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Dad never said much about the war when he came back.

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Dad never said much about the war when he came back.

Old 20th Jan 2016, 15:02
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Danny, you are the most excellent writer! Thank you for the scope, intelligence, insight, clear expression and most of all - the heart of kindness and understanding behind your thread.

I'm on the "other side of the counter" - often bewildered about how to express my admiration, gratitude and respect for those, like you, who fought the war that they were given. Often, I am not sure what I can say or how I should say it, how it will be received or what their hurts are that hinder a reply. The best I can manage seems to be a handshake and a "thank you" to a vet wearing some symbol of their former service (hats, patches, etc.)

In the US, many veterans have returned with what I would call the "hidden injuries". And, not all returned from a war that the public considered "righteous". But it was no less the war they were given to fight. The citizens of my country, as well as those of yours, are obliged to receive these veterans with gratitude and understanding, and also kindly help them in every way they need (fellowship, employment, medical care, housing). We more easily grasp the need for sacrifice and service during the conflict than we do shouldering the debt we owe these veterans after the conflict ends.

Press on, Danny. Please help us get our act together. And, by the way, thank you for your service, during and, now, after WWII.
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Old 20th Jan 2016, 20:41
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I originally posted this on the VJ Celebration thread, but perhaps it merits reposting here.
I think some of today's generation may find this piece of family history educational. My father was a civilian doctor in Malaya and was called up as an MO in the Federated Malay States Volunteer Force (FMSVF), the local TA, when the Japs invaded.


This is the transcript of a letter which my father wrote by hand in 1986 to James Bradley, the author of “Towards the Setting Sun”, an account of Bradley’s wartime experiences as a POW and in particular of his escape, subsequent recapture and treatment by the Japanese. Jim Bradley escaped from Songkurai Camp on the Burma-Siam Railway in 1943 with 9 other British and Indian soldiers. Five died in the jungle and the survivors were recaptured. Bradley was tortured but, amazingly, was not executed. He knew Dad, mentions him in the book and sent a signed copy of it to him.

Dad writes:

Many thanks for sending me the book. You did a very good job for the rest of us, particularly the F Force part which, so far as I was aware, had received no publicity whatsoever. It was gratifying for me to learn that the efforts to produce the book had a salutary effect on you, Jim.

My own recollections are extremely vague. On the march up, our policy was that anybody who had to fall out should take a pal whose duty it was to mark the spot where he went off the road to squit. One of my friends, 2nd Lt Dave Jennings, 1 Pahang Bn, FMSVF, stayed at the rear of the column and scooped up the stragglers. I used to join him later in each leg of the walk. I am told that we never lost a man. The midges nearly drove me mad towards the end.

I can remember little about the cholera work. After a day or two I went and lived with my orderlies in a lean-to outside the cholera ward. There were no highlights. Just a relentless round of utter futility trying to save the few saveable, trying to get needles into collapsed veins. Getting up from squatting by the patients on the bamboo slats becoming more difficult as we grew weaker. Ash from the bonfire, which was kept going outside the hut, to mop up the mess on the slats and on the gangway down the middle: it (the ash) was about 9 inches deep all over the gangway by the time we left.

In fact, come to think of it, there were some highlights:
A Nip beat me with a bamboo when I was returning from a visit to the crematorium and your side (I suppose I had forgotten to chuck the bastard a salute).

When we got the daily count wrong and David Price came over – they said he would be shot – but we found the extra corpse.

My chaps knocked off the Japs’ black Labrador and casseroled it in a bucket – I have always regarded Labradors as fine dogs and this one was a Godsend.

Giving an anaesthetic to Lt Col Hudson (appendectomy) on my return to the main camp (I fancied myself as quite an artist with the rag and bottle).

One afternoon I saw a small group of Nips floundering up the road going North. One man, supported by two others, had a rope around his neck: the other end was a few yards ahead over the shoulder of another Nip. We weren’t the only ones!

I don’t think anybody gave you any hope for a successful run, but the gloom caused by news of your recapture was profound.

