Yatesbury, 1943 - I am in the back row, second from the left. The chap on the right hand side in the back row was Horace Medlock. He was shot down and killed on his first operation. Next to him is Fred Ming, who survived the war. I met him on de-mob day.
We never got leave during this period of
training, but we got fairly frequent "Friday Whiles",
i.e. 48 hour passes from Saturday to Monday. You had to make your own
way to/from wherever you spent this
time. The common practice was to get to the main
road and hitch a lift. On this
occasion there were about a dozen of us all waiting when a flatbed
lorry pulled up. "Anyone for
London?" the driver called out. All of us raised our hands and
he told us we could ride on the back,
but he'd just delivered a load of cement and it was a bit dusty. We
all, except one, climbed aboard.
'A bit dusty’
was the understatement of the year. By the time we were dropped off
at a tube station, we all looked like
ghosts. However, we managed to get cleaned up by the time we returned
on Sunday night.
When we saw the 'odd man out' we asked how he
had fared. "Not bad" he answered, and
told us that a Rolls Royce had stopped, and the chauffeur had told
him to get in the back. When he got in,
he saw this austere elderly lady sitting there. It was Queen Mary,
the Queen Mother.
We also did our first bit of flying, in an
ancient twin-engined cabin bi-plane called a D H Dragon Rapide - the
sort of thing they used to trundle passengers from Croydon over to
Paris before the war. We used to go up
about 12 people at a time to start with, just to fly around and
come down again, without doing anything else. The plane was equipped
with a bucket, and when you landed the
person who'd used it last had to go round behind the
hangars and empty it on the tomatoes that were growing there - it
produced some beautiful specimens! I
discovered that I wasn't subject to air sickness, so I never had to
empty the bucket at all.
D H Dragon Rapide
Airborne wireless training was in Percival
Proctors, single engine monoplanes, just the pilot
and pupil. The pilots were all mad Poles. To use the radio, you had
to wind out a trailing aerial. One day
my pilot flew into a thundercloud (Cu Nim - Cumulo Nimbus). Proctors
were not built for this treatment and we were tossed every which
way, during which the trailing aerial wrapped itself round the
aircraft. We were lucky to get down in one
piece, with the weight on the end of the aerial bouncing on the
ground behind us as we came in to
In September 1943 it was decided they were
going to have a big parade in London to celebrate what they called
Battle of Britain day. This was the nearest Sunday possible to the
15th, which was the day when they thought they'd shot down 185 German
aircraft (although it wasn't quite that many, but they didn't know
that at the time and nor did we). Yatesbury
was selected to pick a squad to go, and my mate Vic Jordan and I
managed to get onto the squad by nipping
back up to the other end of the line after we'd been rejected several
times. After extra drill practice, we were taken up to London by
train and billetted again at St John's Wood, but like most other
Londoners we skidaddled off back home for a
We got back the following morning for the
parade which included marching past the Victoria and Albert memorial
outside Buckingham Palace, while King George took the salute. We all
had a good feed and returned to Yatesbury by train, and eventually
passed out of the course. I was lucky
enough to finish in the top half-dozen so I was quite pleased
At the Passing Out Parade all those who had passed lined up, and the Commanding Officer came round to shake our hands and say "well done". He handed out a set of sparks to have sewn on your sleeve, your sergeant stripes, and you were supposed to get an 'S' brevet for Signaller. Unfortunately, they hadn't had any made yet, so instead we got a Bomb-Aimer's brevet 'B', and we were instructed afterwards by the Sergeant in charge of the parade to go back to our billets and "make them B's into S's and get 'em on quick!" The best we could do was change the B into a 5 which looked a bit peculiar to start with. One or two of us had this brilliant idea that if anybody outside asked "What's that 5 for?" we'd say "Ah well, that mean's we've passed out as Pilots, Navigators, Bomb Aimers, Wireless Ops and Gunners you see, all 5!" - and some of them actually believed us!
Summer 1943. I am in the back row, the 7th
one in counting from the right.
After a spot of leave, we had to report back to
another wireless school called Madley, near Hereford. We didn't do
much except hang about - no flying, just some revision and practicing
on the morse key. We then got sent up to the Air Gunnery School at
Castle Kennedy, a few miles short of Stranraer on the main road.
By that time it was winter of course, and it
was bloody cold I can tell you! We were rationed
to one bucket of fuel per hut per day, and that was for two of those
little round stoves. We weren't very
happy about that. We did discover though that the railway line from
London to Stranraer (where you got the boat across to Ireland) was
close by, through a little bit of woodland. By means of sign language
we managed to convey to the various
railway crews that we were bloody cold and needed something to warm
us up, and it got to
the stage where as they went
by they hooted their whistle, and
booted off lumps of coal that they already had lined up along the
footplate and in the Guard's van. We would all rush out to collect
them so we could get some warmth.
Another thing we used to do there was to put
old fashioned ha'pennies on the line, and all put
about sixpence in the kitty - then when the train had gone by, we all
found our ha'pennies, and the one whose ha'penny had been squashed
biggest collected the kitty.
