Transcript of Tape Five of my interview with Roy Shillinglaw
(Castletown, Isle of Man, Summer 1988)
Me: I had one other question that I was going to ask you and that was, my father mentioned that there was a dispute in the squadron or at some stage of his career about the effect of tracer bullets when they hit petrol tanks, and there were some people who didn't really believe that they would cause the petrol tank to explode when they passed through.
RS: Well I should think so. It was a very live bullet actually, full of phosphorous. It was a shell full of phosphorous. and we had one in every three, every third one was a tracer. When you fired the gun, the tracer at a hundred yards, a hundred and fifty yards, the tracer would be about nine feet beneath the trajectory of the proper bullet because it was lighter. The proper bullet would go in a straight line and the the tracer was light and lower down, so when you trained the gun with tracer going you'd got to have the tracer well beneath the target, and a lot of people forgot about that.
Me: But, what about when it went through a petrol tank?
RS: Well, I couldn't tell you that, but I should think it would pierce a tank.
Me: Well my father said there was one chap who was so fervent...I don't know where this was, it might have been at the gunnery school...Who so fervently believed that it didn't explode petrol when it went through the tank, that he actually set some tanks up at the end of the field or wherever, and stood on them and had someone fire a tracer bullet through it. And it blew up.
RS: Yes, I think it would because it's going at the same speed as a normal bullet you know. I don't know what speed it is, but it's pretty fast. If youre firing at a target 200 yards away your bullets were there within about 3 seconds, I suppose.
(Ed: It seems to Grant and I as if Roy was a bit out here...We reckon it was probably more like 0.3 seconds)
Break ...Roy describes how he was put under arrest.
RS: .....Haines came out and he was 2nd Lieutenant and the CO went on leave and he promoted himself to First Lieutenant.
Me: Was this someone in 100 squadron?
RS: Yes, he was Adjutant. The First Adjutant when I was there, Gibson, he went home with 'DT's' - he was drinking. He went home and this fellow replaced him. And the CO went on leave so he recommended himself for a second pip and got it. And we sublieutenants didn't like it. We were doing the work you know and he was just an armchair wallah. He got a promotion and got another shilling a day or something like that. We didn't like it. It must have wrankled with me, because we were having a party and I was with a CO on a couch and he came round and I got up.."Ooo..." I said "You are a bastard aren't you !" I was a bit pickled, you know. He walked off and the next morning he came to my room and put me under arrest. Hehehe.
Me: Oh dear, so what happened to you?
RS: I was charged in front of the CO and was told to clear out. It was a canvas orderly room... a canvas office up at the aerodrome. Oh, first of all I was told to parade there at 2 o'clock, the CO's office. So lunchtime about 1 o'clock, I was having lunch, and I said to the CO "Can Haines put me under arrest for anything I said to him in the mess?" Because you can say what you like to anybody in the mess, you see, they were all equal. He says "Why?" "Well..." I said "He says I called him a bastard last night, and he clapped me under arrest" He said "Did you call him another one" Hehe. And then he says "You'd better come up in the car with me to the office at the aerodrome" which was about a mile and a half away. So I drove with him in his Wolsey car, in the back of the car with him, and on the way we passed Haines walking up there... walking to the aerodrome, and he saluted him and the CO returned the salute, and we got there and I stood around outside and eventually Haines came along and said "Prisoner 'tion!" (Attention) and I made a rude remark - "Right turn!" "Balls" I said or something like that you see. I went into the CO and saluted and so on... Haines read the riot act, this that and the other, I'd called him a bastard and so on. He said his father and mother were married and he'd been sixteen years in the police force and god knows what and so on, and he was going to demand a court-martial, and if he couldn't get redress from the military authorities he was going to go to the civil authorities... Played hell generally.
