Left Halton. Boys made commotion in NAAFI. Upheld our bad manners. Saw where rocket had fallen at Dagenham. Arrived at Hornchurch in Essex.
Grandad’s journey to his second overseas posting continues. You’ll know from the introduction that he wasn’t properly overseas until 27th January, so we still have three days of travelling to get to France. They didn’t have the Channel Tunnel back then.
There’s a lovely insight into the banter and camaraderie of the wartime military. The NAAFI, I think, was a kind of supermarket for the military. I wonder what level of a commotion it means? Would it be someone throwing a sandwich? Or throwing a punch. My Grandad was gentle man and so I should imagine that he would have looked down upon any unseemly antics.
And it doesn’t take long to find out that V2 rockets did fall on Barking and Dagenham just ten days earlier than this entry. This report from 2015 says a little about the impact they had. It must have been a reminder to the soldiers returning to the conflict that they had to get the job done.
Left Wythal at last in wintry conditions early A.M. Treacherous roads several skids. Our wagon almost in small factory where cat’s eyes are made. Arrived at Halton.
23rd Janurary 1945
You can see the evidence of the thin pages. How the black ink bleeds through from the other side. And also where the ink has transferred onto the opposite page over the course of time. This book is over 75 years old.
Speaking of time, I wonder how long Grandad had been waiting at ‘Wythal’. He had last been overseas almost 4 months earlier on 29th September 1944. What had his Autum and Christmas been like? Had he seen his family? I wonder what his expectations of his next period of service were?
I love that image of the near-crash into a Catseyes Factory. I’m not sure how this could have been on the route from Wythall (in Warwickshire) to Halton (in Buckinghamshire) as the only Catseyes Factory I can find at the time was near Halifax in Yorkshire. That would have been a round about journey.
At the time there was an RAF Wythall which was the Headquarters of the Number 6 Balloon Barrage Centre. As Grandad as a Balloon Operator it makes sense for him to be based there. RAF Wythall was closed after the war in 1949 and its operations moved to Hereford. RAF Halton is still a big RAF base.
I’ve been digitising my Grandad’s old service book. You can see the whole thing in this Google Photos Album, but I thought I’d pick out a couple of my highlights in this post.
I was eight when my Grandad died, but I’m sure that by then I had begun to pester him with questions like “What did you do in the war?” The year was 1980 and I was reading comics like ‘Warlord’ and ‘Commando’. They presented a very one-sided view of the Second World War to me, one in which the British were the goodies and the Germans were the baddies who only knew two words in their collective vocabulary: ‘Nein’ and ‘Achtung’. Of course, 8-year old me has changed considerably, but back then I though the Second World War was glorious. We all have stuff to learn.
My Grandad never really answered the question. In fact, I don’t recall him telling me anything about the war. And we used to talk a lot. But I know now, especially having talked to my Mum (his daughter), that he never liked to talk about the War. I hope to find out some detail as I seek to digitise his diary in the next few posts, but I suspect the answer is all too simple: war isn’t glorious. It’s tragic and messy and terrible.
But back to the basics. What did my Grandad do in the war? As you can see in the image above from the centre of his RAF Service and Release Book, he was an RAF Balloon Operator. He served overseas from D-Day to late September in 1944 and then again from January to May in 1945. He was decorated with the 1934-45 Star, the France and Germany Star and the Defence Medal. He received the highest judge of character (V.G.) and the second-highest proficiency rating of SUPR. The page with the proficiency ratings is here:
All in all his service record is pretty good. I particularly like the personal comments from his commanding officer:
Very keen and capable. Intelligent, possesses good administrative ability.
I knew that he had fought in the Second World War, but it was not until the end of my Nan’s life that I understood more about the effect it had had upon him and the impact it had on my family.
More about that another time.
In the top drawer of my desk, his Release Book and a little diary have sat for many years. Ensconced carefully in their wrapping they have hidden their secrets until now. That is, now I am hoping to digitise and translate them over the next few days and weeks. By digitise, I mean scan. By translate, I mean that Grandad’s delicate script on tissue-thin paper is a little difficult for me to read at times. But still, I’m going to give it a go. I mean to coincide the diary entries with the dates that they were written 75 years ago, and the first was written on 25th January 1945.
Firstly then, the Release Book. It is a standard Royal Airforce Service and Release Book and it looks like this.