Interview with Geoff Brown


Interview with Geoff Brown


Geoff grew up in Grimsby and remembers picking a butterfly bomb up and taking it home.

Geoff was born and lived in the same area of Grimsby all his life, at the date of his interview he was 93. The first part of the interview concentrated on his experience of finding a German butterfly bomb close to his home, Geoff described how after an air raid the local children would explore the local area looking for shrapnel. On this particular day when he was about 13, he and a friend found this device which looked different, he asked a soldier what it might be but he didn’t know. His friend's father did not want it in their house and Geoff’s father said the same thing although they did not know what it was. Geoff was standing outside their house when a bomb disposal team came by probably looking for the bomblets. They told Geoff to drop it they then surrounded it with sandbags and detonated it with a small explosive charge which blew out some of the house windows. Geoff considered himself to be lucky as although they had mistreated the device it had not exploded, he also made the point that no one knew what they were as the authorities decided not to issue any information about the bomblets. He could not remember any anti aircraft guns locally but did remembers a large gun nearby.
Geoff described how his father a fisherman had built an Anderson air-raid shelter in their back garden and when the sirens alerted them to a raid the whole family gathered there. He described how one night a German aircraft caught in the searchlight beam dived down and dropped their bomb quite close to the house. He made the point that air raids on Grimsby were not that frequent unlike Hull just across the river, although Grimsby at that time was a major fishing port where literally you could cross the harbour stepping from one trawler to the next. Geoff remembered that early in the war the aircraft they saw were German but later on the large formations of Lancasters were evident.
Having left school at 14 he went to work at the local Rolls Royce dealership as an apprentice but disliked the work. Just post the European war conscription was still in place but Geoff volunteered to join the army for five years as you could choose your job and were paid more. He was trained as a signaller, his initial posting was the army headquarters in Paris which as it was just post war Eisenhower and Montgomery were there. Geoff was then posted to Egypt which was very different to Paris, living in tents with awful food. Another lucky escape happened there, with a group of soldiers who were digging trenches by hand to be used as latrines, a fellow corporal told Geoff take your troops and go for a break then come back and relieve me, but the trench collapsed and killed them as Geoff and his group were on break.
Having completed his time in the army Geoff became a lorry driver during the week and a taxi driver at the weekend and he remembered the filming of Memphis Belle at RAF Binbrook.
Almost as a postscript Geoff remembered another lucky escape, early in the war in many towns and cities the school children were evacuated to safer areas to escape the German bombers. He remembers being gathered at school expecting to be told that they were being evacuated to Canada but a ship carrying evacuees had been sunk near the Canadian coast so the plan was abandoned.




Temporal Coverage





00:54:56 Audio Recording


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ABrownG231006, PBrownG2301


DE: So, this is an interview for the IBCC Digital Archive with Geoff Brown. My name is Dan Ellin. It is the 6th of October 2023 and we’re in Grimsby. Also present in the room is Paul [Thenick] and Geoff’s son, Alan. I’ll just put that there so we can hear your voice. Geoff can we just start a little bit about your early life and where you grew up please?
GB: Well, I grew up where I am living now in Chelmsford Avenue only it was across the road at number 12. So I only moved, so I’m still in the same area I’ve been for ninety three years. Born there. Then when I got married I bought this house and so that my lifetime has been in the same area as when, when we used to go, come out in the morning looking for shrapnel as I told you.
DE: Yeah.
GB: And that’s what we was doing that morning with a friend of mine. She was a girl who lived around, only around the corner in Littlefield Lane but we did it regular. If there had been an air raid the night before and we was in the shelter we would get up to go and look for shrapnel. I don’t know why. I don’t want keeping it or anything. Just a matter of interest, you know. And that was I was doing that on, on the morning they dropped the butterfly bombs. Do you want me to carry on?
DE: Yes, please. Yeah.
