Interview with Geoffrey Robinson

Title

Interview with Geoffrey Robinson

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archvie

Date

2015-08-03

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This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:44:10 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ARobinsonG150803

Transcription

TJ: I’m Tina James and I’m here with Mr. Geoffrey Robinson in Burton upon Stather where he lives with his wife Eileen and we’re going to get some memories of his time with Bomber Command, so Geoff first of all lets lets ask about where were you born?
GR: I was born in Scunthorpe.
TJ: Yes, in what year?
GR: Nineteen Twenty Five.
TJ: And your parents were they involved with the First World War by any chance?
GR: My father was in the First War and sadly he never spoke about it he only said three things about the First War one was that er he could play the piano by ear and he used to go round Scunthorpe with a band of hope and a harmonium [laughs] and he said when he joined the army he played the piano on his first night in the NAFI and he never bought another pint of beer the whole time he was in the army because he could play anything, and the other thing he told me was that er they had to kill lice by running a lighted match along the seams of their trousers and he said when the war started he said ‘now if ever you are caught without your gas mask urinate on your handkerchief and hold it to your nose’ and that’s the only three things he ever said about the army and he had a rough time we discovered because my daughter sent for his records which were available er for anyone and unfortunately the records office was bombed in Nineteen Forty Three and er quite a lot of the records are have been destroyed but I subsubsequently discovered that he had been wounded three times, he had been buried in a trench up to his neck for two days with his dead corporal beside him, and he was in hospital with shell shock and finally in Nineteen Seventeen he was transferred to the Royal Engineers unfit for trench warfare anymore, and I never knew that.
TJ: It sounds like
GR: Not in his lifetime.
TJ: Yes it’s not really surprising he didn’t talk about it much.
GR: Well but my mother did tell me once we had a very severe thunderstorm and my father I can see my father was visib visibly unsettled and I said to her afterwards ‘well’ she said ‘I think it’s the war’ she said ‘when there was a thunderstorm when we first married he used to roll out of bed and roll under it’ and er I never knew these things really so you know it’s it’s sad really but he had a rough war and then I remember my brother he er he was a a qualified mechanic and he said to my brother ‘now don’t you be thinking you going in the army lad you get in the air force don’t be getting into trench warfare’ and er so he joined the air force and he was in South Africa for three years er with with the Empire Air Training Scheme and I remembered that and so I joined the Air Training Corps in Scunthorpe and er one of the instructors was the owner of the garage where my brother was an apprentice and he was teaching us about engines and so when I volunteered for the air force they said ‘well what sort of experience have you had?’ and I said ‘well I was taught about engines in the Air Training Corps’ so they said ‘well we’ll put you down for aircrew shall we?’ and I said ‘yeah that’ll be fine’ and so there it was I went to er air training air crew selection board and er was duly er enrolled as a flight engineer cadet [laughs] which er pleased me but didn’t please the family very much [laughs].
TJ: About what year would that have been?
GR: Nineteen Forty Three April Forty Three.
TJ: Right.
GR: And then I was on reserve until September Forty Three then of course you went to I joined up and er had to report to Lords Cricket Ground and er when the er intake was complete forty members of the intake we were marched into the Long Room at Lords [laughs] to sign up so that we’d arrived so I’ve been in the Long Room at Lords [laughs] so there we are and then of course er we’d three weeks in London which was quite an experience for me being a local lad and er [laughs] not gone very far from Scunthorpe.
TJ: Was it your first time in London?
GR: No it wasn’t actually because um it’s Eileen’s aunt lived in London and I’d been there twice but only for short visits but I’d never been in the West End and that was quite an eye opener but there was some very good pubs in the West End where the top flight entertainers used to entertain the services.
TJ: Right.
GR: But after three weeks in London we went we went to er near Sunderland for the additional training learned to march and fire a rifle and sten guns and all that sort of thing then we were moved for some reason to Bridlington for three weeks for the final three weeks of additional training which was very pleasant Bridlington and then of course er a week’s leave and then to St. Athan for training as a flight engineer which er.
