Tony Jones (Sgt A. E. Jones (621297) later F/Lt RAF)
From Tony: ‘At the start of the summer holidays 1938 I left school and applied for the post of draughtsman with the GPO. With the war imminent there were no vacancies. I applied to join the RAF after hearing that one of my classmates had joined. By return of post I received a travel warrant and a letter telling me to report to Liverpool recruiting centre. At the centre I had a medical and some intelligence tests. After an overnight stay I was sent to Uxbridge in charge of three other recruits and their papers. At Uxbridge we were ‘sworn in’, given the King’s shilling and an RAF uniform.
Four days later we were sent to RAF Cardington for three months ‘square bashing’. Being tall I was made number one front marker which meant that I had to learn different drill movements that the rest of the sixty six man squad would follow. Cardington was the home of old airships which had been housed in very tall hangers. Within the hangers there were various bits and pieces of the airships including the gondala of the R100 and R34. There was also at least one old biplane on which we were taught to ‘swing the prop’. Rotating the propeller in order to start the engine on these old aircraft was a three man task. One man (me, ofcourse!) would hold the propeller and linking hands, the other two would pull me away. We also spent a week digging trenches into which we would go in the event of an attack by enemy aircraft.
After passing out day I was posted to RAF Manby near Louth in Lincolnshire where I spent nine months on an armament training course. We were under the discipline of W/O Killingan who was very strict but who proved to be a good man. The CO at Manby was a F/O Cleaver, I can recall only seeing him at the passing out parade. My pay at Manby was twelve shillings a week. Ten shillings was sent home the other two shillings I spent on boot polish, toothpaste and Blanco. I bought a Raleigh sports cycle on hire purchase for six pounds twelve shillings. This poor old bicycle went through the mill at times but survived. When I was posted overseas years later I sold the bike for twelve pounds. Every Wednesday afternoon we were free to either swot or take part in sports. One hot sunny Wednesday afternoon I decided to swot in the shade of a hedge. I took my shirt off and fell asleep. The shade from the hedge moved off my body and I got badly sun burnt. The next morning I was in agony. The day arrived when I had to take my Trade Test. During the test I became ill. Instead of passing out as a LAC I became an AC1 but that was soon put right when I was at Penrhos as I went to Speke near Liverpool and got my LAC.
We were allowed to request a posting to an aerodrome nearest out home town, I chose RAF Penrhos and luckily got posted there. Penrhos, which was only three miles from my home in Pwllheli, was a bombing and air firing station. It was a pleasant place and I was kept busy in the armoury working on the various guns, patching target drogues and putting detonators in seven pound practice bombs. Whilst at Penrhos a pilot was unfortunately killed in a flying accident. I was one of six airmen in a firing squad over the graveside, it was a very sad occasion.
I was given fourteen days leave and went with my mother to Wymondham in Norfolk to see my grandparents. While there a coal strike was threatened and we decided to come back home. On our return there was a telegram lying on the table which ordered me to report to my unit immediately. The following morning I was on my way to RAF Catterick. I traveled by train to Leeds arriving very late. With the blackout and no canteen or cafes open I wandered around until early morning when I caught the train to Catterick. I arrived at 9am, war broke out at 11am. I joined 609 Royal Auxiliary Squadron who were in the process of converting from biplanes to Spitfires. During the conversion there were many belly landings due to pilots forgetting to lower the undercarriage, the biplanes they were use to had fixed undercarriages.
I did my stint of guard duty around our planes. Four hours on, four hours off in pitch darkness, challenging anyone who approached with my bayonet fixed.
It was not long before the squadron was on the move. We went by convoy, taking all out equipment and ammunition with us, to Morpeth near the Scottish border. There we were to practice night re-arming without lights. We practiced hard and eventually were able to rearm in darkness in twelve minutes.
From Morpeth we moved to Drem in the Firth of Forth where our Spitfires gave air cover for the Forth bridge and sea approaches. I traveled to Drem in a Whitley bomber that carried ammunition. One of the other aircraft carrying supplies to Drem crashed on a railway line just beyond the airfield. Drem was a very early pre-war aerodrome with only two modern hangers. Our billets were wooden huts but they were quite comfortable. One day a German raid started on the Forth bridge and our squadron together with another squadron sprang into their very first action. For the next three days there was intensive patrol activity. One German machine was shot down. A gun was taken out of the enemy aircraft and brought to Drem to be evaluated. Being a peacetime trained armourer it befell my lot to fire it. I rigged up a tripod mounting and fixed the gun to it. The gun had a shoulder grip and keeping my hand firmly on the butt I fired. The bullets immediately cut a diagonal path across the sand of the firing range. I stopped just in time before the bullets went over the top of the wall at the back of the range.
Because out squadron had seen action, a lone Spitfire fitted with four ‘303’ Browning machine guns and two 20mm cannons was attached to us. All our Spitfires carried eight ‘303’ Brownings. Unfortunately when coming in to land it clipped the wing of one of our Spitfires with its wheels and was completely destroyed. The pilot managed to get out of the wreckage before it caught fire. Eventually all 609 Squadron Spitfires were fitted with cannons.
Whilst at Drem 72 Squadron ground crew flew in en route to another aerodrome. They came in on an Imperial Airways Hannibal, a huge biplane with two engines that drove four bladed propellers. There was a high wind raging and after the ground crew had disembarked the wind veered and turned the aircraft over on to its back.
On days off I and two other armourers (‘Scrimy’ Scripshaw and Bert Rounsley) would go for walks into North Berwick. On one occasion we climbed up North Berwick Law. At the summit there was a huge pair of whale jaws mounted in concrete. The Law is about 300 feet high and is the plug of a volcano.
