Interview with Syd Marshall


Interview with Syd Marshall


Syd Marshall grew up in Lincolnshire and was working as an engineering apprentice when he decided to volunteer for the RAF. He asked initially to train to be a pilot but when the basis of his apprenticeship became clear it was inevitable he would be a flight engineer. He trained at St Athan before joining his crew and being posted to 103 Squadron at RAF Elsham Wolds. On his very first operation he had to deal with a fire and the Lancaster limped home on three engines. Once his pilot was taken ill and Syd had to take control of the aircraft and dealt with the subsequent emergency as the plane went in to a dive. When he was demobbed Syd returned to his former employers. He founded the South Lincolnshire branch of the Aircrew Association and was a tour guide with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight for over twenty years. When the Canadian Lancaster visited the UK he was fortunate to be able to join the crew as they flew a commemorative flight over the Ladybower Reservoir.







02:20:42 audio recording

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MH: Ok. First of all, good afternoon. My name is Mark James Hunt. The date today is the 26th of August 2015. I have the pleasure this afternoon of introducing you, via tape, to Mr Syd Marshall who was a flight engineer on 103 Squadron with Bomber Command during the war. And basically, I’m going to turn this over to him.
SM: Well thank you. I’ll try not to make too many errors. Now, it’s been suggested that I start roughly where I left school. I don’t think I’ve anything really very exciting happen during my school, school days. So, if we take it up at about 1938 I left school, as did the majority of people, at the age of fourteen and thanks to the efforts of a friend, or a colleague rather I had a job to go to. So, in effect I left school on Friday and started work on the following Monday. I’d been offered an apprenticeship with a local firm which was D.T. Gratton and Sons who were agricultural engineers. And as with all apprentices I actually started work in a blacksmith’s shop which might not sound very technical but you’d be surprised in those days what blacksmiths did. But my job, first of all, we had four forges with blacksmiths. I had to keep them supplied with special fuel which was a very small coal or coke which they called breeze and that was my first job in a morning and again at dinnertime was to go around and fill up the vats at the back of the forges and make sure that the blacksmiths didn’t run out. I also had to get used to, I was only the age of fourteen, and I wasn’t very hefty at that time, I had to get used to the idea of swinging a seven pound sledgehammer which [laughs] came as a bit of a shock I have to imagine. But I found the work, it was jolly hard work but it was interesting and I’ve always been interested, even as a child, in making things and in those days you didn’t go out and buy a machine. A lot of them were made locally and the firm I worked for made from start to finish things like dry sprayers for spraying crops with fungicide. They also made ploughs and drags and harrows and all that kind of basic farm implements. They brought the materials in in bars of iron or mild steel and one of my jobs, first of all, after I’d got all my forges filled up, was to use a mechanical hacksaw and saw these pieces of metal into suitable lengths so that the blacksmiths could work with them. So, I spent hours and hours at that, doing that and later on as I got a bit older, I could actually take part in that and I would start to be shown how to, how to fashion these. You took a piece of iron in a pair of tongs, put it in to the fire, blew it up with a fan and when it was red hot you brought it out on to the anvil and hammered it in to shape and it is a very skilled job. I did this for about, I should think, two years and then I was offered the chance to either carry on and become a blacksmith but we also had another section of the firm which repaired mechanical things like tractors and that sort of thing. And I rather fancied that so I asked to go on to that and that is what I did and then I think they set another lad on to do my blacksmith’s filling up. I found it very interesting because also I had a cousin who worked there and he fostered me quite a bit because I found that a lot of the work in this department you either stayed in the workshop and did major jobs or you went out and did minor jobs. I mean, you might go to three places in the morning. And in the winter time it was probably nothing more than the fact the driver couldn’t, couldn’t get his tractor started. You had to go out there and probably sort it out cheaply in the plugs. Make sure the magneto was working. Get him going and off you went to your next job. But that did vary. Sometimes we even went to the point of taking the tracks off a crawler tractor, caterpillar tractor and after years and years of work these would have to be replaced and we very often did major jobs like that on the farm. It’s surprising what we did do really because most farmers didn’t have any transport in those days to carry a big weight into the workshop. We used to have a pretty hefty lorry which would do that but I quite liked working out on the farm providing it didn’t rain. This was a big snag. Working outdoors, out of doors in the winter time. I went along with this job and I think I got quite proficient. And one thing I always remember was I was, I got to be seventeen and at that point you could drive at seventeen. When I was getting so that I could do minor jobs on my own without any supervision and as I didn’t drive at that time the farmer sometimes, we only had a couple of vehicles and if they were both out the farmer would come and fetch somebody to do some work on his farm. And I went one day with this chappy and I had to put a clutch in a tractor. It was very crude. I don’t think it would be looked on very kindly these days but the method we used was to put a sleeper with a piece of sheet metal on the top of it, pack it up so it was level with the base of, of the engine and the gearbox. You took all the bolts out and then with the help of somebody on the other wheel you’d gently inch it away until you’d enough room to, to work on it. I got this job done, the part I had gone to do, but I then found that there was a leak from the gear box so I went back the next day and I came in. When I wanted to go home the farmer said, ‘I’m sorry lad. You’ll have to go back on the bus because my car’s broke down.’ So, I put all my stuff in the corner of the shed and went home on the bus. The next morning, I was in the stores when my boss came in and he said, ‘How did you get on then?’ I said, ‘Fine. Got the job done but I found he’s got another job that needs doing. Oil sealing the gearbox. So I’m just getting my stuff ready.’ He said, ‘Is he going to come and fetch you?’ I said, ‘Well no. He can’t because his car’s broken down.’ He said, ‘How old are you now?’ And I’d just turned seventeen and at seventeen you can drive. So, he said, ‘Right.’ He took me down into the office and we filled a form in and the clerk gave me five shillings and I cycled down to the licencing office which, at that time was in Carlton Road in Boston. I cycled back. I’d got my licence. There were no such things as driving tests or anything in wartime so I threw all my stuff into the van and off I went and after that I was working on my own a lot of the time. I thought you might be interested in how I got my licence [laughs]
MH: Crikey.
SM: Strange to say though I still drive now at the age of ninety one and I’ve never had a test [laughs] But there you go. That’s how it goes isn’t it? And I know, I suppose, in some respects the job I was doing was really quite important because there weren’t, at that time, two years into the war, they weren’t importing very much in the food line and the farmers had two problems. In Lincolnshire with it being very flat and adjacent to the continent they wanted to build aerodromes. Well, the average aerodrome was taking up probably six or eight hundred acres of land so they were pushing the farmers to grow more on less land. Which is not easy is it? Anyway, we carried on like that and I got to the point where I was eighteen then and it was about halfway through the war I suppose and I had to debate. Everybody kept saying, my pals were all joining up and saying when are you going? And I said to my boss about it one day and he said, ‘Well you won’t get called up mate,’ he said, ‘You’re in a Reserved Occupation.’ Which simply meant that the job I was doing was considered more important than me going into the forces. I accepted that for a time. I thought I didn’t like this. I keep making excuses and it looks as if you’re trying to get out of going in the forces. I then discovered that if I volunteered for aircrew I could overcome that so that’s what I did. I didn’t say anything to my boss about it which I probably ought to have done. I knew that there was a recruiting officer coming to the Labour Exchange in Boston so I was on my way out to do a job and I stopped off there and to my amazement when I got there the recruiting officer was a young lady sergeant. So, she looked me. I told her what I wanted. She looked me up and down and I don’t suppose I presented a very splendid figure in my greasy overalls. Anyway, she said, ‘Well you know you have to be absolutely fit for aircrew.’ I said, ‘Yes. I understand that.’ Anyway, she took my name and details and it was a bit of a, a bit of a job even getting in to the air force. You sometimes got the impression that they didn’t really want you. Anyway, first of all I had to go for the ordinary medical. I had to go to Lincoln for that and I passed that. And they always used to say then if you had two hands, two feet and were warm you were in [laughs] I don’t think that was far wrong actually. It wasn’t a very rigid medical. Then of course I had to wait again, probably another couple of months or more and I received a notification to go to Doncaster. And this was the big one. This was for the aircrew medical and you had to go and prepare to be there for three days. So, I set off from Boston in the morning. I got to Doncaster just after dinnertime. And again the first thing you had was the medical and it was far and away more severe. They didn’t actually take you to pieces and put you back together again but very nearly. Anyway, I was reasonably fit and young. I passed the medical alright except I had a polyp in my nose and I had to have that removed but that could be done without any problem so that didn’t stop me. The next thing was if you didn’t pass the medical incidentally you were sent home again. That was the end of the matter. I passed the medical and then because I hadn’t been to Grammar School I had to sit an entrance exam. You get the impression that they don’t really want you [laughs] It’s true isn’t it? And of course, I had to my advantage there I had been anxious to learn and get on in the trade and I’d been going to night school. Three nights a week I’d been taking maths, science and technical drawing so I thought well that would probably fit me out for a navigator or something like that. Anyway, because I hadn’t been to Grammar School I had to sit an entrance exam which I did manage to pass and that occupied another day so that was two days I’d already been there. And the third day I was, there was always a lot of hanging about and waiting at these things, I went before a panel of officers. I think there was three of them. And they asked you about yourself. Where were you from and who was your dad and all this sort of thing. Again, you get the impression they were trying to find some means of getting rid of you [laughs] Anyway, eventually it got around to the point of, ‘What had you have in mind? What would you like to do?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’d like to train as a pilot.’ Shuffle shuffle shuffle with the papers. ‘Well you’ve done well in the exam’ and, you know, ‘I think you’d make it.’ But, and this is where they start to pour cold water on it. He said, ‘Of course we’ve got a lot of applications for pilots. It might be six or eight months before we can even call you up.’ So, he said, [pause] well I said, ‘What about navigator or that sort of thing?’ ‘Yeah, we could probably do that.’ Anyway, in the interim, shortly afterwards one of the officers said to me, ‘What do you do in Civvy Street?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m an engineering apprentice.’ Well that sealed my fate. As soon as they heard that, ‘You’re going to be flight engineer.’ There was no argument about it. That was my fate settled [laughs] At the end of that I had to go home again and break the news to my boss that I was going to leave him and he was very good about it really. I think he understood how I felt and he wished me well. That was alright. He never really made things difficult for me. But even then I was probably another couple of months before I was actually called up and I can remember standing on Boston Station with my little suitcase, early in the morning and wondering what life had in store for me. I’d only ever been once before to London. My father and mother went to see King George the V’s Jubilee and the procession they were on which went on forever and ever and that was a fantastic sight. And, I was, my instructions were I got a travel warrant which took me to London. So I arrived, got on the train and eventually arrived at Kings Cross Station. And we were there. We had to report to the RTO, that‘s the Railway Travel Officer which was usually an army corporal and he knew all about us and now got into a group and we were sent off on the tube to St John’s Wood. We got off the station there and a corporal met us, and there was about a dozen of us, I think, at that point and we were marched off. Where did we go? Lord’s Cricket Ground which of that holy of holy places had been taken over by the RAF because there was no cricket. And we were told to sit in the grandstand and wait until — we were given a ticket with a number on it. Told to go and sit in the grandstand and wait until your number was called. And so we went through the procedure. We went in. First of all we had another medical and the IFF that’s “Free From Infection” [laughs] that was very important. Anyway, we were, we were lectured, measured up, we were given uniform and were then marched off to, eventually to, you know you’ve seen these very posh places where Poirot lives, haven’t you? We were in one of those. Mind you there was nothing posh about it. There was no furniture in it and the floors were just about bare. They used to sometimes put some really thick brown lino down just to protect the floor I suppose and rather than being in salubrious surroundings we were in a room with two double bunks. One each side of the room. And that was it. There was a lift in the place but we weren’t allowed to use it and we were on about the fifth floor so every time we had to go up and get changed into our PT kit we had to climb up five flights of stairs. I think it was all a part of the getting you fit process [laughs] We actually spent about three weeks there and I always remember when I wrote home my address was Grove Court Mansions, which sounded very posh. Again, we’re back with Poirot, aren’t we? Grove End Road, St Johns Wood, London. I mean that’s a top address isn’t it? And of course, when I got a letter back from my mother she said, “Oh I’m so pleased you’ve got such a nice place to stay.” I didn’t disillusion her [laughs] I thought she was happy so I’d leave it at that. So, we spent about three weeks there and then we were assembled one day. They always moved the troops at night in those days. I think that left the trains free for the civilian population to move about in the daytime. Which made sense, didn’t it? We were carted off to Kings Cross Station at midnight. We got on the night train up to Yorkshire. We got out at York. We still weren’t, they never tell you where you were going to go. We got out at York and hung about and eventually we got on to a slow train and we finished up, in the early hours of the morning, something like 6 o’clock, at Scarborough. Well, we were given, we were taken in there and we were given breakfast. Then we decided that they would — it was — we were in the Grand Hotel. Well of course it was a bit sparse as well. It had been stripped bare. Where they did put all the furniture I don’t know. But we spent a few hours there and then we were told that there wasn’t room for us there and we were going to go to Bridlington which is down the coast a bit. So, we were back. I can’t remember now how we went. Whether it was coach or the train I really can’t remember. We arrived in Bridlington and of course this time we were going to live in the Expanse Hotel. Again, a very good address. The only thing was that it was like the other places. It had been stripped of all the furniture and fittings [laughs] So when I wrote home again my mother was very pleased again I had such a nice place and I thought well she’s happy, I won’t disillusion her [laughs] And we actually spent something like, I think, six or eight weeks at Bridlington. We learned to march, we learned to salute and to look after our kit. We had, we did quite a bit of clay pigeon shooting which I suppose that would be more suitable for air gunners really but we did, we marched, very often with full kit, to Flamborough Head. Stripped off and jogged back. The idea was getting us fit. Mind you it was the middle of winter so it wasn’t, if you imagine, we used to do PT on the beach in December. Funny thing about it is you’re as fit as a fiddle you never seem to catch cold, do you? Anyway, we had lectures on all kinds of things and eventually we finished our time there and it happened to be Christmas so I was given leave. I [coughs] sorry. I spent Christmas at home and on my way I had a ticket which took me down, back down to London. To Kings Cross again. Again, we’d got to go and see the RTO and a bunch of us gathered up who’d been together before and we actually moved to another station the other side of London. And this time we were bound for Cardiff. This was another night journey. We got to Cardiff. We changed trains and the next place we got to, we stopped at a few villages, it was a typical slow train, we came to a place called — [coughs] sorry. I’m trying to remember the name of the little toy station that was there. It was right near to St Athan which was a huge place. I think it was one of the biggest stations, RAF stations, around and this is where we were to embark on our flight engineers’ course. So, this was for real now. It was, it was all wired off. I don’t know whether that was to keep us in or keep other people out but there was only way out. It was past the guardroom and it was pretty well what, you know, what we used to call bullshit. If you wanted to go out the camp there was a corporal there and he waited until there was about a dozen of you and then he marched you out because the senior officer had his office just against the gate. It was a bit of a fag really. You stood there wasting time until there was a small group and then this corporal marched you out past the gate and dismissed you. We did various things there. We had a lot of — we had — the course actually was split into many different parts. For example. I’ve got my book.
