Adam Peach interview with Mr John Watt, 2nd February 2016, Loxely Park Care Home, Sheffield. Grew up in York during the war and enlisted into the RAF in 1945. Became head of history at Newcastle University after the war.
0.0 – 3.20: Early Life – Born in York on the 29th March 1927. Eldest of 8 children, mother worked at Rowntrees, father worked on the railway. Attended primary school at St. Wilfreds and then on to Leeds St. Michael’s college from 1937 until 1944. Strong Catholic Upbringing. War was difficult for school but enjoyed sport, discipline was very tough. Enjoyed football and cricket. Joined the air Training Corps at 14. Joined the University Air squadron.
3.21 – 6.40: Outbreak of war – Listened to Chamberlain’s address, very sobering, but also slightly excited. Recalls finding his mother crying quietly whilst preparing the blackout. Knew prior that war was inevitable. Viewed Chamberlain as a worker for peace.
6.41 – 12.00: Memories of the effect of the war in York: Fall of France as the moment when the war became more serious. Memories of hearing about Dunkirk. Recalls seeing the suffering of some soldiers who had been visiting York. Recalls seeing Hurricanes frequently practice in the skies around York.
12.01 -16.48: Experiences of RAF bombers over York. John reveals a scar down his right leg from climbing over a fence. Recalls witnessing an RAF bomber explode over York in September 1943. Messenger in the Civil defence at the time. Recalls the horror of finding the mangled body of an airman. Frequent nightmares. Occurred after the bombers had formed up for a raid.
16.49 – 33.51: Memories of the Blitz – memories of the York raid. Had a job of blowing a whistle to alert the locals of an incoming raid. Recalls gas mask fittings as a child. York received evacuees from Hull, recalls the poverty of the people involved. Sound of the guns around York frightening, had an Anderson shelter in his father’s back garden. His school in Leeds was evacuated, went to an alternative school in York.
33.52 – 39.00: Opinions and news – Found out about the war via radio. Peak periods such as when Germany invaded Russia. Usually BBC news. Good opinion of Churchill, but not without his flaws. Recalls Churchill visiting Leeds during the 1945 election campaign. Parents were supporters of Clement Attlee. Voted for Labour in 1950.
39.01 – 40.30: Memories of rationing: Can’t recall rationing effecting his families lives. Entitled to more than they were using, mother was good at making do with what she had. People living on own effected more.
40.31 – 52.30: Memories of significant events – Memories of the build up to D-day, vast military presence. Knew the invasion was going to happen. Soldiers frequently visited from Stockton, last were Military policemen. Job was to direct traffic on the beaches. Got friendly with a MP from Devon, gave him his football boots. Used to chat with the soldiers when on exercise. Big Canadian presence in York. Knew Britain would win the war after the Americans entered and Germany invaded Russia. Fear of Japanese war, had to be fought brutally half way around the world. VE day celebrated in the union at Leeds.
52.32 – 61.00: Post War RAF service – Joined up on the 3rd September 1945. Taken allegiance in March. Air crew receiving centre first part of training and aptitude tests. Spent first weeks farming until superiors decided where they were needed. Became an RT operator, posted to Germany. Had to guide planes through an air corridor across Germany to Berlin. Stationed on Lüneburg Heath from December 1946 to March 1948.
61.01 – 66.00: Memories of Post war Germany – Helped ex Luftwaffe Navigator who had been a POW to improve his English to become a translator. Germans very friendly. Went through Braunschweig, heavily bombed in an RAF uniform, no reaction from Germans. Convinced there was going to be a war with Russia, British on Germany’s side.