Interview with William Bullock


Interview with William Bullock


William Bullock was born in Marshfield in Gloucestershire in September 1916 and joined the Royal Air Force as an apprentice in 1932. He was posted to Egypt for training - after serving in the Middle East he joined Bomber Command as an engineer. After serving at RAF East Kirkby, William moved to 106 Squadron at RAF Metheringham before joining Pathfinders at RAF Conningsby, looking after and maintaining 40 Lancasters. William was in charge of moving aircraft around from location to location and tells about his role as a technical adjutant and supplying Merlin engines for the attack on the Tirpitz. He also describes his technical innovations and of his meeting with Guy Gibson. William tells about his post war family and service life, with details on his posting in Sylt, Germany where he saw the extent of bombing damage. He also elaborates on Hugh Trenchard, Michael Beetham, and Arthur Harris.







00:57:49 audio recording


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ABullockWEJ151030, PBullockWEJ1601


This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Anna Hoyles [AH]. The interviewee is William Bullock [WB]. The interview is taking place at Mr Bullocks home in Horncastle, Lincolnshire on 30th October 2015.
WB : What?
PH: You can start now.
WB: Well, What? I was born in Marshfield.
PH: Yeah.
WB: Yeah in Gloucestershire, September 30th 1916, That’s right. And after two or three years we moved into Bath, and eventually I got a scholarship to the secondary school, and, in 1932 I took the entrance exam for the RAF apprentices, and I got through alright. When I went to Holton as an apprentice for three years and I passed out in 1935, and went to Altarum[?]. It was an ex-naval Air Station, way back, and we kept time with the ships bell in the guard room [chuckle]. in the guard room. Anyway, in February ’37, well, we got posted to Egypt for Florin[?] Training School and when the war started we moved from Egypt to Havaneer[?] in Iraq. And in, I think it was in May, May ’41 the Iraqis were trying to get us out of their country and let the Germans in, and they surrounded the camp and they shelled us and bombed us for five days, day and night, bombs and shells. And, anyway, we gave a good account of ourselves and when we killed a lot of them, and in the end they decided to pack up and go. Then in, well, about May I came home, and I went to Cranwell on a Coastal Command Station, and anyways, was there for about eight months. Then I got moved to Wigsley which was is a Bomber Command training unit, training pilots for Lancasters and whatnot. And, ow, I think that would be May, May ’41 was it? I, I decided to take commission and I was commissioned as an engineer officer and I moved around various places. I did a year at East Kirkby as the Technical Adjutant doing all the paperwork and whatnot. And, anyway, I did a year there, and then I moved to Metheringham, 106 Squadron, and anyway I was there, they, they worked me fairly hard and the engineer, the group engineer came down and he said ‘Right, I want to move you Coningsby, to pathfinder squadrons, forty Lancasters. Do you think you can cope?’ I said: ‘I’ll do my best sir.’ He said ‘Right, get there on Monday. You can be a Flight Lieutenant on Friday.’ Anyway, I got there and I worked hard for, oh, three, four months and always kept me forty Lancasters going. And well then, of course, the war packed up. The Japs, the Germans packed init, and I moved to Strubby we were’re living in tents and we were waiting to go to Okinawa to bomb Japs. And then the Japs packed in, so we moved, I was there for a bit and then I we got moved, got posted to a unit over by Chester, 54 RUP. And I moved in, I reported in to senior officer. And I said: ‘RUP?’ He said: ‘Yeah.’ I said: ‘ Well, RUP? R U Repair Unit, P what’s planned.’ He said: ‘Oh bulldozers, excavators and that sort of stuff.’ ‘Oh, I’m an aircraft engineer, I’m going back to Strubby.’ He said: ‘You’re bloody well not. You’re gonna Singapore next Wednesday.’ [chuckle] Anyway, we got, I got a fortnight leave before I went to Singapore and in that time I did quick and got married to Mary. Dashed into Lincoln, got a licence from the Bishops, whatever-he-was. And we got married, got married on the Wednesday and on the Saturday recalled from leave and the next Wednesday Singapore [laugh]. And got out there but the unit I was with they never really did get never got off the ground because we, we were supposed to be repairing all sorts of, you know, bull- bulldozers, and excavators and all that sort of stuff [belch] but the machinery never turned up and in the end, in the end they more-or-less disbanded the outfit and they kept me on and all the airfield construction plants, masses of bulldozers and cranes and all that sort of stuff, they said: ‘Right now transfer that to Air Ministry Works Department, the civvy lot’, so I spent all the this time getting this stuff transferred. And then the unit at Hong Kong closed down and all their stuff came down to Singapore by ship. And they said: ‘You will collect it from the docks and take it up to Changi. And it was hard work. Anyway, we managed it, we got it there. And in the meantime, we were living in tents. But anyway, I did me spell there then, and oh what, I decided to relinquish my commission and come home. I weren’t all that happy, so I packed up and came home, and I went back in the ranks as a flight sergeant, and I soon became a warrant officer and I did, oh, I did a spell at Waddington and Hemswell home on and Spalding Moor, and then got moved to Germany, up at Sylt, up on the north Frisian Islands. And I broke[?] there for a couple of years, and came back and went Shrewsbury I’we did six very nice years at Shrewsbury, very nice years at Shrewsbury and then I got moved again up to Lynton-on-Ouse and blow-me-down if they didn’t send me back to Germany [laugh]. At this time we went to Cologne, just on the Zeiderhorf on the outskirts of Cologne. It was very nice and Mary came out and joined me there [sup on tea] and had a couple of very nice years in Germany. And then when we came back, where’d I go? Where’d I go from [pause] I can’t think where I came back to [pause], not sure really. Sure, I can’t remember. Turn that thing off.
[restart of recording]
WB : I can’t remember, what was it year? Anyway, in Germany, I was up at Sylt and there was six of us. It was in the Cold War time, so called. And there was six of us trained on this Enigma machine and, you know, it was quite the thing and one day I got there and they said: ‘Your best blue is, in the back of that van is one of our Enigma machines and it’s got to go headquarters at Buckleburg [?], 200 mile away.’ And they said: ‘You are taking it.’ I said: ‘Oh.’ He said: ‘Your orders are get it there and if you need this, don’t hesitate to use it.’ And they gave me a revolver and a box of ammunition. They said: ‘You have to use it, use it, but that must be got there!’ Anyway, we got it there, no bother, and coming back the following morning the battery packed up. We called into an RAF camp, they didn’t want to know us. A bit later on we met a RAF, an Army camp and called in there and said: ‘Can you help me?’. They said: ‘Yeah.’ Gave me a new battery and then a bit further on the throttle control spring on the engine broke and we couldn’t control it so and I didn’t know what to do and we came to a very nice old lady’s shop, and I said: ‘Stop.’ And I had a flash of inspiration and I went in the lady’s shop and I said: ‘I want some elastic that wide please, so she said there, and I said ‘It’s for my car.’ And we went out and wound it round and round and round these two stops for the throttle spring and we drove 200 miles on a piece of elastic. [chuckle] Anyways, that was in Sylt, then what -
PH: Bill, what, why don’t you tell the story about Old Sarum [?] when you went up with your boss and nearly clocked the cathedral?
WB: Oh yes, that was at Old Sarum. I went up flying with the boss in an open-seater aircraft and it was foggy and it was about 400 feet and the boss said: ‘I’ll come down to 400 feet and we’ll see if we can follow the railway back down to the town’. And we were down there in the fog and I looked and I was I was ‘Look! Look!’ and we were heading straight for the cathedral. The spire was sticking out through the fog and we were going straight for it, and we managed, and somehow we missed it. That was, that was that one. And then another time, we were flying and it, it you were in the back cockpit, you had a harness with a chain going down to the floor to hold you in, and a cable rather, and we were going along and we hit an air pocket and the plane went down and I was out! and the chain tightened and I went ‘Bomp’ and pulled me back down again. [chuckle] So that was two I’d missed.
AH: Could you, could you tell me a bit more about when you were in Iraq?
WB: Iraq?
PH : You were twenty-one, weren’t you?
