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No Horseplay the Night before D-Day

by gmractiondesk

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Gordon Allum
Location of story: 
Warrington/Ireland/Rivenhall, Essex
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 July 2005

This story was submitted to the website by Karolina Kopiec from BBC GMR Action Desk on behalf of Mr Gordon Allum and has been added to the site with his permission.

Gordon Allum, now 79, was born and raised in Hayes, Middlesex, but in a transit camp for the Navy near Warrington, he was befriended by a fellow sailor, Ken Brown. Going home on weekend leave, Ken took Gordon with him and he met Ken’s sister Muriel, whom he later wed. They have lived in the Bolton, Greater Manchester area, for all 57 years of their marriage. Gordon has an extensive paper archive of his wartime experience, keeping every newspaper article which mentioned him, every ticket, every letter and countless photographs, amounting to hundreds of items.

I volunteered at 16, joining the Navy and finishing up with the Fleet Air Arm, but attached to RAF because, 12 months before D-Day, they were short of ground staff mechanics. I became an air mechanical electrician. Only 100 of us went to the RAF and I was in a working group of ten. When we were all due back in the Navy, for some reason I was held back. I later learned that the other nine had gone on some ship or other and it had sunk and they had all lost their lives.
My initial six weeks’ training was at Skegness, from February 1943. It was the only time in my life I ever had chilblains on my fingers, because it was so cold. I was then posted to Ireland, near Ballykelly for more training.

When I went into the RAF I realised they were very different to us. When we first queued up for our pay, we did it the Navy way: you put your hat down, then your pay book on the desk, then you gave your number. Mine was FX 573429. You never forget that, whatever else you can’t remember. The officer in charge wasn’t having that. According to him, we were in the RAF and we had to do it the RAF way, which was to stand and salute first.
Our officer said no, we were with the RAF but we were still of the Navy, and we’d followed the correct procedure. There were a few sharp words exchanged, then the RAF man said he‘d have to find out what to do. We got no pay till he found out. In the end, we were deemed to be Navy men, and they didn’t want to know us. The feeling was mutual.

My most striking memory was at Rivenhall, Essex, the night before D-Day. There were 1000 parachutist and glider soldiers on our station, and 90 planes lined up with their engines going, the rest up in the air and staying there until it was their turn to go over to Normandy. The NAAFI was full of blokes at one point, then 1,000 men suddenly disappeared. Those of us who were guarding the base were issued with Sten automatic guns. We knew something was going to happen but nobody told us what it was. The atmosphere was eerie. My mate and I hid in one of the planes to keep out of the way because we were worried that some of our fellow guards would get trigger-happy. We didn’t often see live ammunition.

D-Day was supposed to have been that night, June 5, 1944, but it was postponed for 24 hours. Everything was ready, but no-one was allowed to come or go until we’d had the okay. During that tense time, the milkman turned up with his horse and cart and we had to take them in and keep them there till it all went off. We managed to feed the milkman but the horse didn’t get his hay till the next day. It always amused me to think that we were all prepared for a battle but we weren’t prepared for a horse.

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