Interview with Charles Beecher

Title

Interview with Charles Beecher

Description

Charles Beecher was a member of the local Air Training Corps in Wakefield before volunteering for the RAF. He was unsuccessful in his application for aircrew because of his eyesight and trained as a wireless mechanic. Part of his course was in Kensington, London where he experienced V-1 attacks. The final part of his training was at RAF Cranwell. He was posted first to RAF Burn where he had the responsibility of servicing the wireless equipment on A Flight. He was then posted abroad to RAF Eastleigh in Mombasa. Charles and a colleague were on board a Wellington aircraft on one occasion when walking through the aircraft his colleague fell through the escape hatch and Charles had to rescue him by pulling him back inside the aircraft.

Creator

Date

2018-06-14

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:58:52 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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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

ABeecherC180614, PBeecherC1801

Transcription

GR: Good morning. This is Gary Rushbrooke for the IBCC, and Lincoln University. It’s the 14th of June 2018 and I’m in Selby with Mr Charles Beecher. Charles we’re in Selby. Was you born in Selby or —
CB: No. I’m a native of Wakefield in the West Riding as used to be.
GR: Right.
CB: Born in Wakefield. We came with my family, my wife and children to Selby. My work brought me here in 1962.
GR: 1962.
CB: And living here, a Selbyan [unclear]
GR: Yeah.
CB: When we first came here oh, you’re not a Selbyan until you’ve been here at least twenty-five years which seemed a long time.
GR: But it flies by. Yeah.
CB: But we’ve been, I’ve been here now fifty-five years, fifty-six years.
GR: So, born in Wakefield. Brothers and sisters?
CB: An elder brother, Robert. Two years older. He was in the Army in the last war. Did three and a half years North Africa, Italy, Europe, and so on. He was a signalman on the railway so they said, ‘Right, you’re, you’re in the Royal Corps of Signals in the Army.’
GR: Yeah.
CB: And so he got an early release back here because of his occupation, he was [unclear] so he was eligible.
GR: And obviously you were brought up in Wakefield. School in Wakefield?
CB: Yes. Ings Road Central. I, I just didn’t pass my Eleven Plus apparently so they, I got the next tier down, which was a Central School, Ings Road Central in, in Wakefield itself.
GR: Yeah.
CB: The school is now gone of course. A big shopping complex has taken its place.
GR: So, if I remember rightly born in 1925.
CB: Yes.
GR: So, at school and growing up in 1930s Wakefield.
CB: Very much so. Yes.
GR: Yeah. What age was you when you left school?
CB: Fourteen.
GR: Fourteen.
CB: Yes. I was fourteen in 1939. May.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And I started work in the beginning of September. Virtually the day the last war broke out.
GR: Broke out, yeah.
CB: Yeah. Early September.
GR: Early September.
CB: I remember it really very clearly.
GR: What did you, what was your first job? What did you do?
CB: I was a junior, an office junior with, let me recollect. Yes, a textile company. Loads of textile companies, factories in those days, all in the West Riding.
GR: Yeah.
CB: This was Target Knitting Wool. It was a big, a big concern. Made a massive range of knitting wools and the like and I started off in the time office. Office junior.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Recording the employees. I think we had about two hundred and fifty. Something like that. Mainly female obviously and I used to record the times and all the wages.
GR: The wages and things. Yeah.
CB: And I got promoted into a higher grade, a different office, where I was until I was called up in the Air Force.
GR: Right.
CB: Immediately. Well, about three weeks after my eighteenth birthday.
GR: Yeah.
CB: As I said earlier, I had volunteered twice through my Air Training Corps service with 127 Squadron in Wakefield.
GR: Yeah.
CB: A very good squadron, and all my mates and so we did aircrew training — theory of flight, ICE, electrics, navigation, astronomy, the whole range.
GR: Sounds like air training.
CB: Yeah.
GR: Cadets. Air Training Corps. Yeah.
CB: Very interesting, and we, we lightened the occasion by having social events with the Women’s Junior Air Corps, which was the young lady’s equivalent.
GR: Yeah.
CB: That’s where I met my wife actually.
GR: Right.
CB: In those days.
GR: Just going back a little bit so when war broke out in September ’39.
CB: Yes.
GR: And you were just starting work.
CB: Yes.
GR: Was your brother called up straight away? Or what was it like — ?
CB: He was called up earlier.
GR: Right.
CB: Yes. Being two years older he was called up virtually two years before I did.
GR: Yeah.
CB: I think. Yes.
GR: So, he’d be about 19 —
CB: Yes.
GR: ’40, 41.
CB: Yes. He saw service in North Africa through to Italy.
GR: Yeah. What was it like in Wakefield? Wars broke out. You’re a youngster of fourteen, fifteen years of age.
CB: Yes.
GR: How did the war affect you? You know, was it —
CB: Not a, not a great deal of course. Not like the Battle of Britain days.
GR: No.
CB: When obviously, the people of the south of England were affected.
GR: Were affected by the bombing.
CB: Yes,
GR: Yeah.
CB: No. Life went on.
GR: Yeah.
CB: We just kept in touch with the way the war was going which wasn’t very good.
GR: No.
CB: It was one setback after another and, and of course we had Dunkirk.
GR: Yes.
CB: I recall clearly my father, our father was in the First World War in the Army for almost three years I believe. He survived and came back, and married my mother. Our mother, who was a lass from Cambridge.
