This is a transcript of John Rosewarne Lloyd’s memoirs; Grandfer to James, Gareth, Jeremy and I. They cover John’s memories of growing up – and later returning to – Pembroke Dock.
As a boy I was fascinated by his stories of serving with the Fleet Air Arm in World War 2. However, re-reading these memoirs as a father, I’m struck more by the hardship of his early years, and life immediately after his service.
These memoirs are a fantastic mix of personal family connections, as well as Royal Navy rituals, ships and aircraft.
More importantly the words below are a powerful reminder of his bravery, pragmatism and eloquent writing.
From Pembroke Dock to Leicester, 1921 to 1938
Although born at number 2 Treowen Road (now numbered) in September 1921, where Mum and Dad had a couple of rooms after their marriage, my first memories are the house at number 6 Beach Road, Llanreath.
Mum and Dad had moved to Beach Road at the end of 1922 and my brother Bill was born in the maternal family house Sambell Cottage the following year. Sambell Cottage stood at the Barrack Hill end of the road we referred to as “Back of the Gardens”, that is, the back of the gardens of the Chapel Road houses. Grandfer Davey and Granny Davey brought up their large family in that cottage which subsequently became a modern house in 1988.
I have only very few and vague memories of the house at 6 Beach Road, but I do remember that the little house had two bedrooms on the road level and the kitchen / dining room was down a flight of stairs at the back, since the land fell away steeply to the south of the road.
About 1925 I remember Mam making rag dolls for Bill and me, from pieces of old sheet, with the faces drawn on in ink. Do little boys play with rag dolls nowadays? Also I remember grazed knees being treated, after turning septic, with scalding hot pieces of bread in a clean rag. Another recollection is of the day Mam had bought some fish, in pieces, (could that fish have been bought from one of the Llangwm women who hawked fish around Pembroke Dock and the district, on foot, wearing boots like a man, the fish in a large basket
hung on the hip? More than likely) and there was a visitor at the house, quite possibly Granny Davey.
Bill and me decided to have a fish throwing contest in the adjacent scullery, and threw the pieces at the wall. It seemed a hilarious thing to us at the time but the visitors’ presence saved us from a hiding. We were lucky – that day!
It was from number 6 that I started school at the Albion Square Infants School, after Easter in 1926, at the age of four and a half years. That was the same year that the Royal Dockyard was closed causing great unemployment in the town. Many of the tradesmen of the Dockyard moved with their families to distant parts such as Devonport, Portsmouth, Chatham, Sheerness or even Rosyth.
I distinctly remember that Mam took me to school on that first day and I sat in the class, feeling lost, playing with sand in trays and plasticine. My leaming soon began to progress though and I remember being taught basic arithmetic and reading by the headmistress, Miss Gibby. The lady was something of a martinet and was very strict with all the pupils. A rap with the cane or even a cuff on the head was an almost daily occurrence for everyone. However such strict treatment did us no harm at all and more is the pity that teachers are not allowed, these days, to apply a little corporal punishment.
Incidentally, when Bill’s son Roger was married to Wendy at Market Drayton in Shropshire in 1965 or 1966, we took Miss Gibby, (who was Peggy’s Aunt and known as Aunty Ted), with us to a wedding in the Triumph Herald 12/50. During the journey the fact came out that she had taught all of us at the Albion Square School and so we had some laughs about our school days.
In 1927 we moved from No 6 up the road to Maenclochog, only about 50 yards away, and it was there that my sister Isobel was born on November 21.
The small room that Bill and I shared had a skylight window and, lying bed, we often watched the moon sailing across the sky and in winter would see the constellation of Orion – although at that time I didn’t know its name.
After Easter in 1928 I moved to the Coronation School in Upper Meyrick Street, in those days an all boys school and said to be the best Boys School in West Wales.
We walked to school – no buses or even bicycles for the majority, and in all weathers, but we thought nothing of it. The footpath we usually used (across Barack Hill) was known as the Schoolboys Path and it ran through the gorse, or furze, bushes down to the top of Princes Street. That old path is now lost in the undergrowth.
On the way to school we often took the time from the big Dockyard clock which was easily read from the Barack Hill.
At Llanreath, with the shore close to the foot of Beach Road, we spent much spare time down there in the summer, when not lighting fires of furze or dried horse dung on the hill, coming home with clothes smelling of rank smoke.
May Day, the 1st of the month, was marked by a huge bonfire (the wood and stuff was collected for weeks beforehand) at the Tumps which were just to the East of the houses opposite St Peters CM Chapel at the entrance to Llanreath village. There was a May Queen and a May King and money was collected in the village to pay for the lemonade and biscuits for all the children. We all enjoyed May Day.
Another treat for us, in the Summer, was sleeping out in the field next to Maenclochogn in a tent made from sacking. This field was known as Popton’s Field and has been developed with houses. The owner was a Popton Williams who kept a hearse and a pair of black horses at his stables in Albion Square, just where the West End Garage used to be at the top of Clarence Street.
In those days, too, I remember hay being made in the “Wireless Field”, by the chapel, where the Admiralty had a wireless radio station, three great masts – said to be 200 feet tall. That field is now also expected to be developed with houses.
At that time Grandfer Lloyd lived in Llanreath too, in a cottage on the left near the top of Beach Road. Later he moved to Castle Street in Lower Pennar, to number 13, houses which have since been cleared and council houses built instead.
A prominent landmark in the town in those days was the huge lifting device, called the “Sheirlegs” which stood on the Carr Jetty at the north west part of the Dockyard.
Another memory of our Llanreath days was of Bill and me in the old earth closet at the bottom of the garden at “Maenclochog” smoking half a Woodbine cigarette, or it could have been a Players, when Dad, who I suppose must have thought that we were too quiet, opened the door and caught us. He there and then took us to the police station, at that time in Charlton Terrace, and I recall that Bill was very scared on the way to town but that I was full of bravado. Anyway, the duty policeman gave us both a stem telling off about under age smoking and that cured us for a long time afterwards.
Dad was unemployed for a time in the late Twenties and would go to the shore near the Carr Jetty end of the Dockyard to collect the many bits of scrap iron to be found there. This scrap was then sold by weight, about a penny (1d) a pound to a dealer who came to Llanreath once a week. A hard method of eeking out the dole money.
In 1930 the RAF took over the main portion of the Dockyard to establish a flying boat station and I remember seeing aircraft such as Short Bros Singapore and Stranraers which were soon a familiar sight. The famous Short Sunderlands came later in the Thirties.
About this time Mam was expecting Philip my youngest brother and a bigger house was needed and so, On May 9 1931, we moved to 23 Prospect Place in the town. That day was a Saturday and I remember vividly Bill and me riding on the tailboard of the small lorry which moved us to town. I was sorry to leave Llanreath and the friends that I knew there, even though I still met them at school but Bill and me soon made new friends in Prospect Place.
What we didn’t care for about No 23 was the basement which made the house inconvenient, the old water tap and the gas stove being downstairs, together with the coal storage and the old copper boiler where the washing was done each week and where baths were taken in the so called ‘bung low bath’.
Although we were in the town there was still no electricity – only gas light downstairs and candle light to see us to bed, and another earth closet up the garden. In Prospect Place that meant climbing two steep flights of steps. That house, like many others, was owned by the Bush Estate and the weekly rent was five shillings (25p).
The onset of war did bring one benefit – a water closet was installed about 1943 on a lower level near the back door. Such luxury.
A good point to we children was the attic, again with a skylight window, where we used to play on wet days in the school holidays and slept when Aunts and Uncles came on holiday in the summer.
