Interview with Allan Stanley Coller


Interview with Allan Stanley Coller


Alan Coller joined the Air Training Corp in 1941 and eventually joined the Royal Air Force in 1943 at the age of 18. He was sent to RAF Skegness for his initial training, after that he was transferred to RAF Barnham, near Mildenhall where he was assigned to work with ordinance.
Alan worked with mustard gas canisters, checking them for leaks, loading ammunition for machine guns, and looking after bombs of all sizes, He explains in more details how they were stored, where and how they were transported.
He tells of his experiences working at RAF Barnham, including incidents on site because of his Jewish heritage, and being called back from leave before going to RAF Skellingthorpe.
Alan was sent abroad on the RMS Cynthia, sailing to India before an onward journey to Ceylon. He tells of his experiences on board ship, including being put under arrest and meeting his cousin.
He was demobbed in January 1947, and in civilian life got a job with J Lyons and Company, working in the Marble Arch Hotel. He tells of his encounter with Oswald Mosely and holidaying in Denmark, where he met his wife.
After the war, Alan got a job with Polly Peck, becoming a salesman for the Company working in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.








02:03:54 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today, I’m in Golders Green, London with Alan Coller, who was busy with the RAF with munitions during the war, and we’re going to talk about his life in London but then also in the Royal Air Force and afterwards. So, Alan, what are your first recollections of life?
AC: As a child? Well, I was, I had a, what do you call it? A very, a childhood of the best nurses you could get, from, and the best pram and I was looked after very well as a, as a child. I had quite a happy childhood until, and then holidays in Margate at Cliftonville, and there were holidays for maybe five or six weeks, and they were very happy holidays. And how will I put it? Have I gone too far up on the thing? But as a child, I was very well looked after. Oh, school. Now, my first school, if you could call it a school, was a Montessori in Cazenove Road in the Stamford Hill area, and my nurse took me there. The first time she took me there and left me, and I was in there and played with things, and I happened to pick, on the wall was a bow, and of course being a nosy child, I looked at the bow and I pulled it and it opened up, and the teacher came in. She, ‘Oh, you opened the bow. Now you can put it, you can do it up, can’t you?’ I said, ‘I can’t’. So, she said, ‘Well, you’ll stay here till you can’. And then I thought to myself, Alan, she can’t keep me here all night. There’s a nurse coming for me, so jolly well don’t do it, and I left the darned thing. The nurse came in and this lady said, ‘Oh, your child is very rude. He wouldn’t do what I told him’. Anyway, that was the end of my Montessori. A one day Montessori. So they took me away from there and then, then I didn’t go to school until I was old enough to go to the older school, and then my trouble started. Another lot of trouble, because they took me to school with a nanny. A council school. Now, first of all, I saw everybody looking. A nurse in uniform taking me to a council school. So, the first thing I did when I went to the toilet, I was in the toilet, and suddenly two boys, one on each other’s shoulders, started spitting over it and pouring water down over me, so I came out soaking wet. That was my next school. So they took me away from that school [laughs], and then luckily enough, they moved. Not long after they moved from Stamford Hill to Golders Green, emigrated I call it [laughs], to Golders Green. Then I was put in to a school, Wessex Gardens in, I think it was off, how do I explain Wessex Gardens to anybody? It was on the 226 bus, that’s right, I remember going on this 226 bus with a nanny to this school, which was also a council school. I get to the council school, and a boy comes up to me and says, ‘My father hates your mother’. I said, ‘What do you mean he hates my mother?’ ‘She’s, my father washes your mother’s windows in [unclear] Avenue and she’s horrible to him’. So, I said, ‘What’s it to do with me?’ ‘Well, I’m going to tell you and I’m going to make you sorry for it’. So, he gave me a biff and he knocked me down. He trod on my neck and I went to, I didn’t go to hospital, but I went home and the doctor came, and he said, ‘Your son’s got to stay in bed X amount’. Well, in those days, they didn’t, they didn’t go back and say, ‘we’re going to take the boy to accuse him of assault and battery’, but anyway that was that, and then I went back to the school again. And then there was a master there called, well the name, the name is gone a little bit, Elliot, I think he was called. I think the master was called and he used to cane me, every week I got caned. So, I couldn’t understand why I was being caned. He said, ‘You don’t, you’re not doing your work well. You’re not doing this’, but then I found out, he’d asked my father for a loan, because he, my father had him come to me privately, to help me to read and he didn’t say much, but when I went back, he caned me because I hadn’t done my homework properly, and I reckoned, and then my father told me, as I said, maybe I said it too early, he, he asked my father for a loan and my father wouldn’t give him, and that seems to be the way of him getting his own back on me, so I was not doing very well at that school. So, my father took me out that school, and sent me to a private school, which was heaven, and that was in Golders Green, called Woodstock and the headmistress was a Mrs De Vries. A Dutch lady whose kindness I could not believe. How kind she was. And one day, a little girl said to her that I was, I was chasing her, and the headmistress, instead of shouting at me, got the little girl and me together, and she said to the little girl, ‘Well, little boys chase little girls. Did he hurt you?’ ‘Oh no, he didn’t hurt me.’ She said, ‘But that’s how little boys behave. As long as he didn’t hurt you. I’m sure he didn’t want to do you any harm’, and it was so nice to hear, and I became friendly with the little girl, and that was my school there at Woodstock. Then she sold the school, a beautiful school, and I went to another school in Frogenham, in Hampstead, an also private school, where it was a little bit mad this school, because the headmaster was called The Owl. That wasn’t his real name but I can’t remember his real name, but we called him The Owl, and he believed, he believed that if there was any problems, you go in the boxing ring. Well, I’d never boxed in my life, but there was a pupil there called Charlie Burrman who didn’t, who said to me, ‘I don’t like you and I’m going to take you, you’re going to go into the boxing ring with me’. Well, I couldn’t box, but I could jump about, I was pretty agile. So, Charles gave me what he thought was going to be a real smack in the face, and I jumped beside him, and he went right over the ropes, and I felt so good. So there was no more boxing there, but at that school, as I was a good runner thanks to my father chasing me when I was younger to put a shirt on, I won three or four cups for my running, so I did a bit of sports. My daughter’s got hold of the cups, she’s got those cups. So that was my story about that school. I didn’t learn a lot, but I had a master there which never hit me, but he used to, used his desk as a battering ram. He’d shout out ‘Lord man’ and shove his desk into me like that. Didn’t hurt me, but everybody couldn’t believe it because my Latin was no good. I could do the first two words in Latin, and then they’d say, ‘go to page one again’, you know. So Latin wasn’t my subject, but the master that taught, taught maths liked me. He said, ‘You’ve got a bit of life in you, Alan’, he said, and he made me feel good. The master. But this was a very funny school because of that but then the war came, the Second World War, which to me was a blessing. It seems funny to say it was a blessing, because my life was not exactly a happy one, but I knew that maybe I was, I think I was thirteen or fourteen when the war started, but I, when the war started, I was farming, because my, she wasn’t a nanny at that time, but I have a picture of the lady up there on the corner, was my, was my governess, and she said to my mother, ‘Children should not go to stay at hotels. They should go to farms for their holiday’, which was the best thing she ever said, because I went to this farm, Berry Barns, in Hertfordshire, and there I, I was taught. Not only that, I was eleven, and I was even taught to drive a tractor when I was eleven. It wouldn’t be allowed now, but I had the honour of learning to drive a tractor, understanding about the, how even to use to, what we called a hand start on the, what do we call it the, swing the engine. And I learned that, and I learned to pull, pull a trailer and I learned to help to climb a ladder, which I was frightened of generally, but because I didn’t want to show I was frightened of a ladder. I had to do it to do the haystacks. And there I learned, that taught me about general life. Then the second war came. I know I’ve gone around a little, around a bit in a circle there. Then the second war came in 1939, and believe it or not the, what’s the plane now, the, what was the name of the plane that came over, that flew over from Bassingbourn? I’ve got a senior moment at the moment. It wasn’t a Lancaster because they hadn’t, they didn’t have a Lancaster at that particular time.
CB: How many engines?
