Posts Tagged 'World War 2'

Escape from France

I am writing this at the end of the first week of the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow. The chaos there is considerable and we have first-hand experience of it because my daughter-in-law, Jane, used it on the way to visit her daughters, Harriet and Louise, in Switzerland. “It is amazing the authorities could make such a mess after having plenty of time to sort out any problems. Will they never learn?” were William, my son’s, words. With the benefit of my longer memory the answer to this question is “No”. It is part of our British ness – our sense of humour and our never-absent optimism.

Early in September 1939 two of my Banks cousins, Honor and Margaret, asked me if I would take them to France for their holiday. I could use their Austin 10 car and as they had never been out of England they were much looking forward to the adventure. It was to turn out to be rather more of an adventure than they had expected!

I was not too sure that this was a good idea with the political situation at that moment, but finally decided to ‘give it a go’. We went from Dover and enjoyed a leisurely trip to Cannes as is appropriate in an Austin 10 with its maximum speed of 50/60 mph. We stopped frequently and enjoyed the French food and when we reached Cannes – which didn’t impress us very much – we decided to explore the coast. Menton looked lovely and we decided to make it our HQ for a week before setting out on the journey home. It was while we were there that Hitler marched into Poland………….
I was extremely worried as I felt responsible for my cousins and told them that we must return to England at once. We decided to start at daybreak the following day with the hope that we would not be too late to get a boat back home. With my knowledge to the German mind after my two recent years in Berlin, I knew we had landed ourselves in avery sticky spot.
Our journey back was frustrating. You can’t hurry in an Austin 10 and the situation was, I think, rather over my cousins’ understanding. We kept going throughout the day, not stopping for meals, only to refuel. It was well after dark when we reached Calais some twelve hours after we started to be told we were too late, there would be no more sailings. They had cancelled all boats to England. However, they believed Dunkirk was still operating – but with no certainty that we would find a boat with space there.
We hurried on and with much arguing, and the fact that we had fully paid return tickets for the car and ourselves that finally secured us got us on a boat. This was blacked out and sailed zigzag in case there were submarines about.
I don’t remember what time we reached Dover, but life seemed so calm after the previous 24 hours and we had an unhurried journey to Great Witley to deliver the car and my cousins back home. A few days later we heard Chamberlain announce on the radio that “A state of war now exists between ourselves and Germany” after giving Hitler the chance to back down.

The subject of this addition to my website seems to have wandered a little. It started when, my daughter Linden described the journey she and her husband, Adrian, had just completed in a single day returning from the Scottish Isles, after their holiday there. I suggested it would be interesting to compare their journey, 400 miles, in a modern car with two drivers, motorways but far more traffic, with mine in 1939, 600 miles, in a car with a maximum speed of 60 mph and only one driver. Of course I had more urge!


During my two years in Berlin (1935/6) I went to most of Edwin Fischer’s concerts, some of them with his Chamber music Orchestra. During one of these a dozen storm troopers burst onto the stage with the words “There are some Jews in this Orchestra: Throw them out; we want to hear German music.” In the end of ten minutes of discussion the Nazis withdrew with “We’re sorry, we were sent to the wrong hall.” It was good to see that the entire audience was against them.

At another concert with the same Orchestra we noticed the piano was barely audible and at the end, when the usual acclaim was at its height, Fischer walked up to the piano to give his customary encore and the first thing he did was to lower the lid of the open Steinway and then sit down on the piano stool to gasps of “Good. I thought he was telling us to go home.” He then played Schubert’s A flat Impromptu to softly and beautifully he had the entire audience completely in his grip. Some were openly weeping and there were many handkerchiefs visible. It was an amazing occasion. In the artist’s room afterwards we, his students, saw him dancing about saying “I knew that would get them” and then to us “Didn’t you notice how soft that Steinway was. I chose it specially with a view to the Schubert at the end after the very loud Bach”. I can applaud such showmanship!

Cecil Lewis

During the early years of the war Cecil Lewis came to Booker as an instructor. Cecil, who wrote ‘Sagittarius Rising’ about his flying experiences in the 1914/18 war, lived at Frieth, half a mile from where Ann and I lived, but apart from this our lives came together in a somewhat dramatic way. Apart from my flying duties I had taken on the job of entertainments officer and Cecil loved producing sketches. I got to know him well and he chose me for some of the more exciting flying duties he was also involved in. One must remember that there were moments in the war when the possibility of stuka attacks were quite likely and the powers-that-be decided a simulated attack by our own home-based aircraft would not do the citizens of Marlow any harm A programme was arranged by Cecil who asked me to accompany him in another Tiger Moth. The proceedings started by a ‘bomb’ dropped by me at 8.30 am on the Pedestal at West Wycombe. I did this exactly on time to complete silence. I expect the fellow with the matches was still asleep! Half an hour later Cecil and I found the RP post in Marlow – at Quoiting Square – and by repeated dives almost down to ground level, we quickly cleared it. I flew as his ‘inside left’ position with my wingtip only a few feet from his fuselage. We then flew up the High Street at dangerously low level before flying close to Henley and then back up the river with our tailskids inches from the water. Then came a moment I will never forget.

Would Cecil or would he not fly under Marlow bridge? We had no radio in those days but I had decided to keep close to Cecil’s Tiger and we approached the bridge as almost one unit (there was another Tiger Moth in our dive-bombing unit – a F/LT Shepherd – but he had remained well outside to the right throughout). Just short of the bridge Cecil pulled up in a climbing turn to the left and we then faced the church spire: Cecil went to the right of this, but I could see there was just no room for me between Cecil and the spire and I pulled away and went to the left of it. But it was far too close to have been planned. I thought then, and still think over sixty years later, that Cecil had forgotten that I was tucked under his left wing as it were. He preferred not to talk about it afterwards. But I never let him forget it.

To this day I still look at that magnificent church and its spire with especial affection whenever I am in Marlow.

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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.

World War II

An interesting story here.

Here is the comment to the story:
Dear Douglas Smithson ,
I have been reading your most interesting and well writen articals, which as a glider pilot I am well able to understand. I think you could well write a book with all those experiences and get it published.
When you trained at Booker, do you recall an RAFVR instructor by the name of Dudley Steynor there?
After the war he became a part time gliding instructor with Booker Gliding Club, where he taught me to fly, and only finished doing this at the age of 84, in 1994, which must be something of a record. He only finished doing this then, because he felt unable to conform to newly introduced instructional methods. Namely,a change from holding off the the stall with rudder which he had always taught and most effective too, I might add.
He was awarded the AFC in 1944,and the BGA Diploma in1988.
He is also an accomplished pianist ,and studied under Vernon Warner,possibly the finest Chopin player of the day.
He has given me a CD of his favourite pieces produced by Aerosonic Ltd in 1997, with thanks to Ablex Audio Vidio Ltd Telford.
Kind Regards,
Dennis Barnes.

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