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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Military Memories 7 - Europe & Far East Tales

Military Memories: 31 Writing Prompts to Celebrate Your Military Ancestors
Members of GeneaBloggers are invited to commemorate their military ancestors during  May 2014 by participating in  Military Memories: 31 writing prompts,  created by author Jennifer Holik. 

Today's theme - Overseas Service - On the Move   


My father, John Weston  was happy to talk about wartime  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 and then the Far East.  He served in the RAF, in a Special Liaison Unit, Codes and Ciphers Branch.

Here is Dad's story, told in his own words::

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."

 A letter home to my mother - Sept 1944

"We arrived in Luxembourg.  General Bradley's Hotel Alpha was opposite the badly damaged railway station.  [Photograph below from Dad's album].  


"We had a good hotel at the back and were able to buy some very good cakes in the town. I became friendly  with a former member of the government [Mr Battin]  and was invited to his house. He produced champagne from his cellar and served them with lovely cakes with kirsch in them"

A rare chance to sample some home life in time of war!
Dad on the right with the Mr Battin's daughter.  

"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 my birthday (April 15th) when I handled one of the last signals Hitler radioed to his generals. It read, “Germany will never be Russian. Austria will be German again and Germany will become a great nation”. This was sent from his bunker where he later committed suicide.

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!”

"VE Day I spent at Wiesbaden in Germany.  The following day a signal arrived from London saying I was to go the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean, where there was a tracking station.  

I flew back home via Paris, landing at RAF Benrose, Oxford and then by rail home for 10 days leave.   I them received instructions to report to RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire to fly out east.  On the last night there, I made a telephone call home.  I said to the operator "I am off to the Far East, will you give me some extra time" - she did - which I did not have to pay for.  

Then off on a circuitous route because we were not allowed to overfly certain counties.  My travel documents said I was priority three – there were ten degrees, with Generals number one.   We flew to Marseilles, then to Sardinia (refuel), over Malta to El Adam, near Tobruk., along the North African coast past Cairo and onto Palestine for a 36 hour break and went to Bethlehem.  Our base was Lydda right on the coast.  The flies were a major menace!" 

"We flew onto Bahrain in the Gulf and then to Habayra (RAF airfield in Iraq) – temperature 104F when we landed there at 4a.m.  I could hardly breath.  Then onto Pakistan, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and across to Ceylon.  I went by rail to Mountbatten’s HQ some 8000 feet in a tropical town of  Kandy. 

My stay there was brief, but I remembered the good food.  I was told plans had changed and I was rerouted to Bombay.  It was take off in Colombo and we had almost reached the point of no return when the plane burst a tyre, which delayed us 24 hours. We took off at 4am on the second occasion.  

"In Burma things were moving to a close.  I was there at the ceremony in Rangoon when the Japanese capitulated.  I was based at the university.  We were always short of tea, which seemed odd in that part of the world, but there was plenty of cocoa.  I also had a ration of one bottle of gin and one of lime juice a month.  I used to drink that under my mosquito net at night watching the mosquitoes  run up and down the wall. 

In November 1945, I was called back for demob.  A driver took me by jeep to the airfield some 20 miles away.  I sat with a rifle (loaded) on my knee since we had to travel through some forests frequented by Dacoits (a terrorist organization in Burma).  The time was 5am. and we made it all right. I flew to Calcutta again and was there for some days.  Calcutta was an awful experience.    Flies crawled over people sitting in the gutters day and night.

We were due to take a train across the desert to Bombay, some 3000 miles.  But there was rioting against the English  in Calcutta and we had to return to camp.  Later we were taken by armoured cars to the station.  On the long journey across India, we stopped at stations to get some food.  We had this on trays, and as we walked along the platform back to the train, hawks dived down and snatched the food.   

I had a short break in Bombay before sailing on the "City of Asia" for home.

Dated on the back Paris,  September 1944 

These stories of my family's military service have featured before on my blog.

But I am pleased to take this different approach suggested by Jennifer
and am proud to join in this challenge.  

Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

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