Interview with Ronald Huntley

Title

Interview with Ronald Huntley

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00:38:43 audio recording

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Identifier

AHuntleyR[Date]-01

Transcription

My name is Ron Huntley and I am 93 years old; my Air Force number was 1436327. Prior to joining the Air Force in July 1941 I had taken a Government Training Centre course, in Whaddon near Croydon, for five months in general engineering and they had sent me down to Fairoaks aerodrome in Chobham where I was working as a sort of apprentice improver learning engines and so forth and basically they were repairing Blenheims and Tiger Moths and that sort of thing. I was in digs, of course I was away from home but I enjoyed it for about three months when we were working days, and then all of a sudden I was told I was on permanent nights. Well I stuck on nights, which was pretty rough, 7 till 7 five nights a week and very little time to do too much else and after some time, about May I would reckon in 41, I said to the supervisor that I was going to get myself another job. I wasn’t going to work nights anymore and I learned a lesson then when I was told I was in a reserved occupation and that if I went anywhere else it would be where they sent me as I had a Government’s Training Centre course and it could be further away from home, it could be nights again but it would certainly be something to do with aircraft and with a side remark he said the only way out of this is the Services.
Now that triggered something in my mind and the following morning I went to my digs, had breakfast, changed and put a suit on, got the train and went back to Croydon, went into George Street where the RAF Recruiting office was and I asked to join the Air Force. I had a few small maths tests to do and they asked me some questions. I wanted to be a Flight Mechanic and I passed that apparently quite easily and they said right we will take you as a Flight Mechanic, sign this form you are now in the Air Force and we will let you know when we are going to call you up.
On the 11th of July 1941 I was due at Cardington in Bedfordshire to be kitted out and get the usual short back and sides haircut and so forth. We were kitted out, it was quite reasonable where they were making things fit and you were changing with others; this doesn’t fit me does it fit you kind of thing. Anyway we all got fitted and after four days we were put on a train, about I suppose a couple of hundred of us or so were taken to Skegness and I remember walking up Skegness railway station platform, which was open and wooden at the time, and seeing the PTIs at the top in their white roll neck sweaters, all looking fresh as daisies. They were taking the men in sections of about thirty per squad, I looked at one of them and he looked like a handsome fella really in a way but he looked like a real tough cookie, about six foot one, and short back and sides really short back and sides and I remember thinking I hope I don’t get him. Sods law being what it is, who should I get, him. He turned out to be a very nice man; he was a Corporal and PTI. His name was Tommy Reddington and in fact he was a professional boxer and while I was there he boxed Freddie Mills who later won the World Light Heavyweight Championship. He won the fight while I was there he had lost one previously to Mills before I arrived, and after I left I read in the paper that they had fought again and Mills had knocked him out. But he was a nice chap and I thoroughly enjoyed being there although six weeks of up and down and round and about and being left right, left right, constant marching was quite a bit boring by the finish, but I learned to fire a rifle and throw a mills bomb.
At the end of that stage I was posted to Cosford near Wolverhampton on a flight mechanics course; it was a sixteen weeks course that was an interesting course where half of us were airframes and half of us were flight mechanics and it really was a learning curve for me as I learned very much about an engine and propellers and hydraulics and so forth and I enjoyed it very much there.
My first posting was to a station in Northern Ireland, Edlington just north of Londonderry; it was a Spitfire Squadron. I can’t tell you the number of the Sqn I have no idea, I can’t remember now anyway but they were doing patrols over the Western Approaches, but the main thing there was scrambling. The Wing Commander was very anxious that the flights, both A and B, should get off very, very quickly. They used to do four or five scrambles a day; it also meant that we were doing guard duty in the night and for a couple of hours as a section and it strikes me that walking around the aircraft in the middle of the night with a rifle, which of course had no bullets in it at all, was a funny sort of experience as to why one had a rifle and what the hell one could do if anything happened anyway.
I didn’t last long there, it was about two months or three months perhaps, and the whole Sqn was moved lock, stock and barrel to Coventry, we went across from Larne to Stranraer and took fourteen hours in the train to get down to Coventry with the Sqn. Then the aircraft arrived and that’s when we learned why of course he was doing the scrambling so much because it became, after a short while obvious, that the Sqn was due for overseas because everybody was going to get embarkation leave. About eight or nine of us were surplus to requirements so while everybody was getting Pith hats and all the rest of it, I was told that I was surplus to requirements and that I wouldn’t be going and that my next posting was to Lark Hill on Salisbury Plain, to an Army cooperation unit which was flying Tiger Moths, Piper Cubs and Taylor craft. They had a couple of Lysanders there, and the idea