Schoolboy wartime memories of Chalton, Bedfordshire
People in story: Mr. Gerald How and Mr. John Jordan
Location of story: Chalton and Colmworth, Bedfordshire
Part One — Evacuees at school, the local Civil Defence and the construction of Tempsford airfield
Part one of an oral history interview conducted with Mr. Gerald How by Jenny Ford on behalf of Bedford Museum.
“I lived the village of Chalton which is between Moggerhanger and Blunham and I was the youngest of quite a large family – of twelve, my father being a market gardener in the village. I was eleven years old when war broke out. I remember that very clearly because my eldest sister she was very friendly with the daughter of the landlord of ‘The Guinea’ public house at Moggerhanger, Phyllis, we were walking up there that evening, the old village fella leaning over his gate. As a matter of fact he used to cut my hair and the barn that he used to cut my hair in still stands to this day opposite ‘The Guinea’ on the Sandy Road, on the corner there. He was leaning over the gate he said to us, ‘Oh well, we are at war with Germany now’ and that was the first I heard of it which was very frightening, scary to us. We just didn’t know what was going to happen in the coming years really. We’d heard rumours, what have you and reports but life had to go on.
And then from then on we had of course the evacuation of the London children down the village which didn’t go off too well actually because there was always a bit of jealousy between the local children and the London children. I would say they came in about 1941/42 time, about a year after the outbreak of war and the bombing started in London. They found it very difficult coming from London to live with country families, a different style of living altogether. I mean some of them were very poorly looked after children, coming from London and they were put with people, sometimes parents that weren’t all that good at looking after children, a bit strict some of them were.
Occasionally there were the odd fights in the playground, sometimes with sticks and what have you, it was quite a battle! We shared the school, Moggerhanger County Council village school. It was a big school, this was during the war of course and I would say that there would be about 30 children, probably 30 to 40 children. They came from the village and that included the evacuees as well of course. It was supposed to be one of the prettiest schools in Bedfordshire. It had white painted walls and that and gardens. It is a very, very pretty school.
The evacuees were billeted with people in the village, different people in the village. The story goes that Miss Church, the evacuated schoolteacher, as she was then, then she married this Army chappie and became Miss Rowe but she lived with a gentleman and his wife and family and they had an outside toilet. And apparently he wasn’t too particular so the story goes so she had a bit of a difficult time coming from London and they were a country family.
Of course we all carried our gas masks in the little cardboard boxes and the string. We had to take those to school with us and hang them on the hooks where we hung our clothes and then every so often we had gas mask drill. You always carried your gas mask which were horrible to wear. Very tight around the cheeks, nasty things but you get used to it. I remember that. Talking about gas masks I remember them being delivered in an open lorry in the village and us children helping to unload these gas masks into the big house, Chalton House.
But life was very exciting during the war for young people who were not totally involved with it. Because most of the able-bodied village men were called up straight away in 1939, 1940 to go into the Army. I remember the Army trucks coming round and collecting the local villagers at the cross roads at Moggerhanger there with their kit and stuff.
Another thing that impressed me mostly during the war were the searchlights. Because we had one at Willington, Vic Davison who was the Commanding Officer of the Home Guards that I was telling you about, he had a searchlight battery in his field behind his farm for a time before it moved to a site on the Willington/Great Barford road. They moved it down there later on and there again us young boys we would go down on our cycles, look around it and they were quite powerful searchlights and that was the nearest one to us at that time, they were manned by Army personnel. They had for detecting the sound of the aircraft – they had like four big trumpet horns. I don’t know how it actually worked but they picked up the sound and there would an Officer or a Senior NCO who would sit in a little swing chair with his binoculars, looking up — this is at night time to see if the search lights had engaged an aircraft. Because you think, there’d probably be 20 more searchlights around the area. Some further afield, in the distance. But it was quite an impressive sight. There was just one single searchlight and they’d probably ten miles apart, dotted around the countryside. We used to sit out, at nigh time on the grass verge outside the house at Chalton there and looking up at the skies admiring the searchlights waving around the skies and engaging the aircraft. Sometimes you’d see an aircraft glow in a cluster of searchlights and sometimes friendly aircraft and occasionally the enemy aircraft. I don’t ever remember any ack ack guns at all. Where the guns where, I don’t know. Probably assisting the fighters really, to see the aircraft and engage on them. Oh, yes there were fighter stations around. But that was quite an impressive sight.
