Interview with Bill Bailey


Interview with Bill Bailey


Bill Bailey was born in Stafford. After finishing school he went to work for the Post Office Telephones service as a telegram boy. He decided to join the Royal Air Force and began training as a rear gunner at RAF Dalcross. He joined 31 Squadron of 205 Group. He was then posted overseas to Egypt, Palestine and Italy. He and his crew undertook supply drops to Yugoslavia and to partisan groups in Italy.




Temporal Coverage




00:48:23 audio recording

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GR: Right. This is Gary Rushbrook with Warrant Officer Bill Bailey on the 1st of May and we are at Bill’s house near Nottingham and I’ll hand you over to Bill who will tell us a little bit about his early life.
HHB: Right. Well, I was born in Stafford in 1925. 21st of January. And er we moved around different houses there.
GR: Brothers and sisters?
HHB: I had a brother. He was three years older than me. Mum and dad were, father was in the First World War but he came through it all right.
GR: Yeah. What was he in? Was he in the army?
HHB: He was in the royal artillery, yes.
GR: Royal artillery. Yeah.
HHB: And so I went to school there but unfortunately when I was about six or seven mother and father split up so just left there me, my dad and my brother and he worked at a local electricity works
GR: Right.
HHB: Doing general maintenance work, I think. Anyway, when I got to about nine he got offered a job and a house in Stoke on Trent. Shelton, Stoke on Trent so we moved there, and he went to do metre reading so of course I went to school then at Cauldon Road School in, in Shelton till I was just over fourteen. Course being fourteen in the January just over the Christmas period I had to go to the Easter to leave. So, whenever I was off school I always used to go back to Stafford to an aunt and uncle of mine. So, when they knew I was leaving school, unbeknown to me, they applied for a job at the Stafford Post Office as a telegram boy and the next thing I know was I got a letter, ‘You’re starting work on Monday.’ I left on the Friday and started work on Monday at Stafford, you know, as a telegram boy. I’d not even had an interview so I wonder -
GR: So you had two days at the weekend from school to going to work.
HHB: Yeah. I think there was a bit of something going there ‘cause I’d got an uncle who worked there at the Stafford Post Office. He was a supervisor there so I don’t know whether he pulled any strings. I don’t know but I never had an interview. So on the day I had to report I reported there and I saw the head postmaster. I think his name was Adams. Had a chat and out I went to, in to a room where all the other telegram boys were. They were five of us and our names all began with B. Bailey, Buckshaw, Buck, Beaver and Blakeman all began with B and of course the five Bees. So anyway I went out with one of the boys to get the hang of what you did and then I had to go and report to be measured for a uniform which was a few weeks coming but anyway eventually I got that. And so I stayed there until I was about just over sixteen, seventeen and then I got the option then of either going in to the, as a postman, the postal side or the engineering side.
GR: I presume war had already broken out by then.
HHB: Yeah, war had broke out -
GR: Yeah,
HHB: September 3rd. Yes. I’d been at work since April. So, yeah so I was there as I say seventeen and then I went on the telecoms side, Post Office telephones, as an apprentice, two year apprentice. So, of course time went on. It was five year, five year apprentice sorry. I er of course by this time all my friends who had gone on the postal side had been called up. Unfortunately, or fortunately whichever the case you look at it I was classed as a reserved occupation. Course with telecoms which in them days was probably more important than what it is now.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Anyway, I did one or two courses. Went to in Birmingham and that was there once when they had a bit of a raid. Fortunately, it wasn’t in the part I was on. And I got a bit, thought I wish I’d, wanted to join the air force when I left school. I remember the woodwork teacher saying what are you going to do? I said I’d like to go in the air force and that was in 1939. Anyway, so I saw this advert in the paper air gunners said they wanted. It was only a very little slip so I cut it out, didn’t tell anybody, filled it in and posted it off. Course I was still living with my aunt and uncle then in Stafford and, and out of the blue I get a letter back to go to Birmingham Air Crew Attestation Centre, ACAC, on such and such a date for three or four days for interview and tests.
GR: So, you actually filled in a form that was in the paper.
HHB: Yeah. Yeah.
GR: To join up.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: Incredible.
HHB: It was only a little thing.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: A big, “Join the Air Force” and this little thing. Anyway, I went there and we had various tests, eye tests.
GR: I’m just going to pause it for one minute.