After three months at Drem we moved to RAF Kinross in the Moray Firth. I flew from Drem to Kinross in an Imperial Airways Ensign, a beautiful modern plane. It was winter and very cold in our accommodation huts at Kinross. We slept fully clothed with our great coats and ground sheets on top of the bed. Snow came through the air vents and covered the beds. There was a single standpipe outside that froze solid. We did not wash or shave for three weeks. If it had snowed during the night in the morning we would sweep the runway. An Avro Anson would take off to test the runway prior to the Spitfires getting airborne. While at Kinross one of our Spits had undercarriage trouble, one wheel failed to come down. A one wheel landing had never been tried before and the pilot was told to bail out. He tried several times to climb out but was forced back by the slipstream. Eventually he put the aircraft on its back enabling him to fall out. He landed safely. The Spitfire kept circling and finally nose dived into the ground. We found it several miles away in a twenty foot crater, perilously near a farmhouse. One wheel was missing but after a search we found it under a wood pile against the farm wall. I went out with the ‘White Lady’, a commandeered White Horse Whisky lorry, to collect the guns and ammunition. The guns were bent double but I managed to salvage some breach blocks.
After three months at Kinross we moved to Northholt in Middlesex. The journey, by train, took twenty three hours. One of the petrol tankers broke down. We were hurriedly put on standby from before dawn to dusk. Then suddenly everyone on the station was mustered in to one of the large hangers were we were addressed by Lord Trenchard, the father of the RAF. He told us about the BEF being pushed back to Dunkirk and that hard times were coming. After the pep talk we hurried back to our Spitfires. Our squadron took off on the first day of the Dunkirk evacuation but they did not come across any enemy aircraft. The next day thirteen Spitfires from the squadron shot down twenty six enemy aircraft without loss. The following day thirteen Spitfires took off, only seven returned. We all felt the loss as we knew the pilots who were a grand bunch, some no older than myself - I was nineteen.
After Dunkirk we were sent to Middle Wallop in Hampshire where we received replacement aircraft and new pilots to bring us back to full strength. I did not stay there long. With three other armourers and fitters I was flown to Warmwell in Dorset. We flew in an American Electra and were buzzed by two Hurricanes who could not make out whether we were friend or foe fortunately they did not fire at us. The squadron was to operate from both Middle Wallop and Warmwell. The idea was to rearm and refuel our own Spitfires one day and Hurricanes from another squadron the next day. It worked well as the squadron had a quick turn around without having to go back to their home base.
On one occasion as I rearmed a Spitfire I found that one gun had nearly a full tank of ammunition, clearly this gun had something wrong with it. I stripped it down and found an incendiary bullet jammed half way up the barrel. I changed the barrel, rebreached up and rearmed it - time? Fifteen minutes.
The squadron was in continual action with raids coming every day. When Weymouth was bombed we could see the Stuka dive bombers diving down. We caught them and my squadron shot down thirteen in as many minutes without loss, although I did find three bullet holes in one Spitfire. This news of the enemy losses came over the wireless during news time. One pilot told me that when attacking one of the German aircraft he realised he would overshoot so had looped over the enemy and by coming straight down had been able to get in the shortest of bursts. He did not require rearming but I asked him if he would like to know how many rounds he had fired. He said yes so I took one ammo tank out and counted what was left. He had fired eight rounds only.
Eventually things cooled down and I had a day off. I went with a friend on the back of his motor bike to Weymouth. Before we got there we stopped at a church and went to see Lawrence of Arabia’s grave. The story going round Weymouth was that three pubs had been hit by bombs and the beer was flowing down the gutters with the result that all the dogs were getting drunk!
We left Warmwell and went back to Middle Wallop. Shortly after moving back Warmwell got badly bombed. I was sent on a 20mm cannon course to Kirkham armament training school. The first person I saw was my old W/O from my Manby days. He had his leg in plaster. The course lasted a week. I noticed that the demonstration gun they were using was out of date. I told the instructor that the recoil mechanism had been changed. He asked how I knew, I told him I had worked on 20mm cannons for nearly a year. I finished up giving the lectures. At the examination at the end of the course I walked in to the room and had a long conversation about squadron life - I passed with 98%, no questions were asked.
Arriving back at Middle Wallop I found it had been badly bombed on the 14th August 1940. One bomb had gone through a hanger wall and blown the heavy doors out killing three of our maintenance crew (LAC H. Thorley, LAC K. Wilson and Cpl R. W. Smith). The ‘White Lady’ had been machine-gunned whilst taking men to dispersal, fortunately no one was hurt. Our squadron driver, ‘Tibby’ Taylor, always took the crash crew out to an aircraft and whilst everybody was busy would take photographs through the windscreen, strictly forbidden, but invaluable as a record of squadron life. Our armaments officer on the squadron was F/S Teddy Coates (later S/Ldr Coates Group Armament Officer) and he called me into his tent one day and told me that I had been promoted to corporal but as there were no vacancies on the squadron for a corporal I had the choice to stay with 609 as an LAC or be posted as a corporal. I chose the latter and was posted to a new servicing echelon party being formed at West Malling in Kent.’
(Precis of an article, ‘Sunday Express’ Set’89, by Ralph Barker; ‘At the end of June 1940 George Darley took command of 609 Squadron. The new CO felt the squadron needed discipline, it had been leaderless. Initially the pilots thought their new CO was rudely aggressive. Relationship did not improve when the new CO reprimanded John Dundas, the squadron’s top scoring pilot, after he did a victory roll on his return from an engagement with the enemy.
