Interview with Mary Stanley Foister


Interview with Mary Stanley Foister


Mary Stanley Foister grew up in Buckinghamshire, where her father's farm was taken over as Bomber Command Headquarters. After leaving school, she served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Following training, she had a variety of administrative posts as PA to high-ranking RAF officers. Mary married Alan Craig, a Pathfinder pilot, and had three children. She was posted to several different locations during her service and married life before they settled down in Leicestershire. Mary tells of her various experiences during her life associated with the RAF, including flying on the Victory Flypast in London.




Temporal Coverage




00:49:11 audio recording


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AFoisterMS171010, PLairdCraig1701


HB: This is an interview between Harry Bartlett from the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive and Mary Foister. Mary was, formerly, the wife of Wing Commander Alan John Laird Craig, but Mary, in her own right, was an RAF officer. The interview is taking place at [redacted] Hoby, Leicestershire. It’s Tuesday the 10th of October 2017, and the time is 10.05am. Mary, thank you for doing this interview, for agreeing to this interview. Could you just tell me a little about your background before you joined the RAF?
MF: Yes. Well I was born in Buckinghamshire and we moved to Pound Farm in a little village in Buckinghamshire, near Princes Risborough. I was the eldest grandchild on my father’s side so I was very spoilt because of all the uncles and aunts, and the youngest one on my mother’s side so I was spoilt because I was the youngest. So I had a very happy childhood. And then my father came into some property in a place called Walters Ash, a village, Walters Ash and Knaphill, up on the hill, about five miles away from where we were and his home was there, his original home from the farm, and then suddenly, we had a boy next door called Alan Oakcroft, who lived next door to us, was in the Air Force, and he was constantly, stationed at Abingdon, constantly flying over the house and we thought oh he was just being friendly, you know. But eventually he said to my father, ‘Ernest I must come and see you officially, we’re going to take over your’ - daddy had the lease on Bradenham Manor and the land and the farming you see – ‘we are going to take over your Bradenham Manor land for Bomber Command Headquarters.’ This is why he’d been flying over, taking all the things you see, all the photographs.
HB: What year was that, Mary? Can you remember?
MF: That would be about, er, I think about ’36 ’37, yes, about then, and so well, it was absolutely amazing. He’d been chosen to do it because he’s a local boy and they thought he would know the. So they took over Walters Ash Farm, which was my father’s home, and, well it changed the whole village of course, and built Bomber Command Headquarters there. I mean we were very much a farming family, nothing to do with the services at all, but we used to go to the mess and I said to my father ‘I want to join the WAAF’ and he said ‘whatever for, you’ve got your own bedroom, you’ve got your own pony’ [laughter]. I said I want to join the WAAF, so I joined the WAAF. And I was sent to, and he had friends in the Headquarters, he said I don’t want her to go too far away so I was sent to Bicester, which was an Officer’s Training Unit for bombers and I had, well he used to come down and see me every weekend, you know, check up on me. He said ‘you’re not going to stay in are you?’ I said yes, I loved it, ‘cause I loved boarding school and so that was that. And I was at Bicester as a corporal, I got my commission, went to Windermere for the officer training thing and then the only thing I’d done after leaving school was done an admin course in London, shorthand typing, and so I was sent to Newcastle on Tyne for an admin course, and I had about three months there and that was fun because it was near Edinburgh, we used to pop up and you know, then my posting came through. By this time of course I’d got a commission.
HB: What rank were you then Mary? When you got your commission, what rank would you be then?
MF: Oh, Assistant Section Officer, ASO, [laugh] the lowest of the low. So, you see my father obviously wanted me back at Bomber Command under his control, nice control, and I didn’t want to go back to Bomber Command because it was Headquarters and they were all old all me! I was about eighteen at the time you see, so I had this friend there and he said there’s a good posting going at Exning near Newmarket, at a Bomber Group Headquarters.
HB: Exning?
