Interview with Alice Wrigley


Interview with Alice Wrigley


Alice Wrigley was married to James Wrigley, a wireless operator on Lancasters. She talks about her early life after losing her mother, her marriage to Jim and how war work enabled her to become independent by sorting out somewhere to live whilst he was flying operations. She tells of the postings they had, people they met, the losses and particularly of how some of the lighter side of dealing with the stress of the war and beyond. Alice also describes the incident which she believes led to Jim being awarded the DFM.

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Temporal Coverage




01:14:14 Audio recording


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Int: What was your mum’s name? What was she called, your mum?
AW: She was called Edna Morris, before she got married.
Int: Right.
AW: Before she got married, yeah.
Int: Right, and then she married your dad.
AW: Me dad; they were called Bennison and I grew up, I left Bennison but the family I lived with were called, well, when my auntie first had me, she were called [loud rustling] Collymore and then she married a Kilgowan. He was, they were Irish family that had come over when all the troubles were on and there were five brothers of them, and one sister, in their family, and they all had Temperance Bars here. One of them had a Temperance Bar in Matley, he had a Temperance bar, do you know where butt of Black Lane was, in Matley?
Int: I’m just trying.
WS: Over near Picturedrome.
Int: Yes, I remember that.
WS: You know that road just where Picturedrome, past Picturedrome, well there was a pub and one or two shops and this Temperance Bar and that belonged to one of the Kilgowans.
Int: Right, ooh.
WS: And er, no they were no relation to me.
Int: Ah, right. Those who you went to live with is it?
AW: Well, me Auntie Collier went to live with, she was me mother’s sister, but she married this Kilgowan. He was no relation to me, he was er. You see as soon as my mother died, I mean she died in childbirth, she died when me brother were born and me dad left a couple who he knew who all the time he knew, who couldn’t have any children, they adopted him.
Int: Ah, right.
AW: Well in those days you didn’t have any trouble about adoption, you know, little was done, and they adopted him and he grew up not knowing that he was adopted, and I knew him because we all went to school together, round there. Well when school, I went St Mary’s and he went St Thomas’s, and er, I had some more cousins that lived near there, lived, everybody knew everyone in them days, you know.
Int: Yeah.
WS: And it seems [emphasis] that one of my cousins was, heard his mother and one of the other aunts, my other aunts, and another one of my aunts, and another aunt, talking about it, and about me being his sister, and that’s how it got out, about, that we were brother and sister.
Int: So you’d been at the same school.
WS: I don’t really know, I didn’t know he was my brother. I must have been about twelve, something like that, before I got to know that.
Int: Did your dad remarry then?
WS: He went down Birmingham actually, when I were five years old. I was, lived me auntie then and he would for a, you know when all the big car factories were down Birmingham? Well, he was a manager at one of the car factories down there.
Int: Oh, right!
WS: And he met this woman and they got married but she didn’t want to know he had a family, she didn’t want to know anything about us. So I never saw me dad, from being five years old until our George, well it was the year that Jim was out of the service, before he went back in. What would it be? 19, year was over, 1945, he were demobbed in ’46: it was round about 1946. I didn’t see him from being five years old, that would have been about 1925 until 1946, and then I saw him again.
Int: Can you remember him?
WS: Oh I can remember him now. He only had one arm. He was in the first war, First World War, and he got wounded and taken capture by the Germans; he was in German prisoner of war camp during the First World War and instead of treating him they took his arm off, took [indecipherable] off one arm.
Int: [Gasp]
WS: Now I saw him then in 1946. She had, his wife, they lived in Birmingham, me dad and this woman, they had big house that they lived in and all the rest of it, not that I bloody saw any of it. She had a sister lived in Matley, and he came up to see his sister, and he called in the aunties and I can always remember because Jim’s face was still full of that rash and that, and I went up to me aunties and I saw him and she was there. That was the first time I’d ever seen her.
Int: Since you were five! Tsk. Flippin’ ‘eck.
WS: Since I were five. And I never saw him again. That was it. Never saw him again. They went back to Birmingham.
Int: And that was it.
WS: That was it. Now there was money, I know there was money, and where the bloody hell that went to I don’t know, I think it all went to his sister’s children.
Int: Did they have any children theirself? No?
WS: No.
Int: No, so, flippin’ ‘eck that’s awful i’n’t really. It’s quite sad really, that.
WS: [Indecipherable] and I never asked half the time because I was with me auntie and she got married to this bloke and I must have, I was turned five because I was five the last time I saw him, me dad, and they got married after and later she had two children of her own, was a big difference between us, now she had a son and a daughter. Now me and the son got on like a house on fire, we were like sister and brother, but the girl, she was spiteful with me; she was a bitch she was.
Int: Oh.
WS: And eventually she married a bloke and they went to live in America and finished up in America.
Int: ‘Eck.
WS: And I never saw them for years then after, because her mother followed them, her dad had died and her mother followed them over to America. He was only about [indecipherable] when he died. He had lung cancer, through smoking, all them years ago, that were just after the war that, not far after the war, and she suddenly, she floated off to America so I never saw that family, you know! And when I was married to Jim, I left home actually, and got my, and got a house, when Jim asked me to get married he’d come home at Christmas holiday, at Christmas, on leave, and before he went back he asked me to get married when he come home again. And he said I’m not home till July, and he said when I come home in July, let’s get married our lass, so I said okay. So he went back up to Newcastle where he was stationed, and I –
Int: What was he doing in Newcastle? What did actually he do there?
WS: He was on a fighter station doing this Morse Code.
Int: Oh, right.
WS: He got muddled with it because he had to go into hospital in middle of the course so he lost his course, so he was a loose cannon, all his course had moved on and another course had moved in, to Blackpool, at Blackpool, and they sent him up to Newcastle to bide the time away.
Int: To catch up?
WS: Till they got him into another course.
Int: Right.
