Let's Mention The War

Chapter II

 

The very next day we retraced our journey to Yarmouth,  arriving late at night, and after having a sandwich, and hot drink, filled up. a couple of hot water bottles, and went to bed.

Thanks to the terrible calamity at Pearl Harbour, the Yanks were now in the war, and literally thousands were being shipped across to Britain.

Aerodromes, normally used by the RAF were vacated, and occupied by the Americans. Norfolk was favoured because of it's closeness to the continent, and the nature of it's terrain.

They, the Americans, plus, hundreds of other service men of all nationalities, French, Norwegian, Dutch, Polish, plus our own lads, and many, many, more, would all flock into the town for the pictures, the beer, and the WOMEN.

Things would seem quiet, in the town centre, until the time the pubs turned out, then all hell would let loose, nation fighting nation, especially fighting Americans. Jealousy was often the main motive, between Americans and others, as the saying of the day went, 'Overpaid oversexed, and over here'.  They had the money, the chocolates, the Nylons, and the chat.  They were all wealthy, 'cattle ranchers', or owned oil wells.  All of them drove large cars, such as Cadillac's, etc, back home, or so they said, or the girls thought, they being influenced by the cinema. Quite a number of the local women were charmed by them, though they, the women, were often quite rough, and we local lads who knew them, wouldn't touch them with a barge pole. But they were female, and evidently looked quite desirable, after a few pints. I'm not saying all the girls who went with Americans were that type, only those who frequented the pubs looking for them. Sometimes fighting would start between Yanks, often because a black man had got a white girlfriend, or just because he was a different colour. The scraps normally didn't last very long, as within,  what seemed seconds, of a fight starting, a Jeep would come dashing up, out would jump some 'snowdrops', (American military police, who wore white painted steel helmets, hence the nickname, snowdrops), these M. P. 's were evidently picked on size, about six foot six, and built like a brick toilets,  they would whip out their truncheons, and start flailing whoever resisted them, but Americans only. Any other nationality being dealt with by either the British army, or Royal navy police, if the miscreants were in uniform, and a couple of local 'bobbies' would deal with the civilians, and we, me and whoever I was with, would stand at a safe distance,   watching the melee. Occasionally there was a stabbing, but fortunately one didn't happen whilst I was spectating.    

On Sunday afternoons, American army troop transporters would park along the Quay, outside the Town Hall, to pick up girls,  and ferry them out to army, or airforce camps in the country,  for a dance, and a meal, The meal would comprise of food that we, in this country, hadn't tasted since the war started, and rationing had begun, or was peculiar to America, i. e hamburgers. Quite a number of the girls paid a price for the privilege of eating icecream, chocolate cake, and the like, as they began to show signs of putting on weight, which would last several months, before they went back to being slim again, but with their slimness, they were now pushing a pram,  and the provider of the 'goodies' had been moved on.

We would see the girls getting on to the trucks as we went out for our Sunday afternoon walk, passing the Town Hall en route, through town, down Regent Road, along the front to the Wellington Pier ballroom, which was opened, not for dancing,  but as a cafe, it being the Sabbath. Here we would meet up with various friends, boys and girls, even the girl you walked home the previous night, when you had gone dancing there. That is, if there had been some mutual attraction, between the two of you. After an hour, or so, you, and whoever, would walk home.  At night I would go to church, as I was still in the choir at St. James's, and the friend of the day would also go to church, we would meet after the service, me walking her back home, and if I had enough cash, and felt like chancing it, we would call in to a pub, hoping that I looked at least 18.

Mother once tried matchmaking, though her efforts didn't succeed, the girl's name was Sheila, and she was a trainee hairdresser, working at Mrs. Haddath's, who had a salon, which was the front room of her house, a couple of houses away from No 10.  She, Mrs. Haddath, was more of a hair specialist than a hairdresser, having as clients several business men, who were getting follicly deprived, as well as those whose scalp skin condition was causing premature baldness, caused either through illness, or stress,  (Actually, later on, when my old friend, Ray Stone's wife left him, the worry caused him to lose his hair, and he was treated by her, successfully).

Anyway, Mother would have her hair done at Mrs. Haddath's, and during her sessions, she would chat to Sheila, and would then sing her praises to me over the dinner table, or at any time when the thought struck her. Then I found that every time I came home from work, be it midday, or evening, Sheila would be in the passage, either shaking a cloth, or sweeping the path, or whatever, but always there doing something when I came along.  Whether it was shyness on my part, or the fact that I felt as if I was being manipulated by both women, especially Mother, I do not know, except the more I felt that I was being pressurised, the more I objected to a liaison, and so nothing came of it. Much later on, Sheila married, and she, with her husband, ran a small boarding house near the sea front, Mother would relay on this news, with a kind of 'You could have been doing that, I always said that she had a good head on her, and just couldn't understand why you didn't like her".

