Click for Site Directory
STANLEY A. ROSS 902 Squadron 840928
We are delighted to be able to host the following article on the experiences of the above airman.
We would like to give thanks to the Pullin family for allowing us to use this interesting and valuable story.
Stan Ross dictated two tapes in 1987 for his son-in-law, Arthur Pullin (my father). The history covers the period of Mr. Ross’s time in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War in England.
The only changes I have made are minor corrections in grammar to make it more readable. In the majority of the text the language remains in the original colloquial form as spoken by Stan Ross.
Susan A.C. Pullin (Granddaughter)
Falls Church VA, December 1992
Ladywell Recreation Ground Lewisham Stan sitting at front with his crew
South East London around 1942
A PERSONAL HISTORY of STANLEY A. ROSS 902 Squadron 840928
RECOUNTING HIS TIME IN THE AUXILIARY AIR FORCE ON
THE BALLOON BARRAGE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
1938 - 1945
“Hello Arthur. This tape is made specially for you as you asked me to put on tape certain things that happened when I joined the Auxiliary Air Force. As you were in the Royal Observer Corps for a great number of years you know what I’m talking about. No doubt you have heard some of these things many times over …”
The Auxiliary Air Force
Bill Murray who worked with me at the Royal Exchange, suggested that we join the Auxiliary Air Force. So we went down to Kidbrooke, where the balloon squadrons were organizing and joined up. We passed our medicals and after a short time we were fitted out with uniforms and given a number. My number was 840928. This I think was in 1938. We used to go to Kidbrooke twice a week and sometimes on a weekend. My neighbour, next-door-but-one, he also joined up. So when we were distributed out to different crews there were three of us in the same crew. We started to learn how to tie various knots, the bowline was the worst one to try and tie and to teach anybody, and we had to learn rope splicing g, wire splicing, because we were AC2s.
We were shown to sew balloon fabric, stitching, and also, as the various in-between times, balloon handling. In our crew were 16 men and we used to line up to the balloon drill. There would be eight on each side of the balloon, with an NCO, and we have to learn each part of the balloon, when it was inflated and when it was deflated, and how to roll a balloon up when it was deflated and also had to start to learn winch driving. That was putting the balloon up.
Then when I was mobilized on the 26th August 1939 (see below) just before war broke out, I was at work at the Royal Exchange and Ada came up to the office with my Air Force papers – call-up papers. They had been addressed to the old address we were at, and the result was they were two days late. I left work immediately, went home, got my kit bag and eventually called at Kidbrooke where I had to go in front of an officer to explain why I was two days late in reporting. They said that I could be put on a charge, but they never did anyway, because I pointed out they sent it to the wrong address. My first posting was at the local Balloon Headquarters in Sandhurst Road School, Catford, London, SE6.
This is the letter and envelope sent to Stanley to mobilise him for active service in WWII, with 902 Balloon Squadron, City of London Squadron, dated 23rd August 1939.
Balloon handling required a certain amount of knowledge of how to handle balloons, because they were rather large – I should say as high as a double decker bus and quite a bit longer. People imagine that the balloons are rather soft, but they are not. When they are inflated and the wind catches them and it hits you, it can knock you over easily. The balloons are flow directly from the winch and you had 4,600 feet of cable on the winch but you could only go up to 4,500. Sixteen of us then made up a crew at Lewisham, it was at Ladywell Recreation Ground. It was only a small ground with more or less an oval running track and we had the balloon flying from the winch in the middle of the field. Later on, there was an anchorage put in and the winch was moved away from the balloon about 40ft, and a cable from the winch went to the anchorage, then on to the balloon and so you brought the balloon down without it touching the winch at all.
Our billet was the Athletes’ dressing room and there was another small room at the end of the building, well I suppose for the lady athletes. It was only a small room. Our room had just got a small fire in it and the first thing our NCO did was to have the partition cut down in half so that we could easily get out quick. We just had to sleep on the bare boards, and by now we were learning out to get our AC1’s.
Anyway, one day it was really a beautiful day and the sirens had just gone, and the balloons had to be put up. You stood in the ground after you put the balloon up and looked around and saw hundreds and hundreds of balloons going up, and saw about four break away and floated away. We got ours down OK. But it was a false alarm. It was just a try-out I think. The balloons had a port and starboard, and also fins and a rudder. The balloons were really in two parts, the upper part of the balloon was gas (hydrogen) and a third of the balloon underneath was filled with air which was called ballonet. Before I go any further I must say that our squadron was based at Kidbrooke and there were two other squadrons there. Our squadron was 902. There was 901, 901 and 903 based at Kidbrooke.
