WarGen interview

 This is Kate James for WarGen.  Today is Saturday 20th May 2017 and I shall be speaking with Frederick Robert Stevens in his hometown of Balcombe and we will be discussing Fred’s experiences during the Second World War. During which in 1942 you turned 18 and joined the Royal Air Force and became a Navigator Officer and saw active service in Burma, Singapore and India. Firstly, I would like to thank you today for taking the time to share with us your experiences and I suppose we start asking if you will share with us your name, rank and serial number from your time.

OK so we’ve got it here Fred left as a Flt Lt

You wanted the Flt Lt first.  It’s 1608734.

So first of all, Fred shall we find out a bit you, so when and where were you born?

In Balcombe where I still am and where my father was born.

About your parents.  Did your parents or any of your relatives serve in the First World War?

My dad he was most upset when I told… he volunteered at 15 for the First World War, and when I told him I volunteered he went berserk. Cause he knew what he went through. But I did hear later, he worked on the railways, I heard from his people he worked with that when he heard I got a commission he was the proudest person in the land.

Because you were very young when you were commissioned?

Well yeah, I wasn’t very old. (Fred was 19)

And was your father in the Army or the Navy?

He was in the Army.  He was at Loos. He suffered. I don’t think he was injured but he suffered a lot. (He was gassed at Loos)

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

I had one brother two years older.  He served in north Africa.  He was in the signals and he had a terrible time because North Africa was one of these places where they would gain ground and then they would people taken away and they would have to fight the same ground all over again. But he did go across north Africa and up through Italy on the east side.

So quite different wars you and your brother. Did you have any sisters?

My sister was two years younger and was in the Land Army.  The Land Headquarters in England was in Balcombe. We worked there for a while and then she was transferred to London for the Headquarters as the Land Army girls in London.

And so, as a child you had some links with the military? You joined the Air Training Corps?

Oh yeah that was.  I joined the Scouts first but I liked the ATC uniform much better and while there you learnt about navigation and that’s what I decided I wanted to be from the ASTC.  And I had a good report when I volunteered and that put me through pretty fast.  I went for my attestation in, I’ll say Cambridge.  I can’t remember whether it was Cambridge or Oxford for a I went to Oxford a lot of time playing cricket.

So, you are a keen cricketer?

Oh yeah. I had some good.  I wasn’t a master batsman but I was a fiery Fred.

And your other interests growing up? I believe you are a good singer?

I was in the choir yes.  I had a good treble voice. But not my brother had a better tenor voice.  My voice did not break properly. The Balcombe choir sang at the Crystal Palace the night it burnt down in 1936.  We were coming away, it was a terrible hot day and we could see the flames coming up.

As a young man do you remember the build up to the war?  What are your memories from that time?

Well I know my dad made an underground shelter.  Being on the railways he got railway sleepers so it was a really good shelter.  As soon as the air raid went we used to go down the shelter and when it let we used to go back to the house.  But one night they forgot I was still down there.  So, they woke up and said ‘Where’s Fred’ and they came down and I was still asleep in the shelter.

Do you have any memories of the battle of Britain?

Not particularly.  My memory is the doodlebugs coming along there.  They used to come up the valley between Ardingly and Balcombe there’s quite a big valley they used to follow the railway line more or less. The railways line is just down there.  There used to be a battery firing at these things and the shells would zip over the area.

Before the outbreak of the war was it one of your first jobs was collecting rents on your bicycle?

My first job was Attingly Estate Agents in Haywards Heath.  They were short of staff and I was only young but we had to go around with people wanting to buy houses. We used to go in their car but that soon… Living just above us, the shop, was a couple from Germany, they were Jews and they worried about what was going on.  And I had already did a course of typewriting and shorthand and so I was able to help them.

So did you help them write letters?

 Yes

For business or for them worried about relatives.

Yes, and I was just helping them.

And were you aware of why they would be worried as a young man?

Well they said they were worried and they told me their families were there and they were worried about them, but you didn’t realise how grave it was because we were still young.

And then you joined your father on the railway?

