Interview with Richard Harrison

Title

Interview with Richard Harrison

Description

Richard Harrison was born in Germany to an English father and German mother and grew up in Gloucester. He served in the Home Guard and the Air Training Corps. He joined the Royal Air Force and served as a clerk at RAF Tempsford before being posted to Sicily with the RAF Regiment. He then remustered as an air gunner and completed 18 operations in a B-24s. After the war he worked as a civil servant in civil defence.

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-11-16

Contributor

Cathie Hewitt

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:07:06 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AHarrisonR151116

Coverage

Conforms To

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

AM: Okay then so, this is Annie Moody for the International Bomber Command centre and Lincoln University, and today I’m with Dick Harrison in York, and what I’d like you to tell me is, first of all, is just date of birth and just a little bit about your family and your, your upbringing, what your parents did, that sort of thing.
RH: Yeah, I was born of the 5th of February 1924, I was born in Köln en Rhine, Deutschland, Cologne, Germany and er yeah, Dad English, Mother German, we came back to England in I think it was 1926, I was two years old.
AM: How did your Dad meet your Mum then if she was German?
RH: He was in the army of occupation.
AM: In? In Cologne or?
RH: In Germany.
AM: In Germany, yeah.
RH: Yeah, because he’d been on the Western Front from 1915 to 18, he was a regular soldier when he was in Cologne and various other places in the Rhineland, but he met my Mother in Cologne.
AM: Right.
RH: I think they were married there in 1922, something like that.
AM: So, what did he do when you came back to England? What did your parents do?
RH: Well he was a regular soldier and he carried on being a soldier.
AM: Right. Right through, yeah?
RH: Yeah until 19, yeah 1936.
AM: Oh blimey, right.
RH: He left the army and became a civil servant.
AM: Ah, me too, well that’s another story.
[laughter]
RH: And me too.
[laughter]
AM: So, tell me a bit about your school years then.
RH: School years, well Dad’s camp was near Salisbury, Winterbourne, so I went to a primary school in Winterbourne, and although people say today, you know, how good the schools were back then, this was a truly appalling school [laughs] well, and from there, I can’t remember what it was called, you sat the exam when you were eleven. And from there I went to Bishops school in Salisbury which was a local grammar school, then unfortunately my Dad left the army, the civil service post was in Gloucestershire, so we had to move to Gloucestershire, and I went to and I had to transfer schools, from a very [emphasis] good and excellent school in Salisbury to certainly a below par one in Gloucester.
AM: Right.
RH: Near Gloucester.
AM: What age were you when you left?
RH: When I left what?
AM: When you left school.
RH: Sixteen.
AM: Did you do schools certificate and everything?
RH: No, I didn’t.
AM: No.
RH: No, I had enough of that school.
AM: Right. [laughs] So what did you do when you left school?
RH: Worked in an office.
AM: Yeah, doing?
RH: Pardon?
AM: Doing just normal administrative?
RH: Yes.
AM: Office work.
RH: Yes, just clerical work, that’s all.
AM: Yeah.
RH: It was a company that, it was a [unclear]company so I was dealing with invoices and things like that.
AM: Right. So what year are we up to now? Sixteen, nineteen, I’m just trying to work my own arithmetic out, if you were sixteen?
RH: I left school in 1940.
AM: Right, so the war had started.
RH: Yeah and I was already involved.
[background noise]
AM: Right, and I’m looking now at the County and City of Gloucester air raid precautions, and this is to certify that mister Richard Harrison completed his course in anti-gas training, under the auspices of County and City of Gloucester air raid precautions central authority and has acquired sufficient knowledge of anti-gas measures to act as a member of the public ARP service. Tell me about that then, what was that like?
RH: Erm, and that’s what I—
AM: Oh, I’ve missed a bit, nature of the course attended was—
RH: Was a cycle messenger.
AM: Right, what did that mean?
RH: We were about ten miles north of Bristol, so when they were attacking Bristol, you know I was very interested, the first time I saw flak [laughs] but—
AM: What was that like then?
RH: Well, I mean as a kid it’s all very interesting, isn’t it? I mean we, the village hall was our local ARP post, and every Friday night that was my job, even when I was at school, every Friday night, get there for six or seven o’clock, I think it was, until six, seven o’clock the next morning, with my bike ready to go anywhere. And all over Bristol, it was a fantastic sight really was, searchlights, flak, German bombers coming over lit up, one crashed about a mile away from us here, but no it was quite a, quite a sight, and when they attacked Avonmouth and the oil tanks were set on fire, the whole of the horizon was red, yeah amazing sight.
AM: So, where were you sent off cycling? Taking what sort of messages?
RH: [sighs] Well we was just, I can’t remember the details. I remember one, one regular one was to cycle down to the pub and bring them back a pint of cider or something, and that was a regular run.
[laughter]
AM: Right, so the message was, how many drinks?
RH: Yeah.
AM: So, so when, so that was it, you did your cycling in your messenger training.
RH: Yes.
AM: And then what?
RH: What?
AM: What made you join the RAF? Oh, what came next should I say with regards to?
RH: The Home Guard.
AM: Right.
RH: I joined that when, yeah before I was seventeen I joined that and despite what people say and that, because there’s that film—
AM: Dad’s Army
RH: Dad’s Army. I mean, it was one of the most useful things ever because I was in a platoon where the officer commanding was World War one soldier, my Father was a platoon sergeant, World War one soldier, there were several of them, I mean when I went into the RAF, foot drill, arms drill, using a rifle, shooting on the range, using a machine gun.
AM: You’d already done it.
RH: It was easy, yeah, it was easy. I also joined the Air Training Corps about the same time.
AM: Right.
RH: So, at one time I had three balls in the air [laughs] ARP, Home Guard, Air Training Corps.
AM: And [unclear]
RH: And in addition to that, I took a St John’s, St John ambulance first aid course and got a certificate for that, so—
AM: Right.
RH: Yeah.
AM: Blimey. So, when you joined the RAF, but I think Gary said RAF regiment?
RH: Pardon?
AM: I think Gary said you joined the RAF regiment?
[phone rings]
RH: Excuse me.
[interview paused]
RH: Where were we?
AM: So, where were we?
GR: You were juggling three balls, ATC.
AM: We were juggling all those balls with your ATC, and your Home Guard.
RH: In the end I packed up the, one of them became civil defence from ARP, so I packed, I packed that up, I couldn’t get—
AM: Right.
RH: Otherwise I was chasing round four nights a week [laughs] and weekends with the Home Guard.
AM: And working in your office.
RH: And working as well.
AM: And working as well.
RH: Yeah.
AM: So, you’re coming up to eighteen, why the RAF? Where did you join? What was, what was you’re, what was it like?
