Interview with Jack Brown Franklin


Interview with Jack Brown Franklin


Jack grew up in Liverpool. His brother was the famous ballet dancer, Frederick Franklin CBE. He describes the Liverpool May Blitz and the paper merchants’ firm, where he worked, was bombed. He returned to his job after the war.
After the Local Defence Volunteers, Jack joined the RAF in September 1941. He trained at RAF Cosford on Merlin engines, followed by an air gunnery school with Blenheims. He preferred Merlins and was posted to 109 Squadron at RAF Wyton, a Pathfinder squadron, as an engine mechanic. His Mosquito was the first to do an operation with Oboe, over which they were sworn to secrecy. He describes his role and his admiration for the Mosquito. Jack details the maintenance and checks they would do. His aircraft carried out 111 operations. Jack then went to RAF Marham and RAF Little Staughton.
Jack wanted to go overseas and was posted to 28 Squadron, a reconnaissance unit, flying Hurricane IICs. From Rachi in India, he went to Burma, passing through Worli transit camp. He went to Tamu, Kalaymyo, Ye-U, and Sadaung, near Mandalay. The Japanese shot down some aircraft. They went on to RAF Meiktila and describes his accommodation, insects and scorpions and a distressing encounter with some Japanese corpses. Jack went on to Rangoon where they changed over to Spitfire IXs and were there when war ended. He describes the Rangoon armistice and surrender of the Japanese. They went to the Malaya transit camp, Siam, and Penang Island. After six months’ rest, they went to Kuala Lumpur and started educational vocational courses. He received his demobilisation number and went to RAF Changi in Singapore, returning to Liverpool.
Jack outlines the heavy price paid by Bomber Command.




Temporal Coverage




01:51:22 Audio recording


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BW: This is Brian Wright interviewing mechanic John Brown Franklin of 109 and 28 squadrons RAF at his home in Walton, Liverpool on Thursday 31st March 2016 and the time is 1.45. Also, with me is his nephew Neil Hayes and if you would like to start us off please Jack. You’ve asked me to call you Jack as -
JBF: Yes that’s right. Yeah.
BW: That’s how you’re referred to.
JBF: Yeah.
BW: Would you give us your service number and date of birth please?
JBF: Yes. Ok. Service number is 1484256. Date of birth 28 6 1921.
BW: And have you always lived in Liverpool?
JBF: Yes.
BW: And do you, you mentioned you had, I think, a brother. Do you have brothers and sisters or did you have brothers and sisters?
JBF: I’ve got a brother and sister. My brother was world famous as a ballet dancer.
BW: What was his name?
JBF: Frederick Franklin. And if you want to get his history I believe it’s all on the –
NH: All over the web.
JBF: In the computer. And here’s Neil with his CBE presented by the queen to him at Buckingham palace.
BW: Right.
JBF: And unfortunately -
BW: Wow.
JBF: He died just a couple of years ago aged ninety eight.
BW: And whereabouts in Liverpool were you living at the time?
JBF: Oh at birth. Over a café on the corner of Wavertree Road and Durning Road. We were all three born over the café and my father ran it with his mother and it lasted ‘til about 1923 and then we went to live higher up Wavertree Road in Janet Street and then about ten years after that, it would be about 1933 we moved to Gordon Drive, Pilch Lane, Huyton and that’s where I married from and lived here. I’ve lived here since 1957.
BW: Wow.
JBF: We bought the house then with my wife Dorothea.
BW: And so what was your home life like? Was it -
JBF: Well it was great. We were, they were musical people. My mother was very musical and my sister and they were in to all sorts of shows like the Maid of the Mountains and The Chocolate Soldier and Rosemarie. That kind of show. They loved it. And when my brother decided he wanted to be on the stage they were over the moon simply because he wanted to be on stage and so -
BW: And did he get a scholarship for his dancing or anything like that?
JBF: Oh no what he did was he went with the Jackson Boys to, his first job was he joined the Jackson Boys, a troupe of people dancing and they finished up in Paris at the, I think it was the Casino de Paris and he was there ‘til the Germans, the war started in ‘39 and they were either threatening to overrun France or they had actually started but my mother lost touch and was worried stiff and then the next thing we heard about him was that he was in Holland with the company, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo run by a fellow called Leonide Massine. He’s also a world famous performer if you care to go through the, and the next minute we heard he was in America so of course he was delighted that he’d got out of it ‘cause there was no way he would ever have made a servicemen of any kind. He was just, he was a piano player, played the piano, singing and dancing you know. One of the times he was playing the piano and Miss [Stangette?] whom you no doubt have never heard of, she used to sit on the piano and she was the toast of Paris and she used to come out in this café, Casino de Paris or whatever it was, a nightclub and do the singing while Fred played. My sister was also a pianist so we –
BW: And were you musical yourself?
JBF: Oh yes. I, I was the only one that didn’t get the lessons because the money ran out. My father had a stroke. My father was a veteran of the Boer war complete with medal.
BW: And you’ve got his medal here.
JBF: And -
BW: Which has got to be a rare item in itself.
JBF: Yes well its solid silver, unlike the tin ones we got from the last war.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: With bars and -
BW: Yeah.
JBF: And he was shot off his horse somewhere in South Africa and he said the worst thing about it was the two hundred mile trip in a cart, [bullock?] cart to get to the boat to come home. Well he came home and survived and they invalided him out of the army in 1900 and he was never called up for the ‘14 war. He was unfit for further service and that’s, and he had a stroke about, what, 1931 sometime in the early 30s. I never knew him as a man really. He was, like all Victorians he was here and you were over there, you know. That’s just how it was. He was a nice guy you know, it just -
BW: Yeah. More of a father figure.
JBF: A father figure.
BW: A strict father figure in a sense.
JBF: Exactly. Yeah. Mother did all the slogging, you know. Kept us all together.
BW: And what was school like for you?
JBF: Oh a bit disastrous because I just didn’t get on somehow or other. I just didn’t get on. I left at sixteen and a half and I was really contemplating. I thought well I’d better do something about it so I just started to do the school certificate rerun at night school and the war started.
BW: And what subjects were you studying in your certificate at night school?
JBF: I got credits in history, English, and geography and I failed in chemistry and math er French and chemistry. That was it. And as a matter of interest I had my French book stolen for the last nine months before the exam and so there was no way I was going to pass it anyway you know. I just. Anyway I got out of school. Got this job with paper merchants LS Dixon and Co Limited. Very old fashioned, very conservative Liverpool Company.
BW: And what were you doing in the paper merchants?
JBF: Clerking. Booking orders, arranging for the orders to get out to the warehouse, seeing that they were all packed up properly and delivered to whoever, you know.
BW: And so presumably you had this job for about year eighteen months.
JBF: That’s right.
BW: Until war broke out.
JBF: Well, the story about the war thing is sitting opposite us was a veteran of the war. He said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘It’ll be over by Christmas,’ you know. It was exactly the same as the pre-war people. It will be over by Christmas and ‘course it wasn’t and then it got around to Dunkirk you know when the three hundred and thirty three thousand were being picked up in France and Eric, sitting opposite me, Eric [McKim?] he said, ‘You know, Jack. We should do something about it really. I know we’re underage.’ We was, I was eighteen I think or something like that and we went to the police station in Derby Lane and signed on and then from Derby Lane I got the call to report to the abattoir in Prescot Road and I was given that.
BW: And this is a card that says you’re joining the Local Defence Volunteers.
JBF: That’s right, yes.
BW: G division.
JBF: Yeah
BW: Dated 13th of June 1940. So this is right after the evacuation of Dunkirk. Right at the height of -
JBF: Well it was Dunkirk that, Dunkirk was the end of May.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: 1940 and we finished up in this abattoir with that and we had instructions when the church bells landed er sounded you know we were told to destroy our identity you know, and so we joined the Home Guard and, or the LDV as it was. We had neither uniforms nor rifles or anything you know and we used to do marching about and guard and such like and the one terrifying moment in the, as an LDV was that the church bells had rung. A corporal came around, 2 o’clock in the morning, ‘Jack,’ he said, ‘It’s on,’ so we get up to the orphanage and we’re stood in two lines at the back of the orphanage facing Speke in front of trenches full of water that we’d dug, you know in the 1914 style.
BW: Yeah. Zigzag.
JBF: And everybody was mystified but we were all looking from Speke for the parachutists you know and we were there for a couple of hours and then suddenly, you know, we, it all vanished. The whole thing fell apart. There was nothing. Nobody landed. And we, we’d been given twenty four hours rations which was hard tack and corned beef. Well we ate those in about half an hour. Just sat around and ate it all. By 3 o’clock we’d eaten the day’s rations you know and that’s how the, it’s perfectly right, I’m Pike in the Dad’s Army because I was that age and everybody else who carefully avoided guard duties and all the nasty bits were bank managers or foremen and something else or assistant managers in bread shops or whatever it was, you know and Mr Mainwaring is a dead ringer for the CO you know.
BW: Of your unit.
JBF: Ex, in the, ex in, he was a bank manager you know and he got the atmosphere you know. It was typical and that went on for fifteen months until I was called up and then finally I got the call up papers and joined the RAF on the 15th of September 1941.
BW: And did you see, during your time as an LDV volunteer did you see any raids over Liverpool because -
JBF: Oh yes.
BW: There were quite a few raids by the Luftwaffe on the -
JBF: That’s a separate chapter. We were formed by the company which was in town, Cable Street, into parties of three and we did night duty on the premises during the blitz and the most graphic one of the blitz was we were playing table tennis as something to do while it was all going crash bang wallop ‘cause we were near the docks and they were really and then this hell of an explosion. It shook the place absolutely, we thought and we were in the cellar so we managed, we decided we’d better go around and see everything was intact. Nothing. So we went outside. Went up Thomas Street into South John Street and at the junction of North John Street and Lord Street was a huge pile of debris, masonry and out of it was sticking arms and legs and so we went up like this, you know the real -
BW: Yeah. Sort of -
JBF: John Wayne, sort, you know.
