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Record 50/959
Description 
Cassette recorded oral history interviewwith Paul Hobson. He was born in Hull, Yorkshire, Great britain on September 18, 1921. He entered the Royal Navy College at Plymouth in 1937 and was commissioned a sub-lieutenant in 1940. He served in North Africa; Palestine; and in the Pacific Theater. He was an engineering officer onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth, a converted troop ship. Paul Hobson Interview 3 September 2003 Conducted by Tom Sullivan {T: indicates the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; P: indicates the subject, Paul Hobson. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words denote a word (or phrase) not understood, or for which the spelling is uncertain, respectively}. T: It's September 3rd, 2003 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Paul Hobson. Paul is going to be telling about his experiences in the British Royal Navy where he served during World War II. And so you're all ready Paul? P: Yes. T: Let's begin then by having you tell me when and where you were born? P: I was born in the town of Hull, H-U-L-L in the north of England on September the 18th, 1921. A minor - you don't have to record this - but a minor amusement it was that I found during the war that lots of other people had been born in exactly the same place because it was, the time I was born it was my grandparents home. But they sold it and it became a nursing home specializing in births. So I found that quite a number of other people on board my ship were being recruited from the same area, had been born in the same [church]. T: Now Hull was a big city, wasn't it? P: Hull is a quite big city. T: An industrial area. P: Yes. It's a, East Yorkshire is still and was then about the most impoverished part of Great Britain. But personally I didn't suffer any hardship because my father was a prosperous local attorney and politician. T: Did your mother work as well or did…? P: My mother, my mother worked but she did not get paid for it. She was the Girl Scout commissioner for many years for the area and she also was active in quite a lot of community activities. She at that time, and in fact at the time she married she had been a high school teacher. And she had to leave her job immediately on being married. She wasn't even allowed to finish the semester. T: Really! P: Because at that time married women were not supposed to work unless they were poor. As I say, she had to quit. T: Did you have brothers and sisters? P: I had one of each. I had a sister and she's dead now, who was a year younger; and my brother who was three years younger. T: Tell me about your childhood. How you grew up. What kind of things you did after school, when you had free time after school. Where you went to school, and what your life was like then. P: I only did one, well I did only Kindergarten and first grade in what you would call a public school. T: I understand. P: After that, I was sent away as was quite customary at the age of six, to a boarding school which was referred to as a preparatory school. Which meant that it was preparatory to high school. I went there, this was about oh, 12 miles north of York and in a former manor house which was kept by a retired, by a retired British Army captain called Hardwick, and his wife. T: What was life like in that prep school? P: Not too bad. T: One hears stories and sees things on television about the regimentation and how some of these kids were sort of brutalized. Is there any truth to that? P: Well, I can't say we were particularly regimented or brutalized. Our treatment was quite acceptable. T: Did you get a superior education there? P: I probably got a similar education to that which I would have received in a U.S. type public school. But shall I say, it was socially more acceptable to send you away. At the age of 15, I graduated from that school and I went to a British public school, which means a combined high school and junior college. T: When you were in the prep school, wasn't that sort of difficult to be away from your parents as a little kid? P: Well, in a sense yes. But it was normal practice so I didn't, as I said, I didn't resent it. It was expected. It was what everybody did. It was, as you know, kids tend to accept what is general custom and I remember being quite upset when my parents visited me and failed to bring something I'd asked for. But the…. I received a pretty good education there. T: How often did you see your parents during the course of the school year? P: About once a semester. T: I see. P: We had a visiting day once a semester, at which parents came. And they were not encouraged to visit at any other time. T: So at age 15, you were out of there. P: At age 15 I was out of there and I went to a school in the south of England called Cranleigh. C-R A-N-L-E-I-G-H. {In Surrey, near Guilford}. Which is now, I understand, the most expensive preparatory school in the country. And then - as I believe - was certainly not cheap, although I did get a partial scholarship after I had entered. But my mother had been so impressed by the politeness of the kids when she was visiting various schools that she decided that's where she wanted to send me. It was not a fortunate choice because while I spoke educated English, I spoke it with a northern accent and all my schoolmates were southerners. They made fun of my pronunciation. For instance, I pronounced all the syllables in "congregation." They slurred it as "congrashn." And this was a great source of amusement. And as a result, my only two friends there, who unfortunately didn't care for each other, were two other outsiders. An Armenian and a Jew. T: Three oddballs! P: Three oddballs, yes. So the Armenian, his parents had arrived in England as refugees from the Russian revolution. And the Jew, his parents - he wasn't the only one there - his parents had decided [ ] for that reason, that Cranleigh gave a particularly good education. So they sent their kids there even though it was a church school with compulsory services daily and… T: Church of England? P: Church of England, yes. T: Wasn't there any accommodation for a child of another faith like a Jew? P: If another faith wished to send their kid there, then they better God damn well conform! T: I see. So that's the way it was? P: Which was the… My brother was sent to a school in the north of England where he got on very much better. T: They all spoke the same language. P: They all spoke the same language. In fact there was