Interview with Jim Ibbotson


Interview with Jim Ibbotson


Jim Ibbotson grew up in Sheffield and recalls Sheffield being blitz bombed. He joined the Air Training Corps and volunteered for the RAF when he was eighteen. He was called up in March 1943 and trained to become either a pilot, navigator or bomb aimer. He discusses his training including flying Tiger Moths, but a delay in posting due to illness meant he was then given a choice to become either a Bevan boy or an air gunner. He retrained at RAF Dalcross Air Gunnery School and was then sent to OTU on Whitleys and then to HCU before being posted to 102 Squadron in February 1945. He flew six operations as a mid upper gunner on mine laying operations. After the war he served in a motor transport unit in Changi, Singapore before being demobilised and returning to his pre war occupation within the furniture trade.




Temporal Coverage




00:52:25 audio recording


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GR: Right this is Gary Rushbrooke for the International Bomber Command Centre its 5th January 2016, and I’m with Jim Ibbotson at his home in Sheffield to talk about his life and flying with 102 Squadron. So Jim if I can just ask you was you born in Sheffield?
JI: Oh yes yes just up the road from here no through road.
GR: And er sort of early childhood what did your parents do were they?
JI: Father was in steel, metal dresser which was a terrible job but anyway, and in those days things were very sparse and um if you had a pair of shoes you were doing quite well [laughter] and of course in view of that me mother took up to charring and taking in laundry, in fact that’s why I’m so small I had to, I couldn’t grow any further because the washing used to hang down in the room most of the week!
GR: Right.
JI: And of course the other thing was they had what they called the, the dole, if you were on the dole you weren’t allowed to augment it without - if you earned any money they knocked it off the amount of money they gave you know.
GR: Oh right.
JI: So me mother had to moonlight it [laughs] to make it worthwhile, anyway that was the background to it and er-
GR: Brothers and sisters?
JI: I had just the one sister and she died about ten years ago now something like that she was eighty something yes. And of course I went to, only went to the elementary school but first of all Weston Road, which is at top down Westways and the other one it’s still Morley Street to me I don’t know what they call that now but it’s just down the road here, and of course we lived in between we came from Northfield Road to Waterbank Road and that’s already been pulled down and gone the property that we the hovel that we lived in and er and so on. I went to from Weston Road to Morley Street and then back to Weston Road to finish off, and after that I did some night school studies and I went into office work as an office boy in first of all with a firm in a society in St. James Row by the Cathedral.
GR: Yes.
JI: And that’s where I was into the blitz business ‘cos I was sixteen at the time of the blitz.
GR: Yes so you’d left school gone to work?
JI: I left school at fourteen, I took papers out before and did some other work with a bloke who did his own polishing, French polishing and that type of thing and cabinet making. Anyway as I say at, I used to roam around town in the office boys job ‘cos I worked for the society at the time that belonged to the railway.
GR: Right.
JI: And they used to have all their officials, or members of the committee, at the various places around Sheffield such as Wicker Goods [?], Farm Road, you know, by Bramble Road the farm buildings, Forth Street Wharf I used to go and er what do you call that other big place, Bridge houses all those I used to go and visit.
GR: Had war broken out by now?
JI: No oh sorry war broke out in ‘39.
GR: September ‘39.
JI: Yes, it did it did. I only stayed for about a year in the Railway Society, I went to a furnishing company and as same sort of run around but there they had a shop on The Moor which was affected by the blitz of course. So what happened was on the about on the 12th and 13th of December the blitz and on the 13th the morning of the Friday I reported for work in Collegiate Crescent and the accounts manager said to me, he said, ‘Well the accounts at the shop on The Moor we’ll have to try to see if we can retrieve them’. So with that he said, ‘You’re coming with me’. Went down there got as far as the bottom of Ecclesall Road and of course that was it so we got out of the car and walked round the corner and the police or the ARP or whatever and they said you know, ‘Can’t come up here unexploded bombs’. And well there won’t anywhere to go really ‘cos it was like about, the debris it was absolutely destroyed.
GR: Yes.
JI: There wasn’t a clear path.
