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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

Old 19th Jul 2016, 21:24
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My father was born in 1899. He joined the Royal Naval Air Service in the First World War in May 1918, initially training at Greenwich, was transferred briefly to the Royal Flying Corps and then to the newly-formed RAF. His training on DH 6s was at Fowlmere. He was later posted to East Fortune, where I recall he spoke of having flown in the R34 airship, presumably as talking ballast. He then flew De Havilland 9As in 22 Group and RE-8s on 155 Sqn; luckily the War ended before he flew operationally. In 1919 he studied art at Goldsmiths College in London, at the same time as Rowland Hilder and Eric Frazer; he worked as an illustrator and produced travel posters, book illustrations and numerous ads, mainly at the Clement Dane studio. In 1939 he joined the RAFVR and was called up on the outbreak of War, doing his training as a codes and ciphers officer at RAF Uxbridge. I was four at the time and my main recollection is that we were staying near Oxford at the time, where lardy cake and Walls choc ices featured (proper plain chocolate covering and contents made from milk rather than seaweed extracts and palm oil, and wrapped in silver paper with a blue zig-zag pattern on it); 2d each from a stop-me-and-buy-one trike.
In late 1939 he was posted to HQ 202 Group in Cairo, travelling there by sea; he was there for about a year. It surprises me now that he managed to send home a splendid silver-plated copper circular coffee table about four feet diameter, with an intricate incised design on it, all this at a time of war. During that time his rather sparse service records mention a carbuncle on his arm, resulting in transfer to hospital in Heliopolis; he told me that this was in a Bristol Bombay. He then moved to RAF HQ at Heraklion in Crete, flying there in a Sunderland. He sent home large numbers of photographs of Egypt and Crete, all with copious details on the back. He was most enthusiastic about the Cretan scenery and he did numerous sketches while he was there.
When the German parachute and glider-borne landings on Crete took place in May 1941 he was operating from a cave in hills above the airfield and saw the strafing and landings on the airfield from a slightly safer spot than some. I have some notes he made of his activities on May 20th, the day the German glider and parachute assault began.
That’s probably enough for the moment; more follows.
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Old 20th Jul 2016, 05:55
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Hello Warmtoast. Yes I can see that the street is updated. It weemed like a huge block of flats when I last visied in about 1947. My wartime pal George emigrated to Canada some time before I came to Australia. When I posted that photo I had a feeling that someone would recognise the address.
Walter
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Old 20th Jul 2016, 06:11
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Chugalug. Yes you ar right with your impression that we made fun of the Goons whenever possible. It became almost a hobby to annoy them, and certainly a necessity when obtaining illicit coal blocks, for example.
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Old 20th Jul 2016, 07:40
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Buster, a great start indeed! I don't know how much material you have to hand, but could I earnestly beg you not to précis it down at all? It is the seemingly irrelevant, the "by the ways" (like your detailed description of a Walls Ice Cream Choc Ice!) that sets the scene so well. I realise that they may well be your BTWs rather than your father's but they are all equally valid.

In short, stretch it out as much as you are able to. It gives we avid readers of your posts the opportunity to go wandering down the deserted byways of bygone themes; rationing, mail, uniforms, vehicles, etc, and of course aircraft. Danny has led us down many such cul-de-sacs in the past. Every one was a delight!
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Old 20th Jul 2016, 08:15
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Old Comrades

Early next morning, with some trepidation, we were sent out of Muhlberg. There were 40 of us Army personnel and we were paraded and inspected very carefully by the Feldwebel (the NCO in charge). Fortunately, he didn't have the time nor the intelligence(?) to check us all against our records and photographs, all held in the central office block. We were marched down to Muhlberg railway station and again loaded into horse wagons. Without the faintest knowledge of where we were going, or what lay ahead of us, we spent a trying three days crammed in the wagon. Each day, we were given a ration of bread and thin soup. One toilet pan was on board with us. At night we slept on a thin layer of hay, on the floor of the wagon.
(NOTE: I was astounded today when preparing this portion for posting, that I thought of checking “Google” on my computer to find that the distance between these 2 townships is only 50.2 kms, or 31 miles.)_