The trip to Tanbaya was a walk for a few kms to Kami-Songkurai, then truck to a train and so to the “hospital”. The three pagodas were a let-down; the largest was only about 30ft high, it seemed to me. I sat next to a fellow named Renton (?unit) whose name always brings lice to my mind. I lent him a rug (travelling, I had had it since I went to my prepper); it was full of lice when we got back to the camp. Al was lousy (still? or again?) in the truck. When I saw Bruce Hurst and told him, I was banished from the medical hut. Dave Jennings and I settled the men in and saw them “fed” and then reported to Bruce Hurst. Al told us to go to the cookhouse and get some grub. We hadn’t finished before a young Aussie officer came screaming for us accusing us of dereliction of duty. We were “court-martialled” in the morning, but as Bruce Hurst himself was our chief witness for the defence it was a farce. He had the grace to apologise (and later we became firm friends): in fact he embarrassed me and us all by putting me in charge of a regular RAMC Major’s (I only had 2 pips) “work”.

Tanbaya was a vast improvement on Songkurai. The monsoon ended and the forest was less of bamboo.
One was not forever slipping and skidding when walking about.
We were allowed to bathe in a nearby stream, if we could get to and fro on our own feet.

There was some “meat” in the diet and a sort of “fudge” could be bought at Thanbyuzayat and was occasionally brought in. The meat was revolting and putrid, but it may have had a slight effect on our survival.

It was here that I suffered from two afflictions which I do not recall seeing among my own patients; painless abscesses about the size of half a tennis ball; and jaundice. Mercifully the abscesses healed up after Frankie Cahill (Australian surgeon) incised and drained them. I do not know the cause of the jaundice; it was afebrile, but eating required a real effort; it lasted about 10 days.

Malnutrition was still a problem at Tambaya. I did not have ulcer patients, but Bruce Hurst ordered me personally to do the dressings on sores which affected the knuckles of a fairly well known young violinist. I spent about 11⁄2 hours daily on him and we managed to mark time. (I suspect that his chums were passing over morsels of the “meat” to him).

I recollect being called upon to amputate a man’s leg above the knee. Frankie Cahill looked on, but was not fit enough to operate that day. Jock Emery (see Duckworth’s broadcast) gave the anaesthetic. We amputated above the knee (the ulcers were on the lower leg) and all seemed well. Two days later the stump was all ulcer. Seemingly healthy tissue in such men just had no kick.

I remember little of the return to Kanburi; I had almost non-stop squits. No blood, so I would not call it dysentery. We were in open wagons on that trip and I managed to do my jobs squatting on the couplings. At one point we stopped for a few hours. I was parked in the shade of a tree with what I assumed was a private slit-trench latrine. I was told later that it was my grave!

Luck again came to my rescue and the trots eased off during the remainder of the journey. I don’t remember getting from the train to the camp, but it must have been only a fairly short walk. There we met up with K Force (I think). Anyhow there were some fit MOs and ORs who were able to help out with our survivors.

I had a small ulcer under the inside “knuckle” of my foot (L); very painful and smelly. I had visions of the underlying artery being involved and of bleeding to death one night. (This happened to some patients; probably the best way of dying if that was one’s fate). But I didn’t want to die then. We were in the “egg belt” and things were looking promising for a change. Lt Col Houston scraped the ulcer (under partial anaesthesia) but I was horrified when they took the dressing off; we were back to square one (just like my amputation patient, I thought). However, I had been on 4 – 6 duck eggs per day for about 10 days and a few days later, when the “dressing” was removed, there was pink granulation tissue.

Everybody flogged watches or whatever at Kanburi. I got 80 tickals for a watch which I kept in my pack most of the time.

The eggs were cheap (10 cents) and we could also get little dried fish (size of a sprat). Everybody started to improve; it was wonderful.

After that I remained “fit” until the end.

In Changi I worked in Medical Ward 1 with Eric Cruikshank until the end. I never had any more gut-rot and was in reasonable nick.

You remark that F Force should be written up. I can’t imagine that there is a survivor who could do the job. A compilation of the sources of information which you cite might be the only possibility.

