Interview with Bill Viollet


Interview with Bill Viollet



IBCC Digital Archive




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00:13:41 audio recording




AViolletW160418, PViolletW1602


GR: This is Gary Rushbrooke for the International Bomber Command Centre. I am with Warrant Officer Bill Viollet, 166 squadron and we are at Bill’s home in Northampton on the 18th of April.
BV: 18th of April is it?
GR: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks Bill. Bill, just tell me a little bit about yourself. I know we’re in Northampton. Was you from Northampton originally?
BV: I was born in Reigate in Surrey in 1921.
GR: 1921. Brothers and sisters?
BV: I had a brother a year older than me. Bob.
GR: Bob.
BV: He was shot down in a Lancaster as a tail, rear gunner.
GR: Yeah.
BV: I think it was on the 10th of July. The year the war sort of ended.
GR: Yeah. Right. We can come to that a little later.
BV: Yes.
GR: Was he your only brother? Or did you have —
BV: I had Jack. He was the next one down. A year, or two years younger than me.
GR: Yeah.
BV: And I had Ron. He’s still alive. Ron is still alive and he’s in hospital in Reigate.
GR: In Reigate.
BV: In a nursing home.
GR: Oh dear. Mum and dad? What did, what did dad do?
BV: He was —
GR: It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember.
BV: I can remember very well.
GR: Yeah.
BV: He had his own shop. I think he had two shops.
GR: Yeah.
BV: Possibly three.
GR: Grocers? Butchers?
BV: No.
GR: No.
BV: He was footwear. It was army boots and things like that.
GR: Oh right. Yeah.
BV: And he —
GR: Like a cobblers.
BV: He hated that word. Cobblers.
GR: Oh right.
BV: He was a tradesman. Not a cobbler. He used to hate that word.
GR: Right.
BV: And we never — we knew that he didn’t like the word.
GR: Yeah. So you never used it.
BV: But some people did use it and he scowled at them.
GR: And did you grow up and go to school in Reigate?
BV: I went to school in the borders of Reigate. Redhill.
GR: Yeah. Yeah. Oh Redhill.
BV: Yes. It was. Two miles apart they were.
GR: I know Redhill quite well.
BV: Oh yes. Well.
GR: Yeah. Yeah. And so, 1930s into — well during the 1930s. When did you leave school?
BV: I left school when I was fourteen. So it must have been —
GR: Yeah. It doesn’t matter what year. And did you go into, did you follow your father’s footsteps and go and help him or –?
BV: No. Bob went into printing.
GR: Yeah.
BV: That’s my elder brother. So I followed him. Seven year apprenticeship.
GR: Right.
BV: As a compositor which changed over the years. It was, started off everything you did was setting things by hand. You know little bits of type.
GR: Yeah.
BV: Putting them in a stick and forming a whole page of type. I did that. I was frozen for the first couple of years of my apprenticeship. That was in 1935/36/37. Around about then.
GR: Yeah.
BV: And then because Bob had joined the RAF I tried to follow him. They wouldn’t let me go on the same squadron. That was the first thing.
GR: Right.
BV: I had to be —
GR: I presume you, you volunteered.
BV: Oh yes.
GR: Did you volunteer when you were seventeen? Can you remember?
BV: Yeah, because I went to Oxford and did my exams at Oxford. Like, different things. Medicals and things like that.
GR: Yeah.
BV: That was about three days doing that in Oxford. And I used to say to my friends, ‘Oh I’ve just come out of university,’ [laughs] oh yes. But —
GR: So you did three days at Oxford University.
BV: Yes.
GR: So when you actually joined up. Or you went to volunteer.
BV: That was deferred. I was put on six months deferred service.
GR: Yes. So they wanted you in six months time.
BV: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
BV: Actually went in a little bit before that.
GR: Oh right.
BV: I can’t think of all the details.
GR: Yeah.
BV: And all I know is that I was accepted as — for training as air crew.
GR: Yeah.
BV: And I didn’t know what position or what. But I went on a wireless course at Madley in Herefordshire and I had — [pause]
GR: So, like, like you said at the time you didn’t know what you were going to be. You wanted to be in the RAF. You wanted to be aircrew.
BV: Yeah. I’d been accepted in the RAF.
GR: Yeah.
BV: Because that’s why I went to Oxford.
GR: Yeah.
BV: That was all through the RAF that.
GR: Yeah. So you trained as a wireless operator and air gunner.
BV: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
BV: You see it slips.
GR: Don’t worry.
BV: I think – I think of it now.
GR: Yeah.
BV: And you ask me another question and I’ve forgotten what I said before.
GR: Right. Well, don’t, well, at the moment you are, you’ve done your training and you’ve obviously qualified as a wireless operator air gunner. Can you remember where they sent you after you’d finished your training?
BV: Oh God knows.
GR: Yeah.
BV: I went all over the place. I went to Madley. Madley was in Herefordshire.
GR: Yeah.
BV: And that was where I did a lot of my radio training but it was only basics because they couldn’t teach you a full training in several days could they?
GR: No.
BV: But —
GR: Because then you would have gone. Obviously, you were sent somewhere for actual air training. Where you will have –
