- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jack farmer
- Location of story:
- Great Britain
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 August 2004
On guard duties there would often be an angry red and black glow in the sky, in the east, over London and a similair glow to the west, over Bristol. I sometimes wonder if people would want to object to the bombing of Germany if they had experienced the bombing, and devastation of our cities.
It was about this time that I first met Anne, later to become my wife, she was friends with my cousin, Eileen and they both worked together in the same office, I think that was the time she met my, then, girlfriend - Evelyn.
Sometime in September I was told the RAF Regiment was going to be formed and asked if I wanted to go in the regiment or stay in the RAF. It was the first time I can remember being offered a choice. Chose to stay in the RAF and was told that I would be allowed to remuster to a trade. When I applied to remuster was offered training as a Cook, Equipment Assistant (working in stores), or Teleprinter Operator. Chose Teleprinter Operator without knowing what he did but felt re-assured when they told me that they would send me on a course.
In November 1940 I was posted to the Orkney Islands as a Ground Gunner U/T (Under training) Teleprinter Operator. There were about 60 of us and we were to help open a fighter station for the defence of Scapa Flow Naval Base. When we arrived we had to wade through deep mud to our nissan hut and remove many sacks of cement before we could put our three biscuits (Sectional mattresses) on the floor to make up our beds. Outside the hut there were two water butts collecting rain. One was for washing and shaving and the other was fo washing our gumboots, often having to break the ice before using either of them.
We had to make do as best we could for a while and some furniture was made or acquired. Somebody found a form which was useful. Later we were issued with beds, a table, two forms, a firebucket, water bucket, a mop and an axe. The third form was now surplus and it wasn't long before the supporting legs disappeared. When I was hut orderly,looking for wood to prepare the stoves ready for lighting, thought I should dispose of the remaining evidence. The hut Corporal (who joined the RAF on the same day as I did and wanted to be a Corporal within a few weeks) spotted that the third form was missing and, to justify his existence, put me on a charge. He wouldn't listen to the fact that we still had all the items listed on the hut Inventory.
In front of the Commanding Officer, the charge was read out that I had destroyed a form. The corporal and four witnesses were brought in, one at a time, and after they gave their evidence, the C.O. asked if I had any questions for them. Asked them if two six feet lengths of wood joined together by short pieces, wouldn't exatly resemble the top of a form.
Two witnesses said 'yes', the other two and the Corporal said 'no'. After explaining that we had made furniture when we first arrived on the camp the C.O. said he was satisfied the form was service issue and fined me nine shillings and one penny(45p).
Many months later I was doing some work in the cookhouse and I acquired a pint mug. It was fine for cold drinks but when hot water was poured in, it leaked like a sieve.
On the evening before being posted away from Skeabrae it pleased me to give the mug to the hut corporal. An hour later he came into the hut and his language wouldn't bear repeating. He had made some coffee and in the limited space had held his mug above his bed whilst he poured in the water.
Back to the early days at the camp, building work was progressing all the time and it was beginning to look like a military establishment. It was whilst building Gunpits and other defences that I realised how difficult it was to light a fire in the snow. Also how many times a kettle had to be filled with snow to make a hot drink. It was at this time we saw a very rare sight - a girl. she cycled past and we leaned on our shovels and looked, without a word, without a whistle, just looked. She was an Angel on wheels.
The Islands were very bleak, especially during the winter months when there was only about four hours of twilight around mid-day. The winds would often blow at around a hundred miles an hour and I can only remember seeing one tree and that was in the main street of the City of Kirkwall.
It seemed strange that Skeabrae was the newest habitation on the island when, within walking distance, there was Skara Brae which was a stone-age settlement, with standing stones and, probably, the oldest known habitation.
Asked a local resident if she had ever seen a railway train and she said she hadn't - only a picture of one. She added "We have a regular bus service - every Saturday morning!"
We had a terror of a Flight Sergeant named Finn who would sometimes do night rounds, to ensure we had turned in and put out the lights. One night nobody came round at the usual time and I thought this would be a good opportunity to get a bucket of water from the butt and heat it on the stove. The water was deadly when frozen it must have been absolutely lethal when heated. Was just having a private wash down in front of twenty five other men, when Flight Sergeant Finn looked in. I said "Oh eff me" and he replied "I'll give you 'oh eff me' standing there like a pregnant crab." Figured he wouldn't charge me for he was an hour late.
We were given a free issue of tobacco and for a while I gave mine away but this caused some friction because several 'Erks' wanted it. Then I started smoking a pipe, that was a comfort when comforts were few.
One evening a Flight Sergeant came into the hut and yelled "Stand by your beds" and "Drop your trousers."
We complied and as the Medical Officer progressed along the line each man lifted his shirt and the M.O. shone his torch and inspected. When he got to me he bent down to do his job when the Flight Sergeant yelled "Take that pipe out of your mouth." The M.O. was startled, needless to say I was still smoking. This was the only F.F.I. (Free from infection) I can remember, although I never found out how to get infected on the island.
One day a friend and I hitch-hiked into Kirkwall and walking down the main street we came to a chemists. Said I would pop in to see if they had some sweeteners (You couldn't buy sugar because it was rationed.) Approached the counter and was about to ask for some Saccharine tablets when my friend poked his head round the door and said "You know what to ask for, don't you?" The shopgirl immediately dashed into the back room and the manager came to serve me. He seemed surprised when he learned what I really wanted but said he hadn't any.
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