AC: It was a Blenheim. The Blenheim. The Blenheim flew over from Bassingbourn and what it, and we had on the farm, there was a searchlight. A searchlight company. Auxiliaries. They weren’t full soldiers, they were the auxiliary, and this plane came over, and instead of them sort of running for cover when the plane came, they waved at the plane, and of course, they got into trouble, because they were supposed to show that, what they would do if an aircraft came low over. They were in real trouble, but it was a bit of a laugh, but not for them. And then that was 1939. My, I, I was told that I had to go to a place in North Devon to be evacuated, and I was nearly fourteen, so I left my, my governess stayed on the farm, because she found the farmer next door, they fell in love. She fell in love with the farmer next door, so that was good for her on the farm, and it was also good for me to be on the farm. Anyway, I was sent to Braunton in North Devon, and when I arrived there, there was a school called Challoners School, and I wasn’t very good at schools as I’ve been talking about, and the headmaster was one of these headmasters that said to a pupil, shouted at a pupil, ‘Your father owes me money. He’s overcharged me for the meat’. And I never heard this before, that a headmaster would be shouting at one of the pupils, to tell him that they owed him money. I thought, this is a funny sort of headmaster. And then the headmistress suddenly said to me, ‘Alan, I’m going to bath you tomorrow’. I says, ‘You’re not. I’m fourteen years of age. I don’t need you bathing me’. ‘Well, I’m going to bath you’. I said, ‘You’re not’, and I told her to take a running jump, and, and she rang up my mother and father to tell them, ‘Take your son out of this school because he’s been rude to me’. She didn’t, she didn’t tell them why, and what I said, I got sent to a hotel called the Swords and Sands. Well, that was a wonderful hotel, and I was sent there. I don’t know if it was wintertime, I can’t remember, and I fell in love with the, with the manager’s daughter, and he wasn’t too happy, but anyway, my mother came down to collect me from there, but at least I had, ended up with a little love affair and back to London again. 1940 which, I couldn’t care less about the Germans dropping a bomb, I thought, well, they can drop a bomb on me and I don’t think, they’d miss me but I’m sure they’d miss me. But anyway, my father had built, in 1938, my father had built an underground shelter. I think it was fifteen foot under the ground. He did it in 1938. He got, he thought war was coming, so he’d already built this shelter. Well, I wouldn’t sleep in the shelter, because he wouldn’t sleep without the light, he had to have a light on all night, and I can’t sleep with a light on all night, so I slept in the garden, under a tent, with the shrapnel coming down, because they were firing the guns, but I lived to see the day and then that was, that was in, yes, and that was until nineteen, we stayed there till 1941, when my father had to move from Golders Green because his factory, his hat factory had been bombed in the city, and we moved to Luton in Bedfordshire. And then I worked for him, unhappily, until I was called up in the Royal Air Force when I was eighteen. Before I was eighteen. I was called up for my medical in, I think, October, yeah, October 1940, er, wait a minute.
CB: One.
AC: It can’t be. It must be -
CB: 1941.
AC: No, it wouldn’t have been 1941. I didn’t go into the Air Force until 1943, so I’m just trying to work that out, but anyway, I was called up and I had my interview. I’ve got, I think I’ve got the date somewhere hidden away, and I then went into the Royal Air Force. It must have been in nineteen, early 1943 where I was sent to Skegness, Skegness, for my initial training, and I stayed in there. The food was terrible but I managed to live, I managed because the food was, was cooked by trainee WAAFs, and the only time you got a good meal, was when the WAAFs had taken their course and had their test, their test to see if they, and that was the first good meal I had. In eight weeks, I had two good meals. But the training was rough, was quite a tough training I was pleased to say, because we’d lost, because the Royal Air Force had disgraced themselves in Crete, and they more or less waved to the Germans landing the parachutists when they came down. They didn’t know how to fire their rifles or anything, so they literally, so they, they’d got the idea when I went in, I’m pleased to say, for a tough training and I loved [unclear], I enjoyed it. Others were moaning and groaning, but I enjoyed the running and jumping and crawling under barbed wire, and I was always the first, as a good runner, I was always the first one back, back to the camp to get a nice tea, so that was my, I was treated very good at Skegness. And then came the move to Royal Air Force Barnham, near Mildenhall, which was part of Mildenhall, and there I got the, I mean, I was working more or less hour after hour on the, what do we call it? The ordinance. On the ordinance. And then, because what they did there was, anybody living near, near an area where they were going to deliver the fuses for the bombs, they would send you, so I got sent. The first one I got sent to, was RAF Henlow. I don’t know if you know it. I had to deliver some detonators. Detonators. I’ll get the word right now. And then I went home, because my father, my parents were in Luton and I had a day’s leave there, and then I went back to RAF Barnham. Now, RAF Barnham, there was a problem there I had. A big problem. The flight sergeant, Maddox. Flight Sergeant Maddox. I can’t forget him. He was from Liverpool. Hated Jews. And he made my life, if I had a pass, he would say, ‘Excuse me. Can I see your pass? I’m going to check on it’, and that, what he called check on it, was meaning that he would take half an hour or an hour with it, and then I could go. That was the start, but I was a lucky boy, because, I didn’t know it, there was somebody working in the guardroom that knew me from Luton market, and I was friendly with him. He didn’t, he didn’t meet me, because he was, he had to work in the back, but he would send me, he sent me, one day, a little note, ‘Please hide your shirts’. That was all it was. And this note came to me, and I knew what it meant, because I’d bought an officer’s shirt, exactly the same colour as the officers. Lovely collar and tie for when I went out to leave, so, I thought, Alright, I’ll hide my shirts, and when I came back, 2359, I thought, I’ll keep the Sergeant Maddox waiting till the last minute, so I came back 2359. ‘Hello. Good evening, Sergeant Maddox’, and I said, ‘I’m just about to walk out’. He says, ‘I want you to come over here’. I said, ‘Is that an order, Sergeant Maddox?’ ‘Yes, it’s an order’. So, I walk over. ‘Yes, Sergeant Maddox’. ‘Open your greatcoat’, which I did. ‘Is that the shirt you were wearing this morning?’ ‘Well Sergeant Maddox, I change my shirts. The other one’s in the laundry’. And I closed it up. I said, ‘It’s rather late, Sergeant Maddox. Can I, can I go now?’ ‘Yes. You’re dismissed’. So, I went out, went back to my barracks, back to my hut. Hut ten. And that was Sergeant Maddox calmed down there. Now this went on for quite a time this, but I wasn’t going to complain, because I’d already made my mind up, that wherever I was going to shut up, and take the trouble as it came. Now, I had a Rabbi visit me, who came very nicely, talked to me. He said, ‘You can have this holiday and that holiday. You can have kosher food, you can have that’, and I said, ‘Excuse me, Rabbi’, I said, ‘Do you want me to be happy on this station? I’m the only Jew here. Do you want to make me out even worse than some of them want to treat me?’ I said, ‘I’m going to have exactly the same food as the men, I’m going to have exactly, have the same duties as the men, I’m going to have the same holidays that they will. I’ll give my Christmas holiday up for, for, so that somebody that’s got a child can go on leave, and I’ll take my holiday after Christmas’. ‘That’s alright’, he says. ‘I agree with you’.’ He didn’t start, he didn’t start giving me the whole rigmarole, but, ‘I’m going to give you a prayer book’, he said, which I still have. ‘You keep that. You keep the prayer book in your pocket’. The Lord’s Prayer and all that, which came in useful later. So that was that, and now, how do I get after that. I’m still there and then, and then, of course, I went on leave, and I think the leave, I get a telegram from leave, ‘Come back immediately. You’re wanted for service’ or something or other. So, I went to a wedding, and I left the wedding, straight back to camp, and I found out I was being transferred from, from Barnham to, where was it now? I can’t remember where I went after that. Oh, I went to a place in Lincolnshire. I may have written it down. Let’s see if I wrote it down. Not Skelling. It was between, it was to a station quite close to Skegness. Quite close to it, but it wasn’t Skegness. I went there. That was a holding station, where I stayed until I was then sent from there to Skellingthorpe. That’s right, to Skellingthorpe, where the Australians were, and the Canadian squadron was, and there we had a, the Canadian sergeant or officer. I’m sorry, it must have been an officer, shouts out, ‘you’re going to be sent to a place where, where powder doesn’t mean the powder of a girlfriend. It means the powder of a real war’. And we reckoned it was going to be Okinawa. Had the feeling. Everybody said it was going to be Okinawa. Well, so I stayed there until the, until I was going to be embarkation at Liverpool. It must have been Liverpool, yeah, I think I went to Liverpool, and I went on a ship called the Royal Mail ship, Cynthia, which sailed from there, and we were supposed to be going, the atom bomb had been dropped, so it wasn’t, we wasn’t going to Okinawa. We were going, they were sending us to some. I’ve got, I’ve got this here which is useful. Can I -
CB: I’ll stop for a mo.
AC: Sorry.
[machine pause]
AC: That, that, now this I’ve got it here. I’ve got it here.
CB: Right. So, you’re at, you’re on the Cynthia.
AC: My first day at sea. October 1945. Yes, that’s right. How can it be 1945? Yes, it must have been 1945, because I went in, in ‘43. That’s right. The first day at sea, October 1945, from Liverpool, England. Our first evening meal. The one blessing about being in His Majesty’s forces, was they made you so hungry, that any food was welcome, and so we were served up with salted pickled beef. Now the luck of the draw for me was, being a four by two, which, as you know, is a Jew, I was used to a type of a dish. Salt beef it was called, and so I found this, to my very hungry appetite, fulfilling but approximately ninety percent, ninety five percent of the rest, owing, of course, by the rough weather, were in no uncertain term, very sick, while I felt in good form as long as I got quickly up on deck, away from the sickly stench. My bonus was collecting as many empty lemonade bottles, and taking them to the kiosk, and receiving back two pence, old currency, per glass, per bottle. Another bonus, in the two or three days of bad weather, was helping a seaman lying on the floor. I helped him to sit up and asked his name, which was George Waller, and then I replied that I had a cousin by that name, and he said, ‘where did he live’, and I replied, ‘Golders Green, London, Northwest 11’. With that, with a large grin on his face said, after I told him my name, ‘You’re my cousin, and I am the purser on this ship’. I must say, I never went hungry or disappointed at the quality of the food for the rest of the voyage. I, of course, kept schtum. Do you, can everybody know the word schtum?
