Interview with William Horace Shaw


Interview with William Horace Shaw


Bill was a wireless operator/air gunner. He joined the Home Guard in 1941 and registered for conscription to the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1943. He reported to Lord’s Cricket Ground and went to an Initial Training Wing at RAF Bridgnorth. Bill then went to No. 2 Radio School at RAF Yatesbury where he qualified as a signaller. He did a gunnery course at RAF Evanton in Scotland before going to RAF West Kirby and embarking at Greenock to sail to Alexandria.
After a transit camp in Ismailia, Bill went to Jerusalem and attended a wedding in Bethlehem. He proceeded to an Operational Training Unit at Attiyah where they trained on Wellingtons. He was posted to RAF Shallufa for conversion onto B-24s.
Bill eventually joined 37 Squadron, No. 205 Group, at Tortorella, near Foggia. He went on two operations: one to bomb a railway bridge in the north of Italy and the second to attack marshalling yards near Salzburg in Austria. After the Germans surrendered, he flew up supplies from the south to the north of Italy. The squadron then disbanded, and Bill was sent to a maintenance unit just outside Cairo, delivering aircraft. Bill left the RAF in 1947.




Temporal Coverage




01:04:18 audio recording


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CB: Right, I’m with Bill Shaw, who was wireless air gunner, operator air gunner, and we are in Reading, and we’re going to talk about his life and, in the RAF and what he did afterwards. So Bill – er the date today is the 27th of October 2015. Bill, could you start with the earliest days with your family, where were they, where were you born, what do you remember about the early experiences?
WS: Well I was born in a London hospital, in Whitechapel, 26th of February 1924. My mother was living then in Kenning [?] Street Road, her father was a farrier and dyers and cleaners business. Soon after I was born, I was just thinking it must have been something like fifteen months, they moved to Layton and mother opened up a shop for dying and cleaning. My father then was out of work because by that time there was the depression in 1926 [emphasis]. He did get a job, I can’t remember in very much detail of that time, he did get a job in Sutton, Surrey, on the parks department there because he was a professional gardener, and travelled backwards and forwards for a time, and then they got a house in Sutton which he rented from the council. And I moved to Sutton in 1929 when I was about five, just before I was five. I can’t remember the details exactly, but soon after we went to Sutton, I caught diphtheria which was quite a killer disease in those days. There was a lot of controversy that I got told about after I’d got better was the fact that the doctor wanted me to go to hospital and mother wouldn’t agree to go, me to go into hospital, mainly because back in the First World War when my father was in France, their first baby died of diphtheria when she was thirteen, and as a result of that Mum and Dad wouldn’t let me go into hospital [emphasis] so Mother had to nurse me at home. All I can remember about that is that I had to lie flat on my back, I wasn’t allowed to sit up at all, it was a liquid [emphasis] diet. I can just about [emphasis] remember that my sister used to sit on the stairs outside reading stories, otherwise the only thing I can remember about it was the fact that when I got better, the first time I could sit up I could look out the window and see my father picking some mushrooms in the cold frames in the nursery and brought those in, that was the first meal I’d had for a very, oh goodness knows how many weeks. Then I can’t remember how many weeks it was, but – then I went to school as usual in Sutton at the infants, and junior school. And then when I was about twelve I suppose it was, I went to secondary school in Wallington, had some success and some failures there [laughs]. Cricket and rugby was the two games I played. I made a stained glass window in the art class which was quite a feat – I often wonder what happened to that. And then takes you round to 1939, we broke up for usual, as usual for the summer holidays. I went to stay with my sister who was by that time married and living with a family up in Gobowen on the border between Shropshire and Wales. I don’t know why but after a few weeks with her, I think mainly because she was expecting a baby, I went to live with an auntie in Chester [emphasis], and that part I can remember because on the Sunday morning on the 3rd of September was when war was declared. My school closed for the duration so I, unbeknownst to me I’d left school, and then I came back to Sutton for home, 1940, in April 1940, I managed to get a job with an insurance company in London. And on reflection you think what a daft place to go and start work [laughs] with the Blitz on. We went to – it was exciting times in a way. I think it was 1941 when I joined the Home Guard, and that helped me a great deal for when I was called up into the services. I didn’t think so at the time, but I think it was about when I was seventeen I had to register I think for the conscription, when you had to decide whether you wanted to, which service to go into. At that time there were rumours about pilots going on indefinite leave [CB laughs] so I thought ‘that’s a good idea,’ and I put down my name for the RAF and air crew. You didn’t get much opportunity to decide what you wanted to do in aircrew mainly because you didn’t know what went on [laughs]. I had, I was put down as a wireless operator air gunner. Then you went home again to wait for, you know, a call to arms. That was on the 24th of May 1943 that I reported to Lourdes Cricket Ground [emphasis]. We were stationed – we were billeted in some blocks of flats in Abbey Wood I think it was called, just outside Lourdes, for I think it was something like two weeks or ten days while you were kitted out. Then went on to ITW, don’t think there was anything in between. ITW was at Bridgnorth up in Shropshire, which was a town renowned for the number of pubs it had [CB laughs]. ITW – I can’t remember how long it lasted but after that you went on leave for, I suppose it was a week, maybe five days something like that. You reported then to radio school [emphasis], Number Two Radio School at Yatesbury in Wiltshire. That’s when soon after we started the radio course they decided that there was no need for the gunnery part of it so we trained as a signaller.