No… the next job was because I was in the ATC I had my first flight with the ATC at the old Gatwick. But after the Estate Agents I went to the old airport as a progress chaser for the people repairing aircraft and I had to make sure all the different people had the pieces they needed to repair.  It was called a progress chaser. But of course, while we there they were having the air raids and we had to get out quick and go in the woods on the other side of the railway

But then as I say there was a high-powered worker on the railways and they were so short of staff that he said ‘why don’t you go to headquarters and so I did.  He got me this job straight away. And this was in the underground control at Redhill.

And that was supporting the war effort?

 Yeah oh yeah.  They were connected with a detachment from the War Office that were at Dorking at that moment.  They used to phone up ‘What’s the score’ In the end you got so rattled at what they were asking you had planes shooting up the trains and they would ask what caused the holes in the roof.  You would get so rattled I said ‘Rats’.  I got hauled over the coals for that. But you had the whole railway under there. The drivers, the guard, rolling stock, men all about.

Were you there until you volunteered

Yes, until I was released.  I used to have to go to Brighton at nights underneath the station.  They were so short of staff you would do a shift at Redhill and you would go on to Brighton underneath the railway station.

And what were you doing?

Still reporting.

Were any of your family in the Home Guard at all?  Those who were too old to volunteer for active service?

My dad was in the Home Guard

What made you join up?

As a youth living in a village you did all the things in the years before and when I saw the uniform the ATC wore I preferred that and I joined the ATC in Haywards Heath and they were the ones who pushed me forward and I got good support.  I could not attend regularly as I was still on the railways doing shift work but they explained all that.  Eventually I went to Cambridge for my attestation and you done everything you said you have.

So that was when you turned 18?

Yes.

And you chose the RAF because of the ATC.  What we will do now is talk about your training to become a navigator officer.

Well I’ll take you through.  We had to report to Regents Park Zoo from all over the country.  We ate with the animals more or less.  But to tell you something funny being in a village you didn’t know much about life and when they got to the Officer in charge ‘You’ll notice a lot of young ladies outside’ So someone ‘why can’t we talk to them?’ It showed what a sheltered life we had.

I imagine you had a bit of a life education when you joined the military?

Well yeah.  So anyway, from there we went up to Scarborough.  That’s where the initial training was.  There’s a picture of them.  There you really had a good time but you had to learn a lot.  Being Scarborough there’s 2 bays there and I went to the lower one and I got badly burnt in the sun and I was almost threatened to be thrown out.

Did you find the training hard when you joined the military?

Not really. Because before the school down here (in Balcombe) was really good.  I did do courses with Sheffield, a correspondence course.  I did quite well.  Maths I had never heard of down there (at Balcombe school).  I glad I had (on his correspondence course and at the ATC) as we didn’t have computers so you had to have these other methods, but the training we had we had at the ATC.  I had my first flight in a Tiger Moth.  We did all sorts of things; aircraft recognition and they gave me a really good report.

So, did you find then that when you joined the RAF and you were up in Scarborough you had a good start compared to some?

I think so, well I must have

Then from Scarborough you headed over to Canada.

Yes, before that we went over to Manchester, Heaton Park.  That was the Assembly area.  Heaton Park, Manchester, was known as the wettest place in the world. But I did go over to Canada.  We set off in SS Andes but it was so badly, fully loaded that troops hanging from ceilings on the hammocks, and the bottom part, I was unfortunately on the bottom part and once we started going it was really rough seas and you would go up – this is the day of the U Boat – go up north, quite cold and the next day down in warmer as you were zig zagging across.  But the worst part is lot of people were seasick and if you were one of those down below it was not very nice and I spent nearly all on my time on deck.  Once that happened I could not stick that I spent all my time on deck and I enjoyed it then.

And were there any civilians on the boat?

No but we were supposed to go into Montreal but because of this zig zagging when we got to the other side we were actually going into New York. So, we went up to New York and we had to get a train to Monkton, which is not very far.  But when I got to Monkton the first people I saw were from Balcombe. The Governor General of Canada, the Earl of Athlone, who lived up the road here and Princess Alice.  Remarkable.

