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David Cooper's memories from the Winter of 1955.
David has supplied theses additional memories, based on letters sent home some at the time.
In Jan - Feb 1955 it was a very bad winter. I being 5ft-8in tall and weighing only just under nine stone I really suffered with the cold which made this a bitter experience.
I was on fatigues from Wednesday till Monday, everybody is on it. I was in the cookhouse from six in the morning till three in the afternoon without a break. We had to make the tea in what looked like a dustbin. We had ours and then I had to put some powder in, which they told me was Bromide.
It snowed here last night and has snowed all day, it's about two ft thick now, and we have to take our boots off before we go into the billet. We were in the coal yards this afternoon loading and unloading a lorry and delivering coal all round the camp. My foot is O.K. now and I am wearing boots again. I am fed up now and am getting home sick, in the evenings the boys sit round the fire till about 10-30 at night telling dirty jokes, it provided a bit of amusement.
Dear all. Have been out most of the day, and we had a bull night last night. My bed here is next to the fire, nice and warm but as you are responsible for your bed space, it's not good as the other boy's mess up the floor. We were cleaning our brasses when the old man walked in (Station Commander) he came straight up and sat on my bed and asked how we were getting on. "All right Sir" I said. He picked up my webbing and said "you know son the best way to do this ..." and then he told us. He asked whether we had been shown by a Corporal and we told him that our Corporal was on leave and no other Corporal had been in. He went and as we learnt the next day, he told three Corporals off. Our 1st man Fred got a telling off and they made him scrub out the ablutions. It was a rotten trick but the No.1 took it in good heart. Another night, a Flight Lieutenant came in and showed us how to take a rifle to pieces and put it back together again.
Had to go to the Hospital again as the boots rubbed the scabs off my ankle and they stared to bleed again. We had our ground combat training today, in other words, we spent half a day chucking ourselves at a large sack with a rifle and bayonet.
Now it has been snowing here again and as a treat for working and drilling, we have been allowed out of camp. We waited in the freezing snow for a bus for over half an hour, out here its pitch black as there are no street lamps. After what seemed like ages an old broken down coach arrived and took us to Bridgnorth. There is a Low town and a High town. What a dump, one hotel and a couple of pubs (airmen not allowed in). The pubs left are only houses made up as pubs. Some fiftytwo within the radius of half a mile we were told. The one we went in was such a dump it looked as if it hadn't been done up for fifty years, there was no lino on the floor and no paper on the walls. We spent some time finding the bar, which was the bottom half of a door with a ledge. There were two more rooms that looked like store rooms. It was disgusting and the smell was bad so we whipped down our drinks and got the next bus back.
Went down to the rifle range today. The chap in the next bed to me was dead scared, I told him that the instructors would look after him but it was no good. The guns were very loud and we were firing into a hill. The instructor told us after firing, look at something green it's restful to the eyes, like your mates face. In the middle of firing, a cow walked across the back of the range and was a perfect target, must have received over a hundred bullets. The Officer later told us that the RAF would have to pay for the cow and as punishment, we had to dig out the hard sandstone and sieve out the spent bullets.
We had Passive Resistance today - germ and gas warfare and were taken to a building by a football pitch. The walls and ceilings seemed to be lined with zinc. There was a Corporal sitting on a stool in the centre with a camp stove. He told us to put our gas masks on and put our hands on the shoulders of the man in front and he had us jogging round the room till we were out of breath. He threw a stick of something on the stove and told us to take our gas masks off. Some of the lad's eyes started to run straight away but I felt nothing. "I like a nice sing song" he told us but he was mutton Jeff, "so you will have to sing up" and he chose a ballade of the day. Soon my eyes stung and started to pour with tears, I closed my eyes but it was no good, they stung like hell even with the eyes shut, the tears forced their way out. He told us that when we were let out we were to run all the way round the football pitch and if we looked in the windows at others that were in there, we would be back in. He shouted that he still could not hear so there were fourteen boys running round screaming at the top of their voices 'Smile While Your Heart Is Breaking' (song of the day) with tears pouring down our faces before we were let out. On coming back to the building with red eyes he said "I bet that was a sad film."
With some of the lads, I went to a dance in Bridgnorth. I think it was one shilling to get in and your wrist was grabbed and stamped to indelible ink when you went in, they told you it was so you could go out and come back in without paying again. The girls were outnumbered by ten to one by the men. Most looked about 14 years old with their mother's clothes and makeup on. It was a disaster. On getting back to the camp there were men trying to scrub the ink off. Next day we realized why. A local man, with his daughter in school uniform, was passing down the ranks trying to find the chap who had been with his daughter the night before.
Ray and I were on fire picket one night. It was freezing and bitterly cold. After walking round for some time, we at last came to the Hurricane parked by the entrance. It was the middle of the night when Ray jumped up on to the wing and slid back the canopy. "Somewhere out of the cold" he told me. We climbed into the cockpit, a bit tight and shut it. "Do us for a couple of hours" said Ray. When I woke up, all I could see was grey, sliding back the canopy it was daylight. I shook Ray and as there was no one around, we jumped out and ran like hell. I could not believe we had got away with it.
