Interview with Frank Standen


Interview with Frank Standen




00:37:03 audio recording


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My name is Frank Charles Standen, I was born at Forrest Hill south east London on the 24th of October 1921. Like most of boys of my age I was keen to join the RAF mainly because they were people like, Sir Kingsford Smith, Sir Alan Cobham and they were blazing trails in the airways around the world. Unfortunately my parents would not let me join the RAF before the war, but coming of the war I was now 18 and I therefore decided myself that I would leave my job as a railway clerk and join the RAF, for aircrew training. After being accepted for aircrew training I on March the 6th I was at RAF Uxbridge for my swearing in, from there they said there’s a delay in training but you can go home now, you’ve got your number and we will be in touch later when we will recall you to the RAF, so I was now in ready for aircrew training. Sadly I was called up to Babbacombe in early july 1941, where I was injected, medically tested, gas masks tried on, various things and then we were actually based at Babbacombe in the Trecarn Hotel, but after about a week or so the aircrew receiving centre was transferred to north west London, in the area of Regents Park and I was with my colleagues transferred to Regents Park where we continued our training, square bashing and various things, but later they told me that I had a Lazy Eye muscle and whilst they gave you a card to let you put a goldfish into a bowl they said since we have now got a backlog of Trainees and you are a volunteer while we no longer want you for aircrew , but you can of course remuster’. So therefore I remustered to Motor Boat Crew. So from Regents Park, about three or four of us, went down to the west country; spent one night in an RAF field and then from there we went down to Ilfracombe and were boarded into civilian houses. That’s when I came across the Motor Boat Crew.
We were based at an isolated entrance to Ilfracombe Harbour and there was a little Chapel on the hill, and that was the Marine Craft Section under a Chiefy Sgt called ‘Snakey’ Harris; it was the name he was known by in the RAF but it was, I think, a little bit wrong because he had a good judgement of people and kept discipline and he understood the way people felt. Anyhow, we did our training on knots and we had a couple of motor dinghies, a Sea Plane Tender and also a Pinnace and we had our time at sea. We were also doing signalling both Morse code and Flags until we could move onto the next step which was the school which was still then at Calshot. Later it turned out that it was used for Combined Operations so the school was moved up to Scotland just outside Stranraer.
Anyway after passing out I did quite well I was promoted to AC1 and had the option of going to various places but I chose Dover, which was near and easy to get to from London. So about ten of us moved down to Dover and when we were sorted out I finished up at Ramsgate, which was a sub depot to Dover, 27 ASR. There were three launches there and after a spell on a Dumb Refueller I was pleased to be on HSL 127’s crew, which was a very successful one, under a 1st Coxswain whose name was Eddie Edwards. He was again a regular and a former mercantile ship’s crew, and again a very good leader of men. Later we had a Skipper come aboard who was called David Jones; he was a Flight Lieutenant and it was a very successful crew, in fact we picked up on two occasions, that’s separate ones, crews from 149 Sqn which was using Sterling Bombers out of Lakenheath. I think why we were busy, apart from there was a lot of air activity over the Channel between the Luftwaffe and the RAF, but in addition of course we had an airfield behind us which was fitted out with ‘FIDO’ the fog dispersal system or arrangement and therefore any aircraft, and certainly any bombers, coming back would prefer to come across the narrow sea rather than the whole of the North Sea, and also FIDO would be an airfield to locate. So the next thing was we had various pickups; there was one occasion when we were liaising with an aircrew on board to show how efficient ewe were and on that particular occasion there was an attack by the Luftwaffe over Deal and you could see the Dog Fights going on. Then, suddenly there was one aircraft that pulled up and we saw a parachute bail out so, with the crew on board, the skipper came running down because we were on a Two Hour Notice. As soon as he was aboard we were underway and the aircrew on board were quite impressed, not only was the parachute coming down just off the coast, just as he went into the water and just as he bounced up ‘bingo’ we were alongside and hauled him out of the water, parachute and all. As I say it was beautiful and almost a staged arrangement; fortunately he was unhurt but very wet. We brought him back ashore and all were happy.
