Digby - RCAF Digby
Updated: 2 Jan 08
CHAPTER 4 - AFTER THE WAR
b. Feb - Mar 1948
1 Feb 1948 saw Digby leave Cranwell’s control with the move from
RAF Hereford of the Secretarial Branch Training Establishment and Equipment
Just after the war ended AMWD (now PSA) were building an underground drainage/ sewage tank. The only way to build this tank was for the bricklayer to go down into the hole and build from the inside, finishing with a hole for the inspection cover. The bricklayer accordingly did this and finished up on a staging underneath the hole, putting in the final bricks. Having done this, he then discovered that he, being a rather stout man, was unable to get out through the hole he had left. Also, his staging, while being high enough to work on, was not high enough for him to put his head out and ask for help !
After a long wait, during which his shouts for help met with no answer, someone finally came to see what had happened to him. To get him out, the last course of bricks had to be removed, and rebuilt later from the outside.
At this time, some of the other courses at Digby included evasion exercises and it fell to the Flight Cadets and their instructors of the E & S Wing to provide the defence.
The preparations for an evasion exercise were extensive. For the defence, one of the most important essentials was, of course, a carefully chosen headquarters. It might be a village dance hall, a 3 ton truck parked in a courtyard, or oven a private room within the local hostelry. The last named situation was obviously the most comfortable, but had the disadvantage that dispatch riders were sometimes missing when required! Last on the list of preparations was the splitting up of the squadron, roughly one hundred Cadets, into sections.
On the actual day of the exercise both sides were briefed carefully on the rules of the ‘game’, codewords, and the territorial boundaries. To make their task as realistic as possible the evaders were not allowed to hitch—hike, ‘borrow’ transport, or seek help from civilians. Bearing in mind their experience of previous night exercises, most Flight Cadets put on as many sweaters, track suits, and pairs of socks as possible it can be extremely cold peering out from a ditch all night in the hope of seeing somebody who may never come.
After briefing, the evaders were taken to their dropping zones in blacked out transports and from then onwards it was up to them to get back to the rendezvous (RVs) possibly a distance of 15 to 20 miles, without further help from the authorities . Meanwhile, mobile patrols were sent out which reported the position of the dropping zones as soon as possible. Once HQ had received this vital information the machinery moved into operation. The general direction in which the evaders were moving was marked out and the defenders deployed in the areas which we likely to be covered by the escapers. Such obvious landmarks as bridges, railway lines, and crossroads were well guarded because in many cases the evaders were forced to come into the open at those points to find out where they were. Throughout the night reports came in from the sectors telling of prisoners captured and of the direction taken by ‘those that got away’, The latter information was the more important early on in the exercise because it might have given a clue as to the whereabouts of the RVs.
The exercise eventually comes to an end and the mopping up operations begin. First, the defenders had to be collected from their positions. A nominal roll was essential at this stage because Flight Cadets had been known to fall asleep and, having well concealed themselves, could not be found! A more difficult task is rounding up the stragglers who failed to reach the RVs, for unless they ring up and telephone kiosks were not plentiful in the fens — nobody had the faintest idea where they were. However, once operations were complete the lucky few who owned cars and motor cycles calculated rapidly how much they could claim for the mileages they had covered, officers on opposing sides settled their bets, and the rest crawled wearily into bed feeling extremely glad that it was all over.
The most important part was yet to come — the debriefing which brought to light valuable points. The evaders would know next time that walking on the skyline, looking at maps beneath village lamps, and similar elementary mistakes are best avoided. The value of the night exercises to the cadets were perhaps no so obvious but it nevertheless existed. The NCO cadets got practical experience of taking charge and of deploying their men, and everybody could see at the debrief in how a defence system should be arranged. Moreover, the exercise itself provided opportunities for the development of certain important qualities. To be left alone in a ditch for several hours in the dark, not quite knowing whether anybody would come by, is not a pleasant experience but it is one which calls for patience, constant alertness, initiative and steady nerves in a countryside which can be very eerie at night. An excellent example of initiative was once given by one cadet who lay in a ditch listening to 2 evaders whose conversation practically gay away their rendez-vous position. Many a rasher person would have tried to capture them immediately and so have lost valuable information.
Digby Oral Histories:
- A History
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