RH: For a young lad I mean it’s, it’s just the glamour of the thing. King and country had nothing at all to do with it [laughs] don’t say that—
[laughter]
AM: We’ll cut that out.
RH: All I wanted, well I mean, one saw a war films didn’t you, ‘target for the night’ and all the rest of it. But unfortunately, I had a heart condition and my, on my medical records which I saw, because I wanted to go into aircrew, I wanted to be a wireless operator.
AM: Right.
RH: Wireless operator [unclear] because I’d been, Father had taught my brother and I morse code, and in the house, he’d rigged up two keys and we used to use that, even when we were ten or eleven years old we knew the morse code, and in the Air Training Corps, when the CO discovered I already knew morse, I became the morse code instructor for the squadron.
[laughter]
RH: And, but when I went for the medical, I think I was, temporarily unfit for aircrew duties, they said that would right itself eventually, and I remember being interviewed by the, this officer, he said, ‘well, I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘ that you’re fit for ground crew duties but you’re not fit for aircrew duties,’ I said, ‘right, in that case I don’t want to join the RAF, I’m going to join the army,’ [laughs] because I was fit enough for the army, and I had a mate, a school friend who was up at Catterick driving a tank, saying how great it was and I could picture myself in that, so I said, ‘I’m going to join the army, the Armour Corps,’ ‘no you’re not,’ he said, ‘no you’re not,’ he said, ‘we’re not going to waste, what was it twelve months or more Air Training Corps and then you go in the army,’ he said, ‘you’ll be called up,’ and that’s what happened. I got, yeah, before Christmas it was, 1942.
AM: Right.
RH: And I got my call up papers and went to Penarth in South Wales where they sorted you out, and because I’d been a clerk in civvy street, I went through trade tests, maths, English, I could type, type writing, book keeping, and that took all morning, and then at the end of it they said, ‘alright you’re now a trade group for clerk general duties,’ but it did mean that whereas a lad going in without any trade at all was getting three shillings a day, I got four shillings and threepence a day because I was a trade [laughs] and of course guys like one of the guys I sort of chummed up with, he had been a metal worker, and I can’t remember what trade he went into, but I know he was getting sort of, six shillings and something a day because he was a group one trade as against group four. Right, so what do you want next then?
AM: Ooh, well, what happened next? Tell me about it. What were you actually doing then? So, you got three a day—
RH: I can think, in my eight weeks I think it was, square bashing and then I was posted to RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire.
AM: Right.
RH: And, that was the base for the special duties squadrons, 161 and 138, and they were dropping supplies and people for the resistance.
AM: Right, okay.
RH: And it was all top secret, I mean I suppose I didn’t know what they were doing.
GR: There was Maurice Buckmaster and Vera Atkins.
RH: Well, maybe so, Wing Commander Pickard, DSO, a couple of bars and all the rest of it, he was, he was the C.O. and, but I knew something about aircraft, and so what struck me was these Halifax’s, they had no mid upper turret, and I thought well that’s strange, and bomb trolleys were parked alongside the hangar with grass growing through them, so they weren’t being used [laughs] but no one told you anything. Eventually one of the guys in the office said, ‘Dick, do you know what we are doing?’ and this was after a month or so, I said, ‘yeah, I reckon you’re dropping agents into, into France,’ I said, because I had to do a what, a sort of duty every now and again, overnight, man the phone and so forth, and during that time, you would see a couple of black saloon cars going, going by, and they were going over to, what I discovered later, was a farm, an old farm where they were kitted up before they did their jumps. And, yeah, very secret, so I remember a guy crashed on take-off and they were all killed, and that night or the next night the father was calling and I answered the phone, and I said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t tell you anything,’ you know, ‘was he on the raid to Berlin?’ I said, ‘I’m sorry,’ [laughs] I knew what had happened to him but wasn’t allowed to say. And another little story, no need to record, as I say it was all top secret, this Halifax was missing, so that was seven guys as well, so into the HQ, came their, the NCOs, their pay books and in the pay book was a next of kin listed. Now the wireless operator in that crew had listed his next of kin as a girl in Sandy village, which was four or five miles—
AM: Yeah, I know where you mean.
RH: Away, you know?
AM: Yeah, I know exactly where you mean.
RH: You know where I mean? So, the Padre and another officer went down to give her the bad news, sort of thing he was missing, but I mean I wasn’t witness to this, I only heard about it afterwards, and apparently when they gave her the bad news, she said, ‘well he’ll be alright wont he?’ they said, ‘what do you mean?’ ‘well I mean, they are dropping supplies to the French resistance and they’ll —
AM: Oh God.
RH: Get him back. Which they didn’t. While I was there, not him, but while I was there a guy came back, but the only thing I saw was her arriving with an RAF police escort in a car, and she was wheeled in to see Wing Commander Pickard, and I suppose he read the riot act to her, keep your mouth shut.
AM: Yeah.
RH: And some years ago when I was caravanning down there, I went back to see if I could get onto Tempsford, but it was all wired off, but you could see the huts in the background, and I met, a local woman came out of her house, and as a wee child she remembered this place and she said, ‘you see that hedge there?’ she said, ‘we lived up on the hill and we weren’t allowed to come below that hedge, no civilians were allowed below that hedge line,’ it was so, so secret.
AM: It’s amazing isn’t it.
RH: On one occasion Wing Commander Pickard, flying a Hudson, that’s that one up there, that was—
AM: I’m looking at, I’m looking at models here.
RH: Yeah, that was his aircraft, and he’d taken people down to the south of France to a landing ground down there, and when it came to take off, he’d bogged down, because it was just a field, and so they had to turn out local farm horses and so forth and pull him onto hard ground so he could take off. I remember next morning in the HQ, one of the guys said to me, ‘have you seen the CO’s Hudson take off?’ I said, ‘no,’ he said, ‘well go and look at hangar so and so,’ and there it was parked up outside, still with mud up into the engines themselves, and he got a, I think he had three DSO’s, was it, Wing Commander Pickard? He was shot down in the end on another raid, yeah. So, there we are, what’s next then?
AM: So that’s that, well you tell me. What came next?
RH: I must have been the worst clerk general duties that the RAF ever had, because I wasn’t a bit interested in what I was doing [laughs] and I was always on the—
AM: Wanting to be up there.
