- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Dennis Vince
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 July 2004
Part 2 - One Youth at War
My mother met me off the train at Waterloo and we went home together to our new flat. With only my parents and
my eldest sister living at home in a four bedroomed flat I had a bed and a room of my own for the first time in my
life. Apart from the four bedrooms each having a bed and sharing chests of drawers, the only other furniture was the
kitchen table and chairs in the living room, so additional furniture became a must. Finances, however, were even
more difficult than before because my parents had to pay the Government for the upkeep of their evacuated children
(there were no family allowances ). By returning home I had reduced that payment but now, at 15 years of age, I had
to find a job as quickly as possible after Christmas but, first, I needed a new pair of trousers and a jacket.
I cannot remember much about that first wartime Christmas. I met our new neighbours, all of whom had recently
moved in like ourselves, but there were no boys of my own age and my school friends were still in Devon. Our flat
was on the first floor overlooking a small, but pleasant, public garden which separated us from the busy New Kent
After Christmas, armed with my R.S.A. Certificates for book-keeping, typing and shorthand, and with the optimism
of youth, I set out for the Employment Exchange in the City of London. I was lucky and quickly obtained a post of
Junior Clerk with a firm of wholesale provision merchants who had their offices, shop, stores and bacon curing
ovens in Smithfield Market. They worked a five and a half day week, 8.30am to 5pm (12.30pm on Saturdays) and
my wages were £1 per week, of which I gave half to my mother. My half had to cover 5 lunches in a cafe (9d per
day), 6 return bus fares (2d per day), haircuts, clothes and entertainment.
I had never owned a bicycle so my first purchase, after saving the Hire Purchase deposit, was a three speed bicycle.
The Hire Purchase repayments were three shillngs and sixpence per week for one year. However, by cycling to and
from work I saved my daily bus fares.
At work my duties were similar to office juniors everywhere - keeping the stamp and post book, sorting and
distributing incomimg mail, attending to visitors etc. There was one highlight every day - the bank run, and it was a
run because our cashier, who received all incoming cheques and the cash from transactions in the shop, could not
adjust his daily routine to the newly revised wartime banking hours, which brought forward bank closing hours by
one hour. He was always late cashing up and had to telephone the bank every day to apologize. So I always arrived
after the bank had closed its doors and had to knock to be let in. Furthermore he never faced up his £1 and 10
shilling notes in proper order much to the annoyance of the bank staff.
The company did not have a bag or case in which to carry the money and cheques so I had to stuff four or five
bundles of notes, each containing £100, and a few odd ones, into the pockets of my jacket together with cheques and
paying in book.
Another daily trip out of the office was for the delivery of local mail, in order to save postage, and, when the cost of
postage increased from one and a half pence to two and a half pence, I had to deliver mail to various importers in the
Tooley Street area running between Tower Bridge and London Bridge south of the Thames. Unfortunately this latter
task did not last long as it took me 2 to 3 hours but it was very interesting, while it lasted, visiting so many different
types of premises, including wharves where large vessels were tied up, and I soon knew my way around the City and
the Upper Docks.
No longer a member of the Choir and with no meetings of the Boys Brigade, I spent my weekends watching
football, going to the cinema with my eldest sister and riding my bicycle into the countryside. An aunt and uncle had
moved to Worthing on the Sussex coast and I cycled there on occasions but my favourite was Box Hill in Surrey,
with its wonderful views, and Kenley airfield to see the fighter aircraft take off and land - this was before the Battle
Then the Battle started. In Smithfield Market, with its large expanse of glass roofing, we took shelter in the cellars
when the air raid sirens sounded during working hours, but this routine did not last for long. Not only was it very
cold down there but no bombs were falling to start with and time was wasted so, when the alert sounded, one of we
younger males would climb up onto the roof with a whistle to give warning if any attack appeared. The roof was an
excellent vantage point from which to see our fighters in action high in the sky and I cannot recall a bomb falling in
the vicinity of the market during office hours.
Towards the end of August 1940 I decided to enrol for a twice weekly evening class on economics at the
Kennington Evening Institute, although the classes were to be disrupted by air raids many times during the autumn
and winter 1940/41.