HHB: Yeah. Right. So I went to the Air Crew Attestation Centre at Birmingham and had fitness tests and general knowledge test and eyesight test and goodness knows what and then I had to [parade eventually in front of I don’t know what rank they were now, got quite a number of rings on their sleeves, ‘Why do you want to be an air gunner?’ Blah blah. ‘I don’t know why. Because I want to be,’ you know. ‘What’s your parents say?’ Well I hadn’t told my dad. I hadn’t told my auntie. So I said, ‘Well they don’t mind.’ ‘What about your employer?’ That was the post office telephones. ‘Have you asked permission?’ I said ahem, ‘Yes.’ I hadn’t.
GR: You hadn’t.
HHB: So they said, ‘Right.’ So they’d got some model aeroplanes on the table. ‘What’s that?’ ‘A Blenheim.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘A Wellington.’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘Junkers 88.’ ‘You know your airplanes don’t you?’ Anyway, I, that was more or less it. Off I went. Later on they called us all in, called the names out you’ve been accepted. You’ll be hearing from us. So of course I went back to work at Stafford in Telecoms and I got a letter from them, ‘We haven’t received a letter from your employer giving you permission.’ So I wrote back and said, ‘It hasn’t come back yet.’ Anyway, they must have got fed up with this because they wrote to the area manager at Stoke on Trent and I got instructions to go to Stoke to see the area manager. So I walked in, I forget his, Sefton I think his name was. I walked in and, ‘Oh yes, Bailey. You’ve applied to join the air force.’ ‘Yes sir.’ ‘You didn’t ask me if you could go.’ ‘No sir.’ Oh well. Anyway, had a general natter. He said, ‘Alright, well I’ll let you go. I’ll write to them and say you can go.’ About a fortnight after that I got my call up papers.
GR: Right.
HHB: October and off I went down to the usual place, Lords Cricket Ground.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Found my way across London. I’d never been to London before at eighteen and a bit, just over eighteen years old, you know. Anyway, I got to lords cricket ground and we all formed up. ‘Right, in here.’ We went in a long room which everybody else must have done as well.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Drop your trousers. Well people, well, I forgot to say I’d been in the Home Guard for a while. I was underage but of course the captain wanted, the lieutenant wanted to get enough recruits to make him captain he let me go in, you know.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Anyway, I’d been used to all this sort of thing, you know when we went on camp. So of course I dropped my trousers, ‘C’mon drop your trousers’ and then of course the MO came along with his stick. Right, everybody, ‘Alright off you can go.’ So I walked out then and then they called out names and we were billeted in blocks in St Johns Wood. Blocks of flats. And we was there a fortnight and we had general tests again. I had two teeth out but they wouldn’t let you fly, they said with filled teeth.
GR: With fillings in your teeth.
HHB: With filling yeah so I sat in this chair and put my head back and getting ready to shout and this lovely blond face came over. She said. ‘It’ll be alright.’ Well, I couldn’t shout out then could I but anyway I had that out and that was it. I then waited. We were going to Bridlington to ITW of course so we went up to ITW and we was there for six weeks.
GR: That’s initial training isn’t it?
HHB: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: While we was there they decided that people who were higher qualified in the course would go straight to Dalcross Gunnery School instead of going to Elementary Gunner School at, was it Cosford? So, many of us went straight up to AGS Air Gunnery School at Dalcross, outside Inverness, for a three month course. So, by the time I got there it was just before Christmas, I think. Anyway, we went there and did the usual training on Ansons like we all did, you know, shooting and all the rest of it and it was quite a, I earned a bob or two there because we used to do skeet shooting. Clay, clay shooting -
GR: Yeah. Clay pigeon shooting.
HHB: We always used to put a bob in and I was quite good at it. I don’t know why but I was so I always used to earn a bob or two.
GR: A little bit extra.
HHB: I got friendly with a WREN there and used to go to Inverness to see her and one day I saw the gunnery instructor there. So, the next day at lectures he was saying, ‘And don’t get sitting in the YM looking all dewey eyed at the girl with you,’ he said. ‘You need to be air gunners.’ Knowing that he meant me. Anyway, I passed out the course and went on leave. I got a telegram, ‘Report back.’ Went back. Being sent overseas. Oh God.
GR: Straight away.
HHB: Yeah. So what I got I got kitted out. I got a fortnight’s leave and the day after had to report to 5 PDC, Personnel Despatch Centre at Blackpool up there. You were just hanging about till I got the boat out from Liverpool. Didn’t know where we was going although the rumour was Cairo. We set off on this boat and found that we found out we were being sent out to the Middle East. Cairo. Got to Cairo. Landed at Port at Suez and was there for two or three days in tents and that was an experience because the people who’d been in these tents before us had been a load of Indian troops and their health habits weren’t very good. So we had quite a few -
GR: I can imagine.