MF: Number 3 Group Headquarters. So I was posted there as ASO, Assistant Section Officer, to Air Vice Marshal Richard Harrison, who had been left at the altar so he didn’t like women, so he wasn’t very receptive. [Laughter]
HB: Oh dear!
MF: But we tamed him [laughter] anyway, yes, we became great friends in the end, so that was, as I say, my first posting and I was his PA for, oh goodness I can’t think, and I avoided Bomber Command like the plague because I didn’t want to go home, you know, but eventually I got posted to up Bomber Command right at the end of the war, as the war ended, to Bomber Harris, a little bit, about six weeks of him, and that was quite enough, and then to, my last posting was Air Vice Marshal, Air Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley, who was an absolute dear, lovely to work for. In the meantime Alan had, he was the youngest Wing Commander in the Royal Air Force at twenty one, he had a spectacular career, very well decorated and he was chosen, his squadron was chosen to go to the Far East and then that war stopped, so what do we do.
HB: The Japanese war.
MF: So he trained Lancasters to do formation flying which had never been done with Lancasters, been done with fighters but never done with bomber aircraft you see, and this impressed Bomber Harris, and Bomber Harris’s PA came from Rio de Janeiro, can’t think of his name now, anyway, and he said ‘I want three white Lancasters to take my PA back to Rio.’ So he had three white Lancasters, and Alan was the chief pilot, back to Rio and they were gone for six weeks. Of course you know they made so much a fuss after the war, and they gave them a wonderful time, so I thought well that’ll be the end of that, I shall never see him again, but I did and came back and Alan was stationed at Gravely in Huntingdonshire then, RAF Gravely, which was Pathfinder Squadron, under Don Bennett, and so I was at, I was on leave, in the south of France with my mother and I said ‘I have to go back on duty’ because I thought I’m going to see that squadron come in. So I came back all the way from France, to Gravely, to see 35 Squadron come in, back from Rio de Janeiro. But Alan never spoke to me, I mean we’d been quite friendly, but I thought well that’s the end of that. A week later he phoned up and said ‘hello, how are you’, and I said ‘I’m all right’ [laugh] and he said ‘well shall we meet in London’. So I said ‘yes, fine, where?’ he said ‘oh meet at the Dorchester’. So we met at the Dorchester and he said ‘oh, I’ve been posted’, I said ‘oh goodness, really, where?’ And he said Buenos Aires. He said will you marry me? I said yes! [Laughter]
HB: As quick as that!
MF: Anyway, because of this trip to Rio, they more or less said to him what would you like to do and he said I’d like to go back to Rio, but he went to Buenos Aires and so in a month, my mother was very sort of formal person, you know in dress and everything, we had to have a white wedding in London and one thing and the other and we were married at St Peter’s, Vere Street, and then the reception at the Dorchester, and well, then within a fortnight we sailed for BA, I got out of the WAAF and.
HB: What year was that, Mary?
MF: ’40 - when did the war end?
HB: ‘45.
MF: ’46. November ’46. I got married on November the 9th ‘46. And we sailed from Tilbury on the Highland Chieftain, had a wonderful three week trip across to BA, and that was that, you know, so then I found I was pregnant with that one – straight away! [Laugh] So Gavin was born out there.
HB: So you had to resign your commission when you got married?
MF: Oh yes. Yes, yes.
HB: Can I just take you back Mary, a little bit, just a little bit, because I was intrigued, you actually started, once you were qualified at Bicester, you went out to Ixney. Ixney? How have I written it down? You qualified at Bicester, but you, for a period of time you ended, you were with Harris.
MF: Oh! At the end, that was when I was commissioned, right at the end you see.
HB: Ah right! So prior to working for Harris, what would your job entail being the PA, before Harris, because you were PA to, um, at 3 Group.
MF: Harris was before BA you see.
HB: Yep. Sorry, PA, you were personal assistant to?
MF: Bomber Harris.
HB: Before Harris.
MF: Um, well to the man at Newmarket, at Exning.
