Interview with Harold James Warren. One


Interview with Harold James Warren. One


Interview in which he describes joining the RAF in 1938 and worked as ground crew. After training in Canada, he became a flight engineer and worked on Sunderlands flying from RAF Greenock.




Temporal Coverage




00:58:23 audio recording


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CB: So, my name is Chris Brockbank. Today is the 25th of March 2016 and I’m xxxxx with Harold Warren who was an RAF rigger in the war and before and he’s going to talk to us about his experiences of life and particularly in the RAF. So, Harold what’s the first thing you remember about life.
HW: Yes. I have to jog my memory quite a bit I’m afraid. [laughs] Well, my father was a blacksmith and a farmer as well as my grandfather. They had to go in to farming because they were full time blacksmiths and it affected their [shifts?] so they had to pack it up. But they kept it on part time for themself. [To work on.] And they bought a farm and they kept the blacksmiths going for their own use and I remember that well because when I come home from school had to blow the, keep the fire going in the blacksmiths shop. [Pumping the old fire all day.] Yeah. Yes, they wanted me to take over the farm when I left school but I didn’t want to have any of that. So I thought I’d join the air force and I did as soon as soon as I left school. Yeah. That’s right. That’s it. And er let me see. I have to think a bit.
CB: So where was it you were living then?
HW: Eh?
CB: Where did your parents live?
HW: My parents lived at, they lived at [pause] near [?] Yeah. Near Exeter [?] and all that sort of thing
CB: Right.
HW: So as soon as I was old enough I joined the air force. I was quite young then.
CB: So you joined straight from school.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Where did you go to join the RAF?
HW: Debden, I think.
CB: Right
HW: I think it was.
CB: And what happened there?
HW: That’s where I done my basic training. [Foot slogging] and all that sort of thing. And then I went to technical school in the air force and I was, I forget where I was now. Mildenhall I think. Spent quite some time there.
CB: So what did you learn there?
HW: Eh?
CB: What did you learn at Mildenhall?
HW: I was on engines and airframes.
CB: Ahum.
HW: Yeah.
CB: And which year are we talking about now?
HW: Pardon?
CB: Which year are we talking about?
HW: Well, it was just before the war started because I remember they shortened the course so that, you know, you could go on to active service sort of thing. ‘Cause the first day of the war I was in France.
CB: Oh were you?
HW: Yeah.
CB: Right.
HW: 218 squadron. Fairey Battles we had. Which was a waste of time.
CB: Because -
HW: No nothing at all. No armaments of any good. The Germans could do what they liked with us. So anyway we carried on doing that sort of thing and then we got evacuated via Dunkirk.
CB: Did you have to queue to get on to a boat at Dunkirk or did you get straight on to a boat?
HW: Eh?
CB: When you came out from Dunkirk -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Did you have to queue to get on or did you get straight onto a boat.
HW: Well I queued. A lot of people trying to get on boats and everything. Yeah. We eventually made it and we landed, where did we land? Dover I think. And then I was moved to Bicester doing maintenance there on aircraft. And er let me see -
CB: So Bicester was an Operation Conversion Unit at that time.
HW: Eh?
CB: Bicester.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Was an Operation Conversion Unit.
CB: At that time.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Number 13.
HW: 13 OTU.
CB: That’s it. Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
CB: So what were you doing there?
HW: Same thing.
CB: Which aircraft?
HW: Engine airframes.
CB: Ok.
HW: Yeah.
CB: On what aeroplane?
HW: Eh?
CB: What was the aeroplane?
HW: Bristol Blenheim’s then. Still had Fairey Battles as well of course. They sent various aircraft into us because we were classed as a maintenance unit and we were supposed to be able to sort everything out. All sorts of aircraft which we had to do then. That was alright. Quite interesting.
CB: What sort of things did you have to sort out? Was it mechanical or battle damage or what was it?