MH: Is it in that one.
SM: I don’t know what’s in that one. Can you stop a minute?
MH: No. No. It doesn’t matter.
SM: No. That’s not the one I want. It’s — I can’t remember. I don’t know where the hell the book is now. Anyway, it was divided up into sections. For example, we did engines, airframes, electrics, hydraulics. All a lot of things. I mean the engineering part was, I suppose I had an advantage. A lot of these chaps come probably nearly straight from school and had no engineering experience at all. It must have been pretty hard work for them. And we did, we covered every aspect of the aircraft. At that point we didn’t know which aircraft it was going to be but I mean a hydraulic is a hydraulic and they’re all pretty much the same. We covered all. Every different aspect of it and then we sort of set in to our — I need, oh it’s those notes I want. Sorry about that.
MH: That’s ok.
SM: You can stop that can’t you?
[Recording paused]
SM: Obviously aircraft are very complicated affairs. I mean a car or a tractor, the sort of things I’d been working on, were very different. We had main, the main one of the main things we had to understand was the fuel system because in an aircraft, and the Lancaster in particular you’ve got six fuel tanks and you have to use them in a particular order. And then we had to learn about engines. The general principals of the engines. We studied carburettors and propellers. We had to know how to carry out a ground test on an engine and how to handle the engine in the air because you don’t — it’s not like a car. You don’t just put your foot down and go. There’s rather more to it. Also, we had to keep a log which meant you made an entry every time you changed fuel tanks because you had to juggle the fuel tanks to keep equal amounts in your fuel tanks. This was in case you got one punctured. You’d lose the minimum amount of fuel. Sounds, we used to explain, it sounds reasonable doesn’t it? We had to make a log every time we made an engine change. We had to make calculations as to how much fuel we were using and how much we had left and then we had to study the air frame in general. The air frame is the fuselage, the wings and the tail as the main parts. Then we had to practice emergencies such as if you came down in the sea. We called it ditching. Or you had to jettison things out of the aircraft to try and lighten it if you thought you might scrape home. Also in the wing of the aircraft there was a dingy and you could release this from inside. So, if you did, if you were fortunate enough to come down, or unfortunate to come down in the sea and fortunate enough that your aircraft didn’t sink straight away which is always a possibility you had to know how to handle a dinghy. They were a silly shape really. They were absolutely round and I suppose they invariably, you could pull a cord inside the aircraft, release the dinghy but fortunately it was tied to the aircraft with a piece of rope otherwise if would have drifted off but you had to be quick about it. Get into the dinghy and remember to cut the rope because if the aircraft went down, you would go with it. This was always made very evident. We had to, we had to study hydraulics. That’s the oil. The amount, the parts of the aircraft, the landing flaps, the undercarriage and the bomb doors. All those sort of things were opened by hydraulic pressure. We had pneumatics which was [unclear] includes the brakes and other bits and pieces in the aircraft. We had to go through de-icing problems if your aircraft got iced up. It wasn’t at all improbable, unusual for parts of the controls to freeze up which was a bit tricky. We then went on a very brief manufacturer’s course. We went to the factory where the Lancasters were made. We just saw the final part where the main parts were being assembled. That was very interesting because we didn’t spend a lot of time there but it just gave us an overall view of how things were made. The final thing. Fuel and calculation and consumption. This was very important because if you misuse the engines because if you opened them up too much you went into a very rich mixture and it was quite possible to run out of fuel which was about the last thing you want to do, isn’t it? Those were the things which you had to study because you were going to be examined on. We spent, all together at St Athan, we had leave half way through our course and finally, after about seven months — I believe this course in peacetime would probably have been about a year and a half, it had been condensed down to about seven months because the flight engineers were a new, a fairly new thing at that time. So there weren’t, there weren’t a number of them to call on straight away. They were having to train them as fast as they were producing aircraft. And it is a very complicated course and I think it was, asked a lot of people some of whom had never had any engineering experience. I did my, although it was very different from repairing farm tractors but at least you got you got ideas how engineering works. After our second leave we went back to St Athan and it was like a prison camp really. It was high fences all the way around it and you had to be in at a certain time and if you weren’t you in trouble. And on a Saturday we used to go into Cardiff and there’d be about four train loads going to Cardiff and you all wanted to come back on the last train which [laughs] you can imagine it. I remember one occasion we’d crammed in and there were people standing in the corridors and standing in between the seats and even sitting on the luggage racks up above. And they complained that we sort of swamped the poor old chap at — Llantwit Major was the name of the little station. I think it was a two horse thing. There was a signalman and a porter come station master. Imagine yourself being confronted with a train load of youngsters. Half of them probably hadn’t got a ticket. So, on this occasion they stopped it halfway, made us all get out, checked our tickets and of course we’d been in a bit of a truculent mood after that. Half of them couldn’t get back in the train again. There was people stood and, ‘No. No room in here,’ you know, they finished up having to put some extra carriages on the back. That was the only time they ever did it. I think they, it made, made more trouble for themselves. That was the sort of thing you had got a load of youngsters, isn’t it? Anyway, we, eventually we passed out and I was, they’d split us up into groups for about the last month and you went on to type and about the main types was either Lancaster, Halifax, the Stirling and a very few people went on to Flying Boats because they had an engineer as well. Anything with four engines usually did. I was pleased to be appointed on to the Lancaster because that’s what I really wanted to do. It was supposed to be the best aircraft. So anyway, we went home. Had a week’s leave and then I had to go to some faraway place on the edge of Yorkshire and this is where I met my crew. We didn’t do anything there. We just, all it was was a bunch of Nissen huts. We arrived there. They let us get settled in and then they took about a dozen of us, probably maybe nearly twenty and a similar number of pilots, put us in to a room, there was no seats or anything and told you to sort ourselves out. Which I think was quite, I expected they were going to put a list up. You were going to fly with so and so but they didn’t. If you got someone you didn’t like it was your own fault. I walked around a bit and we chatted in groups for a start and then people started pairing off and eventually a young officer came up to me and asked me had I got fixed up? And I chatted to him. I didn’t really like him. He seemed a bit officious and I didn’t really stand for that so I said, ‘Well thank you very much but I think I’ve already got fixed up.’ So off he went and I was walking around and I saw this young Canadian. He was sitting on the floor contemplating the movement of people around about. I nodded to him and we exchanged, ‘Hi’s,’ As they do. I sat down beside him and we got talking and must have talked for quite a while I suppose and he seemed a decent sort of bloke and eventually he must have thought the same about me. He got up, he said, ‘I guess you’d better come and meet the rest of the guys,’ and that was it. That was me crewed up. His name was Luke Morgan and he came from Calgary in Canada. And I discovered that the, so we went to meet the rest of the crew. He, like a lot of Canadians, would have liked to have had an all Canadian crew but they seemed to specialise in pilots and air gunners. So we finished up with the pilot and air gunners were all Canadian and the rest, the other four of us were Brits. We were pretty well scattered about. My wireless op came from Melton Mowbray, the navigator was from somewhere in Birmingham. The bomb aimer was from somewhere on the South Coast and me, I was a Lincolnshire lad. So that was it, and then we were, the following day we got in to the usual crew bus and we were taken to a place called Sandtoft. Now, we quickly learned that it was, and to my horror I found we were going to fly not Lancasters but Halifaxes. Apparently, they wanted all the Lancasters on the front line because it was the better aircraft and all the clapped out Halifaxes were on these training units. We also discovered that it had the name of Prangtoft because there were so many accidents [laughs] And the age of the aircraft didn’t help much in those places did it? Anyway, we settled ourselves in there and I first of all had to do about a three or four day course on the Halifax because whereas with the Lancaster you sit beside the pilot and you can move about I know but in the Halifax you didn’t. You sat separately from the pilot and you couldn’t really help him much. Anyway, you had to put up with what you got so we got on alright and we did about, I think we did thirty — well the first thing you do is circuits and landings. Around and around. Land, take-off, land, take-off until you got it off pat. Then you start doing short cross-country flights where they send you off on probably a triangular course, find your way around, and back again. Then eventually we got on to the bombing range and there was a bombing range, I think it was actually in the middle of the River Humber because we were very close to there. And we dropped practise bombs on there and practices coming in from certain heights and all that sort of thing. And we passed out from there. I think we were actually there for, I don’t know, probably a couple of months. And then we moved over to — our next move was to Hemswell. Now Hemswell. Rejoice. Did I tell you I was there about — [pause while pages turning] yeah. We went to Hemswell. Hemswell. The place we’d just been to was called 1667 Heavy Conversion Unit which meant you were converting from twin to four-engined aircraft. Now, for our final bit of training we went to Hemswell and this was Number 1 LFS. These, you get these letters all the way through the RAF. Lancaster Finishing School. It was nothing like a young lady’s finishing school I can tell you. We were only actually there for a very short time. We worked. We went out. I went out for two flights with another pilot and acting as an engineer and I was quite familiar with that so that was passed all right. Then I went out on a trip with my pilot, Sergeant Morgan. And then we went out, the pair of us with a couple of other pilots. I think we only did nine hours and twenty five minutes flying and that was our Lancaster course finished. [laughs] Mind you we didn’t, we did dual circuits and landings. We had a check flight. Solo circuits and landings. Dual again. And solo. We never really went out of the circuit. Never. I thought this was a bit brief really but then our next move we were put in a coach and we were taken to where we were going to operate from. That was Elsham Wolds. And it’s, oh I often say, I’d never heard of the place before I got there. I lived in Lincolnshire all my life, I was born there, but I’d never heard of Elsham Wolds. It actually was in the hinterland between Grimsby and Scunthorpe and we found out that Grimsby, when we went off to look around, was full of sailors. Sailors don’t like airmen very much, do they? I don’t know why but they seem to think we’re pandered to too much. Anyway, we found out we got a better reception in Scunthorpe which was the other way on. We weren’t, we weren’t expected to go on to ops straightaway. We, first of all, we were sent on a cross-country flight in a Lanc for about four hours. Then we did fighter affiliation. This is where you go to a fighter station and ask for a playmate and they send a fighter up to make mock attacks on you. You come tearing in, the gunners obviously wouldn’t really fire their guns but they’re swinging their turrets around and aiming and there’s a horrible gut churning thing which you have to do. It’s called a corkscrew.
MH: Right.
SM: You dive and turn. Then you turn at the bottom so you’re still turning. Climb up and you do a sort of barrel roll. An elongated one. And it’s very difficult for a fighter to follow that. So, we practiced doing that and then I found out another thing we had to do. We’d now got passed out as being competent on the aircraft having done a total of five hours and forty minutes flying which isn’t really very much is it? We then had to go on what was called a Y cross-country and that didn’t mean a thing to me but Y was a code name for what we also knew as H2S which was a downward scanning radar. And if you’ve seen a Lancaster, I don’t mean the one at the BBMF because it doesn’t have it but the one at East Kirkby has got a big bulge at the bottom far end of the fuselage between the door and the end of the bomb bay and that was a downward scanning — H2S was the code name for a downward scanning radar and it was quite a brilliant instrument except it regularly broke down. It was very complicated and wasn’t really very reliable. So, we did what we called a Y cross-country ‘cause Y was another name for H2S. And for about two and a half hours we scanned up and down England for the, for the bomb aimer, who was to be the set operator to get some practise with the, with this new device. We then went out and did practice bombing using the H2S because it had, inside that lump underneath is a disc which revolves, scans the ground, picks up a return from it and gives you a pretty rough idea of where you are. It’s ok if you know where you are to start with but it’s not much good if you get lost. You couldn’t switch it on. It wouldn’t tell you where you were. So, you’d have to be careful that you knew where you were at the start really. We then did a fighter affiliation which you’d go over to a fighter station, ask for a playmate and they send a fighter up to make mock attacks on you. This was mainly for the benefit of the gunners because the pilot, you never get attacked from the front. The pilot can’t see anything behind him so he has to rely entirely on the gunners telling him which way to go to take evasive action and that was, that was another thing we had to do. We did another lot, about two and three quarter hours with the bomb aimer using the H2S scanner again and then this is it. We finally, we’ve passed out. We got a stamp on there from the OCA flight which says we are competent to go on ops. So, we set out. I’ve got my logbook if anybody has ever seen one you, you always put night operations in red ink, daylight operations are in green and if you do any training flights they’re in blue ink so it’s a bit complicated isn’t it? Our first operation was against Duisburg. It was a six hours twenty trip and we had, for a start, we came back on three engines which was not a good start.
