had the money to do it. And from Newark it was easy to get to Nottingham which was a very big town and where we used to have good nights out and lots of girls. The prettiest girls in England were from Nottingham. And, and there were two, two very big dance halls there that we used. We used to go to one or the other and, and by an amazing coincidence I’ve had an association with Nottingham ever, ever since. I’ve still got a friend that, that lives there and we go up occasionally and I always said if I didn’t live in London I think I’d like to live in in Nottingham. Do you know Nottingham?
RD2: I don’t know Nottingham very well. No. I know Newark slightly better.
RD: Newark. Yeah. Yeah.
RD2: Now, that’s a nice town.
RD: Oh yeah. It wasn’t. It wasn’t. I mean its improved no end because Pat and I were there recently and it’s improved no end. I mean other than Ransome and Marles I can’t remember much else in Newark. Ransome and Marles were the people who made ball bearings. You used to have to pass their factory from, on the way from the airfield in to, in to Newark.
RD2: Oh. The airfield you were at that isn’t what is now the Newark Air Museum is it?
RD: The —
RD2: The Air Museum at Newark.
RD: No. That’s on the other side.
RD2: Yeah.
RD: Yeah. No, this was, the Fosse Way ran from Newark to Lincoln and we were just off. In fact, one side of the Fosse Way was the edge of the airfield whereas the other side was behind Newark past Ransome and Marles.
RD2: Yeah.
RD: So, if you got that road to Lincoln. I can’t remember is Lincoln north of Newark or east of Newark?
RD2: Lincoln is sort of due east.
RD: East. Right.
RD2: Yeah.
RD: So, you’ve got Newark and that’s the Fosse Way and then there was another road coming out of Newark apart from Ransome and Marles up to the airfield and the airfield went from that side road to, to the Fosse Way. It was between the two. But no, I was happy at Winthorpe. It was, it was a nice station. It was very good camaraderie there and although crews were coming in and out all the time for their conversion training.
RD2: Well, is there anything you’d like to add? I —
RD: I think I’d just like to thank you for giving me the opportunity of remembering these things.
RD2: No. No. No. Thank you.
RD: I thought I’d forgotten.
RD2: Thank you.
RD: And, and I hope, you know I can see something of what you’ve done.
RD2: Yeah. Yeah.



R Davies, “Interview with Ron Davies,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 6, 2022,

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