I was in E Flight, and our flight headquarters was the Sandhurst Road School. We had a cycle and whoever was on fatigues that day had to cycle to Sandhurst Road School with an A bag on the handlebars and collect the mail and bring it back to our flight. Our NCO was a sergeant in the last war (World War 1), and he was the most foul-mouthed bloke I have ever come across. He was absolutely crude and he had no idea of ballooning, now I know what it’s all about. He called us out about four or five times during the night to turn the balloon around. When we got there when it was daylight we found it was the same way around as when we first started! But our crew, there was 16 men, we got on very well together, except for this sergeant. But we also had a rather educated man, rather quiet, who seemed to know what he was doing, and suddenly, one day our sergeant just disappeared. And I think it was due to this educated man because shortly afterwards he was given a commission. So I think he must have done something about it. But we never knew what became of the sergeant. So, in the crew there was Bill Murray, our neighbour Charlie Feltham, who lived a few doors away from us, and there was another very nice man there, George Kee3ling and another one, his name was Ned Weller. Naturally, he was called ‘Sam’. All the rest of the crew were very good.
It was around about this time a man came and said to me would I like a couple of rabbits? He brought them with the hutches as well. I thought, yes, right, thanks. He gave me a black buck and two does. Anyway, I kept the buck in the one hutch and the two does in the other. I used to go round the Recreation Ground morning and night picking up all the different things that were growing there, weeds and grass, and so on and bung it in the hutch and the rabbits seemed quite happy. Well, after a short time I looked in the hutch one day and found there was a nest. I knew something about rabbits, so I got a couple of small twigs and lifted up the top of the nest and underneath there were eight rabbits. But first of all what made me do that, outside the hutch was a newly born baby rabbit, fairly large, it was dead. I think what must have happened was that it was born first and the doe saw that it was too large for her to keep with the others and just dragged it out and let it die. Anyway all the rest of the others were all black and they did fairly well. So I had a buck, two does and eight young rabbits. When I was moved I sold the youngsters for about two pounds with the hutches and I gave the black buck away and brought one of the rabbits home.
At this stage I must say that these events occurred in 1939/40. Which is over 40 years ago so I couldn’t actually say that everything that I mention is quite true to form, but as far as I can recollect I will try and make it so. It is now 1987 so you can guess that it is a bit of a job to try and remember all the various things that did happen then but I’ll have a go anyway.
Going back to the balloon – I think I’ll give a description of the balloon. Inside where the hydrogen was, from the stem to the back of the balloon, was a line. One end of the line was held on to a valve which opened when the balloon was fully extended. There was also a line from the centre of the balloon from the same line down to the ballonet. So that when the balloon went up, the balloon extended because the pressure inside the balloon made it swell, and the air in the ballonet kept the shape of the balloon and the valve at the back of the balloon opened when the pressure got too great, so you always lost a certain amount of gas and when you did eventually come down, and bedded down, you had to fill up the balloon again with the gas and for that purpose there was a trailer, left behind with each site containing about a dozen or more, six or seven foot long cylinders of hydrogen gas and then you knew it was just right then.
We all passed our AC1’s and when that happened naturally the crew, instead of being 16, was reduced to eight. By now there were vast improvements on the balloon. Instead of the scoops provided to let the air into the wings and the rudder, there were channels that went straight from the ballonet air scoop into the channels of the fins and rudder. There was a rip line attached to the balloon which was on a certain portion of the top of the balloon, if the rip line was pulled, would tear off. This line was attached to the cabling. Also, on the line was a bag which contained a parachute and if anything had hit the cable there was an explosive charge inside (which before you put the balloon up you turned the key to set it live), if anything hit the cable the inertia would set off the charge and bring the plane down. I never knew if one ever did work like that. But, still, there you are, it is there. It contained a rather large parachute. When the balloon was down we had to test for the gas to see that it wasn’t too low – if it was it became rather dangerous. If it was very, very low we had to let all the gas out and re-inflate another one with new gas. That only happened once when I was there.
If there was an air raid – if we were down we would run out there, day or night, to put the balloon up – first thing we had to do was to tie the ripcord with a bowline, which is the most difficult knot to tie, but when you got used to it, it was quite easy. Not only had we to be sure it wouldn’t come undone, but that it was easy to undo.
We were given one rifle and one round (of ammunition). We were shown how to use the rifle and we had to keep the round One night there was a raid and a flare was let down from an aircraft and lit up quite a good distance, and our NCO got the rifle, fired at the flare, and luck or chance or whatever it was, he must have hit it because the flare went straight out. Anyway, we had this rifle, a week or a fortnight, and did a little rifle drill with it and they came along and took the rifle away! It wasn’t until later on, quite a time afterwards they gave us a rifle each, but they gave us no ammunition. But a sergeant came round and showed us how to throw hand grenades. So I guess the situation at that time must have been pretty desperate for us. The hand grenades – he showed us what it contained – a fuse, took it to pieces – showed us – it was supposed to break into eight pieces – and he got so many of these fuses and hand grenades and took the fuses out and threw them on the ground – turned around and a man pointed at me and said “pick ‘em up”. He said to go careful – I picked them up and gave them to him and he put them back in the hand grenades and then we had a practice of throwing them – I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at it but I didn’t have to use one anyway!