MH: Right.
SM: We were hit by a piece of flak which went through the side of the engine. Oil sprayed out and got on to the red hot manifold exhausts and we had a fire. Fortunately, one of the things we’d been trained on was how to deal with a fire. That was my job. I had to go through that and fortunately for us it worked. Probably took less time than it did for me to tell you about it. We had to shut off the fuel, close the throttle, feather the engine and then there were fire extinguishers in each engine cowling which would fill the thing with foam and hopefully the fire went out and in our case it did. It didn’t take many minutes. It worked. So that was a good start wasn’t it? Came back on three engines. That’s also causing me a bit of a problem because all the fuel in a Lancaster is in the wings and if you’ve only got one engine one side you’re now using twice as much fuel one side and the aircraft goes out of balance. You can’t transfer fuel from one side to the other so all you could do was to open a valve in the centre of the system which was in the main spar and you usually had to get the wireless operator to do that. Save you clambering all the way through the aircraft. And then you run all three engines on the fuel tank at the heavy side until you’ve got it balanced up again and you may have to do that two or three times depending how far away you are but you’ve got to remember that you don’t want to be landing on three engines on one tank because if you [wang?] the throttles wide open you might run short of fuel. So you have to leave enough fuel so you can go back to normal running. Two one side and one the other for landing. Anyway, it was, it was very first time out after training so we hadn’t had time to forget how to do it [laughs] We went on to do, on average, I think we flew about twice a week. We, we did another after that operation we did another cross-country flight for further training for the guys, the navigator and the bomb aimer, to get used to the H2S unit. We were five days before we did another operation and this time was a much longer one. It was to Stuttgart. These were all at night of course. Then we carried on and we actually had done six trips and we were supposed to have six days leave. I think about every six weeks. Anyhow, I think we had ours a bit early because we’d done six trips. We did another cross-country and bombing practice and we then had a few days leave. You always used to get six days because, the reason being, you worked seven days a week. There were no, there were no weekends. There were no Sundays. No Saturdays. Every day was the same and every six weeks you got six days off instead of having one day. So, we continued through there and I don’t know how much more you need talk about that.
MH: Go for it as you wish.
SM: Well we quickly got in to the hang of things and the next big thing in our — we’d done, we’d done seven trips and finally we got our own aircraft. We got C- Charlie. The squadron code name was Suede Coat so we were Suede Coat Charlie and we would keep that all the way through our tour. We did a few daylights, short daylights in support of the army and those would have fighter escort of course and then we went back. The longer nights were coming on into the November and we started doing longer night runs because you can’t do a night run in the long runs in the summertime for long distance because it isn’t dark long enough is it? We were clambering along. We’d [pause for pages turning] I think this is one of the, I don’t know how much I’m going to tell you about this. We were sent to a place called Merseburg which was near Leipzig if you know where that is. It was an eight hour trip so it was a long one, wasn’t it? And it says here the aircraft was [cat e?] and we had a four thousand pounder and incendiaries on that and this is one of those cases where we had rather a fraught time. It was the day after my skipper’s twenty first birthday so I wouldn’t say that we were all really in the best state of health but you can’t really go to the CO and say, ‘Look, we went out last night and had rather a happy time and we don’t feel too well.’ So, we [laughs] we had to go and we got there alright and [pause] we got there, we dropped our bombs and our skipper felt unwell. He said, ‘You’ll have to take over. I’m ill.’ Well, I’d flown the aircraft. He’d let me fly the aircraft before but not while I was over enemy territory. Probably had a go for an hour or so when we were coming on the way back because he was keen for me to be able to fly the damned thing even though I perhaps was limited to sort of keeping the thing straight and level and on course and that was about as far as my expertise went. So, he wanted, he was sick actually and so I took over and we’d gone along for quite a while and I thought he’s [pause] I didn’t strapped myself in really. I just put, because normally a pilots’ got his parachute harness on. He’s got his life saving jacket in case you come down in the sea strapped all around him. He’s got straps over his shoulders, around his waist. He’s done up like a turkey ready for the oven. So, I thought, well he’s not going to be very many minutes so I didn’t put all my straps on. I strapped myself in to the aircraft but I only put the belt around my waist really. I didn’t get my shoulders strapped in. And of course, we were going along very nicely and I glanced around once and I saw that he was sitting with the navigator behind me. Is this too bad to tell?
MH: [laughs] No.
SM: But it’s true.
MH: I know. No. Feel free. I don’t think they’re going to charge you for the cost of a Lancaster at the end of it.
SM: No. But it’s, it’s a bit beyond the pale isn’t it really?
MH: No. No. It’s fine.
SM: Well I haven’t told many people about it so this is going [laughs] And we were going along and I thought well I don’t mind. I was feeling quite a bit better then. I was a happy flier. I like flying and of course the only thing is at night it’s not as easy as flying in the daytime. And I think what actually happened was we were flying along and I was quite happy and all at once one wing dropped and we went down into a turn and I lifted, I hadn’t got myself strapped in very well, I lifted up, my feet came up off the foot pedals and I was struggling a bit. I couldn’t, we struggled to get the aircraft back on course again and I think we stressed it a little bit because eventually Luke came at the side of me. He was knelt on his, on the floor at the side of me and, because we got into a dive and I couldn’t pull on the back of it. I got her out of the turn but I couldn’t pull the stick back because I wasn’t strapped in enough.
MH: Gosh.
SM: So, Luke came back and I remember him standing at the side, on his knees at the side of me, winding the trimmer back and we came out of the dive and stalled because then you’ve got too much of the elevator. So, between us we got the damned thing back on an even keel again and eventually he took over and came and we flew back and when we got back they always asked you, ‘Anything to report?’ ‘No. Nothing much. Quiet trip. Nothing much happening.’ [laughs] Anyway, the next day, we never, it was pitch dark when we got back, we never looked around the aircraft. We looked around the aircraft. I went in to the engineer, our flight engineer leader liked everybody to go into his office and we’d have a chat and a laugh. It was the idea behind the leader if there was any latest information that came along was supposed to pass on and all that sort of thing and he was good at that so there was no fault there. And we were all chatting away and the door opened and the pilot, my skipper put his head around the door and he said, ‘We’ve got to see the wing commander.’ So, we go, ‘Oh dear, what’s this all about?’ So, we go in and if they’re going to give you a rollicking they keep you waiting first don’t they? Let you stew a bit. We stood there and he was writing. Whether he was writing to somebody who had gone missing or something. Write away and just leave you standing there and of course he’s probably all of twenty five himself [laughs]. Not very old. So, he put his pen down, he looked at us, ‘What the hell happened to you blokes last night?’ Well of course the whole dismal story came out then. So, we got in his car and he drove us out to where the aircraft was and the first thing I noticed as we drove up the front of the aircraft and something was hanging out of the star, yeah the starboard wing. What had happened — when we pulled out of the dive we’d got so much stress on, the fuel tanks were held in the wing as they are in a car, with straps. The strap had broken and the fuel tank was hanging out of the wing. It hadn’t broken and the pipes were flexible so the engine still ran. We’d never looked at that. We never noticed. It was dark when we got back.
MH: Yeah.
SM: But that was bad enough. But anyway, we went around the back of the aircraft and the centre section of the wing is flat with tips turned up, isn’t it? That and the tail should be parallel but they weren’t. They were a bit like that. Something had happened. We walked around to the side and all I can say is the bomb bay finished just before the mid-upper turret and the bomb bay is where the strength of the aircraft is. The bombs were all underneath, the crew sit on the top, the wing spars are bolted straight to this. That’s where the strength of the aircraft is. When you get behind that and this is my excuse you’ve got a door which is a big hole. You’ve got another big hole at the top where the mid-upper turret is so the fuselage is not nearly as strong there is it? Well this is my excuse and I’m sticking with it. When we pulled out, we put so much stress in we’d twisted the fuselage behind the mid-upper turret and we’d never noticed it the night before, you know. It hadn’t gone a lot but it was definitely out of line. So, anyway, we were given, of course we got a bit of a rollicking for that, didn’t we? And my engineer leader asked me all about it and he said, ‘You ought to have had a bloody medal,’ he said to us. Not for wrecking an aircraft. Anyway, we went and did a bit of practice bombing and we were given leave so we went home and when we came back the old aircraft had gone. LM272 had gone and we were given PD427 which was a brand new aircraft and it was never mentioned again. I don’t think anybody wanted the trouble. They weren’t going to court martial or do anything silly like that and we went on and finished off our tour on that aircraft. That’s Suede Coat Charlie. We had one or two other interesting times. We went on one just before Christmas that same year. We had, we were sent to bomb Koblenz. Well this wasn’t a really long trip. It was about six and a quarter hours. Mind you cruising at a hundred and twenty or two hundred on the way back. You get quite a way in that time, don’t you? And we took off, went, we did our trip and no problems and when we got back to England it was foggy and so we crossed the coast. We always used to cross the coast at Orfordness or somewhere like that and we turned. The navigator gave the pilot his last direction and that was going to take us straight home and we always used to get on to our navigator because he was always a long time. He’d got books and pens and pencils — packing his workshop up. Probably again, the bus used to come and we weren’t ready so they had to go and pick somebody else up and we used to criticise him somewhat for being a long while. So, he gave the boss his new route back to Elsham, starts packing his stuff away. Of course, the next thing we get is a message to say we can’t land at base because it’s fogbound and we were diverted to somewhere. I think it was Langham in Norfolk. Ok. It was a slight change. It wasn’t much difference in change of direction so we got started on a route to Langham. The next thing we knew is another call to say that Langham is also fogbound now. Stand by. So, we start circling around. We had a couple of circuits and we’d never had any more messages and eventually the mid-upper who had got, who had very keen eyesight, Murray. He said, ‘I can see a glow under the sky Skip. It might be FIDO.’ You know what FIDO was. Fog Intensive Dispersal Operation. So, it might be FIDO. So, we went over there and sure enough there was this glow under the murk so we circled around and if you’re in trouble you call Darkie. And our call sign was Suede Coat Charlie. That was our squadron call sign. So, we fly down there and say, ‘Darkie, Darkie from Suede Coat Charlie.’ A little girl’s voice comes back and says, ‘Are you over an airfield with FIDO burning?’ ‘Well, yes we think we are.’ So, they gave us landing instructions and you circle around. You go down some distance from the runway and then you call downwind. When you get around to the end and you’re coming in it lights like a funnel. You call them funnels. Suede Coat Charlie funnels. And they’ll say, ‘Charlie Pancake.’ That means you’re clear of the runway. You’re clear to go on to land. So, we landed and we got out. You can imagine what the ground crew thought. You know, we got out and we said, the first thing we said, it was a bit embarrassing, we said to somebody, ‘Where are we?’ You can hear them say, ‘Chuffing aircrew. That’s all they know,’ you know [laughs] You can imagine it can’t you? Anyway, they came and collected us, took us in and we were debriefed and given some food and given an armful of blankets and pointed to the [unclear] [laughs] there. When we got up in the morning we weren’t the only ones. There were all sorts of ruddy aircraft there. And their own the aircraft were Mosquitos and the little devils took off on that. Because they, you know, and they used to get back in half the time we took didn’t they and it was, it was what they called a main force Mosquito squadron was there. Anyway, we go back the next morning and we go in to the — we have our breakfast. And of course, the trouble is when you land anywhere like that you’ve got nothing with you. You’re flopping about in your flying boots. You haven’t got, you haven’t got anything else. You daren’t leave your parachute anywhere because it would disappear and become ladies’ knickers, you know [laughs] Anyway, we eventually, we got a message. We was going to go out to our aircraft and see what they were doing and we got out there and the Chiefy out there said, ‘Well you won’t be taking this back yet.’ He said, ‘You’ve got this to do and this to do,’ and he said it wasn’t a Lancaster station so they didn’t know what it is. That meant we’d got to send somebody probably or get somebody to do the repairs and it was two days before Christmas and we didn’t want to be stuck there. We knew we’d got things organised for Christmas and the trouble was if you landed anywhere like that you’d nothing with you because when you went out at briefing you were given a bag, or the skipper was given a bag and there was seven smaller bags. You put your wallet, your money. Anything. You didn’t take anything with you whatsoever and of course provided you came back you got it back when you landed back. Of course, our stuff’s all at Elsham and this place is called Graveley. It’s near, it was in the old county of Huntingdon which no longer exists does it? Anyway, I thought it looked as though we were going to be there over Christmas. That’s no good. We hadn’t got any money or anything. Can’t do anything. So, the skipper went in to see the adjutant and he came out triumphant. He’d got a travel warrant. Course we, you can’t leave your parachute laid anywhere so when you get, so we went got a lift down to the local railway station. We had to go to Norwich and then across to Peterborough and then up to Grimsby train and finally back to Elsham and when you, we got on the train we were in flying kit with no hats or anything but carrying parachutes. You get some very funny looks from the passengers [laughs] Anyway, we got back alright and we had our Christmas Day and actually we, we, I’ve got it down here. We went to Koblenz and it just says, “Landed FIDO,” here. And eventually when our aircraft was ready it was six days later. Another of our aircraft flew us down to Graveley or Graveley I don’t know which it is really and we flew our own aircraft back to Elsham. That’s what that bit is there.