Darley pointed out that the Spitfire Dundas was flying could have been damaged and the roll could have resulted in the death of both pilot and machine. Dundas who had been fighting with 609 Squadron since the outbreak of war found Darley’s authority hard to accept since Darley had, as yet, not fired a shot in anger. A programme of mock combat was organised. Darley was not happy about the squadron operating from Middle Wallop in Hampshire and an advanced base at Warmwell, near Weymouth. On the 9th July three Spitfires were sent to engage the enemy. Two of the pilots David Crook and Peter Drummand-Hay were due to meet their wives in London. David Crook shot down a Stuka. Peter Drummond-Hay shot down an Me109 but did not return. The next morning Drummond-Hay’s wife phoned Darley to inquire why her husband had not meet her in London, the telegram announcing his death had not yet reached her. Darley made vehement protest to higher authority about small groups of his men having to cope with intense air activity. By the end of July reinforcements to the sector allowed the squadron to operate as a single unit. By this time some of the older pilots had been posted to instructor duties. Darley had ensured that Dundas was not one of these. Darley led the full squadron in to combat for the first time on the 8th August. The 609 Squadron Spitfires together with eighteen Hurricanes were vectored on to fifty seven Stukas that were being escorted by fifty Me110s. Darley’s down sun approach gave the Spitfires an initial advantage. Darley shot down an Me110, his pilots shot down two more Me110s and three Stukas. The squadron suffered no losses. Three days later, the 11th August, the squadrons Spitfires were in combat with the enemy over Portland again with Darley in the lead. On this occasion five enemy machines were shot down by the squadrons Spitfires again with no losses to the squadron. By this time the squadron had got behind their CO. The next day the squadrons Spitfires shot down three German machines again with no Spitfire being lost. The next day (13th August) an armada of Stukas were sent to bomb the airfield at Middle Wallop. Twelve 609 pilots were on standby. Dundas was reserve should one of the twelve pilots not manage to get airborne. Dundas asked Darley if he could fly, thirteen 609 Spitfires took to the air. Dundas joined Darley’s red section. The Spitfires climbed to 15000 feet. Dundas sighted the enemy and Darley not being able to see them told Dundas to lead. The Spitfires climbed to 18000 feet at which point Darley saw them. He took over the lead and led the Spitfires in to a pack of Stukas, five of which fell out of the sky. By the end of the combat one other Stuka and two Me109s had been shot down by the squadron’s Spitfires. Darley was promoted but before he was posted away from 609 Squadron he arranged for Dundas to be awarded a DFC and to be put in command of B Flight. Michael Robinson became the new CO of 609 Squadron. In November the 609 Spitfires were in combat with a group of Me109s led by Helmuth Wick.
Dundas shot down Wick but Wick’s number two shot down Dundas. His Spitfire went down off the Needles. Dundas’s body was never found. Helmuth Wick was Dundas’s thirteenth victim.’)
From Tony: ‘At West Malling, using the experience gained at Warmwell, we were to rearm and maintain any aircraft that dropped in. None did so we spent our time watching the German bombers coming in over the airfield with ack ack all around them. We also observed the numerous dog fights. One enemy aircraft came down behind a road on the other side of the airfield, it exploded on impact. Our sleeping quarters were away from the airfield in a disused hospital. One dark evening we heard a low flying aircraft and went outside. As we looked up we saw a red light. We suddenly realised it was a German bomb aimer’s cockpit. We dived on to the floor of the billet but the bombs did not come down. The aircraft dropped incendaries over the airfield and in the morning I had the task of following the string of bombs from the centre of the airfield and out in to the country, finding the last one in a disused pig sty which I covered with earth. It was not long before I was sent to Redhill.
Redhill was a small airfield which before the war had been home to a flying club. I went to the station armoury and found just one other armourer. We slept in the armoury as the only sleeping accommodation was in private houses. Things were quiet, I taught all the officers how to handle revolvers. I had to be firm as some of the officers thought the revolvers were toys. One day I received a phone call to say that three Spitfire squadrons would be arriving for rearming in a couple of days. It was Bader’s wing who were engaged in the Dieppe raid. Redhill did not carry enough stock of ammunition to supply three squadrons. I organised for two ten ton trucks to pick up supplies from Ruislip.
The Spitfire Wing came in and I went down to their dispersal to say that they could have all the ammunition they wanted. They never came back to Redhill so I did not get any first hand news.
Whilst at Redhill I was sent on a back-up course, held at the Royal West Kents barracks in Maidstone, which was intended for non tradesmen to be taught the basics of weapon handling. On the course we went to a disused quarry and I had the opportunity to fire an anti-tank gun. The gun, similar to a rifle but much bigger, was loaded and fired in the same way as a rifle but the round had a huge bulbous case. I had some misgivings about the recoil and was surprised to discover there was none. On another day on the course we were marching back from the training area when I felt ill. The NCO marching on my left produced a medicine bottle with some clear liquid in it. He passed the bottle to me and told me to take a good swig. I did and within a split second was gasping for breath. The liquid was neat quinine. Needless to say it worked. During a lecture on the Bren gun the instructor invited anyone to strip and reassemble the gun. I went up and did it in record time and when the instructor found out I was an armourer he said I should never have been sent on the course. The Redhill Station Warrant Officer got a telling off from Group. He, as a non tradesman, should have gone on the Maidstone course.
Another weapon came out for use in aerodrome defence. Called a Smith gun, it was a bit of a Heath Robinson affair. It was constructed on the lines of a field gun with two large cone shaped wheels. To bring the gun in to action one had to tip it over on to the rim of one wheel, splay out two arms, load and fire. The projectiles were shaped like cans and filled with explosives. Inside was a large ball bearing so whichever way it landed the ball bearing would shot forward and cause the detonator to be struck. I volunteered for a course on the gun basically because the course was held at Shoeburyness and my future wife lived at Westcliff. It meant that I was able to walk from my billet at Southend airfield to see her.
Redhill was a grass airfield and it was decided to lay two runways using wide mesh steel netting. It was not long before one runway was completed and the other was half down with a huge roll of netting lying across it. It was at this point that a Hurricane decided to land and despite all the warning signals he came in. The Hurricane hit the roll of wire and turned over on its back leaving the pilot dangling by his seat belt. Six of us dashed over. Another airman and I supported the shoulders of the pilot while the other four lifted the tail up. I hit the release buckle on the seat belt and the pilot was gently slid out. He was not hurt just shaken. As he stood by his plane recovering, the CO arrived and despite the pilot’s protestations that he did not smoke, stuffed a cigar in his mouth and put a light to it. The pilot turned out to be Polish and had not understood what all the warnings were about.
Redhill became an important airfield, home to an Australian Spitfire squadron, 303 Polish Squadron and a New Zealand squadron. I was kept very busy with my one armourer. One day the Group Armament Officer, W/Cdr Healey, came down from 11 Group HQ. He was flabbergasted that there were only two armourers on the station and immediately phoned Group HQ and gave instructions for armourers to be posted from Manby and Kirkham, the two armament training schools. The course had been reduced to six months but course members were either trained in guns or bombs. My new armourers started arriving, first as a trickle than as a flood. I finished up with about fifty. I did not know what to do with them all - the rifles never looked so clean. It could not last and did not do so. Overseas postings started coming in, no names just the number of people required to be posted. I asked for volunteers and them by mutual agreement I left the married ones out and drew lots from the rest. I ended up with about eight armourers at Redhill. One of them had an old Clyno car and he and I used to nip out for breakfast at Joe’s cafe on the Brighton road. I never could get up in time for breakfast on the camp.
