I never knew my grandfather, but the more I learn about him the more I wish I had. Born in 1905 in Brussels, Belgium, to two Scottish parents, he spent his early childhood in Belgium before visiting Scotland for at least two years, where he is found in the Inverness school record books and later the 1911 Glasgow census. By 1911 he had returned to Belgium and was trapped in Brussels throughout the war as an enemy civilian, along with his parents, a brother and sister (with his father dying in 1916 whilst avoiding internment, and his brother subsequently interned a few months later).
After the war Charlie moved to Glasgow, married a Glaswegian born daughter of Ulster immigrants, and moved to Northern Ireland in the late 1930s, where he pops up in several trade directories and the 1939 National Register. In 1942 his house was then blitzed by the Germans. After this trade directories noted his involvement with the RAF.
Until last year I knew little of his RAF service, but managed to obtain his service record, which showed that he had initially served with the Volunteer Reserve before transferring to the main body of the RAF after the war. In the last week the National Archives has now made Squadron Operations books available, prompting me to have another wee look at what he got up to.
On Feb 3rd 1944, Charlie was posted to "13 RS", location unknown, and from May 3rd was working at Central Depot, Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, not far from Windsor. On June 23rd he was transferred to 5358 Wing. This group was one of the Aircraft Construction Service wings equipped with mechanical plant and specialist quarrying and construction units, which was employed in expanding and improving airfields all over the country. 5358 Wing was comprised of 5024, 5025, 5026 and 5207 Squadrons. When Charlie joined, it was in the immediate aftermath of D-Day (June 6th). Most ACS Wings took part in the Normandy landings, but there is some confusion about Charlie’s movements here. An article in an online magazine called Line of Communications (issue 2 September 2007) states that 5358 Wing was "formed in 1945... to construct airfields for the RAF on Okinawa and was en route there when the war ended". But Charlie’s record clearly states him to have been with the wing from June 23rd - was he therefore in Normandy? Still working on that!
On October 31st 1944 Charlie was posted to HQ No. 33 Base (a), RAF Waterbeach, and then rejoined 5358 Wing on December 9th. On April 1st 1945 he was promoted to AC1, and on April 28th was specifically assigned to 5025 Squadron within the wing. On July 3rd he was then posted to 5011 Squadron, within 5351 Wing. It is believed this was based in Britain. Just over two weeks later, on July 20th Charlie was posted to "11 EU", where he spent the next fifteen months. During this period, on November 1st 1945, Charlie was promoted to be a Leading Aircrafthand. From April 24th 1946 to May 13th 1946 Charlie qualified to become a French Instructor (Class C), having attended an EVT Instructors Course No. 25 at RAF Barton Hall. Just a few months later, on October 14th 1946, he was formally discharged from the RAF Volunteer Reserve.
That wasn't quite the end of it though – on the following day, Charlie re-engaged with the RAF, at his last RAFVR post at 11 EU on October 15th, and continued to serve there. From December 6th-19th 1947 he was granted re-engagement leave. After the war (and perhaps during as well), Charlie apparently used to bring his children and his wife over to Scotland on holiday once a year. One of his nieces, Sheena, daughter of his brother John, has memories of him coming to visit them at their home in 1947, in the aftermath of her father's death, and remembers him making frequent visits right up until she was about ten years old, which may imply that he based himself in Scotland during periods of leave. Sheena describes him as having been a really handsome man, and always a good laugh when he visited her house.
On January 15th 1947 Charlie was again promoted to the rank of Corporal (T/Cpl), and from February 18th to March 3rd he was again granted 14 days End of War leave. On August 18th 1947 he was transferred to "HQ RAF, NI Unit". Following four more days End of War leave from October 25th, he joined 82 Squadron at RAF Benson in South Oxfordshire, and on January 28th 1948 was further transferred to RAF Station Eastleigh, near Nairobi in Kenya, for the next eight months. According to his daughter Sheila, Charlie had once stated to her that he had been somewhat sad that he had not been able to bring his house boy with him to his next post, having grown fond of him during his stay there.
From September 28th Charlie was then posted in West Africa, and on October 1st he was further promoted to the rank of Sergeant [A/Sgt (PO)]. On December 6th he was awarded a Good Conduct Badge, displayed as an inverted chevron on the cuff of his left jacket sleeve, which was awarded after receiving three years consistent Very Good appraisals, and which entitled him to an extra 3d a day "good conduct pay" (3s 6d a week). On December 18th 1948, he was admitted to the "Eur. Hosp." (European Hospital) in Takoradi, and discharged three days later on the 21st. No reason is given, but at this point the Squadron Operations Records provide some useful detail:
“The morale and health of the Squadron has on the whole been good. Fifty airmen reported sick during the month and 11 were admitted to the Hospital in Takoradi. It was found that no less than 44% of those treated were victims of some kind of skin disease, 12% minor injuries and 10% ear trouble and 8% tonsolitis, 2 cases of dysentery were treated, and thanks to paladrine, only once case of malaria.
“Xmas period found the detachments very content to stay put and not return to Takoradi. At Takoradi a good programme was arranged, excellent food laid on, and all ranks participated heartily, if somewhat beerily”
Although Charles is not named, the records provide details on his squadron’s mission in Africa, which was essentially to carry out aerial survey work across the Gold Coast. It was based in separate camps at Takoradi and Lagos, as well as Lungi (Freetown), from which Dakotas and Lancasters were sent up in repeated sorties to photographically survey the West African topography, though on many days cloud cover frustrated their attempts to get airborne.
On February 18th 1949 Charlie was prepared for Home Embarkation at 5 Personnel Dispatch Centre. Four days later, on February 22nd 1949, Charlie took up his next post at the Air Sea Warfare Development Unit at RAF Ballykelly, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The base had actually closed at the end of the war but had been re-opened in 1947 as the home of the RAF Joint Anti-Submarine School, a training flight flying Avro Shackleton aircraft. Charlie spent the next 20 months here, with only one major two weeks period of End of War leave from July 3rd 1949. He was finally discharged from RAF Whole Time Service on October 14th 1950.
The release of the Squadron Operations Records is a useful resource in terms of background reading on the squadrons’ monthly movements, though it can be expensive. Each document costs £3.50 each, and in some instances I have found four documents a month, so it may take some time to get through all the relevant records unless I can get to visit Kew at some point. Nevertheless, they are another useful resource, slowly adding a bit more detail to Charlie’s career. He eventually passed away in Northern Ireland in the late 1980s.
Obviously if anyone knew of him during his service I'd love to hear from you!