of this was that every ten weeks they had about twelve officers, Second Lieutenants, coming in they were to learn to fly because the final analysis was for them to go and spot for the artillery to make sure that the shells were landing in the right place. The limit of their flying, when they were in operation, was 400 ft. which didn’t make the job for a cynic because at 400ft in a Tiger Moth at a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour with any wind, never mind against it, was a pretty vulnerable position to be in, I would have thought. We used to get a three ton lorry or something like that and put a couple of us, a rigger and a fitter, we would get in the van we’d have a driver of course and we’d have petrol, oil and tools and we would go to various fields already designated and these planes would come in and land on these fields. The idea was of course that when they went to France they could land on any convenient spot and we ran around Salisbury plain doing this for quite a few months. Then they moved the whole Sqn, the whole lot, to Old Sarum near Salisbury. That was the first time I had been on a camp, other than at Cosford, that was a permanent base with brick buildings and so forth. Also I played quite a bit of football there which was very good.
An incident there that they also had a Fleet Air Arm Sqn, about thirty of them with two Fairy Battles and they mapped out the grass to the length of what was considered to be the deck of an aircraft carrier and they were trying to land them in this space to see if they could land on an aircraft carrier. One evening a rigger and I had to stay with one Tiger Moth because the pilot had been killed and his ashes were going to be scattered over Old Sarum itself and this was after tea of course so we were late. They came back and most of the ashes seemed to have gone over the plane, sad really. Anyway we went into tea late, half past six towards seven o’clock but that’s the time also when this Fleet Air Arm Sqn went in and of course the meals are listed beforehand so they knew, and that meal that night was Sheppard’s pie, which I always considered was the best meal that you ever got in the RAF. Anyway when we got there the corporal in charge said we haven’t got any more it’s all gone, Egg and Chips for everybody. Now the rigger and I of course being the RAF would have just said OK we’ll have egg and chips but the officer in charge of the Fleet Air Arm would have none of it. He said ‘my men are due this meal, where is the meal’. Well the long and the short of it was that they called the orderly officer and the next thing I know the Group Captain’s come back in. The Group Captain, who was in charge of the Station, usually left about four o’clock and came back in at about nine o’clock. Anyway he came back and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing going on and the following morning. We had brought four cooks with us down from Lark Hill but they were not used as cooks because Old Sarum already had its own cooks, but the following morning our four cooks were in charge. A new staff was put in and, to his credit, the Group Captain was there behind the servery and seeing that everybody was clean and their nails were right, the girls hair was up and all this, and that the amount of food that was being put on everybody’s plate was adequate. And to his credit that Group Captain was there breakfast, dinner and tea for a week every day, so the food at that station got better than ever.
I can’t remember dates places and times particularly well but sometime in 1942 I was told I was posted again into Duxford in Cambridgeshire which was, if you remember, the Big Wing Station of the Battle of Britain fame. When I got there I found they had Typhoons, there was only about eight or ten flight mechanics went there with me at the time I went, and I realised why because the modifications that were needed to be done on the Typhoons was quite a thick book and the Sqn was operational at that moment so these machines were having to be done. But the trouble was it was towards the winter and they got cold and the one thing you couldn’t have on a Sqn that was on international duty or operational duty, they would have to be able and ready to go, so these things were run up every four hours. They were all kept in sandbag bays but you had to run them up through the night as well and it was quite an exercise to go around at night stripping off the top covers starting them up and getting the oil temperature up, right and level getting out putting it all back and putting the covers back then going to the next dispersal point to do the next one and hoping that you could do it in time to leave yourself twenty minutes to run to the flight site and get yourself a cup of tea before you started all over again.
I came in one morning with a pal of mine, Pitts his name was, and he came from Dover. I never saw him again after we left but I said to him let’s have a look at DROs this morning as we walked in. I don’t know why I did it because it wasn’t a normal procedure that I did. We were on our way to breakfast, I looked at DROs and on it had ‘Wanted Urgent engine fitters for Air Sea Rescue Launches’ and I remember saying to him I’m going to have a go at that and he looked at it and said ‘yes, so will I’. So we went into the Cheifies office and said would you put us down for this, we’d like to volunteer for this and he looked at us rather sideways almost in disbelief that we would want to leave a station like Duxford and go in for something like that. Anyway we said yes we would and he said OK I will put you in for it and we went to breakfast and to be honest we wondered if we would ever hear anything more about it at all. But the urgency of the situation was evident when four days later when the Chiefy called us in and said you are both going down, you’re both posted, you’re going to Locking in Western Super Mare on a fitter marine course. So we were both sent on a ten week course there on marine diesel engines. Diesels, of course, in them days were fearsome, people were afraid of them, not like they are today, nobody knew much about them. Actually they turned out to be fairly easy and it’s a good job I learned because when I had finished the course my first posting took me to Padstow in Cornwall on 44 ASR unit. The first boat I went on was a 60ft Pinnace No 1234 and it had three P6 Perkins diesels as its motivation.