HW: Both. Both, yeah. Both. Yeah.
CB: And er did you stay? How long did you stay at Bicester?
HW: Quite some time I think.
CB: And then up the road -
HW: Eh?
CB: Up the road is Hinton in the Hedges.
HW: Yeah.
CB: You were there as well so how did you divide the time?
HW: I don’t know. We had to [set it out I think?]. Some of the time was at Bicester and some at Hinton and Hinton carried on as an OTU and I forget where I went then.
CB: So what was the accommodation like at Bicester?
HW: Very good, Bicester. Yeah. It was a peacetime place you see.
CB: Right.
HW: It was very, well very good for, what do you expect. You don’t expect [Hilton?] but it was alright. Alright.
CB: So there were barrack blocks.
HW: Yeah. Yeah. They’re still there now.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
CB: So what was your working day? What would you do on a working day?
HW: Oh 8 o’clock start usually.
CB: Ahum.
HW: It depends on what work came in to be done. If you had to put extra time in you had to put extra time in. And that was it. You didn’t, you didn’t get much free time. There was always a hell of a lot to do.
CB: Was there? Yeah.
HW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And most of the work you were doing was on the air frames or on the engines. Which?
HW: Oh both.
CB: Right.
HW: Both.
CB: So when you had to deal with an engine what was the main task on an engine.
HW: Well it depends on what was wrong with the engine. Sometimes it, it warranted a complete engine change. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes you could do it with the engine still in the aircraft and you could still do it. Such as running repair like a car. Ignition trouble or something like that.
CB: Right.
HW: Carburettor or something like that. Yeah, that was that.
CB: So if you had to take the engine out -
HW: Yeah.
CB: What happened then?
HW: Well we had a replacement engine if possible. Sometimes you couldn’t. Sometimes there was one ready to put straight back in but that would depend on supply and wherever they come from. Sometimes they come from the maker, sometimes they come from a maintenance unit which was over all the engines to start with but depends on supplies really.
CB: And that’s the engine. What about the airframe. What sorts of things did you have to do with airframes?
HW: Well there again sometime it was enemy action damaged flying controls and that sort of thing. You could do that alright when it was all metal fabric. Yeah.
CB: So the aircraft had a basic metal structure covered -
HW: Yeah.
CB: With fabric.
HW: Yeah.
CB: When you put on new fabric what did you have to do to it?
HW: The fabric replacement. We never did fabric work. There was a special ganger does fabric work and there was a special process to do to carry on fabric work so we never did much of that. Well I didn’t. But er it was a, it was an all metal thing. That’s where we came in you see. There was hardly any fabric attached to that. The only fabric attached to that was the control surfaces. The ailerons and the rudder and that sort of thing. Sometimes you could just get a complete unit like an aileron or something and change that completely if you could get hold of the thing. That was usually the trouble. Hadn’t got it. Wasn’t about. So made do as best we could with it.
CB: And what was the covering on the fuselage and the wings?
HW: Ah. Yeah. Some. Well depends on the aircraft. Some were metal covers which is, they were mainly metal come as the aircraft become modern and that sort of thing and we used to get a lot of American aircraft you see, we were equipped with that sort of thing and they were metal covers and you had to patch them if it were broken and you know, could have been a crash damage or gunfire damage. Whatever. You had to do your best you could with it and that was it. Get them in the air again quick as possible.
CB: And when you put on a metal patch.
HW: Yeah.
CB: How did you secure that?
HW: Eh?
CB: How did you secure the patch?
HW: Metal patch.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. They were riveted on. Yeah. They were riveted on. Yeah, you had a riveting gun to put them on and er yeah. That was alright. That was alright.
CB: What about Perspex?
HW: Eh?
CB: How did you deal with the Perspex?
HW: Perspex, yeah. There again Perspex was a difficult job because you had to replace the whole thing. The windscreen and that sort of thing and the gun turrets and that sort of thing. You had to replace the whole thing. There again if you could get it. It was very often you couldn’t. Short supply.
