Interview with Stuart Stephenson MBE


Interview with Stuart Stephenson MBE


Stuart was five when war broke out and recounts some of his early memories.
In the early 1970s the Lancaster PA474 was flown to RAF Waddington from RAF Henlow ostensibly to be a gate guardian. In 1973 the Lincolnshire Echo announced that it was to be moved to RAF Coltishall. A group gradually formed to oppose the move because of the Lancaster’s connections to Waddington; the Lincolnshire Lancaster Committee. A public meeting was held and the City Council agreed to adopt the Lancaster. The Lancaster moved to RAF Coltishall. The committee collected over 17,000 signatures in 15 weeks and eventually the Lancaster returned to RAF Coningsby.
The committee became Lincolnshire’s Lancaster Association so funds could be raised. While Stuart was Chair for c. 36 years, £½ million was donated to projects, including the digitisation of manuals.
Stuart describes how unfairly he felt Bomber Command and Sir Arthur Harris were treated.
Stuart lists a large number of people he has met, received letters or signatures from.







02:16:01 audio recording


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DE: So, this is an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive. My name is Dan Ellin, I am interviewing Stuart Stephenson MBE, it is the 15th of the third 2016, we’re in Lincoln at his home address and it is twenty past one. So Stuart, can you tell me some of your earliest memories to do with —
SS: I was obviously born in 1935, which meant that when war broke out I was five-ish. When I was six-ish, I think it would be — in 1941 I think — my father had gone in the Army, I was at home with my mother and sister. We lived in Boston, it was the middle of the year so it was very light early in the morning and we heard a low-flying aircraft of some sort. We slept downstairs because of the bombing, had black-out curtains, I leapt out of bed, I went to the front window, whipped the blackout curtains. To my amazement, in front of me crossing the road from behind to in front, was a very low flying German twin-engined aircraft with a, with a gun turret that pointed its guns down the road, and they fired down the road across as, as we were coming, as they went over. I later discovered that they was actually shooting at a lorry that was parked up the side of the road, and I seem to remember it belonged to a gentleman called Mr Ingoldmells, who was one of the very few haulage drivers in the area at that time. A month or two later, when there was heavy rain, next door but one — a Mr Parker — he said his spouts were overflowing with water, so he got a ladder and he climbed up, and I was lucky enough to be presented with a whole handful of spent German cannon, ammunition shells, cartridge shells that he’d rescued from his gutters. I don’t know what happened to those but this was at Boston. As the, within a couple, maybe a few months — it was a Saturday morning and there was my mum was talking to the lady next door across the fence, and there was an aircraft up there droning away, and I came out and I was looking up in the sky, and I could just see this dot. Little dot of an aircraft. And I watched it and the women talked on, and suddenly, something fell off it, and I said to the women, I said, ‘Look mum. There’s something fallen off that plane’. ‘Stuart, don’t interrupt, we’re talking. It’s rude to interrupt’. And I’m watching this coming down, and I’m saying, ‘No. Look, it’s coming down. Look’, and I finally got them to stop talking, and I looked and I saw this thing coming down and it was getting closer and closer and closer, and I wonder what’s happened. And it fell behind the house, maybe a quarter of a mile away, near a place, a tower, Rochford Tower Hall it was called. Rochford Tower. There was an enormous explosion, at which point we decided it was a bomb, but to our, to my amazement, as a child I saw a row of very large trees. I saw some of these trees flung up in the air with a massive bang and bits coming down all over the place. The two women — ‘Stuart, get in the house’, and we immediately, I immediately, ‘I don’t want to go in the house. The plane’. ‘No, you’ve got to go in the house. We have to get under the table in the kitchen’. Having been under the table for five minutes and I wanted to go outside again to see what was going on, but the plane had droned away to the east and lo and behold, the air raid warning went, which, which encouraged my interest in aviation. Later we moved away from Boston. My father was in the Army and he was stationed near Bakewell in Derbyshire, so we moved to Bakewell and I went to school at Bakewell for a time, and I well remember, and people that have been to Bakewell who will remember the street. The street sort of divides, the main street divides two as you go towards the bridge over the river, it divides into two, with a sort of building in the middle, which was the main one in front of you was the Post Office. And we were waiting to cross the road, there was little traffic, but there was a lot of women and a lot of kids, and they were all talking and I was that bit older then, and suddenly, there’s a strange whistling noise, and there’s women looking up and I’m looking up, because I’m thinking, ‘Oh this is another aeroplane’, and to everybody’s amazement this plane flew over. Well, they all thought it was going to crash because it’s got no propellers on it and it’s, it’s going to crash. And it didn’t crash, but it flew straight over and the panic was gone, and they was all saying, ‘Shhhh. You’ll hear a bang in a minute when it hits the ground’, or something, but it didn’t and it went away. And again, I’m not sure what year, I have a feeling this would be maybe 1944, but by what I recall, there was only the meteor that was flying at that time, and that was my first introduction to a jet. I went to school of course in Boston, I went to school elsewhere. Eventually, having sort of grown up into my twenties, I was still interested in aircraft and the time came in the 1970s when a Lancaster came back to Waddington, and this was PA474 which is currently with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. This aircraft had been recovered from Henlow by 44 Squadron, who had been given the task to, by their CO to locate a Lancaster to bring to Waddington as a gate guardian. They, they had struggled to find a Lancaster and by chance, one of the officers, who I won’t mention but I know him very well, he spotted this Lancaster through a hole in the hedge at Henlow, and it was sitting in a grass field with a Lincoln standing beside it, which the Lincoln was the later development of the Lancaster. 44 Squadron then having made some enquiries, it was discovered that it belonged to the Air Historical Branch of PA4. Well both aircraft did. They, they sent a working party to go out to have a look at it, to ascertain whether it was — how much it would take to dismantle it to bring it, to road it back to Waddington basically, in bits. The ground crew that went to look at it — they’d all been ex-Lancaster ground crew types during the war, because the gap was comparatively short between the two and they were coming up to retirement age. Anyway, they spent several weekends down there and they would go on a Saturday morning or a Friday night with a tent, sleep in a tent under the aircraft, and work on it on the Sunday, doing whatever checks they had to do. After a time, it was decided that it was better than they thought, it might be. So they, they decided that they would take a bowser and put some petrol in it or fuel in it, and see if they could get it to run. Bearing in mind the engines hadn’t been inhibited or anything, it was just standing there. So anyway, they went and then they got this fuel and put in to it, and within another week or two, they suddenly got four engines running. So at this stage, the commandant of Henlow — a college I believe it was, or air, air base — he came along and he said, ‘What are you doing?’ and they said that there was, they’d got permission to move this back to Waddington. So he said, ‘Well we thought — we had this message but we understood you were going to dismantle it and take it by road’, and they said, ‘Well we’ve checked it over, and we decided that it, it is a runner. So it is going to take an awful long time to dismantle it and we’ve got to bring cranes and fittings up here to do it, so we will come and we will hopefully fly it back’. So he was somewhat upset by this, because he wasn’t expecting them to say this and this meant he’d got to make a decision I suppose, but anyway the decision was made that yes, they could fly it back but on one must-not-do. ‘When you take off, you must not fly over the college buildings. The airfield buildings. You must go away from the airfield and the base, so if the wings fall off it, you’ll not fall on to the —’ So anyway, they duly reached that stage. They found a pilot who I believe was a Polish gentleman, they then began to look at the field itself. Working parties were brought to walk the field to fill in holes and generally check it over. They spent several weekends doing this, and the day came when it was to go, so they — it was crewed up and they did all the engine run ups and all the usual pre-flight checks, and off they went across the grass, gathering speed. Reached the point of tail up, and lo and behold, there was a hole in the ground, which they think it was maybe a fox had dug. But our Lancaster hit this and it, with one jerk, it was airborne. The pilot gathered it and kept it flying and it duly flew back to Waddington. I believe the navigator, it was claimed the navigator made a slight error, because the press were waiting at Waddington, and it didn’t initially go back to Waddington. It made a circle around and flew over Scampton, who’d got R5868, which is now in the RAF museum as their gate guardian, with a sort of two fingers up sign, ‘We’ve got one that flies at Waddington’. Anyway, that was done and he duly came in to land at Waddington. So I was told that the press were there in great numbers, and it was all very exciting. He came in to land, and it was one of those landings where he touched down and then took off again, and he touched down and then he took off again. The camera lenses were seen to be going up and down with the long lenses on the cameras, and it duly came to a standstill. Taxied around and was, the engines were switched off and it was back at Waddington. It was only then that they learned that the pilot, who was Polish, he was a test pilot for, I believe it was English Electric in those days, and he was a test pilot flying Canberras, and he’d basically landed it — done a Canberra landing in a Lancaster, which a Canberra has a nose wheel and it lands on a nose wheel configuration that, it doesn’t sit with its tail up or anything. It goes down, whereas the attitude of a Lanc is completely different. Had they known they wouldn’t have let him fly it but — because there were other pilots who were qualified to fly in that, that format of a tail wheel aircraft. We, we were living at Bracebridge Heath and for a year nothing happened. The Lancaster went in the hangar and it was thought that it was being prepared as the gate guardian, however, it then appeared on the airfield from time to time and were doing engine runs and then it, it occasionally took to the air, and it was very pleasant to sit in one’s front garden and see a Lancaster, or have it fly over, virtually over your head, fairly low. At a time when there wasn’t another one in the world flying, the Canadian one was not flying at that stage, and gradually the flying time that it was putting in was increased, and then it sort of appeared at Biggin Hill or Farnborough, and this was really building into something. The officer commanding RAF Waddington, the group captain, he tended to fly it, I think his name was Stanley, along with several others who were qualified to fly that aircraft type. The time went on, and having extended it then the — it was taken for granted by the population that it would stay at Waddington, and that was it, and we were all quite happy. And then suddenly, it was in the Lincolnshire Echo in 1973 that Waddington’s Lancaster was to be moved to RAF Coltishall in Norfolk. Obviously, there was a great deal of muttering and everything, because the thought was, why take the bomber away from where it was, came into service, because Waddington was the very first Lancaster station where it was introduced in ‘41. Anyway, it was duly — something had to be done. A letter appeared, or a piece appeared, in the Lincolnshire Echo, and it said that there’s a Mrs Buttery who