RH: Back in front of the adjutant flight sergeant being given a lecture about something I’d done wrong. Then one day two guys came into the office and I knew they’d been in north Africa, and they said, ‘can we have a form to volunteer to go overseas,’ I said, ‘but you’ve only just come back.’ [emphasis]
AM: Two aircrew this?
RH: Pardon?
AM: Two aircrew you talking about?
RH: No, they weren’t aircrew.
AM: Oh right, okay still—
RH: They were two groundcrew. Said, ‘we’ve only just come back,’ and I said, ‘you want to go back out there again?’ ‘well, [emphasis] England, terrible place isn’t it, full of Yanks and all the rest, no, the sooner we get out of here the better,’ so I thought, what a good idea.
[laughter]
GR: Get me one of these forms.
[laughter]
RH: Get me one of those forms, yeah. And then I had a medical and this medical officer said, you know, as I said to you on the phone yesterday, he said, ‘right, condition no longer, so I’ll put you forward shall I, for the aircrew medical?’ I said, ‘no, no thanks I want to go overseas.’
[laughter]
RH: Did you read that letter?
GR: This one?
RH: Yeah, the one, the regiment one?
GR: Yes, I’m reading it, yeah.
AM: I’ll take a copy afterwards. So, you went overseas rather than aircrew?
RH: Yes, I volunteered to go overseas, it was all very quick, in fact I was sent on what they called, embarkation leave.
AM: Hmm, hmm.
GR: Yeah.
RH: And I think that was one week or two, and while I was at home in Gloucestershire, a telegram came telling me to report back to Tempsford, and I’d only been home two or three days, and so I went back and there was my posting notice, and I think, I thought the RAF were taking their revenge on me for not carrying on with aircrew because they posted me to an RAF Regiment squadron. And believe me in 1943, to be in the RAF Regiment, you know, I mean today, yes, they’ve got a good reputation, but that was really the backend of everything. And there were about a dozen of us, tradesmen, clerks, cooks, vehicle mechanics, armourers, wireless guys and so forth, and all resentful [laughs] at being posted to the regiment.
AM: Where was that though? Where were you posted to?
RH: Oh yeah, that was near Peterborough, near Peterborough. And, when I arrived there, there was a corporal clerk in the, what do you call it? Orderly room, in the orderly room. And as soon as I arrived, he sent off a signal under the adjutant’s signature, under who was away at the time, to the airman’s records at Innsworth in Gloucestershire saying, that Corporal so and so, can’t remember his name, was unfit for overseas duty. And so about, a couple of days later a signal came posting him out, didn’t get off kindly. [laughs]
AM: So where, where from, where did you go from Peterborough?
RH: Overseas.
AM: Yeah, but where though? Whereabouts?
RH: Sicily.
AM: Sicily.
RH: We went to, yeah it was a, it took a month altogether, although I think it was three weeks to Algiers on a troop ship as a convoy—
AM: I was going to say—
RH: As it was, but— Yeah, although in my letter I said, not eventful, in fact it was interesting at times because a U-boat got in amongst the convoy, and there were destroyers dashing up and down dropping depth charges. [laughs]
AM: It’s probably quite exciting when you are eighteen, nineteen.
RH: It was, when you are a kid, when you are a kid.
AM: You’re still a teenager, really aren’t you?
RH: Yeah, I remember saying to one of the seamen on our, on our troop ship, you know, ‘why is that, why are they flying a black pennant?’ he said, ‘that’s because they’ve detected a boat,’ he said, ‘they’ve detected a U, U-boat.’ Then we went to Algiers, and then we left Algiers, still didn’t know where we were going at that time. And then, I was in what was called the headquarters flight, which all the tradesmen were in that flight and we were called up for a briefing by the adjutant, and then we knew we were going to Sicily, and there were maps passed round for us to look at, and we were going to takeover, it was a light anti-aircraft squadron by the way, it had a twenty-millimetre cannon.
AM: Okay.
RH: We were going to take over defence of the Gerbini airfield near Cantania in Sicily, and that was the plan. But unfortunately, the Germans, you know, didn’t know what our plan was—
[laughter]
RH: And so, when we got to Sicily they were still there. [laughs] And er, yeah, we landed, we went to Malta first, I think we stayed there overnight or a couple of nights, and then we went to Sicily, and it was over the, over the side, down scrambling nets onto the landing craft and then onto a little [old?] pier sort of thing. And then we formed up and marched up into an olive grove and we were there for about a week. We were waiting for our trucks to arrive and the cannon, but they’d all been sunk. It was funny when we were en route from Algiers to Malta, there was a, ‘boom,’ bang and a great column of smoke over in the distance, that was the ship going down, and we heard later that was our ship [laughs] with all the trucks on.
AM: Blimey.
RH: So when we got to, then we were posted and moved to Lentini and that was a new, new landing ground, and we were sent there for anti-parachute troop duties. The Germans had dropped paratroopers into Sicily, not, not straight into combat, they dropped them as reinforcements to the guys who were already there.
AM: Yeah.
RH: And, but some of them were dropped too far south, and when the 8th Army had pushed up and they were left behind.
AM: I’m just looking, thinking about the geography, so you’re in the south of Sicily?
RH: Pardon?
AM: I’m just thinking about the geography of Sicily, so the Germans were on the island?
RH: Oh yeah, and eventually, eventually they had four divisions there. They had three to, three to begin with and then, then they dropped in two regiments from the 1st Parachute Division, and they were dropped in as reinforcements, behind their own lines. But they were the guys who eventually who stopped the 8th Army, you know, getting any further. But, and so when we got to Lentini, they were forming patrols of about a dozen guys and an NCO, and they [unclear] [laughs] searched the local olive groves and go through, and as I said in, in the letter, you know, God help them if they come across any German para’s because I’m sure we would have been sending out the first missing in action signals.
[laughter]
RH: Because they wouldn’t have stood a chance, they wouldn’t have stood a chance against those guys. So, that was that.
AM: So, how long were you there for, on Sicily?
RH: Pardon?
AM: How long were you on Sicily for? Ish?
RH: Yeah, we landed there a week after the invasion began, July, August, and then, when did we go into Italy? September the 3rd? So, we went into Italy on September the 10th, something like that.
AM: Right, so, so the Germans had been pushed back?
RH: They evacuated.
AM: They evacuated.
RH: Yeah, they got everything away, they got everything away, they had a defensive line sort of thing, and they just took it step by step back, and meanwhile they, I think forty thousand men all their guns and tanks, everything they managed to get across the Straits of Messina. And, [pause] the regiment squadron, we were on, we moved from Lentini to the Scordia landing ground, again it’s only a rough strip through, through the fields and that was the American 57th Fighter Group. They were equipped with P-40 Warhawks and they used to go out day after day trying to stop the Germans evacuating the—