GR: Right.
CB: After the war finished, the First World War finished she came north from Cambridge looking for work, domestic, and met dad I think in about 1920. Just after the —
GR: After the war finished.
CB: War finished, and they married in ’21.
GR: Right.
CB: Bob was born in ’23 and I was born in —
GR: ’25. Yeah.
CB: ’25, of course.
GR: Yeah
CB: And so, I’m mixed. I’m half Cambridge and half Yorkshire.
GR: And half Yorkshire. So, yeah. And you were saying about you joined the ATC. What made you join the ATC? So, obviously 1940/41.
CB: Yeah.
GR: You’re keeping an eye on the war.
CB: I was very good friends with a very lively young fella, Sammy. Sammy Holmes. I remember him well. A great, great friend of mine at work. He was in one of the other offices and we got on very well. And I think he was that little bit older and he joined the 127 Squadron and he talked me in to joining. And, yeah we had great times and he went on to become, he was trained as pilot apparently and very, very sadly I learned quite some time later he was killed in, he was changed to a glider pilot.
GR: Right.
CB: And he ended up in the Far East as a glider pilot and lost his life in a glider crash.
GR: In a glider crash. Yeah.
CB: In India.
GR: Oh dear.
CB: Sadly.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Samuel Harry Holmes. Such a lovely fella.
GR: So, he got you in to the ATC.
CB: He got me in to the ATC.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And yeah, we had good times. We had parades through town quite frequent. Sunday morning parade. Church parades with the other militaries and so on. I, I bought myself a cornet and joined the band.
GR: Right.
CB: Which was good. We had some good outings there. He was that bit older and he, he volunteered as all of us did.
GR: Yeah.
CB: In the squadron. Oh yeah. Aircrew. Aircrew yeah.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Trained for aircrew. We’re going to be pilots or navigators.
GR: That’s what, that’s what you wanted to do.
CB: Or navigators or —
GR: Yeah.
CB: If the worst came to the worst, wireless operator.
GR: Operator. Yeah.
CB: Or, or a lonely air gunner.
GR: Gunner.
CB: Yeah. But it wasn’t to be for me. My eyes were just not up to it.
GR: And, so did you —
CB: I joined, you know bottom of the list is the air gunner, ‘Can’t I be an air gunner?’ ‘Not with your eyesight,’ they said.
GR: So, from ATC you actually volunteered.
CB: Twice actually.
GR: For aircrew duty.
CB: And then rejected. So, I thought well, they’ll call me up in three months at eighteen anyway.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And as I say. I was called up about three weeks after.
GR: Called up by the RAF obviously.
CB: By The RAF.
GR: Yeah.
CB: But the danger there was you’d be called up. You can either be in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, or you could be a Bevin Boy.
GR: Yes.
CB: In the mines, of course. The West Riding, Wakefield were all mines, and I thought, oh dear. I don’t fancy that.
GR: I think it was one in ten.
CB: Yes.
GR: One in ten went down the mines.
CB: Ah yes. I thought I’d been in the ATC for eighteen months —
GR: So, your call up was a general call up. It wasn’t though when you said you couldn’t get in to the RAF, you just waited to be called up and by chance it was the RAF.
CB: Yes. I think the fact I’d been with the ATC.
GR: The ATC.
CB: For eighteen.
GR: Yeah.
CB: I think that was my biggest influence.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And done the eighteen months training with them as it were, and so yes that’s how I —
GR: Can you remember where you had to report to?
CB: Oh, very clearly. The BBC at Doncaster.
GR: Right.
CB: I reported there at as I say just after my eighteenth birthday with lots of others just joining up, and a motlier assortment [laughs] and we were in this little dormitory room with metal bunk beds and I was on the top one. And I, I recall pretty clearly sitting on the edge of the bunk bed in all these strange surroundings, strange people, everything strange and for a few seconds I was homesick. The only time in my life I’ve been homesick.
GR: Right.
CB: And I thought, ‘Come on Charles. Pull yourself together.’
GR: Yeah.
CB: You’re in the Air Force now and it went as quickly as it came. And, yeah from there they took us down to Cardington.
GR: Yeah.
CB: The kitting out place. So, I spent maybe a couple of days down there, or maybe a bit longer and up there I was posted to Skegness to do the initial training. Square bashing.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Nine weeks, I think.
GR: Nine weeks. Yeah.
CB: At Skegness, by which time it was getting into autumn. A bit wintry. A bit cold. And we were billeted in these small hotels. Guest houses and what have you. Oh, this is nice. Yeah. Not bad at all. We went in to this small place. I can recall. I know just where it is. Went back to have a look at it many years later with my wife. It’s still there.
GR: Still there.
CB: Just off the, just off the beach. Not far off. And, ‘Oh yes. This is fine.’ I think there was six of us in this small place. Yeah. The place was bare. Absolutely. No doors. The doors had been stripped off, chopped up for firewood from the earlier people who had been there in the winters.
GR: Right.
CB: And they’d chopped the doors off. Everything that would burn, everything wooden had been stripped off. No carpets of course. No this. No that. Just the bare essentials. Bunk beds. Metal beds.
GR: Yeah.
CB: So that was a bit of an eye opener [laughs] and the winter was coming on and, but we all survived of course.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Had to. The NCOs were a bit variable. Some were pleasant. One or two were rather nasty.