The CO said "Clear out Shillinglaw" So I went outside and I could hear what was going on inside, you see, and the CO didn't half dust him down and he said "You put in for a permanent commission in the airforce, now the wars finished, but if you proceed with this it'll follow you right through your career. You're a very foolish fella..." and so on "I think you should accept an apology from Shillinglaw." So in the end Haines did. So I went in. The CO read the riot act to me - taking drink at my age and so on and "I order you to apologise to Mr Haines", so I said "I apologise "and held my hand out and we shook hands. I walked out and that was that.
Me: Were there any other incidents like that?
RS: Well not that I know of.. I don't think so. I think everyone got on very well together it was just like a house at school. It was really an excellent squadron, very good, a very good atmosphere in the squadron altogether.
Me: Some people think that 100 Squadron was possibly the 'crack' squadron?
RS: Well they were a very good squadron. They were very well renowned they were the first night bomber squadron in France and they were looked upon by Trenchard as quite a good squadron. And I think they were too. I think so. We did a very good job really, for what we had to do.
Me: So you're the last of the last survivor
RS: Well the present commanding officer.... When I asked him, I said "Aren't there any of my buddies here for me to meet again ?" - "No" he said " They're all dead. We've searched the country. There isn't one, we can only find you." So I said "Oh, thank you very much!"
You 're not recording this are you?
RS: Are you really? Good god, oh hell, Hohoho! I apologise for the language I've used...
Me: Not a bit!
RS: He he he ...'bastard' and that sort of thing....it's not my language in the ordinary way. I never use a word like that. But I'd had a forced landing with an ammunition column, Australians and I had to dig in with them and mess with them for a few days, and every other word they used - "Oh you bastard" - They were like that. It was a love term almost with them. I s'pose I got used to that, I don't know but I never used that sort of language. I was a bit pickled and I didn't like the fellow (Haines) and it came to the surface I suppose. Well it's an experience in a way. Of course I may have hit the nail on the head, I don't know. He was an awful swine of a fellow and he did'nt like it.
Me: Do you have any particular memories of raids which you'd like to relate? Anything particularly exciting?
RS: No, no. You got sort of concentrating when you were approaching the target and you knew you were going to go through it and all that sort of thing and I don't know. You were highly tensioned in a way, as I said on one occasion, I used to find myself in a cold sweat. It wasn't fright it was concentration I suppose. I used to open my flying coat at the neck and get the cool air on me because I found I was sweating. It wasn't fright, I was never frightened at all, I don't know why.
Me: Do you still think about it at all?
RS: No, I don't think about it at all now. I only just remember it because you asked me to.
Me: So it must be quite odd being asked about it?
RS: Yes, I don't think anything at all about it nowadays. I think back about some of the fellows, of course, but they've all gone now.
Me: But it must all be of some interest to you still, after all you went back to the100 Squadron reunion quite recently
RS: Oh yes, and the atmosphere in 100 Squadron is still exactly as it was in the old days. The atmosphere is still the same in the mess. Oh, they're a great lot of chaps up there. Fine fellows, there's no doubt about it. They'd get up to their antics! Now the CO was a Wing Commander, a small fellow.This is the first one...about three years ago when I went. Now the other fellow is a bit taller, but this other one Purley, who's now in Germany, he was the CO, and we had a very nice formal dinner. And because he's a short chap they'd put about three cushions on his seat, you know at the head table! And when he saw these he picked them up and threw them across the mess! (Laughs). They were pulling his leg of course some of the lads. But he didn't mind. A bit of fun I s'ppose. They're quite a good squadron. They're not a front line squadron anymore, they're on a training squadron there. Towing targets for other people to shoot them up, you know. These things they drag in the air...drones or something or other.
Me: Talking of training squadrons, which one were you in?
RS: I was in 39 squadron at South Carlton, Lincoln, and then I went to 73 squadron atTurnhouse, Edinburgh. From there I went to a fighting course at Lymne, New Romney and then up to a bombing and navigation course at Stonehenge. It's amazing now to look at Stonehenge to think our aerodrome was there, because there's a hillside. Most extraordinary to think that we were flying Handley Pages from there because the ground was..oo ten or fifteen degrees or something like that. No no.