The present owner of No 23 has had the skylight slated over these many years.
Soon after we came to Prospect Place the demolition of the old brewery, on the comer at the top of Meyrick Street was started. In exchange for a jug of tea each morning the workmen kept us supplied with old timber for firewood for the fire and oven on which Mam did much of her cooking, in the living room.
Philip was born at No 23 on September 18 1931 and I well remember coming home from school at midday and seeing the new baby – all red faced and wrinkled.
Memories of those times include learning to swim at Llanreath and also down at the Fort Road beach and of learning to ride a bicycle in the roadway of Prospect Place. Cars were very few in those days and so presented no problem to novice cyclists. Bill and me shared that bike, which had cost Dad five shillings, I’m pretty sure, until the time I started work in 1936. There may have been another bicycle, after that first one, but we certainly didn’t have one apiece until 1936.
A great memory of that period was of Bill and me being given a ride in an MG Midget car to Tenby. Mam had done a favour for an RAF Corporal whom Dad knew in the Yard. Dad had left the Admiralty employ and was taken on as a plumber (civilian) with the RAF. Mam had repaired the upholstery of the Midget and, in retum, the Corporal was asked to take we boys up to Aunty Doll’s in Tenby, where we were going for the weekend. A great treat in those days. The driver and we two squeezed into the little cockpit and off we went with the wind howling around our ears. Somewhere along the road, I had my hand hanging over the door when the car went through some cow muck and I had it all over my hand and forearm. Things like that do tend to stay in the memory.
There are memories of trips in Ernie James’ little twenty seater bus, with baskets of food, kettles and teapots, to Angle in the summer holidays. Angle was the favourite beach on this side of the river, with all of us, for a day out. I still have some photographs of those family picnics.
There were other picnics on the motor boat “Blodwen”, owned by my Uncle Fred and his friend, Jack Orford, who lived at Church Lakes, Llanstadwell. We used to go up river, around Lawrenny, and find a grassy bank to settle for the day. A fire would be lit straight away and collecting wood was a job for we children. Sometimes the weather turned wet but that didn’t diminish our pleasure.
We, from the ‘Dock’, would be picked up off the beach by the Martello Tower at Front Street, in the cockleshell dinghy, thence to “Blodwen”, standing off the low tide mud banks. Aunty Isla, who lived at that time in Poplar E14 London with Uncle Emie, being a large lady, had difficulty in those nautical maneuvers and I recall well the time when Aunty Leila exploded in annoyance about the Blodwen!
Other picnics in the boat were to Wattick Bay, down the river near Dale, a delightful little cove and also at Sandy Haven. Once I remember that we had a day at Pwllcrochan and buckets of cockles. The harbour estuary wasn’t as polluted then as it is now.
Bill has reminded me of other memories, in the thirties. A chap named Georgie Simpson, who kept a fish shop in Laws Street, used to come around the street in a horse-drawn fish and chip van. We children in Prospect Place would help to push the waggon up around The Mount into Milton Terrace and Georgie would give us a bag of cracklings as a reward. We were delighted.
At that time limestone and crushed lime were used a great deal in the gardens and a chap named Roberts, from Military Road, used to go around with a horse and cart selling lime, calling “Lime, Lime-oh”. Another vendor Bengy Griffths who sold paraffin oil and firewood etc from a horse and wagon round Pembroke Dock. Naturally, he was known as “Bengy the Oil”. He used a crutch as one leg was useless. There was a boy in Llanreath known as “Crutchy” Matthias, because of his disability.
In the early Thirties at the bottom of Water Street, near the railway line to the New Pier, stood the Blacksmith’s shop Harvey Folland, but that building disappeared, along with others nearby, in the air raid of May 1941.
An old man was often seen in the streets sharpening scissors and knives on a foot operated grindstone, but I don’t remember his name. One that I do recall was the famous character “Jack Frost” who offered to repair umbrellas. His name came from the fact that his face had been badly burned in a fire and was severely scarred. He used to scare us but was an inoffensive man. He always wore an old tall-crowned hat; at that time no-one knew where he lived. I’ve since discovered that he lived in Paradise Row in Pembroke.
Mam became ill in 1935 and spent a long period in the County Memorial Hospital in Haverfordwest where she had a kidney removed. Being the eldest I had to keep the home fires burning and so left the Coronation School in May 1935.
Some weeks later I found a job with the butcher, Bertie Lewis, whose shop was on the west side of Pembroke Street. Butcher Jenkins also had a shop close by. There were eight or nine butchers in town then. I recall that Bertie Lewis didn’t have a sausage making machine and every couple of days l would have to go over and assist one of his men to make the bags of mystery. Usually early, about seven in the morning Jenkins’ wife would supply welcome tea on those winter mornings.
One of Bertie Lewis’ customers was Sir Thomas Meyrick (https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/wales/entries/d5c86dcd-09f1-356d-b043-631633f831d0), of Bush House, and I remember delivering joints of beef there that would feed a family for a week. Tradesmen had to use the rear driveway from the Top Road and the kitchen door of the mansion.
Wednesday afternoons were early closing. At least, the shop was closed at one o’clock and then, as the boy I had to scrub the blocks (made of Elm) using a wire scrubber, wash the shop floor and the passageway to the back of the house, put down fresh sawdust until, if l was lucky, I could leave at about three thirty. My wages were six shillings per week, plus a piece of beef on Saturday and a free, or complimentary, ticket to The Grand cinema. Of the six shillings I paid about four pence for National Health Contributions and gave Mam four shillings. No big money for boys then.
Not long after, perhaps a couple of months, I obtained a similar job at the Co-Op butchery department in Bush Street, in the charge of a manager, Jimmy Thomas. The starting wage was eight shillings per week, less stamp, of course.
I remember that my first task on the day that I started was to clean the windows, inside and out. After dinner, about one o’clock, the middle man, or improver as he was, and myself, went over to the stables behind the Co-Op headquarters in Albion Square and harnessed the horse, Dick, to the cart. Then we set off for the weekly cattle market in Pembroke. In those days the Mart was off Orchard Buildings at the East End of Pembroke and there we waited until our manager bought a beast and several sheep.The sheep were heaved into the cart and a rope net was secured over them. ‘Jack’ drove the cart back to the slaughterhouse in Bufferland whilst I joined the other butchers boys and herded the beasts together and started up the road for the slaughter house. Down the Main Street, not much tarmac then, into the Dark Lane, or Northgate Street, over the Mill Bridge, up Bush Hill, a boy on the different road junctions as we went to stop the cattle straying off. From the top of Bush Hill we went westward along the Top Road, all of us brandishing a stick of course but warned not to hit the beasts too much or the meat would be bruised. Occasionally one or more of the animals would barge over the hedge into the adjoining fields and then there would be a hectic ten minutes or so to fetch the miscreant back to the road. By the time we reached the slaughterhouse and had the beast it would perhaps be five o’clock or five thirty and we were free to head home. I enjoyed Mart days.
Sometimes I drove the cart and fetched the sheep back from the slaughter house but then I would have to scrub out the cart before returning to the stables in Co-op Lane. The cart was also used for the delivery of grocery parcels around town and into Pembroke. I would give Old Dick a rub down in his stall, then a bucket of water, a pannikin of oats and plenty of hay in his manger.
There were also two draught horses used with the coal waggon and a light horse which was used with the bread van, but I had little to do with them.
