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Remembering the Telegraphist Air Gunners
Len Weeks - Canadian Memories Telegraphist Air Gunner Len Weeks - Canadian Memories (Telegraphist Air Gunner) By Len Weeks (extract from personal family account to his grandson 2007) In the summer of 1938 German nationalism had reached the point of invading European neighbours and because Britain had treaties with one of them, War was becoming even closer but was averted for a year only to become a reality in early September 1939. When the second World War was declared, I was just 15 years old, and being unable to join the Forces until I was 18, I joined the Air Training Corps (A.T.C.) and so became familiarised with military customs and procedures. There were also a naval Cadet Corps and an Army Cadet Corps. Our nearest airfield was Yeovilton and so we were taken on air trips from there at weekends. I suppose being Navy, I felt attracted to the Fleet Air Arm and so on 8th September 1942 I joined the Navy. I was sent to HMS Royal Arthur at Skegness in Lincolnshire, a pre-War holiday camp, and there met many other young men, one of whom was my friend Arthur Wells. We remained there for 6 weeks before going to HMS St. Vincent at Gosport in Hampshire. It was about the middle of December when I and 38 others were selected to go to a newly opened TAG School in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in Canada to undergo training for the next ten months (TAG ~ Telegraphist Air Gunners). We left the Clyde on the troopship HMS Andes on 19th December and arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia on Christmas morning. The Canadian dockers were on Christmas holiday so we had to unload all kitbags etc ourselves using the ship’s derricks, onto the quayside and this was a very slow process. At midday it was lunchtime and eventually because of the huge numbers of men involved, it was our turn to sit down to a meal of a lump of greasy pork, a couple of boiled potatoes and a spoonful of greeny stuff which could have started out as cabbage! Pudding was plum-duff and very runny custard. By 3 o’clock in the afternoon it became apparent to the authorities that our destination at East Camp, Yarmouth Air Station, was not ready for us so we had to march from the docks with our kitbags on our shoulders, frozen packed snow underfoot, for what seemed like hours, slipping and sliding to a Knight of Columbus hostel in the city, arriving there just before dark. We were greeted by our Canadian hosts who were still providing for the resident Christmas diners, mostly service men and women who were unable to go home for the Christmas holiday because of sheer distances involved. (Canada is a very large country - some 3,000 miles east to west). It was agreed that we should settle into the dormitories, have a bath or shower, and rest up for a bit. At around 6 o’clock we had a Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings, similar to the other residents. What a contrast !! Two Christmas dinners in one day - one horrible, the other wonderful! It was then I first heard a Bing Crosby record on the Wurlitzer playing ‘White Christmas’ so every time I hear that tune, even now, my thoughts flash back to that time and place. It was two days later that we left by train for Yarmouth arriving about 5 o’clock and Canadian Air Force lorries took us the 3 miles or so to West Camp for a cooked meal and then to East Camp, our final home for the next ten months. The time passed quickly and it was mid April before we had our first seven days’ leave. Almost all of my course mates decided to explore the large cities of Toronto and Montreal but the train journey from the Maritime Provinces where we were, took 24 hours each way. Telegraphist Air Gunners, Course 45A at East Camp I decided to stay locally and was fortunate to find details of a hunting and fishing lodge some 17 miles in the country. Unfortunately it was an old pre-war brochure and the couple running it had closed down through lack of visitors because of the war. However, they invited me to stay with them for the week as their own son, who was in the Canadian Air Force, was stationed in Britain. Their names were Mr and Mrs Trask and were a very kind and generous couple. I spent all my free weekends with them (we had one a month). It so happened I was with them when news came through that their son’s aircraft was missing on operations. This was a sad time for them obviously but on my next weekend visit he had been reported to have survived the crash and taken prisoner. So relief and joy for them both, and how fortunate for me to have experienced all these emotions of fear and exaltation on both occasions. After that until we returned to Britain in October 1943, we were sent from Yarmouth to a transit camp in Moncton, New Brunswick for 3 days. We stayed there for four days and then trained down to New York, USA for the journey home to Britain on the liner Queen Mary, which was used as a troopship (mostly for American servicemen), as by then the USA had entered the war. We arrived in Greenock, Scotland and were trained down to Lee-on-Solent Naval Air Base for drafting eventually to various other air bases in the UK, but not before receiving 10 days foreign service leave at the family home in Oborne. My parents, Charlie and Rose, and my sister Muriel as well as an evacuee called Pauline, all made a great fuss as you can imagine, and were astounded at the number of presents I had managed to stuff into my kitbag!
The Trasks in Carleton, Yarmouth County
Len Weeks and Arthur Wells Telegraphist Air Gunners 60th Annual Memorial Weekend, May 2007