TJ: How long was that for?
GR: Six months took exactly for six months so er I qualified on June the First married on June the Third and er.
TJ: And your still married to this day to Eileen.
GR: Yes Yeah and then having qualified at St. Athan I was posted to Sandtoft near Scunthorpe and er there for three weeks and then I went to Lindholme where I was crewed up with er Canadian crew and the crewing up system was a bit crude really and they er the crew came with six people from operational training unit having trained on Wellingtons and they were without a flight engineer and the crews went into this hangar and the flight engineers went into the hangar and by a matter of luck you got crewed up [laughs] no selection point you just wandered round until these crews thought well you’ll do for us.
TJ: I’ve been told that before.
GR: Yes It did it worked apparently and they did the same thing at operational training unit there’s no selection or what have you and er so I crewed up with an all Canadian squadron er crew apart from the er wireless operator who was English so there was just the two English people British people qualified at Lindholme on Halifaxes then went to Lancaster Finishing School and Hemswell for three weeks then we went to a squadron 626 Squadron at Wickenby we did one or two trips there and then er the pilots had to do what they call a second dicky trip where they went as a second pilot with an experienced crew on their first operation and our pilot went on this second dicky trip and didn’t come back [laughs] so that was a bit of a shock to us because we thought it would all be [laughs] an easy ride through squadron and as I say he er they sent for the navigator who was the senior man and they said ‘well you’ll have to go back to training school for another pilot’ which shook us a bit [laughs] as we didn’t think we would lose a pilot so soon but he did come back actually he landed in the sea in Sweden waded ashore and was repatriated and brought silk stockings back for the er parachute packers [laughs].
TJ: Oh lovely story.
GR: So we went back to Lindholme and we were in the crew hut and two pilots came in second tour pilots and er they chatted to us and got to know us the two pilots then they said ‘well we’ll just have a chat outside’ and obviously they were weighing us up I suppose [coughs] and er they came back in and said ‘well we’ve tossed a coin’ and we got er who we called Dickie Bird Flying Officer Flying Office Peter Peter Bird but everybody called him Dickie Bird but he got the DFM on his first first er first tour and so we retrained or he retrained on Halifaxes and back to Hemswell to Finishing School and then to Wickenby and er we were lucky because the other man a chap called Gillingham he got killed about three about three operations into his tour so we picked the right pilot [laughs] so then we started the tour of operations and er after twenty twenty er operations of course the pilot we had was was screened because the second tour was only twenty operations and the full tour for a new crew was thirty so we stayed on er at Wickenby and we flew with the er Squadron Leader Huggins the Squadron Commander, Wing Commander Stockdale the er oh the Squadron Leader Huggins was the Flight Commander, Wing Commander Stockdale was the Squadron Commander, and we also had the odd trip with Group Captain Haines the Station Commander, so we were the spare crew but we had all the senior people as as pilots.
TJ: So whilst you were at Wickenby where was your wife living?
GR: At Burton at home she was born in Burton but she was born in Burton and she worked we met at Nitrogen Fertilisers er at Flixborough which afterwards actually became Nitrogen Fertilisers Nitr Nypro and then was blown up on June the First, Ninety Seventy Four.
TJ: I remember that.
GR: And er she stayed working there whilst I was away.
TJ: How often did you get to see her?
GR: Well not very often when we were training but aircrew were given a week’s leave every six weeks so I saw here every six weeks but apart from that er I was a keen cyclist [cuckoo clock chiming in background] and I often cycled from Wickenby if we’d had a stand down it was only twenty five thirty miles I was quite fit then so er but then I found that er if I cycled home the train times were coming I cycled to Barnetby which is on the Grimsby to Scunthorpe railway line caught a train there I could catch a train to near the station but I used to be leaving home at er six in the morning to catch the seven o’clock train from Barnetby but I managed to get home a few a few times when you had a squadron stand down and er it was all very interesting.
TJ: So you were flying operations over Germany mainly was it?
GR: France and Germany yes.
TJ: Never had to bale out?
