Interview with Barry Smith


Interview with Barry Smith


Barry passed the RAF’s apprentice entrance examination in February 1945, aged 15, and went to RAF Halton to become an electrician. He discusses the three training which resulted in the First Ordinary National Certificate.

In 1948, Barry was posted to RAF St Athan No. 32 Maintenance Unit. He initially serviced a flight simulator, then moved to the Aircraft Electrical Servicing Squadron. After a year, he was posted to RAF Cranwell, servicing generators and was promoted to corporal. He passed his leading aircraftman examination. He spent two years in Malta before being posted to RAF Honington, where he became a sergeant.

Barry wanted to service flight simulators, did a course and was posted for two years to Fighter Command at Bentley Priory. He had a broad role in aircraft engineering at Command Headquarters.

Barry moved to become an education officer and did a course at the School of Education at RAF Uxbridge. He spent two years in the education branch, initially at RAF Melksham. He was then posted to RAF Halton to teach electrics and electrical mechanics before setting up the basic training for the first ground electrician apprenticeships.

Barry undertook an unaccompanied 12-month tour to RAF Muharraq (Bahrain) and was in charge of the battery charging room. A further twelve months were spent at RAF Benson on 90 Group Tactical Communication Wing before returning to RAF Halton to join the Trade Standards and Testing Board. This moved to RAF Brompton where he wrote skills and knowledge specifications for RAF trades. Barry left the RAF in 1975 and continued in teaching and training roles.




Temporal Coverage




01:32:59 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 18th of January 2017 and I’m in Bierton with Barry Smith who went to Halton and then served a long time in the RAF. So what are your first recollections of life Barry?
BM: Um, Stotfold in Oxford — in Bedfordshire, um, which was where my father and mother moved to when my father was posted to RAF Henlow, um, which I think was about twelve months — um, sorry.
CB: That’s OK.
BM: That was silly.
CB: I’ll just stop for a mo [interview stopped at 0:00:57 and restarted 0:01:00]. OK Barry, so what are your earliest recollections then of life really?
BM: In Coppice Mead in Stotfold, which was a row of houses that were built by a Mr Turby Gentle [?], twenty four houses and we occupied those in round about 1935. My father was at — posted, stationed Henlow, at RAF Henlow, and was an airframe fitter and, er, we stayed there until 1940 when he’d moved to RAF Brize Norton, um, on 30— 6MU and we moved subsequently to Witney in Oxfordshire, er, into a set of new houses that had been built especially for the Ministry of Defence called Springfield Oval. My record — my recollections of that include my mother calling me out of bed one night into — to look out of the window of the bathroom across Witney to see some — a big fire in the middle of Witney. A stray German bomber had dropped a stick of three bombs in Witney and, er, they’d set alight a row of army trucks that were on the church green and, er, my mother was really quite worried that the Germans were there. It didn’t bother me at all of course because I was unaware of the risks involved in bombs dropping. Pause. [interview stopped at 02.55.9 and restarted at 03:02:1]
CB: Before you went to Brize you were in Stotfold. So what are your experiences there?
BM: Um, well I recall starting school and walking to school with a little girl who lived down the road and she used to come and call for me, a lady, young lady named Pat Trafford, and we used to walk to St Mary’s Infants School and they moved to Cardington, um, near Bedford, and I continued going to school on my own and then we moved, age of seven, I moved up to the boys school in Stotfold, Stotfold County Boys School, it was called I think. And I used to walk there called Glen Wogan, who was my — our next door neighbour and we were usually late, late back from lunch because, er, we used to pick conkers and chestnuts and walnuts and things on the way back to school after lunch. So we invariably got the cane for being late back to school, um, and Mr Thomas who was the — was our teacher at that time used to wield an inch thick mixing stick that he used to mix the Horlicks with and that hurt, um, and we used to get three of those on each hand if we were late and thought noth— thought nothing seriously of it. And then we moved to — as I say we moved to —from Stotfold subsequently we moved to Witney. Hold it. [interview stopped at 0:04:51:0 and restarted at 0:55:7:00]
CB: So you lived in Witney. What, what were the houses?
BS: There were fifty houses that were built, semi-detached houses, built in Springfield Oval for the Ministry of Defence. We lived in number three so my dad got off the mark fairly early apparently but most of the people round there actually worked — the men worked at Brize Norton.
CB: For the RAF.
BS: For the RAF and — but they were all civilians and, er, I remember Mr Glaister walking to the bus in the middle of winter in his Home, um, Home Guard uniform, he was a lieutenant I think in the Home Guard. And he subsequently died as a result of his chilblains, um, going up —
CB: Because of being on duty in the cold weather.
BS: Insisting on wearing his boots and, and gaiters and so on and so forth and he had, as I say, chilblains and they got the better of his legs and he subsequently died as a result. My dad never joined the Home Guard a. He was too short and b. I think he felt that they were toy soldiers which was naughty really but he was [emphasis] the air raid warden so we housed all the spare stirrup pumps and buckets and, um, all that memorabilia for fighting fires. So we learned how to handle incendiary bombs if they fell. I don’t know where they were going to fall but we didn’t get any. As I say, the only three bombs we got were dropped in the centre of Witney which was a mile and a half a mile away across the valley. [background noise]
CB: Your father was originally in the RAF but he was on a —
BS: A seven and five year engagement.
CB: Which meant what?
BS: Seven years and five years, seven years in the colours and five years on the reserve.
BS: And his seven years would have ended in 1935, um, and he and Mr Trafford that I spoke of earlier were employed as civilians at RAF Cardington by then and subsequently was — he was posted from Cardington to RAF Brize Norton, um, but as far as I know Mr Trafford carried on working at Cardington, as far — you know.
CB: And what did your father do at Brize Norton?
BS: He was a civilian air raid — airframe fitter.
CB: Oh, he was. Right. So, how long did he work there?
BS: Oh, until he, he retired in — at sixty I think and got — or was made redundant around about aged sixty and got a job as a postman and delivered the, the mail around Witney for a few years.
CB: When the war, when the war came was he not recalled to the RAF?
BS: Because he’d got a reserved occupation at Brize Norton.
CB: He was in the reserves but he had a reserved occupation?
BS: Had reserved occupation so he wasn’t called up.
CB: How extraordinary.
BS: So he was really rather fortunate.
CB: Yes. OK.
BS: And during that time he used to bring home for me bullets and bits and pieces that he’d picked up on the airfield and I used to strip them down and used the contents to make fireworks which was a little bit naughty but, er, we did, and I learned while I was at school in Witney, um, how to make gunpowder. And that was rather convenient because the chemist would always sell us, um, potassium perm— potassium nitrate because you could use potassium nitrate for curing rabbit pelts, um, which was why we bought the potassium nitrate but, of course, we made our own charcoal by burning willow twigs in a chocolate, a cocoa tin, and we got our sulphur from Early’s Mills because Earlys used to use — they’d got big wooden sheds that they used to hang the blankets in to bleach them and they bleached them by burning raw sulphur and, of course, there was always a lot of odd bits of sulphur sticks hanging around and we used to get our sulphur from that. So the combinations we had to work out of sulphur and charcoal and potassium nitrate, we had to work out what the thing was to make a sensible bang, which we succeeded in doing.
