Interview with Glenn Atkins


Interview with Glenn Atkins


Glenn Atkins was born in Newport Pagnell and was called up for National Service in 1951. He was involved in exercises to test the defences of Europe during the Cold War. When he was released from National Service he returned to his former company where he remained until he retired.








01:25:42 audio recording

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GA: Although I should have gone because I was in the ATC.
CB: Good. Right. This is the first of two interviews for people who joined and served in the RAF after the war but this is essentially the legacy of the war and we are now talking about the beginning of the Cold War. So today we’re with Glenn Atkins in Buckingham and he has done a variety of tasks as a National Serviceman and, Glenn, what do you remember, oh it’s the 29th of September 2016. What do you remember Glenn from your, what are your earliest recollections of family life?
GA: Well I was born at Newport Pagnell. I went to Newport Elementary School, passed my eleven plus in 1941 and I went to Wolverton Grammar School which is now combined as a comprehensive but, and it’s interesting I went to school on a train from Newport Pagnell to Wolverton. It was a four mile train journey and, well I went to the grammar school but after two years I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the languages. The French and the Latin. I think there was a French master that used to take the mickey out of me because I couldn’t follow it. He always used to ask me the questions so I had to stand up and make a fool of myself but that could have been something but I had in the last term at the school before the eleven plus one, one period of, one term of engineering drawing which I presumed it was because we were drawing things out of Wolverton Works and stuff like that you know so I got the idea of being a draughtsman and that’s why I wanted to leave the grammar school and go to the technical college in Wolverton which was one of the best technical colleges around because it had Wolverton Carriage Works as its base that did every, everything you could do such as all forms of engineering. In fact we used to have teachers from the technical college for engineering drawing, for woodwork and metal work. Anyway, I had a job to leave the grammar school because the headmaster didn’t want me to go. He thought it was a slur on him that I wanted to leave to go to a technical college and I can’t understand how I was twelve years old and I used to have to sit at this desk. He’d come in after everybody had gone and try to talk me out of it. I can remember him saying, ‘Well we do art.’ So I said, ‘Well that’s not engineering drawing.’ Anyway, my father went to see the headmaster at the technical college and he was anxious to receive me, you know. Well three of us did it. He wasn’t worried about the other two but I went to the technical college and all I can say is that in the first term because it was a two year course when I went at the technical school at thirteen, in the first term we’d covered all the maths we’d done in two years at the grammar school. It’s a bit like this university here. They cover everything in two years don’t they? Anyway, I came about third in the class, had a bit of an advantage though just coming in but, and I was, ended up as, can I say the star pupil at the end of my year. Now then in 1945 the new Education Act said that everybody should stop at school until they were sixteen and the technical college got a new school certificate out and the headmaster who had changed then from the one who accepted me but he wanted me to stop on the extra eighteen months to start the period over with a few others. Well, a friend, a boy that I was in class with who was always top of the class he got a privileged apprentice at Vauxhall Motors. He lived at Leighton Buzzard and it sounded so interesting to me that I wanted to leave school and go on this apprenticeship scheme. I went to Luton on my bike and a bus which I did ‘cause I lived at Newport Pagnell. I went there. I found my way on this Saturday morning with everybody’s not there. Big buildings big rooms. In the end I found my way to the interview and there were four or five guys sat in a circle and me in the middle like you are sitting there firing the questions at me. It was quite an interview really. Anyway, I did that and then I found my way home and I went in Monday morning and we used to have an assembly at 9 o’clock, main assembly and when you left there you had to file past the headmaster’s office and he was standing there and anybody that had done something wrong he would point and, get in his office. Nobody got that except me. ‘In there.’ So I went in there and he said, ‘How did you get on?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Your interview at Luton.’ I says, ‘How did you know? I never told anybody.’ ‘I have a way of knowing these things,’ he said. He said, ‘Did you get the job?’ I says, ‘No. They didn’t, they didn’t want me.’ He said, ‘I knew they wouldn’t.’ I said, ‘How did you know?’ ‘Because I wrote them a letter asking them not to take you for the reasons I’m going to tell you’. I said, ‘I went through all of that, that interview you know and all that hassle for nothing.’ He said, ‘It’ll do you good for the rest of your life.’ Anyway, he was good of his word because when I came the top of the class in the end and he always said he would find me the best job outside Wolverton Works which was where everybody seemed to go and of course it was Wipac and they’d just started in Bletchley during the war. They came down from London and they’d just bought the company from the Americans because the Americans were convinced in 1942 that we were going to lose the war so they were going to sell the factory you see. Well he bought the factory and, well John’s father knows about this, he was the carpenter but anyway again I cycled in to Bletchley, had my interview and I was a trainee design draughtsman. That was my title at sixteen. 1946. And I carried on then doing night school and day release education to get my, first of all my ordinary national after two years and then another two years for my higher national which I got by the age of twenty and then I thought they’d forgotten about me ‘cause I got deferred from when I was eighteen to get, to do this education. Then Christmas came no buff envelope you know and I really thought they’d forgotten me and then on bloody New Year’s Day it came. Report at Padgate on the 15th of January 1951. I can remember getting my ticket from that little old railway station at Newport Pagnell which they stamped in it and it would take you all the way to Padgate you know and caught the train there early in the morning and Audrey, my wife, I was, we were courting then by about a year. That was my biggest regret was leaving here because I didn’t want to leave her. Anyway, I caught the train to Padgate. Well it wasn’t Padgate. What was it? The station near there anyway and when I got there there was a bunch of chaps like me with a little case all going to do their National Service and everybody was so polite. Even the bus driver. He was an air force man. Until we went through the gates at Padgate and then it all changed. Everybody shouting at you. All the rest. Anyway, we went to this little hut which had twenty two beds in it and we were told to find ourselves a bed space each and I picked one next to the chap in the corner who was from Derbyshire. We hadn’t been there long and the warrant officer came in. Typical you know, loud. ‘Gather around,’ he says. He said, ‘Anybody been in the ATC?’ Well I had. I’d been in the ATC for twelve months. I stuck my hand up didn’t I? He said, ‘Right you’re in charge of this lot,’ he said. ‘You have to march them down to the cookhouse, march them back, everywhere they go they march in order and you’re in charge. You’ve got to get them up by 6 o’clock in the morning to be on parade at seven’. And this went on. First of all we marched in our civvies and then we gradually got kitted out with our uniform and we got half a uniform while the trousers were being altered and that sort of thing. And one incident was marching them down to the cookhouse and we were doing it quite smart actually. I was on the outside and then I could see two officers about a hundred, well I thought, fifty yards away. Out of sight I thought. So we carried on. Suddenly I thought, ‘Airman.’ I knew that was me. I stood and saluted, Went over there and they said, ‘Do you realise you salute officers whenever you meet them?’ I said, ‘Yes but I thought you were too far away.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You just remember that for the future,’ he said. ‘By the way,’ he said, ‘You’d better take charge of your squad. They’ve just marched outside the main gate.’ The buggers were all walking out of Lincoln so I had to run after then and turn them around and come back again and they were all laughing like mad you know. And, but all I can remember about that cookhouse was they were the lowest of the low the chaps in charge there and they all shared an attitude as if they were small children, you know. I would have loved to go back and tell them what I thought of them there afterwards. Anyway, we’d only been there two weeks and we had a recruitment call at this camp cinema and we went down there and the officer commanding, Bomber Command was doing the speech from the platform and he said we’d run the armed forces down to below, down to Dunkirk level and the Cold War was coming on. So anybody, they wanted so many air force so anybody that had a school certificate or equivalent could volunteer to go down to Hornchurch and get selected. There were seventy of us actually but I was the first one to put my name down but not to do with flying. I just wanted more money because I started at Wipac at twenty eight, thirty bob a week so when I went in the, when I got called up for National Service I went to twenty eight bob a week. A shilling a day. Anyway, we went down to Hornchurch. We had all the tests over three days like spin you around and walk in a white line afterwards. Oh the decompression chamber was one where they lowered the compression until they gave you a writing pad with a pen until you went doing all this business. You were just about to pass out and then finish it off but went through all that which was a bit of a surprise. I had got a cold at the time and I was frightened to death I was going to fail ear nose and throat and go back to Padgate for another two or three weeks. Anyway, I got through it and the one thing I remember is that I was fast asleep. I went to bed early before 10 o’clock with aspirins to try and get rid of the cold. I’d just about got off to sleep and somebody came and shook me on the shoulder and it was him. He said, ‘Hey, hey George’. I said, ‘I’m not George.’ ‘Oh sorry.’ he said, ‘I thought you were somebody else.’ That was our first meeting. Anyway, after all the tests, on the Monday we were going back to Padgate and a squadron leader air gunner asked me up in his office and he spoke to me like a father and he said, ‘You see my badge?’ You know it was an emblem and I thought squadron leader air gunner, they were pre, he must be administration afterwards, after the war. He says, ‘If you go back to Padgate with your qualifications you’ll get an LAC electrician. Boring,’ he said. ‘Take my advice. We need three air gunners. He said, ‘In actual fact we need twelve aircrew anyway out of seventy but you were very close to being a pilot which is what you put down for.’ I said, ‘Well I didn’t want anything else.’ He said, ‘Well you take air gunner and you’ll have the time of your life.’ So I did what he said and that’s when I met these three. Those three. That was who I ended up with. We lost him. He was a Scotsman. Anyway, we get back to Padgate and they gave us the filthiest jobs they could find because they knew we were going to go to aircrew. In fact he got conjunctivitis. We were shovelling coal or something you know. Anyway, we went off to, we got posted to Leconfield after only about two or three weeks square bashing. At Leconfield they’d got Wellingtons and that was our air gunnery training where we used to go up in a Wellington and five air gunners would go up with it with a Polish pilot and we would have turns in the rear turret for about a quarter of an hour each with Mark 10 Spitfires attacking us with camera guns and we used to be, our cameras were taken to the crew room afterwards and shown what we scored and they did the same at their base which was further up the road and we got marked. Well I think I got sixty three percent which was very high for an air gunner. Anyway, we did the the course which took us to about May. Incidentally, in the war they trained air gunners within two weeks but in National Service we didn’t only have to learn how to fire the guns we had to know all the mechanism of it. A lot of theory and all that business just to give us something to do I think and then we got posted to Scampton to get crewed up to an aircraft which was the Lincoln. So we went down to Scampton and we had three months conversion to this aircraft. We got through air gunnery quite quickly but we, oh I must say this, when we got to Scampton we all went to this big room and everybody’s conversion about from any age, down from thirty five down to national servicemen. All aircrew trying to get a crew. Well that’s where my Yorkshire friend who was three years younger than me took charge and said, ‘Let’s go for the oldest pilot. He’ll look after us.’ It seemed like a good idea to me so I said, ‘Yeah ok.’ So I went and I sorted him out. ‘Yeah we need two air gunners,’ so we went with him and then we did the conversion and he was an old pilot at thirty four. Ernie Howard. He’d been flying Hurricanes before that. He was out in Japan. Not on Hurricanes but on other aircraft and of course having a Lincoln or a Lancaster was a bit heavy for him so he had to do more circuits and bumps than anybody else landing and taking off and my mate got unconscious hitting his head the roof with the tail coming down too heavy and actually after that they stopped air gunners being in the rear turret. Only the mid-upper could stop while they were doing circuits and bumps. Well we got through in the end and then we got posted. Now they needed one crew with 617 squadron which was the number one squadron you see and because he was the oldest and most experienced in years we went with him and that’s why we were the only two National Servicemen ever flew with 617 because there was nobody else and the aircrew just started for National Servicemen. Well I had the six months up till Christmas ’51 with 617 where I did about a hundred hours. We did various operations, you know, to test all the fighter bases in Europe. We always used to fly up close to the Iron Curtain to show our strength to the Russians but the thing was if we strayed over the border you were shot down. In fact one did get shot down but we didn’t. Anyway, it was all good fun to us. Anyway, we used to come back [pause] but one exercise I remember once we took off from Scampton, we got posted to Scampton from Leconfield from Scampton to Leconfield no to Binbrook. Binbrook in North Lincolnshire and I can always remember taking off from there in this big exercise with about twenty Lincolns taxiing around to take off and all