World War II

Start of World War II

My two years in Berlin convinced me that Germany was preparing for war. I was billeted with a pleasant family who were very pro-Hitler and I saw a lot of the man at rallies. The general attitude was summed up for me by the words of a Pub owner I met “We would like, with England, to rule the World.” There was a certainly no animosity towards the English, but the feeling of “we are the master race” prevailed everywhere. I tried to convey this to my parents in letters, but to no avail.

When I finally came back home, the first thing I did was to learn to fly. My brother, Martyn who was just over a year younger than me, had already started to learn and was already flying solo. I learnt rapidly and at no stage had any problems. My years playing with model aircraft were paying off and I soloed after some five hours dual on a Gipsy Moth. Flying, for me, held fewer problems that playing the piano! Martyn and I joined the Civil Air Guard and obtained our flying at two and sixpence an hour. We flew from Hanworth aerodrome until we had to move due to so many complaints of the noise. We then moved to a small field with a shed in it called Gatwick and we were about to be kicked out of this one when Hitler solved the problem by declaring war (actually we did the declaring).

During these three years before war I earned a bit by teaching music, and I especially remember three young girls I taught at a house in Regents Park owned by an Admiral Blake. The girls were about 8/10 years old and one of them used to enjoy her music lessons from the top of the upright piano onto which she would crawl. These girls would now be around 80 and may well be alive. There was a lot of road works going on outside and I was told that Mrs Simpson lived in one of the nearby flats and they were installing a private telephone line to Buckingham Palace. So you see I was starting to move into the highest circles. Many of Vernon Warner’s pupils were from titled families and as fast as he was cutting down his teaching I was, as fast, gaining pupils, finally becoming music teacher at Stocks in his place – but that was after the war.

In 1939 both Martyn and I joined the RAFVR and because we had both soloed we were made Sergeants at once but told we were not yet needed in view of our age. When we were finally called up we were posted to Cardington to learn all about discipline, saluting, marching, fire-arms drill and how to write a report of any unusual activity. “Sir, I have the honour to report etc etc.” Little did I expect that, but for fate stepping in I might had had to write “Sir, I have the honour to report I have shot the Adjutant”. This was during the next stage in our RAF life. We had moved on to Cambridge were we were trained as Link Trainer (visual) Instructors (they still only wanted younger pilots) and we were operating from the engineering Labs (opposite Leys School) There were five entrances to these Labs and as we had to provide our own guard we were given an extra Corporal and an army rifle with two rounds of ammunition. We were obviously not going to get much sleep as the Germans were dropping spies all over East Anglia. As the Senior chap in charge I decided to do something about this. So I ransacked the Labs and came up with five trip switches operated by a length of black cotton across each entrance and connected to one of those panels with coloured lights and a buzzer. We could now snooze in peace. As I am a hopeless shot and my brother a good one. I arranged for him to have the gun and I would have the powerful torch with I would point at the intruders and shout “Halt or I fire”. My brother, now with the loaded gun to fire at the intruders feet at my command, and shoot to kill with the second shot should they fail to halt. We got the call at 3.30am and all went as arranged until I have the order to fire as the four or so men continued to advance. Then came my brother’s anguished cry “The bloody gun’s jammed”. This was not uncommon. I had kept my torch on the approaching men until they arrived at the guardroom door to reveal our adjutant in a state of semi-intoxication. He was out on an inspection of all the guard posts. He was not amused and our rifle and rounds were immediately called in and we never got replacements.

I applied again to become a pilot, but was turned down on the eyesight test (I have always had a weak left eye) so accepted a posting to the Oxford University Air Squadron as a visual Link Instructor. Our CO was WCdr Edwards, a difficult man to get to know but kind to me when I contracted double-pneumonia. He took me back to his own house during my recovery and later on asked me to fly him in his own Avian to Swindon where he had an appointment. On landing back at Abingdon he asked me “Why aren’t you flying?” I told him about my eyesight problem and he said “leave it to me”. I then received a summons to appear at the Radcliffe hospital for a medical. For the usual eye test I read the smallest line easily with my good eye and the doctor then turned his back walked away saying “now with the other eye”. So I read it again with my good eye. “Good, that’s all right” was his verdict and I passed. A few days later I received a posting to Cambridge for a flying course. I passed this easily and was recommended for an Instructors’ Course – also held at Cambridge Aerodrome. Here I met the best pilot I have ever flown with – Peter May the aerodrome’s CO. He could do with a Tiger Moth what was considered to be impossible – continuous rolls without losing height and dual too. He showed me the trick and after I’d managed two of them successfully he said “Now go and practise it”. Remember the Tiger Moth has no inverted fuel system so the petrol must be kept flowing when you are upside down. A barrel roll is useless because a lot of height is lost on each revolution. After considerable practice I once managed three rolls solo – never one dual! But I loved aerobatics! My next posting was to Booker as a fully qualified flying instructor and there I met my wife and life changed. I remembered JF’s words on leaving Stowe “The best years of your life are always ahead”. Here my brother Martyn and I had temporally lost track of each other because he decided to take up the option, which we had both been offered, of leaving the Air Force and he was now with the Air Transport Auxiliary and was soon to be flying Spitfires, Mosquitos and may other from factory to squadrons. He was based at White Waltham, so we met frequently. I had been recommended for a commission while I was at Cambridge which I managed to avoid because this would have meant another medical exam. I would have failed this on eyesight and probably taken off flying – a thought I could not bare. Better to get a good many hours in as an instructor plus a good report at the end of them before venturing down this hazardous lane again. And so it was after a thousand hours of successful instructing I was again recommended for a Commission. But there was a difference. My CO W/Cdr George O’Donnell insisted in over-riding my objection. So I faced another medical – and, of course – I failed it. This apparently worried everyone and I was sent to a guru in the Eyesight world – a W/Cdr Livingsone, one of Morefields top surgeons. He looked at my eyes and said “you have always had this poor eye and have adapted completely to it you can see perfectly well – I pass you!.” Back to Booker now with a new uniform and a weight off my shoulders. The rest of the war was mainly uneventful. On Sept 26 1942 I struck a drifting balloon cable a little north of Aylesbury. I was on a cross-country exercise in a Magister N3971 with a pupil Corporal Gladman. A fairly exciting few minutes followed. The cable cut into the left wing close to the fuselage. The balloon was not visible being in cloud 500 feet above us. It soon appeared behind us and quite close. The cable was streaming forwards over the wing a few inches from me. Presently it reversed and started moving backwards and finally ran out and we were free. From start to finish we had lost 1500 ft in height and were now at 1000 ft above ground. I climbed up to cloud base and tested the flaps which are invisible from the cockpit and all seemed well. I told Gladman to take over and complete the exercise – we were on the way to Sywell. “Please Sir, do you think we could go back to Booker – I want to go to the lavatory” was his answer. I agreed and told him to work out the reciprocal and go ahead. A few moments later “Sir it is nothing to do with the accident”. A good fellow!”

Later on we lost the Lane End Telephone exchange to a V1 flying bomb and I remember the night my wife and I were in bed and we heard the familiar pop-pop-pop of an approaching V1. The pops became fewer and then ceased followed by the swish of air as the wretched thing passed directly over our house. And then merciful silence! It had not exploded and was later recovered.

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