Interview with Frederic James Richardson


Interview with Frederic James Richardson



IBCC Digital Archive




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00:47:44 audio recording




ARichardsonF160608, PRichardsonF1626



DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, the interviewer is David Meanwell, the interviewee is Fred Richardson. The interview is taking place at Mr. Richardson’s home in Woodham Surrey on the 8th June 2016. Fred if you could tell me a little bit about your, where you were born and growing up and your family?
FR: Born in a place called Glusburn in West Yorkshire, situation is about a hundred yards from the Horsforth, Horsfield Mills, woollen mills. Er my father was a poultry farm manager and I spent the first two or three weeks of my life in the in Clitheroe whilst he was getting rid of the particular farm that we were on. We then came back to Glusburn and he was and we and he was running one in a place called Eastburn which is halfway between Skipton and Keighley. We then moved to Sutton-in-Craven which is next door to Eastburn and eventually to Keltus Avenue in Cross Hills and that’s when things started to improve a bit. And it was from there that I started my movements towards the war time. There were three young pals, one Geoffrey was eight days older than I was, Alvin was a year older, his father was the local dentist who happened to be friendly with the local postmaster, who also incidentally was a lieutenant colonel in the 6th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, and that way Alvin became a territorial. Geoffrey and I decided that we wanted to join the Fleet Air Arm and we got the invitation to go down I think to Gosport but I can’t be sure where. We had the interview and we both were unsuccessful, me because I hadn’t played for the school first fifteen at rugby, and Geoffrey because he was a civil servant, so we decided then and there soon as we get back home we’re going to sign up for the RAF, and that’s exactly what we did. Two weeks later we got our calling up papers and told to report to Cardington and at Cardington they said, ‘What do you want to do?’ So we said, ‘we wanted aircrew, one pilot and one navigator.’ ‘You can’t do that’ they said. So we said, ‘Right, we’ll both go as pilots’, and that’s how the thing started. So this is now March ’41 and the first stop is down to Bournemouth, and funnily enough whilst we were there I happened to meet a young lady, which by circumstances I had no control over, I actually married her four years later. [laughs] So from Cardington, Bournemouth, we then moved on again eventually finished up at the Aircrew Receiving Centre in Monkton. At which point there was a split, Geoffrey was taken off to go and start flying Tiger Moths at Brough, near Hull, and I was left and eventually I got moved up the rest of the country as far as Gourock[?], and then put on board this ship the “Louis Pasteur” taken across to Canada. And we’d been in Canada about two weeks and each morning there would be a roll call and eventually I got in one and and we were told, ‘You’re going down to Texas’, No. 1 BFTN, British Flying Training School, Texas, and that’s where we went, took three days to get down there by train. And er we arrived on the Sunday morning, [unclear] by now we have to wear civilian clothes as well, and so we didn’t have, went to the training course there flying the Stearman biplane, then the Vul Vultee Valiant was a single engine, and the Harvard of course was a single engine one. When all that was done, okay that’s fine you’re now a sergeant and you’re a pilot, I got various signatures that said I could temper dash with discretion, that seemed to be the thing to do. And then, ‘Where do you want to go when you get back to England?’ He said, ‘It’s either Harrogate or Bournemouth.’ I said ‘I want to go to Harrogate don’t I?’ so where did they go Bournemouth. So I thought at least I know somebody in Bournemouth, and I managed to find that she was still there and that’s where it that started. Anyway the first thing after we’d left Bournemouth was going to the Airspeed Oxford Base at Long Newnton near Tetbury, and then once we’d cleared that one we were then transferred to 29 OTU North Luffenham. At which point I get a navigator, and a wireless operator, and one gunner, and the wireless op and the gunner were both Canadians, and he the wireless op was a flying officer and here I’m and here am I a sergeant. [laughs] Anyway that was the way it went and when that finished we were then moved out to Wigsley which was the Conversion Unit for going onto squadrons and we were flying Manchesters and Lancasters there and that’s when I picked up a flight engineer, and a bomb aimer, and another gunner, the gunner being Wallace McIntosh at that point. And eventually I suppose it must have been January we actually transferred from there straight to Langar and stayed there. Oh sorry I should go back and say that during the time that we were at OTU we went and did a leaflet raid over Paris and eventually they allowed me to treat that as my first operation. So I then went and did twenty-nine ops at Langar, all of which are recorded in the, in the book, two of which finished up in Blida in North Africa because it was too far to get back and the first time and the second time fog bound and we couldn’t get back so we went on to there. And virtually that’s, that’s the operation side finished so.
