Interview with Ronald Davis


Interview with Ronald Davis


Ronald Davis grew up in the East End and worked in London as a solicitor’s office boy. He joined the RAF and served as a fitter airframe.



IBCC Digital Archvie




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01:01:29 audio recording






AS: Okay, I think we’re in business.
RD: Right.
AS: I think everything’s switched on. Yep. So, this is Andrew Sadler interviewing Ronald Davis on Tuesday the 29th of September 2015 for the Bomber Command Archive. Thank you for letting us interview you, Ronald. I’d like to start by asking you about your family and where you were born and when.
RD: Yeah. I was born in the city of London on the 2nd of March 1922 which makes me ninety-three years and six months, and almost seven months, and my family lived in the East, East End of London. After their marriage my parents first moved into a couple of rooms in New North Road, London, N1, but after my birth they moved into a flat in Bancroft Road, London, E1. I think it was number twenty-three, no, number thirty-one, and my grandmother, who was widowed at forty years of age with eight children, lived in number twenty-three. And they were very, very difficult times. Things progressed, and at 1940 because of conditions – before that in 1929, my parents moved from Bancroft Road to Clarkson Street which is in Bethnal Green. It was a bit downmarket to where we were, but it was a whole house and there were four children and my parents who lived there. My mother and father had been born in England. My father was a, he called himself a machiner [emphasis on ‘er’] but they call themselves machinists [emphasis on ‘ists’] these days, in the, in the ladies fashions. My mother, had been a secretary to the chairman manager of the Palladium Theatre in London, and saw every show that was ever on from 1918 to when I was born, and she knew most of the theatrical people, or entertainment people. But she was very well educated, these days she would have been good enough to go on to university, but her parents who were foreign didn’t, didn’t know of any such things. I left school age fourteen and went to work as a solicitors clark in the city, Great Winchester Street, where my pay was fifteen shillings per week. And after nine months I was told that I’d better start looking for another job, not because I wasn’t any good but because they would have to give me a rise in three months, but they could get another little boy in for fifteen shillings to do my job. So I transferred to a junior clark, by that time I knew [laughs] my way around the office about all, but I became a junior clark in a solicitors office in Chancery Lane, London WC2, which was the centre of the legal world, very close to the law courts. And there I learnt a lot in a very short time because at the beginning of war business was so bad my boss had to take a job in the high court as some sort of assistant – I never knew what he did because he never told me that he took the job, I just found out by chance. He, I think he was ashamed to tell me that he – so basically he left me running this office aged eighteen or seventeen to eighteen years and I learnt a lot in that time. In nineteen, the end of 1940 when I was eighteen, I told my dad that wanted to go into the Air Force, I had no wish to go into the army, I’d great interest in aeroplanes at that time, and whilst my dad told me I was an idiot for volunteering for anything, he understood exactly what I wanted to do and I had his blessing. And at eighteen I went up to Whitehall, and, recruiting office, and was eventually sent to Carding, Cardington for assessment.
AS: Can I ask, was your father involved in the first war?
RD: My father was [emphasis] involved in the first war. He, he was the son of immigrants and as a result there was a doubt about the loyalty at the time, so he wasn’t allowed to go into any of the services, but he volunteered to go in as a steward at an officers mess in RAF, sorry, RFC, Royal Flying Core Netheravon in Somerset, I think it’s Somerset, but down, that part of the world –
AS: And your father had come from Russia?
RD: No, no, my father was born in England.
AS: Sorry.
RD: My father was born in England, he might have been two when he came, but so he was obviously a foreign national –
AS: Oh, I see.
RD: And for that reason couldn’t, couldn’t join any of the services.
AS: It was his father that had –
RD: Emigrated –
AS: Emigrated from Russia?
RD: From Russia, yes.
AS: Yes, right.
RD: But I think my father might have been two years old when he came. But basically he was educated in England. He never had any accent whatsoever, he was as good as British born. But I think because of that, he couldn’t enrol in the services, so when he was twenty he went in as a steward at the officers mess at R, RFC Netheravon. And I have a photograph which you’ve seen of him at that time.
AS: Why did you choose to go for the RAF?
