Interview with Robert McClements. Two


Interview with Robert McClements. Two


Robert McClements grew up in Northern Ireland and after working in various jobs he volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He flew a tour of operations as a mid upper gunner with 10 Squadron. He discusses the model of his aircraft that a German prisoner of war made for him.







00:51:23 audio recording

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DE: So, this is an interview with Robert McClements. My name is Dan Ellin. It’s taking place on the 21st of the 10th 2015 and we are at Riseholme Hall. So, could you tell me a little bit about your early life and how you came to volunteer for the RAF?
RM: Yes. Coming from Northern Ireland there was no conscription but I volunteered for the Royal Air Force when I was about eighteen or nineteen. Previous to that I’d left school at fourteen. I had to do. My father was unemployed and they wouldn’t give him any benefits. Due to that fact I was told to go to work. I worked for a while in a carpet warehouse. I also worked for a while at a window making company called Crittall. I finished up in the Harland and Wolff shipyard. Built, shipbuilding which I can’t remember how long I was there but I did then join the air force. Went to London to AC Receiving Depot. And consequently up to Bridlington in North Yorkshire for some training and that started my air force career. Stop it there.
[recording paused]
DE: So just paused it for a second. Just started again.
RM: Yeah.
DE: Bridlington.
RM: Bridlington. We did more training there. Marching about. Morse code. Etcetera. And finally we went on leave and were posted to Bridgnorth. That was the first time we saw a machine gun which was a Browning 303 and a few turrets. And spent a while getting used to that and shooting them. That went for about six to eight weeks and then we went on leave. From leave we went, I went to Lossiemouth in Scotland where we crewed up with the rest of the crew apart from the flight engineer. My other gunner was a chappie from Southern Ireland who unfortunately got ill and didn’t complete the course. And I then picked up with a chap called Webb as my additional gunner. We went on leave from Lossiemouth — down to, now then, I’ve forgotten.
DE: It’s alright.
RM: That’s that. Yes. So from Lossiemouth we went down to Riccall in Yorkshire where as a crew we then had the pilots being used to four–engined aircraft. We spent time there passing the usual tests and what have you. And finally were posted to 10 Squadron at Melbourne. Just south of York. Finish that for now. On the squadron obviously we were there to do a job. Consequently, after at least a fortnight, three weeks, being retrained again I would say. We did bombing. Machine gunning to the sea. Etcetera. And cross country before the pilot himself was sent on what we called a dickey trip with a crew. To get experience of what he was going to take us into. We then started flying and our first one or two trips were reasonably easy. They were daylight into France. Bomb sites. Troop concentrations and such like. And then consequently we flew on from there and did a full tour including quite a few daylight trips and quite a lot of night trips. We didn’t go to Berlin. We did all the runs in the tour. The Essen [pause] I’ve forgotten the name of the damned place. Anyway, we did all the places in the Ruhr that had to be done.
DE: Yeah. They’ll all be in your logbooks though. That’s fine.
RM: Yeah. They’re in the logbooks.
JM: Chemnitz.
RM: Chemnitz. That was the farthest one we went. That was a long way into Germany. And various other bits and pieces that we had done. But, as I say, the logbooks had them all in. We had a few run ins with ack–ack fire like everybody did. We had a run in with searchlights once. We had a run in with icing up on the wings which was a little bit serious since we fell out of the sky. And due to the pilot and the engineer getting their feet on the dash and heaving on the [laughs]
JM: Stick.
RM: We managed to pull out.
DE: Can you tell me a bit more about that?
RM: Well, it all happens very quickly when these things happens. You haven’t time to think about it. First thing we knew was we heard the ice bouncing off the fuselage. And then Bob said, ‘It’s getting a bit dodgy up here. We’re icing badly. Bale out.’ Well, as soon as he said, ‘Bale out,’ I got out of my cockpit — out of my turret but by that time we were going straight down. I couldn’t move. I was stuck to the floor. But eventually he put the engines through the gate full bore and him and the engineer — they didn’t pull the stick out but they had a real good go at pulling at it and eventually we got out. And that was it. We flew home quite happily.
JM: The plane never flew again did it?