DM: When you and your best friend, I assume he was, wanted to go into the Fleet Air Arm originally.
FR: Yeah.
DM: What made you want the Fleet Air Arm in particular obviously flying was part of it.
FR: Yeah.
DM: But why the Navy rather than the Air Force can you remember?
FR: No, no I can’t remember the reason why I just I suppose.
DM: How old were you then?
FR: Eighteen I suppose just.
DM: So you hadn’t been called up obviously?
FR: No.
DM: The idea was to get in ahead to do something you wanted to do?
FR: Yes. I think I suppose even by the time that we actually signed with the RAF we were still underage so that’s, that’s got that far. But then I suppose once I’d finished the tour we’d I’ll oh yes I’ll tell you one little bit that’s part of all that lot. I was apparently, I was, Bomber Command issued the edict that all captains of aircraft had to be commissioned, so as a sergeant I had to apply, I didn’t want to but I had to apply for it, and my parent company group captain said, ‘Well he’s he’s all right but not really suitable for an officer.’ So I didn’t get anywhere until I got a telegram saying would I go to the AOC’s place in Grantham to meet the Right Honourable Sir R. A. Cochrane, Ralph Cochrane. And he said, ‘How many trips have you done?’ I think at that time I’d done about nineteen, said, ‘Any aiming point photographs?’ I said, ‘No’. ‘Target area?’ ‘Yes, got one target area one. ‘Mmm’, he said, ‘You’ve managed so far, I think the group captain’s a bloody fool you’ve got the commission’. And that was it so that’s got rid of that bit. [laughs] So then having finished we went I went on two or three different stations flying the Wellingtons, Gamston was the only one I can remember for sure. And then we got transferred to Wymeswold, and at Wymeswold they had a Lancaster repair factory on one side of the thing so we could see what was going, going on with all that like, and er we also had a subsidiary place at Castle Donnington, which of course now is the East Midlands Airport. And we’d been flying night, day and night, from either place until they eventually decided that Wymeswold was no longer a Bomber Command OTU it was to be a Transport Command OTU, at which point we got the Dakotas in and so I flew them for a while. Eventually I suppose it got to the point that was war had more or less finished and that’s when I found out that I’d been sent this Class B Release which meant I had a job to go back to which was better than most of them. I think I was actually offered to stay in the RAF or to join what became BOAC, and the stories they said for that one was if as captain if you make a bad landing you get immediately demoted so I thought it’s not worth trying. So I took the B Release went back to the Rustlers Iron Company in Keighley, Yorkshire. And I suppose we’d been there a couple of years by which time I, I was able to produce a family [laughs] and that’s that was when Andrew was born 1950. And we moved from where we were in Keighley to a house in Bingley, and I was then working for one firm in Bradford called Wool Textile Supplies and a bit later on I worked for Metal Box in Shipley, but I couldn’t get on with them because I wasn’t an internal auditor and any promotions you had to be an internal auditor, so in the end I said, ‘Fiddlesticks’. And my wife wanted to go back to London where she’d been born so we did eventually, 1954 I think it was when we moved down, then I joined a firm called The Dominium Rubber Company which I found out shortly was part of the US Rubber Company Group. I’d been there about eighteen months when the company secretary left and I was promoted to company secretary for that particular lot, and I’d been there another year and they said, ‘We want you to go and run the factory up in Dumfries’. So date wise I mean I’m not entirely sure when, let’s see if it says on here, no I haven’t got any dates down. I must have been up there ooh, trying to think, ‘cos Andrew was going to school in Dumfries, but he was going to a Catholic school and his mother didn’t like that so I got him transferred to the Ashville College in Harrogate, which meant he’d got to go over there and we were still left where we were. And then I got transferred to Edinburgh, chief accountant up in Edinburgh, and that lasted until eventually I suppose ’67, yes that’s right ‘cos you’d be you were still at university by then. So we came back down here and I didn’t have a job to go to. Although in fact I had there was supposed to be something going on because he’d, the accountant, the head office man up in Edinburgh decided that he wanted to set up an accounting room team in London, for the whole of the US Rubber Company outfit, and he was called back to the States and his replacement instead of coming to London went to straight to Edinburgh, so I’m now working for a bloke in Edinburgh, so I thought this is ridiculous, so I moved again. And that’s got with a firm called Allcorn Rupp[?], something with Allcorn[?] after it, down at Rochester in Kent, and eventually I suppose about 1972 or so decided that wasn’t going to go out either, so of course I think when I got there they were supposed to be liquidated, so I had to liquidate the thing before anything else. So at home twiddling my thumbs and luckily I found one or two places I could go and apply for a job and eventually I went down to Basingstoke to a firm down there and saw a lot of things and it looked as though I was not too badly off and as the bloke was going out of the office I said to him, ‘Excuse me, you still got Formica?’ So he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Well Dan Mercede [?] worked for you in Formica.’ ‘Yes’ he said. Well, I said, ‘Dan Mercede[?] was the auditor in charge when I was chief accountant in Edinburgh.’ Two days later I got the job, so now I’m part of the De La Rue Company which I stayed until I retired, officially retired in 1987. At which point I said, ‘Have you got something I can do?’ And they said ‘Yes you can run our two charity shops.’ Which meant I could go sort of a ten till four job rather than anything else, until the end of two years there, the new boss of the unit said, ‘I don’t want any more retired employees working for me.’ So cheerio, and that’s when I finished doing anything really, since then I’ve been as part of the set up of the U3A in this area, and also joined a little firm known as DAIRS [spells it out] Disability Advice and Information for Runnymead, stayed with them for a while and then I think I decided to give it up altogether, and that’s the end of it.
DM: When so looking sort of taking the whole together you were demobbed, you went back to work, did you have any contact with people you had been in the Air Force with after that for some time?
FR: No, no we forgot when we all packed in to pass notes round, some of the crews did, but for some reason I didn’t, I suppose mainly because I didn’t have a full seven crew at the end of the day that I’d been with the whole time there were only four of us who started and finished.
DM: So did you, when did you start exploring that part of your history so to speak, was it after you retired?
FR: Mmm, I don’t quite know, I don’t quite recall how it started, but anyway the the local editor somebody decided to form an association of the RAF at Langar, and I suppose we got some way of finding out, anyway. We started going and it’s during that time that I got contacted by Wallace to say that he wanted to write this book so I had to get in touch with Mel Rothe [?] who was doing the writing for him and send all the information that I could so that he was able to write the book as it is.
DM: So that was done for the airmen was it?
FR: Yes, yes. That was I suppose the end of it, fair enough.
DM: Did you, or do you belong to the Squadron Association or Bomber Command Association, did you join any groups?
FR: Only the, this this one one association which is finished now anyway. No I didn’t belong to any other group.
DM: Take you back to when you went to America?
FR: Mmm.
DM: Did you say it was the “Louis Pasteur” was the vessel?
FR: Yes it was French.
DM: Was it a frightening crossing, or were you sick? [laughs]
FR: No, (a) to the second bit no, er not altogether because luckily we had a battleship and two destroyers accompanied us they were going to Bermuda so they, it’s only the very last day that we had to flout[?] on our own across the water, and I suppose even then there was bloody U-boats can still be out here, anyway we got through it all right.
DM: Did you come back by ship as well when you finished training?
FR: Yes, oh yes, “Duke of York” I think, I think the “Duke of York”, I’m not entirely sure on that one.
DM: You made that okay as well obviously as you wouldn’t be here now.
FR: Yes.
DM: So you first time you flew a plane was Texas was it?
FR: Mmm, yes.
DM: How was it, can you remember that first flight?
FR: No problem, somehow I felt at home in them I think. My, there was a fella sitting in front of me showing me what to do but after that I sat in the front and he sat behind so he could tell me what to do.
DM: I know you said when you went to America you had to wear civvies so this was before Pearl Harbour was it?
FR: Yes, Pearl Harbour was actually happened whilst we were there, we suddenly woke up one morning to hear the story but that particular night when it happened we’d gone to stay with the link trainer instructor, he’d got a large bed and all three of us were in the bed, suddenly he said, ‘Bloody hell’. And that was it. So things got a bit chaotic after that day I don’t think the Americans knew quite what to do.
DM: But were there any changes where you were, I mean did they suddenly bring in Americans to be trained and things like that or was?
