Chapter 14
The Final Days, France, Belgium and Holland, August 1944-45


We flew over to France and landed at a drome just beside Dunkirk, which the Germans still held. Their ack-ack guns opened up on us but I don’t think we were within range. However a few days later the Germans pushed their perimeter out a mile or so and started shelling our airfield. They could just reach the far side where we had some planes parked and they got a couple of them. The Polish troops in the area counter-attacked and pushed them back but we didn’t put any more planes over that side.

When we were disembarking from the plane, I had just got off when one of the other airmen chucked his kitbag off the plane. It hit me and broke my glasses. These were frameless ones which I’d had made in England, so I sent them back to Mum to get them repaired. In the meantime I reported sick and was sent to the Army optical centre. A Major tested my eyes but I couldn’t see properly with any of the lenses he tried. Finally he shouted, ‘Good God, man, you must be able to see with those!’ and ordered me to go down to the prescription department and collect the new glasses. I put the new glasses on and my feet appeared to be about eight feet away. I had astigmatism and no glasses off the shelf could correct it. However I managed to do without glasses until my new ones came back from England. I often wonder what kind of training that Major had.

As the army advanced we moved up into Belgium and Holland. It was while we were there that the war with Germany finally ended. That evening everyone went down to the NAAFI to celebrate, but I was not in the mood. I went out onto the airfield and thought about the last six years, remembering my old friends and the bad and good times we had had. Also we were still at war with Japan and I feared that I might be sent back East again.

The camp we were in was one of the German rest-camps for their officers and apart from a luxurious messhall we had a proper cinema, two 35mm projectors, full seating, a stage equipped with curtains, a drop down screen and full stage lighting. We took over the control of it and used to go down to Brussels to obtain films. We then discovered that we could also get films from Paris. So we used to give shows every night, changing the films twice weekly and even giving extra midnight shows of some of the films which did not draw a full audience, such as ‘Henry V’. I operated the curtains and lights, so although I saw the pictures several times during the week I never saw the end of most of them. I was back on leave in England when the results of the General Election were announced and I went up to Tottenham Court Road where my sister Kathleen worked in a cafe We went out to celebrate the Labour victory.

While I was in India I had the Tribune, Newsweek and several of the Victor Gollancz books sent out to me, and was very active in talking to the others about ensuring that we got a Labour Government when the next election came. Most of the troops were very bolshie and I think that they would voted for communism in order to get rid of the Tories.

The Rhine
One evening we were sitting on our beds listening to the late night news, when it was announced that an atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. Everyone said, ‘What’s an atom bomb?’ Now it happened that I had been very interested in physics and Einstein’s theories, although I couldn’t say I really understood them, but I found myself explaining the significance of E = mc² and the force that could be generated by splitting the atom. While we were there it was decided to let us see some of the places in Germany which we had been bombing, so we were taken up in Mitchel troop carrying planes and flown over Essen, Dusseldorf and the Ruhr. Later we were moved up to Guterslow in Germany and on the way there we went through Hamburg. The thorough devastation of these towns was almost impossible to describe, and everywhere there were refugees who looked at us with hopeless eyes.

Finally we were told of the plans for demob, apart from some special cases, those who had the longest service would be released first. I was one of those. I was interviewed by my CO for a final assessment and was asked if I wanted to stay on in the Air Force, if so, I would be recommended for a officer’s course. I was only to keen to get back to civvy street so I turned the offer down.

On returning to England I went to Olympia exhibition centre, which had been turned into a demob centre. There we got our civilian clothes, ration books,about four months demob pay (I think it was), hundreds of cigarettes, and four months sweet rations. My demob leave would have taken me up to half-way through March (It was now November), but I got fed up of doing nothing and went back to my old firm Siemens in January. I was told that my old job in the factory was no longer available. Instead I was offered a chance to go onto outside installation, travelling around the country installing telephone exchanges. This suited me because I did not feel that I could settle down in a building after all the travelling I had been doing.

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