Interview with Sidney and Una Ellis


Interview with Sidney and Una Ellis


Sidney and Una both experienced the effect of the war in Sheffield as a child. When Dunkirk survivors arrived at the nearby Reception Centre Sidney collected many souvenirs such as cap badges and his aunt also took two soldiers in to her home while they were waiting to be returned to their units. Sidney’s eldest brother, Lewis trained as a pilot and was posted to 166 Squadron. He was shot down and killed 23 February 1945. Sidney joined the RAF during his National Service.




Temporal Coverage




00:49:44 Audio Recording

Conforms To


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DE: Right. So, this is an interview for the IBCC Digital Archive with Sidney and Una Ellis. We’re in Firbeck in Nottinghamshire. It’s the 16th of November 2021. I shall put that there. It is recording. Yeah. So, could you tell me a little bit about your early life and growing up in Sheffield?
SE: Well, I was born and bred at 54 Wulfric Road which is on the Manor Estate in Sheffield. A council house. There were five of us. Parents, my elder Sister Reine and my elder brother Lewis. Lewis was eight years older than me and needless to say with that age gap he very much my hero even before he joined the Air Force. Of course, he was crazy about flying like I suppose a lot of young chaps were in those days and always wanted to go in the Air Force at the earliest possible moment. And I suppose in some respects I followed that and thought well, you know this is what it’s all about and I had a tremendous interest in aircraft. So even before the war started I think I could pick out a Heinkel from a Messerschmitt and so on. But the war, well let me say this straight from the start for a kid of that age bearing in mind I was eight years old when the war started it was exciting. It was so interesting. I mean, there were just so many things happening. We were never ever bored. I mean and, I mean if anything I mean the main problem was it took your mind away from the sort of things you should have been thinking about which was school of course. Anyway, I followed my, my brother Lewis. He passed what they subsequently called the Eleven Plus, we called it the Scholarship and went to High Storrs Grammar School and I followed him subsequently. We, both of us went before that to Prince Edward School at the top of Prince of Wales Road. Anyway, back to the war. I think the earliest things I remember was going on a seaside trip to Rhyl and on the way back seeing barrage balloons and subsequently of course we saw barrage balloons very close up because they used to be all over the place in Sheffield. The next thing was of course air raid shelters. Well, I mean the whole business. I think before air raid shelters we had gas masks and we all had gas masks and we had, at school we had to try them on and we had to sit in class with a gas mask on. And I always remember that they discovered a new form of gas so we got a little green part and a roll of tape and we had to attach the green bit on to the rest of the gas mask. And then air raid shelters. Yeah, well a air raid shelter in the back garden so we had to dig in a big hole, put the air raid shelter in it. Now, we didn’t go to the extent that a lot of people went to but we did sort of put some bedding in there and a heater and so on and a proper sort of wooden floor and so on. The other thing, big change at home my father was an expert breeder of canaries, canary birds and he had a large hut at the top of the garden and an aviary and so on. His main market and his main sort of source of breeding birds was Germany. The war finished all that so he did away with, or gave away all his canaries and replaced them with chickens and we had a whole range of chickens and from very early on we had a constant supply of eggs. Of course, my dad following his hobby with canaries had to do the same thing with the chickens and when they weren’t brooding they used to sit on eggs and then we got our own little chicks which my dad then sexed into male and female. The females went on one side. They were for laying. The cocks we kept and put in a separate pen and fattened up for eating. We also had rabbits that we used to keep for eating and I remember my mum used to make mittens out of rabbit skin. Incidentally, my mum, brought up in the country had no problem, my dad had no problem whatsoever killing a chicken and my mum had no problem at all plucking and drawing a chicken. Incidentally, on top of that my grandmother out at Anston they kept pigs so we also occasionally got a bit of pork and ham when they killed a pig. So, we didn’t do too badly from that point of view during the war as far as eating were concerned. We were pretty healthy. The most exciting of all in the first instance was the [pause] No. Wait a minute. Before the Blitz. Dunkirk. Now, this, this really was something because St Swithun’s Church Hall became what shall we call it? A —
UE: Reception Centre.
