Interview with Arthur Sidney Woolf

Title

Interview with Arthur Sidney Woolf

Description

Arthur Woolf was working in an office before he volunteered for the RAF. He was keen on flying and would cycle to Castle Bromwich airfield to watch the aircraft. He was accepted for aircrew training and became a wireless operator. After joining a crew he was posted to 630 Squadron at East Kirkby. On their sixteenth operation they were shot down by a night fighter. The two gunners were killed. Arthur was seriously injured and when he regained consciousness he heard voices which proved to be French people who took him to their farmhouse. He was eventually taken prisoner and was taken to hospital in Nancy. He and three others were left in the cellar when the hospital was evacuated and they were liberated by the Americans. On return to the UK Arthur was first sent to Wroughton RAF Hospital before being transferred to the care of Archibald McIndoe and his team and became a member of the Guinea Pig Club.

Creator

Date

2017-06-29

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:50:17 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

AWoolfAS170629, PWoolfAS1701

Transcription

HB: This is a recording for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive being carried out at Sutton Coldfield. It’s Thursday the 29th of June. It’s 12.05 and the interview is with Arthur Sidney Woolf. Flying officer with 630 Squadron who was also a Prisoner of War and a member of the Guinea Pig Club. The interviewer is Harry Bartlett. Right, Arthur. Not making too much noise standing it up. We’re on.
AW: Right.
HB: What, what I’d like to ask you first Arthur is what you were doing before the war and what led up to you joining the RAF?
AW: Well, before the war I was only a youngster. I went to ordinary elementary school. I passed with honours for secondary school as we used to call them in those days. My mother was seriously ill at the time with duodenal ulcers and wasn’t expected to live. And my opportunity went. My father couldn’t cope. So, I continued and I finally left ordinary elementary school at aged fourteen in 1936 and I applied for a job and retired in the Birmingham Despatch. There ain’t no Birmingham Despatch anymore because it was taken over by the Birmingham Mail.
HB: Right.
AW: But there used to be two separate evening papers in those days. Birmingham Despatch and the Birmingham Mail. And I saw they advertised there so I went up with my mum as we did in those days. And when I had a reply and was asked to go for an interview. And it was a little office in Colmore Row which is the business centre of Birmingham. And it was up on the third floor, and I went in and it turned out it was a local Friendly Society. Friendly Insurance Society called the British Workmen’s Friendly Society. Shift it where ever you want it. I’m telling you this by —
HB: Yeah.
AW: A matter of interest. It’s my story. Called the British Workmen’s Friendly Society and I was the office boy. There was only five of us there. I was only small and we had agents. Most of them, well a lot of them were spare time. We had an office in Tamworth and so we had part-time workers there who were in those days were mainly miners.
HB: Oh right. Yeah.
AW: Because the mining industry was in Tamworth in those days. And they used to do this in their spare time to earn extra cash, you know. And so it was, it was a ruddy good training for me really. Throw that, throw that on your neck out the way.
HB: Oh. It’s alright.
AW: Ruddy good training. I was fourteen, you know. And I, and I was introduced into doing auditing of simple books. Shop keepers in Hockley and that sort of thing. One I remember particularly was we used to make biscuit, biscuit what do you call them? Biscuit what? I don’t know.
HB: Tins.
AW: Fancy like. They were very fancy.
HB: Oh. Oh.
AW: You know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Got nice wood and metal inlaid.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And so forth. And that was one of the companies down in Hockley. And I used to go and audit the books. I mean at fifteen, you know what I mean, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And then I started taking some exams which was in the insurance side of the business. Friends Society, pensions, doctors, that type of thing, you know what I mean? We had agents’ loans part time. And I took my exams and did very well in them. Although I’d only had an elementary school education. But just I’m not shooting the sherbet here but I always did pretty well at school, you know. Then the war broke out didn’t it? I was seventeen. So I, and I was fed up to the teeth with this place. By this time two of the blokes out of the office, there was only five of us, two of them had been called up. That left three of us. All youngsters, you know. Oh and I was up to here with it. You know what I mean? I mean it was a good position because it was, it was a private company as well. They did accountancy. All via Jethro Kent. Jethro. There’s a name you don’t get very often. He was the old man. I mean I called him an old man. To me he was like Methuselah. Now I’m, now I’m much older than he was at the time. You know what I mean?
HB: Yeah.
AW: He was in his sixties or seventies. Walrus white moustache. Jethro. And his son, Kenneth G Kent, they were both qualified chartered accountants so they had a private accountancy business. And I got involved in doing a bit of auditing you see, as well as having to take exams to do with insurance and the law as far as insurance is concerned. I mean life insurance. Life assurance really because it was, you know it wasn’t insurance against accidents it was life assurance. And I got cheesed off to the teeth and the war had gone on, you know, started up and I thought oh bloody hell. I was dying, I was mad about aircraft. And I used to get home and I used to cycle to Castle Bromwich which is now a big housing estate but it was Castle Bromwich Airfield which was a pre-war place. No, no runways just, you know [pause] and I used to watch them during — even before the war broke out. They’d taxi across and up they’d go. The old biplanes, you know. Always fascinated by aircraft and flying. And I used to cycle to these and by this time of course there was [unclear] restrictions, but there was railings along the Kingsbury Road and I used to park my bike there and just watch the aircraft through the railings you know. They were Fairey Battles I think at that time which was never a very good aircraft anyway but I mean that was early in the war of course.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And then I met my girl who turned out to be my wife. We were married for fifty five years.
HB: Wow.
AW: We never had children but we loved each other very very much and she was my life you know. Anyway, she worked at Castle Bromwich Aeroplane Factory which is now Jam Jar.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Which is just down the road. Two or three miles down Chester Road. And she worked there. She was what they called a Hollerith worker. Have you ever heard of Hollerith?
HB: No.
AW: It was a punch system. Little, little machines. And they used to — not all the fingers. It was two or three fingers, that’s all. Punching cards. Holes in cards and then when you draw the machine and they were all shifted and— you know what I mean? And I met her by chance. Introduced to her actually by a friend. A mutual friend. Fell head over heels. She was a good looking girl I’ll tell you and — but I was dying to fly and I wanted to fly. And I thought well, I’m going to go in the RAF. So, when my time came I volunteered for aircrew. As you know there was only aircrew, only volunteers were ever accepted by RAF. And I had to go Viceroy Close which is a big block of flats. It’s still there in Birmingham. Just outside the city, which the RAF took over completely in those days. And part of the building was occupied by aircrew medicals. So when the papers come to go for an aircrew medical, you know. Cough and all the rest of it. But in between I had trouble with my ears. I’d had boils in my ears.
HB: Oh dear.
AW: Yeah. Very painful. And I was only a youngster, you know. And I thought I shan’t say anything about that, you know. No. I don’t want to risk the chance of getting into aircrew. So, finally come around to the hearing test. We were all civilian lads, you know seventeen or eighteen and so forth. And I went into this room and there was a flight lieutenant there and, ‘Name?’ Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And he looked at me and he said, ‘Now, I want you to walk to the end of this room,’ which was a long narrow room, he said, ‘And face the wall.’ He said, ‘I’m going to say words to you and I want you to repeat them to me.’ So, I’m all ready. I’m going to do this test. So, I went to the other end and, ‘Stop.’ he said, ‘Now, face the wall,’ and he started, ‘Tomato. Potato.’ You know, similar type words and whispered like that. And my ears were aching with the desire to get the bloody thing right. You know what I mean? And it went on for some little time. He said, ‘Ok. Come back and I went back and he looks at me and looked in my ears with the old what do they call them? You know, when they look in your ears.
HB: Yeah.
AW: He said, ‘You’ve had trouble with your ears, haven’t you?’ And I thought, ‘Oh shit. He knows.’ [laughs] I said, ‘Well, yes. I had a boil,’ I said. You know, I didn’t tell him it was a series of them but, ‘I had a boil.’ ‘I thought as much,’ he said. He looked at the papers again. He looked at what he’d written down. And then he said, ‘I’m going to pass you,’ he said, ‘You’re on the borderline,’ he said, ‘For your ears.’ He said, ‘But I’m going to pass you,’ he said, ‘But I want you to know that if you have trouble with your ears when you start flying, if you get that far,’ he said, ‘It’s not the RAF’s fault.’ In other words they were washing their hands of any responsibility. You know. I thought, bastard [laughs] And so eventually I had, I had my calling up papers to go to report to Padgate in Lancashire. Just a Recruiting Centre, you know.
HB: Near Blackpool.
AW: Parade around. Nothing else.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I mean no airfield. Oh God, I was up to here. I was a very, I was a home loving boy really and I’d never gone far from home. You know what I mean? There’s only my brother and I. Just the two of us. My brother was four years older than me and he was already in the RAF. He didn’t fly but he went out to Egypt and Cairo [pause] Oh God, but anyway. He went out to the Middle East in the RAF and he was out there for a number of years. You know. And then my turn came. And I thought bloody hell. You know. So, Padgate. Oh God was I homesick. I really was. I mean bloody terrible bloody place. I don’t know whether it exists anymore as an RAF camp. I doubt it.
HB: No.
AW: It was just a training. A reception centre. You know what I mean? So, half the time I was walking around with RAF trousers on and my own jacket, you know, that sort of thing, because I hadn’t got everything. Oh dear. Oh dear. And three days before Christmas I had to go. 22nd of December which has lived in my memory ever since. I thought the sods. They could have waited. And I hadn’t too long met my wife Sheila and you know I was head over heels. I thought bloody hell. The sods. They could have waited until after Christmas at least, you know. Anyway, to cut a long story short that was the start of my RAF training. And it was quite long. It was nearly two years before I finally reached the squadron and was then flying in Ansons and all sorts. Dominies we flew in you know originally yeah as a wireless op. And finally went to Upper Heyford which is in Oxfordshire. And it’s, I don’t know, I think it’s still there.
HB: It’s still operative. Yes. It’s still operative.
AW: At Upper Heyford. And there I met all sorts of blokes there. There was rear gunners, mid-upper gunners, flight engineers, wireless ops, pilots, navigators, you name it. All the categories. And they just said to us, ‘Now, you’ve got forty eight hours to get crewed up. It’s up to you. You know. Mix around. Talk. And I want you all in sevens.’ You know, seven was a crew. He said, ‘And if you haven’t found a crew at the end of the forty eight hours you will be allocated to whatever’s left.’ So, of course nobody wanted that. They didn’t want that sort of stigma.
HB: No.
AW: Did they? You know what I mean? Anyway, I was, I went to bed that night. This was down at Upper Heyford. I was a sergeant at the time and next door to a fellow and he said, ‘Have you got crewed up yet?’ I said, ‘Bloody hell. No,’ I said, ‘I haven’t had a chance to even to talk to anybody yet properly.’ ‘Oh, I have,’ he said. ‘I’ve crewed up with a Yank.’ Of course, we all knew who the Yank was. He was in RAF uniform. He’d done like you said crossed into Canada and joined the RCAF. And so he’d got his RAF uniform on. I said, ‘Oh, I’ve seen him around.’ I said, ‘I’ve heard him talking.’ ‘Aye. A good guy,’ he said. He said, ‘Are you crewed up?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Are you interested?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ So, he took me along to, to see the pilot. Bill. And chatting and of course the long and the short of it we crewed up. And actually I finished up with two Canadians, two Yanks and three Brits in my crew.
