Interview with Dick Heath


Interview with Dick Heath


Dick Heath was an apprentice boat builder and joined the Royal Air Force in 1943. He began training as an air gunner but was posted to RAF Fiskerton working in the bomb dump. He was on his way to Canada by ship when the war in Europe ended. After he was demobbed Dick returned to boat building in the UK before transferring his skills to Africa.




Temporal Coverage





00:58:18 audio recording

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HH: Ok. So today is Monday the 6th of February 2017.
RH: Right.
HH: And I’m sitting, chatting with Dick Heath and I’m Heather Hughes for the International Bomber Command Centre. And we are talking about Dick’s involvement in Bomber Command. Thank you Dick for agreeing to do this interview with us.
RH: It’s very nice of you to have come along.
HH: Now Dick I wonder if you could talk just a little about where you were born and brought up.
RH: Well, I’m sorry.
HH: Don’t you worry.
RH: I was born in Southsea, Hampshire in 1925. 7th of October 1925. And later I went to a naval school. The Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, Suffolk which was an Admiralty School and I was really destined to go in the navy. My father was navy and the family has been like that. And I was always interested in flying. The strange thing being that while I was at the naval school I won a first prize book which you chose the title that you want and then it was bound in the black school colours and so on and so on. And I chose, “The World’s Aeroplanes and Airships,” at the naval school. That was about 1936 I think. And, and the other one was, “Sports and Hobbyists for Boys.” Now, in 1941 the Air Training Corps was formed and I immediately joined and I think I was number sixteen. So that was 1941. And I was in it until 1944 which was a year later than [pause] I’ll explain, than I would have wanted. And I was a flight sergeant in the Air Training Corps. However, I applied to join the RAF in 1943 when I was eighteen and I went to Cambridge where one undertook tests and all that. And I was accepted for PNB — pilot, navigator, bomb aimer training and was given a service number and then one went home and waited to be called. Well I waited and waited and waited and nothing happened and nothing happened. And I was an apprentice boat builder at the shipyard in Littlehampton at the time and my sister worked in the office. And she disclosed to my mother that the firm had, the yard had put in for deferred service for me to prevent me going. So that, they were building motor torpedo boats and they considered that was more important etcetera. Which I obviously wasn’t very happy about. And we were several months into, that was 19, we were in to 1944 and so I applied to train for air gunner because one heard there was a shortage and we were young. We were young. We were all keen, you know. Shortly after that I was called for training which would have been as air gunner. So I’d forsaken PNB. And so I was, I then went in July 1944 and went to, found myself at Bridgnorth, Shropshire which was the, you know where everybody goes when they first go in. Square bashing and so on but having been in the Air Training Corps and a naval school before that I found it all pretty easy. And, but then instead of, as one thought would have gone to Air Gunnery School I found myself at Fiskerton. RAF Fiskerton. That was 576 Squadron.
[pause for machinery noise outside]
RH: Yes. Working in a bomb dump. We wore a white flash in our forage caps which denoted that we were aircrew cadets. But so I was a few months there but I’ve lost track and I haven’t got any records here. So I, but then eventually I went off. I was posted to Castle Kennedy. RAF Castle Kennedy, Scotland. Which was an Air Gunnery School. And there’s, do you want to stop for this —
HH: You carry on. So you were at Fiskerton and then you went up to Scotland.
RH: That’s right. That was the actual Air Gunnery School. The real start of things. And we trained on Ansons which had Bristol turrets.
HH: Yes.
RH: Single Bristol turret which one has memories of that in that one, the warning by the gunnery instructors were if you had a stoppage in firing and you had a long hook to clear the stoppage not to put your head to the side under pressure because there’s a lever. You went like that. It turned the gun itself independently of the turret and it would crush your head.
HH: Head.