One day we were bussed up to a place called
Turnberry where there was a large swimming pool, to do dinghy drill;
this consisted of stripping off to swimming trunks, then jumping in
one by one to right an upside down dinghy. These had half a dozen
thin ropes dangling down, there for the
purposes of righting, hanging on and towing. There was already
another course from another A.G. school and I recognised one of them,
Claude Sole, who also lived in East Ham.
When his turn came he jumped in and disappeared
under the dinghy, but after several minutes
did not appear again. Without thinking I jumped in to see where he
was. When I got underneath the dinghy there he was, all tangled up in
the ropes. I surfaced, shouted "Help!",
then went back to try to free him. A couple more also jumped in and
between us we got Claude free. Typical
services, we three were all told off for jumping in without
And on the course we would learn about the
Browning gun and all sorts of things like that, and we were taken up
in old fashioned Ansons mostly, with a turret on, while some brave
souls in a single-engine aircraft towed a drogue along whilst we took
it in turns to fire at it. They used to
dip a belt of bullets in one colour paint, like red; then another one
in blue and another one in yellow, so
you could have three pupils at a time taking it in turns to fire.
To give you practice, they had "jams" built in; the gun
would jam and you'd have to clear it.
You can imagine the colour of our hands at the end of each exercise!
We also had aircraft recognition and we had
quite fun, because there was one particular Corporal, who always took
us, who was a bit of a big-head and thought he knew everything.
One day somebody called out to him:
"Oh, what's a TR9 then Corp?"
Well, a TR9 was the old transmitter/receiver
they used to use in aircraft but which had been
superseded by then, but we had seen them. He replied:
"Oh yeah, it's one of them new Russian
fighters, you know!" - and he wondered why we all
We all had to take an oral examination about
the Browning gun, and a written examination, and of course they
examined all of your aircraft firing results. Much to my surprise,
I got 99% in the oral exam, as a result of which I was offered the
opportunity of staying there and becoming an instructor. I turned it
down for three reasons: first of all, it was
too bloody cold up there for my liking; secondly, it meant being
demoted from Sergeant back to Corporal
(less pay); and thirdly I knew damn well that it was just sheer luck
- if they'd have asked me any other of the many questions they
could've done about the Browning gun I
might just as well have finished up scoring nought.
From there we went on leave, and everybody was
saying "thank gawd we've left that godawful
place behind". The arrangement was that we'd receive telegrams
telling us where and when to report
next; we duly reported to King's Cross, collected our railway
warrants and found we had tickets back
up to Stranraer. Oh no!
shepherded onto one of the Irish Sea boats which cross the North
Channel to Larne, in Northern Ireland. If you remember the great
floods of 1953, the crossing was on
the very vessel that was lost with all hands in the first hours of
that storm. Even in relatively
clement weather it was not a comfortable crossing - only a handful of
those who boarded
the boat were not seasick. I was one of them!.
So for me,
the journey had meant
the Underground to King's Cross, the train to Stranraer, the boat to
Larne, another little train down to Belfast, then across the city on
(believe it or not) a tram with all us lads on it. From there we had
another railway journey south to Downpatrick; then from there to
Court (which was the airfield) in these little Jaunty carts. All the
drivers looked alike, with brown overcoats and green hats which were
or Jaunting car: a light two-wheeled one-horse car, formerly widely
used in Ireland.]
some time there doing a bit of air gunnery, a bit more wireless, and
so on. We ate like nobody's business, because they'd forgotten all
about rationing over there. Sometimes we'd hire Barney, one of the
Jaunty cart drivers, who'd take us down to a place called Ardglass,
where we'd go into a cafe and more or less each what you liked. While
we were there Barney would be in the pub, and on the return journey
he'd usually fall asleep on his seat, but the horse knew exactly
where to go.
we could also get eggs which we cooked on our billy cans over the
stove - no shortage
of fuel there! But you had to do it property - you couldn’t simply
go up to one of the
farms and ask for a dozen eggs, because they'd just say "what
d'you think this is? - it's war
time!" and shut the door on you. But if you went up to them and
asked "oh, I don't suppose
by any chance you have any eggs to spare would you?" they'd
reply "Would you be havin’ a bag?", you'd fish out the
bag you'd purposely brought and they'd say "I'll see what
I can do" - and you knew damn well you'd get your dozen or
half-dozen eggs, whatever you wanted.
From there we went back home for a bit more
leave. By this time my brother Dennis had been
called up and was in the Fleet Air Arm. When you went on leave, you
were allowed to wear ordinary civilian clothes if you wanted to,
although Dennis and I only had one suit between
us. However, as it was very rare that we ever got leave at the same
time, whoever was home could wear The
Me (left) and my brother Dennis, this photo taken in late 1945
One Saturday I was home and decided to wear The
Suit to East Ham Baths where they were holding a dance, which they
did about every other week (with a dance at East Ham Town
Hall the other weeks). I was dancing with a girl who exclaimed"
'ere, weren't you 'ere last week?"
to which I replied "No, I wasn't, but I expect the suit was!"
I found out what her name was, and the next time I contacted Dennis I
asked "Did you ever dance with a girl named ….”
(oh, I can't even remember what her name was now), but he wrote back
and said "Yes!". So it was quite amusing!
From there, we went on to OTU.