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Memories of Frank Yates Chapter 24

by Frank Yates

Contributed by 
Frank Yates
People in story: 
Frank Yates, Peggy Bottom, Gladys and Walter Edmunds, Ernest, Winnie & Barry Yates, Bob Currie John Simons, J.O. Bamford
Location of story: 
Sheffield, Fawley Refinery
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 November 2005

Wedding of Frank Yates and Peggy Bottom 10th December 1943 Left to right, Len Yates,Connie Hartley(Peggy's step sister), Frank, Peggy, Unknown bridesmaid, Mavis Paul

Memories of Frank Yates CHAPTER 24

Towards the end of November, I had to make certain that my leave was fixed for Dec. 10th. After all, I was to be married on the 11th. Peggy had got it all arranged. I was summoned to BHQ, in Ramsgate, where at Hennessy’s bar, my health was duly drunk and then they put me on the train to London and, eventually, to Sheffield, where everything seemed to be in order. The only thing that I had had to do was to book the honeymoon hotel, the Cumberland, at Marble Arch, and to buy myself a dressing gown, in Dover.
Writing the word “Dover” reminds me that during the previous week I had taken the Dover train for a visit to the cinema and when waiting at the station for the train back to Sandwich, the Germans inconsiderately started shelling. I was surprised to find that most of the waiting passengers, chiefly troops, took no evasive action and remained sitting on the station benches. The thinking seemed to be that if I move somewhere else, a shell is just as likely to hit me as if I stayed here, after half a dozen desultory explosions around Dover, the train puffed in and off we went to Deal and Sandwich.
I spent the evening with Mum, Gladys and Walter and next morning, arranged to meet Walter at the Hallamshire Hotel, in Commonside. The Hallamshire was Walter’s local and I played a game of snooker with him, before setting off for St Tims.
Len and I waited at the church, and waited, and waited! Eventually, Peggy and her entourage turned up, more than half an hour late. The taxi firm had got the time wrong. The rest of the ceremony went off without a hitch, the reception, in the church hall, was catered by an outside firm, and, for wartime it was very good. We eventually got away to the station to catch the train to London, changing at Derby.

Unfortunately, the train was late into Derby and we missed the connection. The next was after midnight! We headed for the Midland hotel but it was too late for food, the best they could do was to make us some coffee, but at half past ten we were turned out. Wandering the blacked out streets of Derby was hardly our wished for honeymoon night! When the train arrived, from Manchester, it was crowded and we were lucky to get two seats in the coach next to the engine. At Derby we were joined by the engine crew, which had been relieved. The fireman fell asleep with his dirty LMS cap resting on the shoulder of Peggy’s new lilac coloured coat!
We reached London at about 6am, too early for tube trains or taxis, Being Sunday, the tube did not start running until 7.30 and we finally booked in at the Cumberland at 8 o/clock., after a night to remember!
Surfacing about teatime, we took a train to Cockfosters, to visit brother Ernest, Winnie and Barry and then back to the hotel again for dinner. We enjoyed our few days in London. We saw “Ten Little Niggers” (no problems about rude words then!) and, at the cinema, “Mutiny on the Bounty”. Every time we passed through Piccadilly tube station, we would call at the bar and have tongue sandwiches and gin — very civilised!
All good things come to and end, and, on the Wednesday, we arrived back at Springvale Road, where we remembered that we had left a suitcase on the pavement outside the Midland station! I went straight back in the taxi to find it still there! It was a different world!
The usual telegram was waiting for me. I was to report to Southampton station on the Saturday evening. When I arrived in the waiting room at the station, all the other blokes from the Battery were there, in transit from Kent. I had to endure much banter and knowing remarks from them before trucks arrived to take us and the troops to Fawley, on Southampton Water.
Fawley was a village close to one of the biggest oil refineries in the country, (and it still is). Because of its importance and its vulnerable position, it was defended by eight guns, so we had two troops, Bob, John and I occupied a pair of semidetached houses in Fawley village, using the combined front gardens to house our trucks. The ground was very soft so we decided that a hard standing would be a good thing. I had had a good look round at Beaulieu and Buckler’s Hard and Lymington and I knew a good shingle beach, just to the East of Buckler’s Hard, so I took six gunners, with shovels and the three ton Bedford truck and made two journeys, full of beach.
The pebbles made a very good hard standing, although I felt for the owners of the houses, who would have to get rid of tons of shingle, after the war. Perhaps they could use it as hardcore and do a concrete job!?
A couple of days later a gentleman called, who announced himself as His Majesty’s Foreshore Inspector for Hampshire and that we had committed a criminal offence by removing pebbles from the beach. We profusely apologised and pleaded that we thought that the beach between high and low water was a free for all! He listened to our ridiculous excuses, had a couple of whiskies and departed, mollified, but on his dignity!
When I visited the gun sites, I had to gain entry to the refinery, via the main gate and a security guard. On passing along the roads between the futuristic retorts, tanks, catalytic crackers, pumps and the forests of pipes, I hardly saw a single operative. The plant seemed to have a life of its own, hissing away without human intervention.
There was a very large and well run workers’ club which seemed to provide for the workers in the various factories around the area. It was a favourite entertainment spot with its bars and dance floor, and the centre of social life in the area. John Simons met a fellow musician there. He was a solo violinist, they arranged a session at our HQ, to play some duets, but, unfortunately, he and his fiddle were posted away and we missed the treat.
During our stay at Fawley, I got a weekly trip into Southampton to change our library books. I took the jeep and a driver and did any shopping needed by John and Bob, but the main objective was Boots the chemist, who, in pre-war days, ran very good libraries at twopence per volume, per week. Public libraries provided non fiction, with very few fictional books available. I remember, in an earlier chapter, telling that I used to borrow books for my Dad and, after the war, usually for Peggy as well. I seem to have a penchant for matching books to people!
George Bamford and I went on a very pleasant 48 hours leave, to the Hexagon Hotel, a new state of the art hotel in Southampton. George, mentioned in chapter 38, was great company and had lots of fascinating stories about his famous earth moving family. He was a student in the unique brewing faculty at Birmingham University, another source of anecdotes. I remember his telling me of a famous Burton firm, who built a new brewery, using the same water as they had always used for their world famous beer. The new beer was a disappointment, and they eventually called in George’s professor as consultant. His advice was that they should purchase a near by orchard and chop down the fruit trees. He proved, by experiment, that the pollen was affecting the fermentation process.
Our next move was to the unlikely destination of Leeds!

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