Interviewee of the Month – Roy Henderson
Once a month we highlight a person who has contributed their wartime memories to our oral history collection. Our September Interviewee of the Month is Roy Henderson who was born in 1918 and was interviewed just before his hundredth birthday in 2018.
Roy remembers the night his house was destroyed in the Easter Tuesday raid on Belfast in May 1941, recalling ‘we were sitting in the little cloakroom under the stairs and we could hear bombs dropping all around us… a bomb every few minutes… when the bomb actually struck the strange thing was that everything seemed to happen in slow motion… the house collapsed in slow motion and the stairs held up and we walked out from under the stairs’. Roy and his father lost everything however their dog survived the collapse, ‘it was just a heap of rubble… but we had a fox terrier, and on the Sunday following the raid I was scrambling over the rubble to see if there was anything worth saving and I heard scratching… I started digging and out scrambled our dog good as new, he took a drink of water, wagged his tail and that was that’. Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky, with Roy telling us his ‘next door neighbours, at number seven were a family called Simon; a father, mother and younger son, aged about eighteen. They were, well they were just blown to pieces, shall we say. The older son aged in his early twenties returned from his honeymoon that very morning, with his new wife, to find his house gone and his parents and only brother all wiped out.’
Now homeless and staying with family friends Roy decided he would join up and so walked into the RAF recruiting office in Clifton Street, he ‘had about a year in the UK under training and then I found myself on an American aircraft carrier sailing from Glasgow to the Mediterranean to deliver Spitfires to Malta’, on the second return trip from delivering planes to Malta they encountered some ‘dirty weather in the North Atlantic, I got ordered off with half a dozen others to go to Gibraltar… so a fleet of air arm Swordfish biplanes landed on the carrier and each took an airman to Gibraltar for five weeks temporary duty, so you’ll not be surprised to know that after five weeks we stayed there for two years… I’d two happy years in Gibraltar. And when somebody decided that I was needed in North Africa, an airplane took me all the way to south, North Africa (about a half hour flight!) and I had six months in North Africa and six months in Italy and at that time it was April 1945 and I managed to get some local leave. I was in Naples and I got leave to go to Rome for a couple of weeks. And then surprise, surprise, before I set off to Rome an airplane became available with one seat. One empty seat! Flying to the UK and I pulled a few strings and I got myself into that one seat and I got home just in time for VE day! Victory in Europe, which I think was the 7th May 1945. I arrived, I arrived back in Belfast on VE day and spent the night, spent the afternoon and the evening wandering round the town celebrating VE day with and old friend whom I’ve known from my youth.’
Sadly, Roy passed away in January 2020 at the Somme Nursing Home aged 101, fortunately his wartime experiences were not lost as he shared them with us, thereby preserving them for future generations. Do you have memories of the Second World War in Northern Ireland and would like to share your experiences like Roy? Please get in touch with us via email at email@example.com or you can give us a call on 07588634847.