AM: Getting across the Straits.
RH: Their, their stuff. And that was the first time I’d come across American, Americans and they were great guys, [emphasis] they really were. And later on, we were on the same airfield, when I was in aircrew and again, you know, they really are first, first class blokes, I thought.
AM: So, you’re on, we’re on the push now, what, what month did we say we were? August? What, what—
GR: No, September into Italy.
AM: And September into Italy.
RH: September into Italy.
AM: So you—
RH: I’ll just tell this little story while we—
AM: Go on, yes.
RH: At Scordia, I mean they were suffering losses because I mean they were having to make quite low level attacks with their fighter bombers. And we were watching these guys coming back, and, and one of them he came in rather high, banged [emphasis] down onto the ground, up in the air, bang [emphasis] and then turned over onto his, onto his back, so the pilot was trapped under, underneath. But I mean, they were very, very quick, in no time there was a, the er, a fire tender, an ambulance, and a mobile crane. And the mobile crane lifted the aircraft up, turned it over—
AM: [inaudible]
RH: And they forced the canopy open and out [laughs] got this young lieutenant, stepped on the wing, walked away a few paces, reached into his overalls, pulled out a cigar—
AM: [gasps] Oh no.
RH: Lit it and went on walking.
[laughter]
RH: And I thought, well there’s, there’s a nerve for you, [laughs] there’s a nerve for you. But on the other side of the coin, I remember, I used to like going out into their dispersal and watch them come in. And, they’d taken off—
[background noise]
RH: And then one of them left the formation, came round, landed and then taxied up to where we were, we were, sort of thing, switched off the engine, pilot got out and he walked over to the, the er. There was a sergeant who was a sort of an engineer mechanic, whatever, and I can’t remember the words after all these years what the pilot said, but he was complaining that there was a fault in the, in the engine, there was something, something wrong, and then he walked away. And I said the sergeant, I said, ‘what do you thinks wrong with that then?’ Now, you’ll have to excuse the language.
AM: It’s alright. [laughs]
RH: He said, ‘nothing he’s just shit scared,’ he said.
[laughter]
AM: Fair enough.
RH: So then we went into Italy, [pause] now tell you, this was a regiment [laughs] with a squadron, and so I knew [emphasis] very well, being, being in the HQ, the squadron had been told they had to go to Crotone landing ground which was sort of under the, that part of the—
AM: The heel.
RH: Italian boot.
AM: The heel.
RH: And of course, and we were following a Canadian division along the coast. They were way, way, way ahead, we never ever saw them. When we got to Crotone landing ground, nothing there at all because it had already been evacuated. Now the same time as the 8th Army landed on the toe and moved up on the north coast, the Canadians were moving along the south coast and the British 1st Airborne Division came in by sea to land at Taranto to push up on the Adriatic coast. And when we were somewhere west of, of Taranto we came across the Airborne guys, and, and they were stopping our convoy. Now in our convoy would be about a dozen three tonne four by four Bedfords, three or four jeeps, two Italian trucks that we had pinched, stolen and, and motorcycles and so forth. Yeah, we spotted these Italian trucks in a little town called Catanzaro down on the toe and the C.O. had seen them, two big Fiat trucks, and so he said to our corporal fitter, engine fitter, ‘do you reckon you can get those going?’ he said, ‘yeah right.’ So sometime around midnight he and another mechanic went out and started them and drove them up the road a bit and then we found them [unclear]
AM: Appropriated them. [laughs]
RH: And then painted them in RAF camouflage and off we went. And then so, yeah, we met the guys with the, with the red berets and from what they were saying is, ‘go careful, keep your heads down because there are German para snipers in the area,’ [laughs] and I thought to myself, we shouldn’t be here, we had no business to be there with just our, just the C.O. You know, woo, let’s just going, you know so think you can imagine we were some kind of Panzer unit or something. And then we drove into Bari, you know that?
AM: Yeah.
RH: Well as we went to Bari, there were people on the pavements, waving and cheering and then passing out bottles of wine.
[laughter]
RH: And I thought, well this can’t be right, and, and where are our guys? I didn’t see any British soldiers at all, and we drove through Bari, and I can’t remember the name of the town now, but about ten miles north of Bari on the main coast road, we came into this little township, and again, [emphasis] people came out and they were waving and saying oh—
AM: Italian civilians you mean?
RH: Yeah, [emphasis] Italian civilians, I thought it’s got to be something, it’s got to be wrong you know, and then the word quickly came down the, the line, the Germans left here this morning.
[laughter]
RH: Well that decided the C.O., all the trucks were turned round. [laughs]
GR: You were the spear guard you were, you were out in front.
[laughter]
RH: We go back to, we went back to Bari, and he looked at his map. Bari airport which was an Italian air force base then, we’ll go there, and we’ll the, we’ll take over the airfield, we had no business—
AM: Is this just you the RAF Regiment, you’re talking here?
RH: Yeah.
AM: Right.
RH: No business at all to be, to be there. And we drove up to the entrance and there were gates and as we drove up, there were armed Italians carrying their funny little carbine rifles, they shut the gate. Now I wasn’t there I didn’t hear what, what was said but they refused to let us in. So, then the order came down the line, ‘get your rifles out men and load them, and stand by the trucks.’ And of course, in our headquarters truck, where are the rifles?
[laughter]
AM: We’re laughing now, but I bet you weren’t laughing at the time.
RH: Scrambling, put ten rounds in the magazine, get out the truck. Meanwhile the Italians, a lot of them, had crossed the road and were in the olive grove in that side, so I thought, God, we are going to be between two lots here, but I think that fact that they saw a hundred guys or more getting out the trucks with their rifles ready, and that decided the Italians to open the gate and let us in.
[laughter]
RH: Yeah, so.
AM: Blimey.
GR: So you’re fighting your way up Italy?
AM: And your C.O. wanted you to be fighting your way up.
RH: Pardon?
AM: And your C.O. wanted you to be fighting your way up.
RH: And the, what do you call it? SWO, he was, he was another sort of, you know, let’s get up there and we’ll, all the rest of it. But, yeah then we went up to Foggia and there were several airfields there which the Germans had used, and yeah, we were, I think on two different airfields there, if I remember rightly, well airfields, landing grounds it was just a single strip. But I can’t remember anything worth reporting there. And by that time, we were subordinate to Desert Air Force, and so you’d get the daily orders from Desert Air Force. And on one they were appealing for air gunners, air gunners, now I thought right—
