Remembering the Telegraphist Air Gunners
A Brother’s Memory Remembering Petty Officer Bernard Glynn Howe (Telegraphist Air Gunner)     Glynn   was   my   older   brother   (by   two   years).   Like   most   boys   growing   up   during   the   Second   World   War,   his   great   ambition   was   to   take   part   in the   “fight-back”.   This   feeling   became   even   more   intense   after   our   family   home   was   badly   damaged   in   November   1940   during   the   bombing   of Coventry. At the time he was 15 years old.   A lthough   not   old   enough   to   “Join   Up”,   he   felt   he   must   do   what   he   could   to   prepare himself   for   the   fight   ahead.   One   must   remember   that,   after   the   Dunkirk   episode,   Winston Churchill   was   rallying   us   all   to   prepare   to   “Fight   them   on   the   Beaches,   etc.”   Boys   between the   ages   of   15   and   17   were   encouraged   to   join   either   the   Army   cadets   or   the   Air   Training Corps. Glynn chose the ATC. In    the    early    stages    of    its    development    the   ATC    was    rather    a    “hotch-pot”    of    an organisation,   at   least   it   was   in   our   rather   gentile   town   of   Royal   Leamington   Spa,   which   is right   in   the   centre   of   England!   However,   First   World   War   Veterans,   School-masters   and   like volunteers    were    rounded    up    to    teach    these    boys    such    things    as    military    discipline, mathematics,   Morse   code,   map   reading,   etc.   This   training,   combined   with   occasional   visits to   RAF   Stations,   with   the   prospect   with   seeing   real   aeroplanes   and,   maybe   getting   a   flight, worked   wonders   with   these   young   “recruits”.   One   must   also   remember   that   this   was   a   period of   great   austerity,   with   U   Boat   submarines   taking   a   terrible   toll   of   our   merchant   shipping. Food,   fuel   and   clothing   were   severely   rationed.   Eventually,   the Air   Ministry   was   able   to   find   a complete uniform for each cadet! Very    few    fitted    perfectly,    but    doting    mothers    soon    got    busy    with    their    sewing machines. Glynn   was   always   good   at   Maths,   English   and   Shorthand,   his   Dad   had   been   a   signaller in   World   War   1   and   was   able   to   practice   Morse   code   with   him.   As   a   result,   he   made   fast promotion in the ATC eventually becoming a Flight Sergeant. At   the   age   of   17   he   volunteered   for   service   with   the   Fleet   Air   Arm   and,   as   soon   as   he was   18   he   was   told   to   report   to   “HMS   Royal   Arthur”.   “Royal   Arthur”   turned   out   to   be   a wooden   hutted   pre-war   Holiday   Camp   at   Skegness-on-Sea,   on   the   east   coast   of   England.   In the   summer,   Skegness   is   probably   a   very   pleasant   place   to   live.   It   has   miles   of   sandy   beaches and   nothing   but   the   North   Sea   until   you   reach   mainland   Europe!   Glynn   arrived   there   on   a bitterly   cold   winter’s   day.   He   was   issued   with   a   Naval   Greatcoat,   Sailor’s   cap,   had   a   full medical   examination   and   was   told   that   the   men   in   his   hut   were   on   Fire-watch   duty   that night! There watch position was on the highest point – the flat roof of the only brick building. Where   else   would   one   scan   the   sight   for   incendiary   bombs?!   Two   hours   “on”   and   two   hours   “off”   duty,   all   night.   Groups   worked   in   pairs, each pair had a whistle, to sound as an alarm! Not a very auspicious welcome to life on the ocean wave. However,   things   did   improve.   HMS   Royal   Arthur   turned   out   to   be   an   Initial   Assessment   Depot   where   recruits   were   checked   over   before dispersal   to   more   appropriate   training   units.   All   recruits   were   also   issued   with   standard   Naval   Uniform,   with   money   belt,   inflatable   life-belt,   a hammock,   mattress,   spare   canvas   mattress   covers,   clothes   brushes,   shoe   brushes,   boot   blacking   and   even   a   tooth   brush. This   was   the   way   “Their Lords of the Admiralty” had always sent a sailor to sea so why change the system now? Glynn   soon   discovered   that   this   new   kit   had   to   be   stored   in   a   huge   new   canvas   kit   bag.   Not   only   was   it   to   be   stored   in   this   cavernous receptacle,   regulations   decreed   how   each   item   should   be   folded.   He   soon   learned   that   sailors’   bell-bottomed   trousers   needed   to   be   turned inside   out   and   each   leg   was   given   seven   equidistant   folds!   “Remember”,   said   the   kit   instructor,   “there’s   seven   seas   in   the   world   and   your trousers   must   show   it,   not   more   and   not   less”.   Those   young   men   must   have   wondered   why   they   had   volunteered   to   join   this   strange   new existence. In   fact   there   is   a   very   sound   reason   for   all   this   peculiar   equipment   folding   and   storage   but   at   the   time   it   seemed   rather   bizarre,   to   say   the least. After   a   couple   of   weeks   or   so,   his   intake   was   transferred   to   the   Fleet   Air   Arm   barracks   at   Lee-on–Solent,   on   the   south   coast   of   England. Life at Lee, known as “HMS Daedalus”, was very disciplined. These   young   men   were   taught   how   to   march,   drill,   fire   a   Lee   Enfield   rifle,   throw   a   live   grenade,   without   blowing-up   themselves   or   their shipmates.   