Interview with John Lee


Interview with John Lee


John Lee from Shrewsbury volunteered for the RAF hoping to be accepted as aircrew. However, he failed the altitude test and was posted to the RAF Regiment where he guarded crashed aircraft, protected the airfield and manned an anti-aircraft gun. He witnessed the fatal collision of two Halifaxes and was involved in recovering the bodies from the site. One man from his unit was killed by shrapnel and John had to accompany the coffin home and preside over the military funeral. As the 6th Airborne set off on their mission for D-Day John witnessed a man brought back in handcuffs for failing to take to make the jump. John and his unit also worked to shoot down flying bombs. He was unwillingly transferred to the Army until he was finally demobbed.




Temporal Coverage





00:57:14 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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ALeeJLO180911, PLeeJLO1801


DH: And again, right it’s working. I apologise. It’s working now. I can’t see, I couldn’t see the numbers going around. Ok. I’ve got to do my introduction again. I apologise. Very sorry. Ok. Sorry. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Dawn Hughes. The interviewee is Mr John Lee. The interview is taking place at Mr Lee’s home in Shrewsbury, Shropshire on the 11th of September 2018. Thank you, John for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present at the interview is Mr Andrew Lee, son of Mr Lee. Right. Ok. Sorry about that I only just noticed that the numbers weren’t going around. So, can you tell me again, I apologise for, how you came to join the RAF? You were saying that, about the war starting.
JL: I was working as an apprentice decorator in Shrewsbury, and everybody had to register between the age of eighteen and thirty five when war broke out, and I didn’t want to go into the Navy and I didn’t want to go in to the Army. I was a member of the ATC so I enlisted in the Air Force and I was put on the Reserve for a few weeks and I was called, I think it’s May 1942. I went to, reported to Cardington in, to the recruitment place there. Spent a few days there or a week, and went to do my square bashing, initial square bashing at Redcar. From Redcar I was transferred to Locking, Weston Super Mare, and I spent another six or seven weeks there on various courses. And from there I went, as far as I recall I was posted to an airfield at Rednall outside Shrewsbury, and I was only there for a very short time and I was posted to the Isle of Man on a course. I was thinking I was going back to Rednall, but I didn’t go back to Rednall. I was posted to the south end of England. An airfield outside Ilford, and that was a fighter station and I went to night school for about six or seven weeks to learn maths and English, and then they transferred me, or recommended me to join aircrew. Unfortunately, I failed my flying test at high altitude.
DH: What did that test consist —
JL: Sorry?
DH: How did they do that test?
JL: Well, they, they put you in to a big room and I mean, do you know anything about Mercury?
DH: Not a lot. No.
JL: Well, Mercury is something like, that you, they put it in a tube and you have to blow this Mercury and Mercury is very heavy and it registers your heartbeat at different heights.
DH: Yeah.
JL: And obviously they couldn’t understand it because after doing that, because I’d already passed the examination and the interview so they sent me to see a psychiatrist.
DH: Oh.
JL: Because they couldn’t understand it. How I would be unable to breathe at —
DH: Yeah.
JL: Ten thousand feet.
DH: So, what did the psychiatrist say?
JL: So, on my notes there it said, “Not required for aircrew.” So that was, the guy said to me when I went back to the flight he said, ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to finish the war on the ground.’ And then we were posted to, sort of Faldingworth and I was there from ’43 to ’44.
DH: So, what trade did they get you doing then?
JL: Well, we were defending the airfield. Just defending the airfield there and then doing various manoeuvres at the same time around the countryside. You do two days of guarding the airfield and then you would, there were, what they were doing they were this RAF Regiment. They were building it up. I mean obviously it was, we didn’t know anything about it but probably they were, the invasion was under way and they were planning all these things, and of course, you see the RAF Regiment it was classed as a fighting unit but on the ground. They had a Rifle Corps. They had ack ack guns. And they had a various headquarters but it was self-contained.
DH: Before we started talking, before we started recording it you were telling me about how the RAF Regiment came to be formed. Can you explain that again for me?
