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It's a Moment I Shall Never Forget

by AgeConcernShropshire

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Percy Tarbuck, Percy Paul, Sqd/Ldr John King Scarf, David Thomas
Location of story: 
UK, Ceylon
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 January 2006

Percy Tarbuck

It’s a Moment I Shall Never Forget - Part 1

The spring of January 1944 found me on a train travelling from Shrewsbury to Church Stretton. The other occupants of the carriage were a group of army lads going home on a three-day break. One enquired of me, “Going on leave mate?” “Yes, I replied, 28 days.”
“28 days! The RAF have all the luck,” was the retort. “Well”, I said, judge for yourself. I am going home for the first time after four-and-a-half years of overseas service”. “Sorry mate” said the army lad, “You have earned every day of your leave. Good luck”. As the train drew into the station, a recognisable voice called out ‘Church Stretton’. It was the owner of that same voice, Mr Percy Paul, who had said goodbye and good luck in August 1939. My never to be forgotten return after so long an absence on a cold and rainy day in January 1944 was in direct contrast to the hot, sunny day of August 1939. Then, from my open carriage window I observed the park full of people happily enjoying their bank holiday. They were not to know that six long and weary years would pass before they would enjoy it again.

My RAF career began in May 1938, following on from three months square bashing at Uxbridge. I was ‘posted’ to Cosford for technical training. There were visits to Wolverhampton. On my weekly pay of ten shillings, I enjoyed a complete day out – one shilling to watch the Wolves play, sixpence for a cinema ticket at the Gaumont, then on to the little café opposite for egg, chips and a sticky bun for one shilling. Total cost ‘half a crown’. The down side was hitching a lift or often walking the ten miles back to Cosford. In July 1939 I was posted to 62 squadron at Cranfield. My first weekly pay was 29 shillings, age 18 (still very virginal). I had not then succumbed to smoking and drinking. That sudden increase in pay was very acceptable. I was allocated to Aircraft L1134 PT-F piloted by Sqd/Ldr John King Scarf (a name to be remembered). In charge of our working party was a boyish looking young Welshman named David Thomas. He was to remain my friend for 64 years. He became a Sqd/Ldr and died in year 2004.

Quite suddenly we were given just five days leave and then dispatched to Southampton where we boarded the troopship ‘Neuralia’, an old coal burning vessel, built in 1913. A brass band assembled on a quayside to ‘play us adieu’. We sailed on 12 August 1939. England was at peace. We were cheered on our way by the passengers aboard the Isle of Wight pleasure steamers and I took a last picture of ‘The Needles’ with my five shilling ‘box brownie’. A few days later we arrived at Gibraltar and changed into our tropical kit. Much joy , trauma and heartache were to follow before I encountered ‘The Big Rock’ again. The voyage through the Mediterranean in August was very hot, the ships’ company were a mixture of RAF and army personnel and their commanding officer, in ‘his wisdom’ decided to hold a boxing tournament – not withstanding a temperature of 90 degrees F. I was persuaded to represent the RAF and found myself matched against a rough, tough soldier from the East Surrey’s. It was only due to my physical fitness that I was able to gain the winning edge. The rest of the voyage took us via Malta to Port Said where we took on coal which was loaded by a seemingly endless stream of men humping their loads up a gang plank and tipping it into the ship’s hold. The voyage through the Suez Canal began at night. I spent it lying on the bare deck because of the heat. On awakening I was amazed to see a camel rider seemingly almost within touching distance in the narrow channel. Then on through the Indian Ocean to Bombay. From there we were to stop off a port bearing a huge harbour sign announcing ‘Ceylon for Good Tea’. It was here that I enjoyed an exotic ‘seven course meal’ for five rupees (about seven shillings) in the Bristol Hotel. It was here, in Ceylon, that we received the news that was to change the life of the old world forever. September 3rd 1939, Britain was once more at war with Germany.

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