CB: Yeah.
AC: Even though my close acquaintances kept on asking why I was not having my meals with them. As to sleeping arrangements, this was actually on the mess, on a mess. Sounds good, doesn’t it? On the mess deck, and we slept in hammocks, which each hook was connected to the next hammock. The fixed tables were under the, the fixed tables were under the, under, anyway, under the fixed tables. The, the reveille was 0630 hours, and my, and all hammocks had to be taken down and folded up, but one morning, the next hammock hook went over mine. I knew I could not fold it up, so not wishing to wake the poor soul up, thought I was capable to hold and lift his hook off mine. Well, believe it or not, his hook off mine. Well, I was, I lifted his hook off his, off, his weight pulled me across the table, pulling my trousers down past my knees. He then got up, luckily not hurt, but gave me a punch I have never forgotten, leaving me with quite a bruiser, which I justly deserved. He saw the situation after calming down, and got, we, we got on for the rest of the voyage. My next faux pas was when I was organising a singsong after lights out, when suddenly, somebody shouted out, ‘quiet’, and I answered, ‘Wrap up’. The next thing I remember, was a torch beam shining in my face, and suddenly shouted out, ‘I’m the company sergeant major’. And to amazement out of his mouth, thundering tendering roar, followed by the words, I was going to be charged with insubordination to an officer, and to hurry up, get dressed, to be taken to the brig. I was taken there, and there was one other person who, in my opinion, did not look a friendly type, so I spent the night awake. At 0630 hours, I was watched over while I shaved, and then the company sergeant major arrived, who in no uncertain terms told me, that, crumbs, that he was going to make sure I would march smartly into the court. He then put his hand on my shoulder, and I then said, in no uncertain terms, Kings Regulations, by which he took his hands off my shoulders. I then said I want to be represented by an RAF officer, as I had horrible feelings that the Army was not too much in love with the RAF. This was granted, and I was marched in to the, in to the room, and after removing my forage cap, and my defence officer asked the duty night Army, the officer that charged me, ‘Did you announce yourself?’ And the officer answered, ‘No. But my voice of authority should have been, should have been enough’. The case was dismissed on the grounds that the duty officer should have announced himself when entering. I was told, after my defence, officer to, ‘Don’t do anything like this again, or you won’t be so lucky next time’. The ship eventually reached Bombay. We got to Bombay, and my next beginning, and the next beginning read what was it, I wondered as we, yeah, I wondered, when we docked in Bombay, what type of transport awaited me, as to getting to, to the, getting to the handed out booklet which, yeah, the handed out booklet which was, was supposed to have gone to the Andaman Islands and Nicobar Islands, which was quite different from the strong rumour at our holding camp at Skellingthorpe. The rumours was, before the atomic bombs were dropped, that Okinawa was going to be our, roughly that was the rumour. My next feeling was, what was India going to be like? This came as soon as I disembarked, and reached the monument of the gateway to India. This was surrounded by beggars. Example, women with maimed children, as well as maimed men, etcetera. There was a smell hanging over the area, not very pleasant. There were troop buses parked not far, and those of us in the RAF were transported to a place called Worli, about twenty minutes drive from, and allocated to a hut, which were not too uncomfortable, to stay there until further orders. In memory, my memory is not too good as to how long it was, but as Worli was not too far from Bombay, I had time to visit the nice air-conditioned cinema, which was open late into the night, and kept me from excessive heat of the day.
CB: Ok. I’m going to, we’ll just stop there for a mo.
CB: We’re just picking up on the fact that you got to Bombay as a holding camp.
AC: Yes.
CB: Where did you go, and what did you do after that?
AC: Well, the holding camp. Then I went from the holding camp to -
CB: Madras.
AC: Madras. Yes, to Madras, and waited there to then get on the ship, to take me to Ceylon. I can leave the name Ceylon there. When I got to Ceylon, I stayed, I was in a hut, in a place called Ratmalana. Now, Ratmalana, I was told when I was there was, you had to be very careful. You slept, because there used to be raids on the, because there used to be raids, and you had to be very careful when you were sleeping, that you were aware, that you could be, the, the nets could be cut and they’d drop on you, and you’d be robbed, so I, I found a stray dog. I made friendly with the dog and I had, the dog used sleep under the bed, and he would wake me up if anybody, if there was anything wrong, and that dog stayed with me until I was going to move away from this. Ratmalana was not my final camp. Ratmalana was quite, was not very far away from Colombo, so one could get in. There was a place there, a rest camp there, and I can’t remember the name, but it was so lovely. We went there. We were allowed to stay there one or two days if we had, if we had leave. I got sunburnt. I went with somebody down there and went to sleep, by mistake, in a deckchair, and got sunburnt, and I went to the doctor, and the doctor was very good, because the doctor said to me, ‘For goodness sake, don’t tell your base that you’ve had sunburn, because they will charge you with self-inflicted injury’. So we suffered a bit, and we managed to hide it, and we managed to get the sunburn calmed down, because we would have been charged with self-inflicted injury. Now we stayed there, and then we moved from there. I went to Negombo, which was the air base not far from Colombo. I went there, and then they didn’t know what to do with us there. We just messed around there, but then they sent us to KKS, which was Kankesanthuai, right the north of Sri Lanka or Ceylon. There we, we did our, we were told to, we had to, we did our discipline there, but it was mostly telling us what to do to clear, for clearing up for the, when 1947 came, to break away from, from Britain. They were going to be independent so that was interesting, but the best bit was when I was sent from, I was sent from Sri Lanka, from KKS to Kandy. Now Kandy was a pleasure. Beautiful place. And there, I also did anything they told me to do. There was very little there to do. Again, it was just a matter of waiting until they found something more for me to do, and I made a, I had my girlfriend there. I met a WAAF, a very sweet lady, and she kept me busy, and then, what was it now? Yes, then I did a guard duty in Kandy. They put me on guard duty, and suddenly, an officer comes in with a car, with his car to show me. I was on guard duty, and he brought a car, and the car, the card said, ‘This car cannot be taken out of this area after 5 o’clock’. Well, it was after 5 o’clock when he brought the car in so I said, ‘Excuse me, sir, but this car cannot be taken out’. ‘What are you talking about?’ he said. ‘Are you trying to be funny with me?’ I said, ‘No sir. This is what it says. I’m not funny. This is what I’ve been told to do’. ‘Well, I’m going to, I’m not taking any notice of you, and you’re the type of person that’s causing a problem, and I’m going to stop you if I ever catch you making lifts, taking lifts on these trucks, because I’m the officer in charge of transport’. I said, ‘I understand, sir. I understand’. And this went on, and I thought, Alan, Alan, what can you think? And then I thought of Kings Regulations, so I said, so I said to him ‘Excuse me, sir, but there is a way out, sir’. ‘What is it? What is it? What is it? Hurry up’. I said, ‘You can give me an order, in front of the sergeant in the back, in the back of there. I will call the sergeant out, and I want him to hear you give me an order, sir. If you give me an order to release the car, the car will be released. Are you going to do it, sir?’ So he did. I called the sergeant out. I said, he said to me, ‘I order you, LAC Coller, to release the car’. ‘Yes, sir.’ Boom, boom, boom, and the car was released. Two weeks later, I thought, I’m going to be in trouble. I got promoted to a corporal. Now, it’s was a bit of a muzzle. I thought you’d be interested in that one.
Other: Yeah.
AC: Is it still working?
CB: Keep going.
AC: Anyway, so I, I go back. Then they send me back, then they send me back to KKS as a corporal, in charge of about, well, there was about fifteen or twenty men went back to clear up, to get the base cleared, and we had an officer there, and he was from, an ex-Singapore, and he was a silly officer. I can be rude about an officer. He didn’t want the men. We could not, because it was such a small amount of men, we could be, he tried to make us that I had to sit on his table, and all the others had to sit at all the other tables. So I said to the officer, ‘Sir, excuse me, but as we’re such a small group, wouldn’t it be good if we could, we don’t, we’re not under, we’re all doing, you give us work to do for the clearing up, and we can all be near one another’. He wouldn’t do it. So, anyway, I said I wasn’t going to sit on his table, and I didn’t. Now, one day, one day, he had a few drinks over the top, and I had to go out to find him, and I found him. I found him in a terrible state, and I got him back and he was a friend of mine. He said, ‘You keep quiet’, and he was a different man, so that was a little bit of what I did. And then we spoke about labour. He said, ‘we’re not having anybody from local, to work on the camp’, so I said to him, ‘Leave it with me, sir’, I says, ‘because we, if we’re going to have trouble with the neighbours, if we, if they come to get work here, and we tell them you can’t have them, there could be trouble, sir’. ‘You handle it. You handle it’. So, what I did, I met the elder of one of the villages, who was wanting to get work on the camp. I said to him, ‘Look’, I said to the work, I said to them, ‘I found someone that could speak English’. There were a few people there who could, and I said to them, ‘Look, I want to give you a chance of having a job on the camp, but you’ve got to do what your told, and, and, and there should be no taking money from one another. Your pay will be given to you on the Friday, and I don’t want to see, if I’m doing you this favour, I don’t want to see you taking money from anybody to get the job. We’re going to have it nice and clear’. So, I managed that and he was quite pleased, the officer, that I’d cleared this up, and I said to them, there was no trouble, and I managed to keep it, and then my lady friend, my girlfriend in Kandy, rang me up.
