Interview with Leslie Blakemore

Title

Interview with Leslie Blakemore

Description

Leslie Blakemore was born in Willenhall, near Wolverhampton and he joined the Royal Air Force in 1943. He flew operations as a wireless operator with 514 Squadron from RAF Waterbeach.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-05-04

Contributor

Christine Kavanagh

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:33:09 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ABlakemoreL160504

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

JF: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. I’m John Fisher and I’m interviewing Mr Les Blackmore, who’s ninety two. We’re at Mr Blakemore’s home in Wolverhampton and the 4th of May 2016 and with us is his wife Gwen. They’ve been married for seventy one years. Les, thank you for seeing me today. Tell me a bit about your early years. For instance, when you were born and then I’d like to go into perhaps at the age of fourteen, when the war started and how you felt about all that.
LB: Well, I was born in West Street, Willenhall. My father was a baker and he’d served in the ‘14-‘18 war. My mother Rachel had two sisters, Dorothy five years younger and Kathleen ten years younger. And we moved from West Street when I was four into Gough Street, also in Willenhall and Gough Street was my home until I went into the air force. I went to school in Willenhall, the Central School, and at fourteen I left and looked for a job. I wanted to be a draughtsman and I actually went to Yale works first and then to Josiah Parkes for an interview. Yale had offered me eleven shillings a week but Parkes offered eleven and sixpence a week. And so Josiah Parkes had me and on joining the company the first person that I recognised was my future wife, who I had seen earlier aged about eleven or twelve. She was going down to her school at Albion Road and I was going to my school with my gang of friends at the Central School but it was rather strange that we should meet again so quickly when I went to start work.
JF: So, how did you come to join the RAF?
LB: Well, when I joined Parkes that would be 1938. War started in ‘39 and I was naturally interested in the war itself and conscious of the fact that if it went on for any length of time, for instance, the four years of the first world war, I would be going to be involved in it, and consciously took interest in the three forces: the army, the navy, and the air force and in my mind made up my mind to say I would look forward to going into the air force and if possible, have flying duties and this I did actually. In 1942 when I became eighteen I went to Birmingham and was accepted as a possible entrant but asked to go home and they would call me as and when they needed me and I actually got calling up papers May 1943.
JF: So, you were probably one of the first in the squadron, 514 Squadron?
LB: No, no. 514 Squadron had been in existence long before I volunteered for the air force and it wasn’t - I’ve got a record of 514 history and it shows where they started and they moved to Waterbeach at a later date. But I was an entrant in May 1943 but I didn’t get to Waterbeach until the end of January 1945. The period in between was my training at various stations then joining up, made up as a crew and with the crew moved from a five-engined Wellington, via a Stirling and then into Lancasters but all of that is in my log and you’ll be able to see and record those dates from that log.
JF: Tell us about the first op’ you went on.
LB: My first op’ I think was Wessel. Can we just check ‒
JF: We’re just pausing for a minute to check on the records.
LB: I can’t see, so I’m going to have to ‒
JF: Interview resuming with Les Blakemore. Les, tell us a bit about those early ops. Were you a bit nervous? How did you feel?
LB: Nervous, no? Apprehensive. First of all that I’d be capable of doing the job I’d been trained to do under different conditions. I didn’t want to let the crew down and I think that’s what really bound us together because we all had the same intensity of being part of a crew. And we were a mixed bunch: the skipper, G W Gibson, was from Belfast. The navigator, Les More, he was a serving RAF man when the war broke out, in accounts, and was a warrant officer at the time he volunteered for air crew duties and was sent to South Africa to train as a navigator. The bomb aimer, Craig Tailor, David Craig Tailor, was a Scot by birth but was in Manchester Police Force when he was called up. The rear gunner was a Welshman, the mid upper was a Geordie (Blondie) and I was a mid-lander as the wireless operator. So none of us was with anyone born and living near us. So we seemed to gel together because of our difference of source.
JF: We’re just pausing a minute. We’re now resuming the recording with Les, who I think is going to tell us about nick-names.
LB: The navigator, as I say, was Les More and I was Les Blakemore. So I think it was the skipper who called Les More, Dinty. Now I never know of the origin of the name Dinty but Dinty Les became. I then became Red because I had got ginger hair. The mid upper, Jimmy, was called Blondie because he was a very, very, blonde Geordie. Naturally, the Welshman automatically became Taffy. Now the engineer was Johnny Lasalle[?] and he was Johnny, no more than Johnny. The only exception was Dave Taylor[?], the bomber aimer and he, although he was called Dave generally by each of us in the crew, to me I liked the name, his middle name of Craig and was tempted to call him Craig but let’s say Dave he became and the skipper was Skipper George.
JF: We are just going to pause a second. We are resuming the interview with Les Blakemore. When you went up in an op’ how did you feel? Because you were up in the air for some time.
LB: Well, yes the ops were between five and six hours duration normally. It was a long time but I don’t think at any time we were scared at what we were doing because we’d been together for a little while and we’d got faith in each other and I think the attitude that we adopted was once we were in that aircraft we’d bonded and things were going to be OK. And I think it was that feeling that gave us the fortitude to meet each raid when it was announced without any particular worry. The targets, when they were announced, were unknown to us so each was just another target. Most of them were to Germany, most of them were in the industrial Ruhr, and apart from one or two odd ones such as I think my last one, was Heligoland they took the same form, all daylight, and apart from a couple of incidents when we had damage to the aircraft from something hitting the aircraft, which we found out later was a bomb, tore the front leading edge of the starboard tail plate and left the bent wire spinner of the bomb in the tail plate itself, which the ground crew fetched out and exhibited around the rest of the squadron. But I don’t think fright was part of our life. Apprehension, yes, but you got on with your job and because of that you knew everybody else was also doing his best and that was it. We were a crew. I can’t say more than that really. Had I got any feelings about the fact that I was part of a crew dropping bombs and that the resulting bombs would be killing non-combatants in the form of German or other nationalities of people that I knew nothing about? The answer was ‘I’m sorry but we’d already, as a country, been subject to that treatment by the Germans and therefore it was our job to eliminate that force as quickly as we could.’
