|Memories by Paul Roberts, January 2006
Raunds Air Training Corps
Raunds Air Training Corps was formed under a Squadron of Rushden and a Wing of Wellingborough in 1941. The picture of our Squad shows 30 of us boys. It was taken in 1941 or early 1942. Our CO was Mr. Harold Coggins of The Hall, Raunds. He held the rank of Flying Officer. Mr. Patrick instructed us in the Morse code and wireless. Mr. Tom Smith instructed us in aircraft recognition. He was also over the Observer Corps of which he had been a founder member in the late 1930s. Les Plant was PT instructor, until he was called up into the navy. Les Plant had been one of my Bible Class teachers at the Wesleyan Sunday School. Mr. Poole was the Headmaster at the Senior School. Mr. Latham - a teacher at that school took us in maths. Freddy Lockwood instructed us in electrics; he was a good tutor on electrics he could make us laugh and learn.
We had all experienced Mr. Poole’s discipline, when he became the headmaster at Raunds Senior School. He had taken over from Mr. Lloyd Sheffield who was easy going on discipline. Mr. Poole would walk through the school sometimes swishing a cane against his trouser legs. Earlier in the infants classes we had been subjected to the discipline of Miss Beeby, the Headmistress of the Council Infants School and Miss Hall, Headmistress of the Church Junior School. In the evening when we would be playing in Hill Street and either of the Headmistresses walked pass we would stop playing and stand to attention. We were born into a disciplined world that prepared us, a little, for service life. (In 1934 both schools were joined, the Church School becoming the Junior School and the Council School the Infants and Senior School).
Some of the boys were in the Scouts or Boys Brigade but many of us in neither. Marching and parade disciplines, such as left turn and right turn, were entirely unknown to us. To halt, when called, was most difficult. It was often a shamble at first. Many of our fathers, who had been in the First World War themselves, would stand and watch us parade in the Infant School Playground in the Park Street School (renamed Raunds Manor School). They would laugh at our efforts, yet they were proud of us. Family life was more disciplined in those days. We lived in a disciplined world borne out of our fathers Great War experience. No mother came to watch; many mothers had experienced the loss of a brother, friend or father in the Great War.
When Raunds Air Training Corps was formed the Cadet Flight Sergeant was Gordon Clarke of Stanwick, Gordon’s cousin - Cyril Eyles was the Cadet Sergeant. Gordon’s father died when he was young. His mother was the elder sister of Cyril Eyles’ mother. Their grandfather Mr. Shrives worked for the Lightstrung Cycle Company at Rushden and kept the cycle shop in Hill Street Raunds. After Gordon joined the RAF Cyril became the Cadet Flight Sergeant. Donald Eaton became the Cadet Flight Sergeant when Cyril joined the RAF. Gordon Turney became the Sergeant!
Keith Webb, Cyril Eyles and I lived in Park Avenue. Cyril and I had lived alongside each other in the old houses in Hill Street. I have a picture of both us when about five years old in the yard of those old houses. This would have been taken about 1927 time. The photograph was taken by my father of Cyril and me standing in the yard above the old Tudor house when we were both about 5 years. Cyril’s mum is looking down on us from the higher path. I also have a picture of Cyril in a sailor suit in a little pedal car. I have another photograph taken at the lodgings at Blackpool. It shows me as a child and Keith Webb as a baby; the picture is about 1926 when our parents went together for a week’s holiday at Blackpool.
Keith’s parents had first lived in an old house, one of three, in Thorpe Street just before the corner shop on the Primrose Hill corner. Only the lower wall remains of them today. All our parents moved into these new semi-detached houses in Park Avenue during the early1930s. They came out of those old houses that we were born in. Houses built in rows and in yards where toilets and backs were shared.
Cyril’s grandparents lived in Wharf Road, Higham Ferrers. Keith Webb’s grandfather was Mr. Pinnock; he lived opposite the school in the Hayway, Rushden. To my mother, and several other Rushden women that had married Raunds men, Keith’s mother was always known by her single name Alice Pinnock. Mrs. Eyles was also called Kate Shrives and Gordon’s mother Annie Shrives. Many of that generation of women were called equally by their single and married names. We would cycle to each other’s grandparents home in Higham Ferrers and Rushden. Cyril had an aunt, a sister of his father I believe, and who lived at Upper Dean over the county boundary in Bedfordshire. We boys during school holidays would cycle the five miles journey to visit the aunt. It was a great adventure. The aunt would give us a glass of lemonade and a piece of cake. It was the furthest journey that we undertook away from home without our parents. No girls came with us, like Cyril’s sister Peggy, because girls did not have cycles or take such journeys.
