Interview with Maurice Snowball


Interview with Maurice Snowball


Maurice Snowball was born and educated in Sunderland. After school, he served an engineering apprenticeship with a local family firm and was a member of the Home Guard. Maurice was a keen amateur footballer and had hopes of turning professional, but aged 21, he volunteered to join the RAF as a flight engineer and was called forward for initial training at RAF Bridlington in December 1944.
He discusses his time in flight engineer training at RAF St Athan and subsequent duties as a flight engineer on Halifax and Lancaster aircraft with 1662 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Blyton. He recalls the operational duties with 550 Squadron, North Killingholme where he took part in four bombing operations - 2 of them at night raids (close to 9 hour round trips), and operations over Heligoland and Bremen.
He reflects on the differences he encountered as a flight engineer between the Halifax and Lancaster, how the Halifax was spacious and comfortable; the Lancaster cramped and only a small tip-up seat for his flight engineer position.
He talks about the main memory of his time in the RAF, Operational Mana, and his later conversations with a lady from Holland who was 8 years old at the time. He retrained as an MT driver when his Squadron was disbanded and was demobilised in October 1947.
Maurice later reaffirmed his affiliation with the RAF. In later years, he moved to Rutland and retired from his last job as a mechanical foreman at RAF Cottesmore in the 1980s.







00:56:14 audio recording


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David Kavanagh interviewing Maurice Snowball, David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre.
DK: Were you with 550 Squadron?
MS: 550 Squadron yes
DK : Were you with another squadron before then?
MS: No I was [chit chat not relevant to interview] well, we, I did my training and then I had a problem with the first crew I was in and had to go back to heavy con unit and get another crew and that was the crew I flew with afterwards.
DK: Was your training all in the United kingdom?
MS: Yes, flight engineer, all the flight engineers were trained in England and down at St Athan but when we, when I, went it was busy at St Athan and we had six weeks previously at RAF Locking and then went to St Athan and the engineers did all that training and qualified and got their wing before we even saw a four engine aeroplane, and you were posted up to heavy con unit. We went, I, was sent to Blyton near Gainsborough, and I did it there then I had to go back there to do it again with the new crew and it knocked me back 3 months, so I didn’t get to the squadron with this crew until January 45.
DK: So the crew that you were with in the heavy conversion unit were the same crew that you joined the operational unit?
MS: Yes, the second, the second visit to Blyton was the crew that I flew with and I couldn’t have got a better crew, it was a really good crew I got with, and there is only me and the navigator left now, he is a retired police superintendant that lives at Boston, and he is not very well, he had to drop out of the going to Holland this year, it would have been his first visit to Holland, and he had to drop out, and he’s now cancelled his reunion next weekend at Killingholme, he’s not well enough, so he’s, I don’t know what his problem is, I think its something to do with heart because I know he had a –
DK: Pacemaker ?
MS: Pacemakers the word, yes, he had a pacemaker fitted a while, several years ago, but, its a shame really because we get on ever so well together, he originated from Gateshead and I was from Sunderland so we were two north country, and the rest of the crew, the skipper lived down in Dorset, yes Dorset, and our bomb aimer was from London, and he was a keen golfer he used to give officers lessons at golfing, and when we split up he said ‘keep’, ‘if we lose touch with each other keep a look at the world cup team every year because I am going to play for them one day’ and it was [unclear] Laddie lucas, this is your life was on, that Ken was on that he was on that team then, and he died, about three or four years ago now might even be more. We used to meet up, the skipper the navigator and me. We used to meet at Banbury every year because it was, the hotel we went to was a mile difference between the skippers home and the navigators home, we couldn’t have got more central, and I contacted the bomb aimer and he said he would come the next year, and I rang up in the August and his wife answered the phone, and I said ‘Ken did promise to come to Banbury this year for the lunch and I’ve now got the dates, September’ and she said ‘just a minute I’m very sorry I’ve got some bad news and I’ve got some good news’ and I knew what the bad news would be, she said ‘he died in July just a month ago and the good news he always wanted to play golf to his dying day and he collapsed and died on the golf course’ so he got that - and the mid upper he lived at Nottingham I managed to contact him, he had a couple of lunches with us before he died, and the radio operator was the only one we couldn’t trace and I put a letter in the Hull papers and I got two back one from a lady and one from a man that were teenagers with him and they both said the same, although one lived - they never met each other since they were youngsters but they both said the same Geoff had died in his early 30’s from a kind of a blood disease so I don’t know whether it was leukaemia or what so that was why I wasn‘t able to trace him and it was funny when I put the letter in the Hull Echo I got nothing back from his family, so I don’t know whether there was any family left. Anyhow I finished training with the crew, and got posted up to North kilingholm 550 squadron, and we had done our first two training trips and early April we started operations.