On the third day, we were unloaded at Annaburg, a small township in what later became Eastern Germany. We were marched to a small, wooden barracks not far out of the town and this was to be our home for several months. We were now in Stalag IVD. Clean, and furnished with double-tiered bunk beds, it was partly occupied by other British soldiers working for civilian contractors building a branch railway line. We forty men were housed in one small dormitory, with very little room for eating or leisure. Right next door was the cookhouse, fortunately placed for our escape when it came. The ablutions (wash room and laundry) were down the other end of the small compound and the toilets were outside, against the farthest barbed wire fence. We were allowed the arrival day in which to settle in. Next morning early, we were marched out under the watchful eyes of our guards. After about 35 minutes, we came to our workplace. We found that we were to be maintenance labourers on the main railway line which ran through Annaburg.

In charge of us was a spiteful German railway official whom we dubbed "Alf". Through an interpreter, a South African soldier named Craythorne whose German was never verygood, Alf gave orders and instructions and worked us very hard. Life became extremely miserable. The weather was still very cold and wet, and we had to do heavy manual labour, carrying sleepers, lengths of steel rail lines etc. Shovelling loads of "blue metal" chips (the familiar basalt or granite stones) on to the bed of the track and hammering the pieces under the sleepers to cushion the track, became a grinding, boring, exhausting job. All the time we were guarded by the goon sentries, who would scold us, goad us and make passes at us with their bayonets if they thought we were not working hard enough.

This work went on for some weeks, and all the time the weather was improving as we approached late spring. George and I became friendly with an intelligent young soldier named Fred Grinham, who wanted to join with us in any escape bid. Between us, we saved portions from our Red Cross parcels - a small tin of sardines here, a couple of Canadian dry biscuits, a tin of meat. This had to be done very carefully to ensure that we had enough food for our daily requirements, which meant sharing our parcels as much as possible. The hoard was carefully hidden from view of any suspicious guards. We enlisted the help of the two men who were put on kitchen duties, next door to our bunk room. During the days before our escape, they carefully prised away the barbed wire from around one of the windows outside by opening the frame as far as it would go and inserting a knife under the nails, gradually forcing it over a period until the fastenings were loosened. Any tampering was not obvious to inspecting eyes and we waited for the appropriate time to make our bid.

In May 1944 late one Saturday evening, after the usual day's hard work, we lay awake on our bunks. Everything was ready, and we were fully clothed, waiting with our stored food in a couple of "Eyetie" (Italian army) rucksacks and I with an R.A.F. escape compass hidden between the toes on my right foot. The next day being Sunday and a day off work, we anticipated a fairly slack check from the Goons, which would give us extra time before our disappearance was noticed. About midnight, we crept from the bunkhouse with its heavily sleeping men, and quietly entered the next-door kitchen. The window opened easily and we completed the job of removing the wire from the window frame outside. Each of us slipped over the edge of the window-sill, which had to be done head first and we achieved it with commendable quietness. Right next door was the German guardroom and as we made our exit from the hut we could hear that the radio was tuned in to an illicit station! It was well known that it was an offence for any German national to listen to foreign radio stations, yet it was obvious that the Goons were listening-in that night. Over the air came unmistakably the strains of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", followed by another well-known British song which eludes me now, but I think it may have been "Where is my Wandering Boy Tonight?"
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Old 20th Jul 2016, 08:47
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Chug, I only have my father's personal notes covering a couple of periods, but the rest is my recollection of what he told us on his return. Some of it appeared a few years ago on the BBC2 Peoples' War archive.

There's quite a lot on my own time growing up near RAF Hartford Bridge, with plenty of the 'by the way' stuff in the same archive here:
BBC - WW2 People's War - THE WAR FROM AN AIR-MINDED BOY?S VIEWPOINT
but to include it all here would not be even remotely connected with this prince of thread's title, though it may explain my lifelong fascination with aviation in all its forms.
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Old 20th Jul 2016, 09:47
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Buster11,

Welcome aboard, on this the Best of Threads, where (as I have previously said ad nauseam, "never is heard a discouraging word") - and certainly not an acrimonious one !