Tuesdays had their pattern, too. The forenoon was spent delivering by bicycle to customers all over the town, then after dinner, Jack and myself would go to the slaughterhouse and slaughter the beast, the sheep and pigs as required. A humane killer, like a pistol, was used. Then the knife with tie blood caught in a bucket and the blood vessels taken out by stirring with the hand. Albert Allen the pork butcher in Queens Street was also in attendance as he used the blood in his black puddings. After that it was back to the shop until 7pm and so home.
On Wednesdays, (half day from one o’clock), we fetched the carcasses from the slaughterhouse in the cart with Dick, using clean cloths, mind, and much heaving and grunting to both load and unload the cart. A hind quarter of beef would average 160 – 170 pounds and a forequarter about 140 pounds. A pork pig, when dressed, would average six or seven score pounds. Pigs were always reckoned in scores, i.e. 20 pounds.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays too were mainly occupied with deliveries. I usually did the town, with Bufferland and Pennar, Llanreath had to fetch their own. Jack would take a large basket full out to Monkton and Orange Gardens on Fridays and collect the money. Quite a long hard day, especially in the winter time.
In between time we also had to make brawn. The meat was boiled in a copper in the outhouse up the yard and the sausages were made on our own machine. There was also a large wooden brine tub in which ox tongues and silverside of beef were pickled for customers. A new house has been built in what was the yard and looks straight at the backs of the Bush Street buildings. (How on earth was planning permission granted?).
Our shop hours were from 8am to 7pm Saturdays until 8pm. Other butchers’ shops were open until 9pm or later on a Saturday in those days.
After a year my wage was increased to ten shillings per week and a year later to twelve shillings.
By this time it was 1938 and I had become restless, or fed up, in the job and my attention was taken by a Ministry of Labour scheme whereby young boys could be found work in some industrial areas in England, with lodgings at a reduced rate. This appealed to me, although Mam wasn’t too keen on my leaving home. Still, having discussed the idea for some weeks, I applied to the Labour Exchange, then located in the old National School in Victoria Road. I should add that in those pre-war years Pembrokeshire, and South Wales generally, were classed as a Depressed Area and the Government offered assistance in finding work in the more prosperous areas of England. Later on I found that whole families had migrated the North East and Scotland under the scheme.
I was offered a job and lodgings in Leicester and so gave a week’s notice to the Co-op. The job in Leicester was at a small metal working shop or factory in Sanvey Gate, Dryads (https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG221052). So one fine morning in May 1938 Dad carried my big suitcase to the railway station and saw me off on the first train, at about 7.15 am. As you can imagine, taking leave of Mam at the house was a sad affair. My feelings were also of excitement and apprehension, realised all to well when, after changing trains at Cardiff, Gloucester (from GWR to LMS) and Birmingham I reached Leicester to find that there was no-one to meet me. The time was about five o’clock but I fought down my initial panic and asked the telephone operator to put me through to the local Labour Exchange. The chap in charge of the Youth Section was apologetic and admitted that he had forgotten that I was coming that day.
Not a good start to a new chapter of life.
A New Chapter
Leicester and the call-up, 1938/9
He took me in his car to my lodgings in Narborough Road and there I met the landlady, Mrs Bunny. Her daughter and the two other young male lodgers, immigrants from up North as I remember.
My job at the Dryad Metal Works was strange and I didn’t settle to it. Nor did my face fit with the foreman and eventually I was sacked. After a couple of weeks kicking my heels the Labour Exchange found me another job at the Wolsey Hosiery Company, off Abbey Lane, and I started there in the November of 1938.
I had found fresh lodgings with a family from County Durham, named Collins. My brother Bill had come up to Leicester and had a job in Aylestone and had lodgings in the same road. We used to meet in town on Friday and Saturday evenings and go to one of the many cinemas.
On Sunday afternoons we would walk up to Victoria Park – we didn’t have the pocket money to do anything else. Occasionally, instead of going to the cinema, Bill and I would go to the Opera House to see a variety show, always entertaining and a seat in ‘the Gods’ was cheap, less than a shilling. I also went swimming at one of the City baths, frequently, in the summer of 1938.
Also in that summer I sometimes cycled to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, about forty miles, where Aunt Rose, one of my Mam’s sisters lived. The family made me very welcome and in the Spring of 1939 Bill also went there with me.
Around Christmas time in 1938 I thought that the job at Wolsey’s wasn’t much good really as the factory was hot and steamy. I could not see myself staying there indefinitely. So when my eye was caught by an advertisement recruiting for the Fleet Air Arm, which had recently become independent of the RAF and entirely a branch of the Royal Navy, I did some boning up for the entrance examination which was held at the local recruiting office. The exam was mainly to see if one knew the three Rs and was nothing to worry about.
The idea of the Navy and of aircraft appealed to me. At seventeen years old I had no clear idea of what I wanted in life and no thought of the war clouds on the horizon entered my head. I think that most people thought, or hoped, that it wouldn’t come to a shooting war so soon after the 1914-18, even after the scare of the Munich episode in September 1938.
However in the February I volunteered and was accepted but had to wait until May for a vacancy. I should add that my acceptance into the Navy was also dependent on passing a strict medical examination. That was held at the main Midlands centre for recruiting in Derby.
Spectacles were not permissible then nor any physical oddity such as one chap suffered. He had a toe which lay across its neighbour and he was turned down, as was another with flat feet.
How those standards fell later, during the war.
The eleven weeks I waited seemed endless. Easter week was a most welcome break in the routine and Bill and myself came home to 23 Prospect Place, travelling overnight by train, something that was to be repeated quite often later on, but from different corners of Britain.
On the Friday evening that I finished at Wolseys I rode my faithful Hercules bike to the LMS station and sent it off home along with my suitcase and belongings, only keeping what I needed to see me down to Chatham Barracks on the following Monday. I joined at Chatham because that was the nearest RN barracks to the Midlands. Chaps Joining from Wales or the West Country mostly joined at Plymouth, Devonport, I should say.
The Royal Navy
Monday, May 15 1939, was another significant day in my life.
Up early, I said goodbye to the Collins family and the other two lodgers and walked to the LMS station meeting there a number of recruits and the Petty Officer in charge of the party. We reached London, possibly St Pancras, and took the tube to Waterloo and had a meal in a cafe close by. I remember that the meal included beef and butter beans.
At Chatham we must have used a bus to reach the Barracks and I recall that walking up from the main gate people who had already joined were leaning from windows and shouting “Don’t do it! Go back! Go back!”
My entry of recruits were issued with hammocks, blankets and thin mattresses to fit inside the slung hammocks. A seasoned AB showed us how to sling a hammock and climb into it.
That caused a few laughs but I didn’t laugh when, on returning from a visit to the ‘heads’. I found that some thief had stolen my blanket. I was, however, issued another and told to be more vigilant with my kit. With a large ‘floating’ population in the Barrack thieving was rife and on occasion some unfortunate would wake in the morning to find that his small attache had been cut open with a knife and the contents removed. The attache had recently replaced the wooden box in which all matelots kept their small possessions and which was known as a ‘box’. Most of us left nothing of value in the cases, main items of clothing were stowed in our kit bags and the spare cap kept in its own metal hat box.
On the moming, forenoon, we all had to sign on for our respective lengths of service. ‘Short Service’ was for seven years active service and five years on the Reserve. I signed ‘Continuous Service’ which was for twelve years of active service. One chap decided that one night in the Barracks was enough for him and he was allowed to go, to find his own way home.
