Sir Freddie





Q: Can I take you back to the period after the war, leading up to the Berlin Airlift. How did you start in flying?

A: Originally, about - I hate to say this, but I've been in it rather a long time. 57 years I think. I started on my 16th birthday in 1938, at Short Brothers at Rochester. You know, there were two great teams of brothers long before the - the Wright brothers and the Short Brothers. The Wright Brothers were the first people to fly aeroplanes and the Short Brothers were the first manufacturers. In fact, they built the first six production aircraft for the Wright Brothers. And I started at Short Brothers, but the amusing thing is how I got there in the first place. Well, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living, no idea. And I came from a very, very poor background. My father ran off and left me with my mum when I was five, and my mum did everything under the sun to earn a living to keep me going. Picking fruit in the orchards and being a charlady and all that sort of thing. And one day I was standing outside the fish and chip shop in Canterbury where I was born, and this fish and chip shop was on the corner of New Ruttington Lane, which we called Ruction Avenue, because someone had a row in the street every day, and Military Road. These two roads were like that, and straight down military road was the - Canterbury Cathedral. And of course it really is a magnificent sight, and all the wall going round the Cathedral, and I'm there with the mates of mine that, we were real yobboes really, and having our fish and chips, two and one, you know, out of the old newspaper. Standing on the corner. And damn me if the Hindenberg was coming from Germany, of course going to America, and the Handley Page 42 with a four engine biplane was coming from Croydon to go to Paris. I mean, you couldn't think of two dissimilar aerial objects than these two, and they crossed right over the top of Canterbury Cathedral. A magnificent sight. And I said to my mates, I said, 'that's for me. I'm going into aeroplanes.' And I did, and I went off and I got myself a job. I left school in July of course, as they did in those days, and I think I was home for about six days and I started with Short Brothers. And of course then - then the war came along, 1940. for me, in as much that they bombed the factory. Then they offered me a job to go to Swindon. I thought well, I don't really want to go to Swindon. and I went with General Aircraft at - at Rochester. And then in 1941 I joined the ATA and we were ferrying aeroplanes in those days, of course, and I actually worked for BOAC, which is rather ironic in a way. and BOAC were in charge of the ATA. And then we were immediately seconded to, I thought it - think it was 41 Group Air Transport Command, and that's where we did the ferrying. And I was very lucky then, very, very lucky, in as much that I met a fellow, I wasn't much of an aviator, but I'd had a bit of engineering experience but not very much, and his name was Arnold Watson. He was the joint or the publicity manager in fact for Castrol. CC Wakefield. And he became the chief test pilot at the ATA. And he wanted an assistant, and why he chose me I will never know, but I volunteered. And he was absolutely wonderful to me. He more or less taught me how to speak the Queen's - or King's english of the day, more or less, and almost everything I know. And his greatest claim was that he - I was the only fella that ever taught to fly on four engine airplanes. Everyone started with one engine, I started with four and went downwards. And towards the end of the war, the Brits, believe it or not, were actually thinking of airlines, and because I was in this exalted position, I suppose, really, with Arnold, we were invited to sort of make ideas and plans and things or what's going to happen after the war. And as a consequence of that, on April Fool's Day 1946, I became one of the first eight employees of BEA. But I only stayed three months, it was rather boring and, you know, it was sort of air transport was nationalised and I didn't like th

Q: Tell me about Bond Air Services.

A: Well, Bond Air Services, very, very interesting, because in 1948, when the Russians literally put the ring around - not the wall of course, but a ring around Berlin, the British government discovered that of course the only aeroplanes they really had that could carry cargo were in fact owned by the air corporations, BOAC and BEA. And they couldn't take the aeroplanes off the commercial routes, so they had to employ almost anything they could lay their hands on. And there weren't many people in England that had any aeroplanes. But I was very lucky at the time in as much that I actually owned 12 converted Halifax bombers, and the government came along and said, 'oh, can we do something with these aeroplanes?' And I said, 'of course.' But remember, we all thought that the Berlin airlift was only gonna last two or three weeks, or there would have been a war. No one expected it to go on for a year or more. So having got to the point of having some aeroplanes, I had to find a vehicle, so to speak, a business vehicle to use them. And I came across a company called Bond Air Services, which had an up and going operation but had virtually run out of money and had some substantial debts. So I did a deal with the owners whereby I would supply the aeroplanes and they would supply the company and sort of the end of the deal was rather like Christmas, you know, where you save up all year and hand the prezzies out at Christmas, and the deal was of course that we would share in the profits and whatever. And I sold six of the Halifax - or these Hultons, which was the civil name of the Halifax bomber, I sold six of them and kept six that we put on the airlift. And of course I had literally hundreds of tons of spare parts. So I started maintaining the aeroplanes and flying on these aeroplanes and we used Bond Air Services as a vehicle.

Q: Was the converted Halifax bomber a good aircraft to carry a cargo in?

A: Oh, absolutely useless. But having said that, it was the only thing that we had. We didn't have any real cargo aeroplanes other than a few Air Force Dakotas or C47s and of course the Air Force had some Yorks. But nowhere near enough aeroplanes to sustain the Berlin airlift. The Halifax bomber of course it was what it was, a bomber. It had a door as big as that for the crew to get into, and it had a bomb bay, and the bomb bay - the bomb doors were taken off and anything applying to dropping bombs was taken off and we built like a pannier, underneath. It went up underneath the aeroplane to carry cargo. Again, with a very small door. So the cargo it could carry was limited. Oil, we could - we carried oil drums, coal, vegetables, potatoes and things like that. But it was volume limited and a very small payload. If I remember rightly, the maximum was about eight tons, between seven and eight tons. It was totally uneconomic for the job. But of course the aeroplanes came virtually free and we carried limited insurance on them. But they did, having said that, they did a great job of work. I think that with our Halifaxes, I - or Hulton's rather, I think we did something like 4,700 flights. We were on the airlift for 54 weeks.