RH: Like an egg shell as they told us. We never tried to prove it. And which completed the course, became a sergeant air gunner and the brevet and stripes. And so then we think right we’re now off to OTU and crewing up and this sort of thing. Instead, of which, in our case, my case, we get re – coursed on to Wellingtons. They’re going to try to see if Wellingtons would be suitable for flying out of this small place. And for the future I suppose. So, we do the whole course completely again on Wellingtons. So that’s even more time gone and so that’s that. We must be now, we’re definitely at the end of ’44. Maybe in to ’45. Yes. Definitely because a group of us as gunners, it was just gunners because the other aircrew were training in Canada. We flew over to Canada. No, we didn’t. We went by sea. That’s right. On the Athlone Castle.
HH: Was that in ‘45?
RH: That’s right. A troop ship. And that definitely dates it because while we were at sea the end of the war came, VE day. And they had the BBC on the tannoy system throughout the ship. With all the crowds in London and the cheering and everything else. And we were on a dry ship. There was nothing [laughs] No drink allowed. So we get over to Halifax and then we cross right across. I think it took five days or five nights on the train to Vancouver side. And we went to Abercorn and Boundary Bay which was, I think it was number 5 OTU and we, we are now on Liberators. That was all quite interesting. The war, Jap war was still on so when we were flying over the Atlantic, over the Pacific we were instructed to look out for Jap submarines. And also for pyrotechnic balloons which, the Japs used to set up with pyrotechnics. The plan was they would drift inland and when they landed they would set fire to the forest. We never saw one. And we didn’t see a Jap sub. And those were really good times. I took part in sports and athletics. I won, I won a very nice angling bag which I had for years back in England, you know. Until it wore itself out.
HH: And what did you win that for?
RH: That, I think that was either the mile or half mile. They used to give prizes like that in those days. And I, well then the atom bombs were dropped in August. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I think about, perhaps a month after that, I haven’t got the records, we came back to England. Trained right across again. And this time we were on a ship which had been a brand new ship before. The Louis Pasteur. A French ship. Still as a troop ship. But these pipe cots, you know when you turn on one shoulder and you hit the one that’s above.
HH: Yes.
RH: So we’re back to England and I went on to various RAF stations which I can’t remember. I was trying to remember this morning and made a list and didn’t do too well but I finished up at Waddington at 61 Squadron on Lancasters. And —
HH: So that, by now, is the fourth aeroplane you’ve been in.
RH: I, well I —
HH: So it’s Ansons, Wellingtons, Liberators.
RH: That’s right.
HH: And Lancasters.
RH: Yes. And then they eventually became Lincolns. Still at Waddington. We’d did a con-course on to Lincolns which was very interesting because it was a sort of upgraded Lancaster really. And it had a cannon gun, mid-upper turret. 20 millimetre cannon guns. And I was lucky enough to be that mid-upper.
HH: Mid-upper gunner.
RH: Whereas previously in the Lancaster I’d been in the tail.
HH: Tail end Charlie.
RH: Yes. Yes. And how [pause] what else can I tell you?
HH: So how long were you in Waddington then?
RH: ‘Til the end of the war. No. That was long past.
HH: After the war.
RH: Yes. Until I was demobbed in July 1947.
HH: So were you at Waddington quite a long time then?
RH: Yes. I was there quite a while. I can’t remember the exact dates but I, I was known as a footballer and a funny thing happened there. Now, I’m at Lincoln station, railway station on the way to go to Waddington and I’m having a cup of tea at the cafe there and a RAF driver in uniform came around shouting for Flight Sergeant Heath which is me, you see. So I let him know I was there and he said, ‘I’ve come to pick you up,’ he said [laughs] ‘You’re playing for Waddington this afternoon.’ You know, so that’s the little things that have come back to my memory. And of course I always used to have the boots with me but they were in my kitbag so that was lucky.
HH: And was it a good match?
RH: I can’t remember. I can’t even remember if we won or lost.
HH: But you did ok.
RH: But I do remember. Yes. And, you know, I played and when I was, I was on an aerodrome near [pause] I can’t again, I was just trying to remember it this morning but there was a town called Welford. And their team, local team was Welford Sports. And I played. There were two other ex-RAF. Well no. They were RAF at the time. Professionals. And I played for them and we won the East Anglia Cup. It was a huge cup. I’m sure it was bigger than the FA cup. The first time they’ve ever won. And I doubt if they’ve won anything since.
