Interview with Brian Llewellyn

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Interview with Brian Llewellyn

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Brian Llewellyn was a member of the Air Training Corps during the war and spent time with the RAF as well as the Polish Air Force. He talks about his time in Lincolnshire, including various stations he visited and his first flight. Brian had many different experiences in the area and speaks about some of these as well as the Poles and their history.

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00:56:56 audio recording

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IBCC Digital Archive

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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 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

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SRAFIngham19410620v030001-Audio

Transcription

Int: Mainly er, how you came to be involved really, with the airfield at RAF Ingham.
BL: I’ll tell you how I came to be involved then. [Clears throat] When I was in the ATC we had one official visit to Hemswell.
Int: Yes.
BL: And at that time 300 Squadron was at Hemswell, along with another Polish squadron, and an English squadron too, and we went to look and have a go at the Link Trainer. Now I thought this was good, it’s great, flying this Link Trainer, you know, I made a mess of it of course at first, it so I decided what I’d do was, I didn’t have the bike at the time, I didn’t, but it was on the road to Market Rasen, past [indecipherable] corner, up the Corringham road, [indecipherable] road along to Market Rasen. So I took the bus up there to get off at the pub on the corner and it’s only a few yards to the left was the entrance to RAF Hemswell, and course I got through the guard, it is war time and of course they were all people that had been conscripted and sort of lazy type things, you know, if you talked to them, nothing official or anything like that, so I just got through you see. I just walked through into there and I decided, to take me knife, fork, spoon and mug and so I went, I don’t know where I went to first, I can’t remember. I remember ending up in the Link Room place, the Link Trainer room and there was a sergeant there who was only too keen to let me have a go on it you see. And this became quite a regular thing, again, and of course I took my log book, I’d have it signed and there was a description of what I’d done and I suppose there’s some kind of a record, because I mean, it’s interesting because in those days everybody knew that we were being trained to follow on, that was the whole purpose of the Air Training Corps, so we would follow on as the blokes got killed we were the next ones to go and get killed! So again, so it was recorded there. That was that, although I did go to other RAF stations, in the same way actually. I remember going to Kirton in Lindsey too, in the same way, we weren’t allowed in at Blyton because that’s an operational training unit, well we were but there was no flying, and there was no flying at Hemswell for that matter - they were they were all on operations you see. And what happened after that was the business of sport afternoons which was Wednesday, yes Wednesdays, that’s right. Thursdays was activities and that’s ATC. Sports afternoon Wednesday, so there were a number of us, including Mick Burnside, there were four of us actually, who, yes right four, yeah, who um, objected to sport and we didn’t want to take part, we’d nothing to do with it. Cause I mean, the Idea of it, it’s like today it’s like the Olympics. I mean so what, if somebody wants to run round in circles and coming back to the same place they started from you’re not achieving very much are you really! So that was the idea see. Whatever happens in sport, nothing’s achieved at the end of it! [Indecipherable] Really. So we were not keen on sport. And quite unexpectedly, er, the headmaster said to us, he said look, if you’re not going to take part in sport he said, put on your ATC uniforms on and stand by the end of the drive, there. So right, so I did. Along came a little pick-up truck with a very tall, very tall, WAAF Corporal who was Polish, and she said come with us please, or come with me please. So I thought all right, don’t know where we’re going, so we piled in the back of this pick-up truck and we went to Ingham, and the, I’d never actually been into Ingham before. I’d gone along that road of course, even, in fact I even cycled as far as Lincoln along the top road, as we called it, it’s the top road to Lincoln, you could see Lincoln cathedral actually, if you looked along that road, you can see the Spire sticking up there.
Int: You can, yes.
BL: So, I can remember we went in there, we suddenly turned off to the left, it was a right hand turn, a very sharp right hand turn, left hand turn, sorry, then there was a tall hedge on that side, on the right hand side, then we turned, suddenly again, left, very short trip and then there we were, this was the entrance to RAF Ingham. It was quite a sort of low, oh not, it didn’t make much of an impression at all. [Rustling] There were some very low brick buildings along the right hand side and along the left. We couldn’t see how far they went up to the left but they stopped abruptly on the right hand side and went through the door and the whole place was crowded with people, there were so many, but loads of people there. It was a very active station, they were all, I mean compared to the RAF, there was no slouching about sort of skiving, they were all purposefully doing something. I remember one of the first impressions I got was of a tannoy system, which was an earphone inside a cone made from a cornflakes packet, and that was their tannoy! And by God it worked too [laugh], cause it was only a small place you see. And standing there, you know, wondering what was going on and out came, up came a Polish Warrant Officer, a man of very few words, he didn’t speak very much English at all, whereas the WAAFs spoke a lot better than the fellas, the fellas were a bit slow, but the WAAFs were much better. And he said, you know, you’re going to crew with us on test flights. I said really? I mean just, so yes he said, and he pointed out, said you with navigator – that’s me - because at that time in the May of that year they had dropped the second pilot, there was only one pilot, so the navigator was in effect the second pilot, and of course he was right by the, the pilot was here, the navigator was just on the other side, further back, with his own little cabin with a door and a curtain.