CB: Ahum.
HW: So there we are. Nothing you could do with that.
CB: What were the American, what were the American aeroplanes that were being fixed?
HW: Oh the first of all we had, I forget what we had first. We had um what the hell was it?
CB: They were bombers were they?
HW: Yeah. Yeah. Four engine bombers.
CB: Oh, the American ones were four engine bombers -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Were they?
HW: Yeah.
CB: Yes.
HW: Yeah. Our four engine ones didn’t come along until after. Well made the same time as the American four engine ones. Yeah.
CB: So how many hangars were set aside for repair? ‘Cause there were four hangars at Bicester.
HW: Bicester had quite a few hangars Yeah. Yeah. It depended what sort of jobs was needed. They got lifting equipment and that sort of thing. You had to have them to lift the engines in and out and all depended what the demand was to do.
CB: So you had busy times and on your time off what did you do?
HW: You never had no time off, poor devil. No. You’d always find something to do.
CB: So where did you meet your wife?
HW: Oh, Hinton I suppose. Or Bicester. Brackley. Somewhere like that.
CB: Was she in the RAF at the time?
HW: No. I was. She wasn’t.
CB: No.
HW: No. She worked in the local hospital. Yeah.
CB: In Banbury or in Bicester?
HW: Brackley.
CB: Oh in Brackley.
HW: Yeah. It was only a small hospital.
CB: Right. What did she do there?
HW: I forget now what she did. She was, um, I think she was a nurse. General sort of nurse. Yeah.
CB: So, how did you manage to see her regularly? Did you cycle over or what did you do?
HW: Well you couldn’t see that regular. There were jobs always come first. Anything else had to wait. Whatever. Yeah.
CB: And how long after you met her did you marry her?
HW: I don’t, not long, I don’t think. Not long, I don’t think.
CB: So we talked about Bicester.
HW: Yeah.
CB: At Hinton, you weren’t, were you repairing aircraft there or was that just the OCU?
HW: Still the same because Hinton came under Bicester. Bicester was a bigger place and it was adapted to that sort of thing. Yeah. Bicester was quite a big place then. It had no runways of course. Level grass which was no good for heavy bombers.
CB: Right.
HW: They used to get stuck and I don’t know what. Caused more damage.
CB: Well they’d sink in.
HW: Eh?
CB: They sank in to the earth -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Would they?
HW: Yeah. Yeah. ‘Cause when they were loaded they were heavy and that was it. Yeah.
CB: So, did they fly them to Hinton instead?
HW: Eh?
CB: Did they send them to Hinton instead?
HW: Well they started building runways at Hinton. I don’t think Bicester never had runways always had Bicester on grass just the same. It was just an OTU you see. They were never loaded, the aircraft. Not heavy enough to sink in so they didn’t use it for that.
CB: Now before you went to Bicester.
HW: Yeah.
CB: You were at St Athan.
HW: Yeah.
CB: What happened there?
HW: Well that was a training school. A technical school. Yeah.
CB: And what did you study particularly?
HW: Engines there. I think it was. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So after Bicester and Hinton you went somewhere completely different.
HW: Yeah. 218 squadron then.
CB: Ahum.
HW: At Boscombe Down.
CB: Oh, right.
HW: And we went to France then, of course.
CB: That’s before the war er the early part of the war.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
CB: So that was, that was before Bicester.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Right. So you left Bicester.
HW: Left Bicester.
CB: And you went to Canada.
HW: No. That was later than that.
CB: Oh, was it?
HW: Yeah.
CB: So after Bicester where did you go?
HW: Oh various places I think. I can’t remember all of them. We had to have a course on these American engines you see.
CB: Oh right.
HW: I don’t know where we had to go for them. Not America [laughs] worse luck, at the time.
CB: Yeah.
