World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                                                              The George Adams Interview
People in story: George Adams Location of story: England, South Africa, Canada, Singapore, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Background to story: Royal Air Force

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of George Adams.

 

This is a transcript taken from audio footage made by the Department of Sound Recordings at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, LONDON SE1 6H7. It has been copied almost exactly as recorded, therefore the terminology and grammar are as spoken and have not been manipulated in any way. Where place names that could not be found in an atlas, and/or unfamiliar terminology are mentioned, phonetic spellings are used and are subject to alteration. On some occasions, sentences were not completed; the following symbol is used to denote that: …………………… Only repetition has been suppressed. The actual sound recording can be found on the 'Audio Recordings' page of this site.  Bill Ross – BBC People’s War Story Editor.

Interviewer: Er, could you tell me when and where you were born Mr. Adams?

George Adams: 19th of January, 1922 at New Whittington, Chesterfield.

Int: What did your father do for a living?

GA: He was a works clerk at Staveley, he worked at Staveley.

Int: And how many of you were there in the family?

GA: Just mother and father and myself, just the three of us.

Int: Which school did you go to?

GA: New Whittington first of all, then on to Tapton.

Int: What did you want to do when you left school?

GA: I didn’t know actually, it just happened that this job came up at Staveley where my father worked. They asked if it would be any use, they said, “Yes, send him down,” so I went to see them and I went into the laboratory there on the foundry side.

Int: What were you actually doing?

GA: Training as a metallurgist. I stayed there until I went into the forces in 1940.

Int: Had you been in the Boy Scouts or the Rover Scouts?

GA: Yes, both the Scouts and Rover Scouts. Int: What sort of activities were you doing with them? GA: Camping, walking, all that kind of thing.

Int: Did it have a military side to it?

GA: No.

Int: Were you in any other boys’ organisation?

GA: No, none whatsoever, just the Boy Scouts.

Int: Were you keen on sport?

GA: Yes; football, cricket, playing with the school, I played after I left school at fifteen. I played with New Whittington and then the Derbyshire League. I played football just on the local sides.

Int: Now, what do you remember about when the war broke out?

GA: Well, the first thing I remember, that really involved us was when we became messengers with the wardens in the village.

Int: What did that entail?

GA: So many nights a week in the wardens’ post. You’d go out with the wardens, and if there was anything happening –nothing, thank goodness ever did whilst I was there, before I joined the forces, if it was needed, they’d send you off to pass messages on to other sections.

Int: So, you were acting as a runner.

GA: That’s right.

Int: Were you on foot or did you have a bike or something?

GA: On foot.

Int: But nothing actually happened during your period.

GA: No, not during that period before I joined up.

Int: Where were you based?

GA: In New Whittington, they had them in all the villages.

Int: What sort of post was it?

GA: It was an office at the Wagon Works in New Whittington, and we also had another post, the main one which was a brick built place, built specially right in the centre of the village itself.

Int: How many wardens and runners were there to cover?

GA: I can’t tell you exactly, but they’d enough to do two nights a week, then they’d enough to cover so they could relieve, then get two free nights, working much as they did on guard duty.

Int: So, you just walked round the whole of the town.

GA: That’s right, round the village, yes; just checking on lights and seeing that everyone had the blackout up and no light showing, things like that.

Int: Now, did you think the war would involve you, to a greater extent than that?

GA: Yes, I think I’d made my mind up. I was too young when it started, but I made my mind up that I would go into the forces.

Int: Did you volunteer or did you decide to……..?

GA: Yes, yes I volunteered.

Int: Why did you actually decide to volunteer?

GA: I think, like a lot more people, that it was a great thrill, and you’d see things, and also, my wife – my girl, as she was then - her brothers, two of them had been called up and I thought this seemed a bit unfair, so I decided that I would go too.

Int: Were you patriotic at the time?

GA: Yes.

Int: Where had you got that from?

GA: I think from my father and the family. My father had been in the First World War and I think this is where it came from, from people who had been in the First World War, and I think this is how it spread myself, this patriotism.

Int: Had he told you much about the war, the First World War?

GA: Yeah, quite a lot. He contacted an ex Commanding Officer whom he found out was in Sudan on a cotton plantation, so he wrote to him. When it came over, they fixed reunions and they continued that right up to after the Second World War.

Int: Had he had bad experiences, your father, or had he got through…….?

GA: He’d had some bad experiences in the front line, on the western front, yes.

Int: Had he talked to you about it, before you went in the forces?

GA: Yes.

Int: You said it was a bit of a thrill, had he not sort of………….?

GA: Yes, he tried to play it down quite a lot, “Keep out, wait until you’re fetched.” Because he’d done the same, he’d volunteered and they had a really rough passage those people did.

Int: So, you were patriotic and your friends had gone, were there any other reasons you decided to join up?

GA: Er, not really, no.

Int: Did you hope they would let you choose what you went into, you went into the army didn’t you?

GA: Yes.

Int: That was part of your reasoning.

GA: Actually, I didn’t choose a mechanic’s work, I applied first of all for aircrew, but they weren’t taking any aircrew at the time. They just put you down as mechanic, either E or A first of all, and then I went on to the riggers’ side, which was airframe, and from there, a period at Ensford, on that course.

Int: Hang on, so, you volunteered for the RAF, was that on your birthday in January, 1940?

GA, No, it was June, 1940. No, it was just before June and I went in, in July, I believe.

Int: How did you go about volunteering? Where did you go?

GA: Sheffield.

Int: Why Sheffield?

GA: That was the main place for volunteering for the R.A.F.

Int: And what made you decide on the R.A.F.?

GA: Well, I think it was the thrill of it really.

Int: The R.A.F. had that sort of reputation, rather than the army or navy then.

GA: Yes, that’s what I felt, yes. It’s be more interesting, even if it weren’t aircrew, it’d be more interesting work.

Int: Where was the recruiting office in Sheffield?

GA: I believe it was at the Cutler’s Hall.

Int: That was a specific R.A.F. recruiting office was it?

GA: Yes.

Int: What happened when you got there?

GA: We just interviewed.

Int: What sort of an interview?

GA: Nothing really, they just questioned me, the way you’re doing now, you know, date of birth and everything else, and that was it.

Int: That’s when you told them you wanted aircrew.

GA: Yeah.

Int: And did they knock you straight back?

GA: Yeah, straightaway, “We’re not taking any aircrew.”

Int: Did they say why?

GA: Well, it was early on and the big schemes in Canada hadn’t got going, they were just hanging fire and they were full of all they could take, I think that’s what had happened.

Int: Were you very disappointed?

GA: Yeah, I was really. Int: So, they knocked you back, what happened then, did you get a medical? GA: Not at that time, they sent for me a few weeks after, and I had the medical at the same place, Cutler’s Hall.

Int: What sort of a medical was it?

GA: Strict. Int: It was strict? GA: Yes, very strict.

Int: What did it cover?

GA: Er, you went through, I should say four doctors at least.

Int: Do you think you’d have passed if you hadn’t been fit, in other words, was it a serious medical or just for the form?

GA: No, it was a serious medical – everything.

Int: What did you pass out as?

GA: A1.

Int: Anything else when you reported to Cutler’s hall?

GA: No, you passed A1, then they said that they would notify you when your call up date would be, and that was it.

Int: So you went back home again.

GA: Yes, Int: How did your family react when they heard you’d done the deed – signed up? GA: A bit sad, but at the same time, they accepted it.

Int: What about at work? GA: Our boss was quite annoyed, (laughs) very annoyed.

Int: How did he show it?

GA: Well, how can I say?...........His attitude was, “What do ya want to do that for?” and, “You’re all right here, you needn’t have gone in.”

Int: Could you have applied for a reserved occupation?

GA: Yes, in the lab, yes.

Int: But you didn’t apply for it.

GA: No, I didn’t apply for it.

Int: What about in the village, I mean, did you feel a bit of a hero going off to war?

GA: No, there were lots of other lads, four or five of us went together; all friends.

Int: All into the R.A.F.? GA: Yes, we all went into the R.A.F. Int: Had they gone with you when..........?

GA: Yes, we all went to sign on together. I think I was the first called up, I think I was the first to go for the medical.

Int: So when were you first called up, do you remember the date?

GA: 23rd of July, 1940.

Int: And what did you have to do when you were called up?

GA: I had a travel warrant issued, we went straight through to Warrington, to Padgate. We stayed there until we were sworn in.

Int: When was that about?

GA: We were sworn in on the second day, and we stayed there a couple of days kitting out.

Int: How were you kitted out, what were you issued with?

GA: Just the two suits of blue, everything else, shirts, everything that was required for the full uniform, gasmasks, everything that was required for the R.A.F., gas capes. There were no steel helmets at that time, well, not immediately.

Int: While you were there at Padgate, were you in the barracks?

GA: Yes.

Int: What were your first impressions of the military lifestyle?

GA: It didn’t worry me really because I’d spent quite a bit of time away from home, here and there, so it didn’t disturb me.

Int: So where did you go from Padgate?

GA: Up to Hednesford.

Int: Hinsford?

GA: H E D N E S F O R D.

Int: What were you doing there?

GA: And that was – first of all, you did a week or a fortnight on drill, rifle ranges and things like that. Then you started on the riggers’ course, or anyone on engines, on the Mechs.’ Course.

Int: Right, we’ll take those things in turn, what were your living conditions like at Hednesford?

GA: The huts were pretty good.

Int: Can you describe them?

GA: Just the ordinary wooden hut, er, with the single beds, 20 or 30 to a hut, a locker, biscuits for your mattress and a shelf for your things above. Everything had to be in ‘apple pie order’, the same in the morning, your blankets had to be in ‘apple pie order’ with your biscuits.

Int: Was there any heating in there?

GA: Yes, two stoves, in the centre, one at one end and one at the other. The only problem was that on the night that it was cleaning night, you had to block the stove so you couldn’t have a fire. Next morning, there should have been an inspection, so if the C.O. didn’t get round, you couldn’t have a fire that night and it was winter, y’know, we were in that period, we didn’t leave there until December, so we had quite a lot of cold weather up there at that period, 1940. That was our only grumble at Hednesford.

Int: You were responsible for cleaning the whole of your hut were you?

GA: Yes, everybody used to take a job, buff the floors, black the stove, and everything else.

Int: Did you have a special way to lay your kit out?

GA: Yes, the kit inspections were only about once a month, it wasn’t too bad. It was like in the First World War, nothing had altered.

Int: What about washing and showers?

GA: Yes, there were baths, you could get a bath, there was hot water, so you could have a bath any time you like.

Int; What about food?

GA: Quite good really, it was very fair compared to some of the stuff we had later.

Int: What sort of food were they dishing out for breakfast, for instance?

GA: You’d porridge, you’d sausage, you’d beans, the only thing I didn’t like, they used to dish up a lot of beasts’ heart, I wasn’t very fond of that.

Int: Was that stew at lunch do you mean?

GA: No, it was for breakfast sometimes.

Int: What about lunch, what would you get for lunch?

GA: You’d a cooked lunch, and quite sufficient.

Int: So, you got plenty of food and the quality was all right.

GA: Very fair considering the number they were catering for; very good really at Hednesford.

Int: How did you get on with your fellow recruits?

GA: Oh, we’d a good crowd in our billet, we were all pretty wild.

Int: In what way?

GA: I dunno, I used to meet up with......I used to fit in with a bunch that were wild. There wasn’t a lot of drinking, bags of fun and games in the billet, fixing beds and one or two scraps, and things like that, but nothing really viscous. It was all good fun; we’d a good crowd.

Int: No bullying then.

GA: No, strangely enough, no.

Int: What about your N.C.O.’s, did you have a corporal in with you?

GA: Yes, we had a corporal in the bunk.

Int: What was he like?

GA: Er, they changed occasionally, you got a mixed bunch, but usually, very fair. The flight sergeant who was in charge of our section, he was a right character really. His attitude was frightening at first which nobody took any notice of. I always remember the first time he got us together, after we’d had our inoculations, one afternoon. He got us in this billet, and he’d had us on parade, but he hadn’t introduced himself. “Yer don’t know me do yer? I’m Billy, Billy the Bastard.” So, of course, we all laughed, and he said, “Yer’ll not laugh when I’ve finished with yer.” And that’s how it progressed. But I’m afraid we took the Mickey out of him terribly really. It was.........we drove him........oh dear, it was awful really, on parade in the morning. He’d call everyone to attention, and someone at the top would shout, “Billy, Billy, Billy.” He’d go spare, he’d say, “Who said that?” A voice at the bottom said, “I did, I did.” But he never did anything, he never had us out after class or anything like that.

Int: Was he popular in the end?

GA: He was popular, but he did some really stupid things in a way.

Int: Such as?

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Part 2

GA: I think we’d been called on, I think it was five picket or guard, and it was howling down with rain, and we stood outside the orderly room, and he’d seen us there. He just ignored us, and the adjutant had seen us too, and he fetched him into his office and gave him a wigging, apparently. He came out in a furious temper, took his hat off, laid it on the floor and jumped on it. Of course, we all cheered then. Y’ know, it’s strange the things he did.

Int: He doesn’t sound like a very competent N.C.O.

GA: He was very unbalanced actually.

Int: He could have stopped things surely, the calling out, by putting you, either all on a charge, or er……….

GA, That’s right, he could have said, “Right, you’ll all report on the square after class.

Int: Did you think he was a bit incompetent at the time, or not too good at discipline anyway?

GA: Well, we couldn’t really work him out because we were getting away with it, you see. We thought, “Well, just keep getting away with it,” so, that was it

Int: Were the other N.C.O.s stricter?

GA: Yes, some of the corporals were more strict, but er, we were rather, er, what shall I say? We were still civilians. We got one or two who were frightened, but the majority were………..

Int: You still had a civilian attitude then.

GA: That’s right, yeah. This is what I found and anybody who made a right fool of themselves, you take the mickey out of them whether they were N.C.O.’s or not.

Int: What about the officers, did you see much of the officers?

GA: Not a lot there. The only time we saw them was if they had a special parade. He’d be on parade, then he’d hand over to the flight sergeant and that would be it.

Int: Did you respect your officers?

GA: Well, yes I suppose we did, but at the same time, I suppose we were never in real contact with them there.

Int: One thing I should have asked you earlier, what unit – you joined the R.A.F., did your training unit at Hednesford have a…………….

GA: I can’t remember what name it was, I can’t remember what number it was there at Hednesford.

Int: Did it have a squadron number or a, what sort of a……………?

GA: No, it was the Hednesford Training, it was a training school, divided up into wings.

Int: But you don’t remember which wing.

GA: No, I don’t remember which wing.

Int: How did your training programme start, what was the first thing they taught you?

GA: Well, we were on the riggers’ course, and you went through all the…………….

Int: Did they start you with rigging before they started you with basic drill, or did you………?

GA: No, you started with your basic drill first, you did, I think it was a fortnight of basic drill, and then, on to class.

Int: How did you take to basic drill?

GA: Oh, it was all right, I was always very active. Int: Did you understand why you were doing it? GA: No, we thought it was a lot of bull, but you did it, you had to and accepted it.

Int: Did you do any rifle training at that time?

GA: Yes.

Int: How far did they take you with that?

GA: Right the way through to………all the way through to the funeral drill, and then…..

Int: Did they teach you to fire it?

GA: …………………..and then firing, down to the butts.

Int: Were you a good shot?

GA: Not particularly, you didn’t get long enough, y’know, you didn’t get many, you got perhaps a couple of afternoons for about half an hour, and that was it.

Int: Did they put you through a fitness training, you know, P.T.?

GA: Yeah. You did, during that period in an afternoon, of your drill, instead of drill, you did cross country runs.

Int: And P.T. as well.

GA: And P.T. in a morning. Even during the class period, that was the first thing in the morning, before classes, P.T.

Int: Did you do route marches as well as cross country runs?

GA: Only the odd one, it was mostly more running.

Int: Did it work, I mean, did you get fitter? Were you a footballer?

GA: I think I was pretty fit when I went in, so y’know, I always felt fit.

Int: Did it make you better, or was it normal for you, that sort of fitness?

GA: It was normal really, because we used to train for football.

Int: What about some of the lads who weren’t sporting, did they think it helped them?

GA: They found it hard, but it helped them I think, in the end, yes.

Int: So, you did this first, this bit of basic training, and then you went on to your fitters’ course. Now you mentioned that there were E and A fitters……

GA: No, riggers. First of all there were the riggers; on the riggers’ course first, then the mechanics’. Engines were mechanics, riggers were airframe.

Int: And you were on airframe first.

GA: Yes.

Int: And so, you didn’t learn anything about the engine at the start.

GA: No, nothing about anything for the first fortnight.

Int: So, what about the airframe, as a rigger, how did they start training you?

GA: Well, you went through on your aerodynamics, theory of flight, and then onto actual aircraft; everything right the way through to er, hydraulics, all the hydraulics of the planes, the undercarriage hydraulics, the legs, brakes, pneumatics with the brakes and hydraulic brakes, and then all the way through, fabric work, er, woodwork, metalwork. It was quite involved really, and they expected – on the metal work especially, they expected it to be good, really, you know, you were working with files, into a thou., something like that, and it had to be good.

Int: And did you take to it?

GA: Yes, I did, I enjoyed it really.

..........Reel 2..........................

GA: The more modern aircraft had a tubular fuselage, aircraft such as the Hurricane. On wood, one thing we had to do was to splice two pieces together; you’d got rope splicing, you’d got control wire splicing, right the way through, anti corrosion work. It’s a very good trade in the R.A.F., it was a long long course really and they were trying to get as much into us as they could from middle of July until we finished just before Christmas.

Int: So, the aircraft had doped linen as their outer skin, they all had that did they?

GA: No, the Hurricane had it – we did one or two metal patches.........

Int: Some of them had metal...........

GA: A metal fuselage, yes, we did one or two, but the bulk of it was fabric.

Int: And depending on whether it was a metal tubular frame, or a wooden frame, that’s an awful lot to learn, because previously, in the First World war for instance, it was just fabric on wood.

GA: It is, y’know, you’d everything, hydraulics, the lot.

Int: So hydraulics wasn’t dealt with by the engine people, that was your part.

GA: No, that was your riggers. And you had a written exam, at the end of each period. As you progressed through, you came up to your final board, and you’re interviewed separately then. Each one went individually; it was an oral interview with a warrant officer or a flight sergeant. They took you right through the whole course from beginning to end, that’s when everybody started to quake. Int: With all this to learn, and that is a lot to learn, did you actually have to swat at night? GA: Yeah, we did, we had all the books out, it was just like being at technical college.

Int: Did you have any trouble with anything?

GA: No, I did all right because I’d been at technical college right up to joining the forces, it didn’t trouble me at all really.

Int: What about some of the others, I mean, did you have your high flyers who were really good?

GA: Yeah, we’d got some quite high flyers, I’d a friend who’d been on engines, in fact he’s still a friend now. He comes down to see us from Scotland; he was brilliant.

Int: What about people at the other end, people who couldn’t do the maths or the hydraulics or something?

GA: It used to disturb them, they used to get worked up about it.