FR: No. I think the whole time that I was instructing back here I saw one American, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, anything, but we only had one American. They must have trained them over there.
DM: When you were in Texas you obviously had leave I assume while you were there from time to time?
FR: Not very often really. Certainly not enough to go.
DM: You didn’t go travelling?
FR: We did, I think we, we went down to um the south, Galveston I know, must have been Houston before that, Houston between in Texas, I think so.
DM: Yeah, I think, my geography’s not that good about Texas but I think so.
FR: I’m sure we went there because we, I think we went with this link trainer instructor took us down there the three of us, we went to the cathedral for the Christmas mass, and then we went down to Galveston to see if we could see any British ships down there and that was about it. Used to play ten pin bowling out there, No. 1 BFTS’ Team was doing very well was beating the locals, I never got onto the team so I don’t really know. That’s about it I think.
DM: Do you remember your first flight in a Lancaster, well I suppose a Manchester before a Lancaster?
FR: Well the Manchester was only local training stuff. It was a bit bigger than the Wellington but I wasn’t that entirely impressed with it, at least I was less impressed with it once I got into the Lancaster to do these few trips round, ‘cos I found the Manchester was very heavy to manoeuvre the controls, the Lanc was a lot easier than that, and then as I say, I’m not quite sure how we actually got from there to Langar [coughs], I don’t know whether we flew or we didn’t, I might have done. I don’t see how we could have done ‘cos we’d have had to use a Wigsley plane to do it, no they must have put us some way there, how we got there, don’t ask me. [coughs] I know we arrived there and that was it. Because I’d lost, I’d lost my navigator by then, he er, he took us there, we did a thing on the Wellingtons over the North Sea and we were supposed to come back I think South of the Humber but for some reason we didn’t we came right down the Humber and suddenly at a thousand feet I could see all these barrage balloons, so [unclear] stick and climbed and got round them, so I thought if that’s the only way he can do I don’t want him, it’s the only time I’ve actually sacked anybody I think.
DM: So how did that work, did you just say to the CO I don’t want him anymore?
FR: Yes, yes, I explained why and yes so the bloke that I actually got when I got to Langar was somebody who’d done about five trips already. And that’s the way it seemed to go so I finished with seven crew only four of whom had been there from the start, but that’s life. Others were John Stevens he had seven and he still had seven when he finished and he’s the only one who came back to the association with all seven. I think John McIntosh was he’d got he finished with his seven, his flight engineer flew with me once so you had to do that when you were without and they didn’t have a flight so you grabbed anybody you could lay your hands on. [coughs] That’s life.
DM: So as the captain of a plane what was your approach were you sort of a stickler for discipline or?
FR: Er not too much discipline, but I told them, ‘You do what you’re supposed to do and that’s it.’ And that’s the way they accepted it, and that’s the way we went through the whole lot, nobody, nobody quibbled, just got on with it which is the way it should be.
DM: Of the sorties that you did over enemy territory.
FR: Mmm.
DM: Are there any that particularly stick in your mind as for for you know any particular reason really it could be a good reason or a bad reason?
FR: I think there were probably two which I would class as bad reasons, we were attacked twice by fighters, Wallace claimed one of them anyway and scouted the others away. [coughs] I suppose the one that eventually decided I wanted to enjoy these two to Blida ‘cos it was somewhere else, the first one we’d been to Friedrichshafen and from there it was a long way and going across the Med at about five hundred feet It’s not the best thing to do but we did it. Second time we went was to bomb a power station just outside Milan, there were only seven of us in the raid and we were each given an allocated height to go in to go round [coughs] the end of which one bloke unfortunately caught it. The rest of us we managed to get out of it, but whether we did any damage I wouldn’t know, sometimes you can’t tell we’d seen the bombs go down but that’s about it. So that’s the only, the only two things that I think I liked about that lot. [laughs]
DM: What about when you were off duty what was the social life like?
FR: I suppose I wasn’t used to it and I didn’t do it, honestly can’t remember what I did when we weren’t.
DM: You weren’t a great drinker or?
FR: No, I have an odd one now and again but not to any great extent, and I think that’s probably when I started smoking a bit more than anything. But I don’t, I don’t remember going to the local pub at all, just wasn’t wasn’t in my bringing up and I didn’t see any point in it so ‘cos if I get too tight I wouldn’t know what I’m doing you know, give it up.