The Group Armament Officer came again to Redhill this time to see me and ask if I would take over the armament section of the New Zealand squadron. I accepted at once and without any further ado phoned station HQ informing them that I was promoted to sergeant with immediate effect and that the station W/O was to escort me to the Sergeants Mess for a pint and an introduction to all and sundry.
I moved in to a commandered house called ‘Nunlands’ and whilst there we were bombed. Nothing was hit as all the bombs landed in the fields but one was close enough to bring down all the plaster from the ceiling, the windows were also blown in. I never heard a thing having slept through it all. I moved to another house in the village of Nutfield not far from the drome.
On my twenty first birthday three of my New Zealand armourers, with whom I had become very friendly, took me to a village dance and announced to all those present that it was my birthday. Then they did a Maori war dance in the centre of the floor. My trusty bicycle, which I had purchased in Manby was subjected to further harsh treatment with four of us somehow managing to ride it all at the same time!
In my billet was another Sgt Armourer from another section who was very quiet, never smiled or spoke to anyone. One day he came to the armoury for a .38 revolver to do some target practice, which he was entiltled to do without supervision. Instead of going down to the range he went to one of the ammunition huts and shot himself.
My New Zealand squadron was posted to New Zealand. I thought I was going with them but found myself back at the station armoury. The armoury had become so upgraded that it had a W/O in charge This chap was a boozy clot, I found myself running the armoury again.
The armourer with the old Clyno car was still there but the petrol pump in the hanger where he had got his free petrol from was now locked. Due to pressure of work we had not been out of the camp for sixteen weeks. We decided to go to an RAF transport site where a fete with fun and games (eating a pound of cheese, drinking a pint of beer through straw) had been organised. I got talking to a lady in a black and white outfit. This lady, whose name was Joan, was to be my future wife.
My next posting was to Martlesham Heath near Ipswich in Suffolk. I was placed in second command of the armoury which was under the command of W/O Lipscolme. The drome had been badly bombed with many hangers flattened. The CO would often be seen wandering around these hangers gazing in to space. He was clearly deeply shocked, his hair had turned white over night.
At Martlesham Heath I witnessed an unusual accident. During this period German sneak raiders would come low up the Thames, drop their bombs and them dash out again. To combat this a flight of Typhoons were held at readiness at Martlesham Heath with one pilot strapped in ready to go. If a raider appeared a very pistol was fired from the watch tower and the Typhoon would immediately take off. On this occasion the Typhoon took off across wind but unbeknown to him a Spitfire was coming in to land over the trees. Warning very cartridges were fired but both planes continued on their courses. Suddenly the Spitfire pulled up in a steep climb and the Typhoon banked hard to port. The Typhoon was very low and its wing tip hit the ground causing the aircraft to cartwheel across the airfield. The wings snapped off as did the fuselage behind the cockpit and the whole engine, leaving just the cockpit standing upright, out of which stepped the Polish pilot unhurt but shaken.
One day I was told that the Group Armament Officer was coming down and I was instructed to check everything to ensure nothing was amiss. The Group Armament Officer turned out to be a Squadron Leader who had been my F/Sgt on 609 Squadron. He told the W/O that I was to show him round. We had a good old chat about old times. Shortly after his visit I was posted to the American Air Force as armament liaison between the RAF and the American Ordinance at Framlingham which was not far from Martlesham Heath. I got to know the Major of ordinanace who wanted to do some shooting but could not get any shotgun cartridges. He lent me a jeep and driver and I went back to Martlesham Heath which had plenty of cartridges. I walked in to the W/O’s office and said that I wanted 2000 cartridges and would make out the 674 and sign it. He called in a corporal to get them for me and in walked the sole armourer who had been with me originally at Redhill. We had a good chat and then I returned to Framlingham to the delight of the Major. I befriended four Americans who came from the Southern States, we RAF men were forbidden to discuss racial issues.
I took them to a farmhouse where homemade bread and scones were made. I befriended the farmers son who showed me what life was like on a farm. During my six month stay at Framlingham it was decided to repair the runways. The Americans left leaving only RAF personnel on the base. Shortly after this an emergency phone call came through that a badly damaged B17 with six injured crew members on board was coming in. There was only one medical orderly on duty and I volunteered to help. We drove out to the Flying Fortress in an ambulance and took the injured airman to the sick bay. The nearest American base gave medical assistance. We heard later that some of the injured men had died.
I was then posted to Downham Market where Stirling bombers were operating. I reported to the Armament Officer in the station armoury and was surprised to see that the chap sitting behind the desk was P/O Lewis, my old swotting pal from Manby. He was the same bullish man and never offered a word of greeting.
Being second in command I was able to keep out of his way most of the time. I would go down to the bomb dump, where I had forty men and would watch the preparations of the bombs or mines for the night’s operation. I thought it would be a good idea, in order to gain information about the bombing up of the Stirlings, to take part in the actual bombing up. The nose of the Stirling is some fifteen feet above the ground so long aluminium poles were used to guide the bombs into the bay as they were winched up in to place. I was guiding one bomb up whilst, unbeknown to me, another clot was winching up a small bomb container (SBC) full of one hundred and fifty incendiary bombs. His winch gave way and the SBC fell on my head putting me in the sick bay with a split scalp and a cut on my side. For months afterwards I had to sleep on three pillows to prevent the room going round.
One dark evening we heard a strange aircraft engine circling the drome. We came outside but could see nothing, I thought it was a FW190 - it was and it dropped a ‘bread basket’ full of butterfly bombs which fell around the watch tower effectively marooning those inside. There were two types of butterfly bomb, one would explode on contact the other would erupt if approached within ten feet. We solved the problem of how to get rid of them by joining two of the poles used to bomb up the Stirling and attaching a Y shaped branch from a tree (memories of school day catapult) on to the end of what was now a thirty foot pole. On top of the branch I balanced a primed slab of gun cotton. Inserting a detonator I crawled as near as I dare depositing the gun cotton close to a bomb. Having retired to a safe distance I blew the bomb up. It took all day to clear the area around the watch tower.
