Interview with Peter Swallow


Interview with Peter Swallow


Peter Swallow was born in Sheffield in 1929, one of three children. He recalls hearing Mr Chamberlain’s declaration of war broadcast as a schoolchild. His father, a plumber, volunteered as a member of the Local Defence Volunteers, eventually becoming a sergeant armourer. Peter remembers his father bringing home a Thompson sub-machine gun, a sticky bomb and grenades. War-time life in Sheffield is described including blackout arrangements, details of car lighting, firefighting water tanks and pipes, and rationing. Peter started at a grammar school after passing his 11+ exams, but then moved on to an engineering course. It was well equipped, and the lathes were used to manufacture shells by women workers. When not at school or being taught at home, Peter went fishing, playing football or as a Boy Scout, helping put up the blackout covers in the hospital. His father constructed an air raid shelter in the cellar of their house to protect them from the bombing, and Peter describes the aftermath of air attacks with details of fires and destroyed buildings in the city centre. He went out with a bucket and collected spent shrapnel and incendiaries after the attacks. After passing his engineering exams he got a job with the General Post Office. After the war he received his National Service call-up and served his two years in Germany with Royal Signals. He relates the camp he was based in, what they got up to in leisure time and his various travels around post-war Germany. On demobilisation he returned to his job with the GPO and married in 1952.




Temporal Coverage




01:27:59 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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ASwallowRP180914, PSwallowRP1801


MC: Right. This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewee is Peter Swallow and the interviewer is Mike Connock. The interview is taking place at Peter’s home in Heighington on Friday the 14th of September 2018. Also in attendance is daughter Suzanne Bellhouse. Ok. Peter, tell me a bit about when and where you were born.
PS: I was born in Sheffield. It’s a steel city, which is not much now like it was before, you know. Yeah. And I was in the house on my own one day. I had the radio on. We had a proper radio then, and Chamberlain came on and, you know was ever so serious giving his little talk and said, ‘We are now at war with Germany.’
MC: So how old were you there then?
PS: About ten, I think.
MC: Ten. So you were born in ’29.
PS: Yeah.
MC: You were born in 1929. What about your early days before the war? Growing up. What was it like? You know, your childhood and school.
PS: I went to Walkley Church School and it was, it was the church was there and there was a hall and, and the sorry and the classrooms. And the headmaster used to come in his car. Not many people had cars.
MC: No.
PS: My dad had one. And you had to modify the lights on your car, you know in case Germans came over and spotted you.
MC: That was during the war. Yeah.
PS: And there was a hood. You got this steel plate with a round hood in it about four or five inches in the middle with slots cut in and moved slightly forward so the light would shine down. Your sidelights, you had to paint the, paint the glass and leave just the size of a penny . So it was a bit dark, and of course at that time all the side streets were lit with gas. Gas lamps. This is taking you back isn’t it? Gas lamps. And that’s how the transport was.
MC: Did you enjoy your schooldays?
PS: Yes. Some of, some of the time. We left the schools and went on to home learning and various people volunteered to let us use their houses so that all the children were spread between housing and not altogether in one. One block.
MC: This would have been during the war.
PS: This was during the war. Yeah. And —
MC: So you remember Chamberlain making the announcement.
PS: It wasn’t Chamberlain. Were it? Yeah.
MC: Chamberlain, did you say? The outbreak of war. Yeah.
PS: Yes. I remember that coming up on the radio. It didn’t seem to make much sense to me you know. It was just, it was a bit like you got it whether you liked or whether you didn’t. And of course he started thinking of what were we going to do for defence and they set up the what they called at the time LDV. Local Defence Volunteers. It changed its name because they used to call them the Look, Duck and Vanish [laughs] And my dad was in a Reserved Occupation because he was a plumber, you know.
MC: I was going to ask what he did.
PS: You had to have that sort of person around. And he volunteered to join the LDV and he finished up as a sergeant armourer. And he did a lot of things he shouldn’t have done. He used to bring guns home and all sorts. You know he had a tommy gun in the kitchen one day which was like the ones that Al Capone had with a flat cylinder, sticky bombs. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a sticky bomb but they were a glass vial with explosives in and a handle with a detonator to set them off and it was covered in metal for safety. And he, he had to take this glass off and stick it. You were supposed to stick it on a tank. Well, this sticky stuff was real sticky. He brought one of them home one day to show us. And he was posted. One of the things they were told to do was if the Germans come and they were coming up the streets, got to come up the streets put your sheets out between the houses on one side of the road and the other because all the houses were up to, up to the pavement you know and just room for a couple of cars or something like that. And so I seem to have lost my —
MC: That’s ok. No. So, I mean what did you come in to contact with any of the RAF during those days? Those war days.
PS: No. I saw, well we had various salute the soldier and salute the airman and this that and the other exhibitions in the town. There was one by the Army and he’d got this gun, you know. A howitzer and I walked up and had a look at it and opened the breech and then just got the breech in pieces when I got caught. So they were saying, ‘Who are you? Where do you live? What are you doing?’ And oh dear.
MC: Yeah.
PS: But I was inquisitive you know and I give it him back.
MC: And of course your dad had been bringing weapons you knew about them as well.
PS: Oh yeah. Well, anything mechanical I was interested in. And he went on to be a sergeant armourer. In the town itself and the suburbs they put big tanks in on the edge of the pavement or back on the pavement about oh, about that wide.
MC: About three foot wide. A yard wide.
PS: Yeah.
MC: A yard wide.
PS: Yeah. They did those in town anyway and quite a long bit of mesh over the top for water. And they also put iron water pipes down the edges of the pavement, about four inch for places you could stick a hose on. You know, in case of fire. So we had to be careful where we put the feet. But you got used to the darkness.
MC: Yeah.
