Interview with Jim Wildes

Title

Interview with Jim Wildes

Description

Jim was born in July 1923 in Burton on Trent and was the eldest of six children. His father served in the First World War. When Jim left school aged 14, he joined the Boys Brigade which had a Royal Air Force section and he had the chance to fly in a Tiger Moth. He trained to be an apprentice joiner and carpenter and worked with his grandfather who was a master joiner. He then joined Sharp Bros & Knight, timber and joinery manufacturers. When he was about 17, the Boys Brigade sent him to RAF Cardington for an air crew interview, which he failed due to ear problems. He then took the exam and was recommended to be a voluntary reserve.
When Jim was about 18, he was called up to go to RAF Halton for aircraft training, after which he was sent for further training at RAF Abingdon Operational Training Unit on Hampden and Witney aircraft. He was then sent back to RAF Halton to do a fitter course and then posted to 23 Operational Training Unit at RAF Pershore working on Wellingtons. After training Jim became a leading aircraftman. In September 1943 Jim was posted to 206 Squadron on the Wirral for about two weeks. The outfit totalled about 1,000 people from the Air Force, Army and Navy. His unit was then sent to the Liverpool docks to join the troop ship Laconia heading for Bangor and then on to Azores where 8206 Maintenance Unit built an Air Force station and runway. They stayed in tents with eight people for up to a year. Over Christmas Jim was in a Portuguese hospital for about three days with a broken finger. The unit went to Casablanca then to Cornwall just before D-Day. He was put on night shift at RAF St Mawgan with 206 Squadron working on Liberators. Following a trip to Scotland they were posted at Dundee with an air salvaging and servicing unit. Here he was made acting corporal and worked with 31 Dakota Squadron. When the war ended, he was flown to Singapore, got a boat to Southampton and was discharged to complete his apprenticeship as a joiner. Jim re-joined the Air Force and went back to RAF Swinderby for four years working on Wellingtons. There he met his future wife. In 1951 the unit went to Singapore to work on Sunderlands before being posted back home. Jim left in 1966 and worked for AV Roe until joining ICL in a management job.

Creator

Date

2018-08-29

Temporal Coverage

Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:33:21 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.

