Interview with Ted Mawdsley


Interview with Ted Mawdsley


Ted grew up in Essex. Before the war he worked for the Marconi Wireless and Telegraph Company. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1940 and became an instrument mechanic. He was posted to RAF Elsham Wolds in 1942 and overseas the following year. After the war, he was a Parliamentary agent for the Labour Party and a lecturer in Sociology and General Studies at Harlow Technical College.







01:09:36 audio recording

Conforms To


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 and





HH: It’s Saturday the 2nd of May 2015. I’m Heather Hughes from the University of Lincoln Bomber Command Digital Archive and I’m talking today with Ted Mawdsley who is going to talk about his time as ground crew in Bomber Command.
Thank you very much, Ted, for agreeing to do this interview with us today.
First of all Ted I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about where you were born and brought up.
TM: I was born in Witham which is in Essex not very far away from Harlow and I went to the local Church of England school, primary school, but education was different then and you had to win a scholarship to go for secondary education which I did and went to Colchester Technical College, and I have great nostalgia for my home town. I still love it. It was only about six thousand people lived there and everybody knew each other and it was one of my things I look back on with great pleasure. So that’s where I came from.
My father came from Formby near Liverpool and married my mother in Witham ‘cause he was stationed there during the First World War for a while and they got married and I was the only offspring and so no brothers or sisters but I wasn’t spoiled. Ok? Is that ok?
HH: Yeah, your dad had been, he’d gone through the First World War
TM: Yes
HH: And he’d been injured had he?
TM: Yes, he, he got a, he got wounded in the knee and that’s one of the reasons he was at Witham ‘cause he was there on convalescence.
HH: Now through secondary school which of the subjects did you particularly like and, and hoped you might be able to use one day?
TH: English, art, history, geography, it was because it was a Technical College it seemed to have an emphasis on mechanical drawing and metal work, woodwork etcetera but I never had an inclination in that direction. Wasn’t particularly good at maths but what you might call the arts well I always did much better in those subjects than in the others. Altogether I didn’t really like being at that school. There was something about it which I didn’t take to and I think maybe because I wanted to leave school and start work somewhere and I’ll just mention this in passing, I’d had this secondary education which was unusual in a way because over 90% of working class children left school at fourteen then and didn’t have a secondary education so I was privileged in a way and yet because it was the 1930s and massive, mass unemployment and all the rest of it, the first job I had was as a butcher’s errand boy that’s how I, my working life started and then eventually to Marconi’s before the war but that was basically it. That’s the sort of educational background and as I say I think in all probability if I’d had gone to an art college or something of that kind I think it might have been different but there we are. It was.
HH: But you found your way into Marconi which is how come you found your way also into technical roles when the war came.
TH: Yes, yes that’s right, I might just mention this, at the beginning of the war a lot of my friends in Witham, my home town, were joining up and going away and I, I wanted to be one of them. It wasn’t any sort of heroism or anything, it was just, you know, I wanted a bit of adventure I suppose and so I, applied to join the RAF. Don’t know why the RAF really, to be quite honest but I was told that I was in a reserved occupation because I worked at Marconi’s but I kept writing and writing, I think [laugh] in the they got a bit fed up and so I went for an interview and that’s how it came about. So the war September 1939 and I was in the RAF in April 1940 so, you know, it was a while before I went in.
HH: And your first posting as it were was to Coastal Command is that right?