HW: I didn’t go to Canada till after that. A long time after. After I came back from the war well, not quite but nearly. Went to Canada on the Queen Mary.
CB: Did you? Right.
HW: From Scotland.
CB: Right.
HW: Greenock. And we docked in New York ‘cause they hadn’t got anywhere big enough to dock it in Canada so we docked in New York and we had to go from New York up to Saskatchewan, Canada by train. Yeah. That was alright. Very good place Canada. Nice people. Would do anything for you. They were very good. I nearly went back to Canada after the war.
CB: Did you?
HW: Yeah. Yeah. But circumstances didn’t allow it so that was that.
CB: So when you were in Canada, where did they send you in Canada?
HW: Yeah.
CB: You’ve got Saskatchewan and then what?
HW: Moose Jaw.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Moose Jaw and I forget where the other one was.
CB: These, these were the Service Flying Training Schools.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
CB: So the ones I’ve got a note of here are Moose Jaw, La Prairie -
HW: Eh?
CB: La Prairie. Did you go there?
HW: Yeah.
CB: And Bagotville.
HW: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. That brings back a memory now. Yeah.
CB: So when you were there what were you doing?
HW: Same work I was doing.
CB: What aircraft?
HW: Same work.
CB: What aircraft were you on?
HW: Um training aircraft. They were American aircraft. Some were single engine some were double engine, twin engine. I forget what sort they were now. They were American built ones I know that.
CB: Including the Harvard.
HW: Yeah. Harvard. Yeah. Harvard. Oh yeah. Harvard. Yeah. A lot of Harvards sent over to this country.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So that’s single and then the PT17 was it? What about twin engine? What planes were they?
HW: Um I forget now what they were.
CB: Ok.
HW: I can’t remember. Yeah. I can’t remember.
CB: So did they have Ansons also out there?
HW: Eh?
CB: Did they have Avro Ansons where you were operating?
HW: I think there was a few but not many. They were used for training you see. I mean they were used for training in this country at the start soon as the war, well before the war, Ansons. They were at Bicester at one time. Ansons. Yeah. And they were at Hinton as well.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So you were out in Canada -
HW: Eh?
CB: You were out in Canada. What were the conditions like?
HW: Very good.
CB: So take us through a day.
HW: Oh well.
CB: In Canada.
HW: Usual day.
CB: Ahum.
HW: Usual day. Yeah.
CB: What was the food like, compared with being in Britain?
HW: Very good. Very good. In fact, I even sent some food home Yeah. There was plenty of food there and I got in touch with a farming family in Canada and it so happened that their son was in the air force and he was at Croughton.
CB: At Croughton.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. But he had an accident in the road, on the road in Canada, er in Croughton and he was invalided home. I met him and you know you got together and they used to take us out for weekends and that sort of thing. They were very good, the Canadian people. Yeah, and I tried to get back. I’d have liked to got back there to a job ‘cause I’d got two or three jobs lined up on the assumption that I could do it. In those days I couldn’t do it. I could do it that was nothing to do with it. It all depended on, you know, family and that sort of thing. My wife’s father was [head of the house] so that knocked that on the head. Yeah. Yes, I would have like to have went to Canada.
CB: What sort of jobs would you have done in Canada?
HW: Pardon?
CB: What sort of jobs would you have done in Canada?
HW: Oh yeah I’d have gone on to agricultural machinery. That sort of thing. Like they had, some of the farmers had an aircraft for getting about it was that big. Yeah. So, I was going to look after that one I think. It was only a twin engine. Two seater and used it for getting from one part of the farm to another. You wouldn’t think it possible would you. Aircraft to get somewhere on the farm [laughs], ‘Oh I’ll catch an aircraft.’ Yeah. And there were combines going around the fields. Well they weren’t fields they were just as far as you could see. Big areas growing grain and about half a dozen combines following one after the other so quite a job. It didn’t come to nothing but I’d have liked that but it didn’t come to anything so that was it.