The first air raid which came close to our home occurred on a Saturday afternoon in September. We were on a
balcony in the flats watching vapour trails high up in the sky when BANG and we were all flat on our backs. A
bomb had landed and destroyed a number of terraced houses less than 100 yards away. It was then that I decided to
join the Royal Air Force in order to hit back. However, at the Recruiting Office I was told that they did not accept 16
year olds into aircrew and suggested that I waited a little longer but, in the meanwhile, why not join the Air Defence
Cadet Corps ( the forerunner of the Air Training Corps) to meet other lads who were interested in joining the R.A.F.
So I became a member of the Lambeth squadron of the ADCC with its HQ in Brixton and my weekly pattern of life
after work became two evenings at Evening Classes, two evenings and Sunday mornings at the ADCC ( later the Air
Training Corps), one evening at the cinema and two evenings at home. All these activities, however, were subject to
interruption by air raid alerts which, in late 1940 and early 1941, seemed to occur almost every night.
One of the more frightening aspects of these air raids, known as the London Blitz, was the noise. Anti-Aircraft guns
barked away and their shells exploded in the air, aircraft engines roared, bombs whistled on their way down and
made loud explosions on landing, buildings collapsed amid a roar of falling bricks etc. and emergency vehicles
sounded their bells. The combined noise was frightening enough but, in addition, there was the added fear that the
next moment might be your last (at the age of 16).
We saw, from our balcony one night, St. Paul’s Cathedral silhouetted against a background of fire when the City was
attacked with fire bombs. The area around the Elephant & Castle also became a target with flames from one side of a
street leaping across to the other side as the paintwork on shop fronts caught fire and many buildings were gutted.
Our block of flats received a direct hit which severely damaged the roof and top floors. Damage to the lower level
flats, including ours, was confined to broken windows. In fact, during the Blitz, we lost our windows and curtains on
Getting to work on time frequently became very difficult with streets cordoned off and fire hoses lying across roads,
but my bicycle was a great asset as I could carry it over or around obstacles. However, morale generally was good. I
would lie in bed listening to the singing as the local pub closed for the night and people would make every effort to
get to work every day.
So 1940 turned into 1941 and another year started on its way. I asked for, and obtained, a rise of ten shillings per
week in my wages (it was granted immediately and I realised that I should have asked before) and I became the
assistant to the cashier (Mr. Crow) in the downstairs market office receiving cheques and cash from customers and
keeping the Day Book. There were in fact two Day Books, one entitled MWF (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays)
and the other TTS (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays). Entries were made in the Day Books for all cash and
cheques received and they had to balance daily with the bank paying-in book.The three ledger clerks in the upstairs
office posted all the items the following day when we used the second book in the downstairs office. A simple but
effective system because any mistakes would show themselves by the following day.
With the Hire Purchase repayments on my bicycle completed, I purchased my first packet of 10 cigarettes on my
17th birthday and smoked one or two cigarettes a day. I only made further purchases when I could afford it, which
was not very often.
No. 50F (Lambeth) Squadron Air Training Corps (ATC for short) attracted many lads and became far too large so a
number of us were formed into the nucleus of a new squadron (No. 1328) with our HQ in a large converted house
(possibly an old vicarage) in Stockwell (midway between the Elephant & Castle and Clapham Common). I was
promoted to Corporal then to Sergeant and, on a Sunday in late spring, we made the first of many visits to RAF
Biggin Hill, a fighter station, for air experience flights in a Miles Majister two seater aircraft.
I expect everyone’s first flight is an unforgettable experience but there are not many young lads who had their first
flight from an operational fighter airfield near to London in wartime with an American pilot from the Eagle
Squadron. (The U.S.A. were not at war in early 1941 and the pilots of the Eagle Squadron wore RAF uniforms).
