Transcript of Tape Two of my interview with Roy Shillinglaw
(Castletown, Isle of Man, Summer 1988)

 

Lieut. Roy Shillinglaw

 

Me: What did you get up to in your free time?

RS: Well, you were flying all night. I mean sometimes we did two raids a night. We'd come back and load up with petrol and bombs and ammunition and go again, and you'd take off at dusk before it got dark and you'd get to bed at about two, three or four o'clock in the morning. You'd be in bed 'till about 9 o'clock, put your flying coat on and go across to the mess and have an omelette, and very good omelettes they were, and coffee or something like that; then get dressed, that would be half past ten or eleven, go for a bit of a walk, have lunch, go to the operational room in the afternoon or we might have a game of Medicine Ball.

Me: What exactly was that?

RS: It's a big leather ball about fifteen or eighteen inches across, leather... heavy; and you'd have a rope across, strung about seven or six feet from ground level, and you threw it across and counted like you do in tennis. You'd have a team of four on either side throwing this over at each other for exercise. So you'd have, you know, love one or love two, whatever you count in tennis - I forget now... and then you got to forty and whatanot and then 'game'.

 



A game of 'Medicine Ball'

 

So we'd play that, then go to the orderly room or operational room, have a look at the orders for the night and go back to our huts, get dressed have a high tea at about half past five; by six or seven o'clock we'd be getting into our flying kits and off again, so we hadn't much time really for frivolity or going about.

Me: What about the sleeping arrangements?

RS: Well, we had two in a hut actually - Nissen huts divided into two- and there were two in each portion. I shared one with a fellow called Jameson and I had my camp bed there, and that was that, and I used to just come back from a raid, put my report in, have a cup of coffee in the mess, and a sandwich, stagger into bed and wake up in the morning! (laughs)... start again next day.

Me: Did you ever get shot at by the locals? Kingsford said when he came out of the brothel they used to get shot at!

RS: Oh, no I don't remember anything like that at all. Kingsford made a foolish statement in that. I think I told you that we flew down from Ochey which was about fifteen miles from Nancy... we flew down to Xaffévillers which was about fifty miles south of Nancy, to our new aerodrome - I flew down with Middleton actually. The whole squadron flew down and Kingford said that in his machine they took a mechanic...that all the machines took a mechanic instead of an observer in case they broke down. Well that's silly nonsense..."in case they broke down" - what about when they were operational? There was no mechanic then if they broke down! So he made a bloomer there.

Me: It must be difficult to remember every detail I should think.

RS: Oh, yes, yes. He was quite a character, I think I've got a picture of Kingsford here.

Lieut. A.R. Kingsford

 

Pilot, A.R. Kingsford in his Fe2b (seated front)

 

(Break)

Shillinglaw is has just been speaking of his friend from nearby 215 squadron, Hugh Monaghan...

 

RS: ...phone goes...the CO: "You're not flying tonight then Shillinglaw?" I said "no sir" so he said "Well, take charge of the aerodrome on the control tower."

Me: Roughly what date would that have been?

RS: August... no september. So, I had to go across to the control tower... and we'd got two Handley Page squadrons and our own Fe2bs and whatnot, about forty or fifty planes on the aerodrome. So, I had to flash them off and flash them in, and all this and the other, and we lost six machines that night.100 squadron lost one at Frankfurt- Johnson, Chainey and Pitman. 215 squadron lost several and the other squadron lost one or two. Included in this 215 squadron was my friend Monaghan. I waited up for an hour after sunrise hoping they'd come back, but they never did. He was shot down.

 

Lieut. Hugh B. Monaghan (1894-1974)

 

Me: So what happenned to him?

RS: Well, he was captured and put in a prison camp in Poland and eventually got back to England when the war finished, but I went to stay with him several times outside Torronto where he lived. Yes, here's an article by me...(produces 'Cross and Cockade' magazine) They wrote to me, those people, and asked me if I'd give them an experience. There's quite an interesting book here by this fellow Hugh Monaghan. (Picks up book entitled 'The Big Bombers of World War One') There's a photograph of me in there.

Me: Did you hear anything about Baron Von Richtofen in those days or was that all afterwards?

RS: No, no. I know we were swimming in the Moselle one afternoon and we saw six red aeroplanes fly over us, about a couple of thousand feet and they were Richtofen's circus I think, because all his machines were all red.

Me: What was your impression?

RS: Well, we just saw them, that's all.

Me: Had he acheived his infamy by then?