WB: Yeah, yeah somewhere around there, yes, it was hot there. It was a hundred and, it got to an hundred and thirty in the summer, really hot. And when these, [unclear] and when they were bombing and shelling us, it went on day-and-night for five nights and you slept under your bed and you ‘whee’ [emphasis], you hear the head of shells going over and that one’s going for the bomb dump, and ‘whee’ and anyway we did it for five days and they packed up, and then we went on normal and we heard a different noise. And we said: ‘That’s something different’, and we looked up and there’s three German bombers coming down. And we said: ‘Where the heck have did they come from?’ And the Germans had come into Mosul, it was about a couple of hundred miles up and they came down bombing us. They came at eight in the morning, and four in the afternoon, regular as clockwork, the Germans bombing and, machine guns, anyway. We shot one or two down and in the end they, they packed up, then we followed them back to Mosul and then got them when they landed, with, with our the Hurricanes. We, we got them on the floor and they packed up, so that was peace. And, anyway decided come home. And –
PH: You actually popped a few shots with your gun didn’t you?
WB: Yes. There was a man diving at me with his plane and I managed to get me Lewis loose gun on him, but he didn’t hit me and I didn’t hit him. And we came home and [sup of tea] [loud thump] we came down, we were in Bombay for a couple of weeks waiting for a ship and then we came over to Mombasa and then we came round to Durban, and we had a couple of, eight, weeks in Durban living out in tents on the runway and then we got down to Cape Town and I managed to get ashore and go up Table Mountain. And you go halfway up in the bus to the land and then you got a cable railway for a mile [shudder]. And we got up there, and had a walk round, that was very good. And coming home, we got up to Lagos and I’m afraid I went down with Malaria, and I was in the ships hospital for about a couple of weeks with very, very bad malaria. Didn’t do me any good. And eventually we got home.
PH: Weren’t they going to chuck you overboard?
WB: Well, yes. They, I, I, I met the orderly who dealt with me sometime, I met him in Boston. And he said: ‘When you came in’, he said, ‘you were pale blue and we didn’t think you’d last the night out. So we said we’d chalk you up for over the side in the morning.’ But, anyway they treated me with MNB243 tablets, you know, anti-malaria and no doubt, they brought me round when I was still having quinine six months later to get straightened up with it. Oh.
[restart of recording]
WB: Yeah we’re in Egypt 1937 at Abusir about sixty miles away from Cairo up near the Suez Canal and we had sand yachts there and we used to have races out in the desert. And in ’37 they decided to see if they could get to Cairo. And there were seven yachts and twelve men and a dog and we set off from Abusir and we went across the desert for five days heading for Heliopolis, just outside Cairo, and we got there alright and the, the station commander landed one day, he said: ‘Where are you on the map?’ They said: ‘We don’t have a map, Sir.’ He said: ‘How do know where you are?’ And the leader amongst us, he said: ‘Well, over there,’ he said ‘you can see the Suez hills.’ ‘Yes I can see them.’ he said ‘Towards the end there’s gap.’ And he said: ‘Yes.’ ‘We’re heading for that gap in the Suez Hills.’ And we hit the gap and went down, down to Cairo. Had five nice days in Cairo, out to the Pyramids and all the rest of it. And we came back another way and got back in four days, and it was quite an exciting trip, and we’re were the only people who’ve ever done it. And we had a sailing boat down on the - we were twelve miles away from the bit of lakes on the Suez Canal. We had a sailing boat there and the air was quite nice, you go sailing.
PH: What about when the CO spotted you first?
WB: Eh?
PH: When the CO spotted you arriving over the desert?
WB: Well he came down, landed, he came down more or less, you know two or three times -
PH: But, but he didn’t believe that he could see sails, could he?
WB: Oh yes, we, one night we were camped and we’d seen a plane going on down the bombing raids during the day, and anyway we bedded down for the night and we saw lots of flares going up in the distance. And some of our blokes they walked over to see these flares and there was an army camp there, just based. And they took the CO, and said: ‘What, what are you lot doing?’ And they said: ‘Well we’re the sand yachts. [unclear] He said: ‘Sand yachts! All day long I’ve seen bloody sails, and I said I knew there was no sea over there.’ And they said: ‘What, what’s all these flares?’ I said: ‘There time expired pyrotechnics, I think we’re just getting rid of them.’ So, anyway he wasn’t very pleased. [chuckle] But then anyway. He said: ‘I and been seeing all these sails and I knew full well there was no sea over there.‘ [chuckle] Oh, well anyway, we had a nice time in Cairo. Quite nice town. Err, what else? [sigh]
AH : What was is like coming back to Britain?