Int: What happened to them if they failed?

GA: We didn’t have many failures on that course. We had one or two, but they were posted as aircraft hands, on to general duties, yeah.

Int: And you didn’t fancy that.

GA: No, I didn’t fancy that at all, because it was quite good that course, and I wanted to get through.

Int: Is there anything else you remember at your time at Hednesford?

GA: Yes, at the Battle of Britain there was a big panic on the station, rifles were drawn, we were told it looked as if the invasion was going to take place.

Int: Would that be September the 15th?

GA: Something like that, yes. It was a hot summer too, and we were all drawn up, we were told what to expect. They told us, “Go back to your wings and you’ll be issued with rifles,” and that was it. As the weeks went by, it died down and the rifles were taken back, and that was it. Everything became normal again. But it was a really big panic.

Int: Have you ever been panicked?

GA: No not really, I don’t think so. Also, while we were up there, I’d an Auntie in Coventry and we’d been down, one Saturday, a week before the big raid, and we were on our way back down to the centre of Coventry to take the bus back to Hednesford. There was a raid that night; the first we knew about it; there were no air raid sirens. We were with this friend from Scotland and we both said, “That’s a Jerry.” Next thing, there were the whistles of bombs, chimney pots and windows flying all over, so we stayed there all night, we had to go down to the police station and get a document signed stating that we’d been held up and there were no busses running. We got back to camp next morning. We had to go in front of the C.O., but that was all right, he accepted it. Int: Did you have much disciplinary trouble yourself while you were there? GA: No, not really, in fact, all the time I was in the forces, I.............

Int: The wildness, it was just high spirits rather than breaking the rules.

GA: Yes, we did break rules, everybody did, we broke out of camp and all sorts of things, but..........

Int: But you were never caught.

GA: No, I was never caught; I never did a day’s jankers really.

Int: Do you remember any of the things you did do?

GA: Yeah, at Gloucester. That’ll come up later probably.

Int: You finished at Hednesford round about Christmas did you?

GA: Just before Christmas. We had ten days’ leave, and I was posted up to Dumfries Bomb and Gunnery School, a few days before Christmas.

Int: And what was your rank then?

GA: A.C.1

Int: So what happened when you got up to Dumfries, that was a bomber and gunnery school?

GA: Yes, and they were pushing hard to get bombers and gunners through, so we’d got quite a lot of work on. I didn’t get Christmas at home, because I’d had the ten days’ leave. We went on to Whitley Bombers.

Int: What was the Whitley like then, as a bomber?

GA: It was slow, rumbling, terrible.

Int: You thought that at the time?

GA: Yes, I managed to get quite a few trips up there and it was just on local flying, , after doing tests, they’d say, “Hop in,” and you’d have a trip round.

Int: Was that the first time you had a flight at Dumfries? GA: Yes, the first one. Int: What did you think of it?

GA: It was marvellous, I thought.

Int: Did you still hanker after being aircrew then? GA: It was fading a little bit, I think.

Int: Why was that?

GA: I don’t know, I can’t tell yer because I hadn’t been with her, we’d had no accidents up at Dumfries, and I was very interested in the work I was doing, and, it just slid by, sort of, and it never came up on DRO’s asking for anyone, so, I was happy with the crew I was with, and it just slid by.

Int: How was your work organised at Dumfries?

GA: We reached a period where it was very heavy. We’d quite a lot of Whitleys that were going unserviceable, most of it through strain, landings and things like that. We were working very hard.

Int: The Whitleys were just being used for training, from there. GA: That’s right. Int: So it was just the landing and the………….

Ga: Yes, you’d got quite a lot. They’d go out, do a gunnery job, do a bombing job, out over the Solway, somewhere like that, back in, down and, they were getting quite a lot of usage and we were getting quite a lot of………….

Int: What was the main thing, I mean, you say strain and landing, what was the sort of………?

GA: We were finding, as I remember now, cracks in some of the undercarriage structures.

Int: How would you fix that?

GA: Well usually, it was too much just for a flight, so it used to come in – we were on maintenance – it used to come into maintenance and you’d put, sometimes you’d put new undercarriages on, and things like that.

Int: You’d carry that sort of thing as a spare in maintenance?

GA: Yes, if it was necessary. We were short actually, this was why they were getting very tight for time, to get them through. We were working, what? seven in a morning. You were there sometimes until one o’clock the following morning, back at seven, and then, it was a very bad winter. After Christmas, it was terrible up there, in 1941. So we were down there at five o’clock in the morning, first of all down on the runway, shovelling snow off. You’d nothing else to move it with, so you shovelled it off.

Int: Didn’t they have a bulldozer?

GA: No, nothing like that then. All the camp was down on the runway at five o’clock in the morning with shovels.

Int: Was that everybody or just the aircraft…………?

GA: Everybody practically, everybody apart from the cooks.

Int: What about officers and N.C.O.’s?

GA: I can’t remember actually, some of the officers were out, but I can’t remember seeing many of them. The corporals were there, the odd sergeant I think, but mostly it was the other ranks. You were on the runway, you’d work on the runway with lorries, throwing it in to clear the runway for the morning flights, then back in for breakfast, then back to the hangar for repairs.

Int: At seven?

GA: At seven, yes, and then back. Some nights, we were getting three to four hours sleep, that’s all.

Int: We’ve mentioned problems with the undercarriages, what else was happening with these old Whitleys?

GA: A lot of engine oil leaks and things like that. It was just general.

Int: That wouldn’t be your side of things. GA: No, it was the mechanics’. Int: You’d still not had any engine training had you?

GA: No, I never did any engine training at all, I stuck completely to air frame.

Int: Did they never sort of give you a bit of training, in case something went wrong?

GA: No.


Pt 3: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7541651


Int: So, you were a specialist.

GA: Yes, you did one thing – but at that period, you did everything, you did tyres – all the lot. Now I found when I came back to this country, we’d split up into each section. I found it very strange. I’d start to do a job on an aircraft when I came and they’d say, “Oh no, you don’t do that, that goes up to the tyre section.”

Int: So when you did it, you just did………….

GA: You did the lot.

Int: There was the engine lot, and the fitter lot.

GA: Yes.

Int: And you did the whole plane bar the engine.

GA: Yes, that’s right.

Int: So that’s the sort of things that were going wrong, tyres, undercarriage.

GA: Yes, things like that.

Int: Were they well built?

GA: They were very solid, they were a good solid plane, but oh dear, slow.

Int: So the design was bad, but they were well built.

GA: Yes, they were well built.

Int: And you were enjoying the work.

GA: Yeah, I was really. We were frozen to death, we’d no heating. Everything of that period as I remember it, we’d nothing. Everything froze up, we’d only got about one wash house on the camp where you could get a wash. We were in real trouble then. All the lot, all the camp froze up. It was terrific.

Int: Something I meant to ask you, you mentioned they had flight fitters and that you lot were the maintenance fitters, what would the flight fitters……..they’d be attached……?

GA: They were attached out on the field and any small jobs that came up, they’d do them.

Int: What sort of things would they do?

GA: Probably put a patch on, a fabric patch, something like that.

Int: Would they change the tyres for instance?

GA: They’d probably change a wheel, yeah, things like that.

Int: Is that all you did, change wheels and change tyres?

GA: You changed the wheel, and that would go to the tyre section and they would put a new tyre on that wheel, but you changed the wheel.

Int: So, anything else about Dumfries you remember?

GA: Yeah, while I was on standby, there were two or three – er, you were put into a section. I was in that section quite a while where, if anything happened anywhere, an invasion down on the south coast or wherever it was, you would transfer down there and these transport planes were always on the ready. They were always on the ready there, and you’d be taken down if anything happened, but of course, nothing did, so they never got used. Int: Anything else? GA: No, not really.

Int: So, when did you move away from Dumfries?

GA: About the end of February, 1941. they put me through for a fitter’s course down at Insworth Lane in Gloucester. About six of us went there, on the Fitter Airframe’s Course.

Int: What was so special about this, what were you learning that you didn’t already know?

GA: It was advanced on your rigger’s course. You went deeper into everything on the airframe. We were down there from the end of February until the end of May, I believe it was. And you went through the same thing: classes each day. We went through just the same as on the rigger’s course, only this was more involved. You had bigger jobs to do. Riggers usually stayed on the flight. I was fortunate, I was in maintenance in Dumfries, so that helped. The riggers just did the small jobs on the flights, but when you went onto the fitter’s course, you got the advanced jobs that you would do in maintenance, even to changing main planes and air runs and things like that.

Int: From what you said, you had some fun.

GA: Oh yes, we had quite a time there.

Int: What sort of things were you up to then?

GA: We’d a very good flight sergeant, he was a great fella. He’d been on the Lancastria when she got sunk, in France, when we were coming out. He was a nice chap; just occasionally, he’d catch you out on a button inspection on a morning. About six of us got caught out one morning, well, more than six, quite a few, probably a dozen. We hadn’t cleaned the buttons; we had to report to the orderly room. That evening, after dinner, we rolled up there and I’d made arrangements to go out that evening with a friend of mine from Scotland. He’d moved down from another station on the engine course. Somebody said, “You’re going out tonight aren’t ya?” “Yeah!” He said, “Yer’ll not be going now will yer?” I said, “Yeah, I’m going out.” So, I’d seen this parade before and I’d worked it all out, and this other friend who was with me said, “I’d fixed up to go out tonight.” I said, “Well, stop with me, keep at the back here.” I said, “They never count them.” So they said, “Take them down to the cookhouse Corporal.” They gave us jobs down in the cookhouse, peeling potatoes, anything. He said, “What we goina do?” I said, “You have to go down through the billets. When he turns right to the cookhouse, shoot off from the back to the left, through the billets.” I said, “Be all ready to go out, up to the orderly room, book out, up to the guardroom, we’re on our way.” So that’s what we did; when they turned right, we turned left and the corporal was at the front. He said, “He might count them.” I said, “Well that’s too bad, we’ve had it if he counts them,” but he didn’t, we got away with it; odds and ends like that, y’know.

Int: You were there until about May?

GA: Yes, I was there until May. I was disappointed there. It was a good camp and a good course, and I’d gone right through my board – beautiful. And I got right to the hydraulics, and I’ll always remember it, there was this big chart up, of a hydraulic system, I can’t remember what it was, probably a Lockheed hydraulic system, or something like that. I went right through it until he got to one box, and he said, “What’s that?” My mind went blank. He said, “Come on, you were doing all right.” Next to it was so and so, next to it, yes, I went right round. He sez, “Yer’ve made a mess of it haven’t yer? Wait outside.” So he took the others through, and I waited for about an hour, then he fetched me back in. He sez, “Do you remember what it was?” I said, “Yeah, a flow control valve,” just like that. He asked me one or two other things and he sent me out, but it did me; I expected nothing less than AC 1. I knew it had done me, just that one thing. You could tell how tight it was in the R.A.F., just that one thing; it dropped me down to AC 2. That was about the only mistake I made right the way through on everything, but they were very tight. Also there, they did a certain amount of metallurgy, just simple metallurgy, but that was all right because I’d done that at technical college, that was OK, I’d no problems with that – so, I was down to AC 2 fitter then.

Int: Where were you posted to?

GA: Nice and local, Finningly.

Int: Finningly?

GA: Just outside Doncaster.

Int: Which squadron were you sent to?

GA: It was an operational training unit, I think it was – was it 25 OT or 250 OT? I can’t remember exactly, but it was an operational training unit. I was with……….I was on Hamdens there, Hamdens and Wellingtons, and I was on Hamdens. That was a pilot’s final training there. I always remember when we first arrived there. “Oh, you go to the reception billet.” Well, you should have seen the reception billet. There was straw all over the floor, it was a right mess. We’d one or two lads with us who were a bit particular. “Oh dear, look at this.” But we were all right, we got straightened up and we were moved into a billet when we got medicals and everything, and got clearances signed. We went onto a flight then and into the flight billets. The first night there we had an air raid.

Int: What do you remember about that?

GA: Not much really.

Int: That would be in May, would it?

GA: Yes, I think it was sometime in May. But they didn’t drop any heavy stuff, funnily enough. They damaged one of the hangar doors and I don’t think they did much more damage. There were one or two small bomb craters, but it wasn’t much, wasn’t much at all.

Int: Did you have shelters?

GA: Yeah, yeah, we had shelters.

Int: Did you feel safe enough down there?

GA: I didn’t go down them that night actually.

Int: What did you do?

GA: I stopped in bed (laughter).

Int: So you weren’t that nervous then.

GA: Not then, no (more laughter), no.

Int: And you were working on the Hamdens on the flights, so you were doing the little jobs, the patch up jobs.

GA: Yes, we were on the flights actually there, and you’d just do jobs that were anything that was a little bit more than the ordinary rigger would do. The fitter would do it and you felt very – I dunno, it was a bit frightening because you were suddenly thrown……….it was YOURS, and if anything went wrong, it was YOU, you know………

Int: You were in charge.

GA: Well, yer’d a corporal.

Int: So what was a team on a flight then? There was a corporal, you………..

GA: Yer’d a corporal……………..

Int: Would he be a fitter as well?

GA: Sometimes, if there was just one corporal, there was what they used to call, I think it was a fitter aero-engine, and he could do anything. He was a top trained man in the R.A.F. He’d probably done his training at Halton and he could do engines and airframes, he could do the lot, and you were responsible to him.

Int: So, there was him, then you, would there be any other AC 2’s?

GA: Yes, there was a couple of riggers, a couple of fitter air frames, there was probably an L.A.C. Leading Aircraft man, and then, such as myself, either AC 1 or AC 2, whatever you were, and you took it from there. But it was terrible at Finningly really. We lost a lot of planes.

Int: How? Sorry, I thought it was a training unit.

GA: It was, and that was it. We lost a lot of planes at Finningly.

Int: What, crashing?

GA: Yeah.

Int: Why was that, was it unreliable planes, unreliable pilots?

GA: No, it was – I think you got it right through with er, they were pushing them through yer know and you’d only got to make one slip and it was there, and we got quite a lot. I had one; I was terribly terribly upset about that at the time.

Int: We were talking about your time at Finningley and how a particular accident affected you.

GA: It did, it disturbed me quite a lot for a while. We’d done all the inspection on this aircraft and everything was all right. It was due to be taking off on a night flying cross country flight. I was on a weekend pass. I went home on the Friday night. When I came back on the Sunday, he’d taken off and crashed over the other side of what is now the A1. That used to be called the Great North Road. The pilot, navigator and two gunners were all killed. It was particularly sad because he’d got his wife up there to stay in the village and it was his last trip before going on leave, then on to operations. I was very upset. There’s always a court of enquiry; they sift through all the wreckage to see what they can find. We had to go in front of this court of enquiry, and everything was as we said, we hadn’t found anything wrong at all. We’d done the usual daily inspection and everything had been all right, and I think what they found was, they’d put the flight back and hour, because I think they’d had trouble with the enemy raiders in the near vicinity, so they’d put the flight back until it was clear. He was in a hurry to get off and he took her off. They felt that he’d pulled her up too steeply and stalled it, that’s what they felt.

Int: Pilot error?

GA: Yes, pilot error. But this is what used to keep happening, but we did – one night there, a Wellington got caught with an enemy raider. It riddled him from stem to stern, that went down in flames.

Int: Did they have any ammunition aboard, because they were training, but they were in operation?

GA: Some of them had, on the cross country flights, yes they had, and they also used to get the enemy aircraft coming in. For a couple of nights, they came in straight down the flare path. We weren’t on that night, we were in the billet. They let go straight down the flare path. There had been a siren, nobody was bothering, we hadn’t heard anything and we were all still in bed, then suddenly, this tremendous crescendo of machine guns, straight down the flare path, following this one in, but it didn’t hit him. As luck would have it, they cut the lights and he took off again. But this is what used to happen there. It happened two or three times while we were there.

Int: What did you think of the Hamdons as compared to the Whitley or the Wellingtons?

GA: They were a little bit faster than the Whitley, but they were a terrible plane for a pilot.

Int: Why?

GA: well, you’d no co-pilot and you’d no...... they were very narrow, can you remember? They were very narrow, very tight. You could just get in the cockpit and that was it. The navigator was just sat behind. The rear gunner – they would only be two foot wide; like a dragonfly they were, actually. He’d get in a hatch, right on this narrow part at the back, sit on a cushion with a cushion at his back, and the guns at his front underneath. The upper gunner would be further up the fuselage behind him. I know one or two on operational training, there’d be no action at all, so they’d be sat there. He said, “I went to sleep,” y’know, he’d just head back and he’d gone. In fact, there was one of our flight sergeants who was helping with air crew, he’d done his first lot of operations, and he’d been on Hamdens and he’d gone to sleep, woke up and they were over Hamburg and there was all hell let loose. ‘Cos he was just sat back, like that, cushion at yer back, sat on a cushion, but they were very very narrow. You hadn’t a lot of room to move at all. You couldn’t move around much.

Int: Were they reliable?

GA: Pretty reliable, yes, fairly good machine.

Int: I’d forgotten about two things I ought to have asked, who looked after the guns?

GA: The armourers, the armourers did the guns……………and the wireless ops.

Int: They’d deal with the intercom would they?

GA: Yes. That was all separate.

Int: Who dealt with the electrics generally?

GA: The electricians, you’d got your electricians.

Int: So it was quite a big team of experts.

GA: Oh yes, yes.

Part 4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7542308


 

 Part 4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7542308 

Int: But you were still doing everything, er, within the airframe. That was still your job

GA: Yes. We got quite a good section there, they were a good crowd of lads. We’d got quite a good C.O. In fact, I’ve read one or two books on pathfinders, and he’d done one tour of operation, or two tours, and he finished up as one of the top men on Pathfinders.

Int: Do you remember his name?

GA: I don’t know if it was Silby or Savie, I can’t exact…it was something like that – I think it was Savie, but I’m not sure. I remember, it’s not so long ago that I read the book. They said if they ever wanted anyone in a tight job, he was the man they’d get.

Int: And he was alright as a commander.

GA: Oh, he was a great lad.

Int: What did you think of the pilots? I mean, I know they were only trainees most of them there, but…………….

GA: Very good, we always used to meet down on the free nights that they had. We used to go down to the White Bear and meet.

Int: You socialised with them.

GA: Oh yeah, with the sergeant pilots, and N.C.O. pilots. Int: But not with the officer pilots. GA: Not there we didn’t.

Int: Was there a big divide then?

GA: Yes, there was really.

Int: Was there a divide between the sergeant pilots and the officer pilots? ‘Cos they were doing the same job.

GA: A fairish divide but I think yer’d find it closer on fighter squadrons. It wasn’t as big a divide on fighter squadrons. You always had officers who would keep themselves to themselves, but you’d always have a crowd of officers who’d come in during the beginning of the war and trained as pilots. They’d usually mix pretty well with the sergeants and everyone else. You also got your old, quite a few of your regular officers who were very good, who would mix. We had some good C.O.’s abroad who would always mix with us.

Int: So how long were you at Finningley? You’d got there about May………

GA: And I was posted abroad at the end of June. Int: So you were only there a month or so. GA: I was there about two months, yeah.

