World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Arnold Stone

My Wartime Years

 

My Wartime Years

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Arnold Stone
Location of story: Varied
Background to story: Royal Air Force

 

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Arnold Stone.
Other parts to this story are at:


My name is Arnold Stone and I was born at Rodley, which is a suburb of Leeds, on the 24th of February 1915 .

My experiences started in 1937. I had joined what was the Leeds City Tramways and Transport Department early in 1934 as a junior. This was a department of the Leeds Corporation that was concerned with the movement of people by the medium of trams and buses, and it was an integral part of the city’s life. Briefly, the undertaking was taking between 300,000 and 350,00 people through its fleet, which consisted of more than 300 tramcars and 75 buses that served at this particular time. I was involved as a junior in the tR.A.F.fic section of the organisation, which was responsible for the provision of the services and the control of the army of drivers, conductors and inspectors who were responsible for running the organisation.

It was in the first part of 1937 that the possibility of hostilities in Europe came a little nearer and it was decided by the government, that plans should be prepared for the evacuation of young children from the more populated towns and cities, so that they would be in a place of safety. Obviously a large part of the responsibility for this movement would rest on the local transport undertakings. I happened to be the person involved in the local transport scene who was given the responsibility of building up the program and liasing with the schools and other transport organisations to provide a plan that could come into operation at short notice. Basically the system worked on providing transport from the assembly points at various schools to the railway stations in the city centre (there were three in Leeds at this time), and also providing special transport direct to more local places such as Otley and Ilkley.

Meetings were organised at the various schools and the position was explained to parents and numbers were obtained as to the number of likely evacuees from the various schools, so that some general program of how they would be collected and how they would be dispersed could be arranged. This meant that I had to liase closely with the education department and other road transport undertakings and the railway companies so that a full and complete program could be devised. The details were all finalised and the full schedule regarding evacuations was completed in 1938. There the matter remained until late August of the following year when it became obvious that a start had to made on the evacuation of children from the various cities, and this took place on the Thursday and Friday of the week before war was declared. Thursday the 31st of August and Friday the 1st of September were the particular days. My superior officers told me that I had arranged the programme and it was my job to put it into force. I had 24hours notice or so to do this and I remember spending two very long and hectic days carrying out the programme which consisted of sending a specific number of trams or buses to a particular school to pick up the children and take them to the railway stations for movement to their safer destination by train. Other buses had to be sent to the schools to move children out to places which were nearer the city, but which were considered to be safe areas.

The number that we had given of the children likely to be moved were considerably greater than the numbers that actually travelled on the day concerned. No doubt this was probably due to the fact that many parents at a late stage had some misgivings and had decided that they did not want their children to be involved in this. We however could not anticipate that happening and we had to provide vehicles based on the numbers which we had been given and this involved a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with vehicles not being required at one particular point being switched to another. The major part of the work was done by bus, as by 1939 a considerable part of the tramway fleet had been put into disuse and buses had substituted on many routes. These were the more flexible way of dealing with this evacuation plan. Unfortunately coinciding with this was the call up of people from the Territorial Army. We had always encouraged our staff to be members and many of them enjoyed the facilities that were provided and the fortnight’s break which they got at a summer camps during the 1930’s.

Unfortunately when the time came, they had to leave their civilian occupation and report to various centres. It meant that at a time when we were at our maximum in evacuating school children and providing our normal level of daily services, we were losing drivers at the rate of some 15 to 20 each hour. However, the program was finally completed; there were a few snags and everyone appeared to be satisfied with the plan. It is perhaps interesting to note that over more recent years I have come into contact with people who were evacuated as children under this particular program. At that time I had no concept nor did I visualise the children leaving various schools in busloads with gas masks, suitcases and carrier bags. I could only try to ensure that the right number of vehicles were in the right places at the right time, to convey the right number of people to the right destination.

It is perhaps interesting to note that over a period of many years since the war, I have come across people who were evacuated under the program. None has ever complained that anything went wrong and I can only content myself with the knowledge that I did play a part in what was an important part of the war preliminaries. Some 50,000 or so children were moved safely to some other place as a first step.