AC: The WAAF rang me up to tell me, ‘Alan, you’ve got your’, what we call it?
CB: Demob.
AC: Demob. ‘You’ve got, your demob’s come through, but don’t tell your officer. We will tell him, but I thought you’d like to know’. So, I, well, that’s good. So I stayed there, and suddenly, I got my demob, and I went on the, I came back on the Duchess of Bedford. Sounds a nice boat. From Bombay and landed in Liverpool. I can’t remember the dates, and I, they put me into, I had, I had I think they, I stayed in, I stayed in Blackpool. They put me into a, paid for a home there, but I had to be in at, I mustn’t, I mustn’t come after ten. She would lock the door. So I thought to myself, well, this is not much good, because if you went to the cinema, it finished, it finished maybe at ten past ten or quarter past ten, but then I made friendly with the lady upstairs. I said, ‘If I tell you some stories, will you open the door for me?’ [unclear]. And she opened the door for me, and the lady said to me then, ‘Where were you last night?’ I said, ‘Well, I was in my room’. ‘You wasn’t’. I said, ‘I was. Did you try to come in to the room?’ ‘No I didn’t, but I know that you wasn’t there’. I says, ‘Well I am’. And that was my little story from, from there. And then, I think, then I got the troop ship, took me, took me to, back to Liverpool. No, I done the troop ship. I know I’ve spoken about that but, and when I actually, the funny part was, I came back with a tin box, a tin, ‘cause you couldn’t have any wooden boxes in, in Sri Lanka, ‘cause the worms and God knows what, would bite into the wood, so we all had tin boxes. Now, these tin boxes weren’t supposed to be taken, but I had one I could pull along the road, and when I got to, I think, when I got to the station, to come off the station, it was icy like mad. It was, it was freezing cold in London.
CB: This is 1947.
AC: Yes. January 1947.
Other: Yeah.
AC: And I pulled, I pulled the, I pulled this blooming thing all the way from the station, because they wouldn’t let me on the taxi. I pulled it all the way along the street. I was knocked out by the time I got it back to [unclear] Avenue, but I had presents for my daughter, like things you couldn’t get in and that was my trip back. I’ve landed now in England.
CB: Yeah. So where did you actually get demobbed?
AC: Well, I got demobbed in Blackpool. Well, [unclear]. There’s a base north of Blackpool, and I got demobbed itself where I went, I know I went to Marks and Spencer when I got a beautiful brown striped suit. I was quite proud of it till my daughter threw it away. And I, I mean it was lovely. I could go and get a job or -
CB: So, what job did you go to then when you became a civilian?
AC: Ah, now, I wouldn’t work for my father, so I went to, I want to go on a catering course, and I thought, well, Alan, get into catering. There’s always work and you can always earn money, and if you don’t like it one day, you’ll find something you do like. So I got, I went to a place near Vauxhall Bridge. There was a place that taught, and a Mr Vincent was the teacher. Now, when I went there, Mr Vincent told me that there was no place for me. There was no room for me. So he told me to go, ‘If I were you’, he said, ‘Go to J Lyons and Company, and they have, they have hotels. They have a hotel, The Marble Arch and Strand Palace’. He said, ‘They may be able to give you, you may be able to go in as a trainee manager’. So I listened to them, and I went to there, and they gave me this, they gave me a job at the Marble Arch Hotel in, well in Marble Arch. Now, I worked there and my job was to start from the bottom, which was just washing dishes. Not washing dishes, washing, washing vegetables, and then you moved up to the fish department, where I was cleaning fish and boning. Then when you’d done that, you moved up to the, to the meat department, which was quite interesting because we went to Smithfield Market to look at meat, and ask questions, whether you liked the meat, the colour of the meat and so that was that. Then from there, I think then we went on serving, learning to serve at the tables, which was quite interesting, and I did that right up to 1951. That’s right. And I looked at the ones that were working with me. They were all part of the family, of the Lyons family. I think they came under, they had another name, which my senior moment again, I can’t remember their maiden name, but there were five or six of them, and I thought to myself, if there’s five or six of them, I’ll never be the manager. I’ll always be either, I could end up by being in charge of the serving, the tables, but I’ll never be a manager. So I said, Alan when you go on holiday, I’m going to go to Denmark for a holiday, so that’s when I, I went on a holiday to Denmark in 1951. Because of what King Christian the tenth had done for the Jews, I thought I’d honour them with my company. And when I went there, somebody said to me, ‘Would you take a parcel?’ Well, I wasn’t thinking like the days now, if you take a parcel, did you pack it yourself? It wasn’t happening in those days, but I was allowed to take a parcel, so I took this parcel for a Mrs Rosenberg, to take to her. So I had a friend with me, that went with me called Neville Throp, and I said, ‘Come with me. We’ll go to see this Mrs Rosenberg, and we’ll have lost nothing’. It was a Sunday and we’re not losing any of our holiday. See what we can. Well what we got to the front door, my little nose was good at smelling, and I could smell beautiful chicken soup. Really good chicken soup, so I thought we must be at Mrs Rosenberg’s house. I could smell something good, and it even smelled better when she opened the door. I said, ‘Hello Mrs Rosenberg, I have a parcel for you. We have a parcel for you’. ‘Come in. Come in’, she said. So she said, ‘Would you like to stay for lunch?’ Well that was, I looked at my friend, I said, ‘well, we’ve got our feet under the table, so let’s take advantage of it’, and then she introduced us to her son, and her and her husband and her daughter, and we got on very well, and we were staying in a hotel in Copenhagen, near the station, and I said to them, ‘I’d like to make, we’d like to make a party for you. Would you like to come to a party?’ Well, they said, ‘Yes. We’d like to’. ‘Cause we, they gave us, we were very lucky, Neville and I, we got a lovely place in this hotel. They gave us a suite. So they came, but they said, ‘oh, by the way’, the sister said, ‘I’m engaged to somebody’. So I said, ‘Well bring him as well’. And the other one said, ‘Well, we’ve got two girls we can introduce you to. Can they come?’ ‘Yes’. So, when they, when they came to the hotel, this beautiful looking girl came along. I was supposed to be with a, I wasn’t supposed to be with this girl, and the one I saw was called Cilla. Now I can say that. The other one was called, all’s fair in love and war. I let my friend have the other one. Well, when I met Cilla, this lovely girl, she couldn’t speak a word of English, which didn’t worry me because we could make, we sang a little song, “I thought I saw a pussycat”, and she was singing it in Danish, and I was singing it in English. Anyway, I made a date with her, and I ended up marrying her. Not that time, but we fell in love. She learnt to do English in three and a half months, which I couldn’t have learned Danish. I’m still learning Danish, and she was told at the school, her Jewish school, it wasn’t up to scratch as far as I was concerned. They told her she was dyslexic, and she’d never be able to learn a language. Well, she learned. Boy, did she learn, and she came to England in, I married her in 1952, at the Copenhagen Synagogue. My father was angry, because he wanted me to marry her in London. I says, ‘No you don’t. Her father’s given me permission to let her come to England, and so that I’m going to give him the honour. He should have the party in Denmark’. And my father reluctantly came there the last minute. Didn’t, thought he could come like Lord Fauntleroy, and he couldn’t find a hotel, because he was too late, but we found him one in the pouring rain we were, just the thought that we were getting married, we went out to look for a hotel for him, and we found one, which he didn’t like, and he drove them so mad they sent him to another hotel, which he liked. But that was my, to do with my marriage. Now do you want me to stop now?
CB: We’ll stop there for a mo.
AC: Yeah.
[machine pause]
CB: That’s really good Alan, up to your wedding, and we’ll cover the other bits later.
AC: Yeah.
CB: But first of all.
AC: Yeah.
CB: Can we just go back to early days? What did your father do as a job and -?
AC: Well, my father was a hat manufacturer. A ladies hat manufacturer in Aldgate, Aldgate, Aldersgate. One of the, one of the two, and then I worked for, I didn’t work for him then, in the factory and then he, he moved because of the bombing. They bombed his factory in Aldersgate.
CB: He moved to Luton.
AC: And he moved to Luton.
CB: Why was he difficult to work for?
AC: He was difficult to work for because, when he took me, when I was sixteen, he told, he said to the staff, he’ll do anything for you. He’s my son, but he’ll, if you need the floor sweeping, he will sweep the floor. Well, that was alright. Or he will do this, he will do that. He will cut the hat. Anyway, I did that for him and, and I never got promoted, if you know. I was always going to be doing that as far as he was concerned, but the war came and saved me from him.
CB: Ok. So why was he such a controlling personality?