RM: Well the engineer said that the plane was scrapped. I don’t know. I didn’t see it in the scrap heap. But it got a nasty shake up same as we all did. And that was it. That was about the main bits that stand out on the time I flew. Apart from once when we landed on FIDO. Well, most people know what FIDO is. It’s two strips of fire down each side of the runway. It’s very easy to not see it. It sounds silly that but flying up to it we knew FIDO was lit but we didn’t see it until we were pretty close to it because obviously we were in dense fog. Anyway, we got up to it and made a landing. It was a little bit [pause] I think the pilot’s main trouble was settling the kite down in the heat. Anyway, we landed alright. No problem. And that was it. Finished.
DE: They were, they were your two most memorable spots.
RM: Yeah. That was about the most of it. The rest was the usual thing of a bit of ack–ack here and ack –ack there. It was all in a day’s work wasn’t it?
DE: What was, what was that like? Being, being shot at with ack–ack?
RM: Well, at night time it wasn’t so bad because bang, you were past it and it was gone. But in daytime you could see where, if they were getting close to you. Which is a little bit hairy when you say, ‘Well that was six hundred yards away.’ And the next one’s two hundred. You’re waiting for the next one. So you got the nose down then. You were dropping down pretty quick. Anyway, we got away with it. And that was we never able to predict what they had but we were fortunate. They hadn’t enough guns to hit us. Two guns might have managed it but not one.
DE: I see. Some people talked about Scarecrows. Did you ever come across any of those?
RM: Well the word got around there were Scarecrows but I never met anybody that actually say they saw a scarecrow. Sorry. Saw a Scarecrow explode. Usually, when there was a big enough bang like that it was an aircraft that was going up. That was it.
DE: Did you see any of those?
RM: Oh yeah. Well, there was a war on [laughs] yeah. Not a lot but enough.
DE: You mentioned searchlights as well.
RM: Well, we had a run in. We were very fortunate with the searchlights. We were, we were coned. Well, we weren’t actually coned. We were hit by one searchlight and followed by another one. So we had two but by a little bit of colour fudging on the pilot’s part, don’t ask me what he did. But he went up and down. We were out of it and that’s it. We didn’t worry about why we missed them. Or they missed us. We were off.
DE: Ok. And thankful for it.
RM: That was it. Yeah.
DE: You were a gunner. So did you, did you see fighters at all?
RM: Only on three occasions and there was no occasion when I was inclined to go for a fight. They were carrying cannons. We were carrying 303s. So I kept out of the way.
DE: How did you do that?
RM: I didn’t tell the pilot I saw it. Or anybody. It was there above us but nobody could see it and I could see it and I thought as long as he’s there it’s not going to trouble us. That was it.
DE: Right. I can’t say I blame you.
RM: [laughs] No. It was a fool’s game to try and shoot at an 88. I mean all they had to do was get that close, so anyway And several other times I’ve seen fighters and they weren’t going to bother us so I didn’t bother them.
DE: Yeah.
RM: I’d no intention to.
DE: We’ve interviewed other, other gunners who said exactly the same thing as that.
RM: Yeah. I’m glad I’m not alone in that one. No. That was a fool’s game to try and — if you had to fight them you would do but you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t engage in the fight. But there it is. You had to have a go anyway. But nine times out of ten it would be too late. I mean he was shooting from four hundred yards. We’d got two hundred yards. It wasn’t a battle was it?
DE: So do you think he hadn’t seen you or he wasn’t interested?
RM: Well, he was above us. He wasn’t interested. He was, at that time they had upward firing guns so if I could see him he couldn’t see me. So, he was after somebody else. Or in a bomber stream looking for somebody else because we didn’t realise for a while what they were doing. This upward firing gun. I mean rear gunners initially were for, that was the idea. They were coming behind which they did do. Until they got this clever idea. And all they shot at then was your starboard wing which had all the gubbins in it. And once they’d hit the wing they knew they had you. That was it.
DE: So were you the, were you the rear gunner?
RM: No. Mid–upper.
DE: You were mid–upper.
RM: Very exposed. Most people had a bit of tin around them. We had nothing. Perspex.
DE: Yeah. And sitting on top of a big target as well.