HB: At Exning, Exning, right. It’s all right, I’d just lost, I lost a little bit of the continuity there, I thought we’d.
MF: No, I didn’t want to go back to Bomber Command so that’s when I got posted to Exning, near Newmarket in Suffolk, and I was PA to Air Vice Marshal Harrison.
HB: Yup. Harrison! That’s what caused me the confusion. It’s Harrison and then Harris!
MF: Harris. Ah yes, As I say he was left at the altar so he was anti women!
HB: Yes, but you talked him round. Wonderful. So you went out to BA, as a new bride, you’re then expecting Gavin. How long were you out in Buenos Aires?
MF: How long?
HB: How long were you in Buenos Aires?
MF: I think about two years, yes.
HB: So Gavin was born.
MF: Born out there.
HB: Out there. So what was Alan doing at the time?
MF: Well he was Assistant Air Attaché.
HB: Ah, right.
MF: To a man called Beisegel. B E I S E G E L. So they, we had Paraguay, Uruguay and the Argentine. We never got into Paraguay ‘cause they were always having a war [laugh], we got into Uruguay a lot, which was nice, and Buenos Aires of course which was enormous, so we went right down the south and travelled all over the Argentine.
HB: Right. So you were down in South America for two years.
MF: Two years, yes.
HB: What happened then? How did you?
MF: Then we came back, then we came back to earth a bit because they’d caught up with, Alan had been, way, way back, back in Coastal Command, earlier on in his career and they wanted a Chief Flying Instructor at Kinloss, in Scotland, so we went from Buenos Aries to Kinloss.
HB: Hmm. So that would be 1948, ’49 [phone tone] I’ll just have to pause the interview a minute. I’m just going to resume the interview that we temporarily paused. So, you’ve arrived at RAF Kinloss, what was Alan doing there? What was his job there?
MF: He was Chief Flying Instructor.
HB: Right. And what kind of aircraft, what kind of aircraft would he be flying there?
MF: Good heavens, I ought to know. I can’t remember at the moment.
HB: Shackletons perhaps?
MF: No, I don’t think so. Huh.
HB: It doesn’t matter, it’s not a major. So you were in quarters, living in.
MF: Well no, there weren’t any quarters; we lived in these little cottages. This one used to slide along on his bottom because he couldn’t, on lino you know, they were very barely furnished and suddenly one day he stood up and walked and I rang Alan and said: ‘Gavin’s walking!’ [Laugh]
HB: Lovely! That was in Findhorn village, in the village.
MF: Yes.
HB: So how long were you at Kinloss?
MF: [Sigh] Well, I, my daughter was born when I was up there, but I went south to my mother to have my daughter. I was away for a month because she said you can’t have that baby up here, so I went south and had my daughter. We were there about two and a half years, I think. Such a long time ago now, to remember all these things.
HB: Well you’re doing very well [much laughter]. I have to say, extremely well! So what was, when you first came back, from Buenos Aires, what was the biggest change you noticed in this country, having been living abroad for two years? You would have come back in 1948.
MF: Hmm. Well, I don’t know, you see my mother and sister came out to Buenos Aires for three months with us, to stay out there, and then they came home well, I don’t, well what biggest change, I don’t know. Can’t really think of anything.
HB: You found everything fairly settled.
MF: Well, much the same really. I mean obviously, I mean there was still food rationing when we came back. Course, when we went to Scotland that didn’t apply, I mean there was no rationing up there.
HB: Oh! No!
MF: No. Well not literally no, ‘cause you could get anything you wanted.
HB: Yeah. So, in Buenos Aires you lived, where did you live in Buenos Aires?
MF: We lived in a flat in the town to begin with, and then we moved out because we had Gavin, when we said we need a garden, and we moved out to a little house in San Isidro, up the river, and we had a Chinese cook who lived in a little hut at the bottom of the garden, Chinese cook called Georgie, and he was marvellous, and he, you know, Gavin was in his pram and he was in the sun, he would go out and move Gavin out of the sun.
