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  RAF/RCAF Digby : Digby Recollections of Fitter Atkins

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Updated: 28 Oct 08

Fitter Atkins served with both probably 611 Sqn and later the Canadian Sqns at Digby, as well as the Bomber Command.

from 'My Dad's War: Posted to Rhodesia' by rwatkins, ID: A2022968

Dad was born on 12/8/1906 in Tottenham. We lived in Pembroke Road N15. Dad was a machinist at the JAP engine factory until the depression and after nine months unemployment started working as a conductor on the trams at Stamford Hill depot.
Call-up.

We all thought that at 34 and working on the trolley busses (that had replaced the trams) Dad would not be conscripted but with his engineering background he was called up to the RAF in September 1940 soon after registering. He went first to Blackpool for kiting out then to Morecambe for square bashing (basic training) then to RAF Cosford for trade training to Engine Mechanic and on to Engine Fitter.

His first posting was to Digby (611 Squadron?), they operated with Spitfires. Soon he was posted to 61 Squadron at RAF Hemswell. The squadron operated with Handley Page Hampdens at the time and later with Avro Manchesters and Lancasters. There was a large number of Polish aircrew in the Squadron, I remember Dad telling me a story about them. At that time aircrew were instructed to bring their bombs back if they could not find the target. When an armourer asked a Polish pilot how they always managed to find the target when rest of the squadron couldn’t the reply was simple “All Germany is the target!” At some time in 1942 Dad was promoted to Corporal. He also served with 61 Squadron at North Luffenham and a satellite airfield, Woolfox Lodge where he had to work in canvas hangers surrounded by deep mud. He returned to Digby in 1943 and served with the Canadian squadrons. Throughout these years Dad and other ground crew worked anything up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Leave was rare, seven days twice a year but he did manage to get a 48 hour pass every six weeks or so.

Posted Overseas.

In early 1944 Dad was posted overseas, it was about three months before we got an aerogram to let us know he was in Rhodesia. He went on the first convoy to go through the Mediterranean via Malta after North Africa had been liberated (when Uncle Leslie went to India a couple of weeks earlier he Empire Orwell went round the Cape). They were not allowed to undress for the four weeks between Liverpool and Suez. He disembarked in Durban and was taken to Bulawayo. We were relieved to learn he was in Rhodesia because our fears were that he might be going to Italy or the Far East. RAF Bulawayo was part of the Empire Flying Training Scheme; there he worked on Harvards and Cornells. Several native “boys” were employed in the hangers and worked alongside the RAF men. The “boys” liked working for the RAF, they were well treated by the erks in contrast to the white Rhodesians; one Yarpi complained “you treat these boys too well, we have to control them when you’ve gone home”. One “boy” who worked in the flights even offered to sell Dad one of his wives! Mum and I believed he turned down the offer. Most of the work was routine servicing but he had at least one unusual job. A trainee pilot had made an emergency landing with engine failure in the bush and Dad was sent out to dismantle it. He had a couple of “boys” who helped and did the cooking and a couple of Ascaris to guard the group. He had to live in the bush until the job was done.
He had some great leaves during his stay in Rhodesia. He went to Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Matopos and Livingstone Victoria Falls. At the end of the war he came home from Cape Town on the SS Mauritania and was de-mobbed straight off the ship. After demob leave he went back to London Transport was later promoted to Inspector and retired in 1970. He died in 1983. I can still remember his service number, 1195194. I often use it as a security code.
Roy Atkins.

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