Interview with Ron Baker


Interview with Ron Baker


Ron Baker, originally from Willesden was in the ATC before joining the RAF and trained as a flight mechanic. He was posted to 463 Squadron at Waddington. On one occasion he had to help to remove the body of a gunner who had died during the flight. He recalls one day when the usual routine of operations was changed to an earlier than usual take off time. That was D-Day. His duties included waiting through the night for the return of his aircraft and to guide them back to their dispersal point. One member of the ground staff waited through the night in case the aircraft came back early. Eventually Ron volunteered to join the Fleet Air Arm as a mechanic before being demobbed.




Temporal Coverage




00:39:46 audio recording


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ABakerR161102, PBakerR1602


RP: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Rod Pickles. The interviewee is Ron Baker. The interview is taking place at Ron’s home in Verwood, near Christchurch, Dorset on the 2nd of November 2016. Also present is Ron’s wife Phyl. Ron, this interview is all about you so if we could start at the beginning and sort of go back to when, when you were leaving school and what, what prompted you to want to join the RAF?
RB: Well, I I left school at fourteen. Just a few months before the war started actually. I think I left school in April and the war started in, or was declared in the September. Then I was working then as a telegraph boy. I remember driving err cycling around in those days. First of all the first air raid warning that was sounded. Everybody was surprised and taken aback and somebody came out and took me into their house until the all clear came sort of thing. But then I spent four years as a telegraph boy.
RP: Where were you working then? Where was that?
RB: In Willesden. In London. So I lived through the initial Blitzkrieg sort of thing as well. Then they formed the Air Training Corps. I think in 1941. Which was developed from the Air Defence Corps or something. It was a cadet unit then and then the Air Ministry took it over I believe and made it the Air Training Corps. So I joined then at sixteen. And I served there. I think with the 406 Squadron was the squadron in those days.
RP: Is it still going?
RB: I don’t know if it’s still going now, no. But I know we had, I think in Willesden alone we had about four squadrons. And in those days I mean we’re talking about a hundred and fifty to two hundred in each squadron.
RP: Good grief.
RB: So, you can imagine.
RP: That is good.
RB: In those days it was really going well and I served there for two years until I was eventually called up to the Royal Air Force.
RP: So you were called up rather than volunteered, yes?
RB: Well, yeah. Well, yes I was called up. I was conscripted in that service. Yeah.
RP: Right. Yeah.
RB: But I mean I would have volunteered anyway but there was no need to. You were taken in, sort of. And I was actually taken in about two months after my eighteenth birthday so I went in relatively quickly.
RP: They didn’t waste time.
RB: Yeah. Whereas a lot of them like cadets who had put down for aircrew were just waiting and waiting and waiting you know. Sometimes it took them a year to get in in those days. Because everybody wanted to be aircrew really.
RP: Yeah.
RB: But I think they used to call us the Brylcreem boys. But that was the sort of glamour of clearly it was, it was very new obviously as you know. The air force. And that was it really. So, I went in as ground staff and did my initial training at Skegness. The square bashing and so forth.
RP: Skegness. That’s very [laughs] very bracing then.
RB: Well, it wasn’t in those days [laughs] I think the RAF took over Skegness.
RP: Oh right.
RB: The Navy took over the holiday camp there and then Skegness was a you know.
RP: Oh, it was a military base really was it?
RB: A military base. Yeah. And we lived in the, all the guest houses there. I mean they confiscated the guest houses and we were billeted in those. And I served in the RAF band that they had there. And did my initial training there. We were kept back there. I should have, I think it was eight weeks the course. But because I was in the band and they were doing various performances around Lincolnshire for, used to be go around the towns doing Wings for Victory days.
RP: Oh yes. Yes.
RB: And things like that. So I was kept back for a little while and then eventually got posted to Cosford where I did my engineering course which was I think something like about six months. I can’t remember. Yeah. Roughly about six months I think it was.
RP: Did you enjoy the training?
RB: Well, yes. It was, well Cosford is quite a big place as you probably know anyway.
RP: Yes.
RB: Isn’t it? Or it was in those days. And we passed out there. And I was in the band at Cosford as well.
RP: Yeah.