Int: What was the reason for dropping to one pilot?
BL: Because they couldn’t supply them!
Int: Right.
BL: There was, I mean this was the trouble you see! There were aircrew shortages all the time. Whereas you could try and train a gunner fairly easily, or a wireless operator fairly easily, you couldn’t train pilots very easily. And besides they were dropping out you see, because they weren’t up to the job - only a certain number got through. So they decided the navigator would have enough skill to bring the aircraft back in an emergency.
Int: Right.
BL: They could take over if the pilot was killed or in any way incapacitated. So in fact acting as second, not that I thought that I’d ever be doing anything and, but we had to do everything properly. The first thing we had to do was to learn to pack our parachutes, we had to pack our own parachutes. I can still remember this. It was a long room, with long tables; a big long room with long tables. On the left hand side they were all hanging up as it were to air, they hung them up in there and put them across the table and you had to go through certain motions and there was the, a little wire thing at the top that swung thing, as if pull the parachute out of the pack, so it was all, you know, well developed, was all perfectly good pure silk. We only used silk, course it came on the black market as women’s’ clothes as well you see, [laugh] get some parachute silk! But parachutes were expensive and you had to sign for them and this sort of stuff. Cutting a long story short, what happened in the end, we went out to look for this Wellington and first of all I thought crikey what a place this is. There were two hangars, I think they were two hangars with curved rooves, which were not to be used for any purpose cause all the aircraft were out in the open and people, lots of people, were working on them. This one aircraft, the one we were going to use, was drawn up, there was a bit of a tarmac in the front of the building, a sort of concrete area which it was parked on and we had to get inside and we was, the pilot sort of showed us how to, in an emergency, to brace ourselves against the main spar which ran, made quite a big step in the middle of the Wellington, you had a big step in the middle. That was the main spar where the wing came through and if you were going to crash land, you got behind this, braced yourself against it so you didn’t get thrown forward and out. Like in a car, it’s like a safety belt.
Int: Absolutely yeah.
BL: Kept you from being chucked out. So we had to do that, then we went to our places. Oh I’d been issued with a little wallet by the way, which contained a Douglas Protractor, they’re the sort of navigational instruments which I had used before by the way cause I’d done quite a bit of navigation from Kirton Lindsay, in an Oxford I’d done some navigating, not that I got anywhere with it, well later on even the Air Squadron I didn’t get anywhere with it; I mean my navigation was pretty poor really. Anyway, we were issued with this, these, and eventually I got back to my cabin, you see, and it was lovely. I could close the door and it was all by the lamp, cause you had to see things and you had the curtain to prevent you making light outside or putting light into the fuselage, which could be seen from outside, but you had to have the window to have a look outside you see, see where you were cause you did checks on the ground. In those days navigation was DF, direction finding which was a loop aerial, you know about how that worked? The egg thing on the top, you can see it, the late Wellingtons had them and the idea was that if the loop was lying along, the lateral line of the aircraft, it was nothing. But if you turned the loop it would progressively pick up the signal, from one side or another and you had two transmitters on the ground which sent out signals, and when you heard them loud, loud and clear on both [emphasis] sides, you turned until you got the loop aerial lined up on one side and then on the other side and then you’d got yourself a fix actually, because you knew then, that in between there, the neutral would give you your position. If you turned that between the two of those, the neutral between the two, it would give you your position, which you could then plot. But of course then you had to do this regularly because of drift and things like that, so you’d get cross wind which would send you miles off course, could be bad if you’d a cross wind. Anyway, I think the first time we went in there was no Gee in the aircraft, I don’t believe so, no there couldn’t have been, otherwise I would have noticed, it was later installed the Gee, anyway, I thought yeah, settle down quite well but the thing about the Wellington, what I liked about it was that it didn’t smell, I don’t know why, but it just didn’t smell! For example the Dominie, the de Haviland Dominie, which was a plywood and fabric-ed over was the most horrible smell of hydraulic oil, fuel and dope.
Int: Dope, yeah.
