- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Athelstan Moxley, Winton Churchill
- Location of story:
- Newport S.Wales: Oxford, Oxfordshire: Halifax,Nova Scotia: Liverpool, Lancs: Windsor, Berks. Nework, Notts.: Kaduna, W.Africa; Ghana, Gold Coast
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 November 2005
This story has been written onto the BBC People’s War site by CSV Storygatherers Lucy Thomas and Pam Barnett of Callington U3A on behalf of Ray Moxley. They fully understand the terms and conditions of the site.
PEOPLES WAR — RAY MOXLEY
WAR WORK IN AN ALUMINIUM SMELTING WORKS
My name is Ray Moxley and at the beginning of the War I remember being at school in September 1939, listening to Winston Churchill give his speech about fighting on the beaches and in the forests and in the fields, never surrendering. I remember that as a boy of seventeen very clearly. Then I couldn’t bear being at school any more so I left. I was quite interested in construction and that sort of thing, so I joined a firm of builders as an apprentice in Newport, South Wales, to learn draughtsmanship. For many nights and days, landmines and other bombs were being dropped on Newport. I was working in an aluminium smelting works to the west of Newport and that was occasionally bombed. I remember that the Army Service Corps had things that looked like stovepipes going all the way down the streets and round the factory which they let off during the moonlit nights, and during the days, producing thick, oily smoke. The valleys would fill with the thick, black smoke so the enemy bombers couldn’t see the aluminium smelting works I was working in. Here the factory was furnacing down aeroplane frames and other aero parts into molten metal and extruding new extrusions of aluminium for the building of new aeroplanes: Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters, Wellingtons and so on. So, it was very important war work, which is why the Germans so much wanted to bomb us.
I remember Local Defence Volunteers on a railway bridge nearby. A German bomber came over very low, obviously crippled, and they all shot at it with their rifles. The chances of them doing any damage to it were very small, but to their great delight it crashed a bit further on, so they felt they’d actually got a kill. Very important in the war to kill the enemy, you know, that’s what you have to do in wartime. It was pretty brutal.
LIVING WITH FATHER WHO WAS A FOUNDER OF OXFAM
Later on the instructor of the night school I was attending said, “You ought to be an architect. You’ve got a gift and you ought to go and use it”. My father was a minister whose church was in North Oxford (who became a founder of OXFAM, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief). I lived with him as a student and became enrolled in the Oxford School of Architecture. I did two years and during that time as a student, twice a week I had night patrol duty in the Local Defence Volunteers which of course later became the Home Guard. Our particular company's job was to parade in the evening at one of the locks on the River Thames and guard the lock gates. During the night it was in danger of sabotage by German spies, so that’s why we patrolled there. In the end all we did was to check the identity cards of courting couples camping in punts moored on the river for a night off.
We did our guarding duty I remember during the misty evenings all through the year. Doing a day’s work as a student and then working all night in, eventually, the Home Guard was quite something. I remember I was a despatch rider and had a motor bike, a Panther 600, and I remember one icy early morning in December, going down Holywell Street, Oxford, skidding on the ice and coming off the motor bike sideways, splitting my head open and breaking both my wrists. When I came home, covered in blood and bandages, my poor mother thought I was at least never going to play the piano again, and that I would be a complete wreck for the rest of the war. Actually, I recovered, like boys do, very quickly.
My parents lived a meagre life and had rationing to contend with. The had about half a pound of butter, three ounces of sugar and half a loaf of bread each were lucky to get a bit of meat. And offal might be bought ‘under the counter’ and sometimes you could get milk. You could certainly buy dried egg. People in the country, of course, like farmers, some of whom were members of my Dad’s church, did have quite an adequate diet, but the poor old townies had to abide by the rations because there was nothing else they could do. Some folk had American food parcels which were very gratefully received but it was a thin time.
REPORTS FROM ABROAD
Of course, always, there were stories of our convoys being sunk crossing the Atlantic. My middle brother Athelstan, who is six years older than me, was a navigating officer on a corvette from the beginning of the war, well on to the end of the war, and he convoyed Slow Convoy Number 23 from Halifax, Nova Scotia, through to Liverpool. They were all SC (slow convoy) and they lost 140 ships — half the ships were torpedoed with a huge loss of life. The oil fuel, the petrol and so on was brought over on those ships which meant they were the life blood of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland at the time, so it was vitally important, tough stuff.
Churchill was amazing, because we’d listen to him on the radio giving these ringing, short, brilliant sentences, telling us exactly what was going on. He would say that troops were retreating to Dunkirk and that we were fighting brilliantly in the air but we were losing aeroplanes. However, we were shooting more Germans down than they were shooting ours down and there was very great bravery.
At the time nobody realised what a superb job the merchant marine did in serving those merchant ships coming so dangerously across the Atlantic to feed the country. Of course, there was plenty of admiration for the Royal Navy and the Army, but the Merchant Navy was composed of very brave chaps. But, of course, they were volunteers, they realised what a terrible state England, Great Britain was in, so that was very inspiring and at the end of my two years as a student, I was really quite keen to become part of the war effort.
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