CB: To what extent did your teacher know about these activities?
BS: He didn’t. He didn’t. He didn’t even tell us the combination of the — um, making the gunpowder. We had to work that out ourselves but I did take an interest in chemistry while I was at, um, that central school in Witney. And my gardening master, Mr Goldsmith, er, was a German Jew refugee, who taught us gardening and he was superb. He roused my interest in chemistry and biological, um, chemistry and that sort of thing and roused, as I say, roused my whole concept of chemistry, especially biological chemistry, which I never followed up. But um —
CB: So how long were you at this school for?
BS: Until I was fourteen, until I was — and then my — I had an extension. I was the only one — there were two of us, um, had homework for a number of years and two of us managed to stay on or were invited to stay on for an extra year, so I was fifteen by the time I actually left, but there was only two of us in school who stayed on ‘till fifteen. [cough] And my mum then got me a job with Mr Mallard who was an optical manufacturer or a — and I was employed as an optical lens maker.
BT: Grinding up.
BS. Grinding lenses, um, for prescriptions for glasses and I worked there. I’d taken the exams to join the Royal Air Force which was my father’s oranis— organisation, um, he had guided my studies at school and guided the fact that I had homework and nobody else did, um, and made arrangements for me to sit the Halton apprentice entrance examination which I think had he not been in the service I wouldn’t have got through to the, um, invitation stage because I’m sure I didn’t pass the exam and, er, I got to Halton, as I said, in February 1945.
CB: OK. [background noise]
BS: The day war broke out —
CB: Yes?
BT: [laugh]
BS: It was a lovely summer’s day and I came — it was a Sunday and I came in from the garden, having been digging an air raid shelter, to find my mother in tears.
BT: In tears.
BS: And I wondered why she was crying and she said told me, she said, ‘Because we’re at war.’
CB: And then what? What happened then?
BS: Well she stopped crying eventually and, er, we carried on building or digging this air raid shelter and putting some, um, corrugated iron over the top to put a lid on it, um, but it wasn’t a very good air raid shelter and we didn’t follow it up to —.
CB: Did you ever use it?
BS: No. No.
CB: Right.
BS: There was no evidence of the war in Stotfold while we were there and we went to — as I say we moved to Witney in Oxfordshire in 1940 anyway, late 1940, and I think that when those three bombs dropped in Witney it was an aircraft returning from Coventry, um, and didn’t want to go home with his bombs so he just ditched them so he could get home quicker, which you can’t blame him for I suppose.
CB: Right, so you were close to Brize Norton airfield which still operational —
BS: Five miles away.
CB: Yep. And so were — how were you aware of what was going on? Did it become busy and did it get bombed? Or what happened?
BS: No. I — we became aware of it getting busy at Brize Norton when they starting practising towing gliders, um, Hamilcars and —
CB: Horsas.
BS: Horsas, yeah, and Hectors, but the little small ones that they, they practiced with, and, er, they were towing those with Albemarle aircraft and, and we were aware of them training with those gliders. No concept of what they were for, of course, um, but that was the only evidence really we saw. I do remember going to boy scouts. We used to go to boy scouts on a Monday night and I remember that during one of the winters but I can’t remember which it would have been, ‘42 perhaps, ’4—, can’t remember but I remember standing outside autumn-ish, so it was a cold dark night and standing outside the scout hut and my patrol leader saying, ‘Ah, they’re Jerries you know.’ We heard the drone of these aircraft flying overhead but we didn’t see anything but I’m fairly confident they were on their way. We would have been on the route to Coventry and it might well have been one of the raids in that direction that we were aware of but no idea of what it was all about. But that was the only connection really. During the war we got, er, evidence of, um, Americans in the town, stationed, and they were stationed on the church green I remember and we used to scrounge chewing gum off of them and, um, that sort of thing but they, they didn’t stay there all that long but I remember there was an air raid shelter in Witney, um, hard by the church green I remember and we were rather concerned that if a bomb dropped near that it might well not be man enough to hold up and, er, I remember hearing around about that time of a, an air raid shelter that I imagined to be very similar actually being hit by a bomb and I don’t quite — that would have come in the news but I can remember picturing the event and what would have happened if the bomb had hit that particular air raid shelter, um, which was — yeah, eye opening, but that was the only concern.
CB: At, um, school to what extent did the pupils discuss the war?
BS: Not very much. No, very, very little. We were very only slightly concerned. We used to dig for victory of course. We had one half day a week at the allotment that the school ran, um, and my father I know was keen on cultivating food in our garden and he also took a, an allotment on, fairly close to where we lived and, of course, rationing was of some consequence. I don’t remember ever being hungry, um, and I do remember later on going down on my dad’s bike to do the shopping on a Saturday morning and going from shop to shop to find out what they’d got under the counter, um, like chocolate and sweets and so on and so forth and I used to go down on a Saturday morning to buy exotic, as far as I was concerned, exotic cakes, cream cakes and jam sponges and things and I used to buy a quantity of these for the neighbours and cycle home with this half a dozen or so cakes but they were only available in this one particular bakers which was rather fascinating. [background noise] [laugh]
CB: So being a commercial minded sort of chap did you have a little business running on this sort of thing?
BS: No. What I, I did do, I used to go down to the River Windrush and catch crayfish and my mum used to cook them, drop them into a big boil— boiling vat, a saucepan of boiling water, and cook these crayfish and I’d go round these fifty houses and I used to sell them at a penny each. So yes I did, yeah.
CB: And what was rationing like?
BS: I was never really aware. I, you know, I wouldn’t know what an ounce of butter looked like anyway, you know. I don’t ever remember going short. If I wanted a slice of bread I had one. If I wanted — you know. Alright we used to get a bit of dripping here and there and — to go on the bread but you lived as it came, didn’t you? You know, you lived as — I, as I say I don’t ever remember going hungry. And we had rabbit of course and, and we used to — we bred our own rabbits, or at least my dad did, so we used to have a rabbit fairly frequently.
CB: Did you go out catching them as well?
BS: No. I think we may have — my mum may have bought a rabbit from time to time but I, I’m not really very — much aware of that.
CB: So you were due to leave school at fourteen.
BS: Stayed on.
CB: But you had an extension until you were fifteen but you had an extension to fifteen —
BS: Yes.
CB: What was the purpose of that?
BS: Um, the essence was that I was qualifying or training, if you like, to be able to pass this exam, this entrance exam for the RAF and, um, I could take the entrance exam when I was fifteen and a half, um, and my dad wanted to be sure that I was capable of passing it. So yes, I stayed on to train for the examination I suppose for the entrance exam for the RAF.
CB: And what happened when you took the exam?
BS: [slight laugh] I wish I could remember. As I say, I was called forward in the February of ’45 to come to Halton for interview and attestation, if that was to be, selection if you like and attestation, um, and we were all marched into the — what is now the Trenchard Museum which was the Henderson Grove Gymnasium at the time, for sorting out and, um, allocation of trades, and I had applied to be a radio technician and by the time they got down to me they’d got all the radio technicians they wanted and they said, ‘No. There isn’t a vacancy for you. Would you like to be an electrician?’ So I said, ‘Yes please.’ But it wasn’t my first choice but I think I was rather lucky to get that.