WB : Pardon?
AH : What was it like coming back to Britain?
WB : Coming back home?
AH : Yeah.
WB : Cold. [laugh] Yeah. We came, we came round Durban and Cape Town, and we just came out of Cape Town and we had, there was two, two troop ships and we had a couple of naval battles with us, and a cruiser and a couple of destroyers, and we were coming out somewhere and they said [?] ‘All hands on deck, put your lifebelts. Lifebelts on.’ So we all got on deck, and one of the destroyers it came near, and there must have been a German submarine down below and he threw depths charges up. And [intake of breath] their ship came up out of the water and we thought it’s never going down. 22,000 tonnes of ship, and we thought it was never going to a stop. But anyway, the sub didn’t get us, whether we got him or not; we, we got on home [sigh]. And we came in round the Atlantic, we c. Came into Liverpool. The night we lay there [inaudible] ladies[?], we were up on a transit camp at West Kirby, outside Liverpool and we were there and they came and bombed Liverpool. [chuckle] Oh dear. [sigh] And then when we were down at Kirkby there; a plane it took off and an engine failed, so it decided to come back. So he came back and he turned round and he came back and he, he force landed. He crash landed. And he was sitting there and he was rocking on a 4,000lb bomb. [chuckle] And we took it in turns to go in, they got the crew out, there was one man in the bomb bay. He was still, his head had gone through a partition. And we took it in turns to cut through to get him out. And we were there, and there, there were a couple of WAAFs who worked for me in the plump bay and they were outside, hugging each other. ‘Oh, Mr Bullock’s in there.’ And I said: ‘Well, if the bomb had gone off you wouldn’t have stood much chance would ya?’ [chuckle] Anyway, it didn’t go off. We got them out. [deep sigh]
AH: And what was your job role at Kirk-?
WB : Pardon?
AH : What, what did you do as what [sorry]
PH : What was your job at East Kirkby?
WB : I was, I was what they call the Technical Adjutant. I did all the paperwork and books and things and returns and all sorts of stuff, that kept me busy for a year.
PH : Did you have to clear the beds in the mornings after the raids?
WB : Pardon?
PH: Did you have to clear the personal possessions away?
WB : Oh yeah. Oh well, when the, yeah when the if any got missing on raids, yeah you had to go round and collect the kit, and I, I collected the kits of, I think, of 120 people while I was there. And we just collected it all up, put in a bag and took it to what they called ‘The Committee of Adjustment’ who sorted everything out, and actually down in East Kirkby now there’s a memorial and there’s a very nice poem, very nice poem at East Kirkby to that we lost a thousand men in three years. Yeah, that was pretty good. A thousand men in three years. [sigh]
PH : What about the plane that came in upside down?
WB : Oh yes. We, we heard a terrific roar and when we got out, there was a plane up there and, and it was coming down and one engine was on fire, and it was heading down and eventually crashed and blew up, and there was one man, they got him out, they took him away on a stretcher and he [unclear] [chuckle] And anyway we said: ‘Well what about this engine on fire?’ They said: ‘No, it wasn’t that engine, the other one.’ They said ‘when you saw him it, it was upside down.’ And he went in, oh, dear oh dear, six, six of them killed. [sigh] Yeah. I got a job there, I had to keep, keep a good supply of engines and propellers, and the engines, they had to, Rolls Royce, Glasgow they dealt with them, and, if, you know, I had a lorry load and a rear Corporal in Boston called Tom caught on, and I said: ‘Tommy, I’ve got a load for Glasgow.’ He said: ‘Right, send your lorry.’ And he sent me lorry and trailer to deliver with a load of all these engines. And up and off they went to Glasgow. And came back with another load. But the, the more powerful Rolls Royce engines, the Merlins they went to Derby, Nightingale Road, Derby. So, so we sent them there, and oh – yeah, err. Now what else?