HB: Wow.
AW: And one of them was a Welshmen. It’s amazing really. Yeah. And they were a great crowd of lads. They really were. But unfortunately when we were shot down both the mid-upper and the rear gunner were killed at the time we were shot down. You know. But —
HB: What were the names of your crew? The pilot was Bill.
AW: Bill Adams.
HB: Yeah.
AW: My navigator was, he lived at Radstock near Bath and he was the most difficult to find.
HB: Oh right.
AW: I don’t know why. I just couldn’t get any leads on to him. You know what I mean? Toogood his name was. T O O G O O D. George Toogood. Rear gunner — Ross Lough. L O U G H. And mid-upper gunner — Johnny Kiesow. Polish American. Yank, you know. Yank. He’d done the same as the pilot and gone into Canada, you know and so forth. Who have I missed out?
HB: Bomb aimer.
AW: Bomb aimer. Woody. Woody. Quite a character, Woody. Quite a character. He was the only other commissioned member of the crew. So, in the end there was just the two of us so we naturally sort of teamed up together. We were in the same mess and so forth, you know. He was quite a lad was Woody. And he came from Ontario. Have I missed anybody else out?
HB: Flight engineer.
AW: Flight engineer. Yes. He was bloody difficult to find and I found him in the end. He was in Canada. He’d gone to live in Canada. Bloody amazing, you know. His name escapes me at the moment I’m ashamed to say.
HB: No. No. No. No. That’s alright.
AW: He’s in there. I’m sure.
HB: Yeah.
AW: So, I found him and then afterwards I went to stay with my bomb aimer in Ontario with my wife. Went over and stayed with them. They invited us over, you know. And I also went to stay with my flight engineer who settled in bloody — right in the west side of Canada.
HB: British Columbia.
AW: Chilliwack. Chilliwack.
HB: Oh right. Yeah.
AW: A place called Chilliwack.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Which is, you know not too far from the West, West Coast. Went to stay with him as well. I found them but it took me two or three years to find all of them, you know because when I was taken Prisoner of War of course I lost touch complete with everything.
HB: Who was Dickie Richardson?
AW: He was a wonderful character. He was a Guinea Pig.
HB: He was one of the Guinea Pigs. Right. I’ve gone a bit too far ahead.
AW: A blind guinea pig. A lovely, lovely lad. A great friend of mine.
HB: Yeah. I’m just trying —
AW: He was a wireless op. He got shot down. And the last thing he remembered seeing when he was shot down was a German soldier coming towards him on the road and his sight went. And he never saw again.
HB: Oh no.
AW: A great character. And no arm. No. One arm off up to there. But a wonderful character, you know. I was in the cellar for some time which I think I mention in there. When the Germans evacuated the hospital I was in in Nancy. They left four of us in the cellar with the French army doctor who’d been captured also, to look after us. And Dickie was one of those four. It was, it was quite an experience that was. We were there I think about ten or eleven days. Just below ground level. That’s all. The fighting was starting to come closer and closer. And I was thinking about all those bloody guns going off and so forth. Frightened you to death really when you’re lying helpless. Immoveable virtually in my case with this bloody great plaster cast on.
HB: Horrendous.
AW: And —
HB: But it, but so, so that was, that was obviously later.
AW: Yes.
HB: So, you’d gone to [pause] to crew up at Heyford.
AW: Upper Heyford. Yes.
HB: Did you stay at Heyford for OCU or did you —
AW: No.
HB: No.
AW: No. I’ve got them all listed actually somewhere but —
HB: No. No. Don’t worry about it at all because, because there’s all sorts —
AW: I’m just trying to think where I did my OC — oh dear, my memory’s going as I’m getting older.
HB: Well, AF, you did your AFU at Dumfries.
AW: Dumfries. That’s right. Yes.
HB: And you went to —
AW: Up to, up to was there —
HB: OTU at Upper Heyford.
AW: Upper Heyford.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I was just going to say. Yes. Yes, it was. That’s right.
HB: That’s was, oh that was when you were flying. You were doing OTU in Wellingtons and —
AW: That’s right. Yeah.
HB: Wimpies. Yeah.
AW: We started off with Dominies. De Havilland Dominies. Something else. Ansons.
HB: Yeah.
AW: You know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And all the old. You know, and all the old —
HB: Yeah. All the old.
AW: Mind you they were a good reliable aircraft, you know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: The old Anson. I mean it could go on forever. Fly on forever those Ansons would.
HB: Yeah.
AW: But it was — oh dear.
HB: So, so you crewed up there.
AW: Yeah. And then we moved as a crew.
HB: And then you went to — ah it says in here Wigsley.
AW: That’s right.
HB: That’s not a place I’ve heard of before.
AW: No. Well, it was only a temporary wartime place. It was in [pause] dear oh dear [pause] Nottinghamshire I think it was.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I think it Nottinghamshire.
HB: Because then because obviously you did that training and then you went to Syerston.
AW: Syerston.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah.
HB: And that was, that was —
AW: That was the flying. That was where we, we first went in Lancs.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Lancs. Yeah.
HB: Oh right, because —
AW: And then —
HB: It says in here, it says in here —
AW: If it says there it’s true.
HB: That you were posted there. Yeah. Yeah. It says here you did your, you did your conversion training consisting of sixteen hours.
AW: That’s all.
HB: Wow.
AW: That’s all.
HB: In two weeks.
AW: Yeah. I mean for the pilot as well. He’d got to go and fly in bloody ops.
HB: Yeah.
AW: In the aircraft. It was true. I mean, you know I’ve got the, after the war was over I wrote to the RAF and asked for a list of my postings and so forth, you know. Trainings. And I’ve got it. It’s in here
HB: Yeah. You’re service. Yeah. Your old service record.
AW: The old service record. That’s right. Yes.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: And it’s in there somewhere. I’ve got it.
HB: Oh, that’s great.
AW: So, you know, I mean, you know. Sixteen. It was nothing really.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Nothing.
HB: Sixteen hours.
AW: But in between that we had to fly [pause] do I mention it there? Bloody. Christ, come on.
HB: Stirlings.
AW: Stirlings. Nightmare. Nightmare. Bloody great big thing. And I mean, you know you’ve got no power at all really, you know. None at all.
HB: No.
AW: Chug chug chug and trying to reach a bloody flying height, you know. Hours. Literally hours. It was a bloody awful aircraft. It really was. And it was very huge and it stood quite a height from the ground, you know to get in to it.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: And they were always having trouble with the undercart. The undercarriage was always failing. And even while we were converting on to them, that short course we had for the crew went round it. Another amendment to the bloody requirement of the undercart was going to be incorporated. It was a terrible bloody aircraft. I mean, you know it was a shocker.
HB: Yeah.
AW: God were we glad to get off those and get on to — and of course the Lanc, by comparison was, was beautiful.
HB: Yeah.
AW: It really was. There’s no other description for a Lancaster anyway.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: That’s my only description for a Lanc.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I mean Halifaxes were very very good and they were very near to it, you know. But I think, I think the Lanc just about had it. Beautiful. I’m sticking to that one. Whatever you think.
HB: Right. You can tell from my face then.
AW: And so eventually we got to the squadron which was East Kirkby. East Kirkby.
HB: That was, that was in 5 Group wasn’t it?
AW: Yes.
HB: With 630.
AW: Yeah. It was about thirty or forty miles from Lincoln. Yeah. And we did, on our sixteenth operation we got shot down on the way to Stuttgart.
HB: Yeah. You were in B Flight weren’t you there?
AW: Yes. That’s right.
HB: So you’d done — what was your first trip?
AW: First one.
HB: Your first trip. Your first op.
AW: I’ve got the —
HB: Sorry, I’ve got it here.
AW: I’ve got my notebook here.
HB: Saumur.
AW: Saumur. That’s right.
HB: In southern France.
AW: There was a big infantry —
HB: Yeah.
AW: German division there.
HB: Yeah.
AW: A crack division apparently. And we had to go and try and sort of stir them up a bit, you know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah. Well, a lot of the flights I did actually were in France. To do with the battle across France.
HB: Yeah. What, what year would this be?
AW: ’44.
HB: Arthur. 1944.
AW: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah. And I got shot down on the 25th of July. The night of the 24th 25th of July was the night we were shot down.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah.
HB: What, what —on the lead up I’ve just noticed in here.
AW: Yeah.
HB: You were actually, you were actually involved in bombing the coastal batteries for D-Day.
AW: That’s right. And I’ve got the, I’ve got the Légion d’honneur medal from the French.
HB: Did you now?
AW: Yeah. Which I think is a lovely medal.
HB: Oh, that’s beautiful.
AW: Isn’t it.
HB: Yes. That is beautiful.
AW: Take it out if you want to.
HB: That’s absolutely superb. And that, and that’s obviously related to the D-Day.
AW: It was.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Only for the people involved in D-Day.
HB: Yeah. That’s absolutely superb.
AW: It’s a lovely medal that is, I think.
HB: What a beautiful —
AW: I’m not a medals man quite honestly. I’ve got my, my — the medals I was sent after the war, you know, that I was entitled to which was just the standard.
HB: Yeah.
AW: What do you call them?
HB: That’s a beautiful thing.
[rustling]
AW: Excuse me. These are those. That’s that. I received them in the same box. Way back at the end of the war. I mean —
HB: Absolutely.
AW: Compared with this they’re just — I didn’t even bother to mount them at all. You know, I thought well bloody hell. But that I thought was a lovely medal.
HB: So, that was —
AW: And —
HB: Yes.
AW: And if I can just show you something.
HB: Yes. Sure you can. Sure.
AW: The letter that came with it was fantastic I thought [pause] That’s, that’s the letter that came with it.
HB: I think, I think you ought to be reading that one out, don’t you?
AW: Do you?
HB: I think you ought to be reading that one out.
AW: Yeah. Well, if you think I should.
HB: Yeah. I think you should. But do you want to leave that? Do you want to leave that for a minute while we, while we just —
AW: Alright. Ok.
HB: Because that’s obviously June. That’s obviously June for D-Day and you were shot down the —
AW: 25th of July.
HB: 25th of July.
AW: ’44.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah.
HB: So, not long after.
AW: Yeah.
HB: So, so what were your memories of that particular op? Where were you headed for that?
AW: Heading to Stuttgart.
HB: Right.
AW: We never got there.
HB: Right.