GR: Right.
CB: And on a couple of occasions I got cross with, one was a sergeant, one was a corporal and I got a right old rollicking from, from them. That’s, that’s life, Charles. Get on with it. Yes, did nine weeks I think it was. And from there I got posted to a holding station in Shropshire waiting to go on. ‘You’ve been allocated to a wireless mechanic’s course.’ I thought yes, fair dos.
GR: Because that was my next question. Up to this stage you didn’t know what you were going to be doing.
CB: No. I didn’t.
GR: No.
CB: It was a case of wait and see and I thought oh, wireless mechanic. Yes. I’ll settle for that.
GR: Yeah.
CB: But it was a waiting job to go on the course, which turned out to be at Number 8 Radio School in South Kensington in London. So, I spent [pause] oh possibly the best part of the, at least two months in this [pause] it was an RS station. Wait a minute.
GR: Like a small training camp or —
CB: Yeah. It was an airfield actually. We were on the edge of. But that was it. Yes. Yes. I’m in sequence now. Yes. Waiting to go on the course.
GR: Yeah.
CB: But the first part of it was in Leicester. They had a Radio School there at, at the big Civic Centre there.
GR: Right.
CB: And we were billeted out with civilians. There were four of us. There was Jock, Taffy, and myself, and a Lancastrian.
GR: Right.
CB: A Liverpudlian. I remember he had a right old Liverpudlian accent.
GR: Accent.
CB: Smoked like a trooper.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And we were there billeted with Mrs Cheney, Mrs Cheney.
GR: Was she the landlady?
CB: She was the landlady and her, her very subdued husband. We hardly ever saw him. They were an elderly couple.
GR: Yeah.
CB: They’d be in their early sixties. Around about sixties.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Now, they, if I might digress just.
GR: Yeah. You —
CB: They had a daughter. She was slightly backward, I think. Pleasant enough. Typical of the people in those days. And of course, she’d had young Air Force lads in for quite some time prior to us arriving.
GR: Yes. Yeah. She —
CB: And one, one not very nice young fella obviously, he’d, he’d got the daughter, I can’t remember her name, he got her in to bed. Got in her in the family way and he got a posting up to Scotland.
GR: Right.
CB: And she used to write to him and contact him about the baby that was coming. No response. He didn’t want to know did he?
GR: No. No.
CB: Of course. I don’t know how that worked out but I recall she was very, she got very distressed and, ‘He hasn’t replied to my letters. No. I don’t understand why, why he doesn’t, doesn’t respond.’ So that was part of my learning curve as well.
GR: Right.
CB: Of life. And so, we were there about three months. Yes. We used to go into this, I can’t just recall the building.
GR: No. And was this learning how radios worked?
CB: That’s right. Yes. Very good instructors.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Very good instructors. And then we got a transfer to Number 8 Radio School for the final four or five months, something like that of the course, which went well. We were similarly in the small hotel immediately behind the Albert Hall and that was good. We, we did the training. We did physical exercise. We did sports just across the road in Hyde Park.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Football and running and what have you. Very pleasant. And the course went on.
GR: And this would have been probably what early 1944.
CB: Yes. it would have been. Yes.
GR: Had the V-1s and the —
CB: Correct. Yes.
GR: Started dropping. Yeah.
CB: We used to do fire watch drill duty on the roof.
GR: Right.
CB: Of the buildings. Lots of people did. Factories. Because the, the bombs were coming down.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And the incendiaries. So everywhere had fire watch to put the incendiaries out. And one of my mates had been on the previous night and he was, he was full of it, ‘Oh, I’ve seen, we’ve seen this plane. It was low. Flying low and it was on fire. And it came from the East there and it went over the west side there getting lower and lower, and we don’t know what happened to it but it was, it’s a small plane.’ I said, ‘Not a bomber or nothing?’ ‘No. No. A small plane. And of course, we learned very, very shortly —
GR: A doodlebug.
CB: That, that was one of the early doodlebugs.
GR: Yeah.
CB: The V-1s.
GR: Yeah.
CB: It was the plane on fire.
GR: Yeah. The jet coming out of the back.
CB: Yeah. The back. He thought it was a plane. But, and in the succeeding weeks and two or three months the number of V-1s coming down got more and more.
GR: More. Yeah.
CB: And closer and closer. We had two or three close. Very close to where we were billeted.
GR: Yeah.
CB: In the area. In fact, if we were in Hyde Park there you could, you could hear the [noise] And, ‘Oh, there’s another one coming over. There it is.’ Yeah. Up at about, not too high, you could make them out.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Probably about three to four thousand feet.
GR: It was when the noise stopped you had to worry wasn’t it?
CB: Yes.
GR: Because that was it.
CB: Then silence. Oh hell. Ah. Its over there so it won’t be coming down here. But we did, we had quite a few or several I recall that, was it down Cromwell Road? Only a hundred and fifty yards from, two hundred yards from where we were billeted. It had come down on this block of flats and made a hell of a mess and had quite a lot of casualties, civilian casualties. Because we used to pass it on the way down to the dining. The dining area.
GR: Right.
CB: Where we used to eat. We used to form up, march and march down the road to our meals and we used to pass it, you know