GB: And I was walking down Littlefield Lane looking for shrapnel and the sports ground that was there in them days in the hedge was a, was a, as I see was a lump of iron. I wasn’t sure what it was and there was a soldier stood nearby. But I threw a brick at it and nothing happened. I didn’t know owt about butterfly bombs and people being killed that morning and I threw a brick at it. So I picked it up and I gave it to this soldier. I says, ‘Do you know what it is?’ He didn’t know but he did an amazing thing. He opened his army knife, jackknife with the prong and as you’ve just seen what Paul showed you what he’s trying to prise it open. Well, God knows none of us would be here if he’d have succeeded. But he tried and he couldn’t. He couldn’t force it open and he just said to me, ‘You have it. There you are. You have it. You found it. You have it.’ Of course, he didn’t know it was a bomb and I didn’t know it was a bomb so walking back to where I lived which was only across the road and the girl I was with she took it in her house because it couldn’t be far. That was in Littlefield Lane where the bomb was found and her father said, ‘You’re not —' So she came out. She said, ‘My dad don’t, don’t want that in the house.’ Again, nobody is saying it’s a bomb. He hadn’t or any. So she give it to me. I said, ‘Well I’ll have it then.’ Souvenir. And I walked around the corner and I go in the house. My father is home. He was a fisherman and he says, ‘You’re not having that in the house.’ Again, none of us thinking for one minute it’s a bomb. I’d been kicking it along the road as I’m walking back because it would roll over with a kick like, you know. And anyway, I’ve got it in my hand and I opened the front door and as I opened the front door there was a bomb disposal lorry coming down this avenue which was across the road. Coming down here and an officer walking in front and he was looking which I didn’t know he was looking for these butterfly bombs and he saw me with it in my hand. Now, I’ve had it a good half hour. I’d kicked it and had it. If I’d had known what was going to happen I’d have just walked it across the road to a green. To a patch of green field you know. But he panicked me, ‘Drop it. Drop it.’ I dropped it on the [laughs] well, I didn’t drop it. I put it down on the doorstep and so I I’m out the, I’m really worried at this stage. I don’t know what’s going on and they’re looking for me and it was a butterfly bomb. So they sandbagged it up within a few minutes. Sanded it all up and detonated it about an hour later which blew the windows of, of our house and a neighbour’s house and I think one across the road. The explosion blew the windows in but not the doors. Well, I’m terrified now. I don’t, I think because what happened in them days your father would give you a good hiding you know as punishment. It wasn’t like it is today. He was alright. He never. But if you really misbehaved you got a good hiding and you expected it. You got it at school. You got the cane every time you misbehaved. Your teacher used to bend the cane like that. I don’t know whether, but you expected if you’d done something wrong. Now I’m terrified. I thought well I’m not going. I’m not going in because I’ve seen the damage it’s done like you know. But, but the opposite was the case as it turned out. I didn’t know it at the time but my parents were lucky that I was alive. That I’d picked this bomb up, carried it about and survived. They had to blow it up to do it so, so I didn’t know at the time. I was about, I don’t know roughly about an hour out the house terrified to go back home because I thought I’m going to get a good hiding for this. And anyway, I didn’t. Obviously. I didn’t. That’s as near as I could tell you about it but I did also know at the time the words were going around with people living nearby oh there had been a few on the Castle Market in the town centre. Eighty people. Eighty two I believe. I’m not, but it was said at the time eighty odd people had been killed but it was all in secrecy. Nobody, you know it was never ever mentioned. Mainly the radio in them days. I’m not saying whether telly, I can’t remember if there was telly on or not but not many people did have tellies and if they did they weren’t very good ones. But the radio, we all listened to the radio and it was never mentioned which to me at that age I thought that’s a surprise. Nobody wanted so everything was kept in secrecy. Then a few years later, I haven’t got the paper now, I don’t know what happened but a woman came from Paris researching the butterfly bombs and the council had told them about where I lived. Could have been in the paper, the local paper so they knew. And she come to the house and anyway cut a long story I don’t know what, she went to London to a thing in Trafalgar Square about the, so she said about the butterfly and she come back. She said, ‘I’ll come back at Grimsby and let you know.’ Well, I never did hear from her again. She wrote me a letter where I think I’ve got rid of it. She wrote a letter thanking me for, for what similar to what your knowing. All about the bomb and what I knew about the bomb which wasn’t a lot except that I survived it. So that is pretty near what happened.
DE: Yes. Smashing. Thank you. Did, did you ever see any others?
GB: No. No. I heard of nearby on Cromwell Road not far from here. Another street about a half a mile, a mile away there were several people cycling to work that morning. Railway workers, milk people that early morning work and a lot of them were exploding as soon as they were in the streets early on. But quite a few laid in parks. A cemetery as it was in them days in the town centre. Ainslie Street Cemetery it was called. It’s a park now. But there was quite two or three people killed in there by walking along and touching them. One or two three or four year later so I was told you know. So they were dangerous for a few years afterwards if they laid undetected. But a lot of them fell so I was told I mean fell in the streets and Paul told me that if they dropped as a canister if one fell there would be twenty more nearby.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Which I didn’t know. I mean I was, I wasn’t, I had no information like that at all.
DE: No. Of course not. No.
GB: I just considered myself when all the facts came out how lucky I was that I even kicked it along the road and I’m not being dramatic about it. I did. And taking it home. It’s a canister. Closed like that. But I never thought for one minute all that time that this was a bomb and the soldier certainly didn’t. So if a soldier and people like that didn’t know on the hours within with them being dropped you could understand. You know, I understood what was happening.
DE: Yeah.
GB: But the bomb disposal officers just told me to drop it, I’m stood on the, I’m just about to step off the step to get rid of it. Put it, you know because my father, we he said he didn’t want it in the house so I thought well I’ll get rid of it because I’m just thinking it’s shrapnel. It’s to do with that you know. Never in my wildest dream I think we was carrying an unexploded bomb about.
DE: So was, was the raid when they dropped those was that any different to any of the other ones that you’d experienced?
GB: No. Not as far as I know. About the air raid? No. Not to my knowledge. We’d had an air raid. We had quite a few of them but they very rare dropped bombs on Grimsby. They did drop bombs but we used to think rightly or wrongly if they were blitzing Hull or they’d gone inland a bit, Sheffield and places like that if they were coming back going back home and they’d got they’d got some bombs. I don’t know whether this be true or not but a lot of people thought it the bombs on Grimsby as far as I know was never a bombing raid on Grimsby. The butterfly bombs was but the real bombs that did a lot of damages to people’s houses and killed people we thought whether that’s true or not we always thought at the time well they’re coming over they’ve got a couple of bombs. I can’t ever think. There was bombs dropped on Grimsby. Of course, there was but nothing compared to what Hull which was only across the river. So whether that was true or not we thought it was true.
DE: Yeah.
GB: But other people would be more accurate and probably say no they did. But I don’t think. We never ever got a blitz or what I call a raid. Several bombs were dropped on the town, a few on the dock but it was never ever and I never thought it was but I weren’t the, I’m only thirteen.
