‘I didn’t think that war with Ger­many would af­fect me’

Last month we pub­lished a Mem­o­ries spe­cial by 83year-old Dick Legg, in which he rem­i­nisced about his boy­hood in South Willes­bor­ough, oth­er­wise known as Frogs Is­land. This prompted other read­ers to write in with their own mem­o­ries of the era. Vic Crumbie,

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - REMEMBER WHEN? -

WHEN I read the won­der­ful ar­ti­cle in the news­pa­per by Dicky Legg, all the mem­o­ries came flood­ing back to me. I am now nearly 84, and in my younger days lived in Hunter Av­enue, Willes­bor­ough, and knew Dicky very well. Like him I knew the River Cut and Cap­tain’s Wood, and was al­ways over there fish­ing the var­i­ous deeper pools, es­pe­cially the Jack Hole, and we used to catch quite a few fair sized pike in it. I can also re­mem­ber that air­craft false land­ing by the River Cut and tip­ping on its nose. This prob­a­bly started my in­ter­est in fly­ing, and I even­tu­ally be­came as a bomber pilot in World War Two. I can well re­mem­ber when the Prime Min­is­ter said we were at war with Ger­many, but I didn’t think it would af­fect me. I was only about 15 or 16, and thought it would be over be­fore I went into the forces.

In­vaded

But then the Ger­mans in­vaded Bel­gium, Hol­land and France which put them just across the Chan­nel from us, so there was no doubt we were next on their list. The Ger­mans started to build up boats in the Chan­nel ports, ready to bring their army over and in­vade us, and things looked very bad. The one thing we could do then was to send our RAF fight­ers over the Chan­nel to ma­chine gun and bomb th­ese boats. Hitler re­alised that un­less the RAF was de­stroyed, it would be dif­fi­cult to in­vade, so he started the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, and I re­mem­ber hun­dreds of Ger­man bombers com­ing over in vast for­ma­tions, pro­tected by ter­rific num­bers of fight­ers. For days at a time, we would have seen th­ese planes on their way to bomb Lon­don, and at times they would bomb Ash­ford.

Brav­ery

I re­mem­ber I was round the New­town area when Ash­ford rail­way works was bombed. What al­ways amazed me was the brav­ery of our fight­ers, when 20 or 30 of them would at­tack hun­dreds of Ger­man planes. We used to cheer if a Ger­man bomber or fighter came down, many of them in flames, but if one of ours came down we prayed that the pilot would be saved. Watch­ing all this made me think that I could train as a fighter pilot, but as I went to the North Cen­tral School, I didn’t think my ed­u­ca­tion would be good enough. I then found out all the var­i­ous sub­jects that I would need to join as a fighter pilot, and sat up night af­ter night study­ing sub­jects I’d never even heard of be­fore. I went up to Lon­don and ap­plied to go into the RAF as a fighter pilot. I took all the nec­es­sary ex­ams, then they put me in a Link Trainer to test my re­ac­tions. At the end I was over­joyed as they said they would ac­cept me for pilot train­ing, and would send for me when ready, which they did. I had to go to Lon­don where we were taught march­ing etc. This I al­ready knew as I had joined the ATC when it started in Ash­ford. We were then posted down to Lud­low in Shrop­shire, where we lived in tents on a tough­en­ing-up course. Af­ter four or five weeks of this we were sent home on a week’s leave, af­ter which we had to re­port back to RAF train­ing com­mand in Lon­don. From there we were posted to Liver­pool, when we had to get on a fairly big boat called the Ran­gat­icy. There were about 50 of us, and we all thought we were go­ing to Canada for our train­ing as fighter pi­lots. Af­ter a while how­ever, we re­alised we were head­ing south, and we fin­ished up in Dur­ban in South Africa. From there we went by train up to what was Rhode­sia, where we were taught how to fly in Tiger Moths. Then we were posted up to Pales­tine, where we trained to fly a twin-en­gine Ox­ford plane – it was then we all re­alised we would be bomber pi­lots and not fight­ers. We were then trained to fly the twin-en­gined Vick­ers Welling­ton. Af­ter that, we came up through the desert and as the Ger­mans re­treated, fin­ished up at Fog­gia in Italy, when they changed the whole group to Lib­er­a­tors, a four-en­gined US plane. I flew Welling­tons and Lib­er­a­tors on bomb­ing op­er­a­tions, and saw many of my good friends killed or badly wounded. When the war fin­ished we were posted back to Egypt, where we flew 8th Army sol­diers home to Eng­land for some leave. We had to re­turn to Egypt the next morn­ing, and we only had one evening in Eng­land, but we made the most of it. It seems strange now that all th­ese mem­o­ries should be brought up by read­ing your ar­ti­cle by Dicky.

Dick Legg, who wrote in with his mem­o­ries of Willes­bor­ough in the 1930s

A youth­ful Vic­tor Crumbie of Willes­bor­ough

Vic Crumbie at the age of 21

Vic Crumbie, with his wife Rita, who died in 2005

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