CB: So when you came back to the UK -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Where did you go after returning from Canada?
HW: Back to Bicester again I think.
CB: And were they always training units that you went to?
HW: Eh?
CB: Were they always training units -
HW: Yeah.
CB: That you went to or
HW: Yeah.
CB: Did you go to any –
HW: Oh I went to, well of course when I came back, I mean the war was finished more or less so they didn’t need any heavy bombers then. I went back to, to Lancasters for a little while and American heavy bombers. Yeah.
CB: Where were those? Where were those? Where?
HW: East coast somewhere. Forget where it was now. Mildenhall. Might have been Mildenhall. [?]
CB: Did you deal with Stirlings as well?
HW: Pardon?
CB: Were there Stirlings as well as Lancasters?
HW: Lancasters.
CB: Stirlings?
HW: Went on to Sunderlands for a while.
CB: Right.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Where was that?
HW: We were based in Scotland and we used to patrol the North Atlantic looking for submarines.
CB: Right.
HW: We used to patrol from Newfoundland to Scotland. And a Sunderland would stay in the air for twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours you see so it could do that journey alright. No problem. Yeah. I remember we, because we couldn’t take any prisoners off the U-boats we had to, to call up the navy to. I remember calling up, we sent one, well we forced it to the surface the U-boat and [?] on board and we had a good look around and there was a nice big box of onions. [laughs] Yeah. Germans and German U- boats used to look after, I always wanted to go on U-boats so we collared them.
CB: So how did you get those?
HW: Eh?
CB: How did they get hold of them?
HW: oh no, well they got them when they, rations I suppose.
CB: No. No, what I meant was, the U-boat was forced to the surface.
HW: Yeah.
CB: How did the aeroplane get, the Sunderland, how did it get hold of the onions?
HW: Oh they got them easy enough. We could land alongside and we were the first ones on board, the aircrew, we were the first ones board so we got the first pick. Yeah. Then we had to call up the navy ‘cause we couldn’t take any more people on, on the Sunderland. There wasn’t room.
CB: How long did it take for the navy to come?
HW: Not long. They were, they’d been warned beforehand that, you know, we were on the track of a submarine so we told them where we were, roughly and we read the report to the navy that there’s, we’d forced one up to the surface and then they come along and took the prisoners. Took them. That was it.
CB: You said we -
HW: Ahum.
CB: So, you mean the crew or were you there?
HW: Yeah
CB: Did you get on that flight?
HW: Yeah. Oh yeah.
CB: Why were you on that flight?
HW: It was my job.
CB: Right.
HW: Flight engineer.
CB: Right, on the, so where did you become a flight engineer?
HW: Scotland.
CB: In Scotland.
HW: Greenock.
CB: When you joined the Sunderlands.
HW: Yeah.
CB: So how did that happen? ‘Cause you were previously servicing aircraft on the ground.
HW: Yeah.
CB: How did you then become a flight engineer?
HW: Well there was very little difference in the job. You’re doing the same job.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yet you were flying. Yeah.
CB: How did you do it? Did they ask for volunteers?
HW: Yeah.
CB: Or did they say you must do it?
HW: Sometimes they did. They couldn’t get enough volunteers so they said, ‘You, you and you.’ [laughs] As usual.
CB: Yeah. So a forced volunteer.
HW: Eh?
CB: A compulsory volunteer.
HW: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I didn’t mind that.
CB: So what did that do for you? So you were converted on to the Sunderland were you?
HW: Yeah.
CB: At Greenock.
HW: Ahum.
CB: Or somewhere else?
HW: Used to go from Greenock, across the north of England and across to North America. Turned around and come back again.
CB: Right.
HW: That was that. All the time we were searching for submarines. Keeping a look out for submarines all the time and the depth charges there if we could and get them one sided.
CB: So as a flight engineer on a Sunderland what were you doing most of the time?