DK: Did 550 have Lancaster’s at the time then?
MS: I trained on Halifax’s at the first one and midway through the course we switched to what we called Lancaster school but the second time they were all Lancaster’s the Halifax’s had gone, so I did training on the Halifax and we flew on the Halifax and did the whole course practically on the Halifax, the first one.
DK: What was you impression of the two aircraft, the Halifax and the Lancaster?
MS: I liked the Halifax, and it was, it was a good aircraft for the engineer, well for the crew because there was more room in it, you are not cramped like you are in the Lancaster and it was a pretty reliable aircraft with the radial engines but it didn’t get the height or anything, so the Lancaster was the better one being on operations, it was the safer one to fly, the Lancaster, but at the same time if anything happened it was a difficult one to get out of because it was so cramped so there was a lot of crew members lost by not bailing out quick enough, whereas with the Halifax it was easy to get out you see, so when you learnt about it you think well I am better on the Lancaster but once you start flying with the Lancaster that was the plane for you, you know, it was a terrific aircraft , but I never sat down as flight engineer, because it was a little tip up seat, and if I sat on that I was facing the skipper, you couldn’t see the dials properly and my panel was over here so I stood all the time and I’ve not found an engineer yet that I’ve met that did sit down much the only time you sat was when you were doing your calculations of fuel use and stuff like that, but mostly when flying plus the fact when you went on operations you were asked to, you were helping the skipper all the time but at the same time they asked you to keep a lookout and help the gunners in case you saw anything, well if you sat on your seat with your back to window you couldn’t so you had to stand. And our first two operations were both within 5 mins of 9 hours, 8 hours and 55, and people have said you didn’t stand all that time I said ‘well I was young enough then not to be worried about standing all that’, I never used to think that was a long time to stand and being an engineer in civilian life and working on heavy machinery it was a lighter job when you’re flying, and standing hours we used to work, before I went in, in 1943 I was 17 doing 12 hours shifts at work where you’re on your feet 12 hours a day anyway so -
DK: Where was that you were working?
MS: Up in Sunderland I served me apprenticeship, funnily enough it was, served in brewery machinery bottle washers, conveyers, fillers and everything like that, but we got a good engineering - because it was a family firm, you learnt electrics and plumbing all sorts of work that when you went in a ship yard you were maybe trained in one thing, or you were on one lathe, we got a bit of work done planeing, on lathes, all sorts of things and it turned out in my life afterwards, I went back to the same firm when I came out of the air force and I had altogether 25 years with them, and good experience, and then I left 1960 I left Sunderland and moved down to Northamptonshire and I worked down there for northern dairies for 5 or 6 years, then we moved up to Oakham and when I was in Oakham I finished my working life, working, first of all, I started at Ashwood prison and then when the tornados came to Cottismore I got started there as a fitter and ended up as a mechanical foreman, and retired at 65 from there. My apprenticeship came in very handy because it covered so many things you know -
DK: Do you remember now why it was the air force that you chose I understand [unclear] you volunteered?
