Interview with Bob Lasham


Interview with Bob Lasham


Bob Lasham began an electrical engineering apprenticeship with British Thomson-Houston before volunteering for the RAF in 1941, aged 20. He trained at Babbacombe and Wilmslow before continuing to Clewiston, Florida, to complete his training as a pilot. On return to the United Kingdom, he underwent further training before being transferred to Bomber Command where he converted to flying Lancasters. He joined 9 Squadron at RAF Bardney and participated in operations to Berlin and Leipzig. His aircraft was heavily attacked and his rear gunner lost the toes on one foot because of oxygen and heating problems. He transferred to 97 Squadron Pathfinders; his aircraft was badly damaged over Bordeaux, returning from an operation to Munich. He flew on D-Day and later joined a Bomber Defence Training Flight. After two tours, he became a civil pilot and flew with BOAC and BEA. He also relates his engagement and marriage; the role of luck in his survival; and the support of a veterans’ network after the war.




Temporal Coverage




00:57:50 audio recording


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AM: Okay, so this interview’s being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Annie Moody and the interviewee is Bob Lasham, and the interview’s taking place at Bob’s home in Wilmslow on today, the 16th of July 2015. So, thanks for agreeing, Bob, and if perhaps if we can start off and just tell me a little bit about early life, schooldays, et cetera?
BL: I’ll start at the beginning. I’m a Cockney; I came to be a Cockney because they say a Cockney’s someone who is, was born within the sound of Bow Bells, and I was born within two hundred yards of the Whittington Stone, where Dick is supposed to have heard the Bow Bells. Well, we had the Underground running underneath, tram running outside, I might not have done. But Laura and I [?] were on holiday to the Isle of Wight and the [unclear] Centre’s there, and I submitted their claim to them, they came to me [?] and they said ‘You’re trying to cheat, aren’t you?’ [slight laugh] So that was that. Elementary school, passed what they called a trade scholarship, so I went to a junior technical school in Kentish Town, travelling to and from on the Underground, penny return, yeah. [clock chimes]And – got my hearing aid in and it sounds so loud!
AM: And, as you can hear, it’s now eleven o’clock and the bells are chiming.
BL: Looking around for an apprenticeship, my parents said, ‘Look for a company which has a pension scheme.’ Went to three companies: Smiths, who used to make motorcars and instruments; a tool-making company in the middle of London, I would have liked to have gone there but they only had employed just over a hundred people, no pension scheme, so I went to British Thomson-Houston, very well-known company making heavy switchgear, electrical engineering. I realised later on I should have gone for mechanical engineering, but I wanted a reserved occupation. And, of course, the air raids started, and I realised ‘There’s a lot of work in this’. Whenever it was –
AM: [whispers] Sorry, carry on.
BL: Air raid one night, we all overlooked some playing fields, it was, like, a girls’ high school there, I used to look out of a window and watch them playing hockey, you know, dirty old, dirty old man, I was a young lad! [slight laugh] And the house directly opposite was bombed, we suffered some damage. If the bomb was at least a couple of seconds later, if it were coming from the east, it would probably hit our house. My parents were there, were in the Anderson shelter, I was asleep in the back bedroom, and I woke up covered with the ceiling. I think about that time I thought maybe it was safe to get out of London, and I think it was in about January or February ’41, signs were going up: people in reserved occupations can volunteer for flying duties in the Royal Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm, as part of [unclear]. So, couple of weeks later, I went down and volunteered, at somewhere near Euston it was, had an interview, very quick medical, and that was that. And three weeks later, had a letter from somebody or other saying would I go and report there again to register? I went in and saw the same people, said ‘Haven’t we seen you before?’ I said ‘Yes, you saw me about three weeks ago.’ ‘Oh, we’ve got all your details, you’d better go home.’ And I went home and waited, and finally called up in July, just after my twentieth birthday.
AM: So July 1940?
BL: 1941.
AM: ’41, sorry.