DE: Sure. Yeah. Yeah.
GB: My father didn’t think it was. Elderly people didn’t think it was. They just thought well they’re coming over Grimsby on their way home.
DE: And they’ve got a couple left.
GB: Whether it’s true or not.
DE: Yeah.
GB: It might have been. It might not have been but they certainly, they didn’t, they didn’t, I can’t think of anywhere in Grimsby where there was incendiary bombs targeted. Several bombs did fall. I’m not disputing that but it was only one or two or three like. That’s what I was understood at the time and that’s what my father would be telling me and, but yeah I don’t think we was ever targeted as a bombing trip to be bombed. Well, we had nothing here. We was a fishing port. That’s what, that’s what I think. Whether it’s right or not. I mean we had no industries. Not in them days. All the Humber Bank come after the war. All the industrial. There was no shipyards here. They were all in Goole and Hull. You know what I’m saying?
DE: Wasn’t Grimsby one of the biggest fishing fleets in the country?
GB: It was the biggest ever.
DE: Yeah.
GB: I’m not saying that dramatically but you could walk across Grimsby, my dad was a fisherman, he came ashore later on in his life, worked on the dredgers but you could walk across Grimsby dock from one and I’ve done it because he took me down the dock at times. You could, you could walk across hundreds and I mean hundreds. Not exaggerating at that. In them days. ‘50s. ‘50s, ‘60s until the Icelandic War came along and everybody, everybody, I would say nine out of ten people working were connected with the docks in them days. They were either dockers, and I was a taxi driver just as I got older. I come out the army, I took up taxi driving. I used to take loads and loads of people to the, to the docks and visit the boats coming in. There in’t any now.
DE: No.
GB: Not one. It all comes from Iceland now. Over land and Alan he —
AB: It does. Yeah.
GB: Alan worked down the dock.
DE: Right.
GB: For a fish merchant for a while.
DE: Can I, can I take you back to the war?
GB: Yeah.
DE: So what was it like when, when you saw Hull being bombed? Did the sirens go in Grimsby?
GB: I can give you our lifestyle at that time.
DE: That would be brilliant. Yeah.
GB: Yeah.
DE: Please.
GB: We had a, my dad built us an Anderson air raid. Everybody had one. Anderson. He made a good job of it. Concreted it. Bunk beds. So when the Germans came over and there was a blitz we would always go in the air raid shelter. Although it wasn’t Grimsby they were but we stayed in it until you got the all clear. Sometimes we slept in it all the time because it meant, it meant not getting out of bed and coming down. In the early days that’s what we did. So, and there was a lot of false alarms in the, by the sirens in the early days. I went to school which was only not too far from here up at the top of this avenue and our school days was one in the afternoon one week and one in the mornings the next and then if the sirens went which they often did on our way to school because they were false alarms the majority we had to go back home. So my wartime education wasn’t the best of educations but it was good in other ways. I won’t go into that but didn’t seem to bother me too much. We had, we had a good education of what but it, it was a wartime education and Paul asked me once but it was exciting. I won’t say it was exciting for everybody because it wasn’t but it was for me seeing all these, all these German planes coming over in the early part of the war. Sirens going, guns going off and we’re in an air raid shelter and my grandad’s giving me a running commentary of what’s happening outside because he’s looking out. He’s, he was in his eighties then so you know he wasn’t bothered but my mam and dad was.
DE: Yeah.
GB: And they would be frightened for us in the air raid shelter. But it only ever happened once nearly and this is the truth. They got a plane and the first time I’d ever seen it or heard of it there were all the searchlights and they got a hold of this German plane going over. Of course, all the others zoom in and he’s saying, ‘Oh, they’ve got a German. They’ve got a plane in the searchlights.’ The next thing it’s coming down the searchlight screaming. What it’s going to do? It’s coming on. It’s going to drop on the house. That’s the opinion we got in the shelter. Anyway, he dropped a bomb and it dropped in a field only just up here at the, there’s a little circle of shops here. There was a school there. Chelmsford School isn’t it? And it made a big bomb crater which they turned it into an open air theatre of all things.
AB: [unclear] school.
GB: And, but that’s the nearest personally when I thought it’s going to land on us. It sounded like it was because he come down. He'd what we called in them days dive bombed to get out the, away from every other. He come out and released a bomb that he had and it wasn’t too far away but it found, it sounded like it was coming down on us. So we were lucky in Grimsby compared to –
DE: Yeah.
GB: Hull and industrial places. Everybody knows the cities that got blitzed. Sheffield and that but we was a fishing port. This is my opinion. I was only that, and my father. A fishing port. That wasn’t going to prevent the war effort, you know sinking a few trawlers. I don’t know whether that’s true or not but we didn’t get bombed.
DE: No. I suppose it could have made, made a few people in the country go hungry if they’d, if they’d —
GB: Yeah, because Hull, I used to stand in the street on an evening. You could see the flames in Hull. The sky. Red sky. And we knew that was getting bombed because they were coming over here to get to Hull only across the river.
DE: Yeah. Yeah.
GB: But so in the early days of the war I’ll make it as brief as I can we saw a lot of German planes come over and then in my, later in the war we saw all the Lancasters going to bomb because they circled over Grimsby.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Oh, they say they took off from all the, I mean there was hundreds of them. Waltham. I think they had Wellington, it’s a village outside just out three or four mile away isn’t it? I’ve forgot some of them. Kirmington which is Humberside Airport now.
