A COUNTRY BOY IN THE ROYAL AIR FORCE
By Dick Croot
I joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve three days after my 18th. Birthday in November 1940 and was sent to Cardington, near
I wanted to be an aero-engine mechanic and after answering all the questions on engines (correctly, 1 thought) when I was being attested, they told me "Right, we're short of airframe mechanics so that's the course you'll be sent on". That was my first lesson - never tell them what you want to do or where you want to go; because that makes sure it never happens!
My six weeks foot-slogging training was at Blackpool, and trying to get a shine on our boots after stamping around in snow and slush for about six hours each day meant our evenings were always spent trying to dry 'hem out and polishing our buttons.
We sailed from
After two days we set off again and went round The
The South African people were marvelous hosts and there were always invitations to people's homes for anyone off duty.
We spent six weeks there and were quite prepared to stay in
There was a warrant Officer in charge who had got a touch of the sun and he used to have us digging holes in the sand one day and filling them in the next day, and then collecting stones and painting them white to put round his "parade ground", which was only a square marked off in the sand. We heard later that he had been certified and sent home.
When I finally got my posting it was with 114 Squadron, Transport command, which had DC2's and DC3's (
The DC2's were fairly ancient aircraft and we had to hand-start them by cranking an inertia motor, but all
When Montgomery took over from General 'Wavell and started to prepare for the Battle of Alamein we were working round the clock trying to keep everything in the air; but we were still a lot better off than the Desert Rats "up the blue".
I went into Tel el Kabir military hospital with malaria soon after Alamein and a lot of the casualties had come down from there. After I came out of hospital I was sent to El Balah convalescent camp by the Suez Canal where everyone had to go on an army assault course before returning to their Unit - which didnt go down very well for a RAF "sprog''!
There was no Air force Blue battledress then and our normal uniform was Army-khaki battledress and the only thing to identify that we were in the RAF was our blue forage cap and when I was put on night ward with six soldiers the Orderly Officer (who had only just come overseas took one look at me and said "And whose bloody side are you on?"
Anyway, back with 14 Squadron we followed the Desert Rats up through the desert - (keeping well behind and out of trouble!) But for a short time the squadron was refueling a squadron of Hurricanes behind the German lines until they found out why their bombers were getting shot down when they should have been safe. El Adem was one good camp in the desert because it was only about 15 miles from Tobruk and we used to go swimming in the harbour - among the 42 sunken wrecks! Caster Bent, near
After Tripoli the Squadron went to Bali on the heel of Italy but was only there a short time before being posted to India; But all personnel who had less than a year to complete their tour of four years for single men or three years for married were told they would not be going. So seven of us were sent back to
We were seconded to the South African Air force, who were then at Caster Benito, given a I5cwt. Truck and 600 gallons of petrol; and living with the SAFs was a luxury as we had a ration of brandy - and milk on our porridge! (Instead of a ladle-full of stodge from a bucket!) I was also given a Forces Parcel from
When the Dakota was repaired we flew back to
The C.0 was Squadron Leader Priest who after the war was Captain of the queen's Flight; and our Air Officer was Air Commodore Whitney-Strait who was chief of B.O.A.O.(British Overseas Airways Corporation - now defunct)
The only good thing about being back at Bilbeis was that part of the captain's training was flying down to Germiston, near Pretoria in South Africa, every six weeks, taking and collecting spares, etc., and as the crew included two ground staff we used to take turns to fly down there. On one of my flights down there we had two aero-engines on board and after an hour and a half one of our engines packed up so we had to turn round - and it was a bit if a rough ride back which rattled the rivets a bit.
While I was back at Bilbeis I applied for a fortnight's leave and arranged to meet Owen Warren, my brother-in-law who was in
The prisoners were handcuffed in batches of twenty and guarded by the Palestinian Police. Some of the scenery in
I eventually got my posting home after four years overseas and sailed from Alexandria in Egypt to Hyeres near Toulon, France, and then by train - 48 hours on wooden seats - to Dieppe. We had to wait for three days at a transit camp for a boat across the Channel because of bad weather and -then arrived at Newhaven and up to
This time it was to Jolerne near
I was sent to Cardington to be demobbed - finished where I had started - a little bit wiser, much craftier and six years older, but with no regrets for having gone.