Abroad and Home

My new camp was really an old camp, it was divided into two sections, I was assigned to the side where naval recruits were being trained, and the other side was a squadron of air crew. All sorts of things began to happen to me. I had an exam to try and become a sergeant. It was a written exam all about the function of hydrants. I knew what the function was but I was supposed to know where they were and how they got refilled. I hadn't got a clue and I don't think anyone knew. Not surprisingly I failed the exam. Fortunately a little latter I was given another exam, this time on Physical Training. I passed with ninety five per cent.

A boxing tournament was arranged and I boxed. I forgot to duck and received hard bow on my nose. It caused me a lot of discomfort so I saw the doctor who arranged for surgery. They found a clot of blood and removed the bone. Now I looked like an old pro. Next a group of us did some parachute training. On my last drop my chute got caught in a sudden wind blast and I hit the ground on my back. I was hurt but, being tough, I said, “It's not much - I’II be fine soon.” Clever clogs!

In the other side of the camp there were several famous sportsmen, mostly footballers who played for London clubs. They carried on throughout the war, entertaining all those living in London in an effort to give them some pleasure and to take their minds off their dreary lives and the fear of not knowing if the next V1 or V2 had their name on it. I became friendly with all of them and some became very close friends for a lifetime. My wife and I were living with a delightful family who helped us like we were part of their family. When I returned to work after my surgery they looked after our baby son, David, and our niece, Evelyn.

After D-Day there was much more movement of military personnel and I was soon on the move again. I was posted to India. However, I was still attending the doctor and when he heard of me going all the way to India he said, no way and to make sure that some clerk would not ignore his advice he downgraded my health file. The result was that I was posted to Europe. Off I went with a sack on my back. I travelled on a troop ship on its way to Belgium. We all stood on deck watching the V2 darting through the sky on its course to kill, injure and destroy with nothing to stop it. The enemy scientists thought that they had found the weapon to destroy any one or any thing in their way.

We landed at Ostend and made our way to Ghent to join a Polish Mosquito Squadron but the allies were advancing so quickly, we would be off again very soon. Everyone was billeted on some resident. and I was billeted with a farmer who told me when the Germans had been occupying they looted everything they could get their hands on and raped any girl they could find. It was useful to be with a farmer. I even made a deal with him exchanging my NAAFI chocolate ration for eggs.

We got to the NAAFI to collect our rations. All our cards were stamped and I received mine so I returned to the farm. The next day a few lads approached me. They told me that the Sergeant had refused to give them their rations. He told them they would get them when they got to their next posting. I told them I would see them later. I went to see the Sergeant and asked him why he didn't give out the rations. He said they would get their rations at the next place but I said, “How can they now that their cards have been stamped here?” He said, “It will be sorted out and in any case it's nothing to do with you. Mind your own business.” I didn't like this one bit. I said, “Sergeant I'll only tell you one more time, give the boys their rations”. He ran out of the room and came back with another officer. He just looked at me for a few minutes after I saluted and then said, “What is this all about? The Sergeant is in charge.” I said, “Sir with your permission I would like to see the Commanding Officer.” After a couple of minute's hesitation he told the Sergeant to give the boys their rations. I expected to be posted very shortly!

Meanwhile there was great excitement. The next day the English football team were playing the Belgium team. I went to join the crowds waiting to get into the stadium. Suddenly I heard my name being called. I looked around but couldn't see anyone addressing me so I thought I must have been dreaming. But it happened again, louder this time. There was a coach in front of me and someone in the coach was calling to me from the window. I got closer and could see a close friend from my previous camp. He was a famous English player he was beckoning me to join him at the entrance. Everyone near me was wondering who I was. I met him at the entrance and he took me to the dressing room and introduced me to all the players. It was such a coincidence meeting up with him! The stadium was packed solid and finding an empty seat was impossible so I sat on the ground close to the players’ tunnel. At half time I saw the most amazing tribute that could be paid. The great English footballer, Stanley Mathews, was playing. He was always so good, but on that day he was fantastic. The player on the Belgium side who was given the task of marking Mathews was a good player but was given the greatest run around of his life. At half time the players were walking to the tunnel leading to their dressing rooms. As they got near the tunnel, the Belgian took Mathews by the arm, went down on his knees and bowed and bowed his appreciation of the great player. England won the game but only drew in the return game the following day.

Football match England v Belgium at Wembley 19/01/1946. England won 2-0

I was on the move again but I was having health problems. My nose was a mess and my back was painful. As soon as I got back to England, I was put into a RAF hospital and scheduled to have some surgery on my nose. The surgeon was a disciple of the famous Dr McIndoe who performed miracles by patching up the faces of all the poor lads whose faces were distorted by the burns and wounds sustained in the war. They were all called McIndoe’s Guinea pigs. Compared to the others I was a minor case. The ward I was in was filled with aircrews who had been shot down or caught in a burning plane. My surgeon was a very pleasant young man and dealt with me as though he was having fun. After the anaesthetic he cut some bone from my hip, shaped it and gave me a new nose. Not quite like the plastic surgery one has to pay thousands of pounds for today, but I can still breathe. 

During my recovery I was up and about and I made myself useful to the staff. I sat at the bedsides and calmed the patients who were worried or frightened. Sometimes I sat beside men after an operation waiting for them to recover so I could remove the device that was in their mouth. I found it strange how many different ways they behaved as they began to recover their senses. Some laughed, some cried, some moaned and others, with bandages over their eyes so they couldn't see, thought they had gone blind. There were some who had many operations because it was so difficult to repair their faces particularly the eyelids. In those days there was no way of obliterating scars, which made them quite self-conscious. No matter how determined they were to try to ignore it, it was a lifetime problem.

