Transcript of Tapes Three & Four of my interview with Roy Shillinglaw
(Castletown, Isle of Man, Summer 1988)
Roy (right) in a more casual moment.
Off tape, Roy had been recounting a time when he was strafing a train and his Lewis gun had jammed. I switched on the tape as he continued to describe how the mechanism had jammed.
RS: ...it had broken and overlapped itself...so if you pushed it forward, it pushed this broken piece underneath this other piece...in a wedge made it worse than ever and if you did it the other way...the same way, it was again like a wedge and absolutely locked it solid.
Me: And that wasn't one of the things you were used to happening a lot?
RS: It never happened, It never ever happened, it's just one of those freak things. So anyway, it took the armourors three days to clear that gun, they could't get it...couldn't shift it.
RS: Three days, yep. Aye.
Me: Good lord. So they were quite keen on the guns...
RS: So, Middy (Middleton) apologised to me the next day about it, where he'd been to the armoury too and seen this gun, and he'd saw how...
Me: So, you'd shot up this train, and how many...
RS: Oh, we had to break away, straight away because the gun was useless. Aye, Oh I don't know how many I must have killed that night, just hosing this gun up and down the train like this (simulates sweeping his machine gun back and forth).
Me: Did you feel any sort of remorse? I suppose one didn't really because it was war.
RS: No. None at all, never thought of it. All we wanted to do was kill Germans if we could. As we used to say "There's only one good German, that's a dead one" mmm.
Well I think it's time we went to bed isn't it...
Tape 4 ~ The next day.
RS: We'd be looking for a target and if we'd see a bit of transport on the ground we'd go down and give them a squirt. (from the machine gun)
Me: What would that have been?
RS: Oh, there'd be lorries, transport lorries going up to the front and things.
Me: What would be the reaction when you started machine gunning them?
RS: Oh, they used to go all over the place, pull up under trees and things like that when they realised we were around but we used to shoot up anything that was moving really.
Me: Could you see the people?
RS: No, you can't see the people at all, no
RS: And then we found various targets and then we went back and had a look at our train. And there was an engine coming down from Metz down the line to relieve this other engine. Apparently we'd hit the engine too. I think we must have hit the driver or something or other, I don't know, or injured the engine. So he came along. As he came along we gave him a squirt, we'd no bombs left, but we gave him a good squirt with the guns. (Chuckles). Then passed on. I think I told you about this other experience about shooting up a train and I got this jam of the Lewis gun, and it couldn't be cured for three days even in the armoury.
Me: So you never actually saw the people?
RS: You never saw them at all. I think I must have killed a lot of Germans really, I mean when you're running a machine gun right along the row of ten carriages,up and down it like that.
Me: Would they"ve been army?
RS: Full of troops, Army. Yes, they would've been all troop trains at night, so what it did I don't know, but we had to break off because of this jam, and furthermore they'd got three machine guns firing at us - they'd got on the train, which we didn't like very much.
Me: So did you ever do any in the day?
RS: No, I was always night flying. Oh yes. Used to get a bit worried coming back sometimes, when dawn was breaking and we were just sort of crossing the lines and it was dawn. We'd keep a sharp lookout for their dawn patrols. You know, they'd have the fighters up. So we didn't like that very much.
Me: Can you relate any particular offensives on the ground with which you were associated in the air?
RS: No, we didn't know what was happening on the ground at all. I'll tell you what we used to do though, we used to go to the target, and probably I'd have six drums of ammunition with ninety seven rounds in each drum, and probably I'd use two or three drums.
2 / Lieut.W. Rogers and Capt. R.P. Keely,
with Lewis guns and ammunition pans.
So I'd have two or three hundred rounds left over. So Middy and I used to have a bit of fun as we came back, we used to come fairly low down, about two thousand feet, fifteen hundred feet and run up and down the German line with my gun just turned overboard with the trigger going bang, bang, bang, y'know up and down their trenches, using up our ammunition and hoping we might hit a German. Whether we did I don't know.
Me: What were the physical factors involved in flying? In the experience of prolonged active service what were the psychological or emotional factors?
RS: Well I told you I got sort of double vision towards the end of the war, which was tiredness I think really. Mental tiredness I s'pose.
Me: What about for other people?
