Next Memory

Jungle warfare, desert warfare, winter sports or what have you. When called up what happens to you is just the luck of the draw.

In February 1942, in spite of a preference for the RAF, I found myself due to be called up for the Fire Service, having had plenty of battle experience with the AFS in 1940. I avoided this by volunteering for special duties aircrew - I was over normal aircrew age - and was accepted and attested to be called up in April. In these two months the others of my age group on the Staff were called up but not me, and it was not until November 1943, 20 months late, that my papers came.

The transition was sharp. Padgate in December with frozen fog and the Padgate cough was quite a change from home, but it lasted barely three months. Then came a five months course at Bradford Tech. Where enough theory of Electricity and Radio was forced into me to pass the course. I managed to get a game or two of rugger and was picked for a Six-a-side Soccer competition. That nearly corpsed me! From there to Cosford for a radar course and home every week-end until, by October 1944, I found myself passing out as an AC2 radar mechanic - and on Embarkation Leave.

A fortnight later at Morecambe four of us from the Cosford course received our draft numbers and were shunted off to Blackpool to join the rest of the draft. On the way to our first parade we had encouraging news. We fell in with another “erk” of the draft who had been in Blackpool for some days. He had handed in unwanted kit and the first items taken from him were steel helmet, gas cape and respirator! Our destination seemed promising. The same evening we were away. The forwarding address we sent home was “c/o Personnel Officer, RAF Delegation, Washington, USA.” The receipt of this did much to cheer up my wife. Me, too!

On the seventh day after leaving the Clyde, the ‘Aquitania’ steamed slowly up the Hudson after a pleasant crossing, and we had our first view of the famous New York skyline. It all seemed unreal. After years of blackout, the sight of so many lights was exhilarating; brilliant lights on the docks, on the ships and ferry-boats and thin pencils of light where skyscrapers reached through and above some low cloud. We four radar mechanics were to be detached from the draft here and, after two or three days in New York, were to go to Canada for a course, the rest proceeding to our destination which we now knew to be Nassau, Bahamas.

We spent six days in New York, not two or three; this upset our financial calculations and soon we were testing the famous hospitality to servicemen. Our life centred round the Air Force Club on Fifth Avenue. There we obtained tickets for sight-seeing tours, shows, cinemas, dinners. In addition the other service clubs seemed to compete with each other in affording hospitality. We ‘did’ the sights and were lucky to get a clear day when we went to the top of the Empire State Building. We went shopping and sent a parcel home, the store providing us with a hostess who took us round and advised us on purchases. Certainly New York went into the hospitality business in a big way and before our six days were up we had a system whereby we could manage on 2/6d per day plus a little for fares; we had to.

Our visit to Canada lasted six weeks and for the first five days we were still living on the meagre remains of the money we brought with us - our pay documents had gone on with the draft to Nassau. We managed two trips, however, by hitch-hiking. One to London (Ontario) and the other to Niagara. The Falls are very impressive by day and perhaps even more so at night when floodlit in colour. Before leaving Canada I saw the parade ground being put to good use. They were flooding it to make a skating rink! We left there on 21st December for New York en route for Miami, Florida - from winter to summer. 

Christmas was spent with a family about 50 miles outside New York where some very good friends were found and I still write to the family I stayed with. As I said it was a journey from winter to summer and on Boxing Night, in a snowstorm, we boarded a train south; some 44 hours later we stepped out into the sunshine of Miami to embark for Nassau.

I spent New Year’s Eve swimming and sun-bathing at Paradise Beach on a small island about a couple of miles from the harbour at Nassau. It was reached by a motor launch with a glass panel in the bottom so that tourists could see the marine life in the clear water. It was a novelty to spend New Year’s Eve in this manner, lounging in a chair on the beach with a waiter hovering around to bring any drinks you might require - industrial Birmingham and the BMB seemed every bit of the 4,000 miles away! The eight months I stayed at Nassau were enjoyable. The work was pleasant and in good company and off duty time was spent in shopping, cycling, swimming and golf. After 18 or 36 holes at golf what could be nicer than to go over the wall into the sea for an hour? The island depends on the tourist business and in a winter resort for tired Americans where their dollars are charmed away by the Bay Street merchants who pretty well control the island.

The Duke of Windsor was the Governor and he and the Duchess were frequently seen in the service clubs in the town. While the island has little natural beauty, the vivid colours of the flowering trees and shrubs against the colour-washed walls of the villas and the brilliant turquoise blue of the sea were unforgettable.

I flew to Miami in June when I had some leave and from there set out to visit the friends with whom I had spent Christmas. To see more of the towns, I travelled the thousand miles each way by ‘bus. It was a most interesting journey. Although alone, I was never lonely, there was always someone to chat to. That “Greyhound” ‘bus organisation was excellent; fast, comfortable ‘buses running night and day. On the way I stayed a day in Washington and listened for a while to a debate in the Senate. Around New York I saw some of their wonderful roads, such as Pulaski Skyway, running for miles over the rooftops of the urban sprawl on the New Jersey side of the river. A very pleasant ten days was spent in the New Jersey countryside among very friendly people who were always interested to hear about the ‘Old Country’ and then the journey back. Early in September we were on our way home; by sea direct to New York where, after five days in Brooklyn, we sailed for England on board the ‘Ile de France’.

The final phase was nine months in the North of Scotland mostly at Alness on Cromarty Firth, where I had a most enjoyable time pottering round the Sunderland Flying Boats moored on the Firth. There was plenty of work, excellent company and lovely country for off-duty hill climbing, cycling and golf. June 1946 saw me on my way back to Civvy Street with my cardboard box.

The two and a half years went quickly to me. I enjoyed the travel and I enjoyed the work and company. Radar mechanics were mostly teachers, bank clerks, insurance clerks and the like. Most were keen on the work which really was fascinating. So much of it was very ‘hush-hush’ and specialised that the section usually got the reputation of being slightly ‘cranky’; this was fostered by the personnel and brought unusual liberties like exemption from guard duties.

I didn’t get a medal, there was no Caribbean Star, but it was a wonderful interlude. Just the luck of the draw.



Bankers in Uniform - 3


by Geoff Payne


Many of the Bank's staff served in the Armed Forces during the Second World War, and some ten years after returning to their banking careers, they were requested to share their experiences 'away from the BMB' with their colleagues. The recollections of three members of staff duly appeared in the staff's News Letter - this one by Geoff Payne appearing in the Spring of 1958 edition