Interview with Basil Goldstraw


Interview with Basil Goldstraw


Basil Goldstraw was classed as medically unfit for aircrew and following training as a fitter, he was posted to 75 Squadron at RAF Mepal. He discusses aspects of his work as a fitter, being bombed, and life on and off the station. He was posted to Singapore as part of Tiger Force and worked as an Engineer with local authorities after the war.




Temporal Coverage




00:28:39 audio recording

Conforms To


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DB. I am interviewing Basil John Goldstraw at his home a Haywards Heath on the 27th of August 2016 at 1600. Em Basil I would like you to tell me a little about your experiences before, during and after the war.
BG. Can I just say, you got, when you said legally you have got to use your first, John, legally everything comes to me either JB, sometimes it comes Basil, the people who know, sometimes it comes Mr John. I got one this morning Mr John Goldstraw, which I don’t like. I have always known, everybody knows me as Basil, they cut it short Bas you see and that’s how I sign myself to my friends and Glen and everybody like that you see or sometimes I just say Basil. So it is just that it doesn’t sound right to say it the wrong way round. I am being picky on the one thing that.
DG. Talking today to John Basil known as Bas or Basil Goldstraw at his home in Haywards Heath on the 27th of August 2016 at 1600. Basil as you like to be know best, would you like to tell me about your experiences during the war, before, during and after?
BG. Yep; I was put out leaving me finger on it won’t I.
DB. Here you go.
BG. So that is working now? Right, em having always had an interest in the Air Force eh when war broke out I decided that A I didn’t want to be a Sailor, I didn’t want to be a foot slogger. So I thought the best thing I could do was follow partly an ambition and I went to Dover Street in Manchester at the age of seventeen and volunteered and was accepted for the RAF. My call up papers, my first place of residence was George Street in Edinburgh, rather remember this well because a lad from my home town was due to join up the day after me and his Mum came round to see me and said could he join, could he come along as company? I remember, we got into Edinburgh, we caught a tram, he was a bit slow and I remember him chasing down eh the street, following the tram until we managed to scramble him back on board.[laugh] From George Street the following morning we were trained to Arbroath and our residence was the Old Jute Mills in Arbroath. This is where the basic training took place eh and well remembered because it was an enormous building. Eh a bit like one of the Cotton Mills with everything moved out and there were probably a hundred, a hundred and twenty people living in there. Just as an aside I remember my Mum saying to me, make sure your clothes are aired and anybody who was at the Jute Mills at Arbroath will remember the difficulty we had getting our clothes dry. Every morning we had to put our, fold our blankets, fold our biscuits, put the blankets round the biscuits and do like everybody else had to do, towel and irons for inspection, hiding our laundry out of the sight of the NCO. In the evening we could hang the clothes out and the only way you could really get them dry and this applied to everybody not just me, was to fold your laundry between the sheets and sleep on it overnight and they got reasonably dry, eh it was quite cold but we survived and I can’t remember how long we stayed there but the next port of call for me was Blackpool and 3 S of TT at Squires Gate. Being in Blackpool we were stationed in Civvy Billets and I well remember the lady we stayed with, her name was Bardsley, Mrs Bardsley and a very nice person. There were three of us shared the one bedroom eh, the chap who joined with me from my home town he was one of the inmates, and another chap was Len Kennedy who we became great friends. He actually when the course finished he was posted to a Halifax Squadron in eh Pocklington. The lad from Loxton his name was Perkins eh he became ill so we parted company there from the eh, [unclear] training eh. I am a little bit, can’t remember actually to what happened but I done the Fitters Course and from there I was eh posted to Mepal, 75 NZ Squadron. Eh whilst I had been on the Fitters Course or after the Fitters Course I did volunteer for Aircrew and was accepted. Whilst at Meeple I had to go into sick quarters and then was transferred to the RAF Hospital in Ely from which they done a good job. When I came out the Surgeon said young man you are not going to fly anywhere. Always puzzled me why they didn’t regrade me medically and they I never did, they never did find out really what was the matter. It was only until after the war I think about 1953 or 56 this was diagnosed at St Marys Hospital in Manchester. The time spent at Mepal, I suppose was like anywhere else there were good days and bad days. Eh I was attached all the time there to the RNI Section eh, where we were doing engine, prop changes, modifications, servicing or whatever was required. I always remember two of us had done some work, I think it was on one of the outer engines and, and the rule of thumb was if there was four groups, if there was eh four; what should I say. Remembering that there used to be two groups, eh two people on each engine, I remember that we had finished and the rule of thumb was the last Crew to finish had to see to the engine test run up. See it off on its Air Test and sign the form 700 or 701 I can’t remember which it was before they could