The next two weeks were occupied in marking all of our kit and generally absorbing as much knowledge as we could. All the lectures were given by Petty Officer Instructors. It was all a little bewildering at first but slowly we began to understand something of the new life we had entered. Some were really homesick at first. I believe that I was the only one who had not come straight from home and I was thankful for that.
The following weeks were crammed with instruction periods. Rifle drill, how to march properly, and swimming in clothing. This meant doing two lengths of the baths wearing a duck canvas jumper and trousers (our normal rig as recruits) and keeping afloat for three minutes. Some couldn’t swim a stroke and had to attend lessons as ‘backward swimmers’ in the first Dog Watch, 1600 to 1800 hours.
There were also periods of boat pulling in a 32 foot cutter with 16 foot sweeps. Again it happened that I was the only chap in the class who had ever pulled an oar, so I was the Stroke oar.
Of course PT was done at very regular intervals as well as instruction on how to wash clothes and scrub your hammock and duck suits. Clean hammocks were slung fortnightly and bedding was aired weekly. Shower periods were compulsory once a week whether needed or not!
Our day started at 0600 with the pipe “Wakey, Wakey! Rise and shine the sun’s burning your eyes out!” – even if it was pouring with rain.
Lash up and stow the ‘mick, then wash and so forth. By then all were ready for “Hands to breakfast’.
The two men detailed as cooks of the mess for that day would dish out food that they had fetched from the galley. I do remember that we always had good food at Chatham. It was pre-war of course. No rationing at that time. Whatever we had to eat, such a kipper or hard boiled eggs, there was always someone who didn’t like it so people like me would soon eat my share of ‘gash’ food. Throughout my service I never refused anything edible. Those of us in Class 508 would “Get fell in” at 0730 to be marched to the Parade Ground for first period of instruction. If it was wet we would go to the drill shed and be put through our paces there.
Eventually war became certain and our summer leave was given in the July of 1939. I remember cycling to Llanreath one sunny moming to swim and when I dived in, the water was paralysingly cold, but there was to be no more swimming for three years.
We passed our Basic Training and were given odd jobs around the barracks as working parties, storing a ship in the Dockyard or just sweeping the Parade Ground. When the war started I was detailed off as the No 2 to a gunnery PO manning a twin Lewis machine gun on the top of of a building, but luckily there were no incidents.
In November I was drafted to the RAF station at Locking, near Weston-Super-Mare, and spent the next five and a half months on my Air Mechanics course. Originally we were to have had a choice of trades, either Air Frames or or Engines. I had put my name down for Engines but when the crunch came we were lined up and divided: “From here to the right will be the engine course and from here to the left will be the ‘A’ course”, and so I was on the A’ course and had to lump it. In the end I don’t think it made much difference.
That was a rough winter, the first of the war. There was one stove per hut, RAF style. And even though we had single beds the mattresses were ‘biscuits’ of straw. Hard as iron and we used our hammock blankets and oilskins on the top of the two thin blankets that we were issued with.
Examinations came in April 1940 and after passing them we were all drafted to Puckpool, near Ryde on the Isle of Wight. This place was a Warners Holiday Camp and was taken over by the Navy when the war started and renamed HMS Medina after a local river. The establishment was used as a transit camp and we had a pleasant month there doing little guard duties and more rifle practice over at Pompey, a good day’s outing.
Near the end of May I was drafted to Worthy Down, just north of Winchester, to start off as an Air Mechanic A, Second Class, still on half a crown a day. Worthy Down had been a long established RAF Station having been a gras aerodrome with brick built accommodation blocks, as at the RAF station in PD. A comfortable place.
The evacuation of our chaps from Dunkirk was underway and the threat of invasion was very strong.
Many Army men came to Worthy Down briefly, were re-kitted out, and then sent home after their ordeal.
When on Guard Duty, which was every third night l think, we were armed with old 1898 (or earlier) Long Lee Enfield rifles and a clip of five rounds – 5 rounds! If the Jerries had dropped by parachute, as we really expected at any time, they would not have had much opposition.
Things were really bad just then. Britain and the LDV, later called the Home Guard, had very few weapons at all. They could not have offered much opposition either. Fortunately the expected invasion never came or we would not be here today.
At Worthy Down I had my first flight, in a bi-plane. A Blackburn Shark with an Armstrong Siddeley Tiger radial engine. A similar aircraft to the Fairy Swordfish and used for training pilots and observers. A great thrill, the first flight. Just cruising around for about half an hour, quite long enough in an open cockpit with just ordinary clothes on. An enemy bomber came over one afternoon and dropped a stick of bombs but they all fell between the hangers and so no real damage was done.
In August I was, once again, on the move. This time to Arbroath near Dundee on the East coast of Scotland to join another training squadron, No 767, with Swordfish aircraft this time.
I had not been at Arbroath for more than a week or two when Jerry sent another raider over the airfield. I was in the hut with a couple of chaps and as the air raid warning sounded we dived beneath our beds. A bomb came through the opposite wall of the hut, skidded across the floor and out through the wall close to us. It didn’t explode. I’ve been lucky a few times in my life but that occasion was probably my luckiest.
The winter of 1940 – 41 at Arbroath was spent on the second line, or training, squadron, No 767. The pilots and other aircrew were under training, not the ground crews. Navigational exercises and dummy deck landings were practiced endlessly. Inevitably there were accidents. Aircraft colliding in mid air. Or, in the case of landing with the undercarriage still up – more sparks than a catherine wheel. On one occasion a group of us had to travel many miles into the hills to recover the bodies of a Swordfish crew whose aircraft had flown into a hillside in mist. A fairly common accident even today. That was a rough day.
Coming home on leave from Arbroath, HMS Condor, meant a 24 hour train journey each way to Pembroke Dock but the discomfort was disregarded and it was well worth it to come home for a week.
After the very heavy air raid on PD in May of 1941 the family took to living in the basement at No 23 Prospect Place. There was no lighting down there and an oil lamp and candles were used for illumination.
Still many other families were in the same situation. Some refused to stay in town and found other accommodation in the countryside. My Uncle Alf, Beryl Roche’s father, moved out to Hundleton and remained there until 1946.
In July 1941 a number of us were drafted down to Lee on Solent, HMS Daedalus, the HQ station of the Fleet Air Arm, to form a first line squadron, No 811. The aircraft were American Vought-Sikorsky torpedo-bombers, mono planes with radial engines and much more sophisticated than the Swordfish. Aircrews spent many hours becoming familiar with the Yankee aircraft and we ground crews found them to be something of a headache after the simplicity of bi-planes. The model name of those aircraft was Chesapeake after the bay on the American East Coast. As I recall their big fault, for mechanics anyway, was the hydraulic system. It always seemed to have a leak somewhere or other. The Air Engineer officer on the squadron had plenty on his plate keeping the necessary numbers of aircraft serviceable each day.
Whilst there at Lee on Solent we could enjoy an evening out either in Gosport or, taking the ferry, in Pompey. Once a month weekend leave was granted and I went up to London two or three times, staying at the Union Jack Club in Waterloo, Aunt Leila and Uncle Emie by then being at Neyland back home, after all the bombing in London the previous Autumn. Lee on Solent was a quiet place with just one cinema and a few pubs but fine for just a quiet run ashore.
Eventually about October of that year the Admiralty decided that the Chesapeake aircraft was not suitable for its intended purpose; it was unreliable and underpowered and the squadron was re-equipped with good old Swordfish. We then returned north to Arbroath and the familiar flying training continued. Rumours were circulating that the squadron would eventually embark in HMS Archer, a Woolworths or banana-boat escort carrier, which were then coming into service in small numbers.