There were several pickups, in fact 127 had quite a record at that stage, as the months went by I then went on my 2nd Coxswains course up at Corsewall because it had moved from Calshot and Corsewall is outside Stranraer. So that was going quite well and I then was told that I had got an overseas posting, but the school overruled it and said, now you are posted to us, although temporarily, we have to continue your training. Sadly though the crew of 127 were actually all going overseas. So when I finished successfully my training and had become a 2nd Coxswain, I went back to Ramsgate but there was already a new crew on 127 and our people, I learned later, were actually on their way to Tunis. In preparation of course for the invasion of the soft underbelly of Europe.
While I was kicking my heals a little bit at Ramsgate, a Dover boat came around that was HSL 178 and was located for a while in Ramsgate. The 2nd Cox’n on board 178 was due for leave because he was a married man so I volunteered and said that I could take over his position till he comes back from leave. In the meantime of course I didn’t know, and he didn’t know, that 178 was going back to Dover with me on board. I wasn’t on her for long but I then was on HSL 2547 and was the 2nd Cox’n on her which was a bit successful because, after about a month or so, the 1st Coxswain was on leave so I was acting 1st Cox’n on 2547. And, low and behold, whilst I am acting 1st Cox’n we had a pick-up of a Belgian pilot who was in the RAF who bailed out very nicely onto a minefield. Well it was more for deep shipping, so the skipper after having a chat with me said we might as well go in and pick him up. When we did pick him up he was a Typhoon pilot, I don’t recall his Sqn number but it was an RAF Sqn with Belgian airmen and his name was Charles Demoulin and in later years I found out that he had written a book after the war and that’s another story. I have double checked the pick-up of Demoulin was not 2547 it was 2549.
Anyhow to continue, in January 1944 I was selected for training as a 1st Class Coxswain and was temporarily away from Dover back to Corsewall for six weeks. I was successful and on returning to Dover fully qualified, I was allocated to HSL 186 which was under the command of my old skipper Flt. Lt. D A Jones DSO who was my skipper on HSL 127 but he didn’t go abroad with the crew way back in 1943. His Cox’n on 186 was a Canadian Warrant Officer on loan from the Royal Canadian Air Force and I was led to believe that I would take over as 1st Cox’n as and when the Canadian was recalled to the RCAF. I remained on HSL 186 acting basically as a 2nd Cox’n and was still with 186 when the invasion commenced and we actually operated more towards the west so that we were protecting the western area just beyond the invasion beaches. Whilst I was still on HSL 186 I got a ‘Records posting’ to a newly formed Mobile Unit which was Unit 33 which was, at that stage, operating from Calshot until a likely place came for operating nearer the French Coast. I had no specific launch but was used as a relief 1st Class Cox’n for the Unit 33 ASR. Of course, once the invasion was on, we used to tie up behind the merchant ships and then of course, when Mulberry Harbour was formed, we could actually operate from the Mulberry harbour itself and then subsequently of course, as the invasion was successful and mopping up was going on, we had a base at Ostend. We operated from Ostend on various HSLs; these were Hant’s and Dorset’s of course now, no longer the 63 footers. We operated there not much traffic because it was getting more inland obviously but once May 8th came almost the next day we pulled out of Ostend beck to Felixstowe. Whilst we were at Felixstowe we were reformed because we heard that there was the possibility of being into Norway or possibly the Far East, which, as I was newly married, I wasn’t that keen on.
As luck would have it there were six boats on our Unit that were going to Norway; two for Oslo; two at Stavanger and two further north, I think Trondheim. I was lucky to be on one of the HSLs that went to Stavanger so wasn’t a lot of air activity, if there was it was Sunderlands but I suppose we were there just in case there was a lot more flying in that area. I was then removed from Stavanger to Tananger which was a little Island as there was obviously not the work for us. The skipper volunteered to take over a German launch, it was a Flieger Schnellboaten No 534, the 19-mtr job with two big MAN diesel engines not quite like our launches, but a very sturdy one, so sturdy that we could and did get a Jeep onto the foredeck because the role taking a Flt Lt RAF, who was an expert in radar and they were very interested to see what the Germans had got which could be of interest to us. So our role then with a jeep, manned by three sometimes four SAS soldiers, we would go to German units either on the Islands or on high points on the coast. We would moor as near as we could, get the jeep off the foredeck and as many of us that could, would then zoom around looking for these former Radar stations German ones of course, some of them were still manned but they had obviously been advised to await the Allies coming but to list all of the things that they had and certainly the arms so it was quite pleasant, exciting and I suppose it was the lack of general responsibility.
