January 1944, they arrived – my instructions OHMS – to report to Camp 4,
Fleet Air Arm Engineering Section. H.E. Front Row 5th from the left.
learning how to march and salute correctly we were told there would be seven
days leave. We should be so lucky - ‘all leave is cancelled’. Rumours suggested
that it was the imminent ‘second front’ [imminent turned out not to be until
June]. We were then all sent to
There were 200 of us with double decker beds and a kit bag. After breakfast we were marched about a mile away to the training centre, where I was given 2 oblong pieces of mild steel and told to make one into the shape of an arrow, and the other into a slot of the arrow shape. One had to fit into the other with hardly any daylight showing through and, once made it was tested by the foreman with the feeler gauge of one or two thou, measured in thousandths of an inch.
vaguely remember reporting to the
intensive basic engineering training completed successfully, we were then sent
to RAF Hednesford – yes – all those naval personnel
to an RAF station. Compared to naval discipline, the RAF was much more relaxed
although, in the middle of Cannock Chase there was nowhere to go anyway.
However, at weekends we were free and able to catch a train to
The RAF was to train us on the internal combustion engine first, leading onto the famous Merlin engine used in the Seafire, the equivalent of the successful RAF Spitfire and the famous Hurricane.
Chase was cold, very cold. Our sleeping accommodation huts were heated by the
usual coke stove, to be kept topped up by any one brave enough to get up in the
middle of the night. It was not uncommon when they did not, to find our boots
frozen to the floor. I did manage a weekend trip to
Eventually, I had to report to the Commanding Officer – a Marine Captain – ‘quick march – off caps – anything to say – no. Seven days confined to barracks – on caps – quick march’. It was hardly a punishment as I said before, there was nowhere to go anyway, but I did have to report to the guardroom at 6am every morning and fill their coal scuttles etc. My colleagues thought it was great as I could also top up the barrack room stove.
On completion of the intensive engineering course, I was designated ‘an air fitter’ and issued with a ‘fore and aft rig’ as opposed to the square rig that mechanics wore. The uniform included a cap as opposed to the infamous ‘flat a back’ round hat and I had crossed propellers on my sleeves. Air fitters were also issued with a locked tool box, which I still have, although it is now somewhat out of date.
We were then sent to HMS Daedalus on the south coast to be prepared for our operational postings and were back to the strict naval discipline
After Daedalus, six of us were allocated to HMS Fieldfare on the
north east – the very north east –
On occasions, one had to do barrack room
supervision and see it was clean and tidy for ‘Rounds’ when the duty officer
carried out an inspection. As there was some hanging about, waiting for his
arrival, I borrowed a Victor Sylvester Dancing book from the library and
learned the basic steps of the modern waltz and quickstep. I passed on this
valuable information to my colleague Norman, from
The well supervised ‘two in one’ rum ration was issued from an impressive looking barrel prior to lunch. It certainly improved one’s appetite, but later also tended to make you rather sleepy.
On one occasion, we were required to replace the engine on an ancient Swordfish aeroplane. This aircraft had what is known as a radial engine, where the cylinders are arranged in a circle around a crank shaft which leads to the propeller. (The Seafires had an ‘in-line’ system rather like the modern motor car.) We took out the old engine and replaced it with a new one and reconnected all the auxiliary equipment.
The test pilot arrived and asked ‘who did this’ ? all fingers pointed to me. “Right”, he said, “collect a parachute and occupy the rear seat”. ‘The string bag’ as it was known, miraculously took off and we had a superb flight over the Cromarty Firth. It was passed fit for operational duty, though it was unlikely to be used in late 1944.
now a qualified ‘Leading Air Fitter’ and no longer available for barrack room
chores. The accommodation was becoming less busy as personnel were gradually
being sent off in groups to the
Leading Air Fitter Harry English
We looked like being the last contingent to be sent when suddenly – ATOMIC BOMB – and everything went on hold! We were now no longer needed and all the talk was about being de-mobbed and when your number came up, a date for leaving.
applied for a, what was known as, ‘Class B’ release to rejoin the Police Force,
went for medical and interview and was accepted. The effect of this was, there
were only three weeks leave as opposed to eight but the de-mob date was twelve
months earlier than otherwise. Then it was off to