Int: So where did yer go in June? GA: Down to West Kirby to wait for the boat – after a medical. Int: Still A1?

GA: Yes, still A1.

Int: And did you know where you were going and which unit you were to go to?

GA: No, you knew nothing.

Int: You just knew overseas.

GA: That’s right.

Int: So what happened then? Did you get embarkation leave?

GA: Yeah, I got ten days embarkation leave, and when I went back on the Sunday night, we moved down to West Kirby a few days after, got everything straight, got our clearance certificates signed and everything and we were transferred down to West Kirby.

Int: What happened there? Were you waiting long?

GA: Just over a week I think, a week to ten days. It wasn’t a very good camp actually. Terrible food there. I think they did that so you’d got fed up; you were glad to go. It was horrible. We nearly had a mutiny there.

Int: What happened?

GA: Well, as I said, the food was that bad that everybody was getting fed up, you’d nothing to lose, so one tea time, we’d one small herring, one slice of bread, tea. So we all decided we’d do something about it, so the orderly officer, we couldn’t see where he was so we all started shouting for him, banging the plates. The flight sergeant from the cookhouse came out, and he disappeared quick ‘cos he saw what mood everyone was in, and finally, the orderly officer came in and he was only very young; he hadn’t been in very long, and he…… The first thing that happened as he walked through the door was a plate hit the wall at the side of him.

Int: Were you throwing plates?

GA: I was banging. I didn’t throw any, but I was banging like the rest of ‘em, but I didn’t throw. I was shouting and banging for the orderly officer.

Int: So what did he do?

GA: He got us quietened down.

Int: How did he do that, how did he get you quietened down?

GA: Well I think he brought one of the probo sergeants in with him and he shouted and yelled till we quietened down. He said, “What’s yer problem?” “Here’s a problem sir, one small herring and half a slice of bread, and this is what we’ve been getting every teatime. Lunch is not much better, we’ve had enough.” And it quietened down. “I can’t do anything immediately lads,” he said, “but I’ll see what I can do.” That’s where it ended then. It didn’t improve a lot after that. It did a little bit, we got a little bit more, but it didn’t improve a lot. New Brighton was out of bounds, so everybody went down to New Brighton.

Int: Why was it out of bounds?

GA: Because they were getting a lot of bombing on the Liverpool side and across the Mersey, so everyone went down to New Brighton and we had fun there, it was alright. We didn’t go much on the camp but we were alright. We had a look round the area, we went down into Chester and places like that when we got time off.

Int: How many of you were on the draft?

GA: I think there were about six of us from Finningley, six or seven, something like that. We were all technical people.

Int: Which boat did you pick up?

GA: We moved down to Liverpool after we’d been kitted out.

Int: Was that with tropical kit?

GA: Yes. Int: What was your tropical kit?

GA: Longish shorts , the ordinary khaki shirts, and the huge Wolsley helmet that’s the very tall one, a good supply of everything with those, and I think that was about it, y’know. You got a full tropical kit there and it must have been a lot, but you’d also got your ordinary kit, you kept that, so you’d got two kitbags and me being small, I disappeared under it all, I’d got one kitbag across here on top of me pack and one kitbag under me arm. Going up Lime Street Station there, yer couldn’t see me for kitbags and packs. And then we went down to the docks and it was the Stirling Castle we got on and we were lucky really. She’d just come back from America, she was loaded up with food. Some of the lads got cabins. We weren’t so fortunate, we got in what used to be the children’s play area and they’d got bunk beds in there. We came out of the dock. We had one night on her, then we moved out into the Mersey. We stayed out there for a full night or two nights. And then we moved out on our own up to the Clyde, and into the Clyde and we formed a convoy there on the big bend by Dunure, just opposite Dunure. We were there two or three nights I think and we sailed one evening at about 8 o’clock.

Int: Was this into July yet or was it still……….?

GA: Yes, that was into late-ish July, about the middle of July, something like that. Then, all convoys were going north west, coming up towards Iceland and over, down through the Grand Banks, where we hit the fog. They were depth charging; most nights they were depth charging. Through the Grand Banks, we had a collision there, what was it? The Warwick Castle and er, the Warwick and Windsor I think, the next morning they’d had a collision. One of them they sent into Halifax, Nova Scotia. We continued down through the Azores, they nearly got a German submarine on the surface there, somebody said, “Look at that.” We didn’t see it, but everything went hooting like mad and some of the lads at the bow, they saw it and it dived. They didn’t get it, they depth charged all round, but they didn’t get it. Through the Azores, of course, we were in tropical kit then, it was nice and warm. Into Freetown for water, and the food had been excellent up to then. They’d victualled in America and they were still loaded with it, so we got excellent food when we went out. Some of the lads who came out later, it was terrible, but we did very well. Then we had a couple of days in Freetown, you never got off the boat; down to Cape Town we called. Some went to Durban, we stayed in Cape Town for a few days. We went ashore for three afternoons in Cape Town. We were well entertained there by the local white people, the British people, but strangely enough, we were warned, whatever we did, “……..do not get involved with the Afrikaners……..” the Dutch, the Boers, y’know.

Int: Was any reason given?

GA: Yeah, they don’t like us. The commanding officer told us, he said, “They don’t like the………the true Afrikaner does not like the British and they’ll cause trouble if you get involved with them.” Which we didn’t, we were alright. The British people that were out there treated us very well, took us up to their homes. Some of ‘em had terrific places on the edge of the Table Mountain there. We went up there and they arranged for a dance in the evening, a meal and everything like that and it was quite a nice time there, yeah.

Int: Then you were back on the Stirling Castle.

GA: Back on the Stirling Castle, and escorted up through the Mozambique Channel. The Canaervon Castle I think was with us then, as an armed merchant man. Just before then, they’d had one or two nasty mishaps; there was a raider out and they’d knocked one or two of the boats off. And then, across the Indian Ocean to Bombay.

Int: Did you go ashore there?

GA: Yes, we got about twelve hours ashore in Bombay. It’s not the most salubrious of places, but it was interesting. Strangely enough, I’d a friend in the same mind as me. I like museums and places like that. We’d been given maps of the city and everything was marked on, various places of interest, so we headed for the……………he’d heard the museum in Bombay was excellent, so we headed for the museum and we had about three hours in the museum. Then we wandered around the city and back onto the boat about midnight.

Int: How were you coping with the climate? I mean, you’d never been out anywhere like that.

GA: No, but, you gradually, with a long sea voyage, I mean, this was……..we left in July, we didn’t get down to Singapore until September, so it was a longish voyage, so you gradually acclimatise, you don’t feel the effects as badly as like they do now. I always say this is how the cricket teams suffer with flying out, whereas you gradually acclimatise, so it wasn’t too bad. It was very hot. The thing I remember was, you could feel the soles of your feet burning on the pavements.

Int: Even in yer boots?

GA: Well, we’d shoes actually, and yes, even in your shoes then, in Bombay in that period. It’d be towards the end of August. Int: Did you realise where you were going by now? GA: Yes, because we knew that before. If some of us stayed on the boat, they’d seen some of the packing cases being loaded and they’d got Singapore on them. So if we stayed on the boat and didn’t come off anywhere else, we knew we should be ending up in Singapore.

Int: So what about the rest of the journey?

GA: Uneventful really. Down the Indian coast into the Malacca Straits and into Singapore. I found that very interesting, the entrance to Singapore with all the Chinese and everything. It was very interesting.

Int: What were your first impressions when you got ashore in Singapore?

GA: Smashing place really.

Int: Why was that?

GA: It was reasonably clean, compared to Bombay. Int: Not compared to Capetown? GA: Oh no, no, oh no. But reasonably clean – beautiful buildings, and generally, there was plenty to do, there were lots of things to do in Singapore, it was a good posting really.

Int: It was looked on in the R.A.F. as that, was it?

GA: Yeah, I believe so, it was an excellent posting. Int: Where were you based? GA: We went up to the transit camp.

Int: Which one?

GA: I can’t tell yer the name because that’s all it was called, there was only one transit camp on Singapore then. It was a camp that had been set up for Chinese evacuees. The billets were built of what they call Cadgun, palm billets on a long house style with a platform about 2’6” off the floor, and then a ladder, then another platform. Another layer, the lads slept on, so you’d two layers. You just slept on a paliasse with a mosquito net, bottom and top. The thatch was full of rats and full of snakes, but we accepted that, nobody bothered. Int: Were the snakes poisonous? GA: I dunno, we had one or two, yeah, we had one or two crates knocking about, but mostly they were rat snakes.

Int: So they were after each other.

GA: They were after the rats, so they used to keep the rats down, and you didn’t worry too much about that. You’d bags of ants and they were really alive, you could hear the rats squealing at night.

Int: But it didn’t frighten you.

GA: No, we didn’t seem to bother. Int: You didn’t? GA: No, I didn’t bother ‘cos I’d done a lot of camping in this country, and things didn’t upset me like that.

Int: And when you were in the transit camp, you hadn’t actually been sent to your squadron.

GA: We’d been sent to no unit. And we finally found out. The first place we went to in the transit camp, a par section of us went into the joiner’s shop. What we were doing there, we were making dummy guns, sections of dummy aircraft, but they were putting on the drones because we hadn’t enough aircraft to do any damage really. We were there for about a fortnight. The C.O. of this camp was one of the finest men I’ve ever met.

Int: Do you remember his name?

GA: Yeah, Squadron Leader Gregson.

Int: What was so good about him? I mean…………..

GA: He was an ex Irish Guardsman, he’d been in the First World War. I don’t know if he’d been in the Flight Corps or from the Irish Guards, but he transferred to the R.A.F. and he got his wings. He’d be a man; he looked old to us because we were young, we’d only just turned nineteen. He’d be in his fifties and what we found out afterwards, how he managed to get this camp. The Air Vice Marshall Pulford, who took over from Brooke Popham, they were family friends, and he was a strict disciplinarian, on parade. And they’d no aircraft for us. He’d had a dickens of a job persuading the health authorities to let him take this camp over, but Pulford had backed him or someone had backed him.


Pt 5: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7542470 

Int: It was an R.A.F. transit camp was it?

GA: Yeah, an R.A.F., yeah. He said, “Right, there’s no aircraft for them, we’ll form them up into sections, for ground gunning, guards, anything. If war comes, they can take over, relieve the army on posts, then the army can go and do the job they are there to do. All we’d got – we’d no showers, we’d nothing really, it was a right poverty stricken place, but he’d a marvellous personality. All we’d got were stone troughs, concrete troughs I should say, with a tap at either end. So you used to just sit under the tap and shower from the tap once or twice a day. The food was excellent, he saw to that. He drilled us day after day after day. We used Silita Gold Course, and he hammered us up and down that golf course.

Int: Just foot drill?

GA: Foot drill and marching, until……… he reckoned we were better than the marines. Int: How many were there? GA: Oh there’d be about, not all of them, some of the people on the camp were staying on the camp and moving out to Silita Airfield. They’d got jobs at Silita Airfield. I should think there’d be about a hundred and fifty of us, who were all tradesmen, and no more aircraft. He was brilliant that chap. A soon as the N.A.A.F.I. wagon appeared with the tea – “Right lads, stop everything.” He’d come and sit with yer, he’d talk to yer, but he was the same with the officers. The discipline for the officers was just the same. He was terrible with the officers because he expected more from them. He hadn’t got a very good crowd of officers, they were quite nice chaps, I suppose, but they’d come off plantations and they’d been in business there, things like that and he used to treat them shocking at times.

Int: Were they permanently attached to the camp, these officers?

GA: Yes.

Int: Not R.A.F. Flying officers or anything?

GA: No, they were general duty people.


Reel 4:

GA: ………………..knowledge of arms, stripping various guns, everything, all Lewis Guns, Tommy Guns, so that you’d a complete knowledge of all the armaments you were using, and how to correct any of the faults, and stoppages and things like that. You’d do the normal armament training that the army would get.

Int: Which you hadn’t had at that level.

GA: Which we hadn’t had at that level, no.

Int: Who was training you?

GA: Well, part of the time, he was in the background, but he also had several people that had done this, in the RAF; corporals, sergeants, and the senior was a warrant officer, and they were there as instructors. It was more or less like how the R.A.F. regiment commenced, on a similar patter to that, and you went right through the lot.

Int: Were you enjoying this training, or would you have rather been fitting?

GA: We’d have rather been on aircraft, that’s what we were sent there for really, but it was quite a good camp. The food was good and he certainly looked after us. He took a lot of time up really on that camp.

Int: Now you mentioned the officers he had there running the camp weren’t as good. Now, I know you had trouble with a couple of them………………

GA: That was at another place.

Int: You hadn’t had any problems……………..

GA: Just the occasional strange things happened. You were probably on guard, there was one officer there who liked to creep round. Even before it was dark, he liked to creep round. If you were on guard, you’d see him and you knew very well who it was, and then he’d come up behind you and he’d stick a cane in yer back and, “I’m a Japanese,” all that sort of ……………….. you know, you’d laugh it off and ignore it.

Int: Now, you got there in September, how long were you there for?

GA: We were in that transit camp right through until the Japanese started. Just before the Japanese landed at Kota Baharu we were there.

Int: And so, throughout that time you’d been on infantry training.

GA: More or less, yes.

Int: So you must have been getting quite trained.

GA: Oh yes, we did have a break at different periods, but it didn’t last long. It was always done when Gregson was out of the way, strangely enough.

INT: So what would a break be?

GA: Well, a break would be………..I’ll give you one example: Gregson was out of the camp and they must have known it from higher authority; we were told to assemble; two trucks would pick us up, take us over to Salita, which was the main base, to the joiner’s shop there. We couldn’t understand this because nobody got out of his clutches, unless you were called onto aircraft to make up if they anyone dropped short on squadrons. So, we all went to Salita into the joiner’s shop, where they were completing the stuff we’d been doing in our joiner’s shop.

Int: The tanks and the guns.

GA: Aircraft, dummy aircraft and things like that. He was quite a case, the officer in charge there. You wouldn’t have thought he was an officer if he hadn’t had a uniform; he was a very rough sort of bloke. Quite a nice chap really, I suppose. How he wangled it, I don’t know to this day; he must have had some higher authority behind him to order us out of out camp.

Int: Did you all go or just a few of you?

GA: The bulk of us went over there, and we got over there. He was all smiles; “Grigson’ll not get yer back this time.” That was the attitude. He’d tried it once before but never managed it. Anyway, we were working away in the joiner’s shop, we had a tea break. The N.A.A.F.I. wagon came round and we sat outside. I think it was after what they call ‘Tif’ at lunchtime. He came and sat with us and said, “Y’see, I told yer, yer’ll not be going back, yer’ll be here now and yer’ll be back here tomorrow.” Whilst we were sat there, the phone rang, and one of my friends who was sat next to hem sez, “That’ll be Joe sir, we’ll be back in ten minutes.” He went to the phone and sure enough, it was. Apparently, there was a big shouting match – Joe was doing the shouting - he wasn’t. But the trucks’ll be over in a quarter of an hour and we should be on them, and that was that. No one ever attempted anything like it again. That was the sort of man Gregson was, there was no milking him, he had a tremendous amount of power.

Int: You’d have rather stayed…………………….

GA: Not making dummy guns, not really, no. I think we were rather proud to be with him, most of us; not making dummy guns and dummy aircraft, we’d have been quite prepared and happy to join squadrons, things like that.

Int: Did you get much chance for recreation while you were there, did you get out into the city or…….?

GA: Oh yes, we’d go into the city, we used to go………any free afternoon, we’d go to the pool at Salita, there was a big outdoor pool there on the straits. Swimming, we were alright with that. We hadn’t got into any of the camp activities, outside our camp, like the cricket or the football. We were sort of isolated there, it was strange really. But, we had the free run to go down to Salita and …………….

Int: Where abouts was the camp in relation to the island, y’know, north, south, east or west, could you just er…………..?

GA: It was, as I remember it, north east of the island, only about half an hour’s walk from Salita air base. Changi was further north, where of course the prison camp was, when the Japanese took over, and the naval base was coming west from Changi and slightly further north than us.

Int: How did you mix with the local Singaporeans and the Malaysians, how did you get on with them?

GA: We got on very well with the Chinese and the Malays, they were quite alright, we’d no problems there.

Int: Did you see much of them?

GA: Oh yes, we used to go down into the local village for haircuts, and things like that, and we were quite friendly with quite a few people down there, quite nice people. Our only problem was the business people, I think, and whatever book I’ve picked up and read, it’s always the same. We were ostracised by a lot of the white businesses. They didn’t want to know yer. We were the soldiery and they were……

Int: Did you notice that at the time?

GA: Yes, it was obvious right at the start.

Int: Were you allowed to go to the clubs and things, that the Europeans used?

GA: I never went, but, the planters were very good, they were very nice people.

Int: So, it was the business class………..

GA: It was the business clan that was the biggest problem. That’s what we found and no matter what book we pick up, it comes out all the way through.

Int: When did you realise yourself what sort of threat the Japanese were, and what was going to happen?

GA: We hadn’t been there long when really, the feeling was that it was building up. Through the papers we picked things up. It was building up in America. America was applying sanctions, and we knew that they’d moved into French Indo-China, and we felt sure we were going to get a similar occurrence to what happened in Europe, they’d start to spread out from there. I think everyone felt sure that this was what would happen.

Int: Did you think that Singapore was a great fortress? I mean, it was supposed to be.

GA: I think: let me put it like this: I think people who’d been there quite a long time, did. People who’d gone there over the last twelve months, no, for a start, we’d no aircraft to work on, so immediately, we thought, “Well, they must be in a right state here.” Also, they got – the squadrons weren’t very strong really, they’d got the Bledheims, the fighter squadron were Buffaloes, American fighter aircraft. They were terribly slow. You just didn’t get this feeling that yer got at home where………….arms were building up, aircraft were building up and, there was just nothing happening really.

Int: What did you think about the Japanese as a serious opponent, as opposed to the Germans or something like that, I mean, did you realise how dangerous they’d be as an opponent?

GA: Well, here again, the people who had been out there quite a long time, they were cock-a-hoop, they thought it’d be a walkover. They were Japanese, we were white. This is the feeling they’d got, and we hadn’t got that feeling.

Int: Did that include Gregson?

GA: I think it did. He never used to say much, but he knew we could be in trouble. I feel pretty sure, from some of the odd things he did say. We did too, we thought, “They’ve not got much here,” Until the repulse and the Prince Of Wales came out there, we’d only got a tiny fleet; probably the odd Australian cruiser and destroyer, one or two of our destroyers etc., we’d got nothing really, until they came out there.

Int: Besides, I mean, you were being trained for this infantry roll, were there any other preparations that you were aware of, for war in Singapore, proper preparations as opposed to……………?

GA: well, there was supposed to be a defensive line being built in South Johor, but nothing really ever came of it for the simple reason that the business people didn’t like their territory being disturbed; plantations and tin mines, they just argued against this sort of thing all the time.

Int: So, there wasn’t much evidence.

