Cadet 1935-1945 Peter D Stevenson



Cadet 1935-1945 Peter D Stevenson


Peter Stevenson's account of his service in the Officer Training Corps at Grantham and later in the Air Training Corps. Tells of his life in Grantham and the effect of the war on the town. Also his involvement post war in museums and projects to record the wartime activities that took place locally.




Temporal Coverage



115 typewritten sheets


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CADET 1935-1945
Peter D Stevenson
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CADET 1935 – 1945

By Peter Stevenson, a very junior twelve year old schoolboy when this decade started to a somewhat disillusioned twenty two year old young man who, ten years later when it all ended ‘Who had also served who only stood and waited’; came to the conclusion that though it had been a very interesting and formative period of his own life, had to admit that it had not done a great deal to win the war.
For all that it seemed to be a story worth telling, a story which must be dedicated to the many who had suffered that he might live to tell that story and do his bit towards winning the peace that followed.
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[underlined] CONTENTS [/underlined]
Introduction 3
Chapter One I catch the Air Bug 6
Chapter Two Private Stevenson P.D. KSGOTC (1935-39) 13
Chapter Three The Public School’s Air Cadet Wing (January to August 1939) 35
The 1939 Public Schools Air Cadet Wing Camp at Selsea Bill 37
Chapter Four Formation of the Grantham Squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps (1939) 45
Chapter Five ARP Messenger P.D.Stevenson. ‘Goes to War’ (1939) 52
Chapter Six I Join No.47(F) Grantham Squadron Air Defence Cadet Corps (1939-40) 58
Chapter Seven 47(F) Sq. Air Training Corps with No. 12(P)AFU at RAF Spittlegate(1941) 66
Chapter Eight 47(F) Sq. ATC with 207 Sq. RAF Bottesford (1941-42) 69
The 1942 Summer Camp at RAF Bottesford 76
Chapter Nine 47(F) Sq. ATC with 106 Sq. RAF Syerston (1942-43) 82
Formation of No. 830 Company Girl’s Training Corps
Chapter 10 47(F) Sq. ATC with The Magic Air Force (9th TCC. USAAF) at RAF Fulbeck 94
Chapter Eleven Anticlimax and Finale (1944-45)
Epilogue (1945 to 2006)
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[underlined] Introduction [/underlined]

This is the story of an eventful decade in the life of a young man with two ambitions.
He wanted to become a qualified engineer and, as the clouds of war gathered, to serve in the Royal Air Force with a commission in it’s Technical Branch.

It starts in his school days and progresses through his engineering apprenticeship and Technical College studies and eventual maturity. Running right through this is a common thread of service in a succession of Cadet organisations. It ends by looking back over nearly seventy years, with a tribute to the lifelong benefits he derived from the groundwork skills and benefits which such service left him with, as he pursued a post war career in engineering design and the technical training he passed on to others.

He was twelve years old when these two ambitions began to materialise. This was the age when his grammar school allowed its pupils to chose [sic] between ‘The Arts’ and ‘The Sciences’ and at the same time allow him to join the first of his cadet units. He dropped The Arts and joined the school’s ‘OTC’, the pre war somewhat elitist precursor of today’s Combined Cadet Force. However, before his story can begin to take shape, a wider view of overall scene which surrounded him really needs to be expressed in order to add a necessary perspective.


As everyone knows, the Second World War ended in the summer of 1945, but those of us who grew up between the wars would be the first to admit the seeds of this second conflict were sown in the months immediately following the ending of the first.

The horrors of Flanders had ceased less than five years before I was born. Its bitter memories had bitten deep into the souls of not only my own forebears, but also into those who had survived the war at the front and the bereavements and privations of those on the Home Front. In spite of the annual Armistice Day exhortations that “We will remember them”, civilian attitudes seemed determined to “Forget” as far as possible.

The man in the street and unfortunately, the majority of those in government authority, who still regarded themselves as being in the centre of the British Empire upon which the ‘Sun will never set’ What went on in the Continent was of little interest and was none of our business anyway.

The Treaty of Versailles had left Germany, crippled and bankrupt both economically and politically. A decade of ineffectual governments, each desperately trying to recover from rampant inflation and chronic unemployment, left the hotbed conditions for the rise of Hitlerism. So far as most people in Germany were concerned, any leader was better than none.

In Britain, equally futile governments thrust their heads ever more firmly into the sand. ‘Disarmament’ (at any cost) was the order of the day from the early Nineteen Twenties onwards. All three Services were cut down to mere cadre status, sufficient only to maintain the Empire and police the Dependencies and Protectorates in the Middle East and elsewhere.
With the destruction of Germany, there seemed no point in arming against what was considered to be a nonexistent [sic] European threat.

Luckily, there were a few people in high places who saw more than the ground immediately in front of their noses. Some of these were prepared to fight all forms of governmental apathy and bureaucratic inhibition. For them, the establishment of an effective defence strategy, backed up by small but technically prepared military force which could be rapidly expanded, should the need arise, was still vital for our future.

In all three services, dedicated and far seeing individuals kept each respective flame alight during a decade and a half of budgetary cuts and personnel reductions. Front line, supply and training establishments were cut to the bone. Withdrawing into a few key locations, they were determined to match diminishing quantity with increasing quality of men, equipment and potential.

Until the coming of the Industrial Revolution, my home town had been a typical sleepy country town, centred in a wide expanse of rich farming countryside. In the late 1700s it had been connected to the
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markets of the Midlands and the South by a canal and at the same time received incoming supplies of coal and other commodities. Grantham began the first phase of its expansion. In the 1840s, it received the next boost with north to south mainline railways and important east to west branch lines. Already astride the Great North Road, it now became an important focal point in the country’s communication network. In the remaining decades of the 19th century, heavy engineering industrial expansion gained it an international reputation for the quality and quantity of its products. During World War One, it converted rapidly into a centre for munitions production and an important army training area. In 1917, two nearby hilltops became flying training camps for the Royal Flying Corps.

When the war ended in 1918, Grantham’s industrial capabilities reverted to the peacetime production of diesel engines, farm machinery and the needs of a local agricultural economy. The big army camps were dismantled and the grounds they occupied returned to pre-war parkland status. The erstwhile Territorial Barracks were returned to the care of the weekend soldiery. One of the airfields was also closed down and returned to agriculture. The other went into ‘Care and Maintenance’ for a while.

However, this was not to be the end of Grantham’s military involvement in the post-war scene. April 1918 had seen the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merge and become the infant Royal Air Force. During the war both the RFC and the RNAS has found the skies (and the ground) of Lincolnshire ideal for the training of their pilots. Although the majority of the home defence and other operational airfields had been returned to agriculture, it was decided that three of the flying training airfields should be retained. Their levels of activity might very well be reduced but all three were very much in ?Grantham’s hinterland.

The post war reorganisation of the RAF centred very much on the training up of a small but well trained new generation of pilots. Six Flying Training Schools (the ‘FTSs’) would be set up, one in Egypt and five in England, of which three would be in Lincolnshire. The furthest away would be RAF Digby, some sixteen miles to the northeast of Grantham. Next would be RAF Cranwell, ten miles in the same direction. An ex RNAS airfield, it would in time become the first Aviation College in the world, and share its airfields with its own FTS. Finally, Grantham’s airfield would not only have its FTS but would also be the home of the FTS Training Group. {Incidentally, over the next half century, the Air Ministry had great difficulty in making up its mind as to what name this particular airfield should bear. Back in the RFC days it had been called ‘Spit[underlined]tle[/underlined]gate’, the name that not only the locals always used, but also used by most if not all those who served there over the years. At various times, the Air Ministry decided to rename it [underlined] RAF Grantham [/underlined] but after a while decided to go back to the original name. However, this time it was called RAF Spit[underlined]al[/underlined]gate for a while until went back to RAF Grantham again. To avoid confusion, throughout this narrative, it will always be called Spittlegate, the name of the village immediately below the airfield which eventually became incorporated into the borough of Grantham.]

Grantham therefore became very much an RAF town in the 1920s and the decades which followed. The people of Grantham got very used to blue uniforms in the town and aircraft in the blue above. The Grantham shops got trade, RAF families not in the extensive station married quarters, lived in the housing estates, and their sons and daughters went to the local schools.

As already mentioned, the Army was not completely unrepresented in peacetime Grantham. The town was still proud of the fact that it still had a small detachment of Lincolnshire Regiment Territorials. Their members made their way, perhaps a little self consciously, up to the Barracks, and marched much more confidently in the annual Remembrance Day parades, and their annual camp was given much reportage in the local weekly newspaper.

There was however, an ‘Army’ unit which will feature in the second chapter of this account. In it, was much ‘Esprit de Corps’, equal pride in marching behind the Territorials on Remembrance Day, and an equal enthusiasm for its annual camp and ‘field days’.

Grantham had its Grammar School, the King’s School of some six hundred years standing. It was the proud possessor of its ‘OTC’ – the ‘Officer’s Training Corps’. Supported by and largely financed by the War Department, it was hoped by the latter that, following its creation in WW1, it would continue to supply a small but steady stream of ‘officer types’ for its peacetime needs. Few of its boy soldiers ever stood a chance of gaining a permanent commission in the Regular Army but it was felt that the rest would receive enough basic training to make them good ‘rankers’ should the need ever
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arise. In any case, they hoped, this would be a useful recruiting ground for the Territorial Army when they left school.

These OTC units were undoubtedly elitist in their outlooks, closely reflecting the ‘Town and Gown’ mentalities of those pre-WW2 Grammar Schools. After that war, such elitism was anachronistic and the OTCs, became Combined Cadet Force units, reflecting the less class conscious and more technical emphasis of modern warfare.

This then, is the background to this account of a cadet who started his decade of ‘military service’ as a very young ‘boy soldier’ in the Grantham King’s School Officer’s Training Corps.
Ten years later, older and perhaps somewhat wiser, he ended up as a Cadet Warrant Officer in the Air Training Corps in the closing months of the Second World War.

This introduction has been written in general terms with the occasional use of the third person. Something which does not endear me greatly in the few autobiographies I have read is the over use of the first person singular. However, trying to write in the third person often results in something which verges on the pedantic. So, I will do my best to keep the number of ‘Is’ to a minimum and hope the reader will excuse the rest.

I suppose also that I should bow to convention and end this introduction with acknowledgements and apologies. To the many cadets in all the cadet units in which I served I give my heartfelt thanks. From them I learned as much as I gave. To the many servicemen in the units to which we were attached, I also give my heartfelt thanks. To those cadets and servicemen who lost their lives in service, I give my heartfelt gratitude. I shall not forget that famous Kohima tribute ‘For my today, they gave their yesterday’. Mine was not a spectacular or heroic war. I can only take comfort from the other saying that ‘They also served who only stood and waited’.

Apologies too. Memory is a strange beast and after more than sixty years, hindsight is more than a little myopic. Some events are as clear as if they only occurred yesterday but at my age the main problem is “Exactly what was it that I was doing yesterday!” So, if you also lived through those eventful years, bear with me, and if you remember differently, by all means get out your writing sticks, and add your quota of memories to the great memory bank in the skies.

A further apology. Faces I can remember but I have never been able to remember names. If you think that I have not mentioned this person or that, it could well be that to mention this person and not that, could well offend the latter. Better perhaps to be a ‘little economical with the truth’, and this could well apply to events as well.

Oh, and don’t forget. Even if you did have a camera then, you could not get films, and if you did manage to have both, you were not allowed to use them, so the few pictures I do have will be scattered amongst the narrative or may be lurking away in appendices to this account.
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[underlined] Chapter One I Catch the Air Bug [/underlined]

[AIR BUG – Defn. In the 1920s and 1930s the youth of Britain was perpetually being encouraged to become ‘air minded’. If one became thoroughly air minded then one was accused of being bitten by the Air Bug. I admit to have been badly bitten.]

I was not ‘Lincolnshire Born’. My mother’s family was Yorkshire, my father’s was Nottinghamshire, but my grandparents settled in Lincolnshire towards the end of the nineteenth century. I was actually born in Scarborough but I grew up in Grantham. As a result, I consider myself more of a ‘Yellow Bellie’ than a ‘Cuckoo’.

One is often advised to make sure that you choose your parents carefully. In this respect I think I can claim to have chosen well. Although my parents and grandparents (with one exception) could never be regarded as great intellectuals or scholars, I was extremely lucky to find them well endowed with a lively curiosity and interest in local, national and world affairs. Amongst other things, it looks as if I chose to be the grandson of a highly regarded, if provincial, ‘gentleman journalist’ (sadly, an extinct species). His son, in spite of being a reluctant scholar, apparently had dinned into him that type of education which, it is said, is what is left when you have forgotten most of what you have been taught. My maternal grandmother did come from a highly intellectual and talented family and between the lot of them, the genes they passed on to me are much appreciated. I sincerely hope that I have not let them down over the years.

Conversations round the family tables were always lively and I can never remember being talked down to. Even though it was an age when children were not supposed to talk unless asked to do so, I was still expected to have some opinion on most things under discussion.

My father, born in 1895, had a grammar school education and after leaving became a cub reporter under his father’s tuition. Aged nineteen when WW1 broke out, he immediately volunteered. After basic training, his regiment crossed to France where it was involved in the battles of late 1914 and early 1915. Mentioned in Despatches, wounded twice, he was invalided back to England. After eighteen months in army hospitals in Harrogate (where he met my mother) he spent the remainder of the war on the staff of an army training establishment. Demobbed, the best civilian employment he could obtain in his hometown was a dead end clerk’s job in the local police station. Married now and with a son, he came home to start afresh in Grantham.

His time there was not completely wasted. Amongst other things, he had worked for a Ford distributor and had learned a thing or two about selling cars and running a business. Once back home, he got a job as a car salesman with a large garage in Grantham, which he soon managed to get established as the main Ford distributor in Lincolnshire. Above all, he had come back completely ‘Ford Minded’.

Within a few months, the word ‘Ford’ had become magic and anything bearing the word ‘Ford’ was special. I learned all about Henry Ford starting the mess production of the legendary ‘Model T’, the ‘Tin Lizzie’. I also learned that in that Big Country, air travel was becoming big business and that, following the success of the Tin Lizzie, Henry Ford had gone into the aircraft business with the Ford Trimotor which proved a similar success. Promptly christened the ‘Tin Goose’, its reliability, load carrying and ability to work from small rough airfields not only set new standards in travel but was also popular as a freighter. Soon it was being used for travel and freighting in the North of Canada.

At this point, the U.S. Navy came into the picture. If the first decade or so of the 20th Century had been the Golden Age of Polar Exploration on the ground, the 1920s became the Golden Age of the Conquest of the Air. Using a Ford Trimotor, Admiral Byrd and his U.S. Navy expedition, became the first to fly over the North Pole.

Flushed with this success, another much larger expedition under Byrd, was sent to Antarctica in 1928. There they set up ‘Little America’, an air base on the Ross Ice Shelf, from which they laid refuelling bases, which were used to enable a Trimotor to be the first aircraft to fly over the South
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In all aeronautical history, it would be difficult to find even one airplane with more drama, more adventure, and more rugged versatility attached to it than the famous Ford Tri-motor.
Affectionately known as the “Tin Goose”, this outstanding airplane, with its corrugated aluminum [sic] skin, was the first all-metal airplane, and the first commercial aviation transport, designed and built in the United States. It was also one of the very first airplanes to carry passengers for the pioneer airlines of this country.
Built by the Ford Motor Company, the first of this most revolutionary aircraft was unveiled at Detroit in 1926. In it, combined for the first time in one airplane were such developments as enclosed pilot cabins, brakes, heaters, full cantilever wings and doughnut tires.
Most of the U.S. airlines bought Ford Tri-motors and many of today’s leading air routes were opened and developed with this versatile airline pioneer. As flown by the airlines, each plane could accommodate 11 passengers in a cabin that had an average width of only 4 1/2 ft.
In 1929 Admiral Richard E. Byrd on one of his Antarctic expeditions, included a Ford Tri-motor, equipped with skis, in his equipment. It was in this Ford that this great explorer made his famous flight – the first time man had flown over the South Pole. This actual airplane is now a part of the aviation exhibit on display at the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.
Wingspan of the Ford Tri-motor 4-AT is 74 ft. and overall length 49 ft., 10 in. The three engines gave it a cruising speed of 110 m.p.h. and a top speed of 130 m.p.h. Empty weight is only 6500 lbs. Simplicity is the keynote of construction. Control horns and control wires are mounted outside the airplane. Passenger seats are woven reed. Instruments for the side engines are mounted on the strut above the nacelles and viewed from the cockpit. The entire surface of the airplane is constructed of corrugated aluminum [sic].
More than 30 Ford Tri-motors are still being flown commercially today – more than a quarter-century after being built. It is even now, called “the best ship available for carrying heavy loads into tricky fields.”
As proof of the advanced design and efficiency of this famous historical airplane, the Tin Goose will again be produced in quantity. A West Coast company will build 100 Tri-motors from the original Ford blueprints, making only minor changes to take advantage of today’s smaller, more powerful engines. This is a fine tribute to a plane first manufactured 30 years ago and still worthy of being produced again in its original form.
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Pole. In true American enthusiasm for their other passion, the cinema, this expedition was accompanied by a full ’movie’ crew who, on their return, produced an epic film of an epic flight.

Eventually this film was shown on one of Grantham’s cinema screens, and being thoroughly Ford, my father and I went to see it. Now, if I am pressed to name the event which initiated my thoughts towards the air, it would certainly be this film. Subsequently, I went off on my own several times to see it again. Certainly, when it came to aircraft, the Ford Trimotor became my First Love. This film also sparked a lifelong interest in the Antarctic. During the next few years, I read all the Scott and Shackleton Diaries and anything else available in the Grantham Library about Antarctic exploration, but that is another story.

No doubt in the previous seven years, the Spittlegate aircraft had been circling oven the town. It was just that up to that time, they had not registered. Now they were there. Admittedly nothing quite so big and beautiful as my Trimotor, but well worth watching in future.

My grandfather had to report for his paper on the visit of Alan Cobham and his Air Circus. His Press Pass got us both in for free and I had a wonderful afternoon. The flying was certainly thrilling but it was the aircraft on the ground which really fascinated me.

Then I began making my pilgrimage up Cold Harbour Lane, the lane which ran along the north eastern boundary of the Spittlegate airfield. With the wind in the right direction the planes would come sideslipping in, right over my head, engines puttering over and the slipstream whistling though [sic] their rigging. I could wave to the pilots and occasionally they would wave back.

More down to earth, in the autumn of 1932, just after my ninth birthday, I moved school.
This was not in the depth of the Thirties Depression, and my father’s salary, largely based on commission, was pretty low. There were few people around with money to spend on cars. However, my parents had sufficient confidence in me to send me off to the Grammar School.
At the time, the King’s was a fee paying school, although it was possible to pass what was called the County Minor Scholarship exam, which at least paid your fees. Regrettably, I did not pass and since you only had one chance, that meant that my parents were lumbered with my school fees for the next six years. In later years, when I discovered that this took a whole week’s pay every term, I was more than a little ashamed that I had not been a better scholar.

One normally started at the King’s School at the age of eight and for the first four years you were taught to a generally wide syllabus which gave you a good basis on what might be your line of specialisation when you reached the age of twelve. A certain amount of Physics and Chemistry was balanced by four years of simple Latin and ‘The Classics’, while subjects like Maths, History and Geography would continue after specialisation.

Once I was settled in. I quickly discovered that in addition to the usual cross section of boys from the town and the surrounding countryside, there was quite a high proportion of sons of RAF personnel. I quickly became friends with two of these whose parents lived in the town rather than in the married quarters. I had a fair amount of contact with their fathers and was privy to a fair amount of ‘shop talk’, all of which helped to fuel the interest.

Small boys in general are remarkably schizophrenic in their choice of potential careers. My father’s new job had brought me into contact, not only with the Ford car but also the Fordson Tractor. Our family finances had been much helped by us moving into a company house next door to the premises which dealt with tractor sales and repair. In addition to the tractor and implement showroom, there was a replacement parts store and a repair workshop, all of which was accessible to me through a side door in the house. Naturally the presence of a small boy in the showroom was not welcomed when a prospective buyer was there, but this Alladin’s [sic] Cave was open to me at all other times of the day. I soon discovered that tractors were far more interesting than cars. That was probably due to the fact that the car workshop foreman had a short fuse when small boys were around, whereas the tractor fitters were more than willing to show the small boy in question, what went where and why. Also, most of a tractors ‘gubbins’ tended to be on its outside so that you could see what was going on, rather than having to poke around under bonnets and things.
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[underlined] 26 THE GRANTHAMIAN [/underlined]
* * *
Capt E. Elms.
At the end of this Term the School will suffer, in the retirement of Captain E. Elms, the loss of another link with pre war days. Captain Elms came to the School when the new Workshops were built in 1935, and their continued efficiency has been his constant endeavour ever since. Although Captain Elms came to us from the Estate of Mr. Christopher Turnor, he was no stranger to school-mastering, having spent many years as the Head of a London Technical Institute and being concerned during the 1914-18 war with the training of thousands of men and women for war work.

In 1920 he was granted a regular commission with the rank of Captain in the Army Educational Corps and served on the staff of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, where he did much pioneer work in the early mechanisation of the regular army.

During his stay with us Captain Elms has introduced the spirit of pride in craftsmanship and a keen desire to produce a good job of work, which has stood in good stead the hundreds of boys who have passed through his hands, and it is with real regret that we learn that Captain Elms is giving up his post here on doctor’s orders. It is to be hoped that the rest from his labours will bring him back to full health and strength to enjoy many years of ease and leisure, which he has so justly earned in the service of The King’s School.
* * *
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Capt. E. Elms
Handicraft Master, 1934-1946
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The Main Dealership agreement which my father had negotiated with the Ford Motor Company resulted in him having to go down to Dagenham every few months. Since in those days, cars had always to be collected from the works (there were no such things as car transporters) he would combine such a visit with the collection of a new car. He also discovered that a second hand car in good condition would always fetch a much higher price in the London area. So, he would take an old car down, attend his business meeting, and bring a new car back. Again, in those days, cars had to be ‘run in’. This involved driving it very carefully at no more than thirty miles per hour for the first thousand miles. This was especially important in the first hundred miles of the car’s life. The 110 miles back to Grantham was a four hour journey of utter boredom. So, in the school holiday times, he started taking me along with him and once we arrived at the works he hand me over to the Works Guide team. Here was an even bigger and better Alladin’s [sic] Cave and by the time I had gone round with them several times, I had got a pretty good idea as to how the various parts were made and how they went together to make cars and tractors.

By the time I was ten or eleven, I had made up my mind that when I left school, I would become a Ford Apprentice. Then, my apprenticeship completed, I too would go over to the States where I would apply to join Ford’s Trimotor service organisation. Having qualified as a fitter on the ‘Tin Goose’ I would join the U.S. Navy and go on the next Antarctic Expedition. How’s that for teenage logic? Of course, in the way of such juvenile dreams, nothing ever came of it, except that there remained a growing feeling that I would eventually become an engineer, preferably in the field of aeronautics, and perhaps in the RAF

Having finished my junior schooling, I was now at the great crossroads. ‘The Arts’ were not for me and as I moved up into the upper school, I rapidly dropped Latin (what I had learned, often came in quite useful in later life). Music was also dropped (which perhaps was a pity as I could well have done with some basic music theory also in later life). Hopeless at art, this was also dropped thankfully. The time spent on English Literature, History and like subjects was reduced, and opting for ‘The Sciences’ meant the time spent on Physics and Chemistry was increased.

The biggest, most interesting bonus of entering the upper school happened to coincide with what, at the time, was a rather revolutionary development on this old established grammar school’s curriculum. Grantham’s King’s School had, over the centuries, produced a goodly number of academics and a few notable scientists (including Sir Isaac Newton). These however, had been at the time when it was centred in a largely rural environment. With the coming of industry in the 19th century, Grantham had become a major engineering centre and the origins (and destinations) of it’s pupils changed dramatically. In spite of the fact that it did it’s best to retain its grammar school ethos. In order to progress, it had to accept that a significant proportion of it’s pupils would end up (hopefully) in the more respectable levers of industry and technology.

The present headmaster was a progressive, doing his best to lift the school out of the stuffiness of decades of the Town and Gown mentalities of his predecessors. His Board of Governors was a good mix of local dignitaries, with enough industrialists to reflect their pupil spectrum. His local government Director of Education was also progressive in his outlook. The end result was that basic handicrafts in the working of wood and metal would replace traditional Art subjects such as painting and sculpting for those pupils opting for the Sciences. To bring this about, a well equipped workshop was built and equipped with wood and metal workbenches, simple machine tools, a forge and brazing equipment. A ‘Handicraft Master’ was appointed, who proved to be a lifelong inspiration to all those pupils who thenceforth aspired to become engineers or, failing that, proved in later life to be good handy men about the house!

If I aspired to be an engineer, then this man became my mentor from the day the Workshop opened for business. Before going on to other matters, I really ought to pay tribute to one other mentor of that time. I mentioned earlier that the foreman of the car garage did little to

CADET 1935-45 CH.1.V4.doc
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de Havilland Gipsy Moth [inserted] (MILITARY VERSION) [/inserted]

NOTTS ASSEMBLY. – The Fleet of the Nottinghamshire Flying Club and privately-owned craft at Tollerton. The club-house is standard pattern devised by the ill-fated National Flying Services.

[inserted] two postage stamps [/inserted]
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encourage me to frequent his workshop. The same could not be said about his superior, the Service Manager. A qualified engineer, an ex Royal Engineers Major, a specialist in recovering First World War tanks from distressing and undignified situations, he had become a close friend of my father. He also took an avuncular interest in my early technical education, and incidentally took me up in my first few flights in his Gypsy Moth, which he flew from the Nottinghamshire Flying Club’s airfield at Tollerton’ near Nottingham. That soon became my Second Love and added another bite from The Bug.

It would be about this time that Meccano brought out their sets of aircraft parts which produced far more authentic looking models than those you could make up from the standard Meccano components. Looking back, this was perhaps the starting point of my aeromodelling career.

Thus, the stage seemed to be set for me to start on a career as an engineer but, you may well ask, is it not time for a start to be made on all this ‘Cadet 1935 to 1945’ business?

True enough. Please turn to Chapter Two.
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[underlined] Chapter Two Private Stevenson P.D. KSGOTC [/underlined]

By 1935, the antics of Hitler and his Nazi friends were beginning to cause grave concern amongst the regrettably few politicians and others whose heads were not so firmly thrust into the sands of Disarmament. They were only too aware how pitifully unprepared Britain was to defend itself against the growing threat of German Nationalism and it’s associated territorial ambitions. In spite of the Pacifists and the still ongoing years of depression, the Services did get slight increases in their budgets, but after much argument in Parliament. These did enable them to make some attempt to replace out of date equipment and to increase their recruitment and training programmes.

In the case of RAF, this was the time when they started to award contracts for new breeds of aircraft which, in time, would win the Battle of Britain and the air offensives which followed. Closer to home, there was a marked if gradual increase in flying activity at Spittlegate, Cranwell and Digby – to say nothing of more boys at the King’s School with fathers in the RAF. In spite of this, the King’s School was not outwardly pro-RAF. It was, of course, pleased to have an increase in it’s fee paying scholars. Particularly so, when fathers were posted elsewhere and in order not to interrupt their son’s education, left them as School Boarders. On the contrary, the King’s School was firmly ‘Army Property’ in that it had it’s Officer’s Training Corps, a unit of some standing.

During the first world war, when the life expectancy of the front line subalterns was little more than three weeks, calling for a constant flow of ‘gun fodder’, the inland Grammar Schools had been drawn into a ‘catch ‘em young’ policy with the creation of the OTCs. These [underlined] Officer’s [/underlined] Training Corps existed at two levels. In the Public and Grammar Schools, these were Junior OTCs in which the boys, between the ages of twelve and eighteen would be trained up to a ‘Certificate A’ level which qualified them for [underlined] consideration [/underlined] for a possible commission in the Territorial Army. If in the relatively rare case of the pupil going on to University, he could then join the University’s Senior OTC, hopefully passing Certificate B, which most probably gave him possible entry to Sandhurst.

In both cases, it was hope, when the time came for them to be called to military service, these boys of potentially officer grade would have been well imbued with Army discipline and traditions, together with the elements of infantry training and leadership. From the point of view of the War Office in the first war, the OTCs did an excellent and worthwhile job.

So much so, the post war War Department decided that the OTCs were still a [sic] valuable sources of potential officer and NCO material for the Regular and Territorial Armies. Besides, they would provide valuable Leadership and Character Training, ‘buzz words’ which were very much in vogue at the time.

At school level, for those with OTCs, it became automatic thinking on the part of both masters and pupils, that most boys would, on entering upper school, join it’s OTC unless their parents were particularly set against such ‘militarisation’ as the Pacifists put it.

However, in spite of the fact that locally based RAF personnel outnumbered that of the Army by something like twenty to one, and that ratio was reflected in the pupil roll, nevertheless the school was still Army orientated in it’s outlook. In the absence of anything resembling the OTC on the part of the RAF, there would be little or no encouragement from the school for any of those boys who had ‘caught the air bug’. There was therefore no real choice but, if one gained a Certificate A, it might be a useful pawn when one appeared before an RAF Selection Board.

My own twelfth birthday was in August 1935. So, on the first Thursday afternoon of the new school year in September, I became Private Stevenson of No.4 Platoon of the King’s School Company, Officer’s Training Corps, attached for training purposes to the Lincolnshire Regiment of the British Army. The individual concerned no doubt felt considerably less imposing than the title above would have you believe. He was, of course, the lowest form of military life, and it was not long before he was reminded of the fact.

The first parade of the Autumn Term was a proud one for all concerned. The four platoons reflected the age and status of their place in the school’s hierarchy. No.1 Platoon was composed of boys who had, as a result of the previous year’s terminal examinations, moved up into the Upper Fifth and Sixth Forms. They were predominantly fifteen year olds since most of the sixteen year olds had left
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Lt.-Col. M. H. Raymond, M.A. (Cantab.), T.D.
Master 1921-52, O/C. The King’s School
Contingent C.C.F., 1924-52.
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school already. The remaining Sixth Formers were those who had not been promoted NCOs for the other Platoons. No.2 Platoon were fourteen year olds, now in the Lower Fifth Forms. No.3 Platoon were thirteen year olds now in the Fourth Form. These three platoons, mostly in full uniform, were ‘Fallen In’ with appropriate ceremony, and were doing their best of look smart.

For the moment, No.4 Platoon was merely a motley mob of twelve year olds who had been herded into a safe corner of the school quadrangle by a stern looking, very grown up Sergeant (so he appeared to us, he must have been all of sixteen!) These ‘recruits’ had, for their sins, moved up into the Upper Third Forms, and had thereby qualified to join the ‘Old Tin Cans’.

Each move up into a new platoon was an immense rise in prestige (and pecking order) No.1 Platoon were now possessors of two uniforms. ‘Bests’ were for special occasions – special parades such as the Annual Inspection, Founder’s Day and the Armistice Day Parades, as well as going to the Annual Summer Camp. ‘Seconds’ were for those parades when the ‘men’ were supposed to look, feel and work like real soldiers. ‘Seconds’ were identical with Bests, but had reached the point where signs of wear and tear, brought about by drill, exercises, field days and annual camp, ruled them out for more formal occasions.
Nos. 2 & 3 Platoons had to make do mostly with Seconds, although a few whose drill was particularly smart could join No.1for [sic] special occasions. These uniforms were basically WW1 infantry. A round hat, khaki serge jacket with high collar (hot and prickly in summer), ‘Plus Four’ type khaki serge trousers with knee length ‘puttees’ and black boots, the latter having to be provided by parents.

For the first parade of the new year, Bests were worn by Nos 1 & 2 where issued. The remainder of No. 2 and No.3 wore their Seconds. No.3 were immensely proud as they were wearing full uniform for the first time, even if they were a bit tatty in places. The parade had been preceded by frenzied activity in the kit stores when outgrown uniforms were exchanged for better(?) fits.

As for No.4 Platoon, on that first parade, one could say that as yet they did not exist as such.
They were merely a loose scrum of small (so they felt) somewhat apprehensive twelve year olds, herded into a corner by an impressive Sergeant ‘in ‘is Bests’ bearing obviously new stripes, and doing his best to look as important as he feels. Still in our normal school uniforms, we had no external signs of having become ‘Privates’ or anything else for that matter.

We had watched as the Company Sergeant Major, scarcely recognisable as our erstwhile Head Boy, strode out from the school cloisters and howled for ‘RIGHT MARKERS’. Three figures had emerged from a conglomerate of khaki elsewhere in the quadrangle and had been positioned to the former’s satisfaction, whereupon, to a drum beat Nos.1, 2 and 3 platoon ‘got Fell in’. Right Dressed and subjected to an initial inspection by their respective Sergeants (more new stripes) the Sergeant Major called the lot to attention. This was the signal for sundry junior officers to emerge in their turn from the cloisters, revealing that they too, on close inspection bore remarkable likenesses to several of our form masters. Having taken command of their respective platoons, the Second in Command emerged to take over the whole parade, each of which takeovers being accompanied by a succession of ‘Attentions’, ‘Stand at Eases’ and mutual saluting. Having taken up a position of importance on the front of the parade, the ‘2 i/c’ was now approached by the COMMANDING OFFICER.

Having assumed command, he proceeded to inspect closely all three platoons, silently (but sometimes less silently) expressing his dissatisfaction at the regrettable loss of smartness and established Good Order and Discipline, he handed the platoons over to their officers and then headed over in our direction, much to our further apprehension.

Captain Raymond was, on the other days of the week, our senior English teacher and even in that role was something of a martinet. In his military guise, he was even more so, tending to strike terror into transgressors both in class and on the parade ground. His determined step in our direction was to say the least of it, unnerving. He stopped in front of our motley group who, by that time had been herded into some semblance of order by the Sergeant. He regarded each of us in turn (as if he had never seen us before) with a cold silent gaze, expressing obvious disgust. After a pregnant pause, he said “Carry on, Sergeant” and stalked away after acknowledging a crashing salute from the latter.
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The Sergeant proceeded to ‘Carry On’ in more ways than one. He announced that although we were not wearing uniform, [underlined] we were now in the Officer’s Training Corps [/underlined], and we were not to forget it. For our first year in No.4 Platoon, our school uniform was also our OTC uniform. From now onwards it must be maintained to a much higher standard of neatness and cleanliness than it had previously been used by mere schoolboys.

In one’s teenage years (term not yet invented) someone who is three or four years older appears to be an adult even if he is only sixteen in actual fact. He has had three or four years of ‘military service’ by then and may also be a School Prefect. With the latter’s authority to inflict punishment which prefects had in those days, plus his now military authority, the utterings of our Sergeant seemed to have the authority of the Law, if not that of God himself!

Anyway, he told us that our shoes were filthy and by next parade he would expect to see his face in them. Our trousers were little better and he would expect them to be pressed with a straight and sharp crease. Our jackets were similarly over due for a good brushing. Our ties were yanked straight and our caps must be worn straight and level, and we all needed a hair cut.

Having got that lot off his chest, the time had come he said, for us to learn a bit of basic foot drill. We were taught to ‘Stand to Attention’, ‘Stand at Ease’ and ‘Stand Easy’. Detail is largely forgotten (it was seventy years ago) but every Thursdays afternoon it was ‘square bashing, so it seemed. We learned to Fall In, Fall Out, Right Dress and Salute, Right Turn, Left Turn and About Turn. We learned to Number, Size and because the Army at that time marched in Columns of Fours, we also learned that interesting manoeuvre ‘Form Fours’.

Drilling at the Halt more or less mastered, we then had to go on to Drilling on the March.
In the process of concentrating on swinging a stiff arm and wrist (thumbs pressed down etc) up to the level of the waist fore and aft, the command “Quick March” presented, in a few cases some immediate problems. Having established that the first step was always with the [underlined] left foot, [/underlined] this was often accompanied by the left arm being swung forward at the same time. The resulting progress would be somewhat reminiscent of that of a camel. That sorted out, we then had to master upon which step an About Turn was started, how many to get round to the opposite direction and when (and how) to step off again. The same applied to Left and Right Turns on the march, together with Right and Left Wheels. It was amazing how difficult the simple process of walking from A to B had become! On the other hand, our parents were having to get used to sons who now seemed to delight in Marching everywhere rather than adopting their previous ambulatory gait.

We had taken turns at being Right marker and had made a reasonably smart exhibition of ourselves at Falling In, Right Dressing, Falling Out and Saluting, and it was felt by our NCOs that we could be trusted to Fall In with the other platoons at the beginning and end of parades. Came the day when the Sergeant Major howled for Right Markers and four of these strode out, and four platoons ‘got Fell In’ without rousing the anger of all in authority about us.

With that, we really felt we were beginning to be soldiers, especially as now we were ‘in uniform’. Admittedly only just, one might say. We had been issued with khaki webbing belt with a brass buckle and a couple of extra brass fittings, the significance of which we would only learn later. Next was our introduction to that wondrous substance ‘Blanco’ which we learned to apply without getting khaki everywhere. ‘Brasso’ for the brasswork, without getting black stains elsewhere. Wearing this, we were now in the third category of uniform – ‘Mufti’.

This was an Arabic word brought back by the army to describe clothing worn by the soldiery when not in uniform. Two thirds of all our parades would be in mufti, i.e. school uniform plus the by now ubiquitous khaki webbing belt, no doubt to spare the Best and Second uniforms from wear and tear. However, we in No.4 Platoon must not be confused with the ‘real soldiers’ in the other platoons. Their belts would include the ‘Frog’, an extra bit of khaki webbing which would carry our bayonet scabbard when we progressed to rifle drill, but that was not for the ‘sprogs’ in No.4

Although it still feels like it, we did not spend the whole of every Thursday afternoon on the parade ground. We also had lectures on various subjects which, as we learned later, were the beginnings of the subjects on which we would be examined for ‘Certificate A’. Ranks and Badges, Army Structure and Organisation, Rules and Regulations, the first elements of First Aid and Hygiene, Map Reading are the ones which I can remember. No doubt there were others.
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‘Officer material’, we were not being trained as mere ‘rankers’. We were being trained as leaders and we were expected to act as leaders. We must not only learn (whatever it was) but we must also learn to teach – or rather ‘instruct’. Every new drill movement or any other subject was not only taught to a high level of competence, but each one of us in turn must expect to be called upon immediately or at a later date to instruct the others in that movement or subject. Of course, at No.4 Platoon level, this usually involved only simple drill movements, but from the very beginning we got used to standing out in front of the Section or Platoon and take command irrespective of whether we wore stripes or not.

This was all heady stuff. Discipline was always strict but there was also no shortage of praise where praise was due. Having received praise, we also learned to look for praiseworthiness and not be afraid to give it. We all became dead keen and looked forward to new subjects, though most of these were mainly symbolic. The Services make great play on the expression ‘Esprit de Corps’ and every man jack of us from twelve years upwards, stood high, marched high and bawled out our commands as good as the rest.

Which was just as well, for the high point of the spring term’s OTC activity was usually the Annual Inspection. For the OTC boys there was no school work that day, but it was no holiday. It was very much a ‘spit and polish’ affair and even closer attention was paid to hair length, trouser creases, shine on footwear and brasswork and general appearance. Drill movements were practised to perfection.

In addition to our usual officers hovering in the cloisters as we went through the initial stages of Falling In, the presence of the Inspecting Officer and his entourage, visibly heightened the tension. When the parade was ceremoniously handed over, he then proceeded to make his initial inspection. This took time as each man in each platoon was examined from head to toe and questions asked. The platoons not being inspected were thankful to be stood At Ease, but as he finished with No.3 Platoon, the command of ‘Attention’ to us, brought heartbeats up to heart attack levels as we stood strictly Eyes Front. The Inspecting Officer, usually a ‘Top Brass’ from Northern Command, cast his eye critically over us. We appeared to pass muster, and, acknowledging an even greatly smashing salute from our Sergeant, moved on to higher things.