CB: Mm.
WS: Odd times getting home for leave and hitching lifts and that kind of thing. Qualified as a signaller. again I can’t really remember how long that course took, but as you qualified, normally you went straight on leave, but the night before we were due to go on leave, as we had two empty beds in our hut, they introduced two new intake into our hut, one of which the next morning reported sick with suspected scarlet fever, which meant we were confined to the hut straight away – food was brought in et cetera, et cetera, for about ten to twelve days again until it was confirmed whether it was scarlet fever or not, and then, as we left behind most of the course because of the scarlet fever scare, they decided we could go up to Scotland on a gunnery [emphasis] course. Now that was very good organisation because we went down into town to get onto a train, there was as far as I could remember roughly fifty, fifty five of us. We got on the train to go up to Scotland, we didn’t know whereabouts in Scotland we were going, just that we were going north, and every few miles or so we were, the carriage we were in was shunted to the sidings to let traffic go down from the north to the south. And then we push on and eventually [emphasis] although we’d left sort of first thing in the morning from Yatesbury, we got up to a place called Evanton, or Evanton [pronounced differently] in Scotland, early evening, only to find that the reason for our long journey was the fact that D-Day had started, and the traffic going from north to south was all the tanks and troops going down for the invasion. We did gunnery school – so as they changed their mind about us, we thought, we assumed that we would be due to go on Coastal Command [emphasis]. As Coastal Command, because of the duration of the trips or flights, had three wireless operator air gunners to each crew, so three of us had palled up. We left to go on leave after gunnery course. I’d arranged with my girlfriend, who I’d met before [emphasis] I went into the RAF to meet and go to stay with an aunt of hers away from the bombing. We were due to go to Stamford. We were gonna meet at Waterloo Station on the Saturday morning. I had spent [unclear] leave at home in Sutton, all ready to go to Waterloo when the knock at the doors, and a policeman had asked, had a telegram for Sergeant Shaw. And my mother took it off him and said ‘what shall I do?’ I said ‘well give it back to him and tell him I’ve gone to Stamford’ [laughs]. I thought we must get a couple of days at Stamford before they caught up with us [CB laughs]. We got up there, sat down to tea on the first day, there was a knock at the door and I heard someone say ‘Sergeant Shaw,’ and my aunt said ‘don’t know no Sergeant Shaw,’ because although she knew my Christian name [CB laughs] she didn’t know my surname [emphasis], I thought I’d better show my face [laughs]. And the, he gave me orders to report back to my unit with small kit and pay book. Pam said ‘what are you going to do?’ I said ‘well, you go down the station and find out when the last train goes and I’ll report to the transport officer’ which I did, and he said ‘ooh, well you’ve missed the last train,’ ‘cause I thought well at least we’d have one night [laughs], and the next day Pam went back to her home in Fulham in London and I went up to Scotland to report back to the unit. They, they measured my height and weighed me, and sent me back on leave [emphasis], indefinite leave. I thought ‘ooh this is nice, indefinite leave.’ That lasted three days [both laugh], and I was – had orders to go back to West Kirby which was near Birkenhead, transit camp. We were then embarked on a ship, we went up to Grenick [?] for the ship for the convoy to assemble. And I can remember one chap on the ship when we first sailed – we got out of sight of land and he said ‘oh that’s enough of that, let’s go back’ [CB and WS laugh]. The eventually we – I think we were about three weeks on the boat, we didn’t know where we were going of course, but we reckon we were going west for so many days and then we turned south for a bit and then – during the night of course you didn’t know whether you’d changed course or not, but eventually we got to Alexandria [emphasis]. We disembarked in Alexandria, that was out first real taste of overseas [emphasis] service really. Before we got off the ship there was boys, native [emphasis] boys on the quayside shouting up for white money, and there was troops, it was mainly an army ship just ‘cause there was only about fifty of us in RAF, and the, there was a Scottish regiment, or Scottish company, and the, used to throw coppers in, which of course was no good to the boys because they couldn’t see them in the muddy water [emphasis]. So when they [laughs] used to dive in after the money, they used to shout ‘bloody Scotsmen’ [both laugh]. And that was then my initiation into overseas service [laughs]. And we disembarked, went on a train down to a place called Ismailia [emphasis], to a transit camp. I can’t tell you how long we stayed there but then we went on another [emphasis] train up to Jerusalem. We got to Jerusalem – there was an officer in the room there which interviewed us and we were still the three of us together still, and he said ‘where did you do your ASV course?’ We hadn’t a clue what he was talking about, we hadn’t, never done that. So he said ‘you should have done that before you came out,’ he said ‘you’re no use to us.’ And with that we went back to the billet, which in Jerusalem was referred to as the ‘German hospital.’ We just went in there, waiting for orders. We got, a couple of us got chatting to the guard which was a local sort of people, I don’t know exactly what they were, they weren’t Arabs but – we were chatting to them, they were well educated with English, and one weekend he said he won’t, wouldn’t be there because he was going to his brother’s wedding in Bethlehem. And he said ‘you could come if you like, we go on the Friday.’ We couldn’t get away on the Friday so he instructed us how to get there on the Saturday which was a bus, Arab bus. We didn’t realise at the time that Jerusalem was up on a hill and Bethlehem was up on another hill, so the bus went down [emphasis] into the valley and up the other side. There was this road just covered in stones – it was quite a journey [emphasis] looking down into the valley as we were going round the bends [laughs]. His brother who was the bridegroom met us when we got to Bethlehem, showed us round, and the procedure then was the bridegroom, with a few others, went from house to house where the men were all sitting round. A couple of the women brought in a tray with little drinks on, brandy or Arac [?]. We didn’t know Arac was prohibited to the servicemen but it was rather nice, followed by, which amazed us, was a tin of Macintosh’s Toffees [both laugh]. So you got a little drink and a toffee [CB laughs]. And we went to around about five or six houses I suppose in Bethlehem. Then we were shown to another room where we could sort of lounge about. Food was brought in on a big circular tray, placed in the middle of the room, and our guide there, the sentries from the hospital looking after us said ‘you can eat that, don’t eat that, don’t eat that,’ and there was various dishes all on this table, and he pointed at what not to eat on [laughs] this table. And then we went to the Church of Nativity for the wedding. We were shown round the Church of Nativity, the manger and so forth, and the party went on in another house after the wedding. The bride as far as I can remember sat on a chair in a little dais, and all the guests went up and pinned money onto her dress. Of course it was nothing we do, we were just observers [emphasis] more or less, the party went on from the Saturday night into the Sunday, but we couldn’t stop all that long because we had to get back on the busses, back to billets. So that was the first time we’d seen anything of an Arab wedding. The thing that stood out in our mind then was the pews in the church were just sort of wooden benches, and we sat sort of to one side, just watching what was going on, and the baby started to cry in the middle of all the service. The women was in the same row of seats as we were, and she simply undressed her, undid her blouse to feed the baby which kept it quiet [laughs]. And we thought to ourselves, ‘just imagine that happening in England’ [CB and WS laugh]. And we went back to billet, which then came through to go to OTU Takia [?] where they were using Wellingtons for training. We did – I just can’t remember how many weeks a course went on for OTU, but on our last, we did so many circuits and bumps, so we did so many of them, but at the end of the course which consisted of cross country trips and simulated bombing on Cyprus. And the trip before last, we had a terrible storm [emphasis] while we were on the way to Cyprus, and when we were on the way back, there had been a recall signal out but I never received it because with the storm the radio was pretty useless. And the debriefing they reckon the navigator had cooked his log [?], they didn’t think that we could have got round and they reckon he’d cooked his log [?] to show that we’d got round. And the CO was going to take him off and give us another navigator, and the pilot refused to accept another navigator of an unknown quantity so to speak. The CO said ‘well you’ll have to do your cross countries again,’ so we did another set of cross countries. At the end of that we were then posted down to Shalloufa [?] the station near Suez near Egypt for conversion onto Liberators for the four engine heavy bomber. We did the conversion course on that, eventually got across to Italy and caught up with squadron. And the talk as soon as we got onto the squadron was all about the bad winter they’d had, because nothing – I think it was March by time we got there, but we, we missed that, we were in, we were under canvas of course in Italy. We did two operations [emphasis]. First one was trying to bomb a railway bridge a the north of Italy to stop the supplies coming through the tunnel in the Alps for the Germans and the second one was to bomb marshalling yards in Austria, just outside Salzburg [emphasis].
CB: Mm.
WS: Most successful, erm, that was about the end of April I should think, something like that. 1945, before we did any more operations the Germans surrendered and the hostiles ceased on the 8th of May. We then started doing more flying than we had before because the army had gone so far, so fast up to the north of Italy that they’d outstripped their supply line, and they got so many hundreds of thousands of prisoners with no supplies [emphasis], so we were flying supplies up from the south to the north of Italy. Boxes of supplies with food and rations et cetera, and also jerry cans of petrol. That went on until about the October I think it was, then we were posted back to, back to Palestine, back to Egypt, back to the Shalloufa [?] we converted onto, and I can’t remember the date, then the squadron was disbanded [emphasis]. We went, we were sent to a transit camp where we met aircrew from the other squadrons, some of which, whom we’d trained with a so forth. The procedure there was that there was a parade at eight o’clock in the morning. If your name wasn’t called out you were free to go where you liked until eight o’clock the next morning. We had a form to fill in to show, or to decide which type of ground duties you’d like, we filled three of us, there was a navigator and myself, and the two navigators and myself filled in the form with the choice of five duties. We put, so we put flying, flying, flying, flying [CB laughs] and thought we’d get called up before the CO where they sorted that out, and nothing happened for two or three days, and then our names were called out one morning, and instead of being in for the high jump we were posted to a maintenance [emphasis] unit, just outside Cairo. And then we were – pause there.
JS: Mhm, yeah.
CB: Pause?
JS: [Unclear.]
CB: Okay. We’re just pausing our tape.
[Tape paused and restarted.]
