Interview with Bernard Charles Mabey


Interview with Bernard Charles Mabey


Bernard Mabey was born in London and experienced the Blitz at first hand. He was a member of the Air Training Corps in 1941 before volunteering for the RAF. He trained as an air frame mechanic at RAF Locking. His first posting was RAF Marston Moor which was a Heavy Conversion Unit. He was surprised by the change in approach to discipline between training and his first posting. He describes aspects of repairing aircraft. He enjoyed playing cricket for the station. After the war he became an industrial property developer.




Temporal Coverage




02:05:19 audio recording

Conforms To


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is Monday the 28th of November 2016 and we’re in Southend talking to Bernard Mabey and he operated in the engineering activities in the RAF. What are your earliest recollections of life Bernard?
BM: I was born in Canning Town in a small terraced house. My father was an electrician and I went to primary school in Canning Town until the age of, from the age of five until eleven and then I won a scholarship to a Central School in Forest Gate at the age of eleven and then that was 1936. And of course when war was declared my school, that Central School had been evacuated to Ipswich, just outside Ipswich. I went with them for, I was only with them a couple of months at Ipswich. In fact I was at Ipswich when war was declared so obviously we were evacuated before war started. And I had a sister who was also evacuated to Oxford so, and I had a brother. I was in a family of three. My brother who was working in London. The government decided that then all the evacuees our parents had to pay a contribution towards their keep. So my father, and all I was doing, I wasn’t being educated all I was doing was digging up the grass areas around this primary school in Nacton which is just outside Ipswich and my father said, ‘You’re no point in digging, or staying up there digging. You can come home and get a job.’ So on my fourteenth birthday I went up to London [coughs] up to London, to Snow Hill at Holborn which was a big like unemployment centre and I got a job in a small commercial artists’ as an office boy. I didn’t like it so then I got the job myself with a firm of estate agents and surveyors in Plaistow. This would be in the new year. That would be 1940, early 1940 at, I think, fifteen shillings a week and I stayed with them ‘til I got called up at the age of eighteen. The firm already had one person called up and what they were doing they were paying all the time they were in the forces, half wage. Well my salary when I got called up was about two pounds a week. So I was on a pound a week from the firm. It was a guarantee that you had a job to come back to. I went to Cardington to get uniform and that photograph up there of all the crowd is when we were got our uniform. And from there after about what four or five days we were shipped up to Skegness to do our square bashing for eight weeks and we were parked in all the empty hotels along the seafront and we used to use the old canteen that was at Butlins empire down the far corner for our food. And that was not a very pleasant time. It was in the winter. There was no heating on in these hotels. There was nothing on the floor. It was just bare floorboards and you used to wake up in the morning, my bed was along the bay window and you wake up in the morning your blankets were damp from the dew coming off from the sea ‘cause, you know, you could see it just out the window. And, but after eight weeks I was extremely fit because I used to, when I was at school, going back to that time I did box for the school. I became a member of West Ham Boxing Club and I boxed in the Great Britain Schoolboy Championships.
Other: Oh.
BM: But I was only what, about, oh under six stone. I was a very small lad. But apparently they thought I was good because I was fast and West Ham were a very good boxing club. One of the best in the country. Anyway, after passing out at Skegness I had, I was posted then to training down at Locking for air frame mechanic. If you were going on engines you would go to Cosford. If you were going on air frames you would go to Locking and that’s where we went and that was, but going back to what you were saying earlier the reason I chose to go in to the air force was because A) I had joined the Air Training Corps in 1941 because we’d moved out of London then down to Laindon because of the bombing. I mean people don’t realised I don’t think that when they started the Blitz it went on for about, oh, certainly longer than a month. Every night. You used to come home from work and my mother would have tea ready. We would eat that and by eight o’clock we were down in the shelter because by five past eight the sirens would certainly go and it was, you could more or less bank on it coming like that and it wouldn’t go all clear ‘til 3 o’clock in the morning.
CB: Fifty seven days continuous.
BM: Oh yes. And that went on, as I say, for well over a month. I think it went on for more like two months. And I was reading in an article since then that West Ham which, that was in the borough of West Ham lost twenty five percent of their housing stock during the blitz and when you consider that most of their housing stock were terraced houses, and small terraced houses it was quite a lot of damage done and, well during my time working there before I got called up. I worked for this firm of estate agents and there were people getting called up as well and so the rent collectors was not a reserved occupation and so they said, ‘Right. As part of your training Mabey you will do two days a week rent collecting. Which you look after the property and you collect the rents.’ So consequently you’re cycling around on a push bike around the East End of London and, with a satchel and you finish a day with about a hundred pounds in rents but all that few years up to the age of eighteen I never got troubled once, you know. Honesty then was quite prominent. But you saw the tragedy of a lot of women that were left alone with kids ‘cause their husbands had been called up and it was pretty gruesome because a lot of them couldn’t pay their rent and they just vanished overnight. And some of the properties vanished overnight as well because you would go around there the next morning you’d find a big hole. That was just part of my education I suppose because my schooling had finished at the age of fourteen and so when I go into the air force my brother already was in the air force. He was nearly, what, two years older than me. He wanted to be air crew but he was turned down because he was colour blind but I still followed him and I also went for air crew but I was similarly colour blind as well [laughs]. So he finished up a flight mechanic on engines and I finished up, it was not my choice, they just tell you, I finished up flight mechanic on air frames and that was it. And they taught me that down at Locking as I say. I think it was about an eighteen week course. It was after that you’d, then you could look upon the possibility of getting seven days leave. So you’d gone six months plus with no leave at all. And my posting was to Marston Moor, Yorkshire which was very enlightening because bearing in mind that at Skegness discipline was very very strict. To stand in front of a corporal you had to stand to attention. You didn’t speak until you were spoken to. And if you stood in front of a sergeant you felt you were seeing God and that carried on to some degree when you were doing your training at Locking because they were all corporals and sergeants, the instructors. So then you get your kit bag and all your gear and you go up to a squadron in, on Marston Moor which was a wartime ‘drome constructed with nothing of the niceties that you saw at say, ultimately I saw at Waddington anyway. But I remember there you got up to York Station and on York Station there was a shed that you report to and they would say, ‘Where are you were posted to?’ And they would have transport available for you to ship you up to Marston Moor. Go to Marston Moor, go in to the orderly room, hand over the papers, ‘Oh yes, you’ll be, you want to see Sergeant Edie.’ Oh yeah. So I walked over to the hangar and I see a chap there and I say, ‘Can you tell me where Sergeant Edie is?’ ‘Yeah he’s up there on the trestle working on that Halifax.’ So he then just turned around to him, ‘Harry. Someone to see you.’ So he got down from the trestle and I walked up to him. Of course immediately stood to attention and, ‘Sergeant. My name is Mabey.’ And he looked at me. He said, ‘What are you standing like that for? Cut that out.’ He said. ‘That doesn’t happen,’ he said, ‘And my name is not sergeant. It’s Harry.’ And that was suddenly from as I say living in a disciplined atmosphere to get to that and of course when you go to work they give you a bike in, at Marston Moor because the runway was built, a few office buildings, a control tower and things around it and a couple of hangars but accommodation was in nissen huts scattered around and I was in one of four nissen huts on the Wetherby to York Road. Side of the road. Public road. People going by. And there was, you were all and that was accommodated something over a hundred people and no toilets. No washing facilities. You got a stand by tap outside if you wanted water and you’ve got a bike. So you worked out that if you want to go to the toilet there’s the block over there but if you also want to go and have breakfast there’s a block over there and if you’ve got to go to the hangar there’s a block over there so you’ve got the bike and if you got up a bit late in the morning you’d got a choice. What do you want to do most of all? Then you finished up you wouldn’t have breakfast because you knew the NAAFI van would come around about half past nine, 10 o’clock and you’d get a cup of tea and a cake. And that’s what it was like. But you’re going to the canteen of a night time and you’d pull out a couple of slices of bread and a mug of tea which you would put on the stove and toast the bread and warm the tea. So you would ‘cause there were no other comforts. I mean I can say that I never ever had sheets until the last three months of my four years in the air force. All we had was blankets. No pillow cases. Just a bare straw field biscuit. You had three of those and three blankets and you’d sleep on one blanket and have two wrapped around you together with your great coat when it got cold. And on top of that clothes