PH : What about the Tirpitz?
WB : The Tirpitz? Oh well, erm. Yes, the erm, this [stutter] the group engineer he came to me at East Kirkby and there were the more powerful Merlins, 34s. He said: ‘I want all your 34s with the broad propellers in sets. He says ; ‘It’s nothing to do with you what I want them for,’ but he said: ‘Get me in sets of four and when you get a set let me know.’ So, so I’m getting them all, got all me, changed all the, the little engines, but took the big ones out. Got them all rolled up and anyway, he came and he took them, and they went to 9 Squadron at Bardney, and it was for bombing the Tirpitz. Yeah, so at least we had a hand in that. [sigh] Oh yes, when this, when this one crashed and landed and a big piece of the airplane, it went through the guardroom, and there was a man, a man in the guardroom locked up on punishment. And this piece of metal, huge leg that went across and through the wall in the Nissan hut, over a bed and out the other side. And the following morning the padre he was around, he saw it, he said: ‘No matter where the evil doeth, the wrath of the Lord shall seek him out.’ [long chuckle] Oh dear, oh well at, yeah, Metheringham, we had what they called FIDO and it was pipes down each side of the runway, all the way down, with little holes in and when it was really foggy, they’d fiddle with the flares all down each side of the runway, and we had it once and it burnt big holes in the fog. And they landed, and an American landed but he had to come for some, he came in, and in a a fighter plane, and he went down and he slewed off the runway, he hit all my FIDO pipes, went back on again, and when he got to Traffic Control, he said: ‘It’s a mighty good thing you got there for keeping people on the runway. [chuckle] Yeah, Gibson, Guy Gibson, he was, when he’d done his job he came to us at East Kirkby for a rest. And he wasn’t a nice man. Very unpopular man. ‘Don’t call me Guy. Call me Dam Buster.’ But his dam, his bomb didn’t hit the dam, it missed it. Oh, he wasn’t a very nice man at all. And in the end, he accidently got shot down by one of our own bombers. Yeah, they mistook him for a German and they shot him down.
PH : Didn’t, didn’t some Canadian guy clock him one?
WB : Yeah, yeah he was getting a bit too familiar with, when they went to Canada, he was getting a bit too familiar with some blokes wife. A great big Dutch man, so he just went up and he dropped him. ‘THUNK!’ He said: ‘Leave my wife alone.’ [chuckle] He wasn’t a popular man at all. [long sup of tea.]
AH : And how did you feel about where -? How was morale?
WB : [still supping on tea] About what?
AH : How was morale when you were at East Kirkby?
WB : Oh all right. Yeah I did, I did me year on paperwork [laugh].
PH : Did, didn’t you, get to advise somebody at the Battle of Britain Flight about how to get a propeller prop off?
WB : You what?
PH : You advised somebody at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight how to get the propeller off because they were struggling to get the nuts off.
WB – Don’t get that –
PH : You got two awards for doing inventions, didn’t you?
WB : Oh, oh the thing the thing for taking propellers apart. Yeah [sniff sigh] Yes, when, yes that’s when I was at Waddington, and the big four bladed propellers on the, now then, they were Lincolns, not Lanc- Lincolns. You get the pulling them apart, and you shovel a big ring in and you had a big lever and pulled it, pulled it, pulled it. And, oh, it took men all day trying to get these damn things out and I said: ‘No.’ So I invented the little, a little gadget, a little tube about that long with a big nut and bolt in it and I put it in between the two blades and tightened it up, pushed them out two at a time. No bother. And I got a £15 reward from Bomber Command for inventing it. Yeah, yeah. Oh, and I did something else, I did somewhere else. Yeah, at, you took the cylinders off jet engines and you put them in some horrible acid stuff and soaked them to get the carbon off, and you had to heat it with big immersion heaters, and it was in this wooden box, and it took all day to heat it, and it didn’t get anywhere, so I thought, no. So, when, when new batteries came for the aeroplanes, they were in big polystyrene packs, and I collected all these sheets of polystyrene about a foot wide and about three feet long and glued them all around this container, and it heated it up quickly, and kept it warm. No both rugger, and the Air Ministry gave me £5 for thinking of it, for saving electricity. [chuckle] Yeah. - Oh, a thousand bomber raid, well I didn’t get mixed up with any of them. The first one, we were at Wigsley, we sent our planes to Swinderby, we operated there, a thousand bombers –
PH : How did it actually work?
