Interviewed by Peter Stoddart
Frank joined the RAF at the age of 17 1/2. He was initially stationed at Cardington, and then went to a large training school at Manston before being moved to Henlow which was the main place for fitters, riggers and electricians. This would have been early 1938. From there, a new camp was opened up at Locking, Weston-Super-Mare. War then broke out and Frank was posted to [Old Sarum?]. His job was chiefly working with Hawker Hectors and [Lysanders] but he `inherited` a Majista to look after for a Cpt. Bazeley who used to fly it around, using it for `blind flying` with a hood over the [back?] seat. The Majesta eventually met its end when two trainee pilots were attempting to land - they stalled the aircraft and, dipping a wing, went straight across the aerodrome and crashed between two trees, breaking off the wings and tail. The two trainees were found sitting in the cockpit - all that was left of the aircraft - with only a broken nose suffered by one (a very lucky escape). Names of other senior army officers come to mind, the overall man in charge being, Frank believes, a Colonel [Peeps?], together with a Cpt. Davenport and Cpt. Joyce (who transferred over to the RAF and became Squadron Leader Joyce). The few other officers with whom Frank came into contact were RAF. Different aircraft then started to arrive, such as the Taylorcraft, Mosscraft, the Cagnet and the [Stinson] Reliant. Frank recalls that two engineers/reps. came with the Taylorcraft. After giving all the aircraft trials, it was decided to keep the Taylorcraft and the [Stinson]. A Cagnet was also kept - a most peculiar looking aircraft as Frank remembers! One thing that Frank particularly remembers is the little red robin that someone had painted on the tailplane of the Taylorcraft!. Eventually the camp was moved from [Old Sarum] to what was once a private flying club on the outskirts of Salisbury, known as High Post. They had acquired lorries by then, together with four Taylorcraft. Frank’s first big job on the Taylorcraft was to open up the fabric on the wings in order to fit the masts for the radio aerials. Numbers grew with the arrival of cooks, batmen for the officers, etc., and eventually they were posted to France in 1940 (constituted as `D Flight, High Post`). The four Taylorcraft and the [Stinson] Reliant went with them, Frank being unsure as to whether the Cagnet was included also. The team were known as No.1 F.O.P. (Forward Observation Post). They sailed from Southampton and continued their journey to [Avignon?] in a convoy of four lorries, where they were based in what seemed to have been a shop of some sort on the main street, the upstairs being used as sleeping quarters and downstairs acted as their mess. The team travelled by lorry to the airport each day, and Frank recalls a few shoots taking place with fighter aircraft, with camera guns on board to see how they managed. The team eventually moved on to [Arus?], carrying out similar duties there, before moving on to [? - sounds like Chalonsimmon] which was a french auto[teraerial?] school. Things were pretty quiet and mundane until one day the aircraft flew off and didn`t return.
No news had reached them that anything was happening, so the Scottish officer who was in charge of the men and looked after the stores and equipment decided to take the men by lorry to the coast, where they enjoyed a relaxing time sunbathing. After a while, they boarded the lorries and moved on to [Lehave?], to discover that Lehave had been evacuated. The men proceeded to load up as much fuel as they could in wooden boxes with tin Gerry cans inside, and reached a `one horse` ferry which went across where the River Seine came in, where they realized the seriousness of the situation when they found themselves queuing for the ferry with refugees. They were there for some considerable time when Frank met up with an old friend who used to be in the [Lysander] squadron - they had been attacked and lost all their aircraft and were also waiting to cross on the ferry. Rumours abounded that the Germans were in [Arus] and that the ferry would be blown up at midnight if nothing happened before then, and Frank and his comrades were still in the queue. The rumours proved to be correct - the Germans were in [Arus], but the men managed to cross by ferry. Frank later read that there was a counter-attack and [Arus] was regained on a temporary basis, the ferry remaining intact. The men proceeded to travel down to [Nant?], only to be told that they were not wanted there and had to return. They travelled up to Cherbourg, where by that time all the troops had set up, the trucks having parked on the beach. Frank and his comrades were able to park their lorries there also, and were taken on board with the other troops who all made their way back to Southampton. They travelled up to Odiham, which was an army corps squadron, where they slept in a hanger overnight, and proceeded the next day to Larkhill which was the School of Artilliary just outside Salisbury. They stayed with the aircraft (the four Taylorcraft and the Stinton) under canvass at a place Frank believes was called Knighton Down and Frank remained there until he was posted away on another course to a location just outside Blackpool, which ended his work on Taylorcraft, having seen no `action` in France.
Whilst at Knighton Down, Frank recalls an incident when a French fighter landed, turned back and taxied off, shouting for directions to a particular area as he went. The men pointed him in the right direction, just over the brow of a hill, when they realized that he was heading for a herd of cows! They watched and waited, and saw the aircraft rise up again, with one of the main gears falling off. He had hit an unfortunate cow in the rear, but somehow managed to recover, with only the loss of a gear.
During Frank’s time in France, he mainly operated from civilian aerodromes but recalls a time when they were sited in a forest, with a clearing used for take-offs and landings. Trees and bushes would be chopped down in order for the tails of the aircraft to be concealed, and ropes would be used to haul trees back upright. Although the Germans were not looking for them, on several occasions the forest would be used as `target practice` with incendiary devices being discharged and the men would find themselves charging around with fire bottles in order to put out small fires as a result.