Was this your first time leaving England

Yes, but I would not want to do that journey again!

So, we are in the United States and you are heading north to…

British Canada and from there we had to go to, I can’t remember the name but the prairies just beyond Edmonton.

So, you went to the Canadian Navigation School in Rivers.

Yes.

Manitoba.

Rivers, that’s it yes.  That’s right, Rivers, Manitoba and that’s all gone now but it was a fantastic place, the railway ran right beside it but at Rivers when you’re on the prairie the navigation it was ideal because there was nothing there so you had to do navigation.  All there was there was a few silos on the ground.  I enjoyed that.

And it was part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan so where were the other trained from around the World.

 Oh, I think some went to South Africa or somewhere, you couldn’t really train a navigator here.  Well not on long range flying.

What was the main training that you did at Rivers?

All the initial training, you know, knowing the weather and all these sorts of things it was just making sure that we knew how to navigate.

So, lots of classroom based training?

Yeah, we had flying as well.

And what planes were you flying in?

I think we were doing it, I can’t remember it wasn’t Dakotas but it was some special plane.  I can’t remember what.

And were all the instructors Canadian or from different places?

My instructor was a Canadian, a very nice person, yeah, he was Canadian but yeah you had to learn all about the weather the difference.  You couldn’t get very high in the planes but you did get different wind speeds at different heights and that sort of thing but you had to bring up your main navigation best because there were no other aids out there, no aids at all.

How did they recognise the end of this training, was there a parade?

Oh yes, a parade we had a big do that was 2 courses together and it was then that you knew who had got permissions.

So that’s when you found out on the parade that you had become an officer.  And I believe you weren’t able to get your Officers uniforms straight away.

No, we had a summer-ish uniform out there, it was…. I have a photo somewhere.

Did they denote that you were Officers by a white armband?  Was that a common practice or just for this.

I think out of, there were just 6 Officers out of all the lot.

So, a big achievement then, brilliant!  And so, from Rivers you then had some time to have some recreation before you then went to the next place.

Not really, a friend of mine, he had an Uncle in the north of Canada, we called there on the way over to… Vancouver Island, we called there and that was a really funny time because we used to go to a cinema there and we found out later that the person who showed us into the cinema was a relation of my wife!

Haven’t I got one in my uniform?

And then did you also attend a friends wedding, one of the chaps met a girl and got married on his way, during his training?

I cant remember.

So after your leave you then headed back to Vancouver Island.

Yeah thats right yeah we went by train.

Through the Rockies?

Yeah there was one railway went one way and another that goes down the hill.  Banff.

Banff yes thats right, you did the beautiful trip through the Rockies and now you were an officer did you feel that you had a first class ticket or were you treated…

I think you just got what you were given… it may have been just service.  I dont know.

And so what was the training that you did on Vancouver Island?

Oh that was fantastic because (?) was a definite Canadian airport and that was pretty good.

And overall looking back on your training do you think it prepared you for when you actually went over to Asia.

Yes, I think so yes.  Its a bit frightening the first training flights you do because you’re flying out over the Pacific and you’re out for about 8 hours flying around.  We never had computers and that sort of thing, the fact that I did a lot of this extra training at college now I could work it out better than quite a lot.  Th way that flights were trained, you went out on these different jaunts you flew at different heights because you have different wind speeds at different heights.  Thats why they do that but they were well planned because we always ended up on the north of America.  We always ended up there right on the Canadian border.

And what planes were you in?

I cant remember.

But not the planes you eventually went to war on so different planes.  So not dakotas when you were in Canada.

No.

And then you came back to England and you…

Yeah we came back, the flight back was much better… not the plane… I mean the ship was much better coming back but when we got back to Liverpool it was haymaking time and off course they were so short of staff we had 2 days before we got our crew together to fly to Karachi we were sent down to this farm to help with the haymaking but they didnt tell us that when we got on top of the hay rick there was these Land Army girls out there and to put it crudely they used to take the piss out of us.

Were they quite robust?