CB: So, and we’ve talked about a lot of things Bill, thank you very much, but I think it’s useful to be able to understand what the training was at various stages. So you were going to be wireless operator air gunner but only wireless operator in the end. What was the training, what did it involve?
WS: As far as I can remember, it was just a question of explaining how a radio worked for a receiver and transmitter point of view and learning the Morse code [emphasis]. The layout of the radios was sort of laid out on a table instead of in a box, it was always laid out on a table. Various wirings and the transformers and tuning, tuning veins or something wasn’t it? I can’t remember my memory’s gone. And the valves, we were shown how this valve did such and such, and this valve did such and such, and you also trained so how you could move the valves around in case one was damaged so that you could still get some sort of signal out of the set. And the same sort of thing with the trans, transmitter. It mainly as far as I can remember, learning the Morse code was the most difficult thing. The radio seemed quite straight forward, but learning the Morse code and the Q code as it was called then –
CB: What was the Q code?
WS: [Unclear]
CB: What was the Q code?
WS: Q code?
CB: What was that?
WS: You had, they’re like QDM – if you sent, if you sent out a message basically saying requesting a QDM that was meant that you wanted them to give you a magnetic course so you could then hold the key down to transmit while they picked up the signal and followed directions, and course then come back and tell you what your course was. So if you did that with two stations, you could then get a fix where the, those two courses crossed. That’s where you first flew, it took us up in the Domini [?] Rapide [emphasis], about five or six of us. That was to show whether you could stand air-worthiness, whether you were sick or frightened or so forth. And then you went on to a single engine, Proctors [emphasis] with a pilot and yourself, just local flying so you could learn how to transmit and receive in the air, and did various trips on that sort of thing. Then you had a test and on the result of that whether you qualified or not. Then you got your wings, or brevy, and then of course we went on to do the same sort of thing on the gunnery course, were you had a, an aircraft with a mid upper turret, which was an old Hampson [?], used to take off with about three I think, three, three cadets in it, and a pilot. And you rendezvous with a, another aircraft which would tell you [?] the drogue [emphasis], and used to wander round the lighthouse at, can’t remember, the north east of Scotland, and you had so many bullets each and the noses of the bullets were painted different colours so that when the drogue came back to land they could count out how many hits the red had and how many hits the green had and so forth. What happened sometimes [laughs] was the last person in to fire, instead of hitting the drogue would hit the wire that was towing the drogue and it floated out into the sea [CB and WS laugh]. So it was a wasted exercise [laughs]. But I always had quite a good eye because of, again the Home Guard going onto the army rifle ranges was a great experience for that, and the first thing we did at the gunnery school was with somebody who looked as if he was a real life old country gentleman sitting on a shooting stick with clay pigeons coming across and how to aim off with a shotgun. And he did it out, he seemed to do it without looking. I suspect he had been doing it all his life [laughs]. But then you went on to, as I say, firing air to air. I don’t think we did any air to ground I think it was all air to air firing. Where did we go from there? Believe, prior to going overseas [unclear].
CB: So prior to going abroad, you didn’t know where you were going to go at all?
WS: No.
CB: You thought you were going to Bomber Command did you?
WS: Well as we’d done a gunnery course, we, we presumed right at the beginning we were going onto bombers of some sort. I mean, it could have been night fighters. Defiants had a turret –
CB: Hmm.
WS: A radio operated turret. But as we’d done the gunnery course after they’d changed their mind and only wanted a signaller, we assumed we were going onto the Coastal Command [emphasis]. That’s where we ended up in Jerusalem, and the chaps said ‘where did you do your ASV course?’ Which I never really understood what it stood for but it was something to do with the air search or something, with this radar business you could see under – submarines if they were near the surface of the water.
CB: Mm.
WS: But that’s all I know about that. We never did that before we went over there so we had to go back to the transit camp and wait until they could sort of feed us in with the Middle East Bomber Command.
CB: What was your squadron number?
WS: Thirty-seven.
CB: And was that with you in the Middle East or did you join it in Italy?
WS: No that was – well no, we joined it in Italy because the squadron had been in the western desert right the way through North Africa –
CB: Mm.
WS: Then over to Italy, which was 1205 Group.
CB: And where were you in Italy?
WS: Just outside Foggia [?], place called Torremaggiore [?].
CB: Mhm.
WS: Which was an olive, olive grove, or had been at one time.
CB: You mentioned the two ops you did –
WS: Yeah.
CB: That was the total number of ops, was it, or did you do some other ones as well?
WS: No, no that was all we did.
CB: Mm.
WS: The hostilities ceased then.
CB: Mm. Just thinking about the crew, what was the relationship between the members of the crew? How many were there first of all?
WS: Seven, in the, in the crew of the Liberator. The, we were training on the Wellingtons you had two gunners, when you went onto the Liberator you had three gunners. So you had the pilot, engineer, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator, two gunners and the wireless operator stood in as a third gunner if it was required.
CB: Mm. And how did the crew get on?