The rest of the morning superficially resembled a typical Thursday afternoon’s activity. I was to learn later that it had been carefully orchestrated to show each platoon at it’s best, drilling, learning and instructing in turn to allow the Inspecting Officer to drop in at will to observe and examine. Apart from foot drill, I don’t think much was really expected of No.4 Platoon, but for all that, he watched us carry out a typical routine of movements at the halt and on the march. We had almost reached the point of relaxing when a couple of us were called out to instruct. So far as I can remember, I was not one of the (?) lucky ones. That happened on one of the later Annual Inspections.

The morning successfully over, we were dismissed for lunch. In the afternoon we were marched up to the School Field, preceded by the Band who had gone through their Counter Marching and other gyrations, bugle calls and drumming displays during the morning. Thereafter the senior platoons demonstrated their tactical and ‘battle’ skills with much shouting of commands and firing orders, together with some hopefully impressive bayonet charges. As yet No.4 Platoon was not up to such extremes and I think we spent most of the time watching, as the Inspecting Officer watched on with a critical eye. The programme over,
the Inspecting Officer expressed his satisfaction of all he had seen, congratulated us upon our turnout etc., etc., accepted a ceremonial General Salute from the Band and a final March Past, received and acknowledged a further round of salutes and departed with his entourage.
We marched back to school amidst sighs of relief for another year.

As the spring weather improved, we were introduced to another ‘delight’, the Route March. Pre war, the army did not have much in the way of troop transport. ‘Footsloggers’ were expected to footslog their way from A to B. for those who had them, this was a uniform afternoon and headed by the band, off we would go through the town and into the country lanes, fifty minutes march and ten minutes break. The first route march of the season would be for five or six miles but later this would be increased to ten miles or so. One hundred and thirty paces to the minute, roughly three miles per hour with our length of leg. The ‘adults’ of No.1 Platoon could, if necessary’, manage the regulation thirty three inch pace, but No.4 Platoon found it hard going. Amongst the other commands such as
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‘March to Attention’, ‘Eyes Left’ to a passing RAF Officer, etc., there would be the frequent cry passed forward of ‘Shorten Pace’. The relief was usually short lived as the Band having had a break from blowing, stuck [sic] up a new tune, to which the forward platoons immediately stepped out in response.

We had by now learned a little about ‘tactics’ in our theory lectures. As the better weather of late spring promised the possibility of dry grass, we frequently marched up to the school field to put into practice the principles of Section and Platoon field movements. We spent much time advancing, retreating and taking cover behind what little cover there was. Most of this seemed to be in the prone position, interspersed with mad, but carefully controlled dashes which were officially supposed to be ‘charges’.

This was all a bit theoretical in the case of No.4 Platoon as we did not have rifles. At twelve years old or so, we were mostly too small to handle the 8,1/2lb, 0.303in Lee Enfield without doing ourselves or others some serious damage. However, we had our khaki belt, and in the best Army tradition, we ‘went through the motions’, as much as anything to impress the other non-OTC boys who were condemned to spend their Thursday afternoons ‘gardening’. These pour souls, rarely in the least interested in things horticultural, were being persuaded by seemingly equally unenthusiastic house masters to cultivate the six small plots of land euphemistically called ‘House Gardens’ in which a few long suffering flowers and vegetables strove to survive.

Whatever their motivations, inspirations or inclinations, we ‘soldiers’ despised the ‘gardeners’/ in the years before we could join the OTC, we had done our share of gardening to level and prepare ground for new rugby and cricket pitches and no doubt there were a few in our ranks who had joined the OTC solely to escape further gardening.

As can well be imagined, the average school field does not contain much ‘cover’ from a military point of view. Our field contained the usual pavilion and gardening sheds, plus a captured WW1 German Howitzer which must have been attacked and defended countless times during the Twenties and Thirties before it eventually succumbed to the WW2 scrap metal drive. Finally there were those House Gardens alongside the eastern boundary.

By the middle of the Summer Term, there would be a fair show of vegetation in these and therefore qualified in the eyes of we, the soldiery, as potential cover. As a result, much to the annoyance and frustration of the house masters doing their best to maintain some measure of order and orderly growth, the gardens were bravely defended and resolutely attacked. Eventually, when combat reached the point where actual bodily harm threatened the vegetation and/or its reluctant cultivators, complaints from the house masters resulted in a Standing Order being issued placing the area ‘out of bounds’. This would hold for the rest of the school year but would have been conveniently forgotten by the commencement of the following year’s Spring Offensives. The summer term had two high points for the older platoons, which were denied to those in No.4. These were the Field Day and the Annual Summer Camp. In both cases, the participants had to be old enough, possessors of full uniforms and competent in arms drill. We were none of these and had to watch the departure of the privileged, taking some small comfort in the fact that in time, such delights would come our way. When indeed it did come my way, there would be much to recount. But it was still painful to have to wait.

Schooling in the Thirties was heavily examination orientated. In addition to the end of the year scholastic exams to decide the Movers Up and the Stayers Down, we also had OTC tests and assessments. I don’t think anyone actually stayed down in No.4 Platoon but we were nevertheless closely advised to revise all we had learned in the past year. In the interest of Esprit de Corps and personal pride, these tests had to be passed with the highest possible markings.

The Summer Term ended with much personal satisfaction on the part of Private Stevenson P.D., knowing that he had been not found too wanting scholastically and would be moving up a Form, but he would also be moving up into No.3 Platoon. His last military act was to carefully blanco and polish his belt and hand it into Stores. For the next few weeks he would revert to civvie life, forget school and the Army and catch up with the RAF.

Once again there would be the pilgrimages up Cold Harbour Lane, that green lane bordering the north eastern boundary of Spittlegate airfield, to check up how the pupils of No.3 FTS were
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Avro 504N
Armstrong Whitworth Atlas Trainer
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Hawker Tomtit
de Havilland Tiger Moth
Avro Tutor
Hawker Hart Trainer
Avro Anson
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progressing and to find out what, if any, new aircraft were doing their Circuits and Bumps. Although the pattern of flying did not appear to have changed much over the previous year or two, quite a lot had happened to the aircraft. For Elementary Training, the legendary Avro 504N had given way briefly to the Hawker Tomtit. This in turn had been replaced by the first of the de Havilland Tiger Moths, which No.3 FTS were the first to introduce into training service. In their turn, they had been replaced by the new Avro Tutor. There had also been changes in the Advanced Training aircraft. The ageing Armstrong Whitworth Atlas was replaced by the Hawker Hart Trainer which was fast enough to outpace most of the current fighter types. These were all single engine biplane types, but the RAF would soon be introducing two monoplanes into front line service as the rearmament programme slowly gained momentum. Suddenly our sound spectrum had a new sound as the Avro Anson trainers began their circuits. There was much to see and note, and the fathers of my two school friends, one on the FTS staff, the other on the staff of the Training Group H.Q. were quick to transmit their enthusiasms for the new types. To our delight, the three of us were smuggled in to the hangers one day to make first hand contact with them, and for the first time I was able to sit in cockpits and lay hands on controls.

Feet once more on ground, there were two other significant developments that summer. The Air League of the British Empire, had done much to promote the Hendon Air Shows, and had also taken a large hand in the promotion of the RAF Open Days. Spittlegate was one of the first to open its gates to the general public, and in addition to an impressive line up of its own aircraft, hosted a wide variety of new and tried aircraft from the other RAF units. These were great events, both on the ground and in the air displays forming an essential part of the programme. Naturally, I was in the first group to rush in when the station gates opened.

The other event was also an Air League development. As a continuing aspect of its Air Mindedness programme, it had started a Junior Section. For a modest subscription, its monthly magazine kept its readers up to date with all the latest in military and civil aeronautics. Having been one of the first to join, this magazine was to become essential reading, to the detriment of homework assignments on the days following its arrival. Copies were filed away for reading through again and again through the school holidays.

Like all summer holidays, that of 1936 went all too quickly. The last week was a desperate attempt to complete the holiday homework tasks (which of course had got left to the last possible minute). School uniforms were cleaned and the summer’s accumulated grime was carefully removed from shoes. There was also a most important item to be purchased, a pair of black army style boots!

The first parade of September 1936 was typical. Frenzied activity in the area of the Quartermaster’s Stores over the previous days had equipped the new No.1 Platoon with ‘Bests’ (Appropriately larger) together with Seconds. They had also been reissued with ‘Service’ rifles (i.e. capable of being fired with live and blank ammunition, possessing sharp bayonets, and these were being furiously cleaned, oiled and lovingly examined. The new No.2 Platoon were issued with Seconds and most of them had to be content with ‘Demonstration Purposes’ rifles. These ‘DP’ rifles, long past being safely fired, still carried their regulation Bolt but its firing pin had been removed, so that it could still go through the motions of being fired with ‘DP’ rounds, to the general safety of all concerned. To their delight the new No.3 platoon would now in time be issued with Seconds, but until they had mastered the arts of wearing them correctly, they had been reissued with the inevitable khaki belt, but this differed in one vital respect.

This term, No3 Platoon would begin Arms Drill, which involved the wearing of the bayonet (D.P. and therefore blunt), and this called for the addition of the ‘Frog’. To the uninitiated, this small extra piece of webbing, used to hold the bayonet scabbard when worn, hanging down the left thigh of the wearer, would be the one thing which distinguished the seasoned troops of No.3 Platoon from the riff-raff of No.4 Platoon when Mufti was being worn! As before No. 3 would not parade with arms until they had learned to handle them.

Bearing the appropriate accoutrements, the parade Fell In with the exception of No.4 Platoon which once again did not yet exist. In No.3, we Faced Front and ignored the presence of a heap of very young looking humanity herded into one corner by a very new Sergeant who also seemed to be nothing like as old as our Sergeant. Surely, they didn’t expect to make soldiers out of that lot!
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[underlined] THE ‘SHORT LEE ENFIELD’ 0.303in RIFLE [/underlined]
[underlined] [which we came to know so know [sic] so very well] [/underlined]
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Following ‘Fall In’, Inspection (usual silent expression of disgust on the part of the Commanding Officer) and ‘Carry On’, our feelings of superiority were instantly deflated by the descent upon us of a new set of newly promoted NCOs. They immediately informed us that our last year’s performance was merely the kindergarten stage, and that we must now set about turning ourselves into real soldiers. Even at the age of thirteen as we now were, to us, the sixteen year old Sergeant appeared to be highly adult, especially as he now had two Annual Camps behind him, in which he had been subject to full Regular Army life and discipline.

However, before we could commence our ‘licking into shape’, we needed to be ‘kitted out’. No old soldier needed to be reminded of that peculiar (in both senses of the work) aroma of the Quartermaster’s Stores, (or in our school, ‘The Armoury’). A mixture of the smells of blanco, webbing, polish on boots, leather, gun oil and above all, uniforms. Well worn and long used heavy serge acquires a lingering scent of mud, rain and sweat, and after prolonged storage in poorly ventilated store rooms, no amount of cleaning, be it the home wash tub or the professional cleaners, can remove it completely.

In spite of the slow beginnings of rearmament, funding at No.3 Platoon level was virtually zero. Our ‘new’ uniforms conceivably many moons ago someone’s Bests, had by the time we were struggling into them, been issued, reissued, worn, patched and washed to the point where it’s khaki was more of a shade than a colour. Its serge had long ago given up the task of retaining a decent crease and defied most attempts at ironing and pressing. Most parents must have been horrified at the garments so proudly brought home later that afternoon. After all, their son, being in the OTC was costing them five whole shillings per term. (Something like £20 in 2006 money!)

For us, the new No.3 Platoon, the afternoon seemed to be spent in being issued with the various bits of uniform and getting them on properly. We were issued with a round service cap bearing the cap badge of the Lincolnshire Regiment. Then a high collared jacket whose brass buttons bore the school emblem. A pair of equally misshaped ‘plus four’ type trousers followed, which had to be held up by a pair of braces. These were fastened by a strap just under the knee. Much to our satisfaction, was the belt, [underlined] complete with Frog. [/underlined] Much less to our subsequent satisfaction was the pair of Puttees. (Magic word from India this time, from.. Hindi ‘patti’ = bandage)

As it’s derivation would indicate, the puttee was a khaki strip some 10cm wide and about two metres long, which would be wound round your carves, starting at the ankle and ending (hopefully) just under the knees on top of the lower end of your trousers, where it is tied with two laces. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Nothing could be further from the truth. The army puttee is of a standard length intended for six foot plus beefy adults down thirteen year old mini soldiers. The winding of a puttee is both art and science. Having put on your boots, you roll up the puttee into a tight roll, it’s top end in the middle. Two turns are wrapped round the ankle and you start to wind it carefully up the leg, clockwise round the right leg and anticlockwise round the left (and heaven help you if the inspecting officer finds that you have wound both legs round the same way). Now comes the difficult bit. The aim is to end up at the top with two overlapping turns, and the art/science is how to manage the major part of the length in the middle. For a start, each wrap round the leg must advance upwards by [underlined] exactly [/underlined] the same amount. Obviously, the smaller you are, the smaller should be the distance between the lower edges of the wraps. This is a state of perfection which takes weeks to achieve, especially since the next problem is ‘How tight?’. Too tight and your feet freeze ‘cos you have stopped your blood flowing. Too loose, and horror of horrors, following a particularly enthusiastic stamping of the feet, the whole lot unwinds round your feet, bang in the middle of an important parade! It seemed to take the whole of the afternoon (and more practises at home) to get everything sorted out to an acceptable standard on subsequent parades. One final item to complete this initial kit issue – a Button Stick, a wondrous relic of those Brass Button Days. A strip of stiff brass with a slot down the middle, allowed it to be slid under the buttons and Brasso applied without fear of getting black stains on the serge beneath. After further instruction on the care of the uniform (deliberately issued a size or so bigger ‘to allow for growth’), we just about made it in time for the afternoon’s ‘Dismiss’.

As with life in the schoolrooms, the first few parades of the new year were devoted to revision. The school holidays had, as we were once again reminded, allowed us to slip back into sloppy ways. Foot Drill had to be brought back to scratch and theory re-polished, so there was a lot of square bashing and theory revision to be done before we could start on anything new.
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Came the great day when, having completed our afternoon ration of foot drill, we were marched off to the Armoury to collect a rifle apiece. The first impact was, of course it’s weight. Carrying it carefully to a nearby classroom, we began our first lesson – ‘The Naming of Parts’. New to us perhaps, [deleted] by [/deleted] [inserted] BUT [/inserted] not to Kipling and the Indian Army. Like 95% of all previous subjects, the lesson was delivered by one of the senior NCOs, with the usual admonition “Learn these names until you can recite them in your sleep, because when I’m finished, one of you is going to instruct the others and every time I see you lot, someone else is going to have to do the same”

We started at the muzzle and worked down steadily to the butt. We removed the magazine and the bolt and we peered up the bore. We discovered the little flap in the brass plate of the butt to reveal the ‘Pull Through’ with it’s bit of flannelette known as the ‘Four By Two’ and beyond that the brass oil bottle. We examined the Foresight which was fixed (It was years before I gathered that John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga had nothing whatsoever to so [sic] with the aiming of a rifle). Then on to the Rear Sight, which was not fixed and had a lot of fiddley bits which we would have to learn to use. The Sergeant then handed each of us five Dummy (D.P.) Rounds which we learned to load into the magazine. Making sure that the muzzles were pointing at the ceiling, we loaded the magazine into the rifle and ‘put one up the spout’. Since these were D.P. Rifles, which had no firing pins, and again making sure our spouts were pointing skywards, we ‘fired’ our first round. Ecstasy!. Loosing off the remaining with gay abandon, we put everything to rights, and with some reluctance, handed them back into the Armoury. We discovered later that these rifles had been formally issued to individuals in No.2 Platoon who were not at all happy that [underlined] their [/underlined] rifles were being used by the ‘rookies’ in No.3.

Having sorted out which end was which, we were now ready to make a start on Arms Drill. Now the Short Lee Enfield Mk.IV or whatever it was (they looked old enough to be Mk.I) was sufficiently long for it’s muzzle to be somewhere around the right ear of some of us when it was standing vertical. It was also heavy enough to seriously threaten the stability of the smaller thirteen year olds if handled too enthusiastically. So, when the day came for us to start, we were stationed sufficiently far apart to ensure mutual safety, and enough NCOs about to assist in individual safety. First, we had to learn new positions of Attention, At Ease and Easy. No great problem and no threat to safety, apart, that is, from someone who managed to drop his rifle. Short lecture on the three grades of army crime – dropping one’s rifle is rated as ‘Major’. The real trouble starts when having had a brisk demonstration of the movement instigated by the command ‘Slope Arms’, accompanied by the shouting of ‘One Stop – Two Stop – Three’ which will become bitten into the souls of all true soldiers, we attempt to do the same. Of course our sixteen year old Sergeant is almost fully grown and from long practice can whip the 8 1/2lb to the first and second movements as if it were mere balsa wood while his body remains virtually motionless. Three years younger and half grown, the 8 1/2lb suddenly becomes 8 1/2kg, requiring major bodily movement to achieve anything like the same effect. Bodies totter and NCOs leap in to restore balance. Miraculously, the rifles are now on our left shoulders but slope in all directions. In the case of an adult, the relative proportions of rifle and body will, given time and practice, achieve a 45 degree slope of the rifle with a horizontal left forearm, with the weight evenly balanced on the shoulder. Unless one is large for one’s age, by No.3 Platoon averages, something has to give if the weight is not to tip the victim backwards. Having more or less straightened us all out, we attempt the ‘Order Arms’ which we achieve without crushing our right toes. We try again with slightly more success. Eventually the lesson ends. Whether it because the Sergeant was satisfied (which perhaps was doubtful) or whether we were exhausted (which was more likely) or indeed, whether one or the other was on the point of tears, which was equally likely.

Subsequent arms drill sessions involved all the normal foot drill movements now with rifles, plus a few extras such as Present Arms, For Inspection Port Arms, Ease Springs, etc. Having more or less mastered these we progressed to Fix Bayonets (“When I says Fix, you don’t Fix, but when I says ‘Bayonets’ you whips ‘em out and you wops ‘em on and you wets a while” (phraseology faithfully passed down from NCO to NCO from pre-Napoleonic days or even earlier). It took months to get it all more or less right and all the time we were being reminded that we were supposed to be in the British Army and not Fred Kano’s (Fred Kano was supposed to be the mythical General of the army of some equally mythical South American Banana Republic state and therefore the most contemptible of military establishments.

The Armistice Day parades came and went with us in full uniform, even if we did have to let No.2 Platoon have their rifles back for the occasion. Our second year in the Corps was aimed at completing our initial training as infantrymen. Background subjects proliferated with field tactics
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playing an increasing part in our training, for this year would be the first in which we could take part in the annual Field Day. Now that we could (more or less) handle a rifle, we had to learn Fire Control and the principles of covering fire and the like. We were presented with posters showing various forms of terrain over which we needed to plan our movements to take advantage of available cover and where to expect enemy fire. The countryside surrounding our school field became suddenly hostile or potentially useful according to whether we were defending or preparing to attack. We now took part in attacks and defensives at both Platoon and Company level which duly impressed this year’s Inspecting Officer, who incidentally, did not appear to be anything like so formidable this year. Maybe it was he was not so formidable, or was it a measure of our growing confidence?

Another annual event which has not been mentioned so far was ‘Founder’s Day’. This was the day when the school opened its gates to all and sundry including fond parents who could see what their little darlings were doing in exchange for their parent’s hard earned school fees. The day would start with a service in the nearby Parish Church in which King Edward, and his merry men, back in the fourteenth century, were praised for their forethought, and other notables including such past pupils as Newton, Lord Burleigh, and Archbishop Wand, were praised for their ghostly presence. After this formality, we trooped back to the school. The OTC in all (or nearly all) their Bests, accompanied by the Band in their Very Bests (Big Drummer in his Tiger Skin etc, [sic]) gave a formidable display of Felling In, being inspected by the Mayor, Foot and Arms Drilling, marching and counter marching, Marching Past and Dismissing all to cries of command ranging from semi bass to semi falsetto.

While the civvies were being suitably diverted, the soldiers suddenly changed into school boys to man impressive displays in school rooms, art rooms, laboratories and workshops.

That out of the way, we prepared for Field Day, No.3 Platoon now qualifying for the first time. In preparation for this we were issued with more kit. This consisted of a haversack which hung from the waist, a backpack which (obviously) went on your back and ammunition pouches which hung down your front, all of which required more in the way of webbing which was fixed to the brass buckle things on the belt that we had spent the last two years assiduously polishing for no apparent reason.

The Field Day was held in the Parklands of a kindly disposed stately home from which his Lordship would observe with interest (and his gamekeepers with apprehension) while the soldiery of six or more local Grammar School OTCs, scared the living daylights out of his wildlife. The various OTCs would be divided into two Brigades, one of which would defend some appropriate strong point while the other attacked. The ground would have been carefully surveyed by the respective Commanding Officers in conjunction with sundry Regulars from Northern Command who would act as umpires for the day, and an approximate battle plan worked out in advance. On the day, the defenders would arrive from one direction and get themselves ‘dug in’ and, suitably camouflaged. Forward ‘O.Ps’ (Observation Posts) would be deployed towards the general direction of the expected attack. Meanwhile, the attackers arrived from another direction, would ‘debus’ and form themselves into something resembling an attack Brigade. Deploying on a wide front, scouting parties would be sent out to probe the enemy’s positions. Much creeping, ducking and crawling, accompanied by soot voce commands would, in due time provoke a volley of blank cartridge fire from one or other of the O.Ps.

Battle was joined. All very confusing at 3 Platoon level, especially as my section’s Corporal managed to get us separated from the main force which resulted in us being declared ‘Wiped Out’, or ‘Captured’ or something before we really got going. Appropriately labelled by an Umpire, we had to sit and listen to the battle raging around us. Those of No.1 Platoon and a few in No.2 who were the proud possessors of Service Rifles had received a ration of blank cartridges and these were being used to most audible effect against an enemy who had apparently been issued with ever more. Very exciting.

The Umpires having inflicted significant casualties on both sides, declared that it was now time for a truce to be declared and emergency rations to be consumed. This was no great help since, although our parents had filled our haversacks with enough emergency rations for several meals, the exertions and the fresh air had caused them to be dipped into long ago and little remained. After lunch, the state of battle had apparently reached the point where the defenders should stage a counter attack. To our delight, another Umpire declared that we had been uncaptured or something and that we could now rejoin the affray. Happily toting our few D.P.SLEs, even if we could not have any blanks to fire, we deployed, worked our bolts, took aim at indicated targets, worked our bolts,
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squeezed our triggers and shouted BANG at the appropriate point. Sometime later we somehow managed to locate a Section of the enemy holed up in an outhouse without them detecting us. We had learned to throw a D.P. Mills Grenade by this time, but these were far too valuable ‘stores’ for them to be carried on manoeuvres. In compensation, we had been issued with a box of matches and a number of ‘penny bangers’. Having discovered that the door to this outhouse had a convenient knot hole which he had used to spy on the occupants, the Corporal lit one and posted it through, to the consternation of those within. The Corporal claimed victory from the observing Umpire.

With some justification, the Umpire ruled that (a) if the Corporal had a Mills Bomb, he would not have been able to post it through the said knot hole, (b) had he opened the door and thrown the banger in, as he would have had to have done had he used a Mills Bomb, his slaughter might have been allowed, but (c) the door had been bolted so he couldn’t have done so anyway. The Umpire then withdrew both us and the ‘enemy’ to a safe distance apart and told us to get on with our war. (It is truly amazing how the memory of such minor incidents remains fresh after so many years when far more important things are lost forever)

However, I think it was about this time that the Head Umpire called for the cessation of hostilities. After much blowing of whistles, shouting and Rendez Vous hand signals, the troops were eventually brought altogether for the Inquest. Unit A was praised for this and Unit B censured for that, but overall the exercise was declared a success (It always was). As for us, we were far too tired and hungry to take much in, and it was a weary mob who ‘embussed’ for the journey home. As was to be expected, someone had lost something, which led to no end of enquiry and recriminations, but in compensation, we had managed to ‘acquire’ several other things of value which was cause for quiet satisfaction and a blind eye.

Field Day over, we settled down to our final term of the year. ‘Settled’ was a misnomer of course. The summer term was always the most hectic term of the year. Masters were desperately trying to complete their curriculum targets. Scholars were desperately trying to make up for lost time and standards and ‘squaddies’ were desperately revising and polishing up their instructional techniques. Behind all this there was an increasing buzz as No.2 Platoon were doing their best to hide their excitement as the time neared for them to go to their first Annual Camp. There was a similar buzz in No.1 Platoon, but this was tempered by the realisation that although it would be their second camp, it would be the last for many.

At No.3 Platoon level, the question of camp was still a matter of biding our time for another year, but that did not remove the feelings of envy. This year it was Northern Command’s turn to stage the Annual Camp, the two thousand or so Senior and Junior OTC cadets would be ‘entertained’ at the big army complex at Strensall in South Yorkshire. Even to those who were unable to go, ‘Strensall’ and 1937 were inseparable. Enviously, during the last week of term, we watched their final kitting up. For some of our NCOs, this would be their swan song. When school opened again in September, not only would we see a new NCO structure with many new stripes on display, the announcement that we had successfully passed all our tests, meant that next year we would be in No.2 Platoon.

We made our final Dismiss of the year, we handed in all our kit. We closed our desks and sang our farewell hymns. We said goodbye to those friends we would not be seeing over the holidays, and went home determined to forget all about school, but not all about the OTC.
For six or seven weeks we were gong [sic] to be civvies, and catch up with the RAF. There was a lot to catch up in 1937. Aircraft which had been mere specifications in the early Thirties, were now coming into service and their successors were well into the prototype and development stages. The biplanes were beginning to go. Sleek monoplanes were increasingly seen.
Much Lincolnshire farmland was being requisitioned for new airfields. New Squadrons were being formed. They might spend a few months ‘working up’ on Hawker Hinds but once their act was together, they converted to single and twin engine replacements. RAF Scampton, just north of Lincoln, reopened and was home briefly to Barnes Wallis’ first geodetic wonderbird, the Vickers Wellesley. It’s long range capability and load capacity was to equip the RAF’s Long Range
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Vickers Wellesley
Handley Page Hampden
Vickers Wellington
Fairey Battle
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Development Flight at Cranwell and in the following year it gained the World’s Long Distance Record for the RAF.

A new Bomber Command Group was formed and established it’s Headquarters in a large house and grounds in Grantham, just down the hill from Spittlegate. Within a few years, tis Group would become a legend and it’s Commanding Officer equally legendary. It’s staff increased and the sons joined the King’s School. ‘5 Group’ and ‘Harris’ entered our vocabularies and the plane spotters reported Handley Page Hampdens and Vickers Wellingtons in the skies to the north.

Things were also changing on the Flying Training scene. Now that the threat from the air was more likely to be from the east, Lincolnshire airfields were needed for combat squadrons.
No2. FTS left RAF Digby for safer skies in the south west and two fighter squadrons moved in. They were originally equipped with biplanes, but these were soon replaced by Hawker Hurricanes. No.3. FTS also left Spittlegate shortly afterwards. Spittlegate became a bomber station. Two bomber squadrons moved in, both working up with Hind biplanes but soon converted to Fairey Battles. More changes of personnel and new faces at school. New aircraft to land in over our hea[underlined]d[/underlined]s up Cold Harbour Lane.

We must have been getting older. The summer holidays appeared to be getting even shorter!
Only days after my fourteenth birthday, so it seemed, we were on countdown to a new school year. Destined for the Lower Fifth, we were also at an age when we were growing up the fastest, and by the time school started again, we would have grown out of last year’s clothes anyway. This was not the only criterion. As members of this year’s No.2 Platoon, we would be getting [underlined] Bests [/underlined] as well as Seconds and we must look as correspondingly smart in our Mufti.

We had no sooner got kitted up and drawn [underlined] our rifles [/underlined] (for this year each rifle was to be the personal responsibility of the person to whom it was issued), and had carried out our first parade of the year, when we learned that changes were in the air. It would seem that the Army was to be equipped at infantry level with the new Bren Gun, a highly accurate, easily manageable machine gun to replace the clumsy, heavy and temperamental Lewis Gun which had been the Army’s lot since WW1. These were to be issued at the rate of three to the platoon. Numbers and dispositions were going to be reorganised into a Platoon of three Sections, each of seven men. Of course it would be years before D.P. Bren Guns would be available at OTC level, but from now on we would ‘go through the motions’ as riflemen.

New Drill and Field Training Manuals would eventually arrive. The principal change in drilling was that the new compact three rank platoon could move off smartly in columns of threes rather than having to go through the ‘Form Fours’ procedure which now became history. (Pity in a way. A good ‘Form Fours’ executed smartly by a well trained squad could be a joy to watch). Other foot drill movements were also affected by this new platoon formation and this all took time to master, both in execution and from an instructional point of view.

Generally speaking, this 1937-38 year followed it’s usual pattern of drill and theory sessions, major ceremonials and new challenges. Increasingly, as No.2 Platoon, we were called upon to instruct even though we were still a long way off from wearing stripes. By now we had well mastered the use of the mnemonic of the day, PODEIR. Called upon to instruct, the first thing we had to do was to carry out our Preliminaries, i.e. collecting any necessary gear, getting the squad into the necessary place for the instruction to begin, and to prepare yourself for the task. Addressing the squad, you needed to clearly state the Objectives of the unit of instruction. “Today you will learn how to clean your rifle correctly’. Next, you need to give a clear Demonstration of what you are proposing to teach the squad. This is then followed by a clear Explanation, repeated often enough for the subject to be thoroughly understood.
[underlined]I[/underlined]nterrogation of the squad is carried out to find out if the subject is indeed thoroughly understood. Repetition of the movement or whatever, on the part of the squad is then carried out enough times to insure that the instruction has ‘stuck’.

The routine was interspersed by a number of small but memorable events. One significant, but not previously introduced member of the instructional team, was the local Territorial Depot Sergeant. As ex Regular, he lived in the Territorial Barracks on the far side of the town, coming down frequently to keep a fatherly eye upon all our doings. As we progressed to higher things, squads from Nos.1 & 2 Platoons, as a pleasant change from field exercises on the school playing field, would march up to
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the Barracks for sundry training activities under his instruction. One of the most popular of these was firing practice on the Territorial’s indoor range. If I remember rightly, a thing called a Morris Tube or some such name, could be inserted into the bore of the standard 0.303in rifle enabling it to fire 0.22in bullets, with quite reasonable accuracy. Thus armed, we could carry out single shot, groups and rapid fire exercises, as well as learning Range Discipline. On other occasions, we carried out Gas Drill.
This was still within living memory of the gas attack horrors of the Great War and we, as a nation were still apprehensive of another war unleashing even more horrible war gases on both the military and civilian populations. The Barracks therefore had a Gas Room, in which we were first of all introduced to synthesised odours of Mustard and Phosgene gases. We would then don and learn to adjust an army style gas mask and sit there while the room was filled with tear gas. As you begin to perspire as a result of the claustrophobic effect of sitting there in a hot stuffy room, the tear gas settling on your sweat, starts to prickle like mad.
At this point the Sergeant yells at you to pull your masks off and clear the room IN AN ORDERLY MANNER1[sic]. Half blinded and choking, we clear the room in a most disorderly manner while the Sergeant reminds us that until that moment we had been sitting in a room full of tear gas with no apparent effect and to emphasise the point, makes us redon our masks and go in for another ten minutes. Not one of our pleasantest exercises.

There was one seldom expressed advantage of marching up to and back from the Territorial Barracks. As may be gathered from the previous commentaries, the King’s School was strictly boys only. On the opposite side of the town, and directly opposite to the Territorial Barracks, was the Girls High School and it’s extensive playing fields. Now the headmistress of this school ran it with an iron hand and was constantly complaining to our headmaster that his boys were making a point of parading past her school in order to fraternise with her pupils. As a result, the road past her school was, in term time strictly out of bounds to any boys who did not have to pass that way. Somehow, to the delight of all but the headmistress and her all female staff, our marches to and from the Barracks, not only had to pass her school and playing fields, but seemed to do so when her darlings were doing their jolly hockey sticks or whatever. Discipline was difficult to maintain on both sides of the fence, and the command “Eyes Front” tended to be ignored.

On an even lighter note, we were once again in the Route Marching season. When we were marching through the town and therefore in the public eye, we would ‘March To Attention’ either to some stirring tune blared out by the buglers, or to the accompaniment of pace taps from one of the side drummers. Once clear of the town, the command would ring out “March At Ease”. After a brief period of semi relaxation, someone would start whistling. Unlike today, everyone seemed to ‘Whistle While They Worked’ or went about their daily life. Of course, from early childhood, we had learned of the sad fate of those unfortunate Green Bottles which had been overcome by the effects of gravity. Also, though we were yet to discover the location of that elusive Meadow which required so many men to mow it and why the first man always had to bring his dog along, we nevertheless sang along regardless. These we soon realised, were excellent marching tunes which could be hummed, whistled or sung aloud with appropriate gusto. We also marched to, whistled and sang about the considerable distance between the centre of London and Tipperary (wherever that was). At our age, it was perhaps debatable whether we should be so enthusiastically singing the praises of the Barley Mow, that establishment’s staff and it’s wide range of barrels containing it’s liquid refreshments. Straying a little nearer the edge, someone might start whistling the tune of Colonel Bogey or one of the more liberal minded officers, the army’s less respectable lyrics could be heard quietly sung by those in Nos.1 & 2 Platoon who had been to Annual Camp where apparently there were few inhibitions on such ribaldry. On the other hand, if the Commanding Officer was striding along at the column’s head there would be an immediate command to “March To Attention” which put a rapid end to such lack of good order and discipline.

Armistice Day, Annual Inspection, and Founder’s Day passed sufficiently routinely to leave no great mark on my memory for the autumn of 1937 to the late spring of 1938, and so did the Field Day for that year. Some of us in No.2 Platoon were able to take Service Rifles, which meant that we could fire blank cartridges. We got involved in black market transactions for ‘gash’ blanks. Apparently, at Annual Camp the Army would dish out far more blank cartridges than the troops were called upon to fire, which meant that the pouches of the said troops arrived back far from empty. It was ‘not done’ to hand these in, and the blanks were smuggled home and hidden away from nosey parents until the next Field Day. Now the usual official issue of blanks was rarely more than ten, but somehow
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enough blanks had mysteriously changed hands, (to some advantage to the vendors thereof), so that when an NCO or an officers [sic] called for say “Five Rounds Rapid Fire” , the resulting volley seemed to go on for far longer than was expected., [sic] even after “Cease Fire” was commanded.

So, inexorably, the Summer Term of 1938 heralded more terminal examinations and OTC Tests and Assessments, but this year it was different. We were fourteen years [underlined] old [/underlined], reasonably competent in Arms Drill, had fired on the indoor range, had experienced two Field Days, passed most if not all our annual tests and assessments and were therefor eligible to go to our first Annual Camp with the ‘veterans’ of No.1 Platoon.

Behind all the anticipatory excitement of going to the Annual Camp was the sobering thought that proud as we would be at also moving up into No.1 Platoon, the height of achievement, the primary objective of life in No.1 Platoon would be the one and only opportunity for most of us to pass our Certificate A. For several months we had been working through and revising all the various aspects of the ‘Cert A’ syllabus, and once we started again in September, it would be the final count down to the actual tests which would take place either just before or just after Christmas. Since a large proportion of these tests had direct reference to the experience we would gain at Camp, that week’s activity was never to be regarded as a fun holiday.

[underlined] The 1938 Tweezledown OTC Camp [/underlined]
Following the previous year’s Northern Command’s camp at Strensall, it was now Southern Command’s turn to host the OTC Annual Camp, and for the good of our souls, it was decided to give us the full Aldershot treatment.

Accordingly, The Chosen assembled in Good Order and Discipline on the southbound platform of Grantham Station on the Saturday morning following the end of school for that year. Kitbags had been issued and were now bulging with Seconds, spare clothing, towels and toilet kits, knife, fork, spoon and mug and items of ‘tuck’ and recreation. We were in our Bests, with boots and buttons gleaming in the sunshine, webbing blancoed to perfection.

Ammunition pouches were empty apart from a few surreptitious ‘extras’ left over from the last Field Day. On the other hand, we all bore full Service Rifles complete with Firing Pins and sharp bayonets (None of your ‘D.P. stuff for this week!). We awaited the arrival of the specially chartered train to take us and other OTC contingents from the north.

When it eventually arrived, somewhat late, our demeanour and composure was somewhat discomposed by the howls, jeers, cheers and catcalls from the contingents already on board. Our Commanding Officers [sic] was not amused, ordered us aboard our specified carriage, delegated the stowage of our kitbags and other spare gear and stalked forward with his other officers with appropriate dignity to the First Class carriages.

We quickly discovered that our carriage was sealed off from the others, no doubt to prevent an outbreak of civil war. We settled down to await developments. As the train gathered speed, we were somewhat surprised to observe yards and yards of paper flying past our windows. An opened window disclosed the reason thereof. In the forward carriage beyond us, two extended arms held a vertically disposed bayonet which had been threaded though [sic] a toilet roll. The slipstream was doing the rest. Any attempt to copy this in our carriage was rapidly quelled. The train approached Peterborough station. Through trains were required to pass though [sic] at ten miles per hour giving platform dwellers opportunity to gaze with some interest at a train full of what appeared to be very young soldiers. The train contents gaze back. Suddenly a volley of rifle fire erupts from one of the carriages to the rear. Amidst screams and shouts, the crowd on the platform scatters. Someone pulls the communication cord and the train screeches to a stop. Officers appear rapidly from the forward carriage, Railway Police appear rapidly from their den. Platform crowd emerges from cover. More shouting and commands. Our train is shunted onto a siding. We await further developments. Whistles, jerks and shunting noises from the rear of the train. Even more behind time now, the train moves off. NCOs work down carriage, carefully searching for and confiscating any further stocks of ‘gash’ blank cartridges. We explore the contents of our haversacks. We never did discover the identity and fate of the contents of the carriage we left behind. their unit was reported as ‘Missing Presumed Lost’ on arrival at Aldershot Station which was reached without further incident.
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We were met by army lorries, manned by Regular Army personnel who made it quite clear that henceforth, everything had to be done ‘at the double’. Our camp was to be held on the Racecourse at Twezledown (or was it ‘Twezeldown’ or even ‘Tweezledown’ or …….) Anyway, there was nothing ‘twee’ about it, as we soon discovered. It was next door to the big Aldershot Army Training Camps, whose staffs were right here to get us sorted. We were tipped out and marched off with kit and kitbags to a bell-tented city of hundreds of tents and marquees. Our homes for the week were allocated, into which our kitbags were dumped. We were told to change into Seconds at the double and fall in outside our tents. Marched off (at the double, of course) to a large marquee filled with straw, we were issued with canvas ‘Palliasse’ covers which we filled with straw. Enthusiasm led to over filling and almost cylindrical objects defied all attempts to lie comfortably for the first night or two. (God help any tent with any discarded whisps of straw decorating the hallowed grass surrounding it) Having disposed of these round the interior of the tent, feet to the middle, we doubled off to another tent to collect blankets and a pillow apiece, only to find upon our return, that a rival unit had obligingly collapsed our tents. Such, we gathered from those for whom this was their second camp, was ‘Army Life’. More confusion as we re-erected them, double secured the guy lines and made our beds up into some semblance of order.

We had of course, consumed our travelling rations within ten miles or so of leaving Grantham so that by now, we were ravenous. However, around this time a bugle sounded ‘Cookhouse’ and we all trooped off to the Mess Tents for a ‘tea’ which just about half filled our aching voids. On our return to our lines, we found our tents in the process of being once again collapsed by a raiding party, the ensuing free fight being quickly subdued by some patrolling VERY LARGE Military Policemen.