GA: Not really, apart from the fact that they were packing quite a few troops onto the island, but that was all, there were no aircraft moving in, it was stable. We were never fetched out to work on aircraft all the time we were there.

Int: So, as soon as you got there in September, you were aware of the threat, the build up, what was the first thing you knew of the Japanese attack?

GA: Well we knew they were in French Indo-China, we knew they were moving out into Thailand, or would do. We felt sure this would happen, but, two or three days before it started, things were getting very tense, the A.R.P. was being put into effect, the Air Raid Precaution, but not with what you’d call any urgency. It was sort of, if it interfered with life, in the city, then they sort of didn’t want to know about it. It wasn’t very urgent, it wasn’t urgent enough, but you could see it building up, and a few days before it started, we were sent out to Faber oil tanks, that was overlooking Mount Faber overlooking the harbour where they stored the tanks on the hill, and then that was pumped down to the docks for re-fuelling.

Int: What were you doing there? The whole of X party went up there.

GA: No, just one section. Others, probably a dozen of us went up there. That was to man defences for this oil depot. Int: So you were actually being used as Gregson had planned. GA: That’s right, yes.

Int: When did you go up there, what month would that be?

GA: It started on the seventh of December, we were up there on the fifth, I think it was.

Int: And what positions did you take up, what were the state of the…………..?

GA: The army was up there when we went there and immediately, they came out and we took over the positions they put in.

Int: What were the positions like?

GA: Just a normal dug-out with a gun post, sandbagged round the top.

Int: Just one post?

GA: At the top of the hill, yes. Then you’d two men on that and then you’d two men patrolling round the tanks, all the time. Really, we hadn’t got enough men up there. We were always a bit short because they were sent out to so many positions. It was a matter of, you’d your own food to cook, everything to do as well as being on guard, and you didn’t get much sleep at all, y’know. You were really pushing it there.

Int: How did you find out about Pearl Harbor?

GA: Well, on the night of the seventh, we were on guard, it was round about midnight, when they made the first night attack on Singapore City, and that was a bombing raid. We knew what would happen then – “Here we go, it’s started.” Then the radio next morning announced the attack on Pearl Harbor and we knew we were really in it then. Then they announced that landings were being put in up at Kota Baharu, and they were fighting from prepared positions. We stayed there for a few more days. I don’t know who replaced us; I don’t think anyone did. We went back to transit camp, and then as I remember……….

Int: The same transit camp?

GA: Yeah, as I remember, I think we had about 24 hours there, and then our section was sent out to the Malayan Volunteer Defence Quarters down on the waterfront, and we moved down there.

Int: To defend it?

GA: Yes, just in case there was any fifth column, anything like that. Pt 6: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7542588 Pr-BR


Pt 6:       http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7542588


Int: What positions did you take up there?

GA: Well, we were…………

Int: Were you just in a building?

GA: We were just in the building and on the gates, on the main gate, that was all. We’d been patrolling round the buildings and stood on guard at the main gates. That was the only time…..I think it was rather eerie there. You’d built all this business of the fifth column up, and the way they’d built it up, you almost expected some attack being made in the area itself, even though the Japanese were way back up country; the way they’d built this thing. I suppose it was a good thing, you were always on guard. We stayed there until – I think we were there three or four days: we ran short of rations, they never brought any. Gregson came to visit us, asked the sergeant, “Everything alright?” “No sir, we’ve very little food left, we’re a bit tight, really rationed down.” Gregson blew his top. They should have been round two days before with the truck, and who should roll in, but the truck, just as he was there, and he blew his top again against the officer who was on the truck. Anyhow, that was straightened out, they got the food for us, then the defence force was called up, and they moved in. They were engineers from tin mines, planters, from all walks of life really. They were quite a good crowd, they were. They had it very rough, I think, right from the start because they’d no mosquito nets, and we were down on the waterfront, and, oh, they were vicious, the mosquitoes down there, there were thousands. The first night they were there, when they got up the next morning, their faces were swollen and bitten – terrible, and I think they got things sorted out but we didn’t remain long after that. I think we’d another day there until they got settled in, then we came away and back to transit camp.

Int: So, when would that have been, would that have been still in December?

GA: Yes, it was very early December. That was only a few days after it started. We were on transit camp for a few days, well, perhaps two or three days, and then we were down on the jetty at Keluang, where the American clipper used to come in. We were down there for only a couple of days.

Int: What were you meant to be doing there?

GA: We were on guard there.

Int: Guarding the fixtures or guarding the stores?

GA: Guarding just that area, on the waterfront. We were there only about two days then we moved back to transit camp again. We were in transit camp, no more than 48 hours, when we were moved up to a radio location station, which was radar, up on the south west tip of Johor. On the hills there, the highest point overlooking the straits, the radar station was. There were two stations, one there and one at the north east of Johor, a place called Kota Tinggi, but we were on the one down on the south west. That was isolated, it was er………..

Int: Just your section again?

GA: Yes, just our section; it was built up, he took a few more men from the other section and built us up because it was quite a big job there. You come out on the south west there, follow the straits along and out through the pineapple fields and into jungle and onto the top of this ridge. The radar station was right on top of the ridge, the mast and everything. Our billets were situated on terraces around it, and we built all the gun posts there.

Int: How did you go about that?

GA: Sandbags, filling loads of sandbags. They had loads of sand brought up and we were filling sandbags and hammering them down tight, and we built all the gun posts all along different parts around this ridge. And then, you’d also - two sections of the group would be on guard all day; on and off, you’d take it in turns. You’d come off sandbagging and go on, and they’d be patrolling this ridge, up to the radar station and back the other way into the jungle.

Int: Did you know what was going on in the radar station? It was pretty secret I expect.

GA: All we knew was what the lads would come out with off duty: plotting anything; it was pretty quiet at first, we’d not much at all until one morning, we woke up to a heck of a din of aircraft. They’d put the first, big daylight raid in with fighter protection, and, they’d plotted it down country of course, but we couldn’t do much about it. As I said, these buffalos were terrible fighter aircraft, and they really suffered, those lads did.

Int: Was this raid a blanket bombing or was there a target?

GA: Yeah, it was, as I remember it, it was an attack over one of the airfields, I’m not sure which one it was, but it was an attack on that and an attack on the docks.

Int: So, your location station wasn’t a target.

GA: No, it was over the other side of the straits in the Singapore on the island. That was the target, and I always remember there were parachutes all over the place, but the thing was that most of those parachutes were our parachutes. It was then that they began to realise that the navy or the Japanese fighter was far in advance of anything we’d got out there. REEL 5 Int: We were talking about the gradually deterioration situation really, from December on, and, how long did you stay up on this radio direction finding job, I mean, guarding it? GA: We had Christmas up there, the fifteenth of February was the surrender, and we were there, I should say, until almost the beginning of February.

Int: Were there other incidents while you were up there?

GA: No, we should have been there until getting on to the last week in January. Yes, we’d one or two little incidents while we were up there. I always remember one, it was very strange. We were making these gun posts, and we were carrying sandbags from this heap of sand, and going back for more. As we went back for more, there was a person who came through the camp - it was a narrow ridge on the top – down this path, trotting. It was very strange. He appeared from out of the jungle on the hill, ran down, and we’d a lot of Chinese coolies working on the camp at the time, they were still doing a certain amount of repair work and building, things like that. We thought, “Well, he must be one of the coolies.” He passed us, continued past the guardroom, up the hill by the radar station, and we shouted, “Stop him,” but he’d gone past everybody. We dashed up to the top of the hill as fast as we could – it was all jungle the other side, and scrub jungle – he’d gone and I’m still firmly convinced that he was a Japanese. The way he came through, as I remember it now, and we thought so immediately. He’d gone, and that was it. Another night when we were on guard, down in the pineapple fields, they’d rake all the pineapple leaves up into heaps, and, we could see this light, we could see there was a cabin down there, we could see this light from the hill, from this cabin, then suddenly, these heaps of pineapple refuse, were set on fire, and there was a direct line, in the middle of the pineapple field. There was a direct line of light, straight through to the city, and about – not a quarter of an hour afterwards, aircraft were coming down and there was a raid on the city that night.

Int: So, you felt that there was actual Japanese infiltration of one sort and another.

GA: Oh yeah, we reported it immediately and the adjutant came out, and he had a look and rang the police up, down in Johor Baharu, but I don’t know what happened, but these fires were still burning. It was rather isolated and quite a way to get to, from Johor Baharu, so they’d probably think nothing about it. Anyway, a quarter of an hour afterwards, they were coming down.

Int: What about, I mean, did they clear away, the Chinese Coolie Labour after that?

GA: Yes, they moved off the cam, there were just our people left on. There were Chinese, and some Indians stayed there. There was a sheikh surveyor there, surveying for other plots of land, for other buildings in case it was held; in case we did stay there. He was there quite a long time with us. He’d got his family down in the local village, about three miles away. Gradually, they all drifted away but he stayed with us until we moved off. He was a very disappointed man, because the great white Raj…. Then things started to all go wrong.

Int: Did the attitude of the local population change towards you when things started to go wrong, I mean, did you notice it at that stage?

GA: With being up there, we were rather isolated and we didn’t come into contact with them very much. We used to get into Singapore on ration runs occasionally. When the air raids started there, you’d see those, but we weren’t in contact with them a lot. When we were in contact, I remember we’d an escape path, down through the jungle, off this ridge if we couldn’t get down the road.

Int: Did you actually prepare this track specially, or was it already there?

GA: No, it had been cut out by the coolies before we went up there; they’d got it all ready. We went down there one day to have a look, into the village, a Malay village. They were quite nice. We were invited into their homes. One of them took us in. He was an ex Johor Regiment man. He’d finished them, he was getting on, the poor old lad was, but he invited us in and to his sons and daughters, and all the family. We sat and had a drink with them and we sat talking the best we could.

Int: Did you know what was happening in the campaign at all?

GA: Oh yes.

Int: How did yer find out, who was telling you, was it the radar people?

GA: Well, apart from the news bulletins every day, which we didn’t believe, because we knew how desperate things were getting, we always got this business, what we got with the fall of France. We were falling back onto prepared positions, and so it went on. “Ay ay, here we go again, we’re going through it all again.”

Int: So where DID you get your information from, if you didn’t believe the bulletins?

GA: Soldiers we met down in Singapore, one or two of the lads who were on strong points in dromes, and occasionally meet some of the other sections. They’d always come up with something that they’d heard from the squadrons, so you knew things weren’t very satisfactory. Things were going from bad to worse.

Int: So, what was the next thing to happen to you? You moved in late January, anything else before then?

GA: Nothing much. We just got orders to evacuate the camp…………..

Int: Did the radar people go with you, or did they stay on?

GA: They came out with us.

Int: Did they smash up the station?

GA: They took the mast down and all the………….. 24 hours before we moved, they got everything prepared. It took quite a few days to get everything ready, and then 24 hours before they moved, they got all the transformers out and everything, and the mast down. Everything was loaded, and they came out with all the equipment, so that was that. New Year’s Day, as I remember it: they came out from the locator, with the news that there was a heck of a plot with aircraft coming down country: tremendous, the biggest they’d had. They always used to fly in twenty sevens – threes. Nine threes. There were three batches – eighty one planes with their escorts above them. As they went over, they rang headquarters on Singapore, reporting this lot, three batches, three formations of 27 each. They didn’t bomb Singapore, I don’t know whether they flew on – they’d probably bomb Borneo, or New Guinea or somewhere like that, because they didn’t bomb Singapore. Just after they’d flown over, they came back on the phone from ‘ops’ room to say that those in the radar post must have been imagining things. Had we had a good New Year’s Eve? This is the sort of thing you used to get, nobody………y’know, it was all confusion, all the time.

Int: So what happened when you went on leave in late January?

GA: Yes, it was late in January when we went back to transit camp. There were sections still out; one section remained, they never moved, they stayed down at air raid quarters in the centre of the island. They never moved at all. We came back, and if I remember rightly, we did a bit of lorry guards, moving bombs and things like that to various places. Int: On the island?

GA: On the island, yes, for a couple of days.

Int: Were you guarding or driving?

GA: We were guarding. Int: Guarding the lorries?

GA: Yes, we were on board with the bombs at the back and ammunition in the back.

Int: What were they fearing?

GA: Well, it was getting desperate then, they were nearly down at the causeway and I think they were moving this ammunition out to various places where they thought they’d have to make their strong points, and use it from there. Then, we were told to move to another airfield. We moved up there a few days before they came over the causeway, and we took over various strong points up there. We built a few gun posts upon the hill above the airfield.

Int: What guns did you have with you? I should have asked you before. As a section, what guns did you have with you?

GA: We’d twin Lewis, for low flying aircraft, we’d our ordinary Lee Enfield rifles, and a few Tommy guns thrown in, and also, you’d got a few boxes of grenades. We moved up there and we built low flying anti-aircraft posts for our guns upon the top. We were just starting to get those in when the Japs reached the straits, and that became very unpleasant because we were in direct line and they could shell the drome from the other side of the straits.

Int: You were guarding the aerodrome were you?

GA: That’s right, and the first time we realised it, was when a Buffalo had landed, it was damaged and they asked us if we’d go down there and get it off the drome, push it off. We went down there, and suddenly, bang. There was shellfire dropping all over the place; everybody scattered, but they got the plane off. The pilot was very very annoyed.

Int: Why?

GA: He was a Flight Lieutenant; he was quite a nice fella, great big chap – no, that wasn’t the pilot, it was a pilot who’d gone down – he’d been in action and he’d gone down to see how his friend was – he’d brought this one in. He was very annoyed. He said, “That’s that, I’ve had enough.” Apparently, it was the fifth time he’d baled out. They’d hardly any aircraft left anyhow. They’d had a right punishing time.

Int: This was a one off, you helping on the drome. You were actually guarding it.

GA: Yes, we were guarding it. Pt 7: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7542669 Pr-BR



Int: As the RAF regiment would have done.

GA: Yes, it was just a one off, to give them a hand. The old drome had had a terrible bombing. It used to be a concentrated bombing you know, you’d have these 27 aircraft over the target, and they’d be coming up to the target and you could always hear a burst of machine gun fire. Whether that was the signal to release the bombs or not, I don’t know, but you could always hear this burst of machine gun fire from the front planes, and then down they’d come. Those buildings, the ops room there had a terrific bomb crater, right on the top of it, it hadn’t come through.

Int: Had they managed to make the drome fairly unusable?

GA: They had, but they’d filled the holes in, then when they came within shell fire, it was hopeless getting anybody out there to fill holes in; workmen, anybody, so, some were left. They could get a plane down, but there were no planes on the island then hardly. The Hurricanes that they had were outnumbered, and also they were outflown. We had one come in from Sumatra. He didn’t stay, he flew off and that was the last we saw of our aircraft.

Int: Who was giving you your orders? Who was in command of your section in a job like that?

GA: We’d a corporal, we’d two corporals there, and the station defence officer. He issued the orders of what he wanted guarding and everything else, and we took it from there you see. There was one funny incident – it wasn’t funny at the time but afterward, we could laugh about it. It really was funny. When we got up there, first of all, these Australians hadn’t had a cooked meal for days and days. They wouldn’t go up into the headquarter areas, because it’d been bombed that much, and that’s what they were concentrating on when they came home. Anyhow, we went up there, we’d got to get something to eat, so we prepared the meal, and everybody had something to eat. The thing was, as soon as the siren went, all dromes, after they’d found out what was happening, this terrific concentrated bombing. As soon as the siren went, the trucks used to be there. Everybody used to bundle in and out into the rubber. They wouldn’t stop in the slit trenches round the area, you see. The sirens went a couple of times, and this happened, and “Oh, come on, come on,” until we got fed up, then, “Oh, blow this, we’re not going. We’ve got a meal prepared and we’re staying.” We got the cookhouse going and they got a meal. But I can understand how they felt because strangely enough, a lot of the admin. officers used to be in the forefront. They’d be away with the lads, so you could understand, after the hammering they’d got. You could understand how they felt because we thought about it afterwards. They had had a real hammering.

Int: What happened next?

GA: Well, this funny incident that happened: the sirens went – we’d got a little Ford van for running people around the drome, and there was a huge monsoon drain at the side of the road, tremendous, about eight feet wide, nice big drain, open – the sirens went, and after they’d picked the two guards up off the top post, “Right, get yer foot down.” They did, they got their foot down and they slid off the road, into this bend and straight into the monsoon drain, They got a large can – it was in the van when they took it over – a large can of red paint in the back and it went screeching down the drain, then it stopped. It threw everybody about, it threw the red paint about all over the place and everybody was covered in red paint, and the people who dashed up to……….”God, good God, look at ‘em, bleeding to death.” (Laughter) Anyway, they weren’t, they were badly shaken up.


Then it got to the pitch once they did get within range, where the group captain issued orders, no-one would go up the drome on the main road. They’d go round the back to the top of the drome. We defied him for a while. It was ridiculous really, we were very foolish I suppose. We’d got an armadillo truck there with double sides and all pebbles in the double sides, to protect it against shrapnel. We used to come down in that and they used to follow us down. We were never hit, surprisingly enough. A big cheer used to go when they missed and we were never hit. Finally, he stopped it, that had to stop.

Int: Your positions were on the hills near the straits, and the causeway near the aerodrome, is that right?

GA: The gun positions were on the hill; the guard positions were at the main gate, and then one right out at the top gate on a road that led down. If you continued on it, you could get down to the straits. It was only a rough track, and that was another position there. I think we’d got three gun posts on the top. The army had got some three point sevens there. On reflection, I think they were not three point sevens, they were Boffers. We had a twin Lewis on each of the posts up there, and then two men on the top post outside the entrance to the camp.

Int: Were there any major positions to stop the Japanese crossing the causeway?

GA: Yes, they’d got the Australians there just off the back of the causeway, they’d got them right round the straits, as far as they could stretch them in a fair depth. They’d blown the causeway, but with it being such a terribly strong causeway, very well built, I mean, it took a railroad over, and a road over. It took water pipes over from the mainland to the island, and in blowing it, they had to blow those, all that went, the water pipes. It wasn’t blown – shall I say, there was a big hole in it, right across, which could be easily bridged, which they did, after they’d got the first foot on the island. They soon got that filled in and over.

Int: It sounds like your positions were more like sentries – there was nothing much you could do.

GA: That’s right, there was nothing you could do. You could fire at any low flying aircraft from our gun points. It wasn’t a very nice situation on that top post, as I found out one day. They were shelling and they started shelling the gun post on the hill above us, and daytime, as I remember, you were on yer own up there. They were shelling onto the hill. There was this buzzing, BZZZZZ BBZZZZZ, buzzing past me and I thought, “Oh, they must have hit some hornets’ nest or something.” Then the next thing, BBZZZZ, there was quite a large piece, as big as a walnut, of shrapnel, stuck in a rubber tree, a foot from my head. I thought, “Well, there’s nothing much I can do about it.” I got down then.

Int: They were aiming at the gun position.

GA: Yes, the gun position.

Int: Did they hit it?

GA: No they didn’t, they never hit it but, this went on for quite a long time. I was down there, facing up the track with my gun there, and who should come along, but our group captain. He’d been down the track; he must have come in from round the back somewhere.