Chugalug2 has beaten me to it, well do I remember those Walls Choc Ices, particularly on a day like yesterday (thought I was back in Calcutta). Only snag was: it was all over in five minutes after you'd licked the stick and the foil to make sure you'd got every last bit ! Whereas you could make a 2d Cadburys Dairy Milk (say) last half an hour if you eked it out. On a bob a week pocket money, you had to budget carefully.

And (again, as Chugalug points out), you've hit the right note from the start. The "funny things that happened on your way to the theatre" are often far funnier than the show itself. And you know how to leave you audience "hanging". It's a gift.

Thank you for telling us your d/birth. Simple arithmetic shows you to be 14 years my junior (nobbut a lad, then), so you're 80. Have always thought PPRuNe should make declaration of age mandatory on registration, it enables the rest of us to put you in the right time frame. We're not shrinking violets, are we ? Not on this Thread !

Standing by for Next Gripping Instalment,

Danny.
 
Old 20th Jul 2016, 15:47
  #8908 (permalink)  
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Old Comrades.

Walter (#8906)
...Through an interpreter, a South African soldier named Craythorne whose German was never very good...
Probably using Africaans (Cape Dutch), which would bear enough resemblance to German to enable him to make a good stab at the meanings. Don't know how well it would work the other way, though.
...and as we made our exit from the hut we could hear that the radio was tuned in to an illicit station!...
As we used to listen in the UK to "Lord Haw-Haw's" broadcasts from Germany. His name was Joyce and we hanged him for treason after the war.

But you're surely not going to tell us what were your plans after you got out ? You must have had some idea of what to do first ! Did you have any forged identity papers ? Speaking no German, what nationality were you going to pretend to be ?

As I've said, getting out may have been the relatively easy bit - but now what ?

But am I "jumping the gun" again ?

In a ferment of anticipation, Danny.

Last edited by Danny42C; 20th Jul 2016 at 15:49. Reason: Spellcheck !
 
Old 20th Jul 2016, 16:33
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Buster 11, you may be nobbut a lad in Danny's eyes but you are nothing of the sort in mine. I was the snotty little 4 year old, always hanging around you older boys and always being told to clear off! So your recollections of being a 9/10 year old in the war are of great interest to me at least. I vaguely recall guns, tanks, and trucks magically appearing one morning, nose to tail, on the main road to Poole at the end of our road in West Bournemouth. I was then probably ushered back into our home, I usually was when anything exciting was going on (D-Day?)!

So I for one would be greatly intrigued by recollections of your boyhood in WWII. Perhaps a sequel to the story of your father's? I'll leave it to Danny to adjudicate. We have long since stretched the thread title to breaking point, so Danny as primus inter pares usually acts as unofficial thread moderator, though always ready to defer to the official ones of course.

You tell us that your father was a codes and cypher officer in the RAF and captured at the fall of Crete. Although trained by the RAF at Uxbridge could it be that he was actually attached to GCSS (Government Code and Cypher School) Bletchley Park, or the associated Y Service? Having just read Colossus: Bletchley Park's Last Secret by Paul Gannon, the breaking of the Geheimschreiber German High Command non-morse system started of course by intercepting the associated radio links. These were made as low powered and directional as possible, so that networks in the Mediterranean theatre would have required local monitoring Y service stations to capture the content and get it to BP for Colossus and the ancillary machines and operations required to decode. If that were the case I would suspect he would need a cover story to imply a far more mundane job that would not interest the nice people at Dulag Luft for example. Indeed whatever the codes and cyphers he dealt in the same would apply.

Perhaps I too am jumping the gun. Note to self, patience is a virtue!
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Old 20th Jul 2016, 18:15
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Chugalug (#8910),
...I'll leave it to Danny to adjudicate. We have long since stretched the thread title to breaking point, so Danny as primus inter pares usually acts as unofficial thread moderator, though always ready to defer to the official ones of course...
You do me too much honour, Sir ! I have always disowned any attempt to picture me as the "primus" of anything. It was merely my good fortune to have found a welcome (first from you yourself, IIRC) home on this Thread four years ago, when the original stalwarts had gone to their rewards and things had grown quiet. There is nothing remarkable about my own story: it was just that of one of many thousands who "fought the war which they had been given" to the best of their ability.