RM: Well, sitting on the bomb [laughs] I knew one thing. It would be quick when it happened [laughs]
DE: Did your, did your pilot fly you straight and level or did you do —
RM: No. We went straight and level. We didn’t mess about. If you were going to start weaving about like they did it’s quicker to go that way then that way.
DE: Sure.
RM: No. We’d no fancy ideas of what we were going to do or what we were going to do. We had to fly there and fly back as quick and as quietly as possible. That was it. No chit chat in the crew. Once we were in the plane and we were up in the air that was it. We didn’t chat to each other or natter about. It was business.
DE: What was, what was your crew like?
RM: They were good. We had a good crew. We’d no — let’s put it this way there was no one — anyone ever said, ‘We’ll have to get rid of him. He’s no good.’ We were all — well, how should I put it? We all got on well together. There was never a crossed word in any of the crew. Or any dispute.
DE: Did you socialise together when you weren’t flying?
RM: Not a lot. We did occasionally. I did more socialising with my friend Pepper who was in another crew. How we met we were going to have [laughs] we were going to fight. Him and I. I’ve forgotten what it was. But we’re good friends. And that’s it. Him and I did most of our trips in to York. Although occasionally I would take the engineer. Les. He would come with us. He got quite friendly with my girlfriend’s family did Les. But the rest of the crew were, well the Canadians. The officer. He was an officer was the pilot so he spent most of his time obviously in the officer’s quarters. But we’d go out occasionally for a drink but not — we wouldn’t make a habit like people think we were out boozing every night. We weren’t. When we went out we had a drink or two but we didn’t make a big habit of being every – like my granddaughter said one day, ‘Well, you were always drunk grandad.’ I said, ‘What do you mean we was always drunk,’ I said, ‘You listen to the wrong people. So we never flew when we had a drink. If we were flying we never had a drink.
DE: Apart from when you finished?
RM: Oh when we finished we finished up in the — we didn’t land at our base. When we finished we finished up in a place called Mepal. Which I think was a New Zealand crowd.
DE: Yes. In Norfolk or Suffolk. Yeah.
RM: Yeah. And I vaguely remember at 3 o’clock in the morning in the local fire station with a crate of beer [laughs] I don’t know if I’ve got it written down. Don’t ask me what time we took off next morning or where. How we flew home but we did. And Les, our engineer had a grand getting the rest of the kite started with the trolley acc. Taking the — to get them started. The camp we were on seemed very quiet and not very communicative. So that’s how we got home.
JM: You flew around a bit didn’t you over the aerodrome when you got back?
RM: Well, we just flew around once or twice but not like some of them did. Several would land and they were taking all the toilet rolls we had in the mess and then when came back they threw them all out over the station.
DE: That was a celebration.
RM: That was a celebration. Yeah.
DE: Yeah. For finishing the tour.
RM: Right.
DE: Wonderful. You were telling me earlier about the time when you had some hang ups.
RM: Well, one time we were bombs away. I think it was the engineer used to go and just check they’d all gone. And on one occasion he found that two of the smaller bombs hadn’t gone. So he shouted to me to come and give him a hand and he’d opened a hole somewhere on the floor above the bombs and we started trying to let them go. Which we did. I had an axe and he had a hammer or something and we — but we didn’t hit — we hit something to make them move. And eventually we got them away. Don’t ask me how we did but we — they fell.
DE: And was that over, over Europe or over the sea? Or —
RM: That was somewhere over Germany. Well just off the target. We did away. We tried. We checked them straightaway that they were all gone.
DE: Yeah.
RM: So that’s, that’s what we did. We managed. We loosened them one way or another. I wouldn’t say it was efficient engineering.
JM: What about the hang up when you flew around again.
RM: That wasn’t a hang–up that. Well that was a hang up and the bombers aimers problem. He hadn’t pressed the button or the button wasn’t working. On a daylight. And he didn’t say, ‘Bombs away.’ He said, ‘Oh. Sorry Bob,’ That was the captain. He said, ‘We’ve still got the bombs on.’ So, I don’t know whether Bob said it or the bomb aimer said it but, ‘We’ll have to go around again.’ Which wasn’t a good idea. It was a daylight and as you realise everybody is going in. Straight on then off home to the right. We’d go around this way. There’s only us there. Another bomber stream is over doing their job. So when we got about a quarter of the way around and they started predicting. Fortunately, as I said before they’ve only one gun. So when they shot the first time it would be about, I should think, half a mile away. A long way off. The second one was nearer. And the fourth one was nearer still. So, I think we all said at the same time, ‘For Christ’s sake Bob, get us out of here ‘cause the next one is going to hit us.’ So he did. He put the nose down and we, we got out. That was it. There’s not a lot more. Well there’s nothing more.