PS: Yeah. And of course you had blackouts every night. People going around shouting, ‘Put that light out.’ And so you did like. But during the war a couple of mates of, mates of mine who were at the Boy Scouts like I was used to go down to the Sheffield Infirmary which was at the bottom of the hill and we used to go put the blackout up in the wards and that. As a service you know. Which was quite a walk down there and walk back because it’s very hill, Sheffield is very hilly. It’s, there are only two cities in the world with seven hills around. One is Sheffield. The other is Rome. So we were used to hills. I mean everywhere you went it was hilly and the transport of course was tram cars. And come rain, snow you know we would carry on. They had single decker one with a board across underneath at an angle which used to go along and clear the tracks. And then turn it around at the terminus, come back and go somewhere else. You know running backwards and forwards keeping the snow away. It —
MC: So growing up in Sheffield during the war then. What, you were in Sheffield all during the war.
PS: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. So did you experience any of the bombing of Sheffield?
PS: Yes. Hitler decided to have a go at Sheffield because Sheffield was a steelworks. Biggest steelworks. So the, originally we just had the odd plane come over and drop a few bombs you know. Which wasn’t a nice thing to hear. You’d hear them whistle. If you heard them go bang you were alright [laughs] If you didn’t you weren’t. And when, when we, when we had the Sheffield blitz that was on, I’m not quite sure what night it was on. Thursday or Friday. They came over with incendiaries. Incendiary bombs mainly. There were some other bombs as well but they dropped what they called bread baskets of incendiaries. They were in a tall canister which flew open and all these bombs came out. They were solid magnesium. You could, as they burned that was it you know. But they put buckets of sand in various places so you could throw them on them. Stop them by cutting off our oxygen supply. When the, during the Blitz —
MC: Just sorry I was going to say did you spend much time in air raid shelters?
PS: Well, air raid shelters. We had, our house was a, was a detached house. There was, had been some stables at one time and then we got the driveway and then three houses to take around the corner. And of course the toilets were there so we hadn’t got much room. We hadn’t got a lot of room for an Anderson shelter. So they decided to, if anything happened we’d go through to the top, go through to the top house which is reinforced. So they, they dug a channel across the driveway and cut in to that cellar, and cut into our cellar, and cut into the next one until you got to the top. And they were about well you got a bit of shoulder room but they weren’t, they weren’t that tall. You had to go through on your hands and knees more or less and get to the first one and then go up the first one to the second one and so on. Which wasn’t very comfortable. But we got two, two Anderson shelter bunk beds in our cellar and my dad took some of the floor up in the front room and our house sloped so he put some bolts and things through the joists and some timbers and filled it with concrete so we could go down there instead of crawling through this lot. Because you could crawl through there and then you got the all clear went. You know.
MC: So you had to crawl through there on your own.
PS: Yeah. So we had somewhere to go on and we had two bunk beds which I had one and my sister had the other. And during the night of the Blitz when the bombs were coming down you could hear them whistle as they came down like and then, then they’d crash. Then you knew you were safe because it had gone off. We had a storm lantern hung on a beam and that swung like this you know with the, with the wind. Our house only suffered two things. One it fetched a big bit of the plaster off my dad’s ceiling in his bedroom and another room. But the ceilings in those days were lats and plaster. You know they put some lats up and then plastered them. So that all had to all be repaired. Then we had something called Essex board up at the windows which we used to put on. Put, turn these turn buttons because you had to do it yourself because it was a blackout every night. And it wasn’t —
MC: So, after the air raids did you used to go and explore the sites of the air raids?
PS: Yeah. I went down with my mother. We walked to town and there were no trams running because some of them had been hit or set on fire. So that was it, you know. The route is off. So we walked down and when we got to town, this I think, this was a morning. The first morning and the second morning after the Blitz and the Moor which was a big shopping centre round the centre of Sheffield that was all bombed. With Marks and Spencer’s and all the big shops all set on fire. And where the wind, windows used to be and some of them were these windows that were put in at the time which were curved so that there wasn’t any reflection. With all, I mean deflects the top down and blew the girders up and along the bottom was this glass that had been burned which had just come down saggy in a lump you know. And if you spit on it it went hisss. And that was right down, right down the Moor which was a shopping centre. So —
MC: Did you not, did you go out with your mates at all? You know. Friends. Collecting bits from the sites.
PS: Yeah. Well, the night after, the morning after the Blitz my sister and I went out with a bucket and got about three parts of it full with shrapnel that we’d picked up in the street in about a quarter of an hour. I mean they were bang bang bang bang above you at the time as the artillery went off. There was, on the opposite hillside an area which they put some rocket guns on. In a square. You know these things that went off. And they could, if they set them off they would be, like a square mile of the sky would be covered, covered with bombs because they set the distance to go off. But I don’t them remember going off. Not far away from where we lived there was our school and the local church and a, what did you call them? They sent these bombs. Came down by, with a, from a parachute which [unclear] and it could swing as it could go anywhere and the parachute itself was green and knitted. Like knitted nylon. Thick and heavy. And one, one went on the main road, not, came down on the main road not far from us and just missed the church and there were lumps of it everywhere you know. The parachute on somebody’s roof.
MC: Did you recover any of these bombs? These incendiary bombs?
PS: I recovered one. Yeah.
MC: Did you?
PS: Yeah. But I mean I left that house to another one and so I lost that. I lost everything I’d got like that.
MC: Did you get anything else? Did you got any?
PS: Well, we got some parts of a, there was an American fort, Flying Fortress came down in the woods and crashed. Well, it’s on the edge of the wood. One of the parks and I think they deliberately tried to avoid the known areas where the kids play and things like that and it just burned down to nothing and trees were burned and there was like a little river that flowed through. It was all muddy. So we would go and have a scrounge through that and I got a couple of bits of metal. Also got something which was a clip. And I later found out it was a parachute harness clip. Fastener. That’s gone. Everything’s gone with changing house you know. And happened that that was it. You know.
MC: So, how come you finished up with a hand grenade?