TH: Well after training I went, we did what they called square bashing for about six weeks I think it was at Bridgenorth in Shropshire then to Melksham in Wiltshire for the technical training. I had vague ideas about air crew but anyway my experience at Marconi ‘s obviously pointed me in the direction of doing something technical I went to Melksham and did the instrument course, the aircraft instrument course, there. From there I went to Calshot near Southampton on Coastal Command. From there to Pembroke Dock, South Wales also on Coastal Command and there I had my first flight in a Lerwick you’ve probably, nobody’s ever heard of but that was a flying boat and that was my maiden flight and we had Sunderlands and Catalinas, (American flying boat), and then from there I was posted to Scotland to Greenock in Scotland and then we had the blitz on Clydeside and we were bombed out and we moved further along the coast to a place called Gourock and then we were, we were maintaining the Catalina flying boats there - patrols over the Atlantic and sometimes we’d get, to go on the patrols as well because they were big aircraft and could accommodate people and sometimes they needed extra people on board. If, for example one of the things that Coastal Command did and its very underrated by the way a very underrated arm of the Air Force during the war. Never got the credit it should have done. One of the things it used to do was to patrol the Atlantic and we’d sometimes discover a lifeboat with, you know, men in the life boat, their ship had been sunk by a Uboat and one of the jobs of coastal command was to pick them up, if the sea permitted that is. Provided the sea, you could land on the sea, which was always a very difficult thing to do anyway, much harder than it is landing on the ground, landing on the sea because of the choppiness of the water and picking up survivors from the torpedo situation and so that’s, you know, that was a very, very interesting period then and from then I – oh yes, that’s right they there was they found there was a shortage of people with factory experience. They wanted to increase production for the war effort but because so many young men had gone in to the services there was a shortage of manpower in industry and so they appealed for any technical people in the RAF to go into, back into civilian life, for a short period, to help boost industry, so I found myself at Luton, Luton in Bedfordshire, the factory for about four or five months I think it was making radio cases and things and then I got called back and that’s when I went to Elsham to Bomber Command. And that, that was that was the beginning of it all. [coughs] And of all the, the three years overseas Coastal Command but Elsham Wold - I was only there for seven months but it’s a funny thing but it stands out in my memory greater than anywhere else. There was something about it, something different which is difficult to define but it was a wonderful experience being there with those people and knowing that particularly I think because the aircrew depended upon us so much and you felt this great sense of responsibility and care. I can remember after doing what they called a DI which was a daily inspection of everything that you were responsible for and you had to sign a form, form 700 it was called, to show, to declare that what, you know what you were responsible for had been checked and everything was fine and you did feel that, well I assume that we all did, I know that most of us, most of my friends did, I certainly did, felt acutely, felt that sense of responsibility.
Just to take one example: an altimeter which shows the height that you are flying if that wasn’t working correctly and if you were going over mountain territory you could hit the top of the mountain because in the dark, you see, they went on these raids at night time and so they relied upon those instruments and so there was that and also the other factor was Bomber Command the casualty rate amongst aircrews was horrendous and we felt it if our, if you see I worked on the flights, out on the flights. Some of the lads worked in the hangar doing major repairs, we worked out on the flights and because of that we had two aircraft to look after in our trade anyway and, you, you knew the aircrew. You had tremendous rapport with them and if they didn’t come back we, we felt it keenly, you know, we’d lost our friends and I think that’s what it was that was about Bomber Command that was different.
HH: Yeah.
TM: Yeah. It brought everyone together, we were a team and the other interesting thing about it is too, in Bomber Command at least at Elsham which was my experience that what we call bull which is, you know, where you have to be smart all the time and stand to attention and all that kind of thing, that was, didn’t have priority. The priority was keeping the aircraft flying and that’s why it was that there was this different, in the military situation there was this different thing between officers and NCOs and, and other ranks because of this inter-reliance and the fact there was such terrible casualties.
One thousand five hundred of our bombers our, our Lancasters did not come back, in, during, during the war. One thousand five hundred and, you know when you think about it that’s seven people in each of those aircraft so that, well that wasn’t all Lancasters because before Lancasters there were other aircraft previous to that but what I’m saying is that the, I think it was next to, per ratio of casualties to the, to the task, the only service that had a higher casualty rate then us was the submarine people but Bomber Command had ratio, more casualties than any other section and that’s why we had this unique experience.
HH: I want to talk to you a bit more about the sort of bonds that developed between you but
TM: Yeah
HH: Before we do that you arrived at Elsham Wolds as an erk
TM: Yeah
HH: Tell me about what erk means.
TM: I’m glad you asked me that because I don’t know. I don’t know the origin of that I know a lot of the origin of so much of the slang that was used in the RAF, like we never called them aeroplanes we called them kites and that sort of thing, but erk, I don’t know. It’s been suggested it was an abbreviation of ‘airc’, aircraftman and that was shortened to erk but I’m not convinced about that. I don’t know, I really do not know where that came from but that’s what we were. That’s we all called each other.
HH: And how did, what were, what were relationships like amongst the erks at Elsham?
TM: Oh amazing. Amazing. I, I had a good companionship with wherever I went whatever command I was in, but Elsham was special as I said before I think it was the nature of what we were doing and we were, we were closely bonded and anybody, this is interesting anybody who stepped out of line in terms of skiving off and not pulling their weight, you know, and being indifferent were not particularly popular you know. We had a great sense of what our job was and, and how much those young, young men relied upon us and that’s what, that’s what drove us.
