John in uniform

John’s Story

John wearing his medals

In the R.A.F, kitted in ill-fitting uniform and with my equipment squeezed into a kitbag, I soon learned to eat parsnips (my pet aversion) or starve during a potato shortage. Billeted in private homes, fortified by breakfast (one round of bread and dripping and a mug of tea) there followed square-bashing on the front of Western-Super-Mare, where in a recently bombed house, something glistening caught my eye – 2 rings on the fingers of a hand severed at the wrist! My war was on!

Passing-out parade, then a Motor Transport Course took me to Fighter Command in Scotland. Aware by now that the comradeship was dissimilar to that in the Army and Navy, as R.A.F personnel are largely tradesmen and aircrew, I realised that every time one moved one was on one’s own. In every unit I was posted to I played Rugby and was consequently excused guard-duty and hangar patrol. I played at Murrayfield against the Watsonians and Bill Bowen’s advice in Gowerton was always with me – but we lost 48-8

After a commando course and an M.T. Fitter Course , I joined 34 Wing Tactical Air Force at Hartford Bridge, now Blackbush, where a secret weapon, FIDO, enabled aircraft to land in low fog. I worked here with the Lorraine Squadron (Free French) and the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit before going under canvas at Northolt where I managed to sleep through a Doodlebug raid which caught my tent in the blast , destroying seven aircraft and killing eleven men.

To Salisbury Plain next for the issue of Khaki battledress, Iron Rations and funny money which turned out to be Francs. Next came embarkation and having to reverse vehicles onto landing craft to enable easier driving off at Juno Beach. Later in a French country lane, American machinegun fire caused the petrol tank of a motorcycle I was testing to go up in flames, engulfing me.

One night as I lay in a field hospital in Bayeux a hand stealthily pinned something on my pyjamas. Daylight revealed it to be a Cross of Lorraine – the Free French badge. My new skin grew and I rejoined my unit – by now in Melsbroet, soon to be straffed by German ME 109’s which came out of the sun killing comrades and destroying aircraft. On 1 st January 1945 I had to man a Bren gun when its operator was injured but I aimed at an oncoming plane which turned out to be a Tiger Moth flown by the C.O. on airfield reconnaissance. Escorted away by a guard, I was severely reprimanded and given seven days Aircraft Recognition! However, I was selected to play rugby for the R.A.F. against Belgium at Stade Anderlecht – WE WON!

Accompanying a Wellington pilot on his night flying test over Eindhoven I was able to discern how tactful bombing by Mosquitoes had wiped out the centre block of buildings at the Phillips Radio works (occupied by Germans)leaving intact the two outer blocks (occupied by the Dutch).I celebrated V.E. Day in Eindhoven with everyone dancing singing and dancing in the streets.

A short but curtailed leave in Blighty ended in boarding R.M.S. Andes, a troopship, at Liverpool, then zigzagging across the Atlantic to avoid submarines, and climbing through the locks of the Panama Canal as the Pacific is nine feet higher than the Atlantic. In New Zealand we dropped some Kiwis who had fought in Europe. After a brief visit ashore in Wellington, we proceeded to Sydney , flew to Adelaide and Perth and finally to Learmonth on the north west coast with only flies, mosquitoes, kangaroos, emus, snakes and spiders for company. The Unit was to repair aircraft that had failed to return to their carriers and then despatch them back to their carriers.

Four days after V.J. day we received a signal to pack up and fly to Perth. The authorities had forgotten to inform us that the war was over. Activities slowed down and I was the only R.A.F. fitter left in Australia and found myself in Paramatta stripping three vehicles to make one serviceable. Here, at the British Centre, for the first time in three years, I slept in a bed with sheets. Before I left Australia I was welcomed in Newcastle by a Welsh family where I played rugby again, albeit LEAGUE!

In Freemantle an Australian friend entertained me before I finally set sail into the Indian Ocean, on, via Suez to Naples where we deposited some Catholic priests en route to the Vatican. A really rough crossing of the Bay of Biscay made landing in Tilbury very welcome. After a stint supervising two German prisoners of war in Teddington, a posting to St Mawgan in Cornwall afforded the opportunity for more rugby and a visit to my waiting wife-to-be in Exeter, driven in a staff car, courtesy of a sympathetic officer to a plane and then via another staff car.

I was demobbed in Crew in1946. Fitted with a suit that did not fit, a mac and a trilby. I was a civilian once again – a very strange feeling.

Fifty years on I wonder if it was all worthwhile.

John Williams, November 2005.

Back to Home Page
Back to top
Back to Events Diary