Warrant Officer Stanley David. Age 91
A schoolboy at the outbreak of war, Stanley signed up for the fastest route to active service as an RAF Air Gunner. Excelling at the task Stanley was selected for SOE operations flying French Resistance agents into occupied France from North Africa.
These missions were so secret they were only declassified in 1997.
Stanley was interviewed at his home in Littlehampton, West Sussex, England on Wednesday 17th August 2016
Stanley can you tell me a little about your background. My mother I think was born in Poland, my father I couldn’t tell you, I have no idea where he was born, what he did, anything like that, he was a complete enigma, most peculiar, I think my father was Romanian.
My middle name is Maurice I don’t know where the hell my mother and father got that name from, I didn’t even have the sense to ask them, I hated that name
I was born in Goulton Road, Hackney, under Bow bells. We left Hackney in 1928 and then we moved to Golders Green. I went to school in Wessex Gardens in Golders Green. Then on to Christ college Finchley I got a scholarship there, I did very well the first two years, but then the war started to come on to me, in my third year I lost interest.
I just wanted to get in the war, that was my one and true aim, to get in the bloody war, to fight the Germans.
I left school when I was 15, I became a messenger and then of course when I was 18 I was called up and I joined up in March 1943.
When I went in to see the recruiter, I said “I want to be in the Air Force and I want to be an Air Gunner”, and that was it, I knew the course was only three months. All the other courses were six months, nine months, a year; I didn’t want that, I wanted to get in the quickest way in to fight the bloody Germans.
I got my air gunners badge in June ’43. I volunteered for everything.
I went to ACR (Air Crew Receiving Centre) then after that to train as an air gunner I went to Stormy Downs in South Wales. I was on a course of 60 odd men and I got the fourth highest rating which was very good.
We used to fire at the drogues and I got the best percentage firing at the drogues so I was happy, I was doing a good job.
We were crewed up in Rufforth, Yorkshire. That’s where we did our training and then we started doing low level flying there. I was right in the front of the aircraft I used to love it. Low level through the rivers and in between the mountains.
I didn’t know at the time but I’m sure my skipper knew what was going to happen because that’s what we went on to do.
After Rufforth we flew down to Blida in North Africa. I think I started doing my first operations in January 1944 with 624 Special Duties Squadron.
We didn’t know a lot of what was happening because we were completely cut off. We knew that it was important but we weren’t allowed to speak to anybody. You didn’t speak to other crews about it, even my pilot didn’t know where we were going, and the only person that knew was the navigator.
It was agent dropping and supply over the Pyrenees. We had to go down to 300 – 500 feet because the French always used to choose the most difficult areas so the Germans wouldn’t find them. We didn’t get any trouble with the German fighters but we got a lot of trouble with the ack ack and also the mountains
Were you dropping agents in by parachute. Oh yes. 500-600 feet, quite low for a parachute drop, but don’t forget the wind takes it.
When we went over to Blida in Algeria, flying Halifax’s and Stirling’s. They knocked out the mid-upper turret because we had an exit hatch to drop the agents and packages underneath.
We did our jump training with the Americans at Camp de Mar where they taught the agents how to jump. Camp de Mar was a little place, but the food was out of this world. Oh my God, it was worthwhile doing it for the food. The Americans were so well fed, for four days I was so well fed, to go back to bacon, it wasn’t even bacon it was bloody awful spam, corned beef.
I was jumping with some of these women that were training to be agents. The instructor said that I would have to be first to set an example to the rest. Standing at the door I was able to collect my thoughts. The instructor shouted “Ho” and slapped my back. My landing was far from brilliant; the American T Type chutes were difficult to manoeuver, but all I broke was a watch.
The next day I was in the second stick and was able to observe the female agents jumping first.
Unfortunately, one just slid out the door and was holding onto the ledge from outside the aircraft. The instructor stamped on her hands until she finally let go.
They say that women can’t stand pain. Women can stand pain more than men; by God, they were tough sticks, really tough.
My son he’s always trying to give me different things for my birthday. For my 80th birthday, he said “Dad I’ve got something for you, how do feel about making a sky dive?” I said I’d love it so, I did the necessary training because it’s a bit different from a wartime parachute jump, you’re with an instructor and you’re strapped to him. We got out at 14,500 feet with a 40 second free-fall, then the instructor pulls the rip cord and that was it, fantastic, out of this world and the weather was good.
Was there a high point for you during the war. It was all really high. I remember once we got caught in a master Searchlight. We were on our own at about 12,000 feet and we got caught by this master searchlight. We got coned by about 10 or 12 searchlights and that’s when they stared firing at us.
Ack Ack, that was a little bit naughty, lets put it that way, you have to corkscrew out of it. My pilot was superb, he was a brilliant pilot, the navigator was second to none, he was brilliant, because to fly over the Pyrenees you didn’t have any landmarks or anything to go by. Everything looked the same.
Any low points. We were due to drop an agent, he was a French Canadian and on the way there we had a little chat, I’ve forgotten his name, and we couldn’t find the target, so we didn’t drop him.
