- Contributed by
- Elizabeth Lister
- People in story:
- John Henderson
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 December 2005
While at Aldergrove, I went to two funeral parades. One was when a Liberator with an instructing and training crew aboard flew into a hillside in mist, seventeen in all were killed; some were buried in the morning and the others in the afternoon, in nearby churchyards, with full military ceremony some days later.
Many of the airmen (in our hut at least) had spent most of their service at Aldergrove and began to get rather worried when rumours, with some substance started to circulate that they would be transferred to the army for the Japanese war in the Far East.
I had some leave due and discovered that the Group Captain who was O/C. at Aldergrove was flying over to Turnhouse; the airfield near Edinburgh; so the day before I asked the pilot who was taking him if I could hitch a lift, he replied in the affirmative telling me to draw a parachute and see him the next morning. So off we went, it was a very trying experience it seemed as we flew through low cloud most of the way and the Group Captain kept peering forward through the windscreen which seemed pretty pointless to me as he could see nothing as the pilot was homing in on a navigation beacon at East Fortune. When we eventually landed at Turnhouse and I was walking through the gates I was called back by the service police and with my case (full of eggs) was taken back to the Control Tower for customs purposes. However my pilot who was still there spoke up for me and I was allowed to set off home for Dunbar on leave.
Down at the modern hangar at Aldergrove, where I was now working, I happened to see a W.A.A.F. cycling across, to whom I took a fancy. A couple of nights later we got chatting in the hut next to the N.A.A.F.I. where we played Housey Housey (Bingo) and drank our Guiness porter. We started walking out round the country roads which were lovely as it was spring time. Her name was Rita Clarke and she was an instrument mechanic. At times we were working on the same aeroplanes. We went to the camp cinema from time to time; and it was there we saw for the first time the horrific news reels of the Belsen concentration camp, little had we known up to this time that such horrible things had been happening in Germany.
I was in Belfast on the eve of V.E. day, the 8th May (Victory Europe) and was surprised to see the shop-keepers boarding up their windows in preparation. I, in my innocence wondered why, the day itself was a holiday and a lot of us spent the afternoon at Johnny O’Neils’s pub just outside the camp’s gate on the Crumlin Road, and got well and truly plastered. After tea back at camp, we went down to one of the large hangars which had been cleared out and where a dance was being held. The band was perched up on a dais made from the aircraft engine crates. We had a plentiful supply of beer, sandwiches and boiled eggs, and we had a grand night. That is, apart from the fight I got involved in, with two Irishmen over some seats. I had sore knuckles for a couple of days afterwards.
As the summer days wore on we received orders to crate up our spares and stores as 1674 H.C.U. was moving, but having completed this task we were then told it all had to be listed, so it was a case of unpacking, listing and repacking again, then they were sent off.
On the 15th August our unit personnel entrained arriving at Belfast about midday, where we were to hear that the Japanese had surrendered, so we now proceeded happily on our journey via Larne to Stranraer. In the evening we boarded another train which was laid on for us and travelling over night, we arrived at a little highland station in the afternoon, where we were delayed for a while before we could continue our journey to Milltown station. The airfield there was a satellite for Lossiemouth, near Elgin; and our final destination after 30 hours of travelling.
Two evenings later, Jimmie McKane and I went to a dance, and beer was laid on. It was held in the airmen’s mess to celebrate the ending of the war with Japan.
Whilst awaiting the arrival of our stores and spares, Jimmie McKane and I were detailed to the cycle workshop, repairing cycles. We kind of broke the heart of the regular cycle-man by cannibalising his bikes to get some runners instead of waiting for spares.
Then there was the time when a little G.D. Sgt. called Black held a parade trying to instil some discipline into us — he was not of our unit — he went along the ranks making comments until he came to a tall Canadian radar mechanic to whom he said: “Get your hair cut.” the Canadian turning round replied: “Say little man are you kidding?”, which took the wind out of the sails of Sgt. Black as he had no real authority over a Canuck, and gave us all a good laugh.
We had a V.J. parade at Lossiemouth, with a pipe band leading us past the Station Commander, who was taking the salute.