WS: We got on very well, yes. The engineer was a Scotsman who, because he was an engineer they were always much older, they were two or three years older than the rest of us because of their engineering training, but the one we had [laughs] was quite a good engineer but he did like his whisky [CB laughs]. So [laughs] sometimes it was a job to keep him away from that. One of the gunners was also the heavy weight champion of the Middle East while we were there for the boxing, otherwise we got on. The pilot had been a van driver before he was called up, delivering groceries, the navigator had been a coal miner working down the pits [CB laughs], I’d been a clerk down in East Yorks [?] [laughs]. I can’t remember – ooh two of the gunners had been, two of the gunners had been what? I think they’d been in the RAF but remustersed [?] or transferred onto aircrew. I think they’d been on ground duties when they’d first – they were a year’s difference in age made an awful lot of difference at that time –
CB: Hmm.
WS: You were either old or not, you know [laughs]. And those in the year older than you were old.
CB: Yeah.
WS: It was – especially the engineer who was two or three years older. He was an old man [laughs].
CB: What’s this – was your particular formed in Italy, and how was that done –
WS: No –
CB: Or did you just join a crew that was short of –
WS: At OTU, where you started, at the beginning of OTU, all the aircrews of various trades, like the bomb aimer and pilot, came up from South Africa, I think the rest of us had come out from Blighty, but we were all in, so many hundreds of us in the hangar, and it was the pilot’s job then to come around amongst all these aircrew. He came up to me and said ‘would you like to fly with me?’ And I’d never met him before [laughs] so it was a why not sort of thing, you know. And then you couldn’t tell if you wanted to or not [laughs]. So you said ‘yes’ and he had to round and pick his navigator and his engineer and gunners like that, so at the end of the day he’d formed a crew [emphasis].
CB: What nationalities did you have?
WS: Erm –
CB: The pilot for example. He came up from South Africa but what – did he train there or was he actually from South Africa?
WS: He trained as a pilot in South Africa but he wasn’t –
CB: He was a Brit was he?
WS: Yeah he was English, I was English, the navigator was a Yorkshire man, there’s quite a difference there [CB and WS laugh]. Bomb aimer was a Scouse [CB laughs]. One of the other gunners was a Yorkshire man I think – I can’t remember – mid upper gunner, mid upper gunner was a Scotsman, one of the gunners came from Leicestershire somewhere, I think it was. But I suppose quite a normal span of occupations overall.
CB: Yeah.
WS: Really.
CB: Now, people’s experiences varied hugely in some people later in the war didn’t experience the same draw, draw, dramas [emphasis] that others had –
WS: Oh no –
CB: In the middle of the war perhaps.
WS: No –
CB: But in your case, what sort of excitements did you have in your flying activities? Or even on the ground?
WS: Well [laughs] the only thing I can remember stands out most is on the first operation. ‘Cause on the Liberator, the bomb doors used to – the bombs were inside the aircraft and the bombs used to go up the sides. And there was a lever which operated the bomb doors, which with the vibration of the aircraft, if they came down two or three inches, would interfere with the bomb release gear. And there was a catwalk through the aircraft with the bombs hanging over either side like that, and my job was to sit on the end of this catwalk holding this lever so it kept the doors up, out on the, on the bombing run, and I was also told to, you know, report any hang ups, and being very naïve I thought ‘oh that’s easy, I can go one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.’ It dawned on me afterwards [laughs] if the bomb’s about a hundred yards apart on the ground it’s a split second up there [laughs]. So I was sitting up there [unclear] thinking ‘I’m ready,’ you know, this and this, bomb aimer said ‘bomb’s gone,’ and the bomb went down like that, the aircraft went up and I nearly fell out the bottom [CB and WS laugh].
CB: Sounds dangerous [WS laughs].
WS: And there were – you kept the bomb doors open, sitting on there for, looking for fighters coming up underneath.
CB: Mm.
WS: Until you were sort of well clear of the target. And the second trip we had to Austria was a moonlit night, and coming back you had the beautiful snow coloured mountains [laughs]. It was quite picturesque [emphasis]. There was one aircraft, single engine aircraft, I couldn’t tell you what it was, whether it was an ME109 or what I don’t know, might have been an F190, that sort of went across quite a way below us, he didn’t take any notice of him so we didn’t take any notice, you know, he didn’t take any notice of us so we didn’t take any notice of him. That was the only activity I had on that trip. On the railway bridge, that was the first trip I did – that was at the foot of the Alps, Northern Italy, where the trains coming through the tunnel in the Alps across the River Po, then the Americans, who were stationed on the other side of the airfield with Flying Fortresses used to go out during the daytime raids, and they would come back some of them shot up, so we had their intelligence and whether we were flying under them, under them. They were in control, control of the airstrip so to speak. Reports of so many hundred guns protecting this bridge and that sort of thing. And we went out at night, which the Americans thought we were mad [CB laughs]. And of course they, they were day [emphasis] gunners, they’d got not radar in those days. No, they were day gunners, so although they might hear us they couldn’t know where we were.
CB: What sort of height [emphasis] were your flying at?
WS: Bombing height was eight thousand five hundred.
CB: And the bomb load, how big?
WS: It was I think four, four one thousand pounds and eight five hundreds I think it was [unclear]. I got a couple of photographs there –
CB: Good.
WS: Of – taken by the camera automatically when the bombs burst.
CB: And how was the adjustment made for the camera to operate?
WS: I don’t know, no idea.
CB: You didn’t operate that?
WS: No, no. That was fitted in by the, sort of ground crew.