AM: This is it.
RH: We’ll have a go at this, and so I, you know, I applied and went to Desert Air Force headquarters to get the preliminary medical as such. And, it was, it was quite interesting, because they had my records there and the first officer to examine me, flight lieutenant or squadron leader, doctor or whatever he was, he said, ‘I can’t understand why you were failed in, a year ago,’ he said. He said, ‘there’s nothing wrong,’ and I said, ‘well it says temporarily unfit,’ ‘I can’t see nothing wrong, well, we’ll get a second opinion,’ and he called in the chief, the group captain, and he came in and checked me over, ‘yeah,’ he said, ‘no,’ he said, ‘I can’t think,’ he said, ‘why you were failed a year ago,’ he said, ‘there’s nothing wrong with your, with your heart.’ I used to think afterwards, they failed me because when they looked at my background, they realised in fact, that Mum was a German.
[laughter]
RH: I’ve thought that might be a—
GR: That’s possible.
AM: Yeah.
GR: Yeah, yeah, possible.
RH: Yeah. Because when it came to the aircrew selection board, that was the next thing.
AM: Are you still in Italy at this point?
RH: Yeah, oh yes.
AM: Yeah.
RH: The, the aircrew selection board, and they asked, they asked that question, ‘what if you were ordered to?’ I mean there was no possibility for me to fly from Italy all the way to Cologne, but still, [laughs] They said, ‘what if you were ordered to bomb Germany, bomb something in Germany, you know, you were born there and your Mothers German, what, what if you were ordered to do that?’ [laughs] And I said, ‘I would obey orders.’ [laughs]
[laughter]
RH: Yes, so then there was, I was still with the Regiment Squadron, but I mean they hadn’t, they hadn’t fired a shot in anger and they were anti-aircraft, there was no need for them, so they found a new job for the RAF Regiment. That was to go up to the, our artillery gun line which would be a three, or four miles behind the front line, and by day if our guys were flying and bombing, they would put out smoke indicators to show where our front line was, so that our guys didn’t bomb in it. And by night they would put out flares and I was only there less than, less than, less than a week and but apparently, they did have some casualties later, later on. But, so that was it, now I went to Desert Air Force headquarters, and I had three or four weeks there, and then before I went back to the Middle East. Desert Air Force headquarters was the best posting ever I had in the RAF of a, really good guys to work with, we had an Australian flight lieutenant who was our, the C.O. of what’s called the organisation section where I worked. And he used to share his food parcels with us and he knew I was sort of going through them and I was going on for air, aircrew training and he called me in one day and he said, ‘Harrison,’ now I know this sounds like a line shoot, but he said, ‘Harrison, you’ve done a really good job here,’ he said, ‘we’re very pleased at the way you’re, you’re working.’ That’s because I had a gen, I wasn’t responsible to anyone even though I was only an airman I was doing my own, my own job, sort of thing, which was location of units.
AM: Right.
RH: And briefing people who came in asking questions about you, he said, ‘now why don’t you forget this aircrew thing,’ he said, ‘and I can guarantee,’ he said, in a few months you’ll have your first stripes,’ he said, ‘and I can see you going on from there,’ and I said, ‘no thank you, very much.’ [laughs] And so that was it, now I went back to Egypt
AM: Right. Where did you do your training, your aircrew training then?
RH: Air gunner training.
AM: Air gunner training, where did you do that?
RH: Yeah, a place called El Ballah.
AM: In, in Egypt?
RH: On the canal zone.
AM: Right. And how long, so how long were you training for?
RH: Right. [pause]
[paper rustling]
RH: You can take these away.
AM: Okay.
RH: Later. There were three six-week courses.
AM: Right.
RH: The first one was at 51 Air Gunner Initial Training School, and they’re all the subjects.
AM: Yeah.
RH: Then you had a forty-eight-hour pass into Cairo and then you came for another six weeks—
AM: Okay.
RH: At 12 Elementary Air Gunner School.
AM: Yeah.
RH: From there are all the subjects again.
AM: So, I’m looking at, I’ll, I’ll copy this, and but I’m looking at things like, different gun turrets, the Frazer Nash, the Boulton Paul, the Bristol.
RH: Yeah that’s right.
AM: Pyrotechnics, the Very pistol, the flares, forty flashes. Smoke floats?
RH: Yeah, smoke floats, yeah.
AM: Yeah, what’s a smoke float?
RH: Well it was, about, about that big and the idea was that, that in daylight, over the sea, over, over water, the navigator would ask someone to drop a smoke float, okay? And then the tail gunner, the rear gunner—
AM: Yeah, yeah.
RH: Himself. You see that smoke float and you take a bearing on it with your sight, and there’s sort of a compass ring—
AM: Right.
RH: And you say,’ okay, it’s at so many degrees,’ and then the navigator would count off so many seconds and say, ‘okay take another reading,’ so you take another reading and it shows you your drift.
AM: Right.
RH: The difference between the two readings.
AM: Yep.
RH: Yeah, smoke float by day, yeah.
AM: Oh.
RH: And that’s 13 Air Gunner school where you finally get to fly.
AM: I’m looking at this one because I was, I was going to ask you, what were, what did you actually train in? And we’ve got Avro Anson’s?
RH: Yes, it’s up there, somewhere.
AM: One of those up there? Dinghy drill. Did you all have individual dinghies at that point?
RH: No, seven-man dinghies.
AM: Because—It was a seven-man dinghy. Right.
RH: Then we trained in, in the Suez Canal, and the canal was only a couple of miles away from the, from the air field, so the instructor would tow an inflated dinghy out into the middle of the canal. And that was another, another thing and I’ve never come across it before and I’ve mentioned it to other aircrew types and they’ve never heard of this before. You had to swim fifty yards [emphasis] and if you did not swim, if you couldn’t swim that fifty yards you failed.
AM: That was it, you were out.
RH: You failed the course. So, I mean you had a life jacket on which was a damn nuisance believe me if you’ve got a Mae West and you try swim. [laughs] So you went out, two of you at a time, went out to a dinghy and righted it.
AM: Oops.
RH: Sorry. Righted it, then got into it, and then when the instructor was satisfied, when you got out you pulled the dinghy over you so it was upside down for the next pair.
AM: Right, and swam out from under it.
RH: To go out, yeah.
AM: I can’t imagine what the canal was full of?
RH: Oh yeah, [emphasis] yeah. Now and then whistles are blowing and everyone would have to get out if a ship came by. [laughs]
AM: Theres, there’s crocodiles isn’t there?
RH: No, no.
AM: Is there not? No. Alright then.
RH: There’s far more—
AM: I was thinking about horrible [unclear]
RH: Theres worse stuff floating in the canal, believe me.
AM: I can imagine.
[laughter]
AM: So, you’ve done your training.
RH: Yeah.
AM: Then what?