Don Lack, Kenny Bugby, Gordon Turney, Gordon Bottoms and I had been in the Raunds Temperance Band. The marching with that band to a marching tempo was the little training that we had. We had joined the band as boys in 1936. Mr. Owen Pentelow was the Bandmaster. We learnt discipline from him. Playing music in the band was also a discipline and was a little help for what we were to experience. In the 1937 Coronation Parade we boys were at the tail end of the procession that marched round the town. We could only play one tune then. So we marched round playing the National Anthem. Everyone was pleased and proud of us. They clapped and cheered us that day as we marched at the end of the Coronation Day Parade playing ‘God save the King’.
On Armistice Sunday in those inter-war years Raunds Square would be packed tight with people. The distress and grief were a solid presence. Many of those adults had lost a father, brother, husband, uncle or friends. All stood to attention during the playing of the National Anthem - some sang the words, others stood silent. On one occasion Horace Hyde, the Solo Cornet in the Band, broke down playing the Last Post. All of us were brought up into this atmosphere of grief that followed the Great War. I was never allowed to be in any organization that had a military uniform. Some of the others had served in the Scouts or Boys Brigade. I was put into the Raunds Temperance Band.
When my Mother found out that I had volunteered for Aircrew she was very angry. She never spoke for days. Dad would clear off up the allotment out of the way. He knew what I had done; Dad had volunteered in the Great War for the Royal Navy against his widowed mother’s wish. Some mothers would be angry with other mothers for allowing their sons to be even in the Scouts or Boys Brigade. To those mothers a uniform meant war and soldiering. My mother quoted her mother who said that a wife can get another husband, but a mother can never replace a son. This was said over the death in action of Tom, grandma’s eldest and favourite son. All our mothers were of that generation of girls that had found freedom working in shoe factories. A freedom that was unknown to their mothers. My mother said they did not have to take the first man that came along. All had lost someone in the Great War.
Gordon Clarke, Colin Duffy, Keith Webb, Brian Patrick, William Allen, John Tansley, Frank Reynolds, Howard Head, Donald Lack and I were in the ATC. In addition, four others from Raunds, the Edwards brothers Ralph and Harold, Donald Groom, Roy Hartwell and Cyril Dudley. Two from Stanwick, Jack Sheffield and Bill Watford; they served in Aircrew but were not in the Raunds ATC.
Frank Masters was a Member of the Royal Flying Corps in WWI. Frank died in 1921 and is buried in the Raunds Methodist Cemetery; he was the first to be a Flyer in Raunds.
Of those eleven in Raunds ATC who went flying four of us returned; Donald Lack, Frank Reynolds, Howard Head and myself. Of the others Jack Sheffield was killed on his last flying mission in 1945. Cyril Dudley was killed flying in Hampdens. Brian Patrick was called up at the last stages of the war and was sent to Japan. Granted early release to assist in his father’s business he was killed when the aircraft returning him home crashed on take off at Kai-Tak Airport in Hong Kong. Ralph Edwards died in 1998 and Harold Edwards lives in the North. Howard Head lives at Oldham. Bill Watford now lives at Higham Ferrers. Donald Groom now lives in Warwickshire. Roy Hartwell and Frank Reynolds died several years ago and Donald Lack died this past year. I alone still live in Raunds.
Cyril Dudley was a boyhood friend of ours. With Cyril Eyles we all were playmates when we lived in Hill Street. We all took different Comics each week and would swap them round. Cyril Dudley lost his mother, a frail woman, very early in his life. I just remember her. His father was a quiet, harmless man. When we lived in Hill Street as I lay in bed I would often hear him staggering home from the Robin Hood singing to himself. He later took in a housekeeper. She befriended Cyril. When she bought a detached house in London Road, Cyril and his Dad moved with her. It was to be left to Cyril but she died suddenly and the property went to her distant relatives. Cyril and his Dad had to move into lodgings.
If something happened when we were children, Cyril was in it. Incidents happened when Cyril Dudley was about. I remember once we were playing in the school yard during a break pretending to be firemen. Cyril shouted that the school was burning and dashed forward and threw an imaginary bucket of water on the imaginary fire. Unfortunately he put his fist through the window. He received the cane. I ran off.