BW: Covering your eyes. Yeah.
JBF: And on the, on the traffic light was a sailor trying to knock out the lights with a brick so we get up there looking and thinking oh my God what are we going to see and they were all tailors dummies. There wasn’t a person in it. The shops around that area were tailors shops and the bomb had hit Church House, blown that to pieces and the blast had blown all these dummies out of the shop windows and somehow or other they all arrived together in the middle. So we got over that. That was the most graphic of the, and then the next one was during the May we had, I don’t know if you know about the blitz but Liverpool, before Hitler invaded Russia he blitzed Liverpool as a good start to stopping the shipping in the May. The May blitz it’s called and that week we had a floating land mine drift over the house and blew up on the Swanside estate. Blew all those houses up and the blast took the windows out of the back of our house and holes in the roof, hole in the roof and all the celings had holes in where the draft had came down but the most awful thing was the soot because we all had chimneys and everywhere was covered in soot you know so on the Sunday my mother and I we started clearing up and I said, ‘I’ve got to go to work,’ you know so I got the bike out and we started down for the, for the town and I got to [Clatton] Street and the place was covered in glass. I thought well this is the end of the bike if I ride so I picked the bike up, put it on my shoulder and walked down to Lewis’ which was just a hollow wreck. There was nothing visible at all. It had been on fire and they’d put it out and there was just and they ground that down to Boots on the corner, round the corner and I got as far as the bottom of Lord Street, Whitechapel and Paradise Street and there was a tape across so I got to there and the strange thing was where what we could see of Cable Street which was right at the back of Lord Street you could see daylight you know. I thought well that’s funny, it doesn’t look too good so I said to the man, ‘My job’s around the corner.’ He said, ‘No it isn’t,’ he said, ‘It’s finished. You can’t go around there.’ And two four storey buildings that was the office, the warehouse, the factory and the second warehouse were about this high. It had just burned. The whole thing had gone because it was a paper warehouse. Couldn’t be better, you know, once, and it was fire that, on that particular blitz.
BW: Raised the building to about two foot high.
JBF: It was just about two foot high and I was standing there dumb. I thought, ‘Well ok the house has gone up now the jobs gone up. What do we do now for an encore?’ Sort of thing. And I got a tap on the shoulder. I looked around and it was the manager Mr Lloyd. He said, ‘John,’ he said, ‘We’re all around at the Allied Paper.’ So I hot footed it around to the Allied Paper in Hood Street and the entire office collection was sitting there looking at each other you know. So they didn’t know what to, ‘cause there was not even a place to go to. The place had vanished. Literally. Four storey buildings just vanished and Mr Packer was the export manager, he said, ‘Well John, if you need something to do come with me and we’ll see what’s happened to the shipping.’ So I was delighted, so, ‘Certainly Mr Packer.’ So off we set down to the pier head and we went around people like James Dowie, Gracie Beasley the whole line, that kind of thing, JT Fletcher’s and made enquiries to find out what was missing and what wasn’t you know and we made a list of everything because he had cargo on boats you know. He used to do business with the West Indies and the unfortunate thing for him was that Mr Woodley who was about, there was no pension scheme in this particular company and Mr Woodley the export manager was about seventy three and he was still coming to work because there was no pension and he got knocked down and killed in the blackout so that was the end of the, of the export information so they just had to start from scratch you know ‘cause even Sid Woodley had disappeared, you know, and then there was, I can’t really remember because it was the in-between but we ended up in the banana rooms in Fitzpatrick’s in Queens Square. That’s where I left to join the air force. The Banana Rooms, of course there were no bananas coming in during the war and there were just these big spaces and they started the firm from that that the lucky thing was they had a government quota for paper and that didn’t alter despite all that had gone on so they started with the quota that they had and they stocked these Banana Rooms with paper and started to carry on the business and the other intriguing thing was the books had been in the cellar in Cable Street and they were in fireproof safes which was great except they were cooked. They weren’t burned. They were just cooked. So the senior members of the accounts department were transported every day to Mr Dixon’s house on the Wirral and they each had an egg, an egg slice you know and they would lift each page up and turn it over and find out how much ‘cause the books were handwritten. It was just antediluvian but it was part of the course.
NH: The time. Yeah.
JBF: Antediluvian, you know, everything was by hand. We wrote orders in books by hand. The books were sent to the forwarding man and he’d organise the stuff you know and finally I got my call up papers and Mr Cook said, ‘Ok,’ he says, ‘Well as things stand, Jack,’ he said, ‘Your job will be open when you come back,’ and that’s exactly how it was. The job was open when I came back five years later.
BW: And during the time and this was all through 1940. The bombing raids and things.
JBF: Up to September the 15th 1941.
BW: Did you happen to see anything of the Battle of Britain? I know that was concentrated over the south east but there were raids and intercepts from squadrons up here. Did you see anything of that?
JBF: In Liverpool during the lunch hour when we were out there was a couple of times when German aircraft were over and everybody was out looking at them you know and there was a bit of fighting as far as I can remember but I don’t think there was too much this end.
BW: No.
JBF: It was the blitz for Liverpool. That was the thing.
BW: And were you on duty during the night time and sort of working during the day?
JBF: Oh yes.
BW: Did you alternate your civilian job with your LDV duties?
JBF: The big plus factor was that after your night’s duty you went in to Brown’s, the café in Cable Street, and had a bacon and egg breakfast and then you went home you know from the day ‘cause there, there wasn’t really that much happening at that stage of the war. Everybody was non-plussed. Nobody knew whatever was happening. You know. It hadn’t settled down to anything. And -
BW: And what drew you to join the RAF? Did you apply to join or
JBF: Well –
BW: Were you offered a choice of which service?
JBF: When I went for the call up interview I said, ‘Well I’d like to join the RAF.’ They said, ‘What would you like to be?’ So I quickly said, ‘Oh I’d like to be a mechanic,’ you know. They said, ‘’Ok.’ Then the next minute I was sent to, what’s the local RAF place there?
BW: Woodvale.
NH: Woodvale.
JBF: No. Not Woodvale. Closer.
NH: Closer?
JBF: Yeah. Where, where were the Yanks locally?
NH: Oh Burton Wood.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: Burton Wood. It was in that area as far as I can remember and sat an exam.
BW: There was a recruiting centre or an RAF station at Padgate. Does that, that was near Warrington.
JBF: Well it might have been.
BW: Sort of Burton Wood area.
NH: Yeah.
BW: Ok.
JBF: I went in the Warrington area.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: And took, and sat an exam and I passed that and so I was down to be a mechanic.
BW: And when you say mechanic were there different types of mechanic that you could apply to be? Did you have a choice in that or were you directed simply as -
JBF: I’ve no idea. I didn’t even know what a mechanic was -
BW: Right.
JBF: I just said I’d like to be a mechanic because if I played with anything it was with Meccano before the war and I think I had some sort of mechanical ability you know and so I thought well I’m going to be an office for the rest of my life. I’d just like to do something different never realising I’d be doing it for the next five years but there you are.
BW: Did, did the thought of being aircrew ever appeal to you at all?
JBF: Yeah. I volunteered for aircrew and got halfway through the medical until the eyesight test and that was the end of that.
BW: What would you have liked to have done as a member of aircrew? What do you -
JBF: Well -
BW: Think your preference would have been?
JBF: In the talk I was at Wyton at the time and the flight engineers were in vogue at the time. I thought well with the basic knowledge I’ve already got I think I could have passed the rest of it to become a flight engineer so when they asked me at the medical lark I said, ‘Flight engineer.’
BW: Ok. And instead once, once they’d done the assessment and found your eyesight wasn’t up to scratch you were then posted to another base for -
JBF: No.
BW: Mechanical training.
JBF: I just went back to being where I was in Wyton.
BW: I see. So while you were still working as a mechanic you then volunteered for aircrew.
JBF: That’s right. For aircrew yes.
BW: They said you couldn’t be selected for aircrew and you returned to your trade.
JBF: I went back to the trades and being a mechanic. Yeah.
BW: And what squadron were you at there?
JBF: At Wyton it was 109.
BW: And you say this was a Pathfinder squadron.
JBF: Yeah. This was a Pathfinder squadron, yeah. The sister squadron was 83 squadron. They were Lancasters.
BW: And they were on the same base were they?
JBF: Same base yeah.
BW: And –
JBF: We were there for about nine months at Wyton and it was at Wyton that the first Oboe raid by Mosquitoes took place which was my squadron and my aircraft was the first aircraft to do something with the Oboe. The pilot was Squadron Leader Bufton and the navigator was, I think it was a Flight Lieutenant Ifould, an Australian.
BW: So this was Squadron Leader Buckton. Is that -
JBF: Bufton. B U F yeah.
BW: B U F T O N.
JBF: They’re famous in the air force because he had a brother also in the air force and he had a son er another brother rather, a sergeant in the mechanical line.
BW: And his navigator was a flight lieutenant.
JBF: Ifould. I F O U L D.
BW: And so servicing this particular aircraft do you remember anything specific about it? Possibly even the registration or the -
JBF: Well it was -
BW: Code.
JBF: DK33, I think it’s four. The three three’s right but the fours and it was -
BW: Ok.
JBF: D-Donald.
BW: D-Donald.
JBF: Yeah it was D Donald. It was changed to L-Leather later on but it was D-Donald when it was flying when it flew to this, I found out later it was a power station in Holland right on the edge of the German border and that was the first time, I can confirm all this, these books, I’m in these books and pictures you know. This is Tim, you know, he just, ‘Look dad,’ he said, ‘I’ve seen this,’ so -
BW: And did you know Squadron Leader Bufton and Flight Lieutenant Ifould very well? Did they stay with that aircraft for -
JBF: Oh yeah they stayed for -
BW: For a period?