MH: Right.
SM: That was, there were various escapades. Nobody said a dickie bird, you know. And we carried on. We did some quite long trips. We got into 1945 after that. We didn’t operate from, that was the 22nd of December and the 28th when we got our plane back. And we didn’t fly, I think we must have had a bit of leave because there’s a blank here until January the 5th and this is where we stuck in to long trips here. We did Hanover, Munich, Merseburg, Stuttgart. They were all very long trips, weren’t they? Well the nights were long. And this is our own aircraft PD427 until we got here and then we — what they used to do, they used to have a couple, two or three spare aircraft because if they’re going to put mines in them they have to alter all the fittings in the bomb bay and they don’t really want to be changing from one to the other and back again so we finished up with H-How here and we were sent off to Ebeltoft Bay to lay mines and it was, it was totally different. We’d never done anything like that before. We had to fly up to the — there would only be about probably three aircraft from our squadron and perhaps a dozen all told. We had to fly up the North Sea to the Frisian Islands and over the narrow bit there, you know and over in to the Baltic and I think Ebeltoft is actually in Denmark isn’t it? So, what we did we did about five of these mine trips and I think what they were doing, the Germans were loading up arms onto a ship straight out of the factories ‘cause they’ve got a lot of rivers haven’t they? And these ships came out of those rivers, went across the Baltic and either went to Denmark or to Norway ‘cause they had troops in Norway, didn’t they? So, we did one of two things. We either laid mines against the estuary of the river where they were coming out of or we went to, it was a bit of hard luck on the Danish fisherman, we knew they went to Aarhus and Ebeltoft and places like that and we used to sometimes go and lay mines across there then. Harbour entrances. Probably wouldn’t bother anybody in a wooden fishing boat would it?
MH: No.
SM: Probably not. Hopefully not. Anyway, this is one here we did. It was quite a long one we did, it was nearly seven hours. We laid mines in Ebeltoft Bay. So what we, and of course it’s a bit different because when you’re laying at mines in the sea there’s nothing to aim at is there?
MH: No.
SM: So, this is one reason we got the job was because we had H2S. We used to go up there and then we used to get along this, along the border of the, in the Baltic. You keep away from the land until you were getting fairly close to where you wanted to be and then you used to track down the riverside or the beach. Not the beach. The side of the sea ‘cause water, seas and coastlines and rivers and that show up very well on our radar. Much better than towns do. A town looks very much like a forest. It’s a job to tell which is which so we used to track along the coast until we got somewhere near where we wanted to be and then we got a pre-determined point. Probably a headland or something like that which we could pick up on the radar and then we had to do a turn and go on to a pre-determined heading, do a timed run and release your mines. Well, there was nothing to aim at really but that’s how we did it. That were different. And we actually, on one occasion we were attacked by a night fighter doing that. Where are we? [Pause. Pages turning] Oh here we are. Got it. We actually, we got, we’d been to Heligoland. This one we were supposed, and Cuxshaven Point was the actual point we had to find and it was only a short flight but what actually happened was we were, we went along, made up with the coastline. We got our marker point and were just turning to go onto our timed run and the gunner shouted out, ‘Corkscrew. Go to port.’ Well you can’t corkscrew at fourteen hundred feet, can you? So we just turned sharply and just as he turned sharply this fighter fired at us and he took the top off the rudder and a chunk off of the wing. The up-going wing. We turned that way and I saw him out of my eye corners. He turned and went the other way. He didn’t come with us. He turned away and we never saw him anymore, strangely enough. So, we went out to sea a bit, back-tracked, came and did another run and never saw him anymore. Whether he was out of ammo or something I don’t know. Anyway, we did the job but we had to have two goes at it [laughs] Yeah. There we are. Look, I’ve got it. It says “Aircraft. Category AC. Combat.” We had six mines on board and that was, that was, that was our twenty seventh operation. And at about that time, it must have then the wing commander called Morgan in and he said, ‘cause the weather had been absolutely bloody awful, you know and the weather was so, he said, ‘The weather’s so bad,’ he said, ‘We’re not getting new crew,’ because we were nearly at the end of the tour then at twenty seven. He said, ‘We’d like you to do a few more trips because,’ he said, ‘We haven’t got anybody to fly your aircraft. If you go it’s going to be [unclear] or nothing.’ And Morgan said, ‘Ok. That’s ok.’ He didn’t ask us. He just said we could carry on so we carried on. And we did here. We [pause] yeah and that. Another case we had, we landed at, we’d been mining again and we landed at East Fortune ‘cause everywhere was fogged up. We were stuck at East Fortune for three or four days. That was another occasion. Anyway, this time we, we got to where we’d done, I think I’ve got to where we’d done, yeah, we’d done twenty seven trips then. That was the Heligoland Bight. That’s the one where we got — [pause] Fortunately, it wasn’t our night really was it? So, we went on and we did Cleve, Aarhus Bay — that’s in the Kattegat, Heligoland again and that was our thirty. So, then we carried on and we did Dortmund, Duisburg. We did a practice formation flying where we were going, we reckoned we were going to fly in daylight then. Number thirty three we did was to Pforzheim, which was fairly long. Seven hours and forty minutes.
[Knocking on the door]
SM: Somebody at the door.
MH: Just pause this for a second. There’s a knock at the door.
[Recording paused]
MH: Ok.
SM: I think we’ve reached somewhere in February of ’45 I should say, haven’t we? We still have the old aircraft PD427 still going strong and we’re now getting a bit of a mixture here. We had, oh I told you about Heligoland Bight hadn’t I and the combat with the fighter? I’d already told you about that hadn’t I? Now the next thing we did was Cleve. I’m not sure quite where Cleve is. Then we were back to mine laying again. I can only assume that the weather was so bad that you see you could do this without having to see the ground couldn’t you? Mine laying and that sort of thing whereas it wasn’t good enough for bombing because you need to be able to see the ground really. I suppose that was, we did well three mining trips quite close together. Aarhus Bay. That’s in Denmark isn’t it? We had six mines on board that day. There again you see we were using different aircraft. C-Charlie’s our usual one. This one here, we went, we had X-ray here didn’t we? At Heligoland Bight. Then we had T-Tommy when we went to Aarhus and S-Sugar we went to Heligoland. They were all mine laying trips and they were all on aircraft that were sort of put by and fitted out because it’s quite a considerable job to move all the bomb attachments from a bombing set up to mines isn’t it? That’s why they tended to keep. And this one here we went to Heligoland here and we noticed there that we, I didn’t put it down here. I thought it was very short. We went to Heligoland and we actually only did in the air for four hours and twenty minutes. The reason for that being that we landed due to fog and one thing or another we landed in East Fortune in Scotland. So that was why it was a very short trip wasn’t it and no doubt our place was fogbound and we were stuck there for two or three days at East Fortune. That was a time when we were there for at least a couple of days anyway. We decided to go to a dance in Edinburgh which isn’t very far away is it, from East Fortune?
MH: No.
SM: So, we went there with our flying boots on. They didn’t want to let us in at the door [laughs] Oh dear. Escapades. We got in eventually. We didn’t do much dancing. You can’t dance in flying boots can you really? We were quite happy with the music and the company of a few young ladies probably.
MH: Large flying boots on the floor. Yeah.
SM: Well you can’t do much about it.
MH: No. No.
SM: You can’t. We did at one place we went to. I know we went in the stores and got some shoes. We had them out on the lam and we never gave them back. We took them with us when we left. Never heard any more about them. That’s probably the case. I reckon it is when we went to East Fortune. We did, we went out one day and had a problem so yes, we went to the stores the next day and got some shoes. [laughs] You don’t get anything if you don’t ask do you?
MH: No. No. You don’t.
SM: And then we came back. We we’re nearly at the end of our tour now. We’ve, the last two trips were daylights. We attacked Mannheim on the March the 1st and the day after we bombed Cologne and by that time these places were pretty near the front line, weren’t they? Late in the war. So, they’re not such long trips and I know we did, in those cases, we had fighter escort because — and that was it. That was really our — [pause] We did two, we did two. You should. A tour was supposed to be thirty operations or two hundred hours. So, we did two hundred and twenty sixty hours fifty operational time and our grand total was three hundred and thirty five hours and thirty five minutes. And then of course I had a bit of leave. I think when I finished the tour we were all, we were all interviewed by a senior officer when you finished a tour who thanked you for what you’d done and said, ‘We’d like to call on you again.’ Well, in my case, by the time — you were supposed to have six months off.
MH: Right.
SM: By the time we’d had six months off the war had ended so of course we never went back anymore, did we? My next move up there from then I was home. I was sent home on leave. I went back after about a week and I had an interview because Elsham was actually a base headquarters. A base consisted usually of three airfields. Ours was Elsham, Kirmington and Killingholme. Kirmington of course is Humberside Airport now, isn’t it? They were all fairly close together and because of that we had an air commodore in charge and he was Air Commodore Swain. Does the name ring a bell? High altitude over Everest. I’d have loved to have asked him about it but I daren’t ‘cause when you’ve been, I’d never met an air commodore before. You went in and stood rigidly to attention, ‘Well done young man,’ he’d say, you know, ‘You’ve done very well and we’d like to call on you again when we want you,’ and blah de blah and that was about it. I’d have loved to have asked him about it. I mean he might have been actually pleased that somebody remembered him but I thought well that might have made you look a bit silly so I didn’t bother because I used to be very interested in anything to do with aviation and I can well remember him flying this supercharged Wellesley aircraft. Extended wings for more because the air’s so thin up there isn’t it? And a specially supercharged engine.
MH: To get him up higher.
SM: He wore something like a flying suit. Have you ever seen these pictures? Yeah. It was like a diving suit wasn’t it?
MH: Yeah.
SM: That was to give him, you know, ‘cause otherwise he’d have passed out. It was nearly thirty thousand feet isn’t it? And of course, I, I was interviewed by our own CO as well and they ask you what you’d like to do. And you’ve got the choice of either going as an instructor which I didn’t really fancy and I thought well the ruddy war’s nearly over. It’s not much point. So, I asked if I could go on an airfield controller’s course which is where I did. Look. Number 1 course, Airfield Controller’s School, RAF Watchfield. And these trips here, a lot of it was classroom stuff but we went on, see these various outings. We went to Blackbushe, Hullavington and Manston because I realised that with all airfields lighting is not the same. Some’s got high lighting, some’s got — because the Americans had a different kind of lighting to us, didn’t they? They had about three different sorts so we had to visit these. Our actual course was at Watchfield but we had to fly in an Anson to these, to Blackbushe, to Hullavington and Manston to study their lighting systems so that wherever you got posted —
MH: It made sense.
SM: You would be au fait with it, wouldn’t you? It wasn’t a particularly long course but I was six hours and forty hours. That’s just your flying time isn’t it? I was in, the course was about six weeks or something like that. There’s quite a lot to learn but I mean when talking about airfield control and you’re familiar with what goes on in an airfield aren’t you? You know what the signals are when you’re taking people around and all that sort of thing. So, it’s a matter of brushing up on it really isn’t it? And that was really the last time. From there I went to Feltwell which was a training unit and they were still training pilots and de-mobbing them. Not many I don’t suppose. Because there I had my nearest, nearest I came to having a mishap while I was on duty. They were teaching pilots who had flown aircraft with fixed undercarriages to fly the Harvard which was a retractable undercarriage and it was a well-known fact that the pilots came around and some of them forgot to put their wheels down. So that was something we really had to look for. And this guy came along and I hadn’t had any problems and this guy came around and it was just sort of just getting dusk and you could pick out. So, he got fairly close before I could see he didn’t have his wheels down. So, I give him a red light. You have a verey, two verey pistols. You’ve got a red and a green Aldiss lamp. You haven’t got anything else. You can’t talk to them. I could talk to the control tower by telephone but not to the pilots. They’re giving him the instructions. You’re just the last check that the runway’s clear and they’re going to get down all right. This guy came and suddenly I could see him coming in and it was darkish. I could see he hadn’t got his wheels down so gave him a red light. Nothing. Flashed him another red light. Nothing. So I picked up a verey pistol and the bloody thing misfired and that was with a red cartridge. And I picked the other one up and I got a cartridge off and he was getting pretty low [I got it off, pushed it in and was hiding it down the runway and he opened up and went around again and of course I couldn’t speak to him. I just picked the phone up and said to the control room, I said, ‘I’ve just sent one of your crew around again because he hadn’t got his wheel down.’ ‘Roger,’ he said and that was it. I thought, well if anybody complains that I was a bit late giving him a signal so I took this cartridge with me when I went off duty. Showed it to the SATCO as we called him — Senior Air Traffic Control Officer. I said this, I told him what happened. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘We don’t want a lot of bother. It’s not worth bothering is it?’ and he chucked it in the bin. As long as I’d cleared myself on that. And that was it. And from then on I was at, variously at — I went up to Scotland. And I think the first place I went to was Alness because there were lots of airfields and the war had about finished then and I was only there for a matter of a few weeks and the ruddy place closed down. And the same happened, I went to [pause] I went to Kinloss. That’s right. I went to Kinloss. Well it’s still open isn’t it now?