You also remark that you hope the medical personnel got some recognition. Well some did. I was fortunate that my name was in the lucky dip and came out with an MBE stuck to it. My Father-in-law sent me a copy of the London Gazette. Of the medical personnel on that list a WO also got the MBE and two RAMC officers did so (Max Pemberton, the surgeon, and Capt WH McDonald); and there were numerous “mentioned in despatches”; 32 officers, 1 WO, 24 other NCOs and 25 privates. I think that a lot of the ORs deserved better than that.

It was kind of you to name me on page 56, but not really deserved. I was only one of many who tried to do something. (Incidentally, I was not in the RAMC, I was the dogsbody of 3 (VR) Field Ambulance, FMSVF (Federated Malay States Volunteer Force)).


Dear Lindy, (James Bradley’s wife, who wrote the foreword to his book).
Your last sentence – “In Jim’s war there was no glory” – I know what you meant, I think. But I looked up “glory” in the Concise OD and one of the many definitions does fit; “honourable fame”. And as I said to Group Captain Cheshire, Jim is my notion of a real hero.

Dad was part of F Force on the Burma-Siam railway. The Japanese decided to build the railway to assist with their invasion of India, using allied POWs held in Singapore in the work force. The POWs were divided into batches, Forces, for the task. Most Forces moved all the way to the railhead in Burma by train in cattle trucks, 30 men per truck. F Force left Singapore on 28 April 1943 with about 7,000 men, British and Australian, but was disembarked at Bampong in Siam. They then had to march on foot for the remaining distance through mountainous jungle during the monsoon at night, 185 miles in nearly three weeks, to five jungle camps near the Burma/Siam border. Many died. Songkurai camp, where Dad ran the cholera hospital, was the worst camp on the railway with a death rate at its peak of 25 per day. Of 1,580 F Force personnel who arrived at Songkurai Camp in May 1943, only 180 were still alive in 1945.
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Old 20th Jan 2016, 22:37
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I have nothing much to say other than Danny's original post is one of the few pieces on here to make me stop and think; subsequent contributons from others seem to indicate that they feel the same way. Excellent post, thank you.
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Old 20th Jan 2016, 22:39
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Kilty2 (your #4),

First let me welcome you into the good fellowship of PPRuNe (you won't regret it !) And may I draw attention to the "Gaining an Pilot's Brevet in WWII" Thread. This, the best of all Threads on the best of all Forums on PPRuNe (at least, we think so), is full, from Page 1, of first-hand stories about flying in the war in which your Father served, and which deals in the times he would have known so well.

Now there must be an Army (Artillery ?) Forum comparable to "PPRuNe" - look it up, and if your SWMBO's Dad is not putting his two cent's worth in already, get him going. Time is very short for all of us of the "Old Brigade" now, an enormous store of priceless memories has been lost already, we can't afford to lose any more.

Cheers, Danny42C.
Old 20th Jan 2016, 22:55
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Skua (your #7),

Thank you, (and thanks to the others who have been so kind as to compliment me on my writing).

For that I'm grateful to the times in which English was rigorously taught, and corporal punishment was the norm in all schools in the land !

Churchill memorably said:
...I would not have boys beaten at school. Except for not learning English. And I would beat them very hard for that !"...
Old 20th Jan 2016, 23:39
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Bergerie1 (your #9),
...But I have a question for Danny42C (I have admired your writing very much; thank you) my question is how do you think he and his crew must have felt? Not only for the reasons you have so eloquently described but because they must have felt terrible for having surrendered, even though they had good reason. After the war, when details emerged about how terribly so many prisoners had suffered, he must have felt so responsible - no satisfaction from having done glorious things, only terrible memories...
They must have felt awful, although they did the right thing. When further resistance is futile, and can only result in more (non-combatant) deaths, surrender is the only option. How do you think General Percival felt, when he had to surrender Singapore to a force half his size, the alternative being to condemn many of the population to die of thirst ? (the Japs had control of the freshwater supply).

After the surrender, your father had no responsibility for the sufferings of the prisoners. That shame lies fairly and squarely at Japan's door.