a minor thing about that. He was drafted into the army in World War II and served two years in the artillery. And he was then sent to OCS and when he graduated, he was asked if there was a particular unit he'd prefer to go to. And he said, "Yes, the Durham Light Infantry." "You can't do that. You're an artilleryman." he said, "Yes, but I speak Gordie." "Sir, I've got a candidate here claims to be able to speak Gordie!" Because Gordie is incomprehensible to most people outside the area. {Sounds like Jordy}. T: Now how do you spell that word when you say, "Gordy." P: Jordy. G-O-R-D-I-E. T: D-O-R… P: G! T: G-O-R-D-I-E. P: Yes. Or Gordy if you prefer. T: And that refers to a sort of a northern dialect? P: It refers to a dialect spoken in the county of Durham, which most Englishmen do not understand. You see, most dialects have had a great deal longer to develop in Europe than they have here. And during World War II, I was for three years a liaison officer with the French. I am bilingual in French and English. And I once had to interpret in one direction between a French enlisted man and an officer from the north of France. Because the enlisted man spoke Marseilles. Which the northern Frenchman could not understand. I can't claim to speak Marseilles but I can understand it. And so I had to interpret what the enlisted man was saying to the officer. And this is not widely uncommon in Europe. In fact it is said that almost all educated Europeans are bilingual. They speak the standard language and the local dialect. And I, they had some years ago, they had a Tug Of War competition here in Oshkosh. And international one. And I was in one of the stores and I heard the British team speaking who were obviously from my area. And within two or three minutes I had reverted to speaking as they did. T: Now you were at Cranleigh for how long? From age 15…? P: I was there for four years. T: For four years. And that would be the equivalent of our high school. P: High school and junior college combined. T: Where did you go then, the university? P: Well you see, you don't - let me explain something. In England and in some other European countries too, you don't graduate from high school by putting in your time whether you've learned anything or not. You graduate from high school by taking an outside examination. And this is set, it is set by the universities. And is called the Common Entrance Examination. Which means that if you pass it, then you are cleared to go to a college. In practice, not only the ones that administer the particular examination you took, because they more or less agree on a common standard. T: I see. You grew up during the Depression, which as I understand was worldwide, affected a number of countries other than this one. Can you remember either your family or the families of any kids that you knew being affected by the Depression? P: Well yes. In the first place, most of the poorer kids in my area had rickets. In fact, the health of poorer kids improved enormously during World War II. Because under rationing, they had for the first time in their lives, balanced meals. T: It's almost a contradiction, isn't it? Here food is rationed, yet they're eating better. P: The first time they got balanced meals. I can remember one kid I knew who was celebrating his 9th birthday and I met him in the street and he was beaming all over his face, digging into a medium sized bag of French fries. That was his birthday treat. No the, as I say it was then, and is still I understand, a poor area. My father, I can remember my father telling me when I was 12, 13 or so that he was putting quite a bit of the family money away to assist poor families. Our family has existed in Beverley, which is a town in East Yorkshire - it is about 8 miles north of Hull - since 1372 when the first recorded Hobson arrived there. Beverley was a "city of refuge." There was, I forget the other ones but there were about three others in the country. And if you got on the bad side of your lord, if you could make it to one of the cities of refuge, you were safe. What the people did there was, they would investigate to decide whether you were an actual criminal or whether you were just somebody who was unfortunate enough to get on the bad side of the lord. If they decided that you were actually a criminal, then they would put you on a ship sailing to foreign parts. Which in those days could mean just about any other part of England. And they would give you a, some clothing and some money. And sort of "goodbye and good luck," and… T: And don't come back. P: Don't come back. If they decided that you were just unfortunate, you were allowed to remain. Beverley never had a lord. Beverley originally was a church foundation but was given its freedom in 823 with a charter which consists of four words: "All Free Make I Thee." Five words, sorry. And that was given by the king and it meant that it was a self-governing municipality. And the, it normally belonged to the church but the church gave it its independence also. So it was one of the few completely self-governing communities. T: I see. That's interesting. You know, in the mid to late thirties, there was war in the Far East and things of course were beginning really bad in Europe. How did the British people feel - what was their attitude about those changes that they saw taking place so close by to them. Because it was just really a little more that 20 years since the First World War. P: Which period are you talking about? T: Well, in the mid thirties the Japanese were starting to go wild in the Far East. And of course Hitler was, had come to power in Germany and things were really turning bad there. And the British had lost, as they say, the flower of their manhood not more than 20 years earlier than that in the First World War. How did you people feel when you saw the war clouds coming? I imagine that you people were quite concerned. P: Shall I say that the end of World War II was always referred to as "the armistice." And I think that just about everybody expected that there would be a resumption. I don't think it was any great surprise to anybody. There were some fascist sympathizers as you might expect. T: Sure. There were in this country too. P: No. They were everywhere. In Britain they were run by a Baron actually, called Sir Oswald Mosley. And he made a certain amount of noise but didn't really gain much sympathy. I must digress for a minute. The town of Hull where I was born and a suburb of which essentially I grew up in has very close ties to Hamburg. A port in