Crosby Johnson, an ex-serviceman based at BAD-2 has sadly passed away aged 95. Russell Brown tells the story of Crosby’s time at Warton.
Crosby Johnson – A True Gentleman
By Russell Brown
Crosby was born outside Michigan in a rural area and his father was one time local Police chief and later a farmer. Crosby was driving a tractor by the time he was ten on his fathers farm.
When the USA entered the war, Crosby worked at Ipslianti, Willow Run, Michigan, on B-24 Liberator bombers. He said the plant was so huge that everyone drove around the place on scooters.
Crosby worked on rivet repair. He was sent to final assembly, working on ammunition racks and splash curtains. He reckoned Liberator pilots liked the B-24’s built at Willow Run more as they reckoned they were about 20 mph faster than those built elsewhere.
Crosby left Ford in December 1942 and was drafted in January, 1943. He did his basic training at Miami beach, Florida. Despite the fact that he could rivet and weld and work with sheet metal, due to his time working at Ford, he was told he was going to be an M.P.! They made him an MP because he had a high IQ. “There was the right way, the wrong way, and the army way!” he joked.
He sailed for Greenock, Scotland, on the Queen Mary. He estimated 23,000 of them were packed on the ship in five bunks high; he slept in the library. When they landed in England and saw the anti-invasion defences, such as pillboxes and anti-tank blocks, they naievely thought that they were in an actual war zone
Crosby really didn’t like being in the M.P’s, having to arrest his fellow soldiers. One thing he did recall was having to patrol public houses in the area where that were known trouble spots for off-duty GI’s One of these was a pub in Lytham they nicknamed “The bucket of blood due to the fights that occurred there. ” In those days it was a series of small rooms and was the vaults for the Clifton Arms hotel. It is known once again as it was during the war, by it’s original name, “The Taps.”
As an MP, he was billeted on Site 8 (Great Birch Wood, site of car boots nowadays on Sundays) where most of the other MP’s were billeted. He remembers that the MP’s had records of local women who had given GI’s at Warton a dose of VD or gonorrhoea! If these women were seen in the company of off duty GI’s in Blackpool, it was their duty as MP’s to actually intervene and warn the hapless GI of the woman’s promiscuity! If a GI caught VD it was a self-inflicted wound an a chargeable offence, although officers usually got away with it. He recalled one woman had given 30 GI’s a dose, and even recalled some of the offending women’s names from memory!
MP’s were always armed with a .45 automatic pistol., but one MP he remembered being armed with a Tommy Gun, with which he used to shoot rabbits. There was sometimes dances held at the Red Cross clubs and truckloads of young local women would be brought into the domestic sites for the dance. After one such dance on Site 10 (now Derwent Drive, Freckleton) when Crosby was on duty. After the dance ended, two drunken officers tried to get into the back of the truck with the departing girls. Crosby saw this, got into the truck after them and told them to leave, one officer unexpectedly drew Crosby’s .45 pistol from it’s holster and starting waving it around. Luckily, before the situation got worse, an MP Sergeant intervened and took the weapon off the drunk officer.
Crosby actually met his future wife Betty Towler, when he was off duty at 8 Site. She was a taxi driver. He recalled that at night when he was on duty, if someone approached the entrance to one of the sites in the dark, he had to draw his weapon and challenge them. The thing was, he said, they only had to walk 100 yards down the road and find a hole in the hedge and get in that way! Security at Warton was a joke, he claimed. Some women virtually lived on Site 8! There was actually a public footpath across Site 12 (Croft Butts Lane, Freckleton, last remaining section about to be finally demolished).
Due to an incident because of another MP which Crosby probably wouldn’t want me to relate here, he was relieved to finally got out of the MP’s, and became a Red Cross driver for the Red Cross clubs that were on most of the domestic sites situated around Warton and Freckleton. Here, GI’s could shoot pool, write letters home, read newspapers and buy soft drinks and snacks. He was assigned a vehicle to drive which suited him fine and he was moved to 13 Site on Hillock Lane (demolished circa 1990, now an exhaust testing station) which was great “Steam heated huts, no noise from the airfield, and no bull!”
Food wasn’t very luxurious he remembered, but it was nutritious and plentiful. A “GI bus” (a 6×6 truck) would travel from 13 Site, 12, 11, and 10 Sites and drop off and pick up GI’s every hour.
By this time he was a 5th Grade Technician, and recalled a number of VIP’s visiting BAD 2. He remembered hearing the roars of laughter at Bob Hope’s performance to the GI’s over the tannoy because he was on duty at the time and couldn’t attend himself. When Joe Louis and Billy Conn visited BAD 2, Warton he had to drive them about. He was most embarrassed at dinner time when he had to take Joe Louis, who was their guest, to the mess hall on Site 5, where the African American soldiers were billeted. Joe couldn’t dine with Crosby and Billy Conn on Site 13 because of the “colour bar” in force in the US forces then. He often picked up African American soldiers at Preston station and dropped them off at Site 5. He recalled they were often more grateful than some of the white GI’s.
He remembered he once had to go to the Red Cross club at Adams Hall camp, Bamber Bridge. This, as we all know now, is where the infamous Bamber Bridge Mutiny erupted.
He also recalled with great pleasure parking his Red Cross vehicle close to the stage and watching Glenn Miller and his band playing at Warton. it was a wonderful performance, he recalled. He also remembered being on duty in the Motor Pool at Butler’s Meadow (now site of the Chequers Club) when the B-24 crashed onto Freckleton village. An officer ordered him to drive to the scene but he could only get as far as Site 10 as vehicles blocked the road.
Despite two years in the USAAF, he never one got a flight in an aircraft! He said he often in recent years, could close his eyes when he went past Warton aerodrome and remember it as it was.
A true gentleman, RIP.