Almost from the outset, Thread-drift set in, but our wise and infinitely patient Moderators allowed us endless leeway, content in the knowledge that old men ramble, but always ramble back home sooner or later. And they reckoned that the Grim Reaper (and we have one already in the ranks of PPruNe members) would solve the problem for them in the next few years. Alas, it was not so, the old boys (and the younger boys who took their cue from us) rambled ever more outrageously from the Thread title. I am reminded of a critic's description of the much loved "Last of the summer wine" as: "Just William" - with Pension Books !

Breaking Point (I don't think there is one). Our Moderators gave us up for lost, but yet stayed their hand. And then a wonderful thing happened. The "out of control" Thread gained an enormous following. At a current 2,151,429 "hits" (growing even now at 1,000 per day on average) it exceeds any other Thread on this Forum except "Caption Competition" (which of its very nature attracts everybody's interest). Truly a "Prince of Threads" indeed !

"Danny....usually acts as unofficial thread moderator". One of the most attractive features of this Thread is the good nature of its exchanges. Harsh words and argument 'ad hominem' have no place here and it is true that, on one or two occasions, I have taken it upon myself to utter a mild reproach in the form of: "Gentlemen, Gentlemen, we are all friends here" (or words to that effect).

"Adjudicate" ? Not I !.....

Danny.

Last edited by Danny42C; 21st Jul 2016 at 09:22. Reason: Typo (at least that's my excuse)
 
Old 20th Jul 2016, 21:40
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Colossus

Chugalug (afterthought to your #8910 and my #8911),
....Although trained by the RAF at Uxbridge could it be that he was actually attached to GCSS (Government Code and Cypher School) Bletchley Park, or the associated Y Service?...
Am not sure about this, but seem to remember something to the effect that those who were party to the "Ultra" secret were never sent where there was any possibility of their capture by the enemy - so vital was it that that secret be kept. However, if all he knew was that he was simply required to monitor and record enemy radio transmissions, but had no idea how they were being decoded, he could only tell (under extrene torture, say) what he knew, and that was quite unremarkable in itself.

I believe that, right to the bitter end, the German High Command refused to accept that their Enigma Machine code system could be broken - and indeed anyone of normal intelligence, having had the machine and its modus operandi explained to him, would agree that it is completely unbreakable. Based on the childishly simple idea of letter substitution, the mechanism was of such fiendish complexity that no one without another machine with the right Code settings (which were changed each day) could hope to decode the traffic. Possession of a machine without the Codes was of itself no value - although it was essental to formulate a means of attack on the system. Nevertheless, it was vital to secure examples of the machine, and many acts of heroism were performed for that purpose.

We were truly lucky to have had mathematical genii of the calibre of Alan Turing and his associates to devise a method of "cracking" the Codes, but even after a success, the manual calculations involved might have taken hours or days to perform, and the decoded data was out of date. Turing (assisted by some very clever GPO engineers) devised and built "Colossus" - the world's first electronic computer - which could perform in minutes computations which might have taken days to complete by hand.

Now we were "home and dry", to the extent that sometimes Churchill had on his desk transcripts of Hitler's orders to a General before the intended recipient had read them ! It was estimated that the advantage given to us certainly "turned the tide" of the U-boat campaign, and probably shortened the War by years, but that is unquantifiable.

Danny.
 
Old 21st Jul 2016, 07:48
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Danny

... but a 'primus' can always be relied upon to get a good 'brew' going and keep the pot 'on the boil', as do you Sir!
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Old 21st Jul 2016, 08:07
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Chug and Danny, I think it's pretty unlikely my father was ever at Bletchley Park, if only because of the dates. I think his duties would have been pretty routine. He was posted to the Air Ministry Codes & Ciphers School on Oct. 19th 1939 and by Dec. 2nd was at HQ Middle East. Added to this he didn't really have a devious mind and was usually pretty flummoxed by the Telegraph crossword.

Chug, you mention living at Poole; just after the War we stayed near Branksome Chine and I recall watching Boeing 314 Clippers doing circuits from Poole harbour, an impressive sight.