HH: Yeah. What were your living conditions like at Elsham
TM: Not, not too bad. When I first went there for the first few months I was in a Nissan hut. It was right away in the corner. Think about Elsham, I call it Bomber Command airfields, they’re vast. And you know we went on your bike out to do your job in the morning. We went, we were based in the hanger, the main hangar, that’s where our unit was and then we loaded up with our oxygen bottles and all the rest of it and then rode out like cowboys (laugh) on the prairie, we rode out to where our aircraft was, was parked but then this this Nissan hut that we lived in then was tucked away in a corner over one side of the airfield and you know you had to go cycle to the centre of the thing and that was a bit uncomfortable because it had sort of a tin, tin roof and it wasn’t very warm. It had a stove which usually didn’t work very well and during the winter it was quite cold but then they moved us into a great big hut in the centre of the drome' and it was a bit more comfortable so the accommodation was pretty good really.
HH: And what was sort of the average day, what did it consist of for you?
TM: It wasn’t, you couldn’t really talk about a routine because you never knew. I mean, you’d start off early in the morning and you’d go and have your breakfast, then go to the, whichever unit you belonged to. You know, the engine people, the electricians, radio people and we were called the instrument bashers. Everybody was a basher for some reason (laughs), you were an engine basher, or an instrument basher or whatever and you report to your, to your department and then you’d be allocated and you’d get a report from the night before when the aircraft had been and come back and certain things were wrong and had got to report about that and you set off out onto the flights in all kinds of weather. You didn’t stop just because the weather was bad and working conditions were pretty rough at times. And in the winter time we used to have to go and shovel the snow off the runway in addition to everything else so, it was as good as it could be, let’s put it that way.
And the powers that be the people who, the commanding officers and all the rest of it did everything they possibly could to make it as comfortable as possible but with regard to the routine you couldn’t be sure ‘cause you would go out and do our inspections but an emergency might crop up, something had been found and you would have to go out again and then you might be on the night, night shift you know and that’s when you were on the night shift you were there when the aircraft came back and then we, everybody used to go and you might have some wounded on board and you’d go and help to get them off and all the rest of it so it was, they tried to make it a job like in civilian life, you know eight till six or whatever but it just couldn’t work like that. You had to attend to things as and when required and so yeah it was a bit of a disjointed day really, you know, but (??) when you’re young you don’t feel the cold so much as when you’re older and you know we’d put up with cold winds that came in off the North Sea and the snow, the rain, the sleet. It was nearly always raining it seemed and the only time when we got a bit of a break was when it was foggy because nobody flew when it was, it was, the fog was like a thick fog in those days. Don’t have them now but we did then, and they were what were called ops, ops were scrapped. Operations were cancelled because of the fog and you see if we had fog in Britain there was usually fog in the continent as well so couldn’t go so yes, it was, it was working as and when required really and sometimes jobs took longer than others.
Sometimes you had to lay in tubing along the wing to go up to the instrument panel sometimes that would take quite a lot of time. So it was varied and the thing, if I might just mention this in passing, the job that most, always more concerned about then anything was oxygen. The oxygen bottle should be working, should be fit because they had oxygen cylinders in the aircraft fully charged with oxygen but the aircrew moved about from one place to another during a flight so they had a portable oxygen thing and, the little oxygen bottle, and that would last them for eleven and a half minutes if my memory is correct, eleven and a half minutes and it was absolutely vital that those bottles should be full to that capacity of eleven and a half minutes duration. So let’s say that the rear gunner wanted to go up to the front and talk to the pilot about something, you know, he got eleven and a half minutes, because they flew at such a height, the bombers they flew very high where the air was thin so they needed the oxygen and I felt more responsible about that than I did about anything at all and I’ve gone back, you know I’ve gone, I’ve done my inspection, signed the form, the 700, gone back to the, what we called the office and then thought did I check that, did I check that number six oxygen bottle and I’d go back again just to make sure because that was vital, absolutely vital to the, to the survival of those airmen and so that’s the way it was.
HH: And did you ever get to fly Ted?
TM: Did I what?
HH: Did you ever get to fly?
TM: Yes
HH: Go up in the aircraft?
TM: Yes, we did tests, yes that’s one of things that they encouraged because they said you’d, you know, you would attend to your job once you knew you’d fly in the aircraft after you’d serviced it. Yeah we did get, I mean, not all that often but we did get to fly and also they used to do what they called surface and bumps which is where aircrews in particular, new aircrew, young aircrew who’d just joined the squadron they’d fly around and land and then take off, practicing and doing circuits they called it. Surface and bumps they called it and sometimes you’d cadge a ride in one of those so we did, you know, now and again and if you knew the crew like we did, certainly I did with my particular one, which was called (D Donald) and I knew that crew very well indeed and you know if I could get permission from the flight engineers to go up and have a little trip I would and yeah, so that was a bonus really. It was you know you felt great pleasure in joining them up in the air. It was good.