HHB: In the sand.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Course we were only sleeping on sand on ground sheet. Anyway, eventually we all eventually got sent up to Cairo.
GR: Did you have any inclination, ‘cause obviously you’d joined you were an air gunner.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: And obviously the natural progression would have been Bomber Command in England did you have any idea where you were going or -
HHB: No. No.
GR: What was going to happen to you?
HHB: No.
GR: No.
HHB: We were sent from, we got off the boat at Suez. We went up to Cairo. That was another PDC and there we just milled around waiting to be posted to OTU and I was sent to 76 OTU in Palestine at Aqir which was training for bombers. So, I finished up there. So we got on the train from Cairo across the Sinai Desert up. That was a journey on its own as well and that’s where my [?] big things they were [?]and were always something difficult to pack.
GR: Right.
HHB: So I said I’m fed up with this blooming thing. So, somebody said, ‘Don’t you want it.’ ‘Not really.’ The next minute it went out the window. It’s in the middle of the Sinai Desert somewhere. Anyway, we carried up to Palestine and we were in a PDC there and it was from there we sent to Aqir and there we got crewed up. Just went out one day. We didn’t have a hangar to go in. Just [parade] milled around the parade ground, get crewed up, you know. So I didn’t know what to do and all of a sudden this chap comes to me, ‘Have you got a crew?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Come on then I’ve got one, I’m a pilot’ So, we went and he was a South African Van der [Valt]. So we had a chat and he said, ‘Do you want to come, join me?’ So that’s how I joined him and then we got a navigator, bomb aimer and what have you and that was it. We started to fly doing our training but also flying on Wellingtons, you know.
GR: Right.
HHB: And that was interesting. Of course I flew Wellingtons of course we just had one that was going on a six or seven hour cross country flight and we’d only be air borne about forty minutes. I’m sitting in the rear turret and I thought, ‘Am I seeing things?’ Sparks come by and then bits of something was flying by, rings and pieces. I said, ‘Is the port engine alright skip?’ He said, ‘We’re just looking at it.’ I said, ‘Well it looks like it falling to pieces. There’s bits flying off it.’ So we feathered it and we had to turn back so but by then the starboard engine started perform so we decided to land at Lydda. So we called up, got clearance to land, coming in it was a Liberator, heavy con unit [ydda was and this Liberator was cutting out so we had to stagger around in the air on this one good engine. Well this happened twice.
GR: God.
HHB: And the third time, the second time of course, the engine, the starboard engine just packed up so we finished up in a big heap on the desert.
GR: Crash landed.
HHB: Crash landed but fortunately we was alright except the wireless operator. A chap named [Stoner] The wireless operator’s table with his equipment on it collapsed and he’d broken his leg so we lost, lost him but there was another one there without a crew so we got him. Chap named Shelby from Halifax. So we went, the MO called us in. He said, ‘Everybody alright? Anyone banged their head?’ Well I had but I didn’t say yes. So he said, ‘Alright then. Off you go then.’ So that was it.
GR: That was it.
HHB: That was it and the next, that night we were flying again on a night trip.
GR: On Wellingtons again.
HHB: On Wellingtons again.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Again.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Yeah. The story is that that Wellington that we crashed in had just come back from a seven hundred hour inspection. Major inspection. So somebody had slipped up there.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Anyway, we staggered on through that and then we got leave in, well we went to Alexandria because I was friendly with a chap named Pearson and he was engaged to a girl in, she was a South African girl but living in Egypt and we went to their house and billeted there for our leave and then we came back again and then we were sent down to [Aberswayo] which was a con unit, heavy con unit for Liberators. So we did about a month course there and of course with being a South African crew half the crew were South African. The pilot, navigator and flight engineer were South Africans. We hadn’t got a beam gunner then. And the rest of the crew, bomb aimer, two gunners and a wireless operator were RAF. Anyway, we got sent to South African Air Force base depot at [El Marsi] just outside Cairo and there we stopped there then waiting for a posting to a squadron which eventually came about the end of September time and sometime in September 1944 and bundled on to a Dakota as far as to about Tunis and then we got American Air Force Commando aircraft flying across to Bari and from Bari we went to what they called the advanced SAF base depot at Bari waiting to be posted to a squadron.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And about October time, beginning of October time, we went to 31 SAF squadron based at Fuji, well [Saloni] just outside Foggia, and that’s where we started to fly our ops.
