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MEMOIRS 1939 to 1945 - Stacey Simkins

The Run-Up to De-Mob

With the war finished, off we all went on immediate leave, disappearing to various parts of the country for the celebrations.

When we came back again, we found that a lot of air crew, including us, were redundant. They decided that they couldn't de-mob just the ones they didn't need for immediate use, because that would've made everybody else mad, so we had to be what they called re-mustered. We all got sent to various stations, to acclimatise ourselves to the fact we had our feet on the ground all the time, and to get an idea of what sorts of trades we could be in.

By sheer luck, Ken Tyrrell got posted to the same place as me - which I think was a place called Blythe near Gainsborough - so we were able to keep up our friendship while we were there. Somehow we got word that Smudge was at another station only 8 miles away.  We managed to contact him by telephone and he invited us to come over, I think it was the following day, because there was a dance at the Sergeants' Mess that evening.

We solved the problem of getting over there by simply "borrowing" a couple of bikes that were parked, and just cycled off.  We got over to the station and found Smudge, and spent a goodly time in the Mess playing darts with the loser buying the drinks. Poor old Smudge was the one that couldn't see very well, and we knew that right from the start - he lost every match, and had to keep buying the drinks.

Then they held the dance, and after a few more drinks, Ken Tyrrell and I got slightly sloshed and had a brilliant idea - we got on the stage and took over the microphone. We were very entertaining - if that's the right word! - doing all the songs everybody knew but pretended they didn’t know like "Old King Cole" (the mild version!), until we were dragged away and stuffed into a bedroom in the Sergeant's Mess where we spent the night. They took us back by car the next day, so what the hell happened to the bikes I've no idea! Somebody lost 'em, and somebody found 'em at the other station.

Eventually I was amongst those who were called into the Mess (known as the Mess but also used for other things, such as a lecture hall) where there was a big blackboard with a list of various trades on it. We were all given a piece of paper, and the fellow in charge told us to write our name, rank and number on it. We also had to write down any of the three trades that were listed, but one of these must be Clerk, GD - so everybody knew that whatever you put down, that was what you were going to become! (The full title is Aircraft Hand General Duties, Clerk).

If I remember rightly, I put down Queen of the Fairies, Admiral of the Fleet and Clerk, GD as my choices, because I don't suppose they read any of the papers! In due course, everybody who had been in the room at that time got posted to various places as Clerk, GD. I think it must’ve been my birthday, because I got posted to Uxbridge which was (and still is) an Airforce station; as it's an old peacetime station the buildings were mostly brick-built, including the sleeping quarters, and there was no airfield.

When I got down to Uxbridge and reported to the Orderly Room, I was told I could sleep in the Sergeants' Mess - because it was one of those places where the Sergeants actually had sleeping accommodation in single rooms - ooh! it was lovely. Once I'd got myself sorted out I reported back to the Orderly Room. I was still a Flight Sergeant then, and the NCO of the Orderly Room was a Flight Sergeant too, so he couldn't order me to do anything. Instead, he asked what I would like to do.  Well, I had no idea of what they had, so he started reading off the various sections available until he got to one that said 'Leave and Rations' which I thought would do for me. He took me over to the section and I became an NCO I/C Leave and Rations; I didn't know it but I'd picked one of the best jobs there could be on any camp in the RAF (or for that matter any of the other services)!



Crest for RAF Uxbridge

I got settled in, and discovered that the main drawback to being I/C Leave and Rations was that it was a big station with a hell of a lot of people there.  All who went off on weekend passess - 48's as they called them - or any other type of leave, had to be issued with ration cards and leave passes, and sometimes travel warrants.  I had to sign the lot of them, and it ended up with me signing about two or two-and-a-half thousand documents every week!  That's why my signature is now unreadable, but I just can't get off doing it now, even after all these years.

It took me a few weeks to get into the full swing of things, after which I realised I was onto a good thing. I awarded myself a 48-hour pass which is a weekend, or as they called it a Friday While, and off I toddled. When I got back on the Monday morning I went into the Orderly Room to tell the Flight Sergeant I had returned, and I noticed he'd taken his stripes off and had instead Warrant Officers' badges on his sleeve.

"Oh, I think congratulations are in order!" I said to him, to which he replied

"Thank you; oh, and by the way, you're improperly dressed."

I looked down to make sure my flies were done up.

"No, I don't mean that!", he said, pointing over to the board on which were pinned the Daily Routine Orders.

I went over to the board and looked, and I saw that one of the items referred to promotions to Warrant Officer. There were two names on the list, and the second one was mine. Blimey!

"I believe congratulations are in order!" he repeated to me. "Oh, and while I was collecting my bits I got some for you" - handing me some of the proper badges. "You can get one of the girls over there to sew them on your uniform."

I had walked in as a Flight Sergeant, and when I walked out again I was a Warrant Officer - so the I/C Orderly Room still didn't get in front of me!