CB: Mm.
WS: Who had the height, knew what height the bombing height, height would be –
CB: ‘Cause they’d need to know the height to do it, yep.
WS: So the camera was fixed [emphasis] –
CB: Mm.
WS: On that thing. I – on one of them you could just about un, make out the river, but otherwise I, I don’t see what they could decipher from it.
CB: So both occasions, these two ops where in, in the night.
WS: Yes, yes. Mm, yeah.
CB: Okay. Changing the subject slightly, what did you learn about, or see, to do with LMF? Or did it not arise?
WS: No. We’d heard about it but no context [unclear]. Never knew anybody that was classified as that.
CB: Mm. And did you know what happened to aircrew that were accused of that?
WS: No, no. We – I suppose being oversees we got very little information from anything [laughs].
CB: Mm, mm.
WS: I don’t know whether anybody was sent back to this country –
CB: Perhaps it happened differently there.
WS: I don’t know.
CB: Okay.
WS: News, news was very late coming through.
CB: Mm. So the war ended, and you didn’t come out until 1947 –
WS: Yeah.
CB: So what did you do in the meantime?
WS: Well to start with, when the squadron first went back to Egypt before it was disbanded, I can only think that we were kept operational because of the Cold War [emphasis]. Because, because twice [emphasis] we were bombed up at that time, never really knew whether that was a real [emphasis] emergency or just something to keep the armies occupied.
CB: Mm.
WS: But, that was, that was really all that happened in Shalloufa [?] really then. I don’t think [emphasis] we did any, any other trips at that time.
CB: So you left [emphasis] really before the Israeli Palestinian hostilities gathered momentum?
WS: When we went – after disbandment when we were posted to the maintenance unit was [unclear] operative which is a pre-war station just outside Cairo. We had, there were five crews, pilot, navigator and wireless operator, and we had a marvellous time then because we were in brick built billets after being under canvas. All luxury [emphasis] yeah. And a chap – we had our own room, and the chappy next to me, I mean it was quite a room, about twelve by twelve, quite a size –
CB: Mm.
WS: Chap next door – we employed a boy and we gave something like the equivalent of roughly ten bob a fortnight I think it was, he cleaned our room, did our laundry, polished our buttons and shoes and that sort of thing. Gave us a cup of tea in the morning –
CB: Mm.
WS: All that sort of thing. We had a life of luxury.
CB: Mm.
WS: But that was about the time when – who was it, NASA [?] wasn’t it? Wanted Egypt for the Egyptians, they wanted the British out. And they got all these aircraft that they’d been using up in Palestine for training, just dumped [emphasis] in the desert, in a place which became locally as Wimpy Valley. Everybody knew Wimpy Valley, and they were bringing these aircraft in, putting them through the main, maintenance unit and then we’d test them and send, deliver them to wherever they had to go. We – the first consignment we had was fifty-two to be delivered to the French in Algiers. So where they, where they’d gone through the maintenance unit, and if there was no snakes [?] we’d rake them up to Algiers and then scrounge a lift back [laughs]. A lot of the trips we got back to Cairo were on American Dakotas.
CB: Oh.
WS: ‘Cause they seemed to have a taxi service running backwards and forwards –
CB: Right.
WS: From the North African coast. And as I say, we also took one or two up to Greece, one up to Palestine, things like that. And then we had orders to bring them back to this [emphasis] country. So that was a [laughs] that was a laugh really.
CB: What route did you take to do that?
WS: Well you see, we were a law unto ourselves at that time really. Nobody knew where we were or who we were [CB laughs]. We had a marvellous [emphasis] time. We used to go along to, from Cairo to I think it was Benin, refuel there, over to Luqa in Malta to refuel there, refuel to the South of France. Can’t think of the name of the place –
CB: Orange [in French accent].
WS: Toulouse was it?
CB: Orange [in French accent].
WS: Was it?
CB: Orange, yeah.
WS: Then up to St. Morgan [?] for customs clearance, and then up to Scotland to deliver these aircraft.
CB: Mm.
WS: But the first one we had to deliver was to the Bristol Aircraft Company at Gloucester. They wanted it for the engines because they were Gloucester Engines [unclear]. And we handed it over – there were three [emphasis] chaps on the airfield in a little hut. We handed over the papers and said ‘where’s the transport for, to go to the station?’ Railway station [CB laughs]. And they said ‘we haven’t got any transport. We all come to work on our bikes’ [laughs]. He said ‘we close down at four o’clock, if you’d like to wait ‘til four o’clock, we’ll run you into the railway station on the fire tender’ [CB and WS laugh]. So we travelled then up to Charing Cross, and the idea was you’d go to Charing Cross, walk up the Strand, go into Kingsway House I think it was, which was Transport Command, to book your flight back to Cairo as a passenger. So going up on the train to Charing Cross, I think it was on a Thursday or a Friday, I’m not sure which. But we said ‘nobody knows who we are [laughs], when we are [laughs] what we’re doing or anything.’ So two of us were Londoners, I can’t remember were the third person was, went, erm – so we said ‘we’ll go home for the night,’ and yeah, ‘meet again tomorrow about nine o’clock time, and go up to the Strand’ [emphasis]. So we strolled up to this place and went in to book our flight back and the chap said ‘where you come from?’ So we said ‘Cairo’ [CB and WS laugh]. He said ‘oh you want to go back, come and see me Monday’ [CB and WS laugh]. So that gave us thought for the next trip over, so we had five days [emphasis] home the next trip [laughs].
