Interview with Frederick Ball


Interview with Frederick Ball


Frederick Ball grew up in Yorkshire and trained as a motor mechanic, before he joined the RAF in 1939. He completed two tours with 44 and 49 Squadrons, as a wireless operator flying from RAF Waddington and RAF Scampton.



Temporal Coverage




00:19:36 audio recording

Conforms To


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AM: So this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is me, Annie Moody, and the interviewee is...err the interviewer is Annie Moody and the interviewee is Freddie Ball and this interview is taking place at his home in Harrogate on the 26th August 2015.
AM: Yes, tell me where you were born, and what your parents did?
FB: Yes just by the post office in town...
AM: In Harrogate?
FB: Do you know the Post Office
AM: No.
FB :No? Right in the centre, of course, from where we lived we could look right into St Peter’s School playground, so I just had to go around the corner to go to school.and then when I was older, I went to Christchurch School.
AM: How old were you when you left school Freddie?
FB: Fourteen.
AM: And then what did you do?
FB: Err, mechanic, apprentice mechanic.
AM: Yeah.. for what, a garage or a car....?
FB A garage, of course, yeah, in Harrogate yes. I like anything to do with engines, motors, things like that. aah, then I joined in March 1939
AM: Right, what made you join the RAF then?
FB: Er, wanting to you know, wishing to, proud to...
AM; Why the RAF as opposed to the Army, or the Navy?
FB: Oh, the flying side I wanted of course.
AM: Right, you wanted to fly. So what was that like, joining up, where did you go to join up?
FB: Oh gosh I should really know that... near Leeds somewhere anyway
AM: Somewhere near Leeds? And what was that like?
FB: No, no problem at all, er I just took, er,oh to join up, I thought you meant just arranging it.
AM: No, actually joining up.
FB: I forget where we went, you know I should remember that, where I did the training, not far from Leeds, but I can’t remember where.
AM: It doesn't matter, what sort of questions did they ask you? What sort of... How long did it take? How did they decide what you were going to do in the RAF?
FB: Er, well, I told them, I told them what I wanted to do, they could have said no...
AM: And what did you want to do?
FB: To fly, and use the wireless of course, wireless, and radar.
AM: Mmm why radar?
FB: Oh, well...
AM: Because that's different to being a motor mechanic...
FB: Yes, well, I didn't know if I really wanted to be a motor mechanic, I was interested in motors and engines and things like that before I started in the trade and I did three years sixteen to nineteen and then I joined up in March '39. I was nineteen. I did fifteen years and eleven of it was commissioned, and er, I went into insurance.
GR: Did your brother join up at the same time?
FB: Well he was too young... no he could have done, no... he went into the air force as well.
GR: Yes
FB: And I can't remember, I don't think I remember what he did! But I quickly went into flying...
AM: What was the…..
FB: I went to be a mechanic first of all, then the first chance I got I joined the aircrew.
AM: What was the training like, Freddie?
FB: Er, well, interesting hard rather... plenty of square bashing
AM: Where were you doing the square bashing, Where did you go for that?
FB: Er, er, on the parade grounds, the parade grounds, I can't remember…...
AM: Can you remember where in the country it was? Lots of people went to Blackpool and places like that...
FB: Hmm, I know, it was near Leeds, but I can't remember where...
AM: Right ok.
FB: I spent a lot of time training of course, after that, after flying.
GR: And I think you did your radio training at Yatesbury.
FB: Yes that's right yes.
GR: And that would have been in the summer of 1940 while the Battle of Britain was going on so err
So, er... and then from Yatesbury, I think we ended up going to Cottesmore.
FB: That's right... Rutland.
GR: And you were part of 14 Flight OTU at Cottesmore.
FB: 14 OTU
Gr: That's right, and can you remember what aircraft you were training on then?
FB: Well, Cottesmore was ground training, drillers, and stuff, it was a training station
GR: It was a training station, and I think they had Ansons and Hampdens
FB No, Cottesmore wasn't an air- ground, ground crew
GR: Just ground crew right, so when did you first start training in aeroplanes?
FB: Er, oh, gosh, er, I don't know.
GR: That would have been at an Operational Training Unit, and I think that's where you came across the Hampdens
FB: February '43
GR: No, you were on operations by then.
FB: Yes, that's right
AM: What was it like, going up in the first time, in a plane?
FB: Well, I always wanted to, it was free to go, no problem, I wasn't scared, or anything like that.
AM: No, too young to be scared.