GR: No no we did have er parachutes clipped on once but er we had capable on flying on two engines and they er they I think they er [looking through book] I can’t remember when when we took off to Bonn one of the er red lights came on on the engine which mean’t that it wasn’t getting fuel so we feathered it and the skipper said ‘we’re we’re over the base we haven’t got very far’ he said ‘well we are going to go on we are not going back’ ‘cos if you went back with an engine gone they used to look a bit askance at you and say ‘well you shouldn’t have done you should have done your duty’ so the pilot said ‘well we’re going’ and off we went and I think it was the one of the trips it was [looking through book] it said alone over Bonn and we were the last over the over the target and er I think one of the papers said Lancaster a sole Lancaster over Bonn and that was us [laughs] and so we were late back and when we got back they er they’d put most of the lights out they didn’t expect us [laughs] so that was so that was one trip and on another trip where we had the accident there we were attacked by [looking through book] Duisburg Twenty First February.
TJ: What year?
GR: Ninety Four Five and er having the the rear gunner having written his memoires I wrote mine and we were attacked by the er fighter and er the canon shell hit us there was a six foot hole at the side of the aircraft and the rear gunner started started talking in a very incoherent manner and er saying all sorts of daft things so I said to the pilot ‘I think I ought to go back I think he’s probably without oxygen’ because over then thousand feet your brain starts to starts to wander so I took a spare oxygen bottle back and er he’d got out of his turret and he was sat on the Elson toilet he was quite unaware of where he was so I fixed him up with the oxygen bottle and I sealed the oxygen pipe which had been severed to save oxygen and er we had one engine I’d feathered one engine because it was on fire and then another engine failed and so we came back on two engines on that particular night [laughs].
TJ: A hairy escapade.
GR: And that’s a piece of.
TJ: Oh a piece of metal that you are indicating here.
GR: Yes.
TJ: And this is from what’s this from exactly?
GR: That’s from from the fuselage [tapping the metal]
TJ: Oh yes I see there’s writing on it oooh.;
GR: We all got a piece like that.
TJ: Yes.
GR: A bit of a keepsake.
TJ: So do you think that was your hairiest escapade?
GR: Yes I think it was er that was the worst we had one or two near brushes with with fighters and we were coned in coned in searchlights and er that’s not a good experience but er the pilot was he was an excellent pilot he could throw the Lancaster about and he’d just shouted to me full revs so we opened the throttles wide open and he’d dive down as fast as he could go and then swung over to either our right or left starboard or port and we’d escape the searchlight but it’s quite er I mean they if they got you in the searchlight they had prediction guns which could home on you and they had heat seeking shells as well so we [laughs] it was quite fortunate.
TJ: You were lucky.
GR: We were but er it was er we didn’t think much about it I suppose at the time you know.
TJ: You didn’t come back and it would sort of hit you oh goodness what happened last night was it?
GR: No not really.
TJ: Did it hit you after the war?
GR: No not really.
TJ: No you took it in your stride then.
GR: We were nineteen or twenty you know you have a different aspect on life don’t you.
TJ: Yes of course you do.
GR: It’s a totally different world you know you just get on with life but it affected quite a number of people because they used to they used to get what we call a tick you know you could see they were full of nerves and sometimes they were just taken off flying duties but er generally speaking we just got in the mess for breakfast and think well a few empty chairs but you just got on with live you never thought about it really it’s uncanny I can’t explain it and of course you had absolute full faith in the crew we er ate together, we played poker together, we drank together, everything we did was together, you’d nearly you’d nearly think or know what a person was thinking and you moulded as a family and you rely implicitly on every member of the crew to do what they had to do, it was uncanny I can’t explain but it was there and you knew you could rely on every member of the crew to do what they had to do and more if necessary it was a wonderful experience in that way.
TJ: Very character building.
GR: Yes well when you’ve been through that sort of life there’s nothing really troubles you [laughs] you know you get things into perspective so there you are.
TJ: So Nineteen Forty Five we are approaching the end of the war when was your last sortie?
GR: I think it was to, I’ve got arthritis, it was to Heligoland I think the er but after the um but before the war finished we did the Manna trip the food dropping.
