World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Ralph Ambrose, UK Friend of the 398th Bomb Group
Interviewer: Marilyn Gibb-Rice
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Denver Colorado, September 11, 2010
The 398th has been interviewing its members as part of the Timeless Voices of Aviation project. More information about the project and a current list of video interviews can be found at 398th Timeless Voices Interviews. In addition to the video interviews, some of the interviews have been transcribed to text.
Ralph Ambrose, UK Friend of the 398th Bomb Group
Eighth Air Force
Ralph Abrose was just a thirteen year old boy living south of the airfield in a village called Hare Street when the 398th was assigned to Station 131.
MG-R: Interviewer, Marilyn Gibb-Rice
RA: UK Friend of the 398th BG, Ralph Ambrose
Time of Interview: 49:36
MG-R: I am Marilyn Gibb-Rice and today is September 11, 2010 and we are at the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association reunion in Denver, Colorado. Would you please introduce yourself?
RA: Yes, Marilyn. I’m Ralph Ambrose, friend of the 398th Bomb Group. I was born in Chingford, Essex, which is northeast of London, on October 24, 1931. And I will explain to you how I ended up around Station 131 in 1944 as a sort of an evacuee from London. My grandparents and uncles had a farm about 4 miles south the field. Hare Street was the name of the village. Prior to the war, we used to visit I guess once or twice a year, as I can remember as a young child visiting Hare Street. But on September 3, 1939, that was the day that war was declared in England, my mother and myself immediately left for the country. My father stayed behind in London. My mother and I, we travelled to Hare Street by steam train from London via a little village called Buntingford. It was quite an experience for an 8 year old. I was just 8 at the time. We spent about 6 weeks on my uncle’s farm. That was what they called the “phony war”. We thought London of course was going to be bombed immediately as war was declared but it was not. There were a couple of false air raids, but nothing developed. So after 6 weeks in the country, we returned to London. Depending on how the war continued, as far as London being bombed by the Germans, we would travel back and forth to Hare Street for many years.
But my experience …let’s see…I became 11 years old in 1943 and from that date on, we stayed in Hare Street, on the farm, until the war ended. My association with the….let me retract a little bit….whilst in Hare Street, of course the rumors were going around, and this would have been early 1943, there were rumors going around that there was going to be an airfield built up at Nuthampstead. Nobody knew the details about it. But midway through 1943, we started to see U.S. Engineering Black troops, driving truckloads of London bombed-out ruble through the village. This was the first time that I had ever seen a Black person, in person. We used to waive to them as they’d drive past our home. Eventually, of course, the construction was underway up at Nuthampstead. That would have been towards the end of ‘43, I guess, when the construction of the airfield took place.
Towards the end of 1943, flying overhead from overhead our little village, we started to see these strange-looking aircraft. They had twin booms on them. It was a sight that we had never seen before. But it turned out that they were P-38 Lightnings, which was part of the 55th Fighter Group and they were being based up at Nuthampstead, Station 131. I never visited the station at that time. Transportation wasn’t easy. Although we were only about 4 miles from the airfield, I did not have my bicycle, which had been left behind in our London home. And if I needed to get up to the airfield, which I did eventually, I had to borrow one of my uncle’s very tall and the wrong-size bike for a young fellow like myself.
Early in 1944, we experienced another sight coming over the village of these very large, 4-engine aircraft, of course which turned out to be the 55th Fighter Group was moving out and the 398th Bomb Group was coming in. I was quite excited as a young fellow and with the help of my aunt and uncle, managed to scrounge a bicycle to get up to the airfield, which I did on quite a few occasions. This would have been the spring of 1944. I used to go out there quite frequently. I would get on to a haystack. In those days, haystacks were quite common, and there were quite a number of them located around the airfield.
There was also a large dump which was located just outside of the airfield’s limits; right actually, it’s near where the golf club is located now, as you are going up the road to Nuthampstead. Right opposite where the golf course is now, there was a big dump where everything was put in there, such as old, beat up steel helmets, old gaiters, even munitions were dumped in there and a lot of other garbage. There was always an acrid smell of smoke because they were continuing burning things under there. Once in a while, of course, you would hear the “pop, pop, pop” of munitions exploding. This was quite an experience for a young fellow. During these visits, of course we would scrounge various things such as steel helmets, not ammunition, but I would pick up steel helmets, gaiters and things like that and return home to the village in the afternoon quite excited.