MS: Its funny how it happened I was in a reserve job so I couldn’t, you could only volunteer for one thing that was aircrew, and I never thought about it when I was doing my apprenticeship but when I got up, I was a keen amateur footballer, and I played every Saturday afternoon and the foreman used to say to me’ wait until you’re a man out of time and you’ll have to work Saturday afternoon I can’t stop you playing football now, but once you’re a man your job will be here’ and jokingly I said ‘well if that’s the case I might as well join the air force or somewhere at least they get leaves every so often’ and that was, I just said it as a joke, but then the last year towards the time when I was 21 and out of my time, he said that ‘I’ll have you working on Saturdays next year’ and I said ‘will you?’ and I didn’t think anything else about it, but as soon as I finished my apprenticeship I thought I am not going to be working here 12 hours a day for the rest of the war, I am going to volunteer after all, and aircrew was the only one you could volunteer for, I thought, I was keen on hearing and reading about the Sunderland flying boat, being a Sunderland born man and I thought I wonder if I could join the air force and become a flight engineer on Sunderland’s so that’s what I did. I hadn’t really thought about until actually I was 21, and I volunteered straight away in the January, my birthday was January, I had my aircrew medical in the July, 3 days, and then put on deferred service, and I wasn’t called up until December of that year, so I was 12 months between volunteering and, and by then I hadn’t changed my mind, but I had settled in to the fact that well if I’m not going to get called up, I hope I can make the grade as a goalkeeper, professional, and I had a pretty good amateur life as a footballer you know, and I played untill i was 34, but when the time came to 21 I thought, I must try and get on Sunderland flying boats. We went down to be typed[?] At St Athan and when you did training you were all in the hanger, and they would say right we want so many at[?] for this and so many for that, and the first thing he said ‘how many of you chaps want to be a flight engineer on Sunderland flying boats?’, and half of us put their hands up, he says ‘well I’m sorry we’re not training flight engineers for Sunderland flying boats until they get the new Centaurus engine’, so I said ‘oh’, and then they asked for so many volunteers for Stirling’s and when they didn’t get enough what they wanted, the Sergeant said, right anybody whose last figure is so and so you’re on Stirling’s and then they did the same for Halifax’s and by then I’d done them both, I wanted to be on Lancaster’s so I thought well I’m not going to volunteer I hope he doesn’t call my number out next time and he called out whose last two numbers are so and so and fortunately it didn’t come? So he said right the rest of you are all Lancaster boys, so that’s how it came about the end of the [unclear] And we went to Bridlington and we did all our marching and that at Bridlington, and that was prior to going to St Athan, I’ve jumped the gun a bit there, I was posted up to Bridlington and I’d been in the home guard while I was apprentice up home, lance corporal, and we had a demonstration team and we never lost a competition we went in, we were drilling at Bridlington and sergeant, there was two lads couldn’t march properly their hands went with the foot when they shouldn’t have done and he came to me and he said ‘I’ve been watching you, you’ve done this business before haven’t you?’ I said ‘yes’ I said ‘I was in the home guard in a demonstration platoon’, he said ‘well take these two lads along there and see if you can get them marching properly’, and I was with them 20 minutes and by the time that 20 minutes was up when I said quick march, they marched properly, and the sergeant said ‘how you going on?’ I said ‘good’ so he said ‘bring them back’, and he got them to stand in front of him and he said quick march and they went back to what they had been, and he said ‘oh just join the ranks’ he said ‘they’ll learn eventually’ but it was just they were nervous you see in front of the sergeant. And from Bridlington you were posted to heavy con unit where you meet the crew. And,When you formed your crew. I skipped the early one to talk about the one I flew with because that’s where me memories are. I was in the hanger and I was told to find the crew of pilot officer James, just altogether you know, and you used to just, if you saw somebody that you liked you say could I be in your crew? Well, I was told to ask for pilot officer James’s crew, and I thought well I don’t know any of them so I just waited until I saw practically everybody was teamed up, and then I saw these two lads, navigator and bomb aimer walking round, and I went up and said ‘excuse me are you with pilot officer James’s crew’, they said ‘yes’, so I said ‘well I’m sergeant Snowball, I’m going to be your flight engineer’ and the navigator who come from Gateshead said ‘oh dear, we thought with a name like that you must come from the West Indies, we’ve been looking for the wrong colour’. And it was, when we met up after the war 40 years afterwards, I reminded them about this and he says ‘Maurice’ he said, ‘I should have known’ he said,’ I told you I never heard the name Snowball before’, and he said ‘the biggest department store in Gateshead was Snowball’, he said ‘so why I thought I’d never heard the name before’ and I used to really rib them about that because [pause] they didn’t actually say West Indian [laughter] they said another word.