Int: The airfield……..?

GA: The airfield group captain with, I believe he was a brigadier. I scrambled to my feet and gave him the salute, and he said, “What’s wrong airman, is it pretty hot here?” I said, “Very hot sir, look at this.” It was still smoking actually, the lump of shrapnel in the rubber tree. He sez, “Haven’t you got a slip trench or anything?” I said, “No, we have no men to dig them. We’ve just enough for guard and that’s it.” Now we’d got the gun posts manned, that was it. You’d stand there and it got very unpleasant at times, on that post.

Int: You just had some sandbags.

GA: No, we’d nothing there. We’d nothing!

Int: Nothing at all?

GA: Nothing! Only the rubber trees around us, that was all. Behind us there was a Punjabi section; they were frightened to death

REEL 6

GA:………………Oh, it was tremendous, we knew they’d made the put. We knew they were getting ready for it and we knew they’d made the put. I was on that top post, I think I was on until two o’clock in the morning, if I remember rightly. There was still this terrific racket, gunfire. Not quite as bad as it was in the initial, but it was bad enough and it was dying down gradually. Who should come up but our corporal in the van with a driver. We yelled at him to put the headlights out; he’d got the headlights full on and he jumped out of the van. They’d had word from ops that a Japanese patrol had broken through on the track up to the drome. What can yer do? We can’t send you anybody else because we’re that tight for men. The only thing we can do is to sit tight and get behind the rubber trees, facing up the track, that’s all we could do. The Punjabis had got a Lewis gun in a pit facing up the track, the same as we were. I’d got someone with me who was very very nervous. It was strange that because when he told me………….

Int: Another fitter?

GA: Yeah, another airman with me who was very nervous. It was strange really because I felt that when I knew what was happening, I did feel a little bit better than when I didn’t know anything, you were waiting all the time. When you could expect something, you knew, alright, you could do something about it, but he was in a terrible state.

Int: How did he show you he was afraid?

GA: Well, he….he…continuously for a while: “What shall we do, what shall we do, what shall we do?” I said, “There’s nothing much yer can do is there? Get down and hope for the best, and if they do come, you open fire and fall back.” But the problem was, these Punjabis…………..I said, “It’s Hobson’s choice because as soon as they hear anything coming back towards them, they’ll open up so, yer’ll have it from the back and the front, so you’re in between two fires.”

Int: What about your officers, where were they, or the officers from the aerodrome?

GA: The defence officer wasn’t there, he was back in the ops room with the group captain and everyone. We saw very few of the other officers, the admin officers never used to come into our line of work at all.

Int: Did you see any sign of this Japanese patrol?

GA: No, nothing. Nothing materialised, thank goodness, and we were relieved at 2 o’clock, and the people who went on, they never saw anything, nothing happened.

Int: Did this chap who was so afraid, did that affect you, because………….?

GA: I think it begins to, but you’ve got to fight it, otherwise you start to……….. panic spreads.

Int: How did you feel about him, were you cross with him or what?

GA: Not really, I suppose yer think, “Well, it’s just one of these things. The bloke’s cracking up,” and one thing led to another. It was getting rather tense and he was just cracking up and there was nothing much you could do about it.

Int: So you were relieved later on?

GA: Yes, and they never had any trouble afterwards, that was alright.

Int: Did you find out what had happened to them later on?

GA: No, I never found anything out. You never got to know anything like that. Then, as I remember it, a day or so after, we were all pulled back, down onto the ops room, around that area. We’d always got a guard round the ops room, patrolling round and in that area. Everyone was pulled back. The army was up at that end then. They’d fallen back, or brought some more troops. I think they must have formed a line up there where we’d been on guard, because we were pulled out and moved back into headquarters area. We were instructed whatever we did, not to step out into open ground. Well, we knew this because whenever you stepped out into the open ground, in view of the mainland, Malaya, they’d still lob a few shells over, so we stayed all round the ops room. We’d still got the lads; we were still relieving gun posts; we were still up there on the top, but otherwise, there was a guard down at the guardroom at the main gate, but the bulk of us were up in the ops room at the headquarters area.

Int: What did you have round the aerodrome, was it barbed wire or something?

GA: Yes, barbed wire.

Int: Was it a serious obstacle, or just a marker?

GA: Not really, not a serious obstacle at all really. I remember scrambling through it one morning. It didn’t stop you at all. Whilst you were there, it was, I think it was about four days, perhaps three days before the surrender. It might have been a bit closer than that. No, three or four days before we came out I should say, not the surrender. We came out from the airfield on the eleventh, it’d be about the tenth – ninth or tenth.

Int: So, they’d got across the straits, but they’d been held, the Japanese.

GA: No, they hadn’t been held, they were breaking through all round, they were continuously breaking through, and our people were having to fall back all the time.

Int: But they weren’t coming your way?

GA: No.

Int: Sorry, I interrupted you, you were saying, on the tenth.

GA: I think it’d be about the tenth.

Int: Roughly?

GA: Yes. We were told by the adjutant who was the worse for drink, waving his revolver about, to take up positions in the firing trenches, and everybody looked at him as if to say, what’s he talking about? He said, “Move them off Corporal.” Our corporal moved us off and we moved into our sleeping quarters.

Int: Now, why didn’t you obey the order, was there actually nothing happening?

GA: We’d no firing positions; we’d nowhere to go really, there was nothing happening.

Int: So he was talking rubbish.

GA: Yes, he was in a right state really; he was in a terrible state.

Int: Had his nerve gone, do you think?

GA: I think so, yes. He was – since then, I’ve felt sorry for him because he’d cracked up really bad, and he followed us into this room, and still waving his revolver, he got on the stage, and one of the admin officers came in to tell him that the group captain wanted to see him because he must have got the gist of what was going on. Somebody must have told him what was happening. He just pushed him aside, “I’ll come when I’m ready,” sort of. Just after that, a couple of the service police came in and escorted him out. We thought that was the end of it. He can be in serious trouble, but that’s too bad, that’s the end of it. It was only five or ten minutes afterwards when the group captain came in and addressed us, and I thought it was very big really, of him. He apologised to us for the behaviour, and he said how sorry he was.

Int: Which squadron was he in command of, or which group, do you remember?

GA: I can’t remember. He was in command of ops room up there, and the station itself, but it was an Australian squadron that had been on that drome.

 


 

Int: But they’d gone.

GA: But they’d moved out, oh yes, they’d gone.

Int: And he actually apologised to you.

GA: Oh yes, he apologised to us. His words were, “X party, I’m very sorry for what happened, I apologise to you.” With that, he walked out.

Int: About how many of you from X party were there because X party was the whole 150, but you were just a section of it were you?

GA: I should say there’d be roughly twenty of us; getting on that way because we’d got three posts on the hill, we’d got one at the top end of the drome on that track, and we’d got the guard room, so there’d be close on twenty of us, yeah, up there at the time.

Int: Right, so after this apology, what happened then?

GA: Well, the whole situation on the island, it was deteriorating rapidly. Things were going from bad to worse, they were breaking through all over, and we had instructions on the eleventh, that we were moving out. The demolition squad had been in on, I think it was about the ninth, and laid charges all over the place, to blow various places up. Some of our lads went up to the officers’ mess; they’d been instructed to go up there, smash all the liquor. They broke all the liquor bottles and everything up there, and we were fortunate; we’d been given a - I think it was a Chrysler, with a dicky seat.

Int: What’s a dicky seat, sorry, a Chrysler is a car, but……..

GA: Well, you know the boot on a normal car? Well the dicky seat – well, the boot used to open, instead of opening from the back to the front, the boot used to open from the rear window, backwards, and there was a seat in there, with which you could take two more passengers.

One of the flight sergeants had remained behind with the admin. officers, and he said he wouldn’t want it. It was his, we could have it. The defence officer had also issued instructions that the post office had to be open. There were still parcels there from Christmas, from Australia.

Int: This is the post office on the airfield.

GA: On the airfield, yeah, in the headquarters section. “Take them out, all the food you can get. We shall want it if we get a boat. Load it before we move off.” So this is what we did, we loaded up and moved out. We’d no problems at all. The only thing we saw was an Indian section of the army was moving up – crawling up across the drome actually. Well we moved out, but we’d no problems for quite a long time.

Int: Did you realise that the whole situation had gone to pot?

GA: Oh yes. I should have mentioned just before that, I think it was the tenth, the group captain had also notified us that they’d heard that the surrender was that afternoon, but it didn’t take place, it was refused. Percival refused that surrender, so it went from there and we realised that they wouldn’t go on much longer, because they were just bombing indiscriminately. We’d no aircraft to stop them. The situation was getting very bad down in Singapore City.

Int: Did you realise that you would have to get a boat to get off there yourselves, that it wouldn’t be a controlled evacuation, did you know what you were going to do?

GA: The only thing we knew was what the defence officer told us, that all technical personnel were going to try to get away, because they didn’t want to lose so many technical personnel. That was the only thing we knew. We didn’t know what was down at the docks, he didn’t know; no-one knew. We made a move towards Singapore, to the city.

Int: You’d got this Chrysler, and you’d got this food, no bother about taking this stuff, the food out?

GA: No, no trouble, we’d no trouble all the way down until……….

Int: You weren’t all in the car though.

GA: Oh no, there were two in front, we were sat on top of the food; two behind. Then there were one or two of the trucks with the other lads in, and vans, some of the headquarters staff were there, the group captain had stayed. He was coming out last of all with the officers. We’d got the defence officer and two of the admin. officers with us, and we didn’t run into any trouble until…………

Int: Were you still under military discipline then?

GA: Yes.

Int: So, you were a convoy and someone was in command.

GA: Yes

Int: At this stage, when you were going to the docks.

GA: Yes, the station warrant officer was with us, the defence officer was with us, we’d got our own N.C.O.’s. We didn’t run into any trouble until we got close to the headquarters, and then they were dive-bombing, a convoy and some buildings down the road. So we pulled up under some palm trees. The defence officer said, “We’d better all get out and get under cover in this – oh, a huge garden. The house was empty, everything was gone. “Take cover under there and we’ll see what happens.” They never touched us, strangely enough, they never transferred their affections to us, we were untouched. We stayed there for quite a while until these two admin. officers, they said, “Look,” they came to the admin. officer we were sat round, “let us take our car and go down to the docks, see what’s in, and we’ll come back and let you know the situation, then, if there’s a boat in, you can move down with us.” That was the last we saw of them. We waited about another hour.

Int: Do you think they’d have done it deliberately, I mean, just gone away?

GA: Well, that’s the feeling we got because we never saw them again until we did get down to the docks and they were on the boat.

Int: Were they normal R.A.F. officers?

GA: Yes, two of the admin. officers, as far as I know. The lads weren’t very pleased about that, there was some talk of chucking them over the side.

Int: So, you were in this big garden, and they didn’t come back. How long did you wait for them?

GA: Oh we must have waited at least, an hour, hour and a half. We thought we might have trouble getting down there. It’s not a very big island y’know, Singapore, and we were half the way down to the docks. We thought they might have a bit of trouble; we’ll give them some time. So, the next thing, he said, “We’d better move out.” He didn’t know, somehow, for some reason, he didn’t know the way from there, and the warrant officer took over, turned off the road and started leading us back towards onto the Salita Road, back up to the straits. We couldn’t work this out because we knew that area, we knew he was on the wrong road………….

Int: Did nobody tell him?

GA: I think the thought crossed our mind that he was going to get onto the main road, and then come round to the right, then come back down the main road into Singapore then onto this other main road, y’see. But when he started heading up further out, and then there was all this – suddenly there was a heck of a racket, machine guns, rifle fire and goodness knows what, and everything pulled up. He stopped and everyone else stopped, got out. The walking wounded were coming back, so, we decided to go and have a talk to him, the warrant officer. We had a word with these fellas who were walking back. “What’s the matter?” “DON’T GO DOWN THERE, WHATEVER YER DO, THERE’S A HECK OF A BATTLE DOWN THERE!!” So, we went over to the warrant officer. “Yer know yer on the wrong road don’t yer? Yer’ve been on the wrong road since yer turned left. Let’s get turned round and out of it.” He got very irate with us and we got very irate with him. Anyhow, they had to turn round, we turned round and off we went.

Int: The whole lot of you?

GA: Yeah, off we went back down this main road, into the city. That was in a right state, the city was; there were sirens going, bombers coming over, they were bombing all parts of the city.

Int: It was a silly mistake for him to make though, I mean, such a small island, do you think he was a bit panicky?

GA: I don’t know what had happened really, he just seemed to be lost, completely.

Int: Weren’t there road signs and things?

GA: Well, yes there were road signs and names of the little villages, and all this business, but he kept going, and that was it. It’s a strange thing, but we never saw the defence officer there, but he was somewhere in that section with us still, but he never came up and said anything. I don’t think HE knew his way round. When we got down to the docks, there was all hell let loose down there………….

Int: Weren’t the roads blocked with the bombing and everything?

GA: No, we managed to get through. There was a lot of wreckage, but we managed to get through quite easily.

Int: What about refugees, y’know, people just trying to get away, did they block the roads at all?

GA: No, ‘cos it was in the city, there was nowhere they could go. There was only the island and that was it, that was the full stop, once you got on the island. Everybody was under shelter, whatever they could get, and we got through fairly easily when we got down to the docks, but when we got down there, there was a right racket down there. We were fortunate again, they didn’t set on us in the area where we were. It was only a matter of, four hundred yards further down.

Int: This was bombing.

GA: Yes, it was bombing, and afterwards, we found out that they were also in range of shellfire, and they were shelling too, and we got away with that. We got out of this car. “Right, get the packs out.” We’d got grub in the packs, and everything, and we’d got so much kit in the packs, we’d got a kitbag with us, and we started to get things out, get the food out when this warrant officer rolled up.

Int: One of yours, or another one?

GA: The one, yes, one of ours, the one who was leading us off the wrong way. He rolled up. “What yer think yer doin’?” He was in a terrible state, almost shouting, almost hysterical. “We’re getting this grub out, we’ll want it on board.” There was a boat there, a biggish boat. It was an ex-refrigeration boat. We would want the food on board, we knew there wouldn’t be anything, and he immediately – ooh, he was screaming, “Leave it there, leave it where it is, get on the boat, get on the boat.” We said, “Look, we want this food!” Then he drew his revolver and waved it at us. “Get on the boat!” We still defied him. “Let’s get this food out first.” “I’ll shoot you, I’ll shoot you.” I said, “He means it, he means that.” “I do, I do!” He’d really blown his top then. So I said, “Leave it.” So we left the grub there and got on the boat.

Int: So, why was he so irate about it?

GA: Well, first of all, we’d had a go at him for leading us off in the wrong direction, also, he was panicking over this bombing and shelling further down the docks there, and I think he was another one who’d just reached the end of his tether, I think that’s what had happened.

Int: Was there any reason not to take the food?

GA: No, we’d been instructed to pick the food up from the post office. The defence officer said, “Look, you’ll want that on the boat, so……………”

Int: So was there a rush to leave?

GA: No.

Int: Did it leave as soon as you got on, for instance?

GA: No.

Int: So, he was making again, a fuss about nothing.

GA: Yes, about nothing.

Int: So, when you went on, was there anything to stop you getting on board, I mean, were there any checks as to who you were?

GA: It’s strange that you should ask this. No-one took our names, there were no names taken of people coming aboard. They only knew that we were a technical party, that had been explained to them apparently because we got on without any problems. There were no, “Who are you? What are you doin’?” We were in a party with N.C.O.’s, officer, and they must have been instructed that this was happening. The technical personnel, as many as they could get, had to be got off the island.

Int: So, if an infantry platoon had rolled up, they wouldn’t have got on board.

GA: No, not then, not at that period, but there was a tragedy there. We didn’t find out about it until after we got on the boat. Three Australians had deserted and the Harbour Master who was a military man, because the military had taken over then, he questioned them, and they shot him, and got aboard. They forced their way aboard and I don’t know what happened because we never saw them, but we knew – the first thing we knew about it was when we got into Java. It was before we docked that night. We were out in the roadsteads, waiting to dock, there were two Australian nurses and two Australian N.C.O.’s who must have been instructed; I think they were engineers, they must have been ‘cos they had been instructed to come aboard and they were talking about it. They said, “There’s three of our Australian people on who shot the Harbour Master and forced their way aboard.” Since then, I’ve read about this in books too.

REEL 7:

Int: What was the name of the ship you boarded?

GA: The Empire Star. I think it was a ‘Blue Funnel’ line, quite a big boat, I think it was ten thousand tons.

Int: How full was it and who was aboard?

GA: Well, most of the people aboard were technical personnel and also, quite a lot of civilians.

Int: Were they all R.A.F. technical personnel, or were they………….?

GA: No, if I remember rightly, there were some army personnel and Australian army, and nurses.

Int: And a fair number?

GA: Yes.

Int: Was the ship not a temptation for Japanese bombing?

GA: Yes, oh yes! This is why we couldn’t understand it, why we weren’t getting some of it as well. They’d left us alone, it was marvellous really. It was hard lines for the people further down the docks, but we were never touched.

Int: Were they boarding boats as well, the people further down?

GA: Yes; smaller boats than this, this was about the biggest that was in and we never had any problem there.

Int: So, you got on board and there was no real check other than you were a party.

GA: That’s right.

Int: Where were you put on board?

GA: Well, you just found your way around and you got where you could get, y’know, anywhere really.

Int: Where did you choose to get?

GA: We got fairly well up the deck; we weren’t bothered about going down below too far.


 

Pt 9: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7543028

Int: You were aware that you could be bombed at any time.

GA: Yes. I think everybody did this that tried to avoid the lower decks and kept to the upper decks. It was a boat, it was refrigerated boat and there were different holes. We didn’t see much of it actually, we were on this deck and there were some on the top deck, the two top decks. There was a lot of people up there, quite a lot of our lads there too, because they’d also pulled some more of our section out from other places where they’d been on guard, and brought them down onto the boat. So we’d got quite a few of our lads on there.

Int: What was the deck you were on now, was it a living quarters deck?

GA: No, it was just ordinary board, a wooden deck, y’know, no living quarters or anything like that, but it was on the top, there was living quarters and a few cabins for the odd passenger, they used to use it as well. There were women and children on board too.

Int: Were you actually out in the open on this deck, or was it covered in?

GA: No, under cover. You just stepped out onto the main deck, and there we sat until dark.

Int: In the port?

GA: Yeah, and a strange thing, usually in an afternoon, at half past one to two o’clock, the Japanese would suddenly stop. It was as if there was a tea break. There was no more bombing at one o’clock. So it all died away and, nothing, everything went quiet.

Int: That was just after you got aboard.

GA: Yeah.

Int: About one o’clock in the afternoon.

GA: Yeah, between one and two o’clock, everything went dead.

Int: And it wasn’t just the fact that the bombers had to go back for more bombs and stuff.

GA: No, they didn’t come back.

Int: The artillery stopped too.

