- Contributed by
- People in story:
- June Kane
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 October 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Odilia Roberts from the Derby Action Team on behalf of June Kane and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
At nearly 18 daily life was dull, it was 1943, our age group was obliged to register for war service. The main road from Swansea to Cardiff was already an endless khaki convoy snaking its way to who knows what, and as I didn’t relish having four of my fingers blown off, courtesy of Bridgend arsenal, (a friend had just succumbed), so next stop Cardiff recruiting office and a medical, and then off I went to Wrexham (Hermitage Camp) for basic training where we learnt to fold our skirts in a certain way and place under our mattresses at night so that they looked immaculately creased when on parade at 7.30 next morning. Our steel helmets were placed inside our hats, so as to pass inspection, shoes were polished to chestnut gloss, as for our khaki hose — less said about them the better! It was the height of summertime and how we marched, left wheeled, right wheeled, about turned, during which for about the hundredth time, somehow I cracked two ribs, which put me in sick bay for three weeks, wrapped in 4” tape bound up like an Egyptian mummy and was three weeks behind my training schedule so just missed the passing out parade. Next step was a holding unit at Queen’s Camp, Guildford, from where I was eventually sent to Bolton on Dearn, Yorkshire to join 626 M.H Ack Ack, having made the journey alone with full pack, I eventually arrived ‘all in’ to find a spruce young gunner anxiously scanning the output of the train suddenly I spotted the white lanyard through all the steam and bustle to be greeted with ‘ We’ve got a hop on tonight, let’s get cracking’, when all I wanted to do was hop into bed. Anyway having slept all night I awoke in a hut full of strangers and was introduced to eleven new mates by a corporal slightly the worse for wear after the hop. Then a new routine a quick tour around the camp, all the main offices, a few more introductions, and - an official interview to ‘hooray’ a Welsh captain I was home and dry. No more training, thank goodness, although trips to Weybourne for firing practice, one in particular that we spent shunted into a siding outside Sheffield. It was bright moonlight and the city was getting particular attention from the Luftwaffe and we were trying to get back to base, eventually we made it and normal daily routine followed. I think on reflection we were lucky to get back at all as the rails were severely smashed up.
After a few months of constant moving, spending winter months and weather in the wilds of Cumberland, how we all remembered ‘Puddingnook Farm’ I wonder if its still there. In spite of it being a remote farm we still had a milk delivery daily and having 7 days leave due I was obliged to beg a lift on a Sunday afternoon to Darlington railway station — the nearest link to civilisation. Since I left home my parents had retired and moved to Penzance, what a journey, however, chat was shared with a lone soldier home from the Middle East, minus one arm, (I hope life has been kind to him) - for with a cheery one armed wave he was gone.
There were many encounters such as this, long journeys, games of whist that were never finished, stations creeping up, trains scraping brakes — exits, in haste kit bags and steel helmets thrown onto platforms, farewells, addresses written on cigarette packets and match boxes. I wonder what happened to them all. I remember being begged to get off a night train by an amorous American at Trowbridge in Wiltshire and after frantic scribbling became a recipient of one of those matchboxes, I kept it for a while but eventually it went the way of all things.
Leave over, I arrived back to a move to better climes, it was spring, the next stop was Kessingland. We were a bit dubious about canvas tents and palliases to sleep on, but it was exciting to be linked with a nearby searchlight battery as the Germans raided most nights, one being most rewarding as between us we watched this huge firefly trapped, a Jugg I think, it’s black crosses illuminated as it spiralled to its watery grave, to be followed by another ‘kill’ as another enemy plane limped and spluttered on to the beach below us, you can imagine what happened next as the beach was heavily mined, a few yards more inland and we would have all ‘bought it’ as the expression was in those days. We were quite accustomed to mines popping off at odd times as seagulls landed and rabbits hopped into oblivion, in spite of which the sappers cleared a path down to the water in which we could paddle, as in mid summer and we were experiencing a heat wave, however, we girls preferred the walk along the cliff tops where we were given the use of Warner’s Holiday Camp showers but quite a few men braved the treat.
Social life was fantastic, the Americans were based at Beccles, memories of party fare, cakes, half decorated with the Stars and Stripes and half with the Union Jack, large portions of which to take back to camp, a packet of Camel cigarettes, nylons, such luxury, invitations came nightly but as we were driven back to camp we couldn’t but help to see all the bomb loads being fixed into the bomb racks under the huge B52’s, ready to fly out over the cliffs. We watched them until they became specks on the horizon and the dawn became day. Then the toll of our losses on the first news bulletin, then the sounds of heavy shot up warriors limping home, some just making it, - pilots fighting a personal battle to get their crews home — the red flares to show the ground staff ‘wounded on board’ — be prepared. Nights and weeks followed then Sir Frederick Pyle, our boss, bless him, said “Enough”, the order for ‘stand down,’ we were disbanded here, there and everywhere. Five went off to London; our bombs were changed for crowns. A brief stay in Bryanston Square then a quick course on the 10th floor of Hobart House, Victoria, plugging away at holerith, some of us mastered it and some didn’t. During this time we were moved to Wilson Close, (the town house of the Duchess of Devonshire we were told. All these posh residences were stripped and fireplaces - white marble Adam style - boarded up). Eventually some were sent to Epping Forest to work at the Mint, (now back at Llantrisant), bused out every morning, while most of us were spread around the various offices I was delegated to the records file ground floor (thank goodness) and every morning had to negotiate a vast pile of green cardboard coffins which were used at night to put the corpses in, when the air raids were on, they were topped of during the lulls.
In spite of all this gloom we were not short of entertainment and were given free theatre tickets, I remember seeing Arthur Askey at the Haymarket in Follow the Girls, dances with Americans on leave, Poles, Free French and Dutch at the ‘Café de Paris’, there were brief romances. It was strange - London then was a city of adults, no babies and children (all evacuated), even ‘Eros’ was boarded up! There was a trip to Kew Gardens, wonderful in spite of the war, and a Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park, you could hire rowing boats and visit a little island, the rowing was done by a young medical student (a change from uniformed men).
Sadly about this time I was diagnosed as needing a mastectomy (in Westminster Hospital) and I spent nine weeks in the ‘Docker’ ward, actually in the ‘Docker’ bed (donated and maintained to this day), what an honour! There were five mixed patients, one was a RAF officer who had the hem of her skirt pinned up with safety pins, how she got away with that I could never fathom. However in the outer world the war was fast coming to an end, so after six weeks convalescent leave I was posted to Kidderminster (No 7 Formation College) by myself. Full pack again, standing on Paddington Station, I suddenly saw four Trinidad aircrew waving and trying to attract my attention, they were regulars at the ‘Harding Arms’ a snug little pub off Bryanston Square. I can hear them now singing “We’re three little lambs who’ve lost their way —Ba, Ba, Ba.” I had celebrated my 21st birthday there! What a memory — they’d crash-landed after an Op — one of them had literally half a face. “Where are you going?” they shouted across the track, I just managed to convey “posted” — when my train came hissing in — rushing to the opposite window I waved, wished them good luck — “and you?” I shouted and through the noise and bustle I just caught “home.”
I could quote many more incidents, the time a Salvation Army canteen, which was just inside of Hyde Park, had a direct hit (the doodle bugs were active just then) and Wellington Barracks suffered the same fate — both were a street away.
So at No7 Formation College I met my husband, home from India and Burma. He was a regular and was ‘pulled out’ after the Battle of Imphal. You’d think we’d both had enough but there was much more to come, but that’s another story.
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