With the rifles we had drill, and we were told we had to keep the bullets clean otherwise we would be put on a charge. Well, the first thing we all looked at – down the muzzle to see if they had been cleaned – the one I got was a Winchester and it was dirty and I pointed it out so that I wouldn’t be charged for having a dirty rifle. It was dirty in the first place – I cleaned what I could of it – still couldn’t get it clean – shortly afterwards they came and took all the rifles away from us again!
The Winter of 1940
The winter of 1940 was very, very cold. There was snow everywhere, and one day we went out to the balloon. We found a seagull and it was more or less frozen. It had been injured I think. We brought the seagull inside the billet and at that time we also had a tabby cat which attached itself to us. I think it had probably been bombed out of somewhere. It was rather amusing. The seagull eventually thawed out and sat on one side of the fireplace and the cat sat the other side and neither took any notice of one another. Anyway, we fed the cat and fed the seagull and when the gull started to get better it used to follow us out when we went outside to do something to the balloon. Then he came back in again and waited there. But he couldn’t fly. Anyway, after a fortnight, three weeks or something like that, we went out to the balloon, there was snow on the ground at the time I know, he followed us out and he used to come back. Well, after about a fortnight he followed us out one day and he just took off – we called him Percy – and we hoped to see him again, but he never did come back.
It was a cold winter and the balloon was flying day and night continuously and we only came down and bedded down to just top up any lost gas. It was so cold that when we did come in we would sit around the fire with our feet up and I had to send my boots in for repair. I got put on a charge for wearing no boots out and I got a day’s fatigue and seven days confined to barracks and I had to go to flight headquarters and I sat all day peeling spuds! Bur the CB didn’t count very much because we hardly had any leave at all – so that didn’t matter. They used to find chaps to do fatigues because the balloon crews were excellent really and as they had to have somebody do fatigues they used to have spot kit inspections and balloon inspections, and things like that. The least trivial thing they could find, you were put on a charge and a day or two fatigues. That went on for quite a long time. But, anyway, we had a steel shelter (I think they were called Anderson shelters), delivered and it was covered over with plenty of earth and a barricade was built in front and as soon as there was an air raid all the crew except the guard had to go inside the shelter. That particular time we hardly ever had our clothes off at all. Only when you did have a spot of leave.
We did get daylight bombing, but there was a period when we had 78 nights consecutive bombing and it was estimated that there were over 10,000 incendiary bombs dropped all around and on London. 500 were German bombers. Very hectic, those times. Most of us had got our LAC’s (rank = Leading Aircraftman). We were all qualified. They made me the winch driver and one particular night it was very, very black, no raid on at the time, and I was just resting and I got called out by the crew as they had received a telephone call to say a balloon was to be brought down as there was one of our aircraft was in the vicinity and it was flying very, very low. Well, they came and got me out of me resting bag and being a pitch black night they had to show me where the winch was with a torch. It was very dark. Well, the engine was running when I got there – they had started it up – I climbed up in the driving cab and started the haul down. I got about halfway down, to about 2,000, when there was a terrific bang. I stopped the winch and they came and had a look to see what it was and the radiator had burst, there was water all over the place. What the chumps had done was they started the engine but hadn’t taken the muffler off. And of course, in the dark I got up in the winch with the engine running assuming that everything was OK and started to haul down. So I told them that they had to get buckets of water and keep on dropping water into what was left of the radiator while I hauled down very slowly. After about 20 minutes I did manage to get the balloon down and the next day a new radiator was fitted. There was no mention of what happened – they just came and fitted one.
One particular night we had a load of incendiaries dropped on us which didn’t go off – about an hour later another plane dropped another load which did go off. They were all collected up in the morning and we also found the container that held the incendiary bombs – a big aluminium one – it was collected and taken away and we were told afterwards that one lot of incendiary bombs just contained cement.
Ladywell Recreation Ground was a small oval running track and there were backs of houses on one side of the track and on the left hand side was the railway. There were a few trees so you couldn’t actually see the railway, there was just a patch where you could walk along the recreation ground. At the far end of the ground you could look right up a street, and on the corner of the street facing was the Lewisham Fire Brigade. One night I was on guard, standing behind the barricade when there was a bomb raid on and there were bombs falling all over the place. All of a sudden there was one big terrific explosion followed immediately by another one. I ducked down as the blasts went by, looked up the street and I saw all these houses go up in the air and the glare of the incendiaries, they seemed to go 100 feet into the air, all bits and pieces of houses, everything, and it was dark and it all came tumbling down. How many were killed in that bomb I didn’t know.