HH: Now it’s in the nature of an airbase I suppose that the, that there were many ground personal than air crew.
TM: Yes.
HH: What was the rough proportion of ground crew to air crew?
TM: Well there was say twenty six aircraft at, because it was all letters of the alphabet. A – Apple, B – Bertie you know that that was what they ‘cause they all had a letter right the way down to z and so say you had twenty six well there were seven aircrew for aircraft I can’t work it out of top of my head but you’re talking about what one hundred, two hundred perhaps, possibly, I don’t know. Ground crew would outnumber them by six, seven times more. Many more ground crew than air crew and you had to take into consideration, you know these, say if you had the engine fitters, engine mechanics, airframe fitters, the armourers who did all the bombing up and all that. Radio. All who worked, actually worked on the aircraft but in addition to that you had people in the cookhouse, you had clerical workers who worked in admin. You had drivers, mostly WAAFs incidentally, it was usually the WAAFs who drove the little 1300 weight lorry out to the aircraft to take your airmen out when they were going on a raid. It was mostly the female staff who went, that drove them. So you had drivers, you had motor mechanics and you had people who looked after the petrol depot and also where the bombs were kept. And had batmen who looked after the officers and so on and so on and yes we outnumbered the officers quite a bit, the aircrew I mean.
HH: What sort of facilities were there on the base for you during the time when you weren’t working?
TM: NAAFI. That was the National Association of, I can’t remember what that stood for to be quite honest but that’s where you could go in the, in the evening, and you could have egg and chips. We were always hungry so even though we’d had a meal in the, in the other ranks mess, sometimes we’d go to the NAAFI if we weren’t on duty and have egg and chips and a pint of beer and you could play cards. Weren’t allowed to gamble so you played for matchsticks or, you know, that sort of thing and then of course we were allowed off camp sometimes. You’d get a day off or a forty eight hour pass sometimes and you’d go out, you used to go to the villages, to the village dance which was organised by the village people and, or go to the pub and have a drink. There was also a piano in the pub, there was always a piano and there was always someone who could play the piano and have a sing song and then we did all this by bike by the way and it may be miles away but we always went on a bike and we were allissued with a bike, we went there with a number on it so you could identify it and that was good going to the NAAFI, just the lads together, and sometimes the WAAFs as well and, and as I say we had that or could perhaps have a sausage roll if you weren’t that hungry. They did a good job they really did and I was talking about that, we also had I think it was a WVS Women’s Voluntary Service that used to, or the Salvation Army, I’m not sure now but they used to bring a wagon around on the flights so we had a break. You know, you had your tin mug, they had a, what they called a, we could have a drink of tea, a mug of tea and a wad, what they called it']. It was like a cake but it was rock hard. [laughs] We always said, always said if they dropped those on the enemy they probably would have done more damage than the bombs. But, you know, that’s, so yeah there was that aspect of it as well, there was, you could have a bit of a social life and I think that helped, that helped the bonding as well because you met socially and you met with the other trades they were all called trades. If you were a mechanic, engine or airframe fitter or whatever we all got together in the NAAFI and, and so we worked together out on the flights but we also met up in the NAAFI which was very, very good, yeah.
HH: And how common was it to be able to get leave?
TM: Leave?
HH: Yeah.
TM: Well, in theory you had leave every three months. Seven days and they didn’t always work out quite, as, like that but that’s what they aimed for, that was what we did. And come home for seven days, Ethel was a Londoner, so I used to, after we met and we decided that we would go together and I used to spend some of the, two or three days perhaps with her family and then had two or three with my family and then sometimes Ethel used to get leave from work to come down and stay with us so yes it worked out about seven, seven days every, every three months. But when I was, when you were posted overseas you got two weeks. Embarkation Leave they called it. But other than that it was just a week, sometimes a 48 hours pass. So you could, you couldn’t go very far in that time to you so went to, I don’t know. A friend of mine lived at Sheffield and he used to say come to my place ‘cause that wasn’t all that far away you know and I’d do that so yeah I’d get away from that for a while sometimes.
HH: Was there an occasion at Elsham Wolds where you were actually, when you found yourself in the position of nearly being run over by a Lancaster
TM: Yes [laugh] yes
HH: What happened?