the villagers were there waving and that and we went off, we flew off in the daylight because it was August. We flew out to the North Sea. Ten we flew and attacked Paris. Then we attacked Copenhagen. Then we flew down to Southern Germany, I forget the name and that finished it. We flew up the Iron Curtain and flew up in to the North Sea and we got in to formation then and we attacked London which was to drop these twenty five pounders on a practice bombs on a practice range beyond London. Well when we came over the North Sea every fighter plane in the British air force and the Americans was attacking us. It was full of aircraft. We would have been shot out before we reached the coast. I mean the Americans like I say a proper formal attack which they did, which the British air force did but the American used to come straight at you like that. Never had a hell of hitting you except colliding with you or something. Anyway, we flew past London. When we went over Clacton I think they must have thought war had been declared but we never heard anything about it. I suppose things were still going on after the war that they expected all these exercises. When we got down to Larkhill, that was it, the bombing range and we dropped our bombs and we called back to base. We were supposed to carry on down to Cornwall and we got called back to base because of thunderstorms and was I glad because I’d had nine hours sitting in a mid-upper turret which was like a bicycle seat. Was I sore, you know? And of course we were on oxygen in those things. We didn’t get air conditioning whatever so that was that experience. And then at Christmas they converted to Canberras, 617. I stopped on for a month on number 9 squadron. They needed an air gunner. John, my friend had already been posted to another base on Lincolns again and then I got posted down to Coningsby on B29 Fortresses. Whereas a crew of seven was on the Lincoln a crew of eleven was on the B29 and I was a side gunner. There were five air gunners on a B29. One on each side. On the top he was the master gunner, one in the tail and one in the front. Oh and there was a belly gunner as well but we didn’t usually use him because that was a bit uncomfortable laying down there but the master gunner could control all the three at the back with a switch. Talk about computers. This is 1952. It was all done mechanically and so if there was an aircraft attacking me on my side he could swing his guns around and take over my guns. Now if it swung over to the other side my gun would swing around, no, he would take over that one but the rear one he could do either way. That was good fun on a B29 because it was pressurised at ten thousand feet so we didn’t have oxygen masks. In fact we even had ashtrays there. Typical Americans. Whereas in a Lincoln of course it was bare and very uncomfortable. All the spars were showing and all the rest and you couldn’t smoke, you could set alight. Having said that the pilot often used to smoke. I was a non-smoker but the lovely smell of Player’s cigarettes coming down the fuselage was lovely but I never did it. Anyway, where were we? Oh at Coningsby we had an escape and evasion exercise that I remember quite well. We were taken out in a lorry, enclosed, dumped about forty miles away from the base anywhere when it was fully dark and given a rough map to find our way back to the base at Coningsby so I picked our navigator because I thought he would know the way with the stars which was a good idea because he did and it was a lovely moonlit night. We went straight across the fields but he was scared to death of animals. He’d come from London. Cows, horses he couldn’t stand them. We had to go all the way around the field just to avoid cows. Anyway, we went, we gradually got nearly halfway home. Daylight had come and we got a sugar beet out of the field to carve up to eat it because we were hungry and we decided to make for his married quarters in Coningsby, on the outskirts of Coningsby which backed on to the railway line. He said, ‘If we get to the railway line and follow the railway line in,’ and we got there about Saturday afternoon. His wife cooked us ham and eggs which was not allowed and then we went to bed for a couple of hours and then we said. ‘Look we’ve got to find our way to this base, the base camp,’ because the second exercise was to attack Coningsby camp which was three or four miles away. We’d got to find this base camp which we knew was on the outskirts of Coningsby so we told his wife to [form] ahead and we would follow behind and if, of course the army and police were looking for us with cars going everywhere if ever you saw an army guy just give a whistle which she did and we jumped over the nearest fence and hid. Well we escaped everybody in to there without being noticed by anybody and I said, ‘Well we’d better crawl over this field.’ It was getting a bit light. In the end I said, ‘This is bloody ridiculous,’ I said, ‘because we’ll have to get up to walk in.’ So we got up to walk in when we were only about a hundred yards away and we frightened them to death. They thought we were attacking them. Anyway, we got in there. There had a fire burning and we got a cup of coffee and at a certain hour, I think it was 5 o’clock we had to attack the camp. Again my friend said, he paved the way and we went together and we got in this field, went across it and there was a hedge and a ditch. Oh and that was it. Going across this if we got across there there was horses. Well he was frightened to death of these horses so he burst through the fence and there were two army guys sat on the other side having a fag and they chased after him and he got caught. Well they came back having another fag. I waited against this ditch and burst through the fence and ran like mad and thirty yards before they woke up to what happened and I was like a scared rabbit with people chasing me across this field. I scampered down this alleyway behind the married patch, found an outside loo with a door on it so I jumped in there, shut the door and I hear, they were coming along opening all the doors. In the end they opened the door and I give up. Now the interesting thing was I got very close. There was only two blokes out of God knows how many got into the camp and what they did they flagged a car down, a private individual and said, ‘Give us a lift to the camp and we’ll hide in the back seat,’ and when they were challenged by the police they opened the back door and ran and jumped through the fence. They had somebody standing every twenty yards along that perimeter. You could never get through normally but they were the only two who did it. Now my mother was always a means to this because egg and bacon was my standard meal actually and when they caught you they shoved you in this hangar with nothing in there except a keg of water and a cup but at the end they were frying egg and bacon and they were interrogating people to find out where the base camps were. Well I never told them but I must say the egg and bacon smelt very good but it’s amazing they found every base, all far, except ours. We were the fifth. And people actually said because they wanted to eat. And that was peacetime. Anyway, that’s, that’s a story I remember about Coningsby and also we was flying over the North Sea. We’d been Air Sea firing and as we flew over the Skegness they were playing, a band, a band was playing. We were so low we blew all the music off the people playing the music off. Well the pilot got severely reprimanded I can tell you. The one thing I remember about on the Lincoln was our pilot he did a stupid thing. We were going out on Air Sea firing and we were coming back. Flying low. So low that we levelled out with the slipstream the waves really and suddenly one of the outboard engines went and I thought that’s funny and then another one went and he said, ‘Crew prepare for ditching.’ I thought bloody hell I’m sitting in the mid upper turret, John’s down the back end but he came up. I don’t know, he was up there in about two seconds and he tapped me on the shoulder ‘cause I had a habit of going to sleep you know and I was off intercom and he, the only way he could converse, with cupping his hands in my ears and I said, ‘Is he serious?’ And he said, ‘Bloody well get down here,’ ‘cause we had to go and sit by the main spar, with our back to it and intercom and our head between our legs. We sat there and the engines was droning on, just two engines and then suddenly one burst in to life and the other one. Oh we’re ok. Then the captain said, ‘Sorry crew,’ he said, ‘Only practicing.’ He got really, he got really hauled over the coals because the rear gunner could have jumped out of the rear end with his life jacket. Anyway, that was one experience. Well when it came to the end of our period sure enough I went in on the 15th of January. I came out on the 15th of January. They tried hard to persuade us to go down to Hornchurch again to go as pilots but, one of our friends he did and the one I, he wished he had have done because he said that was the best. He loved it all. I thought, I was thinking of Audrey all the blooming time, trying to get home there and I thought it’s not going to be my life. A married patch, never knowing where you were going to live so I turned it down and I got demobbed on the 15th of Jan and started back at Wipac soon after because they had to give you your job back everywhere you know, if you did your National Service so I was in the air force, well I was at Wipac until ‘46 to 1951 and I was at Wipac from when I came out in 1953 to when I retired in 1994. Forty eight years. Eventually I became very quickly chief design on electrics which is quite interesting because Wipac came over from America and they only made magnetos for stationery engines but Jarman could see what was going to happen, that magnetos was going to die out so he started to go into lighting. The first thing we did was cycle dynamo set and I drew the lamp up for that which was copying a Swiss one you know. To get some idea of it. Then we went on to the first Bantam. We did the lighting for that in 1948 so I’d only been back two years by then. I can honestly say I drew up the headlight for the first Bantam and the rear light and really Wipac progressed from there until lighting took over from the magnetos but with Wipac the BSA Bantam we had to, we did do the magneto which the magneto generator ‘cause while it had a coil to get the energy for the spark, the ignition it also had two coils to produce lighting for the lights which were a bit dud because if your engine went down your lights went down with AC lighting. Anyway, they went, we then progressed into better lighting all the while I was at Bletchley. That was right up until 1960. By then we were on most of the motorcycle in one way or the other doing the full equipment and our biggest competitor of course was Lucas. But I was, I was destined to have the key job outside directorship was the sales manager for contracts with Ford and Austin Rover and places like that. Well I used to go out with this guy often because I was then technical liaison. I was in charge of the design office but also going out to meet the customers. Well that was a great help to him because I, because I was a designer I could understand the problems. Well I always hit it off with the buyers and the engineers because I was technical so when he retired and he was sixty seven and Jarman kept all his old buddies on there until they were sixty seven because he wanted to stop until he was eighty which he did. Anyway, he, he took three weeks holiday and Jarman said, ‘If he can have three weeks holiday he’s no good to me,’ he said. ‘He’s only allowed two weeks,’ he said. So he called me up in the office and told me this and said, ‘You can have his job.’ So, oh no I must tell you this when I was technical liaison I used to go up to the motor show and motor cycle show as technical liaison I was on the stand with customers coming aboard and we had two young ladies come up from Wipac the offices and one of the sales people, he was a lot older than me he’d invited them up to give them a day out. Well the night before they were we were on the stand, a guy named Chubb Dyer, just us two and at about 6 o’clock Michael Jarman had gone home because he was always on the stand and this little chap came there with a handlebar moustache and he was the advertising manager for the Daily Telegraph. He was a little air force man. He was only about five foot two tall and he said, ‘Is Michael here?’ ‘No he always goes at half past 5.’ ‘Oh dear.’ I said, ‘Can I help? Can I offer you a drink?’ ‘Oh yes,’ he said. That’s what he came for really. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘We don’t have drinks on the stand but the bar is down there. I can, you can have what you like.’ So I went down there. Well I tried to keep up with his whiskies to start with. That was enough but when he’d gone we went back to the stand, shut it up, Chubb and I at 9 o’clock and then walked back to the hotel in Earl’s Court and we passed this Australian pub. All sort of noises were going on in there. I said, ‘Let’s go in there Chubb,’ because I’d had a few anyway. Soon as I walked through the door, ‘Here you are [cobber], first on the house,’ and it was a hell of a party, you know. I had to get home and Chubb left long before me and I could hardly walk and I staggered back to the hotel. How I got there I don’t know. Course I went to bed and I felt terrible in the morning. Consequently never get back on the stand till about 10 o’clock, half past ten and the sales manager then who actually Audrey used to work for as his secretary. He’d become sales manager. My boss. Well he didn’t like me. He liked Audrey of course. Anyway, he, he went back to Wipac and he told Jarman that I hadn’t behaved very well on the stand and was a disgrace to the company and all the rest so when I got back to work on a Monday I was hauled up to the office. Jarman sat there, having promised me this job, the big job, ‘I hear you’ve misbehaved yourself at the motor show I believe you’re not fit to represent the company.’ I told him the story. He’d made up his mind because at one time the reason he wanted me to go from Bletchley to Buckingham was to take charge of half the factory. The lighting side. So he said, ‘You’re not having that job I promised. You’re going in the factory and you’re going to be the manager of the lighting side.’ Well I was downcast. When I got back to my office they’d taken all my office, all my equipment out, dumped it out in the factory in an office out on the outskirts and anyway it took me three days to get over it and I thought well if this is going to be it I’m going to be it I’m going to make a go of this you know and I arranged the office and it was a big office. The foremen had their desks, you know, three foremen you know, There was two women on doing the processing, the paperwork and I had big charts on the wall of every, every employee. What they were getting, what they were building that week you know and what line they was on. It was all in control and I used to stop there until half past seven at night to fill it all in every week after Thursday. We used to plan the next week positive what we’d build and the next week tentative. And the guy that was in the meeting he used to make all the notes ‘cause the main thing you’d got to supply to everything was a reflector which was pressed, lacquered and aluminised. That was the key factor and, well I made a real success of it. In fact I was lucky again, I’ve always been lucky. Our biggest contract was Ford. The first one was the front turn signal lamp for the Cortina and we were building up to two thousand five hundred pairs a day but we gradually built up to that because when I took over they’d just started. I had forty people under me to start with and I had a hundred and thirty when I finished. In the year. Tha’s how we progressed so the bonus was very good because of the increase in production and I’d come to about August again. I was called up to the office and there was Jarman. He said, ‘Sit down.’ He said, ‘You’ve done a pretty good job,’ he said. He said it very reluctantly. I want you to take Barry’s job, that’s when he said, ‘He’s had three weeks holiday. I don’t need him.’ So he said you can have that again. Now I didn’t say, ‘Thank you very much Mr Jarman,’ as everybody used to almost get on their knees with Jarman. He ran it like a ship you know. I said, ‘I’m not so sure.’ He said. ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well you told me that was a great job out there. It was like running a factory without having the finance,’ and I said, ‘I built it up until there’s what a hundred and thirty people and it’s all going so smoothly.’ He said, ‘Are you telling me you don’t want the job?’ I said, ‘I didn’t say that,’ I said. ‘You’ve been like a father to me,’ I said. I was creeping then. I said, ‘Is it more money?’ He said, ‘Of course it is.’ I said, ‘Is it a company car?’ He said, ‘Of course it is.’ ‘I’ll take the job.’ I got more credentials by that interview from him, with being like that. Anyway that job went equally as well because I made sure I saw every engineer, every buyer, every inspector every visit I made. I was out three or four days a week. In fact that same sales director that put the black on me for a job he wrote me a memo once, I’ve still got it, about, I don’t know how many days in the month I’d spent out entertaining, you know, lunches and that and I wrote back and I said, ‘Well look at the contracts we’ve got.’ And believe me in those days and I still think it goes at least with my daughter’s business which she’s in events you wouldn’t get a contract with Ford Motor Company unless a buyer got to know you personally and got a trust in you first and trust in the company. Well I used to, I gave them a game of golf. I was always, I was known as Mr Lunch Atkins because I never went anywhere without lunch ‘cause I soon found out if I wanted to go to Austin Rover and wanted to see the chief buyer he’d give me an interview at say 11 o’clock or twenty past ten. That would be in the interview room but if I said, ‘What about 12 o’clock and have some lunch?’ ‘Oh yes,’ he said. Well I’d get two hours then and then he’d get, with a drink or two he’d take me to meet the engineers and everybody and it all worked and I actually got the first contract out of Austin Rover had only ever been given on lighting to anybody other than Lucas because, that’s interesting, Lucas had a contract with them from before the war when there was depression when Lucas supplied their goods to Austin without payment to keep them going and they said they’d never buy any electrical good except from Lucas and that was carried on until the 60s or 70s. So there you are. We got, we gradually got contracts all the way through until the big one at Ford was three thousand pairs a day and it was the transit wheel on the transit van. Now, you can imagine they got damaged very often because they were very vulnerable to collision and the spares business was bigger than the oe. We were supplying Southampton and Ghent in Belgium so we were a hundred percent sourced but we only just saved that twice by me going over to Germany with the new director of, because Wipac was sold in 1987 and the new director there twice I took him over there and we talked our way into keeping the business ‘cause I said we designed the thing in keeping with Ford and what they wanted to do was to take the business over to Poland which they did eventually and well then Wipac got sold again in 1992 having built the factory that you see now where Tesco’s was. You remember the old Tesco factory don’t you? What it was like? And I didn’t know it but it was a five year contract, his, him and his directors and they sold to [?]. Now, the new, that was a new forty year old director, managing director. I, of course was sixty four but he still let me do the job the same way for these eighteen months I was with him but I liked the job. Of course I did. I was out most days and it was easy but the thing was our biggest contract on this rear lamp was in Ford spares in Spain. Now I’d been over there twice and made great friends with these buyers. Took them out to lunch and had my photograph taken with them you know. They took a photograph and my arms around them but saying it’s all good but if anything ever went wrong on supplies they didn’t phone the factory they phoned me at home and I had to go and sort it out but that was it and then when the new guy was going to take over from me I said, ‘We’ve got to go and see these people in Spain.’ He thought oh no Atkins wants a freebie, you know, over in Spain and the MD I think thought the same. I said, ‘If we don’t go we’ll lose it.’ Anyway, I left. I went to see the MD and I said, ‘I don’t want to leave.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you let me look after your big contracts. Come in two or three days a week because the people outside don’t know you and your directors because you’ve only been here eighteen months but they know me. I’ve been here forty years or more.’ He said, ‘Yes Glenn,’ he said, ‘You’ve done a wonderful job but you’re way of doing business is not the modern way.’ And I said, ‘What is the modern way?’ He said, ‘Well the modern way they’ve got a telephone on the desk and they’ve got a computer.’ We’d just gone on to computers. ‘They don’t need to go anywhere.’ I said, ‘You’ll never get business with the Ford and people like that unless they build a trust up. They know me but they don’t know you people at all.’ So he said, ‘No. That’s all they need. The telephone and the computer.’ Within eighteen months of him telling, of me leaving they lost that big contract with Spain which was a fifth of the company’s turnover. Fifteen million a year we were doing and he lost his job. I’d have loved to have met him to say about the way you should do a job. What’s that got to do with the air force? Nothing. If I’ve bored you I’m sorry.
CB: No. No. It’s absolutely fascinating and there is a link with these things on the relationships you formed in crews.
GA: Yeah.
CB: Tell us about the crewing up. So you went to the oldest man.
GA: Yes.
CB: What was his reaction?
GA: He just needed two air gunners and two of the young likely lads he got. We lost, on our conversion we lost the younger navigator because we were bombing practice and he made a mistake and bombed the quadrant and we were summoned back to base because they thought they were going to hit the caravan which where the people were spotting and he got, and we got, replaced the navigator by the oldest navigator who was Jock Graham and he used to treat us National Servicemen as though he was our father. I know when we passed out he took us all down to Lincoln for a booze up you know but it was all interim you see then the Lanc, the Lincoln because like I said by the Christmas they were going over to Canberras and I suppose the air pilot and the navigator were two oldest they probably went, you know. They never converted.
CB: So why did some crews go to Canberras and some of them on to - ?
