8 – The Return to England
eleventh morning we were told to get rid of all our souvenirs and
pack up our belongings. The
RAF had very strict orders not to allow anything illegal, no matter
how large or small, on board their aircraft.
We gave everything away; I gave a German SS Officers P.38
pistol holder and belt to a Royal Canadian Air Force officer.
Around about midday we were taken to the airfield, and into a barrack-room. An officer came and informed us that the Canadians were flying us home in Lancaster bombers. The flight home was a lovely experience, they gave us a good time and plenty hot coffee and cookies. They also scared the living daylights out of us by firing the guns, we thought some crazy German had attacked but they were shooting seagulls.
we had been liberated we had marched for two days and two nights to
reach Lubeck. The attention to our state was minimal but when we
had reached RAF Stafford they made up for all that.
De-Loused, Showered and Fed
we arrived at RAF Strafford there was a large crowd of Women’s
Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs) and Airmen there to welcome us home.
After the initial greeting, the welcoming party put us through the
normal procedure for returning POWs. We were searched, de-loused,
showered and fed in that order. A WAAF grabbed hold of our kitbag
and emptied the contents onto the table to look for illegal
souvenirs. There was a single WAAF for each kitbag and they met up
with us after we were de-loused and showered. The whole process
lasted no more than one hour.
the shower we all dressed. I put on the only clean shirt I had, it
was an American army shirt.
Move to London
then had a lovely meal. A South African WAAF Sergeant accompanied
me. She was very good conversationalist and introduced me to her
husband who was also on duty.
She arranged for my transport to London, the travel ticket
and then took me to the station but found that the train had
already left for London. I had a very pleasant evening with her
despite the fact that I had no money I was well looked after. I met
all her pals in a pub, had a lot to drink and managed to catch the
train at midnight. I had too much to drink and regretted not
getting their names and addresses as everyone was so kind to me
that day and I would have loved to thank them all.
arrived in London next morning, to be greeted by NCOs shouting out
for different regiments. A
very smart Sergeant from the Royal Marines was talking to some men,
I went over and spoke to him, he then said, ‘Fall in properly you
are under strict discipline now’, we looked at him and didn’t
move. He started shouting again until two men stepped forward and
one said, ‘We are both Colour Sergeants, so be very careful how
you talk to us. We notice your chest is very empty.
No colour. Have
you been abroad, saw any action?
Keep your mouth shut!’ Then they said, ‘Right lads, fall
in’. We did so, and
marched to the Royal Naval RTO. We were put on the train for
Portsmouth and arrived there in the afternoon. There we were issued
with a travel warrant for our home leave and a pass for 40 days
leave but no money.
arrived Stranrear next morning but was not allowed on boat, as a
large draft of army and RAF were going to Larne.
I passed the day wandering around and spent the night in
hotel owned by former Royal Marine Officer who gave me free board
and bed. He then took
me down to boat next morning and presented me with a £5 note to
see me home.
to Northern Ireland
was a very pleasant trip home and there was a lovely welcome at
Larne. They had a band
playing and had set up a buffet of tea and sandwiches.
The train journey to Belfast led to another great welcome.
As I went through barrier two girls stopped and asked me what camp
I was in as their brother was a Royal Marine in Stalag VIIIB and
was at working camp E361. I knew him very well and I told the girls
that he should be home now as the Russians had liberated them three
weeks before we were liberated. I was in contact with them later on
and found out that it was three months before he got home.
The Russians used the liberated POWs for heavy labour.
arrived in Ballymoney about 2pm. My brother was supposed to meet me
but he had left the station to take a fare home in his taxi. I had
to take another taxi home. When we got to the family home I made
driver pass the house and I got out and walked back. When my mother
saw me, she collapsed with shock. At that time I was only six and a
half stone in weight. We
had to send for the doctor but she had lost power of her arm and
never fully regained it.
had a drink with my father and then my brothers and sister came
home from school. The
younger girl was twelve years old and didn’t really know me and
treated me like a stranger. I was sitting reading the paper when
she came into the house and went screaming out again when I lowered
the paper and spoke to her. It took her several days to get used to
the third day at home my mother managed to put the griddle on and
baked me a plate of pancakes and sodas with a tin of Golden Syrup
on the side. She told me that she had done what she promised
herself to do when I returned home.
had forty days leave and I intended spending them at home but that
proved to be impossible. There were so many visitors coming to meet
me that I took to leaving the house at 2pm. That way my family
could have some time to themselves.
never met any of my school friends because they had all joined the
forces at the same time as myself and were all away from home at
that time. Those school friends that stayed behind in Ballymoney
for the war period did not want to meet up with me at all.
the American Letter
morning after I got home my brother took me to Bushmills to deliver
the letter. I reached the letter to a woman in the hotel but she
would not accept it. She said the letter was for her daughter who
was a schoolteacher and it would be 4pm before she returned to the
hotel. I had to wait for the girl to arrive. Her mother took her
into a room and explained the situation to her and I was then
invited in to deliver the letter.
girl was amazed and wanted to know about the circumstances
concerning the letter. I was able to tell her that the American
Sergeant had been badly wounded but had recovered and now used a
walking stick. She read the letter and cried her eyes out. Her
mother came back into the room and said, ‘Your dinner is
ready’, so I sat down to a great meal. The girl never stopped
thanking us because ordinary post would have taken months to
deliver that letter.
When we were leaving the hotel to return to Ballymoney her mother offered me an envelope for my troubles. I refused to accept anything more because it had been a joy to deliver the letter in the first place. The back window of the car was open and she threw the envelope into the back seat of the car. My brother kept the envelope and its contents, a big white five pound note.