AW: We were just in the, just approximately over the border between France and Germany and out of the blue a fighter comes up from below [noise] and and damaged the engines. I can’t remember which or which engine it were or how many there were damaged at the time but we started to lose height. You know, lose power. And the pilot said, ‘We’ll have to turn back. We’ll have to dump the bombs and turn back.’ So, the navigator sort of plotted as best he could some open ground as best as he could and dumped the bombs and turned back. But not long after we turned we started to lose height much more seriously. Got the order to bale out. And I was at the front but I was the last one of the front members apart from the pilot of course who stays with the end, to the end. And they were all sort of up the steps waiting to get out and all the, all the jettisoned the big hatch that you got, you fall through out the bottom of the Lanc. And I was behind them and I’d been hit on the hip here when the, when the fighter attacked us. And I say [whisper] right by the arsehole, you know. Had he been an inch to the right he’d have been right up inside me and that would have been the end of me. And I lost a lot of blood. And I felt myself, you know, I thought, ‘Christ, if they don’t hurry up I’ll never make this. I’ll never make it.’ And I don’t remember going out through the, through the hatch to tell you the truth. I can’t remember and I can’t remember coming down in the parachute. But I came around with the parachute all around me and my leg giving me hell. And it was dark and I thought, ‘Christ. How long have I been lying here?’ You know. Foreign country. I’m not, I wasn’t sure whether I was in Germany or France because we were somewhere near the borderline when we were attacked. I thought to myself, ‘Christ, what do I do?’ So, I went to get up and I thought, ‘Oh Jeez.’ I almost screamed with agony. I thought, ‘Bloody hell. I’ve popped my leg.’ It wasn’t a compound fracture. It was a plain facture but of course that’s the strongest bone in your body. Your femur. And that was the one I broke [noise] Didn’t realise it at the time. Just thought well you know I’ll be alright. Lie here a few days and if I can keep going for a few days it’ll get better and I’ll be able to try and make my way back home someway or other. You know what I mean? We all had had the lectures on this sort of thing of course. And I was lying there and I heard people talking. And I thought, aye aye. I heard a man and a woman’s voice and I thought [pause] ‘Don’t shout yet. Hang on. See whether they’re German or not.’ Because I wasn’t sure whether I’d landed, you know in Germany or France. Anyway, after a while I could hear them. To my mind it was obviously French they were speaking so I shouted. They came over and in the bloody pitch black. I was out in the wilds of somewhere. And the lady, that one the photograph there hugged me as though I was a long lost cousin or something. I suppose they were glad to have found somebody alive I suppose, you know. And then they chatted to each other. The man and the woman. They were brother and sister actually as it turned out. On that photograph. And he went. I don’t know where he went. I had no idea. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. In those days anyway. And after a while he came back and he brought a step ladder with him. And they used that as a stretcher. And they lifted me on to it and I nearly yelled with agony. As they lifted you know I suppose ends of the bones you know. Jeez. Carried me, it seemed like an interminable distance. I don’t suppose it was that far but it was pretty rough terrain anyway. And then they opened the door and they put me in. It was a barn. And they gathered all the straw from the barn of the local hamlet. And they gathered all the straw together and puffed it up and they laid me on this. On this straw. And the lady there, she went away. The bloke stayed. Henri stayed with me. And she came back and she’d got some soup in a bowl. And another bowl with some water in it and cloths and she kept bathing my forehead, you know and feeding me soup. They were good to me. You know what I mean? They took a risk because they were in occupied France. It was in German occupied France. So they took a risk.
HB: Very much so.
AW: As I say, and years later I decided I’d like to try and find them and give them a proper thanks. And I’m going on holiday to Italy and we went that way when I’d found out where it was through the Red Cross. It took me ages and them ages to find out where I’d actually been. It was just a hamlet. Just two or three old old farmhouses, you know. Really old. And I wrote and told them with the aid of my colleague who spoke fluent French. He wrote it all out in French for me. And I explained that he was doing that in French so they’d understand it. And we finally went and we found it after some difficulty. Right in Eastern France. Right by the border virtually. And we had a hell of a day. I mean, I took English and French dictionaries with me, you know to try and help. And pencils and paper. Oh my God. We had some laughs, you know even though we couldn’t understand. We made each other understand mainly. But the old grandma there. Can you see her?
HB: Yeah.
AW: There. She was the grandma. She’d got, she’d got one tooth there. Just a pickled onion spear as I called it. And we had quite a day there. And we spent the whole day there. It was fabulous, you know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And so after that time I wrote to them and I sent them parcels because they were pretty tight for food.
HB: Yeah.
AW: The Germans —
HB: That was at Tramont-Lassus.
AW: That’s right.
HB: Near to Nancy.
AW: That’s right. Yes. I sent them food parcels and I kept quite a correspondence going with the aid of my colleague as I say who I worked with. But that died and faded after a while. You know, as things do, don’t they?
HB: Yeah.
AW: I’m sorry really because I would have liked to keep in touch with them. I wonder what’s happened to their family now. But when, when we went we were going on holiday to Italy and I’d routed it once I found out where it was and had to get a special map. It was a well-known map and people who sell maps. I forget their name.
HB: Michelin.
AW: Michelin.
HB: Michelin.
AW: Michelin map of that area. Just of that area. And I managed to get one. Sent for it and so forth. And I found out where it was so I routed it through this way and finally we, and I wrote and told them we were coming. It would be some time just after lunch but we couldn’t give the exact because we were coming right down from Calais you know. Right across France basically. Northern France. And drove up and came to the road leading to this little hamlet. And they were all out in the street. All out. And little tiny little toddlers who weren’t even born when I was shot down.
HB: Wonderful.
AW: And they got the bloody Tricolours and the Union Jacks. Fantastic. I felt too shy to get out the car almost. You know what I mean? They were absolutely fabulous. So, they told all the local people that I was coming, you know, ‘And this was the fellow who landed amongst us during the war.’
HB: Yeah.
AW: A fabulous time. We stayed at a hotel about ten miles away for the night. But we had a fabulous time. Although we didn’t speak each other’s language it was an enjoyable time.
HB: Yes.
AW: Because we were — you know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: They were glad to see us. So, I visited them once or twice like that.
HB: Yeah.
AW: On different holidays that I was going on.
HB: Yeah. And how long, how long did they actually look after you for, Arthur?
AW: It was only the one night really.
HB: Right.
AW: The next day when I sort of woke up or came to in the morning. There was a little dirty window up in this loft. I can see the sun’s out because it was, it was summertime.
HB: Yeah.
AW: July ’44. And I thought, ‘Oh, look at that lovely sunshine. If I can get this leg right now I’ll be off.’ You know. I was thinking I could. Two of my crew did walk all the way to Switzerland by the way and got interned. Two of the crew.
HB: Did they?
AW: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
AW: But anyway, I thought that would be it. And then after a while, I forget what time it was. Late morning or some time before noon I heard some loud sighs and the door opened. A gendarme. The old French policeman came in who could speak a little bit of English. Not very much but a little bit. So, I suppose the rumour had got around that [pause] that I was there, you know what I mean? So, I thought, ‘Christ,’ you know, ‘If I’m not careful here he’ll tell the Germans and I’ve had it. I’ll be in a bloody Prisoner of War camp.’ And at that time the war didn’t look as though it was going to end next week. You know what I mean? I thought, oh Jeez, the thought of that. So, we got on alright and the lady came back again, you know. Rose. Bathing me and bringing me food to eat. And finally he went and I’m trying, the last thing I tried to impress on him, ‘Please don’t let the Germans know I’m here and as soon as I possibly can I’ll get off their hands,’ you know. Because they were taking a big risk. You know, by keeping me there and not telling the Germans they were taking a risk. Anyway, I mean the policeman must have realised I needed hospital treatment. I’d broken my bloody femur for Christ’s sake. You know what I mean? And after he’d gone, some time later, it was early afternoon I heard a vehicle pull up outside. A door opened. German soldier. I thought, ‘Oh no.’ I thought, ‘Oh, that’s it. Sod it.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I’ve had it.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I thought, ‘Oh bloody hell.’ Anyway, he’d got a mate with him and they’d got a little five hundred weight truck. Vehicle. Got a stretcher. Took me out. Put me in the back. Bloke got in to drive in the front and the other sat by me on a little seat at the side you know. And they took me to the hospital in Nancy. And I was the first Englishman in there. They’d got Prisoners of War but they were, a lot of them were French colonials. Frenchmen and French colonials who’d been captured in North Africa.
HB: Oh right.
AW: In Rommel’s do. You know what I mean, you know? And so I don’t remember much at all. They tell me I was delirious for nearly four days. Seven days. You know, I’d been shouting all sorts of things and I’ve, I have memories that I was in, somewhere in the Middle East going through my mind at that time during the delirium I had. You know what I mean? So it was then that I learned that I’d broken my femur, you know. So, the next thing I know I’m in traction. And they put a pin through the knee there. Right through that knee. And a weight at the end of a pulley over the end of the bed to pull the bone out so that it wouldn’t go back in the wrong position. So it would be like pulling it out to let it go back later in the correct position. Otherwise it would have been, you know, offset. And every time anybody walked by the bloody bed I was, ‘Don’t get near the bloody pulley for Christ’s sake.’ Because if they had touched it you know I felt it right up into my spine sort of thing.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And there was air raid warnings and Christ knows what while I was in this position. And they did once, when they, once they’d got me in to this plaster which they’d put on too bloody tight and it was agony they did carry me down to the cellar when the air raid warning went. And that was a nightmare because we had to go down steep stairs you know. And me inside this bloody plaster and oh Christ it was agony. I was down in this cellar and we could hear the planes going over. It was the German planes actually, I think. I’m not sure to tell you the truth. And finally they carried me back up there. And then the rumour went around, they’re leaving. ‘We’re all leaving. We’re all going. They’re taking us all into Germany.’ Well, they did. And four of us they left there. And as I say they left us in this cellar underneath the hospital. And some nuns came. I don’t know where they came from. Somewhere in Nancy. Came with food for us twice a day.
HB: But were they, were the medical staff, Arthur were they all French under German supervision?
AW: Yes. But they all went with them. They’d all, they had been captured at some time or other.
HB: Right.
AW: So, they all went back. They left one French doctor who’d been captured. I don’t know where. They left a French doctor to look after the four of us in the [pause] One was a Ginger haired fellow named Ginger who’d had his leg off to here. He’d trodden on a mine or something.
HB: Yeah.
AW: He was a soldier. Another one was a fighter pilot who flew in Mustangs or something like that. And he’d had to bale out. He’d been attacked and shot down. And as he baled out he hit the bloody tailplane with his stomach. And his stomach was a bloody mess so he couldn’t be moved. Then there was Dickie Richardson and myself. Dickie was a wireless op the same as me, in the RAF. And when he was shot down that’s when he was blinded.
HB: Yeah.
AW: The last thing he remembered seeing was a German soldier coming towards him along this road. And Dickie was in a hell of a mess. God. He had, at that time he’d had his hand off. They’d amputated his hand. Bald as a badger except that he was badly burned so it was all bandaged. And his face was a mess. They left a little hole there to feed him through a tube. And I was telling you about this chap before they moved us all into this cellar. There was four of us in this cellar. He said, This fella, he’s marvellous. He sings. He tries to sing and you know he’s got these terrible burns. He must be in agony.’ Anyway, he was there and it turns out he came from Worcester which is not too far from here.
HB: Yeah.
AW: So he knew Birmingham and he knew the Bull Ring in the city. So we, we naturally became buddies. You know what I mean?
HB: Yeah.