TM: Yes [laugh] I’d, I had a day I thought I had the day off and , ‘cause sometimes if you worked a certain number of days or hours you had the day off, I was going to, with my mate, I was going to go to, I was going into Barnetby or somewhere to go to the pub, have a drink and spend the day together but then I found I had to go to this shooting range, firing range, ‘cause we were supposed to keep our hand in because we were occasionally had to do defend the airfield exercises so that if the Germans landed we were supposed to know how to defend our airfield. We had what they called the RAF 'Regiment. That was their main job was to defend the airfield but we were also trained to, to back them up and so going on the rifle range was something you did every now and again so, so that ruined my day I thought whatever but when I came up after being down in the pit sort of where they had the rifle range I thought I’ll go back to the instrument section to see if my friend was available and what was left of the day we’d go out and I thought well I’d take a short cut and I came up and went to walk across the runway. I was going to walk across the runway to go to the main camp and I heard the Lancaster revving up and looked and I saw it was ready to take off and was coming up the runway to take off so I moved back off and then it came along the runway and all of a sudden it swung off and (laughs) come straight towards me so I had to, had to run like crazy and I could run in those days and I ran away from where it was heading and I also knew that another mate of mine, that was his aircraft he looked after and was probably on that aircraft. He, the pilot, he set it down off the wheels because the wheels were making it go but he brought it up off its wheels so it settled on its body. So it slid across the ground to slow it up a bit, went across the road and there was a quarry and the air, and the Lancaster nose was just on the edge of the quarry and if it had gone further it would have gone over and the quarry was quite deep but they managed to stop it and of course you know you’ve got to get out because of fire and all of them came out and I was pleased and I ran towards it because thinking my mate was on there. Instinctive, it wasn’t bravery or anything it was just instinct. I ran towards it but as I ran towards it they were all coming out and Frank, who was my mate and he came off and I said do you realise where the, where the aircraft has, has pulled up and he looked across and he said “bloody hell”. [emphasis] That was, that summed it up really. But I had to get out of the way quick ‘cause it would have run me over and so that was, that was that incident.
There are lots of things that happened on airfields, that accidents did occur but I often wonder why there weren’t more. You just imagine you’ve got all those people working around an aircraft and one of the things that we used to have to do was to look after the compass and you had to swing the compass so to test it so you moved the aircraft around so to see if the compass is reading correctly and you know the swinging tail and people working around there had to be very careful, you had to be very careful about when the engines were running. All kinds of things like this. Bombs fell off sometimes. That was a disconcerting thing. Imagine a 4000lb bomb hanging from under the aircraft, and you’re working on the aircraft and suddenly this 4000lb bomb drops off. And it did happen because a short circuit inside the aircraft somehow or other triggered the equipment to release the bomb and it just fell off. Well luckily, in most cases, well although on one occasion it did actually explode but usually they weren’t yet charged you see but even though you knew they weren’t charged the sight of a great big, what you might call a huge dustbin explosive falling off the aircraft and just doing a little roll on the ground was a little bit, (laugh) little bit disquieting but yes that could happen. It did happen. Yes. Yeah.
HH: Ted, you referred earlier to the very high attrition rate of aircrew in Bomber Command.
TM: Yeah.
HH: and of course aircraft as well.
TM: Yes.
HH: At the time, during those months that you were at Elsham Wold, how much did you know because not a lot of information was released about
TM: No.
HH: Such things?
TM: No.
HH: So how, how did you know or suspect the loss rate was quite high?
TM: Well just because they didn’t come back. The aircraft didn’t come, didn’t come back.
HH: But you only knew about your airfield didn’t you or your base you didn’t know what was happening elsewhere?
TM: Oh, no, no well I mean, we only had to assume everywhere was the same. You know but there was a thing in the morning when you went out to, out to the flights and you see some of the ground crew standing around with an empty dispersal bay because the aircraft hadn’t come back. And sometimes we used to think, we always used to say well never mind they’ve probably landed somewhere else because they couldn’t quite make it all the way back and there was always a hope that that was so, but it wasn’t very often so. They just didn't make it. And you had to assume that that was happening at all the other
HH: And how did ground crew cope with that situation when their crew didn’t come back?
TM: Very, very , very, very upset about it. ‘Cause they knew them, they knew them so well, and they covered it up ‘cause that’s what men are supposed to do aren’t they? Men are supposed to keep the stiff upper lip and all the rest of it. They, you know, they wouldn’t stand there crying their eyes out. But they were, they were touched and upset by it and they got to know these aircrews and friendly with them, went to the pub with them sometimes and sometimes knew them by first, first names and that’s the way it was so if your aircraft didn’t come back that was quite something and then you know a new aircraft would come along to replace it. A new aircrew. And it would start all over again. And that’s what it was like. Yeah.
HH: How did you keep going?
