- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Bill Barwick
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 November 2003
I had said my farewells. 112 was behind me. I had mixed feeling about leaving what had been my way of life for what seemed half a lifetime, but I was used to moving on. The train ride across Germany was more comfortable than my previous trip due to somebody’s mistake. Home was less strange this time and I had quite a bit of leave due to me. I settled back into my old ways of going to the cinemas at Newport, Northampton and Olney, visiting the pubs and renewing old acquaintances. I felt sure that my next orders would be to report to a release centre for demob. Bob was already out, he’d married Vera and they were living with Mum at Olney
Mum was concerned about him, but all I could say to her was that there was nothing we could or should do about it. I had no attachments and did not feel I wanted any at that time. About the second night I was home Bob Vera and myself went to Lavendon for a drink together. We missed the bus home of course and walked the few miles. As we approached Olney Bob asked if I still had the old punt. I didn’t know about it so we decided to take the key from home and go to look. Cherbie my mate had watched over it all the years I was away. It was still tied up at the same post, the paddles were still hidden near by. It was irresistible. We got aboard and away we went up the river. Once well clear of civilization Bob decided that he needed a swim, removed his clothes and slipped over the side. I took mine off and followed. Vera protesting that she didn’t even know where she was. Was left in the thing in the middle of the river. It was early morning when we got home…
Bob and Vera soon went away back to Birkenhead where Bob started work as a printer. Which was the work he did for most of his life.
Mum and Dad had somehow managed to continue their long time hobby of making shopping bags and tea cozies from leather bits. I joined in half-heartedly. It did not look like a very promising job really, but they liked it.
The end of my leave drew near and then I got my orders. Report to R A F station Spitalgate near Grantham. This was a blow, I really had thought I’d be out. I duly reported and found myself going round getting issued with a decent uniform, boots and all that sort of thing. I was given a billet and detailed to a flight in a hanger.
I soon discovered that there were several 112 types in the same position as I was. Clem, Mad Reece and Ginger Hobson. Well at lest there was something going for me. Ging and I had been friends on 112 for quite some time. We both played reasonable good table tennis and I being left-handed had partnered him in pairs very effectively so we soon got into that again. Clem was a mate of Benny and told me he was now a bookie in the East End. Mad Reece wanted to get out as much as we did to get into music in some way as that was his thing.
I started working in one of the hangars. Much like old times because here I was back on Airspeed Oxfords. Not out on the flights but in the hangers doing forty hour inspections. Right back where I’d started in 1941. It was not a bad job. I suppose it worked out as an eight hour a day job, with liberal breaks and very little pressure. I was working with a corporal who was quite a decent bloke, we got along very well. We could get into Grantham easily in the evenings, it was early summer and as I remember good weather. I knew most of the inspection jobs on Oxfords. Tappets rockers, engine bearers, controls etc. It was an easy life really. The Squadron was as expected, a pilot training squadron and they were training Dutch air force blokes and Turkish officers to do service flying. Now I knew why Bob was out and I was in, even though he had the higher release group. There was very little call for underbelly gunners now that the war was over, but training Dutchmen and Turks to fly brought in foreign currency. We were earning and the airforce was going to hang onto us for as long as they could.
I think the worst thing was being detailed to guard duty at some satellite ‘drome which had been shut down. It had been taken over by the rabbits and pheasants. I found myself doing a guard under this pimply cheeked corporal who had never been out of England and was prepared to tell me how to do a guard on something that was not worth guarding, where there was no danger of seeing anybody. Except perhaps some poacher doing his thing. Had I done guards with Gurkhas right up in front line positions to be told how to go on by this sort of twit? Was this what the R A F was like? To me it said it was time to get out.
Every few days a name would be called out on the Tannoy system for bods to report to the orderly room. This was as their number came up for demob. It seemed ages before mine was called and I duly reported. Before I went off to the demob centre, the Corporal I’d worked with took me into the Engineering Officers Office where the Engineering Officer tried to talk me into signing on a short term service contract of, I think, only two years. On the promise of a place in training school to upgrade to fitter 2E. It was a temptation, but I really did want to get out.
Once more I said my farewells, took the train to the demob centre at London. Went through the process. (Which took about a day) and sent me off in the morning with my little brown box, with my new civvies in it and leave for demob for quite a long time. I had a demob book with a very good reference in it. Taffy Probert had written it out and some Groupy signed it. I had a ration book and instructions that I should look for work well before my leave ran out and that I was not subject to any work direction of any sort.
