Tom didn’t have to join the Navy to see the world….the RAF did that for him. Between 1940 and the end of the Second World War Tom served in Northern Ireland, France (missing the drama and horror of Dunkirk by just 24 hours) and then Ceylon and India. In later years he wrote a number of reminiscences, and in this he summarises his time in uniform.
“I was 22 years old when the war began, working as newspaper reporter at Whitby, in North Yorkshire, where I lived with my wife and six-month-old baby daughter (now Grandma Jill). I volunteered for the Royal Air Force, like millions of other young men who decided they would rather choose what they wanted to do rather than wait to be called into the Army.
The RAF was swamped with applications and it was January 1940 before I was told to report to the recruit training centre at Cardington, in Bedfordshire. After this I was sent to join the British Expeditionary Force in France. When the German invasion began we retreated to the coast and left for England from Boulogne, the day before Dunkirk.
By now I had become an operations room clerk, tracing aircraft movements. I was stationed at various places in England, including Halton, in Buckinghamshire, Sutton Bridge, in Lincolnshire and Preston, in Lancashire. Next I was moved to Northern Ireland at a village called Ballyhalbert, near Newtonards, in County Down.
In 1942 I was posted overseas and left the shores in the troopship Duchess of Richmond. You can read about his journey here. Our destination was Singapore but the Japs got there first so we were diverted to Bombay, in India. Then the Japs bombed Colombo, the capital of the island of Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, so we were sent there.
Six months later I was back in India and spent a year in Calcutta. Then I was posted to Chittagong in what is now Bangladesh and after that to Cox’s Bazaar on the Arkan coast near the Burmese border.
After three years overseas I returned to England and ended my RAF service at Upwood in Huntingdonshire. I was demobilised on New Year’s Day in 1946 and came back to Scunthorpe in an Army lorry from Doncaster late at night. I was no longer Corporal 946042 but Mister THA again. “
Tom kept a diary for most of his life and although many from the war were left behind as his unit retreated, he wrote of his last few days in India thus:
On duty this morning but Chiefy told me I could finish at 1. Went to the ‘Drome in the afternoon and had a smashing time. tea at the YMCA, wrote letter to Mabel, and back to bed in good time.
Diary January 1945
16th On duty this morning but Chiefy told me I could finish at 1. Went to the ‘Drome in the afternoon and had a smashing time. Tea at the YMCA, wrote letter to Mabel, and back to bed in good time.
17th Spent the morning sorting and packing my kit, although I’m afraid I shall have to do it again in Calcutta and Bombay. Got cleaned up in the afternoon and went to see a concert ‘Bouys Ahoy’ in the car park at night.
18th Finished packing today and in the afternoon went up the Ops Room and said cheerio to Joe and the rest. At night felt very depressed but cheered up when Sitchy and Corporal Jackson invited me in for a drink.
19th Away from the cookhouse at 8 in the sick Gharry (transport) with Joe, then on the meat Kite to Dum Dum. A very worrying time finding a billet. Eventually got settled in the YM. Went out. Got pissed with Meredith Fanour etc.
20th Spent the morning shopping with Don Farrow then to Lighthouse in afternoon to see ‘This Happy Breed’. At night had a few drinks at The Bristol where there was a very riotous assembly.
Sunday 21st Spent the morning walking about with Don Farrow. After tiffin wrote a letter, had an ice with Les May etc. At night had a drink or two and went to see Marlene in ‘Kismet’.
22nd Bought a watch this morning and did some more shopping. Bought tin box and flogged my old one, spent afternoon with Don Farrow. At night took part in discreditable episode with Harris etc.
23rd A most peculiar day. Spent the morning packing then reported at Transit Camp. They wouldn’t have me! So, back to Sudder St. With Don Farrow. Bought some beer, then to the Globe to see Tales of Manhatten . Very good.
24th Reported at Transit Camp. Met the lads having breakfast in Spitfire Cafe. Had photo taken at BHQ after tiffin paraded at Transit Camp. Told me to report next Friday. at night went to Regal. Invisible Man’s Revenge.
25th This morning went to Ballygunge with Don and saw Taff Lewis and Mrs Wright. Slept in afternoon for a change. Saw England beat Scotland on the Maidan. Had a drink at the Bristol then ‘Since you went away’ at the Elite.
26th Checked in at Transit Camp today, then a tram ride to Anoural for tiffin at Mrs. Wrights and paraded in afternoon. Got my photo. At night played Housey and had a piss up on beer at Ballygunge with Taff Lewis.
27th Got our kit outside Transit Camp today then called on Ron Farrow to tell him we were probably moving today. Last office together, then moved to Asurah this afternoon and our military train moved off about 7 o’clock.
28th Sunday. Well on the way now, all meals on the train and not bad ones either. Helped peel spuds this morning, read most of the time. After good dinner went to bed in good time.