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WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
North Yorkshire County Council, Library and Information Services
People in story: 
Rodney J Hartley
Location of story: 
Helperby
Article ID: 
A3734426
Contributed on: 
02 March 2005

Early in 1939 I began my working life as an apprentice electrician at RAF Linton on Ouse earning ten shillings per week. The only aircraft on the station at this time were Handley Page Heyfords, bombers with open cockpits. I think they were soon committed to the scrapyard. My job only lasted three months when the contract ran out.

Late 1938 ; At about this time the search light was already operating in the field alongside Rig Hills Lane. It was manned by the Royal Artillery .

1939 : The Royal Observer Corps had an observation post in Stinton Lane altogether there were as many as eighteen part timers to man this post twenty four hours a day, two men per shift.

1940: All signposts removed throughout the country. They were erected again in July 1943,after the threat of invasion had passed. Pill boxes were erected along the banks of the River Swale. We were given to understand that this was a second line of defence. The coast being the first. From May 1940 onwards the Home Guard, consisting of men between the ages of seventeen and sixty five years, was formed in Helperby and led by men who had served in the First World War.

Threat of Invasion 1940.
Thornton Bridge was prepared for blowing up by the Royal Engineers. Two channels were cut through the tarmac on the bridge one at each end and approximately six inches wide, explosives were placed underneath. Timber replaced the tarmac which had been removed to make it safe to ride over. A ban was put on the ringing of Church bells. These were to be rung only in the event of invasion.

Service: Air Training Corps

I joined the Ripon Grammar School Air Training Corps in 1940. After three months I transfered to Boroughbridge 2027 Squadron and was promoted, in 1941, to Sergeant. In January 1943 I travelled to RAF Dishforth for air flight training on Wednesday afternoons. I trained on Air Speed Oxfords, a twin engined plane. You were allowed to go down to five hundred feet. Travelling down the Swale was a great experience at this height. At the age of sixteen I fired my first machine guns, twin Brownings, from a turret, the same turret as on a Whitley bomber. During my time in the ATC my attendance amounted to two hundred and sixty three training sessions.

1943, April 13th. My brother Maurice and I left home at about 7am on our cycles to Pilmoor station were the station master had arranged a train to slow down but it was not allowed to stop. He opened the carriage door at the far end of the platform, someone threw my case in, I jumped in, and Maruice slammed the door shut. This was the only way I could get to York in time for my connection to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh: On the following day I had written exams to do in the morning and afternoon. The following day I travelled from Edinbugh to Arbroath to do my eight weeks initial training, after which, I was posted to Whittering and Colly Weston RAF stations. I was informed that I was to take a wireless operators course. I found the latter station Colly Weston, to be very interesting, as it was the home to 1426 (enemy aircraft flight. This consisted of Junkers Ju 88s, Heinkel HE 111 and tucked away, under guard, was a Foke Wolf FW 190. In a dispersal point there were other aircraft partly constructed.

I was then sent to number thirteen radio school and completed a course on Morse coding and procedure, by December. Our class was told that we would be transfered to the Navy which was one hell of a shock, I thus became an RNVR.

January 1944

I travlled across country to Skegness kitted out in Naval uniform and slept in a Hammock for the first time. I left Skegness on 9th February for the Isle of Man on HMS Valkyrei. After taking my exams I passed out on all subjects with high marks. Twenty four words per minute, naval codes, technical subjects and other material. I was promoted to full Telegraphist. In June 1944 I was on wireless watch in Peel in the Isle of Man at an underground staion when I picked up a lot of plain language in English on my radio. This was in the early hours of the morning, we were soon to learn that it was D Day.

October 1944 - July 1946. I was posted to HMSB 4194 which, along with three other boats, were controlled from Fleet Air Arm station HMS Condor, Arbroath.We were designated to carry out air sea rescue duties. The boat was my living quarters for the next one and a half years. My sole duties were as a telegraphist, receiving and transmitting morse using Aldis Lamps and later after three months using plain language.

Our sea time was made up of designated patrol areas, returing to harbour each day or night. We were frequently on duty on bombing range, close to the Tay entrance. This range was used by Barrracuda aircraft. We had one incident, were the aircraft failed to pull out of a dive whilst practice bombing, the pilot was killed.

On another occasion we were involved with the burial at sea of a Vice Admiral's son, an aircraft pilot. Our boat was chosen for this sad occasion, it was quite an honour to be called upon to carry our this duty.

We had a lucky escape, one day, when we entered a mine field in error. We got out by going astern very very slowly. The sea was very calm and the water clear so it was possible to see the odd mine. It was just as well we had a shallow draft!

Another memorable occasion was the time when a coastal Command Liberator B24 exploded in mid air not far from Bell Rock lighthouse. A total of seven bodies were retreived from the sea, three of which were taken on board by our crew. On returning to Arbroath they were placed in Robinson stretchers, lifted on to the jetty and taken away.

Rescue

After doing a long search for a pilot who had come down in the sea late at night and after doing a box search, one of the crew decided to give a one last sweep with a search light before moving on, there was joy on the boat when a dinghy was spotted and a pilot.He was in a severe state of shock when he was pulled on board. He as brought into the cabin and we made him as warm as possible. We returned to Arbroath at hight speed all three engines flat out, were an ambulance was waiting to take the pilot away.

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