RD: When, when I was fifteen, or sixteen, working as a solicitors clark, I had two weeks holiday. Couldn’t afford to go away at that time, so my grandmother, who lived in Golders Green said I could go and stay with her for two weeks. So I got on my bike and rode from the East End to Golders Green where I stayed. And on my first day riding around from Golders Green I came across Hendon Airfield [emphasis], on the, what was called the Watford Way [?] at Hendon, which was just a couple of miles from Golders Green, and there I used to go in the morning with my sandwiches and drink and sit on a stile all day long watching these little tiny aeroplanes taking off and landing and, great excitement. And that interest, first interest, I got first interested in aeroplanes and after that I used to make models and things like that. So I was, I was always minded that this is great. And at eighteen I decided that I wanted to be sure to go into the Air Force, I didn’t want to wait for, erm, I forgotten what they call it now, when they call you up, erm – well I didn’t want to wait to be called [emphasis] up and possibly go into the army, was interest was the Air Force. So I decided to volunteer, I told my mum and dad, and they both thought I was crazy but in the end they agreed and understood that I would have to be enrolled and I would then be doing what I wanted and they agreed. So I went off to the RAF recruitment office in Whitehall, where a few weeks later I was called for assessment, and then sent off to RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire to be kitted out, and taught what the RAF was about. From there, where I only spent a couple of weeks, two weeks I think, we were transferred to training, sort of what we called square bashing, that’s drilling and firearm drills and things of that sort to Bournemouth. And at Bournemouth I was put into an old boarding house, Mrs Pepper, I will never forget, and for the first time in my life [laughs] aged eighteen I had a bedroom to myself [emphasis]. Previously I always had to share with my brothers, my brother and sisters. And there, in Bournemouth we did our square bashing on the front promenade near the pier, until one day German aeroplane came in and wiped out a complete troop just by, just because they were standing on the front basically. After that they changed things so that we did our training around the backstreets around Meyrick Park at Bournemouth. That took six weeks as far as I remember, and from there I was posted direct to a squadron at Scampton in Lincolnshire, which was 49 Squadron, flying Handley Page Hampdens, which was a twin boom, twin engine aircraft. As far as I know it was built in Quickwood High Road at the Handley Page factory there, and I’m not sure how they got it to an airfield from there [laughs] but they must have taken the parts and assembled them and then they flew off. And there were two squadrons at Scampton; 49 Squadrons which I joined, and also 83 Squadron, who shared the field. It was an airfield without runways, so that whenever it rained the aircraft coming back would very often sink their up to their axel, axels in mud, and then we used to have to go out with our equipment and lift them up and get them off on, on, in various ways. Work was not difficult because we were overmanned with men at that time; there were, the Air Force was growing but the equipment wasn’t growing and, so consequently you had about eight men per aeroplane to look after it when basically two could have done it very easily. But I learnt a lot there, about my job. Flights, bombing flights were always at night. We rarely bombed during the day. Later on in the war when the Americans came in, they did the daylight bombing, and they did their bombing in formation lead by one navigator, whereas every RAF plane had its own navigator and made its way to the target. The bombing raids used to leave, depending on where they were going, early evening and be back at, because flights were about eight hours [emphasis]to if they went to the far parts of Germany, about six hours if they went to the nearer parts of Germany. And we used to have to do a twenty-four hour duty every three nights. So you worked for three days, on the fourth day you worked twenty-four hours and the fifth day off, other than that there was no time off at all. It was a very strange feeling when you prepared your aeroplane to go off on a bombing raid, knowing the risks and just hoping in every way that they would come back safe and sound. And if they didn’t come back then you certainly felt a family loss. You know, we were all so close to one another, the aircrew and the ground crew knew each other, and it was like losing a member of one’s family, which was a horrible feeling. The worst raid I can remember was the night