RB: The same problems there really. We had to go out on various parades and while the course was going on so I had to do, pick up afterwards you know what I’d missed. But I eventually qualified and we left Cosford. Funnily enough when we left Cosford we got fourteen days leave. We had to take all our kit with us and then we received our posting whilst we was on leave.
RP: Oh right.
RB: So we had no idea where you were going.
RP: So you went out.
RB: We just all said our goodbyes.
RP: You went. You didn’t know where your mates went.
RB: No.
RP: Unless they wrote to you.
RB: We said goodbye to each other because we’d been together a long — and my posting came through to Waddington. Arrived at Waddington and who should be there? A lot of the chaps that was in the same billet. Which was unusual. But I think when you finished the course you usually went to an Operational Training Unit or a Maintenance Unit to get a bit of experience obviously but apparently they just formed this squadron at Waddington and we were thrown in onto an operational squadron straight away. It was 467 Squadron and if I remember rightly I think Waddington had been closed down. They were concreting the runways or something.
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
RB: Doing something with the runways and —
RP: Because the bomb loads were getting heavier and —
RB: Yeah. And when it opened up again which was about I think it was about the latter part of ’43. Around about October/November the Aussie squadron moved in, was 467. I think they came from Bottesford.
RP: Right.
RB: They moved in there because, and it was 467 Squadron but they, they made it in to two and made the 463 Squadron out of it.
RP: Right.
RB: And I was posted to 463. So, we met with all our friends again. In fact, actually I’m still in contact with one of them.
RP: Oh. That’s good.
RB: We speak occasionally over the phone. He lives up at Lytham St Anne’s in —
RP: Well, you ask him if he needs, if he wants to be interviewed because they’ll interview him as well.
RB: He I hadn’t heard anything about it actually.
RP: Well, if, if you give me his name afterwards. We’ll make contact.
RB: Yeah. Will do. I’ve got his name and address actually.
RP: Yeah.
RB: In fact, I haven’t spoken to Don for a while I must give him a ring again.
RP: Yeah. Yeah. But, no we’ll get in touch with him. Don’t worry.
RB: Yeah. Yeah. It’s, but we often have a chat over the phone and we exchange Christmas cards and so forth you know.
RP: That’s good you’ve still got someone.
RB: We followed one and other around. It was rather interesting.
RP: So, what did you make of Waddington and Lincoln when you first got there then? What was your initial impressions?
RB: Well, it was all, all new to us obviously you know. Especially going on to an operational squadron and with the Aussies it was great. They were, they were a great crowd to serve with. They really really were you know. I remember being detailed to this, this crew because there was a crew of eight of us.
RP: Yeah.
RB: In ground crew.
RP: Did you stick with the same aircraft? Or the same crew if not the aircraft.
RB: The crew stayed together. The aircraft you varied actually because —
RP: Yeah. Because of the sensibilities.
RB: You lost them as well and —
RP: Yeah.
RB: You just, you flipped around. You was on W for William one day.
RP: Yeah.
RB: And on T for Tommy another time, you know.
RP: But were the aircrew still the same? Were you serving the same aircrew or different aircrew?
RB: Usually. Unless — until they left you know.
RP: Yeah.
RB: Until they got lost or they didn’t come back unfortunately.
RP: Can you remember the first time that happened?
RB: I can vaguely remember it. I think that if I vaguely remember I think we had to get one of the chaps out. I think it was the rear gunner and he was dead. He’d died. Apparently he was sick in his oxygen mask I believe and suffocated.
RP: Oh dear.
RB: But we, I remember sort of getting, or helping to get him out obviously.
RP: Yeah.
RB: You know because they had the medical crew and that there. But that was the only instance.
RP: At least the aircraft had made it back. Yeah?
RB: Oh yeah. Made it. The aircraft made it back alright. Yeah. Yeah. And —
RP: Did they suffer many losses? Aircraft losses on the squadron?
RB: Did we not? I think 463 Squadron had the heaviest losses out of the Australian squadrons. And I think it was something in the region during the course of the war I think we did something in the region of about eighty, eighty six, something or —
RP: So how —
RB: During, during that period. That was from sort of when they joined in ’43. That’s right. Through ’44 to ’45. But I left. I got posted in, I think it was about the February 1945. I got posted overseas and then of course I left but I think the squadron stayed there until the end of the war apparently.
RP: But it must have been sort of morale sapping if an aircraft didn’t come back and you lost so many. Was it something you just got on with?