Now you might be interested in this quotation from my Post p.148 #2946 on "Pilot's Brevet":
...I am pleased you make mention of the Merchant Navy crews, for in many ways they were the forgotten men of WW2. In the RAF, even suffering the dreadful losses of Bomber Command at home, at least they had interludes of a few days of (relative) safety, and a little comfort, between operational sorties.

But to live a life where you are constantly in deadly peril, with the "Sword of Damocles" of a sudden torpedo always over your head, day and night, must have demanded a special kind of courage. Wearing no uniform (apart from IIRC, a little "MN" lapel badge) to earn public respect, often working in the most miserable conditions, they brought in the food, raw materials and the war supplies without which we could not survive - never mind fight a war. They were not richly paid, and deserve a little honour now...
You must be rightly proud of your father.


Last edited by Danny42C; 21st Jan 2016 at 01:33. Reason: Spell !
Old 21st Jan 2016, 00:20
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effortless (your #10),

Presumably your mate's Dad was on a Spitfire detachment in Russia. Too late to ask now, but several years ago there was on the UK market a petrol additive in the form of marble-sized litle spheres of some tin compound; these things were supposed to act as a catalyst in your tank and enable you to run on much lower octane rating fuel. The "blurb" said the inventor was involved in the maintenance of the Spitfires in Russia, apparently these magic things enabled the Merlins to run on low-octane Russian fuel (sounds like a tale to me). But my then garage owner swore by them, used them in his big old BMW and said they let him run on unleaded fuel with no problem. Didn't try them myself.

There is a very good book about the "Long Walk", I have it somewhere.
...he said spitfire for sheer fun but Hurricane for security and a stable gun platform...
Probably right (I had only a handful of hours in the Hurricane, and was never in combat with the Spitfire). The Hurricane was said to be able to take more punishment.

Under the (metaphorical) clag ? Surely not ! - it wasn't Shoreham's fault (if fault there be at all).

Old 21st Jan 2016, 00:42
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Project Propeller.

JOE-FBS (your #18),

Yes - but am far too frail and immobile now to take advantage of this supremely generous Project (more power to its elbow). I only hope Mr Marshall (?) and his staff take care to confirm the bona fides of the old-timers who join them. There are "Walter Mittys" about in our age group !

Old 21st Jan 2016, 01:04
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Boy From Brazil
(your #19),
... My Father, a Wireless Operator flying Lancs with 57 Sqn, very rarely spoke about the war, particularly any of his missions. However a few years before his death, he was reunited with his pilot and the conversation & recollection of shared memories went on for hours. Crews have a very special bond.

His pilot, Bill McRea , wrote an autobiography called Chequer Board of Nights. In it, my Father's role is described in detail. The book describes some incredibly dangerous and arduous missions that my Father never, ever spoke about.

I only found out by chance last week that a movie is being made of one of the missions described in the book! I am really proud that my Father and his mates are being honoured in this way. If anyone is interested, the status of the movie can be found in Facebook, under the same name as the book...
The title is from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam:
“Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days
Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates,and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.”
Should be a good film (might see it in about five year's time, when it's downgraded to "Freeview" - and if I'm still alive !)

Old 21st Jan 2016, 01:29
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It come to pieces in me 'and, Mum !

Clockwork Mouse (your #23),

A graphic description of the miseries of Japanese imprisonment. There but for the grace of God, go I ! If I hadn't noticed my loss of oil pressure when I did, we might have had to bale out over Jap-held Burma, been unlucky, and got captured. (Story "Pilot's Brevet", p.143 #2860).

Old 21st Jan 2016, 02:53
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B-24 Pilot Experiences

Thanks for the interesting thread.

My dad flew B-24's out of N. Africa and Italy during WWII. He would answer questions about his experiences, but would not really talk about it unless asked. You could also tell he would leave a lot out. "I flew 13 and a half missions!" he would laugh. But it clearly was meant to deflect much more talking about it. He was shot down by flak on mission 14, then spent the next year in Stalag Luft 1 with Gabreski and other airmen.

One time I asked him if he was ever attacked by fighters, and he really balked, and never answered the question. I got the feeling to never ask that question again. I just dropped it.