WS: And er, he’d gone, went back up to Newcastle and he would write, we used to write to each other every day. Every day, and he kept on about getting married when he come home and I’m thinking yeah, but where we going to go when we get married? There’s no room for us here and there’s no room for us at his mother’s: what we gonna to do? So I thought, and I got very little spending money, very few clothes, and I was getting more, and I was working hard, I mean they worked damned hard at war work. Half past seven in morning till half past five at night, five days a week, with only one hour off, no lunch break, just one hour for dinner, cause we were on war work.
Int: What were you doing?
WS: And I used to work Saturday morning as well!
Int: What was your job then, in the war?
WS: I worked in the mill, in the cotton mill, we were doing cotton for, everybody had to go on war work, no matter how much money you had, you had to register, and you had these girls you know, in London, they all had to go to work and they were all had to go where they were sent, if you weren’t working already you went where you were sent.
Int: Right.
WS: You had to register.
Int: Where were you sent?
WS: I went to the cotton mill in [indecipherable].
Int: Oh right, you said you had to travel.
WS: I already worked at the cotton mill, but when the war started we went on to war work you see. And Jim worked in the cotton mill as well.
Int: Is that how you met?
WS: No, no. And er, and then when it were getting nearer to, to him coming home like, I said to me auntie, instead of tipping my wage up can I board? And she said as long as you live here you tip your wages. So I went Saturday morning, [indecipherable], what you do when you’re younger! Saturday morning I come out of work, we used to work Saturday morning: half past seven in morning till half past twelve at dinnertime, every Saturday that was all, them were the hours we worked all week, half past seven till half past five every day, we were on that for five days and then half past seven till half past five Saturday morning, on war work, everybody had to do it, and I come out of work and there was a shop, a place up Blackburn Street and this bloke used to let houses and sell houses, you know, he was an agent, and it were called Wilkinson’s and I went marching in and said have you got any houses on rent? He said yes love, we have, I’ve got two at present, one behind St Thomas’s Church and one up at Grosvenor Street. That was right near where I already lived, and I thought oh, Grosvenor Street, so I said can I have a look at the one at Grosvenor Street and he said certainly love, here’s your key, and he give me the key! And I go out and have a go and have a look at this house up Grosvenor Street, it was exactly [emphasis] as this one is built, well the door was there like it should be, not there, I mean that door shouldn’t be there.
Int: Yeah, it’s been knocked through ha’n’t it, there.
WS: And it was exactly [emphasis] as this house is built, only it were brick instead of stone, and it were the same way round as well: front door there, the kitchen door there, you know, and I thought oh this’ll just suit me. So I went back to him and I said how much is it? And he said seven shilling a week. Well, I wasn’t even getting that spending money, but I had saved up whilst Jim were away and [indecipherable] gave five shilling a week out of thirty shilling I were taking home, and I were twenty two! So I said to her, again, you know, can I, I said all right then I’m leaving home and I’m going, I’ve got a house and I’m going to live in it. Well I didn’t have a stick of furniture [laughter] so I thought what’ll I do now? So I went to Gordons – remember Gordons? Furniture.
Int: Yes! I do.
WS: That was going then, and the one in Matley up on Church Street and I went there and I asked if I could get some furniture on the never never, yes certainly love, how old are you? I said twenty two. Well you’ll have to get somebody to sign for you, to vouch for you, and I thought oh Jesus, what do I do now! So I went home and I boldly asked her and she said I’ll not sign it for you, I’ll not sign it for you. Anyway later on I learned from me cousin, our Charlie like, he were like me brother, and he told me, he said they had a big row between them, me mum and me dad, and I said what for? He said over you. And I said [indecipherable] what’ve I done now? Well, it’s because he was asking me mum how much wage you were getting, and me mum told him and when he said well how much money, how much spending money she get, and he said he went mad when she told him. She’s twenty two and you were only giving her that bloody much he said, and apparently they had a real ding dong row over it, he said and now you won’t sign it, he said she wants to get married he said, her and Jim have gone together for a long time, they’ve stuck together all the way, all the time, now they want to get married, she wants her own space. Because there were three of us sleeping in the bed.
Int: Oh gosh!
WS: You know, and then Charlie were one of them, yeah.
Int: Yeah. Common them days.
WS: Course you wouldn’t get council house and he said she wants her own space, she not a girl now, she’s a young woman, she needs to have her own space, he said. Right, so when I come home that night he said come here, I want you, he said I believe you have a paper that you want somebody to sign. And I looked at him, I said you daren’t and he said where is that paper and he signed it for me. And I worked what furniture I wanted, put a deposit on that I’d saved and I said right I’m going to live in there, and I walked out of the house, got all my clothes and I walked out.
Int: Did you ever see Charlie again then?
WS: Pardon?
Int: Did you ever see Charlie again?
WS: He died while they were in America.
Int: Oh, so when they went to America, right.
WS: So I marched in the house and people were giving me all sorts of things, I had all sorts of things with me, blankets, blackout curtains, because we had to have blackout curtains then, and all this, and I wrote to Jim and said I’ve got a house, and Jim wrote back what you mean you’ve got a house! But I wrote to him and told him. Anyway we were getting married in July, and about four days before his leave I get a letter from him: don’t send any more letters to this address, I’ve got to go down London on a course; my leave’s been cancelled! I thought well that’s all I need. Anyway he then went down to London on this course in the July and then he walked in the door on 1st of October, on his birthday, and we had, and he walked in and he said come on, get your coat on, we’re going to Bury. I looked at him, I said we’re going to Bury? I hadn’t seen him since what.
Int: July!
WS: I hadn’t seen him since Christmas. I hadn’t seen him since Christmas cause he didn’t get his July leave, it got cancelled you see.
Int: Oh! So it was nearly like twelve months!
WS: Yes. It was nine months.
Int: Nine months.
WS: Oh, that was nothing during the war. Jim’s sister got married the Christmas before and we stood for them, he were on embarkation leave, that meant he were going abroad. She never saw him for three years after, and they were only married six months. That’s what always tickles me, they were only married six months.
Int: They were like strangers really, been away three years away from each other.
WS: A lot of them had had children and they didn’t know their dads, they’d never seen their dads. You know, they were pregnant when their husbands went off. A lot of them were like that. And they’d never even saw their dads. A lot of the kids got um, got sent you know, out up into the country, away from London, a lot of London kids, and they never saw their mothers and fathers again because their mothers got killed in the air raids and the fathers were killed in the war. And it was a lot like that.