RH: Then we’ve went to [paper rustling] from Egypt—
AM: Hmm, hmm.
RH: To Palestine.
AM: Right.
RH: For the O T U.
AM: Right. [pause] So, I’m looking now at the, it was the 76 Operational Training Unit.
RH: That’s right.
AM: And you were on Wellington medium bombers at this point?
RH: Yeah, yeah.
AM: Tail gunner you said you were, weren’t you?
RH: Yeah, yeah.
AM: Tail end Charlie.
RH: Yes, we formed up of, as you may know, you know, the people weren’t detailed, we all assembled in a hangar.
AM: You did the crewing up.
RH: And we sort of—
AM: No other end.
RH: Pardon?
AM: No other end, is an expression—
RH: Is it?
AM: An expression, I’ve heard.
RH: Yeah well. And Joe, the other gunner, he, he eventually found a pilot who wanted two gunners, and so we met this Eddy who came from the Midlands, and he said to us, ‘who’s best at aircraft recognition?’ and Joe said, ‘he is,’ pointing to me.
[laughter]
RH: ‘So, right you are the rear gunner then.’
AM: So that was it? That was how that was decided. But then, so when was heavy Conversion Unit, were you still in Palestine at that point?
RH: No. We went back to Egypt for it.
AM: Back to Egypt for that, right.
RH: That was only four weeks I think at that point.
AM: So this is the 1675 Heavy Conversion Unit, into B-24 Liberators.
RH: B-24 Liberator, yeah. At least we got into a decent aircraft.
AM: Yeah. What, how many crew were on that? Was there seven or more? Seven.
RH: Well, seven. We trained as a crew of seven but operationally on the squadron, you carried an extra gunner, who manned the two waist guns.
AM: Right, so there was waist guns on there?
RH: There was also these, yeah, I did two or three [unclear] trips as a beam gunner, but you were the odd job. I’ll come to that when we get to the squadron then.
AM: Alright, okay. So, carry on—
RH: Well, [unclear, interviewer speaks over]
AM: Tell me about that and what happened and any stories about the conversion unit course or on to what happened after that?
RH: I can only think of a funny story on that. Sometimes, the nose wheel of the Liberator wouldn’t come down. And so, someone would go from the flight deck, for landing on the flight deck was a pilot, the engineer, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator and top gunner, six of them all on the flight deck in that area. If the nose wheel didn’t come down, there was a, a drill for it. One of them would go back into the nose and help to pull the thing down. Well, we’d been on a night exercise, and Joe our top gunner, a Lancashire lad, he always had intercom trouble. He was an electrician by trade, but he was a real jinx [emphasis] when it came to in, in, intercom. And the nose wheel hadn’t come down, so I mean I’m hearing everything on intercom, so the skipper said to, I think it was the bomb aimer Ron, ‘Ron go on down into the nose right and see if you can do it,’ and so Ron goes down there. Then the next thing I here, Ron’s on the intercom, ’no, I can’t do it and I need some help,’ ‘ah yeah, okay,’ and so the navigator is sent down. So, now there’s two of them in the nose trying to pull it—
AM: Yank the thing, yeah.
RH: And get the wheel down, and then they come back on the intercom, ‘no I can’t do it,’ so skipper, Eddy turns to Taffy our engineer and says, ‘Taff, go down and sort it, will you?’ So, Taff gets out of his seat and goes down. Theres a hatch in the flight deck that goes down into the nose. Now, Joe the top gunner, knows that the nose wheel hasn’t come down, and then his intercom goes dead. And one after another he sees the bomb aimer—
AM: Oh God.
RH: The navigator and the engineer all disappearing through that hatch down below, and what does he think? He thinks they’re all baling out. So, his seat release is a wire handle and he pulls that, drops out of his turret, goes straight through the hatch into the end of the bomb bay.
AM: Oh no.
GR: [unclear] [laughs]
RH: He just had a few bruises that was all.
AM: I was going to say, I thought you were going to say he went right through and had to pull his parachute. [laughs]
GR: Well, the thing is to anybody listening, obviously Lancaster, Halifax, B-17 all land, and land tail down, but the B-24 was one that landed, and landed with its nose up.
RH: Nose wheel
GR: The same, yeah. So, it landed, straight—
RH: Yes.
GR: As opposed to sitting back on the tail, so when you were on about the nose wheel coming down that’s—
AM: That’s why it’s important.
GR: Yeah
RH: Well, I— [unclear, interviewer speaks over]
GR: In fact that was the only bomber that, that—
RH: Yeah.
GR: The only, only four engine bomber that, that happened.
RH: If I remember rightly in HCU and I mean, I knew guys who were ahead of me and so forth, and Norman, and he came back and he came up to the truck as we were getting off it, and he said, ‘have you heard Mick Berry’s gone?’ Now, Mick Berry had been a corporal armourer and he was in our tent at gunnery school—
AM: Right.
RH: And he taught us more about the machine guns than the instructors. After all, that was his, his trade, he was a, I can still remember, he was a great [emphasis] man, he really was a good lad. And there they had, had crash landed and burst into flames, and Mick was in the mid er, top turret. Now that was held by, I think it was four bolts and it was a common fault that bang [emphasis] on, on the deck and that turret would drop out, and he was trapped and he couldn’t get out, yeah.
GR: Oh God.
RH: Mick Berry, he’s buried in the cemetery near Cairo.
AM: Oh, right. How big is it? I’m looking at a model of the Liberator here. How big is it in comparison then to the Halifax and the, and the Lancaster?
RH: [unclear] it’s a hundred and ten foot wingspan, the Liberator and the Hal, well Lanc, well it’s just over a hundred feet, in total.
AM: I was going to say, it looks a bit bigger to me.
RH: Yeah.
AM: On the, on the model, I know [unclear]
GR: Well at the same scales, they’re actually, the Liberators on a par with the Lancaster, probably slightly bigger.
AM: I’m showing my ignorance now, is it American?
GR: The B-24 was originally was an American bomber.
RH: Oh yeah.
AM: Oh.
RH: Yeah, consolidated to the aircraft company, yeah. [pause] Nice aeroplane to fly because after flying in the Wellingtons as the rear or tail, tail gunner, the heating system, well, didn’t really exist. And, in O.T.U. going out on a flight at night, and we’d six hours, six and a half hour flights sort of thing in freezing [emphasis] weather and you’d have long johns and, and then your shirt and your pants, and so forth. And your wool, pullover, woolly, the battle dress, then over the battle dress, the, an inner flying suit—
AM: Right.
RH: Which was sort of kapok something or other, brown silky, you put that on. Then over that, the outer flying suit which wasn’t padded at all, then over that your life jacket, then over that your parachute harness. Now, some of the gunners at O.T.U. there was only one entry hatch and that was in the nose, so the guys used to take their kit with them and get dressed when they got down into the fuselage. But I had an arrangement with the navigator, and the bomb aimer, and the armourer who would turn the turret of our aircraft to a hundred and eighty degrees, so I could get in from the outside. And they would lift [emphasis] me up into the turret, and then when we got back I would turn the turret a hundred and eighty degrees, open the doors, fall out—