Our ATC evening training sessions included lessons in navigation and wireless operating with drill parades or
Church parades on Sunday mornings. Also, on Saturday afternoons during the summer of 1941, I took part in many
athletic meetings after I discovered, to my surprise, that I could show a clean pair of heels in a sprint. I was a fairly
well built lad and it was at one of these athletic meetings that an ATC officer, who had a connection with Blackheath
Rugby Club, asked me if I played rugby. When I said “No” he offered me the opportunity to attend training sessions
with the rugby club, which I did, and before the end of the year I was playing rugby regularly as a Wing Threequarter
on Saturday afternoons, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I also learnt to box and to drink beer.
My grandmother died in 1941. She had not been in hospital for very long and I was only able to visit her there on
two occasions. On my second visit I wore my ATC uniform, she very much appreciated this (remember that
grandfather has been a regular soldier) and said that she was pleased that I was doing my bit. My father’s links to his
younger days were now reduced to just his younger sister.
About this time I learnt to dance and paid frequent visits on Saturday evenings to the Locano ballroom in Streatham
where there were sufficient unattached girls wanting partners not to need a regular girlfriend. The dance floor was
sprung and two bands, using a revolving stage, provided continuous music. The whole atmosphere was superior to
the normal local hop.
It was also about this time that my father asked me if I would like to do a Fire Watching shift on alternate Saturday
nights at the premises where he worked. (On the Saturdays when I was not there the Foreman’s son would do it). My
father and the foreman were the other two regular members of the three man shift. (All owners of large premises had
a Fire Watching team on duty after normal working hours every day to put out fires caused by incendiary bombs
etc.). Dad’s firm’s premises (a book-binders, full of paper etc.) were adjacent to London Bridge railway station and
to Hays Wharf on the river Thames - all in all a perfect target for bombers sandwiched between a large railway
station and a river.
My father and the foreman took over the shift at 6pm but they allowed me to go dancing provided I reported by
midnight. They also allowed me to sleep on a camp bed all night until we went off duty at 6am, whilst they took it in
turns to stay awake. For this duty we were each paid six shillings and eight pence. Saturdays then became very full
days with being at work in Smithfield in the morning, playing rugby in the afternoon, dancing in the evenings and
fire watching duties at night.
After a good Sunday breakfast at home I cycled to the Sunday morning ATC meeting.
So into 1942, the year in which I would be 18 and, by the year’s end, I would probably be in the RAF. I asked for,
and obtained, a further ten shillings rise in my wages to bring them to £2 per week (£1 each to my mother and
myself). There was also the 6/8d every two weeks for firewatching at my father’s firm. My duties at work were not
difficult. I knew all of our customers, who were mostly small shopkeepers with one or two shops and caterers of all
sizes from large West End hotels to coffee shops. (As wholesale provision merchants the company sold bacon,
poultry, eggs, butter, cheese, margarine and all types of canned meats, vegetables and fruit.) Customers had to
register with us in accordance with rationing regulations and most of them paid at least one visit each week to the
market to select their purchases.
On my 18th birthday I visited the Recruiting Centre and applied to join the RAF as a member of aircrew. After a
brief medical I was told that I would be contacted within a few weeks.
In the ATC I was promoted to Flight Sergeant; I continued to enjoy playing rugby and managed to score at least one
try every game; and in the early months of the year I won my first boxing medal, as a middleweight, by knocking out
my opponent in the second round with a right hook. The local paper ( South London Press) had a write-up about me
and one of my uncles was so thrilled when he read it that he gave me a gold ring. Furthermore, the other winners and
myself were called onto the stage of the Brixton Theatre during an evening performance to be given a round of
applause. Furthermore, during the summer months I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in sprint races at athletic
meetings and winning a few trophies.
ATC summer camp was held at RAF Upavon, Wiltshire where Sgt. Freddie Mills (a professional boxing champion)
was stationed and I watched some of his daily training sessions. My “friends” told him that I boxed as an amateur so
he invited me into the ring for a short sparring session. We both wore 16 oz. gloves and I led with my left in the
approved fashion but every time I hit him he grinned, then he gave me a cuff round the ear which knocked me
sideways. We continued sparring but the cuff round the ear was enough to warn me that I should be very circumspect
as to whom I go into a ring with in future.