Int: Yeah. Sad, i’n’t it really. It’s awful.
WS: Yes, it was really sad all that, and yet people didn’t even realise all the side effects of what the war caused.
Int: No.
WS: Anyway, Jim came, we went up to Register Office and she said to Jim, hmmhmm, it was a woman Registrar, and she said to Jim, how long are you on leave? He said seven days and she said do you want to get married while you are on leave? He said yes, she said right, now how will twelve o’clock on Saturday noon suit you? I can fit you in then. We got married, he came home at Thursday and we got married at the, and he kept saying to me on Thursday night, all quiet, I’ll stop with you tonight!
Int: [Laugh]
WS: You bloody won’t I said, go on. I said go on, go home to your mother Jim, and his sister stayed with me, she stood for me, and she stayed with me Friday night and then we went up to Register Office, four of us, and I got, we got married and er –
Int: Who was your witness then? Who was it who came with you? Did you had to have a witness.
WS: Well you had to have two people stood for you.
Int: Right.
WS: Two people stood for you. Jim’s best mate, he wasn’t in the services because he was deaf and he got, he was on the deaf side and they won’t take ‘em if they’re deaf because of the, they can’t hear guns and whatnot, and he gradually finished up, he was deferred for oh, about twelve months, August and must have been the two years and they give him a job in the pit. There was a big Pay Corps place at [indecipherable] called Black Lane and they did Pay Corps for the Yanks when they came over and for our troops as well and they took him there and he got a job up there, in the Army.
Int: Oh. So he was your witness at the wedding then, was he?
WS: So we had Jim’s sister and Arthur, Jim’s best mate, and just the four of us went to Register Office and I can always remember because when me and Grace walked in the Registrar wasn’t there and Jim and Arthur were making paper aeroplanes! [Laughter] I thought just look at him, he’s getting bloody married and look, playing aeroplanes over there. And we went back [indecipherable] come back and I’ll make you dinner. So we went back and she made us a nice dinner and then we went and went and had a walk, I can’t remember what we did after. That night we went into the Wool Pack the four of us, for a drink, and that were my wedding day.
Int: So that was your wedding day. Aww.
WS: That was, that was. I didn’t have any new clothes to get married in either.
Int: Oh! That’s awful, in’t it, and when you think these days, what people do when they get married.
WS: Yeah, and I don’t think, I just, think I’d had a new pair of shoes not long before and I think that was only new thing I had on really.
Int: So how long after you were married did Jim go back?
WS: He were only home seven days.
Int: Seven days.
WS: He came home on the Thursday, we got married on the Saturday, and he were going back the following Thursday.
Int: Oh dear, where was he going back to then?
WS: I just, I can’t remember where it was he went back. I think it were Pembrey, in Wales, he went back. And he went back and he was, he was an airman, airman he was, the lowest rank in the Air Force he was, when he went back and the next time I saw him, I got a letter from him: I’m coming home on the forty eight hour, this week end, because we’re posted after, he crewed up at Pembrey, he’d already got together with his crew then.
Int: Is it the same crew that he was always with then?
WS: Yeah, and he came home and he come walking in and he’s a Sergeant! [Laugh]
Int: Ooh!
WS: And he were only an airman when he went and when we got married, and it weren’t long after we got married, after, and I went down, yeah, I went down to Pembrey to see him and I stayed a weekend at Pembrey and he was with his crew then and then he got posted on to the squadron and that’s when he started his operations.
Int: Right. So where did they fly from, with his squadron, his first flights, his operations?
WS: His operations, I keep trying to, he was at Hemswell first of all and he wasn’t, they weren’t there long and then they formed, the Air Ministry formed the Pathfinder Force it was, and they chose the elite squadrons, the elite crews out of the Bomber Command to form this new squadron, for the Pathfinder Force and it was in all the papers about it, [indecipherable] bloody thing you’ve got here!
Int: The Pathfinder got a badge.
WS: Pathfinder Force, and they got chosen for one of the elite squadrons to join.
Int: Wow!
WS: And they started Pathfinder Force up then, very important.
Int: That’s brilliant. You must have been very proud.
WS: They formed 635 Squadron. He was on 9, he was on 97 Squadron when he just went in.
Int: 97.
WS: Then, they formed 635 Squadron.
Int: 635.
WS: And he was at er, I can’t remember where he was, I can’t for the life [emphasis] of me remember where he was.
Int: When did he become a Warrant Officer, then? When was that? Or was that later on?
WS; Well he was, funny really because he was, we got married in 1942, and he was a rookie, what they called a rookie, the lowest rank, and in 1943 he was a Sergeant, and then beginning of 1944 he was a Flight Sergeant, and later on in 1944 he was a Warrant Officer. He just went up like that; he was Warrant Officer in no time flat.
Int: Was he a Warrant Officer when he did the, er, he put the Book of Remembrance in the, was it Lincolnshire Cathedral?
WS: Pardon?
Int: When he did the Book of Remembrance.
WS: Oh yes, he was a Warrant Officer then.
Int: Right. And that was at Lincolnshire Cathedral that, wasn’t it?
WS: No, the first one was at um, at London, at the, they had a chapel, the Air Force had a chapel in London.
Int; Oh, right.
WS: It’s in a big, one of the big cathedrals.
Int: Right.
WS: And it’s a side, you know, they had these sides.
Int: That’s right.
WS: That one again, and they put the book on there and every aircrewman that got killed in it and every day they turn a page over. But the other one was at Lincoln Cathedral, and Lincoln, like round Lincolnshire, it’s very flat, and there was Air Force, there was oh, Waddington, Scampton, they were all.
Int: All the air bases.
WS: Hemswell, loads and loads of airfields round there.
Int: Right.
WS: They had a book with all the aircrew who were killed who served in Lincoln, round Lincoln, in Lincolnshire.
Int: That’s why, right, why they had that one in Lincoln.
WS: In Lincoln Cathedral.