SE: Reception Centre for all the troops coming back from —
UE: Dunkirk.
SE: From Dunkirk. So, the word went around the estate of course in no time at all that something was happening and busses of all shapes and sizes and coaches were all coming up and all parading around, around the church and so we all rushed out there and sure enough disposing troops. All mixed up. All regiments of all different types and so on and they were all sort of being sorted out in St Swithun’s Hall and billeted in houses on the Manor Estate. Now, we couldn’t take anybody because we had a three bedroom house and of course and so we were full but my Aunt Bett, that’s my mum’s sister who lived around the corner she took two. Two soldiers. One from the Royal Engineers and the other one from the Gordon Highlanders and I can see those two fellas even now and they, because they used to, well they gave us all sort of souvenirs. Chocolate and what have you. And I think they must have been with Aunt Bett for what, I suppose at least a couple of weeks I would think before, because that’s what they were there was such a mix up and I always remember some of them were sort of walking wounded with their arms in slings and bandages around their head and this sort of thing. And of course, we used to be around there asking for souvenirs. I used to have a tremendous collection of hat badges and buttons and the like. Yeah. So that was that. Blitz. Yeah. Well, that was, talk about excitement that, now that really was something. It, the first Blitz of course on Sheffield they hit the city centre. Now, on the Manor Estate we’re not all that far. I mean we’re on the top side of Norfolk Park and beyond Norfolk Park is the city centre but of course we —
UE: High up.
SE: Were high up. The first thing was the air raid sirens. So, we all went into the shelter and before long the aircraft battery at Manor Lane, there was a big aircraft battery there, a tremendous din. And then searchlights and we’re all in the, and then we hear the droning and then we hear bombs falling. Well, this was too much for —
UE: Lewis.
SE: For Lewis. And for that matter for me in spite of my mum’s pleading.
UE: Pleading.
SE: He had to stand outside and before long I went to join him and there we were because the sky was full of bursting anti-aircraft shells, searchlights and of course the thing that sticks in my mind most of all was when a searchlight found an aircraft and I can see it now. It was a Heinkel and it was lit up by the searchlight and one searchlight and then another, at least another three or four, five searchlights all joined it and then the aircraft shells bursting all around it and we were hoping. Before it was hit it went into a cloud and we never saw it again. Anyway, they said this went on, I don’t know a long long time anyway. Anyway, when it was all over and we got the all clear we came out of the shelter walked along to the corner of Queen Mary Road where we could actually look right down the centre of Sheffield and what a sight. We could see the whole centre of Sheffield was ablaze and of course don’t forget these were the nights of blackout when everything normally was absolutely black and there we had the brightest thing we’d seen since before the war started and there we are. And as I say never ever can I ever remember feeling in the least scared at all. It was just sheer excitement all the time. Anyway, it was shortly after that that Lewis went into the Air Force. He was, he’d be seventeen on the Blitz. He turned eighteen and went and joined up in January was it and I think actually, actually left. Yeah. He was called up in February. Yeah. And of course, he always wanted to be a pilot of course and that’s what he turned out to be. And the further he went I mean I took a immense interest in where he was and what he was doing and all the aircraft he was flying. I kept a list of which I’ve still got somewhere and yeah it’s in, in the back of that spotter’s book I think.
DE: Yeah.
SE: And yeah. What else? I don’t know. What do you want to say, Una?