RS: Oh, I think so, yes, whether he was with them on that occasion or not I don't know; and then again, I was going to France and I got to Paris and the Rail Transport Officer sent me on on a train to report to his counterpart in Nancy, and on the way - it was daylight - six of these red machines went right alongside our train as we were approaching Nancy.

Me: Golly, and they didn't do anything?

RS: No, No. (lights another cigarette). I'm trying to find this picture of .. Miles. He was a clean shaven, thin faced sort of fellow. He became a Captain.

 

 

(Left to right) Penruddocke, Bill Crofts, 'Willie', Boyle (killed), Miles, Andy.

 

Johnson was a rather heavy sort of type with big whiskers, quite an old boy as far as we were concerned. He was shot down at Frankfurt, aye, and Bright, he flew with Bright as well I see. He was quite a good chap too.

Me: What sort of training did you have as a gunner?

RS: Training? Well, we went through fighting school in England you know, aerial combat and all that, with a camera gun and all that sort of thing, and eventually with proper machine guns.

Me: Which gunnery school were you at?

RS: I was at Lyme (?) near Hythe, down there, and New Romney, I was there for a while on Bristol fighters and then I went to Stonehenge where I did day and night flying and bombing and machine gunnery and all that sort of thing.

Me: Initially, what motivated you to join?

RS: Well I don't know... I was at school and the time was coming when I was going to be called up - I got to put my name down for something or other and they could get me into this that or the other and get a commission, so I plumped for the Royal Flying Corps. I don't know why... jolly glad I did too... instead of the infantry. Not much fun in the infantry in those days... oh no. Trenches, oh, terrible, terrible...Used to fly over the front, and for a mile you'd see just a ribbon of brown earth. Complete devastation! Nothing! not anything... not a tree, not anything there alive, just trenches and mud. Terrible, terrible. Well, we had a bed, and we had a tablecloth. (Chuckles) Yes...yes.

Me: Did you ever get bombed when you were in bed?

RS: Aye, we'd come rushing out and go into the slit trenches. We had slit trenches nearby. We were in these Nissen huts, you know, and we'd got earthworks all round outside you know, to keep bomb splinters and whatnot from us; and then a raid would take place and we'd got slit trenches nearby and we'd jump into these, and I remember jumping in and cowering down shivering like the devil with fright, and the bomb went off somewhere or other and a bloody great piece of shrapnel hit the earth, just six inches from my head! Just into the earth alongside my head!

I was in Budleigh Salterton for a couple of nights. I went down there to Exeter, with some friend who was staying with his sister, and I went to Budleigh Salterton and stayed in a pub there, an inn. I went to stay two nights there. I was very comfortable and I was in a little snug there, with one or two, having a beer after dinner, and I was talking to a chap and he said "Well, I had a very funny experience in the war in Africa, in the desert" He said "I was in a slit-trench and they came over bombing - German aeroplanes, and a damn big piece of shrapnel came down within a foot away from me and on it..." and he said this was absolutely true "..was my regimental number!" He said "thats as true as I can make it." Isn't that extraordinary?

Me: Almost like the bullet that had his name on it!

RS: I had a funny experience too. October the first... my first leave from France...a car took me to a place called Charmes about three or four o'clock... got the train to Nancy about fifty miles away....got to Nancy and I had got to get the eight o'clock for Paris. From Paris I got to Boulogne and from there across to England. Well, I got to Nancy, and to the station. An air raid started, so everybody rushed in between the platforms onto the tracks, you know, to shelter from the bomb spillage and whatnot, all cowering down there. Eventually the 'all clear' goes and we rushed across to the train. I got on and had a first class warrant for a first class seat, and I couldn't get near a first class seat, all the peasants and women with bags of eggs and cabbages and so forth, just piled into the carriages everywhere. I was in the corridor. I put my leather suitcase on the floor and sat on it and went to sleep next to one of the doors.
I was leaning against the hinge of the door and I woke up because of a hell of a racket going on. I woke up and there was the door open! we were in a tunnel, and the door was hitting the tunnel roof, banging to...opening again... bang...bang...bang, like that. I was looking down onto the track down there! If I had been on the other side of the door, where the catch was, I could easily have fallen out couldn't I? I wouldn't have been missed for weeks would I? In a tunnel during the war? So I got to Paris about half past six in the morning, went to a barber and had a shave and a wash, went and got some breakfast somewhere or other, pottered around Paris, got the train at six o'clock that night for Boulogne, got to Boulogne, to the officers mess, blow me down there was another air raid! So I'd got to get in the slit trenches again while they were bombing us. The next morning I got on the boat to Dover and then home for a fortnight. Aye, that was a long time ago.

