Title DAVID DENCHFIELD - INTERVIEW Description
EARLY INTEREST IN THE RAF
I wanted to join the RAF because from about 1934. I began reading about the RFC in the First World War and it hooked me so much that I got ticked off (at school) over and over again and my odd job book was filled with sketches of aircraft. And I still kept drawing them.
One thing led to another and I was coming up to 17. I thought Dad?s just the person to ask. I said, ?Dad, I?m turning 17 in a few weeks time. Any chance you would sign my application?? ?What for?? he said. ?To join the RAF and fly. They?d only be little aircraft.? My father had been in the 2nd Battalion, Enniskillen Fusiliers, although he wasn?t Irish himself. He said, ?If you?d seen the poor b?. coming down from the sky on fire, no parachutes. So, no.? Once I left school in 1936 I went to work for John Dickinson & Sons in Apsley as a clerk. But he finally gave in and the forms were sent off to join the *RAFVR. On May 18th 1939 a bunch of hopefuls gathered at Luton for medical and suitability checks. What a sight! Fifty or sixty of us most of whom came from the nearby hat factories. There was a lot of derision because the girls in the hat factory next door stood at the windows watching. That turned to alarm when we realised that they were still there watching when we stripped off and went through various naked (medical) procedures. At the end of the day I was told, ?You?re in.?
I joined the No.29 E&RFTS RAF Volunteer Reserve at Luton. We were flying Miles Magisters; single engine, twin pilots ? one behind the other. The trainee pilot sat at the front. That went reasonably well for 3 weeks and then one of the instructors dived onto a section of the land owned by the Vauxhall firm. Both (pilots) survived but it was a bit of a mess and made the instructors realise how vulnerable they were.
It went on like that until they announced that we were at war with Germany. When Germany invaded Poland on September 1st I was at work and we watched as various people were called up to their units, but not the RAFVR. Eventually after work dad and I drove across from Hemel to Luton. It was absolutely tremendous. The town centre was jam packed with 17-20 year olds, all as happy as Larry, each with a pint pot in his hand. My father, who had been in the First World War, was a bit upset about it and the war hadn?t even started yet. They didn?t want us yet, so we were all sent home.
We were told that we could pack in our day time jobs. That was the (best) day of my life. On the day that war was declared, mother phoned to say it was on. I started packing up my desk and my boss was suddenly all excited. He said, ?Mr Denchfield, what are you doing?? ?I?m packing my desk up.? You can?t do that until I tell you to.? I said, ?If you stand there in 5 minutes time and you still see me it will be a miracle. I?m off home and I?m now under the control of the RAF.?
br> A week later the call-up came.
We went to Bexhill first where we were taught the basics and then to various other flying schools. At Chester, thank the Lord, Spits (Spitfires) turned up. Ollie Cooper and I adopted the habit that when we flew on a different aircraft the one who went first would hold his hand out and get **half a crown from the other. When we first flew Spits I was hoping to be the first away but I was having a bit of a conversation with the Flight Sergeant and Ollie Cooper beat me to it. Anyway, I duly took off and did my half an hour flight and landed. It was stupendous I?d never been in an aircraft like it. You fiddled with the controls and you felt the response immediately.
When I got back Ollie came over and gave me half a crown. I said, ?Don?t be bloody silly.? He went off about half an hour before I did. He said, ?Did you see what I saw on the tarmac?? I said, ?You mean that Spitfire stuck up on 2 legs and nose?? I said, ?I wonder who the clot was who did that? Was it you?? He said, ?Yes. You know how I used to turn Harvards by putting hard rudder on and opening the throttle. I did that in the Spit and it didn?t turn.?
TAKEN PRISONER Feb 5th 1941, ST OMER.
I bailed out of the aircraft which was on fire. I had previously unhooked all my bits and pieces so I was free of the aircraft. I had realised where I?d got the smell of fuel from. It was in the fuselage underneath my feet. There was an inch and half at least of fuel mixture washing backwards and forwards and I thought, ?God, it just takes one round going through over the top of that and I?m on fire.? I thought, ?I?ll bail out.? I?d been airborne for about 10 minutes or so. There was a sudden burst of flame from up front and an awful noise and I was gone. I just stuck the stick hard forward and she (the plane) helped me no end by spinning over at the same time and threw me clear. I landed on an iron hard, icy, snow-capped field. I had lost one boot so I had to land on one foot. I was glad I did because the snow was like little bits of ice sticking up. I got rid of my equipment and buried it in the snow around me and then had one of those moments of nature. I decided I needed a pee badly. I was in the middle of this when I caught sight of 2 blokes in green uniforms coming towards me. Without thinking I dived flat in the snow but they must have seen me because they kept coming straight ahead, so I stood up. They said, ?Ah, Mr RAF, for you the war is over.? They took me back to their place. I was introduced to pilots right, left and centre because St Omer was the base for that fighter unit. I met the bloke [Major Walter Oesau] who said he?d shot me down. He lasted until 1944 when he was shot down over France by a Mustang. By that time he had scored over 100 victories (planes shot down). I was his 40th.