DE: Well.
RM: That’s enough.
DE: I’ve got some more questions I’d really like to ask you. The, you’ve been very kind in bringing in your collection of photographs and your logbook. I’d really like you to talk a little bit about the model.
RM: Well, the model aircraft that I have was made by a German prisoner of war at Melbourne. At that time I was in the station warrant officer’s office. I’d finished flying. And like most aircrew at that time, well all aircrew, were posted off the camp. But in our case, the engineer, myself and my other gunner were kept back on the camp. Odd bods. I was sent on a fire, I was sent on a fire officer’s course to a station somewhere near Hull. And when I come back they said, ‘Well you’re the station fire officer now.’ So I went down to the fire station. I had a walk around. Walked out again. I thought well it’s alright. The flight sergeant had been a flight sergeant fireman for the last ten years, I think. So I left it to him. That was the fire officer. We were that time then I went into the station warrant officer’s office. The station warrant officer had been posted elsewhere so my flight engineer and myself were more or less supposedly in control of the office. If you can call aircrew in charge of an office a wise thing to do, fair enough. But we ran it. He ran it. I didn’t. At this time I was involved with my wife in York. So I could spend a lot of time in York. Not being at Melbourne. But on a telephone call I would be back in the camp in half an hour. And if they wanted to know where I was I was on ack site which was about four miles away. Inspecting it.
DE: Right. Ok.
RM: That was it.
DE: Yeah. So tell me about the model.
RM: The model. We were on what they call a site inspection one day. That was going around the billets checking that everything was in order and everything was tidy and there was no, anybody lurking there that shouldn’t have been. And in the corner of the Nissen hut there was a small unit where I think at one time there used to be a corporal in charge of the Nissen hut. But in this case it was empty. And there’s a table and a chap behind it and I couldn’t see him for shavings. And I thought what the heck’s he doing here. And there was another aircraft, RAF chap with him. So he could speak English. I said, ‘What’s he up to?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘He’s making this for the [pause] one of the officers.’ ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘A Catalina.’ And I looked at it with a half made Catalina in wood in front of him. So I thought it was a damned good idea if he made a Halifax. Which he did.
DE: A German prisoner of war.
RM: A German prisoner of war that did it. And as I say, he made it out of, I don’t know, scrap from a camp scrapyard. There was nothing else. What he had as tools I have no idea. I should have been a bit more interested in it at the time but I wasn’t. I just gave him the order. Do a Halifax for me. Which he did. As you can see now. And that was it.
DE: And it’s your Halifax.
RM: Yeah.
DE: Yeah.
RM: Yeah. No one else got one.
DE: No. but it’s a model of your aircraft.
RM: Yes. Even the number on it is right. ZAV. Yeah. That’s it.
DE: And the scrap that it’s made from — where do you think that came from?
RM: The camp scrapyard. Nowhere else.
DE: So you think the Perspex is —
RM: It’s off a Halifax or somewhere.
DE: And the same with the bit of aluminium.
RM: Yeah. And the guns you can see are nails. I don’t know whether they was ever in a Halifax but he got them somewhere. Yeah. Including the piece of aluminium that the names are on. That’s off a Halifax somewhere. It’s got to be. Don’t ask me how he managed to do the nails. I don’t know how he did it. Marvellous.
DE: Yeah. It is wonderful. Yeah.
RM: Yeah.
DE: What did he charge you?
RM: He didn’t charge me anything [laughs] I was in charge of him.
DE: Oh right. So it was an order. Make me one.
RM: Yes. It was an order. Well it wasn’t an order not in that sense. I just said can you make me one? I wasn’t going to — at knife point. Oh well that’s another tail isn’t it? I don’t think it wants to go on their though.