rationing had been going on in the country for a couple of years so pyjamas were a no-no. You couldn’t afford to use clothing coupons to buy pyjamas when you were at home and so consequently when you get in to the air force you ain’t got pyjamas so you just go to bed in your pants and freeze and it was, but the question of wearing a collar and tie never existed. You wore your battle dress with a sweater which you got from the Red Cross. A white sweater and you got white socks from the Red Cross. You know, thick socks which you wore with your wellington boots with the tops turned down and this is where you worked with overalls because the aircraft were always parked out on the dispersal points which were like circles of concrete sprung off the perimeter track. The only time they were in the hangars was when they were going through a minor inspection or a major inspection. Daily inspections, they would be done out in the open. And the daily inspections were the chap on the engines would just run the engines. If the crew had made any complaints about that was not right, that was not right all you did was a daily inspection on the air frame which consist of you’d check the tyres and there used to be a few splits in the tyres. You’d go and get a gun with a rubber handle you know to insert a patch into the tyre but then the next day you’d look at that. It’s been up and it’s landed and that’s gone, come out again. It was very, I wouldn’t say it was poor but the patches didn’t work and it was just like a liquid rubber that you pressed into it. And of course all the controls on those aircraft are in cables. They’re not like electronics now. And all along the fuselage inside you’d got all the cables. Like cables going from the cockpit to the rudder or the elevators and you’d just get hold of the turn buckles and you’d just have to check all those and tighten them all up and then it was ready to go again as far as the, as far as the air frame was concerned unless there was any dents or holes in them. Then you’d have to put a patch on them and that was it. And I lasted there right through ‘til D-Day. VE day because I remember on VE day we had some new chaps had come in from Chittagong. India. They’d been out there servicing aircraft that were dealing with Burma and places like that and they’d been out in the sun too long because they were potty. They’d just announced, you know, VE day. We weren’t allowed to come home and these were just running around the huts banging out the windows with a broom and things like that you know. But there was no celebration on camp really. We just carried on. Some of them said, ‘We’re going home,’ but we weren’t really allowed to. Whether they ever did I don’t know, but and then after that I was sent to, on a fitter’s course, a short fitter’s course to turn me into what they called a Group 1 Trade, Mechanics Group 2. You can get to LAC and you get no higher. That’s you finished. But if you go on to a fitter’s course that’s a higher grade, more money and you can go up to, oh, warrant officer if necessary. And the reason being that when they assembled the Tiger Force in Waddington, this is where they were going to be based, they wanted highly trained mechanics and fitters. They had more training and more competence so, and that’s when I was shipped after that down to Waddington and the Yellow Fever inoculation. But we didn’t have much work to do because it was the people who was doing all the work were the pilots doing training, landing, cross country runs you know and that sort of thing and so we got, I think oh, seven days embarkation leave. I got that about three times. In fact people at home were saying, ‘What the hell are you doing home again?’ And we were there as I say right until VJ Day and so they then asked for volunteers and they didn’t get any to take part in a Victory Parade so the group captain said, ‘Well just take two hundred men out of that lot.’ They had nothing else for us to do and so we were shipped down to Kensington Gardens. And then after that, yes they, my posting came through and I went to [Witney] which was just outside Cambridge and it was Group Headquarters. Lovely ‘drome, you know. Very modern like Waddington was but I was posted to work in the station workshop standing at a bench making modifications for Lancasters and so on. You know, small brackets that had to be modified and so on. Doing that from nine ‘til five with collar and tie on, looking very smart. I remember one day I came out of there and I started walking and someone then shouted at me and I stopped. He said, ‘Airman, you didn’t salute me.’ I said, ‘No. I didn’t see you Sir.’ ‘Oh. He said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I work in the station workshop.’ ‘I see. Well you get a haircut. You need, badly need a haircut. You get a haircut and report to my office tomorrow morning.’ And I thought to myself well if that’s the sort of life so I put in a request and I think they thought they were doing me a favour because living in Laindon a posting to Cambridge is, you know, fairly easy. You could hitch hike home. So they said right if he doesn’t like it there we’ll send him somewhere and they sent me down to Somerset. And I was then servicing, it was a servicing echelon that I was on repairing or servicing Avro Yorks because after the war Avro Yorks were used by Montgomery, Field Marshal Smuts, his was there and they come in for a service and they were lovely aircraft to work on because you would walk all over them. Outside and inside. No problem. Very big. And there I was being a fitter on air frames and I was in charge of a small group of chaps. So one day a new Avro York arrived from the makers, Lancasters and so we had to do what they called an acceptance inspection and, ok. I looked over it inside and outside and the only thing I could find wrong with it was the fact that the undercarriage when it was parked you had what they called a jury strut. That is a metal pole that is framed between the spar of the main plane and also the leg of the undercart and there wasn’t one there. So, so I put it on my report and then the chap who was responsible for the engines he started running them up and well the chocks were there. Everything was all alright. He was running the engines over well they’d also done another modification inside the cockpit. There’s a blower switch. Don’t ask me what. It’s really hot air and cold blower for the engines. Now what that does I do not know but it was not my, more or less part of my employment so that was the engine bloke and there was the undercarriage lever. They’d switched them around for some unknown reason. So this bloke was running the engines and when he thought to select the hot and cold air he pulled the lever but unfortunately that was the undercarriage and so consequently you’ve got a lovely new Avro York. No camouflage on it, you know. It had come straight from out of the manufacturers. It slowly as we stood and watched it slowly go forward. The chocks held it back, the undercart had folded and then the props were going around. They started churning up the tarmac and then it stopped. Well you know where you get, I think the best way to describe it is a cottage loaf which has a bit with the crease in the middle like that whereas the fuselage was like that. Like that. That’s just simply how it went. Collapsed through the middle from the weight and then the circus began. The sergeant came out of the shed, did his nut, went running off to someone. And then a warrant officer came out. He did his nut. Went off to someone. Engineering officer, the flight lieutenant, ‘Oh that was terrible.’ And then the squadron leader came and of course then it finished up with the group captain came out and the person responsible for the engines who was, he was put under close arrest poor so and so. And we had very little work to do then so that’s when I got posted down to Membury which had a lodging, to join a lodging squadron. Still a squadron of Bomber Command but they were lodging on Transport Command territory and that was at Membury which is just outside Newbury. Now that was a terrible hole. In fact after a few weeks it was examined by the Air Ministry and they condemned it. Unfit. And so we were then transferred away from Membury which was a good thing because on the last couple of nights we were at Membury, I remember this quite clearly there were a few what I call rebels in the, in the camp as it were and we went in to Lambourn. The racing area you know to see what was in the nightlife. Having a night of drinks before we moved off. There wasn’t much doing except we came across a hall where they had a do going on and a couple of them went up to the door, knocked on the, ‘Could we come in?’ It was the local hunt ball. Now, you know [laughs] they don’t look kindly on yobs and they still, these ones persisted. I wasn’t looking for trouble so I came away but apparently, and I only learned this the next morning when we were getting ready to go off to our new station, they were allowed in but they were whisked straight through the hall into the back room where they were calmly knocked about in no uncertain way and they looked rough the next day. Bruised and cut because they had dared to, you know more or less visit the local hunt ball. But and then we went up to Netheravon and Netheravon that was a squadron there of Dakotas. The same squadron we had from Membury. We moved them across. And that was rather amusing. I mean bearing in mind I’d got back in to the squadron habit of being, not wearing a collar and tie, just wearing your sweater again and battle dress. So we flew in our aircraft, air crew were, carried us obviously you know. We went as passengers with our personal belongings and all our equipment went by road on truck and that’s how we moved out of Membury and arrived at Netheravon. Now, Netheravon had a complete boundary to it so in other words you had a gate, had a sentry and what have you but when we got there bearing in mind it was also headquarters for Transport Command. One of the units there. So we went straight in to the NAAFI to have a drink and you could see all the way around the NAAFI that the office staff there, the WAAFs all looking smart and elegant and drinking their nice cups of tea and suddenly about thirty or forty yobs come in looking not very smart, not very tidy and all they did was go to the beer tent and start supping beer. Then we had someone who could play the piano and that was it. We transformed the place but, and I was there for what, about nine months, twelve months, and I finished up there. I got demobbed from there. They sent me up but it was the best years of my life in the air force because I was an LAC then, fitter trade and I used to play a bit of cricket and I played for the local, our own squadron and ok they could do with more members so the station picked me to play as well and then part of the Group they picked me to play so I used to go in to the hangar on a Monday morning during the cricket season and the flight lieutenant engineering officer turned around to me and he said, ‘We’ll do the jobs rota. Well now, maybe. How many days cricket are you playing this week?’ I said, ‘Well sir, I’ve got a match on Wednesday, another one on Friday and I’m playing on Sunday.’ ‘Oh. So do you mind if we can fit you into work in between those days?’ [laughs] But that was the only time when I really enjoyed the company because you know the captain of the cricket team in most stations is invariably one squadron leader or a wing commander. Someone you never, you’d rarely get a chance to speak to and all the other are flight lieutenants, flying officers, several sergeants and that’s it. If you get a couple of airmen in it you’re lucky and so they make a lot of fuss of you and I got on extremely well with them, you know. We got to the Group final at cricket and we played at Abingdon in the Group final and it was drizzling with rain and we went out to field in the first innings and we had a, in our team we had a fast bowler who was a Middlesex colt. So a pretty good player and he started bowling with a new ball on a wet wicket, a damp wicket and it finished and I was filled in the slips. And of course this, this batsman he just clipped it slightly, came straight at me. Went right through my hands and hit me there, split it open. I went down on a bit of a muddy, you know, damp pitch in my whites, blood all over the place and then the rain came and so the match was abandoned. But we finished up, we re-played it at Kodak. You know Kodak the camera ground? They had a factory at Harrow just outside London and a big sports ground which large companies did and we played on that, the replay. I know it must have been around about the August time because that was the last match I played and they looked upon it as my demobilisation party. We stopped off in a pub just outside Harrow from the coach. All of us went in there and got really sloshed [laughs]. Now, I think most probably that is my, well the only other thing I can remember then is going up to Preston to get my demobilisation pack. And what I remember clearly then is getting on a bus outside the depot at Preston to go to the station wearing my uniform as usual but with a Trilby hat [laughs]. And that’s where, and of course I got eight weeks demobilisation which meant I was being paid up till almost the end of October which rounded off just about the four years. But my firm had been paying me a pound a week so I then went back to them and renewed my working life with them. But I was fortunate in some respects because at Netheravon they had a forces preliminary exam and I took, well I attended to classes of an evening and I passed it and in fact it’s on the book there. I passed that which enabled me to bypass my professional examination which I later took after I went back into civilian life. The preliminary examination. It was like the equivalent to what you used to call matriculation. So when I later started studying after I got back in to civilian life as a surveyor I didn’t have to go through the preliminary exam. I went straight in for my intermediate exam and then final. So I put it to good use and of course I was lucky enough to qualify and that would be in ’48/49. ’49. And I wanted to earn more money ‘cause there was the only way I got to qualify really was by working, oh what, four nights a week. Evening classes every night and then I got qualified. Bearing in mind my education had finished at the age of fourteen you know that was an achievement to get something but I couldn’t have got anything else otherwise and so, but the firm was still old fashioned and I said, ‘Well I was thinking about getting married,’ you know and he said, ‘Well maybe, you know when you’re married come and see me and we’ll increase your wage.’ I said, ‘Well I’ll never get married on that basis.’ So I joined, I did the horrendous thing, I joined a Ford Motor Company in their property department. In other words I broke out from being in practice but I became their property manager after a few years and from there my career rocketed, you know. I became in demand. I was head hunted twice and I finished up as a managing director of, well the share capital of the company was a million pounds fully paid up share capital and we were making, and I started that company for them. That’s what I was head hunted for. So I had a very very good life then but of course my wife became rather ill and so in the, what, in the early eighties I had a decision to make. Should I give up my job and take care of my wife or just carry on and let me wife, no. So I gave up my job and I was very gratified because my wife then lived for another twenty years. So, you know, that was the right thing to do. That’s, I never regretted it. It would most probably have killed me if I’d have carried on myself. So, you know, it was a very fast life ‘cause I was building, I became a specialist in development of industrial estates. Because, when you bear in mind that before the war factories were put up where the families of the owners decided it would be convenient. The planning laws were very limited. So consequently then war came and every factory in this country was expanded but in a what, a ship shape ad hoc situation and they were not very well designed and a lot of them got knocked out and consequently when war finished this country needed a base to prosper and that base was the development of industrial estates where you’d got a large industrial area where you put factories on it. They did it out to a little point where you could build warehouses on industrial estates but you could not put factories without permission from the Board of Trade and the Board of Trade wanted you to go where they thought unemployment was. In other word up north, Scotland, Liverpool, those sorts of places. So consequently we started persevering with buying large existing factories and modifying them to units. We worked on this principal that if you’d gone with a large factory, I mean I’m talking about factories of three hundred, four hundred thousand square feet and there were factories of that kind scattered around the country. If you’d have gone to the planners with a scheme to, you know, segregate them all in to smaller units say ten thousand feet, something like that, you’d never have got permission. They would never have granted it. So what we did, in other words we designed how we were going to cut that large building up into units and show what modifications had to be done to the elevations but not disclose the fact that the internal layout was going to be reduced to many units. So consequently then we could offer factories to people where they wanted them and that’s where, because you know in those days you couldn’t finance. Most factories that were built before the war they were built out of a loan from the bank and things like that. Whereas really they finished up under the scheme I had going with institutions, hedging funds and insurance groups and it worked very profitably. In fact I would say that I’ve been involved in building factories in most of the major towns in this country. I mean I’ve travelled a lot around this country. But it was a good life. You know. Anyway, I may have left out a lot.
CB: Where, where did you meet your wife?
BM: I met my wife in, very simply, my mum bless her. She used to be a dress maker and when we moved down to Laindon, when we came out of London and moved down to Laindon because our house had been in London had got badly damaged she used to make dresses and my late wife came to her through a friend of hers and my mum used to make dresses for her. Then when I got demobbed she was very friendly with my mother and she often used to come around there and I’d be sent out the room while these ladies started measuring herself and so on and so forth. I said I wanted to stay but they wouldn’t let me [laughs] and we got friendly and that was it.
CB: She was from, she was from the local area.
BM: Oh yes. She lived in Laindon. She’d lived in Laindon since before the war.
CB: What did she know about the RAF?
BM: She wouldn’t know. In fact she felt rather bitter about the RAF because she’d lost her husband and it took me quite a time, I mean we got married in ‘52 and if I tell you that the, although we went abroad on holidays we didn’t go by plane until the 70s. She didn’t like, didn’t want to fly. She had an aversion against flying and the way I got around it was we went for a weekend over to the Channel Islands. I said we’d do a short trip like that. We flew from Southend to Jersey and gradually weened her off it. But she wasn’t, she wasn’t very keen on the air force because she wasn’t treated very badly but she wasn’t treated very well I don’t think.
CB: So what happened to her husband?
BM: Well, he, he was buried in Belgium and –
CB: What was he flying?
BM: A Lanc. He was coming back from a trip, an operation over the Ruhr Valley and he was flying over Belgium back and they got shot down and all the crew were destroyed. But other than just the odd letter, the initial letter of, from the commanding officer she never had any conversation with RAF after that. You know, she went out there once I think before, this would be the ‘40s and saw the grave but she was, I suppose, in some respects, to put it very crudely she was almost abandoned you know, because in those times, I don’t know whether you’ve heard this before, it’s quite possible that there were squadrons that were used to take the brunt. Do what you’d call the bread and butter jobs and you know all the new, new boys coming out of qualifying as pilots would most probably be shipped down to those stations. They become almost like cannon fodder and if they were any good they would be shipped then across to 9 squadron or 617 squadron or a couple of other top squadrons.
CB: So what squadron was he?
BM: He was in 100 squadron.
CB: And how many operations had he done?
BM: Ten. He was on his tenth one when he got shot down.
CB: And when was that?
BM: That would be 1943.
CB: What was your wife’s name?
BM: His name?
CB: Your wife’s name.