BL: ’41. By that time, well, production of air crew was like a Ford production line, it was running so smoothly. And [unclear] an Air Crew Reception Centre, AR – ACRC, known to everybody as Arsy Tarsy. Still to this days, you meet people, ‘Oh, were you at Arsy Tarsy?’ Yes. And er, there for, we were there for about ten days where we were kitted out, inoculations, FFI - Free From Infection. Look at the curly bits, make sure you’re not carrying livestock around. That continued as long I was an airman or an NCO, but once you were commissioned, they didn’t do it anymore; yeah, officers wouldn’t have to take their time with people [?], I suppose. While we were there – I can remember our first corporal – oh, we reported to Lord’s cricket ground, and there must have been an intake of, every week, about, I would say, three or four hundred, divided into flights of fifty, and the person in charge of our flight was Corporal Schubert. Whenever I hear a piece of grotty music, I always say ‘That sounds like Schubert’, and someone said ‘How’s that?’ I said ‘You’ve never met Corporal Schubert!’ But he was a good-hearted soul. A lot of the corporals had a grudge on their shoulder; they’d been in the Air Force for ten or fifteen years just being corporal, they knew we would be sergeants, you know, within no time at all. [Pause] Catering: we used to queue up in flights of fifty, eat in the London Zoo, and before we had a catering shed [?], knives and forks, as you walked out, you swirled about in a bucket of water and put them to dry; [stage whisper] I think the bucket of water was used for soup later on! But I seem to remember, we seemed to live mainly on kippers and sausages. Not many animals left in the zoo, but those that were, I’m sure, were fed a lot better than us. Still trying to think of the people I know; amongst the people I did know, a fellow called Harry Wilson, I’ll tell you about him later on. And we finally got our uniforms, and we used to have a little white flash in our caps to say you were a training air crew, and we all trooped off to, I think it was the Odeon in Leicester Square, to see “Target for Tonight”. I think we saw that and, when we came out, having made a big mistake. Anyway, next stop, Babbacombe Initial Training Wing: basic navigation, lots of keep-fit exercises, we had our own section on the beach, we could go swimming, were there for, I think it was about six weeks. Now, night train, next stop, Wilmslow [comical sotto voce] in the wild, woolly north, you know, and I can remember getting out of the station and walking through what is now Wilmslow Park – probably Wilmslow Park then– to the RAF camp, with carrying a kit bag very heavily loaded, and we were there for, again, for about couple of weeks. The second week there, we were all issued with civilian clothing, so we knew we were probably going to America. Two days later, they took them back again. I can - the only thing I can remember about it – the little belts children used to use with a sort of snake buckle on it, that was to keep the trousers up, yeah! Anyway, the Americans were not in the war, but they changed their laws so we could go into America in uniform – more of that later. And, once again, we travelled by night up to Gruddock /Grenock[?], all got on board the Louis Pasteur-it was a French cruise liner, French cruise liner. Some of us were sleeping on the floor, some on – stretching out on the tables with their heads up. I was a lucky one, I managed to get a hammock. We were there for about twenty-four hours, the boat was – in Gruddock [?], the boat was rocking up and down, and got up the next morning, there was a north westerly gale blowing, and a very small convoy, only about six, six vessels, and I was sick, practically everybody was sick, I should think. And then, that night, we left the convoy and sailed straight for Halifax. It was a fast boat like the Queen Mary, and we were there in eight, was it eight days, I think. Greeted at Halifax, a sort of [unclear] WVS, and they arranged to send telegrams to our folks in England saying that we’d arrived safely in Canada. Was a place called Malton in [pause] I’m not quite sure what the state was, except that it was a dry state, no alcohol for sale, and we were there not very long and, again, got on the train – four days. I couldn’t realise, no country could be that big, no! We had one stop in [pause] we stopped in Washington on the way down, that’s right, and we had some hours to spare, so some of us got hired a taxi, went to see the Washington Memorial and – Lincoln, sorry, the Lincoln Memorial –
AM: Lincoln Memorial.
BL: And then we arrived at Jacksonville in northern part of Florida. Again, we got off and we were taken out for dinner by the people of Jacksonville, I suppose, fifty of us by then. Was another night train and we arrived in Clewiston. I don’t know the geography of Clewi- Florida; at the bottom, there’s a very big lake-
AM: Yeah, I’m just working my way down.
BL: Lake Okeechobee, and we were just on the edge of Lake Okeechobee, in the middle of nowhere. Clewiston was a one-street town; they had a cinema, the Dixie Crystal – it’s funny how you remember these things – a bowling arrow – a bowling alley with a black boy to put the, ah, the skittles up afterwards, we did that. And they were surprised to see us in uniform because they had not been using it, and on the way down, someone enquired if we were an American football team ‘cause we were in uniform! [laughs] That’s beside the point. And we arrived overnight – seemed to have lost clothing overnight [?] – into breakfast, and there was this jug of light brown liquid to drink, it was cold tea! I never drink cold tea, but it was a great thirst-quencher. And we started flying on – it was called a Stearman, Stearman PT-17, and instructor was a chap called Tom Carpenter, and I was having trouble going solo – talk about luck! Half the course had gone solo and he hadn’t really told me what I was supposed to do, but on our desk – we had a big desk we used to use for swotting [?] – there was a book on flying training, and looked up landing. You – as you level out, you let the speed decay and finally your paces [?] down on three points; he didn’t tell me that I had to do that! Following day, I did three landings, he got out of the aeroplane and said ‘You can go solo’. [Unclear] he said ‘Look, Lasham, I was a bit bothered about seeing you doing that, sending you solo, but I’ve seen you recover from so many bad landings, I knew you’d recover from that.’ [laughs] And training proceeded. They had what they called a basic aeroplane then, a BT-13. My instructor was a Mr Dirigibus [?] - I think he had [unclear] – and he sent me solo very quickly; he didn’t like flying himself, I didn’t do much instruction with him. And then on to the Harvard afterwards, which was a nice aeroplane, and – remember the name of the – Charlie Miller was my instructor, he was a very nice fellow. Finally passed out, got my – we got our wings, I think it was in May.
AM: So how long had that taken?
BL: It took us about six months and quite a lot of the course failed. At that time, we were going out to America never, never having sat in an aeroplane at all, and usually about a dozen of the fifty would fail because they had no depth perception. And suddenly, someone in the UK realised we wasted a lot of money doing this, so they started getting people to start going solo in Tiger Moths over here before the sending them abroad, and the people in Canada, people in America, people in South Africa, people in Rhodesia, all over the world. And I finished me training, back to Canada, came back in a slower convoy, arrived in Liverpool. Liverpool was packed! [pause] I think that was the post, another charity appeal, I expect [sound of mail coming through the letterbox]. I’m sure you could have walked from Liverpool to Birkenhead just jumping from boat to boat. What a relief it was to get back in the UK! And down to Bournemouth, just two or three days in Bournemouth, we were sent on disembarkation leave, so I went home and saw my parents, saw my grandparents – they can bring you down – saw me granny, you know, sergeant’s, wing sergeant’s stripes, walked in, first thing she said: ‘Have you been up in an aeroplane by yourself yet?’ [laughs] Had no idea what was going on. Anyway, there’d be [unclear] an Advanced Flying Use, AFU, at Shorebury – you try saying ‘Shorebury, Shrewsbury, Shropshire’, which was the address, when you’ve had a couple of beers, you’re spitting over everybody! – and converted to Oxfords. And by that time, they’d ask you what you wanted to do, and, having been bombed in London, I thought ‘Oh, I’d like to be a night fighter pilot!’ So, came from there to RA – what was RAF Usworth, now, I think that’s the North East Air Museum now, just outside Sunderland. [Telephone rings] Forget it.