On the way back I said to him I think I’m going into Algiers for a weekend on a 48 hour pass, he said if you don’t mind I’d like to come with you.
We went to this place in Algiers, I can’t remember whether we both had a room, I think he had a room and I had a room. We went and had a few drinks, which was quite nice, we both rather sloshed, and as we left the pub come brothel I said you’re pissed. He said “pissed am I” and he raced up this side turning we were passing. I got back to my room, stripped off and flaked out. When I woke next morning I knew someone had been in my room, it had been searched. The landlady told me the military Police had tried to waken me and couldn’t, they were looking for my 48 hour pass, which they found to be in order. My friend had not been so lucky. He had no pass, was picked up and I never heard of him again
I couldn’t say he was an agent I was going to drop, I couldn’t say anything, I had to stay shtum, it was most peculiar.
What did you say when you got back to base. Just that I’d been for a 48 and that was it, I don’t think they knew he’d come with me.
My last operation was a daylight in September 1944 and that was when we were disbanded because D-day had happened and consequently they didn’t need us anymore. I was a Warrant Officer. AC2 to Sergeant then to Warrant Officer, it was automatic.
After we finished operations I was a sighting instructor for a time, then when the war finished I became a police dog handler for the RAF; I had a pit bull called Simon, I called my first son Simon and when got a dog he called it Stanley, the bugger.
My dog was beautiful; he was the second most ferocious dog in the squad and always the second from last to give an exhibition. We used to give exhibitions, attacking the suit, I went in the suit once, the padded suit, and you could feel his teeth go through but I enjoyed it.
When you came back after the war what was the biggest change.
Not many jobs because people were being demobbed. I was demobbed in ‘47, of course coming out the service like many others you find it very difficult getting back into a routine because everything was done for you in the service. My brother did very well when he came out
I think my first job was £4/10’ a week and that was in 1947 so it wasn’t a very good wage.
I was living with my parents in Brookside Road, Golders Green, then some friends of mine and I got a big basement flat together in Hamilton Terrace.
I had a few jobs but they weren’t very interesting until I joined with my brother. We did quilting, dressing gowns & anoraks. I used to supply Dorothy Perkins and even Kensington cigarettes. We were up in Soho in Frith Street
So we used to deal with people personally and I would take out the buyers, take them out for lunch. I was quite a good snooker player so I took the buyer of Dorothy Perkins out and I gave her a start, she beat me, I never heard the end of that.
Well, I was there for a couple of years then I decided I didn’t want to stay there anymore. The new managing director was a con man. I didn’t like the way he was treating me.
I couldn’t stand living in London anymore, trouble is London is no longer the same. I remember I used to go to Blooms for a salt beef sandwich and the Nosh bar in Windmill Street.
So I said to my wife, I was married for 11 years, we could get a nice little shop and we bought this delicatessen with wines and spirits in the corner.
It was good a shop in Croxley Green, I bought the freehold for sixty thousand and made a nice profit when we sold it. My wife, she used to cook her own hams and people would come from miles for our bacon and her ham, superb.
After 11 years I’d had enough, I didn’t like the way she treated certain people and I lost interest in her that was it. Actually, I got on better with her mother and father than she did, I was 26 years older than her.
You know what I miss, chraine with my chicken. Can’t remember the last time I had salt beef, all these things you miss when you leave London
After that my brother said why don’t you get a job and come down to Littlehampton.
Kinch & Lack were one of the biggest menswear shops in Worthing and they were advertising, don’t forget I’d been in the business with the quilting, they took me on and I was there for six years.
Then I was headhunted and we opened up these stores in Rustington, Scorpio Man, that was until I had to leave because I had prostate cancer in 2000, I’ve been retired since then
Looking back do you think we would be able to do that again, fight a war? I doubt it because we were fighting against Germany; today you’re not fighting against a country you’re fighting against an unseen assailant.
If you reflect on the world today does it meet your expectations? No, I think the worlds bloody awful at the moment, in a hell of a mess.
It went wrong straight after the war, we haven’t got the good brains and we haven’t got the armaments. We’re not a big country anymore we’re small and we’ve got no say in the matter. Putin, Merkel, Obama even Francoise Hollande, they’ve all got more say than us.
I was thinking about Tony Blair when he first came into power, he was wonderful, but that witch of a wife of his……
I don’t think anyone will take over after the Queen. Charles won’t make a good king and I feel sorry for Harry, what’s he going to do? He’s getting his leg over a bit now, I think he should have stayed in the service.
What’s your legacy? The only accomplishment I have is being in the RAF, fighting for your country, that’s the biggest, you cant get any bigger than that, I’d hate to think I was a pacifist or a conscientious objector.
I’ve got sons and grandchildren in America, one of the boys, Harry is very interested, their father tells them about it, and when I was presented with the Légion d’honneur at the Tangmere museum they came.
I don’t think I deserved the Légion d’honneur but still, these days they give peerages and knighthoods for doing bugger all.
I didn’t talk about the war, you weren’t allowed to until ’97 it was so secretive.
But I’ve learned not to do anybody any harm and you should give more than you receive and I love Littlehampton, it’s a good place to die.