RS: I don't know. I never heard of anybody having double vision, I never mentioned it even. I don't know. I could have gone sick and have been laid off flying, but I never did. No, I think before you fly, everybody had a tummy ache, we all had a belly ache before we got in the machine, but as soon as you're in the machine you're so busy and all that left you completely. You're busy and active until you've taken off and that was that. It's a funny business flying, I wouldn't like to do it now though.
Me: Tell us a bit about what was involved in hitting a target and damaging it with small bombs.
RS: Well we carried twenty five pounders. On the Fe2b we carried four under each wing, that was eight, and we carried one or two hundred and twelve pounders. We used these twenty five pounders as what we called 'Daisy cutters'. What damage they did I don't know but they were a nasty bomb if they hit anything. If they hit something or other, you know, if they hit an ammunition dump or a petrol storage it'd set it off. What they did I don't know, we used to see them burst, that was all we knew.
Me: What was the most devastating raid that was undertaken by 100 squadron when you were in it?
RS: Oh, I think about my second or third raid, with Middleton, was a place called Hagendingen or Thionville about thirty miles north of Metz. And it was a very big blast furnace, blast furnaces and electrical generating station. And we'd got to go and bomb this, eighteen machines, the whole squadron went and dropped - I think we only carried a hundred and twelve pound bomb each. We went in and dropped these things on this blast factory...very interesting...when you were approaching it you could see the blast furnace going you know, twenty or thirty miles away you could see all the red glow. Then you'd see the red glow in the sky going up and down. It'd come up - flare up - and die down. They were throwing sand on the fires, the furnaces, you see, to damp them down. As they threw the sand on, it flared up, lit up the sky, then died down. They kept on doing that 'till they'd damped it down you see. Then we went in, and we heard, after that, we didn't lose any machines, but we knocked out the whole of the electrical supply for Northern Lorraine in German hands, all around that area, Metz and soforth. We'd hit that generating plant.
Me: Did any of your observers ever get wounded by fire? Or killed?
RS: Yes we had one or two.
Me: Who were they?
RS: Well, I mentioned a man called Scudamore, he was killed. There was a fellow living in the Isle of man, whom I knew, he died about two years ago, called Bean, he was wounded.
Me: Do you remember what circumstances?
RS: No, I don't know, just either shrapnel or machine gun fire, and down where I was with them, several chaps came in with wounds. I remember one chap got a bullet in the bottom, come through the seat, come from the ground through his seat and hit his bottom. Bruised him very badly and so on, he wasn't badly injured but he had to go to hospital. No we didn't have a lot of casualties like that, our casualties were from machines either crashing or failing to return. Engine trouble probably.
Me: What about the chaps that were mentioned in the Annals who got shot down and had to find their own way back?
RS: Yes a man called Robertson...
Me: Wasn't Pendruddocke one of them?
RS: Robertson I think and another chap. They were brought down, the other side of the line and they abandoned the machine and they walked towards the line and they got through the German lines and there's a river. ..They'd got to get across, and one couldn't swim, so the other swam across with him, got him across, and eventually they crawled through and got back to the squadron. I remember them coming back. And they didn't fly again, they went back to England. Those were the only ones I know of that got back. We lost a few others that went missing of course.
Me: What about the songs that you sung?
RS: Oh, we had a lot of songs but I can't remember them now.
Me: There's a book of them in the other room. I'll go and get it.
RS: There was something about the pistons sticking to my ribs and this that and the other I can't remember them now.
Me: Can you remember anything at all?
RS: No, I can't, I can't, we had a few dirty ones (laughs) but I can't remember them now. Oh, I never knew I had this either. (peruses the book of songs I had brought in from my bedroom in his bungalow.) You've raked up books I never knew I'd got!
Me: You've got two copies of 'Raiders of the Night Air.'
RS: Have I? Well, do you want one? You can have it if you wish. Are there two there?
Me: There's two, yes.
RS: Well you can take one of them.
Me: Are you absolutely certain?
RS: You can have it with pleasure, I don't wan't two...
Me: Well, Thank you. Here we are... 'The Ragtime Flying Corps'
RS: Yes, I remember that.
Me: Do you remember how it went?
RS: No, I'm not musical at all.
Me: It's a good book this, I must write it down and order it. What's it called... 'The Airmans Songbook' by C H Ward.
RS: Of course , what one ought to have done is keep a diary you know. A day to day diary...Which I never did of course.
Me: Did you know anyone that did?
RS: Oh, I think one or two chaps did. We kept a log book. I've got a log book.