HH: Good.
RH: So, and I was away. Oh I was in, I was in the Bomber Command Boxing Team.
HH: Were you?
RH: Welterweight. And one of the things — we flew in our own aircraft to Bad Heelsum in Germany to fight against the BAFO team. And — but the only thing about that was that there had been a big party the night before and anyway I was overweight when it came to the weigh in. And so I fought in the catch-weight I think they called it. I fought against someone anyway. I know I won anyway. So —
HH: Well done. Did you get another trophy for that?
RH: I don’t know. See that’s where the memory goes. Because I can’t remember whether as the team whether we beat BAFO or not. I think we did win but that doesn’t come. But the thing I do remember it was a, we had a West Indian, not necessarily straight from the West Indies but in England. He was a featherweight. Percy Lewis. And when he came out of the air force he became the British featherweight champion. Professional. And another one was Mick McManus. He was a W/O Gunner. Warrant officer. And he was the middle weight. And I used to spar with him because a welter is faster than a [pause] that was often the way. So I knew him pretty well but after, after he was out of the air force we think it was him but it may not have been. There was a professional wrestler Mick McManus and he looked just, just like this fellow but I’ve never ever been able to, I’ve never bothered to try and find out whether it was him because he was a very, quite a personality on TV. And he put on a lot of weight. He looked a lot heavier than he was at St [unclear]
HH: Which you have to do for wrestling.
RH: Yes.
HH: Was Percy Lewis in Bomber Command as well?
RH: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yeah because it was a Bomber Command team.
HH: Team. Ok.
RH: So he must have been. I think he was an LAC. And amongst my bits of paper I’ve got the, a programme for that fight in Germany. And it’s terrible paper where printing was done or not. Pre-used paper and this sort of thing.
HH: There was still a shortage of paper wasn’t there?
RH: Yes. But it’s got all our names there. Yeah.
HH: And so after you were demobbed what, what did you do then?
RH: Well, of course I went back to the boatyard. To the shipyard to finish my apprenticeship because I’d broken it in fact. To leave. So when I went back cap in hand to say, you know, ‘I’ve come. I want my job back.’ He was quite a chap actually, the manager, Tom Ashton. And he said, ‘I knew you were in,’ he said, ‘But I thought you were staying in.’ I said, ‘No. No. It’s just that it takes time I said. Youngest in. Last out. That sort of thing.’ You see. And so he said, ‘Yeah, well,’ he said, ‘You won’t get the rate you know. You’ll have to carry on as if it was before.’ Well of course I was only eighteen then. Now I’m twenty one or more. So what happened then? Oh I’ll tell you a funny, a funny thing. You went past, I had to go to the main office you see. So you passed through the outer door and then through another one and into the big, big one. And as I said my sister actually worked in the office but she hadn’t. She’d left long, long before then. She took up nursing. So I had the interview and he said, ‘Right. You can start on Monday.’ I said, ‘Right. Ok,’ you know. ‘Thanks very much.’ So I go through and I pass through you see. And I’m just going out the last door when the senior, Joan Huggins, she was, the senior lady that ran the, ran the main officer there. Because she’d heard him say, ‘And no buggering about.’ So what I used to get up to with as an apprentice before he hadn’t forgotten [laughs] and so she said the same thing again. So I finished my apprenticeship and I stayed on at the yard for a while and then I left and set up on my own in partnership with another fellow, a Scot who had actually come down. He’d been in the Royal Navy during the war. We got on very well and he, he was of independent means. So you might say the money side was more from him and the skills thing —
HH: Skills.
RH: From me. But he was put with me at the yard because he’s pitched up in a small yacht. He’d sailed it down up the east coast. Came into Littlehampton and said he’d like to take up boat building and they weren’t going to turn him down. They said yes but typical agai, ‘We won’t be able to pay you the rate you know.’ You don’t [laughs] and so we, we were building speedboats. Commercial ones that run off the pier at places at Brighton, Eastbourne and that sort of thing.