DE: Yeah.
GB: That was a bomber station but I think that had Lancasters. But the biggest one in this area was Binbrook. That was by far the biggest one and then of course you go further and further and there’s Scampton and them places you know.
DE: Yeah.
GB: But there was Kirkby in Lincolnshire which has got a Lancaster come out on trial. You know, it runs. It doesn’t fly.
DE: Yeah. I know. I’ve seen it. Yeah.
GB: Have you?
DE: Yeah.
GB: Well, I’ve been there. Yeah.
DE: Yeah.
GB: But that was a station but there was many. I think a lot of the pilots used to go to a Bluebird thing at, a pub just outside Woodhall Spa.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Which I think the Dambusters originated in that area. So I believe. I don’t, but they flew from Scampton.
DE: Yeah. They flew from —
GB: Yeah.
DE: Yeah.
GB: So I’m telling you something you know. But that, that was my wartime experience. Seeing it change from Germans coming over in their thousands. And on a June night, a summer night ’44 time or whatever and I’ve never seen the sky so full of Lancaster bombers just coming over the rooftops. Those from nearby. And they would circle right high up and then they would all go eight, eight, half past eight at night. And we knew. We were in the air raid shelters because when they were coming back a lot of them were damaged and being followed by German Messerschmitts you know. So they were following the damaged ones in so the sirens would go. So we knew when they went off that the sirens were going to go for the, for them returning.
DE: Oh right. Okay.
GB: I don’t know whether you knew that.
DE: No. I didn’t know it was.
GB: But they did. They certainly did and we knew they would do so we, we prepared ourselves in the air raid shelter rather than wait until two, 3 o’clock in the morning and then because all the guns are going off like you know. But the main thing I was told was the damaged Lancasters and there was many. I met a lot of Australians at that, that time. A bit older. I’m talking a few years after the butterfly when I was fifteen, sixteen because they came in. They were a lot of them at Binbrook. Ever so many.
DE: Yeah.
GB: In fact, the, the local churchyard’s got a full crew of how many died there at Binbrook. That was our nearest one and I used to go to Binbrook a lot because later on I did a I got a PSV and the people at RAF Binbrook would go home on a weekend. I’d take them up to Newcastle and bring them back you know. So Binbrook was our biggest. Biggest one and they were always having dos. There was a film wasn’t there made of American. Yeah. American planes.
DE: They shot the film Memphis Belle at Binbrook.
GB: Memphis Belle. Yeah.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Well, I knew one or two that got bit parts for it you know. They had to have their hair cut to take part.
DE: Yeah.
GB: A lot of —
DE: I was one of them.
GB: Was you?
DE: Yeah.
GB: Yeah. Well, they come into Grimsby and they were recruiting seventeen eighteen for them parts for it.
DE: Yeah.
GB: I had a couple of blokes going and of course long hair was the fashion in them days. The Beatles type of thing. And they had to have all my hair cut off.
DE: Yeah. That’s right.
GB: You know.
DE: Yeah.
GB: So they could get a part in this film they were making.
DE: So did you go, did you go down the shelters in the winter as well?
GB: Yeah.
DE: What was it like in them because they were –
GB: Well, my dad was pretty good on that thing. He, we had a I forget what kind it, like a heater. Old fashioned type. But we had bunk beds so we had covers. That’s the kids like you know. And then he’d concreted it and he’d put like a thing all on top of the ceiling that absorbed the heat from the the stove. It was like a stove, an old fashioned stove but it generated a lot of heat. That was in the winter of course.
DE: Yeah.
GB: I think, well I forget what he stuck on the top but he’d done a good. He could have grassed it all over and flowers on it you know. He made a good job of it really. We thought it might have still been there but it isn’t. The people who live in the house now said no they got rid of it. So [pause] so that’s it. I saw the worst part of it if you could call it that though Grimsby wasn’t, wasn’t that bad. The worst part of it, the early part and of course the church bells were going to go. We were all frightened there was going to be a bloody, an invasion. Oh, by the way there was barricades right across the road, this road just, just at Chelmsford Place into our doorway right up to our and only had a little gap for cars to get through or transporters.
DE: Yeah.
GB: They used to come and put, hang lights on it during the evening so you could see it but I don’t know if they didn’t last long but while there was a threat of invasion that’s where they were around several main roads in Grimsby. One on Laceby Road. I can remember that one. But in different parts of the town was these barricades and we thought the Germans were going to come because the church bells were going to ring. You know, if church bells start chiming get in the house quick. It never happened did it?
DE: No. But you say the night that the butterfly bombs dropped there was, there was a soldier on the streets. So was, was there a lot of military people in the town?
GB: No. No. There wasn’t. I was surprised there was one there anyway. I’m not saying but yeah we had a big gun up the road here at a place called Norwich Avenue and it was manned by, I can remember it like yesterday but it fired out to sea. It was on, it was on a swivel. It was down in like a trench you know but a big, not an anti-aircraft for shooting planes.
DE: Oh right.
GB: But to fire out to sea. It wasn’t there long. About, well I’m guessing but it was there maybe a year.
DE: Right.
GB: It was there in the early part of the war and I know it was Scottish that were manning it and it was in a field at the top of this avenue.
DE: Okay.
GB: At the time. So yeah, my wartime experience was a bit limited to what there were. We was a lad and it was exciting. We all, the best way to describe it because it was at school because at school it was all propaganda when I think back now. We was drawing Spitfires and God knows what all to [pause] propaganda.