UE: Well, I was only very very young of course when the, when the war started but I do remember when the sirens went that we all had jobs. Even, even I had a job. But my brother’s job was to come in and put my siren suit on and take me and of course my sister was a very young baby down to the air raid shelter. And ours was I suppose quite luxurious. We had bunks and we had what we would have called not an oil stove it was a wood burning stove. And of course, I was always curious why the chimney had a kink in it and that was of course so that the light from the fire wouldn’t reflect in to the sky. And we shared the shelter with our next door neighbours so it was quite full because there were five of us and two from next door in the shelter when the sirens went. But my particular job even at sort of two and a half three was to tear newspaper up and thread it on a string for the toilet because of course you couldn’t go back into the house and it was a bucket with a lid. The children at school were always interested in what we did for that. And my brother had a job. He had to carry some food in. And my father as soon as the sirens had gone he would go and light the stove and get it quite warm for us inside so we were quite cosy. And I know that we had at one time, we weren’t evacuated but I think it was an incendiary dropped at the corner of Sicey Avenue where I lived on the Shire Green Estate. And I know and I can remember another, another very pleasing episode. We had Canadian officers stationed. I think they were stationed near Ecclesfield and I don’t know how my parents got to know them but they used to visit the house and my mother would use a big [unclear] and she would make a meat and potato pie. Mainly potato but of course we were on rations and meat was fairly scarce. But I know they used to supply us with various things. They used to bring various things because they were very well looked after and remember evenings when they came my mum and dad said, ‘Oh, no. Go on. The children are asleep.’ And they used to come upstairs and I can remember lying in bed and I shared a bed with my sister, one of them between us with his arm around us singing. Singing songs well into the night. And it was, that was a happy time. But, and at school, I went to school by the time the war, the Christmas that the Blitz was in Sheffield. We were lucky that my parents had collected our Christmas presents and at the time I’d been desperate for a little black doll and my parents had got me one. And Christmas morning highly delighted my mother had knitted all the hat and the matinee coat and the dress and the bootees and everything and she was all dressed up and I played with her outside with my pram and being called in for tea went out to fetch her in and she’d gone. Someone had been and stolen her so I was only blessed with my little doll for a few hours. But that was very very upsetting. But my father used to keep rabbits and things but I would never ever wear the gloves because we’d treated our rabbits as pets. And let me think. Oh yes. At school we had underground shelters in primary school and we used to have practices. I don’t think we ever went down there when there was an actual raid on but they used to have practice sessions and we would go down under the shelters and apparently, my brother told me that his teachers used to tell them ghost stories down underneath which he quite enjoyed. He thought that was great. But no. I’m trying to think of other things that happened.
SE: Well —
UE: Of course, I was still, still young because I was seven years younger than Sid was.
SE: Oh, you were well you were born in ’38.
UE: Yeah. Yeah.
SE: So, you were only one year old. You must have had one of those baby enclosure type you know, masks, gas mask. Well, it wasn’t a gas mask. It was a —
UE: No. I know my, I know the baby had like a Mickey Mouse one.
SE: No. That was when they got, they were toddler’s. Toddlers had Mickey Mouse but if you were a small baby it was —
UE: That wasn’t me.
SE: Like a small incubator.
UE: I mean, I was two and a half by the time the Blitz was on. Two and a half, three.
SE: I know but we got, we got gas masks before the war started.
UE: I remember the gas masks. I remember the gas masks.
SE: They were before the war started so you’d only be one. Well, I don’t know. Perhaps if you were walking you’d have a Mickey Mouse which looked like a Mickey Mouse with a [pause] Anyway that’s, incidentally talking about your mum’s meat and potato pie she just I suppose it was sentimental really but she used to make sort of wartime meat and potato from thence on.
UE: Yeah.
SE: You know, lots of potato and not much meat.
UE: In a [unclear] we’ve got the, we’ve still got the [unclear] It’s in the loft.
SE: Talking about Christmas presents you say, yeah what you could get and what you couldn’t get. Very limited. And I was lucky again because my, my dad was a tram driver and his, his conductor became very friendly, a fellow called Albert Foster and he was very handy with his hands and I remember him making me an absolutely superb, first of all a farmyard and then bought the animals. Other people bought the animals to go on. And then, I think a couple of years later a garage. Magnificent presents actually you know to say that there was a war on. But that was typical of course. Anyway, just thinking on about Blitz. The second Blitz of course was more serious from the, from the war point of view because it hit the East End and this time they did really hit the steel industry. But we were further away so we had, we had all the noise from, from Manor Lane again but as I said we, we just, just not the [pause] As far as I recall it was more overcast that night and certainly nothing like as exciting as that first Blitz night. But in point of fact, we had the nearest bombing factor where we lived was on the second Blitz. It was on Prince of Wales Road. Not far away. In fact, a few houses on Prince of Wales Road were damaged not least from incendiaries as well, as I recall. What else? I don’t know. Lead me for a bit [laughs]
UE: I can’t think of anything else much.