AW: And it was nice to talk to somebody who knew places. He knew places I knew and vice versa. We were down there for I think it was about ten or eleven days actually and we could hear the firing getting nearer and finally it was very near and it was like small arms fire. You know. And we’re only just below street level actually in this cellar. And this Ginger said, ‘Sorry. I’m going to have to find somebody to come down and help us,’ you know. We were stuck there and nobody knew we were there really except the doctor who’d been looking after and we don’t know what happened to him. Whether he went we don’t know. So he went, and I said, ‘Hey, don’t you forget us’, you know. I said, ‘We’re stuck down here and we’re relying on you to bring somebody.’ Anyway, he was away for about an hour or more and suddenly a bloody Yank appeared. A Yankee first lieutenant. Talk about John Wayne. He wasn’t as big as that but he was dressed like John Wayne would be if you imagine as he’d been in films about that.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And he was dirty looking and he just walked in. He must have come down the steps and he came along the corridor and into this, well a cell it was really. And he just went, ‘Hi fellas.’ We could have kissed him. Really. Out come the fags.
HB: Yeah.
AW: You know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: He’d got a cigarette. Bloody Yank. He was wonderful. And he said, he said, ‘I can see you are all in trouble,’ he said, ‘Does anybody need anything urgently doing?’ I said, ‘Well, yes please.’ They put this plaster on and it came from here up right around across here and across the back and they put the edge of the plaster was where the bloody wound was. They’d put a dressing on, that’s all. And of course as it dried it curled in. You know. You’ve seen plasters do that? And it curled in on the bloody wound and I was in absolute agony. I mean I couldn’t turn over or anything. It was such a, I was stuck, you know, it was up to here.
HB: So, your left, your left foot, ankle, leg.
AW: Yes.
HB: Femur. Waist.
AW: Yeah.
HB: With a half cast around on your bum.
AW: Well, it came right around.
HB: And it came right up on to your chest. So you —
AW: Right across the bloody wound. I was in agony. I tried to sort of ease myself upwards inside the cast if you understand what I mean to get the weight off this bloody edge that was cutting into the bloody wound. So, when this Yank came he said, ‘Anything special you want doing?’ He said, ‘I’ll get you some medical attention. Is there anything I can do for you now?’ I said, ‘Yes. For Christ’s sake,’ I said, ‘I need somebody to look at my ass.’ I said, ‘I’m in trouble.’ He said, ‘Well, I can’t do that on my own.’ I said, ‘No. I understand.’ He said, ‘But I’ll bring somebody,’ he said, ‘I won’t desert you. I’ll bring somebody.’ And sure enough he went and they came back. All the Yankee medics and so forth. They were fantastic.
HB: Yeah.
AW: They carried us out. They had ambulances there. And they took us to a local field hospital under canvas. You know. And then I moved back through different field, American field hospitals. Getting further and further away from the actual fighting front. And I think it was, I think it was somewhere in the middle of France. Mid-northern France. With an air strip. And I was flown back in a Yankee plane. And I was the only Englishman, I told you on board. All the rest were Yanks and nearly all of them were infantrymen who’d just come direct from the front line. Wounded. Some of them badly, you know. And they took me to a little hospital. We landed somewhere near Reading. I don’t know where it was. Somewhere near Reading. And they took me to a local hospital and I was in this ward with nothing but Yanks. It was a Yankee hospital. But the next day I was taken by ambulance and then I went through a series of various hospitals. And finally I finished up at Wroughton RAF Hospital near Swindon. RAF officers ward if you don’t mind. Going up. And they looked at me. Took this plaster off and he said — the word he used was, ‘Christ,’ as he took the plaster off and saw my foot. I couldn’t see it at that time. I was lying up you know and it was, and it was just black. Solid black all around there and the back of my heel. It was gangrene. And then there was touch and go and then they said, ‘Oh, we can’t deal with that here. You’ll probably have to go to Archibald McIndoe’s place.’ I said, ‘Who? Never heard of him.’ ‘Archibald McIndoe.’ I said ‘Who’s that?’ ‘He’s a world famous plastic surgeon at East Grinstead.’ I said, ‘Well, where’s East Grinstead?’ He said, ‘It’s Sussex.’ ‘I don’t want to go down there.’ I was thinking of Sheila, my girlfriend coming to see me, you know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And she never travelled on her own very much at all, you know. But anyway, they took me by ambulance then to East Grinstead and it was the best move I ever had really. You know. Fantastic. But it was a bit different because I’d been in a sort of orthopaedic ward. You know, broken limbs and so forth. And I moved into this ward down in East Grinstead and they got what they called the bug in. They got the bug. You know, which is very easy with burns you know. So everybody was walking around with masks on. All these nurses had masks over their faces. You now. Visitors had to wear a mask. And I thought, ‘Christ, this is serious [laughs] I don’t like this.’ Anyway, it was a wonderful wonderful wonderful place. It was really. I mean we were treated like, like sirs really, you know. We really were. Wonderful treatment. Wonderful wonderful man. And altogether I was about, I think about fourteen or fifteen months having treatment.
HB: When you first got there though and they put you in the ward. Who was in the bed next door but one?
AW: Next door but one was Dickie.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah. Fantastic. But he wasn’t in the bed. He was sitting by — there was just a stove. It was a wartime sort of place. Like a temporary, added on to the local cottage hospital in East Grinstead. And this fellow was there. They put me on an end bed. There was only about ten beds in the ward. There was five each side. Only a small wartime thing. And I saw this fellow sitting by the, by the stove. He’d got a dressing gown on. And he’d got an arm off up to, up to there at the time and his, his head was bandaged but I could see part of his face which was very very badly burned. And I thought, ‘I’ve got a feeling I know you.’ I knew him by his real name while we were in the cellar. Walter. Walter Richardson. Because Richardson — Richardson. Dickie. Dick. You know. And they were all calling him Dickie so I thought, crikey. Anyway, this nurse was sort of getting me settled in to the bed and tucking me in and I said to her, ‘That fellow by the, sitting by the stove there,’ I said, ‘Is his name Walter?’ ‘No. I don’t think so,’ she said, ‘We know him as Dickie.’ So, I thought, ‘It’s him. I can tell his voice,’ and so forth, you know. But he’d got his arm off to there. When I knew him he had just his hand off you know. So, I said, ‘Well, I think I know him,’ I said, ‘Could you bring him over to me?’ She said, ‘Yes, I’ll bring him.’ She said, ‘Come on Dickie. Somebody here wants to speak to you. He thinks he knows you.’ So, she led him over to my bed. And he leaned over like blind people do, you know. He couldn’t see. And I said, ‘Hello Walter, I bet you don’t know who this is.’ And he said, ‘Christ. It’s Red.’ And he recognised my voice. And it had been three or four months since we’d seen each other. We got separated, you know in various field hospitals as we moved because he was very very ill, Dickie was and so he didn’t make the same progress as I did. So I got flown back before he did. So, we never saw each other again then. And then I recognised him but he recognised my voice as soon as I, and the fact that I called him Walter I think did it. I said, ‘Hello Walter. I bet you don’t know who this is.’ ‘Christ almighty, it’s Red.’
HB: That was your nickname? Red.
AW: Well, yeah because in the cellar there were four of us. Two Gingers. And he called me Red and the other one Ginger.
HB: Right.
AW: Because he couldn’t see either of us. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah. And that’s the story really. You know.
HB: So, so you end up in East Grinstead.
AW: Yeah.
HB: With the, what was to become the Guinea Pig Club.
AW: That’s right.
HB: With Sir Arthur McIndoe.
AW: Archibald.
HB: Sorry.
AW: Archibald.
HB: Archibald McIndoe.
AW: Yeah. Wonderful wonderful man.
HB: And, and so he, they actually saved your leg.
AW: Oh, no doubt about it. No doubt about that. It was due for an amputation. But there was a wonderful sister there. Nursing sister. She was, I suppose she was late forties. A Scots girl. Had a sweet voice. And she used to come and dress my leg three or four times a day. My foot. And they tried all sorts of things, you know. Of course this was when penicillin was just, at the time penicillin was new. Oh, this is it. Shall I do it for you, you know. It made a mess of my foot. Penicillin. I’m penicillin allergic.
HB: Oh right.
AW: Didn’t know it then because it was very early days of penicillin. And they tried all and in the end she tried a mixture of, I can’t remember all of it but it had liquid paraffin and something else and something else. I don’t know what the other two were. I know liquid paraffin was. And they just soaked muslin in it you know and made a pad and put it on there and there and bandaged it. And after two or three days when they took it off there was bits of it. Bits of the shit, you know on it. And they said, ‘It’s coming away. It’s coming away.’ And they did that for weeks and weeks until they finally got it completely just and then I had plastic surgery. And what they did, they took — I don’t know whether you can see, Harry. I don’t want to bore you with it. But —
HB: No. No. I’m not bored.
AW: That’s my good leg.
HB: Oh right. So that’s where, so that’s where they took the skin from.
AW: That’s right. Yeah. Can you see that patch?
HB: Good grief.
AW: And can you see that at the back?
HB: Yeah.
AW: That there.
HB: So that came, that —
AW: What they did, they cut because that’s an S. I don’t know whether you can see. It goes around there.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Like that. They opened that flap there and that flap there. Put my foot in it like that.
HB: Pull along there.
AW: Cast around there so I couldn’t move it and I was stuck like that for about two months.
HB: So, they, they —
AW: And they, and they had me suspended over, or my legs suspended from a bar that they construct over the bed vertically.
HB: So, the living flesh from your right leg.
AW: Grew.
HB: Was connected to your left leg.
AW: That’s where that came from you see.
HB: And grew.
AW: That’s right.
HB: And then at some stage —
AW: They disconnected. And that’s it.
HB: Came along with a big pair of scissors.
AW: It took a long while.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I was there fifteen months altogether.
HB: Wow. And it’s —
AW: And unfortunately that foot, that leg’s about three quarters of an inch shorter than the other one but it doesn’t matter.
HB: Well, that’s —
AW: But you can see —
HB: Incredible.
AW: The only thing is that gets very dry. That there.
HB: Yeah.
AW: It gets very dry and it cracks sometimes and I have to wear a plaster on it, you know. It gets sore.
HB: Yeah.
AW: But I mean I had a lucky — I mean I was as near as damn it to having it amputated.
HB: Yeah. I mean, that’s that I mean.
AW: They did wonderful work.
HB: I mean, I know, I know it’s a lot of years ago but it’s just amazing really to to —
AW: Well, you can see, can’t you?
HB: To see that.
AW: You can see the patch, can’t you?
HB: Yeah.
AW: You can see that’s where it’s come from.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And around there like a letter S and that that way, that that way. Stuck my foot in it, for the want of a better word. Stitched it all up. Put some plaster around here so I couldn’t move.
HB: And that was it.
AW: And suspend it. Well, didn’t suspend me exactly but my feet and legs were up.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I lay on my back like that.
HB: Good grief.
AW: So when I wanted a pee or a shit I was in trouble.
HB: Well, yeah.
AW: You can imagine can’t you?
HB: Yeah.
AW: And that went on for two months.
HB: Yeah. Never mind nil by mouth.
AW: [laughs] Oh dear. Oh, it’s a long —
HB: That’s, that’s amazing.
AW: That’s a long story but —
HB: No. No. No. Its —
AW: And that’s why I’m a Guinea Pig.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And —
HB: And that’s, and that’s obviously the Guinea Pig Club.