Yeah they saw us as little boys, unluckily there was no real escape unless we had our parachute silk.

And before you went to war did you get a chance to see your family after your time in Canada?  I seen one of the letters that your parents received from you.

I must have because I did more training in…

Leicester?  So after Vancouver you did your glider towing training in Leicester and then Glider snatch in flight training…

Yes that was horrendous.

Yes it sounds it, what does that entail?

That was a new thing they were thinking of using in Burma but when you think of what happened… what happens.  I’ll let you read that.

Fred is showing me in one of his books about the snatch.

There is a rope between two posts and the plane had a hook and it would dive down and the hook would catch hold of the rope and you would take of, more or less  stall before you were airborne, they did have lots of accidents to start with but they used to make the navigators and crew sit in the aircraft just to get used to it but the noise when the thing that took the rope, that made a terrible noise.

So you wouldn’t recommend that training then?

Oh no.  The best part about that training is that it was down in Somersets which is scrumpy country, thats when we were introduced to scrumpy.  We got cycles and if you cycled after you had a scrumpy you got no control over it at all so if you went down a hill and there was a corner at the bottom you went straight through the hedge.

So I think we are in 1945 now and you are about to go to your first assignment at the end of your training.  Do you remember how you felt at all?

We flew to Karachi, we flew via Italy, we went over Mount Vesuvius which you werent supposed to do but we went right over it and looked down.  But we landed in Italy, we did have one night in Rome.  That was quite something.

Were you scared going to war?

I dont know, you were so young you didn’t… if I was scared I wouldnt have volunteered.  I think my Dad was more scared.

So your first job was with 31 Squadron, where was this job and what did you do?

Well we, as I said when we’re going out there we landed at Karachi from there we flew onto Ramree Island which is on the west coast of Burma, actually in the old days it was a prison island because you couldn’t escape from there.  It was captured by the American and British navies because that would be the nearest point to where the fighting was in Burma so you could get more trips in from there than other points of Burma.  South of Burma was crocodile infested but the north part of the island was just right for swimming and that.  We used to have to fly at least 3 flights a day and they used to last 2 or 3 hours and in the monsoon during that it was absolutely terrible because you the monsoon you had got build up in the cloud quite early and you didnt used to get one cloud burst you used to get two joined together so once you got through one you got to enjoy another one straight away.

And you were dropping supplies for the ground troops is that the sorties you were doing?

Yeah, the doors were taken if the Dakotas, they had no back doors and the thing is we didnt have enough staff to have dispatchers so the navigator and another used to have to go back.

So how many pilots were there for a Dakota?

Two.

And then there is the navigator.

Yes a Scotsman was the captain, Irish chap was the co-pilot, the wireless op was Welsh and I had to keep them in order being the Englishman.  We were a good crew.

And did you stay with the same crew during your time in Burma?

In Burma yes, even right down to Indonesia because the Japs were still fighting after Burma.  Some of the Japs were still fighting on the way back they wouldn’t give in although the end of the war in November some of them when we used to land in Malaya would act as ground crew for us but we had to collect all the POW’s all over south-east Asia.  We had to collect the Dutch women and children because they were captured before they got out and we also had to fly out all the Japanese comfort girls.

And where were they mainly from?

They were from Malaya.

And so from Burma you went to Singapore or Malaya?

We went to Singapore then down to Jakarta which is the main capital of Indonesia.

And so what are your memories of your time with your Squadron at war?

Oh we were a happy gang.  We were all well trained and you knew that if something happened you knew it wasn’t someones fault because you were well trained.

Any particular flights that you remember from your time during the war?

I remember quite a few mainly to do with the monsoon flying.  Every now and then a crew was released to go up to Calcutta to collect a good feed for the Sunday so we used to go up there to Calcutta and we used to be in a big room you could sleep about 6 to a bed but you went up there to collect chickens in a big straw cage so they were bulging out the door, fattened up but on the way back we ran into a massive storm so they said go back and see what’s happened.  I wish I hadnt there wasnt a chicken in sight!  I just wondered what was happening underneath, any ships and these oven ready chickens dropping.  We weren’t very popular because we had nothing, not one chicken left.