SE: Of course, the, the, my brother was killed of course which had an immense —
UE: Effect.
SE: Effect on me I suppose. More. I didn’t realise it at the time. I think I sort of went in to a sort of —
UE: Wasn’t your mum called in to school about — yeah.
SE: Well, later yeah. Yeah.
UE: Because he never told. Never told his friends.
SE: I never told anybody. I didn’t want to tell anybody. I mean the lads at school were, you know knew I’d got a brother in the Air Force. In fact, you know that used to give me a status and I suppose in a funny sort of way I mean not that it was important but I sort of lost my status overnight literally and, but I, it certainly affected my schoolwork in the first instance. And I do remember my mum coming to school and meeting Dr Mack who was the headmaster and him sort of having a talk to me and trying to urge me. And in actual fact, for whatever reason however it came about from sort of definitely falling away in ’45 by the time I took the School Cert in ’47 well I did get, in those days you had to pass seven subjects to actually get a school certificate. There was no question of how it came subsequently of getting passes in separate subjects and I mean this many levels and so on. But yeah, so the war and I remember having strange feelings because don’t forget my brother was killed on the 23rd of February and of course the war was over, well VE day on the, on the 8th of May. Celebrating. I know my cousins wanted to go into town and I wasn’t all that keen. It seemed all a bit strange that people were celebrating while at our house of course I mean, well I mean, I don’t like to even think about how it affected my parents. Bear in mind of course that my, my dad had spent the whole of the First World War in the Western Front in the Royal Field Artillery and he became deaf as a result of that which always affected him. In fact, it stopped him being a tram driver and he had to go into the [pause] he had to go into —
UE: Workshop.
SE: The tram sheds. Just doing odd jobs and cleaning and so on after that which of course lowered the income. We never, never had much money anyway. But yeah, it, it was, it was a rum time. But I was saying my, my dad spent the whole of the First World War on, in France and I recently found his, his paybook which sort of confirms all the places he went to and so on. But my mum lost a brother in the First World War and my father lost a brother in the First World War and then there again then they lost a son in the Second World War so, I don’t know. Doing your bit for Britain. I suppose it was a bit over the top really. Anyway, there we are.
DE: It’s, it’s fascinating. Thank you. I wonder if you could tell me a bit about what it was like when you, when your brother joined up and his, his career and where he went and the things he did.
SE: Yeah. Well, he, he joined up. He went to Scarborough. He joined up as an, he immediately went for aircrew tests. He went down [pause] I can’t remember. Actually, at my age my memory sort of has big gaps. I forget things. He went down to London for aircrew tests and passed for, for pilot. Came back and then subsequently went to Canada and did his training in Canada. After he qualified as a pilot and got his wings he went in to, he became what was called, I think a staff pilot and he was flying, well various aircraft but essentially went to a bomb and gunnery school where they were actually training bomb aimers and gunners and obviously Lewis was piloting the plane while they were chasing drogues and what have you. And of course, he did that for quite a time and until he came home and originally when he came home, we found out subsequently that for whatever reason it appeared as though he was, well he wanted to go in to, in to Transport Command and he was, it looked as though he was going from one piece of correspondence we had. But for whatever reason obviously he finished up in Bomber Command with 166 Squadron at Kirmington.
UE: Well, they needed pilots.