WB : Eh?
PH : How did it actually work? How did you get a thousand bombers up at the same time?
WB : Well, eh, I they were all over the place, weren’t on they? Just came up. [deep sniff and sigh]
PH : When you were at school you used a tray, sand tray.
WB : Yeah, yeah when we were in the infants school. We had a little tray with sand, you wrote in it with our fingers and they did the same in Mereman [?] Fen. I was talking to a man once said: ‘We had these little trays with sand now, you do it with your fingers.’ And then eventually you got slate and you had a piece of rag pinned to your jersey to rub the slate out [laughter and sigh]. The things we did.
AH : Can you tell me more about Coningsby?
WB : Pardon?
AH : When you were at Coningsby.
WB : Well, that was in ’45. Yeah, I had 40 Lancasters to look after. Make sure they were there at the right time, otherwise if you didn’t, you’re chucked you out. Anyway, I always got them there right. No bother.
PH : You were part of Pathfinders, weren’t they?
WB : Eh?
PH : Were they Pathfinder Squadrons?
WB : Pathfinder, yeah. The ones who went in early and dropped flares for the others to bomb. They had them at Coningsby, yeah. And I had to keep 40 of them ready, all the time. No bother.
PH : How did you manage to do it in the winter?
WB : Well, you just did. Mostly they didn’t give you a lot of trouble. You didn’t get a lot of trouble. But in the winter, it if it, if it was bad out, you sprayed the wings with the de-icing stuff, to get [unclear], to get the ice off, and the propellers. You had to get the ice off before they could go or otherwise it was they were, you know, heavy and all the rest of it. Had to get this ice going. [sigh] Yeah. [long pause]
AH : What was it like being in Germany?
WB : Pardon?
AH : What was it like being in Germany after they’ve been bombed? And then you...
WB : It was all right in Germany, they, they weren’t hostile at all. They were just mixed up, ordinary people. It wasn’t their fault we bombed them and they bombed us. But Hamburg, was a bit of a mess. Nice town Hamburg. Yeah. Yeah, we had a nice holiday in Hamburg. We went down to, oh, Ruhpolding, had a nice holiday there. And then we went down, we went down as far as Venice once on holiday. It was very good. We went down on, went down in the bus to, right in the corner of Germany and then we got a bus down to Venice. Four, four, five days in Venice. And we were way up in the mountains, and over, about a mile away there were two or three big American lorries. They were letting big black balloons up, and they were going up and over. And the bus driver stopped and everybody was looking, and I said: ‘I know [emphasis], I know what they are.’ I used to take The Reader’s Digest and there’d been an article in there about this lot, and when the wind blew in a certain direction over from Germany to Czechoslovakia, they used to let these big black balloons up full of leaflets and they would drift over to Czechoslovakia and drop all the leaflets down. So I told, there’s a man there who spoke English and I said: ‘I know what they are.’ And I told him. ‘Oh’ And they said: ‘Oh, the Englishman, he knows.’ [chuckle] They was alright. We had a nice holiday in Venice. You did, didn’t you?
PH: Yes. What was your nickname in the RAF? Was it Abdul?
WB : Abdul. Yeah, they called me Abdul. ‘Cos when we, I was always out in the sun. I was the colour of that table. And, when we got to, we went from Egypt, they moved us to Iraq, and got there, and of course, they all called me Abdul. And we had a, one of the locals, he looked after the bungalow, kept things clean, made the bed and all the rest of it. He said to me one day, I wonder. He says: ‘Why you in Royal Egypt? You Egyptian?’ I said: ‘I’m not a bloody Egyptian. I’m an Englishman.’ He said: ‘You black, why they call you Abdul!’ [loud cough]. And I never convinced him I was Englishman. Never. Oh dear, dear, dear. Oh, we had fun. Better out now [unclear].
PH : Did you have much entertainment off the base, at the village halls?