GR: Because Sheffield had been targeted because of it’s steel?
JI: Well no I don’t think so not at that time, it was after, they knew what they were at, they no it was a complete set to on the civilians I think.
GR: Right.
JI: Which they’d do at that time because on the, that was on the Thursday Friday morning and they stepped up that was that. Then they came on the Sunday and started exactly at the spot they’d stopped on the on the Friday and went down the East End where the works were, but they did that second not first, and I think that was by choice because they knew what they were at obviously.
GR: Yes.
JI: And er we got up, the firemen, we told them what we’d come for, well I didn’t he did told em what we’d come for they allowed us to go up. I didn’t see another person on The Moor that morning so we must have been the only two just about who made it up there that morning, apart from the police and whatever, they were keeping everybody back. And mind there weren’t a lot of people wanting to go up there because they’d had enough on with the blitz without bloody going and looking at things. Anyway after that I joined, I joined the oh I was in the ATC.
GR: Yes.
JI: At it’s inception we hadn’t got a uniform at that time, the ATC were like the Home Guard we were in civvies and we did get uniforms eventually, but I think it was June ‘41 when they started up. And I went to sign up I was eighteen in December ‘42 and I went in October ‘42 and joined the Air Force.
GR: So you volunteered?
JI: Yes. They took me down to Padgate to a reception centre we had medicals and whatever and various you know, you get to know what’s what, who you are, and what you do, and er finally they then put me on deferred service and called me up 31st March ‘43. I was on what you call the PNB scheme that was either selection for pilot, navigator, or bomb aimer.
GR: Yes.
JI: And that was on that Empire Training Scheme. So on in March ‘43 I went down to St. John’s Wood to Lord’s Cricket Ground.
GR: Lord’s Cricket Ground yes.
JI: Turned up there and I was billeted round the corner in top side of Regents Park by the zoo, which was most appropriate [laughter] and then we used to have meals in the zoo café.
GR: Right.
JI: We had to get up at six.
GR: Were the animals still in the zoo?
JI: I was gonna say we used to sometimes queue up and what was by the side of the entrance were those gibbons and they used to be out at that time in the morning of course they were whooping along the cage and they used to whoop you know as they went. Anyway yeah that was there and then what they did then it was, still took a long time I mean when you consider it, I joined up in ‘42 and it was ‘45 before I I got into action February ‘45. And of course relating further then that I the first thing they did was take two hundred of us and send us up to Aberdeen on the what they called, to Aberdeen University on a six months education revision course in the university the old university at Aberdeen in the old village.
GR: So you had no idea what you were going to be called? You just -
JI: No, that’s right at that point. And that was six months affair which finished in the September we were billeted in the town with families, I was off the King Street on Argyle Road, the King Street was about two miles long you went down to the football ground at Pittodrie and the college the football ground was that side and the university grounds were over this side.
GR: Yes.
JI: And they used to march us up and down there every day, we had lunch at the bottom of Union Street in the old what do you call them those restaurants British restaurants that this government set up, cheese and what was it that was macaroni cheese pie or something all them kind of things you got.
GR: So what were you actually doing just six months of not?
JI: Educational, English a little bit as few words of German, er technical drawing, and then we went from there back to, no we didn’t we went straight down to Torquay in a hotel there at the top the Devonshire I was in, you know Torquay probably the main bottom road on the by the quayside.
GR: Yes.
JI: There’s the Regina that’s on that left hand corner far left hand corner and it turns the corner and goes up by itself I was at top of there in the Devonshire it was called, and the officers were all in oh what do they call that one as you go up on the right forgotten they were in a hotel there.
GR: And was this the start of your actual RAF training?
JI: That was the start, we did navigation, direct navigation, Morse, engines, meteorology, oh and sanitation and hygiene, [unclear] quite a gambit of subjects.
GR: Yes.
