Research and war memories.

Looking back on family military history today, for no particular reason…

My family was not particularly militarily active in World War Two. Both of my grandfathers were in “reserved occupations”, one as a market gardener and the other as a poultry farmer. Both were considered vital to the production of food while Britain was under blockade. Both were probably at the high end of the military conscription age.

My maternal grandfather (aged 39 in 1940) was chief ARP warden in Kingsteignton, Devon. I don’t know much about my paternal grandfather in South Walsham, Norfolk, who died about three years before I was born.

A tale I heard from my mum, who was aged 12 in late 1940*: shortly after midnight, a commotion was heard outside the house. The local Home Guard were trying to hammer out the wooden wedges blocking the prepared loopholes in the high thick stone walls of Grandfather’s garden, but from the wrong side!
“What the devil’s going on?” demanded Grandad.
“The Germans are massing at Boulogne.”
“From the noise you were making, anyone would think they were down at Star Cross!”
(Star Cross is the landing point for the ferry across the estuary of the River Exe, about 30 minutes away).

It is clear that the lack of co-operation between the ARP and the LDV is not just a BBC comedy myth.

My dad served in the RAF, in what I always thought of as a “cushy billet” at a bomber training airfield on Vancouver Island, Canada, where they were flying Avro Ansons and Hanley Page Hampdens. Only when visiting a few years ago did I realise that this was probably the second nearest Canadian military base to Japan, and certainly the closest aggressive base,

(In fact it may have been be third closest. I believe there may have been a RNAS base with launches and flying boats in Patricia Bay, mainly intended for picking up “ditched” crews.)

My dad always wondered why, as a former apprentice boatbuilder he was put on engine maintenance, while his mate, a garage mechanic, was allocated to airframes. In retrospect I guess this was to ensure that all recruits learned “the RAF way” rather than coming to work with pre-conceived ideas of how the job should be done.

The blokes stationed at “Pat Bay” (now Victoria International Airport) were always on the look-out for news from Europe, and a recurring theme in the station magazine is the semi-compulsory monthly charity collection for food deliveries to “the Old Country”.

Dad once told us a story of how an enterprising local newspaper boy appeared in the NAAFI canteen clutching a poster: “Britain Invaded”.
Only after selling dozens of papers did he reveal the full headline: “New Britain Invaded”. I believe he then had several rolled-up newspapers thrown back at him.
New Britain is an island off Papua, New Guinea, in the Pacific. While still a setback for the allies, hardly the disaster anticipated by RAF readers of the half-truth.

I am now searching for the war record (if there be one) of my uncle: Arthur Wisken from South Walsham, Norfolk. He was the older brother of my dad (who was born in 1918) by several years I think. Any help would be appreciated.

*Incidentally, my mother for some time blamed herself for World War Two. Aged 11 at the end of August 1939, she was urged by her parents to pray that there would not be a war. Excited by the prospect, she prayed that there would be a war. Sure enough there was a war, and as an 11 year old she endured the blame for months, unable to confide in anyone, least of all to her parents who had just had twin sons, referred to by one of their greengrocer shop customers as “cannon fodder”.

Sad times. Sad situations. Interesting history.

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General Whiskers

Wargaming butterfly (mainly solo), unpainted model figure amasser, and Historical Re-enactor of the black powder era.

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