PS: Oh, my dad used to bring the bloody things home. In fact the chalk white. A couple of years ago I said, ‘What did you do with them hand grenades that you’d got?’ Because I found a box full in, over his garage. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I went to where the convent was like, and chucked them over their wall.’ Because there was a convent which was [pause] on the top of the hill on a slope. Because it was very hilly there. We used to go up a big hill, then a dip and then along and down another dip to get to the end of the main road. And that particular period was was coming up for Christmas and I’d been invited to a party by one of the lads at school. And that was up on the top of the hill. And so that was off. I mean you got plaster in your pudding and things like that.
MC: So the bombing obviously interfered with quite a few of your parties.
PS: Yeah. I mean I didn’t know at the time but the lady I eventually married was going to the same party and she lived further down the hill. Which I didn’t know because they’d moved from there into a brand new council house. And I met her at the Speedway I think. Sheffield Speedway. I don’t know if they’ve still got Sheffield Speedway going on but we used to go down on a Thursday night. But not during the war.
MC: So, I mean obviously the Germans were trying to bomb the steelworks.
PS: Well, that, that came later. I think it was a Thursday or Friday when they blitzed the town. Then they came back on the Sunday to go to the steelworks. And I believe that they were recalled to the base because of thick fog over the bases. So they took them back but they started going down from the, from the top. And all the steelworks went along by the River Don all the way to Doncaster and so they didn’t do as much damage as they could have done.
MC: No. So they didn’t do a lot of damage.
PS: If they’d got that lot there was only one firm there that made crankshafts for Spitfires. If they’d have got that it would have caused a lot of trouble in the war because that was defence. And —
MC: So you used to travel around a lot of the time by the trams.
PS: Yeah.
MC: Did they have any protection, you know?
PS: No. All they had was this mesh on the windows.
MC: Oh, oh yeah. Yes. To stop the glass shattering.
PS: Stop the glass. Yeah. But it caught fire a few of those, it were, some were scrapped. We got some from Edinburgh or somewhere like that I think. I mean all ours was fairly modern some of the stuff they sent us I think they were glad to get rid of it. But at least we’d got transport. It was in the middle town. They’d got this, they’d got this shopping centre. Right in the shopping centre where the road divided in to about four and all the big shops got burned. It looked a horrible mess. And it were like that for a long time after with weeds growing on it and etcetera. But —
MC: What was food like in, in that, during that period? Getting food.
PS: Well, you got rations.
MC: Did you, did you have to go out and get food for your parents?? Did they send you shopping?
PS: I used, I used to go shopping for vegetables because I used to look around what was going. If there was anything special like bananas, you know. Well, I think it’s our turn for the bananas this week, you know. Everything was in short supply. But we managed. The meat. I think you could have the ration was ten, ten pennyworth of meat. So we got, you didn’t get the best cuts because you wouldn’t get as much. Things like that.
MC: Yeah. The story about a turkey.
PS: We didn’t have a turkey.
MC: No. You didn’t have a turkey.
PS: No.
MC: Walking a turkey home.
PS: Oh. That was a friend of my dad’s got one. And he put a cord around its neck and brought it. Walked it down to our house. Knocked and came in and my mother said, ‘What they heck are you doing with that?’ You know.
MC: It’s lucky he didn’t get mugged for the turkey.
PS: Yeah. It was one of those with a big tail, you know. Big cock turkey. A bit further on the road we moved to after that place there was the Co-op. There were local shops at the corners of streets you know. Not like here. You could order your vegetables and go and get them. Somebody would bring them back in the wheelbarrow. But food was in short supply. But you know you had to make do with what you could get. And ice cream. I went to the cinema and had an ice cream and I think they made it out of potato or something like that. Tasted horrible. A block of ice cream, uugh. But we were in the, we went in one afternoon we went to the Palladium at, in Sheffield in our suburb and we were watching a film called, “Heidi.” It was a, you know a continental thing. Swiss or something. And during it, while we were watching this in the afternoon notice came up on the screen, “Air raid warning has just sounded.” If you want, which you may leave the room and come back when it’s, when it’s gone. Well, we sit out there for a while and thought well we’d better go out so we went out. Then we heard the all clear so we came back. And when we came back and sat down the film was still on and Heidi had got a big cauldron and she was making soup or something. And right across the middle of the screen comes the notice, “All clear.” Which was an very appropriate at the time. So —
MC: So what, well amongst your friends obviously you were a teenager growing up. Becoming a teenager during the war. What about antics you got up to as a young lad?
PS: Well, we always, we used to go fishing with fishing nets down at the River Lin which is at the bottom which goes, that river flows through more or less to Derbyshire. And not so far away there was an old quarry which we called the Bald Hills. And it came down in stages with a little, like an ash finish on. Just ashes. We used to go and play football up there. There was also tennis if you wanted it. We didn’t play tennis. Things like that. This party I went to well I was going to go to I later found out that the lady I was to marry was also going to this party. And I had no idea.
MC: So, did you meet her at that? Oh, you didn’t get to the party did you?
PS: No. I met her at the Speedway Club. That kind of thing I used to go on.
MC: Was this after the war or during the war?
PS: Yeah. I got married in 1952.
MC: Ah.
PS: Yeah.
MC: So how old were you when you left school?
PS: Well, I went to the, I took the eleven plus when I was ten. And I was eleven during the [pause] during the holidays. So I just got in and you took an exam to go to school and you had to put down where you would like to go. And in those days there was an intermediate school or a Grammar School. And I put down for about a couple of each. And I was eventually notified that I’d got through to Grammar School. ‘Which one do you want to go to?’ I said, well I mean, the one was the other side of town but there was one in town which used to be in the old days a pupil teacher centre and had been turned into a High School. So, I went there for a couple of years. Then my father said, ‘Well, I don’t know what you’re going to do when you finish school. You know, you’ve got to get a job. You’d be better taking an engineering course,’ because there was there was also ran a technical engineering course which I went on. I had to do another exam for that. They were all about examinations. Passed that and went there, and they hadn’t got as much equipment as they wanted because it was difficult to get the stuff. But they had a stove, the thing to melt steel which they never got around to. They had a workshop and we got, I made a seagrass stool in there. And as well as that, as well as woodwork which they taught us with the lathes they had two engineering rooms. One was machine shops, lathes which were used during the war by ladies making shelves. You used to see them come walking out like they would on a tea trolley only with shelves on. And which, that was one of the places we went to.