CB: So then when you’d got that how did that work? They had, er, an initial interviewing and kitting out and then what?
BS: Well, well initially of course we had to get kitted, kitted out. We were put, we were into groups which they’d labelled A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I ,J, K, parties of about sixteen, a roomful of about sixteen chaps who had been given their trades, and then we were moved into — we got our kits and so on and had to stamp them all up with our service numbers and, er, and then we were allocated rooms according to trade and, er, most of my electrician mates went into two rooms but there wasn’t room for myself and my mate John Rouchier [?]. We were in another block and then subsequently [emphasis] moved, fairly quickly actually, but moved down to another room full of engine [emphasis] fitters so we were the only two electricians in a room of elec— of engine fitters, er, which was in some ways disappointing but it didn’t really matter. We still got matey with the people who were in the room and you know —
CB: How many people in the room?
BS: Sixteen.
CB: And this is in a block?
BS: Of six rooms.
CB: Of six rooms, OK.
BS: And with an inside bunk and an outside bunk which was occupied by a senior apprentice NCO apprentice. Normally you had a sergeant apprentice in the inside bunk and then, um, a leading apprentice was in charge of the room outside, in one of the — in the first bed by the bunk, if you like, but then the sergeant apprentice who was in charge of the block would be in one of the outside bunks.
CB: And, and this was part of the process with a senior person to keep control?
BS: Oh yes. A, a senior entry of course, um, which made sense. They were almost like schoolboy monitors I suppose.
CB: So there were several barrack blocks, um, with this?
BS: We occupied two barrack blocks.
CB: OK. So how many people in total? This is your entry, number —
BS: Fifty at entry.
CB: Number fifty entry, yeah.
BS: Well about two hundred and — I can’t recall now. About two hundred and fifty of us stayed at Halton. About fifty more actually went to Cranwell as the RAF — as the radio and radar fitters. The precise numbers of course I’ve got recorded there.
CB: In your book. Yeah. So here you are —
BS: Go on. OK.
CB: Yes, so here you are allocated accommodation. What did, what did you do? You, you were conducted into the RAF in a sequence so how did that work?
BS: Oh the attestation sequence you’re referring to. We were taken up in groups, essentially room groups, into the upstairs of the NAAFI, um, and sat at a desk on which there was our attestation papers which we had to read and sign and we were obliged to, to do the oath of, um, allegiance to the Crown and we were allocated at that point our service numbers of course. [background noise]
CB: Uniform?
BS: Oh, we were in uniform by that time, er, that was before we were issued with our uniforms, yes of course, yeah.
CB: So then you had to get your uniforms and how distinctive were those? OK.
BS: I need time. [background noise]
CB: The reason I asked you about the clothing because it’s distinctive within the trades in some ways and within the speciality of being an apprentice. So how did that go?
BS: The significant thing about uniforms initially was that the only distinction we had that we were apprentices, other than any other kind of member of the Royal Air Force, was that we were issued with the four-bladed propeller wheel badge which we was to sew onto our left arm, um, of our tunics. We were issued with two tunics and when we got our kit wheel badges to go on the great coat and our two tunics and cap badges, of course, to go on our forage cap and our service dress cap, the peaked service dress cap. We were also issued with a coloured band to go round our service dress cap and one to go round our forage cap which determined which squadron we belonged to and we became D Squadron of 1 Wing with a brown, um, a chocolate brown band, which was fairly soon changed because of objections to, um, a chocolate brown and orange checked band and that was then changed to a pale blue one when we became A Squadron of 2 Wing. Then we moved to 3 Wing and got an orange band and a red disk behind the cap badge to indicate that we were A Squadron of now 3 Wing. So from being a squadron identification the band became a wing identification at that particular time. [pause] [background noise]
CB: So we’ve talked about your uniform, er, and the variations of it but in practical terms here you are in a. In a training establishment and b. In a technical training establishment which tends to be dirty. So how did they deal with that?
BS: Well we were issued with a pair of overalls we called them. I believe you called them —
CB: Overalls is fine. Yeah.
BS: And they were changed if they got dirty but essentially once a week, collectively, and when they came back from the laundry, um, you tried to pick out a pair that a. Fitted you and b. Weren’t too torn but, yeah, it was, um, pot luck what you got so, you know, so occasionally you finished up with a rough old pair of overalls that had got no buttons or method of fixing but those we wore at workshops, when we went to where we did the practical. When we went to schools, of course, where we did the academic side of the training we just wore ordinary uniform, er, even when we went into the laboratories in schools but of course we weren’t doing anything particularly grubby in schools and —
CB: When you say in schools it’s because there are departments of technical training that you call the school?
BS: The school was where the academic subjects were handled which were maths and science, um, mechanics. Science tended to deal with, um, your trade topics and the — we had a general studies which did the history of the RAF and the history of flying and general topics, um, including little bits of Shakespeare and, as I say, they were called general studies and one of our major tasks during the two years that we did of schools — ‘cause although the apprenticeship was three years only two years was spent doing academic subjects, and we qualified, those of us who were good enough, qualified for the First Ordinary National Certificate. But the task, as far as I was concerned, the main task we had to do in the academic line was to assemble an essay of, I don’t know, I don’t remember, five thousand words or something, fairly extensive essay we had to dream up and to those of us who hadn’t then or even now hadn’t a good command of the English language that was a bit of a challenge but there you go, I did one, and managed to pass. But as I say the school’s activity, academic activity went on for two years when we sat the First National Certificate which included at that [emphasis] time, um, maths and science essentially and, er, general studies wasn’t included, I don’t think but, er, as I say that, that was just two years, um, what was it? I can’t — [background noise]
CB: And we’ve talked about academic stuff and we’ve talked about practical but, to put it into context, there were lots of other things you had to do, like PT and marching and so on, so just take us through would you? A typical day. You wake up and what did you do?
BS: Well I think some of it can be put into context by a little rhyme that was actually printed in a 1939 issue of the “Haltonian” magazine, which starts off with, “In the dwellings of the birdmen and the barrack blocks behind them grew up the handsome air apprentice 5620 Hiawatha. Every morning at the sunrise baring, blaring bugles broke his slumbers, roused him from his iron bedstead, bestead hard and bedstead cruel, air apprentice for the use of. Next would find him, um, eating flesh, round the fleshpots.” No, no. “Bitterly —” I’ve ruined it. [laugh] [unclear]
CB: So you’d wake up in the morning and what would happen?
BS: With the, the reveille.
CB: Yep. Which is on the tannoy and the tannoy is a loudspeaker?
BS: No, it was a proper, proper —
CB: Bugle?