JF: We are just going to pause a minute. We are resuming the recording with Mr Leslie ‒. Les [emphasis], I’m sorry, we’re not allowed to call him Leslie. Les Blakemore. Les, how did you feel when these bombing operations ended?
LB: Well, I suppose the first thing was relief that we’re still together as a crew. Pleasure that the war in our respect was successful although we realised that the period that we’d lived through that resulted once again in mountains of damage and terrible, terrible fatalities to most of the people round the world. So I suppose, with relief was also a sense of the price that had been paid for the conflict on both sides and therefore, I suppose, you didn’t accept your side purely as one of, not pleasure, but a sense of we were right because in your mind you were of conscious of the fact that they [emphasis] had also thought they were right and it was rather, I suppose, with mixed feelings, that the end of the war came to us. After the end of the ‒, what I call the European conflict, we were still looking to go to the Far East because the Japanese conflict was still on and we thought we were to go out there as a crew, maybe to India to take part in that, but that didn’t happen because of the Nagasaki and the other atom bomb drops but again those when they happened, a feeling of relief that that battle was over but again the feeling that the cost had been too much in the way of life that had been lost on again both sides of the conflict and that’s really the mixed feeling we were conscious of. Relief, yes.
JF: Now, before VE Day you started helping out with supplies to the starving Danish people, I think, wasn’t it?
LB: No, no, it was the Dutch. There were operations to The Hague where we had practiced low level flying and we were then asked to drop food at various locations and it was terrible to see the people rushing on to the dropping zone while we were still dropping it. They were so exhausted and robbed of life themselves and food was number one thing. They, they’d been starved and it was something we enjoyed doing because we knew it was an immediate help and it was the same with going into France. A couple of times Juvincourt to pick up twenty British men, who in some instances had been prisoners of war of the Germans and been made to make forced marches at the latter part of the war and were exhausted and again many of them in need of medical treatment but there was a coincidence. Our first visit to Juvincourt in France: The aircraft were going all round the peri’ track to where the ground crew had got these prisoners of war in groups and our aircraft stopped and I went to the rear door of the aircraft and opened it and a corporal stood looking up at me and the coincidence was, his name was George Beardsmore. He’d been at school with me and his father still worked for my father at the Vinculum in my home town. So that was absolutely amazing. Anyway, that was OK for us. We took off and landed. I think we had to go to Tangmere. It’s in my log. We can check that. And then fly back to Waterbeach and we did those trips to the, er, Brussels, or an airfield near Brussels, again a number of times to bring our lads back home and it was great to be doing something of that nature because, I won’t say it compensated, but it balanced the raids that we’d been on whilst the war was on.
JF: Les, after the war, what did you do then? Did you return to your job as a draughtsman?
LB: No, no. I’d left the drawing office to go to a production control post and whist I was on leave I’d had occasion to meet the directors of the company who enquired if I was of a mind to go back to the company after [emphasis] the war. I said I was. So they said “Well there will be a job here for you” and I was able to go back to Parkes because they helped my quick release from the air force by asking for locksmiths and I was given the quick release to be a locksmith but in point of fact, when I got to home, back to home, I was offered the job of a purchasing officer which had been a job that had been done by various people during the war, of whom the last two had been representatives of the company, sales representatives, and they wanted to go back to doing that particular job rather than the purchasing. And again my wife was also in the purchasing department which was something that we were both very happy to enjoy.
JF: How long did you stay at that job?
LB: I stayed in the job as purchasing officer until retirement in 1989, having completed, including war time, fifty one years. But by then so many things had happened. The company had increased ten-fold and we were now a number of manufacturing units in Willenhall, in Wolverhampton, Stirchley Birmingham. We’d got companies in South Africa, New Zealand and liaison for the materials and the components for manufacturing in Willenhall and other companies in this country all came under my supervision and it was therefore very interesting as a job because I was looking at the manufacturing of raw materials and components in other people’s factories that I was going to need to purchase. And it educated me to many aspects of life that otherwise I would not have had.
JF: Thank you very much Les. Just one little thing, do you keep in touch with any of your former comrades in the RAF?
LB: Unfortunately they are now all dead. The bomb aimer stayed on after the war with a permanent commission but died in Changi in the Far East with an illness. George, the skipper, went back to his family business bakery. They were bakers in Belfast. And there is another coincidental thing. ‘Cause as a purchasing officer I was a member of the Purchasing Officers Association and we used to visit other factories as a group of people in the Purchasing Officers Association and I had occasion to go with about twenty other buyers to Leicester to a typewriter company and when the visit was over we were all given refreshments and one of the other purchasing officers was a man from Northern Ireland and said he’d got a coincidental story. He’d been on holiday and met up with another family and their children enjoyed the holiday because of meeting people from the same area. When they got home, he was the buyer for a bus service in Northern Ireland and had occasion to get some more service from his suppliers so he rang up this one company, Gibsons’, and who should walk in but the man he’d spent some time on holiday with. And having finished his story I said well the other coincidence is that that man’s name was George Gibson and his son was Gary. I said and he was my skipper in the air force. And that was a double coincidence.
JF: That’s amazing.
LB: Yes, it was incredible.
JF: With that thank you very much Les for your time.

Citation

John Fisher, “Interview with Leslie Blakemore,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 23, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3352.

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