MH: Yeah. It is. Yeah.
SM: So, I was there for a little while. And then they wanted a controller and this is going to be very different — at Invergorden. There’s no airfield there. It’s a seaplane place. That was different. And I had a very short spell up there of a few months. Instead of having a motor-vehicle to go around to the caravan we had a [pines?] as it was called. A fairly fast motorboat. And there was no runway. There was nothing is there? It was just at Cromarty Firth. It was quite a big area isn’t it? And there’s a narrow gap so the water when it comes in it comes in and swirls around like that and the only thing you could do. We used to have floating goose nets. There was no electric stuff so you had these. They looked like saucepans and you’d light them and put them over the side. Well, you put them in a line and by the time you got to the other end the things were all over the shop. [laughs] And on one occasion we, in the daylight we didn’t bother to put any out. We just used to — we could talk to the aircraft and the tower and tell them to look out for the smoke float because all we could do really do was go to the far end, the upwind end, that which told them which way the wind was didn’t it? Put the smoke float out which told them the wind direction and it was up to them where they landed wasn’t it? That was a bit different wasn’t it? And we used to go, from there we used to go across to the Black Isle. Well I came on leave from there once and I remember coming back with some eggs and pieces of — you could get anything there. You could get — [laughs]. It was a bit of a wild area up there. As long as you could pay for it. I came home with two joints of mutton and a dozen eggs and I used to, I didn’t smoke, I never did smoke. I used to draw my ration and bring them home for my dad. And I didn’t eat many sweets. I used to get my sweet ration and give my mother that. [laughs]
MH: Why not. Why not.
SM: We’d come home loaded from there. Mother, oh she was in ecstasy. Hadn’t had a joint of lamb in years. And that was, I was getting near to the end of my time there and I think it was, I did have a bit of time as well which was interesting also at Beccles which is near Lowestoft. I don’t think it’s open now is it?
MH: No.
SM: And it was different there because the only aircraft we had were — [pause] not the, what’s the updated Wellington?
MH: Oh, the Warwick.
SM: The Warwick. That’s right. The Warwick. We had Warwicks. And I think they were thinking in terms of having to go out to the Far East where all the ops were going to be over water and they were experimenting with airborne lifeboats. Have you ever seen one? They were quite big, weren’t they? They had fuel and food and all the rest of it and they strapped them underneath an aircraft.
MH: And just dropped.
SM: And I can remember on one occasion I used to fly with them sometimes. I wasn’t a member of the crew. I just went up for the ride. I was on airfield, I was on airfield control actually and I went out and there they’d three parachutes. Sometimes only two empty and they went, opened them and they went head first or something. They left a bit to be desired. And of course, we used to drop them off the coast and then the air sea rescue boys used to go and fetch them in again. The idea was alright. ‘Cause, I mean, I mean we never got to bomb Japan, did we?
MH: No.
SM: But if we had have been it was going to be over a lot of water wasn’t it? Just imagine coming down and you’re a thousand miles from home and in the water. You’d be very pleased to see a Warwick with a boat, wouldn’t you? They’d have to find you though, wouldn’t they?
MH: Yeah.
SM: I don’t know whether they — I don’t think they ever pursued the matter because the war ended and that was it like, wasn’t it, really? I had some various escapades there and I don’t think I — I messed about on aircraft control for the rest of my time. I think I’ve got probably some stories a little bit in the wrong order but it’s briefly what we did. And I left the RAF in, the two years after the war finished. Almost to the day. And I was [pause] it would be March 1947 wasn’t it? And I went back to my old job at Gratton’s. I never finished my apprenticeship but I had learned a lot in there because we were then getting tractors through. Now they’d got hydraulic lifts which they’d never had. They’d got electrics. I mean before the war they’d never had electric starters or lights or anything and of course I had experience of these things now. I had experience of hydraulics and all the electrical things and that sort of thing and that put me to the fore and I finished up in charge of the workshop. I’d been there about two years. And then of course I was thinking about getting married and you’d a hell of a job to get a house then. Unless you’d got about three kids you’d no chance and I hadn’t any money. My wife had had been training as a nurse and she’d only just passed out and was a staff nurse now at Boston General when it was down near the dock and so I finished up, really I was more or less offered a job by a big farmer out in Old Leake and I took it and there was, I think the main reason I went for a start was that there was a house with it and of course you couldn’t get a house there for love nor money there, could you? That’s what really tempted me to go out there and I got on with him really well. He was a good bloke. I enjoyed, I liked working for him. He was straightforward. If there was anything wrong he couldn’t tell you and if you went with him and you were alright he was happy. He’d rather you did it that way. I got on extremely well with him and I never never looked back really. I stayed there ‘til I retired. By that time, we’d, well we were getting some agricultural equipment. It’s gone up now. It’s tractors instead of having [a wad] as they called it stuck with a flag at one end and aiming for that. You’ve got all kinds of technical equipment now, haven’t they? Sat navs and goodness knows what. So really that is my story. Unless there’s anything else you’d like to ask me. Is that sufficient do you think?
MH: That’s very good Syd.
SM: Ok.
MH: Very good but if I may.
SM: I don’t think I’ve got any gaps.
MH: Indulge [pause] with a few questions that briefly come to mind. You weren’t in the armed forces when war commenced.
SM: No. I was only fifteen. I left school at fourteen in 1938. So, when the war started I was only fifteen which is why I didn’t go into the forces until about half way through the war. ‘Cause by the time I was eighteen that was three years. The war was half way over. It had been running for three years hadn’t it? Then I found I was in this reserved occupation and I had to wheedle my way out of that really. That was — so I didn’t really get into things until fairly late on did I? So, then I had about a year’s training to do. Time flies.
MH: Between the start though of war when, when did you first hear that we’d declared war?
SM: Well I was at home and we had a wireless, as we called them in those days, because my dad made it. He made his own. You could buy a kit from people like Cossor or Echo or something like that. You had all the bits and the rolls of wire and you had to make it yourself. And dad, it’s one of my very early memories is my dad and his friend Walter Bolton. I’m sitting on the corner of the table. I was all of about three or four years old I suppose and they built the first radio. And he had to get a bit of wood a suitable size. He’s got all his bits down on it first of all. And then some of them had nuts so you that could tighten the washers. Others had to be soldered. And I can remember him making it. And then dad had to go out and you had to have three batteries. You had a hundred and twenty volt high tension battery, a nine volt grid bias and a two volt accumulator just to drive a radio [laughs] But I remember they persevered with it and they got it going and that was the first radio we ever had. And when dad, I got interested, this was before the war, I got interested in radio a bit and eventually I think dad bought one. You know, a proper radio. And I got, I worked with a chap, who was my cousin actually who was interested in radio and there was a chap next door at Hudson’s the Ironmongers. Do you remember them?
MH: Hudson’s. Yeah.
SM: Geoff Hudson. He was G6GH in the amateur ham band. And my cousin used to go there to see him so I went with him and I got going a bit and I stripped this old radio down that my dad had made years ago and made my own coils. You got coils and you had, you needed, if you wanted to change from one band to another you had to take one coil out and put another in. And then you had a tuning condenser for tuning. I got the ruddy thing to go eventually and that was my first radio and I had it in my bedroom. I think mother thought I was a bit queer sometimes. I woke up in the middle of the night. I used to switch on and be listening to people in America and Australia and all over the place [laughs]
MH: And how old were you when you did that?
SM: About fourteen, fifteen. Something like that.
MH: So, turning your hand towards engineering already.
SM: Yes. Yeah. I always liked making. I think my dad was a handy man. He could make things. You know, he was pretty handy with his hands and that sort of thing. Although he worked on the railway and he, he was — I think he went there when he was a boy from school. He was what, in those days they called a nipper boy and he had a bike. He had a bike with his job and of course there was no telephones then and I mean when the men were working, probably three miles away there would be a foreman or an inspector with him and dad used to go and we used to help a bit there and if they wanted anything he used to write it down. He used to go and jump on his bike and go to the engineer’s stores and they would make this up and the next time a train went they’d put it in the guard’s van and when they went to where these men were working and they stopped and delivered it. That was the system in those days. And my dad worked on the railways nearly all his life.
MH: Crikey.
SM: And I thought at one time, I nearly went to work in the engineer’s shop in the railway but I had, I was lucky really. I left school and I had a choice of two jobs. My cousin worked for this agricultural firm, Gratton’s and so I thought I’ll go work with him. I know him and I’ll work with him. Otherwise I would very likely might have gone on the railways and gone on the engineer’s yard there and followed my dad through.
MH: I know we talked off of, off of tape regarding when you first heard of the war and how it affected members of your family.
SM: Yeah. Well, I was only, I was the only child they had and I was fifteen. I’d been at work about a year and I can remember, I don’t know why I was sat on the corner of the table. I don’t know why. I was sitting on the corner of the table and dad was in his chair and mum was in the kitchen and listening to Chamberlain. Came and heard him say that, ‘This country is at war with Germany.’ And then my dad went quiet. My mother cried. And I thought, you know, this is not good. It didn’t really mean much to me at that time but I know there was a lot of people who felt like that. Dad especially had been through a war and thought here we go again. But actually, where we lived, you know, it didn’t affect us that much. We never saw much activity. I mean, food got short. Clothes got short. Everything like that was short. And there was air raid warnings and sirens and enemy aircraft going over but they were mostly going over in to the Midlands. They were going to Coventry and Birmingham, places like that, weren’t they? We did have one or two cases where I think somebody found. I mean we’d done the same thing. You find you’ve got a couple of bombs and we think we’re not going to take these back so you see something below you just drop it on it don’t you? And that’s what they did. You know. And they actually, you know the signal box? You know where the signal box used to be at the grand sluice. Is it still there or has it gone?
MH: I think it’s gone.
SM: Yeah. Well, a mate of my dad’s used to be working there and it hit, they dropped a bomb somewhere around there and he lost a leg over it. And that was in the first, First World War like. When the Zeppelins were coming over. I should think they were the same. I mean they was a bit haphazard. They used to come over and get ruddy lost. They didn’t know where they were half the time. And of course, they flew pretty high and of course they couldn’t get at them, could they? Up there. Our aeroplanes couldn’t get up that high, could they? No. I can, I can always remember that and of course it was a bit of a damp squib for a long while. The war. Nothing happened straight away did it? I mean we declared war because the Germans had invaded Poland didn’t they but they just ignored us and carried on what they was doing didn’t they? I don’t think — well then of course they started sending troops and we finished off, we had Dunkirk and after that nothing much happened. Bomber Command was about the only bloody people that were doing anything. I mean apart from the sea of course. They were carting stuff across from America and that like but as far as direct part in the war there was only about the RAF was in a position to do anything, were they? In Europe. Of course, we had all this fighting in North Africa and that sort of thing but that was miles away wasn’t it?
MH: Not on the doorstep.
SM: No.
MH: As such.
SM: No. I mean we got a few bombs on Boston and I remember two girls I knew at school were killed. They lived in — well their parents had a shop in, just off West Street. Lovely’s? The bakers. And they were, I think the couple of girls were in bed and they dropped. They only, they probably had a couple of bombs that was hung up and they used to just drop them out. They were unlucky to be in the place, weren’t they? I can remember before I joined up we had a few bombs dropped on the place where I worked and when you lined them up, I think what they’d actually aimed at was the docks.
MH: Right.
SM: And they’d overshot and they’d come across Silver Street which is where my people were. Across. One bomb went through the roof of our workshop but it didn’t land inside. It hit one of the iron wedges and exploded in the roof. And another one dropped — you know the cross, you know where Cammacks is don’t you? That crossroads there. Another one dropped there and it didn’t explode. But they were all pretty in line with the docks. We always thought they had actually aimed for the docks.
MH: Sure.
SM: And overshot. I remember going to work one day and they were busy digging that one out at the time. At the crossroads near Cammacks. And that one, we rejoiced in one thing because it smashed our timeclock [laughs] We thought that was hilarious. Really.
MH: Thank the Germans for turning up to work late. Yeah.
SM: Yes. We didn’t have a time clock for a long time. When they put it in everybody resented it. Yippee. The clock’s gone.
MH: When you eventually got posted to Elsham Wolds can you give us your first impressions? What you thought about the place? What the food was like? The accommodation. That sort of thing.
SM: Well it was very disbursed. I mean the airfield itself is quite big. I mean the average airfield I should say occupies something like eight hundred acres. Six or eight hundred acres certainly and of course the aircraft, the airfield itself was no, you don’t parking on the airfield do you? But all the way around it the aircraft was spread out so that if it was attacked they wouldn’t, I mean if they were all grouped together as they are now and somebody dropped one they could clear the ruddy lot up with one stroke wouldn’t it? And as far as I’m aware the airfield was never attacked. While I was there anyway. And the living quarters, particularly the air crew were disbursed well away from, from the main camp. I think that was because half the time when they were at work we was in bed. We probably got to bed at half five in the morning so you’re not going to get up much before dinnertime, are you? And if you were in a middle of the camp you wouldn’t get much sleep, would you? Where we were, where we lived there were three or four huts and a little wash place. If you wanted a bath you had to stand in a big square sink and soak yourself down [laughs] That was your, that was the luxury bathing facilities we had. And we had a coke store but there was never anything in it. [laughs] But if you come in at 5 o’clock in the morning you’re not going to muck about and light a fire, are you? So, we used to put up with it. Used to hang your greatcoat over your bed for a bit of extra warmth and that was it. It was, I know they thought aircrew got molly coddled but we, I’m afraid we didn’t. We had to rough it with the rest of them. Some of them were fortunate in places like Hemswell. It was a peacetime station. That’s the place — we was only there for about a week if you remember. And we were in proper digs there and we thought this is good and the next place we went to was Elsham and it was just the opposite [laughs] It was very much the wartime place. You don’t bother when you’re young though, do you?