Identifier

AWildesJE180829, PWildesJE1801

Transcription

MH: That’s great. Well, first of all Jim I’m delighted to come and meet you today and listen to, to your story. I know a little about you. I hope to when I leave at the end to know far more. Ok. There’s a little bit I’ve just got to say at the start so that people listening to this back at the Bomber Command Centre know exactly where we are and what we’re doing. So, this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Martyn Hordern. That’s myself. The interviewee is James Wildes. The interview is taking place at the Tri Services and Veteran Support Centre, Hassell Street, Newcastle, Staffordshire. Also present is Peter Batkin who is a friend of Jim. The date is the 29th of August 2018 and the time by my watch is quarter past eleven in the morning. I know from just talking to you Jim that you were born on the 18th of July 1923. Where was that then? Where were you born?
JW: Burton on Trent.
MH: Ok. Tell me a bit about your parents and your family life as, as a lad.
[pause]
JW: We lived with my, my dad and mother and the tribe that, because she had six children and I was the eldest lived in South Oxford Street, Burton on Trent. My dad was out of work for seven or eight years during the recession of that time. My mother was a tailoress and she worked from home reversing coats and that sort of thing because that was the way you lived those days.
MH: Did your, did your dad serve in the First World War?
JW: Yes. He was in the Staffordshires.
MH: How long did he serve during the war?
JW: He served in the, in the First World War and a little bit afterwards in Ireland. I don’t think he’d signed on. It was like it was at the end of —
MH: Yeah.
JW: The Second World War. You could do another year before you got home.
MH: So, so as a young lad what did, I take it you went to school. What age did you leave school?
JW: Fourteen.
MH: Ok.
JW: Because of my birthday coming in July I did the eleven plus twice. The first time I failed. The second time I got enough to pass to secondary school. Not to Grammar School. But my mother couldn’t afford uniform so we got a deal where I went to Union Street one day per week at government expense.
MH: Right. And then when you left school what did you do?
JW: I was training to be an apprentice joiner and carpenter because my grandad, the other Ernie he, he was a master joiner. And I worked with him whenever I could from fourteen on but I had to have another job to support the family because he was a jobbing joiner that had contracted for jobs. We used to do South African Railway carriages and it all came pre-packed. And you always put in Baguleys of Burton on Trent and he would, he would, we would put it together like you do things these days. Cut it all in.
MH: Yeah.
JW: In South African Railways style.
MH: Right. So then the Second World War came along. You were —
JW: Well —
MH: You were just sixteen.
JW: I I’d, around about fourteen I joined the Boy’s Brigade and there was an RAF section in it of about four of us and on Sundays sometimes we went to Burnaston Aerodrome which is now a car factory and we could swing a Tiger Moth. And I got one flight of it because occasionally an RAF retired officer turned up to fly this thing.
MH: And that was the first time you ever went in a plane?
JW: Yes, was. That was my first time.
MH: So, so, the Second World War started. You were, you were just sixteen.
JW: Yes.
MH: What were you doing then?
JW: I I was still doing, well I eventually got, what happened was that, that the restrictions on my grandfather forced both he and I to join another joinery firm because there was no longer small businesses around. We were forced in to wartime things from 1938 so, I became a bound apprentice with Sharp Brother and Knight of Burton on Trent. Around about seventeen the Boy’s Brigade sent me to Cardington for an interview for aircrew which I failed because I’d got bad ears and in those days those aircraft weren’t pressurised. So they, but I did the exam and they recommended and gave me a little notation that I go in to Derby when I was seventeen and half to recruit as a VR. Which I did.
MH: What’s a VR?
[pause]
JW: Volunteer Reserve.
MH: Right.
JW: Yes.
MH: Thank you. So, by that time we were sort of talking about towards the end of 1940 are we then, at that point?
JW: No. We’re talking about 1941.
MH: Right. In to, yeah.
JW: Early in 1941 that happened. At seventeen and a half I had to get my dad’s signature to be able to join the Air force which I did and took to Derby.
MH: What was your parents view of that at the time then? Seeing as you didn’t —
JW: Well, my dad didn’t want me to join but my mother said it’s alright.
MH: What was the reason your dad didn’t want you to join?
JW: Well, he’d been at, I think Mons during the First World War for some time.
MH: So, he’d been at the start.
JW: So, he’d been in that and he was on Gallipoli as well.
MH: So he, do you think he knew a bit more about what you were likely to face than what your mum did?
JW: Yes. Exactly.
MH: So, so you up at sixteen and a half. Where was the first place you —
JW: Well, I didn’t actually get in until June or July. They called me in.
MH: So you were just about eighteen then.
JW: Yes. And they followed the recommendation to send me to Halton for aircraft training, which I did. I went to Halton and joined the RAF. And I passed out second in an entry of about eighty people that were doing a joining course like, it was split in to two halves. A bit for engines and a bit for airframes and I was, I came second and was sent on for on the job training at Abingdon.
MH: Right.
JW: On Hampdens and Whitleys.
MH: Yeah. So where was Halton then? Whereabouts is Halton? I know where Abingdon is.
JW: Halton is Wendover. Very very near. Do you know Wendover?
MH: I’ve heard of it.
JW: Yes. Very near to Chequers.
MH: And Abingdon obviously became a car factory. A car factory wasn’t it?
JW: Yes. This Abingdon was, they trained you on, on real aircraft.
MH: Right. So —
JW: And then they took me back to once I was trained on. So that was my first [pause] Abingdon was 10 OTU and the Whitleys and Hampdens were flying aircraft. So that was Bomber Command.
MH: And what, what were you doing when you were there? You said on the job training. What was your, what was your, what were you trained?
JW: I was trained on, on the Abingdons and the Whitleys and also we strung up a a biplane as well. So I was trained mainly on aircraft rather than engines.
MH: Right. So, so you just, you just said stringing up a plane.
JW: Yeah.
MH: Now that, what’s that then?
JW: A biplane.
MH: Yeah.
JW: Where you, you were setting all the angles etcetera and I learned the fifty seven point three method of, of angles.
MH: And what’s, the fifty seven point three method?
JW: Well, if you, if you, you take [reckoning] of fifty seven point three in a circle, make a circle at that radius for every one unit is one degree all the way around the circle.