AM: You ignore the telephone, Bob?
BL: I, I do, yes; I can always pick it up later, see if there’s been a message. Err…Sunderland, near Sunderland. The, what they called the [unclear] side, the one hangar, was north of the Sunderland-Newcastle road. The southern part, which was the airfield, is now buried under the Nissan car factory.
AM: Right.
BL: Yes, yes. Anyway, they always had a medical when you arrived there, medical [?] inspection. I was in this chair, there was this beautiful, blue-eyed, young assistant, Joyce Farleigh [?] [pause, sounds of someone moving around the room]. Anyway, I saw her a couple of days later, we started going out together, and we were flying Avro Ansons, training radio observers. It was the airborne radar, preparation for going on to night fighters and, ah, [pause] were there for three or four months, so I got in quite a few more hours, which was useful later on, and then to Cranfield, for night fighter OTU, and enjoyed that, because we flew Blenheim 1’s, Blenheim 4’s, Blenheim 5’s, and then went on to Beaufighters. And taxied in one night, I put one beer on my Beaufighter whilst I was taxied [?] away onto the mud, put off the course [?] They were picky choosy, as my, as my grandchildren would say, and over half the course were failed. So I then went down to Brighton for what they called reselection, and [unclear] selection mark [?] ‘What would you like to go? Would you like to go to Air Transport Auxilliary, ATA?’ I said ‘No, I’d like to go to Bomber Command.’ So, finished up on Lancasters. Went to [pause] I – did I? No, I had to do another AFU on Oxfords, another few hours, and then finally to a place called Brigsley in Lincolnshire (that was really out in the sticks) and did my Lancaster conversion. One hour – two hours on Halifaxes and the rest on Lancasters, I’m glad I didn’t fly Halifaxes, I can’t remember the name of my instructor. Station commander there was a Group Captain Bonham-Carter. But basic radio receiver in the air force before that was called a TI-9 transmitter reception set, and he had a microphone in his battledress pocket ‘cause he was hard of hearing, and – I’m going aside a bit now – there was a museum at Winthorpe, just outside Newark; he founded it after the war.
AM: Oh, right.
BL: Back to where we were. He always made a point of [unclear] all the navigators, bomb aimers and pilots before they left. And I mentioned a chap called Harry, met up at ITW, he went to South Africa for his training, failed his pilot’s course, moved to old [?] Rhodesia and did his bomb aimer course. And we met up at Cottesmore when we were growing up; he said the first word he said to me was ‘Aren’t [?] you looking for a good pilot?’ and I said, you could [slight laugh] I said ‘Yes.’ He went in for an interview, Bonham-Carter, and got around that he’d failed his flying test, and Bonham-Carter said ‘What were you flying?’ He said ‘I was flying a Hawker Hart’ and that was the end of the conversation: Bonham-Carter deaf and a bloke who can’t fly a Hart. Switched off and Harry walked out! [laughs] What else happened there? Had a flight engineer - again, no flying experience. Waltzed through [?] his flight engineer’s course, airborne, and he was airsick every time he went up, so he had to be taken off-line. Now, a chap on the course with me was Mike Beetham [?].
AM: Oh, yes, yeah.
BL: Now, he’d gone off on a short course, I pinched his flight engineer, chap called Bill Gates [?], and he flew with me the rest of my operations. And then, from there to 9 Squadron, got there just before the Battle of Berlin. Not much happened there, oh, yeah, well, I suppose things did happen. Second, second dicky flight with a second pilot to fly it with – we didn’t, see, you just stood behind the chap who was flying – and it was the opening of the Berlin, Berlin and back, then, two or three nights later, going with my own crew, Berlin again, not, not a good start. And coming back – mind you, I was away [?] and new my first operation – Rear Gunner Eddie Clarke, now, he was an old man, he was in his thirties.
AM: Very old.
BL: Oh, ancient, yes, he’d been a driving instructor, and his oxygen had failed, and heating, obviously [?] had failed, and the net result was, he lost all the toes on his right foot, was taken off-line and we never communicated again, I think he pa – later on, when I was more experienced, I’d have come down to a lower altitude, but then they said ‘Stay with the stream’ and stay with the stream I did! [laughs] Great shame. I imagine, then, he probably had a job in the air force, he’d have kept his gunner’s badge, kept his sergeant’s stripes, possibly as a driving instructor. Incidentally, my wife did her driving at Liverpool – no, I’m sorry, Blackpool, yes, and passed her test there. [Pause] Anyway, 9 Squadron, again, luck. We used to do what was called bagging searches, so that I could look out my side and the flight engineer could look out his side, and we’d just started to roll and we were fired at, I don’t know, a [unclear], probably, so went into a corkscrew, and as we came up, I got another couple of bursts. If I’d have started that hanging search one second later, we’d have been shot out of the sky. My voice is going, isn’t it? [laughs] Anyway, we survived that. Again, rear gunner – from then on, we were getting any spare rear gunners – chap called Jack Swindlehurst, known as Jack Singleburst because he was a gunner, and a cannon shell hit the fire extinguisher behind his head and it peppered his shoulder with what was like gunshot wounds, but wasn’t seriously hurt, he was back flying again within a week. So, we carried on, and don’t think there were any other major, major instances there, and then Pathfinders.