(Moments later )
Me: The mess...can you tell us a bit about the routine, or absence of it, in daily life on active service?
RS: Well, it was a very formal mess. At our dinner every night, the CO was there at the top table with his flight commanders on both sides of him. Then we had two legs, with we Lieuts and junior officers on all the other legs. And we'd have our dinner and that sort of thing.
Me: What would you have for dinner?
RS: Well, we had quite a good dinner. We'd have some soup or we'd have some bully beef or something like that, with vegetables, rice pudding, coffee. That would be that. I remember once sitting there, it was at Xaffévillers, with a chap called Garrett from Pudsey near Leads. We were in the middle of dinner. We had our mess you see and then there was an ante-room leading into this dinning room. Well, when you go into the mess, into the ante-room or anywhere, you take off your 'Sam Brown' and you take off your hat. We're all having dinner and suddenly the door opened and in came an apparition, with a slouched hat on, a trench coat and a haversack on his back, marched straight up to the CO and saluted and said, "I've coom", "I've coom, I'm Garrett from Pudsey". Hehe. The CO said "How d'you do. Go and take your things off". We thought "Well, what have we got here?" (Chuckles)
Me: What had you got there?
RS: Well, he didn't distinguish himself, he was just an ordinary flying bod. Hmmm. Aye.
Me: What about relaxation in the town or in the mess.
RS: Well, if there was no flying...a very bad weather report and flying washed out completely, the CO would let us have a tender to go into Nancy, and I think I told you previously we used go to the Liegois, a restaurant there, and have a very good dinner. And I remember that we went into a lounge after dinner, upstairs, a very nice plush sort of lounge, and there were some girls of 'easy virtue' sitting along one wall. We went round to the right and sat there and ordered some drinks, and a fellow called Lake, who was quite a character, called to the... a flower girl came in with a tray of carnations, about a hundred carnations, a tray of them like this. Lake said to this girl "Take a flower to Mademoiselle over there". So this flower girl went over to Mademoiselle and gave her the whole tray! Mademoiselle got up and bowed to Lake and Lake bowed back. Well, I don't know how much they were each one, but he'd got to pay for the whole trayfull. Ha! From there everyone nearly always gravitated to the brothel. 'Number nine' it was called 'Number nine.'
Me: Where was that?
RS: In the middle of the town. They were licensed you know, it was quite legal you know...and I wouldn't have anything to do with the women like that...I was too frightened of the disease and all that sort of thing.
Me: Was that a major factor, the disease?
RS: Well, not only that, but morally I wouldn't do anything like that
Me: Were you in a minority then?
RS: Yes, I think so. Most of the fellows went with the women. And er... it was very interesting really, they'd come in just in a chemise and warm their bottoms on the stove and prance around and so on. We'd drink champaigne at five bob a bottle and so on. After about an hour, hour and a half we'd clear off. But it was very interesting, when we arrived at these places you'd knock on the door, and Madame would say "Who is that?" And one of them, who could speak French, would say "Just two English officers" and of course she'd open the door a crack, and of course the foot was in the door and then we were in. You see, and there were about ten fellows! She was overwelmed of course. We'd get into the big common room and say "Where are the women" or "Where are the girls?" and then they'd be produced and so on. So the capers went on and after a while we'd clear off and get back..
Me: Were they all young?
RS: Yes anything from about eighteen to about twenty two or three. Aye, yes. Silly women.
Me: Were there any other things you did in the town?
RS: No, no, no... we rarely went into a town. Very, very rarely.
I went one day into a place called Epinal. (I went there last august with my nephew from Hong Kong.) We went into Epinal once and went into what they call the 'Magasines'- big stores, had quite a bit of fun there, with the girls, the shop assistants and so forth. Have a bit of lunch, come back, read orders and get cracking with the flying... He heh.
Me: Were you popular with the local community?
RS: No, we never ever met the local people at all. There was a village about a mile away, but we never met any of them. No, we were quite an isolated community. We were shut off from the world really, on our airfield. All we were doing was flying... flying, doing a bit of walking or a bit of medicine ball or something like that. Flying, that's all. We never went out otherwise.
Me: Did anyone strike up any lasting relatiuonships with any of the local girls? Or.. not lasting as the case may be?