MH: Right. So —
JW: So, you could set controls, the rudders all that sort of thing by doing that. A mathematical job.
MH: And was there much difference between a biplane which was obviously getting almost obsolete at that point and then the bigger planes that you were working on?
JW: Well, the bigger planes were really had main spars which also held the undercarriage and that sort of thing. And usually there were [pause] they had bomb doors which worked with elastic. Those days the bomb dropped and opened the door [laughs]
MH: Yeah. Ok. So you’d done that initial training.
JW: Yes. And then Halton called me back to do the fitter course and and to give me the full trade because I came out first as an AC. I joined the RAF at AC2 level. So I, my first entry got me an AC1 at, at aircraft engineering level. But my second training I was fourth in the entry of fifty and that got me an LAC recommendation.
MH: What does LAC stand for?
JW: Leading aircraftsman. It’s like a lance corporal in the Army.
MH: And how long had you been in the RAF at that point?
JW: About, well my first course ended on March ’42. My second course I got posted in February ’43 after the end of the second course to Pershore which was another OTU opening up in Gloucestershire. So, and this was another. I was on Wellingtons so it was another Bomber Command area.
MH: And did, when you moved to a different aircraft were there similarities or were they things that you had to get used to all over again?
JW: Yeah. You had to get used to new things but on the second course at Halton they had embraced various changes that were taking place. And also on that second course they’d also embraced little bits about American aircraft as well as British aircraft and I was interested in American aircraft as well as British ones.
MH: So, you were at Pershore.
JW: So, I went to Pershore.
MH: OTU is operational —
JW: 23 OTU.
MH: Operational Training Unit.
JW: Yes. It was just opening up. We had no aircraft at all. The hangar wasn’t open. The workmen were still working on it. The cookhouse was an open cookhouse because that part wasn’t built but we were in the four huts that were built. One of the four huts that were, were starting the unit off. We had no aircraft at all and one arrived about two weeks after I arrived at Pershore. There was, we put it out on a distant little field, picketed it down for the night and we were bombed that night. But it didn’t get the aircraft. It got little bits near to the hangar.
MH: So you, the plane you basically moved the plane away from the main buildings for that reason.
JW: Yes. That’s right. Picketed it down.
MH: Yeah. What sort of strip was it there? Was it hardstanding or was it grass?
JW: Hardstanding.
MH: So it would be tarmac. Tarmac.
JW: Yes. The strip was there and we picketed on one of the, on one of the ends. There were several different areas and we picketed on one of those.
MH: So how long before you started getting more planes?
JW: We then got the planes at about one a week for a few weeks and then two or three a week and these were delivered direct from the manufacturer and our job was to bring them up to standard. Put the turrets in. The extra seating. All the little bits that went in for radar and various things that was coming in. And we dispersed those to other airfields down Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.
MH: So, so it sounds like there was a lot to do to get those planes ready.
JW: Yes. By that time the hangar was going so we had a corner of the hangar that we would be a team. As the aircraft came from the makers they came completely empty with ballast in place of things. So you were getting the ballast out, putting the turrets in in place of the ballast and the various other things that you had to do like second pilot seats and various things. There was cable cutters to put in to the wings in case the Wimpie was flying and had to cut a cable on a balloon.
MH: So how long did that take to get a plane from from you receiving it from the factory to then being ready to to actually start to fly?
JW: Well, it probably on the team turn out one a week once we were geared up to do so.
MH: And how many were on your team?
JW: And there would probably be an engine fitter, an airframe fitter, an electrician would do two or three teams. Same with an instrument man and the radio people came in when they were needed.
MH: Right. So, so you, over a period of time you’ve all had these planes slowly coming from the factory.
JW: And being dispersed.
MH: Yeah.
JW: In Worcestershire and Gloucestershire and at various aerodromes like.
MH: Right.
JW: There was many. So, there was about eight aerodromes down that, all being built.
MH: Yeah.
JW: And —
MH: So, so was Pershore the hub for all these to come in to, in to —
JW: All these.
MH: And you would get them ready.
JW: Yes.
MH: And then you would move them out.
JW: Yeah.
MH: So, so was that basically all your job entailed? Oh, that sounds a bit disrespectful.
JW: Yes, I —
MH: But was that all just basically like a production line of planes coming in and going out.
JW: And going out. Yes.
MH: So was there, was there any flying at Pershore? Was it a flying airfield as well?
JW: Oh yes. It was an airfield, and flew. It had its own aircraft as well.
MH: Right.
JW: Probably about eight I think that got it in two. It was 23 OTU but they got it in A and B Flights or they might have even had C.
MH: Yeah.
JW: But they got about eight aircraft of their own on dispersals which I didn’t take part in.
MH: No.
JW: Because I was in the teams that were shoving them out.
MH: Yeah. So the A and B flights had their own mechanics.
JW: Yeah. They were mechanics rather than fitters.
MH: So, so what was it like fitting, fitting a turret to, how many turrets did you fit into a Wellington then?
JW: Well, the, we were on Wellington 3s and that was the, the advanced turret for the rear end because Wellington bombers you couldn’t get out of the turret excepting back in to the aircraft. It didn’t have enough angle. But the Wellington 3 did and if you had to eject in the air it could turn round and the man could fall out of the turret.
MH: Right.
JW: And bale out.
MH: So how long did you stay at Pershore doing that sort of work?
JW: September ’43. [pause] September ’43 I got a posting to 206 Squadron. They was at Benbecula flying Hudsons but I didn’t get there because I got part way there, as far as Wick, by Aberdeen and they turned me back to Liverpool. Gave me a new warrant to get to Liverpool and then across the water to the Wirral to an Army unit because 206 Squadron Benbecula were breaking up in flights and I was on what was called 8206 which was a Combined Ops Unit and I joined this Army unit as the RAF and some people had come already from Benbecula. There was about fifty of us altogether in the RAF forming up to go to go to, eventually to the Azores but we weren’t given the information.
MH: But you didn’t know where you were going.