BS: Trumpet, proper trumpet, and you’d go and get washed and dressed and shaved, if you had to, and you’d go with your mug and irons (your knife, fork and spoon and cup), walk up to the mess (we had our own mess hall) for breakfast, and you’d queue up for your porridge and cornflakes or whatever and egg and bacon. We were very well fed actually, um, and normally [emphasis] they were issued — they were handed out by a mess cook, who was someone from the room who was given the duty of picking up a tray of eggs and bacon or whatever from the servery, and bringing it to the table to distribute to, to his own room at that table. After breakfast, um, we’d almost certainly be called out for parade, to form up to march down to schools or to workshops, most frequently behind either the pipe band or the brass band. We’d be carrying our books if we were going to school in our satchel, in our side pack, or if we were going to workshops we’d carry our overalls in our side pack, um, sometimes we would wear a cape as a — in bandolier fashion round in case it was going to rain. If the forecast was good then we’d just parade with nothing but we’d carry a cape if it was suggested it was going to rain, um, in bandolier fashion as I said, round our shoulder and, of course, if it was actually raining the cape would be open and we would be wearing it as you see it on the war memorial in Green Park. And we marched down to either schools or to workshop, schools which are now in a building called, now called Kermode Hall. Group Captain, Air Commodore Kermode was very responsible, very much responsible, for the development of the education of apprentices at Halton and very highly regarded too and, as I said, we were split into smaller classes because the classes were smaller anyway. We were split into classes of about thirteen. In my entry there were thirty, thirty-two, thirty-three electricians and we were split into three classes a, b and c, and we would all go, we would all go to school together and the days we were going to workshops we would all do the training but in, as I say, in the separate classes in workshops. [background noise]
CB: So after you return from breakfast and you’ve got everything you need for the day then what did you do?
BS: We would either dress to by paraded to go for — down to workshops or schools, in which case we paraded outside at trumpet call, um, we would be inspected to check that our buttons and boots had been cleaned and that we hadn’t — didn’t need a haircut or if we did we were informed that we would need to get one. And then, as I say, we would march down behind to — onto the square to march down to workshops or — behind the pipe or brass band. On the days that we were going to do PT, which would be probably two or three times a week, we would parade outside in PT kit and separately [emphasis] and then just be marched off to a venue, maybe on the square, maybe in the gymnasium, to do a series of, um, conventional exercises. On other occasions we would stay behind to do marching drill on the square with rifles and bayonets. We had eighteen inch bayonets at that time we were issued with, which again was a piece of equipment we had to keep clean, and we had the SMLE rifles which were kept in a room in a rifle rack with a Horsa [?] select — secured with a padlock by the leading apprentice and as I say we would go onto the square and do marching drill and practice and, of course, and initially there were several members of the entry who found it difficult to coordinate their left and right arms with their left and right legs but most of them overcame that difficulty. I suspect those that didn’t departed because occasionally there’d be an empty bed space which would be a bit of a puzzle and I remember that we occupied, John Rouchier [?] and I, occupied two bed spaces in the engine apprentices room 4:2, Block 4 Room 2 that is, and we occupied two bed spaces that had suddenly become vacant and it was many years afterwards I discovered that the two people who had occupied those spaces had actually had an early discharge from the Royal Air force and I know not the reason for that and neither did anyone else in the room. There were just two empty bed spaces and we, John Rouchier [?] and I, were moved out of one block into this block, into these two empty bed spaces, just to make up the numbers but nobody spoke about where the two lads had gone. Now that occurred to, I think, half a dozen or so people in the entry.
CB: Out of thirty-two?
BS: No, out of two hundred and fifty or whatever that I know of.
CB: Of the entry, OK.
BS: That I’m aware of, yeah, and when I was doing the research for the entry I identified those people who’d been, um, discharged very early on and realised that the empty bed spaces I became aware of had been occupied by these people because they were in the trade groups where the empty bed spaces appeared which was rather strange and I still l haven’t got to the bottom of that mystery.
CB: Just one question on that. We talked about after breakfast [clears throat] —
BS: Yes.
CB: You go back to the room. At what point did you make the bed and how?
BS: Oh we made that before we went to breakfast.
CB: Right, and how did you do it?
BS: Well the beds that we had were McDonalds which were cast iron frames with strip, wrought iron slats, across and three so-called biscuits which were, er, coir filled paillasse type things which, um, covered —
CB: As a mattress.
BS: As a mattress. A, a three-part mattress if you like.
BT: Come on everybody, I’ll have those. [sound of crockery]
CB: Yep, yep.
BS: And we used to match, marry one of them, wrap it up in a blanket as a seat and two of them married, the other two married up in a blanket as a backdrop and behind the backdrop would be the, the two folded sheets and a pillow and a pilaster which we had so the bed was made up armchair fashion, um, because the McDonald bed actually had four wheels on the front part and the half at the front pushed under the rear part and that made, with the two, with the three mattress biscuits, an armchair and, of course, your locker overhead, locker, your steel locker was occupied by your — one pair of your PT pants and a PT vest or singlet and a cap comforter and — I can’t recall what the other item was but there were four items that had to be laid out in pristine form, biscuit form almost, in your locker and your mug and irons delicately displayed beside it and nothing else on the shelves. You had a box, we had a box at the end of our bed, that stayed under the bed during the day of course, but the box at the end of our bed that contained the rest of our kit, um, which comprised of what? A couple of shirts and six collars and bits and pieces but that was kept in a trunk, if you like, a wooden trunk, at the end of the bed. Not, um, a particularly comfortable situation.
CB: No. So the, the idea of the bed folding the way it did was so that you really had a chair to sit on.
BS: I’m not sure if that was the idea but that’s what it became and of course what it did do was to reveal the rest of the lino, linoleum, which was highly polished.
CB: Right. So that’s the next question I was going to put. What was the means by which the barrack room was cleaned?
BS: Well, there was a list at the end of the room where each occupant was allocated a task, um, two or three people were allocated deck centre, which meant that the people who lived in the room were responsible for their own piece of bed space but the centre deck which was the part beyond the end of your half of the bed when it was folded was the centre deck and they were, two or three people were responsible for polishing that, putting down the polish and buffing it up, so you could almost see your face in it. But of course with dark brown lino, linoleum you couldn’t actually see your face in it. And the toilets were allocated to individuals. The wash hand basins was a separate job. Brasses was a separate job, that was door knobs and taps and that sort of thing, were a separate task and, as far as I know, the people who did brasses actually provided — or did they? Some of them provided their own metal polish. There was metal polish occasionally available. The same as there was always floor polish available in adequate quantities. And then of course we normally walked on the centre deck with floor pads, pieces of torn up blanket, so that you skidded over the floor on pieces of blanket to keep the polish on the floor. So yeah, one chap was allocated, for instance, to clean a bath and another chap — because there were two baths in the toilet block in the centre of the building, or centre of the floor. Two rooms shared a toilet facility, three toilets, two stand-up, er, urinals, I think two baths, um, with six wash basins I think, and a drying room, which was always heated of course, or usually heated, um, where you could hang your smalls if you happened to have enough soap to wash them.
CB: And then how was the polishes shininess maintained? What was the process?
BS: With the floor — essentially with the floor pads. I mean we did have a big bumper that was initially used, which was a big piece of cast iron on a stick, bristle stick, a short stiff bristle brush, which was dragged or pushed over the floor to rub the polish in initially but once the initial polish was there we tended to maintain it with using floor pads which we walked about or skated about on.
