- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Francis Williams
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 January 2006
I got a job in London — working for a wine company delivering wines and spirits I was taught to drive in a Trojan. The engine was under the seat. Solid tyres. Chain driven. I t was a very wealthy area Golders Green. Full of Jews. When war was declared as 90% were Jews they took their money and jewellery and they, left their houses and got on the liner to America. It was torpedoed of f the coast of Ireland and they lost it.
Letter of commendation:
Copy of memo received from Head Office
Sent to the Manager of the Victoria Wine Co.
20 North End Road
Tel: Speedwell 1058
I wish to congratulate you and your driver on the excellent appearance and good condition of your Austin Van BLL 450. There is no doubt from the reports I have received and my own personal observation that this driver is enthusiastic and takes great pride in his work.
Please pass my comments on to him.
Signed General Manager
Eric Fisher (Tabor?)
Now this General Manager was the one that was aboard an aircraft called a Star Tiger and the aircraft and all aboard disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle many years later…
(Did aircraft disappear during the war?) That’s something we never learnt — it would have been kept quiet.
Before the war there were nine American aircraft — they were trainees out on a run and suddenly they all disappeared from radar over the Bermuda Triangle. They never found any trace of the aircraft wreckage. It became a suspicious area — what was happening? Was it human error? Some divine intervention? But nothing has ever been found.
I was called up April 8th 1940. I was 22. I had a buff envelope from King George — I was called up. I wanted to join before and I failed on the mathematics. I was in the RAF for 10 and a half years.
Went to Uxbridge. The n600 of us got on a train finished up at Stanmore, then to Stafford the 16th MU. It was like a military Woolworth’s. What ever you wanted in the services it was there. Bedding spares and out job (me and 49 others) was to take it all over the country when it was needed.
We were hardly ever in camp. Go out deliver, come back service your vehicle, do your night duty and get out again
I drove everything from a motorcycle to a 2 ton lorry 5 ton lorry and I had a wonder of a time finding my way round the country. We delivered what I called propellers — but they were called airscrews and the thing you had to remember was when you had air screws they were 11 foot high and it’s no good going under a 10 foot bridge. The wings are called main frames.
There wasn’t much light at night. During the Battle of Britain we were up and down the country. I was up and down non stop. That awful carnage. Some of the bodies were still in the mortuary when I got down there.
We had to go to a place called Hell Fire corner. The very last aerodrome on the mainland. Right on the cliffs. The Jerries used to come across the channel blitz it as they came across
Air raid wardens on the side of the road and when I stopped I said what’s the problem —they said London is being raided. The air was black with aircraft.
When I got to London the East End was ablaze and I had to make my way right the way through to Stafford.
Next I had to go to Wick.
“Where’s Wick, Chiefy?” (I asked)
“The top of Scotland”.
That huge thing wasn’t meant to go round some of those bends!
I had to drive up with spares.
We used to take new undercarriages up there.
We could stop and get petrol or for an overnight stay — B&B
At Carlisle we had a concession. We were allowed to use the hotels I often used to put my shoes out to get them cleaned.
I bought a map for 3/6. I had to go to Carlisle. I said where’s Carlisle. He said go to of Stafford and turn right.. Only 186 miles.
There were no motorways we had to go up the A6.
That’s when I first met Queen Mary. I dropped the delivery 300 rifles. Then I was told to take a vehicle back. I said where is it — he said in the hanger. I said this is as long as my street!
I said I’ve never driven anything like that. He said — by the time you get back you’ll have learnt! Don’t go empty handed. Take theses mainplanes (wings) and drop them off in Manchester.
I hadn’t realised you had to take the corners wide and every time I went round the corners I was going over the pavement. I was getting oaths thrown at me! “You’re more trouble than the Jerries.
I’d gone from the MT [motor transport] yard to this big hangar to load up and as I stood there looking down towards the town of Stafford I saw this aircraft approaching and I thought it was a Blenheim but suddenly, as it got to the hangar, it turned and as the wing came up there was a black cross underneath and it was only about 2000 feet up and it turned to port and I watched it dive down over Stafford and I saw what looked like a bunch of grapes drop from underneath and I heard “Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!” and then it was up and away. Apparently the bombs had fallen on the sports ground and the English Electric Company and it went up and away. Of course the sirens started and out comes the MT officer ‘19 to the dozen’
“Take cover, take cover”
and I said: “what’s the good of taking cover sir? He’s gone”
“How do you know he’s gone?”
