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15 October 2014
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My war experiences with John Mills

by cambsaction

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Basil Stanley Tokley, Lilian Grace Tokely (nee Arnold), John Mills (the actor)
Location of story: 
Arrington, Cambridgeshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 December 2005

Basil Stanley Tokley, 1939.

I was 17 when the war started. I was in the territorial Army and enlisted at Halstead in Essex. War was declared and I was called up on Wednesday 29 August. The War Office decided that anyone under 18 should be transferred to Royston, Herts to the Searchlight Battery. One interesting story when I was at Arrington I was the air sentry. At 3 o’clock in the morning an aircraft came circling round firing Verey lights. From this I assumed he was in trouble. We informed HQ and I put the searchlight up at a low level on Bassingbourn and HQ ordered us to put the searchlight up on Duxford. All the other surrounding searchlights came up on Duxford. Where the lights crossed was over Duxford and the aircraft was landed safely there. It turned out that the pilot had lost his way. The next day the O/C and his Squadron leader came to the site at Arrinton and askrd to see the sentry concerned. The Squadron leader shook my hand. He said I’d literally saved the crew from disaster. He told me the aircraft had travelled right down from Blackpool and no-one had answered its call until it got to Arrington.

In early June 1940 I met John Mills the actor. He was a Lance Sergeant, a Detachment Commander of the searchlight site. He had his fiancée, Mary Hayley Bell, staying at the Hardwick Arms in Arrington. While he was with us, his divorce came through from his first wife. Also at the site there was a farmhouse, where there was a young lady called Lilian Grace Arnold, working on the farm. Johnny (that’s what we used to call him) used to go up there and she’d cook his breakfast. He didn’t like the Army food! My unit was sent to London from Arrington at the end of June 1940 till 1942 because of the Blitz. I sat on the equipment and remember seeing st Paul’s cathedral with the flames behind it, just like on the posters.

When the unit returned to the Cambridgeshire area, I met up again with the young lady at the farm and I married her. She has Johnny Mills’ signature in her autograph book.

Soon after that, Johnny he went to OTC (Officers’ Training Centre) where he passed out as an officer.

Johnny appeared in a Christmas Concert at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge in 1939. He sang and danced. Also on the programme were his sister, Annette who did Muffin the Mule, Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford and Fay Compton. You can see their names on the programme I’ve kept. Stephane Grappelli of the Hot Club de France was there too.

In 1943 we were moved down to Kent for the doodlebugs. The first doodlebug that came over, I opened fire on with my Browning automatic machine gun — I didn’t know what I was firing at. Eventually 3,000 came over Kent. Some of my friends were killed. They’d been stationed at Harston in Cambridgeshire before. A doodlebug hit one of the sites.

In 1944 I was transferred back to the Infantry. I went to Aylesbury to be retrained, then we were sent to Holland and Germany. We were used as backup infantry to keep law and order.

I was demobbed in 1946. By that time I was a Sergeant Major.

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