CB: And how was the level of cleanliness maintained and checked?
BS: Well it was inspected by the sergeant apprentice on that floor, um, and initially of course by the, by the leading apprentice of your room, who checked your individual tasks but, as I say, the sergeant apprentice for the block would inspect the three lots within the block on three floors and he would inspect the cleanliness of the whole of the block, essentially. I mean once in a while, I don’t know whether it would have been once a month, I don’t remember the frequency, but of course we’d get a squadron commander’s inspection but he didn’t inspect every day but the sergeant apprentice was responsible for the block and he would make sure that it was clean.
CB: So were these tasks to do and the ablutions were the less popular but was there a rota for people so everybody did it in the end? Or how did it work?
BS: Generally speaking they were voluntarily selected, yeah, generally speaking they — there were people who volunteered to do the urinals and there were people who volunteered to do the hand basins so generally it wasn’t difficult. Yes there were several that seemed more attractive than the others. There were several I avoided, um, without difficulty.
CB: So you were in an avoidance mode —
BS: Absolutely.
CB: So were there some people who pulled their weight better than others and how did the system work?
BS: You didn’t — yes of course there were but you didn’t really notice it because there were usually enough volunteers to do those jobs that seemed more distasteful to you, you know.
CB: So if you — were there occasions when you failed inspections or were they always successful?
BS: Oh there were rare occasions when something which would to the inspectors seem serious and you were invited to do it again so you would have a second “bull night” as they were referred to but, er, they didn’t occur very often.
CB: So just to clarify would you? What age are you or —
BS: Well we were allowed to join between fifteen and a half and seventeen and a half to become apprentices so when I joined at fifteen and three quarters I was one of the younger ones in the entry. Many of the other people in my entry were seventeen plus, up to seventeen and a half, and of course had been to grammar school and they’d got their school certificates and so on and were, educationally, streets ahead of me but I didn’t think I noticed at the time. Only subsequently it become obvious that I was less well educated than they were.
CB: Right we’ll pause there. [interview stopped at 0:50:57:1 and restarted 0:50:59.1 ] What about a bit of marching. You had to do a bit of marching in parades. How did that work?
BS: Well, initially it was tricky because at first for a hundred, or a hundred and fifty blokes, or whatever to coordinate and do everything on time without shouting out one pause, two pause, three, whatever, took a time to develop and I think most of us entered into it with a reasonable willingness, er, to try and coordinate it and I remember how proud I [emphasis] felt when we were actually at the Albert Hall and we performed the wheel of remembrance, or something, and we actually marched, the apprentices, for Lady Propeller[?] and we actually marched around in the centre of the Albert Hall, and I remember how proud I was to be part of that. And yeah, it was — I’d like to think, and nobody I think has actually said it, but I’m fairly confident that the origin of the Queen’s Colour Squadron was developed from the order-less, um, drill that we [emphasis] did at Halton, um, rifle drill and so on. We did practice for one of the events at the Albert Hall, command-less drill, rifle drill, and that was before the Queen’s Colour Squadron was formed. Now of course they do it expertly ‘cause they practice it every day.
CB: Yeah. Just to clarify, that the Queens Colour Squadron is the, um, parading —
BS: Royal Air Force Regiment’s —
CB: Go on.
BS: Representatives for celebrations —
CB: Special occasions.
BS: Ceremonial occasions.
CB: Yeah, and tend to be the people who receive dignitaries on airfields?
BS: Yes. Well that’s what they have done. And yeah, of course when they were stationed at Uxbridge with the Royal Central — with the RAF Central Band, um, and the RAF Central Band greeted all the dignitaries who visited this county anyway.
CB: Yeah, yeah.
BS: And, er, I think the Queens Colour Squadron, um, was probably more associated with the RAF Central Band than it was with the RAF Regiment which of course they were part of.
CB: So we’ve talked about your time at Halton. How long were you there?
BS: Three years.
CB: So that’s from February 1945 —
BS: Until March ’48.
CB: Right, and when you got to the end of the three years what was the culmination of that training?
BS: We thought that was the end of our training but we were actually posted, most of us, posted to RAF St Athan, 32 MU, where we were, supposedly, doing further training, continuation training, under supervision or guidance but we were actually doing our trade tasks. Initially I was servicing a flight simulator called a Link Trainer and initially I was responsible for the, er, vacuum motors that drove those machines and they were completely overhauled and serviced at St Athan. I subsequently moved to the Aircraft Electrical Servicing Squadron and I was then servicing the UKX generators, we were completely overhauling UKX generators, which were fitted to the Lancasters. They were the DC and AC, alternating current and direct current generators, that supplied the power for the Lancasters and we were completely overhauling those. And I was at the stripping down and scraping end and my mate was at the far end actually packing them up in greaseproof paper, um, ready to be taken back to stores to be reissued as new generators. But we also started to service E5A generators which were fitted to the North American Harvard which was used for air crew training, pilot training, at places like Cranwell and my boss required me to support that when we started to do them by producing a, a breakdown display of the E5A generators. So the first one we got I had to strip down and make the tools to strip it down with because, of course, it was an American machine so we hadn’t got the necessary spanners and tools to do it. And I mounted that on a display board to show everybody what all the parts were and then we started to service those generators and, er, we also serviced the control panels for the Lancaster, um, electrical control panels that is. That was a very pleasant time, yeah. My boss was a warrant officer, Lockheart, Tubby Lockheart. He was football crazy and I didn’t play football and the only thing that he and I had in common was that when he walked passed by my desk he’d say —, my bench, he’d say, ‘Have you got your — get your hair cut Smith.’ Which was something that plagued me for all my service career and has followed me through life, um, everyone I see tends to suggest, if they don’t actually verbalise it, they tend to suggest I need a haircut, which I think usually do.
BT: You do.
CB: So how long were you at St Athan?
BS: Just the twelve months before I was posted to RAF Cranwell, where again we were servicing KX generators, which were fitted to the Prentice aircraft, which were twin seats flying training aircraft, Percival Prentice, um, but that’s odd because we were servicing those generators but we weren’t servicing the E5As which were fitted to the Harvards, which they were also flying as trainers, advanced trainers. But in our workshop at Cranwell, as I say, we were servicing the KX generator which was the one fitted to the Prentice. And I was promoted to corporal. Took my LAC exam and passed that while I was at Cranwell. And then when they introduced the new trades’ structure I’d been promoted to corporal and my immediate boss was a flight sergeant, who had been a balloon operator, and had just come off course to be an electrician. So when I applied to become a corporal technician he was responsible for taking the trade test and he said, ‘I’ll take your trade test but will you bring your books along? And you can — I’ll ask you the questions and if you can’t answer them we’ll look them up in your book.’ Which we did but that was a very interesting interview we had and, yeah, I passed. He couldn’t really fail me, could he? He’d only just got you LAC himself.
CB: So when did you get the next promotion?
BS: Oh [slight laugh] not until I came back from Malta in ’54. I came back from Malta in ’54, um, I’d been turned down for my third in Malta. My immediate boss said, ‘First of all you’re never here and second you always want a haircut.’ My immediate boss, my proper boss, said, ‘I’m sorry about your promotion corporal.’ He said, ‘Had I realised you were in that zone for promotion you would have had a better assessment than I gave you.’ So my promotion didn’t come through while I was in Malta. It came through while I was at Honington, in Bomber Command and, er, and my boss turned that down but he didn’t give me a reason.