Was that the last time they sent you?  And what were the downtime between sorties like, how did you relax?

Well you had an officers mess and you went swimming and that, we played football and that, the air crew usually beat the other people which they didnt like.  On the island I lost another one of my wisdom teeth.  I lost one in Canada, they wouldn’t come through and both grew backwards under the skin and if you let them go on they collect poison and they could kill you.  So I had one out in Canada and the other one out in Burma but we only had one nurse as far as I know.  I only saw one.  We used to go swimming on the north coast, you couldnt go down south, there was lovely swimming there but everyone of course bathed in the nude you didnt have swimming costumes and every so often at a certain time this nurse used to go along the back of us all and the cry would go up ‘She hasn’t made up her mind yet’.

Poor girl.  Were there any Burmese locals who worked with you on the camp?

I think there was yes, bound to have been.

So we talked about funny incidents, is there any sort of tragic incidents that you remember during your…

Well not affecting me but we once lost two planes all due to weather.

The weather was almost your biggest enemy.

Thats where a raft would come in handy, I do think they rescued some of them but I dont know if its a true story but we lost two in one day.

That must have been pretty bad for everybody concerned.  What did you think of the Dakota planes and the equipment within them?

Well there wasnt much equipment but they were fantastic planes.  As I say there was nothing too them, there were 2 lots of Dakotas some where troop carriers and they were bigger but I was never on those, I was on the supply drops but to get rid of the load on arrival at the dropping zone you used to because there was no doors hang onto a rope and crawl near the door on your bum and hold onto the rope kick it out with your feet.

Sounds pretty dangerous and obviously you liked your uniform when you joined the military, did the uniform change significantly when you were in Asia?  What did you wear on a day to day basis?

I cant remember what I was wearing.

Was it very humid, hot?

I cant remember.

Must have been ok then?

I presume we had a light weight uniform.

(unrelated chat)

Who was the Viceroy when you were…

Wavell, he was the last one.  People say Mountbatten was the last one, he wasnt a Viceroy, he was only there for a few weeks.

(Daughter) That’s not true Dad he was there, he was there for longer than you think.  I looked it up.

So can you remember where you were when you heard the news that the war had ended?

I wasn’t flying I must have been on the ground somewhere probably in the mess but I can’t remember any great celebrations.  if someone got out out of hand in the mess to keep them quiet they used to roll them up in the mat with just their head showing.

Do you remember were there parties and…

No, dont remember any parties…

And obviously you were quite busy helping with the repatriations at the end of the war and then you…

I don’t think I’ve ever been demobbed as you should be as a VR.

And then Singapore to Delhi you went?

We went from Jakarta up to Singapore then up to Delhi but I lost my crew in Singapore.

And so what was your job in Delhi?

In Delhi, I worked for the Viceroy flying all his cabinet that used to come out, the missions from colonial people.

Busy time for India wasn’t it as they were moving towards partition.

They never told you their names or anything but we knew one name.  A little Welsh man you couldnt mistake who he was.

Any fond memories of what you got up to in your time in India?

We went up on the elephant ride into the foothills of the Himalayas and then just as we used to go shooting here they used to have people set out at wide intervals while they did a tiger shoot but you were sitting up in trees not on the ground and you couldnt see the chap next to you but you could hear them getting nearer to you but you were getting a bit worried and then just as they got near me a peacock flew out from underneath me and I could have hit the ground!!  They did get one tiger, I couldn’t have done it but the elephant ride going up there was the worst thing because you were going like this all the time and you could see the (?) with the big thing on his hand with a big spike hitting the elephant on the ear which way to go, it didnt hurt them but you weren’t used to that, they got thick skulls and whichever side they hit the elephant used to go.

How long were you in India for?

I came home…

You got promoted to Fl Lt in India?

Yeah thats why I was navigator for the Viceroy.