Me: I expect you were quite glad to get back.

RS: Yes, and then on my leave my mother and father came up with me to London; and a friend of fathers, a Mr White, was staying at the Waldorf hotel. We had dinner, and father called for a cigar and he picked a 'Henry Clay' cigar - four and sixpence. I said "Good god father! We've got these in our mess for threepence each! I'll send you a box when I get back." So I bought a box of a hundred. At two hundred and forty pence to a pound they were about twenty five to thirty bob for a hundred. I parcelled them up and got a friend to post it to him when he went home on leave, which he did. Father never opened it until I got home after the war.
After dinner we went to a show. 'George Robey' was on. I remember him coming on the stage - he says " Oh I've just met me best girl at the stage entrance with a bunch of flowers in one hand and me kind regards in the other!" (Laughter)
He announced that the Germans had acccepted President Wilson's points for ending the war. President Wilson had made up some points and the Germans were willing to accept them. Everybody started cheering and standing on the seats and shouting and everything, and this Mr White, next to me, smacked me on the back and said "Roy, you're going back to a Bobbys' job!" Well, next morning I went off. It took me all day to get to Paris and then I got to Nancy and I got to my squadron about four or five o'clock, and they said "Oh yes, he's just in time for flying" and I was over Mannheim that night. So that was my Bobbys' job!... (Chuckles) Aye,.so life went on. It's all 'old hat' really.

Me: It's all of great interest to me and many others... quite valuable actually.

RS: I don't know what I can tell you technically. I don't know how the bombs were released but they were on a clasp of some sort...

 

Bomb rack on FE2b (looking forward along the nacelle).

 

Return after tea break...

RS: Once we went to Metz-Sablon and we went to a big height, about eight thousand feet I suppose, it was a full moonlit night, and er... a very strong wind - about sixty mile an hour and we went in high because it was a full moon. We bombed this Zeppelin shed and there was an awful crash and a shell had come right through... missed the bomb racks by about two feet and missed the rear gunner by about two feet and went clean through the plane and never exploded. That rear gunner, who had won a military medal in the trenches, he never flew again, he refused to fly any more. We came home and it took us nearly three hours to get back to the lines which, were only thirty miles away, because of this stong wind against us... a sixty five odd mile an hour wind and our airspeed was seventy five. So we were only doing ten miles an hour groundspeed. Oh it was a crawl!

Me: Was there any sort of camraderie between you and the enemy pilots? I mean did they ever wave at you or anything?

RS: No, we never saw them because it was dark. Invariably it was pitch black and, the first you knew, it was a hail of machine gun bullets. You'd never see the other fellow at all. We went over one night and we'd got eight, 140 pound baby incendiary bombs and eight, 112 pound high explosive. We'd just gone over the lines and there's this almighty crash. Oh, a shattering row! and the port engine on my left... the propellor had gone - completely shattered, and we carried in the cell of the engine, a fifty gallon tank of petrol, what they call an 'Eagle Seven' engine.. Rolls Royce. It had a fifty gallon tank in the back of the engine, in the cell... Why they had it it there I don't know, but anyway this fighter had hit us, hit the prop - shattered it to bits, pierced the tank and the whole thing was on fire. There must have been flames from here to that window over there! (indicates a distance of around twenty five feet) running right down the left hand side of the plane! What the poor rear gunner felt I don't know. We did a big side-slip to the right, took the flames away from the body of the 'plane, got within a thousand feet of the ground and it had burned itself out. So we limped back to the aerodrome on one engine, crashed the machine on the aerodrome... I was sending out distress signals, red lights, Aldis lights and so on. Nobody took any notice of us at our aerodrome. It turned out there had been a new operational controller from England who had taken over that night and he didn't understand what our signals were at all. We plonked the machine down and she was completely written off. I was thrown out twenty yards, but we were all alright. I was afraid these incendiaries would go off when we hit you see, but they didn't.

Me: What happened to Inches and Box?

