Interview with Joseph Musgrove


Interview with Joseph Musgrove


Born in York in 1922, Joseph left school at 14 and started work in a chocolate factory and attended two nights of further education per week. In 1936, a fighter aircraft had landed nearby which stimulated his interest in flying which he retained all his life. After joining the RAF he did well in the selection tests and was offered a position of wireless operator/air gunner. After initial training he went to RAF Madley to train on twin-engined aircraft and then RAF Staverton, RAF Topcliffe and was crewed up at the operational training unit at RAF Edgehill. Gunnery training was carried out on Defiant which were notorious for undercarriage issues. Finally he was posted to 214 squadron at RAF Chedburgh, flying Stirlings.
His first operation was minelaying in the Baltic and he recalls standing in the astrodome to warn of enemy fighters. On other operations he would sit in the front turret and occasionally fire at enemy fighters, without success. Further minelaying operations were carried out and on his eighth, his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and diverted to a US Army Air Force airfield where he stocked up on goodies, unavailable in England from the base exchange store.
On the 22 September 1943 he took part to an operation to Hanover and describes the night fighter tactics in detail. Following lengthy evasive action his aircraft was forced down to 5,000 feet where it was hit by by anti-aircraft fire and he was forced to bail out over Emden where he was caught by a member of the Luftwaffe who was visiting his girlfriend. After initial interrogation he was sent to the interrogation centre at Dalag Luft and after a two day train journey arrived at Stalag 5 prisoner of war camp.
On July 1944 the encroaching Russian army forced the evacuation of the camp and he was moved to the unfinished Luft 4 camp and remembers the bullying guards and poor conditions. Again in February 1945 the camp was evacuated and after crossing the River Oder in barges marched across northern Germany. After two months he arrived at Lübeck and escaped the column, narrowly missing being captured by German soldiers by conversing in French. Finding an allied airfield he was repatriated to England where he was treated as a hero.
After recuperation he attended a code and cipher course and was offered a commission if he would go to the middle-east. Wanting to get married he declined and wangled his way to 24 Squadron at RAF Hendon, were he was eventually demobbed in July 1946.







01:11:32 audio recording


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AM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, the interviewer is Annie Moodie, and the interviewee is Joe Musgrove, and the interview is taking place at Mr. Musgrove’s home in Whatton, on 12th August, 2015. So Joe just to start off will you tell me a little bit about your, where you were born and your family background and school, stuff like that?
JM: Well I was born in York in 1922, my parents were Soldney [?] people, my father unfortunately had an accident when he was sixteen and lost half an arm so I was brought to appreciate the problems of people who had lost limbs. I went to school, I was at school until I was fourteen at the Loddon School in York which is very good quality school, er, did not do very well. When I went to work I decided that my education ought to be extended a bit more and spend two days a week at night school to bring myself up to a reasonable standard.
AM: What job were you doing Joe, what job were you doing then?
JM: I was working at Rowntrees which is a factory, and just ordinary work producing what is today a Kit-Kats.
AM: What did you do at night school then, what sort of things were you doing at?
JM: Well I concentrated on English and mathematics as I thought they were two basic things in life and that did stand me in good stead when I applied to join the Air Force when I was seventeen.
AM: What made you apply to join the Air Force?
JM: The main reason I think was I didn’t want to join the Army, I didn’t want to join the Navy, obvious reasons [laughs] and the Air Force appealed. The reason why in 1936 a single engined twin wing fighter landed not very far from where I was living and that got my interest in flying which I had ever since.
AM: Right. So you joined the RAF?
JM: Yes.
AM: How old were you eighteen?
JM: I joined in 19 well I went to join in 1940, had all me exams and one thing and another, but I hadn’t realised when I first applied to join that it would be such a complicated business and that, because I spent three days at [unclear] at Cardington where the airships were, going through various tests and exams and things like that, and fortunately I did quite well so they eventually accepted me as a wireless operator/air gunner and I went and trained me on that.
AM: So what was the training like where did you do it?
JM: Well.
AM: Describe the training to me?
