Lou Schmidt’s Burtonwood Diary

Louis F. Schmidt of Pennsylvania, USA, served at Burtonwood Airbase from November 1951 to March 1954. Lou, a member of the 3rd Air Force’s 59th Supply and Repair Squadron (USAF), kept a diary throughout his time in Warrington. Here, in the second of a series of articles brought to you in conjunction with the Burtonwood Assocation, are extracts from his diary. We’re sure you’ll agree it’s a fascinating read.

burtonwood-airfield

Easter Sunday 1952
The base is divided into six sites and a bus is used to go from one site to the other. When we first arrived at Burtonwood, we were placed in Site #3. I am now at Site #2 loading planes with supplies for Germany (kind of the last of the Berlin Airlift and I’ve been flying to Germany in C82s and C47s). I’m now headed for the PX {Post Exchange/Shop} which is between Site #5 and Site #6. I will ride over in the base bus. Last Friday night the Communists came on the base and caused half-million dollars of damage. They ran 20 trucks head-on into each other. APs {Air Police} caught two men and let them go again before finding out all the damage they had done. I put a pound ($2.80) on the Irish Sweepstakes for May 1st. Got my fingers crossed! Looks like good food again at the chow-hall for our Easter Dinner.

7 April 1952
Well today was a very busy day for we spent it with 700 British parachute troops playing “War Games.” They jumped on our base here early this morning. The alert went off and we went off. Frank and I took position together guarding a ditch through the field up to the base headquarters. After covering over 100 yards on our hands and stomachs, we spotted them coming up a road in jeeps putting up a smokescreen for a small troop of men following on foot. Frank and I hid by the side of the ditch letting the truck go by, for around the corner was one of our trucks with a .50 cal. machine-gun mounted on the roof. Frank shot one man and I moved up 25 yards and shot another one. We went back and reported seeing 30 men, jeeps and cycles to an officer who then put us in charge of a flight on men to go back and engage. On our way back the alert was called over. The Americans won this round and we wonder what the English will print in their paper this time. They made a big thing when they won the last time at our base in Southern England. This is all in fun!

10 April 1952
Ended up working long hours over Easter Sunday. Hope this rush won’t last much longer. I got my English friend a large Easter Egg for his kid again. He can’t get candy without giving up ration points. He gave me a folding razor as a “thank you.” Sending it home to dad. He works with me at Warehouse #100.

19 April 1952
Just came in after playing war games with the APs. The whole base was placed on alert all morning and after the horn blew, they gave us the rest of the day off. Today is Saturday and tomorrow being Sunday – we get another day of rest. You should see us running about with M1’s trying to stop APs from taking over Site #2. One stopped our CO’s {Commanding Officer} car and what a look I got. This June or July the RAF is going to drop troops on Burtonwood to see how much we are learning from days like today. School starts Monday morning to teach us about supply work. School will last for three weeks. The 3rd AF HQ sent word down that all passes to the US are on hold. I don’t much care as I’d rather stay over here for my remaining time.

24 April 1952
This whole system of work they have at our Warehouse #100 is in a big mess. We are working from 8 AM to 9 PM; many nights and on Sundays. When we do get off, we are still able for call any hour. Problem is that us men were schooled in another work field other than Supply. I am going to Supply School to help make up for this error. I gave the Easter egg you sent to an English family for they still have problems getting candy – sweets as they say. Man works on base with me.

centralwarry1952

Central Warrington, circa 1952

30 April 1952
The UK is having its May Day soon, but because of the 40,000 Communists over here among 50 million people, all Airmen have to wear civilian clothes to town on that day. Our Warehouse #100 just had a big fire. A lot of equipment went up in smoke and no one knows if the Commies were in on it or not – or how it started?? Have to work till 9 tonight as a few more supply trucks came in to the base. It was payday today and I wanted to go into town tonight – looks like I’ll save my money. We had very heavy rain today and very sharp lightening with loud thunder. Not normal!

