- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr E Robb
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 December 2005
"This story was submitted to the People's War site by CSV/BBC Radio Nottingham on behalf of Mr E Robb with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions"
I was born on 14th December 1925, and prior to conscription, was called for a medical check at Mansfield on 12th October 1943. Having passed, I returned to Newark to await call up. As I had applied to join the R.A.F. as Air Crew, I had to attend an assessment course for a day at Birmingham. The outcome was an offer to train as an Air Gunner, which I declined.
On my 18th birthday my call up arrived, directing me to travel to Cardington, for 12 weeks training. Part of this was done in the old R101 airship hanger. After passing out, my first posting was to North Coates. Whilst there, I attended a refresher course, and recall going on a nearby beach for target practice with twin Browning guns (as fitted to Spitfire Fighters). Three German fighter-bombers came in, very low over the sea, but they ignored us and headed inland. That night, lots of incendiary bombs were dropped, along with large amounts of silver strips, these were to disrupt the radar system.
My next posting was to Ballykelly, Northern Ireland. This was coastal command, with the aircraft hunting German submarines. Later, all the squadron moved to Reykjavik in Iceland, but I was posted overseas. This meant a journey to Blackpool for kitting out, and a wait for instructions! A week later we were put on the train (with doors locked). We arrived at Liverpool and were taken to Albert Docks by lorry. Today was my 19th birthday. We boarded the “Queen of Bermuda” and quickly moved out to sea, where we joined a very large convoy.
It was then a case of guess where we were going as they didn’t tell you. The Svel canal is 108 miles long, but half way the ship developed a list. Divers were sent down to check, but we carried on. This was to India. The whole journey took about a month. We arrived offshore at Bombay, but couldn’t disembark until the next day.
A lorry took us to Worli transit camp. It was now time for more medical checks. The Doctor queried my spleen, and wished to know why I was so yellow. This was due to taking the anti-malaria drug Mepacrin. Later, we were given more kit, our pith helmets and rifles were exchanged for Australian-type bush hats and Sten guns.
My next posting was to 358 Squadron at Jessore. This was situated in Bengal (now Bangladesh). They operated American “Liberator” Bombers, which were used to drop supplies in Burma.
On V.J. day on the 23rd August 1945, we were given a special dinner, served by Officers. In October 1945, the whole squadron moved to Bishnapur, and all flew down in the “Liberators”. We again had a special dinner at Exmas. Prior to this, I had the opportunity to visit the Hill Station at Shillong in Assam for a week’s rest. This meant a long journey up the mountains, with just room for one vehicle at a time, with a very long drop. It was much colder and drizzly up there. I cannot recall dates, but I also spent time in Calcutta and Madras.
My next stop was at “Changi” Singapore, where the notorious prison camp was situated. However, it was now full of Japanese prisoners, who were captured at the fall of Singapore. Another time I was camped right in the centre of a rubber plantation in Malaysia. In every direction there were hundreds of rubber trees, still wired up with little containers to catch the rubber.
In April 1946, I was posted to 37 Staging Post. This transpired to be in “Sumatra” (Dutch East Indies). I travelled by sea. We were a very small party of R.A.F. personnel supported by the Indian Army, but they were soon replaced by a party of Ghurkas. Our job was to maintain security of the airstrip built by Australian prisoners of the Japanese. It was said that lots of Japanese soldiers were hiding in the jungle here after the fall of Singapore. When we were on guard at night, they would often call out “Johnny! Johnny!”
On one occasion here, whilst having dinner, there was a very bad earth tremor. We jumped out of the window, but couldn’t stand upright, but no damage was done. After several months, we went back by sea, to Seletar, Singapore. I remained here until my repatriation to the UK was due. On 16th June 1947 I boarded a Dutch ship, “Johan Van Oldenbarnaveldt”.
We docked at Southampton mid-July 1947. After disembarking we were met by the Red Cross with hot drinks and sandwiches, after which we boarded the train for Lytham St. Anne’s. I recall all the people going alongside the rail track, waving as we sped by.
At Lytham we were fitted up with civilian clothing, discharge papers and a rail pass to Newark. I arrived at Nottingham Midland station at midnight, so went for a walk before catching the Milk train. I arrived at Newark early morning, so walked home, let myself in quietly and promptly fell asleep.
My journey was over. I received £37-17-6 gratuity money, a card for good service signed by Louis Moontbatten, and 3 medals, including the Silver General Service medal and bar, which was awarded for special service in Sumatra.
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