After a couple of weeks during which time I took some of Mum and Dad’s shopping bags round and did a little door to door sales. It was fun, but not very profitable. I went to Northampton and bought a motorbike with my gratuity. Nothing very special just an ex service M 20. Like the things I’d been riding with 654 squadron, so I knew the machine well from the start..
Once on the road with that I decided to call in at the employment office in Olney to ask about work. The man there asked who I had worked for before I joined up and I told him.
‘I’ll ring them and ask if they will take you back.’ he said.
‘Don’t bother with that,’ I told him, ‘I’m not going there,’
‘If I send you, you will,‘ he said.
‘If you send me I wont,’ I told him.
‘You will go where I send you,’ he insisted.
‘I wont though,’ I explained to him, ‘you are wasting your time ringing them mate. I shall go and get my own job.’
The idiot still rang them and when they said no, he told me that he would have to get me a job. I told him to go and play with his toys or something like that and walked out of his office.
I got on the bike and trundled round to the Brickyards in the Marston Valley. I stopped at the gate and asked the security man if there were any jobs going to be told
‘If you can get out of there without getting a job you’ll do well mate.’ So I went to the office, was interviewed, shown around the lorry workshops and told to start in a week’s time as a fitter.
There was a new firm just started in Newport Pagnel so I looked in on them and was shown round. This was interesting. They had gearboxes and all sorts of bits of machinery on the benches and quite big machines in pieces on the floor.
‘No,’ the man said, ‘they did not want anybody for a fortnight, but if I could wait till then I could start.’ I agreed to do this because I could spend some time selling Mum and Dad’s shopping bags and all that sort of thing. It worked out about right and I duly started on the Monday morning.
At first I thought I may have slipped up with the job which was scraping bearing surfaces. I had scraped journal bearings using mechanics blue and a bearing scraper, but this job was flat bearings and they wanted them scraped using the Swiss draw scraping method. I started rough scraping some 12” X 12” cast iron plates. There were quite a lot needed and the first one took more than a week. I was however getting the feel of the job and the next took less than a week. After three I began to get a system working and eventually could do one a day which, they told me was pretty good.
The next step was to get quality into my scraping and this took some time, but I soon graduated onto work on the machines which were being rebuilt. Scraping the bearing surfaces on high quality machine tools I discovered was tedious in a quite technical way. The surface had to be measured very accurately for straightness and flatness. I was used to setting clearances to within a Thou .(001”). But now we had to get flatness down to within a tenth of that (0001)” and this could be over several feet in distance. The learning curve was steep once more. There were complications, which had to be allowed for. Like the fact that with those dimensions the metal you were working on was actually moving as the temperature affected it. On bed-ways thermometers had to be used and the amount of metal distortion calculated. It was hard graft with quite technical overtones.
It was on the day I started at Sogenique that I met Coley. I had been in the shop for about an hour when somebody came to me and asked if I came from Olney.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I come from Olney,’
‘Well,’ he said ‘that bloke over there started this morning and his car broke down on the way in, he comes from Olney, he could probably use a lift home.’
Later I walked over to the bloke.
‘Come from Olney they tell me,’ I said.
‘That’s right,’ he said.
‘If you need a lift home this evening I can offer the back seat on a motor bike,’ I told him. ‘What went wrong with your car?’
‘Only ran out of petrol, I’ve got a can, we can pick some up at the garage,’ he said, ’My names Cole. George,’
‘O K George, I’ll pick you up as we leave,’
We stopped at the garage and filled his can and once on the road he tapped me on the shoulder.
‘You’ve done it now,’ he accused.
‘Done what?’ I asked.
‘Started me off on these bloody things, I shall have to have one now.’
We filled his very tatty old motor with petrol and I agreed to pick him up the next morning on my bike and we were soon sharing the rides to work. Within a few days he had bought a Norton ES2. Almost new, it set me thinking about a decent bike.
Then I dropped onto an old Austin Seven. It had been in a shed through the war and was almost as tatty as George’s old Singer, but it worked. I painted ‘Queer Thing’ across the bonnet and then one day, George painted Dick Barton Special Agent on the door. Dad made up some leather seat covers and I scrounged some motorbike tyres, which fitted it. I think it became well known around Newport because some folk called me Dick for years after.
George and I did a lot of riding that year. Right through the winter of 46-47. That was one of the coldest I’d known, with ice and snow and eventually high winds, which blew the Ammunition shelters across the roads.