Me: Did you know anything about any of the other training squadrons? My father was in 59 I think.
RS: No, where would that be I wonder?
Me: I'm not sure.
RS: He probably went through Stonehenge. I think he'd go through there. But he must have gone through 2 or 3 months before me I think.
After drinks break
Me: Do you anything about the command structure above squadron level.?
RS: No, I don't. But Gordon Burge - he was the commanding officer- told me, when I had lunch with him in London, that he'd been to the Records Office of the museum, or whatever it was, to do a talk and a tape for historical purposes. So somewhere they've got a chit-chat with him.
Major C.G.Burge CBE.
Now Gordon Burge was the First Adjutant of Cranwell after the war and his nephew was that fellow without legs..Douglas Bader. And his wife told me that Bader's wife smoked 'er head off, absolutely chain smoked all the time. I said "well I'm not surprised!" With a fellow like that.... He'd drive anybody up the wall, I should think, and she was smoking out of sheer desperation I suppose. Then he died at the wheel of his car you know.
Me: Douglas Bader?
RS: Yes, just died at the wheel. But yes, there is a record of Gordon Burge somewhere at the Ministry of Science or something or other.
Me: The large bombs, the 1650's, how many do you think were dropped in the war?
RS: Well, all I know is I dropped two with the RFC in the north. We called them the 'one ton bomb'. Well, they weren't one ton, they were 500 lbs lighter than a ton. It was just a big case about 6 or 7 feet long and a couple of feet in diametre. Just one big case filled with TNT that's all it was.
Taylor and Chrystal (equipment officer); Handley Page with 1650lb bomb dropped by Shillinglaw.
Photo Xaffévillers 21 /10/18
Me: How did you reach the bombs in flight?
RS: Well as I say, I opened a trap door and took the nose off and primed it with the neccessary cartrige. Screwed the nose back...clapped it all down, went to the front, to the bombsight and the bomb lever and released the bomb. That's all, quite simple.
Me: Do you know which flight my father was in, A,B, or C?
RS: Well I don't know which Flight he was in I'm sure. I was in C Flight. But he flew with Miles who was a very good pilot. He flew with Johnson, he was also an excellent pilot, he was shot down at Frankfurt.
Lieut. F.R.Johnson ~ My father's Fe2b pilot.
And he flew with Captain Bright, he was a good pilot too. And they were, all three, gentlemen. All three excellent fellows, aye. I know nothing much about them , I never flew with them. I did fly with Miles on one occasion.
Me: What was he like?
RS: He was very good.
Me: Do you remember anything about German activities like poisoning wells or booby traps or that sort of thing.
RS: No, never heard of that, but we did hear, when the war finished and our troops went forward, rumours of wires being put across the road so that if a fellow was coming along, an orderly officer with a side car or something like that, it got him in the throat.That happened to my brother in the second war... Neville. His photograph is (pointing to mantlepiece) there at the far end. He was up in Austria or somewhere or other, fought his way up and got into Austria. And he was going along in this sidecar and there was a wire across the road and it got him in the throat and he ended up in hospital. That happened in the first war too, so I heard. I went home on leave from100 Squadron. My mother was very ill with pneumonia and father wired off and got me home on leave. Of course it was a dodge to get me home on leave but mother was ill. When I was away, my great friend Carleton Smith and Hewitt, who's in these photographs,went to Cologne to fly back some German aeroplanes. And a fellow called Wood as well, who was with us. They were killed. Two of these machines took off, Carleton Smith and Hewitt no.. what was his name? our PMC very nice fellow. They took off and the controls were reversed and they crashed and went on fire and were burned to death and there's a letter here from his mother....
(continued on tape 6)
Final transcript (No.6) 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