I went from the St Omer centre in company with another pilot who?d been shot down. He?d got shrapnel in his back so he wasn?t very happy but he could speak German which I couldn?t.
Eventually I was shunted off to a prison camp under the guard of 2 Luftwaffe people who were going on leave. When we got there I teemed up with a bloke called Jones. We called him Flip because he?d had an operation that upset his talking and he sounded like Flip the Frog. We were together for the whole time. We went to different camps in Germany, Poland and Latvia. We were not always well treated. A lot of it was brought on by ourselves because we had a policy of making the Huns hurt. We did things like b??up their bicycles if they were unwise enough to leave them and anything like that. They didn?t feed us well. If it hadn?t been for the Red Cross and their weekly parcels we would have got very short of food. People at home knew that I was alive. We had 3 letter cards and I think 2 postcards to send to whoever we wanted.
By early March 1945, I was at Stalag Luft 357, Fallingbostel and we knew that things were coming to an end, the Rhine had been crossed and our troops were streaming eastwards. We all made up emergency packs as best we could as it was obvious that we would soon be on the move. It wasn?t long before we were marched out, on a march that was to last until May 1st. At first we were marched south from the camp having made a wreck of what was left (of it). We were told we were going north but after about 10 days we turned round and came back. The German sergeant in charge of us said, ?Look, don?t laugh at me but we are going to turn and go back west?. There was a raucous burst of laughter. He said, ?No, I mean it. I?ve been getting instructions daily on where to take you and these instructions have ceased with the death of Hitler. I?m going to march you back to the west and hope that we come across English or American troops.?
So we did, and days later when it was still light we were parked in a road leading up to a farmhouse. We?d been given a place to sleep in and it was a place that had been used to store sick animals and we had to clean it out first. We were cooking a meal in the roadway with what we?d got and suddenly a voice said, ?I?ve just seen a British tank?. He might as well have said. ?I?m Adolf Hitler?. He said, ?I mean it. Aren?t you listening to me? I?ve seen several of them.? At that there was the sound of tins and crashing. He said, ?They gave me a sack of tins - food.? At that everyone woke up.
The next morning without getting the okay from anyone we set off in various groups down to a village we?d seen and there we saw American tanks with British people in them. We put our heads through the officer?s window and said, ?Any chance of any firearms?? ?Oh, no,? he said, ?We can?t allow Prisoners of War to have them.? We said that we had been allowed to have 8 machine guns in our Spitfires and nobody cared where we fired them or anything and now you won?t let us have a rifle each.
We swore at him and walked away. Shortly after that British troops arrived and we were told to go and pick up a German car. A car came along and out got 2 Luftwaffers and 2 women. Very attractive they were too. I held a pistol that I?d managed to get by then and Flip said, ?I?ll just search the women.? I said, ?Are you sure?? He said, ?Well, you never know. Women nowadays do most things.? The squeals those women made when Flip was running his hands over them searching for guns!
We marched back towards the Channel coast. We got as far as an airfield at Rhine, from where they were flying people home. This was a British run place, mark you and we were expected to pick up a plate that someone had just used and a knife and fork. What they?d had was egg and potatoes. You couldn?t clean the plate.
We?d just joined the queue when some sergeant said, ?I?m asking for members of party ?so and so? to follow me. We?re flying you home.? That was us. We dropped the plates, shot across ?flying in?, and picked up a parachute almost without stopping to draw breath. We got on a Lancaster which turned out to have been from 617 Squadron, the ?dam busters?. This one was one of their later planes and was used to drop the 10 ton ?Grand Slam? bomb The first night back they laid on a gorgeous supper in one of the empty hangars. There was table after table. Each one had 10 people on including one of the ladies? services, civilians as well as military. We had great difficulty in not using the language we had been using for the past 4? years. Eventually one of the army people lost his wit completely and said, ?Hey, mate pass the bloody sugar.? Only he didn?t say bloody. He used some other word. That set us all laughing. Even the girls laughed, and we were okay after that. And then we got home eventually. I got to see a girl called Barbara Gregson. I was told she?d like to talk to me. I?d been her boyfriend in 1935 when she was 15. She was with the police in Watford. So I got in touch with her and eventually we were married.
I wanted to stay in the RAF but they told me there wasn?t a post so I went to work for AVRO up near Leeds. I don?t regret joining up despite all that happened. I remember stories my Dad used to tell about the trenches and I thought I?m never going to go through what Dad went through. I?d sooner go out quickly so I?ll go for the RAF. What people went through in the First World War was sheer bloody horror. Mark you; there were episodes in the Second World War that were of a similar nature. War is the same, I suppose.
Interview by Pippa Carr and Laura Dowse
* RAFVR ? Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve ** Half a crown - a coin worth about 12? pence in today?s money
Read a more detailed account of David?s capture by the Germans and his escape from captivity at the end of the war on other pages under the heading "Overseas Battle Fronts."
Keywords RAF; spitfire; Luton; Luftwaffe; POW Collection Overseas Battle Fronts Place Hemel Hemptead, Luton, St Omer, Germany Year 1939 - 1945 Conflict World War Two File type html Record ID number 204
Can you add any more information to this resource?
If so please complete this form and we will be in touch