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- Norman Tilling
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- 14 November 2003
by Norman Tilling
I was 12 years old when war was declared against Germany. My eldest brother Albert joined up whilst the next oldest brother Fred at 14 went into Essential War Work. With my youngest brother I was evacuated to the home of Vicar and Mrs Cromwell-Bush at Chewton Mendip, Somerset.
In 1941 at the age of 14, I returned to Bristol to join Fred in the Vehicle Building Industry. Almost all the work consisted of ‘making do’ with any available materials. This included converting many American cars….which I understood were donated by ‘rich’ Americans and included lovely Buick, Chryslers etc.. Working 10 or more hours daily we cut off the backs of the cars behind the drivers’ seat to fit and equip ambulance, canteen or ARP emergency bodies.
When I reached 15yrs, there was an appeal for more men to join the new Home Guard Anti Aircraft Unit at Easton in Gordano to defend the city against the blitz. Especially needed were ‘plotters’ and being quick at maths was vital. I asked my Father if I could say I was 17 to volunteer, and he agreed.
I reported for duty at Horfield Barracks and received nightly intensive instruction for 2 weeks to qualify. Others on the course were old enough to be my grandfather.. I was given the job of TCO Acc. The Instructor, a Polish Officer, was a very strict and hard task master. By the time I completed my training I became quite friendly with him and at one point, he showed me the hole in his back into which a small fist would fit. This injury, he said, he had received whilst in a Concentration Camp. I never forget hearing him speak these words. "I can’t get the buggers to believe me when I tell them of the cruelty going on in concentration camps." His words proved all too true, as the world later discovered.
After training I was awarded my stripe. As Lance Bombadier (corporal) I reported every 6th night to Horfield Barracks and was taken by Army lorry to the Easton in Gordano Anti Aircraft Battery, where I recall there were 40 twin rocket guns. As TCO Acc, I with my plotter colleagues were based underground, with a very primitive forerunner of ‘radar’ equipment. My ‘instruments’ consisted of cardboard discs and charts of hand written measurements and numbers.
Over the intercom would come the warning of approaching aircraft. The position would be plotted on a sheet of perspex laid on top of a map of Bristol and district. From figures given in reports received by my colleagues, I calculated the height, speed and direction of the approaching craft, and the point at which the plane would come into range. Then I gave instructions for the elevation, direction and firing of the 40 guns, whose rockets were designed to explode over a cubic mile to account for any change in the plane’s direction, height or speed.
I still wonder if I was the youngest Lance Bombadier in the Home Guard?
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