JI: Anyway I got through that all right passed out on that, and then they send you to grading school, I was a [unclear] down the Cambridge Road from Cambridge out to Newmarket at a place called um Caxton Gibbet and there was a little grass airfield by the side of there and they’d got Tiger Moths. So you did, I can’t remember now whether six hours or twelve hours on Tiger Moths you used to have an instructor with you obviously, but the damn things flew themselves anyway. So the only difficulty I found was with the wind you know the wind prevailing for the velocity, the wind you’d take off and kind of turn but instead of going that direction really you weren’t you were as far as you were concerned going like so, but if you looked down at the ground you were going like that because the wind was.
GR: Was going sideways [laughs].
JI: And I for the hell of me I could never never get round in a square and come back down but as for that the flying them like I say they were nothing they were like a kite once you put them up.
GR: This was actual pilot training.
JI: Used to go up at sixty five they did you just used to pull the throttle forward and get them off the deck at sixty five they’d lift you know you could feel it just ease back a bit on the joystick and they were off and then you had to climb to a thousand feet and trim them, trim them to fly with, in a stable condition you know and so on. That went on and that was a three months course but unfortunately towards the end of it I had flu which pushed me put me in dock for a fortnight. So from the end of that you went up to Heaton Park at Manchester which was a dropping off point from either Canada, South Africa, those were the two usual places where they sent they sent them off for training you know, the, oh, the pilots went to Miami didn’t they yes, yes they did.
GR: Yes, yes I know somebody who went to Miami, yes.
JI: And the bomb aimers went to Canada, the navigators went to South Africa. And that fortnight meant that when I got there they had just thought they got sufficient people in the scheme they actually shut it down just like that. And so actually, those some of those two hundred I mentioned that we’d gone up to Aberdeen with me in the first place they actually got there inside the time limit and they were they most of them a lot of them I met afterwards some years some time afterwards went as bomb aimers to er Canada, which I probably would have gone with as likely as not might have gone as navigator, I don’t know. And so I was sent back to ACRC you know at Lord’s and they gave me two alternatives because you can either become an air gunner or you can take your ticket and go as a Bevan boy. So I thought I’m not deeply keen about going down the pit, mind I don’t know which was the best alternative to be honest [laughter], they lasted a lot longer down there than what they did up there. So I went of course from there I went to, that was a quick affair then, I went up to er Inverness which is now Inverness Airport was then Dalcross, Dalcross RAF Gunnery School.
GR: Yes, yes.
JI: And that was about three months and in July ‘44 I came out as sergeant air gunner and they carried through then to OTU, heavy -
GR: Conversion Unit.
JI: Conversion Unit and then on to squadron February.
GR: So how did you feel about obviously you were lined up for either a pilot or bomb aimer and you ended up as an air gunner?
JI: Well I wasn’t best pleased of course, but there we are that’s fate isn’t it.
GR: Oh it is, yeah.
JI: So I mean actually well I’d have been better, I could have done if I volunteered immediately I could have had the choice of engineer flight engineer or air gunner, because as an air gunner it would have been a rapid progress because if I’d gone in March ‘43 I would have been on ops by about December ’43. But as it was the way I went as I joined up in ’42 and didn’t go till ’43 and it were ’45 before I got anywhere [laughs] which I was pleased about that to be honest. After I’d started.
GR: Well yes, if you’d have got to Bomber Command in December ’43 just at the height of the Battle of Berlin when they were suffering the most casualties.
JI: That’s it.
GR: Who knows?
JI: Yeah 102 sent twelve aircraft out to Berlin one night and three came back.
GR: Three came back.
JI: And they weren’t much better, oh they couldn’t go the following night they sent a note up to Command, unfortunately they couldn’t muster sufficient to, to provide a force.
GR: Not enough aircraft.
JI: And that was that.
GR: Yes.
JI: But anyway I as I say it weren’t a very good turn out really because when we got there, er when we got on to ops of course and we did the initial one and that was went to a place called Bottrop or something, anyway on the second one we went to a place called Witten and apparently - we’d no experience of it of course ops particularly.
GR: Yes.
JI: But they did the ones who, the more seasoned people said it was a terrible night for night fighters they really went to town on that night their night fighters. And what happened was we joined the squadron with another crew the two of us went to replacement crew and on the second trip to Witten they didn’t come back so it sort of showed you the incidence of this fatality as it were, I mean they used to say if you managed to get through the first six you weren’t too bad. [Laughs].