Our first day at camp was rounded off by the whole camp falling in to the Main Parade Ground, a last time, we experience the phenomenal parade ground voice of RSM Britten, the Senior Regimental Sergeant Major of the British Army of that era, the terror of all ranks below that of Colonel.

We began to appreciate the true size of the OTC movement as rank upon rank of us were inspected by the Camp Commandant. We were, after all only the top ends of our respective units. That over, we celebrated the lowering of the Union Flag to the sounds of mass buglers sounding the Last Post. A mass March Past and Dismiss gave us the false impression that things were over for the day. Back at our tents, we collapsed onto our ‘beds’ only to be hauled out again for camp experienced NCOs to demonstrate how beds should be made properly and how kit should be disposed of in an orderly manner. Having made up our own beds to their grudging satisfaction, we collapsed again. Ten minutes later, and we were up on our feet again as fatigue duties were handed out and weary bodies were despatched in all directions. After all it was high summer with British Summer Time still giving us much lovely daylight which the Army could put to good use.

Utterly exhausted (so we thought), we were delighted to hear some poor bugler still on duty,play [sic] ‘Lights Out’. Ten minutes later (so it seemed) the damned fool was sounding ‘Reveille’. NCOs were whacking the sides of our tents with swagger canes, bearing another load of Fatigue Duties. Groans of recovery were not mollified by the one P.B.I with a watch announcing that it was only 06.00.

Cookhouse wallahs disappeared in one direction while the remainder were shocked into consciousness by the impact of ice cold water in the washlines. Luckily most of us were too young to need a shave, otherwise this would have been an even greater assault upon the senses

Next came the loose scrum brought about by the next priority of the morning – preparing the tents for kit inspection. Luckily, it had been a fine night so that we were able to learn the mysteries and mayhem of blanket folding and kit layout. What it would have been like if it had been (a) raining or (b) we had been the regulation fifteen to the tent compared with our ten or so, heaven only knows.

Halfway through the morning (the boy with the watch announcing that it was now 07.30), more bugling announced ‘Cookhouse’ and hundreds of aching voids stampeded their way to the Mess Tents. We knew where they were by now. There was no need for NCOs to shout ‘Double up There’.
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Army Porridge, Army Eggs, Army Bacon, Army Bread and Army Butter topped with Army Jam were dolloped, dumped and poured into Army Plates and Mugs, and all these were hopefully washed down with Army Tea. I hoped the Tweezledown worms liked the Army Tea, it took some time to discover where the Army Drinking Water surfaced.

Having gulped that lot down, we dashed back to our tents to don Best Uniforms. In spite of much preparatory brushing and polishing, they were deemed to require further spit and polish before we ere [sic] ready for kit inspection and the morning parade. Of course in our haste, our puttees refused to wind at just the right tension and spacing. Somehow we managed to achieve some measure of perfection before our Commanding Officer made his inspection of our lines. Then out to the Main Parade Ground for the Raising Of the Flag, the Morning Prayers (we hoped He would approve of our turnout even if the General’s Inspection found us wanting)

After this, we dispersed. The events of the day and the days which followed have merged into a blur of memories. Of incessant activity of which the major component seemed to be doubling to mess, marching to parades, doubling to lectures and demonstrations, cookhouse fatigues, fetching and emptying, digging and filling latrines, picket duties, cleaning and polishing kit, guarding our rifles with our lives, foot drill and arms drill, kit inspection and foot inspection, lectures when you could hardly stay awake, day exercises, night exercises and ‘dawn patrols’. Then, when they thought that you still had a little untapped energy left, they took us for Route Marches when we found Aldershot’s Long Valley truly lived up to its name. Learning to obey instantly one minute and being prepared to take command the next. Constantly being reminded that the letters OTC stood for [underlined] Officer’s [/underlined] Training Corps, and that we were there to learn and instruct, to obey and command.

Of course there were the high moments as well as the low. The first ride on a tank and the time you were given the controls of the new Bren Carrier. The rifle ranges where we had or [sic] first experience of firing live 0.303in ammunition at ranges up to 500 yards. The day when they felt we were safe enough to fire a Lewis Machine Gun, terror or ecstasy to a fifeteen [sic] year old. Even firing the murderous Boyes Anti Tank Rifle, a right bastard of a gun which fired a half inch copper bullet with a massive brass cartridge. When fired, it would leap six inches up in the air, drove you the same distance backwards, dislocated your right shoulder if you were not holding it correctly and took two of you to carry it. The morning when we threw our first live Mills Grenade. The calmness of the instructors who hustled us out of the throwing trench when a terrified cadet dropped one at his feet. The same calmness when they went out to place a small charge against one which had failed to explode.

It was only a week, but it felt like a year. The boy with the watch was forbidden to tell us what the time really was. Then, at the final concert on the Friday night, when we were all wished the best of British Luck by the assembled Brass, we suddenly realised it was all over. It had been a week of sheer hell most of the time but we wouldn’t have missed it for a moment. We said goodbye to new friends and promised to write – which we didn’t of course. We promised to come back for next year’s Camp – but we never did.

Of one thing we were quite sure. We had arrived the previous Saturday as mere schoolboys but we would be leaving the following morning as soldiers and furthermore, however old we actually were, we were quite sure now that we were GROWN UP

I vaguely remember getting on the train at Aldershot, but knew nothing until being shaken awake as the train slowed down for Grantham Station. When I staggered in through our front door, my mother was horrified at my appearance. She reckoned that I had lost a stone in weight – maybe she was right. She said afterwards, that I drank a pint of milk without pausing for breath and immediately asked for another, after which I slept for sixteen hours without a break – I don’t remember a thing. When I finally surfaced, my father, the Old Contemptible and P.B.I. of WW1, just looked at me and grinned. [underlined] He [/underlined] knew what we had been through

Uniforms and kit cleaned, repaired and handed in. rifle bore ‘boiled’ and oiled, its bayonet emeried up to its appropriate gleam, both replaced in their place of honour amongst the other Service Rifles in the Armoury and for the remainder of the summer holidays, school and the army could be resolutely ignored in favour of things less earthbound.
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Avro Anson

Airspeed Oxford

Bristol Blenheim I

[underlined] A [/underlined]
Form [underlined] M.T. [/underlined]

Officer Training Corps.
This is to Certify that
Mr. Peter Desmond Stevenson of the King’s School (Grantham) Contingent, Junior Division, Officers Training Corps, has fulfilled the necessary conditions as to efficient service, and has qualified in the Infantry syllabus of examination, as laid down in the Regulations for the Officers Training Corps. He is, therefore, eligible for consideration for a commission in the Supplementary Reserve, Territorial Army, Territorial Army Reserve of Officers or Active Militia of Canada.

On appointment to a commission he will be entitled to the privileges conferred on holders of this Certificate as set forth in the Regulations concerned, and to any further privileges that may be authorised after the date of this Certificate.

In the event of a national emergency involving the mobilization of the Regular Army and the embodiment of the Territorial Army, he is requested to notify his address immediately to the Under Secretary of State, The War Office, S.W.1, with any offer of service he may wish to make.

Date March 1939.

Director of Military Training.

95360) Wt.13585/6884 12,000 5/38 A.& E.W.Ltd. Gp.698 J.4202
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As usual, there was much to catch up. Once more things had changed at Spittlegate. In the preceding twelve months, it had been decided to move No.3 FTS to safer skies elsewhere, and for a brief interval RAF Spittlegate became a bomber station. Into this had moved a succession of bomber squadrons which were in the process of converting from Hawker biplanes to Fairey Battles. Amongst these were 106 Squadron which we will meet again in Chapter Nine. Spittlegate had also become the base for the No.5 Group Communications Flight. Around this time, the airfield itself was considerably enlarged.

In spite of its close proximity to No.5 Group H.Q. down the hill, they then decided that the existing airfield, notwithstanding the extension which moved the Cold Harbour Lane over several hundred yards, would never be big enough to accommodate the heavy bombers which would soon be coming into service. So, the bomber squadrons had left, and Spittlegate once more became a training station. Coming into service in the near future would be a new generation of twin engine fighters requiring an intermediate stage of training between the Flying Training Schools (such as No.3 FTS) and the operational squadrons. These were to be called Service Flying Training Schools and Spittlegate was now home to the new No.12 SFTS. Equipped with many Ansons, Oxfords, Blenheims and Battle trainers, the volume of Grantham’s soundscape was now considerable, especially as the old WW1 training field on the adjacent hill top, once again called RAF Harlaxton, became Spittlegate’s satellite airfield. Added to this, the arrival of the new North American Harvard, smote our ears with its raucous, supersonic prop tip scream and its near fighter performance. Things really were hotting up over Grantham. Frustratingly so.

Behind all this had been the Munich Crisis, the build up of the Civil Defence organisation, the issue of gas masks to the civilian population, practices by the ARP and the first wailings of the air raid sirens. The war clouds were gathering and increasingly it was becoming ‘When’ rather than ‘If’.

The summer holidays of 1938 passed quickly and the autumn term started with a new feeling of urgency. For most of us, this would be our last year at school, with the School’s Certificate Examinations the following June our primary scholastic target. More immediately, however, were the Certificate A Tests and Examinations of the autumn term.

Our first parade was naturally, a notable occasion. As expected, we were now this year’s No.1 Platoon, and we ‘battle hardened’ survivors were now permitted a further visible sign of our maturity. When not ‘bearing arms’ and on general duties, we could now sport a ‘Swagger Cane’ whose silver cap bore the School’s emblem. This gave rise to some further drill movements which we were more than a little proud to show off to the other ranks, as well as to the general public as we strode our way to and from parades. There were sundry promotions amongst those who had stayed on from the previous year, but we had to await the outcome of our ‘Cert A’ before we knew where we stood on the promotion ladder.

Frantic swotting, sweating and general revision, endless practices and brushing up of our drill and its instruction brought us up to the fateful day when we began taking the written papers. Then followed grilling from visiting examining officers from the Regular Army on the more practical aspects. After this, there were generalised interviews, which were obviously aimed at assessing our potential as ‘officer material’. The examining officers left with their sheaves of paper and their non-committal expressions. We were left to stew.

A week or two later, the grapevine announced that the results had arrived. On tenterhooks, we paraded the following Thursday afternoon and awaited our fate. (Oh how frustrating to have a surname so far down the alphabet!) Private Stevenson P.D was at length called out to receive the coveted cloth star to be proudly sewn onto his left sleeve. At the same time he was informed that henceforth he would be Lance Corporal Stevenson in charge of one of the Sections in No3. Platoon, the which duty he commenced with alacrity – but it was not to be for long.

For it was not just the Certificate A results which had been exercising the grapevine of late. Shortly after his promotion, he, plus a number of others were called upon to appear before a Selection Board which had nothing whatsoever to do with His Majesty’s Army.
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[underlined] Chapter Three The Public School’s Air Cadet Wing (January to August 1939) [/underlined]

As can be gathered from the previous chapter, the OTC was pretty extensive in numbers and scope. I have very little idea of how the Royal Navy set about convincing the schoolboy population that a worthwhile career awaited them in that Service, apart from the known existence of certain schools to which families with a strong naval tradition usually sent their sons. There were also the Training Ships who took in boys of school age and trained them up in the manner of the Midshipmen of old. All this was of course, very much of a coastal phenomenon, until the later formation of the Sea Cadets. The Army therefore appeared to have, in the inter war period, a virtual monopoly of military involvement with the inland schools, with a declared aim of ‘creaming off’ the best ‘officer types’ according to its needs.

With the phenomenal rise in the size and effectiveness of the Luftwaffe during and after the Spanish Civil War, and its obvious close support of the Wehrmacht, even our War Department began to admit, albeit somewhat reluctantly, that the RAF should have some access to the schoolboys who would be the fighting men of a future conflict. It should be remembered that even in the late 1930s, aircrew were predominantly commissioned ranks and that therefore the RAF were also looking for potential officers.

It was finally agreed that a small proportion of OTC cadets, [underlined] provided that they had already passed their Certificate A, [/underlined] and who expressed a preference for service in the RAF, should be allowed to join a ‘Public School’s Air Cadet Wing’, for appropriate pre-entry training by the RAF. No doubt the Army, having spent some four years bringing these boys up to Cert A standard, felt that there was enough Army Esprit de Corps in their veins to render them immune to the blandishments of the Men in Blue.

Each interested OTC would be allotted a small number of places which, added to a similar quota from the Senior OTCs, not already in the University Air Squadrons (the RAF having penetrated to Universities much more successfully) would not exceed a total of two hundred and fifty nationwide. These cadets would still continue to wear their OTC uniforms and badges of rank but would also wear a brassard of RAF colours bearing an Officer’s forage cap badge of ‘Crown and Wings’.

In the case of the King’s School OTC, the initial allocation of places would be seven, which was later increased to eight. The rumours came to a head when a notice to this effect appeared on the OTC Notice Board, which produced an instant effect. Names were rapidly added, including my own, but I had doubts as to whether I would qualify. The scheme was undoubtedly aimed at aircrew potential, and I already knew that my eyesight was not up to aircrew standard. Luckily, the list was not over subscribed. The school already knew that my sights were set on the RAF, and that my service in the OTC had been aimed at improving my chances. I suppose that may have been responsible for me not being struck off the list of those due to appear before the promised Selection Board. Naturally, all the other hopefuls were sons of serving officers and were obviously aircrew material and therefore stood an excellent chance of being accepted. In spite of my keenness, I was more than a little doubtful of my own chances.

RAF Spittlegate, to which our section would be attached, had apparently received directives from on high, duly convened a Select Board and sent them down to hear our respective cases. In our very Bests, with Cert A Star prominently displayed, we were called in one by one. The others went in and after some time reappeared with non committal expressions and told to wait. I was called in last. Acknowledging my best salute, I was told to sit.

As I fully expected, the first question was, as a result of seeing my glasses, what was my eyesight standard. I explained that it had been my intention to apply for a commission in the RAF Technical Branch for several years now, and they would obviously need at least one Technical Officer to keep the other six in the air. From their reactions, I gathered that they had not quite expected this answer from a khaki clad figure. I went on to explain that my one purpose of serving in the OTC was to improve my chances of acceptance, that aeronautical matters had been my hobby for several years and showed my Membership Card of the Air League Junior Section to prove it.
After looking at each other once more, one of them started asking questions about the Theory of Flight, Aircraft Construction and general questions on current aircraft types which I managed to answer without batting the proverbial eyelid. I got the further impression that they were not expecting
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all this from a khaki clad fifteen year old. After a few more minutes of this, I was told to leave the room as the others had done.

The others were called in one by one and emerged with appropriate grins. Then I followed, wondering what my fate was to be. I was told that in view of the fact that only the requisite number had applied and that I had put forward a good case and was already well informed, they would accept me on the same grounds.

We were all ‘agog’, the following Thursday afternoon when an RAF truck arrived to whisk us up and away to the Spittlegate airfield. Feeling very superior, from now onwards we would be leaving the ‘Footsloggers’ down in the town to do their footslogging while we:
‘Slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings, *

Dropped off at the Station H.Q., we were ushered into the Adjutant’s Office, given our appropriate passes, signed the Official Secrets Act and were presented with our PSACW Brassards., to be proudly worn below our stripes – we all had at least one. From then onwards, it became increasingly obvious that those upon high had issued orders to the effect that all concerned were to do all they could to make up for lost time.

Almost immediately, we found ourselves in the Crew Room being kitted up with flying suits and helmets, shown how to don a parachute and what to do should the need arise. Paper work included local air maps and the signing of the inevitable ‘blood chit’. Out on the tarmac, we were loaded into a couple of Ansons. The ‘Annie’ was originally a small passenger carrying civil plane which had been developed into a very useful maritime reconnaissance aircraft. It also became an ideal trainer, in which role it was equipped with dual control, had space for navigation and/or radio desks, an air gunners top turret and even a bomb aimer’s position in it’s nose. Not called upon to fly high, it had a greenhouse of a cabin with large windows on all sides and room enough to move around. It was a perfect plane in which to experience one’s first flight in a service aircraft. We trundled out to the [underlined] other [/underlined] side of that fence along Cold Harbour Lane, turned about and took off. An hour or so later, we came whistling in after a glorious run around the local area. We even thought we could see those poor footsloggers down there in the school quadrangle. The ‘Annie’ may have touched down but I doubt if our feet did for several hours.

Every Thursday afternoon from then onwards, we were shown every possible aspect of a Service Flying Training School’s activities. We were given lectures on the Theory of Flight, Airframe and Aeroengine construction, Meteorology. Air Armament, Air Force History and Law, RAF Command Structure, and the functions of Bomber, Fighter, Coastal and Transport Commands. On the Station Range, we fired Lewis and Vickers Air Guns and learned to strip and reassemble them and clear stoppages. We took over the controls of ‘Annies’ in level flight (mind you, ‘Faithful Annie’ could quite happily fly along in level flight without your help when it was ‘trimmed’ properly) and we did our best to avoid crashing the Link Blind Flying Trainer. We learned to set up the dropping sequence on bomb racks and how to use the current types of bomb sights, how to guide the pilot on a ‘bomb run’ on the AML Bombing Trainers as well as acting as plotter on the Camera Obscura Bombing Trainer.

Although each one of us had been utterly converted to the RAF as a possible career even before we had become Public School’s Air Cadet Wingers, we were determined to show our new friends in Blue that we knew our drill and we ‘Brown Jobs’ could outsmart them anytime. We were of course, something of a curiosity with our khaki and our puttees and the fact that however old and mature we might have felt, we were still outwardly and obviously schoolboys, but we were schoolboys who were being given the VIP treatment.

At the time, we were green enough to take much of this for granted. Later on, as the war escalated, it became a source of wonder how this SFTS, already flat out on desperately needed pilot training, had been able and willing to devote so much time and effort upon who must have appeared to be such mere schoolboys. Much as we would have liked to believe that it had been recognition of our obvious keenness, behind it all must have been some pretty powerful directives from someone or something high up in the Air Ministry.

*From ‘High Flight’ – One of WW2’s best known pieces of poetry, penned by a young fighter pilot learning his trade at RAF Digby.
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Meanwhile the clock had steadily ticked on. It was now early 1939 and for us in the Upper Fifth, the School’s Certificate Examinations were only a few months ahead, and for most of us the end of schooldays perhaps only a month or so after that. Swotting, cramming and mock examination papers ruled our existence. To add to our fears and apprehensions, the clouds of war were also looming ever closer, but at our age, the prospect of war was always a challenge rather than an actual fear.

By the early summer, most people realised that time was running out. In addition to the rearmament programme which now flat out with most of the local factories changing over to munitions and other war essential work, there were quiet moves to call up reservists. The Civil Defence organisation was largely in place and more and more people were to be seen with civilian duty gas masks and tin hats with ‘ARP’, ‘AFS’ and ‘W’ on them, slung over their shoulders. Suitable cellars were being taken over and converted into shelters. There were practices when we all had to don our civilian gas masks and leaflets distributed telling us whereabouts in our homes were the safest places to take cover. Other leaflets and notices in the papers and over the radio told us of the availability of the Anderson Shelters which could be half buried in our gardens, covered over with soil and the turf of the previously cherished lawn. For those without gardens, the Morrison Shelter was also available. This was like a large steel table capable of preventing the family, sheltering beneath it, from being crushed by a collapsing house.

In spite of all this, neither we nor the authorities, local or national, had any clear idea of what to expect if war was declared. Thanks to the appeasement tactics at Munich and the months which followed, Czechoslovakia and then Austria had been occupied by the Nazis, more or less peacefully, thanks to little or no local resistance. Now the Nazi Hate Machine was being directed towards Poland, but it was known that the Poles, however hopeless their resistance might be against the German Blitzkrieg, would not go down without a fight to the death. Both Britain and France finally came to realise that a stand must be made sooner rather than later.
What we could do to help Poland was unknown, but if we did go to their aid, then our fate might well be massive air raids against which we appeared to have little or no significant ability to resist, let alone retaliate.

This then, was the atmosphere in which we came to the end of our last peacetime school term.

We sat our exams and awaited results. To the dismay of the footsloggers, the Army preparations for the 1939 Annual OTC Camp first of all ground to a halt and were then cancelled ‘in the interests of safety’. Not only did the War Office feel that it was unwise to divert the resources of the Regular Army at such a critical time, perhaps the idea of hundreds of schoolboys massed together in a tented camp, might be politically explosive if they were subjected to air attack.

[underlined] The 1939 Public Schools Air Cadet Wing Camp at Selsea Bill [/underlined]

No such disappointment was to be felt by those Lucky Few in the Air Cadet Wing. The RAF, not to be outdone by the Army, had made their plans for an ‘Air Camp’ at the end of July, and much to our glee and anticipation, they had no intention of cancelling [underlined] their camp. [/underlined] Furthermore, it was going to be organised on the basis of ‘Whatever the Army can do, the Air Force can do Bigger and Better’

By now, being very seasoned personnel (or that it [sic] how we viewed ourselves) we were told to kit ourselves out and with RAF Rail Warrants, to make our own way to Portsmouth without an accompanying officer to tell what or what not to do. Compared with our previous year’s journey to Aldershot which was initially, a bit of a ‘rag’, this journey was a much more sober affair. The nearer we got to Portsmouth, the more Service uniforms there seemed to be, and the less of a curiosity we seemed to be.

Although we had been given a very sketchy idea of the week’s programme, we had no real idea of what was in store for us. On the way down we had come into contact with other small parties Portsmouth bound and the mutual sense of anticipation heightened. At Portsmouth Station, RAF transport was awaiting us and we and our kitbags were whisked away to a tented camp at Selsea Bill, a stone’s throw away from the Tangmere RAF Fighter Station.
Here we were met by RAF NCOs who took us to our ‘homes’ for the week. We were no more than four to a tent and in place of the straw filled palliasses we had at Twezledown, we had proper
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Supermarine Southampton

Saro London

Short Sunderland
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Gloster Gladiator

Hawker Fury II

Boulton Paul Defiant

Handley Page Heyford

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley
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Next day (Monday), began the ‘real work’. At Tangmere, our Anson fleet was awaiting us and after kitting up again we took off and in loose formation, flew up towards London to land at RAF Northolt which was the H.Q of Fighter Command at the time. We were lectured on the command structure of Fighter Command, the disposition of the Fighter Groups and their Sector control rooms. We saw the Northolt Operations Room in action against a simulated air attack on London. It was to be some time before we realised that some deliberate vagueness on their part was disguising the exact nature of certain ‘information received’ i.e. our early Radar system. We toured the hangars and examined at close quarters an impressive array of Fighter Command’s aircraft. They ranged from the last of the four gun biplanes such as the Gloster Gladiators and Hawker Furies, to the latest eight gun monoplanes, the Hurricanes and Spitfires, together with the ill fated twin seat Boulton and Paul Defiant with it’s four gun turret, upon which much hopes had been placed, only to find them sitting ducks for the Luftwaffe a year later. We swarmed all over, under and into these and had their details pointed out by enthusiastic pilots and ground crews. Taken round to the firing range we saw a Hurricane, with Merlin engine at full throttle, loose off all it’s eight guns at a target which disappeared most impressively in the blink of an eyelid. After a lunch (fully up to the standard which we now came to expect from the Junior Service) we adjourned to the tarmac. Seated en masse, we were given a thrilling display of formation flying, aerobatics and dogfighting. Being so close to London, the RAF had opened it’s doors to the media, including newsreel cameramen. In 1989, when viewing an episode in the TV series ‘Fifty Years Ago This Week’ there was a short item on this Northolt display under some caption such as ‘Future Fighter Pilots?’ unbeknown to the those [sic] in the foreground, the camera had panned over our massed ranks, and there, a few feet in front of the lens was the King’s School contingent. Frustratingly, it was off the air before I could get my video recorder in action.

It was Bomber Command’s turn the following day. Once again our fleet of ‘Faithful Annies’ were waiting at Tangmere to take us up to Upper Heyford, a bomber station on which a similar display was laid on. Again Bomber Command structure, history and traditions were explained in detail and its aircraft lined up for our inspection. There were the last of the biplanes and the new generation of monoplanes. Many of these were the ones we were beginning to see in the skies over Lincolnshire, but this was the first time we could examine them in detail on the ground. More demonstrations and displays on the ground and for a lucky few a flight in a Wellington, Whitley or a Hampden. I missed out on that one.
Impressive, if not so aerobatically [sic] spectacular was the air display which followed, and with that we ‘emplaned’ for our flight back to Tangmere. This was our last flight in our Ansons.

It was road transport the following morning, through Portsmouth to Southampton. Awaiting us there were RAF Air Sea Rescue boats which took us roaring down Southampton Water, past the Imperial Airways passenger flying boat base to Coastal Command’s seaplane and flying boat base at Calshot. Once again, we were given the full treatment on Coastal’s organisation, duties and aircraft, both land and sea based, (including it’s extensive pigeon lofts) by its air and ground crews. We saw seaplanes and flying boats launched and beached, rescues of ditched crews and plenty of opportunity to examine exteriors and interiors. Of course, since this was the main base for the Schneider Trophy seaplane races which had given Britain three successive World Air Speed Records, we had to learn all about how the Supermarine seaplanes designed by Mitchell, the ‘First of the Few’ had led the way to the design of the Spitfire.

Then, to our delight, we were ferried out in RAF launches to waiting flying boats. Some of us went out to the graceful Sunderlands and the rest to big but still graceful biplane boats, mostly Southamptons, and Londons. Once aboard, moorings were cast and we taxied out into Southampton Water. With engines roaring and impressive bow waves to port and starboard, we were ‘up on the step’and away into the Big Blue Yonder. (It was amazing how well our organisers had got the Met Office to lay on a full week of wonderful weather! – with the exception of one thunderstorm later in the week which caused a slight diversion) These stately beasts, cruising along at one hundred knots or less, enabled us to emerge into the gunners cockpits at the front and rear of their hulls, so that we could look vertically downwards a thousand feet onto the shipping coming up and down Southampton Water and the naval shipping in Portsmouth Harbour. We renewed our aerial acquaintance with the Isle of Wight and the Yachting round Cowes, had another look down to our camp at Selsea, but all too soon, we were ordered to sit ourselves amidships while the monster prepared to land.

When we had taken off, the roar of the four engines and the strangeness of the take off, had largely drowned the hiss of water against the hull. Now with engines throttled back, we were unprepared for
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sound of contact with the sea. For a second or two, we thought we had landed on a shingle beach!

The following morning, only too aware that today was Friday and therefore our last day, we piled aboard our transport again for the short hop across Portsmouth to the Fleet Air Arm base at Lee on Solent. This was at the time when the Navy had not quite completely taken over from the RAF, and the day was to be a kaleidoscope of Fleet Air Arm, RAF and Navy uniforms. One was never quite such at any one point who was exactly running our show, but it was quite obvious that although they were in last wicket, they were certainly not going to be outdone by what we had received at the hands of the RAF over the previous days. Furthermore, they proposed making quite sure that their share of we ‘likely lads’ would, in time, come their way.

Our day was spent looking at Swordfish and Walrus aircraft, together with sessions on ancillary equipment such as torpedoes and airborne mines, catapult gear and aircraft carriers. At nearby Gosport we went round the workshops where the ‘tin fish’ were being serviced and tested and saw divers being trained in the Diving Tanks. Then after a naval lunch we were taken out in navy pinnaces into the Solent to watch a demonstration at fairly close hand, of torpedo dropping. All in place, the first demonstration was to be by a Swordfish (the ‘Stringbag’ to us by now). Down it came with appropriate dignity, and its ‘fish’ was duly launched. According to the experts in charge of our boat, the drop was a perfect one, cleanly entering the water and at the end of its run, floated gently up to the surface ready to be retrieved by one of the other pinnaces.

In distinct contrast to the bumbling Swordfish with its biplane wings, rigging wires, fixed undercarriage and open cockpits, a long sleek monoplane shape came into view from the direction of Southampton Water, with its torpedo neatly slung beneath, looking far more menacing. Our commentator told us that what we were about to see was still on the experimental list. The aircraft was the Vickers Wellesley, the Barnes Wallace predecessor of the Wellington which we had met on the Bomber Command day. Obsolete as a bomber, the Fleet Air Arm has hopes that the Wellesley would be a faster, longer range, shore based torpedo bomber to replace or augment the ageing Swordfish.

It came in fast and low, and down dropped its fish. There was an immediate sharp intake of breath on the part of our matelots as it appeared to enter the water at a queer angle. A second or two later it emerged at an even stranger angle and appeared to do its best to bite the tail off the Wellesley, which departed at high speed. Striking the water tail first, clouds of spray masked what appeared to be two half torpedoes which promptly sank to groans from the navy accompanied by comments generally in the line of “What can you expect from having to use RAF pilots” and “I suppose some poor bugger is going to have to go down tomorrow to fish out the bits”

We were hurriedly returned to shore, bade farewell and transported back to camp. We were told to start packing for our journey home the following morning. We had noticed a lot activity [sic] in the direction of our Mess Tent and were told to keep well clear until called for our evening meal. During the week, the meals in the mornings were generally informal, but we had tended to be more circumspect in the evenings (as befitted our maturity!) Tonight, apparently things would be rather special and we were to appear as smartly turned out as possible. Also, we were to consult a seating plan and when called upon to do so, be prepared to move smartly and without fuss to our allotted places and stand to attention behind our seats.

When the call came, we marched to the Mess Tent by units, where were [sic] met by RAF Mess Waiters who conducted us to our seats where we stood carefully At Ease. The transformation of our mess tent was astonishing. It was now an Officer’s Mess. The tables in front of us had spotless linen tablecloths and serviettes. Precisely positioned cutlery and tableware, was even graced by flowers and in addition to tumblers and carafes of water, each place had a wine glass!

When we were all in place, all two hundred or so, we were called to Attention and the most amazing collection of ‘Top Brass’ from all three Services entered in immaculate Mess Uniforms complete with Medals, Orders and other marks of distinction. They took their places at the top table, and at a nod from the senior officer, we were instructed to take our seats. We were then [underlined] served [/underlined] by mess waiters. It began to dawn upon us that not only had our mess tent been converted into an officer’s mess, but that we were also being treated as at least potential officers, as well as being regarded as guests of the RAF despite our khaki uniforms and obvious immaturity.
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Between courses we were addressed by one or other of the senior officers of the Fighter, Bomber and Coastal Commands and the Fleet Air Arm. They hoped we had enjoyed our week and looked forward to us joining their ranks. Each was respectfully if enthusiastically applauded. We certainly had and we certainly would, if and when.

Finally, the senior officer turned to the ‘civvie’ at his side who was obviously the guest of honour, and announced that he wished to introduce ‘Viscount Norwich’. A whisper had already gone round the table as to his identity. He was better known to the general public as Mr. Duff Cooper,

At this time, perhaps the most controversial political figure apart from Winston Churchill, he hated everything that Hitler and the Nazis stood for and had been at the forefront of the rearmament lobby from the early 1930s. At daggers drawn with the pacifists and the appeasers, he had resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of the Munich Pact. Detested by Chamberlain and his government, he was sidelined with Churchill and branded by the Conservative Press as a ‘War Monger’, but that never stopped him voicing his vociferous opinions on every available occasion..

His address was brief and to the point. After giving us a brief resume of the current political situation and the apparent build up of troops on the Polish frontiers, he launched into an attack on Nazism, finishing with prophetic words on the line of “Gentlemen, within a month we will again be at war with Germany, and this time the survival of Britain will be decided in the air” (He might have been two weeks out with the beginning of the first, but he was dead right a year later about the second, by which time Churchill was back and Duff Cooper became one of Winston’s principal ministers)

Duff Cooper’s speeches were known to be great rabble rousers and he certainly got us to our feet. Whereas the Service officers had been given restrained applause, Duff Cooper sat down to crescendo of cheering and clapping. However, we were all astonished when a chorus of booing came from one quarter. Later, we were to learn that the Oxford University contingent had included a number of members of the ‘Oxford Movement’. This had emerged following a highly controversial debate in the University Debating Society at the time of Munich which passed a motion ‘That this house will not go to war for King and Country’. How and why such opinion had attended this camp would remain a mystery. Maybe they had come ‘just for the lark’, in which case it was a pretty expensive lark for the British Taxpayer.

Order restored, we returned to our tents. It had been a great evening and we were naturally elated, but at the same time we were somewhat subdued. Tomorrow, we would be returning to ‘civvie life’, but we had the feeling that we had heard the last notes of an Overture to War, and most if not all of us would be inextricably drawn into that war. The majority of those who had attended were unquestionably aircrew potential, and in the years that followed, I often wondered how many of them made the ultimate sacrifice.

The following morning, tents empty except for neatly stacked bedding, kitbags full once more, we had our final parade and dismiss, we saluted and thanked our officers. We said good bye to our new friends and wished them good luck. We threw our kitbags into the waiting transport and followed them in. at Portsmouth Station, we ‘entrained’ and all too soon it seemed, our kitbags were upon our shoulders once more as we left Grantham Station, and scattered to our various homes in which it seems, we never stopped talking.

After a week during which we had been treated as officer cadets and responsible adults, it was not easy to drop back into being a mere schoolboy once more, even if it was school holidays. However, following the usual practice of these who had attended Annual Camp, my uniforms would stay at home until the commencement of the new autumn term. These were carefully cleaned, pressed and hung away, but my Air Cadet Wing Brassard, prominently on display on my bedroom shelf, was there to remind me when: “I joined the tumbling mirth of sun split clouds, and did a hundred things you did not dream of” (another quotation from ‘High Flight’). Thinking back then and in the years to follow, I often wondered how much it has all cost and whether the RAF, felt in due time, that they received value from their investment

Incidentally, I have it on record that the camp was visited and inspected by Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Longmore. I cannot remember now the time and circumstances of his visit, whether perhaps he was one of the dignitaries on the top table at our farewell dinner or whether his visit was at some
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other time. In view of the significant part he took in the formation of the Grantham Squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps (which is recounted in the next chapter) it could well be that he was equally significant in the setting up of the Air Cadet Wing. I hope someday, that an inspection of Air Ministry Records might throw some further light on this.

I lost touch with the others who had gone to Selsea. They were all aircrew material and as the only ‘groundhog’, I could well be the only survivor. I must also go back to the school records sometime and find out who, if any, survived. As for the Public School’s Air Cadet Wing, the Selsea camp was most probably its swan song. It could well have died a natural death with the outbreak of war.

My own future was far from clear. I was still dead set on becoming an engineer and now that war seemed imminent, I would be into the RAF as soon as I was old enough and further qualified to do so. There was a 50/50 chance that I might stay on at school in the Sixth until the time came for call up, in which case I would also stay on in the OTC. In the event neither of these came to pass. Naturally I hoped that I would be able to maintain my contact with No. 12 SFTS at Spittlegate. This did happen, though not through the OTC and the PSACW. When it did, it was in very different circumstances.

As will appear in a following chapter, the declaration of war delayed the opening of school until well into the autumn. Eventually, I decided to leave school and start an engineering apprenticeship, This left my ground clear to join the Air Defence Cadet Corps, now well and thriving as its Grantham Squadron, attached to RAF Spittlegate to which I marched as a humble cadet, rather than being picked up by RAF transport and treated as a privileged guest, but that was no grounds for regret.
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[underlined] Chapter Four – The Formation of the Grantham Squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps [/underlined]
(and the appointment of its first Commanding Officer)

August 1939, with my feet firmly on the ground after the Public Schools Air Cadet Wing camp at Selsea Bill, this was for me, a time of indecision. For a great number of my school friends, there was no choice in the matter. They would have to leave school and find a job as did most schoolboys at that time. My closest friends were all sons of RAF officers and would all go on to the Sixth Form and on to higher thinks, but what was I to do?

By now, I was equally determined to become an engineer and if possible to combine this with a career in the RAF as an Engineering Officer. The international situation had now moved firmly from the ‘If’ and ‘When ‘state into the ‘How Soon’ and as August progressed, war seemed to be matter of sooner rather than later. There was no question of me trying to join up immediately – there were far too many records about me, civil and military to show that I was only just about to celebrate my sixteenth birthday. ‘Call Up’ would be a good two years ahead and the war, if it was declared, could well have been decided, one way or the other long before that. In the end it seemed to be the best policy to sit tight and await developments. It would undoubtedly stretch our family resource4s for my parents to grubstake for another year or so in the Sixth Form. In the meantime, until the immediate future seemed a little clearer, when at the beginning of the new school year in September, I would be staying on at school.

What eventually did happen, I will hold over to the next chapter, for what I want to do now is to turn back the clock six months or so, or for that matter even back to the first decade of the 20th century..

There can be very few people around who have not heard of the epic first flight of a powered aircraft by the Wright brothers. Of course there had been nearly a century of unsuccessful attempts before that and people like Lillienthal were becoming quite proficient at building and flying man carrying gliders and box kites as well as the well established mania for constructing and flying lighter than air craft. The man in the street was becoming well aware of the fact that the air was the next great adventure.

To encourage ‘air mindedness’ not only in the mind of the man in the street but also in the minds of influential policy makers and financiers, the year 1908 saw the formation of the Air League of the British Empire. Throughout the First World War and increasingly in the post war years, the Air League campaigned vigorously for Britain to take the lead in all aspects of aeronautics. They supported the ‘air circuses’ like Alan Cobham, the legendary Hendon Air Displays, the RAF Station Open Days, and the later Empire Air Days, all at a time when the disarmament lobby was doing its best to persuade the Government to reduce all the armed forces to a state of impotence.

As already mentioned, in the mid 1930s the Air League formed a Junior Section aimed at giving the maximum encouragement to Britain’s youth. Amongst its various publications one now learned that the Air League was proposing to form an Air Cadet Corps.

News of the setting up of an organisational structure and appointment of senior officers, the design of an appropriate uniform and training programmes, was followed by the announcement that the first Squadrons of the ‘Air Defence Cadet Corps’ had been formed in the London area, to be followed by the formation of other squadrons in the Home Counties. Was there any chance that an ADCC squadron might be formed in a little town like Grantham, and if it were, would I be able to join it?

I think I need to break off at this point and name a few names who will become significant later. Anyone who knows anything of the history of the RAF will know that Air Marshall Lord Hugh Trenchard will forever be remembered as the ‘Father of the RAF’. In the post WW1 years, he collected round him a number of young officers, some of whom had fighting experience in the latter years of the war and had served with some distinction in the course of the RAF’s involvement in the policing of the troublesome territories which had become Britain’s responsibility in the 1920s and 1930s. By the time the clouds of war were again gathering in the 1930s, many of these officers were occupying high rank in the various commands of the RAF both at home and abroad. Others, equally distinguished, had reached retirement age but had not retired from public duty.
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Sir Arthur Longmore was arguably the most influential of the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the Grantham Squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps in 1939, which in 1941 became No.47(F) Squadron of the Air Training Corps, the only ‘Founder’ Squadron on Lincolnshire
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One of the latter was Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Salmond who had been appointed Commandant and Chief Executive of the infant Air Defence Cadet Corps. One of the other officers still in active service was Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Longmore. Amongst the many ‘cornerstones’ of the early RAF attributable to Lord Trenchard was the setting up of the RAF College at Cranwell and the College’s third Commandant was Arthur Longmore, who on his appointment took up residence in Grantham where he and his wife quickly became involved in Grantham affairs. However by 1938, Sir Arthur Longmore was O.i/c RAF Middle East but that did not prevent him, when on leave, from continuing to interest himself in the wellbeing of Grantham, and when he was not at home, Lady Longmore was just as dedicated.