JM: I did a bit of everything, I went to Cardington to get kitted out and I went from there to Scar to Blackpool, for initial training, which I enjoyed, because bearing in mind at the time I was just coming up to eighteen in 19. I never been away on me own before it was quite exciting to be in Blackpool in those days, and that was the doing Morse Code and things like that. I did I think reasonably well, a very kindly flight sergeant patted me on the head and said, ‘I think you’ve passed.’ I was pleased about that, and then I went on leave. And then from there I went to a place called Madley in Herefordshire for initial flying on, can’t remember the name of the aircraft now, anyhow it was a twin engine twin plane, it was my first experience of flying which I think I enjoyed at the time you went up and down it’s a little bit rough, and I found out what air sickness was all about and that particular thing, but did quite well pass there and then I went on flying with a single engine aircraft a Percival IV [?] which was quite good. And then from there on leave, Madley by the way was the place where Rudolph Hess when he came was moved to Madley first of all from Glasgow. From there I went on leave, sounds if life’s one great leave for me isn’t it, and enjoyed it. From there I went, can you just let me have a little think. I got posted to a place called Staverton, I went to the, er, railway transport office, and he said, ‘Oh I know where it is it’s not very far from blah, blah, blah.’ So off I went down to the South Coast and on to Staverton, got off train there, empty platform, I found one of the officials there, I said, ‘How do I get to Staverton aerodrome?’ He said, ‘With a great deal of difficulty from here ‘cos you’re in the wrong county the one you want is between in Gloucestershire, between Gloucester and Cheltenham.’ So they put me up overnight and the following day to Staverton which was an aerodrome just opposite Rotols Airscrews Factory. Spent some time there, I’m not quite certain what the objective at Staverton was, did a fair bit of flying. Staverton went on leave and got posted to 102 Squadron on Halifaxes at Topcliffe. Hadn’t been there very long and then moved just the other side of York, can’t remember the name of the aerodrome now, anyhow, but wasn’t on operations I was there as part of my training.
AM: Was this the Heavy Conversion Training, Heavy Conversion Training?
JM: Yes, thoroughly enjoyed it. Went on leave from there yet again, I think my parents begin to think life is one great leave for Joseph David. And from there, oh I got posted to a place called Edgehill near Banbury, which was No. 12 Operational Training Unit. From there of course I joined the usual thing there’s twenty of us of each kind, so the cup of coffee on the lawn and get crewed up which we did.
AM: How did, how did you crew up? How did that work?
JM: Well, it’s I stood there, mostly among people of my own breed if you like [unclear] and a chappie came up to me and said, ‘Are you crewed up yet?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well my pilot’s, a chap called Ces Brown, and I’m his navigator.’ And his name was dead fancy. ‘It would be very nice if you joined us and if you do of course we’ll have an idea we’ll just pop in the mess and have a cup of coffee and a beer later on in the day.’ And I thought, sounds good, so I joined them. And we did our OTU at Edgehill which was an aerodrome sit on like a little plateau which was a bit different but the beauty of it is, it was a farm that abutted the aerodrome that used to have a really good system whereby they give egg and bacon if you wanted it from the farm, which we did regularly. And from there on leave again, goodness, now this time it’s on my record in’t it this man goes on leave quite a lot. And got posted from there to 214 Squadron which was based at Chedburgh. Unfortunately on the way there I got robbed of my case with all my RAF papers in that I was studying nothing secret or anything like that but it was a bit of a loss to me, and joined 214 Squadron at Chedburgh not very far from Bury St. Edmonds. Stirlings Mark 3 Stirlings, I was quite pleased because I thought Mark 3’s, one or two were joining Mark 1’s and Mark 1’s were a little bit of a [intake of breath] I always thought a bit of a difficult thing they used to have a lot of swing on take-off, whereas a Mark 3 had one but not quite as serious as the other ones. So that was it I’m now operational.
AM: So what was your first operation like?
JM: Well it was gardening they always are aren’t they, cinnamon [?] which was just off the Baltic. I don’t know it’s when you’re sitting in the radio operator’s little compartment almost isolated from everybody else you don’t really know what’s going on outside, so what I used to approaching the target area stand in the astrodome and look out for people who were a little bit sort of not all that nice to us and that was the first one, it was uneventful insofar as we weren’t damaged anyway usual [unclear] shells and flak and that was my if you like introduction to operations. I didn’t find it very difficult at all.
AM: What were you doing as the radio operator, what did you do for your main things?
JM: Well it’s communications I suppose was the main thing about radio operators, [coughs] they it was an air gunner, the training for air gunnery and I missed that out ‘cos I did my air gunnery training on Walney Island which was nice.
AM: Near Barrow-in-Furness.
JM: It had a nice pub, and they had Boulton Paul Defiants which was nice, and enjoyed that, and of course at the end of it we did we went on leave. [laughs]
AM: So back to being a radio operator?