HW: Making sure the engine kept going. Had to check them ‘cause I mean they were they’d done a lot of hours a day you see. That was more than the manufacturers recommended so you had to be very careful with them, look after them, nurse them if you could. Which you couldn’t.
CB: How many times did you have situations where the engine stopped?
HW: Eh?
CB: How many times did the engines stop?
HW: Not very often. Not very often. They were well maintained while they were in operation and while they were on base and they were given good care. I don’t think I ever had one stop.
CB: Now the Sunderland is a big aeroplane. So -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Where was your station -
HW: Yeah.
CB: On the Sunderland?
HW: Oh I had to go from one and keep an eye on the airframe instruments and that sort of thing. The instruments would tell you a lot of stories then of what this one’s doing, that one’s doing, this is not working and that sort of thing. You could check on the fuel and oil and that sort of thing.
CB: How many fuel tanks were there?
HW: I forget now.
CB: But your job was to do what with the fuel?
HW: Just make sure we got, we were refuelled every time we got room for some. I forget how many tanks there were. Quite a lot.
CB: Did you transfer, was it your job to transfer fuel?
HW: No. It wasn’t -
CB: From one tank -
HW: My job, no -
CB: To another?
HW: No.
CB: Or did they not get transferred?
HW: That was to do with the ones who refuelled them. The tankers
CB: But in the air -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Did you need to change fuel supply from one tank to another?
HW: Yeah. Sometimes. Yeah, sometimes. Not very often. They were, they used to be pretty even consumption so you never had a lot of trouble with that. We had to do a lot of manoeuvring about. That used more fuel so had to be careful. Yeah.
CB: So on take-off and landing what would your job be?
HW: Well it had floats. Didn’t have to worry about the undercarriage or anything like that. So that was that. That was to do with the flying crew. The pilot. Yeah.
CB: Were there one or two pilots on?
HW: Two pilots.
CB: Right.
HW: First and second pilot but sometimes they’d do without the second pilot and that was where the flight engineer come in. Yeah.
CB: And in that circumstance what happened?
HW: Eh?
CB: So when, when there was no second pilot what did the flight engineer do?
HW: Well he had to, well keep an eye on the first pilot and make sure he was doing everything he was supposed to do. And he did, else he wouldn’t be there.
CB: And who controlled the throttles on take-off?
HW: Throttles? Pilot. First pilot. Yeah. And the flaps and everything like that.
CB: Because on the Lancasters and Halifaxes -
HW: Yeah.
CB: The flight engineer operated the throttles. That’s why I asked the question. On take-off.
HW: The pilot used to do the throttle just the same.
CB: Right.
HW: On any four engine job.
CB: So what was the point that made the decision about whether there were two pilots or just one?
HW: I don’t know.
CB: Was it the length of the flight?
HW: Something do with that I should think. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: ‘Cause thirteen hours is a long time for a single pilot.
HW: Certainly is.
CB: But did they do that?
HW: Yes.
CB: They did. But how many crew were there on a Sunderland?
HW: Well there used to be first pilot, sometimes second pilot, flight engineer, navigator and the bomb, gun turrets were manned, front, mid turret and the front turret they were manned all the time.
CB: And the rear turret.
HW: Yeah. Rear turret, mid turret and then the front turret. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And there was a signaller and a bomb aimer.
HW: Radio operator.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. Bomb aimer.
CB: Any more?
HW: No. That was about it I think. As far as I can remember.
CB: Right. So how long were you based with that squadron? What was the squadron? What squadron was the Sunderland squadron?
HW: [?] I think.
CB: Right.
HW: I’m not sure about that.
CB: And how long did you stay with them?
HW: Not all that long. Not all that long. That was about it then.
CB: Was that, had the war finished when you left?
HW: Just about. Just about. Yeah.
CB: So did you, when you left the Sunderlands -
HW: Yeah.
CB: What did you do?
HW: Went back to Bicester again.
CB: Right.
HW: Yeah.