I now need to introduce another name who was crucial to the formation of the Grantham ADCC Squadron. Stanley Foster was a successful Grantham businessman, young and active and much involved with Grantham affairs. He was soon elected to the Grantham Town Council and in the 1938 to 1939 Mayoral Year was elected Mayor. Over the years he undoubtedly had much contact with the Longmores, and it would appear that Sir Arthur, well aware of the activities of his erstwhile service colleague who was now Commandant of the ADCC, had suggested to Stan Foster that the possible formation of a Cadet Squadron would be a desirable thing for the youth of Grantham.

Today, the Air Training Corps is very much a part of the RAF and as such it is almost completely funded from the RAF budget, but the Air Defence Cadet Corps before it became the ATC in 1941, was entirely a voluntary organisation. True, almost immediately a squadron was formed, the local RAF gave considerable material help, but a new squadron depended almost entirely upon local sponsorship, donations, subscriptions and fundraising to pay for rental and maintenance of its headquarters, administration, provision of uniforms and other running expenses. It was vital therefore that a well publicised inaugural meeting needed to be held to drum up a considerable level of local support. With this in mind, the Grantham Journal reported in its 7th January 1939 edition that such a meeting was to be held on the following Monday, and for those interested, an ADCC uniform would be on display in the Grantham Gas Company’s showroom.

And so it came to pass, as the saying goes, that on the 10th of January 1939 an inaugural meeting was held in Grantham’s Guildhall, and the Grantham Journal on the following Friday gave a lengthy report on its proceedings. Upon the stage in front of considerable audience of local celebrities, townsfolk and would be recruits, sat an impressive array of ‘top brass’. Centre stage was Stan Foster in full Mayoral Insignia and flanking him was Sir Arthur and Lady Longmore, who in their turn had brought along Sir John Salmond, Commandant and Captain Hazelwood, Area Organiser of the ADCC

In turn each spoke of the desirability of forming a Cadet Squadron and gave an outline of its likely aims and aspirations, whereupon the Chair called for a show of hands to approve the proposed formation. (Carried Unanimously). Next Stan Foster called for generous financial support and within a short time £89 was promised (quite a lot of money in those days) enough to get things moving.

The next item on the agenda was the appointment of Squadron Officers and it is at this point that i [sic] must again break off the narrative to record my own personal involvement in this meeting and that of my father. At the time of this meeting I was still in the King’s School OTC. although nominally I was still a ‘P.B. Infantryman’, I had already been seconded to the Public School’s Air Cadet Wing section. Also it was also in my penultimate term before sitting my School’s Certificate/Matriculations examinations. In spite of this I was determined to attend the meeting whether or not I would be allowed to join. However, my hands would be firmly handcuffed in a manner of speaking.

Recently, we had had a change of Headmasters, in place of the previous somewhat liberally minded head, we now had a rather straightlaced, rather narrow minded, disciplinarian who was determined to uphold the King’s Grammar School image. In spite of the fact that the majority of his pupils were sons of ordinary town and country folk, he did his best to establish a ‘Town and Gown’ separation of the activities within the school and those of the world outside. As we have seen it was usual and expected that at the age of twelve the ‘normal’ pupil would join the OTC. However, if a given pupil’s parents objected to the ‘militarisation’ of their son, he was allowed to opt out and join the ‘gardening brigade’ on Thursday afternoons, but they were nevertheless considered ‘second class citizens’. Out of school, a boy might join the Scouts but this again was somewhat discouraged.

When the idea of the formation of the Air Cadet squadron was mooted, he came down with a firm edict – no King’s School pupil was permitted to join the ADCC if he was already in the OTC. This effectively tied one of my hands!
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Mayor-Elect of Grantham, 1938-9

Councillor ‘Stan’ was one of the most popular and enthusiastic Mayors of Grantham in the 1930s and 1940s, and it was during his time as Mayor in 1938 that he was instrumental in the staging of the inaugural meeting in the January of that year which led to the formation of the Grantham Squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps. He not only chaired that meeting, became an enthusiastic member of it’s subsequently appoined [sic] steering committee but also ensured that the Squadron enjoyed the full support of the Borough Council. Accordingly he has every right to be regarded as one of our principal ‘Founding Fathers’.
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My father’s outlook was equally firm. For a number of years matters aeronautical had tended to occupy a higher priority for me than my schooling, in spite of a sudden new found determination to catch up lost ground, I still had a lot of lost ground to catch up. My father’s foot went down firmly – “Your Matric Exams are coming up in a few month’s time and you are already in the Public Schools Air Cadet Wing. No way will you be allowed to join anything else. Subject closed!”

“But I still want to go to the meeting to find out what it is all about”
“All right then, but only if I go along with you to make sure that you don’t do anything silly and get yourself signed up” – And so we both went!

In view of what was to happen next, it would be appropriate to outline my father’s previous history. Philip Stevenson was born in Grantham in 1895 and was educated at the Sedgebrook Grammar School which later merged with the King’s School. After leaving school he spent a year or so as a cub reporter with his father who was a journalist and branch manager of the Nottingham Guardian Group. Aged nineteen at the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, following the patriotic fervour of the time, he immediately volunteered for the Army, eventually joining the Seaforth Highlanders. After infantry training in Scotland, his Battalion was sent over to France where he took part in the battles during the retreat from Mons during which he was slightly wounded and received his first ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’. Returning to the Front he survived the various skirmishes during the winter of 1914/15, but when the Spring offensives flared up, he was seriously wounded in the battle of Neuve Chappelle. Invalided home with a further ‘Mention in Despatches’, the award of the Meritorious Service Medal and the Mons Star, he spent the next eighteen months in various military and convalescent hospitals in the Harrogate area. Assigned to light duties he was seconded to the Headquarters Staff of the Ripon Reserve Training Establishment, one of the largest Army training setups in the country at the time, responsible for the infantry training of some twenty six thousand recruits per annum. There he quickly made his mark, was promoted Sergeant and became Personal Assistant to the Commanding Officer.

Demobbed, all the ‘Land Fit for Heroes’ could offer him by way of a job was clerk to the Grantham Borough Police Force which in the 1920s boasted a Chief Constable, two Sergeants and ten constables to provide a 24/365 service for the good people of Grantham! A dead end job, he stuck this for several years but by 1927, married with a young son, he decided to try for a better life in the United States. However before he could bring his family over to join him, all his available capital was lost in the Wall Street crash and it took him nearly a year to save enough money to pay for his ticket home. When he eventually arrived back in Grantham, he did have something in his favour. In the States he had become a quite proficient ‘hard sell’ car salesman and it was not long before he managed to get a job as salesman to the local Ford dealer. In spite of the deepening depression of the early 1930s, he was able to make quite a few successful ‘sells’, particularly to the local RAF personnel (who seemed to be the only sector of the community with money to spend on cars!) During the course of these negotiations he got to know quite a few of the RAF officers at RAF Spittlegate/Grantham, the new No.5 Bomber Group Headquarters and at RAF Cranwell. Significantly, these included Sir Arthur Longmore who, succumbing to Philip Stevenson’s powers of persuasion, ‘bought Ford’, and it would appear that during sundry conversations, Sir Arthur learned quite a bit about Philip Stevenson’s past military history and experience.

So, back to the inaugural meeting and the point in the agenda where officers for the new cadet unit were to be appointed. Obviously the first of these would have to be a Commanding Officer. Before anyone else could start to nominate somebody, Sir Arthur, pointing to my father said “Mr Stevenson is our obvious choice. He has all the necessary military administrative experience we need”. (Or words to that effect – this was nearly seventy years ago). Point taken. Carried unanimously. Signs of embarrassment on the part of my father but, since I had noticed that as the previous proceedings had obviously aroused in him more than a little interest, he accepted his nomination with creditable alacrity.

Further nominations and volunteering filled the remaining vacancies for Adjutant and the four flight commanders which our possible cadet roll could justify, and the final item on the agenda was the enrolment of recruits. The audience certainly contained a high proportion of hopefuls and these formed an orderly if excited queue at the desk set aside for the purpose. Prominent amongst these was the first cadet already in uniform. For the purpose of the meeting, the uniform which had been on display in the town had been adorning the body of Tony Teague, who I suppose can be considered as Grantham’s first ADCC cadet.
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As the Grantham Journal reported the following Friday, the evening’s activities resulted in the initial recruitment of 45 cadets. The new squadron’s strength might now be six officers and forty five cadets amongst whom would be found Mr. P.P.L. Stevenson – Commanding Officer, but sadly and frustratingly, not Peter D. Stevenson amongst the enlisted recruits.

My father and I had much talk about on the way home and over the next few days.

The Grantham Journal really took us to heart and practically every issue from the [sic] on contained news of the increasing tempo of the new squadron’s activities. In the January 14th edition they not only reported at length the inaugural meeting but also included a picture of Sir John Salmond, Sir Arthur and Lady Longmore, and Stan Foster. The following week they reported that the subscription list had doubled to £167. On the 28th January there was a report on a meeting at Elsham House, the Longmore’s home, during which a support committee was formed, Messrs Stevenson and Ruxton were officially appointed Commanding Officer and Adjutant respectively.

On the 4th February it was reported that ADCC Headquarters had officially confirmed the setting up of the Grantham Squadron and the official appointment of Cadet Squadron Leader P.P.L. Stevenson as Commanding Officer, Cadet Flight Lieutenants A. Chapman, F.F. Hall, I.G. Smith and G. Widdowson as Flight Commanders. It was also reported that a Headquarters building had been secured. (This was the Victorian town house building on St. Peters Hill next door to the General Post Office which was to be the home of the Grantham Squadron throughout the war years. It had been unoccupied for a number of years and had the advantage of having a useful number of large and small rooms as well as the remains of a large walled garden which, when cleared, made a useful Parade Ground)

On February 11th, the Journal reported that the Squadron had been officially affiliated to No.12 SFTS at RAF Spittlegate. The 25th February edition published a photograph of recruits being medically examined, and that 48 cadets had now been accepted and fully enrolled. The first batch of uniforms had been ordered, the first lectures had taken place, and a first party of cadets had visited No.12 STFS at Spittlegate.

I am not sure now at what point in time another very important personage joined the ranks of the new squadron. Fred Dawson was an ex-Coldstream Guards Sergeant who had a most impressive list of accomplishments of value to our Squadron. In addition to being an excellent drill instructor, he had in his time been a Physical Training Instructor, Army Boxing Champion and coach, a Black Belt Judo Instructor, a born leader with a genuine interest in bringing out the best in boys. For all that, he was not exactly the easiest person to get on with and had a short fuse when it came to suffering fools gladly. Anyway, he very soon made his presence felt, instructing cadets and officers alike in the niceties of foot drill and soon sorted out a short list of cadets who were potential N.C.O. material. Originally titled ‘Sergeant Major’ in the A.D.C.C. days, he became Cadet Warrant Officer when the A.D.C.C. became the Air Training Corps in 1941. Following the age old traditions of Sergeant Majors and Warrant Officers, he soon took upon himself the aura and responsibility of the second most important person after the Commanding Officer (with whom he reserved the right to disagree forcibly if he felt the circumstances warranted). He served with the Squadron until 1943 when he got at cross purposes with the C.O. over something or other, whereupon he thumped in his resignation. However, when the war ended and the Squadron had a new C.O., he once again became ‘S.W.O.’ for a further spell of duty.

On April 22nd 1939, the first picture of the cadets in uniform was published together with one showing the complete squadron on parade on the Grantham Cricket Ground.

By this time, the Squadron had be [sic] officially numbered No.47. At A.D.C.C. Headquarters back in 1938 had decided that all the Squadrons which had come into being in that year would be designated ‘Founder’ Squadrons. In the event, the number of squadrons which had actually been formed before the year’s end just fell short of the magic number ‘50’, so the powers that be relented and awarded coveted (F) to the first fifty, and Grantham at No.47 just scraped in and to this day proudly calls itself No.47(F) – the only (F) Squadron in Lincolnshire.
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The Squadron was now well up and running and all through that last summer before the outbreak of war, squadron progress and achievements was steady and noteworthy.
On June 3rd, the Squadron proudly presented itself in Ceremonial Order for inspection by Sir Arthur Longmore. ‘Father of the Squadron’, no doubt having been kept fully informed by Lady Longmore who had worked tirelessly in the background supporting and encouraging ‘her’ squadron!

Regrettably however I was, during these formative months a watcher from the wings. However at least I had the Commanding Officer across the dinner table who was able to give me a daily running commentary on the way things were shaping up. of course I was as jealous as hell, not being able to join in with all the ‘fun and games’, but my father, with his Commanding Officer’s hat on, was quite adamant that I would not be able to take part in any way in Squadron activities until I was entirely free to join as a normally recruited and enrolled cadet. That of course could not be until I had left school, the O.T.C. (and the Public School’s Air Cadet Wing and passed my terminal examinations – he had a point!

So far as the Squadron was concerned, perhaps the high point of that summer’s activity was when a small and favoured group of cadets went over to Great Hucklow in Derbyshire a [sic] had a week’s gliding camp. Naturally I envied them greatly but was more than compensated by the stupendous time I was having at the same time at the Selsea Bill camp.

It is all a long time ago now and any of those teenage cadets who may be still alive today, are now in their eighties! My great hope is that one day I can locate one of those first A.D.C.C. Cadets who can still remember those early days and fill in the gaps in my narrative.
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[underlined] THE HEADQUARTERS OF No.47(F) Sq. ADCC/ATC on St. Peter’s Hill, Grantham [/underlined]
[underlined] GRANTHAM BOROUGH COAT OF ARMS [/underlined]
[underlined] AIR LEAGUE OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE MOTIF [/underlined]
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[underlined] Chapter Five – ARP Messenger P.D. Stevenson. ‘Goes to War’ [/underlined]

Several times in previous chapters I have referred to the ‘Phoney War’, that period from the declaration of war by the Allies on September 3rd 1939 and the Spring of 1940 when the ‘Hot War’ started with the invasion of Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France by the Nazis. How did this affect us down at ground level in Grantham?

Through the dark days of 1938 and early 1939, against a programme of appeasement on our side, Hitler had progressively occupied country after country without serious opposition by means of apparently overwhelming strength of arms. Then, in August 1939, he invaded Poland and for the first time came up against real and fanatically dedicated opposition, in spite of the relative weakness of the Polish Army and Air Force.

Propaganda films from Germany had got us used to seeing superbly equipped and disciplined German troops goosestepping into whichever country he chose. Now we saw in the newsreel and newspaper stills, these troops in action, backed up by dive bombing and ground strafing by the Luftwaffe, and began to realise what ‘Blitzkrieg’ really meant in practice. We saw what the cost was to the Poles, but what we did not know, was the price paid by the Germans.

Many, if not most people in Britain honestly believed that this ‘Blitzkrieg’ would be immediately called down upon us as soon as we declared war in honour of our recent pact with Poland. We felt we had good reason to be worried in Grantham. For a start, it was an important communications centre. The A1 passed right through the centre of the town and at one point it was so narrow that a single bomb could block it completely. At three other points it passed over or under the main east coast railway line and again at these points, a single bomb could block both lines of communication. It was also a principal junction point in the rail network with important branch lines to the east, north and west.

At that time Grantham also had a considerable military significance. Spittlegate Airfield, a mere mile or so from the centre of the town had been an important air base since WW1. It was now the hope of an important flying training school, operating round the clock to train up pilots for future combat and it has a satellite airfield a mile or so away on the opposite hilltop, also flying round the clock. In 1936, a large house and grounds in the south east of the town had become the headquarters of Bomber Command’s No.5 Group which was to become a legend in the bomber offensives later on in the war. All these facts, we felt sure, were well known to the Luftwaffe.

Grantham was still a very important heavy engineering industrial town with a considerable potential for the production of war material to which it had been rapidly changing over the past year or so. The main factories were largely concentrated in the south of the town and were surrounded by large concentrations of their workers houses.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a very modern highly equipped factory ‘British Manufacturing and Research Co. Ltd’ (BMARC) or ‘Marcos’ to the locals) had been built to mass produce the Hispanio Suiza 20mm aircraft cannon and it’s ammunition. At this time this was the only cannon factory in the U.K. and would be forever famous for it’s part in the forthcoming Battle of Britain and the subsequent air battles.

Therefore, we were quite sure that Grantham, as a primary strategic target, would receive early attention from the Luftwaffe, and although it did not do so the day war broke out, we did not think that we would have long to wait.

Now that the subject of air raids has been introduced, it might be well to digress a little onto the subject of air raid warnings, since these were to intrude so frequently into both our public and private lives.

In those very early and rudimentary days of Radar, then known as ‘R.D.F.’ or ‘Radio Direction Finding’, a chain of large signals stations along the east and south coasts were set up, each with four huge aerial pylons and associated buildings. One of these pylons still stands at Stenigot on the top of the Lincolnshire Wolds.
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These ‘Chain Home’ stations could relay back warnings of the approach of enemy aircraft to the Fighter Command Group Headquarters who in turn would alert the ARP organisations in the threatened areas. These radar stations could only face out to sea and could not detect aircraft which had passed behind them. The responsibility of keeping a track on them now passed on to the Royal Observers Corps who would similarly keep Fighter Command, and thus the ARP, fully informed.

From the Munich Crisis in 1938 onwards, Civil Defence had been progressively stepped up. starting with the hopefully reassuring issue of gas masks to the setting up of Wardens, Casualty and Rescue, Demolition, Gas Detection and Decontamination, Evacuation, Emergency Shelter and Feeding organisations and teams, ARP had moved on in the last months of peace to the sandbagging of key buildings and the provision of public air raid shelters. The general public were also encouraged to build their own shelters. Many thousands of kits to build the earth covered Anderson Shelters (which could be built in one’s back garden) or the steel table like Morrison Shelters which could replace the dining table indoors if one did not have a suitable garden area.

With the approach of war, the ‘soundscape’ of Grantham had also changed significantly. The starting and stopping times of the shift workers in the various factories had for more than a century, been announced by a great variety of steam or compressed air whistles, horns, hooters and even the occasional bell. (If we were temporarily transmitted back to the Nineteen Thirties, we might well be astonished at the amount of whistling and hooting which went on at certain times of the day!) It might also be remembered that the Great Depression was but a few years back and that in spite of the urgent rearmament programme, we had not yet reached full employment. The shop foreman’s authority was still absolute and he could sack you on the sport [sic] if you were a few minute’s late more than once a week. If you were a factory worker, your life was indeed ruled by the factory’s hooter. For the matter, most of the townsfolk measured the passing of the day by the hearing of the various hooters rather than looking at the Town Hall Clock or looking at your pocket watch.

As Grantham geared up for war, these were all ‘grounded for the duration’ so far as the workers were concerned. ‘Marcos’ had been the first and only factory to have installed a ‘new fangled’ American style electric siren, which is now forever remembered as the wartime ‘Wailing Willie’. Until such time as others were installed elsewhere in the town, this would be our first warning that enemy aircraft had been detected crossing the coast. This ‘General Alert’ state would exist until the Observer Corps reported that the enemy were now within twenty five miles of the town. Then one of the steam hooters in one of the factories would sound off a number of blasts. This was the signal for all and sundry to drop everything and dive for the shelters. These blasts were promptly christened ‘The Pips’ and for the next few years would rule our lives also. So much so that at the end of the war, all factory hooters and sirens were banished from our lives and only the sirens were retained as flood warnings and other civil emergencies.

All this and other ARP procedures had been exercised on quite a number of occasions before war was declared, as well as preparations for a total ‘Blackout’. On that fateful day of Saturday 3th, all street lights and other exterior lighting was extinguished until the threat of air raids ended nearly five years later. Millions of yards of black cloth blackout curtaining had been issued or purchased and blackout screens constructed, so that no chink of light could aid the marauding bomber crews. All car, lorry, bus and even cycle lights had to be fitted with hoods so that the light could not be seen above waist level. If you had a torch, then it could only be shone downwards and the Warden came down on you with a ton of bricks if you lit a cigarette or pipe without a shaded match!

A somewhat lengthy digression perhaps, but appropriate to what is to follow for now we come to that fateful day. One of the corner stones of my career as an engineer was undoubtedly Edward Elms. He had been the head of army apprentice training in WW1 and in the 1920s, during which time he had been Commissioned and had attained the rank of Captain before returning to ‘civvy street’. In the mid 1930s he had joined the teaching staff of the King’s School. Up to that time the Kings had been a typical Grammar School accepting the need to teach Physics and Chemistry and, for the less technical, Biology. Reluctant acknowledging the fact that the majority of it’s pupils would never go on to University and that most likely a goodly proportion of them would go into the town’s industries, it had been decided upon high that the school would break from tradition and build a build a craft workshop in which the (regrettably) technically minded amongst it’s boys could learn the rudiments of wood and metal working and technical drawing.
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Though he was officially referred to as ‘Captain Elms’, having a head of dead white hair, to us he was always ‘Snowy’. He was always a strict disciplinarian while on duty and could have a short fuse at times, but he soon became a hero to those who worked in well with him and measured up to his high standards of workmanship. By 1939 I was his willing slave and allowed great freedom of action in his workshop. As the most practically minded of the masters, he soon became ‘Mr. Fixit’ and we did many extra curricular jobs together. It was not surprising therefore that when Snowy stated that he had bought a set of Anderson Shelter bits and pieces, we were both to be found in his back garden creating havoc on his cherished lawn. We had reached the point where the appropriately shaped hole had been dug, the soil stacked nearby and a start made on the assembly of the corrugated iron pieces, when Mrs. Elms came out to say that Mr. Chamberlain was to [sic] about to make an important announcement on the ‘wireless’. We listened in silence as he made that now famous speech which ended with the fateful words “….and it is my duty to say to you, that a state of war now exists between Great Britain and Germany”. Snowy broke the ensuing silence with “I suppose we had better get it finished”, so back we went into the garden.

We had not been working long before Mrs. Elms came out again to say that her father was on the line and wanted him urgently. Now, it might be said that Snowy’s wife happened to be the daughter of the District Council’s Director of Education. Be that as it may, the fact was that the said Director of Education was also now something high up in the Civil Defence for the area. It would now appear that the Civil Defence people had realised that if the Luftwaffe decided to have a go at Grantham’s industries, the main telephone exchange was well in the line of fire. If it got knocked out of action, communication would be lost between the Civil Defence Headquarters and the various ARP Posts around the town.

The gist of the message was, could Snowy organise ASAP a corps of ‘likely lads’ to act as ARP Messengers who could carry essential messages through Hell and High Water if the phones went dead. He came out into the garden with an urgent expression on his face.

“Drop everything” (or words to that effect) “Get on your bike and find as many boys over sixteen as you can and tell them to report to me. While you are doing that, I will find out how many the HQ and the Posts want messengers. As the boys come in, I will allocate them and arrange for the necessary kit. Oh, and by the way, you are Number One”

There followed a hectic day. I was able to contact a number of erstwhile Fifth Formers who were either waiting for the school to reopen or, having left, had not yet started work. In addition, I was able to contact a number of ADCC Cadets who were over sixteen and would be willing to ‘work nights’ as ARP Messengers. Suffice it to say that by nightfall, we had a messenger in each of the ARP posts and several at the ARP Headquarters, and in the days which followed, we were able to recruit enough to give each Messenger ‘three nights on and one night off’. All that remained was to wait for the action to begin.

We found that a goodly proportion of the ARP Posts were situated either in the outbuildings of pubs or not far away from one (Surprise, surprise!). I was not all that pleased to find that Snowy had allocated me to the Post nearest to his home and that too was in the back building of a pub. In compensation though, Messengers were to be paid, not a great amount, but better than what I got when I started as an engineering apprentice a month or two later.

Although later we were to have armbands and tin hats with ‘M’ upon them, that first night we would have no distinguishing marks, so it was decided that where we had a uniform, we should wear it. At nightfall I made my way across town and up the hill to my allotted post wearing my OTC uniform but now equipped with a tin hat and a civilian duty gas mask, basic rations for the night and feeling very official and ready for the worst. Having reported to the Head Warden of this particular post, an outbuilding more or less unrecognisable under hundreds of sandbags, I was given a quick tour of it’s layout and equipment. Warden’s gear, gas detection and decontamination, search, rescue and demolition gear, first aid gear, stretchers, blackout and gas screens and bunks for those who were not outside on duty.

Following this was a load of information on the organisation of the ARP at Post and Sector Level and communication with the ARP Headquarters in the Guildhall.
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This had all taken some time and we, that is the Head Warden and his No.2 (who was on duty that night) and myself, had no sooner sorted out who was going to be on standby and who could kip down on the bunks for a while, when our first ‘Distant Alert’ was sounded. Marco’s ‘Wailing Willie’ sounded for real for the first time and the heartbeat of Grantham started to flutter.

There have been many stories of the air raid warnings which sounded off in the London area not long after Chamberlain had finished his announcement. In Grantham we missed these, which we blamed on jittery fingers down south, but for all that, we felt sure that Grantham would get a right pasting much sooner than later.

The phone started ringing and we all started putting our gas masks and tin hats ‘at the ready’, trying hard to disguise our own flutters. A few minutes later, breathless figures were heard pushing their was [sic] through the blackout screens. Having reported and collected their gear, they left for their dispersal and patrol areas.

After a brief pause, we were then presented with our first casualty. The curtains parted and a helmeted figure wearing a gas mask, staggered into the room, collided with an equipment stand, collapsed on the ground and passed out cold! We stretched him out, removed his sweat soaked facepiece. Gasping for air, and much to our relief, he began to revive. The face began to resume a normal colour but for all that, the Head Warden did not like the looks of him and called for an ambulance to take him off to the local hospital. It later transpired that he, a fairly corpulent man in his fifties, had immediately donned his gas mask when the siren had sounded and had started to cycle furiously up the steep hill which led up to the ARP Post. Furthermore, he had neglected to soap the inside of his gas mask visor so that within minutes his perspiration had completely fogged his vision. In the blackout, he had collided with the kerb several times and come a cropper each time. a small incident perhaps amongst the thousands of more dramatic ones which would happen in Grantham over the next year or two, but remembered long after we had become inured to shocks and surprises.

On this occasion too, this was a false alarm. The All Clear was sounded shortly afterwards, the Wardens reported back, took off their gear and departed thankfully if uneasily, and we went to our bunks for the rest of the night.

The night flying aircraft from the Flying Training School and the nearby Bomber Command bases which had been hurredly [sic] grounded, were soon aloft again which, in a way was reassuring as the silence before the All Clear had been uncanny. For months now, only very bad weather had given us a night free from aircraft noise. This silence, if only for a short while on an otherwise fine night, had brought up all ears, straining to detect a different engine note.

In the nights and weeks which followed, we had quite a number of General Alerts and a few ‘Pips’ which caused an even greater straining of ears.. [sic] With the urgency upon us to train up every available pilot, the RAF decided to fly on during General Alerts and only ground their aircraft during the most likely of the Local Alerts. With the sky full of circling Ansons, Oxfords, Battles, Harvards Trainers, and Hampden Bombers, it was next to impossible to sort out the odd Ju88, Dornier or Heinkel. Many of these alerts would be merely precautionary but there were quite a few genuine intrusions as ‘Jerry’ probed our defences in the same way as we were probing his. Although there had been by this time, quite a few daylight incidents by and on both sides, as yet the air war at night had not developed into the holocaust we had been led to believe. There had been a tacit reluctance on both sides to accept responsibility for being the first to cause civilian casualties.

As September drifted into October, the ‘Phoney War Blues” began to creep in. as false alarm followed false alarm, sheer inactivity began to erode the initial high morale and dedication of the first few days and destroy the underlying sense of purpose. Some of the Wardens on duty soon discovered that the landlord of the adjacent pub was not averse to leaving his back door open after closing time. On a number of occasions I had to do a quick cover up job when, as being apparently the only one on duty, I had to ‘go fetch from the toilet’ or whatever when some senior ARP man or the police made an unscheduled visit. There were occasions when I wondered if the Wardens were going to be capable of coordinating their own movements let alone those of the sector wardens if the sirens went.
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Sometimes we only just made up our team of Wardens as some of them had drifted off to other jobs. The Messengers too began to drift away. By the beginning of October, there was talk of the schools opening again and the sixteen year olds who had been planning either to go back to their Sixth Form or to find jobs began handing in their notices. I was beginning to feel restless too. On a number of occasions I felt sure that I had been sent off on a fool’s errand just to prove to Headquarters that someone was on duty at the Post.

In the meantime, I had being [sic] doing quite a bit of research. Part of this was into what the RAF expected of me when the time came for me to register for military service and partly into what I could do constructively with the year and a quarter which intervened. When the time came for the school to reopen, I had already decided that, since the University route to engineering qualification was now ‘closed for the duration’, another year or so in the Sixth would serve no useful purpose. It became obvious that making a good start on an engineering apprenticeship combined with the Ordinary and Higher National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering courses which would eventually lead on to Corporate Membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, would be a good bargaining point when it came to my appearance before the appropriate Selection Board.

So, where to start. There was still no sign of the local Technical Institute opening. This would be the bottom rung of the National Certificate course, but at least I could do something about starting and [sic] apprenticeship with one of the local engineering firms.

At that time, Grantham had three major engineering concerns and a number of smaller ones. Of the former, Marcos were out for a start. Flat out, working three shifts, seven days per week, all they wanted were unskilled machine operators and assemblers. If you started with them, you would be put on a machine and once you had mastered it they would clap a ‘Reserved Occupation’ order on you and you would be stuck on that machine for the rest of the war. They didn’t want the bother of apprentices.

The other two big companies were of world fame as fine engineers and had very sound apprenticeship schemes, but by early October their apprentice intake was already full and as soon as they heard of my ambition to go into the RAF as soon as they would have me, they firmly showed me the door.

This left the smaller companies. One of them again had a good apprentice programme but this too was already full.. I began to despair, but at this point my father stepped in to take a hand. A friend of his was the Chief Engineer of a small American firm making coal mining machinery. Admittedly they only had an assembly shop with a few simple machines. They had no facilities for the other manufacturing processes in which practical experience was necessary for eventual qualification. Following a successful interview with him, he agreed to take me on as an apprentice draughtsman for the couple of years or so before my callup. (Of course, as in the case of the First War, there were still a large number of people who blithely believed in the old ‘Over before Christmas’ nonsense, but most people were resigned to the fact that we were most probably facing up to a long hard fight which we had only just started)

At first I was none too enthusiastic. Although by this time, having been taken round the workshops, met the Foreman and seen the product, and had got a fair idea of what the company stood for, I was still ‘Johnny, Head in Air’. Later on in the war in a dramatic semi-documentary film about the RAF and the families involved in it, there featured one of the most famous little poems of the war. It started with the two lines:-
Do not despair for Johnny Head in Air,
He sleeps as sound as Johnny Underground
Now for me, Johnny Head in Air, you could not get anything so Johnny Underground as a Coalcutter. However, it seemed as good a place to start as any, and so a starting date was agreed upon, and I went away to ‘put my affairs in order’

My first job was to hand in my notice as an ARP Messenger. I was not popular and made to work my week out. I was no longer a Messenger.
My next job was to go to my OTC Commanding Officer and tell him that I had decided to leave school and therefore would no longer be one of his NCOs and therefore may I hand over my OTC uniforms and the other equipment. Expressions of regret and offerings of good wishes.
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I then went to Snowy Elms to tell him that I was not only leaving the Messengers but I was also leaving school. Even more expressions of regret and more good wishes.
Next to the school office to say that I would not be coming back to school when they decided to open again. My departure suitably recorded. I was no longer a schoolboy. I was instructed to white to the HQ of the Public School’s Air Cadet Wing to say that, having left school, I was therefore no longer in that organisation. (I never got a reply so I assumed that it had died a natural death with the outbreak of war) I was no longer a PSACW Cadet.

Having done all that, I paused for breath and asked myself what was left? The answer was that I was now a mere sixteen year old ‘civvy’ waiting to start off as an apprentice next Monday morning at 7.30 am sharp. (What happened then is, of course, quite another story)

But, and it was a big but, [underlined] I was now free to free to join the Grantham Squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps! [/underlined] And that is a matter for the next chapter.
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[underlined] Chapter Six I Join No.47(F) Grantham Squadron Air Defence Cadet Corps [/underlined]

By the Autumn of 1939, the Squadron had been in existence for some eight months and had become a smart, well disciplined and well organised unit. Basic training was well advanced and the roll count had passed the hundred mark. A few of its cadets had already registered for military service and there had been a few changes in the command structure as one or two officers had been called up. In addition to the officers, the squadron had a number of civilian instructors, notable amongst whom was one of the principal civilian signals instructors from the Radio School at Cranwell. He was to serve us faithfully through all the war years, and the name ‘Betts’ was to be ever associated with the ‘beeping’ of morse buzzers which seemed to be a constant background to our evening parades.

Our association with RAF Spittlegate had, over the months, become very close and practically every parade saw at least of one of their instructors down at our Headquarters holding forth on a wide variety of subjects. Every Sunday morning too, a strong contingent of cadets would be seen marching through the town and up the hill to the airfield. Once there, the various ‘trades’ would disperse to the hangars or instruction rooms and by this time most cadets had had their first flip’, especially those who had opted for and been accepted for aircrew when the time came for their callup. These were taken off to Navigation rooms, the Meteorology section, parachute packing etc., and many of the Ansons, Oxfords and Blenheims, away on navigation exercises would have a cadet on board glued to the windows and their air maps.

At Headquarters, most rooms were now plastered with wall charts and model aircraft hung from the ceilings. Now that war had been declared, most of the windows were painted out of fitted with blackout screens or curtains. However, by the time I joined, most people had got used to gloom and groping around in the semi dark. The Orderly Room buzzed and the neighbours got used to the yells of command from the parade ground to the rear of the building. The Town also got used to seeing the blue of the ADCC uniform both as the cadets made their way to HQ for parades and also marching parties ‘showing the flag’. We were still heavily dependent upon the support of the townspeople’s subscriptions and donations for most of our running expenses. In this respect the support committee, headed tirelessly by Lady Longmore, the Mayor (Stan Foster) and the others who had formed the guiding committee when the Squadron was formed in January, worked away in the background.

It might have been noticed that the possessive ‘our’ had crept into this account. My father, who was of course, the Squadron’s Commanding Officer (and was very proud of how the Squadron had developed), talked much at home of all the doings at ‘Cadets’, Nevertheless he had been quite adamant that I should take no part in its activities until such time as I could join it officially. I suppose we had both known that in time I would join the Squadron, but although as yet I had not done so, we both felt that 47(F) was [underlined] our squadron. [/underlined]

Well, I had sat and passed my Matriculation exam in July and had left school, so there would be no more examinations to sit until the end of the Technical Institute’s terminal examinations next summer, the war permitting of course. I was no longer in the OTC or the Air Cadet Wing for that matter. I had left the Messengers and was now waiting to start my engineering apprenticeship and my night school studies. So, there was apparently no reason why I should not join the Air Defence Cadet Corps. There was, however one problem which had to be thrashed out before there was any talk of me signing up.

The problem was that I was the Commanding Officer’s son. As soon as I made it known that I was now free and keen to join, my father had made a point of discussing it with his officers.
He now made it quite plain to me that I would only be allowed to join on the strict understanding on all sides, and mine in particular, that I did so as an ordinary cadet. I would have no rank and no privileges, given or expected, until such time as I had earned commendation and recommendation for promotion. Furthermore such recommendations must come from other officers than the C.O. and only after such time as I had passed my basic training requirements and there was a vacancy for such a promotion to fill.

By the time I actually presented myself at the Squadron Orderly Room to be enrolled as Cadet No.308 Stevenson P.D., it was well known to the officers and others, what my previous experience in the OTC and the Public Schools Air Cadet Wing had been. I made a point of playing this down and stuck to plain facts on my enrolment form. I cannot remember now whether it had been discussed, but from now on, as soon as we were in uniform, our family relationship was formally and firmly
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dropped, even at home. Henceforth he became my Commanding Officer at all times, to be meticulously saluted and addressed as ‘Sir’. Furthermore, we made a point of never leaving our house, walking along to the H.Q., or leaving the building together, in order to emphasise this ‘no favours’ relationship. This policy was rigidly adhered to throughout the four years he was in command of the Squadron and, henceforth, so far as this commentary is concerned, he will always be referred to as ‘The Commanding Officer’.

Formalities over, measured for uniform, added to the list for the next visit by the Medical Officer, regarded with some curiosity by the existing cadets and sternly by Squadron Warrant Officer Dawson,

I took my place amongst the ‘sprogs’ of No.4 Flight. In the drill session which followed, I did my best to show that there was not much in the ADCC Drill Book that I had not already mastered in the OTC. At the end of the session, I was told by W.O. Dawson to report to his office at the next break. Wondering what I had done wrong on my first night, I duly stood before him, standing stiffly to attention. I can’t remember his exact words now but it was something like ”I know full well that your foot drill is probably as good as or better than most other cadets and could probably instruct the recruits in drill as well as most of my NCOs, but don’t try so damned hard to show it. They are all obviously watching you and it may be misinterpreted as trying to get promotion the moment you arrive. I’m not asking you to act stupid, just pretend to be just average for the moment. Understood?” “Yessir” say’s I somewhat surprised. He then barks “And you should know by now that you don’t address your Warrant Office as ‘Sir’, do you Cadet Stevenson?” “No, er, [underlined] Mister [/underlined] Dawson” says I. “Dismiss” says he, and I do so, just managing to avoid saluting him.

In due time I had the inevitable medical which I passed A1 except for eyesight and eventually got a uniform which more or less fitted me. Having had four years of khaki serge with high collar, apart from the colour change, it did not feel much different. Naturally, it had no stripes or other insignia to indicate that I was anything other than the lowest form of life.

The maximum strength that an ADCC Squadron could hold was two hundred cadets, divided into four flights. If its strength would be likely to exceed this in the long term, then another squadron had to be formed. In those early days of the Squadron, our numbers hovered around the hundred mark on the books, with average parade strength of seventy to eighty.
For us, this was a convenient size at around twenty in each flight. When the weather was bad or when the parade was at night after blackout, we could just about parade the whole squadron in the largest of our rooms. After that, there were enough relatively big rooms to accommodate a flight in each and the walls gave some indication of which flight was using it.

Flights One and Two were, in general, the older more experienced cadets, with No.1 Flight being mostly cadets who would be opting for Aircrew when their time came, having passed their medical examination and had the necessary educational standards. No.2 Flight was mainly Ground Trades. Numbers 3 and 4 Flights were essentially ‘feeder flights’ with reasonably experienced cadets in No.3 who had either not yet made up their minds, or had not yet attained the necessary acceptance levels. No.4 Flight naturally ended up with the ‘sprogs’ and the very youngest cadets. Right from the start, the minimum age for entry had been fourteen, since a very large proportion of the children of this typical industrial town, still left school at fourteen.

Naturally, for my sins, I was dumped in No.4 Flight, and would stay there until such time as I could justifiably deserve to be something better. So, I bided my time, held my tongue and did my best to behave as a new recruit. However, once a recruit had got a uniform and had mastered enough basic foot drill not to disgrace the Squadron, he was permitted to join the Sunday morning contingent up to Spittlegate. Consequently, when I was allowed to join the chosen, I was very ‘chuffed’.
Completely resigned now to the fact that I could never be accepted for aircrew, I joined the Trades Group on their way to the hangars, determined to learn as much as possible about engines and airframes ‘in the flesh’ in manner of speaking.. Of course, this was by no means terra incognita as I had been there quite a few times in the Air Cadet Wing days, now several months back. This time however, the emphasis was more ‘hands on’.

At this point I think there is a need to revert to the subject of my apprenticeship and its associated technical studies. I had made a start in the workshops of the coal mining machinery company and was getting used to making a cold dark start at 7.30am six days a week. (The normal working week in the factories was still a standard 48 hour week, 7.30am to 5pm Mondays to Fridays plus 7.30 to 1pm on Saturdays. These were the hours worked by the apprentices, but the men had their standard week increased ‘for the duration’ by compulsory overtime to a 54 hour week. Sometimes,
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when there was a rush job, the men were called upon to work Sunday mornings also. These working hours took a hefty slice out of one’s week for a start!

