Chapter 11
Promotion (the Wrong Side of the Ocean), June 1943


The airforce’s song ‘You’ll get no promotion this side of the ocean’ was certainly correct as far as we were concerned. It was now getting well into the middle of 1943 and we were still all Grade Two LACs. You could not be promoted to Corporal unless you were Grade One, and you could only get that if you had a Grade One course. Airmen who had joined about a year after I had were coming out to India as sergeants and flight sergeants.

About this time the Blimp was looking round the aircraft. He called Bill Norman into his office and said that the wiring to the bomb gear switches on his plane was perished and he was to change it. Well, Bill went and had a look at it and went back and told the Blimp that it wasn’t perished and that in any case the plane was bombed up, and KR’s (King Regulations) said that wiring should not be touched on bombed up planes. Word went round that the Blimp was looking for one of us to do the repair. It was late in the afternoon and we all made ourselves scarce, so he couldn’t find us.

Next morning all signals personnel were ordered to report to the signals hut. When we got there we found chairs laid out and we were told to sit on them. Blimp came into the room and read us the Riot Act (at least he said it was the Riot Act). He said that a certain person had quoted King’s Regulations to him, but he had been through them thoroughly and was unable to find any mention of bombed up aircraft. However he had looked at the plane in question again, and admitted that the wiring was OK, so if the person would stand up and apologize that would be the end of it. Bill stood up and said that he was sorry to have caused all the trouble. Blimp then said,’I know that a lot of you have grievances because you have not been able to get promotion, so I am going to try to do something about it.’ One of the signallers later heard him on to Calcutta saying, ‘Of course they are good - I’m recommending them.’

We heard nothing more about it until about two weeks later when I was told to report to the signals office. I went in and Blimp said, ‘This is Wing Commander Thomas, he is going to give you a trade test.’ Well, he asked me a few questions and I managed to answer them all. I went out and all the others were there. When they heard it was a trade test they wanted to know what he asked me. I said that he wouldn’t be asking them the same questions. Anyway, as one of them was coming out Blimp asked how we were doing. The Wing Commander said, ‘They’re OK.’ One of our electricians refused to take the test, but when two weeks later we were all made up to Grade One LACs, he was made up as well. Two months later we were all made up to Corporals, so we had a complete electrical section of Corporals.

I mentioned about the mail having to go round the Cape. We would write letters home and it was maybe three months before we got a reply. One thing that surprised me was that I wrote home after we got out of Greece and mentioned about the Stuka raid on us when going to Greece. Eventually I got a letter back from Mum, in it Uncle Wally commented on the Greek raid, I don’t know how my remarks got through the censor. Another time I wrote to a friend about the luxury of having a bath on leave and received a reply saying that I sounded as though I had found paradise. It was so long after the event that I had forgotten it.

We had some Sikhs attached to us who helped with jobs around the camp. I remember that we shared our worktent with the instrument section and one day one of the instrument mechanics dropped a tiny screw into the sand. A Sikh who was in the section said,’Here it is, Sahib,’ and picked it up out of the sand. He must have had marvellous eyesight.

Bisley Flypast
One of my jobs was to charge the aircraft batteries and on one occasion I required some extra sulphuric acid. I drew a carboy each of sulphuric acid and distilled water from the store. The acid had a SP of 1350 and I required 1240 for my batteries, so this meant diluting it. We had been taught never to add water to acid because it would explode and scatter acid everywhere, also the temperature had to be kept down to below 100º F. I managed to get hold of a large china wash basin, put it down in the open and then I three quarters filled it with water. I then added a small quantity of acid. The temperature immediately shot up to 90ºF, so I had to stop and wait for it to fall. The weather was quite warm and it took ages before I could add any more acid. The Sikh who was attached to me kept on asking me to let him do the mixing, but I felt I dare not risk it although I expect that he would have done as good a job as me.

It was then decided that we were going to get rid of the Bisleys and replace them with Hurribombers. We had a farewell dinner because a number of the crews and some of the ground staff were leaving us, then the Bisleys took off and did a low level flight over the drome and disappeared in the distance. Those of us who were left went down to Southern India, to Bangalore where they flew in ex-Battle of Britain Hurricanes which we stripped down and converted into Hurribombers.

After a while we went to an airfield outside Madras where the pilots who had been away for training were practising takeoffs and landings to familiarize themselves with the Hurribombers. One of the pilots flying low over the drome tried to do a victory roll and went straight into the ground. The Hurribombers had a different characteristic from the fighters and were not as controllable.

I managed to get a ticket for a classical concert in Madras and I took the leave lorry in to go to the concert. Now the lorry was late getting there, so I jumped off the lorry, discovered that the concert hall was at the bottom of the hill and started running down the hill. I passed an officer and as I went past I saw him signal. A couple of MPs jumped out in front of me and stopped me. They said, ‘Why didn’t you salute the officer ?’ I said ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t see him until I was past. I was in a hurry to get the the concert hall.’ ‘You are supposed to salute officers!’ Apparently this officer was going around with two MPs trying to catch people who were not saluting. Anyway they took my name, rank, number and my unit and said my CO would be informed.

Well I went on to the concert. I was quite unhappy about this. Anyway, the next day I was called up in front of the CO who told me that he had received this complaint and asked me for my version. I explained what had happened then he blew up. He said, ‘Its absolutely disgusting that officers in the army should be going around doing this when we’re fighting a war. Case dismissed.’

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