We used to count the bombs coming down, and I know one particular night there seemed to be a line of bombs coming down and we counted them and the fifth bomb came down not so far away – we thought if he drops another one its going to be us – but it was the last one of that line – so we were lucky.
The Fire Station was badly damaged, but I think the firemen were out dealing with fires and probably if there were any casualties at the Fire Station it must have been those who were on duty there.
On another occasion Ada came up to see me, one sunny afternoon, and it must have been around about 4 or 5 pm. I saw her off and I got permission to take her down to Lewisham Obelisk (the clocktower in the middle of Lewisham) and just as we got there, so the sirens had gone and we were ushered into an underground dugout. As we were walking into the dugout there was a couple of bombs went off outside – we were splintered in fine glass – quite a few people were in the dugout – it was a small daylight raid because after about 20 minutes the “All Clear” went and we came out and waited for a few minutes and the buses started running again. Ada got on one and I started to walk back up Lewisham High Street. But I didn’t get far. Just a few yards up the road the shops had been blown down and I could see bodies lying about – that’s what I thought – until I got a big closer and they were all dummies (mannequin s) blow out of the shop windows. I had a job to get back to the site pretty quick as the High Street was blocked with debris. I had to climb over it to get up the High Street to get to the recreation ground. It was only just at the top of the High Street more or less and I got back safely and Ada got home safely.
The Dog Track
On another occasion there was an evening, we were flying and there was an entrance to the Catford Greyhounds (dog track) in the corner of the recreation ground. But you had to go over the steel railway bridge into the stadium. This particular evening they had greyhound racing on. They left me on guard and the crew said if we wanted pop over and call us and we’ll come straight back. Well it’s only a matter of a minute – less than that – while they were gone the message came through we were to bed down. So I ran across over there and told them you’ve got to bed down. They came straight back. We were in our overalls and I stood there and waited, and while I was waiting a man came up to me and he said “You want to back Southern Lassie”. I said “I haven’t got any money”. He put his hand in his pocket and gave me half a crown and said “put it on Southern Lassie”. He said she’ll be last all the way except on the last bend. Then she’ll shot forward and win. So I did, I put it on and he was right! He came in first and I got a couple of pounds. So while I was there, I thought well I’ll have another bet, then the next race there was a dog called Black Michael. Well, I liked the name I think, didn’t know anything about dogs, so I put a pound each way on Black Michael and he romped home. Anyway I came out of the stadium with about 2 pounds 12 or 14 richer. I went in with nothing and same out with 2 pounds 14. By the time I got back the balloon was all bedded down!
Another night there was a greyhound meeting in the evening and there was a raid and two bombs were dropped in the middle of the stadium and no one as injured, thank goodness. During one of the raids I had a narrow squeak. We were bedding down when there was a raid on and I bent down to tie something and as I bent forward something whizzed past my head straight into the ground – it must have been a big bit of shrapnel, I think, something like that – but it thudded the ground and I never felt anything. I considered myself very lucky there.
On another occasion we had a gas leak detector and we ran it over the balloon and found we had a leak on top of the balloon. It was a bit awkward to get to. We got our big step ladder and you are supposed to put the step ladder one way so that the steps were leading up to the balloon, so that if the wind shifted and knocked the ladder it wouldn’t knock it over. But to reach this leak, a small tear on top, you couldn’t reach it by doing that because you were too far away, so the ladders were turned around and I went up there with a thread and needle a bit of glue and that, and stuck it and patched it up. I had just finished the job, Bill Murray was at the bottom of the ladder, supposed to be holding it so it wouldn’t blow over. Any rate the wind blew, blew the ladder away and I nothing to hang on to except the ladder and I glided down to earth about 15 ft. I had been standing on the platform on the top and I thudded into the ground and it must have knocked me out because I opened my eyes and they were running towards me and they carried me to the billet and by the time they carried me, the ambulance had arrived to take me to Kidbrooke emergency hospital. I had knocked the cotton reel (a bit one) right into the ground, and it was a hard ground because we had frost, with my hip. Well they kept me in hospital about three days and there was no sign of any bruising coming out at all so at the end of three days they said you're alright – you can have one day’s leave. I was promised five in the first place – so I had to have that.
An incident occurred one night. There was no air raid and suddenly I heard a burst of gunfire more or less over our billet. It must have been fairly high. Nothing happened, but one burst. As it got light the guard came running and he said the balloon’s coming down, get it down quick! We went out there and the sun was just coming up and we managed to get in most of the cable and the balloon floated down and it finished up on top of our billet. So, of course, we had to get on the roof and get it off as best we can without doing any damage to it and when they come to look at why it came down I told them that there was a burst of gunfire. They said “no”. I said “there was”. I told them the approximate time so they examined the balloon. We had to roll it up and put it in a big bag and it was proved that it had been hit by something because there was a hole in the top of the balloon. They had to look for corresponding holes opposite, and there was one opposite in the ballonet and also one in the bottom. So I think it was a gunner somewhere. Probably had a night out and come back and let go of his gun! Anyway, we had another balloon and put that one up.