A very interesting thing happened one day that I was at the dump. I found an old V-Mail letter. It had been torn in half a little bit, but I put it together and took it home to the village. It was from a lady in Brooklyn, New York. Her name was Maria Gerrain. She was writing to her brother, his last name was Gerrain. But apparently he had gotten the letter, read it and then of course, had thrown it away and it ended up in the dump. So I, together with the help of my mother, I wrote a letter to this Mrs. Gerrain in Brooklyn and it was quite interesting. We created, I guess, a very nice friendship. For many, many years, she used to write me letters back saying “Dear little friend, thank you for your letter”. Eventually when I came to the states in 1954, I went to visit her and her family in Brooklyn, New York. Her brother, whom she had been corresponding with, I never did meet him, but of course he was ground personnel, and of course, he is deceased, he is on the TAPS list. That was quite an interesting experience, meeting her family in Brooklyn.
Getting back to the dump, we would obtain many goodies at the airstrip for young kids and we would take them to school on the school bus. We would do sort of like a barter, exchange things between us. There was one particular fellow, he lives in Florida now, lives in Miami. His name is Frederick Seaman. He has recently had a write up in Flak News. Frederick Seaman was about my age. This would have been late 1944. He had a real good contact on the base, I think with a pilot. The pilot’s name was Lt. Rich, I believe, who eventually got shot down. But Frederick “Tubby” Seaman we used to call him, he managed to bring to school of course on the school bus...today it would have been unbelievable. ..but Tubby used to bring 50 mm cartridges to school and other items but we would swap. I can remember, on quite a few occasions, getting these 50 mm cartridges off of him, taking them to my uncle’s, back on to the farm, and doing silly things with them such as removing the shell from the cartridge. I was quite educated as far as not touching the shell. I would take the shell out and we would sprinkle the cordite in the farm yard and then set it on fire. And the same time, we would get the cartridge and go to my uncle’s shed where he had a lot of tools in there and put the cartridge in the vice and get a piece of wood with a nail in it and we would hit the nail onto the percussion cap and make that explode. That was some of the fun things that we did during that time of the war.
Another pastime of us children was certain, when we got home from school earlier in the afternoon, we would sit on the village green. There was sort of a village green in Hare Street. We would be calling out to the various Yanks that where coming by, mostly ground crew we came in contact with. “Have you got any gum, chum?” We did quite well with the gum. We would also try to scrounge any other things such as flashlights and other sundry items. But most of the time, we were just getting candy from the Americans. I never personally had too much contact with air crew members at that time. It was mostly ground crew who seemed to come out from the base in the evening, going on a pub crawl. It was an interesting experience.
One very funny thing that happened to us during that time, it must have been around Christmas 1944. We still had things on rations. We wanted to get some decorations and that. Balloons, of course, were made out of rubber so they were impossible to obtain. One night, I believe it was a Saturday evening, through the village came some Americans and they had been having a few drinks and I heard some of them falling off their bicycles. The next morning, which was a Sunday morning, I believe, my uncle was going into the farmyard to milk the cows and I went with him and low and behold, laying in the road, I spotted a pack of…if “you know what they are”, laying in the street, an unused pack of prophylactics, I believe they were called. So my good friend Roger Bradley, who is now deceased unfortunately, we teamed up together and we blew them up and we decorated them in his house for the Christmas. His mother didn’t really know what they were. We thought that was fun.
During late 1944, a V-1 Doodle Bug crashed in a little village near us called Dassels and it was into the field that my uncle owned. I can remember going down there. There were a bunch of Americans from Nuthampstead, scrounging all the parts of this Doodle Bug. I managed to obtain the gyroscope out of it, and I kept it for many, many years. But the Americans hauled most of the Doodle Bug away, I presume, as souvenirs. That was late 1944.