Before I came into Bedford I went into lodgings for a spell with a local farmer and then I went onto painting and decorating for what was know as the ‘Land Settlement Association’ at Wyboston. We used to cycle out there which was quite a journey, something like 10 or 12 miles and painting and decorating the greenhouses and houses and what have you. I remember cycling home several times from Wyboston and you would always meet a RAF truck coming out from Tempsford with a big light on it, it’s indicator lamp – I forget what they’re called. But they used to take them every night somewhere as a beacon light on a mobile trailer. And I remember saying we would meet this truck going out, out into the fields there somewhere away from the airfield.
I think another one of my memories was the first 1000 Bomber raid. Because I remember that evening looking out across towards the Bedford area, Moggerhanger, and seeing in the sky a mass of aircraft, little black objects really, oh hundreds of them going from north to south over the Bedford area. Because instead of going directly towards Germany they did a detour, they would go down towards Reading and then across the north of France and then to Germany, in that direction. So it would fool the German radar. I remember that very, very clearly. There were so many Bomber Stations around the East Anglia area, in Lincolnshire as well and one or two in Bedfordshire of course.
But the Americans, they used to fly out at daytime. We could see them forming up because they would circle around until they got into formation and then they would head off and then of course coming back they would be staggered. Some of them with engine failure and very low but they would come back just before dusk. They were very brave to go there at day time I think, they were sitting targets.
Oh, it was exciting. I mean these days people go to airshows and when they see the Lancaster coming over they think that is marvellous, wonderful but when you think you are seeing hundreds of them flying across the skies.
I was filling sandbags for the war effort. That was at the Moggerhanger Sanatorium and as youngsters we went up there in the evenings and helped to fill these sandbags to put all round the hospital. And just opposite Moggerhanger Park I remember the Army making camp there at one time and we as boys would go down there and scrounging rations off of them. There was often Army manoeuvers in the area, there were convoys of tanks going down the road but there was always something happening.
My father died during the war. My sister reckons it was brought on by the bombing, there were five bombs dropped at the back of us actually although we lived out in the country, at Moggerhanger there. There were five bombs dropped. The first one was dropped right on the railway line between Willington and Blunham Railway Station and the second bomb dropped on the corner of the terraced houses between Chalton and Blunham. And the elderly couple there didn’t know what had happened — heard nothing they reckoned! And yet part of the corner house was blown off, it was a small bomb mind you. And then on the Ridge Road, it was known as Ridge Road at the back of us, there was an Observer Corp Post there and one bomb dropped just outside next to that and they didn’t know about it until my father went down the fields to it and said, ‘Look, there’s a bomb crater there!’ You see they must have been very small bombs. Then another other two, the fourth was dropped near to the Sandy Road and then the fifth one, the larger bomb was dropped 300 or 400 yards further up and that was quite a large bomb that was because you could have got a double decker bus in the crater. So it was a whole straight row across the countryside and the only damage of course was the railway line and the house, the corner of the house. They found part of the bomb shrapnel from the first bomb outside The Anchor public house at Great Barford.
Of course being young boys war had a certain amount of glamour to it because we all wanted to be in uniform, we wanted to do something. I know that we had a local Home Guard and the Commanding Officer was Colonel Vic Davison, he had no previous Army experience at all but he was a big farmer at Hill Farm and he was put in charge. And of course all the lads that worked on the land that were not called up for the Regular Forces were put into the Home Guard with very little basic training, with their wooden rifles as such.
We watched them doing their drill. Because they used to go on night duty, probably at the Village Hall they’d do night duty and that. Because there was one night they believed a German parachutist had dropped in the village and was dashing through this hedge. Two of them, one of them was quite a character in the village, he’d got his rifle and fired and he blasted the sleeve of his mate, actually of his uniform, in a panic. They reckoned what it was, was a poacher out poaching for the night, dashing across through the hedgerow. I well remember that story.