DE: What’s that?
RM: We were in the mess one night. Drinking. This was after, I wasn’t flying then and we had some of our people. Air force aircrew that had been prisoners of war were back on the camp. So we were having a drink. You know. Enjoying a drink. I remember George. George, the lad, came from Birmingham. He said, ‘They’ll be having some booze up there.’ I said, ‘Who?’ He said, ‘The prisoners who are up there in the Nissen hut.’ I said ‘Oh.’ He said, ‘They’ll have a good brew going you know.’ I said, ‘So what?’ He said, ‘Making all sorts of beer and wine and stuff.’ I said, ‘So what?’ He said, ‘Do you want to go and have a bloody look at it?’ Well, he said, ‘We ought to raid it.’ Anyway, we finished up, about four of us down where they were in the Nissen hut. Somebody dragged a table out and put a chair on it, says, ‘Have a look through that hole in the roof. That flap.’ So I said, ‘Alright.’ So I went up and looked and right enough he was right. There was all sorts of buckets and tins with various stuff bubbling and squeezing around in it. ‘Yeah. It looks alright to me.’ So I put it down again. He said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I’m not doing nothing.’ Which disappointed him.
DE: Right.
RM: He thought I was going to throw it all out. I thought, ‘Bugger that. They’re happy enough doing that. It’ll keep them out of mischief.’ So I went back to the mess and started drinking again. He wasn’t very happy but I thought, why do it?
DE: Yeah. Why. Why indeed.
RM: They were drinking. They were making a bit of beer. They weren’t making any problems. I thought I couldn’t make any as good at that [laughs] so that was it.
DE: Yeah. Wonderful. So after you did your, your tour and you were working in the station fire department.
RM: Well, I wasn’t there very often to be honest with you. I mean they knew more about fires than I did.
DE: Right. Yeah. When were you eventually demobbed?
RM: ’45 I think it was. To be honest with you I’m not quite sure. That book that I’ve got that the chappy is looking at now. It’s in there.
DE: Service book.
RM: Yeah.
DE: Yeah.
RM: Yeah so, I — that was a rather funny thing. When I went to join the air force as aircrew. I wouldn’t have done anything else. If I hadn’t wanted to fly in the air force I wouldn’t have, I’d have gone back home. Anyway, I got flying and I remember as well they said to me, the officer in charge at Belfast, ‘When do you want to go?’ So I thought to myself, when do I want to go? I had a few pounds to spend. ‘Oh. Next Monday. Monday week.’ So he said, ‘Alright.’ At the end of my time I was on Melbourne until more or less the camp was closed down. And the time came for me to be moved to another camp. So I was sent a travel warrant somewhere down south. To be honest with you I’ve forgotten the name of it. It was well down south. So, when you joined the air force then when you went in you had a chit to say you were signing in. And one to sign you were singing out. Well, I had one for signing out and I was going around and into the office. It must have been a station warrant officer sort of thing. Thinking back now. I had my chit to sign in and it was a WAAF who was in charge. So she looked at it and she said [pause] she saw my demob number on it which was well over the time. She said, ‘You should have been out.’ Well, I knew I was. I said, ‘Yes. I should be.’ And do you know what she says to me? ‘When do you want to go?’ [laughs] exactly the same as when I’d joined up. ‘When do you want to go?’ I said ‘I’ll go now.’ So I went round that camp with signing in and signing out and then I was posted up to near Blackpool. I’ve forgotten the name of the place now. There was a place near Blackpool where everybody got demobbed. And that was it. So that was how I got out.
DE: Ok. I’d like to talk a little bit about what you did after the war but if we can just go, go back. You were working in shipyards in —
RM: Harland and Wolff’s. Yeah. Belfast.
DE: You didn’t have to. There was no conscription for you. You didn’t have to volunteer.
RM: No.
DE: Why? Why did you want to join the RAF.
RM: I wanted to fly. I’d always wanted to fly. My mother knitted me air force blue cardigans and things. I don’t know why I wanted to fly. Never actually bothered about actually flying but I wanted to be in the air. So I thought well I’ll join the air force. And that was it.
DE: It wasn’t anything to do with playing a part in the war.
