- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Tony Addinsell
- Location of story:
- at home and abroad
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 February 2004
My mother said I would never fly, as I even got sick on swings in the playground but I was determined to and therefore in September 1942 at the age of 18, I went to the recruiting centre at Renshaw Hall in Liverpool and offered my services. I was given an appointment to go to the RAF unit at Padgate near Warrington for a medical and aptitude assessment. I passed the necessary tests but was told that as aircrew were not immediately required, I would be placed on deferred service for six months
To pass the time whilst waiting for the Air Force to call me, Dad suggested that I should spend a few months at the large airbase nearby at Burtonwood where he was now in charge of the supply and maintenance of American aero engines for the RAF. I spent a few weeks in each department and learnt quite a lot about aero-engines and also how to mix with people, most of whom were from very different backgrounds to my own.
There were a large number of civilian technicians from San Antonio, Texas, working there at that time and they were a colourful lot with their cowboy boots and their tobacco chewing habits. One day one of them gave me a "slug" to chew and being too polite to spit, I chewed and then proceeded to swallow. My mother never knew what made me so ill for a couple of days!
When in February 1943 my papers eventually arrived, I was eager to get on with my training. First I reported to ACRC (aircrew reception centre) at Lord's Cricket Ground in London. The first introduction to service life was that we all dropped our trousers for an FFI (free from infection) inspection and where there was any mark or pimple, we were painted either with gentian violet or Whitfield’s ointment. I was billeted in what had been a large luxury flat in the Regent's Park district, close to London Zoo. What followed was a grim few days while we received all the inoculations and vaccinations. Films on how to avoid catching VD and lectures on the various risks of infection from professionals and enthusiastic amateurs. We went swimming, had drill instruction and marching.
After two weeks we were sent to ACTW at Brighton, a holding unit, where we were kept until we could be found places at Initial Training Wings for our primary ground studies. Brighton came and went in less than a week, but one incident remains in my memory. We were being marched through the streets when our drill instructor suddenly blew his whistle. We all looked at him and he shouted at us that we were stupid and should have immediately taken cover. Five minutes later there was a rattle of machine-gun fire from a Messerschmidt and we were flat on the ground before he could get his whistle to his lips! A few months later another incident occurred, this time at 5 ITW, our training unit at Torquay on the Devon coast. It was April and beautiful weather, so we were spending an hour off duty on the beach in our swimming trunks. Suddenly there was all hell let loose as three Focke-Wulf fighter bombers came around the cliffs at fifty feet. All the Bofors guns defending the area were firing at them and they dropped several bombs. Four of us dived for the nearest bit of cover which happened to be a concrete wall against some steps leading up to the promenade and huddled into the corner. It was all over in less than a minute, but when we got up on our feet again, we were embarrassed to find that we had been protected on the outside by a group of girls who had arrived at our hiding place behind us. A 3 inch bomb splinter fell onto the road above us and then gently rolled off the parapet and onto my friends back. He jumped up very smartly, it was still very hot. He then threw it down the beach and into the sea to cool it before taking it back to our quarters as a souvenir.
At 5 ITW Torquay I failed my navigation exam and had to spend another month there, losing many of my friends who had by then moved on. In the exam I had plotted a reciprocal course, which meant that I would have ended up in the middle of the Atlantic instead of over the target in Germany! However I did go on to win the navigation prize at my flying training school in Canada!
At the end of July I was posted to Grading School at Fairoaks in Berkshire, not far from Windsor. 18 .F.T.S. was a pleasant, but fairly basic sort of grass airfield, where we flew in Tiger-moth biplanes. The object of the exercise was to see which of us were potentially suited to pilot training and who would go on to train as navigators. It was a case of observing how good our powers of co-ordination were when it came to rudder and stick control.
I enjoyed the flying but found the cockpit of the tiger was far too cramped for my long legs. However I performed satisfactorily and passed out as suitable for pilot training. One of the incidents that surprised me was when my instructor demonstrated to me that if the plane was trimmed correctly, it would fly "hands off" and could be turned left or right, climb or descend, merely by putting one's hand out of the cockpit into the air-stream in the appropriate position. In that plane you could truly fly by the seat of your pants as the saying went. It was a plane without vices and it was difficult to find fault with its flying characteristics.
Here I met Simon, son of the politician Anthony Eden, a nice enough lad, who gave the impression of being almost scruffy, and out to make it clear that he wanted no special treatment as the son of a famous father. We met again at Heaton Park, Manchester where he was short of shoe laces and fly buttons, and then once again in Canada. He finally came to grief flying as a navigator out in Burma.
During the Summer evenings, whilst doing guard duty, we would look up to see the giant formations of American Flying Fortresses returning from raids over France, their orderly flying positions, broken by missing aircraft and many in obvious distress with damaged wings and tails.
After spending a month at Fairoaks we were sent up to ACDC, the vast holding camp at Heaton Park, Manchester where we spent a miserable seven weeks, hanging about waiting to be sent out to our flying training schools in Canada. Part of the time I was billeted out in a house just outside the park with a family who were kind but had jammy faced toddlers who were a menace. I also remember being fed with cold tripe as a teatime delicacy.
I recall getting the occasional pass to pay a quick visit home during the time there but we had to be ready for moving out at short notice.
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