The war was now going in our favour, Germany was being pounded by the Yanks, in their Flying Fortress's, by day, and the R. A. F. by night, in their Lancasters. The Allied armies were in Italy, and the invasion of Europe had taken place. The  end of the bloody conflict was just a year away, though we didn't know that at the time. The Italians had surrended, and it was now just the Germans, and Japanese, to finish off. Both of them were now on the receiving end of shells and bombs, on land, sea, and in the air. Quite a large number of German cities were now getting the treatment that Warsaw, London.  Rotterdam, and so on, had suffered in the past from their bombers, and most of us were pleased that so many Huns had perished, for wasn't it true, what the old soldiers said, a good German, is a dead German.

Tokyo, and other Japanese cities, and towns, were being given the same treatment, by the Allied forces in the Far East.

The air raids at Yarmouth had quietened down considerably,  with just a token one, now and again, to let us know that Jerry could still get to us, and would now, occasionally, drop anti personnel bombs, these were small bombs that opened up a couple of wings, as they dropped, hence the nickname, Butterfly bombs. The wings were on the bomb, to catch in trees, or house gutters, only exploding when they were removed from their 'perch', a few people did get either killed, or severely injured by these, as was the intention, but once the civilian population became aware of these terrors, and the local bomb disposal had found the best way to deal with them, they became more of a nuisance than an object of horror,

His treatment of the London area, though, was diabolical, first of all came the V1, a flying bomb, unmanned, it flew, and looked, similar to a plane, except for it's rocket exhaust,  these were designed to fly on a straight course, until the rocket fuel had been used up, then it would fall from the sky, exploding on impact with the ground, demolishing everything within a hundred yard radius, and, worst of all,  killing, or maiming, people in a greater radius.

You could hear the Buzz bomb, as it was called, coming towards you, and you were safe whilst you heard it, but once the propellant had cut out, and it became silent, then you looked for shelter, pretty damn quick.

The Spitfire fighter, was modified, with a steel loop, which,  basically, stretched from wingtip to wingtip, curving at the front to miss the propeller, this 'bow' enabled the pilot to gently nudge the buzz bomb, to change it's course, but this wasn't a success. Then our latest aircraft, the Meteor jet fighter, became operational, which had the speed to chase, and catch, and often, shoot down one, before it reached our coastline. 

After the V1, came the V2. a straightforward rocket, this could be aimed, not very accurately, at a large city, like London, the sender knowing quite well, that it would demolish something,  and kill someone, in that area. This evil thing didn't give any warning at all, it just dropped in on you. Now, this was, a terror weapon, and possibly one of the reasons for the saturation bombing done by the Allies against cities, and large towns, in Germany. The actual rocket launching areas were heavily bombed, though the launching sites were not in any fixed place, which made it difficult for our bombers to find their targets. Fortunately the Allies had, by now, gained complete mastery of the air. The ground forces were moving nearer and nearer to Berlin. Russia was coming from the west, and a giant pincer movement was bringing peace ever closer. Concentration camps were discovered, and the horrific mounds of bodies, and bones, mainly those of the Jewish faith, were found in them. Newsreel pictures taken of these camps, were shown on every cinema screen, and the front pages of all the newspapers, telling the world of the bestiality of the Germans towards fellow human beings. Prisoner of war camps were also found, and once fed, watered, deloused, and given new uniforms, the former inmates were sent back to the U. K.  Cyril's brother was one of these, and Roy Squirrel was another. 

I had my first flight whilst I was in the A. T. C. around about this time, the squadron was invited, and collected, by the R. A. F. and taken to Coltishall, an airfield, not too far from Norwich. We took it in turns, 6 or 8 at a time, to board a Dominee biplane, (I think Bleriot did his cross channel flight in this)It seemed all wire and string, with 2 engines that didn't look big enough to support the plane, let alone propel it through the air. Our flight lasted about half an hour, and we found it slightly bumpy. We had been warned, prior to take off, that if anyone was sick, we would be 'fined'5 shillings, and would also have to clean up the mess. There were also other payable fines, most of them costing half a crown(12&half pence)such as for not strapping ourselves in, and leaving our seats, whilst we were flying. As none of us were well 'heeled' we were extremely careful, though some of us felt sick, none were. The flight was enjoyable, apart from worrying about being ill, we flew over quite a bit of Norfolk, I was amazed to see the patchwork quilt of fields,  and the smallness of what I had previously thought of as wide rivers, and the not so straight railway lines, even the strange feeling of being alone, even though you were with others. My next flights would be during my own service life,  each one, and there were many, seemingly better than the previous one.