RS: Well, what happened there was, we'd got FE2b's and we were going to equip with Handley-Pages...When we got our first Handley-Page I was swimming in the river...there was a small river nearby and we used to go and swim there in a pool. A fellow called Boyd was with us. We were having our swim and so on at about three or four o'clock in the afternoon. Boyd was down to go in this Handley-Page as rear gunner that night with Box and Inches. Box was the pilot, and Inches was the observer. I was sitting in a 'Fee' waiting to take off and Hugh Monaghan, the fellow in that book, was in his Handley Page alongside us and we saw this Handley-Page go across us just like that (gesturing)...we were sitting waiting for our signal to take off from the control tower. This Handley Page of ours went across that way (indicates to right) to take off, went along and along the ground... rose about ten or fifteen feet from the ground. At the far side there was a row of poplar trees. They went between the poplar trees and the right wing hit a poplar and they peeled over into the ground... hit head on, fired straight away...and a hell of a flame! I said to Middleton, my pal "We should get down, there'll be a hell of an explosion when those bombs go off!" So we got down on the ground and these bombs went off. There were these trees behind us and it was a very still night and it blew those trees like a hurricane had hit them... the blast.
A lot of fellows rushed up to try and get these fellows out - which they never did - eight were killed in addition to these three in the crew. Boyd was the rear gunner by the way, this fellow I'd been swimming with, and another fifteen were injured.

 

Inches and Box

 

Me: How come so many were killed?

RS: Well, they went up to try and pull them out, there were flames all burning like hell and of course the bombs were still on the plane. Up go the bombs! it blew one engine...next day I paced it out, two hundred and fifty yards and the other a hundred and fifty. I paced it out myself.

 

 

Me: So who were the people that tried to rescue them, the other eight?

RS: Well, I don't know really, there were all kinds of chaps nearby - from 215 squadron. It was near their hangars. They were all from that lot, they weren't from our sqaudron... but they were killed or wounded. What happened, I think, was that this machine was on the ground and its elevator controls in the rear were strapped, to stop them waggling in the wind, and I don't think they'd been unstrapped when he took off, so he couldn't elevate the machine... I'm sure that was the cause of it.

Me: That's tragic...

RS: Yes, that was our first Handley-Page. So the next day Lord Trenchard comes along. We officers got together at the aerodrome...he sat on his stick there... "Gather round" and he gave us a pep talk- "It's very unfortunate, just getting a new machine and this happens" and this, that and the other "But nevertheless there are plenty more pilots, plenty more observers and plenty more machines in the pool. Get cracking! My targets have got to be bombed!" That's all he said and that was that. I heard him say that myself.

Air Marshall Sir Hugh Trenchard, K.C.B, D.S.O. (1919)

 

RS: I did about twelve or fifteen raids in Handley-Pages, we didn't like them very much, and when you think you carried fourteen, 140 pound bombs - baby incendiaries, now that was a hundred and forty pounds in a cannister which stood about that high and that wide. (Indicates a roughly three and a half by two foot object with his hands) There are 272 bombs in each cannister. Little bombs in a little case but they were devastating things. They had a loose bottom with a rod which held the bottom in to the top, which was tied with string. When you pulled the control a knife came across and cut the string, the rod fell away with the bottom and these bomb showered out. At five thousand feet one of these cannisters would cover five hundred by one hundred yards, it would smother the ground with 272 of these incendiary bombs. Vicious things. I've seen them burn through corrugated iron just like it was silver paper. We carried fourteen of these cannisters sometimes. Well, one bullet in that lot and that would have been it, wouldn't it?! Never thought of it at the time...

Me: Did you have tracer rounds in the Lewis guns at that time?

RS: Every third bullet was a tracer, and I used to have twin guns on the Handley-Page up front, with one trigger, so when I fired I was discharging two guns. Each gun was firing five hundred rounds a minute so I was firing a thousand rounds a minute. You'd only use it for bursts of ten, then rest for a couple of seconds, and then again.

 

Lewis guns on a Handley Page bomber.

 

Me: Did you ever shoot at any fighters?

RS: Oh, once or twice but they had gone past so quick you hadn't a chance.

Me: My father actually managed to shoot down a plane, and this chap Kevin Kelly (then assistant to Peter Liddle, the WW1 historian) didn't think that there was anyone else from the squadron who'd managed it.

RS: Yes maybe, it wasn't often you got a chance like that to do so. They'd gone so quickly in the dark, you couldn't see them at all.

Me: My father was saying that he saw a machine about to land, a Gotha, and they dived on it, he shot at it and saw it crashing on the flare path.

RS: We used to go to this place Boulay you know. They had 28 hangars there. Your father went there many times. I went fourteen times myself and there were two Gothas in each hangar. We used to bomb these things you know, the whole squadron., eighteen machines.

 

Next transcript (Nos.3&4)

Interview Tape Index

RFC intro page

Emails I have received about these pages

More pictures of 100 squadron RFC from my father's album

Various WW1 related objects in my possession and some found at the old aerodrome site nearXaffévillers in France

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