Ken Wheeler (on the left) and me, photo taken in York in March 1945

I also began to realise there were all sorts of things that were open to me.

People used to come in and sidle up to me, with the most usual request being "my sister's getting married next week" - it was surprising how many of the people on the station had sisters, and surprising how often they got married! They'd say "I’ve only got three days due to me, do you think you could stretch it to a week?" - so there was a bit of bartering to be done. I usually finished up with new socks or clean shirts and all sorts of things in return for my signature on his application for seven days' leave.

After a while, I also did a deal with the Station Police, the SP's as they were called. Routine demanded that every one of them who was going on leave had to come in to establish his identity and sign for the pass. Instead, one of them would come in and would be given all the passes for the SP's, which he'd go back and distribute round the Guard Room.

In return, it meant that I could quite literally walk in and out of Uxbridge RAF station at any time, day or night, and apart from saying hello and saluting, nobody said a word. This was useful for if I wanted to pop out somewhere I'd just walk out and wave as I went past. Something else happened: Dennis was looking for a suitable container for his tools (which he's actually still got!) and I managed to get a barter deal done for an ammunition box. I don't know exactly what it was for, but it was a nice big steel box with handles to carry it with. Not only did I get the box out of the station without any problems, but two of the SP's walked behind me with it up to Uxbridge underground station, and put it on the train for me!

I also got very pally with the Station Warrant Officer (SWO), who - despite my position - was the most powerful person on the station, because he told the Adjutant what to do most of the time. If he said something ought to be done it got done. From time to time one of his lads would come over with an envelope, and inside it would say, for instance, "my wife's short of soap" (still on ration at the time).


Second World War Ration Book from the British Ministry of Food


I'd send the lad to "wait over there", and while he wasn’t looking I'd open the drawer where I kept all the spare coupons and put some for soap in the envelope. Also if there were any - what shall we say - really dodgy passes that needed to be signed (because they had to be countersigned by the Adjutant) I'd slip those into the envelope too. Some time later he'd come back with another envelope, and inside would be all the dodgy passes that I wanted to get through all signed. So we had a good working relationship there.

I also discovered that I could award myself a Sleeping Out Pass, Permanent,

so I could take my choice every evening as to whether I stayed at the station or went home. There was a direct connection between Uxbridge and East Ham on the Metropolitan Line, so I could go home if I wanted to as long as I got back in time for opening time in the Orderly Room the next morning. I didn't even have to bother about breakfast; I'd just get up and make myself reasonably presentable, nip onto the train, get off at Uxbridge, and call into the Orderly Room.

"Everything alright?" I'd say - "I'll be back in half an hour."

I'd then go over to my room and get myself tarted up properly, pop into the Sergeant's Mess to have breakfast, then come back to start work. It really was the life of Riley!

I did help out the SWO from time to time, by being Orderly Officer: technically speaking, Orderly Officers had to be commissioned officers, but as they were a lazy lot of buggers nobody said a word if a warrant officer performed the duty. And of course, one of the duties of the Orderly Officer of the day is to go round the various messes, including the Officers' Mess, with the Orderly Sergeant who'd go in and say "Orderly Officer, any complaints?!" - which there never were of course, but it was part of the routine, and it gave me great pleasure to stroll into the Officers' Mess with the Orderly Sergeant and stand there while he said that!

If you were the Orderly Officer, you had to go outside and stand there while they lowered the flag at sundown, whilst God Save the King was played over the tannoy. Believe it or not they had a wind-up gramophone, so you'd have to wind the thing up, put the record on and the needle down in the right place, nip outside and stand saluting while the flag came down, then charge back inside and switch the gramophone off. The following morning it was of course a repeat performance - the only difference being that the flag went up instead of down!

When correctly propositioned, I would take the church parade on Sunday morning, which was quite good - although I only actually did it about two or three times. So if you hear the Sergeants and RSM's bawling out their orders at the Trooping of the Colour or whatever, you can think to yourself "Ah yes! I know somebody who's done that as well!". We had quite a few laughs there, as well as the occasional dance. Of course I spent a large number of weekends at home, and depending on what was going on, quite a few nights during the week as well.

I also got quite pally with some of the other chaps that worked in the orderly room, and others that I met in the Sergeant's Mess. When we felt like it, we used to go out and have one or two drinks, although I never got drunk or anything -I was past that by then! One night we took a fellow out who was always boasting about how he could drink anything and everything without even getting tiddly.

So we thought we'd teach him a lesson and about four of us invited him out to one of the local pubs. We got the barmaid to make up a "shandy" as we called it, which consisted of brown ale and cider. Now if you've never tried this drink, my advice to you is don't because it's lethal. We ended up having to carry home this bloke who never got tiddly, holding him up by the arms. He was just like one of those Thunderbirds puppets - he didn't do it again!

