In Memory of Joe Roddis, a true friend and hero of mine, passed away 19.04.2017
Blue Skies Joe, will miss you.
An extract from the start of the book about Joe.
There is something refreshing about a straight talking Yorkshire man and as they come Joe Roddis is a classic example of the breed. Not a man to tell tale tales, in fact sometimes very understated in the way he will talk to you, not one for the limelight that’s for sure. That’s what makes his tale even the more remarkable in the grand scheme of wartime stories. He believes still that many would not want to hear his tales and that actually he had a great war!
I had the pleasure of meeting Joe at Tangmere aviation museum in 2008, he was proudly wearing is squadron blazer and hard earned medals on his chest. Over the years I have had the honour of getting to know him and he has told me his story with clarity and to the point. He has a love of all things aviation and his knowledge of the Spitfire and in particular the Rolls Royce Merlin engine know no bounds.
I’m hoping that in my telling his story that it will be appreciated that as a 17 year old lad, fresh faced and recently enlisted in the RAF, he faced death many times during his great war, maybe not realising at the time that he was facing the grim reaper, more a sense of adventure for him. Even on reflection Joe is still keen to point out that the dangers he faced were nothing compared to the daily risks faced by the pilots of the fighter aircraft that he looked after, day after day.
Joe has a deep respect for his squadron pilots and would not want anyone to think that his story is out there to trump their efforts, far from it. Most of the pilots I have interviewed over the years from 485 (New Zealand) Squadron have the utmost respect for the groundcrew and in particular Joe Roddis as mentioned by Doug Brown in his foreword “they are the forgotten heroes”.
The pilots were also keen to point out their appreciation for the hardwork, tenacity, and bravery shown by these chaps who were also at risk from enemy action. The aim of this book is to highlight the role of these wonderful stalwarts of the wartime RAF Squadrons, often overlooked but an essential cog in the wheel. Joe is one example of a typical groundcrew member. This story not only tells Joes story but highlights the risks he faced from time to time. I felt it necessary to highlight such events and illustrate so that it is not forgotten that these young men often faced life threatening risks not only from enemy action but also from the daily dangers associated with the job of operating high performance aircraft and unfortunately many paid with their lives.
One could cite many examples but possibly one that is closest to home for me and sparked my interest were the losses of the 16 August 1940 at 1300 hours, RAF Tangmere. Many times I have wandered through the grave yard at St Andrews Church and gazed upon the final resting place of the airmen within killed on this day. The pre-war RAF airfield was bombed by a large force of Ju87 ‘Stuka’ dive-bombers inflicting severe damage on the airfield. All the hangars were completely destroyed or badly damaged. During the course of the action,the station workshops, sick quarters, water pumping station and Officer’s Mess were wrecked and the power, water and sanitation systems were put out of action. Despite the damage the airfield remained operational. Tragically, ten servicemen and three civilians were killed and another twenty injured all of those servicemen killed were groundcrew.
Joe Roddis, a 17 year old Yorkshire lad, joined the Royal Air Force in February 1939 at a time of great change. Squadrons within the RAF were by now re-equipping with more modern fighters and as technological advances were made in design and testing, the old trusty bi-planes were replaced with all metal monoplanes such as the Spitfire. Churchill had warned of what was about to come and the RAF was building up its strength in preparation for possible War.
The Luftwaffe had gained considerable experience in combat during the Spanish Civil War and as Adolf Hitler moved on Poland the might of air power was enshrined in the history books. It became clear that whoever had command of the air has the upper hand on the battlefield. German aircraft appeared to be more advanced and superior in numbers to those in the RAF, but the Luftwaffe had not counted on the tenacity and dogged determination of the British and Commonwealth pilots.
In 1939, RAF squadrons were committed to help defend France along with regiments of the British Army as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Their aim was to help stem the German advance in to France and Belgium. It was obvious from early operations that some of the combat aircraft operated by the squadrons in the RAF were too slow and under armed but valuable experience of aerial combat techniques gained at this point in time would stand the RAF pilots in good stead, for the forthcoming Luftwaffe onslaught in the summer of 1940.
Pilots had to be combat ready, ground crews trained and efficient. Keeping an operational squadron ready for action was certainly a team effort. Behind every pilot would have been fitters, riggers, armourers, drivers, cooks, storesman amongst other trades, all having to pull together as a team, the ultimate goal of keeping their aircraft at the dispersal, serviceable and with a pilot ready to be scrambled at a moment’s notice to defend our shores. They shared in the successes and the losses but did not look for, or often get any recognition for their role. Only the satisfaction of knowing they had done their bit.
Joe was one of the essential ‘cogs in the wheel’ keeping the aircraft in tip top condition, ready for action. By the time Joe was nearly ready to join a squadron, war had been declared and he was posted to a Spitfire squadron to take up his role in the team.
From working on Gladiator bi-planes in 1939, Joe stayed in the RAF through to the first jets and on to see service on the Vickers Valiant, the first of the V bombers. He had a remarkable career which spanned nearly 30 years and is a story that should be told.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know Joe. If you are lucky enough to have met him or had chance to make his acquaintance you will know that he is a very quiet, private man but if you get on to the subject of Spitfires there is not much that Joe does not know.
The first book I was involved with writing, was on the wartime role of RAF Westhampnett or Goodwood as it is now known. Whilst selling this book at Tangmere Aviation Museum on one of their open days, I was approached by an elderly gentleman with his partner, wearing a 485 Squadron badge proudly on his blazer. He picked up our book and said “That’s my commanding officer on the front, where did you get that picture?” Joe went on to tell us that he was one of the first ground crew with 485 Squadron and he had been at Westhampnett during the squadron’s time at the airfield. Joe was now living locally at Selsey, not many miles from one of his former airfields.
The lady with Joe was Betty who had also been in the Womens Auxiliary Air force or WAAF during the war and she had been a driver at RAF Biggin Hill. This is where she had met and been a dancing partner to Joe when his squadron were based there. I was to get to know more of this story of how they met later on.
I arranged to meet Joe and Betty at Goodwood airfield to talk about their experiences and memories of times past. This was the beginning of a lasting friendship for me and my family. Joe is very reserved about his part in the war, in my view he has had amazing experiences and many interesting stories to tell as one of the ‘erks’. Often these forgotten stalwarts of the squadron feel humbled in the presence of the pilots but their role was of equal importance..
Since our first meeting we have flown together several times, taking Joe on a tour of airfields where he once toiled over Merlins, Goodwood, Funtington and Church Norton.
Joe has appeared on several TV programmes from “Spitfire Ace”, to programmes about the Battle of Britain with David Jason and the Spitfire with John Sergeant. It was Joe’s involvement with “Spitfire Ace” and RDF media that re-sparked a friendship with Betty 60 years after they parted on Worthing station. The Grace Spitfire, ML407 featured in this programme and it was Carolyn Grace that ensured that Joe was involved in the filming as had an association with this aircraft at Selsey in 1944