I am not all that conversant now with the actual dates that things happened at Padstow, I remember we did give some assistance on some dinghy sailing trials we also picked up a body of an Air Training Corp’s fella. I also remember 50 Americans arriving to look at how the British ASR system worked and paid us the compliment of building their own crash boats very much like ours. In fact I also understand that they used Scott Paine designed High Speed Launches. I also remember searching for a Flying Fortress crew. We were assisted by quite a few aircraft on that occasion as I remember but the sea was extremely rough and we hove-to there off Trevose Head for quite a while before we could even think of getting in. We also picked up three empty dinghies as well as one with seven survivors in it. I’m not certain if it was the crash but something had happened there, I don’t know for sure where they went but we took them back to Padstow anyway to be looked after.
One of the ones I remember most was on the 15th of February 1944, by this time we had got the Thorneycroft launches there, my launch No was 2641. We were out looking for a Liberator that had gone down, she had been over the Bay of Biscay and shot up about fifty miles out of Brest I think and it had been forced to ditch, it had been attacked by two JU 88s. A number of search aircraft were out looking for it and about mid-day we finally got there and found them but the aircraft were the biggest assistance to us to get there. When we got there we found nine people, one was dead and eight were survivors in three dinghies which had been dropped from the two search aircraft. They had tied them all the dinghies together, we brought them back to Padstow and peculiarly enough, despite being in the water for about twenty-two hours, most of them walked off the boat when we got back to Padstow. I was quite surprised; one or two of them of course had to be assisted but it’s amazing how quickly they recover given warm clothing in the warm and food while coming back and rubbed by the medic.
The end result of that of course was that some years later and, when I say some years later, I mean in the late Nineties I was talking to a detective inspector who was interested in another incident of ours and he told me, I said I had a photograph of this incident and I said I couldn’t remember who they were. He found out exactly who they were and sent me a brochure with them in and I rang a fellow in America and it turned out to be Carlton Lilley who was a bombardier who flew on that plane that we picked up and in the year 2002, at their total expense, I was invited over to America to their reunion in Pensacola and I met four of the survivors and their families. It was a most really heart rending thing, because to see people that you had picked up some forty years or so before was quite an event and the families were over the moon that they could see someone who had picked up their fathers or whatever. It struck me how much the people over there look up to their veterans as against the general attitude that exists in this country; they certainly are honoured over there as people who have fought for their country they looked after. I was very impressed with the way they did it unfortunately they are all by now dead, I have written to them but I have found each one has died in turn so that’s no longer there.
We also, on 2641, had a rescue with the Destroyer, Warwick, which was torpedoed by Padstow. We brought a lot of survivors in then and a lot came in on the pinnace, about 50 odd, and the pinnace had to beach itself, it couldn’t get them all off by just coming into the buoy. There were two or three trips to get them, we picked up a few ourselves on 2641 and brought them in and also out there about the same time, about mid ‘44, there was a Liberty ship went down and that was torpedoed and that was only about six miles out. Obviously we were going around for Normandy and there again the Navy was out as well and were picking up survivors and various things that were floating about. Of course the Liberty ship was carrying a lot of quite good stuff, in fact we managed to get aboard some large sealed cartons that contained 10,000 Lucky Strike. We got a couple of those aboard as well as other things but the navy, of course, were very quick, they were picking up anything that was going. I think the Navy did very well out of that Liberty ship.
On the 18th of April 1944 we were taking 2641 on a stand by and we were asked to take out the Harbour Master and one of his Petty Officers, there were not many Navy at Padstow, to a radar Buoy nine miles out that was not working properly. There were only five on board that day as a minimum crew so seven aboard all together. We went out to this radar buoy when we got there we dropped the rope ladder over the side so that they could go and have a look. No sooner had we got them over the side than we had a crash call; we were to go to Watergate Bay where an aircraft had gone down. Immediately the buoy was finished with all together, obviously the boat turned around straight away and returned to Watergate Bay. It took something like half an hour to forty minutes I think to get down there.