go. We were allowed because we were finished we were allowed the rest of the day of which was late afternoon and two of us went for a swim in the Old Bedford Canal at Mepal. As we were swimming the old plane that we had worked on flew over and we had no qualms at all. When we got back into the Mess in the evening, one of them said “eh I think you are in trouble,” so we said “why” they said “well as she came into land eh, the engine went wild, one engine went wild” I think it was the starboard outer “she was too late to do anything so she swerved off the runway, ripped, ripped the undercarriage off and was a mess.” Just on the side it wasn’t our engine for which we were pleased. The outcome was a clevis pin had fallen out of the throttle control and eh left it so they couldn’t control coming in, in the last minute. Poor old bloke, normally controls are examined or they like you, they like a Senior NCO to do that work or check it. People were allowed to do it, the poor old bloke who had eh, done the work ended up on a Court Marshall and I think he disappeared for a fortnight. We used to get the eh Fortresses and Liberators and that flying fairly low over and coming, they used to come back. When our lads were on daylights they used to come back in what we describe as a gaggle whereas the Forts would come back, what was left of them in a Formation. On one of these occasions eh our Squadron was about to land in circuit and the Fortress came in. Eh the Control Box virtually through everything at this Fortress to stop him landing but he seen Mother Earth and he wanted to get down to it and he crash landed luckily without any explosions or fire on the grass on runway near the top towards Sutton. Yeah eh a story that illuminated, if that is the right word from that, we had an MU on the, the airfield and they used to do Majors and Category work. The story is eh, the Americans were still, they were entertained, I don’t know if it was the following morning by the Officers Mess and I think probably a discussion regarding low flying had taken. The story is that morning one of the eh Pilots of 75 eh, was taking a plane up on air test and from what the story goes the American Pilot and his Observer and perhaps others went with them to see how the Lanc flied and everything else. Eh and out over the Wash, the Bedford Canals he came back with a bit of tree branches hanging from one of the engines, I think it was starboard inner and of course it had landed, he had been flying low and it went straight back into the MU for repairs. I don’t know the validity of that but it was a story that went around for quite a while. Again memories coming back, we had, had an intruder come in one night eh, and drop Butterfly Bombs, anti-personnel bombs all over the place we were out of action the following day until the Bomb Disposal people had been and we had no air defence at that time but eh twin browning mounted on a stalk were obtained from somewhere and quite a number of Ground Crew had to go down to Waterbeach for training eh, on these, on this equipment for future Air Defence. Luckily for everybody Gerry never came back again. The next instance that comes to mind is that the Ops, at the latter end of the war Ops were delayed then eventually I think they were cancelled. And eh some of the bomb load were delayed actions. And in the night, I think the idea was to get an early morning start and in the night a terrific explosion occurred somewhere up on A or B Flights one of the Lancaster’s, one of the delayed action must have gone off and we lost quite a few eh planes either through shrapnel damage and one or two just disappeared. Again we were out of action until some more arrived. We have on the, on the Squadron, on the Airfield we had a eh group of Instrumentalists, they were known as the “75’ers.” I don’t remember them playing on actually the Airfield but they used to play at Chatteris if they were not on duty Em, on, I don’t know Fridays, Saturdays night. It was always difficult knowing how to get there because there was no bus service, you had to cadge a lift or cycle. Em, sometimes, sometimes if you got a lift you couldn’t get one back because the chap giving you the lift had got other interests at that time of night. It may sound silly but we had a good relationship with the Police, so you could go into the Station on arriving in Chatteris and say to the Sergeant in the Police Station, little Police Station there, “have you got a bed for the night Sarge.?” And if he was not busy he would say “right ho lads.” And you would stay there overnight, catch the workman’s bus in the morning, eh put two bob in the box, in the box for the eh, Police. Catch the bus, the bus that dropped you of somewhere where you could get into the Airfield without the eh SPs noticing you. As long as you were there for eight o’clock in the morning nobody seemed to worry too much. But it was quite regular that one could do that, it sounds silly you couldn’t do it now. Eh but eh we were friendly and of course the band the billet that I was in we used to play a lot of eh cards, some people gambled, I didn’t but we used to play, can’t remember the card game, it was fifteen two, fifteen four so you could perhaps remember that. Eh we had the eh Officer of the day came down to inspect and there was no list, official list on the back of the door for who were inhabited the bill, the eh hut but there was a list there with our, Crib that was the name of it, I have just remembered our crib tournaments that we used to run in the billet. The NCO in charge said “well Sir the, the crib notices is on and everybody of note is