HB: Lovely, oh that’s delightful. So you left the sunshine of Buenos Aires and you moved to Kinloss.
MF: Kinloss! That side of Scotland was, is very good, I mean it’s better than the west side, as you know. Oh yes, it was very good.
HB: And that’s your family’s developing now, your daughter, you came south and you had your daughter.
MF: Had her in the Radcliffe, came back and went back to Kinloss and that was that. And then we got posted back to Bomber Command, er no, got posted back to Air Ministry, but my mother said ‘you can’t live in one of those awful little quarters’, [chuckle] ‘you must have your own house’, so we bought a house in the village of Walters Ash, where Bomber Command is, and we had our own house there, and Alan used to go to Air Ministry every day and then he met our MP, called John Hall, and Alan said ‘well I’m a bit fed up of this’, because he was a Wing Commander at twenty one as I said, at thirty two he’d reverted to a Squadron Leader because well, you know, that was the thing, so he said bit tired to John Hall and John Hall said ‘come and see my Chairman’, he didn’t know him. He was a man called Sir Lindsay Finn and we didn’t know what on earth he did, apart from sit in Parliament. It turned out he was Chairman of Gossard Corsets! [Laugh]
HB: Oh right, right.
MF: So when Alan came home I said ‘well, what does he do apart from siting in Parliament?’ he said ‘he’s chairmen of Gossard Corsets!’ I said ‘well you can’t do that!’ But you see, by this time I’d got three children, I’d got my daughter and another son, Adrian, and we were in our house in this village, in Bomber Command village, and well, he was very tempted to come out because as I say, and my parents, of course, didn’t want us to move away again, so they were very influential. It was awful that we came out of the Air Force, I was so sad, it was wrong really, ‘cause Alan would have I think gone a long way. Anyway, we came out and, but they then, they had, Gossard, had this factory up here in Syston and they sent him up here!
HB: Oh right!
HF: So he was up here for three months and I was alone in Bucks and said oh goodness so they said well you’d better buy yourself a house, to Alan, and move your family up there. This was in 1954 I think ’55 I think, and so then we bought Gadsby Hall, and, they bought it for us, and we had, we lived there. The house had had twenty seven bedrooms, but they knocked the top off and the sides off and made it into a reasonable house, but it had seven acres of garden, which it still has. So anyway we did that and he was, my father was ill and in hospital and I was down south visiting him and I thought Alan had gone to France. By this time he, as I say, joined this, when I say they made the corsets, they made the machinery up here, this was the, so he was due to go to France on the Friday morning, on the Monday morning, I thought well I’ll go and see my father because he’s in hospital in High Wycombe and so I went off after Alan went but Alan didn’t feel well so he didn’t go. And the next thing was, on Tuesday, I got a message, we had a houseboy living in the house at Gadsby, called John Griss and he rang me up and said ‘oh the Wing Commander’s not too well, I thought you should know’ I said, ‘he went to France!’ He said ‘no he didn’t go because he didn’t feel well.’ So he said the doctor, our doctor lived in Gadsby village, so he sent him straight to, which hospital in Leicester?
[Other]: Royal Infirmary.
MF: Did he go to the Royal Infirmary?
[Other]: Glenfield? No.
HB: Not then, Glenfield not. Be the Leicester General?
MF: No, it was a nursing home.
[Other]: No, it wasn’t a nursing home, it was a full blown hospital.
MF: Oh was it, it was, yes. [Pause] Anyway, but Gavin and I got into a car straight away, rushed up here and this boy in the house said ‘he’s been taken to the hospital in Leicester’, and we walked in and Dr Ward, who lived in Gadsby was our doctor, was struggling, said ‘I’m afraid he’s dead’, so, like that. [Paper shuffling]
HB: What year was that?
[Other]: 1971.
HB: ’71 Oh dear. Oh right, I think, I thought I’d read somewhere that he’d been taken ill, and he was being treated for the illness and had the heart attack. Yes.