AW: That’s it.
HB: That’s it.
AW: Fantastic.
HB: And you’re one of, one of the survivors.
AW: Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, yes. I mean, I’m very fortunate but most of the lads in the Guinea Pig Club were badly burned. You know. Badly burned. Like Dickie. But he lived for some years. He had twins.
HB: Did he?
AW: Yeah. A boy and a girl. Yeah.
HB: Oh lovely.
AW: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Fantastic.
HB: So, while all this was going on. Right.
AW: Yes.
HB: I’m just picturing the scene now.
AW: Yes. That’s alright, Harry. Yeah.
HB: 630 Squadron. You’re flying.
AW: Do you want a cup of coffee by the way?
HB: We’ll have a break. We’ll have a break
AW: Ok. We’ll carry on talking.
HB: We’re having a, we’re having a scene here of you’re flying on ops, you’re writing to Sheila.
AW: Yes.
HB: Right. And you’re keeping in contact.
AW: That’s right. Yes.
HB: You’ve obviously had a few leaves and what not. So, you come back from France.
AW: Yes.
HB: And you’re in East Grinstead.
AW: I went to Wroughton first.
HB: Well, yeah. To Wroughton.
AW: Orthopaedic.
HB: How, how did, how did Sheila take it?
AW: She took it bloody well and she waited for me.
HB: Good girl. Yeah.
AW: She did. I’ll just tell you this little bit. I was, when I was flown back from France I was put in some local hospital near, somewhere near Reading. But it was only for the one night. The next day by ambulance I was taken to Wroughton.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Officer’s ward. RAF officer’s ward.
HB: What rank were you when you were shot down?
AW: Flying officer.
HB: You were flying officer when you were shot down.
AW: Yeah. Yeah.
HB: Right. So you’re in the posh bit now.
AW: So I’m in the — yeah. And there were all sorts of cases. They were mostly orthopaedic cases in there. But anyway I’ve got the letter I wrote to my mum and dad from there. It’s in pencil because I was lying on my back in this plaster.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And I couldn’t. I had to write like this, you know. It was very difficult.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: The paper keeps falling. It’s all in, all in pencil. And I wrote and told them where I was and I said, “As far as I know it’s a few miles from Swindon. It’s called Wroughton.” And of course my mum and dad hadn’t heard a word about me. They didn’t know whether I was dead or not. All they were told I was missing. I’ll show you something if I may. I’m sorry to delay this.
HB: No. No. No.
AW: You may be on your way.
HB: No. No. My time is yours, Arthur.
AW: If I’ve got it. Somewhere I have, I’m sure. I’ve got all the telegrams and so forth that went backwards and forwards, you know.
HB: Right.
AW: At the time. I think that’s the one. This is a telegram in those days. Look. Post Office.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Telegram.
HB: Tiny little envelope.
AW: Yeah. [pause] Can you read it?
HB: It’s very faded now isn’t it?
AW: It is. Yes.
HB: Right.
AW: Read it.
HB: BM priority CC Mr C Woolf.
AW: That’s my father. Charles.
HB: 31 Ismere Road.
AW: Yeah.
HB: Erdington.
AW: That’s right.
HB: “Deeply regret to inform you that your son Flying Officer Arthur S Woolf is missing from operations on the night of the 24th 25th of July 1944. Please accept my profound sympathy. Letter follows pending receipt of written notification from the Air Ministry. No information should be given to the press. Officer commanding 630 Squadron.”
AW: Yeah. That was the first my mum — and I hadn’t even told them I was flying on ops.
HB: Oh.
AW: So, you can imagine. Well, I didn’t want to worry them. I knew they’d worry to death. My older brother was in the far, the Middle East and I didn’t want to worry them. They knew I was flying. I said I was. I kept telling them I was still on a different course. Which I did go on quite a lot of training courses. So, when they got that you can imagine. My God.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I perhaps should have told them I was on ops, you know. Really. So they could have been prepared.
HB: It come as a bit of a shock.
AW: Yeah.
HB: Yes.
AW: A hell of a shock.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Oh dear. But there you are.
HB: So, so by then did, did Sheila, Sheila know your mum and dad quite well by then?
AW: Oh yes. She did. She did. She knew them —
HB: Had you got —
AW: And on the letters and that I sent I always put on the end, tell — “advise Sheila,” you know.
HB: Right.
AW: And they knew where she lived.
HB: So, had you and Sheila got an understanding by this stage? Or —
AW: Well —
HB: Were you still just a courting couple?
AW: Oh, we were still courting I think.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah. Yeah. But we always, both of us always felt there was nobody else. You know what I mean?
HB: Yeah.
AW: So that was it. Yeah. Then this is one, “Arrived England.”
HB: This is another telegram.
AW: This is from me.
HB: This is from you.
AW: This is for mom and dad. Mr and Mrs Woolf. “Arrived England. Address RAF Hospital, Wroughton, Swindon, Wilts. Alright except for a broken leg. Please inform Sheila — Arthur.” [laughs]
HB: [laughs] All right except for a broken leg.
AW: You can’t get, you can’t get much terser than that can you? [laughs]
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Oh dear.
HB: It’s like —
AW: This is the bit I was going to tell you. So, I was very very pale because I hadn’t been out in the open air at all. Been in the cellar and prior to that in the ward so I’d never been in the open air and sister said, ‘You could do with some fresh air. We’ll have you moved. We’ll put you out on the balcony tomorrow or something.’ ‘Ok.’ Sort of thing. And so I’m on the balcony in my bed and by this time, oh that’s right I still had the plaster on me. No. I hadn’t. I’d had the plaster off by then. So I was half sitting up in the bed. Like this, you know. And I saw my mum and dad. They were quite big grounds to the hospital at Wroughton. Gardens and so forth. And they were coming in this bloody main path with Sheila. Walking up and suddenly my dad caught sight of me and he paused and he ran.
HB: Oh bless.
AW: Oh, grand, you know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And they came up. Oh God. You can imagine the reunion. They thought I was gone and missing and dead and so forth. You know. So it was a wonderful moment that was that will live in my memory forever. Absolutely.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: So, I’ve got all sorts of letters and things here but [pause] no.
HB: Do you want, do you want to have a break for a coffee?
AW: Ok. I’ll go and make a coffee. How do you like your coffee, Harry?
HB: Let me just pause this. I’m just — it’s, the time now is —
AW: Are you alright for time?
HB: 13.05. So, I’m just going to pause while we have a comfort break.
[recording paused]
HB: Recommencing the interview. The time is 1.40 and we’re suitably refreshed.
AW: I’m taking all your day up.
HB: Well, we’ve had an interesting chat while we’ve been having a coffee. Just go back over a couple of things.
AW: Yeah.
HB: Arthur. When you, when you started off with 630.
AW: Yes.
HB: At East Kirby.
AW: It’s Kirkby.
HB: Sorry. East Kirkby.
AW: It’s got two Ks.
HB: Yeah. Your, your crew was formed and trained by then and you then did sixteen ops.
AW: Yes.
HB: So, what, what sort of areas did you go to for your ops?
AW: Mainly France.
HB: Mainly France.
AW: Because it was to back up the troops.
HB: Yeah. And in what, what year? This was in 1944.
AW: ’44. ’44.
HB: Right.
AW: When the invasion had taken place which I was involved in, on — that’s why I’ve got that medal.
HB: Yeah.
AW: On the sort of July. June. And then much of it was to do with backing up army movements.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And so forth. We did one daylight road on an aircraft factory just somewhere north of Paris. And we did one other daylight raid which was [pause] I can’t tell you, can I?
HB: You can.
AW: It’s in my log isn’t it?
HB: You can because I’ve got your logbook there.
AW: Which is quite something to see it, to actually see the bloody — where you were going.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Where am I? Where am I? Where am I? [pause] I’ll have to put my specs on.
HB: Here you are.
AW: Specs on.
HB: There you go.
AW: Sorry.
HB: I’ve got it. I’ve got it for you. Yeah. I’ll hold it.
AW: Yes. I had my eyes done. Started in January. I finished about a month ago.
HB: Right. Yeah. Well, they’re certainly working.
AW: I’m a sucker for — now where was it? [pause] Now then, I’m not sure which one of those two it was but it’s in the book. It’s in the book.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Hang on. Hang on. It’s in the book. That’s why I check this book.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Because they went on the same ops as we did virtually most of the time. You know what I mean? [pause] I’ll tell you the toughest. The toughest place we went to was a place called Wesseling in Germany.
HB: Wesseling.
AW: Yes. W E S S E L I N G. Wesseling. And I’ve never seen so many aircraft shot down. The flak as well as the night fighter interception on part of the route was absolutely enormous. We were over this place. Wesseling. It was an oil refinery or something and bloody hell the planes were going down all around us. They really were. And we never got a touch. Never got a scratch. It’s just fate isn’t it?
HB: Yeah.
AW: It’s fate.
HB: Yeah.
AW: There’s no accounting for it.
HB: Because —
AW: We lost a lot of aircraft that night.
HB: Yeah.
AW: If I remember correctly.
HB: Because I’ve had a quick look in your logbook there. You didn’t really get any damage until you were actually shot down.
AW: No. We did have. We were attacked on one other occasion but oh dear, what was it? It was used for — but oh God I’ve forgotten. We were, we really thought we’d had it.
HB: Right.
AW: It came out of nowhere, you know. Because the trouble with the Lancaster — its blind spot was below. You know, you didn’t, you know, you couldn’t, nobody could really see down below. You know. And there were all sorts of things thought about and tried in that respect but we had this bloody set to with this plane and I thought Christ we’ve had it. And in the end the mid-upper gunner who got killed — Johnny Kiesow. He got it.
HB: He shot it down.
AW: Yeah. It was never confirmed because we didn’t actually see it hit the ground.
HB: Right.
AW: But we saw. I got up in the astrodome because it was right by my station and I watched it and I saw it start smoking and then flames coming out of it and it went and it disappeared in the clouds. But never saw it actually crash and they won’t give it you, you know.
HB: No. No.
AW: They wouldn’t give it him.
HB: And that, you didn’t, you didn’t put that in your logbook did you?
AW: I can’t remember which one it was. I can’t remember which one it was now. It’s so long ago, quite honestly.
HB: Yeah. Well, it is a while ago [laughs]
AW: It was over, it was over, well yes [laughs] it was over France. I can tell you that much. Yeah.
AW: Now, where would it be?
HB: I couldn’t — I didn’t notice anything about that in your logbook when I flicked through it. No. No.
AW: I can’t remember which one it was to tell you the honest truth. I’m ashamed to say.
HB: Yeah. No. It’s, I mean you know it’s but that’s the thing about your guy’s logbooks.
AW: I mean and the next morning we went down to the flight office and see the aircraft and you could see bullet holes all through. Yet none of us were injured. None of us got hurt.
AW: Amazing, isn’t it?
HB: We were bloody close to it, you know.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: It’s amazing really, you know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And —
HB: So —
AW: But that was a blind spot with the Lanc was below.
HB: Yeah.
AW: A bad blind spot really. But there you are.
