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15 October 2014
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Fred's Journey: Part 5: The last leg back to England

by Brighton CSV Media Clubhouse

Contributed by 
Brighton CSV Media Clubhouse
People in story: 
Fred Neale, Les Hughes, Mary Neale
Location of story: 
Crossing Atlantic Ocean to England
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 September 2004

Fred Neale and Les Hughes, from No 36 Squadron are Reunited at Shoreham Airport. September late 1970's (image reproduced by kind permission of the Shoreham Herald)

When we boarded the ship, ‘Isle de France’, that was to take us back to Southampton, it was full. In the restaurant there, they served us rice! Three and a half years on rice as POW! It was the last thing we wanted! We rioted and the Captain came down. “WE DON’T WANT RICE.” We shouted! “O.K.” he agreed, so we went back to our bunks. Next egg and bacon arrived - the smell and the taste were great, but we could not keep it down. Our stomachs I reckoned were as small as golf balls.

We eventually got back to Southampton. What a difference! It was poverty back to poverty; people were still getting over the war. We got into these coaches and after those Pullmans, well! We could not move it was so claustrophobic! What a difference! The train took us up to Birmingham to RAF Cosford camp; it went straight by my back garden! I could have gotten out there on the steep bank. We were interrogated at the camp and we asked what countries have you been to? We were given twenty-five pounds I think, and put back on a train back to Birmingham. Although promised cars at Birmingham central train station they were not there we arrive - it turned out to be election night when the Labour got in!

I had five kit bags and it was pitch black. I got off at the Bullring in Birmingham; it was just like it was when I used to work. The buss stopped, “Get on or not?” said the buss conductress “Make your mind up!” She did help get the kit bags on though. I could not sit down, the conductress asked me to, but I replied that I had been on a Jape camp for three and a half years and was worried as I was on my way to see my parents.

I got my kit bags halfway home after I got off the buss and there was a girl swinging on the gate. It was my young sister; she was a tall girl now. I remembered her as a two and a half when my mother and I evacuated them to Wales. “Its my Brother - FRED. Its FRED!” She dashed inside, and they all came out. Kit bags were recovered for me. “Are you alright?” my father said. “Yes” I replied, “I have not lost one like you, but I will have to go to Cosworth hospital later”, and then I fell asleep.

The pain was terrible. The hospital sent for me when they had a bed for me. I woke one day and looked up and saw this marble column in front of me - it was my arm in plaster! I was sent on sick leave again. I wanted to make my career in the Royal Air Force. I then went to a hospital near Swindon. It felt very warm my arm, the sister and I smelt the arm - it had burst open the stitches, and the blood had congealed into the plaster cast. Oh, dear! They put a wire case round it and they gave me thirty percent lift. There is no feeling there, as it’s a metal elbow joint. Slowly I got movement into it. It is all a bonus!

At Shoreham Airport many years later, I re-met Huw (Les Hughes) the electrician on my plane who escaped with me from Singapore, Sumatra and to Java. Although we split up after the tugboat - he went to the mainland and I went into the docks. He is chair of the Bognor P.O.W.S. We speak on the phone occasionally and I also go to the Seletar national reunions.

After hospital Fred visited his old firm in Birmingham from 1946 to 1947, where the owners had kept his workbench and tools ready for his return from hostilities. Then after 1948, Fred opened up a silver workshop in Brighton, and some years later he and his wife, Mary, ran her Music Shop. In 1997 they retired from the Music Shop in Queens Road, Brighton. The Music Shop has many happy memoirs for the musicians of Brighton and Hove even to this day.

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Royal Air Force Category
Prisoners of War Category
Birmingham and West Midlands Category
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