Eventually the Stirlings were replaced by Lancasters. The number of operational flights increased with each Lancaster carrying a much heavier bomb load. This meant many more bombs had to be collected from the local railway siding. On one occasion we had four bombs dangling on a mobile crane when the Royal train passed very slowly with the King and Queen on board on their way to Sandringham. In the distance we could see the station master dressed in his best uniform with all the station staff lined up on the platform. We were unable to watch the rest of the proceedings because we had to keep loading our lorries as the bombs were required that night. On another occasion I took three Austin bomb tenders with trailers to Lords Bridge in Cambridge to pick up twelve 4000 pound bombs. Coming back through Cambridge I decided it would be a good time to have a coffee break. We stopped at a small cafe and parked the convoy outside in the road. When we came out a policeman was looking at our bombs. Fortunately they did not have their tail units attached, they were still in their cardboard containers. As the bombs did not look like bombs I spun a cock and bull story of what they were. The policeman was unaware he was looking at 48000 pounds of high explosive capable of destroying half of Cambridge but were quite safe until the fuses were inserted.
Whilst at Downham Market I would go in to the woods that surrounded the bomb dump and shoot pigeons. One on my bunk mates, a F/Sgt who was a cook in the airman’s mess, would prepare and cook a pigeon pie with plenty of vegetables. Six of us would enjoy a delicious meal by our bunks.
My next posting was to Great Massingham, a base for pathfinder Mosquitos. Here I supervised the bombing up of 250 pound bombs and special flares which were dropped over the area to guide the main force of bombers in. After dropping the flares the Mosquitos would patrol the area seeking out enemy night fighters. They had a powerful fire power of four 20mm guns. Even though I was on the squadron I still had to take my turn as station duty armament officer. On one occasion I got called out to a Mosquito with a bomb wedged in the half open bomb door.
As the bomb had dropped from its carrier the safety pin had been pulled out allowing the priming vane to rotate in the slipstream with the result that the bomb was armed. Any bad handling would cause the bomb to explode. I eventually got it out by letting it drop on to a well cushioned bomb trolley.
I went on leave to Pwllheli to see my wife, baby son and parents. I came back to camp to find that I had been posted overseas. The following day I dashed around various sections to get clearance and went to the sick bay for various inoculations and vaccinations. I was told that they would have to be spread over several days. I insisted that they were all done at once so that I could go on my ten days embarkation leave. Fortunately it was a medical orderly to whom I spoke and he gave me the lot, some in one arm and the others in the other arm. I went on leave but had not gone far before I suffered a terrible headache. I then started shivering and felt terrible. I had vaccine fever and suffered all the way to Crewe where I had to change trains. An old gentleman realised I was in trouble and carried my kit bag to the next platform where I found a Salvation Army canteen. I had a cup of tea and asked for some aspirin. They only had Anadine, which I had never heard of. I took two and within ten minutes my temperature started to come down and then my headache disappeared. I was left with only a very stiff arm.. I arrived home again just three days after finishing my last leave.
From home I traveled to Morecombe where I was billeted with several others in a private house. We led the landlady a bit of a dance. We would always get in late but quickly learned which creaky step to avoid. During the day we were briefed and issued with tropical kit, KD shorts, long trousers, shirts and pith helmet. Eventually we boarded a train to Greenock and went on board the ‘Chitral’, a troopship. We were to discover that the ventilation system did not work. We sailed in to the Irish sea, round the northern most tip of Ireland and into the Atlantic where we joined a large convoy. There were several troopships in the centre flanked by merchant ships and on the horizon three aircraft carriers and nine destroyers. There were probably more ships out of sight. The sea was like a millpond.
We sailed due west for several days. One morning I went on deck and the sun was rising over our bows, we were now sailing east. We hit a bad storm in the Bay of Biscay and of the forty senior NCOs only six of us had a meal, we had the pick of everything. When we got to the Straits of Gibraltar the rest of the convoy sailed south. The ‘Chitral’ was heavily armed with anti-aircraft guns along the decks and around the bridge with a six inch gun at her stern. We were very grateful that the guns were never fired, the six inch gun was just above our quarters, we would have been blown out of our hammocks.
As we sailed on it got warmer. The crew rigged up wind scoops like inverted sails, with large diameter canvas chutes which directed the air down in to the holds where the other chaps had their sleeping quarters. I started sunbathing but only in short bursts so that I never got sunburn but did turn a healthy brown. Many troops got severe sunburn. One poor devil, who laid on the deck, had his skin stuck to the deck. Sailing through the Med’ was marvelous with a gentle swell and dolphins leaping through and over our bows. We arrived at Port Said and went through the Suez Canal and Great Bitter lakes to Port Suez. We sailed in to the Red sea. By now it was very hot and locusts would land on the ship, they were much larger than I imagined. We then moved across the Arabian Sea to Bombay. Here we dropped anchor. The first thing we saw was a huge notice board across the dock buildings saying ‘ Welcome to India but mums the word’.
We disembarked and were taken to Worli transit camp. Here we had our first taste of humidity, the sweat poured off us, the sleeping quarters were very cramped and this did not help. Our pith helmets were taken from us and we were issued with Australian slouch hats, an ingenious method of exporting (pith helmets) without paying carriage fees. One night, whilst everyone was sleep, a sound woke me. I saw a shadowy figure moving around, it was an Indian dressed in a loincloth searching for things to steal. I shouted and other men woke up, none of us could hold him for his body was covered in oil or grease, he just slipped through our fingers. Our days at Worli were spent wandering around looking at the sights and visiting small shops where I bought thinner shorts and shirts which I wore all the time. In the evening we strolled along the sea front in the breeze coming off the sea trying to cool down.