GR: Yeah. How many was on the Liberator? What was the full –
HHB: There was eight crew. There was -
GR: Eight crew.
HHB: Pilot, flight engineer and navigator, mid upper gunner, rear gunner, bomb aimer, beam gunner.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: So, but we didn’t get the beam gunner till we got to the squadron.
GR: Right.
HHB: And all of a sudden this young lad, forget his name now, it’s in the logbook, he rolled up. He was a warrant officer and the South Africans when they were posted to a squadron they were immediately made up to warrant officers.
GR: Right. So were you all flight sergeants at the time.
HHB: Sergeants then, we were.
GR: Sergeants.
HHB: And he come straight from gunnery school as a, they didn’t even go through OTU and con unit. So, anyway, he was a warrant officer so there we were with this, but we started flying various ops, you know. Various supply drops, bombing raids.
GR: What was your first operation Bill?
HHB: Do you want to look at the logbook.
GR: Yeah I’ll just pause it for a sec.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: So we’re just having a look at Bill’s logbook and yeah your first operation, I’m just looking there, 14th November.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: 1944 yeah. Supply drop to Yugoslavia. What was that like? I mean -
HHB: Well, you know, we was all a bit, the skip had already done his second pilot trip to know what was what, like. Yeah.
GR: Yeah. So, yeah, just looking at the logbook. Yeah, and the first, the first one was a supply drop. Did you know it was a supply drop or did you think -
HHB: Oh yes we’d got supplies in the big canisters in the fuselage.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And we were looking for a, I haven’t got it there but we had a certain area to go to and look for the area to go to and look for this, perhaps a cross or a triangle or something in flames or lights on the ground.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And then they’d signal us you know somewhere to drop. They were dropped by parachute, you know
GR: Yes.
HHB: And er yes that was, that was the first one. They’d break us in gently you see.
GR: Yes.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: And just looking at the logbook. Yeah, there was a couple of supply drops.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: And then the, I think your third operation.
HHB: Yeah. Bombing.
GR: Was bombing some German troop concentrations. So that was the first bombing run.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: So what was that like, Bill?
HHB: Well it was, it’s a long time ago now.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: It was just another trip like, you know.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Nothing much exciting happened on it. This one to [Sarajevo].
GR: Yeah. So -
HHB: So that was, that was, bomb doors froze up so we couldn’t drop the bombs.
GR: So the bomb doors froze -
HHB: Yeah, we was.
GR: Closed.
HHB: Twenty thousand feet, you see.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And yeah, they froze up. So, we had to drop the bombs, come down and drop the bombs in the sea as I say.
GR: And return to base.
HHB: Jettison in the sea [heavy light flak and that at Sarajevo]
GR: Flak. Yeah.
HHB: We went there in daytime as well with these.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: But most of the raids at this time were the first one was -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: A daylight one that one.
GR: So most of the operations were at night but then your first daylight operation 19th of November.
HHB: November.
GR: 1944.
HHB: Yeah. That was River Bridge in Yugoslavia.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: I think the Germans were retreating through Yugoslavia.
GR: Yes.
HHB: And they wanted this bridge cutting. I don’t know whether we hit it or not. I can’t remember now. Probably missed it. So, I carried on like this until I finished my tour which was just before VE day.
GR: And I think I’ve seen there’s a total, total -
HHB: Yeah.
GR: Of thirty -
HHB: Eight or nine or something
GR: Thirty seven operations. We’re just going back.
HHB: Yeah there’s one, no, should be this one here.
GR: Should be, should be here Bill. Thirty three. That’s March.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: And then, yeah, there’s one in April there.
HHB: Yeah. Thirty six, thirty seven. Oh it’s there thirty seven.
GR: Yeah. So your last operation was on the 5th of April.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: Yeah. Well your tour, it probably wasn’t the last operation by the squadron but certainly your tour -
HHB: Yeah. My tour, yeah.
GR: Which was thirty seven operations so I mean over those thirty seven operations any close calls or was it a relatively -
HHB: The usual. We got trapped in searchlights over the [Rhone] one day. A couple of fighters we saw and I’ve got it somewhere. Got it somewhere
HHB: Yeah.
GR: Couple, couple of fighters we saw -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: But we evaded them when we saw.
GR: Yeah. Did the squadron suffer many casualties while you were there?
HHB: No. No, not a lot.
GR: No.
HHB: No. Not a lot. We had one or two. They suffered a lot just before I joined them because they were on the Warsaw raid.