JBF: Quite some time. I mean Bufton became a group captain. I’m sure Ifould did because they were, they were dyed in the wool, I think, pre-war airmen if you know what I mean. They were really the real McCoy you know. This is how the air force won the Battle of Britain. With people like them really because they knew what they were doing.
BW: And I’m assuming that they had already done a tour on bombers prior to becoming -
JBF: They must.
BW: A Pathfinder.
JBF: I should say so. The squadron from Wyton came from Boscombe Down were all the experiments were done.
BW: And what kind of guys were they. These, these two?
JBF: Very nice. Very nice men. Excellent blokes.
BW: Did you have a good rapport with them?
JBF: All the time yes.
BW: And so this remained your aircraft, D Donald for –
JBF: If you want -
BW: Some months.
JBF: If you want a little anecdote with it being the very first raid with Oboe it was the very first Oboe raid for 109 Mosquitos and they decided that nothing should happen to the aircraft so we, they did the MFTs, they did the flying and then they carried the tractors, you know, hooked up the tractors and put the three of them in a hangar. This is, it’s dark at this stage and they’re busy doing and I’m on one wing and I’m bawling, ‘You’re too close. You’re too close,’ and the next minute we’d cracked the [?] on this wing. Pandemonium and, ‘Who’s,’ I said, ‘Look I’ve been bawling my head off.’ And the corporal who was doing the manoeuvring were all too excited to listen, you know. Anyway, it was superficial and in no time they’d got it put right but the interesting thing about this particular time was that the squadron was paraded in a hangar and addressed by the CO and he just simply said, ‘You are engaged in a very special operation and if I hear the word Oboe mentioned in any pub around this district,’ he said, ‘Your feet won’t touch the ground.’ And out of nowhere we were surrounded by plain clothes which I suppose were detectives and everybody was suitably terrified of course and I didn’t mention Oboe till about 1960 [laughs]. There was three types of bomb aiming equipment. There was Oboe, Gee and H2S and they were, they followed on, you know and I think by the time we got too Little Staughton we were in to the H2S or Gee.
BW: And did you work on these bits of kit or were you -
JBF: No. All the -
BW: You still on the airframe?
JBF: All the, the advanced kit, it was Canadians, they all, it was a Canadian unit. They were all Canadians. They all got drunk together, they went out together. It was just like that you know. They were told not to speak to anybody and they were all nice guys it’s just they’d been frightened like us, you know.
BW: So you never worked on these sets but you knew they were on the aircraft.
JBF: Oh yes. We, what we used to do, they did the NFT.
BW: What’s the NFT?
JBF: Night Flying Test. The -
BW: Right.
JBF: In the afternoon. We’d fill them up with oil, petrol and coolant and look at the engines. The big problem with the mark 4 Mosquito was because they were flying a lot higher than the bombers, thirty, twenty eight, thirty thousand feet they were prone to oil leaks so we got quite adept. What we used to do was they’d say that, a bit of a mess coming down and you’d see it everywhere and so they used to take the cowlings off and start the engine up and we’d all, before they started the engines up we’d crawl up the back of the aircraft and hang on and look in to the engine and see if we could spot the oil leaks because there was a million nuts there you know and quite, we did spot -
BW: And so were you, were you on top of the wing at this point?
JBF: You were on top of the wing with about, what, a foot off, well three foot off the propeller.
BW: I was going to say ‘cause you’re having to look over in to the cowling and the blade is spinning.
JBF: The blades are going around full pelt ‘cause they went up high they were at full throttle you know but it worked. It was primitive but there was no other way. The thing was leaking but when they got up that high and with the thing going and we just thought we used to see dribbles coming down. The carburettor was on the back and we used to see dribbles coming down and then we’d work it back. Well it was those nuts and Stan, the corporal, Corporal Wright when it stopped he’d, I said, ‘We’ll check this section,’ and he did do and they were loose you know. We got quite good at that really.
BW: And these, this is clearly in the days before any sort of protective safety equipment and goggles.
JBF: Oh no there’s -
BW: Ear defenders and things.
JBF: Well to give you an idea, when they, have you ever been close to a Mosquito? It’s quite tall you know.
BW: I’ve been to one in a museum, yes, but -
JBF: It’s quite, the end -
NH: Not with engines running [laughs]
JBF: The, we had ladders to get on the back, you know. Well of course within no time the ladders had disappeared because we’d no fuel in the huts so everybody chopped up the ladders and we used to use, when they, as you know you get in a Mosquito in the centre underneath and there’s a metal stair thing.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: Well we used to use those to get on the back and my souvenir was this finger.
BW: And this is on your left hand.
JBF: Yeah. There’s a stich here and a stich there, a stich there and a stich there because -
BW: On your little finger.
JBF: It was wet and being tall you know I was able to go it. I mean Handley, he was about five foot three, couldn’t even get near the thing you know ‘cause I could reach and put the ladder on and it was wet and the ladder slipped and my hand went around the engine nacelle and there’s, I went to the Chiefy, you know, Lendrum and he said, ‘You’d better go and get that fixed,’ so I went to the sick bay and they said, ‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘Yes.’ They cleaned it up and I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was that, you know. And they said, ‘Oh yes. We need a few stitches. Right. Stand by.’ So when I’d got over that he said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Two hours excused duties for bawling.
BW: And so they’d done the stitching in your hands without anaesthetic.
JBF: Well I did two hours excused duties. Well I didn’t do.
BW: That was it.
JBF: I went back to the unit and said to the chief, I said, ‘Sorry I’m on excused duties.’ ‘Oh, well, just before you go have a look at this’ [laughs]. So -
NH: Oh dear. Yeah
JBF: That was that.
BW: And the Mosquito clearly used Merlin engines. Do you know what -
JBF: That’s right. Merlin 20s.
BW: And how did you rate those?
JBF: Oh they were smashing. I never worked on anything else other than the, in Burma we had Hurricane, Hurricane 2Cs cannon and they were Merlin engines and then when they converted after the war to Spit 9s they were a very posh but we had to have training for these they were so posh. You know the latest Merlin engine that was in the Spitfire 9 which was of course was five years after the original Spitfires and we just, we knew how to fill them up with the oil and coolant and so on -
BW: And did you specialise in engine maintenance or were you working on the airframe of the Mosquito as well?
JBF: Oh no the air frame was a rigger called Alan Fraser, the rigger. Each aircraft had a fitter and a rigger as we were called. The airframe was a man who’d been trained as an air frame mechanic and I was on the engines as the engine mechanic.
BW: And so who was the air frame mechanic?
JBF: Alan. Alan Fraser.
BW: He was the rigger.
JBF: The rigger. That’s right.
BW: And is that the same.
JBF: That’s right.
BW: Same name as an air frame engineer.
JBF: Air frame mechanic, it was the rigger.
BW: Ok.
JBF: Yeah.
BW: And you had a corporal in charge of the team.
JBF: Yeah.
BW: Stan Wright.
JBF: Stan Wright was the corporal.
BW: And did you mention an LAC Handley?
JBF: Oh he was my pal in Burma.
BW: Ok so he was -
JBF: LAC Handley.
BW: Not part of this particular -
JBF: Yeah.
BW: Team.
JBF: He wasn’t part of this set up.
BW: And your chief tech, is that right, was, who was your chief tech -
JBF: Oh Chiefy Lendrum.
BW: Lendrum.
JBF: Yeah. Lendrum was the -
BW: Is that one, one word L E N D R U M.
JBF: I think so yeah.
NH: It wasn’t Len Drum.
JBF: He was the flight sergeant, you know. He was in charge. In fact I think without, off the record as you might say he was responsible for the ladders. [laughs]
BW: He was the one, he was the one who took them away to use as firewood.
JBF: And they were all, we’d burned them all. I mean there was quite, it wasn’t hilarious, you were working until you, you know feel asleep sort of thing and it was a real band of blokes you know. It was, I think that’s really what won the war was the fact that everybody just got stuck in. Churchill was marvellous. And everybody got stuck in, you know. I don’t think Hitler could have realised what he’d awakened in the British when he was busy refusing Chamberlain’s piece of paper, you know. He didn’t realise exactly because Goering said, ‘Oh you know we’ll subjugate the British. The air force will do this,’ that and the other you know and of course he didn’t. Battle of Britain. And they turned to Russia.
BW: And so just thinking about the maintenance unit or the mechanics involved on the base here.
JBF: Yeah.
BW: So there’s, there’s the two guys there’s yourself and the rigger responsible for the aircraft and a corporal. Was he over more than one aircraft or just -
JBF: No. Just the one.
BW: Ok. So there was the three of you assigned to the one aircraft.
JBF: That’s right.
BW: And the chief tech presumably looked after -
JBF: He was over the flight.
BW: The whole lot.
JBF: A flight yeah.
BW: Ok.
JBF: Yeah. The six aircraft.
BW: Did you know the other crews at all? The other flying -
JBF: Well we knew them but –
BW: Crews on the Mossies?
JBF: We stuck together really, you know. Yes we knew all of them really, by name but -
BW: And you you didn’t have cause to work on any of the other aircraft. Say if one riggers went down.
JBF: Oh sometimes. It depends. One of the features of the Rolls Royce engine was I think it was to do with the carburettor and there was this cup and it used to accumulate water so what we had to do was we had to take off the locking wire, unscrew the cup, drain the water out, put the cup back and put the locking wire on and the finished article had to be supervised by the corporal, you know, that you’d actually done what you were supposed to do and -
BW: And the paperwork that they use nowadays certainly was a form 700. Was that still in place then?
JBF: Yes. Form 700. Yeah.
BW: So that’s been right the way through the service.
JBF: That you signed to say that, yes, you’d done the -
BW: And you obviously knew the crew well in terms of the ground crew who you worked with. Did you socialise together and live together in the barracks?
JBF: We lived together in the barracks. The ground crew. Yes. We didn’t socialise, and it was discouraged, any of the air crew. The air crew were under strict instructions to say nothing when they got out of the aeroplane and in the five years the only time two aircrew ever got out and said something was when they were steaming along at three or four hundred miles an hour in a Mosquito and an aircraft went around them like this.