we – it was soon after Christmas, it might have been the day after Boxing Day or something. We stood down for two days over Christmas, there was no flying, and either forty-two or, it must have been forty-two, Christmas forty-two, when we went after the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau that was sailing through the British Channel to get to the Baltic, and we’d been expecting it for some time and we were bombed up with armour piercing bombs for days on end, and then on the day they actually moved to, during that Christmas period, we had the wrong bombs on and for a, we had to change the bombs and get them off which took some time, and on that day, as far as I can remember, the squadron was twelve aeroplanes, six of our aeroplanes didn’t come back, including my crew where the pilot was a guy called, I never knew his Christian name, he was just called Aussie Holt, he was an Australian pilot, Sergeant Aussie Holt, and he and his crew never came back, and that was a terrible loss for me, my P for Peter aeroplane. Although I was young I was very sensitive about this sort of thing. This went on until 1940, end of forty-two, beginning of forty-three, when the new four engine aeroplanes were coming in, and they could not land at Scampton because they didn’t have any runways. So we were transferred from Scampton to Coddington Hall Airdrome near Newark. One part was called Thrumpton Hall and the other one was called Winthorpe, which was just outside Newark, not very far, probably what eighteen miles from Lincoln. And there were equipped with initially Manchester aircraft which was a, the same body as a Lancaster but with two engines, two large radial engines that flew this thing but it was a bit slow, and eventually the Manchester was converted into the Lancaster with four Merlin engines which made it an absolute super aircraft which carried a very, very large bomb load and could go, fly a very long distance. And from there, the 49 Squadron, having been scrapped with the Hampdens, all the crews from 49 Squadron came with us to the conversion unit at Coddington Hall, and there they were, we were converted to maintaining the four engine aircraft and they were converted to flying the four. I would always when possible try and go up on tests. We had a thing where if you touched an aeroplane to service it, it was a good idea to let you fly in it to make sure that there was no shortcuts, and I used to fly quite a lot. We also used to have to tow [emphasis] the aircraft all over the shop for compass swinging and various maintenance things that went on in the hangers because we were out in the open around the airfield. How much more?
AS: How did you decide, how did you decide that you were going to be part of the ground crew?
RD: I, no, I didn’t. I was initially I was recruited for aircrew, but very soon after I joined I was told I was not fit for aircrew because of my eyes. I only functioned on one eye, as I still do, I got one good eye and one bad eye. My left eye is basically useless even today, so I was not fit to be aircrew because of my eyesight. And as a result I just remained in the Air Force as ground crew. I did my, you know, I admitted that didn’t I, I did my – when I left Bournemouth where I did my square bashing for six weeks, I was posted to RAF Cardington near Ailesbury in Buck, Buckinghamshire. No that was where [pause], I’ve forgotten. I was transferred near Buckinghamshire, near Ailesbury, a permanent RAF station which was number one school of technical training. I’ll think of it in a moment. Number one school of technical training. There I did a six month course as air fitter A-frame [?], and after six months I was passed out, qualified, and then sent to Scampton as an engineer, but I did six months training at erm, I can’t even remember now, Holton [emphasis], Holton in Bedfordshire, near Ailesbury, and that was a wonderful technical training school where we had excellent instructors who were RAF men. Some were [unclear] actually, but we got our training and – which included maintenance of the aircraft. An air frame, air frame fitter [emphasis] looked after the whole aeroplane except the engine. The engine was dealt with by an engine fitter, but other than that the air frame fitter did the rest of the air frame, except for electricians, electrical, which electricians did, and armourers who dealt with the bombing, bombing up and the equipment for dropping the bombs and things like that. But the rest of aircraft, and of course, a Lancaster was quite a big aeroplane so there was quite a lot of work to do, although thinking back, not a lot went wrong, it was just maintenance of checking this and checking that. [Pause] erm, what else?
AS: How, how long – I mean when an aircraft flew, how long did it take to prepare it?