Regarding the memories of a nine year old during the War, I did post quite a lot of this on the BBC Peoples' War archive some years ago; not sure what the protocol is on using material en bloc that's appeared elsewhere, but I can presumably copy it to PPRuNe and it may need some additions anyway.
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Old 21st Jul 2016, 09:03
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Buster, the link that you gave to the People's War site helpfully confirms at the end of your entry that copyright rests with the author. It would appear that it is you who has to give yourself permission to reproduce it here. Hopefully you will be minded to grant that.

It seems we were briefly living nearby to one another. We were then in Robert Louis Stevenson Avenue, leading to Alum Chine. Thus I could be easily taken to the beach, but could not paddle in the water because of the continuous barbed wire defences in the way. Instead I became expert in the use of bucket and spade to construct endless sand-castles. We later moved to the north of Bournemouth and such expertise thus soon dwindled.

As to your Dad's job, Danny is quite right. If he had anything to do with BP, it would have been more likely as a part of the entirely separate Y Service, who garnered the raw intercepted product and would have no idea of its significance, other than it was deemed important enough to so gather. More likely though he was doing the same job as those on the other side, ie trying to ensure the security of our own comms.

BTW Danny, Colossus was used to break "Fish", the various forms of the none morse high speed machine generated product used by the German High Command, rather than the morse traffic generated by Enigma. Turing's Bombes were used to break the latter, Tommy Flowers of the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill designed Colossus in its various forms to help break the former. The Soviets later used the captured none morse technology for their own purposes which was then read at GCHQ Cheltenham, using much the same techniques used to read the German Geheimschreiber traffic. Thus the need to insinuate that Colossus was used to read Ultra rather than for instance the Lorenz SZ generated product Tunny. It was not.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turingery

Last edited by Chugalug2; 21st Jul 2016 at 09:13.
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Old 21st Jul 2016, 09:11
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Buster,
...not sure what the protocol is on using material en bloc that's appeared elsewhere...
Publish and be damned ! would be my advice. They wouldn't put a poor old man like me in jail, now would they ? (not sure about you !)

Danny.
 
Old 21st Jul 2016, 09:19
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These are the notes my father made of his activities in Crete on May 20th 1941. Some of the writing, always small, makes some words hard to read.


“Left cave at 8 a.m. with Trumble, F/Lt Howlett. Joined near Heraklion by pilots without aircraft (and therefore off duty), Bennett …….. in car for Hissaria (Messara?) area. Had been all night at . (cave?) with Steele and other cy. offs. (who slept there for safety). Though warned that attack might come had no reason to suppose imminent tho’ bombing fairly heavy during night.


Heard later from cy. off. of Black Watch at Warburg that they (in their HQ cave 50 yards from ours) knew attack expected May 20th. F/Lt Babcock (of Maleme area) also
knew of impending attack expected May 20th – why had not Cania notified us?

Maleme appears to have been unaware since Groom (?) at Athens reported to have shown cyphers etc. captured there to Lewis Daly (?)

Other ranks from ‘drome allowed into Heraklion during afternoon of 20th (with arms), so it appears no-one there expecting anything. No messages rec’d up to say 2.00 p.m. F/Lt Cooper assumed duties station etc. in Trumble’s absence. Yet Deakin en route for Cania stopped before reaching Rethimno & told that place in Goon hands, returning to Herak. Found it under fire.

At Aja Dekka (?) found Argyle & Suth. in evident state of readiness and anticipation. On way there we stopped to inspect possible landing strip sites. At A.D. inspected several though later on arrival of Deak. and Martin (?) Trumble refused to show them selected (?) site, giving me the impression that they had already been given particulars of it.

After lunch at A.D. we went 4 or 5 miles west still looking for sites. About 2.30 we began return to Herak., but had not gone far when we were suddenly attacked by e. aircraft (at about 800 ft.). Proceeded on way after their passing, having stopped and left car to take cover ‘neath trees, but in hills NE of A.D. were again attacked and had to take cover. A mile or 2 further on, hurriedly pulling in under cover of trees by roadside to take cover again car stopped in swampy patch. On trying to re-start wheel slip etc. Took us an age to get her out (during which we were again visited by e. aircraft). Proceeded across hilly ridge and down towards Herak. Stopped by roadside under cover for rest at about 4.30 for hour. To us came RAF lorry (with petrol tins cargo) towing another, reporting that they’d been bombed just outside Herak. by Goons and that parachutists had landed and retreat cut off All returned to Aya Dekka ….. HQ in olive grove just W. of village near St. Titus church ruins.”