I said: “I saw him.”
“Why didn’t you come and tell me?”
“How could I run 200 hundred yards, sir? He was here 2 seconds and he’s gone.”
He said: “What was it?”
I said: “I think it was a Junkers 88 but it was certainly German and he’s dropped some bombs in Stafford”
“Can we get confirmation?”
I said: “If you ring up the police they’ll tell you the bombs dropped in Stafford.”
I didn’t know where they’d dropped but I did learn later they’d dropped on the sports field.
He could have dropped where I was standing but he didn’t so that was another thing…
Then I was down on the south coast and I was delivering and I’d been right through the flat country, Rye, Winchelsea places like that where there was no cover and as I came up this hill there were some trees on the right. It was a sunny afternoon, about 4 o’clock, and I saw this aircraft and I thought “what’s that?” and as I came out of the trees I saw these red flashes going across the front and that would be a tracer bullet and a tracer bullet is the 4th bullet in every bullet so the chap that’s firing can see where he’s going and the aircraft flashed past the window and it was an ME 109 and he went straight out and over the channel so if I hadn’t changed down on that bit of a hill I could have been in the wrong spot at the wrong time! He never came back because after I got out of the trees I had no cover so I carried on and delivered what I had to deliver. That was a near miss.
We often had to go to a place in London called Kidbrook and nine times out of 10 when we got there there seemed to be an air raid. Now, looking back on it there was more noise made by the guns firing at the aircraft than the actual bombs that came down. We got under the bed. What use was a bed? If a bomb came through the roof the pally asses (because you didn’t have mattresses you had pallyasses like what we call biscuits — big square mattresses, about a foot, 15 inches and 3 of them made up a bed) so we used to put those on top and get under the bed. What use was that? It might have stopped a bit of shrapnel but it wouldn’t stop the bombs. However , we got away with that.
We had to take aircraft engines down to Vicars Armstrong. They were on the site of the Brooklands old racing track where they used to race pre war days. When I’d unloaded I said to the chap in the stores: “Can we go look at those German Aircraft?” All the salvaged German Aircraft that had been brought down, were stacked. Those that weren’t badly damaged and those that were just scraps were all there.
We went and looked and one thing I noticed was when we went to look in these aircraft that weren’t too badly damaged there was a peculiar smell and it reminded me of a baby’s pram when a baby’s been sick. They were done in blue paint — it’s petrol paint, I suppose. We saw dozens of them. They were all stacked round there for analysis.
Another time I had to go down to Farnborough and I delivered my spares and I saw this aircraft and I said to this chap “I’ve never seen a hurricane with a radial engine. The hurricane has an engine in line.”
“Tell you the truth, sir, it may have roundels on but it’s an FW190 — a German aircraft - and it’s intact and new.”
I said: “What happened?”
He said: “This pilot got a bit confused and landed at Swansea thinking he was on his own aerodrome and by the time he recovered his wits he was surrounded by police and armed guards and he had to give in and we got a completely new FW 190!”
And they were testing it at Farnborough!
The Northern Lights - that was something that was very spectacular in the 40s. Night after night after night in the winter, towards Stoke on Trent and that way, there were these lovely coloured lights in the sky. It was almost like a blitz. It went on night after night after night. We could see them. , It was the Aurora Borealis. They lit up the camp flickering from one side to the other. We knew someone was being bombed. We couldn’t hear the noise but we knew someone was being blitzed. We could see Coventry being blitzed.
One thing we always did if we were going out on a journey - say for instance the flight sergeant would say “your going up to Scotland this weekend”
“Got to go to a place called Edzell in Angus — spares”
We’d go to the cookhouse and say: “any of you lads live in Scotland?”
“Can you get a pass for the weekend?”
“Well I’m going up to Scotland and I’ve got no escort this week — do you want to come with me? Get yourself a 36 hour pass.”