RD: It would depend. First of all, depending on where it was going, whether its tanks were to be, its fuel tank were to be full or three-quarters or seven-eighths, it made a lot of difference to the weight of the aircraft as to how many bombs it could carry. And, so it would take most of the afternoon to get it ready to fly off in the evening. It would just stand there during the, during the rest of the day. Now, apart from refuelling, we had to do our daily routine checks, and then the bombs came along, and as far as I remember, the Hampden carried two one-thousand pound bombs in the bomb chamber and two or four two-hundred-and-fifty pound bombs under the wings, depending how far they were going. On one occasion we were going to bomb Milan [emphasis], which seemed to be a hell of a long way to go, and the nearest spot in England to Milan to my amazement, and I still can’t see how it is but that’s what was said, we had to – the ground crews – the aircrews flew their aeroplanes to Cornwall, an aeroplane, an airdrome in Cornwall, and we crew, ground crew, flew in a Handley Page Harrow, which was a very large aircraft with fabric sides and the sides would flap as you were [laughs], as you were flying, and it carried about twelve, fourteen people, perhaps more. And we flew down to Cornwall and they took off from Cornwall to fly to Milan. They were away ten hours for that trip. Very, very long trip, must have been so uncomfortable for the crew, particularly the lower rear gunner who sat in his capella [?] with his legs up in the air like this for ten, absolutely frozen stiff for ten hours. Then they got back to Cornwall, can’t remember any losses on that trip, got back to Cornwall, and they landed, and we put some fuel in and then we all flew back to Scampton. That was a particularly long trip, but generally trips to Cologne would take about six hours. But further western Germany would probably take eight or nine hours. They were away for an awfully long time. You have to remember these aeroplanes were very slow, they didn’t do more than about two hundred miles an hour downwind, you know, and when they were loaded up they were probably only at one-hundred-and-eighty miles an hour. So there was a long time, but later on with the Lancasters obviously they flew very much quicker. Erm, what else?
AS: How often do the, did the planes go out? Did they go out every night, or –
RD: Well, sometimes it would be every night. It would depend on the weather. It would depend on whether it was clear for takeoff, and weather forecasts, the weather forecasts in those days was pretty poor, but they did have weather forecasts to be sure they could get back in clear weather. But I would say on average I think the squadron did four, four or five bombing trips a week.
AS: So pretty busy.
RD: Oh yes, oh yes. Oh yes, when the weather was good it could be every night. But not all crews went every night. Ground crews were there all the time but the aircrews, there were more aircrews than aeroplanes.
AS: And the chaps in the aircrews, I mean you must have got to know them well?
RD: Of course.
AS: And what about, as the war went on, weren’t there a lot of losses?
RD: Tremendous losses. As I said before, it used to affect me emotionally, all these great guys, you know, this was the cream of Bristish youth basically, because they were all young, some under twenty. Oh yes, we knew them all. One funny story that I remember to this day was Aussie Holt’s crew, who were a mixture of Australian and English guys, might have been Canadian I don’t know, had a ritual before they took off on a bombing raid. They used to all pee up against the tail wheel just for, for luck, and within three days of this happening there was a note on the DROs, which is Daily Routine Orders, which is orders to everybody about what to do on the squadron. The Daily Routine Orders said ‘promiscuous urination against tail or other wheels is to cease forthwith’ [laughs]. ‘Promiscuous urination’ [laughs] I remember the words to this day. I thought that was very funny. Erm, that was that.
AS: So you had, so really you were, you were working sort of four days on and one day off.
RD: Three days on.
AS: Three days on.
RD: Three days on [emphasis] –
AS: Yes.
RD: And one day. No, no, the fourth day you worked twenty-four hours –
AS: Yes –
RD: And the fifth day you had off.
AS: Yes.
RD: Yep.
AS: So what did you do when you had your day off?
RD: When I had my day off, when I was at Lincoln, we used to get – bearing in mind our money at that time was two shillings per day, which is fourteen shillings per week, I used to send ten shillings home to my mother who by that time was widowed ‘cause my father died in 1943. And he, he died of tuberculosis, and if he’d lived another couple of years he would have survived because penicillin came in. But unfortunately he died in forty-three, so my mother was a widow with four children, one in the Air Force, one working and two still at school, and times were hard. So of my fourteen shillings, ten shillings used to go to my mother, and four shillings was my spending money for the week. So we didn’t live [laughs] the life of O’Reilly. So on our day off, we would obviously sleep [emphasis] until, we didn’t really go to bed about four, five in the morning, we slept ‘till about twelve, one, two, and then we got up and had our shower and went into Lincoln, where, which was the nearest town. We used to go in by bus and spend our time in Lincoln. I always had a problem with the food on camp which was not very good. It was wonderful food, spoiled by terrible cooks [laughs] and I was never very keen on food, but obviously I had to eat what I could. So when I went into town I always went into a café, whilst the boys always went to the pub I went into the café and had a meal and then, then, then I would go – the meal would probably consist of egg on toast [laughs], or Welsh rarebit with an egg on top or something, something of that sort, very, there was no question of having a proper meal. A, we couldn’t afford it and B, there was very strict rationing of food. So that, that was, and basically we played darts and tried to chat up the local girls and things of that sort, but there was very little to do anywhere.