BT: Because your hair was too long.
BS: [laugh] In the meantime — probably because my hair was too long, um, but subsequently it came through again and, in the meantime I’d got my senior tech, which gave me more pay than I got as a sergeant anyway. And he said to me, ‘Your promotion to sergeant has come through. Would you like to take it?’ So I said, ‘Oh, I need time to think about it Sir.’ I went back later on and said, ‘Yes please.’ Because I thought well if at last you think I’m worthy of it I’ll have it so I reconverted from senior tech back to sergeant which was —
CB: In practical terms —
BS: An admin rank.
CB: Right.
BS: Essentially an admin rank.
CB: Yeah, so they’re both the same status.
BS: Yeah but one had more admin responsibilities than the other.
CB: This is still at Honington?
BS: At Honington.
CB: OK. So what were you actually doing at Honington?
BS: Well I was by then essentially a ground electrician, um, although I had been trained as an electrician to do aircraft electrics, when the new trade structure came in and I applied for my corporal technician board, they said to me, ‘What do you want to be, air or ground?’ And I said, ‘Well was trained as both so I’d like to stay both.’ ‘You can’t do that.’ Well the corporal tech pay was bigger than, higher than the corporals, so I said, ‘Well, what’s my choice?’ ‘Well you can be either, air or ground, but one or the other.’ So I said, ‘Alright, I’ll be ground. I don’t need the responsibility of signing Form 700 for aircraft and put my life on the line.’ So I backed out [background noise] and became a ground electrician, which essentially was looking after aircraft dead batteries anyway. So yeah but I didn’t have the responsibility of signing the serviceability rolls for aircraft which I wasn’t too sad about.
CB: What were the aircraft at Honington?
BS: Initially Canberras, er, being in Bomber Command, they had the front line bomber at that time which was the Canberra. Before I moved away from there in ‘56, ‘57, ‘57 I think, they were starting to have the, um, Vickers Valiant, the first of the V, V bomber force, yeah? I didn’t see the Vulcans or the Valiants come into service —
CB: You mean Vulcans or Victors. You saw the Valiant come into service.
BS: The Valiant come into service —
CB: But you didn’t see the Victors or —
BS: The Victors or the Vu— or the Vulcan.
CB: Vulcan.
BS: Yeah.
CB: Right. So when you finished, when did you move from Honington?
BS: Um, well I realised my service, my service was coming to an end and I thought I ought to sign on. I applied to sign on and they wouldn’t have me, presumably because my hair needed cutting [slight laugh], so I thought, ‘Oh dear what am I going to do at the end of my twelve years’ service. What am I going to do?’ So I saw an advert in our routine orders asking for people to volunteer for service with flight simulators, which I did, I applied for, and they said, ‘Well you haven’t got long enough to do.’ So I said, ‘How long do I need?’ ‘Well you need at least three years Chief.’ Sergeant, senior tech as I was then. ‘Oh well alright.’ So I applied sign on for three years and they took me. So I went down then to Redifon in Crawley and I was on detachment down in civvy digs for three, for twelve months. It was a three month course. It lasted six months. And then I stayed there almost on my own because the other people got simulators and moved on. My simulator got cancelled so I stayed in civvy digs in Crawley for twelve months, um, which was great, going to work at Redifon, virtually my own boss, and then one day I got a — somebody called, ‘Phone call from Fighter Command, somebody wants to speak to you.’ So I went to the telephone, ‘Good heavens.’ Said Brian Caplan, ‘Are you still there?’ So I said, ‘Yes Sir’. He said, ‘Well you can’t stay there. You’ll have to go back to your parent unit.’ Which was Coltishall at that time so I’d been posted when I moved onto simulators to Coltishall. I said, ‘Well, I don’t need to go to Coltishall. There’s nothing for me there, Sir.’ I said, ‘My family, I’ve moved my family down to Aylesbury, and I know nothing of Fighter Command or whatever.’ He said, ‘Well, where do you want to go?’ So I said, ‘Halton would be nice.’ And he said, ‘I can’t post you to Halton.’ He said, ‘It’s not in the Command.’ I’m now on the back foot. I said, ‘Well, surely Sir you can find me a little corner at Fighter Command?’ ‘Oh, that’s an idea.’ He said, ‘I’ll ring you back.’ He rang me back ten minutes later and said, ‘Pack your bags. You’re posted to Fighter Command with effect from Monday.’ So I went to Fighter Command at Bentley Priory and spent twelve — spent two years there on detachment in Fighter Command’s, um, aeronautical, er, aircraft engineering set up, Command Head Quarters, with some quite serious responsibilities which I thoroughly enjoyed.
CB: We’ll have a break there for a mo?
BS: Yeah, please. Wait a minute don’t, don’t switch the thing off. [background noise]
CB: You’ve done really well. Now when you went to Bentley Priory of course you had a different role altogether, so what was that.
BS: Absolutely. Well I was essentially the coffee boy for two warrant officers, a flight lieutenant and a squadron leader, who were responsible for the instrument and electrical activities within Fighter Command or all Fighter Command RAF stations. Warrant Officer Lendy [?] was the electrician expert and had come up from, er, previously come up from a Hawker Hunter squadron and had a lot of expertise with Hawker Hunters and in the map drawer in the office he had diagrams, electrical diagrams, for all the Hunters in Fighter Command with all the modifications that they’d had on the relevant diagrams drawn, up to date, with all the terminations marked so that he could actually see the, the modification state of all our Hunters in the Fighter — in the Command. He was pretty good. I know at one time we’d had problems from one station, um, about double power failure warning lights that generate a failure warning light, both of them coming on, and the squadron responsible had been checking for that, um, repeated failure and we kept getting defect reports in the Fighter Command and Doug Lendy [?], this latest one we had, he said, ‘This is ridiculous.’ He took home the diagram relevant to that aircraft. He came back to the office the following morning and he said to me, ‘Do you know about this?’ So I said, ‘Yes Sir.’ He said, ‘Well, read that report again.’ So I read the report. He said, ‘Right now point to the problem.’ I thought, ‘Good Heavens.’ So I looked at the diagram. ‘Well there’. ‘Of course it bloody is.’ He says. It was the earth bolt that took the two power failure warning lights’ negative leads to earth. That was the only point that they’d got in common so they could only both fail —
CB: Because of that.
BS: At that point. Checked up, rang, rang the flight sergeant on the squadron and he said, ‘Yes, of course we’ve checked the earth bolt.’ He said, ‘Well go and check it yourself.’ So he did and came back and reported, ‘Yes, it’s the problem.’ They’d stripped the earth bolt down which contained lots of other earth wires as well in a stack and progressively, as this fault had occurred, the electrician had gone out and tightened down the nut, cured the problem, tightened down the nut, cured the problem but of course each time he tightened it down on the corrosion, the burning and corrosion, and each time it was burning through. So he’d solved it at Bentley Priory several miles away. He’d solved the problem that they’d been struggling with for months.