During that camp we had many air experience flights and, for the first time, I took over the controls of an Anson
aircraft. I also experienced my first taste of cider from the barrel in a local pub.
The OHMS envelope arrived at last and the letter inside instructed me to report to RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire in
late August for aircrew selection tests and a medical examination. I was required to take my overnight things as I
would be there for 3 days.
The medical examination was very thorough and we were passed from one specialist to another. There were also
written psychological tests and numerous other tests. The end result being that I was accepted for training as a pilot
or navigator, given a number (1628035), required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown, given an RAFVR
badge to wear and sent home on indefinite (unpaid) leave to continue with my civilian job until called for aircrew
training but, in the meanwhile, authorised to wear a white flash on my ATC cap to denote that I have been accepted
for aircrew training.
My employer did not take too kindly to the fact that I might disappear into the RAF at any time (the lower age for
conscription at that time was 19 and he thought that, as I was only 18, I would be with him for another year). So,
when one of the ledger clerks at the higher end of the conscription age bracket was called up, a woman was
appointed direct from the Employment Exchange to take over his ledger. Ledger clerks were paid more than me and
I had expected to be offered the job, so I asked to see the boss. When he told me his reasons I was so furious that I
handed in my notice and immediately obtained a job as an accounts clerk at the HQ of the Navy, Army & Air Forces
Institute (NAAFI for short) in Kennington at the same salary. My task was to check the quarterly account books sent
in by a number of NAAFI canteens in the Eastern region. There was a big difference in the working environment
between my previous job and the NAAFI, which employed many accounts clerks, both male and female, furthermore
there were canteen facilities and a sports and social club, with dancing on Saturday evenings.
I had previously gone to the Locano in Streatham on Saturday evenings to attend dances but now I started to go to
the NAAFI dances in Kennington, within walking distance of home. The majority of those attending the NAAFI
dances were colleagues I worked with and also the daughters of the older members of staff. I was 18 years old and a
reasonable dancer ( I no longer trod on my partner’s toes) and I knew most of the girls so although I tried to play the
field, attachments were made for short periods but not long enough for me to be pinned down to letter writing etc.
once I was called for aircrew training.
As the NAAFI HQ staff grew in number, additional premises were taken over and I was transferred to new offices in
Brixton which had previously been a large furniture shop. Once again there was a staff canteen and a table tennis
room which made Firewatching duties fairly pleasant occasions and, in addition to receiving a small payment for
these duties, we were also given a good cooked breakfast. Only males did Firewatching duties but all staff were
allowed the use of the table tennis room after office hours.
I continued to play rugby on Saturday afternoons during the 1942/43 season and to box. Furthermore, at our ATC
squadron HQ we established an N.C.O’s room which we N.C.Os (I was a Flight Sergeant) were allowed to use every
evening and a benefactor gave us a half size billiard table. Past members of the squadron, who were now in the RAF,
visited our N.C.Os. room to consume the odd glass of beer.
So into 1943 with the expectation that I would soon be called for aircrew training although some of my friends had
been waiting much longer than me. NAAFI gave me a rise in pay and I was able to enjoy life.
The winter months slipped by together with my 19th birthday in May and, with the money given to me then, I
purchased a Dunlop Blue Flash tennis racket. Once again, during the spring and early summer, I competed in sprint
events at many athletic meetings, one of which still stands out in my memory for, after competing in the individual
sprint races (100 and 220 yards) and the two sprint relay races, I was told, as the team captain, that one of our
members in the 4 x 440 yards relay event had strained himself and could not compete again that day. We had no
reserve 440 yards runner, and as we had a good chance of winning the overall team prize, I decided to take the place
of our injured member. I told the other three members that I would run the last leg and, if we were in the lead at the
changeover, I would do my best to hold it. They ran their hearts out and the third runner handed over a lead to me,
so I was off like a bomb to discourage the other runners and, although I was slowing down a bit at the end, we did
win the race and the overall team prize. Whereupon my team hoisted me onto their shoulders and chaired me to the
dressing room. This spontaneous action by them made me very proud.
We had our ATC camp at RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire and the RAF Officer in charge of the camp was Flt. Lt.