GR: Yes.
HHB: And they lost quite heavy then and then after that just before I joined them and this is why we went and then they sent aircraft up to drop supplies in Northern Italy to the Italian partisans and it was in the mountains and they’d got to get in to this valley to drop them. Of course if you dropped them too high they just floated away you see. You’d got to get down.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: A lot of these places were in valleys so you’d got to get down to about six or seven hundred feet just or to get just the height for the parachute to open.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Otherwise they floated away.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And when we got back they were in radio contact. When we got back they’d tell us whether it was a good drop or not. So they sent them to this Northern Italy and we lost six that night.
GR: God.
HHB: One has never been found. They found all the others crashed in the mountains but this one that’s never been found and one of the, the bomb aimer was a New Zealander and I had a letter from his, his daughter. She lives in, I can’t think off-hand. Anyway -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Anyway she [that was that] an advert anyone on 31 squadron, used to be a series on the television, comrades, old comrades to get in touch.
GR: Yeah. Yes.
HHB: And this one anyone on 31 SAF squadron so I rang it and it was her husband [and I know] cause he left, he was one of the crews that we’d gone to replace. He’d died just a week or so before us -
GR: You got there.
HHB: We got there. So [I’m still in touch?] every Christmas still get a card from her I send one to her you know but she had a plaque laid, made and laid in this village near where we were dropping the supplies.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And it’s mounted there in English and in Italian. The crews name and all the -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And he was, he was actually a New Zealander but her mother was English. She’d married, married him and she was born, she was, her mother was conceiving while he was on ops.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And he was killed before she was born.
GR: That’s right.
HHB: So that was why she was trying to find out anything about him.
GR: Trying to find anything about it all so -
HHB: So we didn’t, but um -
GR: When you were doing supply drops how many aircraft were flying in the squadron.
HHB: Well, there’d perhaps be -
GR: Roughly. You know, just -
HHB: Eight, ten.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: But there was a group you see. The whole group went.
GR: Ah.
HHB: It was 205 group.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And that was the heavy bomber squadron and that came all the way up through the desert.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And I’ve got a book there, “Bombers Over Sand and Snow”. It’s all about 205 group coming up from the start of the war up through Egypt and into Italy.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: So this was 37 squadron, 45 squadron. There was quite a group of -
GR: Yeah. So, 205 group.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: Would do.
HHB: But we were the only ones, on our squadron was 31 squadron South African and 34 South African. We were the only ones on that group with Liberators. The others were still on Wellingtons.
GR: Right.
HHB: But by January ‘45 they’d all converted to Liberators.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: But so on these trips sometimes there was Liberators and Wellingtons as well. Yeah. And also on the unit was an American squadron, whatever they called them, the fortresses.
GR: The B17s. Yeah the B17s. Flying Fortresses.
HHB: So [right Mick] so we er, but we had quite a lot of activity during the daytime. We were going up at night. Well, all we was landing on was pierced steel planking.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: For runways and as the weather deteriorated and in ’44, ‘45 at that time was the worst winter in living memory in Italy. Snow, rain, everywhere was muddied up. We wasn’t in, all we lived in was tents. We didn’t live in huts. It was tents. Eight man tents. But eventually a friend of mine, Shorty Pearson, we were both on the same squadron, we got a small two men tent which was better but there was no room in it.
GR: No.
HHB: I mean, we eventually to sleep on we were sleeping on the floor or on the ground sheets you know but eventually we got the bomb tails when the bombs came the tails were protected by a, they were like a small, looked like a stool about [eighteen] inches high.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And about a foot square.
GR: And that was protecting the fins on the bombs.
HHB: Protecting the fins, yeah. So we eventually collected enough of them to make a bed which only left a narrow gap in between but at least we was off the floor.
GR: Incredible.
HHB: So, but so -
GR: So -
HHB: What happened, what I was going to say was that in the January time we were starting the Americans didn’t want the Libs there cause they were breaking the runways up so we all had to move off to [Foggamin] to a concrete runway.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: The main airfield at Foggia. So after one raid I haven’t got it in my book but after one trip we had to land there and they picked us up in lorries and took us back to base
GR: Right.