Unless one’s ambitions were to be no higher than a shop labourer, then attendance at night school was a conditional part of your apprenticeship. In my case, with my sights being set somewhat higher, this would involve, for the first year, attendance at the local Technical Institute for three nights per week during the Institute’s autumn and spring terms. It was sheer luck that these three school nights did not coincide with either of the two Cadet nights. Thus my new working week involved five and a half working days and every night Monday to Friday at night school or Cadets. Add on Sunday mornings at Cadets plus two or three hours homework and private study and my week was beginning to fill up quite nicely!

There was still another demand upon available time. The Technical Institute had, like many other similar institutions, postponed the beginning of their courses until the air raid threat had receded. Instead of their usual opening at the beginning of September, it was now late October and they had lost five or six teaching weeks. As a result, instead of an evening’s instruction being two one hour sessions, 7pm to 9pm, in order to make up for lost time, the evening would comprise three one hour sessions from 6.30 to 9.30pm.

By late 1939, my life was roughly divided into three existences, my daytime apprentice’s life, my night school life and my evening and Sunday morning’s ADCC life. Time left over (if any) could be spent on non-essentials such as eating, sleeping and the trivialities of ordinary life!

During the three months of ‘Phoney Peace’ we had quite a few intrusions by the Luftwaffe. At first these seemed to be largely exploratory, but having apparently found that the Grantham area was not one with antiaircraft or balloon defences, they must have decided that we were open for attack and we began to get our first bombs. Unlike the ground war, which was to explode into dramatic action the following spring with the invasion of the Low Countries, Grantham’s air war built up slowly.

Their principal target was the 20mm cannon factory and as soon as it was effectively located, the intruders adopted a regular nightly pattern whenever the weather was favourable. In the winter months with daylight ending in the late afternoon, as early as 6pm on some nights, the Distant Warning sirens would start their wailings (There were now several of them at various parts of the town). The Spittlegate and Harlaxton trainers and the local Bomber Command aircraft would still be aloft, but we on the ground would be held in suspense. The intruder, having passed through the radar screen would then fly around until it got amongst our own aircraft circling round our air bases. After a while, with a bit of luck on their part, our Observer Corps would lose track of them with the result that they would not be able to initiate the ‘Pips’ to send us scuttling for the shelters. We would wait for an hour, perhaps two, and nothing seemed to happen. Sometimes the intruder would switch on his own navigation lights and join in with the circling trainers, no doubt making absolutely sure of his position. Then perhaps, with fuel getting low, he might line up behind a trainer starting his landing approach and silhouetted against the airfield’s flare path, he would fire a burst with his forward guns. All too often, his aim was accurate.

Successful or not, he would then circle round to make a low, fast bombing run over the centre of the town and loose off a stick of bombs into the industrial part, hopefully hitting his primary targets but all too often, falling short and hitting the housing areas. With the ‘Pips’ sounding desperately, we would dive for shelter but the horse had flown.

Quite apart from the actual damage and casualties inflicted, the object of these attacks was obviously intended to cause as much disruption as possible to our war work and the training of our pilots, therefore, the timing of these raids would vary considerably, with several intruders keeping the sirens going off and on throughout the night at times. All this was very tiring of course, and nerves began to suffer. In the event, the cannon factory received very few direct hits and was usually back in full production the following day. Various books have been published illustrating the damage inflicted upon the mainly working class housing to the south of the town and on the bombing run in. these dramatically underline the fact that in the early 1940s, per head of population, Grantham was the most heavily blitzed town in the U.K. and suffered the highest casualties.

Even amongst all this death and destruction, these [sic] was perhaps a wee excuse for a little bit of dry humour. One night at Cadets, we were in one of the front rooms having an Aircraft Recognition session under an RAF instructor who had come down from Spittlegate. The room was blacked out as usual with shutters in place and his screen backed onto the window. The Distant Warnings
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sounded but we decided to carry on. Spittlegate’s trainers were still flying around, some of them quite low over the town. In addition to the aircraft silhouettes being projected on the screen, there was a quiet running commentary going on as the various engine notes were identified. “Oxford”, “Anson” “Blenheim” etc.

However, the sound of the engines notes of the Blenheim and the Ju88 were very similar, so that when a particularly low aircraft passed over our heads, a small voice from the audience said “Blenheim”.

A second or two later, there were five enormous explosions as a stick of bombs tore the guts out of part of the factory a quarter of a mile south along the main road (incidentally killing one of the fitters with whom I had been working earlier on in the day} [sic]. The blast, in the way bomb blast tended to go, ricocheted along the road and hit the front of our Headquarters, blasting out several windows including the one in the room where we were sitting. However, by this time we were adept at diving for cover and before the glass hit the floor, had there been light to see, I doubt that a single head would have been above desk level. In the ensuing silence which usually followed a bomb, an equally small but audible shaken voice said “It wasn’t, you know”. Another brief silence was followed by shrieks of equally shaky laughter, after which we decided that we had had enough aircraft recognition for the night. The parade was dismissed and I went along to my own factory which had also lost the majority of its windows. There was not much in the way of coal mining machinery produced during the next few days until we had cleared up the mess, replaced the glass in the windows and restored the blackout.

Running ahead a bit perhaps , but there was another incident which caused quite a bit of amusement in the Squadron and at RAF Spittlegate as well. It was in the tense months following Dunkirk with the threat of invasion hanging over us. There was even more activity at Spittlegate to put every possible pilot into the air. At that time, the RAF Regiment had not been formed and the ground staff had to man station defences in addition to their work in the hangars and elsewhere. Round the clock working, disturbed nights and picket duties were taking their toll and flight commanders were doing their best to arrange 24 and 48 hour passed wherever possible, to reduce the strain.

By this time quite a few of the more senior cadets had become proficient on the station firing range, not only with rifles but also with mounted Lewis and Vickers machine guns. Our C.O. received an urgent phone call from the officer responsible for station defence. Would it be possible for a small selected group of these senior cadets to come up to the station and take over some of the perimeter patrols and act as backup to the defence posts for half a day or so next Saturday. Agreed, rounded up and delivered.

Now there happened to be a gate in the perimeter fence on the eastern boundary of the station, conveniently accessible to the Officers Mess and Married Quarters. Crossing the green lane outside the gate gave access to a footpath leading to the little nine hole golf course which the RAF tended to use as well as the town residents. When Saturday morning’s duties had been appropriately completed, it was the Station Commander’s habit to change into civvies after lunch and partake of a round or two, which this Saturday he proceeded to do.

Some time later, our Commanding Officer was called to the telephone by a somewhat irate Group Captain. It would appear that the said Group Captain had, suitable garbed and kitted with golf gear, left the station by this gate and had been let out by one of the stations ground staff on picket duty. However, while he was enjoying his game, a tall and somewhat burly ADCC Cadet, armed with a pick axe handle, had taken over.
This cadet is approached by a civilian in golf gear who shows every intention of entering the station.

The ensuing conversation goes something as follows:
“I’m sorry sir, civilians are not permitted to pass through this gate”
“But I am the Group Captain ‘X’ in command of this station”
“Very good sir, may I see you [sic] pass?
Too late the Group Captain realises that his pass is still in his uniform pocket, back in the Mess.
Tried bluster and words of authority. Cadet unmoved, sticks to his instructions.
“May I suggest sir, that you make your way round to the Main Gate Guardroom where they will be pleased to check your identity and let you in. I am afraid I am instructed to let no one in without the appropriate pass”
Group Captain realises that he was not going to get past this large and burly figure of authority and by the time he had walked a further half mile around the station perimeter, he is in no mood to accept further frustrations. It seems that the guard on duty recognised his Commanding Officer and let him
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in with appropriate ceremony. The C.O. strode on a further few yards, stopped, turned round and stormed into the Guardroom to demand from the NCO in charge, why he, in civilian clothes, had not been requested to show his pass. Group Captain walks through the camp to the Officer’s Mess and demands a drink to cool his ire. Refreshed, he sees the funny side of it and tells the other officers present how he was denied entry to his own camp by mere [sic] boy who effectively barred his way.
Joke goes round the camp like wildfire and the Group Captain rings up the Cadet C.O. to report what happened. Cadet C.O. extremely apologetic, promises to tear off a strip when the Cadet in question next parades. No, says the G.C.. Pass on my appreciation of his devotion to duty etc., etc.
(I very much regret that the name of the cadet has not remained in my memory bank even if his actions have. He surely should appear upon the Squadron’s unofficial roll of honour!)

Having ‘slaved in the galleys’ for a respectable period, I eventually got my big break, but it came in rather a strange way. Thanks to my previous experience in the OTC, the Air Cadet Wing and my own general knowledge in matters aeronautical, there were quite a few subjects in which I was ‘ahead of the class’. There were of course quite a few new subjects which I attended assiduously, but in those subjects in which I was not exactly wasting my time, there was a tendency to use me as a ‘gopher’ (The later expression for someone who is told to “Go for this” or “Go for that”) The fact that our home was but a stone’s throw from the Cadet HQ also contributed in a way. I soon got into the habit of opening the place up on parade nights, getting the fires going and taking along parcels of uniforms etc., which had been delivered to my father’s business address nearby. This had brought me into contact with the Squadron’s Equipment Officer who was a quiet but likeable Scot and I drifted into giving him a hand from time to time. The fact that I had done a ‘fatigue’ or two in the OTC Armoury and knew my way around the issue and storage of uniforms etc., also helped.

Cadet F/Lt MacKay was also Stores Manager at one of the big engineering firms in the south of the town, now flat out on war work. he was beginning to find it difficult to get to Cadets every parade night and suggested to the other Flight Commanders that when I was not involved in my own personal training, and he was unavoidably absent, I should as his officially appointed assistant, be in charge of the squadron equipment store and be responsible for the receipt, storage and issue of uniforms and other items.

The suggestion was accepted in principle but the Adjutant pointed out that responsibility and authority must go hand in hand. He said that if I was to be in charge of the stores when the Equipment Officer was absent, then I should have at least a couple of stripes to represent the authority required. However, since at the moment the Squadron had a full complement of NCOs, the appointment should be non-substantive. In other words, I would be an Acting Corporal whose authority did not extend beyond the door of the Equipment Stores. I supposed it was a start, even if it was only half a step on the rung of promotion. The C.O. agreed, the existing NCOs were told of my exact standing and I was accepted as not representing a threat to their seniority or authority. I think that the very strict ‘no fraternisation’ policy which the C.O. and I had stuck to so carefully, had paid off in the long run.

There were no real problems at Cadet H.Q., but when we were up at Spittlegate, there were a few occasions when my declining to use my stripes was misunderstood.

Matters came to a head rather suddenly one Saturday afternoon. It would seem that there was some sort of ‘flap’ on at Spittlegate and our C.O. had received a call that morning from the Duty Officer asking if it was possible for a working party of Cadets to go up there and lend a hand. I was asked if I could drum up some volunteers plus a senior NCO to take charge.

When the time came for the main party to move off, there was no sign of the Sergeant who was supposed to march us up. Having waited for ten minutes or so, I left a message asking him to catch us up and assume command. Fully aware that I did not really have the authority to do so, I formed the group up and gave the command to march. Up at the Spittlegate Guard Room we checked in as usual and waited for the Sergeant. After a further ten minutes, I decided to exceed my brief once again and marched the group up to the Duty Officer, where I was told to take them ASAP to the hangars. I tried to explain that I was not really a full NCO, but it fell on deaf ears. In the hangars, the Flight Sergeant told me to find out where help was needed, as help was apparently needed urgently. Again I tried to explain that I was only an acting corporal but all I got was a “Stop arguing and get on with it” sort of look, so I stopped arguing and got on with it, putting the cadets where they were needed. Nobody seemed to object and we spent the rest of the afternoon helping, holding, fetching and taking and generally making ourselves useful. When eventually a halt was called, the Flight
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Sergeant came over, thanked us and said that he had arranged for transport to take us back to the town.

Back home, the C.O. asked how we had got on. Not wanting to ‘shop’ the Sergeant who had not come to take charge, I was deliberately vague as to who was actually in charge, and left it at that. Next morning at our usual Sunday morning parade, I was told to report to the Orderly Room. Rather to my surprise an RAF driver was there, with the C.O. looking hard at me. “Who was in charge of yesterday’s party at Spittlegate?” After a certain amount of havering I was forced to admit that Sergeant X had not turned up, so I had decided to take them up myself rather than wait any longer. “I tried to explain, but they were too busy to listen”. Well, says the C.O., it appears that they want the same party under the same NCO to go back again for the day and they have sent down a truck to take them up. They seem extremely pleased at the way the cadets got stuck in yesterday.

At this point either the Adjutant or one of the Flight Commanders chips in – I can’t remember which. “We will be losing Sergeant Y soon, may I suggest that Corporal Stevenson be promoted Sergeant with immediate effect so that he can take full command of the party” The C.O. looks appropriately non committal until nods from the other officers signify their approval. “Carry on, Sergeant” says he, so there was I, up another rung. “And see me in my office tomorrow night” says Dawson with a look which warns me not to get cocky about it!

Assuming command can be a very individual thing. Around this time an amusing relationship built up. Again, I have unfortunately forgotten names, but it concerns two cadets who became close ‘buddies’ as a result of their experiences on the firing range at Spittlegate. One of these was a tall well built, sixteen year old ‘townie’, the other a diminutive fourteen year old country boy. The former proved that, as soon as he got a rifle in his hands he went completely ‘gun shy’, failing to hit anything, since he firmly shut his eyes the moment he started to squeeze the trigger. We were convinced that the country boy must have been born with a shotgun in his hands. He was completely gun mad, but obviously well trained in the handling of guns by his father. He was determined to fire everything the RAF had to offer. Rifles, Lewis and Vickers air guns and even the vicious 0.5inch Boyes Anti Tank Rifle whose ‘kick’ would drive him backwards a good six inches. (As was to be expected he became an Air Gunner when he joined up) Meanwhile, the range instructors had done everything they could think of to get the big cadet to overcome his gun shyness but to no avail. Then, quietly, the country boy decided to take over.

We never knew how he did it but, taking the pair of them to the far end of the range, he spent the next half hour quietly talking to the big boy. Soon, steady cracks signalled that the big cadet was not only firing away confidently but was also doing some respectable scoring. After that, they were inseparable and were both the first to volunteer for range practice.

It was surprising how many jobs the RAF at Spittlegate could find for us to do. Volunteers were also called for helping out at the Officers Mess. Before I got my ‘Three’ up, I trod very carefully about volunteering. Too little volunteering and I could be accused of shirking, too much and I could be accused of angling for promotion. Somehow, I managed to get ‘wished’ into helping out in the Mess but it was a job I hated. Becoming a Mess Orderly was not on my list of possible careers in the RAF. Maybe it was because I had already found out that alcohol did nothing for me, and so I could be regarded as ‘safe’. Certainly, had I been that way inclined, I could have knocked back many a drop or dram as there were times when the few orderlies were busy elsewhere and I was in sole charge of the bar.

While on the subject of volunteering, this may be the point to introduce another member of our team who would feature frequently in the doings of the Squadron over the next five years. I cannot remember now whether she came to us in the ADCC days or whether we had become ATC by then. Right from our inaugural meeting in January 1939, our weekly local newspaper, the Grantham Journal, had given us excellent publicity. By now, the sub-editor had been calling in at least once a week to see if there was a story, and during these visits, she had come to the conclusion that the secretarial side of our Orderly Room was far from orderly. What was needed was a ‘woman about the place’. Her offer of assistance was enthusiastically accepted, and so we acquired the services of Miss Llwelyn-Owens who became an integral part of the Squadron’s doings over the next five years.

She was short, dumpy and very efficient. She reorganised our filing, straightened out our records, typed or [sic] letters and memos, tidied the place up and became our Squadron Mother. In her early thirties, she was of course middle aged to us, but what she lacked in height and good looks, she more than made up in personality. She broke no hearts amongst the cadets but they became her
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willing slaves. She was ‘interesting’ and naturally well informed, and once she was on the strength, she stepped up our publicity. Much more about our ‘Miss Owens’ later.

Also on the subjects of ‘Mothers’, we must pay further tribute to Lady Longmore. We were still mainly dependent upon public donations and subscriptions for our running costs and our support committee, under the leadership of Lady Longmore worked tirelessly to bring the cash in. whenever Sir Arthur (now Air Chief Marshall) was on leave, she would make sure he added glamour to the occasion. We have already called him the ‘Founding Father’ of the Squadron and by the same token Lady Longmore was surely our ‘Founding Mother’

Meanwhile, we cadets spent our daytimes at our apprenticeships or other jobs, our evenings at night school or at Cadets, and our night times wondering when the Luftwaffe would have yet another go at the cannon factory and the other factories. In spite of the fact that we frequently had to dive for the shelter (the H.Q. building had some useful cellars which had been requisitioned by the ARP) training continued apace, the recruits came in and the first of our older cadets had left for the Forces. The RAF certainly thought we were doing a good job. The Battle of Britain was over and it was London’s turn to feel the effects of their Blitz. The threat of invasion had passed and the country was girding itself for a long hard struggle. 1940 ended and a New Year of uncertainty began. The Air Defence Cadet Corps, (several hundred squadrons strong now) felt, with some justification, that it was a creditable part of the overall war effort.

Rumours had been going around for some time that the RAF was of the same opinion and that the Air Ministry was making active steps to take over the responsibility of the Air Cadet movement. As 1941 began we were told that this was to take place within the month and that the ADCC would now become the ‘Air Training Corps’ with effect from the beginning of January. Our officers would have temporary commissions in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. The Cadets would have new uniforms and retain their ranks. Everything, with the exception of purely welfare expenditure, would be paid for by direct per capita grants from the Air Ministry. From now on, we were to consider ourselves as being an integral part of the RAF.


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[underlined] Chapter Seven – 47(F) Sq. Air Training Corps 1941 – No. 12 (P)AFU at RAF Spittlegate [/underlined]

1941 was a fairly momentous year for the Squadron. It started with us becoming No.47(F) Grantham Squadron [underlined] Air Training Corps. [/underlined] Our officers were now commissioned in the RAF Volunteer Reserve and would reappear in normal RAF officer’s uniforms. Nominally though, they dropped a rank. Commanding Officers of cadet squadrons were remustered as Flight Lieutenants, Flight Commanders as Flying Officers and so on.

Cadet ranks remained essentially the same. New uniforms would be reissued in a style more or less resembling the standard RAF ‘erks’ outfit although it would still retain the high ‘choker’ collar.
Existing ADCC uniforms would be converted to ATC by new buttons and other insignia.

A new training syllabus was introduced which was intended to match in with the training at the RAF Reception Centres and the Initial Training Wings (the ITWs’). The intention was that an ATC cadet having, passed specified training standards, would be exempted the early stages of RAF training or at least placed on a ‘fast track’ programme.

New training manuals soon arrived. These were now printed by HMSO bearing the age old Air Ministry preface ‘Promulgated by Order of the Air Council for the guidance of all concerned’. Much of it was merely a more official version of the training material which had been issued by the ADCC, which in itself had been modelled on the ‘Square Bashing’ stages of RAF recruit training at the beginning of the war. There were however, a number of new subjects which we had previously introduced on an ad hoc basis after our cadets had more or less passed their initial ADCC training requirements.

The Battle of Britain had seriously depleted the reserve of fighter pilots and Fighter Command was working flat out to build up its strength once more. The Battle of the Atlantic was calling on Coastal Command to increase its patrol and anti-submarine capabilities. Bomber Command, now the only branch of the services capable of carrying the war into the enemy’s camp, was losing many crews on ineffectual bombing and leaflet dropping missions. Soon too, they were expecting a new generation of heavy bombers to enter squadron service, aircraft with several new air crew categories to meet the increased crew sizes. The training of aircrew, especially pilots, had to be stepped up for us to survive

At Spittlegate, the emphasis had changed from general pilot training to a more specific need for night fighter pilots. Airborne radar, though still in its early stages, was beginning to improve our interception success which had not been all that successful to date. Better, heavier and more powerful night fighters were also coming into service. The station ceased to be No.12 Service Flying Training School and now became No.12 (Pilots) Advanced Training Unit. i.e. No.12(P)AFU. There were very few changes in personnel, it was just a case of taking trainee pilots, already up to general ‘Wings’ standard from other SFTSs, and converting them specifically to be night fighter pilots or ‘Intruder’ pilots. In each case there was a greater concentration on blind flying, night flying, long distance navigation and the use of aircraft more similar to the Radar equipped Blemheim, Beaufighter and Mosquito night fighters which would soon be in service

In spite of the increasing tempo at Spittlegate, we were still welcome. As far as possible we ‘earned our keep’ by making ourselves as useful as possible in the hangars and elsewhere, in exchange for opportunities to use the firing range and go for flights when there was a seat going. Since we were only on the station in daylight, much as we would have liked to have gone on night flights, we were unable to do so. Daylight flying usually involved the pilots under training at the beginning of their courses, but as they became more proficient in handling the aircraft, they not only moved over to night flying, the actual flights were of longer duration. They were also more dangerous and a number of crews were lost.

We were lucky in that throughout all the war years, when our cadets flew on countless occasions at the various stations to which we were attached, we never had a single cadet injured. This was in spite of flying with pilots who were still very much learning their trade on the one hand, and in aircraft liable to engine failure (e.g. the Blenheims at Spittlegate and later the Avro Manchesters at RAF Bottesford), The nearest we got to a casualty, was when a young cadet, off on his first flight (in a MkIV Blemheim with its underslung gun pod) had the interesting experience of a wheels up crash landing on the airfield. More or less beneath his feet, the pod was wiped off over a hundred yards of grass and the propellers took up some rather curious shapes. When everything came to a halt, the crew and the cadet lost no time in hopping out to a safe distance. The arrival of the crash and ‘blood wagons’ created more mayhem. While the first enjoyed covering the Blenheim with foam, the latter
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landing on the airfield. More or less beneath his feet, the pod was wiped off over a hundred yards of grass and the propellers took up some rather curious shapes. When everything came to a halt, the crew and the cadet lost no time in hopping out to a safe distance. The arrival of the crash and ‘blood wagons’ created more mayhem. While the first enjoyed covering the Blenheim with foam, the latter [sic] put in some useful practice treating non existent casualties. Now it has always been the RAF tradition that if a crash occurs and the pilot and/or crew are uninjured, to restore nerves and morale, they immediately go up for another flight. In spite of this being his first and somewhat eventful flight, our very young cadet immediately insisted in going up with them again! Certainly one for the Squadron’s records.

In the background to all this, Britain was now on its own. The Battle of France had been lost and the Battle of Britain won the previous year. The war in Europe was in stalemate with armies facing each other across the Channel. Britain was reeling from the Blitz, as most of its major cities received nightly attacks from the Luftwaffe, which it had to be admitted, were a lot better at finding their targets than our Bomber Command was at finding theirs. Until airborne Radar was fitted to ageing Defiant and Blenheim night fighters, there seemed little we could do to stop them. Interception did improve and by the time the first Beaufighters came into service, we were able to fight back, hence the ongoing drive to get night fighter pilots through the Spittlegate courses as quickly as possible. The end result was that although we were still welcome in the hangars and other ground facilities, there were far fewer opportunities for those of our cadets who were opting for aircrew to gain air experience.

Our cadet roll had settled down, it would seem, to around one hundred or so with again around seventy to eighty on parades. In addition to those who lived in and around the town, there had been right from the start, a significant number who were prepared to cycle in from the surrounding countryside. We even had one cadet who cycled down the Great North Road from the outskirts of Newark, some eleven miles each way! (His devotion to duty was not confined to the ATC. He served with distinction in the RAF when his time came, became a ‘Regular’ in the post war RAF and rose to wear ‘Scrambled Egg’ upon his cap). We had a very strong contingent from the large village of Colsterworth, some nine miles south of Grantham, and in time this would lead us to forming a Colsterworth Flight, but more about that later.

It would also be around this time that a new category of ‘cadet’ joined our ranks. Conscription into the service had become the norm. thanks to the excellent and well recognised pre service training contributed by the Sea Cadets, the Army Cadets and the Air Cadets, it had been decided that any young man who ‘Registered’ at seventeen and a quarter and who was not already a member of the Cadet movement, must attend the Cadet unit of the Service into which he had been accepted. Most of those who joined us, saw the advantages of becoming a regular cadet and were soon absorbed into our ranks. Others, who seemed determined to remain ‘civvies’ until the last possible moment, declined our uniforms and remained something of an ‘awkward’ sub-flight, reluctantly parading to the rear of No.4 Flight, when they bothered to attend and were correspondingly treated with some contempt by the other cadets. They were however recipients of the same training programmes.

Thankfully, an increasing flow of well prepared training material was now coming through from ATC Headquarters, together with a much more coordinated training programme. This meant that by now, after some two year’s experience, there was much less for our own officers and other instructors to improvise or ‘swop up’. Unfortunately in a way, none of our offices at this time were ‘technical’. As a result there were a few significant gaps in our coverage of the subjects needed to meet the new emphasis on aircrew on aircrew training. But, as the saying goes, “Its an ill wind that blows nobody any good”

Once I had been promoted to Flight Sergeant, I was able to fetch out those instructional skills which had been so carefully instilled in me back in the OTC days. All the usual introductory subjects for recruit training in the ‘square bashing’ phase presented no difficulty and wherever possible, I did my best to train my Sergeants and Corporals to present them themselves. This gave me time and opportunity to concentrate on subjects which I really liked and derived great satisfaction in presenting. Theory of Flight, Airframe Construction, Meteorology and, increasingly Map Reading and Navigation, all of which were ’technical’ and essential to aircrew aspirants.

It was around this time that the Flight Sergeant rank was introduced. Furthermore, quite a few of our senior NCOs had been called up and in best ‘dead man’s shoes’ tradition I was now more or less the senior Sergeant. As more Corporals were promoted and given more responsibility, so I was able to
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delegate a goodly number of my elementary subject instruction to them and concentrate on my ‘technical’ subjects and thereby became more of a squadron instructor than a mere administrative NCO, awaiting callup.

This new status was reinforced by the fact that by mid 1941, I had passed my Ordinary National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering. Having Registered the previous autumn, I had appeared before the appropriate Selection Board and had been officially accepted for entry into the RAF Technical Branch. This was dependent upon the completion of my engineering apprenticeship, and passing my Higher National Certificate in two year’s time. I was now ‘deferred’, subject to annual appearance before the Selection Board. As a result I could now look forward to at least another two year’s service in the Squadron. A coveted crown had been added to my uniform above my three stripes, and so up I had gone another rung.

My situation was somewhat helped by the various stages of my apprenticeship which involved alternation periods in the works and the drawing offices. Office hours were of course less demanding and at lunch hours, my drawing board could be used to work up diagrams, charts etc., for my ATC lectures. Even my technical studies helped in a way. Once having mastered the theory of vector forces and motions, it was easy to covert [sic] the basic principles into navigation exercises and aerodynamics. Another thing which helped was that once I had passed my second year exams at the Grantham Technical School, instead of attending three evenings per week, I now attended the Newark Technical College’s part time day release National Certificate courses. These involved a four day working week at my factory and a fifth whole day plus one evening at the Newark Technical College.

As mentioned earlier, our attachment to Spittlegate had become somewhat less satisfactory as a result of their new responsibilities and working practices. Our CO had been working away quietly for sometime [sic] getting No.5 Bomber Group H.Q. personnel (from the top downwards) interested in our activities and also in the town’s ‘Wings for Victory’ and other war savings drives. We never got Arthur Harris down before he moved on to become Commander in Chief of Bomber Command, but his successors as O. i/c 5 Group certainly added lustre to 47(F)’s prestige from time to time. While on the subject of ‘name dropping’, we not only had AVMs Bottomly and Cochraine ‘drop in’ from time to time but Sir Arthur and Lady Longmore continued to help us whenever possible. We certainly had friends in high places.

This new relationship with No.5 Group suddenly bore fruit. For the past year there had been frenzied activity on requisitioned farmland just north of the village of Bottesford on the Lincolnshire/Nottinghamshire border, and in the autumn of 1941, RAF Bottesford became operational. Into it moved No. 207 Squadron, a newly reformed 5 Group squadron which was to become famous in a number of very significant ways. Furthermore, No.47(F) was going to be attached to them for the next year.
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[underlined] Chapter Eight 47(F) Sq. Air Training Corps and RAF Bottesford 1941-42 [/underlined]

As already mentioned in earlier chapters, our Commanding Officer had built up connections with members of the staffs of many of the local RAF establishments and these included the headquarters staff of No .5 Bomber Group which was already beginning to gain its legendary reputation. As a result of some gentle arm twisting, 47(F) was now attached to RAF Bottesford, a new bomber station some twelve miles in the opposite direction from Spittlegate.

During the 1930s rearmament period, the ‘Golden Age’ of RAF architecture had given Lincolnshire a number of superbly designed airfields with classic accommodation and mess blocks, hangars and service buildings, such as those to be found at Coningsby, Digby, Scampton and elsewhere. As the war approached, many older fields were given a more hurried facelift. Then, when war was declared, a massive programme of even more temporary airfield construction threw up dozens of ‘hostilities 0nly’ airfields in our and surrounding counties.

Bottesford was typical of these. A grass airfield with only a concrete perimeter track, dispersal sites for aircraft and a minimum of corrugated iron, steel framed maintenance hangars (Most daily maintenance and minor repair work on bomber bases would be done in the open dispersal areas during the war) Dispersed accommodation sites with uninsulated Nissen huts for the ground staff and slightly less uncomfortable wooden huts for aircrew were backed up by a few more permanent brick or concrete structures such as the H.Q., Control Tower, Officer’s and men’s messes, fire and rescue buildings etc.

Into this, with it’s concrete barely dry, had come No.207 Squadron. Formed originally as a Royal Naval Air Service Squadron in WW1, it had been disbanded when that war ended. It was reformed in 1940 at RAF Waddington where it originally worked up with Handley Page Hampdens, the ageing workhorse of No.5 Group in those early WW2 years. Although at the time it was initially intensely proud of the distinction, it had the ill luck to be chosen as the first squadron to fly the ill fated Avro Manchester. Having converted, the whole squadron was moved down to Bottesford where they were now getting to grips with putting this ‘monster’ into operational service.

At this stage of the war, Bomber Command was still thinking in terms of bigger, but still two engine ‘heavies’. Of the four principal manufacturers of bombers for the RAF throughout the war, Vickers would stick to mass production of their two engined ‘Wellington’, the ‘Wimpey’ of everlasting fame. Shorts, who were flat out making Sunderland flying boats for Coastal Command, decided to save valuable time by using the Sutherland wings with their four radial engines, grafting on a new slim fuselage, tail plane and undercarriage. They called it the ‘Stirling’ and in the event, the Stirling was the first ‘heavy’ to go operational. Hurried into service, it proved to be a typical ‘camel designed by a committee’. It was slow, it lacked the ability to carry large bombs and had a low service ceiling. It proved reasonably reliable but was not popular amongst the crews called upon to fly it.

The two other manufacturers (and the Air Ministry) were pinning great hopes on a new super-engine then under development by Rolls Royce. Essentially, it was two earlier (and reliable) vee-form twelve cylinder Kestrel engines, one upright and the other inverted, driving a common crankshaft. Hopefully, this new engine, optimistically named the Vulture, would in the hands of Handley Page and Avros, power two new two engine ‘heavies’ which would be much faster and with greater bomb loads, greater range and service ceiling than the Hampdens, Whitleys and ‘Wimpeys’ of No. 5 and other Bomber Groups. Rushed into service before it was properly developed, the Vulture proved a disaster and the two engine aspirations of Handley Page and Avro were dropped in favour of four engine developments.

The 207 Sq. air crews selected to fly this first of the new generation of aircraft, upon which Bomber Command were pinning even greater hopes, had been carefully gleaned from experienced Hampden crews from other 5 Group squadrons. These included quite a few, who in turn would be poached by Guy Gibson when the time came to form 617 Squadron, the Dam Busters.

By the time 47(F) appeared on their scene, 207 was just about settled in and getting their Manchesters operational. I am not sure how welcome we were when we first arrived, but 5 Group H.Q. in Grantham appeared to have told them that we were coming and could possibly be put to good use on the ground, and please would they give the cadets as much air experience as
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possible. In the case of the ground trades, they too were to be given as much experience of a similar nature.

We were not to know this when the Sunday morning Bottesford party assembled for the first time at Cadet HQ to await the arrival of the truck to take us there. All agog in anticipation of our first visit to a fully operational bomber station, we were not surprised to see an armed guard on the gate. Having passed through the barrier we were told to enter the Guard Room where the Security Officer watched as our Identity Cards were checked and our names recorded, whereupon he gave us a short sharp talk on Station Security. Nothing, repeat nothing, which we would see, hear or learn on this or any other visit, was to be discussed outside the station perimeter, and we were left in no doubt as to the penalties we would suffer should we be found to have done so. Pointing to the ‘Careless Talk Cost Lives’ posters which after eighteen months of war were everywhere, he said “This is for real here and don’t you forget it”

Suitably subdued, we formed up outside and marched as smartly as possible, we were escorted to the Duty Officer’s office. After a similar warning, we were taken on a brief tour of the central service area facilities and then onto the tarmac in front of the hangars where we had our first face to face encounter with the Manchester. At Spittlegate, we were all used to the ‘Faithful Annies’, the ‘Oxboxes’, the Blenheims and the Harvards which were all very much of a size but in comparison, the Manchester seemed ENORMOUS. Propellers which seemed big enough for a windmill, tyres as big as the average cadet, engine nacelles as big as a Harvard’s fuselage, a cockpit canopy twenty feet up in the air and a bomb bay big enough it seemed, to carry a bus. Although, we were to gather later, they were beginning to have grave doubts about the engines, they were immensely proud of the Avro airframe. We were proudly shown around its ‘innards’ and sat for the first time in power operated gun turrets. We had occasionally glimpsed a Manchester in the distance, but since they were instructed to keep well away from Spittlegate and Harlaxton’s training air space we had not seen them close to. During the morning there had been one or two of them doing flight tests and we had stood in wonder as they taxied out and, with savage roars from their huge Vulture engines, they took off circled around, and landed.

After some grub in the airmen’s mess (a distinct improvement on Spittlegate’s NAAFI wagons!) we broke up into ‘trades’. Our aircrew cadets marched off to the navigation and crew rooms where we made sure that they appreciated that we knew all about putting on Sidcot suits and parachutes and knew our flight drill. Since there were some more flight tests scheduled for the afternoon, a lucky few were taken out, installed in upper and rear turrets or in second pilots and navigator’s seats in the ‘office’ and away they went into Bottesford’s air space. Back on terra firma, they were drooling with excitement.

Meanwhile, our ground trades had dispersed into their respective work areas. The Armourers for example, as soon as they could, demonstrated that they too knew how to strip a Vickers or Lewis Air Gun and clear the usual stoppages, but now they needed to learn the same for the Browning air guns which were used in the Manchester turrets. A new piece of gear which they would get to know very well in the ensuing months, was the machine gun belt filling machine. We had seen the long trays which lined almost the whole length of the rear fuselage of the Manchester which guided yard upon yard of rounds into the turret guns. This was no mere demonstration. These rounds if fired, would be for real. Down in the bomb dumps, we looked in awe at hundreds of real live bombs of all sizes, and air drop sea mines. They were also introduced to the chore which the RAF were only too pleased to hand over to the ATC in later visits, the loading of canisters with hundreds of the RAF’s little 4lb hexagonal magnesium incendiary bombs, which we learned to load [underlined] very carefully [/underlined]. Earlier on we were given a demonstration of what would happen if one was dropped on its live end. Very spectacular. We never dropped one! In the hangars, the fitter trades similarly indicated that hangar life was not a closed book to them.

As was to be expected, this was our introductory visit. They got to know us and we got to know them. We definitely wanted to come again and they seemed very willing to have us back. From our point of view, the change in atmosphere had been dramatic. At Spittlegate, we had been used to a more or less round the clock tempo with aircraft flying, at all hours of the day and night, weather permitting. Maintenance had also been an ongoing, more or less regular routine. The only ‘flaps’ had been the result of attempts to bring a course back on time after a spell of bad weather or to urgently complete the training of a given course.
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At Bottesford, all seemed very different. The weather was of course the all deciding factor as to whether the station was on a ‘Stand Down’ or ‘Operations On’ status. On this, our first visit, the station was on ‘Stand Down’. All hands seemed to be working hard but steadily during daylight hours to get all essential maintenance up to date, damage repaired, aircraft air tested and training exercises completed. At nightfall, we were to find that, apart from late working in the hangars, there was an air of relief as air and ground crews collapsed for well earned rest and a chance to catch up with lost sleep. It was to be very different on the day we went to Bottesford when ‘Ops’ were scheduled for the following night, but more on that subject later.

We were a much bemused party which returned to Grantham late that afternoon. There was an overwhelming urge to chatter on about all we had seen and done. However, we NCOs, remembering the admonitions of the Security Officer, jumped down hard on any talk involving ‘sensitive’ matters, and our officer in charge reiterated our security responsibilities when the time came for us to dismiss. There was one thing we could say, we quite sure we had fallen on our feet when it came to our new attachment.

It was not long before our now quite regular visits to Bottesford settled down to a regular routine. Air crew category cadets, on arrival would make their way to the Navigation Section. There, they would go over the exercises which they had done at cadet H.Q. under my supervision and would work through previous ‘plots’ which had been done in recent operational sorties over France and Germany. At this time, many of these sorties involved the dropping of sea mines in areas of the North Seas, Baltic, Channel and Biscay coasts. Such navigation and position fixing had to be very accurate and we learned a lot of how it was done ‘for real’. Once the 207 navigators felt that we could make quite a good job of working out a simple plot, they would get us to work out one for a Manchester which was due for a flight test that day. Then to our delight, they would take us up on the test and the pilot rather than just ‘stooging around’ (as the saying went in those days) would follow our courses as we sang them out. with us glued to our air maps as we map read our progress over the ground, at the end of a half hour triangular flight, if we did actually arrive more or less back over the airfield, we really thought that there was something in this air navigation business, and how we were guiding this huge powerful machine around the skies. However, it should be added that this sort of thing was more characteristic of our visits to Bottesford later in the year.

While this was going on with our air crew cadets, our ground trades were similarly busy in the hangars, armaments sections, and out on dispersals. As it had been at Spittlegate, our cadets who were also engineering fitter apprentices, were soon helping out with maintenance and repair work. Of course the training aircraft at Spittlegate had suffered occasional damage as a result of forced landings, overshoots and ground collisions etc., but now we had our first experience of battle damage. One or two Manchesters had come back from mine laying sorties with the tips of their propellers bent back. Because the mines had to be dropped from a very low level in the dark, the pilots were experiencing the same difficulties of judging their height as the Dam Busters did two years later. Often these same aircraft came back with their bomb doors ripped off and one came back with seaweed in its radiator intake. On one occasion, one came back with a long length of German balloon cable wrapped round one of its propellers. When low flying exercises were on the go, twigs and small branches on one’s wing tips were regarded as great trophies.

These were the lucky ones. Somehow, their pilots had managed to regain control and bring their damaged aircraft back home. Others didn’t and paid the ultimate price. Practically every weekend when we arrived, the ground staff were grooming up replacement aircraft for ones lost on operations or, increasingly, regrettably and disastrously, those which had crashed or failed to return due to engine failures. It was obvious to all now, that the Vulture, rushed into production before it had been properly developed, was a complete failure.