Bernard Joy, a player with Arsenal Football Club. As a cadet Flight Sergeant I was given about 50 cadets to look
after and we did the usual things one does at camp including flying.
At long last my instructions arrived to report the Aircrew Reception Centre at Lords Cricket Ground on Monday 2nd
August 1943 - about a year after I had been accepted for aircrew training at RAF Cardington but, as I was to find out
later, this was the usual length of delay. So I was on my way to be able to hit back after being dumped on my back by
a bomb blast almost three years before.
No. 1628035 Aircraftsman 2nd Class (A.C.2 for short) Dennis George Vince , Aircrafthand General Duties
(ACH/GD ) reported, along with two or three hundred others, to the Aircrew Reception Centre at Lords Cricket
Ground on August Bank Holiday Monday 1943.
We were accommodated in small cell like rooms in what had been, before the war, luxury flats but were now
crammed with two tier bunk beds, some positioned over windows, and we had our meals in one of the London Zoo
refreshment rooms. During the next two weeks we had further medical examinations and other tests, were inoculated
several times, kitted out with our uniforms, subjected to a service style haircut and instructed in basic drill. In
addition we were warned of sexual diseases and shown a film about the same. I suppose this was necessary but I am
sure that over 90% of us had yet to have experience of such matters although a few did brag about their conquests.
Our rate of pay was 2/6d per day ( twelve and a half pence in new money) but, at my mother’s request, I had 1/- per
day deducted and sent to her as a weekly allowance. That left me with 10/6d (just over 50p) per week that was
given to me at the weekly pay parade which, with two or three hundred airmen, took hours and went as follows :-
“Sir, 035” (the last three figures of my number)
“Ten shillings and sixpence”
Smart step forward and salute
Gather up money, salute again and march away with 10/6 to last a week for cigarettes, tea, cakes, haircuts, shoe
polish, writing paper, stamps, soap, toothpaste etc.
Young airmen under training did not have the time or money to get into trouble. We were always broke long before
Fom Lords to the seaside for initial training in basic skills. I, with about 60 others, entrained for Paignton, Devon
where we were accommodated in a number of small hotels, facing the promenade, which the RAF had taken over. A
large country mansion with its outbuildings, which included an indoor swimming pool, was used as a Training
Centre. Drill parades were held on the promenade and weapon training on the grass between the hotels and the
promenade. This was a period during the war of sneak raids by enemy fighter aircraft flying from France at wave top
height to attack coastal towns,so, during drill parades, sentries with whistles were posted on the wall of the
promenade to give warning of such attacks.
The senior physical training instructor, Flight Sergeant “Chang” Warner was a tough nut whose ambition, so it
seemed, was to prove to us how unfit we were but, like the majority of young men, we were very competitive and
nobody wanted to be the first to drop out or fail to perform a test. One of which was to jump into the swimming pool
from the 14 feet diving board wearing flying kit, put right an upturned dingy and climb into it. I was not, and am still
not, a very good swimmer and would have been more than happy to have avoided such a test but I duly jumped in
clothed in flying kit, sat on the bottom of the pool, came up spluttering and climbed into the dingy after righting it.
One afternoon each week we played team games - soccer, rugby etc.
In addition to basic training in drill, weapons, P.T. etc. we also had classes in navigation, the theory of flight and
other flying matters and there were Church Parades on Sundays. The weeks passed very quickly and in November,
with the course completed, we were given our first leave with instructions to report to the Aircrew Dispatch Centre at
Heaton Park, Manchester at the end of our leave.
I arrived home for the first time in my RAF uniform with all my kit and duly made the rounds of relations and friends
to the time honoured greeting of “Hello, nice to see you, you are looking well, when are you going back ?”
November 1943, Heaton Park, Manchester. The first of many visits I was to make to this RAF Station during the
next eighteen months. This Manchester park had been taken over by the RAF and was used as a holding unit between
courses for trainee aircrew and it was from there that we were posted to other training camps in the UK or formed
into drafts for overseas training in Canada, South Africa and America. My next training school was to be a “Grading
School” where I would receive 12 hours instruction in flying a Tiger Moth in order to assess my potential
capabilities as a pilot. However, for two or three evenings I was able to sample the ample entertainment available to
servicemen in central Manchester with its many cinemas, pubs, clubs and theatre.