BL: And it’s really quite a sickening smell, isn’t it; most unpleasant smell. Wellington didn’t smell of anything and when we looked it first, we noticed it’d got lots of holes in the fuselage, great big gaps where they’d not bothered to repair it, although the wings were patched over quite well. And anyway take, well first of all we taxied out. We couldn’t go, I looked at the airfield by the way. There was an old farmhouse, slap in the middle, with big tall trees and, there’s no runways at all, just grass, and the grass was all furrowed and pitted and things like that. It was in a really damp condition because you see where we were, this was in fact the dip side of the escarpment, the limestone slab that, which constitutes the Lincolnshire Heights, it’s a big slab of limestone, the scarp slope’s quite steep. The other slope is not so steep but it is a slope, so you get water sort of collecting there in little hollows and it doesn’t go away because off London Heath there, you’ve got quite a bit of clay so it was a really, quite a soggy place really, and it got worse if it got damp, and it had been that first time cause the weather was actually, there was low cloud, it was in summer, and it was very warm, but again overcast, like it often is in Lincolnshire. I noticed when we went round, I went round the front, the nose turret, flies squashed against the Perspex where flies had been blown against the glazing in the turret. Anyway we got in, take off point, well we didn’t go along any kind of peri track or anything, we had to get to the furthest end of the, which at that time was the northern end, the northern end of the airfield and we had to get there in order to turn round to get our take off run, and the thing was, I can remember quite clearly, we didn’t go along the side, we headed straight for the point actually, without any intermediate runway or anything like that, so we really kept to the dry points and I can remember going over, what appeared to be, the remnants of turnips, because you could hear them – bump, bump, bump, you know you could hear it shaking as it went over the tops of these turnips been left in the soil! So we got to the end and actually it was airborne in a quite remarkably short time. I was quite surprised how short it took us to take, then of course we were up and look at the countryside and so on, and then we were in cloud, and it went very dark and all the cloud vapour was coming in through the little holes in the fuselage as it got misty inside as well. [Laugh] Then there were flashes, flashes, flashes, and then suddenly we were out of the cloud and above the top, and it was like [indecipherable] in another country, great big flat snowfield it looked like, with big pinnacles, right in the sky, intensely blue sky, it was really quite deep, deep blue sky, it was absolutely brilliant sunshine.
Int: That would only be a couple of thousand feet even, wouldn’t it.
BL: Yes. It’s amazing, you know. I thought I’ll have a look at this and see, get up to the astrodome and get a better view. So I decided to do a bit of navigating, so I didn’t have a sextant though. Went up the astrodome and the thing that I noticed about it was the way the aircraft was reacting to the airflow: the tailplane was flapping up and down all the time, and when the aircraft turned, even slightly, the fuselage twisted. [Laughter] Yes, it’s quite amazing really. And so it went, I mean we just stooged around a bit until everything was okay, and nothing happened, just landed and that was it. We were taken home, the place we came from, and the following week, I don’t know, we must have done it about five odd times I think, all together during that summer, about five times I reckon, yeah. In this time we were learning more and more about what was going on and the idea was that the, we were brought along there and I think it was mainly for our education because there could have been other people on the unit that could have crewed, but you know, we were chosen to crew it you see, on the air tests – it's to do with the weights you see, didn’t have the weights [indecipherable], course the bombing doesn’t affect the weight, the bomb goes across the centre of gravity so you don’t change the COG with the bomb load, it just get more heavy that’s all. It was the second time that we went on this that, it was quite surprise, when I looked out, and I saw the pilot, the pilot did this to me with his finger, just like this, see. By God he wants me for something, so I went up there and he says, and he stood up and of course the second pilot seat was still there, but folded back. He said er, sit down he says, and then he said to me, if nose go up: push forward. But I knew that anyway and there I was, and he got out and he went down the fuselage [laugh] with this Wellington bomber at the age of fourteen, Wellington bomber! [Laugh] I couldn’t reach the pedals, but I wouldn’t ‘t adjust it at all anyway, but I’d got experience on the Link Trainer in those days just six, in the Link Trainer it was just six instruments there, you didn’t have any extra at all, just six instruments, it was just pure flying. So I did the same with this. So I made sure the artificial horizon was properly lined up and that the aircraft was flying at correct airspeed, and I checked the air speed didn’t vary. I fiddled a bit, you could do that of course; it was flying correctly before, it was only a matter of restoring it to what it was. So I thought well I’ll do a little aileron turn, [laugh] see what happens, so I turned, moved the speculums round this way and the control was so amazingly light! I didn’t expect it to be so light, there was hardly any weight at all on them - I was used to flying the Link Trainer, [crash] it came round, oh I’ve broken the thread now, what was I saying?
Int: Aileron turn, shallow.