AS: Was there any particular pubs you used to go to?
RD: There were but I can’t remember them. I remember we used to come off the bus, I remember we coming in from Scampton, so we coming in from the East, and the bus used to drop us near the high street where the bridge went over the water, and there was a pub round to the left but I can’t, I can’t remember the names.
AS: Yeah, it was near the Stonebow Arch I think –
RD: Yes.
AS: Wasn’t it?
RD: That’s right, that’s right.
AS: Yes. It was a, there was a pub, as I understand it as I wasn’t there, on, in the high street along there –
RD: No, no. We never, it wasn’t in the high street. It was round the back of Stonebow, you remember, I, you maybe recall now. Yes we used to go under the Stonebow, up towards the cathedral [emphasis] more, it was all really quiet near the cathedral but before the cathedral there was a pub there, but for the life of me I couldn’t, I couldn’t remember it now. And that basically was what we did. And then, because busses didn’t run very late, probably five or six o’clock, by the time we were ready to go home at eight, nine we used to have to walk the five miles from Lincoln to Scampton [laughs] which was the end of a fun day.
AS: So that was, so –
RD: So it was about five miles I think.
AS: So you were probably doing that for about, were you about three years in Lincoln?
RD: Yeah.
AS: Something like that.
RD: Yeah, yeah.
AS: And did you have any –
RD: No, no, two years.
AS: Two years.
RD: And then we went to Newark where the airdrome was much closer to town. I remember we used to walk down the hill from Coddington Hall, past the Ransome Marles factory there – does that still exist there?
AS: I don’t know –
RD: They were ball bearing manufacturers.
AS: No, I don’t think so.
RD: No, we used to go past the Ransome and Marles factory into Newark, and there we basically did the same thing. Had some fish and chips, couple of beers, and yeah. We also used to sometimes cycle into town, and from Newark we used to go to the smallest city in the UK, Southwell, which was, they used to call it Southwell [pronounced Suthull].
AS: Yes.
RD: But Southwell, there was a pub there, almost opposite the cathedral, where we used to hang out there, play darts there and there were some girls who lived nearby who used to come in and sometimes take us home for a cup of tea and things like that. And then on a special [emphasis] occasion we would get the train from Newark to Nottingham. Now Nottingham was a big city, I liked Nottingham very much. There I was in 1943, when my father died – in the Jewish religion for a year after the death of a parent, you have to say a special prayer and there, and there, and there in Nottingham was the nearest synagogue, so I used to go to Nottingham, I used to go on Friday night, stay in the YMCA in Nottingham overnight for very little, and then go to the synagogue which was just down the road from the YMCA, and, to say these special prayers, and there I would be invited by various families to lunch on Saturday, which is as you know the Jewish Sabbath. And after lunch I would have a walk round with them then I would go back to the station, back to camp, because I’d only have twenty-four hours off. But Nottingham was a very happy place to me, I met a lot of people there, civilians, girls, and – the prettiest girls in Britain come from Nottingham, you know that do you? [Laughs], they say.
AS: My wife did.
