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Interviewed by Fiona Wright, Ed Gardiner and Sarah Kay at the Royal British Legion, Hemel Hempstead, November 2008

Edward - Where would you like to begin?
Maurice - I joined up in 1942, and went for basic training. From there I went to Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire which was the Central Gunnery School for the RAF, where they were training pilots to fire their guns and hit things. We used to tow drogues behind a Lysander*. The drogue was like a long white sausage cloth thing. I used to have to go up there and control this drogue and you get Spitfires come at you from all sides and hit these things. I was there for about 6 months I think and then went to Melksham in Wiltshire, which is where I met my wife Hylda. I then got sent overseas and was in India for 2 years. Hylda ? We came under the same Training Command. As you know, there was bomber Command and Fighter Command and we were really under Training Command, because don?t forget all these people had to be trained. All the jobs needed training.
Maurice - We went out on the Nevassa, a lovely old cruise liner but we were 4 decks below the waterline, which wasn?t good because at night there were subs around so most of them slept on the deck - it was a bit dodgy.

Fiona - You slept on the deck the whole way to India? Maurice - Yes, most nights we went up there. It was hot but it wasn?t so far to get in the water. Down below you had no chance at all.

Fiona - So you were an engineer basically? Maurice - Yes, an electrician. Yes, I wanted to get in air crew like most of us do but I had one eye that was dodgy so I couldn?t.

Fiona - So what sort of jobs did you do?
Maurice - Servicing aeroplanes - Spitfires and later on Lancasters . In fact the last job we did I was at RAF Benson. That was the King?s Flight headquarters. By then I was fitting cameras in Lancasters for Town and Country Planning. I expect they did Hemel Hempstead. They were getting information for building the new estates so I expect Hemel was on the list.

Fiona - Where were you based in India?
Maurice - In Ambala. Every summer they used to send us up into the foothills of the Himalayas for 3 weeks because you got dehydrated on the plains. That was quite good ? 3 weeks in the summer.

Sarah - What was the scariest thing that happened to you?
Maurice - The scariest thing I think was probably before I went. It would be the air raids. We lived in Stanmore then and we used to get air raids every night. The nearest bomb was only about a mile and a half away. It was quite frightening. In those days I was only about 15 or 16. I remember my dad put duckboards in the Anderson shelter when we first got it because it would always feel damp in there. One particular night, I?d say I was about 14 ? it was 1939 / 40 ? we went down the garden, all of us my sister and me, Mum and Dad, and he shone a torch in the shelter and saw the duckboards in there. He said okay get in and I jumped in and there was 2 foot of water in it. The things were floating on the top.
Also, when they rev up an engine on a Spitfire usually 3 or 4 airmen have to hang over the tailplane, otherwise it will come up because of the pressure. But I know of 2 cases where it took off with the airman on it - and this has happened, actually happened. I didn?t believe this ?till yesterday when I read it in a book but it happened to a WAAF. A WAAF was holding on for some reason on this aircraft and it took off and it did a circuit of the airfield. It landed with her on.
Hylda - Women did good work ----
Maurice - Tradespeople, weren?t they? She was probably a rigger or something.

Maurice ? One thing I?ll never forget when we were coming home. We were in the Red Sea I think and we were all lying about on the deck with nothing to do and this guy came up from the sick bay still in his pyjamas and stood on the rail and said something and jumped over the side. So it was ?man overboard?, of course and they stopped the ship and lowered a life boat and went out for him and couldn?t find him. But as they lifted the boat out of the water these sharks were underneath, so he had no chance. When it was in the paper when we landed ? we found a newspaper ? they said he fell overboard. But he didn?t fall, he jumped overboard. I suppose they told his family that he fell. Fiona ? So why did he jump do you think?
Maurice ? I think it?s meant to be called ?sun-happy? and he got too much and that?s why they had him in the sickbay ? he was going a bit funny. The sun got very very hot and you couldn?t stand it, you know. I?ll never forget that.

Fiona - Did you stay in the same place once you were in India?
Maurice - I stayed in the same camp in Ambala. I was an electrician as I say, but I used to drive the fire tender as well ? the fifteen hundredweight with a trailer on the back. One aircraft crashed into the back garden of some married quarters and pulled a fence down. We could do nothing for the pilot ? he was dead ? but they had to put this fire out and get the body out the aircraft ? it was horrible.

Edward - I was just looking at your medals. What are they all for?
Maurice - That one is the 1939-40 Service Star, that was issued to people in that period of time. That is a Burma Star because I was 2 years in Southeast Asia Command, and that?s the War Medal, oh, and the Veterans Badge.

Sarah - What sort of food did you eat when you were in India?
Maurice - Very good food, actually. I could never complain about the food and one of my favourite things was supper time - cheese and potato pie. It was always the cheese and potato all mashed up with a nice crust on top and I used to love that. No, the food was excellent.
Fiona - You didn?t have Indian food then?
Maurice - No funnily enough we didn?t. No ? we never had curry. All that time in India and we never had curry. We went out and bought curry, you know, if you wanted to have something different, but it was always just English food.

Fiona ? Can you describe a typical day in India?
Maurice ? A typical day? Well, we used to have bearers to look after us. A bearer would probably look after 7 men. He?d wake you in the morning with a cup of tea. There was the Punkah-wallah who used to sit there with a rope and pull the old fans backwards and forwards and if he stopped you threw a shoe at him because he?d dropped off to sleep. Then we?d go for breakfast and after that do whatever duties we were employed at. You?d finish early ? just after lunch some days because it was too hot. We used to go down to the NAAFI**. Our camp was surrounded by a 6 foot monsoon ditch. When we came out of this NAAFI one day ? we?d had a couple of drinks and were a bit tipsy ? it started to rain so we were running like mad to get back to the camp and I fell in this monsoon ditch and it had 6 foot of water in it!

Hylda ? What about the camels?
Maurice ? Oh, that was another thing. Camels! There used to be a camel train come through once a week and I was, you know we all did it, on guard duty outside the main gate with a rifle and bayonet. All the bearers on the camels were fast asleep so they just turned the first one round and all the others would follow. Four hours later when this guy wakes up??.
Fiona ? How do you fall asleep on a camel?
Maurice ? I don?t know, but they did! They used to curl up with their legs there and their head on the hump.

* Lysander ? A British army aircraft used during the Second World War.
** - NAAFI ? Navy, Army and Airforce Institute. The NAAFI provided recreational activities and sold goods to armed forces personnel and their families.

Keywords RAF, India, Melksham, Lancasters, Air raid shelter, Spitfire
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place India
Year 1942
Conflict World War Two
File type html
Record ID number 110

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