JM: Well the Boulton Paul Defiant one was [unclear] two seater fighter with a pilot and the turret just behind, quite fast aircraft. The only thing was with Boulton Paul Defiant’s, oh yes and the pilot that I had was a Pole who didn’t speak English and on the thing there’s a set of coloured lights which combination of each it meant something to him and to me but not necessary the same so on that we had a bit of a problem on there. And on them the undercarriage the hydraulics were a little bit dubious, if I can use that word [whispers], so the problem was if you wouldn’t come down sometimes you’d get one leg down and the other one not, so I used to take it up, oh he used to take it up to about seven or eight thousand feet put his nose down and pull it up and centrifugal force would force the other one down. Well I was a [unclear] and when I flew on it it always worked, and from there as I said before I went on leave and on to [?] squadron.
AM: So actually being the radio operator on the operation what sort of things did you have to do?
JM: Well the thing is [coughs], excuse me, when approaching the target when presumably no, no stuff was going to come off the radio, my skipper asked me if I’d go in the front turret which I did, interesting ‘cos when you sit on the front of an aircraft, with nobody in front of you and nobody at the side of you to me it was a little bit isolated and there’s only two guns in the front turret rather than four in the back, but it was not too bad and it is interesting ‘cos you get a good view of the target when you went over it. One or two times we had a difference of opinion with night fighters, which meant me spraying or hosing the guns.
AM: So you did actually use the guns then?
JM: But I never ever shot anybody down unfortunately so I can’t claim any credit for anything like that, and that was it. And of course we had leave from time to time. [coughs]
AM: How many operations did you do Joe?
JM: Well it was listed as eight, so I wasn’t all that lucky.
AM: And what sort, what areas did you target, where did you actually go on the operations, can you remember?
JM: I remember two gardening, one was cinnamon and the other one was off the isl, Ile du Ré on the Durant which was the entrance to a U-Boat base somewhere.
AM: Why did they call them gardening, why did they call them gardening?
JM: Well they codes we all was vegetables, like cinnamon and rose and things like that, so it was just a code gardening. It was supposed to be our introduction to operations more often than not on the second one we did which was Ile du Ré off the Durant, we got you’ve got to drop them at a certain height, certain speed, and we had two large ones and then going down along the powers that be that gave us the route didn’t take into consideration the facts, there was some anti-aircraft ships they used to have based there, um, which unfortunately for us were just a, if I can put it that way, just a little bit unfriendly.
AM: Describe unfriendly?
JM: And um, the I think it was port [unclear] and that destroyed the power supply to a lot of the instruments the navigator was using [coughs] so we used the, I can’t use his name, but it was “D”. The code you phoned when you were in trouble on the nights and the thing indicated it was night time and we asked for searchlight assistance to get us to our which couldn’t do, so they got us into Andrew’s Field which is an American station which mitchers [?] and marauders and of course we put this Stirling down there and of course we put the Stirling down there and of course the quite high the nose on a Stirling, and the following morning we got up there’s all the, a lot of American [unclear] looking up at us, with some right rude remarks being made about it. But the beauty of it was, was the er, one of my commanders’ said, [coughs] excuse me, ‘You can go into the PX’, I think it was called. A large building where you could buy all sorts of things, so we stocked up on, I think it was Lucky Strike Cigarettes, handkerchiefs and things like that. And I must say when we landed there we went for debriefing for these, they got the station education officer etcetera up who debriefed us and he said, ‘Well non-commission officers in the Air Force the American Air Force don’t have a mess separate, but nevertheless we can get you something that you’ll will enjoy.’ And we had steak and one thing and another for breakfast, and they said, ‘Did we mind.’ And I thought no I don’t mind but if they want to hang on to me for a month or two I don’t mind at all. Eventually we went back to Chedburgh.
AM: How did you get back? How did you get back did somebody come and fly you back?
JM: They sent a lorry for us.
AM: Oh right.
JM: Not a crew bus a lorry and we sat in the back of that, flying kit and everything. And when we went along people recognised what we were and waved to us and we waved back, which was like being on holiday, and we got back and we went on leave, which was nice. And at that time I’d been introduced to a young lady who eventually became my wife, and I went to London to, she was a Londoner, I went to London to see her.
AM: Where did you meet her?