HH: Yes.
RH: And we built a yacht, a five tonner.
HH: Wow.
RH: A man came to us the one day and said, well he’d been Hillyards. Hillyards is the other yard in Littlehampton. They were famous for yachts. Sailing type yachts. Whereas Osborne’s, where I went, they were famous for power boats. They’d built torpedo boats during the war and so on. So this fella came along. He went to Hillyards because his father had had a boat built there between the wars and he wanted one built by Hillyards and they said. ‘Well, we’re very, very sorry, we’re full. We can’t possibly do it. But there are two young chaps down the river. They might take it on.’ Which we did. We already got doing another boat but we weren’t turning anything away. So we were trying to build the, burning the midnight oil. And so that was that. Now, when we’d finished this yacht which, the bigger one which wasn’t for him in fact. It was a smaller one but this bigger one the owner wanted it delivered by sail to Chichester harbour. And the night before we were going to take it this man Gilbert Howe, he’d been a senior person in the Overseas Civil Service in Northern Rhodesia. Well he said could he come along as well on this?
HH: To deliver this yacht.
RH: On this yacht. So we said yeah, fine but again at the last moment he came, he said, ‘Look I’ve got a man. He was a cadet with me in the year dot. Could he come too?’ So yes it was a big enough yacht so we were all there. We spent, or I did the whole time chatting about football and sports and so on because this chap who had been a cadet, I might think of his name in a moment. He finished up sir somebody. He was the last Governor General of Nyasaland. A heck of a nice chap. And he was, at the time, he was a Commissioner of Native Development in Northern Rhodesia.
HH: Goodness.
RH: So about three years after this the same Gilbert Howe came and actually saw me, and he said ‘Do you remember me telling you about this fellow?’ Sir Glyn Jones. That was it. He said, ‘I’ve had a letter from him he’s interested, he wants to know if whether you’d be interested in coming out to Northern Rhodesia and setting up a boat building school?’ You see where luck comes in as we were saying?
HH: Fantastic.
RH: Yeah. And so I said, ‘Yes. Ok,’ you know. In fact I remember I went and had a chat with my dad and I said look there’s this offer. I think it was three hundred and fifty pounds a year. Which was, of course, not very much. So my dad said well, ‘If you fancy it,’ he said, ‘Say yes,’ he said, ‘But you want a thousand,’ [laughs] typical of dad. So tongue in cheek I did and they fitted me in to the rates at that which put a lot of people’s noses out of joint when I got out there because they were in other fields on the technical side. So there we are. I’m then in Northern Rhodesia.
HH: Whereabouts?
RH: I was up on Lake Mweru which is up in the north. If you visualise Lake Tanganyikya, the southern end, and then down a bit from that there’s another large lake about a hundred miles by forty. And the bream there were teeming. So —
HH: And who did you teach to build boats?
RH: The Africans. The local Africans. Those who were already carpenters. Mainly taught in mission schools so they were good but they now what I’m going to do is teach them how to build boats in wood which is what I did. And I was there until Lake Kariba was going to be, but it was still being built.
HH: Gosh.
RH: And forming. And I was, I went and built another school there. A similar one. Only this was larger in that it took in the wives of the boat builders themselves and fishermen.
HH: Gosh.
RH: You know. Because it was too teach them how to fish as well. You know they were very primitive. If I —
Other: Tell her how it improved the industry because they had been fishing just from these little dugouts.
RH: Oh yes that’s right.
Other: And with these little boats that Dick taught them to build.
RH: That’s right.
Other: They could get bigger catches and then they set up this ice plant and they could freeze the fish and it benefitted them all around.
HH: So, yeah, it helped sort of industrial development.
RH: Yes, that’s right.
HH: Yeah.
RH: That is exactly.
HH: And. Yeah. And livelihoods so they could make more living out of it.