AM: So this was 97 Squadron?
BL: 97 Squadron, yes, it was 9 Squadron before at Bardney. I wanted to go to Pathfinders, wireless operator said he’d be quite happy, so was my bomb aimer. Well, by that time, I’d collected another gunner, and a chap called Casson [?] (more on him later), and so off we went to Pathfinders. Now, a story goes around – I’m not sure this was my crew, which I suspect it was – three of them went to see Bennett and said ‘We don’t want to come to Pathfinders, we want to go back to your own squadron.’ He said ‘Well, I could post you back, but I’ll post every one of you to a different squadron.’ So they just decided to stick together. I made a promise, because people fell by the wayside, they’d be off flying, that I would carry on until everyone had finished his forty-five, which, that’s what took me up to fifty-three. So, off we went to Pathfinders. [Pause] Ah, luck again! I’ll come back to 9 Squadron: we were going to Leipzig, and I had a black navigator (my [unclear] chap was off with an appendix), Jamaican, the only black aircrew I ever met, very new, and they didn’t know anything about jet streams and so everyone arrived at the target early, apart from us, ‘cause he took us so far off track, we arrived there just as the raid was starting and came home, said there’ll be [unclear] there tonight, found out they’d lost sixty or seventy bombers that night. People were arriving early and circling, waiting for the Pathfinders to mark on time. They couldn’t mark early even if they arrived early, so again, luck came into it, yeah. Anyway, off to [pause] Warboys, that’s where we did three weeks’ Pathfinder training, including cross countries with an instructor, using the ground-marking equipment, H2S, and then to 97 Squadron at Bourn, and we were only at Bourn for three weeks, less than that, two weeks, didn’t operate from there, and we were posted back to 5 Group to do the marking for 5 Group, and Cochrane was CO, was Air Officer Commanding; it became known as Cochrane’s Private Air Force. Going back to Casson, my rear gunner. Just before leaving 9, I was allocated Casson, I think his crew had been killed, and he was unfortunate individual; he’d been a corporal physical training instructor, and I think he was rather keen to get the money of becoming a sergeant air gunner, but the only chap I’ve ever had had to have put on a charge. I felt he was – the crew used to go out to the aircraft every day, and the wireless operator was – wireless operator, rear gunner, [unclear] my upper gunner, and he never arrived on time and they had to clean his guns for him, so he was put on a charge that was modest and told not to do it again. But when we got to [pause] Warboys, doing our Pathfinder training, I was called to see Bennett himself, and my rear gunner had said he wasn’t going to – he was refusing to fly anymore, so Bennett said to me, ‘Well, when you get to squadron, don’t mention it to CO, because I think I’ve talked him out of it,’ but he hadn’t; when he got to Coningsby, he refused to fly, but I think he had more psychological problems. I gathered from my crew, amongst other things, he was incontinent, you know, he used to wet the bed, things like that, and he was taken off-line, what happened to him, I don’t know. Anyone who went – used to call it lack of moral fibre, anyone who had that disappeared quickly, because, in case it was catchy! Anyway, I was called in to see my CO, Wing Commander Carter, think it was, yes, and he told me what had happened, I said ‘Yes, I know.’ He said ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I said ‘Well, Bennett told me not to,’ and I said ‘AOC tells you not to, you don’t,’ he understood that. And then I picked up a fellow called Edward Coke – Edward Cope, known as Joe to everybody, he was one of the fellows [?] before – he’d been on Sterlings, and he’d done with the [unclear] on Sterlings, and we flew together for the rest of the war. Not much happened at 97; we were very badly shot up over Bordeaux on one occasion in daylight, finished up diverting to Manston. Crew said they found over eighty holes in the aeroplane, mid upper gunner suffered some facial injuries; I think the Perspex surrounding us was shattered, bit went into his face, but even in later life, on certain days, you could just see the scars ‘round here, but he was very lucky, you know, all the rest of us got away with, without any problem at all. [Pause] Was that during the –
AM: How many operations did you do with –
BL: Fifty-three.
AM: Fifty-three.
BL: That was Bordeaux. [Pause] Collateral damage, we were bombing Munich, and I always used to make a point of going into the briefing room to find out where the latest searchlight belts were, used to do this at 9 Squadron. There was three of us used to be there: myself, Pilot Officer Blow and a chap called Bill Reid, we were the only three who ever did this and we all three survived our operations. So, we were over Munich, and we were coned by searchlights, you could see people weaving all over the sky to avoid it. I knew that it was clear to the near [?] south-east: full power, downhill as fast as we could go, and suddenly there was the most almighty clatter [coughs] we didn’t know what it was, and had to put one engine out of action, came back on three. We’d been hit by the small incendiary bombs, and they hadn’t burned; they made some holes in the wings, they knocked an engine out, and we came back –
AM: Came back on three engines.
BL: On three engines, they flew wonderfully well on three engines, and then [pause] I’m getting towards the end of my tour then. [Pause] D-Day; I remember D-Day very well. Wing Commander Carter, this target-if you can call it a target-we were over the French coast for about ten minutes, that was all, and we also had a Norwegian crew on board, chap called Jespersen. Lost two crews that night: Carter the CO and Jespersen. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, there was a Ju 88 patrolling there, got both of them. Everyone else thought it was a bit of a doddle, but on the way back, Harry was calling the H2S, he was, he’d become [?] my bomb aimer, there’s a set operator. Actually, because crews haven’t as a good a H2S, they just kind of scanned the channels; of course, it was full of ships, when we got back, we found it was D-Day.
