In January 1944, they arrived – my instructions OHMS – to report to Camp 4, Warrington for basic training in the Fleet Air Arm Engineering Section!! I had been used to paper files but was now to be given a very heavy one about twelve inches long. Most of the other entrants were either ex-mechanics or apprentice engineers. Any mention of police experience automatically resulted in a responsibility post of some kind – hence I was made ‘section leader’. I was given an arm band, like a football captain, and was responsible for seeing that people were where they should be at the time they should be there, or to manage the allocation of the sweet ration and other important matters.










Fleet Air Arm Engineering Section. H.E. Front Row 5th from the left.

After 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 Watford and in early 1944 it was buzz bomb time.

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.

I vaguely remember reporting to the Sick Bay. It was highly infectious scarlet fever and I was told not to go back to the dormitory again. After a period of treatment and isolation, I felt well enough to go back to training, but about five of us in similar circumstances had to go back for regular throat swab tests. We were told ‘Sorry you are still a carrier – back to sick bay’. The MO didn’t know what to do with us as we went to see him, one by one. The man in front of me was a MET policeman and was asked ‘where do you live?’ -  Answer ‘London’ – ‘back to Sick Bay’ said the MO.  I went in and was asked where I lived – I replied ‘Wheatley Hill Sir’.  ‘Is that in the country?’ the MO asked. Thinking he did not know and meant England as opposed to Scotland, I said “Of course Sir.” ‘Seven days sick leave’ was his final response.  I suppose, relatively speaking, it was in the country and I returned ‘all clear’ and went back to training.

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 Walsall and civilisation.

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.

Cannock 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 London and stayed overnight in the Union Jack Club, while I saw the sights and went to one of the Forces shows. The visit was marred by me being picked up by a Naval picket. The pockets in square rig dress were vulnerable and so I kept my post office savings book in the more reliable round hat. I had drawn out a few pounds for the weekend and as I emerged from the post office, the picket challenged me for being improperly dressed – “Hat flat a back. What ship are you on?” When I replied it was RAF Hednesford, he retorted ‘We have a right one here’. Documents were handed over and I was told I would be reported for being improperly dressed.

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 – coast of Scotland. We had a reserved railway carriage for the 26 hour journey to the very north of Inverness and Dingwall, then to Evanton on the Cromarty Firth. We all took turns to sleep on the luggage rack. On arrival we were allocated to the usual barrack room accommodation and it was back to double decker bunks although these were gradually reduced to one person per double decker as personnel were being sent out to the Pacific theatre of war.

 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 Leicester, in exchange for him keeping my head up during basic learning of the breast stroke, which took place in a static water tank. These tanks were to be used in case of fire and it was a wonder we didn’t both die of typhoid.

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.

I was 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 Far East theatre of war. We could now have a double decker bed to ourselves with more space for kitbag contents.

















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.

I 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 York to be issued with a quite reasonable double-breasted brown suit.