RH: Now, this was Glyn. Sir Glyn Jones. He wasn’t sir then but Glyn Jones who was the Commissioner for Native Development was the one who thought of the idea. It was a good idea and it worked.
HH: Especially with all those large sheets of water in those territories.
RH: Yes. Well not only. When I was there I was also covering Lake Bangweulu which is where Livingstone died. That area. The Kafue Flats. The Kafue River which was later dammed. The southern end of Lake Tanganyika.
HH: Gosh.
RH: Now, what I did, I taught these that take them individually. Once they were trained I had funds from the government to set them up in a boat building place. Most of them it was just wooden poles with a thatched roof as a shed. But that’s what I started with on Lake Mweru anyway, myself . So they knew what to do and I arranged that all the suitable tools could be brought out from the UK for them, including pit saws. You know these are the big saws where you saw the trees, the logs. We did that as well. So they sawed the planks.
HH: So in order to build your boats you first had to cut down the tree.
RH: Yes. That’s right. You know. And then pin them. Put them in layers with boards across so the air gets through. And that’s beautiful timber in Africa. Beautiful timber. And I experimented with different ones to find which were the most suitable for steaming.
HH: To shape.
RH: You know, for making ribs. I don’t know I can think much more about.
Other: Do you remember about the pits that you had to dig for the sawing of the planks, and you have, was it the underdog, Dick?
RH: Oh yes.
Other: The underdog or the top dog. And the underdog of course gets all the sawdust in his eyes but they had to do right from scratch from the tree.
RH: You see there are –
HH: Amazing.
Other: Do the planks and then build the boats.
HH: Wonderful really.
RH: Well you see this is — the yard where I learned. Served my time. They were still doing that so I was lucky to see that. A lot of yards you don’t do everything but where I served my time you did everything right the way through to finish boats with the joiner work and —
HH: It must have been very satisfying to see the boat completed.
RH: Yes. It really, really was. Yes. And I’ve been the man, the boy at the bottom with the saws so —
HH: Yeah. So were most of those rowing boats or sailing boats or what kinds of boats were you building?
RH: Well, first of all I was building doreys. The same thing as the grand banks doreys, the thing, and you had to row them. Well we can make very nice oars and if you’re there they keep perfect time and row and so on. As soon as you turn your back they lift them up in the air and they use them as paddles because they’ve, they’ve had a thousand years of paddling behind them you see. So I thought well this is a waste of time but the thing to do is to improve a better dugout canoe. So there’s an Irish boats called a currach. Now, these currachs were built with steamed timbers in but they were covered with cow hide and so on and so on and then tarred. But the shape was like a rocker. Like a banana almost.
HH: Yeah.
RH: Because where they rowed out with these long sweeps from the western Irish shore they had the Atlantic swell.
HH: Yeah.
RH: So I thought that might be the thing. So I built one experimentally in wood. Planked. Clinker built, you know, where the planks lap. And of course I haven’t got any photographs here of this but anyway it was successful so I set — they were twenty three feet long and when fibreglass came along later I built, made moulds and so on and we did them in fibreglass and do you know they’re being to this day in Southern Rhodesia.
HH: Amazing.
RH: Well it’s now Zimbabwe. In Bulawayo. And when we were over on holiday this one time we were down the Kariba on the Zimbabwe side and blow me there was one of these boats just as if I’d built it myself. All these years after.
HH: Amazing. Well that’s testimony to your boatbuilding.
RH: But it’s amazing isn’t it? I was absolutely amazed. And well that’s probably enough about that.
HH: How long were you there for?
RH: Fifteen years.
HH: Fifteen years.
RH: Yes.
HH: And did you miss the UK?
RH: No. I didn’t really. And my wife, Mary she loved Africa. She didn’t want to leave. But the children’s education. That became a thought. The schools were going downhill fast. And the same with the medicine side of things. Hospitals and that. Because looking for independence, so on, they had all this help from the Eastern Bloc. Czechoslovakia and so on. They were getting all these jobs instead of them being British. Well, you know, their, their English speaking was pretty awful. And the teachers. They were also coming from the Eastern Bloc. So I decided we’d have to leave. Well, the choice was either one went to, down south as the saying was but that meant that they would have to learn Afrikaans which I didn’t think was fair. So the decision was to come back to the UK.