Years later I read "I Flew for the Fuhrer" by Heinz Knoke. Knoke describes his attacks on American bombers by a head on attack, aiming to kill the pilots in order to knock out the plane. You tube videos have gun camera film attacks on B-24's where you see hits going right into the crew cabin. They are terrifying films. I then understood why my father refused to speak about the subject. An attack by fighters (at least early in the war) meant certain death for the pilots even if the rest of the plane survived.

After the war my dad never had any interest in flying an aircraft again.
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Old 21st Jan 2016, 07:11
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You are spot on using the quote from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam!

I will personally make sure that you get a copy of the DVD when the film is released. Could you please PM me your postal address. The release date is still unclear.

Best regards

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Old 21st Jan 2016, 07:55
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My cousin's uncle landed on D-Day +1 or +2, and only started to speak about it in the last year or two before he died. I'm not sure he really spoke much of what actually happened, but more about the fact that he would regularly have flashback nightmares that were so realistic it was as if he was back on the battlefield - to the extent that he could smell it as well as see and hear it - before waking up in a cold sweat.

My grandfather served in the RA (mostly UK based HAA followed by time in North Africa and Italy I believe), but died a few years before I was born. Dad knows nothing more of what his dad actually did in the war (mainly because he didn't talk about it), although he has recently been researching this and digging in to the available war records.

Another example of "the war you were given" - my grandfather spent a lot of his time in the UK and was able to get home, whereas Horace definitely experienced one of the more traumatic actions of the war, and it affected him deeply for the rest of his life.
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Old 21st Jan 2016, 08:04
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Every word from Danny is a gem.

It must have been difficult for all concerned in post-war Japan. Dad was posted there from '46 to '47 before returning to flying. I don't know how these things are arranged, but as a Flt Lt Nav instructor he ended up as DAPM chasing armed robbers & such in Otaki, & I have some interesting old newspaper cuttings of these scrapes.

My mother had a pearl necklace which had been presented to dad by a Japanese father. Apparently the man's daughter had been raped by two RAF people, and dad's efforts ensured that they were tried & convicted. I can only imagine the strange set of circumstances and emotions in Japan at that time.
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Old 21st Jan 2016, 08:53
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I am. I just wish he had lived long enough for me to have really known him.
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Old 21st Jan 2016, 11:39
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Spitfire chum

I met an aged chap in the course of volunteering at a well known aviation museum several years ago now. Very pleasant, and very unassuming with a twinkle in his eye, but very quiet.

I found out from a mutual friend that he used to fly Spitfires during the war- I was researching the aircraft as part of a tour I was preparing so I asked, would he mind sharing his thoughts about the aircraft (well who better to get an opinion from than a bloke who's flown one).

Over the course of several months, we met up whilst volunteering and he was very patient with me and answered all my questions. He then started talking about his WWII experiences.

It turns out this quiet, unassuming and highly modest man was a Spitfire FR pilot for the SAAF, and served in the Desert, into Italy and ended up in Austria at a Luftwaffe airbase. He was also a DFC and bar, and later went on to serve with the RAF, commanded his own FR squadron in Germany and had various positions at FCHQ and in flying training before leaving the service to run a successful business.

I was very honoured that he took the time to tell me of his experiences (he had not done so very much previously). A typical man of his generation.

He even told me the story of how he won one of his DFC's, which actually made my toes curl a little at the very though of doing what he did.

Sadly missed-a lovely kind, gentle bloke. RIP 'Mac'.
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Old 21st Jan 2016, 15:57
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My Dad was in the Fire Service in NW London, but spent much of 1940 and 1941 in Central London and the City. Hardly ever talked about his experiences, but did show my brother and me his fireman's belt and tin hat, and an inert German incendiary bomb. He must have seen some horrific sights on a day to day basis, and endured some pretty awful conditions. I suspect that, and Woodbines, led to his early death at not quite 65.