And so in 1947…

In the log book someone had signed it above average navigator VIP work.  Thats why I got the job but I couldnt understand as I knew nothing about this or how they got my log book.  I couldn’t understand why I was split up from my crew I didnt have time to exchange addresses or anything.

Were you able later to get back in touch with your crew after the war?

Well I tried too but I had lost, I saw something, I had one letter from my Irish one and he wrote and told me that the pilot was working for BA in Scotland and he was working for the Irish now and he said we would try and get in touch and we can have a meeting in London but I lost his letter but I found it later, we never did meet up.  I don’t know if he is still alive or not.

Youve got your wonderful memories and so what happened when you came back to the UK, you left the military?

When I was serving in India I had a letter to my dad from the railway saying we want you to come back on the railway and if so you will be permanent staff and you owe so much money for your pension.  I think some people dont know where to get off.  I told my Dad to pay it and Im glad he did because it helped my pension a lot.

You clearly were good with numbers.

Yes I went down there.

So you went back to the railway and…

I couldnt do all the jobs I wanted to do because I wasn’t allowed to go but I was on the operating sign dealing with engineering works and new services and all that palava but I wasnt allowed near the track to go out to the (?) because I used to pull anything I had (?) and I would go along and hit the ground within seconds and I had several goes and I had to be brought home and they used to push me up, this was after Nancy died and they used to push me up the stairs and I had to sleep in an absolutely dark room not a peep of light until it went.

So this ear injury was sustained during your time in Asia?

Well it was partly caused by that I didnt have many years when I was flying.  This all happened after, a burst eardrum.  It’s just got a big hole there and thats where my skin cancer started.

From exposure in Asia as well?

Well I dont know.

Fred is just showing me some of his memorabilia.

Thats the operation. Look, look at that!  They couldn’t sew it together they had to have metal clips, that was two years long.  That was done at Brighton he was fantastic.

So your daughter was telling me that the doctor thinks the exposure to the elements, the hot weather during your youth may have contributed to it.

Well I was always very bare but I was always keen on gardening and I suppose that is part of it but it really came out through my ear.  When I came back I was first seen by East Grinsted hospital the place where they did surgery for burnt air crew.  I was there but I was ticking along all right but then I went to the doctor once I realised I had a big purple patch on my ear and I didnt like that and I went down to the surgery, ‘Oh give him some cream for it’, so I got in touch with ? and she got me to go and see East Grinsted and within a short time he said we cant do any more for you and he sent me to Brighton so that saved my life.  The Dr that sent me to get more cream is the boss of the surgery down there.  One of the owners.  If she ever turned up there I would have words.  If I go down I like to see the nurse.  You get more sense out of the nurse than some of these doctors.  If I am really worried about something I ask Robert as he gives me a straight answer.  He thinks Im (?) with the radiotherapy because I had 40 radiotherapys.. 20 after each and if I get worried I ask Richard.  Being a Yorkshireman he is pretty straight forward.

You get a good answer, so you’ve alluded to Nancy, so you met your wife after the war?

Yes that was brilliant. Hadnt been home long, a couple of days and my two pals, twins they lived on the estate as well they said we are all going to a dance at the next village and why dont you come with us so I said yeah I will come. So we went to this dance, nothing special and we had a good dance but when we got outside this dance there was a group of girls from (?) there and we ordered the same taxi, it was a big taxi it was really old fashioned so they said whats going to happen, so there we were, boys get in first and the girls sit on your lap and the one that sat on my lap I had never seen before but was the one I married.  And she wasn’t a Balcombe girl she was a nurse and she was a patient from Balcombe had a lot to do with her.  Nancy was a very good nurse and said I have a weekend of and she said what are you doing with it?

I dont know, so she said come home with me so she did and that is where she met the Balcomb girls and that is how she got… before that she had been a kitchen maid in the nursery for really rich people.

I believe also not long after returning to civilian life you maintained your links through the Balcombe British Legion.

When I got back Balcombe had 155 full members First World War and Second World War, l;ots of officers and colonels and well, Earl of Athlone he was the chief one but when I got back they didnt have a secretary because no one would do it.  155/

How did they convince you?