BW: In a circular motion.
JBF: And they got out of the Mosquito, ‘We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it.’ We said, ‘What?’ And it was the first type of German jet fighter.
NH: Yeah.
JBF: And it was doing five hundred miles an hour or something and it just went around them while they were busy coming home or whatever they were doing, you know.
BW: And so the aircrew never talked to the ground crew.
JBF: Never.
BW: About the mission that they’d done.
JBF: Oh no. No. You didn’t get anything off them. No.
BW: But they must presumably have told you about anything to you like oil problems in the engine.
JBF: Oh yes.
BW: Or anything they’d seen.
JBF: There was a report you see. What used to happen was the air crew would come in and they’d get out the aircraft. Then they’d go and see the adjutant or whoever was in charge. They had to write a report on the raid and a report on the kite and that was relayed through Chiefy Lendrum to Stan Wright and Stan Wright would get it and say, ‘There appears to be a leak on this,’ and, ‘That’s not happening,’ or, you know. They were very reliable aircraft I must say. The only fault with them when the first Mosquitos came the cowling section of the construction hadn’t been talking to the body and so the cowling went up past the intake on the front so when you were getting, you could get it off but you couldn’t get it back in, you know so they very quickly instead of having the cowling to go that way they just had it below the intake because the two intakes are either side of the cockpit and the problem with that was they were having birds in them as they were flying. They used to get birds wedged in these.
BW: So they had regular bird strikes. Is what you’re saying?
JBF: Oh regular, bird strikes were fairly common.
BW: And did that happen during the raid or normal flying testing or was it mainly around the airfield?
JBF: Oh it was around the airfield. I don’t think it was in -
BW: No.
JBF: While they were bombing, you know.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: ‘Cause they went up at least, I think it was, twenty eight thousand feet and the Lancasters were all getting shot down and they were about what about, what, twenty six, twenty four thousand feet. What happened to the Mosquitoes was they’d come back with tiny little holes in and it was the, where the anti-aircraft shell had exploded as they were wooden they took everything. Nothing bounced off and when the chippies came, if there were holes they used to get to this and look through and see the other hole where it had gone straight through, you know. The marvellous thing about the Mossie was despite it being wood it was almost indestructible. It was marvellous, you know. Just a marvellous aircraft.
BW: Because it could take so much battle damage -
JBF: Yeah.
BW: Without being lost if you like. It wasn’t going to -
JBF: That’s right, without it being. What, the chippies had this technique if it was a biggish hole they’d cut a kind of the top layer of the plywood or whatever it was off and fit.
BW: Yes.
JBF: A new piece of plywood in and put the tape, you know, around and that would and do it all up with the dope and it would, you wouldn’t know it was there, you know.
BW: So they’d sort of cut a square patch out around the -
JBF: Cut a square patch out around the hole, yeah.
BW: Around the hole and -
JBF: Yeah.
BW: Replace that.
JBF: And if it was small enough they’d just cover it over and do the same thing. They wouldn’t take any wood out. They’d just cover it over.
BW: And the air crew found that quite satisfactory.
JBF: Oh yes.
BW: There were no difference in handling or anything like that?
JBF: It didn’t detract from the performances.
BW: So, I guess the most complex part of the Mosquito for you was actually the engine that you were working on.
JBF: That’s right. Yeah.
BW: You found them pretty reliable.
JBF: Oh yes. Yeah.
BW: Did you find them easy to work on or were they particularly complex in their own right?
JBF: Oh no once we’d learned the basics, funnily, the lucky thing for me was at Cosford we trained on Merlin engines and so when I was posted to a Merlin, I was first of all posted to an air gunners school with Blenheims and I’d never seen a radial engine because there were no radial engines in, we’d worked on Merlins you know. So I got out of there, I didn’t like it. I put in for a posting which is how I got to Wyton and the big thing about South Wales was the rugby. I was playing rugby for the station because it’s, you know it’s a, you know a big rugby area you know, miles away from the war. It was an air gunners school and the air gunners were carefully separated from the crew, the ground crew, and they were trained and passed out with all the pomp and ceremony and they went on to whichever squadron the were allocated to and lasted about ten minutes, you know, because the technique of downing a Lancaster was to get after the guns to start with so there was the one sticking out of the front, nothing underneath and the upper. The -
BW: Mid upper gunner.
JBF: W/Op AG you know, so the Germans shot underneath behind the tail so that the fellow, nobody could get at them, straight into the cockpit. I mean people go on about the Lancaster. How marvellous it was. It was a death trap and these books will illustrate how because the number, you know they lost fifty or sixty thousand men and they were sitting ducks once a night fighter, and they would never dream of, where you see on all the films where they’re all coming down this way they just went underneath and it was the same with the Flying Fortress. They had to stop flying daylight raids despite all the under guns. They had, they had a fella sitting in a thing with guns underneath. It didn’t matter. The first one that lost his lives was the gunner and then it was a sitting duck. They could do what they liked. I believe one German ace shot a hundred and seventy three Flying Fortresses down. Just one bloke.
BW: The sister squadron on the base you mentioned was 83 squadron.
JBF: That’s right, yeah.
BW: So did you hear back from ground crews and, and talk in the barracks let’s say or the mess about what was happening on their side.
JBF: No. Nothing. They was billeted in separate, 109 was billeted here, say. The other side of the aerodrome was 83.
BW: So completely separate squadrons
JBF: Completely.
BW: With own messes.
JBF: Yes. Well, with us being, they were Pathfinder bombers and it was secret at that stage, this Oboe thing so they wanted the least person that knew you know and they had you suitably terrified. You felt you had private men, you know under the bed sort of thing. As kids, we were only kids. I mean I was about twenty two or something, Twenty three.
BW: Thinking back then to repairing a Merlin what would you say was the most complex thing to repair? What was the most difficult -
JBF: Well -
BW: Sort of repair or work you had to do on it?
JBF: We didn’t do repairs. What happened was they went in after a number of hours for scheduled maintenance and they got the plugs changed and the oil completely changed and the coolant and they did tests on the engine itself to see that it was still workable because they were work horses you know, they was. I mean we never ever had an engine change in the Mosquito. I don’t ever remember one having to go in for an engine change. They all went in for repairs because of damage or wear or whatever. But just a marvellous piece of equipment, you know.
BW: And when they were brought back or once you’d finished the repair did you have to do engine run ups to verify that it was working alright?
JBF: Oh every day, part of the night, you had to run, you had to DI the engine to see it was, you know, add the coolant in and the oil and all the rest of it. Then it had a test run on the ground. The engines were test run on the ground and to start off only the corporal did the testing and then finally we did that, I did, you know I’d been there a couple of years finally and we did the test runs if they were on leave or anything. So you get to, you’ve got to run, a Mosquito is quite, you know, terrifying to start with. The corporal had someone sitting with you and that.
BW: And so this was done on, on a test bed presumably on -
JBF: No. No. Just where it was in the grass.
BW: Ok.
JBF: They didn’t go anywhere.
BW: Ok. And -
JBF: It was part of the night flying test to run the aircraft before it went up.
BW: And although you mentioned previously that when you were looking for a leak you got on the top of the wing to look in.
JBF: On top of the wing, yeah.
BW: Did you have to do the same once you’d repaired, once you’d serviced the engine?
JBF: It was only for oil leaks.
BW: Ok.
JBF: If they came back and mentioned any kind of leak we used to do this on the back of the aircraft and look in just to see if we could see, you know.
BW: Did you ever get to go in the cockpit to start the engines?
JBF: Yes. I’ve actually flown in a Mosquito. Wing Commander Green was going up for an NFT and Stan Wright fixed it for me to go with him and the problem was at twenty thousand feet there was a juddering. It was very slight, he said, but at twenty thousand feet down and it started to do this you know and it turned out a mixture problem. Something was going wrong at that particular height with the mixture and they fixed it up and it was ok. I only did the, I had one trip in a Mosquito.
BW: How long was that? How long did it last?
JBF: Well, basically the NFT about half an hour, three quarters of an hour.
BW: And what, what did you experience during a flight? What was it like?
JBF: Well I was just gobsmacked. I was absolutely, you know, like this, sort of thing.
BW: And he didn’t, did he let you have a go at the controls or not?
JBF: Oh no. No. They wouldn’t let you do anything. God. Strewth. That would have been it.
BW: But you got to sit next to the pilot while he’s –
JBF: You’ve got to, well the -
BW: Was doing the test.
JBF: The navigator’s here and the pilot’s here you know and –
BW: Yeah.
JBF: The throttles were in between.
BW: It was exhilarating I’m assuming.
JBF: Oh absolutely. Yeah. I was, I felt, you know, Group Captain Franklin, here we go, you know. Real Mr Mainwaring job you know. There’s one, I don’t know whether you want any story out of it but there was one graphic story that, that happened. I think it was at Marham and I was on the main plane waiting for the bowser to fill up and suddenly there were screams underneath the aircraft, ‘Help. Help.’ So I got off the main plane and got down and the armourer had primed a five hundred pound bomb and then he couldn’t hook it in so he was standing there so I got the bomb on my back and slowly, I was, you know strong in those days and I lifted it up.
BW: So you crouched underneath it, took the weight on your back.