RM: Well, we had been bombed in Belfast. A lot of people don’t know that. We had been bombed probably once or twice. I think they were trying to hit the shipyard but they dropped one or two bombs. They didn’t interfere much with the production of ships. So [pause] yes that was why I really wanted to join. I just wanted to fly. I thought I would join the air force. They fly. And I got [pause] sorted out with the aircrew in Belfast and they sent us down to London and the usual thing went on.
DE: Yeah.
RM: But that was the only reason. I just wanted to fly.
DE: What was, what was your trade in the shipyards? What were you doing?
RM: I was working with the shipwrights and welding. It was a sort of a bits of all sorts in those times it was. The war was on and anything that was being done was being done. So I did a bit of this and a bit of that.
DE: Ok. Did you witness any of the bombing of Belfast?
RM: I did. Yes. Yes.
DE: What was that like?
RM: It wasn’t very nice [laughs] we lived quite near to the shipyard and my experience bombing I realised that they were undershooting the target. So they dropped, I think, a few odd bombs on the shipyard but they didn’t hit any of the slipways or do any damage like that. No, they ripped a bit out of Belfast which wasn’t a very nice. I mean at that age that I was then I’d never been bombed before. It was just one of those unknown things. You don’t, you don’t realise just at the time what’s going on. You know a lot of bombs dropping and banging but it’s just, you know, you just take it. We had to go down to the country to my mother’s place for I don’t know, about a month I think. While the house we lived in was knocked in to shape. It was mainly glass windows and an odd door blown off but the house was still all in one piece. So it wasn’t what you would call bad.
DE: Where were you at the time when that happened?
RM: At that time they’d built air raid shelters in the street. I don’t know why but they did. The houses obviously weren’t going to be strong enough so they built air raid shelters on the road outside the house. Just brick walls and a concrete roof and that was it. Nothing else inside.
DE: And that’s where you were when you were bombed?
RM: That’s where we were when we were bombed.
DE: Ok. Having, having experienced that what did you think about the job that you were doing in the RAF and in Bomber Command?
RM: I thought it would be a good idea to hit them back. Basically that was what it was all about. Getting back. Getting at the Germans. Because I do remember one of the interviews I had for aircrew. Would I like to go to Japan or Germany? And I straightaway said Germany. So I must have had something against the Germans mustn’t I [laughs]
DE: Ok. I see. So, we jump back about why, why you joined up. If we can just take you back to your time on operations. What was it like on, in the squadron when you—?
RM: The squadron itself was alright. We had no problems with anyone on the squadron. We didn’t, we didn’t appear to have any heavy losses. So, there was nothing. Nothing ever mentioned about oh this is bloody awful or anything. It was, it was — how shall I put this. I was nineteen. First time let loose. So there was nothing to cause me any problems. You know, there was, it was just, it was a way of living. It was like being a cowboy isn’t it? You had to go shooting people up, that’s it, you could. You could shoot them. So we went and bombed Germany. Got our own back. No. We had a good squadron. It was — listening to other squadrons or what people had done and how they were being handled we were very fortunate at 10 Squadron. We had good — good officers. They were all good. I mean, they didn’t change them very often but when they did we always had good officers every time. An officer flew with you as well. I mean, I mean a lot of them were officers but even group captains. If you look at my logbook I think we flew — oh no it wasn’t me. It was [pause] the other — Canadian flew with a group captain as a pilot. They were good. There were no problems. Food was good as well. People say the food wasn’t — you know. People talk about food. We always, we were very fortunate. We supposedly all tell these tales about we had a chef from one of the main hotels in London. He might have been. I don’t know. But we always ate the food. There was no problem eating. We got the best. That was 10 Squadron. We were special [yeah] yeah. And that’s it.
JM: You had special dental care didn’t you as well?
RM: Pardon?
JM: You had special dental care.
RM: Oh yes. Yes. I forgot about that. If you wanted to go to the dentist you always went in the afternoon. Because he ate in the mess at lunchtime got a few whiskies in to him. Steady his hands.
DE: That sounds good.
RM: Well it does good if you went in the afternoon.
DE: Yeah. So apart from the dentist did you have anything to do with the medical officer at all?