JL: Well, as far as I know reading the various paper and reading that book it was designed to defend the aircraft. And what it was is when we invaded Germany we would follow the people over there to take any airfields and hold it until it was established as an airfield for us to fly from to continue bombing Germany.
DH: And initially you explained how when the RAF Regiment was formed you were to replace soldiers that were looking after the airfield. Can you explain that again?
JL: I presume that’s what it was.
DH: Yeah.
JL: But, and I was there for the whole of that time. I mean, unfortunately there were some terrible things. Two Halifaxes came in one night in the fog and they crashed about two and a half miles away from the airfield. To carry sixteen bodies out of there, and never even been on a bombing crew.
DH: Terrible.
JL: And I know that because we were the Guard of Honour when they went out of the gates in the hearses. Those were the things that are never published.
DH: No. So, your job was mainly on the anti-aircraft guns.
JL: Yes. We were the defence of Bomber Command.
DH: Ok. So where did you have your training for operating these?
JL: Well, as I say I did a signal course in Compton Bassett for six weeks on aldis lamp and wireless. I did a gunnery course in the Isle of Man. And then later on from Faldingworth we were sent down to Aldershot for a course with the Army because if you can, these traversing on these ack ack guns, they were forty millimetres. They weren’t quick enough to meet these V-1s that they were flying to, over London so we went on another course to Butlin’s Holiday Camp. All these guns were based in the swimming pools that used to be by, at Filey, and you did a lot of gun training there and they adapted the fast traversing gear on them so that instead of them going like that you just turn it a thou and it would go a mile.
DH: Wow.
JL: Because of the speed of these flying bombs.
DH: So, before that you were, obviously they can’t see on the tape but you’re turning.
JL: That’s right.
DH: You’re turning around.
JL: Whenever you went you did two hundred mile. It, it’s complicated to describe to anybody.
DH: Yeah.
JL: But as an NCO you see I was in charge of the gun crew. And in addition to these guns they were also done with electric generators so that you coupled up the gun to an electric generator and it removed some of the men so that you only needed three men to do it. And then you had a big projector which was about two metres square on a tripod, and you fed the range in to that and I, as a number one picked up the flight of the aircraft or the, whatever it is. And you put the information on it yourself and, and then you told them when to fire. And that was all done with automatic. We were trained to do that and then as I say we went down to Kent, and I spent from the second week in June ‘44 to October on the flight path in Kent. And there’s a photograph in that book there which will give you, which my other son got off the internet of how many flying bombs fell in Kent that never reached London.
DH: Wow. Can I take you back to operating the anti-aircraft gun? You know, when, because you were number one and you worked out the height, the altitude of the bomb. Did you do that by eye or was, was that part of the machinery?
JL: Yes.
DH: Did that do it for you?
JL: You know, you estimated. You see, in addition to that we went, there was so much that’s not put down on my sheet there because we were, we went down to Aberaeron, in South Wales for a firing course for ten days. And I mean you were there on the top of the headlands and you were firing live ammunition at a drogue pulled by an aircraft. Target practice. Suicide blokes by this.
DH: Yes. Oh dear. Sorry, I shouldn’t laugh, should I?
JL: No. It is. It’s perfectly true. But, you see they’ve not recorded that on my, my sheet.
DH: Right.
JL: I mean that’s when everything was so secretive and —
DH: I bet he used a long rope, didn’t he?
[recording paused]
JL: Somebody says to me that’s a photograph of me but I don’t think it is.
DH: Oh, right [pause – pages rustling] Two, four, five, six, seven. So, at that point in time there was seven to operate it.
JL: Well, there was one on the generator as well. There was a chap in charge of the generator.
DH: So once you cut down to three people operating it what was, what was the jobs of three people?
JL: Well, you had a layer that did the horizontal, and then you had another layer on the other side just to do the elevation. Then you had a man standing on the platform which loaded all the shells in.
DH: Was that automatic or was somebody stood there doing it?
JL: No. No. The spare people used to get the ammunition out of the boxes and pass it, and he used to load it up because it was all automatic. You know, pressed the button and then you were —
DH: And then to fire it was it, was it a lever?