HB: Because the plane that got you had got one of these —
AW: I assume it was. What did they call them? The German term isn’t there? Is there a term for it? The German. Bloody hell.
HB: Was it nacht musik or something?
AW: Something. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Not quite like that. But yeah it already fires upwards.
HB: Yeah. It’s —
AW: And its almost certainly that’s what did get us.
HB: Yeah. So, when, when you were actually on that particular raid and you were then attacked —
AW: Yeah.
HB: Did you lose your air gunners then or did you — ?
AW: No.
HB: Or did they —
AW: I can’t remember but —
HB: Right.
AW: No. I don’t remember to be honest.
HB: Yeah.
AW: But I have a feeling it was afterwards.
HB: Right. When, when —
AW: Because I don’t remember anybody saying, you know.
HB: No.
AW: Anything about them being injured. Or anything at all.
HB: And obviously with you being wounded.
AW: Yeah. Exactly.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: So, I don’t really honestly know.
HB: Yeah. So, out of your crew —
AW: I’m the only one left.
HB: You’re the only one that’s left alive now. The — it was only the two gunners that were killed.
AW: Yes. That’s right. The mid-upper gunner and the rear gunner.
HB: And the rest of your crew landed.
AW: Yes.
HB: Parachuted.
AW: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
HB: And, and you say two of them managed to walk away and evade.
AW: Yes. Yes, that was quite an interesting story. In fact, he did write about it. George did. It’s funny. They landed by parachute of course.
HB: Yeah.
AW: They told me this afterwards. Years afterwards. Landed by parachute and —
HB: So that’s Arthur who’s known as George Toogood.
AW: Joe. Joe Toogood.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And Woody. And so Woody sort of walked down this lane. Got his parachute all collected up and so forth and buried it or did something. I don’t know what he did with it. And he thought, ‘Now, what the bloody hell do I do?’ So, he saw the milestones. You know France is full of milestones, isn’t it?
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Kilometre stones I should say. And he was just bending down like to try and see because it was dark still. A voice said, ‘Hello Woody.’ [laughs] He said, ‘I nearly shit myself.’ [laughs] All quiet, you know. You could just imagine, can’t you?
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Oh dear. Oh dear. So, anyway —
HB: So, that was the bomb aimer and the navigator.
AW: Anyway, and that’s quite an interesting story actually.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: The trials and tribulations. They walked in to Switzerland which is some way to walk. They walked at night when they possibly could and they hid in haystacks. They ate all sorts of bloody stuff because they were starving. They even knocked up people. Took a chance. They were so desperate for something to eat and a proper nights’ rest. You know. They knocked up French people who didn’t trust them and that sort of thing. You know what I mean? It was quite interesting.
HB: Yeah.
AW: They finally got to Switzerland. They had a bloody good time there. Food. Food. You know, fantastic.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Absolutely fantastic. So, they got away with it and they —
HB: So you’ve got, the two Canadians you’d got in your crew. Could either of them speak French?
AW: No.
HB: Oh.
AW: No.
HB: Oh right.
AW: No. Not to my knowledge. No. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t.
HB: So, then, so they got to Switzerland with no language skills whatsoever.
AW: That’s right. Whether they knew a bit of French.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Being from Ontario and around there you know. Quebec is the big place for French, isn’t it?
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
AW: I don’t know. But they had some trials and tribulations. And some near misses I think as well. But they made it anyway. But the Swiss weren’t very receptive at all. They had a hell of a job getting into Switzerland when they got there.
HB: Oh.
AW: Yeah. I’ve got that story. I don’t know if I’ve got it unfortunately. I don’t know what happened to it.
HB: So they’ve, so —
AW: They had quite a job. The bloody Swiss were most suspicious and wouldn’t —
HB: Yeah.
AW: Wouldn’t let them in and so forth. But eventually they had them in and they were in a little hotel up in the mountains overlooking the lake and God knows what else. You know. I said, ‘Some of us have got it made.’ [laughs]
HB: Yeah. Yeah. You were in —
AW: There was me suffering.
HB: And you’re in, you’re in a basement in Nancy.
AW: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. So, so that was, that was being, coming to the end of those sixteen ops.
AW: Yes.
HB: Obviously they’re going through Europe. And you were just, you were telling me about how your mum and dad got to know through the pilot. Your mum got to know through the pilot.
AW: Oh yes. Yeah. Well, they hadn’t heard anything officially and my dad kept writing and that sort of thing. You know. There were no phones.
HB: I think you’ll have to explain how your pilot actually got back to England.
AW: Oh, well yes. As I say he was in Eastern France. A Yank. And of course they could hear gunfire and so forth getting nearer and nearer. And he knew what it was. It was the advance, you know. And he must have known also it was the Yanks in that part of the, France. And he got a bicycle. I don’t know whether he had use of that while he was with this farming family and he got off and he cycled and met the Yanks. And met up with the troops and so forth and they saw him safely through the lines sort of thing. The next thing he knows he’s back in England and he went back to the, to the squadron. And after a while he had a, he was granted a leave and I think it was a fairly long leave of absence. Then he was instructed to go back to the Pathfinder squadron. And that’s where and he did — I don’t think he did a full tour. He did a few ops with them with a different crew.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Which I didn’t like.
HB: No.
AW: I didn’t like that. The fact that he, you know he was going some but there you are, you know. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s stupid really.
HB: So he came, so he came back to England.
AW: Yes.
HB: And he’s heading back for this and he’s got a bit of leave and he ends up in —
AW: What’s the name of the —
HB: In Birmingham. Walking down your front path.
AW: Oh yes. With my mum. Yeah. As I say so he stayed with them two or three nights. And I told you about the tomato didn’t I?
HB: Yeah. Well, yeah.
AW: [unclear]
HB: I think, I think you probably, you know, there’s your mum.
AW: Yeah.
HB: Standing looking out the window.
AW: That’s right.
HB: And this big handsome American turns up.
AW: Yeah. She saw this big tall fellow at the gate because we had a fairly long front garden. And she thought, ‘Oh, he’s in uniform. American uniform.’ And she thought, ‘That’s Bill. It’s got to be Bill,’ because she knew he was tall and so forth. She’d never seen him. And she rushed to the front door and almost dragged him into the house she said. Just opened it. There’s some news of me. And he had news from me. Apparently, there was a grapevine somewhere when he was living with this family. He’d heard that one of the crew had got a broken leg and was taken to hospital. They thought it was in Nancy. They weren’t sure. And they were pretty sure it was me. So, he told her that I was ok but I’d got a broken leg and of course I’d worse trouble I think because of the plaster causing all my problems.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Not the broken leg. I mean that cured. It heals anyway.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And he stayed with them and they had a good time together. He took them out drinking and God knows what else. You know what I mean?
HB: Yeah.
AW: So he enjoyed himself. And finally when he was posted back to the squadron he went to a Pathfinder squadron.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And he had another crew. So, I assume, I don’t know, he probably took the part of some other pilot who had been killed or something or lost in some way. And he took over this crew.
HB: Yeah.
AW: You know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And I’ve even seen a photograph of it. Don’t like them [laughs]
HB: Nicked your pilot [laughs] Stole your pilot.
AW: That’s right. Stole him.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s, that’s ok. So when you’ve, you were coming to the end of your time in East Grinstead and at some stage obviously you were discharged. I think you said fifteen, sixteen months or something.
AW: Yes. It was.
HB: And you were, so you were discharged from East Grinstead. From —
AW: That’s right.
HB: Archibald McIndoe’s —
AW: That’s right.
HB: Thing. And you, where did you go back to then?
AW: I went back to the original place I’d worked at as an office boy.
HB: No. Sorry. I mean did, did you go back to squadron before, before you were —
AW: No. I went afterwards.
HB: Right.
AW: I went to have a look over it to see.
HB: Yeah. So, you were demobbed from East Grinstead.
AW: Well, I had to go. I was at home. They sent me home on leave.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Pending discharge sort of thing.
HB: Right. Yeah.
AW: And then I had a letter saying I was — my, my commission had ended on such and such a date.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I can’t — well I think I’ve got it somewhere.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And then I had instruction to go to Hednesford I think it was. In the Black Country. Where they had [pause] with all the suits.
HB: Oh.
AW: What do you call it?
HB: Your demob suit. Yeah.
AW: Oh God.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I hated that. Hated it.
HB: Tell me what hat? What hat did you get, Arthur?
AW: I got —
HB: A trilby?
AW: I don’t think I did get one. I don’t think I wanted one. You know. I’ve been used to wearing of course the old officer’s cap.
HB: Yeah.
AW: But I didn’t fancy trilbies and things. I don’t think I bothered with that.
HB: Yeah.
AW: But it wasn’t very far from Birmingham. It was Hednesford or somewhere like that where they set up this discharge sort of camp, you know. And oh, it was bloody awful. All these bloody raggy suits and boots and oh gee.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Horrible. Not used to it.
HB: So, so you obviously went through there and you got your demob.
AW: Yeah.
HB: And you then, you’re looking for work.
AW: Well, my firm where I’d worked as an office boy but I left them to go to work at Castle Bromwich aeroplane factory. I told you, didn’t I?
HB: Yeah.
AW: Did I tell you about that?
HB: Yeah.
AW: Because Sheila worked there.
HB: Yeah.
AW: That’s why I went.
HB: Yeah.
AW: But the original firm I worked for as an office boy in Colmore Row someone got to know that I was home and wrote and said the position was there for me if I wanted it. So, I went back there. Biggest mistake I ever made really. Well, I felt it was bloody awful. I told you there was only about five of us on the staff anyway and so during the war while I’d been away and the others had been away they’d only had youngsters and the bloody records and things had gone to pot. You know what I mean? And an insurance company needs records.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Like nobody’s business. Oh, and I was, oh bloody hell. I thought I’ll never stand this. I can’t stand this. This is not what I want to do. And you know, do you know Birmingham centre?
HB: I know a little bit about Birmingham.
AW: Do you know Colmore Row?
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Well, I was in Colmore Row. Near this Edward Square where the Council House is and this sort of thing.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: And right opposite they’d opened a Milk Bar which was a fairly new things in those days. A Milk Bar. So, I said, ‘Oh, sod this.’ I used to go down in the lift and go down to the Milk Bar. Middle of the day or whatever time, you know. There was nobody else around. And it was such a, such a nightmare of a task to try and sort out on my own the bloody mess that the office records there had got in to. You know what I mean? And I thought, ‘Christ, I can’t stand this.’ And I thought, ‘I don’t know what the bloody hell so I’ll go in the Milk Bar and have a milkshake and think about it.’
HB: Yeah.
AW: But in the end I stuck it out for some time. Took exams. Insurance exams. Which I passed.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And so forth. And [pause] and then I, as I say I was at, I never really settled in there after the war really.
HB: Yeah.
AW: But my brother, who’s now passed away of course, he was four years older than me he was the purchasing manager at — do you know Schrader Tyre Valves?
HB: Yeah. I’ve heard of Schrader. Yeah. Yeah.
AW: And he said, well he knew I was unsettled, he said, he said, ‘We’ve got a job going,’ he said, ‘Export manager. He said, ‘But I’ve nothing to do with it,’ he said, ‘But, you know.’ So, I applied for it and I got it. And then I travelled all over the world.