The following day, it was back to the normal task of providing an adequate service of trams and buses, a procedure which changed considerably. I continued in the employment of the transport department for a few months and I was actively engaged in cutting back services on the grounds of fuel economy, or expanding services to meet the demands of people engaged in war time activities. I suddenly had a little spare time, but my wife Gladys and I were married at St Mary’s Church, Buslingthorpe on the 21st July 1940 and moved to a semi-detached house in Bramley, some 2 or 3 miles from where I was born. The reception was rather restricted due to food rationing and the like and the only accommodation available was at the school where Gladys’ father was the caretaker. We were joined by family and friends and I did manage to follow it by 4 days break at Morecambe. After that we should perhaps have been able to settle down to married life, only some 8 weeks or so after the event, I was called up for service in the Royal Air Force. This was a particular branch of the forces which I had expressed an interest in and by the middle of September of that same year, I found myself at number 7 recruit centre at Fadgate, near Warrington and I became AC2, my R.A.F. number 1-075203.

To say the recruit centre was something of a shock is perhaps an understatement. The only side that I could say I enjoyed was the physical one and I found myself plunged into an entirely different world. During our 7 weeks or so at the recruitment centre we were graded into grades and I was classed as a Clerk – general duties and that was the occupation that I was supposed to follow during my service with the Air Force.

This led me to my first posting, which was to the R.A.F. Records office at Ruislip. This was an old R.A.F. station which had always been the focal point for the keeping of records and my task, along with that of many others, was to report for duty at a particular block each morning when we were given a list of numbers and we then had to extricate from many boxes of files, the record card for that particular person so that suitable entries all round could be made on the record. This took the greater part of the day, and then in the evenings, we had to reverse the process and to put the cards back into the relevant boxes. To say that this was an exacting or an exciting task would be an exaggeration, and had it not been for the fact that we were billeted out at Ickenham, it could have been extremely tedious.

I did feel that my war effort was not a very great one and in our conversation with my old employers back in Leeds, I indicated what I was doing and I was rather surprised when they sought to get my release from the forces to return to what they regarded as a more essential occupation with the Transport Department. There was plenty there to keep me going, including the provision of special services to the Royal Ordanance factory at Barnbull to the Avril works, which were being constructed at Yeadon, and to be many other places which had switched over to war time production. To the same time all the services were cut back, public transport for instance, ceased to operate from 9p.m. and some very limited services were operated on Sundays. There were staffing problems due to the many men who were called up into the services and the employment of women on a large scale began.

I found myself involved in a variety of things as, for instance, when there was an air raid on the West Leeds area in 1941 and Woollenden Bridge had to be closed to tR.A.F.fic for several days due to the presence of unexploded bombs. This meant that the tramway services to the whole of west Leeds could not continue and we had to obtain buses from other undertakings. Very few people can perhaps recall this, but buses from the West Yorkshire Road Company, from Huddersfield, Halifax, Hull and even Todmorden were borrowed at very short notice and helped to supplement services at very short notice until the trams could resume operation. This sort of thing and many other emergency measures kept me fully occupied, and the Air Force did grant two further 6 month extensions to my release so that in all, I was back in the City and at home for some 18 months.

During this time I had to help in other things and became a member of ‘T’ Company of the 8th West Yorkshire Battalion of the Home Guards. ‘T’ Company consisted entirely of transport personnel. Our basic duty was to defend the premises and properties of the City’s Transport Dept. Membership of the Home Guard meant that I was still a serving member of the Royal Air Force, I was also in khaki, so had the rare distinction of serving in two different branches of the armed forces at the same time. In addition to all this, my wife and I were members of the Local Warden Services and put in regular appearances whenever warnings were sounded. It did mean that on some occasions, our sleep was more limited but I never objected to this. I was for one brief period recalled to the R.A.F. but it was found that an error had been made and I served for exactly one hour at the Headquarters of 51 Group, before a telegram was received saying I should be back with Leeds City Transport, so it was a question of in and out very quickly.