on the crib notice, so we got away with that one. Eh I remember with the Seventy Fivers Band, Arthur Swift he used to play fiddle, Johnnie Kimber he used to play sax, Len Mitchell use to play drums and there was one other that I can’t remember. When maximum effort was on em and I am not sure wither we had twenty four or twenty six planes eh we had long hours at times, I remember working all day and then in the evening we worked through the night, I remember that well because I changed a prop. And when we rung it up it had, had battle damage on it an had been repaired eh and when we rung it up the thing vibrated. This was the latter end of the night we were working, so that was a big panic on to get the trestles on again and change the prop, we had to do it to make sure it was balanced. Eh but some days were long and some days as I said extended through to the following morning. When at the latter end of the war eh the Squadron was moved to Spilsby, if I remember right 424 Squadron came in to eh Mepal and 75 were I think preparing for Tiger Force and then going home, they were going to be equipped with Lincolns. Em; we then some personnel were moved, I was one of them to Upwood and then from Upwood there was then one or two people, I was one of them selected for Overseas again for Tiger Force. We were flown out in an old York via Malta, Albania, Karachi and for a while at Calcutta at Ballygunge for about for about six weeks and then from there eh a Dakota down to Mingaladong, Butterworth, eh and eventually into Singapore from where I was demobbed. We came home by a Dutch liner as they called it the Umbernauld and Barnabelt[?] if anybody came home on that they were lucky to get home and the boat itself became the Moortown[?] and burnt out in the Med in, in fifties or sixties so it should have been burnt out before we got on it. These days one listens to our lack of equipment and poor equipment. Eh, nothing seems to have changed since I was in the Services eh my tool kit eh that I was issued with and other people consisted of a few assorted spanners, a hard faced hammer and screwdriver and pair of pliers. Eh so as I say as regards equipment I don’t think much has changed today. After the war when I was demobbed, I am trying to think, just going back to tools, one of the items that I always seemed to get to on a maintenance was a, because we was handed strips of hard paper with the tasks we had to perform on an engine. And one had to sign for everything that one did so that, that piece, that slip of paper went into the log book which carried your name. Eh there was a small boost aneroid on the port side of the Lanc. Eh and a little dome on there was held on by three ba screws and nuts. I always remember nobody had a three bar spanner so one had to manipulate a pair of pliers and hope it worked because one had to take the aneroid out and clean the eh the slide valve. Em I was in March one day an there was an iron mongers in there, I slipped in and said “have you got a three ba spanner by any chance?” They are the sort of things, mag spanners and that was very useful, in actual fact I have still got it in my tool box. Memories, good Lord, thus saying I got demobbed I think it was near Preston I can’t remember the name of it but that doesn’t matter eh, and of course went back to work for the local authority which we were a borough with our own gas, sewage works and eventually I became in charge of all the maintenance not only on the eh plant, on the vehicles but also on the sewage works equipment and the water works. Having; I had special and separate overalls at the time and separate wellingtons dependant on wither it was a sewage works or the water works that I was attending. Rather laughable but really Health and Safety hadn’t really got in properly then. Eh I quite, it was interesting, I quite interesting and I stayed there until 1968 when I moved down into the Sussex Area again with an other author, authority and in the meantime I,I had become a Member of the Road Transport Engineers, Institute of Road Transport Engineers and one or two other things. So I retired I think in 1980,83 or 86 that, beyond me to remember so I have had quite a good wholesome retirement for which I am very grateful. I suppose one interesting point would be that I was always in R and I, chap named Flight Sergeant Sadler we had always been, he was an Australian he had an MID up and we always referred to him as Bondy Sadler very rarely did you say Flight to him. He was that type of bloke that eh accepted the fact that he was like everybody else, that he were human. Eh with the Flight people we had A, B and C Flight we never really encountered them. It was not an anti-social thing it was just the way that they were on the Flights, they would, they would probably have eh a Rigger, an Engine Fitter and possibly and Electrician and Armourer to each, to each Lanc eh and eh they spent their life generally eh maintaining, repairing the same plane until unfortunately that plane perhaps became lost in action and eh they knew the Aircrew much more than we in, well we didn’t actually in RNI we didn’t actually get in contact with the Aircrew. Our, our, ours was a Lancaster repaired if it went out on air test, came back, the next one was virtually waiting to be attended to so em, eh we were not anti-social say. Luckily a lot of people who were on R and I eh we, we, we sort of associated with particularly in our hut. Just memory that.


Denise Boneham, “Interview with Basil Goldstraw,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 15, 2024,

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