AM: We’re talking about the rear turret then?
GR: Yeah.
RH: Pardon?
AM: Yeah.
RH: Yeah. And they would—
GR: Tumble out.
RH: And they would get me out.
GR: [unclear]
RH: The advantage of the Wimpy of course, and the rear, and with the Lanc and the British aircraft wasn’t it, you opened the doors as a tail gunner and you just bale out and go backwards—
AM: You just flipped out.
RH: Couldn’t do that on the Liberator.
AM: So, we’ve done Heavy Conversion Unit, you’ve got your crew, you’ve done your training with your crew, when was—
RH: I can’t think of any incidents.
AM: When was your first operation then?
RH: In February 45.
AM: Right, and where, where was it too?
RH: That’s a very good question, I think—
AM: Germany somewhere?
RH: No, I, no we were in Italy.
AM: Oh, oh.
RH: Yep, I think that’s just March, isn’t it?
GR: That’s just March, yeah.
AM: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
AM: Can you remember what it was like going up? Right because now you’re doing it for real instead of training? Did it make a difference?
RH: It was just a job. I think, you know guys of our age at that stage of the war, nine, you know, coming up to the end of the war, and you, I can’t think of the term really, indoctrinated or whatever, and you are used to it, you are used to it.
AM: So, were you scared?
RH: No I wasn’t, no.
AM: No.
RH: Because I didn’t have enough up there to be scared.
[laughter]
GR: Am I right in assuming that the, the bomber force in Italy at the time, was doing things like marshalling yards—
RH: Yeah.
GR: In northern Italy.
RH: Yeah.
GR: Austria.
RH: Yeah.
GR: Southern Germany? I think that there was a couple of trips.
AM: I think, yeah, I thought, I thought you went to southern Germany?
RH: No, we there were, I never went on a trip into Bavaria.
GR: But that was some of their, their area of operations.
RH: Yeah.
GR: There was the northern Italy marshalling yards, the Turin’s, that sort of thing, Verona, to try and stop—
RH: It was mainly the railway lines coming down through Bremen.
GR: Yes.
RH: And also down to Trieste and so forth.
GR: Which was the main supplier [unclear]
RH: And also, we, yeah, we bombed, what was it? Monfalcone, a little port, Ancona and Assa [?] yeah, they were, they were where the Germans had ships and used to supply their troops by night by running these boats along the coast, sort of thing.
GR: Did you normally fly with an escort? With a—
RH: On daylight, yeah.
GR: Daylights, yeah.
RH: Yeah, yeah. We had the Americans.
GR: Yeah.
RH: American B-51’s.
GR: Tuskegee, Tuskegee airmen?
RH: I don’t know who they were.
GR: They, they were the black—
AM: Yeah.
RH: I remember on one, on a trip to Monfalcone in the daylight, I mean we didn’t fly in formation, I mean our guys didn’t know how to fly in formation I never, not on heavies. And it just the usual stream, and so there were, sort of sixty, eighty aircraft in a stream. And we picked up the American escort, this was at the top end of the Adriatic, Trieste.
AM: Yep, yep.
RH: Right, it was the port next to Trieste.
AM: Yep.
RH: And, we picked up the escort and it was coming up, and our wireless op was listening out on their frequency, there had to be some sort of contact for, for, I didn’t hear this. But I remember we’d said, said afterwards, he said, ‘when they saw us coming,’ he said, and they were [laughs] saying about look at those sort of God damned limeys they’re not in formation, you know, all that how do we protect this lot and all the rest of it. [laughs]
AM: It’s like herding sheep.
[laughter]
RH: Yeah.
AM: Or herding—
GR: Are the Luftwaffe putting in much of an appearance?
RH: No.
GR: Towards that stage of the war?
RH: No, no.
AM: Were they not?
RH: No, they had, they were 109’s on the Italian, northern Italian airfields, but I think most of those were in what was called the Italian Republican Airforce.
GR: Yeah.
RH: You know, Mussolini’s lot, so you did see them, you did see them. Right and I remember seeing a strange sight one night as we were coming away from wherever it was in northern Italy. It was all a tremendous glare of course and, and looking out I saw these three Lib’s flying in and they were in [laughs] formation more or less and then at the back end of the [unclear] was a Bf 109. [laughs]
GR: Oh.
[laughter]
AM: Following you.
RH: Following the—
AM: Did you ever get shot at?
RH: With flak.
AM: With flak, but not, not as Gary said, not from a fighter?
RH: No, no, I saw, yeah there was a, we were 70 Squadron, 37 Squadron operated from the same airfield. I mean I didn’t know who they were, were at the time but and coming back at night from somewhere, Austria I think it might, might have been, the, and then suddenly seeing green tracer which I knew it was German. And then red tracer [laughs] sort of thing, and then ‘woof’ [emphasis] up went the Lib and down he went, yeah and that was 37 Squadron. Liberator, all lost.
AM: All gone. Did you ever shoot your guns at anything?
RH: No.
AM: Never?
RH: No, no you even if, and we were tailed one night by a fighter coming back from Trento I think it was, Trento, Trento marshalling yards you know, and I just reported it to the, to the crew, it was a 109. And he was sitting out and sort of, sort of four hundred yards or so away, you’d just see them occasionally with the glare in the background but he didn’t close and I certainly wouldn’t fire at him because it would show where we were.
GR: Were you were.
AM: Other people have said that, why would you fire—
RH: Yeah. Quite.
AM: And you know, mark yourself out to them.
RH: Yeah.
AM: Effectively.
RH: Yeah. Yeah, no you never, never fire unless you’re fired at. Okay?
AM: Yeah. I think, have you got any more questions?
GR: No, no.
AM: How many operations did you do in the end?
RH: Bombing, eighteen.
AM: Eighteen.
RH: And then we converted to supply, as the war was coming to an end—
AM: Okay.
RH: And the bombing stopped, and then they put some sort of racking inside the bomb bay so we could carry four-gallon cans of petrol and things like that.
AM: Right. So, what did you do between the war ending and demob?
RH: Er, yeah, we carried, you see although the war ended we’d already converted to transport.
AM: Yeah.
RH: And so, yeah for two or three weeks after VE Day we were flying, we were talking up supplies up to the north of Italy. And then after that they converted the bomb bay so you could carry bodies, troops, we could carry twenty-two.
AM: Live bodies?
RH: Yeah.
AM: Live ones.
RH: Twenty-two in the bomb, bomb bay. Poor blokes, [emphasis] I mean they just had to go down into the, down onto the catwalk and then climb over the back of these seats and then sit down. And there was the aircraft fuselage wall, just there sort of thing, and they had to sit there and on flights back to the UK, it took six and a half hours.
AM: You can’t imagine, can you?
GR: No.
AM: Were these troops or did you take any prisoner of war back?
RH: No, no—
AM: It was troops.