GR: Was all your crew a new crew?
JI: They were all English crew yeah.
GR: Yeah but –
JI: Plus we’d two Smiths.
GR: You’d all come together at OTU?
JI: That’s right.
GR: And then Heavy Conversion Unit?
JI: That’s it.
GR: So whereas you were doing your first operation so was your pilot and the rest of your crew?
JI: The rest yeah.
GR: Yeah.
JI: There was old do you know Tom who died as well Tom Sawyer?
GR: Tom, Tom Sawyer yes, yes I do know Tom.
JI: You know what happened with Tom don’t you? I don’t, not that it’s not generally known I don’t think but he was a sergeant pilot and they offered him a commission and he refused it. Because he said the rest of his crew were sergeants and he didn’t want to be taken aside from them ‘cos he’d be in the officers mess as an officer and sergeants were still in the sergeants mess. He wouldn’t accept the commission he did later on.
GR: Yes because he finished up as a flying officer.
JI: Well that was later but at the time on the first tour of ops that he did I don’t know whether he did but certain the first one he refused the commission. ‘Cos as, as skipper the pilot was always I would say always commissioned after the first week or so on the squadron. Our pilot was.
GR: Yes.
JI: But we were all lads from you know England.
GR: Yes.
JI: There was the bomb aimer from Winchester, the pilot from Liverpool from Bootle, the navigator from Birmingham, the engineer came from Cardiff, did I mention the signaller he came from London the signaller, and the rear gunner was a Londoner, and I came from Yorkshire. And as I say there were two Smiths.
GR: Two Smiths. [Laughs].
JI: So fairly English wasn’t it.
GR: Oh yes.
JI: No Jones.
GR: No, no Jones. And was you rear gunner or mid upper?
JI: No, mid upper.
GR: Mid upper yes.
JI: Yes. I was saying to Rob yesterday we went to on a gardening trip up into Flensburg Fjord to drop sea dog [?] mines and the Lancasters that night were bombing Hamburg so they were coming round sweeping round and circling Hamburg. I think about five hundred of them something like that. And we were on our own of course on the gardening trip it weren’t an organised force it was just a single aircraft it was a test to see.
GR: So you was on your own?
JI: Yes. So we came over and just skirted round on the bottom side of Hamburg, and I was sat there like this, you know looking round as usual and suddenly a Lancaster came over and he was within six, well about as high as that ceiling above us and he just went schh like that.
GR: God.
JI: And I just ducked down like birds do [laughs] when an eagle flies over yeah.
GR: A near miss.
JI: Well that was it yes. But we had some daylight trips we went to Ham, to Nuremburg was a hell of a long way that.
GR: That’s a long way in’t it yeah.
JI: It is yeah. And there was a terrific number of aircraft in the sky that day, there were about three thousand fighters or something like that, there was Americans, and Mustangs, Spitfires, there was American Mustangs.
GR: Yeah all protecting the bombers?
JI: Yeah that’s right. They were up top could see a little dot you know and down below there was a whole force of whatever, oh the RAF like this, this and this, and the Yanks in perfect formation like geese, [unclear] and everybody turned on the front, oh yeah, so they must have been very vulnerable, to even anti-aircraft fire till you got the height.
GR: No.
JI: ‘Cos they couldn’t miss.
GR: It must have been nice though to have an escort?
JI: Oh yeah it was yeah. And we got over the flak, weren’t too bad till we got over Nuremburg and then I don’t know they got some stuff there from somewhere and let fly, and I saw two of them go down, so there was one over this side and I’d never seen anything he was there and then disappeared which is unbelievable. But what had happened was we hadn’t bombed at that time so he’d got a full bomb load this kite and an anti-aircraft shot hit it right up the middle of the bomb load, and he just went like that, he was there and then he wasn’t.
GR: Just disappeared.
JI: Exactly.
GR: Yeah.
JI: He damn near powdered it you know.
GR: Yeah.
JI: And then there was another one on this side he chopped one of his tail planes off, you know the one each side and he finished up with one, which of course meant that they wouldn’t fly anymore.
