Archive | April, 2015

Bryan Bonnington Royal Air Force 1954-56

3 Apr

Hello everybody, my name is Bryan Bonnington; I was born and brought up in Leeds. Life was quite difficult, because 9 years before I was born in 1925. My father job was working in a boiler works in Leeds on heavy presses. One day he had a terrible accident, he had his hands crushed and had to have both hands amputated 6 inches below the elbows. So one can only visualise the difficult and hard times my parents had, especially my mother in bringing up my older brother and me. My brother was 9 years older than me and things weren’t very easy for the family as one can imagine.
We moved to Lincolnshire for my dad and brother, who had left school at 14, to find some work. Hopefully on a farm, we eventually rented a small holding from a government scheme in 1940.The holding we had was just outside of Grantham at a place called Harrowby. We stayed there for 6 years, but with the rise in price of foodstuffs for the pigs and hens my Dad had to give it up. We moved to Gt. Yarmouth to open a boarding house. My brother had already joined the Royal Marines when he was 16. Sadly after less than 2 years my mother died of cancer, which was a big blow to all of us. One must understand the circumstances with losing my mother had on us all. My father decided to move back to Leeds to live with my uncle. I had to leave school a year early at 15 to help the budget and I obtained an apprenticeship in a Leeds textile factory as an apprentice Weaving Over looker.
National Service in my younger days was an accepted, though not very welcome thing, as millions will testify. You didn’t want to do it, but knew that it had to be done and that was that. If you were fit and well you had to wait for the dreaded brown envelope dropping through the letter-box. In special circumstances you could get a deferment if you were in an apprenticeship. When one’s apprenticeship was complete you were then called up. In special circumstances you could get an extra deferment for 12 months depending on your job etc.: Mine were a bit special, when my papers came I was able to be deferred on the grounds of looking after my Dad.
When my second set of papers arrived I was married with a daughter. I knew I would have to go sometime so I decided to get it over with. So on 29 Nov 1954 I had to report to RAF Cardington for kitting out. The ironical thing was that at Gt.Yarmouth, I had been in the ATC and was keen on joining the RAF as a Wireless operator aircrew. This helped me get my choice of RAF, but because of national service not aircrew. I did my Square-bashing at West Kirby on the Wirral, then to Compton Bassett for a wireless operating course for 3 months. I passed out as a Wireless Operator; this consisted of learning Morse code at a speed of 18 words per minute. It was quite interesting learning the procedures in ground to air communications, and obviously about wireless sets (valves Diodes, Double Diodes etc.). After passing the course I was given the chance to take another course to be a Wireless Operator A class). This was to monitor Morse at speeds up to 22 words per minute. This was for receiving signals only. To do this we were sent t, I think it was RAF Wythall near Birmingham.
Some of my mates had got postings to the Far East but mine was Germany. This was classed as a home posting so we only got the normal pay which because of my marital status amounted to about 12/6d a week. My wife got the rest, but like all national servicemen I managed somehow to just get by. We were part of the Cold War stationed 15km from the Russian zone not far from the Belsen concentration camp and Luneburg Heath. The camp was Hamburhan and the nearest town was Celle, which we were informed, was the Fascist Headquarters in that area. The camp was odd because the billets were at the side of the road to Celle and the rest of the camp opposite. Inside the main camp was an open shed full of transport vehicles, I think this was to give the impression it was a transport camp. Just down the road in the fields was a forest of radio masts. Cars used to pull up and take photographs on a regular basis. A woman used to walk her Alsatian dog past when we were going to work, she would say something in German to the dog which would then snarl and bark as she held on to its lead. Can’t imagine what she said to it. I put it down to her being ignorant
One of the corporals taught me and a mate how to play badminton, but he wasn’t best pleased when we began to beat him. Our job in Germany was to monitor Eastern Bloc signals in Morse, and then a group of linguists would translate the best they could from our efforts. The trouble was some of the groups like a Czech group, were not well disciplined in procedures and more than one outstation would be sending messages together. These we nicknamed The Goon show and were a nightmare to work on. We worked shifts day and night and in our spare time played cricket football or badminton. Some of us one day decided to borrow some skis from stores and walked about a mile before we found a gentle slope to go down. On my first attempt a strap broke on one of mine so that was as far as I got on skis. If we went out for a look round we kept out of Celle although we did explore some local hostelries to sample the excellent food and beer of course!
It was whilst over in Germany that I got a “Dear John” letter from my wife. If you don’t know what they are, it is a lovely letter to say your marriage is on the rocks. I was not on my own receiving letters like this. Not a good thing when you are stuck a few hundred miles away and can’t get home. However I did manage to get some leave and thought I got it sorted. My marriage lasted a couple of years after I got out. Back to Germany again, my time was getting nearer for demob. I was offered the chance to get out a fortnight early if I went on a Civil Defence course to learn to be a fireman. This was in case of a war with whoever decided to drop “The Bomb”. The most terrifying thing about the course was being carried down a ladder head first over the shoulder of a mate half my size; I am 6ft 3”. Eventually demob came and you were then put on the reserve list liable for recall in the case of a conflict.
So as I said National Service was disruptive. It did affect people’s lives. It took me a while to settle back at work and I constantly moved around in the textile industry. It went some way to wrecking a marriage which might not have survived anyway and changed my Dad’s life, although he lived until he was 86. The happy ending to all this is that I have been married a second time for 52 years. Looking back I learned a lot doing National Service and made some good friends, and would love to contact anyone I met. Finally, I wish you all good luck and best wishes for the future.
Bryan Bonnington

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