JM: I met her in Banbury when I was at HEO, and there was no bus service from HEO that I remember into Banbury so I used to walk, it wasn’t very far six or seven miles something like that. And I used to walk in spend the day with Elsie, walk back, and we was on night flying, circuit, bumps and things like that, and after seven days I said to Elsie, ‘I wish you’d go back to London ‘cos I’m worn out with you here going backwards and forwards.’ But it was nice. So back to Chedburgh, on the 27th which is the Monday of September 1943, we was briefed to go to Hanover which we’d been before so we knew the way, at least I thought we knew the way to Hanover. I remember it quite well because the final turning point was at the far end of the Steinhoven [?] and I was illuminated by a white flare cascading at three thousand feet, and I thought great that’s exactly where we go on the last leg, unfortunately rather unpleasant German night fighters I think it was, they used to have two sets of night fighters who would [unclear] there’s the tamer soar which was the tame boar and the wilder soar which was the wild boar, and the wild boar it roamed with radar a little bit feared by the way came from nowhere and one of them took a fancy to having a closer look at aircraft and the rear gunner fought him off. The rear gunner, Tommy Brennan, thought he’d shot him down but I don’t think he did, the trouble with rear gunners they always think they’re are shooting people down and there not. But by that time by the time we’d been chased all over the sky we was down to about five thousand feet and we took a consensus of the crew whether should go on or turn back so we decided after come that far we’d keep going although five thousand feet was a little bit low for operating.
AM: Had you been actually shot up at by that time?
JM: Yes the port engine had caught fire which we put out with the Gravenor, the Gravenor is the fire extinguisher in the engine which you can only use once, got that out, got down say to five thousand feet and then got shot at by anti-aircraft fire which set the port outer one on fire, so we [laughs] the bomb aimer disposed of his little things and off we went back but it was pretty obvious we was losing fuel and the aircraft kept getting lower and lower and lower, and Ces Brown the pilot said, ‘We better bale out now otherwise I think it’ll blow up.’ So that’s what we did and I landed near Emden in the middle of a field, and the funny thing was I remember about it, it was a soft landing, so I thought get rid of the parachute and me flying jacket etcetera, but I couldn’t find a way out of the field because there was a ditch all the way round and there seemed to be no way above it to get out, so I went round again and the moon was shining on the water but just underneath the water was this black bridge that was covered by water. So I got across there and I thought right go to the village which was in the distance with a church, go to the last cottage then if it’s unpleasant I’m out in the continent. Well that was the principle but when I got to the village I’m walking along very carefully keeping well into the hedge and things, when a little thing was in me, me back, and a voice said something or other, I could never remember what he actually said but I knew what it meant and that was it, and he was, he was I think he was a Hageman [?] in the Luftwaffe on leave, serves me right for getting involved in [unclear], and he was saying goodnight to his girlfriend when I happened to walk past so I thought his eyes lit up and he thought, ooh I’ve got it, I’ve got it, and I was, and he actually took me to the end cottage anyhow. Got in there and there was my navigator, Ted Bounty, sitting there looking quite miserable but he did perk up when he saw me and that was it.
AM: What happened to the others, what happened to the rest of the crew do you know?
JM: Well see when you are baling out you’ve got to remember the aircraft is still moving, and I been bale out the next man might be half a mile further on, so I don’t know until we’d been to Interrogation Centre, Dulag Luft, and we met that was the first prisoner of war camp I went to which was Stalag VI in Heydekrug in Lithuania.
AM: Right. Tell me about Dulag, tell me about the interrogation part of it?
JM: So they sent him that picked us up to Emden and Emden which was a police marine barracks, him that picked us up, and of course on the films you see these motorbikes with Germans on with a sidecar, they sent one of those, well they sent two, one for Ted Bounty, and one for me, and off we went to Emden. And at that time [coughs] I had, every now and again aircrew a thing we used to do, one of them’s got money and I was the one that had money, currency, so I thought I’ve got to be careful here what I do with it, so I said to the interrogator and they all, interrogators they all look nice, very polite, but there are not. I said, ‘I’m awfully sorry but I must use the toilet.’ So they got a guard took me along and I went inside the little cubicle and he waited outside, and I thought I know what I’ll do I’ll put the money, it was one of the old fashioned toilets up there, lift the lid up put it inside and get it later on. That was a, so went back into interrogation and they in retrospect it was not any particular worry on that, they shout at you, they threatened you, [coughs] excuse me, they offer you cigarettes, in fact I was offered a drink, um, but I’ve always made a promise I would never drink if I was captured, at least I think I did. So I then was taken into a room and given some soup to keep me going and said to that person, ‘I must use the toilet.’ [unclear] fine I’ve got it back again, climbed up lifted it up it had gone, dereliction of duty I suppose you would if the commander found out but I tried hard to keep it. And then went from there after about two or three days by train to Frankfurt am Main which is near to Oberursal which is where Dulag Luft was, stopped at Cologne and there’s I’m in this compartment with two guards, and I thought oh gosh I don’t feel very safe here on the station at Cologne, but fortunately a Luftwaffe officer came in and what he demanded I don’t know but he came to sit in here with us so his presence kept everybody out.
AM: So it was the civilians that were —
JM: Yes.