TJ: Oh yeah, so for the purpose of the tape would you just like to explain what the Operation Manna was about?
GR: Yes the last operation was April the Eighteenth to Heligoland my twenty fourth trip in wartime.
TJ: And what did you drop there?
GR: Fifteen fifteen thousand pounds of bombs [laughs] four four point three five hours flying [laughs] but then.
TJ: And Operation Manna was that after?
GR: No er Operation Manna was er the first Operation Manna trip was er [looking through book] May the First.
TJ: May the First Nineteen Forty Five.
GR: Five yes.
TJ: Operation Manna and you dropped food supplies?
GR: Operation Manna and we were warned Operation Manna I did I did two trips May the First and May the Third er we were warned that there hadn’t been a truce signed and we went at almost rooftop height and we could see all the German anti-aircraft guns following us round as we went but um the truce hadn’t been signed but they didn’t they didn’t fire at us anyway and of course as we got to the dropping zone it was er well I can’t explain heartbreaking almost to see er the Dutch people going to the dropping zone wheeling bicycles, prams, and anything hoping to get some food and of course the the the number of a whole number of Dutch flags on the roofs but of course they were still occupied they hadn’t been freed so I did Operation Manna on the First and the Third and er as I say it was quite an experience.
TJ: Mmm.
GR: And then after Operation Manna we er no I did three food drops the First, Third, and Seventh of May and er.
TJ: How long did Operation Manna go on for altogether do you know?
GR: Well I think it’s it seemed I do know I’ve got a book with it but I can’t remember the dates.
TJ: Can’t remember offhand.
GR: But it it went till after went on until the Peace Treaty was signed and then the Germans allowed convoys of food to go in and then of course after Operation Manna I did two trips er repatriating prisoners of war from Brussels.
TJ: That must have been good?
GR: Well twenty eight we brought twenty eight back at a time and er they were they were pretty well crowded there’s not much room in a Lancaster and they were pretty well crowded in the back but they didn’t mind they sat on the floor and they two of them couple sat on the navigators bench with the navigator and to see their faces as they got out some of them kissed the ground and then they nearly all came up to the front to shake hands with the pilot and myself and they were so so delighted to get back to England and er that that was quite a quite a moving experience yes it was quite something then after the on May the Twenty Third um I was posted away from Wickenby and the crew split up and then I went.
TJ: Where was you posted to?
GR: I went to um Valley on the Isle of Anglesey and er we went there the whole host of er Canadian built Lancasters had been flown across the Atlantic and they were all lined up at er Valley and we went there to er prepare them for the Far East er ready for the Japanese War and so we spent quite a lot of time at Valley air testing and getting them all ready to go and er pretty well having a good time and on one occasion the pilot who was a bit uppercrust there Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Davis he lived at in a big hall in in er Norfolk Caldecott Hall and he er he said ‘well we need some steak for the officers mess’ so he said ‘we’ll take a Lancaster to Ireland’ [laughs] so we took a Lancaster to Ireland and landed at er Balleykelly which is the only Royal Air Force runway to have a level crossing [laughs] and a train line across it so we had a weekend in Ireland and er a weekend in Belfast really and er we got stocked up for the officers mess with steak and flew it back that was the sort of nobody told us what to do we just had to air test these Lancasters then of course they dropped the er the atom bomb and these beautiful Lancasters with ten hours flying time on we flew them up to Silith [?] to be scrapped [laughs] with just ten hours flying time [laughs] it was quite incredible really anyway after that I was posed to Transport Corps still with the same pilot and er he er he came in one day and said ‘we’ve got to take a Halifax to India’ so I thought that’ll be good so er he said ‘well’ he said ‘before er Munich’ he said ‘my family was going to send me on a tour of Europe but’ he said ‘Munich arrived so I never went’ so he said ‘we’ll make it a Cooks tour shall we?’ [laughs] so [laughs] we went to er went to we had a weekend in Cornwall [laughs] and we went to Eastrees and Castel Benito then Cairo [laughs] and we had two or three days in each place then we went to Karachi [laughs] so we had er a wonderful then Allahabad in India we had a wonderful time and er he succeeded in having his tour and unfortunately when we got back he was demobbed so er that was really the end of that episode and then when the first Christmas after I was demobbed I got a letter from him to say I’ve moved out to Chile I’ve bought a ten thousand pound ten thousand acre sheep farm would you come and work with me [laughs].