Another interesting thing that happened while I was living on the farm, one morning I got up fairly early and saw these 2 Messerschmitt 109 fighters, hedge hopping across the fields, presumably they had been escorting some German bombers up into London and were heading back to occupied France. Also we would see, quite early in the morning, from Hare Street, way, way in the distance, vapor trails of V-2 rockets being launched out of, most likely out of Belgium or occupied Holland. Of course, one of those rockets eventually did crash onto the airfield. Thankfully, it did not do too much damage. But that was quite a common occurrence in the morning, watching the vapor trails of the V-2s being launched from occupied Europe. I well remember seeing Delancey’s aircraft coming back, the plane with the nose all shot off. I can remember that vividly, seeing it flying over. And many, many years later, believe it or not, I was in London at Foyle’s Bookshop, going through Roger Freeman’s Mighty 8th book, which I eventually bought, and low and behold, there is a picture of Delancey’s aircraft in there. Much later, of course, when I got to know many of the pilots of the 398th at one of the reunions, I managed to get the autograph of Delancey and Phil Stahlman on that particular photograph.
How did I get involved with the 398th Memorial Association? Well, that’s an interesting story. Way back in about 1980, I had a phone call from a person by the name of Ozzie Osborn. I was living in Maryland at the time. Ozzie had managed to locate me through friends up in England. He called up and said he was visiting over here and was trying to get, organizing a memorial for the 398th Bomb Group. He came over with plans and so forth. At that time, I had no contacts with the 398th. But I did find out eventually how to join the organization. I had an uncle at the time who lived just outside of Pittsburgh. He was with the 97th Bomb Group. Way back in the 1970s, I was visiting him and he knew I was very interested in World War II aviation. He asked me at that time, “Ralph,” he said, “did you know that the 8th Air Force has an organization and they put out a monthly magazine?” I said, “No, I did not know.” So he gave me the address and I eventually joined the 8th Air Force Historical Association. By joining that organization, that gave me really an entrée into the 398th. I used to read many stories from the Vets in the magazine and eventually I wrote to the magazine and asked if they could tell me if there was an organization that covered the 398th. One day, I did receive a letter from, I believe, a pilot, in Illinois. Rocker his name was, I can’t think of his last name. He said, “Yes, you can join the 398th Bomb Group.” He sent me all the details.
So I joined the 398th Bomb Group organization with the help of Ozzie Osborn and Rocker from Illinois. Eventually, of course, the project for the memorial at Nuthampstead was underway. In 1982, I was there with my good friend Roger Bradley who is now deceased. We participated in the dedication of the memorial. I managed to take a pretty good picture of the Sally B who flew over during the celebration there. Of course, that picture has been fairly widely used in various publications of Sally B flying between the 2 flags at the memorial. I did not, at that time, attend any reunions of the 398th. But in 1986, when the 398th Bomb Group came over, I was at Madingley, at the American Cemetery in Madingley. Roger & myself, we saluted the 398th Bomb Group people that were getting off the bus. A man came over to us, one of the 398th people. It was Wally Blackwell. He asked what we were doing and so forth. That’s what really got me involved with the 398th reunions. Wally was a good friend and he put us on the right track for coming to these various reunions, not only in the States but in England.
The youngsters, getting back to the Hare Street days and 1944, it was quite an exciting time. We would not only have B-17s flying over our village, but an assortment of other groups and aircraft, RAF and American Air Force air planes, Liberators, P-51s, P-47s, the whole 9 yards of aircraft would fly over. In fact, we would even have, at certain times, aircraft coming over, firing at targets that were being towed by old Lysander aircraft, which was a British reconnaissance type of aircraft. So, they were exciting times for youngsters such as ourselves, in the 12-14-year-old age bracket.
MG-R: What was it like when you heard all the planes taking off?
RA: That’s a good question, Marilyn, yes. In the early morning when we were going to school or waiting for the school bus about 7:30 in the morning, we would hear the aircraft warming up, revving up to take off from Nuthampstead. Of course, by the time we got to school in Buntingford, the aircraft were airborne, forming up in their formations. Not only from Nuthampstead, but from other airfields from around that area, which we were inundated, I guess. The 91st Bomb Group was located near us and some other large bomber groups. So it was a real exciting time.
MG-R: And then what about when they came back?