GR: Yeah.
CB: It came down there. And I think seven or eight people lost their lives. But yeah, so, the powers that be after a period of this. Maybe two or three months, whatever decided it was getting a bit too close and they said, ‘Well, you’ve two months to do on your course. We’re sending you up to Cranwell to finish your course.’
GR: Right.
CB: So, that’s what happened. They shipped us up to Cranwell to complete our course for a couple of months, from where they said, ‘Right. You’re finishing your course. You’ve all passed out. Would you like posting somewhere near home?’
GR: Very nice of them.
CB: Yes. They seemed to be standard in, at that time which I thought was very, very generous of them. Well, I was very familiar with RAF Pollington as it was known then.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Later known as RAF Snaith.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Not to be confused with Pocklington.
GR: Pocklington, which was the other one. Yeah.
CB: And so, I said, ‘Yes. Pollington please.’ ‘Yes. No bother.’ So, that was after about two months at Cranwell. I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve been to RAF Cranwell. Yeah. The home of — ’ [laughs] So I ended up on the train at Selby station. This would be July, August time.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And they picked me up from the station on the pickup truck. Took me out to Pollington. Stopped at the guardhouse at the gate, main gate, and I was sat on my own with all my kit, kit bag and bits and pieces, and a sergeant came out and said, ‘Don’t get off. Don’t get off,’ he said. I said, ‘How’s that? I said I’m posted here you know, sergeant.’ He said, ‘I know that but you’re not staying here.’ ‘But I’m posted here.’ ‘Doesn’t matter. You’re not, just stay on the truck for a while. You’re going up to RAF Burn.’ I said, ‘Where on earth is that?’ I’d not heard of it.
GR: No.
CB: Of course. And, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘It’s about seven miles up the road.’
GR: Oh right.
CB: He said, ‘It’s not far away. You just stay there.’ So about twenty minutes later off we went. So, I was posted to 51 Squadron at Pollington. I was on site for about twenty minutes and then I ended up at 578, RAF Burn.
GR: RAF Burn.
CB: And I was there until, oh virtually Christmas. Christmas Eve ’44.
GR: Right.
CB: The end of December. Yeah, I recall I was posted abroad. I got my posting abroad. They must have thought he’s had it cushy enough for all this time [laughs] we’ll ship him abroad.
GR: What was life like at Burn before we move abroad?
CB: A bit primitive.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Yes. Obviously, it was a, and in the wet weather as it got into the winter cold. Cheerless.
GR: Yeah.
CB: I remember the Nissen, Nissen huts dripping with condensation. It was a real blessing if some of the other, I think there were [pause] Do you recall how many were in each Nissen hut? Something like [pause] I’ve been asked this once or twice. Something like twelve would it be?
GR: I would have thought a bit more but —
CB: Maybe so.
GR: But no. If your recollection is twelve.
CB: No. It’s a vague recollection. Yeah. I was going to say maybe fourteen.
GR: Yeah. Did you have your own aircraft to look after? Or did you service —
CB: I was allocated to A Flight.
GR: Right.
CB: Of about eight aircraft.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Which on the circuit going clockwise around the perimeter track we were A Flight. The first. First flight.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And then further around B Flight. And further around to C Flight.
GR: Right.
CB: Yes. I was introduced to the wireless department. WT section as it was. Wireless Transmitter section. To the sergeant, the corporal and I think there were about four other wireless mechanics. Experienced of course. I was.
GR: Junior.
CB: A bit raw behind the ears as it were, fresh from training school but settled in well and we used to go around after breakfast on our bikes, our bicycles. Bike round to the, and check each of the eight or nine aircraft.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Test the equipment. See if there’s been any reports or any faults or shortcomings on the equipment by the appropriate aircrew and yeah, that, that was the daily routine.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Which, but going around the perimeter track we obviously passed the end of the main runway which ran east to west, I think. Roughly east to west. And I remember one time we were busy chatting the three or four of us biking around there. And —
[telephone ringing. Recording paused]
CB: Aircraft servicing.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Well, one thing that sticks in my mind is you were not allowed to switch the aircraft power source. The accumulators.
GR: Yeah.
CB: For fear of flattening them because the equipment took a fair bit of juice. Under no circumstances, unless nobody was looking of course.
GR: Right.
CB: On the odd occasion, a quicky you might do, but you had to look around at the other parked aircraft or the big trolley, accumulator trolley. They were heavy devils. Big wooden things with big batteries in. Took two or three of you to pull them around. Oh, the damned things. A hundred and fifty yards up there on [laughs] on one of the other parking sites and you had to pull the damned trolley all that way. And then the cable was a massive heavy thing. You had to lug that and plug it in to the aircraft for the power supply, and that’s one thing I remember.
GR: Yeah.
