Author: Mac Benoy  May 2012
Wards of Dublin 
Bill’s Life WAR YEARS
Early in the second Great War 1939/45 I volunteered for the RAF (this in the anticipation that everyone would be due for conscription anyway and I was quite sure that I did not want to be in the Army). So in the middle of a very harsh Winter, Feb 14 1940, I arrived in Cardington, near Bedford, and became an AC2, the lowest form of life possible. We slept about 40 per hut and my nearest 'neighbour' had just arrived back from Chicago where with his mother they had attended some meeting and he was quite indignant with the overcrowding. At 6am the first morning, dark, snowy and cold, the main door was slammed open and a Scottish General Duties Corporal bellowed 'wakey wakey you bastards' upon which my mate, sleepy-eyed, vouched 'I say, I say, he can't say that to me' - thus, my homely welcome into the Forces and the War. I don't know what urged me to volunteer but in this huge reception camp (better known as the base for building huge airships like the famous RIOI) in which there rotated about 5000 men in various stages of dress as daily they acquired parts of the full uniform, I entered a boxing tournament of sorts getting through three stages before I was eliminated on points. Then posted to Morecambe for several weeks drilling on the pier and then on to Halton in Buckinghamshire for aircraft training which was continued in the Midlands in Hednesford, possibly due to the battle of Britain which was just beginning and closeness to daily air-raids in the south. Training finished Oct 1940 in this dreary camp mostly being confined to barracks and again in crowded huts. Again I volunteered for a camp boxing affair and in the third round I was at the receiving end of a swing from a tall cockney named Burt Diamond (never forgot his name) which floored me. One night we had a firebomb air raid when the end of the hut was hit and we all did our fire drill in earnest. The training had been intense especially as manpower was badly needed at the Squadrons (we didn't know this at the time) and there also existed the possibility of a German invasion (again not known that this was impossible as the Germans were not yet ready). There was an examination and I passed out as an LAC (nearly equivalent to Army Corporal). I was posted to 57 Squadron in Lossiemouth, Scotland, flying sorties over the North Sea using Blenheim light bombers from dawn to dusk and variously over the years to Wyton, Feltwell, Broughton, Lichfield, Portsmouth and Invergordon, working on Hurricanes and Tempests fighters and Wellington, Sterling, Albamarle, Lancaster bombers, and a variety of others. I was not aircrew but did a lot of flying tests after major repairs on airframe and engines. These repairs were everlasting following enemy damage, crashes, accidents, stupidity, fear, weather conditions and wear and tear. Air raids were a constant hazard and on two occasions in East Anglia we were scared whilst enemy Aircraft, returning at the tail end of our aircraft from a raid in Germany, would pretend to land in the darkness and both bomb and machine gun the aerodrome.  One scary night my pal Jack Greaves and I were modifying exhaust flame traps on a one per night basis on Wellingtons, when our hangar lights were switched off due to Heinkels following in on our aircraft by the light of 'goose necks' or paraffin flares: as the bombs dropped it was like being inside a drum whilst the drummer beat. In April 1945 the European War was nearly over but America was still slogging it out in the Pacific against Japan who were fighting ferociously with very high losses to the US sailors and marines so some 30,000 of us were transferred to the Fleet Air Arm to get quick experience on aircraft carriers and proceed to the East. But then, just about to go, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and that was the end of the War.