RA: Well, in the late afternoon, after we had gotten back from school, yes they would be returning. We would of course see aircraft with battle damage and out of formation. We would also see red flares being fired out of the aircraft, which of course meant that there were wounded on board. So that was an interesting experience.
Another funny thing happened when the 398th Bomb Group came into Nuthampstead in spring of 1944. Most of the service people never had bicycles. There were a few government-issued-type of bikes but most of the ground crew, specifically the ground crew, they wanted to get bicycles so they could get out to the local pubs. The local inhabitants of the villages around Nuthampstead took full advantage of this. They got beat-up old bikes, fixed them up a little bit and sold them to the American service people at inflated prices. When victory in Europe was declared and the 398th started to pull out of Station 131, the local villagers wanted to get some of those bikes back at a very low, good price. But the Americans, I guess, they realized that they had been ripped off, of sorts, with buying them about a year earlier. They took them down to the dump where we used to scrounge all the goodies and put them in the dump and ran a bulldozer over all the bikes. That took care of that.
MG-R: So since it was during the war, how did the rationing affect you and your family?
RA: It really didn’t affect us too personally. My father was, of course, away in the Army. And my mother and I, as I said earlier, we were living on my uncle’s farm. We had a pretty good supply of chickens, pigs. We really didn’t have a real shortage for the rationing. We had cows, of course, from which we got our milk. We were not really affected too much by rationing, except certain things like candies and other sweet stuffs which, of course, from time to time, I managed to get the chewing gum and little goodies from the American service people coming through the village.
MG-R: What about cigarettes?
RA: Cigarettes, that’s a good question, Marilyn. Getting back to getting these 50 mm shells on the bus, which Tubby Seaman would bring along. He also used to bring along packs of Pall Mall cigarettes. Don’t ask me how he got them, but he got them. Again, we would do some bartering to get packs of Pall Mall cigarettes. I can remember, as a 12-year-old, taking a few puffs behind the village green once in a while. My mother didn’t know about it, but we did things like that.
MG-R:While you were in London, before you moved out, do you remember any of the bombing?
RA: Oh, yes. On our particular street, a couple of houses were hit with bombs. But one of our pastimes, for kids at that period, was collecting shrapnel. Of course, during the night, the Germans would come over and bomb. And of course, with the British firing anti-aircraft shells at the German bombers, the next morning the streets were pretty much full of shrapnel. That was a pastime for kids, including myself. We would go out early in the morning, picking up shrapnel and shell caps and other sundry items. One particular item that I managed to get was part of a parachute from a German land mine which dropped at the top of our street. But I was personally not too involved in being blitzed. We spent most of our time on the farm in the country.
MG-R: So, were you ever down into the subways? Did you go down there and stay?
RA: No, we lived just outside the London limit. Ten miles…any child…most people that were living 10 miles outside of London or less, they qualified to be evacuated if they wanted to be. We lived about 11 miles outside the city of London, so we didn’t qualify. So we never experienced going into the underground for safety reasons. But travelling, once in a while, when we traveled back to the house to see how it was from Hare Street, we would travel through London and of course, that is what we would see, people getting ready to spend the night on the subway platforms.
MG-R: So, did your house survive?
RA: Our house survived, except for a few broken windows and a few roof tiles, the house was fortunately, was in one piece, after the war ended.
MG-R: And you said your father was in the Army?
RA: My father was in the British Ack-Ack Artillery, but spent most of the war in the northern part of England, along the coast. So, he saw some action, but not as much action possibly as us school kids.
MG-R: So what do you mean by Ack-Ack?
RA: He was anti-aircraft, artillery. He was shooting at German aircraft that were coming across the coast, but mostly in the north of England. He was on the east coast and had some experience of shooting at aircraft but not as much as if he had been in the London area.
MG-R: Right, because they would mostly fly across the Channel, wouldn’t they?
RA: They would fly across the Channel. And of course, the Brits, we would try and stop them crossing the coast as much as possible, particularly when the Doodle Bugs, the V-1’s started up in June of 1944. We tried to stop them crossing the coast, either by shooting them down with anti-aircraft guns or of course, the fighter aircraft would be after them.
MG-R:What is a Doodle Bug? Explain that.