DK: [unclear]
MS: Yes. But we got on ever so well together the crew, I couldn’t’ have got a better crew, the skipper was very good with us. It was winter of course when we got to Killingholme, by that was a cold camp, we were in Nissan huts and you had a coal, just one coal fire in the middle, you know a stove, and the coal was rationed you could never get enough to keep it -, and at one stage the coal heap outside was whitewashed so far up so that if anybody went out at night and got coal they knew somebody had been because they had whitewashed was disturbed, so anybody that did that they had to be very careful because if they saw it happen they would come into the billets and look at any coal that was in buckets or anything to see if there was any whitewash on the top. [laughter] You see it was rationed and it was unfair to pinch it and make somebody else short of it, but when you did, when you did have a good fire going you could boil a kettle on it and make yourself a cup of tea, all used to bring tea, it was loose tea in them days of course, but we always managed to have a cup of tea, didn’t always have milk, because you had to go off camp to get the milk or scrounge it off the naafi girls in the naafi, but it turned out to be a good camp. I used to go in, I had a cycle and I used to cycle up to Immingham and catch the night tram into Grimsby, especially on a Saturday night when we wasn’t flying anywhere, because I liked dancing I did a lot of ballroom dancing, and the skipper and the bomb aimer both had little cars, and you had a ration you know, and they used to go, and it wasn’t until 40 years afterwards we were talking at one of these reunions [checks if its alright to continue] we were talking at one of these reunions, and they were talking about George the navigator, he got engaged to a girl there, which he later married, and they were talking about going to his wife’s, then his girl, we used to go to your girlfriends, mothers for dinner [unclear] we always used to have egg and chips or something, and I said ‘when did that happen?’ they says ‘well you always used the bike because it was only a two seater car, you couldn’t go in the car with us and when you left the dance we went to the car you got on your bike [corrects self] ‘and got on the tram’, rather ‘to go and get your bike at Immingham, and we used to call in to Georges, girlfriend’s, and had a good supper off her mother’ so I missed all that by using the bike [gentle laughing]. Well the skipper, he was a pilot officer and our rear gunner was a flying officer, two good gunners because the two gunners had been gunnery instructors and when the gunnery school closed they were posted to heavy con to do some ops, they’d never flown on ops they had been training, so we had two experienced gunners really, which was a good thing, fortunately we never had have any bother there. I can’t remember ever whether they did ever do open up fire? The rear gunner said at one time his gunnery where he was, was lit up by a searchlight and he said fortunately it went out straight away otherwise they would have quickly gone onto us with the rest of them, but we didn’t know anything about that he told us afterwards, so we had no real problems at all, we were very fortunate we never had a fault with an engine or a plane, and we got through the four bombing operations we did safely, and then we did the food drop one.
DK: So you did four operations before that?
MS: We did four bombing, We did two night ones, and the first one Plzen[?], was near the Czech border that one was eight hours 55 minutes the next one was at Potsdam just 30 miles south of Berlin, so that was eight hours and so many minutes after, and then we did Helgoland that was about a four hour trip, 2 hour you know -, trip, and that was bombing of course, and Breman we went to Breman, oh Bremen was our first daylight one because it was the first time we had seen anti-aircraft shells. And we went through Wilhelmshaven and we could see all the flak then, and think well we’ve got to go through that, well we got through it safely, and then we got to Breman, because the cloud hadn’t properly cleared and the Canadian army was waiting to attack Breman after we’d bombed, the master bomber was cancelling it, and so we got all the way to Bremen and brought the bombs all the way back again, and landed with them, I, a little task that I had to do then was on the way back the Skipper said ‘you had better work out what fuel we’re going to use and whether we will be on our landing weight’ and I said ‘oh you will be by the time we get back there’, because I said ‘we’re nearly home, its been well down’ and, we landed with the full bomb load on but the skipper was told he should have jettisoned the 1,000 pound one because they said it wouldn’t have exploded but if you landed heavily and it had come off the hooks any of the bomb armourers that were underneath them doors could have it drop on them, so they said if it happens again you must get rid of your cookie.
DK: Was he in any trouble for that?
MS: No no
DK: Or was he just advised next time?