Germany on the other side. In fact there was a daily ferry or at least every other day between Hull and Hamburg with a mixed German/British crew. And when World War II broke out, under an agreement the ferry was allowed to make one last trip, taking Germans back and shedding the German portion of the crew. And then returning to England with British because the ship was British owned. So that's where it wound up. And I had many relatives in Hamburg because my great grandfather who was a lumber merchant lived in Hamburg for most of his life. And when he retired, his I think, six other children had married and remained in Hamburg. And my grandfather, his youngest son then sixteen came back with him. My grandfather in his early twenties, when he was in a position to do so, went back to Hamburg and proposed to his girlfriend there who accepted. They were married in Hamburg and then returned to England. And Hamburg, as I say, used to be full of my relatives but during World War II it was more thoroughly obliterated than either Hiroshima or Nagasaki by the famous thousand-bomber raid. They, what they did is they sent over a few bombers with high explosives to get people into shelters. Then they sent over the other bombers with incendiaries and set the town alight. The casualties among the population were over 90%… {Paul breaks down for a moment here}. T: That's horrific. The firestorms. P: I'm sorry. It was… T: That's okay. P: It still affects me. Because I lost a lot of…{Paul breaks down again here}. T: A lot of friends and relatives. P: And ah, sorry… T: Well, maybe we can get on a little different tack. P: I went to Hamburg twice. Once right after the war where we had very little contact with the locals. But I went back there for several weeks much later. In fact when I was working for Mercury. And I went through the telephone directory and I couldn't find a single name. T: But it no doubt had been rebuilt quite a bit when you went back. P: When I went back there, it had not been totally rebuilt. There was still a portion in the center of town where people had built a small house on their property and were cultivating the rest of it as a market garden. And I don't know how long that lasted. But the first time I went, just after the war, we were under orders that we were not to speak English to any Germans. T: Were you still in service at that time? P: Yes. We were not to speak English to any German. My German is lousy. My wife, whose native tongue it happens to be, winces any time she hears me speaking it. But I was fortunate that the woman who was allocated to me as a secretary was from Alsace. And was bilingual in German and French. And as I am bilingual in French and English, that was fine. T: At the onset of the war, were you in university at the time? P: I was in the, I was in the Royal Naval Engineering College, which no longer exists. T: So you enlisted in that right after… P: I joined because I did not wish to be indentured to my father. The only way that I could see out of it was to get to one of the service colleges. The entrance to the naval college is, as I say, not by knowing a politician, but by taking the competitive examination. The year that I took it there were 412 applicants. T: What year was that? P: 1937. Sorry, 1937, yes. There were 412 applicants for 40 places. I passed in 38th. T: Where was the college located? P: The college was located in Plymouth at, it was originally in the dockyard. The naval dockyard. But after the Germans had started bombing the dockyard, they moved us out to a requisitioned manor house called [Mannerden]. T: How long were you at the royal, the naval college? P: I was there for three years. T: And then you were commissioned? P: I was actually commissioned before I left. I went there as a midshipman. I was commissioned Sub-Lieutenant, which is Lieutenant JG. T: Why did you pick the navy as opposed to the army or some other branch of the service? P: It was, as a matter of fact it was largely because that was the first examination held and I passed it. I could have got into the army but it's probably just well that I didn't because the unit to which I would have belonged was sent to Norway when the Germans invaded Norway. And was almost entirely wiped out. But I had had an attraction to engineering, which, in England is not a highly regarded occupation. I once told my father that in France, Belgium, Germany, the United States and Canada, all countries in which I had either worked or spent extensive periods, engineers were regarded as respectable professionals. And on the whole more highly regarded than attorneys. And he said, "Well, I'm happy for your sake, but you were not living there when you made your unfortunate decision." No, I was disinherited for bringing disgrace on the family. T: Really? P: Oh yes. T: Was your training at the naval college quite rigorous? P: Oh yes. T: Tell me a little bit about it. P: Well, it was what was called a "sandwich course" in England. In other words it was simultaneous college and apprenticeship training. Because the idea, which I think has merit in the British Navy, is that if you are supposed to supervise people, you better know what the hell it is they do. So I served a little time in the [ ] shop where the foundry and so forth. But I spent most of my time in machine shop and the boiler shop. T: Were the courses accelerated at all when the British had the knowledge that the war was on the horizon, coming? P: Well was on before I graduated. Yes. In fact that was why I didn't get what would normally have had a bachelor degree from the University of London. Because they had dropped a number of courses and the University withdrew its recognition. T: After you graduated from the naval college, what was your first assignment? P: I was sent to North Africa where I ran what you would here call a Seabee, which was mostly made up of what we now call Israelis. And we went to various towns in North Africa restoring the utilities. T: What are, what did the letters CB stand for, oh I see. It was an engineering outfit. Yes. Construction? Yes. P: Most of the, most of my men were Palestinian Jews as we then called them. And a few were, they'd all been recruited in Palestine. A few were Arabs. I discovered that the Jews were scrounging the battlefields for weapons and ammunition. And there wasn't anything we could do about that. But I decided that I would give the Arabs an equal break until I discovered that they were sending it to the Jews anyway. [ ] I didn't bother too much. There was one minor incident