This was brought home to me when, several years later, I went on holiday with my wife and son to the island of Madeira. We had to get there by ship and on deck one morning we met a couple and I recognised the man who was badly scarred. He was a pilot who had been in the same ward as me. I knew him but he couldn't recognise me because he had been in bed with the bandages over his eyes. But as we talked he seemed to remember my voice and we had a nice chat. His wife had been our nurse at the hospital. On Madeira they were staying in a different hotel but in the same town and we arranged to meet up again. On that occasion his wife managed to speak to me alone. She was in tears and told me that her life was hell, all because of his absurd jealousy. If a man looked at her from across the table he would start shouting. She was a nurse but she didn't know what to do. I couldn’t really help and said she should talk to their doctor.

When I came out of hospital I went on leave to the seaside. I went for a swim and suddenly I felt an excruciating pain in my back. I went to the nearest hospital where they gave me some pain killing pills and some ointment and told me to see my doctor as soon as possible. We went home immediately. My doctor who was a specialist at the children's hospital was also a personal friend. His son and my son were playmates and we all lived close by. He kept up with all the latest treatment and information in medical matters and after I managed, with my wife's help, to crawl to his surgery, he could see at a glance what the trouble might be. He told me to lie on my back, I said nothing but my back was hurting not my front! He pushed my trousers up over my knees, got a needle and sterilized it and started to stick it into lots of places in my leg below the knee. He knew when it hurt me when I said, “Ow!”

He gave me some painkillers and a note to give to the doctor at the RAF station. He explained that I had a prolapsed or displaced disc that was pressing on a nerve and causing the pain. This was also affecting the leg, which becomes slightly smaller. I was told that on very rare occasions a surgeon would remove the displaced disc but this was seldom undertaken, as the slightest error would cause paralysis. I understood that the disc in time would shrink and the disc below and the disc above would take the strain and in time those two discs will also become less effective. I went back to the RAF and showed the doctor the note. I was taken to hospital and told to lie on my back and move as little as possible. The pain eased a little. So I was posted to another camp close to a RAF hospital that had physical therapy treatment.

By this time the continuing war with Japan had finished and I was due for discharge but I could not be released while I was unfit. My unit was fed up with me and I was fed up with them. A friendlier doctor came to examine me. I told him I hated being kept there and I wanted to go home. He said, “Leave it to me”. He arranged my discharge and for me to attend an orthopaedic hospital in London. With my discharge I received a new suit, shoes and hat and I was given a disability pension - just about enough to pay half the rent. When I came up for a review of my pension it was decided to stop paying me on a weekly basis because that would increase yearly by the cost of living index. They gave me a one-off payoff - fifty pounds, which in those days was a fair amount of money.

I was taken to the orthopaedic hospital by a friend with a car. They gave me a local anaesthetic and pulled me and stretched me and pressed me all to no avail. I had to go again the following week. I was taken into a bare room where I had to take all my clothes off and stand close to the wall. A nurse came in with bandages. She bandaged me up from my neck down to my groin. Then she slapped plaster of Paris all over the bandages and I had to stand there until it had all hardened. I was in a plaster jacket to save me from twisting or turning and keep the spine steady. I had to wear this for three weeks.

It was a very hot summer, the plaster around my neck started to crumble, the tiny pieces made me itch. It was very unpleasant I was hoping the three weeks would go by more quickly. However, with no alternative I stuck it out. The wearing of the jacket eased my pain a little, but I wasn't sure about any success. I returned to the hospital, they couldn't have been very busy, two nurses attended to me. They cut off the plaster and were saying something to each outer. I couldn't hear what it was. When they had cleaned me down, they told me the good news. The plaster cast was not tight enough they would have to make a much tighter one. That's just what I wanted! If I had done what was in my mind, the hospital would have needed two replacement nurses. But because I am nice and polite I grinned like an ape and said nothing.

I endured another two weeks with little improvement. I had had enough of the hospital. I went seeking advice and was recommended to go and see a different kind of orthopaedic specialist, for which I had to pay good money. He had a table that had hinges all over. He laid me down and released one hinge and stretched my leg one way and then another way. He did this to every part of me. Then he pressed on my spine until something clicked. He told me he used to treat famous footballers - perhaps he did. He couldn't help me very much although he wanted me to keep coming. I wonder why?

But in spite of all my discomforts I was out of the RAF and home, well sort of. My wife's sister and husband allowed us to live with them. It pleased them because they were both in business and my wife took care of their daughter and made all the meals and kept everything tidy. Now I had to find a suitable job. I had to earn some money. I tried several, but none were suitable. My in-laws tried to help me start a business. At first it looked as it was going to be successful but times were hard and there were many restrictions and rationing.

Another problem arose. Our niece had grown into a fine young lady and needed a proper bed room of her own. We had to find a place of our own. This was not easy. There was a shortage of homes because of the bombing and shortage of money. We were lucky to find a flat and we managed to scrape together 'Key money' and we moved in. But now we needed a regular income to pay the rent. Thankfully our son, David, was now going to school so my wife once again became a secretary. And then at last through a good friend I got a job that I was able to do without causing me any pain or difficulty. I became a driver.

This would have probably been around 1949-1950.