Int: The Remembrance.
WS: Now I believe [emphasis] they’re building a memorial in Lincolnshire, another memorial, in Lincolnshire.
Int: Really?
WS: It’s going to be a tall tower and that will have all the names of all the aircrew who served in Lincolnshire.
Int: Right.
WS: There was Waddington, there was Scampton, oh I forget what they all were, but the, Hemswell was another one, they had all these different airfields. Most of them were closed after the war of course, but um, Scampton was right next door to them. When we went back in again Jim was stationed at Hemswell again, but Scampton was right next door to us, cause when we used to shop at Lincoln, and when we were going to Lincoln we used to go past Scampton. Now that was where the famous crew came from, who were the, the, who bombed the dams.
Int: Oh, the Dambusters.
WS: The Dambusters. They were stationed there at um, at Scampton right next to us. And when they made the film about the Dambusters, you know, that big film, well they made, all the flying was done from our airfield at Hemswell and all the indoor shots were shot at Scampton, and we, what’s he called? What you call him, bloke in the film star?
Int: Yes, I know who you mean.
WS: Yeah. Well he had a caravan up on the airfield that he lived in while they were shooting.
Int: Really! Gosh!
WS: And we used to go up and watch them shooting on the airfield. Lots of shooting was done.
Int: Whilst they made the, and you watched them make the film?
WS: Pardon?
Int: You watched them make the original film!
WS: Yeah, the original film, and he was up there, and in the, and Guy Gibson, who was the pilot, the leading pilot on that raid, he had a dog and he got killed on the night they did the raid; on the night they did that raid on the dams his dog, a motorbike ran over him and it got killed.
Int: Oh no!
WS: He had it at Scampton, this dog, and it were called Trigger, and what’s he called? I forget what its name was. I can see ‘im as he is cause he lived in Trigger Park up on the airfield, and he had the dog with him all the time, but played the part of Guy Gibson’s dog on the film, yeah, I can always remember that. We used to go up on the airfield.
Int: So did you actually see the guy who took the part, you know, who lived in the caravan? Did you see him at all?
WS: The film star? The big film star? Yeah, we watched them shooting it. Yeah, he was there, he used to wave to us when we went up ah, [laughter] Oh, it sounds exciting now when you tell people.
Int: So what was Jim’s crew? What were they called, the crew? Can you?
WS: G for George.
Int: That was his er -
WS: That was the aircraft, G for George.
Int: What was his crew called though? What was his actual crew called, you know, the names of the lads he worked with?
WS: Well, I can’t remember them all.
Int: Oh, cause there was different crews was there?
WS: They were, I mean I never met his crew because they were always on the station. I mean he used to get, used to send ‘em home every seven, every six weeks they sent them home for seven days it were that bad, what they had to go through, they used to send them home out of it, go for a week. And Jim used to come home and every time he went back I never know whether I was going to see him again, you know.
Int: Yeah, oh dear.
WS: And when he come home that morning, it, I know that his best mate was called Ted Pike, and he was the bomb aimer. That was the only one I knew; Jim used to go out with him. But then they had Harry, he was the navigator, but in his big job he was something in London, a stockbroker I think.
Int: Oh!
WS: He used to take ‘em all out, all the crew and all his ground crew because they had their own ground crew as well, you know, that looked after ‘em and the aircraft and everything. And each crew had their own ground crew, and he used to take all the aircrew lads and all the ground crew lads, he used to take them all out for a meal every month. Used to take everybody, slap up meal and then they got killed. His mother was living in a cottage nearby when they, that night they got killed, and Jim walked in through the door that Saturday morning, I’ll never forget, whenever Jim came home he never showed what, hide it.
Int: Any emotions.
WS: I could [indecipherable], never showed, till after the war that I found out what, you know, people in civvie street didn’t know. In fact most of it’s only come out since all this.
Int: TV footage and that.
WS: And all this, this new memorial and that, by the television it’s only just come out and by the lads, some of the lads, well the blokes they are now, talking about it on you know, what they went through, on television.
Int: That’s right.
WS: You know, a lot of them talking about what it was like during the war, when they were flying and I never realised, you never realised what.
Int: No.
WS: And every time he come home, you’d never have thought he was aircrew or anything, he was always slap happy, and that morning he walked in through the door, I didn’t know he were coming home, I were sat in [indecipherable] and he walked in and I’m just coming out of the kitchen as he walked in through the door, and I went, I wanted to take in his face and I’d never seen him look like it before, and looked at him and he said just, to me, I’ve lost me crew. I looked at him, and I said you what? And he said I’ve lost me crew. Well I had no idea what he were talking about, you know, I said what you talking about, you’ve lost your crew? He said Alice, I’ve lost me crew, they never came back. Now I was struck dumb because he always flew with them, and yet he was coming in through my front door, but all his crew have gone. And I thought why? Why are you here and your crew have crashed, they’ve not come back, well he didn’t know they crashed, they hadn’t come back. I looked at him and I said, they don’t come back, I said. He said I’ve been waiting all night for ‘em he said. When I went to look up on the board last night, yesterday, he said I knew we had an op on and I went to have a look on the board at my crew, he said and I’m not on with me crew. He said I went into the office I want to know why I’m not on with me crew! And they said you’ve done your quota, over your quota already Jim, and we want, somebody else wants to fly. We’ve got lads on the camp that haven’t got their flights in and we’ve got to get them, we’re not allowed to send you out any more now. So he said, I had a row with them. No Jim, no matter what you say, high up say you haven’t to go tonight. He said so I watched them take off, he said I went in the what’s it called room, in the room, you know, where they call them in.
Int: Oh yes.
WS: Well what they did, every aircrew, every aircraft had a number and they used, when that number flew out, they used to push them into the middle.
Int: You see it on old films, don’t you, the women doing it.
WS: And then when they came back they used to pull them back.
Int; Ah!
WS: So all the ones that are left in the middle were the ones who hadn’t come back.
Int: Missing.
WS: And they sat in the crew room all night.
Int: Were they.
WS: They were sat in the crew room all night, waiting for them coming back.