Charlie Feltham was on his way back to the site and he got picked up by the RAF police and was brought up on a charge for bananas. There was rationing on at the time and only children could have bananas. But Charlie Feltham’s father had a fruit shop in Lee and these bananas – I forget what they were called – were unfit for babies – too mature or something. He was brought up on a charge and his father came up and gave evidence and he got off Scot free!
I came back off leave one day and was told an incendiary bomb had dropped on our billet but they quickly put it out and there was no damage done at all.
The officers came one day and said would be sign up for the RAF Regiment? Well, most of us refused to do that, we didn’t mind going anywhere if we were told to do so, but we weren’t going to sign anything to say we would join the Regiment. If they put us in, that was a different thing. Shortly after this the WAAFs started to come into the sites and our crews more of less split up and I went to Sydenham Flight HQ. It was only about ½ mile away from Lewisham Recreation Ground where I was and there was Arthur Way with me and another one. So there were three of us there and we were in a big house opposite the Sydenham Tennis Courts. Only about three or four courts there. There was a billet there with WAAFs in it. Our job was to train the WAAFs. I was given balloon theory and balloon handling. Arthur Way was given winch driving, and I think the other one was ropes and splices and things like that. Anyway, we did that – there were 16 WAAFs there. Suddenly, Arthur was taken away so I had to take over the winch driving for them and about two or three weeks later the other chap was taken away, so I had to do the lot and I had 16 WAAFs to myself!
Cloud Base Apparatus
The day that our Flight Headquarters moved from Sandhurst Road School (Catford) to Sydenham, the following day there was a daylight raid and we weren’t flying (the balloons). They dropped a bomb on the school and it killed six teachers and forty children. Some of them I knew. That showed you that balloons weren’t just for trying to bring planes down, it was to keep the planes up in the air so that they couldn’t do spot bombing, which they did. I prided myself that I was a very good instructor not only in theory, but also on the black board and anyway, one day some officers came round and saw me and gave me an instrument – a box to be attached to the cable about 200 feet below the balloon. It was a cloud base apparatus. Well, they showed me how it worked, all I had to do was fix it on the cable and put the balloon up. Now this consisted of a box and when you opened it inside was another kind of box with an air vent in it and you could see the bar there, but in the bar were fives lines of platinum (you couldn’t see them) and as soon as any moisture got on these bars it shorted and gave out a signal. I also had a radio set which I had to set up, a simple thing, and put the balloon up. When it went up and went into cloud the cloud moisture got onto this platinum and shorted it and emitted a signal which I picked up on the radio. It just went de de de de de de da. As soon as it came out of the cloud it stopped. As soon as you went into cloud you had to put down the reading.
The balloon had to be flown twice a day for morning and night or whenever I was told to fly it. The cloud base apparatus had to be fixed 200 feet below the balloon, actually on to the cable. When it wasn’t on the cable every time the balloon came down you had to store it in the little office at the end of the billet where the radio was.
This particular morning it was delivered and I was shown how it worked. I was left a book in which I had to write “in cloud”. I had to stop the winch and ask them, as soon as I got the signal, what height they were and when the signal stopped I asked what the height was again and so on. I had to have one of the WAAFs standing halfway between the billet and balloon to give orders. On this particular morning after the officers had left, I was told I had to phone the results through to Fighter Command at Stanmore – that was OK. While I was being given a lecture on the blackboard at about 12.00 o’clock the phone rang to say “fly”. Well, the WAAFs went out to fly and I left there to go over to the Rafson (?) Mill at flight headquarters opposite and as I was walking up the steps to the house a bomber came over and dropped an incendiary bomb and fired at the girls. By good chance he never hit one, but one of the girls had hysterics. She was treated for shock, otherwise I thought they were marvelous.
I ran across to the billet and threw the radio and cloud base apparatus out of the window and by the time I had done that other members from Flight Headquarters came running across and helped to put the fire out. Well, the centre of the billet was well alight but we managed to control the flames and get it out. It burnt the middle of the billet out. That was the third time in just over three months. Bomb the first time, burnt out the second time and now it was half way out. We were down, we weren’t flying that day because we were doing radar repairs. It just shows you that if we had been flying, the bomber couldn’t have done any spot bombing. He was flying just over the house tops, much below radar, so he could hit whatever he liked. If the balloons had been flying he’d have been at least a mile or more up in the air.