When I was recalled for service with the Royal Air Force, I was surprised to find myself posted to the staff of the Regional Transport Commissioner at Leeds. I should explain that under war time conditions the Regional Transport Commissioner, who was previously, in peace time, the Chairman of the Transport Commissioners, had two small units of the Army and the Royal Air Force within his offices. Their duties generally were to liase with him under his staff and to ensure that any problems were quickly and easily dealt with. The Army staff generally dealt with convoy movements through the area and close contacts with the various ordinance branches and in the R.A.F. It was a question of co-ordinating movements within the area so far as R.A.F. convoys were concerned, and liasing with the police on the passages of long loads, which included a crashed or damaged aircraft being carried on the 60ft long loaders (a feature of the R.A.F. transport at that time), and also the co-ordination of road transport movements so that vehicles which had brought traffic north to the Humber Estuaries for loading onto the Russian convoys could be found return loads to the South of England, from for instances the Avril factory at Yeadon or the Royal Ordinance Factory at Barnbull or from other large firms concerned in all production.

Both the Army and R.A.F. units were also involved in the larger rail transport movements. The Army Unit consisted of 4 people and was under the control of a Major, whilst the R.A.F. unit was under the control of a Squadron Leader who had the assistance of a clerk and a despatch rider. I found myself the clerk to a Squadron Leader who had fought in the First World War and who didn’t know a great deal about movements generally, but who was a most helpful senior officer. I was given the rank of Corporal and I enjoyed my stay there and found the work interesting, if not exacting. At the same time, it gave me the facility to do a bit of unofficial helping out of the Leeds City Transport staff with the scheduling and the like. We also built up a very good relationship with a number of people, including liasing with the local police about a convoy and long vehicle movements, and we were successful in finding return loads for most of the vehicles that had come up from the South of England to the Humber Port.


 

With material for the Russian convoys this often meant that some 25 or 30 vehicles would arrive within a very short space of time and it was also an easy task to always fit in the return facility, but we did quite well in this direction. I stayed in this particular job for some 18 months or so, and then one day, in conversation with the Squadron Leader, I did indicate that I could perhaps do a little more to further the war effort having regarding to my experience in transport, and he immediately suggested that I should go forward with an application for a commission. I agreed to this and he put the wheels in motion. I very quickly found myself involved in a series of interviews and medical examinations, the end result was that I passed all these and I was sent on a 5 week training course to the R.A.F. Officer’s School at Cosford Nr. Wolverhampton. This was an interesting experience as it covered not only the administrative side of the R.A.F., but also that so far as drill etc. was concerned.

I could deal with the administrative side of the ceremonial drill in particular was something which I found difficult and I well remember the Drill Sergeant saying that were I in charge of a group of men marching towards a cliff they would be over it before I gave the command. It certainly was something that I did not take to fairly easily but I did pass the course and at the end of this 5 weeks, Corporal A. Stone 1075203 became ......... 0156221.

During the whole of this period I had been attached to 6 Personnel Transit Centre which was the unit controlling all R.A.F. movement. Staff headquarters were in the Endsleigh Hotel, Endsleigh Gardens, Euston. On the completion of my services at Corsford I had to return there and then found that I had to go to the Army Headquarters at Western Command at Chester for further instructions.

A ’Q’ movements unit of the Royal Engineers was concerned with the movement of all people and goods and the turning of convoys etc. The R.A.F. movement staff were always linked with them and they had to fit in with army movements and the like to ensure that there was no clash of interests, thus ‘Q’ movements in the Army and movement Officers within the R.A.F. were always to be found next door to each other. After senior staff at Western Command, I was posted to the R.A.F. movements office at the Lancashire border district of the Army, which was situated at Deepdale in Preston, next to the Northend Football Ground.

As I was billeted out with our lovely family, this gave me a good start so far as my career in a senior rank was concerned; coupled with this the other movements people were very friendly and I developed quite a close relationship with Reginald Dixon who was one of our organists at Blackpool Tower.