GA: Well it was a different kettle of fish weren’t it ‘cause they only had a pilot and a navigator on a Canberra so no gunners, no engineers, no signallers.
CB: So you changed squadron to go to -
GA: No, it stopped.
CB: The B29s.
GA: Yeah. They stopped at 617.
CB: Yeah.
GA: The Canberras until the V bombers came in.
CB: Yeah. 0k. So, tell us about the B29 Washington. What was that like?
GA: Well -
CB: When you got into that?
GA: It was lovely. Like a civil aircraft really. Beautifully equipped and there was a pressurised and there was a tunnel about that diameter between, went over the bomb bays that linked the pilot area with the air gunner area at the back and we had a navigator, a radar operator sat with us. He was in the middle, a gunner each side and one up there and we had a little cooking stove at the back for boiling water so we used to boil beans and ham and egg in this thing. We weren’t allowed to go through that tunnel because if we got stuck and the air pressure went forward or back you’d go out there like a bullet out of a gun you see so we used to throw these hot tins of soup whatever it was at least the length of this house and he used to catch it in a sack. I remember that.
CB: So whose job was it to do the cooking?
GA: Oh one of us gunners. Yeah. All we did was drop a can in this hot water tank. But the worst job I had to do, well we took it in turns, was in the unpressurised area. That was the very back. There was a door in to there but when we came in to land there was a stationery engine in there, a V8 engine which was covered in frost because it was and we had to take it in turns to go and start it after we were taxiing, flying around to land because that was to keep the batteries up for when we landed and the engines went down in power. Now getting in there, freezing cold, being bumped about I used to feel sick I must admit but you just had to do it. You got covered in hoar frost. You just had to pray it would go and it did. That was another thing.
CB: So the rear gunner was in his own, was he pressurised after ten thousand feet?
GA: I’m not sure.
CB: Because you are saying that there is an envelope which is the only reason, only way pressurisation can work.
GA: Yeah.
CB: You can’t have people coming in and out.
GA: Do you know I can’t remember? We never flew with a gunner in the rear anyway.
CB: Why was that?
GA: I don’t know why. We never did.
CB: So you talked about the master gunner controlling all the guns.
GA: Yeah.
CB: How did that work exactly because the people who were manning those guns, the forward and the rear -?
GA: Well we had a control for air guns but he had a control that would override that one and take it over. His own special one.
CB: So these guns were what calibre? They were .5s. They weren’t cannon were they?
GA: No.
CB: Point 5 machine guns.
GA: The Lincoln had got two cannons.
CB: Oh had you?
GA: In the turret. Yeah well that was the difference between the Lincoln and the Lancaster.
CB: Yeah.
GA: Was the mid-upper turret and the radar dome and about six feet on the wing span but the, those two twenty millimetre cannons on the Lancaster we had four 505s in the rear and when we went on air sea firing the whole aircraft used to shake with these twenty millimetres and I can remember it was at Scampton and we were being tested to see how good we were but I used a full magazine of these 20mm cannons. The only one. A complete magazine. That was sheer luck because it was the armourer that loaded it not me and they made a particular note of that because one thing you couldn’t do was if you got a shell stuck in the breech you weren’t allowed to take it out because they’d had a case or two cases of gunners trying to do that and it exploded in their face so we just, the reason they were pleased that I’d shot the whole lot was because I never had a breech block. I didn’t have a breach block. Yeah.
CB: So the .5 machine guns were belt fed.
GA: Yeah.
CB: The 20 millimetre was with -
GA: No. They were belt fed.
CB: They were belt as well.
GA: Yeah.
CB: You said a magazine you see so I wondered whether -
GA: Well they called it a magazine.
CB: It was a clip on magazine was it?
GA: Yeah. No. No, it was a belt.
CB: And then the belt came out of a tray at the bottom? How was it, how was it fed?
GA: Well at least they retrieved the cases which in the old days they used to file them away didn’t they? I can’t remember.
CB: That’s ok.
GA: You know I went back to, with a friend of mine about five years ago to Duxford and there’s a B29 there and we found it and I had a photograph taken somewhere.
CB: And they let you get in it did they?
GA: Me standing behind it.
CB: Well we can have a bit of a look at that a bit later can’t we?
GA: I don’t know.
CB: Let me just ask you about the OTU.
GA: All I can say is when I went back to see.
CB: Yes.
GA: The B29 after all those years.
CB: Yeah.
GA: I couldn’t find my way in because we used to have an entrance near the blisters.
CB: Oh did you?
GA: A side entrance.
CB: Yeah.
GA: A trap door on the side as the rest of the crew got up the front. What they’d done they’d sealed the door up.
CB: Oh.
GA: In the museum.
CB: Yeah. So people didn’t get in.
Other: Some water. He’s made you a coffee has he?
CB: Yes thank you. Won’t be long.
Other: Or did you make it?
GA: Of course I remembered.
CB: I’m stopping just -
[machine paused]
CB: Back at the OTU you described earlier about the training, the crewing up but what were the tasks you had to do because different members of the crew had to do different things but everybody worked together?
GA: Oh used to go on different operations bombing, bombing places and targets. We did certain air sea firing. We never did air to air firing.
[conversation in the background]
GA: We only had camera guns for air to air.
CB: Yes. I see.
GA: We did that for three months I think.
CB: Yes.
GA: But we was always with the crews when they were being tested for signalling or pilot or navigator. Not always together.
CB: Right. Yeah.
GA: So what they did I don’t know except the circuits and bumps.
CB: But you did cross countries.
GA: Oh yeah. A lot.
CB: What about fighter affiliation? Tell us about that.
GA: Oh we took off and we had Mark 10 Spitfires attacking us from the station further up but at Scampton we didn’t do any of that. We did it all at Leconfield.
CB: Yes. Yeah.
GA: Air to air.
CB: At Leconfield, yeah.
GA: And when we were at Scampton, you were talking about OTU well we just used to fly really. We always used to have to, I was the main lookout for the rear end being in the mid-upper and that was, thankfully the rear gunner used to wake me up occasionally.
CB: But just to get a grip of how did the fighter affiliation work? Because the British technique and the American techniques were different. Could you just describe those? So with these Spitfires what was their technique?
