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15 October 2014
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Contributed by 
Wolverhampton Libraries & Archives
People in story: 
Ken Ashbury
Article ID: 
A3288611
Contributed on: 
17 November 2004

It was July 1944, Cosford, having passed out as a flight mechanic, engines. I was waiting to be posted to a squadron along with the rest of the course - about 90 men - when we were called out on parade. Twelve names were read out, mine included, and to our surprise we were told we had been given a week’s leave for a “special job,” which was mysterious as all leave had been cancelled due to the invasion on 6th June. Of course we twelve were delighted, and the envy of the rest of the course members. We couldn’t wait to draw our passes and be on our way home.
After an enjoyable leave during which all the possibilities were discussed as to our destination, we got back to camp, and were stunned to be told our “special job” was to be transferred to the Army - which didn’t meet with our approval as we knew the difference in discipline etc between the two services especially the uniforms. But of course that didn’t matter to the powers that be. Within two days we were bound for Catterick and the Royal Armoured Corp, to be trained on various armoured vehicles, mine to be a 40 ton Churchill tank. What had happened was due to the losses in Normandy - 10,000 men from the RAF and Royal Navy were drafted to make up the loss of manpower in Armoured Corp.
Very few people seem to know this happened and I have been looked at a little strangely when I’ve said I’d served in both Army and Air-force, but I count myself lucky to come home without a scratch after serving in India and Malaya after my “special job”!

Ken Ashbury RAF, RAC, RECCE

[This story was submitted to the People's War site by Wolverhampton Libraries on behalf of Ken Ashbury and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions]

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Message 1 - A Special Job

Posted on: 17 November 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Ken

I read your story with great interest. It ia a valuable addition to the archive; although the acute British manpower shortage of July 1944 onward is now better known, very little is known of how it was met.

Kind regards,

Peter

 

Message 2 - A Special Job

Posted on: 17 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Ken -
your story struck a chord as this was not the first time the RAF was robbed of the "brylcreem" boys for other tasks - just after the Battle of Britain while working in war factories in both Coventry and Birmingham - we were "augmented" by surplus RAF types learning the intricasies of operating a capstan machine in turning out various nuts and bolts for Pegasas engines and crusader tanks !
It happened again in Italy at the back end of the Gothic Line Battles when the Army - as always - were running out of men and so the hospitals were emptied - the Navy was scuppered and the RAF were denuded once more - even our own Light Ack Ack Batteries - like the energisers of to-day - were introduced to the delights of our comfortable Tanks as Ron Goldstein has made many comments when he exchanged his pop guns for a Honey Tank - without a roof I might add - so Ken - you were not alone !
You did survive !
Cheers !

 

Message 3 - A Special Job

Posted on: 29 November 2004 by Wolverhampton Libraries & Archives

Peter and Tom

I'm glad that the story was of interest to you. Thanks for replying. Your mention of the manpower shortage towards the end of the war reminded me it wasn't the last time it would affect me. In 1946 the system of early release from the forces,B release, was brought into being where anyone who could help in the rebuilding of Britain which was badly in need of it, could go back to their old jobs until their demob number came up then they were free to leave, but had to remain on Z reserve. I took advantage of this being in Singapore and returned to my old firm in Sheffield who were railway engineers where I stayed for two and a half years. But having married a Midlands girl, I moved to Wolverhampton and settled down. But there was a shock around the corner, out of the blue in 1951, I was called up for a fortnights' refresher course at the tank gunnery range at Castlemartin, issued with uniform under the Z reserve where I met some very disgruntled comrades. It was due to the Korean war going badly, so there we were again making the numbers up when we thought we were free. Fortunately that was all that happened I was lucky again, but I had nightmares for years that I was getting my call-up papers again. Does anyone remember the Z men?

 

Message 4 - A Special Job

Posted on: 29 November 2004 by Wolverhampton Libraries & Archives

Peter and Tom

I'm glad that the story was of interest to you. Thanks for replying. Your mention of the manpower shortage towards the end of the war reminded me it wasn't the last time it would affect me. In 1946 the system of early release from the forces,B release, was brought into being where anyone who could help in the rebuilding of Britain which was badly in need of it, could go back to their old jobs until their demob number came up then they were free to leave, but had to remain on Z reserve. I took advantage of this being in Singapore and returned to my old firm in Sheffield who were railway engineers where I stayed for two and a half years. But having married a Midlands girl, I moved to Wolverhampton and settled down. But there was a shock around the corner, out of the blue in 1951, I was called up for a fortnights' refresher course at the tank gunnery range at Castlemartin, issued with uniform under the Z reserve where I met some very disgruntled comrades. It was due to the Korean war going badly, so there we were again making the numbers up when we thought we were free. Fortunately that was all that happened I was lucky again, but I had nightmares for years that I was getting my call-up papers again. Does anyone remember the Z men?

Ken

 

Message 5 - A Special Job

Posted on: 29 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Ken -
Join the "Z" club.... I too was "asked" to re join the now defunct "Inns of Court" Armoured Car regt. had a nice welcoming letter from the C.O. who was so pleased to have a battle experienced man to join him in the possibliity of having a vacation in Korea...I was just married and was tickled to bits to be invited (!)This was around October 1950.
So it was off for a Medical with a beautifully turned out Doctor with a most expensive suit - I know it was expensive as mine cost me 25 guineas his must have been way over 50 guineas !

He then squirted some liquid into my right ear and it trickled back into the kidney basin I was holding.
He then tried it on the left ear....much to his disgust it flew back all over his natty suit. He cleaned himself off ... and in somewhat of a temper - I was turned down ...on the way out I asked about a pension for war wounds... "not a chance chum.. NEXT "

I took a friend into a Canadian War Veterans interview and while there the official asked me about my service ... he seemed impressed .. asked a few more details...next thing I knew I was in front of yet another Doctor who then recommended to the British Govt that I receive a pension
... they agreed and so since 1992... NOT backdated to 1944... I have been receiving a pension of 40% which helps in my perambulations in the U.K. and Europe every year ! The Canadian War Veterans look after my medical needs as well !Recently - as a mark of respect.. the B.C. Govt issued all Veterans - Canadian and Allied - with special licence plates which informs all and sundry -especially bandits - that the owner of this car is - older than you - probably smarter that you - and has been trained to Kill !

so you see Ken - you never know when you will become lucky !
Cheers
tomcan

Message 1 - a special job

Posted on: 30 November 2004 by denisejohnson

Just read your very interesting article "A Special Job." Very proud to be related to a star of World War 2. Will be showing it to Joyce. My Dad would have been very proud of you.

Lots of Love
Denise and Tony xxx

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