RM: Only once. When we were at Riccall converting on to Halifaxes. They thought we were, they slowed down a bit, they hadn’t enough aeroplanes so the aircrew were a bit backed up. So they decided we wanted toughening up so we’d go on a commando course which was really, wasn’t really a full commando course. But a bit of marching about and climbing over sticks and mud and consequently you had to wear boots. Well, at that time we were wearing shoes and the boots we got to go on this commando course of course were somebody else’s boots. Had done the week before. So they were big and they were damp and I got a couple of blisters on my heels. So I thought I’ll report sick. Get out of this. So I reported sick and got out my heels to the doctor my blisters. Then it was [M&D Medicine and Duty]. So I didn’t go sick again.
DE: Right. It wasn’t worth it.
RM: And I never wore second hand boots ever in my life again.
DE: Yeah. I can’t say I blame you. Well unless you can think of anything else to tell me about the time when you were in the RAF in service I’d like to ask you to tell me about —
RM: Well, no, there’s stuff that [I won’t go into] at that time I was running a little old motorbike that I got from my father in law and petrol was rationed. But if you knew where the sump was on the FIDO you could find petrol. Didn’t do the engine much good but it ran on it.
DE: Were they using aviation fuel for FIDO then? So it was high octane.
RM: Well, I was on a two stroke at the time. I think it would have run on anything. But they did tell me that some of it was very high grade. But I thought to myself that most of it would be paraffin, but the experts said no. It was petrol. So I wouldn’t dispute it one way or the other. But what I got I ran on it.
DE: I don’t blame you.
RM: Yeah. Saying that the chap that got it for me he told me that he got it out of the FIDO. He may have got it out of the transport section. I didn’t ask the question.
DE: Yeah. It was just to keep your bike running.
RM: Just keep it running.
DE: So that’s how you could get in to York.
RM: Yeah.
DE: And back out again in —
RM: No trouble. Yeah.
DE: Wonderful. So what, what did you do when you were finally demobbed?
RM: When I was finally demobbed I went [pause] back to Ireland. I went back home. I don’t know how long I was at home to be honest with you. I’d met my wife in the meantime but I wasn’t married then. I wouldn’t have got married while I was flying. Anyway, I finished up back in York and I worked for my future wife’s father who was in the motor business at that time. And I’d just bought a boat to live on. And one of the first jobs I got there was going to the headquarters of 6 Group at Allerton Park on the Great North Road. They had Nissen huts that were being pulled down. And the Nissen huts had been fed the electricity on the proper thick electricity wires.
DE: Cables.
RM: You know. The cables. So my first job was to take two men. Pick up, and go to Allerton Park and dig up three hundred yards of that electric cable. And then take it back to York and have them dig a trench on the riverside down to where his boat was moored. Because at that time the electricity people wouldn’t or couldn’t do it themselves. So being a man of action that he was he said, ‘Well, if we put the wires in will you connect them?’ And they said they would. So I organised that. It was quite a job. While I was there the lord of the manor himself, Lord — what the hell do they call him now? Lord —
JM: Mowbray.
RM: Lord Mowbray come down. He was an old man then. These two fellas. And I’m in the ditch as well. Giving them a hand to get this out. And he says, ‘Young man. What are you doing there?’ ‘What are we doing? We’re digging a bloody cable out.’ I said. No. I didn’t say it that way. I said, ‘We’re just removing this cable.’ ‘Oh’ And that’s it. Off we went. So we did that. When you think of it. Taking up the cable and taking it back and putting it down. Now they'd have a squad of men and an army of post with signs on it not to touch.
DE: Yeah.
RM: Yeah. That’s how I did it then. Yes, I’ll give the corporation their due in York. They connected both ends. No problem. And put it on to the boat with all you wanted on the boat then. We didn’t have to worry about having our own power line. Consequently moved in to the business end with the — well I worked for him. I didn’t move in to it. I worked for him for quite a while. And Iris, my wife–to–be she worked with him as well. Worked for him for quite a while and then we decided that enough was enough and we’d go off on our own to a place called Wakefield. So we started up in Wakefield and that was it.
DE: What were you doing there?
RM: Selling motor cars and motorbikes.
DE: Right.
RM: So that kept me going for quite a while. Well, until I retired. And that was it.
