Interview with George Griffiths


Interview with George Griffiths


George served as a wireless operator on Air Sea Rescue launches.





00:13:42 audio recording


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My name is George Griffiths. I was born on the 7th of May 1923. I was brought up in Llandeilo, a small town in Carmarthenshire in Southwest Wales. In 1941 I volunteered for service as a wireless operator in the RAF and in June 1942 was called up to RAF Padgate, a reception centre for new entrants to the service. Here I, along with others went through the normal registration procedure and was issued with a uniform and the usual RAF kit. Then followed a wireless operator’s course in Blackpool and a further course at Number 4 Radio School at RAF Madley near Hereford. I finally made my first contact with the Air Sea Rescue Service when in February 1943 I was posted to the ASR Unit, Number 23 at Wells on Sea in Norfolk. The unit consisted of one pinnace and one seaplane tender. However, my stay at Wells was short lived as within about two months I was posted to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire for a further wireless operator’s course after which in October 1943 I returned to Wells on Sea. As I recall there was little activity at this base other than from time to time for the pinnace as required to proceed to a point off Cromer and remain there on standby duties until ordered to return to base. Early in 1944 I was posted to number 28 ASR Unit at Newhaven home to ten Mark 2 sixty three foot whaleback high speed launches nicknamed whalebacks due to the distinctive shape of the hull. It was at Newhaven that I first wore the official insignia of the Air Sea Rescue Service. This sewn on cloth badge worn on the right upper sleeve featured a side on view of a high speed launch and incorporated the letters ASR. They said in 1943 and withdrawn in 1948 this badge was a rare item as it could only be worn by members of the Air Sea Rescue Service. Consequently, it attracted much interest and comment. By now preparations for D-Day were well in hand with the unit engaging in regular patrols on the Channel and I well recall D-day when the launch number HSL 134 that I was on was alerted at 3am along with others to patrol the Channel keeping a watchful lookout from dawn to dusk for stricken aircraft. This pattern continued for some weeks but when operations on the continent moved northward so the need for cover in the Channel declined and HSL 134 transferred to Number 25 ASR Unit at Lowestoft. I record three incidents in which I was involved during our stay at Lowestoft. On one occasion we were lying at a pre-arranged position when an aircraft appeared overhead dipping its wings and this was a signal to follow. Fairly soon we spotted an aircraft partly submerged with a crew of seven in a dinghy nearby. Fortunately, there were no casualties and after having waited we witnessed the aircraft sink. We conveyed the crew back to Lowestoft.
[recording paused]
The next incident I recall was on Sunday the 17th of September 1944. Launch Number 134 was one of many to provide rescue cover for the passage of the aircraft and gliders overhead carrying troops and equipment for the Allied landings at Arnhem which became known as Operation Market Garden. This assault against the German positions in Holland was to end disastrously and many lives were lost. Memories of that time and the sight of so many gliders on tow overhead remain with me to this day.
[recording paused]
On another occasion Number 134 with another launch from Lowestoft and a Naval vessel were ordered to rendezvous at a certain position. Number 134 was then ordered to proceed to a position where two shot down Australian airmen were known to be awaiting rescue in a dinghy close into the Dutch coast. Unfortunately, 134 failed to proceed due to a seized water cooling pump. The other HSL then took over and succeeding in rescuing the two airmen. A happy ending of course but a great disappointment to our crew especially when the incident was later famously featured in the Picture Post, a well-known magazine of the time. By the end of 1944 HSR 134 had returned to Newhaven by which time the authorities had long been considering a need for a longer range rescue craft particularly for use in the Far East. For this purpose a number of one hundred and fifteen foot Fairmile motor torpedo boat were acquired from the Royal Navy for conversion to Air Sea Rescue needs. By March 1945 men were being selected from various bases to man these vessels and I along with others was in due course posted to RAF Calshot near Southampton where a number of crews were assembling. I recall a Saturday early in May 1945 being one of a party joining the Southampton to Ryde ferry, the Medway Queen that had made a special stop off Calshot to pick us up. From Ryde we were transported to a boatyard at St Helen’s. Well, Long Range Rescue Craft LRRC 007 formerly MTB number 5014 in its Royal Naval Days had been converted and was awaiting a crew. After successful sea trials including an underwater inspection with pole we proceeded to Plymouth to make up a flotilla of eight launches that became known as ASR Unit number 101. The first Long Range Air Sea Rescue Unit. On the evening of Saturday, July the 21st 1945 we set sail from Plymouth heading for the Far East. After a short stay in Gibraltar we arrived in Malta where within a few days it was announced that Japan had surrendered. Unfortunately, our voyage to the Far East was halted. I remember whilst on the launch receiving gifts from the Forces Comfort Fund one of which was a gramophone and some records. We all enjoyed listening to Vera Lynn and Anne Shelton and the Ink Spots who were the stars of the time. A gift of a double sized cotton sheet was of little use on a boat but more useful when I got back home. I also appreciated the five pound sent every Christmas from a fund contributed to by the residents of my home town of Llandeilo. By October 1945 I was transferred from LRRC 007 to LRRC 006. MTB Number 5012 went with the Royal Navy. I’ve visited many places such as Naples, Ischia, Sardinia and Benghazi among others. Whilst at Ischia another of my crewmates Paddy Murphy, Rosy Honeyset, Yorkie Parker, Jack Pope, Matt Cooper and I embarked on the Ischia to Capri ferry for a day’s outing to the island. The highlight of the day was a visit to the famous Blue Grotto. Less of a highlight though was when one of our party in a moment of bravado decided to knock upon Gracie Field’s door asking to see her but needless to say he was turned away.
[recording paused]
Another outing I remember was when we were on a short posting to Cagliari in Sardinia taking a train journey from Cagliari to Sassari in the north. Some organisation must have been sponsoring these outings for British servicemen as we were not asked for any payment. In March of 1946 006 was on the slip in Ischia and sometime later I remember being one of the crew taking her down through Suez to Fanara in Egypt to be laid up after which we were flown back to Malta. I have a record that both 007 and 006 were converted to house boats at Fanara in September 1947. Following this trip I was part of the crew that took another launch to Fanara but with no record or photographs I am unable to quote a launch number or date other than to say it would have been sometime during the summer of 1946. Then in September of 1946 I was part of a crew bringing a Hants and Dorset type High Speed Launch Number 2625 from Fanara to Malta and I have a dated photograph of this. In November of 1946 whilst on HSL 2625 we took part in an exercise in Kalafrana Bay off Malta and the following month we celebrated Christmas of that year still on 2625. Again, whilst on 2625 we kept a little dog we called Jeannie on board. I still have a photograph of her and I recall how sad the crew was when we had to leave her but we did ensure she had a good home when we left her in the good care of another crew. Then finally I recall being part of a crew taking another launch from Malta to Fanara early in 1947 but again my memory fails me on the number of this launch. In the spring of 1947 the day of my demobilisation arrived. I sailed portside for Liverpool on the troopship the SS Orduna. The voyage took two weeks and we slept in hammocks. It appears that following the previous voyage questions were raised in parliament with the Secretary of State for War about the poor food on the Orduna. Luckily the conditions had improved for our voyage. In mid-May 1947 the Orduna docked in Liverpool and the passengers were dispersed to various centres for the demobilisation formalities including the issue of the famous demob suit. Then followed the train journey back to Wales arriving at 7 o’clock in the morning and I remember the train was met by the local postman collecting the mail and he was kind enough to deliver me and my baggage to my home. Then I was met by my local postman —


“Interview with George Griffiths,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 25, 2024,

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