Our spares had now arrived by train, so we spent some days unloading same; before we returned to aircraft servicing. Also during this time we had a Halifax leave the runway ending up in some marshy ground where it had shed its port undercarriage. We extricated the Halifax on a special tracked platform. Then I proceeded to tow the remains of the under-cart round to the hangar with a David Brown tractor only to be stopped by the M.T. Officer asking for my driving permit. I was able to show him the one from S.C. days which he told me to bring round for renewal when I had finished. This I did, only for him to tear it up and despite my protests only issue me with one for tractors, which was to cause me some inconvenience when I returned to civilian life.
As always seemed to happen when one had found some good friends and got settled, out of the blue came a posting. This time, S.T.U. Titchfield, a special torpedo unit, detached from A.T.D.U. Gosport “Air Torpedo Development Unit”. So armed with a railway warrant it was off south via Elgin, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. But I broke my journey to have a weekend home in Dunbar, and also to visit Rita Clarke, who was now in Bangour Military Hospital near Edinburgh with back trouble. It was then on south again via London, hence to Portsmouth, Fareham and so to Titchfield, a former R.A.F. barrage balloon repair unit.
In this unit we were manufacturing parts for and assembling anti-submarine torpedoes. We then had some of them dropped from the air off St. Catherine’s Point, the southern most part of the Isle of Wight, where we would go to observe the drop and recover the torpedo were possible; which was all very interesting.
On return from Christmas leave I was sent off to join our detachment in a farmhouse called Cuil Muich pronounced ‘Cully Mewick’ on the western shore of Loch Goil in Argyll, Scotland. To get there meant travelling by a boat called the Comet from Gourock via Loch Long.
We had a complement of about ten which included the crew of the R.A.F. Pinnance and Launch. Our purpose there was to take torpedoes out on the loch and with a recorder in the head check their run on to port and starboard and depth. This was not without incident as they homed in on sound. On one occasion with our transmitter lowered in the depth from a rowing boat, as a target, we happened to look up and there was the torpedo coming straight for us on the surface. We managed to avoid it by some hasty rowing!
On another occasion we were recovering a torpedo in rather roughish water by hooking a rope to the eye on the nose, but the launch stove in the mast as we came along side. The Warrant Officer in charge with a couple of turns of the rope round the stanchion ordered: “Hell for leather for the shore,” but he could not hold it and it gradually slipped from his grasp beneath the waves. A court of enquiry was set up and our W.O. was awarded a reprimand.
The Sgt. Coxswain who was in charge of the launch in the previous paragraph was known as Anti-Dim (as in gas mask parlance). We took turn about at cooking; and one day we found a nice round piece of red rubber along the shore and put it on his plate for tea and it was very funny watching him trying to cut it up to eat. He never helped with the housework.
To have a night out we travelled by launch to the pub at Loch Goilhead. The return in the dark was the dodgy bit when we had to transfer to the rowing boat to get to the beach.
To obtain our rations; and fuel for the generating set, we had to travel down to Helensburgh by pinnance - it was driven by three, six cylinder diesel engines. The trip to Helensburgh made a nice day out for those that went. We had a quiet spell during the summer which we spent rowing and fishing with lines. Another evening I was walking along side the loch when there was quite a commotion and to my surprise a submarine surfaced and made its way to the head of the loch.
Come September 1946 it was time for my demob. — but not before I had been promoted to the heady rank of Cpl. Demob. involved travelling back to A.T.D.U. Gosport to spend a few days and get my demob. book completed, then up to the demob. Centre in the Blackpool area, where I spent the night. The next day I was kitted out with civilian clothes, chocolate and cigarettes to cover my demob. leave. The fairness of the demob. now became evident when I met up with John Reid again after five years; we had shared digs at Arbroath on “square bashing.”
“And so now the music stopped.”
* * * * * * * *
I spent some of my leave at home in Dunbar and the latter part at Rita Clarke’s farm near Cookstown, in Northern Ireland; where in October I helped with the potato harvest. It was beautiful autumn weather. In December 1946, we travelled over to Dunbar and were married; it being too soon to marry in Northern Ireland, Rita’s mother having died on March 17th of the current year.
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