In the meantime whilst we were out drinking at Bozeat I met Frances. She should have known better than date a bloke she met in a pub, but that’s what she did. Jack ‘Spot’ Chapman was with us. He dated Frances’s cousin Ivy and I agreed to get him home as I would be seeing Frances. This was O K until we wanted to see them at Olney and arranged to meet them at The Bull. I’d promised to get them home in ‘The Queer Thing’ We had overlooked one thing. Spot an inveterate poacher and I, had been out the previous night and put a load of eel lines in and these had to be got out. I think the girls wondered what was on when they arrived to find us in rough gear waiting for them and darkness. They probably wondered even more when they were led out of town to the river where we loaded them in my old punt and paddled gently and quietly up stream. We both knew that river intimately and had no trouble finding the night lines, even in the dark. And in our well practiced way with me setting the boat in just the right place and Spot hanging over the front, so that he could pull the lines in with their catch of wriggling eels and drop them into the boat.
To their credit the girls learned to put up with this sort of caper. Ivy married Spot and Frances me.
At first her mother insisted that she would not be allowed out with me on that thing. Which was my B S A M20 so I agreed to visit next time in my motor. She thought this was O K till she saw ‘The Queer Thing’ outside her house. After that I went on the bike. She got used to it. She even got used to ‘The Queer Thing’ eventually.
It was one evening when George and I were drinking in The Cock at Olney that we decided we ought to start something of a motor bike club, but it took some time for us to think of a venue until George with great inspiration said.
‘What’s wrong with this place?’
We called the landlord over and asked him about it.
‘There is a room upstairs you can have for nothing if it’s O K,’ he said, so we put an advert out in the North Bucks paper. Telling any motorcyclist to turn up one evening. One bloke wrote to George saying he would be there, on South Bucks Motorcycle headed paper, which gave his name as the chairman of that club. Ian B Jolley duly arrived. As did quite an amazing crowd of enthusiastic riders.
George and I showed them the room we could have. It was quite large and was almost full of bods with pints in their hands. He called for some order and drew their attention to the fact that Mr Jolley had been The Chairman of a quite famous club and therefore he was asking him to chair this meeting. He himself agreed to be secretary and Sid Field the photographer and personal friend of mine agreed to be treasurer though at that time there were no funds. I came up with the suggestion that The Roosters North Bucks would be a good name for the club and that was accepted. George said that the club colours would be Red, Yellow and Black. This was because they were R E M E colours and he had the scarf.
Club rules were decided, mostly taken from the rules from The South Bucks Club which Ian Jolley had with him. The decision was made to seek affiliation with The A C U, some beer was drunk and we had quite a large club going. I was elected onto the committee
The Roosters Motorcycle club became quite famous, or was it infamous during the next few years It drew its membership from quite a large area of North Bucks and Northamptonshire. At first we put on sort of adlib trials. And our club nights were very well attended.
George and me were widening our circle of friends. It speeded up when we tried a pocket handkerchief trial at Petso End near Emberton and we were persuaded that we could put a scramble on there. We had been to London, George and I to R A C headquarters and got the club affiliated to The Auto Cycle Union. We got the circuit approved and a steward was allotted to oversee us. We borrowed ropes from the Northampton Motor Cycle Club. I took on secretary of the meeting because that allowed me to also get a ride, as once I’d dealt with all the entries that was that.
We sold enough advertising space in a program to print 500 programs which we thought would be ample as we were such a small club we did not expect that many spectators. Did we get that one wrong. We had not allowed that there had been no motorcycle sport for about six years and they turned up in hundreds.
Frances and a couple of other girlfriends started out with the programs to sell at a shilling each as there was no admission charge and had sold out in the first half hour. Most people paying well over the shilling. I think there was also a small charge for car parking.
I had a good day bounding the Matchless I now had to go to work on round. I realized that this was the way to go on civvy street. Scrambling I found was a way of getting some excitement into a dull life without actually trying to kill somebody. Where I slipped up was in being persuaded that it was not wise to use a really good machine in such a rough manner and I tried to botch up bikes to do the job without too much expense. This was unwise. Scrambling is racing, the object is to get round faster than anybody else for which you need a faster bike if possible. There is always the danger that you will damage it, but if it’s a botched up thing, made with old parts and you break something it’s a lot of expense and trouble to get replacements. And you still have an old bodged machine, If you get an up to date, faster machine you don’t have to push so hard to win and take so many chances and if you do break something its current parts and often cheaper and certainly easier to get them.
I suppose I was listening to older, wiser heads than mine and that is always a silly thing to do as their advice comes from the wrong generation. If I learned anything from Scrambling, other than that it is the best thing I found since the services. It is that its wrong to give anybody advice. They don’t ask for it till they have done just what you would have advised against and got jeered at for. What they are asking for is help to get out of the problem.