RB: Well, well, yeah. It was an everyday event.
RP: Yeah.
RB: I mean, you know I remember the biggest losses I had. I think it was when they raided Nuremberg in early 1944. I think that night was a bit of a disaster I think. I think we lost ninety two aircraft. And I think there was, we lost eight from Waddington from the two squadrons. That’s 467 and 463. But, and then there was another occasion. Well, when you listened to the news the next day they usually said, you know so many aircraft raided Hamburg or Stuttgart or whatever it was and four or five, or five of our aircraft was missing. And on one occasion there was a raid on and they now said one of our aircraft was missing. And it was our one.
RP: Oh dear.
RB: Yes. It was hard really. Yes, because, you know the ground crew and the aircrews I mean they bonded together. I mean, you know we were all great mates in that sense.
RP: Yeah. There was good spirit on the squadron.
RB: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean rank didn’t come into it really. I mean, it was, it was just like going to work in the normal way you know. I mean when you called the pilot who was probably a flying officer, you called him George or something like that you know.
RP: What rank were you at the time?
RB: Well, I was an aircraftman. AC1.
RP: You were an AC1. Right. And you rise above that.
RB: But that was, I mean when I was at Waddington I don’t think we ever did a parade or anything like that. It was all work. I mean it was going to work in the morning and coming home at night sort of thing. Like you do normally.
RP: Was there any social aspect then of the squadron? Going into Lincoln. Did you get much time off?
RB: Oh yes. On occasions. I mean the aircrew would say they would take us out to the local. The local pub in Bracebridge Heath I think it was —
RP: Yes. Bracebridge Heath. Just up the road.
RB: The Horse and Jockey.
RP: It’s probably still there.
RB: It is. And they still use it.
RP: Yeah. Oh that’s good.
RB: Apparently when they have these like Armistice Day and Anzac Day they have a reunion every year. And they usually congregate at the Horse and Jockey.
RP: Oh that’s nice.
RB: Before they go on to the, I think it’s a Memorial there at Waddington now isn’t there?
RP: Yes. Yes they have put a few.
RB: For 463 Squadron.
RP: Quite right too.
RB: I get the newsletter twice a year from our Squadron Association so that’s how I know all this.
RP: That’s fine. That’s good.
RB: Yeah.
RP: It’s good to know it’s still continuing isn’t it?
RB: That’s how probably my name went forward. I think they must have —
RP: They must have contacted the Association.
RB: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: But you mentioned that you were at Waddington. Then you got posted overseas. So where were you posted to?
RB: Well, it was, I didn’t actually go. I went to Blackpool where this was the embarkation town. Blackpool was an RAF town.
RP: Yes. Yeah.
RB: In those days as well. And the draft I was on I got kitted out with everything to go to — it looked as if we were going to go to the Far East but you couldn’t rely on that because they would kit you out for something like that and send you to the North Pole, you know. But to confused people.
RP: Yeah. Yeah. So you didn’t know where you were going. Yeah.
RB: But anyway, course then the war was, you know well in its advance sort of thing and things were changing obviously day by day I suppose. The draft I was on was cancelled at the last moment. Then we were hanging around there. Being Blackpool. And eventually I got a home posting to, I think that what they wanted to do was get as many troops out of Blackpool during the bank holidays you know. So, I got posted out to South Wales with two other chaps.
RP: Where was that? In St Athan?
RB: No. Brawdy.
RP: Brawdy. Oh Brawdy. Yeah.
RB: Yeah. Brawdy. I think we were on Halifaxes down there. I think it was a meteorological squadron. I know they used to fly out every day to get the weather report.
RP: Oh right. So was that a similar engine to what you’d been used to?
RB: No. They were Hercules there and they were the radial engines there.
RP: Oh right.
RB: Yeah. I was on Merlins with the Lancaster, you know.
RP: Was that another training course or was it something you just adapt to?
RB: No. We’d just do, I uses to work in the hangars there assisting the inspections you know. Just sort of ten to a crew there and do an inspection and work with them. And then as I say the three of us went down there. And we knew we were going to go overseas because I mean I was twenty then and single so it looked as though I was going to go to the Far East. Burma or somewhere you know. Of course the —
RP: Yeah.
RB: Eastern war was still on. The Far East war was still on. And then a notice came up on the DROs. Daily Routine Orders.