AC: Well, he had a bad life as a child. He was thrown out of his home, but normally, when you’re thrown out of a home, you don’t do the same thing to somebody else, but he’d got this attitude he, what I did in the factory, I, I always, he didn’t know but I was doing all, if the lights went wrong, if the lights went wrong, I fixed them for him. If the, if the machines went wrong, I fixed it for him. I did a lot of mechanical things there, that would have cost him a lot of money if he’d got, but I just did them, and, and, but when I came out the Air Force, I had the fun of saying to him, ‘You know dad, when you’re, when you’re in the military, you get promoted if you’re any good. You won’t. You don’t promote me’, because he said to me, when I came back, he said, ‘Oh’, he said, ‘That’s good. Are you going to come and work for me?’ I said, ‘Dad, I got promoted in the Air Force. I never get promotion with you, so you can stick it’. And I went and sold china and glass. I went up to the potteries and, bought, bought glass and pottery with my brother-in-law. We had a van. We used to go up and load up, we had to buy from the floor. Everything that was on the floor, you had to buy. That was in the potteries. But they were, they tried, you could not get saucers, because they earned more by selling cups, because they could get more money when they were doing it. If they started selling saucers, that was dearer for them. They would charge you so much so you had, you ended up with lots of milk jugs, and things that you didn’t want, but you had to take them, because that was the way they did it, so what we used to do, when we sold the things to the markets, we used to say, ‘Come on. Come on, take a few of these, and then we’ll give you this lot at that price, and this lot’, we had to bargain with them. We made a profit but it was tough work.
CB: Where did you sell all this material?
AC: In the markets mostly.
CB: Where?
AC: I went to the biggest market, was the one down in Shepherds Bush market was a big market, Luton market was a big market. Any, any big market.
CB: So how many markets did you do in a week?
AC: Well, we did four or five markets. Early morning, we used to get a stall, and sell from the stall, and then then my brother, my brother-in-law, he got, his father bought him a shop in Greenford, and then I went to work for him. He was a bit better to work for, but I couldn’t see anything there, but I think I was married by then. I can’t remember how my marriage came in because then I, so that’s really that’s as far as I went, but then I got a job in the textile, working for the clothing trade. I can’t, can I stop there for a minute?
CB: Yes certainly.
AC: Before I get them mixed.
CB: Now, Alan, the bit that we could usefully go into more detail.
AC: Yeah
CB: is the handling of munitions.
AC: Yes, fine.
CB: So, your trade in the RAF was one that was unusual.
AC: Yeah.
CB: But what exactly did you do? So, when you were originally at Barnham, what were you doing there?
AC: Well, we, we, we had, we had, for instance any, we had mustard gas on that was secret then. Mustard gas. Now we had to check the mustard gas, there was no leakages on the mustard gas. They were clad in leather. They were American ones. Five hundred pounders.
CB: Right.
AC: So, we checked them, we had to check them. We didn’t have any gas mask or nothing, but I was pretty, I could smell if there was any gas. They had to be loaded up. Any ones with any leakages had to be taken especially on the wagons. No warnings to anybody. They were taken to a special area for destruction. Don’t know where the destruction area was, but they were taken. That was one job we had which wasn’t very comfortable.
CB: Where were they stored on the airfield?
AC: They were stored, not on the airfield, because that’s why we were, Mildenhall and Barnham was separate. They were stored in the woods and they were in the trees. And then we had, we had, what would we call it? There were incendiary bombs that could drop down. They would drop them down in glass cases. They weren’t the ordinary incendiaries that we normally do. They were also dangerous. They had to be lifted and loaded. We had -
CB: What were they loaded into? Because -
AC: I can’t, well -
CB: They were phosphorous in water, were they?
AC: They were in glass.
CB: Yeah, so the glass container had water and then phosphorous inside -
AC: Well, whatever -
CB: Was it?
AC: Yeah. Well, I know they were for incendiary work.
CB: Right, but what were you loading them into? Into bomb containers or into storage units.
AC: Well, I can’t remember what they were put, I think they were put into crates.
CB: Right.
AC: And taken away.
CB: Yeah.
AC: That was that. And let’s think of what else, because we had the most, yeah, and then we had ones that were already ammunition. Quite heavy boxes of ammunition for rifles. For -
CB: For the machine guns.
AC: The machine guns. They were in boxes.
CB: Yeah.
AC: So, I knew that they, but they were very heavy. They were no cranes, we didn’t have any cranes for them. They were all hand -
CB: Manual labour.
AC: Hand, manual. That didn’t hurt me, because I was quite strong in those days. I can’t think of anything else.
CB: Well, how, so this was actually an ammunition dump.
AC: That’s right.
CB: And what was the design of the dump, because clearly there was a blast problem if there was -
AC: Well we -
CB: Explosion. So what was the layout?
AC: The layout was the bombs had to be so many feet apart. All the bombs were not, they were in stacks, but there was distances between of course. As you say, if one lot went off, they would have set the whole lot off. They were well spaced because the forest was quite a big area. It was quite a big camp.
CB: And what sort -
AC: And they were bombed, because they bombed the line. I wasn’t there when, I wasn’t there when they bombed, but they showed me where a German plane had come along and followed the rail track along, and then dropped the bombs. Luckily not on the bomb dump itself, but on the railway line. They cleared it up by the time I got there, but I was told about this, and we had the, I think it was the ones, the bombs that were in three layers. We screwed them. They were all screwed together. We had to screw them together, but the tail units, they used to tell us what type of tail units to use, because they had to be a special shape for different, for different – we didn’t ask why, what or when. And that’s what we used to do. The hoisting, we had hoisters for the, and if you wasn’t careful, they’d spin around and give you a real -
Other: Crusher.
AC: Crusher in the stomach but I mean we, that was really what we were doing there.
CB: So, the bomb sizes were what? Do you remember?
AC: Well, the ones we used to do were in three different, in three different layers. They were called a special name.
CB: Ok. So, the thousand pounder bomb was one of the standard ones.
AC: A thousand pounder was on its own, yeah.
CB: And then?
AC: We didn’t screw them.
CB: The five hundred pounder.
AC: The five hundred pound ones, we didn’t have to screw anything on those.
CB: Right.
AC: It was only when it got to the big twelve thousand pounders, say. They were in, they weren’t all in one piece and they were screwed, everything was screwed. It was screwed on.
CB: Those were the tall boys.
AC: Yeah, the tall boys.
CB: Right, yeah.
AC: Yeah.
CB: So how much of this was above ground, and how much was underground?
AC: No underground, all over ground.
CB: And were there blast screens?
AC: No. No. It was plain. It was, there was no special -
Other: Ground work. It was, it flat, was it?
AC: All flat. Yes.
Other: All flat.
CB: So bombs came in to be assembled, then you were sending them out -
AC: Yeah.
CB: To the stations, were you?
AC: Oh yes, we did
CB: What were them being loaded on to?
AC: They were on trailers. They used to come up on the trailers.
CB: Lorry trailers.
AC: Yeah, the big ones. They were the proper ones. They were about, quite the 20 or 30 foot long ones. They would come in and we would load them.
CB: Right. And they’d go off to the stations.
AC: To the, but, but the detonators, I don’t know why they never went with them, but we had, well maybe ‘cause it was dangerous to leave the detonators. We took them. Especially, I had, I was lucky. I went to Henlow. I went to Henlow. I’ll tell you the places, I did make a list of where I went to with them. I went to Henlow and I went to Waddington, and I went to, yeah, well I went to three or four places with them. That’s all.
CB: With the detonators.
AC: With the detonators, yeah.
CB: As a delivery,
AC: As a delivery, yeah. Strubby was where I also went to, but that was also, Strubby was the one near Skegness.
CB: Near Skegness.
AC: Yeah. The one -
CB: Yeah.
AC: I couldn’t remember.
CB: Yeah.
AC: Yeah, everything else. Yeah.
CB: So when you were on a station -
AC: Yeah.
CB: You weren’t delivering, you were receiving.
AC: Yeah, that’s correct.
CB: The ordinance. So what did you do there, because that did have a bomb dump. Every airfield had a bomb dump.
AC: What do you mean, what did I do? Which? At the station.
CB: Well, when you were at Skellingthorpe for instance.
AC: Well, Skellingthorpe, I wasn’t doing anything with the bombs.
CB: Right. What were you doing there?
AC: Well, that was, that was ready to go. Skellingthorpe was ready to go.
CB: Abroad.
AC: To so called Okinawa.
CB: Yeah. Ok.
AC: But I didn’t go.
CB: Right.
AC: But that was a Canadian. That was quite interesting.
CB: Good. Ok, good.
Other: The glass. Can I just ask?
CB: No. Hang on. Just a moment.
[machine pause]
CB: The question about incendiaries is interesting.
AC: Yeah.
CB: Because it sounded as though they were pretty delicate in glass. How big were they? And what did they look like?
AC: What I remember was they were about that high.
CB: That’s a foot, yeah.
AC: Yeah, something like that.
CB: And diameter or -
AC: Well, I would say almost like a bottle.
CB: Right.