On another occasion on Bonfire Night, Cyril and his mate Kenny Johnson were with the party at the North End of Raunds. This area always had a big bonfire. Cyril and Kenny had bought rockets. They lit one and it failed to go off. Cyril had put the stick in the ground and Kenny kicked the rocket into the bonfire. It went of with a whoosh and travelled several hundred yards into an open bedroom window of a house in Brooks Road. When the occupants went to bed that night they found that they had a blackened bed. I believe that both Kenny and Cyril wanted to join the ATC but Mr. Coggins would not accept them because of their reputation for mischief.
Kenny joined the Royal Navy and served on landing craft. He was killed on D Day when his Landing Craft was blown up approaching the beaches. We were all in the same class at Raunds Council School. When Cyril came home on his leaves he wore the Aircrew Training Brevet. Many thought he was joking about being in Aircrew. On his last leave the clickers in Bignell’s clicking room noticed that he was a bag of nerves. In asking about Cyril Dudley people recall that they had forgotten Cyril. Then they laugh and recall some of his japes always ending up saying “Poor old Cyril, he had a poor life. He deserved a better one”.
Mr. Coggins' and Mr. Poole's discipline may seem harsh. --- invited some boys to visit him in his garage where he showed them dirty pictures. That is what we boys were told. He was instantly dismissed from the ATC, summoned and sent to prison for three months. It was a very protective discipline from Mr. Coggins and Mr. Poole. Our parents supported them in their action.
Keith Webb was flying in a Lancaster aircraft mine laying when he was killed. It was said to be have been an accident that should not have happened. I have recently, through the Northamptonshire Family History Society, received details that the Society has on fiche the “Book of the RAF casualties in WWII”. Keith was born the 10th December 1924. He was killed the 11th June 1944. Cyril Eyles was killed on a raid on Cologne. Other members of the Squadron recalled seeing Cyril’s aircraft over Cologne that night but no one saw it again.
To those who were waiting to be called up Mrs. Webb would say “You have not gone yet”. Mrs. Webb never got over the loss of her only child. Mrs. Eyles never got over the loss of Cyril. Mrs. Eyles paid fifty pounds; all her savings, to have Cyril’s name entered into the book of the RAF in Lincoln Cathedral.
Of the three of us from Park Avenue that went flying I was the only one to return. I remember Mrs. Webb looking at me with a bright stare. Mrs. Eyles would look at me with a sad look on her face and would quietly say “Hello Paul”. This was after I returned home. Keith’s father and my father worked together all their working lives on the stitching and screwing section in Adams Bros. lasting room. Neither lived for very long after they retired.
Poignancy was added when our Sunderland Flying boat crashed on take-off in the Straits of Johore. The RAF Records did not list a Japanese Canadian passenger and me who escaped unhurt. We two were not on the list of either the survivors injured or those killed. It was believed that no one could have survived other than those, so I was assumed to be missing believed killed. As a result my name is not listed in the Squadron records because of this confusion. Yet it was me that assisted the RAF Police in identifying the dead, dying and survivors. My parents received a letter from the RAF saying that I was missing believed killed. Donald Groom’s parents also received the dreaded letter. Donald had been in an accident and had also survived and like me had not written anything to his parents. When they received a letter from us and the dreaded letter they assumed a mistake. To my mother the truth of what happened and that I was alive she found more distressing than the original news. Mr. and Mrs. Groom pursued the matter through the MP, Wing Commander Sir Archibald James and the Air Ministry about the muddle but to no avail. The news and what had happened and that he was alive was a greater shock than the dreaded letter. Yet it was like a miracle to both of our parents. For Keith and Cyril’s parents and the parents of the others there was no miracle.
Brian’s father was the monumental stone mason of Raunds and taught us the Morse code. In the First World War he served as a telegraphist in the British Army in France. He told us that he operated from the Eiffel Tower. This was to get radio communication from London to the Army Headquarters on the front line.
Another cadet was Colin Duffy; one of several boys brought down from the poverty of the Durham coalfields to be fostered and to begin a new life in Raunds. On his last leave he went round Raunds and shook the hand of all the friends he had made in Raunds and said goodbye to them. He told them he would not return again.