JL: Yeah.
DH: A button?
JL: Well, you pressed a plunger above. That was on a forty millimetre, but I also had training you see as well prior to that on my early aegis like, I mean I’ve done practicing on Lewis guns, on Vickers guns, on Browning guns.
DH: I know the Browning is a hand held but are the others?
JL: Yeah. But you see when you, when you’re on aircrew a Browning gun in the tail end of a Lancaster or a Halifax you’ve got four guns and those were automatic. You press a button on that and you’re getting eleven hundred and fifty rounds a minute. You wait until see the white of the eyes and you press that button and four guns are firing at the same time. And then you get, you get one in the top and you get one in the nose. But —
DH: On the ack ack guns was there much of a kick back?
JL: Sorry?
DH: Was there much of a kick back on the guns?
JL: Well, yes. You see there’s only, you had to learn to change the barrels after you fired so many rounds because you got red hot.
DH: Oh.
JL: And then to do that you had two blokes. The same two blokes. They got they got off the platform and you put a clamper on the front, and then you had a thing like a, there were two people on the back of that so you got three people changing a barrel, and you had to change that barrel in a matter of four minutes, because the one was red hot firing the guns.
DH: How long would it take until you could reuse that one?
JL: Well, we used to do them in under five minutes. It’s, it was quite an experience really, and there was so much you forgot about. You remember some of it bit but there’s an awful lot of it, because you see when we were based in tents on the south coast we spent six, seven months in tents. And because of the blast from the flying bombs it took everything level. So instead of having the gun on the top of the field, you dug out a plot as big as this room all by hand and you put the gun in the bottom of that space. You also dug a hole as well in the field and you put your tents in there so that when they dropped these flying bombs, or they were knocked out and they hit the deck they exploded and it took everything. Blast would flatten everything. So, if it blasted the top there all it would take was the top of the tent. It wouldn’t take the bottom. And these gun pits that we had on this field, you know these kids they go to the coast and they put a hole in the side of the sand. Make that. Well, we did. We dug the sand, the earth out of those, we put the ammunition in there so then we didn’t have to get out of the plot to.
DH: That was a lot of digging.
JL: It was. Yeah. Well, you got in between training we’d got nothing else to do.
DH: Wow.
JL: I mean I’ve seen days, and I’ve not been undressed for three weeks. But I’m not quite sure where that squadron is. It’s 207.
DH: Was that your, was that your squadron?
JL: 2797 Squadron.
DH: Right.
JL: And then we transferred to 20, 207 Squadron when the war was coming to an end.
DH: So, when the guns went more automated and you went from [unclear] people to three people. What, what jobs got lost? What jobs didn’t, were automated?
JL: Well, those people were resting.
JL: You used to do twenty four hours on and twenty four hours off. It was a very complicated issue because you see it was all done with electric. Listen, If the generator packed up you had to revert back to manual.
DH: So, you needed, the generator was for the automated system.
JL: Yeah.
DH: Right.
JL: There is an awful lot to tell really about it. But you see in 1944 August we lost one of our gunners. He got killed with shrapnel. I was twenty one. I had my twenty first birthday there. I was twenty one and one month, and I had the job of bringing the coffin from New Romney up to Shrewsbury by train. It was taken off the train at Shrewsbury and put on the Craven Arms. It was taken from Shrewsbury to Craven Arms. The undertaker met me at Craven Arms. It was taken to this church in Clunbury and put in a churchyard, you know in the crypt in there and a Union Jack on it. And the next day I had to conduct a military funeral at the side of the grave with six riflemen they’d sent up from Hereford, and I had a volley of rifle bullets as he was getting buried. I was twenty one years of age at the time, and the most difficult thing was when his wife said to me, ‘How did he die?’ He was an only son. How do you tell a mother that? ‘Did he suffer?’ A piece of shrapnel went in to his arm and come out of his heart. He died on the way to hospital in the ambulance. That was just one case.
DH: Yeah. When you were protecting the airfields how many anti-aircraft guns would there be?
JL: Pardon?