HHB: And of course that was tough on the ground staff having to service the aircraft out, you know, there and all the equipment. Anyway, we managed for a few weeks and er, till the, till the place had dried out a bit you know and it was fit for us to, for the Liberator cause they were breaking up the runways.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And the perimeter track was all hard core. There was nothing permanent, you know.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And the conditions there were only two, three buildings on, on, on the squadron. Well there was four actually, buildings. One was the church which was wooden, one was the sergeant’s mess and the airmen’s mess, the officer’s mess and the ops room and one of the other farm buildings was used as a parachute section and that was it. The rest of us were all in, under canvas
HHB: Yeah.
GR: All through the winter.
GR: ‘Cause Foggia was a big base wasn’t it?
HHB: Yes, there was -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: In that area I think there was eight airfields around Foggia.
GR: Right.
HHB: And you’d be sitting there and you’d hear a boom and you’d see a big cloud and oh another Liberator crashed or gone up, you know. You heard a big bang. That was a Wellington, another Wellington gone up. Yeah. But of course we were losing a lot to accidents, you know.
GR: Yeah. Probably more to accidents than -
HHB: Probably.
GR: Yeah, than fighters and -
HHB: Anyway, thinking about the squadron you’d be lying there on your bed and also the Americans, the South Africans had army ranks they weren’t pilot officer and that they were second lieutenants, lieutenants, captains.
GR: Right.
HHB: And warrant officer. The station warrant officer was a sergeant major. He’d be out there and you’d hear, ‘Wakey wakey. Following crews. Ops room half an hour.’ Look at your watch, 5 o’clock.
GR: Oh.
HHB: Oh no. And you’d lie there hoping he didn’t call your name out and you’d hear him say Captain van der [Valt]. Oh God that’s us. Got to get up and so it was down to the ops room and while we were in the ops room and while we were in the ops room getting briefed and that the cooks would be getting a breakfast of sorts, you know.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Then we’d go and have breakfast and take off would be about two or three hours later, you know. Yeah used to lie there. The electricity supply was the [eight wire] all the way through the camp and we used to just wrap a piece around and take a lead to your place and try and hope it was waterproof. Half the time you know it would go on and go off of course, you know.
GR: What was the food supply like in Italy cause obviously back in England it was quite severe rationing.
HHB: Yeah well we was rationed there. I mean it was corned beef with everything.
GR: Oh right.
HHB: One day I went in the mess and this, ‘Oh fried fish.’ Opened it up. It was a piece of bully beef in batter.
GR: Bully beef in batter.
HHB: Yeah and the coffee, they had coffee but that was in a big urn and you -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Used to dip your mug in, you know.
GR: And drink it.
HHB: ‘Cause it was, what annoyed us with the Americans there they got a little portable generator. Every tent had got these little portable generator putt putts as they were called, they actually had one on the Liberator as alternative power supply. When they landed you switched it on, you know and this was so you got these on little stands and every tent had got one and they just used to start it up. Lights. Yeah.
GR: So definitely the RAF was
HHB: They got, they got –
GR: Poor relations to the Americans.
HHB: Yeah. They got, they got duck boards all over the place. Yeah. And they’d even got a cinema allowed us, certain nights, to go to the cinema but –
GR: Oh right.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: What happened at the end of tour? Did you stay in Italy or –
HHB: No. After the end of tour I got sent back up to Naples which was a closure of a PDC for despatching people.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And I got put on a ship back to Suez and on the way back VE day came in May so by the time I got to Cairo back to [El Marsa] again which was another Cairo air force dump it was VE night.
GR: VE night. Yeah.
HHB: And that night, that day, a lot of WAAFs had just arrived. The first big load of WAAFs to come out I think and they were in this camp as well but that was all [laughs] wired off you know and so it was about one hundred and twelve degrees there that night. Cor it was hot. Anyway, I stopped there for a while until I got my posting home. I suppose, of course I was young and they got me back to retrain me you see but they didn’t realise there was a class B man who was going to get released anyway.
GR: Right.
HHB: I didn’t know this. Anyway, I got home and went to Catterick, Catterick RAF camp and that was a despatch centre, you know. Went and had an interview
GR: Yeah.
HHF: And decided, they sent me to Cranwell on a signals course. Being telecoms I suppose they thought I’d know all about it you see.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
HHB: So I went there and just, can’t say that, we learned a lot about radio and all that and how to operate the VH direction finder. Anyway eventually got posted from there again, abroad. Up to Blackpool again 5 PDC and I flew out to India.
GR: Oh right.
HHB: In a Stirling.
GR: Out to India in a Stirling.
HHB: Yes. I’ve got it here.
GR: Was there any, had victory in Japan been achieved by then or -
HHB: No. Yes. Yes.
GR: Yes oh yes so there was no possibilities of them sending you out to the Far East.