JBF: I took the weight on my back and while he hooked it in. He said, ‘We’re alright now.’ I said, ‘Well we’re not being blown up at least,’ and the aftermath was I think the op was over because they were filling, we used to have to fill them up immediately they came back you know in case and Stan Wright came to me. He said, ‘You know, Jack,’ he said ‘Were you on the starboard wing?’ I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I got this scream from underneath and I went down and helped the armourer. We managed to get over the problem.’ When I came out everybody had vanished and the aircraft as far as we could make out had been to France or Germany and back with no petrol caps on the right side. So, he said, ‘You know,’ he said, ‘This is a court martial offence.’ I said, ‘Hang on.’ So I thought about it. So I got on the bike, went, cycled around into the hangar, all the lights were on and there were Mossies being maintained you know so I couldn’t see anybody so I climbed up on the back of this Mosquito, took off the two petrol caps, and the tops, put them in my jacket and got down. Nobody, didn’t see me so I, so I went to Stan. I said, ‘You’re alright, Stan. You won’t be court martialled.’ I said, ‘Here they are.’ [laughs] Gave him the two tops and the petrol. He was absolutely, you know, he was gobsmacked [caught the phrase locally?] and so hurriedly because the people that would have been up for the trouble were the mechanic that was on the other side of the Mosquito ‘cause he’d signed the 700 to say it was full and how the aircraft got to Germany and back with no petrol caps on we never knew and nobody else did because they didn’t know they were off.
BW: And the air crew normally do checks before they -
JBF: Oh yes.
BW: Take off as well.
JBF: Well they start the engines up and all that you know you had to. The method of starting was you had the trolley acc and you primed the engine. There was a little flap on the side and you primed the engine and then you give the signal up to the bloke on the trolley acc, he presses the -
BW: Thumbs up.
JBF: Electrics and it starts up, you know and he, if there was any worry it was when we hadn’t enough ground crew to go around. You had to do the two engines so you had to prime the one on the port side shall we say and then you had to come and prime the one on the starboard side and then you give the, and fortunately despite you know, I think it’s the quality of the workmanship really because we never ever had a failure. You know. Overheating. They both started each time even when there was only one man doing it because we’d no people to do it.
BW: And in all weathers too.
JBF: Oh well it was, you know, Norfolk in the winter is quite something else. The thing they used to do when it was a long raid we knew it was a long raid because they’d come out with urns of cocoa and corned beef sandwiches about that thick.
BW: About two inch thick.
JBF: And you could get, there was an unlimited supply. You could do, if you felt like running around a lot as we were during the night and so we got stuck into these. You know it was fine. Didn’t mind. The, really you have to be the age we were at. Anybody else, it must have been, you know if you were thirty five or forty or whatever it was it must have been awful, just, and with a family you know. Well one corporal developed shingles and it was the family. He was on the phone to the wife and the kid had measles or whatever it was you know and he was beside himself. I was exactly -
BW: And yet -
JBF: The right age for the war. It couldn’t have been better.
NH: Yeah.
BW: And as a single man you were quite happily sharing a barracks with your mates.
JBF: Oh yes. I hadn’t got a girlfriend. I was just a single man, you know. In fact, one Christmas I gave up my leave for one of the married men who had kids you know. Which was nothing heroic. It was just common, you know.
BW: Did, did you feel that your efforts were appreciated by the crews and the -
JBF: Oh yeah.
BW: Officers on the base?
JBF: Oh everybody. It was a together thing. I mean working that close and their lives were involved. It was a very close knit, all the squadrons were the same. A very close knit unit. There was no Captain Mainwaring standing around, you know. I mean there was no saluting.
BW: Really.
JBF: You just got on with it and first names, you know they called you.
BW: So -
JBF: You always called them whatever they were like squadron leader, you know, Bufton and you gave them their rank but we were just Jack and Alan and Stan.
BW: Were there any, you mentioned an error in someone leaving petrol caps off? Were there any incidents that you knew of elsewhere in the squadron perhaps?
JBF: Well -
BW: Where there was something that had been missed that resulted, for example, in an accident or the loss of an aircraft.
JBF: Oh the only thing that we watched from start to finish was U-Uncle and two lads, they could have been more than twenty five, navigator and the pilot, you know and they were very excited. It was their first trip and we got them in and watched them and they took off and went straight, straight in.
BW: So the nose pitched up and they went straight down.
JBF: They went straight down and burned to death, the two of them. Big explosion. Bang. And I said that, there was this old sergeant and I said, he said they probably didn’t lock the throttles. They were that excited about getting up because they had to do a lot of homework in while they were in the aircraft to find out what they were going to do, you know. They just went straight in.
BW: And that was close to or over the base.
JBF: Well we just watched the whole thing. Yeah. And the ,our aircraft finally, when I say our aircraft this DK number 334 I think it was or 335 it crash landed and it was that old the aircrew hated it because it was absolutely on its tips you know. Did a hundred and eleven ops and it landed and the undercarriage went up into the -
NH: The wing.
JBF: Into the engine nacelle and just they weren’t hurt and that was it. They took us around and we were photographed, the three of us Alan, Stan and myself in front of this wreck.
BW: So moving on from Wyton and Marham.
JBF: Yes.
BW: You mentioned that later in your service you transferred to 28 squadron.
JBF: Yeah.
BW: So what happened in the period between -
JBF: Little Staughton -
BW: This would be -
JBF: Was the next thing after Marham.
BW: And did you request a transfer to another squadron?
JBF: What happened was I put in for overseas and said I’d serve anywhere because I I thought, well, realised, that we would never go anywhere else. We were, the war was well on from D Day. They were going into Germany, the armies, France and there was less, and it was rather backing up troops rather than bombing anywhere so I put in for overseas and said I’d serve anywhere and that’s how I came to go to 28 squadron. Next minute I was on a troop ship and then I was in North Western India at a place called Ranchi.
BW: How do you spell that?
JBF: I joined 28 squadron.
BW: How do you spell Ranchi?
BW: And this was in North West India.
JBF: North West India. Yeah.
BW: And so the attraction of going was really because you felt there wasn’t going to be that much more -
JBF: I was -
BW: To do on the squadron.
JBF: The age I was. Twenty four you know.
BW: And you fancied the opportunity of going abroad.
JBF: At least, I thought, yeah. The next minute the CO said, ‘Don’t unpack your kit you’re going to Burma.’ So I thought well this will be a change. So we gave in our blue, all the winter clothing and put in a kit bag and the marvellous thing was when it came back to us in Malaya it was intact for those two years. So with 28 squadron they were on rest and then they suddenly said, ‘We’re off. We’re starting off,’ and we went to Burma by road and rail and we got on the train. It went right up into the North West provinces of India you know, up to, by rail a change to the narrow gauge railway, Assam. That’s it. All that through I think it’s around the top of what is now Bangladesh you know and you go well India’s what you might call semi-primitive to absolutely basics. When you get up there the Naga tribesmen are still in the outfits, you know. I thought gee whiz if these fellas were in the Olympics they’d win everything. Their leg muscles were like this because they were hill men. Apparently, the English had civilised them and they were no longer head hunters. But they chased the Japanese. But what used to happen was you’d be standing there and they’d come down from the mountain and do what we called the shopping which was trying to get food, I think was the main thing. Then on the way back they had conical baskets which they put their provisions in and they each held the bottom of the conical basket and then they started a rhythm of steps and they went straight up the mountain like that. None of this we’ll climb here and all the movement was about fifteen of them all holding on. Nothing was out of place. Nothing. Must have been doing it all their lives. It was great.
BW: Just out of interest how did you get shipped out to India? Did you fly out there or were you -
JBF: No. It was the Cameronia.
BW: Troop shipped.
NH: Tell them about your Suez Canal.
BW: Well the Suez Canal was -
NH: I’ll make some tea while you -
JBF: The reason I’ve told it is on the boxes of dates before the war you always had an Arab pulling two camels and I’m just lounging on the side of the Cameronia and suddenly an Arab pulling two camels appeared on the side of the Suez Canal. So I’ve seen it. You know. Right off the box. So, we, we finally landed in Bombay. Worli was the transit camp and then we were on the trains going to our different placements.
BW: And this is Worli.
JBF: Worli that’s the transit camp outside Bombay.
BW: How do you spell Worli?
JBF: I should imagine it’s something like W R O R L and L I somewhere on the end of it. And the thing to watch out for on the Indian trains are the hookers because they are going that slow when they go up hill the hookers jump on to the train with hooks and hook all the equipment out of the windows which are always open and Handley, my pal gets out in his underwear with just shorts and he gets out with an officer in a dressing gown.
NH: All the gear had gone.
JBF: We’d lost it all with the hookers. And well a real introduction to India, on the floor on the station was this old man covered in flies. He was just covered in flies and I said to one of the Anglos, I said, ‘Well what’s that?’ He said, ‘He’s just dying.’ And that, that sums India up for me you know. That was it. Another time I saw a man, he was quite a big man, he was on a piece of corrugated and four men were holding him you know and I said, ‘He looks dead.’ ‘He is dead. They’re just carting him off. He’s just died.’ It was just like Fu Manchu you know. Flares and this one had been. And we finally we were taken by truck to Burma and it was along the Manipur Road and then it’s, it’s a flat road in between mountains where Kohima and Imphal where they did the fighting and then the road goes like this and suddenly it turns right and starts to go up called The Chocolate Staircase when the monsoon was on because it was, and we were in these trucks, you know, and just went up one side and the other side and these trucks were just and Tamu, that was the first airstrip. Jungle. It was thick jungle you know. Thick jungle airstrip and the first casualty of 28 squadron happened at Tamu. One of the, flight lieutenant [Hewlis?] an Australian, he’d forgotten, they said, to lock, you had to, because the trees, it didn’t taper off the airstrip it came straight up so you had to bounce along the runway and suddenly do this.
BW: Lurch in to the air.
JBF: Well his undercarriage caught on the trees, tipped him over and he was hanging upside down burned to death. You know. And we just, that was the first introduction. Watching him burn to death in Tamu.
BW: And 28 squadron, what did they fly? Were they [?]
JBF: Hurricane 2Cs they were. Clapped out Hurricanes that, I mean, by that stage of the war the government, I should imagine was penniless and you name it and they hadn’t the wherewithal to replace them and it was a reconnaissance unit and the issue, the side sort of activity, shall we say, was shooting up the Japanese on the ground and that’s where we lost most of the aircraft because they were, the Japanese were very good shots and they used to shoot them down when they were doing the ground strafing and we were in the jungle from January, February and we went down the Kobor Valley in a truck which was thick jungle full of malaria and you name it and one thing we learned at that particular, you can’t pee out of a moving truck. It was in a convoy so he couldn’t stop so we each went to the back of the, we had a competition, we each went to the, got off our toolbox, went to the back, hanged up, everything organised and nothing came out and everybody was the same. You can’t pee out of a moving truck.