MF: Yes he was. Yes. As I say, he should have gone to France, but he didn’t go. But he didn’t let me know that he wasn’t going to France, so course I thought he’d gone, there you are.
HB: Can I just take you right back, very simple question: can you remember what your service number was?
MF: Ha! Something 0 double 1. Can’t remember. 20286 double 1. 20286 double 1. Maybe.
HB: 202 86
MF: Double 1. Maybe.
HB: Double 1.
[Other]: Sorry Harry. Can I just interrupt, just one second?
HB: Can I just pause the tape. Restart this, it’s 10.38, we’re just restarting the interview. Mary’s son Gavin has just had to leave, so we’ll just carry on. Right, so we’ve got to Alan actually dying in 1971. Can I just again, just go back a little bit, very, very disreputable question to ask a lady, but can you tell me what your date of birth is?
MF: 25 11 21.
HB: That’s lovely, thank you. What was your original maiden name?
MF: Stanley-Smith
HB: Stanley-Smith hyphenated. And has the Stanley got an e in it?
MF: Yes.
HB: Stanley-Smith. That’s lovely. [Cough] ‘Scuse me. Yes, just going back now, just try and pick up on one or two things we may have skated over a little bit. You said you went to boarding school. Where did you go to boarding school?
MF: Cliftonville, in Kent.
HB: Cliftonville, right. And you finished boarding school in time to join the RAF.
MF: Yes. I became head girl at boarding school. [Chuckle]
HB: Ooh!
MF: And well then, as I say, left. I did a little job in London for a bit, for a month or two, then I joined the WAAF.
HB: Yes. And as you say, you did your training in Windermere.
MF: Yes.
HB: How, what was your training like? Was it austere or was it very relaxed?
MF: No, quite happy, quite easy going year, yes.
HB: But you had to learn to look after your uniform.
MF: That sort of thing, yes. Yes, we marched about, as I say so long ago now, I can’t remember.
HB: And then you became a personal assistant to Sir Norman Bottomley.
MF: Ah, not, no, to Air Vice Marshal Harrison to begin with.
HB: Ah. Sorry, Harrison was the one that was left at the altar.
MF: Yes, yes.
HB: So you went to Air Vice Marshal Harrison and then a short time.
MF: At Exning, yes.
HB: At Exning. And then a short time with Harris. Where were you based with Harris?
MF: Bomber Command, Headquarters.
HB: At?
MF: Well, Walters Ash.
HB: High Wycombe, Walters Ash.
MF: Back in my home village you see.
HB: Yeah. And then you went to Sir Norman Bottomley.
MF: Yep. He took over from Harris, so I, and he was lovely to work for, and they had a house, the official house there was called Springfields, up at Prestwood, a mile or two away and we used to go up there. If there was nothing to do he’d say ‘oh let’s go and have a game of tennis’, he was lovely.
HB: Oh, right.
MF: But then you probably had to work till midnight if something happened, but you didn’t mind.
HB: And did you, when you worked for Harrison and Harris and Bottomley, did you notice, or did you, were you conscious of the pressure they were under?
MF: Well not really, no, I think you just accepted it, you know.
HB: Because I mean at that stage of the war, in ’43 ’44 things were very pressured.
MF: Yes, yes. Well I mean, that was when I was at Newmarket you see, at Exning, during the war, yes, I suppose you did, but I mean he, Harrison, the man at Newmarket, the Air Vice Marshal, was, as I say, very difficult to get on with to begin with as he didn’t like women because he’d been left at the altar, but he, I mean we tamed him, he became quite human, but he wasn’t easy. I mean if we went to a party, we had Corporal Wynn, the driver, and a Humber car, and we’d go out to this party, you know, and he didn’t drink, he’d have that much beer and then he’d come up to me and say ‘well I’m going home now, if you can get a lift you can stay.’ [Laugh] He was terribly non-party so that was when I invariably got a lift with Alan you see, went home with Alan because he was then stationed at 3 Group where I was, having a rest from operations and so he used to take me home, so that’s how we met really.