WB : No. [door bell and distant voices.] Father he joined the army as a bugler boy, and in the war he was called up to Air Ministry, and they said: ‘We want to put you in charge of, of a training squadron, you know a transport, a training squadron, and we’ll up you to squadron leader.’ And the man who was dealing with, he said: ‘You were my bugler boy when you joined the Army, weren’t ya?’ [laughter] Anyway, dad, he did very well as squadron leader. Yeah, he worked hard. [sigh] Did 41 years all together in the army, RFC and Army and Air Force. He was number 150 in the RFC. Very senior. Still not the first day and his brother was number 700, he joined up the next day. [chuckle] My brother did 22 years, my sister did four and a half in the Army and then she, she was civil servant with the, with the Navy in the Admiralty. And she, she was the personal private secretary to the Director Technical Polaris. Very, very important job and but if any of her admirals where going anywhere, she had to arrange all the transport, the right flags and, this, that and the other. And, and one of them one day said: ‘We’ve never seen you at one of our launches. You know when they launch one of the Polaris.’ She said: ‘I’ve never been invited.’ He said: ‘You will come to the next one.’ So the next launching, they laid a staff car on for Betty, picked her up, took her to the station, first class travel up to Barrow, entertained her, put her in a hotel, staff car took her out to the launching, came back, and when, when she left they, they gave her a carriage clock, and on the side of it was something-or-other : To Miss Betty Bullock [coughing] Aminu Ensis[?] to make the war work to seven admirals, and there were all these admirals names, and that was, that was good. She did a very good job with these admirals. Seven. Twenty-one years she was an admiral’s secretary. They took her out to a nice posh dinner and saw her off well. So we did our share. I did 34 years. My brother did 22 years. My dad did 41. And my sister did, oh heavens only knows how many. [sigh] Yeah.
AH : What did your dad do in the First World War?
WB : Pardon?
AH : What did your dad do in the First World War?
WB :` Oh, he was in the Flying Corps. Yeah, he was an Engineer Officer with the Flying Corps – Number 1 5 0. They did all sorts of things.
PH : What sort of planes would he be working on?
WB : [growls] Well, I know De Havilland something or other. Bristol fighters, Sopwith Camels and all sorts of thing. There was one there that had a rotary engine and instead of the engine being still and everything going round, the crankshaft was bolted and the engine went round it. No, no rotary. The engine went round [stutters]. You wouldn’t imagine it, would you? Anyway it did.
PH : What year did you join the RAF?
WB : I joined up in ’32 and I came out in ’66. Yeah. I went everywhere from AC1 to flight lieutenant and back again. [Long sniff] Oh, I wasn’t all that happy with being a flight lieutenant, I don’t know, I, anyway I ditched my commission and I went back and I was a warrant officer for about 13 years, and I was much happier as a warrant officer. You didn’t have big mess bills and expenses at all. You, you were well off. [coughing] No, I usually had jobs in charge of workshops and it was a real, you know, nice job. Workshop jobs. Where the work was. [coughing and long pause].
AH : What did you do after the war? After you left the RAF, sorry?
WB : I came out the year I went down to Horncastle Rural District Council and the rating department, collected money and all this that and other. And then did that for about eight years. And then when this reorganising took place, I got moved to East Lindsey District Council, and oh, oh I don’t know I did paperwork all the time. Yeah.
PH : It wasn’t particularly a cosy job at times though. You got followed, didn’t you, one time –
WB : Eh?
PH : You got followed because you got money in the car. Didn’t –
WB : Oh. no, I didn’t get stopped.
PH : No, but didn’t somebody follow you all day.
WB : Well, that were coming back from Wragby. Somebody once said to me: ‘I used to collect rent at Wragby and you got several hundred pound in your bag.’ And somebody once said to me. No, no it was me wife, she was in the dentist was down the dentist in the town there, and they were talking this and said: ‘You know when that rent collector goes over the level crossing at 4 o’clock’, they said, ‘He’s got an awful lot of money in that bag.’ And Mary told me, she said: ‘Oh.’ Anyway, the next time I came out when I went over the level crossing, and there was a car, there was a van there. I thought: Oh. So I put my foot down and came back about 70 mile per hour and I told the boss and he said: ‘Right, so from then on, someone was seen to see me in the afternoon and take a big bag off me with most of the money. So they didn’t, I didn’t have all that money to people to pinch off me, but I wasn’t very happy with people following me. ‘Cos they said: ‘If every you’re attacked, just let the money go, don’t argue.’ I said: ‘No, not if I been collecting it, bugger it. I’m not let them have it.’ [chuckles] So, anyway, we didn’t have any more bother. But it makes you wonder, don’t it?
