- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Reginald Cooper
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 November 2003
I was born in 1947 - one of the post-war baby boomers. Although I myself served in the RAF for 14 years, the closest I came to conflict was in Aden 1966/67. I survived those 2 years in one piece - several of my friends didn't.
However this story is not about me but my late father who served in the RAF from 1938 until 1960. He was not a flyer, but a humble cook, and remained so until his discharge. Although he was promised that he would be able to follow his chosen preference in peacetime, that of airframe mechanic - the powers to be at that time appeared to suffer selective memory syndrome. I am sure he was not alone.
He and my mother who at the time was in the WAAF, were married in 1939. They were both stationed at RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire.
In 1940 my father, along with several other airmen were ordered to report to Portsmouth dockside with full kit. Naively, as it turned out, they were informed that they were to act as "ballast" in a submarine that was to undergo "sea-trials".
After several days at sea, and without being permitted "topside", my father was beginning to believe they may have been told a "porky". This was indeed the case as when the submarine docked and the airmen disembarked, they found themselves in Valetta Harbour, Malta.
To the day he died, my father shamedly failed to suspect a "plot" even though those airmen drew tropical kit the day before departing Blighty!
There my father remained until late 1943.
The first my mother new of this was when she received a heavily censored letter from my father. They never even got to say their farwells.
It was very difficult to tease information from him about those years during the "Siege", but there was one bright spot, if that were possible under such conditions. Due to his interest in aircraft, his mechanical skills plus the shortage of suitably qualified airmen, he was seconded from the kitchen to the aircraft maintenance line where he was closely involved in keeping the three Gloster Gladiators "Faith, Hope and Charity" in the air.
Even this wealth of experience failed to stop the RAF sending him back to the kitchen after the war.
My mother who's geography at that time, left a lot to be desired, felt she had to do her bit to keep up his morale. Wondering what she could possible do for their first Christmas apart, she knitted him a pair of gloves!
Something a young man should never be without.
Dad never got to have his photograph taken wearing woolen gloves with tropical kit - Mr Hitler's Luftwaffe sent them to the bottom of the Mediterranean.
My father died in 1981 from a brain tumor. In his final days, and in less lucid moments, he thought he was back in Malta, in Valetta hospital. Seeing the fear in his eyes and listening to his traumatic words it became crystal clear to me why he would not talk about those times. It wasn't so much that he wouldn't, but he just couldn't - it was far too painful for him.
As a young boy, on Remembrance Sundays I would hold his hand, and look up to see tears running down his cheeks - the only time I recall Dad ever crying. Now it is me that attends every Remembrance Day Service at the local war memorial, proudly wearing my father's medals alongside my own - and it is down my cheeks that tears now fall.
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