in that, that might amuse you. We listened to each other's radio broadcasts of course. And one Lieutenant Commander had been talking to one of his company commanders on radio. He said, "Well, are there any other problems you have?" And the company commander says, "Well, except for the fact that we're getting pretty God-damn sick of our rations, nothing in particular." And a German-accented voice broke in and said, "You know, we're getting pretty damn sick of our rations. Maybe you can do something." And so, by arrangement, a captured German truck filled with British rations, and a captured British truck filled with German rations was driven to an agreed point. The two drivers exchanged and went back. And that was … There was one other incident also. I've forgotten which town it was. It was one of the towns in North Africa. We would always know whether the Italians or the Germans had been the last people in the town. If it was the Germans, things were pretty thoroughly smashed. If it was the Italians, it might be booby-trapped, but there wouldn't be much damage. Because you see, it had belonged to the Italians before the war and they at least hoped to have it back. And… T: What was your opinion of the German soldier? Did you dislike him or did you just try not to think about them? Were they a pretty formidable foe? P: I would put it this way in regard to the Japanese. I never really fought against the Germans. My war was almost entirely against the Japanese. But I remember telling a woman I worked with that I had business in Geneva and I'd gone to a Chinese restaurant. And the, I'm sorry. I got two stories mixed up. I was visiting MIT and my host said that he would be unable to accompany me for lunch but he had arranged for me to have lunch in the faculty restaurant. And I went over there and gave my name. I found myself sharing a table with a Japanese. And I discovered that at one point during World War II, we had quite literally been shooting at each other. And for the first time each of us found out just what the hell had happened. And I told a woman that I worked with that, when I got back to Mercury. And she said she can't understand how we could bear to talk to each other. There was nothing personal about it. T: I'm going to stop for just a second. {The first tape ends at this point}. P: When I left North Africa, I was sent to Natal, to the country on the East Coast of Africa. And there I joined a heavy cruiser, the Sussex as an engineering… I was by that time a Senior Grade Lieutenant. And I served on board the Sussex as a component of the U.S. Heavy Cruiser Squadron for the next two and a half years or so. Because we were the only British ship in the squadron, we spent quite a lot of time on detached duty. And one time, I had never known what the legal situation would have been, but for several weeks I ran a U.S. repair base on one of the Pacific Islands. I've forgotten its name now. What happened was that the Admiral asked our Captain, "Do you have any engineering officers who are also competent machinists." We had several but I was the one who got picked. And I got told to pack for an indefinite period. And they put me on board a PBY, which flew me out to this island which had, as I say, a maintenance base there. And I landed in the small hours of the morning and I was shone a bed into which I gratefully sank. And the next morning I found the mess and had breakfast. And then was directed to the engineering office. And had just got in there when the chief - old enough to be my father - probably about as old as I am now, said, "Sir, you see that landing craft on the slip?" I said, "Yes." And he said, "Well, we've gotta change the propellers and we've got left-handed propeller nuts and we don't have any left-handed wrenches. Do you have any trick in the British Navy for dealing with this?" I said, "Yes, chief. Go back up there, drop your pants, ram the nut up your ass and then twist clockwise." After that we got on fine. T: He wasn't going to pull a fast one on you. What year was this that you went out to that island? P: That was in nineteen forty…. It was the winter of '41, '42. I can't remember exactly. T: So it's still early in the war. P: Yes. I'm sorry. I got out to the Pacific the year following. T: Okay. P: In 1942, the Sussex was taken back to England and like a lot of other people, I … 1942-43 I volunteered to remain on station. And I was assigned to the battleship, HMS Queen Elizabeth which was the flagship of the British Pacific Fleet, where I spent the rest of the war. T: Were you still serving as an engineering officer or were your duties different then? P: Engineering officers in the British Navy stayed at it. In [ ], this may surprise you, after World War II, I … During World War II I was able to solve a problem which was affecting a number of ships by a redesign of one piece of equipment. And this got me two pieces of mail from the same office by different individuals. One giving me a reprimand for having made an unauthorized change to the equipment. And the other one being congratulations for having solved a major engineering problem. This was a particular type of refrigeration compressor, which always failed whenever the main armament was fired. It didn't matter whether it was running at the time or not. T: By the main armament, you mean the big guns? P: The big guns, yes. What its trouble was, was that the lines from the compressor were particularly sensitive to dirt. Anytime they fired the main armament, they shook debris loose in the system. So the compressors went out. I redesigned the lines so they would tolerate that and this redesign was successful. And as I say I got two letters in the same mail. One reprimanding me for making an unauthorized design change. But because of that, I was, after the war I was sent to the Admiralty Engineering Laboratory. It's an engineering research station in the British Navy. And a minor example of the way we established engineers; my commanding officer there, Rear Admiral Toland had been a destroyer flotilla leader during World War II. And he assumed that he would return to destroyers. This would have been the case except that he admitted to having taken an engineering course in Cambridge in the inter-war period. And this automatically disqualified him for command. Just a minor thing; one time they were expanding the British Submarine Fleet and each submarine captain was asked to recommend one of his officers to train to take over command of one of the new submarines. And one captain recommended his