DE: Yeah.
GB: We’re winning you know.
AB: Raise morale.
GB: When we certainly wasn’t.
AB: To raise morale like.
GB: Yeah. Yeah. But that’s what we, that’s what the teachers gave us.
DE: Yeah. Sure.
GB: I can remember drawing aeroplanes and that in your pastime like you know. Oh, Spitfires are doing this and that. We’re winning the war.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Which we wasn’t.
DE: You’d be saying —
GB: Pardon?
DE: You say you did see a change though. The early part of the war it was —
GB: Yeah.
DE: It was the Luftwaffe coming over and then later on it was the RAF.
GB: Yeah.
DE: Going out.
GB: Yeah.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Well, I joined the regular Army later on and had another life experience. I was ever so lucky. That was [unclear] I was in Egypt. I’ll come to the point quickly.
DE: Okay.
GB: I was a lucky lucky survivor. More probably lucky than, than the butterfly bomb. In Egypt in the ‘50s, late ‘50s. I was in Egypt for three years in a tent in the desert and for latrines, toilets we just dug trenches.
DE: Yeah.
GB: As deep as this and probably as wide as this and it stunk but that was another thing. But when you was filling them up you just shut them, we just covered them over you know, soiled them over and this particular morning, I was in the Signals which we had an office. So I worked in the Signals office typing messages. But they gave you what [pause] anyhow what was it? Fatigues. We got the morning to do something so the sergeant major in the camp said, ‘Dig another trench.’ You know, so that’s what we did. Get to the point. We nearly finished about six foot deep. Well, and I’m there with this other corporal. There were two or three men under me and this corporal said to me, ‘Well, I’ll do it.’ This was six, 7 o’clock in the morning. ‘I’ll, I’ll finish off now here until NAAFI time, then you come and take over from me.’ So I said, ‘Okay,’ you know. I didn’t have far to go. It was only say across the road to my tent. I went back to my tent. I was only just sat in my tent after he’d said it and I heard somebody screaming and running. Oh God. What’s gone on? So I darted off to where they were digging the trench and there was nothing. Just all loose. It could have, it was like sand.
DE: Yeah.
GB: It wasn’t soil. Well, it was a mixture of sand and soil all loose and it had all just nothing there. Sergeant major come running, ‘What’s happened?’ I said, ‘Well we were just digging that trench.’ And I says, ‘The corporal was at that end and as I walked away the corporal at that end said he would do it and the signalman was at the other end.’ To cut a long story short we all started digging like hell where we thought they were. It took about three or four hours to get to them because when you are digging sand it’s going back in as fast as it's coming out. We’d only got shovels. We weren’t engineers and we should have been. That was the long and the short and tall. It should have been —
DE: Shuttered and stuff.
GB: Yeah. But it wasn’t. We just did that and I had noticed a lot of loose sand at the bottom but that’s all I noticed. I didn’t make no more than I thought well we got as far deep as we should go and anyway we got to the first corporal about four hours and he’d made a jump and his hand was up in the air. Covered in sand. We got around him like and the other corporal about six foot the other way. Not corporal. He was a Signalman. He’d done the opposite. Them few seconds as it had come in encased them. Suffocated them. He’d gone like that. He’d put his head down.
DE: Yeah.
GB: So we took longer to get to him because the corporal had made a jump. But why I’m saying this is that was me within minutes.
DE: Yeah.
GB: If that corporal had have said, ‘Well, you do it Geoff and I’ll come back,’ you know. It was as simple as that. But he said, ‘I’ll do it.’ And I went back to the tent. Two or three minutes later I ran over to where we thought he was. All, all loose so I was lucky there. Probably more lucky than I was with that bomb but about the same.
DE: Crikey.
GB: But if that bomb had have been, had have come down as it should have done and was open I wouldn’t be here. Definitely wouldn’t because I mean when I threw a brick at it it weren’t far away. But I thought it was shrapnel. It was a lump of iron to me. So that’s, that was my wartime.
DE: Yeah. You’ve been lucky. Really lucky twice then.
GB: Yeah. Lucky. The other time I’m only telling you because I was.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Very lucky twice.
DE: Wow.
GB: But I can’t really [pause] it’s ever so hard for me to explain how I, it was exciting. I mean it was exciting seeing hundreds of planes in the air both ways. Both the Lancasters later in the war and the Germans coming over the other way. Coming over from Grimsby. They were the anti-aircraft guns were having a go at them with the searchlights and then they were going on to wherever they were going. They went much further. I’m just saying Hull —
DE: Yeah.
GB: Hull we could see.
DE: Yeah.
GB: I could, you could see the red sky and so you knew they were getting bombed.
DE: So how close to where you lived were the, were the anti-aircraft guns?
GB: Well, one was quite a way. One was on the Grimsby docks on what, what we call the North Wall. As you come in to the dock there’s a harbour wall where all the trawlers when they’re going back to sea all line up and go out. Well, you come in to the dock into the big basin where the dock tower is.
DE: Yeah.
GB: But the North Wall is a wall. Later on fishermen used to fish off there didn’t they a lot?
AB: That’s right.
GB: People, blokes like him fishing you know.
DE: Yeah.
GB: But the trawlers all berthed up. Some had already landed their catch. The next day one day millionaires weren’t they? Was that the expression wasn’t it?
AB: Yeah.
GB: One day millionaires.