DE: Smashing. Thank you. A couple more things that sort of intrigued me that I’d like you to go back to if that’s ok. Can you explain how, well how you met your wife and why you wouldn’t marry while you were still flying.
RM: Well anybody flying in Bomber Command was a fool to get married. Which was, which was the case of my brother Taffy who went missing. He wasn’t flying in the war then but he was flying and he left a youngster of about six months old behind him. So she had her hands full to start. That’s the way I looked at it. No. That was why I didn’t get married when I was flying. That was, I thought, this is a fool’s game. You know. We didn’t have big losses but you knew there was one missing there and one here, one there. I thought, well that’s [pause] that’s no job. So I left it.
DE: How did you deal with that?
RM: People missing? Just part of the job you know. You’ve got to get back to you’re nineteen. You know. You’re not, you haven’t a lot of worry in your head like if you were married you had. But I hadn’t. I wasn’t married. I had no worries in my head. I hadn’t have to worry about anybody. So it didn’t matter to me.
DE: Ok.
RM: I’m bomb proof. An odd chap. You could see sometimes you’d think he’s worried. He’s [pause] he could be he could be a fella for the chop. And you weren’t always right but sometimes you were right. You could more or less — as if they realised that they were on a number. You don’t know.
DE: Did you have any lucky charms or rituals that you—?
RM: All I had was [pause] I bought it myself funnily enough. A green scarf. Now, I’m an Orangeman and to buy a green scarf in Belfast you were either a Protestant or you’re Catholic. I don’t know why but I bought this brilliant deep green scarf. And I always wore that. So maybe that was a charm. I don’t know. Well I’ve still got it haven’t I?
JM: You have. You lent it to me.
RM: He borrowed it to go on his Peking – Paris rally.
JM: It still works you know. Got me out of a few scrapes on the rally. Especially when the engine blew up. I needed your scarf a lot.
RM: Yeah.
DE: Had you, had you bought it to be something to take with you all the time or was it something you wanted —?
RM: No. I took it for all the time. To get all my gear on at night. You always got bare around the neck so I used to have the scarf tied around my neck.
DE: Did any of the other people on your crew have —?
RM: Yes. The wireless operator had a little teddy bear thing that he had. He talked about that and always looked after it but the rest of the crew I don’t think any of them did. If they had they didn’t say. No. Bob always the pilot used to have a packet or a box of two hundred cigarettes in his battledress pocket. I often thought, ‘If you bale out Bob they’re not going to be there when you landed.’ [laughs] But why worry him.
DE: Fair enough. That’s smashing. Thank you. One question that we ask most of the people that we interview. What are your feelings about the way Bomber Command has been remembered over the past seventy years?
RM: Well up to Green Park it wasn’t remembered at all. That’s the only thing recently that brought in to people’s attention. That was the initial one but I think this one that we’ve got going now in Lincoln I think is a better idea really. The one in Green Park is good but I think what they’re doing here in Lincoln is going to be better because they’re going to build a monument and there’s going to be a Garden of Remembrance where people can walk. And I think it’s more, shall I say, homely. It’s a better feeling for people to go and be able to walk. I’m not saying that because I’m talking to you and you’re going to give me front page [laughs] but that’s what I mean.
DE: Yeah.
RM: I don’t know what —
DE: We might give you front page now you’ve said that on the tape.
RM: Yeah. No. But that’s what I think. The idea I’ve looked at that going to have that building. The Chadwick building. That’s going to be a good idea It’s there on the sight and also you’re going to have a Garden of Remembrance with grass and flowers and things. I think that’s, I think that’s a good thing.
DE: Wonderful. So thank you very much. Unless you can think of anything else you want to tell me we’ll draw that to a close.
RM: No. I think you’ve got it all there.
RM: No. I think that’s more than I thought I could remember.
DE: Ok. Well you’ve done fantastic. You’ve talked for just over fifty minutes. What normally happens is I’ll press stop and —
JM: Oh I’ve just thought of something.
RM: Yeah. Yeah. No. I think I’ve got it pretty well buttoned down there.
DE: That’s wonderful. Thank you very very much.



Dan Ellin, “Interview with Robert McClements. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 19, 2024,

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