Sunday, 22 December 2013

Life in the Armed Services

Several years ago, my friend Emma Oram-who edits Vintage Script magazine-kindly published my story "Old Church Ghosts" in her Halloween special edition page, this was my big break and gave me the courage to send more writing out to be read; the story is now published in

 In one of the early editions of the magazine there was an article from a man in my home town of Middlesbrough; the article related to the crash of a German bomber in the nearby Eston hills. This article intrigued me because it verified a family story told by my late Uncle John, that he had dragged a section of the bomber across the city on his bike and prompted me to write the article below; which Emma said she might publish in the next edition of her magazine, which comes out in mid-January.
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  - which was 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) for 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 fifteen 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 RAF personnel serving in Ireland was halted as there were too many given out, one of my friends had several clasps for his many tours.
I wrote my poignant ghost story “Elgar to Vaughan Williams”    about the changes in British life, brought on by the First World War. The story is also my tribute to the fallen of all wars and in all the services. I am in the process of writing up my RAF memories after friends asked me too having read this article-

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