Interview with Jacqueline Assheton

Title

Interview with Jacqueline Assheton

Description

Jacqueline Assheton discusses her father's career in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force and his post war work establishing Safmarine shipping line and his friendship with Jan Christiaan Smuts. Her father did not talk about his wartime career, but enjoyed cooking. He enjoyed talking to Bomber Command veterans and wanted them to have more recognition for their role during the war. She discusses her role as a volunteer with the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Creator

Date

2017-05-10

Language

Type

Format

00:28:13 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

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

Contributor

Identifier

AAsshetonJJ170510, PAsshetonJJ1701

Transcription

CB: I think it must have done.
Other: Can you rewind it?
CB: I did it just then and it because that’s why I looked at the counter which I should have done earlier. Right.
JA: What do you want to do now?
CB: Do you mind if we restart?
JA: Yes, do —
CB: Can we do that?
JA: Yeah.
CB: So, my name is Chris Brockbank and today is 10th of May 2017 and I’m in London with Jackie Assheton to talk about her life and times as the daughter of Bomber Harris. So, what are the earliest recollections you have of your life Jackie?
JA: Well, my earliest recollections really are, which was the Bomber Command house in Buckinghamshire near High Wycombe where my pa was stationed and working for the last three years of the war. And that was just a lovely childhood in a big garden with nice friends next door and I wasn’t involved really in what was going on except, ‘Please be quiet your father is working.’ Or thinking [laughs] And everybody in uniform. And that’s really, I don’t really have there was nothing particularly special about it. Occasionally there was some Americans. Rather nice Americans. In uniform again. Who would bring the odd bottle of bourbon, I think. Not for me but for my pa and dolls for me which I didn’t like. I stripped them of their clothes and dressed my teddy bear as far as I remember. Nice things like chocolates. Hershey bars. They appeared. And that was really it.
CB: What didn’t you like about your clothes of the children? The —
JA: What? The dolls?
CB: The dolls.
JA: I didn’t like dolls.
CB: Only teddy bears.
JA: I only liked teddy bears. Yes. So they got dressed up.
CB: And —
JA: The dolls were given away at the local fete, I think.
CB: And your friend next door.
JA: Oh, Posy Johns was a great friend next door. Yes. So, we’ve now been friends for seventy five years having met through the hedge and so that was, we had great fun together. And I don’t think I went to school. No. I don’t think we had, I don’t think there was a nursery school. I imagine possibly my mother was trying to teach me to read.
CB: There probably weren’t schools —
JA: No. I think I was a slow reader.
CB: For under-fives in those days. So, father was CnC Bomber Command.
JA: Yes.
CB: At that time.
JA: Yeah.
CB: Where had you been before then? He’d been, and you?
JA: Oh, in Washington for about eight months I think when he was, before America joined up and I think it was to do with the lease lend. Sorting out the aeroplanes and the people, whatever was coming over. I think that was, he was busy sorting it out and came back after Pearl Harbour.
CB: Right.
JA: And took on Bomber Command.
CB: Right.
JA: So, I was what? Two when I come back. I don’t really remember anything about Washington.
CB: No. So a lot of it is second hand but in the family.
JA: Right.
CB: You know about, there were things going on. So, to what extent did father engage with you in conversations?
JA: Well, never about the war but just what was going on at the time, you know. He was great with young and the children and [pause] but I just didn’t discuss the war. I think particularly by the end of the war he really didn’t talk about it. I think he’d had enough of it. He took to ships. Africa, where we ended up. And life went on from there.
CB: Yes.
JA: So I wasn’t really at all involved in the war.
CB: Just taking a step back when you went out to Washington.
JA: Yeah.
CB: How did you travel?
JA: Oh, we went out on HMS Rodney which I think was a bit of a shock to the captain and —
CB: Which was a battleship.
JA: It was a battleship. Yeah. My poor mother was very seasick. Suffered from claustrophobia so I think she was probably very frightened and I was running around which can’t have been easy. I’ve still got my little life jacket.
CB: Have you really?
JA: Was it called the Mae West?