MS: Just advised because we were a new crew and we had never had that experience of bringing bombs back before. We knew that planes had come back when it had an engine missing or something like that, and had to turn back and they had got rid of their bomb load you see, but we were, we had no fault to get rid of the bombs, other than the fact the safety of them, we didn’t think of that, as far as we were concerned we were bringing them back safely. [gentle laughter] [pause] Then when the squadron closed in 47 no 46, October 46, I was re-trained as a MT driver until my de-mob came up and I was posted to El Adem at Tobruk. While there, actually, I had developed an injury when I was playing in goal, I couldn’t take goal kicks with my right foot my back used to be too painful and when I used to sit down any length of time, I would walk about 40 or 50 yards before I could straighten up properly, and eventually I went to the MO at North Killingholme, and he said ‘that’s [unclear] but you’ve got a bit of arthritis or rheumatism’ he said, and I said ‘well I’ve now got a posting to the Middle East’, I said ‘should I have something looked at before’, and he said ‘oh if you’re going to the middle east its nice and warm there you’ll be alright’ and I went there and I was there 12 months nearly still having this problem and then they said we’re going to send you back home now to Cosford hospital and they’ll offer you a back injury, an operation for your injury, don’t have it put up with the pain for as long as you can, don’t have that operation, and I came back to Cosford by sea, I had to get myself on the ship, in a hammock with a bad back was a problem, and when I approached the navel steward about it, I said ‘I’m coming home with an injury to my back, I’m going to hospital, I can’t get up in one of them’ he said ‘well according to this sheet you’re not bed bound or anything, so I can’t give you a bed in the hospital, when its not on your sheet’ so I had to manage, I got back alright, and I got examined at RAF Cosford, and the surgeon, two surgeons there was, they did some tests with me and then got me sitting on a chair to drop my head onto my chest, and they kept saying no you’re putting your head down, I want you to drop it, let it drop off, and eventually I did drop it, and I jumped off the chair with this pain down my leg and they said now right what it is, you’ve got a slipped disc we can put that right with an operation. Straight away I thought of what I’d been told, so I said ‘well have you got an alternative?’ He said ‘yes you can have a plaster jacket on for up to 3 months if its not right by then, well you’ve got no other -, you’ll have to have the operation’ and I got that jacket on, and sent home a month, and two days every month back to have the jacket checked, but them 3 months I was dancing 3 or 4 nights a week with no problem with the jacket on, and within two days of getting that jacket off the pain was back, and by then I knew about the operation, and I said straightaway ‘I’ll have the operation’ and they did operate on it, and they discharged me from the hospital A1, and I said ‘I’ve gone passed my date when I should have been home’ I said ‘I was in hospital when my de-mob date came up’ i said ‘and I am going back to the job where I was, its heavy engineering and lifting’ they said there is no problem with that but you won’t ever be able to touch your toes no matter how fit you get. So I came home and I did, I went back to the job, as soon as I was fit I was playing football and I played till I was 34, and it was only in later life when I started getting back problems which I have now more or less permanently, but I don’t thinks its, well I’m told its nothing to do with the disc that I had, they just said, what they’ve told me is all the discs have crunched a bit up with age and if one of them touches the nerve that’s when you get the back ache, but I don’t have the pain down my leg like I used to have but as soon as I walk, I don’t walk very far before I’ve got back ache, so my limit is I walk up the street 5 minutes and there is a fire hydrant and I sit down there for two minutes and then I walk back again so my limit is about 10 minutes walk.
MK: But you were still playing football until your mid thirties?
MS: Sorry?
MK: You were still playing football until your mid thirties?
MS: Yes, yes.
MK: You never went professional then?