At first these ships were cargo vessels which had been converted to carrier aircraft. The big ‘carriers’ were Fleet Aircraft Carriers. Banana-boats are not to be confused with the later MAC ships which will be mentioned later.
One day of light relief was provided in November of that year, I’m sure that it was then, when our squadron officers had arranged a rough shoot not too far away. Volunteers were called for to act as beaters and several of the hands, including myself, picked up some ‘scran’ from the galley and set off in the back of a lorry. Everyone had a good day out and the guns had a reasonable bag. I managed to scratch my leg and tear my trousers on some barbed wire. I still have the scar.
Christmas leave was taken in two and my leave was in the earlier so that I was back at Arbroath on December 21st and had the Christmas festival on the Air Station. We had some good food and an impromptu concert in the canteen resulting from the previously unsuspected talents of the men.
New years Eve was celebrated at the local dance in the town and my chum and I met a couple of girls who later took us home and we were treated to drinks and food to see the New Year in. We walked back to camp, more or less in time for early breakfast. I was young and fit then.
At the beginning of 1942 I remember that a heavy fall of snow stopped any flying and we ‘hands’ were employed in shovelling the snow off the runways. More of a skylark than any serious attempt at snow clearance which, in the event, vanished in a couple of days with the thaw.
Shortly afterwards I spent about ten days in the sick bay with laryngitis, certainly a nasty throat, and then had a week in a convalescent home which was at Cortachy Castle.
It was north of Kirriemuir and had been taken over for the duration. An enjoyable break.
Returning to the Air Station I found that the squadron had had leave. I was sent off for seven days plus two days travel time. From the above it would appear that the prosecution of the war could go ahead without me – I hadn’t been of any use for nearly a month, thus proving that no-one is indispensable.
About the middle of March, the squadron moved to Machrihanish on the Mull of Kintyre. We took the train to Glasgow, placed our baggage in a lorry and boarded a bus. We travelled via Loch Lomond, the Rest and Be Thankful (a very steep hairpin at the top in those days), Inverary and Ardrshaig. The canteens in those little towns gave us good food and tea, free. I think they were run by the Church of Scotland.
As far as I remember, the routine for aircrew training for our squadron was the same as previously and most of us had become bored with our, comparative, inactivity. Machrihanish was a pleasant place in the summer when the weather was fine but it did have a good amount of rain, just the same. One of our pilots was the Hon. John Godley, now Lord Kilbracken, who wrote the book, ‘Bring Back My Stringbag’. We had heard no more of HMS Archer and wondered what was in store for the squadron.
Leave in July meant doing the bus joumey again, both ways.
On that leave Dad and I cycled up to Rosebush, left the bikes in the hedge and tramped up the hillside to Prescelly Top. A beautiful day and there were no vast plantations of conifers hiding the hillsides. They came after the war. Next day I was rather saddle sore, not having cycled for a long while but it had been a good day out.
In the August of 1942 we were drafted again. This time it was to RAF Station Bircham Newton, a few miles east of Sandringham. We were to be on detachment for mine laying duties in the North Sea. My brother Bill spent a short time at Bircham Newton after the war.
When we went there with Martin in 1968 the Station was closed and was being used as a training college by the civil engineering industry.
Anyway I can’t remember the details of the journey to reach the place but our quarters were a couple of Nissen huts out on the perimeter quite a distance from the main camp. We had our own squadron lorry which ferried to and from the dispersal area and to the dining halls for meals, although sometimes we walked over. Our fresh water came from a bowser and was stored in a forty gallon drum. Occasionally supply ran out and we would wash our faces and clean our teeth in rain water. Fortunately the weather was fairly dry that summer.
The neighbouring village of Great Bircham had a pub and that is where we spent the odd evening. Once or twice I had a run to Kings Lynn.
The aircraft were camouflaged in dark colours for night time operations and the armourers would load each aircraft with three mines which were about, as I recall, 400 pounds weight each. Roughly equivalent to an 18” torpedo. No TAGs were carried then, an overload tank of 60 gallons having been squeezed into the aft cockpit. Take off was always late in the evening and the aircraft would return at about 0200 Or 0300. The pilots and observers having the day off until the next operation.
In the latter half of September I was flown to Worthy Down to take the examination for Leading Air Mechanic and I was successful. I had a railway warrant for my return to Bircham and had a welcome little break. Promotion meant a draft-chit from the squadron and about the middle of October I said “cheerio” to my churns, some of whom I had been with for about two years. I went down to Lee on Solent to join No 818 Squadron, another Swordfish outfit.
Some weeks later we moved up to Machrihanish again and then on to Northem Ireland to a small airfield at Kirkistown close to Strangford Lough. There were many Army bodies there but we had no idea was their function was. We lower deckers never knew what the squadron function was either and the camp was a rough and uncomfortable place.
However after about three weeks we moved back to Machrihanish, known as HMS Landra in time to have Christmas leave. I should add that when we moved up from Lee on Solent in previous month I flew up in the CO’s aircraft and on the way we dropped in for lunch at a Fleet Air Arm station close to Warrington. I think it was Stretton which must have closed soon after the war ended. The flight took about four or so hours flying time and it was rather cold.
In the New Year of 1943 we settled down to the normal flying training when the weather would permit.
I was put on to a fresh aircraft which had joined the squadron for some reason. It was a Fairey Fulmar single Rolls Royce engined monoplane with eight machine guns. It had been in service some time but it was not really fast or manoeuvrable enough. It was quite a large two seater fighter but not to be compared with the Seafire or the Sea Hurricane and so it did not stay with us for long.
In the February, the 13th I think, I met Iris who was then in the WRNS on the station although the Wrens lived in the Ugadale Hotel in Machrihanish village. One Sunday afternoon I had decided to visit a chap in hospital at Southend, a few miles from Campbeltown and afterwards I dropped off in the town for a cup of tea and a bun. Seeing another fellow from our squadron there I went over and he introduced me to these two Wrens, Iris and her friend Flora Clarke from Aberdeen, who died just a few years ago.
As they say, the rest is history.
Iris had joined the WRNS the year before at Portsmouth, C in C’s HQ, and was in the Signals Section where Lord Louis Mountbatten was their boss. Then Iris transferred as an Aircraft Checker on reaching Machrihanish.
In the April of 1943 the squadron embarked in HMS Unicorn, a ship which was originally laid down as an aircraft repair vessel but was then altered to be a Light Fleet Aircraft Carrier. At that time I believe she was the only carrier with two hangar decks and she displaced just under 20,000 tons. Her flight deck was about 650 feet whereas the bigger Ark Royal (which was sunk in 1941) and Illustrious etc. had flight decks of about 800 feet in length. Unicom also carried another squadron equipped with Sea Hurricanes and some Seafires but, oddly perhaps, we had very little contact with them.
Iris and I did have some good times as far as our limited resources allowed. As a Leading Hand my pay was now four shillings and sixpence per day and I was still making a small allotment to my Mum.
So when Iris’s 21st birthday came along our little party, in a small cafe in Campbeltown, were just able to afford bacon, egg and chips as a celebration. Other diners were most envious of the rashers on our plates as they were normally to be had only at Sunday breakfast.
HMS Unicorn did her working up trials in the Firth of Clyde and then we escorted a convoy to Gibraltar with Our aircraft flying off on anti-submarine patrols. To fly off the aircraft, the carrier had to turn into wind leaving the convoy to the escorting destroyers or frigates. The carrier then steamed ahead until the combination of ship’s speed and wind speed over deck reached about 30 knots or so. The aircraft would be against the wheel chocks with the brakes hard on and the engine at full throttle.