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
RB: I believe. A notice came up there that they wanted ready trained people in certain categories for the Fleet Air Arm. And I fell in to that category or sort of all three did so we volunteered to go into that. And we were eventually taken in. We were de-mobbed from the air force at 23.59 one day. Re-called up the next day at 01.
RP: Right.
RB: So, we were civilian for about two minutes.
RP: And then you joined the Navy.
RB: I joined the Navy. And I was —
RP: Was that in the same trade?
RB: Yeah. Yeah. Well, they called them air mechanics.
RP: Yes.
RB: Instead of flight mechanics. Yes. Because I went on Spitfires then. Well, they called them Seafires there but —
RP: Seafires.
RB: Spitfire with a hook on the bottom.
RP: Yeah. So where were you stationed?
RB: I went back to South Wales actually. Too — I forget the name of the place now. They had a Fleet Air Arm base there. I was there for a period. Then eventually ended up in Northern Ireland. At Belfast. It was the Fleet Air Arm base there right by Harland and Wolff docks.
RP: Oh right.
RB: And then I finished my time there ‘til I was demobbed.
RP: Did you have any option about finishing your time? Or was that it?
RB: No. You just waited for your, I mean you had the demob number.
RP: Oh right.
RB: I think mine was about fifty three or something. So —
RP: So, you didn’t have any choice then.
RB: No. You just waited for that to come around. We weren’t, we were redundant really. We’d, you know, nothing to do. But —
RP: So, what rank were you in the Navy then? What rank did they give you there?
RB: Same rank. Air mechanic first class sort of thing.
RP: So —
RB: Yes.
RP: You never rose to the heights of sergeant or flight sergeant.
RB: No. No. No. No.
RP: Ordering people around then.
RB: No. Just —
RP: You just, you were just one of the workers.
RB: Just one of the [laughs] yeah one of the workers.
RP: But did you enjoy the work? The engine work.
RB: Yeah. It’s, it was all something. Well, something new because I’d no idea I was going to ever do that, you know. And you were trained to do it and it was, I enjoyed it mainly with the 463. With the Aussies at —
RP: Did you, you enjoyed working on the Lancasters? On the Merlins.
RB: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
RP: Were they reliable engines?
RB: Oh yeah. The Merlin was yeah. It was excellent. Actually there was two. There was the Americans made one. What was it?
RP: Pratt and Whitney was it? Pratt and Whitney.
RB: No. I’ve forgotten the blooming name of it now. Packard.
RP: Oh Packard. Yeah.
RB: Packard made them under licence for Rolls Royce because I think Rolls Royce couldn’t keep up production. I mean we were losing so many aircraft in those days and they couldn’t meet the production so Packard made them under licence. I know we had two toolkits. One for the Packard Merlin and one for the Rolls Royce Merlin.
RP: Right. Different. Different widths I suppose was it?
RB: Well, I think what it was I think the threads on the nuts and bolts.
RP: Yeah. Slightly different.
RB: Were different.
RP: Different pitch isn’t it?
RB: Yeah. I mean the Rolls Royce ones were to British standard of course and the American — Packard ones were American standard so we had to have two toolkits. The engine otherwise was identical you know. It was made to the Rolls Royce licence. But yes then it was just you know just serve through, through 1944 when the main bombing campaign was going on really and we were at it all the time. We didn’t get a break much. Got the odd day off here or there but it was, you reported to work in the morning about 8 o’clock around the main hangar. You were transported out to your aircraft which was about a, I don’t know a mile, a mile and a quarter away.
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
RB: Actually because in those days the aircraft were —
RP: Had to be dispersed. That’s it. Yeah.
RB: Had to be dispersed all around the exact perimeter.
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
RB: Of the aerodrome obviously and you had an apron there which your aircraft went on. And the next one was probably about fifty, a hundred yards up. You were all well staggered for safety reasons. And I know our apron was right next to the bomb dump which wasn’t very [laughs]
RP: Which wasn’t friendly enough was it really?
RB: But —
RP: Did you get much leave? Were you allowed home at all?
RB: You got your regulation leave. Days off. You might have an odd one if it was a bit quiet, you know but I mean it was a seven day week you know. It —
RP: So, weekends. They still carried on as, as just a normal day was it?
RB: Yeah. A seven day week. You did get a bit of a period where you had what they called the moon period. It was a full moon.
RP: Oh right.