engineering officer. He received a formal reprimand: "Under no circumstances are we prepared to consider that an engineer is fit to command one of His Majesty's ships." T: Tell me a little bit about combat experiences in the Pacific with the Japanese. P: They were, shall I say, the exchange at one… We spent most the time in the Pacific in the Sussex escorting convoys between the Red Sea and Australia or New Zealand. And the … T: Did the Japanese have many submarines operating in that area? P: Oh yes. Quite a few. But we never, well on occasion destroyers would head off and drop depth charges. T: Your ship couldn't engage in activity like that. Too big and too massive. P: We never really saw any Japanese. One time, I don't know exactly why, but I sailed on board one of the troop ships and on down to Australia was a group of four Russians who were there for a liaison group, obviously given their jobs. They all spoke fluent English. And one of them had been chief engineer, chief of police in a Russian town. And this surprises a lot of Americans when I say this. One of our officers, who was a Communist, Communists you see, were not demonized in England as they were here. It was perfectly possible to be [ ]. The man who started what was then called "The Commandos" and is now called "Special Forces," was a Communist who gained his experience fighting Franco. T: I see. Interesting. P: He was the first commanding officer of the Commandos. Matter of fact he was the overall commanding officer of the Commandos and also in charge of their training. But as I say, one of our officers who was a Communist asked this Russian chief of police, "I suppose that apart from traffic offenses and crimes of passion, you don't have any crime in the United, in the Soviet Union?" And the man replied, "Unfortunately in our society there are people who would rather steal than work." At that time every Soviet citizen was guaranteed a job. And they kept [ ], We had, J. Edgar Hoover successfully demonized Communism in this country but his influence did not extend to Great Britain. T: Fortunately perhaps. P: But I'm sorry. I've gotten off track. T: I wanted to ask you one thing. Early in the war, when there were just so many setbacks, was there any time when you or your friends and relatives thought that, gosh, maybe we won't win this thing? Maybe we can't pull it off? Were there ever any doubts? P: It was never really a serious belief. I cannot think that anyone in my circle of relatives or acquaintances or anybody really thought that way. It was pretty generally considered that well, we came out on top last time and we would do so again. T: That's interesting. In this country, most everyone that I've talked to, most veterans, said pretty much the same thing. We never doubted that we would win. But you were so much closer to it. It affected your country so much more. I was wondering if there was a different attitude, especially in those early days when things really looked pretty gloomy. P: Well, things looked pretty bad but the Home Guard, which you've probably heard was formed and the attitude was, "If the Nazis come here, well, we'll kick their teeth in." T: Where were you when the war finally ended? P: I was off Japan preparing to invade it and not looking forward to the prospect at all. The people who say that they should never have dropped the atom bomb just do not understand the situation. In the first place, it was necessary to drop two of them to persuade the Japanese to surrender. In the second place, in this thing that they should have dropped one on an uninhabited island. But damn it, they had to drop two on cities. And I think that if the Japanese had realized they were the only two that we had, the war would have continued. T: Perhaps. P: And I have talked to several Japanese of my generation and they all agreed that dropping the atom bomb saved enormous casualties and destruction on both sides. T: I think that's probably a truism. I've heard that while the Japanese navy was pretty much a shambles, their army was pretty much intact and had gone back to the homeland. And that could have been a real difficult situation. P: I would have been. It would have resulted in enormous casualties on both sides and also the essential destruction of the Japanese infrastructure. T: Yes. That's something we don't often think about - the damage to their infrastructure. It would have taken an awful lot longer for them to recoup or to recover. After the war ended, did you continue your military service for any length of time? P: I continued for not quite two years. Until the end of 1947. As I said, after the war was over, and the Queen Elizabeth was decommissioned, I was sent to the Admiralty Engineering Laboratory. I had married… T: I was going to ask you that. When did you marry Kitty? P: I married shortly, well I married in late '47. T: How did you meet her? P: At the house of a friend of mine. One of my fellow officers was Jewish. And because of my ornery grandmother, I had always been quite comfortable in Jewish company. As a matter of fact, I have a Jewish wife and I know more about Jewish orthodox, Jewish orthodoxy than she does. Because I was taught it as a child. She was not. And no, my, aboard the Queen Elizabeth, one of my fellow officers [ ] Jewish. He was somewhat pushed aside by the other people on board, but as I had no anti-Semitic inhibitions, he and I became quite friends. And we continued our friendship after World War II. Because when I was at the, I was in the engineer and [ ] department. Literally. I'm dividing my time between Bath and London where we had offices in both. And [ ] accommodations was hard to get in London. And I had retained contact with [ ] after he had been demobilized. He was not a regular officer. And his parents owned an enormous house in London. And he invited me to stay there any time that I had to spend the night in London. I met my wife there who was secretary to my friend's stepfather. And who, Mr.. Baruch had come from a high enough level in Russian society that he wouldn't even have known the way to the kitchen. T: How do you spell the name Baruch? P: B A R U C H. Baruch. T: You just barely pronounce the c h. P: Well in normal English language usage, it's "Barook". In Hebrew, it's "Barookh." But the word means, "health." It's, just to digress a minute, something you may not know, in the late 1800's European Jews were ordered to adopt family names. Up till then they had not done this. You had been Ben or whatever your father's name was. And that is why some Jewish