DH: How many anti-aircraft gun emplacements would there be around one airfield?
JL: Well, there were four of, four of ours. You see normally north, south, east and west.
DH: And could it turn three hundred and sixty degrees?
JL: Well, I presume so. I mean there was so much happened that you were only concerned about yourself and your crew.
DH: Before we started talking you mentioned moving to Brize Norton, and you were the 6th Airborne. You talked about Brize Norton and the 6th Airborne.
JL: Yes.
DH: Can you tell me about that because you told me about them going up on training flights and then that final day when they went up for the 5th of June. Can you explain that for me so it can go on the tape please?
JL: Well, all we did was be there to protect the 6th Airborne Division if paratroopers landed or they started to bomb it. So, we did nothing for three weeks. We sat there.
DH: Yeah.
JL: Ate. Did our training. We used to do various exercises. Gun training. I used to use the spire of a church at Witney to harmonise the guns on. So that, if you know perhaps first thing in the morning to make sure that the guns were harmonised properly I used to use the spire of Witney Church two mile away. Standing up in the air. Then you would put a thing through the end of the muzzle and you had to line it up on the cross with the, to harmonise the guns. But it was, we were doing nothing there until we got moved.
DH: What did you see the 6th Airborne doing?
JL: Well, all we saw them doing was travelling from the camp across to the airfield, getting in the planes and the planes being towed off, and then I understand that they were practicing landing on Salisbury plain.
DH: Was that the gliders though going over?
JL: That was a fortnight before D-Day.
DH: Yeah.
JL: But you see everything was, you see, you didn’t, you didn’t know anything. You were, I mean I, I didn’t know one half of what was on that paper. That my son did that on the interview. On the [pause] that’s a lot of bombs that fell.
DH: It is.
JL: And in the centre of that, the nose of that flying bomb it’s filled with two hundred and twenty tons of TNT and when it drops that explodes.
DH: That’s a lot [pause] You mentioned before we started taping that on that final day with the 6th Airborne you noticed that they hadn’t gone training. Can you, can you tell me about that again.
JL: Sorry?
DH: You said before, before we started taping, you said about the final day when the 6th Airborne didn’t come out for training and then off they went and you, now know it was the 5th of June. Can you, can you tell me that story again, please?
JL: Well, they used to go up every day practicing.
DH: Yeah.
JL: I don’t know where they went. It was only what I was told that they used to land on Salisbury plain. I suppose it was a very intensive landing, trying to pinpoint it. And the one day that they didn’t go up at all they were there all day but they left the camp at about half past three or 4 o’clock in the afternoon and there was a lot of activity going on then. I suppose they’d have a meal and what have you not, and we saw, you know you’d just got nothing to do. You were bored stiff and you could see what was going on. You were a long way away. Probably about half a mile, a mile. You could just see because we were there and the airfield was slightly down in the dip. We were just above them, and we saw them take off at night and we, we know when they came back. Because, my thing that when I went in to breakfast at about half past eight the following morning a man rolled up, a sergeant and a corporal and he’d got a man cuffed to him, and rumour had it that he’d lay across the dropping zone and he wouldn’t drop over the target. It’s only hearsay. I don’t know. But he was charged with treason. Cowardice in the face of the enemy. He’d already accepted his money for jumping and he wouldn’t get out, because what they did in a Albemarle you get so many people who are called danglers. They’re paratroopers, and they’re in the one that’s there but in addition to that they’re towing a glider which has got about twenty people, thirty people in it. Those are Airborne troops and they disconnect the tow rope and that glider glides in to where they’re going to land irrespective of, hopefully they land in one piece. But there were an awful lot of people that got killed because they had accidentally hit trees and they crashed, and that was the end of the [unclear] But this particular chap his nerve went, so I believe and he got five years I believe. I’m not sure what it was. It was the fact that they had brought him back under handcuff because he refused to drop through the, he lay on the D zone, and he wouldn’t move. What they should have done with him was pushed him out through the, or shot him and pushed him out because the sergeant would have, been, because I mean that crew went down, dropped without it’s, it’s, I mean each of the blokes went down but they didn’t take their Bren gun section down with it because he was lying across it and they couldn’t get down and the pilot I believe he couldn’t go around. He’d been round once and he couldn’t go around again because he was in the flight path of a thousand bombers coming through to bomb. He had to come back and bring him back. Bring him back to Brize Norton. And then they brought him back to the 6th Airborne Division. I don’t know what happened. The rumour was he was taken away. He’s supposed to have got five years. Cowardice in the face of the enemy.