FB: I'm always a fatalist about things like that, that's why I wasn't bothered going on ops, you're going to die, why worry about it?
AM: Yeah.
FB: Your fate is all organised for you, you can't change it.
AM: So you've gone up on your first flight, and you're going to be a radar and radio operator, at what point did you meet up with the rest of your crew?
FB: Well, er, an Operational Training Unit they forms crews...
AM: So they get you all together and you, yeah..
FB: yeah all different trades
AM: Yes
FB: And they had to make certain that you wanted it that way.
AM: That you who chose who? Did the pilot choose the rest of you?
FB: Er, I don't think so, probably the very senior ones did choose from the people available, but I don't think so.
AM: So then you started to fly together as a crew
FB: That's right, on operations, at the OTU, the training unit, which is the drill square, drilling.
AM: Erm, at what point did you, when did you go to your first squadron then to actually do proper operations?
FB: Errrrr
AM: What squadron was it?
FB: 44 Waddington, Lincoln
AM: Waddington, in Lincoln. What sort of planes did...
FB: Hampdens
AM: That was on Hampdens, So what was the radio operator and radar mans spot like in a Hampden? Quite cramped I think, what was it actually like in the plane?
FB: Er, it was comfortable, there wasn't a lot of room
AM: No.
FB: It wasn't that shape, but I felt no real discomfort. Very nice to fly in.
AM: What was the radar part of the job like?
FB: Er, well, you just had the screen in front of you, and you deal with it
AM: and what are you actually looking for, though?
FB: Er, it's geography, where you are, where you going, all that sort of thing
AM: And Gary tells me your first raid to Berlin was in March 1941
FB: Er yes,
AM: And that was your first operation?
FB: Yes
AM: Yes, so what was that like, were you scared, or excited?
FB: Excited, I don't know about scared, I always accepted things.
AM: A cup of tea arriving
[tea served]
AM: So then, you, so you're up there, you're doing the job, was it easy, was it difficult, was it just...
FB: Easy and a pleasure, it's what I wanted to do, I enjoyed it.
AM: What could you see? You're up there, you're in the plane, it is your first operation... what are you actually looking at?
FB: You look out and see everything that's there.
AM: What about all the other planes? Could you see other...
FB: Oh yes, so, if they're there, yes of course, there was hundreds of planes about.
AM: Was it at night?
FB: Our main job was at night, yes. but we did go on daylights.
AM: You did daylights as well, yes
FB: There was a thousand raid, I went on a few thousand raids, a thousand aircraft
AM: A thousand aircraft,in the day? Or at night?
FB: Errrrr
AM: I think they were night, weren't they?
FB: Mostly night
AM: Yes, so what was that like? A thousand planes?
FB: What...?
AM: What was that like, to see, could you see them, did you know there were that many?
FB: I knew they were around, yes, and it's nice to look down, especially on Berlin, all the streets... my first trip was to Berlin
AM: Yes.
FB: I went six times.
AM: Yes, what other sort of operations did you do, apart from the Berlin one?
FB: All, all bombing.
AM: Yes.
FB: We were bombing cities.
AM: In Germany.
FB: Yes.
AM: Yes. When did you move from Hampdens on to... I think you went to Manchesters?
FB: I did er, I did a tour on Hampdens
AM: A full tour.
FB: On Hampdens, then went on a rest at an OTU and instructed on the radio, and...
FB: Err, and then I was commissioned then, later.
AM: So you've done a whole tour, then you've done training at OTU, then you went on a second tour?
FB: Yes, I had a years, quite a long time, on rest, training in wireless and radar instructing..
AM: And then I think Gary says you moved to 49 Squadron.
FB: 49 Scampton, 44 Waddington, both Lincoln.
AM: Both Lincoln again. So you've done a full tour on Hampdens, at 49 Squadron did you start on Hampdens or move straight to Manchesters?
FB: A full tour on Hampdens, Manchesters, and Lancasters
AM: Which was the best out of the three?
FB: Ah, the Lancaster of course.
AM: Of course. Why?
FB: Four engines!
AM: Because of the four engines, all on Lancasters at 49 Squadron. And you did another full tour?
FB: Yes, and in between too, the famous thousand raids cropped up whilst I was instructing. And to get a thousand, they came from all over the place, including instructors, and including some not fully trained, to get a thousand. I did all the thousand raids, the first one was Berlin, it's nice to look down on the city.
AM: yes
FB: I remember quite clearly, yes, all that's there, you'll find most detail...
AM: Yes, I'm looking at your logbook now with all the different raids that you did, as well. Cologne...