SE: Yeah. They must have been short of pilots. Of course, we know there were huge losses which of course is something I feel very strongly about which of course I’m not alone in this. That obviously, I’ve took a lot of interest and whereas war was exciting when I was a kid bearing in mind you learn as you grow up and so my attitude towards war is entirely different now and I get very mixed feelings. My feelings towards my brother don’t change but I can’t forget that he was involved in the Dresden raid and then what I’ve learned subsequently the raid when he was killed was over Pforzheim when the actual civilian deaths were, I think at the highest rate that they’ve recorded of any, of any raid in Germany. So, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about that. It does, it plays on my mind that and when people say that bomber aircrew should have been regarded as war criminals because what they did was as bad as a lot of the things that happened in Nazi Germany, area bombing. And then of course I’ve looked it all up and followed it subsequently and I know that all about the Silverman Enquiry into the whole raids to test the population’s reaction to air raids and morale and it was proven that it did not affect morale. In fact, it could improve morale in spite of that. In spite of that Winston Churchill together with Harris they’d got it stuck in their mind that terrorising the population was a way to conduct the war. And that’s what happened to Bomber Command and that’s why they became the, to have the highest losses of any, any section in the war. Huge losses and bear in mind that most of these lads were the, if you like the cream of youth because most of them were Grammar School lads who’d, the ones that had succeeded like my brother did, you know from working class backgrounds and became aircrew and then they were lost. And then to crown it all of course there’s been more recognition I suppose of what Bomber Command did over the past maybe ten, fifteen years but it was the only, the only —
UE: Force.
SE: The only force not to get a campaign medal was Bomber Command which of course being probably the bravest of all is, well it’s pitiful. Ridiculous. Anyway, there you are. I could go on but just the other side of the excitement of war. No. No. Believe me war is to be avoided. Whether it’s in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else. That’s, it should be the absolute last resort but there we are.
DE: No. I agree. Yeah. Could you, you know bearing all that in mind and your family’s experiences and your, you know father’s experiences in the First World War why, why did he want to join the RAF?
SE: Youth. Excitement. He wanted to fly in the first instance. I think that was it. I mean, don’t forget we’re talking about the 1930s. I mean we regard flying now, you know I mean everybody, everybody’s flown. I mean everybody’s been on an aircraft I mean and flown around the world and so on. That wasn’t the case in the ‘30s. How many people had flown in the ‘30s unless you were extremely rich? I mean, bear in mind, I mean we never had a motor car. I mean most people didn’t. I mean, how many people had motor cars? Obviously, in the war I mean you were restricted anyway but I mean I, we never had a motorcar and so when it came to flying and the opportunity to fly I mean, fantastic. Wonderful. And that was the first attraction of course. The fact that you had to fight in a war in order to be, become a pilot and to fly I suppose that was, yeah, that was a bit of a problem. But no. No. The first instant was flying.
DE: Right.
SE: Without any doubt at all and Lewis loved it. I mean, he made that absolutely clear. He used to love flying. Yeah. And he was, they always said, I mean other people said he was a natural pilot. I don’t know if you want to talk about his, his best pal in the war, in the Air Force who was Gus Knox who was a New Zealander.
DE: Yes. Definitely. That’s on my list.
SE: Yeah. Well, you’ve got all the, I’ve kept all the correspondence there separately but he met Gus Knox in Canada and Gus Knox was a wireless operator actually although he subsequently as I understand it earned his wings later on in the war. He, he met him in Canada and they became extremely close friends. In fact, some of the correspondence shows just how close. I mean relative to some of the things he talked about and so on. They left Canada. I think Lewis left Canada first to come back home and Gus Knox shortly after that and he went back. Well, he didn’t go back to New Zealand. He went in to the Pacific. He was on Catalinas. Flying Boats. There was a lot of correspondence then. In fact, it’s quite funny actually because the correspondence was censored and we’ve got one letter which is, is full of strips.
UE: Full of holes.
SE: Because in that particular letter the censors actually cut out, cut out the letters and sentences. But that correspondence went on for some time. Just to indicate the depths of their friendship Gus Knox named his son, he’d already got a daughter and his wife became pregnant shortly after and that’s referred to in the correspondence. And then it was a son and they named him Lewis. Lewis [Laidley] Knox —
DE: Right.