DH: And the 6th Airborne were American.
JL: They were. Yeah.
DH: Yeah.
JL: But I mean, we, we didn’t know. That was only a rumour that was going on but he didn’t drop in D-Day so he was what they called, or what we called a live coward. Better than a dead hero. He saved his own life. But [pause] —
DH: When we talked before you mentioned that you shot down a V-1.
JL: Sorry?
DH: You shot down a V-1.
JL: Oh yes. That was the night of my birthday. But my crew did. All we knew is we hit him and he went. He dived. And of course, as soon as these flying bombs, they’re filled with fuel, enough sufficient fuel to reach London but if there’s not sufficient fuel, because it, it will travel so far and there’s about a ten foot flame coming out of the end of it as it’s going across the sky, and when that flame goes out you know that the engine’s not firing and it starts to glide then. It doesn’t drop straight down like that because of aerodynamics. It glides like that and it’s falling all the time. It might go a mile. It might go two mile before it hits the deck. But once it hits the deck it explodes and anything in the way it takes with it the blast. I don’t know much about the blast of it but it, it blasts everything because at the back of us there was a, well we were under canvas there was a big artillery barrage Army artillery barrage. And this is how this chap of ours got killed, because they used to open up at a QE of eight degrees which was almost horizontal, and of course we were in a little dip below them like that. And if it had been possible theoretically for the number four to put his arm up in the air, and he could slow the shells down from these artillery people. He could have caught it, because it was just over the top of your head like that, because they could pick it up at a longer range than what we, ours was a shorter range and it was, it was an experience. And of course, there was so much shrapnel from various things. I mean some people say that it was a blow back from one of the guns and the shrapnel that was flying about. You see the shell left there you see, you only needed a spot of rain to touch one of these shell and it would explode. They were so finely adapted. But they were travelling so fast as well and this, all we know is that this chap was taken away and it was from the crew above us. He was taken away because the shrapnel. I mean I can remember waking up one morning and there were that many holes in the tent from shrapnel [pause] there was bits of shrapnel flying around me, and you’re not even in the front line. You’re in England.
DH: So, could they not, could they not send these off when it was raining then?
JL: Sorry?
DH: You said if a drop of rain fell on it.
JL: Well, you see that would cause a, when a shell leaves the, and a spot of, a spot of rain, it would trigger that and it would ignite it. They’re finely tuned. Whatever it hits, that’s it.
DH: So, how could, how could they be fired when it was raining?
JL: Well, that was just the luck of the draw.
DH: Right.
JL: It’s the luck of the draw. They’re moving so quickly.
DH: So, I know you said you ended up in the Army.
JL: Yes, I went —
DH: How did that happen?