RB: They obviously — sometimes the squadron would stand down for about ten days or something like that from operations and but then of course you was, they were still doing training flights.
RP: Yes.
RB: So quite — and we used to go up on the training flights.
RP: So you’ve flown in the Lanc.
RB: Oh yeah. I flew quite a lot actually. We used to go up on what they called an NFT which was a Night Flying Test. You’d only go up for about a half an hour or so and it was to give the pilots and the crew flying on instruments practice.
RP: Yeah.
RB: And then they used to have a, they had a bombing range over The Wash.
RP: Oh yes. Yes.
RB: And we used to go and sometimes have a trip on that and do it on the bombing range over there. They used to drop these smoke bombs I believe.
RP: So, what seat did you get for that then?
RB: Just the way, usually one of the turrets, you know.
RP: Yeah.
RB: I mean on the night flying tests only a skeleton crew would come out like the pilot, the engineer and the, probably the wireless op and if we wanted to. We didn’t have to go obviously. I mean we used to, I used to go get a flight but a lot of the chaps wouldn’t go and fly, you know.
RP: Yeah.
RB: I used to fly in either the rear turret or the mid-upper turret mainly. The gunners used to come out.
RP: You’d get a good view then.
RB: Yeah. You’d get a good. Mid-upper’s the best.
RP: Yeah.
RB: Yeah.
RP: So, while you were on the squadron did you get the sense when you joined it that the war was going our way? Was there any sort of feeling?
RB: Not really. No. No.
RP: You didn’t really know.
RB: No. It was just, you didn’t really know. You just, you know did what you were doing sort of thing. You didn’t know what was going on really, you know. Even on, I’ll tell you, even on D-Day. I remember D-Day because normally take-off would be about 7 o’clock in the evening on the normal routine and night bombing. And they would get back about probably three in the morning. But on this occasion we were called out on to the flights at 2 o’clock in the morning and we thought, well, now what’s going on? You know. 2 o’clock in the morning.
RP: Yeah.
RB: 4am take off. Well, we obviously prepared for all that you know. And then of course it was cancelled. And then the next night the same thing.
RP: Right.
RB: So we’re, 2 o’clock out in the flights there and 4am take off and of course they went.
RP: That would be the 6th of June then.
RB: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: Yeah. It was just the weather cancelled it didn’t it I think?
RB: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
RB: That’s right. They cancelled the first one.
RP: So, when did you first hear it was D-Day as such? When did that news come to you?
RB: On the 9 o’clock news.
RP: So you heard. Yeah. Yeah.
RB: When it was announced. Yeah.
RP: So you realised why you’d had an early start then.
RB: Yeah. We, we had a bit of clue. I remember one of the crew when they landed he said, he said, ‘Christ, I’ve never seen so many ships in the Channel.’
RP: Oh right [laughs]
RB: Yeah. And we didn’t know.
RP: No.
RB: We had no idea at all what was happening.
RP: No.
RB: None at all. We was completely in the dark. You know.
RP: So, when they, when they took off on whatever on the operation it was you weren’t aware of their destination.
RB: No.
RP: As ground crew you weren’t privy to that.
RB: No. You had an idea. I mean, I mean Berlin we had an idea because we knew by the petrol load. I mean there was the petrol load was different every day sort of thing and it would depend where they were going. But I always remember. I still remember that, I think it was one thousand eight hundred and seventy six gallons was usually Berlin.
RP: Right. Well done for remembering that.
RB: I can remember.
RP: Is that a full tank?
RB: I can remember all that.
RP: Is that a full tank?
RB: Pardon?
RP: Is that a full tank then? To Berlin?
RB: No. No.
RP: No. What was —
RB: I think a full tank was two thousand one hundred and fifty four.
RP: Oh right. And where would they go? Would they ever go on full tanks?
RB: That would be — I think they only, only on all the time I was there they only went out twice on full tanks. They raided Königsberg I think it was.
RP: Oh right.
RB: Right on the Russian.
RP: Oh that’s a pretty far distance.
RB: Near the East German Russian border it was. I think it was something like about a ten or eleven hour flight.
RP: Gosh.
RB: And you imagine being in that rear turret for eleven hours. That sacrifice.
RP: Oh, I was in it for a half an hour and that was, that was, you know thinking, yeah.