JW: We didn’t know where we were going.
MH: So, what was the, so you were there. How many were there from the RAF then?
JW: There was about, well there was supposed to be a thousand RAF, a thousand Army and a thousand Navy.
MH: Right. So it was a big outfit.
JW: Yes. Because where ever we were going it was a Combined Ops Unit. We were, we were liable to have to be under canvas for a certain length of time.
MH: So how long were you? You say you were on the Wirral? Do you know?
JW: Well, about two weeks. We, we had got certain bits of kit and a sten gun and a little bit of training and square mess tins. We had to hand our round tins in for square mess tins.
MH: Were rounds ones particular to the RAF I take it?
JW: No. The round ones were on issue to everybody at that time.
MH: Right.
JW: But the square mess tin fitted the, the ration packs that were coming in.
MH: Yeah.
JW: At that time. So, we had to have a square mess tin.
MH: And you said you got some training with a sten gun so you were taught to shoot were you then?
JW: We were taught to shoot. We were taught a little bit about self-defence. We were taught to use our mess tins and given a mug which was china and needless to say you soon broke the mug.
MH: So, so what, what did you think when suddenly you’d gone from fitting turrets on to Wellingtons to now you’re on the Wirral in this this other unit of soldiers and other, and sailors and suddenly they’re teaching you to fire guns.
JW: Well, we were there about two weeks kitting out etcetera and then we, we joined, they brought us back to Liverpool dock, the Liver Dock and we joined the Franconia which was a troop ship. And that night we sailed across the water to Bangor Harbour where the rest of the people came in. The rest of the three thousand people came in. I was only on a unit of about fifty which was 8206. There were other RAF people around but we did different units.
MH: Did you know where you were going at that point?
JW: No. That, that same evening we must have left Bangor because when we woke up on, on we were below decks and the weather broke up the next morning.
MH: I’m going to just pause there.
[recording paused]
MH: Right. Just to explain to people listening to this recording we’ve just a very important thing which was sorting out lunch for Jim and Pete. So, we’re just starting again. So, you were just at the point where you’d set sail.
JW: We’d sailed.
MH: You were below decks and you woke up the next morning.
JW: We woke up the next morning and we’d come out of Bangor and we were now heading west. Due west. And this went on for about two days and we thought, everyone thought we’re going to Iceland because we were going in that direction. Suddenly we turned left and started in a southerly direction. This went on for about another day and we joined up with a, with a Navy ship. A Destroyer, and he was hovering around us and about four days later we overtook a flotilla of merchant ships that had other Navy ships around them and an aircraft carrier. And at that time our officers were drawn in to tell us that we were going to land in the Azores.
MH: Which was part of Portugal, wasn’t it?
JW: Which was part of Portugal.
MH: A neutral country.
JW: And this was before Winston Churchill had announced anything about this island.
MH: Right.
JW: This, this island was called Terceira. It was a small volcanic island with [barefoots] so we were all given the necessary jabs up our backsides because they were worried about plagues and that sort of thing. And then we arrived on a Sunday afternoon. The, there was a big Navy ship offloading boats to get us from the, from our ship and from the merchant ships to the shore.
MH: I take it there wasn’t a harbour as such then.
JW: On a little harbour called [pause] [unclear] or something like that. It was a little harbour. Anyway, we, we all assembled with our kit and of course the RAF volunteered [laughs] to go as soon as possible and we jumped in to these boats because the sea was rather rough, running at about ten foot, landing craft and got to shore where, where the other people that was before us were receiving all sorts of things ashore. And there was tea laid on but the rest of it was our own rations. So we went on shift. Four hours on two hours off day and night. And that’s how we spent that first night was working for four hours unloading things on the shore and the Army had put up [tents] and tents loosely to an area outside town on the side of a volcano.
MH: Right. So you spent all night unloading and sorting all your stuff out.
JW: Yeah. Well, the next morning 8206 were called together and we, we were told to put our stuff in to a lorry because we were going roughly twenty five mile across country to where we were going to build an Air Force station. We were going to lay plate runway to form a runway and dispersals. We would be in tents for up to a year and we would be on rations, our own rations but two hot meals a day. Breakfast and dinner. There would be no lights. It would just be an encampment in tents. Eight to a tent.
MH: So you started from scratch really.
JW: Yes. And we went over, that day we went over and we started laying, there was no aircraft around. We started laying a strip because the Army was ahead of us in their knocking walls down and things to make an airstrip and that afternoon the Seafires off the aircraft carrier landed on the strip that we’d already prepared.
MH: So you didn’t hang around then. You got it down quick fairly quickly.
JW: Hmmn?
MH: You got, you got your work —
JW: We got enough.
MH: To do that. Yeah.
JW: To land Seafires —
MH: Yeah.
JW: Down in that same afternoon. Because we’d gone first light in the morning and with, as, as strip runway came in we laid it.
MH: Right. How long did it take you to finish laying the full —
JW: Oh well, we were on that as well as our own aircraft. Two days later our aircraft came in from America and we were now on B17s.
MH: So, there’s no, you hadn’t got any British planes as such it was just —
JW: Pardon?
MH: Had you got any British planes there? Bombers or were they —
JW: No. No. No. We had the Seafires. They used, they were on a dispersal and they flew from their own dispersal and they’d somehow or another got one or two people over to help them out. We refuelled from Jerry cans with, because it was all over the wing refuelling and we had no tankers whatsoever. We refuelled from Jerry cans in to a funnel with a, with a filter at the bottom.
MH: It took a bit longer to fill up then normal then.
JW: Oh, good lord, it was. We had no no tanker. A few weeks later, about a fortnight later I went over, I was given civilian overalls to go to the main island to see if we could find a fuel storage unit because Jerry cans were such a pain to refuel with. You know. A five, you could damage the aircraft let alone anything else.
MH: So, you’d got these B17s. were they piloted by American crews?
JW: They, they were piloted by British crews.