Well, there was method in my madness because when they eventually came back if we wanted a bacon butty at night and we had to go down to the cookhouse (which was strictly illegal!) and they’d do us a bacon butty or a fried egg or a cheese sandwich and we’d sit there yarning with them. We made friends with the cooks straight away.
Of course after Dunkirk most of the lads who came back were the regulars and us that had been called up were the worst
“Get some in get some in get some sand in your shoes” things like that.
But eventually we gradually blended in and some of them were quite pleasant but at first we were the lowest of the low because we’d been called up and they’d volunteered in peace time. of course. Things went on like that.
We kept on having spares arrive day after day. The first two or 3 months we had to keep on going down to the goods yard unloading these goods trains with all sorts of stuff that kept coming in. Acres and acres of stuff - delivering it to the sites. And I had another chap who actually became my best man. His mother owned a grocery store at the back of Codsall station a Mrs Houston. Eddie Houston and I became friends and we were in the yard one day servicing our vehicles and the chief said: “I’ve got a job for you two.”
“What’s that chief?”
And he said: “Go up to such and such a site and pick up 2 new Bedfords - the high loading ones”
The others were the flat nosed things and these you climbed up two steps. What I liked about the Bedfords when you got on an open road you put a little ratchet down and took your foot off the accelerator but you had to remember when you come to stop to take it off!
“Where’ve we got to go?”
“You’ve got to report to the Embarkation officer at Ayr Docks”
“It’s on the coast. This stuff is going to Iceland”
So we took these two vehicles and Eddie said: “It’s a bit late to start tonight - come and stay at my house overnight”
So we tootled down to Codsall stayed overnight and set off in the morning and drove right up through Scotland and got to Ayr and handed over to the Embarkation Officer and he gave us our tickets back to Stafford and we came back on the train and started again on something new.
In 1940 when we had a very bitter winter — snow snow, snow, snow they gave us a snowplough out of stores. This was run on caterpillars like a tank. There were no brakes - the only way to stop it was to put your foot on the right hand pedal and would make it stop and slew to the right. No steering wheel.
We had to go round for two hours at a time round all the sites which were scattered for miles around in Stafford and our turn would come to an end and we’d stop and someone else would have a go.
Four hours off — 2 hours on right through the night to keep the sites open because it was snowing continuously and it was an open thing too. We went round and round and kept the lanes open so when they came to work the next day there were no hold ups we kept the lanes and the sites open. It’s such a huge site — it covers miles and miles — you get one hanger with thousands of these spares in — a gap of 2 miles and another hanger — well, they’re not hangers they’re huge factories with all the stuff that’s needed for the running of the Air force. From ammunition, china, desks hospital beds, footwear — every single thing was there so when you went to start up a new aerodrome or one that’s been bombed you took what they wanted maybe 6 or seven of us at one time in different vehicles going down with a huge amount of spares.
I had a job for 3 months running from Stafford to a place near Didcot beside the railway. It was called 3 MU. Maintenance Unit — Milton. I used to take stuff down from Stafford and fetch stuff back from Milton and go down for three months — this lovely place. Go down through Oxford, over the traffic lights, down through Abingdon, and there used to be a pub called the Pear tree. Turn left there.
Seven or 8 of us were there at the time and one night the lads said fancy a night out and one of the lads said: “let’s get a lift into Wantage — it was 7 miles away. Got a lift into Wantage and the lads had their beers and I won an onion in the pub raffle and gave it back to raffle again.
Came the time to come home and there were 7 of us and a dark night, seven miles to go. What were we going to do about transport? We hadn’t thought of that.
Anyway, we’d walked about a mile and someone said: “listen, there’s a lorry coming and going our way.
How are we going to stop it? he won’t see us in the dark
Chap said I’ve got an idea opened up a box of matches lit it and put the match in there and suddenly all the matches flared up and he threw it up in the air and it came down in front of the lorry and the lorry stopped dead
What do you want what do you want
Can you give us a lift back to Didcot?
And he gave us a lift back to the camp so we got back in time.
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Genevieve Tudor of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of Francis Williams and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
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