AB: [unclear] really.
GB: They only came in, got drunk as hell ninety percent and then the next day they got paid and their wives all went with them you know. It was an environment that was and then they were going back to sea. Hundreds of them.
DE: And was that what your, what your father did then?
GB: Early part of the war. Yeah. Early. I’m not sure if he was just before. He’d come from Yarmouth. He was a fisherman in Yarmouth. He came into Grimsby, met my, met my mother and settled in Grimsby in Alexandra Road and then moved to Chelmsford Avenue.
DE: Right.
GB: And then he stayed as a dredger. He went on the dredgers because the docks was always being dredged.
DE: Yeah.
GB: And he used to take me. I used to enjoy it. I used to walk across all these boats from one instead of going right around you could walk from one over one trawler to the dredger and they had what they called a hopper that they used to take the dredger dropped all the mud into it and then they’d take it out into the Humber.
DE: Yeah.
GB: The hopper, and when they got so far out they just knocked all the pins and the bottom of the boat opened.
DE: Yeah.
GB: I was fascinated why you didn’t sink but you didn’t because it opened up.
DE: Yeah.
GB: It went down and then closed up and then you’d come back. Back to the dredger and start it up.
DE: Start it up again. Yeah.
GB: They don’t do much of that now do they?
DE: No.
GB: Which is amazing to me because it should be done shouldn’t it?
AB: You’d have thought so. Yeah.
GB: Yeah. You would have thought so but it’s all coming up like everything. I won’t go into that. That’s another story. But we, we flooded around here a lot and my wife was really into it wasn’t she? She had the council all at the back here. And I had an opinion it was all dykes. When I was a kid across the road behind there, the waterway‘s a dyke. A dyke in Littlefield Lane. A dyke here wasn’t there? Everywhere.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Dykes everywhere full of water. And they started filling them in. Building houses. Littlefield Lane. Ever so many. Them dykes all went. Same here. All up there. Building everywhere. But they filled all the dykes in. Now, it’s elementary to me where does the water go if there isn’t no dykes? Heavy downpour full of rain. The drains don’t, I’m diverting slightly. I hope I’m not putting you off too much.
DE: No, that’s fine.
GB: But the drains don’t get sorted out one hundred percent. Every now and along they come along and steam clean where they used to be cleared every week. Buckets used to go down.
DE: Yeah.
GB: And the kids used to stand and get rid of all the silt and muck. So now when we get heavy rain the road floods. I’m talking about bad floods.
DE: Yeah.
GB: The floods were coming up to our back door weren’t they Alan?
AB: Yeah.
GB: Up the road there a bit higher up because they were a bit high. A spring was up there. They were flooding bad and we was all protesting getting the councillors to come around. Succeeded in the end but to me it was because they got rid of everything.
DE: Yeah. It’s logical isn’t it? Yeah.
GB: If you walked down Littlefield Lane there was two dykes either, either side. I know because we played in them. To get across the road here at the bottom of Chelmsford Avenue to go to the street there was a bit of green and from the waterworks which is massive now come right along and it was a dyke. We played in it. We jumped over it. You know what I mean? Mainly going after water rats and things like that. You know. A bit of excitement. And of course, they filled them all in. Consequently we flood. I think they’ve sorted it out a bit now haven’t they?
AB: Yeah.
GB: But my wife she was really into it. Big time. She had them coming here regular didn’t they? ‘Oh, my friends are coming.’ I said, ‘They’re not your bloody friends. They get paid for coming.’ They’re coming. Yeah. She was right but she was good wasn’t she Alan?
AB: Yeah.
GB: She got every, all the neighbourhood watch all involved.
DE: Right.
GB: Just about this flooding. Went in to town council. Had the councillors coming. But she called them her friends. I said, ‘They’re not your bloody friends. They got paid to come here.’ You know, if you ring, if you phone them because you want them to come they’re not coming on a freebie are they? I’m a bit older, you know. A bit. I consider myself.
DE: That’s fine. So when did you leave school?
GB: I left at fourteen.
DE: Okay. So that’s still in the war.
GB: Pardon?
DE: That’s still, would that be ’44 was that?
GB: That would be ’44.
DE: So what did you do then?
GB: I got a little job as an errand boy down Pasture Street. A long way away. And then I became, and then I got a job as an apprentice motor mechanic in a street that’s no longer there. It’s in the town centre in Maude Street. But we were Rolls Royce agents. The two gaffers had two Rolls Royces and I was what they called a grease monkey for a long while because in them days if a Rolls Royce come in for, we had a Rolls Royce man. Rolls Royce trained.
DE: Yeah.
GB: And he just worked on Rolls Royce. We had other cars at the back of the garage but we was mainly a Rolls Royce and I had to go underneath for him to start doing anything there was all little castle nuts with split pins in.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Underneath. You can’t believe it. It wouldn’t be like that today. But underneath a Rolls Royce was all covered and they’d been assembled bit by bit so sometimes if you wanted to quickly turn a clutch you had to cut the chassis to get the bloody gear box out of a Rolls Royce. God. Also. But he was brilliant the mechanic. And because I was what, in them days early days his grease monkey he used to say, ‘Come on. I’ve done it.’ And he used to test the Rolls Royces by putting a threepenny bit on top of the bonnet, turn the engine on and it just purred and he said, ‘Good.’