He was eventually captured and flown to Athens in a Junkers 52. From there he went by rail in a cattle truck across Jugoslavia and Austria to the Dulag Luft transit and interrogation camp near Frankfurt-am-Main. I think it was immediately after that that he was moved briefly to Marlag und Milag Nord, which was strange as it was believed to be a camp for Navy and Merchant Navy personnel.
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Old 21st Jul 2016, 10:01
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Chugalug (#8916),
...Thus the need to insinuate that Colossus was used to read Ultra rather than the Lorenz SZ generated product Fish. It was not...
Once again, I must stand in the corner wearing my Dunce's Cap ! Ah, well. (Homer sometimes nods). Think we should resurrect YLSNED - You Learn Something New Every Day (or as the Good Book tells us: "There is no new thing under the Sun".

Retires grumpily into armchair.

Danny.
 
Old 21st Jul 2016, 10:24
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Buster (#8918),

"The Fog of War". What a perfect example of it ! (wandering around with no clear idea of what was going on next door, intelligence not shared, no notion of enemy intentions ....but that is what happens on the day. War is a messy business.

Twenty years later, in a quiet Staff College, it is all perfectly clear.
...Dulag Luft transit and interrogation camp near Frankfurt-am-Main. I think it was immediately after that that he was moved briefly to Marlag und Milag Nord, which was strange as it was believed to be a camp for Navy and Merchant Navy personnel.
Surely, as a commissioned officer, should have been an Oflag ?

Danny.
 
Old 21st Jul 2016, 10:29
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Buster, your Dad's notes are both intriguing and revealing. In particular this:-

they (in their HQ cave 50 yards from ours) knew attack expected May 20th
Crete was a classic example of the quandary of Ultra. If we became aware of significant imminent Axis initiatives and took appropriate action, then it could reveal our ability to break the enemy codes. Thus aircraft had to be launched from Malta to "discover" an enemy convoy that we already knew about before we could attack it. In the case of Crete it was felt that to reinforce and prepare properly to repel the attack that was coming would again reveal that we were reading the German codes. So we didn't and it fell. Perhaps that is what your Dad is referring to?

Danny I fervently hope that the comfort of the armchair will quickly dissipate your grumpiness. I merely passed on the information gleaned from Paul Gannon's book, thus giving me the status of a right clever clogs. Don't worry, I'll just remain standing, you enjoy the armchair!

PS I see that you quoted my post before I edited it. Sorry, that is an annoying habit of mine. Just to explain, Fish was the overall code for all the "Secretwriter" traffic. Different type of machines and different networks utilised variations of Fish, hence Tunny, etc.
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Old 21st Jul 2016, 19:00
  #8920 (permalink)  
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The Good Old Days.

Buster (#8907),

A bit late now, but thank you for the link ! Five thousand miles away and preoccupied with "our" war, we had no idea about the details of civilian life back home at that stage of the conflict. The description of the primitive facilities in your cottage struck a chord in my memory. My grandfather's house in Southport, when I first knew it as a very small boy in the twenties, having been built around 1850, originally had only cold water (pumped from a well) in the kitchen; the only source of heat and hot water was the kitchen range in the living room; the galvanised bath was kept in the "wash house" outside with its "poss-tub" (coal fired) until "Friday night was Bath Night !" when it was brought into the living room and fed by kettles heated on the range. Light was by paraffin lamps and candles. At the bottom of the back yard was an earth closet.

By the time I came on the scene, gas provided lighting and cooking, but they only went onto electric light in WWII, the "back" bedroom was converted into a bathroom (and indoor plumbing put in, with a hot water supply of some sort).

In that house my grandparents brought up 10 children (6 boys and 4 girls), starting about 1870.

Danny.
 

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