Lewis James Phillips


Fred Crawley

Fred Crawley was born in  1920, he grew up in  Edmonton in the county of Middlesex, now part of  Greater London.  As a child he was from a poor background and went to Rainham School where he won a school scholarship which gave him the opportunity to go to the acclaimed Latimer School.  Once Fred left school he joined the North Metropolitan Power company in Southgate in 1937, this was very short lived, and as he anticipated, since the war was starting, Fred joined the RAF a year later in 1938. Fred lived with his wife Joyce, they were childhood sweethearts, they resided in Bush Hill Park and my mum was a friend of theirs.  Sometimes Joyce would ask her to make curtains for her and my mum would take her shopping from time to time.  In their late 80s they had an apartment type flat, immaculate inside with paintings of planes on the wall and in the living room was Fred’s piano.  It was a lovely relaxing place to visit, you could see by the way the house was presented it was well orchestrated, all furniture in order and position that was well suited, in a way I can  imagine  how Fred would have worked taking pride in everything he  did. My mum asked Fred if it would be possible for me to interview him on his RAF background and take some photographs  of him at home.  I think the only reason he accepted was due to the nature of their personal relationship, and there would be no pressure from me, more just an honour to spend time with someone who had personally seen WW2 from the air.  To really show what sort of chap Fred was, on my second visit I had arranged to visit with my mum at 10.30am so mum and  Joyce could go shopping together.  As I sat down Fred was looking at himself in the mirror while putting on his tie. He asked how I was and I told him I had just passed the first part of my teacher training course. He congratulated me in the mirror, walk over to a whiskey decanter, picked it up with two crystal glasses put it on the table and sat down with me.  ‘Well done Lewis’ he said poured us a glass each and said ‘cheers’. Over the next two months Fred and Joyce would both tell me their l stories, the journey of being childhood sweethearts being separated by war, and of course Fred’s  experiences with the RAF. The RAF Fred was an instructor, his job was to train those who would eventually fly over Europe on bombing raids.  In 1939 he was due to be deployed with 12 squadron to France but during a training session the trainee crashed the plane and Fred could not go due to his injuries.  I never forget Fred saying when 12 squadron eventually returned only one person had made it, luck had been Fred’s fate.  Later Fred did say to me at times he was more frightened by the training than going on missions, obviously due to training  that  may not have been suited to flying.  Fred had trained hundreds who in his words ‘had damaged Germany’.  Later that year he replaced a navigator due to sickness and was sent on his first mission which was on the Lancaster Bomber, he flew to a crucial mining location by the Port of Gdansk and dropped their payload.  This was a location which in Fred’s mind was a crucial aim to the success of WW2, as when the port was bombed it was out of action for months, causing Germany a significant problem. Fred  told me about a mission that he believed if it had not had happened the Germans may have won the War. The Germans were planning to wipe out London in a very short space of time.  Peenemunde was the location where Hitler was building the V1 and V2 rockets, Fred explained that these rockets had enough fuel capacity so they could reach the UK.  These pilot- less aircraft were awful, since they could inflict considerable damageand we were very lucky to have found out where they were.  Fred painted a picture in my mind of the following event; he led 800 aircraft and was the marker pilot for the first bombers to drop the huge payloads, twenty five bombs on each aircraft with a pay load of 1000lb per bomb. In Fred’s words ‘This advance of science needed destroying and we did it, it saved our bacon.’ The raids of Hamburg were very vivid in Fred’s mind, two days of constant bombing over the city.  The whole place was an inferno and by day 3 the heat was so strong it created electric storms.  Hamburg was astonishing, we just kept dropping bombs, even into the fires. During another visit Fred discussed the briefings in a little more depth.  In his mind Berlin was only bombed due to the fact that Hitler bombed London first, ‘it was the worst thing he could have done’ Fred explained.  The briefings were given by the Commanding Officer, all aircraft must go, seven to eight hundred.  The missions were  meticulously put together Fred explained,  waves of aircraft all flying at different heights so they did not collide with each other.  His flying height for the mission over Berlin was 4500ft, the pilots would have their own briefings and then the gunners would get theirs.  ‘I have often wondered how many of us ended up colliding during that mission?’ Fred said while sitting in his lounge.  As the marker I was always 15 minutes in front with the target finders, we would liaise back with wind direction, times to target and so on. After The War Fred was assigned to Italy, he said this was the best job he ever had.  ‘ I had the job of getting as many people back to Britain from the war.  I lived in Fogia for 3 years where I was in charge of three runways, some days 700 aircraft would use these runways.  ‘In 1945 I was demobbed with honors and given the most horrendous suit to wear’ he laughed. Fred’s main intention was to find Joyce his childhood sweetheart There were  many things for me to look at, and tohold an important document.  A personal signed letter from the King to Fred for his contribution towards WW2, many medals and of course Fred’s historic mission logbook that was in pristine condition, missions in red writing, training flights in black. Fred gave me a huge honest insight into the war, he journey was incredible flying 76 missions, most were lucky to survive just 10. Meeting Fred changed my life, I became fully aware of the incredible journey people had to face during this period of history.  In my mind I was thinking this must have been horrific, but the belief and passion of the people drove them on against Hitler and Germany, Is this something I wish I could recognise from society today.  To be honest I can’t even remember it being spoken about in school. It was a true privilege and honour being able to spend time with Fred, in his own house, discussing things that most would want to forget. Joyce Crawly.   Joyce was a delightful lady, very polite, kind and always well presented, Joyce  made a great cup of tea, often given to me in quaint china cups and saucers.  Joyce and Fred grew up as children together, their mothers going to the same church in Middlesex.  Later Joyce moved from Edmonton to Palmers Green so they did not often see each other.  . Life and war separated them both, Joyce moved to Dorking but would return to London on occasions.  Dorking was bombed so badly that Joyce moved back to London and at the age of 22 worked for the British Oxygen Company. When the war had finished Fred found out where Joyce was residing, he hired a car and drove over to her house. ‘Unfortunately for Fred I was not in so he returned home’ she explained, this did not stop Fred from returning where he found Joyce to be at home and took her out for afternoon tea.  Fred explained to Joyce that he was to be sent to Fogia in Italy, his job was to get as many personnel back to the UK.  I can only imagine that Fred asked Joyce if she would wait for him to return and took a photograph of Joyce with him to Italy.