20 May 1952
One of my new hut buddies left for the ZI {States} today. His father was unable to keep up the work on their farm in Alabama so they let him go home. Big AF inspection this Sat. They are checking on AF clothes to see if we have all our own required full issued “material counts.” It only cost us 5 cents to go to Warrington by bus from Site #2. $1.40 for a taxi – split 4 ways comes to only 35 cents each. I’m getting to like these “beans on toast” for 4 cents, cup of tea for 6 cents at the tea breaks – 10:45 AM and 2:45 PM. On the radio today it said that bread; sugar; tea; butter and eggs were getting harder to get on the English market. These 5 items have been rationed for many years and now almost unable to get in great amounts. The average Englishman makes about $25 to $30 a week, where the lowest paid Yank makes $47 with no house bills

7 June 1952
About the English money: The most commonly used notes are the Pound and Ten Shilling notes. Pound is 20 Shillings or $2.80 10 Shillings is $1.40. Each Shilling is worth 34 cents also called “Bob.”) and is the size of our 25 cent coin. It took a little time to get use to the price of things on the English market. I was to have taken a Supply Plane (C-47) over to Germany but it was delayed because of heavy fog. A small Navy plane came in for a landing, missed the big runway, blew a tire, crashed head-on into one of our C47s which was taking off. Nothing much left of both planes and 7 Airmen were killed and over 11 wounded. I went to see 6 in the base hospital and they were burnt up hands and face. Others found in the wreckage were burnt to dust. Remains were placed in canvas bags with “Dog Tags” placed around the bag top opening, to mark the remains. First crash that took place around here for some time now. Some of these guys were to be sent home next week as their time of “overseas” duty was up. I’m due to fly out of here by C47 within the next week with supplies for Wiesbaden.

30 July 1952
The USO {United Service Organisations} put on a show last night at the base gym on Site #2. I work on Gyros, Flux-gate Master Compass for Jets. I put them through electrical tests. I give them the final test before being placed in the plane. I am very surprised that the AF takes my word and trust me with such an instrument even if it is a simple job for me to do. I always try my best, as you know.

28 Aug 1952
Burtonwood is now the base for those two helicopters that made history crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I see them flying around now and then.

20 Sept 1952
I am now a Charter Member of the Burtonwood Cycle Club. It just came under the power of the Base CO. Now, anyone belonging to this club can bring their cycle on the base. We must do our riding by their rules or back off base we go. We all think it is a great idea. Last Thursday I was CQ {Chief Clerk} for our Squadron in the Orderly Room. I had a .45 cal. handgun about like the super .38 cal. gun on a .45 frame like back home. Most of the phone calls that came in were from English girls – calling for the guys.

moscow-molly

Moscow Molly was an English speaking Soviet propaganda radio broadcaster

26 Sept 1952
I keep my Triumph cycle in a barn near work as we can’t ride on base with them just yet. My rent money for the barn is 35 (was 25) cents a week. I give the farmer $1.40 a month ahead (10 shillings in his money) I cruise at 50 mph with no problem The AP jeeps are almost wide open at that speed. I can hit over 100 mph when I kick into 4th gear. Law allows this speed when riding out of any town. Tomorrow (Saturday 27th) we have another “alert.” Well, after hearing “Moscow Molly” on the radio again last night, I think we are cruel fighting men until I go downtown and see our boys giving away candy to the kids. Moscow Molly comes on the radio now and then and what she says about America sure makes us laugh. I’m sure the English don’t think all of us are as bad as she says.

7 Oct 1952
Today is the day that motorcycles are allowed on the base for the first time before, we had to park outside the base gate and now I park it just outside my hut. I still have the use of the farmer’s barn – should I need it.

2 Nov 1952
Yesterday I went to the motorcycle race at Dunlap some 30 miles from the base. Motorcycles were all over the place. Races were held on top of a hill we had to climb 500 feet to reach the top. It was an all dirt track – lots of spills. Our cycle club held a “Halloween” Party at the club house last Friday night. Lots of fun. The chow-hall gave us all the food we could eat for the party.