MH: Was that hut that you were in , was that just for your crew? Or was that for —
SM: We were two crews.
MH: Two crews.
SM: One down each side. And of course, as time went on — when we started, they were all NCOs. My pilot was commissioned as soon as he started his tour. And two of the others — the wireless operator and the bomb aimer were both commissioned as well. And I was, when I finished I was still a bog sergeant but I was given my crown as I told you. I was given my crown. I think that was [unclear]. So that’s it. You were officially, you were supposed to, as an NCO you got your crown after a year. And if you survived another year you got your double WO. That’s if you hadn’t been commissioned in the meantime.
MH: I know we discussed at length, off tape as well regarding the multi-tasking that a flight engineer would have to do during missions.
SM: Oh yes. Yeah. Yeah.
MH: Do you want to explain what we were discussing?
SM: Yeah. Well, basically it’s in this book here. “The Duties of a Flight Engineer.” They don’t sound very much but I’ll tell you what it says. [Pause. Pages turning]. There we are, “Entry number 97. Hut B42. RAF St Athan.” [pages turning] Short pause while I find it.
MH: That’s not a problem.
SM: “Flight engineer’s duties.” Extract from Air Ministry Order A53H /1943 “To operate certain controls at the engineer’s station and to watch appropriate gauges as indicated in the relevant publications.” That doesn’t tell you a lot does it? “In certain types of aircraft to act as pilot’s assistant to the extent of being able to fly straight and level and on course.” That is more direct. “To advise the captain of the aircraft as to the functioning of the engines, the fuel, oil and coolant systems before and during flight. To ensure effective liaison between the captain of the aircraft and the maintenance staff by communicating to the latter such technical notes regarding the performance and maintenance of the aircraft in flight as may be required. To carry out practical emergency repairs during flight and to act as stand by air gunner.” That’s officially what your duties were. It doesn’t tell you about the, it doesn’t tell you anything about chucking Window out for hours on end or going down to —
MH: I was going to say would you like to advise people exactly what you did do?
SM: Yeah.
MH: As such because that, I think people would be interested. That seems quite an abbreviated list.
SM: It does really. Yeah.
MH: From what you’ve said.
SM: Well I mean I, I could, my pilot told me to fly the aircraft. I never landed one but I could fly it and keep on course and that was it. At least — well you had two options. If you were able to fly it back, fair enough, but if the pilot was injured and the aircraft was crippled you might be able to hold it steady enough while everybody baled out. Another point. Then of course if you are damaged and you get, and the pilot is incapacitated what are you going to do? Are you going to risk flying across the sea? You can’t bale out and leave the pilot, can you? So, you’ve got the option of saying to the crew, ‘Well if you want, if you want to bale out do so but I’m going to try to land the aircraft at one of these emergency airfields.’ You find the airfield and I’m pretty sure I could have got it down. It’s not getting it down. It’s getting it down in the available space isn’t it because those runways were a hell of a length and they were wider. Even if it was a bit bumpy, I think could have got it down. And that’s what I would have tried to do anyway. And that was another aspect. Fortunately, it never arose. And other times where you had to deal with anything that went wrong mechanically or electrically. The wireless operator was also available for electrical things, you know. There was a big panel and it was a big one. It was nearly as big as the whole of that telly. And the side of the fuselage quite near to where the wireless op was and there were fuses there for everything on the aircraft so that, and there were spares alongside them. So if anything didn’t work you could change the fuse. Probably it cured it. If it blew again, well, bugger it. That’s too bad. There’s something wrong with it isn’t there? That was, that could fall between the engineer or the, so I mean if I’m busy Windowing I’ve got to say to the wireless op can you go and pick up so and so you know because if I left off my Windowing I’ve got — I can’t do two jobs can I? Yes. The Window was a ruddy pain in the neck really. It could go on for hours sometimes and I used to keep having to coming up to look at my [unclear] watch. I had to look at my watch and decide — I knew I’d got, I kept a chart for when I had to change tanks because you weren’t supposed to use the fuel in a certain way. Assuming you’ve got a full load of fuel that was two thousand one hundred and fifty four gallons. That is a lot of petrol. You’d got five hundred and eighteen in your big tanks near the fuselage and the wings. They were all in the wings. Three hundred and eighty three in the one between the engines and a hundred and fourteen in the outer tank. If you had a full fuel load what you were supposed to do was use number, take-off on number two and you were supposed to land on number two as well because it’s between the engines. There was less chance of fuel starvation wasn’t there? So that was your instruction and if you, so if you had a full load of fuel on you’d run on what we called number two tank between the engines until you’d got it down to about two hundred gallons. Then you’d turn on to number one. That’s the big tank. Both sides. And then while you were doing that you could transfer the fuel from the outer tank to the centre one. You can’t use the fuel directly from that. You have to transfer it to this tank there. So now you’ve got, you run that down to two, so now you’ve got just over three hundred gallons in that tank, haven’t you? So, then you run on the main tanks of five hundred and eighty gallons until they’re down to about three hundred and then you alternate every hundred gallons between the two tanks because the two systems are completely separate but they are joined. I’ve mentioned about that didn’t I? This tap in the middle of the system. Normally it remained closed.
MH: Right.
SM: You only, you only transfer it if you’ve got a dead engine or something like that. You went, you used, you alternated until you had to leave at least a hundred gallons in the tanks between the engines and then they were there for landing. So, you run on the number ones until you were going to join the circuit, turned back on to those because you knew you had enough fuel there to land and you landed on that. So, it complicated. You had to keep making calculations because if you’ve got a tank with five hundred and eighty gallons in and a gauge that size it’s not very accurate is it?
MH: No.
SM: The thickness of the needle can be fifty or sixty calcs so they were just as a bit of a rough guide aren’t they? It could be, it could get complicated. Especially, and I’ve already told you what happened when you lost an engine. You had to, you can’t transfer fuel but you could run on all three engines on the heavy side until you got it levelled up again. There was a lot of combinations of things you could do wasn’t there?
MH: So, the flight engineers’ role albeit looking after the mechanical side of things was to keep the aircraft in balance and in trim at all times.
SM: Yes. Yes. Especially in the case of a dead engine because it’s, I mean the fuel being in the wings if you’re running one engine one side and the other two engines off the other side it’s going to use twice as much fuel. When you’re talking about a hundred gallons of fuel it’s quite heavy isn’t it? And the pilot would then say, ‘She’s getting a bit wing heavy,’ so you’d then transfer. Change over and use some off the heavy side to try and keep the aircraft in balance.
MH: It’s my understanding also that 103 were one of the first squadrons to get the use of H2S.
SM: I believe it was. Yeah. Yes. Because I think this is why we used to fall for mine laying. Because we had H2S first. Eventually all squadrons got it. But I think, but I know for a start, well when we moved from Hemswell, which was our Lancaster Finishing School, I didn’t know about, I’d never heard of H2S. I didn’t know it existed. So that was why we were about a fortnight for our chaps to get the hang of H2S before we fully operated. Otherwise we would have been off before.
MH: The introduction of H2S though, I understand brought in an active part further for you when the aircraft was in flight.
SM: Acting?
MH: Acting part for you. You had to take on another role.
SM: Oh yes.
MH: Would you like to explain that?
SM: Oh yes. I see what you mean. Yes. Well, I suppose really the navigator could probably have operated it but navigators are very busy and he’d be struggling to operate both wouldn’t he? So, I know, certainly in our crew the bomb aimer operated it and he sat with the navigator behind the pilot to do that. Anyway, as I said when we used it to bomb, I had to go and release the bombs. So, you were a bit of a jack of all trades. You were the handyman [laughs] weren’t you?
MH: Moving on from that I know that airmen used to carry mascots, good luck charms, that sort of thing. Did you have something like that?
SM: Well, I didn’t personally. I don’t think. I think one of the gunners had a little teddy but I never had anything. I don’t remember doing. I know a lot of people did. Look upon, you know, things as lucky, didn’t they? No, I’ve never, I’ve never I don’t think I’ve ever been superstitious, you know.
MH: There was nothing your crew did when boarding the aircraft like, like some footballers do? They touch the, kiss the panel and all the rest of it.
SM: No. I don’t think so.
MH: No.
SM: I never bothered anyway. A lot of people used to pee against the tale and wheel and things and like that which was considered. I don’t know what difference that made. I really don’t know. [laughs] There were all sort of strange things happened weren’t there?
MH: What would say was the weirdest thing to happen to you in your time?
SM: Weirdest.
MH: Yes. Weirdest occurrence or strangest thing that you thought was out of the norm.
SM: Well I should say really our most — I’ve already mentioned probably landing on FIDO. Having been turned down at two other stations. Finding somewhere by accident and landing there and having to get out and ask where we were. Probably one [laughs] thing that sticks out in my mind. And going on the train in flying kit back to Elsham.
MH: Crazy isn’t it? Crazy.
SM: I told you about Jock leading us through the streets of Scunthorpe, haven’t I?
MH: Please do because that one’s not on tape. Please do. Do enlighten the people on that one because that’s a great story.
SM: Well I think really the people of Scunthorpe were very very patient with us. We must have caused them a bit of, a bit of a noisy upset at times but I particularly remember this occasion. Our engineer leader was always up for a lark and we I see, they seemed to know. I think they probably had, whether they had a direct line to Bomber Command I don’t know but the pub always seemed to know when there was going to be a stand down, as we called it. No doubt somebody ran off and told them and there would be, you know, a band and a singer and usually lots of girls naturally [laughs] And we were going and we put about half a dozen tables together and we’d sit, all of us all around this table and when we wanted a drink the bloke with the green baize apron used to come out with a pair of wheels and a case and start around the table [laughs] and of course we would sing riotously. And I remember one occasion one of the pilots was awarded the DFC. You knew he’d been awarded it but he hadn’t hadn’t got it. He’d have to go sometime later to be presented with it. So, we made him one and we had him up on the stage and presented him with it and all this sort of thing. But I didn’t tell you yet about the marching through the town late at night. Have I?
MH: No. No.
SM: Well, what used to happen very often was we sometimes went out as a crew all together and that was nice because you get bonded don’t you? And sometimes we got to one point we’d got three officers and we’d lose track of them a little bit because they’re not living with us anymore. They’ve gone in the officer’s quarters, haven’t they? And one thing our engineer leader who — his name was Jock. I don’t know what his Christian name was. He was a flight lieutenant but everybody called him Jock. We didn’t salute anybody below wing commanders I don’t think and we was a bit unruly really but we used to get away with murder really. I don’t think anybody bothered as long as you did your job. And we’d been there one night at the Oswald Hotel which was, it was a big place and as I say they, they always knew when to expect us. I think somebody gave them, tipped them the wink and we used, we was allowed to use the crew buses or a big lorry to cart us in there and so we go in there and go in to the pub and get, and it would enliven as the night went on naturally, you know, at some point. And we’d start singing and some of them would start buying the girls a drink and probably sitting a girl on your knee and singing and that sort of thing, you know. Happens, you know, with a lot of young men about and a lot of young ladies who didn’t mind being bought a drink [laughs] And I remember one particular night we’d had a particularly lively night there and we came out and we had to walk, I should say the best part of a mile back to where our — because they’d dropped us off at the place but there was nowhere to park there so he had to find somewhere to park there. And one night Jock came out and about the same time as he came out the band came out so Jock thought it would be a good idea if the band led us back to the, where the vehicle was parked. So, he goes inside again. I don’t know whether he got it from somewhere, I think it was a toilet seat he’d got. Something around his neck like a garland and he’d got the conductor’s wand and Jock sets off down the street with the band playing and we’re not marching. We’re straggling along behind. You can imagine what it’s like. You’re going through, it’s about 11 o’clock at night. And I think the good residents of Scunthorpe put up with a good lot. They probably thought poor lads, we probably wouldn’t be there next week. You know what they thought didn’t they? And we marched along there with the band playing and Jock leading us down. We didn’t march. We straggled. Or tottered. And you got into the main street and there was a crossroads. And in those days there was just one light on a crossroads and it was shaded so that it shone down but it didn’t give a beam. That was so that people didn’t come across you dead on, wasn’t it? At night. And we got to there and standing — it’s a wonder I’ve not told you this before — standing on the corner of one of the streets is the local bobby. You know, ‘Good evening all,’ sort of thing, you know. He stands there looking a bit bewildered. We marched past him and we waves and salutes him as we go by. He shakes his head, turns around and walks away. And we, we made it back to the truck and got in there and of course you probably piled into this truck and there would be about four times as many in it. Probably finish up with a WAAF sitting on your knee or something like this [laughs] You know what it’s like don’t you? And you’re off back to camp again. And that would be a typical night out. I probably shouldn’t be telling you all this rubbish.
MH: No. It’s I was just wondering if Scunthorpe’s recovered.
SM: Well when we came out, when they came here —
MH: Or if the toilet seat’s still missing
SM: Eh?
MH: Or is the toilet still missing?
SM: Yeah. Oh dear. No. We had, that was a typical night out that was. We had various escapades. We missed the bus altogether once because there was another pub there and I can’t, I can’t at the moment remember the name and the man who ran it was either a wing commander or somebody who had been invalided out because he had been injured but he was running this pub. And of course, if you went there you could do no wrong. You were his lads, weren’t you? We used go in there sometimes and if you wanted a drink after hours you used to sign the register. So if anybody came in, he said, ‘This chap is staying the night.’