 

At last the great day dawned, war in Europe was over, though the Far East battles were still being fought. Mr. Churchill spoke to the nation to give us the good news, and a day of celebration was held in every city, town, and village in the land, this was to be known forever in the future as V. E. day,  (Victory in Europe).

Great Yarmouth was soon full of people, civilians, servicemen,  women and children, and all seemed to congregate in the Market Place. They also wanted some form of entertainment,  which, because of the short notice of the celebrations, had to be music. Alan, as I have mentioned earlier, worked for Radio rentals, and they had a public address system, so with his boss's permission, we borrowed the equipment, got the keys to open up what was the British restaurant, scrounged around for records, slung the loudspeakers up outside the building,  aiming them at the crowd assembled in the market, plugged in the amplifier, and we were away, Alan keeping control of the gear, and me being the disc jockey, and play. the records, often over and over again, for about 12 hours, hardly having a break. Mother brought us in some sandwiches, which we had to wash down with water. We would have both liked to nip out to the Red house pub, which was just 30 yards away, but the crowd outside just didn't want a break, every time there was a lull, up would go the chant, 'we want more' and play us so and so'. Later at night, once the crowd had started to diminish, we called it a night, Alan and I made sure the equipment was safe to leave, we locked up the building, and went home, Mother had stayed with us until the end, so I walked home with her, which caused me, and possibly her, a spot of embarrassment. As we walked around the passage that led to the back of No. 10, we espied a sailor having his evil way with a girl, which prompted Mother to tell me not to look,  which made me look the more. Once we got home, very little was said to each other, except Goodnight Mum, goodnight Roy.

The following day, Alan retrieved the P. A. gear, and I went to work. The next few weeks was a time for handing in gas masks,  tin hats, (A. R. P. ) uniforms, etc. and generally getting the feeling that peace was really with us. Servicemen were now getting demobbed, and coming back to 'civvy street', and the women, who had been drafted into factory war work, were slowly being replaced by the returning men.

The barrage balloon, and anti aircraft gun sites were being demolished, air raid shelters were getting removed from peoples back gardens, or they now had a change of use, and became garden sheds. The street lights were on at night,  blackout curtains were ripped down, and everything was back, or getting that way, to prewar conditions.

With the exception of two things, the war in the Far east was still raging, though the tide had turned in the Allies favour, and the Japs were losing ground, and the other,  rationing was still with us, and would stay for the next 8 years. We had had food parcels from America and Canada during the war, and they continued for a while, until things picked up a bit here.

My position at Fieldings was, I thought, rather tenuous, as a previous employee, Frank Jarmy, had returned from his war service, and had taken my place in the shop's pecking order.  The shop keys were handed over to him, from me, I had been registered with the police as the second key holder, in case of problems when the shop was closed, (I was called out once by the police, but I was then in the Airforce and had been for a couple of years, so much for Fieldings organisation).

My work building bicycles had come to an end, they were now being manufactured and assembled in their own factories,  spare parts, tyres, mudguards, chains, etc. were coming in, in a steady stream. Radios, were once again, on sale, and a new set of manufacturer's names were now coming forward, one that comes to mind was Sobel, rather an attractive looking set, in a light oak case, and provided that you had a good aerial, you could pick up, loud and clear, the American Forces Network (AFN), broadcasting in Germany, this would give you the sounds of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and scores of other well known, at the time, big swing orchestras, plus all the top singers, Bing Crosby, Frances Langford, Vaughan Monroe, to name a few.

Of course the B. B. C.  had their share of big bands, Ted Heath,  The Squadronaires, Geraldo, and so on. The Sobel was switched on as soon as the shop opened, and not switched off until we closed, unless Mr. Tooke was doing his books, or was a bit under the weather.

I was now No. 3 boy, and feeling it, mainly working as a shop assistant, cum delivery boy, whereas, Frank had bought with him some skills he had learnt in the Airforce as a radio fitter,  and was usefully employed repairing radio sets, so my future prospects looked rather bleak.