I had a BSA bicycle and I quite enjoyed that. Yes it was quite exciting times for us boys I must admit. We all wanted to be in uniform because we thought that men in uniform were heroes. And I know I tried to become a Messenger in the Home Guard, I would have loved to have been a Messenger in the Home Guard but I was still too young, they wouldn’t accept me.
Of course being Tempsford Aerodrome not far away we used to watch the large bombers coming and going. We used to cycle down there actually to the aerodrome until a certain time when they put a Sentry Post about a mile away from the airfield where you could no longer go through. Because it was a ‘top secret’ airfield where they used to go and drop secret agents over to occupied countries and land and pick some of them up.
I had three brothers and one was helping to build the aerodrome in 1940/1941. My next eldest brother,was Tom and he used to drive a lorry for John Laing the contractors who were building the airfield and who are Laings – to this day building houses. They were a small company in those days, the Head Quarters was Mill Hill, London and I used to sometimes go along with my brother in the cab of the lorry and we went up to Mill Hill and it was just like an ordinary little builders yard. Yet he had this big contract building these aerodromes. Tempsford was built by John Laings and I used to enjoy driving around in my brother’s lorry and eventually the lorries came under the Government, the Air Ministry and they had the RAF roundels painted on the front and that really pleased me. I thought this is great, my brother driving a military lorry and he used to come at nights and park it in the small farmyard.
He was a civilian. He used to bring the Irish navvies into Bedford at nights in the back of the lorry with the hood over the top. One day he was going along and the thing wasn’t fixed at the back of the lorry and it slipped and all these Irishmen fell out the back of the lorry! He stopped just in time. But he used to bring them into Bedford – they were in lodgings and then take them back at night time.
Being Irishmen they were tough gangs actually and they had a riot down there at Tempsford one day. It was to do with the bonus being given to them or something and they all went mad on the airfield stoning the Foremen and the Bosses driving up the wrong ways in their dumpers. And it got really out of hand and they called in the Army which were billeted in Sandy, near Sandy Market Square to come and round them up in a compound opposite the airfield and they shipped them back to Ireland, it was that bad. I remember speaking to one of the lads in the village, he worked down there as well at Tempsford and he said he used to take a knife with him after that because he was so scared of these Irish navvies at what they’d been doing. He worked there until he was called up in the Forces later on in the war.”
Copyright Credits: This content is reproduced under ‘fair dealing’ terms.WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar & Bedford Museum
Part Two — Air activity in the vicinity. Mr. How joined the Army Cadets and later the ATC when he moved to Bedford. Dances held at Cardington RAF base.
Part two of an oral history interview conducted with Mr. Gerald How by Jenny Ford on behalf of Bedford Museum.
“I suppose during our time at school we used to, during the breaks go and cycle round the countryside especially when we used to hear of these aeroplanes crashing during the war. Several of them happened. There was one on the Great Barford Road, I would say I would be about 13 I suppose, yes 13 years old. And there again we’d get on our bicycles and tear along. It was taking off from Tempsford and it crashed near Cuckoo Brook on the Goldington to Great Barford Road, I clearly remember that. The pilot was killed I think, the others were injured. The engine caught fire on take off.
Then another one was at Sandy where there was a four engined Stirling taking off from Tempsford and an American fighter. Being crazy Americans this American fighter was doing an unauthorised pass, a fly by, and he cut right through the fuselage of the aircraft. The main part of the bomber crashed in the field near the Sandy TV mast and the rear turret with the rear gunner in it, landed adjacent to the Sandy/Potton road and I clearly remember that, when we cycled up to see. I was in the local pub some years later and one of the local farmers was saying, he said, ‘I remember that. I was coming down the road and I found this arm’ he said from this rear gunner that was in the turret, the arm was lying by the side of the road and he said, ‘I buried it in a field behind the hedge under a tree.’ He said, ‘I could take you to that spot today!’ Whether there’s any truth in that I don’t know but that is what he told us. It’s quite possible because in those days what would you do if you found part of a body? Probably bury it during the war. Of course the American fighter landed next to the railway line at Sandy, in the centre of Sandy. It crashed. The pilot was killed. It was eight lives lost for the sake of some stupid American fighter pilot doing something he shouldn’t have done. There were several crashes around during the war and us young boys were keen to go out and see.
