March in April
My father was born in 1920 and had always wanted to fly. When war broke out he saw it as his opportunity and couldn't wait to join the Royal Air Force. Here's an excerpt from his book:
The Prime Minister, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, had just commenced to speak: "This morning, the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note, stating that unless the British Government heard from them at 11 o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that, consequently, this country is at war with Germany....".
There was a stunned silence as we looked at one another.
"Well", I said, "we can't say that it is a surprise. Think back to last year, to Munich. We more or less guessed that war would come sooner or later, and most likely sooner, so we have got what we expected".
I'd hardly finished speaking when the air raid sirens sounded. There was a peculiar twisting sensation in my guts, which was to return every time I heard the warning. We dashed outside and searched the sky but, apart from the balloons, nothing was to be seen. A few minutes later the "all clear" sounded. We found out later that it had been a false alarm.
"Well, what are we going to do about it?" I asked.
"We are in a reserved occupation", replied Harold. "So we don't need to do anything about it".
"Reserved or not I'm going to join the RAF tomorrow", I decided, "I've always wanted to fly but couldn't afford it. Now I'm going to".
Dick remained silent.
The remainder of the shift dragged endlessly, and I was pleased to go home. Next morning I was at work for 9am and went to see my boss. I told him that I wished to hand in my notice as I was about to join the RAF.
"Don't do that. You are in a reserved occupation and are not required to join the forces. Besides, we need men like you all the more while the war lasts".
I wasn't very happy about it at all, and I told him so.
"At least think it over for a week before you do something you might regret".
For the moment I had to be content with that, but on the Friday I could stand it no longer. I had been studying metallurgy at Evening Classes and was due to collect a certificate. A school friend across the way was also going to collect an engineering certificate, so we walked down to the College together. When we arrived there I suggested:
"Let's forget the certificates, we don't need them. Let's go and join the RAF!"
"Are you serious?" And with a frown, "I'll think about it, but first I'm going in to collect my certificate".
I waited outside, wondering whether I was doing the right thing. In a few minutes Fred came out with his certificate.
"Aren't you going in for yours. You might as well have it; you've worked for it".
"Oh to heck", I replied, "I'm off to join the Airforce. What's the use of a certificate in metallurgy at this time. I want to fly aeroplanes, not build the blooming things. Are you coming with me or not?"
With a sigh: "Oh all right. Let's get going, then. I can see I won't get any peace until I do".
So that was how we received the King's shilling. The date was 8 September, 1939 (though my RAF Service and Release Book registers my service as from 11 September, 1939 to 11 January, 1947). In actual fact I had to go for my medical examination on 11 September - twelve Doctors to maul me about, and then we were all despatched by rail to Hitchin, Herts., where we were collected by RAF tenders and driven to Cardington. I was in the front of the tender with the driver.
"What sort of aircraft are there at Cardington?" I asked, naively.
"Kites, d' yer mean? Hell, there ain't no kites there mate. It's where you'll do yer square bashin'".
I wondered what he meant by "square bashing". It was a while before I found out.
Now called "Rescued by the Enemy" and available from Amazon.
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