We were expected to share duties with the ‘Q’ movement staff at night etc. and I frequently found myself doing night duty officers’ work. I know on one occasion, we had to monitor through the movement of a special train which contained an entire fleet of tanks destined for the South. Normally this was monitored through the area by the Railway Transport Officers’ Staff, liasing with British Railways, but this particular train load which was moving from Scotland down to the South Coast suddenly disappeared after it had been reported as passing safely through Carlisle. I know I was besieged by Colonels and Brigadiers who wanted to know where their particular train had gone and they didn’t appreciate being told by a junior R.A.F. officer that we didn’t know what had happened. We did eventually find out that the train had been put into a siding at Cawnforth, due to one of the trucks developing a hot axle and not being able to move until it had been replaced, and things did work out in the end but I think that I can proclaim that I was the only R.A.F. officer during the entire war who lost a train load of tanks, albeit only for a period of 12 hours or so. One of the interesting tasks that we had at Preston was to arrange for the transport of personnel from Canada and other places in North America to their base units. Generally these people came across the Atlantic in either the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth and we had to arrange trains from the pier head at Liverpool to places such as RCAF train centre at Romwood. Officers were given the job of acting as train conducting officers to see that these people from overseas received the right type of training and that they were duly fed and well cared for before they arrived at their base units.

There were some occasional problems when women of the Royal Canadian Women’s Air Force were involved, and one had some difficulty in segregating the sexes on the train to ensure that all the people arrived in a fit condition, but by variety of means. I always managed to achieve this on those trains where I was given the conducting officer’s job. I always remember however, being told by a very senior officer in the women’s service, that she had brought these 200 girls safely across the Atlantic, over 3,000miles, and that she did not want anything to befall them in the 250 – 300 miles that they were likely to travel to the south coast. I assured her that this would not happen, but there are stories about it which I could tell if I wanted, and I doubt whether she would be happy if she knew the result.

My stay at Preston was most enjoyable but I knew that it was not going to last and in April of 1944, I found myself posted to 83 group, which was the R.A.F. unit giving the fighter support to the 2nd Army and I was told I was being posted to their rear headquarters in the south of England. This meant returning to my base unit at Endsleigh Gardens. When I arrived there, they would not tell me where 83 group was based because it was in a secret location. I was only told to report to the railway transport officers at a particular place and I would be re-directed.

I spent a full three days travelling backwards and forwards across the south of England before I found someone who knew where they were, and promised to take me there, although he wouldn’t give me the name of the location. The headquarters where I eventually arrived after this mystery trip turned out to be in woodland near the hamlet of Hinton Daubney, near to Horndean in Hampshire, where the unit was on the canvas waiting to be called forward, because the invasion of France was becoming imminent. We were fully briefed, we had an idea where we were going, but had no specific instruction, and we knew when we were going and when we were likely to be moving forward. The training and preparation that formed the invasion of Normandy was always said to have been meticulous and planned to the last detail, but this didn’t happen so far as we were concerned. Two days before D-day, the 4th of June, someone realised that there was a number of drivers in our particular unit, myself included, who had no training in driving a vehicle off a landing craft onto a beach, and it was desirable that this should happen before the due day.

On the evening of the 5th of June, I saw a group of 20 or so officers from this new headquarters was taken do to the bathing pool, near to Shoreham, which had been adapted so that one could simulate the driving of vehicles off a landing craft onto the shore. The instructor paired us off and unfortunately, put me with a person whom I didn’t particularly like, and I indicated that he was to drive and I was to act as passenger. The idea was that the vehicle was to coast along to this ramp, which simulated the landing craft, and that as soon as the wheels topped the ramp, one accelerated and then took off into the sea or the paddling pool, as it was under this simulated exercise.

The fellow officer who was driving the vehicle, apparently didn’t fully absorb the instructions, and when we were fifteen yards from the top of the ramp, this was the time to accelerate, with the result that we took off and were airborne for about fifty yards, and finished up in the middle of this paddling pool. My head went through the canvas machine gun turret at the side of the driver’s cab. There I stood with my neck fringed like a pierrot’s collar, precisely the same movement as the first of the glider force that went overhead on its way to Normandy. Fortunately, when the moment came to repeat the exercise, there was no problem. There were several R.A.F. officers who landed in Normandy with no previous experience of driving off landing craft. Fortunately things worked out properly and there were no undue mishaps.

At this particular stage, I think I should explain that 83 group was a fighter group and its main intention was to give close support to the second army troops whenever this was wanted. It was obvious therefore that some of the people in 83 group who were on the ground, had to move to Normandy as soon as possible and I happened to be one of those people. We had the usual process, which has been well documented, and moving forward into the appropriate areas before embarking. We actually sailed form Gosport and I can recall that I was among those who were sick before the landing craft left Gosport Harbour. I was more fortunate than one of my colleagues who suffered from the same malaise, but unfortunately in the process, lost his dentures. How he coped toothless with the hard biscuits and the like that we lived on for the period, I shall never know as I lost touch with him.

