Remembering the Telegraphist Air Gunners
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Terence Crowley - Telegraphist Air Gunner The war began for me in 1938. This was the time of the Munich Crisis and I was a 13 year old schoolboy in Fulham, London. I was the eldest of 6 children and the population were issued with gas masks. My younger siblings were able to travel to school on their own but I was responsible for the young twins who were 4 years of age. This meant that I had to carry their gas masks as well as my own and for a schoolboy this was disastrous as I was unable to participate in games with my chums. I started work in the 2nd week of August.1939 but was told not to come in if war was declared which it was three weeks later. My younger brothers and sister were evacuated together with my mother and I stayed in London with my father. Things were very quiet for the first six months of the war and I remember when some German aircraft came over and strafed Wimbledon, a few of us lads cycled out to see the bullet holes in Putney Bridge. Like most lads, I wanted to be a pilot and I joined the Sea Cadet Corps. But the thing that moves me the most is when the blitz started. By this time Michael the brother next to me, he was 18 months younger, were both at home. We and all the neighbours from G block would take all out bedding down to the Shelter every night. One got to know of kinds of people who one never spoke to. At the young age that I was, one took everything in his stride. But what happened, as the German planes bombed us, night after night one could hear the debris of Shrapnel, Shell casings and bricks and rubble cascade down onto the roof of the shelter. Coming out in the morning to survey the damage. One day I came out to find that a bomb had landed in the next block and it had blown all the balconies from the front of the block. I had a paper round at the time and when going on my rounds often I could not deliver the papers because the houses were no longer there. I remember one large hole where two houses had been situated and was told that a land mine had demolished them. I had several jobs, one of which was in the office of Teofani the cigarette manufacturer. Sweets were rationed and the staff would ask me to go and get them some sweets as they were difficult to get. I blithely went out to the shops till I heard a clink on the road and I saw that a 4 inch long piece of shrapnel from a shell had fallen just beside me. That brought a halt to my sweet trips. At 17 I volunteered to be a pilot in the R.A.F. and took the three day examinations which I failed and the Board said that I could re-apply in 6 months time. By then I would be 18 and would not get a choice so I volunteered for the Royal Navy. I was accepted and when I had been there for a couple of weeks The Commanding Officer sent for me. He had received a letter from my father suggesting that I was wasted since I had been in the Air Cadet Corps for three years and had learned to read the Morse code. He asked if I would like to join the Fleet Air Arm and I jumped as the chance. I felt they were the cream as they were at sea and flying from an aircraft carrier called for a lot more skill than simply flying from land. After being checked medically etc. I was given one week leave and sent to join HMS St. Vincent as a trainee Telegraphist Air Gunner. The chums with whom I had joined the R.N. had to continue their initial training and in fact one of them came for T.A.G. training but he was a month later than me. From then on my life changed completely. From the horrors of the blitz and nightly trips to the shelter I was in the company of a crowd of lads my own age and our food was good. The top half of the 80 lads on the course were to be sent to Canada for training and the remainder sent to Worthy Down. I and my chums made it for the Canada trip and on my 18th birthday I took a train to Edinburgh and three days later We took ship on the new Queen Elizabeth bound for New York. There we took train for a two day trip to Yarmouth, in Nova Scotia. It was wonderful with all those black waiters, white coated serving us meals on the train. Seeing all the lights and colour of New Your after years of blackout was very exciting. In Yarmouth, Nova Scotia we embarked on 10 months of training. Radio Theory and Practice in Swordfish aircraft and Avro Ansons. All my life I have been sick on swings and roundabouts and when I went up in the aircraft I was airsick within half of an hour. I persevered and by the end of the course I was flying for 2 and a half hours without being sick. We had marvellous adventures while flying but it was a wonderful experience. I was commended for my perseverance. I enjoyed the excellent food we received in a country without rationing and the extra money we earned as flying crew. I came home in 1944 and was drafted to 781 squadron and did a flight of two and a half hours and showed that I could do the job but the next job was a five hour trip to the Orkney and Shetland Islands transporting a group of ENSO entertainers. I was so sick on the return journey that I was hopeless and so I was permanently grounded. However, I retained my rank and status and in fact was even promoted but I was restricted to ground duties, i.e. flying control and radio control. As the war was obviously near its end then was little to do, but on the airfield vehicles I learned the elements of driving and how to ride a motor cycle. I was demobbed in January 1946. My two school chums from home were killed, one in France shortly after D-day and the other went down with H.M.S. Hood. Some of my Canada classmates were killed while others had varying adventures. From the horrors of the blitz, once I joined the armed forces my life was terrific. My sympathies go out to the sweethearts and wives who were left at home, and how my mother coped with so many children, a second sister was born in 1943 two months before I left for Canada, worrying about the fate of her children I do not know. When I came home from my training, of course they were suffering from the buzz bombs and the new flying bomb. One could hear the drone which stopped when the bomb was about to fall and it certainly was not something one listened to with pleasure. Original Article was published on: World War 2 People’s War (Archive of World War II Memories) November 11, 2004; by the Leicestershire Library Services - Hinckley Library