HB: Ah, right. That falls into line now. [Cough] When you worked for Sir Norman Bottomley, you got a Mentioned in Despatches.
MF: Yes.
HB: What was that for? Being very good?
MF: [Laughter] Well, I must have been quite good I suppose at something!
HB: Can you remember what year that would be?
MF: 40, what 50? When did I work for him, 50?
HB: Well you finished with the RAF when you were married, which was er, 1946.
MF: Yes well that was when I got my MiD, when I left him, you know.
HB: Right, so that’s. Right. And do you know if that was published in the Gazette, the London Gazette?
MF: Well I suppose it was. Yes they would be.
HB: Oh, right, so, social life, in the RAF, you’ve joined the RAF, you’ve done your training, what was your social life like?
MF: Oh marvellous! [Laughter]
HB: It was, it was good was it?
MF: Absolutely! Yes, I mean even uncommissioned we had great fun, good parties and things and I’m a party girl, you know, like people. Oh, we had great time and then when I was commissioned we had marvellous parties at Newmarket and Exning. [Chuckle]
HB: Oh right. Were the parties in private houses and places or did you have them on station?
MF: Oh, on the station mainly. Yes, yes.
HB: Did you go to any of the parties out at say somewhere like Lakenheath, or?
MF: Oh yes, oh we went everywhere, yes, all round because 3 Group covered Lakenheath and all those things in Suffolk you see, stations in Suffolk so we never stopped. But as I say my boss then, Harrison, didn’t like parties, so that’s why I had such a good time. [Laugh]
HB: So you were left to your own devices. Oh, that’s wonderful, that’s wonderful. So you met Alan when you were at 3 Group.
MF: Yes, ‘cause he came in for a rest from his operations.
HB: He would have been, ‘cause he was in four squadrons as far as I can find out. He was in 7 Squadron, 35 Squadron, 156 and 161.
MF: 161. All Pathfinders.
HB: Yeah. And he, at the time you [emphasis] met him, in 3 Group, what rank was he then?
MF: He was Squadron Leader.
HB: He was Squadron Leader. Right. So, there’s this dashing Squadron Leader, having a rest from operations.
MF: Operations, in Newmarket, Exning. Yes.
HB: And he swept off your feet!
MF: Yes, sort of. [Laughter]
HB: Or you were just great friends and gradually got swept off your feet. So just going on with the theme of Alan, Alan had joined the RAF quite early.
MF: Yes, he joined at sixteen, said he was seventeen.
HB: Did he? Right.
MF: But he was very tall, so he looked seventeen you know, so he got away with it.
HB: Initially where did he start his training, can you remember?
MF: Of course I didn’t know him in those days. He lived in Gloucestershire. I can’t remember.
HB: ‘Cause he would have joined as, what, something like a Leading Aircraftsman I would think. If he was going to.
MF: Yes.
HB: And can you remember where he did his flying training?
MF: Where he started? No I can’t.
HB: So actually, thinking back, if he joined in, when he was sixteen.
MF: He said he was seventeen.
HB: That would be, that would be just about 1939?
MF: Yes.
HB: Right at the beginning of the war.
MF: Yes, right at the beginning.
HB: Yeah. So it’s possible he learnt his flying in this country.
MF: Oh yes, oh definitely.
HB: Before they started sending them to South Africa and Canada.
MF: Oh yes.
HB: So he did his pilot training and went to squadron. He flew an awful lot of operations, didn’t he.
MF: Oh yes, yes. Whole lot. I couldn’t, I should have looked out the books for you.
HB: Oh no, no. It’s what you [emphasis] can remember of it because obviously that’s a little bit closer. If think if memory serves, he certainly flew seventy or more operations.
MF: Oh yes.
HB: And eventually became a Master Bomber?
MF: Yes, he was a Master Bomber.