I got a few rides. Not many. I concentrated on work and got on very well as a scraper. I did not altogether stop drinking, but it did become much less my way of life. George and I sometimes had a beer together. Certainly at club nights. Petrol was still tight, so I went to see Frances at Bozeat on the bus. I used to catch one that dropped me at Warrington Cross roads and walked the couple of miles to Bozeat and caught the last bus home around Ten. Her mother had got used to me and we got on well. Especially when she started seeing Walt Panter who was an old school friend from a long way back. He was a few years older than me and came from Lavendon.
Spot was also seeing Frances’s cousin Ivy at Bozeat. As petrol got easier I used to go over either on the bike or take ‘The Queer Thing’. Which people were also getting used to.
Ian Jolley had moved into the house on the Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire border known as Northey Cottage. It stood right on the county border. George left Sogenique and dropped right out for a time. He was married to an Olney woman who I had known all my life as Meg Crouch. There was nothing wrong with Meg, but I think she became a bit intolerant of George. They had two sons and were living on a council estate next door to my Aunt and her family. George was an ex R E M Y Staff Sergeant, had seen some action and was still a bit wild. Meg a product of a serious settled Olney family. They were just incompatible and George I think knew this and dropped out. I heard and saw nothing of him for what must have been about a year.
Frances and I got married during that period. The tenth of December forty nine. We had a week in Southampton for a honey moon, but the weather was nothing much t that time of year and we settled down to live with my folk at Olney. I still pressed on with my scraping but now I’d been doing it for six years and although I felt I was just about the best scraper on the firm I could see me going no further. I was not learning at this point.
Frances became pregnant and was told that she would have to go into a sanatorium when the baby was close and my mother worried that she could not cope with a baby in the house. Walt Panter and Frances’s mother were married and living in Bozeat. Things began to get a bit fraught. Frances had to go for lots of ex rays and all that sort of thing and eventually was taken into the Sanatorium at Peppard Common near Reading I had bought a Norton model 19 with a light sidecar on it and a three fifty Matchless. I needed them at this stage. George had come back from his wanderings, but his marriage was still a bit dodgy. He came with me quite often to visit Frances, especially when I took the sidecar outfit. I’m sure the other patients at the San’ looked forward to seeing him arrive as he went round the ones who had no visitors chatting to them even flirting a little.
Then suddenly I got the message that Frances had been transferred to the hospital in Reading to have the baby. I found Brian Coles. No relation of George, to come with me, to hold the sidecar down and went down there. At the reception I was told that visiting time was over which soon put me into thump some heads gear. I had not driven seventy miles to just go home again.
‘I’ll see what I can do.’ the man promised and returned to tell me I could not see her for a bit as she was having the baby. I could wait and see her as soon as it was over. So I was there to hold our baby as soon as she was ready. Denise was now one of us, but there was a snag. The baby had to have a special vaccination. Which meant that after that she must not be in contact with anyone suspected of having any form of tuberculosis. That meant she had to be taken from Frances within a few days. I had to hire a car and take her mother down to collect her.
I had ordered a new pram and got most of the gear ready, but had no time to fetch the pram from Northampton so I sent Coley with the sidecar outfit. At the shop he was told that he could not get it on the sidecar. Which was something of a red rag to a bull with Coley. He demonstrated it to them and delivered it to Nan and Walt.
Frances was taken back to the San, for more treatment and I now had a family spread out in three locations. Walt and Nan were heroes, but I think they had a lot of fun parading around Bozeat with a new baby and a pram. I got there as often as I could. But I had to work and visit Frances so I lived at home. The first tests which Frances had proved positive which meant she had to stay longer in the San. I got down there at least once a week , but as we got into November and December and the weather got colder it became quite a battle getting through The Chilterns. Coley and I became something of experts at thrashing a sidecar outfit through the snow. We took turns driving the thing and would stop and fill the sidecar with straw or hay if we saw some.
Christmass came and went and we all waited on test results. Which seemed a never ending wait. And then she could come home. I got a car and fetched her back to Bozeat at last. From there on we lived with Nan and Walt. Not a good situation, but better than it had been. The house they had, had bedrooms which ran in line. You had to go through one to get to the other which was a bit difficult, but at least we were together until at the end of March Ian Jolley told us that he was moving out of the cottage at Northey that he was living in and if we wanted it, it could be arranged. We jumped at it.
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