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  RAF/RCAF Digby : Recollections of LAC Charles Mayhew

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Updated: 22 Nov 08

LAC Charles Mayhew (623023)
(Worked in the Receiving/Traffic rooms of the Operation bunker)

I was sworn in at West Drayton on 11th October 1938 and posted to RAF Cardington to be taught how to walk, salute, send and receive morse at 8 words per minute, polish brass and behave in an airmanlike manner. I was then allowed to wear my “best blue” with a collar and tie, given Christmas leave and ordered to report to No.2 Electrical and Wireless School at Yatesbury on 1st January 1939. By the beginning of June we were sent to Cranwell to spend some time flying in a Vickers Valentia (The Flying Pig) learning the ramifications of Air to Ground operating. After a week of this, back to Yatesbury to learn that I had been posted to Digby with 10 Scotsmen, most of whom I knew.

We duly reported to the Operations Block where we were welcomed by Sgt Les Colley, who wore a winged bullet brevet above his wireless operator’s badge, indicating that he had been a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner. He also wore a medal ribbon showing his W/Op AG days had been spent on the Northwest Frontier of India with Afghanistan. He assigned us to our duties, mine being to familiarise myself with the workings of SHQ signals. The incumbent staff were quite happy to answer our many questions and give us tasks which did not require experience. It was quite a leisurely life and before long I felt that I was part of the team; which was just as well because August saw Digby on manoeuvres and some postings of the “experienced staff”, leaving the “new boys” to fill the gaps. So, instead of being a 9 till 5 job, it was 0800 to 2359 with messages flowing thick and fast and bombers from Waddington, Scampton and Hemswell bombing Digby with small bags of flour and “tear gas”. Worst of all, was that the former jewel of a station, Digby was now a tip but “c’est la guerre”!

Pre-war the accommodation and messing were good. After all, the station strength, according to DRO’s was only about 300. The lawns were well kept and there was no litter to be seen. I am sure that we were proud of Digby. We had a choice of cereal or porridge at breakfast and the Airmens Mess was not crowded or noisy. Although I was in a WWI block, it was not unpleasant and there was plenty of room. Also, new H-Blocks were nearing completion and we had hopes of even better housing.

In July, male civilians, aged 21 and over, were conscripted into HM Forces or the coalmines! Some of them came to Digby. They were housed in the H-Blocks! It said on DRO’s that it future there would be no choice at breakfast for permanent staff. Porridge only!!!! The cereal was for the militiamen, as they were to be called.

If there was a gas attack we would know because the flagpole near to the armoury would have two black balls suspended from it. During one such “practice gas attack”, the Station Commander ordered the Armoury Officer. “Mr Akhurst, - Raise your balls”! Fortunately, I can’t recall any female presence. Two nights later the air raid sirens sounded and everyone who was not on duty made their way to the shelters wearing full gas equipment. The “Bandits” were Whitleys taking leaflets to the enemy.... What novices we were!

On the morning of Sunday 3rd September 1939, I was on duty in the Receiving Room of the Operations Block, and at about 1115
I received a teleprinter message addressed to all units. It said: -

“WAR HAS BEEN DECLARED WITH GERMANY ONLY”

One Sector Controller I remember was Squadron Leader Dakin. He had only one good eye and a glass one. I think he must have been a Royal Flying Corps pilot. It was most disconcerting when he looked at you. I remember him for his “weather tests”. A “weather test” sortie was usually allocated to a junior pilot; whilst unidentified intruders were the preserve of the “old sweats” pilots.
On 9th June 1941, my 21st birthday, I was told that I was on draft for posting overseas and had 48 hours embarkation leave. When I came back from leave I was told the draft had been cancelled. Since I had been signed off by every section I was jobless which was not a happy situation. As a result I started to volunteer for any duty that was available. One of these duties was in the Ops room as Duty Signals Officer, which meant liaising with the Sector Controller on matters regarding communications. Eventually a posting came through to Transatlantic Air Control at Prestwick and so goodbye to Digby. When I left Digby only the SHQ staff were not Canadian, or so it seemed. A far cry from the Digby of June 1939.

Mr Charles Mayhew now lives in Easthaxn, Wirral. He visited RAF Digby on 29 May 1997 and presented us with the teleprinter message he received at 1115 on 3 September 1939 sending Digby to war.

location of RAF Digbyin relation to Lincolnshire - click here for full-size map showing all station locations

Digby Squadrons

Blankney

Ashby de la Launde

Scopwick War Graves

Sector Ops Room Museum

Digby crashes

Digby Oral Histories:


Digby - A History
" A history 1917 - 1978"
Foreword
Introduction
1917
1918
Inter-War Years
1919
1920
1922-23
1924
1925
1926

1927-1929
1930-1932
1933
1934-1936
1937
1938
World War II

1939
1939-1940
1941
Jan - Aug 1942
Sep 1942 - 1944
1945
Return to Training
1945 - Jan 1948
Feb - Mar 1948
Mar 1948 - 1953
A cadet remembers
The Signals Era
Jan 1955 - Dec 1961
Dec 1963 - 1978
Curent Day

1955 - the Signals Era


Digby Ops Room Museum
A brief history on Airops website

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