BL: Oh yes, it came round and then I thought I’d better bring it back to where we were so I did, brought it back, I don’t know how long he was away, but he was away down the fuselage for quite a long time. So I don’t know, I don’t think he was doing anything I think he wanted to get out the way see what happened to me, cause he could get back, we had enough height for him to get back and sort things out if anything went wrong. That’s about it really. The memories of the airfield itself and where things were, because we got the impression that it was like they were in Poland when they went down to the Tatras to escape the German bombing of the airfields in the north, you know the story of that. They went down the Tatras mountains and of course, like the Germans, they were trained to live off the ground, well, like the British were typical thing in the Army, you just plunder and rape and pillage. It’s always been the same, so you don’t ask people’s pleasure, you just take what you need, in times of war, and the Germans did the same. When I was a student in Tubingen the street, the Dockstrasse, was one platoon from the, the 78th Storm Division, was the local unit, and the officer, I never knew him, he lived at the bottom, then opposite was Ulrich, the corporal, who had, who kept chickens and my landlord was there were, but he was a flight sergeant, a colour sergeant in the platoon, and we had, you know, all the people in there round about were all ex-78 apart from one who was Luftwaffe, who was a [indecipherable] pilot who I got to know quite well and a very nice chap he was too! [Laughter] He bombed the fire station in Birmingham!
Int: Really!
BL: Yes, oh yes! He said you know, you know, talking about the bombing, he said to me one time, he said we didn’t care who won the war as long as it stopped. [Laughter] The Germans had quite a good time before the war, they were quite, not the kind of place you imagine it to be.
Int: No, no. So the Polish squadrons, in order to survive in Lincolnshire, lived off the land as well.
BL: Oh yes. This was the thing, they didn’t need their rations. See, now what you’d got there at the time, I remember going along there, along the Wolds road, because people weren’t allowed to have shotguns during the war, no arms for civilians at all, apart from farmers who could shoot, have a shotgun, but you couldn’t shoot for sport any more; that was gone. So the rabbits were breeding like mad, till they had to introduce myxomatosis to control the population, that’s what came about. But the whole place was black with rabbits and I mean black because a lot of them were black rabbits and they were all over the fields leading down to the bottom of the valley along the scarp slope, because it’s in, it’s just fields just running straight down, steep fields of course, and you’ve got loads of rabbits there. You’ve got, you’ve also got -
Int: There are lakes at Fillingham and woods in that area as well I imagine.
BL: Oh yes, well there were woods just on the far, I notice it’s still there, on the far side of the airfield, up against the woods itself, the buildings are still there; they were the sleeping quarters for the aircrew. Because they’d come home at night, er in the early morning, they’d go to bed and sleep through until they started off because they went on ops every night, not like the Brits who had a tour of ops.
Int: So the tests took place in the afternoon, ready for operations that night.
DL: That’s right, and the aircraft were repaired on unit, which could be easily done because you could repair this um, er, geodetic structure thing, well, they say it’s geodetic, actually it’s really, it’s tubular sections with flattened ends and you could repair by using pop rivets.
Int: Yes.
BL: So you could use pop rivets to do, repair that and of course the engines were perfectly straightforward because the Poles already knew the engines, they’d be used to these engines. Of course if you had anything bad you’d have to get spares from somewhere. But I mean the engineers weren’t far away, so you know, you’d get spares quite easily. I remember Blyton was always having spares delivered because they a lot of trouble with the Stirlings, you know, always folding their undercarriages on landing and things like that. Anyway they slept during the day and then they went on ops during the night and the people who were actually repairing the aircraft were prepared to work all night, a bit like John, a bit like your dad, he’d work all night: get the job done. It’s the same thing you see. They prepared their own food, they shot, also, the other thing was this, there were lots and lots of pheasants in Lincolnshire and they were breeding wild, they still are! I saw one once with Robin, one crossing the road! There’s still this, they’re still breeding wild, they’re breeding like mad and other game birds too, you’d get a certain amount of grouse and partridges too, in Lincolnshire – there were quite a lot of things actually. And then of course fresh water fish, they’d go for those too, cause the Poles liked things like carp, they have carp for Christmas for example, don’t they. Well there you are. So they could live off the land. As far as vegetables were concerned, well of course farmers didn’t mind them taking vegetables from their fields because I mean they were our allies, they were working like mad, the war and so forth.
Int: Do you remember any particular characters, were there?