Then our arrival off the coast of Normandy was momentous. We landed on the British sector.

I remember we landed off the shores of Normandy in the late evening and we had to lay off for quite a few hours to wait for a suitable tide. The night itself was a little noisy and there was a fair amount of activity, but we had no problems. Our base was quite close at hand and 83 group was under canvas in the grounds of a chateau in a small village named Cruelly, which is roughly midway between Bayou and Caen.

We were there for some little time, but after a few days, I was told I was being posted to the 2nd army, to take over the duties of a liaison officer on the movements side, so that all that was taking place between the army and the Royal Air Force could be properly co-ordinated. From that point onwards, I was with the hue movements people of the second army and stayed with them right through to the end of the war and for a period following that.

For a short time, we were bogged down and it was not until Falaise had been liberated; the Falaise gap closed that we began to move forward, in fact, we moved so often, so quickly, but life over this period tends to be something of a blur. To try to detail it is beyond my memory, but if one reads Field Marshall Montgomery’s book, about the campaign, entitled, ‘From Normandy to the Baltic’, it gives the general idea of the path that I followed. My footsteps, as far as I know, didn’t follow his, nor did his follow mine and our paths never crossed, but we were always not very far apart, but now, being with the second army, my allegiance was initially to General Dempsey who was the commander in chief of this unit.

One thing that stands out in my mind during our period of constant movement forward is a pitching tent on windy ridges, digging vehicles out of orchards, and generally doing everything to keep moving. In the midst of all this, I was persuaded to become one of the mess secretaries. The headquarters were divided into several different officers’ messes, based mainly on activity and rank and although I pointed out that I couldn’t see an R.A.F. Officer, supervising an army officers’ mess. I was told there was nothing in King’s regulations that prevented this, and I reluctantly accepted the job. Unfortunately, I did so at the wrong time. All the accounts for officer’ messes were kept in the currency of the country of occupation and very shortly, after I’d taken over, we moved from France into Belgium, and I well remember the rate of exchange was listed as 176 and five eighths Francs to the pound, so I had to do the conversion of all the accounts into this new configuration. At that time there were no calculators, and if I had any spare time, I had plenty to keep me occupied. I’d barely completed this task, and I found myself in Holland, and I had to convert from Francs, into Guilders.

The rate of exchange was about 18.6 guilders to the pound, so that one can visualise that the process of going from Belgian Francs to Dutch Guilders was a new one. Again, I hardly seemed to have completed the task before we were back into Belgium, for the winter, and after I had done the job for some months, I did indicate that it was time someone else took their turn. The decision was accentuated by the fact that the audit of the accounts showed us to be one shilling out and there was controversy as to why this happened, after all, with all the calculations, I thought I’d done fairly well, but others seemed to be of a different opinion. As I’ve said, we kept on moving forward, but eventually, things ground to a halt as the winter of 44/45 approached. We were moved to semi permanent quarters in a German built barracks in Belgium.

It was pleasing to be under canvass in the colder climate, although there were some disadvantages. We did have a winter fairly well, as we got the opportunity of the football pitch etc., and we were able to indulge in some sporting activities. One thing that stands out in my mind about this particular winter is a particular task I was given about the liberation front about this time. It was decided to open a rest centre in the French Alps to which fighter pilots could go for a week or so to relax after their more strenuous life. It was decide that Megeve in the French Alps was a very suitable location. I was sent down to Lyons to pick up three vehicles, and the first party of twelve officers who would take part in this course. It was an interesting time, in the first instance, I had to gather the vehicles and officers together and we were given a page torn out of the Michelin Guide to indicate the route that we should take; as there were no signposts or other indications, it was quite a perilous journey. Fortunately, my navigational skills prevailed although at one time, we almost found ourselves over the border into Switzerland and on reflection, we could have ended the war there, being interred and spending a more comfortable existence, but we decided that we’d better take the right route. Megeve itself was a wonderful place and after months of wartime blackout etc. it was amazing to reach a little village that was sparkling with lights, and with horse drawn sleighs moving about the streets. If ever there was a venture into a fairyland, this was it. Unfortunately, the idea of the week at Megeve, acting as a tonic to the fighter pilots, didn’t work out quite so well as expected. During this time, they’d received a skiing instruction and I did some work on the mountains. By the end of the week, the 12 people involved, should have been fit and alert, we found that we’d one broken ankle, two with sprained wrists and a few others with aches and pains. It wasn’t all that it should have been but I continued. I left there after a week with the first batch and I had to make my way back into Belgium. It was an interesting journey; a flight with the United States troops back to Paris in an aircraft, which ran off the runway and then a night train, a service from Paris to Brussels that had just been re-introduced.