MC: Is this the story about — we’ve been told the story about the cook and the frying pan and tracer bullets. Is that —
PS: I’m not with you.
SB: This is from Jackie.
PS: Anyway, the [pause] I went, I went to this school and they had experienced people, not just teachers to come and teach. And we had about eight big lathes all with belt driven from above, you know. And the teacher used to remind you if you’d forgot to take the chuck key out with you before you started it. So [set the lathe up] otherwise you’d go flying across the room. And you go across and get somebody. Thumped on them on the shoulder, ‘Don’t forget to take the chuck key out mate.’ The next room to that was the room where you did pattern making and, no. No. That was that side. There was the we had a hangar workshop where they made various things. I made a spanner centre punch, plug gauge and things like that. And a hacksaw.
MC: And this was all part of your training?
PS: All part of your training. Yeah. They had a forge in there so when you made your spanner.
MC: How old would you be then?
PS: I left school when I was, just before I was sixteen. So you put your hard steel coating on and some stuff called kasenit. Used to put it on it and then put it in the fire. We had exams at the end, you know. And you had, you had to turn a piece of metal of a certain size in various sizes.
MC: Was this in a factory or a training school? A technical school.
PS: That was in school in town.
MC: At a school. A technical school.
PS: It had been a pupil teacher centre.
MC: Oh right.
PS: I mean during the war you’d seen the ladies come out of the main doors pushing a trolley with shelves on that they’d made. You know. For the war effort. So it was well equipped. We had precision grinders. It was a teaching unit you know. Really expert. How to do metal work. Made a hacksaw. And on the other, the other side the pattern making, we made we made patterns with a vice handle for holding the vice. When we took the final exam the teacher came around and looked at the mould I’d made and he ummed and he ahhed and he said, ‘Well, I can’t give you a hundred percent for this because if I do that means nobody can make it any better,’ which they couldn’t anyway. So I got ninety nine.
MC: Very good.
PS: And in the final exams I think I got five, five each teachings, five credits and a pass because we used to do French as well. I went, I’d written to the GPO and asked them if they’d got any vacancies. And I got a reply and had to go for an interview which I did. And about a fortnight after that they said the report you know so I didn’t have much of a summer holiday. I had to go to, to Otley to a training school. And while I was at the training school I got a letter saying that I was top of the school for the handicraft, and there was a, could I have a book. And I didn’t know what sort of book I wanted, you know, I mean. We were from Otley, up in Yorkshire. So I said I’ll have the money which I got five bob which I went to the town hall and bought a driving licence [laughs] Which was useful because you didn’t have to have a test at that time. There were no tests. I mean you couldn’t spare people to training and tests. But by the time they started that I’d been driving for about two years I think with this motorbike I’d got and so I kept that. Until I got my call up.
MC: Ah, call up. Yes. So you did National Service, did you?
PS: National Service. Yeah. It was my birthday in July and I had to go to Pontefract Barracks for training. In December I think. And of course you did all what was —
MC: This was for the army, was it?
PS: Well, it was yeah it was the army but you didn’t know where you were going. It was, when I had the medical and they said, ‘Well, what would you like to go in?’ And I said I’d like to go in the Navy and so I had to go and have the interview with a sailor with all his doings on like and he were asking what I could do and what [pause] how far I could turn steel, you know. What were the distances you could do it in, you know. And I said oh [about a thou, a half thou.] And he said anyway he gave me a written test to do. Which I did that. He read through it. He said, ‘Well, yeah. We can take you on but you’ll have to sign on for three years instead of two.’ So I thought well I can’t do that because I don’t know whether I could get my job back. Because you were guaranteed your job back. So I had to turn that down. They sent me to Catterick where we all passed out. And Catterick was a Royal Signals really. They were all there. Not the Tank Corps like there is now. Nearly everybody was Post Office, telephone. And I did that and then they sent us to Dalton Airfield. An old, an old camp. Ready for, ready for, oh they asked if I wanted to go, they asked they wanted twelve people to go to Germany to learn to be A tradesman. There was A, B and C. And it was a December time, you know. And December time in Catterick is terrible. It’s bloody cold up there. So I volunteered and I was accepted so twelve of us went to this old RAF camp where there was just little tortoise stoves in the, in the huts. And we used to go, go around to the huts, other huts that weren’t in use and pull some timber off. Pulled a line up and tried to warm the place up. Went down to the dance in Thirsk. As we walked down the railway line to get there and they stamped, stamped your wrist when you went with your pass out. Mayor of Pontefract’s something they formed earlier on. And coming back from there there was some lads who were, I think they’d volunteered for the Air Force signals. And we were coming up this, like an alleyway and they were vaulting over these standards you know to stop the vehicles going down. One of them got hung up and down with his flies [laughs] ‘Get me off.’ So we had a bit of fun. Then we went up there and they then took us by train to Empire, Empire Parkstone dock. Down there. Not so far from London. Took us across to the continent in a troop ship. Then we were just poles inside. Your bed would drop down, you know where it was. Most of the lads were playing card games on the way there. And we got to the other side. And went to the toilets and talk about toilets on the dockside. They were just two rows of toilets facing each other. No doors and there was an earthenware trough which we went past them all you know. Some of the lads messing about lit some paper and it floated down you know and singed you.
MC: So where did you finish up in Germany?
PS: Well, I went to [pause] where did I finish up? I finished up at Herford. Eventually. First of all we went to the, an RAF camp which was the RAF regiment at Gütersloh.