BM: Armon. Her maiden name was Jee. J double E. But her married was Armon. A R M O N.
CB: Now you were in London during the war when the bombing was taking place.
BM: Yes.
CB: So, what was your first experience of bombing?
BM: First experience. It was on the Saturday that the Blitz really started and that Saturday I was going from, I’d taken a bus from Canning Town up to Stepney going to a cinema. I think it’s still up there on Commercial Road at Stepney, the Roxy, to see a film. I got as far as Poplar and the bus stopped because the siren had gone up and we were all offloaded off the bus and this was by a pub at Bedet Road in Bow and they had a surface air shelter there and we all herded in to that and first time then you looked up and the sky was full of black spots which were the aircraft all flying in formation and then they started dropping their bombs. There were a bit of hysterics coming from some of the females in this shelter and we were stuck there I know until about oh five, five, 6 o’clock. Eventually the all clear was given and we were allowed back out and I can remember walking down because the main road through Canning Town, we lived in a road that was right off the main road and I remember walking down that road about oh 6 o’clock and I could see my mother stood at the gate looking to see whether I was coming or not. And that’s what I, that’s the first memory I have of –
CB: And how close were the bombs dropping to where you were?
BM: Well they were dropping all around the place, you know. Not, not close enough to cause any damage to anyone around them but Stepney was just around the back of Limehouse where all the East India Docks were which is where they were attacking all the time. And it was quite, I suppose, continuous was about the best way to describe it. There was, you know, quite a lot of noise and so on and so forth.
CB: So the raids started at what sort of time?
BM: That would have been round about oh 2 o’clock I would think.
CB: In the, in the daytime.
BM: In the afternoon. Yeah.
CB: In the afternoon. Right. Ok.
BM: Yeah.
CB: And then on future days?
BM: On what?
CB: On the days after that?
BM: On the days after that never, not much during the day. It was always then around about 8 o’clock at night till 3 o’clock in the morning and that was continuous and of course then and when I moved to Laindon I still had to stay on duty because even, although I was only in my teens we were all on the rota to do fire watching. Although there was an air raid warden in that area our offices were in a parade of shops either side the road and so consequently we, they all had to provide two or three people every night to do fire watching.
CB: So would you explain what is fire watching and how did that work?
BM: Well fire watching was merely that you would, if they were dropping any incendiary bombs.
CB: Where would you be situated?
BM: You’d be situated in the office but when the warning went up you would then go to the front door and you would stand in the front porch and if there was any incidents take place then you would be, have to deal with them and get the fire brigade if necessary if it became too big or deal with it yourself.
CB: So your job was partly to summon help.
BM: Yeah.
CB: To deal with the fires.
BM: Yes. You were only there to be the eyes. To bring in the air raid wardens ‘cause there was always wardens about.
CB: So in the raids then, how much damage did you see and –
BM: You wouldn’t see, see much in the area I was at to be honest. I saw more of it when I went out during the day working.
CB: Yeah.
BM: But fortunately the parade of shops either side the road didn’t get damaged at all.
CB: So when you were out working your job was to collect the rents.
BM: Yeah.
CB: And just how did you do that and what were the reactions of the people?
BM: Well, when you say how did you do it? You’re just knocking on doors and each house knew which day they would be paying the rent. Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, something like that and they knew the time you were going to be there and consequently if you were going down one particular road you would hit the first door. Knock that and they would come to the door and within a few minutes you would see them all appearing all the way along and you just go through them, you know. But I never ever came up against people that were afraid of the future. They were quite, you know, loyal and quite brilliant in their attitude you know. They didn’t fear the bombing. They just thought it part of life. It’s quite amazing really.
CB: Families were quite close to each other in those day so –
[Phone ringing]
CB: Oh we’ll just stop for a mo.
[Recording paused]
BM: Yeah. Well their reaction was quite superb. You didn’t, they didn’t walk around in fear. They didn’t. They felt that as far as they were concerned you know, they, they couldn’t lose. It was quite amazing their attitude and these were all in poor, what you would call poor living accommodation. They were terraced houses. I think the rents used to be something like around about eight, nine shillings a week. So no cheap money. And they led a poor life. Most of their husbands were all called up.
CB: So the fact that husbands had been called up and were in the forces had what sort of effect on their ability to pay?
BM: It had a tremendous effect because a lot of them were really on the bone of their whatsits, you know. They just couldn’t afford to pay and some didn’t pay.
CB: What did you do when they didn’t pay?
BM: Well if you could find them. We always used to say they’d emigrated to Canvey Island. That’s where. Because they used to. I mean I can recall many cases that people who were owing the landlord. Some of them about thirty or forty pounds which in those days was a lot of money.
CB: Huge.
BM: And they just couldn’t afford to pay it and so what they did they just vanished overnight and you could never find them. It gets wroted off. Because I think they used to get an allowance from the military but that was poor compared to what they really needed. They had hard times and that was why, what used to amaze me, they were having a hard time but they still had a smile on their face. You know they were quite jolly.
CB: So you were living in Laindon which was slightly out of town but in their situation a number of them were finding that their houses had been demolished.
BM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: What was happening then?
BM: Well they, [pause] I suppose, I don’t know, they really, they could always get repairs because during the war there was a government department, War Damage Commission which we used to have to apply to for repairing costs and ok you would get an immediate payment to cover for tarpaulins to go over the roof and also to put up windows. Cover windows. And then you would have to put forward a request for further monies when you had to do the permanent repairs which you didn’t rush to do because no sooner you’d done any further repairs they’d all be damaged again. So you know it was, in fact, that was there was more work. The collecting of the rents was limited to, say, what three hours a week. The work was getting the temporary repairs done to the property in that week. You’d have to sit down and work out with a contractor. You had a local builder that you’d employ to do these temporary repairs and so in other words you know it was all part of one’s training that you were looking after not only the collection of the rents but the management of the actual property. Because all those properties were most probably privately owned by family trusts and people like that or local businessmen.
CB: Now when you joined the RAF you came across a number of people from completely different parts of the country. How did your relationships develop?
BM: In Yorkshire, I found the people around Yorkshire were wonderful people. You know you would go out of a night time to a pub in a little village, villages like Spofforth. Used to go to Harrogate, Spofforth, Knaresborough and Boroughbridge and they would make a fuss of you. ‘You don’t want to go back to camp yet. Come back with us and ham and eggs. Have supper.’ Now, I’m saying this, I don’t want to upset you but you never had the same conviviality in Lincolnshire. You used to walk into a pub in Lincoln, they wouldn’t take no notice of you. You know. Used to call them a miserable lot of so and so’s. [laughs]. Now don’t get upset.
CB: I’m devastated.
BM: Are you from Lincolnshire?
CB: Rutland.
BM: Pardon?
CB: Rutland.
BM: Rutland. Oh well.
CB: Better place.
BM: Better. Yes. No Lincolnshire was recognised. We all used to say this and yet it’s strange because last year my eldest son on his computer he saw that a large hotel in Lincoln was offering a good deal. Luxurious hotel. Took up his lady friend. They went up there for three or four days and he said they had a wonderful time. I said, ‘Well that’s not my experience of Lincolnshire. Of Lincoln.’
CB: Lincoln town or other places?
BM: Lincoln town.
CB: Why did you think that was?
BM: I don’t know. I don’t know. I didn’t go into Lincoln town very much because Waddington was such a well built and organised station as it were and you know you could get all the comforts you want in their NAAFI and so on and so forth and rarely did we go out.
CB: No.
BM: And certainly when I was at Skegness we never did go out. Well I say we never. I did on one occasion because on the seafront in Skegness there was a little sort of Esplanade café come dance floor and we were allowed out ‘til about 9 o’clock at night so I thought well I’d go over there. I used to do a lot of dancing before I got called up so, but I didn’t realise that there you had hobnailed boots didn’t you? During your training.
CB: Sure.
BM: And of course I went in to that place and asked a young lady to dance in hobnailed boots and I was very popular.
CB: Particularly when you trod on her toe.
BM: Precisely. So that was the only time I went out in Skegness. Yeah.
CB: And did you ever, did you get relationships with people that lasted throughout the war?
BM: No. No.
CB: You didn’t have a best friend of any kind who started with you?
BM: No. No.