last names are a little ludicrous because they were handed out by at least mildly anti-Semitic registrars. But Baruch was almost certainly one the owner had picked for himself because it means "health." T: Now your wife came from Austria. P: My wife came from Vienna, Austria. T: And she left prior, somewhat prior to Hitler's … P: She left actually after the Germans had taken over. I'll give you an example of the sort of thing… When she went from Germany to Belgium, at the railroad station there, they said, "Well, they say that you can leave but they say nothing about your bringing anything with you. So she crossed the border stark naked and they crapped in her baggage. And a woman on the train gave her a dress. And she had… T: She spoke the English language at that time. She apparently had learned it. P: She wouldn't speak to a Belgian in English but she spoke English. She was, as I was, she was raised bilingually. In her case German and English. I sometimes say, "Both my wife and I are bilingual but unfortunately the only language we have in common is English." She speaks fluent English and workable Italian. I speak fluent French and workable Spanish. I have worked in Mexico and Cuba and I can tell you one thing, Castro may be the only Communist with which the U.S. still has hostile relationships, except for North Korea. But that of course is due mainly to influence in Miami of exiles, the people who were responsible for the trouble in the first place. But the average Cuban I know is a Goddamn site better off now than they were prior to Castro. T: Under Batista. P: Yes. I had a secretary in Cuba who told me she had come from a good, one of the [ ] villages and her parents had been unable to afford to send her to school. She worked as a whore for two years in order to get the money to go to school. T: That's a tough way to get the money. P: Yes. Fortunately for her, she met a man who knew her background and didn't hold it against her. When she worked for me, she was married with two children. T: At some point, you and your wife decided to come to this country. Tell me about how you arrived at that…? P: I decided initially to go to Canada. The reason was family opposition to having an engineer in the family. Which was just considered disgraceful. T: One question about the engineering thing. When you went to the naval college and got your , you were there for three years or so, did you have enough academic know-how to be hired as an engineer in civilian life or did you have to go back to university after service and get a degree or something like that? P: As I say, under normal circumstances graduates of the Royal Naval Engineering College got a bachelor's degree from London University which was withheld because they had cut some of the courses. T: Some of the superfluous stuff that wasn't needed for wartime. P: Yes. As a matter of fact I later discovered that I could have got a London degree anyway but I didn't know that at the time [ ]. What I actually got was something that doesn't exist here which is called a [high] National Certificate. The holder of a [high] National Certificate is fully entitled to describe himself as a graduate engineer. But it was set up originally as an examination for people who for one reason or another, were unable to attend a regular college course. And by taking this examination, they could call themselves engineers. The reason that we left England was largely family pressure. T: Did you go to Canada then as you intended? P: We went to Canada initially. I went to, initially to Toronto. I discovered that in Toronto, being Catholic, I was unhirable. This was then. It would not be true now. But at that time, one company told me that they had great difficulty finding somebody qualified for this particular job, which I was. They were willing to hire me provided that nobody found my dirty secret. T: Your religion. Oh gosh! P: I decided I didn't really want to take the job on that basis so I went to Montreal where I found, as a matter of fact I found myself at the glass… I went to work for what is now Canadian Telegraph. It was then Bell Canada. And I found myself bumping the glass ceiling. I was in a group responsible for the break in and maintenance of production equipment. There was one other, apart from the man who ran the group, there was one other graduate engineer in the group. And when our boss was promoted, we reckoned that one or the other of us would become the new head of the group and the other one would be disappointed [ ]. And we found that the job was given to a young man with a two-year junior college degree who had less experience than either of us. So we went to the boos man and said, "What the hell is going on here?" "I can't ask people to take orders from a Jew or a Papist." T: He was very blunt about it. P: Yes. Guess what. We quit. T: When did you come to the U.S.? P: I came to the U.S., I spent a year working for the Canadian government just outside Ottawa. But that wasn't a particularly satisfactory job in a number of ways. And I responded to a help-wanted advertisement for a firm in Beloit. It no longer exists. I was hired and so leaving my wife to dispose of the house, I came down to Beloit. And I worked there for two years until the division that I worked for was closed out. And it was part of what became the eventual disintegration of the company. It was the first step. And the division I worked in was phased out. And I and some 500 others found ourselves on the street. T: Was that when you came to Oshkosh then? P: No. I talked to my wife about it. Well actually I got a job in northern Illinois for awhile. And it wasn't a particularly good job. I mean it was a living. Working for a man in his 90's who had been an electrician during the Chicago fire and had invented the mercury switch. Part of the trouble during the Chicago fire had been in the stockyards where fire alarms, either the contacts had welded together with corrosion or they had been separated so that when they were closed, they didn't make contact. And he, with a colleague who had been a glass blower in Hungary, they came up with the mercury switch. T: A very important development. P: A very important development. Because it's completely impervious to atmospheric corrosion and that sort of thing. And he was able to raise enough money to start making the things and get a demand before he started selling licenses to the patent. So he quite rapidly became a millionaire and he moved to Hawaii. He found in Hawaii that he was ostracized by the local society as