With twenty or so other aircrew cadets I travelled from Manchester to Fairoaks airfield near Ascot and from there to
an outlying airstrip near the village of Winkfield. The airfield was nothing more than a large field which had been
part of a farm with newly erected accommodation huts, an ablution block, a kitchen and dining room, a Flight hut, a
hangar and a small guardroom at the entrance. The Flight Commander and the other flying instructors lived at
Fairoaks and travelled daily. The only people living on site were two service policemen, two cooks and we aircrew
cadets who, in addition to learning to fly, carried out all the everyday administrative tasks such as sweeping up,
preparing vegetables for cooking, lighting and maintaining the coke boiler for the ablutions and the coke fires in the
huts and, also, mounting guard at night.
One of the Corporal policeman took the morning roll call before the Flight Commander arrived and gave out any
notices. One day he said, “I have some free tickets for a dance in the village hall tonight. Who hasn’t got any
money ?” Six hands are raised, including mine. “Right then”, said the policeman, “You won’t be able to buy any
beer will you ? So you can do guard duty and the rest can go to the dance”. Lesson 1 - Never volunteer.
We stayed at Winkfield for about 4 weeks, including the Christmas period, in order for each of us to complete 12
hours flying instruction in Tiger Moth aircraft. These are ( they are still flying) small single engine bi-planes with
two open cockpits, one behind the other, the minimum of instruments and controls and with voice communication by
speaking tube. We dressed in flying overalls, gloves and helmets and carried parachutes which doubled as seat
In addition to the Winkfield strip we used a large grass area in Great Windsor Park ( known as Smiths Lawn) to
practice take offs and landings. However, it did not take me long to find out that I was a poor judge of height having
almost removed the chimney of the flight hut when taking off and attempting to land from twelve feet up on several
occasions. It was therefore no surprise to me that, on our return to Heaton Park from Winkfield, I was informed that
my future training would be as a Navigator/Wireless for combined navigation and wireless flying duties in aircraft
manned by two aircrew ( pilot and navigator) such as Mosquitos and Beaufighters. I was promoted to AC1 and my
pay, which included extra money for flying duties, increased to 7/9d per day.
My next course was to be a five months wireless course at No. 1 Radio School, Cranwell, Lincolnshire followed by a
navigation course overseas.
The RAF is always very thorough in its training and we started from scratch with the basic laws of electricity
onwards to the end result when we could carry out small running repairs to wireless equipment during flight, receive
and send Morse code at 18 words per minute under adverse conditions, obtain “fixes” using transmissions from fixed
radio beacons and use an Aldis lamp for transmitting Morse by light. I spent many hours in the air firstly in twin
engined bi-planes which were flying classrooms with an instructor and then in single engined aircraft with just a pilot
and myself sitting side by side. I was airborne in one of these aircraft on D Day 1944 when there was a tremendous
amount of wireless traffic to be heard.
We used two types of aerials. A fixed one on top of the aircraft and a trailing one, with a lead weight on the end,
which we had to reel out when airborne and reel in again before landing. If anyone forgot to reel in the aerial before
landing it would snag on trees and fences on the landing approach run and break off. That would cost you the price
of a new trailing aerial.
Cranwell was a large RAF Station with several airmen’s messes, a large NAAFI, a Sally Anne ( Salvation Army
Canteen) and a variety of places of entertainment including a cinema. However, of the ten or so RAF Stations on
which I served during the war, the food in our aircrew cadets mess was by far the worst I had, and have, ever tasted;
and the thought of liver cooked to resemble leather and macaroni cooked in water and served as a pudding with just
a dash of cold milk on top has put me off eating either of then again. One happy result of the poor food was that my
mother sent me food parcels containing home made cakes and fruit pies which I shared with my friends.