RB: Oh dear me. But yeah normally it varied. I mean if they were, I think if we was around the Ruhr it is usually around about the fifteen hundred mile I think the petrol load was. So, it varied where ever they were going, you know. We never knew where they were going. Nobody ever knew but you had an idea sort of thing if you know what I mean. But —
RP: So, where were you on VE day. Where were you then? Where were you on VE day? Can you remember that?
RB: Yeah. I was down in South Wales waiting to, waiting to go in to the Navy.
RP: Right. And how did the news get to you and your friends there then? Was that a radio broadcast?
RB: I think it was mostly over the radio I suppose. I don’t know. I don’t really remember that part of it, you know. I know we, we all, we all had a good booze up you know. Celebrate. But, and then of course I was, I think it was on the, when I went into the Navy it must have been about July August. Just before the Far Eastern war ended, you know. It’s —
RP: So, you —
RB: Anyway, we virtually went redundant then. So we were surplus to requirements.
RP: So when — yes. So when you left your final posting what job did you take as a civilian?
RB: Well, I went back to the Post Office but I didn’t like it. So I left. And you had a job to leave then because there was a restriction on you. You couldn’t leave a job there I think, you were doing there, without permission so —
RP: Oh right.
RB: You know, it was restricted. So I said, ‘Well, if I don’t, if you don’t let me go I’m going back in the air force.
RP: So what were you working as in the Post Office?
RB: In the sorting office.
RP: Oh right. So, yeah.
RB: Yeah. In the sorting office then. And, and a friend of mine worked for an electrical distributing company. In a electrical wholesale distributing in the industrial side. And he, actually he was the CO of our ATC squadron, you know because we used to meet up afterwards. And they wanted staff so I went in there and worked in the office and learned the trade from there. And eventually went out as a representative for them and ended up as a branch manager until I retired.
RP: So, you didn’t sort of carry on any engineering from the RAF then.
RB: No.
RP: You —
RB: Well, I think in those days there weren’t the amount of jobs going. I mean there weren’t the garages like there are now. I mean there were very few cars on the road for a start.
RP: Well, yes. Yeah.
RB: And you’d got, you’d got sort of thousands of chaps coming out with the same trade anyway so —
RP: Yeah.
RB: It was —
RP: Were there any schemes available to you when you left that you could have, training that you could have taken?
RB: No. We didn’t get any, any assistance at all.
RP: No?
RB: Nothing at all. No. You just, you were just, you know put back on the market and get on with it.
RP: So, you had to find your own work then.
RB: Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
RB: Yeah. Yeah. And there wasn’t, there wasn’t the amount of work going really. I mean I was living in the London in those days. Imagine what London was like after the war. I mean it was you know devastated really. And things were in a, you know, a complete mess. And I was, I was out a bit earlier than the RAF. The Army and Navy demobbed a little bit earlier. So, I came out a bit earlier than the ones in the RAF. By a few months only you know but so I was one of the first ones out in that sense.
RP: Oh right. So, did you keep in touch with the guys back on the squadron? Did you know —
RB: No. No.
RP: No. You never —
RB: Lost altogether. Yeah.
RP: Because they, I think the squadron disbanded at Metheringham didn’t it? I think it went to Metheringham and disbanded.
RB: I don’t know where it disbanded. I know it stayed there. We heard various things. I know I heard — I mean the kite I was on, on T Tommy for most of the time. Right the way through. And eventually it got shot down. I heard that. And I think they came down in Belgium or somewhere, and actually my grandson, he linked into the — I think 463 have got a website.
RP: Oh right.
RB: And he dug out a photograph of it. At the crash unit in Belgium. Yeah. It looked as if they probably all got out I should imagine, you know because it wasn’t completely smashed. It was — the body work was all there sort of thing. Do you remember that one?
RP: If you know, if you know the names of the crew there is, there is a way of finding out obviously on the internet but I’m sure your grandson —
RB: No. I don’t actually. No.
RP: I’m sure your grandson is on the case if you wanted him to.
RB: Yeah. He’s, well actually he lives in America now.
RP: Yeah.
RB: He lives over there and he works for a very large company that are contractors to the American government. And he’s involved in the, sort of American Air Force side of it, because he says to me, ‘Grandad,’ he said, ‘Have you ever heard of Mildenhall and Leconfield?’
RP: Just a bit.
RB: Because they’re there.
RP: Yeah.