HB: Oh right.
AW: I’ve been all over the world. I was with them for a number of years ‘til I got fed up with travelling. I went to pretty well all, all parts of the world other than I never went to Australia or New Zealand but other parts — South America. You name it I travelled.
HB: Did you go back to Germany?
AW: No. I went to Germany but only for an exhibition that was on.
HB: Right.
AW: To do with driers and so forth.
HB: Yeah.
AW: You know. But I did travel all over the world and you know on a large number of visits shall we say.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Got fed up in the end with that. And I thought, ‘Well, Christ I can’t stand this for the rest of my — ‘til I retire. It’s not possible.’ And so when I was at home, you know I spent about on an average at that time six months out of the twelve abroad. Which is a lot. My wife was on her own. Well, she had a good position herself but I mean she had no family. You know what I mean? And I thought this isn’t right. So, I began to look in the papers when I was at home for something worth going, going after you know. And I saw this advert and it was in the, I think it was the Birmingham Post and it said that they had a director who was due to retire from age who was in charge of all the commercial aspects of the company. And that they were looking for a suitable replacement. To train if necessary. So I thought I’ll have a go at that. Anyway, I got a letter to go for an interview and it was in the Black Country. Bloody hell. I didn’t know the Black Country. Do you? Do you know the Black Country?
HB: Well, a little bit.
AW: It’s a land of its own isn’t it?
HB: That’s when you need your language skills.
AW: Absolutely. Anyway, to cut a long story short I had to go for a second interview and I found this company. It was called Alloy Wire Company and they draw wire nickel chrome wires cold through diamond dies to, fine as your hair.
HB: Blimey.
AW: Absolutely, you know —
HB: Yeah.
AW: Quite, quite technically good stuff. I had to go for a second interview and I was getting on for fifty by this time, you know. And I thought, Christ I, you know. I can’t stick this ‘til I’m sixty five and retirement age. So I went and I had a second interview. And I got on very well at the second interview and they seemed very pleased with me. And it was for a take charge of all the commercial aspects of the company. You know. Books. The lot. Which I was capable of doing. I went to night school.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And so forth in the earlier years and so forth. And I got the job and I spent the rest of my working life there.
HB: Oh right.
AW: Fantastic.
HB: When —
AW: So I spent about fifteen years there and what a crowd of —
HB: When did you, when did you actually marry Sheila?
AW: I married her in 1945.
HB: Brilliant.
AW: After the war. After I was out the RAF. She wanted to get married before and I said no. It wasn’t right.
HB: No.
AW: You know, I’d heard and know about young girl’s being left as widows.
HB: Yeah.
AW: You know, and it —
HB: So you were still recovering from your injuries when you got married.
AW: Well, I was. I was on a walking stick. I didn’t show you the photographs but yes I was still using the walking stick.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Yeah.
HB: That’s —
AW: We got married in Erdington which was a suburb of Birmingham.
HB: Yeah. Can I just take you back?
AW: Yes.
HB: To one, one part. Because while, while we were having our coffee you were showing me you’ve got a piece of your aircraft.
AW: Yes.
HB: And it was interesting. You touched on calling in on the family that looked after you when you first landed.
AW: That’s right. Which I did. Yes.
HB: So, so and I think you said it was the Dupre family.
AW: Dupre. That’s right.
HB: Yeah. So, just, just for the sake of the interview Arthur can you just go back over that when you go and you go with your brother.
AW: Oh yes.
HB: And the family.
AW: Well, yeah —
HB: And you go back.
AW: Well, I was in the car and we were driving. My brother and I both drove so we shared the driving. We were going in to to Italy on holiday.
HB: Yeah.
AW: We went to the West Coast of Italy and so I routed right around there. Spent the winter routing it out, you know. And finally —
HB: And had you been in contact with the family to say —
AW: That’s right. Through the letter with the help of my colleague who spoke French. And I told them I was arriving this date. Couldn’t give them an exact hour but it would probably just sometime early afternoon. And as I say I drove up in this little bloody hamlet it was and there was all the bunting out. They’d got Union Jacks and Tricolours out. And all the families, even little kiddies as I said who weren’t even born when I was shot down, they were all out. And there weren’t all that many because there was only a few houses sort of thing. A few very very old French farmhouses. And we had a hell of a time really. We really did, you know. I took a bottle of Scotch — Johnny Walker in those days was very popular. And they’d got the homemade what they called schnapps.
HB: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah.
AW: Made with the plums. Oh my God I floated.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And anyway they found us a little hotel nearby. It wasn’t too far away. We stayed the night and we saw them again the next day sort of thing, you know.
HB: And they were all there weren’t they?
AW: Yes. They were.
HB: Was it Rose? And —
AW: Rose and Henri. That’s right.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Henri was the chappie who found me with his sister Rose.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And he took me and he said, ‘Would you like to see where the aircraft crashed?’ I said I’d love to. That’s what I want to see as much as anything. So he said — and I was in this bloody Morris Minor. Bloody hell, you know. With all the stuff on the top. Overloaded and we went up this bloody, like a creek it was and I thought Christ we’re going to overturn and he seemed to be oblivious you know. Oblivious at that fact. And I was struggling with the bloody car and it was grinding and I thought, bloody hell we’ll never get up here without a fatal accident. Anyway, we finally got to the top and he showed me. There was the crash scene. A bit burned in places and that sort of thing. But they’d taken virtually everything away but there were one or two bits and pieces and that’s why I got that bit that I showed you. It was a bit bigger but I sawed a piece off for a young relative. And it brought a lump to my throat really when I saw it.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Knowing that some, two of the lads had been killed you know.
HB: Yeah. Did it, did it give you a sort of a sense of closure or anything like that?
AW: No. Not really. No. Because it was a few years afterwards so no. No.
HB: Right.
AW: It wasn’t like that but I I mean I wish, I wished afterwards but she’d have been terrified, I wished I’d have taken my wife with me up there but only Henri and I went.
HB: Right.
AW: Because he knew I think that it was going to be a bit of a rough ride and it bloody well was. I was frightened to death at the wheel. I was really. I thought we’re never going to turn this bloody, because we’d got stuff on the roof.
HB: Yeah.
AW: You know.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: I know it’s only a small car. It was a bloody Morris. Bloody hell.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Anyhow —
HB: Did you, did you ever find out where your two crew that were killed? Did you ever find out where they — where they were buried?
AW: No. Oh no. Yes. Only the one.
HB: Right.
AW: That was Woody.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Not Woody. The [pause] God, it was at Tremont. In the little local village cemetery.
HB: Right. Because you had, was it —
AW: I’ve got a photograph but I don’t —
HB: Yeah. Because you had Kiesow.
AW: Somewhere.
HB: Kiesow is the mid-upper and Rob Lough. Lough.
AW: No. It was Ross actually.
HB: Ross Lough.
AW: Ross Lough.
HB: And he —
AW: He was the rear gunner. It was his grave.
HB: In, in Tremont.
AW: Tremont, that’s right.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And it was fairly newish by comparison to most because, you know I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen French cemeteries but God some of the graves are so old.
HB: Oh yeah.
AW: And the stones.
HB: Yeah.
AW: You can hardly read the —
HB: Yeah.
AW: So, he’s buried there actually and when I got there there were actually some flowers. Fresh flowers. So they may have put them on there knowing I was going to arrive that day.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Which was ok. Ok. They did it anyway. So he’s buried there but you know I don’t know where. What happened to Johnny Kiesow.
HB: Yeah. Because I think, I think some of the Americans after the war they they actually.
AW: They moved them all didn’t they?
HB: They moved them all.
AW: They did yes.
HB: Yeah.
AW: So they may have done that and I don’t know where he is.
HB: Right.
AW: You know. I never found out about him.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And the same way I had great difficulty finding out what happened to my pilot.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Who died in 1979. Apparently. I don’t know what of or anything. Very mysterious isn’t it, you know?
HB: Yeah.
AW: I’m not sure that’s, you know, I think it’s a fact but I have to believe because I was told that was so much. Somehow it doesn’t — doesn’t convince me. You know what I mean?
HB: When you, when you look back now because you you’ve got very clear memories of, of your time in Bomber Command.
AW: I have.
HB: When you look back now what, what do you feel? What do you feel about your service with Bomber Command? How do you feel about your training and what you did?
AW: Well, about the training. I was a long while in training. I think it was getting on for two years. Something like that. All together. Before I finally reached the squadron, put it that way, you know. It’s a long time really. And different courses. Morse code. You name it. Machine guns. Although I wasn’t a gunner I had to go through Browning 303 bloody training and all that sort of thing. All on different courses. So, I went on a whole series of different courses and different things and I must admit the training was pretty good. That’s my opinion. You know. And I I did pretty well in virtually every subject I went on. That’s why I got my commission.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I learned later. I was on a course at Yatesbury. Morse code, and wireless. Not just Morse code. Wireless. Yatesbury. It was a very big, you know wireless teaching camp, you know. In Wiltshire. The hills and so forth. And I was in the lecture one day and somebody gave me the message that I was to report to the adjutant. So I thought, ‘Adjutant. I’ve done nothing wrong,’ [laughs] you know. Three steps sir.
HB: Yeah.
AW: So I went to see him and he asked me all sorts of questions about myself and my family and what I did and what my interests were and was I interested in sport and all that sort of thing, you know. And he said, ‘Ok,’ he said, ‘Go back to your lecture.’ Of course I had to put my best blue on for that. So I had to go back to the hut first and get changed into my working day blue. Not that I worked. It wasn’t work. It was —
HB: Yeah.
AW: You just listened to lectures and so forth. And that was it. And then I heard nothing more until I was at OTU. So it was some time afterwards. And I had another request to go and see, well ordered to see the adjutant there. And he told me I’d got my commission. That was it. And it turned out I had, well I had, I’d finished virtually, either in the virtually in the first two or three on every course I’d been on. You know.
HB: Right.
AW: And I think that, and then I suppose, well, I don’t know. Perhaps my attitude may have helped as well but —
HB: So, by the time you actually came to crew up you were already —
AW: We’d crewed up.
HB: Flying officer.
AW: It was at that. I think it was two or three weeks difference.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I got crewed up and then I got the bloody call and got my commission.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And so I had a forty eight hour pass and with my mum went into town. We had to go to Austin Reeds and all this because they, they kept ready-made uniforms.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And they’d alter them a bit.
HB: Yeah.
AW: To suit whoever.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And they knew I was — I only had two days. I’d got to be back the next evening.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And we went all over the place. And I had a list about this bloody long. It was a foolscap sheet and it had got lists of all the things I needed. Even to a hairbrush. A comb. Everything was listed that I was required to have as an officer. You know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And you can imagine what the bloody run around was can’t you?
HB: So when, so you’re very very early on in the crew and you’re an officer.
AW: And there’s only one other. That was Woody.
HB: And Woody was —
AW: Woody was already commissioned when he came over from, from Canada.
HB: He was commissioned from Canada.
AW: Yeah.
HB: Right. So, you’ve got an American pilot.
AW: Yeah.
HB: I mean obviously the mess system in the RAF if you’re on station, on the squadron you would be eating —
AW: In the officer’s mess.
HB: In the officer’s mess.