an uncouth working [ ] type. So he got his revenge by selling his house to a Chinese. Which was the first that the Chinese had been able to move into the upper class neighborhood. Came back to the United States. He had signed an agreement that he would not set up a competing business and so he bought a company in northern Illinois within reach of Beloit that made root beer manufacturing and dispensing equipment. And I got a job there. I shared an office with his previous Hungarian associate and he and I got along fairly well together. But occasionally we used to have arguments. And one time I came out after one such [ ]. I came out and saw a woman machine operator just outside, obviously highly amused. And I said, "What the hell are you laughing at?" "At the two thickest accents in the place yelling at each other." You see, you yourself don't have an accent. Other people do. T: Yes, I understand. P: Anyway this was not a particularly good job. The man who ran the place said that you worked for him round the clock if necessary. For instance, one time he is, heating, you had the steam heating set up. And [ ] heating the boiler in the middle of winter. And he knew that I'd worked as a boilermaker at one time. So I got a telephone call at home to come out to his house immediately. This was about 1 o'clock in the morning. So I went out to his house. And I will admit he worked with me as I welded up the, he had enough knowledge to know what was required. And I welded up the boiler and we got it back into operation. By that time it was about 8 in the morning and he gave me breakfast and sent me back home. But that was, he was not an easy man to work for. A very competent engineer, highly competent. I knew one man who had worked for him before who returned to work for him. And I asked him why he'd come back. He said, "I learned so much from him the first time that I decided I had to go back for a refresher." {The first side of the second tape ends here}. P: We had [ ] working in Beloit. When I quit this job in northern Illinois, my wife said, "Well, you've always said that your lack of a recognized engineering degree has always been a handicap. Why don't you see if you can find somewhere where you can get one." So we flipped a coin for east and west and I went - it came down east - so I went visiting colleges until I found at Penn State that they were willing to give me a job and also take me on as a graduate student. I was below their requirements in mathematics but they told me that if I could make it up they would take me on tentatively and if I could make it up, I could make it up permanently. Well I found a math student who was willing to give me tutoring for a very nominal amount. He said he wanted the teaching experience. And so I was able, with his help, to meet the math level required. I regret that at the British Naval College, I barely scraped by in math. In fact if there hadn't been a war on, I might not have made it. T: How long did it take you then to get your degree at Penn State? P: I got the degree, well I was working initially for a doctorate. And I was there for three and a half years. And then they decided they didn't have enough slave labor on the campus. And so they made a rule that any university employee would be allowed to take a maximum of three credits a semester, four by special permission. And this would have stretched my course work out by another five years. I was already 33. I didn't want to do that. T: You had children by that time, I'm sure. P: Oh yes. I had two children. I totted up my credits and decided I had enough for a masters. I had written my thesis but not yet submitted it. So I submitted it as a masters thesis. And it did actually get published. [ ] doctoral thesis. I'm sorry; lost my track. T: What I want to know is when did you come to Oshkosh? When did you make the decision? P: After I had graduated from Penn State, I went to work for Shell. I worked for Shell in California for several years at a research lab that they had there. And then they closed the lab. I was one of the survivors and I was sent to a lab in Illinois. As I was older than any of the four people above me on the totem pole, my chances of a promotion were very slight. So when I was offered a job out of the blue by Curtis-Wright, of the aircraft [ ] manufacturing company at the time in New Jersey, I accepted it. And I was offered the job through a man I previously worked with, who recommended me to the company. I found that Curtis-Wright was, unfortunately, a dying company which had been looted [ ] Curtis' husband and his friends. And it was dying. So when I got a job offer from Mercury through a man I had worked with before at Curtis-Wright, I accepted it. T: What year was that Paul? P: 1951. T: So was Kiekafer still the boss man there? P: Kiekafer was still running it. In fact he came and helped me. I was under notice for lay-off at Curtis-Wright and a man whom I had worked with, and one of the few people with whom we he could get along. He had two problems: he was Jewish and he had a chip on his shoulder about it. But I had no concern with his Jewishness; he didn't exercise his [ ] as far as I was concerned. And actually he and I worked together quite closely on several projects. And he recommended me when Curtis-Wright started closing down. He recommended me to Carl Kiekafer. And he took me, Carl Kiekafer was in New York on business at the time. He took me out and introduced me to Carl. Carl told me that if I would like to fly back with him to Fond du Lac, I would be welcome to do so in his plane which would be taking off about 7 o'clock that evening. I called my wife. She met me at the airport with a packed bag and I flew to Fond du Lac and Kiekafer was too busy to see me the day after my arrival and I was told to come back the next day. So I came back the next day and Kiekafer's secretary said, "Mr. Kiekafer can see you for an hour. At ten o'clock." So I saw Mr. Kiekafer for an hour at ten o'clock and I spent the rest of the day with him. And he got a call to go to, one of the outside, one of the other plants where they were having trouble. And he looked at the problem and Carl said, "Well, how would you deal with it?" I told him and he said to the man in the [ ], "Do that." And took me out to lunch and then drove me around the area for the rest of the day. Took me out to supper and then he said, "Well, are you willing to accept my offer?" I said, "I'd be happy to consider one but you haven't made one." So he made me an offer that was quite respectable. At