RS: No, none at all. But I did a trip in '55 with my wife and son and I called at Ochey and I took a couple of pounds of coffee beans with me because there, in the First War they were making coffee from acorns. So I took two pounds of coffee beans in half pound bags and I knew they'd be welcome. So we went in this place, and we saw an old lady walk in with a damn big bottle of red wine under her arm, I should think half a gallon, I should think. I stopped and said "how do you do?" to her. I said "Were you here in the premier guerre?" and she said "Oui monseur" I said "So was I" She looked at me as if she didn't believe me and I said "Do you remember us hitting the steeple of your church one night?" "Oh, oui!" You could see how the steeple had been repaired...
Me: What had happened?
RS: One of our machines hit the steeple...Twisted it round and round and round, itwas a real mess. It had taken off you see, it was dark, and whatnot, and a bit low you see, and it hit the steeple of the village.
A.C. Kilburn's crash after hitting Ochey Church, July, 1917.
So we went on, (in 1955) went to the Mayors house, asked for the Mayor, found where he lived and er, "Oh yes, come in." Well we went in the front door and down the passage and on the right was a stable door with a horse with it's head looking at us in the passage. You know.. with it's head sticking out. I said "Howd'ye do Rotten Nobby?" you know, sort of thing. We went into the parlour and I told him who I was, and I said "Do you remember us?" And he said "Yes, I was a corporal. I used to go across and look at your aeroplanes!" you see. So I said "Is it true that during this last war, the Germans shut all the women and children and old men in the church and fired it?" He said "Yes" and he must have sent out runners, because the next thing there were about four sons arrived with their wives and kids. They all came and we all went in the parlour and we had coffee, it wasn't tea I think, and they'd got a cake on the table which they cut. We had a piece of cake each, but none of them had any cake it was only for us. So we had a chat and I gave him the coffee beans. They shared them all out and they were very pleased to have them because they were still using acorns even then in '55... Yes... And then I passed on.
Then one day at home in Winslow, I got a letter from him. This letter had been posted in London and it was to the effect that his son was making a journey to England and he'd got him to post this letter to me from London to where I lived, instead of posting it from France. So I wrote to him and said 'how d'you do', glad to have had his letter and that. And that's that, I've never heard of him since then... He'd be dead.
Me: Do you know who it was that hit the steeple?
RS: No, I don't know, it was a fellow from 216 Squadron (A.C. Kilburn pictured above) which was a Naval Squadron that shared the aerodrome with us. But going back to Ochey you know, when I went through it in 1971 with my friend Monaghan, I was amazed when I looked at the aerodrome, went round it. On the other side it was all rocks and rough ground. I thought to meself, if we'd had an engine failure taking off, we'd have landed amongst all this stuff, you know. The aerodrome was a bit raised up. It was almost on the top of a hill and down below was all this rough, rocks and crags and stuff. Aye.
Me: What about pets?
RS: Pets? We had a squadron dog.
Me: A mascot or something?
RS: Yes,we had a squadron dog and he used to rush out to the machine and welcome it with barks as we taxied to a hanger he was following, you know.
Me: Do you remember it's name?
RS: No, I can't remember.
Me: It wasn't 'Blackie' was it?
Blackie and Liet. S.N.Bourne
RS: Might have been. I can't remember. But I had a funny experience at Ochey. We were in huts with about twelve beds in each hut and I was in the second bed. And I came in about 2 o'clock in the morning, to go to bed after being on a raid, and I got into bed and I put my feet into a bunch of kittens. We'd got a squadron cat and it lived underneath the hut and it had had some kittens and it brought each kitten into my bed and shoved it right down into my blankets, right between the blankets where I slept, right to my feet, and there were about three or four kittens there. Ha Ha, I forget what I did with them.
Me: What about particular words that you invented amongst yourselves for things, you know, unusual terms and expressions? Do you remember any in particular?
RS: No, I don't. We all had nicknames. They called me 'Shilly'. They'd call your father 'Bub'... 'Bub' Wilson. And Middleton... I think Middleton was called 'Middy'... No, not particularly. Actually I was at a public school here at King Williams.(in the Isle of Man) and it was very like being in a 'house' at school. The mess with the fellows, all similar education and whatnot.
Me: Were there a lot of ex Mill Hill people there? Because my father was at Mill Hill school, and wondered if...
My father (bottom row, third left) at Mill Hill school circa 1910.
RS: Was he? Oh I don't know, I don't know.
Me: What about leave? How was that?