SE: Who must be probably in his late seventies, eighties now in New Zealand. Anyway, Gus Knox carried on writing to Lewis and he started getting letters back in some cases and he stopped getting replies and this was obviously after the 23rd of February ’45. And so he was sending letters even after Lewis had been killed which at that time he’d, because he’d had letters returned from various stations because Lewis was on, made a tremendous number of moves after he came back from Canada but he was writing to Lewis’ home address. So, we’ve got those letters and then eventually he sent a letter to my father, in effect fearing the worst. The fact, he’d not had a letter for so long and fearing that Lewis had in fact been killed and of course they wrote back and telling him that. And then this quite a moving letter which he writes about his friendship for Lewis. And anyway, there we are. There’s a whole bundle of correspondence there on that. Yeah.
DE: Thank you. And there’s all the letters.
SE: Yeah.
DE: From Lewis.
SE: What you’ve got is my, my, it’s my mother really. I mean, she was an, she, she didn’t like throwing things away and she would, sort of things like letters such as these I mean she would never think of throwing away. I suppose I still have that hoarding thing.
UE: Yeah [laughs]
SE: According to Una. Anyway, all the letters are there that Lewis sent to us all the way from the very first letter when he went into the Air Force to the last letter he sent to us from Kirmington. In other words from 1941 right through to February ’45. We’ve got a few letters that Lewis had actually saved for whatever reason that’s been sent to him from, from home and from various people. Incidentally including letters from me because he was always interested in the fact that I’d gone to school and there is a particular letter which incidentally started all this off because I wrote him a letter all about my early days at High Storrs Grammar School mentioning the masters and I even, as I say I sent him all the details and even the nicknames.
UE: The timetable.
SE: Oh yeah. Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. Even the timetable. And he, what am I saying? The other. Yeah. He, I’m trying to think of the letter he sent. Oh yeah. The other thing what I did find well even touching actually is a lot going back to Gus Knox actually. In a lot of the letters it does in fact refer to me asking how I’m going on and so on. And of course, it just brings back to mind that Lewis talked about after the war going to New Zealand. In fact, all of us going to New Zealand and who knows it could be quite easily if he hadn’t been killed we could very well. Life would have been different because I would have been a New Zealander by now. So, there we are.
DE: Yes. smashing. Thank you. I think I’ve covered most of the things I’ve jotted down to ask. Have you anything to —
UE: No. I don’t. I can’t think of anything else.
DE: I’ll not press stop. I’ll just —
[recording paused]
DE: Ok. So, tell me about RAF Firbeck.
SE: RAF Firbeck. Well, it all starts with the fact that Firbeck Hall became a famous country club. A guy called Nicholson who owned the Grand Hotel in Sheffield acquired the Firbeck Hall Estate in the 1930s and made Firbeck Hall into an absolutely magnificent country club with absolutely, they did actually, did everything. He constructed, he got a leading golfer, was it Cotton, to design the golf course which surrounded that? Went in to all the fields all around here and they did everything. I mean, but anyway now going in to all that the main thing here is they constructed an airfield. It was at that sort of level that they constructed an airfield so that people could actually fly to Firbeck Hall Country Club.
UE: For the weekend.
SE: It opened in 1935. The war came in 1939 which put the kibosh on the whole thing. Firbeck Hall became a hospital and it also became the officer’s mess for the RAF, obviously took over RAF Firbeck.
UE: Wasn’t it a Polish —
SE: No. No. No.
UE: No. Not.
SE: But they, they took over the being so remote as it was in those days it was became a special operations and I think there’s no doubt about this now because it’s all come out subsequently. The last resort. Well, I don’t know about the last resort it might have been a first resort but if Hitler had invaded they would have been met with poison gas. The poison gas would have been delivered by Avro, by Avro Lysanders that were stationed at RAF Firbeck and they —
UE: [unclear]
SE: The remnants of it are all around Firbeck. In the wood behind the airfield there’s the result of all the, what do they call them?