TJ: So when were you actually demobbed?
GR: March Forty Seven.
TJ: Forty Seven?
GR: Yes yes but er I turned him down.
TJ: When did you have your first children?
GR: Ninety Fifty Two first daughter one daughter Fifty Two and when I rang Eileen to say I’m being demobbed on March Sixteenth she went in to the er office manager and said ‘I’m putting giving me notice in’ and she’s never worked since she’s been a kept woman ever since [laughs].
TJ: Oh how lovely.
GR: [Laughs]
TJ: Good for Eileen.
GR: But the strange thing was that the thing that when I was in the air force I was er getting a warrant officers pay flying pay they were paying me half my wages from the company I worked with Eileen was getting family allowance and although it wouldn’t be perhaps very much but I was we were getting between us about twelve to fifteen pound a week and when I came back I was getting four pound fifty [laughs] and on the day I was demobbed they started building a house for me up the road I bought a plot of land when I was on leave and they started building a house and the mortgage was seven and sixpence a week [laughs] and we were we were almost penniless so er.
TJ: What would you do for work then?
GR: Well I was er I was er a trainee clerk down at Nitrogen Fertilisers and er before I joined up I’d been going to night school three nights a week doing bookkeeping and shorthand and maths and er when I came back I said to the office manager I said ‘this is no good I’ve got to do something I’m going to study for accountants degree’ but he said ‘it’ll be hard work’ I said ‘oh I’m going to do it by correspondents course’.
TJ: Was that your demob package?
GR: Er no.
TJ: Because I know when my dad was demobbed it was paid for his accountancy exams were paid for.
GR: No no I hadn’t thought about it until I got demobbed and I realised how hard up I was so I joined up with the er correspondents school and er it was hard work and er I was twenty was twenty two when I was demobbed and I didn’t qualify until I was twenty eight [laughs] but er it was worth it.
TJ: What qualification did you get?
GR: Er
TJ: Chartered?
GR: Not not chartered incorporated accountant er Society of Company Works Accountants and er so I qualified and then I was headhunted to go from there to er er a local company a slag company using slag for roads and er the managing director of that company lived in Burton and er I met him socially and he said ‘would you come and work for me?’ he said ‘I want to expand the contracting company’ so I said ‘what I don’t know’ so er I thought about it joined the company and we’d three men when we started and we’d two hundred when I retired [laughs] and branches in Plymouth, Sheffield and Manchester so I I was director of five companies so I thought I’d done fairly well for myself.
TJ: Certainly did.
GR: I retired at fifty seven [laughs].
TJ: Lovely. So grandchildren I’m looking around this photos of young people?
GR: One granddaughter she’s a Cambridge graduate and she’s the only female waterworks manager in the Anglian Water Authority.
TJ: Interesting.
GR: And we’ve now got a great grandson who’s two and a half so we’re a complete lovely family.
TJ: Right where does your um daughter and granddaughter live?
GR: My daughter lives at Barton which is twelve miles away so she’s handy if we need her and er my granddaughter lives in Felixstowe which is too far away.
TJ: Yes.
GR: But there we are we see her about every three months.
TJ: So let’s just rewind a bit after the end of the war there’s been a lot said about the way Bomber Command was sort of ignored wasn’t given their due accolades how did you feel about it?
GR: Well that goes back really to the Dresden raid and I remember the briefing for Dresden because it was on the er request of Stalin because he we were told us at briefing that German troops were going to Dresden on the way to the eastern front and he’d requested that we go to Dresden but apart from that Dresden was a manufacturing city or area for er high high technique um submarine equipment so it was a legitimate target and of course we went to Dresden and the following night we went to Chemnitz and er they were both ten hour trips and of course the the people afterwards condemned the Dresden raid it was a beautiful city but then Coventry was and er I didn’t feel any qualms about that because er five of my colleagues had been killed at Nitrogen Fertilisers it was bombed on May the Twelfth Ninety Forty One as I say I’d been down to Eileen’s aunt in London and they’d been bombed out and we regularly went across to Hull shopping and that was devastated and it was the worst bombed city after London in the country so I didn’t really