MH: Staying the night. Yeah. Yeah.
SM: Don’t know where he got it all from. He always used to have tinned fruit and God knows what else. I don’t know where he got it from [laughs] it was always a good night there and God knows what time we used to get back to camp sometimes. And had some lively times. It’s not surprising though is it?
MH: No.
SM: We used to sometimes have quite a lively evening in the sergeant’s mess and we used to have obstacle races. We’d put chairs, turned on their side and all kind of things you used to race around and one bloke broke his leg one day [laughs] Things got a bit, I think it was the state of the nation wasn’t it? Things got out of hands sometimes really but —
MH: Young men doing a dangerous job I think had to let their hair down. Or be allowed to let their hair down.
SM: Yeah. I think that was a lot to do with it. Yeah.
MH: Had to be given a certain amount of leeway.
SM: I think the residents of Scunthorpe understood. We were just letting off steam a bit.
MH: It was, well I can imagine it being highly stressful.
SM: Yeah.
MH: And some, as we discussed earlier, didn’t we that some people were able to do it and continue and unfortunately some weren’t.
SM: Yeah. Well you just, I don’t think you ever thought about it really. You couldn’t afford to I don’t think. You knew what you had to and you just got on and did it. I don’t know. It’s strange to talk about it really because some of the antics we got up to were ruddy ridiculous, I know. I let Jock tell us — are we recording this? [laughs] I don’t suppose it matters now because I should think they are all dead now. I remember I got on really well with my engineer leader. I was one of his favourites I think and I wrote to him a few times. Kept in touch with him and I wasn’t there when the war ended but I remember Jock wrote back because there were no telephones much in those days, were there? And he was telling me about the do there when the war ended which was after I’d left them of course and he said there was a haystack somewhere and it got on fire. He said, “I had a hell of a job to explain to the CO that it was spontaneous combustion.” [laughs] That, that was typical of Jock. The tricks he got up to.
MH: But again, he sounds like somebody that appreciated that people needed to let their hair down.
SM: Yeah. Nobody ever complained about us. We used to be a bit unruly I know but I think it was a, it was an unusual situation wasn’t it?
MH: Would you like to [pause] I will leave this one open to you because I have my own personal feelings that I think you were quite close to your captain of your aircraft.
SM: Yes.
MH: Would you like to put for the benefit of people that wouldn’t have known him. What sort of man was he? And the relationship that you had with him both in the aircraft during the combat hours and the combat times.
SM: Yeah.
MH: And then in the social time as well.
SM: Yeah. He was a [pause] I don’t, he’d been to college. He was Canadian and he was only a little bit older than me because he was twenty one while I was with him. He was very young, wasn’t he? And he was pretty calm and cool and collected which was good. I never knew him really get out anything other than, well even slightly agitated but I think his most concern was when we had that bloody fire in the engine. That was. But it didn’t last very long and he [pause] no I got on extremely well with him. I liked like the bloke and I trusted him and he trusted me. I don’t know but, we worked very closely together. He was he was a college boy, you know. He’d been to — I don’t think he’d ever had a job. Most of them hadn’t who’d been to college. Eighteen and gone straight in the air force, hadn’t they?
MH: And then social wise. I mean you had a quite, a very close, from listening to what you’ve said and everything you had a very close partnership with him in the aircraft.
SM: Oh yes. I didn’t see so much of him afterwards because he was commissioned. He wasn’t when I joined him. He was a sergeant. And as soon as we started on operations he was commissioned but then of course he didn’t live in the hut with us, did he? I didn’t see quite so much of him then but we still used to all go out together sometimes you know. So, yes. But I can only say I never had a, what I would call a crossed word with him or fell out with him or he with me. I did my best for him and I think he — I trusted him. He was, he was a good bloke I thought. The bloke I sort of knew the least about, he did his job alright, was the navigator. He was a bit older than the rest of us and he was married and his wife was in the WAAFs and I think she was stationed somewhere not very far away so when we went out he usually went to see his wife. Which was understandable.
MH: Yeah.
SM: So, Russell his name was. I didn’t really get to know him as well as the others.
MH: Right.
SM: He used to slope off to see his wife instead. We lost one of them one night. They’d got a bus load of either nurses or girls or something. Came to a party on the station somewhere around Christmas time and one of our gunners got on this bus to see her home and when they dropped her off, he walked her home and she went in and he’d no ruddy idea where he was. The bus had gone. He’d no idea where he was.
MH: Lost in no man’s land.
SM: He wandered around and of course it was pretty late at night so if he hadn’t have found somewhere and snuggled down for the night and the next day there was an op on and we said, ‘Well, where’s Jack?’ Nobody had seen him [laughs] We didn’t know where he was. We got to the point of having our meal because you had your flying meal and then you went from there to briefing and we was having the flying meal and Jack hadn’t arrived back and of course he could have got into serious trouble for that. For not being there. Anyway, he came tottering in to camp just in time. He said he’d walked this girl home and said goodnight to her and he didn’t know where the heck he was [laughs]
MH: I hope she was worth it. God.
SM: Anyway, they used to get into some antics the two gunners. They were rum lads. I remember we went, we had a little leave once. We got to Hemswell and we were there two or three days before our course was due to start so they said, ‘Well, you can go off providing your back,’ by such and such a time. We all got back and there was no sign of Jack and Murray, the mid-upper gunner. Then afterwards they came in [laughs] One of them came in, he said, one of them came in and it was the big bloke, the bigger of the two. He said, the little chap, Murray was tiny, he said, ‘This cabbie. He’s got Murray locked in his cab and he won’t let him out till I pay him.’ [laughs] He hadn’t got any money. They’d spent out and they’d got a cab from Lincoln back to, [pause] well to the airfield anyway. So we had a whip around and we hadn’t got, none of us got much money so the skipper, Morgan the skipper said, we chucked all we got and we were about a half a crown short, well he said, ‘Tell that cabbie’s that’s all he’s going to get because that’s all we’ve got.’ [laughs]
MH: Oh bless.
SM: You can imagine it can’t you?
MH: Yes. You can.
SM: The antics we’d get up to
MH: I don’t know. A good band of men.
SM: Hmmn?
MH: Good band of men. So, we’ve covered you through now through your wartime. You’ve had further involvement with Lancasters since the war though. Would you like to expand on that?
SM: Oh yeah. Well, you mean talking about being a tour guide?
MH: Please.
SM: Well, I’ve been, it started really after the, after I retired we had a group, well just before I retired actually, we formed a branch of the Aircrew Association in Boston and the only other branch at that time was in, just outside Grimsby and they called themselves the North Lincolnshire branch. So we said, ‘Ok. Well we’ll call ourselves the South Lincs.’ We never mentioned Boston. South Lincs branch. And of course we advertised the fact and I think at one time we had fifty members split between the two, you know and then later on a branch sprung up at Grantham and another one, I think at Peterborough and we lost some of the chaps who came a distance because it was nearer for them but we had the — we’re still running. I mean officially the Aircrew Association has been wound up and their flag, their flag is in St Clement Danes somewhere isn’t it? But we still meet although I have to say we push to get about, more than about four actual aircrew members ‘cause we used to have about fifty and then we got down in numbers a bit and we thought why don’t we invite the wives to make the number up? So, we did that. And now some of the wives have lost their husbands and sometimes now they still come because they got used to coming. They just come. We don’t do anything. We just have a lunch and a meeting and a chat about it for an hour and that’s it. We don’t really do a lot but we get, the last time I went I think we had about seven there but it’s that time of year. Some people are on holiday aren’t they and that sort of thing? We actually meet this Friday again so I don’t know how many will be there. I’ve no idea. We shall see, shan’t we? Nobody seems to want to pack it up. We just keep in touch, don’t we? It’s been going a long while now. I don’t know how long. It must be [pause] it started for me anyway — yeah ‘cause it started when I —because I started going to Coningsby when I retired. We had a meeting of our ATA and one of the chaps who was already a tour guide there got up at the meeting one night and he said that if anybody’s interested the BBMF are looking for a few more tour guides. So, I thought fair enough and about five of us went together and that’s when I joined and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve been, I can’t remember exactly when I did join but I think it must be twenty five years ago at least because we went to — [pause] Yeah. ‘We went to Lincoln and we were all presented, those who had done twenty years.
MH: Right.
SM: Were presented with a — well that wasn’t on and that wasn’t. I thought what a poor thing so I put that bit on and that. Do you know what it was and the CO at that time, the squadron leader said, he was a bit of a blunt spoken bloke, he said, he picked one up and he said, he went with us to get them. We all went to Lincoln. He said, ‘That’s not much for twenty years’ service. A bit of bloody paper.’ So, some weeks afterwards he called us across and he’d have those mugs done and engraved for us which was quite nice wasn’t it?
MH: Oh, that’s beautiful. For the benefit of the tape I’m currently, preciously holding a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, “Lest we forget” of course is the motto at the bottom. This tankard, this glass tankard is presented to Sydney Marshall with grateful thanks for the RAF BBMF for twenty years of selfless service. And well earned. Well-earned Syd.
SM: Thank you. Yeah and another. What’s this one? That’s I went to a, quite a posh dinner last year when the Canadians finally went home. This dinner was two hundred quid a head and it was packed out and there was more gold braid than I’ve ever seen before. There was air marshals and everybody there and everybody got one of those. Plates.
MH: Right.
SM: A nice little token.
MH: Yeah.
SM: What’s this one? Oh, and this is another occasion. Oh. The Dam Busters seventieth anniversary.
MH: Right.
SM: I was invited, I was never commissioned but I was invited to the officer’s mess for dinner.
MH: Lovely.
SM: Of course, that was a black-tie job wasn’t it?
MH: Yes. Indeed.
SM: It was the last three Dam Busters were there and I was the only other civvy there apart from — in all the, in the officer’s mess.
MH: Right.
SM: And they called on, what was it now? One of them. got, they got him, after the first course they introduced one of the Dam Busters and he gave a little speech. And then the next course and the next man took a bow and there was a lady there. She’s the daughter of Barnes Wallis. The man who designed the bouncing bomb and she just stood up and take a little bow. And I was talking to some blokes and I heard him say something and he said, ‘That’s you.’ He introduced me. I had to stand up and take a bow [laughs] But it’s been quite a large part of my life. The BBMF. This one, I had to laugh when we, I took my youngest, actually I’ve got some pictures of it somewhere. I took my youngest daughter to one of them. She was really chuffed.
SM: That’s the, that’s the occasion. This two hundred pound a ticket dinner.
MH: Right.
SM: I could take a guest so I took my youngest daughter.
MH: Ah.
SM: It’s a job when you’ve got five. You have to share things around. It was a brilliant evening though. It really was. It was fantastic. There was more top brass there. There was one I noticed there and I was surprised he remembered me. He’s on this, one of these pictures. Oh, that one up there. This one. When I remember, first knew him as the Squadron Leader Andy Tomalin and the Hurricane was flown by Wing Commander Peter Ruddock. When I met him I was surprised he remembered me because I said, ‘Hello,’ to him. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Oh yes. BBMF.’ He remembered me. He was an Air Marshall then. He’d come up the ladder, hadn’t he?
MH: Crikey. Looks a lovely do.
SM: Yes.
MH: The two Lancasters.
SM: Yes, it was the [pause] they have us some very unusual things. Everybody got one of these. Little flask. They’d arranged it. They brought that around to the table full of boiling water and they also brought you a dish with a lot of grains and that in it. You put that it in, like a wartime thing. You made soup. It was a brilliant idea.
MH: Right. That’s a great idea.
SM: It was. It really was quite something.
MH: Just for the benefit of the tape Syd’s currently showing me a, well, a personal flask. It’s marked up with The Two Lancasters Charity Dinner which took place at RAF Coningsby on the 4th of September 2014. Syd is just explaining hot water was in the flask and they were given grains etcetera and just like a wartime soup factory they had to make their own soup for the evening which is quite interesting. He’s also got six very fine photographs from that evening. The guest being his youngest daughter and there’s four photographs with him and his daughter and then two, two photographs which beautifully display the cockpit areas. Both the Lancasters were face to face with laid out tables in between and very fine it does look as well. Very fine indeed.
SM: A brilliant night that was.
MH: Oh, it was lovely. That’s lovely.
SM: If there’s anything else you want to look at it in there.
MH: No. You’re fine. You’re fine. Ok.
SM: So, this is when we went to, that’s when I flew with them. That’s the Canadian crew and that’s the squadron leader. Incidentally these are some of the RAF lads. I took some quite nice pictures of that. It was, as they say, a great good do.
MH: So, are you officially finished with the BBMF now as such?
SM: Not really. No. I just go. Well, to be quite honest I stopped going because Monica wasn’t very well. I mean, it meant being away all day and I just couldn’t do that. So, I, and she was like that for about two years. She died a year ago. That’s three years I haven’t really done anything much but I still go and I’m always made very welcome and I might wander in and have a word with people. Probably get introduced and have a word with people because I don’t really, it takes about an hour and a half and I don’t really want to stand and hang around for an hour and a half. But I still go and I’m always welcome when I go. I’ve got some, I don’t know what I’ve done with them, I built model aircraft as you probably know. I have a model Lancaster. A flying one. Radio controlled. It’s been stuck in my shed for ages and then one of the lads asked me if he could borrow it and take it to Bardney. And apparently they’ve got, these people were having this, it’s part of the old railway station building. It was when Beeching clobbered it all it shut down didn’t it and I lent it on to them and they came to take it because I said I couldn’t get it there because I didn’t have my car. I used to have a big car, an estate car and it was alright in that. They took it and my mates took me there for lunch one day to see it hung up and treated me.