DE: [Well those —]
GB: He said, ‘I’m going to test it now. I’m going to go to Aylesby.’ I can always remember the route. Aylesby which is a village outside of Grimsby. Five six mile. He said, ‘We’re going to test it,’ and I loved that. It was a thanks for coming and getting these posh Rolls Royces and go for a test run when he’d done whatever he was doing. And I stayed there. I was apprenticed and I didn’t have to go in the Army as a, what do you call it? National Service.
DE: Yeah.
GB: At eighteen. I got that deferred automatically because I was an apprentice motor mechanic but I didn’t like it. I hated it but I had to serve my time.
DE: Right.
GB: And I still had to go in the Army on a low wage at twenty one.
DE: Right.
GB: So nowt to do with my parents, I decided. I said, ‘I don’t want to do this I’m going to go in the Army on a decent wage. I don’t want National Service money.’ I said I’ll sign on for five years which I did. Two things happened there. I got the best posting you could ever get at that time was Paris. I got sent to Paris, in the centre of Paris.
DE: Wow.
GB: With all these top Montgomery, Eisenhower, all lived there and in our camp all the chauffeurs. American and British used to drive into Paris to bring them to work. But the NATO headquarters in Paris. I think it moved to Brussels years later. But that’s where I was. In Paris typing messages all the time. Coded. I didn’t know what they were because it was still the end of the war.
DE: Sure.
GB: You know. But in our camp all, all the chauffeurs, American, I got to know American master sergeant and he drove Eisenhower all during the war. His chauffeur. You know, wherever Eisenhower he went.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Of course, he finished up in Paris when the war was, well it was just finished. ’45. So I was in Paris just at the end of the war which was a good place to be because it was, the French was ever so you know and it was packed with Americans. I worked. I’d been trained at, with British GPO Catterick Signals but when I got to Paris it was all American Western Union equipment and so I’m now working with Americans. If you don’t mind me just telling there was officers in the Royal Signals were clueless. They’d done no, no signals training. Absolute [unclear]. Give me your money. On Friday, get my money. But if owt went wrong in the signal office or owt the Americans were completely different. Officers in there knew Western Union. ‘Have you got a problem?’ Yeah. I’m just saying which we had. I used to type all day long coded messages and my mind used to go. Oh, what am I doing tonight? What am I doing tomorrow? And then we run a tape which we had to because that’s what we was doing and then I’d run the tape on. No mistakes. And I think I haven’t been, I’ve been doing it fingertip because it covers you. You didn’t know what keys. I learned that in Catterick. Sixty words a minute.
DE: Wow.
GB: I learned how to type. And then I went to Egypt. So I went from —
DE: From the best.
GB: The best to probably one of the worst.
DE: Yeah.
GB: It certainly was. Egypt. It was a shithole. I’m not kidding you. It was filthy. They was and but you learned when I first got there I went to the cookhouse for a meal and it was all Sudanese sweating like hell. Black as the ace of spades. I’m not knocking them for that but the bloody food was like camel meat. I’m not kidding you it was not going to do you any harm but you didn’t look like. So I said, ‘Well, I’m going in the NAAFI,’ to my mate, ‘I’m going to have egg and chips.’ Pay for it. And the ones that had been there two or three years in the cookhouse, old sweats they just they got this they called it pomme. It was mash but it come out like bloody chewing gum. It plopped onto the, the Sudanese used to say, ‘Put your plate down there.’ And they’d bang the thing on it and it plopped on your plate. That’s how bad it was. But when you’d been there a few years and there’s nothing else and the meat was terrible so the veterans are there shoving all the Daddies Sauce on. You know what I mean?
DE: Yeah.
GB: Going down. ‘I can’t eat that. I can’t eat that.’ A week later I was eating it because it wasn’t bad for you even though it was crap. The vitamins. Yeah. Honestly it was vile. But in the end you were just like every bugger else. If you were hungry.
DE: You ate it.
GB: You got hungry and, you know. Anyway, I’m diverting aren’t I?
DE: Well, it’s fine. I’m after, you know all these stories not just not just the butterfly bomb stuff.
GB: Yeah.
DE: So yeah.
GB: And then I got interested, me and my wife got interested in the RAF stations and we started going around. Went to Binbrook, Kirmington, Elsham. I could go on. Kirkby and different ones. I don’t know why we got interested. We got interested in going around the church seeing the survivors. Because I picked up, when I was taxi driving Australian who’d landed, he’d docked at Immingham late on and it was blowing a blizzard and I am not kidding. A blizzard and he said, ‘My father got killed in Lichfield.’ And as Alan would know I’d gone to Birmingham all my life hadn’t I, as a lorry driver taking fish but I’m doing part time taxi driving and it was a snowy night. Snowing like hell. And he said, ‘But the ship is sailing seven, 8 o’clock in the morning from Immingham so I can only go overnight.’ ‘I’m not taking him,’ all of them were saying at the taxi firm which was Coxon’s, a big one at the time. And I was doing a bit of weekend work for them because I didn’t work weekends as a lorry driver. Anyway, I said to him, ‘Well, I’ll take you. I’ll take you,’ because I knew the route like the back of my hand. To cut a long story I got him to Lichfield but we come home in one of the biggest blizzards ever and they gave me the best car they’d got to do the job. It was a Daimler as I remember it but the, I could only just see over the wipers.
DE: Yeah.
GB: The wipers and I’m driving. I’m coming back, coming home. The roads were being kept up, main road by snow ploughs. How bad it was. Anyway, to cut a long story short I got him back about 11 o’clock in the morning. But what a journey that was.