HH: And where did you settle?
RH: Back where I’d been all the time really. Littlehampton. West Sussex area. Rustington. Where I’ve still got a home there.
HH: And you carried on building boats.
RH: No. I’ll tell you what happened there. I was very undecided what to do. I had an offer of a job doing a similar thing in Malawi. And while this was going on my wife had a lump in the breast and so on so we couldn’t possibly go. And so I then thought again. All sorts of sort of silly things like running a village post office and [pause] and anyway a friend who’d been a fisheries officer in, and who I knew quite well. He used to come and stay at our house on Lake Mweru. He was a fisheries officer as I said. Now when he was on leave in the UK he always sort of made his number as the saying was at the ministry which I never did. When I came over on leave I didn’t go anywhere near. So that’s the admin side of it. No point. Anyway he, when independence came in northern Rhodesia became Zambia he was actually on leave in the UK. So he wrote and said, ‘Do you want me to come back?’ and of course they were dead keen to take over all the jobs. They said, ‘No don’t.’ You know. ‘You can stay. It’s arranged.’ And they’d arranged that he’d got his compensation thing and all this you see and, in fact I think about three months afterwards he told me they wanted him back. They wanted to cancel it but he’d already got the money in the bank and in no way was he coming back. However, he, so he got a job with the [pause] what was his title? The how can that leave me? The White Fish Authority. It was a quango.
HH: Oh yeah. Yeah.
RH: Set up in London — with a headquarters in London. Chancery Lane. And he’s in the lift one day when the chief marine surveyor came in and they knew each other and he said, ‘How are you getting on?’ ‘Fine.’ Oh, he said. ‘I’ve got a hell of a thing on,’ he said. He said, ‘My surveyor was on the Isle of Wight and he’s had a heart attack,’ he said, ‘And I’ve got to get somebody,’ sort of thing. So, Jim Salisbury it was, he said, ‘I might be able to tell you the very man. I know he’s on leave in the UK at the moment.’ Which was me. So, to cut a long story short I had the interview and I then employed by the White Fish Authority as a surveyor.
HH: A surveyor.
RH: For the south of England.
HH: Gosh.
RH: Yes. It covered a big area but it suited me fine. Like a one man band. From oh where was it? Up the east coast. The name’s left me now but it’s just [pause] I’ll think of it in a minute.
HH: Sort of Essex way. Essex way.
RH: North of it. Yes. In Suffolk. Up as far.
HH: Oh ok. Suffolk way. Ok. Yes.
RH: Yes and right the way down and around the Kent and down to Lyme Regis in the west.
HH: That’s a long way.
RH: Yes.
HH: A large area.
RH: And to operate from home although I used to go up once a week up to the office in London which in time they closed that down and made the headquarters in Edinburgh because there was already a big set up there.
[background chat]
RH: Yes. So —
HH: So how long were you with the White Bait Authority?
RH: I was there from [pause] I think it was 1970 to ’82.
HH: Gosh.
RH: Yes. That’s right I was.
HH: Twelve years.
RH: Twelve years. And very interesting. And if somebody else was on leave, a surveyor for instance up in Fleetwood then I’d quite often go up and take his place for a fortnight. So I got to know these other places as well.
HH: Interesting.
RH: And the chief marine surveyor was Joe Sinclair. He was Scots with a name like that. And he had been doing a similar type of thing as me in Northern Rhodesia in Nigeria.
HH: Ok.
RH: He was older than me. I should think by about ten years. Which means he’s probably dead now. And so he, he knew, you know somebody who’s worked in the colonies you have to do everything. And that was a very interesting job.
HH: And how did you find your way back to South Africa then?