Looking at the photograph that I had taken at Gloucester when I was nineteen years old. I realize that those that never came back were that age when they died. Indeed many of those hundreds of Aircrew lost in WW2 could never have reached their twenty-first birthday. Of the ninety of we eighteen year olds square bashing on Blackpool Promenade in August 1942 only fourteen of us were known to be alive two years later. Most of the others died on ill fated bombing raids on Turin and North Italian cities from airfields in this country. Their aircraft iced-up trying to cross the Alps and they could not clear the mountains with their heavy loads of fuel and bombs. To this day their wrecked aircraft and remains are being found and recovered on the Alps.
All of us in the Raunds ATC had a trade. Cyril and Keith worked in the offices of Boot & Shoe firms: Keith in the office of Bignells Ltd Rushden and Cyril in the office of Tebbut & Hall, Raunds. Gordon Clarke was a carpenter with the old established building firm of Smiths. Tom Smith, the Manager of the old established Raunds firm was the one who took Aircraft Regnition. We others were in skilled jobs and many were Clickers in shoe factories. Cyril Eyles attended Kimbolton School. Keith Webb attended the Rushden Intermediate School.
We all came from the local closed industrial circle of the Raunds District. All of us were children of Great Britain, the first industrial nation in the world. We came into a world of skilled trades and jobs. The new service formed in 1917, the Royal Air Force, demanded skilled servicemen. It can be said that we were born to join the Royal Air Force. That service could retrain us into their ways because we had a basic skill learnt from attending evening classes at technical schools. The Royal Air Force itself was a child of that skilled industrial Great Britain.
In the January 1998 Ralph Edwards died. He wrote a book of his experiences. Howard Head and Bill Watford died recently. Harold Edwards, now widowed, lives with his daughter in Greece and Donald Groom lives in Warwickshire; I alone live in Raunds and each November, on the Raunds Cenotaph, place a wreath in memory of the others during the Town’s Memorial Service.
The weeks leading up to the Armistice Parade are full of anguish for me yet I am now one of the last few in our Parade from the Second World War. On that Parade through the town I cast aside all anguish and it is shoulders back, arms swinging and step in time with the March played by the Raunds Temperance Band. Last November only those of us of the WWII could keep in step and keep up with the band; the years falling from our shoulders. The later generations lagged behind.
From the RAF Book of Casualties 1939-46.
The names starred(*) above are those I believe were from Raunds ATC. Further research is needed to establish the right name. It is not possible to use the service number for identity; these depended on where one was called up to be attested for aircrew. I was attested at RAF Cardington in January 1942 and called up on the Tuesday of the then Bank Holiday week in August 1942 to report at RAF Padgate. Later I was attested at London at Abbey Lodge. We were billeted in flats in Prince Albert Road; Stockfield Hall was the name of the bloc that I was billeted in. We pass it every time that I visit the Record Office with the Family History Society. For our meals we were marched to the Restaurant of Regents Park Zoo. We assembled for parade inside the W. G. Grace gates, which opened for us to march through. A friend, who played cricket for Rushden Town and served during the War in the Army, went into a huff and did not speak to me for several days when I told him that I had entered Lords Cricket Ground through the W. G. Grace gates and had been in the famous Long Room. We had to parade naked for the F.F.I in the famous Long Room of the MCC. I remember standing naked and looking up and the great Dr. W. G. Grace glared down on me. But it begins other memories.
Cyril Eyles’ father worked all his life in the lasting room of Robert Coggins factory. He worked alongside Jack Rice. Jack was the younger brother of Uncle Daniel Rice, Dad’s brother in law. When Jack’s son Jeffrey was old enough to ride a bicycle Mr. Eyles gave him Cyril’s bike which he had kept cleaned and oiled all those years. Mr. Eyles and Jack Rice worked together all their lives. Neither lived long after retirement. Jeffrey started work as a butcher for the Co-op under Mr. Coles, the manager.
FFI stood, we were told, for 'Free From Infection'. We were told the infections were syphilis and gonorrhea; we were eighteen and nineteen and it had to be explained what it was about. The MO explained sex to us in a Blackpool cinema where we would have talks. How different from today's kids. When we were in Enniskillen on Lough Erne - one of our crew, who had been a boy entrant, met this girl and on the second meeting had sex with her. Everyone was shocked at his behaviour. I cannot help but think about those times when the news is about teenage pregnancies. I attended the Wesleyan Sunday school twice on Sundays from the age of three to thirteen - I still have my Hymn Book and Bible presented when I left.