BW: And what time of the war was this? This was after -
JBF: This was -
BW: D Day wasn’t it so was it late ‘44 when you transferred out there?
JBF: This was ’44. Yeah.
BW: Going in to early ‘45
JBF: Well forty, it was the end of ‘44 ’45.
BW: So this was after the Battle of Kohima when you’d gone through the -
JBF: Oh that was all.
BW: Towns yeah, yeah.
JBF: Oh all that would have been the ‘43 yes. All those, oh yes that was absolutely, the people that did that they should have been, what was left of them, they should be pensioned for life. They were fighting, they were fighting over a tennis court in one of the places.
BW: And so you say 28 squadron was a reconnaissance squadron.
JBF: That’s it. Reconnaissance and two cannon.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: That why they’re called 2Cs, two cannon, heavy, heavy machine gun, you know. What is it? Five?
BW: Twenty millimetre.
JBF: That’s it. Yeah. Twenty five millimetre. Quite heavy shells you know and when we got down to this Kalaymyo and it was just bush and we didn’t see an aircraft because the war was moving that quick. The next thing we were, by truck to a place called [Yau] which was an airstrip in the paddy fields.
NH: Do you want another cup Brian?
BW: Yes please. Thank you, Neil. And this is further into Burma.
JBF: This is further into Northern Burma. Tamu’s up here and you come across like this to Mandalay. Well we went down the Kobor Valley and across to [Yau?] and [Yau?] we went to Sadong.
BW: Thank you.
JBF: Sadong was the airstrip outside Mandalay. The Japanese were still in Mandalay and this is where we lost the aircraft. The aircrew. We lost two or three aircrew here because the Japanese could shoot them as they come over the fort. They were in the fort, you know. They lost them there.
BW: And even that was just down to small arms fire.
JBF: I think it was small arms, I never saw ackack guns or even, we heard all the row that was going on but I don’t ever recollect, I think it was small arms fire. The Japanese rifle is 256 the, the calibre. You know, ours are 303. Their rifles were 256. Smaller bullets but just as lethal but of course they’re all five foot three so carrying something lighter was part of the course for them. So we were in Sadong and we were there quite some time and they used to have the mule trains going up to supply the troops. Like Sadong’s here and Mandalay is there and thirteen miles I think was the difference and they came one day and said, ‘You’re not going to bed. You’re going to fly down to Meiktila.’ And so we didn’t go to bed that particular night, struck the tents, got in the Dakotas. All the Dakotas had no doors on. If you want to be frightened go on a Dakota with no doors. And we landed in Meiktila and they hadn’t cleaned up the airstrip. All the Japanese they’d killed were everywhere which was the first time really I’d seen what you might call a battlefield and well we just got stuck in from there with the aeroplanes.
BW: You mentioned that you’d struck tents.
JBF: Oh yes.
BW: Were all your accommodation presumably out in the Far East was in tents was it?
JBF: While the campaigning was on it was tents. You had a piece of coconut matting with two sort of slide holes and through that went two pieces of bamboo. Now I pinched two full sets of runway grating. I’d call them nails. They were pieces of metal and they were driven into the ground so that when it was the monsoon they had the metal over and the aircraft didn’t sink so I got hold of four -
BW: Pierced steel planking.
JBF: Of these and I drove those in the ground put the bamboo on, tied on and my bed was off ‘cause you couldn’t, they wouldn’t let you sleep on the ground because there were scorpions, you know. All the stuff that’s there. Scorpion. If you left your tent flap open you couldn’t get in because of the bugs. Somebody did to see what would happen and it was an absolute carpet of every conceivable type of flying bug you’ve ever heard of. So we never did that again.
NH: No.
JBF: We got down to Meiktila. It all went very well and we knew the war was going well because the Arakan forces who had taken Meiktila our, our army was General Slim coming this way. The Yanks were on the outside coming that way and the Indian army was coming this way along the Arakan and it was the –
BW: The opposite end.
JBF: Arakan that had captured Meiktila and so we got on to Meiktila and, you know, set up and they were doing everything as usual. It was exactly the same. Seven hundred. Oil, so on and then see them off, bring them in and run them and so on. Keep them -
BW: So even though you were working on different aircraft you were still working on the same engine to all -
JBF: That’s right.
BW: Intents and purposes.
JBF: Merlin 20s. That’s why I was posted to the Hurricane squadron, because it was home from home. We knew what to do and could do it right away.
BW: Even in those adverse conditions and presumably not as well supplied.
JBF: Well -
BW: Did you, did you have trouble with supplies?
JBF: Well we had nothing to eat. That was the trouble with supplies. But I mean hens eggs in Burmese is [ju ug?] [koplar?] is cloths. So you had a pair of underpants and you’d go [ju ug] like that [koplar] and so you’d get the hens egg and they’d get the underpants. So the net result it -
BW: So you’d trade.
JBF: We had nothing to wear either. [laughs]
BW: So you traded your under -
JBF: Not that it mattered ‘cause you never had a shirt on anyway. It was just a pair of shorts, socks and boots you know that’s the and with your boots you had to knock your boots out every day because the scorpions loved, it must have been the smell of your feet, they loved getting in the boots so we had to be, and tool boxes. If you, when you opened your toolbox the first thing to do is wait and see if anything moves. Then you’d know there was something in there that shouldn’t be in there you know. So we’re getting on with it and I think the most distressing part of Meiktila was a trench full of Japanese who’d been, they’d used the flame thrower on them. There was about anywhere between fifty and a hundred Japanese who’d been fried.
BW: All in a trench.
JBF: All in the trench. ‘Cause they, they were facing either this way or that way and the flame thrower had come this way and just fried the lot.
BW: And was this at the edge of an airstrip or near the airstrip -
JBF: Yeah. It was Meiktila airstrip.
BW: Where you were working.
JBF: There were shell holes with Japanese in. The first time we saw, there was one Japanese well over six feet. He was dead of course, in the shell hole. It was the first time I’d seen a big, they were all about this big but, anyway -
BW: And this, this was obviously all after the battle but you never came into a closer contact with the Japanese at any time.
JBF: No. Only as prisoners, not as - the next thing that happened with Meiktila he said, ‘Nine of you are being flown into the [Tongu] Box.’ Well I was picked as one of the nine so we were flown into the [Tongu] Box and I know when it was simply because we, over the radio that we heard that the Germans had packed up so it’s got to be the 8th of May. And we were in the [Tongu] Box and the laugh about that was we’d got two tents, we only had two tents. There was nine of us and suddenly the ants started, up and they had a procession going in no time. There was millions you know. Ants, you name it. They’ve got it. They were going up the guide ropes up to the top right up to the fourteen foot EPI down the other side so we thought we’ll have a bit of fun here so we got the lighted taper thing and we started chasing the ants off the, the next minute they was, your feet, being bitten and the fighter ants were biting, they were all over us, on the feet, biting. Some bad. So we’re in this in this Box thing and I could see the sergeant was getting a bit frustrated you know. The aeroplanes didn’t appear by the way. It was monsoon so they couldn’t land and take off anyway. The Dakotas had a job doing it and he said, ‘Right. We’re going to make a dash for Rangoon.’ So we thought ok, you know, ‘Rangoon. Great.’ So, so he got two West African trucks and we started off and it got to about 11 o’clock in the morning and we stopped and made a brew up. Put it on the tree and we got the fire going and the stuff out, the tea out and everything and as we were doing all this and thoroughly enjoying it out of the jungle came a patrol of British. So we just sort of, ‘Hello.’ He said, ‘What the f’ing are you,’ you know, he said, ‘Don’t you know where you are?’ We said, ‘Yes. We’re on route to Rangoon.’ He said, ‘Of course you are.’ The place was full of Japanese. He said, ‘Get the hell out of it now.’ So we never even got a cup of tea. It was like the keystone cops. The two trucks and drove off and we kept driving and it got, you know it goes dark at 6 o’clock at night there so we’d got to half past five, quarter to six and even the sergeant was getting a bit worried you know. Finally we hit an army emplacement. I don’t know how we managed to do it but they must, the sergeant must have known and he said, ‘Thank God for that,’ so we drove and he asked the officer could we bunk in for the night so we got on the floor there and at least we were surrounded by the military, you know. And so we started off the next morning and finally around about midday, 2 o’clock or something we arrived in Rangoon and they were living in a bombed out hospital at the time. The squadron. There were no buildings. Everywhere was flat, you know and the only question that was asked was, ‘Where the ‘FH’ have you been?’ They thought we’d already died. And so we arrived there and I think the most graphic thing that happened to me then, we still had Hurricanes and they used to do the cooking fires in front of this building that had no roof, no windows, no doors, nothing but at least it was, you were on the flat and it was not, it wasn’t raining you know. Marvellous and a jeep, a jeep drew up. The adjutant and two sergeants, ‘Who’s Franklin?’ So I said, ‘I am.’ ‘Get in.’ So no breakfast. Get in with the cup and the plate, you know. Driven to the flight and there’s a Hurricane standing there and the CO said, ‘Right,’ he said, ‘Start that machine.’ So I knew it was tricky because the, it wasn’t one where you just, they press the trolley acc and you had to do clever stuff with the accelerator. You know.
NH: Throttle. Yeah.
JBF: And so I got in and just eased it and it was making funny [ch ch ch], the engine you know and then I just eased it on ‘cause I’d done it before, it wasn’t and it started and I did the, you had to go up to two thousand seven hundred revs to test the engine and then you test the magnetos. You switch one off and it works and you switch the other off and it works so I went through the procedures, came down and got out. So I was utterly relieved. You know, at least the thing had worked and this, Blackie his name was, he was the sergeant. He said, ‘Do you know,’ he said, ‘You’ve just made me look the biggest f’ing fool in Burma.’ I said, ‘How’s that?’ He said. ‘I’ve been half an hour trying to get this thing started. You come down and it starts first time.’ First time. So I was driven back. They said, ‘Get out.’ Back to the squadron. No breakfast. That’s the only thing that happened to me out of that lot.
