Interview with Cliff Thorpe and Roy Smith


Interview with Cliff Thorpe and Roy Smith
1010-Thorpe, Cliff-N Lincolnshire Disc 2


Cliff Thorpe and Roy Smith grew up in the village of Elsham while RAF Elsham Wolds was operational.






00:11:22 audio recording


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Interviewer: Ok. It’s the 18th of May 2012 and I’ve got here Roy Smith and Cliff —
CT: Thorpe.
Interviewer: Thorpe. Now, Cliff and Roy were youngsters living in Elsham when RAF Elsham Wolds was active so they are just going to have a chat together about the kind of things they remember from those days. Ok. Over to you.
CT: Right. I was a schoolboy living in the village and in my spare time I used to walk up Pit Hill to watch the aircraft take off on the main runway. I used to hide behind the hedge and as the aircraft took off I could see the wheels turning and wave to the personnel in the aircraft. It was quite good fun in them days. I didn’t realise the implications really. But I also remember going to the dances in the NAAFI.
Interviewer: And where was that?
CT: On the aerodrome itself.
Interviewer: Right.
CT: And the entertainment that we used to be invited to. I vividly remember going through the main gate and down past the wood and past the, now then what do they call it, Roy? They called it [pause] not the hospital.
RS: Yeah, the hospital.
CT: Yeah. Which was in the woods.
RS: That was in the woods.
CT: Yeah. I remember that quite well.
RS: It was the other side of the wood.
CT: Yeah.
RS: The hospital we had.
CT: The most vivid memory I have was I used to work in the school holidays. I went to Brigg Grammar School and in my spring, in my holidays I used to work on the farm which was in the middle of the aerodrome and it was called Mr Dodds. I was in charge of two horses and I used to go dragging the fields when they’d picked the potatoes and various other jobs with a hay rake and things like that. But on one particular day, I used to fetch the horse from the middle of the aerodrome and go right down into [Willoughby] cars, Elsham cars and do the work and then go back to the aerodrome and what we called one York. We used to, no dinnertime just go straight through. It was one York. On one particular day I went through the main gate and I was riding on the back of the horse and I got about a hundred yards or so down the long road and an aircraft was approaching. A Lancaster, and it came over my head and just as it came over my head it backfired. The horse reared, I shot off the back and the horse galloped off and back to the stable in the farm and I had to walk much to the leg pulling when I got back. I shall always remember that. There was no damage done but the horse was startled and the aircraft went [pft pft pft] I remember an aircraft crashing in Elsham Moors. I watched it go around and the tail fell off.
Interviewer: Oh, my goodness.
CT: And it came down and crashed and set on fire and I was the first on the scene and the second on the scene was of course the fire engine from the aerodrome and it blew up and it burned and as they dragged the pilot out there was only the pilot on. All the others had baled out it was just frizzling and I will always remember the smell of burned flesh. That sticks in my memory and it had burned the woodland around it and I got a bit of Perspex as a memento because bits of Perspex in them days was made into rings and all sorts of things as souvenirs.
Interviewer: And did the pilot survive?
CT: Oh no.
Interviewer: No. He would be gone.
CT: No. No. He was dead.
Interviewer: Oh dear.
CT: He just frizzled the poor old lad.
Interviewer: Yeah.
CT: So, I remember that vividly. I also remember a Wellington early on. Before the Lancasters and the Halifaxes came the Wellingtons was the first aircraft and it came in to land over Wootton and it hit the pylons and a big blue flash and that was the end of that. It crashed. There was also another incident I remember where they were loading up the bombs and one fell off and blew up and I think it killed two people. I’m not quite sure about that but it certainly did a lot of damage.
Interviewer: And where were you at this time? You were on the —
CT: I was on the —
Interviewer: Periphery.
CT: I was watching.
Interviewer: Right.
CT: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: So —
CT: I spent a lot of time, there was, now then there was a wood on the top of Vicarage Hill.
RS: [Oxibel?]
CT: [Oxibel?] yeah. And we used to go home and sit there and watch the aircraft just take off and land. It was the thing we used to do in them days.
Interviewer: So, what about you Roy? What can you remember?
RS: I can’t add, I can’t really add to that.
Interviewer: You remember, you remember them taking off.
RS: Oh, I can remember them taking off.
Interviewer: Yeah.
RS: I can remember being stood there with five or six of us.
Interviewer: Yeah.
CT: I once remember —
Interviewer: I expect it was quite exciting wasn’t it for you.
RS: I can remember going down the road here and one had just come into dispersal at the side of the road and they was climbing out and one of the aircrew called us across. I thought what have we done wrong like, you know. And he says, ‘Here, come here you lads.’ And there was about six of us and he lined us up at the side of this Lancaster and took my photo.
Interviewer: Marvellous.
RS: And I’ve looked in every magazine there is now to see if I could find that but —
CT: We often used to talk to the aircrew.
Interviewer: Yes.