Well, we were allowed to a certain extent, as close as possible. I mean there was another one at Moggerhanger. I remember we didn’t use to go to bed very early at nights because of the air raid sirens and sitting up one night with my elder sister, it was just after midnight and she heard this noise going overhead. And apparently the next morning, the dairy maid, the girl who used to deliver the milk in urns in the village, she called round and she said, ‘Oh, there’s been a plane crashed at the other side of the village last night.’ Of course this is what we heard, was the noise going over. And of course that was another one, on my bicycle and up there we tore to see. That was a Hudson aircraft and that was from Tempsford as well and that had crashed between Moggerhanger and Northill. The story goes that the local people in council houses on the Sandy Road had heard and seen this crash and dashed across the fields to it and there was nothing they could do. They just saw these bodies sitting in the aircraft being burnt to death. You can imagine the horrible stench the next morning when we went up there. We went to see if we could find souvenirs and things. It was whatever parts and metal you could pick up. I remember – I don’t know what happened to it but I wished I had it to this day – it was like a brake lever but actually it was a gun loading stick, it had got gun loading on it, that I had collected from this particular crash but what happened to it I don’t know. It would be quite a souvenir if I had it now. Of course those poor young men, they were young in those days, 19 or 20, they are buried in Cardington Church yard. There are five of them, there are four remains buried.
I joined the Great Barford Army Cadets Force which was up the road. We used to cycle miles those days. We’d probably have a parade twice a week and then on Sunday mornings and we sometimes had manoeuvers with the Home Guards. It was quite exciting. Yes, we’d think nothing of cycling about eight or nine miles. We had rifle practice. There again the Commanding Officer was one of the main farmers in the village. Big farmers in the village I suppose because they were the wealthiest who could afford to support these sort of organisations.
I moved from Moggerhanger in about 1944 or 1945 time. I moved into Bedford with my sister. She got married and moved into Bedford. I left school at 14 then we moved into Bedford and I joined the Air Training Corp. It was when I was in the Army Cadets at Great Barford that we were collected by the American Air Force from Thurleigh and taken one Sunday morning up to visit the planes at Thurleigh, the Flying Fortresses. I have a vague idea that it was at the time when Glenn Miller went missing because it vaguely sticks in my mind — it was a very misty day and an Officer coming across to speak to this other Officer and saying that somebody special was missing. I’ve still got this vague idea that it could have been the weekend that Glenn Miller went missing. It was exciting, oh, boy going inside one of these B17 Fortresses, looking over it.
One of our Officers was John Crawley, he was one of the instructors at the time in the ATC.
134 Squadron, Bedford, I’m probably one of the last members still remaining. There is still a 134 Squadron today which is at Cardington. When we were in the Air Training Corp in Bedford he used to, his father having a motor car business in Bedford, John used to come and teach us all about the workings of the engines and aircraft recognition. He was in the Royal Observer Corp at that time.
Of course when you go back to Tempsford when my brother was working down there building it, the German aircraft came over once and flew down the railway line one afternoon and attempted to bomb the Little Barford power station which wasn’t far from Tempsford aerodrome. I remember my brother saying that they were at the railway station loading up with stuff for the airfield and one the chaps was giving a running commentary on the bombing of this here power station. It was a solitary German aircraft and it did hit one of the water towers apparently but it was shot down as it got to the coast. The story goes that one of the chappies on one of the buses had got a gun and he tried to shoot this aircraft with his rifle. I remember my brother coming home one day with a load of propaganda leaflets they’d collected, found in a ditch on the airfield of propaganda leaflets that the RAF used to drop over Germany. They’d got pictures of Churchill and it was all in German of course but there again I wish I’d kept one copy!
We used to listen to Lord Haw Haw broadcast on the radio and he was pretty well clued up, they were the Germans as to what was going on because one thing in particular was that as you go from Bedford to Cardington, towards Shorts Town there used to be a bridge that you’d cross and at that time they were doing some road works on it, rebuilding it – and do you know, Lord Haw Haw announced that on the radio! On his propaganda broadcasts from Germany, that they were building this bridge, rebuilding this bridge near Cardington. It’s incredible, almost unbelievable but that is true! I remember hearing that. It just shows you that there were spies in this country feeding information back to Germany. And of course they tried to bomb Cardington, they did drop a few bombs but not to any great extent. They camouflaged the hangars at Cardington with houses like terraced houses and they were right out of proportion in size, it was ridiculous, they must have been three times the size of an ordinary house! Of course during the wartime they took the airship mooring masts down, I remember that coming down because of the metal required for munitions, making munitions.