BL: Yes, but I can’t. The thing is you see, it comes from so many different sources, and so much information. First of all living there, in Gainsborough, and the things that led up to it, then secondly the fact I was in the RAF not far away of course, at Manby, and I was in the Sergeants Mess and of course a lot of the NCOs there, not a lot but a good number of them, were actually Polish, who didn’t want to go home to Poland because they’d lost everything kind of thing. They’d married here, and English girls, and some of them got divorced too! Or some just didn’t want to go home, and they just stayed here, and they, the RAF was their home [emphasis], and they’d remustered. I mean the Gardening Sergeant was Polish for example, we had a lot of those. And the gardening was damn good too, you know, he was a good grower of vegetables, he was, really. And the gardening side, he had other people. We had a Red Indian too, from Wyoming, was an air gunner and he couldn’t read and write. He was an interesting character that was, told me some stories about you know, uncanny sort of knowledge, yet couldn’t read or write but by gosh he’d got an uncanny knowledge of other things. There’s, things I was told by people in the RAF, and then there were other things too, well, the fact that I was Armstrong Whitworth. So I mean, I didn’t meet any Poles there particularly, but of course I was concerned with aircraft all the time and I knew, I knew bit about aircraft engineering, [chuckle] and a great defender of the Whitley, and a great defender of course of the P11C which I’ve always been very, very keen on as an aircraft because it’s just right really.
Int: Did the squadron generally, were they fairly self contained on the airfield or did they spill out into the community much?
BL: No. Not so much out, going outside into the community, as far as I remember.
Int: No.
BL: We had a lot of them at Blyton. I can remember these silver things they had on their chests, which they had wings and then decorations they’d wear on their chests you see, like chains and things, with silver things dangling from them. So as well as wearing RAF wings they wear their Polish wings too. I can’t remember these people in pubs in Gainsborough at all. But I can remember the Italian prisoners of war, in the pubs and even the German prisoners of war in the pubs. They weren’t supposed to go and have any association with us, but the Italians were great guys. Oh yes, yes. The Germans were great farm workers too, of course the Italians too, they were both of them very good on farms. That’s what we did with our prisoners of war: they were kept on military bases and they went out to work in the countryside. We had one at Manby, prisoner of war compound was at the back of I Wing just by the side of the wall that separated the rest from the officers mess. Apart from having razor wire on the top there, and I don’t think there was razor wire round the front of it, no in fact there wasn’t, apart from that, and the fact they were guarded, of course, all the time, they were quite free. I’ve got their books from their library. I’ve got some of those now. Told you about those, didn’t I.
Int: Yes, yeah.
BL: What’ll we do with these sarge, they said, shall we chuck ‘em away? I said no, give ‘em to me, I’ll get rid of ‘em, and I brought them home. They were all Nazi books you see, which the British authorities thought anything in German will do for these people! So they gave them Nazi books to read. [laugh] The Germans used to think we were mad actually. Well we are of course, as we know, still are. We still are at this moment, crazy.
Int: Living in Gainsborough were you aware of the operations that went at night? Did you see the aircraft coming and going?
Bl: Yes, you bet! God, you’ve no idea! [Emphasis]
Int: And were there enemy aircraft as well?
Bl: Yes, yes, including the flying bombs. We heard the flying bombs going over every night, till the night one stopped, because they were so loud you know; it was like a two stroke motor bike.
Int: This was the V1.
BL: The V1. Eines. The propulse jet. It’s like a motor bike there, they were going over and they were actually being launched from the air over the North Sea, to target Manchester, of all places, but they were targeting Manchester. And you could hear these things going over and then one night, one stopped. Thought crikey, cause when you hear it stop that’s going down. So we waited it, for it to go off and it did of course in the end. I though god where’s that gone, and it happened to have landed on Lea Marshes, that was all right, then that was butt of the explosion altogether. But you got a lot of aircraft coming back that were on their last legs and crashing short of the airfield, particularly Halifaxes, making for Blyton, because the Halifax was a bit unstable actually at low speeds. It could swing quite easily that’s why they enlarged the fin, big rectangular fin actually, instead of, they changed, enlarged the fin area to give it better control but it was always a bit of a dicey aircraft to handle at low speeds. And what used to happen was you’d get one coming back, it seemed to be just over the house, and you could hear one engine, sputter, sputter, sputter, then you’d hear it later on, you’d hear often the big, enormous bang when it crashed. Very loud crash. We used to go out to them actually, and see if we could do anything, but the main guards on them actually came from the Army camp at Connington. Connington camp, it’s a REME camp up there.
Int: Yes, it’s the Army, I know exactly where you are, yeah.
BL: The REME camp, they used to do the guarding of the crashed aircraft rather than the Police or the Home Guard or anything. It was the only Army unit round about so they, available in the immediate area, so they did the guarding, but we could get there before they did. I mean one came down on Copeland’s field which was just over the Avenue. I think they have the Lincolnshire Fair sometimes is on there, at least it has been, hasn’t it, Copeland’s field.
Int: Not recently, I think it’s been built on, I think I know where you mean.
BL: Well you know the Avenue, don’t you?
Int: Yes.
BL: Well just on the other side of that.
Int: The uphill side.