TM: Comradeship I think, more than anything else, real comradeship and supporting each other. That’s it, and an example and it’s in my book, but I won’t dwell on the fact it’s in the book but it is that I once did an inspection, not on one of my aircraft, someone was off sick or on leave or something and I took on another aircraft as well as my two to do an inspection and when I got back to the, to the instrument section a little later on I was told that I was going to be on a charge because one of the oxygen bottles had got a leak and I thought well I can’t understand that because I always checked those things but I was put on a charge and when I came up before the officer on the charge you know you had to march in, stand to attention and have the thing read out and all that and I didn’t find this out until afterwards but anyway I told them what had happened, I said well I’m not surprised really this happened because the tubing on the mobile oxygen bottle system is right by the door and when the aircrew particularly come in with all their gear on, brushing against it, I think it had worn away you see and I said as far as I can tell, I could tell that was all in working order so that this this slit must have opened up afterwards. Anyway I was sort of told to be more careful in future and I didn’t have, you know I wasn’t punished or anything but I found out afterwards that not only did my flight sergeant in our section speak up for me but so did the flight engineer on the, on the aircrew he passed on the message to the adjutant on the, on the squadron to say that, you know, how conscientious I was and I wouldn’t have missed something like that. So when you, when you have that kind of relationship with, with your mates and with your aircrew you know they come to you on your side when you’re seriously on a serious charge like that. That’s when you realise how important it was. Yeah.
HH: Well, those were obviously, those seven months have imprinted themselves on your mind as the most significant period of your service during the Second World War but after Elsham Wolds how come, how come you went abroad?
TM: (laugh) That’s a, that’s a good question. I, for some reason or other, you know, when you’re young you want to see the world. Anyway, adventure had nothing to do with it, I didn’t want to get nearer to the enemy or anything like that, nothing like that at all. I volunteered to go overseas first I think it was when I was at Greenock in Scotland. And then a couple of months went by and I’d forgotten about it, completely. And whilst I was at Elsham - June or July of ‘43 I suddenly got this notice to tell me I’d been posted overseas and so I’d forgotten about it but obviously the powers that be hadn’t and so I was, that’s how I came to leave, leave Elsham otherwise I’d have been quite happy to have stayed there and so I came home on leave for fourteen days. Went to a place called West Kirby which was an overseas transit camp near Liverpool and I went on the ship and off we went. Oh it was
HH: And where did you go first?
TM: Algeria. There were all sorts of rumours about where we were going, nobody really knew and, yes, Algeria. We had the experiences of, it wasn’t too bad, it was about ten days at sea and we went out to the Atlantic taking a zigzag course because of uboats and eventually got down to the Mediterranean and just after we got to the Mediterranean we had uboat alarm and we’d had practices, you were always having practises about what to do. Go stand by the lifeboats with your life jackets on. This time we were told this is not a practice. It was for real. And we were in a convoy, we were on great big liner. A Dutch liner called (Andeppo) and it, you could feel it because in a convoy of ships, you, during the war you always had had to go the speed of the slowest one otherwise, otherwise it wouldn’t be in the convoy you see. So this big liner was capable of doing quite a sig, high speed but once the uboat alarm went off you could feel the ship lurched as it put onspeed up because there were thousands of personnel on board that, that ship, you see, you can imagine how many people would have been lost if, if it had been torpedoed. The liner and there was another Niew Amsterdam was another one, another liner both of, both of those ships lurched forward and I don’t know what happened after that. I don’t know whether there were other attacks on other ships in the convoy or not because we just went and left it and we went into Algiers. So that was the beginning of the overseas bit. Yeah
HH: And from Algiers. From Algeria?
TM: Algiers to Tunis and from Tunis to Italy and I had a brief spell in Sicily because they were setting up the invasion of Sicily was taking place and they set up airfields and they needed somebody to take, to take equipment in. So I went over to Sicily for a few days and then back to North Africa then went to Italy where I was on Recorded Communication Squadron which did all kinds of things, it was a multi-purpose squadron that did all kind of, dropped people behind enemy lines and brought people for meetings, you know, did a lot of lot of secret work and that was it.
HH: And when did you return to the UK?
TM: The first, after it was about two and half years I think it was before I got leave home and that was the European war had finished the Japanese war was still on and I got leave to come home at Christmas 1945 and that’s when Ethel and I got married. At that time. I wrote and said shall we get married when I come home and she said yes and that was it and then I had to go back again until April ’46 just doing nothing really in Italy cause the war had finished and just marking time before being demobilised. So yeah.
HH: And after demobilisation what was it like to return to civilian existence?