RD: Well there you are [laughs], you’ve proved it [laughs]. But Nottingham was a great place for me, and by a strange coincidence, one of my closest friends, post war, became manager of a very large factory there, and we were involved in business and what have you, and I used to travel up to Nottingham for a long time, so I became, I knew Nottingham well. And then in 1945 the war ended, and VE Day, it was rumoured that a large number of Bomber Command squadrons would be going out to the Far East, ‘cause prior to that there had been no heavy bombers outside of Britain because there was obviously nowhere for them to land [emphasis]. So we were going out to the Far East, but before one aeroplane took off to go, VJ Day came so that was hit on the head. And I, the squadron was disbanded and I went, was posted to Number One Signals Depot at West Drayton at West London, which was very handy for home, and by that time we were getting weekends off and things that, so I used to go home at weekends. But I was deferred demobilisation for a long time because, although I’d served five and a half years, you, your demobilisation depended on the length of service and your age [emphasis]. Well I started at eighteen whereas most of them started at twenty-one, which meant that I was way down the list for discharge when it came to numbers, even though I did, I’d served for five and a half years, and I wasn’t demobilised until July forty-six. So it was a year after the end of the war. And then I – I’d had this open air life for five and a half years and I hadn’t the faintest idea what I wanted to do. I certainly didn’t want to go back to the solicitors’ office, I didn’t want to go back anywhere indoors. I thought I must [emphasis] be outside and what could I do, I thought I would become a commercial traveller. What made me think of that I haven’t the faintest idea but it was soon quashed because when I came home on demobilisation leave my mother, God rest her soul, said ‘I’ve found you a job in the solicitors’ office’ [laughs] and when my mother said that you didn’t say no [laughs]. And so I went then to work for my uncle who had a practice in the city of London in Finsbury Square and started all over again training. I never qualified as a solicitor but did, I did become what they now call a chartered legal executive, which is basically – we ran all solicitors’ offices, [laughs] we did the work. And that I did until I retired at seventy-two. I did have quite a bit of success in the business and fixed myself up with investments and pensions and things of that sort and I retired very comfortably at seventy-two.
AS: Did you work in the city of London –
RD: Yes. From Finsbury Square – when my uncle died in 1980, I had problems as to whether I bring in another solicitor to help me run things or amalgamate it. And by an amazing coincidence I met somebody in the tube by chance who said, ‘Ron, we’ve got an advert going in the Times tomorrow for a senior executive that would suit you down to the ground.’ And I said ‘well, thank you very much but I’ve got this practice should keep me going seven days a week.’ And he said ‘I’ll come and see you tomorrow’ and from then they amalgamated, or took me in on an amalgamation and they were a large firm with fourteen, fourteen partners in Fleet Street, and very good commercial legal office. And I realised that by putting my practice into a much larger practice, A, it would cut out my rent, A, it would cut down all my administration costs, and whatever I earned was basically profit because they already had all the – that worked out very, very successfully for them and myself. During my time there, I’d lost my wife very tragically aged forty-seven, and my daughter – I had a son and a daughter, my daughter went off and bought her own flat, and my son and I were living in this four bedroom house just using it as a dormitory, and so I said ‘well I think we’ll move into town,’ and that’s when I bought a flat on, below Blackfriars Bridge, about four-hundred yards east of Festival Hall, and this flat looked over, every room looked over the, overlooked the river. It was a beautiful view from there, and I used to walk to work in Fleet Street in ten minutes –
AS: Very good.
RD: And for London that is unheard of [laughs]. And I lived there until I married Pat in 1990. She had no wish to live there – it was a lovely flat but she had no wish to live there because no community and everybody used to skip off for the weekend. There was just no community there, and that’s when we came to end up [?] –
AS: So you found it quite easy to settle back into civilian life?
RD: No, I didn’t.
AS: You didn’t.
RD: No. I more than once, more than once considered throwing myself under a train because I was so unhappy at the – but after a while it was probably, by the time I was going out with my first wife and my life taken on a bit of a change that I realised ‘don’t be an idiot, just get on with it,’ and I did. And that was all, but initially for the first few weeks I seriously –
AS: You, you missed your colleagues?
RD: I missed everything. I missed the excitement, I missed the tragedy, I missed my colleagues, and I missed the travelling, because in my last year I was travelling all over the country, that sort of thing. I mean, it was probably a bit stupid really, I went in at eighteen, and an eighteen year old in 1940 was not like an eighteen year old in 2015. I had never bought myself a pair of socks [emphasis] at eighteen, my mother did all the buying, I never had enough money to indulge in anything. And so I was very unsophisticated at eighteen, but being from the East End of London I was streetwise. That was my, in my opinion, that was my saving grace, that I was streetwise. Unsophisticated but streetwise. I knew my way around and I knew how to handle myself which was very important at times like that. And, but I have to say, for that short period afterwards I did have this problem of –
AS: And what about your comrades, I mean, have you, did you or have you kept in touch with them?