Of course Cardington was a very big station for recruiting airmen for the Air Force and for the air crew. They used to have a very good dance hall there at Cardington, people from Bedford used to go there and from all around. In fact airmen from Tempsford and all these chaps that were on these RAF stations, or most of them, had bicycles issued to them. They used to cycle miles and airmen from Tempsford would cycle up to Cardington to the dances and the Americans as well would cycle miles around to go to the village hall. Every village had a dance once a week in the Village Hall how ever small the village was and this would encourage all these airmen and Americans to come to the villages to meet up with the girls or to find the girls. Us young boys, we would be there at the Village Hall and I remember the Americans coming once on their bicycles and they ate chewing gum. But we used to let their tyres down and say, ‘look, you’ve got a puncture’ and they would say, ‘if you’ll repair it I’ll give you some gum!’ And that’s one of the tricks we used to get up to!
There’d be say 30 or more barrage balloons flying in the sky at once at Cardington. The barrage balloons, they’d be about twice the size of a double decker bus. Probably three times. They’d be all moored yes, on motor trucks, winches on the ground attached by cable of course. They’d still fly them, even in a thunder storm and you’d see probably two or three balloons coming down in flames been struck by lightening because they were testing them to be used in all weathers.
In London, we used to go up to London during the war. My brother, he had a little Ford car and he met up with a girl that had been evacuated down with the family to a local farmer that my brother was working for at the time and some weekends we would go up to Streatham, believe it or not! Not very often, occasionally, and that was during the war! This was quite a frightening experience as you can imagine. I remember sleeping in this Morrison table shelter and when they used to go bed at nights they weren’t very keen on drawing the curtains, there were no lights on of course. She’d look out the window and say, ‘Ah, there’s going to be a raid tonight’ because they could always tell if there was going to be an air raid because the balloons would go up high. If they were expecting an air raid they would put the balloons up high naturally. So that was quite frightening and we’d go and sleep down in the Morrison shelter then. The wire mesh sides. Probably in the morning you’d get up and go into the town and find places had been bombed and damaged. You heard the raids sometimes. There used to be an underground train at Streatham that used to go – you could hear it underneath the house because the tunnel was below the houses where we where staying. And at each end it would have an anti-aircraft gun and when there was a raid this gun would be going backwards and forwards and firing from different positions. That was something unusual. You could hear this train running underneath the house believe it or not and it was incredible with the guns going off.
Because whilst it went on, regardless of the war, you still had dances. Used to go to Streatham Meccano and that dancing on a Saturday night. Naturally if there was a raid going on you wouldn’t be going there.”
‘WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar‘
Part three of an oral history interview conducted with Mr. Gerald How by Jenny Ford on behalf of Bedford Museum.
“My two oldest brothers were much older and they were working, doing essential work on the farms. My brother, who was the driver went in the Forces – would be about the last couple of years I suppose before he went into the Forces and he went in the Army. He wanted to be a driver because he drove and they said, ‘No, he hadn’t enough driving experience!’ and yet he’d been driving for John Laings and the Air Ministry and he was put into the Infantry. I think it was about the day after ‘D’ Day he was helping with the landings just outside Caen in northern France and he and his pal, sharing this Bren gun firing and they used to take it in turns, they had to change over – one be loading and one be firing and they’d just changed over and his friend, his pal got killed. The shell had dropped right on the edge of the trench and my brother was lucky he got away with a burst eardrum. He vaguely remembers being carried on a stretcher but that was the end of that he came back to England but he was lucky to survive it, his experiences of ‘D’ Day landings.
One of my sisters was making the barrage balloons in the fabric shop and the other one was in the Drawing Office where they used to do the designing of the balloons and that. Towards the later part of the war they not only made barrage balloons but they also made tanks and guns of fabric. Blow up tanks and guns as decoys in Europe. On the Front Line they would be quite effective I suppose from the air.