Upon the signal from the Flight Deck officer, known as ‘Bats’ because of the two large ping pong bats used to signal to the pilot, the mechanics would whip the chocks away and the pilot released the brakes. The old aircraft would roar off down the flight deck and, usually, be airborne by the time the bows were reached.
Sometimes, but not often, the aircraft would not have enough flying speed and would end up in the foggin’, the sea. On other occasions the aircraft would be launched off the deck by means of the steam-powered catapult. The catapult literally threw the aircraft along a track in the flight deck at a speed sufficient for the aircraft to become airborne. A British invention, the catapult, along with the angled flight deck and the ‘ski-jump’ deck are now used by all carriers today.
The aircraft, on their return, would circle the ship which would again turn into the wind. The mechanics took up position in the spaces at the edge of the flight deck called ‘nettings’ and ‘Bats’ would guide the pilot down onto the stem of the ship. When the aircraft was just above the stern ‘Bats’ would signal “Cut your engine” and, with luck, the arrester hook on the plane would engage one of the arrester wires across the deck and bring the aircraft to a stop in a few yards. The mechanics would dash out from the ‘nettings’ to disengage the hook and the aircraft was trundled forward out of the way to allow the next landing.
Sometimes the hook would fail to catch the wire and the pilot would have to quickly open the throttle and go round again.
In Gibralter there was no blackout and at night bars and cafes would be doing a roaring trade as there were probably many hundreds of servicemen there. The Army had a big garrison stationed on the Rock and the RAF were at the airfield at the North end Called North Front. Spanish border was in sight across the runway, which extended Westward into Algeciras Bay. There were always Naval ships in the harbour and merchant vessels too. A busy dockyard there the locals must have been very handy. For all that, l remember local workmen scavenging in our gash bins for odd bits of food. Evidently some poverty in seemingly plenty.
Iris and I had leave in the July of that year and came home to PD. The Unicorn was in Belfast and I came across the ferry from Larne to Stranraer and the rest of the way by train.
We two became engaged on that leave.
We called at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys to be assembled with the capital ships HMS Valiant and HMS Warspite and lesser fry to become ‘Force H’. We then sailed up the West coast of Norway. Our skipper broadcast on the Tannoy system, “Let’s see if the Tirpitz can be enticed out of her fiord and do battle.”
Most of us nearly had a fit at the thought of the Tirpitz coming out after us. She was similar to the Bismark and would quite probably have destroyed most of our little fleet. After a few days of cruising about up there we returned to Scapa Flow and dispersed again.
Later on the Unicorn in convoy, we never went anywhere unescorted, arrived at Gibraltar again.
Our Swordfish aircraft were disembarked to North Front airfield together with a party to look after them. I was one of the maintenance crew. The Unicorn then sailed for Salerno in Italy where the Allies had landed earlier and we at Gib took up residence in some Nissen huts at the southern end of the Rock, running back and forth in a lorry.
After about six weeks the Unicorn came back more or less stuffed full of damaged fighter aircraft for repair in the UK. We all embarked again and after a slow convoy of seven days arrived in Belfast Lough where the squadron left the ship and went off on leave.
After our leave some of us were drafted to Maydown, an airfield to the Northeast of Londonderry, where we stayed for a short while until, in December of 1943, myself and several others were drafted to join a MAC ship in the Clyde.
We didn’t go aboard immediately but were housed in a vessel of some sort in Greenock. It was there that I spent the Christmas of 1943 and I was able to meet Iris, who was then based at Abbotsinch near Paisley. Shortly after Christmas I went aboard the Empire MacCullum together with a flight of four Swordfish as part of No 836 Squadron, the parent squadron for aircraft borne on MAC ships.
The initials for Merchant Aircraft Carriers and the ships were crewed by Merchant Navy seamen and carried either grain or oil. A flight deck of approximately 450 feet built onto the ship. A tiny ‘island’ for aircraft control and a bridge was situated on the starboard side. Indeed, their appearance was very similar to the earlier escort carriers.
The grain ships, such as the MacCullum, were equipped with a small hangar aft in which four Swordfish could be stowed with their wings folded. They would be brought up by a lift due to the way the carriers were built. The oilers however only carried three Swordfish and had no lift or hangar.
The aircraft were lashed down on deck with canvas covers over them, not good in rough weather. All the MAC ships had names with the Empire prefix. The aircraft were painted white and were marked ‘Merchant Navy’ instead of ‘Royal Navy’ on their fuselage sides.
The armament of a MAC ship consisted of a 4″ gun on the stem deck and four 20mm Oerlikon cannon in the nettings along the edge of the flight deck. The guns were manned by DEMS ratings, Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships, and we mechanics were to assist the gunners if or when it came to Action Stations. There were also two 40mm Bofors on board. With the aircrews and the mechanics we must have numbered about thirty or so Fleet Air Arm people and we had our separate accommodation.
At meal times we shared the same food from the galley. I say that because Merchant Navy ships had very good food, better than the RN I remember. Bunks were used instead of the hammocks we used in the Unicorn.
For two or three weeks we were ‘working up’ in the Firth of Clyde, down beyond Ailsa Craig and back to Gourock for the night. Iris and I met a few times and then, on the 24 January 1944, we set off in a slow convoy for Halifax, Nova Scotia. The aircraft would take off on two hour patrols, one at each interval and things went smoothly. My job on the flight deck, at times of take off and landing, was to standby in the asbestos fire fighting suit with a big helmet and a fire axe at the ready. All in case of an accident (who would rescue me?). I was not called upon though we did have one accident when we were about a week or ten days out.
The particular aircraft was returning after a patrol and the ship was pitching and rolling a bit. We had altered course into the wind and away from the convoy. Our CO was doing the job of ‘Bats’ on the deck. The pilot was a little too high and perhaps a strong gust of wind caught the aircraft. next moment the starboard wing had struck the ‘island’ and the aircraft was flung over the side into the sea. The ship was stopped as quickly as possible and we on deck could see the aircrew struggling to get into their dinghy which automatically inflated. A boat was lowered and before long had picked up and rescued the men. The North Atlantic in the winter is very cold and the Telegraphist Air Gunner, a chap called Gillespie, did not survive. Everyone was stunned and disbelieving at first. Then we quickly came to accept the fact.
The sailmaker sewed Gillespie up in his hammock with a shell at his feet and the next day the ship was stopped, at midday. We had our fingers crossed about the thought of a lurking submarine. I was one of the four bearers and the ship’s Captain read the Burial at Sea’ service and, on the signal, we lifted the stretcher and our late companion was gone.That may read like something from the days of sail but the whole incident remains etched in my memory.
A few days later. about the 7th of February, we reached Halifax, Nova Scotia. Three aircraft were taken ashore on lighters to the Canadian Air Force base at Dartmouth, just across the water from Halifax. Our chaps went ashore as guests of the Canadians whilst the ship loaded with grain from huge silos on the dockside. Our aircraft were fully serviced at the base and we enjoyed a run into the town. I remember having steak, egg and chips with apple pie and ice cream to follow. What a good meal.
Our return home to England was again with a seven knot convoy, this time it was uneventful and we arrived at Gladstone Dock in Liverpool on the 28th February. Within two days two of us were drafted from the ship back to Maydown Londonderry. Here we hung about for two or three days before another draft chit took us down South to Lee on Solent. The Powers-that-Be worked mysteriously, to my way of thinking.
