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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
People in story: 
Stan Arthurs
Location of story: 
Great Barr, Birmingham. Brize Norton.
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 May 2005

My story begins in 1939 when I answered a call to join the "Local Defence Volunteers" (LDV). Issued with an armband and a truncheon, I patrolled the outskirts of the GEC at Witton, confident with the information that any German paratrooper, unstable as he landed would be easy meat. This I did for two hours per night, three times a week. Quite rough on a 17 year old working a 48 hour week!


Then the "Home Guard". Armed with a Canadian Ross rifle and five rounds, I was stationed on the flat roof of the Clifton cinema at Great Barr. With the bombs whislting overhead and shrapnel falling like rain, our job, again three nights a week, was to sight major city explosions and fires and declare the sighting angle. Together with similar sightings carried out at other high points the convergence gave a near indication of the bombed area.

So, I was pleased in 1941 to be released by my employers to joing the RAF. A medical and aptitude test at Viceroy Close on Bristol Road declared me suitable for occupation PNB (Pilot, Navigation, Bomb Aimer) I have to confess to a bit of cheating because school ended for most of us at 14 and the mathematical requirements needed a secondary education. I overcame this by asking those coming out of interview about questions and answers. There were no written papers in the examination.

A posting to Cardington and then Henlow on an electricians course! You didn't question the ways of the RAF and I concluded that electricians were in short supply and in civvy street, I was emplyed as an electricians mate!


Ordinary duties involving, wherever possible, flight-testing caused me to enquire about my intended aicrew situation. Sufficient to say, I had a further aircrew medical and was again rated PNB and issued with ny aircrew cap flash, which stood out a mile at Brize Norton, and advanced flying unit. At least I was made to attend flying school subjects such as navigation, theory of flight etc.

Again I would scrounge to be on as many air tests of repaired Whitley bombers as I could and much of my spare time was used either in the right hand seat or in the rear turret, a position that really fascinated me. At least my impending aircrew proper and wearing the white flash seemed to give me both legal and illegal flying opportunities. The aircraft like the Albermarle and a couple of Hawker biplanes gave me further flying hours, although officially I was ground crew.

Prompted by an item on Central News at Six on 15th April, I feel it could be interesting to learn more about the locally built Horsa glider, mainly regarding it being flight tested by RAF pilots prior to being crewed by Airborne pilots.

I am not sure when the Horsa arrived. Already tested to a large degree they had a history of fata crashes. Loaded with sandbags to give the equivalent of, I think 28 fully equipped airborne troops, these 88 foot wingspan wooden giants suffered serious faults when making a dive approach and were eventually modified.


At Brize Norton, around April 1942, Horsa's were being towed routinely by Whitleys. Circuits and bumps were performed both day and night. Take off-glider release and land-rope drop from Whitley - Whitley lands. Engine failures, dodgy take offs; inevitably casualties were the order of the day. The aircraft were flown by RAF pilots on "rest" from bombing trips. Wellingtons with their geodetic construction had been tried, but stretched when towing and the eventual choise of tug, the four engined bomber hadn't yet been considered.

In June 1942 I was part of the night flying scene. I'd flown in both tugs and gliders and Wing Commader May O.C. night flying had suggested that there'd be "something to do" in either the tug or the glider. Cleared with my electrical NCO I chose the glider.

A dark night and "laid out" flare path, the usual signals, a jerk and we were away. Flight sargent Tobias was the pilot. Although we were quicly airborne and "holding down", the tug, not unusually seemed to lack acceleration. The amber lights showed and then the red lights appeard to end the runway. The tug with the full crew staggered off and gained perhaps 550 feet but then stalled, to nose dive and explode, killing all on board. We had cast off and flew down the main street of the village Black Bourton, no light, vague shapes and then oblivion.

I can remember, fleetingly, travelling fast through the unlit lanes of Oxfordshire headed for the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. Bell jangling, quite a lot of pain causing me to ask them to slow down.

A fleeting glimpse of my mother by my bed, tugging at her wide brimmed hat. She'd been sent for urgently. A telegram and travel warrent helped but how did she managed the trip to New Street station and from Oxford to the hospital? We never had the opportunity to experience these things.


Apparently I was in Radcliffe Infirmary for about a fortnight but I was barely conscious of events. My mother begged to be able to stay and she was accommodated somehow. Transferred to St. Hughes Collect that had been converted to a military hospital; specialising in aircraft injuries, I hovered between a vague consciousness and sleep.

Three times a day I would be trundled off for tests and dressings. My skull was shaved with with two deep lacerations and fractures. Neck muscles were damaged and a deep cut encircled my throat. My spine had suffered a compression fracture between my shoulder blades and I had three fractures in the small of my back. A damaged kidney, torn stomach muscles and a wound on my leg completed the damage.

Flight Tobias was paralysed.

Wonderful nursing. I would rave about the routine filling of form 700 and apologise profusely as I woke from my delirious state. I didn't realise I was in a ward. But then, my stare of helf was common and understood. Such comradeship. Later the lads would shave in in amongst the numerous cuts to my face. Ken Jefferson, later killed in a military lorry accident was a particular mate. A pilot, he'd broken his back in a crash and later was to discover he had intense pain when experiencing the severe vibrations of wartime aircraft.

Then to a rehabilitation centre at Middleton Stoney, normally hte Earl of Jersey's estate. Wonderful treatment and food. Pity the local cemetary, within the estate, echoed to the sound of military music as dead aircradt were buried. A constant reminder of how lucky I was.

And so I returned to Brize Norton. An aircraft medical board had pronounced me fit and I arrived for duty with my old uniform, heavily bloodstained and torn, wrapped in brown paper. I'd had to keep this from day one. The medical officer shoed real anger and after writing an chit for a complete replacement of kit, arranged that the NCO who had instructed me to look after it to ensure a replacement be demoted. To my dismay, I was informed that a fortnight after my crash I had been posted to a flying training school in Canada!

A year later and more Airborne pilots had qualified to that the RAF pilots "on rest" were mainly employed in tug aircraft.

Sometimes I think that I'd like to seemy RAF records but then I feel that I'd find them inaccurate. It didn't occur to me for some time that I should apply for a war pension and when I did, I found I had to tell the medics about the injuries I'd suffered!

More postings! Little Rissington next and unbelievably a posting to a mobile "beach and repair unit". I couldn't drive. It had to be a mistake. These units would waterproof vehicles for landing on beaches. Each member of the unit had to be an expert in the driving and repair of cranes, half trucks and trucks. I couldn't even drive. I had to! I learned as we toured invasion areas, living rough under canvas. We stank!

Again I appealed for the aircraft course. Still in possesion of my aircraft flash I felt a right imposter. The net result is that I was sent for another medical at ACMB London.

I was informed that the RAF needed wireless operators/air gunners. I refused and was remustered to electrician. Sad to hand in my aircrew flash.

I was demobbed as an instructor at the Technical Training School in Melksham. A cracking job with unlimited promotion. I chose to return to teh ordered life of Civvy Street.

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