CB: Because they didn’t do the job right.
BS: Because they didn’t do the job right. But they replaced all the — all the terminations on the cables and cleaned up the earth bolt properly and put it all back and tightened it down properly. Problem gone. So that was Doug Lendy [?]. A man I kind of admired, um, and then as I say —
CB: So your role was quite broad though.
BS: Absolutely broad, yeah, and one could argue it was outside my pay scale.
BS: I had responsibilities way above my station [slight laugh] which —
CB: So you had to go on sorties to stations sometimes. What were they?
BS: Well, we started to develop electronic, um, combined electronic centres on the Fighter Command stations. Bomber Command had already done it for their, their stations. They had, Bomber Command, um, electronic servicing centres which did all the electrics and radio and radar and they started to develop one for Fighter — especially for Fighter Command and my boss was responsible, of course, for the layout of the power supplies and air supplies, electrical supplies, all of that sort of thing within the electronic servicing centre and where things were serviced and how power was taken to each bench, control panels and so on and so forth. And I remember making him little paper lozenges so he could lay them out on this map to decide how these pieces of equipment were going to be laid out in the electronic centre. And then he started sending me out to where these centres were being built, in particular one at Leconfield, and I remember at one stage I went up to inspect this situation at Leconfield and, looking at the electrical layout, I said to the foreman who was there, ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘There’s supposed to be a hole in this wall. There’s supposed to be window in this wall.’ ‘Not on my diagram.’ He said. So I said, ‘Well there’s supposed to be a window. It’s supposed to be this size and whatever, and it’s supposed to be double glazed for heat — for sound control and so on.’ Because the hydraulic generators were being tested in that room and this was where the test bench was observed, was observing it, but the hydraulic generators were noisy. They were to be powering the blue steel, um, equipment.
CB: The stand-off bomb.
BS: Yeah and — but why was that in Fighter Command? Anyway, never mind, um, that was, that was what was, it was the noise abatement thing — and, ‘Well,’ He said, ‘If there’s got to be a window if you draw it and sign it it’ll go in.’ So I drew it in. This was a Ministry of Defence document, plan, for this multimillion pound building and I’m drawing this, drawing this window in and signing it. ‘OK’. He said and it was done and it was incorporated in the other Fighter Command Control Centres. It was cheap tech. I didn’t have that authority but I gave the instruction and he was quite happy to take my signature.
CB: It was needed and you did it.
BS: It was needed and it was done. Nobody ever said anything.
CB: Then another thing you said you did was to do AOC pre- inspections?
BS: Yes, er, I did two or three of those and I’d be greeted at the guard room by a very, um, dutiful policeman. He’d say, ‘Oh good afternoon Chief and I’ll take across to the tech adj.’ Who would be a flight lieutenant and I’d go across to the tech adj with him and knock on the door and we’d, I’d walk into the tech adj’s office. ‘Come in chief. Sit down.’ We’d have a cup of tea, we’d have a cup of coffee. I thought this is not the kind of treatment I’d expect as a chief tech. Oh yes, I’d just come down from Fighter Command but it was just another posting to me but, yeah, I was treated like a man from out of space I suppose. It was really rather rewarding in a way.
CB: Sure. Job satisfaction is important.
BS: Absolutely.
CB: How long did that posting last?
BS: Well it wasn’t really a posting, it was only a detachment.
BS: Right.
BS: But I was there for two years so I stretched that out a bit but when that was coming towards the end I thought, ‘Well I don’t know what, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ And an Air Commodore Avery or Avis, was the chief technical officer in Fighter Command and he came to visit our office one day and he sat down on the only available chair, in the middle of the office, with the two warrant officers, and squadron leader, and flight lieutenant and he sat with is front to the back of the chair and just talked to me and said well you know, ‘Tell me about your career chief or whatever.’ I said, ‘Well it’s coming to an end Sir.’ I said. ‘Well why don’t you sign on?’ So I said, ‘I applied to sign on but they wouldn’t have me.’ He said, ‘Well, why don’t you apply again?’ So the upshot of that was that I applied to sign on and of course as he was the supporting officer it got signed so I was accepted to sign on until I was fifty-five years old, um, so I didn’t really look back but then of course, um, I knew that detachment was going to come to an end and I thought I ought to be trying to guide my career somehow and the opportunity to — they were looking for volunteers to join the Education Branch. They were short of education officers but they needed the Higher National Certificate. I hadn’t got that but I thought, ‘Never mind, I’ll apply anyway.’ And rather to my surprise they accepted me and I went on a three month education course at Uxbridge, to the School of Education at Uxbridge. Wonderful course, um, three months, taught me the psychology of learning and, um, educational techniques and so on and so forth, um, and spent two years in the Education Branch, initially at RAF Melksham, which was another fascinating experience because my boss came to me at one point. He said, ‘Oh, I’ve got something different for you to do Chief.’ So I says, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Well, we’ve got, we’ve got a class of people coming in to study inertial navigation systems.’ So I says, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Well there’s a film on in the cinema.’ He said, ‘Go and watch it.’ He said, ‘That will show you what, what it’s all about.’ OK, so I went and watched this which was run by a by Mr L C Agger who wrote a book on electrics which was used for training at Halton for many years and Mr Agger put this film on for me and it was an American major describing this whole process of inertial navigation. I came out of there ‘cause he was talking with a broad American accent. Don’t ask me which State he came from but a broad American accent that I had great difficulty with. I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know. I don’t understand anything of that.’ So I actually mentioned it to Agger and he said, ‘Come and watch it again.’ And a lot more made sense this time and inertial navigation, in case don’t know it’s all about, it all depends on three gyroscopes, rate gyroscopes, which detect where you are and if there’s any movement at all in any direction the rate gyroscope detect it and tells you where to and how much by so you programme into this complex where you are and if you move it knows where you’ve gone and that was the principal, basic principle, of inertial navigation. It didn’t last for long because we use satellite navigation, yeah? GPS. So that’s what that was all about and I took two classes of Vulcan aircrew because they carried the blue steel bomb, not the blue streak, the blue steel bomb, stand-off bomb, and that was fitted with inertial navigation, um, so yeah, I took two classes of those and when my — when towards the end of that tour they were moving the education system from Melksham, training system at Melksham, up to, um, somewhere in Norfolk, I can’t think, the name won’t come to me at the moment, but they were moving the training out and the education officer said to me, ‘Well, we‘re not taking the substitute education officers (which is what I was) you’re reverting back to your trade.’ So I said, ‘Well I’d rather not Sir. I’d rather finish my tour with the Education Branch ‘cause I’m enjoying it.’ And he said, ‘Well, what can you suggest?’ And I said, ‘Well do you think they need anybody at Halton?’ ‘Oh that’s an idea.’ He said. ‘Come and see me in ten minutes.’ I went back to see him. He said, ‘Pack your bags you’re posted to Halton with effect from Monday.’ Same resp— so I came back to Halton as a lecturer, teaching electrics and electrical mechanics, to apprentices and, um, when that was coming to an end I went to see Squadron Leader Abraham who was my boss. And he said, ‘They’ll be looking for somebody over the road because they’re going to train ground electrician apprentices. They’ll want somebody.’ He said, ‘Go and see Squadron Leader Blot.’ Who was in charge of the Electrical Squadron, so I went to see Squadron Leader Blot and sat down and he started going through my career. ‘Oh.’ He said, ‘Where were you during this period?’ I said, ‘Oh, I was at Fighter Command.’ ‘Oh.’ He said, ‘What were you doing at Fighter Command?’ So I told him what I’ve already related. I said, ‘But I was also seconded as the Deputy to Squadron Leader Goldsmith, same name, who was in charge of the new Lightning squadron we just started when we were taking up Lightnings and I became his second dickie, or his telephone operator, if you like.’ And, er, he said, ‘Oh, you know John Goldsmith do you?’ So I said ‘Well, yeah.’ ‘How did you get on with him?’ ‘Well, alright.’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s alright.’ He said. He picked up the sheaf of notes he’d been writing about my career, tore it up and threw it in the waste paper basket. He said, ‘Right.’ He said, ‘You start, start next week.’ [laugh] So I started setting up the original basic training for the first ground electrician apprentices at Halton. End, end of episode.