have any qualms about bombing and of course when this hoo-ha started up Churchill sort of said ‘well shouldn’t have gone Bomber Command shouldn’t have done it’ and he was the behind it really saying that you know we’d done too much bombing aerial bombing and I remember when the controversy arose er it was on the national national news and so forth and er Butch Harris, Air Chief Marshall Harris or “Butch” as we called him he said ‘well if it saved the life of one person in a concentration camp, if it shortened the war by one day, if it saved the life of one British grenadier it was worth it’ and er I’ve lived with that er I mean all war is to be well you don’t want it nobody gains anything from it and there’s so much loss of life and disruption to the to the community that um you know it’s just a useless effort but er we had a duty to do we did it we did as we were told and of course we did er I did write to my MP on more than one occasion asking for a Bomber Command Medal [laughs] and of course we got the Bomber Command Clasp er two years ago or was it two years ago anyway probably last year can’t remember anyway we got it.
TJ: Are you did you think about time too were you pleased with it or did you think its too late too little too late?
GR: Well a lot of people er have passed away there are there aren’t many that could appreciate that we’d been recognised I mean bear in mind about a half of the aircrew were killed fifty five thousand five hundred and seventy three were killed and that was the worst er casuality rate of any of the services in the in the war so it was a pretty dangerous occupation and we felt that we’d we’d shortened the war quite substantially and there we are you just go along with the politicians these days don’t you.
TJ: Yes yes, well thank you very much for giving us that plotted history of your war experiences [clock chiming] and a little bit of life since and I didn’t say at the beginning but today it is Monday the Third of August Two Thousand and Fifteen.
GR: That’s right.
TJ: I’m going to switch off now.
[Recording stopped and then restarted]
GR: In those days every wedding reception was in the village hall and er I think that’s well friends and family got er food coupons together and dried fruit and made cakes, Eileen’s brother was a butcher so he he’d got some hams that he’d killed pigs for so the reception was in the village hall with a lot of help from friends and three days just before our wedding the Canadians on their way south for D Day commandeered the hall [laughs] anyway the vicar managed to persuade the commanding officer to set the reception [laughs] and er we went in the pub for a drink and my father was with us and so Canadian senior NCO’s were in the pub and I remember my father saying you know ‘say you lads want to be getting on with this war these air force lads are winning it for you’ [laughs] and he was only about five foot four wasn’t he [laughs].
TJ: And you were getting married in uniform I take it?
GR: Oh yes yes nothing else would fit me [laughs] well that’s not true because er my brother I said he was in South Africa and when he got home I got a telegram in the in the mess to say he was home and because we were a spare crew I rang the I rang the squadron leader to see if I could have a bit of time off and he said ‘well yes’ he said ‘you can’ this was dinner time said ‘yes you can be back by morning’ so I cycled home and we had a reunion but then I was on I was on leave and er we went to the er local theatre Eileen all the family went in the evening and my brother said ‘shall we put civvies on’ and I’d been out the night before bombing and then come home for a week’s leave anyway we went into the theatre and a woman after the show turned round said ‘you two lads you ought to be in uniform’ [laughs] me brother had just got home from three years in South Africa and I was over Germany the night before just goes to show.
TJ: Did you make any comment?
GR: No no not worth it is it?
ER: You can say it underneath your breath can’t you [laughs].
GR: The second time we paid our way but the the Dutch people were so so grateful the older people there embarrassing almost wasn’t it Eileen you know the way they put their arms round you.
ER: Oh yes they did yes they did.
GR: The couldn’t do enough for us it was a wonderful experience.
TJ: Have you seen the picture of the flower arrangement for Operation Manna?
GR: Yes yes it was on the national news wasn’t it.
TJ: Are you on the internet are you on email?
GR: Er well I don’t use it I don’t know.
TJ: Just that if you wanted to keep a picture I was going to email one to you.
GR: Oh lovely er.
TJ: What’s your email address?

Collection

Citation

Tina James, “Interview with Geoffrey Robinson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 4, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8905.

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