RA: A Doodle Bug is a flying bomb, with one engine, stuck on top of the tail. It would fly until the fuel ran out and then it would drop. Actually it was a bomb with an engine on it.
MG-R: Totally unmanned?
RA: Unmanned, yes. Later in the war, in late 1944 into 1945, the V-2 rocket, of course, which was launched from most of the bases in occupied Europe would travel over. But of course, there was no protection against them. They were super-sonic. They would crash down at anytime, anywhere.
MG-R: So did you go into the military?
RA: I was in the British military. After the war ended in 1945, the British put in what they called a national service. It was a...it kicked in in 1946. Any young man reaching the age of 18 had to go into the service for 18 months. I was called up in 1950 and went into the RAF for 18 months originally. But then the Korean War started and we ended up doing 2 years, so I came out in 1952. I went back to my work at MGM in 1952. In 1954, I sailed off to Canada as an immigrant. Eventually from Canada, came down into the States.
MG-R: Go back, what did you do in the RAF?
RA: I flew a desk…. for 2 years, at a maintenance unit up in the Midlands of England, about 100 miles from London.
MG-R: So what made you go to Canada?
RA: The reason for going to Canada, even in England in 1954, things were pretty rough. There was still rationing. Of course, by that time, we left the farm. We had gone back to London to live. It was just that things were not good in 1954. Transportation, just commuting to work, was a hassle. The Canadians had a real good immigration scheme, just like they did in Australia. They would help with your passage and that, although I didn’t take advantage of that. But I just wanted to get out of England and see something else of the world.
MG-R: Did you work in Canada?
RA: Yes, I worked for MGM. I worked with MGM in London and in Canada for a short time prior to coming to the States via Detroit. I immigrated to the States coming through Detroit in late 1954.
MG-R: MGM, the movie theatre?
RA: Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, yes.
MG-R: What did you do with them?
RA: I was, I worked in publicity, writing press releases basically, and sending out material to newspapers, photographs, and what have you, just basically a general dog’s body job.
MG-R: So you came into the States and continued to work with them or who?
RA: I didn’t work for them in the States. I worked for them in Canada. When I came into the States, I ended up working with the American Automobile Association, in travel. And then went back to England in 1956, got married and then came back to the States in 1958 with a bride and went into the airline business.
MG-R: And then you got involved with the 398th?
RA: Oh yes, getting back to that. I got involved with the 398th. Of course with Wally Blackwell almost a neighbor of mine, he lived over in Maryland and I lived in Virginia. I got fairly heavily involved with the 398th, helping Wally do some research, I guess, going to the National Archives and other places like that, digging out material. This was of course back in the early 1990’s. And of course I always went back. Whenever the 398th went back to England for their reunions, every second year, I would go over there independently and would be there. And likewise, over in the States, I would try to get to as many reunions as possible every year.
MG-R:You have been to several.
RA: I have been to several. I never missed one in England, except this year of course, because of the broken leg. I did not go over in June of 2010. But otherwise, I never missed a reunion in England up until that date.
MG-R: What are your good memories of the reunions, either over here or over there?
RA: They have always been exciting, as far as I am concerned. In England, of course, I never travelled around with them, like I do in the States. But I would always try to get to the Anstey St. George’s Church service and of course, whenever they visited Madingley, I would do my best to go there and also to visit Duxford. But I didn’t do the tours over there of course completely like I do here.
MG-R: So can you tell me what it was like working for MGM in London?