Talking about decoys I well remember during the war there were such things as decoy airfields. We had one just outside Bedford on the way, just before you’d get to Great Barford. There used to be this brick building, shelter in a field, in the corner of a field at the side of the road and that was a RAF Decoy Airfield. The purpose of that was that, say for instance that Tempsford was operating that night and the German aircraft were coming over or where in the area, of course they had to have their lights on the runways and the airfield lit up for the planes coming in. They would switch on a decoy airfield which was lights around the fields that make it look from the air as if that was another aerodrome so that would distract the enemy aircraft away from the main airfield.
I remember as a group of boys we always used to meet at nights up at ‘The Guinea’ at the cross roads, sit around and this jeep coming up with some RAF Officers in it and one said, ‘Lads can you tell me where Great Barford is?’ ‘I said, ‘Oh, you want to look for the secret airfield do you?’ and they were shocked and amazed, they were really taken aback by it all because they didn’t expect anyone to know what it was you see. So we told him. We missed nothing during the war, us boys! And it was there at ‘The Guinea’, at the cross roads at Moggerhanger where I heard my first V1 bomb come over, the doodle bug. We heard it going across, the engine cut out and we dashed into the archway in ‘The Guinea’ pub there and the engine stopped and there was an explosion. The doodle bug landed near Great Barford apparently. That was the only V1 bomb that I ever heard of that came over this area. We definitely knew what it was and it was frightening. We knew what it was so we dashed into the archway in the pub for protection because we didn’t know where it was going to drop.
Yes, it was quite a sight these airfields being lit up at night. Because I remember coming back from Sandy, we used to go to the Victory Cinema at Sandy which also had the siren on top and coming back at night and seeing Tempsford lit up and it was like a city lit up at night, the runways and that. The airfields in those days weren’t as modern and updated as they are today with regards to landing navigation aids and lighting. Because the lighting in those days, there was a string of poles at the side of the river between Blunham and Great Barford and they had lights on those poles and it was the guiding light, the guiding lights to the runways. And they were some distance from the airfield. But you can imagine the task of erecting these poles and the lights running parallel to the river at Blunham there near the nurseries there. At nigh time it was quite impressive to see it lit up. You daren’t have any lights at all whatsoever in the house or anywhere, I mean if you saw a light you’d say, oh, he’s probably a spy.
I talk about ‘The Guinea’ at Moggerhanger but I mean during the war on the Sandy/Potton Road there was a very big fuel depot built. That was connected by pipeline from Southampton, all underground to there, to Sandy and then from there there were pipelines going out to airfields up the country. Massive thing it was really because one of the lads in the village was involved in painting the insides of the tanks and I mean the fuel depot is still there to this day. Apart from the pipelines going out to the airfields there were certain airfields that were not connected were fuel tankers would go out at nights and these tankers were all painted gray, coloured gray. I remember at ‘The Guinea’ there, at the cross roads seeing probably two of these tankers parked in the forecourt there, having a drink before on their way out somewhere. That was often seen. The Germans tried to bomb it actually one night, they dropped incendiary flares onto the — but I don’t think they did any damage at all but it was quite frightening because we could see it from where we were living, seeing these flares coming down. Also you could see, we used to go down the bottom of the farm yard and to look across and you could see the gun fire over London at nights when there was a raid on. That was quite a fantastic sight. So there is quite a lot of exciting memories but also some frightening times but for a young lad it was quite exciting.
A big difference between living in Moggerhanger and Bedford was really that you had more dances to go to. I went even in my younger days at Moggerhanger I remember having what they called a pin striped suit because they said I was quite a good little dancer in those days. We used to go to the village dances and that’s where we used to see all these brave airmen in their uniforms, with their wings and we thought they were heroes. Probably the next night they would be out on a mission, on bombing missions over Germany never to return again. Because I know one, he was related — he was my brother-in-law’s nephew, he was 19 years old and he was a printer at Sandy and Biggleswade and he was called up for the Air Force. He was a rear gunner in a Stirling bomber eventually and he was taking off from an airfield in Cambridgeshire to go on this bombing raid, a 19 year old and the plane just got airborne and crashed, exploded. And everybody was killed on board bar one Australian, a New Zealander he was found walking round the wreckage, he was paralysed all down one side and he is to this day. But Ron and that were just blown to pieces. Because they said when they were carrying the coffin, the coffin was much heavier than the body, so they’d obviously filled it up with bits and pieces. But that was sad, he was 19 years old. He went into the Air Force because his slightly older brother went missing – he was in the Air Force also but on a secret mission, he was missing at sea I think. Young Ron, I remember his mother telling us, he said, ‘Don’t worry Mum if I never come back, I shall be alright.’ And his younger sister, Joan, she went mad losing two brothers in the RAF, she went crazy.