AM: So you didn’t know it was D-Day, going to be D-Day?
BL: No, we were not told, we were – obviously, it was very important, because we always used to test our engines before we went to mix the magnesium – mag – magnetos were working, but the first time, there was a problem with two of the plugs, and the whole squadron, the squadron commander stationed and engineer were there, but – ground crew again: when the engine skipper ran the engine, switched it off, they knew which plugs it was, and we were on our way within five minutes and caught them up, so that was Operation D-Day. Operated again D-Day that night, I was rather pleased about that, and I think it went all fairly smoothly from there. I was off sick for a time, can’t remember what it was, and going back to a chap, Bill Reid, who’d driven across country, I said ‘Bill, do you think you could go up to Millfield, RAF Millfield?” That was where Joyce was stationed as an MT driver. I should say – go back again, when we – Joyce and I got engaged in 1941, and by nineteen-forty [pause] nineteen-forty – 1942, 1942, and then, when I went to Bomber Command, we decided to put it on hold – I mean, chances of surviving – so it was on hold. And we could [?] going up to Millfield, ‘Could you fly me up to Millfield?’ He said, ‘We could do that,’ he got the details there, he said ‘Well, I can get it, get it in, I think I can get it out’ – it was the middle of the, middle of the Cotswolds – not the Cotswolds, the, ah –
AM: Chilterns?
BL: No, meant up on Northumberland, the – ah, the Cotswolds, that’ll do, is it near Northumberland? No, the Cotswolds are lower.
AM: No, the –
BL: It’s the, ah [pause]
AM: Can’t remember.
BL: Should do it.
AM: It’s up above the Pennine Way.
BL: Oh, yes!
AM: It’s the – anyway, near Northumberland.
BL: And we arrived there. It was a fighter leaders’ school and they were training fighter leaders, and there was this great big aeroplane came in, and they were looking around at the great big bomb bay, and, sheer luck, Joyce was going on leave, so I waited for her. Went down to Newcastle, I spent the night in the YMCA, met her next day, went back to see her parents, and got [unclear] re-engaged. I only had two more to do, did the two ops, and then I finished. From the day going up to Millfield to see her to getting married, about three weeks went by. People now, saving up to get married, five thousand pounds, ten thousand. It cost me two pounds, three shillings and sixpence. And way I remember that, we had to – I went up with Joyce’s mother to arrange the wedding, saw the vicar, and he says, ‘That will be two pounds, three shillings and sixpence’, and two-three-six was also the phone box number of RAF Millfield where I used to talk to Joyce occasionally, and we spent the night in the same house; I slept with her father and Joyce slept with her mother.
AM: [laughs] This is the night before the wedding?
BL: The night before the wedding. We didn’t have a best man, but there was a, a relative who had a shoe shop, he was called in as best man; Joyce had an aunt, Aunt [pause] oh, I’ve forgotten her name now, her husband was in the air force but he was motor transport driver, he was a North hatter [?], she was Matron of Noffon [?], Matron of, ah, Honour. So, we walked down to the church, no taxis available – well, it was only just down the road, RAF Wooler – is it Wooler, in – what are those hills called, what would they be?
AM: Cheviots, it’s not the Cheviots?
BL: It is the Cheviots.
AM: Cheviots.
BL: Cheviots, of course, those are the big ones called the Cheviots.
AM: We got there between us!
BL: Yes! [slight laugh] And we walked back again and – where did we stay? It was an old lady we stayed with: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and she’d had Joyce a piece of lace done, and she wanted it back before we left, and we had our breakfast, caught the bus to Morpeth, stopped off and had tea, caught another bus to Newcastle, went to the cinema, the night train down to London packed like sardines. London – we, well, we were going to have our honeymoon in Exeter, the hotels were full, but Joyce’s parents knew someone who had a guest house down there, so booked us in there. So we had some – so I went up to see my mother, and she had met Joyce, and then down to Paddington Station, finally arrived in Torquay and met by somebody who took us to the house, absolutely shattered. Went to bed, we both fell fast asleep. [laughs] Anyway, I still remember the next day, I said to Joyce, ‘Well, what do you want to do now?’ She said ‘I’d like to buy a shopping basket, I won’t feel properly married ‘til I’ve got a shopping basket,’ and that was it, our honeymoon! Then back to the squadron, and they discovered I had a large spleen, so they were doing all sorts of investigations, I was at Coningsby for quite a long time; I thought I was on squadron strength and evidently I wasn’t, I was on station strength, so I finished [?] in October but I didn’t leave the squadron until beginning of January. They took me into Rawsby [?] Hospital. It had been what they used to call lunatic asylums, it was, yes, no privacy, all the doors opened both ways and the WCs, it was like the doors going into a Western saloon, know, they open both ways, so you – anyway, I had a, I still had a large spleen, so they gave me a temperate climate only better, ah, better category, which was just as well because it was about time they were thinking of going out to Japan and you would have had to go through tropical climates. Anyway, I was at Coningsby just doing nothing, you know, and eventually – oh, the commanding officer was a chap called Evans Evans, Tiny Evans, a Jimmy Edwards character - I’m going back, I’m going into reverse now. He decided he wanted to do some operations, so they said he could take my crew, and they did a couple of cross countries with him, so the first time, he put the aeroplane down and bounced over the [unclear] onto the aeroplane; the other time, he visited his brother, almost a twin, who was RAF commanding an American station, and he, he went down there with the crew and had a very liquid lunch, so he came back by taxi and the RAF took me down by transport to pick them up, and I met my crew outside the aeroplane, and the Americans were looking up at our bomb bay, their bomb bay was not as big as a sofa there, they could carry four thousand pounds, of course, we could carry eighteen thousand pounds, and to thrill them back [?]. One or two of them, they’d spent the night there, I think, had got these American woolly sheepskin hats on, one or two were smoking American cigars. Incidentally, people say that everybody smokes here, my crew didn’t smoke, I didn’t smoke.