CT: The WAAFs used to bring them in the trucks and they used to, you know get on board. But another thing I remember was, was watching one take off and it must have had a heavy load and it overshot the runway and went straight through the hedge and over the, over the road. And as it climbed over there’s a big wood down there it just clipped the trees and kept going fortunately but it fetched the top off the trees in the wood.
Interviewer: Good gracious.
CT: It was that low. Yeah.
Interviewer: Yeah.
CT: I bet they had a bit of a shake up.
RS: And one was taking off on the main runway and it just got full revs and coming up there and something went wrong and they veered off to the left and went over. Over the perimeter track, over the main road, through the hedge to the quarry. The chalk quarry. And he just hung over the chalk quarry like that.
Interviewer: Wow.
RS: It didn’t go down it just hung over.
Interviewer: Over the edge.
CT: The rear gunner had baled out in the road.
RS: Yeah. And that was [PME]
CT: Yeah.
Interviewer: Wow.
CT: And a bloke was repairing the top of the bit you know they take the top soil off and they called him Gordon Wraith and his nickname was Wackem because he played cricket and he used to whack them. Anyway, he was pairing, it was his job and he was pairing the soil off the top and he ran like the clappers because he saw the aircraft coming and he ran the wrong way and the aircraft hit him. It did a lot of damage but it, he recovered.
Interviewer: Gosh.
CT: But he was very lucky because as Roy said the aircraft was balanced on the edge of the pit like that.
Interviewer: Yeah. I can remember seeing it now.
CT: They all got out through the back except the rear gunner who had baled out anyway.
Interviewer: Wow.
CT: Yeah.
Interviewer: What an experience.
CT: Yeah, you could see the wheel marks.
Interviewer: Yeah.
CT: Coming through the hedge and everything.
Interviewer: But obviously these memories are well embedded in your brain aren’t they?
CT: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: Because they were so unusual and —
CT: Yeah. Yeah. It’s hard to remember exactly what date it was but I remember them building the aerodrome in 1941 and laying all the tarmac and things like that and —
RS: Yeah.
Interviewer: Was there, were there any, you lived in Elsham was there any damage in Elsham?
CT: No.
Interviewer: From anything.
RS: No.
CT: No.
Interviewer: No. So that was good wasn’t it?
CT: I knew the padre very well.
Interviewer: Yeah.
CT: They called him the Reverend Ratledge.
Interviewer: Ok.
CT: His wife was a right smasher and they lived near the church. There was some little cottages and they lived in the village. Yeah. And they used to take services in the church and I used, I was in the choir in them days. I used to pump the organ as well and the lady who used to play the organ she was the school teacher. They called her Miss Beaston. Dorothy. Dorothy Beaston and she played the organ with all the stops out, flat out and of course she pumped it with air like a pump shaft and it was hard work keeping up with her because they had a gauge and as the bellows got full the gauge came down. It was always going up and it was hard. I was only a little lad but I was pumping like mad trying to keep it going. I remember that.
Interviewer: So, did a lot of the servicemen come down to the church for the services?
CT: No. Not a lot.
Interviewer: No. Ok.
CT: No. No. They used to go to Brigg and Scunthorpe a lot. They had a bus.
RS: They had their own service up here didn’t they?
CT: Yes. They had their own.
Interviewer: Right.
CT: Yeah.
Interviewer: And did the padre from Elsham go up there?
CT: Yes.
Interviewer: Come up to the camp.
CT: Yes. Yes.
Interviewer: Yeah.
CT: Yes, he was. Most of the airmen used to go to Scunthorpe and Brigg boozing just to let steam off. But I got to know quite a few of the personnel really. As I say I was twelve.
Interviewer: Yeah.
CT: It’s a long time ago.
Interviewer: It is a long time ago. Well, thanks very much both you for your contribution.
CT: I can’t remember any more at the moment. I remember when, oh I told you about the one blowing up didn’t I?
Interviewer: Yeah.
CT: Yeah.
RS: There was one crashed at the end of Oxibel?] that was just on the —
CT: Oh yes. I remember that very well.
RS: It was on a test flight and it come down.
CT: Yes, it was.
RS: About there was I don’t know there was. I don’t know. There was a —
CT: I’ll tell you in a minute.
RS: Seven or eight on it I think there was.
CT: I think there was more. I was, I was cutting the parsons front lawn. I used to go and chop sticks for him and he used to give me sixpence a week. I used to go chop sticks and pump his water up out the well and I was cutting his lawn and this aircraft came very low and it was a Halifax and it crashed about I should say a quarter of a mile from the vicarage as you come up in the field near the aerodrome and there were sixteen RAF. Now, then what do they call them? Apprentices. Students. There were sixteen on board. They all got killed.
Interviewer: Oh dear.
CT: All the lot of them. And to this day I think you can still go and see what the plough brings up and it brings bits of the aircraft up.
Interviewer: Really?
CT: Yeah. Yeah. That was a bit of a do but —
Interviewer: Yeah.
CT: Really.
Interviewer: That’s very sad.
CT: Yeah.
Interviewer: Because they’d only be young, wouldn’t they?
CT: Yeah.
Interviewer: Very sad.
CT: I think that’s it.
Interviewer: Ok. Thanks very much both of you. That’s fabulous. Thank you.


This Interview was recorded by Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire., “Interview with Cliff Thorpe and Roy Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 28, 2024,

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