MC: Oh, Gütersloh. Yeah.
PS: They weren’t as smart as us, you know. They didn’t, they had their caps to here. With us if you haven’t got your cap on that was it. But we went into Bielefeld one day and I heard this rattling. I turned around and had a look and there was a lady coming down the street. It were all cobbles, you know. Anyroad, at this time and she’d no tyres in this bicycle but she’d got coiled springs one in the front and one In the back which was you know going up and down as she rode. Rattled down the street in this push bike. So you can tell what a state they were in. We were paid in what they called BAFSV. British Armed Forces Service Vouchers. You weren’t, you didn’t get any German currency unless you withdrew it especially and you put it in your paybook. We got some though because we went to the barber’s one day. Three of us and sat down at a barber’s and there they had like a double wooden thing just like a couple of big rulers which clipped on the edge of the paper, you know, looking through this. A chap got up and went and sat in the, in the chair. The barber got his tackle and put the whole of his head, froth all over his head to give him a shave like. Then he gets the cut throat razor out I thought oh crikey. And he shaved the top of his, he hadn’t got much on and shaved the top of his head. And then we paid him in cigarettes. And we worked it out that five of us could have a haircut for one cigarette. Gave us all, you know. They’d got nothing.
MC: So did you see much of the results of the bombing in Germany when you were there?
PS: Yes. The buildings had been knocked down. They were starting to put them back up again. Well piled up, piled all the stuff up and they were starting to rebuild. And that’s when I understood more the term Jerry built. Because they just slapped some cement on a brick and pointed them all up afterwards. They didn’t point them it at the same time. And oh, on the way out at first we went by train. We went past a viaduct. What do you call that? I can’t remember just at the moment.
MC: Was it one we bombed?
PS: Hmmn?
MC: Was it one we bombed?
PS: Yes. That was the one the hit with the biggest bomb.
MC: Bielefeld.
PS: Bielefeld. Yes. That’s it. Bielefeld Viaduct. I got, took a photograph of that from long distance.
MC: So you did a bit of travelling around while you were there.
PS: Yeah. I got as far as the checkpoint at Berlin. Because we had a radio station working, an ordinary radio station and they wanted some supplies so we took them out. But we could only go so far. We went to the American checkpoint. A half a mile further on was a British checkpoint. They were half a mile back. The yanks. We took some stuff out because we had a radio set working to, to Berlin. The radio sets we used they couldn’t, they couldn’t use them for that because when I, when I finished my course, training course in Germany. This, the course in about five months before you passed out and they were teaching you to be either a line mechanic which was a [unclear] equipment and radio mechanics and there were three, there were three things. Line, radio and telegraph. So, so they give us this section of it. The airfield. There were WAAFs on the airfield. Surrounded by barbed wire. And we had, we had to spruce up our training. Of course we had to march to through the town with your rifles and everything. I think it was just say it’s a warning like. So they had us out every day in the cold. Going through various moves because they told us how to move your rifle from one shoulder to the other. I know when you’re trailing arms by your side they’re heavy them rifles and I, you changed it from one to the other, and went through the town. We led the Air Force because we were senior to them and it was, it was quite a decent barracks. It had got double glazing. They had double glazing when we go there. We took them down when we got there. They took them down. Because it got warm took the outside panels down because we had to clean the glass. So we did that. And every morning we had to go for a two mile run. You know shorts and [unclear] running around the camp.
MC: So eventually I believe you got to Möhne Dam as well.
PS: Yeah. There was a leave centre at the Möhne Dam and we got, we had the driver to, we had the driver for the trip. And he drove whatever he was supposed to drive and he got us permission to go to Möhne Dam which was, which was rebuilt.
MC: O. It was rebuilt was it?
PS: Oh they didn’t take long to get that put back.
MC: You walked around it did you?
PS: No. We went around, we went around on a push bike. We’d been posted the night before so we got our pushbikes and we went all the way around it.
MC: Where did you get your bikes from?
PS: From the leave centre.
MC: Oh, right. They did have them did they?
PS: They had them on there to use. I’ve a photograph somewhere of when we’re on the wall which had been replaced. A young couple on a boat. Little [pause] two feet I think.
MC: Rowing boat type thing.
PS: In front of the first one was a wind up gramophone playing records as we went down the Möhne Dam. But we went down there a couple of times.
MC: You got down to the Black Forest.
PS: Yeah. We went to [pause] I can’t remember what they called it now. Another leave centre we went to and you were just there couple of nights. But, and I fell asleep in the truck coming back. When I woke up everything was in darkness and I was laid on the floor on the back of this two ton bloody truck. So I had to get to, get to my barrack room without this sentry seeing me because we had a sentry at the gate and we had a prowler. The other one used to prowl around. And they said, ‘Who goes there?’ ‘It’s only me.’ You know. I just walked up to him. But we, you had a to do a guard every so often. Two on and four off.
MC: So in the Black Forest tell me about the, you were collecting stuff to put under the COs bed somebody tells me.
PS: Oh, that wasn’t, yeah but what we finished up with, you know when they trained us on the radio stuff they put us in a troop. And it was [pause] it was radio telephones. They call them a ten set and we had these mirrors, you know. These big mirrors where we used to pipe the, pipe the mesh out of whatever you’re doing from the inside of this trailer and they got ten, ten pulses so you can have running across all the time so you can have ten connections running. And we went out into no man’s land. I mean you had to get high enough up to get as far, as far as you could. I mean there were two about that big. And we went to one and as we were building this. There was a, as we were building this there was a hill that we went on called [unclear]. Which was a monument at the top of the hill which was some Germans lived in. A German family. And we, we come in, we got that room in there, put the generator in the garage place at the side because you get about you could light two lights and that was all the supply of electric. So we cut a hole in in the window frame, push a cable through and we had a petrol driven generator. Well, the old lady came up. All the snow in winter was going to come through that bloody hole. And one day one of the lads decided to repair one of his boots and he stuck it on the end of the bedpost and he’s hammering away, you know putting some studs in. And she came up ohhh well the plaster was going down in her old boy’s dinner. But we got through and put it in. But she said, I mean there were five of us living there and she’d do a, do a hotpot for us. You know. For the five. And apparently the Russians had been there before us and they could have one of these each. Like gannets. And one day she said she heard the banging upstairs and went up to have a look. One of these Russians was knocking a hole in the wall. She asked them what he was doing. He wanted water. Because he’d seen her turn the tap on downstairs he thought he could get water out of the wall and he was chopping a hole in the wall. This was the mentality of the Russians. I mean they hadn’t seen things like that.
