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Employment

A personal memoir of the Second World War

By Herbert (Henry) P. Hall

(Continued - 7)

Towards the end of my attachment to no. 1 R.I. & M.U., I was in charge of a mobile maintenance and overhaul section of some 10 technicians, fitters and aerial riggers for touring various radar stations in the Eastern Mediterranean area to carry out the complete overhaul of the elaborate aerial installations. This was very interesting work and made for a considerable variety of scenes and problems. It did incur however, having to climb very high towers and masts with all the obvious risks involved, and although I dislike heights I felt I could not opt out of doing anything that I expected my men to carry out. Fortunately the weather was always calm in that part of the year, otherwise it may have been a different story.

As I was keen on photography, I was asked to take a series of photos of the Service funerals of two of our Unit' s officers who had died from illnesses within a short time of each other. The intention was to send these pictures back to their next of kin in the U.K. It was a sad and somewhat embarrassing assignment, moving about the cemetery to get different shots but at least I was spared the job of being a pallbearer.

I managed to take two periods of leave, firstly to a rest camp in Palestine from where I traveled to see most of the biblical sites and spend a few days in Jerusalem. On the second leave I traveled with a party organised by the YMCA by overnight train to Luxor and Thebes in Upper Egypt to see the ancient monuments of the Pharaohs and their underground tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Both holidays were very interesting and educational, but I was sorry not to have been able to view the treasures in the Cairo Museum, but it was kept closed until well after the war.

I was looking forward to completing the standard 4 year overseas tour period for single men in the RAF, but it was to be a further two months before I was released and a ship became available. I boarded it at Port Said and we sailed on 25 December 1944 - Christmas Day, the troopship being packed with about 2000 men. The small RAF officer contingent were crowded together in three-tiered bunks in what was once the ship's swimming pool in happier times. The voyage through the Mediterranean, past Gibraltar and thence through the Atlantic was uneventful until with growing excitement we neared the coast of Great Britain. We arrived at Liverpool on 10th January 1945 and by now I was in the uniform of a Flying Officer having been promoted to that rank on 20 November the previous year.

I got married within 10 days of landing and with my bride we spent a short honeymoon at Bournemouth, but it was the coldest winter since 1896! Ten days were soon over and it was time for us to return, Irene to her job as a telegraphist at the Foreign Office Communication Centre at Bletchley Park, Bedfordshire, while I had to report on 7th February to No. 75 Signals Wing Headquarters at Broadstairs, Kent. The war was not yet over!

After a couple of months spent touring radar stations in Kent and Sussex familiarising myself with the latest technical developments, I was posted on 8th April 1945 to RAF Radar Station Thorpeness on the Suffolk Coast as Commanding and Technical Officer.

Thorpeness was a small residential seaside privately developed as a rather exclusive village with no shops, only an inn. Our radar unit was specially equipped on a tall tower near the cliff top, sited to plot the movements of German E-boats (mainly equipped with torpedoes) designed to molest the east coast shipping, but by the time I arrived this activity was very much curtailed as Germany by then was fighting a rearguard action on its own soil. Nevertheless discipline and some useful work remained to be reinforced so we carried on fairly normal duties. For the first time in my service career I found I had a group of airwomen of the WAAF under my command as well as about 20 airmen. I had a WAAF Section Officer, Margot Shepherd by name, to assist me and look after the girls' interests, and we got along reasonably well. We shared one of three requisitioned houses while the airmen and airwomen were housed in two others.


 

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