Geof had been posted to Italy, part of the army of occupation, and was stationed at Bari, later on moving to Udine, his life out there was wonderful, La Dolce Vita, plus.  Anything could be bought with a packet of fags, or a tin of corned beef, I remember him telling me that if you went on leave for a few days R & R. and used a service vehicle,  provided you left it unattended overnight, you would find that the tank had been drained, the wheels removed, and a credit note stuck on you window giving you a free stay in an hotel, with 'everything' provided, (Frank Jarmy had told me the same thing, he, too, had done time in Italy). Which proved that we were no different than the Yanks were, when they came to the U. K. with their nylons, and chocolates.

The war in the Far east was over, the atomic bombs had demolished Nagasaki, and Hiroshima, and though hundreds of lives were lost in the holocaust, thousands were saved in other countries such as Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and numerous other places which were under Japanese control, and domination.

Kanyu Camp - Working Men -1b 

Fepow Community

Sketch by Jack Chalker

I'm afraid I'll never forget, nor forgive, the Japs for the atrocities that they committed to any human beings of a nation that they captured. They would beat, torture, starve, and often, behead, these unfortunates, including a lot of our service men.

Not long after that conflict had ended, the first prisoners of war held captive by them, came home, members of the Royal Norfolk regiment, who had surrended at Singapore, and the sight of them has remained with me to this day. Their emaciated bodies, skeletal figures, and these were the ones considered to be fit enough to cope without hospital treatment, though they had been under medical supervision,  during the long sea voyage home from the Far East.

Still, the actual day of surrender was another day for rejoicing, the Government declared a holiday, and what had been done for V. E. day, was repeated on V. J. day, (Victory over Japan, day), although we now had changed the venue, for the celebrations. We still had music, and dancing, but it was at the Marina, on the sea front, this had reopened after the last victory celebration.

Alan, or rather his boss, again provided the public address system, and I started my stint as a disc jockey, though now things were more organised, not only did we have a much better choice of records, but there were more bodies to assist us in playing, and introducing, them. Once more the day was a success, everyone was there, even more than on VE day.  This time we, Alan and I, could get out and about to mingle with the crowds, and join in with their gaiety.

Once back on a peace time basis, all the barbed wire, mines,  obstructions on the Broads, were removed, allowing us to wander where we pleased. Often a party of us would cycle out to the Broads, and hire a boat, and if you each had a girl friend, each couple would have a boat to themselves. Often we would race each other, and other times we would row into a reed island, where you would be completely hidden from the rest. Happy times.

As regards our girl friends, that was exactly what they were, just company for each other, for walks, or the cinema,  maybe going to dances, never getting into anything serious.  If, on the rare occasion, your date started to get possessive, you soon disentangled yourself, and either met somebody else, or you would return to going out with your mates for a while, before finding 'pastures' new.

I often reflect on just what meager rations we were allowed during the war, such as we only had 4 ounces of bacon, 12  of sugar, 4 of butter, and I'm convinced that that went down to only 2 ounces, 2 of Jam, and 2 of sweets, we hardly saw any fish, meat was about a shillings worth, and although we were allowed a ton of coal, you would be lucky to get half that measure. Clothes were on points, a shirt would take 7 of them, and a suit would more or less, exhaust your years supply of coupons.

How Mum managed to feed us, has always filled me with amazement, fortunately most vegetable were available, albeit in small quantities. Yet, according to the medical profession, we were then at our fittest, with very few people being overweight. 

Things seemed to go from bad to worse in the shop, my position had been eroded by returning ex-servicemen, and the future didn't look good, I started looking out for another job, but all vacancies were filled by those same ex servicemen, I also knew, as did any prospective new employers,  that my time in any employment would be limited, as before long I would be called up, when I reached the age of 18.

Just before that anniversary, I was notified to attend a medical examination, in Norwich, as a preliminary to enlisting, it was here that a team of 4 doctors gave you a full examination, each one specialising in different areas of health. One would check if you had 2 of every thing you should have 2 of, another for hearing, third for eyes, and a 4th for heart and stomach concerns, and it was this examination that I failed to pass. Something in my stomach did not seem right, and I was told to see my civilian doctor, and with that, they, the medical board gave me an 'unfit for service' card. So service life was now out of the question, I returned home feeling thoroughly dejected, and   concerned as to what the examination had shown up.

I booked an appointment to see Dr. Blake, who examined me, and commented that he had better arrange a visit to the hospital. Which came soon after seeing him. They, the hospital staff, said I would be needed to go into hospital for observation in a few weeks time.

