World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

 Norman Wigley

The Life of a British Military Port Sapper and Part-time NAAFI Piano Player!

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Arnold Wigley; Edith Margaret Wigley
Location of story: Sheffield, Yorkshire; Stranraer, Scotland; Maidstone, Kent.
Unit name: 995 Port Maintenance Coy. Royal Engineers
Background to story: Army


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Norman Wigley of the BBC Radio Sheffield Action Desk on behalf of the late Arnold Wigley.

My father, Arnold Wigley, was born in Sheffield on 23rd August 1904. As a young man he served as a sapper in the Defence Force until discharge on 5 July 1921 on disbandment of the force, at the ripe old age of sixteen!

He went on to train as a joiner, builder, and electrician, and throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s, worked as a self employed builder with a gang of labourers and his own solid-tyred lorry on large contract work. I have a wonderful photograph of him and his men, looking like tramps, sitting on the back of the lorry, while they were doing concrete shuttering work at the building of a power station in Liverpool.

By the time war broke out, he was working as a builder and property repairer in Sheffield in partnership with his brother. This work kept them very busy during the early part of the war, particularly after the Sheffield Blitz in December 1940. On the 18th of July 1940, he married Edith Margaret Simmons, my mother, of 22 Daniel Hill Street, Upperthorpe, Sheffield at Sheffield Register Office, and they moved into a house rented from his mother at 13 Eskdale Road, Hillsborough, Sheffield 6.

My father was called up for war service at the age of 38 and enlisted at Chichester on 14 March 1943, as a sapper in the Royal Engineers. His Army No. was 14569494. He was already a qualified civilian electrician and in his spare time, did radio repairs as well; so I suppose because of this, he was sent to train as an Army Power Station Electrician.

He was not passed as fit for overseas service and was posted to 995 Port Maintenance Coy. at Stranraer, Scotland. After the fall of France in 1940, the south and east coast British ports were virtually closed to large ocean going ships. Two brand new ports, complete with railway connections to the main line, were therefore built entirely by military labour and engineers of the Royal Engineers and Pioneer Corps on the west coast of Scotland; one in the Gareloch of the Clyde, and one in Cairnryan, Loch Ryan, Wigtonshire

My father worked at both ports at various times, but his main job was to run No.1 Military Port’s own power station at Gareloch. This supplied all the port’s electricity needs. He father was also a good pianist; he could not read a note of music but played by ear, and had done so since the age of three! He therefore had a regular job as NAAFI pianist at Drummochloch Camp, Cairnryan, Stranraer. I remember him telling me that he particularly enjoyed this, not only because he loved playing the piano, but because he had a constant supply of free food and free beer!

In spring 1944 he was moved to Kent for a short time – I assume this was to do with D-Day preparations. There is no mention of this in his Army Service Book or in any of his other papers, but I know this from stories my mother told me; she was hop picking in Kent for the summer and was lodging with a family in Maidstone. My mother tried to get to meet my father but there were Army roadblocks everywhere in Kent. She eventually persuaded a sentry to let her through so she could reach their agreed meeting point. She told me they did get to meet and spent a whole couple of hours together on the top deck of a trolley bus travelling back and forth across Maidstone! My mother also said she was glad to get back to Sheffield as by mid-1944 V1 flying bombs were dropping all over Kent – they didn’t reach Yorkshire very often!

I was born on 28th November 1945 at Nether Edge Hospital, Sheffield. My father was not de-mobbed until 28 August 1946 and was transferred to the Army Reserve. After the war he worked as Transport Paint Shop foreman at the East Midland Gas Board’s Neepsend Works.

He died on 29 June 1958 at the age of 53, when I was 12, and my mother died on 19 July 1981. They were good people and I miss them both. I suppose my father had a quiet war, mainly due to his age and health, but as other contributors to the People’s War project have often said to me, “A soldier could only do what was asked of him.”

I leave the final words to his Captain who, in his Release Certificate, described his Military Conduct as ‘Exemplary’ and gave the following Testimonial: “A sound, reliable and hardworking man, who works well without supervision. He has at all times given of his best.”