RB: They are still, you see —
RP: Yeah. Mildenhall is still there. Still.
RB: Yeah. He’s very interested in it all and he’s dug out a lot of the information on it really but —
RP: So if I was —
RB: No. You lose — actually one other interesting point our officer commanding was the famous name of Kingsford Smith. I don’t know if you know Kingsford Smith was a legend?
RP: I’ve heard the name.
RB: He was a pioneer of the Australian air.
RP: Oh right.
RB: And he was the first, Kingsford Smith was the first man to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean.
RP: Gosh.
RB: And his nephew was our commanding officer. And I believe there’s an airport over there in Sydney somewhere.
RP: Yeah.
RB: Named after Kingsford Smith. Yeah.
RP: Well, yes, quite an accomplishment really.
RB: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: So, if I was to ask you for your lasting impression was of your time at Waddington what would you think? What would you tell me? What’s the lasting impression you have of your time?
RB: Well, I think, I think I was sorry to leave. You know. Say you enjoyed it but I mean it was the atmosphere there was great because it was, it was just like going to work. There wasn’t sort of discipline or anything like that. There wasn’t any parades or anything like that. You had a job to do. And you went to work every day and did it like people do now probably you know. And that was it really.
RP: So, it’s just sort of another day at the office really then.
RB: Exactly.
RP: Which was nice isn’t it? Given that there’s a war raging and you’re —
RB: Exactly. Yeah.
RP: You’re going to work like that.
RB: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: Do you think that was true of most? Most Bomber Command stations?
RB: No. I wouldn’t say so. Not in the RAF probably but with the Australians I think.
RP: Yeah.
RB: I remember joining the crew. And the sergeant was a, he was a big fella. Very loud voice and a bit of an extrovert sort of thing, you know and he was a time serving one. He must have been well in his thirties. And as soon as I joined I mean I thought oh my God what have I landed into here? [laughs] And every time he spoke to me, ‘Yes, sergeant.’ Like you do. ‘Yes, sergeant.’ ‘No, sergeant.’ And he said to me, he said, ‘What’s all this sergeant business?’ He said, ‘You call me Gilbert,’ he said. That was his Christian name. And that was the atmosphere.
RP: That was very informal then.
RB: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: [unclear]
RB: And the corporal there who was in charge of the air frames he was George.
RP: Yeah.
RB: And that was the sort of atmosphere all the time I was at Waddington. And it was you was there, you had a job and you did that. You know.
RP: Were you ever aware of what was happening at other stations like Scampton or, or Coningsby?
RB: Not really. No.
RP: No.
RB: Not really.
RP: There was, there was no mixing at all in Lincoln or anything like that?
RB: No. No. We used to, I say we used to go out, we used to get the odd day off. We would go in to Lincoln and go to the cinema and things like that.
RP: It must have been a very blue city, Lincoln then. With so many RAF there.
RB: Absolutely. Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
RB: Another thing I do remember. Certain things, they stick in your mind. Aand one of the things is like during the summer as I said take-off was usually about 7 o’clock in the evening. You know. A summer evening. And everybody was taking off all around. I mean, I don’t know, there was about twenty odd airports, airfields in Lincoln and they were all taking off at the same time. And everywhere you looked the sky was absolutely full of Lancasters and they were all at different heights because when they take off I think the first ones sort of just circle and circle and take ‘til they gain height ‘til the last ones get off. And wherever you looked, all Lancasters you know and of course the noise was enormous.
RP: Amazing.
RB: Yeah.
RP: Because it’s an amazing sound isn’t it?
RB: Absolutely. Yes.
RP: It still sort of makes you —
RB: And all of a sudden, just like that they were gone.
RP: Yeah.
RB: And it was complete silence. And it sort of hits you. It was, it was, you know —
RP: And you hoped, and you hoped they would all come back obviously.
RB: Yeah. It was —
RP: Well, it is—
RB: Uncanny really.
RP: I feel it’s still an iconic sound whether it’s a single Merlin or four Merlins isn’t it?
RB: Oh yeah. It was uncanny really when that silence hits you. You know. Because I think it used to take about, it took about an hour or so for take-off. I mean —
RP: So, once they’d taken off then were you left with any Lancasters to repair? Or was it back to the billet or what?