MH: Right.
JW: And they were marionised with a radar unit that came down the fuselage and out at the tail wheel. And this was a Canadian unit and they brought one Canadian with them who taught us to, how to polish the wave guide because it was a five inch wave guide and the magnetron was in like a Smith’s biscuit tin which we had to take the lid off every day and polish up the, the prongs.
MH: So was that a particular piece of kit for what they were doing?
JW: No. They —
MH: Or just a general.
JW: The Canadians. It was apparently used for fishing. To find shoals of fish but they’d adapted it to find submarines.
MH: Right.
JW: And so with sonar buoys at strategic places and the mathematics of it all and we had all sorts of radio aerials along the roof of the, of the B17 they could bring in the Navy or the merchant ship, carry their own depth charges if they had to do and find not fish but submarines.
MH: A clever idea. Do you remember what squadron that was?
JW: We were, it was 206 Squadron. We were, we were still 8206 [coughs] because we were like the maintenance team for the squadron.
MH: So, when —
JW: And then about [coughs] that probably went on until about [pause] well I broke a finger just before Christmas and had to have like a tennis racket where it pulled it all out. It did heal in the end so I was, I was in hospital. A Portuguese hospital run, a ward run by the, by the Army or Navy or RAF over Christmas day. But I was only in for about three days after Christmas and when I got back to the unit which was, which the Army had made us like a servicing bay knocking a lump out of, out of the volcano edging because we were like now probably three or four hundred foot above the sea level. When we, when I got back to them there was now 209 Squadron as well as 206 Squadron there so we were getting we had about nine aircraft, B17s, altogether.
MH: And these were all equipped with the same instrumentation to find submarines.
JW: Yes. They had the same. The same sort of kit on and they’d come with the 209 Squadron crews which we, we only saw them come to the aircraft, fly them and that was it and then they’d be gone to where ever they were billeted.
MH: Right. And did, how successful were they at catching submarines? Did you ever get to hear?
JW: Well, I think that it assisted the Navy. They certainly got one submarine as we were coming. The Navy got one submarine as we were coming to land originally because there was subs in that area and they certainly were feeding the subs on the surface and we, because the, the Canary Islands were supplying fuel for all these subs and things.
MH: Right. Because they were under Spain which was fascist, wasn’t it?
JW: They were in Spain you see and we knew that this was happening so we were always overflying that, those areas.
MH: Right.
JW: So, I think they certainly altered the name of the game for, for the ships that were refuelling submarines.
MH: So, it seems to me that at times you were perhaps only aware of what work you were doing. You didn’t see —
JW: Yes.
MH: The pilots flying the planes.
JW: That’s right. Yes.
MH: You didn’t find out how successful. You just did your job.
JW: I did my job. I was sent once to try to get a fuel tanker from the main island which is St Miguel or something like that of the Azores. And that was the only time I’d been at sea again. There was a sergeant sent with me and I was like a lance corporal.
MH: Right. So how long were you in the Azores for? Did that go on for a while?
JW: In, let me see [pause] can I just have a second to look at it?
MH: Of course, you can.
JW: I’ve had to pick this up from my records. [pause] Well, in about April they told us to, to shift all our inventories to 209 Squadron.
MH: This was 1944 at this point.
JW: So, that was 1944. April 1944, because our aircrew had gone back to Blighty and there was only 209 aircrew left on the island now to run these eight or nine B17s. We were told that we were being moved back to Blighty as a squadron. We didn’t know where to but what we knew was we were going back by Skymaster to [pause] to the western side of Africa and then flying on to Blighty by Skymasters because by now the Americans were bringing Skymasters in quite quickly, several a day and even Mitchells were coming through. They were using the airfield as a staging post and incidentally in January a new flotilla of of ships arrived bringing more stuff to the island because we’d been on our own for six months and used up nearly everything we’d brought. So, they’d brought in 209 Squadron servicing crew by ship. They’d brought in all sorts of materials to make decent Nissen huts for people to live in. We were still under canvas and remained under canvas until we moved.
MH: What was the weather like?
JW: Damp. It was the Azores. It’s good, goodish weather. It’ll grow small bananas and that sort of thing but it’s damp and there’s quite a lot of, quite a lot of rain.
MH: So not necessarily the best conditions to be under canvas.
JW: No. No.
MH: Were you aware that point how the war was going elsewhere? What were you hearing?
JW: Yes. We had a newspaper that came around. I think it was originally once a month and now it was probably a weekly one called, “The Azores Times.” I think. And we, we were kept assured of what was going on in Blighty. Anyway, we eventually got home piecemeal between Casablanca and, and the tip of Cornwall where we landed at, the Skymasters landed at St Mawgan. So I was home about May and the, the officer in charge said, ‘Ah, your squadron is at St Eval.’ So, he got me a garrey to get me to St Eval.
MH: Whats a garrey?
JW: A garrey is a lorry.
MH: Right. Right.
JW: To get me to St Eval. And there I, I was back with the rest of the lads. There was, we were the last two to get away from, from Casablanca because it was all done when we could get a flight.
MH: Yeah.
JW: Because there was mostly flights were for officers.
MH: Did you get a chance to have a walk around? Did you get in to town while you were in Casablanca? Did you get to see the sights?
JW: Oh yes. Yes. And I also did some work for the RAF unit because they were putting together American Lightnings as a twin boom Lightnings.
MH: Yeah P38s.
JW: Yes.
MH: So, so you get back to England.
JW: Yes.
MH: Was this just before D-Day and where —
JW: Yes. Yeah. This was about a week before D-Day and I was put on night shift. We lived at Morganporth in a commandeered hotel and we had dry rations. We didn’t have anything to do with St Eval as, as a unit. We were, we were on a dispersal about the furthermost away. They did bring a hot meal in. If you were on days you got it at lunchtime. If you were on nights you got it about two in the morning. So we were always kept. Had a hot meal on site. But we were permanently on site on twelve hours shifts. Twelve on. Twelve off.
MH: So were you with the squadron at this point in time or just with the, like —
JW: Yes. This was 206 Squadron.
MH: Right. Ok.