had written a piece and made a statement to the Echo, to say that there should be some effort made to retain this Lancaster in the county. It belonged to the county, it didn’t belong on a fighter station. Anybody interested, would they please contact her. I went and contacted her on the, this was on a Friday, I contacted her on the Monday morning at work, which was the only address she gave which was in Guildhall Street opposite the old Post Office in those days. I was the first one there and I introduced myself, and her name was Hilda and we got on very well. There was various other people turned up as the next week or two went on, and we gradually sort of came together. Alderman and Frank Eccleshare decided that there was public interest in this and he would form a — there would be a meeting held in Lincoln for everybody that was interested to come and have their say. So, needless to say, our little group had got together. We called ourselves the Lincolnshire Lancaster Committee, because we was just a committee, we weren’t thinking of anything else. We, we went to the meeting which was well attended. There was a thing in those days on the radio at lunchtime that — Jimmy Young who was a broadcaster, broadcast every day, and if you’d got a problem, he would, I’ll say fix it, but nothing to do with the fix it that we all hate today. However, I wrote to Jimmy Young, and this was before the meeting, and I said this is a problem, and to explain that the local population didn’t want this aircraft moving and, ‘Go on Jimmy. Fix it’. I received a nice buff pre-printed card from the BBC to say Mr Young will — is looking in to this and he’ll be in touch. It’s now forty-three, forty-four years since I got that card and I’m still waiting for his reply. He didn’t come back to us. However, the meeting was held and various — we stood up and made our piece, and amongst the people in the audience, a gentleman stood up who I, we got to know quite well, his name was Eric, Eric Gledhill. I’m sure anybody that knew Eric will not be upset when I say that Eric, he was a crew chief, he was obviously, I don’t know, flight sergeant I guess in those days, but he had what we called a lavatory brush hairstyle. His hair was spiky and it looked very much like a lavatory brush. Eric stood up. ‘I’m the crew chief that looks after this Lancaster, and I can assure you, it will not fly for another couple of years, then it’s going to be on the ground. It can’t go on, it’s on its last legs and this would be the end. So we’ve got two years to try to do something’. Anyway, the, the meeting ended, and we decided that we’d got to sort of try to put a mark on this aircraft, to try to get it kept in to Lincolnshire. So again. I’d had the idea that the Lincoln City, the mayor and his, his attendants were very often seen in the local newspaper in the, in the ward room of the then HMS Lincoln and having the odd drinkies, and so I thought, well if they, this was Lincoln’s adopted warship and I thought, ‘Well come on, Lincoln shouldn’t be adopting a warship, they should be adopting a bomber’. So, I brought this up at the committee meeting and said, ‘Look, we should be making advances to the council to get the bomber adopted’. Our chair lady, she knew the mayor and the message was passed to the mayor, and the council looked at it and the question, I believe, was asked, ‘What’s it going to cost to do this?’ And the answer came back, ‘Very little’., and they seemed to like that idea, and so it was arranged that the, the aircraft would be adopted. It was duly adopted. I’m sorry, I can’t remember the date exactly but it coincided with a visit from 463, 467 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, their big reunion. They were coming over to, to Waddington for this event and they were duly to be treated with full ceremony, and the adoption would be on the same day as they came to see the Lancaster. I said, again I raised at the committee that if, if we’re going to have it adopted, we should ask that they put the Lincoln City badge on to the nose of the aircraft to illustrate to all and sundry that it was Lincoln City, Lincoln City’s aircraft. This was agreed, that would be done, and the RAF were contacted and they were warm to the idea. I learned later that we’d actually asked just for the badge, but I learned, I learned later that the, this was came in after it’s been moved to Coltishall. But they, they sent somebody from Coltishall, an officer came from Coltishall to Lincoln with a camera, to get a photograph of the Lincoln City badge. Of course, today it would be done by email and it would be in a flash, but he came to Lincoln and he wandered about the city, I’m told, looking for the badge. And in the end, he saw the badge on the side of a Lincoln City Corporation bus, and it had the Fleur de Lys coat of arms. Below it was, in gothic script, “City of Lincoln”, so he took a photograph of this, took it back to Coltishall. It was duly, it was hand painted on to the aircraft by a gentleman who was an expert in this type of work. He had not understood what was asked of him, so he painted the badge very nicely and he’d put City of Lincoln underneath it, which was an idea that we hadn’t have thought of but it was better than we’d thought of, so we got this thrown in as a bonus. So she had a very large badge on her nose in those days, with City of Lincoln in gothic script, and that was put on the nose then. She’s been repainted several times, but it was made, it was officially pronounced that this aircraft was named City of Lincoln, and it would remain that. Whatever paint job they put on it, that would remain on it, and it’s still on it today, although in reduced size on the opposite side to where it was first put on. Coming back to the, the Australian visit, this was a remarkable event, because they, they came to us and they said that — I live in Waddington village — these Australians were coming over and would — when they came to Waddington during the war, there was not enough space for them to live on the camp, so they were billeted out throughout the village. People took them into their homes, the aircrew, which was very traumatic for some because obviously, they didn’t all come back. However, all these years later they’re coming again. ‘Would you like to take a chap and his wife for a week while they’re over here?’ So we said, ‘Yes, we would’, and we were duly allocated, if that’s the right word, the gentleman. Buchan comes to mind. He was the gentleman that flew the Lanc that flew the longest mission ever, when he flew back and he, the BB for the royal aircraft or the Crown Film Unit, to film the Tallboys going down on the Tirpitz, that finally sank the Tirpitz — that’s a famous bit of footage. He was told - they were told they were flying back to Lossiemouth. He said — stuff Lossiemouth or words to that thing, and he would fly back. ‘I didn’t want to go there, I want to come back to Waddington’, so he flew back to Waddington, landed and I don’t — he hardly had enough fuel to get back to his dispersal, it was sucking air. So I was looking forward to, to this visit, because it was obviously somebody that was very interesting to me and I was liking to talk to him, however, at the last minute, unfortunately his lady wife got ill and he couldn’t come, so we had it changed around and lo and behold, I got a fella and his wife called Bill Berry. Bill was a — not a tall man, shall we put it like that, and he was very nice and he talked in a real dinkum Australian accent. That was very good, fitted the Bill Hancock’s Half Hour voice very nicely. They came to stay with us, and of course, we talked. Now, he said to me, he said, ‘Do you know, Stuart’, he said, ‘My best mate ever’, he said, ‘He lived here, he lived in Lincolnshire. He was a farmer’, he said, ‘And we used to go shooting with an old car with the headlights and’, he said, ‘It was a marvellous time between flying’. And he said, ‘I’ve lost touch with him’, and he said, ‘I’ve no idea. I can’t remember where he lived now’. So I said, ‘What was his name then?’ So he said, ‘His name was John Chatterton’. I said, ‘I know John Chatterton’. ‘You don’t’. I said, ‘I do’. So he said, ‘Well blow me down’, or words to that effect, so he said, ‘Can we make contact?’ I said, ‘Well hang on a minute’, so I got up and I dial the number, and he answered, and I said, ‘Hello John. Is that you?’ So he said, ‘Yeah, it is. What do you want Stu?’ I said, ‘Well I’ve got an old mate of yours here’, I said, ‘Who wants to talk to you’, so he said, ‘Have you? Who’s that?’ I said, ‘Does the word Bill Berry mean anything to you?’ ‘Bugger me’, he says, ‘I can’t believe it, put him on’. So they talked, and it was agreed that within the next night or two, they’d, they’d come together in our lounge at Waddington, to meet after all these years, and it was a suitably emotional evening and they brought their logbooks with them. And of course, I’d known John Chatterton for quite a while, his son, Mike Chatterton, was, I believe, at that time currently the Lancaster pilot with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. So, Bill, he said this was fantastic and they compared log books, and I wish I’d had Dan’s recording machine with me because they were going through all these anecdotes and comparing one night. Where did you go on so and so, and so and so? ‘I went to Dusseldorf that night’. ‘How long was you there? How long was you airborne for?’ ‘I was airborne for three hours twenty minutes’. If you like. ‘No, no. What was you messing about at? We did it in three hours and ten minutes’, and there was a lot of verbal going on like that. So they came, after they’d ceased, they’d done their ops and they went to Syerston together as instructors, and they told me a little story. He said they were in the crew room at Syerston, and he said it was, had been a horrible few days and there had been no flying, and there was a lot of blokes hanging about and we were waiting for the weather to lift. The cloud base was still fairly low but it was going up slowly, and he said, ‘We were there’, he said, ‘And we were bored and’, he said, ‘Suddenly, John Chatterton stood up and he said, ‘Right, my lot, we’re going flying’. ‘Are you’re going flying?’ ‘Yes, I’m going flying. I can’t stand this any longer’. So they got up, and they went charging off to their aircraft, and fifteen, twenty minutes later it taxies out on to the runway, comes trundling down the runway, and they all go outside to watch it go past, and it goes past, and it’s — if you look at a map of Syerston, you will see that the River Trent is at the far end of the runway. So he goes, this is Bill telling this story, and he said, ‘He goes down the runway and his tail wheel’s up, but he’s not, his main wheels are still on the ground, and he gets to the end of the runway and he disappears in to the Trent, and we thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s crashed’. So there was bicycles, there was people running, there was vehicles, there was fire engines, they were all, they were all charging down to the end of the runway to see the wreckage in the Trent and hope these fellas are still alive, and he said, ‘We got there expecting to see oil on the water and all sorts of wreckage. Nothing. There’s no marks on anywhere. We can’t — we’re looking around. We can’t believe. Where is he? He’s vanished. It’s magic’. And he said, ‘We just stood there and then we heard a sound, and it was Merlin engines and’, he said, ‘They were, they were behind us and he turned around, and here’s this Lanc coming at ground level and its straight for us, and we all threw ourselves flat, and he comes almost through the middle of us and then climbed up and went away’. And he said, ‘that was John Chatterton, and somehow he’d managed to turn to starboard or port, whichever one it was, and he’d managed to get away without us realising where he’d gone and he’d gone around the back of us, and we was all, we’d all been covered in mud. We’d all thrown ourselves flat on the ground and, and,’ he said, ‘That was a moment I remember’ And I looked at John Chatterton, who’d got, I’m sure if he was here, he would agree with him, Mike would agree with him, that he had a baby face. He looked a rounded baby-faced chap, and I said to John, I said, ‘John, would you do a thing like that?’ And he said, ‘Stu, could you imagine me doing anything like that?’ I said, ‘Yes’. So there was laughter and that was a moment to remember, but I put that, I was lucky to be there with these two guys to hear all these stories, and what a pity. There was a lot more I can’t remember, but there was a lot was forgotten forever I’m afraid because I couldn’t record it.