RD: I have, there is, there were two guys from London, Ron Cawte, C-A-W-T-E, and Ernie Creckendon, Creckendon, C-R-E-C-K-E-N-D-O-N, who were very close buddies of mine. We went on holiday during our demobilisation leave to Jersey and we used to meet up, we used to meet up, not regularly but probably three or four times a year. But then after I got married, when we married in forty-nine, I got tied up with work and marriage, there was no time and I lost touch with them. The other guy I kept in touch with for a long time was from Glasgow, his name was Alec Hall, and he used to come down for the England Scotland soccer games, well which took place at that time, and I always used to meet him, we used to go to Wembley together and I met him, in fact I used to stay with him in Glasgow when I was stationed up in Leuchars with Number One Signals unit at the beginning of forty-six. We used to stay – he was demobbed by then and working and he used to invite me down to Glasgow for weekends. I kept in touch with him for a long time but I’m not in touch with any of them now, unfortunately.
AS: When you, when you were in Lincolnshire, at Scampton and Newark, what was the, what sort of living conditions did you have? Where were you billeted?
RD: Ah. Now, at Scampton we were very well – Scampton was a permanent, what we called a permanent station, so they had brick built blocks where we lived in dormitories of about twenty-four or twenty-six with washing facilities. When we – and the cookhouse where we ate was a brick built buildings with proper kitchens and things of that sort when I, when I was, when I was at in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Holton. They also had brick built because that was a permanent station. They had brick built buildings, but when we were doing our training out on the airfield the cooking was done on campfires out on the airfield which was horrible, horrible food. Then when I went to Winthorpe, again they were Nissan Huts with twelve or fourteen airmen in them, no washing facilities – when you got up you had to walk across the field to the ablutions and showers to get a wash, and that was not very comfortable. You had to basically dress to get there [laughs] and dress to come back again. They were pretty primitive, but we got used [emphasis] to them. And occasionally we would have one of the guys who wasn’t keen on washing so we used to drag him down to the shower [laughs] and put the, put the shower on him just to clean him up because it was a disincentive to look after yourself with, you know, in those conditions.
AS: And were there separate facilities for the officers and other ranks?
RD: Oh yes. Oh yes, oh yes. Officers lived in a separate part of camp, I mean, and aircrew, they were non-commissioned in most of the, in the old days, most of the aircrew were non-commissioned, but they had separate quarters, and then officers had further separate quarters. At the time there were very few women, but they obviously had their quarters well away from where we were. Most of the women were mainly employed in the cookhouse or in control, you know, from the control tower, you know, radio, control, and things of that sort. But later on, when we got the Lancasters there were some women engineers, airframe engineers and engine, engine, flight engine engineers, and they also would be in separate, of course no men and women near each other. There were no problems as far as I can remember at that time [pause]. Girls, the women in the, women, WEFs [?] they were called, women in the Air Force, were not terribly interested in the men because it was much more exciting to be with the officers [emphasis], the flying crews, but it never affected us in that way, we just [pause] found our girls outside, it wasn’t difficult.
AS: And after the war, I mean the fact that the Bombers didn’t have their own medal or memorial, was that an issue?
RD: It was an issue, I’m not sure if it was an issue for everybody but it was certainly an issue for me, because I felt that they had, and this was common knowledge at the time, that Churchill let us down [emphasis]. You know, he was a wonderful war leader but he let us down. You see, when the war ended, particular after the bombing of that German university city in the south west –
AS: Dresden.
RD: Dresden. It is alleged that the RAF bombed Dresden, which only had a civilian occupation, only civilian people. We knew and we were told that there was a great deal of rocket research and manufacturing going on in the area, and Churchill told Bomber Harris, who was in charge of Bomber Command, to bomb Dresden, which he did and destroyed a very large part of it. And for some reason shortly after the war, Churchill didn’t acknowledge that it was his instructions that we bombed Dresden, and it was a big, big letdown. And it was because of that, that we didn’t get A, a medal for flying against the enemy, and B, there were no memorials for the fifty-thousand plus cream of British youth who were killed as aircrew until the RAF memorial at the Hyde Park corner there which was unveiled in 2010, no 2012, yeah 2012.
AS: I mean, presumably nobody knew when Dresden was bombed that it was the final weeks of the war.
RD: No, of course not.
AS: That couldn’t have been predicted at that time.