[long pause]
PH : You seen a lot of changes in aircraft design, haven’t you?
WB: Yeah [sniff] yeah. The one, the one before the Lancaster was a Manchester. It had two, two big engines, 3,000 horsepower engines. Two. There were, the, the Merlins two like that and the [unclear] Vulcan and it had [stuttering] X’s. Vulture, anyway they were the two big cross engines and it only had a single tail rudder. The old Manchester it was useless as an aeroplane. It was slow and it was cumbersome. It didn’t carry much big load. Anyway, they soon turned it into a Lancaster, and it was a marvellous aeroplane. Marvellous aeroplane. They made 700, 7,000 odd in the war. Yeah, it was the best plane that came out of the war. [inaudible]
PH : What’s the one after the Lancaster?
WB : Lincoln. A bit, bit, bit bigger. Four bladed props against the Lancasters three. Yeah, I think it had bigger, didn’t have a Griffin engine, I think the Lincoln. A bigger engine. And it was a big aeroplane. It was East, erh, Waddington. [pause] Yes [long pause]
AH : Is there anything else you’d like to say?
WB : Pardon?
AH : Is there anything else you’d like to say?
WB : Do what?
PH : Is there anything else you’d like to say?
WB : Well I don’t think so, I can’t think of much. No, no not much to do with the RAF. There are things not to do.
AH : How do you feel about the way Bomber Command was treated after the war?
WB : Does she what?
PH : How do you feel that Bomber Command was treated after the war?
WB : Well...
PH : ... with Bomber Harris.
WB : Bomber Harris, they didn’t treat him well. They - everybody got a knighthood, but not, not Bomber. They, they, they ignored him. They didn’t treat him right. He did a good job, Bomber Harris. They said he was brutal, but he only did his job. He just said: ‘If you can’t get the factories, get the people that who work in them.’ Well, fair enough, but you can’t blame him for that. He got these bombers going. No, he wasn’t treated well, Bomber Harris – ha [long sigh] There’s a man just died, Marshall of the Royal Air Force, Sir Michael Beetham. And he was down at East Kirkby, and John Chatterton, he had to test pilots, and he said: ‘I remember this bloke Michael Beetham coming through, and he was too good, he said he had, had to rate him above average, cos he’s way above average.’ And he finished up Marshall of the Royal Air Force, Sir Michael Beetham. And I met him, nice man, met him down at East Kirkby. Yeah. And there were two ex-apprentices, got cadetship and went to Cranwell. They both finished up as Air Marshalls. Yeah. Some did well, very well.
PH : What, what were you days at Houlton like?
WB : Eh?
PH : What were your days at Houlton like?
WB : All right.
PH : What were you know as?
WB : Oh, Trenchard Sprouts [chuckle] Yeah. Oh, it was a good life, yeah, yeah it was a good life. You worked hard, but they trained you well. But they always said: ‘If a bloke was ever trained at Houlton, he could walk straight into a job at Rolls Royce. That was that Houlton training, you can go straight to Rolls Royce as a workman. [sniff and sigh] Yeah. Three years. Jolly good.
PH : Who was Trenchard?
WB : Eh?
PH : Who was Trenchard?
WB : Well, he was a General in the First War and then he, he started the, more-or-less, started the Air Force, as such, Flying Corps. General Lieutenant, General Sir whatever his name Trenchard, and he started the apprentice scheme, the apprentice’s scheme; hence the name Trenchard Sprouts. He was a good man, Trenchard. Not a big man. Yes he started the RAF. [loud crash and bang] Ohi.
AH : Well, thank you very much.
WB : Pardon?
AH : Thank you.
PH : Yeah, well call that -



Anna Hoyles, “Interview with William Bullock ,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 17, 2024,

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