TM: (laugh) Well, it was, it was mixed feelings to be quite honest. I missed that, that comradeship so much. I really did. It was great to be out of uniform, out of, you know, away from all the rules and regulations and all the demands of the military but and it was so good, obviously good to be with Ethel and you know no warfare going on around you but I missed that comradeship so much. I really did. But fortunately I went back to Marconi’s to start with, you know, because I didn’t know what, what else to do, where to go but, but Marconi’s were asking for pre-war employees to come back so I went to Marconi’s and of course nearly every one of the people I worked with in Marconi’s were ex-service people so to some extent that comradeship that we had in the service was carried on at Marconi’s because of that you see but yeah it took some time to break away from that and I still feel it now. I still remember that, the warmth of that comradeship. I really do.
HH: At what point did you get in to education and teaching Sociology?
TM: Well I, I, during the war I read a lot wherever I could. You know you, sometimes long, that’s something people hardly ever mention, the fact that you do have long periods in the service when you’re not doing anything, you’re waiting for, you know, something, I read a lot and I listened a lot to people talking and there used to be political arguments and sometimes just shouting and swearing at each other but sometimes there were people who were politically aware and I listened. I grew up in a socialist household anyway but, but as a teenager it didn’t interest me that much. I wanted to play football and all that sort of - but I listened to these people. I read and I read some books which really made me think and so I thought I’d like to be a teacher and teach. But the government were running special courses for people who wanted to become teachers. It was a two year course I think it was because of the absence of teachers, the shortage of teachers and I was tempted but I thought I’ve been away for three years, you know, six years altogether but three years overseas I don’t really want to go away again. So I didn’t do it and I forgot about it.
Then I went from Marconi’s to, I was a postman for three years because although, no wait a minute I’ll get this right way around. From Marconi’s I went to British Rail ‘cause, to work in the wagon section to distribute freight wagons to different depots and because my dad worked on the railway and he told me about this, and I applied for it and this is what happened but anyway then I got very much involved in politics. I started up the League Of Youth in Witham, I became a councillor, I was very active well both of us were actually and as a result of these various things, the reading, being a councillor and being involved in politics I began to think all kinds of things and then I became a Labour party organiser looking after a constituency and I spent about eight years doing that. And then we had our children. We had to wait ten years before we had children don’t know why, we still don’t know why we had to wait that long but we did and I wasn’t spending any time with my family. You know there were, the demands of being a Labour party organiser was taking up so much of my time I was hardly ever at home. My family, my boys were growing up. I was losing out, I didn’t want to do it anymore. So just by chance one of the people who was active in the Labour party and lived in a place called Braintree and he worked at Harlow College as a General Studies teacher but he was going to move somewhere else and he said, why don’t you apply for my job. I said well I’d got no experience of teaching and he said well you’ve got nothing to lose, apply for it, see what happens. Well to cut a long story short I went for an interview and I got it. And they said well what you’ll have to do is you’ll have to come and teach but you’ll have to do teacher training parallel with your teaching you’ll have to do it in your own time and also, I said I was interested in sociology and they said well you’ll have to do that, again, part time if you want to get your qualification for Sociology so that’s how it all came about.
HH: And how long did you teach?
TM: Teach?
HH: How long were you a teacher at the college?
TM: If you include part time, I should say, sixteen about 26 years, yeah it was.
HH: And in amongst all this, this, busy-ness of civilian life, being involved in politics, having a family, you also reconnected with the, with Squadron Association at Elsham Wolds.
TM: Yeah.
HH: And how long have you been, how long have you had contact with them.
TM: Since 1991. We didn’t know the existence of it. Didn’t even know it existed. And we were listening to the radio, half listening as you do, sometimes you’re doing something else and the radio is on and a lady was being interviewed and, she said, I heard the word Elsham Wolds so I pricked up my ears then and she told all about the Association. Anybody who served at Elsham Wold, you know, were welcome to join the Association. So, and she left a telephone number, I phoned her and so we went to the next reunion which was in1991 and I don’t know, I think apart from a couple of years, we’ve been every year Ethel haven’t we, Ethel?
EM: Yes
TM: Every year except about two years. Gone every year. So lots of things happen by chance don’t they, you know?
HH: Yeah.
TM: You know.
HH: One, the thing that didn’t happen by chance is you took the decision to write a book about your experiences at Elsham Wold. Can you tell me what moved you to write that book?