RS: Well, I got some leave... my leave came round. I went out mid june. I went out mid june. July, august, september- that's in three and a half months I got a fortnight's leave. That came around and I had my fortnight, then got back and I was flying again and I didn't get any more leave 'till about february. Something like that. And then I was de-mobbed about the following june. The squadron went out east actually, to Egypt, Alexandria and going on to the Northwest Frontier I believe. And I wasn't down to go with them because I was down for de-mobilisation. So I was posted to 214 squadron, south of Lille. And the squadron went out and... oh they lost quite a few of the chaps going accross the mediterranean. There was a fellow called Coombes, a flight commander, a very decent little fellow was Coombes. He was a pilot on one of them and that went down in the sea and was lost. Another friend of mine, I can't remember his name, I knew him very well, he was with them too and he was lost. They lost quite a few. Never heard of again. No. (pauses in recollection).
Me: What about your particular personal expertise in your service? As an observer, have you got any particular recollections of the technical problems of firing the Lewis gun from a moving aeroplane for example?
RS: No, no problem at all there that I'm aware of. I did have a reputation, I think, that I never got lost. I always knew where we were. I was lost on one occasion. I never let on to the pilot or anybody. But we'd been in cloud for about three quarters of an hour and when we came out, we'd drifted off course and one thing or another. I couldn't recognise the ground or anything else and it was dark and so on. But eventually I did pick it up and put him onto a different course and we got home. But I never got lost.
Now when the squadron came up from Xaffévillers to near where the Battle of Crecy was fought... Ligescourt, a place called Ligescourt. All ten machines were going, and we were supposed to rendez-vous at a certain point and fly in formation, day flying, and we'd all to go off and fly up to Ligescourt. Well, there was very low cloud, so we rendez-vous'd somewhere... No machines at all... They'd all rendez-vous'd about the cloud. So anyway, we set off - this fellow and I, we set off for Ligescourt and it was a long trip. We were about one hundred miles south east of Paris, so we flew along the course and one thing and another, and we saw the aerodrome at Paris as we went past- Le Bouget. And we got up to Ligescourt. Well we'd left at about ten o'clock in the morning and it was almost dark when we got to Ligescourt. It was about five o'clock or so. Anyway, it was dark because they were sending up rockets from the aerodrome. So we landed and we were the only ones to land from the squadron. They'd all come down in Paris with engine trouble. Obviously all wanted to spend the night in Paris you see, but we were the only ones who got there. I never, ever got lost, oh no, it was fatal. Nasty experience to be lost!
Me: What about cocktails and drinks in the mess, any particular favourites?
RS: No, I don't know, We had a beer. They used to drink mixed Vermouth, dry and sweetVermouth. I think that was a favourite drink really. No gin, just the Vermouth. We had a squadron came out to Xaffévillers, a new one, and they landed ten machines, and everyone landed on their noses. We'd got a bad ridge across the aerodrome and they landed on their noses and were wrecked, the whole squadron! Eventually they re-equipped and they borrowed - they had two machines, filled up with their pilots and observers and they borrowed two of our observers to take them round the lines you know, round the light-houses and the lines. Just to initiate them and so on. I didn't do it, but friends of mine did it. And then they'd drop our observers and they'd do it themselves. Our observers said "No, we'll stay with you." - "No no, we'll drop you" and go. So they did that and the two machines completely disappeared. One came down in Germany, lost. The other landed about two hundred miles south-west of France. They'd gone right over the neck of Switzerland into southern France and got lost. Crashed and some of them were killed. The whole squadron disappeared again!
Me: Good Lord.
RS: No, you'd got to know where you were all the time.
Me: What about a plane which to some would have appeared to be a total loss, did they do repairs there and then?
Fe2b from 100 Squadron with ground crew
RS: Yes, they would. They'd cannibalise and so on, and of course we'd got to bring the machine back if we could. And that's one of the reasons why we never had parachutes. Because if you hadn't a parachute you'd try to bring a machine back wouldn't you? To save your life. We never had parachutes, nobody had parachutes. The only people that did were the balloon observers. But the Germans had... towards the end of the war. Their fellows that were hit in a fighter, they'd jump out in a parachute, to which our fellows- I heard one of them say "That's not fair you know" He he.
Me: So did you feel that you should have had parachutes?
RS: Well, I think that we ought to have had them. Yes, we should have had them really.
Next transcript (No.5) Interview 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