CB: You played the, played the market.
BM: No, I didn’t, [pause] I got friendly with some of the females during my stint in Yorkshire but it didn’t develop into anything that really, no. Not of any consequence.
CB: Right.
BM: Never continued writing to them after I left or anything like that. When I left I left. You know.
CB: All the stations had WAAFs.
BM: Yeah.
CB: In their own area so how did the, how did you link together there in the NAAFI and –
BM: Well.
CB: In the messes?
BM: In the NAAFI they used to, you know we used to be friendly but if you had a dance they always used to go to the air crew. They were the air crew following you know. They wouldn’t dance with the likes of an LAC.
CB: Of the erks. Yes.
BM: I’m afraid to say that was a fact.
CB: Yeah.
BM: But no. The air crew used to come in. I was at a dance, on New Year’s Eve we’d have a dance and they’d take up all the birds. But er –
CB: Quite upsetting really.
BM: Yeah. [Laughs] although some of them used to work with me.
CB: Yes.
BM: You know they were –
CB: Did they?
BM: Some of them used to be flight mechanics. Certainly a lot of them on the electrical side of the trade. Wireless and so on. The cleaner jobs. But not on the dirty jobs.
CB: So out on the flight line what were you doing there?
BM: Pardon?
CB: Out on the flight line on dispersal what was your task and how did the, a day go?
BM: Well. The day. You used to [pause] you’d be always doing, check your aircraft and when it was all very clear, ok. You would be just tidying around your dispersal point. Make sure that the concrete area was clearly defined so that when they, they would go and fly into it, not fly but they would motor into it.
CB: Taxi into it.
BM: Yeah. Taxi into it. And then they would of course turn.
CB: Yeah.
BM: And you would guide them on that turn and so you would make sure that area was clear and ok. You would then go up to the dispersal hut and stay in there until they came back.
CB: So how many planes did you have a responsibility for?
BM: Well you’d only have responsibility for about two.
CB: Right.
BM: There was enough to go around from that point where we were.
CB: And you were in a section responsible for the two aircraft so what were the component parts of the people? You were dealing with what aspect specifically?
BM: What? Of the aircraft?
CB: Yes.
BM: Well I’d be responsible for the hydraulics like on the undercarriage. The oleo legs that used to, well the ones that go up and down inside the casing. The tyres. The wheels and the tail plane mechanics and also the ailerons and all the controls and that would be it.
CB: And the hydraulics were fed from one of the engines. Which was that?
BM: Well the brakes were operated pneumatically but the hydraulics were operated as you say from the engines.
CB: So there was a power take off from one of the engines on the starboard side was it? The starboard inner.
BM: I can’t remember. I can’t remember on that one.
CB: What other trades were there operating at the dispersal?
BM: There would be engines. And there would be wireless and there would be electrics but the, the munitions people they always used to load up. They’d come out with their trolley and put what armaments they had to put on in the guns and so on and the bombs. And that was it. That’s [pause] there was nothing else from that point of view and then as I say you would just sit and wait.
CB: So the aircraft would be prepared for use. Who was the senior person in your section?
BM: It would be a corporal. He would be, he would be the one that would sign up the air worthiness and so on.
CB: And he would provide that documentation to whom?
BM: He would see, he would show that to the pilot when he came out. In other words the pilots used to. People used to say did you have much contact? As an AC2, AC1 no. No contact at all. Even as a LAC no contact because the aircrew used to get there, go to their briefing.
CB: Yeah.
BM: And they’d come out to the dispersal point in their car, in their coach and they would just get out. You’d be standing there not far away but as far as they was concerned the coach would come up close to the entrance of the aircraft. They’d get out, into the aircraft and off. And ok the only people they would see would be the corporal or the sergeant. Whoever it was responsible that everything was all alright.
CB: Yeah. Did the flight engineer get involved in the signing off of the aircraft?
BM: The flight engineers I don’t believe really started operating until about 1945.
CB: No. They were there with the big aircraft. So there was a flight engineer in all the four engined aircraft. So your Lancaster, Lancasters had flight engineers and I was just curious to know whether they liaised with the ground crew.
BM: Well I was on Halifaxes.
CB: Halifaxes first.
BM: And I can’t remember ever seeing a flight engineer on a Halifax.
CB: They were always there. Yeah.
BM: In what year?
CB: Well from ’43. So the twin engined planes didn’t have flight engineers but –
BM: No. I accept that.
CB: Every four engine aircraft had a flight engineer.
BM: No but it was a concept that didn’t come out to till later.
CB: Yeah. So when –
BM: I’ve got a feeling they didn’t come out ‘til about ’44.
CB: When the, when the aircraft landed –
BM: Yeah.
CB: Then what happened? Were you all there to receive it as soon as it arrived?
BM: Well we we were in the flight hut.
CB: Flight office. Yeah.
BM: Which was up by the, and we would just go over to the dispersal point and then we would soon pick it up on the perimeter track and flag it in.
CB: Right.
BM: And that was it.
CB: Yeah.
BM: The crew would get out in to the coach and off and we would just then close it all up. Put the chocks down and so on and so forth.
CB: So the aircraft would always have the potential for developing faults.
BM: Oh yeah.
CB: So who would do the communication of that and to whom?
BM: Well the pilot used to if there was any faults on it the pilot would give that in his report.
CB: Right.
BM: To the sergeant.
CB: Ok.
BM: And ok they would decide whether then it was a major or a minor.
CB: Yeah.
BM: If it was a minor ok we would deal with it around on the dispersal point.
CB: Sure.
BM: If it was a major one it could go in to the hangar.
CB: Yeah. And what about damage? How often were your aircraft damaged?
BM: They got damaged but not very much. Not to that degree.
CB: What sort of damage did they come back with?
BM: Some of them came back with ammunition holes in it which you would do a little patch on it and things like that.
CB: How was the patch administered? Was it a fabric or was it a metal?
BM: No. Metal.
CB: So how was it attached?
BM: Attached with rivets. Used to use the pop rivet gun. Cut a piece of metal. It was very, I wouldn’t say shambolic but it was just to do it very quickly. You would cut a piece of metal to cover the area and then you would drill the four corners, pop rivet it and then go around later all the way through. You know, get rivets.
CB: Yeah.
BM: Quite.
CB: So you’d secure it first.
BM: Oh yeah.
CB: And then you put the extra rivets.
BM: Extra rivets in in between.
CB: Now what about painting afterwards? How did you do that?
BM: Well be able to just put a bit of a drop of paint on it but they didn’t worry too much about that. Some of those aircraft they looked horrible with the, with the paint job. I mean, you know, you just had some paint and you just brushed it, brushed it on.
CB: But it always had paint would it?
BM: Oh yeah.
CB: Because aluminium’s shiny.
BM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: What would you say was your most abiding memory of your time in the RAF?
BM: I suppose that when I was at Netheravon the aircraft then had to be, they were all camouflaged, had to be stripped back to their bare metal again. What you would call peacetime and that was a so and so of a job because you had to put paint stripper. And getting it all off by hand it was not very pleasant.
CB: How long did that take?
BM: Pardon?
CB: How long did that take?
BM: Oh we had, what, a squadron of about twelve aircraft and it took quite a time.
CB: What were the planes?
BM: Dakotas.
CB: Right. So this is at the end of the war.
BM: Yeah.
CB: So they were taking the, because they war had ended they were taking the camouflage off were they?
BM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And then what were they applying?
BM: Nothing.
CB: Right. So just aluminium.
BM: Just the bare aluminium and also at the same time we were fitting seats in to them. Like tubular seats. There was one other job that when I was at Marston Moor I had a petrol leak on one of the Halifaxes and I had to take out the petrol tank which was located in the wings and you’ve got to get up on a trestle to more or less get them and they are all, they were not rivets. There’s a sort of a square panel that is screwed into the main plane, main wing and they’re like cheese headed screws and then every, about oh half an inch apart all the way around and in those days you didn’t have [rapid?] screwdrivers and so me being an AC2 at the bottom of the ladder that was your job Mabey. Get that all off. So you’d spend ages getting every screw off, dropped the flap and then disconnect the tank and before you completely disconnected there was always some aircraft fuel still inside. You’d have to load that into a fifty gallon drum, the surplus and then you could drop the tank and when you dropped the tank you put a new one in and then go back again all good. The only advantage was that you knew then you had some cleaning material to clean your uniform because we used to clean our uniforms in aircraft fuel and then lay them out in the wings to dry and –
Other: Goodness.
