Bolton Remembers the War Logo
Dick West - Royal Air Force
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Richard West

5 November 2005

Dick was born in 1922 in Ireland, and moved to Bolton in 1930. He lived in Woodfield Street, Great Lever, and went first to St Bartholomew's School and then to Bolton Municipal Secondary School. His Father was a shop manager and his Mother was a cleaner at Townleys. When he left school he worked as a junior clerk in Bolton Borough Treasurer's Department. He was an active member of the Salvation Army.

He was in the Home Guard, attached to the Lancashire Fusiliers, and based in the Great Lever area. He and his brother were the first to volunteer in Bolton after the Government broadcast a message asking for volunteers for the LDV (Local Defence Volunteers, later known as the Home Guard) in May 1940. He then volunteered for the RAF at 18 and trained as a pilot. He was posted to Coastal Command, then Transport Command, and during his service he flew 17 different types of aircraft. He was in India, in Karachi, for most of the time and was eventually made a Squadron Leader in command of 1000 people.

He returned to Bolton after the war and went back to the Town Hall, where he spent all his working life. He never flew an aeroplane again. Dick married Doris West during the war. Dick's brother also joined the RAF but was killed in action.

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On leave in Bolton... mp3 sound clip - 608kOn leave in Bolton... mp3 sound clip - 608k

Becoming a competent pilot... mp3 sound clip - 389kBecoming a competent pilot... mp3 sound clip - 389k

A satisfactory War... mp3 sound clip - 185kA satisfactory War... mp3 sound clip - 185k

On leave in Bolton...

I saw Doris, her cousin Doris, another cousin and a friend walking towards me. I'd gone to meet them, Doris in town, from school and she'd gone out with three of her colleagues and they told me that they walked into town. And I went up Trinity Street to go up Newport Street so that I could intercept her and I saw these four people coming down Trinity Street and I didn't recognize them at first, but there was something bothering me about them. I couldn't work it out. And in the end, I decided they were suffering from starvation, just like I'd seen in India. It was exactly the same thing. I mean, I was in, in 1943 when the big famine, it was a very big famine, where everybody was starving and dying. You'd see people, if you went to the big cities like Calcutta, there were people lying on the pavement by their houses and shops and on the gutter-side and a lot of them were dead or dying and it was traumatic really to see that. And then when I came home and saw Doris and her relatives, I couldn't believe what I was seeing at first, but it was starvation. And they say there was no starvation in England during the War. Well there was. If you had access to a farm, or access to a shop that sold food, you could get all kinds of things on the black market. If like Doris and her cousin, they'd no mother at home to shop for them, they couldn't shop because they were working when the stuff was in the shop. You know, it would come in the shop mid-morning, but within an hour of what they'd got would be gone, you know, so they definitely were starving. So nobody had enough by present day standards, but some had enough to keep themselves well, but...

Becoming a competent pilot...

Basically, by the time I'd finished my training, 50% of those I'd started with had gone. I had a lengthy training, longer than most people, so that increases the number, but it gives you some idea of the fall-out rate. Most of the casualties were not on operations. Of the crews killed, something like, it was something like, one in ten or two in ten that got killed on operations as such, you know, against the enemy, because basically, none of the crews were experienced. None of them really were competent pilots, because they hadn't time to become competent pilots, they were dead before they had the experience so there was a big loss of crews in non-combat activity. I can't remember the actual figures, but it's a tremendous number that went out of combat activity, because they just didn't know how to fly. I was in five and a half years. I reckoned after five years I was a competent pilot, all the rest of the time, the aircraft flew me . After five years I flew the aircraft - if you can take what I'm getting at!

A satisfactory War...

I three times came in contact with the enemy. I always say I'd what I call a satisfactory War, I didn't want to kill anybody... I, how can you say, I could easily be a conscientious objector, but I felt I had to go, but I was never in the position where I had to kill anybody. But I could say, honestly, I took as many risks as anybody did in the services. It was sort of very satisfactory in a way. I did my part, took the risks that were going, but I never had to drop a bomb on anybody or shoot anybody down, which to me was a satisfactory War.