Our postings came through and we traveled by train to Calcutta, the train journey took four days and nights. Our carriage was very primitive, the windows and doors were made of slats of wood, half of them missing and the one toilet was a two inch diameter porcelain hole in the floor with no water for flushing or washing. Every day we would stop outside a station or halt and troop along to the kitchen car carriage where army cooks had prepared our meals. We took with us two metal plates, one for afters and the other for corn beef and horrible dehydrated potatoes which looked like thin brown chips which were as hard as nails. We then wandered back to our carriage to enjoy this wonderful meal. On one occasion as I was walking back a brown streak flashed by and my corn beef was gone. It was a large hawk and thereafter I always took my tin hat with me, much to the amazement of my fellow travelers. On another occasion when we stopped I looked out of the window and spotted a huge tank on stilts where the engines were able to take on water. I said ‘come on lads lets have a shower’. About ten of us ran out with our towels, stripped off, I pulled the chain and we enjoyed a beautiful shower. We noticed some natives squatting in a semi-circle nearby but ignored them until they started to giggle - they were women but it was too late to do anything about it. We came away feeling very refreshed and clean.
We arrived in Calcutta and another transit camp which was quite pleasant and stayed for four days seeing all the wonderful sights, going to the Pilot Cinema, bathing in a pool in a large park and looking at the expensive goods in the shops. We kept to the main thorough fares as it could prove dangerous to wander down the side streets. I used to watch the huge flying foxes fly off at dusk for their feeding grounds and the monkeys clambering over the buildings. I was posted to 356 Squadron as Sergeant Armourer in charge of ‘B’ Flight. I travelled on my own, fortunately I was armed, by train to Salbani, some hundred miles north of Calcutta. I arrived at night and phoned for transport to the camp.
I was taken to my billet, which was constructed of sun baked mud with square holes for the windows and doors, the roof was thatched with reeds. My bed, called a charpoy, had four wooden legs, cross-members of wood and coconut matting slung in between. It was already made with a mosquito net in place. Being late at night I dumped my kit of the floor and crawled in to bed. The next morning I unpacked, when I lifted my kit bag the bottom fell out, eaten by termites during the night. I had a shower, changed in to clean clothes, went for breakfast and then went out to the armoury to be introduced to the squadron.
The temperature at noon at Salbani was about 120 degrees and the humidity was very high. We stopped work at noon and restarted at four as the heat would have caused serious problems, you could fry an egg on the wing of a plane quicker than in a frying pan. The armourers used to take homemade fans to carry out maintenance in the turrets and plug the fans into the aircraft electrical system. The Armament Officer, a F/O Caldicott was very nice but he went back home shortly after I arrived but he did ask if anyone would like him to write to our wives when he got back. His replacement was a bit of a clot, white as a sheet and green as a blade of grass, he would take no advice from my fellow Sergeant and myself and went his own sweet way, so we ran the Armoury.
Our small room in the billet was looked after by one bearer who made our beds, washed and ironed our clothes and swept up for which we paid one rupee per week. A rupee was worth one shilling and sixpence. When he was given an extra rupee for a job well done we would not see him for a week as he had been paid an extra week’s wage - he had no sense of saving for a rainy day.
The parking pens for the Liberators were bottle shaped and large enough to allow a B-24 to turn around and face to come out. When the aircraft were away on anything up to fifteen hours, my mate and I would go out in a gharry (lorry) at night and wait in one of the pens with our headlights on looking for rabbits as fresh meat for the mess. On one occasion we saw two eyes shining at us and thinking it was a wild dog, which carry rabbits, we fired at it. When we reversed back we found ourselves staring at a black panther which when wounded are very ferocious - you never saw a lorry leave so fast out of the pen. The windscreen was wound up but with only thin canvas covering our heads and half doors we had no protection whatsoever.
Another night we were going to get some more rabbits. I had to go to my mate’s billet between which there was a dry waddi for the monsoon rains. I always carried a torch and was about to cross this waddi when I spotted a huge yellow snake. Walking a long way up from where the snake was I crossed the waddi and when I reached my mate’s billet told him about the snake. He went and killed it was a large stick - I hate snakes.
Evening time at Salbani was very routine. We came back to our billets around six and had a shower and change of clothes. This we did twice a day as the humidity was terrible and failure to shower and change clothes would invite ‘prickly heat’ - when you would become covered in pimples causing you to itch unbearably. Our bearer would have prepared a change of clothes and laid them on our charpoy, Every evening a ‘charwallah’ (tea boy) would come round with his tea urn and charcoal fire and rough looking scones. Squatting on the floor he would serve you a steaming mug of tea for about two annas. On one occasion he was pouring my tea when I noticed something behind his ankles. I yelled at him and he jumped up. The something was a black scorpion which he immediately killed. He then carried on serving tea as if nothing had happened.
The monsoon season arrived and before the first downpour a strong wind would come, blowing clouds of dust which got into everything and could last up to an hour before the rain swamped down. We had a cinema on the camp which showed the occasional film. I went to the cinema one evening and on coming out found it had poured down and water, a foot deep, lay everywhere. Fortunately between the cinema and our billets there were many old rice fields and by walking on the banks I was able to keep my feet dry. One of the dangers during the monsoon were all the creepy crawlies and snakes of all sizes and colours that would seek higher ground - our billets being the obvious choice. I heard of one chap who awoke in the morning to find a snake had fallen through the reed thatch on to his mosquito net preventing him getting out of bed until someone got rid of the snake.
The squadron started to prepare for a move. We were issued with green kit, such as towels and that meant only one thing, we were crossing the Brahmaputra river into Burma. No sooner were they issued than the move was canceled.
The move became necessary as the Japs were being pushed back beyond the effective range of the Liberators but some Jap snipers still lurked in the jungle of Burma and white would immediately attract them. The squadron was definitely going to move and we were held on standby, then the orders came through. All transport would go in convoy to Calcutta, our officer would lead the way with the light transport and my mate and I would bring up the heavy transport. We decided that it would be safest for the armourers to pack their kit in our mobile armoury truck as it was steel covered and had well locked doors. This we did and eventually the convoy moved off. Within a few miles the officer and the light transport disappeared in the distance, leaving Joe and I to bring up the rear.
We traveled all day until we came to the Hooghly river. There was no road bridge but there was a railway bridge. We decided this bridge was the only way across. Hoping not to meet a train we crossed over, bumping on the sleepers. We eventually arrived at Calcutta where out clot of an officer asked where we’d been - we told him in no uncertain language. We found our billets and settled down, having parked all the lorries on the dock where they were guarded by Gurkhas. The lorries were loaded the following day onto a ship called the ‘Empire Rani’, which was a prize ship captured by the navy. It appeared that all such ships were renamed ‘Empire’ something.