CB: So you had a particular aroma that not everybody appreciated.
BM: I agree. Yes. That was most probably.
CB: They smelled you coming,
BM: [Laughs] That was most probably one of the worst periods of my life. Yeah.
CB: Now the fuel tank. That’s because it had had battle damage in it was it?
BM: Some were. Some were not but it was for one I particularly remember. It had, it hadn’t had battle damage it was just, it had become worn.
CB: Oh.
BM: And it had to be replaced.
CB: Now dealing with that was very dangerous so how, because of the potential for a spark so how was that handled with the screwdrivers and everything?
BM: Well it was, you just didn’t, you know I agree on reflection most probably it was a fire hazard but you didn’t consider it. You know, you just had to get that tank out because it needed, it needed to be replaced.
CB: I wondered if there were special procedures.
BM: No.
CB: For safety. Because the plane could be lost.
BM: Yeah.
CB: Never mind the AC plonk.
BM: Yeah. I don’t think there, most probably could have been but I can’t recall them quite frankly.
CB: Oh. After the war did you consider joining any associations? Squadron or RAFA. British Legion.
BM: Well. I joined RAFA when I was still in the air force at Netheravon. They came to you and this would be in 1947 because I used to wear the RAFA badge on my battle dress although that was not legal but I did join them. But when I ultimately got demobbed belonging to an Association regarding the air force was not foremost in my mind you know. I mean the point is that I had other things to think about then. In fact the strange thing is I only started, I had to go into hospital about, oh this would be about four years ago and in the next bed next to me was the chairman of the local branch of the RAFA Southend. And we started talking and spoke about the air force and he said to me, you know, ‘Why aren’t you a member?’ I said, ‘Haven’t had time. I’ve been busy.’ You know. I had a hectic life. ‘Well,’ he said, you know, ‘You should join. We could do with more members.’ And I did join and then my wife passed away and I became rather active but then the committee decided rather, in my book, foolishly that some of them were going to resign and meant that then the branch had to be closed. And the branch was closed.
CB: What sort of people were there? What backgrounds in the RAF were the people who were -?
BM: I could never find out. I could never find out because they were rather stand-offish a little. I could never really get to know them quite well. Not to that degree in those few years and they were, I don’t know. Most of them came from what we called Leigh area and they, I always talk about them that they were people who have curtains around their dustbins. You most probably get them in many towns and they and so consequently they seemed to prefer abandoning the concept of an RAF association and turning it in to a luncheon club and I didn’t. I said no. And I’ve been proved right because the silly fools, my membership was transferred to Basildon, right. Basildon now I know are doing exactly what Southend have done. They’ve got about five members that are active. That’s all. So really what should have happened is that, and there’s another branch that’s going to go exactly the same at Thurrock so you’ve got three branches there because the membership is falling, you know, we’re getting older. And so consequently what they should have done is said well look we’ve got when we still had about twenty five members attending meetings on a monthly basis. Keep Southend. Transfer Thurrock and Basildon into Southend. You’ve got your younger committee members and you’ll keep going and now they are going to finish off without any branch in this area at all. Rather foolish. But because some of them felt that well they didn’t want to carry on in their capacity as chairman because their wives were not in good health or something like that. I can understand it up to a point but don’t take the drastic action.
CB: No.
BM: And they did and so now they’ve got nothing.
CB: Did you get the impression that some of, that more of them were air crew or ground crew or what?
BM: Oh well with the RAF Association especially in Southend there was an aircrew branch of it.
CB: Oh.
BM: And they, they used to have their own little meetings.
CB: Oh [laughs]. Right.
BM: And you know, one particular chap I used to talk to who was in the Aircrew Association and the strange thing is, of my age, when he finished his training as a pilot they liked him as an instructor so they sent him out to Canada to finish his career in Canada teaching. So as far as he was concerned he’d been across the pond. He hadn’t seen any of the war at all.
CB: No.
BM: And to me it seemed a tragedy that they even split them because the aircrew in total should have still mixed with the others and that was confirmed at where we went the other day. I can’t think of its name now.
CB: What? At Aces High in Wendover.
BM: Yeah. At Wendover. I mean on that table there were two squadron leaders, one wing commander and a warrant officer.
CB: Yes.
BM: And also me.
CB: Yeah.
BM: A leading aircraft man. And they just treated me handsomely.
CB: They did.
BM: Oh yes. They had no side of it at all and this is the way it should have been.
CB: Yes.
BM: Ok. When you get in front of them in uniform you stand to attention.
CB: Of course.
BM: You recog, but you’re not doing that for the individual. You are doing that for the uniform and that was a little thing but they shouldn’t, they shouldn’t cause any segregation at all because –
CB: Right.
BM: It’s strange because I went to one particular meeting and there was a chap there. He came up to me and he started talking. He was an ex-major in the army and he said this, it was the, oh [pause] it was a special club that they’d formed that did the Normandy landings and he said, ‘You should join.’ I said, ‘Join? I didn’t take part in the Normandy landings.’ ‘What do you mean you didn’t take part? You said you were in uniform didn’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I had a couple of cookhouse blokes working for me. You could say they didn’t take part in the Normandy landings. No. I know they didn’t but we couldn’t have done it without their, them cooking our meals and we wouldn’t have done the Normandy landings without the air force as a back-up. Everyone in the forces at that particular time must have made some form of contribution towards that Normandy invasion.’ And this is was it’s all about isn’t it? They try and segregate it and well they always looked upon you, some of those air crew, a few in civilian life look upon you with an air of superior quality which is wrong. But –
CB: Hurtful.
BM: Well in business ok. As far as I was concerned you know I was top of the list so they, they didn’t worry me.
CB: No.
BM: Simple as that.
CB: I think we’d better take a pause. Thank you.
[Recording paused]
CB: So after the war you returned to civilian life in 1947.
BM: Yeah.
CB: From then onwards what was your perception of the general public’s attitude towards people who’d been in the RAF?
BM: They didn’t, on reflection of what I’ve seen lately I realise now that their reception was not as good as it should have been. We all just carried on and as far as I was concerned I don’t think I ever was approached from the time I got demobbed at ’47 you know because there was still a certain creeping in, an air of resentment that there had been a few people that had dodged their responsibilities either through religious grounds or other things and, or reserved occupation and I saw that particularly when I went to Ford Motor Company because I used to be in a specialised department so consequently I had access to a lot of places because I used to have to go to them. And I can remember on occasions when you would meet superintendents who were responsible for the production of cars in quite a large area and they would be an ignorant pig. And you’d think to yourself, well mister, I’m sorry I wouldn’t even employ you to stick stamps on an envelope but because they’d been in a reserved occupation they had a clear field to be promoted. Not because they’d earned it but there was no one else to fill the position and so consequently you had a a backlog like that there and they didn’t want to talk to you about what you’d done in the air force because they hadn’t done it themselves. So they didn’t. They had nothing to discuss. And that was the same in a lot of cases so I mean I can remember in fact the first when I got back the couple of conscientious objectors they’d risen within that small private company quite well because they used to read the bible every lunchtime. They’ sit in the office reading the bible whereas you would go and eat a sandwich they would read the bible but they couldn’t be touched. But they certainly took promotion when it was offered to them and I know, I know of one particular case where people when they went for their medical they pleaded on certain occasions. They got away with it. One particular prominent chap who lives in Southend he did anyway. He was in the medical when I went for the medical because I came to Southend to get my medical and he told me, he said, ‘I had a motor bike accident six months ago. I’m going to tell them I keep on getting headaches,’ and this is what he did and he was classified grade 3. Yeah. And so all the time I used to see him in Laindon when I used to come home on leave there was he you know running around in a flash car and everything else. I know. So the air force and the same with the army, same with the navy those who served they didn’t get the treatment that they should have got I don’t think.
CB: The recognition.