RH: Oh [pause] well Pam, my wife now, now there’s this little town of about a dozen families was called Kawumba. When we first went out my wife Mary and the kids were actually in Kawumba. Were given a house. But from the moment she got there she wanted to come down to the lake. Well there’d never been any European white woman there before. So they were dubious about this. However, it was agreed and she moved down and in fact she, she ran [pause] like a clinic for [Marone House?] For the local Africans. Including the ones that I was teaching to build.
HH: Gosh.
RH: Because we built kimberley brick houses for them all. That was all part of the job. I’ve forgotten what you actually asked me. Oh how did we got back. That’s right. Now, this young couple, the Devonish which is this Pam and her husband George, they became great friends of ours. They had just been married and that was the first thing that they —
HH: So that’s when you first became friends.
RH: Yes. That’s right. And we’ve known each other. Pam and my wife Mary have always they corresponded over the years and always kept in touch. And then George died of cancer and she took on this caring work in England which paid very well. And she used to call on us. Visit us and so on. And then so we were always in touch and then in 2005 Mary, my wife, died. And so the funny thing that comes in but the [pause] I’m trying to think of the name, there was a, what was it called. South African, well it was to do with South African airways anyway. And they had a magazine and there was a competition. You had to work out where the plane would be if it was flying at such and such a time and such a speed. You had to say where the plane was at a certain time. Something like that anyway. Well, anyway I won this prize for air tickets to South Africa.
HH: Do you think your time with Bomber Command had anything to do with that?
RH: I don’t know. I think, I think, I’ll tell you what it does do. It gives you confidence.
HH: So you won this prize.
RH: Yeah. Which was an air flight.
HH: To come to South Africa.
RH: Yes.
HH: Ok.
RH: So that’s really did that because Pam said, ‘Why don’t you come out and visit?’ Well I did and I came out regularly then. You know, once a year. And it was, I mean I’d retired by that time. I’d retired in 1994. That’s right. So I had time on my hands and [pause] and then eventually we married. In [pause] when was it? 2011. Yes.
HH: Brilliant.
RH: Yes. So its six years this February.
HH: And do you still commute back and forth to the UK?
RH: Yes.
HH: Between the UK and here.
RH: Yes. Yeah. Each year we go.
HH: Lovely.
RH: And so we spend this last time we were in the UK for six months which was actually too long but it was to fit in with various things and of course the family there they all live relatively near. My actual, my daughter, the youngest one she built on the plot of land alongside, I got planning permission for it years, years ago. Ostensibly I wanted to build a bungalow on it which would have suited my wife Mary who had not too well for quite a long time. But in their wisdom the powers that be, the planning lot said no, it’s not in keeping with the area. But I still put in planning for a house. And so eventually I said to Susannah, I said, ‘Well I’ve decided I’m going to sell the plot because it’s pointless. I keep paying every two or three years. I have to pay to get it renewed the planning permission.’ And she said, ‘Would you let me have it?’ You know. So she and her partner they, they built— he was in the, or is in the building trade and they built a very nice house.
HH: Lovely.
RH: And she’s right next door so she keeps an eye on my house.
HH: That’s so convenient.
RH: That’s right. And she looks after the mail and —
HH: Great.
RH: It’s worked out marvellously. A lot of luck I’ve had in life.
HH: Well you’ve also worked hard for it.
RH: Yes. And yet I never ever honestly really ever thought of it as hard work. I’ve always loved boats and it started so young. Going to a naval school. Holbrook, up on the Stour there. Now, we used to use, row admiralty whalers and all the, all the teachers, the teachers were university men. And all the naval side were all they’d all be pensioned. They’d be pensioned naval petty officers and chief petty officers for the nautical side. So that was a good grounding.
HH: And, and it just seems so strange given that background that you ended up doing your wartime service in the air rather than on the sea.