JL: Well, at the end of 1945 the war in Germany finished. Well, we were pulled out of the line then for a rest period. So, we packed our tents up, and we were transferred to an airfield camp at Maidstone for a rest period, and then we stopped there for probably a couple of months. And there was a guy said to me, he said, because I had a weekend off and he said, ‘You’re in the Army from next week.’ I said to him, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You’re in the Army. There’s a, there’s a posting on orders.’ I was coming back to camp, and he said, ‘We’re being transferred to the Army.’ The whole squadron. And of course, I went back to camp, and on the Monday we were all told we were going to be transferred to the Army. We had no option and we were sent by coach up to Weeton, outside Blackpool. There we were issued with Army uniform and it was given to us, and you went in to this hut, and there was a guard with a rifleman on the front of it. You went in through this door and there was a table there. Shall we say there was a table there, and you were discharged from the Air Force and you were marched through the building to the end. There was another table there with two or three blokes round and you were enlisted in to the Army. And then there was another guard on the door that meant in case anybody ran away. And you handed, you went back to the camp and you handed all your stuff in. Grey coat, all your uniform and you, the next minute you were in the Army. And we were there for about four or five days and we were told to get on the parade ground and we were going off to train. Nobody knew where. You couldn’t ask anybody where. So, we went to the station. We got on the train in the station, and we boarded these trains, and you see during the war there were no signposts anywhere. They were all taken down, and there was no sign posts as you went through a station. Unless anybody knew the area, I mean one or two of the blokes said, ‘Well, I don’t know where we’re going,’ he said, ‘But I think we’re going north.’ So, they stopped at a station there and they, they gave us some rations. A mug of tea and a couple of sandwiches to take back into the coach to eat. And we went on again and we ended, we landed up in Scotland at a place called Greenock. We got in the station there and we were put on to coaches and we went to the docks, and as every man got off the train he was given a little piece of cardboard. What they call a boarding card. And what do you think was on the boarding card? Iceland.
DH: No.
JL: So, we were all put on this troop carrier, and we were issued with hammocks. And it’s the biggest pantomime I’ve ever seen in my life trying to hook these pantomimes up. These on the hooks in the boat because people were and of course they were trying to get in there. Got to take your sheet above the dining room. All your sleeping accommodation is above the dining room so you get on the table to get in to your hammock and it’s swinging from hooks. You see these blokes falling. They couldn’t get in there. Anyway, I thought to myself well because it was, it was really late in the evening and anyway I eventually I got in to this hammock. I went for a walk around the deck. I thought well this is it. No goodbye. So, I went around there and I must have slept like a log, because I woke up and it was daylight and the boat wasn’t, it hadn’t moved at all. It was stationery. And I said to this bloke, I said, ‘Where the — ’ I said, ‘Good God,’ I said, ‘Fancy having to sleep up here for the night.’ And anyway, we had a note to go down and get some food, and we had to take these damned things down and do you know where we were? We’d sailed in the night and we’d landed in Ireland. On the coast of Ireland. We’d travelled during the night. Apparently, we had an escort of two destroyers because it was a big troopship. And we went and we landed in Ireland. Out at the docks there and that was the Iceland on the cardboard. Just confusing you see. And we got on a train there and off the train into coaches and we landed up in a place called Warrenpoint on the Irish border at the foot of the mountains of Mourne for two months battle inoculations. That means, you see we were all fit men. All A1 but we’d never done any actual fighting so, they sent us over there to train to go to Burma to sort the Japs out. The war in Europe was coming to an end. And I got injured in Northern Ireland. I was in a military hospital there. All the ligaments and cartilage on my right leg were torn. We were, I must have fell on a rock, over a rock or fell on something. Fell in a hole as we were running back from the beach up to the mountain. But I finished up I was in the hospital and I was there for six weeks and they couldn’t do anything with me and they sent me to a convalescent home. And I was there for five, five months. Couldn’t get it right and they shuffled me from there. I get a military pension.
DH: So, did you go to Burma in the end?
JL: Sorry?
DH: Did you go to Burma in the end?