CB: So, we used to test the equipment. The other thing that stuck in my mind is all the mechanics were testing all the aircraft. They were calling flight control, ‘This is BB for Badger, checking the equipment. Are you receiving me?’ If control were in a good humour —
GR: Yeah.
CB: They’d say, ‘Yeah. Receiving you loud and clear. Roger out.’ If, ‘Oh good God we’ve been doing this all morning. We’ll let them, let them keep calling in,’ And you’d keep calling in. No response. The equipment isn’t working.
GR: Oh dear.
CB: Then you, then you realise they were not responding. So, it was a bit of a problem but we survived it.
GR: Yes.
CB: But I thought, yes and we, we do the eight or nine aircraft.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And checked everything was ship shape including the 1154/55 the main equipment transmitter to receiver which had the short range 11/96 TR.
GR: Right.
CB: And they checked the aerials. Check every, every bit of the equipment and then move on to the next one.
GR: Yeah.
CB: So that was the routine as the winter weather came on.
GR: Did you get to know the crews or —
CB: No. A bit of a disappointment we never because they’d been on operations.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Almost certainly at some time in the night and they were sleeping it off at that time. They’d probably got back from ops what 3am, 4am, 5am.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Had their bacon and eggs which was standard.
GR: Yeah
CB: With, with air crew and obviously gone to catch up on sleep and recover. Because I, when I was earlier on with the ATC at Pollington we used to, we had, I spent a couple of separate weeks camping there with the on the base.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And they used to take us to training and show us various things and in between one or two of my mates from Wakefield, we used to bike over, about twenty, twenty-two, twenty-four miles not, in those days you didn’t think that was too, ‘Oh, we’re biking through to Pollington, Charles. Do you want to come?’ ‘Yeah.’ If we’re lucky we can wrangle our way on site and if we’re lucky we might see some aircrew going up.
GR: Yeah.
CB: For a test flight, and if we’re lucky they’ll say, ‘Ok. Come on then.’
GR: Yeah. Yeah. Get on board. Yeah.
CB: If we we’re unlucky they would say, ‘No. You can’t come up. Bugger off.’ Sort of thing and —
GR: And were you lucky?
CB: Yes. I had occasions.
GR: Oh good.
CB: And, of course in those days 150 Squadron flying Wellingtons.
GR: Right.
CB: Before the Halifax came on site.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And I remember very very clearly how absolutely horrendously noisy and vibratory they were. Everything vibrated.
GR: Yeah.
CB: With the engines, and the noise was atrocious. And I thought many times afterward I don’t know how those poor aircrew felt stuck eight or nine hours to, to on a Berlin trip.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Operation. Eight or nine hours of this boom, boom, boom. Yeah. I know. It was bad enough the ack ack and the night fighters.
GR: Night fighters. Yeah.
CB: And then to survive that. Yeah, they certainly earned any medals they got.
GR: They deserved it.
CB: So, yes, originally, I flew a bit with Wellingtons.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Which was very instructional.
GR: Yes.
CB: With the geodedic construction.
GR: Construction. Yeah.
CB: Which was interesting. I recall one time. I think it was the second time we went up and I went up with a mate called Tubby, Tubby Johnson.
GR: Right.
CB: And we were walking from the fore part of the Wellington on this narrow walkway hanging on to the rope to steady you. There’s no, nothing solid at all. The walkway, and hanging on to the rope and [coughs] excuse me. Tubby was in front of me. The aircraft lurched and he lost his footing and he slipped off the walkway on to this, and his feet ended up on the escape hatch.
GR: Oh.
CB: The escape hatch gave way, didn’t it with his weight? He was sort of roughly three, maybe three or four yards ahead of me. A short distance ahead of me and I saw this happening. He lurched and I was hanging on and he was, he was hanging on with his feet, on what was the escape hatch which had disappeared and he was halfway, or part of the way through the escape hatch. So, I lurched forward. Grabbed hold of him, and helped him back in to the aircraft. And, and then again one of those things that sticks in your mind. That was somewhere over Selby, I think.
GR: Somewhere over Selby.
CB: Yeah. I have a vivid recollection of approaching Selby. Oh, it was a beautiful abbey. Selby Abbey, in what might have been a bit of sunlight at the time.
GR: Yeah
CB: Three times in the Wellingtons. Yes. And by the time I’d done my training course and got posted back to Burn it was four engine Halifaxes, of course.
GR: Halifaxes. Yeah.
CB: Which seemed massive black things, you know and our, our billet in the Nissen hut was very adjacent to one of the Halifaxes, and I looked at it and thought by Jove they’re big. In fact, I took my wife to an event at Elvington, and we had a look at the, we didn’t manage to look around the, I said, ‘That’s the Halifax, Amy love. I said, ‘That’s the one that I worked on years ago.’ She said, ‘Isn’t it a big one?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s pretty big,’ I said, but compared to the jumbo and so on, I said, ‘It was big at the time.’ So, yes I did something like June till, till my posting abroad and I ended up at the PDC at Blackpool.
GR: Right.
CB: In digs there waiting to go on the troop ship from Greenock, Glasgow to the Middle East.
GR: That’s where they were going to send you, was it? The Middle East.