Winter in Belgium was not an unpleasant experience, although we did get moved about a bit when the Germans tried to break out into the Ardennes, but we were busy with “Operation Market Garden” which involved taking the bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem. As is well known, the latter target was not achieved, but we did manage the Rhine crossing later in the year and in the spring of 45, after crossing the Rhine, our progress forward was a mad dash and we finished up at Lunenburg Heath. I remember that whilst Montgomery was accepting the surrender of the German Generals, I was laid on a camp bed suffering from a badly strained ankle caused by falling down a caravan steps. I can’t complain because this as the only injury I sustained during the whole campaign. After Lunenburg, we moved on quite quickly to a town called Plon and the second army headquarters established itself there.

It was a delightful spot in the centre of some five lakes and it provided all the facilities that we needed, either through the local yacht club or the other sporting pitches. Then as one could imagine, there was not a great deal to do as it was mostly a question of leaving with the German prisoners, being moved into this particular area and to making sure that the German railways were restored and working properly. We were able to devote a fair amount of our time to our recreational activities and with the persuasion of several officers, we managed to form from our particular section, quite a good football team based on several people who had semi professional experience in some of the better leagues. This team was named Remove United, the RE coming from the regiment to which all the movement staff were tied.

We were extremely successful and I think I can claim that I was of the only army football team which ever had an RAF officer as its ???

My stay in Plon was not entirely a professional one as my employers in Leeds were most anxious that I should come back to them, so that they could carry on with the reorganisation of the transport system which was necessary after the rigours of the war years. They got me released under the scheme for getting back quickly. Those people who had what they regarded as an essential job to do, and I did not have to wait for demobilisation under the normal process.

In the early part of 1946, I got my instructions to report and to go through the necessary procedures of demobilisation, and the final act in which Flight Lieutenant Stilton was involved was the visit to Wembley to receive his civilian outfit. I should mention that I’d been promoted to Flight Lieutenant in the earlier part of the Normandy campaign and very soon after, I had been seconded to the second Army. I must confess that I left Wembley Stadium with a feeling of semi relief and the anticipation of getting back to join my wife and to resume my life which had been disrupted from a fairly early stage of the war. At the same time, I did feel that I had perhaps at last been able to make some contribution to the war effort and had found myself a job, which took into account my experience and perhaps helped to expedite in some small way, the work of moving people and goods around.

My war was in no way a sensational one. A lot of it consisted of hard work and steady progress. There was nothing spectacular about this job, but I feel that I should place the details on record, particularly as so many people are not aware of what the movement’s organisations in the army and the Royal Air Force actually did. This was another of the essential jobs that one carried out. My career is perhaps unusual insofar as I was an RAF officer who never served on an RAF operational station. In fact, apart from a few weeks in recruit training, and officer training, I spent most of my time with the army and the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances were involved with this side of the war, and I would like to pay tribute to all the movement’s staff. We had many happy hours together. There were sad occasions; there were moments that were tinged with regret. There were times that we want to forget, but the five years of war provided me with an experience which will never be forgotten and perhaps it’s only right that it’s put down. I returned to Leeds City Transport to carry on with the task of moving half a million people each day and I was employed in this capacity for more than thirty years. It’s been an interesting life and the fact that I was involved with the war helped me considerably to deal with people and problems in the after years. I hope that those who read this particular presentation are not unduly bored, but it does cover a topic that has not been widely spoken or written of.
That’s the end of my story.


Pr-BR