- Contributed by
- Wymondham Learning Centre
- People in story:
- William (Bill) Hemming
- Location of story:
- UK, Canada, USA, Germany
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 18 March 2005
Bill Hemming in Moosejaw, Canada...with a moose
This story was submitted to the BBC People’s War site by Wymondham Learning Centre About links on behalf of William Hemming and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was an accountant in Evesham, Worcestershire when I joined the Royal Air Force in June, 1938. I wanted to be a pilot, but I couldn’t because I’m colour blind.
“We’re desperate for accountants,” I was told. So I signed on for nine years and became an accountant in the RAF.
Up to September 1938 I was based at Felixstowe. In October I was sent to Scotland and spent six months in Glasgow, then a brief posting to Shropshire and in January 1939 my unit was sent to Canada. In Canada I was based at Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, a pilot training base for the Canadian and the Royal Air Forces. I stayed in Moosejaw for about a year and a half. I remember they had an indoor swimming pool at the base and I was a keen swimmer.
In May 1942 I was posted to Alabama USA and attached to the US Air Force for a year.
When I was posted back to Canada at the end of the year I had a fair bit of accumulated leave, and took a roundabout route by train via New Orleans and Chicago, spending about four days in each place. In Chicago I came across some Canadians who said they were always pleased to see chaps from the UK and showed me their hospitality by taking me on a tour of the Chicago strip joints.
I was posted back to the UK in May 1943, to a fighter pilot station in Dorset, and for the first time I saw the effects of the war on the ground. We were being attacked by German bombers and spent a lot of time in bomb shelters. At one point I was sent to London for a few days and found myself in the street at night during a heavy bombing raid. I had no idea where to go and found a shelter by sheer luck. I was put up in a top floor room in a house and again by sheer luck the bombs missed it, hitting the houses on either side.
I had a brief posting to Cairo in Egypt in September 1943. That was probably the most enjoyable posting, but it was brief. Later I was posted to Europe and eventually to one of the big northern cities in Germany. Conditions were bad. I arrived by train and emerged from the station to see total carnage. I saw what had once been a beautiful streets in ruins. The place had been bombed to destruction. Everyone had fled. You couldn’t live there. It was when I was based there I started to think about the war. All this destruction caused by American and British planes. Why? It seemed useless.
I stayed on in the RAF after the war, leaving with the rank of Flight Sergeant, the top rank available to non-commissioned officers at the time. In 1954 I was based in Germany again, and while I was there the Sergeant’s held a ball, and invited some of the German girls. I saw a girl across the room, and I thought she was the most marvellous woman I’d ever seen. The most perfect thing. She was upper class. I was incredibly lucky to have met her. I married her, and brought her back to England.
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