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- MR F.W.C.Smith
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- 28 April 2005
My memories of World War Two
Friday-10th January 1941. I remember it well. I was 19 years old serving my 3rd year of apprenticeship at A C Wickman LTD machine tool manufactures at the Torrington Avenue factory-Coventry. I was working as a draughtsman on the upper floor of the small office building. My pal and I were both aircraft mad, and both wished to join the R.A.F. But were refused permission to leave and “join up” by the management, because we were a reserved occupation. Our interest in aircraft was so keen that we stuck pictures of all types of British and German etc aircraft to the backs of our drawing machines, which looked like a picture gallery, much to the annoyance of our chief draughtsman. Every time an aircraft flew over are area we would fling open the windows and crane our necks to identify it.
As soon as Mr Churchill’s call for local defence volunteers (L.D.V.) I joined and remember training with wooden replica riffles. Later it was to become the Home Guard and at this time, I was serving as a Lance Corporal. The Royal observer corps were calling for volunteers to form aircraft spotters club throughout Britain to be called the National Association of spotters clubs. My pal and I were one of the first few to apply and formed the number 17 spotters club, and both of us soon gained our 3rd class certificate in spotting, which was earned by identifying no less than 80% of aeroplanes from 62 Different types, by means of black and white silhouette picture cards showing the aircraft in plan, side view and front elevation.
At this time the company employed a full time spotter who I can recall came down from Scotland, but had little knowledge of aircraft identification, and therefore had to attend a spotters course one day a week at the local college, which I also attended, in order to gain my National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering. The flat rooftop above the drawing office of the factory was ideal for the spotter, and our Home Guard sited a wall of sandbags at either end, where they installed mountings for two browning automatic m/c guns.
Wednesday January 8th 1941. I was at college for the day but, on returning to work next morning, I was horrified to learn that German Daylight bombing raid had been carried out over Coventry, close to our factory. The aircraft some were saying it was a Dornier D.O 17 (Known as the Flying Pencil) due to its slim lines, others were saying it was Heinkel HEIII. Bombs had been dropped very close to our factory, but had skimmed the road between us and the Gauge and Tool, and Standard Motor Factory (then producing war products) and had hit part of the Gauge and Tool works, and killed some workers returning to work. It later turned out that no sirens had been sounded and the aircraft had dived out of low cloud base giving the workers no time to run to the shelters. Two days later. Friday 10th January 1941, the Wickmans spotter was at college for the day, and I was approached by the manager who asked me if I would take on the spotters post for the day. I immediately volunteered, so putting on my army great coat and a cap, and slinging the spotters long range Navel Binoculars round my neck, I climbed up to the roof to start my vigil. It was cold but dry day with some intermittent cloud, but quite good visibility. All was quiet for some time with an occasional aircraft to be seen, when suddenly I heard a noise that sounded like very distance gunfire. Boom-boom, boom-boom, this did not unduly worry me as I thought it was Ack Ack practise somewhere. However I was now on the alert and scanning the skies to the south from where I thought the sounds were cooing from. A few more very distant boom-boom sounds, but no sirens sounding; but I kept observing. Around me, I could see numerous barrage balloons floating gracefully, but the one installed on the field at the bottom of our factory was grounded for maintenance purposes. Then I spotted something. Yes an aircraft flying very low coming directly towards me from the south, but as yet a tiny speck in the sky. As the image grew larger, my heart missed a beat as my spotting knowledge told me it was either an RAF Blenheim or a German Junkers 88. Head on views are very similar but with certain exceptions. Still no sirens had sounded anywhere; but as the aircraft got nearer, I felt sure I could see diving breaks on the wings and an under slung gun turret characteristics of a Junkers 88. By this time it was closing fast, and heading straight towards me. In those few seconds I had to choose. Get the whole workforce out to the shelters or not. I hesitated no further and pressed the button to sound the sirens. Immediately the whole workforce dropped tools paperwork and dashed for the air raid shelters. The Home Guard were smartly up to the roof with riffles and the two browning automatics, but even before they could mount them, the aircraft was overhead flying at a few hundred feet. I was right - A Junkers 88 clearly carrying the black and white cross on its fuselage and the swastika on its tail. I dived to the floor, thinking this was it, knowing that the under slung guns could easily wipe us out. I had no riffle, no steel helmet, so I dropped to the ground and I must admit I said a quick prayer. The aircraft screamed past and headed towards the banner lane factories of Wickmans and standards, less than 2 miles away. Between us and these two factories, there was an army anti aircraft battery, which was in constant use at night coping with bomber raids on Coventry. They had a battery of 3.7” Anti-Aircraft guns a number of twin Lewis machine Guns. They had heard our sirens and were immediately on the alert and opened fire on the aircraft. Unfortunately, the 3.7” shells were exploding far two high, but many rounds were fired at it by the machine guns. However, the aircraft banked sharply, and flew back over our heads, towards the Standard Motors factory up the road. As it did so, I saw bomb doors open, and watched horrified as one-two-three about 8 small bombs were releases and heading for the straight for the Standard Factory. Our Home Guard began firing at it, but it was gone in seconds. Due to the speed and low flight of the aircraft, the bombs seemed to be flying along underneath it. There was a load explosion as the first bomb fell to its target, and my thoughts were for those unfortunate workers in the factory. Several explosions followed in quick succession, and I could see fire bellowing from the factory. Miraculously only a few workers were injured when the first bomb landed on the paint shop, at the rear of the factory, the remainder falling on the common at the back of the works. Fire engines were soon on the scene together with their own work fire engine. The blaze was soon under control.
My works manager congratulated me on getting his entire workforce down the underground shelter in time. Two days later, I was asked to attend a meeting with some of the workers of our factory. A number of them were gathering together, and as I approached they all started clapping and cheering. I felt a little embarrassed when one of the workers stepped forward and said to me “Frank we want to thank you for your good spotting and getting us down to the air raid shelter in time.” There was more clapping as he presented me with a chromium plated breast pocket cigarette case, which held 10 cigarettes and had a sliding top, which when opened a cigarette popped up under spring pressure. I then thanked them all and read the words that they etched onto the case. It read, “presented to F.W.C. Smith by a few boys of A.C.W. LTD for good spotting on 10/1/41.” I treasure it to this day. Along with my framed certificates from the National Association of spotters club, and my National Certificate from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, which I eventually obtained.
I thought the Luftwaffa were very daring to carry out a couple of daylight raids on factories in the very heart of our country. The day after the raids, the so called “Lord Haw Haw” a British traitor working for German Radio and sending out Propaganda to Britain, made an announcement that “ one of our aircraft has returned from daylight bombing on a factory in the Midlands destroying the Standard Motors works in Coventry. For this daring exploit, flying Officer Storpp and his crew are to be awarded medals for their bravery. Unfortunately our rear gunner was killed in action.”
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