The lifeboat was already there and the lifeboat had picked up something like nine, ten or eleven people. It looked like an abattoir almost because this was all covered in blood and muck and stuff. In the Bay the water is very clear and we saw what we thought was a body of some sort but it turned out it was a undercarriage wheel but attached to it about six foot down was a body and the skipper Flt Lt Morelli dived in to try and release it but he couldn’t and eventually that body and the wheel was towed by the lifeboat into Newquay. We were in touch with an aircraft because it had come out from Chivenor and it was circling around and told us to go further out so we went a couple of miles further out looked around and we found two bodies which we obviously took aboard with a couple of officer jackets of some sort, two underarm briefcases and a suitcase.
The suitcase was sealed and I think there was something else but I don’t know what it was but that was about all we could find. It took about an hour and the aircraft couldn’t find any more so the skipper decided we would return to base but before we did he said let’s have a look at what we’ve got and the suitcase he said one was obviously a Yugoslav officer going to Yugoslavia for some reason, probably to do with the mafia or something, and he said the other one was a medical officer. He was going to Alexandria by the look of the papers that was the two jackets we got and of course from the information in the underarm briefcases. We opened the main sealed suitcase and it contained white five pound notes in bundles of fifty, we couldn’t believe it we had never seen so much money in our life but it was counted and somebody said there was £45,000 in it. This was a terrific find, anyway we gave our ETA and rushed back to Padstow and we were met by the Senior Medical Officer from St Mawgan where the plane that had crashed had gone out from. Originally he came and he took everything we had on board, the ambulance took the bodies obviously but he took everything else that we had and, although it became the talk of the base for a day or two because of the money and so forth, it was really forgotten and other than knowing that the lifeboat had also picked up some £18,000 in dollars in a body belt. It was on one of their chaps nobody knew much about it but there was just rumours running around that also on the plane was gold but that was coming from the fishermen at Newquay not from any authentic source. And as far as I was concerned that event finished then totally until after I had left the RAF when I heard other things obviously, I will talk about this at the finish.
The Padstow experience finished, I left Padstow some time towards the end of the year Sept/October something like that because, with the war being in that position where we thought it would be over, the need for two or three boats at Padstow was unnecessary. There was a life boat there but there was no activity going on much there that couldn’t be handled by the lifeboat and I was posted from there to Castle Archdale in Northern Ireland which was a Marine Craft Unit looking after the boats that took the crews out to the Sunderlands and so forth that were out there doing their job and we took the crews and the fitters to do their operations.
My experience there was very limited really but one incident comes to mind; one evening there had been fog and a boat had gone down in the morning to Killadeas which was about seven miles down the loch at the other end. Also an RAF station and because of the fog the boat had been left there and towards the evening we were duty crew that night and one chap says ‘I think I will go down and pick up that boat and we will come back with it’ and I offered to go. I said ‘I will come with you if you like’ and, as a fitter, it really wasn’t my job to go there. Anyway but what I didn’t know was that he really didn’t know the real system. There were a lot of rocks in that lake and he just went at it, we went down there and after a little while all of a sudden such a bang and we hit a rock and it pushed the props through the bottom of the boat which of course started to take water not very quickly but never the less taking water. Luckily there are a lot of islands around there and I said in the mist ‘look there’s an island there let’s make for that’ and I was using the floorboard as a rudder to try and get the thing going the right direction. He steered it and we got close to the shore and hit another rock and we lay in about six foot of water with the nose out of the water and the rest of it in the water clear. We had a torch so we could see but we sat all night in there because nobody came out at all. So we sat all night in the front of that we were afraid to get into the water; if that was just an island that’s all it was. We were soaking wet, we would have been in worse trouble than where we were so we stayed put. 6.30 am the following morning the Tannoy went and we realised that what we were looking at wasn’t an island, it was the mainland and from there I could have walked to billet in about six minutes, with no problems at all and we spent all night there. Anyway it so happened that at that moment when the Tannoy went, the duty crew woke up and the fellow that I was with that was taking the boat down was the one that was supposed to make the breakfast and the tea. Somebody turned and looked and saw that he wasn’t there and said ‘where is he’ then looked and said ‘where’s t’other fella that went with him, Huntley’ and they said ‘oh’ and so he took a marine tender straight out came careering across to see us, turned and saw us, also forgot the rocks and finished bang straight on top of two rocks so we stood there looking at our so called rescuer about 500 yards away, or less than that, stuck on the top of the rocks. A third boat had to come out to pick up the crews of both of us. I don’t know what happened at the finish because I backed away from it because it was nothing to do with me when the start doing that caper but it was quite an incident in peculiar as had we not been in an island like that so easily would have drowned.