CB: Yes.
JA: It’s upstairs on my teddy bear and I think it was stuffed with kapok. I think it’s the sort of thing that when it gets wet you actually sink rather than float but luckily I didn’t have to try it out. And then we came back on a, I believe it was an armed merchant cruiser which must have been another slightly frightening journey. But I don’t remember that. I just remember Springfield.
CB: What were your father’s activities as relaxation?
JA: Oh, cooking was his main thing. Probably to the annoyance of the cook during the war because he’d come straight back and interfere in the kitchen and, no he loved cooking and carried on cooking until the end of his life. Loved it.
CB: What sort of speciality did he have?
JA: Well, he was a very good meat cook in that stews and things were his speciality really and roasts. Wonderful gravy. But he did exotic things. Not always appreciated. I do remember squid cooked in their own ink sitting around in South Africa. Nobody would eat them. He was quite cross. Did look awful in the glass jar I must say. And Boston baked beans. We had rows of pots of Boston baked beans in America. Nobody was very keen on those either I don’t think. But no. He was an adventurous cook. He loved it. Is it working now?
CB: It is. Yes. And your father was running Bomber Command until the end of the war.
JA: Yeah.
CB: What do you know about his feeling about the end of the war and the treatment of himself and bomber crews?
JA: Well, he was only really concerned about the treatment and the recognition of the crews and I think he was very upset that they weren’t given more recognition at the time for the crews that survived and for the families of the ones that didn’t. I think that annoyed him a lot. I think he was very relieved to leave the whole situation behind and take to ships. Cargo shipping instead of aeroplanes. I think he’d had enough of it.
CB: Yes.
JA: Not surprisingly, by then.
CB: Because —
JA: But he did mind very much about the boys. As did his last boss. The Queen Mum.
CB: Right. And that prompted him did it not to refuse a peerage?
JA: Yes. And I think I only heard him once saying that he considered it was a job that he’d have to do as he was going to end up living in South Africa. It wasn’t something he was prepared to take on and, no. He wasn’t keen to do that at all.
CB: So, before the First World War he’d been in Southern Rhodesia.
JA: Yeah.
CB: At the end of the Second World War why did he go to South Africa and not Southern Rhodesia?
JA: Well, because he’d been offered this job in cargo shipping by his American friend Henry Mercer who was running States Marine which was a cargo shipping company and they wanted to set up an end in Africa. So, South Africa Marine known as Safmarine was now going strong still in the Cape. So he got back as far as Cape Town. Not as far as Rhodesia which probably quite lucky. I think he would have been very upset to see what’s happened to it now. He was a bugle boy in the Rhodesian Regiment at the beginning of the First World War and then he wanted to, a very long march across South West Africa, he decided then he wanted to finish the war sitting down and so that’s how he ended up in the Royal Flying Corps.
CB: And then had his whole career —
JA: In the Air Force.
CB: In the RAF.
JA: Yeah.
CB: Yes. Well, first of all Royal Flying Corps.
JA: Yes.
CB: And then RAF.
JA: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JA: So Janny Smuts was quite a friend of his because he was a great supporter of the Air Force being an independent service, I believe.
CB: Yeah.
JA: I remember him staying with us during the war. I do remember that.
CB: South African general.
JA: Yes.
CB: Yes.
JA: Yeah. And prime minister.
CB: Yes. And what do you remember about being in South Africa as a child?
JA: Oh, well that was lovely because that was pure heaven for a child with the sea and the dogs and the country. The wildness of it. Lovely. I loved that.
CB: And whereabouts was that?
JA: Behind Table Mountain. Wynberg was one of the, near Constantia. And one of those lovely old Cape Dutch houses which was heaven.
CB: And that was, that area was the headquarters of Safmarine was it?
JA: Well, Cape Town was.
CB: Cape town. Right.
JA: Yeah. And the three original ships were [pause] get it right, they were Liberty ships.
CB: Right.
JA: Which I think, I think my pa got that organised in America through Averell Harriman. And they were done up and went out to the Cape and that was the beginning of Safmarine.
CB: So, Henry Mercer was in the States.
JA: Yeah.
CB: What did that, how did that affect your family life?
