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by CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford
People in story: 
Henry (Harry) Thorpe
Location of story: 
London, Canada and USA
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 September 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from Oxford BBC/CSV on behalf of Henry (Harry) Thorpe and has been added to this site with his permission. Henry Thorpe fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

PEOPLE IN STORY: Henry (Harry) Thorpe from Wembley
LOCATION OF STORY: London, Canada and USA

Harry Thorpe was on holiday in Cornwall at the start of the war. He and his wife had been staying at a holiday camp where as soon as war was declared everything stopped, there were worries they might get bombed. Harry and his wife returned to Wembley on the train, it took all day to get there. Harry still remembers his wife blacking out the windows of their house in Wembley, where they had moved in 1937 (and where Harry still lives). There was an immediate blackout as it was thought the bombing would start straight away. He also remembers the government advising people not to get together in big groups, eg cinemas, as there would have been so much more loss of life and injury in bombing raids.

Since Harry could not swim and was not keen on walking he volunteered for the RAF — as long as he did not have to fly! He joined the RAF in London and remembers being sent from Regent’s Park, London, to Blackpool where they were billeted in luxury flats, though with palliasses on the floor. They were crammed into rooms with civilians.

Harry was based at RAF Wilmslow, then a big RAF base, but in 1940 he was sent to America to learn to fly. He went via Greenock aboard the French liner Pasteur, a 28,000 ton liner, to Moncton, Halifax, [Canada] where they stayed for a while, then entrained to Montgomery, Alabama, spending 2 - 3 days on a sleeper train. Joining with 750 American cadets he started training on 1st Flight Arcadia, Florida, on the PT Shearman biplane. This was in December 1941 and he remembers the surprise of the Americans at the news of the attack on Pearl Harbour, they could not believe it had happened.

From there Harry moved on to the very big Maxwell Field, Alabama, where he transferred to Harvards — single engine monoplanes — for basic training. He finished with an American Wings brooch.

He especially remembers the kindness of the local American families, who would come into the camps at the weekends to meet the cadets, take them home and entertain them. One family in particular befriended Harry, they were very kind, though it was only later that he found out that they had also sent gifts, such as food, baby things, to his wife and baby in the UK.

He was then sent back to Moncton and returned to the UK in August 1942. By this time he was 30 and therefore too old for combat duty [the age for fighters was 18 — 21, for bombers 19 — 26] and so he became a flying instructor. Based to start with at Church Lawford near Rugby he was then transferred to Ferry Command, taking planes around the UK, and then on to Transport Command. He finished the war on Dakotas in India, where he stayed for 12 months, spending some time on Dum-Dum (where the bullets were first produced). Most of his time there was spent ferrying people between Calcutta, Burma and Hong Kong. He distinctly remembers the American music on the radio in the plane, and how the crew would put the plane on autopilot, sit back and listen to the music. He returned to the UK in 1946, and went back to his civilian work in the clothing trade.

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