JW: We’ve now changed to Liberators by the way. We, the aircrew had adapted to Liberators.
MH: And did you have to do much to catch up in terms of work —
JW: Well, it was a question of a Liberator is another aircraft and you get used to knowing that aircraft are aircraft.
MH: And what were you, what was your job at that time? What were you were working on?
JW: Well, again being an LAC I I ran a little team of people.
MH: Right.
JW: About three mechanics. Three or four. Usually an engine mechanic, an air frame mechanic and one wanderer like an electrician or instruments or both.
MH: And what, what operations were the squadron involved in around about at that time?
JW: We were putting an anti-submarine because the Liberators were also anti- submarine. I don’t know quite what type because they didn’t seem to have the same scanners as a B17 so I didn’t know anything about that side of what they were scanning.
MH: And where were, where were—
JW: It must have been some sort of radar.
MH: Yeah. And what areas were they operating?
JW: They, they were covering Brest to the Irish Sea for anti-submarine block.
MH: And, and we were obviously getting around to D-Day at this point in time. Were you aware that that was, happened or, you know, you just carry on as normal? Or did you —
JW: Well, on I think it was the 5th of, was it June? D-Day.
MH: Yeah. 6th of June was the actual —
JW: The 6th. On the night of the 5th I was on duty that night and about five in the morning just as day was breaking there was a flotilla. A flotilla of B17s, Americans all painted up with the white stripes you know and there must have been a couple of hundred come over us at about 5 in the morning. Came over the top of us and flew on towards France. So that must have been the start of D-Day.
MH: And then how did your, how did 206 Squadron sort of carry on doing duty?
JW: We used, on our tannoy system which was separate to the station system if there was sighting of a U-boat they would send the message over and tell us what was happening by the air crew and two or three evenings we were told they were chasing U-boats and dropping DCs.
MH: Depth charges.
JW: Depth charges.
MH: So, so that was almost like a real time. You were told as it was happening.
JW: Yeah. Happening in real time.
MH: They’d relay. They’d relay the radio messages.
JW: Well, we went on for about a week there and then suddenly they said, ‘Well, go and take what you can of your kit. Bring in your kit. Bring in everything you’ve got. Take what you can of ground equipment because you’re going up to Leuchar, Scotland as a part of a unit of 206. Leaving some people in 206 looking after what they were looking after and you’re going up by train to Leuchar to set up a similar system from Leuchar on the North Sea.’
MH: And that’s what you did. And how long did that go on for?
JW: This went, we, we brought our kit in. The train we’d loaded what we could of ground equipment and tools and all that. Things that we think, thought we’d need. And we were at, we went up by slow train to Leuchar. This took about, there was rations put on so we had rations on the way and I think when we got to Leuchar there was a hot meal laid on and we went straight to the flight and some of our aircraft were now landing at Leuchar. Some of the, some of the Liberators were landing at Leuchar and in the Leuchar base was very near the sea because Leuchar is on a small island, just by the golf course and in on the sea front there was the RAF unit that ran MTBs. Motor torpedo boats. So we communicated with them that what would happen. We’d site where, where U-boats were and they would go out and see if they would surrender or, or get DC’d.
MH: And how long were you at Leuchar for?
JW: Probably a fortnight because in Leuchar they were asking, by then they were asking for people to go to India and, and look at the Far East. And there were people, they were looking for people that were single. Not married.
MH: You were still single at that time.
JW: So I was still single at that time so my CO said, ‘Will you volunteer?’ As usual. So, I was on my way then. I got a couple of days leave and down to, I think I went to Morecambe, I’m not sure. And a couple of days leave at home to Morecambe. Morecambe to Southampton by train and I found myself on the way to India at the [pause] when did I go to India? [pause] August 1944.
MH: Right.
JW: End of August. I landed actually in Calcutta. I landed at Worli. That’s the old, the old what’s it called now? In India.
MH: I’m not sure.
JW: Worli.
MH: I’m not sure about Worli because they’ve gone back to the original names not the anglicised names, haven’t they?
JW: Ceylon. Not.
MH: Oh, Sri Lanka are you on about? Sri Lanka? No.
JW: No. What’s Hollywood in [pause] Bollywood.
MH: Yeah.
JW: What town was that?
MH: I’m not sure to be honest. My Indian knowledge is not that good.
JW: I landed on that side of India.
MH: Yeah. Right.
JW: Caught a train across to Calcutta which wasn’t —
MH: It wasn’t Bombay. You’re not on about Bombay, are you?
JW: Bombay, landed Bombay. Worli. Caught a train the next day. A troop train going to Calcutta and we pushed it half the way.
MH: The train?
JW: It was a troop train so you’d, you’d go about four hours, five hours, something like that, all disembark for a hot cup of tea and your rations for that day. So you were still living on rations. Anyway, when I got to Calcutta I was posted to Dum Dum which was the Calcutta race course at that time. Now, it’s the airport but at that time it was just the racecourse. I was posted to a little unit called [pause] what was it called? Air Salvage and Servicing. It had three Dakotas that were all being modified to carry stuff externally as well as internally. And I was given my corporal tapes whilst I was on that unit because you couldn’t get permanent corporal. You could only be an LAC permanent. So each unit you went to you’d got to qualify to be an acting corporal.
MH: So what was, what was this air salvage —
JW: Air Salvage Unit. I joined a team, or I was in charge of a team as an acting corporal and we, we would be responsible for taking stuff in to the Burma area that was needed by squadrons. For instance on one occasion we, we took a, there was other teams taking things like Spitfires to pieces. We used to split the the Spitfire in to the engine, attach the prop off, the tail off and the empennage and one, one wing upside down with a fairing on the front hung by cables between, underneath the Dakota. The Spitfire we would fit inside the fuselage with the engine in the open doors which we dispersed with so we were now have got half of a Spitfire into a Dakota. We, we would go from Dum Dum to Agartala which was in Assam, north of the river, refuel and then fly on and in this particular instance to an airfield that you couldn’t get to in daytime because of volcanoes and things ad drop in there, offload my part of the gear. The pilot who was a Polish pilot that he had no, no navigational aids whatsoever. We, we used to fly, I used to fly with him and just follow the route that he told me to follow. Followed either a river or a railway line and just watch what was going on or fly a course where I was keeping to a course.