Int: Had they gone on a bombing raid, over Germany?
WS: A bombing raid, oh yeah, a bombing raid, and they hadn’t come back. He said I waited all night, and they hadn’t come back. He said so they’re reported missing, believed killed, and he said er, and they sent me home, he said. The CO said Jim will you go home to your wife, he said there’s a pass there, seven days leave. He said and don’t [emphasis] come back to this camp again. You’re posted up to Scotland, you’re going up there as an instructor, he said, no messing about. Go home to your wife! And he said no, because he was in such a state when they didn’t come back. And he kept blaming himself a bit for it because first time I’ve never flown with ‘em and they haven’t come back, first time I’ve never flown with ‘em, not brought ‘em back, love. And I said Jim, you can’t look on it like that and he said aren’t you bothered? And I said Jim, all I’m doing is looking at you standing there, tsk, I said my feelings are different than yours. You’re mourning a crew that you’ve just lost, I’m bloody glad you walked in my front door this morning, and my feelings weren’t the same as Jim’s.
Int: That’s it.
WS: All right, I felt sorry for them, felt sorry for Jim, but I was so relieved that he’d come and that he was there, you know.
Int: Well yeah!
WS: And they wouldn’t let him fly because he’d done forty eight and done more than the rest of ‘em you see, and er, that’s what happened that night. Then he got posted up to Scotland. Of course I hated that because I didn’t see him then, I didn’t see him till, well I forget how long it was before l saw him again. I’d had our George by then, cause I were having our George when it happened, and I’d already had our George and Jim had never seen our George then.
Int: So you had George before Jim came back home.
WS: Yes. I’d had George before this. I had our George, Jim went up there in August, up to Scotland, and I had our George in September, and it were months before Jim come home so he didn’t see our George till our George were, you know, I forget how old George was when he see him first time.
Int: When did he get his DFM then, Jim?
WS: Well he was awarded it in 19-, he was a Flight Sergeant when he got, when he was awarded it and that must have been in 1940 – beginning of 1944. Either end of 1943, or beginning of 1944 but he didn’t get, he just had his ribbon up. He didn’t get his medal until, he got his medal, aher, the week after our George was born, I was in [indecipherable] at home when he got his medal.
Int: [Gasp]
WS: And he’d gone on a flight. He were on, he were up in Scotland and he were doing a training flight with two, two er, he had two trainees with him and they were on this training flight and something went wrong with the aircraft and they had to land, do an emergency landing on the isle of Tiree. So they always had an engineer with them you see, and he had a look what were wrong and he said to Jim will you ring back, will you send back to camp, we need a spare part, ask them if they’ll send a spare part out. So Jim, being the wireless operator like, he had to contact camp, will you send us such and such spare part out, we’re stranded on Tiree. So the following day this aircraft came over from base, with the spare part, landed, and they said to Jim, we’re going back and you’ve got to come back with us; you’ve got to come back to camp. So Jim said what for? He said don’t bloody ask us he said, you’ve got to go to admin as soon as you get back, you’ve got to report to admin straight away; he said urgent. So when Jim got back, that was on the Friday, Jim got back to camp and he goes to admin: right, best blue, all polished, all buttons polished, everything smart, there’s a, here’s your tickets to Edinburgh, [laugh] there’s a transport waiting for you to take you to the train. You get on that train, get to Edinburgh and there’s, there’s the place you are staying for the night, you stay there, [clapping sound] and tomorrow morning you have got to be at the Palace of Holyrood House at such and such a time, to meet the King and Queen!
Int: Oh!
WS: He had to go to Palace of Holyrood House. He got there Friday, he stayed the Friday night to Edinburgh and he met up with another bloke who were going to Palace as well, so they kind of, they was strangers, but in the services, you know, they all kept together.
Int: They were all one family.
WS: They had a night out and then they got their best blue and everything ready and the medals all polished and everything ready for, they had to have their medals on and everything, ready to go down and they, like seeing investiture’s on, where the King and that is what happened.
Int: Aw!
WS: And was something I missed.
Int: Aw, it’s a shame that, but I mean you must have been proud of him mustn’t you, you know, that was so.
WS: You know, he wrote it up, he said I’m sorry about that he said, but you see they wouldn’t have investitures at Buckingham Palace then, because of the air raids in London and if the Germans, the Germans knew everything that were going, on and they did their, they knew a lot of brass, you know, top brass, at Buckingham Palace.
Int: It was dangerous to be there, yeah.
WS: So wherever the King and Queen went, they used to have an investiture, and they were staying at Balmoral on their holiday when Jim were up there overnight, they had this investiture at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh and went down there. He said and then after they had a reception at night and he met Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth, they were there.
Int: [Gasp] Wow!
WS: Said he had a belting time. I said why do you always bloody have a belting time!
Int: [Laugh] Cause he went out to America didn’t he, on the?
WS: Yeah, well he went out to America. When he re-joined, after the war was over, he went to, he went there, he had to wait till he got rid of that rash, that he had on him.
Int: Oh yeah, you were telling me about that.
WS: And then he went to Hemswell and it were snowed up and it hadn’t any [indecipherable] when he got there, but he had to stay the night because he couldn’t get back! He had to go, he had to come back on a snow plough day after, to Gainsborough, and he come home and he were home until the police came and told him he had to report back and he were home about, they were at home at least a month, all the camp, couldn’t get back, it were that bad. Used to get really bad over there. He went back, he went to the camp then and he were only there, I think he were there about six weeks. When he came home and he said I’m going to America! Looked at him, I mean, I know he used to, they used to fly out to the Middle East, fly out that way, but never that way! [Laugh] And I said I thought he were kidding, I said yeah. He said I am, he said I’m on seven days’ leave he said, I’ve had to go to Binbrook, he said we’re flying in from there. I said I wondered why I hadn’t had a letter from you for a few, he said well we had to go over to Binbrook and get kitted out and everything he said, so they give us seven days leave before we go. So I said how long you are going for? Ten weeks. So they flew out to Canada first and they went to a couple of places in Canada, and then they went down to America. And it was kind of showing the flag kind of thing, and there were sixteen aircraft which is a squadron, so it’s like a full squadron going, and they were there for ten weeks. All over America they went; well they were flying from one place to another, they went all over, but they were doing flying pasts and things like that and you know, showing off all over America, and all the Americans wanted to see them, and the Lancaster bomber.