UE: The remains of the billets.
SE: Where they kept the poisoned gas and, what did they call it? The Decontamination Centre was actually where our village hall is now. Right next door to us and don’t we know about it because of the special drains that were constructed between our actual garden and I found out when I tried to dig out a pond.
UE: Dig a fishpond.
SE: Anyway, the, that was, that was RAF Firbeck and about what was it three, four, five years ago.
UE: Yeah.
SE: They, what did they call them? You might know them. The aircraft. The airfield. The Airfield Association that are going around checking or if you like looking into the history of every RAF airfield from World War Two and they came across RAF Firbeck and that’s when all this information came out together with lots of photographs incidentally.
DE: Ok.
SE: Confirming all this. All these characters in decontamination suits and so on and the —
UE: Memorial as well.
SE: Yeah. Yeah. The, after they’d done all this they, they erected a Memorial out of local stone in, actually it’s in the path that runs through what used to be the airfield and with a Memorial type there and we had a grand opening but they, they couldn’t find, what was it? They had Austers there as well and there is still an Auster flying but that wasn’t available. We had a Tiger Moth actually did a fly past.
DE: Right.
SE: When we went to all this business. Now, the point I’m making here from what we were talking earlier is —
UE: The people that turned up.
SE: We all met up. Now, needless to say the British Legion and all the characters all turned up you know in what is the uniform of grey slacks and navy blue blazers and obviously berets and medals.
UE: Medals.
SE: And all the rest of it and after the, after all the celebrations of, of inaugurating the thing which was on the first Remembrance Day after, it was lightened up for that anyway we were all in the Black Lion Pub and I’m sat next to, well sat at a table with three or four of these lads and I’m saying, what —
UE: ‘What did you do?’
SE: So, ‘What did you do?’ You know. Sort of to get involved in all this lot. Oh, you know, anyway I’m not going to go into all the detail but we all got, they’d all done National Service and none of them had, you know been anywhere near a war or anything like that. But for these lads and don’t get me wrong I’m not blaming them for it I mean it would appear that the most exciting thing that happened in their life was being in the Services. Particularly in the Army and and it’s led to following you know this business almost like a hobby because practically every other weekend there is something happening and they put on that uniform.
DE: Yeah.
SE: And they go along, you know. I’m not saying, I’m not going to say rent a crowd but anyway but and and and that sort of brought me comes back to what I’ve just been talking about.
DE: About remembrance.
SE: Yeah. Yeah.
DE: So, you were in the RAF. Yeah?
SE: Yeah. Oh yeah.
DE: And you don’t feel the need to —
SE: I went in the RAF I mean this is [laughs] right. Say when you as you get older it didn’t take me long actually. Don’t forget I, I was, I was doing the student apprenticeship at Hatfield’s in Sheffield and I was supposed to be deferred. I would have been deferred from that job. My, I’d always made it clear, you know earlier before Lewis got killed that I wanted to follow him in the Air Force. I wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to learn to fly. Again, no thought of, you know originally of getting killed or anything like that. Needless to say my parents made it absolutely clear that that was the last thing they wanted me to do. I mean bearing in my mind what we said about losing brothers before —
DE: Yeah. Yeah.
SE: Losing a son. Anyway, the fact remains I thought well, I’ll give it a try anyway. So the first thing I did when I’d been called up for National Service and reported to Padgate, and early on they ask you what you wanted to do and I applied for aircrew. And I went down to Hornchurch and had a full aircrew test and got through. But instead at that time when I went in in ’47 National Service was eighteen months. As a result of that of the forty, fifty of us who were in that draft went down and did that test only five were offered pilot. National Service pilot. In other words to learn to fly in that eighteen month so in effect be available for a Reserve or hopefully to persuade them to sign on.
DE: Yeah.
SE: Anyway, I I passed there. I didn’t want [laughs] I didn’t get, well I got, I could have been a pilot for eight and four that’s what they offered me. Eight hours. Eight years.