AM: Was the worrying factor.
JM: So we got on to Frankfurt am Main and then on to Dulag Luft. Dulag Luft I’ve read many many accounts of people’s grief there but I didn’t find it particularly harrowing if that’s the best word for it, unpleasant yes but not harrowing. So again I was offered cigarettes and drink which I didn’t take, regretted it afterwards. And then after about a fortnight something like that, may be six or seven of us that was there, I mean you was in isolation by the way, they took us by tram to a park where there was a wooden hut and it was opposite the IG Farbernwerks [?], I always remember that and we’d got to spend the night there and there’s an air raid, and next to the hut was a German anti-aircraft gun unit, which pooped ‘em up all night, not particularly pleasant, but in retrospect not too bad anyhow. I think when you say in retrospect it means that as the years have gone by you’ve mellowed to the situation, and then from there we were transported by train, luxury train, well cattle trucks really, but they were clean. All the way and I think we spent, and I can’t be hundred per cent certain, but I think we spent two days and two nights going to across Germany to Lithuania to Luft VI Heydekrug, and then that was it. And then when the Russians moved and in July 1944 when the Russians were not all that far away they decided they’d move the camp, most of the camp went by train to Thorn in Poland, the rest of us about eight hundred British airmen and the Americans went by train to Memell just up the coast from Lithuania and boarded a little ship called “The Insterburg” there was nine hundred I think from Klage[?] in the hold that we were in. It was a, it was an old coal ship, a Russian coal ship the Germans had taken over, and I had got volunteered to help the medics at Heydekrug there, one of my problems in life is that I keep going and putting me hand at the back of me head to scratch it and every time I’ve done that I’ve volunteered for something and I apparently volunteered to help the medics. Particularly on aircrew that had had injuries to the joints and the joints become sort of locked with adhesions of the joints, and my job was sort of try to break them down, which was interesting on that. So I had a Red Cross Armband and when I got on “The Insterburg” I said, pointed to it and the just tore it off and backed me down [laughs], and it was a twenty foot ladder, steel ladder into the, and we was on “The Insterburg” I think can’t remember exactly three or two days and nights on that, and then we landed at Swinemünde the German Naval Base at Swinemünde. When the what appeared to be an air raid but it was an individual American aircraft, [unclear], and went from there to Kiefheide, Kiefheide Station where we was going to go onto Gross Tychow which was Luft IV, and when they eventually the following morning got us out they had Police Marine [?] men or mainly boys in running shorts and vests with fixed bayonets and some of the Luftwaffe with dogs and a chap whose name was Hauptman Pickard, I always remember, and he was stood on the back seat of a Kugelwagen which was like a German little vehicle, and shouting all sorts of things [unclear] move you to Gross Tychow Camp at a reasonably fast pace with jabbing and one thing and another and dogs biting, and a thought that occurred to me was that I’d rather be on leave right now than doing this. And it was not all that far about four kilometres from Kiefheide Station to Gross Tychow but we had lots of casualties.
AM: On the way or you had casualties that you were taking with you?
JM: Well the instructions apparently mean to the police moving people, you can do what you like but you must not kill anybody, but that gave them carte blanche to knock hell out of us. Luckily I wasn’t too bad. So when we got there we found that the camp wasn’t even finished, we slept the first night in the open. The toilet arrangement in those days were a little bit suspect and it comprised, I shouldn’t really say this, a big trench with a [unclear] over it. And then the following day we was like in we call them dog kennels, small wooden huts, we slept in there for a few nights until they got the permanent ones done and that was Gross Tychow. It was of all the camps I was in the worst of the whole lot.
AM: Worse because of the conditions or the —
JM: Well, Prisoner of War Camps are governed mainly by the people running them, they can be nice or they can be nasty, at Heydekrug there were some about average they weren’t too bad at all, Gross Tychow they were awful to any of us.
AM: Awful in what way?
JM: Well bullying and things like that, but the food wasn’t very good, didn’t have much of it. There was a man there who was six foot three, or six foot four something like that, we used to call him the big stoop, largely because I think he was a little bit embarrassed by his height and he used to walk in a stoop. He was the one that took by wristwatch, he was the one that used to knock people over and things like that. But for every villain there’s always a day of comeuppance isn’t there and when we moved out on the march towards the end of the war the Americans found him and they’d taken his head off and that was that he’d got his comeuppance didn’t he. The end of the war.
AM: Tell me about the march then?
