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These pages were written by Donald Jack Gowing in response to one of many requests for information about his younger days from his children and latterly his grandchildren. At the time he was unaware that the flow of questions would increase rather than decrease as a result of these words. He had vivid memories of this period of his life and that is reflected in these words, however, very few photographs survived. Woven into this page, in no particular order, are some of those photographs and a few postcards he collected from the places he visited.
"I reported to RAF Cardington in February 1941. Whilst waiting for my call-up papers, I enlisted in the L.D.V (Local Defence Volunteers which later became Home Guard) and the A.R.P., as did most young able-bodied men at that time. My visit to Cardington Air Base was uneventful excepting that the weather was foul. About 6 inches of snow almost everywhere and the route I chose was by bus, thereby avoiding having to go in and out of London. I found it a pretty simple journey and I was soon on my way home again, where I was to expect to hear from the Air Force authorities soon. In fact, it was about ten days later when I received orders to report to Blackpool in one week's time and so from there on I was in their hands and the date was 10th February 1941.
My time with the R.A.F. was very educational, to say the least and I never regretted a moment of it. I met folk I would never have met otherwise and visited places I would never have seen and learnt how to operate under orders which is essential in all walks of life, in the services or in civilian life. At Blackpool I learnt that to obey on command is essential and life wasn't as bad as some folk would have us believe, but at the same time, it wasn't all honey and roses and we were soon acting like airmen which we were supposed to be! Within a couple of months we were on our way to the R.A.F. school at Manby in Lincolnshire, to be taught about aircraft armament, which I found very interesting. We were there for about 3 months and were soon being told about our pending postings, which depended on our achievements. I evidently had done pretty well and was posted to a squadron direct, and this was to R.A.F. Benson in Oxfordshire and it was there 1 did my first work on aircraft - a Wellington bomber. My spell there wasn't to last long and it was about the first week in August 1941 that I was posted overseas to the Middle East."
Now and Then
Two views of the rather imposing airship sheds of RAF Station Cardington, measuring 812 feet in length, 180 feet in width and 157 feet in height. A total of 4000 tons of steel to build........It is claimed both the ocean going liners "Lusitania" (at 31,550 tons and 785 feet in length) and "Mauretania" (at 31,938 tons and 762 feet in length) could fit inside each shed, comfortably with the doors closing around them.
"Along with a few hundred more servicemen we were assembled together at West Kirby near Liverpool. We were embarked very quickly and sailed away, I am not sure when we sailed, but I do know that I was in the Middle East on the 16th August 1941. I was very soon given the orders to travel onwards by rail up towards the desert where the war zone was. Of course, I soon discovered that it was both interesting and surprising to travel in Egypt, seeing all those sights that I had only seen in pictures. However, the further up the line we got I soon saw the products of the past action damaged buildings etc! As we neared the stop where I was to leave the train I discovered that the place had been attacked by the enemy and he had destroyed an ammunition train and it had blown up the whole engine! Everywhere I walked was covered with pieces of the engine and trucks! After picking my way through debris, I discovered my new posting base was called el Daba. 53 R.S.U. where I was to stay for a month, then off into the desert, we were mobile in a very short time. I soon learnt just how quickly we could move."
"In one day the order came, we would move the next morning and all workshops and offices were packed and loaded on to trucks; tents were struck and folded and packed on to trucks and then our own living tents were struck early next morning along with our own kit and bedding and packed on to more trucks. I soon learnt the procedure which was to be repeated many, many times in the future. We left the site which was by this time cleared of debris and got on to the open road and moved forward approximately 75 miles to a smaller landing ground named Garawla and we soon set about erecting our tents and getting ourselves operational, which was the vital aim, always.
After a few weeks, we moved again to a larger landing field quite a way up the coast beyond Mersa Matruh, about 6 miles south of Tobruk, named El Adam. It had been an important Italian air base, with permanent buildings which we didn't use, we were happier with our tents!