MS: No. I was, I played at Locking [inaudible] we had a good wing team, and there was another wing team there that was also good, and their team was all physical instructors except the centre forward was an amateur, and we had all amateur [unclear] we didn’t have any physical instructors, our own physical instructor, he was our trainer but he never played, and when we did the tests, I played in goal in the trials and the CO that was in charge of us, Wing Commander, he said ‘well’ he said ‘you’re quite a good goal keeper’ but he said, ‘but I must put you in team Haley because’ he said, ‘he’s a professional he plays for west ham so he’s got to go in this team’ and he played in the first game we played and they put me on the forward line which I’d never played out in my life and I said ‘oh this is no good for me’ and we lost two, one, and the Wing Commander was annoyed because he said ‘Haley should have stopped them’ so he said ‘in future I’m having you in goal for my wing team he can go to the station team and play for them as he’s been doing’ so, and I played in that wing team, and Tim gave me tips and coached me a bit, he was ever so good about it, and we played in the competition for the best wing team and we met the other team in the semi-final and they wanted us to meet really in the final, but we got drawn in the semi-final, so the officers, both officers said we’re going to make this like the final ‘we’ll have some chairs round and we’ll have officers come in from other places, you’re going to be playing in front of a crowd’ and we did, and we drew nil, nil, after 90 minutes, and we were still nil, nil, after extra time, and they said right now then we’re playing, no penalties in them days, we’ll play till a team scores, and we played another half hour, and I had the game of my life [emphasis on the game of my life] they could not beat me, and then this, after half an hour, we knew we had been playing a long time, it turned out to be half an hour extra, the centre forward came through and I had been out one to one with him several times and got the ball, you know, managed to stop what he did, but this last time he didn’t wait for me going out he shot straight away and I was just moving off the line to go and meet him, and I dove and I touched the ball and it went in off the post and the next minute I was on their shoulders, I was crying my eyes out, but they carried me off, what a great game I had. My PTI came to me and he said, ‘would you like to come off the aircrew course? and become a PTI’ he said ‘you’d make a good PTI’ and I said ‘if I come off the aircrew course I’ll have to go back to my reserve job in Sunderland, he said ‘well its a great pity because this chap here’ and he had a chap who was dressed in a suit and everything, he said’ he’s a scout for Cardiff City and [unclear] Athletic and he thinks you can make the grade as a professional, and he would get you into one of them clubs’ and I said, ‘well no’, I said, if I make the grade as a professional I want to play for Sunderland where I was born and that was it, and then two of the PTI’s off the other team when we had the meal afterwards they came not together one came up and said, ‘have you thought about playing professional after the war?’ I said ‘well if I’m good enough I would, always dreamed about being professional’ he said ‘well I’m with South end’ he said ‘if you survive the war and you’re still playing football contact Southend and I’ll give you my name and you’ll get a trial’ and then this other one came up and he said he was a professional with Tottenham Hotspur and he said the same after the war if you’re still playing and you’re fit contact Tottenham and mention my name and you’ll get a trial, so that was as near as I could get to being professional, until after the war when I came home with the plaster jacket on, I met the secretary of the local team I played for before I went in the air force [unclear] it was, the next village to where I lived and he said, ‘oh Maurice are you de-mobbed?’ Because was in civvies you see, I said ‘no’ he said ‘oh what a pity’ he said ‘I’ve had the coach from Sheffield Wednesday on, they are looking for a young goalkeeper to play in the reserve team and they’ve signed a professional from Scotland but they want another goalkeeper for the second team’ and I said ‘oh’ I said ‘I’m in a plaster jacket I can’t play football, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to play again’ and he said ‘what a pity’ he said, ‘because I thought, when I saw you I thought straight away Maurice you’re going to Sheffield’ [gentle laughter] so that was as near as I ever got. But I did have a good amateur career.
DK: So how many years were you actually in the Air force for?
MS: Four, four years, I joined in 43 as I say, I volunteered in 43 and joined in the September 43 so I had been on deferred service for 6 months, because after your aircrew medical they told you that you’d passed the medical and that you were accepted but you had to go on deferred service until there was vacancies on the training [pause]
DK: Just going back a bit, how many Manna operations did you do?
MS: We just did the one, because we, being a new crew the CO shared the aircraft, you see, they didn’t get your own aircraft until you had done a few operations, and although we had done four, we still hadn’t got our own aircraft so it was a case of we did that one and then, I don’t know whether, there was one particular time when the skipper was grounded a bit with a perforated ear drum and I don’t know whether that was why we only did one or whether the fact there wasn’t an aircraft available so -
DK: And can, do you have memories of the Dutch people down looking up?
