My last day in St Ives I get a bit whistled before lunch in the Sloop, and meet Marnie Lowrey on a 48 (JDW: 48h leave), a V.A.D. from Plymouth. Ma and I have dinner with the Lowrey’s and then Marnie and I go up to Tregenna and have a drink after hours on one of the residents. We walk back and down on the Portmeor beach and do much talking, and I believe we have much in common, but we part that night, having just become acquainted, presumably for ever. A pity.
I reach Lasham – 84 G.S.U. – and am assigned a pitch in a Nissen hut. I manage to change my U/S camp bed. Much frost, all the pipes burst, and I have to wash in the Mess, rushing to be there before the others in the morning. On New Year’s eve Tom Raynor and I go to Basingstoke and drink beer in the Red Lion. We meet some dame, and then two more, and then one more and two Canadian pongoes and a bottle of scotch and have a party in the pub, and later with food at a house shared by two of these dames. They are not much good, and Tom and I leave at 1am as we are not asked to stay (!) and get a taxi home. We still have one hour’s walk as we get lost and I arrive back to find my camp bed broken, at 3am! It is mended for me the next day.
I then fly a Spit 1X and in the afternoon (Jan 1st) take it to B79 airfield near Bergen-Op-Zoom, in Holland. F/L Ridley-Martin (Royal Corps of Signals) leads me over. My first impression of the Continent, and Cape Gris-Nez, is the vast amount of holes, bomb and shell craters, in that area. Also the scattered farms with quiet work fields around, much smaller than in England, and many of them white – either through frost or chalky soil. We also pass Dunkirk, but no signs of battle visible. We land and leave our ‘chutes and set off for Antwerp at high speed, and the town major gives us beds in the Century Hotel. I get a bath, as none at Lasham (the pipes being burst), and a good dinner with wine in the Excelsior, the officer’s club next door. I see my first flying bomb, and we go out drinking later. We meet one Captain Webber, an A.L.O., whom I knew in Habbaniya as a F/L, and return to a most comfortable bed at 12, and a night hideous with war. (JDW: not sure what my father means here – perhaps noisy with distant gunfire or V1/V2 rockets?)
Next day we collect our ‘chutes from B79 and go to Antwerp airfield to try and get home. There is a clamp on (fog), so we organise beds again and go back to town, having heard a lot more flying bombs pass overhead in the fog. Then, last night out, we go again to the Latin Quarter, and there is a great flash – pause – then a ginormous explosion and the odd bit of glass falls into the street as a V2 lands a mile away. We arrive at the “Robin Hood Inn” and are greeted by one Madeleine who takes a few cognacs off us at 45 francs a time, whilst we drink 6 franc beers!
Back to bed, and today we go out to the airport and find a Lasham Anson about to return home. We embark, and make landfall over Deal of all places. Antwerp is dead, and damned expensive. The old German signs are still up on the flying fields, and the whole set up reminds me of the Japs on Mingaladon (in Burma). No postings forecast for about one month and I am allotted a week’s leave on 14th January.
David Crook is killed in a prang at Dyce – some say his oxygen failed and he spun in. Large notices in Antwerp saying P.A.C., in the main streets, though not much to use them on. (JDW: no idea what P.A.C. means – any ideas?) I went to Antwerp in my flying boots, my green sweater and a fleece jacket and feel like the Yank pilots we used to see come in to the Grand Hotel in Calcutta, whilst one was immaculately drinking a chota peg. Roll on my posting. What to do with this leave? Go to London again?