Railroaded.  My pals Tom and Will they said come to a meeting with us.  So I did and when we got to the election of officers everyone in the room hands up, he will do it.  I hadn’t heard anything about it.

You obviously liked it though because you did it for a while.

Well I said I would do it for a year but I did it for a long time and i went from secretary to vice chairman, chairman and I still belong to it now.

So you were a chairman in the 80’s, 1981 you became chairman.

The legion was doing more in Balcombe than anybody, we had our football team our shooting team, we had to organise all that.

Were there any other veterans from Burma in the Balcombe British Legion.

There may have been one but I cant remember him being in the Legion.  I did meet someone out there, he lived on the outskirts of Balcombe.  When we were collecting these prisoners of war there was some of them on a little Island which is now a big holiday place when I was… we were going through these woods to pick up these (?) and I had got through the other side and someone shouted Hello Fred and it was a bus driver that used to be on the route between Haywards Heath and Turners Hill.  But how did he know me in an officer’s uniform and all that time ago.  An old friend..

Crazy but must have been nice to meet someone from home.  So you did quite a lot with the legion.

Yes, we started the flower show and fete but in those days you couldnt get a marquee so the two twins were big in the scouts and they went round the scout troops collecting the redundant canvas that wasnt being used and we used to have them up in the recreation room sewing all this canvas together to make, because we could get the poles for the tent from the estate but we used to have good evenings up there sewing all these things together.  But it didnt last because being old canvas as soon as there was a storm, yeah we had a storm one night before our big flower show and fete and it was absolutely ripped to pieces so we had to transfer everything to the Victory Hall which is a big place but we had some fun sewing them together because the ones doing the sewing were mainly Naval and they had a few stories.

More recently in 2005 you took part in the VJ 70 celebrations up at Horse Guards with your grandson Sam.

Yeah he was very good, he was excellent, I really enjoyed it.  I tell you when we got to London Bridge, we had to get a taxi to Horse Guards Parade but all the London Taxi drivers, they were at every London depot and they gave their services free, we had a free taxi drive and we got and started walking and Sam was always behind me but I used to climb up on the railings and I was shaking hands with babies!

Ive seen some lovely photos.  Also that year you had the 100th reunion of your squadron and you went up to the National Arboretum.  Did they unveil a plaque for the squadron?

They had a stone already there but at the end of the service they had a fly past and the last plane to go in the flypast, guess what plane it was?

A Dakota!

Yes, so I went out into the middle of all of them and said ‘Waheeeey’.

Amazing absolutely amazing.

But the squadron commander at the Arboretum, he heard what I had done and actually came over and talked to me for a long time.

Some members of the squadron came to your 90th birthday I believe.

Yes, serving members came down to give him a signed…

I didnt know about this, she arranged it!

Fantastic.  And has the uniform changed much since you were serving, is that similar to the uniform you had?

No, very different now.  You still keep in touch with them don’t you?

Yes so its great that all these links still maintain.

It was a major party.

I heard, well we are sort of coming to the end so I suppose what would be nice for people who are listening to get a sense of is how your experiences as a young man during the war how you perhaps feel it has shaped your life.

Well it’s bound to have done really, but it never shook my love of gardening.  I’ve always loved gardening, even when I didnt feel all that well I could go out to the garden and feel well.  I’ve always done that.  I’ve always had a good garden vegetables and fruit.

And I suppose being part of the legion you maintained a link with the military.

Well yes I’ve always, I still get all their annual newsletters, quite a good last one.  I hear from the Burma Star  Association and I also get 4 newsletters from my squadron.

And you’ve actually been back to where you were during the war you went on a trip to Asia.

Yeah, she had been trying to get me to go out to where I served in Burma and I was like I don’t want to go out there and then she found a cruise that started at Singapore and went to all the places I went to after the war.  So mind you she did it for her own good, every day she would disappear at 6 in the morning and would go cycling, she was really fit when she done that.  It was a good trip though.

And I suppose you know what will be really nice now if we take some time to go through the medals and photos.

Interview ends.

 

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