RH: Yeah. Well there again you see first off to thinking my dad would be pleased and my mother I suppose. I went for the Fleet Air Arm first. And I went to London quite different to when it was the RAF one and we went to Cambridge which I think was a couple of days. There one went up the one day to London and there was this great long table with all this gold braid chaps behind. I’m not joking. I can be quite cynical about this. And there was one chap who was a flying man with the wing on his sleeve, you know. Pilot. And the others I wouldn’t have thought had much link with flying at all. And bear in mind that I was in the Air Training Corps and I know I was a sergeant at that time when I went up and there was one other fellow also. Also and we went in uniform. Air Training Corps uniform which is like the RAF uniform or fairly close. And he was the same and do you know we were chatting. All these other boys, we all went to, they all went to grammar school at the very least. And every single one of them was accepted for pilot training and this one other chap and myself, and we’d been to a naval school, were only offered W/op AG. And I was so disgusted you know. I said, ‘Sorry, I’m not interested.’ They said, ‘Well, we’ll give you a half an hour to sit down and think about it.’ Well, I knew I didn’t need it so when I went back in I said, ‘No. I’m sorry.’ And I went straight around to the RAF recruiting centre and that was that.
HH: That was how it happened.
RH: And then, and then I was offered PNB. You can’t have better than that.
HH: No.
RH: But I never had the luck of the one thing I’ve regretted that If things had gone through as they should have done I would have, well I could have been anything. I could have been a pilot, a navigator, bomb aimer, or I could have been an a/g. I mean on ops. But I never did so I’ve regretted that.
HH: Do you think that, how did your time in in Bomber Command, do you think, shaped your life? I mean the skills that you learned there. Or were you quite happy to get back to boat building.
RH: Oh. I see. Yes. Yeah. I was quite happy to, to do that. I mean as an a/g there was no future. And as we know a bit further on there were rockets and goodness knows what. I mean gunners became redundant. Pretty well almost by the time I left. We couldn’t have been all that much longer after that when I think they would disappear. I did read. I was amazed. I saw a book in the window of a shop in Rustington one day and it was of a Lincoln bomber. And I didn’t buy it but I went in and I browsed through it only to find, I was amazed it was actually used in the Mau Mau thing.
HH: Gosh. I didn’t know that.
RH: No. Well, I didn’t you see. Obviously I thought if I’d have stayed in I might well have been there but it would have been small sort of thing to. So you could say, somebody else might say, ‘Well, you were blooming lucky. If you’d have gone through you may have been dead by now.’
HH: Possibly. Quite possibly.
RH: Law of averages. I would have been too.
HH: Now you said you had joined the Bomber Command Association.
RH: Yes. Yeah. I [pause] I can show my tattered membership card. Because I had to apply for another one and I kept the other one.
RH: And I used to be a member of the 61 Squadron but I gave that up. Perhaps about two years ago because —
There’s too many of these.
HH: Is that your membership? There you go.
RH: Yeah. It’s a bit tattered isn’t it?
HH: Bomber Command Association. RAF Museum Hendon membership card.
RH: And I know I’ve got, oh yes I said I phoned and asked for a new one.
HH: And did they give you another one?
RH: And that came and it said renew on the 1st of May in fact. Well of course it doesn’t need renewing. In fact.
HH: No.
RH: Because it’s life membership.
HH: Yeah. There you are. Bomber Command Association. There you are. Brilliant.
RH: Well that took some finding. I put it where it was easiest to see.
HH: I’m sorry if you had to empty your whole wallet out.
RH: And I looked it last. Well, I don’t know if what I’ve told is of any real interest?
HH: It is Dick and thank you so much for giving this interview. So, I’m going, we’ll stop it here and just by saying thank you very much for all the time you’ve spent. And when I get back I will make sure that you get a copy of this.
RH: Oh yes. Yes.
HH: So you’ll have a copy of the interview yourself for, for your records.
RH: Oh well that’s very nice.
HH: So thank you very much.
RH: Thank you well it’s such a coincidence with you coming out to do another
HH: Yeah. Yes.
RH: One of those sad things except it’s worked out ok.
HH: It has.
RH: Yes. You know. It’s amazing the small world again. That we should meet up.
HH: Yes. It is indeed and I’m delighted that there was that coincidence. You see it’s luck again.
RH: Yes.


Heather Hughes, “Interview with Dick Heath,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 26, 2024,

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