DE: Wow.
GB: Taking him there. Just part of my experience of it but lorry driving and then I got a PSV didn’t I? I got I didn’t work weekends so a local company asked me if I’d do jobs for them and they give me all sorts of jobs. Some of the jobs I really liked but I used to go to Liverpool every Saturday to take people who were going to the Isle of Man and they crossed over on the ferry. I stayed and I met the Isle of Man man he’d come over from there. So he’d picked my passengers up I’d dropped before.
DE: Yeah.
GB: And we all had a meal on the Merseyside and he went back over to the Isle of Man and I come back bringing the people back to Grimsby. It was a Grimsby firm, quite a big one but a big, I’ll tell you what happened there which Alan will know. In the ‘60s firms were buying other firms out and then shutting them.
DE: Yeah.
GB: So a firm from Newcastle bought Granville Tours out which was Grimsby and shut them within weeks and we had busses going everywhere. Scotland. Holidays and you know. Isle of Man. Isle of Wight. All over. All over. Anyway, they shut them. Out of work. But the firm I worked for which my son worked for [unclear] got took over by Ross’s and then I’m cutting this story short I’d been there twenty years hadn’t I? Something like. I got a good, I’d got a good pension coming because what’s the firm? Imperial Tobacco.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Imperial Tobacco had bought Ross’s out to shut them. They didn’t know at the time but I did that the Imperial Tobacco Company bought Ross Group, Ross Foods out so they’re now paying me my pension. They made me redundant. I didn’t mind that because I’m with Imperial Food. So to this day I’m getting a good pension but they keep sending me letters. They’ve packed up. I think they’ve give up on me. Would you like to have a, get your full pension money? So I talked it over with my wife. I said this is dead lucky how I’ve been in this. I said, ‘No. Keep, keep giving me my pension’ which I get to this day.
DE: Fabulous.
GB: And I’m ninety three now and they’ve been sending it me since I was in my sixties after I retired. Ten years. When you take a lump sum rather than your pension. No. No. Keep sending me my pension.
DE: Brilliant.
GB: And you see I’m ninety three and getting a pension off them that was in the ‘60s, I mean that’s dead lucky. That’s just lucky.
DE: Yeah. Smashing. I think unless you can think of another story to tell me you’ve been talking for fifty minutes so unless you’ve got something else to tell me I’ll say thank you very much and we’ll stop now.
GB: No. No. It’s a brief thing of what I can remember. But I enjoyed the wartime.
[recording paused]
DE: Right. So tell me about being evacuated.
GB: Well, I wasn’t.
DE: No.
GB: I wasn’t evacuated.
DE: Tell me the story.
GB: Right. We were told at school as they were evacuating people from London and different areas weren’t they? All over. Evacuation was going. Anyway, we were told, ‘You’re going to be evacuated to Canada.’ And so we got gas masks, my parents took me down to the big college that’s no longer there, Eleanor Street. Forgot what it’s, swimming pool, college and we’re all lined up there and we were waiting to hear when we were going and how we were going. We’d gone down. We’re all there. My mum and dad took me and it come on the radio that the German submarine had sunk a ship to Canada with schoolkids on. I can’t give you the detail but I know it certainly happened. I can’t tell you what ship and how many but the thing was this ship got sunk with, with evacuees on it outside Canada so we all, we were all told to return home. You’re not going because of this. This. Now, I know it happened but I can’t tell you the ship because I, but it certainly happened and we were waiting to go to Canada. I was waiting outside the school for, to see where we were going, Liverpool or wherever and it got cancelled that morning because of this ship had been sunk off the Canadian coast. It was going to Canada with schoolkids in. I know the casualties were heavy you know but I don’t know. I’m a bit vague on that except I know it did happen.
DE: Yeah. Yeah.
GB: That’s all I can tell you.
DE: I’ve heard that story too. Yeah. That must have been horrible to think that you were going to be leaving your family and going all the way over there.
GB: Yeah. Yeah.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Well, they took us. I can remember standing, gas mask on standing out with all these other school kids to be processed to see what, what train you were going on and what thing, you know. I mean it was while we were coming, I didn’t hear this like but the authorities heard that the ship had been sunk and a lot of a lot of schoolkids had got killed on that boat.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Drowned on that boat because it was sunk by a submarine. So they decided they weren’t going to do it.
DE: So then it, then it was back home and —
GB: Aye. Well, got to say that. What would it be. I would say, I’m guessing here now ’43 ’44.
DE: Yeah. I think –
GB: Around that time.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Around that time when everything was happening.
DE: Yeah.
GB: It wasn’t later on because it was in the early part of the war.
DE: Yeah.
GB: Maybe ’42.
DE: Well, we can look up. I can’t remember when it, when it was but I know the story.
GB: I think you would. I think if you research it you’ll find what it was and when it was.
DE: Yeah.
GB: But I’m only telling you what we were told.
DE: Yeah.
GB: We were told you’re no longer going. A submarine has sunk an immigrant boat with a lot of casualties.
DE: Yeah.
GB: So we decided you’re not going.
DE: Yeah.
GB: You’re not going to go.
DE: Crikey.
GB: But we was there waiting to go. Waiting to find out where we were going to go. Liverpool I’m assuming. Like Liverpool if you’re going to Canada. Over the other side.
DE: Yeah. Smashing. Thank you.
GB: Okay.



Dan Ellin, “Interview with Geoff Brown,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 19, 2024,

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