JA: Well, they were great family friends. We lived in New York but we used to go and spend weekends with them when we were out there and, no so that, that was wonderful because the end of the war my pa was looking for a job and so that all fitted in very neatly.
CB: And did you travel between South Africa and America quite a lot?
JA: Yes. On and off on the cargo ships. I missed out on a bit of schooling here and there. Yeah. And that was very few passengers and quite long journeys in those days. I think it was a couple of weeks to get from New York to Cape Town. No. I enjoyed that too.
CB: When did you return to Britain?
JA: In ’53 and we spent some time living in Cornwall looking for a house and then ended up at Goring nearer London which was probably lucky because it was, my father’s American friends always had itineraries with very little time on them. They got to Goring. They wouldn’t have got to Cornwall. So —
CB: What was he doing when he returned to the UK?
JA: He didn’t have a job. Cooking. Building bridges in the garden. Doing anything practical like that. Oh, and driving a coach and four horses for his old friend who had a collection of old carriages and large Dutch horses and we used to go around the countryside in those exercising them. I think we showed them once at Windsor. He was very keen on that. Then he got rather a bad back and decided it was unsafe sitting up on top of the carriage so he stopped doing that.
CB: And when he returned —
JA: Yeah.
CB: Then he had a baronetcy conferred on him. What was the origin of that?
JA: Well, he’d refused the peerage and the baronetcy. I think actually it was early. I can’t remember the date. Early ’50. Yeah.
CB: Oh right.
JA: Yeah.
CB: Ok. And you’re, on your own side as you got older then what did you do?
JA: Well, after school we went out to South Africa again and then I went to Winkfield. Did my cordon bleu. Following along in the long cooking line [laughs] And, and then I got married rather early and after that I was with my family and children.
CB: So, you had three children.
JA: Grandchildren.
CB: Yes.
JA: And now great granddaughter.
CB: And what did your husband do? Nicholas.
JA: He was a stockbroker and then a banker and then worked for the Queen Mother for a few years.
CB: And did he manage to sort out a lot of things for the Queen Mother?
JA: Well, I think he said it was very well organised already. He didn’t really have to do much sorting out but he very much enjoyed working at Clarence House for nearly five years. She was great and she was a great supporter of my pa. She unveiled his statue.
CB: Excellent and when —
JA: At St Clement Danes.
CB: Yes. And when the children had grown up then did you find yourself involved more with your husband’s activities?
JA: Not his work particularly, no but just running his life. Running our life. A few charitable things like Riding for the Disabled. Doing the church flowers. Nothing stunning at all.
CB: How did you —
JA: It just kept me very busy.
CB: How did the Riding for the Disabled originate?
JA: Oh, well a great friend who was my son’s mother in law was running it at Knightsbridge Barracks and very efficiently she ran it [unclear] and so I used to go help with that. Not with the army horses. With ponies. That was very interesting and that was great.
CB: So, looking back over the years being the daughter of a very famous person who for some people was controversial created a good deal of attention in certain ways. How did you feel about that?
JA: Well, I’ve got nothing to compare it with really and I think my family were very good at protecting me when I was small from it and I kept very much out of controversy since then and very pleased to see the Memorial at Green Park. That’s the one thing that did come in to my life.
CB: The Bomber Command Memorial.
JA: The Bomber Command Memorial. Yes.
CB: Yes.
JA: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
JA: So, I’ve been really very uninvolved with Bomber Command and so it’s very difficult to fill in the background for you.
CB: Sure. What would you say was the most memorable point about your father’s involvement in the RAF?
JA: Goodness. Well, I suppose the Bomber Command years. That was probably the most traumatic for him and probably for my mother and, but it’s always very nice to meet what he called the old lags. Why they were called the old lags I don’t know. He loved his reunion dinner parties at Grosvenor House and talking to the old boys. And I think that was a great encouragement and support for him. I never heard a word of criticism from them.