CB: And what were you doing then?
HW: Well there weren’t so much to do then.
CB: No.
HW: Not so much aircraft damaged. Not by enemy action. Generally run down.
CB: What, when you became a flight engineer what happened to your rank?
HW: You what?-
CB: What happened to your rank when you became a flight engineer?
HW: I don’t know. Stayed the same I suppose. Got no use for us then anyway then when we’d finished.
CB: No. No. What I meant was that during the previous postings -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Your rank was LAC.
HW: Leading Aircraft that was.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. That’s right.
CB: So as soon as you -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Did you keep that rank all the time?
HW: Oh Yeah.
CB: What happened when you went on to Sunderlands?
HW: Still a leading Aircraft man.
CB: Right.
HW: Yeah. But um, yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
CB: Was it an official or an unofficial arrangement because did you get a, a brevvy?
HW: Yeah.
CB: To show that you were a -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Flight engineer or not?
HW: Yeah. Yeah. You got the cross on your sleeve.
CB: Yeah.
HW: To indicate a leading aircraft man.
CB: Yeah.
HW: [Coughing]
CB: Hang on. I’m going to stop for a minute.
HW: You were made up to a sergeant.
CB: Yeah.
HW: When you were flying.
CB: Right.
HW: To prevent, so as you get better treatment supposedly if you were taken prisoner.
CB: Yeah.
HW: That didn’t always work.
CB: Which didn’t work? Getting promotion or -
HW: Eh?
CB: Yeah. But you did get promoted when you became -
HW: Yeah.
CB: When you went on to Sunderlands.
HW: Yeah. Yeah. You automatically made up to sergeant -
CB: Right.
HW: When you were [flying.]
CB: Right.
HW: Yeah.
CB: So as soon as you stopped flying -
HW: Yeah.
CB: Did you remain a sergeant?
HW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Right.
HW: Yeah.
CB: And so you came back as a sergeant to Bicester.
HW: Yeah.
CB: What were you doing? Because you were a sergeant now.
HW: Yeah.
CB: What were you doing in your role at Bicester?
HW: More, more sort of keeping a check on what people were doing and that sort of thing. Testing and that sort of thing. Yeah.
CB: So now from an accommodation point of view you moved to the sergeant’s mess.
HW: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: What was that like?
HW: That was, that was alright. I had a house. I was living at Hinton then.
CB: Ah Hinton, right. And where was your wife at this time.
HW: She was at Hinton.
CB: But she wasn’t on the airfield.
HW: No. She was doing her job in the hospital just the same.
CB: What did she do? Live with her parents or did she live in rented accommodation?
HW: Living with her parents all the time.
CB: Where were they?
HW: Hinton.
CB: Oh they were in Hinton.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Right.
HW: And I lived with them.
CB: Right. Rather than in the officer’s er the sergeant’s mess.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. I used to cycle from Hinton to Bicester every day.
CB: Right.
HW: Which wasn’t far really.
CB: No.
HW: No.
CB: So then how, what happened after that?
HW: Then the old demob come along I suppose.
CB: From Bicester.
HW: Aye.
CB: Were you demobbed from Bicester or did you have to go somewhere else?
HW: Oh yeah. You went to er not far from here. Forget where it was now. Wasn’t far from here. I know that.
CB: When you were demobbed what they do? Did they give you clothes or what did they do?
HW: Oh yeah. You had to go civilian suit and all that sort of thing. Get all, everything sorted out and that was that.
CB: So now you’re a civilian.
HW: Yeah.
CB: What did, what did you do then?
HW: Well, two or three of us started a garage. Three of us. No, two of us and me started a garage in Brackley. Yeah.
CB: And how long did you run the garage?
HW: For a while I think um I forget how long. Not all that long I don’t think. But er – [?]
CB: So who were the other two people?
HW: Yeah.
CB: Who started the garage with you?
HW: Yeah.
CB: Who were they?
