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15 October 2014
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Don's War

by gmractiondesk

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Donald William Thomas
Location of story: 
Manchester, Padgate, Scarborough, Norwich, Berwick-on-Tweed, Shoeburyness, Pembrokeshire, Egypt, Cyprus, Palestine
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War website by GMR action desk on behalf of Donald William Thomas and has been added to the site with his permission.

When the war started in September 1939 I was attending Didsbury Central School for Boys on School Lane, Didsbury, I was thirteen and a half years old. During the Blitz on Manchester in December 1940 my elder brother and I used to look out in our back garden in Saddlewood Avenue, Didsbury, watching the searchlights and anti-aircraft fire and occasionally got a glimpse of what we were sure was a German bomber. We did not have an air-raid shelter in the garden but had a Morrison Shelter in the front room and my mother and two sisters and two younger brothers used to get into this but it was a squash for them and not too comfortable. During a raid in 1941 a bomb fell in Saddlewood Avenue/Kingsway and a young girl standing in her back doorway, as we used to, was killed. A second bomb landed by the railway in what became the allotments at Parrs Wood on the opposite side of Kingsway to the Tram Depot (now Tesco). This must have been on a time fuse and went off as the first train in the morning from Central Station came through.
I joined the ATC at school and our squadron number was 921. We learnt the basics of navigation, studied clouds and weather patterns and learnt the Morse Code. Amongst other things we did was flying at RAF airfields. I went up in a Tiger Moth from Sealand and at various other fields in a Fairey Fulmer, a Rapide and a Beaufort at different times.
I volunteered for aircrew in the RAF and was called up in April 1944 going to RAF Padgate and then No. 1 Initial Air Training Wing at Scarborough, in the Grand Hotel no less.
We were put on parade one day and someone of higher rank addressed us and said if the war goes on another three years we have enough aircrew under training to man every bomber we can build, men being trained in the USA, Canada and in the UK at that time. I was then discharged from the RAF and the Discharge Certificate says "surplus to requirements".
I was called up into the Army on the 2nd November 1944 and had to report to Britannia Barracks, Norwich, for basic training. There were several of us ex-RAF.
We were told as we were all A1 we had no choice but would be put into the Infantry as the Army was very short of Infantrymen. We were told to select an Infantry Regiment we would like to serve with and I and a pal put down for the Lancashire Fusiliers. We were next sent to a camp near Berwick-on-Tweed and went through Division and Corps Training in the Cheviot Hills in winter. I was then sent onto a six-pounder Anti-Tank Gun course at Shoeburyness in Essex and also learnt to drive Lloyd Carriers with which we towed the guns.
V1 flying bombs came over day and night and the seafront right down through Southend was lined with Bofors anti-aircraft guns which put up a box of shellfire over the sea and shot quite a few down, we even saw a Meteor of the RAF wing-tip one over into the sea. I returned to continue training at Berwick and later on was transferred to the 8th Battalion Manchester Regiment which was reforming at Angle in Pembrokeshire. From there I was sent to No. 12 course at 55th Infantry Division Battle School at Warminster and on Salisbury Plain.
When the A-Bombs were dropped on Japan we were suddenly transferred to the 11th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment in a transit camp near Berkhamsted and went overseas from there.
We went to Egypt in a camp at a place called El-Qassasin, which was a desolate place. A couple of months later we were suddenly sent to Cyprus to search for a Greek colonel and his men who had landed to make trouble for the British administration among the Greeks in Cyprus. We had to do lots of patrols on foot as we had no Battalion transport with us and we were based near RAF Nicosia airfield in a temporary camp. One day we in our Platoon marched to Kyrenia on the north coast, what a beautiful little place it was then, no traffic whatsoever, and slept for the night near the Castle and marched back the next day having found no news of this colonel as this was a Turkish village anyway, I think it was about 25 miles each way. After a few months we sailed back to Egypt and the Battalion was broken up. I served for a couple of months with an Army Intelligence Officer at Almaza. I was then transferred to the 2nd Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st British Infantry Division and we were camped near Hadera in Palestine, which is between Tel Aviv and Haifa. We again did many patrols, roadblocks and our camp was Mortared and machine-gunned at night. We had to attend many incidents caused by the Stern and Irgum gangs. During 1946/47 about 340 servicemen and 30 British Palestine policemen were killed making this the highest casualty rate of any British actions since the end of the Second World War. Our Battalion left Palestine in November/December 1947 and went down to Egypt. We did some training on Kangaroos, which were Sherman tanks minus the gun turrets, I think we became therefore the first Mobile Armoured Infantry Battalion in the army. I went on demob in February 1948 and arrived home at the end of the month.
I was recalled to the army in June 1951 as a Class Z Reservist and joined the 6th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment at Castle Martin in Pembrokeshire. I did some immediate training on 17-pounder anti-tank guns on the ranges down there.
Fortunately we were stood down after two weeks and were paid a Bounty of £8.00 and sent home again. I was very pleased about this as I was getting married on August 11th 1951.
So my war seemed to last from 1939 to 1948.

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