Int: Yeah.
WS: And they weren’t Lancasters, they were Lincolns, because the Lancasters all had gone down the pan and they’d gone over to the Lincolns then, but you could hardly tell the difference between them.
Int: Wow.
WS: But it was a bigger version of the Lancaster and it had a blip on the thing, where they stored what they called the window; the window was all metal strips like that, they used to drop it and it used to jam the radar. Enemy radar.
Int: Oh yeah! The strips, yes I’ve seen that.
WS: They called it window.
Int: Oh, right.
WS: And they used to get cross, oh they used to go all over the bloody aircraft and these, when they came back from abroad and anywhere they went, in Middle East sometimes used to go out to Gib, to Gibraltar, quite a few times, to do, for five days, to do a go up, do an exercise with the Mediterranean Fleet and service and that and when he used to come back they used to have to fly to a certain station, I forget what they were called now, but they always had the customs and excise there, so when they went they used to search the aircraft for contraband, for the blokes bringing whiskey and that, all sorts.
Int: [Laugh]
WS: But they had this great big blip on the thing, the Lincoln where they, when they were in the Lancaster they had to just drop it out through the bomb bay, so when they designed the Lincoln they made this blip on it and it was always locked when they got the stuff in and they used to bring them back absolutely packed with cigarettes, whiskey, gin, all sorts.
Int: [Laugh]
WS: They were massive things you know. They used to lock them and when the customs and excise come on they used to say oh I’m very sorry sir, but you can’t go in there, it’s top secret and they used to have top secret written all over [laughter].
Int: All the whiskey was in there, and the cigarettes!
WS: All for the Sergeants Mess, the Sergeants and the Officers Mess they used to, oh they were all sorts.
Int: So when they went out to America what was that for? That was like part of?
WS: That was showing the flag, showing our flag. They went out to, in America they went mad over 637 Squadron.
Int: The 637 Squadron.
WS: Well, the thing, well they were disbanded and all the crews had gone, had left the Air Force and that, so they wanted to show, so they made a squadron up and they flew out as 637 Squadron.
Int: Ah, right.
WS: And that’s why 617 Squadron, and they flew out as the Dambusters and that’s why they went out. And it was kind of showing the flag and the Americans wanted to see ‘em, and thought they were absolutely brilliant, our aircrew lads.
Int: Oh, right.
WS: And they went out, and they flew all over the place and he come back with all bloody sorts. Beautiful pair of leather shoes I got, [laughter] couldn’t get out of me toes, high heel shoes, oh they were beautiful! And inside all the WAAFs kept saying, kept going into his locker and getting these shoes out and said, Jim are you sure your wife’s feet are only that bloody big! [Laugh] He said it was a joke among all the squadron about these shoes! And he brought white flour home. They went down to the flour state, what’s it called, Michigan is it, I forget now, but where they, Kansas, where they do, make all the white flour over there. And they all come back with big bags of white flour – well we’d never seen white flour since the war started.
Int: Well we’d have all the rations would still be on won’t they, and things.
WS: So I had white flour and all that; he brought all sorts home. When he get home he tell me about this shoe and they keep bloody appearing round the squadron these shoes, are you sure your wife’s feet are only that big!
Int: Ah, those were the days.
WS: Yes, I tell you something, they had a bloody good time. I have a photograph somewhere, I don’t know where it is, it must be upstairs at home, in the boxes under the stairs.
Int: You’ll have to show me that one day, find it.
WS: It’s about that, and they’re absolutely blind drunk on it!
Int: Oh are they! [Laugh]
WS: Well, everybody feted them over there.
Int: They made them very welcome then by the sounds of it.
WS: And they feted ‘em over here, yeah. Everywhere they went when they were meant, doing all these flypasts. They did a flypast over the Empire State Building! [Laugh]
Int: Wow!
WS: And all sorts of things like that, all sorts of things like that, but they had ten weeks out there and then he came back. He’d only been, how he came to get picked I don’t know because he’d only been back in a few weeks when he got sent.
Int: Right.
WS: He sent me a letter, he said don’t write here for a bit, I’ve got to go to Binbrook, and I thought what the bloody hell is happening, he’s only been in five minutes and you know, he’s going somewhere else! And then he wrote to me and said he was going to America, then he come home on leave then, and he went there to be, they went there to get, to all join together, to form a squadron.
Int: And then they flew out from there did they?
WS: And then they flew out together you see and they went via Reykjavik, all that way over, they landed at Reykjavik and then they went from Reykjavik to Canada and they did two stops in Canada first of all and then they went down into America and they were at camps, they went all over. They’d been able to fly from one place to another. They went all over.
Int: So they’d be treated like superstars would they?
WS: Oh yeah, apparently they were feted everywhere they went.
Int: Right. How long after that was he, did he finish then in the RAF? Was it quite, how long did he stay in the RAF after that? Not very long.
WS: Well, I was with him then, I had the three kids then, with him. He was at Hemswell first of all when I went.
Int: Yeah, that’s when Brian talks about his time at Hemswell.
WS: I had our Susan then, and our Susan was born at Hemswell and then we got posted up to Marham and er, it was a Yankee station at Marham where we were, they were all Yanks on there, and they didn’t walk down garden paths, they just strolled all over the bloody fences all the way down when they were going out. [Chuckle] They was hilarious were them Yanks there. And then I had our Brian at Marham and then we all went back to Hemswell again when they’d finished. What he were doing at Marham, they were on B29s, they were going to convert. The Lincolns were beginning to fade out and they were, just on big jets, the big jets were beginning to coming in by then.
Int: Right.
WS: Well of course they needed all new crews, they couldn’t use the old crews. It was all new training because it was [clap] like it is now.
Int: Yes. A lot different.
