|RAF/RCAF Digby : Recollections of LAC Charles Mayhew|
Updated: 22 Nov 08
LAC Charles Mayhew (623023)
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
“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.
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.
Digby Oral Histories:
- A History
Buy the local
powered by blueconsultancy