Friday, 9 August 2013


With the approach of the centennial ceremonies to remember the onset of The Great War, I thought I would let the readers hear about a little of my family history connected to the wars and our service lives.

My grandfather John Oliver fought with the East Yorkshire Regiment in World War 1; during the campaigns which included Ypres he was stabbed by a bayonet and the only thing which saved him was his helmet. To his dying day he had a hole in his head were the bayonet stopped. I have no pictures of my grandfather as my mother and father moved away from our home in Yorkshire when I was 8 and we lost touch with the family. For a long time, I have tried to trace my grandfather's Regimental history, but I never had any luck; as we are from Middlesbrough it is most likely he joined up in Hull .

When I was young I remember he had a belt full of old Regimental badges, when he passed away this was handed to my cousins in Redcar and has not been seen since, which is a great loss not only for the family but historically as most of the Regiments are either amalgamated or disbanded now.

In World War 2, my uncle Len was in the Merchant Navy; I was never able to find any information about his service life as my mother and the family didn’t get on well; in later years, Len joined the RNLI and was awarded a Gold medal for bravery for his part in rescuing polish sailors stranded at the mouth of the Tees in the mid-1970s; again I have been able to find little information about the incident, despite contacting the Tees lifeboat service, who asked me to pass on any information I came across, there are people there who remember my uncle after all the years.

My uncle John was exempted from National Service as his work as a stevedore on Teesside docks was considered of national importance; it was during his work there that he received a severe back injury. He was over-seeing the loading of a ship when he noticed a cargo slipping from its carrier, without a thought he dashed forward and pushed the man below to safety, the man escaped with bumps and bruises but my uncle took the full weight across his back and never worked again.

For many years there was a family story about Uncle John dragging part of a German plane back to Telford Street from the nearby Eston Hills; until recently I was never sure how much of it was fact and how much was a story to impress the family. One day I read an article in Vintage Script magazine  - run by my friend Emma Oram – which gave credence to the story, another man recalled the downed the fighters .

My late Uncle Dennis, served in a much under-valued yet vital service, he flew Catalinas for the Air Sea Rescue from bases in Scotland during the war, his wife – Aunty Mabel – was a parachute packer at RAF Box, near Bath and one of her chutes saved an Australian pilot’s life, the pilot’s wife was so grateful she sent my aunt some nylons; during the war nylons were not only a luxury, they were unheard of outside USAAF personnel.

My father was a driver and fireman in India during the war and in the months after the cessation and was in the sub-continent at the time of the RAF mutiny, which many people have never heard about this mutiny was caused by the arbitrary release of personnel from India, units which had served during the war were not give the first choice of release back to the UK. My father was awarded the India Service Medal  for serving in the Far East during the war.

To me, these people are the real heroes. I did a six year spell in the RAF during which time I was based at the now redundant stations of RAF Lossiemouth and Laarbruch. RAF Laarbruch was used as a marker point on the 617 Dambuster raid; according to the station magazine, the Lancasters flew over the station. 

My service days ended with a detachment to RAF Aldergrove which earned me the GSM, I find it ironic that I got the medal yet was never in danger; my spell in Ireland came at the time of the Maze Prison hunger strike

My children consider me to be a hero too, mainly because I was awarded the GSM (General Service Medal) the Northern Ireland campaign; but I don't consider myself a hero as I was never in real danger nor did I do anything heroic like my grandfather; I was not in the war zone as our station is three miles behind the lines  . Medals are for serving personnel in action, although I was in the war zone, I feel I did nothing to warrant the medal; the year after I left the RAF (1982), the GSM for Ireland was halted as there were too many given out, one of my friends had several clasps for his many tours.

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