WS: Yeah. So they were going to use American B29s on Lease Lend, from America, so Jim was sent up there with some more. He always got picked for everything that went on. From Hemswell up to Marham to do a course on the B29s with the Americans. The Americans training on this because you know, they got ‘em bit different aircraft to our and they had all mod cons on them aircraft and he trained on there and he did all his training, and then he came back to Hemswell while I was having our Susan I suppose and he went back up, and then he were back with us for a bit and then he got posted there, but we had to wait till a married quarter came empty before we could move.
Int: Oh right.
WS: And then eventually we moved up there, to Hemswell, to Marham, no we didn’t, Jim went up and I had our Susan because Jim got two weeks compassionate leave, and then I were left on my own with our Susan, and our George then, until we got married quarters and then we went to live up there. And then had our Brian while we lived at Marham and then we all got posted, when he finished training, we had three years there and they trained everybody, all the squadrons. They used to go in a squadron at a time and Jim and the others who were at Marham used to train ‘em on B29s; Jim was an instructor again. And then we all moved back to Hemswell and he was back on his old, they back on their own squadron, Jim was on 97 Squadron, on 199 Squadron he was on there, so they went back to their old squadrons, at Hemswell, and then we were there for quite a good few years and [indecipherable] again and then all of a sudden he got, I’ve got, I’m going off. Where are you going this time? Bletchley Park. Now that was the big place.
Int: Wow!
WS: Where they did all the, er, what’s it called, yeah, that was the thing, and it was all secret service there.
Int: Omega thing was it called? Omega? What was it called, that secret, yeah?
WS: Yeah. I forget that.
Int: And he was trained to do, down there was he?
WS: Yeah.
Int: Wow!
WS: Well he went down there and it was all secret service down there. He had to take the, you know the secret service over there, that you, they had to take the secret service; you had to take the oath.
Int: The oath.
WS: You had to go on the bible, take the oath, you had to do all that when he went down there, sworn to secrecy about what they were doing and then he said I’m posted, I said where you going this time? Germany. I said Germany! I thought whew and it weren’t very long before we were out in Germany as well, with him there.
Int: Oh!
WS: Oh, we loved it there, it were beautiful there, oh it was gorgeous. And then all of a sudden they had redundancies, they started redundancies.
Int: Oh, right.
WS: And Jim, being the aircrew were going out then you know, they was all going out.
Int: They were phasing it out.
WS: And we, Jim had a family who they had to pay all this money to every month cause if you had a family, and you’re in the services, they had to pay you so much, the wife so much for each child and then pay the wife as well, you see I got wage as well from them.
Int: Right.
WS: Then Jim’s money as well. So all the people like Jim got.
Int: They were chosen, to be the ones to go.
WS: He did draw a bloody big redundancy off ‘em, and his pension, so we were all right.
Int: So you were okay, yeah, which has seen you through till now, hasn’t it really.
WS: Yeah.
Int: It’s been good that, for you.
WS: You’re right there, but we’d had a good few years of fun and, it were fun and it was.
Int: Yes.
WS: It was going out to, always having babysitters, the lads, the young lads used to babysit for me [laughter] and made ‘em their supper and give ‘em, left a drink for ‘em and they’d sit in for you all night, they were great they were. And we always had babysitters [indecipherable] and we used to go out to the mess and we never used to come home, and we were home three o’clock we were home early!
Int: [Laugh] So a good time was had by all then!
WS: They were crackers, honestly. What happened was, they had such a bad time of it during the war, that when people were off duty, a lot of time the officers used to come from their mess and come over to the Sergeants Mess The Sergeants Mess used to invite them, they couldn’t go to the Sergeants Mess unless they were invited.
Int: Right.
WS: And our lads couldn’t go to the Sergeants Mess and in the Sergeants Mess it was all prim and proper but down in the Officers Mess I mean, but in the Sergeants Mess aha, you could get away with anything then [chuckle], in the Sergeants Mess. Used to be chaos when we got in the Sergeants Mess. So once they’re off during the service, during the war once, I don’t know [indecipherable] when there was no operations on they got congregated down at the Sergeants Mess and apparently it were, they used to do all sorts of bloody daft games, and they used to really let their hair down, because they had to do.
Int: Well, the sort of things that they would witness.
WS: It was something they needed to do.
Int: Yeah. I can imagine!
WS: And the officers, the top officers used to go to the Sergeants Mess with them as well, and they used to, I know they used to play one game, one silly bloody game called Cockalarium, I’ve no idea what it was – don’t ask! [Laughter] I’ve no bloody idea, Jim never would tell me, and that’s what they used to play. And some of them used to get bloody injured doing it too, they used to, they were mad, you know, they used to have bouts of bloody madness, but you know, they had to do it, let their hair down.
Int: They needed to release, yes, the pressure and the, yeah.
WS: Or else they would have gone, you know, tsk, you know.
Int: Yeah.
WS: Jim would have gone spare, Jim said to me after about it. If we hadn’t had those nights we would have gone you know, he said.
Int: Oh I suppose they never knew form one flight to the next if they were going to ever come back!
WS: Well this is what it was: they used to climb in them aircraft and they never knew whether they would come back or not.
Int: They never know. It’s awful.
WS: And some of the lads who were talking on there about it, the first scary, the first one that we went on, you know, when last year thing, and there were a lot on the telly about it, and he was saying when we first went, the first operation we went on, he said we flew out all right, we had nice flight out, he said we got over the target, he said when I saw the target, he said I thought we’ll never fly in that, we can’t possibly fly in that. He said but we were doing. He said you would never have believed [emphasis] that anybody could fly in that, there were aircraft milling about, there were fighters milling, fighting at you, he said.
Int: Yeah. Well you see it on the television don’t you, old films that they’ve made of it, or even the real thing and it just looked horrendous that er, they were being shot at from height.
WS: They had a mid upper gunner, they had a rear gunner, and a mid upper gunner, one right on top, and they had guns, and he said their guns were like pea shooters towards the guns that the German fighters had. He said, they were just like pea shooters. You might as well he said, throw away the gun, he said you couldn’t even begin to, you know, to fight against them he said, because they had, they were such powerful guns.
Int: Yeah, superior to what Jim’s were.