GA: Well, we never heard anything, they may have continued shelling, further across onto the island, because there were one or two islands around us. There was an oil depot on one of the islands there, they may have continued, but I don’t seem to remember hearing much noise of battle at all. There we sat until dark.

Int: Probably a sore point, but did you have anything to eat while you ………….?

GA: No.

Int: Was there any provision at all on the……….?

GA: No, we’d got our iron rations, but we didn’t touch them until we were desperate.

Int: There was no way of getting off the boat and back to your car?

GA: No, because I think one thing that put us off that, you might just get off the boat and back to the car, and they’d be off.

Int: Did you say anything about what the warrant officer had done? Because they’re not really supposed to wave revolvers about.

GA: No, we were so shocked; it was unbelievable, and I think we were so shocked, we thought………………..

Int: You didn’t report it to your officer or anything?

GA: We never saw our defence officer again.

Int: But you did see the admin. officer.
GA: Just after we got on board we saw the two admin. officers.

Int: Did they see you?

GA: They must have done, but I think they disappeared out of the way. That was the last we saw of them. They…………………

Int: So you were never able to sort out these affairs.

GA: No, It was all strange.

Int: While you were going through the town, besides these signs of perhaps panic, you could call it in some of your officers and warrant officers, was it the general thing that was going on in Singapore? I mean, were there other units commanded………..?

GA: I think this was the feeling right the way through, yes. There was quite a lot of panic.

Int: Was it just officers and N.C.O.’s or was it the men as well?

GA: I think it was the men as well. Oh yes, I don’t think it was – but the thing was, you expect more from the person in charge, don’t you? You don’t expect that sort of thing. I never saw any of our lads get into a state like that. They were quite well controlled, they did as they were told, they were still under discipline, and, they were quite good really.

Int: So, when you were aboard, you sound as if you ceased to be part of an organised unit, you went where you wanted on board.

GA: That’s right.

Int: So, how did you fend? There was this lull, no food, what happened in the rest of the day, on the eleventh?

GA: Nothing, until it got dark, then they pulled out. We pulled out away from the dock, as soon as it was dark. We thought, “Oh, we’re on our way, good.”

Int: Had they been taking more specialists on board?

GA: Yes,

Int: So it was filling up.

GA: Yes, filling up, yes. We thought, “We’re sitting pretty now, we can get away under cover of darkness. It’s not a long sail down to Java.

Int: Did you realise how lucky you were, I mean, as specialists to be taken off……?

GA: Yes, very lucky.

Int: Did you know at the time, I mean, at Dunkerque, they took pretty well everybody off, but at Singapore, most of the infantry were left behind. Did you realise this was happening?


GA: Yes, we moved out, and we thought, “Right, we’ll get away under cover of darkness, there’ll be no problems.” Then we dropped anchor. We found out afterwards, the reason they didn’t go any further was because of the minefields. There was no escort that knew where the channels were, so we had to wait until daylight and pick a way through. There we stood until seven o’clock the next morning. Then we moved through and out into the open sea, and we were on deck. We’d had some water, but we still had nothing to eat. We were in a shocking state too, our clothes. They wouldn’t let us take the kit off, this warrant officer, so all the kit we’d got on was black from the rain that brought the oil that was burning badly. The oil tanks weren’t firing, it brought all the soot down, so you can imagine what a state we were in. We walked out on deck as soon as it was daylight and we stood up in the bows, and suddenly, I said, “Look here.” Everybody gave a yell; enemy aircraft – these three dive bombers were coming down at us.

Int: Did the boat have any defence?

GA: Yes, they’d got light anti-aircraft guns; no heavy stuff. I think they’d got a gun at the rear, but I don’t think they’d got a Boffers on, but I think we were in convoy with the HMS Durban Cruiser. She was with us and a couple of destroyers, and also quite a lot of smaller boats that had taken people on. The bulk of our party was on a couple of the smaller boats, the bulk of X Party.

Int: You joined all of these after you’d gone through the minefield had you? because you were on your own.

GA: Yes.

Int: Were they waiting for you then, at the other side of the minefield?

GA: I think they’d moved out the same as us, in the darkness, but we didn’t see them until the next morning, then they all came through and were with us, more or less.

Int: So these three dive-bombers were in sight.

GA: Yeah, they hit us, they hit the top deck and they killed one of the gunners. A bomb hit the top deck and went so far down; there was quite a lot killed up there. There was a lot of our lads killed up there too; our sergeant was killed up there. Strangely enough, I could never remember his name and I opened that identity card and I made a note in the back of that. Sergeant Galloway. He was an Irishman too. He was such a nice person, he was one of the lads, y’know, you could sit and chat with him, and I think he went too, and I’m certain that was him. Quite a few women up there too, they were killed. The thing that – it’s not too much troubled me, but, I thought, “How terrible.” One of our lads came down from the top, and we said, “How bad is it?” He said, “It’s a right mess up there.” He said, “There’s nothing left of ‘em, there’s just lumps of flesh and limbs.” They couldn’t do anything. All they could do was to swill it off and brush them over the side. I thought, “How awful that those lads’ parents will never know what happened to them or anything.”

That’s what happened, they just swilled them over the side, they couldn’t do anything else. There was nothing left. There were a lot wounded; they brought them down into the quarters where we were and we moved out, and got them under cover. They were badly wounded, terribly cut up.

Int: Was there anyone to look after people……………?

GA: Yeah, there were these Australian nurses aboard.

Int: Any doctors though?

GA: Yes, there were one or two medical orderlies and I should say, there’d probably be some doctors with the nurses. They were terribly gashed about.

Int: So where did you go?

GA: We’d been moved out and we went right under the bows. From then on, it hotted up. It was marvellous how they got away with it. There was, I think it was a Wing Commander. He faced the bridge. I think he was a Dutch skipper. The Wing Commander was watching these planes coming in, in formation. They hit us again with dive-bombers, and then they started this high level bombing. They hit the Durban where they knocked a gun turret out. I don’t think they hit any of the other ships.

Int: Could you see from your position in the bows?

GA: Not much at all. We were underneath, right in the doorway; we had to crouch right down to get in, but we were sat right in the doorway, my friend and I. There were quite a lot of people behind us, and we could see this officer stood shouting up to the skipper, and as the formation came in, you were watching the bomb doors open and release, and he was yelling either port or starboard, and he was swinging the boat as if it was a destroyer. Marvellous really, what he did. We only had those three hits.

Int: From the very first.

GA: Yeah, and it went on for nearly five hours. I honestly don’t know how we got – nobody does really, on that boat.

Int: This was mainly high level bombing.

GA: High level, yeah. One lot came down, and I’ll always remember that, there was a terrific roar as it hit the water, the boat lifted right out and you could hardly hear the engines. All the blokes at the back started to panic. I don’t know why we did it, but Curly and I, we shoved our legs across the doorway and said, “Get back, get back! We’re still afloat.” And we were. They’d dropped way out, you know.

Int: Were there many close misses?
GA: Yeah, quite a few, but that was the closest.

Int: Did the dive bombers not have another go?

GA: They never had another go at us. They knocked one dive bomber down.

Int: So, they hit you the three times actual attack they made on you.

GA: The dive-bombers, yeah. This Wing Commander did a marvellous job, and the skipper. He dodged the bombs as they were falling. At about one o’clock, it stopped.

Then they started hunting round for food.

Int: Pretty well everybody, you mean.

GA: Yes, asking everyone what food had they got. They were going to have a communal affair you see, they’d got to. We hadn’t got anything. I think that’s when we mentioned we had it, but nothing happened. They got so much together, and if they’d got corned beef cans – you can peel them off round the middle, you know, and you can pull them apart, small ones. If yer’d got one of those, you were made, you could get yer food in that. If you hadn’t, you had to have it in yer hand, you see. You only got a scoop full, that’s all yer got.

Int: What was it that you got from this?

GA: Hotted up bully beef, and tinned potatoes, whatever there was.

Int: Was there much?

GA: No, yer’d perhaps fill one of these little tins.

Int: So not enough to fill you up.

GA: No, nothing like that. They did their best with what they’d got.

Int: Now, would the amount of food you had (before you boarded the boat) have made a difference on the boat, or would it have been just swallowed up really with the rest?

GA: The amount of food we had, because we’d got – we’d come down in, four or five vans and trucks and cars – it would have made quite a bit of difference because we’d loaded up well. The bigger trucks had got quite a lot on, we’d piled it in. It would have made some difference, yeah.

I always remember, when we were underneath the bows there, we’d given up. “Well, we’re not going to get out of this.” It crossed my mind, this, and I said to Curly, “We’ll not get out of this.” I said, “They can’t keep missing like this.” I said, “The only thing that worries me is that our parents’ll not know, they’ll never know where we went.” That’s how we sort of accepted it.

Int: You weren’t scared then.

GA: No, I think we’d reached a stage where we couldn’t be scared any longer. We reached a stage where it was a foregone conclusion, sort of. I don’t remember being scared at that period. That was the only thing that worried me; Curly was the same, that our parents’d never know what had happened and where. That was the only thing that disturbed me.

Int: So this was on the twelfth.

GA: Yeah.

Int: And the lull had been again about one o’clock on the twelfth.

GA: Yes.

Int: How long did the lull last for this time?

GA: Right through, we never saw anything again. We came down through the islands. We fully expected getting something round by the Straits, we got nothing.

Int: Was this ship in good shape?

GA: Oh yes, in pretty good shape, yes.

Int: The bombing hadn’t – although it’d been hit – they’d done a lot of damage to people but not so much to the ship.

GA: Well it had had it, it was a mess, but not in the vital parts, so we were OK. We pulled into Tanjung Pry, which was the harbour for Batavia, on the evening of the thirteenth. Now, the strange part about it was, that was Friday the thirteenth and you know how everyone has a dread of Friday the thirteenth, well we never saw a thing. We went right through that day.

Int: So, you got on the boat on the eleventh, sailed on the twelfth, you got the dive bombing in the morning, followed by the high altitude bombing, and then on the twelfth at one o’clock the bombing stopped. So all the rest of the twelfth and all of the thirteenth, you were clear for two days.

GA: Not a thing, yet the thirteenth was the period when the Japanese fleet caught quite a few of the boats with nurses aboard, and other people aboard, and sunk them, and they also bayoneted the nurses on the beaches, in Sumatra. But we didn’t know a thing about that. When we read about it afterwards, we thought, “Well, we were on the twelfth and thirteenth and we never saw a thing.” How we missed their navy, I don’t know.


 


 

Pt 10: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7543109 

Int: Had you got any escorts?

GA: Yes, they were still with us, but they wouldn’t have stood much chance against the might of what they’d got out there. And we pulled into the harbour, and that was it. Then we all opened our iron rations because we were starving.

Int: Had you had any other meals given you? You’d had this one meal…………..

GA: That was all.

Int: That was all you’d had on the whole journey?

GA: Yeah.

Int: So, for nearly three days, you’d had nothing to eat.

GA: Yeah.

Int: Your iron rations, you’d been told not to eat had you?

GA: No, they hadn’t said anything. We hung on and hung on until we found out we weren’t going to get anything more – we couldn’t get anything because there wasn’t anything – so we opened them up and had those.

Int: You weren’t supposed to give up your iron rations when they had this collection.

GA: No, you could hang on to those.

Int: That was spare food was it?

GA: Yes.

Int: So you opened it when you got there.

GA: That night. I took this horrible black chocolate away, had a drink of water and that was it.

Int: Did you think you were out of the woods then, when you……………..?

GA: No, not really, because they were taking everything in front of them. We knew that sooner or later, they’d have to stand there and make a battle of it, or else they’d be giving up, which happened of course. They more or less surrendered, Java. There wasn’t much fighting at all.

Int: So what happened next, to you then?

GA: We were transferred to a grammar school

Int: All the ships?

GA: No, they were split up.

Int: Were you back in a unit, or were you just……………?

GA: They tried to keep us as a unit. I think they realised that – there must have been some word gone round that X Party were to be kept together as much as possible. The bulk of us did go up; not all of us. We didn’t meet some of the lads until later in Java. A lot of us moved up to this grammar school, quite a lot of us moved up there, and we’d billets up there.

Int: Just lying on the floor.

GA: Just lying on the floor.

Int: What about food and things, I mean, you’d now eaten your emergency rations.

GA: Well, they’d made preparations for that; they’d done the best they could. Apart from that, we were in a city, and we’d still got money and we could buy food if we wanted, which we did.

Int: What about the state you were in, were you able to get cleaned up, get your uniform sorted out, or was that not a priority?

GA: I can’t remember actually what happened, I think they gave us – did they give us some more kit? I can’t remember, but somehow we got cleaned up reasonably well. We stayed there about, nearly a week. We had two or three days up at one of the airfields. That was the first time we’d done any work on aircraft, with a Hurricane squadron that came in.

Int: But you were still being used as a sort of pool of labour, rather than being sent to a squad.

GA: Yes, yes.

Int: What work were you doing up there?

GA: Just servicing the Hurricanes that they’d got, and daily inspections, but we were only kept up there for two or three days. Then – that was about the second or third day we were there – we were only on Java for a week, because………….

Int: You left about the twentieth, the nineteenth or twentieth.

GA: Yes, something like that; probably a bit later than that, about the twenty second. We were a full week there – no, that’s right, the fifteenth we heard they’d surrendered, we got there on the thirteenth. We would, we’d leave about the twentieth, something like that. It was most unexpected, they called us together one night: “Get what kit yer’ve got, yer going down to the docks,” which we did. It was dark and we got down to the docks, and there was a P&O boat in. We each got a blanket and we went aboard. On board was an Australian division.

Int: A whole division.

GA: Yeah, I believe so, as I remember, they’d come down from the Middle East. Was it Curtin who was their premier? He’d insisted that they, with Churchill, that they strengthen Australia. They pulled this division out of the Middle East and brought them down. They were going back to Australia, but before they went back, we got on board, and we sailed back up to Ceylon.

Int: Was there any trouble on this voyage?

GA: No. They were a good crowd o’ lads, they were.

Int: No, I don’t mean with them, I mean with the Japanese.

GA: No, we got away with it there. We came out, down the coast – nothing.

Int: Had you been able to let your parents know, or your family know what was happening?

GA: No, they’d never heard anything for weeks and weeks.

Int: Did they know you’d been to Singapore?

GA: Oh yes, they knew I was there.

Int: So they must have been worried.

GA: Oh yes, very worried.

Int: But you couldn’t get news through.

GA: No, we couldn’t get any news at all. It was worse for the people who of course were prisoners, they never heard anything for months and months; probably twelve months.

REEL 8:

I think we had one night there, and next morning, we moved out from Colombo by train. Various parties were awaiting shipment to India. We stayed on the island and moved out the next day up to China Bay, which was the air station for Trincomalee, to make the squadron up there.

Int: Which squadron were you joining?

GA: 273.

Int: What were they flying?

GA: Well, at the time there was a general reconnaissance squadron, but they’d got the most ancient machines. I think they’d got – if I remember rightly, they had a few Fairy Seals and a couple of Albacores, and I think that was it. Sorry, not Albacores, they were Wildebeests; about ninety five miles an hour, top speed, bi-plane from about late nineteen twenties, early thirties actually.

Int: And you went straight into work servicing these.


GA: Yes, we went straight up there, onto that section, onto that squadron. But we hadn’t been up there long, a matter of a few weeks, probably a fortnight, when we took over the Swordfish, that were across on the fleet air arm cramp, on camp. We fetched the Swordfish out of storage and put them into a serviceable condition, which they were in a fairly reasonable condition. They’d been looked after, and they hadn’t been flown a lot. Some of them came off the Hermes, but some of them had been in storage in the hangars on the fleet camp for quite a while. We towed them over and got them all serviceable and from then on, we started as a general reconnaissance with the Swordfish.

Int: What did yer think of the Swordfish as a plane because……………

GA: Well, for its time, I suppose it was a marvellous plane; apparently, it was fairly easy to fly, of course, not very fast, but I think they expected too much of them, which was proved in one or two of the actions during the war, but they did a marvellous job when you think of the period. It was a squadron of Swordfish that attacked the Italian fleet, and they did quite a good job really, but they were very ancient and very slow.

Int: From your side, were they reliable?

GA: Very reliable. We had very little trouble with those. We’d a mixed squadron; we’d got a sub-lieutenant, a naval sub-lieutenant pilot from the fleet air arm. We’d a marine – I believe he was a marine lieutenant or made up to captain when he left us. We’d quite a mixture of pilots, we’d got - two of our pilots were R.A.F. ex army corporation pilots. One of those was a test pilot with AVRO. When he came out of the forces, he went back to AVRO and he was their second test pilot, co pilot to Rowley Falt, who was their top man and Jackie Wales became their second pilot. But he was killed some years after the war. He was testing this Lincoln when she ran out of power and just crashed.

Int: How were you fitters organised within the squadron?

GA: They split us into two flights. We’d got the armourers on each flight, electricians, air frame fitters, engine fitters, riggers, mechanics, we had the normal maintenance section for bigger jobs. The only trouble was shortage of tools. It was a case of share out and for a few weeks, we’d very few tools, then they started to get a few more through to us. There was very little on the island really, they’d never expected this huge defeat and of course, they hadn’t built up for it.

Int: Do you remember any of the sort of repair work you had to do, what sort of problems you’d deal with there?

GA: Well strangely enough, on the Swordfish, we’d very little. Even the engine people had very little; changing plugs and things like that. We’d occasional patching on the fabric, but there was very little work to do, they were in good condition. The armourers did have a fair amount of work to do on the guns. They weren’t in very good shape when they came to us, but they – taking it all round, they were in fairly good condition. They didn’t have a lot of work on them.

Int: What about the living conditions……………?

GA: Very good really. The living conditions themselves were very good. They had barrack blocks. They were a two storey, just a ground floor and second floor, and I believe there was a third floor on the barrack blocks. There was a NAAFI up there; quite good substantial buildings, all brick built. The normal hangars, they were quite good hangars. The only problem was there, was water. It was in short supply. It’s very dry on that north east coast of Ceylon as you come up from Trincomalee. Even in the heavy monsoons between May and October, you don’t get the amount of rain like on the other side. We found we’d probably have the water on for a quarter of an hour in the morning, just enough time to dive under the shower and whatever yer could do, and that was it.

Int: Were you actually thirsty or……………..?

GA: No, not really, because whilst it was on, we managed to get a couple of jugs and store, we’d get two or three jugs of water. The only time – when I look back now, with this problem, the biggest problem, once yer’d left the billets, the water was off. You had nothing on the drome, and the temperatures really soared up there on that – very very dry, and they really soared, and yer’d nothing until, in the morning, the NAAFI van would come round and perhaps have one mug of tea, and that was it. You were nearly dehydrating at times. I know I’ve found once or twice that when we’ve been on standby in an afternoon, the hottest parts, I always remember one afternoon, I didn’t have the strength to get up to go to the van for the tea, my friends had to bring it for me. Once I’d had it, I was starting to pick up, but it could get bad there for water.

