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Working life of a young boy on war work

by Peoples War Team in the East Midlands

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
Peoples War Team in the East Midlands
People in story: 
Peter Marwood
Location of story: 
Tollerton Aerodrome, Nottingham
Article ID: 
A4255021
Contributed on: 
23 June 2005

"This story was submitted to the site by the BBC's Peoples War Team in the East Midlands with Peter Marwoods permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions"

I am coming up to the age of 79 and on leaving school, infact just before I was 14 and within a year I had joined Tollerton Aircraft Services. When I went there I was immediately taken in tow with the electrical section and the types of aircraft which was in at that particular time. We are now talking of late 1942, which were Hampden Bombers. In addition going on memory there was also 3 Bristol Bombay transports in the main hanger. Hampden bombers were being overhauled and put back into service in addition to all these two types of aircraft.

We also had O/H Douglas A20 G Bostons and Lancasters these particular Aircraft had actually come in by road and air. Lancasters as I remember were in sections D1, D2, D3 and D4 and so forth built up the complete bomber. All of them had already been in service with the Royal Airforce and had actually been shot up in some cases very badly — how the hell they got back lord above knows.

Typical examples of this is when they took the self sealing petrol tanks out of one and they used to put it in a wooden jig and turn the handle and take the plates off to check the inside of the tanks and in doing so they heard something rumble inside and took the panel off and found the live incendiary bomb which had come from the aircraft above, gone through the wing. The air force had actually put a patch on the wing and it had been flying with the incendiary bomb inside the fuel tank.

Another example which amazed us all was the fact that the port outboard engine had caught fire and there seemed to be no damage to the other port inner. The actual heat from the port outboard engine had melted the Perspex to the astro dome on the top and also to the side windows crew compartment, absolutely amazing. At this particular time, you have got to remember also that I would have put the labour force at about 70% female, at least and of course young boys like myself, there were very few men involved and they would be in the senior citizens at that time.

There were 4 hangers, Bridge hanger, Bell hanger, the main hanger and the old club hanger, which was very, very small indeed. I believe that it is still there today, of course which belongs to a civilian organisation — I think at the present time it is Truemans.

The Hampdens were done in the Bell Hanger and the Bridge Hanger was for three Lancasters in line. The main hanger used to hold 23 Lancasters, this was absolutely amazing, not including the wings the complete fuselage they used to come up to a point where two Lancasters were virtually complete aircrafts, less engines.

Once the main wheels and wings had been attached on and all of the sections had been serviced they used to then tow the aircraft over to the bridge hanger for complete assembly and then as I said all 3 aircrafts used to come out of the other end door, fuelled up and then test flown and then back to the RAF.

Another interesting little snip it, before the girls could work on the aircraft, in one particular case I remember very ,very clearly an aircraft that they would not allow anyone on board until they had actually hosed down because of the terrible mess and I need not say what it was but it was all over the place. How these aircraft ever got back again I really do not know — control cables completely shot away to the flying controls , it was just so incredible. Another one which I can remember where an incendiary bomb had actually landed on the navigator table and that was all terribly burnt in that area. Some times we would get the RAF aircrew come round and in the lunch time which was only half an hour we used to work seven days a week, right through the night as well as the daytime with shifts.

The air crew used to come round and talk to us and I remember one crew saying “Well good god look at that, that is our aircraft” and they gave us interesting stories of what we were doing and helping the war effort and all the rest of it. I also do recall Stafford Cripps coming round and the girls decided in their wisdom to cause a bit of laughter among themselves. When he passed the Lancasters, the girls that were putting the rivets in had another girl on the other side with a dolly block, when he was walking by they’d lift the back of the dolly block off the rivet and the noise was chaotic — you could not hear yourself in the hanger, it was just like a machine gun going off and of course the girls had done this on purpose — it was a bit of a laugh all round.

Later as the war went on they decided that the Hampdens would not be required by bomber command. The contract going on memory was to break up 500 of the Hampdens so they were flown into Tollerton Aircraft Services. They used to strip part of them down, take the wings and engines off and what you have, for some unknown reasons, they used to hook onto to a lorry and tow the remainder of the aircraft over to Brush at Loughborough for them to dismantle further.

The strange thing about it was right at the end of the contract of course as soon as the aircraft came in if there was anything like a bit of Perspex it was removed. A lot of them used to make different things with the Perspex, picture frames and things like this. There is what I understand a very good piece of Perspex, which was on the Hampden Bomber for the pilot to look through and what they used to do was to take this - other things used to disappear of course. I also remember this particular Hampden which was over and above the contract figure to break up and the ministry in their wisdom decided to fly it back out again and give it to Tollerton Aircraft Services.

When they saw the condition of the aircraft, I always remember that particular day the security stopped the buses going down the lane and checked to see if anyone had got anything that had come off the aircraft. The aircraft never flew again, this was actually dismantled at Tollerton.

I could go on for hours talking about the different things we used to do. There was a very happy spirit, very cold, the heating was totally inadequate, it did not work at all infact what we used to do in the winter months was to get hessilin off the packing cases where the new parts used to come in, all of us used to do this and wrap it round our feet and legs, right up past our knees to keep us warm whilst on the aircraft.

Towards the end of the war I left to go into the Royal Air Force. On my first leave I came back to see my mates and girls. As I came up the lane (I was on a bike) a particular Lancaster struck me very very much — it had got 140 bombs on the side of it, it had shot down 1 German jet fighter, also shot down another aircraft but then right across the top was painted “Mother of all Lancasters” and to my astonishment the initials PM for my own name. That aircraft was eventually I understand broken up, nobody seems to know much about it, what happened to it or anything and the only think I can think of was the last time I was at Tollerton Aircraft Services.

I went inside this Lancaster to have a good look and believe it or not I could not scratch on that aircraft, unbelievable, it looked so dirty so scruffy, another Lancaster that was close by had instead of the raydome underneath had a radar controlled cannon facing AFT.

When I came out of the RAF I came out in April 1948, I went back to the Field Aircraft services. You won’t be possibly interested but there was a number of aircrafts in the main hanger and the other hangers, but the main hangers in particular because they were checking over the civilian use and of course by this time you have got to remember it was now Field Aircraft service, in the first instance it belonged to Rolleston Aircraft company of Croydon and I understand that in 1941 it was changed to Field Consolidated Aircraft Services by the Hunting Group who took it over and it was then called Tollerton Aircraft services.

I think Field Aircraft Services actually took it over in the middle of the war not at the end and I came back and I recall that there was a DC2 South African with the main door on the opposite side to where the majority of DC3’s have them. It was a single door, it had also got a cinema inside and the upholstery was extremely super for that day. I had never seen an aircraft with upholstery like it, however we were doing apprentices and proctors and other types of aircraft Avro tutor Dehavilland 86, Dehavilland 89. I was with Field Aircraft Services for over 40 years.

The badge for Tollerton Aircraft Services 1940-1945 was a triangle badge with a Hampden Bomber flying through the clouds and everybody of course had one of these as their entrance into the factory.

The other side of Tollerton was the training side for the Polish Pilots. The airforce at Tollerton in those days had miles masters and harvards and going on memory one oxford. Infact in the oxford on a Saturday afternoon I used to turn up with ATC uniform on and hope we would get a flight with the Polish crews. I can remember once only going with them on a hop over. I think that they must have popped in for refuelling; I do not know why they used to call in so regular but the types of aircraft carried from Balacuda to Lysanders, every type of aeroplane that was actually flying at that time of day.

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