It was about this time that the Auxiliary Air Force merged with the Royal Air Force so I didn’t sign any papers of anything, and now I was a member of the Royal Air Force. They did try to get me in road transport, but I don’t think I was any good at it. The WAAFs were doing very well on their training and occasionally I had to go to other sites where the WAAFs were (they all had 16 members to a crew) and put them through their balloon handling. When it came to the WAAFs to have their AC1’s they all passed except two (14 of them passed). Now I did tell them that if there was any questions they couldn’t answer tell them that you knew how to fly cloud base apparatus. So they won’t know what you are talking about and you should be able to get through! Well, two of them did say that and they got through – of 16, 14 passed. In fact one of the girl’s father came up to me and thanked me for getting his girl through. So I don’t know what he thought his daughter was like, whether he didn’t think she could pass. But she did alright. It was all rope splicing and wire splicing, balloon handling, knots, there were quite a lot of things to do.
On another occasion we had to top the balloon up every day because there was as much gas in it as you could get and going to the height we were you lost a lot of gas. When you came down you had to top it off. Well, there were only two cloud base apparatus, I had one and the other one was at Chingford and one day I phoned through and gave them what the cloud base was. After a short time I had a message back. Why was my reading going up different to that coming down? I thought that was a silly bloody question to ask. I said, because the bloody clouds wont stand still! Now the balloon we had, it was an older balloon but was in top class condition, there was no doubt about that. It did look real good to what some of the other balloons used to look like. One day the Air Commander of e Squadrons who wrote the ASI (our Staff Instructions Book – it was a fairly thick book and it had got everything in it), he came with about three or four other officers and our two officers. They came and inspected the site and the balloon. The WAAFs were all lined up on one side and I stood in front of them at the end with their NCO in the middle. He looked over the balloon with the hand on some guy ropes and I was called over. He said to me “What’s this number four line doing here?” I said that’s not number four line sir, that’s a substitute number four – it can be used anywhere except number four”. He said “Are you trying to tell me I don’t know my ropes?” I said “No sir, but this is a slightly thicker rope, more pliable and it’s only got one blue thread in one strand whereas number four line is slightly thinner and it has a blue thread in every strand. Therefore, it can’t be used anywhere.”
“Well” he said, “there’s four miles of number four line, cut me a bit off”. So I went over to headquarters, ran over there got some and cut a bit off and came running back. I saluted him and handed it to him. I don’t know what the other officers thought. Anyway he took it off me and off he went. He was supposed to go to another site. I knew which one he was going to so I phoned through and told them what had happened and to look for what he was likely to mention. I don’t think he went there, he spent too much time at our site.
Anyway they started calling me corporal. Corporal? I’m not a corporal, and they said no, but you are down here on the list as corporal. They were waiting for it to come through and the reason it never came through, I suppose, they were waiting to see if I was correct in my ropes. While they were waiting for that to come through there were no more NCO’s waiting to be made up – so I didn‘t get to be made a corporal. Anyway perhaps I might not have been here now if I had been made a corporal.
Posted to Pilgrims Way
We were gradually being split up and I was posted then to Colchester. I was there a few days, passed the medical and all that sort of thing and while I was waiting there I was posted again with another crew to Pilgrims’ Way (Kent). We went by lorry and we passed our house; as I was on the back of the lorry I saw one of the kids from a few doors away. I shouted out for him to tell Mrs. Ross that I was going somewhere different shortly. Any rate, he recognized me and came home and told Ada that he saw me on a lorry and that I was moving.
We went down to a place on the road to Stroud. Before Stroud there is a little village called Frinsbury. Well, just before you got to Frinsbury there was a pub on the right with a country lane leading up into the hills – cliffs and chalk – and we went up this lane and about a mile up the lane on the left was a bridle path. You could just get a lorry along there. When we got there three of the crew and an NCO were dropped off about 300 yards before my stop – more or less as you turn into the meadow. I went farther up the lane about half a mile or more then I was dropped off there in the meadow. The RAF Regiment had already been there and had erected a tent. There was only three of us, also an anchorage had been put in the middle of the meadow. Now were the foremost in a frontline of balloons – at the back of us were high white cliffs and trees and we could look down on Stroud and Frinsbury. It was quite nice, the weather was very kind to us. The first thing was who was to be in charge. Well the NCO was dropped off half a mile away from where we were. The crew men I had were very, very good. One was a labourer and the first thing he did was to dig a latrine. He did that fine – fixed it all up with a branch across and everything, and he also dug out a place where we could have a fire. We had a primus stove and a frying pan and we had a small bell tent that could just hold three. We were very seldom three there, one was either down in the village or gone on leave and left just the two of us to manhandle the balloon. We were so used to it by then that one man could do it provided he could get up and down the winch and so on. I have done that when I have been on my own there.
One night the weather was very bad. Before that we had got the balloon out and inflated it and put it up and it was a lovely sunny day. It hadn’t been up very long when I happened to look up and saw a flash of light and the balloon had caught fire. There didn’t seem to be any lightning like that about, but it caught fire in the nose of the balloon and we had to get the cable down. We lost most of the cable. We had to cut it up and get what we could in. Another drum was brought up and I had to rerun the winch with five thousand feet of cable; that is a particularly hard job to do but fortunately I managed to get it right the first time. I was very lucky I reckon.