DE: Sure.
SS: The, the story. I think I’ll have to pause now a minute if you don’t mind.
DE: Ok.
[Recording paused]
DE: Right, so we’re recording again. There we go.
SS: The Lancaster moved to Coltishall but she’s crewed by aircrew from Waddington and Scampton. Jacko Jackson had been allegated to, allegated, is that the right word? Allocated as officer commanding the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in 1972. I believe that’s correct although the thing at the Battle of Britain Flight might tell you wrong. But —
DE: People can find that out. Yeah.
SS: I’ve got it on. They don’t know at Coningsby yet, I’ve not been over since I found out. I’ve a letter from, inviting me to Jacko’s leaving party, and Jacko was, it says in there when he was made officer commanding. I’ve got it in the other room but we can find that out in a minute. Anyway, this was causing them a lot of problems, because they were having to travel by coach to Coltishall and back again at weekends, in all the seaside traffic because it’s a very busy road. This was wrong. We’d been petitioning to the, well the Lancaster Committee we’d, we’d had fun and games. We didn’t realise it but when the Lanc was about to leave Waddington for the very last time, one of our members, who wouldn’t admit doing it but we know he did, he went around all the local pubs where the airmen gather, and he put around these stories that these freaks at Lincoln were going to go to Waddington and they were going to sit on the runway to stop them flying the Lanc out. Well, bearing in mind, Lincoln was, Waddington was a Vulcan base much connected with the Cold War, and the nuclear weapons that were stored thereabouts so the RAF didn’t want a lot of people on the airfield, and the Echo put out statements from the RAF that no public person would be allowed on the, on to the camp while this was taking place. And this was all to be sorted. Come the day, there was police galore in land rovers, patrolling the Sleaford Road. There was more dogs than, than you’ve ever seen. I think they’d brought extra people in from other bases. There was a lot of people on the roadside along there, but there was no trouble and it flew out, and that was the end of the story, but there was a little, little bit of a kink in the tale of it all, that before it went, they’d had a press thing to let the press come on the airfield through the guardroom to take photos and interview the captain and whatever. One of our committee members — he’d got, he’d been driving around the camp, he usually carried about six cameras around his neck, he, he noticed that there was a group of press people gathered in a little group near the guardroom, so he left his car quickly in the officer’s mess car park, walked across to the guardroom and just joined up with these newspapermen. Within minutes a coach appeared, they all gathered on the coach. Nobody checked who they were. They all got on the coach, they were all taken onto the airfield, to the aircraft, and they all took it in turns to get in the aircraft. Well the captain on that day was, we called him Uncle Ken but his name was Squadron Leader Ken Sneller, who was the nicest man you could ever wish to meet, and of course, he knew Trevor, who was the guy that had smuggled himself in, and it came to Trevor’s turn to get in the aircraft to take pictures. And he duly clambered in and came up to the front end, clambered over the main spar to, to see Uncle Ken there. Uncle Ken said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And he said, ‘Don’t tell anybody. I’m a, I’m a spy got on the airfield where nobody’s supposed to be getting’, so he duly took photographs in the cockpit and that was, that was that little moment of when we had the last laugh, but nobody in the RAF knew it had happened. The, the story about the Australians that I repeated a little earlier, that happened a few years later, after the aircraft had been at Coltishall for a time.
DE: Yeah.
SS: So, so it’s not out of context.
DE: That’s fine. Thank you.
SS: The, the time went by and we started collecting signatures to get the aircraft brought back to Waddington, or to Lincolnshire. I think we — but we thought it would be Waddington. We gathered signatures, within a matter of, I think it was fifteen weeks, we got some nineteen — seventeen to nineteen thousand signatures, including every MP except the MP for Grimsby — Mr Crossland who refused to sign. Everybody else would sign for it, signed the petition. From Australia came signatures like Hughie Edwards, who was a VC from Bomber Command’s earlier years. A lot of famous people signed. A meeting was arranged and we met the minister for the Royal Air Force who was — Labour were in power at the time, a little Welsh gentleman called Mr Brynmor John, and an appointment was made for him to meet us at Swinderby, which was a very active RAF station in those days. We were told we would meet at, in the officer’s mess at Swinderby at 2.15 I think it was, and he would have to be leaving by 2.35, so we weren’t given very long to make our point to him. We duly got all the signatures bundled up and tied up with red ribbon, and Mrs Buttery, who was chairman, she came and she made a speech and photographs were taken, and we talked to the minister. It was noticed a little bit later that the group captain in the background who was, I think it was Group Captain Green, I’m not sure, but he seemed very agitated and he kept looking at his watch, and he was pacing up and down, and we were talking to the minister and the minister was talking back to us, and the time schedule that they’d set went completely wrong. I don’t know what happened to his — where he was going after he finished with us, but he ended up about an hour late. Anyway, the bottom line, we got the promise that they would look at it but they couldn’t make any promises and it was wait and see, which we really thought we were just being fobbed off to be honest. Within a few months, Jacko Jackson had taken over. He was then OC of the Battle of Britain flight at Coltishall and Jacko came to me and he said, ‘Stuart, I’ve got some news for you but this is, this is something that is so hush hush that you’re not — you can tell the committee, but you’re not to tell anybody outside the committee, and it’s not to get out because this information will have to be released by the ministry or the Royal Air Force. Not by — not come from outside. So you’ve got to, before I tell, you’ve got to tell me that you’ll make sure that you’ll not pass it on other to those that are sworn to secrecy’. So I said, ‘Yes Jacko, I’ll do what I can. I’m sure they’ll —’ Anyway, we duly had a meeting, I’d made a little bit of a gesture beforehand and we had, I think it was two or three bottles of champagne were put on the table at the meeting, and the rest didn’t know what it was all about, and there was three bottles of champagne or whatever and some glasses and, ‘Well? What have you got? Tell us’. So I said, ‘Well the story is that I’ve been told that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight are going move back lock stock and barrel because we’d lost the Lancaster. We were now going to get the Lancaster complete with Spitfires and Hurricanes returned to the county but unfortunately, it wouldn’t be to Waddington. It would be to Coningsby. The reason why it’s not to Coningsby, we discovered later, er why it’s not at Waddington, we discovered later was the fact that the Waddington, the group that controlled Waddington in those days, were a different group that covered Coningsby. Our group at Waddington had given the Lanc to the other group where the Merlin spares were, and so that other group were not prepared to give the whole of the Battle of Britain Flight back to the group that it had — the Lanc had come from. So, it went to Coningsby. So in due course, all the aircraft came back to Coningsby and of course, this made them within much closer range and LLA — oh we’d gone through the ritual war dance of setting, of A) stopping being a committee any more. Becoming an Association, because people was wanting to, to join up. We had a thing going to raise the money, and have the deflection can made, so that it could put the upper turret on to the Lancaster, because in those days, she was a flat back and it was missing this mid-upper turret which they’d got. It had been sent from Argentina by the Royal Navy, it arrived at Tilbury docks or somewhere, and the phone call was sent to Waddington. ‘We’ve got a big crate here for you Waddington. Do you want to come and fetch it?’ ‘What is it?’ ‘It’s from the Argentine Air Force and it’s a piece of a Lancaster’. So it was fetched but they couldn’t fit it, because it was, they didn’t have the metal work to fix around it, to stop the guns from pointing in to the —shooting the tail fins off or shooting the back of the cockpit, so we — they came to us. And they said, ‘Would you like to — could you get this made?’ So we said, ‘Yeah, well of course. Why not?’ So again, our chairman, she had contacts within the engineering companies in Lincoln, which in those days were very big, and the plans were brought to us. She went off to see them and they’d agreed. ‘Yes, we’ll do that’, but when they saw the plans, because not only is this a strange shape but it tapers as the, as the fuselage narrows, as it goes down towards the tail, they suddenly decided they’d got too much work to do with oil rigs and they couldn’t, they couldn’t do it. So it was eventually came back. She said, ‘Well I’m sorry, I’ve failed with Lincoln completely. Anybody else got any ideas?’ So I said, ‘Well I was’, my task, I was an insurance broker, so I said, ‘Well I’ve got a company that I deal with in Grimsby called Marionette Engineering. I’ll talk to Peter Wild’, who was the boss who I’d known, again, for some years. I went and saw Peter, and I said, ‘Pete, I’ve got these plans. Can you, can your lot make this?’ They, the Marionam Engineering — basically their role was repairing trawlers that came back with damage, which is a bit, slight heavier metal than is used on an aircraft, so he looked at it and he said, ‘Well I don’t know Stu’, and made all sorts of — anyway I seem to have got this ability to keep talking non-stop, and I talked him — eventually he agreed to it, on the basis that it was to shut me up. I took the plans to them which, I’m sorry, which I’d got and he said, ‘Well come back in a month and see how, how we’re going on’, so I said, ‘Alright, but I bet you’ll have forgotten about it as soon as I’ve gone out the door’. ‘No I won’t, I daren’t face another barrage like I’ve had’. So I went back a month later and there, laid on the factory floor, was a large sheet of metal, which must have been measuring about twelve to fifteen foot square. A huge square. And upon it was spot welded various pieces of metal with the tops cut off at funny angles, and it represented something like a thing that you’d expect in one of these Indian type gentlemen who climb ropes and eat fire, that he would lay on a bed of nails. It looked like one of those. So, he, I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry. I think you’ve got that wrong haven’t you? Because it doesn’t make any sense’. ‘Oh we’ll make sense of it to you’, and he whistled up some of the fellas and they brought brown paper out and they draped brown paper around all these things, and suddenly it made the shape of what’s wanted, with the hole in the middle and it was, and suddenly it made sense. And I said, ‘Well that’s marvellous. I don’t know how you’ve done that’. ‘No, I don’t really’, he said, ‘But we’re trying’. Anyway, the, the flight had moved then, had moved back to Coningsby, and it came the day when this, this piece of metal would be transported to Coningsby to be fitted on the aircraft and of course, I went to watch this happen, and the lorry appeared from, from Grimsby. And the fellas that had made it came with it and they drove in the hangar, and they looked at the aircraft and they looked at what they’d done, and they said, ‘Good heavens, isn’t it big?’ And that was the general consensus. Anyway, the RAF had got some, some special platforms at each side of it so that this thing was lifted up by hand. The hole was made in the top of the fuselage where the turret was going to sit, and so the piece that they’d made was then fitted in the exact place where it would be when it was actually screw riveted or whatever they were going to do to the fuselage, and suddenly it looked right. It was — it was — the guys, the guys that had made it couldn’t believe that it was, it was so right. They discovered then that when, after they’d all looked at it and felt duly, duly pleased with what they’d done, the RAF were happy. They couldn’t get it off because they couldn’t get their fingers underneath the edges of it, where it fitted to the fuselage. It was such good a fit. They had to put their hands down the inside and lift it off, up, to get it off and that was duly fitted, and that was a few weeks later, the mid-upper turret that had been in storage for so long was then placed into its position on the bomber and she was no longer a flat back. So she had that on her and she had the City of Lincoln on the nose, which was a good tie to the county. Part of our other project when we’d started was that we wanted to get the Lancaster back to the county, but we realised if we got her back, we should maybe have to do something towards housing her, which would be an horrendous type job requiring a lot of money. So we set to and to raise funds by producing postal covers and appearing at air shows and doing anything we could to raise money, which we were, all in all, quite successful at. The job that we’d done on the Lancaster had made a lot of people say, ‘Can’t anybody join your committee?’ Well, a committee’s a committee, it’s not — it’s not for a lot of people, a huge lot, so we decided to call ourselves Lincolnshire’s Lancaster Association. Hence the LLA which it’s become known as today. We applied for charitable status, which we were granted on an educational. We were classified, as far as I can remember, as an educational charity because we were educating people as to what had gone on, and we was trying to extend the life of this aircraft as long as possible. The flight, the two years that Eric Gledhill have given us four years before, had long expired but she still continued and continues well to this day. The problems that Eric had outlined to us, which were unsurmountable in the, those days when it first started, were not on. Not on at all. But modern technology and the fact that the flight had now become very publicly known, and I think it was thanks to our efforts that it was put so well publicly known, that she had gathered a following of her own people. Initially there was not too many. All the ex-World War Two aircrews were interested, their families were interested, but the grandkids in those days didn’t seem too interested. And there was a lot of, ‘Well, maybe. Is it worth doing it?’ And whatever. We did have exciting moments like a royal visit was coming along, and it was decided that we should have the aircrew who, in those days, wore — they called them “growbags.” They were sort of browny coloured baggy flying suits with zips. Lots of zips in the front for pockets and maps and things. We decided the Red Arrows, who didn’t live in Lincolnshire in those days, they wore these fancy red flying suits, and it would be nice if we could get some for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight bomber. Well we were only thinking about the bomber crews in those days. Get some black ones. I was told that Marks and Sparks were the firm, that was the firm to approach. So bearing in mind that was, it would be nice to think we could maybe, dare I say, scrounge them or persuade them to donate half a dozen flying suits for these Lancaster aircrew chaps to wear, but if need be, we would pay for them. So I duly went and saw the management of M&S to outline to them what we needed. They listened to me waffling on about, about what they did for the Red Arrows and could they do it for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight etcetera, and was greeted with, ‘Well I’m sorry, but everybody’s heard of the Red Arrows, but nobody’s ever heard of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Good day’. So I’m afraid we drew a blank, but the Queen was coming and Philip on a certain day in a month or two’s time, so I managed to get the blue prints for these “growbag” flying suits, and the Bracebridge Heath Ladies Sewing Circle made five flying suits to the measurements. Inside legs were taken for the manufacture of five black flying suits. These were duly worn when the royal visit came, with their badges of rank on their epaulets and the pilot’s brevets or whatever, whatever they were. And this went off very well, and photographs were in the papers of these black suited people standing in front of the Lancaster, and that was the first time anybody at the BBMF had ever had a black flying suit. We were not asked after that to, to repeat the thing, but somebody somewhere must have taken notice because suddenly black flying suits became available. Strange how these things can happen, but we think we maybe lit the touch paper with that one. So all in all, our efforts continue. We, we’d always been on the lookout for spare parts, there’s always an outcry for spare parts, and I remember a chicken farmer, I believe it was, somewhere in the back woods of Woodhall or that area. I got a phone call to say, ‘Is that Mr Stephenson’, and I said, ‘Yes, I was’, and he said, ‘Well, you don’t know me, but my name’s’, and I’ve forgotten his name, but he said, ‘We’ve just been put on the electric over here and’, he said, ‘I have got a Lancaster generator that’s been used since the war, ended for lighting up our chicken huts’. He said, ‘Now this is now surplus. We don’t need it ‘cause we’ve got the electric fitted on from the electric board and would you like it as a spare part for the Lancaster?’ So we said, ‘Yes, we’d be delighted’. So I duly went and collected this from the gentleman and it was handed over to them, and it had been driven by a tractor with a belt from a pulley to light — to make the electric for the chicken huts, but it worked alright and I think it was put into their stock, and it’s maybe still there or maybe not. Exhaust stubs, I was, each engine has got, I think it’s — is it six or eight of these down each side of the engines, so there’s all these exhaust stubs and they are always on the lookout for these things. And a sub aqua, a sub aqua club from up in Humberside contacted me. They had discovered an aircraft in the Humber that had been submerged for a long time, they’d managed to retrieve an engine which, when they’d sprayed all this mud and muck off it, it turned out to be a Merlin and they were going to clean it up to be put on display. Would we like — it looked new — would we like the exhaust stubs in exchange for some burnt out ones from the Lanc? So we said, ‘Yeah. We would be delighted’. So that was arranged, but the strange thing was this particular engine — research was done on it and it turned out to be, from all things, a Wellington that had crashed in the Humber in the very early part of the war. Now, we never discovered why, what it was doing up there but it had, it had crashed and it had sunk and it was recognisable from the serial numbers on the engine what it was from. The strange thing was that there was still oil in the sump and everything, of this engine so oil samples were taken out and sent to Conoco up there, who did some research on this oil and they came back and they said, ‘It’s as good as new. If you’ve got a lot of it, you can use it’. And it had been under water for I don’t know how many years, but I suppose oil doesn’t rot away does it? Anyway, that was another little offshoot that happened about this time. I think I’d like another break Dan, if you don’t mind, while I gather my wits.
DE: Ok. I’ll press pause again.
[Recording paused]
DE: Ok. It’s recording again.
SS: As far as the LLA side of things were concerned, we became a, we stopped from being a committee to the Lincs Lancaster Association. We became a limited company as well because we felt that this was — as we were attracting members, it was a way of not leaving responsibility for things in the hands of a few. It was to spread the thing about and to keep it on a proper company way of dealing with these matters as far as bookkeeping and the like. Charitable status was confirmed, we then had to make reports annually to Company’s House with regards to all the affairs of expenditure and what we’ve been doing. Likewise to the Charities Commission, which had to be approved by both of those. As I said, we continued to raise money, in those days with a great deal of help from the Battle of Britain flight themselves because we were — we were the only people of our type. The Red Arrows didn’t have a following like we had. We gained, we gained steadily a thousand, two thousand, three thousand. I think in my period as chairman which lasted for some, from about thirty six/seven years as chairman. I were chairman all that time mainly because no one else would do it, we gathered up to five and a half to six thousand members and it seems to have stuck at that level-ish, in that area. It’s fallen away, it falls away from time to time. Basically, finding volunteers to do the work that’s needed to be done is difficult. The roles of treasurer, of membership secretary and chairman I suppose. I don’t tend to think of it in my own terms, but these, these are roles that do take a lot of time, and as volunteers you don’t get paid and it’s — particularly the, the membership secretary who has to deal with members paying, members getting behind and dealing with cheques and sending out renewals. It used to be done by hand. We had a lovely lady called Sheila Wright who did it. She had big old fashioned — this was really before computers had got going, big old fashioned manuals that she used to do it all in the old fashioned way. She’d been an accounts lady for one of the local newspapers. Sheila used to do it and she was very reliable. She was retired, she gave her all seemingly all the time. There was never any problems. She decided she would go on holiday and she went. She was going on a bus trip, I remember they told me, she went to Unity Square in Lincoln, got on the coach, sat in the chair with her friend and died. She just sat there and passed away and that was shock. She was Sheila, and she’s dead. I’ve no idea what the cause of death was but this was a disaster for the LLA, because she’d been running this thing and picking it up from the bottom is very difficult when there’s so many things that is day to day running. She’d written to people to say you’ve not paid for so many months and either pay up or you’ll get nothing else. This has been an ongoing problem. With the advent of computers, one would think that this sort of becomes easier but we’ve had, we had, in my day, a series of membership secretaries who tend to find it, for some reason, more difficult to keep up with things when it’s on computer, then when it’s done in the old fashioned way. So I guess adding the columns up is easier when it’s done on a computer in Excel, but to do it as far as all the entering up is concerned and the typing in of names and the details., this is what takes a lot of time and identifying who’s due for renewal. And unlike other organisations, when we started we only had small numbers, and we decided that if somebody joined in January, his renewal would be in January every year, and if he joined, if somebody else joined in February, his renewal would be in February, so that means all the renewals are spread out over twelve months. Which again is very, yes, that’s good, but we find that other — since this and it still operates like this today I’m told, but since then other organisations, we find they’ve got one renewal date which is the day of the financial year ending, or in some cases the end of a year.
DE: Yes.
SS: So that then means you’ve got maybe, have five thousand coming in at once, but if you’ve, if you’ve got to deal with the banking side of five thousand, well that’s, that’s the easy bit in some senses but you can imagine that to handle all these things. This was before Pay Pal and direct debits and things as we know, know them so well today have come out. It, it was difficult then, but I’m told that it’s still difficult and it’s not a job that people want. If there’s anybody out there who is in to accountancy and wants a, one’s has got a volunteer spare time job, then this, their approach to LLA would be very much appreciated. Having said that, there’s recently been a piece in The Times following the lady’s — Childline was it called? The, the children’s charity that broke.