We collected, in the jeep or a trailer behind the jeep, armaments and various things for dumping and then would come back load it onto our German boat, take all of the ammunition in and drop them over the side in the deepest fjords that we could find. That was quite exciting certainly; when it came to explosives there were sticks of more or less dynamite all wrapped up in waterproof paper but regrettably they wouldn’t sink they floated. So we opened these packages, which had about a dozen sticks of dynamite, and threw them over singly, they still floated so the skipper, after we had got them all back in again, said ‘well we’ll have to do something else’ and since we had also allocated to us an RAF armourer he said ‘well we will have to dispose of them on the land’. So looking at me he said ‘you go to the armourer and see if you can help him out’. Well that was a problem because this bloke said ‘I believe you can burn these’ so he said ‘if you put them on the fire they would just burn and fizz’. I said ‘have you ever done it’ and he said ‘well, no’, so we then lit a bonfire and hiding behind a rock, that seemed to be regular things in fjords in Norway, we tossed a stick of this dynamite which, of course, did just fizz. It seems it has got to be within something that resists so therefore that’s when the explosion takes place where, as in the open air, it just fizzed and we gradually got more and more nerve and were bunging them onto the bonfire madly like November 5th. That more or less was the story because soon after the Atom Bomb was dropped and we were then due to come back to the UK.
When we started our journey home the weather was extremely rough and we were heading south before tackling the North Sea and one of our outer engines went for a burton, sorry was US, and the Skipper requested to put in Gothenburg in Sweden and as we were a nation at war they were a neutral country we were limited and could only go in on their agreement, but the request was granted. We spent a couple of days there until the weather eased then we headed to Copenhagen to await a new engine to be flown out to us. This took some time and, as Christmas was nearing and I had received a radio message while I was at sea on the wheel that my son had been born, I wanted obviously to see him. Of course about six months had passed then so I asked the Skipper for compassionate leave and he granted this and indeed he drove me to Kastrup airport where I got a flight on an RAF Dakota coming back to the UK. This was done (we were to land at Hendon but because of fog we were diverted to Croydon which is south London but closer to my mother’s home, on landing and passing through the admin buildings I was asked if I had any weapons on or with me or anything that should not be brought into the country, I said ‘no’ so was allowed through. I then caught a bus to the end of my mother’s road) and had my leave and saw my new son and spent my final days at Corsewall on standby, flying because at that time there were dozens of Flying boats coming in from all over the world. They were landing on the loch where the school was and I thought that is the job to see me through to my demob and it did. It was and it was interesting, we did 24 hrs on and 24 hrs off and we had our office on the pier and as I say it was quite interesting. We would make sure that the flight had landed properly then the maintenance staff would come out and look after the moorings and we would come back and tie up at the pier. While I was on that job my demob came along so in August 1946 I packed my bags, went down to Uxbridge, was dealt with as being demobilised, given a suit of my choice and that was it, that was the end of my service.
I must admit that I have omitted saying that I gave a very short run at Ramsgate in 1941 and ‘42 and at the beginning of ‘43 because we had several pick-ups and it was a very busy time indeed. We picked up two German Matelots who were floating around on a four foot long and about two foot deep inflated rescue effort. The poor devils had been sitting there since their convoy had been shot up by the navy off the French coast and they had drifted within a couple of miles of our coast. They were so cold we had to cut them free where they were holding on to cod line to make sure that they didn’t get washed off their floating bed. As I said we also picked up Lancasters; we picked a fellow we saw shot down he was actually a German, when we fished him out well indeed before he went in, but it was a bit horrific because as I was pulling the shrouds of his parachute as he was under the water and I saw the back of his head the hair and as I pulled the last bit he didn’t have anything but his scalp left. He must have had some explosive in his ear that got rid of things, it was a bit of a mess but I had a shock but then again we often found floating bits and pieces. Anyhow I think that’s about it, let’s hope that it‘s enough.


“Interview with Frank Standen,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 16, 2024,

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