MC: So where does the COs bed come into this?
PS: Oh, that was in the [pause] well while we were there the only transport we’d got was a fifteen hundred weight shell which you went up so far and then you went in a shell and up around it and away. In this shell hole, at the side of the shell was a small tank with shells around it. You know. Inside. And a shell hole full of rifles. Thrown the rifles in. Taken, taken the works out. And we was up and down in the truck. And we, I mean the toilet was already there when I got there because there had been some people before us and they’d got a wooden fish, wooden [pause] I don’t know what you call it. Case off some, off a sixty foot steel tower we’d got with the [unclear] guys on you know who you wouldn’t expect. And we used to, we made an oven out of a piece of tank. A flat piece of tank. And we got some cement from the Germans in a swap sort of thing, cut out a trough and we had a big burner like it was a blow lamp with about four inches diameter plate. Put that at one end and a piece of plate on the other end. We could cook on that. And we put some covers around it and a roof on it and we were nice and warm in there during the day. During the night of course while you were laying in bed your breath was freezing on the canvas so you had a nice white circle when you woke up. And we used to have to break, break the ice in this water bale, water container either before we went to bed or in the morning so we could have a cup of tea. The only place we could water from was the local village pub. No. The local village. It was a farmer’s, I think. We had a water carrier we dragged down there and filled it but it was always icy. You could always throw some petrol under it and set fire to it. But one of the lads, the driver actually he was a bit of a lad. We brought some of this ammunition, German ammunition into the tent which was forbidden you know and filled the German helmet and put it under the corporal’s bed. He didn’t know it were there until he would have gone crackers.
MC: So what was in it you put under the bed?
PS: Hmmn?
MC: What was in it you put under the bed?
PS: Sten gun.
MC: Oh.
PS: They were all, we were all armed. Some had got rifles and that and I had a sten gun and I just hung it underneath. I got a few rounds, you know. I think somebody let a few rounds off before that. But we used to put a canister on a on a branch with oil in and set fire to it have a nice flame on it. Shoot it down with a 303. I mean there were only five of us. You couldn’t put a guard up when you’ve only five people. I mean they’d never been off. You’d never have got an ounce of sleep. So we used to shove a rifle through the flap of the tent and let a couple of rounds off at night.
MC: So, what is the story about the chef and the frying pan catching bullets?
SB: On top of the tower.
MC: On top of the tower.
SB: Radio tower.
MC: You tell the story about —
SB: Firing rounds on the chef.
PS: We had a piece of tubing. Steel tubing which was blocked at one end and you know we’d got stacks of bullets from this corner where the tank got knocked out and the belts of ammunition. He took some up. He used to go up the tower. We had a sixty foot tower. Took the ladder vertical and then around and up again to the top to set it up. He used to sit up there and somebody would put, get the steel tube we’d got, get it hot and put a round in and, you know it would fire. Put them in backwards way around so that the bullet cases were going up to him and he were trying to catch him on top of a sixty foot tower. The other bloke wouldn’t go up it. ‘No. I’m not going up there, he says.’ When you got up there was railings about ten inches and steel rods across. You know, sixty foot up. And when we went to that place [unclear] where the Germans lived we had to put, haul this thing up to the railings that they got that went around the tower. It was called [unclear] and we had to haul this up there and site it which was difficult because you know you’d get your compass sideways and go across the front of the ditches. That was, that was nothing at either side. So we had to try and do it from down below. You know. Bob your head up and down but we got it through.
MC: So how long were you in Germany then?
PS: Well, from leaving.
MC: For all your National Service you were in Germany.
PS: All of it. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
PS: I went to [pause] Lüneburg was it? Yeah. On the north coast. I got ten days just before I came out. I got ten days leave. Local leave. And I’d been knocking about with a girl whose father had been posted to Germany. So they said, ‘Come up,’ like. So I applied for my holiday and I had my holiday when there was a big scheme on. All the British Army had arrived and was in it apart from me. I were waiting at the camp gates for control commission bus because there weren’t any German buses out that way. And this big staff car pulls up and a lady driving. This bloke with all this stuff on you know. All this gold. He said, ‘Where are you going soldier?’ I said, ‘Oh,’ I’m going to Bad Oeynhausen sir to catch a train.’ ‘Jump in,’ he said. He took me all the way to Bad Oeynhausen. Everybody else was at war, you know [laughs] playing soldiers. So we got there and got on the train, sat down and had lunch on the train and got a bottle of beer, you know. All on the house. I stopped there all week with this girl who lived not so far from [unclear] And when the week was over I got this train ticket to go back, catch it about 7 o’clock in the morning. I’m not going to get down to the station at 7 o’clock in the morning. So I found there was a later train. He took me down to the station and I got in a carriage. Only me in it. Took my belt off, you know and my jacket and my hat. Sat there next to the window. The door opens and the conductor comes. Apologises and shuts it. So I went all the way from Lubeck to Herford free of charge as they say. Went on another free of charge thing —
MC: So, tell me, as a British soldier in Germany how were you treated by the Germans? And how did you find them?