DE: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
SS: A report on that and the, the, it’s, to me it’s opened my eyes a lot, because the result of that is that there was an official statement made — that for a charity to be successful, it must be run properly, which means that in a case of expecting volunteers to do everything is not acceptable if that doesn’t make, if that is failing to make the thing run below what it should be doing. It needs, if needs be, it must — the people must be paid to do the work on a normal footing, as if it was a proper job. They would be paid and this has to be paid out of the subscriptions or the money that’s raised, because if it’s not the whole thing, the bubble will burst, as it, as it, did in this recent one. So that is something for the future for them to look at now. I keep feeding these bits of advices to them, but whether they take any notice or whether they’ve got time to, because I’m afraid with all committees, you find that you’ve got one or two people that are very active and they can’t really do enough, and you’ve got a lot of people that like to sit back and do very little and throw criticisms and block everything, and generally cause mayhem, when it shouldn’t be like that if you’re all in for the same thing. The excuse that was, is usually given was, ‘Why are you saying this all the time?’ Is — ‘I’m playing devil’s advocate’, is a much used word, but I’m getting off the point. LLA continues today, it seems to be very successful. There was a time, a few years back, when the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight decided that they wanted to take over LLA, but when you’re a charity, you can’t really be taken over because you’re responsible for all that money in the kitty as the charity, and you can’t sort of give that over to something that’s going to be run as a business. A charity is a charity, and so the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, in their wisdom or not wisdom as I see it, have gone into partnership, or, or — is it partnership? They have a firm that produces their club they call it which you may see advertised, which is a, the reason for the club was given to me that, when it was started that the reason that that club was formed was that it was, it was to allow them to give money to other charities that were not necessarily involved with what the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight normally would be. To whit, the things like the Battle of Britain Memorial, sorry the Red Arrows John Egging Trust or whatever you call it. That was started by the widow of the Red Arrows pilot that was killed. They wanted us to give a chunk of money to them and we felt that, as trustees of that money which was raised for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s benefit, it wasn’t right for us to do that. And this, because we wouldn’t do it, this seemed to cause a fracture which is, was completely uncalled for as far as we were concerned. But they, we wouldn’t be taken over and we wouldn’t do those sort of things, and so this caused them to form their own club. We continued to support them and when they want money for various projects that they’ve got which they invariably, if they get a budget for so much in a year, they want something that’s maybe beyond the budget or - at the moment, I’m speaking now today that there is a project next year for the anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. And the Lincs Lancaster Association will be or have been asked if we will pay, pay for the painting of the Dakota, to be painted into the colours used by the, during the Berlin Airlift, which I’ve been told they’ve agreed to pay, which is obviously the sort of things that’s needed which their club A) hasn’t got the money for and B) is not for that purpose. So as a retired chairman of many years, it’s left me feeling somewhat disappointed to find that they’ve made this sort of split. The charitable side of the fence seems to be quite disturbed because the flight seemed to publish as much as they could, “Join our club. Join our club”, there’s never any thought that the charity really needs the same. It’s due the same backing as the other one because over, over the years while I was chairman, I did try to work it out, and we’d donated for various projects, I think it was just over a half a million pounds for various things that would have been done over the years. Some quite expensive. We put all the, all the engineering books manuals which they’ve got — a huge collection of manuals on their airframes and all their aircraft all in wartime issue type books. We had all those put on, digitised, which I’m sure Dan knows all about. We provided them with a very big printer so that, when you’ve got a fold out document within a book that was scanned, so that it could be printed the size of the unrolled thing out, unfolded out of the book so that they could go in the hangar. If they wanted to know about Lancaster tail wheel, all they’d got to do was type in Lancaster tail wheel, it would come up, all the references they wanted. They could go to that page, print it off. Whether it was an A3, whatever. The biggest size you could think of, it would print it. The, I did receive a letter from the chief of the air staff thanking me for this that we’d done for the Flight, and by producing that book and putting it all on to, on to discs, I think it was in those days, that we’d saved them the equivalent of one and a half men a year in time saved looking for things, trying to find things in books. Today’s age, I’m afraid, those years have slipped by and it’s all forgotten, which is very sad I find. I’m sorry. I’m going off on a tangent.
DE: No. No. That’s fine.
SS: Now.
DE: How do you feel about the LLA supporting other aircraft other than the Lancaster?
SS: Well as far as I’m concerned, I’ve learned today that — I’ve been making some enquiries which — I get bees in my bonnet, being eighty years old now and I’m thinking, well I wonder why that is? And so, I sort of went through the very difficult task of googling a question and I find myself on to a website, a government website, which tells me that one charity with similar aims, can support another charity of similar aims so long, so long as the trustees of that charity agree that it can be done. Basically that’s the precis of what it says in a lot of language and it maybe needs somebody with a, with a lawyer’s degree to read that, to make it as easy as I’ve read it, but it does not, it means the door is open. And it means that in the case of, if we’re supporting the Lancaster, we read we’re set up as an educational charity so to my mind that leaves the door open that A) we can support the Bomber Command Memorial, which is educational with its Chadwick Centre, and it also means that if need be, we can support East Kirkby and its Lancaster, even though, in both cases they’re both charities in their own right, and the fact that they’ve got similar aims means what it means. This brought to mind because there was a piece, the Vulcan to the Sky people — there was a piece on their website which said they have come to an agreement, they’re now supporting the Typhoon Restoration Group. Not the RAF type of today but the wartime Typhoon aircraft, to rebuild one to put back in to the skies of Britain, and this has been supported by the Vulcan to the Trust and they’re both charities, and so I thought if they can both do it I will, I will check up on that see if that’s true and that’s what I’ve come out with this very day. So there’s, there’s hope for LLA to be able to help in other fields, but it still just amazes me that when we started, there was nobody doing anything like we’ve done for anybody else. We were one off. We were completely one off and then gradually, one can see that it’s fostered other ideas amongst other people who have come up with similar sort of things to what we’ve been doing. But as per this BBMF club that they’ve got — it’s, it’s been operated by a money-making firm who are producing various booklets and magazines and things for them, but all on a financial basis. Ours is basically all the administration is done, or has been done up till now, has been done by volunteers, and obviously, with what we’re learning now, since this kiddies thing went into bankruptcy and the results of what the enquiries have come up with, it means that maybe there’s a time to come before too long when it should be run on a proper fashion by employed staff. Only time will tell with these things I’m afraid, it’s a developing scene. I must admit that I got, I got poorly and had to retire, it would be four or five years ago now. The time flies by. I’d been doing the job too long I must admit, I was really getting tired with it. But it’s in my blood and I can’t get it out of my blood, and even though I’ve, I’ve got Parkinson’s and I’m still struggling to get about quite a bit, I’m dealing with about four projects that I’ve dreamt up myself, because nobody is, nobody’s thinking about doing these sort of things and by generating things that are home produced by the charity, that’s a lot more from a financial point of view. It’s a much better bet than buying something in for ten pounds and selling it for fifteen. If you can have it printed yourself and sell it for fifteen, you’ve got it a lot cheaper. Somebody else isn’t making a profit out of it before you get it in other words
DE: Sure.
SS: So I still keep doing, doing that and we’ll just have to see how long I last for, and how long it — how the situation develops, but I keep proffering my advice to the present chairman and whether he takes any notice of me, time alone will tell. But I maybe won’t be around to know whether he has or not, so I can’t think of anything else I can say at this stage Dan. Unless you’ve got any questions.
DE: I’ve got, I’ve got a few questions.
SS: Yeah.
DE: If you look at my page. Could you go back again to why it was you that you wanted to get involved in the first place, when you saw the thing in the paper about — ?
SS: It was just a gut reaction. Completely. Basically, my thought was, and I aired this in, I think I wrote a piece for the Lincolnshire Echo, and it was, I can’t remember the wording, but it was saying things like the next thing you know, officialdom will want to move Lincoln Cathedral to London. We felt it was such a, such a — the link between that aircraft and, in particular, in Waddington, which, Waddington — when the Lanc arrived at Waddington, three were delivered on Christmas Eve 1941. Three airframes for 44 Squadron, which was the first squadron to set up and with those three airframes came, I’ll not say a little army, but a group of people from the Avro factory, who were there to do modifications to these aircraft while they were, while they being put in to service almost. It was, it was an absolute — it must be done, and those people that came — a lot of them married local girls and there’s a lot of families in the Waddington area whose ancestors came from Cheshire and Woodford and Stockport and those places around. So the tie is not just — to a certain extent, it is sentimental but not a hundred percent. There is family links there that’s unbreakable. And by chance the same — another one of my projects which I’d better mention, is that we’re doing this booklet, myself and Toucan are producing this booklet to honour Roy Chadwick, who was the chap that designed the Lancaster and the Vulcan and Roy — he worked tirelessly to do it. But this business, the Lancaster was delivered to 44 Squadron and its first operation that it ever did, was mine laying. They divide the area of the sea around the cataract the North Sea in to areas, and all these areas were named after vegetables so these mining sorties were known as, as gardening sorties. Gardening was the first sortie that was undertaken by Lancasters from — well I was going to say from Waddington, but was it Coleby Grange? Because there was some stories that they would possibly had moved to Coleby Grange for some reason. Whether some work was being done at Waddington, but they were done basically from Waddington, because that’s where the headquarters was. Years later, when the Lanc finished, it of course went on past the end of the war, and in the mean — before, I think before it had finished, the Vulcan had been accepted into the RAF. It came into service at Waddington as well, so there’s another link between Avro and Waddington. The first, the first sortie for the Lanc was a gardening sortie. The last one of the war, on the last day of the war, believe it or not, was a gardening sortie. They’d started off gardening, they’d ended up gardening, and it is said that the Bomber Command sank more ships than the Navy during World War Two. I haven’t seen an exact figure to that but it is spoken about quite openly, and I don’t know whether your researchers have found anything to that effect.
DE: I’ve not looked at that. I think we might have to find someone to have a look at that.