CB: But he was always well supported by your mother. How did she feel about the strain? Stresses and strains of her husband’s activities.
JA: Well, again, I mean, she didn’t talk about it. I think it’s a modern thing isn’t it to talk about things and dash off for counselling. Nobody really talked about it.
CB: No.
JA: It would be mentioned but not of any great sort of concern or worry. Again, for the details just go back to Henry Probert’s book.
CB: Yes. Absolutely.
JA: And my life just carried on really without being influenced by the Bomber Command years.
CB: Yes.
JA: And so I haven’t really got any exciting stories for you on that line.
CB: But do you get requests occasionally to attend —
JA: No.
CB: Certain events.
JA: No, only your lovely invitation through, well Posy —
CB: Yes.
JA: Organised that.
CB: Did she?
JA: So, that was great. Yes. That was great.
CB: The Aircrew Association.
JA: Yeah.
CB: Yes.
JA: But, no. No. It’s all a long time ago, isn’t it?
CB: Yes. It is.
JA: Yeah.
CB: But it needs recording.
JA: Yeah.
CB: Accurately. Yeah.
JA: Well, you can shorten that down.
CB: Ok.
JA: To about five minutes.
CB: Thank you very much indeed.
[recording paused]
JA: My pa was a brilliant speaker and it didn’t worry him at all making speeches to any number of people. I think the last Bomber Command reunion dinner there was something like, could it have been nine hundred people in Grosvenor House?
CB: Possibly.
JA: It was something massive.
CB: Yeah.
JA: Yeah. And he got given a little gavel by the, oh my goodness the guys in the red suits who always take charge of ceremonies and dinners for the best speaker of the year.
CB: Right.
JA: I’ve still got it in the safe.
CB: Have you really?
JA: Yes.
CB: Excellent. Yes.
JA: No. He was a great storyteller. Animal stories and things for the children and more serious things. No. He was always very interesting to listen to.
CB: That’s an interesting point. I wonder what the topic would have been for his military dinners. In other words, Air Force dinners but they weren’t just Air Force.
JA: Oh, well I mean his support and his thoughts about Bomber Command and his great admiration for the crews and everything they did was always I know deep in his thoughts and heart.
CB: Because after VE day then the government changed and what did that do for his association would you say?
JA: I think we’d gone to America by then so I don’t think it affected, affected him at all.
CB: No.
JA: No. But that really, again I have a badge that said, “I like Ike.” [laughs] So we were probably more in to American politics than —
CB: Eisenhower.
JA: English ones by then.
CB: Yes.
JA: Yes.
CB: Yeah. Dwight D Eisenhower.
JA: Yeah. Went to see him in the White House when we had tea with him. And so that was rather exciting for me.
CB: Cookies and Hershey bars.
JA: Do you know when we got to America the Hershey bars didn’t taste the same. I didn’t like them any longer. All I wanted was steak and chips with butter on both. I do remember that. That was heaven.
CB: So, by this time we’re talking about —
JA: Oh, the steak and the chips. That was when I was five or six and we were in New York setting up Safmarine and I couldn’t believe that I could actually get a hold of butter. That was the big treat. Didn’t want the ice cream. Wanted the butter.
CB: Who do you remember about rationing in Britain?
JA: I remember sitting in the back of the official car eating a whole lot of cold butter off the block of butter and it was a disaster apparently. I think it was the whole week’s butter ration [laughs] for everybody. I didn’t like eating in those days apart from butter so it didn’t worry me.
CB: And chips.
JA: Didn’t get chips during the war. No. I think the rationing was still going when we came back in the 50s. Meat. Petrol. Yeah.
CB: Till ’54. Yeah.
JA: Til ’54 yeah. No. I’m more interested in food now then I was then.
CB: Do you enjoy cooking now still?
JA: Oh yes. Luckily. I had to do quite a lot of it. Yeah.
CB: And did you induct your children in correct cooking?
JA: Oh, they’re all, particularly my son is a very good cook and very good at his, running his coffee shop and his café.
CB: Inspired by his grandfather.
JA: Probably, yes. Very keen on his grandfather. They all were.
CB: So, there was a good relationship there.
JA: Oh, very much so. Yeah. And we went down there at weekends and holidays to Goring and he cooked for them. Complained he was nothing but a short order chef because they all wanted different things. He kept going until he was nearly ninety cooking.
CB: Did he really?
JA: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Ninety.
