Vic’s RAF service has been based upon his photograph album.

This has been divided into 5 volumes which can be viewed by clicking on the links below

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

Volume 5

authored and published by Teresa and Ken Ripper – kenripper@btinternet.com

 

Lucas Henry Victor “Vic” OLDRIDGE

1922 – 2009

RAF    645111    Corporal

 

Vic was born in Shepherd's Bush, London in 1922. His family moved to Cowley, near Exeter in Devon when he was nine in August 1931. The difference between the hustle and bustle of London and the quiet countryside of Cowley was too much of a contrast for him. He did not like the country living and he found school to be dull, so he left at the earliest opportunity, the statutory age of 14.

He took on various jobs including working as a gardener's boy, working in a W H Smith's kiosk on Exeter station and working in stores. At the time of his enlistment he was working as an assistant in Mr Drew’s Union Road Stores, Exeter. In 1936 he joined the 4th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment (Territorial Army) and spent two years with them. He couldn't wait to leave home in rural Devon, though.

As soon as he was old enough and aged just seventeen and a quarter he joined the RAF on 23rd May 1939, just before the start of World War 2. He is pictured here shortly after receiving his uniform.

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At birth Vic’s name was registered as Lucas Henry Victor Oldridge but for all his days he was known as Vic. His first sighting of his birth certificate was after he had applied to join the RAF. Having put his name on his application as Victor, and then having to present his birth certificate with his full names on it, he always considered it most embarrassing to be hauled out of the line and required to explain himself, in front of his new RAF colleagues, because his application form didn't match with his birth certificate.

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Spitfire Cockpit

Photograph by Michael Sundsig-Hansen

Vic was red/green colour blind, there was never any mistaking that. He had told his family, though, for many years that he wasn’t colour blind despite the fact that he was diagnosed as such whilst with the RAF. Not until his grandson was confirmed as being colour blind, in the mid 1980s and long after Vic had retired, did he accept that he too was colour blind and that it wasn’t just that, as he had always maintained, “he hadn’t been taught his colours properly when he was a child”. He became an electrician on aircraft, which seems odd considering that wiring was identified by colour in those days.

For much of his service Vic was stationed in Malta, working as an electrician on various RAF aircraft including the Gloster Gladiator, the Hurricane and the Spitfire. Despite the permanent threat to the island and the hardships that everyone on the island suffered, it was this period of his service which he found most satisfying.

His RAF service record is shown here:

23 May 1939

03 August 1939

Linton on Ouse, Yorkshire

72 days

04 August 1939

28 September 1939

Central Flying School, Upavon, Wiltshire

55 days

29 September 1939

08 February 1940

#2 Wing Henlow

132 days

09 February 1940

08 November 1940

613 squadron

273 days

09 November 1940

27 February 1941

29 squadron

110 days

28 February 1941

19 March 1941

SSQ Digby

19 days

20 March 1941

19 July 1941

RAF Hospital Ranceby, Wiltshire

121 days

20 July 1941

28 August 1941

Hibaldstow A, Lincolnshire

39 days

29 August 1941

15 September 1941

29 squadron

17 days

16 September 1941

27 September 1941

Malta

11 days

28 September 1941

11 January 1942

Kalafrana

105 days

12 January 1942

27 March 1942

Hal-Far

74 days

28 March 1942

28 March 1942

Kalafrana

0 days

28 March 1942

22 September 1942

Hal-Far

178 days

23 September 1942

17 March 1943

Kalafrana

175 days

18 March 1943

17 December 1943

M Wing, Malta [137 Maintenance Unit]

274 days

18 December 1943

24 January 1944

229 squadron

37 days

25 January 1944

27 July 1944

Hal-Far

184 days

28 July 1944

11 August 1944

Home establishment

14 days

12 August 1944

19 August 1945

8282 SE (Serving Echelon)

372 days

20 August 1945

06 March 1946

Calshot

198 days

07 March 1946

07 March 1946

100 PDC

0 days

The service record raised some questions for us and some of these have been resolved by Ross (aka ‘RAF Command’),

see http://ww2talk.com/forums/topic/25087-raf-maintenance-units/

Vic’s photograph album tells us that his first ‘flip’ in an aircraft was in a Westland Lysander, over the UK, in the early weeks of the war, shown here.

The service record shows that he spent 19 days in the Station Sick Quarters at Digby in Lincolnshire during the early spring of 1941. He was then taken to hospital in Wiltshire where he stayed for four months. He never mentioned that he was in hospital, we suspect it may have been glandular fever. Having recovered from whatever had laid him low, Vic was sent to RAF Hibaldstow for just over a month, after which his posting to Malta came through. Vic recounted how the weather on the way from England to Malta was dreadful. As the transport ship crossed the Bay of Biscay, he and his mates were tied down so that they could sleep without being thrown around the ship’s interior.

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Vic had recorded that he was in 185 squadron in Malta but his service record does not show this; presumably this was his posting upon arrival in Malta in September 1941 and the record is incomplete. His record shows that he was also a member of 29 and 229 squadrons.