Our barrack block was adjacent to the Aircraft Apprentices barrack block and raids on each other’s rooms took place
after lights out and when the blackout screens had been removed and windows opened.. The attackers would jump in
through the opened windows on the ground floor and overturn beds etc. All good clean fun.
After lunch on Sundays we often visited Lincoln as tourists and have tea in a cafe near the Cathedral. On one visit,
with three of my friends, we met four girls of about the same age as ourselves who had just arrived in Lincoln as part
of a theatre touring company for a week’s booking in the local theatre. They were in the chorus and they suggested
that we attend the show the following Saturday evening, go backstage afterwards and then go out for a meal together.
So, the following Saturday we went back into Lincoln, saw the show, then walked, rather adventurously, round to the
stage door to find that we were expected and shown, by the doorkeeper, to the chorus’s dressing room. Although we
did not know what to expect when we knocked on the door and entered the dressing room, we were totally
unprepared to find ten to twelve young girls naked from the waist up and with smiles on their faces. No further
During our five months at Cranwell we members of the signals course got to know one another very well and, in the
barrack room in the evenings we would talk and scrap ( nothing serious) like any other collection of young men. The
majority were grammar school boys who were Conservative or Liberal in their politics. I was one of the small
minority who did not go to grammar school and, in addition, was a supporter of the Labour Party, so we argued,
discussed and compromised.
We returned to Heaton Park, Manchester in June 1944 as qualified signallers and were told that we would shortly be
departing overseas for our navigation course. In the meanwhile, we had to attend two mustering parades daily. As
soon as we had eaten our evening meal we were off every evening to savour the delights of Manchester; cinemas, the
theatre, dance halls, the NAAFI Club, the YMCA Club and the many pubs. The days, however, went into weeks as
the whole training programme for Navigator/Wireless cadets slowed down and those cadets who were on courses
after us at Cranwell joined us at Heaton Park. All of us waiting, and wanting, to attend a navigation course.
As the weeks went by we all got to know the local girls, who had plenty of money doing war work, and they used to
pay to take us to the cinema etc., and their fathers would buy us beer. However, all good things must come to an end
and, to reduce the ever increasing numbers at Heaton Park, we were sent on detachment to operational bomber
airfields all over the eastern part of England to gain flying experience and to make ourselves generally useful. So I
came to find myself at Little Staunton, near St.Neots, which was a Pathfinder Force bomber station and where, in
addition to almost daily trips on test flights in Lancasters following their servicing or repair, we worked in the bomb
bay assisting with the bombing up of aircraft before they flew off on raids.
By the end of December 1944, six months had elapsed since we had qualified as signallers, so back to Cranwell for a
three weeks refresher course, during which we increased our Morse speed from 18 words a minute to 24 words a
minute. Then back to Heaton Park, but still no sign of a navigation course so off to another flying station for more
flight experience. This time I was detached to RAF Warboys, near Huntingdon and, once again, flew on test flights
in Lancasters. I also played many games of rugby on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
After Warboys there was another short stay at Heaton Park before yet a third period of detachment. However,
between courses, detachments and short stays at Heaton Park we were always given leave and I invariably went
home to London where I was able to enjoy all the entertainment available to servicemen in the big city for, since my
increase in pay after Grading School, I had a reasonable amount of money to spend.
There were many clubs in London catering for servicemen, my favourite being the Nuffield Club, just off Leicester
Square, in which locality the majority of West End cinemas were situated together with theatres. I patronised all
these cinemas at one time or another during my various periods of leave in 1944 and early 1945 when the V1 and V2
raids on London were at their height. Air raid alerts and all clears were flashed onto cinema screens during
performances but the vast majority of audiences remained in their seats throughout raids.
The sound of a V1 when at home or in the street, however, was treated differently. One listened to the sound of its
engine and, if the noise of the engine suddenly stopped, then people hurried to get under some sort of cover
immediately because the V1 was about to dive and explode on the ground. With V2 rockets there was no prior
warning, just a large explosion on the ground.
On Saturday afternoons, during my periods of leave, I watched a football match at Highbury or White Hart Lane and,
in the evenings I went dancing at the Locano, Streatham where I often met one or more of my old friends.