AM: You didn’t smoke either?
BL: No, nope. And that was about the – oh [pause] Evans Evans, I got to know him quite well, very, very pleasant chap, and he wanted to sponsor me to go to Cranwell, he knew my background in engineering, to do an engineering course, and I said no, I wanted to carry on flying, so there was this vacancy going, Fighter [Unclear] Flight, flying Hurricanes. That was really good fun! Our CO was Les Munro –
AM: Oh, yes.
BL: Yes, he was New Zealander, wonderful character, and I remember when we were there, one night, we had a few drinks at the bar, and we knew we were operating, so we wouldn’t – the squadron was operating, we wouldn’t be working the next day, and I said ‘Would you mind if I took a Hurricane up to Millfield, to see my wife?’ and he said ‘Not at all.’ So, off, went off the next day, he’d forgotten: ‘Where have you been?’ ‘I’ve been to Millfield, you said I could go there!’ [disgruntled mutter-nonverbal]. One funny incident – well, funny for people who were watching it - at Metheringham was a FIDO station, you know, where they used to burn petrol and [pause] if you could imagine a triangle about so big with a metal pipe across, they used to pump petrol into it and that would clear the fog. I was waiting to take off in my little Hurricane, some other man [?] had a Spitfire: ‘Proceed to the end of the runway and use the taxiway.’ He started to turn off. ‘Proceed to the end of the runway and use the taxiway!’ Too late: there was the Spitfire standing on its tails [?]. Poor fellow, he spent the rest of his life trying to get, trying to explain why he did this, and everyone has heard that ‘cause he couldn’t say he couldn’t have heard the instruction. And then, about that time, maybe a bit earlier, an Air Ministry Order came out, an AMO: people who’d completed two operational tours and two non-operational tours could apply for secondment to BOAC or go to the Empire Test Pilots.
AM: So this is 1945.
BL: I’m in 1945 now, yes.
AM: Yeah.
BL: So, I applied for BOAC and got it and that was it, yeah. And I enjoyed it, I [pause] we did our training on Lanc – on Lancasters because we were going to fly Lancastrians, never came to anything-I had a Lancastrian on my pilot’s licence-and then we went down to Whitchurch, was a little aerodrome, it was the airport for Bristol in those days before they moved, and converted to Dakotas, and there was a couple of flights out as a second pilot to Cairo and back again and then they were, they were on a – just, what a lot of [unclear] – let’s say, anyway, I went to Northolt, where BEA – it was on land [?] BOAC, which was going to become-
AM: So they were just setting BOAC up at the time?
BL: Yes, but I was still in the air force on secondment and offered a contract with BOAC, and then BEA was formed, so I applied to fly for BEA and they offered me a contract, and they said, ‘You will never be worse off if you come to us instead of going to BOAC,’ flying out of Northolt. It was, it wasn’t no break going back to civvy life, it was like being on a squadron again, I knew half the people there, all second-tour people, and eventually, I got my command – Captain – and six hundred pounds a year. Six hundred pounds a year in 1946 was a lot of money; I remember when I was an apprentice, I was looking forward to the day when I’d be a rich man and earning five pounds a week! Six hundred pounds a year makes –
AM: In 1946!
BL: And, and then went into work one day and told I was going to Jersey. No choice in the matter, British Airways had nationalised Channel Island Airways and they wanted three Dakota crews out there, so myself, chap called Bill Hen, an ex-Battle of Britain pilot, and I can’t remember the third went out there with the three first officers, flying Dakotas and then flying de Havilland Rapid – de Havilland Rapide: [unclear] biplane, made of wood.
AM: Where were you flying to and who were the passengers? Were –
BL: Oh, this was civilians.
AM: So it’s a commercial airline by this time?
BL: Oh yeah, yeah, and became BEA, you see.
AM: But still on Dakotas, which had been flying in the war.
BL: Yes. Initially, BOAC would be carrying fifteen passengers and BEA were flying with eighteen passengers, and eventually they were modified, took the radio officer away, air officer away, and they called them Pioneers. We had thirty-two passengers, really squeezing them in in a Dakota.
AM: Thirty-two! So what was it like inside, then, for the passengers?
BL: Packed solid, yeah! The seats were about so wide –
AM: Bit like now, then, Ryanair.
BL: Yes, and flying Rapides, that was a – initially a seven-seater with a radio officer, and then a, and an eight-seater when you got rid of the radio officers. I must be one of the few people still living who flew Rapides into Croydon and into Gatwick, which was an, ah, a grass airfield.
AM: Oh, right! [laughs]
BL: A lot of grass airfields around at that time; Madrid, masses of runway, now, that used to be a grass airfield. And I carried on flying Dakotas in Jersey and –
AM: Did your - had your wife come over to live in Jersey?
BL: Oh, we’d all moved to Jersey.