When I was Orderly Officer, I had to walk around the station every so often just to check that everything was alright. They had a small guard room there which had three or four cells where they kept offenders. One time as I was walking past with the Orderly Sergeant a metal teapot came hurtling out through the window - which was closed at the time.

We went inside and found the two SP's cowering by the doorway, with a good-sized Ordinary Aircraftman standing there glaring at them. The place was in complete disarray - apparently they'd let him out of his cell to do something and he'd gone berserk. As well as the teapot out of the window, he'd also picked up a large filing cabinet and thrown it across the room.

So of course it was my duty (groan) to try to calm him down. Perhaps he'd calmed down already, but I managed to get him subdued enough to get him back in his cell and get the door locked. After that I was regarded as some sort .of a hero by the SP's, but I'm afraid not - if only they'd known what I'd felt like at the time!

This is me a bit earlier on in the war - this photo taken on the 8th May 1944

How did I manage to get home and back so often, when it was quite a long run on the tube?  Well, I couldn't take too many railway warrants, so I used to buy a return ticket from Uxbridge to a couple of stations further up the line, like Ruislip. When I came back I'd buy a return from East ham to somewhere like West Ham, and every so often I'd buy a genuine return ticket and keep it handy. Nobody ever got on to check, so when I got off I'd just hand in the return half of the Uxbridge to Ruislip ticket. This is strictly illegal of course, but I don't think you'll ever find a serviceman who, during the war, didn’t do something like that!

Once the NCO in charge of the clothing stores came in and, guess what, he had a sister who was going to get married. As we were bartering he said "how would you like a nice uniform?" - so in exchange for seven days' leave, he arranged to take me to a big RAF clothing depot on the Wembley Stadium site.

I was taken in and given the royal treatment. I tried on various jackets and trousers, which were taken away and altered to fit. I got the complete works, including a greatcoat, which were duly parcelled up and off we went. As we were going out, they said "Oh, good luck tomorrow, sir", and I thanked them not knowing what the hell they were talking about.

When we got back in the car to return to Uxbridge, I questioned the NCO. "Oh well, you wanted the uniform so I told them that you were going to the Palace for an Investiture tomorrow..." - the nearest I ever got to a medal! (A medal, in this instance, refers to a decoration like the DFC etc).

During my time at Uxbridge, the Padre died and I got lumbered - if that's the right word - to be one of the pall bearers. The chapel into which we had to carry the coffin just had an ordinary sized door with two steps going up to it. The only trouble was that this Padre weighed 20-odd stone, and there were only four of us trying to get this coffin in through the door, and of course going up the steps as well, we suddenly felt everything slide to the back! Fortunately we managed to get it in without dropping it. We didn't think it was very funny at the time but we had a good laugh afterwards!

Sometimes I would go to Wembley Stadium to watch the speedway with some of the other lads from the Sergeant's Mess. One night there was this fellow with us with the lovely name of Eddie Saccharin, believe it or not! Once the speedway had finished, as you left the Stadium you had to walk right through the car park to get back to the main road.

We were just walking back to the road when a car went by, and suddenly Eddie started running like mad alongside it.  We just carried on walking, wondering who it was that he knew inside, but when we got to the gate we found him collapsed against a gatepost, puffing away like mad.

"Who was that?" we asked.

"I don’t know!" was his reply.

"So what were you running for?"

I should explain that in those days, cars had real handles on their doors, like you have on ordinary doors, pointing forwards,  As he'd been walking along, a car had passed and the handle had caught in the sleeve of his battledress.  So it was either a case of being towed along, or run like mad until the car stopped!  Poor old Eddie, he got ribbed about that something shocking.

When all the demob business started, quite a number of officers left the Air Force, and of course they were all issued with civilian ration books, clothing coupons etc.  Within a month, some of them discovered that life wasn't quite so good on the "outside" as it was on the "inside" and they applied to rejoin.

Of course, when they came back into the Air Force, they had to give up their civilian ration books and coupons; these were just shoved into a cupboard. Of course, people eventually realised that this was not so much a cupboard as a gold mine. The coupons kept on disappearing, and you've never seen so many people who's relatives had good clothes and new boots. Again it's strictly illegal, but you show me someone who wouldn't have taken advantage and I'll show you a liar.

Eventually all good things come to an end, and at the beginning of 1947 I got wind that I was shortly to be demobbed. Knowing this was going to happen within a month or two, I spoke to the IC and told him I might as well switch over to the demob section straight away, which he agreed to. I got all my paperwork and everything done exactly as I wanted it, then of course I went up to Lytham St Anne's and got demobbed.

My demob suit included a dark green pork pie hat, which I wore for the first time walking along the promenade on my way back to the railway station. Unfortunately it blew off and along the sand and got all wet, so I finished up with a green hat with white dots all over it where the salt had affected it! Oh dear, what a life, eh … ?

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