Soon we had to move again, as the Italians were being pushed back so quickly and we were soon pitching our tents in Derna and it was there that I witnessed a phenomena which was SNOW in the desert!! In less than a fortnight we moved out and found a new home way out in the desert which was a landing strip without a name and so it was given a number L.G. 101 Just a desolate, lonely spot, but we still had plenty of work to do keeping the aircraft flying and we were very good at that!!"
" At that point we didn't stay anywhere for very long, just a day or so. Hardly time to unpack. However, it soon became apparent that we were to reverse our journey and get back to Egypt, because the Germans had arrived to help the Italians and so it was not to be a great victory. We retraced our steps and got back to El Adam and stayed a night there and the next day went back to Garawla. There were a few jobs to be sorted out, waiting for us and within a couple of days there was one aircraft left, but we needed some spares to complete it. Across the desert we could hear the sound of a big land battle going on and it was getting nearer all the time."
The following day we had the aircraft ready to fly, just waiting for a pilot to arrive to take it away. He did arrive and we saw the aircraft take off and we packed our truck and set out for our base. The only thing was, we didn't know where it was, but we had to get out. set out up a track to reach the road eastwards. We travelled about a mile when we heard the command HALT! and we did! Across the track were a whole lot of Green Howard troops pointing their rifles at us. They didn't know the British were there thought we were German or Italian. They held us there for over an hour until their officers got permission to let us pass!!
We were to spend a good two hours or more on the road eastwards to get nearer our base. After a good hour we were halted by a NAAFI who were packing up and were offering free beer. We loaded up 3 or 4 cases and after a short rest and a brew up we continued our journey eastwards and spent a night and day at a small landing ground called Wadi Natrune just outside Alexandria and left the following day and traveled down the Canal Zone to Devasoire for a good rest over the winter period while we prepared for a complete re-fit for new aircraft for our Squadrons.
We were about four months at Devasoire and we were itching to get on the move again to finish our proper job, to get the Germans and Italians off our backs and when the call to get packing came, we all were much happier. On the morning we were out, tragedy struck. The first small truck to leave the camp up the track ran over mine and the driver was badly injured. It really annoyed us all. It was obviously the work of some Arab idiot. Of all the miles we had traveled without incident, a simple hundred yards and that had to happen!
We moved back to Natrune to get ourselves mobile again and acquainted ourselves with our new aircraft whilst the army were sorting out their little affair of their battle at Qattara with the Germans, but as soon as they had completed that we soon had our orders to get back to Garawla and from then on we just kept moving on and on and in just a couple of weeks we were back beyond Tobruk and in Derna again.
In no time we were beyond Benghazi and running down the coast road into Tripolitania and very close to Sirte stopping on urgent jobs at small landing grounds as required. Onwards we went, our squadrons were doing some excellent work on the German convoys, not letting them rest and after a short stay at a landing ground near Sirte we moved on towards Tripoli and beyond. It isn't very far from the Tunisian border, and we crossed into Tunisia and onwards to a little airstrip right on the beach called Djerba, which was rather a delightful place. It consisted of a small island just off shore and with a very shallow water depth for a long way out to sea, we had a good stay there, excepting when we were strafed by the Americans. They didn't know we were there! (they said). Fortunately, no-one was hurt and they gave us cases of beer and other rations, to say they were very sorry!
We stayed at Djerba for approximately two months whilst the army were clearing up the last of the German and Italian troops in isolated pockets around the country and we then got posted on and packed up again and turned our faces eastwards and moved back towards Tripoli and on our arrival were surprised to discover our destination was a boat!! To be more specific, a T.L.C. (Landing craft). We did as required and boarded and we sailed away from North Africa and in due course arrived in Malta, that was in July 1943 sometime. It took us a few weeks to acclimatize ourselves, very soon we were up and running, so to speak!
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More information on the RAF Station Cardington HereDonald Jack Gowing, The RAF Years, page two, Itinerary