At Lee on Solent I took the opportunity to request leave to be married and so Iris and I made some hurried arrangements by post. Seven days leave, plus two days travelling time, started on Friday March 10th and we arrived at Grove Road, Blaby, in a rush to sort out the arrangements. Next day Iris and I went to see Canon Smith at Blaby Church and then we had to rush into Leicester to the Registry office before 12 Noon, to buy a Special Licence. At that time it cost £2.10s (£2.50p which was a lot of money to us). An ordinary marriage licence was 7/6d, (37.5p). Hence, in a game of Bingo, when No 76 is called someone always sings out, “Was she worth it?”.
Monday March 13 1944 was a cold blustery day with sunshine and showers. Iris and I were married in Blaby Church by Canon Smith with Dora and Stella as the bridesmaids and my brother Bill as the best man. Bill had managed to get a couple of days leave from his RAF station at Pocklington near York and it was great to have him there. He had recently been commissioned and he looked well, standing between two girls outside the church. Iris’ Mum, Nan-Nan, had managed to lay on a good meal for us at No 91. Some of the foodstuff had been sent over from Toronto in Canada by Auntie Hilda at the previous Christmas.
Iris and I caught the train from Blaby station. which is now closed. and travelled overnight to PD where we were welcomed by my Mum, Dad. Isobel and Philip. The days on leave passed quickly and soon, on the 19th I think, we were back on duty, Iris to Abbotsinch in Scotland and myself down to Lee on Solent on the South Coast. By March 27th I was on draft again, this time to RNAS St Merryn, Padstow, in Cornwall, (HMS Vulture) I remember the journey from Exeter. Very slow and stopping everywhere on a dull drizzly day and I wondered what was going to happen when I got there. However that was the beginning of a lasting affection for Cornwall, right up to the present day.
My first few days at St Merryn were spent on a Small Ams course which included throwing a few grenades about, an enjoyable change of routine. The Station’s main function was as the School of Naval Air Warfare and the aircraft were a mixed bag, including Boulton Paul Defiants, which had originally been used as night fighters. There was also Miles Magisærs and I think the odd Harvard. These were fitted up to tow drogues for air-to-air firing by the Seafires of the School.
In the May of 1944 I requested promotion to Acting Petty Officer, thinking that as I hadn’t a black mark on my papers it would be worth the attempt. In due course I attended “Captain’s Requestmen” and was rated up to Acting PO. This brought an increase in pay, at that time nine shillings a day, (45p), later when I was confirmed in the rank of PO my pay went up to about eleven shillings and sixpence a day, (57.5p). On the day of my promotion I had dinner in the general dining hall and was victualled into the POs Mess at teatime. This timing was routine in the Service as the days ran from noon till noon.
Life on the Squadron carried on normally but as a POI had to do a duty every ten days or so.
This duty meant being present with the officers of the Day and the PO Stores chap at the issue of rum at “Up Spirits” at 1100. The men’s rum was cut with water, two to one, and was therefore “Grog” but the Chiefs and PO’s tots were neaters, undiluted. After the Messes had drawn their grog the OOD would offer a good tot to his assistants and then any remainder was poured down the drain. This was the Regulations.
The next job was the visit to the men’s Dining Hall ask for any complaints – but there seldom were. I could then go to dinner myself and have my tot after tea, at about 1700. As Duty PO I had to go to the Guardroom and take the men that were under punishment for an hour’s drill with rifles and to keep them doubling about until supper at 1800. Later in the evening, at 2100, I would accompany the Officer of the Day on evening rounds of the men’s messes. This was a cursory inspection to ensure that everything was neat and tidy for the night, one of the old customs from the days of the wooden walls.
That duty was usually the conclusion of my day and there was seldom a call for me in the following forenoon, my successor taking over the Duty at 1100.
D-Day was imminent. Long leave was cancelled and had been for some weeks but we could still go into Padstow or to St Merryn village which had two pubs. Of the two only one would have any beer at any one time. Padstow had four pubs at that time but perhaps only one or two would have beer. To compensate there was a small cinema which was always well patronised.
News of the Second Front in France was followed by reading the thin newspapers of the day. It was normal for there to be only four or six pages due to the shortage of newsprint.
The summer of 1944 passed and in September Iris and I had leave together and spent a few days at Iris’s Auntie Clara and Uncle Ben’s place at Swineshead, near Boston. We recall climbing the many steps of the Boston Stump for a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside but our leg muscles were nearly seized the following day.
Iris was pregnant and was allowed to leave the W.R.N.S. in December. I had found two rooms in St Merryn village with a Mrs Parsons and about a week before Christmas in 1944 Iris travelled down and I met her at the railway station with a taxi. So we started our real life together, in rooms, just as my parents had done.
I had my bicycle with me by then and I used to ride to and from Camp each day. It was good coming back to our own fireside in the winter evenings. It was at that time that I ploughed through “Gone With The Wind” and it took me about a month. We couldn’t do much else apart from reading or a gentle stroll at weekends. Once or twice we went to an E.N.S.A. concert at the camp gymnasium. In March of 1945 I took Iris back to Blaby and I returned to live on Camp again.
Routine was resumed up to VE Day, and Tony’s arrival, on May 8th and John’s birthday on June 24th, Midsummers Day, at Bond Street Hospital in Leicester for a fee of £2.10.0. That was more than 3 weeks pay at that time.
V.J. Day came on August 15th, 1945, after the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There was an election at about that time and the Labour Party had a landslide victory, even though Winston Churchill had been a great war leader in the coalition Government.
In March 1946 I found two rooms again with a family in Padstow; No 1 New Street I think. It was the home of George Kitto and his wife Edwina. He worked as a civilian on the camp and we had become friendly. Iris and John came down from Blaby on the train and we settled in to our new home. There was a Naval bus service morning and night and a number of those living outside the Camp travelled back and forth. We were happy there for a time. In subsequent years George and his wife moved away from Padstow. Our little idyll lasted until May when, at long last, my expected draft chit came along and, with a chum named Ginger Cole, I was sent on the first stage of qualifying for Petty Officer.
We travelled to Bedhampton, a transit camp outside Portsmouth, from where we were taken each day to Whale Island, the hotbed of Naval discipline. It was there that I did a three week disciplinary course on the parade ground. Iris and John stayed on in Padstow, the Kitto’s being very kind people.
On the POs Course we wore normal square-rig uniform with gaiters and boots as well as a webbing belt with frog and bayonet. The webbing gear, boots and bayonet all had to be bulled up every day and the bayonet scabbard polished with boot polish. On the Parade Ground everyone up to the rank of Lieutenant (Captain in the Army) had to double about – or else there was trouble!
Each of us in the squad took turns to put the others through the various drill manoeuvres, with and without rifles, in order to learn the power of command. We were also required to be taken over the Obstacle Course and had revolver practice. At the end of that three weeks I was as fit as a flea.
From Bedhampton the squad moved to Worthy Down for the technical course and we settled down to the serious lectures. There was leave in August and Ginger Cole and myself came back to Padstow for a pleasant week or two. That was when the photograph of John was taken crawling about on the sand at St Georges Bay, outside Padstow on the Camel estuary.
Shortly after that Iris gave up the lodgings and returned to Blaby since I was not likely to go back to St Merryn.
The examinations were taken in September, 1946; there were four papers over two days. Most of us passed except one or two, Ginger Cole being one of them, the failures were rapidly drafted elsewhere, probably to Lee on Solent I expect. Soon afterwards the rest of us came into Lee to be kitted out in our fore and aft rig and to be confirmed in the rating of Petty Officer. The uniform issued then was the working, or No 2, uniform. The best uniform, No 1’s, had to be bought and I found a second hand one in good condition from a newspaper advertisement. A fellow in Leicester, who had been demobbed, sold it for about a fiver I think.
