Interview with Les Stedman


Interview with Les Stedman
1002,1003,1004-Stedman, Les-Cranwell Aviation


Les Stedman served as an armourer.





00:09:33 audio recording


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Interviewer: Good morning, I’m Dawn Oakley recording Mr Les Stedman for our project “Shouting the Odds.” Hello Les, thanks for doing this.
LS: Good morning, Dawn. It’s a pleasure to meet you again. Date of birth 20th of January 1923 and I was born in London. In Hammersmith in West London. My father had built Sopwith Camels in the First World War. My mother came from Ireland and my grandmother came from America and my grandmother treated me as her son. She was the most wonderful lady, took me all around and showed me everything that was going on. Now, in 1938 I was aged fifteen and I I, normally, they normally left school at fourteen in those days but because I wanted to join the Royal Air Force the headmaster said, ‘Les, you’ve got to do one more year at school and three evenings Night School. To get the necessary qualifications. So on the 27th of October 1938 I reported to Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey to train as an armourer and I finished the course in August 1939. On the 3rd of September ’39 came the Second World War. I was posted from Eastchurch to Cosford. And then from Cosford I went to Abingdon in Oxfordshire for four weeks and then on to Benson in Oxfordshire where I stayed for over a year. An aircraft I worked on was an aircraft called a Fairey Battle and one of the men I taught the service revolver to was none other than Pilot Officer Richard Shuttleworth who sadly was killed flying in a Fairey Battle a month later.
[recording paused]
Interviewer: Ok. Right. We’ll just continue then, Les.
LS: We got to Shuttleworth?
Interviewer: Ahum.
LS: Ok. Well, after the Fairey Battle we became Number 12 Operational Training Unit and we then converted to the Mark 1, Wellington which I flew in on one occasion around Oxfordshire. Now, after that I was posted to Chivenor in North Devon in 1941. The aircraft then were the Bristol Beaufort. And after a spell there I was posted overseas to Sierra Leone and I sailed from Liverpool at the end of the 1941 and went to an airfield near Freetown called Hastings. The aircraft there were Hawker Hurricanes of Number 128 Squadron commanded by Squadron Leader Billy Drake who appeared on TV last year at the age of ninety four. The only enemy in west, in Sierra Leone were the Vichy French and they flew American bombers I believe called a Maryland. And eventually the commanding officer and chief of the Vichys flew over in an aircraft to look at Freetown and one of the Hurricanes shot him down and after that the Vichy French capitulated. I then was posted to an airfield called Waterloo where we flew Wellingtons on anti-submarine patrols. I flew all around Sierra Leone in a Wellington. Then I returned to England and was posted to Wickenby in Lincolnshire to Number 12 Squadron that were flying Lancasters. I on one occasion flew from Cranwell into the [pause] I beg your pardon, Wickenby into Cranwell because in those days the Rauceby Hospital treated burnt airmen. We flew down at one hundred feet and returned to Wickenby at fifty feet. I was sitting in the rear turret at the time and it was quite an experience. After Wickenby I got posted to Lindholme to a Conversion Unit. And from there I was posted to Number 502 Ulster Squadron at Holmsley South who were flying Halifax anti-submarine aircraft and we had a man called Flying Officer Van Rossum, a Dutchman who actually sunk a U-boat when I was on the squadron. We then moved from Holmsley South to St David’s in South Wales and then from there I went to Perranporth in North Cornwall around about the time of D-Day. And then after that I was posted to Limavady in Northern Ireland, again with the Wellington aircraft and they flew anti-submarine patrols from Limavady, Northern Ireland and we were there at the end of World War Two and the Germans had twenty eight days to surrender their U-boats. As a result of that the Irish port ended up with about twenty U-boats and I actually went in one of those U-boats to have a look around. And after that I got posted up to Scotland to a Sunderland unit at Alness near Invergordon. On from there I was posted to Egypt for two and a half years to work on an explosive dump near Suez. And in 1949 I returned back to the UK and was posted to RAF Tangmere which was my last RAF station and the aircraft there were the Gloster Meteor and the Vampires. I then retired from the RAF. In civilian life I spent four years making shotguns for a company called Cogswell and Harrison’s in London.
Interviewer: What year was that, Les? That you retired.
LS: 1949.
Interviewer: Alright.
LS: 1950. I spent four years about 1954 ’55 then I saw an advert for Farnborough asking for armament personnel. So I went to Farnborough in 1956 and my aircraft there were the Vulcan, Valiant and Victor bombers and also, the Hawker Hunter fighter. I was then posted to another unit within Farnborough and I worked on nuclear weapons which I’ve never told, talked about. But later on in, many years later I found a magazine with all the details of all those in there. And I worked at Farnborough until I was aged sixty on armament. Then after that I spent five years as a messenger at Farnborough and the aircraft that I flew in was a Dakota that now flies in the Battle of Britain Flight. My retirement present unofficially was that I was allowed to fly that Dakota and that was my retirement present. I then retired at the age of sixty five and relaxed as a civilian. And in nineteen, somewhere in the 1990s I came across an advert about this Heritage Centre. I came along here as a volunteer and I’ve been working here two days a week ever since. And that’s my story. Thank you.
[recording paused]
Interviewer: Ok. I’m talking to Les Stedman again. “Shouting the Odds” – Part three.
LS: Now, I have a memory of the Battle of Britain. When I was at Benson in 1940 a Hawker Hurricane flew into Benson and landed and the pilot got out and said, ‘Rearm and refill me. I want to get back at those German —’ so and so’s. The whole of the tail was full of bullet, had been lots of bullet holes in the fabric. So the riggers came along with dope and fabric and filled in all the bullet holes. We rearmed the Hurricane and off he went. Now, a week or two later I went on leave to Kent where I lived, where my parents lived and I was quite amazed one morning when a man marched up to me and he said, ‘You are the Royal Air Force?’ ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Who are you?’ he said, ‘I’m Gunter [unclear] Schulz of the Luftwaffe.’ I said, ‘Schultz, how did you get here?’ He said, ‘I was shot down by one of your Hurricanes.’ And he bowed and marched off. Now, what had happened all the German prisoners were employed to work on the farms to help the farmers. And that’s what the German prisoners were doing. That’s the only time I met the enemy until after the war and when I was in Egypt. All the, we had lots of German prisoners in Egypt and I got on very well with them because there were no Nazis among them at all. They were professional fighting men. Ok.
Interviewer: Ok.


Dawn Oakley and This Interview was recorded by Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire., “Interview with Les Stedman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 30, 2024,

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