CB: That’s where I ended up. Yes. it was the big question. ‘You’re going abroad.’ ‘Oh, where am I going?’ And this was Christmas ’44.
GR: ‘44. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So, we, along with some of my mates, we ended up at Greenock on board the —
GR: One of the troopships. Yeah.
CB: Yes. They Duchess of, the Duchess of [pause] Canadian. The Duchess of Canada.
GR: Oh right.
CB: Yeah. Later burned out. Some years, a good few years later, burned out.
GR: And where were they sending you to?
CB: I ended, we docked at Alexandria in Egypt.
GR: In Egypt. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. From where they, they disembarked us on to a troop train. Cattle trucks. Very basic.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Cattle trucks. And we went down the canal side to Al Fayah, I think it was.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Somewhere down the, down the Canal there to the, another PDC. And I spent, with my mates waiting for a posting I think I spent about two months there.
GR: Right.
CB: Just hanging around waiting for a posting which turned out to be East Africa Command, and they flew us down off the Nile at Cairo in a, what was a civilian, it was the equivalent of the Sunderland. It was a civilian earlier version of the Sunderland.
GR: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: The Empire Flying Boat.
GR: Boat. Right.
CB: It was the, oh I should know the name but — so yes we took off from the, the Nile at Cairo.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Landed at Khartoum. Spent overnight in Khartoum, and then from there we flew down to Lake Victoria. Kisumu. Landed at Lake Kisumu. And they shipped us down from there down to Nairobi. RAF Eastleigh, Nairobi.
GR: Was the war still on then or had the war finished?
CB: Let me gather my [pause] yes. The war had finished whilst I was in Egypt.
GR: Right.
CB: Because, then again, I recollect yes that was May. May time, wasn’t it, of course.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And we got an invite, oh the war’s over and everybody was chums and the officers invited us other ranks because at that time I was still AC2.
GR: Right.
CB: And we got an invite in to the, that evening to the officer’s mess for a drink or two and I said, ‘Oh, I can’t come. I can’t come. No. I’m on duty at the blanket store.’ Issuing blankets to the people coming and going.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And taking them back in and so on. And one of my mates, he said, ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. He said, ‘Fred will, he’ll look after things. Join us in the officer’s mess for a drink of two.’ Which we had of course, and I wasn’t used to drink at that age of course, and in those circumstances and I got a bit worse for wear and they helped me back from the officer’s mess back to the blanket store. And much to our alarm the duty officer was there, wasn’t he, at that blanket store. And he was having a look around and shouting his head off, ‘Who the hell is in charge here?’ And my, I was supposed to be in charge. Tiddly on duty. Oh dear. I’m in trouble now. My mate jumped in and says, ‘I’m in charge sir. Yes. I’m in charge. Everything’s fine. Everything’s under control. No problem.’ And he hid me around the corner out of sight. And we got away with that one so —
GR: Got away with it. Yeah.
CB: And the orderly officer went and I had a couple of hours sleeping it off.
GR: Good lad.
CB: And I remember, yeah I met him later in East Africa and I thanked him profusely for getting me out of that one.
GR: How long did you stay in East Africa?
CB: Virtually two and a half years.
GR: Oh right.
CB: Quite long. The, they were starting not long afterwards demobbing people of course.
GR: Yes.
CB: Obviously. The war was over. Back to Civvy Street, and we thought well how long are we going to have to wait. And the story went because you, you were allocated a demob release number and when your number came up at [unclear] you knew you were back home and I seem to remember my number was 44, 45. But in those days of course the numbers were very low so you just got on with it. I was posted to RAF Eastleigh. Mainly on the transmitter stations there. But they had, they had an anti-locust flight with a couple of aircraft. Did anti locust spraying.
GR: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: The Locusts from, flocks of, swarms of locusts came in from the north. From the Sudan.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Into Northern Kenya. Devastated the crops. So they had a couple of Baltimores. American Baltimores —
GR: Yeah.
CB: With massive tanks, five hundred gallon tanks in the fuselage and they used to spray the locusts, the flocks of locusts and I was allocated to the anti-locust flights for a time. And we, they also had the meteorological Spitfire, and a Mosquito. I remember one time I was called out from, I’d been, I’d been for a meal and the sergeant came and said, ‘You’re a wireless mechanic aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes, sergeant.’ ‘Right. Follow me.’ I thought now what was the problem? He said, There’s the pilot here of the Mosquito. He wants to take you up in the, in the Mosquito.’ I thought oh.
GR: That’ll do.
CB: Interesting.
GR: Yeah.
CB: So long as he doesn’t do too many loops. And then somebody said, ‘Hang on,’ He said, ‘You’re a wireless mechanic aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes, a wireless.’ He said, ‘Oh, I wanted a damned wireless operator. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’m, I’m ruddy well fed up,’ he says, ‘Control. The wireless operators in control here,’ he said, ‘While I’m doing my manoeuvres, throwing the plane all over the place and he’s having to try and do his Morse and they’re complaining bitterly that the quality of his morse is bloody awful.’ He said, ‘What the hell do they expect?’ He said, ‘I thought I’d get one of these control wireless operators in the plane and take them up.’