BV: That was in, I think, I’m not quite certain again because I was always talking about Wick.
GR: Right.
BV: W I C K.
GR: Up in Scotland. Yes.
BV: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
BV: That’s where we did a lot of gunnery over the Irish Sea.
GR: Over the sea yeah.
BV: I can remember discarding bouts of ammunition down into the bloody sea.
GR: Yeah.
BV: Oh course we had to get rid of our ammunition to complete our training, you know.
GR: Yeah. Yeah. To make sure you fired everything.
BV: The easiest way to get rid of it was — by bloody action into the water.
GR: So, yeah —
BV: I can remember that.
GR: Yeah. Did you do your air training on Wellingtons?
BV: Yes.
GR: Yes.
BV: Well that was the [pause] I mean the aircraft before that was sort of more of a day trip.
GR: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
BV: We were going around and — I can’t, I can’t think.
GR: That’s alright. And so you’ll have met your pilot then. There would have been a pilot.
BV: No.
GR: No.
BV: I can’t think when I met John. John was a new Zealander.
GR: Right. Because the normal training was you did your air training on Wellington. Which would have been five of you.
BV: Yeah.
GR: And then you would have gone to either a Heavy Conversion Unit or a Lancaster Finishing School.
BV: I went to a Conversion Unit and can’t think where that was now but it was in [pause] I did have a Post Office account there in the head Post Office. I can remember that.
GR: Yes.
BV: Used to draw out. You could only draw out so much at a time.
GR: That’s right. Yeah.
BV: My parents used to send me money and most of it went in. But I found that if people that I was with — some of my crew and things or they were going to be my crew.
GR: Yeah.
BV: They didn’t have any money so I was buying all the beers all the time because I’d got money [unclear] and we used to have a few beers.
GR: Yeah. Yeah. Now obviously working your way through training I know that you ended up at 166 Squadron.
BV: That was a long time afterwards.
GR: Yeah.
BV: Yes.
GR: Where was 166 based? Where did you fly from?
BV: Our squadron was Kirmington.
GR: Kirmington.
BV: Which is now Humberside Airport. I think. The big airport up there.
GR: Yes. Yes. You’re quite right.
BV: Yeah.
GR: Yeah. Yeah. What was it like when you arrived at Kirmington?
BV: God knows. I suppose to an extent we were excited that we’d got a squadron. A squadron number.
GR: Yeah.
BV: Yeah.
GR: Because this would have been early 1944 wouldn’t it?
BV: ’43 I should think.
GR: ’43. Late ’43
BV: Yeah
GR: Early ’44. So —
BV: Grimsby was our nearest town where we used to go for a drink.
GR: Yeah.
BV: You know. That was [pause] I can remember crossing the Humber Bridge. I can remember that. That was after the war.
GR: Yes. Yes. Yes. When the Humber Bridge was built. So. Now, obviously I know a little bit about your history. That I know your aircraft was shot down on the 3rd / 4th of May 1944.
BV: Yeah.
GR: How many operations had you done before then?
BV: Fourteen.
GR: Fourteen.
BV: So it was your fifteenth you was on. Or your fourteenth?
GR: Fourteenth.
BV: Fourteenth. Yeah. Fourteenth operation. Up till then how had you found operations? You said you were excited about being at a squadron.
GR: Well, we’d done, from the same airfield we’d done several practice runs. Little.
BV: Yeah.
GR: Leaflet dropping, I think, was one of them.
BV: Yes.
GR: And nothing —nothing sort of like a raid. Not a proper raid until [pause] I don’t know. I can’t.
BV: Don’t worry. Don’t worry. I’ll just pause it for a little bit.
[recording paused]
GR: Just continuing with the recording and Bill has been struggling with his memory a little bit and so we have been donated to copy an interview that Bill did years ago which really documents being shot down over France.
BV: The man that interviewed me —
GR: Yeah.
BV: Was Bill Shepherd.
GR: Bill Shepherd. Bill was shot down and was, I’ll say rescued by the Maquis and he spent time with the Maquis before he came back to England. And this hour and a half recording details all those facts. Just before we finish Bill I have just been looking at a lovely photograph of your wife who was in the army during World War Two. When did you actually meet your wife? Was it a wartime romance? Or —
BV: Well, it was during the end of the war.
GR: Yeah. So you were back from France.
BV: Oh yes.
GR: Yeah.
BV: I got home in the August or the September. I came. I think I flew back to Blackbushe.
GR: Yes.
BV: Or somewhere down there.
GR: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
BV: And I met her at a YMCA dance.
GR: Right.
BV: She was [pause] oh God. I can see it all in here but I can’t —
GR: Yeah. Yeah. It doesn’t matter. So, and then you got married after the war didn’t you?
BV: Yes. We got married in ’52 I think it was.
GR: 1952. Yeah. So, Bill, we’ll leave it there. Absolutely great. And we look forward to listening to your reminiscences on this other recording.
BV: Yes.
GR: Thank you.
BV: Thank you.



Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Bill Viollet,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 6, 2020,

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