MH: And then, obviously you dropped off this Spitfire. Did you then bring —
JW: He came back for the other half.
MH: Right.
JW: And that would arrive the next morning.
MH: And then you had to put it together.
JW: And my, by that time we’d put as much of the Spitfire together with three of us as we could get together.
MH: Yeah. And was that something you did for quite a while in India?
JW: I did. I did Imphal Valley once. I did a lot of various drops. I worked for 31 Squadron for quite a while.
MH: What sort of squadron were they? Were they —
JW: They were another Dakota squadron.
MH: Right.
JW: That were supplying Chindits —
MH: Right.
JW: And people like the Chindits in, in Burma with mules. We even took mules in one day. I I wasn’t on that aircraft. That was one of our other aircraft.
MH: So how long did you stay in India for?
JW: Well, I, I was, I also did a trip from, starting at Agartala where, where I picked up a train load of Hurricanes because we couldn’t get the Hurricane. The Hurricane’s built differently to the Spitfire. You can’t get it in to a Dakota. You can get a wing on but you can’t get an outer wing. You can put on but you can’t get the centre section so we were taking Hurricanes and various other spares back to India to Kanpur which was the MU that put them together again. And this was a two week journey. Caught the, picked up the train and my rations and a sten gun. A colleague, there was two, always two of us on the train and apart from sten guns we had, we picked up a long range rifle. A Garand rifle for long distance shooting if, if we were being attacked. We would then go Cox’s Bazaar. Pick up some more kit there. Chittagong. Worked our way to the Brahmaputra point where the train would be offloaded and loaded on to barges and go up the Brahmaputra for about seven or eight hours to another port on the right hand side for, for narrow gauge use.
MH: Yes.
JW: And from there we would go, go to, to Kanpur and the whole journey would take about seven days if you were lucky. If you were unlucky it could take up to a fortnight.
MH: And when did you get back to the, get back to England then? How long before —
JW: Well, from that I went, I was on Ramree Island which is an island off Burma with 31 Squadron when the war ended. When the atom bomb, the second atom bomb dropped. And we were told to go to Mingaladon and be on, everybody at Mingaladon which was the bottom of Burma to wait for the Viceroy of India to come in and take the surrender which happened the next morning. We were all lined up. All the squadrons around were lined up along one side and in came the York with, with the Viceroy of India on. He got killed in Ireland, didn’t he?
MH: Lord Mountbatten.
JW: Lord Mountbatten. Yes. He took the salute from the, from the Japanese who gave him all the swords etcetera. And then we moved on. We, we were given the task of looking after 31 Squadron. I was now with 31 Squadron. Still on attachment [laughs] We, we were given Siam, Sumatra, land at Singapore but don’t take the salute there. And then go on to Java and Borneo. So I ended up in Java running, running B Flight aeroplanes. About four. Four aeroplanes and I had a crew of about two fitters and two, two engine men. And that’s when my release came through for Class B demob. So, the next morning I’d got my kit packed and an A Flight aircraft flew me back to Singapore. I I mounted a boat, got a boat from there to Southampton and was demobbed at Hednesford.
MH: And what date was that? Can you remember?
JW: 9th of the 3rd ’46.
MH: Right. Right. I understand, I don’t think your time in the RAF quite finished then, did it? Although you’d been demobbed.
JW: No. No. I I was discharged to complete my apprenticeship as a civvy which I did. I found I was then on a half a crown an hour for a fully fledged joiner. And I enquired of the firm I was working for, ‘What was my promotion? Would I get promotion?’ He said, ‘Well, when —' such and such dies —' he was about fifty at the time, I was about twenty two or four, something like that. ‘When he dies you or Johnny will get the job,’ because there was two of us. An Army lad that had done much the same as I had. So, I’d, I had notice from the Air Force that I could join for five years. Or four years or something of that nature and get my tapes back. So I wrote to the RAF. I’d done this prior to finishing my time. My civilian time. I wrote to the RAF and got a guarantee that I would be promoted to substantive corporal for the jobs that I’d done as an acting corporal and they gave me this. They said yes you will be but you’ll have to do three months on the job to prove that you’re capable.
MH: So, what squadron did you go back in to?
JW: So I went back to Swinderby for a four years, four year enlistment and that gave me a hundred and twenty five quid.
MH: And what, what did you do when you went back then? A similar sort of thing?
JW: Well, they had Wellington 20s by that time. Navigation. They were doing training navigation in Bomber Command. 17 OTU they were so they were Bomber Command again. And I was there until January ’51 in Swinderby. In 17 OTU.
MH: So what, what was your role then? What were you doing there?
JW: Again, I was what they called the piece of wind section which was the air and the, and the hydraulics. I ran a little section of of about three bodies. We did tyres as well. We did hydraulics. I did a little bit of work producing a better ground equipment than, than at that time we had because the RAF was very very short of decent ground equipment. So I’d mounted, because we were, we needed high pressure air on the Wellington 20s.
MH: Yeah. Was it different post-war than during the war? Was there a different atmosphere?
JW: It was gradually getting back to Wednesdays off you know. Wednesday afternoon was sports day and the, it just so happened that I met my wife at that time because the, the old diversion air field for Swinderby was Wigsley. And Wigsley was being used in the huts for people that had been in Germany for —
MH: Displaced persons.
JW: Displaced persons, and my wife was a displaced person.
MH: Right.
JW: That had recently come over and it just so happened I’d, we were doing circuits and bumps on the airfield and I’d sent one of my men over to do backstay checks on, once they’d landed you had to make sure the geometric lock was in the correct place before they could take off again and he said, ‘Hey, there’s a load of women over there.’ So off we went on our motorbikes.
MH: Right. So I understand at some point in time you worked on the Vulcan.
JW: Yes.
MH: Was that towards the end of your time?
JW: Well, [pause] where was I?
MH: You said you were at Swinderby until about 1950, weren’t you? Something like that.