CB: So when was this? This is late forty-five is it?
WS: This is –
CB: Forty-six –
WS: Forty-six by this time, yeah.
CB: Right.
WS: I think it was when the –
CB: And what prompted the discharge? The demob?
WS: What prompted it?
CB: Yes. How did they work out, when you –
WS: Ooh I don’t know – you went into groups didn’t you, or something. I don’t know how it worked. You just had to wait and see –
CB: Mm.
WS: When your time came sort of thing.
CB: But you were still flying at that time.
WS: Erm, last time I flew in a Wellington [pause], I made a mistake [papers shuffling], I put some of my flights, civilian flights in here after the war, shouldn’t have done that, gliding. Erm, March 1947 –
CB: Mm.
WS: Is the last time I flew in a plane.
CB: What did you do when you left the RAF?
WS: Went back to where I started.
CB: In the insurance company?
WS: Yeah, they were writing to me in Egypt saying ‘when are you going to be back, there’s a job waiting for you.’ So I just went back to – as if nothing had happened, just went back to work.
CB: Mm. Where did you live then? You rented a house somewhere did you?
WS: I was living in Sutton still. The house I’d been brought up in.
CB: Mm.
WS: 1947. I was married in forty-eight. Went to live with Pam’s parents then in Fulham [pause] and – for five years. Couldn’t – we struggled and struggled to find somewhere to rent but you know, people with families were given priority and all that sort of thing. And then by a stroke of good fortune, somebody said to me one day ‘old so-and-so’s going to retire, they’re going to move down the West Country,’ and I knew where they lived and so forth. I didn’t know it was their house, I thought perhaps they just rented the, rented this house, and I went round – ‘if you’re moving out can we move in?’ [laughs] sort of attitude.
CB: Yeah.
WS: And it was their house apparently. It was a spinster [emphasis] living there. Had to sell it, and it was a house that had been divided into two flats with a sitting tenant upstairs. And I – part of my work at the office was dealing with building societies, so I knew the secretary of a small building society quite well, and I thought ‘oh.’ She told me what she wanted for it, about twelve hundred pound [laughs] for this house. Thought – the chance you take with a sitting tenant is an unknown quantity.
CB: Mm.
WS: And I went to the phone and rang up the secretary of the building society one evening, that evening, and said ‘I’ve got a bit of a problem,’ told him what, what I’d got sort of thing, and he said ‘oh, I think we can help you Bill,’ he said, ‘you’ll need two hundred pounds of deposit,’ but he said ‘we’ll take care of the rest.’ And borrowed two hundred pounds from my dad [emphasis] on pain of suffering that I paid it back within six months, and he kept on and on about this two hundred pounds until at the end of six months we’d struggled to collect it and [laughs] get it back to him. It was [laughs] ‘here’s your so and so money’ sort of thing [laughs]. Course the mortgage worked out at eight pound eleven a month, and I can see us now sitting down with pencil and paper to work out our expenditure, ‘cause we got a – we’d started a family by this time. Well, the family hadn’t been born yet. We’d started [laughs] one.
CB: How many children did you have in the end?
WS: Two, boy and a girl.
CB: And did you stay with insurance all your working life?
WS: Yeah, yeah.
CB: When did you retire?
WS: 26th of February 1985.
CB: And what was the company?
WS: General Accident.
CB: Oh right [pause].
WS: But erm, various jobs during that time –
CB: Mhm.
WS: Up in London, various, into various offices for different jobs up in London. And at Putney, the manager at Reading here rang me up. We had crossed paths at one time. He rang me up to say there was a job at Reading if I’d like to apply for it, which meant quite a bit of promotion, and I was aged fifty then.
CB: Mhm.
WS: I thought ‘nobody else is going to offer me a promotion at my time of life,’ so I went home to tea and said ‘I’ve been offered a job at Reading,’ and the family said ‘where’s Reading?’ [laughs]. We had to get the map out to find out. So that’s how I came here.
CB: And this is the house?
WS: Well that’s another story, ‘cause to – I was travelling backwards and forwards to start with. Trying to go round estate agents and – with the General Accident you had a staff mortgage with a very low rate of interest, ‘cause outside was about fifteen percent at that time, and they were doing staff loans at three and a half percent.
CB: Cor.
WS: But the amount of repayments which had to be buying down [?] policy. The premiums plus interest couldn’t exceed twenty five percent of his salary, so you could work out exactly how much you could borrow. And the property they kept sending us to and the price they were asking was ridiculous. So I was in my office one day and the – I had a newspaper cutting on my desk. And a woman came in with, delivering sort of papers and things round the building, she came in with some papers for me. She said ‘ooh, who’s buying houses then’ sort of thing, nosey sort of a person. I said ‘I’m trying [emphasis] to,’ she said ‘ooh, the one next to me’s got to be sold, take me home at five o’clock’ she said ‘you can look at mine, it’s the same as the one next door’ [laughs]. And so I came here [laughs].