PS: Alright actually. Because at Christmas we went down to this local pub where we was getting water. A little village. We were down there one day and this girl came across like and we were social and we went down there. We down on New Year’s Eve. We went before that it were one of their birthdays the next weekend. ‘Can you come to our birthday?’ So I said, ‘Yeah. We can come to your birthday.’ And they’d got all sorts of pies that they’d made. You know. Cherry pies. And dancing with them you know. They thought it were great. So we went [pause] No. We went again at New Year. And I mean they were giving you a glass of schnapps, you know. We weren’t fit to get back to the camp. We had to ring somebody up to bring, bring the truck down to fetch us. But everybody were alright.
MC: So you got treated fairly well.
PS: Yeah. I mean the girls were very friendly. Very friendly.
MC: He says with a smile on his face.
PS: Yeah. What was I going to say?
MC: So, so that was your time in Germany. Thinking back a little bit I never asked you at the beginning about any brothers and sisters.
PS: Yeah I’ve got, I had a brother and one sister didn’t I? One brother. One sister. He was about ten years younger than me so I didn’t see much of him.
MC: And your sister? She, she was of a similar age to you?
PS: Yeah. She was about fifteen months older than me. She’s still alive. She’s in a care home at [pause]
SB: Blackpool.
PS: Near Blackpool anyway.
MC: Yeah.
PS: She can’t see anything.
MC: So did you spend a lot of time with her as a child at home?
PS: Not particularly. I used to be out with the lads you know playing football and —
MC: I’m working up to a story of snails and putting salt on them.
PS: Oh, that was when we were about so high. When she, when she walked up the garden path. The garden paths then were just slabs of stone and slabs at either side and two, three four houses in each block.
MC: Yeah.
PS: And a gate in the middle. Well, a door. A big heavy door that closed. My uncle had written on the back, “This door shuts. Try it.” Chokes it. My sister went around collecting snails, you know. To come out of the garden at the side. And I were only little. I didn’t know about it at the time but she was putting salt on them I started eating the bloody things ‘til they stopped me. So I have seen a bit of life.
MC: Certainly have. Certainly have. Yeah. So, coming back.
PS: Oh, and I —
MC: Sorry.
PS: Went to hospital once in Germany. I was fed up of going on parade so I thought I’d have a bit of time off. I had a couple of cysts behind my ear so I went and reported them to the medics. They said, ‘Oh, we’ll take them off. But we’ll get a truck to take you to RAF Rinteln they called it. Be down at the gates, barrack gates by 10 o’clock and we’ll run you up there. Or 9 o’clock or something like that. Anyway, I went down and this thing never turned up. So I went to guard room and told them. ‘Oh, they’ve forgotten.’ So they got this jeep and went up the autobahn like a bloody rocket. We were going up the autobahn and a bloke pulls alongside, he said, ‘Your back wheels are doing, going like this.’ We said, ‘We know.’ You know. I mean the speedometer wouldn’t go any faster. Open topped jeep. But I got about three or four days off of parades. We were on parade once we were doing, they decided that they were going to do a march through the town, you know. Just letting them know that we were here and we did our training. Even the RAF did the training. Had the caps on and that. We couldn’t go anywhere without a cap on you know. Had to have it on all the time. They taught us how to change, change arms. We’d got a trail from that and that. I recently went to the bomber places and, you know the one that don’t fly and one of my grandsons, my great grandson looking at these things, ‘Oh look. 303 rifle there,’ like. I’ll show you. I couldn’t pick the bloody thing up now. I used to chuck it about before. I was I was a captain of the shooting team for a while. Some of the officers were bloody terrible with a bren gun. So I was nominated.
MC: So you had your marksman’s badge.
PS: Yeah. Well, I didn’t get the badge but I had the satisfaction to know that I was the captain.
MC: So you came home from Germany. And then when did you meet your wife? You said you knew her before you went to Germany.
PS: No. I didn’t marry that one. I came home. I met this lady at the Speedway Club. Speedway Supporter’s Club. In fact, I think there were two or three were looking to see if they could get my attention. I used to play the records for dancing and got talking to this girl and I’d be going down on my motorbike so I took her home on my motorbike. Well, not quite home. ‘I’ll get off before we get there because I don’t want my dad see me on this.’ [laughs] And that blossomed and we got married.
MC: So you had quite a following.
PS: Oh yeah.
MC: Of ladies.
PS: I was popular with the ladies. But I mean when we went [pause] oh it’s, as well to be going to the Möhne Dam we went to another place and where they got dancing and everything. And of course we were dancing with them and kissing them and all that. And saw them again the next afternoon. We didn’t see them again after that. It’s all right for you laughing. We didn’t [unclear] it was in the Black Forest.
MC: Yeah.
PS: Yeah. It was, it was nice there.
MC: And these were German girls.
PS: Yeah. Oh yeah. Fish a bit of paper out and write their name and address on and trusted you to do yours. Expecting you to. I mean there was a shortage of men. We killed that many. So they, if they could get a bloke fair enough but, yeah. They were friendly.
MC: So when you came back from Germany you went back in to your old job.
PS: Yeah. Yeah. Went back. Well. I’d finished my two year training course before I went. They put me in electric light and power. So I did about six months on that installing and maintaining the, maintaining all the batteries and that for the, for the [trunk call lists] and keeping the batteries full up, full up with evaporated and each cell two volts would be about from there to other side of them plants. About that wide and about that deep. Two volts. Very high capacity and they’d got wooden boxes lead lined.
MC: So you’re talking about what? About two metres wide.
PS: Yeah.
MC: Two yards wide by about a foot deep. A yard deep.
PS: Oh, they were deep. I mean the contractors used to put them in and when they put them in they put a glass tubes between them as insulators and put them in plate by plate and then melted the lead frame on to the [unclear] I mean the water was so good that we could use it in batteries. You can’t here because there’s too much lime in it but in Sheffield you could use it for.