GA: They used to fly alongside at a range over six hundred metres and we had a sight that had, what used to have like four balls on a screen in a circle and that by your feet used to adjust the range because you used to get the Spitfire attacking aircraft wingspan, put on the thing and that you adjusted it for that distance with this there. That was done by your feet back that way and then you were steering the turret that way aiming it at the Spitfire with the centre being at the attacking aircraft and you would follow it all the way down keeping the wingspan between you and he had the same thing on the Spitfire actually to attack me but they used to fly alongside, set the speed of your aircraft and you set the speed of their aircraft and then you’d do that one and double back and come up that way.
CB: Come in from behind.
GA: Yeah. So that by the time they levelled out they were shooting straight at the fuselage which you see is far more easier than if you’re going that way and trying to hit that way. That was it.
CB: So, so at the end of the sortie then what happened?
GA: We’d go back to our crew room with a screen and they could fit, your film would go on and they’d show the attack of the fighter attacking and what you’d achieved.
CB: So how soon would they have the film processed and ready to view?
GA: It seemed to be within the day.
CB: It wasn’t within an hour or two.
GA: It could have been. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
GA: I think it was. Now the same thing happened to the Spitfire pilot. He was at the one up the road. About ten miles up the road.
CB: Right.
GA: Can’t remember the name. Began with D.
CB: Dishforth. Dishforth.
GA: Yes.
CB: Right on the A1.
GA: Yeah.
CB: Right. So they, what, when you looked at the camera gun film who was with you to make the assessment?
GA: Oh the training officer. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
GA: Oh yeah they, two blokes had to be beside you while they studied your film.
CB: And how did they make an assessment and feedback of that?
GA: I don’t know.
CB: What did they say?
GA: I can’t remember them saying anything except they gave me sixty three percent. I suppose whether you wandered off and that sort of thing but you see that’s where that air gunner that told me to go for gunnery down at Hornchurch he said the next best thing to being the pilot was to be the rear gunner because you’re using your feet and you’re using your hands and you’re supposed to give a commentary to the pilot about on you’re doing. I mean when the attacking aircraft was coming in you had to be constantly telling the pilot where he was and all that.
CB: So it was a running commentary was it?
GA: Yeah.
CB: And that was your job. Not the rear gunner.
GA: Well we both had to do it.
CB: Right.
GA: Yeah.
CB: Ok. And we’re now in the early 50s so as fighter evasion what would be the tactic?
GA: We never did any. We never trained for that.
CB: Did you do corkscrews?
GA: No. You see I was told they had more fatalities through accidents than they ever did through enemy action. Did you know that?
CB: Well they lost a lot.
GA: Yeah.
CB: And in the B29 what was the manoeuvrability of that like compared with the Lancaster?
GA: I don’t know. We didn’t have to evade much, you see. We just flew dead steady. We did a bit of twisting and turning with the Lincoln.
CB: The Lincoln I meant to say. Yeah. Ok. Stop there.
[machine paused]
GA: It was just like wartime.
CB: So when you’d come back from a sortie -
GA: Yeah but before -
CB: You’d land the aircraft -
GA: Before we went out -
CB: Yes.
GA: We all used to go out in the big assembly room.
CB: Right.
GA: And then they would describe what was going to happen and then we would have to go. Particularly I remember the one at Binbrook because on the Lincoln we didn’t know when we were going to take off and we didn’t know where we were going. Only the pilot knew that so his briefing was separate. We just had the general picture but we didn’t know what time we were taking off or what targets we were going towards but we’d all be debriefed afterwards when we got back. I know it was peacetime but they still did it.
CB: So what was the process, the format of the debriefing because you’d got seven crew? How did they deal with that?
GA: Well they’d ask what aircraft attacked you, incidentally we had, and I don’t know if it’s there.
CB: The aircraft recognition.
GA: We had to know all of those.
CB: Yes.
GA: To know what their wingspan was.
CB: Right. That’s interesting. Yeah. So part of your ground school was aircraft recognition.
GA: Yeah.
CB: Particularly, it’s got folded there, particularly for you as gunners.
GA: Yes. Most definitely. Yeah.
CB: So -
GA: 1951 that [laughs].
CB: So here you are at the debrief. Was there a sequence or was everybody speaking ad hoc? In other words did the pilots start the debrief? How did that work on the, when you were debriefed after the sortie?
GA: I can’t remember.
CB: Ok.
GA: What I was going to say was -
[machine pause]
CB: So looking at your logbook your flying was roughly two hundred hours daylight and two hundred hours.
GA: Yeah.
CB: In the night.
GA: Or put it another way. A hundred hours daylight and a hundred hours at night on Lincolns and then the same on B29s.
CB: Which did you prefer? Day or night?
GA: Day. We always wanted to fly at about five thousand feet where it didn’t matter about being pressurised.
CB: Was pressurised uncomfortable?
GA: Yes you had the mask on all the time and I remember getting the Lincoln pilot to fly over Newport Pagnell where my house was, as low as he could. My mother swears she heard it go over the house ‘cause she was hanging the clothes out. This noisy aircraft.
[machine paused]
CB: So you started on the Lincoln and then you went to the Washington.
GA: Yeah.
CB: The B29.
GA: Yeah.
CB: How did you find that? Did you think that that was a better aircraft in terms of what it could do or -
GA: I think it was. Yes, definitely. It could fly higher. A lot higher.
CB: Because it was pressurised.
GA: Yeah. I mean twenty two thousand feet was about it for the Lincoln. Incidentally the Lincoln would maintain height on two engines. It could land on one engine. I don’t think you’d be able to do that with a B29.
CB: Oh really. And in -
GA: But you know they lost more aircraft through take-off and landing than people thought. The nearest we came we was taking, in fact how the Lincoln got in the air with a ten ton, ten ton bomb I don’t know because we used to limp off the tarmac and we were once, one engine went and the wing dipped just as we were clearing the hedge at the bottom of the runway and we took a bit of the hedge out with the wing tip. We could go like that. It hadn’t got the power with twenty pound practice bombs to get up quickly whereas the B29 like the modern aircraft of today was in the air quite quickly. Incidentally, I went to, I talk about crashing I mean we lost one aircraft while we were training at Leconfield. One of our aircraft got shot down by the Russians because it wandered over the Iron Curtain but it never got in the newspapers.