MS: Yes the, oh yes the [pause] we went on the second day which was before the truce was signed and we knew the first lot had come back alright, but they warned us that the navigators must get the course right and you must be no higher than 500 feet or they can shot at, and I since learned after the war that some crews were told if you went off the track or too high the Germans would fire a red markers telling you to get back and then if, once you got back they would fire a green one to let you know, stay where you are but we didn’t know anything about that, we just knew that ours, with the skipper keeping the speed that we wanted, 160, because it was a low speed you see, and the navigator had to be dead right to keep on the track, and we went over the north sea at 300 feet, and then as we approached the coast the navigator come and said you’d better get up to 500 now because we will be crossing the coast shortly, so we crossed the coast and we all aware of the anti-aircraft guns following the aircraft round and hoping nothing would happen which thankfully it didn’t but one or two aircraft did have small arms fire, but they put that down to the fact flying over from the coast some outlying post would see an aircraft and just fire at it without realising that they shouldn’t, but we didn’t have any damage at all, and we got our food dropped at the racecourse Duindigt racecourse and it was. [slight pause] My memories myself of crossing the coast and getting it going in, was the flooded houses and everything, water everywhere and that, that’s my main memory of approaching, I can’t remember looking out and seeing crowds of people while we were flown in, but as soon as the navigator [corrects self] the bomb aimer said he’d got the racecourse in his sight then we were able to look out and I saw the crowds round the racecourse then all waving. You couldn’t believe it, how did they all know we were coming? But you see they’d got the word through the radio and they’d seen them the first day, so there was I suppose when we went on the second day, there would be more people out who had missed the first day.
DK: How did that make you feel dropping humanitarian supplies? [pause] How did that make you feel dropping humanitarian supplies?
MS: Oh its, well again we just knew that we had been told that people were starving and we were going to drop some food because the fact they had no food, they had no electric, they had no fuel to light fires, and most of the trees had been cut down, and any damaged houses all the woodwork was gone, so we knew it was pretty desperate, but my recollection at that time was that the biggest thing was all the houses were flooded, where they living? And they’d all gone into Rotterdam and Amsterdam you see, on to the higher grounds. But when we went over in 85 and met the people, who were at that time there, then we found out what life was like for them, where they had nothing to eat and no heating, the men were taken away to work in Germany, and so the people at home were the ladies, old men, and young children, and the young children we made friends with, one lady in particular she used to go with her bike 5 days or 6 days, and come back with what food they could, but she told us money was no good then, they took out maybe a spare pair of shoes or some clothing, anything you could barter with the farmers to get something, a few potatoes off them or something, whatever they’ve got spare, but she did tell us about one time, she’d been away 5 days, and they were told when they were cycling, cycles had no tyres they were just on the rims, when they were riding, if they heard aircraft they had to get in a ditch and stop riding, because the aircraft would shoot up anybody on the roads. So they had that to contend with, and then on the way back they had to make sure that the Germans didn’t see them coming back because they would take the food off them, because they were short of food you see, and she said this particular time, ‘I’d been 5 days away and was coming back and I’d not managed to pick anything up at all, I’d got no food other than one farmers wife said well he’s got nothing to offer you this time so I can’t trade you with anything, but we have some cracknel left off some pork that we’ve had you can take that’ and she said, ‘that was all’ and when she got home, she said ‘I went in and crying my eyes out and said to my mum, mum all I’ve got is this bit of cracknel I’ve not been able to get any more food and her mam said well I’ve still got some bread left and Mrs so and so next door they’ve got nothing, so take that into them and give them the’ [unclear] so what she brought back for her family was given to the next family. And she gave us, we had her over here to England one year and she gave us a list she’s done in that winter a thousand miles going out different places for 5 days at a time and back, and she mentioned the place and how many miles and so on and so and so, and it totalled up to a thousand miles, as a young girl going out and that’s the sort of thing they had to do. But it was then in 85 that we got to know what it was really like for them, and in the video that I’ve got that was made in 2010 general, forget his name, the general that was a boy at the time tells a story him and his mates, they were out looking for wood and they went on to a, [hesitation] to get some wood off some houses in the banned area, and he said the Germans turned up, and he said, unfortunately on that particular occasion the German, one of the German soldiers fired his gun and it hit his pal in the throat, he touches that when he tells you, and it hit him in the throat and he collapsed on me, and he said he died in my arms, so that was, it was after 85 that we got to know these things and it really brought it home to you then what we didn’t know when we actually dropped the food.