JM: Well in February, I think it was February 2nd, they made out we had been pre-warned we hadn’t been pre-warned they told us at midnight they was moving out the following day. So you’d got to prepare everything take everything with you that you can take, and most of the people got a spare shirt, sometimes you had a spare shirt, tie the up, the arms up and button it up and it made a nice little receptacle put your things in there, and the following morning we went on the march, it was I think it was eleven o’clock if I remember rightly. And we went from Gross Tychow on the northern run to the Oder to cross the Oder, the Russians were the other side of Statin further down the Oder, and we had to take, we had to get across and what they did for the ones I was with you went into barges, there was two barges tied together and you was towed across the Oder to the other side. Unfortunately the night before when we got there the Germans said, ‘We’ve got nowhere for you to stay for the night.’ It had been snowing so we had to sleep in the open, but being aircrew boasting to the, we worked out what to do, so there’s some like a cloudy fern at the side, got those down tried to sweep away a bit of snow off, we had overcoats on.
AM: Did you have boots, did you have boots on?
JM: Oh yeah, oh shoes, in those days we’d been, well [coughs] usually when you get shot down you lose your flying boots. So the following morning I say they moved us across by barge and then we had to, we found out afterwards of course that the reason for the panic they was frightened the Russians would catch up with us, whether they was ever in a position to do that I don’t know, but the Germans obviously thought that they did. So then we went on the march across Northern Germany, various places, enjoying it, looking at Germany through the eyes of a hitchhiker. [laughs]
AM: You don’t really mean enjoying it?
JM: Well yes, but it, um, there was too many incidents happened there.
AM: What was it like, what was, ‘cos it’s cold?
JM: Well it had been snowing, remember we set out in February.
AM: Yes.
JM: And it was a cold winter. By the time we got to Fallingbostel the weather was getting better.
AM: What did you eat, what did you eat and drink?
JM: Well that’s a problem, I’ve got the world’s worst memory, so I don’t remember a lot. The two things you must do is you must get sleep and you must have liquids, liquids was a very difficult thing, some of the times the Germans got us liquids a lot of the times they didn’t. When there was snow about if you were lucky enough to get a snow that was still clean it would melt in your mouth, but that causes dysentery anyhow, I know [whispers] that’s the other problem. But, to be honest a lot of the time they found us barns and things like that to sleep in. What you had to remember at that time, March and April of 1945 it was mostly British fighter planes in the air which were having a good time, and one of the barns I was in got shot at and set on fire.
AM: How did you all get out?
JM: One or two people got killed.
AM: Did they?
JM: But to be honest the Germans tried to find us somewhere, but I’m afraid Royal Air Force fighter pilots were seeing something that’s a good target they went for it. [coughs] Fortunately we got to Fallingbostel eventually sometime in April if I remember rightly.
AM: So two months.
JM: We was then there for a couple of days on the station, the man in charge of Fallingbostel decided it was overcrowded so our little lot was moved out again on the road to Lubeck, which we went to, was one or two incidents on the way. But the man I was with, if you in the thing you’ve got to have a friend who you are with and Danny was one of mine, and Danny said to me, ‘Why don’t we just nip out sometime when we stop if there’s a time when we can do it safely.’ And there came one of those times and we just, Danny and I nipped out across the field into the woods and that was it, spent a little bit of the time keeping had to get through the German lines and through the British lines which we did when we got to the Elbe, across the Elbe.
AM: Just the two of you?
JM: Yeah, on a boat there was no oars but the hands work for oars don’t they.
AM: And did you know what you were making for that, did you know that you would find the British lines?
JM: Well not really we know the direction roughly and we’d got ears that tell you a lot, we got, there was only one time where we was in a little bit of trouble, we spent the night in a barn that didn’t have a roof but it was a barn so Dan and I spent the night in there and the village further down about two kilometres further down it was a village where there were German half-tracks and things and logic would say that they should be moving east which meant they wouldn’t come our way they’d go east and we were north of them, so we decided, we saw them moving to go so we decided we would go to the village. Unfortunately they decided to go our way north instead of going east, and it was not a lot of them I remember a Mark IV type of tank was pulling two lorries and there’s half-tracks with Germans at the back and we’re going along and they’re coming and there’s no point in running away doing anything like that, and our jackets were already prepared, chevrons everything was pulled off so there’s nothing, so we just kept on walking and we had a like a French conversation, and if they knew it was French they would have wondered what language we were talking it certainly wasn’t French but it sounded like it, and luckily they were so keen to get away they just ignored us and we just kept on going, and we just kept on going, and going, and going, eating what we could and we eventually came across an aerodrome that had some Dakotas, we went on an RAF pilot we collared him.
AM: What did you think when you finally saw it?
JM: Eh?
AM: What did you think when you finally saw it there?