BW: So much for their thanks. And within a few weeks or months the squadron transferred to Spitfire 9s you said.
JBF: That’s right. What happened was from Rangoon we were suddenly changed over to Spit 9s it was. The Hurricanes, by the way the aircraft were just thrown in the bushes. Hurricane aircraft I mean. You know. When you went to dig a hole for the lavatory you went behind one of these because at least you had some sort of privacy. They were just there upended and that’s the other joke about Burma is that there were no toilets of course and when you had to go you had to go so the first, to start with you think oh that’s a nice piece of grass, at least it looked like and everybody in the Japanese army had already been there before. It was black. You were waist deep in it you know. That was one of the Burma experiences that you can forget about. That and the bread full of ants. I thought they were currants to start with. I thought that’s unusual, you know currant bread for breakfast and you handled, it was all ants, dead bodies of ants, they couldn’t get them out of the flour so they cooked them.
NH: Oh right.
JBF: And finally we went, the most graphic thing that happened in Rangoon was we were sitting there and the adjutant came through and he just looked at the four of us and he said, ‘The war’s over.’ [long pause] Seventy years late.
[machine pause]
JBF: And I said, ‘Where are we going?’ He said, ‘You’re going to Malaya,’ So, it was a terrible camp. It was a transit camp and we got in these kites and suddenly the kite I was in developed engine trouble and so we locked in to Siam and we spent oh at least three weeks, four weeks in Siam, at the, waiting for replacements or whatever it was you know and then we were flown in and became garrison squadron on Penang island. That was the next RAF station.
BW: So this is obviously -
JBF: This is after the war now.
BW: August. August ’45, September ’45.
JBF: This is ‘45, yeah -
BW: Were you getting news of being demobbed at anytime?
JBF: Oh nothing. What happened was we were, we were supposed to be, it was an army pre-war barracks beautifully built. Nothing, nothing there. The Malayans had pinched everything you know which was what happened to the cockpit covers. They came down with the new aircraft and all the cockpit covers disappeared overnight. So these Chinese detectives appeared out the woodwork you know and all the kids in the surrounding villages had got new clothes which was our cockpits covers [laughs]. And so we were there six months on rest and then we were transported by train along with thirty million cockroaches. The cockroaches are everywhere on the trains and the way to get them out is not to have a light so there’s no lights and you hear this [tapping noise] and the place is covered in cockroaches about so big. Cockroaches. So once they got the petrol mix and the lights they all went back and hung underneath. Fantastic. Even the loo which was a hole in the ground you know, shoulder to shoulder around the hole where you’re supposed to form are cockroaches waiting.
BW: Strange.
JBF: And we went down to Kuala Lumpur and we were in tents and it was, the thing was there was no aeroplanes and then some aeroplanes arrived and then they started educational vocational courses. We thought we’ve got to be on one of these, you know, sort of thing.
BW: This was preparing you for civilian life presumably.
JBF: This was, yeah. I had, I had an interview and I said, ‘Well I left a job and the man promised me I’d have it when I came back,’ So I didn’t need, really need the interview I felt. And there was a football team and I played in that. And things went on and suddenly the demob, the demob numbers started appearing. Well I was number forty and just one day right out of the blue six years, five years later you know they said, ‘Your number’s up.’ Forty. So within a week I was on the train going to Singapore and stayed at that, what is it, Changi is it?
NH: Changi. The airport. Yeah. Well and the Japanese camp of course.
BW: [I was there?] last year.
NH: Yeah.
JBF: And we handed the weapons in to the armoury. All Japanese. Japanese took the weapons.
BW: That must have felt quite strange.
JBF: Well it was ridiculous you know. Well it was ordered but what I’ve forgotten, I’ve just remember was the armistice in Rangoon. The rumour went around that the Japanese were coming for the armistice for Southern Asia. That bit. So they, a Japanese, they got a Japanese bunker and whereas when they captured Singapore they had all the military, the troops lined the Streets and the Japanese commander standing up in a motor car commanding, you know. All the poor squaddies were just stood there you know. We did, they had officers on the runway but everybody, it was like a football crowd so we all crowded around. I tell you what it’s like. General MacArthur on the boat where he accepts the surrender of Japan. It was like that, like a football. Well I sidled around the side and they had a desk a bit bigger than this and two of our generals were standing there and the aircraft, they were like Dakotas only much smaller pulled up and into this compound thing and this general said, ‘Do we salute?’ He said, ‘We don’t f’ing well salute them.’ So they pulled the, and there was the Japanese generals, the Japanese in full evening dress. They climbed out, marched over to the table and they just nodded and pointed to the trucks and they were put in trucks for Rangoon for the surrender and that was the surrender in Rangoon. It was just like a football match.
NH: Yeah.
JBF: There was no ceremony at all. It just -
BW: And that was it.
JBF: As it was, you know.
NH: Yeah.
JBF: Then finally the final news was the boats arrived so of course we couldn’t wait so that’s the only time I saw Raffles Hotel was in the truck going past to the troop ship.
BW: I was there myself in November.
JBF: And came home to Liverpool.
NH: What? You docked in Liverpool.
JBF: Docked in Liverpool.
NH: Marvellous. Yeah.
JBF: Then we got on the train and went to [Worley?].
NH: Back to the beginning.
JBF: Just outside Blackpool and were demobbed from there and so we had the kitbag with your uniform in and bits and pieces. You were in your RAF and your, the bag was your civilian, you know. They kitted me out with a suit, a shirt, a tie, socks, underpants, vest and shoes and it came in a series of boxes it seemed to me, just holding. We were all the same, holding up these boxes and then they just said, ‘Ok, your train’s arrived,’ and we got on the train to Liverpool and I caught the tram home.
NH: They found shoes to fit you did they?
JBF: Yeah. Got, got to Gordon Drive. Nobody’s in. Nobody in the house so [Winn Roth?] called over, ‘Jack,’ she said, ‘Come in for a cup of tea.’ So I sat in there until my sister came back from work and when I got in the house was full of mice because nobody had lived in it you see and all the scratches were on the sideboard and the various places. The meat safe thing. So I started and I caught mice every night for seven days and the technique was we, we, we had a ewbank cleaner and we chased them out of the dining room and I realised they all went in this ewbank cleaner. Every time. No change. So I said to my sister, ‘Fill up the sink.’ So she fills the sink up and takes the bowl out. I lift up the ewbank cleaner and depress and of course the doors open and out drop the mice. I killed eight in one night. The final night. So that was the trick. You know you see these pictures where there’s a party and -
NH: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
JBF: All the relatives. I never even got a party. My mother was in America seeing my brother.
BW: Who must have been in a show in America presumably.
JBF: Oh well he was –
NH: He was touring with his -
JBF: At that stage -
BW: Right.
JBF: He was with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and they, Agnes de Mille, you know the, what is she? A sister of de Mille himself you know.
BW: Cecil B.
JBF: You know.
NH: Yeah.
JBF: She was a choreographer and she choreographed Rodeo, was the name of the ballet and my brother was the champion roper in Rodeo and that was, and it was, well it was you know he was famous and it wasn’t in England.
NH: He was famous over there.
BW: Quite a showman.
JBF: Yeah.
NH: Never over here but he was in America, you know. Well known in the ballet world.
JBF: Yes. So basically I think and oh just one nice touch. I hadn’t been paid. Nobody had been paid you know all the way through from India I can’t remember. We got nothing in India.
NH: I suppose you couldn’t do anything with it anyway.
JBF: And these cheques started to appear. I thought, the five years I’ve worked so I didn’t go to work. I didn’t tell them. So the cheque came through and I said to my pal Tom, who was also demobbed, I said, ‘What do you think?’ He said, ‘Let’s go to London. Just to see what it’s like.’ So we get the cheque and off we go to London. He was the same. And it went on ‘til the week before Christmas when the cheques stopped. I said, ‘I’ve got to go to work Tom,’ I said. ‘There’s no more cheques.’ So I started work about the 15th of December that year having had off September, October, November and part of December. I thought well that’s all the leave.
NH: Yeah. That’s it. Well you’d earned it hadn’t you by that stage?
BW: And were you able to go back to the job that you’d been -
JBF: Oh yes I went back.
BW: Left.
JBF: I was the last in ‘cause I was, I was the last out the youngest and I was the last in and they’d taken, I went back to the Banana Rooms but they’d already taken a building in Sir Thomas Street and built and extension to it so we went back to reasonable offices and started to build up the business from that moment and that’s how it was. I finally retired forty seven years from Dixons.
BW: So you stayed at the same firm -
JBF: Yeah.
BW: For forty seven years.
JBF: Yeah. Well what did I know? I was twenty six you know. I had to learn to play tennis and badminton and in fact be normal. It was something I’d never experienced you know actually coming home at night and sitting down to a meal. We thought it was wonderful, Tom and I, you know. Marvellous.
BW: And subsequent to that there have been in recent years a bit more prominence and commemoration given to Bomber Command.
JBF: There has been hasn’t there? Yes.
BW: How do you feel about that?
JBF: ‘Cause they, well you’ve only got to read those books to know the price paid by the people who actually did it. When they say there’s fifty five, fifty seven thousand aircrew killed in those books that I’ve got.
NH: They’re on the chair there.
JBF: They’re talking about. There they are. Seven or eight Lancasters disappearing in the night. That was fifty six blokes. And it was every night. It wasn’t just [next?] and then there’s a month’s delay. I mean the Mosquitos, we lost about three. One received a direct hit of an anti-aircraft shell and blew up and the others were just shot down. But the rest of them, I mean, our kite did a hundred and eleven ops –
NH: Yeah good.