So then to a third period of detachment, this time to Mildenhall, Suffolk where we arrived in late April in time to
celebrate my 21st birthday on 3rd May and then, within days, to celebrate VE Day, signifying the end of the war in
Europe. After the latter celebrations I took stock of my personal situation. It would be doubtful, I thought, if our
navigation course, for which we had been waiting for eleven months, would ever now take place and, although the
war was still being fought in the Far East, I doubted that I would be directly involved there. I was 21 years of age,
poorly qualified and without a job to return to when demobilisation came. So what did I want to do and how should I
go about it ?
My civilian experience was limited to office work and, as the top office job was Company Secretary, I decided that
would be my aim. So I joined the Chartered Institute of Secretaries as a student and I paid for a correspondence
course in the subjects I would be required to pass in the examinations to become a fully qualified member of the
Institute. From then on the majority of my evenings, and some of my days, were spent in study but I also had many
daytime trips in Lancasters flying over Holland, large parts of which were flooded, and Germany to view the
damage. My sporting activities were negligible and had been since I left Warboys.
Come July, we received orders to return to Heaton Park where, after being told officially that we were now
redundant aircrew, we travelled to RAF Eastchurch in Kent to be remustered to ground trades. This journey to
Eastchurch was a sad one. Many of us had been together for 18 months on the same courses and detachments and it
was now to end without qualifying as Navigator/Wireless through no fault of our own. ( A few months later we each
received a letter from the Air Ministry informing us that, as we had passed the Wireless course, we had been
awarded a Signaller’s flying badge and promoted to Sergeant with effect from the date we became redundant aircrew
in July. We were also paid backpay from that July date).
At Eastchurch we were offered a selection of ground trades and I decided on Radar Operator because I thought that
shift work would give me plenty of time to study for the Company Secretary examinations. We were also informed of
our demobilisation group and that we could expect to be demobilised towards he end of 1946.
From Eastchurch to the Radar Section at RAF Wymeswold near Loughborough in Leicestershire to await a radar
operators course but there was very little I could usefully do in the section, except hold a spanner for somebody else,
so I cadged lifts in aircraft just for the ride and spent as much time as possible studying. Unfortunately it took weeks
for my mail to catch up with me after moving from Mildenhall via Heaton Park and Eastchurch to Wymeswold, so
my correspondence course study papers came out of sequence which made studying difficult. However, as there
were books that I needed, I went to London for the weekend and visited Foyles bookshop where I purchased them
The weeks rolled by, my study time table evened itself out and I was playing rugby regularly again when, in late
October, the Assistant Adjutant called me to Station HQ to inform me that the RAF Regiment were after ex-aircrew
to replace a number of army officers who had been seconded from their own regiments to the RAF Regiment during
the war and who were now being returned to their regiments; and I was asked if I would be interested in applying for
a commission. It would mean attending a course at the RAF Regiment Officer Cadet Training Unit ( O.C.T.U.) and,
if I passed successfully, I would be required to serve as an officer for one year which would delay my demobilisation
for about six months. I was given an application form to complete and return the following day if I wanted to go
I weighed up the pros and cons that evening and decided that, although I knew absolutely nothing about the RAF
Regiment, it might provide some adventures and, having a year’s commissioned service behind me when I was
demobilised might help me to get a job. So I completed the application form and handed it in the next day and was
interviewed by the Station Commander.
Three days later I was on my way to a Selection Board and Medical Board in London and, before I arrived back at
Wymeswold that evening, a signal had been received by them from the Air Ministry instructing me to report to the
RAF Regiment Depot at Belton Park near Grantham. I was very surprised at the speed of events ( less than a week)
which led to my selection and posting to the O.C.T.U. and I could only conclude that favourable notes must have
been made on my service records from initial training onwards.
One final word about my aircrew days..It was sometime later that I found out that, of the 110,000 aircrew who served
in Bomber Command during the war, 55,000 were killed and 24,000 seriously injured or taken prisoner.
So, although my friends and I were very disappointed that we did not take part in any raids over Germany, we were
very lucky to be alive and uninjured.
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