CB: Amazing.
WS: People – I’ve been lucky all my life.
CB: Yeah, it’s good.
WS: So I went home and said to Pam ‘I’ve found a house,’ so we piled in the car [laughs] and came back that evening, and the people – it was a bit of an odd situation. Apparently this chap had [unclear] a farm had retired, bought this place, and he had two daughters, both married. One was living with him to look after him, and when he died he hadn’t left a will, so the place had to be sold because they couldn’t raise a mortgage to pay off the other sister. It was a game quite by chance really. The first [emphasis] time I came in – when that person showed me her house I knocked on this door to see if I could have a look round [CB coughs].
CB: Mm.
WS: The son was here, he was a bit sort of backwards, he turned out to be. I said ‘I understand your house is being sold,’ you know, ‘is it possible to have a quick look round?’ ‘Well I don’t know what I think about that’ he says, so that’s all that. He said ‘you can come in if you’d like,’ you know. And on the table in here was a letter, looking at it upside down said ‘Brain and Brain.’ And I thought ‘ooh I know them, had dealings with them through the office,’ these solicitors. So I thought ‘ooh, Brain and Brain,’ and, so the next morning I rang up Brain and Brain about Hardcourt [?] Drive. ‘Ooh come and see me’ he says, ‘come and see me.’ Real old fashioned solicitors this place, so – in the reception you had a silver tray to put your visiting card on –
CB: Really?
WS: You know, that sort of place [laughs].
CB: Yeah, yeah .
WS: And he said, he says ‘we’ve been trying to get them out for months,’ he says [CB laughs and coughs]. He says ‘there was one person interested in the house nine months ago but whether they still are’ he doesn’t know, he says ‘we’ve got to the point now where we’ve put the rent up so high we’re forcing them out’ [CB laughs]. He said ‘it’s in the hands of the estate agent now’ [CB clears throat.’ He said he couldn’t discuss the price or anything with me because he was part of the – I don’t know what they called it, the administration or something, you know to wind up the, your estate. So I went to see the estate agents. ‘Oh yeah’ he says, you know, ‘I had one offer, all I could get out of him was that the offer had to be over sixteen thousand’ [laughs]. And so I did my maths, we knew I could borrow that much, you know, that sort of business [?], and I’d got a house [unclear] to sell, and I couldn’t work out from him – but these people had been interested way back, were the party that were interested, that’s all I could find out. And he said ‘offer of sixteen thousand,’ you know, he said ‘the offer’s got to be over sixteen thousand.’ I thought ‘oh, reading between the lines, I think their offer’s sixteen, so I’ll put in an offer for sixteen one-fifty’ [laughs].
CB: And got it?
WS: [Laughing] and got it. But that – the offer I put in on the Tuesday morning, or was it the Wednesday morning? But the deadline was noon on the Thursday. So I, I hadn’t even seen [emphasis] the place, only from the outside [laughs]. So I’d got a house, didn’t know what to do with it [laughs].
CB: Amazing.
WS: The company gave me a bridging loan –
CB: Mhm. Then you sold the other one.
WS: ‘Til I’d sold the other. It took me nine [emphasis] months to sell the other one.
CB: Did it, wow.
WS: It was at a time when the high rate of interest and the market was flat [emphasis].
CB: Mm.
WS: But it turned out in the end that I’d sold that one for sixteen one, and bought this one for sixteen one-fifty [laughs].
CB: Can’t be bad. Going back to your early stage, where there acquaintances you made then who became friends and then you were in touch the rest of your life, or did the crew disperse and you never saw them again?
WS: The pilot lived near Gatwick, I kept in touch with him. We stayed friends, used to go on holiday together, that sort of thing. One of the gunners was in – the, the bomb aimer who was a Scouse had emigrated to Canada, and he used to come across and we’d meet up. The, one of the gunners was, it started off really when we were first demobbed was a reunions, that’s where it started off.
CB: Squadron reunions?
WS: Yeah. Erm, no, 205 Group reunions, group reunions. All the squadrons [unclear]. That’s when the crew was, you know, before they dispersed so to speak, for about two years I suppose.
CB: Mm.
WS: But the pilot lived near Gatwick. Say the bomb aimer – the navigator went up to Yorkshire, he was a right character he was, he never worked again [laughs]. You can’t believe it really sometimes, but his wife used to, his wife used to go out to work and he lived opposite a pub, so he used to go across to the pub [laughs]. House was a terrible [emphasis] condition. He never – he started up doing some painting and decorating as a, I don’t know, whether or not he got any jobs or not I don’t know, but he certainly didn’t do any jobs indoors [laughs], yeah.
CB: Amazing.
WS: I suppose it’s the – but the only one left now is the gunner who’s living near Waddington.
CB: Warrington?
WS: Waddington [emphasis].
CB: Waddington, right.
WS: But last I’d spoke to his wife, last I’d spoke to her she said he, he’s not well at all. He can’t talk at all now, sort of thing.
CB: Mm.
WS: So erm – I did try to contact him before going up to Lincoln but I couldn’t – what’s happened to them I don’t know but, just couldn’t get anywhere on the phone.
CB: Okay. Let’s just pause there, thank you.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with William Horace Shaw,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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