J.C. Wall’s experiences during World War II and Later
September 1939 – July 1941
I was 18½ years old at the outbreak of war living in Beckenham with my parents and working in S.E. London. In the meantime I had joined the local A.R.P. as a part time voluntary stretcher bearer being on duty all night for 2 or 3 nights a week during the London Blitz. We were called out many times to rescue bomb victims – my first was an elderly woman from a badly damaged house but unfortunately she was dead by the time that we pulled her out.
Although we could sleep between raids I still had to make my way to work in London the next day often with delays there and back due to raids and bomb damage on the tracks. Quite often there would be an alert on by the time I got home and I would find a note from my Mother which would read “Your dinner is in the oven – we are in the shelter”. The shelter being a corrugated iron Anderson shelter sunk in the garden.
Just before I was 20 years old I decided to volunteer for Air Crew duties in the R.A.F. Partly I think because I knew that in a year or so I would be called up and would probably end up in the Army – my 2 Brothers were already in the Army and their stories of the vigorous training was a bit off-putting.
In May 1941 I had my Educational and Health examinations and was passed as fit for all Air Crew duties. However although like most 20 year olds I wanted to be a Pilot I was told that there was a 9 month waiting period for Pilot training and only 2 months for other Air Crew duties. I was also advised that if I volunteered for Observer training (Navigator/Bomb Aimer). I could transfer to Pilot training later. I fell for this “con” and of course found out that there was no hope of changing courses.
7th July 1941 to 12th November 1942 – Training
I was enlisted on the 7th July 1941 in London and was equipped at Lords Cricket ground and billeted in the new flats at Bryanston Court near the London Zoo – in fact our meals were taken in the Zoo Restaurant. After 3 weeks I was posted to Initial Training Wing at St. Andrews in Scotland for 3 months. Then after a short stay in Eastbourne and Blackpool, set off for an unknown destination which proved to be South Africa.
We went out in convoy and the journey took just over 5 weeks and the S.S. Ormonde was very crowded. To me this was a real adventure as up to the date that I joined the R.A.F. the furthest that I had travelled was to Great Yarmouth and Lyme Regis for holidays.
I was training in South Africa for almost 6 months and most of the training was Navigation and the rest was for Gunnery and Bomb Aimer. We came back on our own (not in convoy) on the Duchess of Richmond and the journey took only 3 weeks. While in South Africa I celebrated my 21st. birthday in Johannesburg – I had very little money at the time but managed to raffle a Rolls Razor and a Valet Auto Strop Razor that had been given to me when I joined up. A good time was had by a few of us at a Johannesburg? Club from the proceeds of the raffle.
Our training was on Oxfords and Ansons but due to restrictions we did very little night flying and I had only loqged 1hr.35mins. at night against 99hrs day while in training. On completion of our course those of us that passed were presented with our Observer Brevets and the majority were then given the rank of Sgt. A few were given the rank of P.O. but I do not know how selection was made – probably on type of school one attended – I was a Sgt.
He had a wonderful time in South Africa and enjoyed the hospitality of the South African families on many week ends away from camp.
When we returned to England we then heard that we would be in Bomber Command and as the 4 Engine aircraft needed a Navigator and a Bomb Aimer instead of an Observer half of us would be Navigators and the rest Bomb Aimers. There was no choice and it seemed a pity that most of the time of our training was on Navigation and that we would not put our full training to practice. However I was quite happy to be nominated as a Bomb Aimer and I wonder if I would have survived the war if I had been a Navigator – not because of my lack of skill but purely fate.
I should then have been posted to an Operational Training Unit (O.T.U.) and then on to a Conversion Unit for 4 engine aircraft. This should have meant a further 3 or so months of “safety” before flying on Operations but it was not to be. I was at Bournemouth awaiting posting to an O.T.U. when the C.O. sent for 4 of us and advised that we were very lucky as we would not be going to O.T.U. or Conversion Unit for training on 4 Engine Aircraft but that after a short course on Wellingtons (2 Engine Aircraft) we would be posted direct to a Squadron and so on to Operations.
Consequently after 3 weeks of training on Oxfords and Wellingtons and still with only 1½ hours of night flying experience I was sent to 75 (N.Z.) Squadron at Newmarket and met my crew for the first time. The aircraft that they were flying were the Mark 1 Stirlings and all the Bombing Raids were at night.