AW: The officer’s mess.
HB: And the rest of your crew.
AW: Was in the sergeant’s mess. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah.
HB: And how did you feel about that?
AW: That happened a lot. That happened a lot. That happened a lot.
HB: So how did, how did you, how did you manage to socialise then?
AW: We just went out in, when we had a night out in to Lincoln. Had a booze up [laughs] I remember the first one we went on. We were just crewed up. This at Upper Heyford. And we’d just crewed up and so we didn’t know each other. You know what I mean? So the practice was you’d book a room in this local pub which is on the cross roads, I can’t tell you the name. I don’t know the name. It was in the Oxfordshire area. And you booked, book a room and you rolled with the crates of beers you know and you sit there together and drink yourself silly sort of thing. I remember walking back across these bloody fields. Ploughed fields. We were up to here in mud and we were arm in arm. Seven of us singing to ourselves in the pitch dark and that was the first sort of booze up we had together.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Do you know what I mean?
HB: Yeah.
AW: It sort of broke the, broke the ice and that was it, you know. We got on very well together actually as a crew.
HB: Yeah.
AW: We really did.
HB: And so you kept up with the Association.
AW: That’s it.
HB: The 630 Association.
AW: That’s right.
HB: But you’re also a member of the Guinea Pig Club.
AW: Yes. That’s now finished virtually because we’re all too old. I mean too old. I mean if there was a reunion, at a pinch I could make it.
HB: Right.
AW: You know. But a lot of the lads couldn’t and I’m, the last I heard there was about thirty of us left, you know. That was a part of my life that I wouldn’t have missed if I could have helped it. In spite of what caused it.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Going to East Grinstead.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I wouldn’t have missed it because I met some wonderful guys as Guinea Pigs. Absolutely fantastic.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And some of the dos we had as reunions were disgraceful [laughs] they really were. You know. But wonderful.
HB: Absolutely.
AW: I met some lovely people in East Grinstead as well. They were wonderful people, you know. I think as you mentioned yourself earlier on McIndoe met the local people as much as he could and told them. I mean I wasn’t affected visually but a lot of the lads were very awful really to look at. Especially in the initial stages of their burns and grafting. And McIndoe put it, could put this over better than I can of course but he spoke to them and told them, you know not to stare too much but just to accept them as they were. And if they felt like inviting them into their homes for a coffee, one of the Guinea Pigs, if they met them in the town so much the better. And he showed, put the locals right in that way because initially when they’re badly burned they are a sight. You know. Especially if it’s the face. And that did the trick. Do you know what I mean? So the local people in East Grinstead, of course it’s swelled now, it’s a much bigger town than it was then but they all treated us marvellously. They really did. When we went into town for a drink which we did when we could [laughs] I was in a wheelchair for a lot of the time and they used to push me in the middle, bob up to the bar [laughs] you know.
HB: I think given the theme it was perhaps as well you were in a wheelchair.
AW: Well, perhaps it was. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
AW: Yeah. Wonderful. And there was, as I say a nursing sister there. Oh, I’ve forgotten the name now I’m ashamed to say. She was a lovely lovely nursing sister. Scottish. And she had a lovely lilt to the way she spoke, you know. And as I say she, she persevered with this bloody foot of mine. Trying to get this poison out of it, you know because she knew that until that poison they couldn’t even start thinking about doing any graft working you know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And she bloody kept changing this and changing that and then as I say one day I dressed about three times every day and she took this dressing off and she said, ‘Look. Look.’ And there on the pad was some of the, she said ‘It’s started to come away, I think. We’ve got it I think.’ And she’d thought of it. It was bloody marvellous really.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And it was liquid paraffin and two other items I think. I don’t remember. But why liquid paraffin I don’t know. Whether that was to sort to bring the stuff away and make it stick to the, to the muslin I don’t know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: But I was some weeks at that. I had to have physiotherapy every day and oh, bloody hell.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I met my dear friend Ray Brook and he became a really close Guinea Pig mate.
HB: Yeah.
AW: He used to come up and stay with Sheila and I at Christmas time.
HB: Yeah.
AW: It was him who started me smoking again. The bugger. I’d packed it up, you know. Have you ever smoked?
HB: Yes.
AW: Well, you know what it’s like then.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I’d packed it up and hadn’t smoked for some weeks anyway. I looked up Ray and I asked him if he, if he’d thought about coming up. Staying with us for Christmas. Yeah. He’d love to. So he came to stay with Sheila and I. In Erdington we were then. And he kept lighting up you know. With his mitts. His badly burned mitts. ‘Red.’ You know. ‘No. No. Don’t tempt me. Don’t tempt me.’ You know. And he’d sort of throw one over and just tempt me. And he did. And in the end I just thought, ‘Well, I can take it or leave it now. I haven’t smoked for so many weeks.’ Could I hell? Had a fag and within a fortnight I was back on to what I was before. Do you know what I mean?
HB: I don’t know.
AW: But he was a lovely lovely friend. He really is —
HB: Yeah.
AW: And I lost touch with him. He was a very close friend. He used to come and stay with Sheila and I. He came from South London. His father spoke with a cockney accent but they were lovely lovely people and being only about thirty miles from East Grinstead they used to come and see him every Sunday afternoon. So I was included in the family circle.
HB: Right.
AW: Because I was very close to Ray.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And so I used to chat with his mum and dad. They’d bring him goodies and I was part of the family as far as that was concerned. So a really close good friend. And I’ve lost touch with him. I keep ringing his phone number and there’s no reply but he was very very ill the last time I heard him so I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t passed away.
HB: Yeah.
AW: You know. Anyway —
HB: So —
AW: A great guy.
HB: Yeah.
AW: A great guy.
HB: We’ve come right through it. We’ve come to the end of the war. You’ve got, got your job. What, what do you feel? What do you feel your service with Bomber Command — what did you achieve? You know, with your service. Do you think?
AW: Achieve in what, what respect?
HB: Well, you know in the sort of in the general thing of your service during the war you’ve done your job in Bomber Command. So —
AW: Well, I’ll tell you what I did feel privately. I felt that I had achieved something in I’d got a commission and I’d only had an elementary school education. And I put that down mainly to the fact my extra activities educational wise after I left school. I went to night school and I had, I had a postal course with the Metropolitan College of St Albans. And every three days or so we used to have to send a test off like an exam and they would come back marked with red ink.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
AW: You know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And I got through those exams. Those were like, for, mainly for insurance purposes. You know what I mean? But it was normal subjects as well including algebra and all that type of thing. You know what I mean? And I got through that very well and so I pride myself I must admit. I, when I was a young, young fellow before I went in the RAF I had two cousins one of whom lived in Italy. He was ninety six. He passed away not too long. Well, three or four years ago. And we used to go out together, you know. This was before I met Sheila. So we’d have the Raglan overcoats on, you know. Young boys of the town, you know and — but I decided I was going to get somewhere as far as my education was concerned. Which I knew I’d reached a limited level at elementary school. So, I went to night school and I took some bookkeeping and that type of thing, you know which stood me in very good stead later on.
HB: Yeah.
AW: That type of subject. Commerce in other words. Later on when I was looking for a position other than travelling around the world which I did for a number of years it all stood me in good stead. You know. And I wrote for this job as I say out in the Black Country and got the job. Didn’t understand a word anybody was saying to me for about three weeks [laughs] They have a language of their own. And I finished up as a director there.
HB: Right.
AW: So, I reckon I did pretty well as considering I only had an elementary school education.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I got my commission. Which helped me later on. You know, the fact that I’d been commissioned I suppose was different positions. But I finished up in the Black Country, and a director of this company called Alloy Wire Company which was nickel chromed stuff.
HB: Yeah.
AW: That sort of thing, you know. So, I thought — I live on my own. I regret very much because I loved my wife very dearly but as I said we never had any children. She was a wonderful wife. Never, never had a day’s illness until she had the one that killed her which was a brain tumour.
HB: Oh dear.
AW: You know.
HB: Yeah.
AW: And that was in the year 2000. That’s seventeen years ago now. So, so actually I suppose I did quite well during the war . Apart from meeting Sheila which was the best thing I ever did.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I did pretty well for myself really and as I say finished up as this director in the Black Country. And travelled around the world with them.
HB: Yeah.
AW: For some years. And then retired and we were quite happy. We moved in here because my cousin I’ve already mentioned to you living in the flat just down the way here. So we used to come and visit him, you see. Him and wife who was alive at that time. And so Sheila and I used to go and visit him about every month or so, you know and have a night playing cards or something and have a cup of tea or a bit of supper. And so we knew these flats very well and we talked about one day and we both agreed that when we retired we thought we’d possibly think of coming to live here. Which I did but by this time my wife had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and only given twelve months about, to live, you know. So she never had any enjoyment of this place really you know. We only lived just around the corner.
HB: Yeah.
AW: The next road up. And that was where we lived. We were in a bungalow we had there which we saw built from scratch and it’s still there now.
HB: Well, that’s —
AW: So I — yeah the war did me no harms really except that I’m now on my own. I had a wonderful wife and girlfriend to start with.
HB: Yeah.
AW: I’m lucky I got away with my life when it was — I came very very close to losing it and after that even closer to losing my foot. I’m very fortunate really. You know. I I live on my own. I’ve a good neighbour next door and one next door but one and we go out for a drink on Tuesday nights usually.
HB: We’re back to the drink theme [laughs]
AW: Just come back from holiday in Spain with Mike, next door.
HB: Right.
AW: He has a daughter owns a house there on the coast in Spain. That’s about the fourth or fifth time I’ve been there. So I don’t do badly really do I?
HB: No. Not at all.
AW: There are times when I am on my own. You know what I mean? You’re lonely but —
HB: Well, I think Arthur that’s —
AW: All of the advantages I’ve got I’m very fortunate really.
HB: Yes.
AW: And to live to ninety five I think is actually exceptional.
HB: Yes.
AW: In the circumstance. I came very close to losing my life.
HB: Yeah.
AW: On the 24th 25th of July 1944. So, I’m lucky to be here really.
HB: Yeah.
AW: You know.
HB: Alright. I mean, I’ve got to thank you Arthur because it’s it really has been an excellent experience for me.
AW: Well, I hope I haven’t bored you, Harry.
HB: No.
AW: You know.
HB: No. I mean.
AW: That’s the last thing I want.
HB: As I said to you we’re going to bring the interview to a close because it’s just coming up for 2.30pm.
AW: My God.
HB: But and I’m getting a bit concerned you’ve not had anything to eat. So —
AW: Well, neither have you.
HB: Well, that’s —
AW: Not that I’m very good cook or anything like that. Unfortunately I’m not.
HB: I’m going, I’m going to terminate the interview now.
AW: Ok.
HB: But I do have to thank you on behalf of the Bomber Command, International Bomber Command Digital Archive for a really interesting interview.
AW: Well, thanks for coming Harry. It’s been —
HB: It’s been a pleasure.
AW: It’s been great meeting you.
HB: A pleasure. Thank you
AW: And I hope we meet up for, or talk at least on the phone. You can’t get away from me [laughs]

Citation

Harry Bartlett, “Interview with Arthur Sidney Woolf,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 22, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/9294.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.