There had been crashes and fatalities at Spittlegate either through aircraft failures, pilot errors or, sadly, through intruder gunfire, but these had rarely been talked about. Whether this was to keep such matters away from our young ears or whether it had been standard practice to keep up the morale of their trainees, I have no idea. At Bottesford, discussion of by now regular losses seemed unavoidable. I do know that certain badly damaged aircraft were ‘out of bounds’ to us until such times as certain rather unpalatable evidences of the less heroic aspects of war had been cleaned away. What they also did their best to hide from us was their undoubted loss of morale and confidence in the Manchester. The general opinion amongst the aircrews was that they were far more likely to lose their lives to a Vulture than a Messerschmidt [sic]. In spite of this, there seemed to be
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no reluctance to taking us up on test flights etc. We, being young and ‘good keen types’ were only too pleased to sign the inevitable ‘blood chit’ before take off, and make sure that little or nothing of this leaked back to our parents!

The replacement Manchesters by this time were all Mk.2 versions. In spite of their loss of faith in its engines, they still considered that the aircraft (with engines running well) was a delight to fly, but then on one bright sunny early summer morning they had something new to show us. There on the tarmac was a Manchester Mk.3. Still the same fuselage and tail plane but the Vultures had gone. The wingspan had been increased by ten feet each side and two new outboard engine nacelles housed sleek ‘vee twelve’ Merlins. This was the prototype of the legend to come.

Both aircrew and ground staff were ecstatic. It was doing the rounds of the Manchester squadrons to get their opinions as to how it handled and what they thought of it. For the first time, we heard in place of the Vulture’s snarls, the gentle purrs of four Merlins ticking over, changing to a purposeful roar as the ‘Mk.3’ took off and shot us up at zero feet.. This was to be the sound of ‘Bomber County’ for the next five years.

Very shortly after we started going to Bottesford, we arrived to find that operations were ‘on’ for the following night. The whole camp was in a very different state and was now working in top gear. We were there to give4 a hand wherever it was needed, irrespective of trade or category. Final checks and adjustments, much running up of engines, bombing up, fuelling up, arming up, frenzied but purposeful activity. Later on in the war, the country would be immensely inspired by Laurence Olivier’s production of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ and the lines in the Prologue to the Battle of Agincourt could never be more apt to the scene on ‘Ops’ night at Bottesford or any other Bomber Command station that night or any other night of the escalating bomber offensive:
“And in the tents, the armourers accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Gave dreadful note of preparation”
Everywhere was a noisy and ascending crescendo of activity.

This was to be an early evening takeoff and as the crews were called to final briefing there was a palpable increase in tension. This heightened even further as we watched the crews, loaded with parachutes, charts, code books and other gear, climbed up into the lorries which would be taking them out to dispersal. Another pregnant silence and then the noise began.
First one, two, ten, twenty, forty and often more engines coughed into life. Clouds of smoke followed by another pause, then each engine in turn would be run up. Full revs, full boost, mag drop, temperatures, pressures, fuel checks and all the other pre-flight checks were carried out and we knew what was going on now. Then, when all was satisfactory, the whole squadron, with all engines ticking over, formed a slow procession round the perimeter like a great noisy herd of elephants, to the down wind point of the airfield. A red light would appear on the south horizon. This would be the hazard light on top of Bottesford village church, a nasty reminder that the aircraft, loaded to capacity, would have gained little height by the time they passed over it.

By this time, most of the station not directly involved in the take off would have collected near the take off point to cheer and wave them off as the Green from the control trailer gave the clear to go. By this time we had our favourite aircraft or crew and would be shouting as loudly as the rest.

One by one, they would roar off and away to join the other 5 Group aircraft also clawing for height. Bottesford at that time was at the south west edge of 5 Group territory so that we did not see the bulk of their take off, but as happened on so many ‘ops’ nights the noise of hundreds of Rolls Royce engines not only filled the night sky, but nearer to the bases, even went so far as to make the ground shake. We were fighting back now and repaying with interest, and 47(F) were doing their bit. On these ops nights, when we were there, we slaved in the bomb dump loading up the incendiaries, in the ammunition huts we would help loading up the machine gun belts, and everywhere else we would be fetching, carrying, cleaning up and taking messages.

We saw the other side of the coin when we arrived on the station on the morning following a night op. All too often in those Manchester days, the station was subdued. The airmen had grim expressions and quite a few WAAFs had red rimmed eyes. This introduces another difference we had noticed between Bottesford and Spittlegate.
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At Grantham, the WAAFs seemed to us at least, to be ‘motherly’ types who, if we were not careful, would ‘fuss’ around us. However, those in the Parachute Section were somewhat different. The Packing Room was always a haven of peace, where the ‘chutes’ were quietly issued and taken back into store, regularly unpacked and hung up to air, taken down and meticulously repacked. All very calm, caring and impressive. I had noticed that there was no shortage of volunteers amongst the older cadets when a party to the Parachute Section was proposed, and I also gathered that it was not just the parachutes that they were hoping to see. The packing of a parachute is a very precise procedure and calls for the exact placing of the various panels and shroud lines and a cadet invited to ‘have a go’ would invariably have his hand gently guided to the exact spot. To a seventeen year old boy in those far off very inhibited days (compared with today of course) these particular WAAFs who seemed to be cut above the others when it came to charm and good looks, could be quite disturbing in such ‘hands on’ circumstances. The effects were not lost on the other cadets, or the WAAFs either, who seemed quite prepared to join in with the fun!

At Bottesford, the WAAFs were far more tight lipped and serious. Pleasant enough and tolerant to we cadets, but acutely conscious of living in an adult and at times brutal world where death, injuries and bereavement were just round the corner, perhaps that very night.

There would be empty spaces in the dispersals and men busy cleaning up the plane interiors as well as patching flak and bullet damage. The more senior cadets would help wherever possible whilst the more junior cadets were taken to less dramatic chores. We grew up fast, very fast at times.

On the subject of favourite crews, 207 was beginning to create its heroes and its legends. One of these was a Canadian Air Force pilot. In actual fact he was an American who, at the outbreak of war had crossed into Canada and joined the RCAF. He had come to England and was posted to 5 Group and was one of the chosen to form 207 at Waddington. A superb pilot he had built up a first class Manchester crew and was well into his second tour of operations. Around this time, the German Navy was becoming a prime target for the RAF and although daylight raids had proved suicidal, the growing threat of the German battleships such as the Tirpitz and the Bismark on our Atlantic conveys was calling for desperate action. The call was for low level daylight attacks to be practiced, and low level flying was what this American loved. His idea of a pleasant Sunday morning’s jaunt was to do just what the powers that be wanted. If they wanted low flying that would suit him down to the ground (in all senses of the word!) Several cadets had come back telling how he preferred to fly [underlined] round [/underlined] trees rather than lifting up to fly over them. Since I was usually the NCO in charge of the Bottesford parties, I nearly always allowed the other cadets to go up on any available flight tests, navigation or low flying exercises, but eventually my turn came and I was delighted when the American came out and climbed in. Of [sic] we went, hedge hopping our way down to the Fens to the consternation of man and beast. There are few things more mind blowing than having a Manchester, of worse still a Lancaster, suddenly roaring over your head, fifty feet up and doing two hundred mph. The Lanc although quitter at height, gave little or no warning of its approach when ‘down on the deck’.

I had managed to grab the mid upper turret, the best place to be when you are practising map reading but this is not easy when tree tops get in the way of your view! According to my air map there were some H.T. lines ahead. We are still at fifty feet. With some temerity, I decide to warn the pilot. Pilot grunts. Still no change of altitude. Pylons appear ahead. We stay at fifty feet. Generally speaking, breathing stops. H.T. cables pass [underlined] over [/underlined] our heads. Breathing recommences. It was therefore no surprise to me to learn a year or so later that Joe Macarthy and his crew were among the first to be poached by Guy Gibson when the time came for him to form 617 Squadron.

By late spring of 1941, we were not only welcome at Bottesford but, when there was some sort of a ‘flap’ on they actually started to ask us to lend a hand. These were usually ‘ops’ and sometimes, for security reasons, we were not allowed to leave the station until after take off. At other times, they asked us to come on the Saturday and be prepared to stay overnight, in which case we were allocated a Nissen hut in one of the dispersal areas. As senior Sergeant now, I was usually put in charge of such parties and once again my previous experience in the OTC and Air Cadet Wing camps came in useful. Having drawn mattresses, blankets etc, the cadets needed to be introduced into the niceties of blanket and sheet folding, pillow and personal gear arrangement and display. ‘Fatigues’ were allocated, the inevitable Magnet Stove coaxed into reluctant and smoky life, the fire bucket relieved of its fag ends, after which we could get on with the war!
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Once on site, we were treated just like the other airmen and joined parties marching off to the mess halls. (It is interesting to reflect on the fact that in those days one never ‘proceeded’ as an individual, one invariably marched as a group.

After nearly three quarters of a century, certain events stand out in one’s memory as clear as a bell, others are completely lost and many although well remembered, are difficult to pin down as to time and place. Not so the 29th of May that year. This was the night when the RAF made history and 47(F) did their bit to make it so. It started when we received a call for as many cadets to go to Bottesford as possible, prepared to stay overnight. When we arrived it became obvious that the ‘flap beyond all flaps’ was on. Every aircraft capable of flying had to fly. Over at the bomb dumps we loaded the inevitable incendiaries. Machine gun belts were filled in the armament section and as usual we lifted, held, took, carried and cleaned up. Engines roared and meals were snatched. Eventually the aircrews were called to briefing. On arrival were [sic] had been warned that no one must make any contact with the outside world and the reason for the flap would be explained later.

When the time came for 207 to take off, the skies were already filling. In addition to the local 5 Group aircraft, they started climbing up from the west which was Operational Training Unit’s airspace, which was strange.

Tired out, we staggered off to our Nissen hut with the promise that all would be made clear in the morning. We were not to see the headlines in the papers until later on in the day, but at a collective briefing just after breakfast, we were told that the RAF had made its first ‘Thousand Bomber Raid’ on Cologne, and 47(F) had been there to help.

Naturally our visits to Bottesford were the highlights of our ATC weeks, but back at our Grantham H.Q. many other things were going on apace. Following the introduction of the new ATC Training Programme and associated training manuals, came the Proficiency Certificate tests. Having by now become an instructor in quite a few subjects, as I was still technically a cadet, it obviously seemed right that I should pass my Part 1 as soon as possible. There was therefore a lot of swotting up on the part of the NCOs and senior cadets to get their four bladed propeller badges indicating that they were ‘Proficient’. There were a number of categories, Pilot/Observer, Wireless Operator, Flight Mechanic (Engines) etc., as well as those for ground trades.

The pilot/Observer syllabus now included a first introduction into Astronavigation, as well as the usual Dead Reckoning Air Plots, Map Reading Exercises etc.. For the Part 1 Certificate Astronavigation only involved the recognition of the principle constellations and individually important stars.

Being now very much of a ‘county boy’ (our family having moved away from the Luftwaffe’s bombing run in 1940) the night sky had become a great fascination to me. Britain was still a domestic coal burning society with central heating being almost unheard of, and we were often beset with autumnal ‘pea souper’ fogs. At many other times of the year the sky could be crystal clear. With the imposition of the total blackout, there was no [underlined] ‘light pollution’ as we know it today. Also, our night vision was far better than it is today since there were no flashing vehicle headlamps to blind us, since all road users (cyclists included) had to hood their lights so that nothing shone above the horizontal.

It was usually well on into the autumn before we could start on star identification. With the imposition of Double Summer Time in the summer months and ‘single’ Summer Time in the winter months (to help the factory workers enjoy a bit of evening after their overtime) it never became properly dark until after evening parades had dismissed. When we could go out into the parade ground for star identification, it was usually well into the winter months, and here I mean real winter. Not the snow free, late autumn, global warming, cold snaps we chose to regard as winter today. having memorised one or two of our Star Charts we would, on a fine cloud free night, go out and first identify the Plough whose ‘Pointers’ would guide us to the Pole Star. Dependant [sic] upon the month, we would go on to identify the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan whose nose, tail and wing tip stars would be so vital in the astronavigation to follow. The Square of Pegasus, Leo the Lion and when the Orion group came above the eastern horizon, to really show one’s prowess in star identification by identifying the Pleiades and see if you could count more than seven.

Of course this was most important if you were intending to be a Navigator on the first steps to mastering astronavigation. At the same time it was felt vital by the RAF that [underlined] anyone [/underlined] in the aircrew could make the difference between life and death if he could, by the briefest of glimpses through a break in the clouds, identify Month and then West, the way home for a crippled aircraft whose other navigational aids had either failed or had been destroyed by enemy fire.
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A.T.C. Form 3

Certificate of Proficiency
Part 1

This is to Certify that
Cadet Flight Sergeant Peter Desmond Stevenson of No. 47.F. (Grantham) Squadron is granted a Certificate of Proficiency in that , during his membership of the Air Training Corps, he has fulfilled the necessary conditions as to efficient service and has qualified in the Pilot/Observer syllabus of training, as laid down in the Rules and Regulations of the Air Training Corps.
Air Commodore
Commandant, Air Training Corps.
Date 11-2-1942
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[underlined] The 1942 Summer Camp at RAF Bottesford [/underlined]

With the threat of invasion now safely behind us, ATC HQ in conjunction with the Air Ministry decided to hold, wherever possible, summer cadet camps at local RAF stations. Numbers would be limited and there would be much competition for the places. At Bottesford there would be a one week camp for twelve cadets with an officer in charge. In the event none of our officers could get away on the week involved, but in view of our experience in running our own Nissen, they were quite prepared to accept a senior cadet NCO as camp leader.

Eventually a short list was established and the cadet’s employers were persuaded to allow the cadets concerned an extra week’s holiday. (War time holiday allocations were limited to one week ‘for the duration’). My own firm by this time, was a strong supporter of our Squadron and I had no difficulty in making sure that I was on the list, which ended up with me being in charge.

As luck would have it, my written report of the following week’s activities is still in existence and as a result I can give a blow by blow account of a most wonderful week.

On Saturday 16th May, the chosen few assembled at Cadet H.Q. complete with kitbags and gear for the week. A camp lorry took these out, while we cycled out in commendable order befitting the occasion. (We needed our bikes because everything at Bottesford was always a long way from anywhere else). ‘Arriving at the Guard Room at ’13.00 hrs’ (etc., etc.) we assembled before being marched off to our camp site. It would seem that the concept of a summer camp was taken literally. Fully expecting to reoccupy our Nissen on the far side of the ‘drome, we were slightly surprised to find ourselves in a tented camp more or less opposite to the Station Headquarters. Here had been set up a small marquee which became our ‘Orderly Room’ and store for spare kit, four bell tents for our accommodation, and another for our bikes. Bedding was delivered and an attack made on the resulting chaos, since in addition to three barrack room ‘biscuits’, two sheets, a pillow and pillow case apiece, we were issued with no less than six blankets each. They obviously didn’t intend us feeling cold.

Our party comprised three sergeants who occupied the Senior NCOs tent, a corporal and two cadets in No.1 tent, four cadets in No.2 Tent and the other three cadets in No.3 tent, so we had plenty of room. Thanks to my Twezledown and Selsea camp experience, and our overnight stays in the Nissen, we lost no time in telling the airmen who had been detailed to look after us that we were quite capable of running our own camp. Order was ultimately achieved, just in time for ‘tea’ to be declared.

After that, the rest of the day was declared ‘free’. The more energetically disposed went off to the exercise area and the assault course, while the less so, opted for the NAAFI. Sgts Kirk and Rudkin and myself had all passed the Pilot/Observer’s Proficiency Part 1 earlier on in the year and we were getting lined up for the first Proficiency Part 2 examinations. These were going to take place in July, so that any spare time for us this week would be devoted to swotting.

Reveille was ordered for 06.30, but being the first day of camp, it was no great surprise to find all ranks were already exercising themselves on the station assault course by 06.00 (somehow this enthusiasm was not repeated on subsequent mornings!). having set our camp to rights, we made our way over to No.2 Airmen’s Mess which was about half a mile away – Bottesford was well dispersed and most things seemed to be at least half a mile from anywhere else! Back at our camp, we readied ourselves for Kit Inspection, but as our Oi/c Camp was also Duty Officer for the whole station, that duty fell upon myself, so I borrowed the dignity of an inspecting officer and regarded all efforts (including my own) with appropriate severity.

We were expecting to be sent off to the hangars and elsewhere for the usual ‘Fetch and Carry’ duties which normally preceded a chance for a flight, when we were ordered to report to the Station Adjutant in the HQ. He told us to divide into two groups. One group, comprising our Wireless Operator/Air Gunners and other trades, was to report to the Station Signals Section for a morning’s instruction on aircraft wireless equipment. The other group, Pilot/Observer, was again to divide into two smaller groups, one to report to A Flight Commander, the other to B Flight. (By this time, almost all the Mancesters had been replaced by Lancasters)
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Since A Flight was not flying that morning, we were taken to the AML Bomb Trainer where we were instructed on how to use the new Automatic Bomb Sight which was just coming into service. Having dropped ‘three sticks’ apiece, we went over to the Spotlight Trainer for half an hour’s Turret gunnery practice. This was a concrete dome shaped building, in the centre of which was a mid upper turret connected to an external hydraulic power generator. Using a projector, the instructor could flash onto the interior of the dome, either a spot of light or the silhouette of a fighter aircraft. In the case of the latter one had first to decide its identity ([underlined] before it [/underlined] shot [underlined] you [/underlined] down) then follow it with a spotlight projected from the turret gun cluster and ‘fire’, having allowed the appropriate ‘deflection’.
This would all be accompanied by a lot of Merlin engine noise and gunfire as appropriate, according to whether you were shooting at it, or it was shooting at you. The only things missing was the turret being thrown all over the sky as your skipper ‘weaved’, and the smell of cordite from your guns. All very exciting. This was followed by a very interesting session when we ‘assisted’ in the compass swinging procedure for one of the newly delivered Lancs. Stationed in the centre of a circle round which were marked the various ‘True’ headings from True North clockwise round the compass, the aircraft was carefully turned to various key headings and the readings of the on board compasses compared. The errors caused by the various bits of magnetic material in the aircraft were duly noted to produce the Deviation Chart, vital for accurate courses to be calculated by the Navigator. All valuable knowledge for those of us hoping to get a question on Variation and Deviation in our Proficiency Part 2 exam and for me as part of my Navigation Instructors lecturing.

While all this was going on, the cadets attached to B Flight were having an equally exciting time. Bomber Command was hoping that the extra speed, firepower and range of the Lancaster would enable them to mount daylight attacks once more after the disasters of the early war Wellington attacks, had forced the bombing offensive into night operations. It was back to low level flying singly, and in formation. This morning it had been a one and a half hour low flying practice, ending with a low level bombing run over a bombing range.

After lunch two cadets went on a night flying test, and since 207 Sq. was on operations that night some cadets went on the Link Blind Flying Trainer for a while and the rest of us dispersed into the hangers [sic] to make ourselves useful.

All very thrilling, but not quite what we had expected. I never knew whether the week we had at Bottesford was a result of direction from ‘upon high’ or whether it was Bottesford thanking us for services previously rendered. It was probably a bit of both.

The following day there was even more flying for the cadets with formation flying, low level flying and bombing runs over the Clifton Pastures bombing range near Nottingham. Sgts Kirk, Rudkin and myself, anxious to hone up our navigation skills, opted to spend most of the day in the Navigation Section, totally absorbed in plots on air maps of the U.K and the Continent, and working out the routes recorded in the navigator’s logs of some of the old Manchester raids.

The next morning, having drawn overalls, the main party went across to No.4 hangar where a brand new Lancaster was to receive a pre-service checkover. Two cadets joined engine fitters on each of the four Merlins, two to the inside of the fuselage and two more for the exterior. In spite of the fact that the aircraft had been rigorously inspected at the factory before it was test flown and delivered, nothing was taken for granted and its acceptance check took most of the day. At lunch, several cadets remarked on how clean and ‘new’ it smelled. (Everyone who has had contact with Lancasters will agree that they had a special smell, especially when they were new. A combination of new paint, aircraft dope, hydraulic fluid, gun belt lubricant and less identifiable smells, and these will persist through out its life. To these will be added the smells associated with its service life, some of which are far less pleasant. Cordite fumes, the rear end of the fuselage just forward of the tail plain where the Elsan lost its contents during violent manoeuvres, elsewhere other traces of the effects of air sickness, fear and wounding, persist in spite of careful cleaning by ground staff. Even today, one has only to poke one’s nose through the door of ‘Just Jane’, East Kirkby’s taxiable Lanc of the BBMF’s flying Lanc and the mind flashes back)

We three Sergeants reported once more to the Navigation Section where we were to be given a navigation problem to work out. However, plans were changed and we went off on another low flying exercise in the Squadron’s last Manchester, which called for some exciting map reading, made just a little more difficult by nearby trees obscuring the more distant landmarks! The flight finished with us leaving our visiting cards at the Clifton Pastures Range.
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In the afternoon, all the others went of [sic] on yet more low flying exercises. So far as I can remember, these were all part of the Augsburg, Capital Ship Bomb, and the Tirpitz/Scharnhorst/Gneisenau urges and purges at the time. We decided to take our plotting problem back to our ‘Orderly Room’ and work away at that for the afternoon.

Thursday was one of my last ‘day release’ days at my Technical College before the end of the year examinations, and granted leave of absence, I left my two Sergeants in charge. In the morning, all went flying again. Since the Squadron was on ops that night, the afternoon was declared ‘free’ but I understood that they made themselves useful again.

Bad weather on the Friday grounded all flying, so we all adjourned to the Armaments Section for a lecture on the Browning Turret Guns followed by participation in one of the station’s periodic anti-gas exercises. The weather improved after lunch, and most of the cadets got a forty five minute flight in night flying tests after the previous night’s operations. We had hoped, as the week progressed, that we might get at least one night flight, but operations and the weather prevented this. However, in compensation for this, most of us were given the chance to take over the controls. (The Mk.1 Lancs still had dual controls). Thanks to the Link Trainers at Spittlegate and Bottesford, most of us could by now, maintain a reasonably straight course and execute some modest Rate One Turns without dropping the nose. Suddenly holding the same in a twenty ton 4000hp, 100ft wing span monster doing one hundred and fifty mile per hour was a rather different matter to being in the Link Trainer humming away in an otherwise quiet room! However, we did not disgrace ourselves and managed ‘straight and level’, some gentle turns and quite creditable figures of eights.

On the Saturday, our final day, we had a camp inspection by 207’s Commanding Officer, after which we struck camp and got our gear packed away. This was followed by a final flip in flight tests for that night’s operations. We were then told to report to Station H.Q, where the Station Commander, accompanied by the Adjutant, the Station Warrant Officer and the two Flight Commanders, gave us a farewell ‘pep talk’, after which it was back to ‘civvie street’.

What a week it had been! One little statistic from my camp report – The thirteen cadets involved, clocked up a total of one hundred and ten and a half hours flying time between us!

This was now the end of May 1942, and the next priority so far as we three Sergeants were concerned, was the count down to the Proficiency Part 2 examinations in a couple of months time. ATC H.Q. had warned us that the various papers would all be tough ones and that the pass marks would be high. Also, since we would be in the first group of cadets to enter for the examinations, our performances would be regarded as the bench mark for subsequent exams. It therefore behove us to be as prepared as we could be.

There would be papers on the Principles of Flight, Aeroengines and Airframe Construction, Aircraft Recognition, Law and Administration, Anti Gas, Hygiene and two papers on Air Navigation and Meteorology. Failure in any one of these subjects would result in a ‘Fail’ for the whole examination. The examination, lasting two full days, would be held at the RAF’s No.2 I.T.W. at Cambridge and all ATC Squadrons were warned not to submit candidates unless they stood a good chance of passing.

On August 3rd 1942, Sgts Kirk, Rudkin and myself went to Cambridge by train, and by 11.00 we were at the gates of Emmanuel College which was to be our billet for the next three nights. There we met up with eight cadets from No.1045 (Wolverhampton) Squadron, which was the only other Squadron to submit candidates. Having been allocated rooms in the University Student’s Wing, we found our way to the Dining Hall for our midday (and subsequent) meals. The rest of the day was declared free, which I put to good use visiting relatives.

The following morning, a 7am breakfast called for a 6am reveille. Hoping for the best and fearing the worst, we formed up and marched across town to the Cambridge Union Society Examination Rooms (where many a promising academic career has crashed in flames).

Our first paper started at 09.00, Principles of Flight, which went well so far as I was concerned, although I did detect signs of stress elsewhere in the room. Without a break, we went onto the second paper which was ‘Engines’. Every question seemed to be just what was wanted, but again that happened to be my opinion. After a half hour break, we had a one hour paper on Anti Gas. Having marched back to Emmanuel for lunch, and back again to the exams room, a one hour paper on Law and Administration, followed by a half hour paper on Hygiene, which also included some questions on First Aid.
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A.T.C. Form 3A.
[ATC Crest]
Certificate of Proficiency
This is to Certify that
Cadet Flight Sergeant Peter Desmond Stevenson of No. 47.F. (Grantham) Squadron/[deleted] Flight [/deleted]
Is granted a Certificate of Proficiency in that during his membership of the Air Training Corps, he:-
(i) has satisfactorily completed the course of Proficiency Part II Training;
(ii) has passed the examinations in the following subjects and obtained the percentage marks as shown:-
(a) Air Navigation and Meteorology 67%
(b) Principles of Flight 85%
(c) Engines 100%
(d) Aircraft Recognition 96%
(e) Law and Administration 80%
(f) Anti-gas 86%
(g) Hygiene 84%
By Command of the Air Council
Dated at the Air Ministry
this 4th/5th day of August 1942.
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That was more than enough for one day and amidst groans from the Wolverhampton cadets we staggered back to Emmanuel. The three of us felt that we had done reasonably well, but the main hurdle would be next morning.

True enough, the two hour paper on Air Navigation and Meteorology was a right [***censored][sic]. The questions looked innocent enough but they all seemed to have hidden traps. Faces were long at the mid morning break, and nerves were somewhat shattered for the final paper on Aircraft Recognition. However, we three did well and by that time we had little sympathy for the Wolverhampton group as it was quite obvious that they had been nothing like ready enough. When results were declared, every one of them failed and I understood later that their Squadron got a rocket from ATC H.Q. for entering cadets who, in the majority of cases, were just not up to it, and had therefore wasted a lot of RAF money and time.

Sadly, although the other two did well on all the other papers, they just missed the pass mark for Navigation, and so they too did not get their hoped for pass. My own marks in the two Navigation papers I must admit, were nothing to be proud about, but at least they were a pass. This, coupled with good marks in all my other subjects, meant that 47(F) could at least claim that one of their cadets managed to bring home the very first Air Training Corps Proficiency Part 2 to be awarded.

Although only a partial success, this represented my ‘good news’ for the summer of 1942. Now for the bad news. The Navigation paper was not the only brute of a paper I sat that summer. My engineering studies had been going on all this time, which of course represented what should have been my main priority, and by the summer of 1942 I was coming to the end of my fourth year of the five year Higher National Certificate course.

It was usual practice for the College to frame the questions for the examination at the end of the Spring Term on the basis that this would be a ‘mock’ for the end of year examinations.

I passed the spring exams with good marks in all subjects and hind sight, I suppose this should have been a warning. in the end of year exams, three out of the four papers were comparatively easy and apparently I did well in them, but the fourth was definitely a ‘so and so’, and none of us did well. In that subject, the spring paper had dealt with aspects in which I was able to perform well and I had achieved high marks, but the summer paper seemed aimed at all those aspects I [sic] which I was nothing like so confident. Net result, I missed that subject by [underlined] one [/underlined] mark!

This was unquestionably disaster. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers who were the ultimate authority in the Higher National Certificate and Diploma courses, were at that time, absolutely adamant that their Corporate Membership qualification (i.e. ‘Chartered Mechanical Engineer’) should never be lowered in quality and prestige by the ‘exigencies of war’. At each and every stage, a student [underlined] must pass each and every subject [/underlined] before he is permitted to progress to the next stage, and that [underlined] this edict must apply equally in peace or war [/underlined].

For two years now, I had been ‘Deferred’ by the Joint Selection Board in order to gain the necessary technical qualification, on the strict understanding that I should indeed pass at each stage. Now, this one mark had failed me for the whole ‘4th Year’ and if I wanted to progress to the final year and eventual Corporate Membership status, [underlined] then I must take the whole 4th Year again [/underlined].

As usual, I had to appear before the Selection Board in the early September to report my progress (or lack of it!) They were not pleased. [underlined] They were not at all pleased [/underlined]. Of course, I also had to report on all that had happened in the ATC for which I submitted written reports. They congratulated me on my attaining Proficiency Certificate Part 1 and Part 2 and my appointment as Navigation Instructor etc., but made it very clear that creditable though it all might be, that was not what I was being deferred for. I was told to wait outside while they discussed my fate. I could well imagine the words on my documents which said ‘Recommended for consideration for a Commission in the Technical Branch’ being firmly crossed out and the words ‘Immediate Call Up – A.C.2’ being substituted. They still had hard faces when I was eventually called back in, but to my immense relief they had decided to give me a last chance. My progress in general they said, was acceptable, but I would be allowed to take my fourth year course again, [underlined] provided [/underlined] my technical studies were given absolute priority – in other words [underlined] more study [/underlined] and [underlined] less cadets. [/underlined]
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Suitably chastised, I returned home to pick up the pieces. It was difficult not to feel somewhat bored when one had to go back to the starting point on those subjects in which one had done reasonably well. However, I took their admonishments to heart and on balance, when I did move forward again a year later, I am sure that the repeat of this year was a definite benefit. Trying to look on the bright side, I did console myself with the fact that right at the beginning, my exemption from the first year of the course meant that I had been a year ahead in age terms.

Following the usual August break, cadet parades resumed again in the September with new recruits to ‘break in’ and the usual revision and ‘smartening up’ of the older cadets which characterised the beginning of another year of training. My own setback had no effect upon the fortunes of the Squadron of course, but the bad news so far as the Squadron was concerned was still to come.

As soon as we resumed our visits to Bottesford, we were informed that there were plans afoot to move 207 Squadron to another airfield. Bottesford had been initially constructed around a typical grass airfield which was quite suitable for the likes of the Hampden bombers of the early war years. Following the introduction of the ‘heavies’ with their steadily increasing all up weights, even the construction of a stop gap concrete runway could not disguise the fact that the airfield was breaking up under the strain.

It was quite a body blow when we were told that Bottesford was going to be closed for a complete ‘airfield work over’ for the provision of a full set of ‘heavy duty’ concrete runways and that 207 Squadron was going to move, lock, stock and barrel, over to RAF Langar, just to the east of Nottingham. Langar was however, the ‘property’ of Nottingham’s ATC Squadrons and our attachment could not move over with 207.

They couldn’t do this to us! 207 Squadron belonged to 47(F) Squadron! But war is war and postings are postings, whether we like it or not. So the Autumn of 1942 was the end of one era but it was also the beginning of another.
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[underlined] Chapter Nine 47(F) and RAF Syerston 1942-43 [/underlined]

207 Squadron’s move from Bottesford to Langar had left us without attachment. In the meantime, the number of cadets coming into Grantham from villages to the south had steadily increased and in order to reduce the distance cadets were having to cycle in and back, we had started a Colsterworth Flight. The village of Colsterworth lies some nine miles to the south of Grantham, and the opening of a new flight there would also increase our catchment area. We could now enrol cadets from villages further to the south which were now within cycling distance of Colsterworth. I must admit that I have little or nothing to contribute to the history of the Colsterworth Flight. Its inauguration came at a time when I was up to my neck with my studies, apprenticeship commitments, and affairs at the Grantham HQ. Our CO was a great believer in the delegation of responsibility [underlined] and [/underlined] authority, and apart from the occasional supply of specialist instructors from time to time, he had every confidence in the capability of the Oi/c Colsterworth to run his Flight without unnecessary interference from Grantham HQ. As a result of this policy, I personally had very little contact with them.

RAF Spittlegate were now able to take a few cadets at weekends and they agreed to the attachment of the Colsterworth Flight to them. Even if we had wanted to do so, there was no room for the main Squadron to return to a Spittlegate attachment.

All of which left us somewhat in the air (or on the ground if you prefer) Thanks to the close relationship which our C.O. had maintained with 5 Group H.Q., we were not long before we had a new attachment. This time it was to a newly acquired 5 Group Station, RAF Syerston, between Newark and Nottingham.

At the beginning of the war, Lincolnshire and the more easterly parts of Nottinghamshire, had been the home to two Bomber Groups. In the south had been No.5 Group (Hampdens) with its H.Q in Grantham, and in the north No.1 Group (mainly Wellingtons) with its H.Q. at Bawtry. As Bomber Command expanded, more new squadrons were formed than there were new airfields to accommodate them. By 1942, 1 Group were expanding more in North Lincolnshire and 5 Group, in addition to gaining newly constructed stations (such as Bottesford), were also taking over some of the more southerly stations of 1 Group’s erstwhile territory, and RAF Syerston was one of these.

Syerston had been one of the last ‘Golden Age’ stations, with elegantly designed buildings and hangars. It had come into service in mid 1940 and had been the home of 408 Sq., a Polish squadron which had used Fairey Battles to ‘work up’ into RAF procedures before converting to Wellingtons and moving north in December 1940. (Incidentally, I never knew until years after the war had ended that the Poles had their own ATC Squadrons in which instruction was carried out in both English and Polish) For the next sixteen months Syerston had gone into ‘Care and Maintenance’ while the airfield received a full set of heavy duty runways. In the late Spring of 1942, the station came back into service with the arrival of its first 5 Group Lancaster squadron.

In early 1939, No.61 Squadron, then at RAF Hemswell, had converted from Blenheims to Hampdens. It moved down to South Lincolnshire in 1941, where it converted to Manchesters. Then having converted to Lancasters, it moved into the newly commissioned Syerston.

Three months later, they were joined by No.106 Squadron. Like No.61, they also had WW1 origins. 106 was reformed in 1938 in the south of England,. Briefly, it came back to Cottesmore for a couple of months while it converted to Hampdens. It spent 1940, at Finningley, and most of 1941 at Coningsby where it converted to Manchester, before it replaced these with Lancasters. By this time, it had begun to acquire its reputation as one of 5 Group’s most prestigious and accomplished squadrons. At Coningsby it had also acquired as Commanding Officer, a Wing Commander Guy. P. Gibson (also of later fame!) which may have had something to do with it. In September 1942, 106 Sq. Moved over to Syerston, and shortly afterwards 47(F) started lending them a hand!

The significance of events is rarely obvious at the time of their occurrence. When it was announced that we would be attached to Syerston, I suppose we took it more or less for granted. I am sure at the time we thought it would be a bit of a let down. No one, we felt could possibly match up to ‘our’ 207 Squadron. How wrong we were, and it took a remarkably short time for it to sink in. In the years to follow, I have often pondered on how we came to get this ‘plum’ posting. I know that our CO had a remarkable flair for ‘Cultivating People in High Places’ and no doubt he had a good deal to do with it.
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At the same time, the hand of Sir Arthur Longmore may well have twisted the occasional elbow. Perhaps too, reports to Group H.Q. of our doings at Bottesford had not gone unnoticed. Maybe it was a combination of all three. Certainly, there were nearer stations to which we could have been attached, and certainly there were other ATC Squadrons nearer to Syerston.

There was no question of us being able to cycle from Grantham, so on our first visit there we were waiting expectantly for the arrival of a truck to take us the twenty or so miles across country. We had a good idea of where it was but the wartime travel restrictions (“Is Your Journey Really Necessary” etc) had meant that we had no real idea of how the station had progressed since its construction had started before the war but had not been completed until relatively recently. The station still exists today, even if it is no longer an operational flying station apart from being an ATC Gliding School. From the A46 main road, the woodland which surround it, still give no indication of the station’s size. One can still see the edges of married quarters as you approach from the south, and as you pass through the camp from the north, the Officer’s Mess and married quarters are on the east side and on the west can be seen the Guard Room, a few of the admin buildings and the end of one hangar. The end of one of the runways comes up to the road but the curve of the ground obscures all other view of the airfield proper.

This was more less [sic] the same initial view we got of Syerston when we first rolled into the station back in 1942. We went through the usual formalities at the Guard Room and were guided up to the Adjutant’s Office where we were placed in the hands of the poor soul who had been given the job of looking after us for the day. As with our first visit to Bottesford, we had the feeling that they were not quite sure what to do with us, but we soon got down to business.

We explained what we had done at Bottesford and they proposed that the first step was to take us on a tour of the station. I think perhaps that I should have explain [sic] that the parties which went out to Bottesford and now to Syerston, were nearly always our older, more experienced cadets who had reached the age of Registration and therefore had more or less decided their aircrew or ground trade categories when the time came for their callup. Visits to RAF Stations were always considered as privileges to be earned. From time to time younger cadets would be included partly to make up numbers but principally to give them an idea of what they could look forward to.

We had already realised that the station itself was a much more ‘up market’ affair than Bottesford. Where Bottesford had grass, Syerston had lawns. The buildings were elegant and neatly arranged. The hangars were vast and their workshops designed into them rather than being in ‘add on’ huts. Lancasters were everywhere. Bottesford had been a one squadron station with between twenty and thirty Lancasters at any given time. Syerston, being a two squadron station, had between fifty and sixty. Not that we could see them all at the same time because, like Bottesford, there were dispersal areas all round the perimeter, many of them tucked away in the many surrounding woods. The bomb dumps we [sic] also twice the size and since the RAF were now bigger and better big bangers, their stock of ‘cookies’ were even more impressive.

What became increasingly obvious, was a difference in atmosphere. Our stay at Bottesford had been at a time when targets were varied, calling for equally varied tactics. We had passed though [sic] the leaflets dropping and mine laying eras, the low level preparations for possible daylight raids, and the early exploratory experiments in the use of electronic navigation, target finding and marking aids. Now, in late 1942, a far more single minded approach to air warfare was being entered. This, in time, would lead to the Battles of Hamburg, the Ruhr and Berlin, and Syerston’s job was to ‘take out’ the industrial potential of the Third Reich. The enemy’s potential to strike back had increased proportionately. The Luftwaffe now had radar equipped night fighters and sophisticated radar aided ground control systems and our losses were mounting. Syerston was definitely a station in which ‘kill and/or be killed’ was an every night affair, a station on which flying was no longer fun but all too often a grim reality.

By the end of our second visit, we had more or less dropped into the same routines with the ground trades going into the hangars, armaments sections and the like, while the aircrew candidates went to their equivalents. Wherever possible, we ‘got stuck in’ and made sure we had earned the chance of a back seat in a test flight. Most of these flights were generally short, relatively speaking, as both squadrons were not [underlined] practising [/underlined] for anything, apart from breaking in replacement crews. Inevitably, some of us ended up in the bomb dumps loading incendiaries and other menial chores in the hangars, but we were not there to be entertained.
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Again it was not long before we were welcomed rather than tolerated. For myself, once the routine had been established, I tended to send other Sergeants over in charge of the parties, and only once in a while went over with them to see how things were going. As a result, events at Syerston have remained less clear in my mind. My main reason for doing so was that a visit there was always a full day’s job, and I needed my Sunday afternoons for my technical studies. So, more and more, my Sunday mornings were spent in our Grantham HQ, either instructing or relieving other NCOs to go to Syerston.

[underlined] No.830 Company Girl’s Training Corps [/underlined]

By mid 1942, male conscription had settled down to a steady flow of boys into the three Services. The Sea Cadets, the Army Cadets and the ATC were all feeding their senior services with increasingly capable recruits who knew their basic drill and basic skills. Conscription had also begun for women over the age of eighteen. Most of them would be directed into war work, nursing and the Land Army etc., but a significant proportion were going into the Wrens, ATC and the WAAF. The three Services complained that there seemed to be no pre-service training organisation to give equivalent pre-entry skills to their women entrants. At the same time none seemed prepared to allow girls to enter their Cadet units. This was of course in an age when segregation of the sexes was still considered essential ‘on moral grounds’.