GR: And show them.
CB: And show them what they’re up against. And I nearly got the job [laughs] until he realised. He wanted a wireless operator. So, I was, I was saved the day there fortunately. But yeah, that went on. As I say I was allocated for a while with the anti-locust flight and they flew us up country to where this big swarm was coming in in an Anson communications plane.
GR: Yeah.
CB: They used to fly up to the Sudan and down to Rhodesia on communications work. I never got a flight actually.
GR: No.
CB: But some of my mates got down there. They used to say, ‘Do you want a nice wrist watch bringing back?’ They’re very, very cheap down in Rhodesia.’ And for many, many, many years I had a lovely watch, wrist watch that they brought me back from Rhodesia.
GR: Rhodesia. Yeah.
CB: Very, very cheap. Swiss and, yeah anyway they flew me up to El Dorado, Northern Kenya to this little encampment, and a day or two later this Baltimore came over. In the meantime, we’d been out in the jeep and with toilet roll we’d marked out the area, the perimeter area of the locust flight which had settled.
GR: Right.
CB: And with the communications the plane would come over and they’d, with this five hundred gallon of DDT.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Which is now not used of course. Illegal. But it was very commonly used there and, yes, he sprayed this massive swarm outlined by the toilet roll on the ground and we, we did a foot check later and the results were very good.
GR: Ah.
CB: We, in the camp was a professor somebody or other studying the effects of this, and he had a young whizz kid assistant with him and we had, we had the meetings in the evenings to discuss the success or otherwise of the operation. But it was a hell of a job.
GR: Yeah.
CB: I recall we, we, had to drive up to the camp from Nairobi and we drove through the —
[phone ringing recording paused]
CB: Sorry?
GR: A friend of yours.
CB: No. Actually, I’ve got the home visit with the eyesight people.
GR: Oh right. Yeah.
CB: I find it very difficult to get in and they were offering home tests and that.
GR: Yeah.
CB: All my life from the age of fourteen I’ve worn spectacles. I’ve been short-sighted.
GR: Same as me.
CB: But when I had my cataracts done about three and a half years ago the surgeon at Goole said, ‘Would you like to be long-sighted?’ I thought about it. I said, ‘Can you do anything about it?’
GR: Yeah.
CB: ‘Oh yes,’ he said, ‘When I put the new lenses in — ’
GR: Yeah.
CB: ‘I can convert you to long sighted.’ So, I said, ‘Yeah. Ok.’
GR: That’ll do.
CB: So, I’m long-sighted now. I wear reading specs.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: But I thought well my eyesight’s not quite as good. I’ve got these home visit people in and prescribe something.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And he wants to come and see me with the specs in twenty minutes. So, he’s coming again some another day.
GR: So, when did demob come around for you?
CB: Well, I said I did two and a half years. I shuttled mainly on ground transmitters, but on any aircraft that happened to require servicing.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Lockheed Hudsons, DC, through the Dakotas and any other incidentals. I was at Nairobi for some months, then they posted me down to RAF Mombasa.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Port Reitz, the old German base, which had been a very, very busy airfield in the war days, and I spent some time down there, and then I got a posting out to Mauritius. Oh, Mauritius.
GR: It can’t be bad.
CB: It can’t be bad. And I spent three or four months out in Mauritius on the transmitter station.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And, and then back to Mombasa. Down to Dar Salaam RAF, back to Mauritius and then I should have, and I ended up back in Nairobi. I was shuttling.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Every three or four months. Did two and a half years, I think. Roughly.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And I’d been on duty on the transmitters, night duty at Nairobi. Eastleigh. Came off duty about 6 o’clock. My mate saw me in the dining room there, ‘Oh, you lucky devil, Charlie. You’re off home.’ I said, ‘Am I? News to me.’ ‘Oh yeah. It’s on the notice board. Your name’s there. You’re on the aircraft tonight. This evening.’ I said, ‘Oh hell’s bells.’ Because you got all manner of kit from all manner of department.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And you had to take it all bit, back bit by bit and get it signed. The signature clearly on your release chit.
GR: Yeah.
CB: If you didn’t have a full set of signatures you were in trouble. And I had to go from A to B to B to A all the way around. I was doing that at early evening. The last ones. The flight out was on a Liberator.
GR: Yeah.
CB: A converted Liberator with canvas seats. I think we flew out about 10 o’clock. I just made the flight but it was a bit of rush job. Yeah. I came off duty at six. ‘You’re going home.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’
GR: Yeah.
CB: So, I’d done two and a half years which was rather long.
GR: Yeah.
CB: The story was, I don’t know how true that when the war finished, ‘Oh we’ve got thousands of wireless mechanics. Get rid of them to Civvy Street.’ And they released them by the, by the thousand. And —
GR: Yeah. But not you.