GR: And in daylight you can see all that?
JI: That’s right.
GR: Whereas at night time you’ll see a flash but not see the graphic?
JI: I came back and some WAAF officer a young WAAF officer was doing the debriefing in general and she said, [laughs] she said to one lot, ‘Did you see any searchlights?’. And he said, ‘Aye some big black ones’. [Laughs]. And of course we used to get the customary rum and coffee.
GR: Yeah.
JI: But we usually discounted the coffee it were horrible and just had the rum.
GR: Just had the rum. [Laughs].
JI: Yeah. So we did six trips.
GR: Yeah.
JI: Like that was Nuremburg, the gardening trip, the last two which were to the Frisian Islands. I don’t know what that was about but that was only a short trip it took where you go across the North Sea in half an hour or less, ‘cos we were on Halifax 6’s they were and they could do about three hundred miles an hour in a downward sort of setting.
GR: Yeah.
JI: Which is a big a lot better than what the old Whitleys used to do.
GR: God yes.
JI: We did those at OTU Whitleys.
GR: Yeah.
JI: Yeah we were lucky to get through that. [Laughs]. There were two Canadian crews that didn’t make it. They ran into the hills at Inverness there as it took off it went straight into the hills you know, so if you hadn’t got sufficient light at the time you didn’t –
GR: Well I read somewhere that during the whole of the Second World War the RAF in training [emphasis] various training everywhere there was something like fifteen thousand casualties.
JI: I would imagine yeah. We had a number you know apart from them and of course we had them at the, so you know we did OTU at Forres which was Whitley’s, but there were also doing them at Kinloss just down the road from Forres. And they had of course Forres was a grass field whereas Kinloss was the normal concrete, and we had an associate crew that we knew from training and they ran off the runway at Kinloss, and they caught the plane caught fire and of course a couple of them were very badly burned. I remember I didn’t go to see them in hospital I didn’t know them all that well so one of our crew went because they knew them quite well. And he said that they he said to the other bloke who went, ‘Did you see the navigator?’ Was it anyway one of them navigator I think it was, he said, ‘Did you see his hands?, he said, ‘did you they were just like [unclear]’ they more or less burnt all the –
GR: Burnt everything away.
JI: Aye. So you know you got things of that nature and that was that. The case of course which is well known in the Air Force at Kinloss it ran out over the, over the what the hell do you call that, Fin, Fin something isn’t it runs out over a shallow lagoon you know.
GR: Right.
JI: I’ve forgotten the name of it at the moment. But anyway what happened was one of these Wellingtons took off and didn’t quite make it and dropped down into this lagoon, of course these blokes didn’t know that it was only about four foot deep whatever or six foot at the most, and they went into full dinghy drill [laughs], and somebody missed the dinghy when they jumped and landed in the water it was only up to about their knees. [Laughs].
GR: Well it just proves that training, water and dinghies and -
JI: Oh they used to take us to the baths you know, part of the Mae West’s on, and you used to jump off the top splash and like go down and then you there was a little handle on the side and you pressed it down and ‘pssss’ and of course you could float on that, but you also had to do a bit of swimming if you could which [unclear]. Oh and the dinghy upside down yeah, the dinghy upside down you had to turn it over there were ropes on it, and then you got the radio with the handle on it and the idea was to turn the handle and generate enough juice power.
GR: Power to.
JI: Yeah so that was that. But I understand that the biggest problem was conditions in the winter in places by the North Sea, if you managed to sort of get into the dinghy you’d be wet through at the time anyway and if you lasted well say all night you were lucky.
GR: You were lucky.
JI: In fact I know the Navy used to talk about guy coming down in the Atlantic and if you are in the water for more than about a minute you’d had it in the winter the Northern Atlantic.
GR: Yes.
JI: So yes we finished up doing the six and that was VE Day and then –
GR: So where was you on VE Day?
JI: I came home of course.
GR: So you was actually in the squadron?
JI: Well everybody just threw the sponge in and cleared off.
GR: Oh right.
JI: There was nobody at all on the squadron on VE Day [laughs] Unless, I don’t know about I didn’t stop to see.