TM: Two reasons. ‘Cause it was in me. I felt the need to do, I’d always, since the war finished but other things got in the way so I didn’t get around to it. If you get involved in politics you don’t have time for anything else and I didn’t get around to it so that’s after I was only doing part time teaching that I’d make a start - which I did but there was another reason and that is that I wanted to tell the ground crew’s stories. But I don’t take anything away from the aircrew, I don’t want, I don’t want people to think I, you know I, think about them with high regard but the part played by ground crew in my opinion was vital and their dedication, their sense of responsible has never, ever been really, really conveyed to people and so I thought, what, what happened was that, what happened was there was two authors and they’d written books about Bomber Command and in, in one of the books the author was saying, the name, the name’s gone they were saying we hear a lot about what the aircrew and all the rest of it and rightly so but what about the ground crew? We never hear about the ground crew. What about them? And that’s true, you know, the books that have been written the films that have been made hardly ever mention ground crew so I thought I want to put this right. I want to tell the ground crew story and that’s what motivated me I think more than anything to do it and hence the book.
HH: And a very good book it is too.
TM: Thank you.
HH: And after all of these years Ted when you look back at that experience of the war and particularly in the part that you played in the sort of bombing the war, how do you feel about that now?
TM: If you’re, if you’re talking about how do I feel about the casualties, the victims of the bombing, I, because of what I experienced, well, Ethel experienced more of the Blitzkrieg in London, more than I did but I had experience of it in different places in London crossing London sometimes so I do know what it like to be bombed andI remember talking to the other ground crew lads and you’ve got to, you’ve got to put your mind in the period of the war. You can’t make judgements about during the war because we were at war. The Germans were bombing us so we bombed them. That was what, what it was about. The Ger, the Nazis decided it was a total war. The way they bombed and machine gunned refugees on the road, the way in which, you know, they killed six million Jewish people and countless hundreds of thousands of others as well. We were at war and, you know, if they hit us we hit them. That’s how you thought about it and let me just mention something, the people in London, a lot of the people in London, you probably know, sheltered from the bombs on the underground on the platform and I remember going down onto the platform once when I was travelling from one place to another and I went down there and there were people there saying, “Why aren’t you up there shooting them buggers down”?. Because if you were in that situation you couldn’t, you couldn’t make judgement. Now in retrospect I realise now how absolutely awful it must have been cause the bombing raids over Germany were much worse then we got here and when I think about, what’s, what’s that place called that was bombed?
HH: Right at the end of the war?
TM: Towards the end.
HH: Dresden.
EM: Dresden yes
TM: Dresden. When I think about Dresden, totally unnecessary for that to have happened. I still think it was because Churchill made up his mind to, it was a (sub) to Stalin. Stalin’s forces were coming from the east and I think that the idea was to bomb Dresden because that was in eastern Germany to show them we were on their side but it was totally unnecessary and I regret very much that we had to do that bombing of the people in Germany I really do but I have to put myself back in to that situation that it was something that, unfortunately, had to be done. And women and children died in those raids and I, you know, and I don’t feel happy about that at all. All I know if we had not won the war, if the German, if the Nazis, I won’t call them Germans, the Nazis, had come here the same kind of thing would have happened to us here as happened in France in Belgium and whatever and it had to be fought, had to be done and you know, for every atrocity they, they committed, we unfortunately committed some as well.
HH: That’s the nature of war isn’t it?
TM: That’s the nature of war. Once you’re in war you can’t do, you know, at the beginning of the war nothing happened at all as far as we were concerned in Britain and it was like you know you’ve got to play according to the rules of cricket old boy, sort of thing, you know, you can’t go bombing people and so the RAF were told the only things they could bomb was German sea ports and that kind of thing so that you couldn’t bomb civilians and then but then the war took over and you know you couldn’t have that play by the rules anymore unfortunately. And I also remember a quote I think it’s in the book, in the House of Commons that a Tory MP said, asked the Minister for War why don’t we bomb the Black Forest and I still don’t know why he wanted the Black Forest bombed but the answer he got from the Minister was, bomb the Black Forest you’ll be asking us to bomb Essen next. You think about that. You know that was in what they called the phoney war period and it was unthinkable that we would go and do that.
HH: I think that just points again to, to something that you stressed in, in this talk that you have to place what happened in the context of the times.
TM: Yes.
HH: Rather than think of it, just as, you know, pass judgement now according to the norms which we
TM: Yes
HH: Which we exercise now
TM: Exactly. I agree with that
HH: I’d like to thank you Ted very much indeed for sharing that history with us. It’s been, it’s been a real privilege to hear you talk about your experiences during the war and after so thank you very much.
TM: It’s been my pleasure.


Heather Hughes, “Interview with Ted Mawdsley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 3, 2024,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.