A lot of places around Bedford and Tempsford being a very special aerodrome where these secret agents used to operate from and different places around Bedford where the agents would be staying. At Tempsford they had the Halifax, the Stirling bomber, Hudsons and Lysanders, Lysanders that would actually land. The Lysander which was a single engined aircraft and the Hudson which was a twin engined aircraft they both could land. Sometimes they got stuck in the mud and all sorts of things happened but it was quite a big aerodrome was Tempsford, one of the biggest I would say. It was originally built as a Bomber Station. But the story goes that Bomber Command didn’t want the airfield because it was next to the main railway line, London to Edinburgh which was a bit silly and there were adjacent hills around which wasn’t very good for aircraft loaded with bombs to take off. So it was Churchill’s idea that this Special Operations Executive Flight would be formed to go and drop these agents and supplies and some of them went very long distances.
When I came to Bedford, I’d been working for a farmer then I went to work for the Land Settlement Association as painter and decorator and then I came to Bedford and I went to Cardington and worked for the NAAFI, just before I went into the Air Force. There was a train from Bedford to Hitchin and I travelled on that but I usually cycled to work from Bedford. I lived in the centre of Bedford. I was working the Stores supplying the different, it was a very big Station was RAF Cardington, I think it had about five different what they call ‘Wings’ for recruits training, each different ‘Wing’ training them. So it had about five different NAAFIs so I used to work in the Stores and do the distribution of the food and that to the different NAAFIs which was quite interesting. This was just before I went into the Air Force in 1947. As I say, Cardington was a very busy and important RAF Station.
It had its own cinema, the Astra cinema. As I say it had a very well known dance hall as well. The ladies travelled on buses, they used to run buses from Bedford up to Cardington for the dances. I went to the dances as well of course. I remember too they used to have a lot of young Dutch airmen there as well, recruits, they’d come over from Holland. They used to tell you some interesting stories of about how they had been treated by the Germans, especially the Gestapo and the SS. They’d had fingernails pulled out and all sorts of horrible things to make them talk and they’d managed to escape to this country.
Of course, the Polish too, there were a lot of Polish airmen in this area. They were based at Tempsford as well, Polish Squadrons, they lost a lot of lives. In fact, the first Squadron at Thurleigh was a Polish Squadron in the RAF and then from there they went to the Middle East before the Americans arrived. A lot of Polish airforce of the Squadron were at Tempsford. In fact my sister started courting one of the Polish airmen but sadly he went back to Poland to her disappointment after the end of the war.
Well, apart from living in Bedford but I can’t remember what was actually happening to celebrate VE Day. I can remember all the flags flying and streamers and people rejoicing and parties in the street and that. We were in St.Paul’s Square and round there, yes. There were hundreds and hundreds of people everywhere. I mean even when I went in the Air Force after the war you still wore uniform you never wore civilian clothes at all you weren’t allowed to wear civilian clothes. There was still a lot of Military Police in Bedford, walking the streets. Yes, Bedford was a central focal point for military personnel in the surrounding areas to come and enjoy themselves in the evenings. There were a lot of clubs in Bedford, Officers Clubs and American Officers Clubs. On the corner of Goldington Road and Kimbolton Road there was an American Officers Club there in prefabricated buildings where the old Queen Mother visited. And then there was another American Club on the corner of Union Street and Bromham Road which is now a new block of flats before that there was a filling station and there was a building at the back of it and that was the American Forces Club. There was an Officers Club down the High Street and what is now Pilgrims Progress that was an American Club, above there, Longhurst and Skinner.”
‘WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar‘