BL: Yes. That’s right, that’s Copeland’s field and the little ponds with newts in them I remember, very clear water, but one came down there I remember, that was a Halifax heading for Blyton, didn’t make it; all the crew killed. We got there first and we saw them, saw the crew, you know, that was pretty awful really.
Int: Hmm. Tactically, what would enemy aircraft be doing in the area because there were no major civilian targets? Were they attacking the airfields?
BL: Yes, that and reconnaissance of course. That was the business with the Me410, that was the thing that, my part in the war effort. [Laugh] The only time I’ve been, come face to face with the enemy that was. Told you about that?
Int: Er, was this when you were cycling?
BL: It was. I got me bike, a bright yellow bike, and I was heading for, I know where I was heading? What was I heading for? Oh it was my favourite place I used to go swimming, that’s right: Donna Nook. That was before even I went to Manby, before I knew it was, you know, used as a bombing range, but used to swim from there because in those days it wasn’t muddy, it was sandy. It’s changed. It was sandy all the way out and the seals were still there, but further out, right now you see them on the horizon. I used to go swimming there cause the water was very nice and it was also a wonderful bay full of wildlife, you’d got natterjack toads, you’d got sand lizards and all kinds of funny plants there, it was a real, a real wildlife haven, Donna Nook.
Int: Yes, I think it still is.
BL: Probably still is, yeah. And that’s where I was going, that’s right. And of course the trick, the usual trick was I went to, ah yes of course, Market Rasen, Woody’s Top, youth hostel.
Int: Youth hostel. I know where you are, yeah.
BL: And then I’m straight down, the left of Louth, don’t go into Louth itself, I think North Thoresby is where I went through, I think, I don’t know, it’s somewhere there, and I could get there quite easily, then, after, I stayed at Woody’s Top that night. I was of course down there by in the morning which meant I could get back to Gainsborough in one hop. So I’d cycle back to Gainsborough direct from Donna Nook, and having got up got up, got out of Market Rasen, I came up to the top of the Wolds it was somewhere near Caswell Park, the racecourse, used to be there, it still is maybe.
Int: Yeah. It's probably kind of round near RAF Ludford, actually, not far from there.
BL: Yeah, well anyway, I came up there and I got to the top of the hill and it was um, a, there was no hedges and no fences, and there were just sheep up there. So having got to the top of the hill, I sort of had a bit of a rest, had a look, and then I saw an aircraft ahead of me like that and I thought a bit low innit, what is it? And it was going quite slowly, took it some time to come up. Then I saw it was quite unmistakeably an Me410 because it took, had a face like a frog, it sloped down to the front like that, it was just like a frog, frog face was coming towards me and very low, just following the road. Oh crikey. So as it came past me, I could see, I thought then what can I do? All I did, I left me bike and lay flat on the ground and I could, I watched this aircraft go past, and it was quite slowly again, I saw the Barbette guns moving about, which the ones at the side controlled by the pilot and it’s half inch machine guns and it’s moving about, like this, they were moving about. Thought crikey gonna test his guns and I knew that he carried more ammunition than our British fighters did, the Germans did, they carried more ammo than we did, so, but instead of that it just went straight on. [Dog barking] What I did then was, I got up and looked, there was a farmhouse just across the way there and I went up the farmhouse, there was a lady in there and I said look, I’m sorry but I’ve got to make an emergency phone call, just seen an enemy aircraft heading up the road. So I got through, I got through to Market Rasen Police Station and they were quite interested in this. And they said well okay, we’ll handle this, can you give your name, like they usually do, and my address, which I did. I said you know, this is not a hoax, or any way a mistake, I’m in the ATC I do a lot of aero like recognition.
Int: Recognition.
BL: So I mean I know that it’s right. So anyway, that was it really. [Cough] I got back to school, headmaster, Hopkins, said to me we’ve just had a phone call from RAF Croxall, on your information said to tell you that we scrambled two B51Ds and they got the enemy 410 over the North Sea.
Int: Really!
BL: So was saying good work he said to me, pass on the word. So he passed on the word see. [Laughter] Oh yes. See what he did was this, he was going to fly low, till he identified his target, then the German cameras that had such good lenses, we in fact nicked their cameras in the Spitfire later on, [cough] climb to a height where they could get a good area to use their cameras to take pictures of airfields and things like dispersals of aircraft, where they were, in case they were attacked and would know where they were, [coughing]. And then it was later on that year, I was an ARP messenger boy, I had to sleep at the bottom of Spital Hill, there’s a railway bridge and on the, if you go down there and you turn right, you see some little doors in the wall.
Int: Right.
BL: That was the ARP Post.
Int: Okay.
