We used to watch it from the outside and one day, the Germans came down and machine gunned people in the field close by, so that, that was the end of us watching the Battle of Britain from outside.
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My name is George Apps, born in London, England, 1926. I guess the navy was part of my life from the beginning. My father was in the first war [WWI], as a medic in the army. But he spent most of his time in the hospital ships and he was keenly very interested in the navy. In Great Britain, every year, the navy has what they call ‘Navy Week’ and I was always in tow going over the, down to the navy dockyards and looking over the ships. And I guess one thing that impressed me was the cleanliness of the ships. They were always spotless. But it wasn’t until I joined the navy and I found out who had to keep them spotless. And when the war did start, I, I was quite young. I wasn’t even a teenager then, and two or three of us at the school I was attending sort of volunteered, but we were told to come back when you’re a little bit older.
I guess after I got out of school, I worked in a movie theatre for a year or so, until I became old enough to join the navy. And the news reels, I guess fascinated me that these people were there recording what was happening. And I thought, “Gee, that’s something I want to do. I’ll be shooting pictures instead of shooting people.” There was always photographers on the aircraft carriers and they would photograph the aircraft as they were leaving and coming back from different sorties over, sort of after, U-boats.
We had cameras on the aircraft as well and we processed the film when an aircraft attacked a U-boat. The film would be processed onboard by the photographic department and then protected so that the pilots and the air crew could see exactly how their attack took place. And if there was any mistakes, they would rectify it next time.
The bulk of mine were aircraft accidents or damaged or stuff like that. Photographs of, publicity photographs. When VE-Day came, I was in India and we had a big parade downtown in the drafts [detachments ready to deploy elsewhere], and we photographed the parades, visiting dignitaries. It was more public relations that I was involved in more than anything else. The same as when we evacuated the Dutch refugees from Java, we had both women and children onboard, as well as male people and we set up the flight deck. We had no aircraft onboard, the flight deck was set up with swings and teeter-totters and various things for the kids to play around with. And we photographed the kids and their parents having a good time, or at least they looked like they were having a good time.
When I first started in the photographic course, I can go back and say that we were using glass plates and this may sound antiquated, but this is one of the things we had to use. And when we finished an assignment, we had to scrape the emulsion off, and then the plates would be sent back and reused again. Roll film or film that were used in cameras a few years ago was very hard to get, because some of the items used in the emulsion of the film I guess was used also in supplying ammunition or explosives.
Basically, I saw more of the war before I joined the navy than I did in the navy because just before war started, I had been, but not in my teens, I was still going to school and living in London. We were evacuated out of the city, and in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, a lot of it took place right over our heads and we watched the aircraft shooting at each other. When an aircraft was damaged and the pilot bailed out, we saw the pilot and if it was a German, we would cheer. And we were quite shocked when we saw the, an Allied pilot bail out and see the Germans machine gun them. It was not something really nice to have to watch. Well, we didn’t have to watch it but we did. We used to watch it from the outside and one day, the Germans came down and machine gunned people in the field close by, so that, that was the end of us watching the Battle of Britain from outside.
I was on the search party. One of the German pilots had bailed out and this is a horror story because we helped the police or the Army search for this pilot because where we were, the little wooded area and some of our fellows found the pilot and he was hanging in the trees and it wasn’t a very nice sight anyway. There was bits and pieces on the branches of the trees. Again, using the news reels for example, we saw the army in France up to their knees in mud and vehicles stuck in mud and the Air Force people coming out of aircraft in parachutes and being shot at. I’ve seen that. And then I thought of these nice clean ships and I thought, well, that must be where I’m going, to the navy. And I said, it wasn’t until I joined the navy, I found out who kept them clean.