It was quite an experience sleeping in a small bell tent. The only thing you had to put up with was earwigs and thing s like that, all sorts of strange things. Otherwise I rather enjoyed it, didn’t mind it at all.
One day a farmer’s boy came up from one of the farms. He was about ten or eleven I suppose. He said to me “Do you like mushrooms?”. I said “I dunno”. “I got a horse mushroom here” and he gave me one. It was a terrific size. Any rate I fried it on the primus stove and ate it. It was lovely. Any rate, he came again and he used to watch me do various things. He showed me how to snare rabbits. So next morning he came along again and said “Come and see if you caught any”. Well, as we walked along the hedge, the sun was shining and there were three snakes all lined up sunning themselves and he pointed out to me what snakes they were. There were three different kinds all together – he said “leave them along, they’re alright”. We went to another place where we had a snare and we caught a cat. It was dead. Pulled it out of the hedge and it was full of wasps and the boy said to me “throw that back that belongs to the wasps”. Then he said “Down the lane they’re picking plums”. I said ”Are they?” He said “Yes” and I said “right, thanks”. So off I went, left the other chap in charge and I got some beautiful Victoria plums, filled my kit bag with some and put some cardboard in and put some more on top – built them in layers.
I managed to get a day’s leave and I came home and there were absolutely beautiful plums. I was picking them one end of the orchard and the women were picking them at the other end. How they never saw me I don’t know, but still, there you are. I managed to get away with it alright.
Then one day I was delivered an American tent and I was on me own. One was on leave and I forget where the other chap had gone to. Anyway, I took down the old bell tent and tried to fix up the American tent. I couldn’t do it on me own. Any rate a young officer came along to see how I was getting on. He helped me and we got it up between us. It was a much bigger tent. It wasn’t any more comfortable, but there was a bit more room inside.
Posted to South Wales
Shortly after that it was getting near to invasion day I think, because I was laying in the field looking up to the sky and there were aircraft going over in their hundreds. Absolutely, the sky was full of aircraft – never seen so many in my life, like a lot of flies. That was the end of my time on the Pilgrims’ Way. We left in a lorry and went to Chelsmford or Colchester, I forget, and then I was posted to Llandow in South Wales to a little air station. The nearest railway station was Llantwit Major (Glamorgan). This air field I was at was about two or three miles away – it was St. Athans airfield and I was posted to this little station to the Central Registry Office. There was only an NCO there, myself and then two West Indians arrived and they were in the open registry and were under me. The NCO did the secret registry. We got on alright together. At lunch time we used to play cards and the West Indians wanted to learn to play Pontoon. We said to them you will only lose your money because you don’t know how to play it. They said they didn’t mind, show us how to play, we don’t mind if we lose. Any rate they did lose and we took their money but they didn’t seem to mind.
While I was there I was escort on various cases (on a charge) and I got to be known. “Get LAC Ross to escort you because he seems to be lucky to us, we seem to get off better”. So I was always in demand. We had one occasion when we had a Flight Sergeant brought over from Germany. I forget what he was involved in, something very serious, he was put on a big charge, his papers had arrived and when we had these papers we had to look at them and if it had a certain mark on it, it meant to say they had been discharged and you would send the papers back. Well, his papers arrived, and instead of going to the Secret Registry it came to me. I looked at it, saw it had been signed and sealed, gave it to the West Indians to send back to Germany. After they had gone back the NCO said to me “Did so-and-so’s papers arrive?” I said “Yes, they were sealed and signed and I sent them back. “Lord”, he said “he’s on a charge tomorrow morning, what are we going to do?”
Any rate he wrote out a signal to go back to Germany to send the papers back – by luck the papers arrived in Germany and they were back again at our place the following morning. How lucky can you get?
While I was there I was told that I was B class for discharge. There were no A class men to be discharged. I was the only one in B class so I was due to be discharged and I had to report to Cardington. Well, I got my railway vouchers and everything and reported to Cardington and I was told there that I can either keep me overcoat or hand it in and have ten pounds.
There’s not much else to tell when I left the RAF, but there were one or two things I thought of afterwards, so I thought I might as well mention them.
One was that when I was at Sydenham training the WAAFs, while I was on leave I came back and one of the WAAFs there had put the balloon up and deliberately pulled the rip cord so they lost all the gas, everything. When I got back there was an empty balloon. So instead of blowing it all up and sending it back I decided I’d glue the rip panel back on. This was about 12” wide and 24” long. I did do that and we inflated the balloon and got it flying again. It was quite alright for about four days. Well I went on 14 hours leave again and when I came back I found they had deflated the balloon again. Apparently, they had been putting it up and down for practice and whether the panel came off again or not I don’t know, but I had to send it all back and get another balloon for them.