I certainly enjoyed my stay in Ireland because I did a lot with motor bikes and we were there with a pal. I had a fellow called Stan Brand, he was a motor cyclist and we were dealing with quite a few of the professional motor cyclists. On the odd occasion, we went to Belfast and spent the weekend up there; I enjoyed it immensely and to the finish and the 30th of July 1946 I arrived at Uxbridge for my demob; picked up my demob suit and then went back into Civvy Street.
The incident where we picked all the money up and everything else of course has been in the magazine and it’s called the ‘Gold Plane’, I think the edition is the 209. Anyway, in the late nineties I was in touch with Derek Faulks who was a Detective Inspector and I was talking about the crew and this photograph that I have of the American crew. He spoke of his interest in the ‘Gold Plane’ as he called it and I said ‘the Gold Plane’ and he said ‘well it was the one that crashed’. So I said well I was on the launch that went there to that incident and he actually said ‘there is a film made called the ‘Gold Plane’ by the BBC and it’s been shown twice on BBC2 and I have a copy of it’. But the thing is he spent 16 years of his life chasing it and he had the satisfaction of, he knew there were sixteen picked up but the pilot was never one they had got and they buried somebody and they called him an unknown seaman of WWII. He was quite sure that that was the pilot and he wanted him exhumed and he had great difficulty from the Home Office in getting it done. Eventually they agreed on the basis that if he was right they would pay and if he was wrong he would have to pay. Two Group Captains came down that were in the business of checking bones and things and freely gave their time to do it and they checked and it turned out that it was the pilot of the aircraft and he was lucky because his brother was able to come over from Canada and see him officially buried with Honours because, after all, he was a hero in his own country for being it and the argument had always been was it sabotage. This is why they spent so much time on it. Most of the people don’t believe it was sabotage but there are incidents in this that just don’t add up. For example, if you listen to the tape of Derek Faulks, he was told by the officer in charge at St Mawgan, he told his wife that it was sabotage but not by the enemy. Of the two people that were French there, one was in La Cagoule, which is a fascist-leaning union, and the other one had been through MI6. So they all say, of course, as it happened six weeks before D Day, it was all a very hush hush. Most people just didn’t believe that it was anything, but because of the money there was a thought and said ‘who by?’ I can’t tell you but it was said there was gold on the plane as well and of course half of the fishermen in Newquay went out on their boats looking for gold and to this day I think they still do it at times.
Anyway, unfortunately Derek Faulks died without knowing, but later on in life, I asked my son in law ‘just check and see if you can find anything at all about it other than what we already know’. In the ordinary way, anybody would have gone straight to the RAF detail but he went to the BBC records, remember they were asking people whether they knew of any incidents and, if so, they would put them on tape and so forth. One of these things he picked up was a letter from a woman called Marianne Haseldean and I have a copy of it which stated that her father had taken gold down to Cornwall and gone out and the plane had gone without him and that that plane had crashed and the pilot or in effect was an army officer. My son got the details of the army officer and his records and there is four pages of that and I have that also. He also states that he went down to Cornwall taking this down he was actually Polish and he was at Baker Street with MI6 at the finish. He went down from there to Cornwall and the gold was put on board the plane. He went to get on the plane and, at that moment he was told ‘No, you don’t, you’re not going tonight’; the gold was taken off, that plane took off and that’s the plane that exploded over Watergate Bay. The following day he got on another plane and the plane trip was Lyneham, St Mawgan and then down and round to Alexandria or Farsi Island, Italy or whatever but that was a regular nightly trip that squadron 545 Sqn did. It was a Canadian Sqn and they were using Warwick aircraft and that was the run they did that plane exploded the following day. Another plane a Warwick did the same trip and took the gold and it was landed at Fazio to an American unit where he left it and finally came home, but unfortunately Derek Faulks or other people don’t believe it they never knew that there was gold on that plane and putting gold on the plane actually alters the stories somewhat whether one believes that it was sabotage is another matter. I can’t make up my own mind, there is a lot of discrepancies in it but it does seem that one would have to agree that there was someone that was prepared to kill sixteen people to stop one thing happening and that takes a bit of believing at times although one knows that people are expendable. Anyway that’s my story so far I hope it’s of interest to you and thank you very much for listening.

Citation

“Interview with Ronald Huntley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 25, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/46769.

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