Then we found, next to the power dispersal point, there was a well. Of course, everyone was instructed that we mustn’t touch any water other than what came through the system. That was all chlorinated, not with the gas or anything. They used to fling the old powder in, the chloride of lime, it was foul stuff to drink, so we used to pep it up a little bit with – buy limes and slice them and kill it with that, the chloride, a little bit, but it was foul to drink. You had to drink it, that was it. We found that this well – we had a bucket full out – was marvellous stuff, nice and clear, so we rigged a shower up, over the well with a four gallon petrol can with holes in. Two or three of the lads would keep pouring it through while we took it in turns to get under. We also used to have a drink of it too and no one had any ill effects, we never had any medical problems with that, but I’m sure if the M.O. had known, he’d have gone absolutely berserk on that. But I think it was a Godsend to us, down on that dispersal.

Int: How did you get on with the Ceylonese?

GA: They were quite good really. When we first got there, we had room boys. They used to do your – clean your shoes and things like that. They were nearly all Tamil, those were. We’d go down into Trincomalee; there wasn’t much there. It was out of the way, up on the north east coast, rather deserted. There was a nice little café on the waterfront where you could get a small meal and drinks. That was run by a Welshman, strangely enough. We’d sometimes pop out there, but as the number of troops increased of course, supplies got less and less. You could still get certain things there, and yer could get certain things in the odd shop in Tricomalee, but most of them were the old teak type native stalls and everything like that, where at times, you wouldn’t buy anything off ‘em ‘cos all you’d see was a mass of flies over the top of everything, but you’d be very careful; everyone was very careful. Occasionally, there was quite a bad outbreak of Cholera up there. Usually, once or twice a year, there was a cholera scar when you had to have injections. It was a beautiful bay, beautifully situated, a tremendous bay. You could get the whole of the fleet in and not know it was there. All coves: we used to spend quite a lot of our time, whenever we were off, just roaming round these coves, just looking round, it was quite interesting, and swimming; we hired a little dug-out with an out rigger on, and we used to paddle out to the various little coves and all round the coves. We’d swim from the beaches there when we had time.

Actually, if the food had been as good as the natural surroundings, it’d have been a holiday camp really.

Int: Where would the unit fly the reconnaissance to?

GA: Out into the Bay of Bengal, on that area.

Int; Were they finding anything?

GA: Nothing at first, everything was pretty quiet when we first got up there.

Int: So how long did the quiet period last for?

GA: Just over a month, but in the meantime, the Swordfish had gone back to the air arm, and we’d taken a delivery of Fairy Formers from the fleet air arm. We were still classified, at that period, as a general reconnaissance squadron. Then they altered the designation and classified us a fighter squadron. Why, I never knew, but they classified the Fulmer as a fleet fighter. It was a twin seater, very heavy and quite slow compared to the Hurricane or the Spitfire, very slow. We were short of tools and spares for those, but we managed to get along.


 

Pt 11: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7543190 

Int: Were they reliable?

GA: Yes, they were fairly reliable, we didn’t have a lot of work on them, just the occasional thing, nothing much, nothing serious. The engines were quite good, they were the Rolls Royce, the Merlin. The armourers; there was a problem at first; some of them were very very bad. The guns; they hadn’t been looked after at all, our armourers had quite a job in dissembling and cleaning, they had a right job on with those, but anyhow, we got things alright. We did quite a lot of flying on those, even the ground used to get quite a lot of trips on those, with the pilots.

Int: Did you enjoy it?

GA: Yes, yes, it was very good, the test flights and everything. I know my pilot at the time was this sub-lieutenant from the navy, and he very often used to say, “Grab a parachute and hop in the back.”

Int: Do you remember his name?

GA: Mitchell, I think, Mitchell. He got in the black books though, he – he dived on the – they weren’t allowed to close the fleet at all and – he was a bit of a boy. He dived down on low flying over the fleet at sea and he wasn’t very welcome. He got into trouble over that. I think he came out of it alright. He left us, but from what I heard after, he did get promotion, but he was really in the black books for a while over that.

We first heard that the Japanese fleet was in the bay, round about early April, about the first. They’d attacked the ports on the eastern side of India. Then they’d moved down and a Catalina from 205 Squadron, down at Codler, in south Ceylon – he’d picked them up fairly early in April, and on Easter Sunday, they attacked Colombo. They sunk the Cornwall and the Dorsetshire in that attack. Out to sea they were, but they’d been separated from the fleet, they’d gone off to search for this fleet, I believe and the navy planes had caught them and sunk them. Then they attacked the port. They did quite a lot of damage, with very little loss, which was the usual case.

They seemed to think – the feeling was still that there were squadrons that hadn’t faced them, that there’d be nothing to it, but they found out that there was, with the navy; they were very good aircraft. They left there and we knew, sooner or later, they would have a go at Trincomalee. The fleet had moved out. We didn’t know where they’d gone of course, but as you read about that after, they’d gone round the Maldives, all that area, out of the way, because they were very slow. There were all the old ones there – the Ramilles, the Warspite. They came at us on the Thursday after Easter Sunday. They hit Trincomalee and China Bay, and the first we knew about it, we were on second standby that morning, and we got up for breakfast and went down, and we were just finishing our breakfast in the dining room when the sirens went, so we immediately grabbed everything.

We went back to the billet, grabbed our rifles and made our way down to the dispersal. By that time, there was a right melee overhead. Quite high up, these planes were going round and round in a circle. We stood on the bank above the MT section, watching these, and suddenly one shot out, and the fighter squadron that was on the drome – their aircraft were up, of course. Ours weren’t up because strangely enough, why they’d done it again I don’t know, but, a few days before, they’d decided that we were not a fighter squadron, they’d redesignated us to a general wrecky squadron. There were only the two planes off that morning, on early morning flight patrol, that were out. The others were on the drome.

The fighter squadron was there, number 261. They were out with the petrol bowser, bringing it round ready for any re-fuelling as the fighter planes came in, when suddenly, this one shot straight out of the sky – of course, the cry went, “Bloody hell, it’s a Zero.” Down she came, all canons blazing. We saw the lads on the bowser, they were stood on the side of the bowser. The driver of the tractor pulled up, they all leapt off like lightening and got behind this bunker. Bang, up she went; one big mass of flame, so we’d no bowser. We’d really struggled before that because when these Hurricanes joined us, they’d come from the Middle East by aircraft carrier, and flown off from the aircraft carrier, and made their way across to Trincomalee and to Colombo. There were three squadrons there. We got this number 261 and we’d had to refuel them with big funnels and four gallon cans.

We’d no bowser, but finally, we managed to get a bowser and it was very welcome, but that went up in flames. The next thing, another one was shot down, and, he was a very brave man who did it, and from what I can gather since, from one or two of our reunions, he survived. It was the fire officer. We saw him dive out in front of the – this Hurricane was coming in, and this Zero was following him with all guns going, and he dived down in front of the Zero with a revolver, firing at the Zero. By that time, we’d decided enough was enough. We dived down the bank and got behind the MT section in a little , well it was like a little concrete gully, no more than, just enough to cover your back, I should say, just enough to get into. We got behind there, and we were stuck there. The problem was, in between the hangars was a huge ammunition dump, and we’d unloaded this from a boat in Trinco Bay. It was all lighter loading, and it had come in because they diverted it. It should have gone to Rangoon, but they diverted it to Trincomalee.

Each flight sent so many men each day. They alternated, one flight one day, one flight another – out to this boat to unload this ship. It’s amazing how much stuff these boats can carry – a fairly biggish one. There were Chev. trucks, there were everything, and this huge load of, a lot of it aircraft ammunition. Twenty pound bombs, unfused of course, everything you could mention. The group captain had had this stacked between the two hangars. We thought, “This is a ridiculous place to stack it. This ought to have gone into the jungle, up the little roads that used to lead in, off the camp, but they had it stacked there.”

The night before the raid, we’d been clearing our hangars, of all the aircraft that were awaiting maintenance and on maintenance. We’d taken them all and taken them up into the jungle, and when we were half way through it, a friend of mine sez to the warrant officer, “Chiefy, that ammunition ought to be moved.” He said “We’ve been talking about it and all the lads are willing to keep on and on and on until we can get it out of the road.” He said, “Well, I agree with yer.” He sez, “I’ll go and ask the group captain.” He was down there supervising things. He went down, and when he came back: “It’s alright, don’t worry about that, it doesn’t matter about that, that’s safe enough.”


Well, we were in this gully, and he’d had a go at the little quay, the little jetty in Trincomalee, and all around the harbour area, the tanks; there were huge oil tanks round there, a fleet refuelling base, yer see. They were all round the side of our drome. These, I think it was nine bombers, they cruised over us once or twice, and we were waiting for it, and the next time they came over, these nine – they kept making a circle round and back. Here it comes. One big roar, the lot together. Well, I bounced like a rubber ball when they hit. They hit the MT section, there were flames shot out all over the place, but just before this, this Zero had shot down, pumped big bursts into this ammunition dump, and up she started to go. It was amazing; there were twenty pound bombs coming down like rain round us. They weren’t exploding of course, but it wasn’t very healthy if one of these things hit yer, coming out from high, so, when they hit the MT section, they hit the hangars, this huge flame shot out, and my friend at the front sez, “Let’s get out of here.” So, before he could move, we were over the top of him and he’d got big stud marks in his back for a day or two after that, but my ribs and insides ached for days and days. It’d just bounced me up and down in this trench with the bombs, and we got out and made a beeline up towards the top of the camp, and it was no use going down onto the dispersal, because by that time, the Zeros were flying round at will and just machine gunning everything that was moving.

REEL 9

Int: Were the British fighter squadrons outnumbered they don’t seem to have been able to…………….

GA: Yes, Yes, they were well outnumbered. They shot very few down; I think they only got about three or four planes down. There was only the one fighter squadron up there, and I believe there were four or five carriers in the bay.

Int: Japanese?

GA: Japanese, yes, oh they were outnumbered and…………….

Int: Was there any effort to get, I mean, I know your planes had been redesignated as general reconnaissance but was there any effort to get them off?

GA: This is rather strange. We couldn’t work this out, I believe they had been told that they would wait, when it came and yet it shouldn’t have been because everyone was expecting it, and they were told to wait. We’d got the early morning patrol; we’d got two planes off there. One never came back, the other, he came back, he’d seen nothing, he’d been out in another direction and seen nothing. When they came in, our planes were on the drome, and they systematically shot them up.

Int: No-one tried to get them up?

GA: I don’t know what happened with the pilots down there, but we couldn’t get them off. The leader of the fighter squadron, he was an ex Battle of Britain ace, I think his name was Squadron leader Lewis. He’d been badly burnt in the Battle of Britain, and from what we were told, he would only fly on normal flying practice and on any emergency. There was something very strange happened there. We had a satellite drome out on the coast, a little bit further north east, and you couldn’t get in, especially in the wet season. You couldn’t get in at all, only by boat and flying in, it was a very difficult strip to get on to. It was almost a dogleg, it was very bad. We used to fly out there, we used to have a crew out there on standby, and they used to do a certain amount of general wrecky from there, and that was the place to put down if the airfield was under attack.

Well, from what we could gather afterwards, squadron leader Lewis – I don’t know where he was at the time, but he came down, went for his plane, and it had gone. The group captain had taken it. He jumped in another Hurricane, took off, and as he got about four or five hundred feet, they caught him. They shot the plane up, he dropped straight out, and he escaped. He was lucky at four hundred feet. He was very lucky, his parachute opened but he had his hand badly shot up, so many fingers off. He wasn’t in a very good temper by the time they got him into the sick bay. He’d had his plane taken by the group captain, and that meant he was delayed in getting another one, which one to go for, and that’s why it happened like that. They were down there, and he was too late to get any height.

Well, afterwards, we’d got some lads out there re-fuelling on the satellite strip. They informed us that the group captain had come in, refuelled me, re-armed me. Well, they couldn’t understand why, because the gun patches were blown off, he’d fired his guns but they couldn’t re-arm him because there was hardly anything gone, from what we could gather, and he’d used very little fuel. It was quite a scandal; we never found out what happened, but on top of that, this ammunition dump - we’d worked into the early hours of the morning, moving these aircraft and everything, and also, we’d wanted to move this ammunition dump. They wouldn’t let us move it. This lot went up and one thing added to another…………….

Int: So the implication was that the group captain had just gone off, fired his gun a couple of times and then………..

GA: Well, that’s what we felt……

Int: He hadn’t engaged the Japanese.

GA: That’s what the lads felt at this little strip.

Int: But you had no evidence either way.

GA: No, no-one had any evidence either way, but I never found what happened, no-one knew what happened to him. He was relieved of his command, and I remember talking to Jackie Wales, who was my pilot and was the AVRO’s test pilot, some twelve months afterwards. We said, “We never found out what happened to the group captain, Mr Wales.” He said, “He was demoted to flying officer.” That was the only thing I knew, it was a right mess.

Int: Now what happened? You’d just had this thing and you jumped out………….

GA: Got out, yes, and got across towards the Marines’ three point sevens, they’d got three point sevens and Boffers there, and there was a Marine RSM who’d taken us for training on fieldwork, and everything like that. He was a very nice person, he was of the old type, but he was like a father to his men, that fella, he was really good. He wasn’t the old type, barking at yer and making ignorant statements all the time like a lot of ‘em were, he was a very nice person; he looked after everyone. He spotted us, and, first of all, as these Zeros were coming down, we got behind a rock, stayed there until they’d cleared, then he said, “Yer can’t do anything lads, get down in the jungle.” So we got down in the jungle and we stayed there until it’d quietened down, then we went back onto the flight. It’d blown our rifles; when the bombs had gone, we’d got a rifle to the side of us on the trench, and they’d gone, so we went and searched for those first of all. We found those alright, and, it’d made a right mess of the MT sections, the hangars were badly damaged, the aircraft were shot up, and all in all, it wasn’t very good at all. A Zero had gone through the top of one of the oil tanks. That was blazing, that kept exploding as it was blazing, and it was a right mess, but we started to get round to the planes and look what damage was done, started to repair and put patches on and everything.

Then we heard that the Hermes, just after the raid, another section of bombers and fighters had caught the Hermes aircraft carrier as she was leaving. She wasn’t far out actually, she was only twenty or thirty miles out from Trincomalee, when they caught her in the bay, and sunk her.


 

Pt 12: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7543271
 

A flight of fleet air arm Fulmars from Colombo I think, came over, but they lost quite a few. There didn’t seem to be any co-ordination somehow, we couldn’t work this out. We didn’t get to know about all this until afterwards of course, and the Swordfish that we had, the lieutenant commander who took charge of those, when we handed them back to the fleet air arm, they were still on the drome, but the fleet air arm had them. It was on the Sunday of the Colombo raid that they decided that they’d fly these down to Colombo, setting off early morning. They ran slap bang into the Davios, and they knocked the Swordfish down; they lost quite a lot of men, so THEY went. Things were looking very very dodgy then, and as the book that I’ve got sez – he’s named it, the title, ‘The Most Dangerous Moment,’ because the fighter squadrons had big losses really. We’d nothing, we’d only about three fighter squadrons on the island, then a Blenheim squadron. They tried to find the Japanese fleet, and they did find some of it. They’d lost quite a few planes, and things were very very fragile, they were very very weak at the time.

Int: At the time, were you thinking there’d be another invasion like there was in Singapore?

GA: Yes, yes, certainly. We thought, if the carriers were there in that number, surely they’d be bringing up – in the rear would be transports, and that evening, we would settle down in the billets, we would do what we could, this tank was still blazing like mad and exploding, it was quite eerie, and the station warrant officer, he was due to be repatriated. He’d served his time out there, and the poor old boy wasn’t very good at all, he was going blind, and there seemed to be utter panic down the line, right the way through. He came round the billets, “Everybody out, the Japanese fleet are coming in.” Of course, we turned out, we stood around. At first, we believed him, we thought there was nothing to stop them really. There was a big panic. Why it happened, we never found out but things died down and we went back to the billets. This sort of thing was happening, especially with some of the older hands who’d been out there a long time; hadn’t been in any action in this country, in the raids or anything, and they were in a right state.

We had one flight sergeant – we’d got ground gunners attached to the squadron – they got out of Sumatra. Some had been caught by the Japanese paratroops, and strangely enough, they hadn’t executed them immediately, which very often happened, or just shot them out of hand. They’d tied them up in this slit trench, and they managed to get away. They got away from Sumatra and we got some of those lads, they came up there.

They’d got gun posts all round the drome, and at one gun post, they were there waiting for these Zeros making their approach, and this flight sergeant jumped into the gun post and said, “You’re not to fire, you’re not to fire, you’ll draw their fire if you fire at them.” Again, the gun came out and he threatened them with a gun. It wasn’t reported, I don’t know why, but they were disgusted. This sort of feeling was going right through, there was panic; not among the pilots, not among the ground crew. A lot of it was among the older ones, who had never been in anything like this before, they’d never experienced it, never experienced raids and a lot of them were just about due for repatriation, and there was a feeling of, I suppose, self protection somehow, but it spread. But things didn’t happen like that, they never came in and things quietened down and we settled down to a normal routine of repairs, and still did general reconnaissance, flying out over the bay, and things like that. In the June….

Int: Were the officers you got to replace people, better, you know, like the new group captain, did you get better officers?

GA: Yes, he was, much better, I think it was Group Captain Butler who came up Kogla, that was the Catalina Squadron base, Kogla, down in the south of the island. He came up to us; he was a good officer, excellent. He started to make China Bay into a bigger station. They laid a concrete runway when we left there in the June, because it was just a grass field.

Then we moved down to a place called Katukurunda. It was about twenty three miles south Colombo. It was only a strip, being cut out of the coconut palms – quite close to the coast. Once you’d cleared the coconut palms at the far end, you were more or less over the coast. We were in billets there in a huge house, a place called Richmond Castle. All that area round there was a big rice growing area, and as you got further up, it got a bit hillier, there was rubber, a rubber area. It was a very nice place – huge grounds. It had been the home of one of the Kandian chiefs at one time, but the only snag was, a party of Australians had been there before us, and – why they’d done it, I don’t know, but when they left, they smashed the generator that they ran for the lighting, so we had no lights, apart from oil lamps, but it was very nice there. We’d still got the Fulmars, we’d got a good CO, he was like one of the boys. He used to come and have a few jars of beer with us once a fortnight. Him and the engineering officer, he used to move all round the – we were all in different rooms, so many to a room, and he used to move all round the rooms. By the time he’d finished, he was hardly in a fit state to get back to the officers’ mess, but he was a really........

Int: What was his name, d’ya know?

GA: Constantine, Squadron Leader Constantine – and the engineer officer’s name was Penial. He was a good sort too, the two of them used to come up about once a fortnight on payday. How we got this beer, we’d no NAAFI, we’d nothing. He’d heard there was a shipment of beer in, down in Colombo, so we all had a whip round, I believe, at the time, so we put so much into the kitty, or did he provide it? Somehow – he got it anyhow. He sent down for it, and brought all this beer back, and odds and ends, things that you needed, writing pads and everything else, and we ran our own canteen. What we got from that – he was a big sportsman, Conny was, we got one or two pairs of football boots, and footballs, and we ran our own football team, and he made things much better, he really got organised. But I think, whilst we were there, they decided the Fulmars were leaving us, they were going up to India, and we were having the Hurricanes from 261 Squadron. 261 Squadron were being re-equipped with Hurricane 2 C’s, which were the Cannon Hurricane, and we were taking their Hurricanes. Our pilots flew the Fulmars up to India, and came back by train and boat, and we got these Hurricanes.