UE: Eight years.
SE: Followed by four on the Reserve and eight years when you’re eighteen years old seems a hell of a long time so I won’t commit myself and, but it was still there. But then unfortunately shall we say, or fortunately for the Air Force, I don’t know if fortunately or unfortunately for me although, well let’s put it this way in the meantime I became an instrument engineer. Instrument repairer or instrument mechanic as they called us then because we still had the three grades and I knew a lad in, in HQ who was a cyclist like me and I’d been told I was going to be posted to [coughs] excuse me. I’ll have a drink [pause] Because I was going to posted to Sutton Coldfield and they told me at the last minute it had been cancelled. They were short of instrument people in the Middle East and so I was sent out to the Middle East and finished up at Fayid, on the Suez Canal on 39 Squadron. Mosquito night fighters that changed to the Meteors. Life in the Canal Zone, you couldn’t have a worst bloody posting in the RAF I can assure you. And in fact, I don’t know, I mean even a pal of mine committed suicide out there and he wasn’t alone. The thing that kept me going is, was cycling actually. I organised a Cycling Club out there. Anyway, that’s another story. Let’s put it this way whatever thoughts I’d got about making a career in the Air Force was certainly put way on the back burner from having to spend because incidentally I’d been in Egypt for about a couple of months when instead of having to complete eighteen months they extended National Service to two years. So, I just got to hate Egypt and it kept me there for another six months. And so, oh another interesting thing here I think one of the first things that happened when I was, got to [unclear] I was sent to station headquarters and I’m not sure if it wasn’t the CO wanted to see me. ‘Ellis, you passed aircrew test. Now then, why on earth haven’t you taken it up?’ You know. You silly boy [unclear] and all that. ‘Oh, I’ll think about it, sir.’ So that was that. When I was leaving [pause] well some time in between I was sent for again and the last thing before I was demobbed they asked me again and now, blow me I’d been home for what was it twelve months, eighteen months something like that and they called me up on Reserve for RAF Waddington. Only for a couple of weeks I think it was or it might have been a month. I don’t know. Because I remember there two things happened when I got, early things that happened when I got to RAF Waddington was the station WO called me over and told me to get my hair cut. And then the next thing that happened I was sent for by station headquarters and asked if I was interested in becoming, you know aircrew again.
DE: Sign on ‘til you get to the end.
SE: So, there you are. That’s what happened to my big, you know dreams.
DE: Yeah.
SE: From being a kid.
DE: And you —
SE: You grow up you see.
DE: Yeah, and you don’t feel the need for —
SE: You grow up the hard way.
DE: You don’t feel the need of putting the blazer and the medals on and parading at the weekends either.
SE: Well, yeah. I mean maybe. Maybe it’s just me. You know brought up don’t forget kids like me I mean I wore you’ve got to admit this I mean, I mean I’m not, I wouldn’t say normal but let’s just say that war, World War One cast a, if not a shadow an influence on my early life and it was continued into World War Two and it was continued through National Service. So, it’s there all the time. Now, anybody sort of born anything subsequently you know after the war would just, probably well, I don’t know maybe some people born after the war if they’d lost somebody in the war would obviously be affected by it but for the vast majority of people I mean all these influences that I had. I mean my actual education. I mean, I went to High Storrs like my brother did but half the, I mean it was a boy’s school incidentally, half the teachers were women and the ones that were men they were all old men and they were all — so there was no young vigorous teachers. What a difference after the war. It must have been ’46, the year before I finished we got a new form master called Albert Leach and then even well when you think about it subsequently what a difference when you get a young fellow like him you know after the war and his all way of teaching and generating. I was saying how my performance you know it went down after Lewis was killed but surely one of the characters who got me back to somewhere normal was having a young male teacher like Albert Leach. Yeah. Yeah.
DE: Interesting. Thank you. I’m going to, I’ll hit pause again.


Dan Ellin, “Interview with Sidney and Una Ellis,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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