JM: Well, well, contrary to what other people have said it didn’t make a lot of difference to me. It was just something was happening at the time, the fact that it was the if you like the starting point of going out didn’t occur to us, the RAF pilot he said he was on some sort of exercise for evacuation of prisoners of war, and he was, he did say he that they was taking people like to me somewhere in Belgium for transit, but he said I’m not going that way I’m going direct to Great Britain. And we talked him into taking us and he flew from there to Wing near Aylesbury, I think as part of an exercise sort of, and we got to Wing and that was the nice part. When we was coming towards, they all take you over the white cliffs of Dover don’t they you see that, and he couldn’t head them ‘cos you can’t see much so he said ‘I’ll bank to port and you can all go that side and have a look, anyway he said for goodness sake go back again the balance of the aircraft is all over.’ We got to Wing and unloaded us, Danny and I, I remember [coughs] there was WAAFS and all sorts of things, there was two rather large Salvation Army ladies I remember quite clearly came across and lifted us both up and swung us round said a lot I think then we went inside the hangar where all sorts of people came and cuddled you and things like that, yeah that was a nice thing. And one lady said to me I can send a telegram to your parents if you like, give me all the details which I did and they sent a telegram off to my mum and dad saying I was here. So we had something to eat, I always like this because you see they have all this food out and when you get a plate full suddenly a doctor comes along and takes half of it back you know, saying, ‘You mustn’t eat too much.’ And we went from there to Cosford which was set up as a reception centre, had medicals and things like that, and the station commander apparently if I believe what I’m told, given me concerning reception a chat on how to treat ex-prisoners of war and one of the things what he apparently said if I’m to believe what I’m told, ‘For goodness sake don’t leave anything lying about you’ll find it disappears you know.’ Whether that was true or not I don’t know could well have been ‘cos I was the only judge of a lot of people you live on your wits don’t you. And then after I’d been there for some time there was one little amusing incident you had to see a doctor before you could do anything you had to see a doctor, and that’s after you had been deloused that’s one of the things you get done, deloused straight up. And there was five cubicles and the word got around there’s four male doctors and one female doctor, everybody’s trying to work out where the female doctor was to avoid that one, and we, I can’t remember, say cubicle four, and this cubicle four came up you were next you used to say, ‘You go before me I’m not in a rush.’ And I got pushed into cubicle four and it was a lady doctor, mind you she was getting on a bit she was a nice lady, but it was funny the way people were avoiding her simply because they’d been away all that time. And then we were carted off [coughs] to the station, I remember it quite well it was just an ordinary little local train that went from Cosford to Birmingham, two stations at Birmingham, Snow Hill, and I can’t remember the other one.
AM: New Street, New Street, its New Street now in’t it?
JM: So we did that and when we got on the train that was going north there was just one carriage, there was an RAF policeman at either end of it and that was reserved for people like me, the train was absolutely crowded but our coach wasn’t and nice young ladies served refreshment all the time. And I got to York Station, I’d already notified Elsie my future wife and she was at York Station, and all the time I was in Germany I imagined meeting Elsie it’s a step bridge across the rails at York Station, [unclear] slow motion on that like if you’re on the films, looking forward to this, so I’m going slowly towards Elsie and she went straight past me, I remember that I thought oh dear all that time she doesn’t recognise me, it’s something you remember isn’t it, and that and at the other side there’s my sister and her husband so that was it. And I had instructions to go to the RAF York aerodrome there to see the medical officer which I did and he gave me a form to go to the food office in York, and the following day I went. A man said, ‘Join that queue.’ So I joined the queue, it was in the Assembly Rooms in York which is a lovely place, and I’m in this queue and it occurred to me there’s all pregnant women, there’s all pregnant women getting extra rations, people patting me on the back and one thing and another and I always remember that, and that was it I was back in York.
AM: Back in York, on leave.
JM: [laughs] On leave, yeah, yeah, ubiquitous leave.
AM: What happened after that then up to being demobbed how long?
JM: Well I got, er I don’t think you know that most aircrew, nearly all of them had a rehabilitation period and mine was at an aerodrome off the A1, can’t remember the name of it.
AM: No don’t matter.
JM: Doesn’t really matter, anyway I was there for a month and it just so happened the Royal Air Force band was based there so we had music, and for that four weeks what it consists of Friday morning we got up quite early and the station commander had arranged for a Queen Mary to be there on the grounds we had to go to London for some reason.
AM: Queen Mary, is that the big truck?
JM: Yes.
AM: The big open truck.
JM: And about twenty of us climbed on there and went all the way from the station about fifty miles into London on that, and we had to meet at a certain time to get back and coming back and we did that for four weeks until I got on leave yet again, to arrange the wedding with Elsie.