AC: Almost like a bottle. I’d never seen them before. It wasn’t like an ord, I’d seen incendiary bombs but we never had that kind of -
CB: But were there many of them, or was there just -
AC: There was quite a number, but whether they used them, I mean they were, I don’t know if they dropped them first or if they dropped them after the main bombs.
CB: But did you move many of them out or did you only receive them?
AC: I moved them out more than received. Well, if I had received them, I would have had to, of course, have had to take them to stack them, but I remember taking them out.
CB: And they were, they how were they packaged?
AC: They went out in like little crates, like you would with bottles.
CB: Because, were they, what colour was the glass.
AC: White.
CB: Oh, so you couldn’t see in.
AC: No.
CB: What was inside?
AC: No, but I think, how they worked, I don’t know.
CB: But you thought they were incendiary.
AC: Well, I presumed they were, I couldn’t see what else they were.
CB: Ok.
AC: They weren’t, it was not a poison gas.
CB: No.
AC: The poison gas ones, I knew by the smell of, I was surprised at those. They were our American ones. Five hundred pounders they were. But this base, Barnham was a secret, was one of their secret camps.
CB: Yeah.
AC: Lucky I didn’t get anything, anything on my lungs.
CB: Yeah.
AC: Because there was a certain amount.
CB: You could smell it.
AC: Oh, you could smell it.
CB: And where did it leak from?
AC: Well, it leaked from the actual bomb I presume, but they were leather clad.
CB: Right.
AC: That’s what I remember very well, and I think we had to wear gloves when we were picking them, when we lifted them, but the five hundred bombers we had to lift.
CB: Did you?
AC: Yeah, not exactly -
CB: No crane.
AC: Not that I can remember.
CB: Right. So how many men would be doing the lifting?
AC: Well, I think there had quite a number of men on the station.
CB: I was thinking of how many people need to lift a five hundred pound bomb.
AC: I think three, but it would take, I think, I don’t know how we lifted them actually. I was going to say that.
CB: Because a man isn’t going to be two hundred pounds.
AC: No, no, no.
CB: In those days.
AC: But there were no cranes there, if I remember. The cranes were over with the main, with the main bombs. These were, these bombs, these, these, these ones that were -
CB: The chlorine gas.
AC: The ones that were, what did we call it? The poison ones.
CB: The chlorine gas.
AC: The gas ones.
CB: Yeah.
AC: They were kept right away from everything. There were no cranes up there.
CB: No. Not even hoists.
AC: No. So there must have been, unless we did it by pushing something under and lifting the bomb up. That’s how I -
CB: Jacking it up.
AC: Yeah, ‘cause it would, it slid on, if you slid it onto a truck, then we could have lifted it and then put it on to a trolley.
CB: Right.
AC: And then taken it.
CB: So when you went abroad, were you involved with munitions there?
AC: No. No. That was, that was completely, we didn’t touch -
CB: Ok.
AC: We didn’t touch munitions.
CB: Right. Now going back pre-war.
AC: Yeah.
CB: One of the points you mentioned, was Mosley.
AC: Oh, Oswald Mosley.
CB: So, what, how old were you, and what were you doing?
AC: Well, they were days when I was young.
CB: How young?
AC: I must have been about twelve or thirteen.
CB: Ok. So, tell us the story of Mosley.
AC: Well, we heard that Mosley, Oswald Mosley, had his marches from Ridley Road, and I knew my auntie was living in Stamford Hill, but, and I also knew that the station would be asking me where I was going, because, that’s because they didn’t want me to, and I knew the taxies, so I knew what I was doing when I went.
CB: This is to do with the Mosley rallies.
AC: So what we did, we were illegal. We shouldn’t have done it. Technically, I mean to throw bottles at his, at his vehicle, was against the law, but I had to work out in my mind, what does one do? Let him get away with it? Or one has to do these things. The police were busy. More busy where he was going to stop at South Tottenham.
CB: This is Oswald Mosley.
AC: And South Tottenham was an area where Mosley had a following. He didn’t have such a following in the Dalston area, because it was more of a Jewish. The ones in South Tottenham, I don’t know how he got a lot of his votes he got there. But I’m sticking my neck out. I mean, I could have gone there. If a policeman had caught me throwing a bottle, he would have charged me.
CB: So what did you do exactly?
AC: [unclear]
CB: So, you left the house.
AC: I left the house, got on the train to go to, I, I, I mentioned the station, where was it now? I had to go to, I think I mentioned the railway station, it was a tube station. It’s in the notes.
CB: Right. Ok.
AC: I think I recorded it.
CB: Yeah.
AC: And then from there, the police were there. Where are you going?
CB: Oh, I’m going to my auntie. Auntie Hetty.
AC: Where does she live? Stamford hill. So that, when I got to Stamford Hill, I didn’t, I didn’t, I went further. I went to go to where I mentioned. Ridley Road.
CB: Ridley Road.
AC: And everyone was there, but I had a taxi. When I went out of the station, there were so many Jewish taxi drivers, I hailed one and said, ‘I want to go Ridley Road.’ ‘Right. Get in’. So, I stayed on the floor so if the police had come along.
CB: So, what had you got with you?
AC: I had no weapons with me. Just when I went down there, we, we, we got hold of what we could do.
CB: Oh, you didn’t take bottles with you?
AC: Oh no. No. No. No that would be with intent, wouldn’t it?
Other: Yeah.
AC: But that was all we could throw at him. We, we -
CB: Well, where did you get the bottles from?
AC: Well, they seemed to find bottles.
CB: When you got there.
AC: When I got there.
CB: So, did you, you met up with people you knew, did you?
AC: Well, when I got there, of course, they were all waiting, and Mosley, Mosley was still there. He was giving a talk before he went, before he went, he was shouting to the, and the women were shouting out. ‘Oh, you shut up, you Jewish mother’, you know. They were shouting out. ‘I’m a Jewish mother, but I can give you some lip’, you know. They knew how to hammer them. And just to see these, I mean, he wasn’t having a happy journey. I don’t think he reached Tottenham somehow or other, because it was all the way along, there was people waiting for him, but I thought I’d start at Ridley Road. I thought, I’m not going to be dangerous. I’ll be worse off to follow, I knew where he was going to go to. This was, he was telling us they were going to go to South Tottenham. To his meeting.
CB: So where did you get these bottles?
AC: Well I didn’t throw many bottles, I must admit, but I had a chance. I wasn’t the one that stopped, I couldn’t be the one man army as we call it.
Other: If you could just clarify that, it would help the tape.
CB: Mosley was an agitator.
AC: Yeah.
CB: And so, what exactly was he saying? What was the message?
AC: He was saying that Jews were no good. He was trying to say that we’re going to clear the country of the Jews. They are, they’re taking, they’re grabbing, they’re making money. They’re, and, and we, we the people are losing by having Jews. It was really anti-Semitic and was more or less as Hitler. He spoke as Hitler would have spoken, and to me, that was, I felt very touched by it, that he shouldn’t get away with it, and shouldn’t upset people. If it was a true story, I would have left it alone. It wouldn’t have been my, if it was a political thing, somebody wants to be labour or liberal or whatever, it’s none of my business. I accept what the law says on those things, but when it comes to anti-Semitism, I didn’t want, because I knew from 1933, as a boy, I read about what Hitler was doing, and I see Mosley carrying out Hitler’s wishes and that’s what I was against, and if I’d got caught throwing a bottle at him, I’d have taken the, if I would have been put in prison for it, I would have gone to prison. I know maybe my parents wouldn’t have liked it, but I would have felt better to do it than not to do anything.
CB: Ok. Now changing the subject again.
AC: Yes. That’s alright.
CB: When you were in the RAF, you were with a variety of people from all sorts of backgrounds so -
AC: That’s correct.
CB: How did you see the variation in their abilities?
AC: Well, the abilities for the persons like me, putting things together, lifting things, was of a low grade. Now, there were people there that, for instance, they couldn’t fly or they got what they called it, frightened.
AC: Of flying, yeah, and they were there. Well, there was a difference between the ones that were, or the ones who had never seen a Jew before, or thought, what the hell’s a Jew doing? I was the only Jewish airman on this particular station. Now -
CB: This is Barnham.
AC: Barnham.
CB: Yeah.
AC: Royal Air Force Station Barnham, but I’d made my mind up that whatever was said and done, I would handle the situation. I wouldn’t go crying to the, to my commanding officer, these are talking about me, these are doing this or that. I took it. But I was very, very lucky that my flight sergeant at the end, before I was demobbed. Can I say what the flight sergeant said? When I was demobbed, there was a party that they’d invited me to, because this was 1947, and the first thing that my commanding officer, that my flight sergeant said, Flight Sergeant Evans. I can’t remember his first name but I remember his surname. ‘Alan’, he said, ‘Isn’t it wonderful I can call you Alan’. I said, ‘Yes. Yes, flight sergeant’. He said, ‘You don’t call me flight sergeant, you call me by my Christian name’, which I can’t remember. ‘I want to tell you something’. I said, ‘That’s nice to hear’. ‘I’ve followed you through your service in RAF Barnham. I was your flight sergeant. And when I, when you once had a black eye, I said to you, how did you get your black eye?’ I said, ‘I fell out of bed flight sergeant’. I says, ‘I fell out of bed. That’s how I got my black eye’. He says, ‘I knew you were telling a lie but I appreciated what you told me and’, he said, ‘I had faith in you’. And I said to him, ‘Do you know, do you know, I’m so pleased I met you because you’ve taken a lot of things off my mind now. You’ve given me something that I knew that whatever I did on that station, you knew about, and flight sergeant, Sergeant Maddox won’t have the pleasure of knowing what you said to me’. So that’s how I, that’s how I left that. I got really what I wanted to hear.