Thinking back, Frank recalls an incident when he was in Avignon, acting as flight rigger on the Taylorcraft. He was working with his engine fitter, Bert [Seaton?], and the Taylorcraft was sitting on bricks whilst Frank was doing a check. Bert was sitting beneath the engine, having taken off the exhaust manifold, and Frank was leaning on the prop talking to him. Bert asked Frank to turn the prop over. Frank stood back and turned the prop, and it promptly started up (Bert having removed the [magneto] covers). Frank remembers standing there, with the prop spinning in front of him, before Bert turned off the fuel and replaced the cap! Had the throttle been wide open, it would have been the end of Frank!
It was unusual for the maintenance staff to be offered a flight aboard one of their allotted aircraft but Frank remembers one occasion when Cpt. Bazeley instructed him to accompany him on a flight after Frank had carried out a particular repair to a wing of a Taylorcraft - perhaps with the idea that if the repair had not been carried out properly, whatever befell Capt. Bazeley as a result would also happen to Frank!. They duly took off, and Capt. Bazeley proceeded to go into a `spin` over Salisbury Plain, terrifying Frank as they came down - thankfully his repair proved to be a good one!.
Frank remembers the Stinson as being a more sophisticated aircraft than the Taylorcraft, sturdier in every way with more horsepower, but the Taylorcraft proved to be more practical in that it could land and take off very quickly. It would be piloted by one man, and a large radio would be located behind the seat. The pilot may have been issued with a handset but would have had to reach behind the seat should the radio need tuning!
Eventually, Frank returned to Henlow, which was the maintenance base for the Hurricanes. Parts for the aircraft were shipped over from Canada, having been built by the Canadian car foundry, and Frank and his colleagues assembled them. They had no specific training for working on the Hurricanes but used their basic metalwork, carpentry and fabric work skills gained during their employment, and anything else was a matter of learning as they went along! At that time, Frank recalls the fleet air arm requesting that the Hurricanes be altered to cannon-firing. To achieve this, the wings were removed from the Hurricanes which had come in from the fleet air arm, and cannon-firing aircraft were flown in from the pool. The cannon-firing wings were removed and swapped over to the Hurricanes, the original Hurricane wings being replaced onto the original cannon-firing aircraft. There were about forty aircraft to alter, which took some time as the work had to be undertaken in between other jobs.
The team then became involved with what was known to them as the `Quick Force` - Frank believes the Navy referred to it as the `H Force`. They were posted to [Greenock/Liverpool?] and a squadron of Hurricanes, flown mainly by Canadian pilots, flew in. The wings were removed from the Hurricanes, along with the long range tanks, loaded onto the Queen Mary’s and taken down to the docks. They would then be loaded onto the `Furious` or the `Argos`, two of the converted aircraft carriers from World War I. (These were the only aircraft carriers used, as they had a `T` shape lift well that could carry a fixed wing aircraft). They then travelled down to Gibraltar, re-assembling the aircraft en-route. On arrival, at night, the Ark Royal would come in. Its bow would be linked up to the stern of the carrier, a huge ramp lowered, and each complete aircraft would be pushed over onto the Ark Royal. Some of the men would transfer onto the Ark Royal while the remainder continued to reassemble and transfer the remaining Hurricanes. Eventually, the whole cargo made its way down the Mediterranean, towards Malta, where they sailed alongside the `Nelson destroyers and cruisers. Frank recalls several early morning `dummy runs` taking place during that journey over 3-4 days, when the aircraft would be assembled on top and the engines would be tested, standing down when daylight broke. The day came when practice turned to reality. Escort Blenheim appeared in the sky and the `Furious` and Ark Royal split, the `Nelson` in the centre with destroyers forming an outer circle. The Hurricanes were subsequently flown off - Frank assumes heading for the middle east - and he recalls the difference in deck size between the Ark Royal and their own carriers, the pilots on the Ark Royal having so much more room to manoeuvre.
Frank and his colleagues returned to Gibraltar, where they offloaded in order for the `Furious` to go to the U.S. for an engine re-fit. They camped under canvass at the old racecourse for about a week, spending their time breaking up aircraft which had force landed, etc. They were then told to pack up and move to the dockside, where they boarded what Frank thinks was an Irish [packet boat]. After only about four hours, they were taken off again to make room for French and Belgium refugees. They later heard that the boat went out and was torpedoed. The men were then back under canvass again for a few days until the `Prince of Wales`, the [KG5?] and, Frank thinks, the `Nelson` came in, whereupon they were instructed to pack up and boarded the `Prince of Wales` to return home to [? - 211 on tape], where they were messed in with the big gunners` mess. Frank remembers a young man from Devon, whose job it was to send up the shells to the anti-aircraft guns. He gave Frank some photographs, one of which features all the crew of the `Prince of Wales`, taken from the bow looking aft. In the front row stood Churchill alongside all the other `bigwigs` which was taken when they went out to sign the Atlantic Charter with Roosevelt. Another photograph, which unfortunately has now been mislaid, showed the Sunday morning church service, with Churchill, Roosevelt, Andrew [Stark?] - the American Admiral, General George Marshall, Harry Hopkins, etc.
After the war, Frank went to join BEA in Speke.