AM: So she’d recognised you by then?
JM: Oh yes I’d put a bit of weight on and that [laughs] yeah, and took a long time to live it down. So from there where did I go, oh I went to Compton Bassett. They decided to put me on a code and cipher course so I went and code and ciphered Compton Bassett. I was the only warrant officer there, there was all flight lieutenants and squadron leaders going to be code and cipher officers which apparently I was destined to be. So I did that and now I’m a code and cipher officer aren’t I, had to go before the board for a commission and they said, ‘The posting will be to the Middle East they’re looking for code and cipher officers.’ So next time, I got every weekend off, so I’m coming back to London to Elsie and I said I’d been offered a commission but it’s a posting to Middle East code and cipher officer, and Elsie said, ‘No way.’ So I had to turn it down. So then they thought well what do we do with him so they had to [coughs] we had a party for the people who passed the code and cipher officer, and I’m sitting next to a civilian and I said to him, ‘It’s a little bit of an impasse I’m not quite certain what to do.’ And explained the circumstances to him, so he said, ‘Write to the air officer commanding training command for this particular region and apply for a compassionate posting to where you want to go.’ Said, ‘That’s fine I don’t know who the air officer commanding is?’ And he said, ‘Oh it happens to be me.’ So he was, I got to meet him he was coming to Compton Bassett for some reason and I had an interview with him and I said, ‘Well my wife is living in Golders Green which is only two stations off Hendon, Hendon would be a nice place.’ So I got a posting to Hendon and they say what the hell do you do with him. It was nice posting, nine to five Monday to Friday living hours, most enjoyable, 24 Squadron which had the Curtiss every now and then unofficially I used to join one of them and go flying. And then I got I think July 1944 I went to Oxbridge and got demobbed.
AM: ‘45.
JM: ‘44, ’45, ’46.
AM: ’46 we’ve moved on one.
JM: Well you’re allowed a mistake now and then.
AM: Yeah go on then.
JM: And got demobbed and got involved in getting a suit. I think Burtons made a lot of them.
AM: Montague Burtons.
JM: Montague Burtons. Some of them were really quite nice, I think I wore it once, it’s the material was nice the cut not particular, but I’m demobbed anyhow. And the company I used to work for before I went in the Air Force wrote to me to say there’s a job waiting for you.
AM: Is this Rowntrees?
JM: Yeah. So I wrote back and I said, ‘I don’t mind working for you but I want to work in London ‘cos my future wife lives in London.’ They said they can’t do that. The problem is when you come out the Air Force you don’t take very kindly to being instructed and when they said we can give you a job but not especially where you want it, so I said ‘I don’t want it.’ So I went to find a job in London and I was offered a job, the people who make fridges, and they made big American ones, but the problem was the job was stores controller and the man was doing it already but he was not retiring until September October and this was early in the year. So I got a job with Express Dairy which was a place quite close to where Elsie lived and thought I’ll have that job until I get the other one, but enjoyed working at Express so much then I wouldn’t leave although the difference in salaries was quite high, and I worked for Express Dairy for all my working life, and they were taken over by various firms but I still worked for them. And one of the problems if you got taken over if it’s two people doing the same job one of them’s going.
AM: Yes.
JM: And the one that’s going is the one in the highest salary.
AM: Yes.
JM: And I kept on being retained, and I said to Elsie, ‘Must mean that my salary is too low.’ I got offered a job at the main site at Ruislip, the job was in charge of warehousing and things like that, and they said well, and then I had a heart attack everybody does if you’ve got a do you’ve got to have one if you’re in a fashion[?], and I had three months off and the chairman called me and said, ‘You mustn’t go back on this job and I’ll sort it and we’ve found a nice little job for you working as PA assistant for the director who was responsible for production.’ And that’s what I did.
AM: And that’s what you did.
JM: And Dennis Watson was my boss, well nothings been written yet so you’ve got to sit down and write your job description will go from there so that’s what I did. I spent the rest of my time on that job.
AM: As PA.
JM: And his responsibility was keeping an eye on [unclear] functions and things like that and decided on systems, his, and we had seven factories up and down the country. One of my jobs was to visit ‘em now and again, and now and again meant to me when you’re a little bit fed up you get in the car and off you go to a factory and that’s what I used to do. And then when I retired my boss Dennis made a big party at Ruislip and there was about a hundred of us there, and that was it.
AM: And that was it.
JM: Yeah.
AM: I’m going to switch off now Joe.



Annie Moody, “Interview with Joseph Musgrove,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2024,

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