We did our R & I somewhere in the Welsh hills. Again up to our bum in deep snow. The first night involved an exercise climbing up and down hills in the snow, often stepping in a hole so you were almost lost in it. I am positive that we had to make our own tents. We were given two canvas ground sheets with eyelets on the side, We had to put the end of the cape on the top a dry stone wall with stones on it and pull the other end out again fixing it with stone to form a triangle, the other cape went under it on the floor with several capes tied together it formed a long tent for us to sleep in.
The next day we had to go and get four gallons of milk, without speaking any English. We knocked at one farm house door and the farmer's wife came out. One of the lads made motions of milking a cow. She slammed the door in our faces as I suppose she thought we were mad and we started another six mile trek.
The Officers were sitting in their encampment when we got back. The next day we were taken to the top of a hill and the Sergeant told us that somewhere out there a plane has crashed and the pilot is injured. You are to find him and carry him back; you will take your capes and cut wood to make a stretcher to bring him back. When we looked out all you could see were miles and miles of snow. We climbed over the wall and made our way down the hill. We went over other walls and through other two foot deep fields of snow when a voice, miles back, shouted to us. Trudging back there was a Corporal sitting up against a wall, he had watched us go by. "I am injured" he told us "you will have to carry me." We cut some branches and made a stretcher with a cape. He kept sliding off. So we tied him on. He insisted on being carried head up going uphill and he was heavy. We had to lift him clear of the walls on the way back and we were under the threat of death if we dropped him. On getting back, we carried him through camp so that the Officers could inspect our work, but when we got there, no Officers were there, only NCOs. As the Corporal we had carried was tied to the hammock, they stuffed handfuls of snow down his top and up his trousers. We hid for the rest of our time there.
We should have gone for a run today but went horse riding. It was still cold but we had our greatcoats and gloves on. The horses were at a farm, we had to pay two shillings each for a ride and a cup of tea and a biscuit. The women called the horses by banging a saucepan with a stick. When they came you had to put the saddle on them. Lofty didn't pull his tight enough and when he got on, the saddle slipped round and he ended up underneath. We all laughed. When they were all on the horses, they would not move, (horses are not silly) so I had to shush them round with a whip. Ray's horse was frightened and rushed around, so we backed it up into a corner so he could get off. At the last minute it reared up, at that time Ray had his hand on a fence pole and his woollen glove got caught. As the horse charged forward the fence pole came off in Ray's hand and he charged off across the field like a Knight in armour. He managed to shake the pole off, just before he fell off.
On the subject of cleanliness, we had lectures telling us that you had to keep clean, as any disease would run through the camp. After this we were taken to the cinema and shown two films on VD, these were American in colour and very graphic, some lads felt sick and some were really sick. After the films, we were sent to dinner and with the RAF's humour, it was sausages.
In a billet, there are different personalities, some nice, some nasty, we had one such man. No one would approach him. One evening he came into the billet, ran down it and leaped over a chair. This chair had been broken when we took over the billet from the last flight. The two uprights at the back of the chair were broken and we always just pushed them together for inspection. As he came off the chair he ran out of the billet, we all laughed. He did not come back and we were told a couple of days later he had chopped off his b---s.
His place was taken by a young boy entrant. After a week or so we realized that he was not washing or bathing and he was rotating his clothes only through his draw, no laundry. We dragged him to the bath house, the one with the duck boards, and ordered him to bath but he refused. So we stripped him and bathed him using scrubbing brushes. He was hard to hold as he was wet, naked and soapy. And we were all soaked. The only way that you could hold him was by the hair and the b---s. We dried him and dressed him in clothes that we had laundered and brought him back to the billet, sat him by the fire and got him a cup of tea. Fred (head man) said "I will go and talk to him" and after some minutes there was a loud slap. Fred came back and said "I should not have done that." After a while he disappeared and we could not find him. At about three in the morning the door burst open and an officer with two MPs came in. "Stand by your beds" was the order. We were put on a charge. We came before the Commanding Officer who said he realised why we had done it. But he was part of your squad and you have to look after each other. We had to look after him and take him with us every where we went from that time. He turned out all right in the end. Seems his father use to abuse him and his sister, and she left and became a WAF. His father threw him bodily down the stairs. Then bodily threw him out into the street. They did not know what to do with him so they made him a Boy Enterant. After his training he would be sent to the same camp as his sister.
On the gas Instruction we were shown blister gas. I never expected this, as this was a First World War gas and in 1955 they had told us that other gases that gave no smoke or smell could be used. They gave you a small tin containing ointment and some lint, and instructed you that on contact with the gas you should rub some ointment on the lint and PLUCK, NOT RUB the spot. A Corporal then went along the line with an eye dropper putting just a small drop of liquid on the back of your hand. I plucked at the spot of liquid as fast as I could but ended up with a massive blister covering the whole of the back of my hand, others were even worse. I thought of all the thousands of troops in the First World War that just walked into it.
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