That night, the last one ashore, we all went out for drink in the Winter Gardens. My mate drank gin and I rum. During the night and following morning I suffered severe stomach pains. Dysentery followed and I spent most of the voyage on the loo. Our sleeping quarters on the ‘Empire Rani’ were in a small cockroach invested hold right at the stern and above the propeller. No way was I sleeping there. I slept on deck, waking up in the morning covered with soot. Many slept in the lorries loaded on the deck. We hit some bad weather in the Indian Ocean and my mate got flung against a bollard cracking his ribs. There was no medical doctor on board, just a crew member acting as orderly. Poor old Joe was bound up round his chest with yards of sticking plaster which he had on until the day he was demobbed.
After about five days sailing we dropped anchor in Colombo harbour in Ceylon. We stayed there for four days but our officer would not allow us ashore to stretch our legs. He went to buy flour and sugar for the next stage of the journey. Once out to sea our cooks attempted to use the flour and sugar our officer had purchased in Colombo. The flour proved to be chappati flour which was absolutely useless for cooking with. Our officer gave instructions for the flour to be thrown overboard, unfortunately the sugar went with it. Jap submarines were reported to be operating in our area but luckily for us we saw none, our ship was unarmed and had no escort. It was only when we were at sea having left Ceylon, that our officer told us we were going to the Cocos Keeling Island, six hundred miles off Japanese held Java.
After a fortnight at sea we arrived at the Cocos Islands, a group of several islands of coral spaced around a huge extinct volcano. The crater was the main lagoon which took forty five minutes to cross by landing barge, whilst the deep anchorage was a large gap on one side where the lava used to pour out. We scrambled down landing nets on to barges which ferried us to the beach where many army troops had their camp. We were then taken by lorries to our tent site which was located near the air strip. We unpacked our kit and heard that when the officers unpacked the kit the trucks were full of stones. Thieves on Calcutta docks had stolen everything. Darkie (Ted) Brooks a sergeant engine fitter and I shared a tent and we made it very comfortable. There were palm trees everywhere, the sea was about a hundred feet from our tent. We would wash in the sea with our salt water soap, if you got two bubbles you had a lather. Enough water could be found on the island about eighteen inches down for drinking and a mug each for shaving if you were lucky enough. The Islands were administered by the Clunnies Ross family who were of Scottish descent and carried on the business of exporting copra.
About two thousand natives, who were of Malaysian decent and were very clean, lived on Home Island. They built small clinker type boats. For one rupee we could go sailing or fishing with them but only on a Sunday. Our island was a few miles long, quarter of a mile wide, three feet above sea level and was protected by a reef which lay a few miles out at sea. There was also a small reef close in shore and this made it dangerous when washing, you dare not go above your knees as the undertow was very strong. Once you got swept over the small reef the sharks were waiting. Some crew members of 99 Squadron, the other Liberator squadron that was with us on the Cocos, made a raft out of oil drums and tied it to a palm tree, the rope snapped and two men vanished over the reef, the rest were rescued by a human chain.
‘Darky’ Brooks decided to make a boat. He obtained an unserviceable emergency petrol tank which was roughly oblong shape and made of a ruberoid material and was fitted in the bomb bay of a Liberator when extra long flights were undertaken. The tank was cut in half, the two ends were joined together and then the sides and beam were strengthened with acquired wood.
It was unstable so I suggested out-riggers and he asked me to give a hand. With out-riggers on both sides it proved very stable. We rigged up a mast and sail and we used to go out sailing in one of the small lagoons. In another small lagoon, which was tidal, a fish trap was set up with wire netting forming a large right angle and in the corner a small gap with a small wire netting trap round that. When the tide came in the fish would swim over the top of the net but were caught when the tide went out. We made spears using a stick with a cork at one end and a six inch nail secured to the other end. Using these spears we would spear the fish caught in the trap. Barracuda could be eaten but we never caught many.
Our island was called North Island, There was another island, called Direction Island which had a wireless and signals station which in World War One was attacked by the German commerce raider ‘Emdem’ which was eventually battered and beached on the Cocos Keeling Islands by the Australian Navy. It was from the ‘Emdem’ that the islanders obtained the copper they used in their boat building.
The greatest pleasure was to find a young palm tree which I could reach. I would cut away a soft green coconut which had not hardened, slice off the top and enjoy the coconut milk which was nothing like the coconut milk brought from a shop. We went swimming every day to a place protected by coral but where the water was clear without any current and at most times safe for bathing except for high tide when sharks could swim over the coral, which they did on one occasion.
The temperature was a constant 90 degrees and with a 25 mph breeze blowing from the same direction day in day out we had a lovely climate with almost no humidity. Should the wind change direction it would mean that we were in for something. It changed one day and we were hit by a typhoon but the palm trees protected us from the high wind and the reef saved us from the rough seas. Many coconuts in their husks came down and they were very large and heavy and the massive old palm fronds hurled down with only one falling across a tent in which four men were sleeping. It fell right between them and they escaped unhurt.
Our beds were the usual Indian charpoys with one blanket and two sheets. One night I woke up hearing a strange clanking noise. Waking up my mate and shining my torch I found a land crab trying to crack my tin hat. The island had two dangerous creatures, one was the huge land crab with a claw as big as your feet, the claw could crack a coconut. The other was a nine inch long centipede with a sting that caused you to be in agony for weeks.
All senior NCOs and officers were given a spirit ration consisting of a bottle of vermouth, a bottle of port, half a bottle of gin and a bottle of whisky. In addition we were given 200 cigarettes in sealed tins, a tin of fruit, a tin of Nestles sweetened condensed cream and two cans of Canadian beer. I use to sell all my spirits to my men for the price I paid for them as they never got a spirit ration. The whisky of course went to my Scots corporal. Herein lies a tale. As the Liberators could be away for as long as twelve hours, half the crew would prepare them and bomb up in the afternoon and evening and the rest of the crews would see them off in the early hours of the morning. On one particular day I was supervising the bombing up and after we had finished I had to go to my Scots corporal’s tent to give him some instructions for the morning, As I got there he had a party going and insisted that I had a drink before leaving. I told him that I did not drink spirits, to which he replied; “You’re no leaving here till you have a dram.” I asked for a small measure, he served me with half a tumbler full of whisky, he must have been saving the bottles of whisky he brought from me for months. I went to bed but woke in the middle of the night, I had to go to the nearest palm tree. I must have blacked out because I came to and found I was lying on my back on the ground naked. Thinking of the land crabs and centipedes I dashed back to bed.