GR: Had you all been given permission to leave?
JI: I don’t know.
GR: You just took off?
JI: Must have done. Because I knew another chap one of the pilots met him at the reunion [coughs] and he said he was amazed, he hadn’t of course cleared off immediately like we did, and he went down to the Squadron office apparently he said and that was deserted there wasn’t a soul in sight he said, and he thought well we’ll do something about this so he collected up the log the Squadron Log Book you know, which gave details of the operations.
GR: ORB, Operational Records Book.
JI: So he claimed that, well he didn’t claim it for himself well he thought I better–
GR: I’ll look after it.
JI: That’s right which he did, which is just as well ‘cos, I mean as anybody could have taken it yeah. Well and that was the other thing of course which rankled some the Flight Commanders at the end of the war regardless of whatever they’d done they were awarded the DFC you know.
GR: Oh right.
JI: So like your NAAFI ration you know. Anyway what they did with us then is, they called us all back eventually that was that war finished in May 12th, May 8th, it was about July I think before they called me back in and sent me to Carnaby, which by that time had become a sort of reception centre, because originally during the war it was one of those one of the three safe drops to with the very wide runways for aircraft returning with difficulties. There was Manston, Woodbridge and Carnaby. Manston was down –
GR: Kent.
JI: The bottom one weren’t it yeah because I’ve been across that. And then Woodbridge was in Norfolk or Suffolk or one of them, and Carnaby was near Bridlington.
GR: Right yeah, yeah.
JI: And they took us there and we had to. Oh first of all they offered me a commission if I signed on for three years in the RAF Regiment, so I weren’t particularly taken by that. So they said I could remuster in some trades which they’d got, sort of mapped out, and I chose motor mechanic. So on that they sent me to the [coughs] trade school in Blackpool.
GR: Right.
JI: To do this course on engines and whatever.
GR: And that was with the intention of staying in the RAF?
JI: No.
GR: No.
JI: No that was just, there was a remuster, see I came out in February 1947 so I did two years after that probably. I went and on that basis I joined what was supposed to be the Tiger Force, which was the force they were getting together to send out to –
GR: Japan.
JI: To sort out the Japanese yeah, anyway the Japs capitulated in the meantime, and I finished up in Singapore for just over twelve months. Which was just a farce really because I was on the MT unit which was consisted of about half a dozen people up in the sticks you know from Singapore towards Changi and it was a wireless station. So we were running Brister [?] Diesels used to have to keep them maintained and they were dispersed away from the actual station with the aerials dispersed around, I think they used to interfere with one another if you got them close together. So that they put them out there we used to have to go twice a day and fill up the tank with diesel to keep it running, we used to do ten thousand hours on the diesel then it had to be changed over and the engine had to be stripped down and rebuilt. Well [unclear] having done about three months on engines in Blackpool you can imagine how much I knew about it [laughs], so I knew nothing. I was a flight sergeant then so they used to call me chief [laughs] in the MT section!
GR: Yeah, senior rank.
JI: Yeah that’s it. There were two corporals and these lads, some eighteen year old lads they got out from who had been probably apprentices to the motor trade in this country in blighty and they did most of the work and I used to sort of oversee them. [Laughs]. And the other thing was there was no actual civilian authority at that time, they hadn’t formed up into government or anything like that it was every man for himself sort of thing so it was very free and easy. And the same on the camp because it was a small camp as I say there must have only been about fifty of us there at the most, there was a sergeants mess there was about six of us in there I think something like that. There were two of us who were ex air crew who knew nothing about the job no doubt, and the other four were long servers, well there was a warrant officer, wireless, there was Warrant Officer Dip Dissep, who didn’t do anything whatever. He used to spend his days and nights having a bottle of gin and talking he had the DT’s you know, he used to set off all right and in the evening with his bottle of gin, Gordons Gin, and by the time he got halfway down that he was talking he had an imaginary budgie on the side of his hat talking it to it [laughs], and he was an oldish bloke and he’d been in the Air Force ooh twenty five years.
GR: It was Raffles Bar in Singapore wasn’t it?