SS: I think there’s a certain mythology about it, because if they’d put, put mines in the North Sea they’re not, they wouldn’t be aware that one of these had struck a ship and sunk it on that spot. How would they know? That’s something that doesn’t add up but that’s, that’s often said. And coming back to the Vulcan in service with Waddington, well the Vulcan went out of service and what squadron took it out of service? It was 44 Squadron — Rhodesia Squadron who took it out of service, who brought the Lanc in years before. They flew the last Vulcan bomber practice mission and then a valedictory flypast, which will all be in this new thing that we’re producing and there’s another coincidence that 44 is involved twice with the two different airframes, though 44 didn’t bring the Vulcan into service. Next question?
DE: It’s another one about how do you feel about how the Lancaster and Bomber Command is remembered today?
SS: Yeah. Bomber Command is — has been very badly treated over the years. I was a great believer in Winston Churchill. His speech, his speechifying shall we say, was second to none when it came to the war and keeping the morale of the country high, but the fact that he, he cut himself off from Bomber Command following the Dresden raid, which is infamous, and he fell literally, we fell or our authorities fell for the propaganda that was put out by Dr Goebbels and his people at the Ministry of Propaganda within the Nazi party. They put this out and we swallowed it hook, line and sinker basically and this, this made that, this changed Bomber Command were upset. There was no medal issued, which has been an ongoing thing for all these years and still, still despite what they did, it still there’s still people complaining about it even though I’m afraid the veterans are getting very long in the tooth, and going back to the Dresden thing, Harris was, was vilified almost for allowing it to take place but what they seem to forget is that Churchill had gone off to, I think it was Yalta, on a conference. The command of the Royal Air Force as such was in the hands and the decision making was in the hands of Portal. Portal was the one that decided where they were going to bomb. The Russians wanted Dresden to be bombed because they felt it was being used as a railway junction for supplying arms and men to the Eastern Front. They wanted it wiping out. I’m told, reading, and I forget who wrote the book, there’s a very good book on Dresden, and when it turned out that the, this raid, this day and night attack thing that took place originally there was three choices I believe. And Dresden was the one that was chosen because when they wanted to start it, was best from the weather point of view. The weather was the restricting thing. It was Portal that gave the order, not Harris. Harris did as he was told. He was outranked, and yet the ones that made the decisions at the top have sort of turned their back on it and left the lower ranks to carry the can as you might say. And the can was carried right down to the fellas that flew on those missions, because they was the ones that was made to feel like they were murderers, and there was no medal issued and there was just a pathetic silence from the government. Which to me over the years, the number of these fellas that I’ve met was beyond my dreams, that I would ever meet so many of them and to a man, this was always something that has created a lot of heated expression and the fact that Winston changed — turned his back on Bomber Command has never been forgotten. I can’t really say much more on that one then I can think of at the moment. It’s been a tricky subject I’m afraid, but the strange thing is that the Americans — one would think that they took no part in Dresden. They, they have not been treated the same way as our lads did. One, I think it was day, the RAF went at night and the Americans went by day, which was the way things were run in those days, and the RAF went by night as they did and the first raid took place and it was calamitous. It was fire storms was soon going. The Americans went back the next day, they saw a lot of smoke rising and they bombed, and it was later discovered that they had actually bombed Chemnitz, which was not the target. Dresden. They’d gone to the wrong place. So that, that says it all to a certain extent. Sorry Uncle Sam, you’ve, you’ve — their side of it has been forgotten. One would think it was only an RAF event, it was not a joint services thing. And I’ve never heard any, any words from the American top brass, commanders of the 8th Air Force, if it was the 8th that was involved in that event, that they’ve never had anything really to say about it. It’s just been another day and the RAF seem to have copped for the, to use an old country expression, the sticky end of the stick. Next question Dan.
DE: I think on a happier note, you’ve talked a little bit about the people that you’ve met. Could you go into, you know?
SS: Well yes, I’ve been very lucky that I’ve met, I’ve met so many. I’ve got a book here, I’ll just have to open it up to get my memory. I’ve carried this book with me and if I’ve met people who, who —
DE: So it’s, “The Lancaster at War”.
SS: “Lancaster at War” volume one. The first thing, when I open the pages, I’ve got a letter here from RV Jones at the Department of Natural History, Aberdeen University dated 18th of January 1979. RV Jones doesn’t mean a lot to Dan, I can see he’s wrinkling his eyebrows. Jones was one of the brains of — he was the man that bent the beams. He was, well all I can suggest is he’s so, he’s such a nice fellow and he’s so knowledgeable. Unfortunately, he’s no longer with us like so many of these people aren’t. I’ve got two or three letters here from him, but there are, he’s written. He did write books and I’ve got a copy of his book which he’s duly signed for me, and that is one of my treasured possessions because it’s such a fascinating book. That he flew, he was, he was involved in coming out with these scientific ideas. He was, he was a confident of Churchill and the top. A boffin as they were called in those days and he was — he was a great guy. I’ve got Crumb, Henry. Henry Crumb. Augsburg raid to you. I was lucky. Bert, Bert Doughty. These were the guys that went to Augsburg. I’ve got letters from Henry Crumb, Bert Doughty, David Penman. Where are we? Oh, that’s another one from Henry Crumb. There’s another one. Augsburg raid. The chap, John Nettleton got the VC on the Augsburg raid. When the Lancaster was moved to Coltishall in Norfolk, there was a young WAAF officer who he met and he married, called Betty, and Betty Nettleton was a WAAF at, at Coltishall of all places when I went to, we did a postal cover and I had to try to find these people, and I thought well I’d like to try and find Betty Nettleton. So I made some enquiries and did some detective work, and I discovered — I’ve got a letter here from her. She worked for the National Westminster Bank Company Limited at Lombard Street, London. When I had to contact her, she didn’t know me from Adam so I thought well the best thing, is to ring her up and I got the telephone number from somebody, which was a different number on the letter she wrote to me, because I had a number of communications with her, but I’ve got this letter and the strange thing was, she said that if her husband had still be alive, he’d be turning in his grave if he’d got one to think that the Lanc was moved to Coltishall. To a fighter base from a bomber base. She wouldn’t like that at all and made that point very strongly, and the strange coincidence was that her telephone extension number at this National Westminster Bank was 474, and she didn’t realised the significance of her extension number on her telephone. It was 474 was our Lanc’s PA474 which was a coincidence. So that was Betty Nettleton. What have I got here? Oh, another one of the — Patrick Doorhill, he was another Augsburg raid survivor. There’s two letters from him. Sorry, three letters from him. What have I got one here. Oh, this is one from — “Dear Stuart”. This is very nice green-headed paper from Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire KC. Oh, he’s got so many titles after his name, Ministry of Defence, Chief of the Air Staff. “Dear Stuart, I’ve just heard of the magnificent effort of Lincolnshire’s Lancaster Association in scanning the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s servicing manuals on to cd rom. Such a practical initiative is not only a great help to the BBMF but also displays, in a very material fashion, your interest and support for a most important part of our nation’s heritage. I would be most grateful if you would pass on my sincere thanks and congratulations to your members for a job well done. My very best wishes for your continued success. Yours sincerely, Peter Squire”, and that’s addressed to me. So that’s, those are just some letters that are tucked in the first page of the book. Well I turn the page over, I will see some names that will maybe ring a few bells with people. Page one, believe it or not, the one at the top of the page is Bob Stanford Tuck. Bob Stanford Tuck, in case you don’t know, was not a bomber pilot but he was a Battle of Britain ace. He was the original brill cream boy I’m told. He was always a very flashy type. If you, if you google Bob Stanford Tuck, you’ll see what I mean. But looking down the page we’ve got Gus Walker. Now I met Gus at Swinderby. Gus was a famous man. He was, he was a one-armed man, he lost an arm at Syerston when he was — well the story was, one story was that he walked into a propeller that was — and it took his arm off. The other story was that he’d gone to try to rescue someday from a burning aircraft, and it exploded and he’d been thrown out, so I’m not quite certain of that one. Looking down the list is Mr Chandler, 170 Squadron. We’ve got various, various names. We’ve got David Penman, David Brotherick, Bert Doughty of course. We’ve got Mary Chadwick which is — Mary Chadwick was Roy Chadwick’s widow, the mother of Rosemarie Lapham, nee Chadwick, and Margaret Dove who was his other, Roy’s elder daughter. She has been in the forefront of it, well while she was alive, parading her dad’s name around the world. Rosemary was the, some nine years younger and she’s really kept in the background until her sister died and then she’s come a little to the foreground, but they are getting, she’s getting a very old lady now as well of course. I’m sure she wouldn’t be upset if she knew I was saying that. Looking below it, would you believe it or not, I’ve got John Chatterton KMY, 44 Squadron and I’ve got underneath him is Bill Berry and he was, he’s got VNG which is 50 Squadron so they were good friends but obviously on different squadrons at the time when, when they were in operations. Some of these names that I’m struggling to read are the names of some of the chaps that survived the dams raid who are no longer with us. Now looking on the next page, the one at the top of the page is Lord Lilford. Now Lord Lilford won’t mean much to anybody except Mrs lilford, but Lord Lilford was the chap that, that bought NX611 which is now today Just Jane at East Kirkby. He bought it when it was put up for auction at Blackpool, and having left it at Blackpool for a while, he then said to the RAF, ‘You can have it as a gate guardian at Scampton providing you’ll remove it to Scampton and possibly refurbish it before it goes on the gate’. So he was responsible for it being on the gate, until it was eventually he decided to get rid of it, and the Pantons, who’d, who’d bid for it in the early stages and hadn’t bid enough, they then bought it. So it then moved to East Kirkby. Now we come to some dams people. We have Geoff Rice, Basil Fenera, Jack Buckley, they were all people that had survived the dam’s raid. I met them at Scampton and I’m not sure which one, but he had he showed me his car ignition key with a chain, a little bit of chainy stuff on it, and on it was a thing that I could say was something like that you bleed the air out of a radiator. A little key. And when they came back from the dams raid, he walked around under the aircraft and that was dangling on a lanyard and this was the key that was pulled out of the bomb when it fell off, the spinning bomb, when it fell off to make it live and as it fell away from the aircraft, it was only when that was pulled out that it became live, and he’d seen that and he just took it off and put it in his pocket, and he’d now got it on his [unclear]. I often wonder what happened to that. If somebody realised what they’d got and maybe threw it away when it was — [pause]. Underneath that, we have Ken Sneller, who I’ve remarked about before. He was the Lancaster captain when it was at Coltishall before Jacko took over. He’s put Lancaster, he’s put Lancaster captain PA474. November 1974. I’ve got Mary Stopes Roe, daughter of Barnes Wallis signed there. Somebody Smith, that could be anybody couldn’t it? I’m not sure who he is. Somebody Johnson or something. BE Johnson. HI Cousins. There’s a famous name which Dan’s looking as if he’s never heard of. Air Commodore Cousins as he was, part of the Sneider Trophy outfit. But he was, I’m not quite sure of his role, but he made a lot of, he scrounged colour film from the Americans to make a educational, not an educational — a thing to educate the RAF up and coming aircrew as to how to go about things. And the film that was slowly cobbled together, was issued on DVD and is still available today. It’s called, “Night Bombers”. You see all those Lancasters taking off from Hemswell in a row, he was responsible for that film. I did say, I said to him, there was one particular shot if people have seen that film, where they, they’ve got a Lancaster and the camera runs from the navigator, whatever, behind the pilot and it trundles through to the pilot and it moves up and down the fuselage, and I said to him, ‘How did you get that?’ And he said, ‘Oh it’s quite simple Stuart. We just took a Lancaster and carved it in half’. So they cut a Lanc down the middle and then they put, sat the man in his seat as he would be in his half and then they filmed that. And that was, that was something else. The BB — sorry — the BBC — our government didn’t have any colour film in those days, and he had to scrounge it from the Americans he said. But some of the films that were shot by him at that time were quite unique. Like Fido, lighting Fido. At that, Fido was something that hadn’t really been heard of, but Fido was the fog dispersal, whatever it was called. It was the way by burning petrol down the side of the runway to clear fog. That was the theory, but what it cost in miles per gallon I hate to think. Looking down, oh here’s one, Barnes Wallis. Barnes Wallis. Next to him, we’ve got Jacko Jackson had signed it. Below him, we’ve got one of the forces sweethearts of those days, Anne Shelton. Next to Anne Shelton, we’ve got Michael Redgrave, the actor who played Barnes Wallis in the film, so I’ve got Barnes Wallis and Michael Redgrave close together. Below Michael Redgrave, I’ve got Richard Todd who I became very friendly with. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get Guy Gibson because he was wasn’t around to sign. Pat Daniels, he was quite famous. 35 Squadron, 83 Squadron and 97 Squadron. He was — Pat Daniels I think was one of the Augsburg guys, again, I’m not, I can’t remember this. My memory’s fading a little. David Shepherd the artist has signed here, “After a memorable”, let me just get this, “After a memorable day of pure nostalgia in with PA474. Kind regards. November the 4th 1976. Coningsby”. That was the day then, David came and took photographs on which he based the painting that was, was his famous Lancaster painting, which you’ve, you’re people will have seen and I can claim that on that picture, you’ve got a fuel bowser trailer to the right — an oil bowser trailer to the right of the picture which I located for them. Belonged to a farmer, that he used to, he put diesel in it and he used it for tractors that were ploughing well away from roads and everything. And there was, what was it? A bomb trolley with no bombs on it, but the bomb trolley that I’d got collected up from a local scrapyard or some similar thing for that particular painting. But the, it was all done outside the BBMF hangar, which doesn’t appear on the actual painting because it’s, it’s David’s. The way he’s portrayed it. He wanted, I remember on the day, he wanted — he suddenly decided he wanted reflections, so they had to get the fire service. The Coningsby fire section had to attend and they had to pour gallons and gallons of water on the concrete below the Lanc and in front of it, so that he could get the reflection off the concrete of the bomber. That’s the sort of power you’ve got when you can draw out the fire service to do those sort of things. Turning the page again, well I’ve got best wishes from Brian Goulding. Good old Brian. I don’t know. The last time I heard of Brian, he wasn’t very good. Mike Garbutt his co-author has signed as well. We’ve got Johnny Johnson who’s become quite famous these days. “Best wishes Stuart”, that was John Pringle who was the engineering officer who was in charge of the refurbishment of NX611 when it went to Scampton. John Searby is another one, Air commodore, he was a master bomber on amongst the Pathfinders who put himself at risk. He was the master bomber on the raid on Peenemunde for instance, and many other big raids. I met him two or three times. Arthur Harris, Marshall of the Royal Air Force. He did sign for me when I was, when I got to speak with him down in London. Did I mention the meeting with Barnes Wallis? I was introduced to Barnes Wallis down at the RAF Museum and, ‘This is Mr Stephenson’, and he looked at me and bear in mind, he was ninety plus, and he said, ‘Oh I’m pleased to meet you. I’ve heard of you’, he said. And just imagine, how you meet somebody that — I mean Barnes Wallis to me, with his designs of the bombs, going up to the Swallow, his supersonic aircraft —to have him say that was just — took my breath and I couldn’t, I was lost for speech, which is unusual for me as you maybe notice. And I said, ‘Well how on earth could you have heard of me?’ And he followed that up with an even more strange thing. He said, ‘Not only have I heard of you, Mr Stephenson, I owe you a debt of gratitude’, and I thought, I don’t know what this is going to come out as but I shall going to dine out on this one forever, because this is, this is God talking to me in person almost. So I said, ‘Well you’ve got me on two. How on earth can you have heard of me and how on earth do you owe me a debt of gratitude?’ He said, ‘Well’, he said, ‘You’re the fellow who got that deflection can made so they could put the mid-upper turret on the Lancaster, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes. Yes. You’re right’, he said, ‘Well the debt of gratitude is A) that you got it done and B) that if you hadn’t got it done, they told me they were going to ask me to organise it’. I said, ‘I didn’t realise I was in competition Sir Barnes, otherwise I would maybe have surrendered’. He said, ‘Good job you didn’t because all the people that I know in sheet metal work, unfortunately they are no longer any of them with us. I have no contact with anybody at all. So’, he said, ‘I would have been in real trouble if you hadn’t done it’. So that was a good one. Unlike Sir Arthur Harris, who I met on the same day who unfortunately, and I’m not exaggerating when I say he was a very difficult man to talk to, because he appeared to be somewhere else though I was talking to him. It was very difficult to try to make a conversation, a meaningful conversation with somebody when they don’t answer any questions, and they just say yes and no and as little, seems as little as possible. I must admit I was rather overtaken by, he was wearing his best blue, which with his ranks and decorations and things that he’d achieved over the years. I think he maybe had two best blues but this one must have been a spare or something, because I was trying to talk to him and try to keep this conversation going, which wasn’t really a conversation, and I was transfixed by his blue which had an assortment of holes all over it, onto which had his various badges and ribbons and stars and clusters and things were obviously meant to fit through the holes on his coat, and have little pins in the back to hold them in place, so that when he was dressed properly, he would have all this tin work on his chest and down but he didn’t. He hadn’t put them on or he’d put the wrong coat on when he came, and I thought he’s been attacked by a fleet of killer moths. That just came in my head and I’ve remembered that ever since. Sorry. Sorry Sir Arthur, that’s mean of me to say that. Right. We’re on to Searby down. Looking down the page, I’ve got Don Bennet who of course, Don Bennet was the leader of the Pathfinders and the AOC of the Pathfinders. Next to him, just underneath Bomber Harris, we’ve got Hamish Mahaddie, who was a broad Scot of course who was likewise famous in his own right as a Pathfinder I believe, but he was the guy that put all the aircraft together for the famous film The Battle of Britain, which was a major job that. Getting those vintage aircraft together to make that film. Underneath his name is one that I’ve just told you earlier on, the letter heads, Betty Nettleton has signed the book. Now hang on a minute. Hamish Mahaddie, I’ve done Don Bennett, I’ve said him, and the last one that page is Tony Iverson, 617 Squadron. Those are the front cover pages, but I think I should have to go through the book, but some of the pictures inside the book — there’s the odd one or two that’s maybe got the odd autograph on it, because it’s something they were connected with, but I should have to have a good search for that to find it, but I really must get a note made of all these signatures because you’ve had a look at them and you know how difficult it would be to interpret some of them, because I have a struggle to interpret them some of them — who they are — myself. But there’s enough names to keep somebody with google going for quite a while to sort out who they were. These, these are just the ones sometimes I’ve not had the book with me. I’ve met. I’ve met through business, as well as the Lancaster Association, quite a few of the German side of the fence and one of the interesting ones I met was Hajo Hermann or Hajo Hermann, who was the head of German night fighters. He was asked to form a group equivalent to the Kamikaze amongst the German night fighters towards the very end of the war, but that never got going. I guess they weren’t as, quite as fanatical as the Japanese. He was, he was, he told me a good story. Before the war, well before the war started, the 1930s, he was an officer in the Army would you believe, and he, he was with his soldiers and they were trawling through a swamp, he called me, he told me and lo and behold, there was two or three chaps came up on horses and they sat on their horses watching these fellows crawl through the sludge and muck and general mess, and they were covered in it and eventually one of these people on the horse said, ‘Did you enjoy doing that?’ Not in. I’m not going into “Allo. Allo” German but, ‘Do you enjoy doing that?’ And he said, ‘No’. He didn’t really — he could think of better things to do, and this gentleman said, ‘Well why don’t you join my Luftwaffe instead? We’re just reforming’, and it was Goering. So he, he said, ‘Oh yes. I’ll bear that in mind sir’, or something. Anyway, he went back and he thought well he was due for a change, he was fed up of these swamps, so he joined. He sought out Goering and reminded him and he said he’d be pleased to, and they became friends and he joined the Luftwaffe. He was involved in the war in Spain and then later, he bombed Hull would you believe, amongst other places. He was involved in the bombing of Norway, the Blitz in London, he was involved in the Mediterranean war. He told me a story. He was — they were tasked to attack ships in the harbour, a big harbour in Greece, the name’s gone from me at the moment and they were told they’d got to drop mines in the, in the harbour. That was the task and he said he didn’t want to drop mines, he wanted to drop a bomb. So he duly disobeyed orders and he took a bomb with his mine load, and when he came to dropping the bomb, he dropped it and there was a ship moored out in the, in the harbour. I’m sure the name is going to come back to me in a minute but it won’t at the moment. It hit this ship and the resultant explosion was enormous. Apparently, it was an ammunition ship that was waiting to be unloaded, and it was called the Clan Fraser I believe. He told me. It blew the windows out in Athens which was five or six miles away. A long way away anyway. It wiped out the airport, sorry the harbour, it wiped the harbour out, and as a result, it had a dire effect on British resistance, because it was our ammunition that they’d blown up. And his aircraft was very badly damaged and he coaxed it back to his home base, and was immediately got into trouble for disobeying orders, but when it was discovered what had happened, he got a medal. But he was the only officer in the Luftwaffe, he gained equivalent rank to group captain as I understand it, and he was the only one who could walk in to Goering’s office without an appointment. He could knock on the door and walk in and nobody else could do that. He was made the chief of night fighters amongst his other, because he’d been on bombers. He’d been involved with the invasion of, I think it was Salerno, or Anzio, I’m not sure. Anzio or Salerno when they first used the Fritz X wire guided, I think it was wire guided missile which was used to great success there, and he went to Goering and he said that he’d had this idea. They’d built, Blom and Voss had built some massive flying boats, which were already flying, and his idea was that they would use these flying boats, arm them with a whole load of these Fritz X missiles, which at the speed they fly, they could sort of climb out and reattach to the wings. They would fly out in to the Atlantic, find convoys and with these things they could play havoc in a convoy. They would pop ships off left, right and centre and that would, that would be a — these aircraft were comparatively cheap to make in comparison to the cost of a submarine and its crew. The, the expenditures would — for one submarine, they could maybe build a squadron of these flying boats and Goering thought it was a brilliant idea, and he’d go and see Doenitz. So he made an appointment and he went to see Doenitz. Goering made the appointment for him I think, and when he got there, he met Doenitz coming out of his headquarters, walking down the steps and he saluted him and he said who he was. ‘Oh, you’re the gentleman that has got this idea’. And he explained it all to him and he said that he felt that this would save an awful lot of people’s lives, on submarine crews, who were having a bit of a beating by this time, and it could maybe turn the war even, because we were relying so much on these ships bringing food and arms across the Atlantic, plus building up for D-day. And apparently, having listened to it all, Doenitz reaction was, ‘So you want to be my corporal do you?’ Or something, and he said, ‘I’ll think about it’, and he turned away and it never got thought of again, because Doenitz didn’t want to lose his position as commander of U-boats. Well that was Hermann. There was another guy who was shot down, a German pilot, fighter pilot who was shot down in the Battle of Britain, whose name again eludes me, but I think I’ve got a print that he signed for me. He was shot down and he came down unconscious and he landed on a road, and he was laid on a road, when he came to and there was a crowd of people around him, and he didn’t know whether he was in France or in Italy or where he was in the UK. So there was a guy tending to him, and the guy in German said, ‘Don’t move’, and started reassuring him that he was alright and he thought, I’m in Germany or I’m in France at least, and it turned out that the fellow that was looking after him was the son of, was it Gerald Henderson as it, who was the British ambassador in Berlin when war broke out, and the son was a doctor, who was British of course, and lived in this country and a million to one chance he, he looked after this German guy who was shot down. His daddy had been the ambassador in Berlin. So that was, that was a good one. There was Winkle Brown of course, I met him a few times. Cats-eyes Cunningham. Again these, these are not bomber names. There was the guy that flew Boxcar. It doesn’t mean a thing to you does that? This was the American that dropped the bomb, was it Hiroshima the second one? Or Nagasaki?
DE: Nagasaki was the second one.
SS: Yeah. Well Boxcar was the one that dropped the bombs. I met the pilot of that who was a very nice fella, and he told me this story that they’d had, they’d gone to one place and it was covered in mist and they couldn’t see the target, so they’d gone somewhere else and by the time they’d done what they had to do to get into position, dropped the bomb and then fly back they, they was virtually running out of fuel and they literally got back and they didn’t have enough fuel hardly to get off the main runway before it stopped. But that was — his aircraft was Boxcar. Which was, which was a good one. Jimmy Dell, there was another good name that I met several times. Jimmy Dell. Little fella. Jimmy Dell was, he was a test pilot for English Electric as it was. He test flew Lightnings in their early stages. He took over or he joined Roland Beamont who I’d met, to fly a TSR2. And TSR2 Beaumont, he was the lead, he was the chief test pilot. He was, our man was second. He — the promotion occurred and our man moved up to first position. They were, they were flying test flights from Boscombe with it. He — he was involved when it was flown from Boscombe up to Wharton. The TSR2 was flown up there to demonstrate it to the people that made it, to show how good it was, and they decided that he would fly it up over through the Welsh mountains, the TSR2, at low level. Jimmy would follow him in a Lightning as a chase plane, just in case there was anything went wrong because they were taking telemetry from it, which was in its early stages in those days. They set off and he followed. The TSR took off, he followed. He tried to follow him and he couldn’t stay with him. He had to climb up to — I don’t know — some big altitude to get because it was so much buffeting in those mountains that he couldn’t live with that. Apparently the TSR2 flew through it like butter through a knife you might say. It arrived at Wharton and had landed when Jimmy comes over with the Lightning, just caught up with him. That was a good story, but Jimmy again he told me they were, they were doing a test flight and they went in the morning, and the crew chief said, ‘We’ve got a snag. You can’t fly today I’m afraid, but come back after lunch’. So they said, ‘Right’. So him and the navigator guy that he had with him, they went off to a local pub and had a pub lunch and was playing bar billiards, and the landlord said, ‘It’s the budget day today. Do you mind if I put the radio on?’ And they said no, and they were playing, and they was making the announcements, and they announced the TSR2 was cancelled, so they grabbed their flying helmets and everything, got in their car, rushed back to the airfield, ‘Are you ready to go chief? We’re ready’. ‘Sorry. It’s all cancelled’, and they couldn’t believe, he couldn’t believe it was. They’d been told it had, was cancelled immediately apparently, so they went back to his office where he’d got all his records and everything, and his office had been ransacked. They’d took all the, all the, all the records that he’d kept of the test flying and observations, and everything on it had been taken away, leaving very little on the shelves, because that was his job as chief test pilot by that time of course. And he said it was, that was the worst day of his life. And again, he was such a nice fella. They went, they broke all the jigs and everything to make so if there was a change of government, it was Labour because Denis Healey was the man. He’d apparently said it wouldn’t be cancelled before the election to keep the unions on side, and then immediately when they were voted in, it was changed. Never forgive Denis Healey for that. Nor can I forgive Lord Louis Mountbatten, because apparently the Australians were up for buying TSR2, and Lord Louis Mountbatten bad mouthed it like crazy and they backed out, and that really helped its demise. But they’d even got to the stage that they’d got a firm making these big models of TSR2 for recruiting office windows, and they, they broke, they went into the factories where they were making these models and smashed them all up. They destroyed everything on it, and Jimmy was telling me all this and he’d got this big model, and I said, ‘Well hang on. You just told me they smashed them all up’. He said, ‘Years later this was presented to me’. It was, it had been separated from all the rest. It had a dustsheet or something over it and it survived and that was, that was that one. It came to his retirement — Jimmy, and it was his last day and there was a knock on his office door, and this fella came in with a box and some stuff in it, and he said he said Jimmy said, ‘Hello’, you know and the fella introduced himself and he said, ‘Look, I’m one of the guys that had to go in your office and extract all the paperwork on the TSR2’. He said, ‘We were instructed to take it to so and so and it was all to be burned. Shredded. Destroyed’, he said, ‘But I couldn’t do it all, so I’ve brought you this’. This is what — and he had a box full of stuff that he’d kept. Gone against orders. So Jimmy, he hasn’t said what he did with that, but I guess he gave it to some museum somewhere. But he’s not with us anymore unfortunately. He banged out of a Lightning aircraft and there’s a famous picture of a tractor in a field and a Lightning coming down nose down.
DE: I’ve seen it. Yeah.
SS: That’s Jimmy Dell banged out of that. Sorry, I’ve gone on again.
DE: That’s quite alright. That’s some wonderful stories. Been talking for over two hours and that’s two hours on the tape. There was more when it was on pause. So —
SS: Have you got any more?
DE: I’m just looking. I think we’re going to have to, going to have to call it a day there anyway, but I think we’ve covered most of the questions I’ve got written down.
SS: Yeah.
DE: Yeah. No. That’s absolutely wonderful. Thank you very much. Have you anything else that you’d like to add?
SS: Well no. Personally, I’ve done my bit to help Nicki. I’ve given her quite a lot of stuff from my own collections to sell, and I’ve arranged, before we knew that charities couldn’t give to charity, I made an arrangement with the chairman of LLA that I bought stock that was maybe worth a thousand or two for twenty five quid, which I presented then to Nicki. It cost me twenty-five quid but that’s that was my donation again. That went to the LLA to pay for these things, so that it wasn’t — can’t be logged as a gift, but we maybe needn’t have to bothered with that now, if that’s — it’s on the government website if I’ve read that correctly.
DE: Yeah. We’ll have to have a look at that.
SS: But we’ve got, we’ve got this booklet coming out on the Chadwick thing.
DE: Yes.
SS: And I told you about the university and the picture.
DE: Yes.
SS: If you, if you google Roy Chadwick and go on pictures, you’ll find there’s a picture of Roy, the Lanc and the Avro badge on a landscape type painting, which we’ve got permission to put on the, use in this book.
DE: From Manchester University.
SS: Yeah. And I would imagine that’s maybe going to be a good money spinner, because it will be a book that’s only going to cost five or six quid. I sent her an email back, thanking her so much. She’s not mentioned, I asked if there was any charge when I sent the question, if there’s any charge, please let me know. She’s not mentioned that so I sent her a message back, thank you so much for your help and we were just wondering if there was going to be a charge made for us to use this. I don’t suppose there will be though.
DE: Hopefully not. Hopefully not. Well thank you for the interview. Thank you for all you’ve done for the IBCC and the things that you’ve donated, donated for us to scan.
SS: I’m pleased to help Dan, and if I can do anything else to help while I’m mobile, I will.
DE: Smashing. Thank you very much. Right. I shall press stop.



Dan Ellin, “Interview with Stuart Stephenson MBE,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 16, 2024,

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