The currency used by the natives was the rupee and they were forbidden to give them to any of us. They were square in shape and there were not many of them. The islands are now administered by Australia and use Australian dollars.
When the Japanese surrendered many leaflet dropping missions were carried out over Java and Sumatra. The leaflets were printed in several languages, including English. The Japs were urged to surrender to any British forces in their area. Other missions were carried out to drop supplies to our POWs. We knew where the camps were and we were all asked to contribute anything we could spare. I have photographs of these supply drops and several pictures of POW camps.
On VJ Day we invited all the natives over to our island to celebrate. Darkie Brooks and I entertained the Wilson family and they gave us a cooked bantam chicken which was delicious. These bantams were wild and flew about the palm trees, apparently descendants of some which had escaped from a wrecked sailing ship about a hundred years previously. Our squadron of Spitfires (136 Squadron) gave a wonderful display of formation flying. They flew over the island in a ‘VJ’ formation, everyone cheered.
Then came the start of repatriation. First we were given our repatriation number - mine was Group 18. I was priority demob as I was eighteen months over my enrolled time. We were flown off the Cocos by one of the squadrons Liberators which had been converted by modifying the bomb bay to take seats. It was draughty and there were no windows to look out of, I was lucky to be seated by the beam gun port which was covered by a large piece of perspex. It was very cold flying at 10000 feet, luckily I had brought a blanket with me, even so I caught a terrible cold that lasted with me for three months. We were in the air for eleven hours and every so often a smoke flare would be dropped into the sea to check wind speed and direction, then we were flying over the mountains of Ceylon and landed at KKS.
Our reception at the KKS Sergeants Mess was deplorable. We were told that meals were finished and there was nothing left and this after flying for all those hours. They seemed not to be bothered as to where we were to sleep but we insisted and were shown to a bare room in an unused building with no mosquito nets. We managed to get breakfast and leaving this dump, we boarded our plane again and flew across India. After being airborne for six hours we landed at Santa Cruz which is just north of Bombay. Then it was back to Worli transit camp. There we would gather every day in a large building to listen for our embarkation number.
Once you had that you were taken out to your ship. I boarded the liner ‘Pasteur’. It had a cinema on board and excellent sleeping quarters. She had been built by France to try and capture the Blue Ribbon of the Atlantic, she could do thirty knots. We sailed at last for home and just off Aden the captain broadcast to all that an aircraft carrier was some way ahead and that we would pass at a certain time, we did. Many years later I was to learn that the chap living next door to my sister-in-law in Westcliff-on-Sea was a sailor on the carrier. We sailed up the Red Sea and arrived in Port Suez where we had to wait for our order to enter the Suez Canal as our ship was one of the biggest to pass through. Along the banks were the timing stations, nicely landscaped with palms and shrubs and clean buildings.
We came to Ismalia near the Great Bitter lakes where we had to wait twenty four hours. We saw two captured Italian battleships moored in the Great Bitter lakes. Night fell on Ismalia and it turned bitterly cold with a cold wind blowing off the Sahara. It was a long night and come the dawn it warmed up and we set sail again, passing on the way a Union Castle ship full of Australians going home from the very place we had come from. They all crowded to the side of their ship and we could hear the loudspeakers telling them to get back as the ship had a decided list. We arrived in Port Said for refueling but waited for the hospital ship ‘Atlantis’ to sail up from behind and refuel first. After refueling the ‘Atlantis’ immediately set sail again. It took several hours for the ‘Pasteur’ to refuel but we set off again at dawn and speeding through the Med’ passed the ‘Atlantis’ about midway. We steamed through the Straits and saw Gibraltar but more significantly we saw snow on the Spanish mountains heralding the type of weather to come. I felt cold, coming from a hundred degrees to snow in less than three weeks. By this time I had my old blue uniform and greatcoat. We crossed the Bay of Biscay and sailed round the Channel Islands into Cherbourg harbour where Dutch East Indies refugees disembarked. It was pitch dark and all we saw were the harbour lights.
We sailed immediately the refugees were ashore and came to Southampton on a wet and bleak morning, but it was home all the same. From there we traveled by train to Hednesford to be de-mobbed. We were all X-rayed and medically examined and then we went it to town. The first thing I treated myself to was a haircut. I sat in the chair and the lady hairdresser took one look at my hair and said; “where the hell have you been”. Apparently my hair on top was the colour of straw, it had been bleached by the sun.
Next day we handed in our uniforms and were measured by a host of tailors and given civilian clothes. They felt very strange after seven and a half years. The suit was ill fitting and I never wore the hat. I just wanted to get home. I finished up on Liverpool Street Station with my old mate with whom I had traveled half way round the world from the Cocos Islands. We said our good byes and departed.
I arrived at Westcliff-on-Sea on the 23rd December.1945 for six weeks leave and to look for work. My wife and I set up home in Westcliff-on-Sea and I found temporary employment as a steel erector, building pre-fabricated houses, both in Westcliff-on-Sea and Doncaster. I became ill and moved back to Westcliff-on-Sea them move to Wickford where I entered the field of engineering as a fitter/turner. I then moved to Pwllheli, my home town, where I took up employment as a toolmaker doing sub-contract work for De Havilland of Broughton near Chester.
After the loss of my parents we decided to move to Wymonham, where I had inherited property and to give a better chance to our four children. My work in engineering continued and I became a production controller in a large firm. After many years - and many headaches - I left to join one of the four big high street banks for the remainder of my eighteen years of working life.
When I finished active service, I signed for four years on class ’H’ reserve. After moving to Pwllheli I took my commission in the VR(T) and became the commanding officer of the local Air Training Corps Squadron. When I eventually left Pwllheli for Wymondham I became CO of Wymondham ATC, gaining a Long Service medal. After the age of sixty one had to retire! I can honestly say that I have had RAF connections from 1938 - 1980, ‘Happy Days’.