- Contributed by
- Frank Yates
- People in story:
- Frank Yates, Buster Bell, Sgt.Bond
- Location of story:
- Scampton, Stenigot RDF, Stoke Holy Cross RDF Norwich
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 19 November 2005
Memories of Frank Yates CHAPTER 5
Churchill was Prime Minister, he had formed a coalition government with the Labour party and had fruitlessly flown to France to persuade them to continue the struggle, or, at least, to transfer the powerful French navy to Britain. Then came the debacle of Dunkirk and the Nation was, to say the least, in a state of depression. Then came the famous wireless speech by Churchill-
“I offer you nothing but blood, sweat and tears……….
We will fight them on the beaches, on the landing ground……..
We will never surrender……….
People will say…..This was their finest hour”.
I have said it many times since that fateful day, 64 years ago and many sceptics do not believe it, but the mood of the British changed overnight. There was a new found resolution in the air and a determination that, if we had to sell ourselves dearly, no live German was going to set foot on these islands.
In this new atmosphere, Buster and I were ordered back to Scampton, where there were still no Bofors guns, and certainly no predictors! After a fortnight, living in a tent, which was no hardship, in the glorious June weather, we were moved again. During this Scampton period, I developed a most spectacular boil on my right arm. It was so painful, that my chief occupation was visiting the RAF sick bay to have it seen to!
We were moved, in a 15 cwt. truck to our new location ready to use our new scientific skills, only to find, that the LAA troop, protecting the RDF. Station at Stenigot, high on the bleak Lincolnshire Wolds, had Lewis guns! The gun sites were comfortable, with a cook and cookhouse. Over the years I lived on many gun sites with built on cookhouses and all had one thing in common, apart from all having a cook, who was a good poker player. On the top shelves, there was always a large number of big oval shaped tins of tinned herring, but I never heard of any being served, or eaten. Despite the many brand names, displayed on the labels, they were always and universally known as “Flying Cloud”. We stayed there for about a fortnight, having a trip in a coach, organised by the RAF, to the fleshpots of Louth, as a highlight!
Then, once more, on the quest of the Holy Grail, we were sent on our mission to educate the soldiery on the mysteries of the big green box!
The journey started by truck to Lincoln. Carrying the unexpired portion of the day’s rations, we entrained to Norwich. This was the longest journey I had ever taken and I enjoyed trying to work out which way we were going. Two places at which we changed trains were Ely and March, and I confess that I had never heard of them, I was intrigued as we passed miles of conifer plantations, with “Bryant and May” ownership signs. This was a nation of smokers!
When we arrived at Norwich (Thorpe), we were met by a PU. (Public Utility) Van and taken to a Battery HQ., in the City, where we stayed for the night.
Next morning we were taken to our final destination, a troop protecting an RDF station at Stoke Holy Cross, about four miles S.E. of Norwich. RDF meant “Radio Direction Finding” (Radar) and, like Stenigot, Stoke was one of a chain stretching from Kent up to Scotland, all having 4 high steel towers, in a line, and a group of 4 smaller, wooden towers nearby, arranged in a square. These mysterious buildings, built before the war, were the subject of countless apocryphal stories, in the late 30s.-“I was passing these masts, when my engine stopped, and there were several other cars in the same boat, when this RAF bloke on a motor bike came along and told us that our engines would be O.K. in five minutes.” (Presumably, the motor bike had a new type of engine!)
Buster, as usual, went to troop HQ, in the compound, below the masts, and I was taken to a gun site on a hillock, just off the Beccles Road. The Detachment commander was a sergeant Bond, who made me very welcome. I found afterwards that he was a bank clerk, from Beckenham, Kent. Now for the punch line! In the gun pit was a Bofors, bolted direct to the concrete and next to it stood a well worn green box, and both of them had been there for months! Sgt. Bond smiled when I told him of my travels and said “Welcome, I’m looking for a good No. 1” So started a very good summer in Norfolk, with a very hospitable bunch of southerners. I can still vividly remember that first afternoon, when I said “Is anyone going to mash the tea?” when everyone rolled about, laughing — they called me “Masher” for some time afterwards!
It was Sgt. Bond’s turn for embarrassment, during that first week. His girlfriend had bought him an electric shaver for his birthday. Two days later, an irate Flight Lieutenant stormed up the hill to the site, demanding to know who was using a f*****g electric razor. Finding the culprit, he said something like “We’re searching for the b*****y enemy and all we get is your f******g shaver” Sgt. Bond lost his present, being told that he could have it back when he eventually left the site. The RAF Officer’s parting shot was “Use a b******g razor blade like everybody else.”
Once a week we got a 24 hour pass and Buster and I went, together, to Norwich, where we booked a night in a commercial hotel, near the superb market place. We went into a tea shop, overlooking the square and Buster said “China, or Darjeeling?” As I had little idea what he meant, not having mixed in his social circle, I diplomatically said “Whatever you’re having, Buster”. In the afternoon we visited his aunt, who lived near the Cathedral. We had lunch with the dear lady, who was very upper middle class, and charming with it! In the evening we went to the theatre, the offering being a stage version of “No Orchids for Miss Blandish”, a salacious American tale of kidnap and rape. We thought ourselves very naughty, especially when Miss Blandish wore her undies for most of the play! Nowadays no one would turn a hair!
Shortly afterwards, Buster went off to Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU), at LLandrindod Wells, and I saw him once only, until after the war.
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