JW: Yes. ’51. I’d done training courses to take Meteor 3s out to, out to Singapore. Unfortunately, the Makarios war took all our aircraft so although the Meteor 3s were on a boat loaded for Singapore we couldn’t get to them. So Singapore did their own lot and put the Meteor 3s in. But we were on posting anyway to Singapore as a unit and in January ’51 I landed in Singapore as a unit but because the Meteor 3s had been put in to service we were given another job in Singapore on Sunderlands which was another aircraft I didn’t know.
MH: No.
JW: And 205 and 220 Squadron were the squadrons but I was put in to the Maintenance Unit to bring up a beached aircraft. And it was at that point I got a wound on my left foot because putting, getting the thing up slip. They’re the last thing. You bring it up back to front and the last thing that happened was that the tow on one side towed before the other side, pulled the aircraft around with the ground equipment over my foot. That caused me problems that I still suffer today. We, we did Singapore, posted back to UK and to Stradishall. And it was from Stradishall that I I got my legs mended from the ‘51 thing in ’53. I I had them mended at, at an RAF hospital that near to Cambridge. I was at Stradishall in ’44 and was called to Melksham to go on to V bombers because my Fitter 1 training way back in my marriage days of ’48 was to Yatesbury to be a Fitter 1. Now, it had taken that time to sort out what the Fitter 1 really should be as an ASC and it was Melksham that we were sent to for coursing. And then on to AV Roes because again I passed out about fourth in the entry so we had the choice of aircraft. There was about fifty on the course but only the first ten went either on to Vulcans or Victors.
MH: So, so a massive —
JW: I chose Vulcans.
MH: Why did you choose Vulcans?
JW: Because it’s a better aircraft.
MH: Better in what way?
JW: Better in, even the Mark 1 which I had was a better aircraft. A much steadier aircraft for bombing.
MH: So you thought it was a better aircraft to maintain was it?
JW: A better aircraft all round. All the way round.
MH: Yeah.
JW: There was one advantage that the other aircraft had, the Victor had, was powered by by 220 volts rather than, rather than a 112 volt battery. That was the only advantage that I saw.
MH: Yeah.
JW: In that, but the Mark 2 Vulcan became a 220 anyway.
MH: So how long did you remain in the RAF for, Jim?
JW: Well, I remained on Vulcan 1s and XH477 was my allocated aircraft. I took that on board and flew with it on many occasions as ASC.
MH: Actually, in the plane.
JW: Oh yes.
MH: Yeah.
JW: Yes. Well, you’d, if the aircraft was on a given operation I could not fly with it. If the aircraft was on what they called a lone ranger or going to do a job like Butterworths which is the other side of Malaya or Australia or, for instance we did the George Ward’s thing in Rio de Janeiro and, and we did [pause] we inaugurated a president in Buenos Aires as well. So on those flight an ASC flew with the aircraft as the sixth seat.
MH: Just in case you needed to do maintenance while it was out there.
JW: Yes. Well, we usually took a servicing crew as well. These were Hermes aircraft for Buenos Aires. We’d take two Hermes with crews on board. Some for training for the actual inauguration because they, our second pilot was an AVM.
MH: Air Vice Marshall.
JW: Hmnn?
MH: Air Vice Marshall. AVM.
JW: Air Vice Marshall. A one-handed man that had lost his hand during the war. In Spitfire presumably. We were very [pause] we did those sorts of operations with ASC on the sixth seat so I I think I flew mostly most of the hours in my aircraft than any other crew. Eventually, I was given the chance of going on Mark 2s but I I sent my PV3 back to Air Ministry saying I was leaving the Air force in less than two years. So they called me to Air Ministry to query why and I explained that I I was really in a position where I had to find a civilian job that suited me. And I had already done twenty two years so wanted to be clear of the Air Force inside another three years. And I didn’t want to go on Mark 2s for that reason. So I was given the opportunity of handing my aircraft to what was my second dickie now which I did and going on SFTT work for [pause] for, for until I left the Air Force. Until I found a suitable job which I did with ICL.
MH: Where was that? In Stoke on Trent?
JW: In Stoke. And I found, I found the job with English Electric Leo Marconi which became a part of ICL. So I was initially at Kidsgrove in the electrical huts on the opposite site.
MH: Using a lot of skills that you learned in the RAF?
JW: Yeah. I was, well when the, when ICL was formed the name of the game was different because I I’d gone in using RAF skills and and various things but I was now offered a management job in ICL to look after the field problems of ICL. Forming and getting rid of various little units that had joined, made up ICL and making bigger units like the Arndale Centre at Manchester where I took eleven top floors in the Arndale Centre. Eleven to twenty two.
MH: Right.
JW: Without lifts initially.
MH: I can imagine. I think that you’ve told me an absolutely fascinating story of a lad from Burton who was going to be a carpenter. Doesn’t seem to ever have been much of a carpenter because he spent most of his time in the RAF but I suppose as you say you got a trade but —
JW: Yeah. Well, my, my trade fitted me up fine for ICL work.
MH: Yeah.
JW: In the field.
MH: So is there anything else from your RAF time you want to tell me about? Have we covered most of —
JW: I left in 1966. October. And I had a good, a good twenty two years with, with ICL.
MH: Afterwards —
JW: And manage with three pensions.
MH: Yeah.
JW: With them as well as an RAF pension.
MH: Right. That, that’s great. I’ve got no questions to ask. I said I’ll be writing some notes down but you did say that you could talk and you’ve just, you’ve told me all I want —
JW: Well, I’ve had to refer to this because I can’t remember it.
MH: No.
JW: I highlighted all the areas that were Bomber Command.
MH: Yeah. Yeah. No that’s great. Jim, can I thank you for giving your time? You’ve talked for about an hour and a half then. That’s brilliant.
JW: Well, I’m afraid that’s twenty two years.
MH: You’ve done very well to keep it —
JW: Of RAF.
MH: Yeah. So, so thank you very much. Thank you for all your service and thank you for your time today. The time is 12.48. I’m going to turn the recorder off in a second. I just need you to sign a form and then you two guys —
JW: Right.
MH: Can go and get dinner because I suppose you’re hungry. So thank you very much for your time and thank you very much for, for letting me speak to you today.

Collection

Citation

Martyn Horndern, “Interview with Jim Wildes,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 2, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/9341.

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