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23 August 2014
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WW2 - People's War

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About the contributor

Paul Martin Remfry
User ID: U1383335

It was quite a change going from a London Court to a country one. Previously I had only to cope with County Court matters. Now I had to learn about Bankruptcy and High Court procedures as Swindon was both a Bankruptcy Court and a District Registry of the High Court. Although the principles were much the same, the vocabulary and jargon differed. Also the time scales for when actions had to be completed by varied. I soon made a few friends and joined the GWR Sports Club so that I was soon playing cricket and tennis. I also had an introduction to badminton at which I became reasonably proficient. It did not take long to settle down in the new office. Soon after the war broke out in September 1939 the Senior Clerk was transferred to London and I was left to look after our two branch offices at Marlborough and Malmesbury. These were each open for one day a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays respectively. Initially I went by bus, but once I knew the way I used to cycle, roughly sixteen miles to each. If the weather was bad, the bailiff would take me to Marlborough. I can particularly remember one trip to Marlborough. The evening before it had rained and the rain was freezing on my hair. The next day there were inches of snow everywhere, the telephone wires were down because they were encased in ice a couple of inches thick and the roads were covered in a thick layer of ice. We got there and back safely but I was glad when it was over. Because the Senior Clerk had gone I had to take his place as the Judge's Clerk. I could cope with responsibility of it but the Judge took exception to the brand new suit I was wearing. In those days it was more or less de rigeur to wear a very dark jacket with either matching or pinstriped trousers. I had put on my best suit which I had only bought a few months earlier and which was very light, almost beige, in colour. The Judge said it would have been very nice on Brighton front but was not to be worn in his court. So I had to buy a dark jacket and waistcoat but got away with grey flannel trousers. Because of the war, legal work fell away very quickly. In fact it became so light that to pass the time we learnt to play the game of Monopoly.
Eventually I was called up to join the armed forces. I had volunteered to join the RAF as aircrew. When I had my medical at Uxbridge I was turned down for flying duties. I was not told why but I can remember the Medical Officer saying that I was not to be permitted to fly. I can only assume that it was because of colour blindness as I had taken the usual RAF test and I am quite sure that I could not see what I was supposed to see in the multicoloured diagram. In consequence I was directed to report to RAF Cardington for assignment to ground duties on 6 June 1940. Here I was kitted out in uniform, all civilian clothes being placed in our suitcases and sent to our homes. I was given my service number, 1157369, and told that once committed to memory I would never forget it. I still know it although it is nearly fifty years since I last needed it. I asked to be trained as a Flight Mechanic and was posted to St Athan, South Wales for my trade training. All this intake should have been sent to a station for Basic Training, i.e. square bashing, but as tradesmen were urgently needed for squadron duty, this was omitted. This training took approximately three months, when I was passed out as a Flight Mechanic AC1. Apart from one occasion when a Heinkel was mistaken for a Blenheim and it dropped four bombs on the station, these three months passed relatively quietly apart from the intensive tuition we received on aero engines, both liquid cooled and air-cooled. For one week I was put on anti-parachutists patrol at night. Each man, I think there were a dozen of us, was given an old Canadian Ross rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition. I had never handled a rifle before. We were paraded at the start of each evening and inspected by a Warrant Officer (the highest rank of NCO). We were told to hold our rifles for inspection, so that the barrels could be checked for cleanliness, and then to work the bolts backwards and forwards for smoothness of action. Never having been trained in the handling of a rifle, whilst working the bolt I knocked off the W.O.'s hat. Naturally he was not very pleased but he forgave me (I think) when I told him that it was the first time I had handled a rifle and had not received any initial training.