MH: Oh lovely.
SM: That was rather nice of them wasn’t it? I’ve got a couple of them. I don’t know where they are now. I’ve got so much stuff. Keep something about it anyway.
MH: That’s you with —
SM: Pint in hand.
MH: Pint in hand. Baseball cap on, looking extremely happy.
SM: Yes. [laughs] That was, that was the day the Canadians arrived. That’s the military wives.
MH: Military wives. Yeah.
SM: It was a shame really because they was going to escort them in with all the fighters you know and the Red Arrows and that sort of thing and and it was such a bloody awful day. And raining just —
MH: The storm front just came in, didn’t it?
SM: Pardon?
MH: The storm front just came in.
SM: Yeah. They came at the wrong time?] Those people were going to serenade them and it would have been quite a do. But there you go. And that’s the station commander at that time. I’ve got a picture of him somewhere presenting me with my clasp. He said if we left our clasps with — at the gate, when we walked in and he was as good as his word. He came round and presented us with them. That’s Barnes Wallis’ daughter. Hand in hand. Somebody was smart about that. She was struggling to get up and I offered her a hand so I’m there holding her hand.
MH: Just, just for the benefit of the tape Syd is kindly showing me a photograph of his good self on the right and Mary Stopes-Roe on the left. You look quite happy hand in hand. Yeah. That’s great. That’s fabulous. It’s just that the weather was so awful wasn’t it?
SM: It was. It was a shame really. He was as good as his word though. He did present us all with our clasps which was good.
MH: Saying about the clasp though Syd. How is —
SM: Have you seen one?
MH: How do you feel about it?
SM: Well.
MH: As such.
SM: I suppose it’s better than nothing but it’s hardly adequate I did’t think. Was it?
MH: No. In my personal opinion. No. It’s not.
SM: I mean people have been [pause] I don’t know what we wanted really. I mean it would have been nice to have had a medal but I don’t know. They’re alright. I mean people —
MH: Do you feel though that your, yours and your colleagues sacrifice and efforts have been duly acknowledged?
SM: Probably not, really. It’s difficult to know isn’t it? I mean it’s a long while ago and it’s a bit late to do anything about it, isn’t it?
MH: Well to be honest the arctic convoys have been recognised, haven’t they?
SM: Pardon?
MH: The arctic convoys have been recognised.
SM: Oh yes. Yeah. They have.
SM: If you haven’t seen one.
MH: Right. So, it came with instructions to go on your ‘39/45 Star. That’s where the bar is supposed to go.
SM: Indeed. I also managed to get a smaller one. I’ve got some miniatures because if you wear evening dress you’re not supposed to wear full medals, are you? That’s, I’ve got a little one on there.
MH: Right.
SM: It’s very dinky isn’t it?
MH: It’s very dinky. So, just for the benefit of the tape Syd is currently showing me his ‘39/45 star which has a Bomber Command clasp on it. Syd also is also the proud holder of the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal and the War Medal. Can I just ask Syd some aircrew were issued with the Aircrew Star of Europe.
SM: That changed after D-day.
MH: Right.
SM: It was. It was awarded up to D-day and after D-day you got the France and Germany.
MH: Right. Ok.
SM: I don’t know why.
MH: They are beautiful. Your medals deserved. They are lovely. They are lovely.
SM: They are dinky little chaps, aren’t they?
MH: They are very dinky. The dress set.
SM: These are very clumsy if you’ve got several aren’t they?
MH: I’ve seen some gentlemen with chest fulls and think they are just going to lean forward.
SM: Yeah.
MH: Because of the amount of weight. I must admit.
SM: Well some, there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of medals you get that are not official things at all aren’t they?
MH: No. No. That is true. That is true.
SM: Well talking about our CO saying it was a disgrace that these — that bit had come through the post. But when I got my medals it was about a year I think after I left the RAF. That’s when I got mine. They come through the post in a little box.
MH: Did they all come together or individually?
SM: They all came as a set. Yeah
MH: Right.
SM: They weren’t, I don’t think they were mounted. No. ‘Cause I had them mounted, you know, on the bar. ‘Cause you can’t wear them oddly can you? Course when you get a lot they start overlapping don’t they?
MH: Yes. Yes. Yeah. They do. But they are beautiful. They are beautiful.
SM: I thought that was quite a nice touch.
MH: That’s a great touch. Yeah. Your flask was a great touch and yeah whoever came up with that idea? Yeah. Is very creative. Very creative.
SM: That was. I thought, “Why they hell have I got a flask for?” [laughs].
MH: Odd momento.
SM: Or to bring me my soup dish around with some bits in it and you just poured it in and served it up. That was a wartime stuff. It was quite a brilliant idea I thought.
MH: I’ve now. I’ve now had the pleasure of chatting to you Syd, would you believe, for nearly two and a half hours.
SM: Have you?
MH: That we’ve recorded.
SM: Oh well.
MH: Is there anything further you’d like to add in relation to your wartime recollections? Or subsequently.
SM: I don’t know really. I’ve, you probably mentioned I’ve been, done about twenty five years as a BBMF tour guide but that’s about all. I mean [pause]. I suppose I’ve been up in the Dakota four or five times. I’ve been in to the, in to the Lancaster many times. I’ve never flown in it but I’ve been in it a lot of times and as I think I’m pretty well the only one left there that flew in wartime and so I do get a good reception when I go.
MH: That’s good.
SM: I always get on very well with the CO which unfortunately he’s leaving. He’s done his stint. I don’t know what he’d going to do.
MH: But then you had, you’ve got nice memories of last year.
SM: Yes.
MH: And the visit of the Canadian Lancaster. Once they met up with our one at Coningsby.
SM: Yeah.
MH: And the subsequent trip down from Blackpool.
SM: Yes. I actually went to Blackpool with, I told you didn’t I, Michael Hortin the Radio Lincolnshire presenter. As I said before I’d never met him before but we had a long conversation and I knew him considerably better when we got there.
MH: And then on your flight from Blackpool in Vera, where were you? What did they allow you to do? Where were you sat?
SM: Well we — actually you know in the back part of the aircraft it’s a bit false really because the mid-upper turret has no base.
MH: Right.
SM: It’s just a turret with two guns poking out of it but there’s nothing inside and it’s also been moved forward. It’s not as high as our turret and it’s a bit further forward so that you’re now, because normally it’s behind the end of the bomb bay. It’s now in a position where you can stand on the bomb bay with your head and shoulder in the turret and you can see all the way around. I spent quite a bit of time up there. And down the side they, I think it’s a fund raising thing they’ve got some seats in.
MH: Right.
SM: On top of the bomb floor. Bomb bay floor. I don’t know how many. There’s probably about four because, I think, did I mention before their business in Canada is rather like East Kirkby here. It’s privately run. It’s not sponsored by the government so it’s one way I suppose of them earning some money in the same way that the people in East Kirkby take you for taxi runs, don’t they? They, I don’t know how far they take you but I suppose people pay a lot of money for a ride in it.
MH: I think you’ve been further than most people get.
SM: I would think so. Yeah.
MH: I think so.
SM: Yeah.
MH: But do you want to explain for the tape briefly where you did go? Where you did go and what you were in company with as such.
SM: Well I was in company with Michael Hortin the whole time really because he and I were — the aircraft first of all they’d done their displays the day before at East [pause] oh dear where is it? Damn. The names gone again. Sorry about that. Southport. Southport had a two day show. So, all the aircraft including the Red Arrows flew up there, did their display at Southport and they overnighted at Blackpool rather than flying back again and back the next day. So, I joined them with Michael when they had been again and done their second display at Southport. They landed and picked us up and off we went. We did one or two fly pasts of people who were having small events but you don’t do anything, just fly over and it’s pretty low a lot of the time and I believe — do you want me to describe the flight?
MH: Please.
SM: Well the high spot really was when we arrived at the sight of the Ladybower Dam it’s called isn’t it? We were flying. We’d been flying along with a BBMF Lancaster in front and we’re slightly lower and behind and we flew down there over the dam and I was amazed at the number of people that were there. There were cars and people everywhere. And so we went down over the dam, turned, flew back out because we had to climb up again, turned around, came and did a second run. And then we did a bomb burst. They’ve done that. I saw seen them do it over East Kirkby. They pull up and spread like that. Circled around and then again joined up again and did the final third run over. And the RAF lads said that there was a queue of cars back to [pause] I should think probably ten miles long. All around. People must have parked up and walked in. There was people everywhere. And then we ‘cause there was actually people probably waiting for hours to see and then it only lasts a couple of minutes when you got there doesn’t it. The Spitfires and Hurricanes had already had a fly around and warmed the crowd up a bit up for a us, I think. And, I’m trying to remember there’s a stately home somewhere about ten miles away and some of the RAF lads said that the cars parked back to there. There’s a lot of people interested isn’t there?
MH: A lot of affection.
SM: Yes.
MH: I think there is. Both for the veterans like yourself and the aircraft. There is a lot of affection.
SM: I think the Canadians were overwhelmed with the response they got. They said so. They said so because I met them, I don’t know, four or five times. I met them the day they arrived. They came in the hangar and we were introduced to them. And I went to do something the one day in to Woodhall. I was going to have lunch there and then we were invited to go back, go on to the station and stand outside the control tower while they did their air marshall’s passing out parade if you like, you know.
MH: Right.
SM: They kept coming around closer and closer together until the AOC was happy with them and that was it. They were free then to go and display and that was a time. And another time we were going to have lunch. We had a brunch. Not really a lunch and I pulled up a bit early there and outside the pub in Woodhall and I didn’t know I’d parked there, I’d parked next to the car and they all came out so I met them again. That was about three times I reckon. And I was introduced. I’ve got them somewhere in my logbook. I’ve got all their signatures.
MH: Oh right.
SM: I can’t find anything now.
MH: There’s your logbook. Underneath your medals.
SM: Oh, it’s here. Yeah. I should have thought when I had my logbook with me and asked them to. There they are.
MH: Oh, that’s brilliant. That’s really lovely.
SM: You see what the tables were like there.
MH: Beautiful. The dinner. Absolutely immaculate.
SM: Set out.
MH: Beautifully set out. That’s lovely. And Vera’s crew had signed your logbook. “From a modern day Lancaster crew to a veteran Lancaster flight engineer.” That’s just lovely.
SM: There they are signing.
MH: Oh, that’s fabulous. That’s absolutely —
SM: This is the guy I was particularly interested in. He’s the flight engineer on the Lancaster at Coningsby.
MH: Priceless. Absolutely priceless.
SM: A bit of rapport with him really.
MH: Yes. Yeah, well he does the modern day you isn’t he?
SM: And that’s where we. You’ve seen that picture, haven’t you? I seem to get all over the place. Oh, that’s when Lee Evans, that chap on the picture. My family are all out there. This lot’s all my family. The cheer went up when I clambered out of the Lanc. I think they appreciated that. Every time they landed they always went across and had a talk with the crowd and that went down well.
MH: Did it. Yeah.
SM: Yeah.
MH: Yeah. But they’re Canadians so I expect nothing different to be honest.
SM: No.
MH: They’re a friendly bunch. A very friendly bunch.
SM: That’s Michael Hortin. That’s me at the BBC Headquarters in Lincoln. Waiting for Michael. That’s him isn’t it? I didn’t know him. I’d never met him before. That was the same. I like that picture. It’s the same that I put in the corner. No. It was a very interesting time.
MH: I can’t see it being repeated.
SM: No. I doubt it.
MH: I can’t see it being repeated.
SM: Did I show you that picture of my daughter? Sitting in my seat.
MH: Taking, taking control. Yes. Taking control there.
SM: She’s excited, shouted out, ‘I’m sitting in your seat dad.’ Oh, there’s some of the seat that were in the back of it.
MH: Right.
SM: Quite. [pause] I don’t know who this lady was. Interviewed by loads of people I don’t know who half of them were.
MH: Let’s have a look.
SM: This film is coming out shortly isn’t it? They made a full length film about it haven’t they? It’s been released in Canada already. Whether it’s come over here. I don’t know what they’re doing really. But that’s the difference you see. You’ve got dual controls there. It just simply an extension from that one isn’t it? But when you’ve got foot pedals down there it doesn’t leave much room to get down in to the nose. Very tight.
MH: Yeah.
SM: That was veterans on parade. [pause] Oh that’s me getting my clasp.
MH: Properly presented.
SM: Yes. I thought that was rather nice of him.
MH: Not sent through the post. Nicely done. So, the tape is now swinging around to two hours and forty minutes. I personally would like to thank you very much for your time today.
SM: You’re very welcome.
MH: I know that when people listen to this they will have a clearer understanding of what you did personally and what the crews did for this country through their commitment to Bomber Command during World War Two which is nice. It’s a true reflection of what should be on there.
SM: You’re a bit inclined aren’t you to lighten it a bit. To make a joke of it.
MH: Yeah. Yeah.
SM: But maybe not. I don’t know. Anyway, it’s been a pleasure meeting you.
MH: No. No. The pleasure is all mine Syd. We do —
SM: How is this going to work when — you just go and push a button on what you’re interested in or something like that?
MH: I think in relation to the taping side of things which I will pause now at 2.40.



Mark Hunt, “Interview with Syd Marshall,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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