HHB: [] sent to India. Stradishall to Castel Benito seven hours. Castel Benito to Cairo West, five hours. Cairo West to [?] or something, five hours.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Mayapur in India five hours. Mayapur to Pune four hours. Pune to [arro] something.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And then -
GR: And so a long trek to India.
HHB: Yes and I went right down there and eventually got down there and eventually were at a place called [Momatagama] in Ceylon.
GR: In Ceylon.
HHB: Just below Kandy. Actually it was Kandy airstrip. A little airstrip in the middle of nowhere.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And the radio set was a little TR9 which was something they had pre-war, you know. Anyway, and all they did there was sit in flying control and you’d open up 6 o’clock till two or two till six, you know.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And people would call up and, you know, planes would land, you know.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: At one time it was very busy when Kandy had been very busy when Kandy was the Headquarters for SEAC.
GR: Yes. South East Asia Command. Yes.
HHB: Yeah, but it was very quiet. There was, passed one aircraft a week sometimes. Lovely sitting there it was, doing nothing and then I got posted to a place called Mowathagama which was, this airstrip was called Mowathagama.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: I went from there to [Cowgla] so I flew down there in a little um Expediator.
GR: Oh right.
HHB: An American two engine -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Passenger plane. Twenty five, fifty minutes to [?], [?] to Mowathagama forty five minutes. To [Cowgla] and that was in Ceylon.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: I went there and got put on a Liberator direction finder and you’d sit there on the beach. Lovely sand. Blue, blue sea. Palm trees.
GR: Warm weather.
HHB: Ooh.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And somebody’d call up ‘bearing,’ so you’d give them a bearing, you know, and not very often. Only two or three times while I was there and so that was -
GR: Around about February ‘46.
HHB: No, I was there then.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Yeah. It was February.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: ‘46 I went there and I as I say sat on the beach doing nothing. Six till two, two till six. The early shift was long but that one wasn’t and when we wasn’t flying we used to go swimming. A load of, after the war the landmines, the mines they’d got, the sea mines, they took them and blew space in the rocks for swimming pool.
GR: Right.
HHB: So that was -
GR: Good use of the mines.
HHB: Yeah. Swimming up there. And so I was there until March and one day I got a call to go to the adjutant’s office. Knocked on the door and went in. ‘Ah yes.’ He said, ‘Your class B release has come through.’ Well that was the first I knew about it. So he said, ‘Do you want it? Go outside and think about it.’ So, went outside, shut the door, knocked the door and went in and said, ‘Yes.’ So, good, I came out on B but the best bit of it was coming home. I got about, the records for about twenty five other airmen. And he said, ‘Here you are. Look after these’ and you’ll be starting from wherever it was now going up to Pune eventually to fly back home from Pune.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And I got these records all the time, had to look after them, a pile -
GR: A great big pile of records.
HHB: A lot of these people I mean I was only twenty one then, you know these were time expired, been out there five years.
GR: Five years.
HHB: Yeah and one of them was a sergeant getting demobbed and he was most upset. Of course he’d got no family back home.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And he’d been in air force all his life and he was coming home. He was really upset he was but all the others, you know.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: They were looking forward to it so the last I saw of them we went to Hednesford. There we went through the demob thing and the suits and all.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Whatever you had. I had the sports jacket and flannels and mac and shoes and shirt and what have you and we got no money then but I found a postal order. I think it was for a pound that the unit had been on when I was in telecoms. Post office engineering sent to me in Italy so I went and cashed this thing so four or five of us went out that night on this pound and had a drink and it lasted -
GR: Out on the town with a pound.
HHB: Yeah. We drank, drank what we could out of it. I mean in them days six shilling for a pint.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
HHB: So, the last I saw of them I jumped off the truck at Stafford station ‘cause that was the station they took us to. They went on the train and I picked my bags up and walked home. Course I lived in Stafford at the time.
GR: And that was it. You were out of the RAF.
HHB: Out the RAF. Yeah.
GR: When I came back I flew from Pune to Barakpur. Barakpur to [Shiboor, Shiboor] to Lydda, Palestine, Lydda
GR: Yeah.
HHB: To Castel where we crashed, Lydda. Lydda to Castel Benito.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Castel Benito to Waterbeach.
GR: Waterbeach.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: So coming home, a total of thirty one hours -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Flying time.
GR: Yeah, that was in a Liberator.
HHB: in a Liberator.
GR: And the flight engineer, I said to the flight, you know, I said I was on Libs, you know.