CB: How long were you at Halton?
BS: [sound of shuffling papers] I need to look at my notes. Until the end of my career. No, not ‘till end of my career ‘cause I went up to, went up to Brampton after that. [background noise]
CB: You did actually do an unaccompanied tour.
BS: In Muharraq in, er, Bahrain.
CB: Where was that? When was that?
BS: In 1969 to ’70.
CB: And what were you doing there?
BS: That was basically just on ground equipment. I was in charge essentially of the battery charging rooms. I had two, I had two, um, Bahraini technicians working in that room and two RAF airman working in the battery charging room.
CB: It was a RAF station was it?
BS: The RAF, the RAF station yeah.
CB: Right.
BS: One of the RAF Hunter fighter squadrons was on that station at the time.
CB: Oh was it?
BS: But it was the airfield for Muharraq, um, so it was a fairly significant, um, middle-eastern destination.
CB: Right.
BS: And yes, as I say, I spent twelve months there.
CB: So fast forward to Halton. So you finished at Halton?
BS: Yeah and I came —
CB: After you did the ground electrical servicing course?
BS: Yes, at Halton, did the Muharraq trip and then, when I came back from, from Muharraq, I was posted to RAF Benson.
CB: Oh yes.
BS: On 90 group, um, Tactical Communications Wing, and spent about twelve months there I think and, er, didn’t quite know where my career as going from there, um, and decided to do something about it and there was, er, a request for people to join the Trade Testing, Trade Standards and Testing Board, which I applied for and was accepted and, and was posted back to Halton where the Trade Standards testing organisation had been established.
CB: Right.
BS: So I worked there for Trade Standard and Testing for a while, um, setting up well trade tests for electricians, essentially ground electricians.
CB: Right.
BS: And then they moved the Trade Standard and Testing thing to Bram— RAF Brampton, near Huntingdon and, of course, I moved up with them and, er, carried on the same kind of work with, um, various ranks of ground electrician training and then they wanted me to join, or asked me to join, the team, a team of technicians writing skill and knowledge specifications which were, um, oh, qualifications couched in behavioural terms, um, for all the trades in the Air Force and although I wrote some for ground electricians I also wrote some for musicians and for marine engineers, or helped to write them for those people, but yeah, all of them started off with a trained man can [?] and then went on to describe how you tested the activities that these people had to do, which was an interesting exercise, and that took me up to 1975 when I left the Royal Air Force.
CB: So you didn’t go to fifty five?
BS: I did not and the reason I didn’t go, of course, was because, um, I felt sure at the age of fifty-five I wouldn’t be able to get a job outside anyway and I wasn’t going to get promoted beyond Chief Technician anyway, probably because I needed a haircut.
BT: No doubt at all.
CB: You never learned the lesson then.
BT: No, no. He doesn’t know what the inside of a hair dressers looks like.
CB: Right, so what happened then?
BS: Well —
CB: So 1975 comes —
BS: Well, 1974-ish they had been looking for people to volunteer for early retirement, for redundancies in certain groups and trade groups and age categories and ranks and I was looking for one of these so I could get out before I was fifty-five so I could get employment outside and in 1974, my birthday, my trade and rank came up as being eligible so I applied to leave and they let me go, um, so I got a reasonable redundancy return and left, as I say, in 1975.
BS: Right.
CB: Then what did you do?
BS: Went — I was on the dole for six months on, er, previous age related unemployment benefit, um, doing odd jobs, odd little bits for people, bit of decorating here and bit of electrics there and applying for jobs around Aylesbury, in particular. I went, um, for one job was a training consultant with the Ministry — which branch of the Ministry I can’t tell you at this stage, um, but I didn’t get that job. I went for a job at — over at Haddenham, on the airfield there, and I was too well qualified for one job that they’d got and under qualified for another job they’d got so they hadn’t got anything to offer me. So I’m scratching around a bit ‘cos I was coming to the end of my six months and I had applied to go back to Halton as an instructor and I got eventually an interview and I went back to Halton for the interview and I got the job as a civilian instructor at Halton, and I went back actually teaching apprentices, whose a course I’d previously helped to organise, and, er, went back as I say training ground electricians as a civilian, yeah, and then they were going to move that training, the ground electricians, to RAF St Athan. I thought I don’t need to go there and they said, ‘Well, alright you can stay here but you’ll have to train, train aircraft electricians.’ I thought I don’t really want to go down that learning curve because there was some very complicated equipment on aeroplanes by that time and I thought, ‘Well, no I don’t want to go to St Athan.’ So I was struggling a bit and I spoke to my friend Mr Ken Hewer [?] and he said, ‘Well, why don’t you apply for a job at Southall Technical College.’ Where he worked. So I did and after an interview, which I spent a fair time talking about myself, I was invited to accept the job at Southall, and I worked there until I was made redundant from their aircraft department at Southall Tech and then retired and lived in the lap of luxury ever since.
CB: How old were you when you retired, aged sixty-five?
BS: No, I was only fifty— only fifty-five, fifty-six? Let me think. When did I actually retire? I don’t know whether I’ve got that down here. [sound of shuffling papers] [pause]
CB: You reckon you finished early, did you?
BS: ’85, ‘85 so I’d have been fifty-six? Yeah?
CB: You were at Southall you were teaching?
BS: Aircraft technicians from British Airways.
CB: Oh right.
BS: And some of Colonel Gadhafi’s Air Force and civilian airline personnel too.
CB: Right. So retired in ‘85.
BS: A little bit more meat on the bones in there.
CB: Just one final thing. What was the most memorable thing about your experience in the RAF would you think?
BS: ‘Struth. In some respects I think my tour of Malta from ‘52 to ‘54 but then that two years at Fighter Command Headquarters was an eye opener and a wonderful experience, you know, so looking back for favourites is really rather difficult because I had a thoroughly enjoyable thirty years really. Very few grey or black spots.
CB: Ok. Good. Well I really think we ought to stop it there.
BS: Well, I think we ought to.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Barry Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 1, 2024,

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