AM: Okay.
BL: No NHS there; BEA paid my medical fees, I had to pay for Joyce and my son, quite expensive, ‘specially when you – antibiotics were a frightful price. We moved – we never bought anywhere in Jersey, we moved around in rented accommodation, and I quite enjoyed it there: come off a day’s flying, you know, and Joyce would meet me, have a swim before going home, and see so much more, know, you could swim from April through to September. I remember once, we come over on leave and up and gone to Druridge Bay in Northumberland, lovely summer’s day, I said ‘I’m gonna have a swim.’ I went off, I came back: ‘I thought you were gonna have a swim?’ I said ‘Yes, I got enough up to here, that was it!’
AM: So not cold up in Jersey?
BL: Well, yes. So, I think, in around Jersey, the tide doesn’t move in and out, it stays in the Gulf of Saint Malo, slowly, slowly warms up. My only accident occurred there; I stood a Rapide on its nose. No passengers on board, I put the brakes on too hard, it landed on its nose, bent propellers, and needless to say, there was a court of enquiry. But BEA was divided into two divisions then: British and Continental, and chief pilot of the British division was an old group captain I’d known in the air force, it was the old pals’ network.
AM: Old boys’ club.
BL: Yeah, he said ‘You can do’ – I spent the whole month doing [unclear], it was twelve flights a day, fifteen and twenty minutes, and nobody liked them because, it doesn’t sound very much, but twelve take-offs and landings, it was very tiring. [Pause] He was the chap – no, no, I was thinking of somebody else, at Northolt. There was one day, it had been snowing – this was nothing to do with me – and there was a Dakota took off and covered with snow and they’d had to clear the wings, and landed on top of a school and – sorry, landed on top of a house, just missed a school, and nobody was hurt, there was nobody in the house, all the crew got out. Needless to say, for the rest of his life, he was known as Rooftop Johnson, yeah, and he rose to great height and became a flight manager eventually. Viscounts, enjoyed flying those, and I – leaving Jersey, where did I want to go to? Well, my parents were living in London; Joyce’s mother, she was already by then in [unclear], so I chose Manchester, in the middle of nowhere, and –
AM: And that was Ringway Airport?
BL: Ringway Airport, yes, yes, little runways then, yes, passenger accommodation was in one of the hangars, and Smallman’s – was it Smallman’s – had the, had the restaurant there, the old RAF control tower, it was all very friendly. The crew hut was made of wood, you know.
AM: What year would – what year would that have been on now? Fifty -
BL: That would be 1953, yeah. And they booked me in at the Deanwater, Deanwater, just, just a room with a washbasin, no mod cons in those days, party on nearly every night, so getting to sleep was a bit difficult, and I was flying the next day, said to Joyce, ‘Go out and look for a house.’ Well, Joyce almost got lost, she picked me up, but we saw an advert, houses being built just the other side of Wilmslow, went to see one, saw the plot we liked and booked the house and [pause] by that time, I’d, was living in Baton [?] Road, Manchester, sharing a room with a wireless operator, he moved out and Joyce moved in with me, and we got the extra room, Michael was away at school, and we lived there ‘til we moved into the house, I quite enjoyed that. And then charge [?] came to convert to Tridents, which I did, yeah, lovely aeroplane, the Trident, and –
AM: How big is that, then? How big is the Trident?
BL: It was initially a ninety-seater with the –
AM: Ninety?
BL: Ninety.
AM: So much bigger.
BL: Much bigger, but the Viscount was about seventy or eighty, I think, I had the ninety-seater, and then there was the Trident 2 and the Trident 3, and the Trident 3 was – I think they’d gone up to about a hundred seats by then. They didn’t – it wasn’t really a commercial – they built a lot of them, though there’re many variants, I don’t think anybody made any money out of them, and [pause] back to Viscounts. Landing at Geneva, and, whilst I was with [unclear], and I was doing what we call a flapless landing ‘cause the [unclear] had been damaged, and landed, and as the nose wheel touched the runway, the whole back bit of the strut broke off, so we started to turn to the left and clear the runway, and there was a lot of smoke coming with the hot hydraulic oil. Passengers were evacuated, they didn’t use the chute, they got them out on the steps, and the fire was put out immediately. I’ve still got the headlines, was it ‘Bomber hero lands blazing aircraft [slight laugh] at Geneva’? And the reporters came ‘round to see Joyce, she knew nothing about it; well, she’d just had an airport – phone call from the airport saying ‘Bob, your husband, will be late coming home.’ The way they exaggerate these things!
AM: ‘Bomber Command hero’!
BL: Yeah, Bomber Command, oh, yes.
AM: Did they have air hostesses on the planes at this point? Did they have air hostesses and things like that on the planes at this point?
BL: No – oh yes, they did!
AM: Yeah.
BL: Yes, in Jersey, they were called flight clerks because they did all the paperwork as well.
AM: Okay.
BL: And all they did was hand out sick bags and barley, barley sugars, yes. [Pause] I’m trying to think of the funny incidents. When I was First Officer at Northolt, and I’d been flying – it was an unfurnished Dakota, the seats were there but nothing on the floor, and those days, the pilot had to brief the passengers, and chap called Panda Watson, he had a great big moustache, he was the skipper, and he went up to them all and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ and at that time, he slipped and fell on his –
AM: Oh, no!