BL: My father used to go in there and we used to stay the night there in case we were called out, you know, or bombs started, stay there, and I had to go back. I got up very early in the morning because I had to go to school and that sort of stuff. So, I remember going up Spital Hill and hearing what I knew was cannon fire, because I’d heard it before, German cannon fire, because in those days you didn’t have of course the electric ignition of the charge like the Hunter had, on the Aden guns, it had a firing pin which had to go back and forth you see, you had the also the load which charged into the breech very like this, to-ing and fro-ing, which disappeared later, so therefore cannon fire, anything higher than a rifle, went slower, rifle calibre, machine gun was quite fast, but a cannon fire was boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, that sort of thing. That’s cannon fire! And I went up the hill and I could see, because if you go up the hill, Blyton is just actually beyond Thonock Park.
Int: Yes, it is, isn’t it, yeah.
BL: Just across, Thonock Park’s there, and it’s on a ridge, and I could see flashes going off and explosions. Thought crikey, you know, they’re being shot up and it was actually, that was what had happened: the German idea was it’s like if you want to destroy a wasp’s nest, you stay near the nest and destroy the wasp coming back.
Int: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BL: So we’d been raiding Germany and we’d be coming back damaged. The thing to do was hang around, the base, and get the bombers as they came back. When the crews were tired, they’d be injured, aircraft damaged and careless because they were home. They weren’t bothered and they never thought about being attacked and there they were and believe it or not, of course it wasn’t in the news they gave you, never saw anything in the news about things like this, but local people said this: every single aircraft coming back was destroyed, there was not one escaped, everything went. I thought well I’ll go down to Blyton. The place was closed up completely: nobody there. Nothing. No crews, no aircraft, nothing; Blyton had gone completely. That was, yeah, towards the end of the war. Well actually it was, it was actually at that time an operational unit although it wasn’t supposed to be because it always had been operational, no it's Heavy Conversion Unit, that’s what it was actually. Starting off with Wellingtons then going immediately to Stirlings, and then soon after that to Halifaxes. Never Lancasters. No Lancasters there.
Int: No. 300 Squadron, that became of them?
BL: They carried on to the end of the war, then they disbanded of course. But they were the first Polish squadron to be formed and the last to go. And they soldiered on in Bomber Command till the end. The other two Polish squadrons associated with Lincolnshire both joined Coastal Command, where they did work with reconnaissance and [rustling] destroying U-boats; they carried torpedoes.
Int: So they were, what type of aircraft, fighter aircraft or, were there any Polish fighter aircraft squadrons?
BL: [Loudly] Yes! They were the first! Do you know about the Pole fighter squadrons! Why they had separate squadrons anyway?
Int: Well I imagine it’s having to do with having been invaded and losing all their aircraft.
BL; No it’s to do with friction between British pilots and Polish pilots.
Int: Ah, right.
BL: It’s the time of Battle of Britain of course cause I mean the Battle of Britain was fought shortly after started Poland’s being overrun in 1939, the end of September, end of ’39, about a year later. Well of course there weren’t so many Polish pilots managed to get back actually, getting back in bits and pieces, dribs and drabs all the way through that time. But the first, there was the Los, of course, was the Polish Bomber, that never got put into production properly, but there were really no effective Polish bomber squadrons at the beginning of the war: they were pretty well all fighter squadrons. So they came over, when they did come, as fighter pilots. So what better, we’ll just post them to our fighter squadrons that had been fighting the Battle of Britain. So they came, and that’s when the trouble started. First of all, they wouldn’t obey the rules. They chattered over the intercom all the time, and they called up their friends by name, [emphasis] which in the RAF is absolutely non-u; you never name yourself. You’re given a position: you’re Leader, you’re Red One, you’re Red Two, you’re Red Three, Yellow One, Two, Yellow Three. [Cough] Your flights in fact are coded, in colours. And what they do is this, you say, you know, they say Red One to Red Leader, bandits four o’clock high, something like that, they’d just say that you see. Then you’d stop talking because you’d given your message, you didn’t talk more than you had to, you kept RT silence. You switch your mic off at the end of the, didn’t actually switch, off, so that you weren’t tempted sort of add anything else. But the Poles kept their microphones on all the time and they’d chatter, chatter, chatter using their names! They were making jokes throughout the battle, exhorting each other: go one sort of thing, get this one you know. I mean it was just not on; I mean they were told off about this, you should not [emphasis] do this, you have to observe our British rules. Then they tended to be freelance as well. This of course is the time when, this was actually refers to a bomber squadron but this is a story which I’ve heard in different forms. The bombing of barge in the Merse in Holland where a bomber crew was going off to do some practice bombing at a bombing range; didn’t return. Thought what’s going on, then eventually it did come back, where’s it been? Well he said, a pity to waste the bombs, I’d better find something to drop it on, so went across to Holland, cause it’s not far away from Lincolnshire is Holland, and he found this German barge and he dropped his smoke bombs on the German barge and the Germans thought it was gas so they dived into the water. [Laugh] And Bunny’s reputed to have said is: “Every little helps”, which is Tesco’s motto! [Laughter] So I don’t know where this came from, I mean it’s a funny thing, but “Every little helps”. That’s what he’s supposed to have said. I’ve got it in print somewhere because it’s passed into RAF lore you know, as to who was this. There were stories about, for example, about the Polish pilots being called communists, and oh you got us into this mess anyway, you, you can fight for yourself, we wouldn’t have had to come to your rescue. That caused them to come to blows a few times. So it was decided then to separate the Poles from the RAF all together, so that, so they had their own command, and there was a Commander in Chief, but the chap was Sikorsky, was the Commander in Chief of all [emphasis] the Polish forces in the country and you had one who was in charge of the Air Force, I’ve forgotten his name, he was another Polish fellow, and they, the thing about Sikorsky was that he didn’t last. He, he died actually, shortly after he came to this country, because he discovered about the massacre of the Polish officers – you’ve heard about that?
