On my 17th birthday in 1942 my father paid for my first driving licence and sent me off on my own delivering goods for his business. He had already taught me to drive on farms and private roads from the age of 14. (driving tests were suspended during the war)
I was not old enough to join the armed services, so I left school to take a four month course in Radio Engineering at Chelmsford, Essex, the home of the world famous Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company. (Little did I realise that I would stay with this company for 45 years). Having learnt the basics, I was put to work testing, calibrating and fault finding on various equipments used by the Royal and Merchant Navies.
We were also obliged to join one of the part time civil defence units, I chose to be a fire fighter. This required further training and long hours of duty at any time of day or night in addition to our normal working hours. Essex was still in the range of the Luftwaffe and the V1 and V2 raids were just about to begin. There were times when not actually on duty, we were considered to be “on call” and still expected to report for duty should there be an air raid (and there were many). On one such occasion in the small hours a loan raider dropped a string of incendiary bombs across our factory and we were ordered to made sure all of them were found and extinguished. I found one bomb in the cycle sheds, over which I stood guard while it exhausted itself harmlessly. At the sound of the ‘all clear’ we assembled in the works canteen for a roll call, a cup of tea and a bun (our reward for turning out!) before cycling home for a couple of hours sleep. Reporting for work in the morning we were horrified to see that the roof of the canteen was missing. Apparently while we were enjoying our late night cuppa there was an incendiary bomb doing what it was designed to do, starting a fire, right above our heads.
Like the Windmill Theatre, we never closed, and despite the bombs, the V1’s and V2’s we continued working, and so far as I remember there was never a hold up of production due to enemy action. However, the whistle of falling H.E. bombs, the clatter of fallout from AA shells as I cycled to report for duty, the faltering engines of V1’s about to crash land, and the sudden explosions of the supersonic V2’s will always remain in my memory.
It was during this time that I was unceremoniously thrown out of my ‘digs’, because when sharpening my razor one morning I pulled too hard on the leather strop which was attached to the water tap Suddenly the tap (with water pipe attached) swung away from wall leaving plaster to falling neatly into the wash basin. My house-proud landlady almost exploded with rage and I had to move out that very day. This proved to be a blessing in disguise, because my ‘digs’ were not very satisfactory, and it enabled me to find much nicer ones at Galleywood. The move entailed commuting three miles to work by bus, and this, praise the Lord, is where I first met my wife Betty. (We celebrated our Diamond Wedding in 2006)