JI: That’s right. We didn’t get down there. I know we used to but that was one of the duties was I was well I weren’t really nobody appointed me in charge of the [unclear] but they all assumed I was because of I was the highest –
GR: Because of the rank?
JI: That’s right. So I was in charge of signing these requisition forms and the like 65As[?], so if I wanted to organise er a trip, an evening trip into Singapore I just made one of these notes out for the driver and he got the lorry out and we went down there, had some hair-raising experience. [Laughs]. We went down one time to buy some beer for the NAAFI, buy it in Singapore and bring it back for the NAAFI, and I’m afraid we went down there we bought the beer and drank it before we got back. [Laughs].
GR: Nothing wrong with that. [Laughs].
JI: Oh we had really some [unclear] boozy times.
GR: Yeah, yeah. Well the war had finished and -
JI: So I eventually came back by sea. Oh when on going out went out on the air trooping business, so I went I went from down South not Newmarket another racecourse but somewhere and I think it would have been an American ‘drome it had been. We went out to first of all to Sardinia we only stayed there a night or so in there, then we flew on to El Haddam [?] in Northern Africa.
GR: North Africa, yeah.
JI: Not far from Tobruk and then we hopped over from there to Tel Aviv and that was about Christmas time that, and I was amazed it was as cold there as what it had been here, I expected it to be warm you know.
GR: Yeah with it being –
JI: So we went from there to the one extreme to the other we flew from there down to Sharia [?] in the Persian Gulf and by god it was hot there it was about ninety all the time.
GR: God.
JI: In Singapore it wasn’t so bad because it was never above ninety but it was all, there was lots of vegetation so it was cooler never below seventy so it was fairly even.
GR: Yeah, humid if anything.
Other: Would either of you like a cup of tea? Would you like a drink of tea?
JI: I wouldn’t mind.
Other: Would you like a drink?
GR: Please.
JI: Yeah we went from there to. [Talking in background]. We went from there to Karachi. [Talking in background].
GR: So what happened coming back from Singapore?
JI: Nothing really it was the most boring it was on the boat from Singapore to Bombay, Mumbai as it’s known now. Oh of course I flew from Karachi across country down to Madras and I stayed there about a month or more down in Madras that was quite nice there. And then we went on this small five thousand tonne boat registered in Aberdeen across to Singapore. And the boat was the, was it the Largis Bay that the Jarvis Bay weren’t it that fought that River Plate action.
GR: Yes.
JI: Aye well this was these were sister ships this was the Largis Bay or something like that and that was a five thousand tonne sister ship to the one that fought the battle, horrible little thing it was. Anyway went through across there and came back on the Empress, the Empress, what was it Empress of?
GR: There’s a lot of them Empresses about.
JI: A river boat actually in the West Indies and the damn thing it hadn’t got a very large keel so therefore when you got into any water at all it was rolling, and that was the only exciting part on that one was we came into the Mediterranean and there was about a thirty foot sea there, really terrible lasted about two or three days. And of course the ablutions, the toilets they were a great big space room whatever you call it and there must have been twenty down each side, toilets, or may be thirty I don’t know, and it was a huge and it were sort of a tarmacked floor that curled up so that you know it was completely waterproof. And there should have been traps fitted on these toilets so that when the boat went down like that they shut off you see, but instead of that what we got was every time we went down you got a water spout. So you went in there, the floor had been you know sealed like that, and it didn’t go over the top because of these things they came up to oh a couple of feet high up the side, [unclear] and of course you had to go in with your trousers rolled up because you were up to your knees in water when you got in there, apart from anything else that happened to be floating around of course. [Laughs]. But what an experience you had to time it to a fine degree yeah. [Laughs]. Anyway I was bored out of my mind there, what happened was they were all up on deck and down on the mess deck in these hammocks and things it was absolutely terrible, hot you know and I didn’t like it. Anyway they called for volunteers for the butchers shop went to the boat butchers shop, were only chopping ribs up and things to make stew. What happened was we were making this stew or whatever it was for the other people who hadn’t got a job they were just kicking about on deck playing cards, and course we were in the butcher’s shop and we were living on sirloin steak and chips and things ‘cos we had the, you know. And then of course when it came to sleeping you just took your hammock or whatever and found a place to string it anywhere. Of course down below there was a hell of a lot of space down below in the ballast or whatever they call it they had a great big refrigerator stored there it must have been well I can’t imagine as big as a library or something, a great big room and of course it was refrigerated and he told me that they could collect and hang enough beef in there to last about five years you know for the trips. Anyway we were dishing this up to the other people who weren’t so fortunate. The only other problem, the nasty thing that happened was there was various Air Force, Army and one of the army sergeants fell down the gangway, fell down the gangway and died he had a head injury, so we had a funeral at sea, they sewed him up in canvas and they had a chute and –
GR: Down and away.
