- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jack Peet
- Location of story:
- Reading and Scarborough UK and Winnipeg, Canada
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 July 2005
This story has been submitted to the People's War website by Liz Andrew of the Lancshomeguard on behalf of Jack Peet and added to the site with his permission.
When I was growing up boys didn't wear long trousers until they were fourteen. It was considered one of the first steps to manhood.
On August 11th 1939 I celebrated my 14th birthday and I got my first pair of long trousers. A week later, on Saturday August 18th we were on our annual holiday on a farm in Somerset. On Monday August 20th I was at Weston super Mare, wearing my long trousers and Germany made its first demands on Poland for the surrender of Danzig. On Wednesday 22nd I was at Wells wearing my long trousers and Germany and Russian entered into their treaty together. And on the Sunday after that we gathered round the Radio at the farmhouse and listened to Chamberlain announce we were at war with Germany. That afternoon I went picking blackberries and when I heard my first Air Raid siren I lay in a ditch and began to eat them!
At that time I was a grammar school boy at Archbishop Tennyson's School near the Oval in London. Our school was evacuated to Reading and for the following nine years, although I would visit my own home , I never really lived there. I think it had a big effect on me and made me really appreciate my home very much after that.
Between 1939 and 1943 I lived as an evacuee with three different families. The first took me in, I think, out of a sense of duty. I was well fed and had a comfortable bed but I never felt truly welcome. I overheard the lady who took me in once saying she had had an evacuee "foisted upon her." They used to go out on Saturday afternoons in their car, lock up their house and leave me to walk around the neighbourhood until they came home.
I stayed in the second house with my brother. It belonged to the widow of a well known stage conjuror - someone who had made his reputation by sawing women in half. She lived there with her sister. They had no children of their own but they were very kind to us.
I stayed with the third family until I joined the Air Force. They had two children and I felt very welcome.
We worked hard at school - there was a feeling that, if we did well, it would be somehow be of advantage to the country. We also collected aluminium pots and pans which were melted down into the raw materials for building Hurricanes and Spitfires. We did firewatching and in 1940 we dug trenches around the local aerodrome.
We had heard about the Battle of Britain and knew the names of all the heroes and we were all mad keen to join the Air Force ourselves. So when I was sixteen, I went to the Ministry of Labour and joined up. I was sent for initial training to Scarborough and then to Canada for more specilaized training. We crossed the Atlantic to New York on the Queen Elizabeth. It was full of American wounded and we acted as security.
Then we set out for Winnipeg by train. It was winter and when we arrived the cold was so intense that I got frostbite in one of my ears. We were issued with Yukon caps, which had flaps to cover our ears and also with thermal underwear, special mittens and galoshes to go over our boots.
Our base was at Portage Leprairie and I was trained there to be a navigator. I qualified as a pilot officer and was awarded my wings. We were still in Canada when the war ended. We were given the day off on VE Day and each given a bottle of beer to celebrate. But when we arrived back at Barracks we heard the sounds of screaming and shouting. The cries were coming from one of our company who had always been very quiet and kept himself to himself. He was in absolute despair because the War was over. He had joined the RAF so that he'd be able to bomb Germany. His brother had been killed by the Germans and he wanted to exact revenge. Now he was cursing God for ending the War. He needed to be strapped to a stretcher and carried off to the Sick Bay. I've always remembered it.
We returned to England and we were told that we would be posted to the Far East to conclude the War with Japan. I remember I'd just got my officer's uniform and was out celebrating with my family. We had been out to see a comedy at the theatre and were having dinner in a posh restaurant when we heard over the intercom that the Atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. The War with Japan was over.
Aftre VJ Day I became a Navigation Instructor and when I left the Forces I became a History teacher. I am proud that I took part in the War and I am convinced that we were right but I do admit to grave doubts now about the dropping of the Atom bomb. Until Hiroshima I always felt we held the moral high ground. But at that moment I think we lost it. I can understand why the Allies did it but I don't know why they didn't drop a bomb first as a threat and at some distance from a city. And I don't understand why they had to drop two bombs and couldn't have stopped after dropping the first.
I am sure I survived the War only with luck. When I joined the RAF I remember two of my friends and contemporaries from school did the same. But one of them, who was not as fit as me, became a glider pilot and he was killed at Arnhem. The other one, who was not as bright as me, became a gunner and never came back from one of his missions. I have survived them both now by over sixty years and I must admit that today I often wonder whether I have used that sixty years to best advantage.
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