RA: Oh, yes, it was quite exciting Marilyn from time to time. I was involved with one of the press releases and sending various photographs out to various newspapers for publications. One interesting thing that came up, of course we were always getting visited by the odd star coming to our offices. It was late 1948 or early 1949, I am not sure of the exact date. The Royal Command Performance, which still goes on every year, where the King and Queen, or in this case it was the King and Queen would have still been in office. The Royal Command Performance took place and they had rehearsals in the Empire Leicester Square where our offices were located at the time. And I can remember very distinctly, I took a good friend of mine, it was a Saturday, and this friend of mine, we went into the rehearsals which were taking place, and we must have met any stars that were there. The ones I met personally and got their autographs, were Ronald Regan, Alan Ladd who I can remember was quite short, Elizabeth Taylor, and Patricia Neal and a host other movie stars, mostly Brits. But a funny thing that happened with Elizabeth Taylor, she was at that time dating Nicky Hilton and I believe she would have been about 17 or 18 years of age at that time. I cornered her and got her to sign her autograph in my autograph book, so I said to Elizabeth, “Would you put ‘to Ralph with love from Elizabeth Taylor’ and she sort of giggled. And she said, “Oh, what would my boyfriend say. I can’t put ‘with love’ but she did sign my autograph ‘Elizabeth Taylor’. Another interesting fact that happened during those rehearsals, Patricia Neal who was over there. She played her first movie. She was almost an unknown at that time. She wanted to…I got talking to her. She said she would like to go out and get coffee. So this friend of mine and myself and Patricia Neal walked out of the theatre at Leicester Square into a local coffee shop and had a cup of coffee together. This of course would never happen today because of all the security.
MG-R: What about your, I’m going back again, your Uncle’s farm, is it still there?
RA: With my uncle’s farm, what happened, that was sort of unfortunate. My 2 uncles, one of them of course was quite elderly, and he retired and my younger uncle, his nickname as “Chummer”, he died early. He had a heart attack. He died in his 60’s. The farm continued on for some years, but eventually it was sold off. My other uncle passed away and they never had any sons to pass on to. My uncle had one daughter. She was married, but the son-in-law he wasn’t interested in farming. So eventually the farm was sold. I guess it would have been the late 1960’s the farm was sold off.
MG-R: Is it still a farm?
RA: Yes, it is still a farm but it is owned by other people today. I go back there, and hopefully I go back there every year, to visit the local village. I still have a few friends there. But my last contact there, as far as a relative, was my old aunt, who was married to my uncle that had the farm. She passed away earlier this year. She was in her 90’s. But I still go back. Every year I go back to England. I always visit Hare Street, Station 131 and drive around the airport and the airfield a little bit.
MG-R: And you go back to the Woodman?
RA: I always go back to the Woodman for a drink. I will always remember Christmas of 1944, although I was living with my uncle, my uncles on farm, we did make a visit to my mother’s sister who lived close to an airfield, an RAF airfield called North Weald. It’s still there, north of London. We spent Christmas, a few days, with my mother’s aunt, in North Weald. Two things I remember now is the black hoarfrost that covered all the trees that Christmas day. And also I remember what we ate for Christmas dinner. It was baked rabbit, since the chicken was in short supply that Christmas, we had to eat rabbit. It was alright.
MG-R: Did the airmen, or the guys on the base, did they throw parties for the kids? Do you remember?
RA: They did, but I never got involved with those parties. I think most of the time, those parties were for orphans. I know that Col. Hunter had a program where he would invite local orphan children. We were, I was never personally invited, no.
MG-R: And where could you go on the airfield?
RA: Yes, if you knew certain ways onto the airfield. I was always limited to staying outside the airfield limits. Usually the back gate was, as a kid, the way I could get onto the airfield but I personally never went onto the field itself. I spent my time on the haystacks watching the aircraft coming and going.
MG-R: The airfield was quite large. Weren’t the public roads going through it?
RA: Yes, the people that lived in the villages, the people that lived at Nuthampstead village, they had passes, passes were issued to them and they of course could come and go, but lived at Hare Street which was 2 or 3 miles from there. We didn’t have that facility. But my closest to going on the field was the back gate and to the dump.
MG-R: And do you remember when they moved out?
RA: No, I do not remember when they moved out because as soon as V-E Day happened, my mother and myself, we went back to London.
MG-R: And do you remember V-E Day?
RA: Yes, we had parties, when we got back to London, a week or two after V-E day, we had street parties for the children and I can remember that very well. But the 398th, I guess it was some weeks after V-E Day when they had left. We had already got back to London.
MG-R: Did you know during that time, what was actually going on in Germany or Poland as far as the Holocaust, did you know anything?
RA: No we didn’t know anything about it.
MG-R: It was years later?
RA: It was years later when all of that came out. After the Occupied Powers, the American troops and the British troops, they occupied those areas where the concentration camps were, that we learned about it. But that was some time after the war ended.