Int: No.
BL: Oh, well this was done by the er, Russians I think yes it was, Russians, who decided to massacre the Polish officer elite, in one go. Which they did. Pretty well. They shot them all, you know, in, en masse and it broke his heart so much he just lost all heart you see, and he died actually. And er, it’s quite, you know, it’s very interesting about the way, it’s, the way these leaders feel about the Polish people. I mean like who is it, the pianist, who’s another one, wasn’t he, the one who, was he Prime Minister or President of Poland?
Int: I don’t know.
BL: Oh you do! “Dangerous Moonlight”, it’s made a film about him, Paderewski, Paderewski, he was a concert pianist, but was also either Prime Minister or President of Poland. The film about that is called “Dangerous Moonlight”, it’s by Anton Wahlbrook. If you see it any time, it’s the television it’s shown; that’s about the Polish Brigades. Lech Walesa is another one, he’s, the way that they sort of stubbornly resisted all attempts to make them communist. [Laugh] You see they weren’t communist no, although the world thought they were you see, yeah. Then as I said, the way the Poles could survive on their own and of course when they went down to the Tatrus Mountains it’s, I’ve seen a film of this. It’s interesting, you’ve got broad rivers, which are fast flowing too, cliffs, forests and little bits of grass there between, which are in between woodland – bit like Ingham! [Laugh] [Cough] No grass and of course then you could easily move on to another airfield if you want to, which they did, and they moved progressively south. But they lived by hunting in the forest. And of course there you’ve got things like deer, wild boar, got bears, [chuckle] yeah, some people eat bears even – the Red Indians did -and so you know, they were well able to look after themselves wherever they went. It was the same, just the same at Ingham!
Int: Right, are we.
BL: You’ve got to, really, interesting thing about this is, the fact is when you come I’ll find it for you, remember this, Hymn for all Slavs, national anthem, [singing] Bunnies All Furry, a Russian, Russian song [singing].
Int: That’s the Lincolnshire Poacher!
BL: It is! So what they say about the Poles in Lincolnshire. [Laughter] You’re home from home, aren’t you.
[Other]: You wouldn’t happen to know how to say one to five in Russian would you?
BL: What, one to five?
[Other]: Count one to five in Russian.
BL: I think I could but I can’t remember. [Laughter] Oh yes, I can, but I can’t remember actually.
[Other]: It’s Tim, Tim wants to know.
BL: Who wants it?
Int: Tim.
[Other]: Tim. Am I spoiling your thing?
Int: Right. I think that’s enough to be going on with really, there’s a lot to, have to try and remember as much as you can really, cause there are a lot of people who are interested in the war time history of that area.
BL: Well what I’d be interest is that, in a place like Connington we also had a very high Polish population, but had their own radio programme one time you know. “Poles Apart” it was called, half in English, half in Polish. And by the way, the Alma’s now gone; it’s going to be a manicure parlour, course the market killed that because cause there’s a Polish stall in the market you see. I just wonder is there anybody in Coventry has got connections with these people?
Int: Possibly, yeah.
BL: You see it’s not only the only people that can remember, I’ve also got the, people may be relatives of people who’ve been killed. I’ve got the names of all the Polish airmen who were killed. You know, it’s all there in the literature. I’ve got all the captains, the pilots, of the aircraft that’d been killed so the crew can be identified from that.
Int: Yeah, yeah.
BL: There is a Polish War Memorial with the names on it too which, it would be interesting if anybody in Coventry could throw any light on this as well.
Int: Hmm. Right well I’ll just.

Citation

“Interview with Brian Llewellyn ,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 25, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/34782.

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