HW: They come out the air force. One was a flight lieutenant, an engineer. Flight Lieutenant [Capping] and the other was a, a driver. Forget what he did in the air force. Well, he was a driver in the air force.
CB: What was his name?
HW: Jefford. Jefford. J E F F O R D, yeah. Yeah, we started this garage together you see.
CB: In Brackley.
HW: Eh?
CB: In Brackley.
HW: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Did you sell new cars as well as old cars or did you not sell any cars?
HW: No. There weren’t many cars around then.
CB: Right.
HW: Had to make new cars out of old ones.
CB: How long did the garage continue to work?
HW: Well, I don’t know. I think I, we’d split up I think for family reasons and one reason or another. I forget now what happened after that.
CB: How well did it operate when you started because you had a flight lieutenant, a sergeant and a driver.
HW: Yeah.
CB: So, we’re now in civilian life. How did the balance of power operate?
HW: Well you had to put that behind you.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
CB: So who was the senior -
HW: And we did.
CB: Right.
HW: We did very well in that respect. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Who was the senior person in the partnership?
HW: Well, I would say the flight lieutenant.
CB: No. No. In practical terms.
HW: Eh?
CB: In civilian life who was the senior person?
HW: Just get on with it it was the obvious thing to do.
CB: Yeah.
HW: And well you never sort of threw your weight about.
CB: No.
HW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Where abouts in Brackley was that?
HW: Out by the old fish shop. Behind the fish shop. On the High Street.
CB: Right.
HW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So was it difficult or was it successful?
HW: Difficult to start with trying to start a business from nothing really. Yeah.
CB: And then did you eventually do something on your own or what did you do?
HW: Yes I think I did. Forget what. Oh yeah, I went looking after agricultural machinery at Twyford Seed. Looking after that. That was a very big plant and we had a lot of tractors and combines and that sort of thing there. Nothing like Canada of course.
CB: And you did that till you retired or what did you do?
HW: Yeah. I think so. Stayed with them for quite some time. Yeah.
CB: Did the garage keep running in the meantime or had that -
HW: No. It folded up.
CB: What caused it to fold up?
HW: I think everybody got fed up I think. Didn’t make money and people were not paying you for the work you’d done and that sort of thing.
CB: Ok. What do you think was the most memorable experience that you had in the RAF?
HW: I had a lot of them. Some I’d rather forget. Well, I suppose Dunkirk. I should think was one of the worst.
CB: In what way?
HW: Well trying to get on board boats and getting shot at by the Germans and bombed and Christ knows what, which was not a very nice thing to happen.
CB: What else?
HW: Hmmn?
CB: What else? What else was memorable, do you think?
HW: Oh [pause] I don’t know. I can’t think of anything else much.
CB: At Dunkirk -
HW: Yes.
CB: Did you all, as a squadron, arrive together?
HW: No. No, we got together after we’d come back and landed in England ‘cause we, we got there on all shapes and sizes of boats you see. I mean you couldn’t get everybody on one boat. You just had to get on the boat that you could and that was it but we got together afterwards of course.
CB: Was everybody there or had some people been killed on the way?
HW: No. As far as I remember everybody survived it.
Other: Can I just collect the cups?
HW: Hello there. Yeah. [pause] thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.
CB: So you all got together in the end.
HW: Pardon?
CB: Did you say everybody survived?
HW: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. Some were wounded of course.
CB: Were they?
HW: Yeah.
CB: What, some seriously or just -
HW: Eh?
CB: How serious was that?
HW: Under supervision as far as I know. I don’t think anybody was seriously hurt.
CB: You said that some of the memories you’d rather forget.
HW: Yeah.
CB: What else would you rather forget?
HW: [?] I’d rather forget the lot.
CB: Well, it’s been really interesting to talk to you again, Harold.
HW: Yeah.
CB: Thank you very much indeed.
HW: Alright. Thank you.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Harold James Warren. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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