After hanging about in Lee On Solent for a few weeks, filling in time as Duty PO on the Main Gate and having Christmas leave, I was drafted in January 1947 to Lossiemouth, near Elgin on the Moray Firth. Lossiemouth was another ex -RAF station taken Over by the Fleet Air Arm and renamed HMS Fulmar.
The RAF were still at neighbouring Kinloss and nowadays the RAF occupy both of those airfields again. I had only been there a very short time when the big snow of that winter started and although we were almost on the beach up there the snow was heavy and it lasted, as indeed it did throughout the country, until nearly the end of March.
Iris was at Blaby and used to go with Dora and Pop-pop to the gas works in Whetstone to fetch two bags of coke, which Iike everything else, was rationed. Pop-pop would also take his shotgun to the neighbouring fields to find something for the pot to supplement their rations because food rationing was still very strict in the postwar period.
The Squadron I was on was equipped with Blackburn Fireflies and we also had a couple of Seafires too. Another of the Squadrons there had Fairey Barracudas’. which were all used for pilot training. Our CO was a Major, Royal Marines, and one day I asked if l could have a flight with him as he was taking one on test after its overhaul. When we were airborne I asked the CO if he would do some aerobatics. So he obliged and literally threw the aircraft all over the sky. In the loops the G forces pressed me down into the cockpit until I thought that my feet were going to go right through the floor.
After we landed I saw that I had held onto the cockpit sides so tightly that some skin had been scraped off my wrists, but quite a thrill for all that.
During that summer Iris and I decided to find a place of our own and eventually, after some trial and tribulation, we settled on a new house at Mansfield Woodhouse, just north of Mansfield itself. My Aunt Rose was living at Mansfield still, although in a different house from the pre-war home, with her youngest daughter Mabel. Iris was working at that time at a dressmakers called Suzanne in Leicester and John was in a day nursery up London Road.
Iris had a dose of Shingles at about that time, probably brought on by the considerable stress she was under then. Of course the work of sorting out the house purchase had fallen onto Iris whilst I was stationed at Lossiemouth. Incidentally the Labour Party leader, their first, Ramsay McDonald, was born in Lossiemouth and I remember seeing his birthplace.
The house that we bought, one of a new batch of semi-detached properties off the road to Warsop and Worksop was No 5, Harby Avenue and cost £200. We used my war gratuity of £20 to pay the deposit and Iris’ gratuity was used to pay the solicitors fees and so on. Iris and John moved into the house in November 1947 and I saw the house for the first time on my Christrnas leave that year. We thought it a wonderful house, being our first house. There was a good size garden too. It seemed auspicious for the future.
I returned to Lossiemouth at the beginning of January 1948 and near the end of that month I was sent on a six week course, so-called, Higher Disciplinary Course at Corsham just East of Bath in Wiltshire. All the POs at Lossiemouth, and elsewhere I suppose, were being sent on this course in turn and I thought it was just a break in routine.
The first thing everyone had after settling in was an X Ray of the chest, a new idea in the service at that time and it was on a Friday. Come Monday morning I was called to the Sick Bay and told by the MO that he had found two spots on my left lung, the early stages of TB. You can imagine the disbelief I felt but it was true. I could see the spots on the X Ray plate. Events moved rapidly thereafter and before the day was out I had been taken to the Royal Naval Hospital – Haslar, on the seafront at Gosport, Hants where I was put to bed. I didn’t feel unwell at all and feeling more of a fraud than anything else. The Doctor told me that I would have to have bed rest for about three months following which I would be able to occasionally get out of bed for a few hours to walk in the Ward.
Mum was very upset as we had just begun to buy the house and, in desperation, we applied to the SSAFA for help. They were the Services charity people and they kindly gave Iris £120 which was used to buy an industrial model Singer Sewing machine. With the machine Iris was able to make ends meet and start her business in dressmaking and designing. Iris did wonderfully well to manage on her own in those very trying months. Iris even managed to visit me at Haslar, with John who was three years old, and that did a great deal for my moral, and for hers too, I think. At the time I was at Haslar there were two Wards for men, one for officers and one for WRENS TB patients, many in a far worse case than me. I knew from the MO that the next move would be a discharge from the Service and so on August 11, 1948 I left the Navy, unfit for further service, and I travelled home to Harby Avenue.
Returning to Pembroke Dock, 1948-1951
The following months were difficult for us. Iris worked very hard and I was looking for a job and attending the clinic periodically. I was eventually to be declared fit again in 1956 when we were in Pembroke Dock. A final payment of £60 was made as my temporary small pension was cut down gradually over the eight years.
In February 1949 I obtained a job as a shop assistant at ‘Woods’, in Mansfield, in the gents outfitters department at four pounds ten shillings a week; not much of a job but I was glad to get something after six months of inactivity. Iris’ parents in Blaby were helpful and kind and we spent Christmas in 1949 and in 1950. Sometimes they would come over to visit us and bring something to help out in the way of food.
In 1950 I had a rise in wages, to £5 per week. Several times I took young John to watch motorcycle grass track racing which was very popular at that time, especially with sidecars driven on a ‘mountain’ course. My brother Bill and his wife Peg came home from Malta, having driven from the toe of Italy in their Hillman Minx and they came up to us at Harby Avenue for a week and took us around and about on outings.
My Mother, who had been ill since 1948, died at home after a long spell in the County War Memorial Hospital on August 15 1950. We travelled to Pembroke Dock to stay with my Dad, Iso and Phil.
At that time they had not long moved to a new council house in Hawkestone Road. The funeral was held on the following Saturday, August 19th, a sunny day I remember.
Later that year Iris and I decided that we would return to Pembroke Dock and eventually we sold the house in Harby Avenue to a Mr and Mrs Curtis for £550. We had been friendly with some people roundabout and particularly Mr and Mrs Raymond Wain and their daughter Beryl. There was also Mr and Mrs Thrall and their daughter. I used to play chess with Mr Thrall on Sunday evenings.
Raymond Waine was a mine-worker and once gave us a bucket of coal when we were short, coal rationing still being in force and costing five shillings a hundredweight.
In the October of that year Iris and young John travelled down to PD in the half term break, stayed with Dad and looked around for a house. After seeing several the house in Park Street took Iris’ fancy and the arrangements for its purchase were put in hand. In the event it was February of 1951 before everything was settled. Saying goodbye to our friends was sad, as farewells always are.
The pantechnicon was loaded, not that we had much furniture at that time and all three of us got in the cab with the driver and set off in the drizzling rain. The date was Monday, March 5th. As the day wore on the rain eased off and it was dry when the driver dropped us off at Whitland railway station. He had to go to his depot in Haverfordwest for the night and we were to carry on to PD and stay at Dad’s house in Hawkestone Road.
The next morning the furniture came from ‘Harfat’ and was soon in place around the house.
It was a bit sparse in some rooms but we lit fires in the three main ground floor rooms to air the place and soon we were quite happy. Fires were kept going for three days and we moved in on the Friday. Our house name-board, which had been made by Mr Wells in Grove Road Blaby and had decorated the house in Harby Avenue, was put up over the front door and we were in residence. Incidentally No 85 was originally named Belmont and Mrs Wallis’ house at No 83 next door was Grosvenor.
And so started a new chapter in our lives as a family.