CB: Yeah. What about the abilities of the other people?
AC: What do you mean? The –
CB: Well in terms of their intellect.
AC: Well, I made a friend with a man, friend called Bob Emery. Bob Emery. Robert Emery. And he was a very intelligent boy. I don’t know why he was there, he didn’t tell me, but he, he was quite clever because they had a Spitfire at Thetford, and he showed people around. I’ll put my glasses on till I, yeah. Excuse me, ‘cause my eyes are. Yeah. He, there was a spitfire came to Thetford where they were getting money for the wings or whatever they called it, the wings, and he was showing people all the instruments and everything on this, on this Spitfire. Now, he was a friend of mine, but I don’t know really, I don’t know if he is still alive anymore, but he married a girl from Bury St Edmunds during the war, before we went abroad. He was very nice. And then there was a fellow called Joe Frazer. He was my friend. He was from Scotland, and I took him home to, when I had leave, I took him back to Golders Green with me, because he didn’t want to go back to Scotland but, ‘cause we had a Scottish maid so he got on very well with the maid, and he had a nice time. So that was a little bit of goodness I could do. So, I had two friends, and they didn’t like the way Sergeant Maddox was treating me, but I said what can I do? I just have to take it, and I’m not going to start going to the commanding officer, saying and saying, ‘Do you know sir…’ because, but if anything went wrong on this station, they blamed me. Alan’s whistling, like wolf whistles and things. It wasn’t me wolf whistling. So, they’d take, what they did, they had a film, if we went to see a film or a theatre, they’d take me in at a special time and they’d take another one in. Now the other one, was the one that was wolf whistling, not me. So, this was coming all the time, a terrible thing I was doing this, I was doing that. Well then, on one of the airfields, I’m walking along, across. I was an LAC then, and these two fellas came, two airmen came along. ‘We’re going to teach you a lesson. You’re a Jew, aren’t you?’ I says, ‘Yes. Anything about that? You want to do something about it?’ I loved saying that. ‘Do you want to do something about it?’ ‘Yes, we’re going to make you kiss our feet and say sorry to Jesus’. ‘Oh, are you?’ I said. ‘Are you?’ So they came along, and one got the back of my arm in a half nelson, and the other looked on. I said, ‘Come on, break the f’ing thing. If you break it, there’s going to be a fantastic court martial, you know’. ‘What are you talking about?’ I says, ‘if you break my arm, you’ll see’, and he took his arm away, put it down. I said, now excuse my language. ‘F off’. You see, a little bit of knowing the, knowing the King’s Regulations was a great help to me. I wasn’t a very clever person, but if you knew King’s Regulations, you could get away with things.
CB: Thank you.
[machine pause]
AC: This is, this is where a woman’s intuition comes in.
CB: So now we’re, if we could just go fast forward.
AC: That’s alright.
CB: To your later years. So, you’re out of the RAF, you’ve done your catering and hotel stuff, which you decided not to pursue.
AC: Yes. That’s right and I did.
CB: You then worked in London for a bit. So, what did you do there, and what have you done the rest of your life?
AC: Well -
CB: In civilian world.
AC: Well, my wife suddenly says, I was doing the travelling for, well, my father upset my wife by being rude to her, and I said to dad, ‘You don’t be rude to my wife. Be rude to me, but not to my wife, and if you do it again, you’ll see what’s going to happen’. Well, he did it again. So I says, ‘Thank you, dad. I’m leaving the country. I am going to Denmark, taking my wife with me where she’s loved. I couldn’t, the rudeness that you’re giving her is not helping her. She’s a lovely lady and I’m not having her upset’. So I got a job in Denmark, as working for Polly Peck dresses. It’s not the Polly Peck that you know now. And the job was, I was agent for Denmark, Norway and Sweden for the clothing, Polly Peck’s clothing, and I went to Denmark. I got my, through the, I got the papers signed that I was an agent, and I started and I got, I got, I was selling for some of the big stores in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and I was doing quite well until Polly Peck, one day, did not deliver the goods and they were going to sue me for loss of profits. So, what did I do? I thought, Alan, time to go to the embassy. British embassy. So I went to the embassy, and I introduced myself, and I was introduced to the, the, the member that is in charge of commerce. The commercial -
Other: Attaché.
AC: Attaché. And he said to me, ‘Nice to meet you. I’ll do you a favour if you do me a favour’, and so I thought, well, how can it go wrong. So he said to me, ‘If, if you take an hour and a half or a couple of hours every time you visit [unclear], or parts of Copenhagen or Aarhus or around Denmark, will you give me the time to take a few samples? I’ll give you the samples and will you show them?’ I said, ‘Yes’. What could I to lose? So he, he, I, I, I took that, and he gave me samples, and one sample was of a rug. A car rug. And this car rug was beautifully made with a story. When they sold it, there was a story of the mills [unclear] in Manchester. One of the places near Manchester. I can’t remember the name of it. And I got a very big order from Magisin du Nord, one of the biggest stores in Copenhagen. A very big order. And that gave me a beautiful living. I was, and he gave me the agency for it. I had the agency even when I left Denmark, that agency kept on paying me and that was one thing, and then I did, still did, still did the Polly Peck things, ‘cause Polly Peck got a very nice letter from Her Majesty, er, His Majesty’s government. I think it was the King was dead. It was her majesty then. I think the King died. King George the sixth died in –
CB: ‘52 yeah.
AC: ‘52. So I was in Denmark after that, with my wife. So, I got, so how am I doing now? I’ve got to where?
CB: You got the agency for this.
AC: Yes, I got the agency, which gave me and also, he said to me, ‘You know, Alan,’ he said, because we were on terms of like Alan and whatever his name was. You know, there’s a slack season in the, in the fashion business. I have a friend that runs a [unclear] brewery, he runs a place making bottles. Now if you’re stuck for a job, you just give my name, and he’ll give you work. Well, there was a time I went down there, and I says, ‘I’ve been sent by the British embassy attaché for, - and my name is Alan Coller’. ‘Oh yes, we know about that’. ‘Can I have work?’ So they gave me work sweeping the glass to put into trailers and then take it away. It was really rotten work, and then they gave me a job of when the, when the molten glass goes down into the, if it went wrong, the glass would then go into the basement into, into water. Well, if you’re not quick getting it out, it gets solid glass, so my job was for half an hour, going down and pulling the molten glass out of it into a barrow, into a barrow, into a barrow, before the molten glass starts to climb.
CB: Yeah.
AC: Terrible job. Right. That was that job, then, I had to do, if there was nothing to do with the molten glass, I had to check the compressors to see that the compressors were working. So, I then went to the compressors, made the notes, and then one day, I felt very, very tired and I thought, Oh Alan, for God’s sake, how are you going to stay awake? ‘Cause I was on nightshift on that particular one. I really felt tired. How are you going to stay awake? I said, ‘I know. I’ll clean the machines’, because they were filthy. The compressors were absolutely terrible. So what did I do? Better to do than do nothing. I cleaned them, and I brought the polish up and everything, and in the morning, I go up. I think I finished at seven in the morning. The foreman said to me, ‘Did you, by any chance, clean the compressors?’ In that tone of voice. I thought, I’m in trouble here. The union, you know. I thought, oh bloody hell. What have I done? I said, ‘Yes, I did.’ ‘Well you made a very good job of them’, he said, ‘and I’ve got a better job for you now’. So I got a better job being a [unclear] it’s called. The [unclear] is Danish, for it’s a long line that goes along with eighteen bottles on it one beside the other. If the machine goes wrong, all the bottles fall down, and they’ve lost a shift, so my job was to be there to watch the bottles going down, which was a nice easy job. I could wear a, I could wear a suit. So I was good at it, because I’m not being rude about the Danes, but the workers, there would have a drink, a good old drink, and they were not capable of looking straight. I never took a drink at night. My idea of work, was to work and keep my head clear, so I did this, and that’s the job I got, and I was being well paid. Well paid for the job. And so, between that, and bits and pieces I was earning, so I got a flat for my wife. She was staying with her mother and father. I got a flat. I got enough money to pay for a flat to live in in a nice part of Denmark. Beautiful flat, and I stayed there for nearly two years, and then my father, he got unhappy and he wrote me a letter, to say please come back. I want to see. And I had a baby by then, took the baby with me from England, and the baby was nearly two years old when it came back to London, but I still got money from the, from the I’ll show you one. I’ve still got one of the blankets.
CB: Right.
AC: That I sold.
CB: So, when did you retire from that? Well, you came back to Britain after that did you?