HHB: Oh he said do you want to test the undercarriage for me. Course when you went in a Lib the tricycle undercarriage always checked the nose wheel.
GR: Yes.
HHB: ;Cause it didn’t always lock in position. Had to go down and see a little red button there and he said, I said, ‘No, I’ve done it. I know what’s going to happen when I get down there and especially over these places, desert and that, that’ll be sand’ -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Sandpaper on your face. I said, ‘No. Thank you very much. I’m not doing that.’ That was another job for the air gunner by the way. When we came in to land in a Lib you always had to come out the turret because it was too heavy, the tricycle, the undercarriage would be up and down.
GR: Up and down yes.
HHB: It would hit the ground if you were in there so we had to come out of there to the beam position and that was our landing position.
GR: Landing position, yeah.
HHB: But when you landed you had to open the hatch and the pilot was on the port side. You had to get the Aldiss lamp and shine it up, ‘Up a bit. Hold it there,’ So he could see the edge of the perimeter track. Course the landing lights were shining too far in -
GR: Too far in front.
HHB: So you had to sit there with all the mud and muck coming into your face. Of course they were muddy, muddy ground.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Getting splattered yeah. You were dirty when you got out, you know. Yeah. And that was your job. You had to check the two red lugs come down on the undercarriage, you had to make sure -
GR: That they were down.
HHB: They were down and checked the front. I never did the one on ops but I couldn’t get down the bomb bay.
GR: No cause you’d be -
HHB: Cause with the kit on. The bomb bay was only about -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: [eighteen] inches wide, if that. I couldn’t get through them without taking your clothes off you know your harness, Mae West.
GR: Couldn’t’ do that.
HHB: And all that. Which you didn’t. So that was my time in the air force.
GR: Your time in the air force. What happened after the war? Did you -
HHB: I went back to Telecoms
GR: Yeah.
HHB: And I stopped there forty eight years.
GR: Forty eight years.
HHB: Forty eight years in total. I had forty six years as Post Office Telephones and two years as British Telecoms
GR: Two years as British Telecom. Yeah.
HHB: Yeah but by then it wasn’t the same. The spirit had gone out of it. I mean I’ve stood in manholes when I was a jointer before I got promotion and that, like this, water up to here holding the joint up in the air so it didn’t get wet.
GR: Can you imagine that now with health and safety?
HHB: I’ve worked, I’ve worked up poles you know trying to plumb cables up. I mean -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Now, they’ve got gas blow lamps but they, they were paraffin.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Or petrol and they’d go cold in the middle of wiping a joint the lamp would go out you know, especially if it was paraffin it would go cold. You’d have to chuck it down and get another one up, you know.
GR: Did you actually go back to exactly the same job that you’d left?
HHB: Yeah.
GR: Straight after the war. Yeah.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: So they, in theory your job was kept open. There was a vacancy there.
HHB: There was a lot of newcomers there that I didn’t know they were.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Ex-servicemen, they took a lot of ex-servicemen on. Well -
GR: Yeah.
HHB: Most of them were. Yes, I went back there and I stopped at Stafford for a while but by then I got in touch with my mother ‘cause she was in Nottingham.
GR: Right.
HHB: So, actually I got in touch with her during the war. Course she realised I would be going up and she made great efforts to locate us. Anyway, so I went back to Stafford. I came to Nottingham in ‘46 and stopped in Nottingham all the time. Started off as a cable jointer. Actually while I was in Italy I got a letter from the post office saying I’d been promoted to USW unestablished civil service, it was a civil service then. You got established.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: I’d done five year established I’d done five years, skilled workmen that was so of course when I came that was it so of course eventually over the years I eventually got promoted to assistant executive engineer and that was underground maintenance. A group of about eighty men.
GR: Did you see, obviously you said you saw your mum.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: After the war?
HHB: Yes. I saw her before the war.
GR: Yes. Did you see your dad after the war or -
HHB: Yeah, I saw my dad.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: He still lived in Stoke he did.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: He eventually got married again.
GR: Yeah. But you saw them both.
HHB: Yeah.
GR: So even though they were separated.
HHB: Yeah. Yeah.
GR: Oh that’s good.
HHB: My father died in 1962.
GR: Yeah.
HHB: My mother died 1992. Something like that.
GR: 1992 yeah. Oh that’s good.
HHB: So, that was it.
GR: Thank you Bill that was excellent. That was very, very interesting thank you.
HHB: We can nip down and have a pint now.



Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Bill Bailey ,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 13, 2024,

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