BM: Yeah. And [pause] but now and the strange thing is the recognition you get now is overwhelming. I mean, you know, I’ve only done two book signings and it’s opened my eyes. I didn’t realise the sincerity that goes in it. I mean people just don’t want you to sign their book. All they want to do is say hello, thank you and shake your hand. That’s more important to them than your signature which astonishes me. I didn’t, because that sort of feeling didn’t exist when you first got demobbed. Anyway. [laughs].
CB: Thanks.
[Recording paused]
CB: Victory Parade.
BM: Pardon?
CB: For the Victory Parade.
BM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
BM: And we had Lee Enfield 303 you know. We were carrying that around. And it’s a twenty mile area, route that we’d taken. We’d got up to Tottenham Court Road and we’d just turned into Oxford Street and we had the air force band in front of us and they played the Dambusters March and that was set alight all the people almost and the cheers and the applause was absolutely overwhelming. I’ll remember that till I pop off you know. It was really, it put a lump in your throat and especially in Oxford Street. It’s all these buildings with windows above them and there were people at the windows and they were throwing coins.
CB: Were they?
BM: And bars and chocolate. The bloke next to me got hit by a bar of chocolate of all things you know. And this, this was happening there. You couldn’t stop to pick the stuff up.
CB: No.
BM: You had to just had to carry on walking.
CB: Amazing.
BM: And then of course with all processions they do stop for a little while to more or less they get a bit of a backlog don’t they?
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: And then you’re amongst it all and you’re more or less really –
CB: Yeah.
BM: Visibly making a fuss of you.
CB: Yes. The unleashed appreciation.
BM: Yeah. But –
CB: Extraordinary. Very touching actually.
BM: That was touching and but that is soon forgotten you know.
CB: Right. We’re stopping now.
[Recording paused]
CB: Raids. We’ve talked about civilians Bernard but what about RAF and military people’s reactions to the raids?
Other: Do you mean the raids that took place over Germany?
CB: No. The British. The German raids on Britain I meant to say. So where you were stationed.
BM: Well er as I say some of them it was –
CB: So at Locking for instance. At Locking.
BM: At Locking it was a novelty to them. Others who had experienced it in their own town I mean like they’d had, you’d had Coventry, you had Liverpool, you had Southampton and Plymouth. They’d all had a going over.
Other: The Midlands. The Black Country.
BM: Yeah.
Other: Where I came from.
BM: Yeah. They had some. Well they were attacking there. In some respects they were attacking the, I mean in the Midlands it was where a lot of the machinery.
Other: Where all the manufacturing took place.
BM: All the manufacturers. So therefore it was in some respects a legitimate target.
Other: Yes.
BM: But London wasn’t.
Other: No. That was aimed at the population.
BM: Yeah.
Other: To break the will of the population.
BM: So, and Plymouth I suppose it had naval history but not to that degree. And Southampton also but they were really docks areas. That’s what they seemed to want to go for.
CB: Yeah.
BM: And it didn’t –
CB: But particularly in your experience actually in the RAF you mentioned Locking so –
BM: Yeah.
CB: What? When there were raids in in the Bristol area.
BM: Well they, yeah. Well they didn’t –
CB: What was the reaction of the people in Locking?
BM: Well they were a bit afraid that the war was coming too close to them to some degree whereas others just seemed to think well it was a novelty idea because it wasn’t a consistent attack. It was just a spasmodic attack here and there. I mean the major towns where they hit in this, like you say, Liverpool, Coventry, the Midlands area, London they were continuous attacks for a period of time and they were solely, I don’t think they were other than to destroy the population.
CB: The will of the people.
BM: Yeah. They weren’t after the, ok that was their excuse they were going for targets but it didn’t bother them you know but –
CB: You mentioned other some of your fellow RAF people’s reaction at Locking.
BM: Yeah. Well they just became hysterical because it was something they’d never experienced and they were frightened and they were spoken very sharply by some of the non-commissioned officers in the, in the whats-the-name. In the shelters. As they said you know, ‘You’re a disgrace. Control yourself.’
CB: Oh you’re talking about actually in the shelter?
BM: Oh yes. Yes.
CB: The air raid shelter.
BM: Some of them like I say were hysterical and in tears. They were frightened. Simple as that. Because they had not experienced it but others you know who had experienced it it didn’t bother them. In fact they looked at it logically and said you know they’re not going to attack us they’re attacking over there. But this is life isn’t it?
CB: Yeah. Now you got leave every six months but you would get forty eight hour passes.
BM: Yeah.
CB: How far were you able to go and what happened to you then?
BM: Well in forty eight hour passes I came home. Mainly because I knew I would get warmly welcomed by my parents because my brother was overseas. I think he was over there for about oh three or four years.
CB: Where was he stationed?
BM: He was stationed in Egypt then Sicily, Italy, Yugoslavia, Palestine. You know, he had a pretty rough time of it but of course he was on Fighter Command so therefore that was where the fighters were operating.
CB: Yeah.
BM: I mean bombers could operate from this country to go places.
CB: So you were shift work effectively. Was, did you work on a seven day or a five day week?
BM: We worked normally on a five day week but there was an occasion when they suddenly decided that they would work on a shift principal. In other words you worked something like around about ten days on right the way through and this was some clown from the air ministry had come down and set this up when I was at Marston Moor. And so in other words we then, you worked say for about ten days and you would have about three days off. And ok some of those time is spent catching up on the sleep you’ve lost and I’ll always remember on this particular occasion when this system was brought in I had not slept during the period I should have been off. So I went on duty and we were sat in the dispersal hut. The aircraft had gone off. This was about oh about 9 o’clock at night and I was tired. It was a cold night and there was a nice big fire in the centre of this you know and I just nodded off to sleep didn’t I? And they tried to wake me when the aircraft came back and I wasn’t having any [laughs] and the sergeant was not very pleased. Yeah. By the time I did eventually come round the aircraft had landed, been parked up and that was it and I’d done nothing. But the only good thing about that scheme it was, it was a way to keep the aircraft, giving them more flying time but it didn’t work and really the only good thing about it was that you could in other words once you’d seen the aircraft off say at about 8 o’clock at night 12 o’clock you’d go into the canteen and you could get your meal.
CB: Yeah.
BM: And invariably it used to be steak and chips.
CB: Did it?
BM: Yeah. Oh they’d give you a good meal for that. That time in the morning. And that was the only good thing about it but on that particular occasion I even missed my meal as well. Yeah. But it wasn’t very successful because during the day you were expected to catch up sleep. Well in a nissen hut with about thirty blokes a few of you still trying to get some sleep was hopeless.
CB: Now technically you were part of a squadron were you?
BM: Yeah.
CB: What was that squadron number?
BM: It was a conversion unit, Heavy Conversion Unit.
CB: Ok. Sixteen –
BM: 1652 HCU
CB: Right. Heavy Conversion Unit.
BM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
BM: And they used to do, during the day, cross country, circuits and bumps, circuits and landings and then when they were needed they used to go on operations as well to make up the numbers. That’s the way it worked. This was just their training with heavy aircraft. In other words they’d done all their, they’d got their pilot’s licence wings working on twin engined aircraft but before they let them loose on a Lanc or a Halifaxe they had to do a couple of weeks.
CB: Yeah. So these were all Halifaxes.
BM: Yeah. Yeah. ‘Cause the Halifaxes were not looked upon as superior as the Lanc because the Lanc could fly faster. The Lanc could fly higher. Halifaxes used to fly at around about a hundred and eighty at around about oh ten thousand feet whereas a Lanc would go a bit faster than that and they could fly at twelve, fifteen thousand feet. Higher if necessary.
CB: How reliable were the aircraft?
BM: I would say I never had much experience, if any at all, where the aircraft reliability was put to question. You know, they say that the Stirling was crap. That was a bad aircraft. But I didn’t work on a Stirling. I nearly did. I got posted down to Stoney Cross at Southampton when I was, when I finished at Waddington. And I went all the way down there, kit bag all my gear and they said, ‘Well you’re about three weeks too late. Your squadron moved out to Italy three weeks ago.’ And that was a squadron of Stirlings. And so I was stuck at Stoney Cross in the middle of the New Forest whilst the Air Ministry sorted out where they would then put me. [laughs]. But that was –
CB: When did you go to Waddington and how long were you there?
BM: I went to Waddington it was most probably, VE day. A couple of weeks after VE day I should imagine. And Waddington I left soon after the Victory Parade in London.