I had been to work for just a few days after my appointment, when on returning home from work one night, I found Mother had prepared an extra special tea. Once I had eaten it, and not before, as she knew that what she had to tell me would have taken away my appetite, she showed me a letter from the hospital informing me to go there in 2 days time. Now I'm as brave as the next man, when a stay in hospital is on the cards, so wasn't too keen on going in, but as it was just for observation only, I didn't get over anxious, and thought that it would not be too bad.

On the due date I turned up at the appointed time, was shown a bed, and told to undress, and to give Mother my outer clothes, which I did. In due course I was visited by a medic, who told me that they would operate in the morning, so much for an observation stay only. No sooner had he gone when a male nurse appeared, He put the screens around my bed, pulled back the bedclothes, told me to push my pyjamas down, dipped a shaving brush in some hot water, told me that  he was going to shave me, holding in his hand a cut throat razor, he liberally lathered my sensitive parts, from navel to knees, and started wielding the blade. He told me that a cut throat was far better than a safety razor, cheering me up by saying that I was in the right place if he had an accident.

The next morning I was treated to a carbolic soap enema, (that in itself was an experience), followed by a pre med injection, this tends to dry up any moisture in the mouth, and also made you a bit dozy. After a while, I was put on to a trolley, taken by lift to an upper floor where the operation theatre was situated. I can remember pleading with a nurse for a drop of water, my mouth was so dry, but they ignored my pleas. The mask was applied, which gave me the necessary amount of gas to render me unconscious. I was asked to count down from twenty to 1, and there I was, back in my bed in the ward, feeling sorry for myself.

Night came, and I was given a sleeping pill, it seemed to work for a couple of hours, but pains in the stomach woke me up, and they got progressively worse, I called for the nurse,  who told me that it was wind pains, a common occurrence when the stomach is empty. She decided to sit by my bed and talk to me, but her company, as nice as it was, didn't ease my discomfiture, so she left my bedside, coming back a few minutes later with half a slice of well buttered bread,  telling me to eat it, although I was not supposed to eat anything after an op, but as I hadn't had anything removed it should be alright. That did the trick, the pains went, and within 10 minutes or so, I was off to sleep.

6:30am and they wake you up, wash your face and hands, a cup of tea, and when every one in the ward has had the same treatment, you are given breakfast. An hour went past, and I got a visit from the man who did the op. You'll be pleased to know that we took everything out, and put everything back,  finding out that you have 3 kidneys, and that was, and still is, your lump.

Within a few days I was allowed up, but before then a certain very sociable nurse tried to give me a blanket bath, which would have caused me great embarrassment, I held the blankets down as best I could, and the more I tried to stop her, the more determined she was to bathe me. After a while she said that she would have a word with Matron, thinking that she would countermand my objections. The Matron, realising that I was shy, and very bashful, told the nurse that with a little assistance, I could go to the bathroom, and wash myself, in  privacy.

This same nurse was quite a teaser, and suggested that when I was out of hospital that we could, perhaps, meet, and maybe go to the pictures. So it was arranged I would join her at 7 pm outside the Regal, I arrived there a couple of minutes earlier, than planned, only to see her walking past, arm in arm with a Marine, so that was the end of that. I was off work for 3 to 4 weeks, and during my convalescence,  Dad, Mum, and I went to Mistley to Ina and Alf's wedding,  stopping there for a few days.

Later on, it may have been the same year, we had another wedding, which we did not attend in Mistley. My Aunt Alice, who everyone thought was a confirmed spinster, got married, to the village baker, who no one had a good word for, as he tended to be a bit of an old woman.

The happy couple spent their honeymoon at No. 10, although my aunt told Mum that it was more a marriage for company's sake than sexual. Alice stood at least 4 to 5 inches taller than her husband, and caused me great amusement when she sat on his knee in our living room, he being hidden by her.

At last it came time for them to retire, within a short time, she was downstairs, asking Mum for a towel, remarking that her man was interested in more than just company.

The Marina was open for the summer months, and I met up with a cousin of mine from London, she was staying with her grandparents, my Uncle and Aunt.

She, Eileen, was from the intelligent side of the family, and was still at school. We would meet a couple of afternoons a week, and go into the Marina, a large walled, unroofed, arena.  Sitting in the sun, listening to the resident band playing.  The musical "Oklahoma" was the top show in London, and the bands repertoire always played all the tunes from that musical, everytime I hear any song from it's score I recall very pleasant memories of those years.

Age 22 -2tn 

The End

 

 

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