Without further research, I have no idea of when, where and how the idea of a Girls Training Corps came to fruition. It started, and for most of the rest of the war years, existed in a state more or less equivalent to the early days of the Air Defence Cadet Corps i.e. a largely voluntary organisation which the Services assisted, but only nominally supported financially. It depended almost totally on local financial and material fund raising. Its aims were to give girls below conscription age, basis [sic] skills in nursing and general care, first aid, cookery and ‘good citizenship’ (whatever that meant). On top of that, those girls who, upon Registration opted for one of the Services, would be taught basic foot drill and the basics of that role in which they would serve when the time came for their callup.

Once the idea was proposed, the Girls Training Corps quickly blossomed and spread. As with the early days of the ADCC, the first units (called ‘Companies’) were formed in the south. It was some time before the idea spread to Lincolnshire, but in November 1942, the Grantham Journal reported that a Girl’s Training Corps Company was to be formed in Grantham. Now at this point I need to introduce two personalities, one new and another whom we met earlier on in this narrative.

You may remember back in the early days of the Grantham Squadron, the sub-editor of the Grantham Journal had always given us valuable publicity. Not only that, she had volunteered herself into being our Squadron secretary. For the last three years she had kept us, our records and [underlined] her [/underlined] Orderly Room in good order and discipline. Small dumpy and efficient, Miss Llewellyn-Owens had charm and a definite way with things and when she was called upon to report on the proposed formation of a GTC Company in Grantham, she did a lot more than just report. The other personality was in distinct contrast. One often meets people who are large both in personality and stature. Grantham’s Mrs. Brace was both, collecting and ruling her numerous committees with much verve and vigour. Where our Miss Owens persuaded, Mrs Brace commanded. While Mrs Brace drummed up support, Miss Owens proceeded to persuade, and the first person she persuaded was our C.O. who was ‘invited’ to attend an inaugural meeting which took place a few weeks later.

Grantham had no Sea Cadets and the Army Cadets were still finding their feet, so Miss Owen was determined that if there was any serious talk of cooperation, it was going to be with the ATC. It would seem that history had again a tendency to repeat itself. The meeting was held
Mrs Brace was the obvious candidate for Commanding Officer, Miss Owens became Adjutant (and later second in command). The ATC Commanding Officer was invited to comment and he promptly offered the full cooperation of his squadron’s facilities in those fields of instruction where there would be common interest. Furthermore, until such time as the new GTC Company could find a home of their own, they could use the ATC Headquarters on those nights and other times when they were not in use by the ATC.

At this point I would like to step aside to air some recent concern within 47(F)’s command structure. As the age of conscription was raised, we had lost a number of our younger Flight Commanders but over the four years of the Squadron’s existence since its inauguration, the Commanding Officer, the Adjutant, two of the Flight Commanders and the Squadron Warrant Officer had remained the same.
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[paper cutting]
[indecipherable word]
Registered as a Newspaper 1942 FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13[inserted]th 1942 [/inserted]

Cause Of Soldier’s Death Unknown
The death of L/Bdr. James Edward Moseley, 24, Church-street, Smallthorne, Stoke-on-Trent, who was found lying on the Colsterworth by-pass on the night of October 16-17th, with severe injuries, which proved fatal, is still an unsolved mystery.
The deputy borough coroner, Mr. C.Y.L. Caleraft, at the resumed inquest on Friday, stated death ‘was caused by shock and toxaemia, following injuries’. He was, however, unable to bring in a verdict of how the injuries were caused, though a theory was put forward that deceased had “jumped” a lorry, stunned himself in getting off, and had been run over by another vehicle.
PC Beech said he arrived 300 yards south of the railway bridge on the by-pass at 12.50 a.m. on October 17th. He examined the deceased who had been moved by lorry drivers to the side of the road and found him suffering from extensive injuries. He was conscious and asked if he was off the road saying “Don’t let them run over me again”. In reply to witness’s questioning, Moseley said he had been to Grantham and had returned on a lorry, but did not know how he had met with an accident. His injuries, added witness, suggested that he had been run over. Soldiers were in the habit of taking lifts on passing lorries, sometimes without the drivers knowing.
George Edward Pallister, West Hartlepool, lorry driver, explained that late on the night of October 16th he was driving through Colsterworth and in the light of his headlamps saw an object lying on the road. He skirted it, drew up and found it was a soldier, lying with his head touching the kerb and his feet directly across the road. Two other lorries came up, and together they moved the soldier and covered him with coats, while one driver went for an ambulance and the police.
The efforts made by the police to find anyone who had any knowledge of the accident, were described by Inspector Taylor, who said he telephoned Biggleswade and asked them to stop all vehicles proceeding south, to examine them for bloodstains, etc., and interrogate the drivers. He also requested that the message should be passed further south to the Metropolitan police. Witness then spoke to intermediate stations between Grantham and Biggleswade, so that lorries in cafes could be examined. It was also arranged that the message should be circulated by police wireless and on the following Monday the B.B.C. broadcast a message. Despite this, however, no information about a vehicle or driver who might have been involved had been obtained.

Continued from next column

National Service sent her name to Mrs. Leeke, Grantham Vicarage, by Friday next, November 20th mentioned whether she would like to attend the course at Sleaford? We have been promised most valuable help by the A.T.C. and the Red Cross, and the A.T.S. and W.A.A.F. have cooperated most generously in the work already begun in the county”.


Company To Be Formed At Grantham
At a well-attended meeting in the Guildhall, on Saturday, under the chairmanship of Mrs. G.H. Schwind (chairman of the Kesteven G.T.C. advisory council) it was unanimously decided to form a company of the G.T.C. for Grantham, and later to extend the work to include nearby villages.
Miss Janet Campbell, county commandant of the corps, gave a most inspiring account of its work, which aims at giving a sound basic training to girls up to the age of 18, with optional classes under well-qualified instructors for those who intend to become munition-workers, land girls, nurses or members of the Forces.
The great success of the boys organisation, she said, was due to their keen desire to take their share in winning the war, and in this the girls were no less anxious to do their part. Social activities were included in the programme and a camping site was already in use, thanks to the generosity of Commander J. Cracroft Amcotts. The uniform was simple and applications from would-be cadets in Grantham had already been received. Officers were needed aged 19 and over.
The following committee was appointed: Mrs. Schwind, chairman pro tem., Lady Longmore, Lady Welby, Miss Bellamy, Mrs. L. Bond, Miss Cherry, Miss Frier, Miss Gillies, Miss Hargraves, Miss Jabet, Miss R. Jackson, Miss Law, Mrs. Leeke, Miss E. M. Preston, Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. G. A. C. Shipman, Mrs. Talbot, Miss Townsend and Mrs. Walsh.
Flt.-Lieut. P. P. L. Stevenson representing the Grantham A.T.C., of which he is commanding officer, and promised the active co-operation of the corps.
It was decided to accept cadets over the age of 14 and to invite those willing to become officers to notify Mrs. Leeke.
Mrs. Schwind writes:-
“the Corps, which is recognised by the board of Education as the pre-service organisation for girls gives the basic training to cadets, aged over 14 up to 18, in drill, fire-fighting, first-aid, handy-women’s jobs, hygiene and physical training, while tuition in other subjects such as aircraft recognition, field cookery, food production, home nursing, shorthand, car maintenance and workshop calculations is provided according to the careers which the girls hope to follow, whether in munitions, land work, nursing or the Forces. Before we enrol cadets (there are already nearly 40 who have expressed a wish to join) we need officers – women and girls over 19 interested in the work and able to give one or two evenings a week. (the more officers, the fewer their hours of duty need be. In addition to the commandant, vice-commandant, adjutant and quartermaster, we need one or two officers for each section of 25 cadets. A week-end course for officers will be held at Sleaford High school on Saturday and Sunday December 5th – 6th. under Miss Janet Campbell, county commandant, at which we hope to have officers from the companies formed or being formed at Sleaford, Stamford and Bourne.
“Will anyone willing to offer herself for this much needed form of

Continued in previous column
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[deleted] Red Cross [/deleted] cadets on parade
THIS contingent of Grantham Red Cross cadets. Led by Susan Brace, was taken outside the Guildhall towards the end of the Second World War. Taking the salute is an American general.
Third from right is town MP Denis Kendall and on top of the bomb-blast wall is Rothwell Lee. In the background is a building later demolished to make way for the JobCentre.
The picture was brought in by Joyce Szewd, of Sixth Avenue, Grantham.
[/paper cutting]

[paper cutting]
Cadets were girls of the Training Corps
A RECENT picture described as the Red Cross cadets towards the end of the war was in fact the Grantham 830 Girls Training Corps.
Although the Red Cross wore similar uniforms, they wore caps and aprons on parade.
During the war, all youngsters over 16 had to join a uniformed youth group, such as Red Cross, Army Cadets or ATC.
Winnie Barnes, of Ripon Close, Grantham, rang to say she is the lass on the second row, nearest the camera.
Led by Susan Brace, second in command was Miss Llewellyn-Owens, a Journal reporter who later joined the WRNS.
Beryl Neal, of Robertson Road, on the front row ahead of Miss Barnes, said they met in a room on London Road, which became the Kendall umbrella factory.
She said: “We marched around the streets. There was little traffic in those day [sic].
“We learned Morse code at ATC rooms, St Peter’s Hill, by Mr Betts.”
Margaret Burdon, of Grantham, brought in the photograph above of members of the Grantham 830 Girls Training Corps celebrating the group’s third birthday in 1945 in the grounds of Elsham House (now Grantham College), shortly before it disbanded.
Pictured are from from [sic] left – Joan Ray, Audrey Nickerson, Betty Ward, Betty Goodacre, June Bradley, Winnie Barnes, Margaret Smith, Miss Gardner, Mrs Brace, Miss Hall, Winnie Guilliat, Doris Anderson, Joan Parker, Margaret Wilson, Jean Ranby, Pauline Palmer, Doreen Sellars and Mary Shepherd.
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Now as mentioned much earlier, the difference in rank between a Warrant Officer and his Commanding Officer may be considerable, but it [sic] a matter of respective opinion as to which considers himself to be endowed with the superior responsibility, authority or whatever. Over these four years, each respected their relative rank and apparent authority, but of late there may have been some cooling of regard. I may be wrong, but I have always had the feeling that our Warrant Officer was seeking an appropriate opportunity to tell our CO what he could do with the former’s Warrant. Whether it was simply a case of him just having had enough of the job for a while or whether it was more of a case of personalities in disagreement, I never knew, but our W.O. had been increasingly on the point of handing in his resignation.

However, back to the formation of the GTC Company. As part of the package of cooperation, our CO promised to supply drill and other instructors until the GTC could stand on its own feet with an NCO structure of its own. As with the early days of the ADCC, there had been a rush of girls wanting to join. This called not only for their initial drill instruction generally, but also to train up as quickly as possible, a core structure of recruits with appropriate leadership and instructional skills.

While our CO had obtained immediate offers of help from our officers to assist in the drill and administrative instruction of the GTC Section Commanders, it was a very different matter when it came to the point of who would be in charge of other ranks instruction. Our Warrant Officer chose this point to become the ‘Immovable Object’ and refused point blank to get involved. Our CO, realising that the employment of ‘Irresistible Force’ would achieve little or nothing, turned this force elsewhere.

It will be appreciated from all that transpired in the many previous pages, that all the cadet units in which I had served to date had been ‘boys only’. The King’s School was (and still is) a boys only school. Fraternisation with the girls of the Kesteven and Grantham High School across the town had been actively discouraged and a King’s School boy had to be more than a little careful about the town’s other girls with whom he was seen to be associating. In fact, at that time, prefect power and a regime which permitted a fair measure of ‘ragging’ (not to be confused with bullying), to be openly observed with a girl friend (of the right social order of course) was regarded as being a Sixth Form privilege. To do so under the age of sixteen was to invite merciless ragging and unless one was particularly extrovert, one’s later teen age years left one with a ‘wimmin is trouble’ complex.

There were no girls in our family of my sort of age and both before and during the war our homes had been isolated in terms of neighbours. Until the later years of my apprenticeship, my contact with any girls of my own age was negligible. Both the ADCC and the ATC had (until now) been totally ‘boys only’. As for me, until adolescence, I had only thoughts for model aircraft, Meccano, and the like. After adolescence, all I was interested in was my studies, my cadets and keeping my family together in the very primitive conditions in which were [sic] had evacuated ourselves to escape the bombing in Grantham. On top of this, having by now seen too much distress and despair when loved ones ‘failed to return’ I had in effect’Signed [sic] the Pledge’. Until such time as we could get this war business over and done with, I would leave the chasing of girls to the others who had enough spare time to ‘get involved’. Besides, I had a shrewd idea that I was more of an ‘odd fish’ than I cared to acknowledge. If there was a ‘right girl’ out there somewhere she would not only take quite a lot of finding but she would probably get fed up with waiting for me to get my qualifications/commission or whatever other excuses I had for not spending enough time with her.

If the SWO was not prepared to instruct the GTC girls then, the C.O. decided, there were plenty of NCOs in his Squadron who would jump at the chance. ‘Throwing Rank’, he said (in no uncertain terms), that I would be in charge of GTC drill instruction, and in particular would be in charge of a crash course to train up their NCOs. I immediately protested that I had already got too much on my plate, but he promptly slatted me down by saying that I had said that my studies were going well and that I was delegating the majority of Syerston visit supervision to my other Sergeants. “Besides” he said, “It will do you good” (I was far from sure what he meant by that. Neither was I sure how much Miss Owens’s hand was mixed up in this)

Over the years, there had been quite a few ‘social evenings’ in our H.Q. to which the other cadets had brought their girl friends along. We also had a succession of girls helping out at our mid evening cocoa and tea breaks. In addition, beyond the blackout curtains at our front door and the end of parade, there would usually be a certain amount of whispering and giggling as girl friends awaited the emergence of their boys. The sound of female voices was not unknown in our HQ but had
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always been in the minority, but this was no preparation for the sound effects of the first night upon which No. 830 (Grantham) Company of the Girl’s Training Corps had their first parade. As fully expected, there had been no reluctance on the part of the other Sergeants to undertake drill instruction for the GTC cadets. I had made a point of arriving early so that I could hide myself away in my instructor’s office until the last possible moment. As I buried my nose in my affairs, I became increasingly aware of a crescendo of female voices filling the hallway and other rooms, together with voices of authority attempting to produce a semblance of order out of the apparent chaos.

Eventually, order was established and the next thing I knew was that on the opposite side of my desk was a uniform which was not RAF Blue, and a voice which was not one of my cadets. She informed me that the NCO squad was awaiting my instruction. The dreaded moment had arrived.

Now it has taken me sixty odd years to admit it publicly, but the real reason for my reluctance was that I was in a ‘blue funk’ as they say. Without a qualm, I could face a squad of new ATC recruits with calm and authority. I could perform for, and converse with the Topmost Brass of the RAF and other dignitaries without turning a hair. I could command a parade of several hundred strong without a tremor in my voice, but the idea of facing up to a dozen or more ‘wimmin’ was something approaching nightmare. ‘Wimmin’ were a closed book to me and I didn’t want to ‘get involved’ whichever way you like to interpret it. Section Officer Owens had assured me that they had been carefully selected and that they were ‘all nice girls’, but that was no help.

I faced the group. They appeared to size me up and I did my best to size them up. In the same way as a horse will immediately sense a nervous rider, it was obvious they sensed that in spite of my stripes and apparent age, I was more than a little nervous (Under statement)

Throat cleared, I resorted to my usual preliminary patter. I was “Flight Sergeant Stevenson and over the next few parades I would be instructing you on basic Foot Drill and furthermore instructing you on the basic principles of drill instruction etcetera, etcetara [sic]” Sundry signs of interest, what might have been encouragement, and a few more enigmatic signs which might has [sic] been amusement. I pressed on regardless and relaxed very slightly.

As usual, the first thing was the “Stand to Attention”. The usual patter starts at the feet and works upwards. In those inhibited days, ‘gentlemen’ refrained from regarding anything below the female face with anything further than the briefest of glances. Now I was called upon to considering closely the disposition of a dozen pairs of black shoes, topped with a dozen pairs of female ankles above which were a dozen pairs of female legs. Somehow, I managed to sort that lot out.

The next problem was the rest of the figures above. Although they were unquestionably ‘different’ from the dozens of squads I had previously instructed, there [sic] seemed to possess that same cross section of posture problems. Some of them naturally stood up straight and pulled their shoulders back in the approved manner, but there seemed to be a new spectrum of hunching which of course had to be corrected if smartness on parade was to be established. With boys, the usual practice was to stand behind them and, forcible employ ones thumbs and fingers to haul the back into the correct position. What on earth was I allowed to do? Summoning up courage, I picked on one of the ‘stoopers’ who didn’t look as if she would slap my face. I stood behind her and as gently as possible pulled her shoulders back. At the last moment she let out a slight gasp which the others must have heard as all shoulders visibly straightened – to my relief!

There were constant pitfalls for the unwary male. “Arms straight, fingers clenched, thumbs behind the seam of the . . . . . .” Oh, Christ, they don’t have trousers, do they? Do their skirts have a seam down the side? I flounder. One of the more capable ones who seems to be enjoying herself chirps up “Yes Sergeant, there is a seam down there”. Grins and the odd giggle. I press on. More problems when we get to ‘Right Dress’. Boys, in a manner of speaking, present less of a problem. Get their chests lined up, and the rest drops into place. No [sic] so this lot! After a bit, I give up and line their noses up!

Gaining confidence a little, I yell the usual “Come on, stand up straight, pull your shoulders back and stick your . . . .” I stop dead. I must admit that they responded admirably until the whole group collapsed into helpless laughter at my expression, and at that moment our CO and S/O Owens walked in to see how we are getting on. I get a stern look from our C.O. and what might be called an old fashioned look from S/O Owens. (I did not realise that the cadet who was beginning to wind me
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up was her niece, and that later she had thoroughly enjoyed giving a first hand account of their first drill session)

And so it went on.

Somehow I managed to survive the rest of the evening and I had to admit that they were indeed ‘nice girls’ as promised and they were all dead keen to learn. Whoever had short listed them had done a good job. Afterwards, I was amused and somewhat heartened to learn that the other ATC Sergeants had encountered similar problems but unlike me had thoroughly enjoyed themselves. At first I was a little embarrassed when the NCO group were referred to as ‘[underlined] your [/underlined] girls’, but after a while, they were doing so well, I was getting sufficiently proud of them to catch myself calling them ‘[underlined] my [/underlined] girls’. Luckily for my studies and other commitments, the ones who might be considered ‘my type’ appeared to have their own boy friends so I could retire gracefully into my bachelordom and not ‘get involved’. We all seemed to get on well with each other and that was fine. However, in retrospect, I think the C.O. was most probably right when he said it would “Do you good”

For a while, our H.Q. was busy every night with ATC and GTC on alternate nights, but it was not long before they got an H.Q. of their own. There, they could do their nursing, first aiding and caring skills and their NCOs could carry on the good work so far as drilling was concerned, but the more Service orientated cadets still came to us for things like Signals, Aircraft Recognition (They might not be so good at sorting their ‘Flaps’ from their ‘Slots’ but they were good at recognising the general shape and ‘sit’ of an aircraft)

If I remember rightly, for these subjects we began to parade on the same nights and now the barriers were down, our H.Q. became very much ‘co-ed’. I think for a time at least, the classes were kept separate, but at breaks and at the end of the evening’s activities there was a lot of ‘fraternising’ and a noticeable tendency to ‘pair up’ when the time came to shoo them all out. This then was the pattern which seemed to hold for the next couple of years. We definitely paraded as separate units on formal occasions, but so far as instructional and social activities were concerned, there was always a high degree of cooperation. It was an interesting phase of our Squadron’s history

The GTC did not survive into the post war era. When the time came, in less inhibited times, for the various Cadet units to enrol girls on the same footing as their boys, though difficulties might still arise, it would not be the first time that 47(F) had ‘wimmin’ about the place.

We had a second Annual Camp in 1943, (boys only of course) A tented camp was set up for us next door to the Parachute Section alongside the lane which leads off to Syerston village. Sadly, my camp report for that week has not survived, so I cannot give a day by day account of the doings. Although we did not receive the same V.I.P. treatment we had at Bottesford, I can still remember a lot of flying and a lot of slaving in the hangars and other sections, In retrospect, I suppose in a way, this and our attachment to Syerston could be considered the apogee of 47(F)s wartime involvement with the hot war.

As 1942 moved into 1943, I was now in a somewhat curious situation. The ATC had been created from the Air Defence Cadet Corps to meet a wartime need. I am not aware that at that time there had been any specific maximum age for an ATC cadet. No doubt with a callup age of eighteen, nearly if not all cadets would have left for the Forces by that time, and a maximum age limit was hardly necessary. We had no cadets on our strength who were not liable for military service.

Thanks to my Joint Selection Board deferment to obtain my Higher National Certificate as an entry qualification, I was now not only the Squadron’s senior NCO with all those cadets of the same age having already left for the RAF and elsewhere, within eight months, I would be aged twenty. Looking back, I suppose I was one of the few cadets who had been in the ADCC/ATC for the whole of the war period to date.

As a result, my future in No.47(F) was to say the least of it, a bit uncertain. There was the Selection Board stipulation that I must be in some form of pre-service training, so my having to leave the Squadron on age grounds might well present a problem. I suppose I was just about old enough to apply for a commission within the ATC, but we were up to strength on the unit’s officer count, and the ramifications of applying seemed somewhat complicated. The matter was solved however before
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A.T.C. Form 3
[ATC Crest]
Certificate of Proficiency
This is to Certify that
Cadet Flight Sergeant Peter Desmond Stevenson of No. 47.F. (Grantham) Squadron
is granted a Certificate of Proficiency in that, during his membership of the Air Training Corps, he has fulfilled the necessary conditions as to efficient service and has qualified in the Flight Mech (E) syllabus of training, as laid down in the Rules and Regulations of the Air Training Corps.

Air Commodore
Commandant, Air Training Corps.
Date 7 – 8 – 43
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that decision was made. Our Squadron Warrant Officer suddenly decided that enough was enough, and thumped in his resignation.

The CO (naturally) decided that a suggestion replacement should be from his fellow officers. Net result, would I be prepared to resign as a cadet, and apply for consideration as the Warrant Officer. In August 1943, therefore Cadet 308 Flight Sergeant Stevenson P.D. ceased to exist. He handed in his uniform, received a W.Os clothing allowance and was next seen sporting a rather smarter uniform, service shirt and tie and the W.Os ‘Crown on his lower sleeves. As far as duties were concerned, there was not a great deal of difference, as his predecessor, over the previous months had been only too pleased to hand over his more irksome duties to his senior Flight Sergeant.

That was the good news I suppose, but life always seems to balance this with a bit of bad news. The latter affected the Squadron as a whole. Lincolnshire’s air bases were to undergo another, and even more drastic upheaval. No.5 Group was to move to occupy more of the north and east of the county and its Headquarters would also move north. Nearly all their bases to the south and west were to be handed over to the Troop Carrying Command of the U.S. 9th Army Air Force whose headquarters would now be in 5 Group’s erstwhile home in St. Vincent’s in Grantham. Syerston’s two Squadrons would separate to other bases and we could no longer be attached to them. Calamity indeed!

‘The Yanks were Coming, the Yanks were Coming’ – and we were left to make the best of it. The autumn of 1943 was, to say the least of it, the beginning of yet another phase in the 47(F) Story.
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[A.T.C. crest]
To P.D. Stevenson.
As Commandant of the Air Training Corps for the Midlands.
I do hereby appoint you to be a Warrant Officer of No. 47F (Grantham) Squadron, from the Twelfth day of August 1943.
You are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge your duties as such as required by regulations and to observe and follow such orders and directions as you shall receive from a superior officer.
Eighteenth day of 1943.
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[underlined] Chapter Ten – The Magic Air Force 1943-44 [/underlined]

Before I start on this penultimate chapter, a word about its title. Leslie Thomas, the prolific author of highly amusing accounts of WW2 service life, produced a masterpiece in his ‘Magic Army’. This started with an hilarious account of the impact of the invasion of the Dorset countryside and coast by the first elements of the United States ground forces who came ‘over here’ to finish this war of ours for us. It was centred around a small seaside community of local yokels, guarded from the enemy by a more or less forgotten detachment of British artillerymen. Its gun was of dubious reliability and had barely enough ammunition to do more than scare the pants off a ‘tip and run’ German reconnaissance plane. Into this scene had marched the first elements of what would eventually be an overwhelming army of American servicemen. They had come to prepare the ground. They had come from many parts of the United States and some of them had been recruited from the Deep South with complexions which were a distinct contrast to those of the Dorset folk. (In these days of political correctness, one has to be careful with one’s phraseology) Their military bearing and behaviour was also in distinct contrast to that of the Tommies manning their gun. The story ends in tragedy but don’t let that put you off. It will give you another facet to the eight months or so when the Grantham area was host to another American invasion.

These were not by any means the first U.S. units who had come over here to join the fray.
For the past two years, East Anglia had been the Forty Ninth State as the U.S Eighth Army Air Force battled its way with ever increasing strength (and appalling casualties) in its daylight raids over the Continent. As the planning and preparations for D Day progressed, the combined operations of the British and American Airborne Forces resulted in many of the airfields surrounding Grantham being freed from RAF activities to make room for the Troop Carrying Command of the U.S Ninth Air Force. Grantham’s St. Vincent’s, had become their Command Headquarters, and it was their staff personnel who were first seen about the town. Having more or less established themselves, the time had come to ‘call in the Cavalry’ and shortly afterwards the aircraft and their ground personnel began flying into the airfields.

The aircraft were mostly the rugged, reliable and much loved C-47, better known to us as the Douglas Dakota, and the much less reliable and largely hated C-46 Curtis Commando which had a nasty habit of bursting into flames at awkward moments (It was eventually withdrawn from service). Equipped with these, came the various Troop Carrying Groups

Now in the U.S Air Forces, what we know as a Squadron, they know as a ‘Group’ and what we know as a Group, they call a ‘Wing’. Each of their Troop Carrying Groups had about seventy aircraft which were too many to administer as a single unit, so to make it even more complicated, each was made up four sub units (roughly equivalent to what we would call a Flight) which they now called Squadrons, (TCSs) each of which has a different unit number. Get it? – well perhaps not.

O.K let’s start again with a specific example. Together, the 14th TCS, the 15th TCS, the 53rd TCS and the 59th TCS made the 61st TC [underlined] Group [/underlined] which went to RAF Barkston Heath. This TCG with others at RAF’s Folkingham and Fulbeck in Lincolnshire, Saltby (Leics), Cottesmore (Rutland) and Spanhoe (Northants) together made up the 52nd Troop Carrying [underlined] Wing [/underlined]. 52nd TCW plus two other TCWs in the south of England then made up the 9th Troop Carrying [underlined] Command [/underlined] whose H.Q was at Grantham. In each case, these Troop Carrying Wings were stationed close by the various British and American Airborne Divisions who would fly to war with them.

One other thing we need to establish in the way of definition, was the question of the terms of occupancy of the various airfields used by the Americans way back in the early Forties when our overseas investments were all used up, the Lease Lend agreement with the Roosevelt administration ended up with the British Government agreeing to lease British bases f.o.c. to American Forces in exchange for ships, aircraft and other war material. Thus, a British airfield remained the property of the RAF, who would equip and maintain its buildings, runways etc., leaving the Americans free to concentrate on their flying. Thus, even though a given airfield might be known to the Americans as ‘No.683 Base’, it was still RAF Fulbeck with an RAQF Station Commander, with its flying operations under the command of a U.S. Army Colonel.

Having allowed the staff at St. Vincent’s to settle in, our C.O. went to work. Thanks no doubt to the two years he had spent in the U.S. in the late 1920s he was soon on friendly terms with the Troop Carrying Command’s General Beresford. Invited down to our H.Q., he apparently liked what he saw and promised to attach us to Fulbeck which was going to be the 9th TCC headquarter’s airfield. This incidentally, was just down the hill from Fulbeck Hall which was to be the place in which the detailed planning of the Arnhem operation was to take place, and close to Stragglethorpe Hall which was the Headquarters of the British 1st Airborne Division.
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[underlined] 6th February 1944 [/underlined]: Sunday. The weather was cold and dull, which was rather unfortunate because during the morning there was an inspection of the A.T.C. by an American named General Giles. There was also present at this little function the Mayor and Mayoress and Sir Arthur Longmore. The latter appeared to have aged considerably; or perhaps it was the cold, for the wind was bitter.
A familiar sight at North Witham, Barkston Heath, Folkingham and Fulbeck were the C47 Dakotas of the US 9th Troop Carrier Command. These particular aircraft are from the 434th Troop Carrier Group, possibly at Fulbeck.
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When the time came for our first visit to Fulbeck, we awaited the promised truck with both interest and curiosity. Well, we waiting and then waited a little longer, but eventually a large truck bearing the now familiar large white star on its bonnet (sorry ‘hood’), rolled to a halt outside our H.Q. “Sorry” said the gum chewing driver, “I got lost”. We piled in. thankful to hand over the navigation, we set off. We were offered a stick of gum. “Sorry”, we said, “We are not allowed to chew sweets when in uniform”. We get a look of surprise. We eventually arrive. Used to several years of RAF Security, we are now somewhat surprised to roll through the gate with no more than a wave from the driver to the guard who is too busy chatting up a couple of Land Army girls to do more than languidly wave back. (We gathered later that a staff car bearing a General’s flag and stars was about the only thing to warrant a guard turnout) Our driver dumps us somewhere in what appears to be the nerve centre of things and in the best of service traditions, proceeds to ‘get lost’.

Eventually, we find someone who seems to have some idea of who we are, but it becomes quite obvious that they have no idea of what to do with us. They play safe, and while they detail someone to take our cadets on a guided tour, our Flight Commander and I do our best to thrash out something constructive. It takes some time to convince them that we are anything more than a glorified Boy’s Club, there for a bit of fun. Having heard what we had done at Bottesford and Syerston, they agreed to attach our ground trades to the equivalent functions in their hangars and on dispersal, and allow the aircraft cadets access to Navigation and Signals section etc. They also promised to give all our cadets as much air experience as possible. In fact they immediately bundled all of us into a Dakota and gave us a twenty minute flip. I don’t think the flight was for any specific purpose from their point of view. They were just being friendly.

Before this happened, it had been lunch time and we were led (we soon learned that no one ever marched in this Magic Air Force) over to the ‘Enlisted Men’s Canteen’. We dutifully queued up and it was our turn to be surprised (not that we had stopped being surprised from the minute we had arrived) Huge plates were dolloped with huge quantities of food. Naturally, individual meals are long since forgotten, but the general impressions last. Apart from immediate perishables, the Americans had agreed to be responsible for the importation of all their food, and the one thing the Americans had decided upon at the outset, was that they were not going to go hungry. They were still in a state of astonishment at how well we looked on what they considered were the starvation rations we were living on. So, when meat was on the menu, we got the equivalent of a week’s ration on our plate. If it was egg[underlined]s[/underlined], then it was in the plural at a time when our week’s ration was one fresh egg, and only aircrew, who were on ops that night got a fresh egg for their breakfast. Sugar was on the tables in great bowls, and the ‘kawffee’ was real coffee and not the ‘Camp’ chicory extract we had been drinking for the last four years. At this stage of the war, though we were certainly not starving, we were hungry most of the time. This of course showed externally when we compared our bodies with our new friends. We were not exactly skinny but in comparison they did tend to bulge better.. I must admit that our meals and ‘kawffee breaks’ were a highlight of our visits to Fulbeck, but with qualifications. Certainly the quantity was there, but to the more discerning palate, the standard of cooking left much to be desired.

Later on, we discovered a further interesting example of Anglo-American cooperation. By then we had got to know the RAF ‘Care and Maintenance’ staff, and it would appear that to be posted to a USAAF base was initially considered to be the ‘reward’ for not having measured up to the requirements of a General Service Officer. Once there, the ‘perks’ more than balanced any remaining stigma. Quite apart from the generally relaxed atmosphere, with little if any of the usual RAF ‘bull’, the general standard of living was measurably higher. The small RAF team soon dropped Officer and O/R segregation and shared a small communal mess. This received the same per capita rationing level as the USAAF, but used RAF catering staff to do the cooking. As Warrant Officer, I and any other ATC Officer would be invited, indeed advised, to eat with the RAF.

It was interesting to see the considerable expansion of this RAF Mess over the months we were there. Apparently, the USAAF officers, once invited to eat with their RAF colleagues, asked for their ration allocations to be routed (sorry ‘rowted”) to the RAF Mess in order for them to enjoy much higher cuisine standards than pertained in their mess. Not all of these US based ration allowances were consumed on the premises, as can well be imagined. We understood that the Fulbeck RAF officers (and I suppose the same applies to the other 9th TCC stations) became not only very popular with their own families and friends, but also with their colleagues on adjacent RAF stations.
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[underlined] YOUTH DAY PARADE – MAY 4th 1944 [underlined]

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[underlined] YOUTH DAY PARADE – MAY 4th 1944 [underlined]

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This was not the only ‘grey’ market which developed and was quietly turned a further blind eye upon. This one had interesting ramifications. During the week before one of our visits, some of our cadets would ‘accumulate’ a quantity of U.K. currency, for which they found a ready market amongst the GIs who were dating up English girls. Now in possession of dollars and cents, our cadets could look forward to the arrival of the ‘chuck wagons’ which heralded the ‘kawffee breaks’. These treated the cadets the same as the GIs. Available on these were sweets and cigarettes in quantity and, more importantly, [underlined] off ration [/underlined]. Furthermore, the cadets also discovered that, provided they had American currency, they we [sic] free to buy things in the ‘PX Store’ (more or less equivalent to one of our NAAFI Shops). These were fabulous sources of things virtually unheard of unless one was well into the British Black Market. Our next currency transaction was from dollars and cents into the new wartime wonder – Nylon Stockings. Once our poor inhibited, blushing cadets (by now unmoved by a Lancaster turret full of blood and guts) had screwed up their courage to effect the transaction, their popularity rating with the GTC went up by leaps and bounds.

This was not the only forms of negotiable currency. Thanks to the generosity of our new American friends, Grantham and the surrounding district had soon learned that ‘gum’ and the Herschey Bar (for ‘Herschey’ read ‘Cadbury’) were in plentiful supply. We were correspondingly popular on next parade night. This brings me back to the GIs Mess Halls.

When we had first collected our midday meal and taken them back to the mess tables, we were puzzled by the large earthenware jars with big wooden spoons in them. Carefully observing our nearby GIs, we gradually discovered their contents and their use. Thanks to having gone with my father up to London pre war, I had been introduced to the delights of the American Waffle. The latter seemed to be a very popular sweet course at Fulbeck, and Jar No.1 was Maple Syrup ([underlined] Real [/underlined] Maple Syrup not ‘flavoured’) By 1943 the British diet was not only frugal, it was also dull and bland. Our idea of heaven at that time was probably limited to something like a small spoonful of sweetened condensed milk. Maple Syrup was not only unobtainable in wartime Lincolnshire, it was virtually unheard of. Since we were also permitted to go back for more, we certainly went back for more, and in spite of its stickiness, some even migrated back to Grantham..

Jar No.2 was more of a mystery. We observed the thickly spreading of a light brown gooey paste onto waffles or thick slices of bread, [or even onto slices of fried bacon!]. Not to be outdone we did the same. The resulting impact on our wartime taste buds was dramatic to say the least. Some faces immediately registered disgust, while others froze in expressions of gastronomic bliss. Somehow, small quantities again drifted back to the unsuspecting Grantham public and these produced the same effect. I honestly think that at that time, nothing else so divided the British wartime public into two opposing camps. There seemed to be no half way, one either adored or loathed PEANUT BUTTER!

Please don’t get me wrong. In spite of our American friend’s efforts to augment our wartime diet, we were not there just to eat and indulge in a little grey marketing. We soon convinced them that we knew something about aircraft and the flying of them. Our ground trade cadets demonstrated that Douglas airframes and Pratt & Whitney engines held few secrets.

What did surprise the cadets was the quality and quantity of the tools which were issued to the American airframe and engine fitters. Those of our cadets who were engineering apprentices, came back drooling about the tools they had used in comparison to the ‘War Economy’ finish of the tools in our factories and what the RAF had to use. New words came into their engineering vocabulary such as ‘Stilson’ and ‘King Dick’. I don’t think our cadets got involved in another form of East/West trade but it was a little surprising how many American tools managed to drift into Grantham factories during the eight months the 9th were with us.

It was a little different when it came to our flying experience. Again at first we had to convince new USAAF aircrew after new aircrew that we [sic] not just after a joy ride. The Dakota does not have so much room ‘up in the office’ as the Lancaster but it does have a lot more windows along the fuselage. After all it was a military version of a very successful air liner. It also had a huge pair of rear doors, big enough to drive a Jeep through. Since they always seem to fly with these doors wide open, there was always a terrific view of the countryside beneath. The airliner passenger seats had gone, of course, but there were bench seats all along the side. Unless one stood up, there was not much to see out of the windows except for the sky and the wings. However, once they got the message of what we wanted to do in the way of map reading exercises, they fixed us up with boxes we could sit on round the doorway, together with a safety belt anchored back to the parachutist’s trip cables up in the roof just in case in our enthusiasm, we happened to fall out.
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Flight formalities were not minimal, they were non existant [sic]. They had never heard of ‘blood chits’ and considered them quite unnecessary (“Our C47s don’t crash, Chum, unless the pilot does something stooped”) Flying suits? (“We don’t go high enough to get cold, Chum”) Parachutes? “C47s don’t get into difficulties and you would be too low for them to open properly”. All very reassuring. We make our way over to the Dakota indicated and climb up the ladder and enter. The interior is seen to have other occupants, local yokels, Land Army girls, even Italian Prisoners of War who we had seen earlier on [sic] perched on benches outside the flight office hoping for a flip on this bright and sunny Sunday morning. Having been plied with gum and Herschey Bars, we all wait for engines to be started. From the front, one of the crew brings in a bucket which he places in the middle of the cabin. “Aim in it, not at it please” he announces and with that, off we go.

We head off into the blue and the map reading class gets going. We locate this and we identify that we mark our track on our air maps and note our changes of direction. After twenty minutes or so, one of the crew comes back and cheerfully shouts “O.K. boys, where do you reckon we are?”. We ring our present position. “Good” says he and goes back forwards. As he goes through the door, we hear him say “O.K. Skip. We’re on course”. There were apparently, the odd occasions in the early days when the ATC Cadets at the back were the only ones on the plane who were sure of their position and gave the folk up front a course for home.

It was indeed not easy to remain uncritical. There poor navigators had trained in the Mid West where the roads were dead straight and it was a case of “Follow State 66 until it crosses a river, then turn left. About ten miles on, the river will be crossed by a railroad track. Turn right and look for a small town. If you can’t find it, land near a farm and ask them to call us so that we can give you a course for home” (“Geezus, in this goddam country, before you get a chance to identify one town, you have passed over four more”).

We were only there on Sundays to see their activities on the ground. Away from Spittlegate’s airspace, the 9th were flying round the clock, desperately trying to get new crews into close formation flying, then to get squadrons to formate in Groups, and finally to get Groups to formate in Wings. Impressive enough in daylight, but when they got round to night flying, the sight of several hundred troop carriers, sometimes towing gliders, with undimmed navigation lights and master navigators and formations, was mind blowing. When all that passes over your head at six hundred to a thousand feet, the noise was terrific.

Not so impressive was the impact of the invasion on the ground. As D Day approached, the build up of the Paras in the Grantham area increased proportionately. Grantham was a focal point for both the British 1st Airborne and the American 82nd and 101st Airborne. Neither of course had been recruited on the basis of their finer feelings. The latter sadly displayed the usual ‘Over Paid, Over Sexed, and Over Here’ characteristics which led to pitched battles in Grantham’s streets, aggravated by the invasions of Nottingham’s ‘Ladies of Easy Virtue’ who arrived by the car, bus and train loads on pay nights, to be shipped back again by the Grantham and Military Police the following morning, usually the worst for wear. (I often wondered how many ATC/GTC romances started when the ATC Cadets were recruited to escort the GTC Cadets safely home through the blackout when parades ended.