5 Nov 1952
Well, my first time at voting was a success! “Ike” voted president and I won a $5 bet here at the base! My first vote. Tonight the whole base is restricted and no one can go into town because it’s “Guy Fawkes Day.” An English celebration.

8 Dec 1952
Boy, I received 20 Christmas cards and 5 packages so far for this Christmas. When I receive food I pass it out to the boys in my hut. Don’t last long! Those shortbread and cookies were made here in Liverpool, only 22 miles from me. Export only – the English have trouble buying them – if they can at all.

snow

The fog makes way for snow outside one of the base’s Nissen huts

Dec 1952
Well the fog came in thick and right into the hut where we sleep and you can’t see very good from one end of the hut to the other. Took Freda out to dinner over the moors and it cost 75 cents each. The old Morris is still running great for a 1934 car. Taking Freda to the NCO club Christmas Eve and going to eat Christmas Dinner at the Site #5 Chow-hall which has a section set aside just to take your guest. Hope the fog keeps away!

10 Jan 1953
Spent New Year’s Eve up in Chadderton, at a party with Freda, and left at 1 AM in my “1934 Morris” car as I had to pull duty first thing in the morning. Never saw such fog like what I ran into when I came into Manchester. It took me 3 and a half hours to go the 20 miles from Manchester to Burtonwood. Should have been lot less than an hour to my hut on Site #5. I knew that Sgt. Lewis (over me) would find out if I reported late for work that morning, so I never did get to sleep that night. I never did see the APs on the gate into site #6 and they only heard my car going past them.

24 March 1953
Took the Triumph Cycle to London on Sat. to see one of the first 3-D movie shows. This movie was the first full 3-D show ever put out. Very good show and everyone had to look through a ‘”viewer” (like sunglasses) to see the show. Great!

6 May 1953
I’m here at Brize Norton {US airbase in Oxford}. Been here for sometime now but I am expected to be shipped back to Burtonwood soon. While here I was sent over to the Colonel’s house to fix his washing machine. His wife had water all over her kitchen and the Colonel himself turned the pump hose pointing at his uniform body. This I did not know when I pushed the on button. The hose went off shooting wash-water all over him. I think maybe this is why I am being sent back so soon to Burtonwood. Maybe I should not have laughed!

9 May 1953
When I came back from Brize Norton, I found 4 of my friends here at RAF Burtonwood married to English girls. I heard that an average of 75 English girls are marring Yanks every month??? I don’t know how true this number is – sounds like far too many for me to believe!

hopalong

The USAF’s ‘Hop-a-Long’ helicopter

9 June 1953
Today is Tuesday and we just had another march-in-review for another General on his way back home to the States. A Helicopter that was taking pictures flew quite close to us. This helicopter was one of the first to fly across the ocean. It is called “Hop-a-long.” The AF {Air Force} made such a fuss and a lot of talk about it doing so. I believe our cycle club has 80 bikes now and still growing each year. Loth and I took our gals last Sunday to “Crime Lake” which is about 30 miles east of the base. Ended up in rowboats out on the lake below the pub. Lots of fun!

17 July 1953
The boys keep bringing me their motorcycles to fix. I help all I can when I can. Had a 500cc apart last night and will have to work all day putting it all back together for it’s Saturday tomorrow and we have all day off after morning inspection. Got to shine my shoes etc. to be ready for tomorrow morning. The 3rd AF just came out with an order that all motorcycle riders must have crash helmets on their heads or they can’t ride their cycle. We have 115 club riders now and all have white helmets making us look like we belong to an “AF Ground Force” when riding together wearing our uniforms.

4 Aug 1953
Bob Desjardins took me up in a two-seated “Maggie”, an open cockpit job with one wing. Not like the “Tiger Moth” which is a two winger. More like the Basic Trainer DHC-1 “Chipmunk” we also flew in. Des is a great pilot. Last week, Freda and I took the motorcycle to an amusement park just outside of Manchester. It is called “Bell View Park.” Bought Freda a crash helmet, goggles and a pair of men’s “Levi” pants (bet she’s the first/only girl in England with such pants!)