JL: No. No. The war finished. They dropped the bomb when we were in, the war finished when I was in the hospital, in Europe. And when I was in a convalescent home they dropped the two bombs on Japan and Japan capitulated. And I came back to England. And they sent me back because I couldn’t get out. You see, when I, they give you a number. When that number comes up that’s you can be released. I mean whether it was forty six million or forty six thousand I don’t know but my service number was forty six, and I got out in 1947. I mean, I came out in 1947, and because I’d had various tests and I couldn’t do anything with this leg I could do a job as a clerk, or I could do something like that in the stores. I went on a driving course up to Market Harborough and I failed that because I slipped on some ice because when we were there the war was over but somebody came and stole an Austin QL vehicle which was worth about twenty thousand. Took it out of the car park one night. It’s an eight wheel vehicle, and they stole it, and after they stole this vehicle they decided to put a guard on the car park. So, everybody who was on the course had to do one night on guard and it was February and I was on guard with another chap, and in those days when you brought the vehicle in at night if you had been driving, you had to drain the block and drain the engine because there was no anti-freeze and then fill it up again the next morning. Anyway, the car park was like that, and as you drained the vehicles the water fell on the floor and flowed into a gulley away. But you know what black ice is? Well, can you imagine walking up and down in the night? And I slipped on this black ice and I had to go sick the next morning and the bloke like, the medical officer said, ‘Oh, it’s only lectures you’re doing,’ he said. ‘You can have medicine on duty.’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do,’ he said, ‘I’ll put you a splint on your leg. Alright. I’ll put you a splint.’ About this long. So he put a splint on my leg. We had a lecture the next morning, in the afternoon. They sent the class outside. ‘Join a vehicle.’ So, there was about four or five in to, on the vehicle. The sergeant, instructor and then you. Your big Austin QLs. Big things like that and there’s three seats in the front. A driver and an NCO with him and they say, ‘Right you’re off.’ We were around Peterborough and Market Harborough. I didn’t know what was happening so they sent a [pause] going along the road there. The bloke stepped out from a lay by and put his hand up. He was an officer with a tiny [unclear] and the chap that was driving he was told to get out and sit in the middle. When the sergeant was to go and sit the back of the van. And this officer gets in and he sits there and he said, ‘Right, take off.’ So, I put the vehicle in to go on again and he said, ‘I shall give you a tap on the front of the vehicle like that — ’ And he said, ‘I want you to stop.’ Anyway, I was doing about twenty five, thirty mile an hour in this big van and he knocks this thing. We’ve got to stop. Well, if you got your leg in a splint and the vehicle like that, their clutch and their brake. You see in those days you had to double de clutch to change gear.
DH: Yeah.
JL: And the brake pedal on that what’s the name is about that high off the floor. Well, normally anybody with any sense they would have lifted their foot and banged it down on them both. So, my officer swears at me and he says, ‘You killed the bloody woman.’ And there’s me looking for this woman. Well, he gave me an emergency stop. What he said to me, ‘There’s a little old woman crossing the road.’ There was no woman at all. He was just telling me to stop. So, there’s me looking where the woman was.
DH: Dear.
JL: He called the sergeant, he said ‘Take this bloke and the vehicle back to the Centre.’ He said, ‘He’s off the course. Driving as a danger to the public.’ I never touched a vehicle for twenty two years.
DH: Oh, my word.
JL: Before I started to drive again. With a wonky leg.
DH: So, when did you leave the forces then?
JL: I left the forces in, when I had this examination after this medical. We came from the driving school down to a place in Wiltshire to another board and it was an assessment board to see what they could do because I couldn’t get out. My time wasn’t up. Emergencies were still on so I was sent there for a review. I went to see an officer in a room, and he was quite a young officer and he’d only had about twelve months in the Service. He was on what they called educational [supplier?] I suppose, because he’d got one little chevron on his sleeve. Not meant, a red chevron. That meant he’d got one year in the service and he was interviewing me and he said, ‘Well, you can’t go out to civilian life,’ he said, ‘Because your number hasn’t come up.’ He said, ‘What would you like to do, Mr Lee?’ I said, ‘Can I speak honestly, sir? He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘I want my ticket out. The war’s over.’ I said, ‘If I’d have wanted to join the Army I’d have joined the Army.’ I said, ‘I was shanghaied into the Army.’ I said not the Army, not the, shanghaied in I said, ‘I volunteered to go in the Air Force. So —’ I said, ‘I want out.’ Well, he went mad. He said, ‘Send the next man in.’ Anyway, [pause] the next day the man said to me, he said, ‘You’re lucky,’ he said, ‘You’re going home.’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘It’s on orders,’ he said, ‘The posting’s off.’ The last thing. And I went over there to read it and there were all these names, and of course my name is only three letters. L E E. I couldn’t see it so I went down again. Took my pay book out and went down it like that and there was my name in the middle of the sheet. “Private Lee, you are posted to the 46th Company, the Royal Army Pay Corps, Whitehall, Monkmoor Road, Shewsbury.” So, I was in the Pay Corps in Shrewsbury for a year, and I got demobbed in January 1947.