JA: Ignored everything the doctors told him and cooked happily away. Lots of butter and meat and delicious things.
CB: Yes. All the things that are really good for you.
JA: He did quit smoking sixty Camels a day which he smoked during the war when we got to New York. He was told by a heart specialist that he’d better stop so he did. Being strong minded he stopped dead. Never smoked again.
CB: American doctor.
JA: Yes. We were in New York.
CB: Yes.
JA: I think he took a turn for the worse and was told to stop smoking so he did. My mum couldn’t.
CB: Did she —
JA: I think he had one [unclear] on Christmas day after that as a sort of celebration. I think they came out of the same packet so eventually he pronounced them disgusting.
CB: [unclear]
JA: And threw away the pocket. Yes. No. No. He was great.
CB: Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: I see on the mantel piece there’s a V&A card. What do you do with the V&A?
JA: Oh, I’m in the V&A on Mondays. I do, I’m on the Information Desk and it’s a great museum. We’ve got a great new director and I enjoy that very much.
CB: How often do the exhibitions, well how often do the exhibits change?
JA: Oh, that varies. There’s usually one or two main ones on at a time. At the moment we’ve got Pink Floyd coming on.
CB: Just right.
JA: Yeah. Balenciaga is the next one, I think.
CB: Right.
JA: No. It’s, it’s a great place and Tristram Hunt was the Labour MP in Stoke.
CB: Yes.
JA: And he’s fantastic.
CB: Is he?
JA: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Good with people.
JA: They all feel he’s really part of the team. And —
CB: That’s his real interest.
JA: Yeah.
[recording paused]
JA: That’s why I —
CB: Rightly or wrongly your father is well known in the context of Dresden and the bombing of it.
JA: Yes.
CB: How did you appreciate that?
JA: Well, I do remember him saying that I think he didn’t want to bomb it at all. It was too far away was one of the main things. But what people don’t realise is he did what he was told to do. Depending on the weather and what was on the list he had to send the boys off to go and do it and it wasn’t the final choice of where, I suppose but it was on the list, you know. I don’t suppose he enjoyed it any more than anybody else.
CB: It's, it’s a —
JA: He did what he was told.
CB: Yes. It’s a bone of contention in many ways from all sorts of aspects but to what extent do you rub against that, up against that with the V&A?
JA: Not at all. Never mentioned. And I didn’t mention it to the last director either.
CB: Right.
JA: You’d best not.
CB: The reason I ask is because there is a Dresden Society which is active in a variety of ways and is to do with the rebuilding of Dresden.
JA: Probably is.
CB: In an, an architectural context.
JA: Yeah.
CB: Apart from other things, and I just wondered whether you got involved in that in any way.
JA: No. No. I mean, I really haven’t been involved in anything to do with war. Bomber Command since the war. I think I was protected from it during the war and it continued from there
CB: Sure.
JA: And so I can’t fill you in on any more. But I know the V&A there’s a few holes in the wall that the Germans left. They’re still in Exhibition Road. I notice they’re still there although they’ve redone that wall. No, the V&A doesn’t.
CB: There isn’t enough money to cover all repairs in these things.
JA: Probably not. No. There’s a great new extension that’s up there about to open. Do you know the V&A?
CB: Haven’t been for ages.
JA: Sorry, that’s the one. No, it’s great.
CB: And —
JA: It’s a delightful museum.
CB: They run a special briefing for you on the desk beforehand, do they? So, that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet at the V&A.
JA: Oh yes. We have so many emails. So many that we don’t really get around to reading them all. No. I think there are big changes now. It’s getting more and more efficient in that way. My only worry is that it’s more and more based on the computer which I’m not very speedy at operating and so they probably have younger people taking over from us old folk quite soon.
CB: What sort of age range do you have of the public coming in?
JA: Oh, everything. Every age. And I, they are encouraging a lot of children to come in. There are lots of activities at the weekends and holidays which is great.
CB: Yeah.
JA: No, it’s a great museum.
CB: Thank you.

Citation

Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Jacqueline Assheton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 18, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/9226.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.