CB: Didn’t it?
GA: No.
CB: No. How did they shoot it down?
GA: We don’t know.
CB: Was it a fighter or was it ground fire is what I meant?
GA: I don’t know. All we were told, so and so had crashed and the same thing with the B29. A plane coming in you know how flat Lincoln is but there are hills and a B29 of our squadron was coming in in fog and he misread the altimeter and he ploughed into the hillside and the worst thing I ever did was with my friend, another air gunner, I said, ‘Let’s go on my motorbike and see the crash,’ and I wish I I’d never gone because all that was left was charred metal from the middle and the rear turret had gone and it had bounced along and hit, ended up in the hedge and you still had the meat in there where they’d cut the pilot, the air gunner out and the smell of that octane fuel. I could still smell it for years.
CB: What happened to the crew that was shot down over East Germany? Were they killed or -
GA: We never heard any more about it.
CB: You don’t know if they got back or not.
GA: No. Because everything were so secret in those days. I know that you know because of my draughting experience.
CB: Yeah.
GA: In that interim period of about December January the officers got to know about it and they were doing, there was a plan for navigation. I couldn’t understand it but I was converting these drawings to engineering drawings and I got special relief to go and work on that instead of flying on the aircraft for about two or three weeks.
CB: What was the, what was the purpose of the task?
GA: It was navigation. Something to do with navigation. Obviously an instrument or something.
CB: Right.
GA: It was quite complicated.
CB: Ok. Thank you. Well that’s been really interesting Glenn.
GA: Are you sure?
CB: A real insight into what happened after the war and how some of the things continued, were perpetuated but others were quite different and the more cautious approach to flying.
GA: Well I think it fills the spot particularly with 617 between the Cold War period until the V bomber came in. So all through the 50s until 1960 when National Service ended. Well we were only needed weren’t we, until that period.
CB: Yeah. Was 617 employed on special tasks for precision bombing in your time or just general bombing?
GA: The Lawrence Minot trophy which was a Bomber Command trophy every year and 617 squadron won it every year. That’s all I can say.
CB: Right. Thank you.
[machine paused]
CB: In terms of ranks. In your training you were an LAC were you? And then you became what?
GA: As soon as we went to, we got a special badge when we were on training and then we got this after our training.
CB: Your brevvy.
GA: Yeah.
CB: And what rank were you when you got your brevvy?
GA: And that, that was -
CB: Right A wing. Yeah. That went on your sleeve.
GA: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So what rank were you when you qualified as an air gunner?
GA: Sergeant. A signaller, the two air gunner and the engineer were sergeants. Sergeant air crew which meant we get extra money for flying pay you see. In fact that’s interesting. As I say I got twenty eight bob a week like everybody did when they went in. As soon as I volunteered and got accepted to go for training I got two pound fifty a week and then after you got selected for a squadron, 617, I got about four pound a week and the last six months I got seven pound a week which was beyond my wildest dreams. In fact when I went for my job back at Wipac I went to see the chief, the chief engineer and we talked about everything and I said, ‘Well what am I going to earn then?’ He said, ‘What do you want then mate?’ And I suddenly thought I’d been getting seven pound a week. I said, ‘Eight pound a week.’ He said, ‘Yes alright.’ Within three months, when I got in the drawing office I found I’d joined the union because we were at eight pound a week we were about two pound under the union rate. So I actually joined a union for a short period and when Jarman who had all these ideas for me right from the start because did I tell you that’s how we bought the house.
CB: No. Tell us.
GA: Well, I was, I’d just got married and we got half a house in Fenny Stratford at eighteen shillings a week rent and rates. It was subletted by Wipac from a landlady and I made it into quite habitable. Mind you there was an outside toilet, tin bath in the, hanging in the shed, it had a little garden at the back that I made into something special because the chap who had the upstairs he didn’t want the garden. He worked at Wipac as well but anyway having had this period of my first married life from 1954 he called me up to the office one day in 1957 and said, ‘You know I’m building a new factory at Buckingham?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Well it should be open by 1960.’ He said, ‘I want you to go over there. Be one of the first to go over there to eventually charge, be in charge of one side of the factory.’ Not straightaway but you know. So he said to me, ‘Have you ever thought about buying a house?’ I thought, I didn’t say, ‘Not on your salaries,’ you know. Actually I think we’d moved with the union up to about fifteen pound a week but anyway, he sent me over, he said, ‘I’ve fixed it up. You can go over to Buckingham, see the builder Lewis Pollard, you can see the town clerk which was Tony [?],’ he’s still around, retired of course, he’ll be in his 90s. His own legal guy Martin Athay. ‘Go and see all those and they’ll sort you out with a house,’ and he was, he would put me onto eighteen pound a week in the Autumn. Buy it because a house on Highlands Road was two thousand five hundred plus three hundred pounds if you had a garage built separately. Well I came over to Buckingham and Lewis Pollard took me to Highlands Road and I don’t know whether you know it but until 1957 they never built any private houses after the war. It was all council houses. Government decree. So Highlands Road was the first housing, private housing estate built here after the war. He took me up here and there was the one next near finished the one after that was this one and was finished and lived in and the next one whose funeral I went to yesterday that was there, the one that Lewis offered me for two thousand five hundred but if I had a garage three hundred. Well in the meantime I was taking Practical Householder magazine and there was a plan for this house before the kitchen extension, before the conservatory and before the front porch extension but the rest of it, this was the kitchen, that was the lounge diner and there was an outside porch there but with the dormer windows it was my dream. It looked something beautiful. So I went in to see Lewis the following week and I said, ‘Look you can build that for two thousand five, nine hundred with the garage. This house has got the garage built in. How much can you do that for if I do all the outside decorating and all the inside decorating and you leave all the kitchen bare.’ He came up with three thousand pounds. Anyway, so I went to Wipac on the Monday and he said, ‘How did you get on?’ I told him the story I’ve told you. He said, ‘What is this house like then?’ I spread the plans out. Incidentally and the plans were three pounds fifty and he looked at it and he said –
[Phone starts ringing. Recording stops]



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Glenn Atkins,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 22, 2024,

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