DH: Very good.
JL: Five of my years gone [paper rustling] Now that’s, these are my wife’s I kept. That was taken in nineteen, on the back of it is a date.
DH: 1944.
JL: That’s right. And when we were under canvas, listen, you’ll laugh at this. I took cards in one day from my wife. You can read the back. Nobody knew where you were. Just despatched by the [unclear] I was in New Romney, outside New, the post goes to new Romney and is collected in New Romney and is brought out to the field. But read the front of it. I like the one with the seeds.
DH: Yeah. Isn’t that lovely?
JL: I mean unfortunately that’s the only two things that I saved. The rest of it because my dear wife she was only fifteen when I met her. I was seventeen. And that’s my only, where’s that [pause – rustling] That’s my, there’s my release book. Another story. That was when I was released.
JL: That was my —
DH: Ahh.
JL: For two years she wrote to me every day.
DH: Yeah.
JL: And I believe it was about 1958/59. I kept all those letters, and decided one day, she sent my one son up in to the loft, they were in my kit bag, and she burned the lot in the back garden. She said, ‘Those letters were written to you,’ she said, ‘Not for somebody else to read.’ She burned the lot. But she didn’t burn those because I’d got those in a book as markers. But she went with her sister to Blackpool or to New Brighton for the day, and I suppose she bought those cards when she was there. We were two years short of seventy years of marriage.
DH: Right. That’s quite some achievement.
JL: Hmmn?
DH: That’s quite some achievement. Yeah.
JL: And this is one of the products.
DH: He’s been well, very well behaved I think, hasn’t he?
JL: Sorry?
DH: He’s being well behaved.
JL: Well, it was the way his mum had brought him up. Wouldn’t like to move.
DH: How do you think the war affected you?
JL: Sorry?
DH: How do you think the war affected you? Did it affect you?
JL: No. I don’t think so really. It was an experience. As I say, I mean I, I’ll tell you the same as I tell so many people, I was very lucky. There must have been somebody here up there that was looking after me.
DH: Yeah.
JL: I mean you’re young at the time, and you see the life span of an air gunner was one in six.
DH: Oh.
JL: So, I mean, I wasn’t, it wasn’t to be. And I saw many guys like myself never ever come back.
DH: Yeah. Before we finish John is there, is there anything else that you remember from your time in the RAF that you think, oh I haven’t said that and you’d like to share?
JL: Not really. I mean, I mean as I say the crash that we saw. I mean the engine of that Halifax bomber, the one engine was found a mile and a half way in a field. And of course, you get all these sightseers, and trying to get souvenirs and that’s how we, we [unclear] We were on my squadron, my squadron itself was on the crash of that double aircraft that crashed. To stop anybody, souvenirs, taking anything. That’s the sort of thing you would be sent off to do. To guard. But there’s also a lot of other things that you, you would see happening. I mean with Faldingworth, it was a conversion place but sometimes a plane would land there because he hadn’t got enough fuel to land somewhere else and there were things like that. I mean so many crews flew on bombing missions and a, a tour of a bomber crew was thirty. Thirty ops. But the, eighty five percent of the time they had new air gunners every time they went because the air gunners were the people that guarded the plane. And I mean the German fighters they were attacked on a bomber raid. The object of the exercise was to put the air gunners out of action. Then they could attack the plane but [pause] So, I mean, I mean I was lucky in a lot of ways. So very lucky. And this is why I suppose, I’m not a Christian by a long way but I was brought up as a Christian but sometimes I think, well there must have been somebody up there.
DH: Looked out for you.
JL: Looking after you. But I’m sure there are more, far more people about that had a far more risky job than I ever did. I was just of many thousands.
DH: But as I said at the start your part in it is valuable. It’s very valuable. Right.
JL: Did you find my squadron in there?
AL: Yeah.
JL: Eh?
AL: Yeah.
DH: We’re going to finish the interview. Ok. On, on this tape. So, I’ll say thank you very much. Ok.



Dawn Hughes, “Interview with John Lee,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 18, 2022,

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