JI: I expected that when he went in he would go down like that, but didn’t you know, he went down like that corkscrewed, whether they, it was an old ship’s carpenter that did the job, so whether he had some ideas or what, I thought it would have just gone.
GR: Gone straight down. So was you on the ship all the way back to the UK?
JI: I was, I was. And the other thing was I noticed we had a one you could take demob in Singapore if you wanted, which one of our lot did because he’d either got some relatives or they knew somebody up country on the rubber estates and he thought he’d get a job up there you know. In the event apparently it never happened so he’d demobbed in Singapore, anyway he slipped aboard he came in, I mean they didn’t check he was coming aboard we were like Air Force here we go so he just went on the gangplank and in. Well he mixed in with us he’d got the jungle uniform on you know that we wore all in green and whatever, and the only snag was when we got to Liverpool, we came in at Liverpool, the only snag was when we came in at Liverpool, we’d already been dished up in blue in the RAF blue and unfortunately of course he was still in his jungle green, but the customs, the customs never course things weren’t like they are now, but the customs didn’t really bother.
GR: No at the end of the day you’re returning armed forces you know they are not going to.
JI: They didn’t bother. Well I mean there must have been what on the boat?, oh it was a big boat twenty two thousand tonne boat, big enough boat, I suppose there must have been five hundred or more on there you know troops and we just went through the customs and they didn’t stop us at all so that was that. Then I went to Kirkham in by Blackpool, I was demobbed from there with me demob suit you know Montague Burton special and that was it.
GR: And what was it five pounds or something what was it your twenty five pounds?
JI: What was that?
GR: Demob money. Did you get paid it?
JI: I don’t know. I know when I was in Singapore I opened an account for about three month with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank which became HSB.
GR: HSB Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank HSB.
JI: But they weren’t at that time they weren’t here then.
GR: So demobbed in February?
JI: February ’47.
GR: So what did you do afterwards Jim?
JI: I went back to the old firm the furnishing firm.
GR: Oh right.
JI: Yeah, they got on quite well, I left them but they finished up with about sixty three shops I think.
GR: And lived all your life in Sheffield?
JI: No.
GR: No?
JI: No that was when what happened I came out went back to the old firm and then in 1950 they decided that they’d shift their office to London and I was one of the ones they took down there I went in Forest Hill actually and the office was in Mayfair in South Audley[?] Street. And of course quite interesting really you know to see the West End of London and working there and so on and before we didn’t I didn’t get somewhere to live immediately I was down there in lodgings. And I got on with the caretaker in the office which was in South Audley Street, and I used to go boozing with him and we went we used to go round the corner into Hill Street, and you used to get all the people there that worked in the Embassies down in the pub like the Canadians and whatever Embassy you know, and of course the American Embassy was just up the road top end of South Audley Street. I know I came we was working one Saturday for some reason, I went working one Saturday and I was going down to the Shepherd’s Market at lunchtime for something to eat that’s where we used to go and as I turned the corner into Curzon Street who should turn the corner coming into South Audley Street but old Noel Coward.
GR: Yeah right.
JI: He was a queer looking bloke you know, queer looking bloke.
GR: So how long did you live in London for?
JI: Two or three years.
GR: Two or three years.
Other: Teapots here.
JI: Don’t want the teapot.
GR: Oh we can finish it there for a cup of tea. [Laughs].
JI: Right.



Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Jim Ibbotson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 5, 2024,

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