RB: Once they take off, I mean yeah. One of us had to stay on duty as what we called night flying duty. And one of us had to stay out there on the flight all night in case they returned. One returned early. I mean they used to, you know come back if they had a fault or a malfunction or something like that. They always called it, you know, an aborted flight. I think the Australians used to call it a boomerang. So, they, ‘We boomeranged,’ you know. But so that was, that was not very pleasant because you it was complete black as you can imagine.
RP: Yeah.
RB: No lights anywhere.
RP: That’s right.
RB: You were there on your dispersal point on your own. Sitting in the hut.
RP: Yeah. Did you have any, did you have any sort of hot drink or anything?
RB: No. No. Nothing going like that at night.
RP: Oh dear.
RB: You were just there and that was it you know. One. And another chap, another chap about a hundred yards away in his place. And of course you were there for when they came back. One of us had to be there to guide them back on to the apron. So, the aircraft would taxi around the perimeter track and then you had to take over. You had, you had two torches.
RP: Yeah.
RB: And you had to guide him in.
RP: Right.
RB: Because the pilot couldn’t see ahead. He could only see out the side.
RP: Yeah.
RB: And the engineer out the other side. So you then had to first of all you made sure that the apron was clear.
RP: Yes.
RB: Nothing on it because you’re walking backwards you know. And you’re walking backwards with these two torches guiding him in.
RP: Yeah.
RB: And then you’ve got to turn him around and you mustn’t get him off the apron or he’ll sink into the earth.
RP: And there was no lighting to tell you the edge.
RB: No lighting.
RP: No. No.
RB: You were doing this in the complete dark. You’ve got to turn him around. Stop him and cut the engines. And the crew get out obviously and they’re shattered with tired and one thing and another obviously after that. But then you have to go in and secure the aircraft. You had to go in and check it all over.
RP: And that was just —
RB: Make sure everything was switched off.
RP: One person doing this.
RB: Yeah. Make sure everything’s switched off. Lock the controls because you have to lock those in case the wind caught the rudders and things, you know. But you’re doing all this with a torch. Complete dark. You know. Didn’t used to like that very much.
RP: How often did that duty come around?
RB: Well, it came when there was eight of you in the crew.
RP: It was one in eight then.
RB: One in eight. I mean they I suppose there was at least I suppose in those days three or four ops a week.
RP: Yeah. Not a lot of fun on a cold Lincolnshire February night I imagine.
RB: Pretty awful. Yeah.
RP: So, finally then how does a Willesden lad end up in lovely Christchurch in Dorset then?
RB: Oh we, we moved down here about twenty years ago isn’t it? I retired. We lived up, we lived in Middlesex which was just on the outskirts of London. And my son actually got married and he, the firm he worked for moved him to Bournemouth.
RP: Oh right.
RB: And he got married and lived in Sixpenny Handley which is a little village.
RP: Yeah.
RB: About nine miles from here. And they started a family and we, we moved down to be somewhere close to them. We’d been down here about a year [laughs] Less than that [pause] I don’t know. Anyway, he worked for the Chase. The bank in —
RP: Oh, the bank yeah.
RB: Chase. And they eventually moved him to America. He was involved heavily with this in 2000 when they had the changeover and he was going backwards and forwards to the States. I think he went there twice in one week.
RP: Gosh.
RB: So, eventually they moved him out there for three years and moved the whole family out. To our disappointment. And he went out there for three years and of course he eventually stayed there. He never came back and they’re still there.
RP: Wow.
RB: So, they’ve been there about nineteen, twenty years now, and which, you know, we haven’t really seen our grandsons grow up in that sense because I think one was six and one was four when they went out there. One’s now twenty five and the others twenty three. That was it. And we’ve been, we came down here to be close to them, they moved off and we’re here.
RP: I can understand.
RB: Yeah.
RP: It’s lovely around here.
RB: Yeah.
RP: Well, Ron, I think it’s been a pleasure. A pleasure talking to you. And thank you very much indeed for being so —
RB: Well, I just hope it might have been of some assistance. I don’t know. That’s my experience and —
RP: It’s great and thank you very much for inviting me.
RB: My pleasure.
RP: It’s been lovely.
RB: I hope I haven’t spoken too much.
RP: You’ve said more than, as much as you wanted to and as much as we can listen to don’t worry. We’ve been happy to record all this.



Rod Pickles, “Interview with Ron Baker,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 24, 2024,

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