After Mum died we found even the few photographs he had shown my brother and me had disappeared, although another copy of one was shown on Tony Robinson's "Blitz" series on TV a few years ago - six appliances in a row at the kerbside, all burned out. Dad's appliance was one of them, that was the day he was posted "missing" three times in 24 hours.
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Old 21st Jan 2016, 17:22
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My father fought in the Korean war with the South Staffords and only told me one or two little anecdotes which I will never forget. Finding any information about it is truly a difficult task, it's called the forgotten war for a reason.
I had the privilege of chatting to a lovely old chap at my cousins wedding one day and after telling him I was ex AAC (cold war hero!) he then proceeded to tell me that he was at Arnhem as a Para! Well that was the end of any other entertainment on offer for me. He told me so much about it, riveting stuff and such a modest and humble man, praise for everyone else but himself.
He even mentioned that (if you remember 'A Bridge Too Far') that he was with Urqhart as they were running between the houses dodging the Germans!
Strangely it is also very rare to talk to someone from 'the other side' about their experiences which is why I was very surprised to meet an ex Luftwaffe anti-aircraft gunner who was stationed in France during the war who confessed that he had no idea if they ever hit anything but had a bloody good go at it, and even more interesting was a an old chap who was stationed on the Moehne dam the night it was attacked, he mentioned that they all knew straight away they were in for it and ran off the dam to safety after firing a few token rounds at the Lancs.
I'm still trying to find out more about my Fathers exploits.
We really do need to talk to these people as much as we can, they have a story that needs to be told.
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Old 21st Jan 2016, 17:40
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Danny42c (#28)

No he was sentenced to 8 years in Siberia, walked to Persia and India. Did basic in Brighton, qualified in Hucknal I believe and didn't fly in anger until D + 3 I understand. He was one of the heroes of Ghent when the polish pilots refused to leave during the German push back. His family didn't know this until they visited his daughter in Ghent and he was recognised.
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Old 21st Jan 2016, 19:08
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The trouble is, it seems to be that one is always too young to ask the questions when those that know are still around...or, sometimes, the nature of their work was too secret. My grandad was always happy to talk about his time as a flight mechanic in the RFC in WW1, and I remember looking at his photograph album (which disappeared in mysterious circumstances after his death). There were two photographs in it I remember... one of a Vickers Gunbus with two doughty chaps dressed in long leather coats, and the second of the same aeroplane ten minutes or so later, as a total wreck...and the two chaps covered up on stretchers. He was later shanghaied into the Guards Machine Gun Corps, of which he never spoke a word; no chance of ever finding out more, as fire and bombing destroyed the records of the Machine Gun Corps.

My father was involved with radar and so forth in WW2; he was, to start with, a Calculator Maintenance Engineer...this was the equipment that gave the WAAFs on the plotting table the co-ordinates to plot from the raw radar data...Later he was at Trimingham in Norfolk with the "Mouse" station of the Oboe navigation and bombing system. He said they could, by remote control, drop a bomb down a factory chimney in the Ruhr....unless someone opened the door to the equipment hut, at which point the change in temperature would wreck the calibration!

After the war he was responsible for the maintenance of the first ever application of electronics to telephone switching...electronic directors, which decoded the dialed number to the required routing through the London network of telephones and replaced the electromechanical system. This system, using vacuum tubes called cold cathode counters, was, I understand, designed by Tommy Flowers at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill; there he had built the world's first programmable computer - "Colossus" - installed at Bletchley Park, which had been used to decode the "Lorenz" cipher. These electronic directors sprang from this wartime effort, and were installed at Richmond telephone exchange, in South West London. Dad had spent a year at Dollis Hill with the team, learning how the system worked. The Leading Technical Officer at Richmond had been a prisoner of the Japanese, and said that the prisoners used to teach each other about whatever it was they knew....it kept their minds off their plight..and that was where he had learned about automatic telephony, as it was in the 1940s and up to the electronic era. One day some Japanese engineers were scheduled to come and view the electronic directors, and he had to be given the day off as it was considered that their presence would adversely affect him.
He was well liked throughout the service, and had never been known to be late; so, on the day he retired, all the clocks in the exchange were set forward by an hour and, when he arrived at 0750 as usual, the line had been drawn and he was nearly an hour late! Every one had been briefed for this, and no matter who he telephoned, they all kept up the story. He was more than somewhat bewildered, and it was only at lunchtime they let him in on what had happened.....
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