DK: Terrible conditions they were living in, [pause]terrible conditions?
MS: Oh yes, yes, you see they had nothing the photographs, you probably, you might have seen them [rustling] one old chap is stratting about and he comes up with a bottle, looks like sauce and he dipping his finger and eating that, but the children were allowed to go into the churns that the soup was brought in and rake the food out you see, because they had to give coupons and it was a measured like ladle, what they brought out and that was just one in every family, and of course they couldn’t get the rest, they would get as much as they could and as far as they were concerned it was empty, and the kids were allowed to go in and, dive in and eat it.
DK: I’ll just finish, I‘ll just ask you one final question, how do you look back now on your time with the RAF because it was only, I say only, it was four years, it was actually a small part of your life, how do you look back on it all these years later?
MS: I am pleased that I volunteered and went into the air force into aircrew but my main memory is operation Manna that one operation has brought so much into my life with friends that we’ve met in Holland since 85, and I met this Dutch lady at Lincoln when we were interviewed, she was an eight year old girl at the time, and she lives at Cambridge, and I’ve already spoken, and she’s spoken to me on the phone since and she wants to keep in touch because, I don’t know whether you’ve seen the video, what was, Songs of Praise, how she greeted me then we had met and talked in the room before we went out to there, and then the interviewer, a girl went, well, she was talking about what life was like for her in the war, the BBC girl was in tears you know, she didn’t know exactly what it had been like and then we went outside and she was told, the Dutch lady was told now we want you to meet Maurice for the first time when we go down there we’ll decide what’s the best place to do, and then they tried two or three places round where the flowers were and then eventually got me to stand on the corner and her to go across and then come in and greet me, and oh she did, it was a proper greeting, she really hugged me and everything, afterwards we had to go back to the hotel, they wanted to do a bit more filming, and my daughter [unclear] where we’d been watching she got hold of my arm, the daughter to help me, and the Dutch lady said ‘he doesn’t need you now he’s got me to help him’ and she cared and helped me back up into the hotel, and they asked us to wait in the lounge, we’re just going to prepare the room, we wanted to do a chat and when we went in, there was two chairs like we are now and a round table, two cups of tea and two tea cakes, two small cakes on two -, and the interviewer said ‘now then, we want you to sit there and we want you to have a conversation just as like friends now’ she said ‘we’ve got the full story from you, so just if there’s anything you want to talk about to here or you want to talk to Maurice you can have a little bit of private conversation but you must not eat those cakes’ and we thought well dear me [slight laughter] you know and we had the cups of tea and she, well we talked to each other while they were doing this extra filming and then when they’d finished, they said ‘right that’s the end of the filming you can now eat your cakes, I didn’t want you eating cakes while I was filming you’ so that was why, and I said ‘well while we’ve been talking to you we’ve neither of us has had a cup of tea to drink, its gone cold’ and she said ‘don’t worry put the kettle on make them some fresh tea’ so we had fresh tea and ours cakes afterwards. The husband of the Dutch lady came to me and he said ‘while you were talking about my wife’ he said ‘I hear that you play organ?’ I said ‘yes I’ve got an organ at home’ I said, ‘and I play every other week at the chapel down in Colsterworth’ I said, ‘take my turn at, its every other week I play now’ and he said, ‘well, you said chapel’ so he said ‘if it was chapel it means your a Methodist’ I said ‘yes’ he said, ‘well, I’m a Methodist and I’m a local preacher down in Cambridge and I go to places that have got an organ but haven’t got organists’ and he said ‘I have to play the hymns’ so he said ‘I not only preach, I play the hymns at them places’ and he said, ‘it would be nice some mornings, Sunday morning’ to his wife he said, ‘it would be nice if Sunday morning we could come up when Maurice is on the organ and go to the service there’ so whether they will or not I don’t know, but I told the steward down the chapel, but he says ‘oh’ he said ‘we’ll make them welcome if they want to come’.
DK: Hopefully they’ll come
MS: Yeah, but -
DK: Ok well I’ll stop that there
MS: Yes
DK: Thats great, thanks you very much.



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Maurice Snowball,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2024,

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