MG-R: And what about the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima?
RA: That I remember very clearly. And of course, years later, when I was with the airlines, I did eventually visit Hiroshima with Japan Airlines.
MG-R:What are your thoughts on that?
RA: It was something that had to be done. Otherwise, the cost of landing on Japan would have been horrendous for loss of troops.
Another little interesting item that I should mention, Marilyn, is that, towards the very end of the war, I guess this would have been early 1945, prior to V-E Day, my mother and myself, we would go back to the house in London to check to see if there was any damage done to it. Well from the time we lived in Hare Street and from the dump at Station 131, I managed to acquire a 500-pound practice bomb. It was painted in blue. I took it back on my bike, took it back to the village. And I hoisted it up into a tree where this other friend of mine, we managed to scrounge from some source a World War I machine gun. So we would have this up in the tree, in the farm yard, right in the village street. And today, of course, the tree is still there, but of course the machine gun and the bomb are long gone.
But we also, I also acquired, going back to London, a German 2-keeler incendiary bomb with fin attached and a couple other small pieces of munitions. And what we would do, as a trick to some of the neighbors, of course most of the men were gone away to the Armed Forces, but we would do something like this, we would get the fin of these bombs and stick it in somebody’s front yard, pretty deep, so as the fin was showing just about the dirt level. Then we would go knock at the door and whatever the lady’s name was, say Mrs. Smith, we would say “Mrs. Smith, have you seen, we believe you have a bomb in your front yard.” She would come out. Of course, she would see the bomb and of course she would be quite worried. And of course, we would all burst into laughter and pull the fin out of the ground and go on to the next house to do something like that again. That’s the kind of tricks we would do.
Also, during that time period, we would make our own fireworks. I guess today we would be called sort of terrorists, of sorts. Because I would file….The incendiary bombs were filled with sawdust and sabotaged by forced refugee workers in Europe. I would file the magnesium down off the incendiary bomb and don’t ask me how I ever got the recipe for making a firework but we would use magnesium and we would go to a chemist’s shop and buy magnetated potash and some other ingredients and I would mix the soot from the chimney and some metal filings together with the magnesium, mix it all up, put it into a cardboard tube and put a sort of tip on it, light it up and we would blow sort of holes in the ground. We would be miniature terrorists, I guess, of the day.
MG-R: What about any other games that you would play?
RA: Another game that we would do, when it began to get dusk, in the evening, this is when I was making these day trips, or 2-day trips back to London with my mother to check on the house, we had a trick that was called, or I guess it was a game of sorts, called Knock Down Ginger. Don’t ask me how it ever got that name. What we would do is….every house of course had a knocker on the front door, we would knock at the door real hard and then we would go run into the bushes and hide because the lady would come out to the door and she would look and there’s nobody there, close the door and then she would go in again and we would repeat that 2 or 3 times. And of course, that was one of the tricks that we did as early teenagers. At that time, I guess was about 13 or 14.
MG-R: Do you have any other stories that you would like to tell?
RA: Not at the moment, Marilyn. I think that’s about it. I am sure that I will possibly at a later day remember some other items, but I think that is it for now.
MG-R: I want to thank you for sharing your stories with us, and for joining our Bomb Group and coming to our reunions. We all enjoyed talking to you over the years.
RA: Thank you very much. Let’s hope it continues for a few more years.
MG-R: We will try.
RA: Thank you.
[TIME OF INTERVIEW 49:36]
- Flak News article; "Who Were The Young Men Who Saluted?"
- Return to 398th Timeless Voices Interviews to view and listen to the interview.
Ralph Ambrose June 14, 2008
Ralph at the Woodman Inn dressed as an 8th AAF pilot for the 2008 Biennial Reunion and Memorial Service at Station 131.
- Ralph Ambrose is a UK Friend of the 398th Bomb Group.
- The above transcription was provided by Janice Monk of Spokane, WA, February 23, 2014. Janice is a volunteer transcriber
- The transcription was obtained from a video file.
- Punctuation, grammar and minor word changes may have been made to improve readability.
- Additional information may be shown in brackets [ ].