HB: With Pathfinders, so, while he was doing that, you’ve had the party time and you’ve now moved on, so you’re serving at the level of Sir Norman Bottomley, and you’re seeing the strategy and everything, but you must also have seen the returns coming in of the losses.
MF: Oh yes.
HB: And Alan was still flying then, obviously. So how did, did you just accept that, or did it concern you?
MF: Well you did it was going on all the time, wasn’t it, I mean you know, it was all part of the war so you just accepted it. You were sad for twenty four hours when somebody you knew lost their life, but that was it. I mean there we are.
HB: Sad time. Lot of good people went.
MF: Mm hm.
HB: Yeah. The, so as you’ve come, as Alan was coming towards the end of the war, before you went, before you were married, did you sit down and talk about what you thought you might do after the war or was it just accepted?
MF: Oh, I mean we didn’t think we’d ever come out of the Air Force, I didn’t. I didn’t want to. But he thought it was better for him, I mean the money was better and we had three children to educate, so that was one reason, you know, when he came out, but it was the worst thing we ever did because I think he would have made a very good high rank officer. I didn’t want to come out, but there we are, what do you do.
HB: Am I right, were there rules about whether or not you could stay if you were married to a serving RAF officer?
MF: You could stay.
HB: Could you stay if you were married?
MF: Oh yes. Well.
HB: If you, sorry, a woman officer, could a woman officer stay in the RAF if she married another RAF officer?
MF: Oh no! Well I don’t think so. I suppose so, I don’t know. I mean I got out, I gave up because of having children.
HB: Yeah, I see what you mean, right, so Alan’s flown all these tours, you’ve eventually come back to Bomber Command, what was Alan doing in Bomber Command before you went to Buenos Aires, can you remember?
MF: Goodness, I ought to. What was he doing? I can’t remember now. No.
HB: I mean obviously he was working on things at a higher level.
MF: Yes, yes. That’s right.
HB: To become an Assistant ADC, sorry, Air Attaché, is quite, obviously quite demanding. So, I think what we’ll do is, I’ll terminate the interview now because I think there’s so much of Alan’s memorabilia that we need to look in to, we need to research properly, it’s unfair to ask you all the questions without the documents in front of you, so I think what we’ll do is, we’ll terminate the interview now, and I thank you on behalf of the Digital Archive for what you’ve told us.
MF: It’s silly, the things I’ve forgotten, but you do after all these years, you know.
HB: Absolutely. It’s been a pleasure, it’s er, I haven’t got a clock, I’ll have to just have a quick check, it’s quarter to eleven, sorry, I do have it wrong.
MF: Five to eleven.
HB: It’s five to eleven, and we’re just going to just stop the interview there and I’ve photographs to take, so thank you very much, I’ll just stop that. Supplementary to the interview, it’s 11.38, we’ve been chatting and Mary has just been telling me about an incident which I think is relevant. So just tell me what happened when you came back from France to see Alan.
MF: Well I saw them land in, from Brazil, and then a week later he rang me up and said would you like to come on this flypast?
HB: And the date of the flypast? 6th. 6th of June?
MF: 6th of June, yes.
HB: 6th of June 1946.
MF: And I said yes please, so I flew with Michael Beetham who was on Alan’s right, Alan was the commander and so I flew with him and it was absolutely marvellous, and then went back to Gravely where they were stationed, had a marvellous lunch and very late because I mean they were so good to the Air Force, you know, didn’t mind, and that was when he said, somebody said ‘Mary, what are you going to do when you leave the WAAF’, and I said ‘I don’t know’, and before I could say anything he said ‘she’s going to marry me.’ Just like that! [Laughter]
HB: Right! So the flypast was over London.
MF: Over London, yes.
HB: Over Buckingham Palace.
MF: Yes, over Buckingham Palace.
HB: [Cough] And it was a flight of Lancasters.
MF: Whoops. Come and see.
HB: Steady, steady!
MF: Whoops. I’ve got this.
HB: Got it. Just going to pause the interview. We just paused the interview there.