DM: Do you have any, or did you after the war, did you have any feelings about how people who’d been in Bomber Command were perceived or treated ‘cos as you know there was a lot of controversy you know about what had happened and then how people were treated after the war, or did you just get back into civvy street and get on with it?
FR: More or less that, I suppose the only time there when Dilys and I went and did a tour sort of around touring Europe [coughs], and we saw Dresden and that was enough.
DM: So was Dresden still hadn’t been rebuilt when you were there?
FR: No.
DM: Right.
FR: No I don’t, I don’t think I was too worried about Bomber Command being bellyached ‘cos some of the things they had done were good, and some of the things that they had to do were not good, that’s it, it wasn’t, you didn’t blame them you blamed the hierarchy.
DM: What about more recently you know there was obviously there’s been some controversy over, controversy might be too strong a word, but over not being a campaign medal for Bomber Command for example but you got the clasp?
FR: I don’t, I didn’t one of those things, I didn’t think it was necessary, we’d had the, we’d had the Aircrew Europe thing, we’d had the Defence Medal, we had another two or three like that, and I’d got the big gong so so what, you know I wasn’t ‘cos did Fighter Command get anything I don’t think so.
DM: I think well the Battle of Britain they got something didn’t they?
FR: Yes, well I mean again that’s something special, I I don’t mind.
DM: Did any of your missions go to Berlin?
FR: Oh yes, two or three times, in fact I don’t know where, where, we went more than, more than once we went to a fair number of places. I suppose the Ruhr Valley was our main target and so was, so was the flak, but touchwood we were we weren’t struck, had this searchlight shot out one night that was it.
DM: So one of your gunners shot the searchlight?
FR: Yes. No we, we got caught by it and we had hell of a job getting out of, we did eventually but I don’t think we did any firing on that particular raid [coughs], no I think that’s about it.
DM: When you went on raids were you sort of nervous, [clock chiming in background], apprehensive or was it you just got on with it?
FR: You just got on with it, I don’t, I don’t think there was there wasn’t any particular place that we were going to that scared me to hell, no. I don’t think even doing it did that I was aware that were others about but nobody came near enough to cause a problem for when you think there must have been a thousand planes flying about at one time just somewhere within the vicinity a bit scary. [laughs]
DM: Yes probably not to think too much about it. Do you know what happened to your friend that you joined up with?
FR: Yes, well he, well he, he wasn’t able to finish the Tiger Moths, and so he was sent to Canada and he did his training in Canada, qualified there and then stayed there as an instructor and spent his entire time in Canada, married a Canadian girl. Actually we’d, he, he brought her back, I met her two or three times, her father was either the mayor or some high ranking bloke in the council and he died out there as well, and I’ve got it a copy of his gravestone it’s in the files.
DM: After you met the lady who became your wife?
FR: Yes Dilys.
DM: Dilys, when you had leave did you go to see Dilys or did you go home?
FR: I think, I didn’t, it was whilst I was instructing after we were from Wymeswold, I was able to put the bicycle on the train and go down to Oxford from there changing at Leicester anyway the trains went then. I would see her then, but it took a while before we got serious enough to actually do it, and somewhere or another I’ve got a cigar case [laughs] that says when we did it, it’s it’s in the service somewhere. No she had decided that she didn’t want to (a) to marry me whilst I was still libel to be shot she didn’t want to be a widow, and when it came to the time to do it, she said, ‘wait until you’re the same age as me and then we do it.’ ‘Cos she didn’t want to look as though she’d been picking up young ones, and I was only, I had only to wait a few months for that, ridiculous isn’t it, so I was still married in my uniform it looked better.
DM: When you said about the medals was it the DFC that you got?
FR: Yeah.
DM: Where, did you go to the Palace for that?
FR: No funnily enough we were at home in this house in Riddlesden, near Keighley, and the postman came and put a packet through the window in the kitchen, when we opened it up that was the DFC that’s how I got it.
DM: So there was no ceremony at all?
FR: No ceremony at all. [blowing nose] I think the note, there was a letter with it that said the King was sorry but he had too many to do, words to that effect anyway. [coughs] I can’t think of anything else that would be of any real use.



David Meanwell, “Interview with Frederic James Richardson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 21, 2020,

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