CB: And then they realised they’d released too many so instead of getting some released each month you could go two months without getting any of your wireless mechanics. So, your number was very slow coming up. So, so, are you alright for time?
GR: Yeah. Yeah. We’re alright. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Good. So, yeah. I flew from Nairobi. We landed at, back in Cairo and from Cairo we flew non-stop to Heathrow which was in its very early days, of course in those days.
GR: Yes. Yeah.
CB: I remember oh Heathrow. I know Heathrow. Is this it? It was a muddy. Clapped out. I thought this isn’t a main airport. But it was the early days of Heathrow and it had rained. Rained quite a bit and everywhere was muddy and not, not very nice. But glad to be home, back in England after two and a half years so —
GR: Yeah.
CB: And from there where did we go? Oh, good Lord.
GR: So, this would be 1948. Would it?
CB: ’47.
GR: ’47.
CB: Yeah.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Got the train up. Oh, it’s a bit vague is that.
GR: Oh, it don’t matter.
CB: Yeah, a bit vague.
GR: But you were literally straight out the RAF then.
CB: Yes.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Yes. I got a posting to RAF Warton or Kirkham which was another PDC dispersal and release centre, and I was demobbed from there.
GR: Right.
CB: And then ended up back home fairly shortly after.
GR: Yeah. When did you got married?
CB: The following. Twelve months later.
GR: Yeah. Because you met your wife during — ?
CB: Yeah. And we had corresponded. I said, ‘Would you like us to write, love?’ ‘Yeah. Yeah. That would be nice.’ And when I joined the Air Force, she joined the Women’s Land Army.
GR: Right. Yeah.
CB: And she did, she did virtually four and a half years in the Land Army in North Yorkshire. Ripon and Knaresborough and Keighley area and so on.
GR: And what did you end up doing when you left the RAF?
CB: I went, well, I was in like everybody got a reserved guaranteed, you could get your old job back.
GR: Your old, did you go back to the —
CB: I went back to the textiles.
GR: Oh right.
CB: I went to the knitting wool and picked up my job there. It had been held by the wife of a young fella. He’d gone in the Army so his job was secure, and he came back and his wife was in the office and [unclear] and I got my job back. I was with them for about three years and I got moved around and got a promotion, and I thought well I’m not getting anywhere fast here and I applied for, and by which time I’d bought a motorbike for a bit of mobility, and I got a job at Drighlington towards Bradford with a factory that produced iron and steel cables. Wire. Wire. Wire pulleys.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And wire drawers. And I was with them for about four years and there was a change in the main. It was run by two brothers, and the main brother ran the business side.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Died of a heart attack, and things changed quite a lot. His brother was on the technical side. Had no idea of business at all and spent too much time drinking the profits.
GR: Oh dear.
CB: And, so I got a job with, you won’t have heard of them, William Freeman and Company Limited.
GR: Yeah.
CB: “Super sealed and super made.”
GR: Yeah.
CB: Rubber and plastics manufacturers in Barnsley.
GR: Right.
CB: By which time I’d got, of course I’d married and we, we were living in Sandal in Wakefield, which was on the Barnsley side.
GR: Yeah.
CB: And I was with them for ten years until I decided that I could do with a change. The managing director there, he was a bit of a b a s t a r d. I stuck it for ten years.
GR: Ten years and that was it.
CB: He, oh, he was nasty. Nasty. And —
GR: So, your wireless operator engineering bit from the war never really stood you in any good stead.
CB: Didn’t really make, there were so many about, you know.
GR: Yeah.
CB: Television was coming in.
GR: Yes.
CB: And people said, ‘You’ll be alright. You’ll be able to get into telly.’
GR: Yeah.
CB: Not that I’d done much in Wakefield in [unclear] a mere relative in those days of course and so but yes, a number of my friends followed on with their wireless and went into television.
GR: Yeah.
CB: But I thought well it’s a bit crowded.
GR: You don’t always like to change.
CB: So, I took to office management and accountancy.
GR: Oh. Good.
CB: And I’d been doing, earlier on I’d been doing evening studies in accounts, and I got a qualification and so I ended up with this firm in Barnsley for ten years. And then in 1962 —
GR: You moved up to Selby.
CB: I moved to Selby.
GR: Yeah.
CB: I said to Amy, I said, and I saw the job advertised and it seemed to fit my qualification with Yorkshire Dyeware and Chemical Company. They wanted an office manager with accounts experience.
GR: And that was you.
CB: And so, I applied and to my surprise I went for interviews and they offered it to me.
GR: That’s good.
CB: My daughter, our only daughter had just passed her eleven plus so she could go to the high school here.
GR: Yeah.
CB: For girls. That fitted. My wife, I got a job which fitted. And my wife said, ‘Oh yeah, lovely the place. It’s nice and quiet here. A bit different to Wakefield, I guess.
GR: Oh yes.
CB: But of course, Wakefield since then to now has changed immeasurably. Like everywhere.
GR: You’re better off in Selby.
CB: Yeah. And so just came here and stayed.
GR: Good.
CB: Stayed. That’s where —
GR: That’s we started and that’s where I’ll —
CB: I did seventeen years with them and —

Collection

Citation

Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Charles Beecher,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 29, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/9284.

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