BL: So, from then on, I – he kind of got me to do it. I remember doing briefing one day, just telling them where the escape exits were, where the life jackets were, I had one passenger say, ‘If I’d known it was so dangerous, I wouldn’t have, wouldn’t have flown!’ My parents used to come and see me in Jersey, but they wouldn’t fly; I would pay for their tickets, no, no, they came by boat, but Joyce’s mother came over several times and she was quite happy to fly. And, living in Jersey, we had a dear old neighbour, Mrs Brett, one of the old school, she lived next door, she was a widower for the second time, and she had some friends, and she used to go out, and going down to see her friends: hat on, folded umbrella or walking stick, upright, and she’d come back, hat on one side and a bit shaky on the stick. She liked – was it tonic red wine? I’ve forgotten what it was.
AM: Not, erm –
BL: It was – it wasn’t Sanatogen, it’s [pause] anyway, she was rather fond of it, and she was a dear old lady, she would knock on the door and say, ‘Are you at home?’ And we invited her in one day, we’d just got television in Jersey, and the Queen’s, Queen’s confrontation –
AM: Coronation, 1953.
BL: Queen’s coronation, not confrontation, she has many of those with her husband, I think! And she enjoyed that, and she used to talk about a wine she’d had in Italy called [stage whisper] Asti Spumante, a sparkling, sparkling, sweet, Italian wine, so we got a bottle of it and we had some sandwiches and she thoroughly enjoyed it. And when we moved from that house to another one, she gave Joyce a little silver napkin ring, and outside, this replica of sugar cane; her first husband was in trade, he was in sugar, yeah, and they lived in the Bahamas for many years, no children, but her second husband was a barrister, Mr Reginald Brett, so she always called herself Mrs Reginald Brett, never found out what her Christian name was, yeah. She died shortly before we left Jersey. Anyway, I wanted to get onto another type of aeroplane and we decided, like I tell you [?] to move to Manchester; people say ‘Why did you move?’ so I said ‘Well, we kept falling off the edge, so it was time to go.’ And that was almost the end, now: up to Manchester, converted to Tridents, and then on New Year’s Eve nineteen [pause] 1968, it must have been, Joyce had a – we were going out to a party, Joyce had a massive heart attack, went to Macclesfield. No – there was nothing there for heart attacks then, she was in a side room just receiving normal medical treatment, no, no resus units, no – what do they call them now?
AM: The – ah, the heart -
BL: Yes. Anyway, she survived, and that time, Manchester was converting to the Bac 1-11, the twin engine jet, and they were going to do a lot of, a lot of German internal flights, so I was going to be away for five or six days, or probably more than that, a month, five or six day tours in Germany, didn’t want to do that, so I stayed with the Trident and that did – I finished up going down to Heathrow for my last four years. [Pause] Nice little house in Windsor, it was a terraced house –
AM: In Windsor?
BL: In Windsor.
AM: Oh, very nice – oh well, so, sorry [?]
BL: Yes, it was, was nice, yes, we enjoyed it, Joy – but [unclear] Joyce never, apart from my working colleagues, she never got to know anybody there, they don’t speak to you there, we were living in Datchet initially, until we found somewhere to live. In Datchet, we were living in a 17th Century cottage, lovely old cottage, and it was run by two old dears next door, two ex-WAF who I think were both living together, if you know what I mean, yeah.
AM: I do.
BL: And then we got our own, own property, we saw a house in Datchet but decided against it; occasionally, the river would [?] slowly come into Datchet, then go out again, and we didn’t want a house that was going to be flooded.
AM: No.
BL: Whole thing, insurance premium would be very high, stayed in Windsor until I retired.
AM: So you flew all your working life?
BL: All my working life, yes, I retired in nineteen – retired from BEA in nineteen [pause] 1973, and moved back here, living in a very, very big house at Disley, almost a mansion, as someone called it, we were in, I think, four bedrooms, and, over the course of the year, made me bother [?] that they were used four, five times, so we cut our losses and moved here.
AM: And moved here. And it’s lovely, isn’t it?
BL: And got the Golden Wing [?], and then in nineteen-seventy – ’79 – through the old boy network, there was a job going, flying Viscounts up at Teesside, so I thought –
AM: So, after you’d retired –
BL: After I’d retired, the old boy network again, I knew the chap – it was a strange organisation, it was called Airbridge Carriers, so I was flying for Airbridge Carriers, being paid by Fields Aviation, and flying BenAir Viscounts, it was quite a mix-up. And so, we were flying out of Teesside, took the caravan up there, and that was it, we were quite enjoying that, ‘cause the people were friendly, Joyce wasn’t far from her mother, and then they decided we would have to go to Bristol. So, I decided I’d – I could have moved to Bristol, I couldn’t maintain my base where I was initially [?] at at Teesside, so I went down to Bristol, I was always accommodated in a hotel there, used to get [unclear] allowance, used to get so much an hour for being away from home, and flying the Viscount down to Bristol. Finally gave it all up and retired.
AM: And that’s it, you retired.
BL: I finally retired in nineteen – 1981, I finished flying, same year my father died, 1981, and that was it, end of flying career.
AM: Yeah. Blimey. The one thing I didn’t ask, go whizzing right back to the war years, was you’ve got the DFC?
BL: DFC and bar.
AM: And bar?
BL: Yes.
AM: So what did you get the DFC for?
BL: It was just end of, end of, end of tour.
AM: Okay, so doing a full tour.
BL: And the bar was end of second tour.
AM: And the bar was the second tour. Right.
BL: Yeah.
AM: Crikey.
BL: Yeah.
AM: There we are. I’m going to switch off now.
BL: Right, switch off now.



Annie Moody, “Interview with Bob Lasham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 14, 2024,

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