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Saturday, 9 November 2013

Remembrance Day Challenge:: My Code Breaker Father

 REMEMBRANCE DAY CHALLENGE is the prompt from Julie at Anglers Rest who invites us to first present a photo collage  and write about  our ancestors and family  who served in war.

My father, John P. Weston

My father (left)  John Weston of Blackpool, Lancashire often talked about his war experiences and I am afraid it did provoke the reaction at times of “Not the war again, Dad”. It was only later that we came to realise what a life-defining period it was.  I persuaded him to write an account for me. and this combined with  photographs and letters I found after my parent's death, provided the basis for me writing a  family history narrative. 

I did send away (at some cost plus strict ID requirements) for Dad's service record, but it proved to be a disappointing contribution to this story, being little more than a list of dates and meaningless abbreviations.    As the covering letter said "The record was compiled at the time of his service and contains very little detail of his postings and movements".

Dad  served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch and was indoctrinated into the mysteries of Enigma and the One-Time Pad code, with training at Bletchley Park and Whitehall. London.  He then became part of the Special Liaison Unit, a team of analysts formed by  Frederick Winterbotham to scan, digest, and file the messages, with channels established for forwarding key messages to the appropriate field commands.
It was strange for me to visit Bletchley Park and the Cabinet War Rooms in London  and to know that I was following in the footsteps of my father.
After training, Dad   was seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ. He landed at Omaha beach just after D-Day and advanced via St. Mere Eglise, Avranches, Versailles, Paris, Verdun and Luxembourg through to Wiesbaden in Germany. Immediately after VE Day he was posted to Burma where he was for VJ Day.
Dad was happy to talk about his experiences, but  they were an edited version.  We never heard about the awful scenes he must have witnessed on Omaha beach,  on the fighting in the march through France, at the Battle of  Bulge and  on into Germany.

My father's account  of  his war time experiences,  I have featured before on my blog at:  

A Normandy Story & A Paris Welcome

 "We zig-zagged our way across the Channel  (to avoid enemy submarines)  and arrived off the beach at around 11pm, some distance off our landing point.  Sporadic  bombing went on during the night from high level German bombers. We slept where we could on the craft.  Just as dawn was breaking,  at 04.00am the captain started up the engines (there was quite a roar) and we moved in  fast to the beach.  The ramp was dropped, we drove off and we were in France!"  

 "I got a lift into Paris  [From Versailles where he was stationed] to hear General de Gaulle make a speech at the Place de la Concorde.  I was stopped by a Frenchman who said in English “RAF Sir?  My name is Joseph Calmy.   I was the Shell agent here before the war”.  I offered him cigarettes and he then invited me to a building and gave me a bag full of Chanel perfume, toiletries, powder and cream – it lasted Mum for years.  I flew back with it when I got some leave in March ‘45."

Dated on the reverse
Paris - Sept. 12th 1944

A letter home to my mother - Sept 1944 

A Meal of Five Boiled Sweets
"It was now December 1944 and bitterly cold – lots of ice and snow. Out of the blue at 4a.m. on December 16th came a major attack on the American front.  It was pandemonium...... This was the Battle of the Bulge.  We carried thermite bombs in a safe in our operations vehicle to be used to destroy our codebooks and machines. We had rifles fully loaded with us at all times.......Anyone moving around that night not giving the correct password (which was Betty Gable), was shot on the spot......The weather did improve somewhat. We were dropped supplies of food and more important the GIs got further weapons and ammo. supplies. At one stage we  were being served up five boiled sweets for one meal!"
This meal of five boiled sweets became an , often repeated,  apocryphal family story
"I crossed into Germany at Trier. I recall that vividly. Patton’s tanks were ahead of us and were nearing the Rhine. His engineers threw a pontoon bridge across and we followed. I was driving our operations vehicle – there were GIs on the bridge with machine guns, urging me to push on quickly in case of air attack. We made it and an hour later drove into Wiesbaden to what had been the Luftwaffe’s former HQ.  it was then April 1945...... V-Day arrived. The GIs went wild, but we took it all quietly, with coffee and doughnuts from the Red Cross post – very very nice!”
 "I had a short break in Bombay before sailing on the "City of Asia" for home.  We eventually arrived at Liverpool on Christmas Day 1945  and went to a camp at Birkenhead.  Then I caught a train to Blackpool and arrived home by taxi at 2pm.  One of the first things I did was to cradle you in my arms – you were shy – no wonder!"
I  was proud to contribute Dad's Memories  to The BBC "Peoples War"  -  a project between June 2003 and January 2006 when  the public was asked to post their wartime memoires online.  An archive of 47,000 stories and 15,000 images was the result.   

Copyright © 2013 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


  1. Lovely post, and extremely interesting. My daughter visited the Normandy site with her French class a few years ago, and so I was able to see some lovely photos from her visit there.

  2. Thank you Karen for your kind comment. I have been watching on TV a documentary on D Day and the advance to Germany. I found it moving, as it very much followed the route my father took and it brought alive the dreadful situations he experienced. .


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