RD: I mean, we knew for nine months, you know, once we’d made the bridge head [?]at, in Northern France there, once we’d started moving and the Russians were coming in, we knew that the end of the war was in sight but we had no idea it was necessarily coming as quick as it was. Because the last couple of weeks was, was just unbelievable, you couldn’t keep up with the news of the progress they were making. You have to remember all these concentration camps were found long before the war, the war ended. You know, the Russians and the British and the American troops came across these concentration camps when the war was still on [emphasis], it hadn’t ended then, but it was shortly after that the end came. We [pause] as far as I remember, I don’t think we young men got involved much in the politics of the time.
AS: You just did as you were told.
RD: Yeah, yeah. And I’m not sure my CO [emphasis] would have known much about the politics of the time, and my CO was a group captain, I don’t think he would know much about the politics at that level.
AS: What about your reminiscences of Bomber Harris, and his legacy. What’s your opinion of that?
RD: To me, to me he was the greatest leader of the lot [emphasis]. Far more than Montgomery or Alexander or Eisenhower. You know, he was our boss [emphasis] and we knew what we were doing [emphasis]. We knew that we were destroying the enemies’ access to armaments [emphasis] and vehicles and things of that sort and that was the only way we were going to win. And I mean obviously men on the ground had to go through but we had to do our job to enable them to go through [emphasis]. That was my, my view – I mean I can’t remember talking about it to anybody at the time but that would have been my view. Oh no, no, Bomber Harris was the greatest of them all.
AS: And do you think he was let down by Churchill?
RD: Badly, very badly let down by Churchill. If Churchill had stood up for him about Dresden then it would have been another story entirely. You know, he was made the villain of the piece. P-I-E-C-E [laughs].
AS: And he should have been a hero.
RD: That’s right, yeah. And he, I think, felt it.
AS: Did you, as sort of a, did you ever see him or meet him?
RD: No.
AS: No.
RD: No, I can’t recall ever meeting him or seeing him. I can recall, I can recall King George coming to Scampton on a visit on one occasion. I can’t remember why he came but I can remember the King coming because we were on parade. There was another point that I didn’t bring up during what I was saying. The fact that, in the services there was very strict discipline, very strict discipline, but on squadron this was not possible, so the discipline was relaxed. There were certain limits but discipline was relaxed on an operational squadron, because, you know, the ground crews and the aircrews and the officers were very closely mixed up, I mean they would call me Ron and I would call them, you know, whatever their name was. I remember [laughs] the only time we had discipline was when we were walking around near the headquarters, which it was near the gate at Scampton, and on one occasion I was walking through there with my hand in my pocket. Well, servicemen don’t have hands in their pockets [emphasis], so the station warrant officer, ‘young man [?], get your hands out of your pockets immediately’ [laughs], ‘sorry sir.’ He said ‘you’ve got a funny smirk on your face, I think I’m going to put you on a charge, I’ll make up my mind later. Come back this afternoon with your pockets sewn up.’ ‘Yes sir, five o’clock.’ So I go back to my billet and I stitch up my pocket and I go back at five o’clock, and he said ‘have you obeyed my orders?’ ‘Yes sir.’ ‘Show me.’ I turned round then and he said ‘what about the other one?’ I said ‘I only had one hand in my pocket’ [laughs] so he said ‘that’s impertinent and you’ll have five days jankers,’ which is after, after you’re working in the cookhouse cleaning up all the dirty dishes and things of that sort, not a pleasant job. I mean, I had five days there, but fortunately, being streetwise, I chatted up the lady cook and she used to feed me [laughs] rather than me do the washing up, whilst we were chatting [laughs]. But as I say, the discipline out on the airfield itself was not like that at all. It was very, very informal. We were all in the same position, and that I think was very important at that point, to bring out that discipline, although we always knew our place [emphasis], discipline was not enforced as it was in the administration part of the airfield.
AS: Well thank you very much indeed –
RD: Well I don’t know, is that enough?
AS: Yeah, I think that’s excellent –
RD: More than enough.
AS: I’ll erm –
RD: But if you have any other questions, you know, that hasn’t occurred to me – I’ve probably given you much too much there. Particularly as some of it will be on the –



Adam Sadler, “Interview with Ronald Davis,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 31, 2020,

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