AC: I came back to Britain and I then, then my wife, this is where my wife comes in, bless her. She said, ‘Alan, I’m fed up with you travelling all over the country and coming all around. I never see you. I’ve got an idea’. I said, ‘What’s the idea?’ She says, ‘I want you to be a driving instructor’. I said, ‘But I can drive, but I don’t know if I can teach to drive’. I mean, teaching and driving. So, and she said, ‘What I’ll do’, she says, ‘Alan, I’ll take a part time job while you do the course. I’ll take a job’, ‘cause she was a hatter. She was also a milliner. ‘I’ll take a job, and that will pay for the money that you’ll lose’, by not, so I went to the British School of Motoring, who then sent me to a course, a two weeks course, and I did the two weeks course and I passed, and then they sent me to Swiss cottage, where I started to work for them, but I had to work, I had to work for two years for them, because I wasn’t paying anything to them. They taught me, so they were paying me, maybe a small ten pound a week or something, something ridiculous, but anyway, I’d learned how to teach to drive. Not the way BSM wanted me to teach, because I learned from BSM, their idea of teaching, was to get money for lessons. Not so much as to teach them and get rid of them, which I thought was the right way of doing it, was to teach them and say goodbye to them. Not keep them because the money was coming in. The manager did it, because he had to do so many, a car had to do so many hours per day, for him to keep the car, but I couldn’t give a damn about that. I wasn’t going to do, my pupils had to be treated, so anyway I then, after the two year period, I went on my own, and being honest, I didn’t advertise. I said to the pupils, ‘I’m leaving the company, and if you want my name, it’s in the telephone book’. No cards, no nothing, so I wasn’t disobeying the rules, and then I, the first week I worked, I was earning three hundred pounds. First week. I had twelve pupils said they’d go with me, and I think eight went with me. Those eight snowballed. That was wonderful, I couldn’t believe it. A little bit of whether God was having a nice time with me, and I earned a living, and I did that right up until 1989 or something like that I worked, and then I, I became I retired.
CB: Amazing. Thank you.
[machine pause]
AC: But the -
CB: Alan, we’ve skated over a bit about when you got attacked from the air. So what circumstances did you know of, or get bombed?
AC: Well the circumstances, they dropped bombs in Highgate, I knew. They had a Messerschmitt 109 brought down near Highgate, and it was before we moved to Luton. Must have been in 1940, and we heard suddenly, it was at night time, it wasn’t a daylight one, and suddenly I heard a screaming. You couldn’t miss it, the screaming bomb, and I wondered where the hell it was, is it going to land on me, or was it going to land - it landed about, I would say, from where I’m living now, would have been about a fifteen minutes walk towards Temple Fortune.
CB: But then how close was it to you?
AC: Well, that was about fifteen or twenty minutes.
CB: When you were on the, in the war.
AC: In the war. Yeah.
CB: You heard it coming.
AC: I heard it coming. I wondered where it was going. I didn’t run under a table or nothing. I just heard – scree - and then it hit Hoop, between Hoop Lane, the top of Hoop Lane, and the Finchley Road.
CB: Right.
AC: So there’s the pinpoint.
CB: Yeah.
AC: And I think the house was demolished. Demolished completely. And shrapnel had hit the church. So, the shrapnel, if anybody wanted to go, I’d say look, these marks here, they’re shrapnel marks. So that’s the only thing I can say about this bomb, and never in my life, I’ve heard the noise on, when they’ve had it on the television. A screaming bomb. I never thought it would come near me.
CB: No.
AC: But then in Luton, when my father moved to Luton, he was bombed again on the Monday. He arrived on the Friday, and was bombed on the Monday, but it hadn’t put him out of business. It had just damaged a few windows, which they repaired. But he took his whole staff down there, and he bought a house and put them in.
CB: How many people did he employ?
AC: He employed about thirteen people, but he had to, he had to, to keep the factory going, and they stayed, and they came to Luton and, yeah, they lived, they had to live, I don’t know whether it was two to a bed, or three to a bed. It wasn’t easy. Some of them managed to find a friend or so and stay, but most of them lived -
CB: These were women workers, were they?
AC: And they had a few men, yeah. The blockers were the men. The one that did the blocking, you know.
CB: What’s that mean?
AC: The hats had to be put on blocks. Very hot. And it steams comes down. The shapes. They had them made. My father used to have the blocks made for his style of hat, and then they’d take it, and then it used to be on a machine.
Other: A press.
AC: A press, yeah. Steamed. He wouldn’t let me work there. Well, I’m pleased he didn’t, ‘cause he said it was no good to your health. I did everything else. He was worried about me there, and he didn’t let me work
CB: No. And in the RAF? What experience did you have of bombing there?
AC: Um, well, that was the only. Let me think of the bombing in the RAF. Oh yes, it’s in, when we went to Skegness, we were told that we mustn’t march, we must not be too close to one another, because they’d had a bomb in there. We were told that, but when I was there, there was no bombing at all, so I was lucky to that extent.
CB: Yeah.
AC: They had strafed the, and machine gunned the troops, so we were told we must scatter. We couldn’t keep, if we marching anywhere. We did do, what we did, one of the by things, and I was pretty good at it, we did what we call a sixteen mile march, but they didn’t tell us it was sixteen miles. They showed us, they showed us, they’re clever you know, they showed us this pylon, I could see and we’re going to march there. I thought, that’s nice. They didn’t tell us how we were going to get there. They didn’t go like that - they went -
CB: All the way around.
AC: All the way around and that was eight miles.
CB: Was it? Right.,
AC: Now a lot of the boys, they hadn’t been in the, they hadn’t joined the Air Training Corps, weren’t used to the boots, and they took their boots off after about five or six miles. I said, ‘Don’t take them off. You won’t put them on again’. They didn’t listen. They got charged. They had to be picked up by the ambulance, because they weren’t, they didn’t, I said to them, ‘Don’t take your boots off’. And I was used to playing in a band of a sort. I used to play the triangle in the Air Training Corps, and I could make a little tune up, and I kept them in, left and right, all in order. Now when we were marching, I put a cheeky little song on, you know, to cheer them up, and then march, and the corporal was happy. The sergeant was happy. They didn’t mind what I did, as long as they were, but the ones that didn’t listen to me, that took their boots off, were in real trouble.
CB: So that’s in the RAF. When did you join the ATC?
AC: Ah.
CB: And what did you do?
AC: I joined the ATC in 1941, which is on my thing there and I built myself up. I don’t know what rank I got there. I didn’t get to corporal. I think I got to, like towards the LAC, but Mr Waller, who was the commanding officer there, one of the office, one of the main officers was a Mr Waller, and Mr Waller used to buy hats from my father. Yeah. And my father tried to tell him not to let me get in the, in to any fighting or anything.
CB: No.
AC: But I said to Mr Waller, ‘whatever my father told you, forget it for goodness sake’. He thought, you know, I’ll give you the hats at a special price if you do. It was a little bit of that, but I wasn’t pleased with that.
CB: Right, no. So, finally, what about when you were in civilian life?
AC: Yes.
CB: And you joined Associations. What did you join?
AC: Well, the first one I joined automatically, was the Royal Air Force Association. I never even thought about the Bomber Command, until I met a friend who was in Bomber Command. I thought, he said, ‘Alan, you were in a bomber station’. I said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘Well, why don’t you join Bomber Command?’ Then I joined Bomber Command.
CB: Right. Association.
AC: Association, ‘cause I thought that’s really what I was.
CB: Yes.
AC: And he’s died now, but he was one of the clan. He was an, he was, he went on bombing raids, which I appreciated. I didn’t. I went up flying. I’ve been up flying. I told you. I’ll tell you I went up in a Whitley.
CB: Oh, right.
AC: I called it, we called it the flying coffin, ‘cause it was so slow, that a German could even put the gun up and find out, if it was over there, he’d be ready to shoot it when it got to there. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the, you’ve heard of the -
CB: So, what did you do on the Whitley?
AC: The Whitley I was taken, I don’t know, I was taken somewhere.
CB: Yeah.
AC: I wasn’t on a, it wasn’t a joy trip. I did a joy trip when I was in the Air Training Corps. I did the, I hiked a ride on a Tiger Moth. Where they did the loop the loop. I wasn’t to know he was going to do the loop the loop. We all went on, you know, we went on from our station in Luton.
CB: Yes.
AC: To, I’ve forgotten the name. It’s in Oxfordshire. Some airport, and we had to hitch a ride, so I called, I saw this officer walking, and I said, ‘Excuse me sir, can I have a lift?’ ‘Yes you can’. He says, ‘Go and get your parachute’. So I get my parachute, come back. In this Tiger Moth, I didn’t know what he was going to do. All of a sudden, I was tied in, all of a sudden, he does this loop the loop, and the pressure on my neck. He could, he could have warned me.
CB: Yeah.
AC: He didn’t. But at least they said, when I came down, ‘Was that you up there, Alan’. I said, ‘Yes, it was’. ‘Oh, you lucky sod’, you know.
CB: Right. I’m going to stop there.
AC: Yeah.
CB: Thank you very much, Alan.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Allan Stanley Coller,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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