GR: The first thousand bomber raid was actually to Cologne. Freddy was actually at OTU training people. Because they were short of aircraft, to make the thousand up, they...
AM: And you've just described the whole city was a mass of flames...
FB: That's right, you look out and there's all flames everywhere in the streets of Berlin.
AM: Petrol tanks, your petrol tanks were hit by shrapnel?
FB: Yes! We were hit a few times but mostly all shrapnel if not we would have been shot down!
AM: So you had to land at Manston because you were short of petrol?
FB: Yes, we ran out a few times actually.
AM: Crikey, and then I'm just looking at a few other things in your logbook...
FB: Red is all midnight flying.
AM: Yes, so a night flight here to Essen, erm, and you had to return from the target because of engine trouble on that one...
FB: Yes.
AM: So you brought the bombs back?
FB: Oh yes.
AM So what happened to the bombs?
FB: You just had to land carefully!
AM: You literally had the bombs? You didn't get rid of the bombs? Oh right.
FB: I would be surprised if a lot of people... we did dump them sometimes, we had to, but erm...
AM: I think sometimes quite often they were dumped into the North Sea, weren't they?
FB: Yes. Oh, you wouldn't do it over land, if there was any other way
AM: I'm looking again, here... Bremen, and again you had to return because of port engine trouble
FB: Yes.
AM: But you always got back.
FB: Well, I'm still here!
AM: Exactly [both laugh] Dusseldorf...
FB: Oh yes, most of the big cities raids, sixty...
AM: Yes... which did you prefer, flying, or instructing?
FB: Oh, flying!
AM: Flying of course
FB: Operational flying.
AM: What did you get your DFC for?
FB: Oh gosh
AM: For the number of tours?
FB: Part of it, I suppose, sixty... two tours, sixty trips
AM: Mmmm, when did you actually finish flying?
FB: March '43, and I got married the next day.
AM: The next day?
FB: I got back from flying, night flying, the same day in the afternoon I was married.
AM: Where had you met your wife?
FB: Whilst in Lincoln.
AM: She was a Lincoln girl?
FB: Yes.
AM: Was she a WAAF, or just she lived in Lincoln
FB: She lived there.
AM: She lived there, yes.
FB: She was older than me actually, 4 years older.
AM: So what did you do, so once you'd finished flying in 1943, what did you do then?
FB: Er, so I finished flying in, er, no I didn't finish flying, I was flying 15 years altogether
AM: Yes. Actually in the war though, when you'd done your two operations?
FB: Oh instructing.
AM: You were instructing
FB: Everyone did, yes,nothing else for it!
AM: And when the war actually finished, so you weren't demobbed, you stayed in... did they....
FB: I was already a regular, long term, I signed up for six years and then I signed for fifteen to qualify for the pension.
AM: Right.
FB: I was very young to have a pension for life.
AM: Yes, very young. Crikey.
FB: I had four pensions altogether, a private one as well...
AM: Yes. What did you do after you left the RAF then?
FB: Insurance.
AM: Right, okay thinking back...
FB: Erm, erm, it’s not like ….it was your own business sort of thing
AM: Yes
FB: You buy a book, from another agent, with all the customers, everything done you pay him for it.
AM: I remember Royal London coming round to our house with this book, yes..... Any stories from the war, any funny stories about what happened?
FB: Er, I dunno, it was nice looking down on Berlin, you know, look down on all the streets and things like that , uh, and I liked to be doing it, I was glad to be doing it, no forcing involved!
AM: When you say you wanted to do it, why?
FB: Because the war was on, duty.
AM: So it was duty to do it?
FB: I did enjoy it, that's the reason.
AM: What did you think, in retrospect now, do you still think that?
FB: Do I think what?
AM: That is was our duty to do it?
FB: Oh yes of course, oh yes.
AM: Yes. I think Gary is telling me that your brother was shot down during the war.
FB: Yes, he was a prisoner of war, he was two years younger.
AM: Yes, mmhmm.
FB: He died, eventually. He died. A normal death.
AM: Not….
FB: Many years later.
AM: I was going to say, many years later...
FB: He had six children
AM: Crikey!
FB: I had four marriages, and one child.
AM: Ha ha, just the one. So, unless you have anything else interesting any interesting stories, I'll switch off and let you enjoy your tea.
FB: Er, I dont know about that er, I don't know what to say...
AM: Anything particular..
FB: I wanted to do it, I volunteered to do it, I enjoyed it, and it was lovely to look down on Germany, knowing they were under, that we'd got them like a... I can't explain now. Doing the job.
AM: Doing the job. Absolutely, yes helping to bring the war to an end.
FB: Thats right.



Annie Moody and Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Frederick Ball ,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2023,

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