After passing out at St Athans, I was posted to Bicester for a couple of weeks, where I started work on short-nosed Blenheims. I was then posted to Aldergrove RAF Station just outside of Belfast. To get there I had to take a ferry from Liverpool. This was at the time when the Luftwaffe was pounding the country with night bombing raids. I joined the ferry in Liverpool docks but before we could sail there was an air raid warning (moaning minnie) and we had to stay below decks in harbour whilst 'jerry' pounded the city and the docks. I can remember being very cold as I was lying on the deck fully clothed and in my great coat, using my life jacket as a pillow, but underneath a ventilator which was blowing cold air from the deck straight down on me. There we lay all night listening to the bombs whistling down and counting the explosions. When we heard the eighth one go off we knew that we were safe until the next stick started. I stayed at Aldergrove until just before Christmas working on Hurricanes. It was a very cold place, working out of doors, and I can remember it being snowy. We were warned to be very careful where we went in Belfast as there was strong anti-British feeling in some parts. One thing that was good was the food outside camp. We occasionally went to the cinema at Antrim and then to a cafe there where we were able to have eggs, bacon, sausage and soda bread for a reasonable charge.
A couple of weeks before Christmas we were posted to Insworth Lane, between Cheltenham and Gloucester, for a Fitter Engines training course. This entailed a ferry back to Liverpool and then a long,slow and exhausting train journey to Gloucester via Birmingham. We got to Birmingham just before midnight, if I remember correctly, and were told that the train was not going any further as there was an air-raid on. So we all piled out of the train and were directed to a YMCA hostel for the night, That was fun, as no one knew Birmingham, and, with the black-out, it was very difficult to find one's way. And with the noise of ack-ack fire and bombs exploding it was not a very happy occasion. However we made it and duly arrived at Insworth Lane to be ticked off for arriving a day late. There we stayed for about another three months for a further intensive training course. Several of us went into Cheltenham on Christmas Eve for an evening out but managed to miss the bus back to camp. I spent the night at the YMCA hostel and walked back to camp on Christmas morning. There was no duty that day, so I just walked in the main gate only to be stopped by the Service Police who wanted to know where I had been and if I had permission to be out of camp. If they knew that I had been out all night without the appropriate pass then I was in trouble. So I told them that I had been out for a walk. I must have looked innocent for they eventually accepted my story and let me go into camp. But I expect that really it was because it was Christmas morning that they let me go. Eventually we passed out at the end of the course, myself I think as an AC1, and were sent to West Kirby, on the Wirral, to await posting overseas. I think this must have been about the beginning of April. There I remained until June 1941.
This was a very easy and relaxed period with scrounging brought to a fine art. Bill Williams managed to get permission from the Padre to go to what had been a girls school in Hoylake and was to be converted into a hospital. Supposedly we were to keep the grounds tidy, mow the grass and do any other jobs that the caretaker found for us. Although we did some work for appearances sake, we spent most of our time in the indoor swimming pool. It was at this camp where we developed the art of walking around with our little bits of paper (Chittys) as if we were looking for someone with a message or something. This is the only place I can remember that I wore my 'tin-hat' of necessity. We were walking back to camp about midnight, Liverpool was getting a pasting, and shrapnel from our ack-ack guns was falling all around us. We could hear it pinging on the road. One night I was fast asleep when a raid developed on Liverpool. A naval 4.7 ack-ack gun was brought up onto the road outside the camp about thirty yards from my billet. I was sleeping in the top bed of a three tiered bunk. When that gun went off I was under the bottom bed before I was even awake. I don't think I have ever moved so fast. Most of the people I had trained with were sent on a draft to Rhodesia, but I had to remain at West Kirby as I was expected to be a witness at a court-martial. I had woken up one night to find an airman rifling the pockets of airmen in the billet. We apprehended him. However it seemed he admitted the theft, having been caught in the act, so there was no court-martial. We four skivers continued to look after the school spending most of our time out of camp, when one day we were asked how long we had been there. When it was realised that we had been there for just about three months and were not scheduled for a particular draft, things happened very rapidly. We were posted to the next draft and I was on my way to Canada. We were put on a slow train to Greenock and transferred to the SS Pasteur, a French liner. So we sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. I think it must have been on 6 June 1941, but I may have got the day wrong. (6 June seems to have been an important date for me at this time as it when I joined the RAF, when I sailed for Canada, when I returned from Canada and when I was demobbed)

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