BW: Not with the same crew though presumably -
JBF: Oh no we had all kinds of crews.
BW: Just thinking back to your time in the Far East did you get to know the pilots on the squadron, 28 squadron at all well?
JBF: Oh yes very much so. They were very, one pilot wouldn’t let you touch his aircraft. He used to, Eddie Hunter was a Canadian. He said, it was my turn to DI his kite he said, ‘Look Lofty,’ he says, ‘I know about aircraft.’ he says, ‘I’ll do the necessary,’ and he filled up the, I filled up the juice and he checked the engine and did the oil and the coolant and that and he got shot down that day. What happened was he, from his, they used to go in twos you know. The second man, the report was, Eddie went down strafing the Japanese and as he was coming up he hit a tree, just caught the tree coming up and he crashed and killed him.
BW: Just clarify a couple of expressions if you don’t mind. DI what does that stand for?
JBF: Daily inspection.
BW: Daily inspection.
JBF: Each aircraft has a daily inspection and it was very important because it’s always after a raid, you know or a flying test or whatever and you have to sign the form 700 to say it’s, your bit’s ok.
BW: And trolley acc. That’s a trolley accumulator is that right?
JBF: Accumulator. There’s twenty four volt is it?
NH: Yeah. It’s like a –
BW: Yeah.
JBF: And they’re on two wheels.
NH: Generator thing isn’t it that they charge the engine with instead of having a starter motor.
JBF: Plug it into the aeroplane.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: You’ve primed with the pump, there’s a little hatch and you open that. Prime and screw up and then press the trolley acc. It starts. And the Merlin 20 was like that all the time.
BW: How did you rate the Spit 9s that you worked on?
JBF: Sorry?
BW: How did you rate the Spitfire 9s that you worked on?
JBF: Well they were very interesting. Not that we knew anything about them but there was nobody to tell you anything. They were just dumped on us you know and we just sort of –
BW: Were they Merlins 66s in the 9 mark 9.
JBF: They were much, they were engines we’d never seen or we knew where the oil was and we knew where the coolant was but the rest of it was just totally different.
BW: Did you feel that they were more reliable then the Mark 20 engines?
JBF: Oh yes. Well it was the, what you might call the essence of all the experience because the Lancasters had, you know, starting with Spitfires, Lancasters, Mosquitos all had Merlins in.
NH: So yeah.
JBF: I mean they were all, the Merlins underpinned the whole shooting match you know.
NH: Right. Yeah.
BW: And you still found the 66s to be pretty reliable.
JBF: Oh yes. Yeah.
BW: And they had a supercharger on them.
JBF: Yeah.
BW: Didn’t they?
JBF: That’s right yeah.
BW: Did you know much about those or work on those?
JBF: Oh no. They were just stood there you know. One thing I haven’t mention was watching a B17 fly into the ground if that’s of any interest. Is it? At Little Staughton which was very close to a lot of American bases I was DI’ing this kite and I looked up and I saw this aircraft low flying. I thought God strewth and they did a lot of low flying and it kept on flying and then it dipped and I just watched it coming towards me and it dipped into the ground and suddenly everything started to fly off it and it finished about eighty yards from me. It finally disintegrated and blew up and I’m mesmerised. You can’t, I don’t know what it is, you can’t run away and then I heard a voice, ‘Lofty’ he said, ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘Get under this,’ and so we hid under a Mosquito with six hundred and forty gallons of petrol [laughs] and we’re under the engine, you know, because it was the most protection but what I remember of the, of that was one of the cylinders complete, when the explosion of the engine it blew the cylinders out and you recognise it mid-air, ‘Oh yes there’s the’, and it just came out and dropped just short of where the Mosquito we were under you know.
BW: And so you watched this bomber coming towards you -
JBF: Yeah just watched it and -
BW: Disintegrate as it hit the ground.
JBF: Into the ground. Nothing. Not one of those.
BW: Yeah not going straight in. Going in at a sharp angle.
JBF: There was nobody in it. It was on glide, you know. It was on pilot. The Yanks came around, ‘Oh is this where it fell?’ You know.
NH: Autopilot.
JBF: All our aircraft were full of holes but -.
BW: So they must presumably have baled out.
JBF: They’d baled out. Yeah.
BW: And left it to fly on.
JBF: Well I wouldn’t say it was common baling out but we could look in, we watched the Liberator on fire in the air and suddenly five or six of the crew jumped out in parachutes and you know it was all part of the course if you know what I mean. It wasn’t, and the flying bomb was the same, we were walking into, at Staughton walking into the cookhouse, 4 o’clock in the morning. We’d done the op. It was all buttoned up and ready and there was an erk leaning on the side of the door smoking a cigarette. He said, ‘Do you want to see a flying bomb?’ So we said, ‘Ok,’ you know so he said, ‘Just turn around and watch that,’ and there was a light and a putt putt putt putt putt putt putt and then suddenly it stopped. The only flying bomb I saw was just that one.
BW: So thinking back to your experience of Bomber Command and looking back at it how do you feel the service has been commemorated? Is it, it is getting better or -
JBF: I was disappointed to start with because I did hear that somehow or other Bomber Command was pegged out, you know. Pushed around the back because it wasn’t right bombing Germans you know. Bombing civilians and all that. And I was delighted to see that they’d got this commemoration up to the air crew in London and of course Eric Brown, my cousin, he was killed and my friend Eric [McKim?], he was killed. Both aircrew. Both on these.
NH: Missions.
BW: And so from the Green Park Memorial to the Centre that’s going to be at Canwick Hill did you get to the unveiling of the Memorial -
JBF: Oh no.
BW: Last year.
JBF: I’ve never been in any kind of Association like, you know, old comrades and all that. I’ve been to two or three reunions but you were only friends in that, once you’ve, you were all looking at each other. Perfect strangers.
NH: Yeah.
JBF: You know, solicitors were looking at accountants and accountants were looking at clerks and clerks were looking at petrol attendants or –
NH: Yeah.
JBF: Garages.
NH: Had nothing in common by then did you?
JBF: I remember two.
NH: Who was the guy that you, there was the fella with a ‘tache wasn’t there that sort of set himself up as a, as a leading light in that thing and you said he was, you knew him anyway, there was a guy that sort of ran it or tried to get -
JBF: Oh yes. Yeah. Well -
NH: That organised the reunions.
JBF: Organised the reunions. Yeah, well.
NH: Who was that fella?
JBF: To be honest except for Handley and Dom and Clive and Bill Gill, that was our little gang, and we all went to the reunions, we went to two reunions but there was nothing in common.
BW: Right.
JBF: We had nothing in common. Pat Handley was a big lorry driver on the motorways. Dom worked in a garage. I don’t know what Clive did. And I went back to office work.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: And the friendship was just at the time you know. In Meiktila for instance Handley had the brilliant idea. Japanese built the bunkers for their aircraft and of course there’s a trench around where they got the air to make the bunker so Handley has this brilliant idea he won’t bother with pegs and that he’ll just put the tent over one of these bunkers which is great except for the monsoon started. He’s standing in two foot of water and instead of rushing to help him we all died laughing, you know.
NH: Yeah.
BW: And so you’ve yet to see the memorial spire to Bomber Command crew at Canwick Hill at Lincoln where -
JBF: Is it really?
BW: So you’ve yet to go and see that.
JBF: Do I?
NH: Well he can’t get around much these days.
BW: Yeah.
NH: That’s the problem.
BW: Yeah.
NH: He’s not very mobile.
BW: Yeah.
NH: Are you? So you -
JBF: Oh no. I’m housebound you know.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: I can’t go out.
NH: Yeah.
BW: Yeah.
NH: He gets to his art.
BW: That’s a shame.
NH: He painted all these.
BW: These pictures on the wall.
NH: Yeah.
JBF: There’s, there’s -
BW: [?]
JBF: The one that’s see the latest underneath that see that one.
BW: Yeah.
JBF: Of the skyscrapers, right at the bottom, beside the little girl.
BW: Yes. This one.
JBF: That’s, Tim’s got that one. That was the last one I painted.
NH: So that’s, that’s as far as he gets these days.
JBF: You know they’re sort of this size.
BW: They’re wonderful paintings.
NH: Yeah.
BW: Ok.
NH: They’re his.
BW: Ok. I think that is all the questions that I have for you Jack unless there is anything else that you want to add.
NH: The only other thing is you mentioned my mum. Didn’t you used to meet up? She was at Bletchley and you used to meet up.
JBF: She was at Bletchley Park and I was at Little Staughton and we arranged to meet and I used to go to Bedford I think it was, catch the train and we’d meet. She’d bring a WAAF friend and invariably we went to the pictures and I never ever saw the film. I fell asleep immediately because I’d come off duty to get there so I’d got myself washed and dressed and in my best blue and out and we used to go to the pictures and I never saw a film because I just fell asleep.
NH: Did you ever know what she was doing at Bletchley? I mean.
JBF: No. I only knew what she was doing about 1960.
NH: You knew she was there though.
JBF: Yeah.
NH: Yeah.
JBF: It was very very -
NH: Oh absolutely.
JBF: Yeah.
NH: That’s right.
JBF: It was like the Oboe. The start was very, you know.
BW: And they were told not to speak about it and many of them didn’t for you know sixty years -
JBF: Well 1960.
BW: Let alone thirty.
JBF: The first time I even mentioned the word you know. I don’t even like to say it now to be honest.
BW: Different times.
NH: Absolutely.
BW: Right. Ok. I think that is everything for the interview so on behalf of the Bomber Command Centre thank you very much your time Jack. It’s been a pleasure.
JBF: Here’s the, do you want to have a look at some of the pictures?
BW: I’ll have a look at some of the -
JBF: Let’s see what’s in here.
BW: Items.
NH: So what is this centre?
BW: It’s going to be a digital archive for the audio and any documents that -
NH: Yeah.
BW: People hand over.
JBF: That’s the kind of terrain in Burma.


Brian Wright, “Interview with Jack Brown Franklin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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