MF: Can I offer you anything drink? Would you like a sherry or something, dear?
HB: No I’m fine thank you, I’m fine. We’ve just paused the interview to pop out into the hall and take some photographs of the various pictures that Mary has of her late husband Alan’s career, the most important being the 8th of June Flypast in the white Lancasters, with Mary sat in the right hand plane with, what was his name? Bentham?
MF: It was amazing!
HB: You obviously thoroughly enjoyed that.
MF: Oh absolutely! I mean I was young enough then to enjoy all these things and I sat on this little bit, you know, about that big, all the way over London!
HB: About the size of a footstool. Oh dear. Could you actually see out of the aircraft?
MF: Oh yes, a bit. Yes.
HB: Exciting!
MF: It was exciting. I was the only girl on the, in all this. Amazing.
HB: Wow, wow! So how, I notice in Alan’s medals he has the DSO. What did he get the DSO for?
MF: Oh goodness, [sigh] I can’t remember, some bombing, you know, thing. I don’t know.
HB: Oh right, ‘cause I know he got a DFC early on for bringing a very badly damaged aircraft back.
MF: Yes. DSO, DFC, AFC. Well the AFC was in peacetime I think, wasn’t it.
HB: Yeah. The Air Force Cross. Yes, but they aren’t, they’re not a common medal. He must have done something Mary!
MF: You what?
HB: He must have done something to earn it! [Laughter] I notice in the photograph of the medals there’s one there that has the look of an Argentinian medal, was that a gratitude medal from Argentina, for his service there? Buenos Aires.
MF: Oh yes. Yes, that’s right.
HB: That’s great.
MF: Yes, we, it’s rather nice, wasn’t it.
HB: Yes it is, very nice medal that one. So in, having gone through all of that time, he’s flown all the aircraft he flew during the Second World War and he’s ended up, he ended up flying Canberras. And where were they stationed?
MF: At Kinloss.
HB: At Kinloss. The photo reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft.
MF: Yes.
HB: So did he ever comment on the change from, the change in technology and aircraft.
MF: Not really, no. We had one tragedy there. There was a dining in night and a message came through that the ‘Truculent’ had gone down in the Thames and Kinloss had the only lifting gear, so Alan asked for a volunteer crew to, would they pick up this lifting gear, take it down to the Thames to get the ‘Truculent’ out.
HB: This was the submarine.
MF: Yes. And he got a volunteer crew. They went and crashed into an aircraft, into a mountain about five miles from Kinloss, just on take off: they were all killed. It was the most dreadful [emphasis] night, awful thing. And of course, well the ‘Truculent’, everybody drowned in the ‘Truculent’. So dreadful night. Always remember that.
HB: That must have affected Alan, quite.
MF: Oh yes, I mean, well it’s so depressing. I had all, we didn’t have any quarters at Kinloss, but we had a very nice flat in a big house in Forres and I had the wives in for supper because it was a dining in night, you know, and next thing was we knew, all the husbands coming up, well Alan and lots of his members, coming up the stairs, to tell these wives that their husbands had been killed.
HB: Oh no!
MF: Awful. Dreadful night, you know. Never forget it.
HB: That was.
MF: Yes. Think, as I say, he asked for a volunteer crew and, well there we are, they all crashed into this. So that was a very sad night at Kinloss.
HB: Yes, yes, it’s, it’s the sort of incident that hits you very personally, it’s so involved.
MF: Oh yes, hm. Yes, I mean we all knew, well we all knew each other so well; I’m very gregarious and so was Alan, we all got on with everybody, you know.
HB: Yes, difficult time.
MF: Yes, very difficult.
HB: Difficult to remember as well, it’s an emotional thing to remember, it’s yes, difficult to talk about, yes. So we’ll come to the end of our supplementary interview, [laughing] that’s very, very kind of you Mary, thank you for letting me record that.
MF: Oh not a bit, I hope you’ll come back!


Harry Bartlett, “Interview with Mary Stanley Foister,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 14, 2024,

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