MC: [unclear]
PS: Yeah. Fill it up by hosepipe. We used to [pause] on maintenance we maintained stamp set milling machines that they had in the walls. Stamp cancelling machines. They put them through, the letters through and conveyers, lifts. Everything electrical we did. And we put at Rotherham we put new lighting in because it was a downstairs sorting office with ordinary, ordinary lights. We put the first lot of fluorescents in there when they got [unclear]. Right along these bays where you could see where you were going. When we switched them on it was just as we were taking the roof off.
MC: Yeah. That’s great, Peter. I just, I just want to talk about a couple of other things. You went through, you went through the war and obviously you experienced the, what the RAF were doing. What did you think of the job that Bomber Command did? Were you much, did you give much thought to that?
PS: I didn’t see much of them until nearly the end. I’m not quite sure whether it’s nearly the end of the war but I mean the planes were coming over. [unclear] planes it was that would come, and the sirens used to go off.
MC: Did you get much news of what they were during the war?
PS: No. Not a lot.
MC: I mean post-war you knew what they were doing. Or what they’d been doing.
PS: We were. I don’t know quite sure what, sure when it was we went to Bridlington. Stopped there and there were three airfields near there I think. One had got this FIDO with the paraffin in the pipes around to disperse the fog. One evening we saw, saw these flames going across. I’m not quite sure when it was. It might have been near the end of the war. But I don’t know whether it had finished then.
MC: Do you think Bomber Command did a good job?
PS: Oh, they did. I mean I went to Hamburg.
MC: Oh yeah.
PS: By train, you know on the way to Lubeck to see this young lady because her dad was a sergeant you see and that was on the, on the, on our border with the Germans.
MC: Yeah.
PS: And at Lubeck it’s like a port. And went via Hamburg. Coming back, oh I went and caught the train. I went and sat down. A chap came and asked us what we wanted for lunch, you know. There was a butler there. This was all on the, all on the forces. So fair enough. When it came time to come back the train was about half past seven in the morning. I thought well I’m not travelling at half past seven in the morning. So her dad took me down to the station later on from their home. And I got on the train. It wasn’t a troop train. It was just an ordinary German train. Got in this carriage. There was only me in. Took my jacket undid my jacket took my belt off and relaxed like. All of a sudden the carriage door opens and there was this German porter there you know and he apologised and shut the door.
MC: So you say you went to Hamburg. You saw Hamburg.
PS: Then I, that was I hadn’t got a ticket. So we saw what was left of Hamburg at the time. The other side of the train I was you just looked and it was all a mess. I’ll give the Germans their due a lot of, a lot of nearly everything well everything I saw that had been wrecked was put back exactly as it was. I mean Cologne Cathedral was bombed. That was brought back. I went to another one and —
[phone ringtone]
MC: Sorry, I thought I’d put that on silent.
PS: That wasn’t me. Where else did I go to?
MC: Yeah. You were talking about Hamburg and the bombings and the ruins and the Germans and how they repaired everything. You know.
PS: Yeah. Apparently, there was one town we went to afterwards you know as civilians. We were told that they said to the Yanks they would surrender this town if they didn’t bomb it. Because, before the Yanks went in anyway they just blasted away. That was it. We did a, we went in a train holiday through Germany and [pause] just a minute. Oh, I went to Nuremberg.
MC: Oh, you certainly got around in Germany.
PS: Yeah. This was after the war. After the war.
MC: Oh right, ok.
PS: Went to Nuremberg and Nuremberg didn’t exist after the British had bombed it. The city. The old walled city. But when we got there there was only one. Everything was put back as it was. A chap had made a model of it but they knew what was what. And I’ll give them their due the Germans everything they put back after the war unless you’d a place like Hamburg which was nothing left they built it back to what it was originally. I mean the church was you know high at one end and next to nothing at the other. You couldn’t tell it had been rebuilt. There was a lot of lovely architecture. We destroyed it and they put it back up. Not here. We get all these so called architects put up all sorts of rubbish don’t they? It’s a clean city. I went on an overhead tram. It’s the only place there is one. These girls who were, we had a couple of girls used to come up to the camp. They were the ones that we would dance with in the village. They took us down there and they’d got an overhead railway which hung and it went along over the river. It’s still there.
MC: Oh.
PS: Which was an experience. We didn’t pay. You just got on. They don’t queue either. The Germans don’t queue for anything. I mean you go to a bus stop and its who gets on can get on while somebody else is trying to get off. In fact, we went on holiday in [pause] was it Croatia, I think? And there were some Germans there and they called you into the restaurant and these Germans came and you know and the Yugoslavs said, ‘Out. Wait your turn. I’ll tell you where you’re going to sit. You’ve been allocated a seat.’ And they all went out but they were bloody gluttons. They had a lot of muscles. It was like that.
[recording paused]
MC: Pushbike. Going down the street on a pushbike.
PS: Yeah. Well, it was a lady actually. I heard this rattle. This was in the first place we went to and I turned around and looked and there was this lady coming down the street on her pushbike. No tyres. And she’d got coil springs. One in the back and one in the front and of course it’s bellying out as you, as you, centrifugal force but it rattled. That’s all they had. No tyres. No nothing.
MC: Nothing. No.
PS: I mean, coffee. Coffee was a good currency. Cigarettes was a good currency. Five haircuts for a [unclear]. The girls were very friendly as well. You know. They’d give you their name and address. I think they were short of blokes. They’d had so many killed.
MC: Yeah. You said that. Yeah.
PS: There was a lake up there.
MC: Finish off. We’ll just finish off, Peter. And the other thing I did, I was going to mention I believe you’ve got a bit of a musical talent as well.
PS: Well, I had.
MC: You had. Did you play? Did you enjoy music when you was a child or was that later life?
PS: No. They tried to get me to, to teach me piano but I never got around to it. I was a bugler in the Scouts.
MC: Oh, that would. Yeah. Anyway, thank you for your time, Peter.
PS: You’ll find something.
MC: That was very good. Thank you.



Mike Connock, “Interview with Peter Swallow,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 17, 2021,

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