WS: And er, and that night, I mean that night that Jim’s er, Jim’s rear gunner got killed, he were only eighteen. He’d volunteered, he’d only been in six months, just done his gunnery training and got crewed up with Jim’s crew. And that night he got killed and Jim had to take over from him because Jim was a wireless operator air gunner.
Int: Right, so he’d had to train to do both things.
WS: He had to take over from this lad, and there were holes all over the bloody turret, they couldn’t get it to turn round properly because it were on a swivel like this.
Int: Yeah, you’ve seen it, haven’t you, you know.
WS: They couldn’t get it to turn round properly; it were jammed, and they didn’t want Jim to go in it, you know. They begged him not to go in that night, and Jim said it me job, I’ve got to go in that turret and they were thousands of miles away, over Berlin, and they flew all the way over like that and apparently it was freezing cold in the turret to start off with, cause they’d no heating in there.
Int: Yeah, it were just like -
WS: And being all high up there, and the wind was whistling through it. And when they got back to the, and the aircraft was, the pilot was having to nurse the aircraft back, you know, because it was badly shot at the back, and when they got back to the channel - they hadn’t to contact base until they got the other side of the channel because the Germans could hear ‘em.
Int: They had to keep silence, yeah.
WS: Tapping away, you see, so he said when they were crossing the, the skipper said for god’s sake Jim, come back here, said it you’ve got to come back now, you’ve got to contact base now, we need to contact base. So Jim went back and his skipper said right, you contact base: we’re coming in to land, badly damaged and a casualty on board. So Jim sent the message back through to headquarters said: we’re badly damaged and we’ve got casualty on board, permission to land. So they cleared the airfield for ‘em and they guided them in and said safe to land, and the pilot started to land, and as he started to land like that, the rear turret fell off.
Int: Oh!
WS: It crashed in a bloody thousand pieces on the ground.
Int: So Jim could have been sat in that.
WS: Jim could’ve been sat in that.
Int: Oh.
WS: And er, and the pilot, of course as soon as that [emphasis] came off, the back of the aircraft, the aircraft started, you know [indecipherable].
Int: Yeah, different weight.
WS: So they had to nurse it down, the pilot, nursed it all the way down, and they landed, they went through the perimeter fence, two farmer’s fields, apparently, with all the fire engines and an ambulance chasing at the back of them. [Laughter] And he managed to get it down, so they all could get out as quick as they possibly bloody could because if you even get a spark near the engines - they’re full of petrol - they blow up.
Int: Yeah.
WS: The whole air, that’s why a lot of aircraft went, because they got shot and the fire hit the engines, as soon as it touched the engines it blew up.
Int: They just exploded.
WS: So they all scrambled out the best as they could and they got er, the young lad’s body out and put it in the ambulance.
Int: Aww. Must have been awful that.
WS: And I always had the feeling that that was why Jim got the DFM. I’m not sure.
Int: He never, he never mentioned it? Told you why he got that.
WS: No, he never talked about it, and I never asked him.
Int: Yes, yeah.
WS: I left it at that.
Int: It’s a common thing that though, apparently, isn’t it, that lots of people don’t want to talk about their experience.
WS: I always had a feeling that that was why he got it.
Int: Oh, right.
WS: The pilot got the DFC, the Distinguished Flying Cross, he got the DFM. They’re both the same [emphasis], but because you’re a pilot, you’re an officer, they call it a cross and if you’re below an officer, it’s a medal.
Int: Right.
WS: The, Cameron said he were going to stop all that, because the medals are both the same, you know. Only because you’re an officer it’s a Distinguished Flying Cross [emphasis]. But because you were in the ranks, it’s a Distinguished Flying Medal and Cameron said [indecipherable] he would a lot of people have said it, it’s about time they packed it in and called them all same. Because it’s all for the same thing.
Int: It’s all for bravery, i’n’t it.
WS: But I am firmly convinced that’s why Jim got his medal; he never said. Because apparently none of the crew wanted, it was his job to do that, in the, while he was, while they were flying over Jim was not allowed to touch his, while they were over Germany.
Int: Oh, the radio.
WS: Over enemy territory. And of course the Germans were all over the continent, they were in France, they were in Holland, they were everywhere, every bloody where except us, and so they weren’t allowed to contact base once they got over the channel, once they got to the channel they had to go radio silent, but Jim, and Jim was sat underneath the pilot – you know where the pilot sits.
Int: Well, I’ve not, vaguely.
WS: Well Jim was sat underneath the pilot, there, where hi little cabin was, but if anything happened to the aero, the gunners, his job was, he was supposed to take over.
Int: He had to take over, right.
WS: But that [emphasis] night it was so badly damaged that they didn’t want him, they begged Jim not to go in it, they didn’t want him to go in it. Some of the lads had told me about that, they said we did all sorts not to let him, they did all sorts to not let him in that night.
Int: Oh, to try not to let him in it.
WS: And he stuck to it, and he flew thousands of miles and apparently he could hardly move his fingers after, his fingers, you know.
Int: Well it would, it was so high up and it was cold.
WS: And the wind blowing through the thing up there and then of course as soon as the, he’d only been out of the turret for a few minutes then the whole bloody thing went off.
Int: Wa’nt he lucky, when you think about it, flippin’ ‘eck, doesn’t bear thinking about really, does it. Dear me.
WS: No, and apparently they said that one [laugh] of the lads, some of the groundcrew was talking to me about it, when we were still in, he said to me never seen anybody ran as bloody fast out of that aircraft than what they did when it were on. Cause they had the same groundcrew all the time, they had their own groundcrew. So they got to know the lads who looked after their aircraft and that.
Int: Right, patching it up all’t time.
WS: I met one or two of them, when we were still in after the war, and when I went back, when I went with Jim, I met one or two of them and they talked about that night and I didn’t know about the bloody thing falling off until they told me!
Int: Dear me!
WS: And I thought my God Jim, you had a charmed life.
Int: Well, it’s four o’clock, I suppose I’d better, it’s going a bit dark now, I suppose I’d better head off back.



“Interview with Alice Wrigley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 14, 2024,

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