that time $8.000.00 was quite good money and I said, "Well I would appreciate it though if you would allow me to make one other," I had one other scheduled job visit, "If you would allow me to make that." And he asked me what company it was and I told him and he said, he spoke quite well of them and he said, "Well, let me know of your decision." So I went to the other company. It was actually a slightly better job but my wife and I preferred this state to extreme southern Indiana where the other one was located. So I called Carl Kiekafer and said I accepted his offer. He said, this was Friday, and he said, "When can you start?" I said, "Monday." [ ] So I started on Monday. He sent me to the plant that they had on Murdock Street here in Oshkosh. And then I was there for oh, four years. And then… T: Is that what caused you to decide to move to Oshkosh rather than Fond du Lac? P: [ ] I was working in Oshkosh. And then the man who was chief engineer of the Murdock Street plant was promoted. And again, this left me and one other man in obvious competition for the job. Again, he caught it. Apparently, I can really say that this must have been his reaction, he decided that I would try to undermine him. And so arranged for my transfer to Fond du Lac with no job specific to go to. But I had one ace up my sleeve. I had first worked with a computer during World War II. And had subsequently had computer experience, which for an engineer of my age was unusual. And so I was, I told my new boss at Fond du Lac that I had computer experience. He said, "Oh, we're having a problem, a computer problem. See if you can fix it." I said okay and I looked into the problem and I found it was a program error. And so I went to the head of the program department and said, "There's a problem here. I think you should fix it." He said, "Of course you wouldn't understand, for what you're asking is impossible." [ ] I gave him two words, "Do it." "And I want the answer on my desk by ten o'clock the next morning." That's the last trouble I had with him. T: How long did you work at Mercury, Paul? P: I worked at Mercury for, oh hell, I quit, well I quit in 1963. That was the last year that they could make you retire.. T: How old were you then? P: About 50. It was the last year they could make you retire. And they had to hire me back on an hourly basis because they couldn't find anyone to do my job. Well, I would have been better off if I would have been able to stay on. But I was asked how much I want. And I said, "$40.00 an hour. They said, "What!?!" I said, "That's what I make in my own business." It's true. I used to have, I could see this coming and so I passed a license or I had a state license which you may or may not know is required for a consulting engineer. And so I had set up a small consulting business and when I got laid off, I just went into it full time. I lost my customers not quite four years ago because I was ill for an extended period and they all went to other people and I decided it was too much effort to try and get them back. T: I see. P: And so I have an annuity which I purchased from my own business. And I have a pension also from Mercury. Between the two I'm reasonably comfortable. T: Going back to the war, do you ever think about the war today or has it pretty much slipped from your memory? P: It's not much of a, it's not something that I dwell on. T: Do you think the war changed you? Do you think it made you a different person other than you would have been, had there been no such…? P: No. I spent, I spent half of my wartime period ashore and in fact, in Colombo {Ceylon}I operated a deep freeze, a refrigeration plant which supplied both the Navy and also local residents. And I had ah, the man who had been running it dropped dead and they had to put their hands on somebody immediately. I had run a refrigeration plant aboard the Queen Elizabeth. I thought [ ] to run this place. The only really interesting thing that I ever got to freeze was an admiral. As is true in a lot of tropical countries, it is the law in Ceylon that anyone who dies has to be cremated or buried, or otherwise disposed of by the next sunset. T: For good reason. P: Therefore the local funeral directors had no embalming experience. And they wanted to bury the admiral in England. So they came to me and asked me to deep-freeze the admiral. T: Couldn't you have put him in a barrel of brine? Didn't they do that with one of the old time admirals? P: [ ] brine. I had a room, which was used mainly for medicines and similar things, for which only I and one other employee had a key. And I swore the other employee to secrecy because I knew that there would be some people that would object to having a corpse with their food, but it wouldn't hurt anybody. So I spent 48 hours deep-freezing the admiral and then they brought a coffin and I put him in it - with some help. And I decided to put some dry ice in with him. They were going to fly him back to England in a Mosquito bomber. And it would have taken about 48 hours so I decided to put some dry ice in with him, make sure that he keeps. And I told the people who took the coffin to the airport to be sure and tell the people aboard the aircraft that I packed the coffin with dry ice. They didn't. And the dry ice evaporated of course and started filling the fuselage of the aircraft with carbon dioxide. Fortunately one of the air crew, a sergeant, realized what was happening because he saw that the coffin was frosted and had enough technical knowledge to know that dry ice was the only thing that could be keeping it that way. And warned the aircrew to put their oxygen masks on. I had one brief interlude in Persia or Iran as they now call it. It was, I was briefly at an air station there where aircraft took off for Russia. And they were so overloaded with fuel that quite a few of them crashed on take-off. And I can remember the Catholic padre standing beside me praying every time the "Boom!" went. But I met one of the pilots quite accidentally a little, some years later. And he told me that, with great indignation, they had been denied some sort of benefit because they were not competent. T: It was still pretty risky business. P: Yes. T: Well I think we're going to have to call this to an end Paul. It's been very interesting talking to you and I certainly appreciate your taking the time to come and talk to us. We're very glad that we've been able to record your thoughts.
Oral History Interview with Paul Hobson. -WORLD WAR II -Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009