There   was   daily   physical   education,   assault   courses   to   be   mastered,   wireless   telegraphy   to   be   learned   and   much,   much   more. All   this activity   was   monitored   by   their   officers. Those   who   made   the   grade   were   selected   for   further   flying   training. Those   who   didn’t,   were   transferred to other branches of the Royal Navy. Glynn   was   full   of   pride.   He,   and   several   of   his   close   mates   had   made   the   grade.   What   was   more,   they   had   been   allocated   places   on   the training   draft   to   Yarmouth,   Nova   Scotia.   After   all   the   privations   of   war-torn   Britain,   word   had   it   that   Canada   was   a   land   flowing   of   milk   and honey!   Perhaps   it   was   an   exaggeration,   but   at   least   you   got   enough   to   eat   and   the   girls   were   quite   friendly!   He   was   sent   home   for   seven   days leave, to tidy up his affairs, and prepare for the “Great unknown”. Not   much   is   known   of   the   journey   across   the   Atlantic,   other   than   it   was   decidedly   uncomfortable.   Letters   home   tended   to   be   brief telegram   like   epistles,   which   were   micro-filmed,   to   save   space   and   weight   and   then   enlarged   before   being   sent   to   the   addressee.   Furthermore, they had to be very discrete to get passed by the censors who read specimens of all mail that might be useful to the enemy! Glynn and I had devised a  “secret”  code  which he  would  use to let me know that he was likely to be coming back to  England.   It  was perfectly simple. We agreed that he  would  wish me a  “Happy Birthday” for the date of his move. No one else  would  know   that it wasn’t my birthday, particularly the Nazis! What   a   home-coming   it   was   when   he   eventually   got   leave   in   1944.   I   remember   it   well,   even   though   it   was   60   years   ago.   Not   only   was   he   fit   and well,   he   was   laden   with   presents   which   we   had   not   seen   for   the   last   five   years.   I   had   never   owned   a   watch,   yet   I   was   given   this,   to   me, magnificent   “Active   Service”   wrist   watch.   It   had   luminous   paint   on   the   hands   and   hours   and   was   water   resistant!   The   watch   is   still   in   my possession   –   and   it   still   works,   although   the   face   has   clouded   somewhat.   Mother   was   very   em barrassed,   she   was   given   her   very   first   pair   of   silk pants matched with one of these “new fangled” garments called a `brassiere`. The   story   is   that   his   mother   didn't   know   what   name   to   choose   when   he   was   born   so she   named   him   after   the   village   ...   although,   Glynn   used   to   say   that   the   village   was   named after him.   Dad   was   given   a   beautiful   new   shirt,   with   a   collar   attached.   Furthermore,   the   shirt had   buttons   from   top   to   bottom.   Up   to   that   time,   men’s   shirts   had   three   button   holes   and were   drawn   over   the   head   to   be   put   on.   Each   shirt   had   a   front   and   back   stud   hole.   One would   push   in   the   stud   and   to   it   attach   the   collar.   No   self   respecting   Englishman   would   be seen   out   without   a   collar   and   tie!   At   least,   not   in   the   1940s.   Collars   were   changed   daily, shirts about twice a week! There   were   also   bars   of   chocolates   and   sweets   in   silver   paper   tubes!   The   weekly ration   of   sweets,   for   civilians   at   that   time,   was   3   ounces,   butter   was   2   ounces   and   sugar   4 ounces. At   that   time,   although   I   had   left   school   and   started   work   in   the   offices   of   the   local Council,   I   was   required   to   “do   my   bit”   on   two   nights   a   week   as   a   Dispatch   Rider   at   the   Air Raid   Precautions   Control   Centre.   I   had   been   taught   how   to   ride   a   motor   cycle   and   was   part of   a   team   who   escorted   ambulances   carrying   wounded   civilians   and   troops   from   the   local railway   depot   to   various   hospitals   in   my   area.   Just   my   luck,   on   Glynn’s   first   night   home,   I was   on   duty.   Never   mind,   for   the   next   week   he   was   able   to   regale   me   with   tales   of   the unbelievable reception he and his ship mates had been given during his training in Canada. One   such   story   recalled   the   time   when   he   was   travelling   to   or   from   Edmonton.   When the   train   got   to   the   spot   he   and   his   friend   wanted,   they   got   off.   No   one   seemed   to   be about.   Eventually   they   asked   a   man   for   directions.   He   enquired   how   they   had   got   there. “We   traveled   on   the   Trans-continental   Express”,   they   explained.   Only   to   be   told   that   it doesn’t   stop   here.   In   other   words,   an   express   train   had   made   a   special   stop   for   two   young English sailors! Where else would that have happened in the middle of wartime? I can now understand why the TAG members and their families have such an enduring fondness for their Canadian hosts. [Memories as recounted by Gerry Howe (brother of TAG Glynn Howe.) Gerry also joined his brother in the Fleet Air Arm but as an Air Mechanic (E). He was never fortunate enough to be stationed in Canada.]
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