185 squadron had been formed for a third time on 27 April 1941, on Malta, from "C" Flight of 251 Squadron. The new unit operated the Hawker Hurricane for nearly a year, before the first Spitfires arrived early in 1942. The squadron took part in the fierce air battles that raged over Malta, suffering increasingly heavy losses late in 1942 when the Messerschmitt Bf 109F arrived on Sicily, outclassing the Hurricane. The arrival of the Spitfires restored the balance, and by the end of 1942 No.185 Squadron had gone onto the offensive, flying sweeps over Sicily, and then in July 1943 helping to support the Allied invasion of Sicily. The squadron was based as follows:

          27 April 1941 to 5 June 1943 at Takali and Hal Far (Malta)

          5 June 1943 to 23 September 1943 at Qrendi

          23 September 1943 to 3 August 1944: Hal Far

(Rickard, J (24 March 2007), No. 185 Squadron (RAF): Second World War, http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/185_wwII.html )

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This tallies with the stories that Vic told us of his time in Malta.

His photograph album tells us that he was an aircraft electrician and a member of 137 Maintenance Unit (137MU). He served in different locations on the island but his record shows that he was stationed at either Kalafrana or Hal-Far in south west Malta. Vic’s photograph album also shows pictures he took whilst working at Tal-Handaq in the centre of the island. His first posting took him to Birzebuggia on the southern end of the island. He is shown here as a fresh faced callow youth, just three days after his arrival.

The photograph album shows Vic developing into a young man. It shows the effects of the bombing, the places where he worked and how they spent their time when not servicing aircraft.

As with most people on Malta during World War 2 there arose the opportunities for escapades.

At one time Vic was 'missing, assumed killed' after a violent air raid on Malta. He had swapped his shift and headed for the beach with a pal. They saw the Italian aircraft fly over and took refuge in a cave. Vic later learned that his shift swap had not been properly recorded and he was listed as still being on base but had not reported in directly after the raid. For this reason he has been listed as ‘missing’.

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On another occasion he and a colleague were exploring some of the caves on the beach. Being unable to pick their way across the uneven surface in the dark the friend struck a match which lit up the cave just enough for them to see that it was a petrol dump and was the last place anybody should be lighting matches! Vic remarked some years later that they thought the cave had an aroma which was a bit like petrol.

During a bombing raid by the Italian Air Force, Vic noticed that an anti-aircraft gun was standing in its emplacement, in the open and unmanned. Determined to do his bit he ran across a wide expanse of open ground to get to the gun so that he could at least get a shot or two at the raiders. It was only when he reached the gun that he found that there was no ammunition, which explained why it was unmanned. Rapidly retracing his steps to the safety of the bunker he shared with his colleagues he was welcomed by laughter and some good natured joshing.

His papers revealed a short period of time when he was sent to the RAF base at Tal-Handaq to work on some equipment there.

Vic spent almost three years on Malta from September 1941 to August 1944. He returned to the United Kingdom and served in 8282 Serving Echelon for a year until his final posting to RAF Calshot where he worked on Short Sunderlands and the Catalina. Having worked on such a variety of aircraft as described above and others such as the Beaufort and the Lysander he maintained a real fondness for an aircraft he had never worked on. The First World War biplane the SE5A held a special place in his imagination which was only matched by the Spitfire and, later, the Brittania.

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In his time with the RAF he was promoted to Corporal, as can be seen below:

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Whilst he was serving on Malta, Vic’s mother, Alice, was employed as a cleaner in a photographic studio in Exeter. The assistant in this studio was a young girl named Phyllis. Along with her mother and brother, Phyllis had been evacuated from Stanmore to the relative ‘safety’ of Exeter. Alice took a shine to Phyllis and encouraged her to write to Vic who, in Alice’s opinion, needed a pen pal. On one of his leave periods which we believe to be in late 1944, Alice engineered a meeting between 20 year old Vic and 16 year old Phyllis. Subsequently they met whenever he managed to return to Exeter on leave and they walked out together. At the time Phyllis was too young to go into pubs and had to wait outside whilst Vic went in to get himself a beer and for her, a soft drink.

Vic was demobilised at Uxbridge in March 1946. He managed to get work, initially at Croydon airport and then at Northolt. Phyllis had left Devon to return to Stanmore and married Vic there in 1947. They remained together until they both died in 2009 after 52 years of marriage.

Following demobilisation he maintained his interest and contact with aircraft. He worked as an aircraft electrician for Handley Page, BEA, BOAC and BA at Croydon, Northolt and Heathrow. He worked on the electrical circuits in a variety of passenger aircraft including the Brittania and a wide range of Boeings. After 30 years with BOAC and British Airways, he retired to Hertfordshire where he passed his interest in aircraft onto his grandson, David.

Vic enjoyed his time in the RAF and frequently remarked on this. He retained an interest in aircraft and the RAF throughout his life. He died in 2009 three weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He received the news in stoic fashion, saying he had had a 'bloody good life'.

His ashes were scattered at RAF Duxford, partly on the large DX sign which can be seen from aircraft and partly under his favourite commercial aircraft, the very one he serviced when it flew with a BOAC livery, the Bristol 175 Britannia G-AOVT.

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kenripper@btinternet.com