We stayed there for, I think it was about a couple of months, probably a bit more, and then we moved down to Ratmalana (??), about seven miles out of...........

Int: That’d be August, or September.

GA: Yes, about August or September when we moved down to Ratmalana. We moved down there, it was about seven miles from Colombo. It was the civilian airfield for Colombo. We had a stretch down there until Christmas.

We’d nothing to do down there, apart from service our machines and standbys, because the nearest Japanese bases were on the Azores, sorry, not the – the Andamans – so we’d no real problems there, and they never sent anything over, only on the second time. We moved back up to China Bay, after Christmas, sometime.

Int: That’d be January 43.

GA: January – February 43, we moved back to China Bay.

Int: To the same place exactly?


GA: Yes, the same billets, the same place, yes. We were only there a few months, then we moved back again to Ratmalana. It was while we were at China Bay, I think it was in this period, before we moved back, we sent a detachment up to Jafna, which was in the north of the island, where all the troubles are now. I didn’t go on that, they stayed up there for a few weeks, and then came back to us. Then Seventeen Squadron came down from India to join us. We had one flight left of 273 Squadron at China Bay then, and the other flight had gone down to Ratmalana and we stayed there until 17 Squadron had got established and everything had moved down. They’d come out of Burma in 1942. They’d had a rough passage actually, a lot of them had walked out. They’d lost quite a lot in Burma. But anyway, they came down there and our flight moved back down to Ratmalana, and it was about this time.

I think we had Christmas down there in 1943, and early 1944.................

Int: So in this whole period, life was just as you described already really.

GA: Yes, a monotony really, monotony, probably in isolated places.

Int: Did your health keep up alright.

GA: Pretty good, yes, apart from one period between 1943 up at Trincomalee. Apparently, Malaria was there all the time, you used to get a very bad attack of it, and they used to become, oh very....... a tremendous amount used to spread. About once every five years they used to get it. It seemed to build up and build up, and then the fifth year, you’d get huge numbers going down with Malaria; I got Malaria there, and quite a lot of our lads, in fact twenty five percent of the squadron or more were down with Malaria.

Int: Were there any precautions, did you take quinine or anything else?

GA: No, because it was a bad thing to do actually, to take quinine because you’d got no resistance. When Malaria did strike, your body would become so used to the quinine, that it just didn’t do anything. They started doing this at one place we were at in Malaya, at that radio location station, we used to have a quinine tablet each day and one or two of the lads went down with it, and they were most annoyed, the medical authorities were, down in Singapore, because they were finding out that the quinine wasn’t working then, because the body had got used to the quinine, so we didn’t used to take that, and at that time, they hadn’t got the anti malarial prophylactics things against it.

They’d got them, but I don’t think they’d got them in any amount to dish them out, and the wards in the hospital, down in Trincomalee, they were full to overflowing, in fact, there were beds on the floor, in between beds, down the corridors and everything. It was a terrible time, that, so the M.O. decided that anyone who went down with Malaria, keep them in our own little hospital until it was absolutely full of course. They were having to turn them out at Trincomalee as fast as they could, because they were overflowing and they weren’t getting the full treatment, so the M.O. decided he’d keep them in there and we’d have the full treatment before we went on convalescent, and that’s what happened. I’d a fortnight of full treatment and went up on convalescent and I was OK, but when we got up there, there were some lads who’d only been up there a few days, and they got them on to light PT, then heavy PT, but within two or three days, the lads were just collapsing, they hadn’t had the full treatment and they were back to square one, in fact, in a worse state than before they went up. But we were all right, we got through alright up there.

Int: That was the only main health…………….

GA: We had one corporal go down in 1942, I think it was just after we got to China Bay. He went down with Typhoid, but other than that, we’d no other problems. We had cholera injections and everything there. The only snag was food at China Bay at that period, especially just before the raid and just after. It was in very short supply. I remember going four or five weeks, we never saw bread. It was all hard tack biscuits.

Int: But between 42 and 44, these problems had…………….

GA: They started to iron out a lot. I think what happened was, they got that many troops on the island that the ration problem got serious, y’know. That’s my feeling, that there was an amount of food there. I always remember the first bread we got in that bad period was from the Indian Service Corps. They used to deliver it from Trincomalee; they used to be the main rationing people. They brought this bread up and it was grey, and there were weevils in it and allsorts, but we made a real meal of it, we didn’t bother about those. We got it down and it was marvellous; we’d been on hard tack that long……………

REEL 10

A Bullfighter came down to join us. I think it was eighty seven squadron, and they hadn’t been down there long before they put another one over from the Andaman’s, the Japanese. They scrambled, I don’t know if it was one or two Bullfighters, anyhow, they shot it down. After that, there was nothing; we never got anything else over at all, so it was a very quiet period.

There was a feeling we weren’t getting anywhere, we were just stuck on the island and we thought we’d have been moving up into India, and then on to the Burma frontier.

Int: Is that what you wanted?

GA: Yes, quite a lot, especially a few of us who had been in Singapore. It was a case of, “Let’s get out own back,” but we didn’t seem to be moving. We’d had two or three different C.O.’s. Squadron Leader Constantine had left us, then we were left without a C.O. We had a flight Lieutenant acting squadron leader, who was a very nice person. He went in hospital with Malaria, he was very very ill, so we were in limbo. We didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, there was nothing happening. The person who took over whilst he was off, wasn’t a very nice person.

Int: Did the tropical conditions cause any problems with the airframes?

GA: Not with the Hurricanes, not really, they were very good. We used to have to keep the tyres covered, and everything like that, when you were out on the drome and stood.

Int: Why was that?

GA: With the heat, the pressures would build up quite a lot – those used to be kept covered.

Int: So it was more you were afraid of them bursting than melting.

GA: Yes, I think hot sun tends to perish too, gradually, otherwise, we’d no real problems.

Int: So you didn’t have much to do really.

GA: Not really; it was very very monotonous.



 

Pt 13: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7543352 

Int: Did you suffer from boredom, yourself?

GA: I don’t really think so; only during the period on the drome. You hadn’t got a lot to do, but we were close to Colombo. There wasn’t a lot in Colombo, but you could go down one or two service clubs, you could go down there, and it was a very pleasant existence, taking it all round, apart from the boredom on the drome and everything, and the feeling that the squadron wasn’t getting anywhere, and we had somebody in command whom not many people liked. I got rather disconsolate there. One or two of us did and we were waiting to see if any postings came up for India, or off the island. We could pass our time on pretty well. We’d a cricket team and a good football team. I played in the cricket side, and we were very active like that. It continued, even after Squadron Leader Constantine had left us. We’d one or two ex-professional players who’d been playing in England as professionals. Everyone seemed to be a bit fed up with this, we seemed to be a squadron in the doldrums.

Int: So what happened next, what came along…………..?

GA: They replaced our Hurricanes with Spitfire Eights. They brought these in and we had to get accustomed to servicing these and everything.

Int: How did they compare, in your view, with the Hurricane?

GA: Well, the Hurricane was a marvellous machine, but it hadn’t got the speed of the Spitfire. A lot of people seemed to think that the Spitfire won the Battle Of Britain, but when you look at the figures and everything, the Hurricanes were well in front on kills in the Battle Of Britain, but they were much slower than the Spitfire of course. They could take some punishment, the Hurricane would; the Spitfire would, but the Spitfires were much faster. These Mark Eights were very very fast. They’d canons too.

Int: When did you get them, roughly? Was that 44 then?

GA: Yeah, 1944, it would be February time, I believe, something like that, round about February. I can’t remember who the C.O. was then, but I think it was this Flight Lieutenant who was acting squadron leader. He got made up to squadron leader, but he was still ill, I believe. We still seemed to be drifting, sort of. We’d got one or two of our N.C.O.’s who had finished their time, they’d gone and we were sorry to see them go, because they were a really good crowd. They used to join in with the lads, y’know. If they could have a drink with us in our mess, they’d come and we were all in together.

Int: It had been a long time now that you’d been on this island.

GA: Yes, and that spirit seemed to drop away as we lost a lot of the old hands who’d been with us two years, who’d been through Singapore, the middle east, and had quite a lot of action out there. We seemed to be drifting and were still looking for any postings up to India. Looking back now, I know it’s easy to say this, but I ought to have realised, and the lads who were looking to move, that once we were getting Spitfires, they wouldn’t keep us on the island long, we should be off, but I got very disconsolate with things, after being – a lot of the old hands had gone, they’d served their time, and things seemed to be drifting. Then these postings came up for fitter airframes, fitter engines – I think about six volunteers wanted, so, the ones who wanted to get away, we went across to the order room and said, “Look, where is it to?” They said, “Sorry, can’t tell you.”

Well, normally, on the island, they’d tell yer straight away. Previous to this, we could – “Where is it to, is it on the island?” “Yeah, it’s down to so and so.”

“We’re not allowed to tell you this time.” So, naturally we thought, “Oh, it’s off the island.” So we said, “Right, we’ll take them.” So we did. It was a new unit. The reason they wouldn’t tell us was because it was a new unit and our repair and salvage unit, down on the south coast, at Kogla (??), the flying boat base. That was a great disappointment, but I couldn’t do anything about it, it was no use saying……….

Int: Were you attached to the squadron? What was the squadron? Was there a squadron number?

GA: 122 R.S.U. Down there, there was the 205 R.A.F. Squadron, and 413 Canadian Squadron, both with Catalinas. We got our travel warrants. When we saw those, we were flat, but we went down there, and before we formed this new unit totally, we were split up. There were other people joining from other units and so many went with 205 Squadron and people from our squadron went with the Canadian Squadron on the Catalinas, to get the know how before they form the unit completely.

Int: And did your old unit go off to India?

GA: In April, a month after I left, they got their orders to move up to India, then up to Burma. I stayed down there for twelve months, on this flying boat base.

Int: You must have been fed up, I mean, from what you’d wanted.

GA: I was, I was very disappointed.

Int: Which flying boats were they?

GA: The Catalinas, all Catalinas.

Int: What were they like to maintain?

GA: Not bad, they were very reliable, they were a good workhorse, the Catalina. After we’d had the period with the squadrons, we came back into our own hangars and everything, and formed this dispersals and maintenance unit and this repair and salvage unit, we were doing big repairs from off the squadrons, damages, and things like that, and also, we were taking in planes that had finished their life, dismantling, and things like that…………….

Int: That was planes from all over the island was it?

GA: No, that was planes from the squadron and sometimes they’d get them from elsewhere. There was a…………………..

Int: It was just Catalinas though.

GA: It was just Catalinas at the time. They’d brought a section down a month or two after, of Sunderlands, but they came onto the – they came off the water and were put in storage.

Int: So you were there for a year.

GA: I was there from April until June 1945, I think.

Int: Did anything happen, of note, while you were there?

GA: Nothing really; the only thing I can think of was, we had one period where we put one long range tank into a Catalina with a little petrol engine pump. We worked a twenty four hour stretch on that to get it ready, it was in a hurry. From what we could gather, they were flying down to Australia with that one, but we never heard anything of what happened; but course, you were never told anything, it was absolute secret, these things. And so, there was nothing really, it was just a regular come day, go day of repair………….

Int: Was there more work to do, more maintenance to do than with the squadron?

GA: Probably so, yes.

Int: Did that make it a bit more bearable?

GA: Yes, there was a bit more work, there were planes coming to you every day, there were planes coming in for dismantling, and you were always fairly well occupied. We’d a good set of N.C.O.’s. They were back to what I thought, same as we were with the old squadron. They used to mix with us, the senior N.C.O.’s did, they were a good crowd, very good crowd. Some of them had been up in Burma; we always found this, that people who’d been through the mill a little bit, seemed to get along easier and better with the other ranks, and it made things much better.

Int: what about, you’d still be there then when news came of the V.E. Day?

GA: Yes, I was there on V.E. Day.

Int: Was there a celebration?

GA: Yes, there was a celebration, we had the day off. It was not so much a celebration, it was just a day off, yer might say. We went into the town that morning. A few weeks before, an old friend of mine who lives close by, he came down with a squadron from India, with a Catalina Squadron, and he’d been talking to someone after he’d been down there a day or two, they asked him where he’d come from. He said Chesterfield, and they said, “Oh, one of our lads on the unit is from Chesterfield. He’s on the other side of the camp though.” “What’s his name?” They told him. He said, “Oh,” he sez, “a friend of mine.” He came over and we had quite a pleasant time together for the last month or so. It was nice to see him; we both went to school together at New Whittington.

Int: What was his name?

GA: Longden, Doug Longdon. Being a village, we knew each others’ families, and it was quite nice to see him. Very nice. He and I went out with one or two of the other lads to Galda in the morning and came back in the afternoon and we had quite a pleasant day there.

Int: So what about, what happened in June, where were you sent then?

GA: I was notified that I was due for the boat, to come home.

Int: Were you pleased by then, or would you have rather gone on to the final thing?

GA: Oh yes, I was getting to the pitch where I was doing anything to keep the monotony and, not so much homesickness, well, I think we were ready for home after four years.

Int: You’d not had any leave home.

GA: Nothing. They’d just started this python scheme; anyone who’d been out for eighteen months was due for a couple of months at home.

Int: Did you get letters from home?

GA: Oh yes, they came through pretty frequently. Yes, that wasn’t too bad. But after four years, it’s a drag.

Int: So what happened then?

GA: We got notification that we should be going down to Colombo on such and such a date, and from there, into transit camp to await embarkation for home. I got a shock there. We were in the naval transit camp, and when the day came for us to move onto the boat – we moved into Colombo first of all, to air headquarters in Colombo. We paraded there and they started to call the names out, and my name wasn’t on, so that was rather a shock. I waited until they called them all out and I went out and saw the sergeant. I sez, “My name’s not been called out.” He said, “Well, are you down for embarkation corporal?” I said, “That’s why I’ve been sent.” I said, “I’ve done four years.” “Just a minute.” They’d missed it. It was there. There was a huge sigh of relief, and that same afternoon, we boarded the Durban Castle and that evening, we set sail; late afternoon, before dark, we set sail, and we had a comfortable trip – well, I say comfortable, very few people slept down on the decks because you’d been running troops for that long, she was full of bugs. It was terrible really, the amount of bugs on that boat.

We came up though the Indian Ocean and we were into the monsoon, and it was very very rough, in fact, some of the lads – I always remember a Welsh boy, he was going home on this after eighteen months on python leave, and it blew and blew for five days, and there were lots of them sick for five days. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, I thought they were dying, some of them. Oh, they were terrible. He swore that if they said he had to go back by boat, he’d desert. He was in a state. Yer get seasickness – I’ve never had it properly, seasickness, but some people got it, and a couple of days, and they were out of it but some of ‘em never picked up. They were there five days and they were just there. They daredn’t leave the side of the toilets, they were in a right state.

We came straight through. We stopped in the southern end – Port Suez, the southern end of the canal, until we got the word to move through, and then, straight up. We never got off the boat until we got to Southampton. We came straight through the Mediterranean and home.

Int: Were you demobilised quickly?

GA: No, it was 1946, a year after.

Int: What were you doing for the year?

GA: I was fortunate, I got posted up to Lichfield, which was nice and handy for home. I got most weekends at home from there.

Int: And which squadron were you with?

GA: It wasn’t – I can’t remember the number, that was another maintenance unit with maintenance on most aircraft, but a lot of the time, we did work on Liberators.


 

Pt 14: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A7543415 

Int: Were you glad to be back?

GA: Oh yes, very glad.

Int: Did you want to be demobbed as well, or were you quite happy working………….

GA: No, the sooner I could get demobbed …………

Int: Was there any unrest about the delay?

GA: No, not really. We knew we were given a number and we would go out with demob number so and so.

Int: Did you think the system was fair?

GA: Yes, I think it was, and if, I’d have pushed at work, my pre war job, they probably could have got me released, but sometimes, it’d take months and months anyhow, to come through, so I thought, “Oh well, I’ll hang on and take it as it comes.”

Int: When you came out, when were you actually demobilised?

GA: July 1946 – June 1946, sorry.

Int: And did you get your old job back?

GA: Yes, I went down, yes, the job was there, yes.

Int: Had your experiences affected you at all, do you think?

GA: It probably had, things had been quiet for so long, y’know, settled down in my mind and everything, and the only thing was, if things used to get difficult at times, it was difficult to settle down. This was the real effect; I’d got itchy feet. I think the wife’d tell ya I’d want to be moving about and get back to doing plenty of walking, and if I couldn’t get away, y’know, I remember I just couldn’t settle properly.

An advert came up for men for the South African Airforce. Why I did it, I don’t know because I knew the situation out there, and I knew that if Smuts got pushed out, it could get worse, but I think I was so unsettled and disturbed, that I’d like to have got back onto aircraft again. I wrote, but they said they were only taking senior N.C.O.’s, but I was a corporal, and he was sure that they’d be opening it up to junior N.C.O.’s and probably other ranks, and they’d be in touch with me at a future date. And they were, they were good to their word, they did contact me and said it was opened up, and if I wished to apply, I could do it, but in the meantime, we’d had a family and I’d gradually settled down. I’d still got itchy feet and wanted to go here and there, but nevertheless, the best thing I can do is settle down.

I settled down for a while and then there was the Berlin Airlift, and I still wanted to get back on aircraft. An advert came up for, I think it was the Lancashire Aircraft Corporation, and I wrote to them. They wanted fitters, airframe fitters, engine fitters, and I wrote to them. They arranged an interview. I think it was Bovingdon, it was somewhere down by Hemel Hempstead anyhow, at a drome down there. I went down and the senior engineering officer interviewed me. In the mean time, I’d had a talk to one of their engineers who’d been out on the job, and I said, “What’s the situation like?” and he explained it. I said, “What’s the money like?” He said, “Yer can make as much as yer like, but we’re working all hours. We’re out on – probably planes are coming back from Berlin and dropping down with trouble at different airfields, and we’re out there day and night.” He said, “There’s plenty of money to be made.” I said, “What’s the living accommodation?” He said, “Well, huts, same as you were in the forces.” I said, “Is there no chance of getting any lodgings and bringing the wife and family?” He said, “They’re all full down here,” he sez, “there’s nothing.”

Then I began to think, and I went in for the interview, and I’d got my discharge book and everything. He asked me what I’d worked on. He sez, “When can you join us Mr. Adams?” I said, “Well, can you give me time to think about it, because it’s accommodation, from what I can gather, that’s the problem.” He said, “Well, it is,” he said, “it’s quite good, what it is, but there’s no housing or anything.”

I thought about it back on the train and by the time I got back, I thought I was going to be worse off than on a low wage at work, because the wages were very low. So I decided, no.


Int: And that was it?

GA: And that was it.

Int: Thank you very much.
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