RH: These were troops. The ones we were flying back were due to be retrained and reformed to go out to Burma. These were the, I remember, you see they didn’t need the air gunners as such, so you became an odd bod sort of looking after these soldiers and so forth. And I remember on one occasion we were flying back with some guardsmen from a guard’s regiment, and the truck arrived and this lieutenant got out with his twenty odd bods. And they piled around and he said to our skipper, ‘we were all NCO’s, we were all senior NCO’s, he said, ‘have you anything to say?’ to the men sort of thing, and he said, ‘no.’ Since I was Harrison, generally I was called Harry, and so Ken said, ‘now Harry will look after you,’ well that wasn’t good enough for the, for the lieutenant. He turned around and he said, ‘when you are in the aircraft I don’t want you putting your hands out and grabbing any wires or anything.’
[laughter]
RH: So I saw them on board and we were flying up to Peterborough, Croughton, just south, it was an American base at that time and I used to bring them out one at a time and with the beam hatches open they could have a smoke—
AM: Right.
RH: Sitting there. And I think it was one of the last guys, came out and he sat on the other beam gunners seat, and he didn’t have intercom of course, we could only talk to each other by shout, shouting really, and he shouted, he said, ‘do we go through customs?’ he said, I said, ‘well I don’t.’ Crewmen didn’t, you just went straight through, [laughs] I said, ‘you, yes you will have to go through customs,’ and I said, ‘why?’ and he pulled back the sleeve of his battle dress and [laughs] there were watches—
[laughter]
RH: On, on there. And I said, oh, how did you get those?’ and they disarmed an SS unit or something and so, and relieved them of all, of all their odds and ends. And er, and then he reached into his blouse, fiddled about and pulled out a pistol, and I said to him, I said, ‘I don’t think you’ll get through with that,’ he said, ‘I’ve got another one in my kit bag.’
[laughter]
AM: I thought you were going to say you took them through for him.
RH: No, no, no.
AM: If you didn’t have to go through customs.
GR: They’re here.
AM: [laughs]
RH: No, after, after we’d landed and I got my travel warrant, and had a forty-eight-hour pass to get back to Bristol.
AM: Right.
RH: Or near Bristol. And so, it was late evening when I caught a train from Peterborough to Kings Cross, and Kings Cross to Paddington, and Paddington to Temple Meads, then Bristol. Which, I arrived about seven o’clock in the morning, then I had to walk over to the bus station and get a bus, and I arrived at my parents’ house I think, yeah it must have been about nine o’clock in the morning. Knocked them up, then I had, since it was a Saturday, I had to leave next day, just after lunch—
AM: To get back.
RH: To get back, yeah, so my forty-eight-hour pass in fact was about thirty.
AM: In the middle.
RH: Oh, so, anything else I can help with?
AM: Yes, this is, just out of interest this question. So, your Mum was German, how was she treated during the war?
RH: Yeah, okay.
AM: Were people okay with her?
RH: Yeah, you see we were, when I say Dad went in, into the civil service, he did, he and a lot of other guys including the major commanding who is based and so forth. Some of them were sort of even if they hadn’t given their time were said, okay you’re finished, because now you’re going to an establishment in Gloucestershire where you’ll be training police, fire, in what today are called civil defence duties. And so, you know, my environment from a child and all the way through to the time I left home was, was semi military because all the other guys were like Dad, they all ex-army.
AM: Right.
RH: They were all ex-army and some of them I remember when we lived at Salisbury, I remember a couple of German women coming there to visit Mum and they were again were wives of soldiers and so forth. But, no and of course we had relatives in Cologne and at the time of the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, we had a telegram which came through the Swiss Red Cross, from Mums sister Gerda, in Cologne, asking if we were all okay. [laughs]
AM: Were they all okay, did they ask to—
RH: No.
AM: Did your relatives not survive?
RH: No, no they were, they lived, well as most Germans do in the cities, they live in an apartment block and the block was, was—
AM: Blown up.
RH: Hit, and Uncle Johan as he was, he died of phosphorus burns. And my aunt and my two cousins, saw one cousin, they were evacuated into, into central Germany. The other one, my, he was about a year or so younger than me and had been like you know like all the rest of them in the Hitler movement and so forth. And then when he was sixteen I think, he volunteered for part time duty on a flak battery, and then when he was seventeen he became a full-time member of the Luftwaffe [emphasis] on a flak battery. When I met him, you know after, we used to have a joke about it.
[laughter]
GR: That’s a, well at least you had the opportunity.
AM: At least you never shot at me.
RH: Never fired at me because you were in, on the Rhineland and in the Ruhr, yeah
AM: Yeah, Happy Valley, the Ruhr.
RH: Pardon?
AM: Happy Valley, I’ve heard the Ruhr described as.
RH: Yeah, yeah. But they’re all, my cousins and my aunt are not, they are all dead now so, no contact.
GR: What I’ve just found amazing is, you’ve saying like yeah, during the Battle of Britain, and Bristol was being blitzed and all that, and a family in Germany sends a telegram [laughs] to a family in England saying are you okay?
AM: Are you okay?
RH: Yeah.
GR: And that’s just like, that’s incredible.
AM: Ordinary people in the war.
GR: Yeah.
AM: As opposed to the Nazis and all the rest of it.
GR: But the fact is, so you are in Germany, and you’ve got Hitler, yeah, we’re going to invade Britain and do this, do that, but you can send a telegram. So, it goes from Germany oh yes, certainly a lot of it went through Switzerland through the Red Cross.
AM: [inaudible as speaking at same time]
RH: Yeah.
GR: But you got the telegram in England, are you okay? Is everything alright?
RH: Yeah, yeah.
AM: What did you do then after the war then, after you’d been demobbed?
RH: I became a civil servant.
AM: Which bit? Which, which department?
RH: The Home, Home office—
AM: Oh.
RH: Was the governing training department but again [coughs] it was, it was, it civil defence training I sort of followed on, I and my brother we were lucky having a father in it. [laughs]
AM: Not what you know, but who you know.
RH: Yeah, well yeah, well you had to go through selection board.
AM: There was always full fair and open competition and all that, allegedly weren’t it. I’m just looking at this, the warrant on the wall here, which is?
RH: The what?
AM: I’m looking for the year, 1962.
RH: That was commission—
AM: You became a, well you tell me what it is?
RH: Yeah, I was commissioned in the volunteer reserve training branch here.
AM: Ah ha.
RH: The Air Training Corps.
AM: As a pilot officer.
RH: Yeah. Eventually I was a flight lieutenant.
AM: Yeah, crikey. Well I think on that note we’ll switch off.
RH: Have you been recording all—

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Citation

Annie Moody and Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Richard Harrison,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 21, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/7970.

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