CB: Because you were part of the Tiger Force.
BM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Good. Thank you.
[Recording paused]
CB: So at the end of the war Ron, you’d think, a number of people thought that at the end of hostilities then everybody could leave.
BM: Yeah.
CB: But actually it was spread out. Why was that?
BM: It was spread out I think for economic reasons because they didn’t want to flood the market with labour so much and secondly they devised a scheme which gave you a demob number which was calculated on the age, your age and your years of service. So if like me you were called up at the age of eighteen and you’d only done, what, about four years my demob number was 57. I always remember that as Heinz [laughs].
CB: Yeah.
BM: And that was, and when 57, in other words you were all given a number, what your demob number and that would then give an indication when you were going to be demobbed and you used to watch. Ok they’re working on 45 at the moment so it’s weeks before you got yours and I think it was just a question off pushing too many people on to the job market too soon. That’s the only reason I could see for it.
Other: But weren’t people tempted to desert when the war ended and just get home as quickly as they could?
CB: Good point.
BM: It’s strange you should say that because it never occurred to me. In fact when I was at Waddington we were under instructions that when VJ day was declared, you know, you do not go out of camp and we were still on duty but some of the chaps and I can recall at least three or four possibly said, ‘To hell with them’. You know. The war’s over now. And they simply went home that weekend.
Other: Yeah.
BM: Now whether they ever got caught at it I don’t know but they certainly went off and they hitchhiked because I remember one particular chap, he wanted to get to London. You know, ‘I’m getting there. That’s it.’ So there was that attitude among some but to me it never occurred because as far as I was concerned you know it was the wrong thing to do. You’re still under orders. You know.
CB: Yeah.
BM: It’s the same after the war was finished you would wonder why anyone would still, especially I had a job ready to go back to. Why can’t you let me go? Well I’m going to go myself then. What are you going to do? Well they had the power to court martial you and they had the power to punish you. So it never really entered my head you know.
Other: I suppose you’d got in to a frame of mind.
BM: Yeah.
Other: Where you accepted orders.
BM: Yeah.
Other: You know, you’d been in the forces for four years.
BM: This is it.
Other: And what you do is accept orders.
BM: That’s right. Yeah.
Others: Yeah. It’s interesting isn’t it?
BM: It is. Because the way, the way especially nowadays I mean the younger element today are much more belligerent and I can imagine them saying, ‘Well, you know, I’m off. That’s me. The war’s finished. I’m done. I’ve done my bit.’ But it’s not like that is it? Really.
Other: No.
BM: It er –
Other: But these days’ people don’t have a sense of duty like they used to. The population at large seventy year ago, eighty years ago.
BM: Yeah.
Other: Generally people had a sense of duty and a sense of public responsibility.
BM: Yeah.
Other: These days’ people don’t have that.
BM: No. No.
Other: They don’t have a sense of duty. It’s, it’s an old fashioned concept unfortunately.
BM: Well I was brought up by a rather Victorian father. You know. He was strict. It didn’t do me any harm though. But er –
CB: But that was only thirty years after the end of the Victorian era.
BM: Yeah.
CB: So it’s not surprising that that was the attitude is it?
BM: Yeah.
CB: Right.
[Recording paused]
BM: The night before there was a dance on again tonight and –
CB: This is the Knaresborough Caravan Park.
BM: A few birds around.
CB: Yeah.
BM: Yeah.
CB: Keep going.
BM: And anyway we went around on our bikes and we picked up these birds in this dance and of course two of us took these two birds back. They’d come from Leeds. Their parents owned a caravan and that was there and we went back to the caravan with these girls. Left our bikes parked outside, inside the caravan. I was a bit backward in those sort of activities because I’d led rather a sheltered life in London with Victorian parents so I didn’t really do anything I should be ashamed of. I put it to you as carefully as that but anyway we fell asleep. Woke up around about 5 o’clock and of course we were on duty at 8 o’clock. At Marston Moor. And so we just said, ‘We’re off,’ you know and we got out this caravan to walk across the fields with these [unclear] there was a bloody farmer who owned the caravan park. ‘Hey,’ he said, [unclear?]. ‘Cheerio.’ On the bike, down the hill out of Knaresborough fast got back to camp in time. Yeah. Quite a narrow squeak that was but –
CB: If he’d have had a pitchfork it would have been uncomfortable.
BM: But then the other thing is that I got friendly with a family in Spofforth in Yorkshire and the daughter’s twenty first birthday. So of course in the village of Spofforth they had the village hall for this twenty first birthday party and we went over there and we knew the parents but I’d been, you know, going casually around with the daughter, the other daughter who happened to be a married woman incidentally but it was all good and clean. So anyway they said, ‘Well, will you look after the bar in the hall? Would you do that?’ ‘Yes. That’s alright.’ So I got behind this bar in this village hall and there were people coming in and, ‘Yes. I’ll have one with you.’ And of course as they had a drink I was having one was well. So by midnight we were well and truly sloshed and of course the villagers use the hall with their own accoutrements as it were so therefore they had to clear the village hall after all the festivities had taken place and I can remember pushing a wheelbarrow up the main street in Spofforth with all these glasses and food and leftovers on and it was as we were pushing it along well and well and truly sloshed it was dropping off as we went. Tinkling away there. Yeah. They were happy days though really.
Other: Well you remember the good bits.
BM: Oh yeah. Yeah we were.
Other: You remember the good bits.
BM: As I say we had some. When I finished in the air force and I started having to come down to reality that you know I had had very little education. I had to think about what I was going to do with my life and I started studying and I started working. As I say evening classes four nights a week. I could still find time to play cricket and play football in the season and I used to think, I don’t know, we moaned all the time. I was four years in the air force but on reflection I’d had four good years and you miss it. In other words, you know, it occurred to me why didn’t I sign on? I would have been immediately made a corporal and a corporal fitter then you’re on the ranks of promotion and what have you so you do reflect. I mean people moan about it but you do reflect. When you look at it in reality you didn’t do so bad.
Other: Well the thing that you did was you went in and you made the most of it and ended up with a proper trade.
BM: Yeah.
Other: A lot of people did National Service and did nothing.
BM: Yeah.
Other: They wasted two years of their lives.
BM: Yeah.
Other: Did nothing at all but at least you actually learned a trade and got a lot of valuable knowledge and experience and enjoyed yourself more as a consequence really.
BM: Yeah.
CB: The, you mentioned married women.
BM: Yeah.
CB: Now the reality of course is that there were plenty of people who were married whose husband, the women’s husbands were at the war.
BM: Yeah.
CB: So how did this work? It was quite innocuous sort of thing but were they at the dances? And how did this work?
BM: Oh it used to. I’m talking about this lady at Spofforth. Her husband was in the Middle East and as far as I was concerned we used to go dancing. We used to drink and we used to play, they had that, in this pub where we used to go to they had the, the skittles.
Other: Oh I know.
BM: In other words, you know, ok, as far as I was concerned the only intimacy, if you like that took place was I kissed her and that was it. Didn’t go any further. And that’s that may have been I don’t know a bit naïve of me but I was most probably a bit naïve at that sort of thing and you know I was never a womaniser to that degree. In fact to be very, extremely personal is the fact that my late wife was the only woman I’ve ever slept with. So it’s as simple as that. I used to have a fling with these ladies but it only was kissing and that was it. So I didn’t do any harm.
CB: All honour was satisfied.
BM: Pardon?
CB: All honour was satisfied.
BM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
BM: I mean I remember going, and this would be at, at Locking, there was a corporal WAAF there and went to a dance and she was a good dancer and I danced with her. So therefore all the time I was there when there was a dance on she was there. She was available to be a partner on the dance floor but directly I got her outside, ‘Hey. I’m a married woman. Off you go.’ It was as simple as that. And ok nowadays this attitude is completely different but in those days it wasn’t.
Other: Yeah the worlds a changed place.
BM: Well, you know, you could, ok you were told even by your chief medical officer when you were first called up they showed you various pictures of the problems if you get any sort of disease and so on through sexual activity and so therefore you just kept clear of it and in those days you didn’t have the protection that these youngsters have today and that is a problem.
CB: Right.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Bernard Charles Mabey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 27, 2024,

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