16 Oct 1953
I miss not having my motorcycle, but Freda likes my car for dates. Last night one of my old club motorcycle friends got killed when he ran into a big truck outside the gate. The Red Cross truck passed me on the way to pick him up. I saw his motorcycle and it was a mess. He was all broken up and the other fellow riding on the back with him is in a very bad way and may not live. It was the truck’s fault, but what good is that? The fog is back very heavy and I lost my way to the Site #5 chow-hall this morning. Still, I got there in time for the fresh eggs! The 3rd Air Force still has my papers necessary to get married. Freda and I wanted to get married in Feb. Will let you know more later on. This month I have been overseas for two years – one more year or less to go before I see you again.

13 Nov 1953
Don’t send any electric gadgets for my English friends as their electric is 220 AC over here and not 110 DC like back home. The base has its very own electric system and we can and do use 110 DC. Well the rain season started again and we started to call England “Umbrella Land.” Cost $10 to join the base gun club which gives me 100 rounds to shoot trap. The club has 6 guns but because of all this rain, I don’t think I will join for it’s too hard to shoot a good score in such rainy weather.

3 Feb 1954
Last Saturday, another fellow and I went hunting in my car up in the Moors about 40 miles NE of here. His name is Amel and he comes from Texas. We got five birds – 2 quail and 3 partridge. Amel bought an old 12 gage (bore over here) in Warrington for 7 pounds ($18). Shot shells for the gun cost only 6 cents each. Our hunting license cost less than 1 pound each ($1.50). Took them back to Freda’s house and her mother cooked them up for us. Great feast! Her family loved them also.

8 Feb 1954
Went hunting last Sat. with two of the boys in my hut. Took the old Morris car up over the Moors. We got two birds and took them back to Freda’s mom to cook for us like last week. Oh yes, I got a ticket for Freda on the Queen Mary. It cost $167.65. Tourist class for the 8th of this April. Should be in NY – 13th of April.

louonwayhome

Louis Schmidt pictured on his way back home

30 March 1954
This is my last letter from England, as tonight I and the boys are going to Southampton by train and our boat leaves for the USA at 9:30 AM tomorrow. Freda’s family had a party for me up in Oldham – 30 miles from base. I said good-bye at 12:30 and took a taxi all the way back to the base. Just exchanged my English pounds back into US greenbacks early today. Have to get baggage loaded on to the trucks now! See you around the first part of April.

Sadly Louis Schmidt is no longer with us. Just in case you’re wondering, yes he did go on to marry Freda, the lady referred to in the article.


The Burtonwood Association & Heritage Centre

The aim of the Burtonwood Association is to uphold the memory of the men, women and activities that occurred at RAF Burtonwood between 1942 and 1993 and to record them for future generations. It is also responsible for running the RAF Burtonwood Heritage Centre at Gullivers World which is often visited by ex-servicemen and other site personnel.

lou-robbins

Ex-head choir boy Lou Robbins back in St Wilfred’s after 82 years

A recent visitor to the centre was 94-year-old Ernest ‘Lou’ Robbins, a locally born man who worked on the base between 1948 and 1958 as an Air Ministry Pipe Fitter and then as a warehouse charge-hand before emigrating to California. As well as visiting the heritage centre, Lou (not to be confused with the Lou in our main story above) travelled to St Wilfred’s Church in Grappenhall where he’d served as head choir boy over 82 years earlier. During WWII Lou worked as a heating installation engineer at Lyneham airfield in Wiltshire and was there the night a German aircraft bombed the base and killed five of his colleagues. Lou was unhurt but remembers the attack vividly. Lou later became an Army motorcycle dispatch rider before returning to  Warrington in 1948 to spend 10 happy years working at Burtonwood. Like most visitors to the heritage centre Lou found the whole experience fascinating and went back to the States with memories galore. To find out more about the the heritage centre, its exhibits and its opening times click here.

Warrington History Society would like to thank Aldon Ferguson of the Burtonwood Association for allowing us to publish the words and photographs used in this article.