The other occasion was when I was up in the Pilgrims’ Way we were there against the buzz bombs or flying bombs. In our section there were usually about five or six a day come across (there were quite a lot more than that all over). After that I think we got the V2 rockets, then the balloon were no good. That was why we were dispersed and I went to South Wales. But while I was there a site near us lost their balloon and of course they went to get the cable in and one of them, instead of putting on rubber gloves and cutting the cable he went to pull the cable or something from the balloon. Of course, he got electrocuted and one of the other members of the crew saw him there and went to pull him away and he got electrocuted. So there were two dead and when it was not necessary. That’s nearly all I can remember – this is nearly 45 years ago now. It’s just little bits and pieces that I could remember.
There is one other thing. I wasn’t there at the time, but our crew, as I said before, when we went to Pilgrims’ Way we were split into half. Half of them were about 300-400 yards away from us. There was myself and two other members in this particular field – after a short time they managed to catch their tent alight with the primus stove, I think. That wasn’t what I was going to mention – after I left there the RAF Regiment came along and took the anchorage up and took everything away – but I met one of them afterwards from the other crew and they had a buzz bomb or flying bomb come down quite near them (or they brought one down). They jumped in a slit trench which we had outside each tent and it more or less exploded over the top of the of them. No-one was injured but he told me the force of the explosion seemed to extract everything from his lungs and he could hardly breathe.
All the time I was on the balloons and on South Wales, I had to be duty clerk one night – more or less sentry – my two hours were from 2 o’clock to 4 o’clock a.m. Well, when 4:00 came it was my duty to go to the cook house/bunk house to wake all the cooks up. Well I went there and they were all in bunks. They were all blacks, mostly West Indians and I called out “Four o’clock, time to get up!” and one of them looked up and said “Get out white boy”, so I got out. That was the only time I did any duty there, most other times I was in the central registry all the time and acted as escort to various people who were on charges.
Well, I think that’s all, so I hope you won’t be too disappointed.
It’s not quite all. Before I was discharged, I was in the Battle of Britain Parade and March past Buckingham Palace. The Balloon Barrage was in front of the Fighter Command. That is what the Fighter Command wanted, they wanted us in the front. Now I thought that was very good of them and I always remember a remark that one of the crowd made as I was marching past. One said “Ah, here come the oldens”. Now I had been in the Air Force six years and I had on my left cuff two yellow stripes; that was a stripe for each three years. When I was discharged I did get an award which was the Air Efficiency Award and medal, the Battle of Britain Medal and the Victory Medal.
I don’t think that the Balloon Barrage was represented enough at various times because they were a great morale supporter to the people and when the balloon barrage used to go up the people used to think that they were fairly safe. Well, it did stop low flying bombing and if it had been low flying bombing there would have been a lot more damage and different things occurring.
Later on they did put smaller barrage balloons on all ships and that must have saved quite a few ships, because you couldn’t do low flying bombing against balloons flying.
Pre-war Stanley Ross had been an employee of the Royal Exchange insurance company from 1920, having been born in 1905. Early years saw him being employed in the Southwark office, and after his marriage to Ada, they occupied a flat over the office in Borough High Street, later moving to Dagenham, Essex, and then to Welling, Kent. At Welling they had one son, Donald and a daughter, Vera. In 1938 at the age of 33, Stanley joined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force at Kidbrooke. Post-war Stanley returned to the Royal Exchange insurance company and commenced duties in the Messenger Department again continuing to work there until he obtained his retirement in 1965. During his time at the Royal Exchange he began to become involved in catering, providing traditional tea and coffee for the office staff and also lunches and dinner parties for the Managers and Directors. He used these skills to work as a freelance waiter in his later years, at dinner functions held by the various City Guilds. He enjoyed these events and got to know many of the members of the various Guilds. He also enjoyed the venues with his favourite one in the City of London being the Guildhall. Stanley had many amusing stories to tell about his time at these functions. Stanley was very proud of the fact that on a number of occasions he had waited on Her Majesty The Queen at these functions, he was also very proud to have attended a private luncheon in Hampshire, when a Director of the Royal Exchange was entertaining the Queen.
Eventually Stanley and his wife settled down in Tonbridge, Kent, where he loved gardening. He died in 1990 at the age of 85 and his wife died in the same year aged 90.
Air Efficiency medal was granted to him on 7th August 1947. It is of interest to
while Stanley got his Air Efficiency
medal on 7th August 1947, intriguingly he mentions joining up with one Bill
Murray at the same time and I have discovered a man.
B. Murray, an L.A.C with the number of 840930, whereas
Stanley was 840928. The closeness of the numbers does suggest that this is the
same Bill Murray as in his story. ( This Bill Murray
also got his AE medal on 26th July 1947 according to
the Air Efficiency Medal Roll ). I wonder if there are any relatives of William
J. B. Murray who recognise this story?