On the 5th of June 1944, the 9th airfields sprang into life carrying the spearhead troops into the early airdrops of the Invasion. They suffered many casualties and returned visibly shaken. This was obviously not the war they had expected. Our honeymoon period with them evaporated. We helped but were not entertained, and as the Normandy battles developed, there were more drops and more losses. For D Day, the 9th only dropped American troops, but as the preparations for Arnhem progressed, it would be the British 1st Airborne who would be travelling with them and Fulbeck became a much greater focal point of Anglo-American cooperation.

Meanwhile, the Allied advances into France and the Low Countries had liberated German airfields closer to the front line and the first of the 9th Airforce units began preparing to move over to the Continent. This would eventually include the Command Headquarters at Grantham. They all began to make farewell noises.

By the mid summer of 1944, The Magic Air Force had flown!
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While we had been ‘enjoying’ ourselves at Fulbeck on Sundays, quite a lot had been happening back in the Squadron in Grantham. Amongst other things, we had , over the previous Syerston and Fulbeck periods, established an attachment with the RAF Regiment. In the First World War, Belton Park just outside Grantham had been the birthplace of the Machine Gun Corps. In World War Two, the same park had been chosen for the birth of the RAF Regiment. Just outside its southern boundary had been established the Regimental Headquarters, Barrack Blocks Parade Ground, and Gymnasia to train up specialist troops for the protection of RAF airfields.

Here, suitable recruits were put through their paces. The RAF had of course been teaching their airmen ditching and sea survival skills since the beginning. Now, with the increasing success of the various Resistance Movements in Occupied Europe to channel our aircrew survivors back to Britain, capture avoidance and other ‘escapology’ skills were being taught to aircrews as part of their normal training, and the RAF Regiment were just the people to teach those skills. When we were not going to Syerston of Fulbeck, we would spend a happy(?) hour of two learning the best way to use the Boche’s coal scuttle helmet to break his neck, or to use a piece of piano wire to remove his head if you think the former is too quick for your liking, as well as quite a few of the less gentle aspects of unarmed combat. Then again, how to jump out of the back of a lorry doing twenty miles per hour and use a parachute roll to prevent you breaking your own neck. Again all very exciting if not exactly pleasant

For my part, the Spring and Summer of 1944 had been the big run up to my Finals for my Higher National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering which I sat in July. The various papers were not exactly easy but I walked away feeling fairly confident. I was now waiting anxiously for the results to come out.

During the spring, ATC Headquarters had announced the staging of a three day, No.1 ATC Warrant Officers Training Course at RAF Cardington. This was to be a fairly intensive work out of RAF Rules and Regulations, Drill Instruction and the administration of big parades, and lots of other subjects which to tell the truth, seemed just a little bit irrelevant if I was leaving the ATC for a technical commission in a month or two. Much of the detail of this course is now forgotten. Perhaps., the most lasting impression I have left of Cardington was spending several hours learning all about the construction and flying of Barrage Balloons. (Balloons and Airstrips have always been a passion of mine)

All that was mostly the good to medium news. Around mid summer, our C.O. had been showing signs of overwork. Right through the previous five years, he had been tireless in running the Squadron, liaising with Spittlegate, 5 Group and the USSAF, taking a major part in the organisation of the various ‘Wings for Victory’, ‘War Weapons Week’ and similar events as well as holding down a rather difficult civilian job. Regrettably too, like so many of his generation, he was a fairly heavy smoker and lately had been putting on too much weight. His doctor read the Riot Act.

Luckily, there had been moves in the higher administration of the ATC, the result of which was the creation of a Lincolnshire Wing to coordinate the activities of the now quite considerable number of ATC Squadrons in the County. This would be a desk job, and as the senior Squadron Commander, he was promoted to Squadron Leader.

Effectively, 47(F) lost its C.O. and the senior Flight Commander was promoted to replace him. Sadly, after a month or two in his new appointment, Squadron Leader P.P.L. Stevenson suffered a massive heart attack and went into intensive care for several weeks. He survived, just, but his ATC days were over.

By the late autumn of 1944, both the Allies and the Russians were hammering at the gates of Germany. The end seemed to be in sight, even though there was still to be much bitter fighting both on the ground and in the air. The bomber offensive was at its peak, but apart from Spittlegate, Cranwell and Digby, the other airfields round Grantham were most quiet, and somehow, apart from the nightly roar of Bomber Command in the skies to the north and the very occasional air raid warning that a suicidal Luftwaffe intruder was about, the war had passed our part of Lincolnshire by.
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[signature] [missing letter] Burges [indecipherable word] (Best Regards)
[symbol] [underlined] No. 1. A.T.C. W.O.’s. Course. [symbol] [/underlined]
[underlined] Cardington. 1944. [/underlined]

[Back Row, left to right]
[underlined] Munass [/underlined] 392
[underlined] Masterson [/underlined] 4071
[underlined] Cook [/underlined] 996
[underlined] Wright [/underlined] 391
[underlined] Gabrad [/underlined] 231
[underlined] Cabboll [/underlined] 220
[underlined] Hirst [/underlined] 1053
[underlined] Andrew [/underlined] 387
[underlined] Harvey [/underlined] 877
[underlined] Bruce [/underlined] 1383
[underlined] Stevenson [/underlined] 478
[underlined] Hodgkinson [/underlined] 124

[Middle Row, left to right]
[underlined] Bishop [/underlined] 1303
[underlined] Guest [/underlined] 1990
[underlined] Lister [/underlined] 1341
[underlined] Dorricott [/underlined] 57
[underlined] Wood [/underlined] 481
[underlined] Jackson [/underlined] 2133
[underlined] Parmenter [/underlined] 1116
[underlined] Austin [/underlined] 1861
[underlined] Major [/underlined] 1456
[underlined] Watts [/underlined] 1904
[underlined] Russell [/underlined] 398

[Front Row, left to right]
[underlined] Munn [/underlined] [indecipherable number]
[underlined] Edwards [/underlined] 1476
[underlined] Powell [/underlined] 1148
[underlined] Butler [/underlined] Wolverhampton Wing.
[underlined] Hearn [/underlined] 79
[underlined] Sgt Pearson [/underlined]
[underlined] Sgt Bridges [/underlined]
[underlined] Dawson [/underlined] 1968
[underlined] Harby [/underlined] 1942
[underlined] Malier [/underlined] 1547
[underlined] Brown [/underlined] Colchester Wing.
[underlined] Bourdoe [/underlined] 38

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Barrage balloons being towed by their winch lorries
They can be rapidly deflated, transported to another site, and re-inflated
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[underlined] Chapter Eleven Anticlimax and Finale [/underlined]

August 26th 1944. It should have been a day of celebrations, but in the event, it was a bit of a damp squib.

It was my 21st Birthday and it therefore marked the end of my engineering apprenticeship. I was now a Junior Draughtsman in the Design Office of an internationally renowned company producing construction equipment. I was also the acolyte of its revered Chief Designer and we were engaged in some important and interesting design and development.

I went down to our village Post Office to collect our mail (Our isolated farmhouse home was way off the village postman’s beat). On this very day, in addition to greeting cards from our scattered family, there was one letter for which I had been waiting anxiously for a week or two. Yes, it was my exam results. With bated breath I tore it open. I HAD PASSED!

I shot off home and dashed off a letter to the Joint Selection Board to say that I now had the necessary Higher National Certificate and now awaited their instructions. This posted, I returned to an empty house. My father was now just out of intensive care in one hospital in Nottingham, after his heart attack.. My mother was in another Nottingham hospital awaiting surgery and my brother was in yet another recovering from another operation. I was dreading to think how they are going to manage when the time came for me to go. At present, not one of them was capable of looking after themselves, let alone the others.

Thank goodness it was a sunny day. For the first time in years, I went for a day’s walk in order to have a good think.

Throughout my life September, rather than January, has always been the beginning of my year. The new school year, the new OTC year, the new Air Cadet year and later on in life, the beginning of various forms of technical training programmes. This year, hopefully, it would be the beginning of a completely new life.

For 47(F) it would also be a new year. It had a new Commanding Officer who would undoubtedly want to make some changes in order to ‘make his mark’. One of his first jobs would be to establish a new ‘attachment’, now that the USAAF had gone. Recently promoted Flight Lieutenant, Albert Chapman had been one of the first officers to be appointed at the inaugural meeting of the Grantham Squadron back in January 1939. At that time, he had been a civilian driver in Spittlegate’s Transport Section, and had remained in the Section throughout the intervening years, this being unquestionably a Reserved Occupation. He therefore had a fairly firm ‘foot in the door’ at Spittlegate which he now used to re-establish 47(F)’s attachment to its original parent airfield.

Spittlegate was still a very active training station. No. 12(P)AFU was still churning out night fighter and intruder pilots, but the pressure upon them to do so was beginning to ease slightly and they seemed more than willing to welcome us back.

The overwhelming Allied air supremacy, coupled with the Luftwaffe’s increasing shortages of experienced pilots and aviation fuel, meant that our losses were beginning to fall. In fact, unbeknown to us, the Air Ministry were already beginning to question whether they now had more than enough aircrew trainees to finish the war, now that Allied forces were well established on the Continent once more.

With our usual August break over, Cadet H.Q. opened its doors to a new if uncertain future, welcoming back its old cadets and signing on the usual intake of new recruits

The Joint Selection Board had merely acknowledged my letter informing them of my H.N.C. pass and said that instructions would follow. In the daytime, I continued my Design Office work. In the evenings, on parade nights, I continued to function as S.W.O. and started lecturing again, feeling more than a little restless. On other nights, I rediscovered the delights of doing nothing that didn’t need doing, apart that is, from looking after the family. My father had returned home almost completely disabled and anxious to learn what his Squadron was doing under the new C.O. The rest of my family came home also, but they were far from fit to resume their previous lives (my brother was only twelve and still ‘poorly’). Much as I looked forward to the arrival of my papers, we could only bless the days when they never arrived.
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Eventually, towards the end of September they did arrive with a Rail Warrant to the RAF Reception Centre at Cosford, but also with instructions to stay put until further orders. Thankfully, in a way, the further orders seemed to go into ‘hold’ for most of October.

Then, I was asked once again to go before the Selection Board. There, somewhat apologetically, they informed me that recruitment for commissions in the RAFTechnical [sic] Branch had closed! They had already got enough Engineering Officers to finish the war without my help in effect. Before I had a chance to express my disgust, they started questioning me closely about the work I was doing at Aveling Barford, the construction machinery manufacturers with whom I had just completed my apprenticeship, and some general questioning about what I knew about airfield construction equipment.

Without explaining why, I was told to go back and again wait for further instructions. For another two or three weeks nothing happened, then a letter arrived offering me a commission in the RAF Airfield Construction Service. After due deliberation, I come to the conclusion that this might be useful practical experience towards my eventual membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. I wrote back, accepting. Again nothing happened. Again I am called back to the Board who then questioned me about Aveling Barford’s post war ambitions (as if I would know as a 21 year old junior draughtsman!) Throats were cleared and the Chairman said that even though the war was still unfinished, the Government was giving urgent thought to the question of Britain’s part in the reconstruction of Europe and the revival of the British economy. We will need to ‘Export or Starve’ blah, blah, blah, and in this respect it was obvious to them that my future should lie in the engineering industry. Ye Gods, after nearly ten years of doing my best to get into the RAF, was this the best they could offer!

I went back home and told my parents that they still had a son, to their obvious relief. I went back to my works and told them they still had a Junior Draughtsman, and they welcomed me back. I went back to 47(F) and told them they still had a Warrant Officer and they also welcomed me back.

However the bad news was not yet over. ATC Headquarters then delivered a bombshell. Although in the event, the war in Europe still had another six months to run, the Air Ministry had decided to cut drastically, the funding of the ATC. Future recruitment into the RAF was also to be reduced and acceptance standards drastically raised. In future, Squadrons must be self supporting for all activities except those specifically details for the training of cadets of the required acceptance standards. There was a lot more to it which said in as many words that the future of the ATC was more in the shape of boy’s clubs in which ‘good citizenship’ was to be encouraged and more blah, blah, blah. Out of this, a few selected entrants will be recruited to replace servicemen due to be demobilised.

This called for a lot of hard thinking regarding the future of the Squadron. Although I for one, was far from happy about a new ‘boy’s club’ image for the Squadron, our new CO seemed quite willing to take up this new change of image. In a way, this was not surprising. Right from the start, mas Flight Commander, he had always been a great supporter of any sports and social activities, and having a teenage daughter, was very supportive of our cooperation with the GTC Company. Since their inception, there had been quite a few social events, quite apart from sharing training facilities. Although each unit had its own headquarters and to the outside observer, functioned as two separate units, parades over, apart from uniform differences, that outside observer could hardly be blamed for thinking that they were a single unit.

In view of what is to follow, I think I need to admit that I have always been (and still am) a pretty unsociable cuss. I don’t like loose crowds and I loathe ‘parties’ and I did my best to avoid getting involved in these ‘socials’.

Inevitably, a ‘Funding’ meeting had to be held. This not only included both our officers and cadets, but al [sic] a similar contingent had been invited from the GTC. They of course, having had much less financial help from official sources, had always needed to rely heavily on fund raising. We, on the other hand, had received reasonably generous grants from the Air Ministry. Now that we needed to raise funds, the GTC might give us a few tips.

Ideas were called for. The GTC officers told us that the general public, after five years of whist drives, jumble sales, ‘coffee’ mornings, summer fetes, Warship Weeks, Wings for Victory, comforts for the troops and so on, a further round of such activities was not likely to raise a significant amount of the needful, especially as the general public still believed that the ATC was fully supported financially by the RAF. Silence prevailed.
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During the previous year or so, our Headquarters had acquired a most useful addition. The RAF had offered us a redundant 60ft x 20ft wooden accommodation hut and this had been duly erected to one side of our parade ground. This had proved invaluable since it was large enough to parade the whole Squadron indoors on dark or wet evenings and enabled a certain amount of drill on the march to be carried out. It was in this hut that this combined meeting was being held, in which I was taking a determinedly back seat. Raising money for social and sporting events was definitely not my reasons for joining the ATC.

Fortunately or unfortunately (depends upon the circumstances) I have a habit of observing the existence of a number of ‘twos’ which, by what was later called ‘lateral thinking’, I would then put these together to make a dozen or so. During the foregoing discussion, I observed at the far end of the hut, the various officers sitting behind a large table, doing their best to look helpful or intelligent. To their side is the upright piano of doubtful tonal value which we have recently acquired from somewhere or other. After parades, this frequently formed the focus of a mixed group of cadets, Although never standing a chance at the International Eisteddfod, they frequently sang their intentions to ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ and ‘Hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line’ etc. accompanied by one of our cadets who could thrash out at [sic] tune on this long suffering instrument.

I also recollected that another popular ATC cadet was a great comic, and that one or two of the GTC girls had quite reasonable singing voices. Somehow at this point, William S managed to assure me that ‘All the world’s a stage, etc Much to my later embarrassment, I heard myself saying “If we could make a stage at this end of the hut, do you think we have enough talent in the two units to make up an ATC/GTC Concert Party?” Too late, I realise that I am now the centre of attention. Expressions of interest and approval from the table, hubbubs of interest from the cadets. The redoubtable Miss Owens assumes command, “What an excellent idea”, and within minutes the inevitable committee is formed and before I can protest further, I am press ganged into service. “Good” says I to myself, “If I can supervise the erection of the stage and any props they might need, I can stay well in the background and leave any ‘acts’ to the others”. – so I thought.

The committee, chaired of course by Miss Owens, agreed that the whole programme should be designed to put as many cadets onto the stage as possible from both units. Miss Owens agreed to find and stage manage, a multi character one act play. Audition as many cadets with instrumental skills. Can we think of any songs with multi part singers. Muggins suggests Pedro the Fisherman which is the rage at the moment. Accepted, and ‘on the night’ Muggins has been ‘volunteered’ into the part of Nina’s father – “One day her father said to her etc”. (How old do they think I am?)

Can you think of a finale that brings everyone back onto the stage? You are good at writing, Can you work up a sketch on these lines? I suppose I could. So it went on, but after a bit, I had to admit that I began to enjoy being something other than a technical student or a technocrat cadet. Maybe I’m not so old after all.

There was no doubt that during the two months or so that that it took to work up this Concert Party, training suffered a bit, but now that the pressure was off, no one seemed to mind. It was a long story and if anyone was a success. It brought in several hundred pounds for the two units (which was a lot of money in those days. Afterwards, it was inevitably a bit of an anti-climax. Hopes were expressed that we might stage another one next year, but in the event this proved to be a ‘one off’.

Quite suddenly, I decided that I had had enough. This was no way to finish one’s war. What can one say when your children ask “What did [underlined] you [/underlined] do in the war, Daddy?”

There is little comfort from the saying “They also serve who only stand and wait” I could say “Well, while I was waiting, I probably knocked several hundred hours off the training time of several hundred Cadets and Registered Men before they were called up. I also loaded up several hundred incendiaries, helped service a few Lancasters and swept out a hangar or two. Oh, and I nearly forgot, I probably saved the life of an injured airman”.

It had happened like this. In early January 1945, I was cycling home around midnight after one of the last rehearsals before the concert party was staged. These were the days when we had [underlined] real [/underlined] winters and for more than a week it had been freezing hard. There had been reports that skating was possible on the Grantham Canal. It was a bitterly cold, and no one was about by that time of night.
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A.T.C. and G.T.C. Show at Grantham
No 47F (Grantham) Squadron A.T.C. and No 830 Coy. G.T.C. made their debut on the stage on Friday and Saturday, when they presented their revue, “Blue, White and R.A.F. Blue.” in the A.T.C. hut and played to packed houses.
A critic who has had nothing to do with the organisation of the show says that there were three features about the revue which placed the entertainment much ahead of the usual run of amateur shows – first the number of original items put over, second the complete absence of prompting, and third, the even run of the production and the lack of irritating delays.
Considering this is the first show staged by the organisers – the producer and arranger was W/O. P.D. Stevenson, and the dramatic section was under the direction of Jun. Commandant J. Llewelyn-Owens – they are to be congratulated on overcoming three most important factors which so often mar amateur efforts.
The chorus opened the programme with their signature tune, “Blue, White and R.A.F. Blue.” which was followed by “Pedro the Fisherman.”
The next item was a sketch, “Love Bug versus Air Bug,” the G.T.C. cadet being taken by C.S.L. M. Shepherd and the A.T.C. cadet by W.O. Stevenson. Then came the theme from “The Warsaw Concerto,” played on the piano by Cpl. Turner, and the chorus returned to sing, “Long ago and Far Away.” “I had a Dream” (first public presentation) and “Swinging on a Star.”
Cdt. Tuckwood, A.T.C., gave a clever dialect rendering of “Albert and the Lion.” and a humorous “Advertisement Drama” was enacted by Cdt. 1st Cl. J. Hook as Rupert Chislethorpe, S/L. Sellors as Mrs. Westerby, Cdt. W. Guilliatt as the maid, Cpl. Bramley as the narrator, and F. Sgt. V. Hutchison as Mr. Westerby.
[deleted] They were followed by Cpl. Bennett and Cdt. Sharp on their harmonicas, aided by Cpl. Howlett on the spoons and then the chorus wound up the first half of the programme with their marches past – “Forty-Seventh Squadron A.T.C..” and “Girls of the G.T.C.” [/deleted]
After the interval came a one act play. “The Batercom Door,” with the following cast: Prima donna, A/S/L. J. Bradley; young man, Cpl. F. Bramley; old gentleman, Cdt. 1st Cl. J. Hook; young lady, S/L. D. Sellors; old lady, A/S/L. P. Palmer; Boots, Cdt. Feneley.
The standard of acting was on the whole quite high. The principles had been chosen with care, and they showed an ease which was really refreshing.
Though all did well, Cdt. Hook deserves special mention. He was undoubtedly the star actor, and with more experience, this young man could create a reputation. Praise must also be given to June Bradley for her changing moods as the prima donna.
It was unusual to find so many original items in an amateur show – songs, a sketch and dramatic poem. These were the work of W/O. Stevenson, and their enthusiastic reception should encourage him to produce more.
The final tableau was a fitting end to a most successful show. While a poem describing the work done by ex-cadets of both A.T.C. and G.T.C. was declaimed, representatives of the different services into which they eventually go (not forgetting the miner !) marched on to the stage, and ended by singing, “There’ll Always Be an England.”
A little criticism may be levelled at the combined chorus of A.T.C. and G.T.C.; they were just a trifle stiff and were far too serious. The voices were well blended, but they need more practice to bring out the volume.
Make-up was by Junior Commandants Mrs. Worth, J. Llewelyn-Owens and M. Gardner.
An appeal was made on the opening night for the two corps’ welfare funds by Mr. W.J. Marshall, chairman of the welfare committee, who said that A.T.C. plus G.T.C. equally X.T.C.
The chorus consisted of: A.T.C. – F./Sgt. V. Hutchison, Cpls. F. Bramley, F. Howlett and Beecham, Cdts. 1st. Cl. J. Hook and Ebb. Cdt. 2nd. Cl. Charity: G.T.C. – Co. C/S/L M. Shepherd, S/L D. Sellors, A/S/L/s J. Bradley and P. Palmer, Cdts. P. Aspland, B. Ward, A. Nickerson, J. Parker, V. Edgley, B. Goodacre, W. Guilliatt, J. Marchall and C. Robinson. The accompanist was Miss R. Chapman.
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[embossed crest]
Royal Air Force Station,

Ref: C/49/76/P1 15th January, 1945.

Dear Mr. Stevenson,
re Accident to Blenheim V Aircraft No. AZ.993 near Harlaxton on 5th January, 1945.

I have learned of the invaluable and extremely kind assistance that you rendered to Warrant Officer R.C. Ford, who was one of the two pilots in the above aircraft when it crashed at 23.23 hours on the date stated and I am writing to ask you to accept my most sincere and grateful thanks for all that you did.

I am unable to commend you toohighly [sic] for the initiative you displayed immediately you heard the call for “help” and after you had located Warrant Officer Ford. Your action in covering Warrant Officer Ford with your own greatcoat, having regard to the bitterly cold night, was most thoughtful and kindly.

As you already know the other pilot in the aircraft (Flying Officer G.G. McGolrick) was killed instantly. Warrant Officer Ford was, miraculously, only slightly injured but he had been “wandering about” for one hour when you found him and had you not acted as you did it is most probable that he would have suffered seriously from exposure after the crash. He did develop pneumonia but as far as can be seen at present he is recovering satisfactorily.

Your action in this instance was in keeping with the fundamental principles of the Air Training Corps and, naturally, it is with personal pride that I write this letter to you as you are a member of the Squadron affiliated to this Station. Acts such as yours strengthen the bonds of mutual friendship and understanding between the Royal Air Force and the Air Training Corps.
Yours Sincerely
[signature] (J. COX)
Group Captain, Commanding,
[underlined] R.A.F. Station, SPITALGATE [/underlined]
Warrant Officer P.D.Stevenson,
No. 47 (F) Squadron,
Air Training Corps,
[underlined] High Street, GRANTHAM [/underlined]

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In those days, everybody seemed to whistle the catchy tunes of the day and I was most probably giving ‘Pedro the Fisherman’s’ tune a further airing. As I reached a point where the main road ran parallel to and close to the Grantham to Nottingham canal, I was surprised to hear a faint voice calling “Help, Help”. I naturally assumed that it was some late night skater who had got into difficulties. Dumping my bike, I clambered over the far side. Not risking the ice, I ran back to one of the bridges, crossed over and eventually found him stretched out near the edge and obviously injured. He was in flying gear and he told me that he and his instructor had taken off in a Blenheim trainer from the nearby Harlaxton airfield, when both engines failed and they had crashed some distance away. In spite of damage to his back and one leg, he had tried to find his instructor, but was unable to do so. He had crawled around about for an hour or so, finally crawled along the canal bank until he could go no further, calling for help but no one had heard him until he had heard me whistling.

He was obviously badly shocked and deathly cold, so I made him as comfortable as possible it was obvious that he was in no condition to walk back to the road, so I covered him up with my coat and told him not to move until I could summon help. Luckily there was a nearby house who let me ring Spittlegate sick quarters who sent out an ambulance and a search party. The former got him stretchered up and taken away. The search party admitted that they had no knowledge of the area, so back we went and spent another hour looking for the crash. Eventually, we found enough dead mutton to feed a hundred, (they had apparently crashed into a flock of sheep) Following the blood and gore, we found the remains of the Blenheim but the cockpit area was completely missing. Forty yards or so further on, we found the instructor, still strapped into his seat and who had obviously died on impact. There was nothing else I could do so, frozen to the core, I made my way home in the very small hours.

A few days later, I received a latter [sic] from Spittlegate’s CO thanking me for my “extremely kind assistance blah, blah, blah” and assuring me that my action “was in keeping with the fundamental principles of the Air Training Corps blah, blah, blah”. (As you may have guessed by now, I was getting a bit bitter at the way things had gone). What made it worse, somehow or other the Grantham Journal got hold of the story and the next thing I knew was it being splashed centre front page.

By the end of January, my mind was made up. Removing one of my Warrant Oficer’s [sic] ‘Crowns’ (for old time’s sake) I sent my uniform to the cleaners. Shortly afterwards, when Headquarters were deserted, I hung my uniform behind my office door, put my paperwork, files and training manuals in order. Closing my office door for the last time, I went downstairs, placed a letter of resignation on the Adjutant’s desk. Checking that the place was secure, I dropped the latch on the front door and closed it quietly behind me. I posted my keys through the letterbox. The sound they made as they hit the doormat signified the end of my war. After ten years of being a Cadet, I was now just a plain ‘civvie’.

I supposed it was now my job to do something about ‘winning the peace’.
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The big moment comes when the instructor, waving his bats, signals you to release the tow line and you make a steady, if hardly dignified descent to earth. (The Primary looks pretty fundamental as a flying machine, and its glide angle ensures that there is no risk of you landing in another nearby field). Progressively, you are pulled higher and released later, until the day comes when your log book proudly records that you have stayed up a full minute!

Having done so, you now have to pay more. Your previous flights cost you two shillings and sixpence each. A rough calculation tells us that this was about one fiftieth of a skilled man’s wages in those days,. From now on the price is doubled. By the time you are able to stay up a bit longer, you are introduced to the Club’s next acquisition, a Grunau Baby intermediate glider. This was more or less equivalent to the Slingsby Cadet which the ATC cadets were then using. However, Cadets were taught from scratch in dual control gliders, and never went though [sic] the slide/ low hop/ high hop routine we had to follow on the Primary.

I had reached the point, having stayed aloft for five minutes in the Grunau, and had thereby gained my Second Class Gliding Certificate, when I had to leave the Club. This was a great disappointment as the Club was not only hoping to invest in a high performance sailplane but was also planning to have a week’s camp at the Long Mynd, the Mecca in those days for glider pilots in Central England.

It came about like this. In 1945, I had a week’s cycling holiday in the south of England, my first ‘civvie’ holiday since before the war. In the June of 1946, I decided to do the same, this time exploring the South Wales area a bit. On the way back, I met up with two Lincolnshire lassies who had been doing the same. How one of these became that ‘girl somewhere out there’ who was prepared to put up with this ‘odd fish’ and was prepared to wait until he passed all his technical examinations, is too long a story to be included here. However, within three months we had decided that this was ‘it’, and as soon as my swotting days were over, we would get married. The first priority in the meantime, was to save up enough to do so.

In those days, personal finances were on a very different basis from today. Hire purchase agreements, apart from a mortgage on a house, were only for the impecunious who had not the ‘moral fibre’ to wait until one saved enough to buy something which you needed to pay ‘cash on the nail’. As for daring to go to the Bank Manager (who in those days, you actually knew by sight!), and having grovelled in front of his desk and asked him for a loan, you were definitely ‘guilty until proved innocent’. Something had to go, and amongst our many drastic economies, gliding (which was now getting quite expensive), was one of the first, and to all intents and purposes, that was the last contact I had with aeronautics for the next twenty years or so apart from flights in commercial aircraft.

We got married in 1948. In the next two decades raised two delightful daughters and saw them through school and University, enjoying vicariously their university days denied to us through the intervention of the war years. Our respective DIY skills were used to restore two houses. I had become a Senior Designer with several successful construction equipment designs to my credit. I had left design and put my former instructional skills to good use by becoming Sales and Service Training Manager in another construction, quarrying and mining machinery manufacturer. In the process I had gained the necessary practical experience to be elected a full Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

I had left Grantham about the time when flying ceased at Spittlegate. Over the years I would see it become a Territorial Army Transport Depot, the former hangars and tarmac, home to hundreds of trucks. RAF Digby too, after a brief period as a satellite training outstation for Cranwell, had also ceased flying and had become a hush hush signals establishment. Waddington and Scampton had become V Bomber bases. Cranwell, still flying, was also into the jet age for their traine4rs, but I was not inspired by jets. Like diesel locomotives, they lacked ‘soul’ I felt.

My work over the years had involved a far [sic] amount of air travel. I had crossed the Atlantic at a time when BOAC commemorated the earliest commercial flights by presenting you with an impressive certificate commemorating the fact that you had successfully and safely crossed the ‘Herring Pond’ and ditto when you crossed the Equator. I had flown in an early flight of the DeHavilland Comet, the world’s first successful jet airliner, together with several other ‘firsts’. However, the higher you flew, the less it appeared to be real flying.

At one period, I had, as one of my departmental instructors, a man who was the chief Instructor of the Trent Valley Gliding Club who did his best to persuade me to join. At the time I had neither the time nor the available funds to finance such indulgence, so I resolutely resisted such temptation.
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I was now fifty, and that is an age when one takes stock, looking forwards to unattained ambitions and thinking back to past achievements and experiences. By now the wounds and the resentments of never getting into the RAF, had, to all intents and purposes, healed over. I got to thinking of the summer days before the war, when we lay in the grass along Cold Harbour Lane and watched the biplanes side slipping their way over our heads to land at Spittlegate. Of ‘Faithful Annies’ taking us over the Solent and circling over Grantham. Of Lancasters over Bottesford and Syerston, Dakotas over Fulbeck.

Deep down, some small ember which had been dormant for thirty years or so, started to glow faintly.

I crept into the local model shop. Yes, Airfix do an Anson kit. I buy it, a tube of styrene cement and some tins of Humbrol enamel, and spend a happy week or two building the Coastal Command version which was placed on a shelf in the spare bedroom. It was surprising how often I needed to go in there for a peep at the finished product. (There’s no fool like an old fool, is there?) Having relived my Public School’s Air Cadet Wing Days with its help, I think it would be nice to convert it to an Anson Trainer, so off comes the turret and pot of Training Yellow is bought. Shortly after that, the Annie is joined by an ‘Oxbox’, and then a Blenheim. Why not a Hawker Hind trainer? Easy enough, they were all Airfix, but when it came to the Avro Tutor and the Armstrong Whitworth Atlas which had been used in the 3FTS days, it was back to ‘build from scratch’.

Now well into my ‘Second Cadetship’, two years later, I had seven cases containing the forty two aircraft which had flown from Spittlegate from its opening in 1917 to when it ceased as an operational airfield in 1948. What now? Between times, I had of course built a Lancaster and a Dakota to bring back old times, but it had been nice to work to a theme.

One day, when listening to Radio Lincolnshire, I heard that the farmer who owned a goodly part of the old RAF Metheringham airfield, together with a group of local enthusiasts, had restored some of the buildings at the former bomber base, to form the basis of a small museum and heritage centre to the memory of the three hundred or so aircrew who had lost their lives on operations from there. When the number of the squadron was mentioned, I sat up sharpish, as they say. It was 106 Squadron. The 106 who had been briefly at Spittlegate in the late Thirties. The 106 which had been ‘our’ Squadron, when 47(F) had been attached to Syerston.

Equally sharpish, I joined the ‘Friends of Metheringham Airfield’. I took over the maintenance and repair of the many aircraft models which they acquired. The next job was to make them some cases with models and captions, covering the aircraft history of 106 from its WW1 formation, its reforming in 1938, though [sic] its days of Hawker Hinds, Fairey Battles, Handley Page Hampdens, a nice job of converting a Lancaster kit into a Manchester, and their last days with the Lancaster itself.

There was no doubt that ‘The Bug’ had bitten once more, and after I had completed a few more displays for Metheringham, the next project materialised. I knew that the owners of Fulbeck Hall had set up, within the actual rooms, a small museum covering the planning and execution of the Market Garden operation, the airdrop at Arnham, which had been carried by the Dakotas of the 9th Troop Carrying Command flying from the airfields at RAF Fulbeck and elsewhere. Attention on this museum was focussed in the early 1980s when our house provided accommodation for the Veterans of No.250 Coy RASC of the 1st Airborne Division who went into Arnham in Horsa Gliders towed by Halifax tugs. Having been stationed in our village during the run up to the drop, for most of the 1980s they had a reunion here which naturally included a visit to Fulbeck Hall. I got involved and made up several cases of models showing the British Halifax/Horsa and U.S. C-47(Dakota)/Waco glider combinations, and other aircraft related incidents. Later, Fulbeck Hall changed hands and sadly the new owners closed the museum. Most of the memorabilia went over to Holland to the Airborne Museum in Arnham, but the models now are on permanent display in the Thorpe Camp museum in East Lincolnshire.

Another announcement on Radio Lincolnshire presented the next challenge. The most active local authority on Lincolnshire has always been the North Kesteven District Council who are also extremely active in supporting and initiating aviation heritage in this, the ‘Home of the RAF’ and an integral part of ‘Bomber County’. In combination with the staff at RAF Digby, the wartime Operations Room was restored and another museum created. Although Lincolnshire has always been referred to as ‘Bomber County’, Fighter Command was by no means absent. Before the war, Digby had changed from being a Flying Training School to a Fighter Station, a Sector Station of No. 12 Fighter Command. Again, between times I had ‘adopted’ RAF Coleby Grange as one of those largely forgotten satellite stations whose night fighters and intruders seemed to lack the aura of the Glamour Boys who were flying the Spitfires at the base station at Digby. Again working to a theme, initially for my own amusement, I had developed a display of
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[missing letters]NGSBY Type 5 GRUNAU BABY 2
[technical drawing]
A single-seat intermediate sailplane built by Slingsby under licence from Germany. Of conventional wooden construction, the Grunau was built by many people from plans sold by the B.G.A. It was also built post war by [missing letters]iotts of Newbury as the Eon Baby. q.v.
Wing span: 13.57m., 44’ 6’’. Length: 6.10m., 19’ 8’’.
Wing area: 14.21 sq.m., 153 sq.ft. Aspect ratio: 13.
Wing sections: Gottingen 535 at root, symmetrical tip. Braced wing, with no airbrakes or flaps.
Weights: Tare 157 kg., 346 lbs. A.U.W. 250 kg., 550 lbs.
Wing loading: 17.68 kg./sq.m., 3.62 lbs./sq.ft. Max L/D: 17.
Placed into production at Kirkbymoorside in 1935. The price was £137.10.0 in 1939.

[technical drawing]
A single-seat primary glider of wooden construction, designed by Mr. Roger S. Dickson, and built by the Cloudcraft Glider Co., Southampton, in 1930. Many built by gliding club members.
Wing span: 10.45 m., 34’ 3 1/2’’. Length: 5.28 m., 17’ 4’’.
Wing area: 15.79 sq.m., 170 sq.ft. Aspect ratio: 7.
Wing section: Clark Y-H. Wire braced wings, no airbrakes or flaps.
Undercarriage type: Main skid only.
Weights: Tare 81.65 kg., 180 lbs.

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all the aircraft and their Squadrons who had served at Coleby Grange during its brief history. These were offered to the new Digby Operations Room Museum and were quickly accepted. Under the leadership of the then F/Sgt Curry, the museum had both grown and prospered. However, when I became a ‘Friend’, the concentration seemed to be entirely on the memorabilia of the many Squadrons (mostly RCAF) who had served in or passed through the Digby airfield. Little credit seemed to be given to its satellite airfields of RAF Coleby Grange and RAF Wellingore, and almost nothing of Digby’s long history as a Flying Training School in the 1920s and 1930s. I decided to fill in the gaps, and after five years or so, there were models displaying the insignia of every Squadron which served, however shortly, in all three stations, something which apparently delights every visiting veteran who, of course is principally interested in [underlined] his [/underlined] Squadron. The Flying Training School history is similarly represented by models of all the aircraft used, together with a model of the Belfast Hangar, that icon of 1920s airfield architecture.

Until I came to live here in Lincoln, I had always been in the popular misconception that Lincoln’s part in the First World War was principally the Tank Story, plus a load of other munitions. It had been a bit of an eye opener to discover that far more important was its role as the country’s largest manufacturing centre for aircraft production. That too, is a long and interesting story.

For some time I had considered the possibility of modelling a complete set of the twelve aircraft made by the three principal engineering firms in Lincoln at that time. Only two of those were available as kits at 1/72nd scale and only one at 1/48th scales. With the intention of these eventually being on permanent display in one of the museum/heritage centres, and also being used for lecturing purposes. I decided to model these at 1/48th scale, since ‘build from scratch’ is much easier at that scale. I had made the first few of these when a ‘Made in Lincoln’ theme was declared as the city’s Millennium project which naturally gave an impetus. Two year’s work and a display of these went the rounds in a series of exhibitions and lectures. Having served that task, they too are now on permanent display at the Digby Ops Room Museum.

Much contact with North Kesteven District Council’s tourist and heritage unit in the meantime, led to an invitation to display my ‘build from scratch’ techniques at their annual ‘Craft and Modelling Day’ at the Cranwell Aviation Heritage Centre, another joint NKDC/RAF museum project. For quite a few years, this was an enjoyable chance to meet up with other aeromodellers. However, it was noticeable that the museum, though graced with a case full of beautifully crafted models of a general interest, the museum as a whole had few models specifically relating to Cranwell’s long aviation history. The various individual aspects of that history are excellently illustrated by extensive wall displays of photographs and text, but lacked what might be described as ‘three dimensional’ impact. Becoming yet another ‘Friend’, I made a start. Further research saw me beavering away in the College Library. This in turn led on to me making contact with the present day Headquarters of the Air Training Corps which is now based at Cranwell.

Here, I was welcomed back into the fold as a ‘Veteran’. I had previously made contact again with today’s 47(F) and gave talks about the Squadron’s early days. Contact too has been made with the King’s School Combined Cadet Corps unit, today’s descendent of its OTC. This now has two uniforms, Khaki/Camouflage and RAF Blue, in more or less equal numbers, though I doubt today that RAF parentage is represented in the same proportion.

My circle was complete. My back may not be so straight, my knees no longer march, I no longer parade in uniform, but whether I am in one or other of the museums surrounded by the memories invoked or surrounded by cadets (both boys and girls now) my heart is still young and on parade with them. Once a Cadet, always a Cadet? Or is it just Delayed Adolescence?


In my introduction, I made some acknowledgements and words of thanks, but I think it right that this narrative should end more specifically.

I remember, and ask you to remember, those hundreds of aircrew in 207 and 106 Squadrons RAF and those of the 9th TCC to which we were attached, who unhesitating went out to ‘Give Their Yesterdays’ and in particular, Ken Masters who went with me to the Air Cadet Wing Camp at Selsea. He was just one of the fifty King’s School boys who were killed in the Services in WW2 but he was my best school chum.

Also to all those who served in the various cadet units who, whether or not they joined up or like me, ‘also served’ but nevertheless contributed much to this story, [sic]



Peter Stevenson, “Cadet 1935-1945 Peter D Stevenson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 1, 2024,

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